A while back I engaged in an exchange of blog posts with paleontologist Robert Asher. It started with an essay Asher wrote for HuffPo, extolling the virtues of reconciling science and religion. I felt his arguments were insufficient, and said so in this post. Asher eventually replied. I felt his arguments were still insufficient, so I replied again.

During the exchange, Asher suggested it was unfair of me to criticize him for not addressing various theological issues, since he was only writing a short essay. I thought that was reasonable, so I suggested we exchange books. I sent him a copy of Among the Creationists, and he sent me a copy of his book Evolution and Belief. I have now read his book, and what follows is my review.

Most of the book is about science, and substantively this material is very good. When you read descriptions of actual paleontological research, you come to realize the utter absurdity of what creationists say about it. Unfortunately, much of the material is very technical and jargon-filled, which makes for some pretty heavy reading. For large swaths I thought I was reading a textbook.

It’s mostly the first two chapters where he addresses questions about religion, and I shall focus on those. Now, the first question to ask of any book claiming to reconcile science and religion is, “What sort of religion are we talking about?” Even if we confine ourselves just to Christianity, there is quite a spectrum to consider. The sort of religion promoted by the young-Earthers is obviously incompatible with science, but they don’t get to define Christianity for everyone. By contrast, the very liberal versions promoted by people like John Shelby Spong can easily be reconciled with science, but only at the cost of discarding almost every major point of Christian theology. Go that route if you wish, but some will complain that you are thereby left with a version of Christianity that is scarcely distinguishable from secular humanism. The really interesting discussion takes place between those extremes.

So where on the spectrum does Asher fall? Well, here’s the book’s opening sentence: “I believe in God; therefore I’m religious.” That’s pretty stark, but that’s not a definition of “religious” that most people would accept. Belief in God might be a necessary condition for being considered religious, but it is hardly sufficient. AT this point you might suspect that Asher is pretty close to the John Shelby Spong end of the spectrum, and you would be right.

Let’s pan back a bit and look at the book’s first paragraph:

I believe in God, therefore I’m religious. My father is Jewish, my mother Christian, and I was raised in a Presbyterian church in western New York state, USA. At present, I often go to Anglican church services (or “Evensong”) at various colleges within my university, and the music is excellent. I’m not a fundamentalist or evangelical of any denomination, and I do not believe that every word in the Bible is an unfiltered indication of His Divine Will. However, for all it’s human-caused mistakes, I believe the Bible has a lot going for it. It encourages humility and love, and it asks you to recognize your imperfections, put the needs of others ahead of your own, and as a general rule, treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. In my own intuitive, unscientific way, I think this core message is divinely inspired.

I won’t dwell on the fact that Asher is cherry-picking the Bible to an absurd degree. The Bible has quite a lot of nasty bits, after all. Instead, I would point to how casual he is about discussing some pretty weighty issues. To judge from Asher’s usage, to say that a message is “divinely inspired” just means that he likes the message. But it means something far more than that to people who are worried about the corrosive effect of evolution on their religious beliefs, which is Asher’s target audience. And I would certainly agree that if all you want from your church services is good music, then you have nothing to fear from evolution. Likewise, people who take seriously notions like Biblical inerrancy are not going to take kindly to someone saying flippantly that the Bible “has a lot going for it.”

Indeed, Asher’s defense of religion consists, in its entirety, of the assertion that science cannot prove that there’s no intelligent agent behind the laws of nature. Original sin? He never mentions it. The Problem of Evil? Nope. The existence of a soul as anything more than a metaphor? Crickets. You will search the index in vain for any mention of these topics. These are some of the major sticking points for religious people worried about evolution, but Asher has nothing to say about any of them.

Do you think I’m exaggerating? Then consider this, from the book’s conclusion:

As long as a given religion does not insist on a scripturally literal, anthropocentric, or otherwise superstitious form of natural action, whether it’s stars perched upon a metal firmament, a geologically young Earth, or a god who wills biology into existence without a mechanism, and as long as science recognizes its inherent limitations within the domain of human perception and rationality, this view of God as the agency underpinning natural cause means that science and religion are compatible. (229)

Really? That’s all it takes to see science and religion as compatible? What if the natural causes you have in mind are such that they conflict with the nature of God as Christianity has traditionally taught? (A process as savage and brutal as evolution by natural selection does not seem like the sort of thing a loving God would set in motion). And what if some aspects of scriptural literalism are so intertwined with the religion’s teachings that they cannot so easily be let go? (Science has shown the story of Adam and Eve to be false, but this story is intimately tied to the need for Jesus’ sacrifice.)

Many Christian writers have addressed these points, of course. I don’t think much of their arguments, but at least they recognize the magnitude of the problem. Asher is making life much too easy for himself by taking so narrow a definition of religion.

Need more? Here’s what Asher says about Jesus:

However, does this enable me to believe in an actual human being born of a virgin? No, it does not — at least not in a biological sense, which is how most people understand this question and how, therefore, I should answer it. Female humans do not give birth unless they have been inseminated. As He was a human being, I infer based on what I know of biology that Christ would have developed in His mother’s womb, from zygote to morula to embryo to fetus. … Everything that I understand about human biology indicates that He [Jesus], too, had a biological father. There is no doubt, however, that this father was perceived as divine by his followers. As a human being, of course Christ had a biological father; it is not rational to believe otherwise. Personally, however, I really do believe that father and son were inspired individuals worthy of the impressive documentation with which their legacy has been recorded. (24-25)

Small wonder he goes on to say, “Indeed, much of the text in this chapter disqualifies me as a theistic Christian by most evangelical standards.” Not just by evangelical standards, I would add, but by any but the most liberal definitions of Christianity.

Now, my point in belaboring this is not to belittle what Asher believes. Personally, I don’t see why it’s not rational to believe on the basis of science that Jesus was born of a virgin, but it is rational to believe that an awesome supernatural intelligence established the whole system of natural laws that science studies. I would say that both beliefs are irrational, since there is no good evidence to support either one, but if Asher disagrees that’s his prerogative.

I feel compelled to discuss this at such length, though, because Asher seems to believe that he has made a serious contribution to the discussion about science and religion. He gives pompous little lectures like this:

This doesn’t mean that people like Jerry Coyne should feign admiration or respect for what he regards as superstition. However, it does mean that if he wants to make a positive difference in the public discourse about evolution, a scientist like him … has to reach out to people where they are, not where he thinks they should be. (xxii)

But actually it is Asher who is failing to reach out to people where they are. He’s the one pretending that his massively watered-down version of Christianity will be sufficient for people worried about evolution. When they read Asher’s book and discover that science makes it not rational to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, they are not going to find their worries relieved. They will, instead, find them confirmed.

Absolutely no one denies the bare possibility of an intelligent designer behind the laws of nature. Not Jerry Coyne, not Richard Dawkins, not anyone. Here’s Daniel Dennett, no shrinking violet in the science/religion discussion, making the point explicitly (from Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, which is a debate between Dennett and Alvin Plantinga):

So I agree that contemporary evolutionary theory can’t demonstrate the absence of intelligent design, and any biologist who insists that we can is overstating the case. But Plantinga must deal with the implications of one sentence in the passage above: “Prehistoric fiddling by intergalactic visitors with the DNA of earthly species cannot be ruled out, except on grounds that it is an entirely gratuitous fantasy (emphasis added). Now we might draw the debate to a close right here. I could happily concede that anybody who wishes to entertain the fantasy that intelligent designers from another galaxy (or another dimension) fiddled with our evolutionary prehistory, or salted Earth with life forms, or even arranged for the constants of physics to take on their particular “local” values will find their fantasy consistent with contemporary evolutionary biology. (27)

So Asher goes on at length about a point no one denies, and simply ignores the real issues that people are discussing about science and religion.

There’s much more to say about Asher’s argument. He presents some quotations from people that he thinks show them ruling out the possibility of an intelligent agent behind it all, but none of the quotes say what he seems to think they say. He makes some very dubious statements about the ability of science to detect intelligent agency, and, as I discussed in my previous posts on this subject, he mischaracterizes some of the arguments of the ID folks (though he is admirably clear that the scientific claims of the ID folks have no merit). Perhaps I will devote a subsequent blog post to some of those issues as well, but this one has already gone on too long.

So read Asher’s book for his interesting discussions of paleontology and other scientific subjects. But if you are looking for anything insightful or novel about science and religion, you are likely to be disappointed.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeffrey Shallit
    May 29, 2013

    I haven’t read Asher’s book, but from your review it seems like he is a guy who has grappled with the problems of paleontology, but refused to apply the same kinds of self-criticism and analysis required for science to his own religious beliefs. Pretty common, actually.

  2. [...] A Review of Evolution and Belief by Robert Asher . [...]

  3. #3 G.
    California USA
    May 29, 2013

    I’d disagree that what Asher is advocating is a “massively watered-down version of Christianity.”

    Today we have an entire generation of scientists, science-literate laypeople, and rationalists of various sorts, who grew up during a time, from the late 1970s to the present, when the entire subject of “religion in America”, and a large slice of our national politics, were dominated by the extreme religious right: Christianity’s own version of the Taliban.

    Scholars of religion have noted that America goes through approximately generational periods of religious moderation punctuated by paroxysms of fundamentalism. The previous fundamentalist infection resulted in Prohibition. The repeal of Prohibition chased it back into remission the last time, and recent progress on gay rights appears to be having a similar effect now. I would predict that the influence of the religious right will decline through the next two elections (feel free to neener-neener at me if this turns out to be incorrect;-).

    The mid 20th century, approximately from the late 1940s through the late 1970s, saw a much more moderate religious mainstream, even to the point where its adherents lamented that it was losing its emotional fire and becoming overly-intellectualized and abstract. Also the mid 20th century gave rise to a broad spectrum of religious progressives, the most prominent of whom was Martin Luther King.

    In that context, Asher seems to be advocating a return to that sort of moderation, where science and religion get along, and where religion does not seek to impose sectarian dogma on public policy.

    We should welcome any developments that move in the direction of strengthening religious moderates and weakening religious extremists. This because, empirically, the traits that combine to form “attitude toward religion” have neurophysiological correlates, that are most likely normally distributed. The hope of the fervent on each side of the debate, that everyone will eventually agree with them, is grounded in an absence of appreciation for the physical basis of individual differences in this area.

    But I’d like to make a modest proposal. Consider Carl Sagan. He, and a few others, had a high talent for conveying a science-based paradigm to the general public, in a manner that struck a chord with certain emotions that are also shared with religion: awe, connectedness to a greater whole, and a sense of purpose. To the extent that we can speak to those emotions, and to others such as the sensibilities from which come ethics and morals, we will reach a substantial number of people whose personal center of gravity is primarily religious.

    Realistically the best we should be aiming for here is recognition of pluralism of belief and freedom of conscience, and the necessity for public policy to be made on the basis of science that takes no sides in regard to religion.

  4. #4 Koray
    May 29, 2013

    Apparently the religious are not at all bothered by the fact that religion(TM) needs to be reconciled with itself. They don’t care that hundreds of millions of people are divided into various denominations if not competing religions. How did this happen? Why don’t we know exactly what Jesus, Moses or Mohammad said and meant? Is the mess we’re in all “our” fault? Hundreds of years of interpretation, crusades and bloodshed. For what?

    If that doesn’t bother you, why do you care whether you can reconcile science with your brand of religion? Why does it matter? If it can’t be done, *will* you switch to a denomination/religion that is more compatible?

  5. #5 eric
    May 29, 2013

    I’d disagree that what Asher is advocating is a “massively watered-down version of Christianity.”

    Virgin birth is a core belief of the RCC, which is the single largest sect of Christianity on the planet.

    I may be going out on a limb here, but Asher’s rejection of the virgin birth because its inconsistent with modern biology would naturally extend to rejecting the miracles of Jesus too; the same logic applies. I haven’t read his book so I can’t say he’s advocating that those be rejected too, but if so, I don’t see how the remaining christianity could be considered anything but ‘massively watered down.’

    ***

    In some ways this seems to me to have all the trappings of a typical sectarian debate. The liberals are claiming theirs is the standard christianity while the conservatives are claiming theirs is the standard christianity. To a bystander, there is no theological way to decide who is right; its like kids pointing fingers at each other and arguing over who shot who. The bystander’s job in such a case is not to take out a ruler and calculate angles and trajectories and decide which kid is most correct: its to stand back and make sure the kids don’t hurt each other while they argue.

