Matt Young posted Entry 1235 on July 27, 2005 08:05 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1233

I received the following interesting and thoughtful letter from a retired physician, whom I shall call Dr. S.  I have not received permission to publish Dr. S’s letter verbatim, so I will paraphrase it:

Dr. S says he was “raised a Christian but didn’t have it shoved down [his] throat.”  He majored in biology and chemistry in college and had a year of biochemistry in medical school.  He takes evolution “as a given.”

Dr. S recently read a magazine article defending evolution against intelligent design and also mentions the new book Why Intelligent Design Fails.  He asks if we are making a mistake and doing poor science. True scientists, he suggests, would “question the theory of evolution to make sure it’s not just another crackpot idea that has gained wide acceptance.”

Indeed, by defending evolution are we not lowering it from science to religious dogma?  Has the theory of evolution become “an anti-religion religion”?

Dr. S thinks we should encourage intelligent design and calls it “a graceful way for Christians and Jews to evolve away from the Old Testament story of creation which is probably a total crock.”

Dr. S raises good points and probably shares his qualms with a great many observers.  I will therefore answer him here.

First, Dr. S’s implicit assumption is that intelligent-design creationism is a religion.  It is not.  It may be religiously motivated, but it is not in itself a religion.  It is a pseudoscience and needs to be fought like all pseudosciences.  I doubt that Dr. S would demur if some medical practitioners spent their time exposing homeopathy or therapeutic touch as quackery, nor would he fear that the practitioners who did so were somehow making a mistake and turning medicine into an anti-quackery quackery.  In the same way, we are by no means turning science into religion by defending evolution against intelligent-design creationism.  Indeed, the book, Why Intelligent Design Fails, which I coedited with Taner Edis, attacks intelligent-design creationism on its scientific merits (or lack thereof) and barely mentions religion, except in a historical introduction.

Wouldn’t true scientists question the theory of evolution to make sure it’s not some crackpot idea?  Of course: evolutionary biologists probably do so implicitly every time they perform an experiment or interpret a data set.

Theory is technical term in science - a term of art, or a word that has a very specific meaning in a given field - and emphatically does not mean a hunch or a speculation.  My American Heritage Dictionary gives the following definitions of “theory”:

1.a.  Systematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions, accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze, predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of a specified set of phenomena. … 2. …  speculation. … 4.  An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.

The theory of evolution is a theory in sense 1.a, not 2 or 4, which are more colloquial uses of the term; Dr. S may be using “theory” in senses 2 or 4.  No theory in science is ever a crackpot idea that has gained wide acceptance, inasmuch as a theory has to be tested over and over before it is accepted as a full-fledged theory.  Indeed, it is unfortunate, in a way, that scientists speak of the theory of evolution, rather than the law of evolution.  Perhaps it is our humility that gets in the way of public understanding.  But in fact the use of theory here is very close to law, as in the law of gravity.

Evolutionary biology is based on the observed fact of common descent.  “Everyone” knew the fact of common descent in Darwin’s day.  Lamarck’s theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics was an attempt to account for common descent; it foundered on its lack of a mechanism and on the noninheritance of many acquired characteristics.  Darwin and Wallace accounted for common descent by developing a theory that included natural selection, but additional mechanisms have since been identified.  The fossil record, the genetic code, and a body of mathematical inference all contribute to the modern theory of evolutionary biology.

Let me give an analogy from Dr. S’s own field: the germ theory of disease (my colleague Tara Smith will have more to say about this theory shortly).  The germ theory of disease was an attempt to explain the fact that many diseases are infectious.  It has been well established by observation and laboratory experiment.  If we count viruses as germs, then the vast majority of diseases are caused by germs.  You would frankly have to be nuts to deny the germ theory.  Even ulcers have been shown to be caused by germs, though there is still controversy whether stress is an additional factor.

Not all diseases are infectious.  Depending what you count as a disease, schizophrenia, hayfever, scurvy, cancer, and diabetes are presumably not infectious (though it is possible that certain diseases that are not considered infectious nevertheless have infection as a component).  Mad-cow disease, by contrast, is caused by an infectious agent that is not alive and hence not a germ.  The germ theory of disease is by no means undermined by such observations; we simply conclude that we have more work to do, and the germ theory is subsumed by a more-general theory that includes deficiencies, genetics, and environmental agents.

In the same way, Darwin and Wallace’s theory was subsumed by a more-general theory that is sometimes called the modern synthesis.

Is evolutionary biology (the modern synthesis) a dogma?  No, no more than the law of gravity.  Is it an anti-religion religion?  No.  Evolutionary biology says nothing whatsoever about God.  It says that we can adequately explain the observed fact of descent with modification without invoking God or a creator, but it by no means denies the existence of a creator.  Some biologists think that evolutionary biology provides evidence against the existence of God, just as some think it allows for a god.  I think you may with intellectual honesty believe anything you like regarding God, provided that your belief does not contradict known scientific fact.

I don’t know whether I would call the Hebrew Bible’s creation story a crock, though it is certainly not historically accurate.  But then I do not expect poetry to be accurate and never really believed the ancient mariner or the traveler from the antique land either.  Can intelligent-design creationism substitute for Biblical literalism, as Dr. S suggests?

Here I think Dr. S is partly on the right track.  Theistic evolutionists believe in intelligent design in a broad sense, and they believe that God created the universe.  They do not deny evolutionary biology, however, but rather argue that evolution was God’s way of creating intelligent life.  I would be very pleased to see theistic evolution make inroads against Biblical literalism.

But theistic evolutionists are not intelligent-design creationists in the common meaning of the phrase.  What is conventionally called intelligent-design creationism is profoundly anti-scientific in that it introduces God (or perhaps some other creator) into the mixture precisely where we should be looking for natural mechanisms.  Additionally, people who hold one anti-scientific view are apt to hold two; some evolution deniers, for example, also hold the dangerous view that HIV does not cause AIDS.  Finally, intelligent-design creationists advocate teaching their pseudoscience alongside real science in the public schools; this tactic is a thinly veiled attempt to inject religion into the classroom and can only be divisive.  Intelligent-design creationism is not a benign substitute for Biblical literalism.

Note added 28 July 2005:  Tara Smith’s article, “Why isn’t the germ theory a “religion”?” may be found at http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/07/why_isnt_the_ge_….

Commenters are responsible for the content of comments. The opinions expressed in articles, linked materials, and comments are not necessarily those of PandasThumb.org. See our full disclaimer.

Comment #39880

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 27, 2005 9:21 PM (e)

Excellent commentary, however, I must raise issue with your historical comments:

Evolutionary biology is based on the observed fact of common descent. “Everyone” knew the fact of common descent in Darwin’s day. Lamarck’s theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics was an attempt to account for common descent; it foundered on its lack of a mechanism and on the noninheritance of many acquired characteristics. Darwin and Wallace accounted for common descent by developing a theory that included natural selection, but additional mechanisms have since been identified. The fossil record, the genetic code, and a body of mathematical inference all contribute to the modern theory of evolutionary biology.

In fact, Lamarck never accepted common descent. He believed that all lineages remained extinct, but from their origin (which he believed to occur continuosly) evolved through a series of stages, of which the highest was that represented by humans.

Further, common descent was not accepted by “everyone” in Darwin’s day until after the publication of “The Origin of Species”. It was his overwhelming array of facts in support of common descent that made it virtually incontravertible in the scientific community shortly after its publication (though not completely so until the death of Aggassiz), but prior to the publication of “The Origin”, most scientists continued to accept special creation along with a very old Earth.

Comment #39881

Posted by Don P on July 27, 2005 9:28 PM (e)

Theistic evolutionists believe in intelligent design in a broad sense, and they believe that God created the universe.

Yes, the only real difference between theistic evolutionists and proponents of ID is that the former claim, not that there is no intelligent design, but merely that there is no evidence of intelligent design. Theistic evolutionists apparently believe in a God who is enormously deceptive. As they would have it, God exists, wants us to know that he exists, created us and everything around us, but carefully hid from us any evidence of these facts. I don’t know why anyone thinks this irrational belief is any more plausible or worthy of respect than the irrational beliefs of ID proponents.

Comment #39886

Posted by PhilVaz on July 27, 2005 9:40 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'url'

Comment #39887

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 9:45 PM (e)

There’s a theory of gravity, and the inverse square law of gravitational attraction. There’s a theory of evolution, and there’s natural selection, which is close enough to being law-like that it may deserve being called one. But neither the theory of gravity nor the theory of evolution are law-like.

Comment #39888

Posted by Don P on July 27, 2005 9:56 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'url'

Comment #39893

Posted by Air Bear on July 27, 2005 10:05 PM (e)

Two points -

First,

Dr. S wrote:

True scientists, he suggests, would “question the theory of evolution to make sure it’s not just another crackpot idea that has gained wide acceptance.”

I think that Dr. S does not appreciate that the theory of evolution is constantly being tested (as are all theories in science), and that any major scientist would just love to come up with a theory that would modify or replace the current theory of evolution. But the testing and challenges must be conducted according to the rules of modern science. Scientists are constantly questioning within their own community, but don’t take seriously the ideas of outsiders who don’t play by the rules of scientific evidence and argument.

Second,

Not being a theistic evolutionist, I can’t truly know what they believe, but I’ve been around religion enough to understand the religious mind. I suspect that theistic evolutionists have two things going on in their minds. First, they accept the validity of the theory of evolution. Second, they believe in God as the all-powerful Creator who is the Lord of the universe and who permeates everything. They probably feel His presence in their lives and communicate with Him regularly through prayer. Therefore, they must feel that God is somehow present in evolution just as He is present in everything else. Trying to posit an omnipresent but invisible divine evolutionary mechanism makes it too rationalistic, and it appears silly. But there’s the feeling (belief) just the same. It’s not something to argue over or prove or disprove. Either you believe it or you don’t. Significantly, it appears that theistic evolutionists don’t try to bring religious mechanisms into their work; they know to keep their work separate.

Comment #39895

Posted by Paul Flocken on July 27, 2005 10:10 PM (e)

From Matt Young avobe.

Is evolutionary biology (the modern synthesis) a dogma?

I don’t know who wrote this but it was written in response to Prof. Rubinstein’s fool tripe at the Social Affairs Unit website. If evolution is dogma it is the most changeable and malleable dogma in history.

All I can say is it’s a good thing the author is teaching history and not biology - don’t give up your day job. Although come to think of it it’s so poorly researched and based in conjecture and assumptions it doesn’t speak well of his attention to detail or methodology.

The details regarding evolution have been well covered already. But I wanted to take issue with this creationist straw man of the supposed “dogma” of Evolutionary Theory. There ain’t no such beast.

Evolutionary theory has evolved and changed considerably since Darwin’s day. To appreciate this it’s important to understand that Darwin himself developed the theory of natural selection to explain and make sense of evolution (to be accurate two theories - he also developed the theory of sexual selection). Even in his day there were already other theories of evolution - the Lamarckian theory of “the inheritence of acquired characteristics” being one of the more well known. Not that long after Darwin there was a huge challenge from followers of the recently rediscoved work of Gregor Mendel on genetics and mutation - initially this was believed to offer an alternative explanation for evolution. Indeed even after scientists like Mayr, Fisher, Haldane and Huxley were able to demonstrate that the two theoroes were actually compatible and develop what we now refer to as “the new synthesis” of genetics and natural (and sexual) selection - incorporating ecology and population genetics as well - there were still challenges from more Mutationist theorists such as the Saltationism of Goldshmidt. Evolutionary theory did not stop there either - since the new synthesis there have been many new challenges, debates and developments - the controversy around rate and the “punctuated” nature of evolutionary processes, the “neutral” mutation theory, the ongoing debate around Sociobiology, recent mathematical work around the role of patterns and chaos in evolution (eg Kaufmann), the continual re-emergance of Saltationist theory, the ongoing debate around adaptionism, the similarly ongoing debate around cladism and the new trends in taxonomy (including Phyllocode) and at the moment there is a major challenge to New Synthesis in the form of Margulis’s ideas around the role of Symbiosis and cooperation in evolution and the possible implications of recent discoveries of the role played by processes of genetic exchange and horizontal gene transfer. And I look forward to what the likely discovery of life processes on other planets will show and how this may challenge and help develop evolutionary theory. What none of these theories does is propose supernatural origins for life or order - that is the problem with so called theories such as “Intelligent design” and “Creation science” - they propose nothing apart from that we stop thinking and stop questioning our origins (which they assume is a question taken care of a priori). But what they do show is that evolutionary theory (or really we should say theories) is now richer, more alive and diverse than it ever was, and that rather than being a “dogma” it embraces a world of debate and ongoing development as befits any science.
Posted by: amused at May 23, 2005 09:32 AM

I think that refutes quite nicely that evolution is a dogma.
Paul

Comment #39896

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 10:11 PM (e)

Theistic evolutionists apparently believe in a God who is enormously deceptive. As they would have it, God exists, wants us to know that he exists, created us and everything around us, but carefully hid from us any evidence of these facts. I don’t know why anyone thinks this irrational belief is any more plausible or worthy of respect than the irrational beliefs of ID proponents.

Individuals are free to hold such beliefs irrational and not worthy of respect, and many do, just as many people think it’s irrational and not worthy of respect if someone refuses to walk under a ladder for fear of bad luck. But the issue is not what individual beliefs are irrational or not worthy of respect, but rather what effect they have on science and its acceptance. The personal belief in a deceptive God that you refer to has, it seems to me, a much lesser such effect than the explicit attempt to undermine science that goes by the name of “intelligent design”, something that is practiced in the public and political arena, rather than being compartmentalized in people’s personal mental spheres.

What I do think is unfortunate, though, is how people underplay the connection between religious thinking and ID. Of course not all religious people are IDists, but virtually all IDists are religious – that’s where ID comes from. Where does susceptibility to belief in ID come from? It comes from religious communities, teachings, practices, and worldview. Some escape, many, perhaps most (Americans – I am one and that’s where creationism is centered; pardon my parochialism) if the polls mean anything, do not. Clearly, the goals of PT would be much easier to meet if there were no religion in the world. However, that’s not a realistic goal, and it’s not even clear that it would be a good thing – religion has always played an important role in culture, and trying to eliminate it could have unintended consequences – Ursula LeGuin’s Lathe of Heaven comes to mind. Nonetheless, in order to effectively combat ID, creationism, and other threats to science, I believe one must take into account the effects of mythical, magical thinking.

Here’s a link (the author, Victor Stenger, asks that it not be copied) to an article that shows that the thinking and the people behind ID extend beyond evolutionary biology into other areas of science. People doing calculations of the probability of other life in the universe, among other things, are affected by their preconceptions and prejudices. Try as one might, mythical and magical thinking will influence one’s judgment in subtle, or not so subtle, ways.

The Privileged Planet: A New Stealthy Wedge in the Discovery Arsenal
http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Brie…

Comment #39898

Posted by ruidh on July 27, 2005 10:13 PM (e)

I’d like to draw a distinction between a theory and a law and suggest that a theory is in fact more valuable than a law.

A law is an empirical observation of a mathematical relationship between quantities. We have Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion. These are empirically derived mathematical relationships, but they have no explanatory power. You need a theory of gravity that provides the context for understanding the law and why it has the form it has.

We have Mendel’s Laws of Genetics, but they provide no explanatory power without the context of a more complete genetic theory to explain why they take the form they take.

Laws are poor second bests to theories.

As I like to say when talking to creationists: evolution is not just a theory, it’s a *scientific* theory.

Comment #39900

Posted by Walter Brameld IV on July 27, 2005 10:16 PM (e)

ts wrote:

There’s a theory of gravity, and the inverse square law of gravitational attraction. There’s a theory of evolution, and there’s natural selection, which is close enough to being law-like that it may deserve being called one. But neither the theory of gravity nor the theory of evolution are law-like.

To put it more generally, a law describes a phenomenon (usually in the form of a mathematical equation or statement along the general lines of “Under these conditions, this will happen”), while a theory explains it. A law answers the question “What?,” and a theory answers the question “Why?” or “How?”

Comment #39902

Posted by Jeremy Mohn on July 27, 2005 10:23 PM (e)

Don P wrote:

As they would have it, God exists, wants us to know that he exists, created us and everything around us, but carefully hid from us any evidence of these facts. I don’t know why anyone thinks this irrational belief is any more plausible or worthy of respect than the irrational beliefs of ID proponents.

I can really only speak for myself, but I think that many theistic evolutionists would take issue with this characterization. The notion that God “carefully hid from us any evidence” is quite different from the belief that God is actively involved in creating and sustaining all “natural” processes. What appear to be random and undirected processes to our limited point of view is not neccessarily so to a God who is “omni-everything.”

Also, a God who has left divine fingerprints all over creation would leave us with very little opportunity for authentic free will. Some theistic evolutionists believe that the universe is set up in this way precisely for that reason, to allow God’s creations the opportunity to freely choose to acknowledge their Creator.

Finally, I’d like to point out that there is no requirement that religious beliefs be rational. Many theistic evolutionists have no problem acknowledging that their beliefs in God are irrational. Unlike some other theists, we do not depend on scientific evidence to confirm our faith.

Comment #39903

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 10:27 PM (e)

evolution is not just a theory, it’s a *scientific* theory.

Actually, evolution is both a scientific theory, and it’s a fact. That is, there is the fact, at least as well established as the fact that an apple will fall to the ground, that evolution occurs. And there is the scientific theory which forms the explanatory framework for how and why it occurs. See, e.g.,

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-fact.h…

Comment #39904

Posted by Paul Flocken on July 27, 2005 10:28 PM (e)

Air Bear,
One thing that you wrote caused me some indigestion, though I don’t disagree with any of your comment in the least.
From Air Bear in Comment #39893:

“They probably feel His presence in their lives and communicate with Him regularly through prayer.”

Since most people would generally agree that communication is a two way street, that suggests some (to use your words) theistic evolutionists actually believe that an invisible man in the sky is talking to them. I shudder to think that these people are free to walk the streets.
Sincerely, Paul

Comment #39905

Posted by Air Bear on July 27, 2005 10:33 PM (e)

Don P wrote:

Huh? If God exists, and wants us to know he exists, why doesn’t he make his existence as plain as the midday sun, through empirical evidence or in some other way?

Many people strongly feel God’s presence, as plain as the midday sun. (I don’t, BTW.) For those people, Keith Miller’s two passages quoted by PhilVaz are spot-on. Even non-believers would appreciate the first passage, including the notion that the strength of modern science derives in part from its self-imposed limitations. (Prior to the Scientific Revolution, natural philosophers attempted to answer the big questions about nature and existence, and never made any progress.)

Of course, non-believers may well ask what the fuss is about. Why must scientists justify methodolical naturalism? Various engineering disciplines limit themselves to methodological naturalism and nobody gets upset about it. And I’m pretty confident that Dr. S. doesn’t rely on the power of prayer to heal his patients.

Comment #39908

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 10:36 PM (e)

Also, a God who has left divine fingerprints all over creation would leave us with very little opportunity for authentic free will.

A belief that we have authentic free will is inconsistent with the sciences of neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, and perhaps others. In fact, it may well be inconsistent with evolution, if Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves” is on the right track.

Finally, I’d like to point out that there is no requirement that religious beliefs be rational. Many theistic evolutionists have no problem acknowledging that their beliefs in God are irrational.

This reminds me of a cousin of mine, a religious Jew active in his religious community and its politics who, when I commented that his position on Isreali-Palestinian affairs wasn’t intellectually honest, boldly declared that there are some areas where he chooses not to be intellectually honest. I don’t know what a “requirement” to be intellectually honest would be like, but it seems to me that we would all be better off if we considered it to be a moral imperative.

Comment #39910

Posted by H. Humbert on July 27, 2005 10:42 PM (e)

Also, a God who has left divine fingerprints all over creation would leave us with very little opportunity for authentic free will. Some theistic evolutionists believe that the universe is set up in this way precisely for that reason, to allow God’s creations the opportunity to freely choose to acknowledge their Creator.

Yes. I intend to do the same. Because I want my children to love me (really love me, not just love me because “I’m Dad”), I plan to conceal my existence from all my offspring. However, the proof of my love for them will be apparent in their very existence, and so in this manner I hope to engender their sincere affections in return.

Finally, I’d like to point out that there is no requirement that religious beliefs be rational. Many theistic evolutionists have no problem acknowledging that their beliefs in God are irrational.

Ah, much better. I rather wish you would have skipped straight to this part.

Comment #39911

Posted by Don P on July 27, 2005 10:43 PM (e)

ts:

I think your second paragraph above explains why the threat comes not just from creationism or ID per se, but from religion more broadly, from faith, from, as you put it, “magical, mythical” thinking.

In practise, the difference between Dembski-style ID and the “theistic evolutionism” of people like Kenneth Miller is much murkier than defenders of the latter would have us believe, precisely because it’s so hard to compartmentalize the theistic premises of Christianity in the way you describe. The temptation to try and sneak God in somewhere will always be there. I’m not sure about Miller, but one of the deans of theistic evolution, John Polkinghorne, winner of the Templeton Prize for his efforts to reconcile religion and science, is not above invoking typical ID arguments, such as the supposed fine-tuning of the universe for life, to bolster his religious convictions.

Speaking of Polkinghorne, and as a partial antidote to PhilVaz’s links above, here is Simon Blackburn’s scathing New Republic review of Polkinghorne’s writings on science and religion. It’s concise and funny and well-written, and in the course of reviewing Polkinghorne, Blackburn provides what I think is one of the best short critiques of Christianity, and theism more broadly, that I have read.

Comment #39913

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 27, 2005 10:44 PM (e)

Don P:

Yes, the only real difference between theistic evolutionists and proponents of ID is that the former claim, not that there is no intelligent design, but merely that there is no evidence of intelligent design. Theistic evolutionists apparently believe in a God who is enormously deceptive. As they would have it, God exists, wants us to know that he exists, created us and everything around us, but carefully hid from us any evidence of these facts. I don’t know why anyone thinks this irrational belief is any more plausible or worthy of respect than the irrational beliefs of ID proponents.

What theistic evolutionists believe is that there is no scientific evidence for “Intelligent Design”. This does not preclude historical evidence (many theistic evolutionists believe there is adequate historical evidence to believe that Jesus not only lived and died, but also was ressurected); sociological evidence (some theistic evolutionists would claim that the survival, spread and ethical influence of their religion is itself evidence of their God’s existance); personal evidence (the way their lives have gone); mystical evidence (the inner experience of the “divine”); and (as Phil P points out above) philosophical evidence.

Kenneth Miller, for example, believes the fine tuning of universal constants is compelling evidence for the existance of God. Wheras ID advocates who share this belief would conclude that science demonstrates the existence of an Intelligent Designer; Miller recognises that the hypothesis of God as an explanation for the unusual properties of the universe entails no testable observations. Because it is not testable, he recognises it is not science, despite the fact that he finds it personally compelling.

Personally I am an atheist. I disagree with all theists who think there is sufficient reason to believe that a God exists. It does not follow I think they are irrational to draw their conclusions. It certainly does not follow that they are irrational to carefully distinguish what can be known as a matter of science; and what must be known (if it is) by other means.

Comment #39916

Posted by Air Bear on July 27, 2005 10:47 PM (e)

Paul Flocken wrote

Since most people would generally agree that communication is a two way street, that suggests some (to use your words) theistic evolutionists actually believe that an invisible man in the sky is talking to them. I shudder to think that these people are free to walk the streets.

Most of them keep it under control, and keep it separate from their working lives. But there are lots of people who talk to God directly and expect real answers. My mother feels God’s presence very, very strongly and talks (prays) to Him frequently.

I agree that some of the most dangerous people are those who claim that God is telling them to do something.

(And some of the most ridiculous people are those to those who pray for something and then try to discern an answer in whatever happens; I’ve seen it many times. The results are reminiscent of AiG.)

Comment #39917

Posted by Paul Flocken on July 27, 2005 10:48 PM (e)

From Jeremy Mohn in Comment #39902:

“Also, a God who has left divine fingerprints all over creation would leave us with very little opportunity for authentic free will. Some theistic evolutionists believe that the universe is set up in this way precisely for that reason, to allow God’s creations the opportunity to freely choose to acknowledge their Creator.”

And to then subsequently punish those who choose wrong, even though he forces the choice upon them. That’s beneficence for you. Is it any wonder some atheists consider that god to be psychotic?

Comment #39918

Posted by Don P on July 27, 2005 10:49 PM (e)

Air Bear:

Many people strongly feel God’s presence, as plain as the midday sun.

Or, rather, they claim to.

That observation does not address the question of mine you quoted. If you think you have a decent answer to that question, I would be most interested to see it.

Comment #39923

Posted by Jeremy Mohn on July 27, 2005 11:01 PM (e)

A belief that we have authentic free will is inconsistent with the sciences of neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, and perhaps others. In fact, it may well be inconsistent with evolution, if Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves” is on the right track.

I understand what you are saying. Scientific evidence certainly does suggest that our choices are influenced by much more than our will. You correctly labeled the idea of authentic free will as a “belief.” As such, I do not expect it to be confirmed by scientific evidence.

I personally think that intellectual honesty and rationality are quite different. It is quite possible, in my opinion, for me to be intellectually honest about what I know to be true scientifically, and, at the same time, be irrational about what I believe to be true spiritually. Some people see me as a bit of a walking contradiction, but I really don’t think it’s such a bad thing to be irrational. It just all depends on what one is irrational about.

Comment #39924

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 27, 2005 11:01 PM (e)

Paul Flocken:

Since most people would generally agree that communication is a two way street, that suggests some (to use your words) theistic evolutionists actually believe that an invisible man in the sky is talking to them. I shudder to think that these people are free to walk the streets.

Why? There are far more dangerous illusions around. Some people, for example, actually believe Ayn Rand said something sensible about ethics [shudder].

The real issue is whether people will allow ethics to be overriden for a cause. As Stalin showed, atheists are as capable of that as any theist. People who believe they hear God in their head have gone onto found orphanages in Calcutta (Mother Theresa) and inspire America with their dream (Martin Luther King Jr). They have also gone on to liberate an enslaved nation (Nelson Mandella and Desmond Tutu). Quite frankly, I have no concerns about whether people believe in God; but only about whether they will sacrifice morality for him.

Comment #39925

Posted by Paul Flocken on July 27, 2005 11:02 PM (e)

Air Bear, exactly. And I should have used the word fundamentalist instead of theistic evolutionist, but even that would probably ahve been too inclusive. Not all fundies hear voices telling them to blow up abortion clinics (to cite one example) but the ones who do are definitely scary.
Paul

Comment #39927

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 11:07 PM (e)

I disagree with all theists who think there is sufficient reason to believe that a God exists. It does not follow I think they are irrational to draw their conclusions.

No, it doesn’t follow, but such formulations are off the mark. Evolution and gravity don’t follow logically from anything, but are well supported from the evidence. And the evidence is strong that religious belief generally precedes the sorts of empirical beliefs you mentioned, rather than vice versa. One of the strongest pieces of evidence is the strong correlation between the specific empirical beliefs, such as the resurrection of Jesus, that people hold and those that their parents hold. If one really truly honors all the empirical evidence, it’s very hard to deny that all religion – not just the religions of the Norse, the Greeks, the Romans, the Zoroastrians, the Mithraens, but all religions, have the same social and psychological roots.

Comment #39928

Posted by Don P on July 27, 2005 11:10 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

What theistic evolutionists believe is that there is no scientific evidence for “Intelligent Design”.

Well, they sort of claim that. Only not really. See my comments about John Polkinghorne above.

This does not preclude historical evidence (many theistic evolutionists believe there is adequate historical evidence to believe that Jesus not only lived and died, but also was ressurected);

As far as I’m aware, this claim enjoys no more support amoung professional historians than the claims of IDers do amoung professional scientists, so I’m not sure why you think it any more worthy of respect. But I’m not really sure what you mean by historical evidence for the resurrection, anyway. If you’re talking about the claim of physical, bodily resurrection of Christ, that claim necessarily implicates science, since it is so extraordinary.

sociological evidence (some theistic evolutionists would claim that the survival, spread and ethical influence of their religion is itself evidence of their God’s existance); personal evidence (the way their lives have gone); mystical evidence (the inner experience of the “divine”); and (as Phil P points out above) philosophical evidence.

