If you spend any significant amount of time doing science or mathematics then some amount of philosophical reflection is inevitable. At some point you are going to take a step back and wonder what it is you are actually doing. I think it is good that there are people out there who ponder such things professionally.

That said, I think it is also true that scientists and mathematicians tend to view the philosophers of their disciplines as a bit eccentric. As far as I know, I have never met a mathematician who finds it interesting to ask whether numbers exist, or who enjoys debating the relative merits of Platonism versus formalism. I have no doubt that in some vague, unquantifiable way the world is a better place because clever people have written at length on these questions, but I just cannot work up any professional interest in them. For that matter, I have the same reaction towards many of the other esoteric things academics sometimes obsess over.

Of course, the relation between scientists, especially physicists, and philosophers of science has sometimes been a bit chilly. Richard Feynman famously quipped, to nods of approval from many scientists, that the philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds. In his recent book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking was decidedly unkind toward philosophers of science. And most recently we have Lawrence Krauss saying this:

Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, “those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym.” And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it’s fairly technical. And so it’s really hard to understand what justifies it. And so I’d say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn’t.

Krauss’ statement is obviously absurd. After all, the philosophy of religion is a far bigger black hole than the philosophy of science could ever hope to be.

At any rate, quite a few philosophers were unhappy with Krauss. Massimo Pigliucci and Michael Ruse spanked him (here and here respectively). Krauss walked back some of his remarks here.

Now, I can understand why Krauss was feeling a bit vexed on this subject, since his book had just received an unkind review from a philosopher in The New York Times. Still, his sentiments were so exaggerated and over the top that the criticism directed at him is largely deserved. For example, his charge that only philosophers of science read work in the philosophy of science could be leveled (appropriately revised) at virtually any academic discipline. Moreover, I would think the philosophers could argue that it reflects badly on other people that they don’t take a greater interest in philosophy, just as Krauss would no doubt lament the unwillingness of so many nonscientists to read more about science. Krauss ought to have calmed down a bit before taking such broad swipes at his fellow academics.

On the other hand, I also have moments when I understand the exasperation. These are the moments when I see the truth in the adage that a philosopher is someone who kicks up a lot of dust and then complains he cannot see. For example, when it comes to anti-creationist writing I have generally found the writings of scientists to be more lucid and convincing than the writings of philosophers.

I was led to think about these issues by this post from Jerry Coyne. He embeds a video of philosopher Elliott Sober delivering a colloquium talk on the subject of whether it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution, even though biologists routinely describe those mutations as unguided. After forty-five minutes of close argumentation and minute philosophical reasoning he arrives at the answer all of you came to right after finsihing the last sentence: Yes, obviously that’s possible. Who says otherwise?

We have seen this argument before. In this post from February I discussed an interview with Sober that appeared in The Philosopher’s Magazine. Both in that interview and here he presents his argument as a corrective to some pervasive logical error he thinks has been committed by someone or other. But who are these scientists that actually need his philosophical services on this point? Who ever claimed that science has shown that it is flat-out logically impossible that God could be directing the mutations in a manner that is invisible to science?

(Just to head off an inevitable retort, Richard Dawkins (who has argued that the existence of God is a scientific question) and Victor Stenger (who subtitled one of his books “How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist”) are not counterexamples. As far as I know, neither one of them argues that any set of scientific facts does, or even could, logically refute the idea that God exists.)

By itself this would not be so terrible. There are worse crimes than belaboring the obvious. It’s just that there’s a clear context for these remarks. Near the end of his presentation Sober states his two goals for the talk:

  1. My goal is not to defend any theistic position, but to point out that the science does not rule out some of them.
  2. There may be good reasons to reject theism, but these are philosophical reasons, not consequences of evolutionary biology.

With regard to the first goal, I think this comment, left at Jerry’s website, is exactly right:

There’s no way to demonstrate conclusively that the telephone system works purely through the application of technology; there’s no inconsistency in supposing that certain elements of the phone system would cease to work if it weren’t for the daily intervention of some benevolent deity. We can’t look for God in every relay every second of every day, so we can’t prove He’s not at work there.

Should we suppose such a thing? Should we argue such a thing? I must conclude that you think we should, given that there’s no real philosophical difference between your arguments applied to evolution and your arguments applied to the telephone system.

Quite right.

I’m more interested in the second goal, since it illustrates another annoying tendency of certain philosophers. I am referring to the endless turf protection. The relentless nattering not about the arguments themselves, but about classifying the argument within the proper academic discipline. Obviously to go from the facts of science to nontrivial conclusions about God you are going to have to add to your argument some assumptions about God’s nature and abilities. If that transforms the argument from scientific to philosophical then so be it. Can we please now move on to the more important question of determining whether the arguments are any good?

Yes, there’s a gulf between scientific facts and theological conclusions. But it’s a very small gulf, readily bridged by assumptions about God that are very common. The millennia of suffering entailed by the evolutionary process does not by itself rule out God, but add the standard assumptions (among Christians at any rate) that God is all-loving, knowing and powerful, and suddenly the problem is obvious. Moreover, the conflict isn’t logical, but evidential. The numerous ways that evolution challenges Christianity (challenging the Bible on the age of the Earth and on Adam and Eve, refuting the argument form design, exacerbating the problem of evil, and diminishing human significance) amount to a strong cumulative case against the possibility of reconciling evolution and religion. They don’t logically disprove theism, but that is neither here not there.

But even here I might still be inclined to let it go were it not for a point Sober made both in his earlier interview and in the colloquium. Near the end of the question and answer period he remarked that he thinks that so much of the perceived conflict between evolution and Christianity is unnecessary. The science, properly understood, does not directly refute any central Christian claim.

Truly, though, it is the height of ivory tower nonsense to think that Sober’s argument makes even the slightest contribution to allaying the concerns of religious folks with regard to evolution. They are not worried about logical possibilities. They are worried about plausibilities, and Sober is quite up front that he himself does not find it plausible to think that God is directing the mutations. He points out there is not a shred of evidence for believing any such thing. He could have added that there are grave theological problems with such a suggestion, some of which I discussed in my previous post.

As a final point I would note that there is nothing new in Sober’s argument. The suggestion that God is subtly directing the mutations is commonplace in the literature of theistic evolution. Late in the session, Michael Ruse points out that physicist Robert John Russell has long argued for this general view. Ken Miller has made similar arguments. I am not aware of anyone who has responded to these gentlemen by saying their arguments are logically impossible.

In short, Sober’s presentation reminds me of John Hodgman’s “You’re Welcome” segments on The Daily Show. Sober struts in claiming he’s going to correct a logical fallacy absolutely no one has made, takes forty-five minutes to establish an utterly trivial point, is keen to remind us that we need philosophers to explain these things to us, and then coolly dismisses the idea that there is any necessary tension between non-fundamentalist Christianity and evolution. A bravura performance.

Comments

  1. #1 NickMatzke
    May 8, 2012

    I’m afraid one has to have a short memory to think that there are no prominent examples of what Sober was arguing against. We have to go no further than (1) Jerry Coyne in (2) his article in Evolution:

    The incompatibility between religious claims and scientific truths is most evident when it comes to evolution. As I noted above, not only do 40% of Americans hold the profoundly antiscientific view that humans were created within the last 10,000 years in their present form, but an additional 38% favor a form of human evolution guided by God. That’s also unscientific, since biologists see humans, like any other species, as having evolved by purely naturalistic processes. There’s a reason, after all, why Darwin’s greatest idea was called natural selection. Those who wish to harmonize science and faith tend to sweep this problem under the rug, but the fact remains that 78% of Americans disagree with the scientific view of evolution.

    Exactly the sort of bald, crude statement the Gnus allegedly don’t make.

    Apart from the massive logical and definitional problems with the above, Coyne also managed to change evolution from a majority view in the U.S. population, into a minority view outnumbered 5 to 1. Some people just like being disliked I think…

  2. #2 Kel
    May 8, 2012

    Nick, even if God-guided evolution is not logically ruled out by science, it can still be unsciemtific to believe that it happened. That psychic powers haven’t been logically ruled out by science doesn’t prevent there being an incompatibility between science and a belief in psychic powers. It just means that science doesn’t show it to be impossible – just unfounded.

  3. #3 Kel
    May 8, 2012

    In other words, Nick, I think you’re misinterpreting the spirit of what Jerry Coyne is arguing in order to make a point against him.

  4. #4 Valhar2000
    May 8, 2012

    Kel wrote:

    In other words, Nick, I think you’re misinterpreting the spirit of what Jerry Coyne is arguing in order to make a point against him.

    Par for the course.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2012

    Nick –

    No matter how many times I read that quote I still can’t find the part where Jerry said it was logically impossible that God is guiding the mutations in ways scientists can’t detect. Nor can I find the part where he argued that scientific facts lead directly to nontrivial conclusions about God.

    Try again.

  6. #6 Richard Wein
    May 8, 2012

    Good post, Jason. A couple of comments:

    “As far as I know, I have never met a mathematician who finds it interesting to ask whether numbers exist…”

    I think the unqualified question “do numbers exist?” is ill-posed. Mathematicians can usefully make such statements as “there exist N prime numbers between I and J”, and it would be pointless to deny that such statements can be true. Numbers certainly exist in some sense. The question is, in what sense? Or, more broadly, in what sense are mathematical statements true? Surely every mathematician has at least noted that pure mathematical statements are not true in quite the same sense as statements about the observed world. Even to notice that is to put a toe in the water of the philosophy of mathematics. ;)

    “Moreover, I would think the philosophers could argue that it reflects badly on other people that they don’t take a greater interest in philosophy, just as Krauss would no doubt lament the unwillingness of so many nonscientists to read more about science.”

    I think the analogy would be a weak one. Science has demonstrated itself to be successful. Philosophy hasn’t, or only in some limited fields, like deductive logic. Science has an enormous body of well-established knowledge, which outsiders can access without worrying too much about whether it’s correct. Philosophy as a whole has little such knowledge, because philosophers can hardly agree on anything. I don’t deny that some philosophers have done good work. The problem is that the good work doesn’t achieve a consensus.

    No doubt there are some subjects where, before publishing, it would be wise to become familiar with existing philosophical views on the subject. Even if most (or all!) of those views are wrong, you may learn something of value. You may find a compelling argument against your view, or one that helps you improve your position. It may help you avoid rookie errors. The problem, I think, is to decide how much time it’s worth spending on studying in a field which has been so unsuccessful.

    I haven’t read Krauss’s book, and don’t know fundamental physics, so can’t say much on whether the book was damaged by an ignorance of philosophy. From the reviews and discussion I’ve read, I suspect not much. But I share your reaction to his subsequent comments about philosophy. How do you decide who is worth reading?

    Of course, you don’t have to be ignorant of philosophy to do poor philosophy. What frustrates me is that some of those who complain loudest about “scientism”, like Pigliucci and Ruse, are in my view more part of the problem (with philosophy) than part of the solution.

  7. #7 Richard Wein
    May 8, 2012

    Oops. The sentence “How do you decide who is worth reading?” was supposed to go on the end of the previous paragraph.

  8. #8 elliott sober
    May 8, 2012

    Jason Rosenhouse needs to read more carefully. The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.

  9. #9 orin
    May 8, 2012

    is anyone familiar with Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem?
    I think that should end most of these pointless arguments.
    Since no logical system can be complete, one must always go outside of a given system to prove certain axioms of that system. Hence, any statements about relationships between science and religion must necessarily invoke arguments from systems outside of either of them.
    That is why a good scientist will never address questions about divine intervention- they just don’t make sense within the system of science. Science deals with that which can be falsified. Since questions about religion cannot be falsified (revealed knowledge) they lie outside of science, and bear no true relationship to science.
    But this leads to a crucial difference. Except for the fundamental axioms of science, all other scientific questions are in principle derived from previous knowledge (like Euclidean geometry). But in religion it is always possible to posit a new thing which is entirely unconnected to what went before (e.g., God has exactly nine billion names), and so one cannot make any sense of them.

  10. #10 SLC
    May 8, 2012

    Re Elliot Sober @ #8

    OK, let’s expand this idea to physics. We can’t rule out the possibility that god intervened in the Michaelson/Morley experiment by diddling with Michaelson’s interferometer so as to cause the apparent result, and that therefore the possibility that special relativity is wrong. We can’t rule out the possibility that god intervenes in atomic structure to prevent the accelerating electrons from radiating energy and therefore the possibility that quantum mechanics is wrong. We can’t rule out the possibility that god is causing the acceleration of the rate of expansion of the universe and therefore the possibility that the hypothesis of dark energy is wrong.

    One could go on and on in this vein but that’s the reason for imposing the condition of methodological naturalism. The god intervention hypothesis is a science stopper that takes us nowhere, just as it took Isaac Newton nowhere in at the end of the 17th century. It predicts nothing, it explains nothing, and it is not falsifiable.

  11. #11 Tim Harris
    May 8, 2012

    The trouble is,Professor Sober, that the point you say you are making seems entirely trivial (could you explain why you want to make it in the first place?), and also, as Jason Rosenhouse points out (and, I think, as Jerry Coyne has pointed out), it is not – for all its possible logical correctness – really true if we are going to take into account actual religions and actual religious claims and beliefs. Once again, could you explain why you wish to make this point?

  12. #12 According to Smith
    May 8, 2012

    I’ve no interest in the science vs creationism debate – it makes little sense for two belief systems to argue whose system is better – but the epistemological issue of the philosophy of science is an important one, and one that any holder of a doctoral degree ought to understand – shame on Dartmouth! It is a fundamental issue of understanding one’s biases – how can you profess to be a scientist if you can not understand simple epistemological issues? For Heaven’s sake, a scientist that doesn’t understand their own biases is one that can’t really make any case for anything with confidence!

  13. #13 eric
    May 8, 2012

    Prof. Sober:

    The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.

    Yes, but who was saying it was loud on the question in the first place?

    Everyone understands that a god which hides its actions within statistical flucturations cannot be empirically refuted. That’s sort of a tautology: a god hypothesized to leave no evidence, leaves no evidence.

    IMO, there are three main problems with your compatibility argument. First, it only works for the most vanilla of christian sects. It simply doesn’t apply to creationist sects, who claim that god does leave evidence. This means your argument is largely socially irrevelant.

    Second, there are an infinite number of entities – many contradictory – on which science is similarly silent. Your argument does not address why we should give exceptional treatment or consideration to Yahweh over others. Yet special treatment is sort of implied by omission. The statement “the Christian god is compatible with science” sends a very different message to most people than “the Christian god is as compatible with science as invisible fairies living in my garden.” Even if the two sentences aren’t technically at odds, I think its is very important from an ‘honest communicator’ perspective for philosophers who might mean the latter to actually say the latter, and not the former. Saying the former when you mean the latter is, IMO, going to deceive most non-philosophers.

    Third, you’re arguing compatibility of empirical evidence without addressing revelation as a method. AFAIK, when Coyne and PZ and the like argue that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible, they are talking about method, not current conclusions. They’re saying that anyone who accepts revelation as a type of evidence is following rules of evidence fundamentally different from science’s. Doesn’t matter if that the outcome of that revelation agrees 100% with the outcome of science, its still an incompatible method. If you really want to go after compatibility writ large, I think you’re going to have to come up with an argument for how revelation and revealed knowledge is consistent with methodological naturalism. Good luck with that.

  14. #14 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2012

    Elliott –

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m afraid I don’t see an important distinction between saying that it is logically possible that God could be directing the mutations versus saying that evolution is silent on the question of whether God could be directing the mutations. In your talk you specifically used the phrase “logically compatible” to describe the relationship between evolution and the possibility that God is directing the mutations. You had a slide stating that your goal was to show that evolution does not “rule out” certain forms of theism, which, again, certainly makes it sound like your point is that they are logically compatible. So I don’t think I misrepresented your position at all. Moreover, absolutely nothing in my argument is riding on the distinction you’re making here.

  15. #15 David Marjanović
    May 8, 2012

    Exactly the sort of bald, crude statement the Gnus allegedly don’t make.

    The very difference between science and philosophy is the fact that logically possible ideas can be unscientific.

    Theistic evolution, the hypothesis that God is a directed mutagen, is extremely unparsimonious; it’s not needed to explain anything. That means it’s unscientific. Neither hartebeest nor wildebeest have anything to do with that fact.

    The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.

    …Both of those points are exactly as undoubted and self-evident as explained in the post. ~:-|

    BTW, whether determinism is true isn’t a question that can be solved by just thinking about it; is a question for quantum physics. It turns out that determinism is wrong, at least unless there’s a major flaw somehow hiding in one of the best-tested theories ever.

    Since no logical system can be complete, one must always go outside of a given system to prove certain axioms of that system. Hence, any statements about relationships between science and religion must necessarily invoke arguments from systems outside of either of them.

    I really don’t think either science or religion are logical systems in the sense that that term is used in mathematics.

    Also, Gödel with ö. Use oe if you can’t find the character map (in Windows: Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Programs).

    Science deals with that which can be falsified.

    Scientific method = falsification + parsimony.

    There’s a lot of parsimony hiding within falsification, too.

    Since questions about religion cannot be falsified (revealed knowledge) they lie outside of science, and bear no true relationship to science.

    …which is to say they’re unscientific. :-|

    the fundamental axioms of science

    What would those be?

    entirely unconnected to what went before (e.g., God has exactly nine billion names)

    Perhaps a bad example; there’s a long tradition within or next to Islam which says God has exactly 99 or 100 names.

  16. #16 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    eric,

    Everyone understands that a god which hides its actions within statistical flucturations cannot be empirically refuted. That’s sort of a tautology: a god hypothesized to leave no evidence, leaves no evidence.

    Which is different from this case, which makes the opposite claim that the evidence presented cannot in and of itself distinguish between the two cases. We have no way of knowing if the mutation is random or guided, but that’s the nature of our evidence and science, not of God.

    Second, there are an infinite number of entities – many contradictory – on which science is similarly silent. Your argument does not address why we should give exceptional treatment or consideration to Yahweh over others.

    Because the incompatibilists are making great hay trying to explicitly argue that that entity is not only incompatible with science, but with specific scientfic claims. The incompatibilists argue that we should care about the question because of how important it is, and so if this specific case is a really important question it is, in fact, quite reasonable to spend time talking about whether this specific case really is incompatible. This seems obvious to me.

    AFAIK, when Coyne and PZ and the like argue that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible, they are talking about method, not current conclusions. They’re saying that anyone who accepts revelation as a type of evidence is following rules of evidence fundamentally different from science’s.

    First, if that really was their point then they wouldn’t spend almost all of their time arguing that the religious case is wrong and the scientific case is right, and wouldn’t spend all their time arguing about a specific result — evolution — as opposed to the overall methods. If they spend time arguing over results you will have to forgive us for focusing on what they are actually saying.

    Second, if they manage to succeed in this argumetns they will have shown that religion is, in fact, a different methodology than science. Well, who cares? All that means is that religion is not science. No one denies that. The main question — as evidenced BY their arguments — is whether they are incompatible methods in a strong and interesting sense, not in the uninteresting sense that you can’t really do both at the same time. You can’t really do science and philosophy at the same time either, or everyday reasoning and science, but we are well aware of that and are aware of when we should use one or the other. So, again, so what if they aren’t the same method? What does that mean for anything or the debate over whether Christians can or should accept evolution, which was strongly discussed in the lecture and in what you and Jason and Coyne and Myers all talk about when you talk about incompatibilism of science and religion?

  17. #17 NickMatzke
    May 8, 2012

    Yes, but who was saying it was loud on the question in the first place?

    Is the journal Evolution loud enough?

    See the quote by Coyne in comment #1. Coyne, in his post today, lays on a lot of rhetoric, but he can’t even bear to quote himself and defend what he said, probably because, like I said, it’s crude and wrong and just the kind of problem that Sober was rebutting. (Which Jason and Coyne were claiming was just obvious and boring.)

