Wilkins vs. Myers

John Wilkins has a post up criticizing P.Z. Myers for criticizing Elaine Pagels for criticizing Richard Dawkins. Maybe we’d better start at the beginning.

An interview with historian Elaine Pagels appeared in Salon. The first two thirds of the interview addressed Pagels’ work on the Gnostic Gospels. The final third dealt with questions about faith and science.

There’s much to discuss in the interview, and I recommend reading the whole thing. I found Pagels’ comments about the Gnostic Gospels interesting and thought-provking. Alas, I found her comments about faith and rationality confusing and muddled. In the interests of keeping this blog entry to a reasonable length, however, let’s focus in on the part in dispute between Wilkins and Myers.

What do you make of the recent claim by the atheist Richard Dawkins that the existence of God is itself a scientific question? If you accept the idea that God intervenes in the physical world, don’t there have to be physical mechanisms for that to happen? Therefore, doesn’t this become a question for science?

Well, Dawkins loves to play village atheist. He’s such a rationalist that the God that he’s debunking is not one that most of the people I study would recognize. I mean, is there some great big person up there who made the universe out of dirt? Probably not.

In the context of the interview it is not clear who Pagels means by “the people I study.” It is also not clear what she has in mind in asking if there is some great big person “who made the universe out of dirt.” The usual idea is that God created the universe ex nihilo, not out of preexisting matter.

I’ll assume, however, that this was just a matter of careless phrasing. This was a phone interview, after all. So I take Pagels to be saying that it is unlikely that there is a God who created the universe with one act of His will.

But if that is a correct intepretation of Pagels’ statement, then as a criticism of Dawkins it falls very flat indeed. In fact, it seems like a concession of Dawkins’ main point. Dawkins, after all, was addressing the question of whether there is any sound reason for thinking there is a God behind the creation of the universe. He concluded there is not. Pagels seems to agree.

What is left? If God is not an entity you believe in because otherwise various aspects of the physical universe are unfathomable mysteries, then what reason is there for believing in Him at all? The issue is not whether you can contrive a definition of God so attenuated and divorced from physical reality that you can no longer make rational arguments for or against His existence. No one, not Richrad Dawkins, not Sam Harris, not Daniel Dennett, has ever denied that you can. The question is simply how belief in such a God is different from belief in any other logically possible entity for whom no evidence of existence can be adduced. Flying spaghetti monsters, invisible floating teapots, that kind of thing.

So I would want Pagels to tell me what she thinks God is, if not the entity responsible for the existence of the universe. She comes close to telling us in other parts of the interview, but never actually gives a straight answer. What, exactly, is this more rarefied conception of God that Dawkins was supposed to discuss?

It’s really exasperating that so many people think that an answer like the one given here by Pagels is an adequate response to Dawkins. I see the argument roughly like this:

MOST CHRISTIANS: There are good, rational reasons for believing in a creator God. For example, the argument from design, the argument from answered prayers, and the argument from the historicity of the Bible, among others.

DAWKINS: These are not good arguments. Here’s why…

SOPHISTICATES: You’re such a village atheist. Sure, God belief looks pretty silly if you try to provide actual, rational reasons for it. But you haven’t even laid a glove on notions of God that don’t involve Him actually doing anything, and who has precisely the properties He needs to have to be immune from all rational inquiry. You can’t refute that God, can you? So on what basis do you conclude that God does not exist? Huh?

Incidentally, those three argument I put into the mouths of most Christians are the three I encounter most frequently in my discussions of this topic with them. It’s nice that the people Pagels’ studies have no use for such a low brow conception of God. But most of the Christians I seem to meet have nothing but contempt for the people Pagels studies.

Okay, moving on. P.Z. Myers responded to Pagels in this post. He had much the same reaction as me. He made his point by providing some quotes from Pastor Rick Warren, and then writing the following:

This concept that Pagels finds so unlikely, that there is “some great big person up there who made the universe out of dirt” is precisely what Warren and many millions of Americans believe. I agree that it is absurd, but far from being a “village atheist”, Dawkins seems to be far more aware of what people actually believe than a professional historian of Christianity. I find myself intensely disgusted by the continued and frequent denial of the obvious by the very people who purport to be the experts on the subject — it’s as if they have their eyes firmly closed and refuse to even consider the reality of religious practice.

I think this is exactly right. I would encourage Dr. Pagels to get out of Princeton, NJ for a while and spend some time in Kansas or Western Virginia. It was a real eye-opener for me (I went to high school in Princeton). I suspect it would be for her as well.

To which part of this does Wilkins object? He tells us in this post:

Of course there are people who have a simplistic and literal view of God and religion. That is not at issue and never has been. But what Pagels is saying is something that the uppity atheists always seem to slide over – that there is a more sophisticated view of God that is not so easily knocked down as the idea that God has a backside. And what is more, there always has been (which is the point of studying the Gnostics).

Pagels doesn’t find it unlikely that there are such religious believers, she finds the very same concept PZ finds unlikely, unlikely. And Paul must know this. His response is evasive and I think ultimately a rhetorical trick.

Of course, the more sophisticated view to which Wilkins refers is harder to knock down only because it asserts almost nothing in the way of empirical claims. Myers, in fact, addresses this point later in his blog entry, describing things in much the same way as I did above. We uppity atheists do not slide over the possibility of such a God, we merely find it vacuous and irrelevant, and not the kind of God the large majority of Christians profess to believe.

Pagels was clearly implying not simply that there are more sophisticated views of God, but that these views are in fact fairly common. She was implying that Dawkins was knocking down a strawman in only discussing notions of a creator God. In that light, I think Myers’ reply is entirely correct. It is not Dawkins who is knocking down strawmen, it is Pagels who is holding a view of God far outside the mainstream.

Now, if Wilkins or anyone else want to argue that I am wrong about that, then I am happy to listen. My impressions of what Christians believe are based largely on my personal experiences with Christians, the time I have spent perusing the offerings from evangelical bookstores, the sermons broadcast on Christian radio, and my various adventures at creationist conferences. Perhaps my sample really is biased, and I am allowing a vocal minority to color my impressions.

I seriously doubt that, however.

Wilkins then makes an analogy:

Let’s look at a parallel case. There are people who think that evolution happened. The experts think it happened in one of a number of ways that are disputed or accepted consensually in the discipline of biology; the laity have a range of views that are more or less acceptable. Some even think it happened in such a way that not only humans, but Europeans, were an inevitable outcome.

So, if I say that evolution happened, and give a report of the sophisticated ideas of population genetics, macroevolutionary studies, ecology, and so on, and a creationist responds, as they do, that no, evolutionists believe that Europeans were inevitable, therefore evolutionary theory is simple minded and false, should we accept that argument? Of course we shouldn’t. It’s a fallacious argument.

This is what I reject about the Dawkins/Moran/PZ aggressive atheism – it takes the most stupid version of religion, argues against it, and then claims to have given reasons for not being religious. At best (and here I concur) they have given reasons not to be stupid theists. But a good argument takes on the best of the opposing view, not the worst.

This is a bad analogy. The view that Europeans were the inevitable end result of evolution is a view held by almost nobody with any scientific credentials. The creationist who refuted this idea really would be knocking down a strawman. That is not the case with religion. When someone like Dawkins refutes the idea that the universe is the product of intelligent design, he is not refuting some fringe position held by almost no one.

To put it another way, what Wilkins refers to as the most stupid version of religion, I would refer to as the most common. Dawkins has not extrapolated from refuting the most stupid version of religion to giving reasons for not being religious. Rather, he has refuted the most common assertions about believing in God or thinking that religion is essential for morality and has concluded that religion as it is usually practiced is not very sensible. Of course there are people standing off to the side, holding elaborate religious beliefs that never get around to making an empirically testable claim. But that’s not most people, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time on their views to make criticisms of religion generally.

Wilkins next has a paragraph praising Victor Stenger for being more modest in his own book on this subject. He then closes with this:

So Pagels has a better view of God than the usual run of theists – is this problematic? All cultural traditions have those who understand them better than the majority. Few know how to play Jazz trumpet right. Few know how to paint portraits. Few can program word processors correctly (and they do not work at Microsoft, I’m here to tell you). The existence of the stupid or incompetent is not an argument against the best in those traditions (or else I singlehandedly disprove guitar playing).

So Paul (and Larry) engage with Pagel’s views, and take them seriously. We know that popular religion is pretty ignorant. So, as has been noted lately, is popular science. But if you take on the best that your opposition has to offer (and it isn’t Francis Collins), we might all learn something from the attempt.

Here I would strongly disagree with the idea that Pagels’ view of God is better than the usual run of theists. In fact, I find the fundamentalist view of things far more sensible and better justified. When I talk with them I understand what they believe and why they believe it. They give actual reasons for believing in a God with actual attributes, and they defend those reasons with actual arguments. Bad arguments, mind you, frequently based on very faulty understandings of both science and the Bible. But the fact remains that the argument from design is not obviously stupid.

As for engaging Pagels views, I would be happy to. The trouble is, I can’t figure out what they are. She says things like this:

So when you think about the God that you believe in, how would you describe that God?

Well, I’ve learned from the texts I work on that there really aren’t words to describe God. You spoke earlier about a transcendent reality. I think it’s certainly true that these are not just fictions that we arbitrarily invent.

I’m supposed to engage a God that can not be described with words? And what is meant by the term “transcendent reality?” And if these things aren’t just fictions that we arbitrarily invent, tell me what they actually are and the reasons for believing they exist.

Until that happens I think I will stick with my view that it is Dawkins who is addressing the real thing, and Pagels (and Wilkins) who are erecting strawmen.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    April 7, 2007

    Ramen.

  2. #2 sparc
    April 7, 2007

    Wilkins:

    So Pagels has a better view of God than the usual run of theists – is this problematic?

    I guess one has to ask who has a ‘sophisticated’ view of god and why and when such views have been developed. IMO such views reside in the upper parts of the hierarchy of any religion and they have been developed when inconsistencies within a belief system became obvious or such systems were challenged by reality.
    In any religion the ordinary follower shall just believe. Indeed, the successful forms of Christianity and Islam are the rather simple ones that do not expect the believers to think.

  3. #3 Brian Ford
    April 7, 2007

    I’m jumping into this discussion after it’s been going on for a while (but then, so is everyone else, unless you were somehow around when the first “religion vs. science” debate cropped up), so I’m not sure I have all the information.

    Instead of trying to articulate a complete set of thoughts at this point (why redo a proof when you can just cite a theorem?) I’ll let someone else do it for me and provide you with a blog that might be interesting reading!

    http://blue.butler.edu/~jfmcgrat/blog/index.html

  4. #4 Koray
    April 7, 2007

    You know what? The believers should agree on one version of God’s word so that Dawkins can make his final argument. See, they have the luxury of knowing which religion is correct, but poor Dawkins will be debating every individual’s redefinition of religion for the rest of his life.

    One day Wilkins should explain why the mere existence of the “sophisticated” (as opposed to literal) view of god is not an issue by itself. Harris calls this intellectual dishonesty: when your holy text says that god created the universe, you don’t get to deny it. You can’t rewrite the bible. You don’t get to speculate what Mohammad may have meant to say because that version makes sense to you.

  5. #5 late sleeper
    April 7, 2007

    To a lot of people, belief in God and their reasons for it are highly personal matters. It isn’t always possible to give solid reasons. It isn’t easy to explain what God is because God in his/her/its entirety is something beyond our sensory apparatus and greater than our cognitive awareness – only a hint fragment outline trace can ever be limned. The very word “belief” may be a misnomer because faith seems more about deep emotions than rational explanations. That may be why it infuriates so many in the blogosphere, who hold the expectation that everything can be rationally vetted and peer reviewed. Life mostly isn’t like that, and especially not faith.

    That said, so long as faith sticks to its own – doing things it does best like imparting hope, encouraging fellowship, providing comfort, and when it isn’t fabricating tales about the natural world better explained by science, or waging jihads against believers who believe differently, I’m inclined to let faith be faith. And to let science do science. A majority of the believers I’ve met – actually met not watched on CNN or read in blogs – do pretty much that, so Elaine Pagels’ estimate of what the majority is like looks pretty good from here. The pundits and self-appointed spokespeople represent the average Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever, no better than a supermodel represents the average woman. I guess until someone goes out and systmatically, thoroughly, objectively gathers information on believers, we’re stuck here, everyone insisting they know better than everyone else what believers are like… or what they ought to be like.

  6. #6 John Wilkins
    April 7, 2007

    One day Wilkins should explain why the mere existence of the “sophisticated” (as opposed to literal) view of god is not an issue by itself.

    So what you want is that we state as the boundary conditions of this debate that only one kind of religion should be taken seriously – the stupid kind – in order to dismiss religion as stupid, and not engage with the more reasonable kind, because it isn’t real religion? Am I the only one who thinks this is question begging?

    I do not want to argue that religion is valid or justified – if I thought that I’d argue for it, and be a theist myself. Instead I want to argue that you cannot dismiss an entire tradition on the basis of its stupidest adherents, not honestly.

    Of course, if you want to engage in a debate with the best of the tradition, I will be interested and involved. Then, if we come to some resolution, I can have confidence that there is a reason for the result. Having reasons is what rational people do to justify their claims.

