Naturalism of the Gaps

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 28, 2010 in General Atheism

Believers are often accused of defending a “God of the gaps.” When they see something we don’t know how to explain – cosmic fine-tuning or consciousness or biological complexity – they conclude: “Huh. Must be magic. God did it.”

Smarter believers condemn the “God of the gaps” strategy and try other ways of defending God, which I think are also flawed.

But there is another way the theist might respond to an accusation of using a God of the gaps. He might say, as Mike Licona did, “No, we don’t want a God of the gaps. But we don’t want a Naturalism of the gaps, either.”

His point is that if we can’t explain something, we shouldn’t posit a God of the gaps, but we also shouldn’t say, “I don’t know what it is, but we know it must be something Natural.”

I think there’s some truth to this reply, but it may also be misleading.

“I don’t know.”

When I don’t know how something works or how to explain it, the correct conclusion is “I don’t know.”

We humans have a very hard time saying “I don’t know,” but it may be the best answer in most cases. Our methods of knowing are highly fallible, though we’re getting better. We can get people walking on the moon, now.

So no, we don’t want to say “I don’t know what it is, but I’m certain it’s something Natural.” That’s probably too strong a conclusion.

But only a little too strong. Let me explain.

Negative Naturalism

First, when I talk about Naturalism – the view that everything which exists is natural, not supernatural – I’m mostly talking about it as a negative position, not a positive one.

Let’s use an analogy. Let’s say there’s a word for the belief that unicorns exist. That’s called unicornism. And there’s a word for disbelief in unicorns. That’s called a-unicornism. I’m an a-unicornist, and you probably are, too. But that doesn’t mean we think we can prove that unicorns don’t exist, or even that we have evidence that unicorns don’t exist.

After all, what would it mean to say we have evidence that unicorns don’t exist? I know what evidence for the existence of unicorns would look like, but I’m not sure how there could be evidence against their existence. And yet we all disbelieve in unicorns.

There might even be unicorns on a distant planet we will encounter millions of years from now. But it seems unlikely a horse with a pointy horn on its head would have happened to evolve on a planet under very different conditions than our own. So most of us doubt unicorns exist.1

So our a-unicornism is a negative kind. It’s not that we’ve searched the whole universe and we positively know that unicorns don’t exist. Rather, we know about planets and black holes and horses and fungi and viruses and light and gravity and desire but we don’t know about unicorns, and we don’t have any particular reason to think they exist. So we disbelieve in unicorns.

That’s what Naturalism is to me. I know about stars and radiation and frogs and fear and microchips and even “dark energy,” but I don’t know about the supernatural, and don’t have any compelling reasons to think supernatural things exist.

So, my conversation with a believer might go like this:

LUKE: You said consciousness gives us reason to believe in God, but isn’t that just a “God of the gaps” argument?

BELIEVER: Well, sure, but there’s still something mysterious about consciousness, and you shouldn’t accept a “Naturalism of the gaps,” either.

LUKE: But when I say I’m a Naturalist I’m not saying I’ve searched the whole universe and I know everything in it is natural. I’m just saying everything I know to exist is natural. I don’t know how consciousness works, but I have no reason yet to think it’s supernatural, and that’s why I’m a Naturalist.

Toward Positive Naturalism

But we can go one step further. There is at least one pretty good reason to suspect that things we don’t understand yet – such as consciousness or dark energy or The Bloop – really are natural phenomena at bottom.

The reason to suspect this is simple. Everything we’ve investigated thoroughly so far has turned out to be natural at bottom. We used to think damn near everything was supernatural. Child birth, crop cycles, dramatic weather, political success and failure – all these things and almost everything else was once attributed to spirits or gods, because we humans seem to have hyperactive agency detectors in our brains.

Yet when we look closely at things, we always find that they are the product of mindless natural forces. Many mysteries remain, but it’s starting to look implausible that phenomena #14,628,355 will, for the first time, actually be supernatural at bottom. As Tim Minchin raps:

Every mystery ever solved has turned out to be Not Magic.

Or, to use Richard Carrier’s analogy:

The cause of lightning was once thought to be God’s wrath, but turned out to be the unintelligent outcome of mindless natural forces. We once thought an intelligent being must have arranged and maintained the amazingly ordered motions of the solar system, but now we know it’s all the inevitable outcome of mindless natural forces. Disease was once thought to be the mischief of supernatural demons, but now we know that tiny, unintelligent organisms are the cause, which reproduce and infect us according to mindless natural forces. In case after case, without exception, the trend has been to find that purely natural causes underlie any phenomena. Not once has the cause of anything turned out to really be God’s wrath or intelligent meddling, or demonic mischief, or anything supernatural at all. The collective weight of these observations is enormous: supernaturalism has been tested at least a million times and has always lost; naturalism has been tested at least a million times and has always won. A horse that runs a million races and never loses is about to run yet another race with a horse that has lost every single one of the million races it has run. Which horse should we bet on? The answer is obvious.

The Naturalist is merely the person who bets on the horse that has one every single one of its million races, and bets against the horse that has lost every one of its million races.

There are many races yet to be run, but we have every reason to think the million-winning horse will continue to win.

With this in mind, my conversation with a believer might now look like this:

LUKE: You said consciousness gives us reason to believe in God, but isn’t that just a “God of the gaps” argument?

BELIEVER: Well, sure, but there’s still something mysterious about consciousness, and you shouldn’t accept a “Naturalism of the gaps,” either.

LUKE: But when I say I’m a Naturalist I’m not saying I’ve searched the whole universe and I know everything in it is natural. I’m just saying everything I know to exist is natural. I don’t know how consciousness works, but I have no reason yet to think it’s supernatural, and that’s why I’m a Naturalist. Besides, I do have good reason to suspect consciousness will turn out to be natural after all. The entire history of human inquiry gives me every reason to suspect that, even though I can’t know it for sure until we get much further along in our study of consciousness.

That, I think, is a pretty good response to an accusation of “Naturalism of the gaps.”

  1. At least, we doubt unicorns exist unless an infinite multiverse exists or modal realism is true, in which case everything that is possible to exist really does exist, including unicorns. But if we find that to be true I suspect we’ll change our language such that the phrase “doesn’t exist” in ordinary conversation means “doesn’t exist in this local universe,” because it won’t be too useful to talk about things that exist in other universes, and it will be confusing to suddenly start saying that unicorns and 15-headed dragons exist, even though they don’t exist in our universe. []

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{ 605 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Maitzen June 28, 2010 at 7:00 am

There might even be unicorns on a distant planet we will encounter millions of years from now. But it seems unlikely a horse with a pointy horn on its head would have happened to evolve on a planet under very different conditions than our own.

Keep in mind, too, that “unicorn” and “horse with a pointy horn on its head” aren’t synonymous. A mutation might well produce a horse with a pointy horn on its head, but that wouldn’t make it a unicorn, which (according to the associated lore) has additional, magical properties that make it vanishingly unlikely to exist, given what else we know.

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MauricXe June 28, 2010 at 8:11 am

This is a great post. I read something like this in one of Austin Dacey’s writings. I agree with your conclusion; this answer is sufficient.

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Thomas June 28, 2010 at 9:38 am

To me something is wrong here (which is, me being a theist, hardly a surprise). First you seem to make a parody version of all theistic arguments like this: “When they see something we don’t know how to explain – cosmic fine-tuning or consciousness or biological complexity – they conclude: “Huh. Must be magic. God did it.” And the ‘believer’ in your conversation makes the same kind of an argument (“Well, sure, but there’s still something mysterious about consciousness, and you shouldn’t accept a “Naturalism of the gaps,” either.”)

Now, maybe you´re just simplifying things to make your point, but as fan of the Argument from Consciousness (AC) I must comment on this. The proponent of AC (or some other theistic argument) doesn´t say “huh, consciousness is so mysterious, therefore its magic”. Rather, he reflects the nature of conscious experience and comes to the conclusion that (at least phenomenal) consciousness is irreducibly non-physical mental property. Many naturalists would agree with this (since the so called ‘non-reductive materialism’ is on the rise) and there are many powerful arguments for the non-physicalness of (at least phenomenal) consciousness (for example, ‘the knowledge argument’ or the Nagelian ‘what-is-it-like’ -argument.) Now, since philosophical arguments and reflection (not ignorance and appealing to magic) show that consciousness is probably non-physical, the next question is where did it come from. What is the explanation of the emergence of consciousness and its regular correlations with physical states? The proponent of AC argues now that there is no scientific explanation for the emergence of consciousness, because science deals with the physical world. But, since consciousness is non-physical, science cannot give us an explanation for its existence. Since the only possible explanation left is personal, the explanation of the emergence of non-physical consciousness is a personal explanation.

Another way to put the AC is something like this: If naturalism is true, then the history of the world would be told by wholly physical terms. But consciousness is non-physical. So where did it come from? How did evolution turn the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness (as Colin McGinn has said)? It seems that naturalism hasn´t got the ontological resources to account for consciousness. But theism has those resources. According to theism, consciousness is fundamental to kosmos. So consciousness is not a problem for theism. Therefore theism explains the existence of consciousness better than naturalism, and thus, it gives evidence for the truth of theism.

By point is just this: AC (and other theistic arguments) aren’t appeals to ignorance. You seem to define a theistic explanation as ‘magic’ and then complain that theistic arguments are akin to magic. To me that seems wrong. I think one needs to respond to an argument like AC by arguing that consciousness is actually reducible to physical states or that philosophical naturalism has got the resources to account for the existence of consciousness. The appeal to ‘future scientific discoveries’ or the past succes of naturalistic explanations just seems hand waving to me.

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Reginald Selkirk June 28, 2010 at 9:50 am

But consciousness is non-physical.

Please present even one example of a consciousness without a physical basis.

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Lorkas June 28, 2010 at 10:17 am

“The appeal to ‘future scientific discoveries’ or the past succes of naturalistic explanations just seems hand waving to me.”

You’re right, postulating a “soul” or “force” behind consciousness that goes against all of our previous experience is much better than assuming that it, like every other phenomenon we’ve ever investigated, is physical in nature.

Say what you like about hand waving, but your position is an argument from ignorance at its core. “We don’t know how this could be physical, so it must be non-physical.”

It’ll take more than an argument from ignorance to persuade me to bet on the ever-losing horse you’re promoting. Show me empirical evidence (instead of wooey philosophizing) of a non-physical basis for consciousness, and then we can talk about it.

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Thomas June 28, 2010 at 10:18 am

“Please present even one example of a consciousness without a physical basis.”

Mental states have physical basis, yes, but that doesn´t mean that mental states are the same thing as physical states. In other words, the mere correlation between the mental and the physical does not imply the identity between the two. Correlation is not identity. Therefore the neural correlates of the mental themselves do nothing the argument that consciousness is non-physical; the correlations are the very things to be explained.

Then there are of course very many NDE cases where the patients have had the most vivid experiences of their life while they have no brain activity. But even putting this evidence aside, like I said, the mere correlations aren’t explanations; they are the facts that need explanation. And I think a personal theistic one is the most plausible.

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Rob June 28, 2010 at 10:59 am

“But, since consciousness is non-physical, science cannot give us an explanation for its existence. Since the only possible explanation left is personal”

Vicious circularity.

Consciousness is this spooky thing Thomas does not think science can explain. So, for an explanation he offers an uber-consciousness: Yahweh.

Thomas, you have still not explained consciousness.

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zak June 28, 2010 at 11:20 am

If conscious states don’t require physical brains (like with NDEs, apparently), why do we have brains to begin with?

This “consciousness is non-physical” idea seems to suggest that having your eyes poked out, or visual cortex damaged will render you blind… unless we destroy the entire brain. Then vision pops back into existence, and we can recognize grandma as we float towards the light.

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Josh June 28, 2010 at 11:27 am

I don’t see how NDEs in any way provide for evidence of nonphysical consciousness. We know that they can be induced, we know that weird shit happens when the brain shuts down, and we know that people suck at interpreting experiences.

On the other hand, things like split-brain patients, lobotomies, brain damage, aphasias, etc. seem to point to the mind being intimately linked to the brain.

As a simple thought experiment, what happens the soul of a person with alzheimers? Say, after they die, do they revert to their pre-alzheimers state? But how long had the disease been building before it really took effect? I doubt that there is such a moment in time where you could say “Aha, they got alzheimers RIGHT THERE!” And what about all the stuff the soul experiences during alzheimers? Does it all get thrown away? I think that these kind of quasi-paradoxes present a serious problem for non physicalists.

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Reginald Selkirk June 28, 2010 at 11:32 am

But there is another way the theist might respond to an accusation of using a God of the gaps. He might say, as Mike Licona did, “No, we don’t want a God of the gaps. But we don’t want a Naturalism of the gaps, either.”

Your response seemed much longer than necessary. Apparently Mike Licona does not understand the concept of a null hypothesis.

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Reginald Selkirk June 28, 2010 at 11:36 am

Please present even one example of a consciousness without a physical basis.

You couldn’t do it, could you? Not one simple example? Name one example of an NDE occurring to someone who didn’t have a brain.

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Heuristics June 28, 2010 at 11:39 am

Is naturalism the same thing as physicalism here? If not, what does the word naturalism mean? What separates something natural from something non-natural? Is it mechanics vs non-mechanics?

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 11:53 am

Thomas:Then there are of course very many NDE cases where the patients have had the most vivid experiences of their life while they have no brain activity. But even putting this evidence aside, like I said, the mere correlations aren’t explanations; they are the facts that need explanation. And I think a personal theistic one is the most plausible.

There are explanations consistent with reality. First off, in the acronym itself we have the stub of an explanation NDE; Near Death Experiences. Not actual death experiences. Second, is how the specific NDE is investigated. Do you want to go over a specific ones, or do you have a different non-NDE example?

In either case, I strongly recommend not focusing on consciousness and pick something less in dispute.

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ShaneSteinhauser June 28, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I’d just like to say that modal realism is silly.

Oh and all explainations should be put to the test before they are accepted. Otherwise we would live in a world in which nobody really learns anything because they accept whatever possible explainations that come to mind instead of actually looking for the one true explaination.

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Thomas June 28, 2010 at 12:10 pm

You couldn’t do it, could you? Not one simple example? Name one example of an NDE occurring to someone who didn’t have a brain.”

Reginald, like I said, it is not needed here to present an example of consciousness without a physical basis. The argument doesn´t claim that. All that it claims, is that conscious experience or phenomenal consciousness itself is not physical (althought it is regurlarly correlated with physical states) and this is what probably the majority of philosophers of mind think nowadays (‘non-reductive physicalism’ is very popular). AC claims that property dualism actually gives evidence for theism. That´s all. I’m not arguing for Cartesian substance dualism or life after death here. All I’m saying is that phenomenal consciousness is probably not physical (and I think the knowledge argument shows this) and this is best explained by theism – the view that this consciousness is fundamental to the world. So where did qualia come into this world? According to theism, it was here from the beginning.

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Thomas June 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I think that these kind of quasi-paradoxes present a serious problem for non physicalists.”

Yes, but all that the AC claims is that property dualism or non-reductive physicalism gives evidence for theism and is ad hoc for a naturalist. So AC doesn´t imply Cartesian substance dualism. These paradoxes may be problems for a Cartesian, but I’m not arguing for that. I’m arguing that phenomenal consciousness gives evidence for theism and against naturalism.

In any case, like I said, Cartesianism may be in trouble. But I’m not a Cartesian substance dualist. I´d describe myself a non-Cartesian substance dualist. Here the person, the subject of experience, is a different substance from the body, but unlike in Cartesianism, the person can also possess some physical properties in virtue of possessing a body that possesses those properties (I have certain shape and size). This comes close to what Charles Taliaferro calles ‘intergrated dualism’ – the self and the brain are very closely integrated – it is not that the self is wholly different from the body, but they are closely tied together. From this point of view, Alzheimer and other brain damages should also affect to the person – they are different substances but very closely tied together.

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Reginald Selkirk June 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm

So where did qualia come into this world?

From the same place as the ether and phlogiston. It came from asking the wrong questions.

and this is what probably the majority of philosophers of mind think nowadays

Another point for science over philosophy. Most neurobiologists are naturalists.

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JS Allen June 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm

The cause of lightning was once thought to be God’s wrath

This is slightly misleading. The cause of some lightning was thought to be God’s wrath, just as the cause of some house fires is arson.

The idea that people invented the Bible to explain natural phenomena doesn’t seem plausible to me. A far more plausible atheist explanation, IMO, is that the ancients were documenting coincidences that took place within a moral context. The Bible is about morals; not about physics or geology.

For example, an ancient man’s conscience is offended by some behavior he sees going on in town, so he wanders outside the town to think about it. As he’s outside the town, a meteor strikes the town and starts a fire. It could be pure coincidence, but he’s not going to interpret it that way. He’s going to remember the story and pass it on to his grandkids.

The fact that only one flood is documented as being caused by God’s wrath, should be an indication that other floods are not.

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Jeff H June 28, 2010 at 12:35 pm

To play devil’s advocate for a minute here:

If the act of us “betting” on the always-winning horse of naturalism causes us to discount all non-natural explanations, so that we will continue to bash our heads against the problem until a natural solution comes out, then is it possible that the horse of non-naturalism has indeed won a few races, but that we haven’t noticed because we’ve already declared it to have lost before the race even started?

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Reginald Selkirk June 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm

If the act of us “betting” on the always-winning horse of naturalism causes us to discount all non-natural explanations, so that we will continue to bash our heads against the problem until a natural solution comes out, then is it possible that the horse of non-naturalism has indeed won a few races, but that we haven’t noticed because we’ve already declared it to have lost before the race even started?

What do you mean “us“? Supernaturalism has many eager proponents. If it had won any races, they would not have been overlooked.

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Reginald Selkirk June 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

The idea that people invented the Bible to explain natural phenomena doesn’t seem plausible to me.

It seems pretty implausible to me too, since it does such a crap job of it. Bats are not a type of fowl, insects are not restricted to four legs, rabbits do not chew their cuds, there is no position from which the entire surface of the Earth is visible, pi does not equal three, you cannot breed animals with stripes by putting sticks near their watering trough, etc.

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JS Allen June 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm

there is no position from which the entire surface of the Earth is visible, pi does not equal three, you cannot breed animals with stripes by putting sticks near their watering trough, etc

Exactly right. We get no star charts, agricultural tables, or any other utilitarian science that the ancients would’ve certainly possessed in order to get on with their daily lives. Instead we have exceptionally weird stories about sticks near watering troughs. If we’re going to say that this represents the state of the art in their scientific knowledge, it is a miracle indeed that they survived.

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Thomas June 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

From the same place as the ether and phlogiston. It came from asking the wrong questions.

Every attempt to reduce qualia have been a complete failure. Accorging to Jaegwon Kim, no one has a clue even where to begin, and that´s one reason why Kim is a nonreductive property dualist about qualia nowadays. In any case, you don´t think there is such a thing as qualia? Have some chocolate, reflect its taste, and ask yourself is the experience of you tasting chocolate real.

Another point for science over philosophy. Most neurobiologists are naturalists.

Most philosophers of mind are naturalists, too, but they are non-reductive materialists about consciousness.

But most neurobiologists certainly are reductive materialists or strong materialists. I´d say that this is because most neurobiologists are philosophically naive, but maybe there can be reasonable disagreement here..

Like I have said, neuroscience only gives us tight correlations between mental and physical states. Now, these correlations are the phemomena to be explained – they are not explanations themselves. If you claim that the best explanation for these correlations is some kind of Identity Theory or Functionalism, you are making a philosophical claim about these scientific observations. Science itself doesn´t tell what explains the correlations – you have to go outside science to make that claim – and that is a philosophical position. Now, if a neurobiologist is making this philosophical claim (‘Identity Theory is true’) and doesn´t realize that she´s making a philosophical claim about certain scientific observations, I´d call her ‘philosophically naive’.

There are many devastating arguments against materialism or physicalism. One recent resource is The Waning of Materialism, edited by Koons and Bealer (Oxford, 2010).

One more thing about this Scientism of yours. The view that science is the only guide to reality and far superior to ‘first philosophy’ is not itself a scientific claim – no observation supports this view. Therefore this Scientism is a philosophical view. But according to Scientism philosophy is almost worthless. So here we have a philosophical view according to which philosophy is worthless. Self refutation is lurking here…

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lukeprog June 28, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Jeff H,

On the race, we’re just waiting for someone to demonstrate that a non-natural solution has indeed succeeded.

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Haukur June 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm

But theism has those resources. According to theism, consciousness is fundamental to kosmos. So consciousness is not a problem for theism.

Perhaps. But for a theory where ‘consciousness is fundamental to kosmos’ you don’t need theism and certainly not Christianity. You could go with panpsychism or animism or pantheism. And if you want a big religion then Hinduism has put a lot more effort into ideas like ‘consciousness is fundamental to kosmos’ than Christianity has.

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Zeb June 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Luke you’re begging the question here. “Everything we’ve investigated thoroughly so far has turned out to be natural at bottom.” That translates to ‘every explanation we’ve successfully supported so far using scientific method turns out to include only mindless natural forces.’ But that’s the only kind of explanation scientific method can support! Obviously immaterial agents with free will will not be susceptible to coerced reptitious public demonstration. However we can come to knowledge of the explanations such agents provide through the epistemic means you reject: personal experience, intuition, testimony, and reasoning from necessity.

And to be fair, what subjects have been investigated more thoroughly in human history than personhood (including consciousness, will, and identity), good and evil, the purpose of life, and existence itself? These subjects have been investigated and have been found to have non-natural explanations. However you are waiting for explanations provided by scientific method, so you are a priori excluding non-natural explanations and are therefore appealing to naturalism of the gaps using a circular defense.

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lukeprog June 28, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Zeb,

No, I didn’t say that success had to be demonstrated scientifically. It just has to be demonstrated in some way that works. Like, you know, putting a man on the moon or curing polio or something.

In what way has, for example, the purpose of life been found to have a good non-natural explanation? By what criteria are you judging an explanation as “good” rather than “not good”?

I’m not assuming that science is the only way to demonstrate things. It could be we live in a universe where personal testimony or basic intuitions or praying to Zeus were good methods of demonstrating truth. It just turns out as a matter of fact that they are not.

There’s no a priori dismissal going on here. It’s all very a posteriori for me.

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Soku June 28, 2010 at 3:37 pm

It seems to me science only deals with problems that are tractable. It’s not dealing with things like normative propositions for instance.

So, if science is tackling all of these tractable problems no wonder it seems as if “everything” if we’ve studied so far has a naturalistic explanation.

At what point would it be permissible to allow a supernatural explanation of, say, consciousness, anyhow?

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Soku: At what point would it be permissible to allow a supernatural explanation of, say, consciousness, anyhow?

I’m still waiting on a single unambiguous and agreed upon demonstration of what this “supernatural” thing is. All I get are descriptions, assertions, or speculations.

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antiplastic June 28, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Before I can evaluate whether someone does or does not adhere to “naturalism of the gaps”, or whether this is a good epistemic strategy, someone is going to have to tell me what “naturalism” is, because after years and years of following these debates most descriptions seem to amount to either “Xism is the belief that everything is X-tastic and X-alicious” (gee, thanks) or a list of ostensibly enumerated items.

Here’s a test question: is the neural construction of object permanence an example of “naturalism of the gaps”?

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lukeprog June 28, 2010 at 4:16 pm

antiplastic,

There are many, many definitions of naturalism. But of course supernaturalism suffers from the exact same problem, for it is defined in terms of naturalism.

I’m just using a common-sense particularist definition based on clear examples. Rocks and quarks and strings and grey matter are natural. Non-physical gods and ghosts are supernatural.

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TH June 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Thomas:

Every attempt to reduce qualia have been a complete failure.

That’s not the reality I’m familiar with. I think Dennett did a good job of demolishing qualia.

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TaiChi June 28, 2010 at 4:51 pm

LUKE: You said consciousness gives us reason to believe in God, but isn’t that just a “God of the gaps” argument?

BELIEVER: Well, sure, but there’s still something mysterious about consciousness, and you shouldn’t accept a “Naturalism of the gaps,” either.” ~ Lukeprog

I’d just agree with this, myself. If a “Naturalism of the gaps” is parallel to a “God of the gaps”, then the former argues from the mystery of consciousness to Naturalism. The believer’s quite right that this is a bad argument, so I say let her have this irrelevant point.
As for whether we should believe that this puddle of ignorance turns out natural or supernatural, that depends upon the independent strength of these respective worldviews. But put this way, Supernaturalism seems hopeless, for it has no support independent of mystery. Those who think that it is a strong position have likely presupposed that various mysteries must be supernatural in kind, but this is grossly circular. So the only reasonable option here seems to be to believe that consciousness is natural, if we are to believe anything of it at all.

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TaiChi June 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm

But, since consciousness is non-physical, science cannot give us an explanation for its existence.” ~ Thomas

Why is that? The history of science is littered with failed non-physical explanations, so why could not the future of science admit such, if it were supported by the evidence? It may take a Kuhnian revolution for non-physicalism to become acceptable, but I see no reason to think that science is opposed in principle to non-physicalist explanations.

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Mark June 28, 2010 at 5:16 pm

But according to Scientism philosophy is almost worthless. So here we have a philosophical view according to which philosophy is worthless. Self refutation is lurking here…

Probably this is a caricature of “scientism,” unless you mean “scientism” itself to be a caricature of naturalized epistemology or whatever.

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Zeb June 28, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Luke, “what works” the way you are using it is a synonym for science. What, you’ll take ‘magic’ so long as it gives reproducible, publicly observable means of controlling the physical world? That is scientifically verified magic you’re asking for.

Here’s an example of a good non-natural explanation for the purpose of life. In Christianity the purpose of life is to be in communion with God. This entails you having right relationship with God, among the aspects of your self, with other beings, with the communities of beings, and with the impersonal world. Being in right relationship with those things includes helping them to remain in right relationship with each other. I judge this purpose to be good because it gives people a sense of purpose and direction in life, because it directs their lives toward a result that would entail happiness and well-being for all, and because that result is actually possible. I judge it to be better than all others because it is also the true ultimate purpose of life, in the sense that it is why we were brought into existence and it is the greatest good we can reach.

Science is great for giving us mechanistic answers. And those kind of answers are great for giving us power over the world, which why we can point to such impressive results of science. Science tells us the ‘how’ of the physical world, which lets us navigate and control it. But it does not tell us the ‘why’ and the ‘who’ of our lives. These questions do not call for mechanistic answers, they call for narrative answers, and science can not provide those because they do not yield to scientific method.

You say you are not assuming science is the only way to demonstrate things, but the kind of demonstration you refer to is necessarily scientific, is it not? You have seen the demonstration of other ways of finding truth in your own life, and you have seen them succeed in people like Mark Van Steenwyk, but you reject them because they have not been demonstrated scientifically; that is, controlled, reproducible, measurable, and publicly observable.

If you have neither a defeater nor an alternative explanation for something like consciousness, then how is your dismissal of any supernatural explanation not a priori for that question? The fact that knowledge of the supernatural did not help us put a man on the moon does not invalidate the supernatural explanations of consciousness.

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Zak June 28, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Zeb, what is the supernatural explanation of consciousness? And how do we know that it is the answer?

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tmp June 28, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Thomas,

>In other words, the mere correlation between the mental and the physical does not imply the identity between the two.

So you are essentially saying, that there is no correlation between the pixels on my screen and the ideas that the commenters here are trying to express?

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Hermes June 28, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Luke, “what works” the way you are using it is a synonym for science.

No, it is not.

Just because science is stunningly successful in getting to “what works” does not eliminate any other method of getting to “what works”. Trivial non-science examples are a good books or movies. They can work to persuade us on an emotional or intellectual level but rarely does this deal with the practice of science.

Now, just because the practice of science is so stunningly successful that examples come to mind readily that are related to the sciences does not negate Luke’s point. He acknowledges that utility because to ignore it would be a glaring omission.

Besides, it’s an embarrassment to non-science efforts that do not work — such as much of what theologians do. Those other fields can’t harp on the sciences for being effective. To do so is so much sour grapes and does not actually elevate their own attempts (if they are attempting anything beyond speculations and assertions).

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tmp June 28, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Thomas,

I mistyped. I meant identity between the organization of pixels on my screen and the ideas that the commenters are trying to express.

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ayer June 28, 2010 at 6:39 pm

“I see no reason to think that science is opposed in principle to non-physicalist explanations.”

Indeed, mathematics, a formal science (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science#Basic_classifications) deals everyday with nonphysical objects (abstracta in the form of numbers, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mathematics#Platonism)

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Josh June 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm

A quick browsing of wikipedia revealed one of the best descriptions of why the “qualia” problem screws with us:

“Now, a philosophical dualist might then complain: “You’ve described how hurting affects your mind — but you still can’t express how hurting feels.” This, I maintain, is a huge mistake — that attempt to reify ‘feeling’ as an independent entity, with an essence that’s indescribable. As I see it, feelings are not strange alien things. It is precisely those cognitive changes themselves that constitute what ‘hurting’ is — and this also includes all those clumsy attempts to represent and summarize those changes. The big mistake comes from looking for some single, simple, ‘essence’ of hurting, rather than recognizing that this is the word we use for complex rearrangement of our disposition of resources.”
-Marvin Minsky

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lukeprog June 28, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Josh,

Yup, that’s basically my view of qualia. Drescher and many others agree.

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TaiChi June 28, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Ayer,
Good example. Of course, the physicalist will generally want to interpret mathematics without reference to abstract objects, but I believe it to be the case that most mathematicians incline toward Platonism, which obviously doesn’t interfere with their work.

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Thomas June 29, 2010 at 1:59 am

TH:

That’s not the reality I’m familiar with. I think Dennett did a good job of demolishing qualia.

Well I just have to disagree. I think Dennett did not explain qualia but rather he explained it away. That is, Dennett didn’t really said anything at all about subjective conscious experience, but he gave a story where this conscious experience isn’t really there. But maybe I´ll have to be a little careful here since I haven’t really studied Dennett enough! All said, I´m with David Chalmers and others here; “the hard problem” of consciousness is very much unsolved and it looks like it will stay unsolved for physicalism – physicalism just doesn’t seem to have the resources to account for qualia, so it has to explain qualia away or label it as “illusory”. That´s too much for me. If I have to choose between a philosophical theory (physicalism) and reality (the existence of phenomenal consciousness), I´ll go with reality.

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 2:19 am

Hermes, non-natural explanations have worked very well to give some people meaning and sense of purpose and to direct their lives toward the good. Where they have not worked so well compared to science is in providing means to navigate and control the physical world and a simple way to convince everyone of the same explanations. However, in both cases ‘working well’ is a different virtue from ‘being true’. Anyway, how is “what works” as Luke or you are using it not synonymous with science (as in scientific method)?

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 2:55 am

Zak, I can’t answer your question exactly; there are multiple supernatural explanations for consciousness and multiple ways learning and confirming them. The problem is, some of the answers to questions about consciousness may not submit to controlled repetition and objective measurement, and so are beyond the scope of science and the conclusive public demonstrations science provides. So, my answers at present are that human consciousness is created by the tri-omni god to share his nature and life. Most and perhaps all of the content of human consciousness is synthesized by the brain, but the witnessing of that content is carried out by the supernatural activity of either the soul itself by god-given power or by god himself communicating that content to the soul. And of course I learned and confirmed that by all the epistemic means typically rejected by scientism (plus a little science). Now just because these types of answers aren’t amenable to conclusive public demonstration doesn’t mean they are hopelessly private. Dialogue and criticism have been just as important as personal experience, intuition, and revelation in the development of theologies and supernatural philosophies.

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Rhys Wilkins June 29, 2010 at 3:00 am

If I have to choose between a philosophical theory (physicalism) and reality (the existence of phenomenal consciousness), I´ll go with reality.

What if the philosophical theory that best explains reality is some variant of physicalism?

Btw, if you read Dennett’s material, he does indeed show that qualia is a nonsensical concept. All the arguments in support of qualia, such as the Mary in the Black and White Room thought experiment, really amount to nothing more then facile intuition pumps, not cogent argumentation.

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 4:47 am

It’s simply not true or at least an unproven assertion that everything that once was seen as having a supernatural explanation turned out to be natural. This certainly applies to the Bible. Most of the examples of (supposed) supernatural explanations don’t appear there. E.g., child birth is not seen as a supernatural event and lightning not as an expression of God’s wrath.

In fact those events in the Bible which are seen as being of supernatural origin such as the origin of life or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ still lack any plausible naturalistic explanation. As far as I can tell this is true for any supernatural event described in the Bible.

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Justfinethanks June 29, 2010 at 5:08 am

It’s simply not true or at least an unproven assertion that everything that once was seen as having a supernatural explanation turned out to be natural. This certainly applies to the Bible.

Yeah, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that its authors believed that demons were the cause of some illnesses, and try as they might, naturalists have yet to devise naturalistic explanation of disease.

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Tony Hoffman June 29, 2010 at 5:17 am

Patrick: “In fact those events in the Bible which are seen as being of supernatural origin such as the origin of life or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ still lack any plausible naturalistic explanation. As far as I can tell this is true for any supernatural event described in the Bible.”

Yup, the virgin birth, for instance, lacks any plausible natural explanation. Can’t think of any other possibility there, nope.

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Reginald Selkirk June 29, 2010 at 5:24 am

Do animals also experience qualia, or is it restricted to human consciousness?

What does an amoeba “feel” when its chemoreceptors tell it a possible food source lies in a particular direction?

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Thomas June 29, 2010 at 5:45 am

Btw, if you read Dennett’s material, he does indeed show that qualia is a nonsensical concept.

Well I of course disagree with Dennett. And so does many other philosophers of mind like Jaegwon Kim, Chalmers, Nagel and others. Dennett is pretty radical here. For example, prominent naturalist Kim indeed thinks that qualia is very real and it is not functionally reducible to physical states. But because the physical domain is causally closed for Kim, qualia must me epiphenomenal. So Kim is an epiphenomenal property dualist about phenomenal consciousness. Like I said, Dennett is pretty radical here – I`d say his views are almost absurd…

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Reginald Selkirk June 29, 2010 at 6:05 am

Like I said, Dennett is pretty radical here – I`d say his views are almost absurd…

Instead ofa bald unsupported statement like that, explain to us why you feel Dennett’s views are almost absurd.

Right after you explain whether animals experience qualia.

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Lilrobbie June 29, 2010 at 6:49 am

“…physicalism just doesn’t seem to have the resources to account for qualia, so it has to explain qualia away or label it as ‘illusory’.”

Isn’t it a problem that, whether we’re thinking about it or not, we’re never able to catch ourselves NOT having conscious experiences? I’ve read Susan Blackmore use an analogy of a refrigerator door: “Is the light always on inside? You may keep opening the door, as quickly as you can, but you can never catch it out – every time you open it, the light is on.”

Both Blackmore and Dennett both seem (to me, anyway) to make plausible cases for consciousness being illusory – arguing that consciousness is not a continuous “stream” of subjective experiences where things are either “in” or “out” of consciousness at any given moment in time; Instead, a conscious experience only becomes subjective once an individual (as Dennett puts it) “probes” into it (i.e. opens the fridge door), thus taking objective, material environments and experiences, and creating a subjective narrative.

As a quick disclaimer, I may be interpreting both Blackmore & Dennett completely wrong (it’s been a while since I’ve read either) And, I haven’t read or studied specific counter-arguments to their position, but would be interested to hear any critiques on their views.

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 7:01 am

That everything we’ve investigated thoroughly so far has turned out to natural is quite a bold statement. This is certainly not true for the Bible. As far as I can see for none of the supranatural events described in it plausible natural explanations could be found. Among these events are the origin of life or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Most of the examples given don’t appear in the Bible. E.g., child birth is not seen as a supranatural event and lightning not as an expression of God’s wrath.

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Bill Snedden June 29, 2010 at 7:17 am

Let’s assume arguendo that qualia cannot be explained reductively (that is to say, reduced *entirely* to the physical). What effect does this have on Naturalism? NONE. Does this provide good evidence for the existence of God? NO. Does this in any way necessitate that “consciousness” must be non-contingent? NO.

Neurobiologists and neurophilosophers have many different and conflicting ideas on the whys and hows of consciousness, but the fact remains that most of them are Naturalists. This is because most of them understand that the outcome of the reductionist project simply doesn’t affect the larger project of Naturalism. Non-physical reality is simply no problem for Naturalism.

And while I’m at it, perhaps someone could explain to me why “causal closure” is touted as such a difficulty for physicalism? There’s simply no way to avoid closure at the “brute fact” level of reality; why should it be seen as a problem for physicalism and not anti-physicalism (supernaturalism)?

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Lilrobbie June 29, 2010 at 7:39 am

@ Patrick: “As far as I can see for none of the supranatural events described in it plausible natural explanations could be found.

Well, if you take the claims of the Bible a priori to be true and accurate, then I would say that of course you won’t find any alternate explanations plausible.

However, I would say (and what Luke is getting it in his post, as well), that ANY natural explanation I (or anyone else) could come up with is more plausible than a supernatural one.

Otherwise, what criteria would you use to separate the supernatural claims of the Bible versus ones made by other faiths, cults, etc?

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 7:46 am

Please ignore my last comment. I wrote it because I thought that my first one didn’t make it into the blog (it’s the first time I take part in a blog, so I’m somewhat unexperienced).

As for the causes of diseases the Bible clearly states that they can have natural causes and can therefore be cured by natural means (see e.g. 1 Timothy 5,23). Therefore the search for natural cures against diseases is not illicit from a Biblical point of view. That those diseases that were ascribed to the acts of demons in fact were not caused by these, to my knowledge no one has ever been able to demonstrate (of course this also is true for the belief that they were indeed caused by demons).

I’m not suggesting that the supranatural explanations in the Bible can’t be questioned but what I want to say is that (mostly) they can’t be easily replaced by natural explanations (except of course the statement “It just didn’t happen.”).

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TH June 29, 2010 at 7:52 am

Thomas:

Well I just have to disagree. I think Dennett did not explain qualia but rather he explained it away.

Dennett is widely recognized as an intellectual leader in the field of consciousness studies. You can not simply dismiss him without taking the time to fully understand and address his arguments. He is every bit an authority on mind as Kim and Chalmers.

This undermines your claim that a survey of experts shows that consciousness must BY DEFAULT be taken as incompatible with physicalism. Rather, I think, Dennett’s arguments are powerful enough (and I have seen no detailed refutation) so that it is reasonable to say consciousness may well be reducible to physical properties.

Since we have conflicting experts on the subject, it’s at last fair initially to take a neutral position on consciousness rather than assuming the evidence is against physicalism. Thus, Luke’s OP applies.

To reach agreement beyond that, we’d have to get into the exact details of the expert’s arguments. Maybe you can point me to forums/websites where you hang out and discuss this sort of thing. I’m aware of http://www.consciousentities.com which has some good overviews.

(note: I assume we are talking about the kind of physicalism that has no problem accounting for software)

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lukeprog June 29, 2010 at 8:16 am

Patrick,

What about the supernatural events described in Homer, or in the testimony of the Salem witch trials? Do you think it is difficult to propose naturalistic explanations for these, too?

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Tony Hoffman June 29, 2010 at 8:32 am

Patrick: “As for the causes of diseases the Bible clearly states that they can have natural causes and can therefore be cured by natural means (see e.g. 1 Timothy 5,23). Therefore the search for natural cures against diseases is not illicit from a Biblical point of view.”

Good. It’s nice to know that your interpretation of the Bible permits scientists to look for ways to cure disease. I’m glad you’ve straightened that out for them.

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 9:02 am

Dear Lilrobbie, whether or not I take the claims of the Bible or of other beliefs as true and accurate is entirely irrelevant in this respect. I argue against lukeprog’s assertion that supranatural claims have been steadily replaced by more plausible natural explanations and that this supposed success is an argument in favour of naturalism. At least with respect to the Bible in my opinion this is not true. As far as I can see there is no supranatural explanation in the Bible that could successfully be replaced by a natural explanation (e.g. the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead by the explanation that the disciples stole the body). By “successfully” I mean in a way that doesn’t require an antisupranaturalistic bias but would also have to be accepted by an honest person that accepts supranaturalism.

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Tony Hoffman June 29, 2010 at 9:04 am

Patrick: “I’m not suggesting that the supranatural explanations in the Bible can’t be questioned but what I want to say is that (mostly) they can’t be easily replaced by natural explanations (except of course the statement “It just didn’t happen.”).”

Right. And those that can be examined, like the flood that covered the world or the carnage that would have been left at the bottom of the Red Sea when the waters re-converged, show that “it just didn’t happen” is batting 1000. So why do you think that all the other claims that can’t be examined would be different?

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Lilrobbie June 29, 2010 at 9:04 am

@ Patrick: “As for the causes of diseases the Bible clearly states that they can have natural causes and can therefore be cured by natural means (see e.g. 1 Timothy 5,23). Therefore the search for natural cures against diseases is not illicit from a Biblical point of view. That those diseases that were ascribed to the acts of demons in fact were not caused by these, to my knowledge no one has ever been able to demonstrate (of course this also is true for the belief that they were indeed caused by demons).

Why would one need to demonstrate that disease in the Bible were NOT caused by demons, exactly? Since we now know that disease/illness/etc. is consistently caused by natural occurrences (i.e. germs/bacteria/genetic defect/etc.), there is no longer ANY NEED to accept demonic possession as an equally plausible or legitimate cause.

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Thomas June 29, 2010 at 9:07 am

Reginald:

Instead ofa bald unsupported statement like that, explain to us why you feel Dennett’s views are almost absurd.

Yeah maybe you´re right, my claims were a little bit too bold and dismissive. I cannot make a comprehensive case against Dennett here, but suffice to say this much: Dennett´s model attempts to explain reportability, our ability to report the contents of our internal conscious states. But it tells us nothing at all about internal conscious states themselves and why they exist in the first place. So I think Dennett is failing to explain consciousness – he just explaines it away.

Animal consciousness? Sure. Certainly at least higher mammals experience conscious states. That seems obvious. But of course no one knows which animals experience and what. That is because consciousness is necessarily owned by a 1st person subject, that is, consciousness is characterized by subjective ontology. That´s one argument why consciousness isn´t physical.

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Lilrobbie June 29, 2010 at 9:17 am

@ Patrick “…whether or not I take the claims of the Bible or of other beliefs as true and accurate is entirely irrelevant in this respect.”

It doesn’t seem to me that it is at all irrelevant to you. On the contrary – it seems like you are presupposing the truth and accuracy of the Bible as fact (specifically regarding the claim of Jesus’ resurrection) and then asking for a naturalistic explanation based on said “facts”.

Luke and I have both asked what criteria you would use to sift through and accept or deny supernatural claims made by other faiths / cults / cultures, etc. Can you explain your methodology with respect to supernatural claims and their plausible or implausible naturalistic explanations?

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Thomas June 29, 2010 at 9:19 am

TH:

Dennett is widely recognized as an intellectual leader in the field of consciousness studies. You can not simply dismiss him without taking the time to fully understand and address his arguments. He is every bit an authority on mind as Kim and Chalmers.

You´re probably right. I must apologize.

Since we have conflicting experts on the subject, it’s at last fair initially to take a neutral position on consciousness rather than assuming the evidence is against physicalism.

True, but I wasn’t just assuming that consciousness is incompatible with physicalism, I said that there are very many cogent arguments against (at least reductive) physicalism. But of course I haven’t defended these arguments here.

Maybe you can point me to forums/websites where you hang out and discuss this sort of thing

I don´t really do that actually. I´m a student very much interested in the philosophy of mind but I haven´t really interacted with others on this too much. Maybe you can help me here..

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Eneasz June 29, 2010 at 9:30 am

Thomas – you’re saying that consciousness cannot be reduced to the purely physical?

Would you then agree with Chalmers that it would (in theory) be possible to recreate the world in perfect PHYSICAL fidelity down to the last quark, but not reproducing the non-physical things such as consciousness-juice, and the people who live in that world would act just like us but NOT be conscious? A term he calls philosophical-zombies? (I’m not sure if the phrase originated with him)

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 9:41 am

Lukeprog,

as for the examples you give I wouldn’t rule out a priori that these supernaturalistic claims must be wrong. For all I know no one has ever managed to prove that they are wrong. But of course they could be wrong. But even so, the (undisputed) fact that supernatural claims may turn out to be wrong doesn’t prove naturalism just as the fact that natural explanations may turn out to be wrong doesn’t prove antisupranaturalism. The facts can be interpreted in favour of naturalism or supernaturalism or also of an agnostic position about these matters. I’m not saying that naturalism has been proven to be wrong but that it hasn’t been proven to be correct. To use the analogy of the horse race, in my opinion it’s by no means clear which horse will win.

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ayer June 29, 2010 at 9:47 am

“Maybe you can point me to forums/websites where you hang out and discuss this sort of thing”

Ed Feser often discusses this topic; e.g., see here:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/06/churchland-on-dualism-part-iv.html

An excerpt: “Dualists traditionally tend to regard metaphysical inquiry as an enterprise every bit as rational as, but distinct from and more fundamental than, empirical science. Committed as they often are to scientism, contemporary materialists would no doubt deny that there can be any such form of inquiry, but they cannot deploy this denial in an argument against dualism without begging the question.”

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Eneasz June 29, 2010 at 9:55 am

Patrick-

To use the analogy of the horse race, in my opinion it’s by no means clear which horse will win.

In that case, I’d be willing to make a bet with you, for any amount of money, that next time the Lakers play the Nuggets, Kobe Bryant will out-score Anthony Carter. I’ll even give you 10:1 odds. Payable via PayPal with a third-party judge.

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Tony Hoffman June 29, 2010 at 9:57 am

Patrick: “To use the analogy of the horse race, in my opinion it’s by no means clear which horse will win.”

So your position is that the past horse races have all been inconclusive?

Can you provide an example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong? If you can provide one, can you provide a similar amount of supernatural explanations to those phenomena that have been shown to be caused naturally?

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mkandefer June 29, 2010 at 10:21 am

On epiphenomena, I found the following interesting in terms of arguing against its likelihood:

“We can put this dilemma very sharply: Chalmers believes that there is something called consciousness, and this consciousness embodies the true and indescribable substance of the mysterious redness of red. It may be a property beyond mass and charge, but it’s there, and it is consciousness. Now, having said the above, Chalmers furthermore specifies that this true stuff of consciousness is epiphenomenal, without causal potency – but why say that?

Why say that you could subtract this true stuff of consciousness, and leave all the atoms in the same place doing the same things? If that’s true, we need some separate physical explanation for why Chalmers talks about “the mysterious redness of red”. That is, there exists both a mysterious redness of red, which is extra-physical, and an entirely separate reason, within physics, why Chalmers talks about the “mysterious redness of red

[...]

I do not see any way to evade the charge that, on Chalmers’s own theory, this separable outer Chalmers is deranged. This is the part of Chalmers that is the same in this world, or the Zombie World; and in either world it writes philosophy papers on consciousness for no valid reason. Chalmers’s philosophy papers are not output by that inner core of awareness and belief-in-awareness, they are output by the mere physics of the internal narrative that makes Chalmers’s fingers strike the keys of his computer.

And yet this deranged outer Chalmers is writing philosophy papers that just happen to be perfectly right, by a separate and additional miracle. Not a logically necessary miracle (then the Zombie World would not be logically possible). A physically contingent miracle, that happens to be true in what we think is our universe, even though science can never distinguish our universe from the Zombie World.”.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/p7/zombies_zombies/

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faithlessgod June 29, 2010 at 10:39 am

An interesting thread.

Just my two pennies worth.

First there is much ambiguity between physicalism, materialism and naturalism. They are not the same. Any argument even if it succeeds against physicalism does not refute naturalism.

Second, debates over Dennett, for or against are, IMV besides the point. There is a wide range of research on consciousness in neuroscience, cognitive science and relate inquiry in the philosophy of mind.

Whilst there is clearly no definitive answer, the posit of requiring a Christian god is just not remote a candidate introducing far more problems than it could solve. Indeed this is one of the most absurd claims I have heard in a long while, but following Luke’s blog no longer leaves me surprised at the bizarre claims that Christians make. It appears that they think that God is a magical swiss army knife that can do anything, whereas in reality it does nothing.

Note it is possible for an explanation to resolve one mystery at the introduction of another as Newton did unifying celestial and earthly motion whilst promoting the hitherto occult notion of action at a distance – gravity. However the use of Christian God here fails miserably at proposing anything of any use and introduces far more questions, it solves or resolves nothing at all. All the questions that lead researchers to be involved in this field – I did a Masters in it- would remain, it would not help one iota.

That is the question of a Christian god, or indeed deities in general, is a complete non-topic in consciousness research, it is quite irrelevant.

To continue if one was to pursue a supernatural route there are far superior thoughts on this in variants of Buddhism, Zen, Tao and Vedanta. All of which specifically deny the notion of a creator deity let alone anything like a Christian God.

Indeed the Christian theist has just as much if not more work to justify a Christian God if we grant some sort of supernatural basis to “consciousness”, that is it is still dramatically implausible even assuming some form of supernatural substance dualism.