Same comment as for “historical evidence.” And sociology is a science anyway. If this supposed “sociological evidence” is no more persuasive to social scientists than the supposed natural evidence for ID is to natural scientists, why doesn’t this claim deserve to be equally scorned?

I’m not sure what the meaningful difference between “personal evidence” and “mystical evidence” is supposed to be, but they also implicate science. Science provides more plausible alternative explanations for these experiences than the explanation of an encounter with the divine.

Kenneth Miller, for example, believes the fine tuning of universal constants is compelling evidence for the existance of God. Wheras ID advocates who share this belief would conclude that science demonstrates the existence of an Intelligent Designer; Miller recognises that the hypothesis of God as an explanation for the unusual properties of the universe entails no testable observations. Because it is not testable, he recognises it is not science, despite the fact that he finds it personally compelling.

Of course it’s testable. The supposed fine-tuning may in fact simply be a contingent or random property of the universe, fully accountable by natural processes. If that turns out to be the case, Miller’s premise evaporates, and therefore so does his conclusion.

Comment #39930

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 11:17 PM (e)

People who believe they hear God in their head have gone onto found orphanages in Calcutta (Mother Theresa)

You should read Christopher Hitchens’ “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice”. The woman’s behavior was monstrous, subjecting the weak and helpless to horrific suffering so she could “save” their “souls”. Do you find that statement shocking? As Hitchens say in an interview at http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/hitche…

the sheer fact that this is considered unquestionable is a sign of what we are up against, namely the problem of credulity. One of the most salient examples of people’s willingness to believe anything if it is garbed in the appearance of holiness is the uncritical acceptance of the idea of Mother Teresa as a saint by people who would normally be thinking - however lazily - in a secular or rational manner. In other words, in every sense it is an unexamined claim.

This is a striking example of my thesis that religious thought cannot be kept in these nice little benign compartments.

Comment #39932

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 27, 2005 11:24 PM (e)

If one really truly honors all the empirical evidence, it’s very hard to deny that all religion — not just the religions of the Norse, the Greeks, the Romans, the Zoroastrians, the Mithraens, but all religions, have the same social and psychological roots.

I see no reason to deny that. (shrug)

Indeed, I’ll go one step further —– I think that all modern religions boil down to just one simple sentence ————->

“Treat others the way you’d want to be treated”.

Follow that simple sentiment, and I don’t think it MATTERS which religion you follow (or indeed if you follow any at all).

Comment #39933

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 27, 2005 11:24 PM (e)

ts:

No, it doesn’t follow, but such formulations are off the mark. Evolution and gravity don’t follow logically from anything, but are well supported from the evidence. And the evidence is strong that religious belief generally precedes the sorts of empirical beliefs you mentioned, rather than vice versa. One of the strongest pieces of evidence is the strong correlation between the specific empirical beliefs, such as the resurrection of Jesus, that people hold and those that their parents hold. If one really truly honors all the empirical evidence, it’s very hard to deny that all religion — not just the religions of the Norse, the Greeks, the Romans, the Zoroastrians, the Mithraens, but all religions, have the same social and psychological roots.

I agree that most people accept the beliefs of their parents. And, as I am an atheist, I agree that there is a better naturalistic sociological/psychological explanation of religious belief than the existance of a supernatural entitie. But while the information about parental beliefs is suggestive, it is hardly conclusive. Both Islam and Christianity, for example, boast a very high conversion rate, so the correlation is far from exact. Further, acceptance of scientific methodology also shows a high correlation to parental beliefs; as does acceptance of atheism or agnosticism. These corelations show much about the transmission of beliefs amongst humans, but probably very little about the veracity of those beliefs.

Comment #39934

Posted by Don P on July 27, 2005 11:25 PM (e)

Jeremy Mohn:

The notion that God “carefully hid from us any evidence” is quite different from the belief that God is actively involved in creating and sustaining all “natural” processes. What appear to be random and undirected processes to our limited point of view is not neccessarily so to a God who is “omni-everything.”

I don’t think you understood the point. If the processes are not really random and undirected, why does God make them appear that way? If the evolution of human beings was not an accident, why does God make it appear that it was? If all the violence and suffering is somehow necessary or good, why doesn’t God make that clear to us also? I think you really have to be in deep denial not to see the tension between the premises of Christianity (an omnipotent, benevolent creator God) and the world we actually observe and experience.

Also, a God who has left divine fingerprints all over creation would leave us with very little opportunity for authentic free will.

Huh? How so? There are lots of “fingerprints” that the world is very old. That obviously doesn’t prevent millions of people from believing the world is very young. I don’t understand why you think the presence of evidence is inconsistent with free will.

Some theistic evolutionists believe that the universe is set up in this way precisely for that reason, to allow God’s creations the opportunity to freely choose to acknowledge their Creator.

Why should anyone “freely choose to acknowledge the Creator” unless they have evidence that he actually exists? Why would God expect them to?

Comment #39936

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 11:28 PM (e)

The supposed fine-tuning may in fact simply be a contingent or random property of the universe, fully accountable by natural processes. If that turns out to be the case, Miller’s premise evaporates, and therefore so does his conclusion.

It may in fact evaporate in inflationary universe models, which solve a lot of the problems of the non-inflationary Big Bang model. There was extensive discussion of this here back when crypto-creationist David Heddle was around.

This is yet another example of how religious belief interferes with objective scientific analysis. It’s one thing to come up with rationalizations for how evolution can be compatible with religious belief, but such rationalizations don’t “scale” if one starts examining the evidence from the other sciences – especially the human sciences, including history. Because, by inference to the best explanation, religion is a human cultural phenomenon, not a feature of the universe.

Comment #39938

Posted by Jeremy Mohn on July 27, 2005 11:32 PM (e)

H. Humbert wrote:

Yes. I intend to do the same. Because I want my children to love me (really love me, not just love me because “I’m Dad”), I plan to conceal my existence from all my offspring. However, the proof of my love for them will be apparent in their very existence, and so in this manner I hope to engender their sincere affections in return.

LOL. That’s a funny way to put it, but I think there’s an important difference that you may be overlooking. Theistic evolutionists often claim to “feel” the presence of God in their lives. Unless you could somehow convey a “feeling” of your presence to your offspring, they’d be unlikely to notice your existence.

Comment #39939

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 11:39 PM (e)

Further, acceptance of scientific methodology also shows a high correlation to parental beliefs; as does acceptance of atheism or agnosticism.

They also show a high correlation to education. And the claim that Islam and Christianity have a “very high” conversion rate without even giving a ballpark rate is neither sensible nor credible. I can’t even judge how much of this unsupported crypto-statistic is mistakenly being attributed to conversion rather than changes in demographics.

Comment #39942

Posted by Don P on July 27, 2005 11:45 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

But while the information about parental beliefs is suggestive, it is hardly conclusive. Both Islam and Christianity, for example, boast a very high conversion rate, so the correlation is far from exact.

The correlation doesn’t need to be perfect. The fact that one of the best predictors, or perhaps the single best predictor, of a religious person’s religious beliefs is the religious beliefs of his parents and/or the dominant religion in his culture, is powerful evidence that religious beliefs are generally a consequence of social conditioning rather than any kind of objective search for truth.

Further, acceptance of scientific methodology also shows a high correlation to parental beliefs;

I don’t think that’s true, or at least, the correlations are much weaker. Scientific methodology is universal and independent of culture (notwithstanding the wacko claims to the contrary of certain postmodernists). It rests on the universal human faculties of observation and reason, not on the sectarian myths and traditions of a particular culture.

Comment #39943

Posted by ts on July 27, 2005 11:54 PM (e)

These corelations show much about the transmission of beliefs amongst humans, but probably very little about the veracity of those beliefs.

If you will track our exchange, you will see that I wasn’t referring to veracity of beliefs, but rather to whether people hold the religious beliefs they do because of their beliefs about empirical evidence, or v.v. You referred to “perfect correlation”, but that is (always) a strawman. You refer to “very high” rates of conversion, but there are much higher rates of non-conversion. Generally, people’s prior religious beliefs lead them to find confirming evidence and disregard disconfirming evidence. This is a basic principle of human psychology – a cognitive heuristic – that applies not just to religious belief.

Comment #39944

Posted by Jeremy Mohn on July 28, 2005 12:10 AM (e)

Don P wrote:

I think you really have to be in deep denial not to see the tension between the premises of Christianity (an omnipotent, benevolent creator God) and the world we actually observe and experience.

You’re right. There is obvious tension. Theodicy is something that theistic evolutionists are forced to grapple with, just like any other theists. Based on your questions, I really don’t think I can provide an answer that will satisfy you.

There are lots of “fingerprints” that the world is very old. That obviously doesn’t prevent millions of people from believing the world is very young.

True enough. Some people deny the scientific evidence because it conflicts with what they have been taught to believe. But the “fingerprints” that tell us the world is very old are not the same thing as the “divine fingerprints” I mentioned.

I don’t understand why you think the presence of evidence is inconsistent with free will.

I don’t really think the presence of evidence is inconsistent with free will. After all, if there was indisputable evidence of God’s existence in conjunction with free will, there would always be the option to simply deny that evidence. What I’m really trying to say is that obvious interventions (like the observation of a new population of zebras with “Made by God” tags attached to their tails suddenly “poofing” into existence on the White House lawn) would make God’s existence much more difficult to deny. If God is truly interested in all of us freely choosing to follow Him, I think He might intentionally avoid such interventions.

Why should anyone “freely choose to acknowledge the Creator” unless they have evidence that he actually exists? Why would God expect them to?

I suppose it depends on what kind of “evidence” one considers valid. Some people base their decision to belive in God on other forms of evidence (spiritual, emotional, circumstantial, coincidental, etc.). If we were only allowed to consider empirical evidence, then I guess God might end up being pretty lonely. Personally, I don’t think God limits us to empirical evidence.

Comment #39946

Posted by H. Humbert on July 28, 2005 12:20 AM (e)

Jeremy Mohn wrote:

LOL. That’s a funny way to put it, but I think there’s an important difference that you may be overlooking. Theistic evolutionists often claim to “feel” the presence of God in their lives. Unless you could somehow convey a “feeling” of your presence to your offspring, they’d be unlikely to notice your existence.

Excellent point. I might have to set up some sort of system of coaches and instructors who, through communal reinforcement, can remind my offspring how much I must love them to have left them so. Perhaps they can suggest that I am with my children in spirit whenever they suffer. Certainly that would go a long way to manufacturing such feelings–real or perceived–I don’t think there’d be a way to tell a difference between the two.

And since we’re all being honest with one another, I’ll add that while I’m not religious myself, I certainly have no problem with those who accept their own faith does not spring from any rational deduction. In fact, I think faith is better left undefended. Often it’s in trying to show how “logically justified” one’s faith is that one goes astray. Faith is belief without evidence, no? Or, at least, beyond what conclusions the evidence allows.

Comment #39947

Posted by Jeremy Mohn on July 28, 2005 12:41 AM (e)

I might have to set up some sort of system of coaches and instructors who, through communal reinforcement, can remind my offspring how much I must love them to have left them so. Perhaps they can suggest that I am with my children in spirit whenever they suffer. Certainly that would go a long way to manufacturing such feelings—real or perceived—I don’t think there’d be a way to tell a difference between the two. (my emphasis)

I really appreciate the analogy you have constructed here, especially the last part. Indeed, believers can never know for sure whether our personal feelings of God’s presence are real or perceived. That’s where faith comes in, right?

To extend the analogy, how could you set up this system of coaches and instructors without directly or indirectly making your presence known to your offspring?

Comment #39948

Posted by PvM on July 28, 2005 1:11 AM (e)

Huh? If God exists, and wants us to know he exists, why doesn’t he make his existence as plain as the midday sun, through empirical evidence or in some other way? This surely cannot be beyond the power of an omnipotent being.

Because He wants to accept Him on faith?

This is all the more puzzling because the evidence that we do have suggests that human beings evolved only because of a series of accidents, with no sign of purpose of direction. If this evidence was created by God, how is it not deceptive?

But the statement ‘with no sign of purpose’ is not a scientific one. In fact, evolution itself appears quite teleological (see Ruse or Ayala). If God created the Universe through evolution, why whould this be ‘deceptive’?

These issues are far more complex than covered here.

Comment #39949

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 1:19 AM (e)

I really appreciate the analogy you have constructed here, especially the last part. Indeed, believers can never know for sure whether our personal feelings of God’s presence are real or perceived. That’s where faith comes in, right?

I would say that that’s where doubt comes in, for anyone who values critical thinking, the scientific method, intellectual honesty, and rationality. Certainly, if we taught our children to value those and not leap to unwarranted beliefs on the back of this chimera of “faith”, we would be much safer from the encroachment of creationism, ID, pseudoscience, superstition, PR campaigns, disinformation, being lied into war, being lied into ignoring global warming, and so on.

Comment #39950

Posted by Michael Roberts on July 28, 2005 1:26 AM (e)

If Don P became a YEC his arguemtns woould go down well at Lynchburg. He simply criticises without understanding. His misuderstandings of Chrsitianity found in Miller and Polkinghorne are immense.

Comment #39951

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 1:29 AM (e)

But the statement ‘with no sign of purpose’ is not a scientific one.

So you claim.

In fact, evolution itself appears quite teleological (see Ruse or Ayala).

Ah, so, because two people with a minority view that supports your religious beliefs say so, then their view is scientific and the contrary view isn’t. That strongly undercuts the claim that many make that religious views don’t conflict with science.

Comment #39952

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 1:33 AM (e)

If Don P became a YEC his arguemtns woould go down well at Lynchburg. He simply criticises without understanding. His misuderstandings of Chrsitianity found in Miller and Polkinghorne are immense.

Congratulations on introducing a strong ad hominem element into what had been, even at its most contentious, a civil exchange. And you were in such a hurry (fury) to get it out there that you managed to misspell four words. Hallelujah and goodnight.

Comment #39953

Posted by Amos on July 28, 2005 1:36 AM (e)

a new population of zebras with “Made by God” tags attached to their tails suddenly “poofing” into existence on the White House lawn would make God’s existence much more difficult to deny.

In the Biblical account He appeared before people (both as man and not), he spoke, miracles happened all the time. He was almost as involved in this world as the Greek gods! We are told in the book that His existence is so obvious only fools could deny it. He didn’t seem to think any of this was causing a free-will problem. The people of this time and around these events are said to have chosen to either follow or stray.

If God is truly interested in all of us freely choosing to follow Him, I think He might intentionally avoid such interventions.

This conflating of two separate ideas may be trouble. Choosing to follow God and believing in God are totally different problems logically and morally. It seems to me that you could be standing right before God and, like Satan and the fallen angels, still have the choice of following Him or not. Apparently you can even be a witness to God, change your priorities, and decide to make some silver instead.

No, this is like asking people to follow the law and by some logic concluding therefore that the police must always be hidden; following the law becoming first about believing in the police, then deciding to follow it. We know the police are out there. We know we’ll get caught. We still break the law. Our will survives.

I say He should give us some evidence. Where’s the old-time public God?

Comment #39955

Posted by H. Humbert on July 28, 2005 1:45 AM (e)

Jeremy Mohn wrote:

To extend the analogy, how could you set up this system of coaches and instructors without directly or indirectly making your presence known to your offspring?

And there my analogy breaks down. Guess I’ll have to hope that feeling springs up all on it’s own, with maybe support groups to follow of their own accord.

I actually prefer Amos‘s policemen analogy to my own.

Comment #39964

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 28, 2005 2:51 AM (e)

ts:

They also show a high correlation to education. And the claim that Islam and Christianity have a “very high” conversion rate without even giving a ballpark rate is neither sensible nor credible. I can’t even judge how much of this unsupported crypto-statistic is mistakenly being attributed to conversion rather than changes in demographics.

Considering you cited no surveys for your claim of a high correlation between parents religion and childrens religion, your talk of an “unsuported crypto-statistic” is uncalled for.

For what it is worth, 30% of Muslims in the United States are converts, ie, were not born into a Muslim familly.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_the_United…

World wide, 10% of growth in Christian belief is due to conversion; and 4% of growth in Islamic belief is due to conversion. In Asia, conversion accounts for about 30% of Christian growth as well.

In contrast, globally conversion was a net drain on increase in numbers, cancelling about 2/3rds of the natural increase. (This statistic probably represents the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, with nominal atheists reverting to a Christian faith.)
http://www.bible.ca/global-religion-statistics-w…

Increases in Christian numbers due to conversion in Asia alone more than match the net declines in the Americas, Oceana, (and probably Europe now that nobody is an atheist due to repression anymore).

If we were to be so silly as to reason about the truth of beliefs on the basis of conversion rates, we should conclude that one of Christianity or Islam is true, and that Atheism is false.

ts:

If you will track our exchange, you will see that I wasn’t referring to veracity of beliefs, but rather to whether people hold the religious beliefs they do because of their beliefs about empirical evidence, or v.v. You referred to “perfect correlation”, but that is (always) a strawman. You refer to “very high” rates of conversion, but there are much higher rates of non-conversion. Generally, people’s prior religious beliefs lead them to find confirming evidence and disregard disconfirming evidence. This is a basic principle of human psychology — a cognitive heuristic — that applies not just to religious belief.

I am happy to accept that you were not refering to veracity of beliefs. But as you were not refering to veracity of beliefs, tenacity of belief within a tradition (to which you were refering) should be seen as having virtually no bearing on veracity. As you say, “Generally, people’s prior … beliefs lead them to find confirming evidence and disregard disconfirming evidence.” As you point out, and as I emphasise by my ommission, this is true of all beliefs, not just religious beliefs.

In fact, probably far more important as regards stability of belief is simple ignorance of alternatives. What percentage of Christians (or atheists from predominantly Christian societies) do you think would be able to accurately describe the tenets of Islam, or the major apologetic arguments used by Muslims? The percentage is probably lower than the percentage of creationists who can correctly describe neoDarwinism, and the main reasons why it is accepted by biologists.

Finally, you wish to use the fact that religious belief tends to precede evidential support rather than vice versa as evidence against the truth of religions. But, this is virtually irrelevant. First, and explicitly, there are many people for whom the reverse is true. Further, for most scientific beliefs the same applies. For my part, I learnt and “knew” that geocentrism and flat earthism were false long before I learnt, and could appreciate the evidence against them. I learnt and accepted the truth of plate tectonics, the age of the earth, newtonian mechanics, relativity (special and general), atomism, and Maxwell’s equations long before I could understand and explain the reasons for believing them. My experience on the internet shows that my experience is far from atypical. When challenged, most people (whether evolutionists or creationists) are unable to explain the basis for some, or all of these theories, even though they accept them without qualm. This sociological fact about how people learn things tells me nothing about the truth or otherwise of those theories. What tell’s me convincingly that they are true (in some cases only as approximations) is evidence I learnt to understand and appreciate long after I learnt that the theories were true. That religious believers are often in the same position with regard to their beliefs tells me virtually nothing about the veracity of thier beliefs.

Comment #39965

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:08 AM (e)

Considering you cited no surveys for your claim of a high correlation between parents religion and childrens religion

I didn’t imagine it could be controversial among people of good faith.

Finally, you wish to use the fact that religious belief tends to precede evidential support rather than vice versa as evidence against the truth of religions.

I have no idea where you got that from. My point was and is that religious belief cannot be kept in a compartment such that it doesn’t affect empirical beliefs. As for the evidence against the truth of religions, it’s hardly even worth discussing when the religious admit that their beliefs are unjustified, a matter of faith.

Comment #39968

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:51 AM (e)

To clarify this, I wrote “strong correlation between the specific empirical beliefs … that people hold and those that their parents hold” – strong, not “very high”. You wrote “I agree that most people accept the beliefs of their parents.” No issue there – it was an uncontroversial claim. You wrote “Both Islam and Christianity, for example, boast a very high conversion rate, so the correlation is far from exact.” The latter part of that is a strawman, and the first part is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand since, whatever “very high” means, it isn’t higher than the majority of people who don’t convert. That’s why I wrote “And the claim that Islam and Christianity have a “very high” conversion rate without even giving a ballpark rate is neither sensible nor credible.” I called it a crypto-statistic because of the heavy lifting that it was supposed to do. And we end up with 4% conversion to Islam. I think my skepticism about “very high” was well warranted. The fact that I didn’t cite any surveys for my claim of a high (but I didn’t even say that, let alone “very high”) correlation between parents’ religion and childrens’ religion is completely and utterly irrelevant, since it was a completely uncontroversial statement which you immediately agreed to. So enough of this.

Comment #39970

Posted by Alan on July 28, 2005 4:13 AM (e)

I would have put this on the bathroom wall; will it ever it get back up and running?

Science addresses only the natural world. Most people that have a religious belief seem able to reconcile themselves to this by compartmentalising. An aim of a free society should be to allow and maintain discourse and prevent the abuse of anyone who might hold an inconvenient view. (Creationists, or their leaders, very obviously want to subvert a free society, to enable them to construct an unreality bubble around their youngsters)

Why is religion being discussed interminably, when it’s a side issue? Once the point is made that a religion exposes itself to scientific analysis when it makes claims about the natural world, religion attacks science, not vice versa, what else needs to be said. A FAQ section or a separate thread on philosophy would reduce the time taken to wade through posts irrelevant to those who wish to read about new scientific breakthroughs, see Dembski and Behe et al. debunked, and the machinations of the far right/fundie conpiracy closely monitored.

Comment #39982

Posted by Psychonaut on July 28, 2005 6:51 AM (e)

The germ theory of disease was an attempt to explain the fact that many diseases are infectious. It has been well established by observation and laboratory experiment. If we count viruses as germs, then the vast majority of diseases are caused by germs. You would frankly have to be nuts to deny the germ theory.

Alas, nuts abound in medical practice, though they refer to themselves as “chiropractors”. According to a recent post on the SDMB, someone who works in a chiropractor’s office was recently chastised for (IIRC) insisting that a coworker use a handkerchief when sneezing. “We don’t subscribe to the germ theory of disease here,” snapped the “doctor”.

Comment #39983

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 28, 2005 7:24 AM (e)

Why is religion being discussed interminably, when it’s a side issue?

Because both the fundies and the ideological atheists are lying to us when they claim this is all about science.

It’s all about their religious opinions.

Comment #39984

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 28, 2005 7:31 AM (e)

The correlation doesn’t need to be perfect. The fact that one of the best predictors, or perhaps the single best predictor, of a religious person’s religious beliefs is the religious beliefs of his parents and/or the dominant religion in his culture, is powerful evidence that religious beliefs are generally a consequence of social conditioning rather than any kind of objective search for truth.

That, of course, is also true of what individuals like to eat for breakfast. Not many people in the US eat _miso_. Not many Japanese eat corn flakes.

(shrug)

Question for you, though ——- do you have a wife, girlfriend or partner? Did you choose that wife, girlfriend or partner using logic, evidence and scientific testing? If not, are you therefore “unscientific”, and is “partner-choosing” “incompatible with science”? Or do you simply “compartmentalize” your partner-choosing from science?

Comment #39985

Posted by yellow fatty bean on July 28, 2005 7:39 AM (e)

I don’t collect stamps.

Is that a hobby?

Comment #39986

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 28, 2005 7:53 AM (e)

ts:

I didn’t imagine it could be controversial among people of good faith.

Neither did I imagine that the high conversion rates to Islam and Christianity would be quibbled at by people of good faith either; but evidently I was wrong.

I have no idea where you got that from. My point was and is that religious belief cannot be kept in a compartment such that it doesn’t affect empirical beliefs. As for the evidence against the truth of religions, it’s hardly even worth discussing when the religious admit that their beliefs are unjustified, a matter of faith.

If that was your point, I remain puzzled as to why you wrote nothing at all to that point in your original comment. In fact, you responded to my claim that it does not follow from my disagreeing with theists that I must think them irrational, your responded:

No, it doesn’t follow, but such formulations are off the mark. Evolution and gravity don’t follow logically from anything, but are well supported from the evidence. And the evidence is strong that religious belief generally precedes the sorts of empirical beliefs you mentioned, rather than vice versa. One of the strongest pieces of evidence is the strong correlation between the specific empirical beliefs, such as the resurrection of Jesus, that people hold and those that their parents hold. If one really truly honors all the empirical evidence, it’s very hard to deny that all religion — not just the religions of the Norse, the Greeks, the Romans, the Zoroastrians, the Mithraens, but all religions, have the same social and psychological roots.

(post 39927)

Thus, you claimed that like evolution and gravity, the irrationality of religious belief is well supported by the evidence; and that all religions have the same social and psychological causes. It is true that on another thread you claimed that compartmentalisation is impossible; but that is not what I responded to, or was disputing.

Ignoring the issue of social and psychological causes (where I agree with you), you have not presented any compelling evidence for the irrationality of religious belief. The fact that most people share the religion of their parents is simply a non-starter in this regard, for it holds true of virtually all beliefs, including scientific beliefs. More generally, nearly all beliefs with any complexity are first accepted on authority by nearly all people. That is simply a fact of life.

The question is not whether beliefs are first accepted on authority, but how strong is the evidence that backs them up. It is only possible to imagine this primary issue can be avoided by considerations of the tendency of people to believe what their parents believed if we naively think our beliefs are any different in that regard. And given that, diverting the discussion of rationality to questions of parental beliefs amount to irrational evasion of the issues.

Further, it is not true that the religious “admit that their beliefs are unjustified, a matter of faith.” Some do say as much; but most would deny it (or at least, most evangelical Christians would deny it). While “faith” may mean for some, “believing without evidence”; for many more it means “trusting as reliable”. You may wish to quietly assume the falsity of religion based entirely on a misunderstanding of what the religious claim. Personally I prefer my opinions to be more evidence based.

ts:

You wrote “Both Islam and Christianity, for example, boast a very high conversion rate, so the correlation is far from exact.” The latter part of that is a strawman, and the first part is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand since, whatever “very high” means, it isn’t higher than the majority of people who don’t convert. That’s why I wrote “And the claim that Islam and Christianity have a “very high” conversion rate without even giving a ballpark rate is neither sensible nor credible.” I called it a crypto-statistic because of the heavy lifting that it was supposed to do. And we end up with 4% conversion to Islam. I think my skepticism about “very high” was well warranted.

Let’s look at this on the basis of your argument. You claim there is something suspect about religious belief because the belief precedes the evidence. But amongst new Christians, 10% in some way looked at the evidence before they accepted the belief. Amongst, Moslems, 4% looked at the evidence in some way before they accepted the belief. In the US, 30% of new Moslems looked at the evidence in some way before they accepted the belief. The basis of your argument is on shaky ground to say the least.

Now to terminology. Is a conversion rate of 10% very high. Well the conversion rate to atheism is (apparently) -66%. (Most religions had negative conversion rates, ie, they lost more people than they gained through conversion.) So yes, I think the conversion rate of 10% to Christianity, and 4% to Islam is very high.

Finally, you said, “You wrote “Both Islam and Christianity, for example, boast a very high conversion rate, so the correlation is far from exact.” The latter part of that is a strawman, and the first part is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand …” Allow that the latter is a strawman for a moment. Then your claim was that a correlation between 0.7 and 0.9 (or whatever) is evidence that religious belief is not significantly based on evidence; but that sort of correlation means literally hundreds of thousands of people world wide DO base their religious belief on evidence. But you feel happy to dismiss their beliefs because a significant number of their coreligionists just accept tradition. What is more, you do so even though similar correlations for acceptance of atheism or of scientific belief on authority would also be found. In other words, if it was a strawman, you are dogmatically dismissive of others beliefs, and apply a double standard to boot.

However, it was not a strawman at all. It said exactly what it said. It did not attribute any belief to you at all, but rather indicated that the level of correlation was not sufficient to run the sort of argument you wanted to run. (If we must look for a strawman here, it would be were you accused me of talking about “perfect correlation”, something I have not done.)