    So, while we could use number of believers in belief x as a simple proxy of which x’s are “standard,” I think a much better approach is just to avoid entangling ourselves over that question, and focus instead on addressing the beliefs of the believers who are most likely to advocate policy and educational changes that undermine good science and secular government (from the analogy: the kids trying to injure us and other kids). As a pragmatic matter, I don’t care about the silent majority who act in the important ways like secularists. I care about vocal minority that gives campaign contributions to politicians that advocate for creationism being taught, the minority who plunks down 10 commandment statues on public land. And Asher is certainly advocating a type of Christianity that is massively watered down in comparison to that vocal minority.

  6. #6 Shecky R
    http://math-frolic.blogspot.com
    May 29, 2013

    “belief in God” is certainly NOT “…a necessary condition for being considered religious” — many Buddhists (as well as others) don’t believe in God but do consider themselves religious; and on the flip side one can believe in God, but still be very UNreligious, even anti-religious (in the form of ‘organized religion’).
    In the end, part of the problem is that both “religion” and “science” are amazingly thorny to define with actual precision (yet everyone thinks they know what they are).

  7. #7 Michael Fugate
    May 29, 2013

    Asher: “As a human being, of course Christ had a biological father; it is not rational to believe otherwise.”

    First, if someone believes in a personal god that created and sustains the universe, then this is completely rational. This god can do anything it wants – including implanting an embryo into a virgin – hardly a challenge.

    Second, how is calling these individuals irrational meeting people where they are? Is he just writing off every Christian more conservative than he is?

  8. #8 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    May 29, 2013

    So, when is somebody a Christian? (Or, more generally, when is somebody a religious believer?)

    Words have meanings; if one simply accepts that everybody is a Christian who claims to be one then the concept is completely empty. So an objective line has to be drawn somewhere. What about an Andean farmer who claims to be Catholic but also worships Pacchamama, the mountain Apus, and Ekeko the god of luck? What about an American scientist who claims to be Christian but believes that Jesus was merely an inspiring but fully human moral teacher*, and who basically only holds to a fuzzy pantheism or deism?

    One could just as well call somebody a communist although they advocate privatizing and deregulating all business. Words need to have meanings or communication becomes impossible.

    Based on those considerations, I would argue that Christianity (or religion in general) are incompatible with today’s scientific knowledge, and religious faith is methodologically incompatible with the scientific method. Surely one can find a belief that is compatible with current scientific knowledge but it would not deserve the label “Christianity” any more. It might not even deserve the label “religion”.

    *) Let’s be honest, even Jesus being an admirable moral teacher is objectively false, as a quick glance at the gospels should handily demonstrate.

  9. #9 Blaine
    May 29, 2013

    Comment deleted by moderator.

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 30, 2013

    Blaine –

    I deleted your comment because it was way out of line. Lay off the personal insults and name-calling, please.

  11. #11 Sascha Vongehr
    http://www.science20.com/alpha_meme/evolved_doubly_social_society_should_be_selfish_and_deadly-112954
    May 30, 2013

    “Absolutely no one denies the bare possibility of an intelligent designer behind the laws of nature. ”
    Nonsense! Time to start widening your view about who is one and who no one on such issues. Do you think Kant’s transcendental derivation of the categories giving the bare causality that underlies all possible fundamental law for any observer of her world as such is compatible with an ‘intelligent designer’ meaningfully defined so that Wittgenstein is not scoffing at it? Oh – nobodies in your appreciation I guess, lets go back to – who – Asher or whatever his name is – because he will review your book?

  12. #12 MNb
    May 30, 2013

    @11: except that Kant isn’t really relevant for modern science …. unlike Descartes, Hume and Popper.

  13. #13 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    Mount Morris, MI
    May 30, 2013

    I am a born again Christian, and I find your definitions of Christianity amusing, but for the most part inaccurate. If you are going to define Christianity, you should also define “evolution.” If you mean change within a species, you and I both know there are no Christians who disagree with that. That is the form of evolution that is observed, and constitutes real science. That is where religion and science are compatible.

    Unfortunately, most evolutionists want change beyond the kind level (dogs and cats) to be considered science as well. That is the real issue. The Big Bang and Abiogenesis have been disproven, so we are told: “Well, that isn’t part of evolution theory anyway.” It was until it was proven unscientific. I have the textbooks to prove it.

    I do not have a science degree but I have collected over 150 science textbooks, and for several years I chaired a six-step problem solving team for a corporation, using the scientific method, and we had a 100% success rate. I understand how the process works.

    The evidence does not speak for itself, it has to be interpreted. Both sides are looking at the same evidence, they just interpret it differently. Both Evolution and Creation are philosophical belief systems about the past. Science is not about “change” as some have insisted, it is about a search for the truth. Once one has found the truth, there is no longer a need for change.

    Philosophy, science, and religion are all ways of searching for the truth. But if someday they all arrive at the truth, it will be the same truth.

  14. #14 G.
    Somewhere, over the rainbow, (where) blue birds fly;-)
    May 30, 2013

    Re. Koray at #4: Substitute the “politics” for “religion” in your comment, and the situation is the same. For example (and this is meant as a serious exercise, not as snark, and not as an attack):

    — politics-substituted verson of Koray’s comment —

    Apparently the political are not at all bothered by the fact that politics (TM) needs to be reconciled with itself. They don’t care that hundreds of millions of people are divided into various parties if not competing ideologies. How did this happen? Why don’t we know exactly what Jefferson, Marx, or Reagan (or insert whatever names here) really said and meant? Is the mess we’re in all “our” fault? Hundreds of years of interpretation, revolutions, and bloodshed. For what?

    If that doesn’t bother you, why do you care whether you can reconcile science with your brand of politics? Why does it matter? If it can’t be done, *will* you switch to a party/ideology that is more compatible?

    — end of edited version of Koray post —

    Seriously, in a world that’s just hit 400 PPM of atmospheric CO2, this is a question we should be asking: how to reconcile politics with science, and more to the point, how to pry the cold greedy hands of obscurantists and quacks and overt fraudsters off the levers of politics.

    Belief in virgin birth does not by itself motivate someone to vote for a candidate whose policies are condemning the world to foreseeable gigadeaths from climate change. Belief in laissez-faire economics and the politics that goes with, does.

    Re. Eric at #5: Nor do I agree that the RCC’s doctrines should be considered defining of Christianity. One needn’t believe in virgin birth or other instances described as miracles, to believe that Jesus was an example of what Hinduism calls “avatars,” meaning, “beings of light,” who bring wisdom to our world from a higher source. Where an individual specifies that the higher source is a deity, they’re espousing religious faith in the existence of a deity.

    Persons who call themselves adherents of philosophies that are associated with various names e.g. Kant, Mills, Hume, Marx, Wittgenstein, et. al., usually don’t obsess about the biographical details of those individuals. And we don’t consider them watered-down adherents of (whatever philosophy) as a result of that. A philosophy is associated with a name, but its ideas stand or fall on their own, regardless of the juicy details of the philosophers’ personal lives (after all, that’s what the obsession with biography really is, a second-cousin to gossip).

    For that matter, can someone be a founder of a religion on the basis of the ideas they espouse, regardless of any claim (and preferably _without need of any claim_) of having a unique relationship to divinity or some transcendent state of being? Can someone be a founder of a philosophy without having an advanced degree and publishing their works in the peer-reviewed and scholarly press? IMHO the ideas stand and fall on their own.

    The vocal minority who plunk down 10 Commandments statues on public property, should be regarded as extremists and fanatics, as with those who plunk down bombs at public gatherings. They should not be allowed, by us or anyone else, to claim that they are the center of gravity of religion, any more than William Shockley should be able to claim that he represents the mainstream of science when he babbles his racist nonsense.

    And as I’ve asserted before, we should seek to establish that the center of gravity of religion is in something that is intrinsically moderate, for example Asher’s stuff. Rationalists can get along with religionists whose religion is moderate: we can all coexist in a pluralistic society, and agree that public policy should comport with empirical reality as ascertained by science.

    As a pragmatic matter, we _should and must_ “care about the silent majority who act in the important ways like secularists.” We should care about them in the positive manner of affirming and supporting them, if for no other reason than the blunt fact that they do constitute a majority, and they do vote, and we don’t want to drive them into the arms of the fundamentalist fanatics.

    Re. Alex at #8: If the scientist who is inclined toward a warm & fuzzy view of Jesus minus miracles and perhaps plus a deist deity, wants to call himself Christian, that’s up to him. If he wants to call himself a Republican whilst advocating for nationalization of the big banks and oil companies, that’s OK too. Religion, as with politics, as with sexuality, as with taste in the arts and athletics, is first and foremost deeply personal. People have a right to call themselves what they wish, and also to bicker about it;-)

  15. #15 Sean T
    May 30, 2013

    Dr Arv Edgeworth,

    Maybe you should actually pick up some of those science textbooks you claim to have read, and actually read them. None of them will EVER claim that the theory of evolution has anything to do with the big bang or abiogenesis. Neither will any of them claim that either abiogenesis or (especially) the big bang have been disproven.

    Abiogenesis, or rather various hypotheses of abiogenesis, is currently in a very speculative state, much more so than either evolution or big bang theory. It is not disproven, however; we just need to do more work to figure out how life arose. By constrast, big bang and evolution are both PROVEN, at least insofar as science can be said to “prove” anything.

    The big bang and evolution are both theories. In the scientific sense of the term, “theory” is as good as it gets. A theory is an explanation that accounts for numerous observations and makes predictions of new ones. If a theory is inconsistent with new observations, it will be modified or discarded, but theories represent our current best understanding of pheomena.

    Theories are necessarily limited in scope. Evolution is the theory that explains the observation of the diversity of life on earth. It also explains observations from the fossil record, including the geographical distribution of various species, and observations from genetics and molecular biology. Evolution makes predictions. For instance, the current model of primate evolution states that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor that diverged from one that was the ancestor of gorillas, chimps and humans. If that’s true, then all other observations from genetics, molecular biology, etc. should be consistent with that lineage.

    Now, there are recognizable insertions into DNA called ERV’s, which are caused by viral infections. If such a virus infects a germ cell, these ERV’s can be passed down to descendents of the infected organism. It is very unlikely that two organisms would share a particular ERV without them being related to each other.

    All organisms contain such ERV’s. If the above model for primate evolution is correct, then we would predict that there would be ERV’s that are shared by all three species, namely gorillas, chimps and humans. These would be caused by viral infections in the ancestral species that occurred prior to the divergence of the human/chimp line from the gorilla line. We also would predict that there are ERV’s shared by humans and chimps, but not by gorillas, caused by infection of the species that was ancestral to both chimps and humans, but had already diverged from the gorilla line. Such ERV’s have been found. Now, here is the smoking gun; we would predict that there could NEVER be an ERV shared by humans and gorillas, but not by chimps. We have never found such ERV’s.

    You could certainly argue that such a situation could have been created by God for some inscrutable divine reason, but that is not a scientific statement. From a rational point of view, the only theory that we have is the accepted model of primate evolution.

    Please also be aware, the example I gave above is only ONE such example out of countless others. The preponderance of evidence leads us to evolution. It is irrelevant how the universe came about or how life started. Even if God poofed the universe and life into existence, unless God is intentionally deceiving us, the evidence shows that life evolved, pretty much as described by the theory of evolution.

  16. #16 eric
    May 30, 2013

    G.

    One needn’t believe in virgin birth or other instances described as miracles, to believe that Jesus was an example of what Hinduism calls “avatars,” meaning, “beings of light,” who bring wisdom to our world from a higher source. Where an individual specifies that the higher source is a deity, they’re espousing religious faith in the existence of a deity.

    No, one needn’t. But if one does all that then one is certainly not adhering to RCC doctrine and probably not the doctrine of most protestant and orthodox sects, either. Perhaps the labels are getting in the way. I’m going to just not call any particular sets of doctrine ‘christian’ for my next argument.

    Point #1: we have a proposition here: theological doctrine X is consistent with science and evolution. I hope we can all agree that when X includes virgin births or miracle workers or a young earth or sudden appearence of species, etc., then the proposition is not true. This is disjunctive: any one of those beliefs, if its part of X, makes X at least somewhat inconsistent with science. When X does not include any miracles at all, the claim of consistency can be true. Do you agree?

    Point #2: to the extent that Asher may be talking about consistency between science and the first type of X, he’s just wrong. To the extent that he’s talking about the second type of X, he’s right. Do you agree?