That is the Argument from Consciousness (AfC), even if it succeeds in refuting naturalism (which, to be clear, IMV the AfC does not) does not lead to support for the Christian God. It would instead provide far superior support for other non-theistic supernatural models such as some of the aforementioned variants of early Buddhism and so on.

Going back to the OP, it was a nice idea to propose a “Naturalism of the gaps” to contrast with a “God of the gaps” explanation. However there is overwhelming support for the latter over the former (although we would not call it “… of the gaps” necessarily) that is the evidence supports that naturalism is an inference to the best explanation, whereas theism is an inference to the worst explanation, that, abductively, what we see is least surprising according to naturalism and very surprising on theism and that based on bayesian reasoning our confidence in a natural explanation is massively higher than on a theistic explanation which, comparing the two posteriori probabilities pushes theistic explanation to as close to zero as makes no difference.

Until you Christian Theists can start to resolve that by providing a single piece of objective evidence in support of a Christian God, then these probabilities will not change. Until then you are flogging a long rotten, dead horse. And I ain’t holding my breath – just my nose.

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 11:15 am

Zeb: Hermes, non-natural explanations have worked very well to give some people meaning and sense of purpose and to direct their lives toward the good.

Well, beyond moralizing and meaning they also can have practical utility. For example, a book on personal finances or nearly anything from the “For Dummies” series focus on utility and not meaning, and nature is rarely the focus of these books.

Even more technical resources such as a documentary on a physicist or the utility of an acronym such as ROY G. BIV may benefit either directly or indirectly from nature being emphasized, but they are primarily functional (indirectly addressing nature) or are just fun as well as being illuminating.

Fiction also may have practical utility and be completely based in fantasy. This is why some of the more popular fiction books are heavily based in facts (natural or not) and give social insights — neither necessarily put through the scrutiny of a detailed analysis or intended to be taken as completely accurate even outside the specific characters or plot devices. When having fun, we like to get something extra out of it and that doesn’t require a completely natural approach at all times.

[ Stepping away from nature can also be a waste of time, as in the case of L. Ron Hubbard's fiction books Battlefield Earth and Dianetics, both seemingly written with the idea of getting paid by the word, and both could be reduced without any loss of content to under 10 pages. ]

Zeb: Where they have not worked so well compared to science is in providing means to navigate and control the physical world and a simple way to convince everyone of the same explanations.

Natural explanations with or without science do have a power that is unmistakable. Anyone who attempts to reject either as somehow at their core faulty is a moron.

Zeb: However, in both cases ‘working well’ is a different virtue from ‘being true’. Anyway, how is “what works” as Luke or you are using it not synonymous with science (as in scientific method)?

I’ll point to the examples I’ve given earlier, though if you want to have me refine them I’ll take a look at your comments and attempt to do so. In an pre-emptive attempt at addressing some comments you may make, I offer this…

* * *

Though the sciences and nature are stunningly effective in both working well and in finding what is true even increasingly in areas that they have traditionally been said to be mute, we don’t always speak with direct comments drawn from either science or nature.

[ This may often be a mistake on our part, and on that I would not disagree. To continue... ]

For example, experience can be refined through a scientific process and I think in general it is the best way to go for shared knowledge. Yet, experience and circumstances can also lead to true statements even if they are not universal or are even primarily situational. [ We do not live in a universe of Platonic forms, and situations and circumstances with many different players are what we have to deal with. ]

For example, it is not only good for a shark to eat so it may live but it is also true that it must eat to live even if it’s dinner may disagree on the good part and may not care about the utility of being dinner. In human affairs, wars and other conflicts (violent or not) may also highlight truths that are not dealt with in science or through nature even if projectile capabilities and our own environment set the stage for how those affairs play themselves out. War is hell is a statement that makes sense and is true even though there is no such thing as a hell and wars are human activities that happen due to quite a bit of applied intelligence and intent, scientific or not.

* * *

Conclusion;

The door is open to non-nature or non-science explanations, and they are often used in the majority of discussions and media that are neither religious or theistic.

That said, it is not my responsibility to create specific arguments that use those other explanations for assertions by theistic religious people that seem to have no basis in reality, though advocates for those claims are free to do so.

Unfortunately, the theistic religious that attempt sophisticated and logical arguments tend to lean on entirely abstract pseudo-mathematical explanations to suitably prove their case (and in effect dodge science and nature illegitimately), often while ineffectively attacking what is shown to directly contradict their case (also often science and nature).

As soon as they do, though, they are admitting failure because we share a common reality not an infinite number of realities; if something is true in one situation, a contradictory truth can’t also be true for the same situation. Claiming presuppositionalism as the cure for such nonsense doesn’t get them very far either as it is basically just a reassertion of the original claim with yet one more knuckle deeply embedded in each ear canal.

[ The bait and switch of using deistic arguments and then at the last moment swapping in a non-deistic Abrahamic deity is just pitiful. Why theistic religious people don't see this as a big problem is a puzzle to me. ]

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lukeprog June 29, 2010 at 11:50 am

Patrick,

Once again, let me point out that I’m discounting the supernatural accounts a posteriori, not a priori.

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Cory June 29, 2010 at 11:57 am

Thomas,

Nice job distorting the issue. Dualism as such, even if true, is not evidence for the supernatural. Parallelism, the version of dualism according to which the mind does not cause changes in the body and the body does not cause changes in the mind, *would* be evidence for the supernatural, since it would be an extraordinary coincidence for (almost) all mental events to correlate with physical events. Interactive dualism, according to which the mind causes changes in the body and the body causes changes in the mind (what Descartes thought) is no evidence for the supernatural at all. This is why no one of prominence, like, say, Descartes, tried to use this as an argument for the supernatural.

Parallelism would be evidence. The only problem is that parallelism is stupid. This is why you only see this insane consciousness argument for godness in weird theism-debate settings.

Are numbers “physical”? Are numbers evidence for the supernatural?

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Dear Tony,

examples of natural explanations that have turned out to be wrong or at least improbable are some natural explanations of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is even acknowledged by biblical scholars with a naturalistic worldview, who reject e.g. the idea that the disciples stole Jesus’ body.

It is indeed my position that past horse races have all been inconclusive. I don’t know of any person who has put forward overwhelming evidence for the non-existence of supernatural beings or events.

As for your last point I don’t need to give supernatural causes for phenomena that have been shown to have been caused naturally. I don’t deny the reality of natural causes. What distinguishes a naturalist from people of a different worldview is not the claim that there are natural causes but that everything can be explained naturally. Even in the Bible we find plenty of examples of events that are explained naturally.

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ayer June 29, 2010 at 12:43 pm

“Are numbers “physical”? Are numbers evidence for the supernatural?”

Yes. See:
http://www.doxazotheos.com/?page_id=99

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Cory June 29, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Ayer,

No, I didn’t look at your silly webpage to find out whether numbers were physical or whether they are evidence for the supernatural. That’s silly.

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ayer June 29, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Cory,

I see my response was ambiguous. Numbers are not physical; they are abstract objects that exist in every possible world and thus buttress the conceptualist argument for God’s existence (described at the link I provided), which is certainly not considered “silly” by even atheist philosophers like Quentin Smith: see http://www.qsmithwmu.com/the_conceptualist_argument.htm

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Hermes, I find nothing to disagree with in your last comment to me. However I think Luke was using “what works” in specific relation to truth value, not just utility, and though he denies it I don’t see how his “what works” [for finding truth] is not equivalent to science. That is, I am still convinced that he rejects non-natural explanation because it is not scientifically supported, when the fact is that no true non-natural explanation could be scientifically supported (if it could be, it would be classified as natural). I argue for the inclusion of non-scientific methods of finding truth (factual truth or explanatory truth, I suppose), not just of finding utility. Unlike scientific method, personal experience, testimony, intuition, and reasoning are open to non-natural explanations.

Granted though I did refer to the utility of non-natural explanations as of a different kind of utility (morality and meaning) from natural explanations (navigation and control of the physical world). I’d like to know what connections you make between truth value and “what works” as you were using it in your examples of non-natural explanation. It’s possible that false explanations may be useful (as some determinists who want us all to believe in free will anyway think), and so maybe non-natural explanations can be “what works” for some situations without being true at all. What do you think?

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Luke, could you explain this a little bit more?

Once again, let me point out that I’m discounting the supernatural accounts a posteriori, not a priori.

If you have neither a defeater nor an alternative explanation for something like consciousness, then how is your dismissal of any supernatural explanation not a priori for that question?

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Lukeprog,

nowhere did I make a comment about the reasons you reject supernatural claims, since I don’t know them. But as you write you arrived at your conclusion a posteriori this would mean that you have examined all the supernatural claims and they always turned out to be unjustified. Well, in my opinion this would be quite a bold statement.

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lukeprog June 29, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Zeb,

Let us imagine you had asked the following of an ancient Greek: “If you have neither a defeater nor an alternative explanation for something like lightning, then how is your dismissal of any supernatural explanation not a priori for that question?”

Is the ancient Greek supposed to take this seriously?

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lukeprog June 29, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Patrick,

That’s right; I’ve always found supernatural claims to be unjustified. And there’s a rather simple reason for it. The reason is: I’m still waiting from theists what it means to say that the supernatural is a good explanation of some phenomena. What are your criteria for ‘good explanation’? Is it something like, “I can tell a supernatural causal story for it that fits with my intuitions?” Is that what it means to offer a “good” theistic explanation? That is quite a leap from what most philosophers and scientists have always required of “good” explanations.

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Cafeeine June 29, 2010 at 2:06 pm

As a layman and an incredibly amateurish philosopher, my a priori apologies if what I’m saying is missing some already settled conclusions or stating the bleeding obvious.

I’ve been trying to figure out what the differences are between the natural realm and the supernatural realm or realms.

The key difference I’ve noticed, with respect to the arguments presented is that the natural realm is orderly and bound by objective rules. The supernatural, on the other hand seems to have no such restrictions, either being subject to the whims of a single overarching ruling entity in the various theisms or subject to the desires and wants of of its various invokers in various new age practices like the Secret, or magic adherents, or simply malleable to circumstance and happenstance.

It seems to me that to invoke the supernatural as an explanation, the claimant is eschewing any possibility at an intelligible and understandable event.

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ayer June 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm

“I’m still waiting from theists what it means to say that the supernatural is a good explanation of some phenomena. What are your criteria for ‘good explanation’?”

I’m not sure what you mean by “I’m still waiting on theists”? For example, Craig and Moreland, on p. 62 of Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, lay out what they mean by a “good explanation”:

http://books.google.com/books?id=ACgBmzpv3mgC&pg=PA62&lpg=PA62&dq=william+lane+craig+explanatory+criteria&source=bl&ots=P7f_ZNhvHe&sig=XdQ-N4-SAwLLFB2r35H3T5dft58&hl=en&ei=gW4qTNCKJ8HknAffpe14&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CDsQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Luke,

Is the ancient Greek supposed to take this seriously?  

An ancient Greek would be way less justified rejecting supernatural explanations a priori than you are, but that’s beside the point. If he was interested in conversation then I do think he should take seriously a question about his statements about his attitude towards a topic he himself brought up.

It looks to me like you’re making a case for why one should reject supernatural explanations a priori, but then you deny a priori rejection. Is it the term ‘a priori’ that I misunderstand, or your attitude toward supernatural explanation, or your argument – or is there an inconsistency in your statements?

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lukeprog June 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Zeb,

As I’m sure you know, ‘a priori’ means, roughly, ‘before experience.’ I do not reject supernatural claims before experience. I reject them after experience. I reject supernatural claims because they continuously prove to be spurious, and especially because supernaturalists have not yet given an account of how it is that “a supernatural agent did it” is a “good” explanation. To my knowledge, Richard Swinburne is the supernaturalist who has taken this basic question most seriously, but his answer is littered with flaws, in my view.

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Cory June 29, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Zeb,

‘A priori’ means, roughly, not based on any particular experience. The case against supernatural explanations Luke is making is based on the experience of past naturalistic successes. Thus, it is an a posteriori argument, not an a priori argument.

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Zeb: I think Luke was using “what works” in specific relation to truth value, not just utility, and though he denies it I don’t see how his “what works” [for finding truth] is not equivalent to science. That is, I am still convinced that he rejects non-natural explanation because it is not scientifically supported, when the fact is that no true non-natural explanation could be scientifically supported (if it could be, it would be classified as natural).

Zeb, possibly, though I didn’t see a hint of some extra meaning. I would like to see Luke address this just in case I’m missing something.

Zeb: I’d like to know what connections you make between truth value and “what works” as you were using it in your examples of non-natural explanation.

My main point was that people in general — including scientists and naturalists — do not employ the practice of science or use natural explanations for all efforts, even when those might be the best tools available. Additionally, and importantly, that we can reach true conclusions without either the sciences or natural explanations even if the conclusions could be improved with the application of either. As a further example, while philosophers get things wrong all the time (and often stunningly so), that is part of what they do and they aren’t wrong on every point.

None of these true conclusions reached without the sciences or natural explanations requires a supernatural explanation or explicitly unscientific process.

Further, to address supernaturalism and explicitly unscientific processes, I would argue that;

* Working against the sciences would not change the verified conclusions already reached about reality, so the opponents of the sciences really aren’t getting anywhere by attacking science in part or in general.

* Promoting an incoherent concept like supernaturalism as a method of finding out more about reality is a non-starter. If — as has been promoted here by a few people — supernaturalism is what gods do, then nothing actually has been explained as the gods still don’t enter the picture except by assertion by their followers.

- What is supernatural?
- What gods do.

- Where are the gods?
- They are clearly here. Only the evil or dumb do not proclaim their obvious existence.

This is only one variation of theistic Calvinball.

* * *

Zeb: It’s possible that false explanations may be useful (as some determinists who want us all to believe in free will anyway think), and so maybe non-natural explanations can be “what works” for some situations without being true at all. What do you think?

True, though it could also be happenstance that a supported conclusion is wrong while an incoherent assertion turns out to be correct (but not for the reasons specified). For example, if in years gone by, a person made an assertion that the Earth orbits the Sun because of the will of a sun deity, and another person says that the movement of the stars shows that the Earth is orbited by the Sun and the other stars.

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Mark June 29, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Ayer, the argument against mathematical fictionalism cited in that article is incredibly shoddy. See Stephen Yablo’s paper “Go Figure: A Path through Fictionalism.”

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Cafeeine: I’ve been trying to figure out what the differences are between the natural realm and the supernatural realm or realms.

The one I’ve been given by theists is that supernatural is what gods do. No, I don’t find that particularly enlightening, but it’s a start.

Your description of supernatural events is roughly what I’ve seen as well. It’s a thinly veiled writer’s trick, and a common one; Deus Ex Machina. When one shows up, I usually see a string of them appear like leaves on a vine.

Cafeeine: It seems to me that to invoke the supernatural as an explanation, the claimant is eschewing any possibility at an intelligible and understandable event.

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm

(continued)

Usually, a lack of understandability is insisted upon.

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Patrick June 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Tony and Lilrobbie,

my aim here is not to prove that supernaturalist claims are true or that naturalism is wrong but that the arguments presented by Lukeprog in favour of naturalism don’t stand up to scrutiny. I deny the statement that supernatural claims have been tested at least a million times and always have lost (Who did the testing?) or that for 14’628’354 alleged supernatural events plausible natural causes were found. Furthermore I deny the statement that in the past nearly everything was regarded as having supernatural causes. People certainly knew quite well that for plants to grow they had to water them or in order to become pregnant you had to have sexual intercourse. They also must have been aware of natural causes for disease otherwise they wouldn’t have made use of natural means such as herbs for medical treatment.

I do not deny that there are natural causes or that for some alleged supernaturalistic claims plausible natural causes were found. But whether you like it or not there have been millions of people who claim to have had supernatural experiences of some sort and you just can’t denounce them all as either liars or lunatics. Even if only 1 % of these experiences can be taken seriously this would still be a huge amount of evidence.

Concerning the question how one can distinguish between justified and non-justified supernatural claims with regard to past events this is certainly quite difficult to assess. Criteria could be the number of witnesses or the temporal space between the events and the reports about them. These and other arguments speak in my opinion in favour of the reliability of the records about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As for the reliability of supernatural claims outside Christianity as a matter of fact the Bible doesn’t rule out that they could be true (see e.g. Exodus 7,10-13 or 2 Thessalonians 2,9).

As for present supernaturalistic claims it is much easier to arrive at a conclusion about their reliability. One simply can get in touch with people who make such claims and try to find out whether or not they are trustworthy. Another way to find out about these matters could be to look for independent medical verification for alleged faith healings.

Finally the undisputed success of natural explanations does not disprove supernatural claims as no one denies the existence of natural causes. Therefore the fact that natural claims have been tested a million times and have always won doesn’t mean that the supernaturalistic claims are on the losing side.

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Patrick: One simply can get in touch with people who make such claims and try to find out whether or not they are trustworthy.

Why is that a good metric for supernatural claims? We already know that it fails habitually in other instances.

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Hermes and Caffeine, one great thing this site has provided me is a definition of supernatural that works so well I’m almost comfortable using the term. I like Richard Carrier’s , “at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things” alongside commenter ordinaryclay’s ‘events that are detectable but not predictable.’

I disagree, caffeine, that supernatural explanations must be without order and unintelligible. True they lack reducibility and mechanistic conceptualization, but they can be strong ‘narrative logic,’ explaining things in terms of identity, character, meaning, and relationship. That kind of explanation is more intelligible to most people than mechanistic explanation, which is why science is so often discussed in narrative terms ie ‘The oxygen wants to find two more electrons to bond to.’

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Zak June 29, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Patrick, it probably isn’t that people reporting supernatural events are crazy or liars. Most people probably just are mistaken. I mean, how many of the 3.7 million Americans who have reported alien encounters (though I doubt this number) etc have been the result of someone not knowing about sleep paralysis, or putting too much stock in hypono-regression therapy?

Or look at prayer healing events with Peter Popoff. Thousands of people are CONVINCED that healing happened. They were all honest, sincere, sane and wrong.

Or the millions of followers that Sathya Sai Baba has, who proclaim to have seen his miracles (which are in fact just cheesy slight of hand tricks)?

Or the 11 signed eye witnesses who claim to have seen the golden plates that the angel Moroni gave to Joseph Smith? Does that convince you that Joseph Smith actually got gold plates from an angel?

This is why anecdotes regarding this stuff are worthless. check out the book “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” for a ton of fascinating examples.

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Zeb, thanks. I’ll read Richard Carrier’s post, but will comment now on the summary quotes; both are not clearly supernatural.

Richard Carrier’s – I’m not sure what he means (yet), but what does supernatural have to do with any mental things? (Are supernatural things only existent if thought about? If so, I don’t think many claimants of supernatural things would agree.)

Ordinaryclay’s – I actually like it better, but it seems to be both inconsistent with what we know and an argument for ignorance. Inconsistent in the example of pseudo random single events like the state of individual quarks or the single roll of a dice. Argument for ignorance since if we can’t know about a specific common event either currently or in the past — and those are more common than not — what’s to differentiate that common event from a supposedly supernatural one?

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Ok Cory, thanks. I thought “a priori” would be used to refer the type of case in question, but I stand corrected. I still think it is an error to assume that a certain set of answers (naturalistic ones) should be presumed correct for all questions because that set has been found correct for a certain set of questions (ones about the mechanics of the physical world). And I think that Luke’s evaluation of supernatural explanations relies on criteria that inherently reject the supernatural. I was calling that a priori too since the rejection occurs prior to the explanation and evaluation, but I guess I need to find a different, proper term for these types of errors (whether or not Luke is actually guilty of them).

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Tony Hoffman June 29, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Patrick,

You answered none of my questions. Specifically, I asked:

- So your position is that the past horse races have all been inconclusive?

- Can you provide an example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong?

- If you can provide one, can you provide a similar amount of supernatural explanations to those phenomena that have been shown to be caused naturally?

Why should I answer any of your questions when you do not address mine?

You assert:

Patrick: “Finally the undisputed success of natural explanations does not disprove supernatural claims as no one denies the existence of natural causes. Therefore the fact that natural claims have been tested a million times and have always won doesn’t mean that the supernaturalistic claims are on the losing side.”

Can you please answer my second question — Can you provide one example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong?

One instance. That’s all I’m asking for. Should be easy enough when you say you are so uncertain about how we can determine the winner against an opponent that, as you admit, “has been tested a million times.” So, roughly, a million for natural causes, a million for supernatural. Just name one of those victories for supernaturalism over naturalism.

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ayer June 29, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Tony Hoffman: “has been determined to be correct”

What is your definition of “has been determined”? Determined through scientific experiment? Since science determines only natural causes, that is known as “begging the question.” Feser’s quote is quite apt here:

““Dualists traditionally tend to regard metaphysical inquiry as an enterprise every bit as rational as, but distinct from and more fundamental than, empirical science. Committed as they often are to scientism, contemporary materialists would no doubt deny that there can be any such form of inquiry, but they cannot deploy this denial in an argument against dualism without begging the question.”

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Tony Hoffman to Partick: Can you provide one example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong?

One instance. That’s all I’m asking for.

Seconded.

Patrick, I would like to see the exact same thing Tony has requested.

If you are unable to currently provide an example, and are speculating or insisting that they exist, then please specify that.

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antiplastic June 29, 2010 at 6:18 pm

I wonder what this thread is about.

Luke, you speak of “clear examples”, but I still have no idea what they are supposed to be examples *of*.

I see one group of people arguing that there is broccoli and saxophones and crocodiles and one other group saying there isn’t, but I have no idea what Broccosaxodilists believe about whatever the next item on the list is, nor what non-broccosaxodilists either a priori *or* a posteriori think don’t exist.

As far as I can tell, “supernatural” *operationally* just means “random”, which is another way of saying “unparsimonious”. Well, duh, of course there are no unparsimonious explanations which are true, just as there are no skinny fat people or colorless green people.

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Zeb June 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Hermes, Carrier’s article is very well done and I think you will agree that he has found a way to succinctly describe “supernatural” as it is commonly used and differentiate that from naturalism. Whether those distinctions are actually warranted is another matter. I’ll just clarify that he’s describing supernatural entities as having irreducible mental powers or attributes, not that they are mental phenomena as your thoughts are mental phenomena.

Ordinaryclay’s definition (in this thread http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=7428) centered on free will. So he didn’t mean just practically unpredictable, but impossible to predict.

I prefer to avoid the terms because as on theism, what could be more natural than the ground of all being doing its thing? And your quantum mechanics example shows the problem with the predictability criterion. But what are naturalists rejecting then? Putting the two definitions together seems to do a pretty clean job of separating out the naturalists, and I’m even willing to accept that supernaturalist designation for myself even if I would not choose it.

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Al Moritz June 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm

I still think it is an error to assume that a certain set of answers (naturalistic ones) should be presumed correct for all questions because that set has been found correct for a certain set of questions (ones about the mechanics of the physical world). And I think that Luke’s evaluation of supernatural explanations relies on criteria that inherently reject the supernatural.

Well said and to the point, Zeb.

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Ayer: What is your definition of “has been determined”? Determined through scientific experiment? Since science determines only natural causes, that is known as “begging the question.”

Are you saying that anything determined one way to be true can at the same time be false when a different method is used?

In other words, are we living in multiple — and different — realities, and we just happen to be currently communicating?

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Hermes June 29, 2010 at 6:47 pm

antiplastic: As far as I can tell, “supernatural” *operationally* just means “random”, which is another way of saying “unparsimonious”. Well, duh, of course there are no unparsimonious explanations which are true, just as there are no skinny fat people or colorless green people.

I don’t know if I agree with you, but I like your style.

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lukeprog June 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I’m not sure supernaturalism has any operational content at all. That’s kind of the point, so it can’t be disproven. But of course that means it can’t be proven, either.

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antiplastic June 29, 2010 at 7:14 pm

“I don’t know if I agree with you, but I like your style.”

Wait, there’s a difference?

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JS Allen June 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Ayer, the argument against mathematical fictionalism cited in that article is incredibly shoddy. See Stephen Yablo’s paper “Go Figure: A Path through Fictionalism.”

You can fault ayer for linking to an old paper, but you can’t really call a paper from 1984 “shoddy” for not anticipating Yablo’s innovative form of fictionalism that would appear 15 years later. And Yablo’s paper has not gone unchallenged.

Personally, I don’t know that the challenges will be fatal, just as I’m skeptical of dualist attempts to overthrow Dennett’s supervenience (and I think it’s much the same issue). But you should be honest about the current state of the debate.

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Patrick June 30, 2010 at 1:04 am

Tony,

you ask me to give you an example of a supernatural explanation that has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong? Well, I can give you more than one example.

I’ve already mentioned that some naturalistic explanations of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are even rejected by Biblical scholars with a naturalistic worldview. The arguments in favour of a supernaturalistic interpretation are so convincing that even Atheists are impressed by them. So, Luke Muehlhauser in his review of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology wrote: “High points include Robin Collins’ defense of the teleological argument and McGrew & McGrew’s astounding Bayesian defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.”

In fact, looking at Biblical scholarship, there is a general tendency over the last 150 years for a shift towards the position of a more favourable estimation of the historical reliability of the Biblical accounts. This applies to Old Testament as well as to New Testament Studies.

The atheistic claim that all philosophical arguments for the existence of God have been refuted has itself been refuted as Natural Theology has experienced a revival. Testimony of this is again the above mentioned review by Muehlhauser.

The concept of a beginningless universe which was so appealing to atheists as it made the concept of a Creator an entirely unnecessary hypothesis was refuted by Big Bang Cosmology which is now widely accepted. Of course the idea that the universe has a beginning itself is not a supernaturalistic claim but it certainly yields arguments in favour of a supernaturalistic position as is obvious from W.L. Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Looking at another field of science one has to state that from a naturalistic point of view the origin of life is still a complete mystery. Of course, you can say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but the longer this state of affairs lasts the worse for naturalism. The only resort for atheists is naturalism of the gaps.

Of course, none of the things I’ve written here prove that supernatural claims are true but I would venture the statement that there has not been a steady replacement of supernaturalistic claims by natural explanations which lies at the bottom of Lukeprog’s case for naturalism.

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Mark June 30, 2010 at 2:57 am

You can fault ayer for linking to an old paper, but you can’t really call a paper from 1984 “shoddy” for not anticipating Yablo’s innovative form of fictionalism that would appear 15 years later.

I didn’t fault Tennant’s argument for not anticipating Yablo. I called it shoddy because I find it incredibly unconvincing and almost obviously mistaken. Even before I had seen any responses to it, I felt it obvious that no fictionalist would have to agree that “the number of numbers is 0″ except insofar as this merely abbreviated the claim “there are no numbers.”

And Yablo’s paper has not gone unchallenged.

Very little in philosophy of mathematics has gone unchallenged. But in any case, I was only mentioning the paper to challenge ayer’s extremely one-sided presentation of his argument. I fail to see how that’s dishonest.

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 3:30 am

Patrick, where to start…. Well, I’ll keep it brief;

Not one item you provided addresses Tony Hoffman’s request.

Can you please look at his actual request again and offer an example of what he actually asked for or state that you are not aware of anything that does?

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 4:41 am

Ayer: What is your definition of “has been determined”? Determined through scientific experiment? Since science determines only natural causes, that is known as “begging the question.”

When someone says “I can produce a unicorn by waving my hand,” and I ask them to do this so that I can determine if they really can, and they cannot, I believe that I have determined that they cannot produce a unicorn by waving their hand. I don’t call this scientism, and I don’t think I’m begging the question. I’m asking for production, for something that resembles proof of claim.

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lukeprog June 30, 2010 at 4:46 am

Patrick,

Yeah, that’s what I thought. :)

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 5:31 am

Patrick,

It looks to me like you are offering as responses to my request, “Can you provide one example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong?” these:

1. The resurrection of Jesus
2. Accounts in the Bible
3. Natural Theology
4. The Big Bang
5. The Origin of Life

As evidence for 1 you cite Luke’s review of the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. This seems a tad foolish and disingenuous, as Luke runs a website called CommonSenseAtheism, where he regularly debunks things like the Resurrection of Jesus by the God Yahweh. I believe Luke is on record saying that he found the historicity claims of the NT pretty weak even when he was a believing Christian. I imagine he finds those claims even less persuasive now.

You’ll have to be more specific about what you mean by “the historical reliability of the Biblical accounts.” Which accounts? I am looking for something like widespread agreement (or, way better, verifiability), so you’ll also have to explain why it is that atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. deny the supernatural explanations of the Bible and yet this supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct.

Natural theology, as I understand it, amounts to special pleading. (I’d guess that it is a minority view even among Christians, btw.) I’m looking for an example where there is widespread agreement.

You are right that the Big Bang does not require a supernatural explanation. (I do think this is the closest example I could think of myself, as it’s the only one I knew of where the surety of a natural explanation being sufficient diminished, at least for a time.)

Of course, the OOL question remains unanswered by natural means, but we are certainly closer than we were 50 years ago, and even much closer than we were a year ago. So the direction on that one is not moving in the right direction for your argument, and as this post points out, we have no good betting reason to expect natural explanations to ultimately be insufficient.

So, that’s 1 misrepresentation, 1 vague assertion, 1 special pleading, and 2 that do not fit the description. Which still makes it, arguendo, 1 million to 0. Do you still think we really can’t make up our minds on what has the better track record between natural and supernatural explanations?

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ayer June 30, 2010 at 6:43 am

“When someone says “I can produce a unicorn by waving my hand,”

Who in the comment thread has said “I can cause God to produce a miracle” (i.e., the sort of supernatural event believed in my Christian theists) upon demand or request?

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cl June 30, 2010 at 6:49 am

The Naturalist is merely the person who bets on the horse that has one every single one of its million races, and bets against the horse that has lost every one of its million races.

Talk about misleading! If anyone wants to really discuss this issue, clear definition of terms is essential. What do we mean when we say “natural explanation?” What do we mean when we say “supernatural explanation?” If somebody wants to supply good definitions I’m down to get down, but without a solid starting point, I don’t see how people could do anything but talk past each other.

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lukeprog June 30, 2010 at 6:53 am

ayer,

That reminds me: One of my friends debated a Christian, and at one point he challenged his opponent: “I bruised my arm this morning. Do you really think if you pray for my healing, the bruise will go away?”

His opponent said “Yes, I do.”

So the Christian guy and some other Christians laid hands on my atheist friend and prayed for his healing and obviously the bruise did not go away, and after the debate the Christian visited my friend and said that he was still shocked God did not respond to his prayers.

Some people are amazing!

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ayer June 30, 2010 at 6:54 am

“Do you still think we really can’t make up our minds on what has the better track record between natural and supernatural explanations? ”

The blinders worn by naturalists result in a stunning inability to even ask the right sort of questions. “Natural explanations” themselves rely upon the existence of natural laws themselves, for which a natural explanation is obviously begging the question.

As Physicist Paul C. Davies has pointed out: “…to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour. Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are? …The favorite reply is, ‘There is no reason they are what they are–they just are.’” edge.org/3rd_culture/davies07/davies07_index.html

This thread has truly demonstrated that science is to philosophy as legal clerical work is to the work of a Supreme Court Justice.

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 6:56 am

Me: “When someone says “I can produce a unicorn by waving my hand,..”
Ayer: “Who in the comment thread has said “I can cause God to produce a miracle”

That was an analogy. I thought that would have been clear.

It appears that you have protested comparing natural and supernatural explanations as scientism. I am trying to point out that one does not have to use scientific methods to examine claims.

It’s typical of theists to protest methods when asked for evidence for their claims. Specifically, I would like to see evidence that supernatural claims are on a par with natural ones to justify Patrick’s assertion that we should not favor one method of explanations over another. I don’t need scientific evidence, but I do need evidence. If you think that’s hopeless scientism, then I don’t understand what it is that you think supernatural explanations offer. If you can explain that to me, I’m all ears.

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 7:07 am

Me: ” “Can you provide one example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong?”

Ayer: The blinders worn by naturalists result in a stunning inability to even ask the right sort of questions. “Natural explanations” themselves rely upon the existence of natural laws themselves, for which a natural explanation is obviously begging the question.

As Physicist Paul C. Davies has pointed out: “…to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour. Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are? …The favorite reply is, ‘There is no reason they are what they are–they just are.’” edge.org/3rd_culture/davies07/davies07_index.html

This thread has truly demonstrated that science is to philosophy as legal clerical work is to the work of a Supreme Court Justice.

Translation: Ayer: “No.”

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cl June 30, 2010 at 7:10 am

Tony Hoffman,

What exactly it is that you’re looking for when you ask for a “supernatural explanation?”

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 7:24 am

Cl: “What exactly it is that you’re looking for when you ask for a “supernatural explanation?”

Something that isn’t extraneous, ad hoc, post hoc would be great. Something that does what we look for in explanations — productivity, verifiability, predictability — the kind of things that make an explanation meaningful and useful. Natural explanations do all those things. If you don’t like any of the things I’m looking for, can you explain what it is that supernatural explanations actually do?

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Bill Snedden June 30, 2010 at 7:25 am

@ayer: ““Natural explanations” themselves rely upon the existence of natural laws themselves, for which a natural explanation is obviously begging the question.”

Not one whit more or less than a supernatural explanation. So what?

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ayer June 30, 2010 at 7:51 am

“Something that does what we look for in explanations — productivity, verifiability, predictability ”

Interesting that what you say “we” look for are the criteria suited to the scientific method–are you sure you are not blindly adhering to scientism? (I guess “we” means you and your naturalist colleagues?)

I would say that “we” should look primarily at the criteria of explanatory power and explantory scope. I believe Luke and Vox Day are currently having a similar disagreement: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=6267#more-6267

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cl June 30, 2010 at 7:52 am

Tony Hoffman,

Something that isn’t extraneous, ad hoc, post hoc would be great.

With all due respect, I have to ignore those criteria, because I asked you for a positive definition: what exactly *ARE* you looking for?

Something that does what we look for in explanations — productivity, verifiability, predictability — the kind of things that make an explanation meaningful and useful.

Those are all criteria pertinent to natural explanations. Are you implying that “supernatural” explanations should meet the same criteria as “natural” explanations, then? If so, on what grounds? If not, perhaps it would help if you could define natural and supernatural for the purposes of this discussion?

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cl June 30, 2010 at 8:10 am

Also, Tony, it would help me better understand where you’re coming from if — once definitions for natural and supernatural have been provided — you could state whether or not you believe the two mutually exclude?

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 8:21 am

I’m afraid that Loren Mooney has entirely dropped the ball on what it means to be a journalist.

First she gets Landis’s credibility wrong, despite having had the opportunity to meet with him, interview him directly, question him, etc. That can happen, I know, but we expect our journalists to uncover the truth, otherwise we might as well just read press releases.

She then compounds this problem by taking the the one thing for which she has established no credibility – her ability to discern when Landis is telling the truth – to make a statement about Landis’s credibility concerning other riders – “But I wonder if he has all his facts straight after so many years of distorting the truth with such conviction that, on some level, he had to believe his own lies. Also, given his recent history, how can we know that he’s not now twisting the truth out of revenge or spite?”

How can we know that Mooney is not making as poor a judgment about Landis’s credibility as she did the first time?

Mooney finishes her statement by
Ayer: “Interesting that what you say “we” look for are the criteria suited to the scientific method–are you sure you are not blindly adhering to scientism? (I guess “we” means you and your naturalist colleagues?)”

Pretty sure. Still waiting for you give me a reason why my criteria have somehow limited me in any way that is meaningful. If you do, I’ll gladly accommodate my criteria to include those.

CL: “With all due respect, I have to ignore those criteria, because I asked you for a positive definition: what exactly *ARE* you looking for?”

Well, you asked what I was looking for and did not dictate how I could define my answer. Still, if you need me to convert “extraneous, ad hoc, post hoc” into their positive counterparts for you, I’d say that I’m looking for something that is simple, contains the fewest entities, and is predictive. (This is not meant to be exhaustive – these are suggestions of what should help define the word “explanation.”). I am trying to leave this up in the air because I have been accused of scientism here, and I am open to your or other suggestion as to what makes a good explanation, and why.

CL: “Those [productivity, verifiability, predictability] are all criteria pertinent to natural explanations. Are you implying that “supernatural” explanations should meet the same criteria as “natural” explanations, then? If so, on what grounds?”

I am asking that “explanation” mean something. I have offered my suggestions. If you do not like my suggestions it is not my job to search for those that please you.

CL: “If not, perhaps it would help if you could define natural and supernatural for the purposes of this discussion?”

I don’t have hard and fast definitions for either. I’d venture that natural is confined to the things we detect in our universe – those things we perceive empirically, and those abstract things (logic, numbers, etc.) we perceive through reason. I’d also suggest that a good definition for supernatural involves agency, and the ability to effect material changes while being immune to change from the material world. I have often wondered about the definition of supernatural myself, so I am very curious what you think best defines that term.

All of these are offered not as my declarations of what the discussed criteria and definitions are, but what I understand them to be. If you believe I am mistaken, please show me where.

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 8:23 am

Sorry about the top posting – I was pasting another comment into a different site at the top of my document — you can ignore my last post until it begins: “Ayer: Interesting…”

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Josh June 30, 2010 at 8:27 am

Ayer and cl,

Maybe I can give you examples of hypothetical cases where I feel a natural explanation would fail and you can address why my feelings are too full of scientism.

One example would be if prayer worked in a documented fashion. Of course, in any well controlled study, prayer has failed to work. But suppose that prayers of Catholics consistently healed the sick better than prayers of Hindus (or whatever). That would definitely make me think about a super natural explanation. Similarly, records of miracles that are completely impossible by natural means, e.g. amputated limbs growing back. Those would be quite impressive.

Another thing would be if some holy book documented things that would have been impossible to know at the time. For example, say the Bible had a section that clearly spelled out the mass and orbital period of Venus. I’d say that that warrants a super natural explanation.

Or if there were an independent (say Roman) source that said “Oh man, we killed that Jesus dude, but shit. He seriously came back to life! Like no kidding man!” That would probably do something for me.

Those are a couple examples of cases where I think a super natural explanation might work.

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Atheist.pig June 30, 2010 at 8:33 am

I wonder if ayer thinks the origin of life is an example of a supernatural explanation like Intelligent Design Theory predicts.

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JS Allen June 30, 2010 at 8:39 am

Mark: OK, I agree then. You’re exactly right about:

Even before I had seen any responses to it, I felt it obvious that no fictionalist would have to agree that “the number of numbers is 0″ except insofar as this merely abbreviated the claim “there are no numbers.”

I suppose that would’ve been obvious even in 1984, so it’s depressing that Yablo still had to address it 15 years later.

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JS Allen June 30, 2010 at 8:50 am

One example would be if prayer worked in a documented fashion. Of course, in any well controlled study, prayer has failed to work. But suppose that prayers of Catholics consistently healed the sick better than prayers of Hindus (or whatever). That would definitely make me think about a super natural explanation.

How would calling this “supernatural” not be indulging in “God of the gaps”? Just because we don’t have a naturalistic explanation for something doesn’t mean we never will. And having documented, repeatable evidence would be a good start toward a naturalistic explanation.

Similarly, records of miracles that are completely impossible by natural means, e.g. amputated limbs growing back. Those would be quite impressive.

Who says it’s completely impossible by natural means?

Another thing would be if some holy book documented things that would have been impossible to know at the time. For example, say the Bible had a section that clearly spelled out the mass and orbital period of Venus. I’d say that that warrants a super natural explanation.

It might be hard to explain, but I don’t see how it would be impossible for the ancients to know the mass of Venus.

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Al Moritz June 30, 2010 at 9:10 am

I wonder if ayer thinks the origin of life is an example of a supernatural explanation like Intelligent Design Theory predicts.

The origin of life has natural causes, at least very most likely so, see my overview article on the leading evolution website talkorigins.org.:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

My article was at the time (2006) a bit apprehensive about the generation of RNA, but a recent breakthough on this has been reported (on pyrimidine nucleotides, letters C and U (which corresponds in DNA to T), not on purine nucleotides yet, letters G and A):

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/science/14rna.html

http://www.bioedonline.org/news/news.cfm?art=5277

I expect the scientific riddle of the origin of life to be solved completely within the next 20 years or so.

As a theist I am excited that the laws of nature are so elegant that so called ‘Intelligent Design’, i.e. tinkering of God with nature when the laws do not suffice to bring about the material structures that He envisions, is not necessary. I rather see design in the laws of nature themselves.

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zak June 30, 2010 at 9:53 am

JS Allen,

I think Josh was referring to what would convince him personally. If Catholic prayers were documented to work, while other religious prayers did not… that would be pretty good evidence that God is answering Catholic prayers. If someone were to protest that it wasn’t, I would have to ask “ok, if answered Catholic prayers is not evidence that God is answering Catholic prayers… what would be?”

Likewise, with amputated limbs growing back… we have no reason to think at all that this can happen with humans. So if, lets say, Catholic amputees started having limbs regenerate… this would not impress you at all?

As an atheist, in both of those scenarios,I would be EXTREMELY impressed. If those weren’t impressive to an atheist, I would think that their atheism was basically non falsifiable.

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

Ayer & Cl, I started to write out a detailed set of questions to see if I could get you to address the gist of what Tony Hoffman is asking. After a half dozen paragraphs and a list of bullet points, I’ve given up.

Both of you have an amazing amount of wiggle room, but you aren’t taking advantage of it.

Instead, you are focusing on details that even you say do not necessarily apply to your own explanations. OK. Got it. They don’t apply.

Please address the gist of what Tony Hoffman has asked.

If you need a clarification, then ask him. Stop getting distracted on little points and addressing what you’ve already said doesn’t apply.

If supernaturalism addresses something about reality, and you know — not just believe but actually know — that is the case, you should be able to communicate that knowledge. If you can not or will not communicate that knowledge, then what is your expectation from anyone who is unaware of what you say you know?

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 10:13 am

Cl Also, Tony, it would help me better understand where you’re coming from if — once definitions for natural and supernatural have been provided — you could state whether or not you believe the two mutually exclude?

Part of the reason for a demonstration of supernatural things is that the definitions are incoherent and do not apply to reality.

With a demonstration, we could then get a general idea about how it applies to reality (if it applies to reality at all), and then understand more about what super-naturalists are actually claiming about reality (if anything).

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Ryan M June 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

Well, perhaps both Ayers and CL could provide their own definition of both what is natural and what is supernatural.

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JS Allen June 30, 2010 at 10:51 am

As an atheist, in both of those scenarios,I would be EXTREMELY impressed. If those weren’t impressive to an atheist, I would think that their atheism was basically non falsifiable.

Hmmm, OK. But wouldn’t you worry about being proven by history to be a fool?

Many people in the past saw things which they thought were impossible, experienced crazy coincidences, and so on — and chalked it up as “miracles”. In modern times, we have plausible naturalistic explanations for many of these things. In hindsight, we call those people superstitious, but how are they any different from you claiming that a regenerated limb would make you believe?

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ayer June 30, 2010 at 10:58 am

“If supernaturalism addresses something about reality, and you know — not just believe but actually know — that is the case, you should be able to communicate that knowledge.”

Actually, what would be most helpful is to hear the naturalist definition of “know”, since I get the impression that at root all these issues are epistemological.

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Josh June 30, 2010 at 11:04 am

JS Allen,

“Many people in the past saw things which they thought were impossible, experienced crazy coincidences, and so on — and chalked it up as “miracles”. In modern times, we have plausible naturalistic explanations for many of these things. In hindsight, we call those people superstitious, but how are they any different from you claiming that a regenerated limb would make you believe?”

I would honestly say that beyond a shadow of a doubt we know so much more about physiology and biology in general than people from the past that if something like limb regeneration occurred, and we examined the case and couldn’t figure out wtf was going on, that positing a miracle would be quite reasonable.

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JS Allen June 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

I would honestly say that beyond a shadow of a doubt we know so much more about physiology and biology in general than people from the past that if something like limb regeneration occurred, and we examined the case and couldn’t figure out wtf was going on, that positing a miracle would be quite reasonable.

Sure, we know more than our ancestors knew, and they knew more than their ancestors knew. That explains why we look back and call them superstitious.

But how complete is our knowledge? Do we really think that our descendants won’t look back and call us superstitious? Are we at, or very near, the pinnacle of what we can know about the natural world? We might be, but that assumption has proven wrong for anyone else who’s made it in the past.

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Atheist.pig June 30, 2010 at 11:34 am

see my overview article on the leading evolution website talkorigins.org.:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

Nice article, I enjoyed reading it even though most of the technical stuff was way beyond me but a nice overview. I really just wanted to know whether ayer thought “Intelligent Design” was a proper scientific theory.

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 11:43 am

Ayer: Actually, what would be most helpful is to hear the naturalist definition of “know”, since I get the impression that at root all these issues are epistemological.

Got me. I’m not a naturalist.

Are you saying you have not demonstration of something — anything or any event or ??? — that is supernatural?

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

Ayer, if you don’t know what supernaturalism is, then I’m fine with that. Just say so and I’ll ignore the entire category as being without meaning.

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Bill Snedden June 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

@ayer: “Actually, what would be most helpful is to hear the naturalist definition of “know”, since I get the impression that at root all these issues are epistemological.”

Actually, before we can talk about “naturalist definition(s) of ‘know’”, don’t we need to talk about definitions of “natural” vs. “supernatural”? What does it mean to say that a cause (or object, or whatever) is one as opposed to the other? Without defining these terms, what use is a “naturalist” or “supernaturalist” definition of “knowledge”?

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Reginald Selkirk June 30, 2010 at 11:49 am

I expect the scientific riddle of the origin of life to be solved completely within the next 20 years or so.

I’m not so sure. We are talking about a series of historical events, which left little direct trace. We might do better at drawing up plausible scenarios, but it is quite possible that we will never achieve one indisputable answer.

As a theist I am excited that the laws of nature are so elegant that so called ‘Intelligent Design’, i.e. tinkering of God with nature when the laws do not suffice to bring about the material structures that He envisions, is not necessary. I rather see design in the laws of nature themselves.

Heads you win,tails I lose.

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Reginald Selkirk June 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm

As Physicist Paul C. Davies has pointed out: “…to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour. Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are? …The favorite reply is, ‘There is no reason they are what they are–they just are.’”

Confidence in the result of half a millenium of scientific investigation into the natural world is not “faith” in the same sense as religious faith. Davies is not doing anything more profound than playing word games with an ambiguous word.

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Al Moritz June 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Nice article, I enjoyed reading it even though most of the technical stuff was way beyond me but a nice overview.

Glad to hear that.

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Al Moritz June 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I’m not so sure. We are talking about a series of historical events, which left little direct trace. We might do better at drawing up plausible scenarios, but it is quite possible that we will never achieve one indisputable answer.

I agree in that sense. Yes, we will never know the exact history of what happened, but what I meant is that within 20 years or so science will come up with a thoroughly probable model how it may have happened, so immensely probable that (among those who study the results with a neutral view) it will have to be viewed as a scientific fact that life arose by natural causes.

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Zak June 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm

JS Allen,

Yeah, history might show me to have been in error. But I doubt I would worry that much about it. History could show me to be in error about a lot of things (and surely will). But I have to admit that if Catholicism (in this case) were true, clearly answered prayers (which aren’t things that happen anyway by chance, confirmation bias, anecdotes, etc) are EXACTLY what I would expect to see if Catholicism were true.

Like I said before, if answered clearly prayers are not what you would expect to see if God is answering them… what in the heck WOULD you expect to see? I don’t dare want to look at it like theists do with a “heads I win, tails you lose” sort of mentality, in which every possible outcome is evidence for my position– rendering it non falsifiable.

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JS Allen June 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Yeah, history might show me to have been in error. But I doubt I would worry that much about it. History could show me to be in error about a lot of things (and surely will).

You’re being fairly reasonable, but I suspect that’s how most people in the past felt, when reporting things that they were certain were miracles.

I don’t dare want to look at it like theists do with a “heads I win, tails you lose” sort of mentality, in which every possible outcome is evidence for my position– rendering it non falsifiable.

I understand the desire to avoid making unfalsifiable claims, but we ought to be able to justify the tests that we set up. Setting up arbitrary tests in the name of “falsifiability” is not terribly scientific.

Do we draw the line at limb regeneration “because it feels right”? Do we draw the line based on some arbitrary statistical cutoff? When Nassim Nicholas Taleb was warning us about the impending financial collapse, he was universally criticized by the experts, since what he was predicting was a “six sigma event”. Does the fact that he was right mean that we would have to adopt whatever religious views he holds?

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Zak June 30, 2010 at 2:37 pm

JS Allen,

I just try to have conditions that would falsify all of my views on everything, and I have to admit that truly answered prayers would be a step in the right direction.

I would say that it couldn’t be something that COULD happen statistically (like with Taleb). That’s why I am not impressed with normal prayers. It would have to be something that DOESN’T happen… like an arm growing back or something.

If a tightly controlled, randomized, double blinded study was set up, and it was found that prayers from Catholics have the ability to regenerate limbs… what else could I conclude? Sure, I could say “that’s weird, but certainly isn’t evidence that Catholic prayers are correct”, but I think that any reasonable person would see that as being absurd. And if the method being tested was anything besides prayer (say some crazy medication), would it be reasonable to conclude that that medication wasn’t the cause of the regeneration? I would say no. But by saying that, I would contradict myself if I denied the ability of prayer.

