# Where Can I Find the Really Good Theology? Part Two

Picking up where we left off yesterday, most of Feser’s post is devoted to a hypothetical dialogue between a scientist and a skeptic who thinks that science is all a lot of nonsense. The idea is to make Jerry Coyne’s objections to theology seem silly, by showing the absurdity of comparable objections leveled at science. As I see it, however, Feser has been more successful at showing how science is different from theology. Here is the first exchange:

Skeptic: I’m trying to learn science so I can meet head-on the argument that we science critics are ignorant of the subject. So, under the tutelage of the estimable Bruno Latour, I have spent several weeks reading this stuff. And so far, I’ve learned only three things. First of all, I’m wasting my time reading drivel about beliefs that have no basis in fact when I could be learning about real things instead. Second, scientists can’t write. A lot of what they have to say is obscure bafflegab, and I’m starting to believe that this obscurantism is deliberate because of reason three (which I’ll get to in a minute). I have for example, just opened Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam by John Wheeler to a random chapter. And there I find this:

“On the other hand, when we see time symmetry marred in an elementary process, when we contemplate the writhings of spacetime in wormholes and quantum foam, when we see tiny deviations from Dirac’s predictions for the electron produced by quantum fluctuations, we realize that the “floor” of simplicity as we move to smaller and smaller domains is illusory. Beneath that floor, in still smaller domains, chaos and complexity reign again.”

Believe me, the book contains paragraphs far more obscure and pretentious than this one. Can you imagine reading this stuff night after night? Do you see why my head feels about to explode? Bruno, why are you doing this to me?

Scientist: Well, it’s easy to make fun of serious ideas by ripping them out of context. Actually understanding them is a different story. Wheeler is an important thinker, and you quite obviously haven’t the faintest understanding of what he’s saying.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

Feser’s discussion of the Wheeler quote is a reply to this statement from Jerry:

Theologians can’t write. A lot of what they have to say is postmodern or obscure bafflegab, and I’m starting to believe that this obscurantism is deliberate because of reason 3 (below). I have for example, just opened my book (An Introduction to Christian Theology, edited by Roger A. Badham) to a random chapter, which turned out to be “Process theology and the current church struggle” by John B. Cobb, Jr. (Process theology holds that god is not immutable but changes over time, and so does his creation, not totally under his direction.) And there I find this, in a discussion of Alfred North Whitehead (one of the founders of this “school”):

But each occasion transcends the causality of the past by responding to it with more or less originality. This requires that physical prehensions are supplemented by “conceptual” ones. Thus, in addition to prehending past events, an occasion also takes account of possibilities ingredient in those events or closely related to them. Just how it relates these possibilities to the actualities it feels is its “decision.” That means that in a situation that is inherently indeterminate, there is a determinate outcome Other possibilities are cut off.

Believe me, the book contains paragraphs far more obscure and pretentious than this one. Can you imagine reading this stuff night after night? Do you see why my head feels about to explode? Eric, why are you doing this to me?

Let’s compare the Wheeler quote with the Cobb quote. Wheeler’s statement certainly contains lots of jargon, a fact that no doubt makes it incomprehensible to someone unfamiliar with the relevant physics. But the fact remains that phrases like “spacetime,” and “quantum foam” have precise definitions that you can find with a few minutes of Googling, or by talking to an actual physicist. And once you know what the strange words mean, you can also quickly make sense of what Wheeler is saying. Moreover, a qualified physicist could quickly tell you why “spacetime” and “quantum foam” are useful notions.

For the most part that is not the case with the Cobb quote. This is not a matter of technical theology jargon preventing a beginner from understanding Cobb’s point. We have instead an instance of perfectly ordinary words being used in ways that don’t make sense. Even when you understand what all the words mean the idea Cobb is trying to express remains opaque.

I hedged slightly in the last paragraph because some of what is mysterious in Cobb’s quote does become clearer when you understand the idiosyncratic ways in which process theologians sometimes express themselves. No doubt it seems weird to speak of an occasion “transcending” something or “responding with originality”, not to mention the strange notion that an occasion can feel or make decisions. It will help to know that within process theology events (or occasions) are considered the fundamental units of reality (as opposed to physical objects), and they are said to have free will no less than human things. Given that premise, Cobb’s anthropomorphisms are somewhat comprehensible. But understanding this much just leaves you wondering frantically why anyone would apply a notion like free will to an inanimate object, or why such strange ideas about the nature of reality are either helpful or likely to be correct. Nor is it much help in understanding Cobb’s point, which appears to have something to do with the future not being determined by the past.

Perhaps it’s unfair to try to assess Cobb’s point on the basis of just a few sentences. But I have read enough process theology to know that you simply never come to the moment where their point is suddenly clear. Instead it’s just sentence after sentence of gibberish.

In short, the great science writers seem to value clarity above all else, and when they use jargon or technical language you can be sure the jargon has a precise definition and the technical language is absolutely essential. The great theologians cannot say the same, at least in my opinion.

There is a second point to be made. Feser opens his post with:

A reader alerts me that Jerry Coyne, whose philosophical efforts we had occasion recently to evaluate, has been reading some theology — “under the tutelage of the estimable Eric MacDonald,” Coyne tells us. And who is Eric MacDonald? A neutral party to the debate between theologians and New Atheist types like Coyne, right? Well, not exactly. Turns out MacDonald is “an ex-Anglican priest” who has been “wean[ed]… from his faith,” and who claims that “religious beliefs and doctrines not only have no rational basis, but are, in fact, a danger to rational, evidence-based thinking.”

This helps explains Jerry’s reference to “Eric” in the quoted passage. Feser’s observation that MacDonald has a low opinion of theology (while being very well-trained in the subject, we should add) might be relevant if MacDonald had said something like “You should learn theology entirely from reading my blog posts.” Actually, though, MacDonald just recommended a few books to Jerry (one of which was mentioned specifically above.) That book, at least, hardly seems like a tome designed to make theology look bad. It is instead a collection of essays written by scholars with good reputations in the fields they are addressing. If Feser wants to argue that MacDonald’s reading list is irretrievably biased in some way then he should just say so. Otherwise this just looks like a straightforward ad hominem attack. He is trying to cast suspicion on MacDonald’s suggestions not because those suggestions are poor, but because of something MacDonald believes.

This also shows why Feser’s invocation of Latour is inapt. Latour was known for his contributions to “science studies,” as opposed to science itself. He has a poor reputation among scientists for his endorsement of certain dubious ideas about the social construction of science. Feser is trying to suggest that, just as Latour would be generally considered an unreliable source for learning about science, MacDonald is an unreliable source for learning about theology. But to make the comparison correct we would need to know what Latour instructed the skeptic to read. To judge from Feser’s hypothetical exchange, the skeptic was told to read Wheeler’s autobiography, which certainly would be an odd recommendation to someone wanting to learn some basic science. MacDonald, by contrast, recommended a book edited by a reputable scholar and called An Introduction to Christian Theology. Certainly seems like a decent suggestion.

Let’s move on to the next exchange:

Skeptic: Oh brother, here we go again. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” You always say that. Then comes the Courtier’s reply: “Learn the science before commenting on it!” But now that I have learned it, even that’s not enough for you. Why don’t you just finally admit that science is like believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster? I mean, “geons” and “quantum foam” are only the beginning. This Wheeler guy goes on about tons of other crackpot stuff, like “black holes,” “muons,” “cosmic rays,” “wave-particle duality,” and “It from Bit,” whatever the hell that means.

Scientist: But my point is that you haven’t “learned the science.” Just reading a book doesn’t mean anything if you’re not even trying to understand it. And you’ve more or less admitted that you’re not — you’re only interested in scoring a debating point against those who’ve exposed your lack of knowledge of science. There’s nothing obscure or crackpot about anything Wheeler said. He’s just using technical terminology. But the ideas are complicated and are the result of decades or even centuries of scientific developments. You can’t seriously expect to understand it all just by mining a couple of books over the weekend for passages you can make smart-ass remarks about.

This actually gets to the heart of the matter, as I see it. As already discussed, all of those bits of jargon to which the skeptic points have rigorous definitions in the literature, and physicists can give precise, detailed reasons for believing that they refer to actual things in nature. They can point to the experiments and data that led people to hypothesize such ideas, and they can point to the successful predictions the ideas allow.

Thus, the skeptic is simply showing his ignorance in referring to black holes or cosmic rays as crackpot ideas. The proper response is to refer him to some basic textbooks in astronomy. Of course, the skeptic might just fol\d his arms and shake his head no matter what you do. But the fact remains that virtually everyone acknowledges that consistent predictive accuracy is a strong reason for accepting a scientific idea. Science works, after all.

By contrast, the person who says, “Original sin is a vapid idea with no basis in reality,” is not committing the same error. You certainly can not show him the practical successes of original sin in explaining much of anything. (Spare me the arguments about how original sin permits us to explain the frequently poor behavior of human beings towards one another.) You can refer him to books that explain the history of the idea, or to the different interpretations people have given it over the centuries, but that does not answer the skeptic’s objection. The problem is that no one would ever have come up with the idea of original sin were it not for certain passages in the Bible, and no good reason can be given for thinking that those passages offer any genuine insight into humanity’s spiritual condition. When modern scholars write books explaining how to reconcile original sin with modern science (which shows, among other things, that Adam and Eve never existed), for example, they are hard-pressed to explain why we should have confidence in the correctness of their novel interpretations.

The same can be said for other theological notions, like the triune God or transubstantiation. The problem is not that theology is often difficult or makes use of jargon that can be offputting to a beginner. It is that, even after you have invested the time to understand what is actually being claimed, there still is no good reason for thinking that any of it is true.

Feser’s next exchange addresses this point:

Skeptic: But why waste time trying to understand it when these scientists never show how what they’re saying tells us anything about reality in the first place? Because that’s the third thing I’ve learned. There seems to be no “knowledge” behind science. One gets the strong sense when reading science that everyone is just making stuff up. There are few arguments for relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, etc. at all in what I read. People just assume these things are real and go from there.

Scientist: What are you talking about? Lots of scientists have argued for those things, at length!

But this is just getting silly. Even the most ardent religious fundamentalist does not claim there is no knowledge behind science or that scientists routinely just make stuff up. They might demur from a particular scientific consensus, but they usually bend over backward to emphasize their great love for science. That is because they can see as well as anyone that science produces tangible results. They have no problem with the idea that consistent predictive accuracy (among other characteristics of good science) is a sound reason for accepting a scientific idea.

What science brings to the table in this discussion is a set of investigative methods that everyone regards as legitimate. That is precisely what theology lacks. There is no compelling answer to be given to the question, “How do you know“original sin” refers to anything real?” let alone “How do you know that Smith’s understanding of original sin is right and Johnson’s is wrong?”

Skeptic: Not in what I’ve read these last few weeks. For example, read a book like Gregory’s Eye and Brain and you’ll find he talks about how evolution did this or how photons do that. But he never gives us any argument for the existence of these “photon” thingies, and he never answers all the objections people have made to evolution. It’s all based on faith.

Scientist: He doesn’t address those things at length because the book is about vision, and not photons or evolution per se. He can take that stuff for granted because other people have argued for it elsewhere. He isn’t even trying to answer skeptics about evolution or modern physics in a book like that. Really, do you expect every science book to start from square one and recapitulate what others have already said about every issue that might be relevant to a subject, just to satisfy skeptics like you?

I’m not sure what this is apropos of. Jerry ends his post by asking several questions, such as whether theology has progressed or whether it can fairly be said to have produced actual knowledge. He opened the post by criticizing one essay in an anthology about Christian theology. But I don’t see any place where he criticizes a specific piece of writing for not answering questions it was never intended to answer.

Feser continues the dialogue through several more exchanges, but they add little to what we have already seen. He then writes this:

Now, Coyne would be outraged by our Skeptic, and rightly so. But replace “Skeptic” with “Coyne,” “Scientist” with “Theologian,” and so forth, and I submit that you’ve got a dead-on summary of Coyne’s attitude toward theology. Of course, Coyne and his ilk will insist that the cases are different. But what you will never get from them is an actual argument for this claim, or at least not an argument that doesn’t beg the question.

Of course, the two cases are transparently different. It is in the nature of science that its practitioners must strive for the utmost clarity (because other people must in principle be able to replicate their results). Not so for theology. Science writing may contain jargon and technical sections, but the jargon is ultimately defined rigorously and the technicalities are essential to expressing the ideas properly. By contrast, so much theological writing is impenetrable not because there is difficult, technical vocabulary to master, but simply because obscure writing is employed where it is unnecessary. (Seriously, do you really want to argue that Cobb chose the clearest way of expressing whatever point he was trying to make?) Science has investigative methods the everyone regards as legitimate, and it proves its value in very practical ways. Theology does not.

The fact is that Feser might simply have given clear answers to Coyne’s four questions, but he chose instead to write that silly dialogue. The only one of Coyne’s questions he even addresses is the question of God’s existence, and his answer is that Aquinas’s five ways, especially the cosmological argument, provide a rational basis for belief. Not many philosophers agree, of course, and for good reason.

For all my criticisms of Feser in these last two posts, I would genuinely be interested in reading his answers to Coyne’s other questions. But after long experience I am not optimistic that I will find those answers convincing.

1. #1 CarlosT
July 14, 2011

Skeptic: Not in what I’ve read these last few weeks. For example, read a book like Gregory’s Eye and Brain and you’ll find he talks about how evolution did this or how photons do that. But he never gives us any argument for the existence of these “photon” thingies, and he never answers all the objections people have made to evolution. It’s all based on faith.

I think Jerry once said that all theology seems to assume that God exists, then goes on making crap up from there.

What makes this particular part of the dialog brain-hurtingly stupid is that there are scads of sources that will give you explanations of these phenomena, with all the evidence, and in a lot of cases math that works! You can’t say the same for concepts such as “God” or “original sin”, especially the math part.

2. #2 healthphysicist
July 14, 2011

After reading Part 1, I started thinking about the fact that science must only address natural causes. But that is arbitrary…suppose we had arbitrarily chosen to address those causes to “God”. Just suppose.

Then all of our textbooks, would just be seen as Modern Bibles by folks reading them 1,000 years in the future (assuming humanity survives itself).

How will they smugly laugh at us as Information Age auto riding barbarians?

Another, somewhat unrelated thought…why don’t creationists claim that evolution is a paradox for evilutionists. I haven’t seen it anyway. Something like this:

“We creationists love the theory of evilution. If evilution were to be believed, then we wouldn’t expect to have good eyesight. And evilutionists point to our limited eyesight as evidence of evilution. But that also infers that we shouldn’t expect humans to be able to think clearly either. Anymore than we see all things with clarity. Evilution predicts that any theory of evilution must be inherently wrong. It is a paradox. Praise God!”

I can argue against it, but I would think it would broad appeal. Maybe I just haven’t come across it.

3. #3 CarlosT
July 14, 2011

Why wouldn’t we expect to have good eyesight if evolution is true? I’m not following…

4. #4 Lou Jost
July 14, 2011

It seems to me the central difference between theology and science is that theology is trying to understand a (self-contradictory) book, while science is trying to understand physical reality. It is no wonder that both are complicated and need technical jargon. Both can actually measure their success: a “better” theology makes sense of a wider range of bible passages and perhaps appears to resolve some of its contradictions, while better science makes more correct predictions about the world and perhaps resolves some theoretical contradictions. The thing that is peculiar about theology is that it does not question its fundamental assumption that god exists and that Christ had something to do with god; it puts up roadblocks for itself. Science questions every one of its presuppositions, even fundamental ones like the existence of space and time, commutative multiplication, etc.

5. #5 kevin R
July 14, 2011

Ethan Siegel over at starts with a bang has a post up today that talks about the discovery of Neptune. The short version is that the orbit of Uranus didn’t match the math so one of them smart scientist type fellers determined there must be another planet affecting its orbit. Some more math determined where it would have to me and Voila telescopes quickly found it right where the math said it should be.

that is the difference between science and theology.

http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/07/neptune_turns_1_kind_of.php

6. #6 healthphysicist
July 14, 2011

By “good eyesight” I mean some hypothetical optimized eyesight. Evolution predicts that we have evolved a degree of vision which promotes reproduction under environmental pressures. There is no expectation of optimal eyesight.

We don’t see in the infrared or x-ray, we don’t see with microscopic vision, we don’t have eyes in the back of our head. We have some hazy idea about how far our vision is from some concept of optimal.

We have no real idea how far our cognition is from some concept of optimal (computers give us some insight). Evolution predicts that our level of cognition is associated with our success in passing on our genes. Not in discerning the truth about the Universe.

So a creationist could claim that if evilution is to be believed, evilution can’t be believed. It is self contradictory.

I hate that I had the thought, but I think it would be a good argument. I can argue against it, but those arguments are more laborious.

7. #7 CarlosT
July 14, 2011

Sorry healthphysicist, it’s still not getting off the ground for me.

Evolution is about passing on genes, yes, but there’s nothing that says it has to be minimalist. For example, in a lot of birds, the length of the tail is just a flight dynamics question, and evolution in those cases has produced perfectly functional tails. But in peacocks, the preferences of peahens came into play in tail design, and peacocks now have tails that are much more extravagant than one might expect.

I’ve heard the hypothesis that human cognition might also have been the subject of sexual selection, leading to more impressive cognitive powers than those demanded by “don’t die before you reproduce”.