    As for the other dismissive remarks — guys, these don’t wash. Coyne just said right there that any form of guidance, flat out, was incompatible with science. In a journal article, where one makes a formal, detailed statement of one’s position. There’s no wishy-washiness about probable vs. possible there.

    In the statement I quoted, Coyne is basically issuing an (a)theological proclamation that either you’ve got to be an atheist, or if you believe in God, you’re not allowed to even say God guided evolution in any conceivable way. Nevermind that most theists would say they believe *everything* is guided by God — the wind, the results at the slot machines, the health of their children, etc. The vast majority of the time, even for fundamentalists, there is no statement that any of this contradicts science or natural law. God is the reason for the existence of the Universe, not just creating it at the beginning but at every additional nanosecond. Natural laws are just things God decides to do consistently (think of why the word “law” is used in science in the first place, I bet it was derived from exactly the above sort of theology); random events are equally decided upon, even though statistically speaking, they look perfectly random to us humans with our limited knowledge.

    I’m not saying that any of this should be included in science — but that’s the point, these are metaphysical debates, probably eternal metaphysical debates. I am not at all sure the above position is any worse than, say, Coyne’s hard conviction that determinism is absolutely true, that all our actions are therefore predetermined, and that free will therefore doesn’t exist, and furthermore morality etc. don’t really exist either. I’m also not sure that the atheist position on natural law is much better — the very fact that natural laws exist and continue to work is quite magical and stunning if you think about it. What’s the atheist answer about why natural laws exist? All you can say is “it’s a mystery, they just do.”

    All of the questions and answers in these airy metaphysical realms are mysterious and mind-boggling and unsatisfactory and probably will always be legitimate matters of (philosophical) debate. This is one of the reasons why the God question cannot fairly be dismissed with some jibe about how no one believes in fairies and leprechauns.

    But none of this is acknowledged by the gnus, they’ve picked one fairly arbitrary and as-debatable-as-the-rest metaphysical position and declared anyone else’s position “unscientific” and, sometimes, just as bad as creationism.

    Even better, when people like Sober start to object — careful, sober (ha!), very well-informed, pretty famous people like Sober (Sober has done more work on the logic of statistical inference in evolutionary science than, I think, anybody) — the gnus blast them with simplistic critiques and as often as not blast philosophy in general as well, although refreshingly we at least had some balance about philosophy from Jason and Coyne in these more recent threads (have Dennett and Blackford been emailing the gnu leadership lately or something?).

    Anyway — I’m still looking for an explanation of the Coyne quote I put up in the first comment. It clearly contradicts what Coyne and Jason have been saying. Maybe the explanation is just that Coyne had an off-day and was uncareful when he wrote the Evolution article, I don’t know, but some explanation is needed.

  18. #18 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    Jason,

    Who ever claimed that science has shown that it is flat-out logically impossible that God could be directing the mutations in a manner that is invisible to science?

    Anyone who ever argues, for example, that evolution and Christianity are incompatible in a strong sense, or that scientists who understand evolution and are still Christians must be suffering from cognitive dissonace. Or even that Christian beliefs are delusions on the basis that evolution has disproved it sufficiently.

    There’s a big issue here, and it’s over a confusion in what it means to know. All of the incompatibilists — whether they really get it or not — are claiming to know that God doesn’t exist or that God didn’t intervene in those mutations, because supposedly the scientific view that they think rises to the level of knowledge says that it was “random”. But when it is pointed out, as Sober does, that the evidence in no way rises to the level of knowledge, the retort is over “logically incompatible” and that no one demands that. But if you are going to claim to know, you must be claiming that the evidence makes it so that the claim is justified, and if you are going to claim that that knowledge is incompatible with another theory, then you have to be claiming that the evidence at the very least strongly rules it out, to the extent that because we see that evidence that theory simply cannot be right. That’s part of the hypothetico-deducto system and yes, is a claim of logical incompatibility. And the point, then, is that the evidence can, in fact, be made compatible with the other theory, and so it doesn’t, as was said, rule it out. Now, whether we should believe that other theory is another matter, but one that philosophy of science has shown is not an easily settleable question … even when both theories are, in fact, scientific, which is not the case here.

    Should we suppose such a thing? Should we argue such a thing? I must conclude that you think we should, given that there’s no real philosophical difference between your arguments applied to evolution and your arguments applied to the telephone system.

    Well, except there is. In no concept of God — and especially not the ones we are discussing — is it ever asserted that God runs the telephone lines, and since most include us actually having natural laws the fact that we have natural laws that follow from that without God having to intervene “directly” simply fits. However, it IS part of the conceptions of God that God is somehow directly responsible for us and our intelligence. Thus, we have a philosophical/theological reason to insert God into evolution that we don’t have for the telephone lines. So, that person’s comment is just plain wrong. Again, this does not mean that we are RIGHT to insert God into evolution and not into telephone lines, but to pretend that they are equally situated is simply to misunderstand the whole debate and the thing you are purportedly talking about.

    The same thing applies to a lot of answers to the cosmological argument that propose a new object, or even to the FSM: God is an existing concept that has been theorized from long back to do those things, while this new concept was clearly invented on the fly to cast doubt on that. They aren’t in the same position at all.

    The numerous ways that evolution challenges Christianity (challenging the Bible on the age of the Earth and on Adam and Eve, refuting the argument form design, exacerbating the problem of evil, and diminishing human significance) amount to a strong cumulative case against the possibility of reconciling evolution and religion.

    And yet, people DO reconcile them in ways that avoid many if not most of those problems with well-worn philosophical methods. So the cumulative case against that possibility seems a red herring when placed against the actual arguments that try to do so. Seems to me that it would be better to address those attempts than to try to dismiss them all in advance.

    They are not worried about logical possibilities. They are worried about plausibilities …

    Um, so religion is based on faith … and you think that religious people are worred about plausibilities? They are unconcerned about plausibilities and probabilities. It takes no faith to believe the most probable or plausible theory. They are in fact totally concerned with logical possibilities. The only thing that could or should trump faith is, in fact, knowledge that the thing you are having faith in is false. YOU are concerned with plausibilities, but that is not what religious people are concerned with, in general. Or, at least, I hope you have a good explanation and evidence for that claim in the light of the general doctrine of faith.

  19. #19 tomh
    May 8, 2012

    NickMatzke wrote:
    Coyne also managed to change evolution from a majority view in the U.S. population

    In what fantasy world does one have to live to believe that a majority of Americans accept evolution when every poll shows the opposite to be true?

  20. #20 Michael Fugate
    May 8, 2012

    Perhaps the philosophers (or maybe Nick) can tell us how one can distinguish between a mutation caused by a god and one that is not. There must be a method. And while they are at it, perhaps they can tell us how one can distinguish between a revelation from a god and a thought that just pops into our heads. When that is done, then they can move on to telling us how gods transmit signals and how humans receive them.

  21. #21 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    I’m also not sure that the atheist position on natural law is much better — the very fact that natural laws exist and continue to work is quite magical and stunning if you think about it.

    Nick, you’re bad at this. As much as you go around accusing Coyne and Rosenhouse at being bad at this, you are absolutely terrible. Just stop.

  22. #22 Andy Schueler
    May 8, 2012

    This whole discussion reminds me of Anthony Flew´s “Theology & Falsification” – to say that Evolutionary Biology is “silent” about God(s) intervening in the process of evolution is only true for conceptions of God that are infinitely malleable, meaning that they are compatible with *every* possible observation.
    But, as Flew pointed out: “…if there is nothing which a putative assertion denies then there is nothing which it asserts either: and so it is not really an assertion.”

  23. #23 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2012

    Nick –

    As for the other dismissive remarks — guys, these don’t wash. Coyne just said right there that any form of guidance, flat out, was incompatible with science. In a journal article, where one makes a formal, detailed statement of one’s position. There’s no wishy-washiness about probable vs. possible there.

    “Incompatible with science” is not the same thing as “logically impossible.” This isn’t complicated. Coyne has now written two posts in which he describes Sober’s point as trivially true. Do you think he simply overlooked the fact that Sober contradicted the position he expressed in his journal article? Or do you think perhaps that Coyne’s statement does not mean what you are trying to make it mean?

  24. #24 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    Anyone who ever argues, for example, that evolution and Christianity are incompatible in a strong sense, or that scientists who understand evolution and are still Christians must be suffering from cognitive dissonace. Or even that Christian beliefs are delusions on the basis that evolution has disproved it sufficiently.

    What do you mean by “strong sense”? I don’t recall Coyne or Rosenhouse having used that phrase, so I suspect you’re trying to weasel a little content into their arguments that wasn’t there so you have a stronger case.

    The claim has always been that certain Christian beliefs are incompatible with evolution. Literal Adam and Eve, literal young earth. And then there is a further claim that scientific epistemology is incompatible with any epistemology yet proposed that lends credence to religious beliefs of any kind. Two separate claims. Treat them that way.

    All of the incompatibilists — whether they really get it or not — are claiming to know that God doesn’t exist or that God didn’t intervene in those mutations, because supposedly the scientific view that they think rises to the level of knowledge says that it was “random”.

    Simply not true. If you have to mischaracterize the arguments of your opponents to even get your rebuttal off the ground maybe you should stop arguing.

    I do not know that God doesn’t exist. I do not know that God doesn’t intervene in mutations. I do think there are many good reasons to believe God doesn’t exist, and I don’t think there are any reasons whatsoever to believe that God is diddling with nucleotides.

    As you can see, Sober’s argument is in fact pretty much irrelevant to such a position. The most it can do is defend people who, because of preexisting biases, want to believe that God is interfering with evolution. Which is why I pointed out that Sober needn’t stop there…we can believe God is at work in everything without contradicting any of the ideas of science. Even something we think we understand pretty completely like the telephone system. Sober’s arguments support belief in God’s hand in the global communication system every bit as much as they support belief in God’s hand in evolution. So why aren’t we discussing God’s hand in the phone system?

    As far as I can tell, there are no philosophical or scientific reasons for making this argument about evolution rather than, I don’t know, any other phenomenon in the universe. But there are theological and political reasons for doing so. (And then Sober accuses others of engaging in theology.)

    But if you are going to claim to know, you must be claiming that the evidence makes it so that the claim is justified, and if you are going to claim that that knowledge is incompatible with another theory, then you have to be claiming that the evidence at the very least strongly rules it out, to the extent that because we see that evidence that theory simply cannot be right. That’s part of the hypothetico-deducto system and yes, is a claim of logical incompatibility.

    This is silly. You already know that this is a stronger case than any form of empiricism can actually make. If you assume Cartesian skepticism — or, roughly equivalent, a God that hides all evidence of himself — then this argument becomes entirely invalid. You can always propose presuppositions that nullify the efficacy of empiricism in making this kind of deduction — and that’s what Sober’s nucleotide-diddling God is. It’s another form of Cartesian skepticism or celestial teapot. It does nothing to make God more likely; again, at best it can protect the faith of people who are already sympathetic to it against the common-sense critique of religious belief posed by evolutionary science.

  25. #25 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    Well, except there is. In no concept of God — and especially not the ones we are discussing — is it ever asserted that God runs the telephone lines, and since most include us actually having natural laws the fact that we have natural laws that follow from that without God having to intervene “directly” simply fits.

    It’s never asserted in the Bible, and was never asserted for at least the first 1800 years of Christianity, that God “runs” evolution either. This is pure special pleading. And that’s ignoring the HUGE problems with you pretending that the word “God” is attached to one fixed concept and that’s all we’re talking about.

    However, it IS part of the conceptions of God that God is somehow directly responsible for us and our intelligence. Thus, we have a philosophical/theological reason to insert God into evolution that we don’t have for the telephone lines.

    But wait…”responsible for us and our intelligence” is not the same thing as “micromanaged evolution.” Again, this is just special pleading. You have no logical case here, you’re just playing with the connotations of certain words and ideas — which are not fixed from person to person, just as the concept of God is not fixed from person to person. (And please do not conflate “theological” and “philosophical” as synonyms. That is more sneaky bullshit.)

    God could have been responsible for our existence and intelligence without interfering in evolution. There is nothing logically inconsistent with such a position, so your argument holds no water.

    So, that person’s comment is just plain wrong. Again, this does not mean that we are RIGHT to insert God into evolution and not into telephone lines, but to pretend that they are equally situated is simply to misunderstand the whole debate and the thing you are purportedly talking about.

    Perhaps it is YOU who misunderstand the debate. Theology is irrelevant to this argument. Sober was making a logical, purely philosophical argument, not a theological one. We are not talking about your personal concept of God, we are talking about a much broader, more inclusive concept of God. And to pretend you have the exact right concept of God is, once again, simply special pleading. You do not speak for God. Sorry to break it to you.

    The same thing applies to a lot of answers to the cosmological argument that propose a new object, or even to the FSM: God is an existing concept that has been theorized from long back to do those things, while this new concept was clearly invented on the fly to cast doubt on that. They aren’t in the same position at all.

    Same problem. You keep trying to claim some authority to tell everyone else what are and what aren’t acceptable theses with respect to God. I reject your authority on this matter.

  26. #26 Patrick
    May 8, 2012

    Verbose Stoic wrote: “Um, so religion is based on faith … and you think that religious people are worred about plausibilities? They are unconcerned about plausibilities and probabilities. It takes no faith to believe the most probable or plausible theory. They are in fact totally concerned with logical possibilities. The only thing that could or should trump faith is, in fact, knowledge that the thing you are having faith in is false. YOU are concerned with plausibilities, but that is not what religious people are concerned with, in general. Or, at least, I hope you have a good explanation and evidence for that claim in the light of the general doctrine of faith.”

    So I guess all of the creationists in my family are figments of my imagination.

    And all of the Christian apologists who like to argue that belief in God is rationally justified.

    CS Lewis? No such dude.

    I must be on some good drugs to have hallucinated all of these people for so long. Too bad its been such a bad trip.

  27. #27 couchloc
    May 8, 2012

    Jason says:

    “Thanks for stopping by. I’m afraid I don’t see an important distinction between saying that it is logically possible that God could be directing the mutations versus saying that evolution is silent on the question of whether God could be directing the mutations.”

    I think you are missing the point here.

    (A) It is logically possible that God could be directing the mutations

    (B) Evolution is silent on the question of whether God could be directing the mutations

    These are very different claims. To assert (B) is to assert that evolutionary theory says nothing either way about whether something like God is guiding the mutations (it is silent or “agnostic” on the issue).

    To assert (A) is to make a claim about what is logically possible with respect to God (which is a positive claim). Note that one might have independent evidence to think that (A) is false. For instance, one could claim that evolutionary theory is silent on whether God could be directing the mutations, but also think the logical problem of evil shows the existence of God is incoherent. In that case, one would have grounds for thinking (A) is false, but it would still be plausible to say (B) is true. So I have to side with Elliot here. (Note that I’m not suggesting Elliot is defending the logical problem of evil himself; I’m saying you’re wrong if you don’t think there’s an important distinction here.)

  28. #28 Larry Moran
    May 8, 2012

    Elliot Sober says,

    The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question,

    That’s nonsense. Biology, when properly interpreted, has a lot to say about whether mutations are random. There are tons of papers on the mutation rate in DNA replication/repair—the main source of mutation. Many of these papers address the randomness issue. (Turns out there’s a slight bias depending on nucleotide composition.)

    There are tons of papers on molecular clocks and the fixation of nearly neutral alleles, which happens to correspond to the mutation rate. There are quite a few papers addressing the distribution of mutations in junk DNA and the result is, they look random.

    Now I agree that we can’t rule out the occasional slight deviation from randomness but that doesn’t alter the fact that there is very strong scientific evidence for non-directed mutation. Evolutionary biology is hardly silent on this issue.

    Elliot Sober, did you misspeak, or do you really believe what you said?

  29. #29 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    Dan L.,

    What do you mean by “strong sense”? I don’t recall Coyne or Rosenhouse having used that phrase, so I suspect you’re trying to weasel a little content into their arguments that wasn’t there so you have a stronger case.

    Well, the other two parts would have given you a clue as to what that meant, and I note that you didn’t claim that they in any way don’t say that. My use of “strong sense” is to avoid the weak senses of “they use different methods”, which is true but utterly uninteresting since them being differing methodologies pretty much implies that they use different methods.

    The claim has always been that certain Christian beliefs are incompatible with evolution. Literal Adam and Eve, literal young earth. And then there is a further claim that scientific epistemology is incompatible with any epistemology yet proposed that lends credence to religious beliefs of any kind. Two separate claims. Treat them that way.

    Why should I? Coyne, Myers, et al don’t. Read Coyne’s debate with Haught or almost anything he says on the topic, and you’ll see that most of his comments about incompatibilism are, in fact, about nothing more than the former, with little said about the latter. If these are part and parcel of the incompatibilist position, then it is totally fair to criticize it on these bases.

    And the claims are generally far more broad than you suggest here, tying back, for example, into any claims about Original Sin and about issues with suffering.

    I do not know that God doesn’t exist. I do not know that God doesn’t intervene in mutations. I do think there are many good reasons to believe God doesn’t exist, and I don’t think there are any reasons whatsoever to believe that God is diddling with nucleotides.

    What do you think it means to “know” something? Are you relying on an outdated “Knowledge requires certainty” model?

    Anyway, if you really claim to not know that mutations are random and completely unguided, why should anyone care about that? You believe God doesn’t interfere, religious people believe it does, and there’s no way to settle that without either getting to knowledge or discussing when belief is acceptable, which is lacking in almost all discussions of this topic.

    This is silly. You already know that this is a stronger case than any form of empiricism can actually make. If you assume Cartesian skepticism — or, roughly equivalent, a God that hides all evidence of himself — then this argument becomes entirely invalid. You can always propose presuppositions that nullify the efficacy of empiricism in making this kind of deduction — and that’s what Sober’s nucleotide-diddling God is. It’s another form of Cartesian skepticism or celestial teapot. It does nothing to make God more likely; again, at best it can protect the faith of people who are already sympathetic to it against the common-sense critique of religious belief posed by evolutionary science.

    The problem is that Sober is making a reply to a charge of “incompatibility” … whatever that is supposed to mean. He points out that the evidence we have simply cannot settle that question. One need not presuppose any form of Cartesian skepticism that the evidence we have for mutations would, in fact, not allow us to distinguish between unguided and guided cases. Based on the evidence we have available we simply cannot know which is the case. Which leaves the claims of incompatibility rather unevidenced, which means that the incompatibilists should come up with either better evidence or better arguments. They cannot escape this responsibility by claiming that we are, in fact, simply being unreasonably skeptical without showing that the evidence is stronger than we think. And yet, the reply from them and from you has been to abandon the claims and retreat to “Well, that’s obvious, but we think this weaker claim will still survive”. Well, sure, you can find a weaker claim that is still defensible, at the risk of making that weaker claim be completely and utterly uninteresting. So, is that where you want to go? Or, then, what position are you going to hold the line at so that we can judge if it’s sufficiently strong to make this purported “incompatibility” one that’s meaningful in any way?

  30. #30 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2012

    couchloc –

    As I pointed out in my earlier comment, at several places in his talk Sober emphasizes the “logical compatibility” of accepting both a scientific account of evolution and the idea that God is directing the mutations. In his summary slide he specifically describes his goal as being to show that evolution does not “rule out” the possibility that God is directing the mutations. So I don’t think I have misrepresented Sober’s argument.

    Your broader point is well taken, but it has no relevance to what I’m arguing in the post. Evolution is silent on the question of whether God is directing the mutations only in the trivial sense that every scientific theory is silent on the question of whether God is secretly pulling the strings in the background.

  31. #31 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    @couchloc:

    Your post seems to be irrelevant to the arguments made in the OP.

    Let’s try this again:

    (1) EM theory is silent on the question of whether or not God is directing calls through the telephone system.

