Pharyngula

Eugenie Scott in Kansas

I have to preface this with the comment that I like Eugenie Scott, I think she does a wonderful job, and she’s trying to accomplish the difficult task of treading the line between being a representative of science and building an interface with culture and politics. I couldn’t do that job. I’d be inspiring rioting mobs outside the office window. However, I also think she’s wrong, and that she’s working too hard to pander to public superstition to be effective at communicating science.

Jon Voisey took notes on her recent lecture in Kansas. Much of what she said I can go along with, although I think sometimes she’s failing to go the step further necessary to make the fundamental point. Like this:

Yet despite this, science is a limited way of knowing. The reason for this is that science can only explain the natural world, the universe of matter an energy, and as such, it can only use natural causes.

It’s all well and good to say science is limited…to understanding the entire freaking universe. This kind of admission is making a tacit nod to the unfounded claims of the superstitious, that there is something more than matter and energy and time and information and this whole grand collection of dust and stars and galaxies that we live in. Why? If someone wants to claim there’s something more, let them explain it and show some kind of evidence that it is worth considering.

Jon and the Lawrence Journal-World report that she also talked a bit about religion, to tell us that scientists shouldn’t talk about religion…while talking about religion herself, of course. I think what that means is that we should talk about religion only when we are giving aid and comfort to the irrational prejudices of the public; when we make people uncomfortable, we’re supposed to throw up our hands and say we don’t have any authority on this matter. It doesn’t sound quite fair to me. Why should the tool that has proven itself most effective at dealing with questions of matter and energy be automatically stripped from us when trying to address the beliefs of beings of matter and energy who think they’re being affected by some mysterious something?

In the ongoing battle between evolution and intelligent design, Scott told a Kansas University audience Thursday night, science as a discipline shouldn’t be part of the battle’s landscape.

Rather, Scott said, science’s only concern is with the empirical observation, testing and recording of the ways of the natural world.

If there is a fight to be waged, she said, it should be between those who believe some nonmaterial force helps shape the world — including intelligent design proponents — and those who philosophize the purity of the natural, observable world.

No, Dr Scott, I reject your attempt to deny the applicability of science to the affairs of us material beings in this one claim. If someone wants to argue about the outcome of a wrestling match between angels, I’ll agree and step out of it (except, perhaps, to mock the debaters over the unknowable). When someone wants to argue that the angels are wrestling with me, or you, or the entire population of Pakistan, though, I do have a dog in that fight, and I say that science is the appropriate method to address the claim.

Jon reproduced a table she used to distinguish science and religion. I depart from the Scott camp at the point in this table where she claims science can offer no opinion.

Characteristic Religion Science
Logic YES YES
Revelation YES NO
Mystical/Personal States of being YES NO
Supernatural Powers YES Assume NO
Belief in non-material world YES NO OPINION
Belief in supernatural beings YES NO OPINION
Belief in afterlife YES NO OPINION
Concern with Evil YES NO
Sense of Awe YES NO OPINION

Wait a minute…what about belief in a non-material world that affects ours, or in meddlesome supernatural beings who affect our lives? Are we supposed to pretend that people are not making claims of an influence on our universe—and a rather acute and personal affect on almost every aspect of our personal lives, from what we eat and how we dress to who we should have sex with and what the entire purpose of our lives might be? That’s disingenuous. It is absurd. It is an adoption of the excuses of the superstitious, and it denies the realities of religious belief.

Perhaps there are other things that should be added to that table. Apparently, we should have no opinion on “Belief that the position of Venus in the sky at the time of our birth affects our love life.”

We should also have no opinion on “Belief that a chi substance flows through channels in our body to affect our health.”

Some people, the Breatharians, believe you don’t need food—if you are in the proper state of mind, you can live on air and sunlight. Science can have no opinion on this.

If our president says God personally talks with him and has told him to nuke Iran, scientists shouldn’t even blink—we should consider the possibility of non-physical entities sending magic messages to the skull-meat of our leader an event just as likely as that he has gone insane.

Science does have a position on those issues: until there is evidence provided for the claims, they are bullshit. And naively pretending that science has no position is mollycoddling bullshit.

Sean Carroll notes that Natalie Angier has something to say on this topic. It’s worth reading.

Scientists think this is terrible–the public?s bizarre underappreciation of one of science?s great and unshakable discoveries [evolution], how we and all we see came to be–and they?re right. Yet I can?t help feeling tetchy about the limits most of them put on their complaints. You see, they want to augment this particular figure–the number of people who believe in evolution–without bothering to confront a few other salient statistics that pollsters have revealed about America?s religious cosmogony. Few scientists, for example, worry about the 77 percent of Americans who insist that Jesus was born to a virgin, an act of parthenogenesis that defies everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction. Nor do the researchers wring their hands over the 80 percent who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the laws of thermodynamics be damned. ?

