Timothy Sandefur posted Entry 1344 on August 13, 2005 05:32 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1342

I should probably leave it up to Sanchez to defend himself, but I’ll say this: it is true that “Evolution is no more or less ‘naturalistic’ than any of these other sciences.” But what Sanchez was saying, correctly, is that evolution demonstrates that there is no need for a divine spark to set in motion, or to maintain, the processes that gave rise to life, and/or consciousness. To say that science does not “conflict[] with the theistic theological view that God creates the universe at every moment of its existence” is beside the point. The point is that, as Sanchez quoted, there is no need for such a hypothesis.

Further, taking the basic view that the onus of proof is on him who asserts the claim, the existence of a natural explanation for the origin and diversity of life makes it far more difficult for those who claim the existence of a supernatural entity to support that proposition on the basis of reason. They must resort, as Sanchez points out, to actual faith, something that is somewhat rarer than is often claimed.

Matzke suggests that I am “insisting that evolution proves atheism.” It’s rather obvious that I’ve done nothing of the sort. What I’ve done is insisted that evolution deprives the Argument From Design of whatever logical force it once had—an argument that for the longest time was thought to “prove” theism. Again, the onus is on him who asserts the claim. This is, incidentally, why Matzke is wrong to say that atheism is a religion. It obviously is not. It’s simply the belief that the case for the existence of some Supreme Entity has not been made. Sure, a person can believe in both: he can go through life insisting on reasons and logic in everything except The Most Important Things; yes, a person can simultaneously believe in science, backed by experiment, logic, fact, observation and reason, and also believe in a Supernatural Entity. But I believe he does so at the cost of his intellectual integrity.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I agree 100 percent with Richard Dawkins, and then only because it’s not possible to agree more than 100 percent. I do believe that it’s science or religion, in that I believe it is logic, evidence, facts, and reason, versus the will to believe in the absence of reasons. Whether that changes any minds or not is irrelevant. It’s the truth as I see it, and all I can do in the service of “changing minds” is to say the truth as I see it. I will not trim the truth as I see it to suit the demographics of an audience. I very strongly disagree with the proposition, advanced by an unfortunately large number of American defenders of evolution, that we should avoid mentioning this conflict, or try to smooth it over, so as to appease the sensibilities of those too sensitive to face it.

Finally, as to comments, I no longer have the time to police the comments in all my posts, and so I open comments only when I think people might really have questions or something constructive to contribute. I will open comments here.

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 #42744

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 13, 2005 7:59 PM (e)

Thanks for the reply, Tim. I will think on it and may reply in the comments. I suspect we’ll be agreeing to disagree on this one. My statement about “insisting that evolution proves atheism” was aimed at Weisberg, who gets pretty close to this even if he doesn’t say it.

I retract my implication about comments from my previous post, that was unwarranted speculation on my part.

Comment #42760

Posted by CKW on August 13, 2005 8:32 PM (e)

ts wrote:

Again, the onus is on him who asserts the claim.

If people asserted their claim based on scientific evidence, then you might have a point. But it’s clear that many people do not base their religion on scientific evidence, and so your complaint that science has not provided said evidence is baseless.

The entire source of these arguments is that “ID is not science because it cannot be disproven by evidence”. By this definition, evidence of God is wholely outside the realm of scientific endeavor. So it seems rather contradictory to claim that since science has not provided said evidence, that belief in God is somehow intellectually dishonest.

Attempting to base one’s belief in God on science is intellectually dishonest. It’s why we get so upset at the ID folks. But if one’s belief is outside the realm of what science can disprove, and the believer knows it, then what is the problem? My ethical system is not based on science in any way; does that make it intellectually dishonest to follow it?

If you believe that the only truths are those which can be provided by scientific evidence, then I can see where you’re coming from. But I think that’s treating science as a religion, as the source of all truth, and as an atheist, I cannot believe in a single source of truth.

Comment #42766

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 8:48 PM (e)

[Oy, CKW has created an id clash by referring to Tim Sandefur as “ts”. I’ve modified my id for now; I hope I don’t need to do this permanently. I go by ts elsewhere on the web.]

I’m posting here what I had originally intended in response to Tim, but ended up posting in Nick’s thread when Tim’s disappeared.

———-

In George H. Smith’s book Atheism: The Case Against God, he writes

The subtitle–The Case Against God–has a twofold meaning: first, it refers to the philosophical case against the concept of god; and secondly, it refers to the psychological case against the belief in god. As a philosopher, I am continually amazed by the credence given to religious claims in the intellectual community; and, as a human being, I am appalled by the psychological damage caused by religious teachings–damage that often takes years to counteract….


It is my firm conviction that man has nothing to gain, emotionally or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable or sacred that falsehood may appear. Anyone who claims, on the one hand, that he is concerned with human welfare, and who demands, on the other hand, that man must suspend or renounce the use of his reason, is contradicting himself. There can be no knowledge of what is good for man apart from knowledge of reality and human nature–and there is no manner in which this knowledge can be acquired except through reason. To advocate irrationality is to advocate that which is destructive to human life.


It is not my purpose to convert people to atheism; such efforts are usually futile. It is my purpose, however, to demonstrate that the belief in god is irrational to the point of absurdity; and that this irrationality, when manifested in specific religions such as Christianity, is extremely harmful, In other words, I have attempted to remove the veneer of intellectual and moral respectability that often enshrouds the notion of a god. If a person wishes to continue believing in god, that is his perrogative, but he can no longer excuse his belief in the name of reason and moral necessity.

He then goes on to present his argument with over 300 pages of reasoning, logic, and evidence. Yet there are people here who have never inquired into any of the facts or literature of atheism who state that it is held as a matter of faith – just as many creationists do the same in regard to evolution. And the common argument against ID is that there is no evidence for it and there’s a better, reason- and fact- based explanation for what ID purports to explain. But the same goes for a great deal of religion, certainly the religion that those who cling to creationism believe in, and that is instrumental in their rejection of evolution. To pretend that religion has nothing to do with it is to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room when 64% of Americans believe that “human beings were created directly by God”, and only 22% believe that “human beings evolved from earlier species” (54% think not and apparently 24% are undecided – http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/050706/nyw130.html). We may be able to keep ID out of the classroom, but that’s just one battle. To push beyond that 22% is going to take a lot more, and its not reasonable to hold that religion is off-topic relative to a discussion of education in evolution when it is such a huge driving factor, and when it plays such an important epistemological role.

Comment #42772

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 8:59 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke) wrote:

My statement about “insisting that evolution proves atheism” was aimed at Weisberg, who gets pretty close to this even if he doesn’t say it.

If he doesn’t say it then you have no business aiming it at him. Nor should you claim that he gets “pretty close” without supporting quotes. In fact, by my reading, he gets no closer than Tim does, which is not close at all, because empirically removing support is in an entirely different category from deductive proof.

Jacob Weisberg wrote:

That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument. It destroyed the faith of Darwin himself, who moved from Christianity to agnosticism as a result of his discoveries and was immediately recognized as a huge threat by his reverent contemporaries. In reviewing The Origin of Species in 1860, Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford, wrote that the religious view of man as a creature with free will was “utterly irreconcilable with the degrading notion of the brute origin of him who was created in the image of God.” (The passage is quoted in Daniel C. Dennett’s superb book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.)

At this point, agreeing to disagree strikes me as similar to creationists agreeing to disagree with evolution.

Comment #42776

Posted by Dan S. on August 13, 2005 9:11 PM (e)

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Comment #42780

Posted by Dan S. on August 13, 2005 9:13 PM (e)

I’m agreeing with CKW. In the simplest sense, this multi-post discussion has drifted further and further from an accurate description of how people act and think in the world.

“Yes, a person can simultaneously believe in science, backed by experiment, logic, fact, observation and reason, and also believe in a Supernatural Entity. But I believe he does so at the cost of his intellectual integrity.”

Hmm. Timothy, you clearly have a powerful and well thought out view of the world. At the same time, I don’t believe it quite matches how things work, y’know?

Whatever Weisberg did or did not claim or almost claim, it’s not a very good article.

Comment #42782

Posted by Dan S. on August 13, 2005 9:19 PM (e)

“That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument.”
That’s never a good sign, reading that sort of claim

“It destroyed the faith of Darwin himself, “
http://www.corante.com/loom/archives/2005/08/11/a_dog_and_the_mind_of_newton.php

“ and was immediately recognized as a huge threat by his reverent contemporaries.”
Pennock claims that evolution gained broad acceptance surprisingly quickly, with anti-evolutionist creationism being a later, largely American development. I don’t know enough about this to judge.

Comment #42786

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 9:34 PM (e)

Whatever Weisberg did or did not claim or almost claim, it’s not a very good article.

I don’t think the point here is literary criticism. What people do or do not claim is rather important (as is Nick misrepresenting it). And ditto for

Hmm. Timothy, you clearly have a powerful and well thought out view of the world. At the same time, I don’t believe it quite matches how things work, y’know?

The issue is whether Tim is right that belief in the supernatural (or evidence-free belief generally) has a negative effect on intellectual integrity. And as far as how things work, I think there’s extensive evidence that there is such an effect, and that it has a lot to do with why so many people have false empirical beliefs about biology and why creationists make so many bogus and dishonest arguments. Of course, there are many other ways in which intellectual integrity is affected, but as far as the issue of evolution goes, I think theistic thinking is clearly the one that is most germane.

Comment #42788

Posted by frank schmidt on August 13, 2005 9:44 PM (e)

Weisberg conflates all religion with a particular brand of Biblical-based Christianity, thereby making the same mistake that so many political analysts made after the 2004 election. Remember all that horsehocky about “values”?

There’s religion and there’s religion. In the US, “religion” usually means “Catholic, Jewish or Protestant, and mostly the latter, especially the fundamentalists.” That’s why we get such perversities as the reinterpretations of American history claiming that “establishment of religion” means “establishment of sect.” A more considered view would recognize that there are many varieties of religious thought, and that only a small number of them are threatened by evolution, the heliocentric solar system, or diseases caused by microbes.

Comment #42790

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 13, 2005 9:52 PM (e)

Tim wrote:

This is, incidentally, why Matzke is wrong to say that atheism is a religion. It obviously is not. It’s simply the belief that the case for the existence of some Supreme Entity has not been made.

Then you must personally define “atheist” in a non-standard way. I believe the common accepted usage is “one who believes there is no God” (c.f. Webster’s). In that case, atheism is, if not a religion per se, a faith at least. There is a clear logical difference between not believing that there is a deity (agnosticism, a consequence of believing that the case has not been made for the existence of some Supreme Entity) and believing that there is no deity (atheism, which would necessarily follow only from being convinced that the case has been made for the absence of any Supreme Entity).

Belief in the absence of a God given that “the case for the existence of some Supreme Entity has not been made” is either irrational or faith-based.

Douglas

Comment #42791

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 9:52 PM (e)

“That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument.”
That’s never a good sign, reading that sort of claim

Hyperbole held back isn’t a good sign? That seems surprising, considering how much snark there is in your fisking of Weisberg. But really, does evolution undermine the argument from design or doesn’t it?

“ and was immediately recognized as a huge threat by his reverent contemporaries.”
Pennock claims that evolution gained broad acceptance surprisingly quickly

Among whom? And how many of them had their faith challenged as a result, hmmm?

Comment #42792

Posted by CKW on August 13, 2005 9:54 PM (e)

Crap.

Sorry, ts (not Tim Sandefur). Although the term “id clash” also has a confused meaning, especially around here. *cough*

Comment #42793

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 10:09 PM (e)

Then you must personally define “atheist” in a non-standard way. I believe the common accepted usage is “one who believes there is no God” (c.f. Webster’s).

Rather than reading Webster’s, you might find an atheist and ask, or read material put out by atheist organizations, or read encyclopedic or other reference sources. For instance, http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/intro.html

“What is atheism?”

Atheism is characterized by an absence of belief in the existence of gods.

That’s the standard, not non-standard, position of atheists, not the “common accepted usage” – which reflects widespread ignorance as to the actual position of atheists.

Comment #42795

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 10:28 PM (e)

frank schmidt wrote:

Weisberg conflates all religion with a particular brand of Biblical-based Christianity

Can you back that up? Weisberg explicitly says “Evolutionary theory may not be incompatible with all forms of religious belief, but it surely does undercut the basic teachings and doctrines of the world’s great religions (and most of its not-so-great ones as well).” He could be wrong, but he seems to be saying that the undercut applies to each of several religions, not that it applies to a particular brand of Christianity which he then confuses with all religions.

A more considered view would recognize that there are many varieties of religious thought, and that only a small number of them are threatened by evolution, the heliocentric solar system, or diseases caused by microbes.

Since neither you nor Weisberg have enumerated which religions you have in mind, the truth value of your statement can’t be determined. In any case, the primary concern for both Weisberg and folks here is the number of Americans involved, not the number of varieties of religious thought, and Weisberg dealt with those numbers.

CKW wrote:

Although the term “id clash” also has a confused meaning, especially around here. *cough*

Huh, I missed that entirely. I don’t think those neurons fire in my head unless it’s capitalized. :-)

Comment #42796

Posted by Lurker on August 13, 2005 10:29 PM (e)

Is there not a word for the system of beliefs that positively asserts the nonexistence of gods or supernatural beings?

Comment #42797

Posted by steve on August 13, 2005 10:35 PM (e)

Disbelieving in god is no more “faith based” than disbelieving in Santa Claus.

Comment #42798

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 10:43 PM (e)

Is there not a word for the system of beliefs that positively asserts the nonexistence of gods or supernatural beings?

Naturalism. There’s also materialism or physicalism, but there are non-materialist naturalists (David Chalmers, for instance).

Comment #42799

Posted by lurker #2 on August 13, 2005 10:47 PM (e)

Is there not a word for the system of beliefs that positively asserts the nonexistence of gods or supernatural beings?

ts is describing “weak atheism” whereas the above position is an example of “strong atheism”.

See for example http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/strong_weak.htm

I tend to think of them more as “atheism” and “antitheism” rather than “weak” and “strong”

Comment #42801

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 13, 2005 10:56 PM (e)

Atheism is characterized by an absence of belief in the existence of gods.

Certainly, if that is your “precising” definition of atheism, then I have no quarrel. However, since ‘atheism’ is not a technical term, I will continue to accept the lexical definition as authoritative (and yes, I am very familiar with the info at the infidels website). FYI, I know several self-labelled atheists and numerous agnostics in real life, all of whom conform to the standard lexical definitions. IME, which may not be yours of course, the usage at www.infidels.org is an outlier. I assume the lexical def is also what Matzke had in mind.

Comment #42803

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 13, 2005 11:18 PM (e)

I will continue to accept the lexical definition as authoritative

You will accept the lexical definition as authoritative as to what atheists believe, contra what many atheists say they believe? Does anyone have a word for that?

I know several self-labelled atheists and numerous agnostics in real life, all of whom conform to the standard lexical definitions.

First, this strikes me as a claim of convenience; they aren’t here to testify, and it’s easy to be mistaken about fine details of peoples’ beliefs, especially when this ambiguity exists (one that you appeared earlier not to be even slightly familiar with). Second, the definition given at infidels includes both weak and strong atheism (they get into the distinction later in the article), so your atheist friends also conform to that definition.

I assume the lexical def is also what Matzke had in mind.

Actually you don’t have to assume it because he stated somewhere in his thread that he was using the strong form – which is unfortunate because then he isn’t talking about the same thing Tim and Jason are. But there’s another wrinkle, which is that Tim wrote “This is, incidentally, why Matzke is wrong to say that atheism is a religion”, but Nick has stated that he didn’t say that (and doesn’t believe it), and a careful reading of his piece reveals that, indeed, he didn’t.

Comment #42804

Posted by Timothy Sandefur on August 13, 2005 11:21 PM (e)

I’m pretty impressed by the quality of the comments. Let me just say to ts (Not Tim Sandefur) that I’m a great admirer of George Smith, and am glad to see his work mentioned.

Comment #42805

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 13, 2005 11:25 PM (e)

Although anedcdotal evidence has its limits, let me chime in and state that

1) I’m an atheist, in the “weak” sense (which is a bit of a misnomer, being philosophically on much stronger ground that the so-called “strong” atheism);

2) I have _never_ met any other kind of atheist;

3) I have met several weak atheists who adamantly refused to be called thus, choosing instead “agnostic” as their self-defining label.

However, ts is perfectly right: just like one would read Marxist thinkers to find out what Marxists say and think, and read evolutionary biologists to discover what evolutionary biologists say and think, one must read atheist thinkers to find out what atheists say and think.

I, for one, insist that what I -an atheist- say and think be solely determined by what I say and think, and not by “popular usage” of a word that centuries of theist monopoly on language has loaded of negative connotations.

Comment #42806

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 13, 2005 11:28 PM (e)

What I’ve done is insisted that evolution deprives the Argument From Design of whatever logical force it once had—an argument that for the longest time was thought to “prove” theism. Again, the onus is on him who asserts the claim.