  7. #7 J. J. Ramsey
    April 7, 2007

    “In the context of the interview it is not clear who Pagels means by ‘the people I study.’”

    Pagels is probably referring to the Gnostics.

  8. #8 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 7, 2007

    Wilkins: So, if I say that evolution happened, and give a report of the sophisticated ideas of population genetics, macroevolutionary studies, ecology, and so on, and a creationist responds, as they do, that no, evolutionists believe that Europeans were inevitable, therefore evolutionary theory is simple minded and false, should we accept that argument? Of course we shouldn’t. It’s a fallacious argument.

    Strange. In this imagined conversation, you have actually been supplying evidence that evolution actually happened. Now, show me the evidence for accepting that this more intelligent concept of God actually exists, or that it rational to believe that it exists. Or else admit that it was a way stupid analogy.

    Pagels: I mean, is there some great big person up there who made the universe out of dirt?

    This doesn’t even make sense. If she had said “… who made the first man out of dirt,” then it would make sense and would be a knock on Creationists.

    Wilkins: So Paul (and Larry) engage with Pagel’s views…

    Larry Moran has it going on over at his own blog Sandwalk.

  9. #9 The Science Pundit
    April 7, 2007

    “Well, I’ve learned from the texts I work on that there really aren’t words to describe God. You spoke earlier about a transcendent reality. I think it’s certainly true that these are not just fictions that we arbitrarily invent.”

    –Pagels

    I was at a party once where I had so much to drink that I could barely comprehend everything around me–it all seemed blurred and surreal. Then some guy (who had been drinking even more than myself) came up to me and started talking about God.

    Reading Pagel’s above quote evoked a feeling of bewilderment that brought me back to that old college party.

  10. #10 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 7, 2007

    Wilkins here: I do not want to argue that religion is valid or justified…

    John Wilkins on Sandwalk: but all I argue is that we can, as nonbelievers, allow that theists can be rational in their own way.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    April 7, 2007

    John Wilkins:

    I do not want to argue that religion is valid or justified – if I thought that I’d argue for it, and be a theist myself. Instead I want to argue that you cannot dismiss an entire tradition on the basis of its stupidest adherents, not honestly.

    I have two disagreements with this. First, I suspect that “dismiss” is not the proper verb to describe the current goings-on. Few people involved with this debate swish their left hand at fundamentalist religion and say, “Bah.” Dawkins has gone out of his way to write books and travel the world; Myers blogs more than is humanly possible; Rosenhouse travels to creationist conferences and deals not just with the nonsense offered by their speakers but also with an even worse terror — sandwich shops which do not stock decent bread! These actions do not constitute a dismissal, but rather an engagement.

    Second, you talk of “the stupidest adherents”, a term I find poorly chosen on two counts. First, it implies that creationists are stupid, and I don’t think that’s a useful description (in the scientific sense of being a hypothesis which leads to good predictions). PZ Myers wrote about this not long ago, saying that ignorance and arrogance — neither of which equate with stupidity — characterize the creationist movement. Bob Altemeyer might add that the ignorance and arrogance operate together in a framework of authoritarian psychology. Furthermore, as Jason says in his post, “To put it another way, what Wilkins refers to as the most stupid version of religion, I would refer to as the most common.” Evidence that this is not the most common form of religion would be heartily welcomed (although certainly subjected to cross-criticism all the same — CITOKATE!).

    Perhaps an analogy is in order. Set the Way-Back Machine to 1775. We’re sitting around in good ol’ Colonial Boston, drinking beer out of pewter mugs and saying, “Forsooth, we ought to have ourselves a Revolution and show Georgie Boy what for!”

    “Down with Kings!” says a voice from the smoke-shrouded far end of the pub. “Down with Monarchism!” echoes another.

    “But haven’t Emperors been the patrons of musicians, architects and natural philosophers?”

    “Ah, ye rascal, but what does that matter?”

    “Ye can’t condemn the whole Institution of Monarchy by listing the Grievances against the stupidest Kings, an’ the crimes the most dastardly Royals have done against the Citizens.”

    “Watch yer tongue, or I’ll clip yer Cranium with Messr. Revere’s Pewter beer-stein. ‘Tis true that a few Kings have dropped the odd Florin into an artist’s palm, but the great Balance of Royalty has always been weighted to the wretched. The Historickal fact that a Good Pharaoh once ruled in Alexandria has precious bloody little to do with King George’s reprehensible Conduct in the here-and-now.”

  12. #12 Blake Stacey
    April 7, 2007

    Now, to pick my own nits with Jason’s post. This is the most important:

    The question is simply how belief in such a God is different from belief in any other logically possible entity for whom no evidence of existence can be adduced. Flying spaghetti monsters, invisible floating teapots, that kind of thing.

    In modern Internet theology, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is an interventionist deity evidence for whose actions (so the believers claim) can be found throughout the natural world. The original letter to the Kansas School Board spoke of the FSM “creating a mountain, trees, and a midget.” Every time a scientist makes a measurement, “the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.”

    Orbiting Teapots are, by comparison, removed from the observable world (particularly those worshiped in their sacred orbits around Pluto). They bear the same relation to the FSM that Pagels’ God does to James Dobson’s. The Invisible Pink Unicorn is one step farther removed still, since She incorporates the Nicean attribute of inconsistency (invisible and pink being no stranger than three and one).

  13. #13 Torbj÷rn Larsson
    April 7, 2007

    Instead I want to argue that you cannot dismiss an entire tradition on the basis of its stupidest adherents, not honestly.

    This raises, maybe even begs, the question about what stupid is here. As the more rarefied concept is “vacuous and irrelevant” (which I tend to agree with), Wilkins doesn’t seem to give an answer.

    The difference between a philosophical and empirical analysis here is that the empirical analysis looks at the strongest and most easily observed parts first, while for some reason the philosophical analysis wants to protect the weakest assertion.

    Also, by debunking the stronger claims the weaker will be doubtful on top of the irrelevancy. So I would contend that Jason, Dawkins et cetera has already analyzed “the best of the tradition”, whether it is the effective concepts or the vacuous ones.

    But frankly I’m not sure why philosophers want to muck about with concepts that has been about for thousands of years, and seems doubtful or uninteresting for the newer tools of empirical knowledge. A proactive and interesting philosophy would suggest new areas of analysis.

    Meanwhile, why not pick apart later claims of theology? Theistic evolution in all its forms seems to be ripe for analysis. If it is done already, I can’t find it – the only attempt I can find is by one Larry Moran. ;-) ( http://bioinfo.med.utoronto.ca/Evolution_by_Accident/Theistic_Evolution.html ) Even sites such as Talk Origin suggests there is no problem. ( http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-god.html )

  14. #14 386sx
    April 7, 2007

    Orbiting Teapots are, by comparison, removed from the observable world (particularly those worshiped in their sacred orbits around Pluto). They bear the same relation to the FSM that Pagels’ God does to James Dobson’s.

    Only if you count the less sophisticated traditions of the FSM. Some people understand the FSM better than other people. Why do you only debunk the weaker claims?

    The Invisible Pink Unicorn is one step farther removed still, since She incorporates the Nicean attribute of inconsistency (invisible and pink being no stranger than three and one).

    I’m not sure whose Invisible Pink Unicorn unicorn you’re talking about there, buddy, but my Invisible Pink Unicorn ain’t nothing like that one. You’re only attacking the strawman Unicorn. Mine is a visible invisible one. Please only engage in a debate with the best of the tradition. Thank you.

  15. #15 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 7, 2007

    John Wilkins-

    In the interest of making things more concrete, perhaps you could suggest a few sources that present what you regard as the best possible case for religious belief. In your original post you suggested rather pointedly that Francis Collins did not represent the best religion had to offer. So who does?

    And, again, what you are describing as the stupid kind of religion is actually the most common kind, at least in the U.S. As strongly as I disagree with the fundamentalist/evangelical view of things, and as much as I think their arguments are based largely on ignorance, in certain ways I find their writing more admirable than what I find from more sophisticated people like John Haught, Alvin Plantinga or John Polkinghorne.

    late sleeper-

    I agree with some of what you say in your comment. It’s fine if people want to say that their reasons for belief are personal or that they can’t provide clear reasons for their belief, or that God is so incomprehensible that we lack words to describe Him. But if people want to go this route, they really must accept the consequences of this view.

    First, they are conceding Dawkins’ point that religious belief is not something that can be defended rationally. This certainly puts them at odds with most of the Christians I encounter, who seem to think Christian belief is the most rational thing in the world. At any rate I hardly think Dawkins can be faulted for not providing more space to the people who hold their beliefs for irrational, inexpressible personal reasons.

    Second, they should concede that their religious beliefs should not be normative for the rest of society. You can’t say on the one hand that religious belief is highly personal and not something that can be defended rationally to people outside a circle of believers, and then turn around and say that the government should base its public policy on the teachings of that religion.

    I am perfectly happy to let faith be faith, and let science be science. The trouble is I see very little of that attitude coming from the other side. In the U.S. we have one political party that takes a hard-line, evangelical view of Christianity, allowing its platform on a large number of issues to be shaped by what John Wilkins calls the stupid kind of religion. We have another party that takes the theologically moderate position, that faith is very important but that it also private, and should not inform public policy decisions that affect everyone. The hard-line party is perfectly happy to blur the line of separation between church and state, while the moderate party favors a strong separation.

    And which party gets the lion’s share of the religious vote in this country? The hard-liners.

    I don’t think groups like fundamentalists and evangelicals achieve the kind of power they have by being a minority. I think there are far more of them then you would like to admit (the public opinion polls back me up on that), and I think even a lot of so-called moderates are more sympathetic to the them then they are to secularists. Hence my frustration with people like Pagels. I think she has become so engrossed in the small subset of belivers that arise in her scholarly pursuits that she is ingoring the bigger picture.

  16. #16 Wes
    April 7, 2007

    Popper’s criterion of falsification might be well applied here.

    It seems to me that many of the more “sophisticated” views of God simply make God less falsifiable. They remove him from any known means of confirmation that we possess.

    Now, why would believers have to do that? Why would they have to keep redefining God and keep pushing him away from the boundaries of the knowable? If we have good reason to believe in God, would these constant retreats from reality be necessary? What constitutes “good reasons to believe” for a being that is constantly redefined every time it’s found that some aspect of him conflicts with confirmed knowledge?

    As Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to John Adams, to say that God is immaterial is to say there is no God. Broadening that sentiment, constantly redefining God merely to protect him from falsificaion is the same as admitting there is no God. If the more “sophisticated” God is one who is not in the universe, didn’t create the universe, can’t be described in words, can’t be confirmed by any known means, etc etc, then the “sophisticated” God is just yet another God of the Gaps, the gaps in this case being epistemological gaps rather than empirical gaps (the kind more “simple minded” beliefs in God rely on).

    The empirical gaps are closing rapidly, and what remains of them are not plausibly attributable to God (unless you want to go the “intelligent design” route…). And the epistemological gaps are not guaranteed to stay open. What if they close? Where will God retreat to then?

    I think that the mere fact that God must be continually redefined in order to keep him beyond the realm of the confirmable is strong evidence that an agnostic or atheistic view is the most reasonable. There’s no point in believing in a being that is specifically defined as undefinable. Doing so is nothing more than inventing your own version of God, and then insisting that your made-up version exists somewhere other than in your own imagination.

    In other words, it’s a delusion.

  17. #17 Bob O'H
    April 7, 2007

    *puts on helmet, enters fray*

    It always looks to me as if these disputes end up with people talking past each other. My suspicion at the moment is that this is partly due to the inability of at least one side to understand the epistemic priorities of the other side.

    Hm, I seem to have lost the right words. Perhaps best if I demonstrate by example:

    We uppity atheists do not slide over the possibility of such a God, we merely find it vacuous and irrelevant, …

    This raises the question of why Jason finds such a god “vacuous and irrelevant”. My guess is because such a god doesn’t help to explain the physical world (Jason, is this more or less correct?). Such an analysis is founded on a materialistic outlook: essentially, crossing the line from methodological naturalism to metaphysical naturalism. From this perspective, even a sophisticated view of a diety becomes unnecessary.

    The problem, I believe, is that believers in a sophisticated diety start off with different philosophical commitments: their primary interest may be in the explanation of the meaning of life, or of morality and moral codes. From this perspective, belief in some sort of god is more appealing, and that is weighed more heavily in their considerations than explanations for the physical world (of course, one can find explanations for both physical and spiritual questions with or without invoking a god).

    What then happens is that the uppity atheists criticise the sophisticated theists (and deists, I suppose), but based on their own philosophical commitments, IOW assuming that the reason to invoke gods is to explain the physical world. But this is only a winning argument if that is the main (or only) reason to believe in gods. But if for the sophisticated theists this isn’t the main reason, then the argument is (to them) largely irrelevant.

    What often seems to be lacking is an appreciation and understanding of the other side’s viewpoint (note how Jason characterises the viewpoint of MOST CHRISTIANS: there is no consideration of the spiritual). I think it is because it is ignored or dismissed by uppity atheists that they comes across as arrogant: they simply aren’t attempting to engaging the other side on any intellectual territory but their own.

