On Seeking Truth about the Non-Physical World

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 6, 2009 in How-To

natural_world

Previously, I wrote that mankind woke up in a surprising universe. We tried many methods of seeking the truth – inner sense, mystical experience, public authorities, personal desire, beauty – but these turned out to have very bad track records with the truth. Quite recently, we’ve worked out a set of methods that do a remarkable job of getting at the truth: science. Science is the only method that has given us reliable truth about the world around us.

Most of you – theists and atheists alike – agree with this. But I’ve heard two objections, so let me address them:

“What about mathematical truths?”

We don’t use science to determine that Pythagorean theorem, and yet we are more certain of the Pythagorean theorem than perhaps any scientific truth. Aren’t math and logic even better paths to truth than science?

Yes, they are. The problem is, math and logic can’t tell us anything about what exists in the world around us. They can only tell us what is entailed in our own concepts. They can’t tell us whether our concepts refer to things that exist, or how accurately they apply to things that exist. Logic can tell you that if Socrates was a father then he must have produced children because that is how we define our word “father,” but logic cannot tell us whether Socrates was a father. Math can tell you that the surface area of a flat disk inside some circle will be π × [the radius of the circle, squared], but it cannot tell you whether the plate you just bought is perfectly circular or flat, or what its radius is.

Logic and math can extend our knowledge gained by observation, and they are an integral part of science. But they can’t tell us anything about the world on their own.

“But science is limited to an investigation of the physical world! What about the non-physical world?”

First, it’s simply not true that science couldn’t tell us about a non-physical reality if it existed. If the non-physical exists and it interacts in regular or identifiable ways with the physical world – as is claimed by most believers in the non-physical – then science can indeed say a great deal about non-physical reality.1

Indeed, most believers are quick to appeal to science as giving strong evidence for the supernatural when they think it will help them. For example, they say that the latest scientific discoveries in astrophysics and microbiology provide evidence for a supernatural Designer.

But as soon as atheists start to show how science disproves God, believers run to the opposite corner of the room and shout “But science has nothing to say about the supernatural!”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard believers contradict themselves in this way. In any case, they were right the first time. If a supernatural reality exists in interacts with physical reality in regular or identifiable ways, then scientific inquiry can reveal a great deal about the realm of that supernatural reality.

But let’s suppose there is a supernatural reality that interacts with the natural world only in irregular, mysterious, and unprovable ways. I don’t think such a supernatural reality exists, but let’s consider the possibility. If that were the case, how would we get reliable knowledge about it?

Not by scientific means, apparently. So how could we gain knowledge of such a supernatural reality?

Again, it could be the case that we woke up in a universe in which inner sense, mystical experience, public authorities, personal desire, or beauty provided reliable knowledge of the supernatural. But it turns out that in our universe, none of these methods do seem to provide reliable knowledge of the supernatural.

People who rely on these methods regularly come to contradictory conclusions about the nature of the supernatural. Their supernatural inferences are clear delusions to everyone as often as they are heralded as legitimate by fellow believers in the same kind of supernatural reality.

So if the supernatural world exists, it does not seem we have yet discovered a good means for knowing about it in the same way that we have discovered a good means (science) for knowing about the physical world.

  1. Or rather, science can provide the raw data from which we may draft philosophical arguments to the best explanation for or against the truth of supernatural phenomena. The reason I qualify this is that “science” is usually understood to entail a commitment to methodological naturalism, in which case the inference from physical phenomena to supernatural explanations would not be called “science” but philosophy. []

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{ 78 comments… read them below or add one }

Todd White November 6, 2009 at 7:29 am

There are several ways in which we can use scientific principles to justify the conviction that there is a divine source to the universe and life itself, and I’ll give the 3 most powerful examples: The Anthropic Principle, Intelligent Design, and Near Death-Experiences.

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Chuck November 6, 2009 at 8:43 am

By “Intelligent Design” do you mean it in a Michael Behe somethingsaretoohardforevolution sort of way, or in a Bill Craig thefundamentalconstantsaresuchthathadtheybeenslightlyofflifecouldnotexist?

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 8:47 am

Chuck: Needless to say, I don’t agree with your characterization of Behe’s views, but yes, he and I are sympatico.

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Chuck November 6, 2009 at 8:56 am

Ah. In that case, how do you account for Christian biologists like Ken Miller who say that Michael Behe is full of shit?

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 8:57 am

Easily, Chuck. They’re wrong.

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Alex November 6, 2009 at 9:06 am

No, Todd. You are.

(You might want to go into a bit more detail if you want to accomplish anything other than throwing sneers at people.)

The problem is, if you consider intelligent design etc. evidence for the divine, you must consider the divine comprehensible (otherwise you wouldn’t be able to derive any predictions from it). As I understand him, Luke is pointing out that it’s a double standard to put forward these kinds of arguments and then retreat to mystery when challenged with evidence against your view.