Further, and as I have established above, the first part is not “rhetorical sleight of hand”. The high conversion rates to both Islam and Christianity mean that significant numbers of believers in both religions do not satisfy your prejudice about how religious belief is formed.

Finally, you spoke above about people of good faith. Well, people of good faith attempt to adress issues raised rather than quibble about minor wording, and rather than accuse their disputants of bad faith (such as you have been doing). I see no reason in what you write to count you as a person of good faith.

Comment #39990

Posted by HPLC_Sean on July 28, 2005 8:51 AM (e)

Amos says:

In the Biblical account He appeared before people (both as man and not), he spoke, miracles happened all the time. He was almost as involved in this world as the Greek gods! We are told in the book that His existence is so obvious only fools could deny it.

1) In the biblical account, He NEVER appeared as a man before Jesus made his messianic claims. Before that He always appeared as extranatural phenomena (burning bush, plagues, parted sea, thunderheads over Mount Sinai, manna from heaven, crumbling Jericho’s walls, etc.). He’s NEVER appeared as a man since.
2) In biblical times, ordinary phenomena like earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, thunder and lightning were only explicable by invoking the supernatural. Therefore His existence indeed *was* obvious. The Church has always stifled science because the upper clergy understood this and wished to maintain their stature. If man could explain natural phenomena without invoking the supernatural, the Church’s power would evaporate.

Comment #39991

Posted by Flint on July 28, 2005 8:52 AM (e)

I don’t see any particular problem visualizing our investigation of the universe as “learning how God does things.” So long as we don’t run into any paradoxes or contradictions (which I don’t think we have), there’s no problem.

So the problem arises when God’s methods or intent as we conceive them, conflict with what we observe - when religious faiths make testable statements and the tests fail. And when that happens, I see the theistic evolutionist saying “I must have misunderstood the scripture” and the creationist saying “everyone else must be misunderstanding the observations.”

Comment #39996

Posted by Moses on July 28, 2005 9:17 AM (e)

Air Bear 39905

Many people strongly feel God’s presence, as plain as the midday sun.

No, they believe they feel God’s presence. But there is no evidence that they actually feel God’s presence.

On a more interesting, at least to me, note, there is a postive statistical correllation between mental illness (and its severity) and “feeling God’s presence.” Just like there is a strong corellation between psychopathy-family emotional disorders and law enforcement & politics. I can’t tell you what the corellation of the clusters happen to be, but it is definately there.

Comment #39999

Posted by Moses on July 28, 2005 9:31 AM (e)

Paul Wrote (39925):

Air Bear, exactly. And I should have used the word fundamentalist instead of theistic evolutionist, but even that would probably ahve been too inclusive. Not all fundies hear voices telling them to blow up abortion clinics (to cite one example) but the ones who do are definitely scary.

Me adding on:

What’s scary to me is that when one of the total nutcases does something like that, how little condemnation comes from the “sane” fundamentalists. In fact, many so-called leaders, rejoice in (and egg-on) the anti-social behavior.

I understand society has its nuts. And that they’ll do things like blow up abortion clinics. I can live with that as part of the flotsam and jetsom of the human genome. But when those that hold themselves up as beacons, or “men with the answer,” condone (explictly or implicitly) this kind of violence through action or inaction, it makes me sad.

Comment #40000

Posted by Dior on July 28, 2005 9:33 AM (e)

After explaining the differences between ID, YEC and Evolution, I ask my students what part of ID do scientists most object to? Invariably they say they object to The Designer; I tell them no. We object to the fact that of all natural forces in the universe, ID’ rs have natural selection running along and then just stop and wait for the miracle. I tell them gravity never gets a day off, germs continue to cause disease, the atomic model never flies apart. I explain many scientists are atheists and many are religeous and this is accepted by both. But the moment you insert the untestable data of a divine being, you have fallen outside of science, and are now in the religeous arena.
YEC’s at least have the guts to say they are ignoring all science (my minds made up don’t confuse me with the facts), but ID is stealth religeon, and has no place in science.

Comment #40002

Posted by Katarina on July 28, 2005 9:45 AM (e)

Even though I find it difficult at times to believe in a divine being, I try to structure my family in a Christian way. My husband and I attend church and take part in the church community. Our children are pre-school, toddler, and infant, but as they grow they can be more and more a part of that community. What attracts me is the formation and execution of charitable organizations that provide food, shelther, education, and medicine to the needy.

Religion is the glue that holds a nation together. Atheism makes more sense, but religion is more useful. It can also be incredibly destructive, as has been demonstrated. But each time it is destructive, the destroyers are not following the basic tenets of the religion, but going with their own twisted interpretation instead.

Atheism requires intelligence, and not everyone can make logical conclusions from natural observations that lead them to benevolent social ideals.

Comment #40013

Posted by Fraser on July 28, 2005 10:29 AM (e)

If you accept Dennett’s belief that intelligent life would have developed even if humans hadn’t involved, that could explain why God doesn’t need to leave “fingerprints” on evolution. I’m quite sure if this were a planet of intelligent jellyfish, God would be just as happy to speak with them as with us, so why not let the cosmos unfold as it will?

Maybe it’s more entertaining that way.

Comment #40020

Posted by Moses on July 28, 2005 10:58 AM (e)

Considering you cited no surveys for your claim of a high correlation between parents religion and childrens religion, your talk of an “unsuported crypto-statistic” is uncalled for.

Everytime people talk about biology they don’t have to prove proteins exist. For that is a well-established fact. Things that are well established and have been documented over-time as well-establish need not be proven each and every time. That he didn’t directly link the stat in an off-hand comment doesn’t mean there isn’t; nor would linking it really futher serve to advance the main argument.

For what it is worth, 30% of Muslims in the United States are converts, ie, were not born into a Muslim familly.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_the_United…

And the vast majority came from where? Nominally Christian households. Because the non-religous people (as a proportion of the US population) have pretty much doubled from the 1990 to 2001 US Census.

And you can find that in Wikipedia, too…

World wide, 10% of growth in Christian belief is due to conversion; and 4% of growth in Islamic belief is due to conversion. In Asia, conversion accounts for about 30% of Christian growth as well.

Except for the predominantly forced non-religous societies of the USSR and Communist China, the growth of Christianity (and religion) is slower than the growth of the population in places where both religions have been established over time.

And while there is no doubt Christianity is growing; there should equally be no doubt that in the West, religion (including Christianity) is declining as a percentage of the population.

In contrast, globally conversion was a net drain on increase in numbers, cancelling about 2/3rds of the natural increase. (This statistic probably represents the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, with nominal atheists reverting to a Christian faith.)
http://www.bible.ca/global-religion-statistics-w…

Nothing personal, but I don’t trust that site. When they’re ranting and raving about a “vaccine” for homosexuality and other such lunacy, I have a hard time believing that there is any scientific or intellectual honesty present.

Increases in Christian numbers due to conversion in Asia alone more than match the net declines in the Americas, Oceana, (and probably Europe now that nobody is an atheist due to repression anymore).

Sure, like any population that suddenly gets an influx of resources, you have a boom. But looking at the US and Europe, where the resources are (more or less) steady-state, Christianity, Islam and other religions are slowly fading out of the picture.

And while it’s nice you acknowledge the fact that religion is failing in the Americas, it’s disengous to pump religion as “succeeding” when the boom is due to the relatively recent addition of nearly one-fourth of the World’s population that had been artificially cut-off from the pool. I think there is little evidence to conclude that this is a sustainable growth. After the boom these populations, like the US and European populations, should eventually reach a point of saturation followed by decline. Just like the populations did in the Americas. And religion, this time, will have no new frontier to pump up the numbers when the ever growing “non-religious” body of humanity points out the fading of religion.

If we were to be so silly as to reason about the truth of beliefs on the basis of conversion rates, we should conclude that one of Christianity or Islam is true, and that Atheism is false.

As my previous point, there was a sudden influx of available population in which to cause a boom. But, in the areas without these vast hordes of non-religious persons, over-all religion is failing.

I’m sure, eventually, some sort of equalibrium will be achieved. But to deny religion, in the West, is declining… Or to deny that the growth is anything sustainable and that religion is winning…

However, once again, in American (and Europe) it is religion that is fading. Not atheism/agnosticism/non-religiosity. Here in the very religious US, non-religous/athiest/agostic went from 8.4% to 15.0% between the 1990 and 2001 US Census figures.

Which you can, as I pointed out earlier, find at Wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the…

Or the US Census if you want to do the digging and don’t trust Wikipedia.

Comment #40031

Posted by Johan Richter on July 28, 2005 11:55 AM (e)

Of course: evolutionary biologists probably do so implicitly every time they perform an experiment or interpret a data set.

So if the result of the experiment was not what they expected they would abandon evolution? That evolution has happened is accepted by practically all scientists as a fact and no failed experiment will convince them otherwise. They will make changes to their hypothesis and models that explain exactly how evolution happens but the fact of evolution is pretty much unfalsifiable. Lakatos would describe the fact of evolution as part of the “hard core” of evolutionary science.

I should perhaps clarifie that I am not a creationist or post-modernist. On the contrary I think science is the greatest achievement of human civilization.

Comment #40032

Posted by steve on July 28, 2005 12:00 PM (e)

Comment #39970

Posted by Alan on July 28, 2005 04:13 AM (e) (s)

I would have put this on the bathroom wall; will it ever it get back up and running?

Well, I don’t know. You see, it takes many hours of difficult and strenuous work to create a bathroom wall here. That’s why some contributors have gotten upset and angry about having to create a new one every month or so.

Comment #40035

Posted by Alan on July 28, 2005 12:07 PM (e)

Splash of paint, difficult, strenuous? No, I don’t see.

Comment #40040

Posted by harold on July 28, 2005 12:15 PM (e)

The claim that “evolution is a religion” is garbage, no matter how you feel about religion.

It implicitly defines religion as “something many people believe without sufficient evidence, which could be wrong”.

Anyone can see that this doesn’t apply to the theory of evolution. Anyone who “believes” in the theory of evolution either does so because they understand the evidence for it (and as I’ve said before, if you understand molecular biology and genetics, you realize it’s impossible for evolution NOT to happen), or, in fewer cases, because they reasonably trust the expertise of scientists.

That implicit definition of “religion” is wrong for religion as well. First of all, it isn’t specific. Many beliefs fit that description, but are NOT religion. Second of all, it isn’t some religions may not fit that category. They may be largely evidence-based, like Buddhism, or they may simply have very few followers. It’s point blank slop. I would argue that it violates Christian ethics for an intelligent person to make this statement, since it is trivially untrue.

The rest of this thread is irrelevant.

Here are some relevant link, with regard to evolutionary biology and religion -

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/5025_s…

http://www.mindandlife.org/hhdl.science_section.…

Comment #40043

Posted by Amos on July 28, 2005 12:19 PM (e)

In the biblical account, He NEVER appeared as a man before Jesus made his messianic claims.

Than you can tell us who Jacob was really wrestling with if not God, or how he hurt his hip in a metaphor.

Comment #40047

Posted by pough on July 28, 2005 12:36 PM (e)

Amos wrote:

Than you can tell us who Jacob was really wrestling with if not God, or how he hurt his hip in a metaphor.

U2 tells us that it was an angel!

The trouble is, when you’re pulling together sources from different cultures in different eras with different gods into one religious document that ostensibly tells a single story about a single people and their single (sort of) god, things can get a little… odd.

I’ve heard some say that there was a special angel (the Angel of God) who got to be the sort of stand-in for god when appearing on Earth. A stunt double, of sorts.

Comment #40051

Posted by ThomH on July 28, 2005 12:43 PM (e)

First things first. I’m in complete argeement that evolution is not religion. Try established and respected science, instead, to start.

Second, those who believe in theistic evolution are NOT trying get ID or other alternatives “taught” in the K-12 science curriculum across the USA.

Nor are they interferring with scientific research, funding, etc. Regardless of your opinion regarding theism, etc., these people – the theisic evolutionaries – are NOT the enemy.

Just check the evidence. Or better yet, show up and partipate at these state school board meetings.

Which brings us to third point – many people of faith have contributed to science and evolution. Let me quote from H Allen Orr, a scientist who should need no introduction to PT readers:

##
“Of the five founding fathers of twentieth-century evolutionary biology—Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright, J. B. S. Haldane, Ernst Mayr, and Theodosius Dobzhansky—one was a devout Anglican who preached sermons and published articles in church magazines, one a practicing Unitarian, one a dabbler in Eastern mysticism, one an apparent atheist, and one a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and the author of a book on religion and science.”
##

Now, perhaps some PT readers do deem it fit to mock 4 of these 5 scientists for their theistic beliefs.

But certainly, no one here has any right to say that because of those beliefs, these men are not “real” scientists.

I’m not here on behalf of the Templeton Foundation–about which I’m still quite suspicious.

But this general war against all forms of theistic belief has to end. It has nothing to do with promoting or advancing science. And it is at times radically counter-productive.

There’s a great deal of real work to be done still, sadly, keeping Creationism and ID out of the K-12 (and perhaps even college) science curriculum.

Please don’t delude yourself that you are contributing to this effort by mocking anyone who might believe in God.

Let’s do, promote and advance science – and live and let live when it comes to personal belief.

Finally, and more importantly, the teaching of science in America–especially evolution–has real enemies. Please don’t target false ones so as to make new enemies and strengthen the old ones.

Thank you.

Comment #40066

Posted by Katarina on July 28, 2005 1:27 PM (e)

ThomH,

I couldn’t agree with you more.

Comment #40094

Posted by Don P on July 28, 2005 2:52 PM (e)

Jeremy Mohn:

You’re right. There is obvious tension. Theodicy is something that theistic evolutionists are forced to grapple with, just like any other theists. Based on your questions, I really don’t think I can provide an answer that will satisfy you.

Is there an answer that satisfies you? If so, what is it, and why do you think it’s satisfying?

What I’m really trying to say is that obvious interventions (like the observation of a new population of zebras with “Made by God” tags attached to their tails suddenly “poofing” into existence on the White House lawn) would make God’s existence much more difficult to deny. If God is truly interested in all of us freely choosing to follow Him, I think He might intentionally avoid such interventions.

I don’t understand this. Why would God expect us to “freely choose to follow him” if he doesn’t give us any evidence that he even exists? Why should we believe he exists without such evidence? Because it comforts us to believe he exists? Because we were raised to believe he exists? Because we just randomly choose to believe he exists? Or what?

I suppose it depends on what kind of “evidence” one considers valid. Some people base their decision to belive in God on other forms of evidence (spiritual, emotional, circumstantial, coincidental, etc.).

Can you give me some examples of this alleged spiritual, emotional, circumstantial, or coincidental evidence? The claim that there is such evidence also seems to conflict with your prior speculation that God wants us to “freely choose” to believe he exists and that such free choice is impossible if there is evidence that he exists.

Comment #40102

Posted by Don P on July 28, 2005 3:06 PM (e)

PvM:

Because He wants to accept Him on faith?

Why would God want us to accept him on faith? Why should we accept him on faith? Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say to God if, after he died, he found himself (much to his surprise) in God’s presence. Russell answered, “Why didn’t you give us any evidence?” It seems to me an obvious question.

But the statement ‘with no sign of purpose’ is not a scientific one.

I don’t know why you think that. I think questions of purpose arise in evolutionary biology all the time (“What purpose does this trait serve?”).

In fact, evolution itself appears quite teleological (see Ruse or Ayala). If God created the Universe through evolution, why whould this be ‘deceptive’?

I thought I had explained this. Christianity posits an omnipotent and benevolent God, whose creation of the universe and of human beings is part of some plan or purpose or goal. Yet the evidence shows no sign of purpose. The evidence suggests that human beings evolved only because of a series of accidents. If God exists, and wants us to believe he exists, and wants us to believe that the world and ourselves are all part of some divine plan, why did he create the world and us such that they appear otherwise? The deception in this situation seems clear to me. You might posit that God had no choice but to set things up in this way, but that would seem to contradict the premise that he is omnipotent.

Comment #40107

Posted by Dave Carlson on July 28, 2005 3:23 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Atheism requires intelligence

As an atheist, I complete reject the notion that atheism requires intelligence. ;)

Comment #40108

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:24 PM (e)

But certainly, no one here has any right to say that because of those beliefs, these men are not “real” scientists.

Whether they do or not, no one in fact has said that. so you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Comment #40109

Posted by Dave Carlson on July 28, 2005 3:25 PM (e)

Oops. That should be “completely” not “complete.”

Comment #40110

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:32 PM (e)

They will make changes to their hypothesis and models that explain exactly how evolution happens but the fact of evolution is pretty much unfalsifiable.

This is a common misunderstanding of “falsifiable”. “evolution occurs” is falsifiable
because, had none of the evidence that supports it been observed, it would have been refuted. The fact that no additional evidence can wipe out evidence already acquired does not mean that “evolution occurs” is not falsifiable, it just means it isn’t false. OTOH, there’s the ToE, which includes a number of specific claims that are not nearly as well established as “evolution occurs”, and these individual claims not only are falsifiable but may be false, or at least not entirely true.

Comment #40113

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:38 PM (e)

harold wrote:

The rest of this thread is irrelevant.

Harold should keep in mind what he noted about information theory – “it is the RECEIVER who decides what is actually information.” On the web, relevance is not determined by a strict adherence to the subject line; if it were, then much of what Harold writes would have to be deemed irrelevant.

Comment #40115

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:44 PM (e)

Atheism makes more sense, but religion is more useful.

You might want to consider the Unitarian Universalist Association; many of their members are atheists.

Comment #40121

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:53 PM (e)

Flint wrote:

So the problem arises when God’s methods or intent as we conceive them, conflict with what we observe - when religious faiths make testable statements and the tests fail. And when that happens, I see the theistic evolutionist saying “I must have misunderstood the scripture” and the creationist saying “everyone else must be misunderstanding the observations.”

It is of course popular here to consider creatinsts to be boogeymen and theistic evolutionists to be fellow members of the tribe, but that black/white division doesn’t quite fit reality. As I’ve noted, due to selective perception, there will always be a tendency to interpret evidence to fit one’s preconceptions and prior beliefs, regardless of how diligently one tries to avoid it. But the thing that does separate theistic evolutionists from creationists is that the former believe in and are participants in the scientific method, a methodology that tends to keep us all honest despite our human cognitive errors.

Comment #40122

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 3:55 PM (e)

Neither did I imagine that the high conversion rates to Islam and Christianity would be quibbled at by people of good faith either; but evidently I was wrong.

People of good faith do not refer to skepticism about a claim of “very high” conversion rates as “quibbling”.

Comment #40124

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 28, 2005 3:56 PM (e)

Asking if evolution is a religion is like asking what kind of fish a bicycle is. Evolution obviously isn’t a religion because it lacks a church, has no rituals, doesn’t comfort the sick, nobody tithes to it, it doesn’t guarantee the sanctity of marriage, etc. etc. And turning things around, speaking about religions as if they were like scientific theories tends to overestimate the importance of the propositional content of religions to religion. By the way, if some philosophers of religion emphasize the cognitive aspects of faiths, isn’t that just because philosophers tend to emphasize the cognitive aspects of everything?

Comment #40134

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 4:14 PM (e)

(If we must look for a strawman here, it would be were you accused me of talking about “perfect correlation”, something I have not done.)

That tu quoque claim is rich:

“Both Islam and Christianity, for example, boast a very high conversion rate, so the correlation is far from exact.”

And even after I note that my argument is not that the fact that religious belief precedes evidence shows anything about the factuality of religious belief, we get

You claim there is something suspect about religious belief because the belief precedes the evidence.

No, I do not claim that. Religious belief is suspect for a billion reasons that really need not be explored when two atheists are conversing. The point was and is that, generally speaking, religious beliefs influence empirical beliefs rather than being arrived at by empirical observation, and that, as I originally wrote, “One of the strongest pieces of evidence is the strong correlation between the specific empirical beliefs, such as the resurrection of Jesus, that people hold and those that their parents hold.” That there is 14% or even 30% conversion rate does not undermine that strong correlation, no matter how much one colors such statistics with superlatives.

Comment #40137

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 4:16 PM (e)

And turning things around, speaking about religions as if they were like scientific theories tends to overestimate the importance of the propositional content of religions to religion. By the way, if some philosophers of religion emphasize the cognitive aspects of faiths, isn’t that just because philosophers tend to emphasize the cognitive aspects of everything?

In regard to science and its practice, it is the propositional content and cognitive aspects that matter.

Comment #40139

Posted by Johan Richter on July 28, 2005 4:19 PM (e)

ts wrote:

This is a common misunderstanding of “falsifiable”. “evolution occurs” is falsifiable
because, had none of the evidence that supports it been observed, it would have been refuted. The fact that no additional evidence can wipe out evidence already acquired does not mean that “evolution occurs” is not falsifiable, it just means it isn’t false. OTOH, there’s the ToE, which includes a number of specific claims that are not nearly as well established as “evolution occurs”, and these individual claims not only are falsifiable but may be false, or at least not entirely true.

There certainly was a time when evolution was falsifiable. But I would still argue that it is not today, at least not in the simplistic sense the word falsifiable is sometimes used. What I mean is the following: no one, or even several experiments, will today convince scientists that evolutionary theory is fundamentally wrong, regardless of the results. The theory will just be modified. Thus it is wrong to claim, to the creatitionists, that the theory of evolution is being tested all the time since even if the results of teh experiments went exactly as the creationists claimed science would not move closer to ID. If, for example, a rabbit fossil was found in pre-Cambrian rocks it would be blamed on fraud, or explained as a misdating or scientists would express amazement that a species that was so similar to rabbits had evolved so early. Abandoning evolutionary theory would be the last thing considerd despite claims from a prominent biologist that a rabbit fossil from such an early time would falsify evolution.
If results like these kept piling up evolutionary theory might finally be abandonded just like Lakatos thought.
BTW, according to the definition in my philosophy textbook whether a theory is falsifiable has got nothing to do with whether it is false. And no amount of evidence can have any effect on whether a theory is falsifiable.

Comment #40144

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 4:26 PM (e)

The high conversion rates to both Islam and Christianity mean that significant numbers of believers in both religions do not satisfy your prejudice about how religious belief is formed.

No, they don’t mean any such thing. To extract meaning, one would have to examine the causes for conversion.

Comment #40151

Posted by Johan Richter on July 28, 2005 4:44 PM (e)

I should perhaps make clear that I will not make any more posts in this debate. If someone does not understand what I mean, as opposed to understanding and disagreeing, I recomend you read a book about the philosophy of science, especially about Lakato. It will probaly explain it a lot better what I mean than I can.

About criticizing ID as a religion I want to say the following: It is unfortunate that the legal argument it in the states, that ID is religious and thus should not be taught by the state, sometimes is confused with the scientific argument against it.

Comment #40152

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 4:49 PM (e)

Thus, you claimed that like evolution and gravity, the irrationality of religious belief is well supported by the evidence; and that all religions have the same social and psychological causes. It is true that on another thread you claimed that compartmentalisation is impossible; but that is not what I responded to, or was disputing.

This is true, I did skip between and mix up two arguments. But I didn’t argue that, because religious belief is irrational, it must be false; it is quite possible to believe something that is true but to believe it for the wrong reasons.

you have not presented any compelling evidence for the irrationality of religious belief.

Nor did I intend to; I merely pointed to what I consider to be the strongest indicators.

The fact that most people share the religion of their parents is simply a non-starter in this regard, for it holds true of virtually all beliefs, including scientific beliefs. More generally, nearly all beliefs with any complexity are first accepted on authority by nearly all people. That is simply a fact of life.

This is fallacious reasoning. If all beliefs are irrationally held, that supports, not undermines, the claim that religious beliefs are irrationally held. But the equivalence you are claiming doesn’t hold. It treats all authorities, and the reasons for accepting authority, as equivalent. But there are different reasons for accepting what one reads in the bible and what one reads in Science magazine. There are different reasons for believing what one hears from Rush Limbaugh and what one hears and reads from a variety of sources which one carefully weighs. And there are different reasons for believing what one was indoctrinated into hearing when one was a child and what one sees as the conclusions of a community of scientists. To lump all of this into “accepted on authority” is most certainly not factual.

Comment #40153

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 4:51 PM (e)

no one, or even several experiments, will today convince scientists that evolutionary theory is fundamentally wrong, regardless of the results.

You seem to have simply ignored what I wrote, about the distinction between “evolution occurs” and the Theory of Evolution, and the fact that new evidence can’t wipe out old evidence.

Comment #40156

Posted by Don P on July 28, 2005 4:59 PM (e)

ThomH:

Which brings us to third point — many people of faith have contributed to science and evolution. Let me quote from H Allen Orr, a scientist who should need no introduction to PT readers…

Well, of course, Orr is stacking the deck. His sample, though certainly eminent, is far too small to be meaningful. Check out the findings of the Cornell Evolution Project instead. As far as I’m aware, it’s the largest and most comprehensive survey of the religious beliefs of professional biologists ever conducted. In the CEP survey, 80% of respondents stated that they do not believe in God in any traditional sense of the word.

And Edward Larson and Larry Witham’s survey of National Academy of Sciences members apparently found an even higher rate of disbelief amoung top biologists, with only 5.5% reporting belief in a personal God.

Comment #40158

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 5:08 PM (e)

If, for example, a rabbit fossil was found in pre-Cambrian rocks it would be blamed on fraud, or explained as a misdating or scientists would express amazement that a species that was so similar to rabbits had evolved so early.

This is quite a smear. You should read your Lakatos more carefully, because he does not charge scientists with this sort of dishonesty. Per Lakatos, every valid effort would be made to show that this isn’t a real find. Failing to do that, people would valiantly try to find a way to modify evolutionary theory to account for the fossil. Failing that – as they must, which is the point of this choice as a falsifying instance – scientists would be forced to admit that there’s no way to account for the fossil by way of evolutionary theory. Alternatives, such as that aliens planted the fossil, would have be entertained. The idea that scientists could simply ignore it or wave it away as early evolution of a rabbit-like species when it has no precursors and no descendants and is completely out of place by any possible means of classification is ludicrous.

Comment #40162

Posted by swbarnes2 on July 28, 2005 5:17 PM (e)

Thus it is wrong to claim, to the creatitionists, that the theory of evolution is being tested all the time since even if the results of teh experiments went exactly as the creationists claimed science would not move closer to ID.

Well, of course not. You are making it sound as if Creationism or ID ought to be the winner automatically if evolution is falsified. For ID or Creationism to advance, they have to show actual evidence supporting their claims. Simply poking holes in other theories obviously doesn’t do this.

The fact is, there are mountans of evidence supporting evolution, which also flatly refutes Creationism. It’s proper that no single oobservation should be able to negate all the decades of correct predictions and useful science that ToE has made possible. It is pure spin to argue that all this extraordinary amount of evidence is a weakness of the theory, since it can’t be easily waved away with a single questionable observation.

Comment #40166

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 5:25 PM (e)

Well, of course, Orr is stacking the deck. His sample, though certainly eminent, is far too small to be meaningful.

The stacking is explicit in what is common about these gentlemen. As these folks were the “founding fathers of twentieth-century evolutionary biology”, they were raised as children in a very different environment of empirical knowledge than what we have today. Richard Dawkins’s statements about the lack of intellectual grounding for atheism before Darwin suggests that he too, had he been born back then, might have been available to Orr as an example. I don’t know the statistics, but I suspect that, if scientists were categorized by age, we would find a correlation between belief/nonbelief and the era in which people were born.

Comment #40171

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 28, 2005 5:46 PM (e)

Since atheists are the new Jews, a despised minority that can suffer real social disabilities in this failing Weimar Republic of ours, it is perfectly possible that young scientists will decide that they better not admit to their disbelief. The politicians have already absorbed the lesson.

Comment #40176

Posted by Matt Young on July 28, 2005 5:53 PM (e)

Responding to Mr. Curtis, I think I “misspoke” when I said that common descent was in the air around Darwin’s time; I should have said evolution. I do not understand the comment that Lamarck thought all lineages remained extinct.