    Is that a good argument for compatibility between God and science? I’d say “trivially, no.” I wouldn’t expect anyone to disagree. Sober’s argument is exactly equivalent. So why make it?

    In other words, how is Sober’s argument different from the celestial teapot argument, or Cartesian skepticism, or any other philosophical problem in which the existence of an unobservable phenomenon is presupposed? What is the point of making this argument when all the people being “corrected” already believe it to be trivially true?

  32. #32 NickMatzke
    May 8, 2012

    Perhaps the philosophers (or maybe Nick) can tell us how one can distinguish between a mutation caused by a god and one that is not. There must be a method.

    You only need such a method if one is trying to make scientific assertions about such things.

    Many theists would say God causes everything that happens, including all mutations, both good and bad. You seem to think it’s important that we have a method that can test statements before deciding if they are true or false, so where’s your method that can test for this?

    I’m also not sure that the atheist position on natural law is much better — the very fact that natural laws exist and continue to work is quite magical and stunning if you think about it.

    Nick, you’re bad at this. As much as you go around accusing Coyne and Rosenhouse at being bad at this, you are absolutely terrible. Just stop.

    Posted by: Dan L. | May 8, 2012 12:35 PM

    If you’re so good at this, please answer my question about why you think natural laws continue to work.

  33. #33 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2012

    Now I agree that we can’t rule out the occasional slight deviation from randomness but that doesn’t alter the fact that there is very strong scientific evidence for non-directed mutation. Evolutionary biology is hardly silent on this issue.

    Elliot Sober, did you misspeak, or do you really believe what you said?

    Larry, you’re not helping. Did you actually listen to Sober’s talk? A good chunk of it, the part that’s actually interesting and nontrivial, is about clarifying what biologists mean when they describe mutations as random or unguided. He’s not challenging the conventional wisdom at all.

    His point was that there could be hidden variables affecting the probabilities of various mutations occurring. God could direct the mutations in ways that are invisible to empirical science. So you can’t say that evolutionary science flatly rules out the possibility that God is intervening in nature to direct the course of evolution.

    My objections are that this is a totally trivial observation, and that it in no way addresses any of the real concerns people have in reconciling evolution with religious faith. But the fact remains that he is not arguing what you say he is arguing.

  34. #34 NickMatzke
    May 8, 2012

    Jason writes,

    “Incompatible with science” is not the same thing as “logically impossible.” This isn’t complicated. Coyne has now written two posts in which he describes Sober’s point as trivially true. Do you think he simply overlooked the fact that Sober contradicted the position he expressed in his journal article? Or do you think perhaps that Coyne’s statement does not mean what you are trying to make it mean?

    Posted by: Jason Rosenhouse | May 8, 2012 12:41 PM

    Sober himself says you’ve got Sober wrong, and he was addressing the incompatibility-of-science question, which is precisely what Coyne was talking about. Portraying Sober as making only a trivial logical point which everyone already agrees with is a dodge of the real issue, which is whether or not evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on questions like God guiding evolution.

    Jason Rosenhouse needs to read more carefully. The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.

    Posted by: elliott sober | May 8, 2012 7:33 AM

  35. #35 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    Dan L.,

    It’s never asserted in the Bible, and was never asserted for at least the first 1800 years of Christianity, that God “runs” evolution either. This is pure special pleading. And that’s ignoring the HUGE problems with you pretending that the word “God” is attached to one fixed concept and that’s all we’re talking about.

    So, you’re accusing me of pretending that the word is attached to one fixed concept AND that I’m altering it? How does THAT work? Wouldn’t it make more sense to assume that you aren’t really understanding my point?

    Because you aren’t. Presumably, we are talking about the general Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, or else evolution would likely cause no issues at all and we certainly wouldn’t care about suffering. And, as part of that mythos, it is indeed generally accepted, as I said, that God created us, which means that He’s responsible for us and how we are. Now, when the argument is made that evolution and that creation are compatible, the claim generally means that evolution is how God IMPLEMENTED that creation process. Which, then, ties us right back to the general concept, and in fact the general concept you need to assume to, again, even RAISE the challenge that evolution is incompatible with the God we’re talking about. That, however, is not something that we have for the telephone lines. Surely you can admit that difference, can’t you? Again, you couldn’t even get a claim that evolution’s tennets and religion’s tennets are in any way in conflict without acknowledging that.

    So, no, it isn’t special pleading at all. It’s starting from the accepted parts of the concept that raise the issue in the first place. If you are going to raise a problem based on certain attributes of a concept, don’t get upset when I use those attributes against your arguments.

    But wait…”responsible for us and our intelligence” is not the same thing as “micromanaged evolution.” Again, this is just special pleading.

    No, it’s an argument that micromanaging in at least some part evolution could be the means that God used to be responsible for us and our intelligence. So, you need to argue against that, not merely call it “special pleading” and call it a day.

    (And please do not conflate “theological” and “philosophical” as synonyms. That is more sneaky bullshit.)

    And so, if I wrote “and/or” somewhere, that would mean that I was calling them synonyms and thus would be pulling “sneaky bullshit”? Stop nitpicking over words and start arguing, because what I meant there was “or”, noting that there are philosophical reasons and theological reasons for considering the cases to be different.

    God could have been responsible for our existence and intelligence without interfering in evolution. There is nothing logically inconsistent with such a position, so your argument holds no water.

    Yes. Yes, he could have. But those arguments would either be additional different arguments than the ones we’re looking at here, or would be incompatible with evolution and biology (as per complete instantanious creation). I never denied that other explanations were possible, and my argument does not, in fact, rely on there being no other explanations. My argument is entirely about there being a reason to insert God into creation that we don’t have into telephone lines, so this as a counter is completely irrelevant to that argument.

    Perhaps it is YOU who misunderstand the debate. Theology is irrelevant to this argument. Sober was making a logical, purely philosophical argument, not a theological one. We are not talking about your personal concept of God, we are talking about a much broader, more inclusive concept of God. And to pretend you have the exact right concept of God is, once again, simply special pleading. You do not speak for God. Sorry to break it to you.

    So, you’re saying that somehow doing theology ISN’T looking at the general concept of God, particularly of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic one that actually has at least a potential clear problem with evolution? And how do you get to it being about my own personal conception from my comments about the general issue? This is an extreme case of nitpicking, and has no relation to the actual arguments. It seems to be nothing more than to make an argument that I think I speak for God and should be ignored, which is completely off-base and rather ridiculous.

    Theology — meaning the study of the actual claims of the actual concept of the God you’re talking about here — is relevant, and if you want to call it a purely philosophical argument it still in no way saves your point, because I was talking about the general concept which is, in fact, what philosophy will tell you even if you don’t trust theology to.

    I mean, really, what in the world do you think theology IS if it isn’t defining the concept of God?

    Same problem. You keep trying to claim some authority to tell everyone else what are and what aren’t acceptable theses with respect to God. I reject your authority on this matter.

    Except I’m making no claim on the basis of authority, beyond having read perhaps even an introductory text on philosophy of religion, where these issues will come out. I note that you said absolutely nothing about what this concept was supposed to be and didn’t even actually CHALLENGE the conception I presented, but simply dismissed it seemingly on the basis that you want to claim that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Fine. If there is something wrong in what I say, point it out, but if not, why do you rail against me?

  36. #36 Michael Fugate
    May 8, 2012

    So you don’t have a method? I don’t need a method because science works without gods. So why believe in something if it is not true and there is no way of knowing it is true? And if it weren’t true, why would any one care?

  37. #37 David Marjanović
    May 8, 2012

    I’m sorry for having said so much that was said in the meantime. Only the first 9 comments had been posted when I wrote mine; I should have refreshed before posting.

    One could go on and on in this vein but that’s the reason for imposing the condition of methodological naturalism.

    Of course, methodological naturalism is just an example of parsimony.

    the very fact that natural laws exist and continue to work is quite magical and stunning if you think about it

    Well, no. The 2nd law of thermodynamics, for example, follows logically from the fact that there are more disordered states of anything than there are ordered states. This has implications all the way to the question of why there is anything rather than nothing.

    What’s the atheist answer about why natural laws exist?

    What’s the theist answer about why natural laws exist? “God wants it that way.” Why does God want it that way, and why does God exist? Theism turns one question into two instead of answering it. I propose applying parsimony to this fact. :-)

    All of the incompatibilists — whether they really get it or not — are claiming to know that God doesn’t exist or that God didn’t intervene in those mutations, because supposedly the scientific view that they think rises to the level of knowledge says that it was “random”.

    I want to send William of Ockham over here so he can commit a chainsaw massacre.

    No, a god that doesn’t leave evidence cannot be disproved. Solipsism cannot be disproved either. But both are massively unparsimonious speculations!

    The same thing applies to a lot of answers to the cosmological argument that propose a new object, or even to the FSM: God is an existing concept that has been theorized from long back to do those things, while this new concept was clearly invented on the fly to cast doubt on that. They aren’t in the same position at all.

    Even within Christianity, concepts of God vary from the almost deist over FSM-like capricious creators (and Chuck-Norris-like beings who allow some things to happen and others not) to micromanagers who personally do everything that has ever “happened”, who maintain every quantum state superposition and then personally decohere it with their own two hands. Calling all of these together “an existing concept” is misleading.

    YOU are concerned with plausibilities, but that is not what religious people are concerned with, in general.

    That’s what they say when pressed. In my experience, even those who aren’t creationists and have never read any apologetics (see comment 26) do use unquantified plausibilities to justify their faith in the first place. I was such a person myself…

    God could have been responsible for our existence and intelligence without interfering in evolution.

    How? By arranging the environment so that mutations leading to us would be selected for?

    (A) It is logically possible that God could be directing the mutations

    (B) Evolution is silent on the question of whether God could be directing the mutations

    These are very different claims.

    B itself is two different claims. B can mean “evolution does not disprove the idea that God is a directed mutagen” as well as “evolution makes that idea unparsimonious”.

    Both of these are true, as far as anyone can tell today.

    Why should I? Coyne, Myers, et al don’t.

    Of course they do. They just agree with both.

    Besides, aren’t you skating rather close to the tu quoque fallacy?

    You believe God doesn’t interfere, religious people believe it does, and there’s no way to settle that without either getting to knowledge or discussing when belief is acceptable, which is lacking in almost all discussions of this topic.

    Parsimony!

  38. #38 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2012

    Nick –

    Sober himself says you’ve got Sober wrong, and he was addressing the incompatibility-of-science question, which is precisely what Coyne was talking about. Portraying Sober as making only a trivial logical point which everyone already agrees with is a dodge of the real issue, which is whether or not evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on questions like God guiding evolution.

    And Coyne has said you have Coyne wrong, but you don’t care about that. You completely ignored my point about Coyne’s recent posts. Why is he describing Sober’s point as trivially true when, according to you, Sober has just refuted one of his central beliefs?

    Did you miss that I replied to Sober? I pointed to several specific instances in his talk where he stressed that he was talking about “logical compatibility.” For heaven’s sake, on the slide where he specifically presented his goal he said, “My goal is not to defend any theistic position, but to point out that the science does not rule out some of them.” How is that not just a trivial logical point?

    As I noted a few comments ago, and as others have pointed out, evolution is silent on the question of divine direction of mutations only in the utterly trivial sense that all scientific theories are silent on the question of whether God is somehow intervening in empirically undetectable ways. Sober’s point does not became any less trivial by making the distinction between what is logically possible and what evolution is technically silent about.

  39. #39 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    Why should I? Coyne, Myers, et al don’t. Read Coyne’s debate with Haught or almost anything he says on the topic, and you’ll see that most of his comments about incompatibilism are, in fact, about nothing more than the former, with little said about the latter.

    Then I would suggest you’re not reading them fairly. My impression is that Coyne thinks the former is obvious and so almost always talks about the latter.

    What do you think it means to “know” something? Are you relying on an outdated “Knowledge requires certainty” model?

    I think that the word “to know” is so ambiguous as to be useless in epistemological arguments which is why I try not to use it at all, or to de-emphasize it as I am doing here.

    Anyway, if you really claim to not know that mutations are random and completely unguided, why should anyone care about that? You believe God doesn’t interfere, religious people believe it does, and there’s no way to settle that without either getting to knowledge or discussing when belief is acceptable, which is lacking in almost all discussions of this topic.

    I claim not to know that mutations are unguided because there is no possible way I could actually know that. This seems to me an entirely reasonable and correct position, so I’m rather confused as to why you’d criticize me for holding it.

    I disagree that the question of when belief is acceptable is lacking in these discussions. I think that’s EXACTLY what these discussions have always been about, and they essentially never stopped being about that.

    The problem is that Sober is making a reply to a charge of “incompatibility” … whatever that is supposed to mean. He points out that the evidence we have simply cannot settle that question.

    If scientific knowledge must be grounded in empiricism, and if religious “knowledge” is never grounded in empiricism, then religious “knowledge” and scientific knowledge are incompatible. If you can’t follow that then I can’t help you and you’re probably better off arguing about something else entirely.

    Which leaves the claims of incompatibility rather unevidenced, which means that the incompatibilists should come up with either better evidence or better arguments. They cannot escape this responsibility by claiming that we are, in fact, simply being unreasonably skeptical without showing that the evidence is stronger than we think.

    I think compatibilists need to come up with better evidence or arguments as to why knowledge derived from methodologies which are incompatible with those of science should be counted on par with knowledge derived from methodologies which ARE compatible with those of science. I think they cannot escape this responsibility by claiming that we are, in fact, simply being unreasonably skeptical that these methodologies are, in fact, compatible.

  40. #40 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    If you’re so good at this, please answer my question about why you think natural laws continue to work.

    I’ll give you a little hint, Matzke. Can you imagine what the world would be like if they didn’t?

    Go ahead and describe to me a coherent universe in which there are no natural laws.

  41. #41 Composer99
    May 8, 2012

    I would say a bigger problem pertaining to philosophy of science isn’t what professional philosophers have to say on the subject, but rather non-philosophers trying to use philosophy of science as a direct counter to scientific evidence.

    I personally encounter this most often in relation to global warming denial.

  42. #42 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to assume that you aren’t really understanding my point?

    Because you aren’t. Presumably, we are talking about the general Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, or else evolution would likely cause no issues at all and we certainly wouldn’t care about suffering.

    Oh, I understand your point. I don’t think it’s valid, which is very different from not understanding it. (Should I go more slowly?) I don’t think there is a “general Judeo-Christian-Islamic God”; I reject the premises on which this argument of yours is based. If you’d like to step back and address those premises I’m happy to do so. But you cannot insist I argue within a framework to which I do not assent.

    I’m not arguing that there is no possible way to warp both the Christian mythos and evolutionary biology in such ways as that they will superficially harmonize with each other. I’m arguing that doing so is obviously an arbitrary, post hoc justification of the existence of God rather than a principled philosophical argument for the truth of such a proposition.

    So, no, it isn’t special pleading at all. It’s starting from the accepted parts of the concept that raise the issue in the first place. If you are going to raise a problem based on certain attributes of a concept, don’t get upset when I use those attributes against your arguments.

    Such post hoc rationalizations are the epitome of special pleading. You assume that my problem was based on certain attributes of a concept when it wasn’t at all. That’s on you, not me. If you didn’t understand you should have asked for clarification.

    No, it’s an argument that micromanaging in at least some part evolution could be the means that God used to be responsible for us and our intelligence. So, you need to argue against that, not merely call it “special pleading” and call it a day.

    But that supposition is arbitrary. There are many billions of “means that God used to be responsible for us and our intelligence.” You just picked one out that seemed convenient for you. Again, this is exactly special pleading and I may as well call it a day.

    VS, I’m not interesting in getting into theological arguments with you. Sober is making an argument about logical possibility and I responded to that. Any argument you could possibly have that relies on the nature of a Judeo-Christian deity is irrelevant — and again, constitutes special pleading because there is no particular reason, from my point of view, to even consider such a possibility to begin with.

  43. #43 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    Except I’m making no claim on the basis of authority, beyond having read perhaps even an introductory text on philosophy of religion, where these issues will come out. I note that you said absolutely nothing about what this concept was supposed to be and didn’t even actually CHALLENGE the conception I presented, but simply dismissed it seemingly on the basis that you want to claim that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Fine. If there is something wrong in what I say, point it out, but if not, why do you rail against me?

    Doesn’t matter HOW much philosophy of religion you’ve read. You have no more access to the mind of God than I do. Have you ever considered that the reason atheists find you theists so insufferable is exactly that you’re always trying to tell us what God’s like, what He wants, what’s on his mind, etc., when it’s fairly obvious that there’s no way you could know such things?

  44. #44 Christian
    May 8, 2012

    OK, if this subtle god exists (which hides within statistical fluctuations, keeping its head well below the noise floor) how the heck do we know that it really exists?

    What method did the theists use to detect this god? And is this method in any way compatible with science?

  45. #45 eric
    May 8, 2012

    VS @16:

    Second, if they manage to succeed in this argumetns they will have shown that religion is, in fact, a different methodology than science. Well, who cares? All that means is that religion is not science. No one denies that. The main question — as evidenced BY their arguments — is whether they are incompatible methods in a strong and interesting sense, not in the uninteresting sense that you can’t really do both at the same time.

    I believe the response that PZ and Coyne would give is that it is irrational to espouse one methodology when it comes to God, and a different one when it comes to every other entity. On what rational basis does the believer’s own God get his own methodology? It seems philosophically arbitrary. Especially when, if you ask the believer about other “science does not rule out X” entities, you find that the believer is perfectly willing to dismiss them quite cavalierly.

    ***

    Nick Matzke @17:

    But none of this is acknowledged by the gnus, they’ve picked one fairly arbitrary and as-debatable-as-the-rest metaphysical position and declared anyone else’s position “unscientific” and, sometimes, just as bad as creationism.

    I don’t think its as bad as creationism. I do think religious defenses like Sober’s are a form of naive exceptionalism, in that folks like Sober do not consistently apply their arguments. His argument is just as applicable to Thor, bigfoot, and gremlins causing dropped calls – but I very much doubt you’ll see Sober defending the belief in gremlins as consistent with science.

    I think there’s a clear double standard in how the “X not inconsistent with science” argument is deemed to be acceptable for God, but ridiculous for other entities. I’m surprised you don’t see it, Nick.

    Anyway — I’m still looking for an explanation of the Coyne quote I put up in the first comment.

    Coyne is talking about one sect’s view of God, you are talking about another view of God, and those views are different. So when he says the findings of science are incompatible with GodYEC, he’s right. And when you say that the findings of science do not rule out Godamost deist in his lack of action, you’re right. Same name “God,” wildly different concepts.

  46. #46 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    Especially when, if you ask the believer about other “science does not rule out X” entities, you find that the believer is perfectly willing to dismiss them quite cavalierly.

    I think there’s a clear double standard in how the “X not inconsistent with science” argument is deemed to be acceptable for God, but ridiculous for other entities.

    So when he says the findings of science are incompatible with GodYEC, he’s right. And when you say that the findings of science do not rule out Godamost deist in his lack of action, you’re right. Same name “God,” wildly different concepts.

    Paying attention, VS? eric’s cutting right to the quick.

  47. #47 Michael Fugate
    May 8, 2012

    It solves all one’s problems to simply change the definition of god to meet each and every challenge. Who cares if the definitions are consistent or even comprehensible – I would be interested in an explanation of “infinite love.” Any takers?

  48. #48 Jason A
    May 8, 2012

    Having read Sober’s clarification, I now wonder if he is actually trying to argue that what we know about evolution doesn’t make it any more or less likely that God superintended the process.

    So the disagreement is as follows:

    Sober is taking the theory: “Imagine that God intervenes in a way which is undetectable by current scientific methods” and saying, “Hey look, science doesn’t make this theory any more or less likely.”