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Bebok November 6, 2009 at 9:09 am

Luke,

What do you think of Quine? You mentioned problems with analytic-synthetic distinction somewhere, but here you seem pass over them.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 9:11 am

Alex: You’re projecting onto me. When did I say the divine was incomprehensible? And when did I “throw a sneer” at people? Honestly, dude.

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 9:11 am

Toad White

There are several ways in which we can use scientific principles to justify the conviction that there is a divine source to the universe and life itself, and I’ll give the 3 most powerful examples:

The Anthropic Principle

This does not justify the divine. It was only by not accepting divine explanations of the universe that we acquired enough knowledge of the universe to to even postulate the anthropic principle. Justification of the divine here works only by using a “god of the gaps” argument yet a Bayesian analysis shows that any such arguments, given their history of repeated and consistent failure, are extremely unlikely to be correct. Any argument to the best explanation would easily defeat any such argument for the divine.

Intelligent Design

This is not science and if it ever becomes one – such as making falsifiable claims that are not falsified – cannot show the life is designed by the “divine”, only by non-earth based beings or entities were involved in the evolution of life on this planet. Only a closet creationist could think otherwise.

Near Death-Experiences

This has been scientifically studied by neurologists and psychologists. There is zero evidence that what some think is entailed by these experiences is true and plenty of contrary evidence that explains why they think as they do. Now even if new evidence were to show otherwise, it would not be evidence of the divine only of post-mortal persistence of some element of the self.

These are your three best arguments!? Give up and go home.

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Bill Maher November 6, 2009 at 9:15 am

Todd: Tell Behe to publish his work in a peer-reviewed scientific journal so scientists can try to falsify it. If he is right, then their attempts to falsify it will fail. So far, he has been trying to use popular opinion instead of peer reviewed science.

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Lee A. P. November 6, 2009 at 10:25 am

The near death experience stuff is also disproven by the fact that their are culutral differences depnding on what religion one is. Muslims have Islamic NDEs, Christians have Christian NDE’s ect.

And would God not know if one was actually going to survive? I can you trick divinity into thinking you may ie only to be whisked out and back into the real world? It does not make much sense.

The NDE evidence is outragiously poor.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 10:54 am

Bill: If Behe has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, I presume it’s because those journals rejected his pieces. As the Richard Sternberg/Smithsonian incident shows, editors who accept ID-related papers put their careers in jeopardy.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 10:56 am

Lee: “The near death experience stuff is also disproven by the fact that their are culutral differences depnding on what religion one is. Muslims have Islamic NDEs, Christians have Christian NDE’s ect.”

TW: There are no significant cultural differences regarding the NDE phenomenon. Sorry.

Lee: “And would God not know if one was actually going to survive? I can you trick divinity into thinking you may ie only to be whisked out and back into the real world? It does not make much sense.”

TW: I don’t understand your point; maybe it’s the typos.

Lee; “The NDE evidence is outragiously poor.”

TW: Actually, it’s excellent.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 10:58 am

Faithless: What is your motivation in engaging in name-calling?

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drj November 6, 2009 at 11:01 am

And so we see the beauty of well designed conspiracy theory. Even evidence that would dis-confirm it only serves to confirm it more the eyes of the afflicted.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 11:04 am

faith: “It was only by not accepting divine explanations of the universe that we acquired enough knowledge of the universe to to even postulate the anthropic principle.”

TW: Nope.

Faith: “Justification of the divine here works only by using a ‘god of the gaps’ argument.”

TW: Nope.

Faith: “I.D. is not science.”

TW: It’s just as much of a science as Darwinism.

Faith on NDEs: “There is zero evidence that what some think is entailed by these experiences is true.”

TW: Actually, there is excellent evidence.

Faith: “Give up and go home.”

TW: I’m tempted to. So far, I’ve been pretty unimpressed by the level of discourse on this website.

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 11:06 am

Todd

As the Richard Sternberg/Smithsonian incident shows, editors who accept ID-related papers put their careers in jeopardy.

This shows no such thing, how about you get your facts straight?

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drj November 6, 2009 at 11:09 am

As far as NDE’s are concerned… well, one might as well say hallucinations and ghost stories are proof of the super-natural. Near death experiences are no more credible.

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drj November 6, 2009 at 11:10 am

Todd White: TW: It’s just as much of a science as Darwinism.

What would it take for ID to be falsified, in your opinion?

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 11:11 am

Lee; “The NDE evidence is outragiously poor.”

TW: Actually, it’s excellent.

This is not an argument where is your evidence?

What is your criteria for “excellent”? If it is the same as implied over the Richard Sternberg/Smithsonian incident as evidence in thinking that editors who accept ID-related papers put their careers in jeopardy then you have a quite difference conception of “excellence” from typical usage.

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 11:16 am

Todd

No point quoting your responses, still it may surprise you to learn that denial i.e. “nope” is not an argument.

Faith: “Give up and go home.”

TW: I’m tempted to. So far, I’ve been pretty unimpressed by the level of discourse on this website.