As for religion being irrational: I think we should make a distinction between irrational and nonrational. Some religious beliefs are irrational, but some are nonrational. Those that are irrational include but are not limited to those that deny known fact such as evolution and probably those that think they are the Only Right Ones. There is nothing surprising or reprehensible about the fact that children generally follow their parents’ religion (yes, they do so, else religions would not be clustered geographically).

Merely believing in a creator, however, is neither rational nor irrational but rather nonrational. Why not say that your own religion is an approximation to some transcendental truth, better for you than someone else’s, but not demonstrably closer to the truth? Or treat it as a hypothesis whose consequences you will follow unless it is shown wrong? These are nonrational religious beliefs that do not cross the line into irrationality.

Why oh why do I always end up defending religion? For the record, I do not believe in a deity of any kind but have very mild sympathy for those who do.

The fine-tuning of the fundamental constants is a weak argument, inasmuch as we have not the foggiest idea whether the constants are finely tuned or not. Victor Stenger has chosen 4 constants and varied their values randomly over several orders of magnitude. Very briefly, he calculated the lifetimes of the universes so “created” and found that around half were long-lived enough to generate heavy elements and therefore the possibility of life.

The free-will dodge has always amused me - the concept that God allowed evil in order to give us free will. OK, that excuses deliberate or human evil, but what about misfortune that is not evil? ALS did not give Lou Gehrig free will; if his intention was to play baseball, ALS took away his free will. If the hypothesis is that God is benevolent, then the lack of a convincing theodicy seems to me to falsify that hypothesis.

Theory being a higher form of life than a law: Good point, thanks! Still, it is unfortunate that we chose an ambiguous word like theory, which also means hypothesis or conjecture.

ts seems to me to be correct about falsifiability - a theory has to be falsifiable in principle, but that does not mean it will ever be falsified in fact. Mr. Richter is correct that a single disconfirming fact (or a few) will not necessarily sink a well-established theory - and perhaps it should not. Scientists can develop an ad-hoc hypothesis (neutrino), or temporarily ignore the unpleasant fact (perihelion of Mercury), or modify the theory in some detail.

All that comes to mind. Thanks to everyone for commenting on and clarifying my essay and also for the general civility of the comments. I have a suspicion that Dr. S (who has not answered my snail-mail) does not use the Internet, so I will send him a printout after comments slow down.

Comment #40179

Posted by steve on July 28, 2005 5:57 PM (e)

Posted by Don P on July 28, 2005 03:06 PM (e) (s)

PvM:

Because He wants to accept Him on faith?

Why would God want us to accept him on faith? Why should we accept him on faith? Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say to God if, after he died, he found himself (much to his surprise) in God’s presence. Russell answered, “Why didn’t you give us any evidence?” It seems to me an obvious question.

My question would be, “What was that all about?” Russell’s question treats belief as ultimately important. I disagree. It would be deranged to punish someone for not believing an idea for which there is no evidence. My question to any such god would be a more general Why? type question.

Comment #40180

Posted by Gav on July 28, 2005 6:03 PM (e)

ts commented on the “fact that new evidence can’t wipe out old evidence.” Up to a point. There is such a thing as systematic error. Example that’s usually trotted out is observations of canals on Mars.

Comment #40186

Posted by C.J.O'Brien on July 28, 2005 6:15 PM (e)

Re: Lamarck,
I agree: I was a little perplexed at that “remain extinct” bit.
But, the clear distinction between his views and a common descent model like “the tree of life” is that Lamarck believed that lineages were continually evolving into “higher” forms, and so had to be replenished at the “base” of “the chain of being.” Leastways, I think the poster was trying to get at that distinction.

So, instead of a branching bush, you’d have several, parallel, lineages evolving at the same time, while the mechanism, acquired characteristics, often identified erroneously with Lamarck exclusively, actually was shared in the thought of early Darwinians and Lamarckians.

Comment #40193

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 6:58 PM (e)

If the hypothesis is that God is benevolent, then the lack of a convincing theodicy seems to me to falsify that hypothesis.

And yet you say that religion is merely nonrational, not irrational. I think that this example, among many others, establishes nearly all religious belief as irrational. What I do not find irrational is simple metaphysical equations such as that of Einstein, who equated the world as it is to God, without ascribing any additional characteristics.

Comment #40195

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 7:06 PM (e)

ts commented on the “fact that new evidence can’t wipe out old evidence.” Up to a point. There is such a thing as systematic error. Example that’s usually trotted out is observations of canals on Mars.

There was never any evidence of canals on Mars beyond people’s claims of what they observed. If we had such evidence, such as photographic plates showing canals or canal-like structures, that evidence would not be wiped out by new evidence lacking such structures. Rather, we would need an explanation for the change.

Comment #40198

Posted by NelC on July 28, 2005 7:12 PM (e)

“Extant”, I think, instead of “extinct”.

Comment #40202

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 7:21 PM (e)

“Extant”, I think, instead of “extinct”.

Good call! I remember a time when a bunch of people were huddled in an office trying to interpret some hardware manual; I joined in and, after a while, noted that “or” should have been “of” (I think it was something like “the first bit or the second register”). A really nasty meaning-inverting typo is “now” vs. “not”.

Comment #40205

Posted by Matt Young on July 28, 2005 7:29 PM (e)

Mr. O’Brien’s description of Lamarck’s view is roughly what I thought, with possibly spontaneous geenration at the bottom.

“If the hypothesis is that God is benevolent, then the lack of a convincing theodicy seems to me to falsify that hypothesis.”

And yet you say that religion is merely nonrational, not irrational. I think that this example, among many others, establishes nearly all religious belief as irrational.

Not all people who disagree with us are necessarily irrational (though I agree it may help). Besides, note the qualifying clause. Harold (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) Kushner has said, in effect, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence - choose any 2. Kushner chooses the last 2.

“Extant” sounds good to me too.

Comment #40206

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 28, 2005 7:35 PM (e)

I once had an argument with a guy about whether Faust met Hamlet at Wittenburg so I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on grown ups who debate the finer points of theodicy as if talking about omipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent beings made any sense in the first place. And what does happen when the irresistable force meets the immovable object?

Comment #40209

Posted by Don P on July 28, 2005 7:43 PM (e)

Matt Young:

The only kind of God that I think may be compatible with science and reason is the God of Deism, an evil, indifferent and/or limited deity who set things in motion and then stepped back. Miller, Polkinghorne, and most other “theistic evolutionists” are of course Christians, not Deists.

Comment #40216

Posted by ts on July 28, 2005 8:06 PM (e)

Not all people who disagree with us are necessarily irrational (though I agree it may help).

Where did that come from? My position is simply that it’s irrational to persist in believing falsified claims.

Besides, note the qualifying clause. Harold (When Bad Things Happen to Good People) Kushner has said, in effect, omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence - choose any 2. Kushner chooses the last 2.

So perhaps Harold Kushner is the only non-irrational believer. Except that I think his last two are well falsified; even if God isn’t omnipotent, he would need to be very impotent indeed to produce this mess and consider it consistent with omnibenevolence. And, as I noted, theodicy is only one problem “among many others”.

Comment #40226

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 28, 2005 8:45 PM (e)

before Jesus made his messianic claims

I’m not so sure that Christ made any messianic claims. Though certainly others did make that claim ABOUT him. Some, like Paul, after Christ was already dead. Indeed, much of what is currently accepted as “Christianity” actually comes from Paul, not from Christ.

But I fear we should be having this conversation in the bathroom rather than the science lab.

What seems to be the problem with the plumbing in the Bathroom?

Comment #40227

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 28, 2005 8:47 PM (e)

If man could explain natural phenomena without invoking the supernatural

We can.

the Church’s power would evaporate.

It hasn’t.

(shrug)

Comment #40228

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 28, 2005 8:49 PM (e)

No, they believe they feel God’s presence. But there is no evidence that they actually feel God’s presence.

I believe I feel love for my girlfriend. But there is no evidence that I actually feel love for my girlfriend.

How would you test, scientifically or logically, whether or not I actually feel love for my girlfriend?

Please be as specific as possible.

Comment #40229

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 28, 2005 8:54 PM (e)

Second, those who believe in theistic evolution are NOT trying get ID or other alternatives “taught” in the K-12 science curriculum across the USA.

Nor are they interferring with scientific research, funding, etc. Regardless of your opinion regarding theism, etc., these people — the theisic evolutionaries — are NOT the enemy.

Amen, brother.

Pissing off and alienating potential allies in this fight is, well, stupid.

Really stupid.

Really REALLY stupid.

But this general war against all forms of theistic belief has to end. It has nothing to do with promoting or advancing science.

As I said before, both the fundies AND the ideological atheists are simply lying to us when they claim this is about “science”. It is all about their religious opinions. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Comment #40230

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 28, 2005 9:01 PM (e)

Since atheists are the new Jews

Where can we see atheists being rounded up and gassed?

Don’t be an asshole.

Comment #40236

Posted by Air Bear on July 28, 2005 9:55 PM (e)

Since atheists are the new Jews

Where can we see atheists being rounded up and gassed?

Don’t be an asshole.

It’s still early in the game.

Ten years from now, atheists won’t be rounded up and gassed, but “atheistic” science will be starved for funding by the government.

Comment #40237

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 28, 2005 10:03 PM (e)

As if there weren’t plenty of forms of anti-semitism that didn’t involve genocide…

The current treatment of atheists doesn’t reminds me of what the Jews went through because I expect things to get completely out of hand, but because one encounters some of the same rhetorical moves used against atheists that were formerly employed against the Jews, in particular the way in which well-meaning trimmers recommend that atheists accept their second-class status here in a country of believers, aka the Real Americans. The heck with that.

Comment #40248

Posted by Mike Walker on July 28, 2005 11:43 PM (e)

How would you test, scientifically or logically, whether or not I actually feel love for my girlfriend?

You did ask…

Since you don’t stipulate that the experiment would have to be ethical, it would not be difficult to design one that would test your physical/emotional response to seeing several women, your girlfriend amongst them, being subjected to torture or placed in real danger of losing their lives.

You would have to design the experiment carefully to include people like female friends, women equally or more physically attractive, etc, to eliminate other possible factors, but, in the end it should be possible to prove that you have a strongest emotional bond to one, and only one, of these people - your girlfriend.

Now I think of it, a less appalling experiment might suffice - you are likely to have a strong physical/emotional reaction to seeing your girlfriend in a passionate kiss with another man - more so than watching a friend or stranger doing the same thing.

Now if you’re arguing that you can’t identify “love” specifically, then how else would you define that emotional involvement in that one person? You should be able to rule out lust, empathy, etc. if you design the experiment correctly.

Comment #40251

Posted by ts on July 29, 2005 1:12 AM (e)

No, they believe they feel God’s presence. But there is no evidence that they actually feel God’s presence.

I believe I feel love for my girlfriend. But there is no evidence that I actually feel love for my girlfriend.

Moses’s point was that the first sentence implies the existence of God, and unless one intends to make that claim, it should be worded differently. In the second sentence, there’s no question that the speaker intends to assert his love for his girlfriend. Asking for a test misses the point entirely. There’s a linguistic principle that applies here, which is that people are assumed to be inerrant about their own emotions; when one says that one feels love for his girlfriend or for God, no test is needed, merely the assumption that the speaker is speaking truthfully. The statement does not imply existence of anything other than his love; it doesn’t imply the existence of either his girlfriend or of God. “I feel love for God” and “I feel God’s presence” are very different statements; in the first the object is love; in the second the object is God’s presence. People are inerrant authorities as to whether they feel love; they are not inerrant authorities on whether God is present.

Comment #40252

Posted by ts on July 29, 2005 1:14 AM (e)

Moses’s point was that the first sentence implies the existence of God

Correction: his point was that the statement “they feel God’s presence” implies the existence (and presence) of God.

Comment #40282

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 29, 2005 4:55 AM (e)

Matt Young:

Responding to Mr. Curtis, I think I “misspoke” when I said that common descent was in the air around Darwin’s time; I should have said evolution. I do not understand the comment that Lamarck thought all lineages remained extinct.

Sorry about “extinct”. That was a brain explosion followed by a failure to proof read. I actually intended to write “distinct”. C.J.O’Brian summarises what I was trying to get at quite well. The important point was that for Lamarck, there is no tendency for lineages to branch.

As for religion being irrational: I think we should make a distinction between irrational and nonrational. Some religious beliefs are irrational, but some are nonrational. Those that are irrational include but are not limited to those that deny known fact such as evolution and probably those that think they are the Only Right Ones. There is nothing surprising or reprehensible about the fact that children generally follow their parents’ religion (yes, they do so, else religions would not be clustered geographically).

In addition to being irrational and a-rational, some religious beliefs can also be rational. N.T.Wright’s belief that Jesus rose physically from the dead is a rational belief. It is grounded in as complete a knowledge of the relevant evidence as is possessed by any living person; and it coheres well with that evidence. It is true that the evidence does not support that belief unless we assume there is an (approximately) Abrahamic God, as Wright does. But that belief is not itself irrational (or necessarily a-rational) so it does not render his belief in the ressurection irrational (or a-rational). It is merely wrong.

We ought to be able to recognise that people can have good reasons for believing false beliefs. Further, we ought also to be able to recognise that people can push the limit of the epistemic curve and still be rational. If the evidence supports belief A better than belief B, but not by a very large margin, than it can be rational to believe B in prefference to A

The fine-tuning of the fundamental constants is a weak argument, inasmuch as we have not the foggiest idea whether the constants are finely tuned or not. Victor Stenger has chosen 4 constants and varied their values randomly over several orders of magnitude. Very briefly, he calculated the lifetimes of the universes so “created” and found that around half were long-lived enough to generate heavy elements and therefore the possibility of life.

The fine tuning argument is indeed weak, both because we do not yet have a complete physical theory to determine if the constants do need unusually improbable values for life, and because there are a number of plausible naturalistic theories that would also account for the percieved fine tuning of the constants (and in one case, an actual fine tuning of constants). But it is not irrational to bet that among the many features a final theory will share with our current physical theories is the fine tuning of the constants; nor irrational to reject the assumptions of the various naturalistic models, or to bet that a more complete physical theory will refute their premises.

I have an entirely different attitude to theistic evolutionists such as Miller who are swayed by the fine tuning argument, and those creationists who try to present it as an overwhelming argument by denying the existance of, or plausibility of naturalistic alternatives, and/or denying that future physical theories may significantly alter the percieved rarity of conditions suitable for life. The former is a rational belief that I think on other grounds is wrong; the later is an irrational position that needs to undermine rational thought to sustain its plausibility. It is because Miller recognises this distinction that he so actively opposes ID creationism.

Comment #40321

Posted by Matt Young on July 29, 2005 10:48 AM (e)

I agree with Don P that deism is the only religious belief compatible with science. But lots of rational people believe in a personal God who encourages them, tells them the right things to do, gives them strength. To my mind such a God is an allegory, but they do not agree.

I must appeal to Mr. Flank not to use invective on any of my threads. I will, as I have occasionally in the past, excise any further abusive comments.

Regarding your love for your girl friend: Emotions are an internal reality and, as ts suggests, we can reasonably accept your word for it. I can nevertheless suggest an ethical experiment to test the hypothesis that you truly love your girl friend: watch your behavior and see how you treat her. You could be lying or misinterpreting lust as love.

God, if he, she, or it exists, is an external reality, and your feeling is irrelevant. ts is correct in pointing out the distinction between your love for someone and God’s love for you. That you think God loves you does not make that thought veridical.

I agree with Mr. Curtis that it is rational to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but that rational belief is based on the nonrational belief in God or the veridicality of the so-called New Testament. Thus, any religious belief (presuming it is not treated as a hypothesis) is at best nonrational at its base. I cannot agree that a belief in a deity is rational, but neither do I intend nonrational to be pejorative.

I further agree that acceptance of the fine-tuning argument is rational but wrong. Still, it seems to me that it is a very weak argument whose apparent strength is based on the nonrational need to posit and defend a god. I spent a week at a conference of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (a AAAS affiliate) a few years ago. I was impressed by how very, very bright the attendees were, but I was impressed as much by their fundamentalism: they were determined to find “transcendence” whether it was there or not.

Comment #40322

Posted by Brett Holman on July 29, 2005 10:48 AM (e)

There was never any evidence of canals on Mars beyond people’s claims of what they observed. If we had such evidence, such as photographic plates showing canals or canal-like structures, that evidence would not be wiped out by new evidence lacking such structures. Rather, we would need an explanation for the change.

Actually, photographs of the so-called canals were supposedly taken by professional astronomers, on at least three occasions that I know of (in 1905, 1907 and as late as 1954) - here’s some info. I’ve never seen any copies of these so I don’t know how convincing they were (or weren’t), but apparently some canal-skeptics were impressed by them. But just like the visual observations, they were at the limit of detectability - the canals in the photos were too fine to show up in magazine reproductions.

Just FYI.

Comment #40343

Posted by Don P on July 29, 2005 12:13 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

N.T.Wright’s belief that Jesus rose physically from the dead is a rational belief. It is grounded in as complete a knowledge of the relevant evidence as is possessed by any living person; and it coheres well with that evidence. It is true that the evidence does not support that belief unless we assume there is an (approximately) Abrahamic God, as Wright does. But that belief is not itself irrational (or necessarily a-rational) so it does not render his belief in the ressurection irrational (or a-rational).

I think this argument is just nonsense. A belief is not rational simply because it follows rationally from irrational premises. But I deny that the irrational premise in this case (the assumption of “an Abrahamic God”) rationally supports the belief (that Jesus physically rose from the dead) anyway.

We ought to be able to recognise that people can have good reasons for believing false beliefs.

Yes, sometimes they do. If their false belief rests on information that they have no reason to particularly doubt but that is nevertheless factually incorrect, for example. With respect to most religious beliefs, I deny that people in general have good reasons for them, and I most certainly deny that any reasonably intelligent and educated person has good reasons to believe the teachings of a religion like Christianity. The fact that many intelligent and educated people still do believe in Christianity is a testament to human fallibility, to the power of self-deception, wishful thinking, vulnerability to social conditioning, and other influences that may override reason, not to the merits of the belief.

I have an entirely different attitude to theistic evolutionists such as Miller who are swayed by the fine tuning argument, and those creationists who try to present it as an overwhelming argument by denying the existance of, or plausibility of naturalistic alternatives, and/or denying that future physical theories may significantly alter the percieved rarity of conditions suitable for life. The former is a rational belief that I think on other grounds is wrong; the later is an irrational position that needs to undermine rational thought to sustain its plausibility. It is because Miller recognises this distinction that he so actively opposes ID creationism.

Seems a rather fine line to me. Does the Discovery Institute deny “that future physical theories may significantly alter the percieved rarity of conditions suitable for life?” Perhaps you could show me where you think this alleged difference in basic attitude towards the fine-tuning argument by theistic evolutionists like Miller and Polkinghorne vs. ID proponents like Johnson and Dembski is made clear. I haven’t seen it.

Comment #40344

Posted by ts on July 29, 2005 12:28 PM (e)

Actually, photographs of the so-called canals were supposedly taken by professional astronomers, on at least three occasions that I know of (in 1905, 1907 and as late as 1954) - here’s some info. I’ve never seen any copies of these so I don’t know how convincing they were (or weren’t), but apparently some canal-skeptics were impressed by them. But just like the visual observations, they were at the limit of detectability - the canals in the photos were too fine to show up in magazine reproductions.

Yes, photos were taken; but there were no canals visible in them, regardless of whether canal-skeptics were impressed. We know this, for the very simple reason that there are no canals on Mars – a fact that your account above seems to overlook.

Comment #40348

Posted by ts on July 29, 2005 12:42 PM (e)

here’s some info

I hadn’t read the link before I posted the above. Now that I’ve read it, I can note that it only mentions two people, Percival Lowell and Earl Slipher, who claimed to have seen canals. There’s also a statement from Lowell that “History of the canal problem shows that every skilled observer who goes to the best available site for his observations has had no great difficulty of seeing and convincing himself of the reality of the canals. I am not aware of a single exception to this.” But we know, from this article alone, that Lowell’s claim is false. From other sources, it’s clear that many of Lowell’s statements were false. The article suggests, and even concludes, that there was an optical illusion – from Lowell and Slipher’s claims alone. There is, in fact, no reason to think that there is any optical illusion that produces the appearance of canals on Mars, any more than there is reason to think that there is an optical illusion that produces the appearance of alien abductors and their medical instruments. Rather, these are most likely the product of delusion and/or dissembling.

Comment #40401

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 29, 2005 6:06 PM (e)

I agree with Don P that deism is the only religious belief compatible with science. But lots of rational people believe in a personal God who encourages them, tells them the right things to do, gives them strength. To my mind such a God is an allegory, but they do not agree.

I must appeal to Mr. Flank not to use invective on any of my threads. I will, as I have occasionally in the past, excise any further abusive comments.

Regarding your love for your girl friend: Emotions are an internal reality and, as ts suggests, we can reasonably accept your word for it. I can nevertheless suggest an ethical experiment to test the hypothesis that you truly love your girl friend: watch your behavior and see how you treat her. You could be lying or misinterpreting lust as love.

God, if he, she, or it exists, is an external reality, and your feeling is irrelevant. ts is correct in pointing out the distinction between your love for someone and God’s love for you. That you think God loves you does not make that thought veridical.

I agree with Mr. Curtis that it is rational to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but that rational belief is based on the nonrational belief in God or the veridicality of the so-called New Testament. Thus, any religious belief (presuming it is not treated as a hypothesis) is at best nonrational at its base. I cannot agree that a belief in a deity is rational, but neither do I intend nonrational to be pejorative.

I further agree that acceptance of the fine-tuning argument is rational but wrong. Still, it seems to me that it is a very weak argument whose apparent strength is based on the nonrational need to posit and defend a god. I spent a week at a conference of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (a AAAS affiliate) a few years ago. I was impressed by how very, very bright the attendees were, but I was impressed as much by their fundamentalism: they were determined to find “transcendence” whether it was there or not.

Not sure what any of this has to do with me, since I don’t assert the existence of any god or gods.

Comment #40405

Posted by Steviepinhead on July 29, 2005 6:17 PM (e)

I must appeal to Mr. Flank not to use invective on any of my threads. I will, as I have occasionally in the past, excise any further abusive comments.

I think it may have something to do with comment #40236, in which a donkey’s concavity was invoked.

I hope this isn’t gonna hold up PT’s late afternoon pizza delivery…

Comment #40410

Posted by Matt Young on July 29, 2005 6:33 PM (e)

I was referring, in comment 40231, to comment 40230, not 40236, wherein Mr. Flank likens another debater to a rectal orifice. My apologies to Mr. Flank if the rest of the entry made it appear as if he was the subject - I was using the personal pronoun “you” instead of the impersonal “one” and did not intend it to refer to anyone in particular. There had been discussion earlier regarding the difference between love for your girl friend and the feeling that God loves you.

Comment #40412

Posted by Matt Young on July 29, 2005 6:36 PM (e)

Oops: 40321 not 40231. I am sometimes a little dyselxic. Or else I can’t type.

Comment #40416

Posted by Steviepinhead on July 29, 2005 6:50 PM (e)

Sorry to contribute to any confusion.

I just get very nervous whenever there’s any apparent indication that Lenny’s pizza boy might be stayed in his rounds…

Comment #40419

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 29, 2005 7:02 PM (e)

I think it may have something to do with comment #40236, in which a donkey’s concavity was invoked.

Nuh-uh ——- no donkeys mentioned there at all.

;)

Comment #40421

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 29, 2005 7:05 PM (e)

I was referring, in comment 40231, to comment 40230, not 40236, wherein Mr. Flank likens another debater to a rectal orifice.

People who liken their treatment to that of “the Jews in Germany” ARE rectal orifices. The fundies are when they go off their nut about how “oppressed” they are. The atheists are when THEY go off THEIR nut about how “oppressed” they are.

I bristle, *strongly*, whenever anyone belittles what happened in Nazi Germany.

And I make absolutely no apology for that whatsoever.

Comment #40422

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 29, 2005 7:10 PM (e)

Don P:

I think this argument is just nonsense. A belief is not rational simply because it follows rationally from irrational premises. But I deny that the irrational premise in this case (the assumption of “an Abrahamic God”) rationally supports the belief (that Jesus physically rose from the dead) anyway.

This question resolves on the probability you assign to a man rising from the dead. Given the evidence in the gospels, for example, most consider it reasonable to believe that Jesus was crucified near passover. No surprise - the Romans crucified people all the time, so we do not require much evidence to be convinced that Jesus was crucified. In contrast, if there is no Abrahamic God, then the probability of a “messiah” clamant rising from the dead is the same as the probability of anyone rising from the dead,ie, 0 (or as close to 0 as Bayesian scruples will allow us to go). Given this, the evidence is no where near secure enough to overthrow our scepticism. Given the existance of an Abrahamic God, however, that probability rises significantly. How much cannot be determined objectively, but subjectively, I would say it is not significantly lower than the probability that a Jew was born in Bethlehem. Based on Gospel evidence, Jesus was probably not born in Bethlehem, but it is certainly not irrational for someone to think he was. This is because accounts of Jesus being born in Bethlehem are late, contradictory, and contradicted by other material. In contrast, though the gospel accounts of the resurection are late, and not fully concordant (they are not flat out contradictory either); they are not contradicted by other material, and are supported by other earlier sources - notably Paul, our earliest written source on the life of Jesus. Given this, someone who accepts the existance of an Abrahamic God, and consequently tentatively accepts the physical ressurection of Jesus is not irrational, or even a-rational in their belief.

I do not see how you can deny this conclusion unless you insist that the existance of an Abrahamic God does not alter the pobabilities of ressurection. To my mind, that would be an irrational dogmatism.

Speaking of which, in comment 39928, you wrote:

As far as I’m aware, this claim enjoys no more support amoung professional historians than the claims of IDers do amoung professional scientists, so I’m not sure why you think it any more worthy of respect. But I’m not really sure what you mean by historical evidence for the resurrection, anyway. If you’re talking about the claim of physical, bodily resurrection of Christ, that claim necessarily implicates science, since it is so extraordinary.

Well, N.T.Wright is one of a number of professional historians who conclude that Jesus did rise from the dead; or that the evidence is equivocal, and the conclusion that he did represents an act of faith in an Abrahamic God (ie, approximately the position I have outlined).

Further, science details theories of what happens on the assumption of no supernatural intervention. (This is a characteristic of successful scientific theories rather than a defining feature of science, IMO.) But because of this, it cannot speak to what would happen in the event of supernatural intervention. Consequently, it cannot preclude specific supernatural events per se, and hence cannot preclude the ressurection of Jesus in particular. It can only do this if the requirement of no supernatural events ceases to be a methodological assumption, and becomes a metaphysical assumption. But such a metaphysical assumption is not necessary of science, or part of science. Thus, using it to preclude the possibility of Jesus ressurection is potentially dogmatic and irrational. (It is not irrational to say you have reasons to believe there are not supernatural beings or events, and that therefore there is no Abrahamic God, and that therefore Jesus did not rise from the dead. It is irrational to say that even if their is an Abrahamic God, Jesus could not have risen from the dead because science shows in the natural course of events, people do not rise from the dead.)

Yes, sometimes they do. If their false belief rests on information that they have no reason to particularly doubt but that is nevertheless factually incorrect, for example. With respect to most religious beliefs, I deny that people in general have good reasons for them, and I most certainly deny that any reasonably intelligent and educated person has good reasons to believe the teachings of a religion like Christianity.

First, what do you mean by “the teachings of a religion like Christianity”? Christianity, like most major religions, exists in a variety of forms, some of which are transparently irrational, but some of which are not.