    Point #3: most people who self-identify as Christians will, on surveys or through their professions of belief (such as the Nicene or Apostles creed), appear to accept at least one of the statements which, in #1, we said was inconsistent with science. Maybe secretly in their heart they don’t really believe what they say when they speak the Nicene creed, but they say it. They speak it. Do you agree?

    If you’ve agreed “yes” to all three of those points, then I think you have to admit that Jason has a very relevant response to Asher when he says “it is Asher who is failing to reach out to people where they are.”

    we should seek to establish that the center of gravity of religion is in something that is intrinsically moderate, for example Asher’s stuff.

    Well, go forth and do that! You go and give arguments for why kid A really shot B while B really missed A with their respective fingers. I would rather argue to all the participating kids that there are many playground activities far more rewarding than imaginary cops and robbers, and that they shouldn’t take either “who shot who” claim so seriously that they fight over it.

  17. #17 Sean T
    May 30, 2013

    Dr Arv Edgeworth,

    One other question. What stops a series of small changes, ie. changes within a “kind” (whatever that is, nobody seems to be able to define it), from becoming a large change?

    We now understand that changes within a species, kind, whatever, are caused by changes to DNA. DNA is essentially a sequence of biochemical letters. We have our own sequence, dogs have their own, cats theirs, etc. Suppose we start with a complete set of human DNA strands. If we magically started changing the “letters” one at a time, and repeated the process the necessary billions of times, what’s stopping us from changing human DNA into dog DNA? What is stopping a natural process, which you admit can change DNA, from accumulating such small changes until the end result is a major change?

  18. #18 MNb
    May 30, 2013

    “most evolutionists want change beyond the kind level”
    Crap, dr (and not in biology or physics) AE. Just google on “observed speciation”. The first observation is made more than 100 years ago by my compatriot Hugo de Vries. As for “beyond the kind level” – “kind” is far more vaguely defined than “evolution”. Double christian standard once again.

    “The Big Bang … have been disproven”
    Crap again. Repeat it and you’re a liar for Jesus. The Big Bang has been proven with as much certainty as has been proven that you were born from your mother. If there is room for some doubt in the first case – so there is in the second case.
    1) we have a theory, Relativity, that describes it. There are more, but this is the simplest. We also have a theory of biology that describes your birth.
    2) we have observations that prove it (namely the expanding Universe). We have observations that confirm that babies like you use to be are born from mothers.
    What we don’t know exactly is what happened at the Big Bang and shortly (about 0,01 s or less) afterwards. What we don’t exactly either is if all your ancestors in the 30rd generation were also human. Will you allow me to conclude that you’re an alien then? No? Then you should accept the Big Bang as well.

    “The evidence does not speak for itself, it has to be interpreted.”
    More crap. How many interpretations can you give of you falling from a bridge? Exactly the same force is at play at the Big Bang (plus three more).

    “Once one has found the truth, there is no longer a need for change.”
    Final crap. Science is not about truth. Its knowledge is always provisional and temporary for the simple reason that the possibility never can be excluded that some observational data will lead to a necessary change. That’s actually a strength, because it means that we will be able to learn, to find out more.
    You want to win the Nobelprize within a year? Design an experiment in which a mass is falling upward iso downward. You (and I) can’t prove it’s impossible.
    Throw your books in the dustbin and buy some good ones – like written by professionals who know what they are writing about.

  19. #19 Michael Fugate
    May 30, 2013

    G,
    Who exactly is a religious moderate or an atheist moderate, for that matter? Can you list all of the things that he or she can and can’t do or say? In one sentence you say you are for pluralism and in the next you are against extremes, which is it? How is your view any less authoritarian than the so-called extremists?

    Let’s take science/religion compatibility – if based on studies of science, religion, theology, philosophy, history, etc. I conclude that science and religion are incompatible am I forbidden to make that argument public because it is not the answer you want? Does it make me an extremist, a fundamentalist, solely because my answer agrees with fundamentalist religious believers – or does the argument matter? You seem to be advocating banning views you don’t agree with.

  20. #20 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    Mount Morris, MI
    May 30, 2013

    Okay let’s start with the Big Bang. The science books I have collected are mostly from the major textbook pubishers: Glencoe, Prentice Hall, Holt Rinehart & Winston, etc. One such textbook desribes the Big Band this way: “If you could run the life of the universe in reverse, like a film, you would see the universe contracting until it disappeared in a flash of light, leaving nothing. In the realm of the universe, nothing really means nothing. Not only matter and energy would disappear, but also space and time. However, physicists theorize that from this state of nothingness the universe began in a gigantic explosion about 16.5 (or 14, 13.7, 8-10, etc.) billion years ago. …the Big Bang.” Let’s think about that.

    Newton’s Law of Inertia states: “Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.” A state of nothingness would be like a state of perfect rest. It should remain in that state unless acted upon by an outside force or agent. If you leave “nothing” alone long enough, I believe scientifically (just using common sense also) I know what will happen.

    The Law of Cause and Effect states: “Every effect has a sufficient cause, greater and more complex than the effect itself.” Whatever begins to exist has a cause. The physical universe consisting of time, space, matter, and energy must all have a cause outside of themselves.

    The First Law of Thermodynamics states that matter/and or energy cannot be created or destroyed (through natural processes).

    Dr. Robert Gage said this: “The First Law has been the object of considerable thought since it was first introduced to the world by William Kelvin and Rudolph Clausius. It forbids a natural process from bringing something from nothing.”

    Paul Davies, evolutionary physicist, in his book (The Edge of Infinity) summed it up this way: “[The big bang] represents the instantaneous suspension of physical laws, the sudden abrupt flash of lawlessness that allowed something to come out of nothing. It represents a true miracle…”

    I have three simple scientific questions: “Scientifically, can you have an explosion without energy? If there was no matter, what exploded? Doesn’t the First Law of Thermodynamics forbid something to come out of nothing through natural processes?”

    Of course Alan Guth has it all figured out. It was a vacuum fluctuation. In a moment of time, in a spot no bigger than a dime, a vacuum (the absense of matter) fluctuated. I only see 4 possible problems with that: Time didn’t exist yet, space did not exist yet, a vacuum requires the existence of matter, and a fluctuation of any kind requires energy. But other than that, it sounds pretty good.

    So the Big Bang is a good theory except for violating at least three known laws of science. Abiogenesis violates the Law of Biogenesis which indicates life will not come from non-life, as that has never been observed. If anyone is interested, the Bible gives 17 verses of scripture explaining why the planets appear to be moving away from us. But I don’t want to confuse you by offering an alternative viewpoint.

  21. #21 eric
    May 30, 2013

    I have three simple scientific questions: “Scientifically, can you have an explosion without energy?

    The Big Bang is only vernacularly referred to as an explosion. It really isn’t. You understand that, yes? When space is the thing doing the expanding,’explode’ is just a handy way to refer to an act for which we have no better referent.

    If there was no matter, what exploded?

    You do understand that not all fundamental particles have mass, right? That there are these things called gauge bosons, right?

    AIUI, matter only formed in our universe after about a second, quite a long time in cosmological terms. In fact that’s long enough away from the origin that I don’t think most cosmologists consider the formation of stable mass-bearing particles to be an ‘origin’ issue at all. The temperature dropped, they became stable, and this occurred well after the point in history at which our understanding becomes hazy.

    Doesn’t the First Law of Thermodynamics forbid something to come out of nothing through natural processes?”

    Read your Hawking: the net energy of the universe is 0. So the first law doesn’t really apply here. Moreover, QM is the more strongly confirmed theory, and it allows for exceptions (actually, it kinda requires them: for a sufficiently small delta X, delta p must be large). In vernacular terms, I might explain it this way: the 1st law states that in a closed system,total energy must be constant; it can’t be created or destroyed. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle, however, states that for really really small closed systems, the amount of energy can’t be a constant, so it must be created and destroyed.

    The 1st law was developed about 60-70 years before QM. Like NM, its a great, great approximation at large scales, but is not the whole story when it comes to fundamental scales and processes.

    I guess its no surprise that you’re quoting laws developed before the 1900s. Do you understand that since about 1905, science’s understanding of the universe and the laws that govern it has dramatically changed?

  22. #22 Koray
    May 30, 2013

    @G:

    I don’t see how the analogy with politics is relevant. People of various political views “know” that it’s just “their opinion” on how things should be, however strongly they may feel about the issue. They all know that they could be wrong; in fact, nobody may be right. History is full of strong disagreements on failed ideas.

    (Abrahamic) religion is completely different. It doesn’t start with anybody’s mere “opinion”. It starts with reports of contact with an intelligent being, who in fact happens to be the most supreme being ever, and further reports describe his story of how things came to be, why he put us here, how we’re supposed to live, etc. None of this is armchair philosophy by St Paul or Muhammad, who could disagree among themselves. It’s all about revelation from a source much higher than mere human thought.

    If an analogy has to be made, this is like every newspaper in the world reporting of contact with space aliens, varying wildly on specifics. Depending on which paper you read, the aliens may have told us that they were going to fry our planet, or not, or only those parts who read the other papers. A particular space alien may have died for us for some reason, or perhaps it was just a human being, who is not actually dead but up in the spaceship. The aliens may have advised against eating certain types of food, or perhaps they withdrew this statement later.

    Meanwhile, the readers have so far not been bothered by the fact that all these papers have been all over the place for millennia, but they’re “now” troubled that modern science seems to contradict a few things.

  23. #23 MNb
    May 30, 2013

    “leaving nothing”
    Questionable. It might be the case, but as I wrote above we don’t really know. The field corresponding to the recently found higgs-boson for instance has a non-zero value.

    “Newton’s Law of Inertia states”
    We don’t know if and how Newton’s laws applies in these extreme circumstances. It’s a part of classical mechanics and at the Big Bang and shortly afterwards we’ll have apply relativity and quantum effects.

    “The Law of Cause and Effect states”
    That’s not a law of physics. Quantummechanics contradicts it. A radioactive atom may decay now or after 100 years or at any given moment in between. There is an effect, but there is no cause for it, at least according to all the mainstream interpretations of QM. The causal interpretations all have their problems. And we know very sure that quantumeffects play a role at the Big Bang and shortly afterwards.

    “The physical universe consisting of time, space, matter, and energy must all have
    a cause outside of themselves.”
    First of all you’re contradicting yourself here – first you wrote that the Big Bang has been disproven, now you very much assume it.
    In the second place this is a non-sequitur. The universe might be its own cause.
    In the third place that cause must have a cause according to your logic.

    “It forbids a natural process from bringing something from nothing.”
    I bet Robert Gage is not a doctor in physics either, as this is bullocks. I refer you to the quantum tunnelling and the Casimir effect. More elementary, the total amount of mass/energy in the Universe very well might be zero. Almost all galaxies are moving from each other, which implies a vast amount of negative energy (due to W = F x s and F and s having opposite directions; F is gravity here).

    “Scientifically, can you have an explosion without energy?”
    The Big Bang is not an explosion.

    “If there was no matter, what exploded?”
    The Big Bang was not an explosion.

    “Doesn’t the First Law of Thermodynamics forbid something to come out of nothing through natural processes?”
    No. See above. If the total amount of mass/energy in the Universe is exactly zero there is no problem with the FL of T. If it isn’t physicists might have a problem, but not necessarily.

    “Paul Davies, evolutionary physicist”
    Makes me suspect that Paul Davies is a cheat. Or you’re a nitwit. Evolution belongs to biology, not to physics. If you mean Paul Davies of the Arizona University, while he is an accommodist I strongly doubt if he denies the Big Bang like you do.

    “Time didn’t exist yet”
    Not a problem. Augustinus of Hippo already understood that time is a feature of our Universe.

    “space did not exist yet”
    Not a problem either for exactly the same reason – space is a feature of our Universe.

    “a vacuum requires the existence of matter”
    Nope. This is just a semantic trick and thus says exactly nothing about the features of our Universe.

    “a fluctuation of any kind requires energy”
    Nope. Statistical fluctuations don’t.
    The only thing you have proven is your lack of imagination. You’re not to blame for it, modern physics is well beyond average human imagination indeed. I refer to Richard Feynman: “it’s safe to say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics”.
    Saying “it can’t be because I don’t understand it” is a non-sequitur though.
    Essentially the problem is quite simple. Can we formulate a coherent and consistent theory that describes all the known empirical data, including the expanding Universe? We don’t have it yet and it might take a long time, but no way the answer to this question must be no.

    You should rather read this, a series written by a theoretical physicist. It will cure you from a lot of nonsense.

    http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/singham?s=higgs+boson

    Note that all this doesn’t influence Abiogenesis and Evolution Theory by any means. ET starts with a primitive form of life, say a virus or a unicellular organism and investigates what happens then.