    The rest of us our saying, “Hey, but science rules out a huge swath of theories where God intervenes in a detectable way. And in every other field and given any other sort of hypothesis, this is enough for us to discard the mechanism entirely.”

    So from the viewpoint of one specific theory, Sober is right that science doesn’t say anything one way or another. From the viewpoint of the landscape of possible theistic theories, Jason is right that Sober is just picking one out which is not logically excluded.

    And then I think Jason is ultimately right that the correct perspective for evaluating the likelihood of God’s intervention is the landscape of possible theistic theories.

  49. #49 Larry Moran
    May 8, 2012

    Jason Rosenhouse says,

    Larry, you’re not helping. Did you actually listen to Sober’s talk? A good chunk of it, the part that’s actually interesting and nontrivial, is about clarifying what biologists mean when they describe mutations as random or unguided. He’s not challenging the conventional wisdom at all.

    I understand your point and I understand Sober’s point. What I’m objecting to is that he didn’t explain or describe any of the evidence in support of randomness. During his talk he states that mutations are caused by radiation and that misunderstanding contributes to the apparently mysterious nature of mutation (i.e. big gap). But it’s not actually what causes most mutations. We know a great deal about the causes of mutations and there’s plenty of evidence that they are “random.”

    He’s not challenging “conventional wisdom.” He’s unaware of it.

    What I’m saying is that he didn’t do a very good job of describing the scientific evidence for “randomness.” So when he says that,

    Jason Rosenhouse needs to read more carefully. The point of my lecture was not that “it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution.” The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, …

    he’s not being truthful. Evolutionary biology has a lot to say about the question and all of it says that mutations are not directed.

    There’s still a gap for God to squeeze into but the gap is much smaller than his audience appreciates.

    I’m not impressed with the level of understanding of evolution shown by the audience but I don’t think that’s their goal. Most of them seem to be more interested in history than in modern evolutionary theory. They care more about what Darwin and Owen thought 150 years ago than about what modern population geneticists and biochemists think today.

  50. #50 couchloc
    May 8, 2012

    Jason,

    Thanks for your reply. So as I understand it the issue seems to come down to the question of why is Elliot making this “trivial” point which everyone accepts.

    Well, Elliot is giving a fairly general talk here (did you hear where Richards says the lecture series will focus on biology within the humanities and social sciences?). It’s plausible to suppose there are a broad range of people in the audience (I see students at the table), and people are sometimes confused about what science “proves” about God and what it doesn’t no doubt. So what you think is trivial might be worthwhile and interesting to others. The fact that you don’t find this interesting is neither here nor there.

  51. #51 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    @couchloc:

    The fact that you don’t find this interesting is neither here nor there.

    Actually, since Sober is being rather explicit that he’s trying to “correct” the new atheists at this point, it is actually both here and there. Sober thinks he’s correcting gnus by pointing out something they already know. Sober’s own words contradict you here.

  52. #52 couchloc
    May 8, 2012

    On a different note, my favorite response to Feynman’s quip about philosophy of science being as unhelpful as “ornithology is to birds” is from David Barash:

    “In fact, ornithology has been immensely useful to birds, since ornithologists have been increasingly involved in the new and important discipline of conservation biology: investigating ways in which deeper understanding of biology can contribute to conservation, including most definitely the conservation of birds. As someone who has long been intrigued by philosophy of science, I’d be delighted (and, frankly, surprised) if their work turned out half as useful to science as ornithology has been to birds.”

  53. #53 Dan L.
    May 8, 2012

    @couchloc:

    Wow, sounds like Barash has a terrible sense of humor.

  54. #54 eric
    May 8, 2012

    Jason A:

    Sober is taking the theory: “Imagine that God intervenes in a way which is undetectable by current scientific methods” and saying, “Hey look, science doesn’t make this theory any more or less likely.”
    The rest of us our saying, “Hey, but science rules out a huge swath of theories where God intervenes in a detectable way. And in every other field and given any other sort of hypothesis, this is enough for us to discard the mechanism entirely.”

    Interesting, but not exactly what I was getting at. Take the proposition: “Imagine [Unnamed entity] intervenes in a way undetectable by current scientific methods.” All such propositions should – rationally – be treated the same.

    Put [bigfoot] in there, and people are going to respond that merely imagining such an entity does not make believing in it compatible with what science tells us about the world. It might be compatible in some formal philosophical sense of “not logically contradictory,” but most people will reject “hidden bigfoots” as inconsistent (in a more practical sense) with what we understand about the world. Why then, does that same person not reject “hidden gods” as inconsistent in a more practical sense with what we understand about the world?

    What rational basis does a Yahweh beliver give for accepting the proposition as a meaningful or valuable statement in defense of entity belief when [Yahweh] is plugged into it, but rejects it as not meaningful, not valuable, and inadequate when [bigfoot] is plugged into it?

  55. #55 Richard Wein
    May 8, 2012

    Jason. As I understand him, Sober is not talking about logical possibility (or consistency with evidence). He’s talking about logical consistency between two propositions:

    (1) God has guided mutations. (I take this to mean that God has significantly guided evolution, and not just produced mutations that had no significant effect on the course of evolution.)
    (2) Mutations are random or “unguided”, as asserted by evolutionary theory.

    (Unfortunately some of his comments have made it sound like he is claiming more than this.)

    Many people find these propositions inconsistent. I for one am reluctant to call them consistent. I’m dubious about Sober’s argument, but still thinking it over. I think there are some tricky issues to be considered in the interpretation of probability.

  56. #56 Jon Jermey
    May 8, 2012

    In the eight years or so that I’ve been actively engaged in the atheist movement I’ve seen a steady retreat in theist claims. I don’t know whether theists still believe their traditional ‘proofs’ in private, but they seem to have learnt that they’re not going to get away with them in public.

    All that’s left to them is Sobel’s kind of claim, which I call a ‘vacuous possibility’. “It’s possible that X, therefore we should do Y”, where “Y” varies depending on the sophistication of the presenter from ‘believe X’ to ‘remotely entertain the possibility that X’. (Much of my effort over the last few years has been spent on trying to show that a vacuous possibility can never be a reason for anything, no matter how trivial.)

    But Sobel seems to have reached a new level of sophistication in this progress, taking forty-five minutes to present the thesis “It’s possible that X” without even bothering to follow it up. Perhaps he knew his audience would do it for him.

  57. #57 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2012

    Richard –

    Your understanding of Sober’s argument is precisely the same as mine. I would only add that the fact that the two propositions you outline are logically consistent implies that it is logically possible that God is directing the mutations even given what evolutionary science says about those mutations being unguided.

    I’m not sure what interpretations of probability have to do with it, though. Regardless of your interpretation, probability assignments are always based on your background knowledge. There could always be hidden variables of which you are unaware, especially if you are allowing for the possibility of supernatural intervention by an omnipotent being.

  58. #58 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    eric,

    I believe the response that PZ and Coyne would give is that it is irrational to espouse one methodology when it comes to God, and a different one when it comes to every other entity. On what rational basis does the believer’s own God get his own methodology? It seems philosophically arbitrary.

    Well, the counter is that you use the methodology that works for the entity you’re trying to talk about or prove/disprove, and that it might not be a good idea to use a methodology that explicitly either claims that the supernatural does not exist or that it should be ignored when looking at the supernatural. But, if it really is philosophically arbitrary we’ll figure that out by … looking at the arguments for why that methodology should be used and seeing if they are philosophically valid, not by simply comparing it to science and saying that it doesn’t get the same results or do things the same way science does.

    In general, I’d argue that I use different methodologies in different situations, based on various reasons, so it isn’t all that irrational to say that when you are doing science you stick to the scientific methodology but that in other cases you use the others, like philosophy, theology, and so on and so forth.

    Especially when, if you ask the believer about other “science does not rule out X” entities, you find that the believer is perfectly willing to dismiss them quite cavalierly.

    Generally, though, this is a slightly different situation because you are ignoring the initial starting point in the debate. Here, the Gnu Atheists are saying “Science rules out your entity based on this evidence” and so, in that context, what is happening is that people are looking at that evidence — especially philosophers, since doing this is an occupational hazard — and saying “No, it doesn’t”. Thus, as a reply to a claim THAT science rules out their entity/theory, it’s a perfectly acceptable argument. In most of the other cases, the dismissal is on the other side, simply arguing that not being directly refuted by science is not, in fact, evidence for its existence, which is a fair argument. Just not the one being made here.

    If someone was arguing that, say, bigfoot was ruled out by science because we haven’t seen a fossil of it anywhere, I’d be likely to make the same reply of “No, that doesn’t actually rule it out”.

  59. #59 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    eric,

    Screwed up the blockquote again, somewhere …

  60. #60 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    Dan L.,

    Then I would suggest you’re not reading them fairly. My impression is that Coyne thinks the former is obvious and so almost always talks about the latter.

    Or, perhaps, you’re reading them as if they hold your views and interpreting them in that light as opposed to taking their words as written. I’ve commented extensively on Coyne and almost every time he gets into this topic he spends much time listing the things that he thinks religion gets wrong and little time talking about methodology other than to simply say that religion uses faith which is incompatible with science. If anything, he seems to think the latter is obvious and the former needs proving based on what he actually says. Check out my comment on the debate with Haught for my specific issues and discussions.

    I think that the word “to know” is so ambiguous as to be useless in epistemological arguments which is why I try not to use it at all, or to de-emphasize it as I am doing here.

    Wait. You jumped on my claim that incompatibilists claim to know that evolution is unguided by claiming that you, at least, didn’t claim to know, and yet here you seem to be saying that you don’t really know what it means to know. Putting aside the fact that it is hard to do epistemology — which is about what it means to know — without having even a vague working notion of “to know”, on what grounds do you assert that you don’t claim to know by my or, rather, the general standards of the field of epistemology? Your belief might well rise to that level or at least a claim of that level even if you don’t realize it.

    Anyway, I don’t really care if you call it “know” or “believe” or “grlzplg”. You seemed to suggest that what I was talking about required certainty, which is an outdated notion of knowledge. Is that what you mean, or, else, what DO you mean?

    I claim not to know that mutations are unguided because there is no possible way I could actually know that. This seems to me an entirely reasonable and correct position, so I’m rather confused as to why you’d criticize me for holding it.

    I’m not, in fact, criticizing that stance. I am simply pointing out that if you don’t know that because you can’t, then I have absolutely no reason to consider mutations being unguided as any sort of problem for God, because it might be fair to say that if mutations are unguided we’d have a completely unguided notion of our development that would clash with the general concept of God, but if you don’t know if that’s the case then there’s really no reason for me to simply take that as a given.

    In short, if you don’t know if that’s true then I don’t really have any good reason to think that that unknown fact causes any problems for God.

    I disagree that the question of when belief is acceptable is lacking in these discussions. I think that’s EXACTLY what these discussions have always been about, and they essentially never stopped being about that.

    I disagree with your disagreement, obviously, mostly because if it was about that we’d spend more time talking about belief in general and less listing problematic facts or talking about how faith not being science matters. Surely we can all believe things that have not been given science’s stamp of approval without being necessarily irrational?

    If scientific knowledge must be grounded in empiricism, and if religious “knowledge” is never grounded in empiricism, then religious “knowledge” and scientific knowledge are incompatible. If you can’t follow that then I can’t help you and you’re probably better off arguing about something else entirely.

    If that’s all you mean by incompatible, then it is an incompatibility that isn’t worth talking about. First, it’s probably false since religious “knowledge” can be grounded in at least some empirical data, but it generally isn’t limited to it … unless you want to claim that the only valid empirical data comes from science, which is also false. Second, from that we can see that since philosophy does not limit itself to empiricism either then it is just as incompatible with science as religion is, but few people will really see that as a problem, for the obvious reason that I’ve given before: simply pointing out that different ways of knowing use different methodologies is essentially pointing out that different methodologies use different methodologies. Hardly surprising or even interesting.

    I think compatibilists need to come up with better evidence or arguments as to why knowledge derived from methodologies which are incompatible with those of science should be counted on par with knowledge derived from methodologies which ARE compatible with those of science.

    Oh, that’s easy: because if they actually produce knowledge then, well, knowledge is knowledge, no matter how produced. Your turn.

    (Note that you can argue that the methods don’t actually produce knowledge, which is close to what they do try to argue. So if that’s what they and you are trying to get at, that’s interesting but, it seems, still under-evidenced).

  61. #61 Michael Fugate
    May 8, 2012

    What knowledge does religion produce and how does it do it? Let’s do talk about methodology and it is time for theists to provide some answers rather than just verbiage about different ways of knowing. Nick blew me off when I asked him – with basically religion don’t need no stinkin’ methods, so get over it. So how does one tell if empirical data is religious in nature?

  62. #62 Verbose Stoic
    May 8, 2012

    Dan L.,

    Oh, I understand your point. I don’t think it’s valid, which is very different from not understanding it. (Should I go more slowly?) I don’t think there is a “general Judeo-Christian-Islamic God”; I reject the premises on which this argument of yours is based.

    No, you don’t understand my point at all … but I think I’m beginning to see why.

    When I talk about “the general Judeo-Christian-Islamic God”, I’m not claiming that the thing actually exists. I’m talking about the concept itself, the thing we’re talking about in these arguments. As I said later, you need the “God as creator” aspect to argue any point about the incompatibility of God and evolution; the counter-argument of God intervening directly through manipulating mutations is based entirely on having to try, at least, to preserve that premise. Despite the many differences in the conception of the JCI God, at least some of them are general enough that they can be talked about in arguments like this. Thus, as I said, if your argument depends on the concept having a certain trait I can easily appeal to that trait to argue against you.

    So, if you think that the concept is so unclear as to make any discussion if it useless, then we need to work on clarifying it … but then note that comments that evolution is inconsistent with God are also equally useless, which is what they make. And if you are objecting to my simply saying that God exists, then rest assured that I am doing no such thing.

    I’m not arguing that there is no possible way to warp both the Christian mythos and evolutionary biology in such ways as that they will superficially harmonize with each other. I’m arguing that doing so is obviously an arbitrary, post hoc justification of the existence of God rather than a principled philosophical argument for the truth of such a proposition.

    And I’m saying that it’s not so obvious, and would note as I said elsewhere that how much you can “warp” a theory to keep it in line with new evidence is something that is not trivial or obvious even with scientific theories, let alone ones that aren’t scientific.

    Such post hoc rationalizations are the epitome of special pleading. You assume that my problem was based on certain attributes of a concept when it wasn’t at all. That’s on you, not me. If you didn’t understand you should have asked for clarification.

    Okay, so let me do that: what the heck do you mean here? After all, this was from your objection to my attempt to show that there is a difference between the evolution case and the phone line case, and my point was that in the general concept there is a specific implication for creation cases and so evolution that isn’t there for the phone line case. You called that special pleading. I denied that as I showed you WHY it mattered starting from the argument that was being raised that, well, evolution was incompatible with God in the first place. So it seems to me that whether you realize it or not for that argument that quality is what’s being discussed. So, then, in light of that, what do you really mean here?

    But that supposition is arbitrary. There are many billions of “means that God used to be responsible for us and our intelligence.” You just picked one out that seemed convenient for you. Again, this is exactly special pleading and I may as well call it a day.

    No, I picked the one that’s compatible with the actual empirical and scientific evidence. I fail to see why I –and all the people who are arguing this point — should be criticized for taking science seriously.

    VS, I’m not interesting in getting into theological arguments with you.

    Then why did you start?!? I didn’t reply to you here; you replied to me. If you don’t want to do theology, then stop doing theology. Don’t blame me or try to make it look like I’m badgering you here when it was you who wandered into the argument and now seem to want to get out of it as quickly as possible.

    Doesn’t matter HOW much philosophy of religion you’ve read. You have no more access to the mind of God than I do.

    Let’s end as we began: I’m not claiming to. I’m claiming that that is the general concept of God that is being used in this entire argument, by both sides. This seems fairly obvious and any basic philosophy of religion text will probably outline this. If you deny that we can have any such concept, then you should be calling out the Gnu Atheists for trying to argue over a concept they don’t understand at all, and if you want to simply claim that I don’t know that God exists my answer is that that is what these sorts of arguments are supposed to be settling.

    ave you ever considered that the reason atheists find you theists so insufferable is exactly that you’re always trying to tell us what God’s like, what He wants, what’s on his mind, etc., when it’s fairly obvious that there’s no way you could know such things?

    Well, considering that I was just starting from the concept how it has to be for the Gnu Atheist argument to get off the ground, I thought it was pretty safe to say that the concept that they are using is the one we can use for this argument. Silly me for not realizing that taking people on directly through the concept they’re advocating and need to make their argument is somehow insufferable.

    Look, we can know things about the proposed JCI God that we’re trying to evaluate without knowing if that thing exists. I’m still horribly unclear as to whether you’re denying that we can know the real thing or denying that we can know anything about the concept, so please, enlighten me.

  63. #63 couchloc
    May 8, 2012

    Jason,

    Elliot has agreed to let me post this article, the first part of which has some material related to his talk. I thought this might help with the discussion to give some background.

    “Evolution without Naturalism .” In J. Kvanvig (ed.), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, 2011, volume 3, 187-221.

    http://philosophy.wisc.edu/sober/Evolution%20without%20naturalism%20may%202008.pdf

  64. #64 Wowbagger
    May 8, 2012

    I’ve never been a believer, so my knowledge of the bible is pretty sketchy – can someone with the appropriate knowledge please cite the chapter(s) and verse(s) where anything resembling the process of evolution is even described, let alone clearly and unambiguously attributed to God?

  65. #65 articulett
    May 8, 2012

    Would Sober be willing to state equally that we can’t rule out demons as causing mutations?

    And Xenu. I’m pretty darn sure we can’t rule him out either.

  66. #66 Alex SL
    May 8, 2012

    @eric #45

    Exactly what I think, and brilliantly phrased. Of course, a philosopher would say that the requirement to apply an approach consistently is somehow not science but based on philosophy (as if science without consistency of approach would still be science).

    Re Larry Moran:

    In a way, Larry Moran is indeed not helping, as it just complicates the discussion if some say “I’ll grant you that we cannot know if mutations are random, but that is not the point” and others “Sober is wrong because mutations are demonstrably random”. But that does not change that Moran is completely right. You can of course test whether some process is significantly non-random, with the help of that little thing we in the business* call “statistics”.

    *) science

  67. #67 Alex SL
    May 9, 2012

    Eric MacDonald has just posted something very relevant:

    “However, in the context of evolution, it is even less pointful. Sober seems to think that the guiding hand of god would be played out in the production of mutations. But that still wouldn’t do the trick of guiding, because the guiding in evolution is done by the environment filtering the mutations through its adaptational demands. It is the environment that provides the “guiding hand,” not the mutations. All the mutations can do is provide something for the environment to work on and to select from amongst. And this is not a random process. It is an algorithmic one. The mutations that are sorted out by the environmental process of selection are the real shaping forces acting on the mutations, selecting those mutations that give reproductive advantage to the animal or plant possessing them. It’s really that simple.”

    http://choiceindying.com/2012/05/08/philosophy-can-sometimes-be-irritatingly-boring-and-irrelevant-elliott-sober-take-note/

  68. #68 Wow
    May 9, 2012

    “Apart from the massive logical and definitional problems with the above”

    What “massive logical and definitional problems”?

    “The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question”

    How is that “properly interpreted” to be done and why? There is no need for mechanisms outside the scope of mutation and natural selection.

  69. #69 Wow
    May 9, 2012

    “That is why a good scientist will never address questions about divine intervention- they just don’t make sense within the system of science. Science deals with that which can be falsified.”

    But we can falsify action of God in any given experiment or action.

    This has been done several times on an attempt to show that prayer works. When there was no positive effect of prayer (indeed a slight negative consequence if the study was not double-blind), it was then post-hoc rationalised that this attempt is impossible since God won’t perform if anyone is looking.