Yes it has been significantly lowered since you have been commenting. Usually there is some effort at making cogent arguments. Since you appear to be incapable of this if you give up and go home then the level of discourse will improve.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 11:18 am
Todd White November 6, 2009 at 11:19 am

drj: drj

As far as NDE’s are concerned… well, one might as well say hallucinations and ghost stories are proof of the super-natural. Near death experiences are no more credible.

Nope

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 11:21 am

drj:
What would it take for ID to be falsified, in your opinion?  

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There are several ways, but the best one would be for the Darwinian mechanism for the creation of new species to be proven. That would go a long way to killing I.D.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 11:22 am

faithlessgod: This is not an argument where is your evidence?

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 11:44 am

Todd

Faith: Just for you, honey bunch…

http://post-darwinist.blogspot.com/2008/08/when-science-becomes-oppressive.html

You should check your facts – you do know what they are? Sternberg broke the ethical rules for publication in the last edition of the journal with him as editor. The issue of what the content of the paper was does not alter in the slightest that he was totally out of order for doing so, as would any editor of any refereed journal anywhere for doing the same thing (regardless of the topic and content of such a paper).

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ayer November 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

lukeprog: “I can’t count how many times I’ve heard believers contradict themselves in this way. In any case, they were right the first time. If a supernatural reality exists in interacts with physical reality in regular or identifiable ways, then scientific inquiry can reveal a great deal about the realm of that supernatural reality.”

As science is used in conjunction with philosophical argument by Bill Craig, there is certainly not the contradiction asserted here. Scientific evidence can point to the philosophical conclusion by bolstering an argument’s premises, as in the kalam cosmological argument, but Craig is clear that science hits a boundary at the origin of the universe that makes a scientific “proof” as such impossible. So science is helpful but not conclusive; I see no contradiction.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

faithlessgod: Todd
You should check your facts – you do know what they are? Sternberg broke the ethical rules for publication in the last edition of the journal with him as editor. The issue of what the content of the paper was does not alter in the slightest that he was totally out of order for doing so, as would any editor of any refereed journal anywhere for doing the same thing (regardless of the topic and content of such a paper).  

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No, it was the content of the paper that sparked the initial controversy and motivated the harassment which followed later. Sorry.

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 11:51 am

faithlessgod: This is not an argument where is your evidence?

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

A slighly more sophisticated response than “nope” but stil equivalent.

As for evidence you need look no further than our dialogues in these two comment threads. To help you, count up the number of nopes and equivalent compared to all of my responses, however short I gave you, the conclusion is overwhelming.

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 11:54 am

I thought you said you were leaving? When are you going?

No, it was the content of the paper that sparked the initial controversy and motivated the harassment which followed later. Sorry.

No it was the surprising inclusion of this paper that drew attention to the ethical misconduct of Sternberg. Sorry

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm

FL: That was a different thread. You’re stuck with me in this one for the time being ;)

What was the “ethical misconduct” by Sternberg?

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Jeff H November 6, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Luke, I tend to think that, really, science cannot make any conclusions about the non-physical world. I’ve often asserted arguments much like the ones you’ve presented, but thinking about it now, I am not sure that science really could ever tell us anything about the supernatural, even if it interacts with physical reality in identifiable ways.

Think about it. Let’s say that God answers all prayers for healing when the person praying wears a blue hat. Scientists come along and test this, and they find this astonishing effect – “100% of patients wearing blue hats were healed when they prayed.” Now, applying the presupposition of methodological naturalism to this, should the scientists conclude that “God did it”, or else that there is some fundamental interaction between prayer and blue hats?

I don’t think that it matters how we try to measure the supernatural. The supernatural is by definition unmeasurable, and we will never be able to find any link between a supernatural being and a natural event. I suppose science can make an inference to the best explanation, but that is about it.

Another thing to mention is that elsewhere you have stated that “God did it” is not a good explanation; why then would you say that scientists should come to this conclusion if a reliable effect was found for prayer?

Anyway, I’m certainly open to hearing your thoughts about the matter. Perhaps I’ve missed something :)

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faithlessgod November 6, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Todd you are flogging dead horse

“The first question asked by BSW members was “how did this paper ever get published?” According to the Council of the Biological Society of Washington, Sternberg failed to follow proper procedure in publishing the paper: “Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history.””
The Sternberg Affair

This is outside the topic of this thread. ’nuff said.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 12:12 pm

On Sternberg:

To attack Meyer’s article, Shermer cites the NCSE-inspired statement from the BSW stating that, “Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The council, which includes officers, elected councilors and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings.”

Shermer should have applied some of his famous skepticism here, because that statement is in fact a falsehood: Eugenie Scott herself admitted that “other editors have not always referred all articles to the Associate Editors, and because editors justifiably have discretion,” that therefore the BSW should not “come down too hard on Dr. Sternberg for errors in the procedure followed in accepting this article.” (See Report, pages 25-26.) Shermer conveniently spares the BSW from skepticism over Eugenie Scott’s behind-closed-doors concession, which contradicts the BSW’s public statement.