  24. #24 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    May 30, 2013

    Eric. You say: “When space is the thing doing the expanding …” You do realize space didn’t exist yet, right? You then ask: “You do understand that not all fundamental particles have mass, right? That there are these things called gauge bosons, right?” When you have a state of nothingness, no particles existed.

    You then say: “matter only formed in our universe after about a second, quite a long time in cosmological terms.” “The temperature dropped, they became stable…” I must have missed something, were you there at the time?

    You say: “Read your Hawking: the net energy of the universe is 0. So the first law doesn’t really apply here.” Maybe you could explain that to physicists Dr. Robert Gage and Paul Davies, they seem to disagree with that. About closed systems, concerning the universe that is theoretical.

    When you state: “I guess its no surprise that you’re quoting laws developed before the 1900s.” I must have missed something again. Have the scientific Laws of Inertia, Cause and Effect, Thermodynamics, and Biogenesis been disproven, or no longer considered Laws? I’m glad I didn’t include gravity then.

    Eric, the one thing that I think might help your case is if you started out: “Once upon a time, long ago and far away.” Oh wait, you did: “Millions of years ago.” My bad.

  25. #25 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    May 30, 2013

    MNb. “The physical universe consisting of time, space, matter, and energy must all have
    a cause outside of themselves.”
    First of all you’re contradicting yourself here – first you wrote that the Big Bang has been disproven, now you very much assume it.
    (How exactly does space, time, matter, and energy having a cause outside of themselves assume the big bang? That is your “cause,” not mine.)
    In the second place this is a non-sequitur. The universe might be its own cause. (Can you give me an example in the real world of something creating itself before it existed? You actually believe that is a possibility?)
    In the third place that cause must have a cause according to your logic. (The Law of Cause and Effect only requires a First Cause, it does not require a Cause for the First Cause.

    When you state: “The only thing you have proven is your lack of imagination.” I have to agree with you there. That is where the Big Bang and Abiogenesis should be classified. But it certainly shouldn’t be called science.

    Be honest MNb, what is the real reason you choose to believe this? What an eye is, what it does, and how we treat it for disease is real science. How we got an eye is a philosophical exercise concerning origins, which should not be confused with observational, impirical, science. I believe the only reason you come up with this stuff is because of what you view to be the only alternative, but few will admit it.

  26. #26 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    May 30, 2013

    By the way, Jason, when you stated: “Absolutely no one denies the bare possibility of an intelligent designer behind the laws of nature. Not Jerry Coyne, not Richard Dawkins, not anyone.” Perhaps you missed these quotes by Dawkins:
    ““ Most people, I believe, think that you need a God to explain the existence of the world, and especially the existence of life. They are wrong, but our education system is such that many people don’t know it.”

    “”Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.”

    “Science offers us an explanation of how complexity (the difficult) arose out of simplicity (the easy). The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything, …” My personal feeling is that understanding evolution led me to atheism.”

    Kind of sounds like he denied the possibility of an intelligent designer doesn’t it?

  27. #27 Michael Fugate
    May 30, 2013

    Just what was your doctorate in, Arv? apologetics perhaps?

  28. #28 eric
    May 31, 2013

    Kind of sounds like he denied the possibility of an intelligent designer doesn’t it?

    Arv, Dawkins has said that on a scale of 1 (absolute certainty there isa god) to 7 (absolute certainty there isn’t), he’s between a 6 or 6.9. Dawkins has said this in writing and at least two interviews, and he’s never said in any writing or interview that he’s a 7. It is extroadinarily tiresome to hear apologists pull out the clunker strawman of the absolutely philosophically certain atheist. As far as I can tell, there is no such animal. Instead, what’s happening here is that theists take a perfectly normally phrased knowledge claim and interpret it in a very wierd way, in fact the worst way possible.

    Look, if I say “I’m wearing a blue shirt,” nobody would interpret that to mean I’m making a claim of absolute philosophical certainty. In the absence of caveats we assume its a normal knowledge claim. If I say “the sun will rise tomorrow,” same deal: no caveats, but in the absence of caveats we assume a normal knowledge claim. ‘Its a normal knowledge claim’ is the default interpretation for pretty much every claim every human makes. One would only interpret a claim as philosophically absolute if the speker explicitly said that’s what they’re claiming.

    But if I say “there is no God,” suddenly apologists proclaim switch their default interpretation. For some unknown reason, such claims in the absence of caveats are interpreted as absolute philosophical claims. This is a form of strawmanning: intentionally viewing your opponent’s argument in an extreme way that wasn’t intended by them. What apologists should do, if they want to engage atheists with intellectual honesty, is to treat uncaveated (atheist) claims about god and the superatural in exactly the same way they’d treate uncaveated claims about anything else.

    So please, just stop with the strawmanning. Nobody is denying the philosophical possibility of a designer. No one is claiming absolute, philosophical, deductive certainty on this – at least on the nonbeliever side. Folks like Dawkins are arguing for a normal knowledge claim that there is no God, the same way anyone might claim there are no unicorns or tomorrow the sun will rise.

  29. #29 Sean T
    May 31, 2013

    Dr Arv,

    At least two of your purported “laws” are not actual laws of physics. The so-called “law of causation” is one of them. Not all effects have causes, as has been pointed out to you above. QM tells us that there are events that are fundamentally random; there are no causes that can be ascribed to them. The example pointed out above is a good one; in a sample of uranium, what causes one nucleus to decay instead of a different one? There is no cause is the answer given by modern physics. If you disagree, then that’s a philosophical “law” not a physical one.

    The other “law” that isn’t one is the “law of biogenesis”. What you are referring to is a study done by Pasteur several centuries ago. At that time, it was believed that certain organisms could arise abiogenetically. For instance, it was believed that maggots arose from rotten meat. Pasteur proved that this does not happen. However, that experiment was limited to the conditions prevalent on earth right now, or more correctly at least not radically different from what they are now (we do have more CO2 in the atmosphere than there was in Pasteur’s time, for instance, but that’s not particularly relevant to the question of abiogenesis). I hope you do realize, though, that the conditions on earth today are not the same as they were in the time shortly after the formation of the earth. Most importantly, there was very little free oxygen on the early earth. Free oxygen is the result of photosynthesis, which did not start until the evolution of blue-green algae, which obviously must have occurred after life arose on earth. Therefore, the atmosphere was a reducing atmosphere rather than an oxidizing one. That’s a crucial difference, as many agglomerates of organic compounds would be unstable in an oxidizing atmosphere, but stable in a reducing one.

    I’m not claiming to know exactly how abiogenesis happened. Biologists, AFAIK, don’t actually make that claim either, they’re still working on it. However, the point is that it cannot be ruled out on the basis of some fictitious “law of biogenesis”. Unless you believe in some “vital principle” that’s present in living organisms, but absent outside of them, a living cell is simply an agglomeration of organic chemicals, albeit a very complex one. The “vital principle” idea, you should know, was discredited in the 19th century. That’s why we now define “organic chemistry” as the study of carbon compounds; its original definition was much different.

  30. #30 Sean T
    May 31, 2013

    No Dr Arv, nobody is denying the possibility of a designer. If the “designer” would suddenly descend from the heavens and speak to us directly, all scientists would believe. That’s the difference between scientists and you; we don’t really “believe” in anything. We accept statements as true pending further evidence and observations. What we “believe” is just what seems to be the most likely explanation of the current observations. If a better explanation comes along, we willingly change our “beliefs”. I suspect that you would NEVER change yours, no matter what evidence you are presented with.

  31. #31 Sean T
    May 31, 2013

    Dr Arv,

    I think you also need to review your logic. You certainly seem to be implying, if not outright stating a false dichotomy. In one of your above posts, you accuse a poster of beliving in the accepted scientific theories only because he doesn’t want to believe in the “only alternative”.

    Now, since you’ve professed to be a Christian, I feel comfortable in assuming that the alternative you had in mind was that the universe was created by the Christian God. Why is that the ONLY alternative if accepted science is wrong? Why not some other scientific theory? Why not creation by one of the Hindu pantheon? Why not the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Invisible PInk Unicorns? Certainly, it strikes me a a false dichotomy; you don’t get to assert that your views are true simply because the accepted science is not (not that I actually am claiming it is, because you certainly have utterly failed in your attempt to poke holes in the modern scientific understanding of the universe).

  32. #32 dean
    May 31, 2013

    sean, if you are expecting any sense of honesty or intelligence from the doctor, you are wasting your time. check his web site, where such gems as

    According to the Bible dimentions it was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high, with three floors on it. That’s like one and a half football fields long.

    can be found (in his discussion of dinosaurs, for some odd reason).

    (Yes, yes 450 feet is something like one and a half football fields long. Thanks for clearing up that intricate calculation.)

    It is interesting that nowhere on the site (I admit, I haven’t checked every link) does he explain why he claims to be a “dr”, or in what discipline that would be.

  33. #33 MNb
    May 31, 2013

    Ah, thanks Dean. I didn’t feel like reading AE lasts comments already and you rationalized it nicely for me.

    “he doesn’t want to believe in the “only alternative”.”
    In a sense (or rather two) I do not want to believe in such alternatives indeed. One is that that alternative is meaningless (see beneath); the second is that scientific knowledge has allowed us to change the appearance of our world more than “revelatory knowledge” (whatever that means) in all the centuries before.

    @Eric: “As far as I can tell, there is no such animal.”
    Glad to meet you. Since a few weeks I have granted myself a 7 on the scale of Dawkins, a few months after finishing Herman Philipse’s God in the Age of Science. So it’s not because of scientific reasons – imo neither QM nor Evolution Theory provides a conclusive argument – but because I think the entire concept of god meaningless.

  34. #34 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    May 31, 2013

    Doctor of Divinity is my degree. I have no professional science training. By the way, Darwin’s only degree was in theology. Lyell was an attorney, but we shouldn’t hold that against him. All my science is self taught (just like Darwin and Lyell) from over 150 science textbooks, plus the internet. However, after using the scientific method for many years for a corporation in problem-solving, I acquired a love for science. I had hands on training with the scientific method, as I chaired the meetings, and did most of the testing personally.

    The New Webster’s International Encyclopedia states on page 133: “Biogenesis – The law of biogenesis is the principle that all living organisms are derived from a parent or parents.”

    On http://www.biologyonline.org/dictionary/Law_of_biogenesis it states:
    Law of biogenesis
    Definition
    noun
    (1) The principle stating that life arises from pre-existing life, not from nonliving material.

    In the New College Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language it states: “bi-o-gen-e-sis – The doctrine that living organisms develop only from other living organisms and not from nonliving matter.

    In Biology – The Dynamics of Life – Glencoe, McGraw-Hill 1995 page 412 it states: “Origins: The Modern Ideas – The concept of biogenesis has been accepted by biologists for more than 100 years. However, biogenesis does not answer one of the most basic questions: How did life begin on Earth?” As stated by the previous sources, the one thing biogenesis does state is that it did not come from nonliving matter. That much has been stated, and is implied by this law.

    I think it is pretty clear about the acceptance of the Law of Biogenesis. It is all that has been observed for over 100 years. If some do not accept it today as a “law” of science, one would have to wonder why? Of course, some call “gravity” just a theory also. I would like to ask them to let me drop a bowling ball off of a tall building onto their head to test it (just kidding), because you never know, a theory could be wrong.

    MNb, you stated you think the entire concept of god is meaningless. You have every right to make that choice. I personally believe a Supernatural Being is consistent with the laws of biogenesis, thermodynamics, cause and effect, and inertia to name a few. I also believe getting to know Him personally gives meaning to all of life. I believe life has no meaning apart from Him. But you have every right to make that choice.

    dean, you stated you shouldn’t expect any sense of honesty or intelligence from me, but you really didn’t explain the honesty part. The intelligence part was because I explained that 450 feet was like 1 1/2 football fields. I was merely trying to demonstrate the enormous size of Noah’s Ark as described in the Bible. Not every one is as sharp as you are or grasp the concept as quickly as you seemingly did.

    You didn’t understand the connection to dinosaurs though, so let me explain that to you. Since dinosaurs are lizards, and lizards keep gorowing as long as they live, you wouldn’t want the oldest and biggest dinosaurs on the ark. You would take younger and smaller ones, so there would be plenty of room on a boat that size for dinosaurs. I thought I explained all that, but I guess you missed it somehow.