Second, my wife became a Christian (from a non-Christian background) after seeing a vision of Jesus. Now, I think there are various good psychological reasons for that, and that the vision was generated by her own brain. She, however, points out that she is not prone to illusions (only ever having had the one vision), and thinks the vision was veridical. My point is that psychology has certainly not advanced to the stage where her explanation is ruled out of court. In fact, psychology is a proto science in this regard. Psychologists have a good idea of were to look for a theory of visions, but as yet no theory can unify the field, or find incontravertible support from the evidence. Consequently, in my disagreement with my wife, I am not appealing to a current well established theory. Rather, I am appealing to the potential of a future theory that would explain her vision in a fully naturalistic way, and be well supported by scientific evidence. In that situation, she is not irrational to reject my appeal. On the contrary, she has rational reasons for her belief. I just happen to think those reasons are wrong.

For me to reject my wifes beliefs as irrational, or even as a-rational, I would have to insist as a condition of rationality that as yet undeveloped naturalistic theories must automatically trump any supernaturalistic theories. To me, such an insistence would amount to simple dogmatism.

Seems a rather fine line to me. Does the Discovery Institute deny “that future physical theories may significantly alter the percieved rarity of conditions suitable for life?” Perhaps you could show me where you think this alleged difference in basic attitude towards the fine-tuning argument by theistic evolutionists like Miller and Polkinghorne vs. ID proponents like Johnson and Dembski is made clear. I haven’t seen it.

Tacitly, they do deny it. That is, they no more come out and say “our belief in the fine tuning of the cosmological constants is unfalsifiable” then they admit to the non-falsifiability of thier belief that “specified complexity proves design”. However, they consistently emphasise that the fine tuning is scientific evidence of design, and dismiss alternative theories in a line or two of spurious argument (when they mention them at all).

In contrast, Miller is happy to acknowledge the non-scientific nature of his belief. In his only extensive discussion that I have read (in “Finding Darwin’s God”) he takes time to discuss Dennet’s criticisms of the argument, including (I believe) Lee Smolin’s evolving universes hypothesis. (It is several years since I read the book, so I am vague on the details.) Tellingly, though Miller finds the argument compelling for him, he actually agrees with Matt Young that belief in God is a-rational (from memory). While he believes that emperical facts can be subjectively compelling “intuition pumps” in favour of belief in God, he is not prepared to allow that such facts provide inductive warrant for such a belief; let alone that the God hypothesis generates testable predictions in science.

Comment #40423

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 29, 2005 7:11 PM (e)

There had been discussion earlier regarding the difference between love for your girl friend and the feeling that God loves you.

Well, the point of that had more to do with the whole “rational” v “irrational” thingie. Is love for one’s girlfriend “rational”? Do we decide matters of love by “rational” methods? Equations, logic and reasoning? Maybe Mr Spock does (oops, no he didn’t), but I doubt that even the most rational scientific practitioner of logic, a true master of Kolinar, does.

I find it rather amusing for such a person to castigate others for being “irrational” in their feelings. But mostly, it makes me sad. It must eb awful to go through life as a humorless colorless emotionless heartless, rational logical scientific pedant.

Perhaps that is why they spend so much time on the Internet.

Oh well. I hope they live long logical lives. Pity they’re missing out on so much. (shrug)

Comment #40430

Posted by ts on July 29, 2005 8:32 PM (e)

There had been discussion earlier regarding the difference between love for your girl friend and the feeling that God loves you.

No this gets it wrong in a significant way. It was about feeling God’s presence, not feeling that God loves you. Moses complained that “they feel God’s presence” implies God’s existence. There’s no such problem with “they feel that God loves them”.

Well, the point of that had more to do with the whole “rational” v “irrational” thingie.

No, that was a different conversation.

But mostly, it makes me sad. It must eb awful to go through life as a humorless colorless emotionless heartless, rational logical scientific pedant.

Lenny leaps to a lot of conclusions as to people he knows so little about, but it doesn’t sadden me (not that it really saddens the dissembling ‘Rev Dr’ either) – it’s more a matter of schadenfreude to see so much error saddled on so much arrogance.

Comment #40432

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 29, 2005 8:40 PM (e)

Since I’m the guy who was identified as a rectal orifice, perhaps I’m entitled to make another comment.

One of the reasons that I think that atheists are in the same boat as Jews in the 20s is that you don’t have to be a practing atheist in order to qualify as a public enemy, just as you didn’t have to be a practicing Jews to qualify as a Jew. I don’t in fact believe in God, but I don’t think that’s a very remarkable opinion and it doesn’t define my point of view about things. I’m not the kind of guy who shows up on the cable networks denouncing the inquisition. I think the existence or non existence of God is a rather uninteresting question precisely because I recon that the probability of the existence of God is negligable so that His (or Her) non existence doesn’t make much difference one way or the other to figuring out how things work. And I don’t think that organized religion is the root of all evil. Although I regard their beliefs as fantasies, I think the Christians, Muslims, or Jews have been, if you don’t mind the joke, on the side of the angels as often as anybody else as far as political issues are concerned. They are definitely not my enemies. If they are going to go out of their way to make me an ememy, on the other hand, I’m not going to have any compunctions about pointing out the errors of their ways.

Comment #40442

Posted by Don P on July 29, 2005 9:31 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

Given the existance of an Abrahamic God, however, that probability rises significantly.

Given the right assumption, the probability of anything, no matter how absurd, irrational, and contradicted by science, rises significantly. In fact, given the right assumption, the probability rises to 1. The whole point is that the assumption is not justified. It is irrational. If you’re going to make such irrational assumptions, why not spare yourself the burden of trying to argue from the existence of “an Abrahamic God” to the resurrection of Christ and simply assume that he rose from the dead, period.

Well, N.T.Wright is one of a number of professional historians who conclude that Jesus did rise from the dead; or that the evidence is equivocal, and the conclusion that he did represents an act of faith in an Abrahamic God (ie, approximately the position I have outlined).

I don’t for one second believe that N.T. Wright has rationally concluded from historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. He holds this belief as an article of religious faith, and any appeals to “historical evidence” are just attempts to rationalize that faith. We have a mountain of evidence that 3-day-old decomposing human corpses cannot just come back to life, and the idea that “historical evidence,” by which I assume you mean records of alleged eyewitnesses to the event and the like, is more persuasive on this matter than basic principles of chemistry and physics and biology is just ludicrous.

Comment #40445

Posted by Don P on July 29, 2005 10:00 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

First, what do you mean by “the teachings of a religion like Christianity”?

The teaching that the world was created by a benevolent and omnipotent God. The teaching that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died for our sins. The teaching that when we die we will be judged and either enter the Kingdom of God, or be damned to Hell (or, if you’re a Catholic, purgatory or limbo or somesuch). That kind of thing.

Christianity, like most major religions, exists in a variety of forms, some of which are transparently irrational, but some of which are not.

Do please describe this alleged rational form of Christianity.

Second, my wife became a Christian (from a non-Christian background) after seeing a vision of Jesus. Now, I think there are various good psychological reasons for that, and that the vision was generated by her own brain. She, however, points out that she is not prone to illusions (only ever having had the one vision), and thinks the vision was veridical.

I would tell your wife that she is most likely misunderstanding the nature of the experience she attributes to a vision of Jesus and that science and reason provide an alternative explanation of that experience that is more consistent with the evidence and that involves fewer assumptions. To put it another way, I would tell her that I think her belief is irrational.

Tacitly, they do deny it. That is, they no more come out and say “our belief in the fine tuning of the cosmological constants is unfalsifiable” then they admit to the non-falsifiability of thier belief that “specified complexity proves design”.

Well, rather than guessing, why don’t you try asking them? Ask Johnson and Dembski them if they think the fine-tuning argument is unfalsifiable. And ask Miller and Polkinghorne the same question. If the IDers do indeed claim that the argument is unfalsifiable while the theistic evolutionists do not, I will happily agree with you that you have identified a significant difference between them. But I doubt that Johnson and Dembski would claim that it is unfalsifiable.

However, they consistently emphasise that the fine tuning is scientific evidence of design, and dismiss alternative theories in a line or two of spurious argument (when they mention them at all. In contrast, Miller is happy to acknowledge the non-scientific nature of his belief.

The fine-tuning argument is most definitely an argument from science and reason, whatever Miller says. The argument is that various properties of the universe that we have discovered using the methods of science cannot be accounted for by any known natural laws, and that they are too finely balanced to plausibly be the result of chance, and that one may therefore rationally infer from this observation that the universe probably had an Intelligent Designer. I think it’s a bad argument, but it’s silly to say that it’s not an argument from science.

Comment #40446

Posted by Don P on July 29, 2005 10:15 PM (e)

Lenny Flank:

Perhaps that is why they spend so much time on the Internet.

Oh, the irony.

Comment #40448

Posted by Brett Holman on July 29, 2005 10:31 PM (e)

Yes, photos were taken; but there were no canals visible in them, regardless of whether canal-skeptics were impressed. We know this, for the very simple reason that there are no canals on Mars — a fact that your account above seems to overlook.

By your logic nobody “saw” canals visually either. How do we know? Because the canals aren’t there. Well, I guess a lot of histories of astronomy need to be re-written then.

This is silly. A photograph is subject to interpretation just as a naked-eye observation is - the face on Mars is an adjacent example - and just because some people saw canals in them does not imply that they were there. It’s simply another false observation, interpreted according to their own biases (and skeptics may have a suppressed will-to-believe; at least one of those impressed by the 1905 photographs reverted to his agnostic stance not long afterwards).

Photographs of Mars were taken. They were believed by some to show canals. That seems to me to merit the description “photographs of the canals of Mars” without implying the reality of those canals. Whether you need to modify this with scarequotes and qualifiers is up to you - I thought it was perfectly obvious that the photographs weren’t really of canals - but it doesn’t change what happened, which is all I was trying to point out. There was photographic evidence for Martian canals, just not very good evidence.

Comment #40481

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 30, 2005 11:30 AM (e)

Don P:

Given the right assumption, the probability of anything, no matter how absurd, irrational, and contradicted by science, rises significantly. In fact, given the right assumption, the probability rises to 1. The whole point is that the assumption is not justified. It is irrational. If you’re going to make such irrational assumptions, why not spare yourself the burden of trying to argue from the existence of “an Abrahamic God” to the resurrection of Christ and simply assume that he rose from the dead, period.

Allow me to repeat your original objection:

But I deny that the irrational premise in this case (the assumption of “an Abrahamic God”) rationally supports the belief (that Jesus physically rose from the dead) anyway.

Seeing you obviously don’t want to claim that anymore, you should at least have the decency to admit your error.

As it stands, your case for the irrationality of Wright’s belief depends exclusively on the empty assertion that belief in an Abrahamic God is necessarily irrational. It is an empty assertion, or course, because you do not provide any evidence to back it up.

I don’t for one second believe that N.T. Wright has rationally concluded from historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. He holds this belief as an article of religious faith, and any appeals to “historical evidence” are just attempts to rationalize that faith. We have a mountain of evidence that 3-day-old decomposing human corpses cannot just come back to life, and the idea that “historical evidence,” by which I assume you mean records of alleged eyewitnesses to the event and the like, is more persuasive on this matter than basic principles of chemistry and physics and biology is just ludicrous.

I repeat: “Further, science details theories of what happens on the assumption of no supernatural intervention. (This is a characteristic of successful scientific theories rather than a defining feature of science, IMO.) But because of this, it cannot speak to what would happen in the event of supernatural intervention. Consequently, it cannot preclude specific supernatural events per se, and hence cannot preclude the ressurection of Jesus in particular. It can only do this if the requirement of no supernatural events ceases to be a methodological assumption, and becomes a metaphysical assumption. But such a metaphysical assumption is not necessary of science, or part of science. Thus, using it to preclude the possibility of Jesus ressurection is potentially dogmatic and irrational. (It is not irrational to say you have reasons to believe there are not supernatural beings or events, and that therefore there is no Abrahamic God, and that therefore Jesus did not rise from the dead. It is irrational to say that even if their is an Abrahamic God, Jesus could not have risen from the dead because science shows in the natural course of events, people do not rise from the dead.)”

Clearly you wish to adopt a dogmatic metaphysical naturalism, a position no more rational than a dogmatic metaphysical supernaturalism.

I would tell your wife that she is most likely misunderstanding the nature of the experience she attributes to a vision of Jesus and that science and reason provide an alternative explanation of that experience that is more consistent with the evidence and that involves fewer assumptions. To put it another way, I would tell her that I think her belief is irrational.

Really, exactly were might I find this consensus psychological theory that constitutes the alternative explanation provided by science? You hope, and I certainly expect such an explanation to be found; but our expectation is not itself an explanation. Perhaps you should be asking yourself why you find it necessary to describe theories that do not yet exist, or at least, are not yet well supported, as existing theories.

The fine-tuning argument is most definitely an argument from science and reason, whatever Miller says. The argument is that various properties of the universe that we have discovered using the methods of science cannot be accounted for by any known natural laws, and that they are too finely balanced to plausibly be the result of chance, and that one may therefore rationally infer from this observation that the universe probably had an Intelligent Designer. I think it’s a bad argument, but it’s silly to say that it’s not an argument from science.

No. The fine tuning argument is an argument with emperical premises. However, the conclusion it reaches cannot be in turn used to make further emperical predictions. Therefore it is not science. This is exactly the grounds on which it is repeatedly, and correctly, denied that ID is science. It is certainly not a sign of irrationality in Miller that he applies to an argument he accepts the same distinctions he applies to arguments he rejects.

Of course, if you wish to argue that ID is science, very bad science but science none-the-less, you are welcome to do so. You can start be specifying which demarcation criteria you use.

Comment #40503

Posted by Don P on July 30, 2005 1:46 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

I think I may need to start treating you like Lenny Flank.

I have no idea why you think I no longer believe that the premise that there is “an Abrahamic God” does not rationally support the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I assure you I do believe that. And I’m not sure what “evidence” you think is needed to support the claim that belief in “an Abrahamic God” is irrational. It’s irrational because there is no evidence to support the existence of such a being, and a mountain of evidence that renders the claim that he exists highly implausible. As I said, the only kind of God that I think may be consistent with science and reason is the God of Deism–an impersonal, limited, indifferent and/or evil deity that created the universe and then stepped back. But I don’t think the evidence we have actually supports even that kind of God.

As for the ressurrection of Jesus Christ, I do not preclude it as a logical possibility, just as I do not preclude the logical possibility that Young-Earth Creationists are right about the age of the earth. Perhaps there is a God, and he suspended the laws of nature to permit these things. Or perhaps he planted false information to make it appear to us that these things are scientifically impossible when in fact they actually did happen. But there is no reason to make those irrational assumptions. The evidence from science and reason overwhelmingly refutes the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, and that is why the belief that he did rise is irrational.

Comment #40505

Posted by Don P on July 30, 2005 2:06 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

Really, exactly were might I find this consensus psychological theory that constitutes the alternative explanation provided by science?

I didn’t say anything about a “consensus psychological theory.” I said that science provides an alternative explanation for your wife’s experience that is more consistent with the evidence and that involves fewer assumptions. One obvious possibility is that she was simply hallucinating. Hallucinations are a common natural phenomenon. Though they are popularly associated with mental illness, there is a large body of evidence that hallucinations frequently occur in normal, healthy people. “Religious” experiences of the kind your wife says she had are commonly associated with conditions that we know are likely to induce hallucinations, such as fasting, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, rhythmic chanting, self-infliction of pain, and the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs. We also know from science that it is likely that the human body naturally produces certain chemicals that induce hallucinations, and others that suppress them. The anthropological literature is full of accounts of religious seekers deliberately creating these hallucination-inducing conditions in order to provoke an experience that they attribute to some supernatural agent.

Comment #40507

Posted by Matt Young on July 30, 2005 2:08 PM (e)

People who liken their treatment to that of “the Jews in Germany” ARE rectal orifices. The fundies are when they go off their nut about how “oppressed” they are. The atheists are when THEY go off THEIR nut about how “oppressed” they are.

I bristle, *strongly*, whenever anyone belittles what happened in Nazi Germany.

And I make absolutely no apology for that whatsoever.

As a potential victim of the Nazis, I cannot but agree that certain comparisons to the Holocaust trivialize it. But in fact Mr. Harrison’s implicit comparison (comment 40171) was between Jews in the Weimar republic and atheists in the US today. I did not object to Mr. Flank’s arguing with Mr. Harrison, but rather with his name calling.

Comment #40516

Posted by Matt Young on July 30, 2005 2:49 PM (e)

It seems to me that Don P (comment 40505) is correct, and the argument against a vision’s being veridical is simply this: We know that people have hallucinations. We do not know that they have visions. Therefore, unless a vision can be proved to be veridical, it must be presumed to be a hallucination. Can anyone cite a vision that has been supported by empirical evidence? For example, to borrow Popper’s terminology, has anyone ever had a vision that made a daring prediction that was subsequently verified?

A further argument against visions being veridical, by the way, is that they are culturally determined. As Louis Pojman has noted, Christians see Jesus, certain Hindus or Buddhists see Nirvana, and atheists see a deep void. It seems that no one ever has a vision that is wholly at odds with his or her cultural milieu.

Comment #40528

Posted by Don P on July 30, 2005 5:18 PM (e)

Matt Young

A further argument against visions being veridical, by the way, is that they are culturally determined. As Louis Pojman has noted, Christians see Jesus, certain Hindus or Buddhists see Nirvana, and atheists see a deep void. It seems that no one ever has a vision that is wholly at odds with his or her cultural milieu.

Yes. A similar phenomenon is evident with claims of UFO sightings and encounters with extraterrestrials. Media representations of UFOs and aliens in movies, books and TV have changed significantly over the decades, and reports of UFO sightings and meetings with extraterrestrials tend to closely follow the depictions in popular culture. People see the aliens they expect to see from watching movies and television.

Comment #40542

Posted by Paul Flocken on July 30, 2005 6:20 PM (e)

From Jim Harrison in Comment #40237

The current treatment of atheists doesn’t reminds me of what the Jews went through because I expect things to get completely out of hand, but because one encounters some of the same rhetorical moves used against atheists that were formerly employed against the Jews, in particular the way in which well-meaning trimmers recommend that atheists accept their second-class status here in a country of believers, aka the Real Americans. The heck with that.

[emphasis mine]

From Wikipedia:

In the 1988 U.S. presidential campaign, Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush said,

“I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.”

Comment #40562

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 30, 2005 7:57 PM (e)

Don P:

I have no idea why you think I no longer believe that the premise that there is “an Abrahamic God” does not rationally support the belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I assure you I do believe that. And I’m not sure what “evidence” you think is needed to support the claim that belief in “an Abrahamic God” is irrational. It’s irrational because there is no evidence to support the existence of such a being, and a mountain of evidence that renders the claim that he exists highly implausible. As I said, the only kind of God that I think may be consistent with science and reason is the God of Deism—an impersonal, limited, indifferent and/or evil deity that created the universe and then stepped back. But I don’t think the evidence we have actually supports even that kind of God.

It seems to me that the basis for your scepticism about my claims changed completely between comments 40343 and 4042. My original claim that you are disputing (amongst many others) is that N.T.Wright’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead was rational in that, given the assumption that there is an Abrahamic God, the evidence supports the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Your responce (40343) was that belief in an Abrahamic God was irrational. I am not prepared to grant that such a belief is automatically irrational for all people on all occasions. As such, and not knowing N.T.Wright’s reasons for accepting that belief, I am not prepared to grant that his belief is irrational just because of that acceptance. More to the point, the claim that belief in an Abrahamic God is irrational is irrelevant to the claim that belief in Jesus ressurection is rational GIVEN a belief in an Abrahamic God.

To that last point, I responded by showing how that belief has a direct bearing on estimates of the probability of a ressurection, and hence the conclusion that may reasonably be drawn from available accounts of Jesus’ ressurection.

To THAT you responded by saying “Given the right assumption, the probability of anything, no matter how absurd, irrational, and contradicted by science, rises significantly.” That, to me, is simply a dogmatic evasion. If you still wished to maintain that the evidence did not suport the ressurection of Jesus, given belief in an Abrahamic God, then you ought to have discussed just that. (It is true, by the way, that given any belief other than contradictions, and the right assumptions, the probability of that belief rises to 1; but because it is true of all beliefs, it is irrelevant as an objection to the rationality of any particular belief.) Now I interpreted this dogmatic evasion as an ungracious acceptance of my point. I am willing to grant that I overinterpreted your comment. You did not accept my point, but then you have still not discussed it. In that case, your argument on this point consists purely in being dogmaticaly non-responsive.

As for the ressurrection of Jesus Christ, I do not preclude it as a logical possibility, just as I do not preclude the logical possibility that Young-Earth Creationists are right about the age of the earth. Perhaps there is a God, and he suspended the laws of nature to permit these things. Or perhaps he planted false information to make it appear to us that these things are scientifically impossible when in fact they actually did happen. But there is no reason to make those irrational assumptions. The evidence from science and reason overwhelmingly refutes the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, and that is why the belief that he did rise is irrational.

The two cases are not equivalent. In the case of a young earth, all relevant evidence is contrary to that view. In the case of the ressurection, the available historical evidence strongly supports the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. By way of comparison, no respectible scholar disputes that Jesus was crucified on equivalent evidence; or that he grew up in Nazareth on equivalent evidence. (There are a few scholars who dispute whether Jesus lived, but they are all explicitly hostile to Christianity, and all demonstrably apply evidentiary standards which are not applied anywhere else in secular history.) The only reason it is disputed that Jesus rose from the dead is because it is a very improbable event. The question is, does the improbability of the event mean we should reject it as fiction. And that can only be answered by some consideration of the probability. That probability differs radically depending on whether there is, or is not an Abrahamic God. So in one case (YEC), we are asked to believe something very improbable against the evidence; in the second we are asked to believe something very improbable that is supported by the evidence. In the latter case, but not the former, the estimate of probability is crucial to whether it is rational to believe it.

(There is a further difference in the two cases. In the former, we have direct scientific evidence as to the age of the Earth. In contrast, we have no direct scientific evidence that Jesus even lived, let alone whether he was crucified, and remained, or did not remain, in the grave.)

Comment #40574

Posted by Don P on July 30, 2005 8:31 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

The two cases are not equivalent. In the case of a young earth, all relevant evidence is contrary to that view. In the case of the ressurection, the available historical evidence strongly supports the idea that Jesus rose from the dead.

Both the claim that the earth is young and the claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead are contradicted by a mountain of well-established scientific evidence. The “historical evidence” that you keep referring to is simply worthless by comparison. It’s like saying that if a dozen people signed sworn depositions claiming they saw Elvis driving around Memphis last week, it would be rational to believe that Elvis had risen from his grave. It’s just silly. Even if there were not considerable doubt that the gospels are accurate accounts of what people present at Jesus’s tomb three days after he died really believe they witnessed, it is far more plausible that these supposed witnesses were simply mistaken about what they saw, as someone today who sincerely believes he sees Elvis or the Loch Ness Monster or witnesses some miracle would most likely be mistaken about those things too.

The only reason it is disputed that Jesus rose from the dead is because it is a very improbable event.

Gee, the “only” reason, you say. The fact that a claim is very improbable is an excellent reason to very strongly doubt that it is true. And the resurrection of Christ isn’t merely very improbable, it’s incredible. It’s scientifically impossble.

The question is, does the improbability of the event mean we should reject it as fiction.

Basically, yes. Science and reason tell us that the supposed resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is most likely either a mistaken perception, an outright fabrication, a claim that was originally meant to be fictional or metaphorical but that somewhere along the line came to be believed as literal fact, or has some other such naturalistic explanation.

Comment #40575

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 30, 2005 8:54 PM (e)

I didn’t say anything about a “consensus psychological theory.” I said that science provides an alternative explanation for your wife’s experience that is more consistent with the evidence and that involves fewer assumptions. One obvious possibility is that she was simply hallucinating. Hallucinations are a common natural phenomenon. Though they are popularly associated with mental illness, there is a large body of evidence that hallucinations frequently occur in normal, healthy people. “Religious” experiences of the kind your wife says she had are commonly associated with conditions that we know are likely to induce hallucinations, such as fasting, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, rhythmic chanting, self-infliction of pain, and the ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs. We also know from science that it is likely that the human body naturally produces certain chemicals that induce hallucinations, and others that suppress them. The anthropological literature is full of accounts of religious seekers deliberately creating these hallucination-inducing conditions in order to provoke an experience that they attribute to some supernatural agent.

I am quite aware of these facts. I am also aware, as you are not, that the closest she came to an inducing condition is she had eaten one peice of chocolate (a hallucination inducing drug) after a pleasant meal. I am also aware of the cultural basis of hallucinations. These provide good reasons to think that there is a naturalistic explanation for visions.

But thinking that there is a naturalistic explanation, and having a naturalistic explanation are not the same thing. Confusing the two is shoddy thinking. And until we do actually have that naturalistic explanation, if I were to tell my wife that “science has a better explanation”, I would be lying. Science is attempting to formulate a better explanation, and there is good reason to believe science will be successfull. But that is not yet sufficient reason to rule other explanations out of court as irrational. Scientists have had similar expectations, and confidence before, only to find their theory wrecked on the rocks of emperical data.

So, until there is a consensus psychological theory of halucinations that would account for my wife’s particular case, you are not entitled to claim that science has a better explanation. At least, if you do, all you are offering us is vapourware.

From comment 40503:

It’s irrational because there is no evidence to support the existence of such a being, and a mountain of evidence that renders the claim that he exists highly implausible. As I said, the only kind of God that I think may be consistent with science and reason is the God of Deism—an impersonal, limited, indifferent and/or evil deity that created the universe and then stepped back. But I don’t think the evidence we have actually supports even that kind of God.

The claim that there is no evidence for an Abrahamic God is transparently nonsense. It may be simply shorthand for a claim that all the evidence for such a God has been (or at least, can be) rebutted. I know, for example, of three claims of ressurection in Christian religious contexts in the last twenty years. (I know that many more exist, but can only speak to the claims that I personally have encountered.) Of these, I have investigated one, and the evidence strongly suggests it is a fraud. Another is simply hearsay from a gullible person (who was the person supposedly ressurected, but he was three at the time, and takes his grandmothers word). The third is from a person of good judgement and impeccable integrity, who had significant knowledge of the community in which the ressurection was purportedly performed, and was an eye witness. If that ressurection did occur, it would be evidence for the existance of an Abrahamic God. As I would accept the word of the witness involved for any common, or moderatly unusual event; his testimony is also evidence for the existance of an Abrahamic God. I think given enough information, this evidence could be rebutted; and that a better naturalistic explanation can be given for the witness’s belief that a ressurection occured. But were I to say it is simply not evidence, I would be decieving myself.

Now, the fact is, in any major city in the English speaking world, thousands of purported miracles and/or visions occur. I think that the miracles can be accounted for as frauds, illusions or psychosomatic reactions; and that the visions are hallucinations. But that does not mean the evidence does not exist, but only that it can be rebutted. And, more crucially, I am perfectly aware that “psychosomatic”, as also “hallucination” are just place holder terms. When we call a faith healing “psychosomatic” we have no more explained it than when scholastics “explained” the sleep inducing properties of opium by saying it had “soporific effect”. We do not have a theory of how psychosomatic cures could take effect; we just expect that such a scientific theory will be developed. And until we have such a theory, we do not have a rebutal of all the “miracles”. What we have is a naturalistic world view which faces fewer anomallies, and is more promising of future development than the alternative supernaturalistic world view.

Imre Lakatos said it is important to keep score when comparing research programs. Refusing to admit that anomalies for naturalism exist (by saying there is no evidence for supernaturalism); or that our naturalistic theory is significantly underdeveloped (in that in major areas, we have only the promise of a future theory) is not keeping proper score. IF you keep score, naturalism and atheism are clearly the better views; but it is not yet automatically irrational to believe alternatives. If you don’t keep proper score, your belief in naturalism is no more rational than is a fundamentalists belief in supernaturalism.

Comment #40579

Posted by Don P on July 30, 2005 9:35 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

I am quite aware of these facts…. I am also aware of the cultural basis of hallucinations. These provide good reasons to think that there is a naturalistic explanation for visions.

Yes. That is why your wife’s belief that her experience was a vision of Jesus is irrational. There are other explanations that are more consistent with the evidence and that involve fewer assumptions.