There are a couple of considerations from physical law alone that strongly suggest ID. First, the provisional “atheist” Frank Tipler writes:

It is quite rare in this day and age to come across a book proclaiming the unification of science and religion. It is unique to find a book asserting, as I shall in the body of this book, that theology is a branch of physics, that physicists can infer by calculation the existence of God and the likelihood of the resurrection of the dead to eternal life in exactly the same way as physicists calculate the properties of the electron. One naturally wonders if I am serious.

I am quite serious. But I am as surprised as the reader. When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straight-forward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.

He and the respected cosmologist John Barrow made essentially that deduction from Schrodinger’s equation. The derivation is on Page 471, of The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, a peer-reviewed book by Oxford University Press. Tipler and Barrow’s claim might fall outside of ID proper, but such demarcations need not result in dis-allowing Barrow and Tipler’s results in support of ID theories.

Thus even at the cosmological level, there are reasons from physical law alone to infer design at the highest level. The question arises therefore, if design physical law suggests design at the cosmological level, can we reasonably infer design at the biological level. Armed with this, we can take the more scaled down definition of ID, the forensic detection of ID without reference to the Designer’s identity, and simply proceed. We know if we must regress all the way to the Designer at the cosmological level, we can do so, as physical law reasonably infers His existence, however, it is not a requirement within ID proper that such a regress is invoked. We only need to establish in the case of biology that design took place.

Consider a simple example of specified complexity, a computer password. The conceptual information is the password in the user’s mind. The physical information is the physical memory in the computer that stores the password. The coincidence of the conceptual information and the physical information constitute CSI according to Dembski’s definition.

Consider what it would take to break the password, especially one that is pretty long and deliberately cryptic? Only an act of intelligence!

Natural laws can be described as:

1. deterministic
2. stochastic
3. some combination of #1 or #2

If a user’s password is compromised, neither 1,2, or 3 can be appealed to as an explanation without reference to intelligence. It is not an argument from ignorance, it is a “proof by contradiction.” For example, we would not expect that someone playing with a box of scrabble letters would easily arrive at your password, if your password were say 50 characters long! Neither 1,2 or 3 would be a reasonable avenue without reference to intelligence, or you giving the password away!

There are “universal passwords” which (for whatever reason) humans can recognize and infer a human-like intelligence was at work. Examples of such “universal passwords” are easily recognizable designs by other humans.

Natural law, in and of itself, can not account for the presence of “universal passwords” in physical reality. That is why, for example, we can recognize music, or heiroglyphics, or physical Turing Machines (computers) as designed entities. Neither 1,2,or 3 in and of itself can explain the existence of physical Turing Machines.

But it seems biology is rich with these Turing Machines (computers). As George Gilder recently commented there are trillions of them in the human body. And as Stephen Meyer pointed, there is lot’s of software running on these biological computers. For the same reasons one would not expect 1,2 or 3 to compromise a computer password, one would not expect 1,2 or 3 to form biological Turing Machines (a universal password recognizable to humans).

ID at the cosmological and biological scale is a very reasonable scientific position. To say science can speak to such issues is a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

Comment #42808

Posted by Osmo on August 13, 2005 11:30 PM (e)

There are many arguments for the existence of a God, or the rational justifiability of holding such a belief. Teleological, cosmological, ontological, moral, transcendental, religious experience based, etc.

To my mind they all - how do I put this delicately? - suck monkeyballs. Each an “ID” of its respective field metaphorically speaking.

However, all refuting ID carefully break down the flow of argument in one popular style of argument for theism. Only in that very narrow sense does such an endeavor aid atheism.

Comment #42810

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 13, 2005 11:32 PM (e)

To say science can speak to such issues is a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

I meant to say

To say science can NOT speak to such issues is a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

Typing and spelling are not my fortes. :-)

Comment #42811

Posted by PZ Myers on August 13, 2005 11:45 PM (e)

I agree with Aureola Nominee. It is extremely aggravating to every atheist I know to step into these kinds of conversations and have someone leaf through a dictionary and announce what we believe.

I also find the syntactic hairsplitting of “I don’t believe in god” vs. “I believe gods don’t exist” to be a waste of time. There is no evidence for god, period. This is sufficient. I don’t believe in god, and I have pragmatically concluded that gods don’t exist; do not try to pigeonhole me semantically, as if those two possibilities are mutually exclusive and fixed. We are human beings, not rigid logical constructs ruled by grammar.

Comment #42821

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 12:43 AM (e)

Consider what it would take to break the password, especially one that is pretty long and deliberately cryptic? Only an act of intelligence!

Do strikingly unintelligent statements by ID hawkers have any implications for the validity of ID?

Comment #42822

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 12:53 AM (e)

Oh, we were having such a great time clawing at each other - don’t bring ID up now!

Ok, what I was about to write before I spilled a glass of lemonade tea on the computer - go Jillian’s comment over at Pharyngula.

Comment #42825

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 1:11 AM (e)

I would like to announce that entries are now being accepted for the very first Evolution/Religion County Fair (I was going to do a Carnival, but was just a little too … exciting); All entries must be pre-registered by August 21; winners will be displayed at One Long Argument on August 22. Entry classes will deal with numerous aspects of the relationship between evolution and religion (including, of course, humorously-shaped vegetables - I mean posts).
Additional information will be available at
http://onelongargument.blogspot.com
Entries can be submitted at onelongargument@hotmail.com

Comment #42853

Posted by CKW on August 14, 2005 9:05 AM (e)

steve wrote:

Disbelieving in god is no more “faith based” than disbelieving in Santa Claus.

Santa Claus-ism (and Easter Bunny-ism and Tooth Fairy-ism) make specific “real-world” predictions which can be tested. Those predictions turn out to be false; therefore Santa Claus-ism has been falsified.

I can’t think of any way to falsify the existance of God, since “he” (“it”?) has no inherent properties that provide predictions that can be falsified. Specific religious beliefs (creationism, miracles, etc) can and have been falsified, but the question of God is necessarily outside the realm of what science can answer.

PZ Meyers wrote:

I don’t believe in god, and I have pragmatically concluded that gods don’t exist; do not try to pigeonhole me semantically, as if those two possibilities are mutually exclusive and fixed.

They are not mutually exclusive; one cannot have the latter without the former.

However, it’s quite possible to believe the former and not the latter; I do not believe in god because of the lack of evidence, but since absense of evidence is not evidence of absense, I refuse to come to any final conclusions. I do not believe in God; I also do not disbelieve in God.

The “strong atheists” would probably label me an “agnostic” instead. I do not like the connotations of that, when used by those atheists; it implies that being aware of one’s intellectual limitations is somehow a bad thing. It implies that those atheists are sure that they know the truth, when by their own admittance they have no evidence.

Comment #42855

Posted by Joseph O'Donnell on August 14, 2005 9:07 AM (e)

Oh this looks like a fun tangent.

The point is that, as Sanchez quoted, there is no need for such a hypothesis.

I would agree because saying ‘hypothesis’ is something many people would associate with a scientific idea. Belief in God requires no such scientific evidence as the word ‘belief’ implies.

Further, taking the basic view that the onus of proof is on him who asserts the claim, the existence of a natural explanation for the origin and diversity of life makes it far more difficult for those who claim the existence of a supernatural entity to support that proposition on the basis of reason. They must resort, as Sanchez points out, to actual faith, something that is somewhat rarer than is often claimed.

And I agree! This is ‘faith’ is to accept something without being shown it to be true. This is why I find it so hillarious that Christians try to conflict with the science of evolution while at the same time not bothering with other scientific theories, like Germ theory (which contradicts the bible all over), weather forecasting and more. The point of the matter is that those who ‘claim’ there is a supernatural entity often do so because it is something that they want or ‘feel’ they should believe. Sometimes it’s a way for fitting in with other people, sometimes it’s because they were raised, sometimes they just feel there is something out there that is beyond human understanding. The point of the matter is, such positions only conflict when you take something that is clearly a belief, what someone thinks and then claim it contradicts something that has been empircally and scientifically established.

To many you are addressing they are not that kind of ‘theist’ (see below).

Sure, a person can believe in both: he can go through life insisting on reasons and logic in everything except The Most Important Things; yes, a person can simultaneously believe in science, backed by experiment, logic, fact, observation and reason, and also believe in a Supernatural Entity. But I believe he does so at the cost of his intellectual integrity.

Firstly, I regard the fact that I am a scientist and back my reasons for my conclusions on scientific grounds very highly. Like many people who had theistic beliefs in the past, I have no particular problem seperating out what I believe from what is verifiable from actual testable evidence. If there was ever an experiment that established there was no God, 100% and utterly conclusively then I would of course adopt that. However, there most likely never will be such an experiment because the concept of a supernatural God is something that can never be established by using the scientific method (which is all ID is trying to do, badly at that).

I’m not sure how I have lost ‘intellectual integrity’ by my belief in God and a rather strong belief at that, but once again, note my use of ‘belief’ that is I believe in God and this is NOT a position based on facts or evidence. I do not go through one of my experiments and think “This Toll-like receptor 2 mutation doesn’t seem to affect this animals fitness, praise God!”, which would be plainly ridiculous and couldn’t be inferred from the data. The point is, that in no way does my belief in God at all reduce my ‘integrity’ to do proper science and apply the scientific method to the work I do. God is again, something I believe in but not something that dictates how I do science or how I view facts and evidence. If you could present me solid evidence that rejects God then I would accept that what I believed was wrong. I know however, that science is not capable of answering the ultimate questions such as if there is a soul, or God or anything like that but neither do I ask that my beliefs ever be presented as scientific or equal to real world terms of evidence and logic.

I do believe that it’s science or religion, in that I believe it is logic, evidence, facts, and reason, versus the will to believe in the absence of reasons. Whether that changes any minds or not is irrelevant. It’s the truth as I see it, and all I can do in the service of “changing minds” is to say the truth as I see it. I will not trim the truth as I see it to suit the demographics of an audience. I very strongly disagree with the proposition, advanced by an unfortunately large number of American defenders of evolution, that we should avoid mentioning this conflict, or try to smooth it over, so as to appease the sensibilities of those too sensitive to face it.

And in many respects I agree with you. I disagree with trying to make it seem as if atheists don’t adhere to the theory of evolution much easier than do those of faith. It’s perfectly true and there isn’t any point in making it seem like atheists don’t exist when talking about evolution. The point of the matter is, that scientifically, it’s more important to emphasise that the science is backing evolution while creationism and ID haven’t even bothered publishing anything sensible in peer reviewed journals since their original inception. The point, as far as religious beliefs and evolution go, is to establish that evolution is a science and nowhere in science does anything say that God is disproven. It definitely conflicts with a literal, six-day interpretion of genesis, but heck, Christians already determined that for themselves when the study of geology began to become very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I always am aware, perhaps acutely so, that many of those on ‘my side’ of the evolution debate are atheists. But I don’t care, despite being a theist I don’t look down on atheism because I recognise that beliefs are beliefs. You hold them based on what you think and feel. Atheists are entirely welcome to think that evolution disproves God just as I think evolution makes God more powerful and intelligent than I previously thought of it. When I write a paper to a journal I do not espouse my belief in God and I’m sure when atheistic scientists write into a journal they do not espouse that their data disproves God/theism (at least in papers I’ve read). The only thing that matters in scientific language is the data and how well that experiment stands up to scrutiny (probably why the DI doesn’t bother doing any experiments, they wouldn’t hold up).

Additionally, I think it’s a brilliant point that many people from different belief systems accept evolution. It demonstrates that science is something based on evidence and not a belief system. We have atheists, buddists, Christians, deists, Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and more supporting the theory of evolution, because scientific evidence and data is done despite the belief or bias of the author. A theory in science can only survive if its data and conclusions can be reliably repeated and independantly corroborated. Something like the 6-day creation of Genesis assumes someones narrow worldview straight out (Fundamentalist christians) and assumes everything else is wrong, including contradictory data (which is everywhere).

It’s one of the strongest points to mention about the theory of evolution, that it makes merely scientifically testable observations about the world around us, but not those of a ‘religious’ belief nature. Evolution makes no statement about a God or diety, it’s entirely up to the individual person or scientist to determine this for themselves. This is why you get so many people with such wide belief systems who accept evolution and theories like germ theory, gravity, meterology and astronomy. Science doesn’t talk in the language of beliefs, but it doesn’t disprove religious beliefs either.

Finally, as to comments, I no longer have the time to police the comments in all my posts, and so I open comments only when I think people might really have questions or something constructive to contribute.

I hope this is constructive enough for you.

Comment #42859

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 14, 2005 9:27 AM (e)

You know, CKW, I consider “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” to be a case of Special Pleading.

On the contrary, absence of evidence is evidence of absence; if there is no evidence of something, it is highly likely that something does not exist… except for supernatural entities (according to proponents of said entities). Of course, “evidence” is not “proof”; but like Isaac Asimov said, “I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”

Your suggestion that Santa-Clausism makes testable predictions which fail and therefore falsify this doctrine is irrelevant. Sure, in some homes parents sneak in presents; but… how do you know that they aren’t simply “the agents of Santa’s will”? Maybe Santa is invisible, maybe he works by implanting suggestions in parents’ minds…

You see where this leads, don’t you, CKW?

Also, let’s try to keep our labels straight: “atheism” refers to belief (theos), “agnosticism” to knowledge (gnosis). I am an atheist (because I lack belief in any Gods) and an agnostic (because I don’t know for sure whether such things exist).

When you encounter one of those semimythical “strong atheists”, CKW, I would be interested in chatting with him/her.

Comment #42861

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 14, 2005 9:52 AM (e)

ts wrote:

You will accept the lexical definition as authoritative as to what atheists believe, contra what many atheists say they believe?

Yes, but not contra what all atheists I know in real life say they believe (including good friends and several members of my immediate family).

Aureola wrote:

I, for one, insist that what I -an atheist- say and think be solely determined by what I say and think, and not by “popular usage” of a word that centuries of theist monopoly on language has loaded of negative connotations.

That is a valid point, but one that is not nearly as straightforward to me as it seems to be to you. Why am I supposed to give priority to self-labelled atheists over self-labelled agnostics, when the purported definitions overlap? Especially when I know many more self-labelled agnostics (who hold the position sometimes called “weak atheism”), yet they adamantly refuse to submit to the label of “atheist”? Why should I believe vocal evangelical atheist writers over my own personal contacts?

In the end, my point really has little to do with the exact definition of “atheism” that you prefer. I took issue with Tim’s statements:

Tim wrote:

This is, incidentally, why Matzke is wrong to say that atheism is a religion. It obviously is not. It’s simply the belief that the case for the existence of some Supreme Entity has not been made.

By all accounts, “atheism” is not simply that belief, since it can (at the least) include the denial of a Supreme Entity. By admission of the atheists here, only “weak atheism” falls under the above description, and that was not what Matzke had in mind.

Comment #42862

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 14, 2005 10:00 AM (e)

Aureola wrote:

You know, CKW, I consider “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” to be a case of Special Pleading.

On the contrary, absence of evidence is evidence of absence; if there is no evidence of something, it is highly likely that something does not exist…

You cannot conclude anything in the absence of evidence. You can only conclude that something does not exist if there is evidence that it does not exist. I think you have an incorrect view of what evidence is. Consider the question of whether there are orange rocks on the far side of the moon. Before we had ever seen the far side of the moon, we had no evidence for orange rocks there. By your logic, then, it is highly likely that orange rocks did not exist on the far side of the moon. But that is clearly faulty logic. You have no evidence one way or the other. OTOH, when we finally got a view of the far side of the moon, we saw no orange rocks, which was strong evidence that no orange rocks exist on the far side of the moon.

Absence of evidence is evidence for nothing.

Comment #42864

Posted by GT(N)T on August 14, 2005 10:24 AM (e)

There seems to be a rip in our big tent.

Those who oppose the efforts of ID/C proponents to insinuate their fundamentalist religious beliefs into every aspect of day-to-day life are a diverse group. Some are agnostics and atheists. Some are deists. Some are Christians who are bothered by the idea of theocracy. What matters is that each faction supports the idea that science, and science alone, should be taught in science classrooms.

Someone earlier (I think it was Nick) suggested that on some issues we will have to agree to disagree. He’s right.

Comment #42867

Posted by CKW on August 14, 2005 10:45 AM (e)

Aureola Nominee wrote:

On the contrary, absence of evidence is evidence of absence; if there is no evidence of something, it is highly likely that something does not exist… except for supernatural entities (according to proponents of said entities).

It has nothing to do with supernatural entities. Without evidence you cannot, logically, make any conclusion either way, without making unwarranted assumptions that may prove to be wrong.

People thought for years that nothing could live in enviroments like the “black smokers”. They came to this incorrect conclusion without proper evidence; it was an assumption based on no serious study of the enviroment at hand. Until somebody actually looked, then coming to any conclusions was wrong. The correct conclusion should have been “we don’t know, and we won’t know until we look”. We can have suspicions and expectations, but we cannot come to conclusions.

The difference between this and arguments for the existance of God is that both positive and negative evidence for God cannot be found using science, in the way that biological questions can. You cannot assume that God exists or does not exist based on evidence. It is a question outside the realm of science. For some people, this makes it a useless question. But to say that things outside of science are inferior to that which is, seems contradictory given the fact that we all have ethical systems that are not based on scientific evidence.