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Zak, those tests, of course, have already been run.

For anyone who is not currently aware of them, here is the most note worthy one;

Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP)

Excerpts with emphasis added;

The STEP team … found that intercessory prayer had no effect on recovery from surgery without complications. The study also found that patients who knew they were receiving intercessory prayer fared worse. The paper appears in the April issue of American Heart Journal.

“The primary goal of STEP was to evaluate whether intercessory prayer or the knowledge of receiving it would influence recovery after bypass surgery,” said co-author Jeffery A. Dusek, Harvard Medical School instructor of medicine and Associate Research Director at the Mind/Body Medical Institute.

Participating organizations (as listed in the above press release);

The John Templeton Foundation
Baptist Memorial Health Care
INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Harvard Medical School
Mayo Clinic
Mind/Body Medical Institute
Washington Hospital Center

[ waits for expected harping on methods and results ]

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Patrick June 30, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Hermes and Tony,

it is indeed very difficult for me to give examples of natural causes that could successfully be replaced by supernatural claims. But this in itself is not an argument against supernatural claims. The problem lies in the fact that natural and supernatural explanations are not mutually exclusive. It is not that either you explain everything naturally or everything supernaturally. Those who are open to supernatural explanations nevertheless accept natural explanations. So they will readily agree that there are convincing natural explanations. What distinguishes them from naturalists is the conviction that natural explanations are not the only ones that are possible.

It seems to me that you together with Lukeprog (and Richard Carrier) share the misconception that natural and supernatural explanations are mutually exclusive. This seems to me quite obvious from the following statement by Lukeprog: „Everything we’ve investigated thoroughly so far has turned out to be natural at bottom. We used to think damn near everything was supernatural.“

According to Lukeprog this supposed success of naturalism serves as a justification for a bias towards naturalism. I would agree with Lukeprog if what he asserted was true. But I have grave doubts that this is the case.

As for the first sentence quoted above I simply would argue that this is an unproven assertion. It may even be wrong as there are obviously some phenomena for which no conclusive natural explanation could be found. An example could be the „Rosenheim Poltergeist“ (see the Wikipedia article about this phenomenon).

The second sentence clearly is not true, at least for the Judeo-Christian culture. The Bible contains many descriptions of natural events alongside with supernatural ones. Even if disease is sometimes attributed to the work of demons, this is not always the case (see e.g. 1 Timothy 5,23).

What in addition shows that people in past centuries regarded disease as a natural phenomenon are rules about quarantine. Such rules can be found in Leviticus, Chapter 13 and in the 14th century in some cities in Southern Europe (see the Wikipedia article „Quarantine“). The imposition of such rules requires a view of disease as something to be caused naturally by infection.

This statement is also true regarding the views about mental illness. In the 15th and 16th centuries there were supernatural as well as natural explanations about its cause, and the latter ones were also accepted by people who believed in God. Evidence for this can be found in the following contributions by scholars:

Thomas J. Schoenemann, „The Role of Mental Illness in the European Witch Hunts of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries“, in: Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 13 (1977), p. 341, 345-346.

H.C. Erik Midelfort, Sin, Melancholy, Obsession: Insanity and Culture in 16th Century Germany, in: Steven L. Kaplan (ed.), Understanding Popular Culture, Berlin 1984, p. 113-145.

In the light of historical evidence in my opinion Lukeprog’s claim that the history of human inquiry is supportive of naturalism is not justified. But if this is true there is no obligation for a bias towards naturalism. As a consequence naturalism of the gaps is not more justified than the God of the gaps.

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Patrick, are you a presupposationalist?

If you are, where is our common ground?

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Zak June 30, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Hermes,

Yes indeed. I remember when that study came out, and the hilarity that ensued when theologians tried to explain that that is EXACTLY what we would expect if God existed LOL!

In my mind, prayer is the poster child for irrational thinking. Confirmation bias, intermittent reinforcement, reliance on anecdotes and preferring stories to statistics… all in one swoop!

The book “Blind Faith” by Richard Sloan documents just how epically prayer has failed when investigated.

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Yep, Zak. What I find most humorous is when the validity of the study backers is questioned. If anything, it’s heavily weighted towards taking spiritualist concerns into account. John friggen’ spiritual agenda Templeton Foundation backed it.

The results? On that, there is much twisting and random speculating, but no challenges to the study itself except for attempts to nuke everything about it from western medicine through to how we can know anything. Unsurprisingly, the biggest complainers have a ready answer for that. It’s an old answer and a circular one.

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ayer June 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm

“Got me. I’m not a naturalist.”

Ok, then what is your definition of “know”? (whatever you are)

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ayer June 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm

“Actually, before we can talk about “naturalist definition(s) of ‘know’”, don’t we need to talk about definitions of “natural” vs. “supernatural”?”

Ok, what is your definition of “know”, whatever it is you call yourself?

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Tony Hoffman June 30, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Patrick: “it is indeed very difficult for me to give examples of natural causes that could successfully be replaced by supernatural claims.”

So difficult that you have not been able to come up with one.

“Patrick: But this in itself is not an argument against supernatural claims.”

Then it appears that you are not open to argument. It also appears that you have no meaningful supernatural claims to make, nor none to show as evidence, so at this point I have no idea what it is that you’re trying to say. I see no reason to discuss this topic with you further.

If any theist can put forth an argument that the supernatural is meaningful, I’m open to hearing it. But seeing how none has put anything forth, there’s nothing here to talk about.

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Ayer: Ok, then what is your definition of “know”? (whatever you are)

If I answer, will you answer my question? After all, I (and others) have asked you first and it seems as if you are unable to provide a direct answer.

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Tom H June 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm

As my high school algebra teacher used to say, don’t say “I don’t know” say “I don’t know, but I will find out”

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ayer June 30, 2010 at 6:42 pm

“If I answer, will you answer my question?”

You mean a definition of natural and supernatural? Sure, I have no problem with something like “nature is the order of existence accessible to us using the methods of the empirical sciences.” Thus, the supernatural would be “of or relating to an order of existence not accessible to us through the methods of the empirical sciences.”

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Hermes June 30, 2010 at 7:03 pm

No. Tony Hoffman’s question. If you need a clarification, then ask him.

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Zeb July 1, 2010 at 5:30 am

Tony

When someone says “I can produce a unicorn by waving my hand,” and I ask them to do this so that I can determine if they really can

If I brought you into my church and I called out, “God, when I wave my hand, make a unicorn appear.” And I did it and unicorn trotted through the room and out the door, would you count that as evidence for my religion? I doubt it (and I hope not). You would probably want me to repeat the event in a controlled environment, and you’d want to see other people do it, and you’d want to try it out against other rubrics (not calling to God, not waving the hand, whatever). In other words you would demand that we apply the scientific method: formulate a testable hypothesis and a null hypothesis, perform controlled experiments, do statistical analysis, and carry out nonsubjective repetitions. Wouldn’t you? For a claim that implies a mechanistic relationship in the physical world, the scientific method is the appropriate way to confirm it. The problem is that if the hypothesis is scientifically confirmed, it is no longer supernatural because there must be some law of nature (perhaps as yet undiscovered) involved.

By demanding support by scientific method (what the demand for demonstration usually usually amounts to), “scientismists” or whatever are automatically rejecting all supernatural claims. They are also rejecting the possible truth of one of a kind events, privately observable events, non-physical events, and true free will, at least. It’s not that these things are insupportable; as I’ve said they are supported by philosophical arguments, personal experience, intuition, and testimony. They just cannot be supported by by scientific method.

So I think you are a “scientismist” or whatever, and you should either admit it and defend it, or change your mind and allow for other forms of support for possibly true claims. I think a good argument can be made for the wisdom of demanding scientific support for all claims, but ultimately I think that demand is too restrictive in that it is undeniably possible that some aspects of reality may not be subject to scientific investigation.

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 5:43 am

Zeb: “If I brought you into my church and I called out, “God, when I wave my hand, make a unicorn appear.” And I did it and unicorn trotted through the room and out the door, would you count that as evidence for my religion?”

Absolutely I would. That would be completely awesome — why would I dismiss that?.

Zeb: “So I think you are a “scientismist” or whatever, and you should either admit it and defend it, or change your mind and allow for other forms of support for possibly true claims. ”

You appear to think I am a “scientismist” because of what you imagined in your comment my methods to be. I have said before, and I am telling you now, that not all evidence need be verified scientifically to have a persuasive effect.

So, absent the unicorn, what do you find so persuasive about what you define as the supernatural? Because I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that nothing that I can examine, like the unicorn, is going to be provided.

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Reginald Selkirk July 1, 2010 at 6:36 am

How to deny reductionism:

From a Bob Jones University science textbook

Electricity is a mystery. No one has ever observed it or heard it or felt it. We can see and hear and feel only what electricity does

So we can’t hear electricity, we can only hear the sound that it makes. This reminds me of the argument against reductionism of consciousness.

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zak July 1, 2010 at 7:57 am

Tony, I completely agree with you. If I walked into a church, and someone made a unicorn (an actual factual unicorn with a horn, wings, etc) appear simply by praying about it… that would be mind blowing! It would absolutely convince me too.

Every atheist I knows has situations where, if they happened, would convince them. It is theists (in my experience) who seem to take the position that nothing could ever change their mind.

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 8:05 am

It looks to me that the best defense available to the theist regarding supernatural claims would be to categorize all those things that are both immaterial and mundane as supernatural. I don’t really care about this defense, because the selection appears arbitrary — we might as well just call Math immaterial and be done with it.

But, again, if any theist wants to define the supernatural (to distinguish it from the immaterial) and explain why it’s qualified to be considered alongside the natural when it comes to explanations, I’d love to hear an outline at least of that defense.

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ayer July 1, 2010 at 8:19 am

“It looks to me that the best defense available to the theist regarding supernatural claims would be to categorize all those things that are both immaterial and mundane as supernatural. I don’t really care about this defense, because the selection appears arbitrary — we might as well just call Math immaterial and be done with it.”

Actually that is quite a good definition of “supernatural,” which means “beyond nature” after all. And the example of abstract objects like numbers is good–in fact, if numbers exist in every possible universe that is quite devastating for the materialist position and quite positive for the theist position, because we have then established an order of existence beyond nature.

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 8:37 am

I’d say that super also means “above,” and that is perfectly consistent for a term we use when something is derived from something else. The laws of nature, I’d say, are derived from nature.

I am curious then how you distinguish between the terms immaterial and supernatural. I see no reason why numbers would not be considered something that we derive from nature, and thus considered natural (although immaterial). You also seem to using the terms “materialist” and “nature” interchangeably in your last sentence, and I think those terms are not interchangeable.

What I am looking for is meaningful distinction between the supernatural (related to God or agency) and the immaterial. If you don’t like my terms, please explain how you think they should be corrected, and why.

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rvkevin July 1, 2010 at 9:04 am

I have one problem with the conversion from Unicorn miracle. What would falsify the belief? After the event, I don’t think I would have reason to differentiate the miracle from a hallucination, a realistic dream, or some other mistake. If you can’t falsify it, then there is no way of correcting it if it was a mistake, which I think points to a flawed methodology.

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 9:13 am

rvKevin, I think that you are placing a scientific criteria onto an examination of evidence that does not require it. Part of this discussion is whether or not skepticism of the supernatural stems from scientism. I am saying that one not need apply scientific criteria to point out that there’s no meaningful evidence for the supernatural.

I do not require the unicorn to be falsifiable. Proffering the unicorn to me seems quite outstanding. The problem, as I see it, is that the unicorns are sadly lacking as well, and it’s not scientism for me to point this out.

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Zeb July 1, 2010 at 9:15 am

Tony and Zak, how would you decide to believe it was an actual unicorn and not an illusion, a hallucination, or an artificial construction of some sort? And if you believed it was an actual unicorn, why would you accept that its appearance is explained supernaturally, rather than by some unknown natural explanation?

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zak July 1, 2010 at 9:43 am

Zeb, if it was the middle of the day, I was completely awake, not on any meds, was able to check it out (see that the horn is actually attached, and wings are not just props), touch it, see it fly around, other people could see it too, etc, I would have to conclude that yep, that’s a unicorn.

Sure, it’s possible that there was some natural explanation, but seeing as how exactly at the moment the person prayed for a unicorn, it popped into existence… I don’t think I would be able to honestly say “yeah, that was just a coincidence.” If that doesn’t count as extraordinary evidence for an extraordinary claim, I don’t know what would.

I am also a “magician”, and am familiar with the tricks that are used to produce tricks/illusions… so assuming none of those were employed, I would be rather impressed.

Likewise, if someone claimed they could produce an alien, and down comes this space ship and an alien walks out (and I was able to investigate)… I would freak the f out.

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ayer July 1, 2010 at 9:48 am

“I’d say that super also means “above,” and that is perfectly consistent for a term we use when something is derived from something else. The laws of nature, I’d say, are derived from nature.”

Abstract objects like numbers, law of logic, etc. exist in every possible universe (even a universe with no “material” at all) and so are not derived from the nature of any particular universe.

“What I am looking for is meaningful distinction between the supernatural (related to God or agency) and the immaterial. If you don’t like my terms, please explain how you think they should be corrected, and why. ”

Since supernatural by definition means “beyond nature” and the “nature” is “the material world and its phenomena” (http://www.answers.com/topic/nature), there is no distinction.

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 10:30 am

Zeb, I agree with Zak.

Ayer: “Abstract objects like numbers, law of logic, etc. exist in every possible universe (even a universe with no “material” at all) and so are not derived from the nature of any particular universe.”

I don’t agree that a universe with no material in it must contain logic and numbers. It seems just as likely to me that a universe devoid of material would also be devoid of immaterial things.

Ayer: “Since supernatural by definition means “beyond nature” …”

Well, my dictionary begins “above or beyond,” in its 1st defintion of “supernatural,” and when I took Latin super was usually translated as “above.” Think “superscript” on your word processor — that word doesn’t mean that the letter goes beyond the leading, but above it. So I think you mean, “By how how I, Ayer, define supernatural,…”

So, I think you need to justify your definition. It doesn’t seem to me that a philosophical argument works in this regard, because it is not obvious, for instance, that the immaterial can exist without the material, nor that the immaterial must exist in all possible universes. Without a different or better explained argument, it seems to me that you are merely making an assertion that is practically meaningless, and I am looking for a meaningful reason to account for the supernatural.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 11:11 am

I’m baffled as to why anyone believes this conversation can bear fruit without working definitions of natural and supernatural. If somebody asks me to locate Waldo at a Mets game, I know what I’m looking for. Yet, if someone asks me for an instance of a successful supernatural explanation, I have no idea what they’re looking for. To those of you so eager to hear a successful supernatural explanation, what *ARE* you looking for? So far, everybody here uses supernatural as a euphemism for unexplained.

Luke,

Rocks and quarks and strings and grey matter are natural. Non-physical gods and ghosts are supernatural.

According to what criteria? According to the definition Tony Hoffman proposed, it seems non-physical gods and ghosts are natural, if they manifest in the universe in an empirically detectable fashion.

Tony Hoffman,

I am asking that “explanation” mean something. I have offered my suggestions. If you do not like my suggestions it is not my job to search for those that please you.

Hmmm… I think some of the frustration with other commenters might have been carrying over there. I’m not accusing you of scientism. I didn’t say anything about not liking anything. It’s not about whether or not your suggestions please me. You asked for an instance of a successful supernatural explanation. It’s a valid question atheists often toss to theists. I’m willing to try my best to meet your request, but we need some working definitions for natural and supernatural.

I’d venture that natural is confined to the things we detect in our universe – those things we perceive empirically, and those abstract things (logic, numbers, etc.) we perceive through reason.

Okay, kudos for the attempt, but by this definition, gods and ghosts would be natural if they were to manifest in our universe. Likewise, magic would be natural simply via the geography of its occurrence. That doesn’t seem helpful.

I’d also suggest that a good definition for supernatural involves agency, and the ability to effect material changes while being immune to change from the material world.

I think agency can be a useful criteria, but agency can be a useful criteria for natural explanations as well. Why does the Great Pyramid exist? Because an agent willed so.

Believe me, I mean no offense, I’m not trying to spin your wheels. I’m resisting your definitions because I don’t find them helpful in meeting your request.

Ryan M,

Well, perhaps both Ayers and CL could provide their own definition of both what is natural and what is supernatural.

I’m not the one making a claim here, I’m trying to understand the people making the claim. But since you asked, personally, I try to avoid the dichotomy as much possible because it typically leads to discussions as fruitless as these.

Josh,

I’m interested in securing working definitions for natural and supernatural. If you have any ideas on that I’d love to hear them.

Josh Allen,

But how complete is our knowledge? Do we really think that our descendants won’t look back and call us superstitious? Are we at, or very near, the pinnacle of what we can know about the natural world? We might be, but that assumption has proven wrong for anyone else who’s made it in the past.

Very salient questions, that many forget.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 11:28 am

Tony Hoffman,

Another thing: when pondering definitions of explanation, you mentioned “simple” and “fewest entities” as possibly useful criteria, yet, by those criteria, an eternally existing creative Agent becomes an explanation that meets at least 2 of your criteria. Personally, I happen to believe that such an Agent passes Ockham’s test with flying colors, and often wonder why so many atheists seemingly plead specially with that logic. One can’t prefer simple explanations that entail the fewest entities on the one hand, while refusing a simple explanation that entails the fewest entities on the other.

[NOTE: though I addressed that comment to you, Tony, I'm speaking generally, not necessarily about you or anyone else]

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 11:46 am

CL: “According to the definition Tony Hoffman proposed, it seems non-physical gods and ghosts are natural, if they manifest in the universe in an empirically detectable fashion.”

I don’t think you completely understood my proposed definition.

I wrote: “I’d also suggest that a good definition for supernatural involves agency, and the ability to effect material changes while being immune to change from the material world.”

By that definition gods and ghosts remain supernatural because, in part, they are immune to changes from the material world. Having agency, being able to have a material effect, and being immune to changes from the material world are, all combined, what I proposed for the supernatural.

CL: “I think agency can be a useful criteria, but agency can be a useful criteria for natural explanations as well. Why does the Great Pyramid exist? Because an agent willed so.”

I think you are confusing a fairly simple concept – that concept being that a grouping of properties is what defines a thing. Your analogy above is like saying that because yellow is a useful criterion for lemons and for school buses, so we should not include yellow in our list of properties.

CL: “I’m not the one making a claim here, I’m trying to understand the people making the claim.”

Actually, you appear to be on the side of the theists, and theists are the ones that are making the claim that the supernatural is meaningful. It is the burden of the theist to provide the definition, and the explanation. I am just trying to understand what theists are using as a definition and what evidence they use when they make supernatural claims.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 11:54 am

zak,

I am also a “magician”, and am familiar with the tricks that are used to produce tricks/illusions… so assuming none of those were employed, I would be rather impressed.

Awesome! What’s your take on Criss Angel? All stage? Or, possibly something more? Though I am completely ignorant as to the technologies real magicians have at their disposal these days, some of his tricks are pretty convincing. In particular, the one where he signs a quarter, swallows it, kneads it through his arm then excises it with his pocketknife [although I suppose we don't need magic to explain that]. Also, the one where he walks across the pool in [?] Vegas.

I tend to think that even *IF* Criss Angel really walked across water, skeptics would just assume it was fake because of their pre-existing bias [that walking across water is impossible].

Any thoughts?

Also, not sure if it’s the same “zak” but,

Zak,

The book “Blind Faith” by Richard Sloan documents just how epically prayer has failed when investigated.

Actually, I think that book documents how epically investigators are failing, by even thinking that prayer merits scientific study in the first place. And that’s coming from a believer.

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ayer July 1, 2010 at 11:58 am

“I don’t agree that a universe with no material in it must contain logic and numbers.”

So you believe there is a universe where 2 + 2 = 4 or the law of noncontradiction (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_contradiction) does not obtain? Ok, you are free to believe that. But if you are wrong, I am sure that you can see that there is an order of existence beyond nature and that therefore the supernatural exists.

“So I think you mean, “By how how I, Ayer, define supernatural,…” ”

No, I am in agreement with Merriam-Webster: “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.”

A synonym for supernatural is “transcendent” (see http://thesaurus.com/browse/transcendent); to “transcend” is “to exist above and independent of (material experience or the universe)” (see http://www.thefreedictionary.com/transcend)

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Ayer: “So you believe there is a universe where 2 + 2 = 4 or the law of noncontradiction does not obtain?”

I think it’s more that a universe with nothing in it seems like a contradiction to me.

Ayer: “Ok, you are free to believe that. But if you are wrong, I am sure that you can see that there is an order of existence beyond nature and that therefore the supernatural exists.”

So your answer for why there is a supernatural world is simply to beg the question?

Ayer: “No, I am in agreement with Merriam-Webster: “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.”

Since I have shown you that there is no single dictionary definition for “supernatural” you are making a choice as to which variant of the definition you subscribe to — hence, your definition. I would expect you to choose your definition carefully, and not haphazardly from various sources, because the word is clearly a tricky one, and highly idiosyncratic. I don’t see why this should be controversial.

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Zeb July 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Tony

theists are the ones that are making the claim that the supernatural is meaningful.

Whoa, where do you get that? I’m a theist and if it weren’t for self proclaimed “naturalists” insisting otherwise, I would have said that everything I believe in is as natural as can be. Since the OP was about naturalism and the presumption against supernaturalism, in this case the naturalists should be telling us what exactly they do reject. For what it is worth, I actually think Richard Carrier’s definition does a pretty good job.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Note to any English teachers: I apologize for using criteria [plural] where I should have used criterion [singular]. Hopefully, the points themselves are clear.

Tony Hoffman,

Actually, you appear to be on the side of the theists, and theists are the ones that are making the claim that the supernatural is meaningful.

As Zeb explained, you jumped the gun there. I am a theist, but I take no sides, nor have I made any claims here, such that your mention of burden would be justified. I am responding to claims made by Luke and a request made by yourself. Luke’s claim was, well… not worth repeating [that bit about the horses]. Your request was, [to Patrick]:

Can you provide an example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong?

After your initial offerings, I asked you for clarity regarding the distinction between natural and supernatural. A few responses later, you said,

…gods and ghosts remain supernatural because, in part, they are immune to changes from the material world. Having agency, being able to have a material effect, and being immune to changes from the material world are, all combined, what I proposed for the supernatural.

Correct, and for natural, you proposed “in this universe” and “empirically detectable.” So, technically, ghosts and gods – if they manifest in this universe in an empirically detectable manner – are natural. Technically – if they are immune to changes from the material world while being able to effect that world via agency – ghosts and gods are supernatural.

I don’t think you completely understood my proposed definition.

That’s correct. Your definitions are so ill-defined they allow for the same entity to be both natural and supernatural. Unless we get around that problem, how can I rise to your challenge?

ayer,

…I am in agreement with Merriam-Webster: “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe.”

My problem with that line of thinking is that constrains things to geography and imposes the limitations of the observer on the definition. For example, if we had a universe similar to ours that was “outside” this one, everything in that universe becomes supernatural, simply because it’s “beyond” or “out-of-sight” given our perspective. How exactly do you interpret beyond? Overlapping? Non-overlapping?

If you really used Merriam-Webster’s definition as you supplied it, you would have to concede that the phrase “evidence for the supernatural” is a paradox. Or, am I missing something?

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Zeb: “I’m a theist and if it weren’t for self proclaimed “naturalists” insisting otherwise, I would have said that everything I believe in is as natural as can be.”

And that is your claim – that there is a God, who is perfectly good, who is involved in every aspect of our lives, and I’d imagine a lot of other more particular claims as well. That’s your claim, not mine. I’m just saying, nope, I don’t see any reason to believe you on that one. So, your claim, your burden.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I found some validity in Carrier’s definition, also, some problems:

[God, gods, faeries, demons, etc.] are all supernatural if they have any mental property or power that is not reducible to a nonmental mechanism. [Carrier]

By this definition, humans are potentially supernatural. I’m not sure that tracks with what people typically mean by supernatural, and Carrier advocates using terms that track well with what people typically mean. Does Carrier think the debate on consciousness no longer rages? The assumption that human mental powers reduce to nonmental mechanism[s] is implicit in his definition.

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Zeb July 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm

You’re right, I do have the burden on my claims about God, but that’s not what we’re talking about. I don’t know if you call yourself a naturalist, but for those who do, they must tell us what that means. If they say, “I reject the supenatural,” then they must tell us what that means. Otherwise, I can call myself a naturalist too, since I would have called God the most natural thing ever if I hadn’t been told that’s wrong.

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm

CL: “That’s correct. Your definitions are so ill-defined they allow for the same entity to be both natural and supernatural. Unless we get around that problem, how can I rise to your challenge?”

This is idiotic on two fronts. The first is that my proposed definitions don’t require that the same entity be natural and supernatural. That is like saying that mammals are both fish and mammals because they have backbones and eyes. No, they’re mammals, because in addition to those things they share with fish they have other features that distinguish them. Why are entities that share some abilities but not others so confusing for you?

More importantly, I don’t care about my definitions for the supernatural, because I’m not the one saying that the supernatural is meaningful. As a stated theist, that’s your position. If you will offer no definitions or explanations for your claim, then why should I be the one required to provide them for you?

Your claim. Your challenge, not mine.

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Patrick July 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Hermes,

I’m not a presupposationalist but an evidentialist.

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ayer July 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm

“I think it’s more that a universe with nothing in it seems like a contradiction to me.”

So an empty universe is a logical contradiction? Interesting claim. It would be interesting for you to demonstrate and elaborate on that claimed logical contradiction.

“So your answer for why there is a supernatural world is simply to beg the question?”

No, my answer is that the existence of a supernatural world is established by the fact that 2 + 2 =4 is true in every possible universe (i.e., regardless of the particular nature of any given universe). You claim that is not the case, but have offered no defense of that claim. Which I can understand, because it would be difficult to defend the proposition that 2 + 2 could possibly equal 5.

“Since I have shown you that there is no single dictionary definition for “supernatural” you are making a choice as to which variant of the definition you subscribe to — hence, your definition.”

Ok, you have your definition and I have mine. And you reject mine because it makes your position untenable. I can live with that.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Tony Hoffman,

I’m going to be charitable and attribute your misperceptions to lingering frustration about the scientism charge that others made.

More importantly, I don’t care about my definitions for the supernatural, because I’m not the one saying that the supernatural is meaningful. As a stated theist, that’s your position. If you will offer no definitions or explanations for your claim, then why should I be the one required to provide them for you?

I haven’t made a single claim here, so I’m confused as to why you’re trying to push the burden of proof on me. You were the one that asked [Patrick],

Can you provide an example where a supernatural explanation has been determined to be correct, and the natural explanation wrong?

…and I’m telling you that I’m willing to at least try, *IF* we can cement some goalposts. Your question, your responsibility to clarify. Or not.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm

ayer,

Help me out here, if you don’t mind:

…2 + 2 =4 is true in every possible universe…

I don’t see that that’s necessarily true, nor do I see what its truth would establish if demonstrated. However, if we grant that it’s true for the sake of discussion, what do you think this accomplishes for your position? What does theism gain by noting that, “2+2=4 in every possible universe?”

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ayer July 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm

“For example, if we had a universe similar to ours that was “outside” this one, everything in that universe becomes supernatural, simply because it’s “beyond” or “out-of-sight” given our perspective. How exactly do you interpret beyond? Overlapping? Non-overlapping?”

That’s a good question, because it points up how the multiverse theory is really a metaphysical one (since such other universes are nondetectable empirically), but I would say “beyond” would mean “beyond our spacetime universe and beyond any other spacetime universes that may exist.” I.e., the supernatural realm would be one that is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial.

“If you really used Merriam-Webster’s definition as you supplied it, you would have to concede that the phrase “evidence for the supernatural” is a paradox.”

No, because if something in the supernatural order of existence had a causal relationship on the natural order of existence, evidence could very well be left. E.g., evidence of fine-tuning for life, evidence that the universe had an absolute beginning, the ability to apprehend the supernatural order (apprehension of mathematics and laws of logic, apprehension of objective moral values), the existence of the dual nature of the human being (e.g., libertarian free will, consciousness, etc.)

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Cl: I’m baffled as to why anyone believes this conversation can bear fruit without working definitions of natural and supernatural.

Agreed.

That’s part of the reason why I’ve asked for an unambiguous demonstration of something (anything / event / phenomenon / … as appropriate) that supernatural proponents think is — in part or in whole — supernatural. Such a demonstration would get us on the right track. From that, we can talk about actual differences (if any) between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ that aren’t based on assertions and private knowledge.

If somebody asks me to locate Waldo at a Mets game, I know what I’m looking for. Yet, if someone asks me for an instance of a successful supernatural explanation, I have no idea what they’re looking for. To those of you so eager to hear a successful supernatural explanation, what *ARE* you looking for? So far, everybody here uses supernatural as a euphemism for unexplained.

If you do not think that supernatural things (events/phenomenon/…) are part of reality, then you are not alone in waiting for a demonstration or some clarification about what the supernatural proponents are actually saying.

If you are someone who thinks supernatural things (event/phenomenon/…) are part of reality, then I would like to know why you think that. If it is a mere belief, then no answer is required or requested.

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Patrick July 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Tony,

your comment contains a logical fallacy. From the statement that for the time being I’m not able to give an example of an event that once was supposed to be natural but then turned out to be supernatural it does not follow that I cannot show evidence of a (supposed) supernatural event. In fact I did do this with the example of the „Rosenheim Poltergeist“.

I think one reason for the asymmetry regarding the possibility of a change of the view about the nature of an event is the fact that natural events described by science follow a predictable pattern whereas (supposed) supernatural events, as they are supposed to be the product of a free act of a supernatural agent, may not follow any pattern. As a consequence it is much easier to question a supernatural event than a natural one described by science as you cannot reproduce the supernatural event in the same way as a natural one. Due to their suggested different nature it is therefore very unlikely that a natural event described by science will ever be turn out to be a supernatural event.

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Patrick: I’m not a presupposationalist but an evidentialist.

Thanks. As the two sometimes ride along with each other, I have a question.

As an evidentialist, do you take anything about basic reality or facts that a non-Christian and non-evidentialist theist would dispute?

Say, when you look at an elephant vs. what they see when they look at a elephant.

I realize that even with the elephant example the question is very broad and may not allow for a concise and accurate reply. To limit it somewhat, say the hypothetical non-Christian theist would be completely confident about their religious views and at the same time would be able to provide facts to back up what they say about the elephant.

To ask the question another way, what does your perspective as an evidentialist give you that a non-evidentialist and non-presupposationalist Christian would not have?

Rosenheim Poltergeist: “The Rosenheim Poltergeist is very contested to this very day. While some claim that this is essential proof for the existence of paranormal activity critics contest that notion and claim it was a set-up and faked or attention seeking from the vulnerable young Ms Schneider.

On the claims of fakery we can observe that many of the events that appear unexplainable are far from paranormal. … Unfortunately, none of the available video evidence shows anything which cannot be explained through bad wiring or mischievous pranksters.”

It’s a start, but not a home run, would you agree?

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Tony Hoffman July 1, 2010 at 6:45 pm

CL: “I haven’t made a single claim here, so I’m confused as to why you’re trying to push the burden of proof on me.”

You can’t have it both ways; you can’t claim to be a theist, and then deny that your theism entails anything. If it’s your position that supernaturalism is meaningless, I agree, but then I don’t think you should go on calling yourself a theist.

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Zak July 1, 2010 at 7:57 pm

CL,

Yeah Chris Angel is a trickster. Actually, his stuff is not really that impressive (from my perspective), as opposed to say this dude… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkMbSWwS3FA

Chris Angel relies on a lot of TV magic, which I don’t really care for (seems like it’s cheating to me). Personally, I am not impressed with “stage magic” either (which Chris Angel does a lot of). “Here is a perfectly normal box, which I won’t let you investigate” LOL! I prefer close up, slight of hand magic, cause it takes a LOT more skills. Though, admittedly, coming up with creative stage tricks does take a lot of talent too. But the execution of the tricks are generally pretty simple.

I would only be convinced that someone could walk on water if I could choose the pool, the time, and what part of the pool it was that he walked across.

As for the book, yes, and no. It also shows how people will simply make stuff up, lie, or deny that they are sick, because they claim prayer has healed them. I think we have to admit though, failed prayer studies are EXACTLY what we would expect to see if God didn’t exist. And I am not sure why God wouldn’t answer the prayers, simply when scientists are keeping track. If that is the case, God seems to have the same mentality that psychics, dowsers, witches, etc, etc, etc have. “If someone is watching too closely, the magic won’t work.”

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cl July 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm

ayer,

I think I see where we were seeing differently:

…I would say “beyond” would mean “beyond our spacetime universe and beyond any other spacetime universes that may exist.”

Then, presuming a non-overlapping relationship between the natural and supernatural, doesn’t that definition effectively preclude the supernatural from any sort of reliable scientific inquiry? I think it does, which is why I said “evidence for the supernatural” becomes a paradox. However, presuming an overlapping relationship, things change. You noted,

…if something in the supernatural order of existence had a causal relationship on the natural order of existence, evidence could very well be left.

This presumes an overlapping relationship, in which case I agree that something we could justifiedly call “evidence for the supernatural” could be left.

Hermes,

I appreciate the good faith. If you can formulate your questions omitting the words natural and supernatural, I’m willing to proceed.

Tony Hoffman,

…you can’t claim to be a theist, and then deny that your theism entails anything.

I’ve had such good conversations with you before that I’m quite confused. Our exchange began when I offered to supply an instance of something you were asking for, under the condition that you could clarify. As such, I don’t retain any burden of proof. You retain the burden of clarification, if we are to proceed.

Now, if I had said to you that I have evidence for the supernatural, or some such thing, you would be justified in pushing the burden onto me. As it is, you are acting as if I made a claim, when in fact I did not. If your next response is more of the same, I’ll decline to respond. If you want me to try to answer the question you asked, you need to articulate exactly what it is you’re looking for.

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Zak, I was unimpressed (jaded you could say) till the last minute, thinking I could detect when he was palming the coins … then, wow. Good show.

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cl July 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Zak,

That video was crazy.

I agree that some of Criss’ stuff seems cheesy, but the walking on water footage is pretty impressive IMO. I mean, we had people swimming under and all around him. I’m just wondering what sort of techniques would be good enough to fool all those live people. I suppose one could just claim that all the “live people” were really paid actors, but I’m skeptical of that, too.

As far as Sloan’s book, the only point I was making was that in my impression, Sloan thought the entire concept of prayer studies was flawed and unscientific. I tend to agree.

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Hermes July 1, 2010 at 8:36 pm

The people in the pool were part of the act. If memory serves me right, it was a Plexiglas or Lucite wall/bridge with the same refraction index as the water. Some holes were cut to allow for the other actors to move under and around Criss.

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Zeb July 2, 2010 at 2:22 am

(This is directed toward Tony, but I’m interested in any responses.)

If you don’t accept your own consciousness and free will as evidence for irreducible mind, why not? My subjective feeling is that the appearance of consciousness and free will in the middle of a material universe is even more amazing than the appearance of a unicorn in a church would be. More importantly, I don’t think those things have any possible naturalists explanations, unlike the unicorn as improbable as they are. The only naturalistic solutions to consciousness and free will that I know of or can imagine either amount to hand waving (there’s all these really complex interactions, and voila consciousness emerges) or dismissal (all these complex material behaviors add up to give the appearance of consciousness) which to me is untenable. I should say the latter accounts may give a perfectly reliable explanation for all objective observation usually associated with mind, but not for our subjective experiences of it.

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 4:41 am

Zeb: If you don’t accept your own consciousness and free will as evidence for irreducible mind, why not? My subjective feeling is that the appearance of consciousness and free will in the middle of a material universe is even more amazing than the appearance of a unicorn in a church would be.

I don’t know what you mean exactly by an irreducible mind, but no matter.

Our mental abilities are amazing, like super massive stars are amazing, yet that doesn’t tell us anything specific except that we have freakishly large brains compared to nematodes.

Are you saying that non-natural explanations — specifically — provide unique conclusions? If so, what are these non-natural explanations and how do they show these conclusions unambiguously?

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zak July 2, 2010 at 5:57 am

CL,

Whenever you see magic (especially on TV), always be aware that confederates are often a large part of the trick (like when David Blaine appears to pull a girls teeth out). And in this case, at least one person (the girl who swims under him) is in on it. Though, I would bet everyone was. Simply because if they weren’t, they would be swimming over to where he has just walked, to see if there was some sort of platform he had walked on.

Walking on water is pretty easy to figure out, if you just think “if I had to replicate this, how would I do it?” If you REALLY want to see how it’s done, just search “criss angel walks on water revealed by masked magician” on youtube. It is exactly what you would expect.

Here is a trick featuring a good friend of mine (he is who taught me). He invented this trick, and in my opinion, it’s the best card trick on earth. Even most professional magicians were skeptical that it could be done, until Nash showed them. Incredible! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uqy0k8V6Uqo

As for Sloan’s book, I agree.

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Reginald Selkirk July 2, 2010 at 6:06 am

If you don’t accept your own consciousness and free will as evidence for irreducible mind, why not?

For starters, I don’t believe in free will.

As for consciousness, let’s go back to the amoeba. Do you consider an amoeba to have consciousness? If so, it is certainly less of it than a human possesses. Is it amazing that an amoeba has chemoreceptors and can move in the direction of food? Is it amazing beyond a naturalistic evoltionary explanation? (If you don’t believe in evolution, I will write you off as an idiot and not waste any more time on you.) How about an instect? A fish? A pig? At what point does the gradient of consciousness cross the threshhold of amazingness?

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Reginald Selkirk July 2, 2010 at 6:16 am

Actually, his stuff is not really that impressive (from my perspective), as opposed to say this dude… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkMbSWwS3FA

Very interesting. I caught a couple of the tricks, including the magnetic ring and the trick coin, but not all of them.

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Bill Snedden July 2, 2010 at 6:44 am

@ayer: Your distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” seems, oddly, to be constructed for the sole purpose of removing the “supernatural” from empirical inquiry. This seems not so much a definition as a retreat. Empirical science is founded upon sense perception and inductive logic. In essence, you seem to be saying that the supernatural is that which cannot be sensed nor derived inductively from information gained through the senses. As sense perception and induction are two of the three means we have of gaining “knowledge” of our external world, it would seem that under your rubric “supernatural” should fall prey to Wittgenstein’s dictum: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

But I don’t think this is necessary; in reality, I’d argue that both “supernatural” and “natural” aren’t real terms, but rather sort of “folk-language” terminology that does nothing more than separate “mystery” from our body of common knowledge. IOW, “supernatural” really doesn’t mean anything more than “I don’t know”. Nothing wrong with that, insofar as it goes, but as a dichotomy of existence, it’s useless.

You asked me earlier for a definition of “knowledge”. Mine is one of the more common ones: “justified true belief”. I see no reason (and I’m in good company with a number of theistic analytic philosophers) to believe that this definition has any sort of naturalistic or non-naturalistic bias. You mentioned earlier that “the problem is epistemology”. Indeed, that is the problem and we need an epistemology that can satisfy our requirements for “knowledge”.

1) warrant or justification
2) truth

In terms of gaining knowledge of our external reality, the scientific method (sense perception + induction/deduction) provides a good fit with such an epistemology. What alternatives are there?

I also found this interesting:

@ayer: “Abstract objects like numbers, law of logic, etc. exist in every possible universe (even a universe with no “material” at all) and so are not derived from the nature of any particular universe.”

and later:

@ayer: “No, my answer is that the existence of a supernatural world is established by the fact that 2 + 2 =4 is true in every possible universe (i.e., regardless of the particular nature of any given universe).”

Both of these require the assumption that “nature” is necessarily material. But this is false, and so is the idea that abstract numbers and laws of logic exist in every possible universe. They do not. Abstractions can only exist in universes in which there are minds. But this says nothing about the nature of such universes; were a mind to suddenly appear in one, such abstractions could be derived as their foundation is found in the nature of existence which is and must be the same in every possible universe.

2+2=4 is true in every possible universe not because “2″ & “4″ exist in every possible universe, but because it is the nature of existence that the equation “2+2=4″ is a veridical representation of it. Abstractions don’t have objective existence; the law of non-contradiction isn’t prescriptive (that would be logically incoherent). But they are veridical representations/models/descriptions of HOW the universe is. And we know this through deduction followed by confirmation through sense perception and induction.

Further, assuming arguendo that numbers do exist objectively, they would not necessarily provide any evidence for the “supernatural”. It would simply be the case that “natural” had been pushed back a step. Yet another reason why I don’t believe “natural” and “supernatural” to be meaningful terms at any level except that of vernacular discourse.

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Bill Snedden July 2, 2010 at 6:51 am

@zak: “Here is a trick featuring a good friend of mine (he is who taught me). He invented this trick, and in my opinion, it’s the best card trick on earth. Even most professional magicians were skeptical that it could be done, until Nash showed them. Incredible! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uqy0k8V6Uqo

That is a FANTASTIC trick! And Nash seems to be particularly competent at sleights…I mean, if you’re familiar with card magic, you have a pretty good idea what’s going on, but as it’s presented here you simply can’t see him doing it. Impressive!

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zak July 2, 2010 at 7:09 am

Bill Snedden,

Yeah Nash is SUPER good! Whenever I think I am getting good, I watch him, and he puts me in my place lol! He taught me how to do that trick, but it is frickin HARD!! Literally everything he does, from how he holds the cards, to how the person signs it, etc is important. Too hard for me, actually.

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 7:33 am

Bill Snedden, excellent post. I’m in full agreement with your main conclusion and for much the same reasons.

I think you overreach a bit in a few spots (possibly knowing you are doing so), but that’s good fodder for future responses even if I’m mistaken and you can fully justify every nit and tiddle. I’ll hold back to see if anyone else notices them and will watch with interest for your response.

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Zeb July 2, 2010 at 8:06 am

Hermes

Are you saying that non-natural explanations — specifically — provide unique conclusions?

Yes, but the explanation is pretty minimal. On naturalism (by Carrier’s definition), all mind-properties are reducible to mindless materials and processes. I can only see two conclusions there – mind-properties are an illusion caused by the complexity of mindless matter, or mind-properties mysteriously emerge out of the complexity of mindless matter. The former I regard as untenable and the latter as mere hand-waving (but I’m interested in being corrected on either count). The supernatural explanation is just that mind properties are irreducible – brute facts. They may be properties of immaterial entities of some sort, or of some (or all) matter. The differing conclusion is that your experience of your own mind is real, and it is just what it seems to be – that there is an identity that is witnessing and willing that which you witness and will. It seems to me that this conclusion is the most fundamental and necessary fact of human life, and it requires an explanation that Carrier would call supernatural.

Reginald
How does one live based on the disbelief in your own free will?

As to the forms and degrees of consciousness, I want to draw a distinction between sensory perception and the subjective witnessing of such. I anticipate a complete naturalistic explanation for the perception, processing, and construction of the content of consciousness (I will not be surprised if even all “spiritual” experiences arrive through natural physical means). What’s missing is the subject who witnesses the content. The complexity and functionality produced through evolution are mind bogglingly amazing, but so is the age and size of the universe, so I can accept everything from the amoeba to the homo sapien as naturally explained. The subjective witness though – I don’t see that as naturally explained, and it’s presence in the universe is just as amazing in whether it is in the amoeba or the human. I have a similar view of free will – I can accept that the construction of a set of options is done by the material brain, and perhaps the great majority of our actions are just what they would be without free will. But I cannot deny an affective relationship between my identity and my course of actions, and that there is some degree of causality there.

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 8:34 am

Zeb: The supernatural explanation is just that mind properties are irreducible – brute facts.

Even if that can be shown to be correct, at this point it’s a statement without any support so it doesn’t really explain anything.

Besides, I think there are plenty of ‘mind properties’ that are explainable and verifiable by non-supernatural^^^ methods. Can you give some examples that are not? (Please don’t mention ‘consciousness’; that’s a mess where the description of what it is not even clear. Kinda like supernatralism.)

Zeb: They may be properties of immaterial entities of some sort, or of some (or all) matter. The differing conclusion is that your experience of your own mind is real, and it is just what it seems to be – that there is an identity that is witnessing and willing that which you witness and will. It seems to me that this conclusion is the most fundamental and necessary fact of human life, and it requires an explanation that Carrier would call supernatural.

Why? Better yet, what’s the claim sans-naturalism vs. supernaturalism terminology? Is there one?

—–

^^^. Bill Snedden’s comments on the uselessness of ‘supernatural’ and ‘natural’ apply here. The words are colloquial and lack precision. We would be better off dealing with direct discussions about specific claims and support for those claims (mostly) and only where necessary support against alternative claims. For example, I would suggest that your first three sentences of your reply really didn’t address the question I asked. As I’m not a naturalist, mentioning what naturalists think or claim only applies when there is a specific contrast needed to address a narrow claim. Then again, we can chuck out the terms and deal with the claims and support for those claims.

If there is no support, then the claim is not warranted. If there is support for one claim and support for another claim, then that confluence is illuminating even if supporters of either claim loathe the other supported claims. Note that abstract assertions are weak at best for providing support for a claim.

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 8:39 am

Free will as a general concept is meaningless. In either case, we don’t have control over if we have it or not.

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Reginald Selkirk July 2, 2010 at 9:14 am

Zeb: “How does one live based on the disbelief in your own free will?

First I would want to be sure that we have the same definition and understanding of what “free will” is. I am speaking of contra causal free will, here is a definition I have seen:

The ability to choose between alternatives so that the choice and action are to an extent creatively determined by the conscious subject. And the ability to choose independent of restraints imposed by physical necessity, divine necessity, or causal law.

There are other versions, such as compatibilist free will. I am not interested in evading a conflict be redefinition, which is how I interpret compatibilism.

If we do not agree on definitions and usage, we can stop right here, because we will be taking past each other.

So then: of course humans, and other animals, make choices. That is not free will. I will concentrate on the second sentence of the above definition: “And the ability to choose independent of restraints imposed by physical necessity, divine necessity, or causal law.

Being an atheist, I will not be considering divine necessity. So then, since I am an atheist/naturalist (aside: I don’t thoroughly understand the difference between materialism, naturalism, and physicalism, but I’ll just say that I don’t believe in the supernatural), I believe that human consciousness is a property of our brains, and our brains are natural entities entirely subject to physical necessity and causal law. In my opinion, naturalists who believe in free will simply have not taken their naturalism to completion, free will is the last vestige of the dualism they think they have shed.

Sure we make decisions, but there is no reason to think those decisions are free from the influence of physical necessity and causality. And I don’t think you can point to any inarguable examples of free will.

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Reginald Selkirk July 2, 2010 at 9:22 am

Zeb: The subjective witness though – I don’t see that as naturally explained, and it’s presence in the universe is just as amazing in whether it is in the amoeba or the human. I have a similar view of free will – I can accept that the construction of a set of options is done by the material brain, and perhaps the great majority of our actions are just what they would be without free will. But I cannot deny an affective relationship between my identity and my course of actions, and that there is some degree of causality there.

Since you are willing to accept naturalistic origins for the universe, including amoebae and humans, I don’t see where the difficulty lies for you, except that you are singling out the word “subjective” to insert the magic. Sorry, I cannot follow you there.

I would certainly agree that your identity influences your course of action, but since there is a naturalistic explanation for your identity, I don’t see any problems for the naturalistic view.

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JS Allen July 2, 2010 at 9:28 am

In my opinion, naturalists who believe in free will simply have not taken their naturalism to completion, free will is the last vestige of the dualism they think they have shed.

Yes, very well put.

Sure we make decisions, but there is no reason to think those decisions are free from the influence of physical necessity and causality. And I don’t think you can point to any inarguable examples of free will.

Sure, you’re right. But it seems like a rather sterile intellectual assent. How does someone who possesses this knowledge behave differently from someone who doesn’t, all other factors being the same?

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Zeb July 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

Reginald

you are singling out the word “subjective” to insert the magic. Sorry, I cannot follow you there.

Well, I would single out the word “witness,” but do you know of any conceivable explanation for the presence of the witness that reduces it to non-mind-having [non-witnessing] matter?

I don’t think you can point to any inarguable examples of free will.

No, I can’t, all I can point to is my inability, based on every moment of my experience, to assent to and live by the proposition “I am an organic robot.” If you assent to it, how do you live by it, and how does it square with your experience of yourself?

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 11:38 am

Zeb: Well, I would single out the word “witness,” but do you know of any conceivable explanation for the presence of the witness that reduces it to non-mind-having [non-witnessing] matter?

Is water only hydrogen and oxygen?

If it is, then why can’t I breathe under water?

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Patrick July 2, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Hermes,

for me being an evidentialist means that in disputations with people of another worldview I don’t appeal to anything but empirical evidence (and reason), which certainly is a common ground upon which people of different worldviews can agree. Of course as a Christian Theist I have convictions which are not based on such evidence. But this is also true for people with another worldview such as naturalists.

I’m not sure if this is a satisfying answer for you as I must admit that I don’t know how to answer the questions you ask me. This may be because I’m not a trained philosopher but a philosophical layman interested in philosophical questions.