    I’m very much with John on this: the views of the Other Side shouldn’t be dismissed by attacking a straw man, and I think the main reason this is done is because many atheists are so stuck in their world-view that they are unable to appreciate the theist view of life.

    As with many disputes, this analysis would be equally applicable to many on both sides. I think we need people like John who want to try and understand the views of the opposition, and who can try and create some sort of rapport and dialogue. Until we understand those we argue against, we aren’t going to be terribly effective.

    Bob

  18. #18 Koray
    April 7, 2007

    John Wilkins: To me there are no such things as a reasonable version of a particular religion and a stupid version.

    Let’s say we’re talking about either christian or muslim literalism. What we have is a sacred text, which is meant to guide the believers through life kind of like a owner’s manual of the soul. It’s meant to be read and understood by ordinary folk and even teenagers.

    Therefore, I don’t subscribe to the notion of a “stupid” reading of the text. What if you have thousands of these people stranded on an island? All they have is the bible and they can’t be blamed for their “unsophisticated” reading of it.

    And the book in the 14th century also said that god created the universe, a statement that was certainly indisputable to any believer back then . Why is a believer supposed to think and act differently reading the same book in two different eras?

    We’re doing all this dancing just not to acknowledge that the books have been at least heavily corrupted, even including the possibility that they even had no divine origin That would certainly be a disaster. Instead, the preferred course of action is to pretend to accept the text as a whole (so that you keep calling yourself a christian), but to make your own edits anyway. That’s not sophistication to me; that’s intellectual dishonesty.

  19. #19 Craig Pennington
    April 7, 2007

    This raises the question of why Jason finds such a god “vacuous and irrelevant”. My guess is because such a god doesn’t help to explain the physical world

    I can’t speak for Jason, but my own opinion is that such gods are vacuous and irrelevent not merely because they don’t help explain the physical world, but because they don’t help explain anything. They only to serve pegs on which theists can hang their beliefs, confident that they are safe from disproof. They are unnecessary entities.

  20. #20 JohnnieCanuck
    April 7, 2007

    Tell me again why the never did anything, disengaged god is the essential one to confront.

    Seems to me that only a theologist or a philosophy grad student could wring any use out of one of those. I will wait until someone offers adequate proof for their version of the thousands of possible such entities. The onus is on them, after all.

    I assume John Wilkins has never come across a sophisticated religionist who has adequate proof of god, or John Wilkins would be a theist. He would have us tilting at the ghosts of ghosts.

    If you go about living your life as if god has no effect on you, then there is no practical difference between yourself and an atheist. The rest is just hand waving and arguing for the enjoyment of arguing.

    When it comes down to it, the difference between an atheist and an agnostic is so small you can’t slide a piece of paper between them. Even the most adamant atheist must admit that, in the improbable event that extraordinary evidence for a god does appear, then theism is the only option. Couple that with agnostics that make their life decisions as if no gods exist and the only difference left is that the religious have spent more energy vilifying the word atheist.

    Seems some people enjoy imagining tempests in Bertrand Russell’s Teapot.

  21. #21 HI
    April 7, 2007

    Bob O’H wrote:

    This raises the question of why Jason finds such a god “vacuous and irrelevant”. My guess is because such a god doesn’t help to explain the physical world (Jason, is this more or less correct?).

    I can’t speak for Jason, either. But the reason that I do find the more sophisticated concept of God is vacuous and irrelevant is the following: Religious people, at least many Christians, claim that it is important to have belief in God who listens to and even answers to their prayers, who gives purpose to their lives, who defines what is good and what is bad, etc. Otherwise, they would say among other things, life is purposeless and lonely, and there is nothing that prevent immorality. But does the more sophisticated concept of God provide the things that many believers find important?

    Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance discussed about Terry Eagleton’s criticism of Dawkins, which is similar in nature to that of Pagels. Eagleton wrote:

    For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or “existent”: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves.

    But do ordinary Christians pray for “the condition of possibility” and does “the condition of possibility” answer the prayers?

  22. #22 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 7, 2007

    The problem, I believe, is that believers in a sophisticated diety start off with different philosophical commitments: their primary interest may be in the explanation of the meaning of life, or of morality and moral codes. From this perspective, belief in some sort of god is more appealing, and that is weighed more heavily in their considerations than explanations for the physical world (of course, one can find explanations for both physical and spiritual questions with or without invoking a god).

    Those are misguided commitments. To “explain the meaning of life” implies that there is a meaning of life, beyond what you yourself give to it. It is begging the question. Appealing to the supernatural to explain morality is what Francis Collins, by no means sophisticated in his faith, does. The natural explanations work just fine, are consistent with the evidence (e.g. animal ethics) and are scientifically testable. Collins does a nauseous disservice to researchers in fields other than his own. “Spiritual questions” – that is a poor choice of word. If you mean moral, say moral. If you mean emotional, say emotional. Spiritual is a bad word for such purposes because some people use it to include supernatural stuff. I have noticed frequently in such discussions that a person will ride into the debate on one definition, and attempt to ride off on another.

    To boil down all of what you are saying, “sophisticated” believers just want to believe, just like the unsophisticated ones. Wish fulfillment is hardly a rational basis for epistemology.

  23. #23 JohnnieCanuck
    April 7, 2007

    Bob O’B. said:

    …many atheists are so stuck in their world-view that they are unable to appreciate the theist view of life.

    Given that I think that all theists are indulging in wishful thinking, where do I start to appreciate their view? My analysis is that they start with a need and then make a wish. Their thinking only really starts when they attempt to justify the wish.

    It’s not that I can’t appreciate a good fantasy or science fiction tale, I do. That kind of make believe appeals to me, but in neither case do I try to convince myself that it can have an effect in the real world.

    Besides arguing why I think they are wrong, what else could I tell them without being patronising? “There, there, it’s alright to be afraid of dying. Go ahead and believe in the afterlife, if it makes you feel better. Just listen to Pat Robertson, he’ll tell you what to do.” Somehow no, that is just not right.

    Some very intelligent people believe in god. That just means they create particularly well constructed rationalisations and somehow never notice how cleverly they dodge arguments for reality.

  24. #24 JohnnieCanuck
    April 7, 2007

    Sorry, Bob O’H. that is.

  25. #25 windy
    April 7, 2007

    This raises the question of why Jason finds such a god “vacuous and irrelevant”. My guess is because such a god doesn’t help to explain the physical world (Jason, is this more or less correct?). Such an analysis is founded on a materialistic outlook: essentially, crossing the line from methodological naturalism to metaphysical naturalism. From this perspective, even a sophisticated view of a diety becomes unnecessary.

    The question isn’t whether atheists are crossing the line delimiting the physical universe, but whether a proposed god is crossing it in the other direction. If it does, it’s free game for atheists playing whack-a-god no matter how sophisticated it is. OK? ;)

    The problem, I believe, is that believers in a sophisticated diety start off with different philosophical commitments: their primary interest may be in the explanation of the meaning of life, or of morality and moral codes.

    Life, morality and moral codes are emergent features of the physical universe. How can sophisticated gods affect aspects of life and morality without being interventionist?

  26. #26 Leni
    April 7, 2007

    Blake Stacey wrote:

    Ah, ye rascal, but what does that matter?

    LOL… are you sure your Way-Back Machine didn’t accidentally trasport us to a pirate ship? :)

  27. #27 Wes
    April 7, 2007

    When it comes down to it, the difference between an atheist and an agnostic is so small you can’t slide a piece of paper between them. Even the most adamant atheist must admit that, in the improbable event that extraordinary evidence for a god does appear, then theism is the only option. Couple that with agnostics that make their life decisions as if no gods exist and the only difference left is that the religious have spent more energy vilifying the word atheist.

    This is why agnosticism is sometimes called “weak atheism”, and is contrasted with “strong atheism” which is a denial of the existence of gods.

    In practice, an agnostic and an atheist will live their lives similarly. And they’re the same in that neither believes in God. But there is a logical distinction between saying “I do not believe in God” and saying “I believe there is no God” (for the same reason that “Joe did not say he’s going to the party” and “Joe said he’s not going to the party” are logically different), so it’s important to realize that agnosticism and (strong) atheism are not the same thing.

    An agnostic or weak atheist does not believe in God, but only because he feels there’s not enough evidence, so he’s withholding belief. He doesn’t believe, but he also doesn’t outright deny God’s existence either. A strong atheist, however, feels that there is enough evidence to say that there is no God.

    Also, an agnostic is not necessarily wishy-washy (though some certainly are). One could claim that every religion on Earth is utterly false, and still not be a strong atheist. Because what reason do we have to suppose that all the possible types of gods have been exhausted by the religions on Earth? An agnostic might say, “I don’t know if there’s any kind of ‘god’ ‘outside’ the universe, because I don’t know what’s ‘outside’ the universe–I don’t even have a clear understanding of what ‘outside the universe’ means. But I do know that all the gods I’ve ever been told about by the religions are completely implausible, and if there is a god, it isn’t any of those.” This is about as close to strong atheism as you can get without being a strong atheist, of course.

  28. #28 J. J. Ramsey
    April 7, 2007

    JohnnieCanuck: “Given that I think that all theists are indulging in wishful thinking”

    There’s a problem right there. It is one thing to say that theists are wrong. It is another thing to say that theists come to those conclusions because of a particular fallacy rather than because of a range of various errors, some of which are more indicative of foolishness than others.

    windy: “it’s free game for atheists playing whack-a-god no matter how sophisticated it is. OK? ;)”

    Of course. However, it is pretty silly to look at two moles, er, gods, whack only one of them, and say you’ve whacked both. This is the essence of Wilkins’ complaint. That one mole is more popular than the other is irrelevant.

    One thing I find interesting is that PZ Myers wrote as if Pagels was unaware of people like Rick Warren. Myers missed the big obvious flag: “the God that he’s debunking is not one that most of the people I study would recognize” [emphasis added]. Hello!? Pagels studies the Gnostics. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Pagels is saying that the God that Dawkins is debunking isn’t the God of the Gnostics. Whether that is true is another story, but it is a story in which Rick Warren is a red herring.

    (Never thought I’d be providing a partial defense of Pagels. Offhand, she seems to romanticize the Gnostics.)

  29. #29 realpc
    April 7, 2007

    Most people learn about their religion as children, and it is a simplified fairy tale version. They either continue to believe that version later in life, or reject it. Most people do not continue to study religion and do not reach a more sophisticated understanding.

    The same thing happens with science. There is a great difference between the understanding of the average non-biologist, for example, and someone who has devoted his/her life to biology research.

    Dawkins often attacks religion at the fairy tale level. It’s like criticizing a 4th grade understanding of some biological concept. It doesn’t matter if most Christians you know are not sophisticated. Most people are only sophisticated in the things they happen to have devoted their lives to. So when you criticize religion, you should focus on the ideas of people who have devoted their lives to religion.

    [I'm supposed to engage a God that can not be described with words? And what is meant by the term ´┐Żtranscendent reality?´┐Ż]

    Human language is very limited. Yes it’s useful and yes it’s pretty much the only way we can communicate with each other. But as soon as we try to communicate about things beyond the practical everyday level confusion results. And the hardest things to express in human language are transcendent and mystical experiences.

    There is a whole range of mystical and transcendent experiences, ranging from ordinary joy, poetic ecstacies, etc. on up through union with god. No one has ever been able to translate these experiences directly into human language. Why do you think people write poems and create art and music? If we could just explain the experience using ordinary logic, there would be no need for art.

    Not everyone is sensitive to transcendent experiences, and there may be a percentage of the population that is utterly earthly. This may partially account for the lack of understanding between believers and atheists. Believers just know certain things directly, and you can’t explain color to someone who was born blind, or music to someone born deaf.

  30. #30 Michael Glenn
    April 7, 2007

    “Believers just know certain things directly, and you can’t explain color to someone who was born blind, or music to someone born deaf.”

    But in that case are you any longer talking about “belief”?

    I don’t think personal experience is the concern of people like Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Myers, Rosenhouse, et al. They are attacking a specific target: the reasons given by believers for their belief in supernatural beings who actively intervene in nature and in our lives, in particular the Jealous God of Abraham–not to mention the reasons given by those believers for the rest of us to believe as well.

    These attacks are perceived by many as attacks on religious, mystical, or spiritual (for lack of better words) experience per se. So people ranging from Elaine Pagels to John Wilkins get their backs up.

    To attack belief in interventionist supernatural beings is not to absolutely rule out any kind of religious, spiritual, or mystical perspective whatsoever. Harris is interested in that realm of experience, while recognizing that the existence or nonexistence of supernatural beings has nothing to do with it. Dawkins, in his Time magazine debate with Francis Colins, insists that his “mind is not closed,” but that “if there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

    Isn’t it important to keep straight what’s being criticized and what isn’t? A personal experience is not a theistic dogma.

  31. #31 Explicit Atheist
    April 8, 2007

    Posted by: Bob O’H | April 7, 2007 03:06 PM

    “The problem, I believe, is that believers in a sophisticated diety start off with different philosophical commitments: their primary interest may be in the explanation of the meaning of life, or of morality and moral codes. From this perspective, belief in some sort of god is more appealing, and that is weighed more heavily in their considerations than explanations for the physical world (of course, one can find explanations for both physical and spiritual questions with or without invoking a god).”