    By the way, I try to be completely honest with myself, and others as well. You didn’t explain why you came to that conclusion, but I’m sorry you did, for whatever reason.

    I hope you guys, or girls, have a great weekend. Take care.

  35. #35 dean
    May 31, 2013

    “Some people call gravity a theory.”

    You have clearly fooled yourself into believing you know anything about science.

    I noted, nowhere on your site do you state what your degrees was in, or where it was “earned”. It is clear it did not expand your critical thinking skills any more than your your science books have.

    I read the material about dinosaurs.not really a lick of truth or validity anywhere there. The claptrap about dinosaurs eating only plants and living with humans is the usual nonsense. How can you so easily ignore the scientific evidence against your position? Not very honest. Further, how could you possibly believe a ship of the dimensions you give could possibly hold not only the animals but required supplies? (I know, your mythology explains it; your interpretation of it, anyway.) If you begin by accepting foolish things, as you do, apparently nothing is too foolish to spread.

    But the dinosaurs, ark, and non-existent flood are only items trivial belief, like gnomes and Bigfoot. I am more curious about your ” six step scientific method” you claim had a 100% success rate. Looking at your writings here and your own site, and judging you on them, either that’s a load of bunk or the bar for success was very, very low.

  36. #36 eric
    May 31, 2013

    However, after using the scientific method for many years for a corporation in problem-solving,

    I have been a research scientist and am currently a corporate problem-solver, and the two activities are nothing alike. Corporations simply can’t afford the time and labor required to use scientific practice the way scientists use it. The PhD’s in my corporation are constantly pushing the business folk to slow down and do more error checking, more thorough testing and evaluation before making a business decision. We typically lose. Whether us losing is a good or bad thing is a debate for another day, but the point here is: they’re different.

    I think it is pretty clear about the acceptance of the Law of Biogenesis

    Then you’ve viewed your 150 texts through skewed eyes. You’re telling me not one of them discussed abiogenesis? You’re telling me they all treated the ‘law of biogenesis’ the way they treat the 1LOT or 2LOT? I sincerely doubt that.

    Look, if you don’t believe us, ask a live scientist. Go down to your local, mainstream (i.e. not creationist) University Bio department and ask the professors whether the scientific community views the ‘law of biogenesis’ as a physical/natural law that rules out abiogenesis. Just ask them.

    The intelligence part was because I explained that 450 feet was like 1 1/2 football fields. I was merely trying to demonstrate the enormous size of Noah’s Ark as described in the Bible.

    Everyone’s entitled to their opinion about what counts as “enormous.” But I would point out that most zoos are significantly larger yet can’t support as many animals as the ark supposedly did.

    Since dinosaurs are lizards,

    Dinosaurs aren’t lizards. 150 textbooks plus extensive internet use, and you missed that? Its even mentioned on Wikipedia! I suspect from this that you are reading exceedingly selectively. You could not have really, correctly absorbed a modern biology textbook that covers the subject and arrived at that conclusion.

  37. #37 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    May 31, 2013

    Instead of lizards, I should have said “reptiles.” Even though the word means terrible lizard. Some however consider birds as reptiles, even though they are nothing alike.

    Birds have a 4 chambered heart, reptiles a 3 chambered heart; birds have tube type lungs, reptiles have sack type lungs; their reproductive systems are different; their body coverings are different; their eye coverings are different; feathers come from different genes than scales and attach differently to the skin; birds have the highest metabolic rate on earth, birds the lowest; birds have a system to regulate body heat, reptiles do not; birds reach a growth limit and stop, reptiles keep growing until they die; birds have tender skin with glands, reptiles have tough skin with no glands; birds have light hollow bones, reptiles have dense heavy bones; birds have the muscles for flight, reptiles have no muscles for flight; and birds have hard shelled eggs, and reptiles have leathery eggs. But other than that, just grow a few feathers and take off flying. That’s where that imagination part comes in that you spoke of.

    As Stuart Burgess, Ph.D. Engineering Design, Professor of Combustion Theory said: “Birds are so different from other creatures that there would have been hundreds of thousands of intermediate forms between birds and land animals if birds had evolved. It is often speculated that birds evolved from reptiles. However, there are enormous conceptual differences between the two classes of creature…”

    If you doubt these differences, check Holt Biology 2006, pg 784.

    W. E. Swinton of the British Museum of Natural History said this: “The evolutionary origin of bird is largely a matter of deduction. There is no fossil evidence of the stages through which the remarkable change from reptile to bird was achieved.” That is okay, just use your imagination. In fact, Glencoe Biology, 1994 admitted as much: ““You can better understand how the eye might have evolved if you picture a series of changes during the evolution of the eye.”

    Can you see the changes yet? Just picture them in your mind. You see, this really happened, once upon a time, long ago and far away.

    Lullaby, and good night.

  38. #38 Dr. Arv Edgeworth
    May 31, 2013

    Just in case you swallowed this one, let me enlighten you. Prentice Hall Biology says: “Vestigial structures are remnants of structures that may have had important functions in an ancestral species, but have no clear function in some of the modern descendants.”

    Holt Biology says: ““For example, the hind limbs of whales are vestigial structures.” “Modern whales have… hind limbs, which have been reduced to only a few tiny internal hind-limb bones that have no function.”

    Those hind limb bones that serve no function, are deeply embedded in muscle tissue, each of which strengthens the pelvic wall, and they act as an organ anchor, and the whales cannot reproduce without them. Did those science books say they had no purpose nor function? That isn’t really true is it? There is no evidence they were ever connected to the vertebral column either. See Science, July 1990.

    Vestigal structures?

  39. #39 Michael Fugate
    June 1, 2013

    Arv, Darwin and Lyell were not self taught. They took university courses and they did field work. They had competent instructors in natural history, geology, mathematics and the like. Where exactly did you earn this “doctorate”? Are you sure you just did sent in $12.95 plus shipping and handling? Sort of like Kent Hovind. No matter where, I am sure it was no where near Oxford or Cambridge University. You can’t be so arrogant as to put yourself on a par with Darwin and Lyell, can you?

  40. #40 Verbose Stoic
    June 1, 2013

    eric,

    As far as I can tell, there is no such animal. Instead, what’s happening here is that theists take a perfectly normally phrased knowledge claim and interpret it in a very wierd way, in fact the worst way possible.

    In “The God Delusion”, where he first talks about those categories, it is only 1 and 7 that Dawkins calls knowledge, and those are the ones that are about absolute certainty. Thus, if someone is talking about knowledge claims in a very odd way, it is Dawkins, not his opponents.

    Also note that most of those “strawmen” you talk about work quite well as challenges against Dawkins making a knowledge claim of the normal sort, which is likely why in “The God Delusion” Dawkins is trying to deny that he knows that, while still insisting that it’s just wrong and everyone should just accept that (which requires a knowledge claim to pull off).

    Folks like Dawkins are arguing for a normal knowledge claim that there is no God, the same way anyone might claim there are no unicorns or tomorrow the sun will rise.

    So what standard of knowledge are you using to claim the last two are known, and does it apply to your evidence for God as well?

  41. #41 MNb
    June 1, 2013

    @VS: now that’s a simple question: combine deduction with induction. We have reliable observations that the sun has risen in the past (even this morning, in case you didn’t notice) plus we have a theory which describes it accurately. At the other hand there are no reliable observations of unicorns (and god); neither do we have a theory describing them (or god) accurately. I mean – how is a bodiless entity like a god supposed to interact with the material world? Concrete: if your gods love you, how do you know? What means does he, being bodiless, available to express his love? Not language, body language, behaviour or facial expressions – they all are thoroughly material.

  42. #42 dean
    June 1, 2013

    “As Stuart Burgess, Ph.D. Engineering Design, Professor of Combustion Theory said: “Birds are so different from other creatures that there would have been hundreds of thousands of intermediate forms between birds and land animals if birds had evolved. It is often speculated that birds evolved from reptiles. However, there are enormous conceptual differences between the two classes of creature…”

    If I had read that someone did something as foolish as quoting an engineer`s opinion about birds not being related to dinosaurs I wouldn’t believe it: surely any person truly interested in learning would look to an evolutionary biologist. Your credibility rating is now far below zero.

  43. #43 Verbose Stoic
    June 1, 2013

    MNb,

    @VS: now that’s a simple question: combine deduction with induction.

    Those are methods, not standards. First you need a standard of knowledge — ie what it means to know something — and THEN you can decide if those methods give knowledge or not.

    For example, how do you know that induction or even deduction are methods that produce knowledge at all?

  44. #44 couchloc
    June 1, 2013

    Here is something that I don’t understand. I don’t see why some atheists around here aren’t using a double standard in some of the replies they make to the theist. (And let me note before raising this issue that I’m an atheist myself.)

    MNb@23: “The Law of Cause and Effect states”
    “That’s not a law of physics. Quantummechanics contradicts it. A radioactive atom may decay now or after 100 years or at any given moment in between. There is an effect, but THERE IS NO CAUSE FOR IT, at least according to all the mainstream interpretations of QM. The causal interpretations all have their problems.”

    The idea here is that there are phenomenon which physics accepts, and yet for which we don’t know anything about the causes or means by which they are produced. No bother. If physics says their existence is plausible, then the suggestion is that we should just accept it.

    But then I read the following complaint raised against the theist view of God’s interaction with the world.

    MNb@41: “I mean – how is a bodiless entity like a god supposed to interact with the material world? Concrete: if your gods love you, how do you know? What means does he, being bodiless, available to express his love?”

    Why is it an objection that theists can’t explain how the interaction works? Or that they can’t explain the means by which God’s love is effected? Maybe God’s love is effected in a similar way to how radioactive decay occurs. I’m willing to say there are problems for theism, but I confess I don’t see why this should be one of them.

  45. #45 Kevin Dowd
    June 1, 2013

    Uh.. we can measure a physical effect when the weak force causes a proton to change to a neutron. I don’t think we have any measurements for god’s magic fingers showing their love.

    I had s great discussion with a friend of mine on Memorial Day, he agnostic was arguing for a natural god that filled you with love as you stood on your surfboard with the early morning sun at your back. And he critisized atheists as being “too sure” there was no good.

  46. #46 Kevin Dowd
    June 1, 2013

    (My auto-fill as weird)

    And so I showed how “atma” was great.. but completely a physical process.. as are spirit quests and fasting visions… and he resisted the idea that the definition of a “god” required some super-natural attrbutes. Wster to wine, rising from death.

    He seemed to agree that heaven and he’ll were not real, but the

  47. #47 MNb
    June 2, 2013

    @VS 43: now that’s a bad question – if we can’t produce knowledge we obviously can’t know that we can’t produce knowledge, as it’s part of that same knowledge. I conclude that your demand of a standard is meaningless, as so often with you.
    Moreover you misquote me – not very nice of you. While deduction and induction indeed both are methods my standard is, as I explicitly wrote, the results of both methods agreeing with each other. As I strongly dislike this tactic of yours to omit the essential point you’ll have to be satisfied with this. Till the next time in the next thread.

    @Couchloc: “Maybe God’s love is effected in a similar way to how radioactive decay occurs”
    We can observe radioactive decay. Herman Philipse’s point is that we can’t observe divine love, because a bodiless entity doesn’t have any means available to express that love.
    Of course this is not a problem for you – because of faith. You can also have faith that dry water exists and write a bit fat book about it if you like.

  48. #48 couchloc
    June 2, 2013

    MNb,

    Thanks for this but I’m still not clear on the answer. First, in your characterization of the issue you suggested the worry concerned how God’s love is *effected*. This has to do with how God expresses his love to others, or, as you said, “What means does he have available to express his love?” So this is not a question about God’s intrinsic nature it seems, but the causal means he has for bringing about certain effects in the world. And my question is why is it legitimate for you to require that the theist be able to explain the means by which these theistic effects occur, given that physicists accept the existence of physical effects that have no causes? It seems your view is that we don’t need to have physical mechanisms for an event that occurs, but we are required to have theistic mechanisms for an event that occurs. Why is that?

    Second, I’m not sure what you’re talking about when you say, “Of course this is not a problem for you – because of faith.” I don’t see that this depends on appealing to the notion of faith, and if you read my post I noted I was an atheist.

  49. #49 Michael Fugate
    June 3, 2013

    Simple questions for theists and theist sympathizers – what do we know about gods and how do we know it?

  50. #50 eric
    June 3, 2013

    VS:

    [eric]
    Folks like Dawkins are arguing for a normal knowledge claim that there is no God, the same way anyone might claim there are no unicorns or tomorrow the sun will rise.