I suspect that God does not exist. I cannot conclude it, however.

Aureola Nominee wrote:

When you encounter one of those semimythical “strong atheists”, CKW, I would be interested in chatting with him/her.

PZ Meyers wrote:

I have pragmatically concluded that gods don’t exist

Comment #42872

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 14, 2005 11:06 AM (e)

Douglas:

Nobody can deny me the right to self-definition, and I’m glad you agree. As to self-proclaimed agnostics, I do not deny them the right to define themselves as they see fit; but if that self-definition is based on a faulty premise (e.g., “I call myself an agnostic because atheists dogmatically insist they know for a fact that no Gods exist”), then it has major problems.

CKW:

You are wrong. Absent evidence, positive existential claims are on a much weaker position than their opposite numbers. This is called “burden of proof”. If you were to claim in 1950 that “orange rocks exist on the hidden face of the moon” this would have carried no weight whatsoever, as we lacked any evidence for it. Sure, they might exist; but the belief in their existence would have been unwarranted, and - exactly as I said - we would have been justified in thinking they did not exist. On the other hand, please realize that the unwarranted belief in the existence of orange rocks on the far side of the Moon has never been used as a pretext to claim access to a superior kind of knowledge.

As to the PZ quote, you seem to have misunderstood: he’s saying he has pragmatically concluded that gods don’t exist, which is exactly what Asimov was saying in 1982 and what I myself subscribe to.
A pragmatic conclusion is not the mathematical proof of a theorem. Nice moving the goalposts, though.

Comment #42879

Posted by Ruthless on August 14, 2005 11:28 AM (e)

Then you must personally define “atheist” in a non-standard way. I believe the common accepted usage is “one who believes there is no God” (c.f. Webster’s). In that case, atheism is, if not a religion per se, a faith at least. There is a clear logical difference between not believing that there is a deity (agnosticism, a consequence of believing that the case has not been made for the existence of some Supreme Entity) and believing that there is no deity (atheism, which would necessarily follow only from being convinced that the case has been made for the absence of any Supreme Entity).

Belief in the absence of a God given that “the case for the existence of some Supreme Entity has not been made” is either irrational or faith-based.

Douglas

You’re wrong.

Is it a matter of faith for me to not believe in unicorns?

Please explain how one could possibly hold a belief system where they believe everything which is not disproved. I think you’ll find it’d be a pretty wild experience.

The real problem isn’t creationism vs. evolution; the problem is more general than that. The problem is those who believe what they want to believe (regardless of what the evidence says) and those who believe what is most likely true. The former tend to become increasingly dishonest whenever their pet beliefs become threatened. (And this applies to a lot more than just origins.)

Comment #42880

Posted by Arun on August 14, 2005 11:51 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #42883

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 14, 2005 12:00 PM (e)

Ruthless wrote:

You’re wrong.

Is it a matter of faith for me to not believe in unicorns?

Please explain how one could possibly hold a belief system where they believe everything which is not disproved.

Your belief that I am wrong apparently rests on a misunderstanding of what I wrote. I am assuredly not arguing that one should believe everything that cannot be disproved. That would take indiscriminate, credulous faith, not reason. (In general, I try to avoid “proof” outside of discussions of mathematics and whisky). Rather, I am arguing that, using reason alone, one should believe only that which has the weight of evidence, regardless of whether that belief is a negative or positive assertion. Where the evidence is lacking, reason requires that we suspend judgement.

Whether disbelief in unicorns (or God) is a matter of faith is contingent upon the evidence one has in support of that belief. If all you have is that “the case for the existence of unicorns has not been made”, then claiming that “unicorns do not exist” does not follow rationally. Rationally, all one can do then is not believe in unicorns. OTOH, if you believe that the case for the non-existence of unicorns has been made, then claiming that “unicorns do not exist” follows rationally.

I assume that you think, as do I, that there is a good empirical case to be made for believing that unicorns do not exist. In that case disbelief in unicorns is not a matter of faith.

Comment #42884

Posted by AlanDownunder on August 14, 2005 12:01 PM (e)

yes, a person can simultaneously believe in science, backed by experiment, logic, fact, observation and reason, and also believe in a Supernatural Entity. But I believe he does so at the cost of his intellectual integrity.

Maybe, but not at the cost of his scientific integrity.

Comment #42885

Posted by CKW on August 14, 2005 12:17 PM (e)

Aureola Nominee wrote:

Absent evidence, positive existential claims are on a much weaker position than their opposite numbers. This is called “burden of proof”.

And when the people making the claim say that they have no proof, and do not expect you to believe as they do? The existance of God is not subject to proof or disproof because it is outside the realm of scientific evidence, and asking for scientific proof for it is like asking for scientific proof of the worth of an individual human life. There are simply some questions that science is not equipped to answer, and those are not useless questions, nor is science any less important or valid because of it.

The whole question here is one of intellectual honesty. It is fine to say “I do not believe in God because there is no positive evidence”. It is also fine to say “I believe in God, but I am aware it is not a belief based on positive evidence”. What is not fine to say, is “you must believe exactly as I do, even though there is no positive evidence either way”.

In this situation, the liberal theologians seem considerably more tolerant than the militant atheists. The former admit ignorance about the ineffable and do not wish to enforce their beliefs on others; the latter have come to conclusions and wish to see everyone think as they do.

Fundamentalist atheism says “we know the truth, and people with religion are wrong and/or stupid”. Fundamentalist religion says “we know the truth, and people with any other religion are wrong and/or stupid”. Neither stance is based on positive evidence; I do not see a great deal of difference between the two.

Aureola Nominee wrote:

he’s saying he has pragmatically concluded that gods don’t exist

How is that different? Meyers is saying “I am going to come to a conclusion, with no positive evidence, because I believe it’s pragmatic”. That’s different from what Asimov said; he said “I so strongly suspect he doesn’t”, and that further consideration of the topic was not worth his time. Meyers comes to a conclusion; Asimov had suspicions.

I have said all along that suspicions and expectations are fine. We expected not to find orange rocks on the back of the moon, based on what we had seen elsewhere. We disovered that our expectations were true. We suspect that supernatural phenomena do not exist, based on previous tests and research. Double-blind testing of psychics and dowsers and the like have, so far, not found any of them. We suspected that there was nothing alive in “black smokers”, based on our experiences with other forms of life on Earth. The evidence, once found, proved that one wrong. But conclusions can only be found via positive evidence, whether it’s sending a probe around the moon or performing double-blind tests, and no such test can be made for the existance or nonexistance of God.

Is it intellectually dishonest to believe something that cannot be falsified with evidence, and to acknowledge this but believe it anyway? If so, the entire realm of human ethics is dishonest.

Comment #42890

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 12:47 PM (e)

There’s more evidence for ethics (including from other animals more or less closely related to humans) existing/working/arising than there is for any gods. These concepts do not have the equal validity you pretend they do (rather like trying to give equal credit and time to science and to pseudoscientific nonsense like ID).

Comment #42891

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 14, 2005 12:47 PM (e)

CKW:

Feel free to continue this little game of yours alone. A pragmatic conclusion is not the rockhard certitude you claim (without proof nor evidence, as usual) PZ proclaims.

Atheism, plain and simple, is, at a minimum (i.e. the basis shared by all atheists), the lack of belief in gods. This is what generations of prominent atheist thinkers have said, written, and defended.

Trying to claim otherwise - against what outrspoken atheists have repeatedly told you in this very thread - is arrogantly futile.

Comment #42904

Posted by Schmitt. on August 14, 2005 2:34 PM (e)

Er, can I suggest asking Dr Myers what he believes? The way he’s being talked about strikes me as just plain rude. And speaking of which - I really must agree with him concerning theology discussion on the Panda’s Thumb.

-Schmitt.

Comment #42915

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 14, 2005 3:53 PM (e)

steve wrote:

Disbelieving in god is no more “faith based” than disbelieving in Santa Claus.

The concept of a Deity is reasonalby derivable from physical law as shown by Barrow and Tipler and others. I’m not insisting they or even we IDists are right, but I am saying it is a reasonable deduction based on natural law alone.

There are certain attributes of this Deity that can be inferred from natural law. It is as misleading to associate this entity with Santa Clause as it would be to associate the strong nuclear force with Santa Clause. Physical law and empirical evidence suggested the strong nuclear force and it’s properties, same for this hypothesized Deity. It’s a philosophical position to say science can not say something of a Deity, but that is a philosophical poistion, not a scientific one. I say, follow let the evidence where it leads.

The mathematical formalisms from Barrow and Tipler are available. Even in the 70’s, professors of physics could see these developments as a consequence of Quantum Mechanics.

We thus see how quantum theory requires the existence of God. Of course, it does not ascribe to God defined in this way any of the specific additional qualities that the various existing religious doctrines ascribed to God. Acceptance of such doctrines is a matter of faith and belief…

If elementary systems do not “possess” quantitatively determinate properties, apparently God determines these properties as we measure them. We also observe the fact, unexplainable but experimentally well established, that God in His decisions about the outcomes of our experiments shows habits so regular that we can express them in the form of statistical laws of nature….this apparent determinism in macroscopic nature has hidden God and His personal influence on the universe from the eyes of many outstanding scientists.

F. J. Belinfante
Purdue University
Measurements and Time Reversal in Objective Quantum Theory

With human laws, there are competing interpretations of those laws. In Physics we have laws, and competing interpretations of those laws, but with the belief, ultimately on of the interpretations is correct. The interpretation of a Deity is one of the competing interpretations of physical law. I don’t believe this interpretation should be ruled out by a priori philosophical commitments.

Tipler echos Belinfante 2 decades later.

Tipler on Peer Review

I first became aware of the importance that many non-elite scientists place on “peerreviewed”
or “refereed” journals when Howard Van Till, a theistic evolutionist, said my book The Physics of Immortality was not worth taking seriously because the ideas it presented had never appeared in refereed journals. Actually, the ideas in that book had already appeared in refereed journals. The papers and the refereed journals wherein they appeared were listed at the beginning of my book. My key predictions of the top quark mass (confirmed) and the Higgs boson mass (still unknown) even appeared in the pages of Nature, the most prestigious refereed science journal in the world……
More than this, quantum mechanics is actually teleological, though physicists don’t use this loaded word (we call it “unitarity” instead of “teleology”). That is, quantum mechanics says that it is completely correct to say that the universe’s evolution is determined not by how it started in the Big Bang, but by the final state of the universe. Every stage of universal history, including every stage of biological and human history, is determined by the ultimate goal of the universe. And if I am correct that the universal final state is indeed God, then every stage of universal history, in particular every mutation that has ever occurred, or ever will occur in any living being, is determined by the action of God.

I think the hypothesis of ID at the cosmological and thus biological scale is reasonable from a purely scientific perspective based on natural law alone (and I believe it is true from a personal perspective).

The issue is what nature is telling us through it’s laws and the physical evidence. I think the IDist have a very reasonable case. The working assumption for IDists is faith in the scientific method, but a willingness to accept intelligent agencies if the evidence warrants it.

Most of the theistic evolutonists believe that God exists, but his actions in biotic reality are not detectable. That’s a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

Comment #42917

Posted by Osmo on August 14, 2005 4:02 PM (e)

Abscence of evidence is evidence of abscence if and when we can reasonably expect evidence should be observed if a claim is true. For instance, the lack of gravitational effect provides us with some reason to think there isn’t a planet between Earth and Mars. So does lack of light waves.

One of the ways in which atheism - strong atheism - towards specific gods is promoted is through arguing reality should look a certain way if God - given a very specific defintion - exists, and arguing reality does not match with those expectations. Arguments from evil are probably the best known sort of atheological argument of that sort. These sorts of arguments tend to be very broad for directly attacking the gods most people do currently believe in. (There are a few other approaches to atheology, but I just wanted to address that cliche’)

CKW writes,

“It is also fine to say “I believe in God, but I am aware it is not a belief based on positive evidence”. “

Right now, this statement likely being narrowed to emprical evidence. Let’s simply expand it to, “I believe in God, but I am aware I do not have rationally compelling reasons for doing so.” Is this fine? Why? For conversations sake, let’s take the popular definition of a “belief” being a mental attitude that something is true.

Comment #42918

Posted by Osmo on August 14, 2005 4:04 PM (e)

“Arguments from evil are probably the best known sort of atheological argument of that sort.”

Straight from the Redundancy department of repitition. I apologize. I should proofread my entries before sending them.

Comment #42919

Posted by Alan on August 14, 2005 4:12 PM (e)

S. Cordova wrote:

I think the hypothesis of ID at the cosmological and thus biological scale is reasonable from a purely scientific perspective based on natural law alone (and I believe it is true from a personal perspective).

Comment #42920

Posted by Alan on August 14, 2005 4:13 PM (e)

S. Cordova wrote:

I think the hypothesis of ID at the cosmological and thus biological scale is reasonable from a purely scientific perspective based on natural law alone (and I believe it is true from a personal perspective).

Could you give us any idea what that reasonalbe hypothesis is?

Comment #42921

Posted by Alan on August 14, 2005 4:14 PM (e)

S. Cordova wrote:

I think the hypothesis of ID at the cosmological and thus biological scale is reasonable from a purely scientific perspective based on natural law alone (and I believe it is true from a personal perspective).

Could you give us any idea what that reasonalbe hypothesis is?

Comment #42930

Posted by Don P on August 14, 2005 5:51 PM (e)

CKW:

What Osmo said. I am a “strong atheist” when it comes to the God of Christianity because I think there is evidence that he does not exist, not merely an absence of evidence that he does exist. The argument from evil is an obvious evidence-based argument that the God of Christianity does not exist.

Comment #42933

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 6:15 PM (e)

Physical law and empirical evidence suggested the strong nuclear force and it’s properties, same for this hypothesized Deity.

How fatuous. Just because some people were wishful IDiots in the 70s doesn’t mean everyone else has to fall for their IDiocy too. You are being wishful about your ability to make such an argument too. I’m fairly certain from the evidence of your posts here that you are not logically, mathematically or scientifically equal to the task.

Comment #42936

Posted by CKW on August 14, 2005 6:23 PM (e)

Aureola Nominee wrote:

Atheism, plain and simple, is, at a minimum (i.e. the basis shared by all atheists), the lack of belief in gods. This is what generations of prominent atheist thinkers have said, written, and defended.

Timothy Sandefur and others say that people with religion are simply intellectually dishonest. What am I to do, other than interpret that as an assertion that people with religion are wrong? At the very least it asserts that people with religion are somehow inferior to those who lack it.

If “atheism” is simple lack of belief, what do you call it when people act as if their atheism makes them better than everyone else, as Sandefur and others have done throughout this comment thread? Obviously this is not your claimed definition of “atheism”; it is not this bare minimum that you assign to the term. It is something else, since I fall under your simple definition of “atheism” (since I lack a belief in any deities) and do not treat people with religion like that. Please tell me what to call this sort of activity, so that I do not continue to use terminology that annoys you.

I loathe semantic arguments, but that’s what this has turned into. Please tell me what terminology you would like me to use.

osmo wrote:

Right now, this statement likely being narrowed to emprical evidence. Let’s simply expand it to, “I believe in God, but I am aware I do not have rationally compelling reasons for doing so.” Is this fine? Why? For conversations sake, let’s take the popular definition of a “belief” being a mental attitude that something is true.

Well… First, is empirical evidence the only source of “rationally compelling reasons”?

Second, can empirical evidence answer all useful questions?

I don’t think the answer is “yes” to either of these questions.

Don P wrote:

The argument from evil is an obvious evidence-based argument that the God of Christianity does not exist.

I’m familiar with that argument, mostly because I used to use it, and was rather surprised when a liberal theologian acquaintance agreed with me that there was something rather seriously wrong with the traditional Biblical-literalist anthropomorphized “big bearded sky-daddy” view of God.

I’m having some trouble putting thoughts into words properly (as demonstrated by these incessant semantic arguments), so I’m just going to steal something from Wikipedia because it’s accurate:

Liberal theologians view religious language (i.e. descriptions of God, or of religious experience) as inevitably limited. Our language belongs to the world of phenomena, whereas religious experiences exist in the realm of noumena, so no matter how hard we try, our language can never describe God factually, but only in metaphors and analogies, symbols and myths etc.

These myths, analogies etc. are important in forming religious communities and traditions, and can be a useful way of expressing a particular thought or feeling about God, but we cannot hope for them to sum up God’s nature (God is non-reducible, non-naturalisable, and essentially ineffable).

The interpretation of the Bible (hermeneutics) within liberal theology is non-propositional. This means that liberal theologians do not take the Bible as an inventory of factual statements such as ‘God divided the light from the darkness’, but rather interpret the Bible as a document of the human authors’ beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing, within a historical and cultural context.

Therefore, religious models and concepts must be updated to reflect the class, gender, social and political etc. context from which they emerge, so that they will appear relevant and interesting. Liberal theologians would not make the claim that any particular apostle’s account of their religious experiences could be any more true, or more relevant to an individual, than the experience of the individual themself.