I am also aware, as you are not, that the closest she came to an inducing condition is she had eaten one peice of chocolate (a hallucination inducing drug) after a pleasant meal.

I did not say that it is necessary for someone to engage in a particular hallucination-inducing behavior in order for a hallucination to occur. The evidence suggests that hallucinations often occur in normal, healthy people in everyday circumstances. The behaviors I listed increase the probability of hallucination.

But thinking that there is a naturalistic explanation, and having a naturalistic explanation are not the same thing.

Hallucination is a naturalistic explanation. It is an altered state of consciousness caused by physical changes in the brain.

Comment #40580

Posted by Don P on July 30, 2005 10:01 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

The claim that there is no evidence for an Abrahamic God is transparently nonsense.

Do please produce your evidence for an Abrahamic God.

The third [claim of resurrection] is from a person of good judgement and impeccable integrity, who had significant knowledge of the community in which the ressurection was purportedly performed, and was an eye witness. If that ressurection did occur, it would be evidence for the existance of an Abrahamic God.

Huh? I assume that by “resurrection” you mean a person who is clinically dead spontaneously returning to life, or coming back to life after the recitation of a religious incantation or prayer, or something of that nature. How would such an event constitute evidence for the existence of an Abrahamic God? You should also define “an Abrahamic God.” You keep using the term but you have yet to explain what you mean by it exactly. And why should we believe that the alleged resurrection in this case was real, rather than a lie or a mistake of some kind?

Now, the fact is, in any major city in the English speaking world, thousands of purported miracles and/or visions occur. I think that the miracles can be accounted for as frauds, illusions or psychosomatic reactions; and that the visions are hallucinations. But that does not mean the evidence does not exist, but only that it can be rebutted.

Science and reason provide superior alternative explanations for the alleged events and experiences that are proposed as evidence for claims of resurrection (or of “an Abrahamic God”).

We do not have a theory of how psychosomatic cures could take effect; we just expect that such a scientific theory will be developed. And until we have such a theory, we do not have a rebutal of all the “miracles”.

Yes, we do. A miracle, by definition, is an event that is inconsistent with science and reason. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be a miracle, it would just be an ordinary, natural event. It is simply irrational to attribute unexplained claims of miracles to supernatural agency rather than as-yet-unknown natural causes. As Simon Blackburn put it, commenting on John Polkinghorne’s invocation of the fine-tuning argument for God:

Hume and Kant told us that such thinking is natural, but not scientific. It is extravagant, and it is not falsifiable, since it generates no new predictions. It merely represents a primitive preference for explaining the unknown in terms of agency rather than in terms of nature—a tendency that science had to suppress and to overcome before it could develop.

Comment #40582

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 30, 2005 10:09 PM (e)

If evidence of the reality of God suddenly showed up in reproducable laboratory experiments, it still wouldn’t help the faithful because in that eventuality God would just be another natural fact, albeit a big one. People believe in the supernatural not because miracles are plausible or well attested, but precisely because they aren’t and never will be. Relgious belief is belief in statements that are counterfactual or at least in perpetual doubt by definition. That’s the kick of it. Which is also why it is mostly useless to question the documentary evidence for events like the virgin birth and the resurection. Nonbelievers are hardly going to credit writings that report impossible happenings, especially works like the Gospels that are demonstrably wrong about many non-miraculous things as well. Meanwhile, the implausibility of scripture is actually a selling point to believers. A sensible Bible? Who’d read it?

Comment #40585

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 30, 2005 10:23 PM (e)

Nonbelievers are hardly going to credit writings that report impossible happenings

You mean like, say, talking rabbits that run races with tortoises?

Comment #40588

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 30, 2005 10:43 PM (e)

One can perfectly well appreciate mythology without thinking it’s journalism. The Greeks had a sense of humor about their own sacred tales, often treating them as if they were moral or metaphysical allegories if they took them seriously at all. Quite a few Christians have had a similar attitude towards Bible stories and not just modern liberal theologians but Church fathers like Origen. You could even argue that St. Paul, whose letters contain virually no biographical information about Christ, wasn’t especially interested in the literal.

Comment #40590

Posted by Henry J on July 30, 2005 10:55 PM (e)

Tom,
Re #39880 “He believed that all lineages remained extinct,”
I wonder if you meant to say “distinct”?

(My hypothesis confirmed by #40282. :) )

Johan,
Re “But I would still argue that it is not today, at least not in the simplistic sense the word falsifiable is sometimes used. What I mean is the following: no one, or even several experiments, will today convince scientists that evolutionary theory is fundamentally wrong, regardless of the results.”

Of course one experiment by itself wouldn’t do it. The theory is supported by patterns in a huge amount of evidence; to falsify it would require enough contrary evidence to disrupt that.

Also, evidence against one of the hypotheses involved in evolution wouldn’t necessarily be evidence against another. If somebody has something they say is counterevidence, they need to specify which hypothesis it’s supposed to be contradict.

Henry

Comment #40603

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 31, 2005 12:22 AM (e)

One can perfectly well appreciate mythology without thinking it’s journalism.

Apparently, the fundies can’t.

Apparently the ideological atheists can’t, either.

Comment #40604

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 31, 2005 12:29 AM (e)

St. Paul, whose letters contain virually no biographical information about Christ

How could it — he never even met the guy.

Comment #40606

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 31, 2005 2:02 AM (e)

Neither did Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, who, so I’ve been told, wrote some time after Paul.

Comment #40620

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 31, 2005 7:03 AM (e)

Neither did Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, who, so I’ve been told, wrote some time after Paul.

Not only that, but none of those writings was compiled into anything like an “official Bible” until the First Council of Nicaea, in the early 4th century. Until then, it was up to an individual which writings he took as “divine” and which he didn’t. (So next time some fundie fool yammers to you that “Christianity is based on the Bible”, ask him politely what Christianity was based on for the 300 years before there WAS any “bible” …. I’ve found that fundies are just as pig-ignorant about the history of their own religion as they are about, well, everythign else.)

Christians fought bitterly at the Council of Nicaea over which writings to include and which not to. Christians are STILL fighting over it; there are still differing versions of “the bible”, some of which contain books not accepted by the others. (So next time some fundie fool yammers to you about “taking the Bible literally”, ask him WHICH bible we are supposed to take literally, and how does he know….)

As I said before, there is NOTHING in Christianity about which all Christians agree. Nothing at all. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nothing.

Which is why it’s rather silly and stupid to treat “Christianity” as a monolithic thing.

Comment #40621

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 31, 2005 7:11 AM (e)

Neither did Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, who, so I’ve been told, wrote some time after Paul.

It should perhaps be made clear that none of these books was written by the Apostle whose name they carry. It is also perhaps worth pointing out that Mark was copied, almost word for word, in both Matthew and Luke, while John has no literary conenction to any of the other three.

It seems clear that Mark was written first. It’s not clear whether Matthew copied Mark and was in turn copied itself by Luke, or whether both Matthew and Luke independently copied Mark.

What IS clear is that none of the writers, whoever they were, ever met Christ, and everything they attributed to Christ was decades-old hearsay.

Comment #40629

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 31, 2005 8:26 AM (e)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank:

It should perhaps be made clear that none of these books was written by the Apostle whose name they carry. It is also perhaps worth pointing out that Mark was copied, almost word for word, in both Matthew and Luke, while John has no literary conenction to any of the other three.

It seems clear that Mark was written first. It’s not clear whether Matthew copied Mark and was in turn copied itself by Luke, or whether both Matthew and Luke independently copied Mark.

What IS clear is that none of the writers, whoever they were, ever met Christ, and everything they attributed to Christ was decades-old hearsay.

This is a fair summary, except that the belief that the books were not written by the people whose names they bear is not well founded. Although they were written approx 40 (Mark and parts of Matthew), 60 (Luke and the compilation of Matthew) and 70 years after the death of Jesus, there is nothing in that dating alone to preclude there having been written by contemporaries of Jesus. The traditional authorships are well testified in early Christian tradition; and no significant counterargument to that tradition has been mounted except an insistence that the traditional authorship be denied unless proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Comment #40631

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 31, 2005 8:40 AM (e)

Jim Harrison:

People believe in the supernatural not because miracles are plausible or well attested, but precisely because they aren’t and never will be. Relgious belief is belief in statements that are counterfactual or at least in perpetual doubt by definition.

Plausibility for a given person is largely a matter of what is typically reported to, and believed by that person. Consequently, for most religious believers miracles are entirely plausible - regardless of how they may strike you. Further, for a majority of religious believers, they expect miracles to occur. For some religious believers, they expect multiple miracles every Sunday service, and more at the Wednesday prayer meeting as well. For those people, miracles are not only plausible but well atested for they see them every week, and have experienced them themselves.

We may think these people to be excessively gullible, but we should not think they are seeking irrationality for irrationalities sake. We may know that they are wrong in their beliefs, but that does not justify setting up a strawman of what motivates them in their religious beliefs.

(Think about it. If Christians desired irrationality for irrationalities sake, there would be no market for creationists. The creationist pitch is that they give a rational reconciliation of science with the Bible. That pitch is a lie; but it is the claim of rationality, of scientific backing of religious belief that makes it appealing to the person in the pew.)

Comment #40635

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 31, 2005 9:23 AM (e)

This is a fair summary, except that the belief that the books were not written by the people whose names they bear is not well founded. Although they were written approx 40 (Mark and parts of Matthew), 60 (Luke and the compilation of Matthew) and 70 years after the death of Jesus, there is nothing in that dating alone to preclude there having been written by contemporaries of Jesus. The traditional authorships are well testified in early Christian tradition; and no significant counterargument to that tradition has been mounted except an insistence that the traditional authorship be denied unless proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Not quite. Since Matthew and Luke are largely cribbed from Mark (only 24 of the 661 verses in Mark are not themselves quoted in either Matthew or Luke), it seems pretty likely they they were written by people who never met Christ and never heard his words on their own (if they had, it’s difficult to imagine why they’d have to copy someone ELSE’S account of them). It’s also pretty apparent that the writer of John did not know of the existence of the three other gospels and vice versa, which is unlikely if they were all written by the actual apostles, who were all acquainted with each other.

There is a school of scholarship which holds that the three gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew were themselves all derived from a single earlier source (called “Q”), that may indeed have been written shortly after the death of Christ, and perhaps even by one of his disciples. Conversely, the Q source may have been a collective work written by the early Christian sect in order to attempt to codify the sayings of Christ, and was later copied by Mark and then cribbed by Matthew and Luke (none of whom may ever have met the writer). Or, they may have never been any Q source at all, and Mark may have been the first written source, which the others copied.

The John gospel comes from an entirely different source than the other three. However, since it was the last of the gospels to be written, and differs so much from the earlier traditions, it seems pretty likely that it was written by someone who had only a tenuous link to the early Christian church and was not aware of its earlier writings. BTW, the date for John seems to be coalescing around 100 AD, which would make John an awfully old guy if it was really the apostle.

It seems that Paul was unaware of the existence of any of the four gospels (difficult to understand if they were, as tradition holds, written by the actual apostles). And on top of that, it seems clear that at least some of the letters attributed to Paul did not in fact come from him.

As for “traditional authorships”, those are circular. One of the criteria used by the early church to decide which writings were canonical and which weren’t, is a tradition of being “apostolic” – i.e., said to have been written by one of the disciples. That is why the four gospels were accepted as canonical, but other works such as the gospel of Thoman and the gospel of Mary were rejected.

The book of Revelation is also assumed by traditional authorship to have been written by the author of John, but there are so many stylisitc and linguistic differences that it is clear they were not written by the same person.

So the simple fact is that we don’t know who wrote most of the New Testament, but none of it appears to have been written by anyone who knew Christ.

Comment #40637

Posted by Tom Curtis on July 31, 2005 10:02 AM (e)

Don P:

Yes. That is why your wife’s belief that her experience was a vision of Jesus is irrational. There are other explanations that are more consistent with the evidence and that involve fewer assumptions.

This is becoming tiresome and pointless. When you can direct me to a consensus psychological theory of hallucinations, I will consider reopening the discussion. In the meantime, it seems to me that you insist on confusing the situation in which you desire to have a naturalistic explanation with your actually having one.

As for instance:

Hallucination is a naturalistic explanation. It is an altered state of consciousness caused by physical changes in the brain.

Presumably God who could create heaven and earth could alter physical states in someones brain. In that case, in principle, a hallucination of “Jesus” could be caused by God in order to communicate with someone, ie, the hallucination would be a vision. So, on this definition calling a vision a hallucination does not offer an alternative explanation at all.

Presumably you will wish to preclude this option, and define hallucination and vision so that they are contraries, ie, a single event cannot be both an hallucination and a vision. Fine, but then calling a particular psychological event a hallucination just testifies to your desire to find a naturalistic explanation. It does not provide that explanation.

Huh? I assume that by “resurrection” you mean a person who is clinically dead spontaneously returning to life, or coming back to life after the recitation of a religious incantation or prayer, or something of that nature. How would such an event constitute evidence for the existence of an Abrahamic God? You should also define “an Abrahamic God.” You keep using the term but you have yet to explain what you mean by it exactly. And why should we believe that the alleged resurrection in this case was real, rather than a lie or a mistake of some kind?

An Abrahamic God is a God having approximately the properties attributed to the “God of Abraham” in the Old Testament. It is not Anselm’s God, the God of the three Omni’s. The approximation need only be vague because we are talking in general terms. The essential features are, very powerfull, very intelligent, creator of the universe, and interested in personal interaction with humans. For particular theological reasons, it must also include frequent theologically significant interactions with Israelite people.

A person rising from the dead following prayer to a Christian God would, if it actually occured, be stunning evidence in favour of the existence of that God. (Any coherent Christian God is also an Abrahamic God.) This follows because, theories of the existance of a Christian God predict ressurections following prayer with significant probability (order of magnitude approx -9); the a priori probability of of a ressurection is very low (order of magnitude much, much less than -9). By Bayesian reasoning, given the occurence of the reasoning, our estimate of the probability of the existence of a Christian God following a ressurection which followed Christian prayer should rise significantly (it must have been very low for the above probability assignments to be consistent); and hence such a ressurection would be evidence of such a God.

If a reliable person testifies to an event, we have reason to believe the event occured (by definition of what we mean by reliable.

A reliable person has testified that a ressurection occured following Christian prayer, therefore we have reason to believe ressurection occured following Christian prayer; from which it follows that we have evidence that a Christian God exists. (These two steps are syllogistic.)

I do not understand why you have difficulty understanding this, unless you make the false assumption that there cannot be evidence for a falsehood. Consider Lord Kelvin, who had good evidence that the Earth was young, even though the Earth was old. Of course, more complete evidence shows the Earth to be old - but that does not alter the fact that Kelvin had evidence for, and rational grounds for believing that the Earth was young.

Well, in the same way, many people have evidence that a Christian God exists. There is sufficient other evidence, however, to show that that is unlikely - and one day science may sufficiently close the gap, by establishing effective theories of hallucination and of psychosomatic cures, such that belief in a Christian God will necessarilly be irrational or a-rational.

Yes, we do. A miracle, by definition, is an event that is inconsistent with science and reason. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be a miracle, it would just be an ordinary, natural event. It is simply irrational to attribute unexplained claims of miracles to supernatural agency rather than as-yet-unknown natural causes.

First, that definition is tendentious. According to many theologians, an event can be fully compliant with natural laws, and yet still a miracle. Second, science does not prohibit miracles unless you introduce metaphysical naturalism as a premise in science. Such a move would not be justified by sociological study, for many scientists do not accept it. It would not be justified by methodological considerations, for it is methodologically redundant. It is also question begging. Third, Humes argument to which you appeal is also question begging; and indeed relies on explicitly false premises.

Comment #40644

Posted by Jim Harrison on July 31, 2005 11:45 AM (e)

The arguments about the rationality of Christianity in this thread are like a swordfight conducted at thirty paces. Speaking for myself, I’m not trying to convince anybody of the falsity of their faith. That’s no affair of mine; and, anyhow, false or not, religion is not going away. I’m only interested in religion as a sociological and political phenomenon. For somebody operating from my standpoint, such skeptical notions as the factual falsity of miracles and the imaginary nature of gods and spirits are not a conclusions but premises. For example, when a philologist encounters an ancient text that makes a more or less accurate prophesy, he or she automatically assumes that the text has been predated since people can’t predict the future.

No doubt such procedures strike a traditional believer as high-handed, but arguing the issues with folks whose beliefs won’t change in any case is a waste of time, rather like asking a geometer to trot out a proof every time she wants to use a theorem. As Hippocrates said, art is long, life is short, occasion fleeting…

Comment #40649

Posted by Matt Young on July 31, 2005 12:02 PM (e)

When you don’t understand something, it’s magic, not a miracle. When you understand something and know it’s impossible, but there it is in front of you, that’s a miracle. My digital camera is a case in point.

Comment #40655

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on July 31, 2005 2:41 PM (e)

The arguments about the rationality of Christianity in this thread are like a swordfight conducted at thirty paces. Speaking for myself, I’m not trying to convince anybody of the falsity of their faith. That’s no affair of mine; and, anyhow, false or not, religion is not going away. I’m only interested in religion as a sociological and political phenomenon.

As am I. And for those reasons, discussions like these are good ones. They show, concretely and without any question whatsoever, that when ID/creationists argue that “evolutionists” are all atheist god-haters who unfairly reject religion, they are wrong. Flat out wrong. Probably DELIBERATELY wrong.

Contrary to the whines of the fundies (and the smirks of the ideological atheists), “science” does not equal “atheism”.

I find it very very illuminating that, during the entire course of this discussion, our resident fundie IDers *never said a single word*. Everyone in this thread who has been “defending religion” is an “evolutionist”.

Every single one.

Comment #40657

Posted by qetzal on July 31, 2005 2:56 PM (e)

Everyone in this thread who has been “defending religion” is an “evolutionist”.

Every single one.

But have you been defending the right religion?

Sorry - couldn’t resist. ;-)

Comment #40686

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 12:02 AM (e)

There was photographic evidence for Martian canals, just not very good evidence.

No, there was never any photographic evidence at all, unless every observation is “not very good” evidence for every claim.

It’s worthwhile to consider that the person who originally made the claim called what he saw “canali” (he was Italian). “canali” means “grooves”. He thought he saw some lines joining craters on Mars. Percival Lowell, who believed and promoted the view that there had been a civilization on Mars, repeatedly claimed to have observed “canals”. It was a delusion – almost all other observers never saw any canals.

One needs to know quite a few facts in order to interpret claims that there is or was evidence for some claim or another.

Comment #40687

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 12:16 AM (e)

Contrary to the whines of the fundies (and the smirks of the ideological atheists), “science” does not equal “atheism”.

I didn’t realize that I could equate things simply by smirking. Anyway, science doesn’t equate atheism. Rather, a very different thing is true: the findings of science undercut the empirical claims that almost all religions make, cutting away at the reasons for adhering to religious beliefs. While it can’t be proven there there are no tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, or Santa Clauses, a persistence in believing in such things when the original basis for believing in them is not merely “non-rational”, it is clearly irrational. “non-rational” should be reserved for those things to which reasoning doesn’t apply, such as enjoying the company of friends or abhoring injustice.

Comment #40689

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 12:37 AM (e)

Matt Young wrote:

It seems to me that Don P (comment 40505) is correct, and the argument against a vision’s being veridical is simply this: We know that people have hallucinations. We do not know that they have visions. Therefore, unless a vision can be proved to be veridical, it must be presumed to be a hallucination. Can anyone cite a vision that has been supported by empirical evidence? For example, to borrow Popper’s terminology, has anyone ever had a vision that made a daring prediction that was subsequently verified?

This goes to Tom Curtis’s potted concept of “irrational” (which you seem to share to some degree, with your use of “non-rational”). Rationality is not simply a matter of what is logically possible, but of what is at all likely, nomologically and contingently. Rationality has to do with inference and the inferential basis of explanations. As you say “it must be presumed”. It also must be presumed that there are no tooth fairies, no Easter bunnies, no Santa Clauses, and no Abrahamic Gods.

Comment #40690

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 12:40 AM (e)

The third is from a person of good judgement and impeccable integrity, who had significant knowledge of the community in which the ressurection was purportedly performed, and was an eye witness.

Judgment is not an intrinsic quality. That the person makes the claim at all is extremely strong evidence that their judgment was not good in this instance. It’s even worse than that of honest scientists who have been tricked by Uri Geller.

Comment #40691

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 12:45 AM (e)

By Bayesian reasoning, given the occurence of the reasoning, our estimate of the probability of the existence of a Christian God

The existence of such a God invalidates all Bayesian reasoning. It throws all empirical inference out the window. Humean skepticism is no longer a philosophical conundrum that we can sidestep with Popper’s pragmatism, but becomes the un-law of the land. It is implicit in the concept of rationality that we can make empirical inferences, so even if an Abrahamic God is a fact, it cannot be rational to believe it.

Comment #40692

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 12:52 AM (e)

When you understand something and know it’s impossible, but there it is in front of you, that’s a miracle.

Actually, it’s a form of arrogance. Every computer programmer has, on numerous occasions, exclaimed “That’s impossible!” in regard to some effect of some program they themselves authored, presumably understand, and have in front of them. There are bad programmers who believe their own words and figure it’s a hardware glitch or a bug in the compiler. OTOH, the next thing good programmers say is “Damn, what am I missing?”

Comment #40693

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 1:08 AM (e)

Well, in the same way, many people have evidence that a Christian God exists. There is sufficient other evidence, however, to show that that is unlikely - and one day science may sufficiently close the gap, by establishing effective theories of hallucination and of psychosomatic cures, such that belief in a Christian God will necessarilly be irrational or a-rational.

Science long ago closed the gap by showing that all physical phenomena, including life (the end of vitalism) and mind (the end of Cartesian dualism) are amenable to scientific explanation. This is the closed gap that the IDists are trying to dig their wedge into.

Talk of psychosomatic, as opposed to psychic, cures is rather bizarre. After all, the brain is attached to the rest of the body; we don’t need anything supernatural in order to accept that attitude, visual imagery, laughing, etc. might be instrumental in bringing people to health (I’m not making any claim one way or the other as to whether they do in fact play a role).

And anyone who has dropped LSD (or eaten moldy rye) knows that the Christian God need not be hypothesized in order to explain hallucinations.

Comment #40696

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 1, 2005 3:05 AM (e)

ts:

The existence of such a God invalidates all Bayesian reasoning. It throws all empirical inference out the window. Humean skepticism is no longer a philosophical conundrum that we can sidestep with Popper’s pragmatism, but becomes the un-law of the land. It is implicit in the concept of rationality that we can make empirical inferences, so even if an Abrahamic God is a fact, it cannot be rational to believe it.

This claim either amounts to a claim that an emperical fact could contradict a mathematical theorem, which is absurd; or to a claim that an Abrahamic God must necessarilly act unpredictably (so that past regularities are not projectable). If the latter, the claim is itself irrational in that it purports that a suposedly rational being must inevitably act irrationally just because they are not themselves constrained by physical law. Further, it is a breath taking straw man in that, as Paul puts it, the Abrahamic God “is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14: 33)

Comment #40697

Posted by SEF on August 1, 2005 4:00 AM (e)

Why would you want to take the word of Paul over the massive evidence of reality (and even the rest of that book of collected notes) to the contrary?

Comment #40698

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 4:46 AM (e)

This claim either amounts to a claim that an emperical fact could contradict a mathematical theorem, which is absurd

Your claim is absurd, certainly. What emperical (sic) fact and what mathematical theorem are you referring to? “Bayesian reasoning” is not a mathematical theorem, and to mistake it for one is some wild category mistake.

or to a claim that an Abrahamic God must necessarilly act unpredictably (so that past regularities are not projectable).

Not necessarilly (sic). This Abrahamic God of yours seems to be able to act just exactly so as to validate your claims.

If the latter, the claim is itself irrational in that it purports that a suposedly rational being must inevitably act irrationally just because they are not themselves constrained by physical law.

My statements don’t purport the silly things you project upon them. And there’s no connection between God acting un-physical-law-fully and acting irrationally.

Further, it is a breath taking straw man in that, as Paul puts it, the Abrahamic God “is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14: 33)

I can’t imagine how an ancient scroll claimed to be authored by some guy named Paul could possibly be authoritative as to the nature of any God, especially a God that you have named for some person Abraham whose existence is claimed by much more ancient scrolls. Nor can I imagine how any of this could add up to my comments being addressed to a strawman.

I think my comment was quite straightforward, was not addressed to a strawman, does not amount to any of what you claim for it, and that in fact you have failed to address it in any way.

Comment #40699

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 5:12 AM (e)

To make a little more sense of this:

This claim either amounts to a claim that an emperical fact could contradict a mathematical theorem, which is absurd

If you’re suggesting that I was suggesting that the existence of some God makes Bayes’ theorem not be a theorem, yes indeed that’s absurd – so absurd as to not have been worth mentioning.

or to a claim that an Abrahamic God must necessarilly act unpredictably (so that past regularities are not projectable).

As this Abrahamic God of your acts outside of physical law, he is indeed unpredictable, by definition. Certainly we can’t use a line from Corinthians to predict his behavior. He doesn’t necessarily act unpredictably; we might predict how he behaves and occasionally be right. But it’s impossible to have a mechanistic model of his behavior because he’s outside the reach of such models. Certainly being told that this God of yours is a suposedly (sic) rational being doesn’t provide us with such a model. There is no requirement on rational beings that they behave in ways that are predictable to other rational beings. And it isn’t possible to know what constitutes rational behavior of a being without knowing what its values and goals are – aspects which are truly “non-rational”. And as far as Paul’s claim, disorder is not equal to irrationality, nor is it opposed to peace, nor, as SEF points out, is Paul’s claim consistent with all the other claims about this God, certainly in the “Abrahamic” part of the tradition. And even if Paul’s statement were precisely true, well, it isn’t precise at all. I find the notion that one can infer from Paul’s description of your Abrahamic God, by way of Bayes’ Theorem, that Jesus was resurrected is ludicrous, and I’m a bit embarrassed to even be discussing it.

Comment #40700

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 5:15 AM (e)

He doesn’t necessarily act unpredictably

Oops, sorry, I should have written “He doesn’t necessarilly (sic) act unpredictably”. My apologies.

Comment #40701

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 5:40 AM (e)

Just to play with this nonsense a little bit more:

Given the existance of an Abrahamic God, however, that probability rises significantly.

I have to wonder what exactly it is that we know about an Abrahamic God that causes our probability estimate that Jesus rose from the dead to rise significantly. This appears to me to be a completely ad hoc claim, since we in fact don’t know anything about this god other than that Don Curtis refers to it as “Abrahamic”. Perhaps, in addition to assuming (as a given) the existance (sic) of this god, we are to take the religious tradition, as recorded in one or more ancient scrolls, literally. I have no idea why we should do that, but perhaps that is precisely what Don Curtis has in mind by labeling this god “Abrahamic”. But if we are to assign P(AG exists) = 1 and P(ancient scrolls are literally true) = 1, why not just dispense with the trouble and assign P(Jesus was resurrected) = 1? Oh well, let’s say there’s some reason not to do that. But then we are faced with the fact that Micah 5:2, which Matthew took as predicting Jesus, actually says that a military leader would be born of the “Bethlehem Ephratah” clan and that this leader would defeat the Assyrians. Of course we have to square this with what Paul said about a god of peace (and the fact that Jesus never defeated the Assyrians). But in any case, even P(Micah 5:2 is literally true) = 1 does nothing to increase the chances that Jesus was resurrrected from the dead, and we could apply similar analysis to the other bogus post hoc interpretations of biblical prophecy, if we want to be silly enough to play this “Bayesian” (grave rolling can be heard) game in the first place.

Comment #40702

Posted by SEF on August 1, 2005 6:08 AM (e)

God can’t or doesn’t raise Abel, his professed favourite. So either the idea that other people, eg Jesus, can be raised or raise more people is contradictory in the fairy stories or that Abrahamic god is being irrationally callous again or is learning on the job instead of being such a great creator/interferer all along.