8. #8 Sean Santos
July 14, 2011

“We creationists love the theory of evilution. If evilution were to be believed, then we wouldn’t expect to have good eyesight. And evilutionists point to our limited eyesight as evidence of evilution. But that also infers that we shouldn’t expect humans to be able to think clearly either. Anymore than we see all things with clarity. Evilution predicts that any theory of evilution must be inherently wrong. It is a paradox. Praise God!”

Plantinga has made an argument roughly like this, I believe. I can’t remember it quite. He argues that unguided evolution would not produce beings with correct beliefs, but instead only beliefs that were useful. (Actually, I think his point might instead be that evolution only impacts behaviors, not beliefs?) The idea is that naturalism is self-undermining, because it suggests that our beliefs have no connection to reality. So we need a supernatural god to tweak our brains to make them work right.

Pretty silly, I think. Naturalists aren’t required to be this sort of epiphenomenalist, and are perfectly free to say that some beliefs are subject to an evolutionary pressure to be correct. Plantinga counters this by saying that some incorrect beliefs might be useful to human beings from an evolutionary perspective. Which is true, but not too convincing since a brain that takes correct action based on true beliefs is probably more accurate and efficient than a brain that takes correct action through elaborate self-deception (plus, it seems to be the case that at least some beliefs that seem “intuitive” and may even have an instinctual basis are, in fact, completely wrong).

On a more general note, the question I always ask of theology (or pseudoscience, or even controversial or speculative “real” science) is this: Can you argue that your idea is not simply possible, but likely? Or more specifically: Can you explain how you formed this model of reality, justifying every step along the way? Or enough of the steps that the idea clearly is driven by reason and observation, and not unfettered imagination?

If an idea can’t even pass the latter test, it’s not really worth looking into any more. If I had to explain quantum physics “from scratch”, I could do so by actually sketching the relevant historical experiments and ideas, the basic theoretical ideas and explain objectively observable results and technologies. I could do a poor but mostly accurate job of this in 10 minutes. I could point out new observations that strengthened pre-existing theories.

On the other hand, something like process theology is more complicated, and has more unexplained, seemingly arbitrary qualities, than the questions it is supposed to address. There’s no clear reason to believe it instead of any other explanation of how the world works, except for an irrational bias in favor of certain conclusions. Same for original sin. Every explanation of it appears to be about how it can be used to explain certain things, as opposed to how it actually does explain those things better than any other random explanation you could invent for human misbehavior.

9. #9 healthphysicist
July 14, 2011

Evolution does NOT have to be minimalist. It can even have non-minimalist stuff like junk DNA. But what is does predict is natural selection which favors optimization in regards to reproductive success, not cognitive success.

Therefore, cognitive success is inferior to reproductve success and reaching its potential is highly unlikely. We aren’t big, superfast, super sensory beings because we haven’t experienced those environmental pressures. Likewise, any environmental pressures which have led to our cognition, though better than fleas, have left us ill equipped to explain the Universe.

Therefore, it is unlikely any theory is correct.

(I wouldn’t include anything about god tweaking)

10. #10 CarlosT
July 14, 2011

Therefore, cognitive success is inferior to reproductve success and reaching its potential is highly unlikely. We aren’t big, superfast, super sensory beings because we haven’t experienced those environmental pressures. Likewise, any environmental pressures which have led to our cognition, though better than fleas, have left us ill equipped to explain the Universe.

But why would we need optimal cognition to understand the Universe? Is there some reason to think that a level below “optimal” would not be sufficient? This is the part of the argument that just lurches of the tracks for me.

Like I said, there have been evolutionary explanations put forward for our cognitive extravagance, and maybe someday we’ll nail it down more definitively. But for the argument you’ve proposed to have any force, there has to be some reason why we couldn’t some how evolve sufficient cognition to understand the Universe.

11. #11 healthphysicist
July 14, 2011

Carlos –

The paradox is that we never know if we understand the Universe objectively or if we’ve just convinced ourselves we understand it under an illusion. It would be a very odd coincidence, if evolution, which is focused on reproductive success, also provided the cognitive skills to truly understand the Universe. Though, it might.

Other Great Apes seem to have no clue. Yet, they have had the same reproductive success as us (we’re all still here).

Do we really have a clue, or are we fooling ourselves because we’ve all agreed to certain underlying axioms and assumptions?

12. #12 CarlosT
July 14, 2011

The paradox is that we never know if we understand the Universe objectively or if we’ve just convinced ourselves we understand it under an illusion. It would be a very odd coincidence, if evolution, which is focused on reproductive success, also provided the cognitive skills to truly understand the Universe. Though, it might.

But that’s only a paradox if somehow the cognitive skills to needed to understand the universe couldn’t be the same cognitive skills that fostered reproductive success in our species. If, for whatever reason, those with ever greater cognitive powers consistently reproduced more successfully, then cognition could be driven to great heights.

If there’s a level of cognition below optimal that’s sufficient to understand the Universe, then selection pressures driving cognitive powers higher could theoretically push them to that level, and all the while only reproductive success being considered.

13. #13 Pierce R. Butler
July 14, 2011

… each occasion transcends the causality of the past by responding to it with more or less originality.

This metaphysic, insofar as I can decipher it, tidily subverts the old-fashioned concept of cause-and-effect – on which the cosmological argument utterly depends.

Do theologians – the ones who leave kids & politics alone – exhibit this much self-defeating behavior in their private lives?

14. #14 Forbidden Snowflake
July 15, 2011

healthphysicist:

It would be a very odd coincidence, if evolution, which is focused on reproductive success, also provided the cognitive skills to truly understand the Universe.

A precondition to reproductive success is survival. Survival is made more likely by accurate understanding of our environment, and ability to manipulate it and to correctly predict events within it. Unless you would like to demonstrate that the cognitive skills which are required to thus assess our environment are fundamentally different from the ones required to investigate the Universe, I’m afraid your argument breaks down.

Other Great Apes seem to have no clue. Yet, they have had the same reproductive success as us (we’re all still here).

You do know that several species of Great Apes are endangered, right?

Other Great Apes, or, for that matter, all other species, understand their environment as well as they can. So do we. This analogy can be used to claim that our understanding of the Universe is incomplete, or even that complete understanding isn’t within our capacity, but it doesn’t support claiming that what we know is an illusion, or that we are unable to discern a reliable way of knowing when we see it.

15. #15 H.H.
July 15, 2011

healthphysicist said:

But that also infers that we shouldn’t expect humans to be able to think clearly either. Anymore than we see all things with clarity. Evilution predicts that any theory of evilution must be inherently wrong. It is a paradox. Praise God!”

Actually, that’s pretty close to something Plantinga tried to argue. Basically, he says, since our cognitive functions are adaptive, we evolved to form useful beliefs, not necessary true ones. Through some needlessly complicated Bayesian statistics, Plantinga concludes that evolution has rendered our cognitive faculties grossly unreliable, apt to believe any silly old thing. And that, he contends, is the unsolvable paradox of brute materialism. He considers it self-disproving. The creationist huckster Kent Hovind phrased the argument thusly: “If evolution is true, you could not know that it’s true because your brain is nothing but chemicals. Think about that.” Plantinga is a professor at Notre Dame, so sold he sold the idea a little better, but it’s the same basic conceit.

Both men suppose that only a belief in a benign creator is sufficient to hoist oneself out of this philosophical morass. We can trust our brains because god made us rational!

If that sounds stupid, it’s because it is. There’s a few things that Plantinga fails to consider. Firstly, scientists have known for a long time that the human brain does have built in biases that affect cognitive function. So have advertisers. And bookies. By and large, most human beings are anything but rational beings. We indulge in all sorts of kooky beliefs (like religion, though one suspects the irony is lost on Plantinga). If we can supposedly trust our brains because god loves us, then Plantinga has to explain why our brains are prone to things like wishful thinking and the gambler’s fallacy. Materialistic evolution explains why our brains are skewed to expect certain outcomes even when they aren’t strictly rational. I believe Jason even wrote a book on one such problem. Plantinga’s “solution” offers no such explanation, and is in fact an invitation to hand-wave the entire issue away.

But unreliable doesn’t mean useless. We could develop rules, say, that could serve as guides for rational inquiry, aiding us in overcoming our natural inclinations for certain cognitive errors. And we can rigorously test our assumptions against reality in order validate or invalidate them. This process, let’s call it science, could give us a high degree of confidence in our beliefs. Never absolute certainty, that’s acknowledged, but certainty within tolerable error bars.

And the second thing is that Plantinga’s “solution” really isn’t one. If materialists are stuck going in circles because they can’t rationally establish the reliability of their cognitive functions, then supernaturalists are no better off. Plantinga may have faith that his god is a benevolent deity that forged us to gaze sensibly upon his orderings, but he may just as easily be deceived by a trickster spirit into thinking so. Appeals to the supernatural don’t solve the problem of radical skepticism. We can always doubt our own sanity. Doubt our subjective experience of objective reality. Maybe we are all just brains in a vat? Bringing hypothesized spirits into it doesn’t in any way remove the problem, it only multiplies it. Faith is no solution.

For some reason, despite the inherent weaknesses in Plantinga’s argument, it’s considered to be “sophisticated” theology by many apologists. “He used Bayesian logic, man! Materialism is self-refuting!” Needless to say, one would have to suffer from considerable cognitive impairment agree with Plantinga’s conclusions.

16. #16 AL
July 15, 2011

Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) doesn’t actually demonstrate that naturalistic evolution is false. At best, if the EAAN actually worked (and that’s a generous if), it would only prove that if evolution is true, evolutionists wouldn’t know it.

But do note that in the event evolution is true and the EAAN works, it would also be the case that proponents of the EAAN could not possibly know the EAAN works, for the exact same reason that evolutionists could not know that evolution is true. In that case, the EAAN undermines itself.

July 15, 2011

Just to pile on:

If human brains were rational, armchair philosophy could be relied upon to produce practical results. We know from bitter experience that this isn’t so. This is why we need science. As Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

18. #18 nice_marmot
July 15, 2011

It has always mystified me that, barring severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, our everyday lives require a mode of thinking that is essentially scientific: If we walk into a room and flip the switch and no light results, we can address the problem because we have an understanding of how the lights in our house work and we perform experiments to see if the cause is a burned-out bulb, an unplugged lamp, a power outage, and so on. We develop a hypothesis (although we don’t call it that) and set about testing whether it’s supported or falsified. Easy. We do this with all manner of decisions and actions all day, every day. If a pipe breaks we call a plumber, not a priest (unless, of course, the priest also happens to be a plumber, natch’), we ask our friends and neighbors if that plumber does good work, we read reviews to see which restaurants and movies are likely to be good, and we have a system of trials to determine the validity of the evidence when arbitrating disputes or prosecuting crimes, and so on, and so on. If one of us told those same friends and neighbors that we were planning to grow corn in the walls of bedroom because we read online that sowing corn kernels in sheetrock would ward off demons and provide a bumper crop, they would warn their kids to give a wide berth.
Yet despite all that, the vast majority of people in the world are not only perfectly willing to accept a bunch of incoherent centuries-old stories as absolutely and incontrovertibly true and factual, but often become so enraged that they are ready to kill and die over the different and equally incoherent stories of complete strangers thousands of miles away.
Until quite recently, I was convinced that so many of us willfully abandon what feeble rationality we do have when it came to matters of religion, but the more I encounter statements like that of Feser’s “Skeptic” who says, “It’s all based on faith,” the more I’m convinced that many, if not most, people who believe that way actually lack the capacity to conceptualize a system of thought that is not dependent upon faith.
And that is truly frightening.

19. #19 Lassi Hippeläinen
July 15, 2011

The short version:

Scientists sound obscure, because they are using words to approximate the logical rigor and precision of mathematics, the true language of science.

Theologians sound obscure, because they are using words to hide their lack of logical rigor and precision.

From this the theologians conclude that since both sound obscure, they must be equal.

20. #20 Ray Simpson
July 15, 2011

Granted, many terms John Wheeler talks about will be jargony to those who aren’t coming from a scientific background… but it should NOT stop them from understanding, his ideas have been groundbreaking and he is also a good speaker.

I love the series of interviews at Web of Stories where he tells his life story and elaborates on his theories, such as the quantum foam, black holes and nuclear fission.
This video is about his quantum ideas including quantum foam:
http://www.webofstories.com/people/john.wheeler/77

21. #21 Collin Brendemuehl
July 15, 2011

Going back to part 1, by spending time with liberal and dialectical theologians (Barth, Tillich) you all but guaranteed confusion. Tillich treats the Trinity as an afterthought. And Barth, though prolific and quite popular, still followed the method of the rationalist.
The core of theology is not logic. To understand the Bible as a unified whole is the first step. From there one discerns a holistic (systematic) picture of its eschatology. To begin with theology is to start at the end, not the beginning.
Seeing these in sequence might help: Alistar McGrath “Historical Theology” and Hurst “History of Rationalism” will be helpful.
I wonder — what are your expectations from theology?
Christian theology is not about what the institution has to offer, but what God has to offer. After that comes the influence of the church and its effect on society. Though I’ve raised the point previously, it bears repeating: Slavery. It is on the rise. Interestingly it is on the rise in the least-Christian parts of the world. It is a symptom of the lack of moral restraint which typifies even the world of the rationalist — slavery is again on the rise in Europe. Pay close attention to Genoa and Amsterdam.
There is more to say, but this is enough for now.

22. #22 Larry
July 15, 2011

How timely. I took to heart one of Feser’s hobbyhorses: New Atheists attack a strawman version of the cosmological argument and don’t appreciate Aquinas’s version with its appropriate background.

Ultimately, I found the theology to be one or two stops short of useful: “[Theology is] an intricate, nuanced, and well-reasoned human system. [It is] a deep study on the kind of being Feser and Aquinas would feel comfortable worshiping. That’s about where it all ends, for there doesn’t seem to be much to do with theology outside of saying ‘Yes, that is it’ and moving along to a pew.”

23. #23 Wow
July 15, 2011

“But that is arbitrary…suppose we had arbitrarily chosen to address those causes to “God”.”

That’s just Spinoza’s God.

The sort of God that Einstein believed in (I.e. The Universal Laws anthropomorphised) or the one that Hawkin refers to in his Brief History of Time.

But such a god still exists as the normal activity of the universe of predictability. Such a god doesn’t answer prayers, is no source for morality or laws. And such a God might as well be called “Coleslaw”, since it has as much to do with “God” as understood by the general public as Coleslaw does.

24. #24 Rev.Enki
July 15, 2011

RE: healthphysicist and the evilution of eyesight and thought

One christian theologian does, in fact, make a generalized version of that argument. Plantagina’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN), in which he argues against naturalism itself by noting the uncontroversial fact that evolution might lead to the development of nervous systems whose thinking was falliable. (Therefore god).

I think of it as a bit of absurdist performance art in book form, and something which no actual christian would find useful excet as something to distract people from their actual beliefs.

25. #25 James Sweet
July 15, 2011

@healthyphysicist: I’ve actually heard a variation of that argument before. I can’t remember the details, but it’s something along the lines of that evolution says our brains were produced for the “purpose” of survival, not for discerning the truth, so if we believe evolution then why would we think anything we learn from it (including evolution itself) is true as opposed to simply helping us survive?

The answer, of course, is that there are good reasons to believe that being able to discern accurate truths about reality DOES help our brains survive, and aided by science, we seem to be able to make that process work reasonably well. But then of course we only figured THAT out with our imperfect brains, so there is an infinite regress.

But just as in our discussion yesterday, I assert that anybody who seriously argues that we CAN’T figure anything out about reality has already lost the argument.

26. #26 healthphysicist
July 15, 2011

To all – thanks for insight on Platinga. I am completely ignorant of his work (maybe an overstatement, HA!) and will look into.

With that said, even if Platinga’s conclusion also leads to leaving creationism (in fact the rationality of everything we “think” we know)in doubt, that’s ok. From a creationist viewpoint, that is the gap to have “faith”. They would just say there is nothing we can be certain of in this world, we must put our faith in God, and then just rely on a Pascal’s wager sort of argument to support that conclusion.

@23 Wow – the Coleslaw god is how an atheist might interpret that God. But a theist could still take that slaw and build on it. For example, in regards to prayers, it’s not that prayers cause intervention. It is that the Universe is deterministic, yet too complex to be fully understood. And so the prayer is an expression of hope that God’s determinism will result in action X. Or the prayer may be an expression of thanks, that ultimately action X has occurred.

When I see a Jackson Pollock painting, I see paint splatter. Others see art, and pay large sums of cash.

27. #27 Russell
July 15, 2011

Let’s get down to brass tacks. The important difference between cosmic rays and a god is that there are relatively simple experiments that demonstrate cosmic rays. More, it was precisely that experience that led to physicists discussing cosmic rays. That notion didn’t come solely from physicists writing and speculating. But by going out and collecting data. And it is that data and history that physics students are first taught about cosmic rays.

Now, yes, there are some theoretical parts of physics that are entirely speculative. And no one should believe they are anything other than speculative! The important difference between theology and physics is this: the core subject of theology is entirely speculative, and in physics, the goal with any speculative theory is to figure out how test it.

To put it another way, when one starts to study physics (or biology or any other science), there is a lab component that provides students hands-on experience with the subject matter whose theories are taught in the exposition part of the course. Theology has no lab component. There is no experiment that demonstrates angels. At least, not outside myth. There are no proposed experiments to test whether the Yahweh or Allah theories are closer to reality. What theologians first need to explain is why that is.

28. #28 healthphysicist
July 15, 2011

“But just as in our discussion yesterday, I assert that anybody who seriously argues that we CAN’T figure anything out about reality has already lost the argument.”