Moreover, Shermer and the BSW ignore that in less-politicized statements, Dr. Roy McDiarmid, the President of the BSW and a scientist at the Smithsonian, admitted that there was no wrongdoing regarding the peer-review process of Meyer’s paper:

“I have seen the review file and comments from 3 reviewers on the Meyer paper. All three with some differences among the comments recommended or suggested publication. I was surprised but concluded that there was not inappropriate behavior vs a vis [sic] the review process.” (See Report, e-mail from Roy McDiarmid, “Re: Request for information,” January 28, 2005, 2:25 PM to Hans Sues, emphasis added.)

So the truth is that Meyer’s paper WAS peer-reviewed, and that Darwinists have invented the claim that it was not peer-reviewed or that there was wrongdoing regarding the publication of the article. Shermer, the famous skeptic, seems unwilling to apply his skepticism to anything the Darwinists say about this situation, blindly accepting the denials from Darwinists that any discrimination against ID took place, instead blaming the victim.

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/04/michael_shermers_factfree_atta_1.html

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drj November 6, 2009 at 12:26 pm

AFIAK, Sternberg has never published the names of these mysterious “peer-reviewers”. The suspicion is that they are DI fellows.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 12:32 pm

DRJ: Sternberg explains the process on his website. Go to p. 6 of this document. Unfortunately, since it’s a pdf, I can’t cut and paste from it. He comes across as very credible – certainly way, way, way more credible than the people who attacked and smeared him, which is beyond dispute, given the Congressional investigation.

http://www.richardsternberg.net/pdf/sternintellbio08.pdf

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Steven November 6, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I think Jeff H makes some good points.

I think it’s actually fair game to think the supernatural may exist in some way. It might even be likely, I don’t know. But to prove it, or even assert that naturalistic evidence points in that direction, is completely ad hoc. It takes groundless assumptions about the supernatural to claim naturalistic evidence towards it.

For instance, if there is a supernatural being, did he raise Jesus from the dead, or did he create the Bible and all our memories of it ( and corresponding histories), a minute ago? Why is the first answer more likely that the second?

If the supernatural exists, it is outside our “wheelhouse” to identify. This should actually be good news to people of faith, as it will take some explanation waaaaay beyond our ability to understand to account for the problem of evil.

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Mark H. November 6, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Is this the right place for getting hit on the head lessons?

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Lee A. P. November 6, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Basically Todd White will take the fringe or minority position on anything studied by science and claim that the “real” evidence actually supports whatever he happens to like. “Real” science supports ID. “Real science supports” a supernatural explanation for NDE’s. Sounds an awful lot like “all encompassing scientific conspiracy” to me.

The fact that drugs like DMT produce nearly identical experiences as “NDE’s” points towards brain phenomenon. And the fact that he says there is no cultural differences is stark raving retarded. There are.

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Bill Maher November 6, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Todd: Are you serious? That is an anti-science Christian website. You are starting to sound like Ben Stein when you post dishonest sources.

You should know that Behe has yet to show one irreducible complexity that has not been thoroughly explained via evolution. Even his analogy of a mousetrap got debunked. All he has done is rehash Paley’s Watchmaker Analogy and called it science.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm

BM: “That is an anti-science Christian website.”

TW: Nope.

BM: “You should know that Behe has yet to show one irreducible complexity that has not been thoroughly explained via evolution. Even his analogy of a mousetrap got debunked.”

TW: I seriously doubt it. The 1 or 2 debunkings I read did nothing of the sort. But I haven’t done enough research to dismiss it with a “Nope.” ;)

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lukeprog November 6, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Chuck,

See my previous post about intelligent design for my definition.

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lukeprog November 6, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Bebok,

Lol, yes, these posts are not meant to get into such detail. I suppose I will write about formal epistemology some day, but I’d like to study more first.

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Hermes November 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Look kids! It’s Todd White — the famous “Contrary Man who Runs Away When He Loses” guy!

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lukeprog November 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

drj: What would it take for ID to be falsified, in your opinion?

It depends how it’s formulated. ID is usually not (never?) formulated in a way such that it predicts new knowledge or can be falsified.

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lukeprog November 6, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Jeff,

Science is defined such that it cannot posit supernatural causes. But science can give us lots of information from which a philosophical argument to the best explanation for a supernatural cause can be constructed. If we excluded what was ACTUALLY the best explanation just because it was not called a “scientific” type of explanation, it would be kind of silly.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 2:29 pm

lukeprog: Jeff,Science is defined such that it cannot posit supernatural causes. But science can give us lots of information from which a philosophical argument to the best explanation for a supernatural cause can be constructed. If we excluded what was ACTUALLY the best explanation just because it was not called a “scientific” type of explanation, it would be kind of silly.  

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That’s very well put. I agree with that for the most part.

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Bebok November 6, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Luke,

I didn’t mean to sound petty. I’m no champion of epistemology eihter, it just seems to me that there is quite profound difference between what you’ve written about maths and logic here and Quine’s “no statement is immune to revision” view.