So, on the issue of mainstream monotheistic religions and the irrationality behind many of religion?s core tenets, scientists often set aside their skewers, their snark, and their impatient demand for proof, and instead don the calming cardigan of a a kiddie-show host on public television. They reassure the public that religion and science are not at odds with one another, but rather that they represent separate ?magisteria,? in the words of the formerly alive and even more formerly scrappy Stephen Jay Gould. Nobody is going to ask people to give up their faith, their belief in an everlasting soul accompanied by an immortal memory of every soccer game their kids won, every moment they spent playing fetch with the dog. Nobody is going to mock you for your religious beliefs. Well, we might if you base your life decisions on the advice of a Ouija board; but if you want to believe that someday you?ll be seated at a celestial banquet with your long-dead father to your right and Jane Austen to your left-and that she?ll want to talk to you for another hundred million years or more–that?s your private reliquary, and we?re not here to jimmy the lock.

Take off the comfy cardigan, Dr Scott. Scientists have a role to play in our culture, and it’s not as the pleasant, soothing flim-flam artists, mumbling consolation and excuses in return for a donation on the offering plate. We’re supposed to be clear-eyed and critical, even when it’s easier to play the priest and lie. I think you’re doing a bang-up job of accommodating the American citizenry to the fluff and nonsense of woolly religious thinking, but that’s not a job that needs to be done, and it’s not your job.

Maybe you could try channeling the ka of Natalie Angier (I know she’s not dead yet, but heck, why limit ourselves to mere temporalities, as long as we’re conjuring up ætheric intelligences?) next time you’re talking to the public about religion and creationism? It might help. It might actually focus the debate on the root causes of the problem. I also found Angier’s article much more interesting and informative than the accounts of your talk—it’s something to aspire to, at any rate.

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    If something other than matter-energy was found, it would still be a part of the natural world.

    This point is within the powers of comprehension of any reasonably intelligent person. If Dr. Scott makes arguments that contradict it, she is willfully attempting to deceive, and should be treated as any other deceiver.

  2. #2 John Pieret
    November 19, 2006

    If someone wants to claim there’s something more, let them explain it and show some kind of evidence that it is worth considering.

    Why should only those things that can be shown by the evidence you will accept be considered “worth considering”?

  3. #3 Rey Fox
    November 19, 2006

    You have a better kind of evidence?

  4. #4 John Pieret
    November 19, 2006

    Why would it have to be “better” and how are you measuring that anyway?

    Hint: saying that yours does a good job with the natural world is seriously circular.

  5. #5 Jim Harrison
    November 19, 2006

    Framing this debate as a war between science and religion grants science too easy a victory. There are, after all, a great many human activities that are neither scientific nor religious. I think it unfortunate that debates about evolution vs creationism or intelligent design often turn into assertions of an indefensible scientism that proclaims science’s hegemony over every other form of human thought, whether legal, philosophical, aesthetic, historical, or political.

    Even the world’s best can opener is a lousy paint brush.

  6. #6 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 19, 2006

    This is the same old question of tactics. And the question to be answered first is, ‘What do you want to achieve?’

    Both the Myers and the Scott camps agree that the real fundamentalists are probably unreachable. It makes no difference what approach you try, you won’t change their beliefs one iota.

    The next question is, are there more moderate believers who might be swayed if approached sympathetically? If there are then will any attempt to change their views lead to worthwhile practical results?

    I lean towards Eugenie Scott’s approach that sympathetic persuasion is better than confrontation where possible. Where she would be wrong is if she is misleading her audience about what science is able to investigate.

    That said, when atheists and agnostics are confronted about their lack of belief in a god, they should stand their ground and make it quite clear why they have no belief in such a being.

  7. #7 N.Wells
    November 19, 2006

    Science is on a different plane from a sense of awe?????

    Charles Playfair, when he became the second person to properly appreciate the immensity of geological history: “The mind grows giddy looking into the abyss of time.”

  8. #8 Steven
    November 19, 2006

    All we have is the natural world. No more, no less. It is all I need.

  9. #9 SEF
    November 19, 2006

    science is a limited way of knowing … it can only use natural causes

    That does seem to be pre-supposing the existence of some unnatural/supernatural cause(s) for which there isn’t any credible evidence. Science could only sensibly be said to be limited in that manner were such things already to have been shown to exist. And, in doing so, they would then pretty much be falling into the natural cause category anyway…

  10. #10 Scott Hatfield
    November 19, 2006

    PZ: I know you crave a more red-blooded discourse, but don’t you think it’s possible that it’s ‘coloring’ your judgement here?

    Of course, science has *something* to say about the consequences of claims, and much of the time the claim and the consequence are the same. Sometimes, however, the consequence and the claim are *not* the same.

    Take, for example, the claim that some Palestinian female reproduced without two millenia ago. An endless number of studies could demonstrate the improbability of that outcome, but how would you demonstrate the *impossibility* of this outcome via purely natural processes? And, even if you did, how could any of this invalidate the *possibility* of a supernatural claim?

    So, I think you should give Dr. Scott a little more slack. I don’t really think that she’s asserting that the consequences of supernatural claims can’t be tested; after all, I’m a believer, and supposedly predisposed to special pleading and hand-waving, but I understand that’s not the point she’s making. There’s a whole class of general claims that are not subject to being falsified, and we don’t have to assert the contrary in order to exclude them from science. In fact, that’s the beauty of it….SH

  11. #11 Millimeter Wave
    November 19, 2006

    I have a basic question, absent the answer to which I find it difficult to proceed with this whole “limited to the natural world” question.