    We’ve never seen God do a damn thing yet.

  70. #70 Xuuths
    May 9, 2012

    It is only logically possible for god to …(fill in the blank) if you presume god to exist.

    Replace “god” with any other noun to see this point clearly, and how it only makes sense if the noun represents something that exists.

  71. #71 Michael Fugate
    May 9, 2012

    Given that there is no more evidence for the “god of mutations” than there is for the “god of the flood” or the “god of Adam and Eve,” why accept one and not the other? If a god can do anything, why can’t it make a hundred years look like a billion? or make two humans the common ancestors of all humans? It is so patronizing to say we will let you have your god – but only if you restrict its powers to things we don’t completely understand or don’t have any way of demonstrating it to be false.

  72. #72 Richard Wein
    May 9, 2012

    Thanks for posting the link to Sober’s paper, Couchloc.

    In the paper Sober equates “random” (as used in evolutionary theory) with “undirected”, and he defines “directed” as follows: mutations are directed if “more beneficial mutations have higher probabilities than ones that are less beneficial because this asymmetry is beneficial”. I’m happy with that.

    In the paper I think Sober is fairly circumspect about the theistic claims he says are consistent with evolutionary theory. He asks some questions involving the word “guided”, but doesn’t answer them. But in the lecture he seems to go rather further. He says (if I remember correctly) that mutations can be random (in the sense required by evolutionary theory) but still guided by God. I originally interpreted his “guided” to mean what the paper calls “directed”. But now it looks like Sober’s “guided” means something weaker than “directed”. However, I don’t think he tells us what it does mean, which makes the term rather useless. Why should we care whether evolution is “guided” if we don’t know what the word means?

    In the lecture, I think the conclusion of Sober’s probability argument was that evolutionary theory can be consistent with propositions of this sort:
    Pr(mutation x | natural causes) <> Pr(mutation x | natural causes & God’s intervention)

    I expect this conclusion is supposed to justify his use of the word “guided”. But I think Sober needs to do more work to explain the meaning and significance of that conclusion. Until then I think it’s premature to use the suggestive word “guided”.

  73. #73 couchloc
    May 9, 2012

    Jason, I’ve read the paper attached above (#63) from Sober and have some thoughts about the discussion. My comments here are based on the paper.

    1. You write that “both in that interview and here [Sober] presents his argument as a corrective to some pervasive logical error he thinks has been committed by someone or other.” You suggest that nobody really makes this error, and conclude that his talk has no point. But Sober cites Dennett and Provine as committed to the claim that “evolution entails that there is no God” (3). Maybe you (or Coyne) or whomever have not made this mistake, but Sober clearly thinks others have. (Incidentally, this provides a reply to Dan L. (@51) since Dennett is a new atheist.)

    2. The second point concerns the issue his talk actually focuses on. Many people have complained that Sober is merely pointing out the “trivial” fact that “evolution is consistent with God.” Sober, though, explicitly concedes this and says himself this point is “familiar.” The particular thesis he’s concerned with concerns the apparent conflict between the evolutionary claim that “mutations are unguided” and the theistic evolutionist’s claim that “God guides the evolutionary process” (5). (This means that Richard Wein was right.)

    Now, you make clear that this is not really new (to you) and that people are aware of this too. This is a fair point. But observe that (1) Wein himself states that “many people find these inconsistent.” (2) Sober cites two people he suggests would disagree. And (3), as I mentioned, the talk is part of a lecture series concerning “the humanities and social sciences,” and it’s fair to think that not all the students and people there understand such things. Given the overly bloated claims floating around about the relation between science and religion it hardly seems unhelpful to spend time clarifying these sorts of points. I have not thought about the specific issue of “guided mutations” myself, and I think the discussion is pretty useful.

    3. Finally, you write that “Obviously to go from the facts of science to nontrivial conclusions about God you are going to have to” make some assumptions about God. “If that transforms the argument from scientific to philosophical then so be it.” You again criticize Sober for stating “the obvious” (silly philosophers! we all know this!). Yet it is clear that not everyone agrees. Coyne himself writes in his reply to Sober that we can provisionally rule out the existence of God, and, in doing that, “That’s called science, not philosophy.” So it would seem a bit unfair to insist that Sober is making trivial claims that nobody disagrees with.

  74. #74 David Marjanović
    May 9, 2012

    (2) Mutations are random or “unguided”, as asserted by evolutionary theory.

    *eyeroll* That’s not asserted by any theory, it’s an empirical fact — unless, of course, if you want to postulate undetectable miracles.

    If you’re fine with that (Sober apparently is), everything becomes possible; see comment 65.

    And when everything is possible, William of Ockham comes and cuts everything back to where you started: theistic evolution is unscientific; there is, so far, no reason to believe it has ever happened.

  75. #75 Xuuths
    May 9, 2012

    Any philospher:

    Please provide a single example of something undetectable that exists.

    Not that exists in theory, or as part of a math formula. But something that physically exists but is undetectable.

  76. #76 NickMatzke
    May 9, 2012

    If you’re so good at this, please answer my question about why you think natural laws continue to work.

    I’ll give you a little hint, Matzke. Can you imagine what the world would be like if they didn’t?

    Go ahead and describe to me a coherent universe in which there are no natural laws.

    Posted by: Dan L. | May 8, 2012 2:59 PM

    Well, one can imagine a universe where the world works like it does when you are dreaming or some such, so it’s actually not that hard — but that wasn’t my question. My question was, why, in this universe, do the natural laws working now continue to work 5 minutes from now? One could imagine a universe where the laws are redrawn from random distributions every 5 minutes.

    I don’t have an answer to this question, the answer is probably unknowable — but if that’s the case, I find it hard to think it is reasonable for people to spend their time stomping on the toes of people who fully accept mainstream science but happen to be theists.

  77. #77 tomh
    May 9, 2012

    couchloc wrote:
    I have not thought about the specific issue of “guided mutations” myself, and I think the discussion is pretty useful.

    How so? To speculate that an unknown force affects matter in an undetectable way by unknown means, and then conclude that such a thing is not impossible, I’m curious as to what use you can make of such speculation. How is this useful?

  78. #78 eric
    May 9, 2012

    VS @58:

    Well, the counter is that you use the methodology that works for the entity you’re trying to talk about or prove/disprove, and that it might not be a good idea to use a methodology that explicitly either claims that the supernatural does not exist or that it should be ignored when looking at the supernatural.

    My point is about exceptional treatment. A Christian believer hears “science does not rule hidden bigfoot out” and thinks that’s not a good reason to claim consistency between hidden bigfoot and science. But substitute hidden god, and suddenly the statement is taken as an important or meaningful argument for accommodationism. That’s inconsistent. Its irrational.

    Sober’s argument provides the same weight for accommodationism between hidden bigfoots and science as it does for accommodationism between hidden gods and science. Do you agree? If not, why not?

    And as an aside, nobody would say ‘well, we must use revelation to explore bigfoot existence, because science doesn’t work for them.’ That would be seen as a transparent attempt at special pleading on the part of bigfoot-believers. So again, I ask why an argument that would be seen as special pleading for some other entity is accepted by religious in the case of their own god. Aren’t they just treating their own pet bigfoot differently than anyone else’s bigfoot?

    In general, I’d argue that I use different methodologies in different situations, based on various reasons, so it isn’t all that irrational to say that when you are doing science you stick to the scientific methodology but that in other cases you use the others, like philosophy, theology, and so on and so forth.

    If someone wants to say that God has no interaction with the physical world at all, I would accept this. If they want to say that their God hides within the noisy, stochastic processes of photochemistry and nowhere else, then okay, I might even accept that.

    But if a believer is going to assert that the God they are talking about acts in the world, then I don’t see any legitimate scientiifc or philosophical reason why we would use a different methodology.

    I’m also concerned about accommodationists cynically manipulating a homynym. Making a public claim like “God is consistent with science” without specifying if they are talking about a hidden god vs. an active god, knowing that your average listener will likely take that phrase to mean ‘the god I believe in, who is active’ but knowing that they can say ‘I meant a hidden god’ if some nonbeliever demands an explanation.

    I think a lot of the accommodationist-gnu friction could be greatly reduced if the folks making public claims to consistency would include their boundary conditions/caveats in their public claims. If you are talking to Genesis flood believers and you don’t tell them that your ‘science is consistent with religion’ assertion doesn’t apply to Genesis flood belief, I think that’s being intentionally deceptive.

    Generally, though, this is a slightly different situation because you are ignoring the initial starting point in the debate. Here, the Gnu Atheists are saying “Science rules out your entity based on this evidence” and so, in that context, what is happening is that people are looking at that evidence — especially philosophers, since doing this is an occupational hazard — and saying “No, it doesn’t”.

    People like Jason, Coyne etc.. are not disagreeing with you about the logical compatibility of hidden gods and science. Jason even points this out. He accuses Sober of belaboring the obvious, not getting it wrong.

    When folk like Jason and Coyne argue that science refutes God, they are talking about active gods. When Peter Popoff claims God healed some mark’s cancer, science can certainly prove that (a) his cancer is still in the body, (b) that black mass in Popoff’s hands is chicken guts, and so (c) Popoff’s claim about God is wrong. A claim about a worldwide flood or a god guiding mutation significantly above the noise from random mutation is exactly like Popoff’s claim, and science can certainly say that the evidence we gather from the physical world is not at all consistent with such god-concepts.

  79. #79 NickMatzke
    May 9, 2012

    I don’t think its as bad as creationism. I do think religious defenses like Sober’s are a form of naive exceptionalism, in that folks like Sober do not consistently apply their arguments. His argument is just as applicable to Thor, bigfoot, and gremlins causing dropped calls – but I very much doubt you’ll see Sober defending the belief in gremlins as consistent with science.

    I think there’s a clear double standard in how the “X not inconsistent with science” argument is deemed to be acceptable for God, but ridiculous for other entities. I’m surprised you don’t see it, Nick.

    1. Sober’s not religious and isn’t making a “religious defense.”

    2. Thor, bigfoot, etc., aren’t postulated to be omniscient, omnipotent beings responsible for the origin and moment-to-moment operation of the Universe. They are basically unusual people/critters. I think this is why the fairies/bigfoot/etc. argument is popular with gnus and college dorm rooms but has essentially no traction in serious academic literature. It’s an unfair cheap shot against the theists, just not a well-thought out and reasonable comparison.

    Anyway — I’m still looking for an explanation of the Coyne quote I put up in the first comment.

    Coyne is talking about one sect’s view of God, you are talking about another view of God, and those views are different. So when he says the findings of science are incompatible with GodYEC, he’s right. And when you say that the findings of science do not rule out Godamost deist in his lack of action, you’re right. Same name “God,” wildly different concepts.

    Posted by: eric

    I would praise Thor if that were so. But Coyne is clearly and explicitly targeting ALL religion, the pro-evolution theists just as much as the fundamentalists. The problem is that he scapegoats the rest of religion with the sins of the fundamentalists. This isn’t much better than when right-wingers do the same with Islam.

  80. #80 NickMatzke
    May 9, 2012

    (2) Mutations are random or “unguided”, as asserted by evolutionary theory.

    *eyeroll* That’s not asserted by any theory, it’s an empirical fact — unless, of course, if you want to postulate undetectable miracles.

    If you’re fine with that (Sober apparently is), everything becomes possible; see comment 65.

    And when everything is possible, William of Ockham comes and cuts everything back to where you started: theistic evolution is unscientific; there is, so far, no reason to believe it has ever happened.

    Posted by: David Marjanović

    1. William of Ockham was a theist. Christian, even.

    2. Where is it written that parsimony is an infallible guide to answering cosmic mind-boggling metaphysical ultimate questions? Last I heard, Ockham’s Razor was just a useful heuristic which doesn’t always give the right answer even in normal everyday empirical science. Parsimony is known to make mistakes in specific, well-known situations in phylogenetics, for example. (Google “Felsenstein Zone”). In Akaike Information Criterion analyses in statistics, there is a penalty for adding parameters, but it’s not a very big penalty on a per-parameter basis.

  81. #81 Michael Fugate
    May 9, 2012

    “I don’t have an answer to this question, the answer is probably unknowable — but if that’s the case, I find it hard to think it is reasonable for people to spend their time stomping on the toes of people who fully accept mainstream science but happen to be theists.”

    Since when did “mainstream science” include god-directed mutations?

  82. #82 David Marjanović
    May 9, 2012

    *headdesk* Sorry, I wanted to end that link after “Ockham”.

  83. #83 David Marjanović
    May 9, 2012

    My question was, why, in this universe, do the natural laws working now continue to work 5 minutes from now? One could imagine a universe where the laws are redrawn from random distributions every 5 minutes.

    That’s a case where I can’t tell whether “why” or “why not” is the better question.

    1. William of Ockham was a theist. Christian, even.

    I know. He had to work from much less knowledge than has been accumulated since then, and his excuse for carving out an exception for God reads very unconvincing.

    Of course, he didn’t invent his Razor from scratch either. He’s just the most famous person to have put it into words.

    2. Where is it written that parsimony is an infallible guide to answering cosmic mind-boggling metaphysical ultimate questions?

    Wrong question. Right question: Where else do you want to start? From the most munificent hypothesis?

    Parsimony is known to make mistakes in specific, well-known situations in phylogenetics, for example.

    Yep, parsimony can only be used to decide between unfalsified hypotheses. In phylogenetics, “parsimony” means that no model of evolution is used, and sometimes that leads to mistakes. (Sometimes the opposite happens — using no model at all can be much better than using an even slightly wrong model –, but I digress.) And even so, the most parsimonious model that the dataset allows is generally used in model-based phylogenetics:

    there is a penalty for adding parameters

    That’s parsimony. The AIC is often used for choosing the best ( = most parsimonious) model in model-based phylogenetics.

  84. #84 Xuuths
    May 9, 2012

    NickMatzke, do you really want us to supply a list of the beings “postulated to be omniscient, omnipotent beings responsible for the origin and moment-to-moment operation of the Universe.”? Would they have any more credibility of, or logical necessity of existence than bigfoot?

    Really?

    Do you think postulating attributes to something undetectable and not proven to exist is a rational pursuit?

    Really?

  85. #85 eric
    May 9, 2012

    Nick @79:

    [eric]I think there’s a clear double standard in how the “X not inconsistent with science” argument is deemed to be acceptable for God, but ridiculous for other entities.
    [Nick in response] Thor, bigfoot, etc., aren’t postulated to be omniscient, omnipotent beings responsible for the origin and moment-to-moment operation of the Universe. They are basically unusual people/critters.

    Are you seriously suggesting that “X is not logically inconsistent with science” is a more weighty argument when X is omnipotent and omniscent, and less weighty when X is not?

    IMO that turns rationality on its head! If one is going to assign different weights to that argument based on the type of X, surely it should be the complete reverse of what you say. If we give differing weights to such statements at all, then surely “another species of coelecanth is not logically inconsistent with science” should be given more weight than “the great green arkleseizure is not logically inconsistent with science.”

    I think this is why the fairies/bigfoot/etc. argument is popular with gnus and college dorm rooms but has essentially no traction in serious academic literature. It’s an unfair cheap shot against the theists, just not a well-thought out and reasonable comparison.

    Asking people why their hidden entity gets exceptional treatment compared to others is exactly the sort of comparison we ought to be making.

    Why should we give “God is not logically inconsistent with science” any more weight than we give “hidden bigfoot is not logically inconsistent with science?”

    Nick, maybe you can answer the question I asked VS: Sober’s argument provides the same weight for accommodationism between hidden bigfoots and science as it does for accommodationism between hidden gods and science. Do you agree? If not, why not?

  86. #86 couchloc
    May 9, 2012

    tomh @77

    Sober discusses the sense in which God is logically consistent with evolutionary theory in general, but also develops this with respect to the particular issue of mutations. If you haven’t thought through this possible route by the theist and the issues it raises, the paper is useful. He also explains differences concerning deism, interventionism, hidden variables, and parsimony approaches in this context. In each case, he explains what science tells us and what it doesn’t. It’s useful for clarifying a number of issues.

  87. #87 Xuuths
    May 9, 2012

    couchloc, “Sober discusses the sense in which God is logically consistent with evolutionary theory in general” only after pre-supposing that god exists, pre-supposing that god is conscious/aware, and pre-supposing that god is capable of acting.

  88. #88 Michael Fugate
    May 9, 2012

    And just how did Sober obtain his information about the characteristics of this god? Is it first-hand knowledge or is he taking someone else’s word for it?

  89. #89 Spartan
    May 9, 2012

    Nick,

    the very fact that natural laws exist and continue to work is quite magical and stunning if you think about it. What’s the atheist answer about why natural laws exist? All you can say is “it’s a mystery, they just do.

    God didn’t have to set up natural laws, so why did he? They’re not integral to salvation. All theists can say about it (and almost everything), “it’s a mystery, he just did”.

    The bigger problem I have with the above argument is this ‘magical and stunning’ part; it’s almost like you were expecting something different? On what basis? I have no experience in universe and natural law creation, do you? Is there something unusual about natural laws, are they improbable in some way? What is the basis for you expecting them to stop working? Our conversing electronically over the internet is magical and stunning if you think about it, but almost everything is.

  90. #90 NickMatzke
    May 9, 2012

    Since when did “mainstream science” include god-directed mutations?

    Methodological naturalism excludes us from using Gods and miracles in explanations. So mainstream science doesn’t include god-directed mutations.

    The real question is — does mainstream science justify us scientists beating on Christians and others who believe, as a theological position outside of science but consistent with it, that God directs everything, including all natural laws and events, including the weather, slot machine results, and both the good and bad mutations?

  91. #91 NickMatzke
    May 9, 2012

    Finally, you write that “Obviously to go from the facts of science to nontrivial conclusions about God you are going to have to” make some assumptions about God. “If that transforms the argument from scientific to philosophical then so be it.” You again criticize Sober for stating “the obvious” (silly philosophers! we all know this!). Yet it is clear that not everyone agrees. Coyne himself writes in his reply to Sober that we can provisionally rule out the existence of God, and, in doing that, “That’s called science, not philosophy.” So it would seem a bit unfair to insist that Sober is making trivial claims that nobody disagrees with.

    Hear, hear!

  92. #92 NickMatzke
    May 9, 2012

    88

    And just how did Sober obtain his information about the characteristics of this god? Is it first-hand knowledge or is he taking someone else’s word for it?

    Posted by: Michael Fugate | May 9, 2012 5:14 PM

    The gnus certainly don’t seem to have any hesitation about making such assumptions, why should Sober?

  93. #93 NickMatzke
    May 9, 2012

    God didn’t have to set up natural laws, so why did he? They’re not integral to salvation. All theists can say about it (and almost everything), “it’s a mystery, he just did”.

    My point is that atheists aren’t really any better off on lots of these questions. All they can say is “that’s just the way it is”.

    Yet they throw stones from their metaphysical glass house. I don’t buy it when the theists get pushy about their beliefs on probably-unanswerable cosmic metaphysical questions, why should I buy it when the atheists do it?

  94. #94 eric
    May 9, 2012

    Nick wrote (and eric changed):

    The real question is — does mainstream science justify us scientists beating on Christians abductees and others who believe, as a theological ideological position outside of science but consistent with it, that God directs aliens direct everything, including all natural laws and events, including the weather, slot machine results, and both the good and bad mutations?

    See the problem? If we change the entity, the answer is a resounding YES, what we know from science DOES justify scientists telling these people that, as far as we can tell, they are wrongity wrong wrong.

    But the two entities (gods and aliens) currently have the same epistemological status. So if someone is treating gods (or worse yet – one particular god but not any others!) with more respect than aliens, it must be purely due to personal bias.

    At least that’s how I see it. If you do have a philosophical or scientific rationale for why we should treat this particular god-entity differently than we treat other hidden entities, lay it on me.