    Firstly, it would be nice if there was an after life. But wanting something doesn’t make it so. This is also true for any god’s existence claims that are derived from wanting some sort of transcendental answer to such philsophical questions. That is why it is correct to say this is an argument from wishfull thinking.

    Secondly, the underlying notion that philosophical explanations must be transcendent or absent is a false dichotomy. That being the case, there is no point to claiming any god when seeking such explanations.

    Thirdly, some sort of god is as useless for obtaining explanations for those dubious philosophical commitments as it is for the physical world. Theism and atheism as such are both equally sterile as theoretical foundation for concrete norms of morality or meaning. Motivationally, belief in either of them is far too crude a touchstone to correlate with civilized moral conduct on the personal, social, or national level.

    In other words, the problem is that the “sophisticated” theists are not being sophisticated at all. Regardless of what angle it is viewed from, their reliance on obtuse god beliefs are just as unjustified as the more anthropomorphic theisms.

  32. #32 windy
    April 8, 2007

    Of course. However, it is pretty silly to look at two moles, er, gods, whack only one of them, and say you’ve whacked both. This is the essence of Wilkins’ complaint. That one mole is more popular than the other is irrelevant.

    (Perhaps carrying the mole analogy too far…) What if the second mole is just the shadow of the first mole? Why insist that we haven’t taken on the best mole believers have to offer, if no one is able to describe that mole?

    ‘Oh, there was this much more sophisticated mole here a moment ago, you just missed it’

  33. #33 J. J. Ramsey
    April 8, 2007

    windy: “(Perhaps carrying the mole analogy too far…) What if the second mole is just the shadow of the first mole?”

    If it is, then you’re fine. However, this probably is taking the mole analogy too far. The “sophisticated” forms of God are a shadow of the popular God in the sense that they don’t seem to do much beside providing an object of awe, but they are not necessarily a shadow in the sense that the arguments against the popular God may not apply to that of the “sophisticated” one. I’m hedging here because there are a range of “sophisticated” Gods, and the arguments that pertain to them vary.

    windy: “Why insist that we haven’t taken on the best mole believers have to offer, if no one is able to describe that mole?”

    IMHO, that’s a weak argument. It is certainly possible to deal with something that we can never fully understand, where we are left with only the ability to provide partial and often inaccurate descriptions. It is certainly reasonable to ask, “What is your justification for believing that your partial descriptions refer to a real thing?” but that is different from saying that a thing cannot exist if words cannot truly describe it.

  34. #34 realpc
    April 8, 2007

    “if there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

    I didn’t realize Dawkins had said that. But that’s a very broad generalization about theologists, and I doubt he knows what they have all proposed.

    The idea of God as incomprehensible and unimaginable is very commoon. That has been my conception of God for most of my life. I questioned the fairy tale version, read a lot on the subject, was an atheist for quite a while, questioned atheism, read a lot about that, and now I’m an agnostic believer. In other words, I accept the undeniable experiences of super-physical reality, but I don’t pretend to be able to understand it.

    If Dawkins is merely criticizing fairy tale versions of religion, then ok but so what? There are very large numbers of believers like me who consider god incomprehensible. And many of them are probably Christian or Jewish — although many I guess are independents like me.

    Yes of course there are millions of Christians who consider the Judeo-Christian bible to have been written by God. But I think anyone who actually reads the bible would see that it is obviously written by humans of various eras, with various political agendas.

    But it’s much easier to either entirely accept or entirely reject the bible. It’s harder to sort through it all and search for grains of truth.

    I know Christians who have are very sophisticated, but they accept the whole religion so they can belong to a tradition. I can sympathize with that. They know there are ridiculous and contradictory things in their religion, but they also know that is life. We can’t understand God so we make up a lot of stuff. You aren’t supposed to take it all literally — nothing in life can actually be taken literally. We make the best of what we have, and for some people it’s great to belong to a tradition.

    There are lots of people, like Dawkins, who become atheists because they take Christian literalism literally. If Dawkins realized, as Sam Harris seems to, that there is an awful lot we don’t understand about our universe, he would be more open-minded than he seems to be. Harris is open to evidence from parapsychology, but Dawkins is not, as far as I know.

  35. #35 Craig Pennington
    April 8, 2007

    Not everyone is sensitive to transcendent experiences, and there may be a percentage of the population that is utterly earthly. This may partially account for the lack of understanding between believers and atheists. Believers just know certain things directly, and you can’t explain color to someone who was born blind, or music to someone born deaf.

    But here’s the rub: I can build a machine which will demonstrate the fact of color perception to a blind person and explain to that person how vision generally and color perception specifically works. Given that there is no analogous situation for those “certain things” that believers “just know,” how might one distinguish transcendental knowledge from delusion?

  36. #36 Blake Stacey
    April 8, 2007

    Leni asked:

    LOL… are you sure your Way-Back Machine didn’t accidentally trasport us to a pirate ship? :)

    I thought about pulling out my copy of Mason & Dixon and making the dialog all authentic-sounding, but then I thought, “Arrr, it not be worth the trouble.”

  37. #37 windy
    April 8, 2007

    J J Ramsey wrote: It is certainly possible to deal with something that we can never fully understand, where we are left with only the ability to provide partial and often inaccurate descriptions. It is certainly reasonable to ask, “What is your justification for believing that your partial descriptions refer to a real thing?” but that is different from saying that a thing cannot exist if words cannot truly describe it.

    I can easily imagine how a believer could become convinced of a paradoxical ‘truth’ through a mystical experience. But how do non-believers like John Wilkins and maybe you(?) convince themselves that a mystical non-describable god-concept A is better than some other god-concept B? Can anyone walk us through the comparison process?

  38. #38 Blake Stacey
    April 8, 2007

    Believers just know certain things directly, and you can’t explain color to someone who was born blind, or music to someone born deaf.

    <snark>

    . . . or reason to a person born irrational . . .

    </snark>

  39. #39 Blake Stacey
    April 8, 2007

    Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll is in high form. He’s been inspired (if that’s the word) by a USA Today story about “prayer warriors”, people who have taken the phrase “a wing and a prayer” to new heights. Here is the gist of the story itself:

    CINCINNATI — Ten small single-engine airplanes circling over Ohio on Friday afternoon will be on a special mission. They’ll be taking part in PrayerFlight, airplanes filled with people praying for the health and welfare of the state’s 11 million residents. [...] The prayer warriors, from all religious affiliations, pray silently and aloud while aloft. They ask God to guide leaders, pray for people in schools and hospitals, and ask for salvation. [...]

    The second flight had eight planes with 26 people, including six youths from Teens for Christ, a ministry of teenagers from 22 high schools. This time the group prayed over seven Ohio counties.

    Samantha Ciminillo, 18, of Lima, a member of Teens for Christ, took one of the December flights. It was her first airplane ride. “You see rows and rows of houses, and you know they are full of people you are praying for,” she said. [...] For now, Ciminillo is looking forward to Friday. “God works through the power of prayer,” she said. “I’m expecting big things to happen.”

    And here is what Prof. Carroll has to say:

    Now, as a connoisseur of sophisticated theology, I am well aware that the vast majority of religious believers share a philosophically nuanced image of the divine, such as one might read about in the London Review of Books. God is viewed as a manifestation of immanent transcendence (some tension there, to be deliciously savored!), a precondition of the universe’s existence, standing outside our ordinary categories of substance and imagination. Happy times they are, as these typically devout folks chat away over dinner about the progress of our understanding from Tertullian to Levinas, relaxing over dessert with anecdotes about Ricoeur’s hermeneutic speculations.

    But, in the interests of complete honesty, we must admit that there are still a few folks out there — one or two, scattered about the landscape — who indulge in a somewhat more literal vision of the traditional religious stories. People who believe that God is some kind of person, sitting up there in the sky, looking down on us and passing judgment. A being quite frightfully anthropomorphic, whose omniscience and omnipotence correspond roughly to those associated with the beard of Gandalf and the strength of Superman, respectively.

  40. #40 Explicit Atheist
    April 8, 2007

    Posted by: realpc | April 8, 2007 08:46 AM

    incomprehensible and unimaginable is very commoon. That has been my conception of God for most of my life. I questioned the fairy tale version, read a lot on the subject, was an atheist for quite a while, questioned atheism, read a lot about that, and now I’m an agnostic believer. In other words, I accept the undeniable experiences of super-physical reality, but I don’t pretend to be able to understand it.

    If Dawkins is merely criticizing fairy tale versions of religion, then ok but so what? There are very large numbers of believers like me who consider god incomprehensible. And many of them are probably Christian or Jewish — although many I guess are independents like me.

    It is a fairy tale to say Dawkins is “merely” criticizing fairy tale versions of religion. Look, the issue is belief justification and this fundamental need to justify one’s beliefs regarding the truth of factual claims doesn’t diminish just because beliefs can be as elastic as our imagination skills allow. We justify our beliefs regarding the truth of factual claims with supporting evidence and with logically derived explanatory utility. However you define them god beliefs are merely declarations that don’t have such justifications. Just endlessly re-defining gods to fit in hidden niches beyond the reach of empirical investigation does nothing constructive to address the supporting evidence and explanatory value added failures of god claims.

    If we say “the devil made them do X” have we thusly explained anything more than if we had said “they unethically did X”? It is exactly the same with all of these gods. Gods and devils are merely declarations masquerading as explanations that are totally lacking in explanatory substance.

    Yes of course there are millions of Christians who consider the Judeo-Christian bible to have been written by God. But I think anyone who actually reads the bible would see that it is obviously written by humans of various eras, with various political agendas.

    But it’s much easier to either entirely accept or entirely reject the bible. It’s harder to sort through it all and search for grains of truth.

    Why should we devote this effort to “search for grains of truth” in the ancient superstition filled bibles about imaginary gods when it is so much more productive to search in modern scholarship?

    I know Christians who have are very sophisticated, but they accept the whole religion so they can belong to a tradition. I can sympathize with that. They know there are ridiculous and contradictory things in their religion, but they also know that is life. We can’t understand God so we make up a lot of stuff. You aren’t supposed to take it all literally — nothing in life can actually be taken literally. We make the best of what we have, and for some people it’s great to belong to a tradition.

    Understand what God? And of course things can be taken literally. If you walk into that wall you will literally bounce off of it.

    There are lots of people, like Dawkins, who become atheists because they take Christian literalism literally. If Dawkins realized, as Sam Harris seems to, that there is an awful lot we don’t understand about our universe, he would be more open-minded than he seems to be. Harris is open to evidence from parapsychology, but Dawkins is not, as far as I know.

    Bull. Dawkins isn’t an atheist because he takes Christian literalism literally, he is an atheist because gods are imaginary creations of superstitious people that lack explanatory utility or supporting evidence. Atheists are consistent, we believe in the truth of fact claims only when they have explanatory utility and/or supporting evidence and we don’t arbitrarily make exceptions, call the exceptions religious faith, and unjustifiably claim this religious faith is a source of truth.

  41. #41 J. J. Ramsey
    April 8, 2007

    “But how do non-believers like John Wilkins and maybe you(?) convince themselves that a mystical non-describable god-concept A is better than some other god-concept B?”

    I can’t speak for Wilkins, but I’d say that a God-concept that isn’t in outright contradiction to the facts is a darn sight better than a God-concept that isn’t. Better still if the holders of such a God-concept don’t insist that others don’t make the leap of faith that they do. Such a God-concept is a poor scientific theory, but it at least tends to stay out of the way.

  42. #42 Blake Stacey
    April 8, 2007

    realpc said,

    If Dawkins realized, as Sam Harris seems to, that there is an awful lot we don’t understand about our universe, he would be more open-minded than he seems to be.

    Much of the Universe is mysterious to me. I do not know what chemical reactions led to the first living things on this Earth, and I do not know if similar reactions happened on other planets to create life there as well. I do not know which mechanism or combination of mechanisms led to my species having its imperfect, inconsistent but quite important aptitude for moral behavior. I don’t know how Shakespeare chose the right words on so many occasions, and I have hardly a clue why Yoko Kanno’s opening theme to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex gets me right there every time.

    Ignorance has its own qualities and flavors. In my judgment, the open questions I just listed and others like them reflect a more subtle kind of not-knowing than religious mystery, which I have always seen boil down to the complaint, “I don’t know how the Magic Man did that!”

    Harris is open to evidence from parapsychology, but Dawkins is not, as far as I know.

    It is always possible that Harris is “open” to parapsychological “evidence” because he is not familiar with the investigations which have shown this “evidence” to be flawed, faulty and just no good. Scientists have been tripped up before: your average astronomer or competent chemist is accustomed to playing against an adversary who fights fair. To paraphrase Einstein, the Good Lady Isis is subtle but not malicious: Nature can be difficult to understand, but not because natural phenomena are deliberately deceptive. Frauds and hoaxers are a different story. To deal with them, sometimes you need a different type of investigator — someone with “The Amazing” as his middle name. . . .

    Harris’s willingness to cozy up with Eastern mysticism and various other bits of irrationality has puzzled me, but then again, anybody who expects a human specimen to exhibit consistency of behavior is a little irrational themselves. What I do know is that Harris has been criticized for this slipshod attitude to mysticism, for example by Meera Nanda. And bully for them! CITOKATE: Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error. Only by watching each other’s backs can we make progress in Enlightenment society.