    I’m guessing that many people have already thought long and hard about this question, but I’ve never seen a succinct answer to it. Can anybody here help?

    Here’s the question:

    What, in precisely bounded terms, does “supernatural” mean?

    btw, this is a genuine question. I’m really not at all sure how to formulate an answer.

  12. #12 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    Take, for example, the claim that some Palestinian female reproduced without two millenia ago. An endless number of studies could demonstrate the improbability of that outcome, but how would you demonstrate the *impossibility* of this outcome via purely natural processes?

    I’m going to presume that you meant to say “reproduced without fertilization”.

    And that is not the claim. The claim is that said Palestinian female was impregnated by a supernatural being. The counterargument that reveals with line of argumentation to be false has been demonstrated to be beyond your severely limited comprehension.

    Occam’s Razor must be grasped lightly, or it has a tendency to cut your throat.

  13. #13 BC
    November 19, 2006

    Meh. The post isn’t really all that convincing. The line between religious belief and what science can verify isn’t where you say it is. Yes, science can, at times, verify or falsify a particular religious tenet. But, not all religious claims are subject to scientific tests even when they do affect the world. For example,

    Few scientists, for example, worry about the 77 percent of Americans who insist that Jesus was born to a virgin, an act of parthenogenesis that defies everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction. Nor do the researchers wring their hands over the 80 percent who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the laws of thermodynamics be damned.

    I don’t believe in God, but neither do I think science can tell us anything about whether Jesus was born to a virgin or rose from the dead. My worldview does not *demand* that miracles don’t happen. My worldview is that miracles haven’t happened. There’s a huge difference between the two. Claiming that the virgin birth and resurection didn’t happen because things don’t normally work that way is going to sound stupid to everyone except one subsection of people who don’t believe in the virgin birth or resurrection. To the religious, this is an extremely poor criticism. On the flip side, it’s about as dumb as a creationist claiming that mutations are never good – and they won’t accept evidence to the contrary because they already “know” it. If you’re going to fight religion, you have to use arguments that the religious are going to understand. Making arguments that you refute the existence of miracles a priori, and therefore miracles didn’t happen is just going to make atheists look silly and stupid.

  14. #14 John Wilkins
    November 19, 2006

    PZ (you knew I’d weigh in, didn’t you?) Genie is right; you are wrong. Science has no opinion about anything that is outside its frame of reference. Any claims that are made about things science cannot investigate are nonscientific, not antiscientific. Making it the sine qua non of being scientific that one rejects all nonscientific claims is to license the arguments of those who think science is another religion. It also will force people to choose between what they deeply believe and the acceptance of science as a way of knowing (and it is not clear to me, even as a damned physicalist, that there are no other ways of knowing – ethical claims, for example, are not scientifically verifiable, although if they require falsehoods to be true they are falsifiable).

    You may not like the fact that Genie herself is a theist. But she’s a damned good defender of science qua science.

  15. #15 oldhippie
    November 19, 2006

    PZ, you and Dawkins may be good for the world. I just went over to Huffington Post and read a proportion of the letters concerning Depak Chopra’s refutation of Dawkins. There are several hundred of them and they seem to run about 9 to one in favor of Dawkins.
    Poeple are very suseptible to public opnion. If religious people say “god is real and so are demons, and the pope is right to have a exorcist”, and more enlightened people say “we must respect faith whatever we may believe ourselves” it means you have have to be a rebel to stick your neck out and say “Bullshit”. What you and Dawkins are doing apart from telling the truth, is to make it allright to say Bullshit to the X-man and the tooth fairy.
    I really think it might be working. I wouldn’t say the tide has turned, but we are getting significant eddies.

  16. #16 The Disgruntled Chemist
    November 19, 2006

    On the flip side, it’s about as dumb as a creationist claiming that mutations are never good – and they won’t accept evidence to the contrary because they already “know” it.

    That’s a false analogy, BC. People who don’t believe in the virgin birth do so because of the evidence – there’s no mechanism by which humans reproduce asexually. People who don’t believe in mutations that increase information do so in spite of the evidence, because those mutations are inconvenient for them and their beliefs.

  17. #17 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    Miracles are exercises in wish-fulfillment by the human imagination. Religious stories about miracles are just so much fiction, just like the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was a fictional account about some Jews. Fencing off stories dealing with religion from all other stories as if they are somehow not also fictions but instead fact is what’s silly to my mind.

  18. #18 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    Science has no opinion about anything that is outside its frame of reference.

    Sure it does. If someone claims they see the Virgin Mary in a tortilla, science doesn’t refrain from noting that it isn’t a miracle but is instead a phenomena known as pareidolia.

  19. #19 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    Science has no opinion about anything that is outside its frame of reference. Any claims that are made about things science cannot investigate are nonscientific, not antiscientific.

    All of reality is within science’s frame of reference. Science doesn’t have ‘opinions’, it has positions, and the position it takes on things outside its bounds is that they do not exist. You and Scott are wrong – PZ is right.

    Woosh!