  95. #95 Michael Fugate
    May 9, 2012

    Nick, you so miss every comment directed at you whether willfully or not. Someday I might expect a thoughtful answer backed by evidence, but not soon.
    I would have expected more of your allies given all of your crowing about how bad the gnus are, morally, philosophically and scientifically. You’re backing Sober by saying he is just making it all up? I glad you’re not my friend.
    Have you really thought through what it would mean if a god controlled everything? There would just be what this god wanted, there could be no good and bad, especially if you believe everything this god does is good. This means that if a tornado plows through your town and kills you, that this god wanted you dead, it wanted to leave you family fatherless and homeless and perhaps injured. It is an ugly vision of the world.

  96. #96 Spartan
    May 9, 2012

    My point is that atheists aren’t really any better off on lots of these questions. All they can say is “that’s just the way it is”.

    Just because they are cosmic and unanswerable questions doesn’t mean that all answers are equal. I have trouble with your natural law example because I’m not sure ‘why do natural laws exist’ is any more meaningful of a question ‘why does the value of pi happen to be an irrational number’; again, on what basis were you expecting reality to be any different? But just going with it, I disagree, I think “that’s just the way it is” is a better answer than “God created and guided the natural laws and that’s just the way it is”; I’m not adding a huge evidence-free assertion to my answer. Eric provides an excellent example @94, maybe your answer to his question will help clear up where you’re coming from.

  97. #97 Christian
    May 10, 2012

    The real question is — does mainstream science justify us scientists beating on Christians and others who believe, as a theological position outside of science but consistent with it, that God directs everything, including all natural laws and events, including the weather, slot machine results, and both the good and bad mutations?

    OK, but how do they know that if this god and its actions are indistinguishable from background noise (and are they even Christians if they think that)?
    What method do they use to come to that conclusion?

    If this god is indeed concealing his actions within statistical fluctuations then I don’t see how this method is any different from just making stuff up.
    I also fail to see how this position just by calling it a theological one, makes it consistent with science. If this were a criterion for consistency with science, then just about every hackneyed idea would be consistent with science just because it cannot be disproved scientifically.

  98. #98 Christian
    May 10, 2012

    But the two entities (gods and aliens) currently have the same epistemological status. So if someone is treating gods (or worse yet – one particular god but not any others!) with more respect than aliens, it must be purely due to personal bias.

    And these entities don’t even have to be omniscient or omnipotent as is so often claimed since there’s simply no way for us to tell the difference between these omni qualities and just being clever and powerful enough to outsmart us by always being one step ahead of our attempts to detect them.

  99. #99 Richard Wein
    May 10, 2012

    Couchloc, I appreciate your point #2.

    To clarify the point I was making in my last comment, Sober’s argument only establishes that evolutionary theory is consistent with God intervening to influence mutations (the probabilities of mutations could be dependent on actions by God). But influencing is not the same as guiding. Guiding implies direction towards some goal. If, for example, God’s interventions were haphazard and aimless, that could not reasonably be called “guiding”. Sober makes an unargued jump from intervening to guiding.

    Sober claims to be disambiguating the word “guided”, saying that evolutionary theory uses “unguided” in a different sense than theologians use the word “guided”. So mutations can be both unguided (evolutionary sense) and yet guided (theological sense). But he fails actually to carry out the job of disambiguation, because he doesn’t address the question of just how the theological sense differs from the evolutionary sense. He seems simply to conflate intervention with guidance.

    So I’m afraid I can’t agree with you that Sober is helpful on this particular question. Though he makes a valid point about intervention, this point actually serves to distract attention from the real issue, which is guidance. (Theistic evolutionists of an interventionist persuasion are not likely to be satisfied with God intervening in a haphazard way.) Maybe a case can be made that some sort of guidance is consistent with evolutionary theory. But Sober doesn’t make such a case here.

    Incidentally, near the end of the Q&A Michael Ruse suggests that Darwin would have been uncomfortable with the idea of God lining up the mutations to get a desired result (or that’s how I interpret him). I think that broadly relates to the point I’m making. Darwin would probably have been uncomfortable because there’s at least a tension between evolutionary theory and that sort of guidance.

  100. #100 Vanitas
    May 10, 2012

    Jason, I’m not sure if you’re still reading this exploding list of comments, but I’d just like to salute you for doing, in this post, some excellent Philosophy of Science!

    No, really, this is important, because it is crucial to distinguish attacks on particular philosophers of science (your post) from all-out dismissals of the subject (which are normally incoherent). Your post, and the comments section, demonstrate that PhilSci is alive and well, even if you think Sober isn’t doing it properly.

  101. #101 Richard Wein
    May 10, 2012

    P.S. I made a mistake in attributing a special “theological” sense of “guided” to Sober. I think what he meant to say was that the evolutionary sense of “guided” is a special one, and that mutations can therefore be unguided (evolutionary sense) and yet guided (everyday sense). And it’s the everyday sense that theistic evolutionists have in mind when they claim that mutations are guided by God. My point remains, though, that the everyday sense of “guided” implies direction towards a goal, and it’s the direction towards a goal which may conflict with evolutionary theory, not the mere fact of God’s involvement.

  102. #102 Verbose Stoic
    May 10, 2012

    eric,

    My point is about exceptional treatment. A Christian believer hears “science does not rule hidden bigfoot out” and thinks that’s not a good reason to claim consistency between hidden bigfoot and science. But substitute hidden god, and suddenly the statement is taken as an important or meaningful argument for accommodationism. That’s inconsistent. Its irrational.

    But it seems to me that you’re mixing arguments here. In the Bigfoot case, there is no actual argument that, say, Bigfoot and science are incompatible as methods or anything like that. So, in general, the reaction is strictly to a claim about the existence of Bigfoot. And it is indeed quite correct to argue that just because science and Bigfoot are not inconsistent — ie science can’t rule it out — that that doesn’t mean that Bigfoot exists, or that we should believe it exists. However, if someone was to claim that Bigfoot is inconsistent with science based on the evidence we have now, then I do think that you’d get very similar reactions. It’s just that few people are saying it because the people who believe Bigfoot exists are a minority, so scientists, in general, DON’T make the argument that is being reacted to here.

    Note that Bigfoot is, in fact, perfectly compatible with science, or at least evolution. A creature like that could very much have evolved according to how evolution works. So all that science can say is that we have yet to see sufficient evidence to demonstrate THAT such a creature exists. That’s a far weaker claim than most incompatibilists make about the incompatibility of religion and science.

    Sober’s argument provides the same weight for accommodationism between hidden bigfoots and science as it does for accommodationism between hidden gods and science. Do you agree? If not, why not?

    The interesting thing here is that while Dan L. has been insisting that the argument is entirely over competing methodologies and not competing claims, to even make this comparison you must be arguing about claims, not about methodologies. Because from the methodological view, there’s really nothing to talk about wrt Bigfoot, and from the claim view the arguments are indeed compatible but it seems to me that the claims “incompatibilists” are making is far stronger than is usually made, where it seems that they really do argue that claim that, at least, God is in some way reasonably incompatible or inconsistent with science, which is exactly what the accomodationists are denying.

    And as an aside, nobody would say ‘well, we must use revelation to explore bigfoot existence, because science doesn’t work for them.’ That would be seen as a transparent attempt at special pleading on the part of bigfoot-believers.

    No, it would be seen as misrepresenting the concept of “Bigfoot”, which is not supposed to be supernatural or outside the scope of science at all. That is not the case for God. You are arguing that it would be seen as “special pleading”, but I don’t think anyone would think it such at all. It would just be inconsistent with what we think Bigfoot is.

    If someone wants to say that God has no interaction with the physical world at all, I would accept this.

    Which, of course, is not what people are saying, and you know it. But, again, you don’t study a supernatural entity with a methodology that insists that anything supernatural must not exist or at least must be ignored.

    I’m also concerned about accommodationists cynically manipulating a homynym. Making a public claim like “God is consistent with science” without specifying if they are talking about a hidden god vs. an active god, knowing that your average listener will likely take that phrase to mean ‘the god I believe in, who is active’ but knowing that they can say ‘I meant a hidden god’ if some nonbeliever demands an explanation.

    Of course, by this then so are incompatibilists, and yet you aren’t all that concerned about them. And it isn’t clear that anyone is thinking in terms of your “hidden” versus “active” distinction. For the mutation case, the argument is that the evidence we have simply can’t distinguish between the two cases, not that somehow God is “hiding”.

    I think a lot of the accommodationist-gnu friction could be greatly reduced if the folks making public claims to consistency would include their boundary conditions/caveats in their public claims. If you are talking to Genesis flood believers and you don’t tell them that your ‘science is consistent with religion’ assertion doesn’t apply to Genesis flood belief, I think that’s being intentionally deceptive.

    But, of course, the issue is that most of the accommodationists are simply REPLYING to Gnu Atheists who are saying that evolution disproves God, or at least that God is inconsistent with that. In that light, them even mentioning the Flood there is off-topic, and rather dirty pool on the part of the Gnu Atheists if they want to end up denying it. Remember that one of the first accommodationist positions was NOMA, saying nothing more than that they can’t be inconsistent because they don’t talk about the saem things. Getting into specific details is, in fact, quite out of line for that sort of argument other than to, say, point out specifics that do cause issues.

    People like Jason, Coyne etc.. are not disagreeing with you about the logical compatibility of hidden gods and science. Jason even points this out. He accuses Sober of belaboring the obvious, not getting it wrong.

    Well, they SAY they aren’t disagreeing on that, but I think a case could be made that that’s only because they now realize they can’t. But they still need to make a case that it is indeed the case that evolution is reasonably proven to be unguided and so causes an issue, which they can’t do either. If all they can do is work it down to parsimony, then their case for any meaningful incompatibility is a weak one indeed.

    When folk like Jason and Coyne argue that science refutes God, they are talking about active gods.

    But a God that directly intervenes in evolution by causing mutations would sure BE an active God. We wouldn’t be talking about a deist God here, but an actual, theological God that can impact the world. If we can show that the scientific evidence doesn’t allow us to say that that didn’t happen, then any refutation on that basis simply can’t work.

    A claim about a worldwide flood or a god guiding mutation significantly above the noise from random mutation is exactly like Popoff’s claim, and science can certainly say that the evidence we gather from the physical world is not at all consistent with such god-concepts.

    And this is why you need to answer these philosophically, because 1) you need to settle that the guidance has to be above that level to count and 2) that from the evidence we have we could, in fact, tell the difference between random noise and guiding. Ultimately, claims like Sober’s, it seems to me, argue that based on the evidence we have direct guidance and random noise would be, in fact, indistinguishable. And if that’s the case, the evidence supports neither theory better than the other, and so saying that science contradicts the theological theory is at best insufficiently evidenced. Or, you don’t have enough evidence to make that claim, in other words. Saying it that way, whether we talk about “logical consistency” or not, means that no matter what you have a problem unless you pull a move like Larry Moran does and try to argue that, yes, you can tell the difference. Which would make his comments the MOST helpful if we could really understand that his evidence really means what he thinks it means [grin].

  103. #103 Colin Day
    May 10, 2012

    @NickMatzke
    #76

    What if I can’t imagine such a universe?

  104. #104 eric
    May 10, 2012

    VS @102:

    [eric] Sober’s argument provides the same weight for accommodationism between hidden bigfoots and science as it does for accommodationism between hidden gods and science. Do you agree? If not, why not?

    [VS responds] The interesting thing here is that while Dan L. has been insisting that the argument is entirely over competing methodologies and not competing claims, to even make this comparison you must be arguing about claims, not about methodologies. Because from the methodological view, there’s really nothing to talk about wrt Bigfoot, and from the claim view the arguments are indeed compatible but it seems to me that the claims “incompatibilists” are making is far stronger than is usually made, where it seems that they really do argue that claim that, at least, God is in some way reasonably incompatible or inconsistent with science, which is exactly what the accomodationists are denying.

    I’m sorry if I missed it, but I didn’t actually see an answer in there. I asked about Sober’s argument, and whether we should give his argument the same weight when it is used to argue for accommodating bigfoot-beliefs and god-beliefs. Should we, or not? If not, why not?

    [eric] If someone wants to say that God has no interaction with the physical world at all, I would accept this.

    [VS] Which, of course, is not what people are saying, and you know it. But, again, you don’t study a supernatural entity with a methodology that insists that anything supernatural must not exist or at least must be ignored.

    Science insists on no such thing.

    Look, if you claim your force or entity affects the physical world, then its accessible via physical instrumentation, and science can study it. THAT is the crux of the matter: do you claim your entity makes a measurable impact on the physical world.

    If you claim it does, then insisting science can’t or shouldn’t study it is special pleading. If you claim it doesn’t, then I agree, science can’t study it…but you have to be satisfied with Sober’s very Deism-like deity, who hides its manipulations in statistical noise.

    The only way your thing can avoid scientific scrutiny is if you stop claiming it produces a measurable impact on the physical world.

    Ultimately, claims like Sober’s, it seems to me, argue that based on the evidence we have direct guidance and random noise would be, in fact, indistinguishable. And if that’s the case, the evidence supports neither theory better than the other,

    When an entity’s contribution is indistinguishable from ‘no contribution,’ we ALL – believers and non-believers alike – say it is not scientifically sensible to believe in the entity. We ALL agree that accommodating such beliefs is farcical, and that the proper response is: science does not support any such thing.

    The difference is, non-believers say that about all entities: bigfoot, fairies, leprechauns, Thor, and Yahweh. Believers say it about all entities, save the one they believe in. On what rational or scientific basis do you treat that one differently?

    Let us modify F=ma by saying F=ma+kX, where X is [entity's] contribution. Now you are saying, when k is so close to zero that we can’t measure it, F=ma and F=ma+kX are indistinguishable, and both equations fit our observations.

    I am saying, no scientist thinks that the F=ma+kX equation is warrented in that case. Practically speaking, we do not “accommodate” believers in the +kX version until they can measure a non-zero k. And I am saying believers AGREE it is unwarranted…for every X except their own. When X = leprechauns, you agree with us; science in no significant way “accommodates” leprechauns. When X = Yahweh, suddenly you no longer agree. You want to say science does accommodate this one, special, +kX. Why? Why the difference, why the exception?

  105. #105 Verbose Stoic
    May 10, 2012

    eric,

    I’m sorry if I missed it, but I didn’t actually see an answer in there. I asked about Sober’s argument, and whether we should give his argument the same weight when it is used to argue for accommodating bigfoot-beliefs and god-beliefs. Should we, or not? If not, why not?

    And my reply was, in fact, that your claim of when or what we say about Bigfoot “accommodation” and, specifically, the cases where that argument is simply dismissed for Bigfoot are not the same sorts of cases as the one Sober is talking about, specifically because in the case you are describing it only works that way when the argument is being used as a positive argument FOR the existence of Bigfoot as opposed to a rebuttal of a claim that Bigfoot simply cannot exist because science at least has made it unreasonable. How did you miss that in my reply? Oh, right, that was BEFORE that and somehow you missed it. Let me replace it for you:

    But it seems to me that you’re mixing arguments here. In the Bigfoot case, there is no actual argument that, say, Bigfoot and science are incompatible as methods or anything like that. So, in general, the reaction is strictly to a claim about the existence of Bigfoot. And it is indeed quite correct to argue that just because science and Bigfoot are not inconsistent — ie science can’t rule it out — that that doesn’t mean that Bigfoot exists, or that we should believe it exists. However, if someone was to claim that Bigfoot is inconsistent with science based on the evidence we have now, then I do think that you’d get very similar reactions. It’s just that few people are saying it because the people who believe Bigfoot exists are a minority, so scientists, in general, DON’T make the argument that is being reacted to here.

    Note that Bigfoot is, in fact, perfectly compatible with science, or at least evolution. A creature like that could very much have evolved according to how evolution works. So all that science can say is that we have yet to see sufficient evidence to demonstrate THAT such a creature exists. That’s a far weaker claim than most incompatibilists make about the incompatibility of religion and science.

    I’d appreciate it if you could address my answer.

    [VS] Which, of course, is not what people are saying, and you know it. But, again, you don’t study a supernatural entity with a methodology that insists that anything supernatural must not exist or at least must be ignored.

    Science insists on no such thing.

    Then it can’t be naturalistic. Methodological naturalism implies that you ignore potential supernatural answers and give preference to naturalistic ones, and ontological naturalism simply says they don’t exist. So, is science still naturalistic, and in what sense can science consider purported supernatural answers if it is?

    Look, if you claim your force or entity affects the physical world, then its accessible via physical instrumentation, and science can study it.

    Well, that’s your philosophical theory, and some disagree with that. Hence, even arguing that gets you back to Sober’s claim that the issues are philosophical, not scientific per se. To even get to it being scientific means settling the philosophy first.

    When an entity’s contribution is indistinguishable from ‘no contribution,’ we ALL – believers and non-believers alike – say it is not scientifically sensible to believe in the entity. We ALL agree that accommodating such beliefs is farcical, and that the proper response is: science does not support any such thing.

    Except that the argument is not that it is indeed really indistinguishable in a strong sense, but that based on the evidence we have we can’t tell. So, as an example, if I simply show you a piece of cardboard with some paint strewn on it, how could you tell whether that was the result of my simply, say, using it to clean my brushes or if it was an intentionally done piece of modern art given no under information? You can’t. But that doesn’t in and of itself give you the ability to say that it clearly must have been the former, or that that in and of itself is the only credible belief. We need to examine all sorts of other things to try to settle that. The same thing applies here: the evidence is simply insufficient — the claim goes — to separate the cases. There are ways to get the evidence to separate these cases, but they are at least currently lost to us.

    Now, if I tried to use that insufficiency of evidence to argue that therefore God exists, that would be a problem and you could justly smack me down for it. But since Sober’s reply seems to be in RESPONSE to claims that science has no room in it for God based on the evidence, that doesn’t seem applicable here.

  106. #106 eric
    May 10, 2012

    VS:

    So, in general, the reaction is strictly to a claim about the existence of Bigfoot. And it is indeed quite correct to argue that just because science and Bigfoot are not inconsistent — ie science can’t rule it out — that that doesn’t mean that Bigfoot exists, or that we should believe it exists. However, if someone was to claim that Bigfoot is inconsistent with science based on the evidence we have now, then I do think that you’d get very similar reactions.

    To what people say about God? Really? You think that the scientific community responds the same way to God-belief as it does to bigfoot-belief?

    I frankly think it ought to. That is why I say believers need to justify why they think god should be treated differently from other such entities.

    [VS]But, again, you don’t study a supernatural entity with a methodology that insists that anything supernatural must not exist or at least must be ignored.

    [eric] Science insists on no such thing.

    [VS] Then it can’t be naturalistic. Methodological naturalism implies that you ignore potential supernatural answers and give preference to naturalistic ones, and ontological naturalism simply says they don’t exist.

    Your follow-up is completely different from your initial assertion. Science does not insist bigfoot, gods, etc., “must not exist or at least must be ignored.” Yes, MN does say we should look for natural explanations for something that looks like a god or a miracle. What’s the other option? Not look for a natural explanation? Should we take a claimants word about a phenomenon being supernatural and just not exercise science when we see a shape walking through the forest?

    Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to apply scientific methods to all shapes walking through the woods, regardless of if a claimant says its magical or not, and then decide based on our investigation whether their claim of supernature or magic has merit?

    ‘You don’t study a supernatural entity using science’ puts the cart before the horse, in that it requires we simply accept some claimant’s explanation about the phenomenon’s origin or working without testing it. That’s not right: we should study the phenomena regardless of the claimant’s explanation, and use what we learn to assess if they are right or not.

    Sure, that pillar of fire could be God. Or it could be natural gas. Lets take readings and then assess, not decide what it is and then choose not to take readings.