  43. #43 JohnnieCanuck
    April 8, 2007

    J. J.

    I don’t see your problem.
    A wide variety of needs, most of them emotionally based, are pandered to by religion. For example, the fear of death is the motivation for inventing an afterlife.

    Whether a person accepts a theistic point of view that caters only to a few “sophisticated” needs or indulges in one which covers as many as possible, it is still wishful thinking. Which is more foolish, praying for $1 million or $1 billion?

    If my feeling of awe inspired by a Hubble image is enhanced by imagining that I am connected to “something above and beyond”, then it is still wishful thinking.

    I like what Explicit Atheist has to say.

  44. #44 realpc
    April 8, 2007

    “It is always possible that Harris is “open” to parapsychological “evidence” because he is not familiar with the investigations which have shown this “evidence” to be flawed”

    Oh I’m sure Harris knows what Amazing Randi has to say about parapsychology. But he also knows what Dean Radin says — Randi and Radin can’t both be right! (Interesting how their names have exactly the same letters).

    Radin is not a moron, has not wasted his life on self-deception. But if you believe Randi, there is not a speck of valid parapsychology evidence. So it just depends on who you want to believe. And Randi’s argument always boils down to the million dollar prize. That is his predictable response to every paranormal claim. But people like Radin don’t trust Randi.

    I don’t know why no one has won the prize. What is there to prevent Randi from cheating? In evaluating the evidence, I think you should consider more than what Randi has to say. And he doesn’t say much, except that no one has won his prize.

  45. #45 valhar2000
    April 8, 2007

    Realpc, Randi says quite a lot about why people don’t win the prize in his book “Flim-flam” and in several interviews. Usually, it’s because they honestly beleive that they can do something that they manifestly cannot do, so they don’t try any sort of trick or cheat, and fail miserably.

    In a minority of cases, they do attempt to cheat but are found out.

  46. #46 J. J. Ramsey
    April 8, 2007

    JohnnieCanuck: “A wide variety of needs, most of them emotionally based, are pandered to by religion.”

    True, but the mere fact that people’s psychological needs are met by religion does not necessarily means that the religionist’s line of reasoning is: “Religion meets my needs, therefore it must be true.” One of the big problems with positing wishful thinking as the reason that people adopt religion is that much of religion isn’t that comforting. Some of it is scary, such as the belief in evil spirits or the belief that unsaved loved ones are hellbound. Some of it is challenging, like the idea that we should love those who hate us. Another problem is that many people are socialized into religion from early childhood, and in such cases, adoption of religious tenets has less to do with whether the kid wants them to be true that that the kid is impressionable and will believe almost anything that adults tell him/her, regardless of how happy it is. In short, the idea that theists believe simply because of wishful thinking is oversimplified.

  47. #47 Michael Glenn
    April 8, 2007

    What I don’t understand, realpc, is why you have to burden your spiritual (for lack of a better word) experiences with beliefs about “god,” and now parapsychology.

    Harris may feel the book on parapsychology is still open, but that’s not exactly an ax he’s grinding, either. What I found more interesting were his thoughts about the nature of consciousness (although I don’t think Western philosophy is as bereft of insight as he claims).

    If you want to argue that such experiences aren’t necessarily the product of wishful thinking or reducible to emotions, and that those lacking the capacity for such experiences tend to lack empathy for those who do have them, and that such experiences are better addressed through art, music, and poetry than through mathematics or logic, that would be one thing. But why tie your experiences to truth claims that can’t be established in any meaningful way?

    If personifying your “transcendent experiences” as a “union with god” helps you personally make sense of them, fine. Just please don’t call it knowledge, as in “believers just know certain things directly.”

  48. #48 realpc
    April 8, 2007

    “Randi says quite a lot about why people don’t win the prize in his book “Flim-flam”"

    There is no shortage of fakes and kooks who claim supernatural powers. So it’s easy to focus on that and pretend no claims are legitimate. I’m sure Randi has debunked many self-deceivers, and I’m glad he did. But it’s easy to take this too far and become close-minded. There is too much parapsychology research that no one has been able to find anything wrong. with.

    “why tie your experiences to truth claims that can’t be established in any meaningful way?”

    Because it would be nice to know whether consciousness is generated by physical brains, or whether consciousness can act independently from a brain. It’s a question that matters, and it can be answered.

  49. #49 Michael Glenn
    April 8, 2007

    “Because it would be nice to know whether consciousness is generated by physical brains, or whether consciousness can act independently from a brain. It’s a question that matters, and it can be answered.”

    I agree. It would be nice to know. It is a question that matters, and many scientists and philosophers are working on it. Whether it can actually be answered time will tell.

    That still doesn’t answer the question of “why tie your experiences to truth claims that can’t be established in any meaningful way?” That is, claims about the “transcendent,” and “god,” and for that matter parapsychology, the reality or nonreality of which is irrelevant to the overwhelming, scary, and life-affirming kind of experience I assume you are alluding to.

  50. #50 realpc
    April 8, 2007

    Well of course I want to understand my own experiences, to know if others have similar experiences, and to know if any of it can be scientifically validated. I do not think my sense of being part of something greater is an illusion. I don’t think the mystical and spiritual experiences of enormous numbers of people are all hallucinations. Materialists do not hesitate to call everything that does not fit into their worldview a hallucination. Is that a scientific approach? Of course not.

  51. #51 Michael Glenn
    April 8, 2007

    Most of us want to understand our own experiences, I think. I’m not sure, though, that terms like “scientifically validated,” “illusion,” and “hallucination” really apply, either positively or negatively. Is Hamlet’s travail an illusion? Can Beethoven’s Ninth be scientifically validated? Does Romain Rolland’s “oceanic feeling” constitute a hallucination in any meaningful sense?

    Given that, I pretty much agree with you. Except for the part about materialists, which is too generalized to agree or disagree with.

    But you still haven’t gotten from there to “Believers just know certain things directly.”

  52. #52 Jud
    April 8, 2007

    In a discussion where none of the participants, so far as I can tell, are working cosmologists, and where even for working cosmologists, Freeman Dyson’s comment (that the Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we *can* imagine) would still appear to hold true; it puzzles me that there is so much enthusiasm for declaring what must currently remain only a belief (there’s no being(s) in the whole wide Universe we’d consider Supreme or God-like), not a scientifically provable proposition.

    Of course, there is absolutely no scientific evidence for the contrary proposition (that a Supreme or God-like being or beings exist), either.

    So why are we engaging in the intellectual equivalent of a college dorm bullshit session rather than talking about issues for which there are actual scientific data, hypotheses or theories?

  53. #53 Sastra
    April 8, 2007

    I am surprised that no one yet has quoted from the beginning of Dawkins’ The God Delusion:

    This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, one that would otherwise — as sure as night follows day — turn up in a review: ‘The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.’ That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed, the distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is calculated to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes in is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don’t believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let’s not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.

    To that “old bearded man sitting on a cloud” I suppose we could add “some great big person up there who made the universe out of dirt.” Same sort of thing. And Dawkins probably suspected he could not really forestall the inevitable.

    So how does Dawkins define that lowly childlike view of God he goes after? The God Hypothesis re Dawkins:

    there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

    Oh, there’s a strawman god, with nothing whatever in common with the “sophisticated” version, which gladly admits that, whatever God is, it’s mystical, metaphorical, symbolic, transcendent, and is certainly NOT superhuman. It is NOT supernatural. It is NOT intelligent. It does NOT deliberately perform actions, and it did NOT design the universe, nor did it create it. That would be a childish God indeed!

    All we know is that the sophisticated God is very important to us. Or to some of us. It has to do with Love. Or Meaning. Or Morals. But that’s as far as we can pin it down.

  54. #54 patent
    April 9, 2007

    patent

  55. #55 patent
    April 9, 2007

    patent

  56. #56 windy
    April 9, 2007

    it puzzles me that there is so much enthusiasm for declaring what must currently remain only a belief (there’s no being(s) in the whole wide Universe we’d consider Supreme or God-like), not a scientifically provable proposition.

    Are any of those beings currently sending luv to a certain species of ape on Planet Earth? Did they intervene in any significant way in the development of said species or planet? Those are testable propositions, in principle.

    A being sitting around somewhere in the universe having no effect or contact with humans has no relevance to the ‘God’ discussion.

  57. #57 realpc
    April 9, 2007

    The scientific / philosophical question is whether mind creates matter or matter creates mind. That’s what the evolution controversy is about. It seems obvious to me — given all the scientific evidence, plus all the human experiences, plus logic and common sense — that Dawkins is wrong, and that mind creates matter.

    If the universe is infinitely intelligent, and without limits, I see no reason why it could not, in principle, take on an infinte number of forms. I see no reason why it could not express itself personally. No, I can’t prove that, but it seems reasonable to me. And if science eventually proves that mind creates matter, or that mind can exist separately from matter, my belief would have some support.

    We can”t know whether there is a god or gods who cares personally about our species. I see no reason why there couldn’t be. Human societies have, always and everywhere, had their gods to protect and advise them. In return, they had to worship and perform rituals. Maybe it’s just a meaningless coincidence that all human societies have been so similar in this regard. But when you see a pattern like this, it doesn’t make sense to discount it just because it does not fit your preferred theory.

    According to atheist materialists like Dawkins, all human religious beliefs and practices result from fear of the unknown, wishful thinking, and lack of scientific reasoning. Well I can’t prove it, but I think there are many good reasons to be skeptical about Dawkins’ arguments.

  58. #58 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 9, 2007

    It seems obvious to me — given all the scientific evidence, plus all the human experiences, plus logic and common sense — that Dawkins is wrong, and that mind creates matter.
    ….
    No, I can’t prove that, but it seems reasonable to me….

    Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! realpc goes directly from “There’s all this evidence” to “it could reasonably be so.” Pity realpc forgot to list all this alleged evidence. Wishful thinking with scientific pretensions.

  59. #59 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 9, 2007

    There is too much parapsychology research that no one has been able to find anything wrong. with.

    Ha ha ha ha ha. Nope. My first requirements would be for experimental conditions good enough to exclude the possibility of cheating, and reproducibility. There’s not a single experiment in parapsychology that meets those requirements. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nichts.

  60. #60 dzd
    April 9, 2007

    The problem, I believe, is that believers in a sophisticated diety start off with different philosophical commitments: their primary interest may be in the explanation of the meaning of life, or of morality and moral codes. From this perspective, belief in some sort of god is more appealing, and that is weighed more heavily in their considerations than explanations for the physical world (of course, one can find explanations for both physical and spiritual questions with or without invoking a god).

    Bullshit. The entire idea of the Abrahamic god having authority over “morality and moral codes” is predicated on its being the creator and owner/lord/ruler of the universe and its contents.

  61. #61 realpc
    April 9, 2007

    “My first requirements would be for experimental conditions good enough to exclude the possibility of cheating, and reproducibility. There’s not a single experiment in parapsychology that meets those requirements.”

    Are you saying that based on having any knowledge of parapsychology research? The experiments, especially more recently, are tighter than in other scientific fields. That’s because parapsychologists have constantly been accused of fraud and error by skeptics like Randi. They have gone to increasingly great lengths to show that their results are valid and could not result from cheating or error.

    Do you have any reason for claiming otherwise?

  62. #62 Craig Pennington
    April 9, 2007

    Are you saying that based on having any knowledge of parapsychology research? The experiments, especially more recently, are tighter than in other scientific fields. That’s because parapsychologists have constantly been accused of fraud and error by skeptics like Randi. They have gone to increasingly great lengths to show that their results are valid and could not result from cheating or error.

    Do you have any reason for claiming otherwise?

    Perhaps my opinion that parapsychology experiments are fruitless is due to a personal ignorance. Enlighten me. Give me a specific example of a positive result in a parapsychology experiment where you think the methodology was tight.

  63. #63 jack*
    April 9, 2007

    If someone says something scientifically ignorant like “Man is the pinnacle of evolution,” biologists will be the first to rush in and say that’s wrong. Gently with patience or harshly with ridicule after their own style, but always addressing the error with good science. Theologians never do this.

    It’s disingenuous for them to say we should look only at the good arguments if they themselves never correct the bad ones. Let’s agree on what the “bad” arguements are first and issue joint statements. “Atheists and Theologians Agree: God Does Not Intervene in Everyday Events.” Once they’re willing to dispense with the bad arguments once and for all, then we can get to the good ones.

  64. #64 realpc
    April 9, 2007

    “Give me a specific example of a positive result in a parapsychology experiment where you think the methodology was tight.”

    Here is a list of Dean Radin’s publications: http://www.deanradin.com/NewWeb/activitiespubs.html

    The methodology of SRI’s remote viewing research (over 20 years) was checked out
    by skeptics and acknowledged to be tight. (It was discontinued only because they
    decided it was not practical enough for military use, even though the results were statistically reliable).

    There has been over 100 years of parapsychology research — Radin’s book The
    Conscious Universe is an overview. Sam Harris, the atheist, thinks the evidence is
    worth considering.