Evil is a problem for those who would claim to know the mind of God, who would understand his motives, and who would assign him the role of “omnipotent, omnibenevolent protector”. For those who acknowledge that God is ineffable, that every person’s experience with God is unique, and that true knowledge of him is impossible, the existance of evil does not have to be “explained” any more than we have to explain the existance of beetles.

When I talk about God being beyond evidence, this is the sort of God I’m talking about. There are many versions of God which are quite falsifiable, but the modern liberal-theology kind isn’t.

Note that I don’t buy this, myself. To quote Rushdie, “I do not need the idea of God to explain the world I live in.” But it’s important to understand that non-fundamentalist religion is not static, any more than science is, and to treat it as if it was is both unfair and deliberately ignorant.

Comment #42938

Posted by Schmitt. on August 14, 2005 6:45 PM (e)

S. Cordova wrote:

The concept of a Deity is reasonalby derivable from physical law as shown by Barrow and Tipler

Aha. Oh dear. I don’t think you quite understood their crackpottery.

-Schmitt.

Comment #42941

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 14, 2005 7:27 PM (e)

Aha. Oh dear. I don’t think you quite understood their crackpottery.

I don’t agree with everything they claim, some of it would not be to agreeble to several in ID’s big tent, but the equation on page 471 of their book is very sensible.

As I’ve pointed out, they are not alone in their suggestion. The equation on page 471:

Equation on Page 471, derived from Schrodinger’s Equation

is a variant of the Kalaam Cosmological principle, but it has considerably more teeth to it because it takes a fundamental law, namely quantum mechanics, and extends it to it’s logical conclusion of a Final Cause rather than a first cause. Unlike the philosophical version of the Kalaam principle, the scientific version has an actual law of physics to back it up.

I don’t accept all the extraneous stuff they added with Omega Point Theory and the Ultimate Computer. That goes well beyond the simple conclusion that is derivable from Shrodinger’s equation applied to the universe. The other parts of Tipler theory can fall by the wayside, but the simple conclusion that an Intelligence is behind the universe is a reasonable interpretation of physical law.

The beginnings of these ideas came from Nobel Laureate, and grandfather of ID, Eugene Wigner. Harold Morowitz, the origin of Life Researcher who testified against the creationist in the landmark McLean vs. Arkansas wrote:

The views of a large number of contemporary physcal scientists are summed up in the essay “remarks on the Mind-Body Question” written by Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner. Wigner begins by pointing out that most physical scientists have returned to the recognition that thought–meaning the mind–is primary……
atomic physics, which is now understood most fully by means of quantum mechanics, must be formulated with the mind as a primitive component of the system.

The laws of physics and chemistry have been identified with the immanent God, a very impersonal God committed to a lawful universe….
We study God’s immanence through science. I am sure that there are scientists and theologians who are uncomfortable with that statement but its truth seems undeniable…

Deep within the laws of physics and chemistry the universe is fit for life. This fitness we identify with God’s immanece…The present study of this fitness take place under the rubric of “design”

One does not have to agree with these statements, but considering their source, I don’t think the ideas are academically unreasonable.

Regarding Barrow and Tipler, the prestigious journal Nature said of their work:

practically a universal education in both the history of modern science and the history of the Universe

Here are Barrow’s qualifications:

John D. Barrow was born in London in 1952 and attended Ealing Grammar School. He graduated in Mathematics from Durham University in 1974, received his doctorate in Astrophysics from Oxford University in 1977 (supervised by Dennis Sciama), and held positions at the Universities of Oxford and California at Berkeley before taking up a position at the Astronomy Centre, University of Sussex in 1981. He was professor of astronomy and Director of the Astronomy Centre at the University of Sussex until 1999. He is the author of 325 scientific articles in cosmology and astrophysics, and is a recipient of the Locker Prize for Astronomy and the 1999 Kelvin Medal of the Royal Glasgow Philosophical Society.

I think accusations of crackpottery are a little pre-mature. Someone of that caliber should be given a little slack, imho.

Comment #42943

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 14, 2005 7:29 PM (e)

My earlier link is not working try:

Equation on Page 471, derived from Schrodinger’s Equation

My apologies.

Comment #42945

Posted by Osmo on August 14, 2005 7:36 PM (e)

CKW -

Well… First, is empirical evidence the only source of “rationally compelling reasons”?

Second, can empirical evidence answer all useful questions?

I don’t think the answer is “yes” to either of these questions.

No, of course not. That’s exactly why I said,

Right now, this statement likely being narrowed to emprical evidence. Let’s simply expand it to, “I believe in God, but I am aware I do not have rationally compelling reasons for doing so.” Is this fine? Why?

Is my question more clear now?

Comment #42946

Posted by Dan S. on August 14, 2005 7:47 PM (e)

“What am I to do, other than interpret that as an assertion that people with religion are wrong?”
I liked Jillian’s comments over at the parallel Pharyngula discussion:
“And if there isn’t some sound reason for this bright shining line [where ~science, or more accurately empiricism(maybe?) stops, and faith gets to take over], then I don’t see a way to any other conclusion but that the position thus espoused is inherently contradictory. That doesn’t make it “wrong”, in some grand ontological sense - it just makes it funny looking.”

CKW - “ But it’s important to understand that non-fundamentalist religion is not static, any more than science is, and to treat it as if it was is both unfair and deliberately ignorant.”
Dunno deliberate, but we have to consider how [religion] works in the world, and in people’s heads. Way back with the Sanchez post, it seemed like a forward-moving discussion might get started - and there’s been some really cool bits - like the liberal theology post - but …

Ok. Now, in terms of the battle for actual science education - I staggered over here because I see this whole ~compatibility issue as practically relevant (if there’s a strong case that evolution does strongly undermine not only specific fundamentalist beliefs that, frankly, all of science contradicts, but the major teachings of many religions, then I, at least, have to stop saying they can get along). Anybody have suggestions in terms of the outside world?

Comment #42947

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 14, 2005 7:59 PM (e)

Alan asked:

Could you give us any idea what that reasonalbe hypothesis is?

At the cosmological level an Intelligence, call it the Ultimate Intelligence, created the universe. Some would refer to this as a Deity or God. At the biological level, some intelligence, not necessarily the Ulitmate Intelligence, was the cause of life. However, for most, the personal belief is that the Intelligence that brought the Universe into existence also brought life into existence life.

Belinfante points out, the attributes of the Ultimate Intelligence, God, which can be deduced from physical law does not speak to the other qualities theologians attribute to God (such as love, a capacity for wrath, or personality, etc.). Those are matters of faith and religion, not science proper.

In the manner we might describe the properties of the strong nuclear force, there are properties of this Deity that are deducible from physics. Such as (minimally):

1. All Powerful
2. Eternal
3. Non-Material

If one subscribes to the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, one can add:

4. All Knowing
5. Concsious
6. Intelligent

Under the Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics 4,5,6 are permitted, reasonably inferred, but not inevitable.

Thus at the biological scale we do have a Designer we can fall back on to attribute design to if we run out of candidate designers. But the identity of the Designer falls outside of ID proper.

However, it does not necessarily mean that to detect design in biology one must automatically invoke the Ultimate Intelligence as the Designer. We can suggest it, but within ID proper, it is not a necessity

The exisitence of such an Ultimate Intelligence gives us one more option. I suppose in principle, the Ultimate Intelligence can make other beings which seeded life on Earth. That’s not too far removed for Francis Crick’s ideas, except Crick did not believe in an Ultimate Intelligence. It’s a theoritical possibility, but one which I don’t personally accept, but for the sake of completeness I mention it….

Some people would be more willing to accept ID with biology if they had evidence outside of biology for a Designer. Barrow, Tipler, Belinfante have proposed the existence of such a Designer. Whether that Designer directly created life on Earth or chose to use another set of intelligent agents, is not addressed by ID proper.

Certainly I think the God which is pointed to by Barrow and Tipler’s equation and by Belinfante is the Christian God and is the Designer, but that is a religious conclusion, not a scientific one. Further I believe this God created life on Earth, but that is a religious view, a creationist view, not an ID view. ID’s claims are much more limited in their scope.

I’m not averse to stating my personal creationist views, but those views (such as the Christian God being the Designer) should not be taken to represent the claims of ID proper, otherwise I might cause a degree of consternation among my friends in ID’s big tent.

Comment #42951

Posted by harold on August 14, 2005 8:18 PM (e)

The battle of the angry male philosophers continues apace. Which religion/lack of religion grants its adherents that special prize, so tantalizing, so craved, “rational superiority”?

That’s good new for Salvador Cordova. His wrong-headed views on biology can be laughably dismissed by the application of testable science. Change the focus to philosophy, and he’s on his feet for many rounds longer.

I must say, I strongly agree that atheists should be asked what they believe, instead of presumed to believe something based on a lexical source.

I note with interest that the same courtesy is rarely considered, when atheist posters address pro-science “religious” posters. Typically, the word “religion” is presumed to describe a set of beliefs that even a fundamentalist creationist might consider, with justification, to be a straw man version of their views. Even the rather clipped description of “liberal theology” from Wikkepedia shows the error of that approach.

For some reason, some atheist posters appear obsessed with proving not only that their view is a rational view (a point which few would deny), but that their view is the ONLY rational view.

Also, as an additional point, it is a stretch to describe humans as “rational”. In animal species, instinctive behaviors evolve which serve a “rational” purpose (if we regard the survival and successful reproduction of an individual as a rational goal - which is debatable philosophically, but undebatably what is selected for by natural selection). As a very trivial example, humans are instinctively aware of the need to urinate periodically. However, these types of behaviors play out largely unconsciously, and can at best be imperfectly regulated by “reason”. In many species, such as insect species, it is likely that “biologically rational” behaviors are hard-wired and inflexible; conscious awareness presumably does not come into play (although we can’t “know that for sure”) and would be irrelevant if it did.

Many other human behaviors are dominated by instincts and emotions, and almost all are impacted by them. To be capable of logical thought is hardly the same thing as being “rational”. Computers are, arguably, rational, albeit completely lacking inherent motivation. Humans are not, and by the theory of evolution, would not be expected to be. Creationism might posit perfectly rational humans, evolution predicts a layer of cognitive and behavioral flexibility, overlying a core set of instinctive and emotional responses.

Comment #42952

Posted by SEF on August 14, 2005 8:19 PM (e)

Then you need:
7. Barking
and more likely:
8. Non-existent

Could it be that you’re not aware you haven’t actually derived/deduced any of those properties at all - let alone from anything real?

Comment #42953

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 8:24 PM (e)

Santa Claus-ism (and Easter Bunny-ism and Tooth Fairy-ism) make specific “real-world” predictions which can be tested. Those predictions turn out to be false; therefore Santa Claus-ism has been falsified.

Just because Santa doesn’t show up on Christmas doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. And observing a parent exchanging a tooth for money doesn’t mean the tooth fairy doesn’t exist. If you think these isms “make specific “real-world” predictions which can be tested”, then kindly name one.

Comment #42954

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 8:29 PM (e)

That’s good new for Salvador Cordova. His wrong-headed views on biology can be laughably dismissed by the application of testable science. Change the focus to philosophy, and he’s on his feet for many rounds longer.

Yeah, so we should shut up because we’re helping the enemy. Sorry, but no.

Comment #42957

Posted by CKW on August 14, 2005 8:41 PM (e)

ts wrote:

Just because Santa doesn’t show up on Christmas doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.

Are you familiar with the “intrinsic properties” argument?

It is an intrinsic property of Santa Claus that he shows up on Christmas to give gifts to children. That is the definition of Santa Claus. It cannot be changed, because then it wouldn’t be Santa Claus anymore; this is the definition of an intrinsic property. Therefore, when no Santa shows up on Christmas, the concept of Santa Claus is falsified. A prediction about how and why this part of Christmas works is made, and that prediction fails; we must come up with some other explanation about how presents are delivered to children. (Luckily, the answer is readily available: parents.)

God, on the other hand, does not have any intrinsic properties that can be falsified. (At least, not the sort of liberal theology God I’ve been talking about; there are other sorts of definitions of God which can be.) Neither, for that matter, does Intelligent Design; that’s why neither of them can be considered part of science.

Comment #42959

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 8:51 PM (e)

Timothy Sandefur and others say that people with religion are simply intellectually dishonest. What am I to do, other than interpret that as an assertion that people with religion are wrong? At the very least it asserts that people with religion are somehow inferior to those who lack it.

Timothy stated that belief in the supernatural incurs a cost in terms of intellectual integrity. Why not just interpret it to mean what it means? I’d say that adherence to political dogmas also incurs a cost in terms of intellectual integrity, and that Timothy’s are well known. Does that mean he’s inferior to people with religion, or vice versa? To say that people who are intellectually dishonest are inferior to people who are never intellectually dishonest says nothing at all, because the latter set is empty. And what’s the big deal about being inferior, anyway? I’ve noted that I can’t think of a single trait in which I’m not inferior to someone – in fact a whole lot of someones. People who have never studied math are inferior mathematicians to people who have, but they can generally change if they put their mind to it. If one accepts the argument that having religion is inferior to not having religion, why not work to change it? And if one doesn’t, then argue back, or just ignore it. But generalizing from a claim about a cost to intellectual integrity to a claim of inferiority of the whole person is, well, stupid, and whining about what people assert – especially when they don’t assert it – is just pathetic.

Comment #42960

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 8:59 PM (e)

It is an intrinsic property of Santa Claus that he shows up on Christmas to give gifts to children

The sentence “Santa didn’t show up this year.” is coherent, therefore Santa has no such intrinsic property.
Sorry, but your intellectual skills are inferior. Boo hoo hoo.

Comment #42961

Posted by Katarina on August 14, 2005 9:01 PM (e)

ts,

Is it possible that you have made the assumption that the main use people have had for religion in the past was its explanatory power, but that now it is no longer needed, since science and thechnology have come a long way to explain natural phenomena?

I would argue that people seek religion more for comfort, stability, and sort of a solid foundation, than for logical reasons, or for its explanatory power of the natural world. Sure, it’s nice if they can tie explanations in that fit in with natural observation, but this is not the main reason people embrace religion. I just wondered if you had considered that, and if you thought it important.

Comment #42962

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 14, 2005 9:12 PM (e)

Osmo wrote:

Abscence of evidence is evidence of abscence if and when we can reasonably expect evidence should be observed if a claim is true.

Evidence is not observed. Data is observed. Evidence is the support from data given a model assumed to produce that data (i.e. evidence is an interpretation). This is why absence of evidence is never evidence for anything. If you have no data, there can be no evidence for anything, period. If you have data and a model supposedly explaining it, then there can be evidence. (Technically, you need at least two models to choose between for there to be evidence from a given data set, but that is a different discussion.)

Osmo wrote:

For instance, the lack of gravitational effect provides us with some reason to think there isn’t a planet between Earth and Mars.

Case in point — “Lack of gravitation effect” may be a negative assertion, but it is in fact a conclusion from data based on measurements with scalar values. Lack of gravitation is data. The model/hypothesis of “no planet between Earth and Mars” predicts a certain lack of gravitation, and the observation of this is evidence for the hypothesis, not a lack of evidence.

Comment #42963

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 9:17 PM (e)

Is it possible that you have made the assumption that the main use people have had for religion in the past was its explanatory power, but that now it is no longer needed, since science and thechnology have come a long way to explain natural phenomena?

It’s no longer needed to serve that purpose, certainly.

I would argue that people seek religion more for comfort, stability, and sort of a solid foundation, than for logical reasons, or for its explanatory power of the natural world.

I’m well aware that those are reasons people seek it.

Sure, it’s nice if they can tie explanations in that fit in with natural observation, but this is not the main reason people embrace religion. I just wondered if you had considered that, and if you thought it important.

Yes, certainly. If people simply sought religion as a source of explanation, then there wouldn’t be so much emotional baggage attached. It’s like political debates, which aren’t simply disagreements on the facts.

I think the primary driving force behind religion can be found in Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize winning Denial of Death, which he asserts is also a driving force behind much of human culture, including the massive cruelty, torture, and slaughter that humans inflict upon one another.

Comment #42964

Posted by harold on August 14, 2005 9:26 PM (e)

“Sorry, but your intellectual skills are inferior. Boo hoo hoo.”

Hello Panda’s Thumb.

Congratulations on the improvement in mature intellectual discourse that has characterized this blog in the past few weeks.

Comment #42968

Posted by Osmo on August 14, 2005 9:37 PM (e)

Evidence is not observed. Data is observed. Evidence is the support from data given a model assumed to produce that data (i.e. evidence is an interpretation). This is why absence of evidence is never evidence for anything. If you have no data, there can be no evidence for anything, period. If you have data and a model supposedly explaining it, then there can be evidence. (Technically, you need at least two models to choose between for there to be evidence from a given data set, but that is a different discussion.)