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Jake de Backer November 6, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Todd,

I empathize with the fact that “nope” is evidently what it takes to refute an argument in the “intellectual” circles you’re more familiar with. Bearing that in mind, I’ll do my best to appear diplomatic although I do share in the frustration articulated by Lee A.P., Reginald, Jeff H, faithlessgod, and drj amongst others. I apologize for the length in advance but I’ve reserved posting my remarks for a few days and well, you’ve made a few comments since then which deserve (some kind of) attention.

Concerning the supposed maltreatment of the editor who published Meyer’s work, I think we’re missing the forest here. If Meyer’s paper was deservedly published, it would still amount to one article in the course of nearly 2 decades of “scientific research”. Is there any other branch of science which could contribute so little –in deed, make no actual predictions regarding its theories, as well as make note of no observed phenomena (which isn’t swiftly defeated by the multitude of actually peer-reviewed naturalistic explication) in support of its theories—and still be considered relevant science?

I’m not saying Meyer’s paper should’ve been published, I’m saying, if only for the sake of argument, that even if it was, it doesn’t amount to what you apparently think it does.

Regarding the “Darwinist” sobriquet, I can’t see where the conflict should be with electing another title which better suits the audience of your conjecture. That is to say, no one here adopts that title and its implications, as accurately representing their views. Permitting then all the argumentation surrounding its pejorative connotation, why not chose a more relevant, accurate moniker? If we’re being honest, and I hope we are, you know why you’re using it. It’s provocative. It’s the same wrath Luke incurs when he alludes to the supernatural as “magic”. The conspicuous difference being, those actually are tantamount. I speak comfortably for “my team” when I say no one here is alleging “Darwinist” views. Rather, we are persuaded by the multifarious evidence produced and ever-confirming of Darwin’s theory.

Moving on, then. You intoned Luke, and I paraphrase here, that you make it a policy of not debating with people who think ID and Creationism are the same thing. The problem is that’s part of the debate. You absent yourself from party-duties which include explicating why they are in fact different. Representing your views as “not creationism” only to have them exposed as being such, does not then give you intellectual justification for tossing your arms up and walking away. That is what you are arguing. When Dawkins refuses to debate Creationists, it’s not because they aren’t willing to divorce atheism from evolution (although they appear most comfortable conflating the two), it’s because they (admittedly, in most cases) are unwilling to be persuaded by any evidence, from any field regardless of its universal attestation and empirical strength. It seems to me, someone who cares so strongly for the distinction to be made would understand the “Darwinist” term conflict more lucidly and would yield sympathetically to the request of a different appellation. Or are there ulterior motives to you conferring that name upon us…?

Todd, I make an honest effort to put the shoes of the opposition upon my evolved pedes before I pass critical, often judgmental comments about them, but I have to quote this fatuous remark in it’s entirety as it continues to stultify me:

“To ask me to accept that ‘Darwinist’ is an “incorrect term” would be a violation of Reason and Reality – and Reason and Reality are my only 2 absolutes.”

So far as I can tell, this is the closest thing you’ve produced to an argument and to say its incoherent and that your conclusion is a glaring non-sequitur would be as understated as characterizing Yahweh’s antipathy for and subsequent destruction of mankind by calling the flood into existence “a brief exercise in misanthropy”. You couldn’t be troubled, which is becoming a salient characteristic of your posts, with demonstrating your claims or substantiating your assertions with objective, empirical evidence. How, exactly, is avoiding the term “Darwinist” a “violation of Reason and Reality”?

Your attempt to buttress your “I am right in calling you Darwinist’s” claim by resorting to the identity principle is as follows:

“A is A” & “Darwinist’s support Darwinism”

Where you seem to veer off the path of relevance and into the barren intellectual wasteland of I.D. cliché’s is simply, and not without a hint of exasperation at this point; that there is a marked and profound distinction between “Darwinism” and contemporary evolutionary theory, i.e. the modern synthesis, which is what people currently “believe”. Perhaps we should be called “Modern Synthesizers”. In addition, and hopefully conclusion of this topic, Jeff H laid waste to this nonsense with his insightful post concerning the appropriate use of “isms” as attached to terms representing “ideologies and philosophical viewpoints”.

Changing threads, you reply to Chuck with:

“Needless to say, I don’t agree with your characterization of Behe’s views, but yes, he and I are sympatico.”

Are you and him “sympatico” [sic] in the sense that if your witness stand was barricaded with the testimony of well-reputed and highly credentialed scientists whose articles served to refute every major claim (all one of them) from your “research” and was found in stacks of peer-reviewed journals resting atop the table in front of you so high as to prohibit eye contact with the jury, you’d still decline reconsideration of your conclusions? This intransigence is supposed to make you appear reasonable?