Based on what I’m perceiving as Platinga’s argument, we can figure out about reality, that which helps us survive.

Our vision is not blindness. But we know it is not capturing a lot of reality that we think we know exists (infrared, what’s behind us, microscopic details, etc.)

Likewise, our cognition is not utter ignorance. But we can’t know what aspects we’re missing until we have something like optics-for-the-brain.

Math is a great system of thought for working with nothing but abstractions. We can mentally manipulate “nothing” and devise all kinds of constructs. Money is a mental construct…the paper representing a $50 bill is physically the same (no “nitting” on the trivial details) as a$1 bill. Yet, because we share a belief system on what those pieces of paper represent, we do some wierd stuff. And we can establish a pseudo-scientific system we call economics around it.

29. #29 Rev.Enki
July 15, 2011

As I understand Plantinga (Not Plantigina. I’m always getting his name wrong in this same way, for some damned reason), his overall argument is essentially that observation is no way to determine how the world is. Rather, that what you should strive is for something you have “warrant” to believe, and that observing the world is not useful for discovering this

30. #30 Russell
July 15, 2011

Collin Brendemuehl:

After that comes the influence of the church and its effect on society. Though I’ve raised the point previously, it bears repeating: Slavery. It is on the rise. Interestingly it is on the rise in the least-Christian parts of the world.

For the sake of argument, assume for a minute that the effects of Christianity on society have been entirely beneficial, living up to the many paeans its defenders have writ. Let’s go further. Let’s assume that Christian belief has all sorts of beneficial effects on its adherents. That their religion makes them more steadfast, resilient, and loving.

All that has precisely zero bearing on whether there is anything to Christianity’s primary factual claims.

Zilch.

This conflation is one of the most alluring fallacies. People want to think that if you find what is true, it will make you better and adherence to that truth will make the world better. Many atheists fall into that same fallacy. Which leads them to defend the alleged truth of their ideologies by arguing how much better it makes people, society, and the world.

History is more complex. People are more complex. Some people’s delusions lead them to do good things. Some people, facing reality, plunge into depression. There is no law of psychology or of history that truth always wins out, or that beneficial results always track it doing so.

31. #31 Wow
July 15, 2011

“For example, in regards to prayers, it’s not that prayers cause intervention.”

Then you no longer have prayers, you have a monologue on your knees.

“It is that the Universe is deterministic, yet too complex to be fully understood.”

Which prayer isn’t changing. Still a kneeling monologue.

“And so the prayer is an expression of hope that God’s determinism will result in action X.”

Which means that it’s a kneeling monologue.

All this means that you may as well be mumbling “Eki eki eki ptang. Niii!”.

There’s still no Theology in all of that. It’s just people kneeling down and mumbling for a bit for no reason.

“Or the prayer may be an expression of thanks, that ultimately action X has occurred.”

It’s easier to just say “I’m glad that happened”. This isn’t considered a prayer, though.

You now have kneeling bratwurst. Your prayer is now as far from what is meant by prayer as Coleslaw God.

And what does prayer have to do with theology? Or, really, anything?

Are you just wibbling out wordsalad in the hope that you get noticed?

32. #32 Wow
July 15, 2011

“When I see a Jackson Pollock painting, I see paint splatter.”

That’s all art is.

“Others see art, and pay large sums of cash.”

Just like they do with Gucci. Or Rolex. However, we don’t base theology off it.

And we don’t infer from the evidence of there being a Jackson Pollock painting that there is a muse of art. We infer that he paints pictures.

Still feck all to do with God, prayer, religion, skepticism or anything other than narcissistic navel-gazing.

33. #33 Wow
July 15, 2011

“Many atheists fall into that same fallacy.”

FALSE.

OK, possible that some few would do so, but if you want to give a position of Atheists as a group on morality, Atheists insist that religion isn’t the source of morality.

Not that Atheism’s truths (whatever you consider that to mean in your own head, ‘cos it’s not all that clear to me what you’re talking about) will make you moral. If any positive pronouncement is made, it’s that YOU YOURSELF make you moral. Or immoral. Not a book, not a creed, not even atheism.

34. #34 Wow
July 15, 2011

“Yet, because we share a belief system on what those pieces of paper represent, we do some wierd stuff.”

Ever looked at the bank note? It’s an IOU, a promissory note from the bank.

In other words, an agreement.

The only special thing about it (and it’s completely NOT maths) is that we humans make promises to each other and intend to keep our promises.

That’s all.

35. #35 Russell
July 15, 2011

Wow objects to my claim that “Many atheists fall into that same fallacy.”

Look at some of these threads. You’ll find some atheists eager to argue that every effect of religion is bad. Yes, some of it is simply a sort of un-whitewashing. It’s important to recognize that along with Wilberforce, there was the Southern Baptist Convention, split from the other baptists to condemn abolitionism as unbiblical.

But it often goes further than that. And then the question is: why is that?

Or look at the presence of progressivism among technologists. The singularity movement is nothing if not unbridled optimism based on the progress of technology.

This is so easy a fallacy to fall into. We don’t want to think our own acquiring a hard-won truth might, sometimes, and in some ways, have an ill effect. Nor do we want to think that someone else’s absurd belief could possibly have beneficial effect. We want truth to win and we want the result of that to be good.

36. #36 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 15, 2011

healthphysicist: After reading Part 1, I started thinking about the fact that science must only address natural causes. But that is arbitrary…suppose we had arbitrarily chosen to address those causes to “God”. Just suppose.

Where did you learn this “fact”? What about the numerous studies of the healing power of prayer, for example? Or studies of paranormal powers, the cause of which is unknown? Are you saying those experiments didn’t happen? Don’t you think you could argue more effectively if you would stop making shit up?

37. #37 Vicki
July 15, 2011

Colin–

As I understand it, some atheists are looking at books of theology because theists keep claiming that it’s unreasonable to assert that there are no gods if one hasn’t studied theology. Most of us recognize that theology isn’t at the center of religion, and in fact that what theologians discuss often has little to do with what they or their co-religionists actually believe or practice. But there’s this odd claim that even if in-the-pews Christianity makes no sense to me, and if I don’t see any reason to believe any of it, I’m just looking in the wrong place, because if I read the right sophisticated theologian I will be convinced.

Never mind that my Christian, Jewish, Wiccan, and Buddhist friends don’t spend their time reading sophisticated theologians. Nor that none of the “but you haven’t read X” people seem prepared to distill out the strongest arguments and present them. It comes across as “There is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being with strong feelings about humans should live, and you need to read this complex book if you want actual evidence for its existence.”

Why hasn’t the three-omni god announced to the world something like “As of now, Tay-Sachs disease is cured, and I have altered everyone’s genome so they don’t carry that trait. Also, such mutations will never happen again”? That would be pretty convincing evidence of a powerful entity that was favorably disposed toward humans.

38. #38 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 15, 2011

Never mind that my Christian, Jewish, Wiccan, and Buddhist friends don’t spend their time reading sophisticated theologians.

That reminds me of a discussion I had once when a group of atheists invited a Christian to show up and defend his beliefs. He said that pointing out contradictions in the Bible was pointless, because there could be translation errors and we had not read the texts in the original language (which, as an aside, was not true). But that pointed out the immediate problem that he himself had not read the Bible texts in the original language; so that if we were attacking a false version of Christianity, he was necessarily defending a false version of Christianity.

39. #39 Wow
July 15, 2011

“You’ll find some atheists eager to argue that every effect of religion is bad.”

Note that to someone who comprehends english, this is not the same as saying that if you believe in Atheism you’ll be more moral. Which was your ORIGINAL assertion.

If you’re abandoning that assertion, then it would be nice if you didn’t then proclaim I was wrong to say your original assertion was wrong.

In fact that claim you make there is the same one I say they make: That the Bible enables terrible actions because to make a good man do evil, you need religion.

You also need religion to make someone make a fool of themselves, don’t you, Russell.

40. #40 Russell
July 15, 2011

Wow:

Note that to someone who comprehends english, this is not the same as saying that if you believe in Atheism you’ll be more moral. Which was your ORIGINAL assertion.

Say, what? I would be quite curious where you see me making that assertion!

41. #41 Wow
July 15, 2011

Yup, you REALLY don’t read what you write.

It’s quite depressing when you have to tell an idiot what the idiot said and explain what they said. I blame MTV and fundie Faith Healing myself.

“For the sake of argument, assume for a minute that the effects of Christianity on society have been entirely beneficial, living up to the many paeans its defenders have writ. Let’s go further. Let’s assume that Christian belief has all sorts of beneficial effects on its adherents. That their religion makes them more steadfast, resilient, and loving.”

So you have set up that xians say that if you believe their Holy Book or have their faith in Woo you’ll be moral and loving.

“Many atheists fall into that same fallacy.”

Now you say that atheists do the same.

Since there’s no Atheist Book, this as a direct consequence means that you are asserting here that atheists say that if you believe in Atheism you’ll be moral and loving.

That was what your original assertion was. Atheists say if you’re an atheist you’ll be moral.

AND IT’S FALSE. (Like I said and you now kid-on you never said).

42. #42 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 15, 2011

Follow-up to #36, on the “the fact that science must only address natural causes.”

If that were true, then theists would be constitutively excluded from science; since they believe the natural world, or various parts of it, have supernatural causes. But it’s not true. Science can address non-natural causes, examples already provided. It’s just that, after over half a millenium of scientific exploration, the position that there are no supernatural causes is a reasonable conclusion to draw from the available evidence. This is much different from it being a presupposition.

43. #43 Russell
July 15, 2011

Wow, my claim wasn’t the fallacy, but that people fall into it:

People want to think that if you find what is true, it will make you better and adherence to that truth will make the world better. Many atheists fall into that same fallacy.

Some examples of that are Ayn Rand and her followers. That is a bit of a cheap shot, because Objectivism is a particular ideology, where many of the science-oriented atheists are not particularly ideological. Other examples are the transhumanist movement. And even Sam Harris, struggling to found morality in science.

This is a common fallacy, occurring everywhere people think about their own beliefs. As I said, an alluring one. Are you claiming atheists uniquely are exempt from it?

44. #44 Tommy Holland
July 15, 2011

Arguing that Original Sin is true because all people are badly behaved is like arguing that Cupid exists because all people fall in love.

45. #45 healthphysicist
July 15, 2011

#42 “science must only address natural causes”

See Volume 3, Rule 1 of Newton’s Principles of Natural Philosophy.

That is a rule which has been followed ever since.

46. #46 healthphysicist
July 15, 2011

Minor correction…..Rule 1 & 2, taken together.

47. #47 Russell
July 15, 2011

healtphysicist:

“science must only address natural causes”

Tell us what counts as natural. And how we would distinguish natural from unnatural when we see it.

48. #48 healthphysicist
July 15, 2011

I can’t and no one can…that’s why I assert that science is science.

It has nothing to do with atheism or theism. It has nothing to do with logic.

And theology is bunk, because no one can discern the natural from the unnatural. The Universe is all we have.

Science requires that when we can’t find a natural cause we say “I don’t know” or “that’s just the way it is”.

That a priori bias can lead scientists to percieve atheism.

For theists, even those who are scientists, they don’t find those dead ends satisfying. They choose to believe in something more. They ignore the naturalistic bias of science, and contemplate other things. Science has nothing to say on the matter.

49. #49 helen_s
July 15, 2011

What about the numerous studies of the healing power of prayer?

Which ones? I have a feeling that if there were any – at all – we’d be hearing about them. Constantly. Every fucking day. LOOK! ABSOLUTE PHYSICAL PROOF THAT OUR GOD EXISTS!!eleventy-one!!!

But there don’t seem to be any.

50. #50 Wow
July 15, 2011

“Some examples of that are Ayn Rand and her followers.”

She’s not an atheist. She’s an Ayn Rand (cf Complete Nutter). Her followers are Randians. Not atheists (in fact most of them pound the pulpit as hard as any Faith Healing fundie).

So you have two people and one nutcase and her followers who aren’t atheists (they believe that God makes people wealthy, hence the wealthy are Right And Good) and then say that atheists do that.

Not a particularly well thought out premise.

As to healthwoomeister, he doesn’t seem to have noted that The book he quoted from is 1687.

His woo-mancering hasn’t evolved since that time, but the rest of humanity has managed a little progression since then.

51. #51 healthphysicist
July 15, 2011

Poor grammar on my part….atheism/theism have nothing to do with logic nor science.

Science and logic are buddies….or so we tell ourselves.

52. #52 Wow
July 15, 2011

Woomancer, why the “or so we tell ourselves”?

Science and logic ARE buddies.

Humans and logic you may disagree are buddies or that they occasionally part ways, but you are completely unphysicist and definitely unhealthy (mentally) to insinuate like that.

53. #53 Wow
July 15, 2011

“Science requires that when we can’t find a natural cause we say “I don’t know” or “that’s just the way it is”.”

ABSOLUTE BOLLOCKS.

Science requires that when we can’t find a natural cause to question what caused it.

Religion (and the new-age woo-ism that you propound) requires that when you don’t know what caused something that you say “That’s not a natural cause. Therefore God!”.

NOTE: all that’s required for you is to not know. Not that there’s a non-natural cause, not that there’s a cause that nobody knows. Just that you don’t know it.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/ha_evilutionists_you_cant_expl.php

Shows how it works (or rather doesn’t) with another character rather like “healthphysicist”.

54. #54 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 15, 2011

helen_s What about the numerous studies of the healing power of prayer?
Which ones? I have a feeling that if there were any – at all – we’d be hearing about them. Constantly. Every fucking day. LOOK! ABSOLUTE PHYSICAL PROOF THAT OUR GOD EXISTS!!eleventy-one!!!
But there don’t seem to be any.

There have been many. If you haven’t heard of them you haven’t been looking. Try Wikipedia for a start. The Mayo Clinic did one. Duke did one. And so on.
None of the studies which were large enough to be statistically significant have shown a positive result – except for two, one by Elisabeth Targ and one by Columbia University (IVF-ET), both of which were fraudulent. So to reiterate: the exclusion of the supernatural causation from science is a reasonable conclusion, not a presupposition.

55. #55 Russell
July 15, 2011

healthphysicist makes two claims that are interesting in conjunction:

1) No one can discern the natural from the unnatural.

2) Science requires that when we can’t find a natural cause we say “I don’t know” or “that’s just the way it is”.

According to the first claim, if we find a cause of something, there is no way to identify it as natural or unnatural. All we know is we have found a cause. Scientists have no way to say “here is a cause, but it’s not a natural one.” Which makes meaningless the requirement that science (or anyone) treat unnatural causes differently from unnatural ones. All we can say is either, “my investigation has found this cause” or “so far, we haven’t found a cause.”

In the second case, saying “I don’t know” isn’t a bias, but simply a fact. One really doesn’t know.

56. #56 abb3w
July 15, 2011

@0, Jason Rosenhouse: What science brings to the table in this discussion is a set of investigative methods that everyone regards as legitimate.

Trivially, no; Ken Ham doesn’t. =)

Science has settled on a set of methods that can be validated from more basic premises, however, which premises most philosophers (and even most theologians) are unwilling to start at the Refutation of and determinedly abide with thereafter.

@0, Jason Rosenhouse: The only one of Coyne’s questions he even addresses is the question of God’s existence, and his answer is that Aquinas’s five ways, especially the cosmological argument, provide a rational basis for belief. Not many philosophers agree, of course, and for good reason.

To wit, they are not so much Argument (or counterargument to the claim God doesn’t), but Attitude Bolstering.

The fundamental error of the fourth argument (gradation) is presuming all posets are bounded semi-lattices, BTW. (There’s also shades of Hume’s is-ought problem.)

@5, healthphysicist: Evolution predicts that our level of cognition is associated with our success in passing on our genes. Not in discerning the truth about the Universe. So a creationist could claim that if evilution is to be believed, evilution can’t be believed. It is self contradictory.

Except that the theory of computation gives means for dealing with imperfectly reliable computers, directly applicable to cognition/cogitators.

@9, healthphysicist: But what is does predict is natural selection which favors optimization in regards to reproductive success, not cognitive success. Therefore, cognitive success is inferior to reproductve success and reaching its potential is highly unlikely.

Yes, big brains may be a local optimization; they’ve only been around a few megayears at most, and may well prove to have built-in drawbacks that will make them a passing phase in the local ecology. That’s not yet clear one way or the other.

However, the hypothetical potential is not a requirement; again, there are workarounds.

@9, healthphysicist: It would be a very odd coincidence, if evolution, which is focused on reproductive success, also provided the cognitive skills to truly understand the Universe.

Depends what you mean by “understand”; understanding the rules and understanding all the sparrow-fall details are different. Cockroach grade “something moved!” understanding might be sufficient advantage.

However, one of the kinds of Church-Turing automata that a universal Turing machine can emulate is a universal Turing machine.

@23, Wow: And such a God might as well be called “Coleslaw”, since it has as much to do with “God” as understood by the general public as Coleslaw does.

Which term would seem to have less chance of confusion due to accidental (or willful) equivocation between the multiple definitions.

@30, Russell: This conflation is one of the most alluring fallacies.

It would appear to be the contrapositive of the fallacy fallacy; only instead of presuming that since the means were invalid the conclusion must be incorrect, presuming that since the conclusion is correct that the reasoning must be correct. “Fish swim in the sea; sharks swim in the sea; therefore, sharks are fish.”