I think you are dragging the semantics of that phrase beyond its typical intent. I think when this phrase was used here (and elsewhere, what was meant by “absense of evidence” is lack of confirming observations. This phrase is used in circumstances in which there do not exist positive confirming observations, but offered as a reminder that this shouldn’t be taken to mean this is evidence against a particular position - such as extraterristrial life existing. Yes, technically, the term “evidence” already has compacted into it rational support based upon empirical observation compared against our expectations, but I’m virtually certain that is not what is meant by the phrase when a significant amount of people trot it out. That’s why it gets used in circumstances where there clearly is a lack of expected observations providing disconfirmatory weight to a theory, or someone is clearly attempting to make the argument there is a disconnect between expectations and observations. I could’ve gone another route and said, “Lack of confirming observations is evidence against a theory/model when we can reasonably expect to have those observations if that theory/model were true,” and quibble over the defintion of evidence, but that sounded a little to pendantic to me. I’m not trying to criticize you here with that comment; I just want to make it clear that my comments just assumed the more “naive” use of evidence. In fact, I could summarize my point up even more clearly. “Failure to observe something is evidence against a position in certain circumstances,” and then explained how this relates to using some instances of seemingly pointless human suffering as a evidential argument for the nonexistence of God (given a particular definition).

Hope that clarifies.

Comment #42970

Posted by Osmo on August 14, 2005 9:47 PM (e)

Or to put it another way, people tend to use the phrase “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” to construe the term “evidence” too narrowly. To pick an easy example, our absence of a set of supporting observations for the Loch Ness Monster does provide some evidence for the position “The Loch Ness Monster does not exist”. I have no problem imagining, or in this case recalling, people saying, “Aha!, but absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.”

Those are the people I had in mind.

Comment #42971

Posted by Katarina on August 14, 2005 9:49 PM (e)

Yes, certainly. If people simply sought religion as a source of explanation, then there wouldn’t be so much emotional baggage attached. It’s like political debates, which aren’t simply disagreements on the facts.

Since you see that religion is mainly emotional and although there can be rational thought inolved, it is mostly not really based on rational thought, then why bother to talk people out of it using reasoning and logic? Why try to talk people out of it in the first place? What is gained by taking away another’s source of comfort(perhaps the only source), if you are succesfull?

Would you not feel the least bit guilty?

Comment #42972

Posted by Schmitt. on August 14, 2005 9:59 PM (e)

Cordova wrote:

I don’t accept all the extraneous stuff they added with Omega Point Theory and the Ultimate Computer.

‘Extraneous stuff’ is a rather bizarre description considering that the Omega Point Theory was integral to the final anthropic principle and is where divinity (and people rising from the dead,) actually comes into it; it is through the acceleration of information efficiency to infinity that omnipresence and omnipotence are supposed to transpire. So I severely doubt you’ve even read any of the books we’re talking about. They have bugger all to do with a designer of the universe.

‘Regarding Barrow and Tipler, the prestigious journal Nature said of their work:

19 years ago, perhaps. The prestigious journal Nature also said this of their work. As for ‘premature’ to call it crackpottery, their ideas have spent the past 19 years being proven ridiculous; Tipler’s latter books were spectacularly wrong before they went to print. He handwaves away crippling problems like singularity event horizons. He rests his ideas on a huge string of assumptions, and tries to stuff a ridiculous number of contrary observations and laws into compliace; such as the expanding and accelerating universe, handwaving about the maximum expansion of the universe, wild guesses about human capabilities in the future, and so on.

The Omega Point Theory seems to be regarded as intransient law, and the rest of the universe is being forced, screaming, into something resembling a line behind it by Tipler. The maths is there to make everything look like it should work, but one quite clearly isn’t meant to look at what’s being stuck into the equations and why.

-Schmitt.

Comment #42974

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 14, 2005 10:05 PM (e)

Osmo wrote:

In fact, I could summarize my point up even more clearly. “Failure to observe something is evidence against a position in certain circumstances,”

That I completely agree with.

Osmo wrote:

I think you are dragging the semantics of that phrase beyond its typical intent. I think when this phrase was used here (and elsewhere, what was meant by “absense of evidence” is lack of confirming observations. This phrase is used in circumstances in which there do not exist positive confirming observations, but offered as a reminder that this shouldn’t be taken to mean this is evidence against a particular position - such as extraterristrial life existing.

I assume the phrase to which you refer is “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, which is semantically and logically valid. OTOH, the malign twist on the usual maxim, “Absence of evidence is [sometimes] evidence of absence”, is self-contradictory, since in the first part the presence of evidence is denied and then in the second part its presence is affirmed. I will agree that the aphorism is often misused, but that is really beside the point.

An ‘absence of evidence’ can result for at least three reasons: (1) there is no applicable data at present, (2) the evidence is indecisive (e.g., the support for two competing hypotheses is more-or-less equivalent), and (3) we don’t know what at least one of the hypotheses in question specifically predicts about the data under consideration. In any of the three cases, the adage is appropriate and true.

Douglas

Comment #42977

Posted by Katarina on August 14, 2005 10:28 PM (e)

(3)we don’t know what at least one of the hypotheses in question specifically predicts about the data under consideration

Thisis the case for the hypothesis that god at least exists.

Comment #42979

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 10:50 PM (e)

Since you see that religion is mainly emotional and although there can be rational thought inolved, it is mostly not really based on rational thought, then why bother to talk people out of it using reasoning and logic? Why try to talk people out of it in the first place?

If Ronald Reagan found comfort in astrology, why bother trying to talk him out of it?

What is gained by taking away another’s source of comfort(perhaps the only source), if you are succesfull?

Look, we’re having an intellectual discussion. If you’re afraid of losing your source of comfort, then hide your eyes or something.

Comment #42981

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 14, 2005 10:57 PM (e)

I assume the phrase to which you refer is “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, which is semantically and logically valid.

No, “absence of proof is not proof of absence” is valid; the statement about evidence is plainly not valid, by the meaning of “evidence”:
“A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment”

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence because it’s irrational to simply ignore an absence of evidence.

Comment #42986

Posted by Don P on August 15, 2005 12:09 AM (e)

ckw:

Evil is a problem for those who would claim to know the mind of God, who would understand his motives, and who would assign him the role of “omnipotent, omnibenevolent protector”. For those who acknowledge that God is ineffable, that every person’s experience with God is unique, and that true knowledge of him is impossible, the existance of evil does not have to be “explained” any more than we have to explain the existance of beetles.

I don’t understand how you think this is a serious response to the problem of evil. If God is good (and omnipotent) why is there evil? Why is there so much evil? Why didn’t God create a world without evil, or with less evil? The problem has been discussed since at least the time of Plato, and I think it’s fair to say that no one has ever come up with a satisfying answer. Even Polkinghorne and Miller seem to agree that there really is no truly persuasive answer, and most serious Christian responses I have seen end up with an appeal to faith. As C.S. Lewis, who I think is probably Christianity’s best 20th century apologist, put it in his writing about the suffering of his wife Joy, when she was dying of cancer:

But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t

But you just wave your hand dismissively and declare it a non-problem on the grounds that God is “ineffable.” Sorry, but that’s not an answer, it’s an evasion.

And by the way, I really wish that you (and others) would stop using words like “acknowledge” to refer to positions that are matters of religious belief. The statement “For those who acknowledge that God is ineffable” implies that it has been established that God is ineffable and that the dispute is merely a matter of one’s willingness to acknowledge this established fact. That’s not what the debate is about.

Comment #42989

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 12:22 AM (e)

Absence of things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment is a thing helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment of absence?

More to the point, how does one ignore an absence of evidence? Can someone show me how rationally to ignore nothing?

Comment #42991

Posted by Katarina on August 15, 2005 12:28 AM (e)

Look, we’re having an intellectual discussion. If you’re afraid of losing your source of comfort, then hide your eyes or something.

Don’t flatter yourself. It was a personal question for you, ts, as I was having trouble understanding your motivations, and was genuinely interested in them. I see you as a person, not just a set of characters on a computer screen, and not just a computer putting out arguments. I apologize for interrupting your intellectual discussion, which does not really interest me anyway.

Comment #42997

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 1:08 AM (e)

I apologize for interrupting your intellectual discussion, which does not really interest me anyway.

It was our intellectual discussion, but if you’re not interested in that sort of discussion, well, bye.

Comment #42998

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 1:15 AM (e)

Absence of things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment is a thing helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment of absence?

Yes. For instance, absence of the sorts of things that would help in concluding that Saddam Hussein had an active WMD program is helpful in concluding that he didn’t.

More to the point, how does one ignore an absence of evidence?

By not taking it into account as part of one’s deliberative process.

Can someone show me how rationally to ignore nothing?

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

Comment #43000

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 1:29 AM (e)

Congratulations on the improvement in mature intellectual discourse that has characterized this blog in the past few weeks.

Wistfully looking back to the days of Heddle and DaveScot?

Hopefully you won’t take the next step in this Lenny emulation by talking about kicking people’s asses out of here because they don’t toe some line.

Comment #43001

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 1:29 AM (e)

“Yes. For instance, absence of the sorts of things that would help in concluding that Saddam Hussein had an active WMD program is helpful in concluding that he didn’t.”

Or perhaps, absence of the sorts of things that would help in concluding that Saddam Hussein had no active WMD program is helpful in concluding that he did?

“By not taking it into account as part of one’s deliberative process.”

Can you show me how to deliberate rationally given no evidence?

Comment #43003

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 1:36 AM (e)

Or perhaps, absence of the sorts of things that would help in concluding that Saddam Hussein had no active WMD program is helpful in concluding that he did?

Yes, absence of absence of evidence of WMDs would be evidence of WMDs.

Can you show me how to deliberate rationally given no evidence?

As long as you’re alive, there’s evidence.

Comment #43006

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on August 15, 2005 1:53 AM (e)

‘Extraneous stuff’ is a rather bizarre description considering that the Omega Point Theory was integral to the final anthropic principle and is where divinity (and people rising from the dead,) actually comes into it; it is through the acceleration of information efficiency to infinity that omnipresence and omnipotence are supposed to transpire. So I severely doubt you’ve even read any of the books we’re talking about. They have bugger all to do with a designer of the universe.

I have read it, and I don’t appreciate you suggesting that I haven’t.

I mentioned that I don’t agree with the extraneous stuff, meaning most of Omega Point Theory.

The equation on page 471 which I pointed to:

Equation on Page 471 is independent of the bulk of Omega Point Theory.

It is a simple statement which says the universe is massive system of quantum systems. That is a pretty reasonable statement. Physical reality is actualized through an observation. An Observer in the Future is implicated for the universe to be acutalized today (in quantum theory the future affects the past).

This Observer who actualizes the universe is called the Ultimate Observer.

In quantum cryptographic systems we can tell when an observer is observing a quantum system. By way of extension, we conclude an Ultimate Observer is observing the “quantum system” of the universe. It is that simple. The Kalam cosmological principle with a twist using Quantum theory. As a purely philosophical principle Kalam might find some challenges, but combined with an interpretation of Quantum theory, it develops scientific teeth as an argument….

That is one interpretation of Physical law. It is reasonable, one has the right to disagree, fine. However, I consider it a sufficiently good interpretation to inspire the search for corroborating evidence that that interpretation is right….

Tipler proposes a particular kind of Ultimate Observer which is a Super Computer built by man that overtakes the universe. Yikes. Hence, people consider it a bit far fetched. His theory predicting the formation of the Super Computer that overtakes the universe could fall apart, but still the equation on page 471 of his first book will not go away.

The Unltimate Observer must still exist to make the final observation. If Omega Point Theory falls apart, then the Ulitmate Observer is an Anthropic-type God as Tipler proposes, it would be the more traditional conception of God.

Belinfante’s deduction was considerably more simple, and straight forward, without all the extra baggage.

Regarding the relationship of science and God, though I don’t wholly agree with the statement, Paul Davies (no IDist in the formal sense) wrote:

science offers a surer path than religion in the search for God

There is no reason to think science cannot say anything of God. And that is my position as well. Nothing in the definition of science says that the scientific method can not detect something of God’s existece or participation in nature.

Salvador
PS
an amusing quote:

Davies:

It would be foolish to deny that many of the traditional religious ideas about God, man and the nauture of the universe have been swept away by the new physics. But our search has turned up many positive signs too. The existence of mind, for example, as an abstract, holistic, oraganizational pattern, capable even of disembodiment, refutes the reductionistic philosophy that we are all nothing but moving mounds of atoms.

Comment #43008

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 1:59 AM (e)

“Yes, absence of absence of evidence of WMDs would be evidence of WMDs.”

Only if absence of evidence of WMDs is the sort of things that help in concluding that Saddam Hussein had no active WMD programs. But this is the point of contention. Thus, you still have not addressed whether an absence of evidence that Saddam Hussein had no active WMD programs is helpful in concluding that he did have active WMD programs. After all, wasn’t this the sort of logic that the Bush administration applied in going to war in Iraq?

“As long as you’re alive, there’s evidence.”

So I am alive. I wish to deliberate rationally on God. How do I proceed?

Comment #43010

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:04 AM (e)

Davies:

It would be foolish to deny that many of the traditional religious ideas about God, man and the nauture of the universe have been swept away by the new physics. But our search has turned up many positive signs too. The existence of mind, for example, as an abstract, holistic, oraganizational pattern, capable even of disembodiment, refutes the reductionistic philosophy that we are all nothing but moving mounds of atoms.

Yeah, the way a computer process refutes the reductionistic philosophy (sic) that a computer is nothing but moving mounds of atoms.

They gave this guy an award for this ignorant drivel?

Comment #43011

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:10 AM (e)

Thus, you still have not addressed whether an absence of evidence that Saddam Hussein had no active WMD programs is helpful in concluding that he did have active WMD programs.

I did address it, directly. Sorry if you didn’t follow the reasoning. The simple fact is that the conclusion that there were no WMDs is warranted by the absence of evidence of WMDs. If you want to contest that, you’re on your own.

So I am alive. I wish to deliberate rationally on God. How do I proceed?

The same way you would deliberate rationally on invisible and immaterial pink unicorns, I suppose.

Comment #43012

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 2:20 AM (e)

This appears to be special pleading on your part, ts. If the conclusion that there were no WMDs is warranted by the absence of evidence of WMDs, then it is analogously valid to conclude that there are active WMD programs from the absence of evidence of inactive WMD programs. The factual record illustrates the application of this logic quite vividly.

“The same way you would deliberate rationally on invisible and immaterial pink unicorns, I suppose.”

Which is how?

Comment #43014

Posted by SEF on August 15, 2005 2:47 AM (e)

They gave this guy an award for this ignorant drivel?

Only other ignorant drivelers did. The quality of any form of peer review does rather depend on the reviewers being of decent quality! That’s what has been shown to be wrong with certain exam subjects. It’s also why the real process of peer review in science is not the intial stage with that name but the subsequent opening up of the research to the vast body of scientists who can’t easily be bought/selected (like ID/creationists and others have occasionally stacked review panels or waived any serious reviewing).

Comment #43015

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 3:18 AM (e)

This appears to be special pleading on your part, ts. If the conclusion that there were no WMDs is warranted by the absence of evidence of WMDs, then it is analogously valid to conclude that there are active WMD programs from the absence of evidence of inactive WMD programs.

“inactive WMD programs”? What the heck would that have to do with a conclusion about “active WMD programs”?

I already agreed that it would be valid to conclude that there were WMD programs from the absence of evidence that would lead to one conclude that there were no WMD programs. But that evidence wasn’t absent – we did have such evidence, namely the absence of any WMDs anywhere we looked. You said that’s a matter of contention – but you can hardly accuse me of special pleading by arbitrarily rejecting a certain sort of evidence, and then using that sort of evidence to form your analogy, an analogy I accept and respond to in terms of that very sort of evidence. And frankly, your charge is getting mighty close to acting in bad faith.

“The same way you would deliberate rationally on invisible and immaterial pink unicorns, I suppose.”

Which is how?

Think about the meaning of the words, recognize that they can’t refer to anything, and go on to do something more productive.

Comment #43018

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 15, 2005 6:48 AM (e)

ts wrote:

The simple fact is that the conclusion that there were no WMDs is warranted by the absence of evidence of WMDs.

This is faulty logic. One can only conclude there are no WMDs from evidence for no WMDs (not from an absence of evidence).

ts wrote:

Absence of evidence is evidence of absence because it’s irrational to simply ignore an absence of evidence.

As I already pointed out, your assertion “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is logically inconsistent. Perhaps you should read my posts before responding to them?

To cut to the chase, you are conflating evidence with data (specifically certain patterns of data).

Comment #43019

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 6:50 AM (e)

Here’s a rational argument that theism will keep you out of heaven:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/heaven.html

Comment #43020

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 7:03 AM (e)

The simple fact is that the conclusion that there were no WMDs is warranted by the absence of evidence of WMDs.

This is faulty logic.

You’ve offered no reason to think so.

One can only conclude there are no WMDs from evidence for no WMDs (not from an absence of evidence).

The faulty logic is your question begging. Absence of evidence for WMDs is evidence for no WMDs, per the meaning of “evidence”, as I have already noted. And that’s why we have concluded that there are no WMDs. Of course its an empirical conclusion, not a deductive one; there still could be WMDs, despite the failure to find any.

As I already pointed out, your assertion “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is logically inconsistent.

It doesn’t do to “point out” that something is logically inconsistent, you must prove it.

Perhaps you should read my posts before responding to them?