As for the “Rosenheim Poltergeist”, this example is not meant to prove that supernatural claims are true but as a refutation of Lukeprog’s claim “Everything we’ve investigated thoroughly so far has turned out to be natural at bottom.“. It seems to me quite obvious that this phenomenon was investigated very thoroughly and it didn’t have the result Lukeprog would want to have.

Coming back to my statements about evidentialism in my opinion in the Wikipedia article about this phenomenon pieces of evidence are presented which from a naturalistic point of view are very difficult or even impossible to explain (of course only provided that the statements in this article are correct). These pieces of evidence can be seen in the following quotations:

„The Deutsche Post installed instruments that recorded numerous phone calls which were never made. Within five weeks the instruments recorded roughly 600 calls to the speaking clock (number 0119 in Germany) even though all the phones in the office were disabled and only Adam himself had the key required to enable them. In one 15-minute period the speaking clock had been called 46 times, sometimes at a rate that appeared impossible with the mechanical dialling system of 1967.“

„… the police officers present and others unconnected with the company, such as Karger and Zicha from the Max Planck Institute, did give official statements claiming to have witnessed unexplained object movements …“

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I get your point, but I don’t think there’s any evidence for your point in the RP example.

Personally, I’m an agnostic atheist (in general) because I do not claim gods do not exist, only that none have been convincing. Yet, as I attempt to go with the evidence regardless of my personal preference, I also am a gnostic atheist in regards to most claims about the existence of specific descriptions of the Christian deity. In short; It doesn’t pass the sniff test.

As for supernaturalism, I’ll point back to Bill Snedden’s longer post to Ayer from earlier today. He doesn’t say exactly what I would, but his explanation is excellent. Here are some excerpts;

Bill Snedden: @ayer: Your distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” seems, oddly, to be constructed for the sole purpose of removing the “supernatural” from empirical inquiry. This seems not so much a definition as a retreat. …

But I don’t think this is necessary; in reality, I’d argue that both “supernatural” and “natural” aren’t real terms, but rather sort of “folk-language” terminology that does nothing more than separate “mystery” from our body of common knowledge. IOW, “supernatural” really doesn’t mean anything more than “I don’t know”. Nothing wrong with that, insofar as it goes, but as a dichotomy of existence, it’s useless.

…I don’t believe “natural” and “supernatural” to be meaningful terms at any level except that of vernacular discourse.

The RP in isolation at best allows us to draw no conclusions. Without that isolation, it shrinks from serious consideration and by associating your case with it you’re not helping promote yourself let alone anything else.

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Patrick July 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Hermes,

it seems to me that what you present in your comment is a good starting point for a philosophical argument for naturalism of the gaps. Obviously you want to say that supernaturalism of the gaps should be rejected because “supernatural” is not a meaningful term.

Strangely enough, Lukeprog does not present such a philosophical argument but one based on (alleged) historical facts. I think it is very strange that he builds his case on the shaky ground of our very limited knowledge about History rather than the firm ground of solid philosophical reasoning. What he presents are at best unproven, at worst wrong assertions.

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Hermes July 2, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Then address Luke.

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Anonymous July 2, 2010 at 9:22 pm

I’m crying now.

Luke, a horse with a pointy horn on some other planet isn’t something supernatural.

If *that’s* what you mean by “unicorn”, then you have NO GOOD REASON to believe that unicorns don’t exist. If you believe that there is no horse with a pointy horn on another planet somewhere in the universe, then your belief is not justified (this isn’t to say anybody’s belief win the same proposition wouldn’t be justified—it’s to say YOURS isn’t) and quite possibly false.

But of course, a horse with a pointy horn is not anything supernatural. So you have a failure of analogy issue here. Say that a doxastic attitude towards a proposition is justified iff adoption of that doxastic attitude towards that proposition fits the evidence one has. You may well then be justified in adopting the doxastic attitude of “doubting” towards the proposition that unicorns exist. But that hardly shows that you’re justified in adopting the doxastic attitude of disbelieving towards the proposition that unicorns exist.

Your post implies that you think that not having a compelling reason to believe something exists renders you justified in believing that it doesn’t exist. But that’s retarded. Not having a reason to think that x has property P is not to have a reason to think that x lacks property P. Only a moron would make that inference.

What you need to do here, of course, is retreat to your inductive argument. Humans have often thought that many events (or whatever) were the result of, or constituted by (or whatever) the supernatural. And we know that in many of those cases humans have been wrong. So probably, any such belief is wrong.

That is, of course, a fairly weak argument. Here’s you, again:

>>The reason to suspect this is simple. Everything we’ve investigated thoroughly so far has turned out to be natural at bottom. -Luke

Now one might suspect that everything we’ve “investigated thoroughly” has been “investigated thoroughly” precisely because it’s amenable to thorough investigation. But there are all sorts of things we haven’t investigated thoroughly. Take consciousness, for example. And it may be the case that consciousness has not been “investigated thoroughly” precisely because it’s not the sort of thing that’s amenable to (for us) “thorough investigation”. It may also be the case that awareness of the weirdness of consciousness produces or else is somehow part of the cause of various supernatural beliefs.

Admittedly, consciousness is one of the weirder things out there. Yet you seem to assume that your inductive argument applies across all boundaries. If [most x's which are of type T have been "thoroughly investigated", and discovered to be natural], then [probably all x's which are of type T will be natural] is a decent or cogent or reasonable inductive inference. But many “x’s” are not of type T. And they have not been “thoroughly investigated”. So your inductive inference to “all x’s are amenable to naturalist explanation” looks like it fails miserably.

You’re engaging in wishful naturalist thinking, or adopting a “naturalistic stance”. You’re hoping that the sort of thing that has never been “thoroughly investigated” will turn out to be the kind of thing is susceptible of naturalistic analysis. I share your hope. But I see no reason to believe this, especially given that we should expect to only “thoroughly investigate” those sorts of things that *are* amenable to naturalistic analysis. Produce a naturalistic analysis of consciousness and I’ll hop on board.

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Zeb July 3, 2010 at 10:08 am

Is water only hydrogen and oxygen?

If it is, then why can’t I breathe under water?

You can google the answer to that. What’s your point? (I think it has to do with emergent properties, but I would need a better analogy with explanation to understand the relevance.)

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ayer July 3, 2010 at 10:44 am

@Sneddon: “Your distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” seems, oddly, to be constructed for the sole purpose of removing the “supernatural” from empirical inquiry. This seems not so much a definition as a retreat.”

Not at all; empirical science, as an exercise in methodological naturalism, just IS the study of the “natural.” Anything not subject to empirical science is by definition “beyond nature.” For example, the argument from fine-tuning relies on date derived from science, but the conclusion that “the universe was designed to be life-permitting” is not a “scientific” theory since it refers to a cause beyond nature and thus outside the purview of methodological naturalism. It is a philosophical conclusion, but philosophy is free to draw upon scientific data to support the premises of an argument.

@Sneddon: “In terms of gaining knowledge of our external reality, the scientific method (sense perception + induction/deduction) provides a good fit with such an epistemology. What alternatives are there?”

Clearly the knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 does not come from use of the scientific method, but is instead properly basic. Surely you agree?

@Sneddon: “2+2=4 is true in every possible universe not because “2″ & “4″ exist in every possible universe, but because it is the nature of existence that the equation “2+2=4″ is a veridical representation of it”

Ok, so there is an order of existence that transcends the configuration of any possible universe and contains necessary truths (as opposed to contingent truths that vary with each possible universe). That would generally be referred to as a realm “beyond nature” (hence “supernatural”), i.e., a realm that is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial, but if you wish you come up with your own terminology from scratch to refer to this, that is fine. Certainly, a mind must exist within any given universe if the truths of mathematics are to be known within that universe, but those truths, because they are necessary, still exist as abstracta regardless. Now, the interesting question is the kind of ontology possessed by these abstracta–are they in the mold of “Platonic forms” or are they concepts in the mind of God, i.e., just the way God’s mind essentially thinks? (see http://www.doxazotheos.com/?page_id=99)

@Sneddon: “Further, assuming arguendo that numbers do exist objectively, they would not necessarily provide any evidence for the “supernatural”. It would simply be the case that “natural” had been pushed back a step. Yet another reason why I don’t believe “natural” and “supernatural” to be meaningful terms at any level except that of vernacular discourse. ”

Ok, you are certainly free to say that “nature” consists of both a contingent realm of space-time-matter and a realm of necessary truths/abstracta, but that is just redefining “nature” to subsume what has traditionally been thought of a “the supernatural.” You are free to do that, but that is just engaging in semantics.

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ayer July 3, 2010 at 10:45 am

Oops, didn’t mean to misspell “Snedden” in the previous comment. Sorry. :)

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Tony Hoffman July 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm

CL: “I haven’t made a single claim here, so I’m confused as to why you’re trying to push the burden of proof on me.”

If you agree with me that the supernatural explanations are practically meaningless, then I apologize for misconstruing your position. If you think that I am mistaken, then I believe you are making a claim (that supernatural claims are in some way practically meaningful), and I’d suggest you offer an argument. I agree that definitions would help – to help the discussion proceed I’ve offered a number of suggested definitions at your request, you’ve been asked to provide your own, and that’s where the conversation sits.

To be clear, I don’t believe it is my responsibility to define the term “supernatural,” as my position is that the term “supernatural explanations” is practically meaningless. I agree that defining terms is a good place to start, but you remain confused if you think that my position here bears the burden of proof.

I liken your position here to a party interested in a dispute over phlogiston. I question the validity of the theory. You appear to think that I somehow have something called “the burden of clarification” in this dispute, and that the argument cannot be heard until I define phlogiston. But phlogiston, and its effects, are not my argument, and it is not my responsibility to define the terms used by those who’s claim bears the burden of proof.

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Al Moritz July 4, 2010 at 11:45 am

The origin of life has natural causes, at least very most likely so, see my overview article on the leading evolution website talkorigins.org.:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

My article was at the time (2006) a bit apprehensive about the generation of RNA, but a recent breakthough on this has been reported . . .

I just got a note today that finally my long-finished update has been posted under that link. It incorporates that reference on RNA synthesis and much more. Unbelievable how many important findings have been published in origin-of-life research in just the three years between 2006 and 2009.

The figure legends are only available by clicking on the number under ‘Figure x’. I will try to get them to fix that.

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Al Moritz July 4, 2010 at 11:49 am

. . . and a Happy 4th of July everybody!

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Patrick July 4, 2010 at 12:29 pm

In an earlier post I wrote that the claim of a faith healing can be supported by medical verification. The following book is about such a faith healing. It was confirmed by two physicians.

Don and Jill Vanderhoof, From Strength to Strength, 2002.

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Patrick July 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm

In an article entitled “How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism” (http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism ) Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke and Johan Braeckman argue that in scientific research the supernatural should not be ruled out a priori:

“We will argue that the most widespread view, which conceives of MN [methodological naturalism] as an intrinsic or self-imposed limitation of science, is philosophically indefensible. On that account, it is also an ill-advised strategy to counter the claims of IDC [Intelligent Design Creationism] and other forms of creationism.”

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lukeprog July 4, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Patrick,

According to me, the methodological naturalism of the sciences denies scientific status to supernaturalistic forms of intelligent design theory, but it does not mean they are false.

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Al Moritz July 4, 2010 at 6:30 pm

In an article entitled “How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism” (http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism ) Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke and Johan Braeckman argue that in scientific research the supernatural should not be ruled out a priori:

“We will argue that the most widespread view, which conceives of MN [methodological naturalism] as an intrinsic or self-imposed limitation of science, is philosophically indefensible. On that account, it is also an ill-advised strategy to counter the claims of IDC [Intelligent Design Creationism] and other forms of creationism.”

A quick skimming through the article suggests that it is a bit more complicated than that snippet excerpt. They do defend MN, but not as intrinsic to science, but as ‘provisory’.

I would still argue that intrinsic MN is crucial to the enterprise of science. If science would not always look for natural causes it could not make any progress. Let’s see, I cannot explain something so “God did it”. Well, then scientists (including me) would be out fo a job soon enough.

Also, it should not be forgotten that MN arose out of a theistic background, not an atheistic one: the first scientists were all theists, and they wanted to uncover the laws with which God orders nature — and they formulated the rules according to which science should proceed. That also drives me on a philosophical basis to demand MN.

Certainly, there may be things that are not accessible to MN, e.g. free will; philosophical naturalists would then insist that these things simply do not exist, theists would say that these things are simply outside the purview of science.

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Atheist.pig July 4, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I just got a note today that finally my long-finished update has been posted under that link.

Thanks for the update, will check it out.

Certainly, there may be things that are not accessible to MN, e.g. free will; philosophical naturalists would then insist that these things simply do not exist, theists would say that these things are simply outside the purview of science.

Depends on what you mean by free will? I’ve always considered free will a rather fuzzy concept, why should our intentions or actions, etc, be outside the purview of science? I’ve read and heard of certain experiments that might go against certain concepts of free will but it might just depend on what one means by free will.

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James Onen July 5, 2010 at 12:51 am

@ Al Moritz

Hi. In the discussion thread for the post “Theism and Atheism: Where is the Gap?” in response to Luke regarding mental states, you said:

“Correlation is not causation.”

I think the same can be said of the following claim you made in your most recent comment on this thread:

“Also, it should not be forgotten that MN arose out of a theistic background, not an atheistic one: the first scientists were all theists, and they wanted to uncover the laws with which God orders nature — and they formulated the rules according to which science should proceed. That also drives me on a philosophical basis to demand MN.”

I hear arguments like these from believers, and I find it a bit strange. Dinesh D’Souza is famous for going one step further and arguing that Christianity, specifically, is responsible for the growth and advancement of science.

Just because early scientists were theists, I don’t think it means that it was theism that drove them towards methodological naturalism. I mean, would it not be fallacious to argue that paganism was responsible for atomic theory because Democritus, who first proposed that “everything is composed of atoms”, was a Greek Pagan?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democritus#Atomic_hypothesis

..or that Islam is responsible for the birth of the scientific method, because those who developed it were Muslims?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_science#Scientific_method

Should we then attribute Windows, Facebook, Virgin Records, etc.. to atheism because its founders are atheists?

Human beings are a naturally curious species – this curiosity being an evolved trait that has probably enabled us to outlive our more immediate hominid relatives that have gone extinct.

“Humans are noted for their desire to understand and influence their environment, seeking to explain and manipulate natural phenomena through science, philosophy, mythology and religion. This natural curiosity has led to the development of advanced tools and skills, which are passed down culturally; humans are the only animal species known to build fires, cook their food, clothe themselves, and use numerous other technologies.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_sapein

Occam’s razor tells me that methodological naturalism arose from an evolved desire we possess to find the best ways of understanding, and interacting with, our environment – because it improved our chances of survival. Religion is simply one of the (many) ways people have sought to do this, but not necessarily the motivating factor (let alone causal factor).

I think it is therefore overly simplistic, and even fallacious, to attribute developments in science (e.g. methodological naturalism) directly to theism.

Like you said – correlation is not causation.

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Al Moritz July 5, 2010 at 4:17 am

@ James Onen

When you read the writings of the early scientists, it is quite clear that were out to investigate “the order and harmony in God’s creation”.

Here is what biochemist, atheist and Nobel Prize winner Melvin Calvin (Calvin cycle) writes in Chemical Evolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 258:

“The fundamental conviction that the universe is ordered is the first and strongest tenet [of science]. As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”

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Tony Hoffman July 5, 2010 at 7:19 am

Al Moritz: “Also, it should not be forgotten that MN arose out of a theistic background, not an atheistic one: the first scientists were all theists, and they wanted to uncover the laws with which God orders nature — and they formulated the rules according to which science should proceed. That also drives me on a philosophical basis to demand MN.”

Richard Carrier in Luke’s latest interview with him does a good job of demolishing this canard.

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8099

Carrier has described, among other things, the an appalling lack of historical scrutiny going on in Rodney Starke’s argument on this topic. (I don’t recall the exact details, but I remember that Starke cites Jaki on Aristotle, and that an examination of the source material that Jaki cites reveals that Jaki completely misreads Aristotle’s position on historical progress, etc. So Starke cites as source material a misreading by Jaki, without apparently checking the source material himself. Yikes.)

Here’s a link to an older, written version of some of Carrier’s response to what is a fairly preposterous Christian conceit.

http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2006/11/science-and-medieval-christianity.html

My favorite in the many ways that Carrier demolishes this argument is that if Christianity caused Science, then what do we do with the Dark Ages? Really, wouldn’t you expect the thing that causes something to, you know, cause it? Or maybe not to make things a lot worse?

There are also the problems where you have to ignore a lot of data, like how non-Christian people discerned order without monotheism, the instances where scientific data was erased or not preserved at the expense of theological drivel, etc.

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Al Moritz July 5, 2010 at 7:45 am

As if I should take anything that Carrier says seriously? Sorry, I won’t do neither you nor Luke nor anyone else that favor. Yes, I take Drescher seriously, but Carrier? Sorry, ain’t gonna happen.

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Tony Hoffman July 5, 2010 at 8:58 am

Al Moritz: “As if I should take anything that Carrier says seriously? Sorry, I won’t do neither you nor Luke nor anyone else that favor. Yes, I take Drescher seriously, but Carrier? Sorry, ain’t gonna happen.”

And you don’t take anything Carrier says seriously because…?

That’s the beauty of arguments, Al — the source doesn’t matter, but the logic and evidence do. So, whenever I see something like the above, I just replace the word “Carrier” with “an evidence-based argument.” I think it reads more honestly that way.

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Patrick July 5, 2010 at 9:16 am

If we define Theism as the view that God created the Universe and life supernaturally and that the Universe is an expression of the order and harmony of God’s creation would a Provisory or Pragmatic Methodological Theism be justified?

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Al Moritz July 5, 2010 at 9:40 am

And you don’t take anything Carrier says seriously because…?

A few examples:

1. In some video posted on the web Carrier claimed that “Smolin had demonstrated that the universe was selected for black holes, not for life”. What rubbish. Smolin’s hypothesis is interesting, but there is nothing in it that is a scientific demonstration. Does Carrier even know what a scientific demonstration constitutes of?

2. His essay “Wy I am not a Christian”:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/whynotchristian.html

is the single worst, most clown-like piece by a ‘leading atheist’ that I have ever read. No Christians would ever identify themselves with such implied claims that essentially we should have something like Heaven on Earth, a life with no suffering, a super-obvious God etc. He makes a caricature of Christianity, and then demolishes that strawman. Good job, Richard, really good job.

3. His musings on the origin of life in his book “Sense & Goodness without God” are absolutely amateurish, as brutally dissected by David Wood here:

http://snipurl.com/vn9vj

For how the origin of life by natural causes without Intelligent Design really could have happened, see my article at Talkorigins.org:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

4. The Christ Myth theory,with which Carrier sympathizes, is to atheism like YEC is to Christianity: an absolute embarrassment.

I could go on, but this should suffice.

That’s the beauty of arguments, Al — the source doesn’t matter, but the logic and evidence do.

Sure, up to some point. If someone told you that, gasp, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson had for once, on a particular issue, a convincing argument that you should check out, would you seriously do that? No? Well, I thought so.

***

Atheists who want to be taken seriously: please, do me a favor, don’t ask me to take Carrier seriously.

And it’s not just me: I know hardly any theist who takes Carrier seriously in any way.

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Al Moritz July 5, 2010 at 9:42 am

as brutally dissected by David Wood here:

http://snipurl.com/vn9vj

Sorry, go to the link to the review of chapter 4.

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lukeprog July 5, 2010 at 10:54 am

Al,

What is the criterion, here? A Ph.D.? Or good ideas?

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Tony Hoffman July 5, 2010 at 11:51 am

Al, I glanced through the “Why I am not a Christian” essay you called “clown-like.” I think that you may have a different definition of “clown-like” than I do. I do appreciate the link, though.

<blockquote?
Al: “The Christ Myth theory, with which Carrier sympathizes, is to atheism like YEC is to Christianity: an absolute embarrassment.”
</blockquote?

This is a fairly odd thing to declare – maybe you mean that some of the statements of Christian Myth advocates are embarrassing? (I would agree with you there.) YEC’ers deny a mountain of empirical evidence in order to preserve a myth, whereas the Christian mythers point out that our lack of corroborating evidence for Jesus or the events of the NT is well-explained as a myth. I see nothing embarrassing about that theory.

<blockquote?
Al: “Sure, up to some point. If someone told you that, gasp, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson had for once, on a particular issue, a convincing argument that you should check out, would you seriously do that? No? Well, I thought so.”
<blockquote?

Of course I would, if I had any respect at all for the person who recommended that I acquaint myself with the argument, and even if I didn’t I’d probably still check it out. It’s silly to do otherwise.

<blockquote?
Al: Atheists who want to be taken seriously: please, do me a favor, don’t ask me to take Carrier seriously.

And it’s not just me: I know hardly any theist who takes Carrier seriously in any way.
</blockquote?

Hmm. I think that you are placing yourself on a fringe here that few would care to join. I have to say that if disavowing all of Carrier’s arguments is the only way to gain the high regard of you or other theists I will just have to learn to live without that privilege.

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James Onen July 5, 2010 at 12:11 pm

@ Al Moritz

You quote Melvin Calvin as saying:

“The fundamental conviction that the universe is ordered is the first and strongest tenet [of science]. As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”

This quote reads to me like speculation. I mean, nothing in the way of argument or evidence is offered to support his view, and he does not in any way establish a necessary causal link between theism (let alone monotheism) and the belief in an ordered universe besides alluding to the Hebrew’s belief in a supreme god that ‘made everything’.

A few other things:

1. Contrary to what Calvin suggests, I don’t see how polytheism renders recognition of ‘order in the universe’impossible. Many polytheistic religions had a hierarchy of gods, with the ‘supreme’ one reigning at the top.

Case in point – Hinduism:

“The Vishnu Sahasranama declares Vishnu as Paramatma (supreme soul) and Parameshwara (supreme God). It describes Vishnu as the All-Pervading essence of all beings, the master of—and beyond—the past, present and future, the creator and destroyer of all existences, one who supports, sustains and governs the Universe and originates and develops all elements within.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vishnu

Out of all the gods in the pantheon, Vishnu the one was in charge of sustaining and governing the universe, in the Hindu tradition (which pre-dates Hebrew monotheism). Hindu polytheism is thus very much compatible with the idea of an ‘ordered universe’.

2. The Hebrews weren’t as monotheistic as most people might imagine, and semblances of monotheism seem to have existed in pagan and Hindu culture also (pre-dating Hebrew monotheism):

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/monotheism/#MonOri

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monotheism#Origin_and_development

Calvin claims he was trying to discern the origin of the conviction that the universe was ordered. Would it really be a stretch if it were suggested that humans probably recognised this ‘order’ in the universe through basic perception, and tens of thousands of years of continued observation, and interaction with nature? Occam’s razor tells me it’s not. It is easy to see how after this ‘order’ was recognised (by perception and experience), the ancients would attribute it to their god(s). (Isn’t this the rationale behind the ‘design’ argument, anyway?)

Not to trivialise this matter, but presumably even a horse that tries to jump over a fence has, in its mind, certain assumptions about how nature behaves. It knows just how much energy it needs to apply (as it jumps) in order to propel it over a given height. If the horse didn’t assume the universe was ordered, how would it successfully jump over the fence? Did the horse require monotheism to discern this? I doubt. For this same reason I don’t see how theism, or monotheism, is a necessary prerequisite for discerning ‘order’ in the universe.

I therefore think Calvin is wrong.

Finally, I don’t think any theist who REALLY believes that miracles routinely occur believes in an ordered universe. If you think god, the devil, angels and demons can routinely violate the laws of nature – then the universe you believe in is highly disordered one, where the ‘laws’ of nature are more or less inconsistent. Working sometimes, and suspended other times… I find it hard to view this as any kind of ‘order’.

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Hermes July 5, 2010 at 12:21 pm
Zeb: Well, I would single out the word “witness,” but do you know of any conceivable explanation for the presence of the witness that reduces it to non-mind-having [non-witnessing] matter?

Hermes: Is water only hydrogen and oxygen?

If it is, then why can’t I breathe under water?

Zeb: You can google the answer to that. What’s your point? (I think it has to do with emergent properties, but I would need a better analogy with explanation to understand the relevance.)

It was a response to your previous comment. It was overly reductionist and as impractical as my overly reductionist water example.

As I’ve heard many smart comments from you, I would hope that you can come up with a better example that isn’t so slanted.

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Al Moritz July 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Al,
What is the criterion, here? A Ph.D.? Or good ideas?

Good ideas, as should be obvious from my post. Carrier BTW has a Ph.D., doesn’t he?

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Zeb July 5, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Two points Hermes – One, according to the definition of naturalist that I am using, which I get from Carrier and which you have not disputed or replaced, mind must be reducible to non-mind having matter. So my example is not overly reductionist. Two, the properties of water can be reduced to the properties of hydrogen and oxygen (or their constituent parts), so your example was not overly reductionist either. Your question “Why can’t I breathe under water?” can be answered by explaining the different ways oxygen atoms react when bonded to hydrogen versus when bonded to each other as O2. I see two problems with the naturalist view of consciousness – 1. We have no explanation of how it can arise from matter as we do with water, and 2. It is not just an alteration of pre-existing properties (weight, charge, size, etc as in gases -> water), but an entirely new property.

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Hermes July 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Zeb, while the definition of naturalist doesn’t concern me much, you were addressing Reginald Selkirk so I’ll leave that to you if you want to hash that out between you.

Bill Snedden’s comments elsewhere come close to what I think on that subject, and there’s not much more I can add to what he wrote; http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9321

If there is positive evidence provided for a claim, I’ll evaluate it.

If the claim is not and can not be positively supported by evidence, then that seems to be a problem for anyone promoting that unsupported/unsupportable claim. If the only support for a claim is that there are problems with another claim, I also tend to ignore that claim and deal with the positive support for the contended claim. To be practical, I tend to ignore any unsupported claims or point out that they lack positive support.

[ Implicit in the above is that evidence does not imply naturalism, though if a natural explanations often have more stuff to offer as evidence that wealth of support can not be seen as an inditement of either evidence supported natural claims, nor by contrast a valid out for claims that lack evidence regardless of the category they fit into (including any natural claims that lack positive support). ]

* * *

In the case of mental functions, we have positive evidence that the mind is what the brain does.

Could there be additional aspects of the mind that are not the brain? Certainly.

The positive evidence for those extras are what I’d be glad to evaluate. So far in my investigations, no positive evidence of that is forth coming, so there’s nothing to evaluate. As such, there’s no need to refrain from making the rather bland tentative conclusion; the mind is not only what the brain does but that there are no extra abilities of the mind that have non-brain sources. (Yes, I know there are quite a few experts that have stated that they do not believe there is enough evidence to say brain:mind. This is one of the reasons I say tentative, but I’m still waiting on positive evidence for those non-brain extras. One that I will accept without dispute is the social aspects of shared knowledge and biases. Those are not held uniquely within a single brain, though they are held in common among minds that seem to require that pesky brain for even basic social interactions.)

Reductionism is not required in either the case of water or the mind if we’re talking about examples of the larger scale abilities/actions/… of the whole.

Yet, the details are important, and adding carbon to the mix with hydrogen and oxygen can yield an alcohol. Apply specific configurations of those atoms to specific neurons, and the neurons are impacted in ways that the isolated atoms would not have an impact. Scale that up, and we have practical laws about blood alcohol content and driving automobiles. So, are DUI laws reducible to the actions of complex molecules of alcohol and carbon based life forms? Not if we want to address the issues that actually matter. The larger scale is the level that we work on even if ignoring the lower level details are important in informing us about how to deal with those larger scales.

If you are asking for perfection in all explanations and evidence before making any tentative conclusions, I have to ask if you do that with all other things as well? For example, when choosing a deity (if any) to follow?

:-P

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Hermes July 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Change the following (end of 2nd to last paragraph);

Old: The larger scale is the level that we work on even if ignoring the lower level details are important in informing us about how to deal with those larger scales.

New: Human issues are what focus on, even if other details are critical to being properly informed in dealing with those human issues.

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Patrick July 6, 2010 at 1:35 am

Naturalism is the view that the natural world is everything that exists.

I define Theism here as the view that God created the Universe and life supernaturally and that the Universe is an expression of the harmony and order of God’s creation.

Intrinsic Methodological Naturalism (IMN) is the view that Methodological Naturalism (MN) is a self-imposed or intrinsic limitation of science, which means that science is simply not equipped to deal with claims of the supernatural. According to Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke and Johan Braeckman (http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism) IMN is philosophically indefensible. Instead they present an alternative concept of MN, which they call Provisory MN (PMN). They define it as the view that MN is “a provisory and empirically grounded attitude of scientists, which is justified in virtue of the consistent success of naturalistic explanations and the lack of success of supernatural explanations in the history of science.”

In my opinion a justification of a PMN could also take the form of the following statement: “No scientific discovery made so far has refuted Naturalism.”.

Now I argue that if I replace the word “Naturalism” by the word “Theism” as defined above, no one would be able to prove the substance of the resulting sentence to be wrong or at least improbable. If this prediction turns out to be correct, a Provisory Methodological Theism (PMT) would be as justified as a PMN.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 4:24 am

Patrick: I define Theism here as the view that God created the Universe and life supernaturally and that the Universe is an expression of the harmony and order of God’s creation.

That’s monotheism. Theism is a belief in one or more gods.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 4:43 am

Patrick: Now I argue that if I replace the word “Naturalism” by the word “Theism” as defined above, no one would be able to prove the substance of the resulting sentence to be wrong or at least improbable.

If a specific claim has evidence for it, and another does not, the two aren’t equal. If you want to narrowly focus on philosophical absolutes in abstraction, then you’re not dealing with the evidence.

(Note: I’m not a naturalist, but natural explanations tend to refer to or even include evidence, and that’s a bonus for natural explanations that do. Ones that do not should not get special consideration beyond reasoned speculation and only if other evidence is associated with them. Claims about deities are not as easily investigated.)

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ayer July 6, 2010 at 5:49 am

“If a specific claim has evidence for it, and another does not, the two aren’t equal.”

And what is your evidence for THAT statement?

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 6:20 am

LOL! Exactly! It’s good to see you have a sense of humor!

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Patrick July 6, 2010 at 6:57 am

Hermes,

according to the article by Boudry et al. there can be evidence for natural as well as supernatural claims. Besides, there is not more evidence for naturalism than for the existence of God.

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Patrick July 6, 2010 at 7:02 am

Once PMN is accepted you have to treat naturalistic and supernaturalistic claims in the same way. You must not be biased towards one of both views. This means that the fact that some supernaturalistic theories such as astrology have been refuted must not serve as a justification for the rejection of supernaturalistic theories in general, because in the case of refuted naturalistic theories such as Phlogiston theory an analogous conclusion is not drawn. Besides, I guess the number of refuted supernaturalistic theories is not bigger than that of refuted naturalistic ones. It also means that a falsifiable supernaturalistic theory such as Intelligent Design Creationism that has not been falsified is to be accepted as a legitimate supernaturalistic theory. As a consequence there are legitimate naturalistic as well as supernaturalistic theories. But this destroys the very foundation of PMN, namely that all supernaturalistic theories have been refuted.

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Bill Snedden July 6, 2010 at 9:01 am

@ayer: “Not at all; empirical science, as an exercise in methodological naturalism, just IS the study of the “natural.” Anything not subject to empirical science is by definition “beyond nature.””

Well, of course the truth of this depends upon having a meaningful definition of “natural” or “supernatural”. Otherwise you’re engaging in a circular argument. I contend that these terms are, in fact, without actual referents.

I don’t believe that empirical science has any necessary connection to “naturalism”, methodological or otherwise. Why must it other than as a means to shield the “supernatural” from rational inquiry? What, specifically, about the scientific method (sense perception + induction/deduction) renders it incapable of being brought to bear on questions of a “supernatural” nature? Again, in order to answer this we need some kind of definition of “supernatural” and thus far, none has been forthcoming…

@ayer: “Clearly the knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 does not come from use of the scientific method, but is instead properly basic. Surely you agree?”

That might depend upon what you mean by “properly basic”, but if you are referring to analytic rather than synthetic truth, then yes, clearly it is. But the knowledge of numbers is not. Numbers are a form of measurement, created by minds to make sense of reality.

@ayer: “Ok, so there is an order of existence that transcends the configuration of any possible universe and contains necessary truths (as opposed to contingent truths that vary with each possible universe).”

No. Reality, absent minds, contains NO “truths”. “Truth” is a property of propositions and propositions are the creation of minds, so a universe with no minds contains no “truths”. Existence simply IS, it isn’t “true” or “false”.

@ayer: “That would generally be referred to as a realm “beyond nature” (hence “supernatural”), i.e., a realm that is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial, but if you wish you come up with your own terminology from scratch to refer to this, that is fine.”

I’m not “coming up with my own terminology”…I’m trying to get proponents of “supernatural” to tell me what it means. And of course, most people, when using that term, don’t mean simply “beyond nature”, or “timeless spaceless, and immaterial”. They mean something more, and thus our problem.

Further, there’s nothing in “timeless, spaceless, and immaterial” that create any problem for the POPULAR conception of “natural”

@ayer: “Certainly, a mind must exist within any given universe if the truths of mathematics are to be known within that universe, but those truths, because they are necessary, still exist as abstracta regardless. Now, the interesting question is the kind of ontology possessed by these abstracta–are they in the mold of “Platonic forms” or are they concepts in the mind of God, i.e., just the way God’s mind essentially thinks? (see http://www.doxazotheos.com/?page_id=99)”

I find Aristotle’s criticisms of Platonism devastating and utterly convincing. And “abstracta”, as concepts cannot exist without a mind, so the idea that mathematical truths (as abstracta) have necessary objective existence is an error (the fallacy of reification). The “god’s mind” idea is more along the right track, though. Not that mathematical truths are informed through their existence as concepts in god’s mind, but rather that it could be the nature of god that instantiates the content of those concepts. But of course, it could also be the “nature of nature”, if you will.

@ayer: “Ok, you are certainly free to say that “nature” consists of both a contingent realm of space-time-matter and a realm of necessary truths/abstracta, but that is just redefining “nature” to subsume what has traditionally been thought of a “the supernatural.””

It seems to me that you’re being disingenuous. That most certainly is NOT what has been “traditionally thought of as ‘the supernatural’”. Nor is it what most people commonly mean when they use the term. But that’s part of the issue here.

If YOU mean nothing more than the above, then your definition of “supernatural” is clearly incoherent and thus non-existent. There is no “realm of necessary truths” and neither does there need to be. Not even a theistic ontology needs to contain such a thing. Do god’s thoughts need external, necessary truths as EXTERNAL referents?

@ayer: “You are free to do that, but that is just engaging in semantics.”

One cannot engage in semantics without definitions. As no-one here has provided workable, non-circular definitions of the words in question, it’s quite impossible for me to engage in semantics.

To this I will add that if we wish to define “supernatural” as “that category of existence which is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial” I would have no problem with assenting to its existence. It would, of course, have nothing whatever to do necessarily with what MOST people mean when they use the term, but hey as long as you’re going to engage in semantics… ;)

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Bill Snedden July 6, 2010 at 9:16 am

@Patrick: “Once PMN is accepted you have to treat naturalistic and supernaturalistic claims in the same way. You must not be biased towards one of both views.”

This seems to me to be EXACTLY how I believe science actually works, as opposed to how it’s often caricatured. Sense perception + induction/deduction has no INHERENT bias against what people *commonly* call “supernatural”, so why do so many people seem to believe that “science cannot test the supernatural”?

@Patrick: “This means that the fact that some supernaturalistic theories such as astrology have been refuted must not serve as a justification for the rejection of supernaturalistic theories in general, because in the case of refuted naturalistic theories such as Phlogiston theory an analogous conclusion is not drawn. Besides, I guess the number of refuted supernaturalistic theories is not bigger than that of refuted naturalistic ones.”

True, insofar as it goes. However, scientists are properly skeptical of any claim that exceeds the bounds of the current body of scientific knowledge. This includes things like cold fusion, perpetual motion, telepathy, AND gods, monsters, witches, etc.

But we still need a definition of “supernatural” in order to really understand what we’re dealing with…

@Patrick: “It also means that a falsifiable supernaturalistic theory such as Intelligent Design Creationism that has not been falsified is to be accepted as a legitimate supernaturalistic theory.”

Except that ID is not a THEORY. It’s an hypothesis, and one as not yet rigorously formulated enough for any kind of empirical testing.

@Patrick: “As a consequence there are legitimate naturalistic as well as supernaturalistic theories. But this destroys the very foundation of PMN, namely that all supernaturalistic theories have been refuted.”

We need a definition of “supernatural” in order to validate this statement.

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Tony Hoffman July 6, 2010 at 9:18 am

Bill Snedden, that’s an outstanding summary of the deficiencies in Ayer’s arguments so far. I enjoyed that read tremendously.

I find it telling that no theist here has bothered to venture forth a definition for “supernatural” with which to make meaningful term “supernatural explanation.” Best I can tell it’s been largely a rearguard action where “explanation” was blown up early just in case “supernatural” should gain some definitional traction.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 9:37 am

Patrick: according to the article by Boudry et al. there can be evidence for natural as well as supernatural claims. Besides, there is not more evidence for naturalism than for the existence of God.

Great. “there can be” Where is it?

(BTW, I really don’t care about someone else’s opinion. I’m looking to you to support your own claims, if you are willing and able to.)

The last sentence is just a bit out there, even for someone evangelizing Christianity. I’ll ignore it and stick to the first sentence.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 9:45 am

Ayer, it just came to me that you were serious earlier and were not joking. Wow. That’s amazing.

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Bill Snedden July 6, 2010 at 10:31 am

@Hermes: actually, I think ayer was making an oblique reference to an oft-seen issue noted in these types of discussions: that empiricism is not itself empirically justifiable and that empiricists are therefore inconsistent in their insistence upon empiricism as the sole valid justificatory schema. I think that’s really irrelevant here as I don’t believe I’ve seen anyone making that claim.

Of course, his question, if indeed serious, has at least two ready answers:

1) Evidence of the inequality exists analytically, in the definition of equality (a + b does not equal a).
2) Evidence of the inequality exists analytically in the definitions of knowledge & equality. Claims to knowledge must meet certain criteria before they can be accepted as knowledge; this is inherent in the definition of knowledge (justified, true belief). A claim without evidence lacks one of these criteria where a claim with evidence meets it. Therefore a claim without evidence cannot begin to approach the level of knowledge and is therefore not the same thing as a claim with evidence (as such a claim might indeed be “knowledge”). “Equal” denotes at least two things that are the same in all relevant aspects. Hence, a claim without evidence and a claim with evidence are not equal.

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ayer July 6, 2010 at 11:30 am

@Snedden: “I don’t believe that empirical science has any necessary connection to “naturalism”, methodological or otherwise. ”

Ok, but that position put you well outside the mainstream of science and science education. See, e.g., the official statement of the National Science Teachers Association:

“Science is a method of explaining the natural world. It assumes that anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Science also assumes that the universe operates according to regularities that can be discovered and understood through scientific investigations. The testing of various explanations of natural phenomena for their consistency with empirical data is an essential part of the methodology of science. Explanations that are not consistent with empirical evidence or cannot be tested empirically are not a part of science.” http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/evolution.aspx

Indeed, your rejection of methodological naturalism is similar to that of Intelligent Design advocate Phillip Johnson: “He is a critic of methodological naturalism, the basic principle of science that restricts it to the investigation of natural causes for observable phenomena, and espouses a philosophy he has coined theistic realism.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillip_E._Johnson

@Snedden: “I find Aristotle’s criticisms of Platonism devastating and utterly convincing. And “abstracta”, as concepts cannot exist without a mind, so the idea that mathematical truths (as abstracta) have necessary objective existence is an error (the fallacy of reification).”

I agree with you in your rejection of Platonism, as does the author of the doxazo theos blog. Abstracta are not sui generis, but are best explained as ontologically grounded in the mind of God as just the way God essentially thinks.

“There is no “realm of necessary truths” and neither does there need to be. Not even a theistic ontology needs to contain such a thing. Do god’s thoughts need external, necessary truths as EXTERNAL referents?”

There certainly are necessary truths, and they exist in the mind of God. Their necessity is tied to God’s existence as a necessary being (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/god-necessary-being/), so no external referents are needed.

@Snedden: “To this I will add that if we wish to define “supernatural” as “that category of existence which is timeless, spaceless, and immaterial” I would have no problem with assenting to its existence. It would, of course, have nothing whatever to do necessarily with what MOST people mean when they use the term, but hey as long as you’re going to engage in semantics… ;) ”

Hmm, since the request for a definition was made to those participating in this thread, I don’t see the relevance of speculating as to what “most” people mean. You asked for a definition and one was provided. And this discussion has been useful, since it appears we may not be quite as far apart in some of our views as first indicated.

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ayer July 6, 2010 at 11:34 am

“A claim without evidence lacks one of these criteria where a claim with evidence meets it.”

You also appear to be caught in the problem of the criterion, since the statement “a claim without evidence lacks one of these criteria where a claim with evidence meets it” similarly has no evidence to support it.

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Bill Snedden July 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm

@ayer: “Ok, but that position put you well outside the mainstream of science and science education. See, e.g., the official statement of the National Science Teachers Association”

Yes, I’m aware of that. However, once again I think the issue is one of definition. With that issue resolved, I don’t think the “mainstream” of science and science education” would necessarily be in disagreement of anything I’ve advocated. Omit the first sentence of your quoted statement, and there’s nothing therein that conflicts with anything I’ve said; and the first sentence has wholly do do with the meaning of “natural”.

@ayer: “Indeed, your rejection of methodological naturalism is similar to that of Intelligent Design advocate Phillip Johnson.”

Ugh. Johnson’s “theistic realism” is a sham and so is Johnson’s alleged advocacy of it. The so-called “Wedge document” revealed in full the intellectual bankruptcy and moral degeneracy of those who would supplant reason with politics. Johnson, and those like him, are upset because the scientific method has so far failed to yield evidence dispositively confirmative of their beliefs and thus they turn to politics, pressure, and deceitful PR campaigns in the hopes that they can stir the largely-scientifically-ignorant masses through these means rather than through science. They seek power, not truth; not at all where I’m coming from.

I must also note that while I reject the *terminology* of “methodological naturalism”, I do not reject and wholeheartedly embrace the process commonly known as “the scientific method” and see no difference IN PRINCIPLE between the practice of science qua science and science labeled as “methodological naturalism”. That is to say that the tools of sense perception + induction/deduction coupled with the process of hypothesis – experiment – theory – experiment, etc. have no NECESSARY connection to “naturalism” methodological or otherwise and it makes no sense to me to claim that it does unless and until someone defines “naturalism” in such a way as to render it a distinctive subset of the real, objectively-existing world.

@ayer: “I agree with you in your rejection of Platonism, as does the author of the doxazo theos blog. Abstracta are not sui generis, but are best explained as ontologically grounded in the mind of God as just the way God essentially thinks.”

I disagree; there’s no need for a mind to ground abstracta, as indeed the notion of “grounding” itself hints. Concepts are abstractions of reality and we need nothing more than an objectively existing reality to ground them. Indeed, grounding them in a mind reduces them to subjective and hence contingent existence. They may be seen as grounded in god’s NATURE, but not his mind. This argument is nothing more than Platonism in a fancy new suit and it fares none better.

@ayer: “There certainly are necessary truths, and they exist in the mind of God. Their necessity is tied to God’s existence as a necessary being (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/god-necessary-being/), so no external referents are needed.”

Well, what do you mean by “necessary truths”? ALL truths are mind-dependent and thus contingent and thus they cannot be, strictly, necessary (unless one is going to argue that minds are necessary and THAT seems to me a difficult row to hoe if ever there was one). However if you mean to say that within the context of propositions there are certain propositions that must necessarily be true, then I’m in agreement. But we don’t need a mind to have such a situation, merely an objectively existing reality of which such propositions could represent veridical models. As the only way in which ANYTHING could exist is the one in which this would be true, no deity is required.

@ayer: “Hmm, since the request for a definition was made to those participating in this thread, I don’t see the relevance of speculating as to what “most” people mean. You asked for a definition and one was provided. And this discussion has been useful, since it appears we may not be quite as far apart in some of our views as first indicated.”

Well perhaps. It seems to me that you’re still reifying abstracta, and that’s quite far off from where I stand.

How “most people” define “supernatural” is relevant to the context of this discussion (i.e., the OP) in that lots of people have lots of ideas what “supernatural” means, but for almost all, if not all, it is a concept that subsumes gods, ghosts, witches, demons, and all manners of beings and objects fantastic and mythological.

It seems to me that at least one motivation for claiming that a “supernatural” realm exists and that science cannot explore or test it, is to avoid the possibly uncomfortable reality that science has thus far failed to confirm or provide reasonable evidence to support the existence of anything connected with the concept. This may be a conscious decision (as it seems to be for those like Phillip Johnson) or an unconscious one (as it likely is for most other people). And this is PRECISELY where the “god of the gaps” is going to spring up. And until we have a good definition of “supernatural” and reason to understand why the scientific method is inapplicable, these types of misunderstandings are going to continue. This is why it’s relevant that *most people* aren’t talking about a timeless-spaceless-immaterial “supernatural” to which even an atheist could assent. They’re talking, quite specifically, about god(s), ghosts, witches, demons, and all other diverse hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo.

THAT’s why I think it’s relevant.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Bill, very good points as usual. I have little to add except that Ayer’s point of view seems to be self-defeating and little better than that of solipsists or presuppositionalists.

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Bill Snedden July 6, 2010 at 1:08 pm

@ayer: “You also appear to be caught in the problem of the criterion, since the statement “a claim without evidence lacks one of these criteria where a claim with evidence meets it” similarly has no evidence to support it.”

Surely *this* is a joke, right?

In the context of my full statement, knowledge is *defined* as possessing at least two criteria: 1) justification and 2) belief. A claim, again by definition, consists of (at least) a statement of belief. A claim *with evidence* consists of a statement of belief AND proffered justification. Thus *within the context of the definition of knowledge* the evidence that “a claim without evidence lacks one of these criteria where a claim with evidence meets it” can be deduced analytically.

tl:dr – the evidence you seek is in the definition I gave for “knowledge”.

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ayer July 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm

@Snedden: “it makes no sense to me to claim that it does unless and until someone defines “naturalism” in such a way as to render it a distinctive subset of the real, objectively-existing world.”

Ok, but then it seems you have as many conflicts to thrash out with all those atheists who style themselves “naturalists” as you do with theists (many of whom would be on the side of naturalists on the definitional question of whether that term and the term “supernatural” are meaningful).

@Snedden: “ALL truths are mind-dependent and thus contingent and thus they cannot be, strictly, necessary (unless one is going to argue that minds are necessary and THAT seems to me a difficult row to hoe if ever there was one).”

They are necessary if tied to the existence of a necessary being (which is not exactly a new concept in philosophy).

@Snedden: “This may be a conscious decision (as it seems to be for those like Phillip Johnson) ”

Not sure what you mean here, since Johnson rejects the idea that science can only explore the “natural.”

@Snedden: “And until we have a good definition of “supernatural” and reason to understand why the scientific method is inapplicable, these types of misunderstandings are going to continue.”

Again, you need to take this up with your naturalist colleagues in the atheist community, whose very label endorses such a definitional distinction, as well as with the scientific community, which has relied on the the distinction in the form of methodological naturalism to, e.g., beat back the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classrooms.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Ayer, do you speak for all theists? If not, why do you expect Bill Snedden or myself to speak for all atheists? After all, I don’t even expect you to speak for all members of your sect or denomination.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm

[ Just so it's crystal clear; not only don't I speak for other atheists in general, I also do not speak for Bill specifically and he does not speak for me. At most, we have narrow agreements on specific issues. ]

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Eric July 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Al –
“3. His musings on the origin of life in his book “Sense & Goodness without God” are absolutely amateurish, as brutally dissected by David Wood here:

http://snipurl.com/vn9vj

Wow, I just took a look at this review and I’m less than impressed by this guy. Section 4 is absolutely ridiculous. A few points:
“Richard acknowledges that breasts have a purpose (milk production), so his only real objection is that some breasts are larger than others. However, any reason he could give for the natural selection of larger breasts in an atheistic world could just as easily be applied to a theistic world. For instance, he argues that large breasts act as an advertisement of a woman’s health. But wouldn’t men be attracted to healthy women whether those men were created by God or not? If so, then natural selection would favor large breasts in either world.”
He misses the point. Just because large breasts would be expected in an atheistic world does not mean they would be expected in a theistic world. Remember they are naturally selected because of various necessities in the natural world. There is no necessity outside the natural world so why would God create a world where women need to be large breasted women would be more fit?