57. #57 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 15, 2011

healthphysicist: #42 “science must only address natural causes”
See Volume 3, Rule 1 of Newton’s Principles of Natural Philosophy.
That is a rule which has been followed ever since.

Too bad it doesn’t say what you claim it does.

Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy
Rule I: We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.
Rule II: Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes.

Nothing at all about those causes needing to be natural, and you forgot to mention the “as far as possible” loophole.

58. #58 Anri
July 15, 2011

We don’t see in the infrared or x-ray, we don’t see with microscopic vision, we don’t have eyes in the back of our head. We have some hazy idea about how far our vision is from some concept of optimal.

Of course, there are creatures that see well into the infrared.
In regards to X-ray, I’m not aware that there are sufficient natural x-ray sources to provide illumination (at least in places that aren’t bathed in dangerous high energy radiation).
We can’t manipulate objects on a morcoscopic level with our bare hands, why would perception at this level be useful? Creatures who are small enough to do so can also percieve at this level, of course.
And, again, some creatures have eyes in the backs of their heads – or the functional equivalent, eyes that take in a near 360 degree viewfield. Or another functional equivalent, such as having a flexible neck allowing the field of view to take in as much of the surrounding terrain as the viewer cares to.

What is ‘optimal’ vision, anyway?

Simple evolution never states that any characteristic of an organism will move towards some Platonic ‘ideal’ state, merely that it will tend to track to the absolute minimum biological cost required to allow for successful reproduction. Adding in sexual selection can cause some odd effects, but once again, the push is towards minimum acceptable cost for success.

Also:

Tell us what counts as natural. And how we would distinguish natural from unnatural when we see it.

Exactly.
Every definition for ‘supernatural’ I have seen essentially boils down to “Something that’s not there but that really is there.” In other words, nonsensical.

59. #59 Wow
July 15, 2011

“What is ‘optimal’ vision, anyway?”

Well, ours could DEFINITELY be better. Something along the lines of this:

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

Which seems to me that if the eye proves there’s a watchmaker, then that watchmaker is bloody crap at it.

60. #60 Matt Penfold
July 15, 2011

What is ‘optimal’ vision, anyway?

A very good question. Vision can be costly as it not only requires eyes, and mechanism for keeping those clean and free of debris, it also requires brains to process the signals from the eyes. “Optimal” vision is very context dependent, to the extent what is optimal in any organism will vary almost by the second.

61. #61 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 15, 2011

When it comes to vision, the mantis shrimp sets a high standard:

Mantis shrimps have a unique way of seeing
… As impressive as their arms are, the eyes of a mantis shrimp are even more incredible. They are mounted on mobile stalks and can move independently of each other. Mantis shrimps can see objects with three different parts of the same eye, giving them ‘trinocular vision‘ so unlike humans who perceive depth best with two eyes, these animals can do it perfectly well with either one of theirs.
Their colour vision far exceeds our too. The middle section of each eye, the midband, consists of six parallel strips. The first four are loaded with eight different types of light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors), containing pigments that respond to different wavelengths of light. With these, the mantis shrimp’s visible spectrum extends into the infrared and the ultraviolet. They can even use filters to tune each individual photoreceptor according to local light conditions.
The fifth and six rows of the midband contain photoreceptors that are specialised for detecting polarised light

62. #62 Collin Brendemuehl
July 15, 2011

Vicki,
Wasn’t a resurrection, just the one, enough?

Wow,
Scientists appeal to reason as the source for some future answer to the problem. Reason is their deity (idol) and the solution to all of humanity’s problems. Nobody can read the Rationalists and, umph, rationally conclude otherwise.

When it comes to naturalistic evolution the influence of stupidity disguised as reason in the various models is humorous. Have you read the various accounts of how vision might have developed? There is a great deal to that matter and anyone with a good sense of humor can find great pleasure in the extent of the illogic.

Jason,
Better work on that definition of “science.” What you have is good for the wet worker but inadequate for the (eg evolutionary and atomic) theorist. IOW, models are not methods.

63. #63 Dan L.
July 15, 2011

Scientists appeal to reason as the source for some future answer to the problem. Reason is their deity (idol) and the solution to all of humanity’s problems. Nobody can read the Rationalists and, umph, rationally conclude otherwise.

Impeccable logic, Collin. As a corollary, I worship the subway. No really — I appeal to the subway as the source for some future answer to the problem of getting somewhere else in the city. Obviously that means the subway is my deity and I worship it.

When it comes to naturalistic evolution the influence of stupidity disguised as reason in the various models is humorous. Have you read the various accounts of how vision might have developed? There is a great deal to that matter and anyone with a good sense of humor can find great pleasure in the extent of the illogic.

Why don’t you give us specific examples? I’m guessing because you know they’d be rebutted in seconds, but maybe you have some other reasons.

64. #64 Vicki
July 15, 2011

Collin–

So you are a devoted worshiper of Isis and Osiris, then?

Whether you are or not, a resurrection, even if proven, is hardly enough. You are claiming that the entity you’re talking about is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. To support that, you offer its ability to come back from the dead. If that happened, it would be evidence of power, but not of either good intentions or moral authority. If you drink poison, but also take an antidote so you recover from the poisoning, how does that pair of acts benefit anyone else?

65. #65 McWaffle
July 15, 2011

“Isn’t one resurrection enough?”

Ha, well, I guess. Here’s our process:

1.) Find me a dead body
2.) Allow me to examine it in a controlled, video recorded area with help from a physician
3.) After the physician and myself are convinced that the body in question is indeed dead, have that body come back to life.
4.) Allow the physician and I to examine the body until we are convinced it is now living.
5.) Allow me to review the tape to ensure there was no trickery
6.) You did say “one”, but obviously being able to repeat this whole process would score you major points. Just once is OK for me anecdotaly, but doing it reliably would be much better.

I would then believe that something I didn’t understand allowed a dead body to be made to live again. You’d still have quite a battle convincing me it had anything to do with Christian tradition, but I’d be a lot more willing to look into the matter.

66. #66 Dan L.
July 15, 2011

Wow:

She’s not an atheist. She’s an Ayn Rand (cf Complete Nutter). Her followers are Randians. Not atheists (in fact most of them pound the pulpit as hard as any Faith Healing fundie).

They’re atheist in roughly the same sense that Stalinist countries were atheist. That is, they’re officially atheist but only because Stalinism and free market fundamentalism are religions in their own right and can’t afford competition with an incumbent ideology wholesaler.

Interesting that free market fundamentalism tries to avoid competing in the open market.

67. #67 eric
July 15, 2011

Coyne’s comment:

I have for example, just opened my book (An Introduction to Christian Theology, edited by Roger A. Badham)…

Feser’s analog:

I have for example, just opened Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam by John Wheeler…

I smell a rigged analogy just from the titles alone. If Feser was serious about making his argument, he should’ve made the comparison to an ‘introduction to science’ type book. Not one on Quantum Foam.

68. #68 Russell
July 15, 2011

So far, in response to these two posts, no one has offered Jason any deep theological reasoning for a god, that the cautious atheist needs to worry having overlooked.

69. #69 Stu
July 15, 2011

Oh Russell, I don’t know… Anthony McCarthy had a really good argument on the other post about Lysenkoism that has really gotten me thinking.

70. #70 Gingerbaker
July 15, 2011

“…Reason is their deity (idol) and the solution to all of humanity’s problems. ..”

Just how many of mankind’s problems do you propose to solve with irrationality?

71. #71 Rick Litherland
July 15, 2011

I have only one nit to pick with two excellent articles. You ask “why anyone would apply a notion like free will to an inanimate object”. An answer can be found in the Free Will Theorem. This doesn’t seem to apply, though, to non-physical objects such as the process theologians’ “occasions”.

72. #72 eric
July 15, 2011

Collin: When it comes to naturalistic evolution the influence of stupidity disguised as reason in the various models is humorous. Have you read the various accounts of how vision might have developed?

Yes, I have. They consist of descent with modification, repeated. Since we actually see descent with modification occurring, thinking it occurred in the past and is responsible for various traits is perfectly reasonable.

Now, if you want to see stupid, here’s a good example: thinking a worldwide flood wiped out all animal life except two of each animal kept on a boat by Noah.

Now, you are no longer a YEC – you now claim to be agnostic about what the age of the earth may be. But that is also stupid; it’s like claiming agnosticism over whether there are angels pushing the planets in their orbits or whether gravity does it

73. #73 SLC
July 15, 2011

The fact of the matter is that, in order to do science, one must accept methodological naturalism, which means that appeals to the supernatural as explanations for observations are not science. In fact, such appeals, as is stated by Prof. Ken Miller in every lecture he gives are science stoppers. Once one says that god did it, there is no reason for further investigation. This is what is termed by philosophers an argument from personal incredulity.

Perhaps the best example of this is the attribution of the stability of the solar system to divine intervention as proposed by Issac Newton. By invoking divine intervention, he was stopped from further investigation; in fact, some 100 years later, the French mathematician Laplace proved that divine intervention was unnecessary. Attached is a short video by astrophysicist Neil Tyson who describes the situation far better then I can.

74. #74 nice_marmot
July 16, 2011

Going back to part 1, by spending time with liberal and dialectical theologians (Barth, Tillich) you all but guaranteed confusion. Tillich treats the Trinity as an afterthought. And Barth, though prolific and quite popular, still followed the method of the rationalist.
The core of
theology is not logic. To understand the Bible as a unified whole is the first step. From there one discerns a holistic (systematic) picture of its eschatology. To begin with theology is to start at the end, not the beginning.
Seeing these in sequence might help: Alistar McGrath “Historical Theology” and Hurst “History of Rationalism” will be helpful.
I wonder — what are your expectations from theology?
Christian theology is not about what the institution has to offer, but what God has to offer. After that comes the influence of the church and its effect on society. Though I’ve raised the point previously, it bears repeating: Slavery. It is on the rise. Interestingly it is on the rise in the least-Christian parts of the world. It is a symptom of the lack of moral restraint which typifies even the world of the rationalist — slavery is again on the rise in Europe. Pay close attention to Genoa and Amsterdam.
There is more to say, but this is enough for now.

Well said.

75. #75 nice_marmot
July 16, 2011

Slavery. It is on the rise. Interestingly it is on the rise in the least-Christian parts of the world. It is a symptom of the lack of moral restraint which typifies even the world of the rationalist…

Ahh, yes. How you must long for the Christian moral restraint of, say, the antebellum South.

July 16, 2011

what is does predict is natural selection which favors optimization in regards to reproductive success, not cognitive success.

Therefore, cognitive success is inferior to reproductve success and reaching its potential is highly unlikely. …

Therefore, it is unlikely any theory is correct.

Therefore reproductive success is primarily tied to inheritance (through evolution), not cognition.

Conversely, cognitive success may not be inheritable, say science. Therefore reproductive success is “inferior” to cognitive success et cetera.

Therefore, it is unlikely that any population survives. (O.o)

Maybe we should call that creationist argument “The Mismeasure of Mind”.

77. #77 Russell
July 16, 2011

SLC:

The fact of the matter is that, in order to do science, one must accept methodological naturalism, which means that appeals to the supernatural as explanations for observations are not science.

Really? What is the procedure to identify a proposed explanation as “supernatural” rather than “natural”?

78. #78 David Marjanović
July 16, 2011

Plantinga is so ignorant he doesn’t even know about evolutionary epistemology, which simply says that those whose brains were too unreliable have already died out. It explains, at the same time, why we have all those biases, for instance why pareidolia happens: if you see a leopard in the nearest bush and there isn’t one there, you don’t lose much; not seeing a leopard in the nearest bush when there is one there is selected against. Underactive pattern recognition is selected against, overactive pattern recognition is not.

There isn’t really a “thou shalt not think about the supernatural” rule in science. What there is is the principle of parsimony: we shouldn’t assume the existence of more entities than we need to explain the observations. So far, the assumption that anything supernatural exists has not been necessary to explain anything.

Scientist:

See? This is why the use of fictitious dialogues as arguments has fallen out of fashion: they put words into people’s mouths. No scientist would be so silly as to say what “Scientist” says here. “Wheeler is an important thinker” is a blatant argument from authority. Why bring Wheeler up? He’s completely irrelevant! This dialogue is about ideas, some of which happen to be by Wheeler; it’s not about Wheeler.

Skeptic: But why waste time trying to understand it when these scientists never show how what they’re saying tells us anything about reality in the first place? Because that’s the third thing I’ve learned. There seems to be no “knowledge” behind science. One gets the strong sense when reading science that everyone is just making stuff up. There are few arguments for relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, etc. at all in what I read. People just assume these things are real and go from there.

Scientist: What are you talking about? Lots of scientists have argued for those things, at length!

Again, no scientist would be that silly. Evolution is observable, the Casimir effect (caused by Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation) is observable, the fact that GPS works (if the theory of relativity were wrong, it’d be off by several hundred meters) is observable, ad infinitum vel nauseam. Science is about the real world. Philosophy and theology are not so limited — and that means they have to pretend that arguing for something is evidence.

79. #79 David Marjanović
July 16, 2011

Oops. Major blockquote failure because I wrote </b< instead of </b>. Let’s try again…

Scientist: Well, it’s easy to make fun of serious ideas by ripping them out of context. Actually understanding them is a different story. Wheeler is an important thinker, and you quite obviously haven’t the faintest understanding of what he’s saying.

See? This is why the use of fictitious dialogues as arguments has fallen out of fashion: they put words into people’s mouths. No scientist would be so silly as to say what “Scientist” says here. “Wheeler is an important thinker” is a blatant argument from authority. Why bring Wheeler up? He’s completely irrelevant! This dialogue is about ideas, some of which happen to be by Wheeler; it’s not about Wheeler.

Skeptic: But why waste time trying to understand it when these scientists never show how what they’re saying tells us anything about reality in the first place? Because that’s the third thing I’ve learned. There seems to be no “knowledge” behind science. One gets the strong sense when reading science that everyone is just making stuff up. There are few arguments for relativity, quantum mechanics, evolution, etc. at all in what I read. People just assume these things are real and go from there.

Scientist: What are you talking about? Lots of scientists have argued for those things, at length!

Again, no scientist would be that silly. Evolution is observable, the Casimir effect (caused by Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation) is observable, the fact that GPS works (if the theory of relativity were wrong, it’d be off by several hundred meters) is observable, ad infinitum vel nauseam. Science is about the real world. Philosophy and theology are not so limited — and that means they have to pretend that arguing for something is evidence.

80. #80 helen_s
July 16, 2011

HiI know it’s quite late to say this but I haven’t been on the computer for a while.I just wanted to apologise to BB at 54(& any others) for offering the wrong end of the stick by saying I didn’t know of any studies of the healing power of prayer. I know there have been quite a lot, I just meant that I didn’t know of any that show it works. Sorry about that

81. #81 SLC
July 16, 2011

Re Russell @ #77

In principle, supernatural claims (e.g. god did it) can sometimes be subjected to examination, particularly where the claim appears to violate the laws of biology/physics. For example, consider the following gedanken experiments.

1. The claim is made in the Hebrew scriptures that Joshua caused the sun to stand still for a day. This would clearly violate the laws of physics. In principal, one can evaluate this claim by looking for a contemporaneous observation by inhabitants of other civilizations that were around at the time. There is no such claim to be found in any writings from other civilizations. Therefore, we may provisionally conclude that this episode is fictitious, although we must not preclude the (very remote) possibility that such an observation will be uncovered in the future.

2. The claim is made in the Christian scriptures that Yoshua of Nazareth was born of a virgin who was not impregnated by another human. In principal, as proposed by Ken Miller, this claim could be investigated if a sample of his DNA were available and samples of DNA from every other male in the area were available. If no match was found, this would constitute evidence of a miraculous conception. However, even if the latter condition was not met, if, say, Yeshuas’ Y chromosome were found to be inconsistent in some way with a human male, that too would constitute evidence of a miraculous conception.

82. #82 Russell
July 16, 2011

SLC:

In principle, supernatural claims (e.g. god did it) can sometimes be subjected to examination, particularly where the claim appears to violate the laws of biology/physics.

I agree. What I’m asking is how a scientist would know he had then stumbled into supernatural phenomena rather than natural phenomena. If you want to say “scientists should stop when they bump into things of type X,” then scientists need an operational definition of X.

I think you’ll find that “supernatural” is more difficult to define than it first appears. A common definition is “outside known scientific law.” The problem there is simply what scientists have postulated it to be, to date, and that it is precisely when scientists observe something behaving outside of known scientific law that things get really interesting. According to that definition of “supernatural,” virtually all of quantum mechanics would be viewed as supernatural from the viewpoint of 19th century physics. Which means we wouldn’t have quantum mechanics had 20th century physicists followed the alleged rules of methodological naturalism,

Methodological naturalism says, “something spooky this way comes, so stop doing science.” The history of science is “something spooky this way comes, so this is where the fun begins!”

83. #83 SLC
July 16, 2011

Re Russell @ #82

Methodological naturalism says, “something spooky this way comes, so stop doing science.”

Totally 100% wrong. Methodological naturalism says, something spooky comes along (e.g. the results of the Michelson/Morley experiment), don’t invoke god did it. Look for a natural explanation. It is those who reject methodological naturalism, like Plantigna, who accept god did it as an explanation for something spooky. As an example, someone who rejected methodological naturalism would explain the results of the Michelson/Morley experiment by asserting that god diddled with their equipment.

84. #84 Russell
July 16, 2011

SLC:

Totally 100% wrong. Methodological naturalism says, something spooky comes along (e.g. the results of the Michelson/Morley experiment), don’t invoke god did it. Look for a natural explanation.