I of course did read it, but nothing is gained by reading any of your posts because they are full of error and blatant unsupported assertion.

Comment #43022

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 15, 2005 7:49 AM (e)

ts: The simple fact is that the conclusion that there were no WMDs is warranted by the absence of evidence of WMDs.

Douglas: This is faulty logic.

ts: You’ve offered no reason to think so.

In fact I have in several places, like here and here.

ts wrote:

It doesn’t do to “point out” that something is logically inconsistent, you must prove it.

I gave the trivial proof in the very post you responded to. As I said, perhaps you should actually read my posts before responding to them?

Comment #43023

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 15, 2005 8:01 AM (e)

ts: Yes, absence of absence of evidence of WMDs would be evidence of WMDs.

Lurker: Can you show me how to deliberate rationally given no evidence?

ts: As long as you’re alive, there’s evidence.

So, first you make an assertion about the importance of what is entailed when evidence does not exist, then you immediately claim that evidence always exists? Do you really not see the self-contradiction here?

As Lurker is trying to show you, it is logically impossible for there to be evidence for anything when evidence does not exist. If evidence is absent, well, evidence is absent.

Comment #43024

Posted by Dan S. on August 15, 2005 8:22 AM (e)

“Wistfully looking back to the days of Heddle and DaveScot?”
Yes.

We are so gonna lose …

Comment #43026

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 8:45 AM (e)

I gave the trivial proof in the very post you responded to. As I said, perhaps you should actually read my posts before responding to them?

I see nothing resembling a proof there.

So, first you make an assertion about the importance of what is entailed when evidence does not exist, then you immediately claim that evidence always exists? Do you really not see the self-contradiction here?

In the first case it was evidence for a specific thing; in the second case lurker didn’t qualify what it was evidence of, thus making it universal, and thus my answer. Duh.

Comment #43027

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 8:47 AM (e)

We are so gonna lose …

What the heck are you on about, Dan? You’re the one who is acting like you’ve been taken over by a pod or something.

Comment #43028

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 8:57 AM (e)

“Absence of evidence is [sometimes] evidence of absence”, is self-contradictory, since in the first part the presence of evidence is denied and then in the second part its presence is affirmed.

If this is what Theobald intends as a “trivial proof”, it is trivially invalid – the two instances of “evidence” refer to evidence for two different things, one the negation of the other, so of course evidence is first denied and then confirmed. The sentence means that absence of evidence for P is [sometimes] evidence for not P. Duh.

Comment #43030

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 15, 2005 9:00 AM (e)

ts wrote:

In the first case it was evidence for a specific thing; in the second case lurker didn’t qualify what it was evidence of, thus making it universal, and thus my answer. Duh.

Universal claims apply to all specific instances. Thus the inconsistency (“Duh”).

ts wrote:

I see nothing resembling a proof there

quote: “Absence of evidence is [sometimes] evidence of absence”, is self-contradictory, since in the first part the presence of evidence is denied and then in the second part its presence is affirmed.

Evidence cannot be absent and exist simultaneously. Thus the statement is inconsistent.

Comment #43031

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 9:06 AM (e)

Evidence cannot be absent and exist simultaneously. Thus the statement is inconsistent.

Of course it can. Evidence of the existence of God is absent and evidence of the existence of bananas exists. There’s something really seriously wrong with you if you think the two instances of “evidence” in the aphorism refer to evidence for the same proposition.

Comment #43033

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 9:16 AM (e)

In the first case it was evidence for a specific thing; in the second case lurker didn’t qualify what it was evidence of, thus making it universal, and thus my answer. Duh.

Universal claims apply to all specific instances. Thus the inconsistency

Your statement is painfully irrelevant to to what I wrote. You’re just taking the words as if they were autonomous atoms to mix and match as you please, as you did with your “disproof” of the aphorism by taking two instances of “evidence” as if they referred to the same proposition – or as if “evidence” doesn’t require a referent at all.

Comment #43034

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 9:17 AM (e)

As I said earlier, lack of evidence for the existence of something IS evidence (not proof, of course) of the non-existence of that something.

It is ALWAYS evidence, never proof, as a universal negative existential claim cannot be proven. That’s why the burden of proof is on the party making positive existential claims.

Otherwise, the less evidence we had for something, the more unassailable such a claim would become. Are there Invisible Pink Unicorns flitting around us? Why not? Is there a Flying Spaghetti Monster ruling over the universe with His Noodly Appendage? Why not? Ando so on, ad nauseam.

This is elementary logic, people. Come to terms with it, and stop hiding behind faulty reasoning and special pleading.

Comment #43037

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 9:25 AM (e)

As I said earlier, lack of evidence for the existence of something IS evidence (not proof, of course) of the non-existence of that something.

And as I’ve reiterated, with examples. A prime example was WMDs in Iraq, where Donald Rumsfeld actually claimed “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. I blogged quite a bit at the time of how fallacious that was, and that was long before David Kay made his announcement. And yet we have sophists like Lurker and Theobald still siding with Rumsfeld, and employing clearly fallacious arguments.

Comment #43038

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 9:29 AM (e)

““inactive WMD programs”? What the heck would that have to do with a conclusion about “active WMD programs”?”

Exactly, ts. My construction of this analogy is as much a non sequitur as yours. “No WMD programs”? WTF does that have to do with an “absence of evidence of WMDs?”

“I already agreed that it would be valid to conclude that there were WMD programs from the absence of evidence that would lead to one conclude that there were no WMD programs.”

Well, hindsight always permits retrospective applications of data that are conveniently supportive of any conclusion we may have drawn after the fact. The more poignant demonstration of this logic is in the prewar scenario. The Bush administration has an absence of evidence that Saddam had no WMD programs. It concludes, therefore, that Saddam had WMD programs.

“But that evidence wasn’t absent — we did have such evidence, namely the absence of any WMDs anywhere we looked.”

This, as Douglas points out, is absurd. You simultaneously reject that there is evidence, while in the same breath claim there is an absence of evidence. If we looked, then we have positive data about the presence of WMDs at specific locations in Iraq. Because Iraq is a finite land mass, the act of eliminating places of possible WMD sites is contributing positively to our knowledge of whether in fact Saddam had no WMDs. Thus, your example is actually not relevant to the point in discussion. The better example would be my pre-war scenario in which the Bush administration concluded Saddam’s WMD program in the absence of searching, or any other source of evidence for an active WMD program. If Bush didn’t even bother to look, then he had no evidence. Clearly, in such a scenario, this logic is faulty and provides bad guidance.

“Think about the meaning of the words, recognize that they can’t refer to anything, and go on to do something more productive.”

… or in other words:

“simply ignore an absence of evidence.” In other words, you are advocating irrationality here. The exercise that you have proposed – namely, recognizing that a word can’t refer to anything and then running away – is hardly deliberation. It merely requires a subjective, summary judgment from a closed mind.

We can try this exercise on a number of different words. What does “deliberation” refer to? Can you show me your deliberation in writing your last post to me? Or can someone show me what “infinity” refers to? Infinity happens in a lot of engineering and mathematical analyses. How about an example of a “geometric point”? None of these conceptual words have any evidentiary sources attached.

You are advocating positivism. And not doing a very good job of it. So back to the question you dodged: How do I recognize that God does not refer to anything?

Comment #43039

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 9:39 AM (e)

“Absence of evidence is [sometimes] evidence of absence”, is self-contradictory, since in the first part the presence of evidence is denied and then in the second part its presence is affirmed.

If this is what Theobald intends as a “trivial proof”, it is trivially invalid — the two instances of “evidence” refer to evidence for two different things, one the negation of the other, so of course evidence is first denied and then confirmed. The sentence means that absence of evidence for P is [sometimes] evidence for not P. Duh.

I should have made this more specific so as to be more illustrative (leaving out the “sometimes” because AN makes the point that it’s always true):

“Absence of evidence is evidence of absence” means “Absence of evidence of the presence of X is evidence of the absence of X”.

Insert “WMDs in Iraq” or “a tumor the size of a grapefruit in your brain” or whatever you prefer.

Is there a Flying Spaghetti Monster ruling over the universe with His Noodly Appendage? Why not?

I’ve actually been told several times here at PT that theism and science are equally valid epistemic sources, just based on different assumptions. In that view, I guess it’s just an assumption that we should disbelieve, rather than believe, in the FSM.

Comment #43041

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 9:41 AM (e)

““inactive WMD programs”? What the heck would that have to do with a conclusion about “active WMD programs”?”

Exactly, ts. My construction of this analogy is as much a non sequitur as yours. “No WMD programs”? WTF does that have to do with an “absence of evidence of WMDs?”

You should go back to lurking; you make more sense when you’re silent.

Comment #43042

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 9:45 AM (e)

“As I said earlier, lack of evidence for the existence of something IS evidence (not proof, of course) of the non-existence of that something.”

Aureola, consider ts’s response to me:

“As long as you’re alive, there’s evidence.”

It would seem to me that your notion of “lack of evidence” is never realized – namely you always have evidence. A person making a positive claim without providing evidence has done exactly that: provided no evidence. That you would consider that to be an argument for non-existence is to put additional non-evidential considerations on the validity of his claim. You may have good evidence to be skeptical of the person, for instance, because he is a persistent liar. In the end, you still not have any evidence that the claim is in fact false. For instance, consider the boy who cries wolf.

Comment #43043

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 9:47 AM (e)

“You should go back to lurking; you make more sense when you’re silent.”

Where is your evidence for this claim? I guess given an absence of evidence, I have to conclude that I shouldn’t go back to lurking.

Comment #43046

Posted by Krauze on August 15, 2005 9:54 AM (e)

Manual trackback:

“Becoming what you most dislike” on Telic Thoughts

Comment #43047

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 10:00 AM (e)

It would seem to me that your notion of “lack of evidence” is never realized — namely you always have evidence.

You, like Theobald, absurdly treat “evidence” as if it didn’t require a referent or as if every instance of the word had the same referent. Since AN stated that lack of evidence is in fact evidence of something, then of course she would agree that she always has evidence (of something), since she always has lack of evidence (of something else). It’s quite straightforward, really, but I suspect you still won’t get it.

Comment #43049

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 10:06 AM (e)

Krauze wrote:

What’s interesting is how [some] ID critics for years have been talking as if Phillip Johnson’s views on the relationship between evolution and religion are hopelessly wrong, yet here we find Paul the scientist saying the same as Phil the creationist.

Only he left out the “some”; inserting it makes it not interesting at all.

Comment #43050

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 10:09 AM (e)

“Since AN stated that lack of evidence is in fact evidence of something, then of course she would agree that she always has evidence (of something), since she always has lack of evidence (of something else).”

You cannot expect me to “get” what is patently absurd. The idea of “lack of evidence” becomes under your formulation as devoid of substance as some fundamentalists’ notion of “God.” The skeptic says, I can show there is no God. The believer retorts, sure, but by doing so you will have demonstrated God.

Anyway, I cannot in good conscience continues this discussion with you, given that I would be aiding in your single-handed mission to destroy the value of Panda’s Thumb as a pro-science, pro-reasoning community.

Comment #43052

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 10:16 AM (e)

Sanchez has some comments on this whole debacle.

This should be required reading for everyone at PT, especially Nick Matzke. Not that I would realy expect it to help; I’ve now read two articles at PT by Nick, each of which got just about everything wrong.

Comment #43053

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 10:19 AM (e)

I cannot in good conscience continues this discussion

If you had good conscience, then you would answer Aureola Nominee’s questions:

Are there Invisible Pink Unicorns flitting around us? Why not? Is there a Flying Spaghetti Monster ruling over the universe with His Noodly Appendage? Why not?

Comment #43054

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 10:22 AM (e)

Gladly:

Are there Invisible Pink Unicorns flitting around us?

I don’t know. I reserve judgment until I see the evidence.

Why not?

I don’t know. I reserve judgment until I see the evidence.

Is there a Flying Spaghetti Monster ruling over the universe with His Noodly Appendage?

I don’t know. I reserve judgment until I see the evidence.

Why not?

I don’t know. I reserve judgment until I see the evidence.

Comment #43061

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 10:43 AM (e)

Are there Invisible Pink Unicorns flitting around us?

I don’t know. I reserve judgment until I see the evidence.

I don’t believe you, and neither will anyone else (except perhaps Theobald). Certainly no one else will accept that that is “pro-science” or “pro-reasoning”. Scientific reasoning is based on inference to the best explanation, and the best explanation for having no evidence of invisible pink unicorns flitting around us would be that there aren’t any. The very lack of evidence for the proposition P serves as evidence for the proposition not P, as anyone acting in good faith would acknowledge.

Comment #43068

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 10:57 AM (e)

As Isaac Asimov said, “I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”

Equivocation over the word “evidence” is quite transparent in some recent posts. Absence of evidence is NOT proof of absence, and neither ts nor I (nor Isaac Asimov) claimed this.

Absence of evidence, however, IS evidence of absence. Subject to revision if/when new, contrasting evidence were to surface. To rational minds, at least.

Comment #43069

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 11:09 AM (e)

Absence of evidence, however, IS evidence of absence.

Indeed:

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=evidence : “A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment”

Absence of evidence for invisible pink flying unicorns flitting around us is helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment of the absence of invisible pink unicorns flitting around us. Anyone who claims that they have made no judgment as to whether there are invisible pink flying unicorns flitting around us is lying (my best inference from the evidence), for the express purpose of not conceding error (my best inference from the evidence).

Comment #43076

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 11:33 AM (e)

“Absence of evidence is NOT proof of absence…”

I agree. Nor is absence of proof evidence of absence.

“Absence of evidence, however, IS evidence of absence. Subject to revision if/when new, contrasting evidence were to surface. To rational minds, at least.”

You are right. There is an equivocation of the notion of evidence. The second “evidence” in that sentence is clearly being given a weaker notion than the one in the first part of the sentence. It is evidence only if you already have a mental model that expects an absence of evidence. It is helpful in reaching a conclusion that you have already preconceived.

The first notion of evidence is positivist. Preferrably, such evidence is of the quality that any reasonable person can independently deduce it as a positive example of what is hypothesized. The second notion is subjective. A person with the a priori committment to expect positive evidence will find nothing of value in a current lack of evidence. On the other hand, a person with an a priori committment towards expecting no evidence will find another type of value.

For instance, a gambler hypothesizes that there exists a lottery number destined for him alone that will grant him the jackpot. Yet every number he has tried fails to get him the jackpot – here is as of yet an absence of evidence of his lottery number. Still, for the gambler, this is hardly evidence that his lottery number doesn’t exist.

The fact of the matter, however, is that absence of evidence cannot help to establish which mental model is right: the mental model that expects no evidence, or the mental model that expects other evidence to be found. As you say, it is subject to further contrasting evidence. Therefore, the argument “absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is inherently vague and useless.

Comment #43080

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 11:46 AM (e)

Lurker:

no, you are mistaken. We are referring to existential claims here: the evidence that is lacking for the existence of something is exactly of the same kind of the evidence that is not lacking for the non-existence of that same something.

I have no preconceived expectation: gods may or may not exist. Then I take a good, hard look and see no evidence whatsoever FOR their existence. Ergo, I fall back on the default position: Santa Claus, Yahweh, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Sauron, Thor, Quetzalcoatl, Chthulhu, etc. are most likely non-existing.

And no amount of hand-waving on your part can change this. What could change this is some evidence of existence of at least one of these guys/gals/beings/whatever.

In the meantime, please excuse me for not trying to find the gold pot at the end of the rainbow.

Comment #43082

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 11:51 AM (e)

For instance, a gambler hypothesizes that there exists a lottery number destined for him alone that will grant him the jackpot. Yet every number he has tried fails to get him the jackpot — here is as of yet an absence of evidence of his lottery number. Still, for the gambler, this is hardly evidence that his lottery number doesn’t exist.

It is hardly proof. It most certainly is, however, evidence. If you deny that, you deny all of statistics and Bayesian reasoning.

Comment #43084

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 11:57 AM (e)

“Ergo, I fall back on the default position: Santa Claus, Yahweh, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Sauron, Thor, Quetzalcoatl, Chthulhu, etc. are most likely non-existing.”

That is exactly my point. It is *your* default position. My point is that it does not have to be anybody else’s. Nor does everyone else have to classify the unevidenced ideas or to react to them the same way you have.

“In the meantime, please excuse me for not trying to find the gold pot at the end of the rainbow.”

Again, exactly my point. You have every right to decide not to look.

Comment #43085

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 11:58 AM (e)

In the meantime, please excuse me for not trying to find the gold pot at the end of the rainbow.

But the pot might contain more gold than you could spend in 100 lifetimes. With such a huge potential payoff, surely it would be worth looking for it, because lurker tells us that we should reserve judgment as to whether there is a such a pot “until [we] see the evidence.” (snicker)

Comment #43086

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 12:00 PM (e)

My point is that it does not have to be anybody else’s.

Right, it doesn’t have to be. They could be, or choose to be, stupid or dishonest.

Comment #43088

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 12:07 PM (e)

Lurker:

please let me know when you’ll be holding your next human sacrifice to appease Quetzalcoatl, whose existence or non-existence are equally likely to you.