Your penetrating and astute reply to Chuck after he links to an article by the renowned Christian biologist, Kenneth Miller –one amongst many capable of dismantling the infrastructure of I.D.’s house of nonsense—was, and I’m sure this was for the sake of brevity, that “They’re wrong”. I can’t help but wonder was it this style of elegant argumentation which first won you to the side of Phillip Johnson & Co.? Was it the dismissive sense of smug, self-righteous fundamentalism that attracted you to the I.D. movement? As you are, at least from what could be inferred, a deist of sorts, I’m wondering how it was you came to be moved by this almost universally Christian agenda in the first place. It was all the scientific acclaim and their unbiased objectivity which was responsible for all the breathtaking demonstrations of the supernatural they’ve been able to procure, wasn’t it? If only all of us prejudiced naturalists and our stress on observation and falsifiability could somehow disrobe ourselves of our discriminatory practices and abandon our commitment to reality maybe we could submit an article per 17 years too.

Yours in “breathtaking inanity”,
J.

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Thomas Reid November 6, 2009 at 5:55 pm

The supernatural reality that interacts with the world around us, is us! We have direct, incorrigible knowledge of ourselves as supernatural (immaterial, if you prefer) entities. This knowledge is already presumed before employing the scientific method to gain knowledge of the physical.

What metaphsyical assumptions must we posit we can trust in the claims of the scientific method? Whatever they are, they cannot be rooted in the scientific method.

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Jeff H November 6, 2009 at 6:01 pm

lukeprog: Jeff,Science is defined such that it cannot posit supernatural causes. But science can give us lots of information from which a philosophical argument to the best explanation for a supernatural cause can be constructed. If we excluded what was ACTUALLY the best explanation just because it was not called a “scientific” type of explanation, it would be kind of silly.  

Alright, I suppose that clarifies your position. I see that you have a footnote there explaining it – I don’t know if it was there before my comment, but at any rate, I didn’t see it. Just going from the actual post, it seemed as though you were saying that science was the only method for gaining truth about the world.

However, your comment then seems to point out how science might lead us astray. Scientific data can become a premise in a philosophical argument, but it seems that any philosophical argument concluding a supernatural being could not then be used for further scientific research. In essence, science would have to ignore the implications of the philosophy in order to actually continue with meaningful research.

Anyway, I don’t see that as a huge problem, considering that I don’t think that any arguments to the best explanation really lead to strong support for the supernatural…but it could at least theoretically cause a problem.

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Jake: There’s no need to put “sic” next to “Sympatico”…

http://www.yourdictionary.com/simpatico

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Jake: I find your message very peculiar. Given all the gratuitous insults you hurl at me, it seems that you read the entirety of the last 2 comments threads. And yet you fail to understand even the most basic points I was trying to make.

For example – even though I explained my position on the term “Darwinism” many, many times, you still wrote to me, “How, exactly, is avoiding the term ‘Darwinist” a “violation of Reason and Reality”?”

I did not say anything of the sort.

“Madame Secretary, will you please read from the transcript…”

Hermes [to me]: “Will you not use “Darwinist”/’darwinist’ now that you know it is incorrect as well as a prerogative term?

Todd: To ask me to accept that “Darwinist” is an ‘incorrect term’ would be a violation of Reason and Reality.

Thus, the issue, Jake, is not one of avoidance, but my unwillingness to accept – 1984 style – Hermes’ false claim that Darwinism was a “factually incorrect term.”

Comprende vous? [No need to write "sic" next to it; it's French]

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Todd White November 6, 2009 at 6:21 pm

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lukeprog November 6, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Bebok,

Technically I would agree that no statement is immune to revision, even in maths and logic. What I’ve written above is a convenient simplification.

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Hermes November 6, 2009 at 7:16 pm

Jake de Backer; smooth like butter and serious as a heart attack. Good stuff. Thanks for the post.

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Hermes November 6, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Todd White, isn’t it about time for you to take your ball and refuse to play with the other kids because they are mean to you?

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Nick Barrowman November 6, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Luke,

You write that mathematics and logic “can’t tell us anything about the world on their own.” I agree (noting that by “the world” you mean the physical world).

It seems you equate a “non-physical reality” with the supernatural. But as you noted, there are mathematical truths that exist independent of the physical world. They are very much a part of the “surprising universe” into which mankind awoke.

The reality into which we have awoken includes non-physical aspects such as the experience of consciousness. No device can measure the experience of consciousness (nor, I would argue, is it even conceivable that one ever could). Certainly chemicals and electrical activity in the brain can be measured, just as we could measure electrical activity in a computer. But the experience of being conscious is inaccessible to science. Yet it is absolutely real, and indeed the most fundamental aspect of human existence. Truth, meaning, aesthetics, and morality are all intimately linked to conscious experience. Science can inform these questions, e.g. an understanding of the nature of light and human perception of color can contribute to thinking about, creating, and experiencing visual art. But art cannot be entirely reduced to, or explained by science.

The term “non-physical reality” need not mean the supernatural. I suspect that belief in the supernatural stems from an urge to acknowledge and perhaps connect with the non-physical reality that we all experience (even if it is rarely described as such). It seems to me that to the extent that people dwell on the supernatural (in any of its many guises), they miss out on the possibility of a more meaningful engagement with the surprising physical and non-physical universe in which we find ourselves.

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lukeprog November 6, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Nick,

I believe consciousness is a physical phenomena, but that remains to be seen. The evidence isn’t in yet.