    [VS] So what standard of knowledge are you using to claim the last two are known, and does it apply to your evidence for God as well?

    Look, this is very simple and doesn’t really require a formal definition of knowledge at all. Dr. Edgeworth is claiming that atheists claim absolute certainty in their rejection of God. But atheists do not claim absolute certainty in their rejection of God. Therefore, Dr. Edgeworth’s claim is wrong.

    My second (and more general) ponit is that, as a rule of thumb, no one should ever claim ones’ opponent is claiming absolute certainty, because people rarely do that, and when you represent your opponent’s position that way you are probably strawmanning their real point.

    Now, do you disagree with any of that? Is there a compelling reason you think theists should typically assume a statement of “there is no god” is a claim of absolute certainty when they don’t make that assumption about other, equally uncaveted claims?

  51. #51 eric
    June 3, 2013

    Couch: IMO what scientists are doing with the god case is trying to highlight an internal inconsistency of the theist’s own description of a phenomenon. God gives love. Love is a feeling in the brain. But, says the theist, God does not use photons or any other detectable things to give this feeling.

    But, says the scientist, detection and interaction are really the same thing. If we can’t detect it even in principle, the brain wouldn’t be able to interact with it, because our detectors and are brains are made of the same sorts of materials. Positing a theoretically undetectable brain interactor is an internal inconsistency in the theist’s claim. You either get both, or neither. Detectable God, or no way to give love. Undetectable god that gives love is internally inconsistent. Its like married bachelor.

    Moreover, I don’t really think you want to compare God’s love with radioactive decay in terms of lack of cause, because in the case of radioactive decay, we know “the cause of there not being a cause.” We understand that the physics behind decay leads only to a probabilistic, nondeterministic estimation of what will happen. I very much doubt you want to say that the reason the mechanism for God’s love-giving isn’t known is because its inherently random.

  52. #52 couchloc
    June 3, 2013

    Eric, “We understand that the physics behind decay leads only to a probabilistic, nondeterministic estimation of what will happen. I very much doubt you want to say that the reason the mechanism for God’s love-giving isn’t known is because its inherently random.”

    But randomly caused events are still caused events, and this is not how MNb descried the issue above @23. What he said was that radioactive decay occurs (the effect) but there is no cause for it whatsoever. So which is it? I’m still trying to understand why MNb thinks he’s got a good reply to the theist on this issue and given what you’ve said I don’t think you two agree.

  53. #53 eric
    June 3, 2013

    Decay is a nondeterministic event. Here is something I wrote about the subject a few days ago:

    Its useful to think of determinism in mathematical terms. Imagine you represent a system (whether its an atom or a universe) perfectly using a set of mathematical equations. I really mean perfectly: the representation is exact, there are no hidden variables or unknowns, all starting conditions are known. Now, if your system is deterministic, then one need only specify time (t) and everything else can be calculated. In mathematical terms, there is exactly one and only one solution to the set of equations representing that system. That is what determinism is: if you know everything there is to know about the system, you can predict with absolute certainty everything about the system at any time.

    But what if you do all that, and you find (much to your surprise), that there are two or more solutions? What is the explanation for one of them occurring and not the other? There is none; there can be none, because your representation is perfect. There are no hidden variables, no unknowns, there is no cause you haven’t taken into account. If one solution appears but not the others, there is no explanation for why that solution occurred. There can be none: you know everything there is to know about the system, and none of it explains why one solution happened rather than the other.

    Now, I’ve presented this as a bit of a gedanken experiment. A hypothetical. But it isn’t hypothetical – quantum mechanics is nondeterministic in exactly the mathematical way I’ve described above: there are many possible solutions to a perfect mathematical representation of a (QM) system. The solution (a wavefunction) is the square root of the probability of a range of solutions, all of which can occur. And for many QM systems, there are an infinite number of acceptable solutions that differ in probability but are all solutions: all of these infinite solutions can happen based on perfect understanding of the system and starting conditions.

    ***

    So, when MNb refers to decay not having a cause, he is (probably) referring to the fact that the specific decay time (and in some cases, decay type) has no physical cause. There is no physical reason for why atom A decayed in 30 seconds but equivalent atom B decayed in 22. At best, what we can say is that there was a 99.9999…% chance that these two atoms would each decay in the next year, due to their physical properties. But why did 30s and 22s happen? There is no specific cause for that.
    And remember, I’m not talking about a situation of “we don’t know why 30s and 22s happened.” I’m talking about a situation where, given everthyngi that has happened in the universe up until now, all the forces and and laws and physical constraints acting on those atoms, it is still the case that 30s and 22s are both valid courses the universe can take. It takes one, without a specific cause for why.

  54. #54 MNb
    June 3, 2013

    @MF 49: most theists and atheists agree that “bodiless entity” is part of the definition of god. Recently I learned that according to Mormons god is material, but that runs into all kinds of problems (the particular Mormon addressed by remaining silent).

  55. #55 couchloc
    June 3, 2013

    Thanks for your careful reply which is helpful. Let me focus on this particular part first. I’m not a physicist but I get that in QM “the solution (a wavefunction) is the square root of the probability of a range of solutions, all of which can occur.” The system is nondeterministic in the sense that the outcome that occurs is based on a probability. I don’t have any problem with that and that is indeed my understanding.

    You then go on and say this: “So, when MNb refers to decay not having a cause, he is (probably) referring to the fact that the specific decay time (and in some cases, decay type) has no physical cause.”

    But when you say this I’m not sure exactly what you’re claiming. When you say that the specific decay time has “no physical cause” you could be saying that (i) there is no deterministic cause (because the outcome is based on a probability). This means merely that the event occurs and was caused in some way, just not deterministically. On this way of thinking the effect in question had a cause of sorts–it was not uncaused–and is what I would call probabilistically caused. I’m not sure if this is what you mean since you seem to link “cause” to “determinism” in your discussion.

    In contrast you could be saying that (ii) there is no cause whatever for the event which occured. That is, the decay event happened without a cause of any kind–probabilistic or otherwise. This appears to be MNb’s interpretation since he says there is no cause for these events. And I’m just trying to understand at this point which interpretation is the correct one since it seems relevant to evaluating the “law of cause and effect” issue from before.

  56. #56 eric
    June 4, 2013

    Couchloc:

    This means merely that the event occurs and was caused in some way, just not deterministically. On this way of thinking the effect in question had a cause of sorts–it was not uncaused–and is what I would call probabilistically caused. I’m not sure if this is what you mean since you seem to link “cause” to “determinism” in your discussion.

    I think if you are honest, you must admit that when most people use the word “cause,” they mean a deterministic cause. Here’s an analogy to the QM case. Let’s say you have an ideal random number generator, like a perfect platonic 6-sided die. You metaphysically roll it, and get a 6. Now, did the die’s structure – its six equi-probable sides – “cause” the 6 to roll? I think most people would say no, that is not what they mean when they ask for the cause. When someone asks “what’s the cause of the 6,” they are typically asking for an explanation for why a 6 rolled instead of a 1,2,3,4, or 5. In this case, there is no cause for why the 6 rolled instead of a 1-5. The system is not deterministic in that way. Now, if someone asked why a 7 didn’t roll, you can say that the structure of the die itself is the cause of never rolling a 7. But what caused the 6 specifically? Nothing.

    Likewise, there is no cause of/for a specific lifetime for a decaying nucleus.

    Now, when it comes back to metaphysics and whether the universe has a cause, I do not think responding “yes, QM has causes, they are just probabilistic ones” is really going to help you defend the notion of a great chain of causes back to a causa causans. Because “there was simply a nonzero probability that something would happen” is a peachy causa causans if you acccept probabilistic causes into your argument – but I am guessing that simple claim is not what most people will accept as a suficient prime mover or God.

  57. #57 MNb
    June 4, 2013

    Like Einstein said: God doesn’t play dice. Or does he, Couchloc? Would be a reason to reconvert to another religion, like hinduism or pastafarianism.

  58. #58 couchloc
    June 4, 2013

    MNb,

    Would you clear this up and explain what you meant by saying that radioactive decay occurs but “there is no cause for it.” What does that mean exactly, and how is this a reply to the “law of cause and effect”?

    eric, First, on what people honestly mean in using the word “cause” I don’t think we agree. In philosophy the term “cause” is not restricted to “deterministic causes.” The term cause is usually understood to mean “that which produces something” or “that which brings something about.” It is a relation of production by which one thing brings about something else. This is the basic notion at work when people ask such things as: “What caused the door to shut?” What is the cause of the flat tire?” They want to know what produced these events. When understood this way the notion need not be tied to determinism since some events occur only with a probability. When an event occurs as a matter of probability, I would think it is not uncaused, but merely produced by a probabilistic process. So I don’t see a problem with talking about probabilistic causes.

    Second, “When someone asks “what’s the cause of the 6,” they are typically asking for an explanation for why a 6 rolled instead of a 1,2,3,4, or 5. In this case, there is no cause for why the 6 rolled instead of a 1-5.”

    It seems strange to me to say “there is no cause for why the 6 rolled.” At some level there is a cause, which is complex and has to do with the force of the throw, the cut of the die, the resistance on the table, etc. The cause is a probabilistic process and not deterministic, but still a cause of some sort.

    Third, on your last point the issue with the first-cause argument is that if we are counting QM as exibiting probabilistic causes, then I don’t see how it serves as a reply to “the law of cause and effect.” QM is not an example where effects occur “but there is no cause” but only where effects occur because of probabilistic causes. So I’m still unsure why this is a good reply to the problem.

  59. #59 couchloc
    June 4, 2013

    Here is the definition of “cause” from dictionary.com, which appears to agree with my usage.

    “cause”
    noun
    1. a person or thing that acts, happens, or exists in such a way that some specific thing happens as a result; the producer of an effect: You have been the cause of much anxiety. What was the cause of the accident?

  60. #60 Verbose Stoic
    June 5, 2013

    eric,

    Now, do you disagree with any of that? Is there a compelling reason you think theists should typically assume a statement of “there is no god” is a claim of absolute certainty when they don’t make that assumption about other, equally uncaveted claims?

    Well, let’s start with Dawkins,. and that section you ignored. In hs list — that you cited, remember — he talks about knowledge in only two of them: 1 and 7. The ones that talk about absolute certainty. So, if you are going to claim that Dawkins things he knows that God doesn’t exist, it’s going to look like he says that he knows that with absolute certainty. But that’s not important; what’s important is that we now have at least one reason to think that a claim of knowledge relates to a claim of certainty.

    So, then we look to the “normal”, or folk view of knowledge. And there, too, it seems like certainty of at least some sort is implied. We think that if we know something that we can’t be wrong about it; it is true. Now, does that require an absolute logical certainty? When pressed, most will accept that it doesn’t, but it still implies a strong sense of “sureness”.

    So, then, knowing that the loose definition of knowledge implies some sort of certainty, the question is if the objections that may talk about absolute certainty work even with mere sureness. If we look at this thread, we can see that Asher makes a distinction between the knowledge claim of Jesus having a biological father and the claim that evolution rules out there being a creator (even if I don’t see the quote from Asher that talks about him accusing atheists of denying the “bare possibility”; the quote above that doesn’t talk about that at all. So maybe JASON is engaging in the strawman by linking that claim to Asher, causing the problem you cite). But the first claim is not a claim of absolute certainty, but a claim of mere knowledge by your own definition. If you look at the quote from Dennett, once we look behind the rhetorical flourish of advancing the ideas that most people think ridiculous — which you use as well — we can wonder if Dennett really is making a knowledge claim at all from evolution. One would presume that if he wants to say that he knows that there was no creator because of evolution, it would be the case that if the theory of evolution is true then there is no creator, but Dennett admits that that isn’t the case. So is Dennett making a knowledge claim at all?

    Which brings us back to my question, because when you said that “There is no god” is a knowledge claim like any other, you didn’t mean that it could be assessed like those claims, but that we know it just like we know those. But we’ve seen that the standards for knowledge aren’t as clear as we might like. So, when you say that you know those things, what are your standards for knowledge and can we apply those standards to the evidence you have for “There is no god”? And if you aren’t willing to do that, then one should be careful about making the knowledge claim.

  61. #61 eric
    June 5, 2013

    Couchloc:

    The term cause is usually understood to mean “that which produces something” or “that which brings something about.” It is a relation of production by which one thing brings about something else. This is the basic notion at work when people ask such things as: “What caused the door to shut?”

    So, if I ask “what caused this perfectly random dice roll to come up 6,” you think “the die has six sides” is a perfectly legitimate answer?