In case this reductio ad absurdum is too sophisticated for you, let me rephrase that: you are lying. You don’t believe in the existence of 99.9% of the entities which we have no evidence for, and neither does anybody else.

That’s why I called it, right at the start, a case of Special Pleading; because the pretense is that what holds for Santa Claus, Zeus, and the pixies in your backyard, should not hold for similarly non-apparent entities like Yahweh, Allah, or Jehovah.

Comment #43093

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 12:26 PM (e)

Yes, I have no ritualistic committments to any entity whose existence is in doubt. But the point of the argument is that “absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is useless and false. It is therefore a non sequitur that the lack of evidence an entity requires me there to make committments to it.

Do you believe in the existence of an “infinity” or a “geometric point” that the rest of the natural sciences employ regularly? Do you have any evidence for those concepts?

I have to say, positivism is an ugly philosophy. You guys are not very good at promoting it.

Comment #43094

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 12:34 PM (e)

And it is a strawman that “the lack of evidence [for] an entity requires me to make commitments to it.”

That’s not what we said. You are once again equivocating between the meaning of evidence and the meaning of proof, throwing in an irrelevant reference to mathematics, and in general doing an extremely poor job of confronting my argument.

But that’s all right, I understand. You’re not the first confused thinker who grasps at irrelevant straws to rescue his pet notion from fundamental logical flaws.

Comment #43095

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 12:35 PM (e)

For those interested in learning about positivism:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_positivism

Comment #43102

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 1:17 PM (e)

Isn’t the point that people DON’T believe in Santa Claus, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Sauron?

Each of these entities would leave physical evidence! An invisible unicorn, Santa Claus, etc, would all leave physical evidence.

But, suppose under that Christmas tree, there were presents appearing. But, there were no parents either. Now what?

Comment #43104

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 1:26 PM (e)

Ben:

How do you know that an Invisible Pink Unicorn would leave physical evidence? Maybe she’s “spiritual”!

As to the presents, their appearance on Christmas mornings is evidence for the existence of Santa Claus. That’s exactly why parents tend to fake surprise when the kids discover the presents!

However, eventually kids grow up a little and find a much simpler explanation for the presents appearing… by that time, said kids have usually learned to behave without the threat of “Santa will bring you a big lump of coal if you don’t do what I say!”

Comment #43108

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 1:43 PM (e)

“How do you know that an Invisible Pink Unicorn would leave physical evidence? Maybe she’s “spiritual”!”

Then the “pink” (physical property?) unicorn wouldn’t be invisible, it would be immaterial.

“As to the presents, their appearance on Christmas mornings is evidence for the existence of Santa Claus.”

Presents under the tree isn’t rightly evidence for anything. The problem is the presents, the answer is either parents or Santa Claus. Without evience for parents or santa claus, there is no basis for either. In this example, we already know it’s the parents, and we know of their existence.

But, in the case of the invisible unicorn, say we see tracks being left. We feel something there. Maybe there IS an invisible pink unicorn. of course, the point is there is a problem that needs to be addressed, and there has to be answers offered.

Comment #43113

Posted by Adam on August 15, 2005 1:55 PM (e)

Yeah, so we should shut up because we’re helping the enemy. Sorry, but no.

Yup. Just as I wrote elsewhere. You’re more interested in asserting your intellectual superiority than winning.

Comment #43116

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 1:58 PM (e)

Ben:

First of all, “pink” is only a physical property in a materialistic, aunicornist prejudiced worldview. You must shed your preconceptions about “pink” merely being a colour! In reality, it is more of an emotion…

I hope you see my point.

Normally, in reality (you know, that thing that when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away), if there are no parents and no other people to take their role, no presents appear. That’s powerful evidence against Santa being a real guy, IMO.

Comment #43117

Posted by Lurker on August 15, 2005 2:02 PM (e)

“You don’t believe in the existence of 99.9% of the entities which we have no evidence for, and neither does anybody else.”

Nor do I disbelieve 99.9% of the entities for which there is no evidence. You may accuse me of lying, but only at cost to your own credibility. I simply have a preferred method for dealing with specific topics for which I have no evidence… which usually entails not rendering a judgment on such issues. Most of the time, I am not even aware of the things for which I have no evidence of. So it seems strange to me that you somehow know what I would think about the infinitely many unknowns.

What strikes me as odd is that this discussion about the truth of a universal claim – absence of evidence is the evidence of absence – has become a policy discussion. That is the strawman. An absence of evidence does not require me to act in any specific regard. More specifically, it does not require me to formulate a conclusion as though I had evidence. Of course, one can choose to draw unfounded conclusions in the total absence of evidence. But apparently, even the total absence of evidence is still evidence. This is AN’s absurd notion of a “default” position, his unfounded notion that his default position must be applied universally. Where is the evidence for that? Once again, positivist thinking backfires. To relabel my position as “special pleading” is to construct a strawman that there is only one possible universal position on unevidenced objects. As a policy, AN is in no position to dictate to me on how I treat things which may not exist. For instance, I do not know of the existence of a geometric point. But I certainly cannot dispense with geometric points in my line of work. Similarly, for theists, there may be a dearth of evidence for God (though even theists would dispute that claim), but that does not mean that in the meanwhile, God is an indispensable concept for these people.

To have evidence, as Douglas points out, is to apply a given model to data from observation. The slight-of-hand magic behind “absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is that the model changes. In the former, there is no a priori committment to the existence of a hypothetical object. In the latter, however, evidence of absence is possible only if such absence can be meaningfully evidenced. This requires that in principle the evidence of an absence is consistent with some models for the absence of hypothetical being at hand. Otherwise, unmeaningful evidence is hardly evidence. Ask yourself, for instance, what contrasting evidence would you expect for a God that does not reveal Himself physically, versus a God that does not exist? Without such consideration, prima facie, the assertion “absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is semantically contradictory.

Ironically, this all started when I asked ts how to deliberate rationally given an absence of evidence, since he believes it illogical to ignore such absence of evidence. As we see, the solution to such positivist thinking, is an unfounded a priori committment to the notion that only that which is evidenced can exist. In other words, the solution is nothing more than a personal preference to make the hypothetical entity go away. What is the evidence for elevating such preference to a universal truth? None… so far. I guess in the meantime, I should take that to mean that there is evidence of an absence of such a truth.

Well, ts and AN have wasted enough of my time on this thread for this week. I have found it worthwhile. Back to lurking.

Comment #43118

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:07 PM (e)

Adam wrote:

Yup. Just as I wrote elsewhere. You’re more interested in asserting your intellectual superiority than winning.

I’m interested in intellectual honesty and integrity, but I understand that those are foreign concepts to you, Adam. Also, it’s rather pathetic to see so many people here at PT quaking in their boots at the thought that someone might notice that many scientists are atheists and many atheists don’t think highly of religion. I mean, wow, what a revelation. But someone pointed out that visible debates between theist and atheist evos blows a giant hole in the creationist myth that all evos are atheists or that you have to be an atheist to be an evo.

Comment #43122

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 2:23 PM (e)

“Normally, in reality (you know, that thing that when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away), if there are no parents and no other people to take their role, no presents appear. That’s powerful evidence against Santa being a real guy, IMO.”

Unfortunately, the problems of philosophy are not going away. I wish it were this simple.

“First of all, “pink” is only a physical property in a materialistic, aunicornist prejudiced worldview. You must shed your preconceptions about “pink” merely being a colour! In reality, it is more of an emotion…

I hope you see my point.”

I do not see your point, sorry. I do not think you see mine.

Comment #43123

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:24 PM (e)

Isn’t the point that people DON’T believe in Santa Claus, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Sauron?

Uh, the point to what? The real point is why they don’t.

Each of these entities would leave physical evidence! An invisible unicorn, Santa Claus, etc, would all leave physical evidence.

I’m not clear on what you point is, but … mot necessarily – they could all be trapped together in an underground cavern, for instance. In which case we would be mistaken that they don’t exist. But that they haven’t left any such evidence (or at least evidence for which they would be the best explanation) is good reason to believe they don’t exist.

But, suppose under that Christmas tree, there were presents appearing. But, there were no parents either. Now what?

Uh, set up a video camera?

Comment #43124

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 2:25 PM (e)

Lurker:

equating believing with disbelieving is an elementary mistake. For all your voluminous smokescreen, you are rather pathetic at actually understanding an argument and responding to it.

As I said, you’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last. I’m rather used at people trying to argue for this fake “balancing” of belief and unbelief.

Take care, and be careful, lest you stumble on an invisible leprechaun.

Comment #43125

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 2:27 PM (e)

“Uh, the point to what? The real point is why they don’t.”

They do not exist because they have physical properties and there is no physical evidence. In fact, the physical evidence flies in their faces.

“Uh, set up a video camera?”

I think you would need to do this to see there were no parents in the first place.

Comment #43126

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:28 PM (e)

Unfortunately, the problems of philosophy are not going away. I wish it were this simple.

What problems are you referring to?

I do not see your point, sorry. I do not think you see mine.

Perhaps if you went to the trouble of actually stating one clearly …

Comment #43127

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 2:30 PM (e)

“Take care, and be careful, lest you stumble on an invisible leprechaun.”

If someone were to happen to stumble on one, it would exist right? But I have stumbled on a rock before… OK, there’s the entity that needs explaining.

Comment #43128

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 2:31 PM (e)

“What problems are you referring to?”

Come now, you’ve heard of philosophical problemd before, haven’t you?

Comment #43129

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 2:32 PM (e)

“What problems are you referring to?”

Come now, you’ve heard of philosophical problems before, haven’t you?

Comment #43130

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:33 PM (e)

“Uh, the point to what? The real point is why they don’t.”

They do not exist because they have physical properties and there is no physical evidence. In fact, the physical evidence flies in their faces.

“they” in my first sentence referred to people who don’t believe in things. “they” in your sentence refers to the things not believed in. so your statement is a non sequitur.

“Uh, set up a video camera?”

I think you would need to do this to see there were no parents in the first place.

You asserted there were no parents. And you asked what to do next, and I offered an answer.

I feel like I’m having a conversation with Eliza, sigh.

Comment #43131

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:35 PM (e)

“What problems are you referring to?”

Come now, you’ve heard of philosophical problems before, haven’t you?

I was asking which problems. You’re either messing with me or you’re defective. Either way it’s no fun. Bye.

Comment #43134

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 2:40 PM (e)

““they” in my first sentence referred to people who don’t believe in things. “they” in your sentence refers to the things not believed in. so your statement is a non sequitur.”

I misunderstood your usage. In any case, my response cuts to the main point of why people exist that don’t believe in invisible unicorns.

“You asserted there were no parents. And you asked what to do next, and I offered an answer.

I feel like I’m having a conversation with Eliza, sigh.”

Don’t know who Eliza is, but keep up the snobbery, it works well. The correct thing to do next, however, is not to set up a video camera. Santa Claus and Parents would exhaust the possibilities here because we are only considering two possible explanations (one that signifies a supernatural and one natural).

Comment #43135

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 2:44 PM (e)

Ben:

My point is that, given sufficient wiggle space, NO existential claim can EVER be discounted. For instance, you tried to pin down the Invisible Pink Unicorn by attributing a specific value to the word “pink”. I did what a lot of theists usually do, took the word and changed its meaning.

That’s why the default position with any existential claim is disbelief. While a universal negative can never be proven, it is trivially easy to prove a positive existential claim: just cough up an example of the object claimed to exist!

So, if I claim that an Invisible Pink Unicorn exists, it is up to ME to demonstrate its existence, not to YOU to prove its non-existence. Otherwise, we are justified in discounting the claim as yet another fantasy. Really, this is Logic 101.

When you replace the Invisible Pink Unicorn with certain other invisibles, however, all hell breaks loose, and the Special Pleading begins.

Comment #43137

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 2:54 PM (e)

When you replace the Invisible Pink Unicorn with certain other invisibles, however, all hell breaks loose, and the Special Pleading begins.

And don’t dare point it out, because then you’re “attacking” people’s “faith”, or handing the IDists the magic bullet with which they will kill all of science.

Comment #43144

Posted by SEF on August 15, 2005 3:23 PM (e)

I feel like I’m having a conversation with Eliza, sigh.

I see what you mean. It had gone from them (lurker and Ben) simply being extremely defective thinkers at you (ts an AN), where it was still debatable whether they were incompetent through stupidity and/or ignorance or were instead being deliberately dishonest about pretending to misunderstand the significance of absence of evidence (ie despite looking), to a situation where they were pretty much throwing random non sequiturs into the conversation in desperation, much like Eliza used to do when it had completely lost the plot (not that it ever really had it). I got the meta-game of killing Eliza down to a fine art :-D … must be about 3 decades ago now :-/

Comment #43145

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 3:31 PM (e)

“My point is that, given sufficient wiggle space, NO existential claim can EVER be discounted.”

Yes. I understood this from the beginning. But my claim is that such an existential claim does not even exist unless there is a problem that needs answers. To cut the the point; as Antony Flew now says, we have no answer to the question of why something exists rather than nothing. Hence, the problem: something exists. Two considered solutions: theism or atheism. If we have no evidence for theism, or atheism, we still have a problem. Thus, in light of no evidence, there can only be agnosticism, not atheism. But wait, one might suggest that I’m already considering the existence of anything as evidence for God. But as of yet, I am not. Of course, I do not think there is no positive evidence either.

Comment #43146

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 3:34 PM (e)

“It had gone from them (lurker and Ben) simply being extremely defective thinkers at you”

They didn’t even understand what I was saying… I can’t even consider how that counts for defective thinking on my part. Such ad hominems don’t count for anything in light of a real discussion.

Comment #43147

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 3:41 PM (e)

Ben:

You continue the line of reasoning of Lurker that equated belief with disbelief. I’m sorry, that is a mistake.

Atheism is not the polar opposite of theism. It is a lack of belief in something which we have no evidence for.

Of course, you’re perfectly free to “neither believe nor disbelieve”, if you manage to find a way to do so. Only, don’t insist that this is particularly rational.

Comment #43148

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 3:46 PM (e)

Ben:

I don’t know about ts, but I didn’t understand what you were saying because you were extremely unclear in what you were saying. Do you know what a “false dichotomy” is?

Comment #43149

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 3:49 PM (e)

To cut the the point; as Antony Flew now says, we have no answer to the question of why something exists rather than nothing. Hence, the problem: something exists.

Ye gads, a point! And an interesting one, but not one that has anything to do, AFAICS, with what was being discussed.

Two considered solutions: theism or atheism.

Theism is a goddidit non-explanation, but it is considered by creationists to be a solution.
OTOH, atheism, even strong atheism, is not a solution to the posed problem by any means.

If we have no evidence for theism, or atheism, we still have a problem.

And ditto if we do have evidence.

Thus, in light of no evidence, there can only be agnosticism, not atheism.

I don’t follow the “thus” at all, and you apparently mean “weak atheism, not strong atheism”, but really hardly anyone is a strong atheist.

But wait, one might suggest that I’m already considering the existence of anything as evidence for God. But as of yet, I am not. Of course, I do not think there is no positive evidence either.

The twisty little passages have become too twisty for me to follow.

Comment #43150

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 3:49 PM (e)

“Atheism is not the polar opposite of theism. It is a lack of belief in something which we have no evidence for.”

REALLY? I would have had no clue from the word itself! A (without, a lack of) theism (belief in God)!

“Of course, you’re perfectly free to “neither believe nor disbelieve”, if you manage to find a way to do so. Only, don’t insist that this is particularly rational.”

Is it warranted? Not without ANY evidence either way. Think about it. Theism provides an answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. Atheism provides no such answer, as Antony Flew attests. But, given no grounds for theism, we STILL need a solution. I must hold off any belief either way.

Comment #43153

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 3:54 PM (e)

“I don’t know about ts, but I didn’t understand what you were saying because you were extremely unclear in what you were saying. Do you know what a “false dichotomy” is?”

No, I’ve never heard of a false dichotomy! Please explain it for me!

Perhaps you are insisting that there is another option in considering God’s existence? He does or does not exist. False dichotomy? I am not warranted to make a decision of whether he exists or not in light of no evidence. But, I do think we have good reasons for thinking he exists (yet this is not relevent to the discussion because it has nothing to do with warranted belief in general).

Comment #43155

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 3:56 PM (e)

They didn’t even understand what I was saying…

I’ll bet you get that a lot.

I can’t even consider how that counts for defective thinking on my part.

Inference to the best explanation. I did note that, when I asked you “which problems?” and you snarkily answered “Come now, you’ve heard of philosophical problems before, haven’t you?”, that you might just be messing with me, rather than being defective.

Such ad hominems don’t count for anything in light of a real discussion.

It’s hard to have a real discussion with someone who seems to string bits and pieces of phrases together without much apparent logic, like Eliza, the first chatterbot.

Comment #43157

Posted by steve on August 15, 2005 4:03 PM (e)

Comment #42982

Posted by steve on August 14, 2005 11:14 PM (e) (s)

I’ll ask this again, because he didn’t respond the first time:

Cordova said:

Comment #42729

I mean the author of Origin of Species was really versant in…information theory (NOT),

Well, speaking of that, can you direct me to papers in legitimate Information Theory journals which dispute evolution? Or perhaps an Information Theory conference Dembski was invited to present at?