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Mike Young November 6, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Luke, you have made a category mistake. the catgeories you have conflated are laws and reasons. Physical objects behave according the physical laws, God, if he exists, behaves according to reasons. And b ecause reasons lack the precise regularity that laws have you cannot get at them through testing. A person can act differently in exactly the same situation purly based upion his reasons for doing so. You need to be careful of this. Second, You told us that math tells us nothing about the world, while that may or may not be true, what we do know is that the world can be described with math. That being the case, you need to account for the ontology of math and how it can be known to be true without using observation.

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lukeprog November 6, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Mike Young,

Mathematical objects are abstractions. That is their ontology.

Yes, if God exists he acts according to reasons. That makes God the domain of intentional explanations. And we can get at those by way of testing and observing the physical world. We do it all the time. It is less precise than physics, but… well if you want to say that God does just whatever and there is no way for us to predict his actions, then you literally cannot say he is the best explanation for anything. But that would be an odd path for an apologist to take.

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Jeff H November 7, 2009 at 7:45 am

Mike Young: Physical objects behave according the physical laws, God, if he exists, behaves according to reasons. And b ecause reasons lack the precise regularity that laws have you cannot get at them through testing.

As a student of psychology, I resent that assertion. Surely you would say that knowing something about a person’s personality and character would let us know something about how he would react in a given situation? It wouldn’t be perfect, of course, but if you can’t say that a perfectly honest person (which God apparently is) will never lie to you, then I have a hard time imagining how you function in society…

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lukeprog November 7, 2009 at 10:09 am

Also see: What Questions Can Science Answer? by physicist Sean Carroll.

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Bebok November 7, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Nick Barrowman: there are mathematical truths that exist independent of the physical world.

Actually there is a philosophical controversy about that:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is_logic_empirical%3F

(And also another controversy about reducing maths to logic or logic to maths.)

Why do you think art cannot be entirely explained by science? Maths, logic and consciousness are indeed mysterious, but art?

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faithlessgod November 8, 2009 at 2:33 am

Toad White

Faithless: What is your motivation in engaging in name-calling?

I am assuming you are referring to me calling you “Toad” twice? The first was a typo, the second was deliberate – because I found the typo amusing.

Now since you have displayed zero indication you are willing to honestly engage in critical and constructive debate and are more interested in hijacking these threads to no benefit to anyone, unlike others here such as Thomas Reid, there is nothing left but to use the social forces. To use these to directly address your desire to believe falsehoods – for which there is zero evidence – and your desire to corrupt honest and critical debate – for which there is plenty of evidence in these comment threads. That is to use condemnation and ridicule, any of which, should you object to which you are, can be justified, given the blatant evidence of your pseudo-rational arguments here. Others can chose their own methods of dealing with such pests as you.

As for the Sternberg “controversy” this does not affect on iota the underlying issue that ID is a failed science, a pseudo-science. Debating the merits and demerits of that case is simply a distraction from the underlying theme of Luke’s post and what the comments should be discussing. You appear to thrive on such distractions. I would not be surprised if you try and make this comment another distraction from the theme of this thread. I suggest no others fall for that trick. If you wish to indicate that you are genuinely committed to dealing with the substance of this thread, you could do no better than to ignore this comment.

Anyway there is your answer. Now lets get back to the theme of the thread.

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faithlessgod November 8, 2009 at 2:43 am

Mike Young

Luke, you have made a category mistake. the catgeories you have conflated are laws and reasons. Physical objects behave according the physical laws, God, if he exists, behaves according to reasons. And because reasons lack the precise regularity that laws have you cannot get at them through testing.

The only reasons (to act) that exist are desires, desire exist and are natural. This is one answer that refutes the above. If the gods exists and acts according to reason, then they must have desires and we can ask whether any these desires are real. If they are and we can know what they are, we can still evaluate those desires just as we can anyone else’s.

A person can act differently in exactly the same situation purly based upion his reasons for doing so.

I have seen no evidence that this is so, where is your evidence. As I understand it, a person acts based on the more and strongest of their desires and those desires exist. In the same situation different people would have different desire sets and even the same person, at different times, would have different desire sets. That is it.

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Nick Barrowman November 8, 2009 at 11:52 am

Bebok,

Thanks for the interesting link about the question of whether mathematical truths exist independent of the physical world.

Why do you think art cannot be entirely explained by science? Maths, logic and consciousness are indeed mysterious, but art?

It seems to me that aesthetic as well as moral standards lie outside science. Science may inform them (e.g. from an evolutionary standpoint) and yet aesthetics and morality seem to have a higher meaning for us, one that we can’t approach from an entirely empirical standpoint. I acknowledge that this sounds rather vague, and I don’t feel that I have a good framework for understanding it. I’d be interested in other viewpoints.