    It’s a myth promoted by atheist skeptics that parapsychology has gone nowhere.
    It’s just that mainstream science tries hard to ignore it. Only a very small number
    of university parapsycholgoy labs are operating right now, because parapsychology
    is not currently in style and fundiing is scarce. The only ones I happen to know of in the US are Dean Radin and Gary Schwartz. Princeton’s engineering anomalies lab is closing because the founder is retiring.

    There are independent research centers, however, with their own journals.

  65. #65 Sastra
    April 9, 2007

    realpc wrote:

    It’s a myth promoted by atheist skeptics that parapsychology has gone nowhere.
    It’s just that mainstream science tries hard to ignore it… because parapsychology is not currently in style and funding is scarce.

    Does that really make sense to you? That parapsychology experiments are really truly confirming Extra Sensory Perception and some new form of energy created by mind — and the vast majority of scientists simply don’t care? This is a Nobel-Prize winning breakthrough of monumental proportions, with guarantees of fame, fortune, and — above all — an explosive growth of an entirely new area of discovery and exploration — but it’s not “in style” so physicists and neurologists look elsewhere. They even “try to ignore it.” The dastards.

    Such studies, as you perceptively pointed out earlier, would pretty much prove the truth of spirituality, religion, and God. But the “funding isn’t there.” Sure it’s not. We all know how reluctant the general public is to give money to religious stuff, and how nobody is eager to couple God with scientific findings. Any scientist who manages to permanently refute materialism will be villified by the press. Look at how shabbily they have treated poor Collins, and all he did was say he thinks a scientist can “consistently” believe in God.

    Bull. I’m not a scientist by any stretch, but all that just doesn’t hang right to me. Scientists as a group tend to be competitive, hungry, imaginative, innovative, and often more than a little obsessive. If the parapsychology studies were as strong as you suggest, I think they’d all be swarming towards it like ticks. Instead, they start out intruiged as teenagers, look into it when they have some background in science, and drop it for something more interesting. That’s pretty suspicious.

    I do think there is a “myth” involved here, but not the one you’re thinking of.

  66. #66 jb
    April 9, 2007

    Jason:

    In the context of the interview it is not clear who Pagels means by “the people I study.” It is also not clear what she has in mind in asking if there is some great big person “who made the universe out of dirt.” The usual idea is that God created the universe ex nihilo, not out of preexisting matter.

    This may indeed reflect careless phrasing on Pagels’ part, given that both the people she says she doesn’t study and astrophysical scientists both DO in fact claim the universe was created ex nihilo, not out of preexisting matter.

    One camp says it was an intentional act (act of will by a conscious entity existing beyond this universe), the other camp claims it was a random accident of some sort. Neither camp can demonstrate empirically their version. But that’s okay. Science wasn’t intelligently designed for the purpose of answering “why” questions. It’s all about “how.”

    Origin – a.k.a. what lies beyond the singularity at the beginning of time – could be a “how” question if we were outside of time looking in (a “god-perspective”). But it’s not possible for us to do that. Physics is not metaphysics, despite frequent claims of certain practitioners. Biology isn’t metaphysics either, no matter how much steam PZ Myers can blow out his… er, ears.

  67. #67 Scott de B.
    April 9, 2007

    Are you saying that based on having any knowledge of parapsychology research? The experiments, especially more recently, are tighter than in other scientific fields. That’s because parapsychologists have constantly been accused of fraud and error by skeptics like Randi. They have gone to increasingly great lengths to show that their results are valid and could not result from cheating or error.

    And it’s not surprising that as methodologies have been tightened, the results have turned out less impressive.

    Even Radin’s great meta-analysis of RNG experiments turned up a hit rate of 51% compared to 50% expected due to random chance. Whoop de doo. And when you look at ‘intended direction’ tests, the results were 50.02%.

    Even that unbelieveably weak effect has not been replicated by outside researchers.

  68. #68 realpc
    April 9, 2007

    “they start out intruiged as teenagers, look into it when they have some background in science, and drop it for something more interesting. That’s pretty suspicious.”

    I don’t know. I have followed it for decades and I can’t figure out why it’s ignored. The question of mind over matter vs matter over mind seems awfully important to me. The parapsychologists I know of, who don’t seem the least bit kooky, feel resigned to lack of acknowledgement by mainststream science. They feel that it won’t matter how small their “p” values, scientists and the public will still believe Randi.

    On the other hand, you would think more mainstream scientists would be curious and have the courage to admit there is something worth looking at. It is career suicide, by the way. But most established scientists have tenure.

    Parapsychology is a difficult field because you just can’t control certain things, like the very thing you are studying. Maybe researchers who believe in psi get better results than the skeptics, even when the study is double-blind. Or maybe there just aren’t enough skeptics interested in doing fair replicacations. I know of skeptic studies that failed to get the effect, probably because they were extremely low-power, and that was probably intentional.

    You can always “debunk” a real effect by “trying” to replicate with low power.

    I have read about plenty of parapsychology experiments that worked. But I don’t know if there is anything that will work for anyone, anytime. That would be nice to see.

  69. #69 Craig Pennington
    April 9, 2007

    You can always “debunk” a real effect by “trying” to replicate with low power.

    I think perhaps that all psi research should include power measurements so that this form of bias could be eliminated.

    And wasn’t John Edwards one of the mediums tested by Schwartz? Is Edwards’s show still on Sci-Fi? I stopped watching television a few years back.

  70. #70 Koray
    April 9, 2007

    realpc: I am sorry. You have not read about anything that worked. Unless you are a scientist yourself, defending a piece of research that you completely understand and reproduce, you and I are both laymen reading a researcher’s claims.

    Who cares about what parapsychologists “feel”? Is this Stephen Colbert’s gut? Why should mainstream scientists admit anything? Are you reading their minds to know that they actually find the experiments and the data sound and its results curious?

    I just don’t see the need to push so hard for something with no support. This is the way science works: you look at nature and try to explain it. You don’t presuppose an explanation and spend decades trying to find data that supports it unless you don’t mind wasting time.

  71. #71 Kagehi
    April 9, 2007

    I second Sastra’s statements. The basic problem with modern parapsychology is that it produces results that are bloody miniscule, if at all and can’t be replicated. Just as you can roll 50 sets of dice and come up with two every time, this is meaningless if no one else can replicate the result and prove that they have the power to magically make dice come up that way. Modern Parapsychology has an unfortunate tendency to either a) miscategorize things, like the morons that look for ghosts using EM detectors, but don’t think about the building wiring, or b) constantly shifting targets when things don’t “quite” work as well. In the case of remote viewing its even stupider. Unless you raised a dozen people in a room with all white walls and never let them see anything else, then tried to have them remote view, and those people gave you pictures of trees and houses, its not valid. They can’t give you a location on a map, their scribblings could just as easily be attributed to dozens of other locations and the fundamental reason that no one, including the government, who ***used to*** pay for this research now bothers with it is that it only worked if they already “knew” what they where trying to see, so could project their own expectations on the scribblings.

    In other words, if you know that the *target* is in a building with X, Y and Z, its damn easy to dismiss 1-2 pictures that don’t seem to fit anything, and take the other 4-5 of them and “find” similarities between them and the supposed target building. Radin thinks this constitutes “evidence”. The problem is, he has been producing this sort of lame “evidence” for years, without finding one person that can draw anything better than stick figures, which you could attribute just as easily to millions of other locations. When he finds someone that can draw something that is irrefutably the same, instead of just vaguely similar, to a target, I will consider it evidence. Otherwise, it damn hard for a skeptic to debunk something when you can’t even determine conclusively “what” it is that they are trying to debunk. I could have a computer put semi-random lines on the screen, claim that its being produced by some remote remote viewer and get the same results as the current bunch of fools playing with remote viewing, because there isn’t enough “clear” information provided by those supposed viewers to pin down the real location, just a lot of semi-random lines that the “leader” then “proves” where useful by selectively interpreting as **looking like** what ever they where supposed to have seen.

    I am not impressed by that. Neither is Randi or 90% of the scientific community. The few that are, tend to be people that already one some level believe in that stuff, being ignorant of why its bunk, and tend to do silly things, like the one fool who shifted from physics to biology, so that he could “prove” that the small incidental flashes of light between cells where communication (and even more absurd, tried to have the Speaking to the Dead nut prove it, on the theory that he was somehow picking up flashes from the other person and “reading her mind”). See, knowing nothing about biology, he a) assumed that such flashes couldn’t be incidental, never mind all the research suggesting they are unavoidable in a biological system and b) he presumed that thought transpired “too quickly” to be explained by nerve firings. Wrong on that count to. Other research has uncovered the slightly scary fact that we have various response levels. If we move, we do so, then nearly a second later we invent and excuse for *why* we moved, like, “The stove was hot!” Sure, the autonomics knew this, but *we* didn’t until after the fact. Slightly higher up the chain are emotional responses and logical ones. In every case it case be shown, very clearly, that we begin to act *before* we are aware of why we acted. Our conscious mind is literally the “last to know” what we are doing or why, since building the logical justification for the action is more complicated that the steps it takes to “choose” to do it. That is why it “seems” like we think faster than Mr. Physicist turned biologist thinks is possible using neurons. His logic is flawed, and based on the false premise that an explanation must exist, with the result that so is all his research on the subject.

    Same is the case with “remote viewing” research. They expectations warp the perception of what is actually happening, and continues to do so, even after the evidence proves so inconclusive as to be completely useless. Again, this sort of shoddy thinking only impresses people that are ignorant of (or just refuse to accept) other data, which includes, in the case of remote viewing experiments, human psychology and pattern recognition. Nearly all of the supposed “paranormal” exists in that range. Where as long as you ignore, discount or remain ignorant of the psychology and biology that determine why it may not be or can not be at all, what you think is happening, there isn’t sufficient empirical data to either prove your assertions beyond reasonable doubt, or undermine your position so completely that its instantly invalidated. The problem is, recent neuroscience *is* providing better explanations and they *are* slowly invalidating the premise that the evidence they claim to have is empirically sound at all.

    Skeptics on the other hand simply do the best they can with what they personally know, and their knowledge isn’t exhaustive. It says nothing if a few that lack sufficient knowledge of why something is flawed can’t find the flaws. And it certainly doesn’t justify some fool babbling about his research isn’t being funded, including from government money (which for useful programs don’t often get cut until they are well past their expiration date). If there was anything to it, they would still be paying him. It takes something so obviously useless that its as real as WMD in Iraq for the government to give up on it so completely. Oh wait, no, something *more* useless, they are still babbling about that in some circles.

  72. #72 John Farrell
    April 9, 2007

    But the fact remains that the argument from design is not obviously stupid.

    Yes. Another question that seems not obviously stupid (to me anyway) is why the universe is comprehensible at all.

    In fact I find that a much more interesting question than whether the universe was designed.

    (but that’s just me)

    Great post, Jason. I’m not a fan of Pagels, myself, and have read too many reviews by others of her peers that make me less than whelmed with her ‘scholarship’.

  73. #73 realpc
    April 9, 2007

    If you read Dean Radin’s book, you will see that research has demonstrated psi as reliably as most things studied by science. The effects are not generally miniscule. But it does depend on statistics. If you don’t trust statistics, then there are many other branches of science you don’t trust.

    As I said parapsychology is difficult, and there are a very small number of labs. But there still has been great progress.

  74. #74 Leni
    April 9, 2007

    realpc wrote:

    Maybe it’s just a meaningless coincidence that all human societies have been so similar in this regard. But when you see a pattern like this, it doesn’t make sense to discount it just because it does not fit your preferred theory.

    I think you are really missing the mark here, pc.

    Dawkins probably would not say that the commonality of god-belief in human society was meaningless. There are a couple of different responses to your remark that immediately occur to me.

    First, it is only meaningless to someone who considers this to be a binary proposition: either it means there is a God or it is a meaningless coincidence. But that’s nothing more than a false dichotomy. There is plenty of meaning to be gleaned out of the fact that this behavior is so ubiquitous, particularly for scientists; anthropologists, for example.

    For those of us who think that this speaks to our shared humanity, no matter how alien our cultures often seem to each other, the fact of our shared experience is anything but meaningless. It’s part of who we are.

    This is but one example of a secular meaning that can be found in the knowledge. I imigine there are many more.

    Aside from this, I think Dawkins would also take issue with your use of the word “meaningless” to describe a fact of nature. He has said before that the universe doesn’t owe us anything, least of all explanantions or “meaningfulness”. That’s what we do, not the universe.

    According to atheist materialists like Dawkins, all human religious beliefs and practices result from fear of the unknown, wishful thinking, and lack of scientific reasoning. Well I can’t prove it, but I think there are many good reasons to be skeptical about Dawkins’ arguments.

    Actually, that sounds a lot more like Freud than Dawkins. Freud argued for very similar explanations in “The Future of an Illusion. (And also that it was some sort of infantile paternal longing, but whatever…)

    I think Dawkins, most recently, has remarked that he thinks god-belief is likely to be a combination of by-products from other adaptive behaviors such as agent detection. Although I don’t think he would disagree that some people may fit your categories, I doubt he would argue those were the only factors, least of all the most important.

  75. #75 Leni
    April 9, 2007

    realpc wrote:

    If you don’t trust statistics, then there are many other branches of science you don’t trust.

    This has nothing to do with trusting statistics. Statistics, and mathematics in general, are tools.