    [eric] Look, if you claim your force or entity affects the physical world, then its accessible via physical instrumentation, and science can study it.
    [VS] Well, that’s your philosophical theory, and some disagree with that. Hence, even arguing that gets you back to Sober’s claim that the issues are philosophical, not scientific per se. To even get to it being scientific means settling the philosophy first.

    LOL really? I did not think any philosopher debated that science can study physical phenomena and draw conclusions from what they find. We can, and we do.

    I am not sure what philosophical argument you think needs to be settled before scientists can investigate claims of the supernatural, but in case you hadn’t noticed, we have decided to investigate such claims while you ‘settle the philosophy.’

    The same thing applies here: the evidence is simply insufficient — the claim goes — to separate the cases.

    You keep missing my point about exceptionalism. True, the evidence is insufficient to separate the cases of no-God from God. Its also insufficient to separate the cases of no-leprechaun from leprechaun, no-fairy from fairy, and no-Thor from Thor.

    So, why should science accommodate one of those beliefs differently from the way it accommodates the others?

    Its pretty clear that the entire scientific community – theists and atheists alike – has no problem whatsoever saying “evidence insufficient to separate” is not a good enough reason to accommodate leprechaun-belief. So, why should it be considered a good enough reason to acommodate any of the others?

  107. #107 couchloc
    May 10, 2012

    Richard Wein,

    I think you make a good point that it’s a little unclear in the paper how to understand the notions of “undirected,” “directed,” and “guided.” So I see what you are getting at. (Although in footnote 8, note, we are told where to look for more information.) I’m not sure I have a good understanding of Sober’s account myself, but let me offer this tentative suggestion.

    We need to be precise about how Sober defines “undirected.” On p5 he says that a mutation is undirected when it occurs but not *because it is beneficial.* If this is what it means to be undirected, then any mutation which occurs for a reason other than being beneficial is undirected.

    Now, on p9 Sober says that “maybe God arranged for mutations to be undirected.” This would mean that God is the cause of the mutations himself. But if God is the cause of the mutations himself (and not their beneficialness), they still are undirected.

    It is a separate matter whether God has goals in choosing to cause those mutations. Even if he does have goals in mind (i.e., he’s “guiding” which mutations occur) this does not mean the mutations are caused by their beneficialness (they’re caused by God). So, in this sense, the mutations can be undirected (evolutionary sense) and guided (theological sense) at the same time.

  108. #108 r
    May 11, 2012

    Couchloc,

    Even if he does have goals in mind (i.e., he’s “guiding” which mutations occur) this does not mean the mutations are caused by their beneficialness (they’re caused by God).

    If the beneficialness of the mutations played a role in God’s decision to cause them, then they were caused (in part) by their beneficialness. If their beneficialness played no part in God’s decisions, then that may satisfy evolutionary theory’s requirement for mutations to be undirected, as defined above. But that’s a different argument from Sober’s. (And I would still have other reservations.)

    The argument I’ve been trying to address is Sober’s argument from hidden variables. This argument seems very different in the paper and in the lecture. I’ve been responding to the argument in the lecture, since that was the one I heard first and Sober seemed to draw a stronger conclusion from that argument. But I’ve decided that neither version is made clearly enough for me to be confident I’ve understood it, although I’ve spent hours trying. So I’m going to call it a day now. Thanks for your input.

  109. #109 itchy
    May 11, 2012

    Eric and Verbose Stoic (and Dan L earlier), it took me a while to realize I think you’re talking past one another, arguing about slightly different things. That’s why you can’t connect on your assertions and replies.

    In addition to discussing this argument, you’re discussing what others argue about this argument, and that’s where the mixup lies, I think.

    A (maybe clumsy) paraphrase of each position:

    Eric agrees with Jason’s assertion that New Atheists and others do not argue against Sober’s assertion, so it’s trivial. It’s universally accepted, so there’s no point in making it. Science does not rule out undetectable supernatural interference, but that gives us no reason to believe in any specific supernatural claim. In this sense, they’re incompatible. The burden of proof (or convincing), in this case, is on the person making the claim of a supernatural entity, especially a specific entity.

    I think VS agrees with Sober that when (some) New Atheists say that science is incompatible with this “undetectable evolution” possibility, they’re making a stronger statement than that, something like: “We can make a positive statement that this cannot be true.” VS is saying that’s going too far. The burden of convincing in this case is on the scientist who is making a claim that there cannot be a supernatural entity and that we can tell empirically whether an effect is natural vs. supernatural. (Thus, VS’s paint example.)

    To Eric, incompatible in this argument means “doesn’t exist”; to VS, “can’t exist.” Different things.

    And I think it follows that …

    When VS sets up his example supernatural entity (the standard Judeo-Christian god), he’s not doing it because he favors this specific entity (though maybe he does, I don’t know), he’s doing it because it’s the specific point of discussion. It’s what he says incompatibilists are denying, so that’s what he uses. He’s saying, I didn’t bring up “God can’t exist,” you did, so in order to start talking about it, I need to use this god as my example, not bigfoot, not leprechauns.

    And, of course, Eric is saying — besides saying that incompatibilists aren’t saying “God can’t exist”, anyway — that we’re not saying specifically that god doesn’t exist. We say there’s no reason so far to believe that any supernatural entity exists, but people aren’t getting hung up on whether leprechauns or bigfoots exist, so the only argument that bounces back is for the possibility of God. We didn’t narrow the discussion to God, they did, so that’s what we’re left arguing.

    If I’m wrong on any, feel free to correct. I didn’t understand what VS was saying until I re-read his comments in this light.

  110. #110 Wow
    May 11, 2012

    “That’s why you can’t connect on your assertions and replies.”

    What you’ve missed is they have been TRYING to get VS to explain what his/her assertions ARE, and VS has never replied to what was asked, but what they’d thought they’d like to answer.

    And the current basis is even deeper than your “We say there’s no reason so far to believe that any supernatural entity exists”, it’s “Why is saying that you can’t prove fairies don’t exist not given the same level of acceptance and accommodation as you can’t prove god doesn’t exist”.

    VS says CATEGORICALLY that LoTR is just a story, that fairies and leprechauns are just folk tales, but that HIS god conception is not at all like them.

    Except he can’t posit why this is so other than repetition that it is.

  111. #111 itchy
    May 11, 2012

    I think VS did broadly outline his assertion, but it took me a while to understand (assuming I do understand).

    VS says CATEGORICALLY that LoTR is just a story, that fairies and leprechauns are just folk tales, but that HIS god conception is not at all like them.

    I don’t think he’s saying that, but I could be wrong. He might think that, but he stops short of saying it. In fact, I think he’s flipping it around and saying that “incompatibilists” are treating his god conception differently than they treat claims of other supernatural phenomena.

    VS says:

    the cases where that argument is simply dismissed for Bigfoot are not the same sorts of cases as the one Sober is talking about, specifically because in the case you are describing it only works that way when the argument is being used as a positive argument FOR the existence of Bigfoot as opposed to a rebuttal of a claim that Bigfoot simply cannot exist because science at least has made it unreasonable.

    In the Bigfoot case, there is no actual argument that, say, Bigfoot and science are incompatible as methods or anything like that.

    I think he’s saying these scientists aren’t arguing against Bigfoot in the same way that they are arguing against God — that they ratchet up their arguments specifically against God in ways that are cannot be logically defended.

    The problem is, I don’t know who or what specifically VS (or Sober) are reacting to. I’m sure some people somewhere have made untenable assertions.

    I think VS wants others to recognize that these assertions are invalid, but I’m not sure to which assertions he’s referring.

  112. #112 ildi
    May 11, 2012

    VS has explained his religious views in the Asher on Accomodationism post. (Btw, from what I understand per Greg Laden, as of May 24 all comments will disappear under old posts in scienceblogs when the system switches over to WordPress, so you may want to save any gems from previous threads.)

    VS was raised Catholic, so he stuck with the first deity he heard of and rejected the rest, since it would be inconsistent to believe in all of them. Then, VS used his philosophy-fu to reject the ‘folk religion’ of the Catholic church and related Christian beliefs to become an agnostic theist and hold[s] a deeper view of omnipotence and benevolence because of other philosophical discussions as a result.

    What I find interesting about this ‘deeper view’ is that it has not caused VS to abandon church teachings on women and sex, or violence in the Old Testament. VS believes he has the right to call promiscuous women SOME insulting term to reflect their immoral behavior and saying otherwise is impinging on his religious freedom (freethoughtblogs, Camels with Hammers, Why Misogynistic Language Matters, March 12, 2012), and that genocide is not immoral (Daylight Atheism, They Have No Answer, July 28, 2011) as long as you can come up with a thought experiment where the only way God could get rid of some undesirable trait in the Canaanites was to order the Israelites to kill them all, down to the little babies. (’cause they would just grow up to breed and continue this undesirable trait, doncha know.)

  113. #113 itchy
    May 11, 2012

    Ah, OK, so this is one of those carry-over situations from other posts/blogs. Never mind, then. Not having the full context and history of any of this would explain why I wasn’t sure what was being referenced. As you were.

  114. #114 Verbose Stoic
    May 11, 2012

    Actually, itchy, you had my position pretty much right, and I’ll get more into that later. None of the stuff ildi references has anything to do with this debate and a lot of it is misrepresented, and massively so.

  115. #115 Verbose Stoic
    May 11, 2012

    So, there are a couple of differences here:

    With Dan L., he is focusing entirely on the methodological issue. Around other points, my reply is that this specific argument over whether a specific scientific theory — evolution — disproves or at least makes unreasonable a specific God — the JCI one — isn’t relevant because it says little to nothing about the methodologies. And yet people like Coyne and Myers spend most of their time with these sorts of examples and little on the methodologies, and then do little more than say that they aren’t the same methodology. You can make an argument that if you have two ways of knowing and both claim knowledge on one proposition and one gets it right and the other gets it wrong, then that says something about that way of knowing. Sure, that perhaps it doesn’t WORK as a way of knowing and should be abandoned on that basis, not that as ways of knowing they are incompatible. Coyne et al spend far too much time trying to prove religion wrong and far too little trying to prove it incompatible with science, which is bad if they want to argue that science and religion are incompatible.

    With Eric, we are talking about specific claims, and so ignoring the methodological part completely. But you are correct that my claim is more that they are saying things that go far beyond the “We don’t have sufficient evidence to think God exists” or merely a “I have no need for that hypothesis” claims, and the evidence doesn’t support that, which is what I think Sober is trying to argue as well. At best, the existing evidence could get you to a reasonable claim of “If you think we should use parsimony to settle claims, you should drop God and theistic evolution”. For Bigfoot, the claims are almost always no stronger than that one, while it is different here. It isn’t really about supernatural versus natural though in that sense, but more about what is actually being claimed about these cases.

    As for an example of a stronger claim, we can take this quote from Victor Stenger’s Huffington Post piece quoted at “Why Evolution is True”:

    Well that’s not Darwinian evolution. That’s intelligent design. There’s no guidance in Darwinian evolution. It’s all accident and natural selection.

    Well, perhaps it isn’t Darwinian evolution — if that really is a requirment of it — but the counter-claim is that based on the evidence we have we simply can’t decide between the two competing theories. And it isn’t because the two theories ARE indistinguishable in what they predict, but because they would indeed show differences but we don’t have access to the evidence that would demonstrate that, and aren’t likely to be able to get it any time soon. So that specific example doesn’t demonstrate what it needs to do demonstrate incompatibility, because we simply do not know which one is correct.

    Ultimately, for this to be used as an example of their incompatibility, it must make a stronger claim than is usually made for Bigfoot. So Eric’s claims of “exceptionalism” and “special pleading” aren’t in play here, in my opinion.

  116. #116 Deepak Shetty
    May 11, 2012

    @Nick matzke
    2. Thor, bigfoot, etc., aren’t postulated to be omniscient, omnipotent beings responsible for the origin and moment-to-moment operation of the Universe. They are basically unusual people/critters. I think this is why the fairies/bigfoot/etc. argument is popular with gnus and college dorm rooms but has essentially no traction in serious academic literature. It’s an unfair cheap shot against the theists, just not a well-thought out and reasonable comparison.
    Heh. You should read some eastern religious myths. How sad that all those Hindu’s do not have a well-thought out and reasonable comparison to the judeo-christian God – Sun Gods, Rain Gods – all pale in comparison to Zombie God.
    And those Greeks who believed in Zeus et al. sure tend to be poor thinkers. And the poor Nordic folk who believed in Odin and Thor and Loki – serious academia must be laughing at them. I mean who bases their beliefs on characters created by Marvel comics?

    Besides I’m curious , can this well thought out omnipotent being do that which is logically impossible?

  117. #117 Michael Fugate
    May 11, 2012

    Well, perhaps it isn’t Darwinian evolution — if that really is a requirment of it — but the counter-claim is that based on the evidence we have we simply can’t decide between the two competing theories. And it isn’t because the two theories ARE indistinguishable in what they predict, but because they would indeed show differences but we don’t have access to the evidence that would demonstrate that, and aren’t likely to be able to get it any time soon. So that specific example doesn’t demonstrate what it needs to do demonstrate incompatibility, because we simply do not know which one is correct.

    That’s all you’ve got – a very low maybe with no evidence to back it up and no way to get the evidence – and you wonder why we don’t take your god hypothesis seriously ? What differences would we expect to see if your god were acting? Given all of the pain, misery, death and destruction in the world, you really find it easier to believe in a god that controls everything?

  118. #118 eric
    May 11, 2012

    VS:

    Ultimately, for this to be used as an example of their incompatibility, it must make a stronger claim than is usually made for Bigfoot. So Eric’s claims of “exceptionalism” and “special pleading” aren’t in play here, in my opinion.

    I think we may have reached a difference of personal opinion. Based on what you wrote above, you seem to think that gnus treat God-belief more critically than they treat bigfoot-belief, and so to treat them equally you think the gnus need to tone down their disdain. I think accommodationists treat god-belief better than they treat bigfoot-belief, and want them to treat the two the same – and I think gnus ARE generally treating them equally. Equally disdainfully, but equally.

    I think, in point of fact, that the assertion that people treat god-belief worse than bigfoot belief is prima facie ridiculous. No national scientific bodies like AAAS go out of their way to issue press releases explaining to the public how bigfoot belief is perfectly consonant with science. They wouldn’t, because they’d find the idea of accommodation to bigfoots, aliens, fairies, Thor, and so on laughable. And what does that say to you, in terms of equal treatment?

  119. #119 Duae Quartunciae
    May 11, 2012

    In comment 75 above Xuuths asks:

    Please provide a single example of something undetectable that exists.

    Not that exists in theory, or as part of a math formula. But something that physically exists but is undetectable.

    Easy… the cosmic neutrino background. I’m highly confident it exists; quite positive it is undetectable (at present) and pretty sure it will never be detectable even as technology improves.

    What was the point? Is there some serious problem with things that exist but are undetectable?

    You may read an introduction about this particular example of something which exists but cannot be detected in wikipedia. “Cosmic Neutrino Background”.

    If it matters, I am about as hard nosed a rationalist/materialist as you can get as far as my own understanding of “existence” and the universe goes.

  120. #120 Notagod
    May 11, 2012

    What is the point of postulating the character of some god that no one believes in? When creating a god that only operates by tweaking molecules or atoms isn’t it just as important for intellectual honesty to note that such a god would be highly inconsistent with, for example, any christian god?

    Isn’t it true that no one actually believes in the god that they are discussing here? Isn’t it intellectually dishonest to label the god under discussion God?

    Seems very odd. Being very careful not to dismiss the trivial possibility while at the same time being totally unconcerned regarding the common attributes of the Gods that some people actually do believe in and labeling the whole mishmash God.

  121. #121 eric
    May 12, 2012

    Notagod – it’s the sophisticated theology two-step. Preach an active God in the pulpit, defend a deistic God in the classroom. Swing your partner!

  122. #122 Peter Beattie
    May 13, 2012

    Interestingly, what Sober says (that science cannot disprove some godly ideas about the world, and that this is per se of interest) appears to be totally ignorant of the insights of one of the greats of the philosophy of science, Karl Popper. In the words of Ian Jarvie:

    Popper discovered that in purely logical or methodological terms the problem of demarcation was insoluble. (The Republic of Science, p. 13)

    Which means that it is not possible, by purely logical means, to separate ideas that contribute to the growth of knowledge from those that don’t. And that is because it is always possible, in a move that Popper called a “conventionalist stratagem”, to evade a logical conclusion—by denying the premises, by introducing ad-hoc auxiliary hypotheses, by obfuscation. The solution, then, cannot in any case be to try to make the logic watertight: logic cannot force me to accept the truth of any proposition; at best, it can force me to make a choice between accepting a conclusion and rejecting a premise. The best we can do in the search for growing objective knowledge is to make a methodological decision:

    What characterises science on this view is a social decision to allow the world to correct our ideas, and collateral decisions to eschew attempts to insulate those ideas from inconsistency and counter-example. (TRoS, p. 20)

    This is kind of my specialty, so I am continually astonished when fellow philosophers seem not to be aware that these thoughts even exist.

  123. #123 Wow
    May 14, 2012

    “Easy… the cosmic neutrino background. I’m highly confident it exists; quite positive it is undetectable”

    Neutrinos are detectable:

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

  124. #124 Chris Ho-Stuart
    May 14, 2012

    What is undetectable is the “cosmic neutrino background”. Read my comment.

    Neutrinos of the cosmic neutrino baground are much MUCH less energetic than the neutrinos we can detect.

  125. #125 Wow
    May 14, 2012

    “What is undetectable is the “cosmic neutrino background””

    Then how do you know they exist? They have to be neutrinos that aren’t like any others, since these ones can’t be detected. Unlike other neutrinos.

    Read my link.

    You are PRESUMING indetectable things in answer to a question “give me something indetectable that exists”.

    But you don’t know they do, you’re just presuming invisible nano-gnomes.

  126. #126 xuuths
    May 14, 2012

    Thank you, Wow, for pointing out the obvious to Duae Quartunciae.

  127. #127 Duae Quartunciae
    May 14, 2012

    Xuuths (and Wow); you asked for something that exists, and is not detectable.

    The cosmic neutrino background is an example of precisely this.

    Compare with the cosmic microwave background. This was predicted in advance, in 1948, as a consequence of cosmology. It was discovered (detected) in 1964. The scientists who detected it received the physics Nobel in 1976 for their work. The story of this prediction, and discovery, is quite entertaining.

    Various different ideas of the properties of this background radiation were proposed in the intervening years. The temperature was predicted to be about 5K at first, then that prediction was revised to 28K. Once it had been detected, the temperature could be measured directly; it is 2.725K. (Early predictions were too high because of errors in estimating the Hubble constant.) Serious condieration to actually observing the radiation began in the 1960s, and various scientists were engaged in a kind of race to make the observations.

    Knowing that something exists (predicting it) before it can be observed is not unusual in science. Some people seem to think that existence has no meaning without observation; but this seems to me to be quite at odds with the way science works. Things exist whether we observe them or not; whether we CAN observe them or not. Since the world operates by regular physical principles, scientists can and do uncover those principles and make predictions from them. This is almost the essence of science. Sometimes predictions works out, sometimes not. Some predictions we can be really confident about; others less so.

    Now; onto the cosmic neutrino background.

    Wow pointed out something obvious — but irrelevant. Of course neutrinos are detectable; but that is NOT the example I gave. It’s not neutrinos in general, but a particular class of neutrinos, for which many properties are known. But not all properties. Scientists would LOVE to detect the cosmic neutrino background, because that would allow direct measurements of temperature, number density, spectral properies, and so on. That information would have the potential to reveal a lot of detail about the early universe; since the cosmic neutrino background dates from about 2 seconds after the “big bang” singularity. (By comarison, the cosmic microwave background dates from about 380,000 years after the singularity.)