  20. #20 Shnakepup
    November 19, 2006

    What, in precisely bounded terms, does “supernatural” mean?

    I’m not sure if i can give a formal, precisely bounded definition, but here goes…

    Supernatural, i guess, could be defined as anything that is outside of nature, or outside of natural law. In a practical sense, you could say that something that seems outside of natural law is supernatural.

    According to a naturalistic worldview, nothing can be supernatural, because then it could only exist outside of nature, and therefore, not exist. To put it another way, nothing can ever be supernatural because anything that exists can be and must be explained by natural processes, and therefore, is not supernatural, just natural. Anything that seems supernatural to us is probably just natural in a way that we cannot see or detect (yet).

    I dunno, maybe i’ve butchered the definition. Anyone want to try and help me out here? To me, trying to define “supernatural” is like trying to define “unreal”, in that it can only really be defined as the absence or opposite of something else…

  21. #21 PZ Myers
    November 19, 2006

    John, if someone wants to make up stuff about the goings on between Zeus and Hera on mystical old Mt Olympus, you’re right: it’s non-science, I can’t say a thing about it. When one says Zeus impregnated a human female, then I can say that science does take a stand on that: it almost certainly is false. It doesn’t even make sense. When people say Zeus is watching over us now and will aid us in our battles if we make the proper sacrifices, science says baloney. There’s no evidence.

    If you want to tell me there’s another way of knowing, go ahead, but you haven’t, and it’s clear that religion isn’t, either. Why should we privilege religion as some kind of intellectually valuable asset to the human struggle to understand our world? It’s been a flop so far, and doesn’t even have any promise to help.

    We could go around and around on this, but you’re putting yourself in Michael Behe’s position, of having to give credit to astrology as an equal of science in figuring out how the world works.

    By the way, Eugenie Scott is an atheist, unless she’s had some conversion lately.

  22. #22 Shnakepup
    November 19, 2006

    Science has no opinion about anything that is outside its frame of reference. Any claims that are made about things science cannot investigate are nonscientific, not antiscientific.

    “Scientific” and “Not Scientific” are terms that describe processes, not things. A claim, in itself, cannot be called scientific or nonscientific; it is just a claim. When someone investigates or questions that claim, that is when you can start describing stuff as “science” or “not science”.

    For example, consider the whole Virgin Birth thing. Anyone can certainly start a scientific study to determine whether or not parthenogenesis is possible. They may not find an answer, but the process would still be scientific in nature. I guess an “nonscientific” way of going about it would be to take hallucinogenic drugs and claim that your spirit guide told you the answer…

  23. #23 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    A claim, in itself, cannot be called scientific or nonscientific; it is just a claim.

    Not true, Shnakepup. A claim whose nature is inherently incompatible with the scientific method is necessarily nonscientific.

  24. #24 Peter
    November 19, 2006

    I have a question to those who disagree with PZ. Do you consider the story of the virgin birth and resurrection to be different to scientology’s story of Xenu and the volcano?

    Neither story can be disproven. Is one more likely to have happened than the other and why?

    To me, they are both equally improbable.

    If science panders to religious sensibilities, it risks finding itself limited by that pandering. The churches of the late 19th century would have been much happier if Darwin had kept his trap shut.

    Even at the end of the twentieth century, the church was still trying to tell scientists what they could study. Stephen Hawking reports that a cosmology conference at the Vatican was addressed by John Paul II:

    Hawking said the pope told the scientists, “It’s OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself, because that was the moment of creation and the work of God.”

    Should the assembled cosmologists have said, “Yes, your holiness” to avoid upsetting his sensibilities?

    If there has been one consistent outcome of the investigation of the natural world by the scientific method, it’s that gods have become less and less necessary to explain phenomena. They have been pushed into smaller and smaller gaps and I see no reason to expect that that will change. The smaller the gaps, the more desperate those that have a need to believe will become.

  25. #25 Bro. Bartleby
    November 19, 2006

    I like Max.

    “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”

    “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”

    “Anybody who has been seriously engaged is scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: ‘Ye must have faith.’ It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.”

    “We have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up until now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in the future.”

    –Max Planck

  26. #26 John Pieret
    November 19, 2006

    When one says Zeus impregnated a human female, then I can say that science does take a stand on that: it almost certainly is false. It doesn’t even make sense.

    Really? Please lay out your research proposal and who you are going to submit it to for funding, that won’t laugh you out the door. It is not science that says it is ridiculous, it is some scientists who try to turn science into a philosophy who say it is almost certainly false.

    If you want to tell me there’s another way of knowing, go ahead, but you haven’t, and it’s clear that religion isn’t, either.

    Sorry, now you’re making the positive claim that there is no other way of knowing and its you’re burden. Billions of people report a personal experience of God. That’s enough to make it one of Wilkins’ “live questions”.

    We could go around and around on this, but you’re putting yourself in Michael Behe’s position, of having to give credit to astrology as an equal of science in figuring out how the world works.

    Nonsense. I’m saying you have yet to show support for your contention that the material universe is all there is to the “world”. (Astrology claims a natural cause, not a spiritual one, and is subject to empirical investigation anyway. You need a better example.)