That doesn’t solve the problem. What makes an explanation natural rather than supernatural? Without an operational definition of that, there is no way a scientist can know whether he has broken this rule.

85. #85 SLC
July 16, 2011

Re Russell @ #85

An explanation that says that god did it is, by definition, supernatural. A scientist (e.g. Issac Newton on the stability of the Solar System) who invokes god as the cause of an observation is breaking the rule.

86. #86 JimV
July 16, 2011

I think healthphysicist’s horse has been sufficiently beaten, especially by the observation that methods exist to check for biases and false-positives, but I’ll add this in hopes it clears up a bit more of his confusion.

I’ve worked in mechanical design for 38 years, trying to make mechanical devices (mostly turbines) work more efficiently and reliably. I can’t think of a single breakthrough that wasn’t the result of a lot of trial and error (some of it via mathematical models and computer calculations). It isn’t necessary to be brilliant to figure something out. All you need is a lot of time, random trials that wander through the whole space of possibilities, and some way to check your results for survival value. That is how evolution produced us. As far as I know, that is how everything that works is produced.

As Sturgeon’s Law says, 90% of everything (more like 99.9%) is crap. But as long as you have a way to filter out the worst crap, eventually you may find a nugget of gold.

“An expert is someone who has already made all the mistakes that are possible in a narrow field”. (Bohr?)

“Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement” (Unknown.)

87. #87 Russell
July 16, 2011

SLC:

An explanation that says that god did it is, by definition, supernatural.

So the definition of supernatural is the involvement of anything labeled a god? The next question, of course, is labeled by whom? And after that, why in the world science should be guided by what some people choose to label a god?

88. #88 SLC
July 16, 2011

Re Russell @ #87

I’m quite sure that Issac Newton was referring to the god of the Christian scriptures when he invoked him as being responsible for the stability of the solar system.

89. #89 Russell
July 16, 2011

SLC, that doesn’t quite answer the question. Consider, that the sun often has been worshiped as a god. Does that mean scientists cannot invoke it as a cause? Or are you saying it’s only the Christian god that is ruled out by methodological naturalism? And if not that, then what exactly is the rule?

90. #90 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 16, 2011

helen_s #80: Thanks for owning up. It is a breath of fresh air after dealing with so many trolls who do not admit that their arguments have been totally eviscerated, and who show up in the next thread making the same bad claims.

91. #91 Michael Kremer
July 16, 2011

nice_marmot @#74

That trick is funny the first time you see it. The 10,000th time, not so much.

Try engaging with people.

92. #92 Just Al
July 16, 2011

Coming into this too late, I see…

One point that Jason didn’t address is the distinct difference between theology and science: consistency. You don’t have to be well-read in many of the great scientific thinkers to understand scientific concepts – you only need to read one, for any given aspect. The rest will largely say the exact same thing. It isn’t until you get down to the more esoteric theories that you find variations, and these are admittedly hypothetical.

Not so with theology, which is as widely variable as beer. In fact, there should be no such thing as, for instance, islamic theology because christian theology should have proven all others wrong (vice versa, season to taste.) The fact that they both, and all others, freely exist demonstrates that theology does not provide any guidance towards truth, no matter how you define that word.

Theology always consists of accepting a primary posit, e.g. the existence of yahweh, then explaining in what way we should accept this posit. What it never manages to do, however, is demonstrate that such a posit is more supported and rational than, say, the posit that scripture is all fictional. The larger failing, however, is in not providing anything at all that is of some use to us, some advancement, some applicable knowledge. It exists solely to support itself, a narcissistic pursuit.

I am left to wonder: if one cannot fathom the worth of theology without this deep philosophical understanding, what then of the vast majority of religious folk that couldn’t outline even a basic theological argument to save their lives? Isn’t it important that they understand it too, or is it somehow enough that they arrived at the “correct” attitude solely by chance? And why do theologians worry more about the atheists than the supposedly pious folk who derive the wrong message from religion and provide such useful material against religion?

93. You don’t have to be well-read in many of the great scientific thinkers to understand scientific concepts – you only need to read one, for any given aspect. Just Al

Oh, really. You don’t have to have a long preparation in organic chemistry to read a paper in developments in RNA research? For example? I’d like Jason to give us a list of advanced papers in recent mathematics he believes you don’t have to be “well-read” to understand. Or, indeed, in 18th century mathematics. l response which dates from the mid-20th century.

I’m really interested in the new atheist rule that if something is hard it loses. Especially considering the new atheism’s scientific pretensions.

Considering the size of the literature of theology, one of the longest developments in the entire intellectual history of human beings, probably the most widely distributed in terms of geography and most varied in terms of intellectual traditions and schools, any characterization of it, such as is done here, is laughably superficial. Though superficial is exactly what the new atheism is.

Jason, do you think you’ve read an adequate sample of theology to make the sweeping, universal statements you’ve made here? Do you think anyone has? I’ve looked at Jerry’s stuff and he’s about at an analogous level of sophistication in his attacks on religion as a mid-novice level creationist is in his attacks on evolutionary science.

You might consider a problem with your line of attack, in all of this. Most religious believers pretty much do without theology in their belief. For the large majority of them you’re barking up the wrong tree, a very tall and very large tree, it is, too.

94. #94 Russell
July 17, 2011

Anthony McCarthy:

Oh, really. You don’t have to have a long preparation in organic chemistry to read a paper in developments in RNA research? For example? I’d like Jason to give us a list of advanced papers in recent mathematics he believes you don’t have to be “well-read” to understand. Or, indeed, in 18th century mathematics.

I agree with Anthony on this.

But let’s follow the implications a little bit. Until someone has done some study in point-set topology, it is a more than a bit foolish for them to be proclaiming the Tietze extension theorem as a truth that others should believe, explaining what it says, and what its implications are.

Say, by some cultural twist, it became something that was popularized among a group. Maybe the next L. Ron Hubbard is a graduate student in math who is about to drop out and start the next popular religion. And as part of his sect, his followers proclaim the truth of the Tietze extension theorem, listing it as something important for people to “accept,” pushing it in youtube videos, and spouting it at cult gatherings. In between sessions of holy ballroom dancing. Where adherents ask each other, “Are you normal?” The only glitch is that most of them never study topology, don’t know a normal set from a skillet, and wouldn’t recognize a proof of the theorem if they read it in a standard topology text. Which means they are acting in ignorance. For them, the theorem isn’t a piece of knowledge, but just a shibboleth whose words happen to parrot a math theorem.

Religious advocates put religious believers into exactly the same boat as those cult followers when they say, “yes, there are good reasons for believing in a god, but you have to read this deep literature in theology to find them, which truthfully, most believers have never read or understood.” If the reasons for belief are so distant from the vast majority of believers, the believers are flying as blind as a deaf bat. There’s no reason to think that the god the believers worship is the one the theologians reference, or that what the theologians defend has much to do with ordinary belief.

Which means rationalists still hit the mark when they criticize the faith practiced by ordinary believers. Indeed, theologians, were they honest scholars, should be making the same criticism. If their understanding of and reasoning for theological claims is so different from that of ordinary believers, were they intellectually honest, they would say: “Most of these preachers don’t know what they are talking about. They’re teaching crap. They should stop their evangelizing, until they actually understand!”

(And yes, there is a similar criticism to be levied against, say, a beauty contestant who steps forward to be an advocate for evolution, without having studied biology, and who would flunk a test on what evolution is. In response to the question that was recently asked of beauty contestants, I would have loved to have heard this response: “I don’t know much biology, and couldn’t really explain evolution. All I can hope is that our legislators let the real scientists write our biology texts.” Though beauty contestants often aren’t scholars. And aren’t pretending to be so.)

One implication is that there is a significant difference between a science writer and a religious evangelist. A science writer’s goal isn’t to persuade the most people into a belief or practice, whether or not they understand it and its reasoning, but to increase understanding bit by bit, with reference to where more can be gained, and what kind of evidence and reasoning there is for the subject of the writing. It is vitally important to a science writer that they don’t give bogus reasoning. A science writer has failed completely if they ever have to say: “Yeah, the reasoning I provided is silly. The real reasoning is something else, in field that’s too complex to understand.” Putative science writing that reads like inspirational literature — and I’ve seen some such — isn’t science writing, but just a kind of cultural candy.

95. #95 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 17, 2011

Anthony McCarthy the troll: Jason, do you think you’ve read an adequate sample of theology to make the sweeping, universal statements you’ve made here? Do you think anyone has?

All you would have to do to make that case would be to provide one counter-example. Just one.

96. #96 Robert O'Brien
July 17, 2011

I think Jerry once said that all theology seems to assume that God exists, then goes on making crap up from there.

Ah, yes, Jerry Coyne. It comes as no surprise to me that someone whose work is essentially worthless is intellectually bankrupt.

97. #97 Robert O'Brien is intellectually bankrupt, and therefore essentially worthless
July 17, 2011

In other news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

98. #98 Just Al
July 17, 2011

Anthony McCarthy the Thought Criminal said:

I’m really interested in the new atheist rule that if something is hard it loses. Especially considering the new atheism’s scientific pretensions.

I’m rather interested myself to hear how you managed to take one post and determine this must be a new atheist rule, but since reading comprehension isn’t exactly part of your repertoire, I doubt it’ll be enlightening.

Oh, really. You don’t have to have a long preparation in organic chemistry to read a paper in developments in RNA research? For example? I’d like Jason to give us a list of advanced papers in recent mathematics he believes you don’t have to be “well-read” to understand. Or, indeed, in 18th century mathematics. l response which dates from the mid-20th century.

As I made pretty clear with the following paragraph, Captain Amazing, the specific point is that different scientists will not have different facts regarding those developments, and once you’ve actually read anything about organic chemistry, it applies across the board. One does not have to read Smith’s take on it, then Jones’ take on it, then Kreplatch’s take on it, to gain this fine “nuance” of chemistry.

Coyne’s Why Evolution Is True matches surprisingly well with Shubin’s Your Inner Fish and Dawkins’ The Greatest Show On Earth. Though each cover different interesting aspects, none of them contradict one another and in many cases the information is repeated.

Try that with any three theologians. In fact, just put your money where your mouth is and tell me the true nature of the adam & eve story; is it literal, analogous, metaphorical, or mythical? Bear in mind that the moment you do, I’ll have three well-respected theologians who maintain that you’re wrong (and don’t agree amongst themselves.) Mind you, I can do this without even stepping outside the realm of christianity. That’s what I mean about consistency. Have someone explain the big words to you if necessary.

Considering the size of the literature of theology, one of the longest developments in the entire intellectual history of human beings, probably the most widely distributed in terms of geography and most varied in terms of intellectual traditions and schools, any characterization of it, such as is done here, is laughably superficial. Though superficial is exactly what the new atheism is.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the same mistake many continue to make: that if it has a long history, it is therefore either useful or reputable, or both. However, I made a point that you skipped over in your haste to froth: show me the advancement, the knowledge, or the benefit to mankind. This really shouldn’t be a difficult one to relate, and you’ll have to be really clear why you can’t enumerate it within a paragraph, much less a sentence or two.

Meanwhile, I’ll amuse myself with reading the long history and collected works on witchcraft and the exorcisms of demons. Perhaps after that I’ll refresh my studies of the four humors.

You might consider a problem with your line of attack, in all of this. Most religious believers pretty much do without theology in their belief. For the large majority of them you’re barking up the wrong tree, a very tall and very large tree, it is, too.

Um, yeah, I made that point – are you having trouble seeing the board, Anthony? Okay, pay close attention: the reason Coyne is even bothering with theology in the first place is the frequent assertion, from religious apologists, that one cannot offer commentary on religion without understanding the fine nuances of theology – otherwise they are attacking a strawman. Your beef, Captain Amazing, is with Feser et al, who made the recommendation in the first place. Coyne should be given credit for actually taking such sketchy advice seriously – my answer is to challenge them to come up with even a rudimentary agreement between theologians (which god would be a nice start) before making any claim to knowledge or benefit.

99. #99 Owlmirror
July 17, 2011

@Russell (and those discussing naturalism),

One way of defining “naturalism” is to point out that “supernatural” is an incoherent concept, because dualism is an incoherent concept. All real things have a nature, which is to say, some set of characteristics that apply to that real thing.

If God exists, then God, too, has a nature, and therefore is not “supernatural”. If God were real, and interacted with anything else that we can perceive in a unique and definable way, we could potentially test for that.

Thus, “methodological naturalism” is tautological; the scientific method can be applied to any real thing whose characters can be analyzed by the scientific method.

But… You wouldn’t posit “God” unless those characters allegedly applicable to “God” were coherently and falsifiably defined, and were supported by methodological tests.

And the above is one way of defining “metaphysical naturalism”, as I understand it.

However, there is also Richard Carrier’s approach:

If [naturalism] is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by natural [i.e. fundamentally nonmental] phenomena. But if naturalism is false, then some minds, or some of the contents or powers or effects of minds, are causally independent of nature. In other words, such things would then be partly or wholly caused by themselves, or exist or operate directly or fundamentally on their own.

And using that definition, “methodological naturalism” would, I guess, mean “don’t posit a bodiless mind, or the effect of anything like a bodiless mind”, and (assuming that there was some hypothesis about a bodiless mind, or disembodied mental effects), any experiment on the basis of God, or psychic effects, would be “methodological supernaturalism”. I supposed that prayer studies would come under that definition (even though they failed).

I am not sure that Carrier’s definition is coherent. That is, its basis is a mind or something mindlike that is “nonphysical”; that simply exists on its own with no physical underpinnings. Is that even logically possible, regardless of its physical possibility?

Yet regardless of the definition’s logical possibility, I think Carrier makes a good case that that definition of naturalism does apply to how people think about the supernatural; how magical thinking applies agency to things for which there is no mechanistic or physical reason to do so. So I think his definition is useful, for discussing the idea.

And I am just curious how others view the two very different definitions of naturalism.

I tried offering Carrier’s definition to a religious scientist (David Heddle), but our discussion of the topic stalled out.

100. Jerry Coyne’s work in his specialty, his scientific work, is excellent. His Why Evolution is True is very well done, far better than most of its competitors. However, when he steps outside of his professional competence, in which he is able to restrain his more extreme emotional impulses, he looses it. I’ve learned a lot about compartmentalization from reading 1. his excellent science, 2. his somewhat more unrestrained magazine journalism, 3. his often unhinged blog going to totally irresponsible and unrestrained at its worst. He’s a really good subject for study because there’s so much to work with and it’s so obviously modulated by venue and an obvious need for restraint.

Bayesian Bouffant, name the theologians and their work that you’ve read. I generally get a test pattern from new atheists when they are required to list that.

The Cost of Discipleship.

101. #101 Owlmirror
July 17, 2011

his often unhinged blog going to totally irresponsible and unrestrained at its worst.

This, coming from someone who thinks that Lysenkoism has something to do with theology.

Your projection is so very much noted.

102. #102 Russell
July 17, 2011

Owlcarrier, that definition by Richard Carrier seems to me more to distinguish whether a mind is ever elemental, or always the result of non-mental causes. That seems to me something to determine by investigation, not something to presume one way or another.

There is an analogy: before people postulated some primacy to the mind, they postulated a primacy to life. Chemistry was thought by some to be inadequate in principle. Something more was needed, an elan vital. One doesn’t hear that much anymore, now that we’re starting to engineer life.

103. #103 Owlmirror
July 17, 2011

That seems to me something to determine by investigation, not something to presume one way or another.

He’s not presuming it — he’s just using it as a formal definition for supernaturalism, under which naturalism is falsifiable. Carrier does not think that such an elemental mental/mindlike thing will be found, of course (he uses it as part of the basis of his claim to be a metaphysical naturalist), but is, I infer, suggesting that it is at least logically possible.

There is an analogy: before people postulated some primacy to the mind, they postulated a primacy to life.

Someone brings up vitalism in the comments to the essay, and Carrier responds, but I don’t think he thinks it applicable to what he’s trying to do

104. #104 nice_marmot
July 17, 2011

That trick is funny the first time you see it. The 10,000th time, not so much.

Try engaging with people.

Michael Kermer @#91:
Well, I guess that means I should stop patting myself on the back for my own cleverness. At least I can use it 9,999 more times and still get a chuckle out of it.

Engaging with people is appropriate in many circumstances. Collin Brendemuehl’s comment at #21 is not one of them.
Theology is, by definition, the “study” of wholly unfounded claims. That Collin takes Jason to task for choosing the “wrong” theologians is a complete absurdity. There isn’t a shred of evidence supporting the fundamental conceit that gives rise to theology in the first place; all theological propositions are equally valid, or, as it happens, invalid.
On top of his haughty and dismissive tone, Brendemuehl makes the staggeringly preposterous suggestion that increases in slavery are due to a “lack of moral restraint” among non-Christians, while conspicuously omitting the lack of moral restraint in the United State before 1865.
There is no way to “engage” with someone who posts such a delusional comment, which is one of the reasons we have laws against slavery to begin with.

105. #105 Dan S.
July 17, 2011

Rev.Enki

(Not Plantigina. I’m always getting his name wrong in this same way, for some damned reason)

Hey, I almost always read his name as Planaria. Which is … oddly fitting, really.

Anthony McCarthy TTC

Oh, really. You don’t have to have a long preparation in organic chemistry to read a paper in developments in RNA research? For example? I’d like Jason to give us a list of advanced papers in recent mathematics he believes you don’t have to be “well-read” to understand. Or, indeed, in 18th century mathematics.