“Richard says the fact that blue monkeys aren’t flying out of his butt is “sufficient reason” to conclude that blue monkeys don’t exist.”
He absolutely completely missed the whole point of Carrier’s argument. The “out of his butt” part was pretty obviously not a necessary condition to concluding that blue monkeys don’t exist. It was a childish way of putting it, I will admit, and a slight bit confusing, but an honest reviewer should have recognized what he was saying. If you simply ignore the “out of my butt” part (which is pretty obviously added for emphasis), you see his argument. A quick second look at the selected quote should make this immensely obvious for any competent reviewer. I think Mr. Wood would just rather attack a straw man.

“[Carrier wrote]“[T]he one thing all religions seem to have in common is a belief that love has something to do with the meaning of life. On virtually everything else they disagree—so virtually everything else is probably false.[v]“…Thus, since different religions disagree about the nature of God, all beliefs about God are most likely false. Since Christianity teaches monogamy, while Islam allows polygamy, both views of marriage must be false. But why stop here? Those who favor democracy hold that “the people” should have a right to vote; those who support monarchy believe that the king should have all authority. Since there is a disagreement, both views are probably wrong. Theists believe in God; atheists do not believe in God. Hence (and here’s the key), both theists and atheists must be wrong, meaning that God both does and does not exist.”
Views about Monogamy and polygamy are normative beliefs. So it does not apply to this situation, same thing with the views of democracy and monarchy. Theism and atheism are not both positive beliefs. So these are blatantly false analogies. I don’t know the whole quote in context since i don’t have carrier’s book, but judging by the quote selected, he could have easily chosen better examples to refute carrier’s argument.

From section 4:
“While it is amazing to think that atheists would be willing to deny the principle of cause and effect in their desperate efforts to defend their views, it is just as startling to find Richard suggesting that the multiverse is eternal when it has supposedly developed through a process of evolution…. This, of course, runs into all of the problems addressed by the Kalam Cosmological Argument.[viii] The Kalam argument demonstrates that it is impossible to traverse an actual infinite, so the fact that we are here demands a finite number of past events.”
Maybe mr wood would like to look into virtual particles.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo
I will admit that I cannot make sense of Carrier’s arguments about the evolving universe (i invite anyone who has read his book and is more knowledgeable of physics to comment). However Wood’s criticisms are not up to date with modern physics, just like the first premise of WLC’s, Kalam argument, which he sites. Maybe he would like to get familiar with the criticisms of the Kalam argument, specifically the premises, which he utterly discounts at the beginning of his response.

I just read a few parts but I’m utterly unimpressed by this guy’s arguments…

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Bill Snedden July 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm

@ayer: “Ok, but then it seems you have as many conflicts to thrash out with all those atheists who style themselves “naturalists” as you do with theists (many of whom would be on the side of naturalists on the definitional question of whether that term and the term “supernatural” are meaningful).”

Undoubtedly true, but what do YOU think? Or were you not interested in having that conversation? Do you think “supernatural” is a meaningful term? If so, what meaning would you give it?

@ayer: “They are necessary if tied to the existence of a necessary being (which is not exactly a new concept in philosophy).”

As to a “necessary being” not being a new concept in philosophy, yes, I’m aware of that. As to “truths” being rendered strictly necessary if tied to the existence of such a necessary being, no, that is not the case. “Consciousness” is not necessarily inherent to the definition of “necessary being”. That’s also not a new concept in philosophy.

@ayer: “Not sure what you mean here, since Johnson rejects the idea that science can only explore the “natural.””

Johnson rejects science *in toto*. He recognizes that science’s ability to deliver meaningful, real-world knowledge grants it a level of authority that he finds useful. However, he only wants the power inherent in such an association and sees no use for the methodology that grounds that authority. So he’s out to create something that has the authority of science, but which is pre-disposed to yield the results he desires. He’s an intellectual fraud and a deceitful propagandist. As such, his rejection of “naturalistic science” is based not upon a disagreement with terminology, but a desire to insulate his propaganda from legal attack.

@ayer: “Again, you need to take this up with your naturalist colleagues in the atheist community, whose very label endorses such a definitional distinction, as well as with the scientific community, which has relied on the the distinction in the form of methodological naturalism to, e.g., beat back the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classrooms.”

I thought you and I were having a conversation…I didn’t realize I needed to first touch base with my “naturalist colleagues” (whoever they may be) to see how they felt about my argument. Some may agree and some may disagree. So what? What do YOU think? I initially began this discussion thinking that what you had written implied that you disagreed with me and I was attempting to figure out how and why. Is that not the case?

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ayer July 6, 2010 at 4:49 pm

@Snedden: “Undoubtedly true, but what do YOU think? Or were you not interested in having that conversation? Do you think “supernatural” is a meaningful term? If so, what meaning would you give it?”

Yes, and I already laid that out in my previous comments, which I will not repeat here.

@Snedden: “As to a “necessary being” not being a new concept in philosophy, yes, I’m aware of that. As to “truths” being rendered strictly necessary if tied to the existence of such a necessary being, no, that is not the case. “Consciousness” is not necessarily inherent to the definition of “necessary being”. That’s also not a new concept in philosophy.”

Since the necessary being is such because it is such under the Anselmian concept of that greater than which nothing can be conceived, then yes, it would be inherent, since omniscience is a great-making property and an omnisicent being would by definition not be “unconscious.”

@Snedden: “Johnson rejects science *in toto*.”

He certainly does not claim to; if you are correct in reading his inner motivation of “fraud” and “deceit”, perhaps so, but his prima facie position accords with your rejection of methodological naturalism, the consensus position of the scientific establishment.

@Snedden: “I thought you and I were having a conversation…I didn’t realize I needed to first touch base with my “naturalist colleagues” (whoever they may be) to see how they felt about my argument. Some may agree and some may disagree. So what? What do YOU think? I initially began this discussion thinking that what you had written implied that you disagreed with me and I was attempting to figure out how and why. Is that not the case?”

Of course you have no NEED to consult with anyone; I just find it interesting that on the issue of whether “natural” vs. “supernatural” is a meaningful distinction I find myself on the same side as all of those atheists who call themselves “naturalists” as opposed to you and Hermes. It is an unusual alignment and I was just commenting on it, and on the fact that such a debate between you and those naturalists might be illuminating for all concerned, since I have explained myself as best I can and have nothing further to contribute. Peace.

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Tony Hoffman July 6, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Bill,

This was particularly insightful: “… there’s no need for a mind to ground abstracta, as indeed the notion of “grounding” itself hints. Concepts are abstractions of reality and we need nothing more than an objectively existing reality to ground them. Indeed, grounding them in a mind reduces them to subjective and hence contingent existence. They may be seen as grounded in god’s NATURE, but not his mind. This argument is nothing more than Platonism in a fancy new suit and it fares none better.”

If anyone has any idea how Ayer believes a supernatural explanation is meaningful, please repeat this for me; he has explained it as best he can, and so far I find it completely inscrutable.

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Hermes July 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Tony Hoffman: I find it completely inscrutable.

Yep. He is in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. I’m not going to join him unless he maps it out, and the map doesn’t lead directly to getting lost on the first turn. The grue can eat him, not me.

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Tony Hoffman July 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Eric, yes, I think Al Moritz’s disparagement of Carrier was basically a drive-by. Al called Carrier’s “Why I am not a Christian” essay clown-like, but even a casual perusal reveals the piece to be thoughtful and considered, even if you don’t agree with Carrier’s conclusion. In fact, I recommend that theists continue to link to that essay, because I am certain it does not help their case like Al thinks it does.

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 2:49 am

Eric,

I did not ask you for an opinion on David Wood, even though mine strongly differs from yours. I only specifically pointed to Wood’s criticism of Carrier’s musings on the origin of life, and Wood is 95 % spot on with his criticism. Look, I don’t expect Carrier to have investigated the issue to the depths that I did, but Carrier’s speculations are so unbearably superficial and just plain wrong that it is a travesty. Wood is right, this is a too important topic for this kind of shallowness.

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 2:56 am

Al called Carrier’s “Why I am not a Christian” essay clown-like, but even a casual perusal reveals the piece to be thoughtful and considered, even if you don’t agree with Carrier’s conclusion.

Now that is a funny statement, Tony. Thoughtful and considered, when Carrier first builds a strawman of what Christianity is, or in his mind should be, something which Christians cannot even remotely recognize themselves in, and then tears down that strawman? C’mon, gimme a break.

(I have specified some aspects of that strawman above.)

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Tony Hoffman July 7, 2010 at 4:51 am

Al wrote: “Now that is a funny statement, Tony. Thoughtful and considered, when Carrier first builds a strawman of what Christianity is, or in his mind should be, something which Christians cannot even remotely recognize themselves in, and then tears down that strawman? C’mon, gimme a break.”

I don’t recognize what you accuse Carrier of in his essay. Here’s paragraph 5, for instance (regarding what Christian belief is):

“I shall assume here that C.S. Lewis was correct when he said “mere Christianity” consisted in the belief that “there is one God” who “is quite definitely good or righteous,” “who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another,” and who “invented and made the universe.” But this God also “thinks that a great many things have gone wrong” with the world and thus “insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again,” and to this end arranged the death and resurrection of “His only Son,” Jesus Christ, who is or embodies or represents the Creator, and can alone “save” us from “eternal death” if we now ask this Jesus to forgive our sins. That’s as quoted and paraphrased from his aptly titled Mere Christianity.”

Oooh. What an outlandish strawman he evokes. I can see why Christians would be so upset.

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 5:21 am

[ sits back with popcorn, waiting to see how two sharp individuals work this out -- new insights, individual humility, mutual conciliation ... ? -- hmmmm... ]

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 5:32 am

Carrier:

“It’s a simple fact of direct observation that if I had the means and the power, and could not be harmed for my efforts, I would immediately alleviate all needless suffering in the universe. All guns and bombs would turn to flowers. All garbage dumps would become gardens. There would be adequate resources for everyone. There would be no more children conceived than the community and the environment could support. There would be no need of fatal or debilitating diseases or birth defects, no destructive Acts of God. And whenever men and women seemed near to violence, I would intervene and kindly endeavor to help them peacefully resolve their differences. That’s what any loving person would do. Yet I cannot be more loving, more benevolent than the Christian God. Therefore, the fact that the Christian God does none of these things–in fact, nothing of any sort whatsoever–is proof positive that there is no Christian God.”

Jesus Christ:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

Jesus did not promise freedom from suffering. Do you now see what’s wrong with Carrier’s picture? If you don’t, sorry. But it is obvious to any Christian that Carrier’s ‘Christianity’ is one big fat strawman.

Case closed. (No further popcorn needed.)

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Tony Hoffman July 7, 2010 at 5:57 am

Al, it’s hardly Carrier’s fault that the God of the Bible and the God of classical theism appear irreconcilable. And you’ve done nothing to show that raising the Problem of Evil (probably the greatest challenge acknowledged by Christian apologists, btw) is clown-like. That certainly isn’t the reaction of Plantinga, et al.

How does the quote from Jesus to his disciples that you provided respond to Carrier’s objection, that the Christian God is supposed to be all good and all powerful? Do you think that Jesus’s quote obviates the classical conception of God? Do you think that the God of classical theism is un-Christian? If so, do you think that there are no Christians to whom Carrier’s objection pertains?

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 7:55 am

[ grabs more popcorn ]

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 10:37 am

@ Tony

Al, it’s hardly Carrier’s fault that the God of the Bible and the God of classical theism appear irreconcilable.

This is not what classical Christian belief says. In fact, the God of classical theism has been defined, for a substantial part, by philosophers/theologians that were Christians.

Do you think that Jesus’s quote obviates the classical conception of God? Do you think that the God of classical theism is un-Christian?

See above. Perhaps you need to inform yourself thoroughly about what Christians actually believe.

And you’ve done nothing to show that raising the Problem of Evil (probably the greatest challenge acknowledged by Christian apologists, btw) is clown-like. That certainly isn’t the reaction of Plantinga, et al.

I did not claim that raising the Problem of Evil is clown-like. Of course this problem is very serious (though in my view not overwhelming). However, the Christian God is simply not what Carrier claims Him to be or what in his view He should be.

How does the quote from Jesus to his disciples that you provided respond to Carrier’s objection, that the Christian God is supposed to be all good and all powerful?

Good theodicies (efforts to reconcile the evil in the world with the goodness of God) have been proposed. I would for example recommend the one in Eric Reitan’s ‘Is God a Delusion?’:

http://snipurl.com/z3u53

By all means I do not agree with all that the author says, most of all not with his stance of belief as ‘feeling’ (strange to me as a Catholic), but I think his theodicy is satisfying. Of course, an atheist may still find it grossly inadequate, but this is probably the difference between an outside look and an inside look at a particular worldview.

(By the same token, from the outside I find the evidence for atheism, and the often facile dismissal of evidence against it, grossly inadequate, but to some extent I can understand how from an inside view atheists may find the evidence satisfying.)

Reitan’s book has as an added bonus that in an expert way it exposes Dawkins’ presentations of Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God in ‘The God Delusion’ as bad caricatures of the actual arguments.

[How's your popcorn supply, Hermes?]

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 10:42 am

Low, but then again I’m mostly keeping an eye on the game.

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 10:42 am

I would for example recommend the one in Eric Reitan’s ‘Is God a Delusion?’:

http://snipurl.com/z3u53

Sorry,

thAT was the hardcover version. Here is the paperback:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1405183616

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 10:43 am

Low, but then again I’m mostly keeping an eye on the game.

Hehe.

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Eric July 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

Al –
I did not ask you for an opinion on David Wood, even though mine strongly differs from yours. I only specifically pointed to Wood’s criticism of Carrier’s musings on the origin of life, and Wood is 95 % spot on with his criticism. Look, I don’t expect Carrier to have investigated the issue to the depths that I did, but Carrier’s speculations are so unbearably superficial and just plain wrong that it is a travesty. Wood is right, this is a too important topic for this kind of shallowness.

My point with critiquing David Wood was to show that this man is not an honest reviewer and I hope you are not taking most of what he says seriously. Everything I have read in his review consists of cheap shots, straw men, and red herrings.
Now to his review Carrier’s description of the origin of life. First he uses a common creationist tactic, the straw man:
Typical of atheist apologists, he argues that there are many important molecules in our universe, and that life is ultimately composed of such molecules. The conclusion is that, since we’ve got some of the materials for life, the development of life should be no surprise. Compare the following:

Question: Where did you say the pyramids came from? I didn’t understand your point about chaos.

Answer: Well, just look around you! There are rocks everywhere, aren’t there? Indeed, there are rocks spread all over the universe. And these are the things of which pyramids are made.
which completely ignores carrier’s quote:
…when subjected not only to many possible kinds of natural forces, but forces we know were common on the early earth, and beyond.
This sounds dangerously like he is using a version of the “assembling a 747 out of a junkyard” argument typical among creationists and IDers. Being an evolution supporter, you should be familiar with this kind of response. Mostly Wood argues that Carrier does not source his claims, which would be a legitimate objection, except that Carrier does in the bibliography. He even refers readers to his own 26 page long article on biogenesis in Biology And Philosophy, among others. He argues that carrier is brief and vague, which would also be legitimate, except Carrier never meant to provide an in depth analysis, such as he did in his article. His demand that Carrier provide an in depth analysis on everything he talked about would necessitate the book to be thousands of pages long! If a 2 page entry were stretched to 26 pages, imagine how long the book would be if he did that with every little claim. Maybe if Wood looked through the bibliography as Carrier suggested, these complaints would be non existent. Wood even complains that Carrier didn’t devote more time to Evolution. There are entire books written on the subject! How long would this book need to be? So what exactly is “just plain wrong” about about Carrier’s summary?

David Marshall also wrote a similar review. And Carrier responded to it.
here

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Eric July 7, 2010 at 11:05 am

Al. What do you, and other Christians believe? Is God “omni-benevolent”?

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lukeprog July 7, 2010 at 11:09 am

Al,

Wait, so… your response to the problem of evil is a perfectly good God has no moral obligation at all to prevent children from being raped or from being killed in hurricanes, even though he knows this happens and could easily prevent it?

This is at least coherent, because you’d just be defining goodness in terms of Gods actions. So even if God causes people to be raped, he’s still ‘good,’ and so the fact that innocent people get raped all the time does nothing to challenge the existence of a “good” God who approves of rape.

The Christianity Carrier is responding to is the one that millions of Christian believe in: the one that says the Christian God cares about the suffering of his creatures.

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 11:16 am

So what exactly is “just plain wrong” about Carrier’s summary?

Everything about the friggin’ facts.

Read my overview:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

and then what Carrier says and what Wood says about Carrier’s explanations (they fail simple chemistry). I think then you will realize what’s wrong.

I would have no problem with a brief, simple summary by Carrier if it would get at least some basic facts right. And as Wood points out, Carrier lets his conclusions follow in a too facile, oversimplified way from his basic premises.

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 11:20 am

The Christianity Carrier is responding to is the one that millions of Christian believe in: the one that says the Christian God cares about the suffering of his creatures.

Wrong. The Christianity Carrier is responding to is a fictional one, one where an all-benevolent God should not allow any suffering to begin with.

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Tony Hoffman July 7, 2010 at 11:40 am

Al, you wrote:

Al: “Do you now see what’s wrong with Carrier’s picture? If you don’t, sorry. But it is obvious to any Christian that Carrier’s ‘Christianity’ is one big fat strawman.”

And you have yet to point out exactly where the strawmen lie. All you’ve shown is that Christians hold contradictory views, and that is in fact the point of Carrier’s essay.

Is is it a strawman of classical Christian belief that an all powerful, all good god exists? Or is is it a strawman of classical Christian belief that we live in a world where there is much suffering? Or is it a strawman that Christian explanations for these apparent contradictions could reasonably be found inadequate?

Al: “I did not claim that raising the Problem of Evil is clown-like.”

They why did you quote him saying (among other things),“It’s a simple fact of direct observation that if I had the means and the power, and could not be harmed for my efforts, I would immediately alleviate all needless suffering in the universe.” If you did not mean for this quote to support your argument that Carrier’s essay is clown-like, I do not know why you brought it to my attention.

Al: “However, the Christian God is simply not what Carrier claims Him to be or what in his view He should be.”

And that is why Carrier quoted CS Lewis’s from Mere Christianity, to support his claim that he was representing the Christian God in a way that other Christians would recognize. Are you now going to say that CS Lewis’s conception of God, as quoted by Carrier in his essay, is not representational of Christian belief? In other words, where exactly does Carrier misrepresent Christian thinking in his essay?

Good theodicies (efforts to reconcile the evil in the world with the goodness of God) have been proposed. I would for example recommend the one in Eric Reitan’s ‘Is God a Delusion?’…Of course, an atheist may still find it grossly inadequate, but this is probably the difference between an outside look and an inside look at a particular worldview.

And that is the point of Carrier’s essay – that he finds theodicies inadequate, as well as other problems he sees. You seem to admit that one could reasonably find these defenses grossly inadequate, so I still do not see how you get from there to “clown-like.”

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Al Moritz July 7, 2010 at 12:16 pm

so I still do not see how you get from there to “clown-like.”

For the umpteeth time: Carrier presents a Christian God that no Christian believes in.
If you don’t understand this, please re-read my posts. Then you will also see that I indeed pointed out where the strawmen lie.

With this I am done discussing the topic.

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Hermes July 7, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Al Moritz’s referenced book via Google Books;

Eric Reitan: Is God a Delusion?

http://books.google.com/books?id=pwzjIT7UYdUC

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Eric July 7, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Al –
I already read his review. And, like I said before, his review suffers from the fact that he missed carrier’s bibliography. What specifically fails about the chemistry of Carrier’s argument? I have read your article and I don’t see anything from Mr. Woods review, beyond Carrier not including the details of what he was saying, that is chemically wrong. Have you ever read his article in Biology and Philosophyy. It seems as though a reading of this, or at least a summary should clear up the issues.

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Eric July 7, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Al -
Is your beef with Carrier or with Christian philosophers and apologists who misrepresent Christianity? Also, you did not answer my question. Do you and other Christians believe God is omni-benevolent?

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Tony Hoffman July 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Al: “For the umpteeth time: Carrier presents a Christian God that no Christian believes in.”

By this I can only conclude that you mean that Carrier presents a God that is unbelievable. The problem is that this is in fact the same God that Christians believe in. It appears that you do not have any case to make against Carrier’s portrayal, but that you find his honest inability to feign belief as “clown-like.”

Al: “If you don’t understand this, please re-read my posts. Then you will also see that I indeed pointed out where the strawmen lie.”

Of course, you’ve done no such thing. You’ve basically made a serious of petulant declarations and, when pressed, failed to back them up with direct evidence when it has been repeatedly requested. You have, for instance, never explained how it is that CS Lewis believes in a God that no Christians believe in, and never shown where it is that Carrier presents a God that is unrecognizable to Christians.

Al: “With this I am done discussing the topic.”

Fine. Without your being able to provide evidence to back up your claims that Carrier’s portrayal of Christianity is “clown-like” I have no problem determining that your accusation appears unfounded.

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Eric July 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Al –

(By the same token, from the outside I find the evidence for atheism, and the often facile dismissal of evidence against it, grossly inadequate, but to some extent I can understand how from an inside view atheists may find the evidence satisfying.)

I wonder if you have ever read John Loftus’ “Outsider Test For Faith” In his book Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. I could ask you exactly what “evidence for Atheism” you speak of but I get the feeling you would just state it, along with a certain fallacious dismissal, and simply dismiss the inevitable critique. It is exactly what you seem to have been doing so far.

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Eneasz July 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I realize I’m very late and Snedden has basically finished off Ayer, but as this wasn’t said in this particular way, I wanted to add:

So you believe there is a universe where 2 + 2 = 4 or the law of noncontradiction does not obtain? Ok, you are free to believe that. But if you are wrong, I am sure that you can see that there is an order of existence beyond nature and that therefore the supernatural exists.

This reveals a basic (but common) ignorance of what reality actually is. Reality is not laws and numbers, directly. However if there was a universe where two and two things was not the same as four things, or a universe where something could both be something and NOT that thing, then THAT would be proof of the supernatural. That is basically what the definition of supernatural IS.

If you believe there can’t be a universe where 2 and 2 isn’t the same as 4, and you claim to believe in the supernatural, you are contradicting yourself.

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Patrick July 7, 2010 at 10:18 pm

In a debate between Hugh Ross and Victor Stenger (http://home.earthlink.net/~enc11/Enc10.html) Ross questioned the legitimacy of a naturalism of the gaps by pointing to the fact that for naturalism the gaps have not become smaller but bigger.

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 4:11 am

What specifically fails about the chemistry of Carrier’s argument? I have read your article and I don’t see anything from Mr. Woods review, beyond Carrier not including the details of what he was saying, that is chemically wrong.

Really? Wood’s criticism is quite specific and spot on, except that he does not realize that the first cell could have been exceedingly simple, as I show in my article.

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 4:12 am

I wonder if you have ever read John Loftus’ “Outsider Test For Faith” In his book Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. I could ask you exactly what “evidence for Atheism” you speak of but I get the feeling you would just state it, along with a certain fallacious dismissal, and simply dismiss the inevitable critique. It is exactly what you seem to have been doing so far.

Trust me, Eric, I am far better informed on all the scientific, philosophical and theological issues than most atheists. I also have thought about the issues longer and harder than most atheists, all of whom priding themselves to be ‘critical thinkers’, will ever do. I am still studying atheistic arguments, and am at this point attentively and earnestly reading Gary Drescher’s ‘Good and Real’. So you don’t need to tell me about an ‘outsider test’. I have taken that test in my mind many times.

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Patrick July 8, 2010 at 4:54 am

Here is another contribution supporting the view that people of past times also accepted natural causes for disease, this time with respect to Roman antiquity:

Edwin Yamauchi, “Magic or Miracle? Diseases, Demons and Exorcisms”, in: David Wenham and Craig Blomberg (eds.), Gospel Perspectives: The Miracles of Jesus, Vol. 6, JSOT Press, 1986, pp. 89-183.

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James Onen July 8, 2010 at 5:14 am

“…I am far better informed on all the scientific, philosophical and theological issues than most atheists. I also have thought about the issues longer and harder than most atheists, all of whom priding themselves to be ‘critical thinkers’, will ever do.”

Woah!!!!! We give up – you win, Al Moritz.

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 6:25 am

Al, you wrote:

Al: “I also have thought about the issues longer and harder than most atheists, all of whom priding themselves to be ‘critical thinkers’, will ever do.”

Actually, I believe that critical thinkers tend to not write as carelessly as you do – they tend not use absolutes (all, never, impossible, etc.) when they mean to express a less certain sense of probability or proportionality, etc.

On the other hand, you write things like (emphasis mine):

Al: “Carrier presents a Christian God that no Christian believes in.”

These are not the words of a critical thinker. Not only is the evidence against you (Carrier quotes CS Lewis, a Christian, extensively in his essay), but you are also declaring to have a knowledge that appears unknowable. (How is it that you would know what ALL Christians believe?) Additionally, I am certain that there are many Christians who would find your lack of humility so un-Christlike that you would be excluded from their definition as well.

You also misrepresent what you are arguing against, which is not a hallmark of critical thinking.

For instance, you wrote:

Al: The Christianity Carrier is responding to is a fictional one, one where an all-benevolent God should not allow any suffering to begin with.

But in Carrier’s essay we see that Carrier is much more careful with his language than you are:

Carrier: “It’s a simple fact of direct observation that if I had the means and the power, and could not be harmed for my efforts, I would immediately alleviate all needless suffering in the universe.”

You see there that Carrier does not say that God must not allow any suffering, but all needless suffering. By omitting this qualifier, you misrepresent Carrier’s argument.

In fact, Carrier’s essay proposes not only that suffering not be eliminated, but that suffering should actually make sense. For instance, he writes:

Carrier: “For example, if I were to make a universe, and cared how the people in it felt–whether they suffered or were happy–I would make it a law of nature that the more good a person really was, the more invulnerable they would be to harm or illness, and the more evil, the weaker and more ill. Nature would be governed by survival of the kindest, not survival of the fittest.”

So Carrier does not argue for what you have strawmanned of his position, but that of a sliding scale where suffering exists and that it relates to how good a person truly is.

That is why when you protest by saying,

Al: “For the umpteeth time: Carrier presents a Christian God that no Christian believes in.
If you don’t understand this, please re-read my posts. Then you will also see that I indeed pointed out where the strawmen lie.”

… I must point out that your prior posts do not actually indicate that Carrier is employing a strawman, but that you are.

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 6:52 am

Woah!!!!! We give up – you win, Al Moritz.

Why this reaction? I said ‘most’, not ‘all’.

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 6:58 am

You see there that Carrier does not say that God must not allow any suffering, but all needless suffering. By omitting this qualifier, you misrepresent Carrier’s argument.

The question then is, what is needless suffering? The suffering that Carrier finds ‘needless’? Is he God to know what is ‘needless’? He plays God quite well, I must say (talking about humility):

“It’s a simple fact of direct observation that if I had the means and the power, and could not be harmed for my efforts, I would immediately alleviate all needless suffering in the universe. All guns and bombs would turn to flowers. All garbage dumps would become gardens. There would be adequate resources for everyone. There would be no more children conceived than the community and the environment could support. There would be no need of fatal or debilitating diseases or birth defects, no destructive Acts of God. And whenever men and women seemed near to violence, I would intervene and kindly endeavor to help them peacefully resolve their differences. That’s what any loving person would do. Yet I cannot be more loving, more benevolent than the Christian God. Therefore, the fact that the Christian God does none of these things–in fact, nothing of any sort whatsoever–is proof positive that there is no Christian God.”

Wow. Perhaps he should read the book of Job.

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ayer July 8, 2010 at 7:22 am

“Reality is not laws and numbers, directly. However if there was a universe where two and two things was not the same as four things, or a universe where something could both be something and NOT that thing, then THAT would be proof of the supernatural. That is basically what the definition of supernatural IS. ”

Eneasz,

Wow, that’s nonsensical. Please study this site closely: http://www.doxazotheos.com/?page_id=99

Peace.

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Atheist.pig July 8, 2010 at 7:43 am

Carrier wrote:

Yet I cannot be more loving, more benevolent than the Christian God. Therefore, the fact that the Christian God does none of these things–in fact, nothing of any sort whatsoever–is proof positive that there is no Christian God.

If Al’s talking about the maniac God of the bible Yahweh, then he shouldn’t be surprised to see all sorts of needless suffering. Should he? This is the same Yahweh that ordered the butchering of children right? The raping and pillaging of women right?

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 8:04 am

If Al’s talking about the maniac God of the bible Yahweh, then he shouldn’t be surprised to see all sorts of needless suffering. Should he? This is the same Yahweh that ordered the butchering of children right? The raping and pillaging of women right?

Oh jeez. Why don’t you and Tony (and others) study some Christian theology, so that you know what Christians believe about suffering?

Or why don’t you start by reading the book by Reitan that I suggested above and which also deals with suffering? If you are really interested in the topic, you will certainly want to inform yourself, will you not?

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Eric July 8, 2010 at 8:34 am

Really? Wood’s criticism is quite specific and spot on, except that he does not realize that the first cell could have been exceedingly simple, as I show in my article.

Seriously? I just spent an entire post explaining what was WRONG with Wood’s criticism. He never shows whats wrong with Carrier’s chemistry, just what he didn’t include, which is justified by the fact that Carrier never meant for his book to give a full fledged account, just a summary. And Carrier backs up everything he says in the bibliography. Yet you seem to have completely ignored this criticism. I HAVE READ YOUR ARTICLE and HAVE READ HIS CRITICISM as well as Carrier’s response to an almost identical criticism. I have read everything you have given me but I can safely assume you have read nothing I have given you, or else you would see that, at the very least, the vast majority of criticisms Wood has given are irrational. Maybe you should read Carrier’s response. In fact, before you go about criticizing Carrier for his understanding of biogenesis, maybe you should actually read his full article in Biology and Philosophy.

Trust me, Eric, I am far better informed on all the scientific, philosophical and theological issues than most atheists. I also have thought about the issues longer and harder than most atheists, all of whom priding themselves to be ‘critical thinkers’, will ever do. I am still studying atheistic arguments, and am at this point attentively and earnestly reading Gary Drescher’s ‘Good and Real’. So you don’t need to tell me about an ‘outsider test’. I have taken that test in my mind many times.

Congratulations. Is this what you say when someone offers you a highly respected book (by both theists and atheists alike). That’s a great way to get out of reading any book you like, despite its acclaim. Besides you and the nearly all rest of the theists who comment on this blog can say they are “far better informed on all the scientific, philosophical and theological issues than most atheists.” Also I, as well as nearly all other Atheists on this blog, are “far better informed on all the scientific, philosophical and theological issues than most” theists. What is your point? You are definitely more informed about science, at least biology and biochemistry, than most anyone else on this blog that I have seen so far. But as for philosophically and theologically, I am highly doubtful.

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JS Allen July 8, 2010 at 8:44 am

Can someone please link me to the Richard Carrier essay in question where he discusses the “problem of evil” and quotes Lewis extensively? I can’t seem to find it in the links above, and I am very curious.

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 8:58 am

Me: “You see there that Carrier does not say that God must not allow any suffering, but all needless suffering. By omitting this qualifier, you misrepresent Carrier’s argument.”

Al: “The question then is, what is needless suffering?”

Well, that’s a fine question, but first I’d say that you need to explain how asking it represents a strawman of Christianity, as your point here has been that Carrier so badly misrepresents Christianity that nothing he argues is worthy of consideration. That, as you recall, is why you said you will not even consider his rebuttal to the canard of “Christianity caused science” when you first started commenting here.

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 8:59 am

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JS Allen July 8, 2010 at 9:24 am

Thanks Tony, it was a quick read.

I guess the “problem of evil” was just a small part of the essay. But I was startled that Carrier quotes from “Mere Christianity”, but omitted what Lewis actually said about the “problem of evil” just a few pages later:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies … Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.

Lewis’s position is not immune to attack, of course, but it’s more than a little odd that Carrier would use Lewis as support for his case without letting Lewis speak for himself.

When I was an atheist, I never used the “problem of evil” to deconvert Christians, because it never occurred to me. I guess I was a bad atheist. Most of the people I deconverted are still atheists, so it evidently wasn’t necessary. In any case, I was fascinated when my pastor said a few months ago that “it’s the biggest problem for Christianity”. I had never heard anyone say that before, but apparently it’s a common perspective. Still trying to figure out why.

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

Lewis’s position is not immune to attack, of course, but it’s more than a little odd that Carrier would use Lewis as support for his case without letting Lewis speak for himself.

Thanks, JS Allen. I appreciate that you pointed this out, and that now it is clear that I am not the only one who dares to claim that Holy Carrier is not without his flaws in reasoning/presentation of reasoning.

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 10:20 am

JS Allen, my impression of the Lewis quote is that it indirectly argues for an objective sense of morals, yet in the same breath throws out our ability to make any comments on it except through the objective moral giver. He stirs up dust from the story of Euthyphro in the process.

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 11:01 am

JS Allen: “Lewis’s position is not immune to attack, of course, but it’s more than a little odd that Carrier would use Lewis as support for his case without letting Lewis speak for himself.”

I find it more than a little odd that you would think that Carrier is not letting Lewis “speak for himself” when he quotes Lewis directly.

Carrier does not say, for instance, “Lewis has no answer to the problem of unnecessary suffering.” Carrier basically says, here’s my problem with Lewis’s conception of the Christian God and what I see as unnecessary suffering.

How does that mis-represent Lewis (or not let him “speak for himself”) in any way?

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 11:04 am

Al: “I appreciate that you pointed this out, and that now it is clear that I am not the only one who dares to claim that Holy Carrier is not without his flaws in reasoning/presentation of reasoning.”

Your problem isn’t that you don’t have company, Al. The problem is that you have provided no support for your original claim.

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Eric July 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

Al –
Maybe you should listen to the Eric Reitan Interview on the OK Atheists Godcast (Ep #024 and #025). He criticizes Dawkins for not reading an Aquinas argument in its most defensible form. It makes me think Mr Wood would have certainly gotten a D on his critique of Carrier’s book, had he submitted it to Reitan.
Reitan also doesn’t seem to defend the traditional Christian God, which he says mirrors Plutarch’s God of “superstition,” mainly because the traditional Christian God sends people to Hell if they refuse to appease him. He also casts doubt on a God who reveals himself through a text and who sends people to hell for questioning it. So I don’t think Reitan even defends a God that most Christians believe in. He doesn’t accept the doctrine of hell (even liberal ones) nor bible inerrancy. He is a member of the United Church of Christ, the MOST LIBERAL denomination of Christianity in the US, which comprises less than .5% of US Christians. (::Awaiting the possible “no true Scotsman fallacy”::) So even if his theology is inconsistent with Carrier’s depiction of the Christian God, that doesn’t make up for the theology of most Christians. In addition, toward the middle of the second interview, he even said his objective in writing the book was to try and create a religious doctrine that avoids the objections of the New Atheists, not to describe current Christian theology. Also, it seems as though he is mostly criticizing certain opinions of Dawkins and Harris that I’m sure almost no atheist on this blog buys anyway. I may get this book because it actually sounds quite interesting. But It doesn’t sound like it will give me any better of an understanding of Christian Theology than I already have, nor anyone else on this blog I suspect.

Tony –
Well, that’s a fine question, but first I’d say that you need to explain how asking it represents a strawman of Christianity, as your point here has been that Carrier so badly misrepresents Christianity that nothing he argues is worthy of consideration. That, as you recall, is why you said you will not even consider his rebuttal to the canard of “Christianity caused science” when you first started commenting here.
It’s interesting how:
1. Al has failed to prove any of his criticisms of Carrier are valid (other than potentially his criticism of Carrier’s support of the Jesus Myth Hypothesis”)
2. For the most part, these objections don’t have almost anything to do with Carrier’s competence in arguing that Christianity didn’t cause Modern Science. The History of Science is his specialty and his argument represents his dissertation.

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JS Allen July 8, 2010 at 11:53 am

Carrier does not say, for instance, “Lewis has no answer to the problem of unnecessary suffering.” Carrier basically says, here’s my problem with Lewis’s conception of the Christian God and what I see as unnecessary suffering.

Lewis argues that the existence of “unnecessary suffering” is a refutation of atheism. I don’t think it’s terribly honest for Carrier to ignore this central argument, pick some phrases out of context, and claim that Lewis’s concept of God is one that poses a problem of “unnecessary suffering”.

To me, what Carrier has done would be akin to me saying.

“Here are Carrier’s own words about fine-tuning:”

evidence people have for God’s existence and role as Creator–is the apparent “fine tuning” of the universe to produce life. That’s at least something remarkable, requiring an explanation better than blind chance.

“Even a prominent atheist like Carrier admits it’s a problem, and in my opinion, such fine-tuning could only be done by a big Jew in the sky named Yaweh!”

Personally, I think “fine-tuning” is a silly argument, but you get the point. I have taken a passage that Carrier intended specifically to refute theism, stripped out the central argument, and pretended that this out-of-context quote supports my coming to the exact opposite conclusion that he intended. It’s dishonest.

Saying, “I let Carrier speak for himself; I used his exact words!” is not a defense.

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 11:57 am

Not that I want to spend much more time on this but I have to say that this is simply misguided in relation to the discussion:

Al: “Oh jeez. Why don’t you and Tony (and others) study some Christian theology, so that you know what Christians believe about suffering?”

Because suffering in this world is not confined to what Christians believe about it. Belief in the Christian God is confined to what Christians think about the Christian God, but suffering is something we all experience and witness on our own; no Christianity is required to observe it, or make our own determinations on its causes and effects.

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

JS Allen: “Lewis argues that the existence of “unnecessary suffering” is a refutation of atheism.”

So what? Carrier argues that unnecessary suffering is a refutation of theism. Do you expect everyone to bow to Lewis’s conclusion?

JS Allen: I don’t think it’s terribly honest for Carrier to ignore this central argument, pick some phrases out of context, and claim that Lewis’s concept of God is one that poses a problem of “unnecessary suffering”.”

Carrier is not picking a fight with Lewis’s theodicy (which I am sure he does not find persuasive), but explaining much more broadly why he is not a Christian. Hence, the title of his essay. Carrier did not entitle his essay, for instance, “The problems with Lewis’s theodicy.”

1. How does Carrier pick some of Lewis’s phrases out of context?

2. And how is it not honest to find Lewis’s theodicy unpersuasive?

I find your quote from Carrier about Fine Tuning to be fair (he does say that “it’s remarkable,” and that it requires an explanation), and although I disagree with your saying that Carrier says is it’s “a problem” that would just be a quibble. I don’t think you have misrepresented Carrier there, or that you were representing that Carrier supports your conclusion, if that’s what you’re asking. That’s because you’re words appear to be somewhat carefully chosen.

JS Allen: Saying, “I let Carrier speak for himself; I used his exact words!” is not a defense.

Well, I’m not sure what you’re saying Carrier spoke for himself; if you’re saying that Carrier admits that fine tuning deserves an explanation, I’d say you did; if you’re now saying that Carrier says that fine-tuning could only be done by God, then clearly you would be misrepresenting not just what Carrier said, but what you said yourself.

I understand your analogy, somewhat, but I don’t see how you can make it apply to Carrier’s essay. If you can, please answer my questions 1 and 2 above, as that might provide support for what you’re saying.

Also, I’m getting pretty well done with this discussion. If anybody else wants to take over for awhile, please have at.

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JS Allen July 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm

I don’t think you have misrepresented Carrier there, or that you were representing that Carrier supports your conclusion, if that’s what you’re asking. That’s because you’re words appear to be somewhat carefully chosen.

OK, at least you’re being consistent.

I just think it’s weird that people are running around saying, “ZOMFG! Carrier just proved that suffering is a problem for all Christians who believe the same as C.S. Lewis!!! STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH OF C.S. LEWIS!!!”, without pointing out that Carrier’s quotes come directly from Lewis’s argument that suffering is a problem for atheists.

You apparently don’t think that’s weird. I guess you’re entitled to that opinion.

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Because suffering in this world is not confined to what Christians believe about it. Belief in the Christian God is confined to what Christians think about the Christian God, but suffering is something we all experience and witness on our own; no Christianity is required to observe it, or make our own determinations on its causes and effects.

You still haven’t gotten my point. I give up.

I will, however, answer to Eric about abiogenesis later today.

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Eneasz July 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Ayer:

Wow, that’s nonsensical.

Ah. Well in that case, I humbly accept my defeat.

Please study this site closely:

The linked site was a perfect example of exactly what I was saying. People confusing the way they think about reality with what reality actually is. A common error. I stand by original assertion.

To reiterate:
If it was NOT the case that 0 must exist in all possible universes, THAT would be proof of the supernatural. The website authors don’t realize that, and therefore they spend a lot of effort showing they don’t believe in the supernatural and then end it with “And thus the supernatural exists”. Fail.

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Zeb July 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Eneasz, can you give any explanation for how you know what reality actually is when “ignorance” of that knowledge is so “common”, why “reality is not numbers and laws”, why the true definition of supernatural is belief in logical contradiction, and what the problem is with people who hold the logically contradictory beliefs that the super natural exists and that logical contradiction is impossible?

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Patrick July 8, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Josh, Zak and Hermes,

the reason why scientific studies on the effect of intercessory prayer showed a lack of such an effect may be that Biblical guidelines for effective prayer were not followed. For a detailed outline of such guidelines see “Appendix: Biblical conditions for effective prayer on healing” in http://home.earthlink.net/~enc11/Enc10.html.

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Patrick, intercessory prayer in the STEP study was given a very fair shake. It was shown to be harmful in some situations, and at best useless. If you want to do your own study, ask Templeton for a grant. They have money and might give it to the right person asking. Till then, I think this is a settled topic.

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Eneasz July 8, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Hello Zeb.

can you give any explanation for how you know what reality actually is when “ignorance” of that knowledge is so “common”

Not briefly, no. A lot of it simply involves years of study. But that isn’t a big help, because there are millions of people with much more education than I have who still don’t grasp reality isn’t determined. Probably the most important thing to realize is that concepts of reality are independent of the actually stuff of existence. I know that seems obvious, but people don’t act according to that principle, even if they claim to embrace it. One must always remind oneself “The map is not the territory.” Saying “that 2+2=4 must be true is proof of the supernatural” is akin to saying “the map is proof of the territory”. A perfectly accurate map will coincide perfectly with reality, but that does not mean it determines the reality.

why “reality is not numbers and laws”

To paraphrase the site Ayer linked “When was the last time you tripped over the number 1?”

why the true definition of supernatural is belief in logical contradiction

Because anything less is simply naturalism that we don’t understand yet. That sort of god is indistinguishable from a sufficiently advanced alien life. Knowing enough about how reality works to manipulate it in ways that allow you to fly in metal transports, or communicate with someone on the other side of the planet nearly instantly, is not supernaturalism, it’s just applied naturalism. Knowning enough about reality to materialize a unicorn in a church or alter the gravitational constant in a localized area is not supernaturalism, it is just applied naturalism. Any god who is logically consistent can, with enough study, be emulated by man. He does not, in principle, have access to any aspect of reality that is beyond the reach of sufficiently advanced natural creatures.

Thus the only form of supernaturalism that isn’t reducible to applied naturalism is that of literally impossible contradiction. Which is what is generally implied by magic claims. Otherwise they wouldn’t be “magic”, just “technology”.

and what the problem is with people who hold the logically contradictory beliefs that the super natural exists and that logical contradiction is impossible?

Problem? Nothing more than that they are human and fallible, just like me, just like everyone else. We’re really good at holding contradictory beliefs.

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Zeb July 8, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Eneasz, my thoughts , bor un along the same lines

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lukeprog July 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Patrick,

You kill me. :)

I guess Muslim prayer doesn’t work because the Quranic directions aren’t followed in many cases…

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Eric July 8, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Luke-

It’s called “moving the goal post.”

lol

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Zeb July 8, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Oops, let’s try that again.

Eneasz, my thoughts run along the same lines for the most part. But if you can’t offer any explanation or back up for your assertions, what is the point of stating them?

Do you recognize that your definitions of naturalism and supernatural are highly idiosyncratic (though I may prefer them myself) and that very few people would meet the criteria or describe themselves as supernaturalists under your meaning?

And do you see the irony in complaining about the logical contradiction of people who claim not to believe in the possibility of logical contradiction but also believe in the supernatural (ie the possibility of logical contradiction)? Maybe that qualifies them as ‘true supernaturalists’?

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Tony Hoffman July 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

JS Allen, I asked you two specific questions.

1. How does Carrier pick some of Lewis’s phrases out of context?

2. And how is it not honest to find Lewis’s theodicy unpersuasive?

You left them unanswered, instead writing:

I just think it’s weird that people are running around saying, “ZOMFG! Carrier just proved that suffering is a problem for all Christians who believe the same as C.S. Lewis!!! STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH OF C.S. LEWIS!!!”, without pointing out that Carrier’s quotes come directly from Lewis’s argument that suffering is a problem for atheists.

You apparently don’t think that’s weird. I guess you’re entitled to that opinion.

For the record, I think it’s weird that you’d ignore two direct questions and invent another strawman. If it makes you feel any better, you’re pretty much in total alignment with the other theists here.

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 5:57 pm

@ Eric

I HAVE READ YOUR ARTICLE and HAVE READ HIS CRITICISM as well as Carrier’s response to an almost identical criticism. I have read everything you have given me but I can safely assume you have read nothing I have given you, or else you would see that, at the very least, the vast majority of criticisms Wood has given are irrational.

Ok, I’ll explain it to you, with my article as reference; here is the link again so nobody needs to look it up:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html

Below are quotes from Carrier, Wood’s responses and my comments on Wood’s responses. This is not exhaustive, but should be sufficient to allow for a verdict.

I did read Carrier’s reply,

http://richardcarrier.info/contrawood.html#origin

but I see nothing in it that sufficiently answers to Wood’s responses and my comments below.

***

Carrier:

Furthermore, experiments have proved that amino acids naturally chain into proteins, the building blocks of life, when subjected not only to many possible kinds of natural forces, but forces we know were common on the early earth, and beyond.

Wood’s response:

Second, amino acids react with a number of other molecules more readily than they react with one another, so Richard must explain how his pool of left-handed amino acids arose free from contamination by other molecules. Again, he doesn’t do this.

Correct. The problem of specificity of chemical reactions has to be addressed (and Carrier’s response that only amino acids form chains is not sufficient). This problem is a main reason why the ‘gene first’ model is preferred by many scientists over the ‘metabolism-first’ model, and why a protein-first model is not even seriously considered anymore. I discuss the problem in my article, but Carrier does not address the issue at all in the book. Certainly, one could say he could not be expected to go into every detail, but this is so important that when he writes “experiments have proved that amino acids naturally chain into proteins” this is at best incredibly sloppy, and at worst deceptive (even though probably involuntarily so). And its not true either, see below.

Wood continues:

Third, even if there were such a pool of uncontaminated, left-handed amino acids, the rate of amino acid polymerization (amino acids joining together to form chains) in water is extremely low. Peptides (chains of amino acids) tend to break down in water, and each increase in the desired number of amino acids decreases the probability of formation dramatically. Additionally, life requires specific polymers, not the random byproducts of chance. If Richard wants his more skeptical readers (i.e. readers that aren’t biased in favor of his view) to believe that proteins—the right proteins—were forming in any significant quantities, he needs to provide evidence, which he doesn’t do.

Correct. Uncatalyzed peptide synthesis only occurs under relatively extreme circumstances, see note 4 in my article, and it can produce only short peptides. Proteins are pretty much out of the question, and specific proteins that can be reproducibly remade are absolutely out of the question.

That is why even origin-of-life researchers who are proponents of the ‘metabolism-first’ model (as opposed to the ‘gene-first’ model) believe that genes preceded proteins — see also the RNA World hypothesis. This hypothesis is now overwhelmingly accepted. Carrier is apparently oblivious to the fact.

Carrier:

Finally, scientists have manufactured proteins that naturally reproduce themselves without the aid of any additional enzymes, proteins so simple that we now know the odds of such things forming by chance are well within the realm of cosmic possibility. . . .

Wood’s response:

Richard’s next claim is that “scientists have manufactured proteins that naturally reproduce themselves without the aid of any additional enzymes.” Again, since he doesn’t give references, it is difficult to examine his statements (though he advises his readers to “always ask for the primary sources of a claim you find incredible”[xix]). I’m familiar with an experiment by David Lee’s team, in which it was found that a peptide taken from yeast had the ability to catalyze its own synthesis.[xx] I also know of a molecule called “amino adenosine triacid ester,” which acts as a template to reproduce itself.[xxi]

Correct. Proteins do not self-replicate. And even the 32 amino-acid peptide in Lee’s experiment did not replate from single amino acids, but from two peptides, one 17, the other 15 amino acids long.

Wood continues:

And Richard still has to account for molecules like DNA, which is composed of nucleotides, not amino acids.

Correct. At the time Carrier wrote his book, there was nothing like the spectacular Sutherland synthesis described in my article, and spontaneous nucleotide formation was extremely in doubt. This has been (and partly still is) a thorny issue in particular since the RNA world is thought to have been one of the first stages in life, and not proteins, as pointed out above.

Wood continues:

Further, Richard would have to explain how all the necessary biomolecules, arising by chance, ended up in the same place and then joined together, in just the right order, to form life.