    There are papers around published about how the cosmic neutrino might be detected. They set out and quantify the problems that would need to be solved; and they are daunting. The cosmic neutrino background has a temperature (predicted) of about 1.95K (The ratio to the microwave background temperature should be the third root of 4/11.)

    The prediction of the neutrino background is now very VERY solid indeed. But the detection is certainly well outside the range of what can be done at present.

    So this stands as an example of something that exists and is not detectable.

    What objections do you raise? Wow suggested neutrinos are detectable, which is quite true, but beside the point. We can detect neutrinos from the Sun, and from supernovae, and various other energetic sources. But we can’t detect the cosmic background neutrinos, which are far less energetic.

    Wow then asks how we know they exist. We know they exist because physics works. Physics does allow us to make confident predictions of things not yet observed. Physics also allows us to make confident predictions of things not yet ABLE to be observed. Physics allows predictions of things that will almost certainly NEVER be observable.

    There’s no philosophical problem with that… once you recognize that we live in a real physical universe that exists whether it is being observed or not; and which behaves in regular ways discovered by science. I could have picked examples of things even less likely to be ever observed. I simply picked the cosmic neutrino background because it has a lot of genuine associated scientific interest; and because it happens to be in a field of physics I enjoy myself.

  128. #128 Xuuths
    May 16, 2012

    Duae Quartunciae, you are confused about a “confident prediction” and something we have evidence that it exists. Science is replete with examples of “confident predictions” which were completely wrong — which lead to new discoveries!

    No, you have failed to provide an example of something undetectable that exists. You think it should exist, but you do not know it exists. Big difference.

  129. #129 Sean
    May 17, 2012

    That’s a lot of responses.

    I had just one small thing to add. On the subject of whether there is any overlap between mathematicians, scientists and philosophers of mathematics and science, Roger Penrose is one person I can think of who wore all of these hats. He devoted the first couple of chapters in his Road to Reality opus specifically to questions of mathematical Platonism and whether or not numbers really exist.

  130. #130 Wow
    May 17, 2012

    “you asked for something that exists, and is not detectable.

    The cosmic neutrino background is an example of precisely this.

    Compare with the cosmic microwave background”

    Except that we can detect the CMB. Therefore doesn’t actually aid your guess.

  131. #131 SLC
    May 17, 2012

    Re xuuths @ #75

    Please provide a single example of something undetectable that exists.

    Not that exists in theory, or as part of a math formula. But something that physically exists but is undetectable.

    According to the quantum mechanical explanation of the two slit problem, every photon that makes it to the back side must pass through both slits. However, it is impossible to observe this phenomena because any attempt to observe it causes the wave function to collapse and the photon will be observed to pass through one slit or the other.

  132. #132 Wow
    May 17, 2012

    Except the situation is that you’re NOT getting a photon passing through both slits when you’re trying to observe which slit a photon passed through.

    The act of observing changes the experiment being observed BECAUSE you have to set up more stuff to do the observing.

  133. #133 SLC
    May 17, 2012

    Re Wow @ #132

    That’s exactly what I said. It is impossible to observe a photon passing through both slits. Can’t be done. Period, end of story.

  134. #134 Duae Quartunciae
    May 17, 2012

    I’m content to say that the above exchange on the cosmic neutrino background demonstrates that conventional science recognizes things exist without being observed; and that you can infer the existence of things indirectly; without observing the things themselves.

    Pragmatically, I’d encourage those interested to put aside philosophy for a moment, and take a bit of time to look up the specific example being considered. If you think I’m getting mixed up with the philosophy; you will find that I am in good company, along with pretty much every scientist working in any way on cosmology and the development of the early universe.

    Xuuths says: “Duae Quartunciae, you are confused about a “confident prediction” and something we have evidence that it exists. Science is replete with examples of “confident predictions” which were completely wrong — which lead to new discoveries!”

    Confident prediction something exists occurs if and only if there is strong evidence something exists.

    We have do have very strong evidence that the cosmic neutrino background exists; there is no longer any credible account of cosmology that does not have the cosmic neutrino background as a necessary consequence. The only credible way it might not exist now is some unexpected mode of decay for neutrinos. Even then they would likely still exist but in much smaller numbers than is currently thought. That’s an interesting long shot, and it is able to be tested (in principle; the tests are hard) without needing the even more difficult observation of cosmic neutrinos themselves.

    If we are ever able to measure cosmic neutrino background directly, that will be tremendous. Not because it will prove existence, but because it would allow many useful measurements relating to the very early universe.

    I am pretty sure you don’t actually know much about the specifics of this example; but are letting your own assumptions about philosophical issues guide your responses. It would be well worth putting philosophy aside for a little, and focusing on some physics and cosmology. THEN you can go back to look more clearly at the philosophy. In my view, this is almost always the most productive way to deal with science and philosophy.

    Philosophers look at how science works; science does whatever it takes to figure out the world.

    Wow: the point of the comic microwave background is that it was predicted before observation. That is, things can exist, and be known to exist (in the scientific sense of knowledge), without having been observed.

    Xuuths, you say science is replete with confident predictions that failed. There are examples of this, sure; but it’s not particularly common — unless you mean a confident prediction made by a one or two (or some) scientists with a new theory not yet sufficiently well established to be accepted throughout a field of science.

    Xuuths, you say “No, you have failed to provide an example of something undetectable that exists. You think it should exist, but you do not know it exists. Big difference.”

    I don’t draw a strong distinction between things I know and things I don’t. I think the only way we know things about the empirical world is by methods used in science; and I don’t think science ever knows things to 100%. There is, in principle, always a possibility that any claim made in science is incorrect in some way. Pragmatically, that doesn’t stop me “knowing” things. I know that anything I know is something I should be willing to review.

    I did provide an example of something undetectable that exists. To object that I don’t “know” it exists is an odd objection. I use science as my way of knowing about the world, and so everything I know is open to review or correction. The point is that we CAN know things exist indirectly. If you think people can’t speak confidently about things that exist but which have not yet been observed, you’ll have a hard time following many conversations in science.

  135. #135 Wow
    May 18, 2012

    “That’s exactly what I said. It is impossible to observe a photon passing through both slits. Can’t be done. Period, end of story.”

    And that has nothing to do with something that exists but is indetectable.

    There is no photon going through two slits when you’re trying to observe which slit it goes through.

    Isn’t happening. Period. End of story.

  136. #136 Wow
    May 18, 2012

    “I did provide an example of something undetectable that exists.”

    No, you provided something you BELIEVE exists.

    “To object that I don’t “know” it exists is an odd objection.”

    When YOU are saying you “know” it exists, then saying “you don’t know it exists” is entirely pertinent.

  137. #137 Duae Quartunciae
    May 18, 2012

    Wow… ALL knowledge is provisional, even of things you observe.

    All observation is, when you dig into it, not a direct apprehension of a thing itself but part of an indirect chain of intermediate effects; the obvious example being that you “see” something by virtue of interacting with photons.

    Even if the cosmic neutrino background is ever able to be detected by some measuring instrument; it will still be open to futile questioning on the basis of whether you can be 100% sure that what you really measure or detect is what you think you are detecting.

    I presume you are by this stage not wanting to stand by your earlier rather extreme distinctions that “you don’t know they do [exist], you’re just presuming invisible nano-gnomes”. That was just sheer ignorance of how physics works.

    I will be satisfied if I can persuade you to acknowledge
    (1) That things can exist that are not detectable
    (2) That we and do infer the existence of things that are not detected (yet) and may never be detected.

    You do accept, I guess, the existence of neutrinos in general; it would be well worth your while learning more about them.

    When they were first “discovered” (which was long before they were detected!); the nature of “detection” we have right now (highly indirect; you don’t observe a neutrino itself directly); and more about the relic neutrinos I’ve been talking about. THEN worry about the philosophy.

    Your complaint that I am not “sure” applies for all neutrinos. Their detection is so indirect that in principle a pedant might say we aren’t sure ANY neutrinos exist…. but in practice is it pretty much impossible to make sense of observations we can make except by postulating the existence of neutrinos, and it is pretty much impossible to make sense of observations bearing upon cosmology except by models in which cosmic neutrino background exists.

  138. #138 Wow
    May 18, 2012

    “ALL knowledge is provisional, even of things you observe.”

    Yet you seem to want to believe that your knowledge is solid.

    Odd.

    “Even if the cosmic neutrino background is ever able to be detected by some measuring instrument;”

    Then it will be an example of what exists that can be detected.

    It would merely be something we haven’t the skill to discern yet.

    Microbes existed before we invented microscopes.

    You are getting it all completely arse-about-face.

    What exists but is indetectable? You haven’t answered.

  139. #139 Duae Quartunciae
    May 18, 2012

    Huh?

    Wow; you seem to be acknowledging above that there are things which exist and which can’t be detected. Microbes existed before they were detected. Neutrinos existed before they were detected. For neutrinos, they were also known to exist (to a high confidence level) before they were able to be detected.

    So why on earth are you objecting to the idea of science knowing about things which exist and aren’t detectable now?

    When you say “undetectable”, are you thinking “totally absolutely impossible ever to be detected”? That’s not how I understood the question. I was simply giving something that exists and that we can’t detect.

    Of course I can’t be particularly confident that they will never ever be able to be detected; but I do think it unlikely that the background neutrinos will ever be detected with any neutrino detector. I can’t be positive on that.

    I *do* know that they are many orders of magnitude below the threshold of what can be detected now; and that the technological problems with actually building a neutrino detector able to pick up the cosmic background neutrinos are massive. It *is* a subject that scientists have been considering; but so far this such ideas are speculative. It is not a question of just building a bigger and better detectors along the lines of what we have at present.

    Why on earth were you saying that their existence is merely “presumed” when you already know of excellent examples of things which were inferred to exist by reason and good science before they were detected? That’s not “presumption”; it’s conventional empirical science.

    You know that things exist when they can’t be detected; you’ve given examples. You know that we can infer the existence of things (NOT presume their existence; genuinely infer it by reason and science).

    You know — I hope — that ANYTHING I say about the empirical world is subject to question and review. I never claim 100% certainty on anything. That doesn’t stop me answering questions where I have strong confidence in the answer, and I don’t bother qualifying every response with the conventional recognition that all empirical answers are subject to disproof in principle.

    The cosmic neutrino background radiation exists, and it is not detectable. Not detectable means we can’t detect it. And we can’t.

    What we *might* be able to do with future unknown advances in technology is completely open; but there’s no particular reason to think we will inevitably be able to solve every technological problem; and cosmic background neutrino detection could well be a problem that will never be solved.

    This doesn’t stop them from existing in the slightest.

  140. #140 SLC
    May 20, 2012

    Re wow @ #136

    Once again, Mr. wow pontificates on a subject that he is entirely ignorant of. Quantum mechanics predicts that each individual photon passes through both slits. This is a fundamental consequence of the dual nature of photons, being both particles and waves at the same time. As a former physics professor of mine explained it, the photons go where the electromagnetic field tells them to go.

  141. #141 Duae Quartunciae
    May 20, 2012

    IMO, the slit example is not quite so useful here. For photons (or electrons, or neutrons; other particles have the same behaviour) and slits it isn’t an object so much as an event being considered.

    And in that case, it is no longer so clear that the event in question (passing through a slit) really “exists” in quite the same sense; nor indeed is it quite as “undetectable” as one might think.

    It isn’t actually true that each particle simply goes through one slit or the other; so in this case the “event” (passing through slit a, or slit b, does not exist in quite the same definite sense).

    The clearest demonstration of this is by getting an interference pattern even when it is built up one particle at a time. So every individual particle does in fact, in some sense, interact with both the slits.

    I think (though I’m not a real expert on this) that the simple description often given isn’t really accurate. In an effort to understand this, people sometimes say that electrons/photons/neutrons/anythingelse act like waves except when you observe them and then they act like particles.

    It would be better, IMO, to say that the real physical nature of them is something between how we think of a classical particle, and how we think of a classical wave, and not the same as either. You have to use the QM equations to figure out behaviour; intuitions invariably break down.

    There’s quite a bit of work being done on variations of the slit experiments. For one example, you could see Simultaneous wave and particle knowledge in a neutron interferometer.

  142. #142 Wow
    May 21, 2012

    “For photons (or electrons, or neutrons; other particles have the same behaviour) and slits it isn’t an object so much as an event being considered.”

    Aye, you have this right.

    “Once again, Mr. wow pontificates on a subject that he is entirely ignorant of.”

    Ah, once again SLC can’t string a coherent sentence of physically plausible reality therefore concludes that it MUST be because I don’t know something.

    You’re a loon, SLC.

  143. #143 Wow
    May 21, 2012

    “Wow; you seem to be acknowledging above that there are things which exist and which can’t be detected.”

    Wrong.

    There are things we couldn’t detect because we don’t have the discerning equipment.

    This DOES NOT make them indetectable.

    Microbes were NOT indetectable until after the invention of the microscope. Extrasolar planets were not indetectable until after the invention of the high-resolution spectrometer. The spherical nature of the Earth was not intedectable until the invention of sea-going craft.

    They were always detectable.

  144. #144 Wow
    May 21, 2012

    “This is a fundamental consequence of the dual nature of photons”

    SLC this is why you’re incompetent to espouse on the subject.

    We have a MODEL of a photon as a wavelike event. We have a MODEL of a photon as a particle like event.

    The Photon doesn’t give a fig what we model it as. It’s a photon. Neither a particle nor a wave, but our experiments, requiring interaction we can plan and explain, require a model of the photon to be chosen in the experiment.

    By trying to see which slit a photon (or, indeed, a particle, like an electron) travels through, we no longer look at the photon as a wave but as a particle.

    And guess what: it acts like a particle when we try to see its particle like nature.

    Why? Because our model is a model. Not the thing itself.

    It is not “both particle and wave” because it’s a photon all the time. It’s neither, but exhibits features like both.

  145. #145 Duae Quartunciae
    May 21, 2012

    Wow says: “They were always detectable.”.

    Well, ok. That’s not the way I understood the question, but given your proposed usage; I’m left wondering what the point was?

    The point at issue as I understood the question was knowing that things exist without needing to detect them. Science does this frequently. This was why I answered using the conventional meaning of “undetectable”, as “not able to be detected” or “nobody has the capacity to detect them”. This straightforward and pragmatic meaning makes sense without having to speculate about unknown future technologies.

    Are you (or Xuuths) asking for something that exists and which you know for certain can never be detected?

    The much stronger meaning you have chosen has some serious epistemological difficulties. How do you distinguish between what can and cannot be done using speculative technologies we don’t have available to consider?

    For what it is worth — my guess is that cosmic background neutrinos are not ever going to be detected. That is only a guess; but not a totally uninformed guess. We do know a fair bit about them. It doesn’t make any difference for scientists working on the matter whether or not unknown people in the distant future might detect them. Scientists are pretty pragmatic on such things. They go as far as they can with the tools available, and keep extending them as far as they can manage.

    The point I am trying to emphasize is that we can know with strong confidence that they exist, and put constraints on various properties they have, all by indirect means using testable physics, and without having ever made a direct measurement of the particles themselves.

  146. #146 Wow
    May 21, 2012

    “That’s not the way I understood the question, but given your proposed usage; I’m left wondering what the point was?”

    The point was that supernatural causes would have to either exist and be detectable (hence science can prove whether they exist or not), or exist and NOT be detectable (hence leading to NOMA, though this doesn’t stop religion requiring a chip-in to the physical world).

    “The point at issue as I understood the question was knowing that things exist without needing to detect them.”

    Except you don’t know they exist either. You can only know they exist by detecting their effect.

    “Science does this frequently.”

    Yes, it is called “creating an hypothesis”. And then we use normal physical processes to discern whether we have it right.

    Completely unlike Sobel et al.

    “The point I am trying to emphasize is that we can know with strong confidence that they exist”

    The point we’ve been trying to emphasise is that we can still only know with strong confidence that they exist by their detected effects. Even if they’re only effects as in “There must be something causing mass to have the effects of inertia”.

    God, however, provides absolutely no consequential detected effects, since even those who believe in its existence insist that it hides in the weeds indetectably.

  147. #147 Duae Quartunciae
    May 21, 2012

    Wow says: “Except you don’t know they exist either. You can only know they exist by detecting their effect.”

    My example shows that this is untrue. Science can and does frequently infer the existence of things indirectly; WITHOUT detecting their effect.

    The 100% certainty gambit doesn’t help, because even with detecting effects you can never get total 100% certainty. There is no 100% certainty in science; and in fact often indirect inferences are more reliable that apparently direct inferences.

    We seem to have come full circle here. The best way to break out of the circle is, I suggest, to forget abstract philosophical notions and look at the specific examples given.

    Cheers — Chris

  148. #148 Wow
    May 21, 2012

    “My example shows that this is untrue. Science can and does frequently infer the existence of things indirectly; WITHOUT detecting their effect.”

    Your example doesn’t show someone KNOWING that it exists.

    As you state: “frequently infer the existence of things indirectly”.

    “The 100% certainty gambit doesn’t help”

    I have no need of playing that gambit since this is true of ANYTHING, even “apples fall down” is not 100% certain to a strictly correct scientist, but we still KNOW apples fall down and we know gravity is the force that enables this to occur.

    But we don’t PRESUME gravity exists. Nor apples fall. We detect them and test the idea that this isn’t merely “intelligent falling” or a figment of poor selection of data.

    Your examples don’t show something that we know exists and is indetectable.

    When you have found one, then we can “forget abstract philosophical notions and look at the specific examples given”.

    You have to give specific examples first, else we’re looking at the null set.

  149. #149 Duae Quartunciae
    May 21, 2012

    Adios, then. I can only advise you to learn more about this specific example, and the scientific basis of it.

    The cosmic background neutrinos are not just “presumed”. They are known as well or better than, say, gravitons. You keep using words like “presumed” in a way which is — excuse me — extremely silly. It prevents you from even starting to look at the actual empirical basis for knowing things in science. It is nothing like religion at all; this is all purely materialist physics.

    Conventional empirical physics is more than enough to establish that the cosmic neutrino background really does exist, in so far as science establishes anything. If you ever take the time to actually check the example given, you’ll find plenty of papers being written in which properties of the cosmic neutrino background are being studied and constrained; NOT by detection or by examining the effects of the background, but by study of the conditions under which the neutrinos are known to be produced.

    The concerns you are raising are way out of touch with how physics works. Neutrinos were predicted before any actual effects of neutrinos could be measured. It wasn’t just presumption. Our inference of the cosmic background neutrinos (which are perfectly conventional neutrinos but with an exceptionally low energy by comparison with what we can detect) is now one heck of a lot more strongly founded than the inference of neutrinos in the mid twentieth c.

    Your objections to this boil down to total refusal to admit knowledge of a thing without detection of it. Yet you’ve agreed that all knowledge in science is provisional; so the only remaining distinction is no more than the lack of detection itself. That is, you are simply defining “knowing existence” to require detection. That simply isn’t how science works.

    Study of the cosmic neutrino background is not by its effects on things, but by constraining the conditions under which neutrinos are known to be produced.

    By the way. You speak of “gravity” existing. But what *is* gravity? That’s not a trivial question. It is pretty much certain that gravitons exist — the particles that mediate the gravitional field. But that is (in my view) more of a presumption than the cosmic background neutrinos. Neutrinos we actually understand substantially better than gravity.

    Do you consider gravitons to be “known”? We can measure gravity directly, of course; but a quantum theory of gravity so far eludes physics. It is one of the big unsolved problems in theoretical physics. Detecting the particle nature of gravity — the gravitons — is another matter entirely from simply measuring gravity. How then do you think physicists are so confident about gravitons?

    I’m not particularly wanting answers; just suggesting some questions which may be useful to bear in mind for anyone who is inclined to chase up more on the details of these examples than can be compressed into these blog comments.

    Thanks for the exchange; over and out — Chris

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.