Hey, I think Just Al’s point is pretty poorly expressed, but it’s Just Al’s point, not Jason’s. (The basic idea – theology’s wildly variable nature is a point against it in contrast with science – makes a ton of sense to me, but the ‘just one great scientific thinker’ bit seems massively oversimplified, the books by Coyne, Shubin, and Dawkins (oh my!) are all written for a popular audience, and inevitably are going to have less time for technical esoterica, and surely one can find three works of, eg, liberal theology that overlap to a similar degree. Except of course, you can find tons of modern theology that don’t, while the divergence within evolutionary bio is, I imagine, a whole lot less, and less basic. Now, some of that looks like a historical accident – it wouldn’t be nearly as true applied to early 20th C.~ evolutionary thought or mid-20th C. geology, but that’s telling in itself: science tends to converge in (and by) a way that theology doesn’t.

Considering the size of the literature of theology, one of the longest developments in the entire intellectual history of human beings, probably the most widely distributed in terms of geography and most varied in terms of intellectual traditions and schools,

Really, you’re making Just Al’s point for them! But less snarkily, when you ask

Jason, do you think you’ve read an adequate sample of theology to make the sweeping, universal statements you’ve made here?

, I think that really applies to part I (which implicitly, though indeed not explicitly, is talking about ~Christian theology, mostly of the last few centuries). The statements he makes about it here seem to be that theology 1)is needlessly obscure, 2)doesn’t have any sort of universally recognized investigative method, 3) doesn’t prove its value in practical ways, and 4) “even after you have invested the time to understand what is actually being claimed, there still is no good reason for thinking that any of it is true.”

Now sure, one could hypothetically argue against all but 2), (especially for different values of “prove”, “value”, “practical”, “good reason”, “true”, or indeed, “theology”). But what you’re doing here is, to abuse a well-worn metaphor, saying ‘well, this is a really big kingdom, and if you haven’t searched every wardrobe and laundry in it, how can you possibly make such sweeping, universal statements about the Emperor’s new clothes?!’ (cue complaint about dogmas, doctrines, etc.)

This is kinda ironic, given that the title of the post, and the underlying dynamic, where new atheists are told that they need to read theology, but almost never given any actual recommendations, just vague and irritable gestures. So, ok, it may be that Jason’s statements are wild overgeneralizations – but (as others have asked) can you provide one example – drop one single name/book/school of thought – to support that claim?

(Now, personally, pretty much everything I know about theology I learned on the street, so I’m upfront no expert, to say the very least. Frankly, given the whole life thing – job, toddler, spouse, cat, garden, etc. – massively extensive readings in this area are not a priority for me. So … help me out. Where’s all the good theology at? (The contrast here is really interesting, along the lines of the OP comparing Coyne’s post and Feser’s dialogue – if someone showed up on sb saying ‘evolution is bunk’ or ‘hey, I don’t know much about this evolution thing, what should I read’, there’d be a host of folks offering specific suggestions/books/links/arguments/etc…))

106. #106 Wow
July 18, 2011

Collin: Reason is their deity (idol)

FALSE.

Sounds rather like you want it to be so, mind.

“Nobody can read the Rationalists and, umph, rationally conclude otherwise.”

“The term is used: (1) in an exact sense, to designate a particular moment in the development of Protestant thought in Germany; (2) in a broader, and more usual, sense to cover the view (in relation to which many schools may be classed as rationalistic) that the human reason, or understanding, is the sole source and final test of all truth. It has further: (3) occasionally been applied to the method of treating revealed truth theologically, by casting it into a reasoned form, and employing philosophical Categories in its elaboration. These three uses of the term will be discussed in the present article.”

Rationalist is not the same as scientist.

107. #107 Collin Brendemuehl
July 18, 2011

Marmot,
Let’s not take slavery out of the greater context. Christianity ended it in Europe by the 12th c. Secularism revived it when it threw off the control of the church. It took a Christian voice (Newton, Wilberforce, and those crazy evangelicals in Kansas) to bring it to an end. Follow the thread of history, not the minutae.

Vicki,
Don’t deconstruct too far or you end up like Derrida. The resurrection of Christ is a Judeo-Christian theological statement and carries with it the full moral authority of the creator.

Eric,
Instead of pontification the vagueries about vision development, go into some detail. See what Coyne says. Then read Gould. And look @ the difference. Then look up some of the genetic material on the presence of the vision gene in even the simplest creatures and ask about inevitability in evolution. Makes for a fascinating evaluation — if you’re willing to take on a tough one. But I doubt it.

108. #108 Wow
July 18, 2011

“Once one says that god did it, there is no reason for further investigation.”

Not true in the sense that “Arthur Smith caused the bike to move” would be no reason for further investigation.

If God did something, then we could investigate it the same way as we investigate Elephants eating leaves with their trunk.

What’s generally meant by “God did it”, though, is that he did it and you are NOT ALLOWED to look any further. But if he did do it, why did he do it? How did he do it? Could we do it too? Why didn’t he do it a different way, why didn’t he do it that other time?

And so on.

109. #109 Wow
July 18, 2011

SLC: “An explanation that says that god did it is, by definition, supernatural.”

False.

God is a natural agent. Actually THE natural agent (if it exists) and acts in our universe.

110. #110 Dan S.
July 18, 2011

Collin, I’m honestly curious – what do you feel is the *point* of statements like the one to Vicki a few comments up, given that most folks here (including me) will find that supremely unconvincing? Are you just trying to bear witness? Hoping to scatter seeds? Aiming for potential undecided lurkers? Simply not realizing the vast gap between what’s considered authoritative? Or just trolling?

It’s a mystery…

111. #111 Wowbagger
July 18, 2011

Collin Brendemuehl wrote:

It took a Christian voice (Newton, Wilberforce, and those crazy evangelicals in Kansas) to bring it to an end

What about the Christians who fought against it (ending slavery) tooth and nail? From the article: ‘Rather than challenging the gentry on slavery, they began to interpret the Bible as supporting its practice.

How, exactly, was it possible for scripture to be interpreted to support it? Doesn’t that means it’s possible for people to interpret scripture incorrectly?

This, of course, leads to the obvious (and very important) question about which interpretation is, in fact, the ‘correct’ one, and how one actually determines that with any surety.

Because with that in mind, looking at what happened with slavery appears to support what Dawkins referred to in The God Delusion as ‘the prevailing moral zeitgeist‘; that religion changed its interpretation to match society’s values, rather than the other way around.

112. #112 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
July 18, 2011

Anthony McCarthy the troll: Bayesian Bouffant, name the theologians and their work that you’ve read. I generally get a test pattern from new atheists when they are required to list that.

If you want to pretend we are involved in a dialogue, you can answer a direct question, such as the one posed in comment #95. Otherwise, fuck off troll.

113. #113 Collin Brendemuehl
July 18, 2011

Wowbagger,
Again, you’re taking the movement out of its historical context. It was not possible to “interpret” the Bible to support slavery until there was a mix of world views. It is as possible to distort the meaning of the Bible as it is to distort scientific facts and create the brontosaurus — which for decades was an indisputable fact that only the non-scientific religious community would reject. (Ironic, isn’t it?)
Your correspondence approach is thus not not suited to history.

Dan S.,
She did, after all, raise a point which I answered.

In a community of true believers who are never asked difficult questions, or who pose propositions which are beyond credibility, difficult questions and contradictions to assumptions and presuppositions are often viewed as trolling. But such accusations amount to a less than productive method of argumentation.

You appeal to authority. But what is authoritative? Reason obviously is not. Look at the rationalist movement. It began with complaints about religious wars and declared that Reason would be better for humanity. But then the movement created Napoleon. Reason without moral restraint created they tyrants of the 19th and 20th c. It is no surprise that today’s rationalists (those of the Hegelian heritage) often adopt the structures of religious restraint but attempt do so without God. It seems that Reason cannot stand alone.

114. #114 Wow
July 18, 2011

“It was not possible to “interpret” the Bible to support slavery until there was a mix of world views.”

You clearly haven’t read the bible. It exhorts the Jews to take slaves.

115. This, coming from someone who thinks that Lysenkoism has something to do with theology.
Owlmirror

That wasn’t the point I made about Lysenkoism, which was a point about Jason’s blanket statement about theology being incompatible with evolution, something which was rather stupid considering he mentioned at least one theologian whose theology took evolution as a given to be built upon. It was to point out that the two most serious challenges to evolution were Lysenkoism and eugenics, both of which were fueled and supported by atheists. My point was about the hypocrisy of his untrue statement about theology re evolution which is not only refutable but which is obviously untrue, especially as a support for atheism as a boon for science. Obviously that point was way too complicated for you. Which is typical of trying to talk to new atheists. I’d clarify further but it would be a waste of time.

B. Bouffant @ 112 please, feel free to verify my points any time you can.

116. #116 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011

Let’s not take slavery out of the greater context.

Except that you are not only taking slavery out of the greater context, you are distorting truth, and indeed, presenting absolutely false statements about the history of slavery.

Is this dishonesty yours alone, or are you echoing some other dishonest liar?

Christianity ended it in Europe by the 12th c.

This is a false statement. “Christianity” did not end slavery in Europe anywhere near that early.

Secularism revived it when it threw off the control of the church.

This is not just false, but nonsensical.

Any honest investigation of history shows that Christians were guilty of practising and endorsing slavery. Only a liar would conclude otherwise.

Don’t deconstruct too far or you end up like Derrida.

It seems likely that, like the postmodernist stereotype, you yourself simply do not care about truth, and your invocation of Derrida is purest hypocrisy.

The resurrection of Christ is a Judeo-Christian theological statement

Since Jews are not Christians, this is nonsense.

and carries with it the full moral authority of the creator.

This is incoherent. You can wave your hands around all you want, and blather about sophistimacated theolology until the day you die, but you cannot make an alleged magic trick — one that only temporarily inconvenienced one person — into a moral action.

Then look up some of the genetic material on the presence of the vision gene

“Vision gene”? As in, only one?

Given your above track record, I think you have deep problems with reading comprehension and retention, which makes any criticism you might make of discussions about the evolution of vision problematic to the point of being useless.

It was not possible to “interpret” the Bible to support slavery until there was a mix of world views.

… You really have no idea what you’re talking about, or you are utterly and completely dishonest.

I suppose we cannot rule out that it’s both.

117. #117 sinned34
July 18, 2011

Healthphysicist at #2:

“And evilutionists point to our limited eyesight as evidence of evilution. But that also infers that we shouldn’t expect humans to be able to think clearly either. Anymore than we see all things with clarity. Evilution predicts that any theory of evilution must be inherently wrong. It is a paradox.”

You apparently have never encountered presuppositional Christian apologetics.

118. #118 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011

which was a point about Jason’s blanket statement about theology being incompatible with evolution

You’re putting words in his mouth.

something which was rather stupid considering

You defeating strawmen and thinking that you’re making any kind of honest point is stupid.

It was to point out that the two most serious challenges to evolution were Lysenkoism and eugenics, both of which were fueled and supported by atheists.

1) abb3w contested your allegation that eugenics “was fueled and supported by atheists”, and you dishonestly ignored this.

2) Eugenics is not a “challenge” to evolution, but an attempt to apply the principles of selection; as abb3w also noted, “engineering” rather than science.

3) Lysenkoism is utterly incidental to atheism, and it is utterly dishonest of you to ignore that.

4) The most serious challenge to evolution currently is not long-defunct Lysenkoism, but religiously-motivated creationism, and it’s utterly dishonest — and stupid — of you to ignore that.

You get three (and plausibly four) facts wrong in a single sentence. Did you get them wrong because you are unhinged, or because you are irresponsible and unrestrained? Or both?

My point was about the hypocrisy of his untrue statement about theology re evolution

Jason’s statement: “Granted, he’s not a theologian. But the book certainly addresses theological questions. His book showed me that the conflicts between evolution and Christianity went far beyond questions of proper Biblical exegesis. It also showed me that the arguments made by theologians to reconcile evolution and Christianity were — how shall I put this gracefully? — not very good.”

Youre pathetic well-poisoning and dishonest strawman red herring nonsense did nothing whatsoever to show that the above is either untrue or hypocritical.

I’d clarify further but it would be a waste of time.

I agree that further dishonesty on your part would be a waste of time. I would suggest being honest, but I doubt you’re capable of it.

119. #119 Michael Fugate
July 18, 2011

It is so easy to claim Christians opposed slavery by simply stating that one of the tenets of “true” Christianity is the opposition of slavery. Why would we want to bother with evidence – we are talking about religion – aren’t we?

Given that Gould has been dead for almost a decade, how could anything he wrote about a specific evolutionary pathway not be outdated – so what? If two biologists disagree, then evolution can’t be true? What does this say about religion – how many protestant sects are there – how many different religions – how many conceptions of gods? Light is such an important component of almost any ecosystem that it is much, much harder to accept that vision wouldn’t evolve.

120. #120 Collin Brendemuehl
July 18, 2011

owlmirror,
Now THAT is trolling.
If you have something of substance, let’s go at it.
(And since you missed the generalized character of my “vision gene” term, perhaps a language course might also be useful.)

Wow,
Wow. Since we’re talking about the Christian ends, then perhaps you might keep your comments in context.

121. #121 Wow
July 18, 2011

I rather feel that advice would apply with more necessity to your posts.

There is no vision gene. There is nothing even vaguely coherent in your posts.

Please try to confine your posts to sentences that make sense in this universe.

122. #122 Wow
July 18, 2011

I guess you’re talking about the Bible which is a holy text preached by Christian sects throughout the world.

Therefore the bible as accepted by christians as the true word of (their) god asserts that slavery is right and correct by exhorting Gods Chosen People (i.e. Christians) to have slaves.

123. #123 eric
July 18, 2011

Collin @107: Instead of pontification the vagueries about vision development, go into some detail. See what Coyne says. Then read Gould. And look @ the difference.

You are entirely missing the point of my comparison, which is that scientific hypotheses can differ with one another but they’ll probably all* be far, far more reasonable than your alternative.

You’re basically making the argument that because scientists disagree about how vision evolved, the creationist idea that Jesus poofed animals into existence – complete with eyes, in a six-day period – is just as valid. Which is laughable. You think Coyne’s or Gould’s ideas have holes in them? Fine, propose a better hypothesis. Their disagreement* is certainly no reason to prefer a worse hypothesis!

*Assuming for sake of argument that they actually disagree in some significant manner. I haven’t read Coyne on vision and am taking your word that the differences in his opinion and Gould’s are significant.

124. #124 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011

Now THAT is trolling.
If you have something of substance, let’s go at it.

I agree that you are trolling and that you have nothing of substance.

(And since you missed the generalized character of my “vision gene” term, perhaps a language course might also be useful.)

The “generalized character” of your “vision gene” term leads to the inference that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

The fact that you don’t clarify what you meant, or offer any correction at all now, simply confirms the inference.

125. #125 Collin Brendemuehl
July 18, 2011

Eric,

You’re basically making the argument that because scientists disagree about how vision evolved, the creationist idea that Jesus poofed animals into existence – complete with eyes, in a six-day period – is just as valid. Which is laughable. You think Coyne’s or Gould’s ideas have holes in them? Fine, propose a better hypothesis. Their disagreement* is certainly no reason to prefer a worse hypothesis!

No. I am making the argument that what purports to be “science” amounts to nothing but (as Jason says about theology) a series of guesses. They’re making it up as they go along. Wonder why Gould argued against Dawkins? Fodor against Darwin? They’re all evolutionists who say it works but have absolutely idea about how it works.

Do you really think that admitting to not knowing is worse than making false and deceptive guesses? Apparently.

Wow,
Re: vision (and other matters)
http://www.biol.sc.edu/~vogt/pdf/olf/nrg2480.pdf
The phylogenic olfactory tree is fascinating. But one must ask where the got the 50mya dna? Extant? Hardly. It is a conclusion reached through model estimations. No wet lab empirical methods as the starting point. Evolutionary models are just that — models.

Re: slavery
What can I say?
What can anyone say?
Perhaps this: Fully uninformed.

126. #126 Wowbagger
July 18, 2011

Collin Brendemuehl wrote:

Perhaps this: Fully uninformed.

No, Collin, I don’t think you’re uninformed; it seems pretty obvious you’re just profoundly dishonest. But since Lying for Jesus™ is pretty much standard procedure for you, that’s not much of a shock.

Unless you can show that Christians didn’t ever support slavery and claim scripture could justify it (good luck with that!), you’re stuck with trying to explain how Christianity can also be opposed to it without admitting that it’s possible to misinterpret scripture – and then, of course, you have to show how you’ve determined that your interpretation is the correct one.

127. #127 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011

I am making the argument that what purports to be “science” amounts to nothing but (as Jason says about theology) a series of guesses.

Science makes deductions from actual evidence from the real world, and sometimes makes conjectures or hypotheses that follow from these deductions.

Theologians start with nothing that they actually have any real-world evidence for, and try and make excuses to defend their made-up nonsense.

They’re all evolutionists who say it works but have absolutely idea about how it works.

Heh. They do indeed have absolutely some idea about how it works — and are willing to be corrected if someone has better evidence in support of their argument.

Do you really think that admitting to not knowing is worse than making false and deceptive guesses?

It’s obvious that you think that admitting not knowing is worse than making false and deceptive assertions.

Re: vision (and other matters)

Why are you posting about olfaction in response to something about vision? Are you really not able to distinguish your nose from your eye?