    By the way, Eugenie Scott is an atheist, unless she’s had some conversion lately.

    So?

  27. #27 Buridan
    November 19, 2006

    it is not clear to me, even as a damned physicalist, that there are no other ways of knowing – ethical claims, for example, are not scientifically verifiable, although if they require falsehoods to be true they are falsifiable

    The above statement is simply a case of equivocation. The issue is exactly as PZ characterizes it. When religion makes supernatural claims about the physical world (not the ethical world), then religion is wandering into territory it has no business entering. The scientific revolution has long passed and sorry but religion lost badly.

    Now if you want to relegate religion to the realm of ethics, that fine but let the philosophers defend that piece of real estate. Of course religion would have none of that; it has never been content to keep its supernatural fingers out of the physical world. It advocates an ontological position through and through and is not simply a “way of knowing,” which is just an epistemological copout that postmodernists use when they’re losing arguments.

    Until we decide to go back to a Medieval world of superstition and doctrine, science has decidedly won the day in most everything we do in our everyday lives, even for the most devout fundamentalist. For the latter, it’s probably the most outrageous example of biting the hand that feeds you.

  28. #28 Frank Schmidt
    November 19, 2006

    Let me suggest that we consider an analogous issue, which was used by Gould: beauty. Science cannot measure beauty, nor formulate rules on what is beautiful, etc., because no objective, measurable standard exists except in special contexts, e.g., the idea that standards for human beauty may have some relationship to reproductive potential. Note that this involves the correlation of two measurable variables and therefore can be addressed scientifically.

    We get along quite well with this limitation, allow one person to decide the Sistine Chapel is beautiful, and someone else a grove of redwoods, and someone else a Van Gogh. Perhaps we ought to cut each other the same slack on the topic of personal belief. If it’s not measurable, it’s not science, so lighten up and enjoy the ride.

    (This position does not imply ignorance of the crimes committed in the name of religion, an assertion that the lack of religion condemns one to antisocial behavior, sympathy for bigots, or any such. Sheathe your flamethrowers.)

  29. #29 Buridan
    November 19, 2006

    And the number fallacies that John Pieret has just committed is astounding. I hope that response was meant as a parody. Wow!

  30. #30 John Pieret
    November 19, 2006

    And the number fallacies that John Pieret has just committed is astounding. I hope that response was meant as a parody. Wow!

    That would be more convincing if you could come up with something better than “Wow”.

  31. #31 Dave Carlson
    November 19, 2006

    John Pieret-

    I believe PZ mentioned that Eugenie Scott is an atheist simply to correct John Wilkins’ claim that she is a theist.

  32. #32 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    Billions of people report a personal experience of God.

    Near-death experiences don’t constitute evidence for God, nor do dreams, so I’m afraid that all such “personal experiences” are just exercises of human imagination rather than proof for the existence of God.

  33. #33 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    Science cannot measure beauty, nor formulate rules on what is beautiful, etc., because no objective, measurable standard exists except in special contexts, e.g., the idea that standards for human beauty may have some relationship to reproductive potential.

    Of course science can formulate rules on what is beautiful. If it’s the case that no objective standard defines ‘beauty’, then science can correctly conclude that the concept is an inherently subjective one.

    More to the point, subjective criteria does not mean the nature of the conclusion is beyond objective study. Each person may have different criteria for a sense of beauty, but as we find the word ‘beauty’ to be useful to understanding, science can explore the regularities inherent to the experience.

  34. #34 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    Frank Schmidt, consider the standards of beauty for smell. Roses smell beautiful. Shit does not. That to my mind is quite objective.

  35. #35 Pete
    November 19, 2006

    John -
    This is why PZ took pains to highlight two kinds of claims, e.g.:
    1) “Angels exist in another reality completely cut off from our space and time” — a nonscientific claim.
    2) “Angels leave their rarified realm every so often to pay a visit to humans” — a scientific claim.

    The vexing thing about this whole argument is that the intellectual defenders of religion keep themselves to type-1 claims, which turn out to be devoid of real content, while Joe Theist has a head full of type-2 claims, which run afoul of science’s stringent demands for evidence.

  36. #36 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    “Angels exist in another reality completely cut off from our space and time”

    And as such are fictions, like so many hypothetical teakettles circling the sun.

  37. #37 John Pieret
    November 19, 2006

    Near-death experiences don’t constitute evidence for God, nor do dreams, so I’m afraid that all such “personal experiences” are just exercises of human imagination rather than proof for the existence of God.

    And your evidence for those assertions is?

    This whole argument is about when you can say science has decided something and when you are making a philosophical/theological statement. At a minimum you have to have empiric evidence that logically bears on the actual question under consideration before you can even begin to call it “science”.

  38. #38 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    And your evidence for those assertions is?

    From Robert Todd Carroll’s The Skeptic’s Dictionary (skepdic.com):

    According to Dr. Jansen, ketamine can reproduce all the main features of the NDE, including travel through a dark tunnel into the light, the feeling that one is dead, communing with God, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, strange noises, etc. This does not prove that there is no life after death, but it does prove that an NDE is not proof of an afterlife.