    It seems strange to me to say “there is no cause for why the 6 rolled.” At some level there is a cause, which is complex and has to do with the force of the throw, the cut of the die, the resistance on the table, etc. The cause is a probabilistic process and not deterministic, but still a cause of some sort.

    If you are talking about a real die, I agree that all those things help determine what specific number will roll. I would even go farther than you and say that real, physical die rolls are deterministic. In theory, knowing everything about such a system would let us predict exactly what will happen. What prevents us from accurate prediction in those cases is lack of information, not some inherent indeterminacy in the system. That is why in my analogy I was very careful to say the example is an ideal case, a platonic die, a metaphysical roll. What I am telling you is that atomic decay is NOT like a normal, physical die, where we assign a probability because we lack information that would let us calculate the end result. Atomic decay is like an ideal die roll, where perfect information does not allow you to calculate the specific result.

    [dictionary definition] a person or thing that acts, happens, or exists in such a way that some specific thing happens as a result; the producer of an effect:

    Nothing acts, happens, or exists in such a way that some specific decay happens as a result. Just like for an ideal random number generator, nothing acts, happens, or exists in such a way that some specific number happens as a result. The specific thing that happens has no producer. The range of possible outcomes has a producer, but not the specific thing that happens. So it seems that your definition supports our claim that atomic decays are uncaused.

  62. #62 eric
    June 5, 2013

    VS:

    Well, let’s start with Dawkins,. and that section you ignored. In hs list — that you cited, remember — he talks about knowledge in only two of them: 1 and 7. The ones that talk about absolute certainty. So, if you are going to claim that Dawkins things he knows that God doesn’t exist, it’s going to look like he says that he knows that with absolute certainty.

    Look, Dawkins is not claiming absolute certainty. He says that explicitly. You seem to be playing a definitional game about this. ‘Well, he uses the word ‘knowledge.’ But knowing requires certainty. So despite his very clear message otherwise, he must secretly be claiming certainty.’

    I think that’s a very twisted interpretation. Its far more likely that he (i) doesn’t claim certainty and is (ii) using ‘to know’ in a loose and vernacular sense. Don’t you?

    So, when you say that you know those things, what are your standards for knowledge and can we apply those standards to the evidence you have for “There is no god”?

    I’m using induction and empiricism, of course. If you want to say those don’t constitute knowledge, then fine. Then we can talk about the fact that I inductively conclude there is no God the same way I inductively conclude my shirt is blue’ instead.
    As I said before, I don’t think we need to get into a technical discussion of the definiton of knowledge at all to answer the question: are atheists making the type of absolute philophical certainty claim that Arv and others characterize them as making. Answer: no, they are not.

  63. #63 Verbose Stoic
    June 5, 2013

    eric,

    I think that’s a very twisted interpretation. Its far more likely that he (i) doesn’t claim certainty and is (ii) using ‘to know’ in a loose and vernacular sense. Don’t you?

    You seem to either be not reading what I’m saying or misremembering the quotes from Dawkins that were given by Dr. Edgeworth. Dawkins NEVER uses the term “knowledge” in those quotes, and in “The God Delusion” when he talks about knowledge he uses it only to talk about absolute certainty. If Dawkins, then, talks about knowledge he is likely NOT using the vernacular, or he’s being confusing.

    And that’s where the rest of the analysis comes in. If you claim that Dawkins is making a knowledge claim in the vernacular even if he doesn’t call it that, then you have to say what it means to be knowledge in the vernacular or loose sense. But, as I pointed out, that also always requires some “sureness”. And Asher is not quoted as insisting that they need the logical deductive certainty that Jason seemingly opposed, so the question you have to ask about all of those “strawmen” is: do they really require knowledge “absolute certainty” when they make their objection, or do they merely need the level of “sureness” that maps to the vernacular use? I think, as I said, that generally they only require the latter, and so your — and Jason’s — insistence that the former is the real objection seems to at least miss the keys to the objection: that even under the vernacular definition, the atheist requires more “sureness” than they have for their claim.

    I’m using induction and empiricism, of course. If you want to say those don’t constitute knowledge, then fine.

    Do you want to claim that you can use induction and empiricism to justify ANY knowledge claim, that there are no cases where that data simply doesn’t produce knowledge? The inductive fallacy demonstrates otherwise, and induction depends heavily on the specific cases to work properly. But you make the same mistake as MNb: I wanted standards, not methods. What standard of evidence do you use to determine that those methods do produce knowledge, and to tell when they do and when they don’t? What is your definition of knowledge beyond “It’s not absolute certainty”?

    I have one and can provide it. Can you?

  64. #64 eric
    June 5, 2013

    And that’s where the rest of the analysis comes in. If you claim that Dawkins is making a knowledge claim in the vernacular even if he doesn’t call it that,

    If he doesn’t call it that, then I’m happy to retract what I said and instead say that he [something] there is no God the same way he [something] the sun will rise tomorrow. Fill in the words YOU THINK that best describes a person’s claim “the sun will rise tomorrow.” Is it know? Guess? Expect? Your choice. The point I’ve been making is that when theists assume an atheist is claiming absolute philosophical certainty when they say ‘there is no god,’ then that theist is very likely to have made a wrong assumption.
    I’ll ask again because you haven’t given me a straight answer on that: do you argee or not? Let’s be explicit: do you think Mnb is making a claim to absolute philosophical certainty when he says ‘there is no god?’ If not, then surely you agree that anyone saying ‘MNb made a claim to know with absolute certainty that god doesn’t exist’ is incorrect. Right?

    I wanted standards, not methods. What standard of evidence do you use to determine that those methods do produce knowledge, and to tell when they do and when they don’t? What is your definition of knowledge beyond “It’s not absolute certainty”?

    Personally, I don’t think a standard is the right approach at all. It seems to me that trying to fit claims in to binary categories of ‘known’ vs. ‘not known’ has been wrapping philosophers around the axle for over a century. It is much more reasonable (IMO) to say that certainty exists on a scale, and as we make more observations we grow relatively more certain. Things like sun rises and god’s non-presence seem to be on the highly certain side of the range to me, because we have thousands of years of repeatable, confirmable observations backing them up, zero repeatable, confirmable observations of exceptions, and we have very solid and consistent theories that explain what we oberve. But on this issue, I certainly (heh) don’t speak for anyone but myself. I’m not giving some formal proposal for knowledge and I’m certainly (heh) not claiming that my position is the ‘science’ position or that scientists in general agree with me about this. But having said all that, I think you are looking to set a bar that simply doesn’t need to be set.

  65. #65 couchloc
    June 5, 2013

    eric,

    What you say in this regard is helpful. Thanks. This leads me back to the issue I raised before. You write that “The specific thing that happens has no producer. The range of possible outcomes has a producer, but not the specific thing that happens. So it seems that your definition supports our claim that atomic decays are uncaused.”

    So let’s agree here there are phenomenon which physics accepts exist, but which “are uncaused.” With decay events there is no thing which produces the effect in question.

    In light of this let me raise the question from before about God’s causal interaction with the world that some here find problematic. My question is why is it legitimate to require that the theist be able to explain the means by which various theistic effects occur, given that physicists accept the existence of physical effects that have no causes? It seems your view is that we don’t need to have physical mechanisms for an event that occurs, but we are required to have theistic mechanisms for an event that occurs. Is that not a double standard? Maybe there is a good answer to this but it sounds like physicists want to allow all kinds of weird causal events in QM, but argue that no weird causal events can occur in considering issues about theism.

  66. #66 MNb
    June 5, 2013

    @58 Couchloc “there is no cause for it (radioactive decay).”
    First of all you have to formulate correctly. You might say there is a cause for radioactive decay, namely the instability of the atom. There is no cause for the timing of the decay though.
    Well, what is the definition for cause? You give “that which produces something”. There is nothing that produces the decay of a specific atom happening now (whenever now is) instead of a few seconds, minutes, hours, days or years later. We can only calculate the probability that a specific radioactive atom decays within a time interval.
    If causality is the underlying principle of the Universe physicists should be able to find the factors that cause and thus determine the time span of any given radioactive atom. They can’t, because there aren’t any. It’s a probabilistic process. Hence the law of cause and effect doesn’t apply – or god is playing dice with radioactive atoms, if you like.

    I’ll give another example: quantum tunneling. A silly but clear example of this is trying to walk through a brick wall. According to the law of cause and effect this is impossible. Probability of success is exactly zero. That’s what classical physics says, which is causal. According to QM it actually is possible if you try often enough. The probability of success is inconceivably small, but is there and in theory can be calculated. On atomic scale this probability is very conceivable; the phenomenon has been predicted, observed and there are technical applications.
    You can’t describe the tunnel effect in terms of cause and effect, but perfectly in terms of probability with the aid of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (which should be called the Probability Principle instead, to avoid semantic confusion). The tunnel effect is another example of god playing dice.
    Now there are some philosophers of religion (like my compatriot Emmanuel Rutte) who claim that in physics probabilism will be replaced by causality in the end, but that’s an argumentum ad futurum. That’s science – no absolute certainty.

    “The cause is a probabilistic process”
    This is a contradiction in terminis. Causality always implies probability 0 (no cause) or 1 (one or more causes). Quantummechanical phenomena typically have a value in between.

    “QM is not an example where effects occur”
    Of course. But QM is a perfect example where uncaused phenomena occur.

    “My question is ….”
    Because the abrahamistic versions of god all are strictly causal. QM can’t be used as an argument against pastafarianism and all the polytheisms. Neither do I claim that QM provides a conclusive argument against abrahamistic gods; I claim that those believers have an unsolved problem.

    “we don’t need to have physical mechanisms for an event that occurs”
    That’s incorrect. Point is that all physical mechanisms are probabilistic. Eric’s example of rolling dice is pretty accurate in this respect. By no means I can predict what the result of any given throw will be, but if you throw 6000 times I’m pretty sure you’ll have about 1000 times a 6.

    “it sounds like …”
    To you, possibly because you don’t get how probabilism works. You’re not to blame for it; I clearly remember how shocked I was when I was confronted with this implication the first time. QM doesn’t have causal events, weird or not. According to QM relations we see as causal only have a probability very close to 1 – like banging your head against a wall instead of going through it.
    If you really want to know I recommend you to read Wikipedia on quantummechanics and related entries. As a teacher physics I can tell you it’s reliable.

  67. #67 couchloc
    June 5, 2013

    Thanks for your detailed answer which clears up where the issues are.

    1. “First of all you have to formulate correctly. You might say there is a cause for radioactive decay, namely the instability of the atom. There is no cause for the timing of the decay though.” —I like this formulation because it makes sense to me that causation is involved somewhere, though not everywhere.

    2. “The cause is a probabilistic process” “This is a contradiction in terminis. Causality always implies probability 0 (no cause) or 1 (one or more causes). Quantummechanical phenomena typically have a value in between.”—This is an area of disagreement because in philosophical discussions of causality it is thought there can be probabilistic causation. I’ll just point this out for reference. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probabilistic_causation

    3. “Because the abrahamistic versions of god all are strictly causal. QM can’t be used as an argument against pastafarianism and all the polytheisms. Neither do I claim that QM provides a conclusive argument against abrahamistic gods; I claim that those believers have an unsolved problem.” –This is helpful since I agree there is an unsolved problem and I don’t see it as decisive either. So this clears things up for me and I think I’ll just leave it there since we’re not too far apart.

  68. #68 MNb
    June 6, 2013

    @Couchloc add 2: OK, I didn’t know that. A superficial glance didn’t make me clear how it would apply to QM though.

  69. #69 eric
    June 6, 2013

    Couchloc:

    My question is why is it legitimate to require that the theist be able to explain the means by which various theistic effects occur, given that physicists accept the existence of physical effects that have no causes?

    Both groups are required to explain their claims; how does it work and how can we test your explanation. Treatment is equal. Remember, QM doesn’t just say some events are nondeterministic; it explains many observations, it makes many predictions that have since been shown to be true, and it happens to entail that some events are nondeterministic. Moreover, it predicts the conditions under which nondeterministic events can happen, the distribution of expected results in a nondeterministic system, and conditions that can cause a system to revert to determinism. All of that is testable: the conditions, the distributions, how to force a nondeterministic system to go deterministic. All of it has been tested, and the results are consistent with the theory.

    So, in contrast to theism, “its nondeterministic” is not used in science as an excuse to avoid giving details. In science, its one of many testable claims of a highly detailed mechanism.