The phylogenic olfactory tree is fascinating. But one must ask where the got the 50mya dna? Extant? Hardly. It is a conclusion reached through model estimations.

Yes, yes, I’m sure that molecular clocks are yet another thing that you’re completely ignorant of.

No wet lab empirical methods as the starting point.

Technically, molecular clocks were indeed first discovered and studied via “wet lab empirical methods”.

Re: slavery
What can I say?
What can anyone say?
Perhaps this: Fully uninformed.

I’m sorry that you feel compelled to post about topics on which you are fully uninformed. It would help if you acknowledged your ignorance, and did some actual research — and were willing to discuss the matter honestly rather than otherwise.

128. #128 JSC
July 18, 2011

Collin Brendemuehl –
It is clear that perhaps you misunderstand the role of models in science as well. Or, are you seriously suggesting that if something can not be directly observed by a single observer then we do not know anything at all? Does that mean that both special and general relativity go out the window?…Or even a heliocentric solar system?

129. #129 Collin Brendemuehl
July 18, 2011

WBagger,
There is a difference between (a) has anyone ever and (b) the preponderance of historical evidence. Unless and until you can see the difference your accusation of lying remains hollow.

Hootie,

Science makes deductions from actual evidence from the real world, and sometimes makes conjectures or hypotheses that follow from these deductions.

That makes for a nice generalization. But let’s get real. Pick up any paper on tachyon theory. Any paper. These are “science” and yet are composed entirely of mathematical models. There is no empirical evidence for tachyons. And this gets to the definition of “science”. Coyne is honest enough to divide the conjectured (like tachyons) from what is evidenced. But not all definitions are so precise. Yours, for instance, is similar to Coyne’s. But ask a tachyon theorist. And perhaps even someone doing dark matter/big bang estimations. That field is wide open for disagreement right now. And it is called “science” even though dark matter may or may not exist. What if the model works but the product of the model [dark matter or tachyons] do not exist? Does that make it non-science? Again, your definition of “science” needs some work.

They do indeed have absolutely some idea about how it works

Yes and no. The adaptations have one idea. The classic neo-darwinians have another. The PuncEek crowd has another. And Dawkins’ PG crowd another. They only agree on the result. But seldom on the process. Dawkins’ looked at the fossil record. Gould looked at genetic processes. NeoDs look at some type of genetic determinisim. And adaptationists look at behavior. Hardly agreement.

Why are you posting about olfaction in response to something about vision? Are you really not able to distinguish your nose from your eye?

Duh. I was looking for a paper that by a geneticist that has escaped me today. So I thought a parallel on development might make the point through another venue. Seems I’ll need to find that paper … assuming you’re willing to read it.

130. #130 Spartan
July 18, 2011

Collin,

Do you really think that admitting to not knowing is worse than making false and deceptive guesses?

Please provide one specific example of these ‘false and deceptive guesses’ you are talking about. I’m sorry, but I don’t trust your interpretation without seeing something specific. Are these statments really ‘false or deceptive guesses’, or are they better termed ‘hypotheses’ or ‘possible explanations’?

131. #131 Wowbagger
July 18, 2011

Collin Stubborn-Mule wrote:

There is a difference between (a) has anyone ever and (b) the preponderance of historical evidence. Unless and until you can see the difference your accusation of lying remains hollow.

Well, I’m now going to accuse you of cowardly equivocation and evasion – though that’s far less an accusation than it is an accurate description of what you’ve done rather than answer the questions I asked in #111 and #126 regarding the demonstrated Christian scripture-based support for slavery and how the existence of such casts doubt on any claims of Christian influence on social change.

How do you like them apples?

132. #132 jpr
July 18, 2011

Whatever your conclusions, providing a detailed response to Feser’s detailed response to Coyne’s detailed response to (I forget) seems a bit, well, inessential. When did fighting the culture war become more interesting than talking about actual science, even to scientists?

133. #133 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011

Colander,

Pick up any paper on tachyon theory.

What an irrelevant digression.

These are “science” and yet are composed entirely of mathematical models.

They’re hypothetical, until someone shows why the model is wrong. And perhaps someone will.

If you can’t hack the math, stay out of physics.

Why would this individual disagree that what is being studied is conjectural?

And perhaps even someone doing dark matter/big bang estimations. That field is wide open for disagreement right now. And it is called “science” even though dark matter may or may not exist.

Until someone comes up with a MOND theory that actually works with everything observed in our universe, dark matter is here to stay, because it does match what is observed about our universe better than any MOND offered so far.

If you have a better notion, publish it.

What if the model works but the product of the model [dark matter or tachyons] do not exist?

Then the model is wrong. But you need to show how the model is wrong.

The adaptations have one idea. The classic neo-darwinians have another. The PuncEek crowd has another. And Dawkins’ PG crowd another. They only agree on the result. But seldom on the process.

And this is your big exposé? Biologists disagree on exactly how rapidly evolution occurs?

They would all agree that different processes are applicable in different situations, and that evolution can sometimes occur at different rates.

Dawkins’ looked at the fossil record. Gould looked at genetic processes. NeoDs look at some type of genetic determinisim. And adaptationists look at behavior. Hardly agreement.

There’s this story about some blind men and an elephant…

I was looking for a paper that by a geneticist that has escaped me today. So I thought a parallel on development might make the point through another venue.

134. #134 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011
135. #135 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011

Colander Burnt-Mule:

There is a difference between (a) has anyone ever and (b) the preponderance of historical evidence.

Oh, and amusingly enough, your own (false) claim that “slavery was ended in Europe by the 12th c” demonstrates that the preponderance of historical evidence (12 centuries out of 20) does indeed show that Christianity supported slavery.

Of course, it’s really more like 18.5 centuries out of 20, but I bet you’re not honest enough to acknowledge that.

136. #136 SLC
July 18, 2011

Re Owlmirror

Don’t confuse dark matter with dark energy. Dark matter is associated with galaxies and is conjectured as an explanation for phenomena such as gravitational lensing, i.e. it is attractive. Dark energy is conjectured to permeate the entire universe and is conjectured as being responsible for the apparent acceleration of the expansion of the universe, i.e. it is repulsive. At this point nobody knows what either of these are.

However, even more mind boggling then dark matter and dark energy is a very recent claim that there may be hundreds of billions of rogue planets wandering around the Milky Way galaxy and presumably other galaxies as well. This has to be the most unexpected finding so far in the new millennium, provided it checks out.

137. #137 Owlmirror
July 18, 2011

Don’t confuse dark matter with dark energy.

I don’t think I did. Perhaps Collin did? But he kept writing “dark matter”.

As Ethan says, MOND FAIL. But maybe some MOND proponent will make a breakthrough. I certainly don’t have the expertise to say that it cannot happen.

138. #138 Wow
July 19, 2011

“the creationist idea that Jesus poofed animals into existence – complete with eyes, in a six-day period”

That’s actually Old Testament. If Collin refuses to believe that Christians believe in any of the Old Testament and only the New Testament, then their God didn’t make the world, there’s no Original Sin and no God above theirs. There’s no censure against Gays, no Soddam and Gommara, no Flood, no End of the World.

That the God you get purely from the New Testament bears no relationship to the God that Christians believe in shows that Collin is, as usual, lying to get his way. Jeebus forgives him.

139. #139 Dan S.
July 19, 2011

Reposting, part 1:

Collin;

…to distort scientific facts and create the brontosaurus — which for decades was an indisputable fact that only the non-scientific religious community would reject. (Ironic, isn’t it?)

What do you mean by this? Sure, there’s the nomenclature/classification issue, where it (regretfully) turned out that Brontosaurus excelsus was in the same genus from the previously named Apatosaurus ajax, and therefore the earlier name takes precedence, no matter how pathetic “deceptive lizard” is compared to the magnificant moniker “of thunder lizard”. Hey, Marsh made the entirely reasonable assumption that the different number of sacral vertebrae – 5 vs. 3 – meant that they weren’t that closely related, not realizing that this was actually a developmental issue. So, er, sue him?

And then there’s the somewhat embarrassing mix-up about what its head looked like, which in conjunction with ideas about cold-blooded dinos, led to mistakes about posture, habitat, etc. Cool. But what’s your point? Some specific details of the reconstruction of an animal that last lived 150 million years ago were originally in error, and eventually changed based on better info (and may well be further modified based on future research)? And?

The creature itself was very real – if somewhat different than first thought – and its rejection by the “non-scientific religious community” was for reasons far more flawed than some brontosaurian bloopers. (The contrast with the distortion of biblical interpretation in your original quote … interesting (if perhaps not in the way you intended), as there are vaguely similar issues of reconstruction, but …)

140. #140 Dan S.
July 19, 2011

Reposting, part 2:
Collin:

I am making the argument that what purports to be “science” amounts to nothing but (as Jason says about theology) a series of guesses. They’re making it up as they go along. Wonder why Gould argued against Dawkins? Fodor against Darwin? They’re all evolutionists who say it works but have absolutely idea about how it works…. [later comment] .The adaptations have one idea. The classic neo-darwinians have another. The PuncEek crowd has another. And Dawkins’ PG crowd another. They only agree on the result. But seldom on the process. Dawkins’ looked at the fossil record. Gould looked at genetic processes. NeoDs look at some type of genetic determinisim. And adaptationists look at behavior. Hardly agreement.

a) Fodor’s a philosopher and cog sci guy.

b) Gould looked at the fossil record – after all, he was a paleontologist.

c) More broadly, we’re talking about what still is a pretty impressive amount of agreement about basic points, combined with pretty technical debates on the fine details, based (however imperfectly) on actual evidence. How you get from here to “nothing but a series of guesses’ – well, I have some thoughts on that, and they go back to your quote about “The resurrection of Christ is a Judeo-Christian theological statement and carries with it the full moral authority of the creator.

What tends to accompany that sort of thing is ideas about received Truth, handed down infallible, perfect, monolithic, and whole. – (Certainly I’ve seen various creationists argue that – essentially, and bizarrely – since science can’t explain everything yet/has made mistakes in the past, it must all be bunk.)

In contrast, describing science as a series of guesses is sorta partly right, but the really important part it misses is where these (informed) ‘guesses’ (ie, hypotheses) are based on previous research/observations, tested, confirmed/modified/rejected … repeat as needed (with th e acknowledgement that this is being done by complex, fallible, socioculturally-embedded human beings, and so can get messier than simple textbook models.)

Really, it kinda gets back to the issues mentioned above with Plantinga’s EAAN, contrasting God-endowed truth with imperfect, fumbly (but, I think reality would suggest, fairly effective) naturalistic reasoning. But anyway, I’d say you’re really applying the wrong model of how we get to know stuff here.

A quick example of scientific ‘guesses’ and how they work: plate tectonics. (Borrowing from wikipedia to refresh my memory, brutally, horribly simplified)
You get Alfred Wagner, back in the early 20th C., proposing continental drift. Which, to be fair, is a pretty crazy idea. The continents move? Didn’t seem possible. And in a sense it was kinda a guess – not only did he lack much of the evidence,he didn’t have any sort of viable mechanism how this could happen, one reason his ideas were pretty controversial for decades – one might say there was ‘hardly agreement’.

But it certainly wasn’t just a guess, and he wasn’t ‘making it up as he went along’ Not only did he notice that weird jigsaw puzzle thing with S. America and Africa – an interesting, but perhaps merely coincidental quirk – he also put forth evidence that not only rock formations, but also fossils seemed to match up across places now quite separated.

And over time, other researchers, often using new techniques, found even more evidence. Magnetic ‘fossils’ in ancient rocks seemed to indicate that the magnetic pole had wandered around over time – an observation that could also be explained pretty neatly if instead the continents were wandering. Earthquakes turned out be interestingly clustered along trenches and ridges in the ocean. It was discovered that in fact there was a whole series of ridges in the middle of the world’s oceans, and it was proposed that new oceanic crust was constantly being created there. Put together with the recognition that, far away, oceanic crust was vanishing into trenches at the edge of continents, combine it with discoveries about the interior of the Earth, and the weird fact that the rocks of the ocean floor turned out to be surprisingly young – well, you can see the where this is going.

But we’re still talking a guess, kind of, however remarkably compelling. But then it turned out that ancient magnetic variations recorded in the rocks on either side of rift formed a very specific and symmetrical ‘zebra stripe’ pattern, recording already-discovered reversals in the earth’s magnetic field. Indeed, it turned out that the (normally magnetized) rocks right at the rift were the very youngest, and got older and older as you went further away. And the rest was history … or, I guess, geology.

If that’s the sort of thing you personally refer to as just a “series of guesses” … well, I’d be pretty impressed.

141. #141 Collin Brendemuehl
July 19, 2011

Dan,
Finally, intelligence. But still not understanding what I said.

describing science as a series of guesses

That’s a reach. It’s not at all what I said. The comments regarding guessing were to poke a hole in Jason’s statement that theology was made up as the authors went along. A type if irony.

There is a difference as to the character of different hypotheses. What you get with many theoretical constructs is estimation built on estimation. Though these may be calculated accurately, they may be attempting to describe something which does not exist. If tachyons do not exist then the estimations of their existence amount to the scientific equivalent of the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin.

The Brontosaurus amounted to error presented for decades as indisputable fact. The choice of the wrong head was a guess that the archaeologist just went along with. Gould even wrote “Bully for Brontosaurus”! All based on error.

In Why Evolution Is True Coyne still employed the “gill slit” term (p. 84). I wonder who are the publisher’s technical editors and why this class of error is allowed to pass.

Conjecture based on conjecture can go wild. It often does. Those wild conjectures are guesses — estimations without foundation. That’s why I continue to ask for a tachyon. (Of course, if a foundation for a hypothesis comes into existence later, then later hypoteses are not guesses. But earlier ones maintain that flavor.)

a) Yes, Fodor is Cog Sci. Still, he was one chosen to respond to A. Plantinga in Naturalism Defeated? He was hardly out of his league.
b) Gould’s PE is built on genetic constructs which secondarily employ fossil evidence in a supporting role. (At least that’s how I recall the material.)

To explain my point a little further:
The Gould/Eldridge attempt to create another synthesis of all the information (a “systematic” in the language of other disciplines) has come under a great deal of criticism. So the question is: If it is wrong (and many believe it is), was it unworthy of the badge “science”? By the Coyne standard, if it is not empirically true and thus only a theory construct, then it exits the definition of the term science.

142. #142 Wow
July 19, 2011

“The comments regarding guessing were to poke a hole in Jason’s statement that theology was made up as the authors went along”

In what way can that be what you meant?

After all, it basically boiled down to “yeah, but you do it too” which is rather an admission from you that theology IS made up as you go along.

“Though these may be calculated accurately, they may be attempting to describe something which does not exist.”

Yup. E.g. the plum pudding model of the atom, or the ether.

However, they were falsifiable systems produced with the intent of proving them wrong.

Whereas theology is quite the opposite: a confirmation system produced with the intent of proving the theory right.

143. #143 eric
July 19, 2011

So the question is: If it [Gould/Eldridge] is wrong (and many believe it is), was it unworthy of the badge “science”?

No. That was an easy question. Many scientific ideas turn out to be wrong. What makes them scientific is that we use empirical, repeatable observations to assess their validity and to reject or refine them as needed. We do not go to a book of prophesy, and perform exegesis on it to test our hypotheses. That is not science.

Now, what you seem to be focusing on is that sometimes there’s a gap between hypothesis formation and our ability to empirically test it. What do we call the stuff in that gap? Science? Speculation?

I think the most relevant answer is this: evolution as a broad concept no longer falls in that gap. We’ve tested descent with modification by seeing critters actually descend with modification. We’ve tested speciation by watching new species arise out of old ones. The discovery of DNA is extremely strong evidence for common descent. Disagreements over whether evolution occurs at a fairly constant tempo or an uneven tempo simply aren’t going to overturn the TOE writ large, and you should be smart enough to know that.

You seem to have fallen into the same error as the letter writer in Asimov’s “The Relativity of Wrong.” You are attempting to draw a false equivalency between evolution and creationism where no such equivalency is warranted. They might both have holes, but the former is a far better and more useful approximation of the world we observe than the latter.

144. #144 SLC
July 19, 2011

Re eric @ #143

Relative to the Gould/Eldridge punctuated equilibrium hypothesis, it should be pointed out that in no way, shape, form, or regard did they dispute the fact of common descent. Their proposal focused entirely on the mechanism driving evolution, namely how important Darwins’ hypothesis of natural selection really is. This is what is the subject of discussion. The other four elements of evolution are as sound as any other scientific proposal. These consist of:

1. Old Earth, evidence for which comes from physics, not biology.

2. Extinction, Tyrannosaurs no longer stalk the earth, fortunately for us as if they did, we wouldn’t be here.

3. Absence of modern animals in ancient deposits (no fossil cats in the Pre-Cambrian strata).

4. Common descent, completely supported by the genetic evidence (see video of Ken Miller explaining the fusion of ape chromosomes 12 and 13 identified as human chromosome 2).

145. #145 Owlmirror
July 19, 2011
describing science as a series of guesses

That’s a reach. It’s not at all what I said. The comments regarding guessing were to poke a hole in Jason’s statement that theology was made up as the authors went along.

Except that theology is indeed made up from nothing but bad logic, semantic nonsense, and completely imaginary premises.

What you get with many theoretical constructs is estimation built on estimation. Though these may be calculated accurately, they may be attempting to describe something which does not exist.

The math is both a description, and a prediction. Inasmuch as the predictions succeed, the math is held to be correct.