As far as I know, the only recognized Information Theorist who has commented on Dembski’s claims is David Wolpert, who said Dembski’s stuff was junk. Any recognized IT scientists say otherwise, Sal?

Comment #43158

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 4:05 PM (e)

“I don’t follow the “thus” at all, and you apparently mean “weak atheism, not strong atheism”, but really hardly anyone is a strong atheist.”

Depends on what you mean by weak atheism.

Comment #43159

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 4:05 PM (e)

Ben:

You are free not to decide whether god(s) exist(s) or not. Which means you do NOT believe god(s) exist. As simple as that.

Please, please, stop insisting that atheism claims no gods exist. Atheism is, at a minimum (i.e., the part shared by all atheists), the lack of belief in god(s). You said this was clear to you. So, why are you conflating this, which is the core of atheism, with “strong” atheism? If this is not a strawman, what else is it?

“Presents under the tree isn’t rightly evidence for anything. The problem is the presents, the answer is either parents or Santa Claus. Without evience for parents or santa claus, there is no basis for either.”

This contrived example of yours, that does not occur in reality, was a false dichotomy, like it or not. You were artifically limiting the alternatives to two and only two.

You seem to be familiar with the terminology of logic, but rather stumbling in its application.

Comment #43161

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 4:08 PM (e)

“Atheism is not the polar opposite of theism. It is a lack of belief in something which we have no evidence for.”

REALLY? I would have had no clue from the word itself! A (without, a lack of) theism (belief in God)!

I think Ben’s got this right; atheism is the polar opposite of theism, if that means its negation. i.e.,
not(Joe is a theist) = Joe is an atheist. But then I have to wonder what he meant by “agnostic”.

Theism provides an answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

Sort of, but it’s really begging the question, rather than answering it.

Atheism provides no such answer, as Antony Flew attests. But, given no grounds for theism, we STILL need a solution.

Yes, but it’s not clear how this contects to the rest of the discussion.

I must hold off any belief either way.

Belief in what? God? I don’t see how the something-rather-than-nothing question bears on that.

Comment #43163

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 4:13 PM (e)

“. Atheism is, at a minimum (i.e., the part shared by all atheists), the lack of belief in god(s). You said this was clear to you. So, why are you conflating this, which is the core of atheism, with “strong” atheism? If this is not a strawman, what else is it?”

I already made a disticiton between agnosticism and atheism in a prior post. But, I still can’t be sure what you mean by weak atheism. I THINK you mean what I meant what I said agnosticism (a weak version, not a strong one that says we cannot know about God no matter what). But, I have no idea.

“This contrived example of yours, that does not occur in reality, was a false dichotomy, like it or not. You were artifically limiting the alternatives to two and only two.

You seem to be familiar with the terminology of logic, but rather stumbling in its application.”

No, I still think you were just missing my analogy. It was, again, if God does or does not exist. I think our misunderstanding might come from different terminology concerning atheism/agnosticism. Not sure…

Comment #43164

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 4:16 PM (e)

To be clear, if weak atheism is simply a lack of belief in God but also a lack of commitment to the claim that he certainly does not exist, then I agree that it’s called for in light of no evidence whatsoever.

Comment #43166

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 4:35 PM (e)

Maybe I’ve got an inkling of what Ben’s getting at with his disconnected bits and pieces and bunches of unstated assumptions.

The presents are the “something” (the universe), Santa is God, and the parents are a natural means of creation.
So, what if there’s no evidence for God, and there’s no evidence for a natural means of creation. Then what?
Well, this is a false dichotomy because
a) no evidence for God isn’t mutually exclusive with no evidence for a natural creator
and
b) there are other possibilities, such a universe with infinite history, a closed space-time universe, or a universe that pops into existence for no reason at all

Also, if we separate the origin-of-the-universe question from the why-something-rather-than-nothing question,
there are other possibilities, such as the one I favor – that all logically possible universes necessarily exist.
If all possible universes necessarily exist, then of course this one must.

But none of this interesting stuff about why-something-rather-than-nothing or how the universe might have originated has any bearing on the theism/atheism question because one answers it either by raw proclamation (“faith”), or by looking for evidence of God and judging whether there’s adequate evidence to warrant belief, or by some sort of logical or semantic argument that there must be or must not be a God (I favor the latter because I think careful analysis indicates that there’s no coherent concept of a “supernatural” entity – which makes me one of those rare strong atheists, but only on Mondays).

Comment #43167

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 15, 2005 4:42 PM (e)

Where atheism doesn’t simply refer to a lack of belief in the existence of God, the term refers to a particular stance in cultural politics. Not believing in something is not usually a very strenuous undertaking. Most people don’t believe in the Buddhist Dharma, for example, but you don’t find them sitting around in suits on public access television promoting adharmacism. The trouble with making a big deal out of atheism is that the fuss creates the false impression that there is some philosophical or scientific reason to consider the God idea as a viable candidate explanation of the world and how it works instead of what taking it for what it is, something that belongs in an ethnographic museum along with the masks and baskets.

Aristotle recommended treating the people and their superstitions with light irony. Sounds about right to me.

Comment #43168

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 4:42 PM (e)

To be clear, if weak atheism is simply a lack of belief in God but also a lack of commitment to the claim that he certainly does not exist, then I agree that it’s called for in light of no evidence whatsoever.

Yes, that’s weak atheism. Strong atheism includes the commitment to non-existence. And agnosticism (as coined by Huxley) is the view that God is unknowable. Strong atheists aren’t agnostics but weak atheists might be, if they not only lack a belief in God but think that it’s impossible to have convincing evidence for (or against) God. Of course, a lot of people take “agnostic” to mean “weak atheist”, so it gets confusing.

Comment #43173

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 4:56 PM (e)

The trouble with making a big deal out of atheism is that the fuss creates the false impression that there is some philosophical or scientific reason to consider the God idea as a viable candidate explanation of the world and how it works instead of what taking it for what it is, something that belongs in an ethnographic museum along with the masks and baskets.

If you aren’t saying that it’s atheists’ fault that there are theists (and it seems unlikely that you would), then I’m not sure what you are saying. There is no neutral party to get this false impression – are you saying that making a big deal out of atheism creates this impression among fence-sitting atheists? That doesn’t seem plausible. I think a big deal is made of atheism because a) theism is so untenable and so theists spend a lot of effort trying to craft a defense, which amounts to attempting to refute atheism, and b) because theism is oppressive and nasty and mind numbing and so atheists struggle against it and its consequences.

Comment #43176

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on August 15, 2005 5:14 PM (e)

Ben:

yes, that’s what is normally called “weak” atheism, or “atheism” for short. Then you have atheists who also have red hair (“red-haired atheists”), atheists who also like strawberry ice cream (“strawberry-ice-cream-liking atheists”), atheists who also maintain that no gods whatsoever exist and they know it for a fact (“strong atheists”), and so on.

More seriously, there are atheists (“no belief in gods”) and then there are atheists with some kind of qualifier added. What unifies all of us, the one trait we all share, is the lack of belief in god(s).

I’ll let you choose how you want to be called (e.g., “agnostic”) if you’ll extend me the same courtesy, and accept the self-definition of atheists that atheists have been giving for centuries now.

Comment #43182

Posted by Ben Ziajka on August 15, 2005 6:10 PM (e)

“a) no evidence for God isn’t mutually exclusive with no evidence for a natural creator”

I presume we might call this natural creator “God”. If it could crate time but is beyond time then it would need a conscious self to do the act.

“b) there are other possibilities, such a universe with infinite history, a closed space-time universe, or a universe that pops into existence for no reason at all”

Yes, I am aware of such possibilities. I don’t know it’s worth it to debate here, but I find that an actual physical infinite (opposed to the useful mathematical concept) isn’t possible. You come across basic logical impossibilities such as the Hilbert’s Hotel example. A Universe that pops into existence for no reason at all seems to be a universe that comes from nothing, which most philosphers agree that nothing comes from nothing (i.e. Epicurus). And as for a closed universe, it depends on what you mean.

“Also, if we separate the origin-of-the-universe question from the why-something-rather-than-nothing question,
there are other possibilities, such as the one I favor — that all logically possible universes necessarily exist.
If all possible universes necessarily exist, then of course this one must.”

Doesn’t this beg the question? That’s just assuming that any possible universes don’t need God as an explanation.

“I favor the latter because I think careful analysis indicates that there’s no coherent concept of a “supernatural” entity — which makes me one of those rare strong atheists, but only on Mondays).”

This is a totally separate problem, which of course I think isn’t correct but I’m not ready to debate it here.

Comment #43185

Posted by Timothy Sandefur on August 15, 2005 6:23 PM (e)

Okay, folks, twelve hour warning. Comments close tomorrow morning.

Comment #43189

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 6:44 PM (e)

“a) no evidence for God isn’t mutually exclusive with no evidence for a natural creator”

I presume we might call this natural creator “God”. If it could crate time but is beyond time then it would need a conscious self to do the act.

No, I was talking about some hypothetical natural cause for the universe. I don’t know what such a cause would be, but I offered some possibilities.

I find that an actual physical infinite (opposed to the useful mathematical concept) isn’t possible. You come across basic logical impossibilities such as the Hilbert’s Hotel example.

Hilbert’s Hotel applies to adding an entry to an infinite array; an infinitely old universe doesn’t have to be modeled that way, regardless of what William Lane Craig says.

A Universe that pops into existence for no reason at all seems to be a universe that comes from nothing, which most philosphers agree that nothing comes from nothing (i.e. Epicurus).

Rather blatant argument from authority. Or consensus gentium. A trillion philosophers could agree to it and it would still have no logical bite. And notably we know a lot more about math, logic, and the universe as a whole than did Epicurus.

And as for a closed universe, it depends on what you mean.

The model in Hawking’s A Brief History of Time

“If all possible universes necessarily exist, then of course this one must.”

Doesn’t this beg the question? That’s just assuming that any possible universes don’t need God as an explanation.

It doesn’t beg any question because I said “if”; I didn’t assert anything. As for God, that doesn’t come into play in this scenario. If all possible universes exist, that answers the “why something rather than nothing” question, because it’s no longer a dichotomy; the empty universe exists, and non-empty universes like this one exist.

“I favor the latter because I think careful analysis indicates that there’s no coherent concept of a “supernatural” entity — which makes me one of those rare strong atheists, but only on Mondays).”

This is a totally separate problem, which of course I think isn’t correct but I’m not ready to debate it here.

It’s not a totally separate problem, it’s an alternative possible way to answer the God/no God question vs. looking for evidence.
And like I said, I only think it’s correct on Mondays – but I fibbed, I really have a lot more confidence in it being correct than that, I only admit to it on Mondays.

Comment #43190

Posted by Flint on August 15, 2005 6:51 PM (e)

On Mondays, I think there are three kinds of people in the world:
1) Those who believe based on evidence;
2) Those who believe in the absence of evidence; and
3) Those who believe in defiance of the evidence.

Everyone here seems to accept the first group as a given, and reject the third as demented (which includes YECs and the like).

This thread seems to have split my second category into two subcategories:
2a) Those who believe in the absence of evidence which is in principle obtainable; and
2b) Those who believe even though evidence may not apply.

Finally, some here have subdivided 2a) into two MORE subcategories:
2a1) Those who believe in the absence of evidence which may someday be found, but probably not soon, or much of it, or very easily. This group might conceivably include those for whom existing evidence doesn’t appear to point in any particular direction, or is unacceptably ambiguous.
2a2) Those who believe in the absence of what should surely be ample, stonkingly obvious evidence if the belief were in fact correct.

And finally, belief in gods is placed into this last category: something the veriest dunce could not doubt even for an instant, if there were in fact any gods. And the generic (by consensus) atheist, in our usage, refuses to credit 2a2)-type belief. Kind of like believing there is an elephant in the room, because there is no evidence of any elephant one way or the other. As Damon Runyan might have said, maybe you can’t *prove* there’s no elephant, but that’s the way to bet.

Comment #43193

Posted by ts (not Tim Sandefur) on August 15, 2005 7:35 PM (e)

Thanks, Flint, I’m saving that. :-) But … it seems that, instead of “those who believe”, it should be “beliefs that are”, since all of us have beliefs that fit into different categories.

Comment #43197

Posted by Flint on August 15, 2005 7:56 PM (e)

On Tuesdays, I recognize that my categories are not mutually exclusive.

Comment #43198

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 15, 2005 7:58 PM (e)

On this thread and elsewhere I’ve observed grown-ups marshalling arguments to attack stories about talking snakes as if it made sense to debunk mythology with syllogisms. I’m in favor of simply dismissing theology, at least literalist theology, instead of lending it credit by acting as if it were something worth refuting.

Comment #43199

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 15, 2005 8:08 PM (e)

Theobald: “Absence of evidence is [sometimes] evidence of absence”, is self-contradictory, since in the first part the presence of evidence is denied and then in the second part its presence is affirmed.

ts: If this is what Theobald intends as a “trivial proof”, it is trivially invalid — the two instances of “evidence” refer to evidence for two different things, one the negation of the other, so of course evidence is first denied and then confirmed. The sentence means that absence of evidence for P is [sometimes] evidence for not P. Duh.

Theobald: Evidence cannot be absent and exist simultaneously. Thus the statement is inconsistent.

ts: Of course it can. Evidence of the existence of God is absent and evidence of the existence of bananas exists. There’s something really seriously wrong with you if you think the two instances of “evidence” in the aphorism refer to evidence for the same proposition.

No, the magnitude of the ‘evidence’ is of course the same in both instances. P and not-P are mutually exclusive. Evidence for P is identical evidence against not-P. Evidence relevant to P is necessarily relevant to not-P, and vice versa. If there is evidence about P, then there is necessarily evidence about not-P. If there is no evidence about P, then there is necessarily no evidence about not-P.

All of this confusion will become very clear if you specifically think about the technical definition of ‘evidence’ as the likelihood or log-likelihood ratio of two hypotheses given a set of data.

Comment #43208

Posted by Jim Lippard on August 15, 2005 10:54 PM (e)

“Absence of evidence is [sometimes] evidence of absence” means that if I search the room for an elephant and don’t find one, that’s evidence that there is no elephant in the room. The absence of evidence for an elephant is evidence that there is no elephant. If P is the hypothesis that there is an elephant in the room, the lack of evidence for P is evidence for not-P. This isn’t a situation where “there is no evidence *about* P”, it’s a situation where there is no evidence *for* P.

There is lots of evidence that is *about* gods–all sorts of documents, testimony, and arguments. There is lots of evidence that is for the existence of gods (the existence of religions, religious documents, religious experience, philosophical arguments), and lots of evidence that is against the existence of gods (the existence of *contradictory* religions, naturalistic accounts of religion and religious experience, philosophical arguments).

Many (likely most) people who are theists are not theists on the basis of evidence or argument, but because they were raised in a particular culture. Many (perhaps most) people who are atheists are atheists on the basis of evidence or argument, and have adopted their viewpoint in spite of their culture.

Comment #43241

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 16, 2005 8:49 AM (e)

Jim wrote:

“Absence of evidence is [sometimes] evidence of absence” means that if I search the room for an elephant and don’t find one, that’s evidence that there is no elephant in the room.

That may be what users of the phrase mean, but that is not what the phrase means. The case you have described is not an absence of evidence. Rather, when you have searched a room and find no elephant, that is the presence of strong evidence for no elephant being in the room.

Using the malign phrase above only sows confusion regarding the proper meanings of ‘evidence’ and ‘data’.

Comment #43243

Posted by Lurker on August 16, 2005 9:02 AM (e)

Absence of evidence leads to an *inference* of absence. The only way to get evidence of absence is in situtations where in principle it is possible to obtain a proof of absence, namely where data can potentially come from a complete search. I agree with Douglas, that in such situtations, it is semantically incoherent to assert this is “absence of evidence.” It is presence of evidence.

The logical positivist notion that only those things with evidence can exist or be meaningful has not been demonstrated to be necessary nor philosophically tenable.

Comment #43245

Posted by Douglas Theobald on August 16, 2005 9:04 AM (e)

As I wrote earlier, and which seems to have gotten buried:

An ‘absence of evidence’ can result for at least three reasons: (1) there is no applicable data at present, (2) the evidence is indecisive (e.g., the support for two competing hypotheses is more-or-less equivalent), and (3) we don’t know what at least one of the hypotheses in question specifically predicts about the data under consideration. In any of the three cases, the adage “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is appropriate and true.

OTOH, when a model predicts certain types of data, and we search for that type of data and find instead another type, that is not ‘absence of evidence’. Rather, this is the case where we have positive data which does not jibe with the hypothesis in question. It is the presence of evidence. The maxim “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” does not apply to this situation, and those who invoke it in this case are confused about the proper scientific meanings of ‘evidence’ and ‘data’.

ts has given the layman definition of ‘evidence’ as “A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment”, which is fine. It should be obvious that, rationally, when evidence is absent, i.e. when we have nothing helpful in forming a conclusion, then we should suspend judgment and not form a conclusion.