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Bebok November 9, 2009 at 11:44 am

Nick,

I see, you meant aeshtetics in general. The question why different people judge beauty of the same objects differently is a part of the problem of qualia, which is a part of the problem of consciousness. I thought you wanted to defend some sort of a romantic claim that there are some sublime, mysterious or even divine elements concerning creating and receiving art and scientific inquiry can’t have access to those elements. Questions of whether moral and aesthetic values exist seem to be pretty difficult indeed (I guess this is what you meant), but what other standpoints do we have to approach them, apart from an entirely empirical one? Quine wrote: “The stimulation of his sensory receptors is all the evidence anybody has had to go on, ultimately, in arriving at his picture of the world.” This sounds plausible to me.

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Nick Barrowman November 12, 2009 at 5:24 am

Bebok,

I agree with much of what you’ve said. I do think, however, that when it comes to truth, there is room for instrospection in addition to empirical and rational approaches. But there is a considerable danger that when we attempt to describe the fruits of our introspection, it comes across as “sublime, mysterious or even divine” as you put it. I’m not sure how to deal with that. Any thoughts?

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Bebok November 15, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Nick,

I don’t dismiss introspection, as long as it can lead me to formulate some meaningful propositions that can be confronted with scientific knowledge.
Though, it’s good to remember that intuitions, just like art, may both be really enticing, neat, alluring, seductive and seemingly revealing, but far, far away from the truth at the same time.
I reaslise that many people feel somehow disappointed with science, as it can only deliver a number of accurate predictions, ultimately. Most of people don’t care about new accurate predictions too much, they want to know how to be satisfied with their lives, and they often find scientific, psychological answers to this question too restrained, or too demanding. Moreover, at least some of them would like to have an answer to metaphysical questions that science is unable to answer, like “why do we exist”, “what is it all about”, and so on (know the “higher meaning”, as you put it). As for morality, it seems to me that some more scientific approaches to it are quite unfamiliar to non-philosophers.
Luke’s lastest post (The Enchanted Naturalists Guide to Reality) is quite exactly about what I’ve wanted to write here. It’s possible that most of people will never be able to become “enchanted naturalists” and it’s true that realising how hard it is to gain comprehensive knowledge of anything, how little we know and how little we can learn, no matter how hard we study, may be discouraging and depressing. But it is still poor excuse for relying on intuitions, mystical experience or anything like that.

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Nick Barrowman November 16, 2009 at 4:14 am

Bebok,

A famous case of intuition leading to a scientifically-testable hypotheses is the account by Friedrich August Kekulé of how he discovered the ring structure of benzene–he reported dreaming of a snake eating its own tail. Quite a bit later, X-ray diffraction methods confirmed that benzene is ring-shaped.

But I don’t agree that intuition is only useful in such cases. Yes, intuition can be misleading. But for “metaphysical questions that science is unable to answer” we may proceed cautiously with reason and intuition. The only alternative is to set these questions aside, and it seems that nobody actually does this!

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Bebok November 22, 2009 at 4:18 am

Nick Barrowman:

Yes, intuition can be misleading. But for “metaphysical questions that science is unable to answer” we may proceed cautiously with reason and intuition. The only alternative is to set these questions aside, and it seems that nobody actually does this!

I have no clue what you mean by that, I’m afraid.

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Bebok November 22, 2009 at 4:30 am

Quite a number of people (philosophers and non-philosophers) set these questions aside, I’d say.
Do you have an example of such cautious proceeding with reason and intuition?

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cadaleb December 4, 2009 at 9:54 am

the so called physical and non physical realms are being completely misunderstood me and my friend were toking last night and thought up the true meaning to “being” and this cycle of life doesn’t make sense if it has always been and will forever be there has to be a beginning for there to be a been. and so called reality is just a subjected illusion created by the entity of the non reality or non physical so there for the world we call reality is truly the non reality and non reality is reality. making us just a figment of our own imagination causing life to not matter at all thank you im done. please people just listen it makes life so much better!

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cadaleb December 4, 2009 at 10:30 am

all should comment and tell me what you think and try and contradict me i approve of it because i no im right its truth and the working of a natural mind all this “ism” shit is just a light to blind the masses put here by the free masons so people wont think we are living in hell. o yeah were living in hell and by living i meen our entity of the true reality subjecting ourselves; the non realitists to time the worste for of torture all we do is wait and the free masons hide drugs and the truth to try and make this hell a little better – spoken by a true mason!

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cadaleb December 4, 2009 at 10:46 am

any one interested in the ways of a true mason don’t say you are one ever or your just conforming to the false reality and being a fag if u realized all this on your own your a true mason otherwise your a tool :)

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cadaleb December 4, 2009 at 10:48 am

o yeah listen to Tool itl help u cope with being nothing :P

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cadaleb December 4, 2009 at 11:34 am

form of torture not for. i apologize.

cadaleb: all should comment and tell me what you think and try and contradict me i approve of it because i no im right its truth and the working of a natural mind all this “ism” shit is just a light to blind the masses put here by the free masons so people wont think we are living in hell. o yeah were living in hell and by living i meen our entity of the true reality subjecting ourselves; the non realitists to time the worste for of torture all we do is wait and the free masons hide drugs and the truth to try and make this hell a little better – spoken by a true mason!  

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