Correct. That is why encapsulation by a membrane is so necessary for a self-replicating oligonucleotide, and the fact that natural selection could occur already at this stage was unforeseeen and surprising (how this works is detailed in my article).

***

Conclusion: Carrier’s account of the origin of life is amateurish, extremely uniformed, sloppy and misleading (though probably not on purpose, just out of plain dilettantism). His reply to Wood does nothing to alleviate the situation.

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lukeprog July 8, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Al,

Thanks, that’s very helpful!

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Al Moritz July 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm

You’re welcome, Luke.

(I am now at chapter 4 in Drescher. Chapter 3 on the flow of time was awesome.)

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lukeprog July 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I hope you’ll post your thoughts on chapter 3 when I get there in my post series!

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Eric: Luke-

It’s called “moving the goal post.”

lol

They whole team seems to be in that business, including the cheerleaders and the mascot.

The next move usually is to claim that ‘God will not be judged’, yet that is (unsurprisingly) contradicted (!!!) elsewhere. Relativism at it’s most aggressive and most unrepentant.

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JS Allen July 8, 2010 at 7:08 pm

1. How does Carrier pick some of Lewis’s phrases out of context?

As I explained, the phrases Carrier quotes were a set-up by Lewis to argue that suffering is a problem for atheism. Carrier omitted that rather important piece of context.

2. And how is it not honest to find Lewis’s theodicy unpersuasive?

Nobody said any such thing. Looks like a straw man to me.

I don’t expect to respond to further comments from you. I don’t feel that you are sincere, and I already accomplished my goal of providing the context that was missing from the discussion about Carrier’s citation of Lewis. Here, in case you forgot, is what Lewis said in relation to the quotes that Carrier picked out of context:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies … Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.

Nobody is asking you or Carrier to agree with Lewis, but I will insist that you present Lewis’s quotes in the appropriate context.

BTW, I have the same policy of not responding to anything Hermes says. It’s called “flipping the bozo bit”. He admits that a person’s identity can be wholly reducible to the physical, but has not defended his strange belief that a person’s identity can never be be re-composed from the physical.

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm

JS Allen: As I explained, the phrases Carrier quotes were a set-up by Lewis to argue that suffering is a problem for atheism. Carrier omitted that rather important piece of context.

I attempted to look for where someone else said it earlier, so I’ll rephrase what they intended (?) from memory;

It’s not an omission, it’s an irrelevancy. The argument Lewis attempted barely deserves a furrowed brow of puzzlement. It just makes no sense.

Meanwhile, the comment Carrier is making still remains unaddressed.

But, to be fair, do you really think (HONESTLY NOW!) that Lewis’ comment that suffering is a problem for atheism or atheists is relevant to what others have discussed here? It doesn’t even seem to show evidence for that point let alone connect to what others have brought up that Carrier is actually discussing.

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm

I guess what annoys many theists with my irreverent attitude is that — I’m not showing reverence for unfounded ideas. I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t take their assertions seriously if they offer no evidence. I’m even stubborn about it; about not joining in on the supposition or the fantasy.

An easy way to deal with such arrogance — To demand evidence! The nerve! — is to shirk one’s own responsibilities and continue with asserting what is unsupported as if no support is needed or only a fool (a key Biblical word) would have the lack of tact to provide any.

Every one of those fan waving self-insulted individuals I consider to be giving me a tacit concession. They could step up and provide a foundation to their castle in the clouds. They won’t. If only I could collect on rent on such an airy structure.

[ reference ]

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Hermes July 8, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Additional; http://ecstathy.blogspot.com/2010/07/banging-my-head-on-yet-another-brick-in.html

The above is what I’ve done in the past. I do not do that anymore unless money is involved.

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Atheist.pig July 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Me: If Al’s talking about the maniac God of the bible Yahweh, then he shouldn’t be surprised to see all sorts of needless suffering. Should he? This is the same Yahweh that ordered the butchering of children right? The raping and pillaging of women right?

Al: Oh jeez. Why don’t you and Tony (and others) study some Christian theology, so that you know what Christians believe about suffering?

I was just making the point that Christian theology is compatible with anything and everything, and if its not, the sophisticated theologians change the interpretation. In my experience the Catholic theological tradition is often good in this regard and often way ahead of other traditions. Some of my favorite Catholic theologians are so sophisticated, their basically atheists :)

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Patrick July 9, 2010 at 12:47 am

Lukeprog, Hermes and Eric,

there are at least two well documented cases of healings following intense intercessory prayer. Both are about diseases that are regarded as incurable. One is the case of Jeanna Giese, having suffered from rabies (http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/god5.htm), the other one that of Don Vanderhoof, having suffered from Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (http://www.baptist-books.com/MISS/1204.html).

Of course one can argue that these cases, although totally unexplainable from a medical point of view, may nevertheless have a natural cause. This may be, but as a matter of fact, for all I know, nobody has been able to detect such a cause.

You, Lukeprog, justify a naturalism of the gaps with the statement “Everything we’ve investigated thoroughly so far has turned out to be natural at bottom.“. But this means that if there are things that despite thorough investigation have not turned out to be natural, then a naturalism of the gaps is not justified. As a matter of fact following a PMN in view of such cases not even a MN is justified.

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Al Moritz July 9, 2010 at 3:02 am

@ Luke,

I hope you’ll post your thoughts on chapter 3 when I get there in my post series!

I will do that. Just alert me under the email in my article.

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Tony Hoffman July 9, 2010 at 5:18 am

Me: “How does Carrier pick some of Lewis’s phrases out of context?”

JS Allen: “As I explained, the phrases Carrier quotes were a set-up by Lewis to argue that suffering is a problem for atheism. Carrier omitted that rather important piece of context.”

What? Do you even know what taking something out of context means? To take something out of context is to interpret something in a way it was not intended to be understood. And the meaning that Carrier is using the Lewis quotes to support is the Christian conception of God. Here’s Carrier:

Carrier: “I shall assume here that C.S. Lewis was correct when he said “mere Christianity” consisted in the belief that “there is one God” who “is quite definitely good or righteous,” “who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another,” and who “invented and made the universe.” But this God also “thinks that a great many things have gone wrong” with the world and thus “insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again,” and to this end arranged the death and resurrection of “His only Son,” Jesus Christ, who is or embodies or represents the Creator, and can alone “save” us from “eternal death” if we now ask this Jesus to forgive our sins. That’s as quoted and paraphrased from his aptly titled Mere Christianity.”

In order for your charge of “out of context” to have any weight, you need to show that the phrase “there is one God” means something different in Carrier’s essay than it does in Lewis’s. Or that God “invented and made the universe” means something different in Carrier’s essay than it does in Lewis’s. That is what it means to take something out of context. Unless you can show how Carrier has altered the meaning of Lewis’s phrases, then your charge of “out of context” is worse than vacuous.

JS Allen: I don’t think it’s terribly honest for Carrier to ignore this central argument, pick some phrases out of context, and claim that Lewis’s concept of God is one that poses a problem of “unnecessary suffering”.”

Me: “…how is it not honest to find Lewis’s theodicy unpersuasive?”

JS Allen: “Nobody said any such thing. Looks like a straw man to me.”

Nope on the straw man. That was you, above, saying that Carrier is not terribly honest for, among other things, claiming that Lewis’s concept of God does pose a problem of unnecessary suffering, an explanation of which is called a theodicy.

Your words. No straw man there.

I don’t expect to respond to further comments from you. I don’t feel that you are sincere, and I already accomplished my goal of providing the context that was missing from the discussion about Carrier’s citation of Lewis.

You haven’t provided the context that supports your charge. You’ve provided a paragraph from CS Lewis. As I said above, you need to do something like show that the phrase “there is one God” means something different in Carrier’s essay than it does in Lewis’s.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 5:42 am

Patrick, the issue of intercessory prayer is dealt with in some detail on the same document you reference in your first link. It’s a good resource.

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Eneasz July 9, 2010 at 6:43 am

Hi again Zeb

But if you can’t offer any explanation or back up for your assertions, what is the point of stating them?

I’d say I offered at least the basic structure of an explanation. A jumping-off point, if not a detailed thesis. There are many topics that are impossible to give full back-up for in the form of a blog comment, that doesn’t stop anyone from talking about them. :)

And stating them IS the point. There isn’t a further point to the stating, it is the goal in itself. Perhaps it will spark some interest in someone and some day in the future they’ll look into it more, who knows? Simply asserting that my position exists and defining it’s basic parameters is all I’m going for.

Do you recognize that your definitions of naturalism and supernatural are highly idiosyncratic (though I may prefer them myself) and that very few people would meet the criteria or describe themselves as supernaturalists under your meaning?

If you mean explicitly, then yes, I agree completely. But implicitly, no. Even if people explicitly deny that is what supernatural means, further probing reveals that this is what it implicitly entails. VERY few people are willing to grant that “supernatural” is just another term for “advanced technology”. So part of the reason for bringing this up (ho ho! An answer to your previous question reveals itself! :) ) is to point this out. Then let them figure out for themselves if they’d rather abandon magic or embrace logical contradiction.

And do you see the irony in complaining about the logical contradiction of people who claim not to believe in the possibility of logical contradiction but also believe in the supernatural (ie the possibility of logical contradiction)? Maybe that qualifies them as ‘true supernaturalists’?

Touche! :D THAT was a thing of beauty! If one could put arguments in painting form, these last two lines would be hailed as a modern Last Supper. :) And I’m not being snarky or sarcastic in saying that, I truly love this. I will do what I can to spread it around. It’s fractally brilliant.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 7:29 am

Atheist.pig: I was just making the point that Christian theology is compatible with anything and everything, and if its not, the sophisticated theologians change the interpretation. In my experience the Catholic theological tradition is often good in this regard and often way ahead of other traditions.

Along those lines;

Father Reginald Foster

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 7:29 am
Hermes July 9, 2010 at 7:50 am
JS Allen: I don’t expect to respond to further comments from you. I don’t feel that you are sincere, and I already accomplished my goal of providing the context that was missing from the discussion about Carrier’s citation of Lewis.

Tony Hoffman: You haven’t provided the context that supports your charge. You’ve provided a paragraph from CS Lewis. As I said above, you need to do something like show that the phrase “there is one God” means something different in Carrier’s essay than it does in Lewis’s.

JS Allen, do you retreat from all conversations when you do not have answers? (Yes, in this case, this is a challenge.)

Ask yourself: Why I do that at all? Is it that atheists are just being unreasonable?

I’ve been patient with theists of all types, most often some kind of Christian, for decades. I realize that theists aren’t just some kind of variation on atheists.

Yet, when I ask for answers to specific questions — and I guess when Tony Hoffman asks specific questions — we aren’t looking to address some kind of pre-canned theologian. We’re looking for you as an individual to actually talk with us as individuals.

That includes questions you might think are droll or just too simplistic. Why? Because some of those simple details mean quite a bit when we actually do get into other areas.

If you agree that we all live in a single world — a single reality — then what harm would it be to actually talk in this reality and together come to some mutual agreements on the details of this world; the only reality that actually is.

If you don’t agree and consider reality to be flexible and thus relativistic, then why bother beginning a conversation at all? Why get upset when the phantoms from other planes speak?

That’s why I think your word sincere is telling. I think you realized that you were not being sincere to Tony Hoffman, and that slipped in as an accusation of him since you do not consider yourself to be an insincere person. Squash that fear. Answer the questions Tony has been patiently placing before you.

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JS Allen July 9, 2010 at 9:26 am

@HermesProphetOfMoroni – I missed the part where you responded to my refutation of your retarded “no chance of an afterlife” argument.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 9:49 am

You didn’t offer one. You offered an assertion and then did not come through with evidence in support of that assertion. That’s why I switched to asking very simple questions; ones you were not able to load up with as many presumptions.

So, my last message applies. If we live in the same reality, why not look at it and let’s see if we can reach mutual conclusions? If we don’t, why talk to a phantom like me?

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 9:52 am

Do you want to start by answering Tony Hoffman’s questions?

Don’t let me distract you from that more immediate task.

If you do, then I’ll be glad to return to your earlier comments and any evidence you offer in support of them.

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JS Allen July 9, 2010 at 10:12 am

@HermesProphetOfMoroni — I don’t understand. Could you please write a few more wordy posts to make everything clear? With all of those words, it’s almost possible for people to forget your intellectual deficit and general evasiveness.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 10:31 am

Tony Hoffman’s questions still await you.

My offer to address your comments+evidence is still on the table, but it would be unfair to allow you to have an out from his questions since he’s been so patient.

As for baiting me, consider this;

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

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Tony Hoffman July 9, 2010 at 10:37 am

Hermes,

Thanks for advocating for my questions, but it’s not like I’m waiting with bated breath or anything. If JS Allen can provide support for his prior positions I’ll gladly accept that Carrier has done what JS accuses him of. If not, I’m happy to let JS’s hand-waving remain what it is — the indication of his argument’s strength.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

Tony, as it should be.

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Atheist.pig July 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Hermes

Along those lines;

Father Reginald Foster

Lol, close enough, thats my type of Catholic.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Atheist.pig: Lol, close enough, thats my type of Catholic.

Growing up, I thought they were all like that. After all, my attitude was, nobody can really believe that stuff! Oops!

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Eric July 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Al –

Very enlightening. It looks like I’ll have to do some research and re-post a response later. At he very least, Carrier can be criticized for constantly sourcing his article, which is a $34 purchase from Springer, instead of primary sourcing some of his abiogenesis his claims, or even elaborating on them. Of course Wood also, at the very least, can be criticized for failing to note that Carrier did provide sources for his claims, which Wood claims he didn’t (a lie.) Of course, what is frustrating about Wood is that he very rarely sources his claims either, not even a secondary source (like Carrier). It may be that Wood may actually have one valid criticism of Carrier, among a whole list of invalid ones. Of course this does not excuse the rest of his review which, as Luke Says, “is one of the most astonishingly deceptive and untrustworthy I have ever seen.””

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JS Allen July 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm

@Thomas – Since Carrier didn’t bother responding to the specific theodicy Lewis put forth in the essay that Carrier cited, I wonder if you would care to? What’s your response to:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies … Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Do you have more context you wish to add for the quote you keep repeating?

The last sentence seems to be tacked on and doesn’t follow from the ones before it. Kinda like “I like ice cream; it’s delicious. … Farmers don’t know everything about growing plants.”

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Cafeeine July 9, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Here’s the passage with the omitted parts:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not existin other words, that the whole of reality was senseless, I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality -namely my idea of justice- was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.
If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Cafeeine, thanks.

FWIW, I’m mostly interested in what JS Allen personally sees as critical additions or context. The limited quote seems to be an inspiration or to be perfect to JS.A., but to me it is lacking.

Besides, I could guess what JS.A. means, yet if I’m wrong it will only lead (rightly) to JS.A. telling me that I’m misrepresenting things.

If necessary, I’ll take up mind reading but I’d like to give JS.A.’s actual thoughts a fair review, not what I suppose might be so based on faith. If it comes to that, though, it’s not going to be from a lack of asking. At that point, if it comes to that, I can’t be blamed for not actually being psychic.

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JS Allen July 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm

@Hermes – The question wasn’t directed at you. Did you just accidentally out yourself as a sock puppet?

My question for you still stands. After the angel Moroni told you that it’s impossible for purely physical beings to ever be reconstructed through physical means, did you just take his word for it? Or did you run some experiments in your woo-woo lab? I guess woo-woo could be a good explanation for why physical beings can never be reconstructed.

I like ice cream, too, BTW. In the time since you posted about ice cream, I read “Derrida, An Egyptian” and posted a review. I find Sloterdjik way more interesting that ice cream, though that’s of equally dubious relevance.

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Eneasz July 9, 2010 at 5:49 pm

If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?

Ya know, this seems like a uniquely christian view-point. There are no atheists I know (and very few I even know OF) who would say the whole show is bad and senseless from A to Z. “Creation is corrupt and all humans are full of sin and evil” is a rather sick concept, and one I find it hard to believe most people would come to without extensive indoctrination.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm

JS Allen: The question wasn’t directed at you.

OK.

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Hermes July 9, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Eneasz, agreed. Very little grey.

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Hermes July 10, 2010 at 4:51 am

JS Allen, so, was all that babble yet another Vizzini-style distraction; “Hey, what in the world can that be?”

The accusation of hand waving has been brought. Do you want to address it?

Last chance, then I’ll treat it like the albatross around your neck that it seems to resemble. Your bird; You kill it, you wear it.

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JS Allen July 10, 2010 at 9:32 am

@Hermes – Don’t flatter yourself. You’re nothing like Vizzini. You’re not even a good troll, and you believe in woo-woo physics.

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Hermes July 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I’m flattered that you attempt to steal some of my own lines both now and from earlier conversations. You do it poorly, of course, but that’s OK. Everyone has to learn from somewhere.

So, you’ve decided that the bird is the word; you’ve got nothing but hand waving and think you can fly with that. Great. Such confidence makes me happy. Happier yet if you would drop your anger and be civil, but if that’s your core nature so be it.

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Hermes July 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm

JS Allen, this is related to our tussles and tendencies to talk past each other defensively;

http://camelswithhammers.com/2010/07/10/the-shifting-sands-of-evidence-argument-why-religious-arguments-fail-to-persuade

Specifically, ~1:15-2:30 in the second video. St. Anselm is referenced as is WLC and others.

Source: ProfMTH

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Hermes July 10, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Along the lines of the ProfMTH reference, if you one day determine that it was more likely than not that there are no incorporeal aspects of a person’s awareness, would that realization fundamentally undermine your religious or theistic beliefs?

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Patrick July 11, 2010 at 11:12 pm

In a paper entitled “Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural“ (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mark_vuletic/ntse.html) Mark I. Vuletic wrote:

“A supernaturalistic methodology, of course, need not rely upon a non-empirical means of discovery of phenomena, as long as it assigns on average a higher prima facie probability to supernaturalistic explanations than it does to naturalistic ones. The methodological naturalist may object to this type of methodology on grounds that, in tending to seize upon supernatural forces and entities, the methodological supernaturalist is likely to posit far more entities in the universe than actually exist. This objection, however, only holds force if there is already good reason to believe that the universe is naturalistic – the methodological supernaturalist may just as easily say that the methodological naturalist, in lending too little prima facie possibility to the existence of supernatural forces and entities, will end up positing far fewer entities in the universe than actually exist. And it cannot be the case that the hypothesis that accounts for observations with fewer entities is always the more parsimonious one, otherwise naturalists should be far more hospitable to the suggestion by Wheeler and Feynman that there may be only one electron in the universe, which appears to be many because it zig-zags back and forth through time as well as space. …

Finally, I want to note the existence of a class of supernaturalistic methodologies that overlap almost perfectly with methodological naturalism. These, I will classify under the name of “methodological deism” – the practice of employing the kind of methodology a deist would use to fulfill the goals of science. … So such methodologies would entail the seeking of naturalistic explanations when dealing with anything except the origin of the universe, and the seeking of supernaturalistic explanations when dealing with the origin of the universe. So for a person working in any field except for cosmology, methodological deism and methodological naturalism will be identical, because both rely upon empirical investigations and an initial search for naturalistic explanations in just about every subject investigated. Hence, the two methodologies have exactly the same virtues in most areas, and in the realm of cosmology methodological deism will have the same potential virtues that the previous class of supernaturalistic methodologies we examined have. …”

If in this text “deism” is replaced by “Christian theism”, “deist” by “Christian theist”, “origin of the universe” by “origin of the universe and the origin of life”, “cosmology” by “cosmology and research on the origin of life” and “in the realm of cosmology” by “in the realm of cosmology and with respect to research on the origin of life”, aren’t the statements still true? If the question is answered in the affirmative isn’t a methodological Christian theism as justified as a MN and a God of the gaps as justified as a naturalism of the gaps?

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Patrick July 11, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Al Moritz wrote that the early scientists were driven by the desire to investigate “the order and harmony in God’s creation”. That the universe functions in a predictable way according to some fixed “laws” is indeed a Biblical concept, which can be seen from the following references: Psalm 148,3-6, Jeremiah 31,35-36, 33,25-26. So at least some sort of methodological naturalism is consistent with the Biblical worldview.

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Hermes July 12, 2010 at 4:31 am

Patrick, that Christians often use deism as a placeholder for Christianity on multiple levels really should not be a shock. It’s a type of religious schizophrenia.

Additionally, earlier I mentioned that one of your own links — http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/god5.htm — actually dealt with intercessory prayer in some detail.

Did you review your own link and the document that was attached to it?

If you did, do you agree that there is no evidence at present in support of intercessory prayer? If you do not agree, what evidence do you offer?

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Hermes July 12, 2010 at 4:39 am

Patrick, irt. fixed laws, making an assertion is fine but when the same text violates the assertion on the level of the facts, it is possible that you’re encountering the broken clock principle.

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Hermes July 12, 2010 at 5:30 am

Patrick, additionally, the passages you cited don’t directly support your contention.

Psalm 148:3-6

Jeremiah 31:35-36

Jeremiah 33:25-26

None of those passages do anything but assert that a deity created things and moves things around and that it should be worshiped. That is hardly ‘some sort of naturalism’.

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Eric July 12, 2010 at 9:10 am

When I look at the logic from early natural philosophers, I can’t help but question the so-called deductive logic they use. For instance, Newton posited that, since God was lawful, the universe must also be lawful. Obviously though this view had not been held by Christians for the past thousand years. However, one could derive a completely wrong conclusion using similar deductive logic. For instance, a Theist could conclude that, sine the Bible said God began by creating the Heavens and the Earth (and that the stars and Sun were created later) the earth must therefore be central to our universe. And what we now call “space” must really be the heavens. It should come as no surprise that this was the predominant view for Christianity’s first 1500 years (Aristotelian Cosmos). As we should also be able to tell, ancient civilizations ALSO could tell that certain universal laws existed. I get the idea that these “theological justifications” were merely used after these laws had been discovered to help justify them to a religious public (as well as themselves). Newton himself was a theologian and I doubt he could hold onto such views of the universe unless he had theological justifications. Strangely enough, Newton’s ideas of natural law would imply that anything that God ever did to the world would be through natural law. So as a result, everything could be studied via MN. However, this did cause a few contradictions (Ex: Newton’s views of the stability of the universe).
Personally, under a Theistic assumption of God, I don’t see how one can assume a naturalistic cause to anything. How would you know you are not just spinning your wheels trying to find a naturalistic cause to something that is inherently supernatural in origin? I would think doubts like that would significantly deter motivation to seek scientific explanations of unexplained phenomena. However, a metaphysical naturalist would never lose motivation to stop searching.

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Hermes July 12, 2010 at 9:35 am

Eric, a good read. Thanks!

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Patrick July 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Hermes,

according to the Biblical worldview there are “fixed laws of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33,25, NIV). The assumption that nature functions in a predictable way according to “laws” is a basis for MN. This means that at least for some fields of science, especially astronomy and physics, a MN is consistent with the Biblical worldview.

I don’t see where the text violates the assertion that there are fixed laws. Your link to the broken clock principle isn’t helpful for me in this respect.

As for the efficacy of intercessory prayer I think there is plenty of evidence for it. One such case is even mentioned in the link you call my attention to.

The arguments against the efficacy of intercessory prayer in the link didn’t go unnoticed. But I don’t find them convincing. At best they are a challenge to Christian theism, but not to supernaturalism in general.

Besides, in my opinion it’s not at all clear that amputees never have been healed. I know of no such case, but this doesn’t mean that somewhere at some time in the past such a healing didn’t happen. But even if in fact such a healing never has happened, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen in the future.

But even if it was true that God doesn’t heal amputees, this doesn’t necessarily refute Christian theism. Maybe God has reasons not to heal amputees. Of course one can only speculate what such reasons could be.

The outcome of studies about the efficacy of intercessory prayer doesn’t bother me, as they obviously didn’t take into account the Biblical guidelines for effective prayer. Moreover as according to the Bible answers to prayers are the result of a free action of a personal supernatural agent, namely God, it is quite uncertain if scientific studies, whose objects of research are impersonal natural objects or forces, can arrive at conclusive results. Maybe for an investigation of such claims the historical method is more appropriate than the scientific method.

As for deism, the paper about MN and the supernatural was not written by a Christian, but, as far as I can see, by an atheist. The point I want to make is that if a methodological deism is regarded as a justified point of view, this should also apply to what I call “methodological Christian theism”.

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Hermes July 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

The ‘fixed laws’ aren’t backed by anything except the assertion. The Bible, contrary to that, mentions such zingers as bats being birds, insects with 4 legs, and the general structure of the universe. The only reason it’s mentioned as fixed is that it’s a dogmatic position — abstracted from reality based on religious demands — not because it has anything to do with naturalism or an actual investigation of reality.

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Hermes July 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm

As for deism, the paper about MN and the supernatural was not written by a Christian, but, as far as I can see, by an atheist. The point I want to make is that if a methodological deism is regarded as a justified point of view, this should also apply to what I call “methodological Christian theism”.

I know. The point I made was that there is a strong deistic tendency in Christianity that is in direct conflict with other parts. It’s situational and flippant.

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Eric July 12, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Jeremiah 33:23-26 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “Have you not noticed that these people are saying, ‘The LORD has rejected the two kingdoms he chose’? So they despise my people and no longer regard them as a nation. This is what the LORD says: ‘If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes [b] and have compassion on them.’ “

I am not convinced that these “fixed laws” are the laws of nature. They may be the law’s set up for the Israelites. And even if you suppose these laws refer to natural laws, there’s no indication that these laws are shared between the heavens (space) and the earth, which was a key principle of Newtonian Physics. They could be a completely different set of laws, which is what people of the Aristotelian worldview believed. It’s selective interpretation at best.


Besides, in my opinion it’s not at all clear that amputees never have been healed. I know of no such case, but this doesn’t mean that somewhere at some time in the past such a healing didn’t happen. But even if in fact such a healing never has happened, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen in the future.

Replace a few words and see if this makes sense:


Besides, in my opinion it’s not at all clear dogs have ever breathed fire. I know of no such case, but this doesn’t mean that somewhere at some time in the past such an event didn’t happen. But even if in fact such an event never has happened, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t happen in the future.

One could use this argument for nearly any ridiculous assertion they could come up with…


As for deism, the paper about MN and the supernatural was not written by a Christian, but, as far as I can see, by an atheist. The point I want to make is that if a methodological deism is regarded as a justified point of view, this should also apply to what I call “methodological Christian theism”.

I disagree. Notice when he says “such methodologies would entail the seeking of naturalistic explanations when dealing with anything except the origin of the universe, and the seeking of supernaturalistic explanations when dealing with the origin of the universe. So for a person working in any field except for cosmology, methodological deism and methodological naturalism will be identical”
Notice how he specifically excludes the origin of the universe. This is because Deists believe that since God is a perfect creator, he would never have to interfere with the workings of his creation, just as a perfect clockmaker who built a perfect clock would never have to interfere with its function. As a result, Deists must assume that ALL phenomena have naturalistic explanations, except for the origin of the universe. A Christian theist by definition believes God can interfere with the natural laws of the universe (eq. Miracles), so there is no guarantee that any given event is natural in origin. So to replace “methodological deism” with “methodological Christian theism” would defeat the entire purpose of what Mark I. Vuletic was saying.

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Eric July 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm

The passage of Jeremiah is so vague as to what these laws really are. Could these laws be along the lines of: “all things move to seek their proper purpose and place in creation” (Aristotelian worldview)? Do the heavens and the earth share the same laws? Are these laws mathematical?
The discovery of modern science was the discovery that these laws are Mechanical in nature, can be expressed mathematically using calculus, and are followed everywhere on earth, and in space(and in artificial situations, like experiments). To say these laws are supproted in the bible is, like I said before, selective interpretation.

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Tony Hoffman July 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm

I have been busy but I just wanted to revisit this thread to wrap up what I think is so wrong with Al, JS Allen, et al’s complaints about Carrier’s essay.

In a nutshell, it appears that the complaint from Al is:

Al says, “No Christians would ever identify themselves with such implied claims that essentially we should have something like Heaven on Earth, a life with no suffering, a super-obvious God etc. He [Carrier] makes a caricature of Christianity, and then demolishes that strawman.”

Well, the strawman that Carrier conjures is of a God who is meaningful, who matters, in our lives, and who does the things that are attributed to him. What I think that Al and others are saying is that precisely because Carrier’s portrayal of the Christian God is meaningful, it is a strawman.

God is all good and all powerful, unless he isn’t. God is all knowing, but he shares none of this insight with us. You’re right Al and JS, I can see where you think that Carrier’s generous interpretation of the Christian God’s powers is a strawman. The Christian God is meant to be meaningless, and it is Carrier’s mistake to write an essay that should insist otherwise.

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JS Allen July 12, 2010 at 5:34 pm

@Tony – Where did I ever say that Carrier’s interpretation of the Christian God’s powers is a straw man? Please provide citations. The tag you can use is called “blockquote”.

It might be a straw man, but I certainly never said so. Do you even know what “straw man” means? Perhaps you could set up a straw man against me to demonstrate that you know what it means. Oh, wait…

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Tony Hoffman July 12, 2010 at 5:51 pm

JS, you might have a valid point buried somewhere in here, but I still can’t find it. If you’re right about what makes you so passionate you should do all of us (and yourself) the favor of making a supported argument.

Al Moritz, at this point I apologize for lumping you and JS Allen into the same group.

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JS Allen July 12, 2010 at 6:56 pm

@Tony – If you can’t find any arguments that I made, then why did you feel compelled to respond (and worse, to invent arguments for me)? Did it ever occur to you that not every comment is an “argument”?

It was pretty lame of you to invent arguments to attribute to me, and I’m glad you had the decency to apologize.

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Hermes July 12, 2010 at 7:07 pm
Patrick July 12, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Hermes and Eric,

I’m not suggesting that the Old Testament passages I refer to describe Newtonian Physics in all its details, but that there might have been a concept of fixed unalterable laws of nature. Of course it is rather unlikely that Newtonian Physics would be found in the Old Testament. But even an Aristotelian worldview, according to which “all things move to seek their proper purpose and place in creation” could serve as a basis for a MN, as according to this worldview nature functions in a predictable way. As to the question of whether or not the original word translated as “law” refers to the laws of nature one might find an answer in scholarly commentaries on these Bible texts.

To me it is not at all clear that a Christian theist must believe that God can interfere with the natural laws of the universe. David Hume’s definition of a miracle as a violation of natural laws is not found in the Bible. In fact, there are miracles described in the Bible that clearly don’t violate any natural law (e.g., Matthew 17,24-27, Luke 5,1-11). But even with respect to miracles that appear as a violation of natural laws, this isn’t necessarily a justified conclusion. This can be seen from the passage about Satan encouraging Jesus to throw Himself down from the highest point of the temple (Matthew 4,5-6). That it would not result in injury or even death is not because God would suspend the law of gravity but that He would help Jesus by sending angels to come for His aid.

Besides, for all I know, according to modern physics in black holes the laws of nature are suspended. (I may be wrong, as I’m not an expert in physics. Maybe there is such an expert, who can confirm or refute this statement.) If it is true that even in our natural world the laws of nature can cease to be effective, why shouldn’t it be possible for God to suspend such laws?

Finally the question whether or not God can or wants to heal amputees is certainly a quite interesting issue, but here it is rather irrelevant. Even if there are no such cases documented cases there are other well-documented cases of healings following intense intercessory prayer. To me this counts as evidence for the efficacy of intercessory prayer.

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Eric July 13, 2010 at 3:56 am


But even an Aristotelian worldview, according to which “all things move to seek their proper purpose and place in creation” could serve as a basis for a MN

The Aristotelian worldview would not work with MN. “all things move to seek their proper purpose and place in creation” is an example of final cause. How do you get MN from this?


To me it is not at all clear that a Christian theist must believe that God can interfere with the natural laws of the universe.

The examples you gave may not clearly be direct violations of natural law, but they are violations in regards to methodological naturalism. In other words, if someone were impregnated supernaturally, like Mary in Matthew, and a scientist were to investigate it, they would just be spinning their wheels if they used MN. So if a theist believes it is possible for an event like this to happen, what is their motivation to use MN.

Even if there are no such cases documented cases there are other well-documented cases of healing following intense intercessory prayer. To me this counts as evidence for the efficacy of intercessory prayer.

There are “well documented” cases of alien abductions, rods, big-foot sightings, diseases being cured with acupuncture, orbs, etc… Is this really evidence for any of these things? I really wonder if any of these cases really stand up to critical examination… Either way, I think you proved our other point with this example. Because you have decided that prayer, something supernatural, is responsible for these healings, you have no motivation to continue to investigate to see if there may be a natural explanation. You have effectively closed your mind to any number of possible testable natural explanations. A metaphysical naturalist (or a metaphysical deist) would see no reason to “give up” investigating and call this prayer.

Nearly this entire string of posts on this discussion should show why methodological naturalism is most compatible with metaphysical naturalism. “Supernaturalists” complain that metaphysical naturalists only assume natural explanations for any given phenomena. There are examples of this all up and down this discussion! So I ask the “supernaturalist,” why would you have the motivation to use Methodological Naturalism when you can’t be sure you are not just spinning your wheels?

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Eric July 13, 2010 at 3:57 am

screwed up my html on that last post, sorry. lol

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Hermes July 13, 2010 at 5:52 am

Still, a good reply once I untangled it!

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Hermes July 13, 2010 at 6:11 am

Finally the question whether or not God can or wants to heal amputees is certainly a quite interesting issue, but here it is rather irrelevant. Even if there are no such cases documented cases there are other well-documented cases of healings following intense intercessory prayer. To me this counts as evidence for the efficacy of intercessory prayer.

The whole why won’t god heal amputees issue is to point out that the Christian Bible says one thing, and looking at reality we see another. This is telling.

==> IMPORTANT: It’s NOT exclusively an instance of dealing with the problem of evil. In the amputee example, the POE is actually irrelevant. If you strip the POE out entirely, a serious problem still remains for Christians. The Bible is unreliable as a resource for dealing with reality. That’s the point. <==

That amputees aren’t getting healed left and right is the issue. That they aren’t getting healed at all only makes that silence all the more defining. The issue is the reliability of the Christian religious text when compared to reality.

Specifically;

1. The Christian Bible has promises in it.
2. The promises are said to be kept in ambiguous situations.
3. The promises are not kept in unambiguous situations, such as but not limited to amputees.

The potential conclusions are;

1. The book is wrong, but the Christian deity exists.
2. The book was right, but the Christian deity no longer honors the book though it could.
3. The book was right, but the Christian deity no longer honors the book because it can’t.
4. The book is not relevant to the questions it raises because the Christian deity doesn’t exist.
5. The book is not relevant the the questions it raises because some other deity or deities exist, not the Christian one.

Source: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=6882.msg155228#msg155228

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Hermes July 13, 2010 at 6:14 am

Patrick, here is part of the WWGHA web site book that you linked to before;

You can see that the amputee experiment reframes our conversation. No longer are we talking about “religion” or “faith” or “God’s existence”. What we are talking about here is the basic human ability to process factual information. Jesus makes a number of promises about prayer in the Bible:

* If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. [Matthew 21:21]

* If you ask anything in my name, I will do it. [John 14:14]

* Ask, and it will be given you. [Matthew 7:7]

* Nothing will be impossible to you. [Matthew 17:20]

* Believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. [Mark 11:24]

Are Jesus’ promises true or false? By looking at amputees we can see that they are false. Jesus/God never answer prayers to spontaneously restore lost limbs, despite the promises in the Bible.

If you are a believer, and if this is the first time you have thought about the situation faced by amputees seriously, you may have a set of rationalizations and excuses swirling through your head right now. Let’s examine them one by one.

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Hermes July 13, 2010 at 6:20 am

WWGHA references;

* Web site book – http://whywontgodhealamputees.com

* Web site forum – http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php

* Short videos by the author of the WWGHA book – http://www.youtube.com/user/GIIVideo

I post under the same name here as I do in the WWGHA forum.

* * *

Extras;

* Blog – http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/blog

* Comics – http://godisimaginary.com/comics

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Hermes July 13, 2010 at 6:31 am

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Patrick July 13, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Eric,

you may be right that the Aristotelian worldview would not work with MN. But for me as a Christian theist this is irrelevant, as the Bible clearly doesn’t contain the Aristotelian worldview.

You wrote: “The examples you gave may not clearly be direct violations of natural law, but they are violations in regards to methodological naturalism.“

This is a self-refuting statement. If the examples are not violations of natural law, a MN is admissible.

Your reference to supernatural impregnation doesn’t count as an argument, as this example belongs to the field of biology. I argue that in some fields of science such as astronomy, physics or chemistry a MN is consistent with the Biblical worldview whereas in biology this is not or may not be the case.

As for the examples of “well documented” cases of different phenomena, if they are really well documented and not only supposedly well documented then in my opinion there is evidence for their existence. If that’s how things are they may also stand up to critical examination.

Supernatural explanations may indeed serve as a science stopper, but from this you can’t draw any conclusions about their truth.

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Eric July 13, 2010 at 7:11 pm


You wrote: “The examples you gave may not clearly be direct violations of natural law, but they are violations in regards to methodological naturalism.“

This is a self-refuting statement. If the examples are not violations of natural law, a MN is admissible.

Perhaps you misunderstood me. when i say “direct violations of natural law”, I mean obvious violations, such as obvious suspension of natural law. perhaps I should have used the word “obvious” rather than “direct.” Basically, in the instance of the Devil telling Jesus that angels will save him. A natural law will be broken. Which natural law though depends on the nature of the story. Would these angels not be material? If they arent material, this would at least break laws of force and momentum. Jesus is slowed down to a slower velocity despite the existence of any substance pushing back against him. If they were to be material, then their creation would violate the law of conservation of mass and energy. If they were made of already existing matter, then the energy which caused this matter to combine into an angel would be have to be created thereby once again violating the laws of the conservation of energy… And so on… So you see, no matter how far back you go, SOME natural law will be broken in order for angels to come down and save Jesus from plunging to his death. Exactly what natural law(s) is/are broken depends on the nature of the situation.


Your reference to supernatural impregnation doesn’t count as an argument, as this example belongs to the field of biology. I argue that in some fields of science such as astronomy, physics or chemistry a MN is consistent with the Biblical worldview whereas in biology this is not or may not be the case.

right… so it sounds as if only certain areas of science are compatible with MN… This is interesting because it sounds as if you are cherry-picking which scientific fields should be compatible with MN. So you are conceding that, with biology, someone with a metaphysical naturalist “worldview” would be more compatible with MN than someone who believes in the supernatural? So why just biology? already with your example from John, you show an example where the laws of physics are broken. What about the fine-tuning of the universe? Could that not be within the realm of physics? Do Physicists who believe God fine-tuned the universe for life ever try to find a potential natural explanation for why these constants are the way they are? Or do they just say “God did it” and stop there?


Supernatural explanations may indeed serve as a science stopper, but from this you can’t draw any conclusions about their truth.

This was not my argument. My argument was that MN is most compatible with metaphysical naturalism and a super naturalist would always have to question themselves on whether or not they were just “spinning their wheels” when using MN? And a metaphysical naturalist would have more motivation to investigate using MN because that is the only way they believe scientific claims can be investigated. If you think that God created the first lifeform then why would you have the motivation to investigate any possible natural causes for this?

Case In Point:
Take this article over the discovery, in 2006, of how bees fly:

“Proponents of intelligent design, or ID, have tried in recent years to promote the idea of a supreme being by discounting science because it can’t explain everything in nature.”

Do you think ID proponents would EVER have tried to figure out how bees flew?

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Hermes July 13, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Eric, very sharp comments. Thanks.

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Patrick July 14, 2010 at 12:48 am

Hermes,

unanswered prayers as such are not a problem for Christian theism, as according to the Bible for a prayer to be answered certain conditions must be met (Psalm 66,18-19, Isaiah 1,15, Luke 18,1-8, John 15,7, James 1,6-7, 4,2-3, 1 Peter 3,7, 1 John 5,14-15). In fact there is at least one example of an unanswered prayer in the Bible; it can be found in 2 Corinthians 12,7-9.

I gave two examples of people who were prayed for and who were healed from diseases that are regarded as incurable. So there is evidence for the efficacy of intercessory prayer. As for the claim that God doesn’t heal amputees no such evidence is presented. As far as I can see not one case is mentioned where an amputee who had been prayed for was not healed.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 4:11 am

Patrick, the Christian Bible being unreliable and contradictory is the problem. That you can cite other verses doesn’t make the troublesome ones vanish. It’s your book, not mine. They remain your problems, not my problems.

Do you want to actually address the verses I provided references to? How about the last video on prayer being a superstition?

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Tony Hoffman July 14, 2010 at 5:03 am

“As for the claim that God doesn’t heal amputees no such evidence is presented. As far as I can see not one case is mentioned where an amputee who had been prayed for was not healed.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Christian mind.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 5:22 am

Every time I see it, I’m still amazed that they don’t see it themselves.

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Patrick July 14, 2010 at 5:25 am

Eric,

in my opinion explanations concerning the ability of object or animals to fly belong to the field of physics. I don’t expect there to be a supernatural explanation for the bees’ ability to fly. Another matter is the question how animals acquired this ability.

Regarding the example of angels preventing a person to plunge to death I certainly take the view that angels are immaterial beings. I must admit that my knowledge about the nature and abilities of supernatural beings is very limited, so I don’t know and maybe nobody knows whether or not their interference with the physical world violates any natural law. But I also must admit that I’m not an expert in physics, so I can’t say whether or not your objection is justified.

As for the compatibility between a MN and the Biblical worldview maybe I should reformulate my argument as follows:

A MN is consistent with the Biblical worldview except for the research on the origin of the universe (see Genesis 1,1), the origin of life (see Genesis 2,7) and the origin of species (see Genesis 1,11-12, 1,20-21, 1,24-25).

It is quite interesting that MN has been very successful except for the research on the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of species. Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 5:38 am

Patrick, to emphasize what I’ve already written;

If the Bible is correct,
amputees getting restored limbs
and other supernatural miracles
should be as plentiful as confetti
on the sidewalk after a parade.

A look at reality shows this is not the case,
thus the Bible and any conclusions in it
can not be used as a reliable guide to reality.

Source: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=11263.msg253045#msg253045

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 5:40 am

Patrick, you did it again;

Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.

Do you really not see the problem with that and the one Tony pointed out a little while ago?

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Eric July 14, 2010 at 9:45 am


Regarding the example of angels preventing a person to plunge to death I certainly take the view that angels are immaterial beings. I must admit that my knowledge about the nature and abilities of supernatural beings is very limited, so I don’t know and maybe nobody knows whether or not their interference with the physical world violates any natural law. But I also must admit that I’m not an expert in physics, so I can’t say whether or not your objection is justified.

Newton’s First Law of motion:
“A body acted on by no net force moves with constant velocity and zero acceleration”(pg 111*)
In other words, if Jesus were “falling”, he would remain at constant velocity, except:

Newtons Second Law of Motion:
“If a net force acts on a body, the body accelerates…” (p117*)
The Force of gravity would obviously cause Jesus to accelerate and the force of friction from the wind resistance would cause him to decelerate. Since the force of gravity will necessarily be a lot higher than the force of wind resistance until Jesus hits terminal velocity, which would be somewhere around 100 mph. In order for Jesus to slow down enough to avoid going “splat” on the ground, there would have to be an opposing force (F=ma) equal and opposite that of gravity. Since the angels are not matter, they have no mass. So clearly this would violate Newton’s second law. I don’t think there is a need to demonstrate how it would violate the laws of momentum, or any other law I could think of, lol. This is all high school physics 101 and easily verifiable.


It is quite interesting that MN has been very successful except for the research on the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of species.

Seriously? There is an amazingly sound theory of evolution to explain the Origin of the Species. New evidence for the origin of life surfaces everyday. And the big-bang theory explains quite a bit about the origin of our universe, to a certain point. And more and more evidence is leading cosmologists to believe we live in a flat universe, which does not require energy to “come into existence.” So I’m afraid I’m going to have to strongly disagree with you. However, I’m afraid this is conversation is going to get painful if I seriously have to explain all of this to you…

* – Young And Freedman, University Physics, 12th ED, Pearson, 2008

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Eric July 14, 2010 at 9:52 am


in my opinion explanations concerning the ability of object or animals to fly belong to the field of physics. I don’t expect there to be a supernatural explanation for the bees’ ability to fly. Another matter is the question how animals acquired this ability.

The point of that example was to show how super naturalists (IDers in this case) constantly dogged on MN because “science couldn’t explain how bees fly.” This was one area where IDers thought MN had failed. Because MN minded scientists continued to search for a natural explanation, they found it! I think it’s safe to say the IDers would have NEVER figure it out because they had no motivation to search and study.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm

JS A., your concession is noted; there are no positive pieces of evidence in support of an incorporeal afterlife. I’m glad we could resolve that without name calling, even if it is only through your silence.

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JS Allen July 14, 2010 at 4:05 pm

@Hermes – You made a very strong claim about the impossibility of an afterlife: No souls, no way to get to an afterlife. You utterly failed to defend that claim of impossibility, and in fact did most of the work of proving that an afterlife is, indeed, possible.

I notice that you stopped linking that post after I refuted it with one sentence. That’s smart of you, since it was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read, and linking to it did not help your reputation.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 5:37 pm

[ Fantastic! You're back! ]

Now now, you can’t win by mere assertion. What *positive* *evidence* do you have for an incorporeal soul? Not abstractions. Actual evidence.

Note that while I did not have to, I did attempt to provide evidence for the negative claim that there is no such thing as incorporeal souls. Even you you agreed, as did others in the past, that 9 of the points I made were generally or entirely correct.

Yet, what do we have?

Me with my pile against the contention that there are incorporeal souls. You with an abstraction unsupported by evidence that there might be one.

If that’s OK enough for you to say because I have not ruled out every possibility, then that’s fine. We can stop. I have not ruled out quite a few possibilities.

Please don’t make the same mistake that Patrick made with his demons and disease and unsupported potential cured amputees that might be hiding somewhere. Lack of evidence doesn’t make a claim plausible.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Your turn.

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JS Allen July 14, 2010 at 6:03 pm

@Hermes – I was only refuting your argument about “no possibility of an afterlife”. I’m a materialist, remember?

There is no positive evidence that a person’s consciousness and intentionality can be wholly reduced to the physical. It’s never been proven. All prominent materialists admit that it’s not been done. I think it will be done, but it hasn’t been done yet. If you don’t believe it without positive evidence, you’re not allowed to call yourself a materialist.

Once we prove that a person’s consciousness and intentionality can be reduced wholly to the physical, we are faced with the insurmountable task of proving that a person’s consciousness can never be recomposed from the physical. You claim to have proven that it can never be done. I assume you needed a woo-woo laboratory to prove it, or revelation from Moroni, since you’ve not offered any other proof. Proving that a person’s consciousness is wholly composed of the material is tantamount to proving that an afterlife is possible. What, exactly, do you think would prevent a person’s consciousness from being recomposed physically? Do people become dualist when they die? Does some magic woo prevent them from being recomposed? Were you not surprised at this magical result you claim to have obtained?

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 6:09 pm

I’m *not* a materialist or a naturalist.

I’ve also been explicit at every point that I’m only talking about incorporeal souls.

I have *not* claimed that there is no way that could not be made to recompose someone’s corporeal soul in another package. I’m not even addressing that tangent, and honestly I’m not even interested in it either way.

So, what were you arguing against? :-/

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JS Allen July 14, 2010 at 6:18 pm

You’re not being totally honest. Your stated goal was not to prove that there is no incorporeal soul, your stated goal was to prove that there is “no way to get to an afterlife”. Your weird tangent about “incorporeal soul” was intended to prove “no way to get to an afterlife”.

How can anyone get to an afterlife if there is no such thing as an incorporeal soul? You can’t.

The problem is, by proving that there is no incorporeal soul, you proved that it’s not impossible to get to the afterlife.

I have *not* claimed that there is no way that could not be made to recompose someone’s corporeal soul in another package. I’m not even addressing that tangent, and honestly I’m not even interested in it either way.

If that’s the case, you can easily fix your post to remove the part about “no way to get to an afterlife”. Maybe make it say, “no way to get to an incorporeal afterlife”. That would be more consistent with what you’re saying here, and would actually be defensible.

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lukeprog July 14, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Hermes,

Lol, you have to repeat that you are not a naturalist once every 5 days, I think.

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JS Allen July 14, 2010 at 7:50 pm

@Hermes – BTW, when you revise your post to explain that you are only trying to disprove an incorporeal afterlife, you might want to mention that you’re disproving an afterlife nobody believes in.

Imagine that someone claims to have refuted the Christian heaven, the Muslim al-Qiyāmah, the Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation, and even the atheist singularity. As proof, this person offers … a refutation of Jack Handey’s “Pie Heaven” from “Saturday Night Live”. Even worse, imagine that this clown offers a refutation of an incorporeal afterlife.

At first, you might think he is a pretty clever prankster. You might even admire his prankishness. But then, when he insists that he’s not just talking about “Pie Heaven” or “incorporeal heaven”, you might get sick of the game and decide to call him a retard instead.