  39. #39 Stogoe
    November 19, 2006

    John, prove your positive. Show us your angels.

  40. #40 BC
    November 19, 2006

    When one says Zeus impregnated a human female, then I can say that science does take a stand on that: it almost certainly is false.

    How? We might think the idea of Zeus existence is silly or unlikely. We might think that the woman is claiming that she was impregnated by Zeus in order to avoid saying that she was having premarital sex. At best, all science could do in this situation is do a DNA sample and perhaps test it against her boyfriend. It’s our skeptical viewpoint about the existence of Zeus or about the woman’s story, versus the plausibility of a normal, accidental pregnancy plus a lie might make us dismiss the story of Zeus. But, then, that’s our viewpoint and our experience talking, not science.

    I have a question to those who disagree with PZ. Do you consider the story of the virgin birth and resurrection to be different to scientology’s story of Xenu and the volcano?

    In some ways, yes. The details of Xenu’s story involves spaceships shaped like DC-10s (which hints at a made-up story), and the method of extermination (volcanos and hydrogen bombs) seems rather silly (the details are odd, I can think of other, better, more convenient ways to kill a race of aliens). But, it really doesn’t matter. For the sake of argument, let’s say that both are equally silly stories. What does that prove? Science doesn’t really have much to say about either story. Our skeptical viewpoints and our other beliefs are what inform us that these stories are silly, and therefore, worth dismissal. But other people come to the table with other sets of background beliefs. And under those beliefs (which I think are erroneous all the way through), the idea of a virgin birth or resurrection aren’t that hard to believe. What’s so impossible about the idea that the world works according to laws most of the time, but that a deity could occasionally implant an egg in a woman or raise a body from the dead? There’s really no scientific reason we can claim that deities *never* interact with the world. We can get some traction on religious claims that are ongoing (e.g. that God answers prayer), but one time events that are buried in the past may or may not leave traces of evidence that can be evaluated from a scientific position.

  41. #41 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    We can get some traction on religious claims that are ongoing (e.g. that God answers prayer), but one time events that are buried in the past may or may not leave traces of evidence that can be evaluated from a scientific position.

    That doesn’t prevent us from concluding that the story of Noah’s Ark is just that, a story.

  42. #42 J. J. Ramsey
    November 19, 2006

    “I don’t believe in God, but neither do I think science can tell us anything about whether Jesus was born to a virgin or rose from the dead.”

    That’s not quite true. We can look at how legends spread, the kind of contents that they tend to have, and so on. That’s more psychology and sociology than biology, but it’s science nonetheless.

    “Claiming that the virgin birth and resurrection didn’t happen because things don’t normally work that way is going to sound stupid to everyone except one subsection of people who don’t believe in the virgin birth or resurrection.”

    Agreed, and really, it sounds stupid because it is stupid. The obvious response to the complaint that the virgin birth “defies everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction” is “NO DUH, SHERLOCK! That’s why they call the virgin birth a miracle. If it were supposed to have been a natural event, no one would have made a big whoop about it.” If one wants to object that miracles are implausible, he or she should base it on the solid grounds that historically the evidence for them has been thin and more parsimoniously explained by human credulity.

    To Natalie Angier’s credit, she doesn’t outright beg the question on miracles here, though one has to parse her words fairly carefully to notice that.

  43. #43 AndyS
    November 19, 2006

    John Wilkins writes,

    Science has no opinion about anything that is outside its frame of reference. Any claims that are made about things science cannot investigate are nonscientific, not antiscientific.

    What I hear PZ saying is “I don’t want anyone to put forth a nonscientific claim. People shouldn’t be talking about such things. It rots their brains and is the cause of most if not all current and past tragedies.”

    I think at least part of the problem is that PZ has a rather all encompassing concept of science. It’s not just a methodology for him, it’s a way of life, a way of expressing oneself, a complete worldview, and the only way to approach any situation. Somewhere in all these posts in Pharyngula is PZ’s implied solution to the demarcation problem. Explicitly stated, his solution is “it is all science, there isn’t anything else.”

    Intuitively, it’s a neat solution. It’s clean, it’s fits my sense of things. But it is a crap position to take in a serious debate. It’s not supportable, it’s not verifiable, it’s not falsifiable. It’s a lot like religious faith.

    John again:

    Making it the sine qua non of being scientific that one rejects all nonscientific claims is to license the arguments of those who think science is another religion.

    To which PZ replies in part (and a bit petulantly),

    When people say Zeus is watching over us now and will aid us in our battles if we make the proper sacrifices, science says baloney. There’s no evidence. … Why should we privilege religion as some kind of intellectually valuable asset to the human struggle to understand our world?

    Just like there is no talking to YEC creationists about changing their views (because their views are so firmly held it is impossible for them to change), there’s no talking to someone who holds an all encompassing “scientific” worldview with that same kind of impervious grip.

    I’d be quite content just to see a tiny shift in the way people like PZ (and Caledonian) talk about these things. I’d like them to take a reasonable philosophical position rather than blathering on about “science this and science that” as if science itself was a well articulated philosophy. My suggestion is that they pick one of the forms of naturalism. Dennet, Leiter, and others even have a website http://www.naturalism.org/ to get you started. Maybe then you could articulate your worldview more coherently. As it is, seems like you are just playing the Zen master’s game of “not this, not this.”