If tachyons do not exist then the estimations of their existence amount to the scientific equivalent of the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin.

If tachyons do not exist, then the math that lead to them is wrong; a falsified prediction. But tachyons are not required to exist for the math that successfully works with other aspects of physics.

Say… Are you implicitly conceding above that angels don’t exist? Is that because you have suddenly become an atheist, or because you don’t think God needs angels? And if the latter, do you agree that the verses of the bible that mention angels must therefore be false?

The Brontosaurus amounted to error presented for decades as indisputable fact.

Oh, nonsense and garbage. The whole point for the nomenclature change was because palaeontologists were disputing the interpretation of the fossils!

The choice of the wrong head was a guess that the archaeologist just went along with.

It’s an indisputable fact that calling a palaeontologist an archaeologist is an error.

And, yes, it was a guess based on other sauropods, until a skull that was better preserved could be found. What should he have done? Left off the skull? Put in the skull of some completely different animal? Prayed to God for a revelation of what the skull should look like?

Gould even wrote “Bully for Brontosaurus”!

So what?

Coyne still employed the “gill slit” term

Let’s look at that in context:

As fish and shark embryos develop, the first arch becomes the jaw, and the rest becomes the gill structures: the clefts between the pouches open up to become the gill slits

I hope you’re not trying to argue that fishes and sharks do not have gills…

I wonder who are the publisher’s technical editors and why this class of error is allowed to pass.

What error?

Conjecture based on conjecture can go wild. It often does.

Only in theology — where it isn’t based on anything besides wild conjecture in the first place.

That’s why I continue to ask for a tachyon.

Because you’re a hypocrite? It’s not like you can offer God, or Jesus, when asked for any real evidence for either of them.

146. #146 Dan S.
July 19, 2011

Collin:

Gould even wrote “Bully for Brontosaurus”!

That’s entirely true, but at the same time doesn’t seem to have anything to do with your point. What Gould actually said in the relevent chapter was a) the Post Office was right to label their sauropod “Brontosaurus” based on widespread & longlasting familiarity, but b) more importantly, it was (he felt) an example of how badly popular science was presented,with name wrangling, the wrong head issue, the warmbloodedness debate, and the question of extinction all given equal footing, despite being of wildly different significance. In fact, he clearly lays out what was up with the name thing, and the fact that Marsh had “guessed wrong” about what poor Bronto’s head looked like.

So … “All based on error”? How so?

Anyway, back to work. More later.

147. #147 eric
July 19, 2011

Collin: That’s why I continue to ask for a tachyon.

You keep asking for tachyons because you haven’t figured out the epic failness of your false equivalency argument. ‘Some parts of science are speculative, ergo, our belief that Jesus poofed all species into existence is just as credible as evolution’ doesn’t work. It will never work. The speculativeness of some branches of theoretical physics have no bearing on how special creation stacks up against evolution. Until you go out and actually find empirical, confirmable, repeated evidence of poofing, it’s scientifically a dead concept.

148. #148 Dan L.
July 19, 2011
describing science as a series of guesses

That’s a reach. It’s not at all what I said.

But earlier in the thread, Collin said:

I am making the argument that what purports to be “science” amounts to nothing but (as Jason says about theology) a series of guesses.

That makes it sound like you’re really advancing the argument. You should be clearer when you’re playing devil’s advocate. So that people can ignore you instead of trying in good faith to help you understand things.

Instead of quibbling over those domains of scientific inquiry in which there is not yet any kind of consensus why don’t you tell us about all the domains of theology in which there is some kind of consensus? It seems like that would be the shorter list.

Also, could you please be specific as to what’s laughable about the evolution of vision? I asked you to do this WAY upthread. And then afterwards you even asked someone ELSE to be specific. No, you’re the one saying it’s nonsensical, you can be specific as to why.

149. #149 Owlmirror
July 19, 2011

Energy-momentum relation:

$$E^2=p^2c^2+m^2c^4$$

Total energy for particle:

$$E=\frac{mc^2}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}$$

/math

150. #150 ildi
July 19, 2011

It is a symptom of the lack of moral restraint which typifies even the world of the rationalist — slavery is again on the rise in Europe. Pay close attention to Genoa and Amsterdam.
There is more to say, but this is enough for now.

I’m waiting…. What is going on in Genoa and Amsterdam that you think is worthy of close attention? Anything reality-based or does it match the rest of your revisionist history?

151. #151 Dan S.
July 20, 2011

[part 1] Collin

Finally, intelligence.

Who, me? That’s very kind, but … I dunno. A lot of the comments here are very intelligent, though …

That’s a reach. It’s [ not at all what I said

But as Dan L. pointed out, that’s pretty much exactly what you said (except your version’s even stronger; nothing but a series of guesses. Now, if that’s not what you meant … well, I’ve never been great at nuance, and prolonged exposure to blog comment threats has badly damaged my sense of irony, so I dunno. I mean, I did get the whole tu quoque argument – ‘you say that theology’s just made up guesses, but you do it too, ha!’ but … are you saying that you’re not actually the kind of figure whose very existence Josh denies, who ” claim[s] there is no knowledge behind science or that scientists routinely just make stuff up”? I’m so confused!

a) Yes, Fodor is Cog Sci. Still, he was one chosen to respond to A. Plantinga in Naturalism Defeated? He was hardly out of his league.

Yes, but the league they were playing in was for the sport of philosophy. Fodor (like Plantinga) is a philosopher, not a biologist, etc.; while he’s not a creationist, describing him as an “evolutionist” (especially in the context of Darwin, Gould, and Dawkins) seems unclear, at least to me. Certainly he’s written about evolution but while I haven’t read his book criticizing “Darwin” (that is, natural selection), unless the numerous rather critical reviews (see, eg, http://bostonreview.net/BR35.2/block_kitcher.php ) are very badly misrepresenting it, he and Piattelli-Palmarini seem to have made the same (and by no means inevitable) mistake that Plantinga made: working with very complicated concepts but forgetting to check how well they actually correspond with the real world. (I mean – and assuming their work’s not being horribly distorted – the book ends up sounding a little like Zeno’s paradox about how Achilles could never catch up with a tortoise in a race if he gave it a head start (in the sense of a very sophisticated argument about why something is impossible … except, of course, that it isn’t).

b) Gould’s PE is built on genetic constructs which secondarily employ fossil evidence in a supporting role. (At least that’s how I recall the material.)

Google “Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism”, full text at the blackwellpublishing link (sorry, worried about too many links triggering moderation. That strikes me as an odd way to describe it. Punk Eek was put forward as, basically, the consequence of allopatric speciation, but this was worked out through paleontological evidence, including Gould’s snails and Eldredge’s trilobites.

152. #152 Dan S.
July 20, 2011

[part 2]
And here’s a contrast to illuminate some of the science/theology distinctions people have been making. Allopatric speciation is basically about new species arising as a result of populations getting geographically isolated from each other. It’s often contrasted with sympatric speciation, where they’re in the same place, but other mechanisms cause reproductive isolation. There’s been a genuine and longstanding fuss about what relative roles they play in evolution- indeed, whether sympatric speciation really even happens. (If I understand correctly, while allopatric speciation’s still very much on top, there’s evidence that sympatric speciation can also happen.)

So, look at it this way. One example of disagreement in science – specifically evolutionary biology – has been whether speciation might mostly look like (eg) a population of crickets getting separated by a growing mountain range, with each group then being subjected to different selective pressures (and other evolutionary processes), or instead sometimes might look like (eg) a kind of fly that laid its eggs on hawthorn fruit spreading to newly introduced apples, leading to the population getting separated based on their host plant (since they tend to mate and lay eggs on the kind of fruit they were born on and wormed their way through) .

Certainly this isn’t unimportant, but one might say it’s the kind of thing where people specifically involved in that debate might get very passionate, but for pretty much everybody else, we’re talking pretty minor details. Meanwhile, one big theological-ish debate in the news recently was over whether or not there’s a Hell (or if the whole thing’s kinda a mystery).

Now to be fair, these are pretty different in terms of ~popularity; I don’t think the apple maggot ever got on the cover of Time, sadly, and I simply don’t know if Bell’s Love Wins is a hot topic among more academic theologians, And it’s not just that this is a seriously fundamental disagreement – after all, for a while, there was an ongoing Big Bang vs, Steady State debate in cosmology, with massive implications for the history, nature, and eventual fate of the universe. It’s that … well, what’s the equivalent to the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation for the question of Hell? What sort of testable predictions does it make? (That are accessible to us pre-deceased foks, anyway) How do you prove anything – how does any part of this debate connect to anything in the actual world (outside of people’s minds and social arrangements?)

153. #153 eric
July 20, 2011

Meanwhile, one big theological-ish debate in the news recently was over whether or not there’s a Hell…and I simply don’t know if Bell’s Love Wins is a hot topic among more academic theologians…

Damn. And here I thought you were talking about Iain Banks’ Surface Detail. 😉

154. #154 Collin Brendemuehl
July 20, 2011

Dan S.,
Who, me?
Yes. Hootie and Wow seem to fulfill Plantinga’s contention that evolution cannot produce intelligence.

Again, if you take my statements as responses to Jason’s nonsensical remarks, then the meaning changes. Context, please.

Bell is a heretic.

Fodor states plainly in his criticism of adaptationism his reasons for accepting neo-darwinian ideals.

When it comes to PunkEek, Gould drives the system with genetics. He appears to, and it is difficult to piece together out of his massive volume, speak in terms of population groups developing characteristics which provide for better selection. Thus he seems to deal with the chicken-egg issue by genes developing and providing for better selection. Still, it remains a dilemma.

155. #155 Owlmirror
July 21, 2011

Hootie and Wow seem to fulfill Plantinga’s contention that evolution cannot produce intelligence.

You’re just mad because we’re smarter than you.

Or perhaps you’re insecure and ashamed because you’re stupider than us — and far less honest. So your shame and dishonesty drives you to be insulting, and even less honest.

Of course, from a psychological standpoint, this is consonant with you being the descendant of apes.

(And, I must admit, so is me pointing it out. But I’m not in denial about it.)

156. #156 Collin Brendemuehl
July 21, 2011

Correction:

Just to satisfy the skeptics, I will correct an error (what the apes call “lying for Jebus” or something like that). Slavery in Europe did not end at any single moment, like the gladiatorial games. It was a process. Slavery in Europe began to end in the 12th c. but not fully (institutionally) until around the 16th. It then saw a revival with the “age of discovery”.
Early church attitudes toward slavery were mixed but trended over time away from supporting the institution.
The NT, while not demanding social change on the matter, does clarify in multiple places that social class has no place in church life (James, Philemon, and others). (Ancient slavery was not race-based but class-based.)

Again, the end of modern, revived slavery largely involved the influence of protestant Christianity, esp. Newton and Wilberforce.

**

Clarification,
The matter of slavery under the Mosaic law and the place of the Mosaic law for the Christian is one that changes with differing eschatological views. Generally speaking, the Abrahamic “faith” covenant transcends the Mosaic “law” covenant. For the gentile coming to faith the Mosaic law has no place as it was fulfilled in Christ. For the Jew coming to faith the Mosaic law is to be bypassed since it was fulfilled in Christ. So what the Mosaic law might allow is immaterial to Christian theology. Discussions of this in the NT are found in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. It is a major NT theme.
One way to peace with God — faith. The Law was intended for Hebrew nation. There is no conflict, even at the simplest level.

157. #157 eric
July 21, 2011

The NT, while not demanding social change on the matter, does clarify in multiple places that social class has no place in church life (James, Philemon, and others). (Ancient slavery was not race-based but class-based.)

You’re citing Philemon as an anti-slavery tract? PHILEMON? The book consisting of one letter, from Paul to a slave owner, saying, in essence: “hey, I met your slave while I was in prison. Do I have your permission to send him back to you?”

Here’s a clue. When person 1 asks person 2 if they have person 2’s permission to ship person 3 to them, 1 isn’t exactly pro-civil rights.

158. #158 Owlmirror
July 21, 2011

Just to satisfy the skeptics, I will correct an error

I actually do appreciate that you make even this half-hearted heel-dragging effort to acknowledge that you were wrong.

(what the apes call “lying for Jebus” or something like that).

And “Oook!” to you to.

Do you really think that your emotional commitment to your religion has nothing to do with what you choose to present as being true?

Slavery in Europe began to end in the 12th c. but not fully (institutionally) until around the 16th. It then saw a revival with the “age of discovery”

This makes no sense, inasmuch as the “age of discovery” began in the 15th century. I hope you’re not positing some sort of backwards causality…

Early church attitudes toward slavery were mixed but trended over time away from supporting the institution.

Arguable, I think. Can you quantify this vague assertion?

Again, the end of modern, revived slavery largely involved the influence of protestant Christianity, esp. Newton and Wilberforce

Or rather, the influence of the abolition movement. You cannot propose that “Christianity” was responsible, given that the anti-abolitionists were also Christians — and often protestant Christians, to boot.

Generally speaking, the Abrahamic “faith” covenant transcends the Mosaic “law” covenant.

You mean the Christian “faith” covenant (putatively). Where do you get this “Abrahamic” business? Abraham did not die for your sins.

If you have some language processing problem like dyslexia, that makes you type the wrong word/term in your writing, just say so, and I’ll try to parse out what you actually intend. But it makes it hard to figure out those cases where your brain and fingers are goofing, and where you really, honestly, have no idea what you’re talking about.

So what the Mosaic law might allow is immaterial to Christian theology. Discussions of this in the NT are found in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. It is a major NT theme.

It would be nice if the NT, and Christians, were not utterly inconsistent and often even completely contradictory on this point.

There is no conflict, even at the simplest level.

The fact that you cannot see or cannot admit to the conflict does not mean that it’s not there.

159. #159 Collin Brendemuehl
July 23, 2011

Think of the time from the 12th c. onward as a dip in the institution.
Slavery, like war, is indicative of human fullness. Now if
slavery were beneficial to human evolutionary progress …
And if you do not think that theological framework is universal within orthodoxy, then you are again uninformed.

160. #160 eric
July 23, 2011

Collin: Now if slavery were beneficial to human evolutionary progress …

What, Collin? Please complete your thought, I want to know what you think this implies.

161. #161 Owlmirror
July 23, 2011

Think of the time from the 12th c. onward as a dip in the institution.

I asked for a clarification and quantification of your claims, not a repetition.

Slavery, like war, is indicative of human fullness.

I think your dyslexia (or whatever) is kicking in again. I cannot even begin to imagine what you intend by this.

Now if slavery were beneficial to human evolutionary progress …

And this fragmentary hypothetical doesn’t make sense either.

And if you do not think that theological framework is universal within orthodoxy, then you are again uninformed.

Nope. You’re still not making sense. I have no idea what you’re referring to, nor what you’re trying to say.

Is specificity and clarity too much to ask for?

162. #162 Kel
July 25, 2011

“There seems to be no “knowledge” behind science.”
I’m not sure how someone can make this analogy while sitting on a computer. Is Feser suggesting that theology has an equivalent output to science that would make denial of God absurd? If so, what is it? If not, then the whole dialogue is one giant red herring.

163. #163 Wow
July 25, 2011

” “Hootie and Wow seem to fulfill Plantinga’s contention that evolution cannot produce intelligence.”

You’re just mad because we’re smarter than you.”

I got an image in my mind when I read his wine. It was Futurama, “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings”, where the opera has the Robot devil proclaiming

“I’m stupider, I’m stupider, I’m stupider than you! I’m stupider in every single way!”.

I’m also wondering if that barpot thinks that his “evolution cannot produce intelligence” is actually any form of proof at all.

164. #164 To Evolution through Evolution
July 25, 2011

@163

Evolution CAN produce intelligence. The kind of intelligence that helps you realize that God shouldn’t probably create people with different levels of intelligence that would allow them to degrage one another and use their intelligence for atrocious destructive purposes. That’s when evolution truely starts making sense.

If God, if he exists, is really behind this whole creation, then he is absolutely pointless as well as his life and faith in him. I can handle life only if I know that it’s accidental and choatic, and no supernatural force is behind it.

Knowing that there is God out there completely ruins the meaning of existence. That can, perhaps, explain why so many religious zealots kill(ed) so many people including ruthless slaughtering of animals and all other types of what they view as God’s creations.

165. #165 Collin Merenoff
August 28, 2011

@Wow
What you call Coleslaw and bratwurst are the traditional Jewish concepts of God and prayer. Your dismissal of them confirms what I’ve long suspected: Atheists and Christians yelling, apparently in argument against each other, but actually serving the common purpose of drowning out the voice of the Jews.

166. #166 Collin Merenoff
August 29, 2011

“It from bit” is not a scientific term. Wheeler’s definition is phrased in purely spiritual language.

167. #167 Wow
August 30, 2011

My dismissal shows nothing of the sort, you just wish to demonise.

“After reading Part 1, I started thinking about the fact that science must only address natural causes. But that is arbitrary…suppose we had arbitrarily chosen to address those causes to “God”.”

That is coleslaw. Not God as people (yes, even Jews) know as God. You won’t find a Jew or Christian or any faithful religionist saying that all their god does is make a photon do what a photon does, make gravity do what gravity does and never, NEVER, does anything that is a miracle.

After all, what’s the point of praying to a god if that god cannot or will not do anything to change reality?

168. #168 Wow
August 30, 2011

“”It from bit” is not a scientific term.”

Well done.

Neither is “Survival of the fittest”.

And neither are religious.

Did you have a point, or were you just flapping your fingers there?