    Also in contrast with theism, we actually have confirmed, day-to-day events that require an explanation. You don’t; physical-law-breaking miracles are not a confirmed, day-to-day observation. So I’d say its even more important that you come up with a theory (than us), since you are asking people to believe something that doesn’t even have an observation behind it. If that sounds unfair, remember its just analogous to saying that the claim “bigfoot exists” requires more explanation than the claim “a blue cup on my desk exists.” Bigfoot needs a theory of ‘how’ more than blue cups on desks need one, because people see blue cups on desks every day, but even the existence of bigfoot is questionable.

    Now, if you want to come up with a testable miracle theory that is like QM – i.e., one that says miracles have no cause and are nondeterministic – be my guest. Keep in mind such an explanation would imply that there is no intelligent decision behind when and where miracles occur. So, theologically, it may not be satisfactory.

    It seems your view is that we don’t need to have physical mechanisms for an event that occurs, but we are required to have theistic mechanisms for an event that occurs.

    See above; we have a testable theory that provides a mechanism for many things that occur, and also predicts that some events don’t have a cause. This is a very far cry from theism, which is not testable and seems to have no mechanism for anything.

    it sounds like physicists want to allow all kinds of weird causal events in QM,

    This is a quibble and you can feel free to ignore this section of my response, but “want” is probably not the right term. I expect most scientists are dragged kicking and screaming into acceptance of the more absurd claims of QM. You need to realize that QM doesn’t match our human intuitions about how the way the world works any more than it matches yours. Nobody encounters QM for the first time and goes “of course, it makes perfect sense to me that a single particle would simultaneously take two paths to a detector.” That doesn’t make human-intuition sense to anyone, including us. Probably one of the reasons its the most tested theory in science is because we have a hard time believing our results, too.

    However, when confronted with the empirical data that our deepest intuitions about how the universe works are wrong, we give up our intuitions. At the human scale, every event has a cause. Our minds and feeling tell us this is right, this is the way things are. But our minds and feelings turn out to be extremely poor guidance to how things work at the subatomic level. It appears that our eyes can deceive us. Don’t trust them. Let go, Luke – something can come from nothing. :)

  70. #70 Verbose Stoic
    June 6, 2013

    eric,

    The main issue that you’ve been fencing around is that I think that you and even Jason focus too much on trying to say “We don’t think it’s absolutely certain, so your argument is aimed at a strawman!”, when the arguments work perfectly well against the lower level of certainty involved in more normal knowledge claims. And, again, to accuse them of the strawmen to appeal to some kind of “normal” definition of knowledge seems to ignore what that normal meaning is.

    So, let’s look directly at the claim that you rely on, which is that you think that we can be as certain about there not being a god as we are about the sun rising tomorrow. The problem you run into is that many people — myself included — will DENY that. So, if you think that they are equally evidenced and I don’t, then even if we both accept that knowledge does not require absolute certainty the objection is still that the evidence you are citing does not justify the certainty you feel towards the claim you are making.

    Which works out to precisely a claim of “You don’t really know that because X could be true”. And that’s the REAL claim that the theists make, that it seems to me the atheists dodge by dropping to “Well, we aren’t claiming absolute certainty!”, because the comment says that you can’t justify the certainty you ARE giving to that claim, like you do here.

    At this point, you have two choices. You can either work out the standards of evidence required for the level of certainty you claim, or you can make it a personal view. But if you take the latter tack, then you can’t say anything about theists who say that their faith gives them that degree of certainty (and they don’t usually mean absolute logical certainty either).

    So, to answer your question, I think that a lot of atheists make knowledge claims, and that knowledge claims always imply that if you could give me the same evidence I would be irrational if I did not also claim to know that God doesn’t exists. But I and many theists deny that, even after seeing your evidence. That’s what Asher seems to be saying when he says that evolution doesn’t provide that level of knowledge, and the opposition to “bare possibility” seems to be on the same track. Yes, Dawkins would be saying that to him “There is no god” is equivalent to “The sun will rise tomorrow”, but we are justified in asking why he is that certain of the first claim.

  71. #71 Michael Fugate
    June 6, 2013

    On a scale of 1 to 100, how certain are you that a god exists?

  72. #72 Michael Fugate
    June 6, 2013

    Let me also add that if I believed in the god that the intelligentsia believe in, I would be much less certain the sun was going to come up tomorrow than I am now.

  73. #73 eric
    June 6, 2013

    VS:

    So, let’s look directly at the claim that you rely on, which is that you think that we can be as certain about there not being a god as we are about the sun rising tomorrow. The problem you run into is that many people — myself included — will DENY that.

    That’s a fair comment, and we can start another conversation about that. However, you did start commenting on this thread halfway through. Your very first comment #40 was a response my response to #26, where Dr. Arv claims Dawkins is denying even the bare possiblity of a designer.Let’s put that baby to rest before we start another conversation, shall we? Do we agree on these statements:
    1.. Dr. Arv is wrong, Dawkins does no such thing.
    2. Jason is right, pretty much no non-believer denies the bare possibility of God.
    3. Eric is right in that its generally not a good idea to interpret someone else’s claim about the existence of god (either for or against) as abosolute philosophical certainty, unless they explicitly tell you they’re claiming absolute philosophical certainty.

    Three ‘I agrees’ and I’ll happily discuss the normal certainty of belief or nonbelief in god.

    to me pointing out that Dawkins is not claiming certainty, and you seemed to take issue with that point. So I think it’s fair

  74. #74 eric
    June 6, 2013

    ack, cut and paste error. Ignore the last two lines.

  75. #75 couchloc
    June 6, 2013

    eric,

    Note where MNb says that “Neither do I claim that QM provides a conclusive argument against abrahamistic gods; I claim that those believers have an unsolved problem.” This seems like the right attitude to me because arguments from causation are always tricky and we don’t have a good understanding of such relations themselves (which affects our interpretation of “the law of cause and effect”). I’m willing to accept some of the broader problems for theism you’ve described. But my concern here has been with the narrow one of the law of cause and effect and QM.

  76. #76 eric
    June 6, 2013

    Couchloc,
    I hope my answers (especially the last one) has answered the original question you posed in #40 – why does science demand theists give answers for causes when science doesn’t? Answer: we do demand them of science, science has answered those questions with theories like QM, and these theories provide massive, testable, tested, and confirmed details. Which is in sharp contrast with theistic claims; no theories, no predictions, no confirmations of theories. Heck, after thousands of years, even the existence of the phenomena a miracle-theory would be intended to explain is unclear. You’re at the stage of “I have no explanation for how blurgs buzz.” “Well, that’s a problem…but a bigger one is you have no evidence that there is such a thing as a blurg.”

  77. #77 MNb
    June 7, 2013

    “Note where MNb says ….”
    That’s because science never provides absolute certainty, something Eric without doubt knows. It’s not because causation in physics is tricky or something. As I’m a pretty slow thinker I still have to study probabilistic causation to find out what it means for QM.
    But Eric was right above – while in principle (ie neglecting the huge practical problems regarding calculation) throwing dice can be described in terms of cause and effect that’s not the case with quantum tunnelling and radioactive decay.
    In fact Eric was too modest above.

    “it predicts the conditions under which nondeterministic events can happen”
    QM is a universal theory – it claims that it can correctly describe every single event in the Universe. We don’t in daily life for a practical reason, to make calculation easier, just like you assume the Earth is flat when you go to your work and want to know how much time you need.
    Classical (causal) physics claims to be universal too, but has been falsified under certain conditions.

  78. #78 couchloc
    June 7, 2013

    I’m not going to pursue this anymore since I think we’ve sorted out some issues. I still have a few concerns with how probabilistic causation relates to this topic, but I’ve learned something from each of your comments. Interestingly there is a discussion in the SEP entry that raises some of the issues we’ve been discussing if you’re interested (I didn’t know this). Section 5.1

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

  79. #79 MNb
    June 7, 2013
  80. #80 Verbose Stoic
    June 8, 2013

    eric,

    What your kinda missing is that my challenge there was to whether “denying the bare possibility” HAD to mean “absolute logical impossibility”. I don’t think it does. So I think we can talk about two ways to talk about “bare possibiltiy”:

    1) Bare logical/conceptual possibility
    2) Bare empirical possibility.

    So, does Dawkins deny 1)? No. But some atheists do, if they make an argument like saying that the concept of God is self-contradictory. Does Dawkins deny 2)? I’d say yes. Do Asher and Dr. Arv challenge atheists on claiming that evolution means that there is no God based on 1)? It doesn’t seem that way to me. Do they challenge it based on 2). That seems to be what they are after to me, yes.

    So, on the questions:

    1) If we use bare possibility 1), I agree. If we use bare possibility 2), I disagree.

    2) I disagree. Anyone who claims that the concept of God is self-contradictory denies bare possibility 1), and a lot of them deny bare possibility 2).

    3) I disagree. The interpretation should be based on the claim that was made and what that entails, not on what the atheists THINKS it entails. If they make an argument that only works if they are trying to deny bare possibility 1), then if they don’t want to say that they should use a different argument. This is one of the reasons I dislike attempts to use the Problem of Evil to make a claim of “implausibiltiy”; the argument is meant to establish that we shouldn’t have the world we have if we had a benevolent god, but if you accept that we could have this world with a benevolent god, what does it matter to anyone else that you find that to be implausible?

    And so, we return to the question that you say is “new”: the claims of Asher and Dr. Arv seem, to me, to simply be that you can’t justify the certainty you’re claiming — whatever that is — with the evidence you have. So you need to tell us what level of certainty you have and how to get there from your evidence, and not merely make accusations of strawmen based on a claim that the counter is aimed at or only works for bare logical possibility. If the counter can work for even your level of certainty, griping about an assumption of logical certainty still seems like a dodge.

  81. #81 Verbose Stoic
    June 8, 2013

    Michael Fugate,

    That’s a bad question for me, since I don’t rank beliefs/knowledge on a certainty scale. I merely believe God exists, but don’t think I know that (and don’t think I CAN know that). My standard for knowledge is the reliabilist one.

  82. #82 Michael Fugate
    June 8, 2013

    VS, so the answer is 100. Thanks.

  83. #83 Verbose Stoic
    June 8, 2013

    Um, how in the world did you get to the answer being 100 to on a scale of 1 to 100, how certain I am that God exists, presuming that 100 is the most certain, when I commented that I merely believe that God exists, but don’t claim to know it? Surely you cannot in any way think that claiming to know something is of less certainty than claiming to believe something, especially when I was clear in this thread that knowledge claims actually required “sureness”, and so were closer to absolute certainty than anything else?

  84. #84 eric
    June 10, 2013

    So you need to tell us what level of certainty you have

    I am qualitatively highly certain that revelatory methodologies for understanding anything, whenever they are tested, do no better than chance would predict. Thousands of years, not controlled repeatable successes. Its no better that casting runestones. So belief in any theology that is based on revelation (Judaism and Christianity are) is unwarranted. It could be right, but there is simply no reason to trust the method used to arrive at the conclusion.

    Another thing which you didn’t bring up, but which is important when assessing whether to trust a methodology, is the concept of precision. Revelation is highly imprecise: just look at the wide range of different and contradictory answers it gives.
    This imprecision means that even if the method is accurate, we have good reason to throw out its results and never trust it. An accurate but very imprecise method is sort of like a scale that tells you your true weight, + or – 1-1,000 pounds. Would you use a scale like that? Most people would just throw it out as a waste of space: telling me my weight +/- 1000 pounds is worthless.

    and how to get there from your evidence,

    Thats pretty simple; you observe how well the methodology does under controlled, testable conditions. You apply what you learn to the conclusions you can’t confirm. I am fairly certain that QM works on all the atoms not in laboratory tests because, from the evidence, it works so spectacularly well to predict the behavior of the atoms that are. In the same way, I am fairly certain that no priest’s revelation about the nature or existence of God can be trusted because, from the evidence, none of their revelations about testable things do better than the null hypothesis.

  85. #85 Verbose Stoic
    June 11, 2013

    eric,

    The issue here is that it seems to me that all of your discussion here are about reasons why you think theists aren’t justified in making a strong certainty claim about their God existing, but what I wanted was what level of certainty you have for the proposition “God does not exist” and your evidence for that. Heck, just to make it simple, let’s limit it to the Christian God: how certain are you that that God doesn’t exist and what reasons do you have to justify that level of certainty?

    In terms of methodology, it seems to me that you are grasping at a reliabilist notion of knowledge, but don’t really understand what that would mean, and so you are making it far more complicated than it needs to be.