I hope that helps you understand where I’m coming from.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Lukeprog: Lol, you have to repeat that you are not a naturalist once every 5 days, I think.

Yep. It’s one club I don’t want to be beaten with. I’ve had enough with that, and it’s just an invented squabble by people who don’t have jack.

* * *

A further rant…

I can’t be responsible for the naturalists or physicalists or scientists or … whoever … if they happen to have stuff while the supernaturalists (an undefined wad of schmutz) tend to have no-thing.

The question I highlight with that insistence is a blunt one: What do the non-naturalists have? If they have something — even if it’s not an actual burnable thing — they are responsible for promoting that with evidence. The naturalists and others have done enough to show that they aren’t being dogmatic to acknowledge overwhelming reality.

I’m not responsible to promote or defend something that I really find is stunningly well supported and thus a non-issue to those who get it.

If evidence promotes some claims, the contrary unsupported claims that are backed only by assertions are meaningless. The unsupported ones have not merited consideration. They have to get their own stuff. If they lack it, then where am I responsible to take the assertions seriously? Where’s the merit to their vapid arguments?

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

JS Allen: Maybe make it say, “no way to get to an incorporeal afterlife”. That would be more consistent with what you’re saying here, and would actually be defensible.

The one follows the other. Right?

As for your second post, I am further confused that you aren’t aware about claims of incorporeal realms. Maybe you should talk with Patrick and ask him if he thinks that there is are incorporeal souls? I’ve talked to dozens of Christians on this issue, and very few support anything but incorporeal souls. Maybe that’s the disconnect? You support a more esoteric version, and I’m addressing the more common one?

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 9:12 pm

JS Allen, I hope that this addresses your confusion.

This is a non-issue.

Can you take your intellectual prowess — something I acknowledge you have even while you are insulted by my other accurate comments — and apply it to something that actually matters? I see no need to beat you about the head on this one.

Maybe your efforts would be better focused on Patrick? Demons and a lack of actual healed amputees seems to be on the table for him. Why not address that illogical nonsense? I hold out hope no matter how cringeworthy his comments are; there is a possibility that he’ll get it if not now, maybe at some later date?

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JS Allen July 14, 2010 at 9:22 pm

The one follows the other. Right?

The claim of “No incorporeal soul; thus no afterlife” implies that incorporeal souls are required for any sort of afterlife. It’s only this that I’m protesting.

As for your second post, I am further confused that you aren’t aware about claims of incorporeal realms. Maybe you should talk with Patrick and ask him if he thinks that there is are incorporeal souls? I’ve talked to dozens of Christians on this issue, and very few support anything but incorporeal souls. Maybe that’s the disconnect? You support a more esoteric version, and I’m addressing the more common one?

It’s the “incorporeal afterlife” version that is esoteric; there is nothing common about it. I don’t doubt that you’ve talked to “dozens” of people on the Internet, but the creeds professed by all of the branches of Christianity insist on bodily resurrection. It’s essential doctrine. These creeds define who is allowed to call himself “Christian”, and cover 2.1 billion people, including Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and even Mormons. The first heresy that the Church stamped out was the heresy of an incorporeal heaven.

Add to that the views of Muslims and Hindus, and you have 4.5 billion people who insist on an afterlife that is not incorporeal. Surely these 4.5 billion people count for more than “dozens” on the Internet.

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JS Allen July 14, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Can you take your intellectual prowess — something I acknowledge you have even while you are insulted by my other accurate comments — and apply it to something that actually matters? I see no need to beat you about the head on this one.

If you’re letting this one go, and acknowledging that you weren’t really refuting the sort of afterlife that several billion people believe in, it could be terribly disappointing for me. Who then would I argue with?

Maybe your efforts would be better focused on Patrick? Demons and a lack of actual healed amputees seems to be on the table for him. Why not address that illogical nonsense?

When Christians start talking about an incorporeal heaven, it’s really easy to shut them down. Just ask what church they attend, then pull up their church’s doctrine statement on the Web and ask if they really believe what it says. Problem solved.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 9:51 pm

The claim of “No incorporeal soul; thus no afterlife”
implies that incorporeal souls are required for any sort of afterlife. It’s only this that I’m protesting.

Then there’s no argument.

As for the rest, ask Christians and others that cling to an afterlife. I rarely hear anything but an incorporeal version. Your assertions that it isn’t the case is really a strange one.

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Hermes July 14, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Let’s put this in perspective.

If someone says “afterlife”, do they really mean “extra life”?

Dragging the barrel, we get this from Wiki;

The afterlife (also referred to as life after death, the Hereafter or the Next World) is the idea that consciousness or the mind continues after the death of the body occurs, by natural or supernatural means. In many popular views, this continued existence often takes place in an immaterial or spiritual realm. Major views on the afterlife derive from religion, esotericism and metaphysics.

Deceased persons are usually believed to go to a specific plane of existence after death (other than eternal oblivion), typically believed to be determined by a god, based on their actions during physical life. In contrast, the term afterlife refers to another life in which only the “essence” of the being is preserved, and “reincarnation” is another life on Earth or possibly within the same universe.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterlife

Do you really want to continue with this?

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JS Allen July 14, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I rarely hear anything but an incorporeal version. Your assertions that it isn’t the case is really a strange one.

Hey, you can’t pin that on me alone. It’s part of the Apostle’s creed and every other major Christian creed.

Check what Wikipedia has to say:

In Platonic philosophy and other Greek philosophical thought, at death the soul was said to leave the inferior body behind. The idea that Jesus was resurrected spiritually rather than physically even gained popularity among some Christian teachers, whom the author of 1 John declared to be antichrists.

If Patrick believes that heaven is incorporeal, as you addressed in your post, you can call him an “antichrist”.

4.5 billion people believe in a physical afterlife. The article you linked clearly articulates the doctrine of Hindus and Christians, at a minimum, and the article I linked provides even more context. If you’re going to assert that belief in an incorporeal afterlife is common, I guess you need to define what “common” means.

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Patrick July 15, 2010 at 1:36 am

Eric,

as I’m not a scientist I don’t debate with you about scientific matters. But with respect to the topic of this thread, which is the question whether or not a naturalism of the gaps is justified, suffice it to say that there are still fields of scientific research in which despite long and thorough investigation no conclusive naturalistic explanations of natural phenomena could be presented. Once a PNM is accepted this counts as a justification for an equal treatment of supernatural and natural explanations of such phenomena. As a consequence a God of the gaps is as justified as a naturalism of the gaps.

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 4:35 am

That there were a few scriptural references for exceptions doesn’t make up for the current consensus. Besides, when you talk to a child about where Grandma went, what do you yourself tell them?

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 4:39 am

Note, when you say “4.5 billion people believe in a physical afterlife.” not only are you incorrect, you are leaving out quite a bit even; the transfer to the afterlife realm.

In either case, it’s all fairies and gnomes. No such method or place exists that we can go to. Agreed? :-}

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 4:41 am

Patrick, I’m waiting on you to address your earlier comments. Do you or do you not see any problems with what you wrote about demons and disease?

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Patrick July 15, 2010 at 5:10 am

Hermes,

you refer to the (alleged) scarcity of miracles nowadays as an argument against supernaturalism and Christian theism. To use your words “… supernatural miracles
 should be as plentiful as confetti
 on the sidewalk after a parade.“ How can one answer this criticism?

One way to do this is to question the statement that miracles are rare events. In fact on the website aiming at refuting supernatural claims you have referred to one can read the following statements (http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/god5.htm):

“On the Internet you can find thousands of testimonials to the many ways that God works in our lives today. Even large city newspapers and national magazines run stories about answered prayers. God seems to be interacting with our world and answering millions of prayers on planet Earth every day.”

Following these statements two such stories are presented and, interestingly, their genuineness is not called into question. Instead it is criticized that not a more impressive miracle occurs, namely a regeneration of limbs.

But let us for the sake of argument assume that there are indeed no or hardly any miracles occurring nowadays. Doesn’t this prove that the Christian God doesn’t exist?

Regarding this claim one can argue that for the scarcity of miracles Christianity itself is to be blamed. There has been a very popular doctrine in Christian theology called “Cessationism” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cessationism). In a nutshell this doctrine asserts that with the end of the apostolic era in the first century AD, the occurrence of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased.

This doctrine could have initiated a vicious circle regarding supernaturalism: As Christians believed that God would not work miracles after the apostolic era, because of their lack of faith no such miracle occurred, which in turn confirmed their conviction that no such miracle occurred in their days. As no such miracles occurred and Christians didn’t believe they could occur, other, less orthodox people arrived at the conclusion that God never worked miracles (deism) or that God or other supernatural beings don’t exist (atheism, naturalism).

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Patrick July 15, 2010 at 5:31 am

Hermes,

With respect to disease and demons I don’t see to what problem you refer. Could you tell me what exactly you would like me to explain?

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 5:38 am

Patrick: you refer to the (alleged) scarcity of miracles nowadays as an argument against supernaturalism and Christian theism. To use your words “… supernatural miracles
 should be as plentiful as confetti
 on the sidewalk after a parade.“

Not Christian theism, but the Christian religious texts. Unless you equate the two as being different parts of the same horse.

Patrick: How can one answer this criticism?

You can’t. That’s the point.

Two hearsay examples doesn’t cut it. The book’s still an unreliabl eguide to reality. That’s what the WWGHA link actually goes over in quite a bit of detail.

Patrick: But let us for the sake of argument assume that there are indeed no or hardly any miracles occurring nowadays. Doesn’t this prove that the Christian God doesn’t exist?

Depends. Do you need the book to be reliable? If not, then you can roll your own Christianity. Wait. Christians do that already regardless of what the book says, and you’ve demonstrated that yourself. Cessationism and whatever else you want only increases the list showing that the book has to require yet another external justification when reality shows up to contradict it.

Additionally, I’m waiting on a response for your comment on demons and disease.

Just so that you are clear on my perspective on this;

Demons? Are you friggen kidding me? Demons?

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 5:42 am

Patrick: With respect to disease and demons I don’t see to what problem you refer. Could you tell me what exactly you would like me to explain?

You wrote the following comments, and both Tony Hoffman and I pointed them out to you;

Patrick: As for the claim that God doesn’t heal amputees no such evidence is presented. As far as I can see not one case is mentioned where an amputee who had been prayed for was not healed.

Patrick: Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.

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lukeprog July 15, 2010 at 5:47 am

You guys are epic, like marathon runners from Kenya!

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 6:10 am

Biathlon, and I’m just warming up. The first step is to make sure that the goal posts aren’t attached to any wild geese. That’s what the rifle with the scope is for.

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Tony Hoffman July 15, 2010 at 7:12 am

Hermes, I wouldn’t be so concerned with the goalposts being moved as I would with the goalposts not being recognized as having any signficance whatsoever; I think that you might need to nail down the concept of there even being such a thing as goalposts before you worry about their up and going somewhere on you.

“You guys are epic, like marathon runners from Kenya!”

Yes, it’s like some episode of Star Trek where the two irreconcilable enemies agree to pursue each other into oblivion despite neither quite remembering what started the skirmish. The sad thing is I find it so sympathetic. Must… tear.. .self… away…

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JS Allen July 15, 2010 at 7:18 am

Note, when you say “4.5 billion people believe in a physical afterlife.” not only are you incorrect, you are leaving out quite a bit even; the transfer to the afterlife realm.

Actually, I am correct. But it’s true that the scriptures of the various religions leave out the how. I’d rather let the atheists show one way to do it. That’s something they’re working very hard on. Every time a dualist philosopher says “no intentionality from the physical”, it baits the atheists into working harder. I agree with Kurzweil that it could happen within my lifetime.

In either case, it’s all fairies and gnomes. No such method or place exists that we can go to. Agreed? :-}

I think that all of us are going to end up in a physical afterlife, whether we want to or not. It’s just too obvious.

You could theoretically argue that some now-extinct branch of humans from 100 million years ago in another galaxy, may be unable to be resurrected, ever. Perhaps because of a variant of Wolpert’s refutation of Laplace’s demon.

How you prevent yourself from being resurrected, I don’t know. I guess you just have to cross your fingers, and hope it never happens.

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 10:36 am

I think that all of us are going to end up in a physical afterlife, whether we want to or not. It’s just too obvious.

Really? Like there must be a god since I encountered a waterfall in 3 parts type obvious? This is just about as out there as the remark Patrick made about demons. If you want to know why I harangued your earlier efforts, and ignore your strange attempts at blasting me about ‘woo’, it’s because they really do make me laugh. You’re smart, obviously, but wow. It’s not a trait that is working in your advantage in this or many other cases.

I started my own investigation with the idea that both souls and afterlife realms were plausible, then I found that I was wrong about souls. As such, if an afterlife realm even exists, we can’t get there. Your job was to show me a thing, one thing, that shows it’s plausible or even probable to get from point here to point there.

So, I’ll say this so that there is no confusion;

* Talk about sectarian or religious claims are irrelevant. I was looking for evidence from anyone — Hindu, Christian, … — theist or atheist. We all live in the same reality, so we can talk about the same things if we care to.

* An afterlife realm? Possible, but not friggen likely. In either case, it is irrelevant also misnamed since we aren’t going there.

* Is it possible that we will one day be able to transfer from a fleshy body to an electronic or otherwise synthetic one of some sort? Probably. On the scale of centuries not millennia, but that’s wild speculation and not a claim. Next year or never would not surprise me either.

* Is there any evidence of that happening right here without that potential future layer of technology? No.

* * *

I’ve posted it seems 104 comments in this thread alone, and probably approaching 10K words. With this one, it will be 105 and even more. While not all of these are about the incorporeal souls / afterlife mess, that number does not include our earlier discussions.

You could theoretically argue that some now-extinct branch of humans from 100 million years ago in another galaxy, may be unable to be resurrected, ever. Perhaps because of a variant of Wolpert’s refutation of Laplace’s demon.

I haven’t done that since I’m interested in reality and not abstract suppositions.

With that in mind, I want you to know sincerely that I really *really* am not going out of my way to ignore your claims, but going out on every unsupported tangent while waiting for actual evidence is not productive. At our respective cores, the word obvious doesn’t seem to mean the same to you as it does to me.

At this point, I’m going to spoil it for the peanut gallery, though. Tony is right. With his observation, and the time required to go over those details, I’m probably never going to get anything from you, and I’ve passed any justification for using this as writing practice.

Hate me if you want, but unless you actually have positive support there’s not much I can comment on.

In my case, I make my bold claim in the hope to learn something about reality I was not aware of. It’s intended to be bold and a challenge to proponents of things I disagree with. Since I’ve looked, there was always the hope that I missed a spot. If I’m shown that — then I change my mind. It can’t rest on a claim or suppositions tough. I’m not an electric monk, and I encourage you and Patrick not to be one either.

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JS Allen July 15, 2010 at 11:04 am

Is it possible that we will one day be able to transfer from a fleshy body to an electronic or otherwise synthetic one of some sort? Probably. On the scale of centuries not millennia, but that’s wild speculation and not a claim.

See, you agreed with me all along. I wish you would put this on your page about “no way to get to an afterlife”.

The way I see it, your primary worry should be about whether your brain is leaking enough signals into the environment for the coming overlords to recover your brain when the time comes. Since you’ve been rather rude about the singularity, the singularity might be pissed at you when it recovers you. If I were you, I would start wearing a tinfoil hat so you leak less signals.

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Hermes July 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm

JS Allen: See, you agreed with me all along. I wish you would put this on your page about “no way to get to an afterlife”.

On that narrow point I’m surprised that you are surprised as I’ve already mentioned it before. As it was irrelevant to the whole page you reference, I think it’s odd that you would pick that one old item and ignore the rest. It’s like commenting on shoe color on the other team during a muddy tug of war contest.

The last paragraph is just silly. If it was intended as an insult then you should make it relevant to the person you are addressing before attempting mockery. As it is, I am embarrassed for you. Perhaps you could mock me for something else? Give yourself some satisfying closure?

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Patrick July 15, 2010 at 1:32 pm

JS Allen,

from Hebrews 1,14 one can draw the conclusion that angels are immaterial spirits. Apart from this I believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead.

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JS Allen July 15, 2010 at 2:24 pm

@Patrick – From Hebrews 1:14, one could also draw the conclusion that the “spirit” the Bible talks about is no different from the “intentional stance” that Dennett talks about, or the “Cartesian camcorder” that Drescher talks about. In other words, there is zero support in scripture for the idea that “spirit” is dualist rather than supervenient. Scripture takes no position on the matter.

The best defense I have seen for “immateriality of spirit” is on pages 24-40 of Moreland and Rae’s “Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics” (recommended by @reidish). It quotes several scriptures which are inconclusive about whether “spirit” is dualist or supervenient, then uses several arguments from Aquinas to argue for Thomist substance dualism.

I find these arguments unconvincing and speculative, and certainly not compatible with perspicuity of scripture. Remember that Aquinas was the one who speculated about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.

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Patrick July 15, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Hermes,

my claim is that no one has been able to refute the statement that there are demons and that people can be possessed by them. If I’m wrong tell me who has presented such a refutation.

As for the actual or supposed failed prayers for a restoration of lost limbs as far as I can see no example of such a case has been presented. If I’m wrong please inform me of such a case.

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JS Allen July 16, 2010 at 6:37 am

@Patrick – It’s ridiculous to claim that no amputee has ever prayed sincerely for the restoration of a limb.

And it’s not scriptural to talk about “demons” as if they represent a supernatural realm that is disjoint from science. The scriptural concept of “demons” was simply the ancient way of of describing the class of mental disorders where a person’s will and actions are severely misaligned, or where the person’s will was overtly self-destructive. And yes, it can happen to animals, too.

In Romans 6:19-22 and Romans 7:14-23, Paul clearly assumes that “spirit possession” is a synonym for a situation where desires and actions are misaligned. He’s not talking about some exceptional, supernatural intervention that possesses your body and then moves on. By his description, there is no time when you are not a slave to one spirit or the other. So it’s clear that he’s just talking about a taxonomy for categorizing everyday experience. There is no dualism here. Although we don’t use words like “demon” or “spirit” to describe these situations anymore, any modern observer can readily recognize what Paul is talking about. And popular music and poetry will sometimes still use words like “prisoner”, “captured”, etc.

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Patrick July 16, 2010 at 11:37 pm

JS Allen,

looking at 1 Corinthians 10,20-22 your interpretation of the Biblical word “demon” seems to me quite questionable. If God is seen as a real spiritual personal being then this should also apply to demons. But that’s not the point I want to make here.

What I want to point to is that when atheists present evidence for God’s nonexistence that evidence often is not evidence at all, but mere assertions. Moreover, it is surprising that at times when atheists confront evidence for and against God’s existence the first is well documented whereas the latter isn’t.

As an example you may look at Luke Muehlhauser’s “Open Letter to a World of Believers” (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=2637). At the beginning of this letter we can read: “I loved God and felt his presence in my life. God answered some of my prayers. He healed a few people I knew – in ways medical science could not explain. He lifted me out of a late-teenage depression and gave me compassion for those starving around the world.“ In my opinion this is amazing evidence for the existence of God and I think it is to be taken seriously as, being written by an atheist who rejects Christianity, it can’t be dismissed as Christian propaganda.

Now let’s look at one example of evidence that is put forward in order to refute God’s existence:

“There are people just like me who have experienced Krishna or Allah or Shiva personally, and are certain of their experiences.“

So he claims that there are people who experience Krishna, Allah or Shiva in a similar way as he experienced God. As a matter of fact no testimony of this kind by a real person is presented. But unless this is done, this statement is nothing but a mere assertion.

Atheists have been in the habit of laying the burden of proof on the theists’ shoulders and asking of them to give evidence of what they claim. In my opinion whoever makes a positive claim, whether theist or atheist, is obliged to present evidence in favour of this claim.

It’s by no means ridiculous to think that no amputee has ever prayed sincerely for the restoration of a limb as many Christians are cessationists and therefore are convinced that God works no or hardly any miracles nowadays. But even if such a person could be found, this would not mean that God doesn’t heal amputees in general, as in this case He may have good reasons not to answer this prayer. But, finally, even it was true, that God for some unknown reason doesn’t heal amputees, this certainly wouldn’t neutralize the fact that God has answered other prayers.

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Hermes July 17, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Patrick: my claim is that no one has been able to refute the statement that there are demons and that people can be possessed by them. If I’m wrong tell me who has presented such a refutation.

As for the actual or supposed failed prayers for a restoration of lost limbs as far as I can see no example of such a case has been presented. If I’m wrong please inform me of such a case.

Patrick, a gnome came to me last night and said that you owed him $10,000 for granting you good dreams during many of your nights of sleep. Since the gnome owed me a big favor — he took notes on my dreams — he said that I could collect the $10,000 fee from you.

Are you going to pay me?

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Hermes July 18, 2010 at 9:04 am

JS Allen, if you disagree with the logical construction of Patrick’s comments, not necessarily any specific claim or detail, feel free to show him in your own words where he made a mistake in logic. For reference, I’m talking about what he wrote in these two instances;

Patrick: As for the claim that God doesn’t heal amputees no such evidence is presented. As far as I can see not one case is mentioned where an amputee who had been prayed for was not healed.

Patrick: Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.

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Hermes July 18, 2010 at 9:05 am

Patrick: What I want to point to is that when atheists present evidence for God’s nonexistence that evidence often is not evidence at all, but mere assertions.

I’ll be glad to address that forthrightly, if you address my last comment to you in as a direct manner as you would expect from me.

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JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 9:46 am

@Hermes – Regarding the “prayer and amputees” question, some people think that the bigness of their faith is demonstrated by their tireless invention of ways to avoid clear facts. When asked why there are no records of God healing amputees, Patrick has offered up:

1) No amputees ever prayed to be healed
2) If they *did* pray, it must not have been sincere
3) If it *was* sincere, it must’ve happened after some deadline when God stopped healing amputees
4) Even if it *was* before the deadline, and was sincere, let’s change the subject and talk about times when prayer *was* correlated with a positive result

Isn’t it obvious where this is going? I can think of at least 6 additional ways he could squirm out of this one, but I don’t see the point in continuing. His answers aren’t as creative as mine would be.

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JS Allen July 18, 2010 at 10:06 am

So he claims that there are people who experience Krishna, Allah or Shiva in a similar way as he experienced God. As a matter of fact no testimony of this kind by a real person is presented. But unless this is done, this statement is nothing but a mere assertion.

Do you know any Hindus or Muslims? There are a few billion of them, and I know several personally who attest to miraculous encounters. I even know a Taoist who reports miraculous encounters.

Let’s predict the squirms:
1) They are lying about their encounters with supernatural power
2) If they aren’t lying, they must be confusing coincidence with miracles
3) If their miracles are truly supernatural, they must be caused by demonic forces. God is allowing them to be fooled.
4) Maybe God is answering their prayers because He intends to convert them to Christians some day

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Hermes July 18, 2010 at 10:46 am

Actually, what I was commenting on was — devoid of specific details — the structure of his sentences are themselves illogical.

So, he could talk about anything and logically how he supported either situation would be invalid regardless of the truth of falsity of the conclusions.

I think you see that. Coming from me, it may have less weight. From you, and me, as we are often in disagreement on specific conclusions, Patrick may see that his phrasing is not valid and that he has to handle things differently if he wants to support the conclusions he proposes.

* * *

Patrick, when you wrote the following …

Patrick: Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.

… we currently disagree on a few conclusions. Yet, to me, your comment was not convincing since it is identical to ones made by other people that you may disagree with. For example;

Patrick: Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.

That sentence takes the form of;

If P is not disproven everywhere, P must be true.
Since P has never been disproven everywhere, therefore P is actually true.

Do you agree that this is an accurate reformulation of the logical structure of your earlier statement, without the specific details of the Bible, diseases, or demons?

If not, could you reformulate your original comment and then provide an example of it (as I attempted above) stripped of specific details?

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Patrick July 18, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Hermes and JS Allen,

with respect to my statement about the connection between demons and diseases it simply takes the following form: “If p is not disproven, p is not disproven.”. I didn’t claim that therefore p actually is true.

This statement must be seen in the context of my argument for what I call “provisory methodological theism”. It is based on the claim that for natural phenomena that are described in the Bible as being caused supernaturally no one has ever presented conclusive naturalistic explanations.

To make my claim concerning the connection between demons and diseases clearer maybe I should reformulate it as follows:

“No one has presented a conclusive naturalistic explanation for the spontaneous healings by means of exorcism in connection with the diseases described in the New Testament as being caused supernaturally by demons.”

Besides, as Matthew 11,18 shows, even according to the Bible an interpretation of something as being caused by demons may be wrong. So, even if something being interpreted as being caused by demons may turn out to have a naturalistic explanation, this doesn’t mean that the claim that something is caused by demons is not an illegitimate explanation in general.

With respect to the question, whether or not God would heal amputees, as far as I can see the argument runs as follows:

“No amputee being praying or being prayed for his or her healing has ever been healed. Therefore God doesn’t exist.”

My response simply was that it is possible that at least one of the two statements is wrong. The first statement could be wrong because there could have been such cases that have been overlooked. The second statement could be wrong because either God has good reasons not to heal amputees or because such healings will only occur in the future, as up to now the conditions for such a healing may not have been fulfilled.

The fact that according to the Bible God’s interference with the natural world in response to prayer is dependent on specific conditions to be fulfilled, refutes a basic justification of MN, namely that if we allow the idea that supernatural beings can interfere with the physical world, we could not rely on the fact that there is lawful regularity in nature. According to Boudry et al. in their article about MN (http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism) if clear conditions for the occurrence of supernatural events are formulated this is not an intrinsic problem with supernatural explanations.

Finally, JS Allen’s statement that he knows several Hindus and Muslims and a Taoist who report miraculous encounters satisfies my expectations. I didn’t claim that such experiences are not possible. My objection was that often for such claims no evidence is presented.

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Hermes July 19, 2010 at 5:21 am

Patrick: with respect to my statement about the connection between demons and diseases it simply takes the following form: “If p is not disproven, p is not disproven.”. I didn’t claim that therefore p actually is true.

OK. Then it’s meaningless. Why? As you wrote;

Patrick: Atheists have been in the habit of laying the burden of proof on the theists’ shoulders and asking of them to give evidence of what they claim. In my opinion whoever makes a positive claim, whether theist or atheist, is obliged to present evidence in favour of this claim.

Yet, you go on to write — just now after saying you have not made a claim — to say this;

Patrick: “No one has presented a conclusive naturalistic explanation for the spontaneous healings by means of exorcism in connection with the diseases described in the New Testament as being caused supernaturally by demons.”

As such, you are actually making a claim that those healing did occur and that demons were involved.

It doesn’t matter if anyone has any alternate explanation for something that hasn’t been shown to be part of reality even tangentially. You wrote demons. (Note: I’m not a naturalist.)

You clearly have the burden of proof in that instance, otherwise I could say anything and just leave it out there — and when challenged on it just say “Oh, no, I’m not saying I claim it is true just that you haven’t shown that it isn’t true.” That’s a cheap tactic. Stop that.

If you make an invalid statement, the conclusions you state in it are not supported logically by that invalid statement. The invalid statement is just that — invalid, and without meaning.

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Patrick July 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

Hermes,

what is at issue here is not the question whether or not these exorcisms really happened, but whether or not their existence and their (supposed) efficacy have been disproved. If someone claims to have done so, this is a positive claim and the burden of proof is on his or her shoulders.

Don’t forget that what I argue against here is the assertion that every supernatural claim has been refuted.

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Hermes July 19, 2010 at 9:53 am

Patrick, you keep making the same mistake. You made a claim. Back it up, or retract it.

I’m interested in what is real not what is natural or supernatural or whatever.

By the way, where’s my $10,000?

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Hermes July 19, 2010 at 10:09 am

Patrick, let me put it another way. One that you might understand.

What is at issue here is not the question whether or not you owe a Gnome $10,000 or you owe $10,000 to someone else (such as me), but whether or not you have disproved that you owe the debt for dream services at all. If you claim not to owe for those services, this is a positive claim and the burden of proof is on your shoulders.

So, will that be cash or cashier’s check?

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JS Allen July 19, 2010 at 10:25 am

No one has presented a conclusive naturalistic explanation for the spontaneous healings by means of exorcism in connection with the diseases described in the New Testament as being caused supernaturally by demons.

Actually, people like Milton Erickson and Richard Bandler have spontaneously healed people with mental diseases through mere use of words, based on their theories of how the mind works. One example was of a person who engaged in self-mutilation like the demon-possessed man in Luke.

You are smuggling your own personal idea of “supernatural” into the Bible. What the ancients referred to as “demon possession” is exactly what we call “mental illness” today. When Christ and the apostles healed demon-possessed people, they were healing an illness, just as they healed the crippled and the blind.

Unless you can prove that these ancients had a concept of “mental illness” that was distinct from “demon possessed”, you need to stop playing word games.

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Patrick July 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Hermes,

as I didn’t make any claim concerning gnomes I’m under no obligation to prove anything. It’s simply that I don’t believe what you write about gnomes. But for a lack of belief no justification needs to be given. It was you who made a positive claim concerning gnomes. Therefore the burden of proof is on your shoulders.

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Tony Hoffman July 19, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Hermes (and JS Allen),

I haven’t read all of these exchanges since I last commented, but as I tried saying before I don’t think that Patrick understands the basic concept of a claim (the goalposts) well enough for you to even worry about it being moved later. I’m just not sure what to do about that. But if you continue, best of luck to you.

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Hermes July 19, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Tony, I agree. It’s very frustrating.

Patrick, your response shows that you don’t understand the example I’m giving. Maybe that’s my fault. Maybe you aren’t aware you’re making any errors. Maybe you’re doing it intentionally. Regardless, I offer these for your review;

Specifically;

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/burden-of-proof.html

In general;

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance

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Hermes July 19, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Patrick, from the burden of proof fallacy;

Bill: “I think that some people have psychic powers.”
Jill: “What is your proof?”
Bill: “No one has been able to prove that people do not have psychic powers.”

Bill has the burden of proof.

Jill doesn’t care about Bill’s comment about psychic powers as no proof has been offered so there’s nothing to comment on. That’s not a rejection, it’s what comes before a rejection.

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Hermes July 19, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Patrick, let’s say that the previous example using Bill and Jill is a little different;

Bill: “Ted says that some people have psychic powers.”

Jill: “What is Ted’s proof?”

Bill: “I’m not Ted, but no one has been able to prove that people do not have psychic powers by challenging what Ted has said.”

The result is identical to the previous example, except that it’s even more vague since now we have another person who isn’t in the conversation; this mysterious Ted.

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Eric July 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Patrick –


as I’m not a scientist I don’t debate with you about scientific matters. But with respect to the topic of this thread, which is the question whether or not a naturalism of the gaps is justified, suffice it to say that there are still fields of scientific research in which despite long and thorough investigation no conclusive naturalistic explanations of natural phenomena could be presented.

This is basic science 101 and one does not need to be a scientist to understand what I am saying. I am certainly not a scientist either. Remember we were not debating over whether or not naturalism of the gaps was justified. We were debating over whether or not Metaphysical Naturalism is more compatible than supernaturalism with Methodological Naturalism. My point in explaining the basic laws of physics is that these biblical stories you mentioned must violate the known laws of nature. As a result, any supernaturalist must wonder if MN is even justified when investigating ANY unknown phenomenon. And your constant stories of prayers and demonic causes for diseases leads me to think you, or any supernaturalist, would give up really quick when trying to find a natural cause of said phenomenon. Why try and figure out why bees fly, what causes disease, where lightning comes from, when you can just say, “I dunno so God did it?”

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Eric July 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Note: “I dunno so God did it” is an oversimplification, I understand. But it’s the gist of what theists and other supernaturalists are doing. It’s a “one-size-fits-all” shoe, if you will, lol.

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Patrick July 20, 2010 at 11:53 pm

JS Allen,

even if you are right with respect to the idea of demon possession this is no threat to my argument. On the contrary, it supports the reliability of the New Testament accounts concerning demon possession. Nevertheless I have grave doubts that your point of view is correct.

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Patrick July 20, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Hermes,

it’s not my aim here to prove that supernatural claims are true, but to argue against the claim that everything which so far has been investigated thoroughly has turned out to have natural causes. “Everything” also includes the claim that there are diseases that are caused by demons and healed by means of exorcism.

To use your example of the dialogue between Bill and Jill it could take place as follows:

Jill: Ted’s claim that some people have psychic powers has been disproved.
Bill: As far as I know no one has disproved this claim. If I’m wrong tell me who has achieved it.

As you ask of me to give evidence for the claim that people were successfully healed by means of exorcism as reported in the New Testament I’ll try to do so. Actually those making such a claim were the New Testament authors. As they have been dead for nearly two thousand years, you can’t make them defend their case. What you can do is to find out, whether or not their accounts are reliable in general. There are noted scholars who argue for the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the Book of Acts, which has the same author as Luke’s Gospel. Here are a few contributions defending such a point of view:

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Leicester 1987.

James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, Grand Rapids 2003.

Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, Tübingen 1989.

Eta Linnemann, Is there a Synoptic Problem?: Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels, Grand Rapids, 1992.

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, London 2003.

Another approach to settle this matter is to look at contemporary cases of possession and to find out whether or not exorcism was a successful remedy for the accompanying symptoms and whether or not natural causes for these symptoms could be identified.

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Patrick July 20, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Eric

it’s certainly true that MN is more compatible with Metaphysical Naturalism than with Supernaturalism. The interesting question is which point of view is more compatible with the known facts. I argue that as long as there are no conclusive naturalistic explanations for natural events such as the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of species Supernaturalism is on the winning side.

Your objection that Supernaturalism may be a science stopper may be true. But this does not prove that Supernaturalism isn’t true. But as Christians don’t deny the fact there are natural causes, one may wonder if Supernaturalism has really served as a science stopper, as supernaturalists such as Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Gregor Mendel or Max Planck were noted scientists.

With respect to the question if God’s interference with the physical world violates any natural law you may be right. But even so this is not a threat to MN, as according to the Bible God’s interference with the physical world in response to prayer depends on the fulfilment of certain conditions. So a scientist can be confident that in general there is lawful regularity in nature.

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Hermes July 21, 2010 at 2:58 am

Patrick: it’s not my aim here to prove that supernatural claims are true, but to argue against the claim that everything which so far has been investigated thoroughly has turned out to have natural causes.

The facts or lack of facts or even the topic are irrelevant at this point. We haven’t even gotten to that point yet.

You yourself wrote;

Patrick: Atheists have been in the habit of laying the burden of proof on the theists’ shoulders and asking of them to give evidence of what they claim. In my opinion whoever makes a positive claim, whether theist or atheist, is obliged to present evidence in favour of this claim.

Then, just now, you wrote;

Patrick: To use your example of the dialogue between Bill and Jill it could take place as follows:

Jill: Ted’s claim that some people have psychic powers has been disproved.

Bill: As far as I know no one has disproved this claim. If I’m wrong tell me who has achieved it.

Yet, I was explicit in my examples when I wrote (emphasis added);

Jill doesn’t care about Bill’s comment about psychic powers as no proof has been offered so there’s nothing to comment on. That’s not a rejection, it’s what comes before a rejection.

Again, since it’s critical;

That’s not a rejection, it’s what comes before a rejection.

You can see that in by looking at the burden of proof fallacy pages I’ve provided to you and even quoted in part.

What you propose is a bare assertion that is logically not supported. I quoted from the fallacies page since you have been making a text book burden of proof fallacy. Please go read it, and be honest with yourself about this.

Show that Tony Hoffman is wrong about you, that I’m not wasting my time engaging you on this basic level, and that you can acknowledge this. Be a mensch. Correct your mistake.

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/burden-of-proof.html

Word and intent by word and intent, what you write maps right on top of the examples of a burden of proof fallacy provided there and in the other links I’ve provided. As such, I can’t address anything you say except to say you’re not making any sense.

This is regardless of what I identify as additional problems with your statements. This is regardless of any effort to parse out any of your claims to actual targets that can be discussed coherently.

For emphasis (continuing with the example of Bill, Jill, and Ted and the above necessary concept in mind);

If Ted is available or not, Jill’s position has not changed by the addition of Ted as an actor. If Bill brings up Ted’s position as evidence, Jill still doesn’t have the burden of proof. The burden remains with the claiminant (Bill). If Bill promotes Ted’s claims, Bill is the one responsible for those claims even if Bill explicitly does not make those claims. Jill’s position is not a claim, it’s not a rejection, as there’s nothing to address. This remains true even if Bill insists he’s merely mentioning to Jill what Ted thinks.

Do you agree with the previous paragraph or not?

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Hermes July 21, 2010 at 3:05 am

Patrick, another important point, I think that you owe me $10,000. Will that be cash or check?

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Eric July 21, 2010 at 11:48 am


it’s certainly true that MN is more compatible with Metaphysical Naturalism than with Supernaturalism. The interesting question is which point of view is more compatible with the known facts. I argue that as long as there are no conclusive naturalistic explanations for natural events such as the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of species Supernaturalism is on the winning side.

So basically, you are admitting that god of the gaps is justified. Throughout this entire post and comments, I have still wondered how anyone can consider it honest to answer an unknown with an untestable assertion as opposed to saying “i dont know, so I will find out”


Your objection that Supernaturalism may be a science stopper may be true. But this does not prove that Supernaturalism isn’t true. But as Christians don’t deny the fact there are natural causes, one may wonder if Supernaturalism has really served as a science stopper, as supernaturalists such as Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Gregor Mendel or Max Planck were noted scientists.

I still think its funny that theists can list a few supernaturalist scientists and assume that makes up for the fact that Christian supernaturalism caused scientific stagnation for over 1000 years. I already made my case earlier about the writings of newton and how molding his theology to observed phenomena was how he, a theologian, could make sense of the whole situation. And, the fact that he was a supernaturalist explains how he stopped trying to figure out why the universe was basically stable. It is still possible for theists to eventually change their theology based on known empirical observations, it just is not always successful and hampers science until this theology has been settled, IF it can be settled.


With respect to the question if God’s interference with the physical world violates any natural law you may be right. But even so this is not a threat to MN, as according to the Bible God’s interference with the physical world in response to prayer depends on the fulfilment of certain conditions. So a scientist can be confident that in general there is lawful regularity in nature.

Do you know exactly what the conditions are for any given case of supernaturalism? If not then how can you predict what is probably natural and what could be supernatural in origin?

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Eric July 21, 2010 at 12:00 pm


I argue that as long as there are no conclusive naturalistic explanations for natural events such as the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of species Supernaturalism is on the winning side.

Wow, Hermes, you weren’t kidding this is REALLY a TEXTBOOK case of the fallacy of the burdeon of proof.

Also, Patrick:
What about evidence for Evolution?
Abiogenesis?
Flat Universe Theory?

These are good explanations and I think there is quite sufficient evidence for these. You could have at least chosen subjects to where there is real disagreement over explanations, such as the appearance of “fine-tuning” in the universe, or consciousness or something. Even then, its pure God-of-the-Gaps to use these.

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Hermes July 21, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Eric: So basically, you are admitting that god of the gaps is justified. Throughout this entire post and comments, I have still wondered how anyone can consider it honest to answer an unknown with an untestable assertion as opposed to saying “i dont know, so I will find out”

That reminds me of one of my favorite quotes;

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly. I said, I don’t know.

–Mark Twain

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JS Allen July 21, 2010 at 12:24 pm

even if you are right with respect to the idea of demon possession this is no threat to my argument. On the contrary, it supports the reliability of the New Testament accounts concerning demon possession.

WTF? If I’m right, it’s fatal to your continued assertion that God is impotent to accomplish miracles without violating the laws of physics.

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Hermes July 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Maybe this should be considered the demon of the gaps argument? :-/

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Hermes July 21, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Patrick, if you need more time say so.

You have quite a few people leaving you comments, and I am sure that they are like me; they expect a cautiously considered response, not a quick and incomplete one.

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Patrick July 22, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Hermes and Eric,

before answering my comments please read again or for the first time the introduction to this thread and the paper by Boudry et al. about MN (http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism).

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Patrick July 22, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Hermes,

please tell me what claim I have made for which I have the burden of proof but nevertheless have failed to present evidence. I don’t see where I have committed the burden of proof fallacy.

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Patrick July 22, 2010 at 11:54 pm

Eric,

I’m indeed admitting that a God of the gaps is justified. It is just as justified as a naturalism of the gaps.

As mentioned earlier being no scientist I’m not going into a debate about specific details of scientific theories concerning the origin of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of species. But for all I know, for none of these fields of research conclusive naturalistic explanations could be found. Am I wrong? Is there at least one such naturalistic explanation on which all scientists or at least all scientists with a naturalistic worldview agree?

With respect to the origin of species I’m not in a position to say whether or not the scientific arguments for Darwinism are sound. But it seems that looking at natural history the theory is not supported by the facts, as can be seen from the following quotations (Source: http://www.discovery.org/a/3739):

“The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change.

[…]

All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt.”

Stephen Jay Gould, Return of the Hopeful Monster, in: Natural History, 86, June-July, 1977, pp. 22, 24.

“Many species remain virtually unchanged for millions of years, then suddenly disappear to be replaced by a quite different, but related, form. Moreover, most major groups of animals appear abruptly in the fossil record, fully formed, and with no fossils yet discovered that form a transition from their parent group. Thus, it has seldom been possible to piece together ancestor-dependent sequences from the fossil record that show gradual, smooth transitions between species.”

C.P. Hickman, L.S. Roberts and F.M. Hickman, Integrated Principles of Zoology, St. Louis 1988, p. 866.

“Paleontologists had long been aware of a seeming contradiction between Darwin’s postulate of gradualism … and the actual findings of paleontology. Following phyletic lines through time seemed to reveal only minimal gradual changes but no clear evidence for any change of a species into a different genus or for the gradual origin of an evolutionary novelty. Anything truly novel always seemed to appear quite abruptly in the fossil record.”

Ernst Mayr, One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought, Cambridge (Mass.) 1991, p. 138.

You say that for more than 1000 years Christian supernaturalism caused scientific stagnation. You seem to refer to the thousand years before the scientific revolution in the 16th century.

That during this period there was complete stagnation regarding science is a view that is rejected by historians of science. This can be seen from the following book, written by a scholar who has a PhD in the history of science from the University of Cambridge (GB):

James Hannam, God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, Duxford 2009.

An abridged version of the argument is presented in the following contribution:

http://www.jameshannam.com/medievalscience.htm

You ask me to present a definition of the supernatural, which makes it possible to make a distinction between natural and supernatural events. I agree with the definition presented by Richard Carrier (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html).

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Hermes July 23, 2010 at 3:48 am

Patrick: before answering my comments please read again or for the first time the introduction to this thread and the paper by Boudry et al. about MN (http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism).

We’re not even at that point.

I am questioning your willingness or ability to carry on a basic philosophical conversation.

Patrick: please tell me what claim I have made for which I have the burden of proof but nevertheless have failed to present evidence. I don’t see where I have committed the burden of proof fallacy.

You’ve done it multiple times, and I and others have identified those to you. Yet, ignore that for now.

As pointing them out to you was not working, I stopped doing that and switched to the examples using Bill, Jill, and Ted. Then, I asked you a few specific questions about Bill, Jill, and Ted. That you did not answer or even address. Is that intentional?

A less charitable person would say yes, but I’ll be patient.

I will not assume that Tony Hoffman is correct for the moment, but it’s hard to argue that he’s wrong.

[ more ... ]

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Hermes July 23, 2010 at 4:15 am

So, Patrick, let me make it clear what I’m asking.

I will make things as easy as possible for you.

I’ll only ask direct questions that have simple answers.

I will ask a single follow up question.

I’ll ask them in separate messages, so that there is no confusion over what I’m asking.

I expect that you will provide a single unambiguous answer.

If you do not know the answer, please say so. No harm, no foul.

For each question you answer, I will answer one of your questions in the detail you request even if I consider that question off topic or inappropriate. (Exception: Any personally identifying details.)

If you ignore any of my questions, or you choose to give a totally unrelated answer, I will take that as intentional and that you implicitly agree with any answer that I would choose and the implications of that answer.

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Hermes July 23, 2010 at 4:38 am

Note that if I am incapable of answering a specific question at this time, I will say so, allowing you to ask a different question.

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Eric July 23, 2010 at 11:09 am


Patrick –
Am I wrong? Is there at least one such naturalistic explanation on which all scientists or at least all scientists with a naturalistic worldview agree?

Patrick. The Discovery Institute is confusing you with a long set of quotes supporting punctuated equilibrium. Punctuated Equilibrium says that species go for long periods of stasis and then have quicker periods of evolution. It is a view that is accepted by a near consensus of evolutionary biologists and provides no argument against evolution itself. And your link does not work.


Patrick –
That during this period there was complete stagnation regarding science is a view that is rejected by historians of science.

Maybe you should see what historians of science actually say about science in the middle ages. Wikipedia has a decent article on the subject. Read the details. There was little importance to empirical observation for a long time. I guess the fact that there were some naturalists who didn’t feel inhibited by the church meant that a little scientific progress had been made. Either way, virtually all of the real scientific progress didn’t occur until late in the middle ages, which was still around a thousand years after Constantine. If you pay attention to the dates in Hannam’s summary, you will notice they are all later middle ages, when people were beginning to rediscover ancient Greek and Islamic texts that challenged their previous worldviews. It was a slow process that took centuries for natural philosophers to completely rid themselves of the scholastic and humanist worldviews. Even then, it took until nearly the time of Newton for natural philosophers to rid themselves of the focus on final causation.
Richard Carrier has a good article which evaluates this process.


Patrick –
You ask me to present a definition of the supernatural, which makes it possible to make a distinction between natural and supernatural events.

This is not exactly what I asked.


Eric –
Do you know exactly what the conditions are for any given case of supernaturalism? If not then how can you predict what is probably natural and what could be supernatural in origin?

Richard Carrier’s arcticle assumes you can tell whether or not a mental event is reducible to a nonmental event. If you cannot conclude yet whether or not a mental event is reducible to a nonmental event , how can you ever be sure that it should reduce to a nonmental event,which is the goal of MN and the reason science has found any explanation at all!

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Hermes July 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Patrick, here’s the first question;

I say that I have an Egyptian mummy in my basement.

Are you responsible for knowing if I am telling the truth?

Possible answers;

[ ] – Yes.

[ ] – No.

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Patrick July 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Hermes,

it’s no problem for me to admit that I’m wrong and to accept correction. So there is no intention on my side to ignore arguments raised against my claims. But I really don’t see what claims I have made that contain a burden of proof fallacy.

I’ve searched this thread about such claims and it must be the following two statements that you refer to:

“Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.”

“As for the claim that God doesn’t heal amputees no such evidence is presented. As far as I can see not one case is mentioned where an amputee who had been prayed for was not healed.”

The first statement can be compared to the following one:

“No one has ever been able to refute the claim that there is extraterrestrial life.”

I don’t think that one could find fault with this statement. But then this should also apply to the one mentioned above.

With respect to the second statement, it can be verified by going to the website http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/.

To avoid unnecessary dispute I leave the example with the demons and instead back my argument with the fine-tuning of the universe, as suggested by Eric. So the new statement runs as follows:

“No one has been able to refute the claim that God is responsible for the fine-tuning of the universe.”

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Patrick July 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Eric,

reading the Wikipedia article about punctuated equilibrium it seems that Evolutionary Theory is compatible with the fossil record. But in my opinion this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true.

The Wikipedia article about Science in the Middle Ages doesn’t ascribe the decline of intellectual life in Western Europe during this period to Christian supernaturalism but to events or phenomena such as barbarian invasions, the political disintegration of the Roman Empire, the decline of the knowledge of Greek or the downfall of urban life.

On the other hand we can read that scientific research and teaching continued in the Hellenistic side of the Roman Empire, which is the (Christian) Byzantine Empire, or that around 800 the English monk Alcuin of York elaborated a project of scholarly development aimed at resuscitating classical knowledge.

It would go too far to discuss Richard Carrier’s expositions regarding this topic. Moreover, with respect to the topic of this thread the outcome of this dispute is irrelevant. It’s because even if there was clear evidence that there was stagnation with respect to science in this period and that Christian supernaturalism was responsible for it, it would be a logically fallacy to conclude that therefore Christian supernaturalism is not true.

You seem to suggest that it is impossible to conclude whether or not a mental event can be reduced to a non-mental event, which enables us to distinguish between natural and supernatural events. I don’t share this pessimism. In my opinion we can conclude that an unexplained or extraordinary event is not just a natural event for which no scientific explanation has been found, but that it is a supernatural event, if we can detect design. E.g., the fact that at times unexplained healings happen needn’t point to a supernatural cause, but if such healings only occur to people who are prayed for one might conclude that some supernatural personal agent must be responsible for them.

But I think that in Science the question whether or not natural events can be distinguished from supernatural ones has not that much importance, as there are other criteria an explanation must fulfil to be regarded as scientific. In this connection it is very important that it is testable and falsifiable. If this applies to a supernatural explanation of natural phenomena, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be regarded as scientific.