    You don’t just assume that cars built with good tools run better. Good tools are better than bad tools, sure, but they aren’t the only thing that matters.

    You need good parts, sound construction and design, reliable testing.

    You get the idea.

  76. #76 realpc
    April 9, 2007

    Well it’s true that parapsychology has not convinced mainstream science. I do not believe that’s the fault of parapsychology, and I think it results from a strong cultural bias. Materialist science has been impressive in certain areas, after all.

    I believe there is much more to our world than can be seen or measured, or imagined. Theories in physics support the idea of higher-order dimensions, so we have good scientific reasons to suspect some kind of “super-physical” reality may exist.

    But at this point we really do not have the big answers. Dawkins sincerely believes he knows how things came to be, and how it all works. I think he’s just not comfortable with uncertainty.

    As for my statement that humans at all times and places, as far as we know, have held supernatural beliefs — yes, I realize that could have materialist explanations and religion could be programmed into our DNA (how, then, do atheists escape the programming??) But it is also possible that the experiences of mystics, prophets, madmen, as well as ordinary people, point to a level of existence that our everyday consciousness cannot perceive.

  77. #77 Robin Z
    April 9, 2007

    Replying to realpc @ 08:07 PM:

    But at this point we really do not have the big answers. Dawkins sincerely believes he knows how things came to be, and how it all works. I think he’s just not comfortable with uncertainty.

    I don’t know why you would think that. Dawkins, like most people, unhesitatingly acknowledges that there are many things he doesn’t know. I don’t see how he could function as a scientist otherwise.

  78. #78 JohnnieCanuck
    April 9, 2007

    realpc, if Radin had subjects that had any kind of psi power,erratic or not, they wouldn’t just be using it to guess shapes on cards, etc. They would also be using it to improve their lives or even just showing off. No conspiracy or government agency could keep the secret.

    You have to assume that the ability is unlikely to be limited to just the subjects of a few researchers. Reasonably it must have been in existence for many people for many generations. You would see kids showing off in the schoolyard, people making money in otherwise inexplicable ways. And somebody, certainly would have earned Randi’s $1 million by now. All we see is the results of wishful thinking and fraud designed to take advantage of wishful thinking.

    Why don’t you locate Radin’s best subject and between you split the million. I don’t want to hear an excuse why you won’t because that can only mean you aren’t being honest with yourself.

    Magical thinking seems to make the world a more interesting place to live in, but when you make the effort to understand reality as explained by science, there is just no comparision. Biology, physics, astronomy, they’re all grand.

  79. #79 JohnnieCanuck
    April 9, 2007

    Math has its moments too, I hasten to add. Nice blog, Jason.

    Fourier, for instance. From hot iron rings in sand, we get so much elegance and utility.

  80. #80 realpc
    April 10, 2007

    Most parapsychology subjects are ordinary people with no special psychic ability. The results are statistical. In remote viewing, subjects were trained in the technique and therefore developed a special ability. But these abilities seldom give an advantage in daily life. It’s very hard to consciously decide to have ESP.

    Many people do feel they occasionally know things they could not know by ordinary means. For example, the phone rings and you guess correctly who is calling. But it could be coincidence. Parapsychologists do controlled experiments on these things and may find, for example, that people can guess the caller correctly at a level that would not occur by chance. But it still isn’t every time, or even half the time.

    I suppose ESP could be an advantage for some gamblers and stock traders. Maybe it partly explains why some do better than others. But, as I said, no one has much conscious control over it.

    I think that some people trust their inner wisdom more than others, and that could partly account for some having great success and others failing at everything. In interpersonal relationships, I think, it’s hard to tell how much is intuition and sensitivity, and how much is ESP. Some people are just better at tuning in to what others are feeling. It would be very hard to study this experimentally.

    The million dollar prize would require someone to turn on their fragile sensitivity at the right time and place, under Randi’s contemptuous glare. And, supposedly, the whole thing is a rigged. I really don’t know. I would like to know why one of the real scientific parapsychologists can’t run an experiemnt under Randi’s control and get the prize. Not for the money, just to settle the question that psi is real.

  81. #81 Craig Pennington
    April 10, 2007

    If you read Dean Radin’s book, you will see that research has demonstrated psi as reliably as most things studied by science. The effects are not generally miniscule. But it does depend on statistics. If you don’t trust statistics, then there are many other branches of science you don’t trust.

    I trust statistics. But I still require independent replication. A fairly good article by Hames Alcock that somewhat reflects my own views on why I find the various PEAR experiments and Radin’s work unconvincing can be found here:

    http://www.imprint.co.uk/pdf/Alcock-editorial.pdf

    From that piece [emphasis mine]:

    Because of the failure to be able to produce a straightforward demonstration of psi ability … parapsychologists at the more scientific end of the spectrum came to depend more and more upon statistical analyses to demonstrate their putative phenomena.

    In regular science, statistics are used either to look for covariation amongst well-defined variables, or to evaluate whether a given measurement is affected by the presence or absence of an “independent” variable. However, in parapsychology, there are no well-defined variables, and there is no way of controlling whether psi (if it exists) is present or absent, and so the statistical process is used, not to evaluate the effect of one or more variables on other measurable variables, but as a basis for inferring the presence of psi itself.

    Any such statistically significant departure is viewed as an “anomaly” relating to psi, and thus is viewed as support for the Psi hypothesis. However, statistical significance tells us nothing about causality. …

    Lets take as an example of something that most of us consider well-demonstrated which relies on statistics: the link between smoking and lung cancer. In the studies on that topic you can easily identify the independent variable: smoking. You also have a well defined dependent variable: lung cancer. When a psi-experiment is layed out like that, you don’t get independently repeatable results (if you get positive results at all.) You get things like this attempt to replicate the PortREG results:

    http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/pdfs/jse_papers/portREG.pdf

    The primary result of this replication effort was that whereas the overall HI-LO mean separations proceeded in the intended direction at all three laboratories, the overall sizes of these deviations failed by an order of magnitude to attain that of the prior experiments, or to achieve any persuasive level of statistical significance. However, various portions of the data displayed a substantial number of interior structural anomalies in such features as a reduction in trial-level standard deviations; irregular series-position patterns; and differential dependencies on various secondary parameters, such as feedback type or experimental run length, to a composite extent well beyond chance expectation.
    The change from the systematic, intention-correlated mean shifts found in the prior studies, to this polyglot pattern of structural distortions, testifies to inadequate understanding of the basic phenomena involved and suggests a need for more sophisticated experiments and theoretical models for their further elucidation.

    That is typical of independent replication efforts that I’ve found when I’ve followed up on a result that I considered interesting.

  82. #82 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 10, 2007

    Are you saying that based on having any knowledge of parapsychology research? The experiments, especially more recently, are tighter than in other scientific fields. That’s because parapsychologists have constantly been accused of fraud and error by skeptics like Randi. They have gone to increasingly great lengths to show that their results are valid and could not result from cheating or error.
    .
    Do you have any reason for claiming otherwise?

    1) “Tighter than in other scientific fields”? Woo fecking woo, pal. The reports of quality methods and substantive results are in question: The End of PEAR at Good Math, Bad Math by March Chu-Carroll

    A couple of PEARs greatest hits, to give you an idea:
    An attempt to create a mathematical explanation for how consciousness affects reality. This work uses some of the worst fake math that I’ve ever seen…
    Skewing statistics to show that minds can affect the REG…
    Post-Hoc data selection to create desired results…

    2) Even if the PEAR results were reliable, you have completely ignored my second requirement, reproducibility. Why can’t these results be reliably reproduced by labs throughout the world? Compare to legitimate science, such as high-temperature superconductors. Within a few months, high school students were reproducing that phenomenon at science fairs.

  83. #83 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 10, 2007

    If you read Dean Radin’s book, you will see that research has demonstrated psi as reliably as most things studied by science.

    Snooze. I’ve read books by Targ & Puthoff and by J.B. Rhine. They all claimed to have demonstrated psi “as reliably as most things studied by science.” Being a scientist, I find this very annoying. Try reading Radin’s critics, not just his own books.

  84. #84 realpc
    April 10, 2007

    Most parapsychology is experimental, and the experiments use exactly the same kind of independent and dependent variables as any other scientific experiemnts. They use exactly the same kind of statistical analysis.

    PEAR has also done correlational RNG studies, which have been criticized. Correlation is usually problematic, in any field. I don’t know all the details about the criticisms of PEAR, though I know they have also collected lots of experimental data.

    Craig Pennington is wrong in saying parapsychology uses different methods that other fields. It’s exactly the same as in medical research, experimental psychology, etc. Most people are not at all familiar with parapsychology and assume it’s somehow different from other scientific fields.

  85. #85 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 10, 2007

    And wasn’t John Edwards one of the mediums tested by Schwartz? Is Edwards’s show still on Sci-Fi? I stopped watching television a few years back.

    Almost. That was John Edward, who pretends to talk to dead people, not John Edwards, who is running for president.

  86. #86 realpc
    April 10, 2007

    John Edward, and some other famous mediums, were tested by Schwartz in controlled experiments. He found that yes, Edward knew a lot about deceased relatives that he could not have found out by ordinary means. It was all statistically reliable. Skeptics pounced on it, finding a tiny hole in the wall that supposedly Edward got all his info through. But the experiments were very tight, and the well-known professional mediums he tested do seem to have some kind of ability.

    So yes, you can get rich and famous if you have paranormal talents.

    The John Edward TV show is waste of time though, in my opinion. It would be so easy for him to fake it. But the Schwartz experiments are very convincing. I hope someone is trying to replicate.

  87. #87 Craig Pennington
    April 10, 2007

    Craig Pennington is wrong in saying parapsychology uses different methods that other fields.

    I didn’t say they use different methods, I said that they don’t sufficiently identify their variables. You admit as much with this earlier claim:

    You can always “debunk” a real effect by “trying” to replicate with low power.

    My admittedly snide response to that, that perhaps we should include power measurements to eliminate the bias, points to the flaw. How can you influence the “power” in a psi experiment? What is the variable that allows you to manipulate it? If you can’t control for that variable, then your variables are not sufficiently well defined to establish an effect.

    Here is a relevant portions of the abstract from the portREG replication attempt I cited above [emphasis mine]:

    The change from the systematic, intention-correlated mean shifts found in the prior studies, to this polyglot pattern of structural distortions, testifies to inadequate understanding of the basic phenomena involved and suggests a need for more sophisticated experiments and theoretical models for their further elucidation.

    This is typical. I find claims that psi is well demonstrated are simply not justified when I look at the primary literature.

  88. #88 realpc
    April 10, 2007

    “we should include power measurements to eliminate the bias, points to the flaw. How can you influence the “power” in a psi experiment?”

    Power is calculated simply from N and SD, the same as in any kind of experiment.

    “I find claims that psi is well demonstrated are simply not justified when I look at the primary literature.”

    No, only when you look at the primary debunking literature. PEAR was not generally debunked. Parts of it have been criticized.

  89. #89 Craig Pennington
    April 10, 2007

    Power is calculated simply from N and SD, the same as in any kind of experiment.

    It is, to be specific, the compliment of the probability of false negatives. So if one uses a statistically comparable protocol to the original experiment, what variable (variables are not statistical features of the data like sample size or standard deviation) will one need to manipulate in order to affect the probability of false negatives. Or are you asserting that all of the replication failures are due to a failure to use statistically comparable data.

    No, only when you look at the primary debunking literature.

    No, when I look at any independent replication attempt. The German paper I cited was not an attempt to debunk. Just look at all the post-hoc searching for any kind of effect in the noise (the signal is the fact that they found no primary effect of statistical significance):

    various portions of the data displayed a substantial number of interior structural anomalies in such features as a reduction in trial-level standard deviations; irregular series-position patterns; and differential dependencies on various secondary parameters, such as feedback type or experimental run length, to a composite extent well beyond chance expectation.

    These are not people seeking to discredit PEAR, they are honestly seeking to reproduce the effect. They didn’t.

  90. #90 David D.G.
    April 10, 2007

    Realpc, are you one of those people who thinks that the word “gullible” isn’t in the dictionary?

    ~David D.G.

  91. #91 realpc
    April 10, 2007

    Craig,

    You’re thinking of something other than power. I should have said power is calculated using N, SD and expected effect size. A small effect needs are larger N and a smaller SD. A big effect can be detected even if N is relatively small and SD is relatively large.

    You may be thinking about the p value, which is the probability the effect occurred by chance. A small p value means the result is relatively reliable.

    This is how all experiments are done, in any field.

    “are you asserting that all of the replication failures are due to a failure to use statistically comparable data.”

    I’m saying I have read about failed replications, by skeptics, where the power was much lower than in the original, guaranteeing failure. It’s a simple trick, but easy to miss if you don’t know what power means for an experiment.

    Replications can fail for all kinds of reasons. As far as I know, many parapsychology experiments have been replicated successfully. That is Radin’s claim, and he wrote a whole book on it. Which Sam Harris found convincing, so if I am gullible so is he.

  92. #92 Robin Z
    April 10, 2007

    Belated reply to realpc @ 6:51 AM:

    The million dollar prize would require someone to turn on their fragile sensitivity at the right time and place, under Randi’s contemptuous glare. And, supposedly, the whole thing is a rigged. I really don’t know. I would like to know why one of the real scientific parapsychologists can’t run an experiemnt under Randi’s control and get the prize. Not for the money, just to settle the question that psi is real. (emphasis added.)