Comment #40704

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 6:10 AM (e)

Don Curtis

Oops, sorry.

Comment #40705

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 6:24 AM (e)

God can’t or doesn’t raise Abel, his professed favourite. So either the idea that other people, eg Jesus, can be raised or raise more people is contradictory in the fairy stories or that Abrahamic god is being irrationally callous again or is learning on the job instead of being such a great creator/interferer all along.

And of course there’s no way to predict which of these (if any) is true, even by arbitrarily picking and choosing from among various one liners found in various ancient scrolls. Don P of course got it right:

I think this argument is just nonsense. A belief is not rational simply because it follows rationally from irrational premises. But I deny that the irrational premise in this case (the assumption of “an Abrahamic God”) rationally supports the belief (that Jesus physically rose from the dead) anyway.

It certainly can’t be supported by taking literally a piece of text from the Gospel of Matthew that refers to a prior piece of text in some other scroll that says something (but not the right thing) about Judea and Bethlehem and arbitrarily equating all these assumptions to the phrase “Abrahamic God”. That approach closely resembles what one gets from TV preachers on Sunday morning.

Comment #40707

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on August 1, 2005 7:08 AM (e)

Anyway, science doesn’t equate atheism. Rather, a very different thing is true: the findings of science undercut the empirical claims that almost all religions make, cutting away at the reasons for adhering to religious beliefs.

One can perfectly well appreciate mythology without thinking it’s journalism.

Apparently, the fundies can’t.

Apparently the ideological atheists can’t, either.

Comment #40708

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 1, 2005 7:14 AM (e)

ts:

Your claim is absurd, certainly. What emperical (sic) fact and what mathematical theorem are you referring to? “Bayesian reasoning” is not a mathematical theorem, and to mistake it for one is some wild category mistake.

Bayesian reasoning is reasoning which uses a mathematical theorem to connect beliefs with evidence. There is no possible circumstance which can make it an invalid method unless it also makes all methods of induction invalid, ie, unless all properties in the world are unprojectable, Bayesian reasoning is a valid inductive technique. Yet you say, “The existence of such a God invalidates all Bayesian reasoning.” So, either you are asserting that the existance of an Abrahamic God invalidates a mathematical theorem (thus invalidating the basis of Bayesian reasoning); or that the existance of an Abrahamic God invalidates any possibility of projectible properties in the world.

All right, we agree that the former is absurd, so we can discount it. So you are claiming the second?

Well, no you deny that as well. (Or you appear to deny it, but may just once again be rellying on strategic ambiguity to avoid having to defend your claims.) But you can’t have it both ways. In any projectible world, Bayesian reasoning works. So either a world with an Abrahamic God is unprojectible, or Bayesian Reasoning works in it.

Would you be justified in claiming that a world with an Abrahamic God is unprojectible?

No. You would not be so justified because you would be contradicting the views of those who believe in an Abrahamic God on that matter WITHOUT PROVIDING ANY JUSTIFICATION FOR THAT CONTRADICTION. Thus, you are either setting up a strawman, or merely asserting a claim you appear not to understand simply because it supports your prejudice.

You are quite welcome to prove me wrong on this. All you need to do is consider one projectible property. We could use the motion of freely falling bodies as our example. Then all you have to do is to prove that, given the existance of a supernatural being capable of influencing natural events, it follows that Bayesian projections of the behaviour of freely falling bodies will typically be falsified; or even that they will be falsified with a significantly higher probability than is the case without such a God.

Of course, you will reject this challenge because no such proof is possible.

I can put that another way - there is no rational reason to believe that the existance of an Abrahamic God would restrict projectibility to any appreciable extent. Your belief to the contrary is at best an a-rational belief. In fact, it is an irrational prejudice because you employ it as grounds for rejecting the rationality of alternative beliefs. You place as a demand of rationality that people comply with your a-rational prejudices.

As this Abrahamic God of your acts outside of physical law, he is indeed unpredictable, by definition. Certainly we can’t use a line from Corinthians to predict his behavior. He doesn’t necessarily act unpredictably; we might predict how he behaves and occasionally be right. But it’s impossible to have a mechanistic model of his behavior because he’s outside the reach of such models. Certainly being told that this God of yours is a suposedly (sic) rational being doesn’t provide us with such a model. There is no requirement on rational beings that they behave in ways that are predictable to other rational beings. And it isn’t possible to know what constitutes rational behavior of a being without knowing what its values and goals are — aspects which are truly “non-rational”.

As a minor note, predictable does not mean “by definition” “subject to physical law” (as would be required for your first sentence to be true). I am sure you realise this, for you go onto say that the Abrahamic God doesn’t “necessarilly act unpredictably”. Well duh! But if he does not necessarilly act unpredictably, then it is not tautollogically true that he is unpredictable. In other words, it is false that he is unpredictable by definition.

You also say that there can be no mechanistic model of an Abrahamic God. Actually, if you assume that functionalism (as a theory of mind) is true, the simplest model of an Abrahamic God is a turring machine with a program sufficiently sophisticated to be self conscious, simulating the universe in full detail with a resolution at the planck scale (minimum time unit equals the planck time, minimum length unit equals the planck length). For the rational beings who evolved in such an simulation, the turring machine could act as an Abrahamic God by appropriate use of “cheat codes”, or other mechanisms built into the simulation, including reprograming on the fly. Further, in virtue of the truth of functionalism, they could not determine that they lived in a simulation rather than a genuine physical universe. Indeed, I do not think the question for them (or us) of whether they live in an actual physical universe or a simulation is a cogent question.

Now, it is true that we cannot manufacture a mechanical (or electronic) model of such a turring machine plus program in this universe in that the simulation could not run to time (or even to the first few minutes) before the thermodynamic death of the universe. But in principle we could build such a model (we already have the turring machines, we just need the program), and start it running. In fact, by a mechanistic model I assume you mean a conceptual model rather than a physical model, but physical constructability of a model of an Abrahamic God (as just described) proves the existance of a mechanistic model in your sense.

Such a turring machine God would be fully algorithmic (by definition). It would be entirely subject to a restricted set of laws embodied by the construction of the Turring machine and its program. But, it would not (or need not) operate according to the internal laws of the simulation; and the intervening activities of the turring machine god would be supernatural within the simulation, or at least they would be for certain forms of intervention.

This illustrates one conceptually possible way to have an Abrahamic God that is not just predictable, but fully deterministic. In fact, the typical theological quarrel with the concept of Abrahamic Gods is not that they are unpredictable, but that they are necessarilly deterministic; that they could not possibly have free will, and so could not properly be personal in nature. (That, for example, was the conclusion of Spinoza and Liebniz.) This concern has at least, unlike your nonsense, the virtue of being rational.

Going back to your nonsense, and using the turring machine God to illustrate the point, we notice that what is true is that the interventions of the turring machine God are not predictable by science within the simulation. But they are entirely predictable from the program and construction of the machine. This means only that within the simulation, science is unable to recreate the program of the turring machine God; although it can (given a low average rate of intervention) determine the internal laws of the simulation. So, internal to the simulation, scientific predictions about the God cannot be made in general (I do not think this is an absolute theoretical bar, but it is an effective practical bar). But also, internal to the simulation, the interventions may be predictible, or approximatly predictable by adopting what Dennet calls the “intentional stance”. That is, a model which treats the intervener as a supernatural person may be an effective predictor. Internal to such a simulation, the rational approach to life (for some patterns of intervention) would be to be a theist. (Note by the way that unless we wish to deny our own personality, materialists at least, cannot deny personal status to the turring machine God in virtue of its deterministic nature.)

As you cannot determine absolutely whether you are internal to such a simulation, or in a fully naturalistic material universe, it cannot be a sound epistemic principle that science is the only path to knowledge; or that atheism is the only possible rational outlook on life. It can be, and I think is the case, that accumulated data can show that science will be able to effectively describe the laws of the universe (or simulation), and that there are not interventions. In that case, it is rational to be an atheist and a metaphysical naturalist. But until science closes the explanatory loop, there is no cut of point were it becomes automatically irrational to believe in theism, or pantheism, or deism, or animism. Degenerating research programs can turn around and become progressive; and that is true even when (as I am now) you extend Lakatos’ theory into a general theory of rationality.

Tom Curtis

Comment #40709

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 1, 2005 7:20 AM (e)

Oops, sorry. I forgot your most devastating argument:

Oops, sorry, I should have written “He doesn’t necessarilly (sic) act unpredictably”. My apologies.

Well, I sure am devestated by that. I can’t spell ergo I can be ignored? Is that your reasoning?

If not, please fill in the blanks. Tom can’t spell therefore ….what?

Arsehole!

Comment #40710

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 1, 2005 7:26 AM (e)

And now for some intelligent conversation:

Lenny Flank wrote:

Not quite. Since Matthew and Luke are largely cribbed from Mark (only 24 of the 661 verses in Mark are not themselves quoted in either Matthew or Luke), it seems pretty likely they they were written by people who never met Christ and never heard his words on their own (if they had, it’s difficult to imagine why they’d have to copy someone ELSE’S account of them). It’s also pretty apparent that the writer of John did not know of the existence of the three other gospels and vice versa, which is unlikely if they were all written by the actual apostles, who were all acquainted with each other.

So as to not pursue an off topic subject to far, I have replied at my normal wateringhole:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anti-CED/message/1…

If Lenny wishes to pursue the subject, I am happy to continue there, or on one of the lists he moderates.

Comment #40714

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on August 1, 2005 7:35 AM (e)

If Lenny wishes to pursue the subject, I am happy to continue there

No need. It’s simply not worth the effort. “Who wrote the Bible” is just as pointless as “who wrote Aesop’s fables”. Makes no difference. It’s what written that matters, not who wrote it.

Comment #40738

Posted by Don P on August 1, 2005 11:51 AM (e)

Tom Curtis:

This is becoming tiresome and pointless. When you can direct me to a consensus psychological theory of hallucinations, I will consider reopening the discussion. In the meantime, it seems to me that you insist on confusing the situation in which you desire to have a naturalistic explanation with your actually having one.

I don’t know why you keep going on about this “consensus psychological theory,” whatever it’s supposed to mean. The bottom is line is that we have abundant evidence that “religious” experiences of the kind your wife claims to have had are a natural phenomenon. We have no evidence whatsoever that a supernatural Jesus appears to people in visions, or even exists at all.

Presumably God who could create heaven and earth could alter physical states in someones brain. In that case, in principle, a hallucination of “Jesus” could be caused by God in order to communicate with someone, ie, the hallucination would be a vision. So, on this definition calling a vision a hallucination does not offer an alternative explanation at all.

Huh? On that account, no naturalistic explanation of any phenomenon is an alternative to a religious explanation, since God could create the physical states that are the basis of the naturalistic explanation. You’re not saying anything meaningful here about the rationality of your wife’s claim, you’re just making the trivial observation that any natural phenomenon could be said to be caused by God, as God is conceived by Christianity.

Comment #40739

Posted by Don P on August 1, 2005 12:19 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

A person rising from the dead following prayer to a Christian God would, if it actually occured, be stunning evidence in favour of the existence of that God. (Any coherent Christian God is also an Abrahamic God.) This follows because, theories of the existance of a Christian God predict ressurections following prayer with significant probability (order of magnitude approx -9); the a priori probability of of a ressurection is very low (order of magnitude much, much less than -9). By Bayesian reasoning, given the occurence of the reasoning, our estimate of the probability of the existence of a Christian God following a ressurection which followed Christian prayer should rise significantly (it must have been very low for the above probability assignments to be consistent); and hence such a ressurection would be evidence of such a God.

Your claims and arguments increasingly resemble those of ID proponents. I have no idea how you think you have any mathematical basis for assigning a probability to a claim of resurrection by the Christian God.

The Christian God isn’t a “theory,” it’s an assumption. If we observed someone to rise from the dead, that observation would be no more consistent with your assumption than with any of an infinite number of other possible assumptions that could be made about alternative supernatural forces or agents, and the observation would therefore not be evidence that your assumption is correct. More importantly, the observation would provide no rational basis for making any such supernatural assumption at all.

Your argument is precisely equivalent to claiming that the fact that children wake up to find that a tooth placed under their pillow the night before is no longer there is evidence that the Tooth Fairy actually exists, on the grounds that the “theory” of the Tooth Fairy “predicts” that observation.

Comment #40748

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 2:33 PM (e)

Arsehole!

You’re a real charmer, Tom. By the way, it’s “Turing”.

You would not be so justified because you would be contradicting the views of those who believe in an Abrahamic God on that matter WITHOUT PROVIDING ANY JUSTIFICATION FOR THAT CONTRADICTION.

The completely arbitrary and conflicting claims about this alleged entity that they pull out of their you-know-what is sufficient.

As you cannot determine absolutely whether you are internal to such a simulation, or in a fully naturalistic material universe, it cannot be a sound epistemic principle that science is the only path to knowledge

That doesn’t follow. You might want to read David Chalmers’
“The Matrix as Metaphysics”
http://consc.net/papers/matrix.html

Comment #40749

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 2:39 PM (e)

Rather, a very different thing is true: the findings of science undercut the empirical claims that almost all religions make, cutting away at the reasons for adhering to religious beliefs.

One can perfectly well appreciate mythology without thinking it’s journalism.

Apparently, the fundies can’t.

Apparently the ideological atheists can’t, either.

Since my statement was about belief, not appreciation, it appears that it’s Lenny who can’t make appropriate distinctions (not a new observation, certainly).

Comment #40753

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 3:26 PM (e)

I wrote:

That doesn’t follow. You might want to read David Chalmers’
“The Matrix as Metaphysics”
http://consc.net/papers/matrix.html

Hmmm … this isn’t relevant because I misconstrued the statement I responded to (it must have been all those “turring”s that caused my eyes to glaze over). Rather, going back to that statement:

As you cannot determine absolutely whether you are internal to such a simulation, or in a fully naturalistic material universe, it cannot be a sound epistemic principle that science is the only path to knowledge

and

what is true is that the interventions of the turring machine God are not predictable by science within the simulation

Indeed, science is no longer available as a path to knowledge – that was my point about the breakdown of “Bayesian reasoning”; science only works in universes in which its underlying assumptions hold. The notion that Dennett gives warrant to a claim that the intentional stance can provide an alternate in a world in which science can’t work is absurd – our day-to-day inferences are, per Dennett, a form of folk science, not some alternate epistemic source.

This illustrates one conceptually possible way to have an Abrahamic God that is not just predictable, but fully deterministic.

Determinism does not imply predictability. Bayesian reasoning depends on epistemic access, and the mere existence of a God program has no bearing on that. The brain in the vat may be tended by fully deterministic machines, but that does not in the slightest imply that anything about those machines is inferable by the brain.

although it can (given a low average rate of intervention) determine the internal laws of the simulation

In other words, the degree to which science can provide accurate predictions is the degree to which God doesn’t exercise his arbitrary powers. Since the latter is completely unpredictable, probability estimates cannot be reliably assigned.

internal to the simulation, the interventions may be predictible, or approximatly predictable by adopting what Dennet calls the “intentional stance”. That is, a model which treats the intervener as a supernatural person may be an effective predictor.

May??? Or may not – in fact, will not be, as there is nothing at all to warrant this utterly sophistic “may”. Will not be, to the degree that God acts Godlike. In all cases, science is no worse than this supposed use of the intentional stance, as use of the intentional stance is not foreign to science – in fact, it’s been a major part of Dennett’s life work to address the use of the intentional stance in science. But applying heterophenomenology to God will fail, to the degree that God acts God-like – that is, un-law-like. It doesn’t matter if God is modelable as a deterministic machine, as the workings of that machine are inscrutable. Turing Machines are not inherently reverse engineerable; reverse engineering a machine requires that the machine adhere rigidly to our a priori assumptions about it. But for any TM for which we have a model of its behavior derived from finite observation, there are an infinity of TM’s that would have behaved identically but otherwise violate every single prediction of the model. Bayesian reasoning does not apply to such TM’s.

Comment #40756

Posted by ts on August 1, 2005 3:56 PM (e)

To sum it up, while “science” cannot accurately predict the behavior of an arbitrary god, Tom argues that human beings, by adopting Dennett’s intentional stance (treating the object as a rational agent), somehow can. This suffers from two major problems:

1) It’s a glaring category mistake. Science is done by human beings, it’s not an alternate epistemic source. The intentional stance, as with Dennett’s other stances, the physical stance and the design stance, is available to science. Human brains do not have special ways of knowing that are not accessible to science.

2) The intentional stance is only valid and warrantable when the object satisfies the assumption of being a rational agent. In order to apply the intentional stance successfully we must have an accurate model of mind for the agent. The model of mind that we have for humans is a given, as a consequence of our development. Some people, such as autistics, don’t possess such a model. It’s theoretically possible to infer a model of mind for some other sort of agent, but not from a single data point. If one seriously thinks about what one would do in any given situation if one were Abraham’s God, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no single answer, and that everyone will give somewhat different answers, even if they’ve all read the same ancient scrolls.

Comment #40797

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 1, 2005 8:58 PM (e)

ts:

I wrote:

That doesn’t follow. You might want to read David Chalmers’
“The Matrix as Metaphysics”
http://consc.net/papers/matrix.html……

Hmmm … this isn’t relevant because I misconstrued the statement I responded to (it must have been all those “turring”s that caused my eyes to glaze over).

I can understand why ts now does not want us to read Chalmer’s essay. I, on the other hand, highly recommend it. I find myself in complete agreement with the main body of the essay, and with his intuitions about various scenarios (including the relative skeptical impact of the Matrix and the Truman show). The only disagreement I find is regarding his philosophy of language (note 8), but my philosophy of language leads to the same linguistic intuitions in these scenarios as does Chalmers (objections 2 and forward). Now, to summarise part of my claim in Chalmer’s words:

I don’t know whether the Creation Hypothesis is true. But I don’t know for certain that it is false. The hypothesis is clearly coherent, and I cannot conclusively rule it out.

The Creation Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis. Even if it is true, most of my ordinary beliefs are still true. I still have hands, I am still in Tucson, and so on. Perhaps a few of my beliefs will turn out false: if I am an atheist, for example, or if I believe all reality started with the Big Bang. But most of my everyday beliefs about the external world will remain intact.

http://consc.net/papers/matrix.html
(Note: Chalmer’s “creation hypothesis” is not YEC, or even ID. I would go further than Chalmer’s, I do know it is false; but it is not irrational, and nor can it be known with complete certainty.)

Indeed, science is no longer available as a path to knowledge — that was my point about the breakdown of “Bayesian reasoning”; science only works in universes in which its underlying assumptions hold. The notion that Dennett gives warrant to a claim that the intentional stance can provide an alternate in a world in which science can’t work is absurd — our day-to-day inferences are, per Dennett, a form of folk science, not some alternate epistemic source.

Bayesian reasoning is not identical with science. On the contrary, it is far more general - there are situations in which science cannot work, but in which Bayesian reasoning will (although the reverse is not true).

It seems to me that you and Don P adopt the same definition of science used by the ID movement, and then feel compelled to add metaphysical naturalism as a supposed presuposition of science in order to escape their conclusions. In other words, Philip Johnson’s critique of the metaphysical assumptions of scientists is true of you, even though it is not true of scientists in general (or of the scientific community as a whole).

But contrary to you and the Discovery Institute, science does not consist simply of inductive reasoning from an emperical base. The sine qua non of science is the development of hypotheses, and the use of those hypotheses to systematically multiply emperical observations in order to test the hypothesis and to multiply its range and power. Some hypotheses can have inductive suport from an emperical base, but not be suitable to multiply the emperical observations. This can be either because they make no effective predictions (such as with Freudian psychoanalysis); or because the circumstances under which they make predictions cannot be brought under control by the scientist (as with most supernatural hypotheses, and most cosmological hypotheses).
For a fuller expansion of this point, see:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anti-CED/message/1…

This means that there can be, and are emperical disciplines which are rational (because they use Bayesian reasoning or a more limited but valid substitute) but which are not science. Such disciplines currently include history, sociology, macroeconomics, some schools of psychology. These disciplines can include subparts which are scientific. For example, archeology is a science which is also a subdiscipline of history. But what can be rationally known about the past is not limited to what is discoverable by archeology. Further, these disciplines might in the future develop in a way that makes them science. In fact, psychology is well on the way to doing so. There is no reason in principle why theology should not be a discipline like this - rational, Bayesian, having a substantive emperical base, but not science. In practise, the null hypothesis is the best supported theological theory - there are no supernatural beings. But I see no reason to confuse what is the case with what is necessarily the case.

A similar point can be made about the intentional stance. The intentional stance can be used in science; but not all of its rational uses are scientific. Dennet discusses employing the intentional stance against a chess computer, for example, where it is known to give a false description of the world, but is still pragmatically usefull. If it can be used when the intentional description is known to be false, it can certainly be used when the truth or falsity of that description is unknown, or even unknowable.

While we are on the intentional stance, from message 40756:

Problem 1 assumes that any technique that can be used by science must be used scientifically everytime it is used correctly. That is false, as just pointed out.

Problem 2:

The intentional stance is only valid and warrantable when the object satisfies the assumption of being a rational agent. In order to apply the intentional stance successfully we must have an accurate model of mind for the agent. The model of mind that we have for humans is a given, as a consequence of our development.

This is just flat out wrong, and makes me wonder if you have ever read Dennet at all. As mentioned above, Dennet discusses the example of using the intentional stance when playing with a chess computer. In that case, it is known that the object is not a rational agent, but the intentional stance still applies. Further, for most of human history (and for most, if not all people today); they did not have an accurate model of the mind of the agent. In fact, some ancients were so of the mark they thought that the heart was the seat of the mind. They still successfully applied an intentional stance in personal interactions.

Now you may mean that the intentional stance is only applicable when we have an “accurate” intentional model of the agent. But in this case, by “accurate” you mean “leading to reliable predictions”. But in that case, your claim is entirely question begging. Certainly we could not effectively predict the interactions of a God by the intentional stance if we did not have an intentional model that effectively predicts their interactions. So what, tautologies are always true, and never evidence for any particular view.

You give a slight reason for thinking we cannot have such an intentional model of a God (and a better, but still falacious reason in post 40753 - see below).

It’s theoretically possible to infer a model of mind for some other sort of agent, but not from a single data point. If one seriously thinks about what one would do in any given situation if one were Abraham’s God, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s no single answer, and that everyone will give somewhat different answers, even if they’ve all read the same ancient scrolls.

The first sentence is true, but irrelevant. No religionist thinks their theology (ie, their intentional model of God) is drawn from a single data point. In fact, more typically they think they have been told the correct model by revelation. Your second reason is also irrelevant to the discussion. It is true that their is little agreement amongst religious believers about the nature of their God. It does not follow from that that any particular religous belief is false (let alone irrational) anymore than it follows from disagreements between Dawkins and Gould that Darwinism is false. You may claim that the best explanation of the disagreement is the absence of a God (I agree); but that is also irrelevant. It does not follow that because that is the case it is necessarilly the case. The world could have been a world in which all religious believers agree on their intentional model of God, and “God’s” interventions were reliably predictable based on that model. In such a world being an atheist would probably be irrational (although there could be models of atheism, and epistemic situations in that world in which atheism is still rational; just as theism can still be rational in this world though most theists are irrational in their belief.)

Returning to mesage 40753:

Determinism does not imply predictability.

In principle, for any deterministic system, there is a model that exactly predicts its future outcomes. But that model may not be knowable, or knowable with sufficient accuracy given inductive means. (Just a clarification. I do not think we disagree on this point.)

Bayesian reasoning depends on epistemic access, and the mere existence of a God program has no bearing on that.

But Bayesian reasoning does not depend on epistemic access to “true causes”. It only depends on epistemic access to effects. If this were not the case, Bayesian reasoning would be inapplicable in science; but because of this, it can be applied to supernatural beings even without full knowledge of their nature. In principle, you do not need privileged access to the God program to use Bayesian reasoning to develop an intentional model of a turing machine God.

In other words, the degree to which science can provide accurate predictions is the degree to which God doesn’t exercise his arbitrary powers.

Yes! However, even the most “interventionist theories” of God in the world today do not predict frequent interventions on a scale sufficient to undermine science. Pentecostalists predict miracles every Sunday, and frequently in the week. But that means they predict that less than 0.01% of all events will involve supernatural intervention. Most of them also predict that God is not malicious or capricious, and that therefore their will be no supernatural interventions in testtubes. If their theory were correct, the level of intervention would be so low as to create no effective impediment to successfull scientific research. And they are the radicals. Most theists predict much lower rates of intervention.

Since the latter is completely unpredictable, probability estimates cannot be reliably assigned.

But this is just the same unsupported nonsense refuted above.

May??? Or may not — in fact, will not be, as there is nothing at all to warrant this utterly sophistic “may”. Will not be, to the degree that God acts Godlike. In all cases, science is no worse than this supposed use of the intentional stance, as use of the intentional stance is not foreign to science — in fact, it’s been a major part of Dennett’s life work to address the use of the intentional stance in science. But applying heterophenomenology to God will fail, to the degree that God acts God-like — that is, un-law-like.

Put simple, any pattern of interventions is logically possible for a turing machine God. Among those patterns are those which are projectible using the intentional stance. Therefore the patterns may be predictable (but are not necessarily so). Your thesis requires that they are necessarilly not projectible. You recognise this, and attempt to bluff your way past, saying “Or may not — in fact, will not be, as there is nothing at all to warrant this utterly sophistic “may”.” Apparently in your world, not having a proof that not-p is a proof that p. (In fact, there is warrant for “may” as presented above.) You then go on to insist that to the degree that God acts God-like, God acts un-law like. This will come as a surprise to many (I suspect all) theists, for whom God is the ground of lawfullness. Your definition of “God like” plainly contradicts common (and philosophical) notions of what God would be like. The only way I can suppose you can have come up with such an absurd straw man is by reasoning that God can act in a manner unconstrained by physical law (by definition), therefore, the more arbitrary God’s actions, the more like God’s typical actions they are. But clearly this “reasoning” rellies on the mistaken belief that physical laws are the only projectible patterns. (Here is a clue: all mathematical sequences are projectible patterns. Only a vanishingly small number of mathematical sequences correspond to physical laws. Therefore, most pojectible patterns do not correspond to physical laws.)

It doesn’t matter if God is modelable as a deterministic machine, as the workings of that machine are inscrutable. Turing Machines are not inherently reverse engineerable; reverse engineering a machine requires that the machine adhere rigidly to our a priori assumptions about it. But for any TM for which we have a model of its behavior derived from finite observation, there are an infinity of TM’s that would have behaved identically but otherwise violate every single prediction of the model. Bayesian reasoning does not apply to such TM’s.

This is your better, but still fallacious reason for thinking that we cannot have an intentional model of God (refered to above). You are correct: for every TM that exhibits a particular output up to a finite point, there are an infinite number that exhibit exactly the same behaviour up to that point, but diverge arbitrarily thereafter. BUT for every naturalistic model of the universe that predicts a certain range of observations up to some point, there are an infinite number of naturalistic models that predict the same range of observations up to the same point, but diverge arbitrarily in their predictions thereafter. Welcome to the problem of induction. It has been known since Hume, and no branch of knowledge gets a priveleged exemption from it.

Now if you assume this fact precludes the application of Bayesian reasoning to discovering TM programs (and hence also to discovering intentional models of gods); then it also means Bayesian reasoning is inapplicable in science. You might think you can escape this conumdrum by applying arbitrary constraints on which hypotheses will be entertained. But this does not work, for the more effective your constraints, the less reason we have expect the product of science to be true. Further, it does not aid your argument, for if you are entitled to arbitrary constraints to save science, then you have no principled objection to the theist also employing arbitrary constraints on God hypotheses to make them accessible to Bayesian reasoning.

In fact, arbitrary constraints are not necessary either for the scientist or the theist. This is because Bayesian reasoning will always assign the highest probability to the simplest projection that satisfies the observations (for a given set of priors). This projection may be wrong. Bayesian reasoning is inductive after all. In the meantime, scientists (as all people) quite properly have the a-rational belief that the world is not capricious; and theists are entitled to the same a-rational belief about their God.