  44. #44 John Pieret
    November 19, 2006

    “Angels leave their rarified realm every so often to pay a visit to humans” — a scientific claim.

    No, I don’t think it is. But I already addressed that here and it’s too late on a Sunday to rehash it.

    The vexing thing about this whole argument is that the intellectual defenders of religion keep themselves to type-1 claims, which turn out to be devoid of real content, while Joe Theist has a head full of type-2 claims, which run afoul of science’s stringent demands for evidence.

    So, when Joe Evolutionist makes bad arguments in favor of evolution (and they do, just go to talk.origins) creationists are justified in ignoring the good arguments and trumpeting their victories over the bad arguments?

  45. #45 Russell
    November 19, 2006

    John Pieret notes that “billions of people report a personal experience of God.”

    Those claims are not beyond critical investigation. Christians by tradition claim not just experience of their god, which might be a diffuse feeling meaning not much of anything, but a personal relationship with him. Strangely, though, when they want to know his thinking on something, instead of just asking, they turn to what other people have written about their relationship with the same god. Authors mostly unknown, writing in circumstances equally unknown.

    There is something very odd about that. I have yet to hear a Christian write, “here are the words Jesus told me to write to you.” Yes, of course, if they claimed to relay the words of an allegedly omniscient being, no doubt I would propose some tests of that claim. So perhaps it’s — um, prudent — that they not claim that. But if their communion with their god is so sere that no information is communicated, then how much should we count their “personal experience”?

  46. #46 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    I’d be quite content just to see a tiny shift in the way people like PZ (and Caledonian) talk about these things. I’d like them to take a reasonable philosophical position rather than blathering on about “science this and science that” as if science itself was a well articulated philosophy.

    We ARE taking a reasonable position, a point which you have steadfastly refused to acknowledge. I don’t know whether this is because you’re cynically crafting a strawman or whether the very simple concept in question can’t percolate through your remarkably dense skull, and at this point I don’t really care.

    Sturgeon’s Law assures us that 90% of everything is crap. Most of the people who concern themselves with “philosophy” have no interest in applying the standards that rational thought requires, and as a result the field far exceeds the minimum guaranteed by Sturgeon’s Law. The sophistic wankery burbled forth by so many has nothing to do with actual philosophy, which I doubt you could even recognize if you came across it.

  47. #47 mtraven
    November 19, 2006

    Here’s an example of a supernatural domain that is perfectly respectable among scientists (indeed, they are utterly dependent upon it): mathematics. Mathematical objects (pi, the set of prime numbers, etc) are not natural objects. Yet somehow we can think about them, and even stranger, they seem to have some sort of ordering influence on the natural world.

    My own way of making sense of religion and spiritual concepts is to think of them in similar terms. Gods and souls definitely don’t exist in the same way chairs and teapots do — but that doesn’t mean they might not be meaningful concepts.

    More amateur theology here.

    And yeah, this rarefied stuff may not have much to do with the volk-religions where God is just as real as your balding Uncle Frank. So what? Just because 99% of the religious are naive doesn’t compel us to be the same.

  48. #48 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    Here’s an example of a supernatural domain that is perfectly respectable among scientists (indeed, they are utterly dependent upon it): mathematics. Mathematical objects (pi, the set of prime numbers, etc) are not natural objects.

    Wrong.

    Yet somehow we can think about them, and even stranger, they seem to have some sort of ordering influence on the natural world.

    Thus we acknowledge that the concept of numbers is part of the natural world.

  49. #49 John Pieret
    November 19, 2006

    According to Dr. Jansen …

    And what is your scientific evidence that the presence of ketamine isn’t the result of being near the radiation of the Pearly Gates or that it isn’t the substance that God made sure was available in human bodies to enable the person to sense the afterlife?

    It is only an assumption that finding a sufficient naturalistic explanation is evidence against a supernatural one, very like the creationist’s “two model” argument. You’re still missing the evidence.

  50. #50 Caledonian
    November 19, 2006

    And what is your scientific evidence that the presence of ketamine isn’t the result of being near the radiation of the Pearly Gates or that it isn’t the substance that God made sure was available in human bodies to enable the person to sense the afterlife?

    What a breathtakingly stupid set of arguments. Aside from the fundamental logical errors, ketamine isn’t a substance produced in dying people.

  51. #51 Buridan
    November 19, 2006

    Here ya go John Pieret. Your fallacious statements are first quoted in block and then identified with their fallacy title and briefly explained.

    It is not science that says it is ridiculous, it is some scientists who try to turn science into a philosophy who say it is almost certainly false.

    Ad hominem (Argumentum ad hominem) A variation on the classical ad hominem but extended to the size of a group – a sort of reversal of the fallacy of appealing to popularity (see below).

    now you’re making the positive claim that there is no other way of knowing and its you’re burden.

    I’m saying you have yet to show support for your contention that the material universe is all there is to the “world”.