It is just the fact that scientific claims must be falsifiable that supernatural explanations may not only be legitimate but even necessary. The fact that due to methodological naturalism supernatural explanations are ruled out has the consequence that Evolutionary Theory is non-falsifiable, since it is the only conceivable naturalistic theory about the origin of species, and a theory that is the only possible one is non-falsifiable. So one might say that methodological naturalism is dependent on methodological supernaturalism. But this is also true the other way round, as e.g. the concept that there are natural phenomena which are irreducibly complex, is only falsifiable if there is research aiming at refuting this claim.

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Hermes July 24, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Patrick, I didn’t read all that in detail. Maybe I will later when I have 10 spare minutes.

I was really looking for a single answer to the one question.

Yes or no. That’s it. You’re getting ahead of that simple question.

I’m not surprised but I am sincerely disappointed.

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Hermes July 24, 2010 at 3:34 pm

OK Patrick, a quick follow up.

I’m not trying to waste your time by asking that we go over these specific examples.

I do understand that you think that you are not committing the burden of proof fallacy.

I think you are, and others are also under that impression.

Yet, truth or falsity is not decided by committee.

If you are not committing that fallacy, by humoring me with simple answers, we can both arrive at a single understanding of what is going on.

As such, I’m going to re-post my one question in a moment. If you ignore it again, I’ll consider that my suspicions are correct. Unfortunately, if they are correct you will remain unaware of your own mistake and all of our discussions will be for naught.

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Hermes July 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Patrick, here’s the first question;

I say that I have an Egyptian mummy in my basement.

Are you responsible for knowing if I am telling the truth?

Possible answers;

[ ] – Yes.

[ ] – No.

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Eric July 24, 2010 at 6:10 pm


The Wikipedia article about Science in the Middle Ages doesn’t ascribe the decline of intellectual life in Western Europe during this period to Christian supernaturalism but to events or phenomena such as barbarian invasions, the political disintegration of the Roman Empire, the decline of the knowledge of Greek or the downfall of urban life.

Who said Christianity caused the decline of intellectual life? Christian supernaturalism just shifted focus to theology from natural philosophy. Yes, you are right that it was the barbarian invasions that caused the decline of the scientific endeavor. Only Christian Supernaturalism kept us from being able to catch back up and preserve these writings because they felt as though theology was far more important.


Moreover, with respect to the topic of this thread the outcome of this dispute is irrelevant. It’s because even if there was clear evidence that there was stagnation with respect to science in this period and that Christian supernaturalism was responsible for it, it would be a logically fallacy to conclude that therefore Christian supernaturalism is not true.

once again, I’m not arguing over whether or not christian supernaturalism is true. My arguments had to do with supernaturalism and its relation to methodological naturalism.


You seem to suggest that it is impossible to conclude whether or not a mental event can be reduced to a non-mental event, which enables us to distinguish between natural and supernatural events. I don’t share this pessimism.

This is not what I said. I said:


If you cannot conclude yet whether or not a mental event is reducible to a nonmental event , how can you ever be sure that it should reduce to a nonmental event,

Do you see the difference in what I said from what you thought I said.


In my opinion we can conclude that an unexplained or extraordinary event is not just a natural event for which no scientific explanation has been found, but that it is a supernatural event, if we can detect design.

That is opening an entirely different can of worms. This is whether or not we can detect “divine” design. Then you have the issue of whether or not you are detecting top-down design, which requires a designer, or bottom up design (such as s fractal graph), which requires no designer. But anyway, this is a whole different subject.


It is just the fact that scientific claims must be falsifiable that supernatural explanations may not only be legitimate but even necessary. The fact that due to methodological naturalism supernatural explanations are ruled out has the consequence that Evolutionary Theory is non-falsifiable, since it is the only conceivable naturalistic theory about the origin of species, and a theory that is the only possible one is non-falsifiable.

Actually Evolution is completely falsifiable. If a human were found to exist during the precambrian era, that would absolutely falsify the theory (or at least lead to a falsification). Other explanations for the origin of the species could exist. For example, we could have been manufactured by aliens. I don’t want to get started on the issues with the problems of the connection between I.C. and I.D. That conversation could go on forever.

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Hermes July 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Patrick, the following comments are not currently relevant to the issue I’ve attempted to discuss with you for the past few days;

Patrick: Finally, looking at medicine no one has ever been able to refute the Biblical claim that some diseases are caused by demons.

Patrick: As for the claim that God doesn’t heal amputees no such evidence is presented. As far as I can see not one case is mentioned where an amputee who had been prayed for was not healed.

Patrick: No one has been able to refute the claim that God is responsible for the fine-tuning of the universe.

Other topics that have no special and current relevance to what I’ve been discussing are;

* Naturalism or supernaturalism.

* Science, scientific topics, or specific scientific or quasi-scientific theories or ideas including but not limited to evolution, biology, cosmology, punctuated equilibrium, quantum mechanics, natural selection, physics, or intelligent design.

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Hermes July 24, 2010 at 7:24 pm

[continued ...]

* Religion, theism, or atheism including but not limited to Christian Biblical passages, or claims or statements concerning theological concepts or dogmas.

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Hermes July 24, 2010 at 8:09 pm

A correction. I was mistaken when I wrote this;

Patrick, the following comments are not currently relevant to the issue I’ve attempted to discuss with you for the past few days;

It has been about a week. It looks like Tony Hoffman was spot on with his comments from the 15th of July.

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Eric July 24, 2010 at 10:35 pm


reading the Wikipedia article about punctuated equilibrium it seems that Evolutionary Theory is compatible with the fossil record. But in my opinion this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true.


It may be useful to know that there is also molecular evidence for evolution.

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Eric July 25, 2010 at 1:08 am


On the other hand we can read that scientific research and teaching continued in the Hellenistic side of the Roman Empire, which is the (Christian) Byzantine Empire, or that around 800 the English monk Alcuin of York elaborated a project of scholarly development aimed at resuscitating classical knowledge.

What was preserved by the early Christian empires still pales in comparison to what was preserved beforehand. The focus of these Christians was mostly theology, with little focus on science and empirical observation. The fact that so many of these ancient pagan texts over science had to be rediscovered in the late middle ages should show just how little was actually preserved, while there seems to be no shortage of ancient theological writings.

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lukeprog July 25, 2010 at 5:42 am

Yeah, the molecular evidence is much stronger than the fossil evidence. But the fossil evidence is still pretty damn strong.

Is there any positive evidence for divine creation? I’ve never heard of any. All I’ve ever heard is “negative” evidence of the “We can’t explain lightning, therefore Zeus did it” variety.

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Eric July 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Luke –
To be fair, I don’t think it’s strictly negative evidence. Would the appearance of design count as positive evidence? Of course, I have some major issues with what can be concluded from an appearance of design, as explained earlier. This is why I don’t buy the “evidence from design.”

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lukeprog July 25, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Eric,

Depends on how you think of evidence. If ‘Y is evidence of X’ means that ‘X is the best explanation of Y’, then yeah, I don’t see any positive evidence for theism. Theism, as usually formulated, is not even a hypothesis or a theory. See the series on Greg Dawes and Theism and Explanation.

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Hermes July 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm

To add to that, it’s not even metaphor most of the time. It’s a special category of mystical belief. More like fictional constructs formed by the author and reader, it works much through deus ex machina yet interpretation tends to fragment the experience on a per-reader basis.

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Hermes July 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm

[ Just had two cute girls (20s?) come by and attempt to sell me on a local church. I was polite, but firm in requesting that they take my house off their list. One of the girls took it in stride, the other smiled yet as she turned away I could see a look of deep hate cross her face. No books of fiction do that (except possibly Atlas Shrugged), though I guess a good Kirk vs. Piccard battle would raise some ire. ]

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Eric July 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Luke –
So since a designer would be a bad explanation of bottom-up design (a designer would be more likely to use top-down design), then the bottom-up design detected in the universe would not be positive evidence for a designer. Of course this is just one reason why the designer explanation is a bad one…

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lukeprog July 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Eric,

No. I’m not clear what you’re saying, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t what I was saying. :)

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Eric July 25, 2010 at 3:33 pm
Hermes July 25, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Patrick, I realize that it’s probably very uncomfortable to deal with many of the actual questions and comments posed to you. As such, I recommend giving up. Don’t post anything more. Not even a reply to this paragraph.

We both know that there are serious gaps in what you’ve said. I realize that addressing those gaps honestly even if just for yourself may be very difficult if not cognitively and personally impossible.

Even if you are able to piece back together a coherent narrative that is consistent within a narrow Biblical view, it still leaves specific parts of reality unaddressed. I know, I know. That is not much of a problem, as Dr Jason Lisle said;

“If we find some experiment that seems on the surface to disagree with the word of God, we go with the word of God”

I would bet that both Dr. Lisle and yourself would not limit that to just experiment or even the sciences, but to all of reality itself. Anything can be ignored or reinterpreted based on the supremacy of your religious or theistic group edicts or personal compulsions.

So, from me to you. I release you from any future obligation to me or this conversation as long as you yourself put it behind you. If you take my advice and remain silent, I will forget any past errors or loose and liberal uses of facts, comments (yours or others), and logic. It is the easiest thing to do nothing.

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Patrick July 26, 2010 at 10:51 am

Eric,

it may be true that Christian supernaturalism shifted focus to theology from natural philosophy and that this contributed to a stagnation with respect to scientific research. But maybe it is only partly true and a more differentiated view of the relationship between Christianity and Science is appropriate. Whatever is correct, I think we can leave this topic to people like Richard Carrier or James Hannam.

I leave the question how good the molecular evidence for evolution is to experts, as I am no scientist. Moreover, I agree with you not to discuss the question whether or not we can detect divine design.

With respect to the question how to identify supernatural events, obviously people like Richard Carrier (http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html) or Boudry et al. (http://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism) take the view that they are knowable. Looking at this topic from a pragmatic point of view I think we can all agree that phenomena such as answered prayers or telekinesis can count as supernatural.

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Patrick July 26, 2010 at 10:53 am

In my opinion Lukeprog and Richard Carrier fail to distinguish between scientific natural explanations that are supportive of naturalism and those that are not. The latter include scientific natural explanations that are no threat to Christian supernaturalism and therefore are willingly accepted by adherents of this point of view. The vast majority of such explanations fall into this category. Only conclusive natural explanations that are not expected by adherents of Christian supernaturalism would be supportive of naturalism. In my opinion there are no or at least hardly any such explanations.

To use again the analogy of the horse race, it is certainly true that the naturalistic horse has won the race countless times. But this is mainly because in most if not all these cases this horse was the only one taking part in the race. Betting on such a horse is not necessarily a safe bet.

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Hermes July 26, 2010 at 11:01 am

Patrick, are you taking my offer?

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Eric July 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm


Patrick –
it may be true that Christian supernaturalism shifted focus to theology from natural philosophy and that this contributed to a stagnation with respect to scientific research. But maybe it is only partly true and a more differentiated view of the relationship between Christianity and Science is appropriate. Whatever is correct, I think we can leave this topic to people like Richard Carrier or James Hannam.
I leave the question how good the molecular evidence for evolution is to experts, as I am no scientist.

I still prefer to study these subjects. At the very least, I find them incredibly interesting. I’d always suggest starting by reading Evolution for Dummies for any non-bio-science major who is interested in reading and learning more about evolution. Sadly, there is no good single introduction to the history of science. You just have to read the works of classical scientists and/or take a class.


With respect to the question how to identify supernatural events, obviously people like Richard Carrier or Boudry et al. take the view that they are knowable.

I do agree that they are knowable. But at what point in the investigation can you conclude the cause must be supernatural or natural? Let’s say you are Newton and you just defined and demonstrated the laws of motion, but you realize these laws should make the universe unstable. But yet the universe appears stable. Do you assume the explanation must be supernatural? Does God come in every once in awhile and stabilize the universe? Or is the explanation natural, just unknown at the present time? For Newton, the explanation was supernatural. For Laplace, this did not suffice. Laplace eventually found an explanation that was very influential in solving the problem. Had Newton been a metaphysical naturalist, he would have never given up on a natural explanation. Seeing as how the answer lay in his very own calculus, I doubt it would have taken over a century to figure it out.


Looking at this topic from a pragmatic point of view I think we can all agree that phenomena such as answered prayers or telekinesis can count as supernatural.

If some person prays for A. Then if A happens, does this mean A was caused by the prayer? This could easily fall under the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Further more, if A does not happen, is this evidence against answerable prayer? If this is not the case, then answerable prayer seems to be unfalsifiable. If these fallacies can be somehow overcome, then yes, I’ll say “phenomena such as answered prayers or telekinesis can count as supernatural.”

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Patrick July 27, 2010 at 4:18 am

Hermes,

I accepted your proposition not to continue our discussion, as it seems to me that it won’t get anywhere. But you are not entitled to decide on behalf of the other participants of this thread that they shouldn’t interact with me anymore. If someone else wishes to end the discussion with me he can either tell me so or simply ignore my comments.

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Hermes July 27, 2010 at 5:19 am

As long as you don’t tread on the same ground that we were discussing, I’m content as we would both be silent.

Meaning: If you do take a walk that way, then it would be an unfair situation — me silenced, and neither of us benefiting from a mutual conclusion — agreed?

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Patrick July 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

Hermes,

it was you who proposed that I should remain silent. You may tell me no longer to interact with you, but not to post any comment here in general. You are free to make contributions to this thread or let it be. But my right to post comments is in no way dependent on your decision.

You think that I haven’t considered your comments. Just because I haven’t answered your yes/no question, this doesn’t mean that I have done so. Instead I answered to your comments in a different way, but I can also consider your arguments by answering your question, and the answer is “no”.

I leave it to you whether or not you want to continue this discussion.

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Hermes July 27, 2010 at 10:04 am

Patrick, I promise you this;

I will not make any comments except for simple and dry ones if you are direct and not evasive in your replies.

I mention this since it’s been about a week since I started to ask you simple questions. Most of your replies were to things I did not say or ask or even have any interest in. It is as if you were having a conversation with yourself or some phantom. That is the reason for my move to simplicity.

Today, a new day, you give a simple reply; no. For that, I thank you.

So, let us start anew.

Promise to me that you will not replace what I write here with what you want to answer. Promise that you will address my main points as well as any tangential ones that suit your impulse. I will hold myself to the same standards and more.

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Hermes July 27, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Hermes: I say that I have an Egyptian mummy in my basement.

Are you responsible for knowing if I am telling the truth?

Patrick: No.

Thank you. Here’s the follow up question.

I hand you a book that talks about Egyptian mummies. I keep handing you books, DVDs, and other media. One after one. At what point does your responsibility for knowing that I am telling the truth change?

The potential answers are not yes or no, but you should be able to provide an answer that takes at most a couple dozen words.

(Don’t forget the option to pose a question to me if you wish.)

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Hermes July 27, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Please try and shoot for half a dozen words or less if you can squeeze an answer in that space.

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Patrick July 27, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Hermes,

it changes when I can see that noted experts on the topic or otherwise trustworthy people confirm your claim.

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Patrick July 28, 2010 at 12:34 am

Eric,

I agree with you that these subjects, namely the role of Christianity in the history of science and the molecular evidence for evolution, are very interesting, but one has to acknowledge one’s limitations. You cannot be an expert on everything. As for Evolutionary Theory, it’s not that I haven’t the faintest idea what it is about. I know that the basic idea is that the forms of life emerged by means of genetic mutation and natural selection. But I lack the expertise to discuss the issue of evolution and creation with a trained scientist.

As for the question, what the impact of Christianity on the history of science was, the following contributions are very informative:

http://www.jameshannam.com/conflict.htm

http://www.jameshannam.com/literature.htm

http://www.jameshannam.com/justinian.htm

http://www.jameshannam.com/medievalscience.htm

Your objection to letting the supernatural play a role in science is that this would prevent scientific progress by simply attributing unexplained natural phenomena to God. Your objection may not be unjustified. But what if some natural phenomena have indeed a supernatural cause? Wouldn’t a restriction to naturalism in science prevent finding such a cause?

I’m not propagating a replacement of naturalism by supernaturalism but a competition between these two worldviews. In my view this is the best way to find the best explanations concerning natural phenomena. Of course, scientific explanations that take the supernatural into account must fulfil some basic criteria, which are required for a scientific explanation.

With respect to prayer you make the objection that the event being interpreted as the answer to a prayer may also have come about without prayer and that this interpretation could therefore be the consequence of a post hoc propter ergo hoc fallacy. But I think it is not difficult to imagine situations where an answer to a prayer would be such that such a fallacy could be ruled out.

The second objection is also unjustified. An unanswered prayer is not in the same way proof of the inefficacy of prayer as an answered prayer is proof of the efficacy of prayer. To illustrate this let’s assume that there was a person claiming to have an extraordinary talent such as calculating faster than a computer. If this person successfully proves this claim at one time but not at another time, the failed attempt doesn’t neutralize the successful attempt.

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Hermes July 28, 2010 at 5:07 am

Patrick. Authoritarian answer? Hmmm…. OK. The floor is yours. Do you have a question for me?

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Hermes July 28, 2010 at 9:25 am

[ Patrick, FWIW, there is a point to these simple and direct questions. We're not there yet. ]

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Eric July 28, 2010 at 11:28 am


But what if some natural phenomena have indeed a supernatural cause? Wouldn’t a restriction to naturalism in science prevent finding such a cause?

This may be a problem with our definition of supernaturalism. If supernaturalism is basically “that which is derived from the natural” (which applies to Carrier’s definition), then it is merely defined as a negative. As a result, you cannot really confirm that something is supernatural. So we may not even have a reason to really suspect the supernatural even exists. However, both supernaturalists and naturalists do assume the natural world exists, so we agree that we can confirm something as natural since it actually has a positive definition. However, if the supernatural exists, then Methodological Naturalism would never be able to confirm its existence. So it sounds as if your problem is not directly with metaphysical naturalism, but with methodological naturalism, which makes more sense in a metaphysical naturalist world.


But I think it is not difficult to imagine situations where an answer to a prayer would be such that such a fallacy could be ruled out.

I agree. It is impossible to confirm 100% that one thing was caused by another, but it is possible to ensure the correlation is tight. And even if you determine one thing is caused by another, you still have to ensure it is caused by the first thing in a specificly supernatural way. For example, it could be that, if a person is a believer and knows you are praying for them, that could trigger a placebo effect. There has to be a set of controls available in order to ensure as “tight” of a correlation as possible even then you cannot actually confirm it. However, one could argue a person would be justified in believing should enough controls be implemented. This is the goal of these controlled prayer studies, where prayer systematically fails.


The second objection is also unjustified. An unanswered prayer is not in the same way proof of the inefficacy of prayer as an answered prayer is proof of the efficacy of prayer. To illustrate this let’s assume that there was a person claiming to have an extraordinary talent such as calculating faster than a computer. If this person successfully proves this claim at one time but not at another time, the failed attempt doesn’t neutralize the successful attempt.

It depends on the situation. If this person “proves” this claim one time but not another, then you can only assume this person has a 50% chance of doing what he claims to be able to do. Whether or not you can determine the validity of his claim depends on the nature of the “proof” (this related to my last comment) and if his failure the second time is egregious enough, you could suspect he may have 1. gotten lucky, or 2. cheated, the first time. The problem with prayer is that I suspect the numbers are far lower in the case of prayer. This country alone is 80% Christian. I think its safe to assume there are at least a million people in the hospital with terminal conditions each year (Deaths From Smoking Deaths From Obesity. So I think its safe to assume 80% of those are being prayed for. Yet we only hear of a handful of people who miraculously recover without a current medical explanation. Those are not good numbers, especially when there are so many unknowns in the field of medical science. In order to confirm the efficacy of prayer, there needs to be a clear positive definition of the supernatural, as well as a way to confirm that said event was supernatural in origin. So I am wondering what it would take to disprove the efficacy of prayer?

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Hermes July 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm

[ holding comments to Eric's excellent post ]

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Patrick July 29, 2010 at 4:17 am

Hermes,

with respect to your example of the Egyptian mummy an additional remark should be made. An obligation to know something about your claim only applies to people who claim to be experts on Egyptian mummies or at least to be interested in the topic. Other people are under no obligation to know anything about Egyptian mummies.

An appeal to authority in debates is not illegitimate, if both participants of the debate acknowledge the authority being appealed to. So e.g. in a debate between two Christians over doctrinal matters using the Bible as an authority is legitimate, whereas in a debate between a Christian and an atheist it would be an ill-advised strategy for the Christian to do so.

Coming back to your example of the Egyptian mummy, if the books, DVDs and other media you handed me were produced by noted experts on the topic and they all confirmed your claim, it’s certainly reasonable to assume that you are right. If no such confirmation is around and if I want to find out whether or not your claim is true, I have no choice but to pay a visit to your house and see the mummy myself. But even if there was indeed a mummy in your house, it’s by no means clear that it is an Egyptian mummy and not a fake. So one might not be able to avoid relying on expert opinion.

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Hermes July 29, 2010 at 5:18 am

Patrick, do you have any questions for me? If not, I have one for you based on what you have written above.

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Patrick July 29, 2010 at 9:53 am

Eric,

Richard Carrier and other naturalists do not merely define supernaturalism as a negative but they present clear criteria for supernatural events. In an article about defending naturalism as a worldview (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/rea.html) he approvingly refers to a view of supernatural causes proposed by his fellow naturalist Keith Augustine that “a supernatural cause is one that is not caused by any physical or spaciotemporal fact of the universe and yet “exhibits apparently purposive or intelligent behavior.””

I don’t agree with your view that MN makes more sense in a metaphysical naturalist world. If you accept the idea that in the physical world there is lawful regularity, which is totally consistent with the Biblical worldview, applying MN in some fields of science is entirely legitimate from a Christian point of view. It may only seem illegitimate in areas where from a Christian point of view one would expect supernatural explanations for natural phenomena.

So you can see that I have no problem with MN in general. Where I see a problem is the fact that MN is regarded as the only legitimate basis for gaining knowledge about natural phenomena, especially as according to the article mentioned above the scientific method is not necessarily tied to naturalism.

With respect to the proof of the efficacy of prayer you seem to take the view that such a proof can only be accomplished scientifically by means of controlled prayer studies. As I pointed out earlier there are fundamental as well as methodological problems with such studies.

First, science can only investigate natural events that follow predictable patterns. But free acts of personal agents don’t necessarily follow such patterns. This applies to natural agents such as human beings as well as supernatural agents like God, who is supposed to be responsible for the answers to prayers.

Second, it is very difficult if not impossible to ensure that in such prayer studies Biblical guidelines are followed. Only if this is the case the results of such studies have a relevance to the Christian faith at all.

Besides, many if not all naturalists acknowledge the view that science is not the only means to acquire knowledge. In this respect let me again quote Richard Carrier from the article mentioned above:

“I am quite certain that all naturalists accept many more sources of evidence besides the scientific. They all accept historical evidence, for example, as well as direct personal experience outside the canons of scientific procedure.”

So if there are reliable and trustworthy testimonies of people testifying to the efficacy of prayer, I don’t see why such testimonies shouldn’t be taken seriously by any reasonable person, especially if factors like placebo effect or mere chance can be ruled out.

Of course, one can never be 100% sure that nevertheless there are natural causes for such events. But to assume therefore that there must be such a cause, however improbable this would be, in my view constitutes a naturalistic dogmatism.

Coming back to the example of a person claiming to have an extraordinary talent I think it would be reasonable to acknowledge this even if he or she would not always be able to prove this, especially if the cases of a successful proof are well-documented. In my view this also applies to well-documented cases of effects of prayers and therefore failed attempts do not neutralize the successful ones.

Concerning what you wrote about people in hospital with terminal conditions I assume that most of them are elderly people, whose friends and relatives may accept the fact that they are going to die. Moreover, according to the Bible Christians have no guarantee that they are spared diseases. As for the reasons for the scarcity of miracles these days in general you may read one of my comments dated 15th July, addressed to Hermes.

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Hermes July 29, 2010 at 10:06 am

[ Patrick, the following is not directed at you. ]

Eric, as for …

Patrick: As for the reasons for the scarcity of miracles these days in general you may read one of my comments dated 15th July, addressed to Hermes.

… my comment from the 14th still applies;

Patrick, to emphasize what I’ve already written;

If the Bible is correct,
amputees getting restored limbs
and other supernatural miracles
should be as plentiful as confetti
on the sidewalk after a parade.

A look at reality shows this is not the case,
thus the Bible and any conclusions in it
can not be used as a reliable guide to reality.

Source: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=11263.msg253045#msg253045

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Patrick July 29, 2010 at 10:36 am

Hermes,

I have no question for you.

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Hermes July 29, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I grant that you aren’t an Egyptologist. How about a more mundane example using the same basic set of questions?

I say that I have a dead human body in my basement.

Are you responsible for knowing if I am telling the truth?

I’ll guess that you will say no again.

I hand you a book that talks about cadavers. I keep handing you books, DVDs, and other media on related subjects such as anatomy and biology as well as ones on puppets, taxidermy, and wax museums. One after one. At what point does your responsibility for knowing that I am telling the truth change?

Please give a brief summary of your answer to this.

For example, you could say that — like in the mummy example — you would have to verify that the body exists and then have it investigated. Unlike the mummy example, you may feel you are capable of identifying a real human body from a sophisticated statue/mannequin/puppet/robot/… through some careful analysis. You may decide to bring a dissection kit for an autopsy and may decide that you could determine if I was telling the truth or not only after you performed a bit of cutting.

(Note that, as with the mummy, you haven’t actually been in my basement yet. You are only setting the reasonable ground rules and may make reasonable requirements such as bringing along a group of your friends to help.)

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Eric July 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Patrick –
“a supernatural cause is one that is not caused by any physical or spaciotemporal fact of the universe and yet “exhibits apparently purposive or intelligent behavior.”

I have to say that this definition does not help one confirm that something is supernatural. The first part of this definition is exactly a negative definition. Once again, there is no way to confirm that something “is not caused by any physical or spaciotemporal fact,” since it is a negative. There is no way to practically differentiate between the “unknown” and the “not-natural.” The second part is way too vague and speculative too be considered a way to confirm the supernatural. Something can have an unknown cause, and appear to “[exhibit] apparently purposive or intelligent behavior,” and later be discovered as natural. For example, one could say that the way DNA replicates itself seems as though it exhibits an apparently positive or intelligent behavior. However, if one was not familiar with the chemistry behind it, leaving its natural causes unknown, one may be able to call it supernatural under Carrier’s definition. Obviously this does not confirm it as supernatural because, if that person were to study it more, they would see that it is not supernatural. Because this definition gives us no way to differentiate between the “unknown” and the “not-natural,” it does not solve the problem of confirming the supernatural.

Patrick –
I don’t agree with your view that MN makes more sense in a metaphysical naturalist world. If you accept the idea that in the physical world there is lawful regularity, which is totally consistent with the Biblical worldview, applying MN in some fields of science is entirely legitimate from a Christian point of view.

I thought we already had this discussion, you wrote on 7/20:

Patrick –
it’s certainly true that MN is more compatible with Metaphysical Naturalism than with Supernaturalism.

Isn’t this basically saying that “MN makes more sense in a metaphysical naturalist world”? Although a Christian can interpret the Bible as promoting lawful regularity, these laws can still be broken. Sometimes very often. So once again, how can a Christian have the confidence that the cause of some mental phenomenon must be non-mental, which is a necessity for someone to use MN?

Patrick –
It may only seem illegitimate in areas where from a Christian point of view one would expect supernatural explanations for natural phenomena.

Refer back to what I said about Newton and the stability of the universe. This was part of his great scientific achievement, and he did not have the confidence to employ methodological naturalism, which would have not been a problem had he been a metaphysical naturalist. Remember as well that virtually all the religious natural philosophers considered the history of the earth, the origin of the species, etc… outside the realm of Methodological Naturalism. So the problem is: when would you expect supernatural explanations for natural phenomena?

Patrick –
With respect to the proof of the efficacy of prayer you seem to take the view that such a proof can only be accomplished scientifically by means of controlled prayer studies.

If you can find a way to confirm a tight enough correlation to the point where one can reasonably assume causation, please present it. At the very least, these prayer studies show that correlations can be misleading.

Patrick –
“I am quite certain that all naturalists accept many more sources of evidence besides the scientific. They all accept historical evidence, for example, as well as direct personal experience outside the canons of scientific procedure.”

This may be so, but if this evidence challenges what we already know of the world through science, then we have reason to suspect this evidence.

Patrick –
So if there are reliable and trustworthy testimonies of people testifying to the efficacy of prayer, I don’t see why such testimonies shouldn’t be taken seriously by any reasonable person, especially if factors like placebo effect or mere chance can be ruled out.

How do you know there is a causal effect at all? How do you know the prayer in any way contributed to the healing, other than a potential placebo effect? This is the overall problem. Normally, we can use clinical studies to check for cause and effect. However, as you pointed out, these studies will have inherent flaws when studying prayer. I only suggest these studies because they implement enough controls to help one reasonably assume causation. Testimonies, however, are notoriously bad at determining truth (ex: here and here), unless they are able to be confirmed. One need only visit a magic show to understand just how easy it is to to fool the senses.

Patrick –
Coming back to the example of a person claiming to have an extraordinary talent I think it would be reasonable to acknowledge this even if he or she would not always be able to prove this, especially if the cases of a successful proof are well-documented.

Once again, not just well documented, but well controlled. You would also need to ensure he is not just on the side of favorable odds. For example, using a Math Trick. In this case, I think Arthur C Clarke’s quote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” is especially valid in this case.

Patrick –
Concerning what you wrote about people in hospital with terminal conditions I assume that most of them are elderly people, whose friends and relatives may accept the fact that they are going to die. Moreover, according to the Bible Christians have no guarantee that they are spared diseases.

I am not sure the first sentence is necessarily justified. Remember that both examples I gave you were “preventable diseases.” So I think it is safe to assume a significant number of those people had relatives praying for them to survive. However, I guess I did not clearly state the point I was trying to make with this example. You have ~800,000 terminal patients in which someone is praying they get better. Then later only a handful of them actually do. With as many unknowns as there are in medical science, you would statistically expect for at least a small percentage of these terminal people to get better independent of a known reason. In America, you can probably assume at least 80% of these people had others praying for them. So you are practically guaranteed to have people survive a disease for some unknown reason after they had been prayed for. This is expected without any necessary cause from the prayer itself. And I suspect these people will give their testimonials. I pointed out the bad numbers to make the point that we don’t even have any statistical favor-ability to prayer.
So to reiterate my final statement from last post, “In order to confirm the efficacy of prayer, there needs to be a clear positive definition of the supernatural, as well as a way to confirm that said event was supernatural in origin.” As I said earlier, Carrier’s “positive” definition doesn’t help us confirm that something was supernatural. So once again, my last question:
what it would take to disprove the efficacy of prayer?


Of course, one can never be 100% sure that nevertheless there are natural causes for such events. But to assume therefore that there must be such a cause, however improbable this would be, in my view constitutes a naturalistic dogmatism.

Your first sentence conveys the point very nicely. I think it mainly speaks to the fact that you cannot confirm something as supernatural. And since you cannot confirm something as supernatural, you can safely say nothing has been confirmed as supernatural. However, countless phenomenon that were once considered supernatural are now considered natural. Thus you may have reason to suspect the supernatural doesn’t exist. At that point, you may be able to reasonably assume there must be a natural cause to many phenomena, regardless of whether or not some people consider them natural. Now this problem would be solved if:
1. The supernatural was defined in a positive confirm-able way.
2. The supernatural was confirmed to exist at least once.

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Eric July 29, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Correction:
“At that point, you may be able to reasonably assume there must be a natural cause to many phenomena, regardless of whether or not some people consider them supernatural

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Patrick July 30, 2010 at 6:18 am

Hermes,

the brief summary you suggest is one that I might also have suggested. It’s fine with me and I don’t think that there is anything to add to it for the time being.

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Hermes July 30, 2010 at 6:33 am

Good. Now, you have a plan. Do you attempt to implement the plan or do you speculate about what the plan would discover?

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Patrick July 30, 2010 at 6:37 am

Hermes,

I simply attempt to implement the plan.

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Patrick July 30, 2010 at 6:40 am

Eric,

you may be right that it’s impossible to differentiate between the supernatural and the unknown. But is it therefore illegitimate to ascribe unknown phenomena to supernatural agents?

Let’s assume that life came about supernaturally, an idea that up to now nobody has been able to refute. If that’s how life originated there will never be a naturalistic explanation of the origin of life. But nevertheless we will forever be forced to conclude that there must be a naturalistic explanation for it.

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to say that we still don’t know how life came about and treat the idea that God created it in the same way as the idea that there must be some naturalistic explanation? On what ground is the naturalistic position to be preferred to the theistic one?

The answer usually given is that up to now supernatural explanations have been steadily replaced by more plausible naturalistic explanations. One example in favour of this point of view that you have referred to a few times is Newton’s supernatural explanation of the stability of the universe. I suspect that this might be the only example one can present in favour of this view. Moreover, Newton’s explanation is not one that from the perspective of Christian supernaturalism must be necessarily taken.

I just can’t see the countless phenomena that once were considered supernatural and now are considered natural, at least not with respect to the Judeo Christian culture. Most if not all phenomena for which science has found conclusive naturalistic explanations are phenomena for which also adherents of Christian supernaturalism would expect naturalistic explanations.

Unlike you I don’t think that there is a conclusive naturalistic explanation for the origin of species. As far as I can see there are still too many open questions with respect to this topic. In my view Evolutionary Theory is generally accepted because supernatural explanations about the origin of species are ruled out a priori and it is the best if not the only possible naturalistic theory available.

I think that looking at the Bible a Christian can be quite confident that the cause of non-mental phenomena is also non-mental, maybe with the exception of the origin of the universe. As for the causes for mental phenomena I don’t see why a Christian must be confident that they have non-mental causes. But I think that this is not a disadvantage. Unlike the naturalist the Christian can follow the evidence wherever it leads and accept a mental as well as a non-mental cause.

Just the fact that the examples you gave, namely deaths from smoking or obesity, are “preventable diseases” that are caused by some way of life, may be the reason that praying for such persons, if it occurs at all, may not be successful. If a Christian deliberately destroys his or her health by a certain way of life, I think he or she cannot expect to be spared the consequences of such a way of life. As for the efficacy of prayers for ill people in general I think that there are no statistical data, which allow a conclusion in either direction. We simply don’t know how many patients are prayed for, how many of these prayers are done in accordance to Biblical guidelines and how many patients recover due to prayer.

You ask what it would take to disprove the efficacy of prayer. Strictly speaking it is impossible to disprove it, as you cannot prove a negative. For me the efficacy of prayer would at least be shown to be improbable if well-documented examples of supposed answers of prayers, where Biblical guidelines for successful prayer were followed, are shown to have naturalistic explanations. Just to state that they might be the result of mere chance, placebo effect or fraud is not enough for me. In my view the burden of proof is on the shoulder of those who deny the efficacy of prayer.

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Hermes July 30, 2010 at 7:11 am

Patrick, I let you — along with your tools and anyone you bring with you — into my basement. You look around, and see no corpse. I point to a coffin sized clear glass box in the middle of the room that is suspended by thin wires both from the ceiling and from the floor, floating there like a strange box kite.

In the first minute, you see that the box is pieced together carefully with lead edges like a stained glass window though all the sides are thin clear glass. You see no obvious indications of a body. You don’t hide this observation from me.

I inform you that the box contains a carefully suspended corpse that is both in this dimension and in another one and that smart people who pay careful attention to the contents will see the body. I tell you that I now can clearly see the body, but I admit that I did not see it immediately.

What do you do?

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Eric July 30, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Patrick –
I began writing a response to your post but I realized I need a clarification. When you talk of “supernatural explanations,” do you mean a specifically Judeo-Christian supernatural explanation or any possible supernatural explanation.

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Patrick July 31, 2010 at 2:22 am

Eric,

whether I use the expression “supernatural explanation” in general or specifically with respect to the Judeo-Christian culture depends on the context. I refer to the latter when I strive to reject the claim that science has disproved Christianity. In this connection my argument is that even if some supernatural claims have been refuted this doesn’t necessarily mean that Christian supernaturalism has been refuted.

To give you examples of this let’s look at two supernatural scientific theories that were popular among learned men in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age, namely astrology and natural magic. Famous adherents of the latter were Pietro Pomponazzi (1462-1525), Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486-1535), Paracelsus (1493-1541), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) and Robert Fludd (1574-1637). For further reading concerning this topic I recommend the following book:

Brian Easlea, Witch Hunting, Magic and the New Philosophy: An Introduction to Debates of the Scientific Revolution 1450-1750, Atlantic Highlands 1980.

Natural magic is treated on pages 90-110. That this theory is incompatible with Christianity can be seen from the following quote from page 109:

“Natural magic, despite the undoubted piety of (most) natural magicians, posed a threat to Christianity. If nature is occult and extraordinary phenomena have a natural (planetary-stellar, vis imaginativa) explanation, then the miracles of Christ may either have been natural phenomena or the work of an exceptional magician, not necessarily the Son of God. The response of orthodox Christians, it must be emphasized, was to declare natural magic inefficacious and all so-called magical feats either illusions or the work of demons.”

Also incompatible with Christianity is the other theory mentioned, namely astrology. This is explained in more detail in the following contributions:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_and_astrology

http://www.gotquestions.org/astrology-Bible.html

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Patrick July 31, 2010 at 2:35 am

Hermes,

I would conclude that there is no corpse in the room.

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 6:47 am

Patrick, I admit to you that the body isn’t always in the room as it is most of the time in a parallel dimension, but I ask you to take your time and carefully examine the box so that you can see the body when it is in this dimension.

Do you agree to follow my advice so that you can see the corpse?

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Patrick July 31, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Hermes,

I might ask you if the existence of such a corpse is of any use to me or to any other person. If your answer is “no”, I might conclude that it is a waste of time waiting for the appearance of the corpse. If you answer in the affirmative, I would ask how long it usually takes until the body would be again in this dimension. If for a longer period no corpse became visible I would again take the view that there is no corpse in the room.

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 2:35 pm

The corpse may show up in the next moment, or may take quite a bit of time. The amount of effort you take or importance you give to it doesn’t change the fact that the corpse will show up, so you can just agree that it’s going to show and leave if you want. If you leave and say you don’t agree, then I’d like to know how you can justify not agreeing with what I’ve claimed?

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Eric July 31, 2010 at 4:08 pm


you may be right that it’s impossible to differentiate between the supernatural and the unknown. But is it therefore illegitimate to ascribe unknown phenomena to supernatural agents?

Remember you are not just ascribing unknown agents to ANY supernatural agents, just to supernatural agents compatible with Christian Theology. What supernatural agents are you ascribing these unknown phenomena to and why them as opposed to others? The reason I ask is because if you have just ascribed something to a supernatural agent, but you have no idea which one, how can you determine that it is a non-natural explanation. Basically, how can you differentiate between “non-natural” and “unknown?” Keep in mind what I said on the last post about this topic with DNA replication.


Let’s assume that life came about supernaturally, an idea that up to now nobody has been able to refute.

This is one of the reasons I asked you the question in the previous post. When you say that life came about supernaturally, what does that mean? When you bring say life came about supernaturally, you have left open a near unlimited number of possible explanations. For example, did it just poof into existence after God said it would, like in the Genesis Story? Or did a group of Gods carve us out of stone and bring the stone to life? For any of these cases, why do you think that case is more likely than any other? What evidence do we have to make us think any of these things are the case. It is also in no way helpful to say “what if [A] happened” if we have no justification for thinking A true in the first place. If we ignored this rule, we could come up with a basically infinite amount of As to think possible. Now if we look at the evidence for the natural origin of life (Al Moritz’s explanation of the Origin of Life), we see reasons to suspect life came about one way (RNA First) and not another way (Protein First). So we already have conclusive reasons to suspect that life emerged in a natural way. However, we have no conclusive reasons to think that life emerged “non-naturally.” So, I think the idea that life came about supernaturally has been refuted quite well. There may be some unknowns, but once again, how do the existence of unknowns lead you to believe the “non-natural” exists? To say unknowns do this is an argument from ignorance. However, saying that unknowns likely have a natural explanation is justified, which i pointed out in the last post and will continue to defend here. Both naturalists and super naturalists both agree that the natural world exists so we both assume natural explanations are possible. However, it is the job of the super naturalist to justify the multiplication of ontology.


Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to say that we still don’t know how life came about and treat the idea that God created it in the same way as the idea that there must be some naturalistic explanation? On what ground is the naturalistic position to be preferred to the theistic one?

It would be reasonable to say we don’t know how life came about. As I showed before, we have good reasons to suspect life came about in a particular natural way. However, what POSITIVE evidence do we have that God created life?


The answer usually given is that up to now supernatural explanations have been steadily replaced by more plausible naturalistic explanations. One example in favour of this point of view that you have referred to a few times is Newton’s supernatural explanation of the stability of the universe. I suspect that this might be the only example one can present in favour of this view.

This is another reason I asked you to differentiate between misc supernatural explanations and specifically Judeo-Christian ones. When you say super naturalism in General, there are multiple examples of this. Everything from lightning to rain to disease. In the case of Judeo-Christian explanations:
1. The planets and Sun were once thought to rotate around the earth, not to the forces of gravity, but to the heavenly powers.
2. Sneezing was thought to expel evil from a person’s body. Later it was thought that covering your mouth kept the soul intact.
3. Breaking a glass at the end of your wedding ceremony cast away deamons…
4. Both Jews and Christians one believed that the universe and everything it it was made in 6 days all at once ~6000 years ago. Practically all of Biology, Geology, Paleontology, and Physics show this is not the case.
etc…


Most if not all phenomena for which science has found conclusive naturalistic explanations are phenomena for which also adherents of Christian supernaturalism would expect naturalistic explanations.

Nobody expected a naturalistic explanation for the movements of the “heavenly spheres.” No one expected a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, of the species, of the earth, and of our universe? Nobody expected a natural explanation for the formation of stars. For centuries, Jewish and Christian Theologians have developed ways to reinterpret the scripture to make it support the new findings of science.


Unlike you I don’t think that there is a conclusive naturalistic explanation for the origin of species. As far as I can see there are still too many open questions with respect to this topic. In my view Evolutionary Theory is generally accepted because supernatural explanations about the origin of species are ruled out a priori and it is the best if not the only possible naturalistic theory available.

What questions are you thinking of? Maybe you should check the TalkOrigins Index To Creationist Claims. And once again, how do these questions lead you to think the “unexplained” supports “non-natural” explanations? Also, ask yourself if these questions are enough to ignore all of the rest of the evidence we have for a natural origin of the species. It may also help to note that, until 150-200 years ago, supernatural explanations for the origin of the species were all that existed. Now we have an amazing amount of evidence suggesting they are false. What positive evidence do we have that any of these are true? I find that last sentence quite interesting. Who is ruling out supernatural explanations? Scientists? But earlier you said:

Patrick –
science can only investigate natural events that follow predictable patterns. But free acts of personal agents don’t necessarily follow such patterns.

So doesn’t this mean that science cannot investigate supernatural explanations for the origin of the species just as they couldn’t investigate supernatural explanations for answered prayer? Or does this mean scientists should stop trying to find a naturalistic origin of the species and leave that to theologians? Should scientists just disregard all the positive evidence they have for the origin of the species?


Unlike the naturalist the Christian can follow the evidence wherever it leads and accept a mental as well as a non-mental cause.

Follow the evidence? Is this following the evidence?

Patrick –
“..The response of orthodox Christians [to natural magic], it must be emphasized, was to declare natural magic inefficacious and all so-called magical feats either illusions or the work of demons.”

That sounds like “directing the evidence” toward Christianity. I tend to think that accepting a supernatural explanation closes ones mind toward any possible explorable natural explanation. Although I think This YouTube Video explains it better than I can.


As for the efficacy of prayers for ill people in general I think that there are no statistical data, which allow a conclusion in either direction. We simply don’t know how many patients are prayed for, how many of these prayers are done in accordance to Biblical guidelines and how many patients recover due to prayer.

This would be an interesting thing to study, if possible. But this was not my point. Let me repost the relevant sentences

Eric –
With as many unknowns as there are in medical science, you would statistically expect for at least a small percentage of these terminal people to get better independent of a known reason….
[it is say to say at least some of these people are being prayed for.] So you are practically guaranteed to have people survive a disease for some unknown reason after they had been prayed for. This is expected without any necessary cause from the prayer itself.


For me the efficacy of prayer would at least be shown to be improbable if well-documented examples of supposed answers of prayers, where Biblical guidelines for successful prayer were followed, are shown to have naturalistic explanations.

This is once again an argument from ignorance. Do I need to constantly repeat myself? Either way, this may be tough to find though, because, outside a prayer study, I don’t know who would actually document every biblical guideline.

Patrick –
In my view the burden of proof is on the shoulder of those who deny the efficacy of prayer.

This is a logical fallacy, once again you are shifting the burden of proof when you were the one that made the positive claim. You claimed that God answers prayers, which sometimes come in the form of healing the sick? Proving this incorrect is, as you said before, impossible. You made the positive claim and we deny it until you can give us substantial evidence to believe this claim.
Now on the other hand, the claim that “naturalism of the gaps is justified” is a positive claim. Luke gave the reasons why he believes this is true. I gave an argument as well. Unless you disagree with the premises or think I am employing a logical fallacy with my argument, then the argument stands to be refuted.

Just for an exercise, let me give you an analogy that may help you understand the fallacies you have committed. Lets say I have some rocks and I claim these rocks are both fully material and fully supernatural. Let’s say I claim these rocks have a supernatural power, healing the sick. They will only heal the sick if they are within the sick person’s room and only under certain conditions. Due to the supernatural nature of these rocks, most of these conditions are unknown. Now I put this rocks in various sick people’s rooms. Some of them get better. Some still die. Some get better for reasons unexplained by medical science. Now remember the point I made earlier that you are basically guaranteed from our ignorance in Medical Science that a small percentage of people will heal due to unknown causes. I claim it was the rock that healed the sick. Those that didn’t get healed just didn’t fulfill every unknown criteria.

If a skeptic were to give me similar arguments to the ones I gave you, I could say:

“Just the fact that the examples you gave, namely deaths from smoking or obesity, are “preventable diseases” that are caused by some way of life, may be the reason that putting the rock in the rooms such persons, if it occurs at all, may not be successful. If a Rockist deliberately destroys his or her health by a certain way of life, I think he or she cannot expect to be spared the consequences of such a way of life. As for the rocks healing ill people in general I think that there are no statistical data, which allow a conclusion in either direction. We simply don’t know how many patients are given rocks, how many of these rocks are done in accordance to guidelines and how many patients recover due to these rocks.

You ask what it would take to disprove that the rocks healed these people. Strictly speaking it is impossible to disprove it, as you cannot prove a negative. For me the claim that these rocks heal people would at least be shown to be improbable if well-documented examples of supposed rock healings, where guidelines for successful rock healings were followed, are shown to have naturalistic explanations. Just to state that they might be the result of mere chance, placebo effect or fraud is not enough for me. In my view the burden of proof is on the shoulder of those who deny the healing power of rocks.”

Do you believe me? Why or why not?

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Hermes July 31, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Eric, well said.

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Eric August 1, 2010 at 10:50 am

Looks like those links didn’t work Let me Try them again.

YouTube video over open mindedness
Shifting the burden of proof fallacy

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Eric August 1, 2010 at 10:51 am

Hermes:
Thank you. Although I feel like I’m spending too much time on this thread, lol

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Hermes August 1, 2010 at 11:47 am

Agreed. That’s why I’m keeping things as simple as possible.

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Hermes August 1, 2010 at 11:51 am

Good video, btw.

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Hermes August 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Patrick, I only have a few more questions (5 max). The offer to answer your questions — on almost any topic if I’m able to — is still out there.

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Eric August 1, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Patrick –
For me the efficacy of prayer would at least be shown to be improbable if well-documented examples of supposed answers of prayers, where Biblical guidelines for successful prayer were followed, are shown to have naturalistic explanations.

You know i just realized what was bothering me about this. If someone was healed by naturalistic methods, after they had been prayed for via biblical guidelines, how would this work to show the efficacy of prayer improbable? Wouldn’t this just be an example where God chose not to supernaturally heal someone because he knew they would be healed via natural means anyway? In general, there is no doubt sick people have healed via natural processes. With the overwhelming amount of Christians in this country, it also seems hard for me to believe nobody prayed for those people using biblical guidelines. I just see no reason why anyone would have documented that they prayed via biblical guidelines if the person healed naturally anyway. So I’m sure it would be next to impossible to find a documented case, event though it most certainly happened. Either way, please enlighten me why finding an example like this would make the efficacy of prayer improbable.

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Hermes August 2, 2010 at 4:55 am

Well, and the sheer number of potential ‘Biblically correct’ versions of prayer. Rejecting the STEP is a form of goal post moving.

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Patrick August 2, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Eric,

in my view the video about open-mindedness misrepresents the attitude of many people who regard the existence of the supernatural as a real possibility, me included. I don’t deny that there are extremely gullible persons, who believe everything they are told, but to say that all “supernaturalists” are of this frame of mind is an exaggeration.

I don’t expect anyone to believe things without having evidence. That’s why I try to present evidence for every claim I make. One such piece of evide