Comment #40815

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 1, 2005 10:45 PM (e)

ID advocates and other theologians can certainly make a consistent case for creation ex nihilo, but what that mostly shows is that anybody with a reasonable amount of native wit and enough ad hoc assumptions can harmonize any piece of evidence with any theory. Consistency is a very cheap commodity indeed. Which is why apolegetics is such lousy approach to inquiry. It’s a defensive strategy.

Comment #40823

Posted by Don P on August 1, 2005 11:39 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

Your posts seem to be getting progressively longer and progressively more opaque. Repetition and long-windedness will not make a false argument true. Jim Harrison, in four lines, sums up the fundamental problem with what you’re saying. You’re confusing assumptions with evidence and wishful thinking with rational inference. Before you dash off a response that is even longer than your last one, I suggest you stop and think about that for awhile.

Comment #40839

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 12:31 AM (e)

I can understand why ts now does not want us to read Chalmer’s essay.

What a f^$#%^g a@@$#$e. I simply admitted that I had misunderstood what you meant by the phrase I responded to. I would be happy for anyone to read that essay – that’s why I posted it.

BTW, d@#kf#@e, his name is “Chalmers”.

Comment #40844

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 12:54 AM (e)

Responses to couple of things that caught my eye in TC’s latest rant:

Dennet discusses the example of using the intentional stance when playing with a chess computer. In that case, it is known that the object is not a rational agent, but the intentional stance still applies.

First, his name is Dennett. Second, Dennett rejects ontological categorizations as to what “really” is or is not a rational agent. As he writes in “Kinds of Minds”, “We don’t need to answer that question. The organism is a predictable intentional system in either case.”

In the meantime, scientists (as all people) quite properly have the a-rational belief that the world is not capricious; and theists are entitled to the same a-rational belief about their God.

As I’ve already noted, induction is only effective in a “non-capricious” world – one in which one can reliably assign probabilities. There’s no need to believe that the world isn’t capricious; one can believe whatever one wants, and science will still work as long as the universe is modelable by universal laws.

Comment #40850

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 2, 2005 1:39 AM (e)

Don, I like brevity, but find when disputing with YEC’s and other fundamentalists that the result is creative misinterpretation, such as I have experienced here. Unless a point is drummed in line by line, it is ignored or dismissed with an ill informed wave of the hand.

One example for brevities sake. When ts absurdly claimed that there can be no mechanistic model of a God’s behaviour, I could have responded. “A turing machine can model a God’s behaviour.” He would have dismissed that without consideration. As it is he simply ignores it, and changes his point of attack with such absurdities as “But applying heterophenomenology to God will fail, to the degree that God acts God-like — that is, un-law-like.” I feel like I have been subjected to a Gish gallop.

Harrison, by the way, has not correctly summed up the fundamental problem with what I am saying. Like ts and you, he has confused what is with what must be.

Comment #40852

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 1:56 AM (e)

Unless a point is drummed in line by line, it is ignored or dismissed with an ill informed wave of the hand.

This is not only tremendously arrogant, but borders on the autistic in its failure to understand what makes for effective communication.

“A turing machine can model a God’s behaviour.”

As I noted, we require epistemic access. Not all models are obtainable, for the reasons I’ve mentioned.

As it is he simply ignores it

That’s a lie. I clarified and expanded my comments as the discussion progressed.

changes his point of attack with such absurdities as

What a pathetic whiner. Like you, I defend my position in a number of ways. And something isn’t absurd just because you declare it to be.

Like ts and you, he has confused what is with what must be.

Not at all. “as long as the universe is modelable by universal laws” – try to figure out whether that’s about what is or about what must be.

Comment #40854

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 2, 2005 2:39 AM (e)

Gee, I didn’t even know I was addressing Tom Curtis! Well, to each his own delusions of reference. I’m sure I’ve got plenty of my own. Meanwhile:

All I’m protesting is the tendency to think that the problem with creationist and ID arguments is some sort of logical fallacy when the deeper issue has to do with pragmatics. Specifically, when folks try to determine whether God the Father can be modelled by a Turing machine or even go off on five paragraphg pothead Matrix riffs, the really bad thing that happens is that the apparent salience of God talk in explaining the universe is reinforced by volleys of latinate words and sheer repetition. The God idea is advertised so much that folks get to thinking that its great familiarity counts as a substantial prior probability. What you need to do is to take the right pill (at this hour, I can’t forget which was which), so that you finally come to and realize that the very notion of creation is extraorinarily bizarre, bizarre like the larva baby in Eraserhead.

Comment #40864

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 3:56 AM (e)

All I’m protesting is the tendency to think that the problem with creationist and ID arguments is some sort of logical fallacy when the deeper issue has to do with pragmatics.

Indeed. As in Tom’s

As you cannot determine absolutely whether you are internal to such a simulation, or in a fully naturalistic material universe, it cannot be a sound epistemic principle that science is the only path to knowledge

Of course one cannot determine absolutely whether one is in a lawful universe or a universe that isn’t lawful (other distinctions, such as natural vs. non-natural, are meaningless), but it doesn’t matter; building predictive models based on the systematization of evidence is the best we can do, which makes doing so rational, not a-rational. If it turns out that the universe can’t be so modeled, that’s our tough luck, but it’s still the best we can do. To instead seize on Godly cause is utterly irrational, since it offers no effective methodology under any circumstance. One ends up just making up the details as one goes along, not bothering with coherency and consistency, and accusing anyone who doesn’t adhere to those details, inconsistent as they are, of addressing a strawman.

Comment #40869

Posted by Brett Holman on August 2, 2005 4:32 AM (e)

Missed this reply …

I hadn’t read the link before I posted the above. Now that I’ve read it, I can note that it only mentions two people, Percival Lowell and Earl Slipher, who claimed to have seen canals. There’s also a statement from Lowell that “History of the canal problem shows that every skilled observer who goes to the best available site for his observations has had no great difficulty of seeing and convincing himself of the reality of the canals. I am not aware of a single exception to this.” But we know, from this article alone, that Lowell’s claim is false. From other sources, it’s clear that many of Lowell’s statements were false. The article suggests, and even concludes, that there was an optical illusion — from Lowell and Slipher’s claims alone. There is, in fact, no reason to think that there is any optical illusion that produces the appearance of canals on Mars, any more than there is reason to think that there is an optical illusion that produces the appearance of alien abductors and their medical instruments. Rather, these are most likely the product of delusion and/or dissembling.

Firstly, that link was not the source of my claims; it was merely provided as an example. My main sources on the photographs were Steven J. Dick’s The Biological Universe and William Sheehan’s The Planet Mars. I’m sorry I mentioned the link now as it’s clearly misled you on this point - many more people than just Lowell and E. C. Slipher claimed to have seen the canals, including Schiaparelli, Perrotin and Thollon. Pickering and Douglass before Lowell ever started his Mars observations, and there were many more thereafter. It wasn’t just a matter of a couple of cranks making a dubious claim. And other astronomers sought to explain those observations. I’m not saying it was an uncontested claim but it was one that was made and taken seriously by a significant number of astronomers.

There actually is some evidence (there’s that word again) that the canals were optical illusions rather than outright delusion or dissembling - not least Maunder’s well-known experiment. Also the relative consistency of the maps of the canal network suggests that to a degree the observers were describing something “objectively”. I’m sure suggestion played a big part too, many expected or wanted to see the canals, but I’m just not sure that it was the whole part - perhaps it was though. But there’s no evidence for dissembling - unless you can point some out to me.

So, ANYWAY, about the photographs of the canals, as distinct from naked-eye observations - there were only a few that I’m aware of. For the record, they are attributed to C. O. Lampland (1905, at Lowell Observatory in Arizona), David Todd and E. C. Slipher (1907, in Chile) and E. Pettit and R. S. Richardson (1954, at Mt Wilson Observatory in California). My source for this is Dick. I can dig up the original papers if you like.

Comment #40870

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 4:49 AM (e)

There actually is some evidence (there’s that word again) that the canals were optical illusions rather than outright delusion or dissembling - not least Maunder’s well-known experiment.

This is a good link which I think rather well supports my position. On delusion, for example, we have

What [Lowell] found, though not directly relevant to Mars, had important consequences for the credibility of his Mars observations … His basic description of the planet was unlike anything reported by previous observers…. Instead of acquiescence to his views, Lowell found on his return from Mexico in April 1897 that they had met with almost universal incredulity.

Comment #40871

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 5:05 AM (e)

A little bit more on this. I previously wrote

There is, in fact, no reason to think that there is any optical illusion that produces the appearance of canals on Mars

The above mentioned link suggests that I was wrong; it provides evidence of optical illusion effects that can produce the appearance of lines. However, this does not nearly reach the level of Percival Lowell’s canals. From
http://www.wanderer.org/references/lowell/Mars/c…

When the great continental areas, the reddish-ochre portions of the disk, are attentively examined in sufficiently steady air, their desert-like ground is seen to be traversed by a network of fine, straight, dark lines. The lines start from points on the coast of the blue-green regions, commonly well-marked bays, and proceed directly to what seem centres in the middle of the continent, since most surprisingly they meet there other lines that have come to the same spot with apparently a like determinate intent. And this state of things is not confined to any one part of the planet, but takes place all over the reddish-ochre regions.

The lines appear either absolutely straight from one end to the other, or curved in an equally uniform manner. There is nothing haphazard in the look of any of them. Plotting upon a globe betrays them to be arcs of great circles almost invariably, even the few outstanding exceptions seeming to be but polygonal combinations of the same. Their most instantly conspicuous characteristic is this hopeless lack of happy irregularity. They are, each and all, direct to a degree. The lines are as fine as they are straight. As a rule, they are of scarcely any perceptible breadth, seeming on the average to be less than a Martian degree, or about thirty miles wide. They differ slightly among themselves, some being a little broader than this; some a trifle finer, possibly not above fifteen miles across. Their length, not their breadth, renders them visible; for though at such a distance we could not distinguish a dot less than thirty miles in diameter, we could see a line of much less breadth, because of its length. Speaking generally, however, the lines are all of comparable width.

I also wrote

Rather, these are most likely the product of delusion and/or dissembling.

I don’t claim that there is evidence specifically of dissembling; it’s very difficult to establish evidence distinguishing dissembling from delusion; it’s not even clear that they are in all cases distinct psychological states.

Comment #40872

Posted by Brett Holman on August 2, 2005 5:11 AM (e)

No, there was never any photographic evidence at all, unless every observation is “not very good” evidence for every claim.

What do you mean? If I take a photo of a blurry saucer-shaped object in the sky, surely it is evidence for flying saucers - just how good a piece of evidence remains to be determined. But it’s not evidence for the Loch Ness monster, which quite possibly is equally as non-existent as the flying saucers.

You are committing the grave historical sin of hindsight. At the time the canals photos were taken, no spacecraft had visited Mars and so it wasn’t known that the canals weren’t real. Therefore the canals photos were another piece of evidence to add to the balance, on the side of the canal’s reality. Ultimately the balance tilted decisively the other way, but they weren’t to know that.

It’s worthwhile to consider that the person who originally made the claim called what he saw “canali” (he was Italian). “canali” means “grooves”. He thought he saw some lines joining craters on Mars. Percival Lowell, who believed and promoted the view that there had been a civilization on Mars, repeatedly claimed to have observed “canals”. It was a delusion — almost all other observers never saw any canals.

The Italian you mention was Schiaparelli, and as it happens he was one of the canal skeptics who was (albeit briefly) converted by the 1907 canal photographs (another was Cerulli). By the way, I doubt that Schiaparelli thought the lines were joining craters - astronomers were quite surprised to find heavy cratering on Mars when probes first swung by in the 1960s. It’s true he ge

One needs to know quite a few facts in order to interpret claims that there is or was evidence for some claim or another.

Yes, and I’ve read quite a bit about the Mars canals controversy (even gave a - admittedly fairly crappy - conference paper on a closely related topic), so I’m fairly confident that my interpretation is at least grounded in the facts.

Comment #40873

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 5:20 AM (e)

On the matter of dissembling, there is this Slipher quote that I mentioned earlier:

“History of the canal problem shows that every skilled observer who goes to the best available site for his observations has had no great difficulty of seeing and convincing himself of the reality of the canals. I am not aware of a single exception to this.”

But we know that he was aware of exceptions, from the article that gave that quote:

This sounds similar to statements Lowell made. However, it is not hard to find observers who did not see Martian canals and it isn’t reasonable to dismiss all of them. The best example was the astronomer Edward Barnard. Barnard and Lowell were good friends who respected each other. Barnard was one of the best observers of the time, but Barnard was never able to see canals.

Of course it’s possible that neither Slipher nor Lowell dissembled, and that there are other explanations for their making false statements that they had reason to know were false.

Comment #40875

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 5:41 AM (e)

If I take a photo of a blurry saucer-shaped object in the sky, surely it is evidence for flying saucers

“blurry saucer-shaped object” is an interpretation phrased to make your case. Since neither of us has seen those photographic plates of Mars, we don’t know what sort of description either of us would offer upon seeing them, but I doubt very much that it would be “blurry canal-like objects”.

But it’s not evidence for the Loch Ness monster

Your position seems to be here that any evidence gathered for the object of determining whether we have been visited by flying saucers – or perhaps any photo we take of the sky – is evidence for the proposition that we have been visited by flying saucers. People have interpreted photos taken with dirt on the camera lens as evidence of flying saucers. The issue of evidence is a very tricky one in epistemology, but I believe, given what we know that, were we to see these plates, we would be disinclined to call it evidence of canals.

You are committing the grave historical sin of hindsight.

It is not a sin to use current knowledge to evaluate the truth value of statements made in or about the past.

I doubt that Schiaparelli thought the lines were joining craters

I haven’t been able to re-locate the source where I read that.

Comment #40997

Posted by ts on August 2, 2005 8:20 PM (e)

Since, oddly, this thread is still open, another summarizing comment:

Tom Curtis wrote:

Yes! However, even the most “interventionist theories” of God in the world today do not predict frequent interventions on a scale sufficient to undermine science. Pentecostalists predict miracles every Sunday, and frequently in the week. But that means they predict that less than 0.01% of all events will involve supernatural intervention. Most of them also predict that God is not malicious or capricious, and that therefore their will be no supernatural interventions in testtubes. If their theory were correct, the level of intervention would be so low as to create no effective impediment to successfull scientific research. And they are the radicals. Most theists predict much lower rates of intervention.

What are these theories based, on, and how do we weigh them? What distinguishes these “theories” from completely arbitrary unsupported and unsupportable claims?

Since the latter is completely unpredictable, probability estimates cannot be reliably assigned.

But this is just the same unsupported nonsense refuted above.

HO HO HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS! That the only basis that Curtis can offer up to support these probability estimates is blather about competing “interventionist theories” offered up by various theist sects – “Pentecostalists predict miracles”; wow, that’s reliable – it’s quite clear who is offering up unsupported nonsense.

Comment #41143

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 3, 2005 5:52 PM (e)

Jim Harrison:

Gee, I didn’t even know I was addressing Tom Curtis! Well, to each his own delusions of reference. I’m sure I’ve got plenty of my own. Meanwhile:

But meanwhile, your problems are entirely with my posts?

The God idea is advertised so much that folks get to thinking that its great familiarity counts as a substantial prior probability. What you need to do is to take the right pill (at this hour, I can’t forget which was which), so that you finally come to and realize that the very notion of creation is extraorinarily bizarre, bizarre like the larva baby in Eraserhead.

It is true that many people assume that the existance of God is quite probable merely from familiarity with the concept. But other people assume the existance of the universe is a priori probable simply because it exists; which amounts to the same fallacy.

The truth is, we have no way of objectively determining the a priori probability of any logically possible world. Consequently, there is no probability assignment which is automatically right, or rational. The only things which are irrational are assigning an a priori probability of 0 or 1 to any non-necessary logical possibility (thus making them immune to revision in the light of evidence) or assigning such disparate probabilities that one option is not worthy of consideration when it is the option taken by people we would otherwise judge as rational. Doing the latter amounts to a fiat decision to consider irrational all those who disagree with you on a decision which is itself not subject to significant rational constraint.

You say that “the very notion of creation is extraordinarilly bizzare”. But the idea of creation will be implimented infinitely many times on any infinite “game of life” plain with random initial conditions (by means of TM gods). Is a “game of life” world bizzare beyond imagining? Is it massively improbable compared to our actual world? My intuition is that it is, but there is no way to cash that out with any argument more formal than an intuition pump.

Comment #41163

Posted by ts on August 3, 2005 7:19 PM (e)

The truth is, we have no way of objectively determining the a priori probability of any logically possible world.

The truth is that this is irrelevant. You persist in failing to grasp the point the Jim (and I and Don) made. The scientific method has an astounding record of successful prediction. Therefore, it has proven to be an epistemic source, regardless of whether scientific predictions are necessarily true. The success of scientific thinking is something we rely on because, well, it’s reliable. OTOH, religion doesn’t provide successful predictions. It is thus irrational to depend upon religion rather than science as a source of knowledge. This is a fact about the world we do live in, and what is true of all possible worlds isn’t relevant. You are buried ankle deep in a logicist fallacy, mistaking deduction for rationality.

Comment #41178

Posted by Tom Curtis on August 3, 2005 9:58 PM (e)

ts:

The truth is that this is irrelevant. You persist in failing to grasp the point the Jim (and I and Don) made.

Well, obviously I disagree - but let’s give it a test.

The scientific method has an astounding record of successful prediction.

100% agreed.

Therefore, it has proven to be an epistemic source, regardless of whether scientific predictions are necessarily true.

100% agreed.

The success of scientific thinking is something we rely on because, well, it’s reliable.

100% agreed.

OTOH, religion doesn’t provide successful predictions.

More accurately, the few successful predictions made from religion are either coincidental, or the success has a better naturalistic explanation than supernaturalistic explanation. Stated this way I agree 100%, and I think you do also.

BUT (our first disagreement), given all that is known in the world today, people can rationally disagree with about the above statement; and in particular, people with different knowledge sets can rationally disagree with the statement above.

This can be the case because in many areas, the evidence is very suggestive that there is a naturalistic explanation, but current theories cannot trace a causal history with any detail greater than handwaving. (The contrast is between a theory like Darwinism, were given sufficient emperical detail, we can trace almost exactly the causal path leading to particular features; some features of psychology, were we have an abundance of emperical detail, but still cannot trace the causal path connecting, for example, the knowledge that an individual is being prayed for and a higher rate of healing in that individual; and the case in studies in the origin of life, where we lack sufficient detail, and would currently be unable to trace the relevant path if we had it.)

This can also be the case because what are the facts in the world can also be rationaly disputed. Observations are theory dependant, and were for a theist, a given set of observations give sufficient reason to believe a miracle has occured, for a non-theist, the same set of observations do not give sufficient reason to doubt that a miracle has not occured. Thus when a reliable and trustworthy man informs me he has seen people in Africa carrying 80Kg loads on their heads; I tend to believe that because it is not a priori improbable to me. When the same man says he saw a man rise from the dead, I disbelieve that, instead believing that he was mistaken; because that is a priori improbable to me. But a theist could rationaly accept the report as veridical, and count it as a confirming instance for theism.

Your responce to these two possibilities has been to deny them as possibilities. To me that looks like simplistic dogmatism, for whether I use a Kuhnian, a Lakatosian, a Popperian, or a Bayesian account of science; these possibilities are real possibilities. While I am an atheist because religious world views must make far greater use of ad hoc supositions even given their different reading of the facts; I am aware (must be aware if I wish to be both rational an informed) that my grounds for rejecting literally thousands of daily reports of counter instances to my beliefs are based on promisory notes that have yet to be cashed out by science.

FURTHER, it is irrelevant for many religious beliefs whether religion provides successful emperical predictions. Having started with a high a priori belief in the existance of God, they can retain a significant probability assignment to that belief even if they agree totally with the atheist about the lack of scientific predictability from that belief. That makes the belief a-rational rather than irrational because the low probability of theism according to the atheist is largely a function of the low initial probability assigned to that belief (an a-rational decision), while the theists high assigned probability is a fucntion of their equally a-rational high initial assignment.

It is thus irrational to depend upon religion rather than science as a source of knowledge.

100% agreed that it is irrational to rely on religion INSTEAD of, or in contradiction to, science as a source of belief.

BUT what you require for your argument to go through is that it is irrational to rely on religion as a source of knowledge in addition to science. And that does not follow from your previous premises.

From prior discussion, you think it follows because any acceptance of religion introduces the possibility of unpredictable interuptions into the workings of scientific laws. But this does not follow because, such interuptions are a possibility in a fully naturalistic universe, so the introduction of theism does not change the scientists epistemic position. It also does not follow because even very high frequencies of interruption (relative to those predicted by most theistic beliefs) do not have sufficient frequency to interfere noticably with the acquisition of scientific knowledge.

It is also unlikely that relious belief must significantly incapacitate the ability to rely on science for belief formation because many noted scientists have been religious believers, and still giants in their field. Robert Bakker, for instance, is a pentecostalist, ie, on the outer fringe of belief of frequency of supernatural intervention. That belief has not stopped him from being a ground breaking paleontologist, and a darwinist. Further, the best developed and most widely accepted philosophies of science do not even presuppose methodological naturalism, let alone the presumption of metaphysical naturalism that you require.

This is a fact about the world we do live in, and what is true of all possible worlds isn’t relevant.

The facts you used in your premises are indeed facts about the real world. But I agree with them (as stated) completely. To get from them to your conclusion, however, you require three supressed premises which are contentious at best, and I would say transparently false. That my discussion in previous posts has focussed on those three supressed premises shows that I do get where you are coming from. That you supress the premises, and even state your conclusion in a form which I have no trouble agreeing with (and nor would most theists) suggests the supressed premises underlie your thinking is so dogmatic and incoherent a form that you are unable to rationally assess them.

You are buried ankle deep in a logicist fallacy, mistaking deduction for rationality.

Actually, what I take as rationality is Bayesian coherence of belief; though I will often default to a Lakatosian account as being less contentious, and simpler to work with. I find it highly amusing that you could mistake me for a logicist; but it is in fact just a reflection of my charge against you. What is true is that you will allow very few possibilities (if any) other than the actual (in your opinion) as being rational. In contrast, I expect an actual demonstration of inchorence of belief (inconsistent Bayesian probability assignments), or of overwhelming dogmatism (assigning of probabilities of potential possibilities that are so high or so low as to preclude effective revision of the belief in the light of evidence).

Comment #41179

Posted by ts on August 3, 2005 10:03 PM (e)

But a theist could rationaly accept the report as veridical, and count it as a confirming instance for theism.

I thought you said it was a-rational.

suggests the supressed premises underlie your thinking is so dogmatic and incoherent a form that you are unable to rationally assess them

blah blah blah

Comment #41180

Posted by ts on August 3, 2005 10:05 PM (e)

P.S. The word is “suppress”.

Comment #41199

Posted by Brett Holman on August 4, 2005 4:09 AM (e)

“History of the canal problem shows that every skilled observer who goes to the best available site for his observations has had no great difficulty of seeing and convincing himself of the reality of the canals. I am not aware of a single exception to this.” But we know that he was aware of exceptions, from the article that gave that quote:

Yes, there’s no doubt Slipher was fully aware of Barnard who was renowned as having acute vision, but I don’t think this is quite dissembling, rather it’s carefully phrased, such that the skilled observer needed to go to the best available site. I read this in the context of the rivalry between observatories and which had the better observing site. Flagstaff, Arizona (where Lowell Observatory was) had excellent seeing and very dark and clear skies. It could be argued (and was) that this is why Barnard didn’t see the canals from the bigger telescopes he used at Lick and Yerkes. But as you say, it’s a fine line between dissembling and delusion, as well as self-deception and desperate rationalisations!

Comment #41200

Posted by ts on August 4, 2005 4:38 AM (e)

self-deception and desperate rationalisations!

You can say that again. :-) Again from the “more info” article you cited way above:

This might have been difficult for Lowell to explain, a good observer (Barnard) who couldn’t see canals. However Lowell was never short of explanations. According to Lowell, only people with “acute” vision were able to see the canals. He explained that Barnard had “sensitive” vision which allowed him to see dim objects, but not fine details on bright planets. It is unfortunate that Lowell never considered a better explanation, that the canals were optical illusions.

In Lowell’s case, though, optical illusion seems inadequate as an explanation.

Comment #41202

Posted by Brett Holman on August 4, 2005 4:54 AM (e)

“blurry saucer-shaped object” is an interpretation phrased to make your case. Since neither of us has seen those photographic plates of Mars, we don’t know what sort of description either of us would offer upon seeing them, but I doubt very much that it would be “blurry canal-like objects”.

Sure, it’s my interpretation - but we all interpret evidence, all the time. Photographs do not speak for themselves, so what the photographs are evidence for depends upon that interpretation. Which of course can be contested, and my interpretation is not particularly important to anyone … but in the case of the canals photos, they were taken and interpreted by professional astronomers, ie not flakes. Their interpretations carried some weight. They were wrong, that’s all.

And I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if there were features on those photos which I could convince myself were canal-like lines. The photos would have been blurred anyway by a number of factors, and blurred dots and other features could easily be joined up into lines in similar fashion to the visual observations.

Your position seems to be here that any evidence gathered for the object of determining whether we have been visited by flying saucers — or perhaps any photo we take of the sky — is evidence for the proposition that we have been visited by flying saucers. People have interpreted photos taken with dirt on the camera lens as evidence of flying saucers. The issue of evidence is a very tricky one in epistemology, but I believe, given what we know that, were we to see these plates, we would be disinclined to call it evidence of canals.

Well, yes, a photo of a bit of dirt on the lens is evidence for flying saucers until such time as it is shown that dirt was the cause.
About epistemology - I distinguish between proof and mere evidence. There is a lot of evidence for flying saucers in the form of blurry snapshots, but that doesn’t nearly add up to proof for me. With the canals, Lowell’s observations were evidence, Slipher’s were evidence, the photos were more evidence, etc, but there’s MUCH more evidence now against the canals, which for me (and everyone else, I hope!) adds up to proof that they don’t exist.

I guess I’m saying that the photographs were evidence for the canals then, and maybe you are saying the photographs aren’t evidence for the canals now. Past vs present tenses. Does that seem fair? Coz I can live with that …

It is not a sin to use current knowledge to evaluate the truth value of statements made in or about the past.

It is a sin to say that these photos weren’t evidence for the canals or that canal believers must have been dissembling, because the canals didn’t exist. Nobody knew that the canals didn’t exist back then, not even the canal skeptics, you have to bear that in mind.

Comment #41288

Posted by Matt Young on August 4, 2005 5:50 PM (e)

Your fearless moderator has let us wander off task for several days now, perhaps because we aren’t as far off task as it looks - in a way, we have merely expanded the title from “Is Evolution Religion?” to “Is Empiricism Religion?”

My good friend Eric, a theoretical physicist, claims that the less evidence there is for a given proposition, the harder people will fight over it. I think that may be so because they talk past each other, as is sometimes happening here.

So let me reiterate what I claimed in an earlier essay: Antonio Damasio has taught us (well, taught me) that you can’t make a supposedly logical decision without an emotional component. Thus, those whose political inclination is toward the supremacy of the individual simply cannot understand what, say, a democratic socialist is going on about, and vice versa.

Here it seems that those whose inclination is toward strict empiricism (or perhaps materialism) cannot understand those who incline toward an underlying theological explanation. All sides draw “logical” conclusions that are informed by their underlying philosophies and think the other sides are being stubborn or obtuse. (I know that’s how I react when I read a defense of the so-called free market. Can’t they see that there is no such thing as a free market? Haven’t they ever heard of the robber barons? Rhetorical questions, but perhaps you see what I mean.)

If I allow further comments, we will go on forever, so let’s stop here. Thanks to all who contributed and to almost all for the polite tone of the comments.