    That’s a pretty strong claim. Doubly so since JREF would be wide open for a lawsuit (warning: FAQ linked is from archived pre-Apr. 2007 version of challenge) if they tried to pull any shenanigans. Given how willing people are to sue James Randi, I find the suggestion dubious at best.

  93. #93 J. J. Ramsey
    April 10, 2007

    realpc: “As far as I know, many parapsychology experiments have been replicated successfully.”

    Then you should be able to cite the research, especially papers in peer-reviewed journals.

  94. #94 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 10, 2007

    As far as I know, many parapsychology experiments have been replicated successfully.

    At least now we have an indication of how far your knowledge extends.

  95. #95 realpc
    April 10, 2007

    As I said, Dean Radin’s book includes an overview of his meta-analysis. That’s one of the most recent things I have read on parapsychology. I am not in that field and am not constantly reading the journals. I know about a lot of the successful experiments, don’t know specific examples of replications by skeptics. Usually skeptics aren’t interested enough to take all that trouble. Radin’s meta-analysis shows that results have been repeated by different labs. Some people don’t trust meta-analyses but it’s the only way to check for replication.

    Is there a simple parapsychology experiment that every third grade teacher can demonstrate for her class? I have not heard of one, but I think it would be a good idea. If parapsychologists are looking for acceptance, that’s the kind of thing they should do right now.

    Some of the parapaychology research, such as Ganzfield, is complicated and requires a lab.

    I have some ideas for simple experiments using animals. I have written to some of the parapsychologists about the idea of using animals or young children as subjects, because I think that would work better.

  96. #96 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 11, 2007

    Some people don’t trust meta-analyses but it’s the only way to check for replication.

    Compare this, again, with the case of high-temperature superconductors. No meta-analyses were needed. Anyone in the world with the appropriate materials and methods could replicate the experiments, despite the lack of a solid theoretical foundation for the results.

  97. #97 realpc
    April 11, 2007

    In the social and medical sciences, however, things are seldom that straightforward.

  98. #98 JohnnieCanuck
    April 11, 2007

    By his comments here, realpc is a confirmed ‘believer’ in psi. He is emotionally attached to the concept and no fact, no evidence against nor failed psi experiment will change his mind.

    The only point in rebutting his demonstrations of wishful thinking is to keep others from following him down the road to woo.

    Sorry, realpc. I’m sure you’re a nice person and all. It’s just that you have a blind spot. You admit as much when you say you can’t understand why the professional psi investigators haven’t won the JREF prize.

  99. #99 realpc
    April 11, 2007

    The JREF prize is the ONLY argument against psi. I am open-minded one way or the other, but I am very skeptical about Randi. There is so much evidence — scientific and non-scientific — for psi, and ONLY the JREF prize against it.

    So you just have to weigh it and decide for yourself.

  100. #100 Jud
    April 11, 2007

    windy said: “Are any of those beings currently sending luv to a certain species of ape on Planet Earth? Did they intervene in any significant way in the development of said species or planet? Those are testable propositions, in principle.”

    Indeed they are. Just as soon as you are able to test and scientifically rule out (or even in) the proposition that advanced beings caused the Big Bang and inflation that created the universe, Planet Earth and that “certain species of ape,” call me, OK?

    Oh, and while you’re at it, call Dr. Alan Guth at MIT, who came up with the inflation hypothesis to explain the omega (curvature, or really, lack of it) we currently observe in the universe. The poor man is having to explain the apparent sudden genesis of all we know by referring to Mexican-hat-shaped diagrams and quantum tunneling. (Or to say it another way, he’s wondering, along with everyone else, why after an apparent eternity when nothing happened, the Big Bang suddenly decided to occur one day.)

  101. #101 Science Avenger
    April 11, 2007

    Realpc dissembled thusly: The JREF prize is the ONLY argument against psi.

    Bullshit, it is just the most obvious one. The greatest argument against psi is that after all these years the psi-promoters have still not been able to demonstrate their claims. Why don’t psychics win lotteries? Why isn’t there a rule in golf that you cannot use telekinesis? Why will casinos throw out card counters, but not psychics? Why is it the psychics can never demonstrate their abilities in situations where there is someone involved with an interest in their failure? Occam screams the answer loud and clear: the perceived effects are just that, perceptions, and no more.

    I am open-minded one way or the other, but I am very skeptical about Randi.

    You aren’t open-minded in the slightest. In fact, you are a bold-faced liar when it comes to Randi. His approach to the tests (getting everyone to agree beforehand that they are fair) and his attitude about the possibility of the existence of psi (that his tests do not prove there is no psi, but make it the less reasonable explanation) is exactly the opposite of what you have stated, and the videos on Youtube and the information on his website and other publications of his stand as evidence.

    There is so much evidence — scientific and non-scientific — for psi, and ONLY the JREF prize against it.

    More examples of the Realpc MSU (Making Shit Up) method. Everyone who wants to see performance out in the open where anyone and everyone can see it is against psi. Take your psi folks to Vegas and empty the casinos pockets. If card counters can do it, it should be a snap for pyschics, even if their abilities are very weak. The telekinesis guys will rock at roulette. The remote viewers would destroy the blackjack and poker tables. And those that can speak to the dead can surely find out what the next set of lottery and keno numbers are. Put up or shut up.

  102. #102 windy
    April 11, 2007

    Indeed they are. Just as soon as you are able to test and scientifically rule out (or even in) the proposition that advanced beings caused the Big Bang and inflation that created the universe, Planet Earth and that “certain species of ape,” call me, OK?

    The clockwork universe proposition is indeed somewhat of a science-stopper in that area. But most believers would not admit that their God is a demiurge that has had nothing to do with the universe since its creation.

    (Or to say it another way, he’s wondering, along with everyone else, why after an apparent eternity when nothing happened, the Big Bang suddenly decided to occur one day.)

    You need to look more closely into what the Big Bang means. There was no ‘eternity’ ‘before’ the bang.

  103. #103 windy
    April 11, 2007

    Ps. Jud, your original statement was about ‘being(s) in the whole wide Universe we’d consider Supreme or God-like’, not beings outside the Universe.

  104. #104 Jud
    April 12, 2007

    Hi, windy. You said: “[M]ost believers would not admit that their God is a demiurge that has had nothing to do with the universe since its creation.”

    True enough. I’ll happily agree that the notion of some sort of Daddy-God watching over us seems vanishingly unlikely to me. However, I’m not nearly vain enough to equate “seems vanishingly unlikely to me” with the sort of scientific proof one would require for, e.g., publication in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals. Also, somewhat closer to the original creation-of-the-Universe track, essentially creating the laws of the universe isn’t quite the same as “having nothing to do” with it.

    “You need to look more closely into what the Big Bang means. There was no ‘eternity’ ‘before’ the bang.”

    Heh, the opinions of cosmologists/high energy physicists are by no means unanimously in agreement on that point. This is really an inquiry into the nature of (space-)time itself, and I think that while you may find people who feel strongly they’re on the right track, you won’t find anyone credible who thinks he has it totally sussed beyond fear of contradiction.

    “[Y]our original statement was about ‘being(s) in the whole wide Universe we’d consider Supreme or God-like’, not beings outside the Universe.”

    Yep, my bad. :-)

  105. #105 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 12, 2007

    The JREF prize is the ONLY argument against psi.

    Translation: “I’m going to ignore specific criticisms of ESP experiment methodology, and the shabby history of fraud, and the lack of reproducibility. I say it doesn’t exist, so it doesn’t. Therefore, the only remaining argument against PSI is the JREF prize, because I say it is.”

    You’re obviously hopeless so I’ll move on now. Bye bye.

  106. #106 Science Avenger
    April 12, 2007

    You got it Mustafa. Moreover:

    Realpc: I am open-minded one way or the other, but I am very skeptical about Randi. There is so much evidence — scientific and non-scientific — for psi, and ONLY the JREF prize against it.

    This is classic MSU (Making Shit Up). Randi simply removes the ability to cheat from those he tests, and not surprisingly, they fail as a result.

    The overwhelming evidence against psi is Vegas. Let the psi-ers go empty the pockets of the casinos, then you’ll have some evidence for psi. Win a few lotteries. Should be a piece of cake compared to speaking to the dead.

  107. #107 Blake Stacey
    April 12, 2007

    Once they find scientific evidence for psi, maybe they’ll move on to investigating xi, zeta and upsilon.

    (But the digamma will be hardest to confirm.)

  108. #108 Caledonian
    April 14, 2007

    What kind of ‘non-scientific’ evidence is there? How can something qualify as evidence if it isn’t scientific?

  109. #109 realpc
    April 14, 2007

    “How can something qualify as evidence if it isn’t scientific?”

    Most evidence is not scientific. Almost none of our everyday observations are scientific because samples are usually biased, sometimes too small, and there are many uncontrolled variables.

    We base most of our decisions on unscientific evidence. Most of our questions have never been addressed by scientific research. And even when it has — “should I stop drinking coffee?”, for example — the scientific evidence is often uncertain and incomplete.

    As with almost everything else, evidence for and against the supernatural is mostly anecdotal. We all know people who have unexplained experiences, and we know others who don’t. And the unexplained experiences might have ordinary explanations, even though we don’t know what they are.

    We have no scientific evidence that neo-Darwinism explains evolution, by the way. The theory is based entirely on a lack of evidence for alternate theories. When people say there are mountains of evidence for neo-Darwinism they actually mean there are mountains of evidence for evolution, and for natural selection. No one has ever observed chance plus natural selection creating a new species. It is only assumed that, over extremely long periods of time, this would happen.

    Neo-Darwnists claim to be pro-science, defending science against irrationality. So it’s ironic that their theory is not based on scientific evidence. Of course, as I said, very few of our ideas are based on scientific evidence. Genuine scientific evidence is hard to collect and analyze. If we waited for our questions to be answered by science before making decisions, we could not live our lives.

  110. #110 J. J. Ramsey
    April 14, 2007

    realpc: “When people say there are mountains of evidence for neo-Darwinism they actually mean there are mountains of evidence for evolution, and for natural selection. No one has ever observed chance plus natural selection creating a new species. It is only assumed that, over extremely long periods of time, this would happen.”

    It is inferred that over extremely long periods of time, evolution of one species to another would happen, and there is a ton of reasons for this inference, including genetic evidence of common descent like endogenous retroviruses, as well as fossils of transitional species.

    Your tons of reasons, right here.

  111. #111 realpc
    April 14, 2007

    “there is a ton of reasons for this inference, including genetic evidence of common descent like endogenous retroviruses, as well as fossils of transitional species.”

    That is evidence for evolution, and we have no reason to doubt evolution. Evolution is a scientific fact.

    I said neo-Darwinism is accepted without evidence. I did not say evolution. They are not the same thing. Neo-Darwinism is a theory of evolution which says evolution is caused by accidental variations and natural selection.

    There have been several other theories of evolution. Neo-Darwinism is accepted simply because none of the others have been proven. But neo-Darwinism has not been either.

    When you confuse evolution in general with neo-Darwinism, a particular theory of evolution, then you misunderstand the controversy. It is not a controversy between evolution and creationism. It’s between those who accept neo-Darwinism (evolution by chance and selection) without evidence, and those who are skeptical.

  112. #112 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 15, 2007

    No one has ever observed chance plus natural selection creating a new species. It is only assumed that, over extremely long periods of time, this would happen.

    Observed Instances of Speciation
    Some More Observed Speciation Events

    Hmm, maybe realpc has a point: How do we know that these observed instances of speciation were really due to “chance”? Maybe some unidentifiable Designer was actually causing those apparently random events.

  113. #113 Monado
    April 16, 2007

    If you approach the existence of God as a scientific question, then there are some questions that you can ask about his existence and you can predict the answers based on whether or not he exists.
    For example: investigate “Are prayers ever answered?” as a question in statistics. If prayers are answered, then events that are prayed for should be likelier to happen. I believe that Francis Galton addressed this in about 1872, with his study of whether royalty, bishops, and so on, for whose welfare Christians pray at church services, live longer than expected. The answer: No. We can, of course, add current studies.

  114. #114 VMartin
    April 17, 2007


    There have been several other theories of evolution. Neo-Darwinism is accepted simply because none of the others have been proven. But neo-Darwinism has not been either.

    I agree. There are theories of directed evolution like Nomogenesis, Orthogenesis or Prescribed evolutionary hypothesis of professor Davison.

  115. #115 V.Martin
    April 17, 2007


    There have been several other theories of evolution. Neo-Darwinism is accepted simply because none of the others have been proven. But neo-Darwinism has not been either.

    I agree. There are theories of directed evolution like Nomogenesis, Orthogenesis or Prescribed evolutionary hypothesis by professor Davison.

  116. #116 V&Marti.n
    April 17, 2007


    There have been several other theories of evolution. Neo-Darwinism is accepted simply because none of the others have been proven. But neo-Darwinism has not been either.

    I agree. There are theories of directed evolution like Nomogenesis, Orthogenesis or Prescribed evolutionary hypothesis by professor Davison.

  117. thank you admin