    Argument from Ignorance (Argumentum ad Ignorantium) Both of these statements are just variations on this fallacy, cleverly twisted to hide its own appeal to prove the negative. Sneaky but no cigar.

    Billions of people report a personal experience of God. That’s enough to make it one of Wilkins’ “live questions”.

    Appeal to Popularity (Argumentum ad Populum) Everyone is doing it so it must be worth looking into.

    Does this suit your fancy John?

  52. #52 Rich Hammett
    November 19, 2006

    Catshark and Wilkins:

    I think scientists can say that taking Zeus literally is silly. But more importantly,
    I think scientists can say that there is nothing to privilege the story of Zeus over
    the story of Jesus over the story of the Angel Moroni over the story of the Flying
    Spaghetti Monster. There are polite and politic ways to say it. But it can be an
    important thing to say in a world where people start taking religious myths
    literally.

    That is not to say that religious myths aren’t useful and important, when
    they reinforce ethics. But if they claim to be, in some more literal sense,
    “true,” then scientists and other rational people can simply point out other
    things with equally strong claims to existence.

    As to whether “science” and its big bad ole reified anthropomorphised self can say anything on the subject, I’m less certain.

    Catshark, you seem to be guilty of something that I’m certain there’s a name
    for, where you are lumping billions of different things into one category,
    that is, saying that billions of people have experience of “god.” Especially
    when you consider that, not only are their experiences so varied as to
    be contradictory (if you suggest their experience reflects some underlying,
    unified reality, which is the only possible point in grouping them in one
    category), but the people having these experiences make millions of their
    own claims about reality, many of them logically inconsistent and ethically
    questionable.

    Sorry, it looks like the antihistamines have extended even my normally
    excessive sentence length.

    rich

  53. #53 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    And what is your scientific evidence that the presence of ketamine isn’t the result of being near the radiation of the Pearly Gates or that it isn’t the substance that God made sure was available in human bodies to enable the person to sense the afterlife?

    Jansen’s work didn’t address that question, as was noted. It only disproved the claim that NDE’s were somehow evidence for an afterlife.

    As to radiation of the Pearly Gates, I don’t know what what you’re talking about, unless it’s something to do with the “light at the end of the tunnel” experience that some who have and NDEs report, which has also been reported by those subjected to ketamine.

    I suspect you’re just making it all up, which is of course my point.

    It is only an assumption that finding a sufficient naturalistic explanation is evidence against a supernatural one, very like the creationist’s “two model” argument. You’re still missing the evidence.

    The evidence as far as NDEs are concerned is that they are a type of associative disorder brought on by oxygen deprivation in the brain. Certain psychoactive drugs like LSD, which are linked to experiences some claim to be religious, also causes associative disorder in the human brain. Such evidence shows that the human brain under certain conditions can malfunction and cause a person to perceive themselves to somehow be in another world.

  54. #54 David Wilford
    November 19, 2006

    This link may be of interest to those wondering about the definition of scientific thinking:

    http://spartan.ac.brocku.ca/~lward/Dewey/Dewey_1910a/Dewey_1910_k.html

    (I just picked the book up, only to find the text is freely available online. Oh well, I like supporting Dover Books at least.)

  55. #55 GH
    November 20, 2006

    Billions of people report a personal experience of God

    And each one of a billion different versions most often the God they where raised to believe in, odd huh?

    That’s why they call the virgin birth a miracle. If it were supposed to have been a natural event, no one would have made a big whoop about it.”

    Eh, no one did until it was picked up by a large powerful body of humans.

  56. #56 Michael Koppelman
    November 20, 2006

    I sort of take the NO OPINION thing to mean that science does not make claims of non-existence based on non-proof. A lack of proof that God exists does not prove that God does not exist. While this may cause scientists to put God in the same category as the Easter Bunny, technically speaking, science does not claim there is no god.

  57. #57 Peter
    November 20, 2006

    What’s so impossible about the idea that the world works according to laws most of the time, but that a deity could occasionally implant an egg in a woman or raise a body from the dead?

    Because in a universe where natural laws only work most of the time, and they can be violated at any time by supernatural forces, there is no point in studying the universe.

    What is the point in a meteorologist forecasting weather when it could all change at any time because somebody, somewhere is praying for it to change? Should all weather forecasts carry a warning that this might be tomorrow’s weather unless god wills it otherwise? No doubt you could find people who would answer “yes”.

    If you get on an aircraft, do you consider that it might fall out of the sky because the natural laws that enable flight, discovered by science and applied by engineering, might suddenly be changed by divine fiat? Of course you don’t.

    As Richard Dawkins says, the presence or absence of a god/s fundamentally changes the nature of the universe, and since the study of the universe is the business of science, the question of the existence of god/s is a valid area of scientific enquiry.

  58. #58 mtraven
    November 20, 2006

    Caledonian —

    C’mon, saying a flat “Wrong” is not an argument, is not interesting, does not advance the conversation. Surely you can do better than that!

    The nature of mathematical objects is controversial of course, there is a whole subfield of philosophy dedicated to it.

    And, in case there is confusion, by saying mathematics is “supernatural”, I do not mean to imply that there is anything magical about it, or that there is anything about it that violates natural law. You can throw out that word and use another if you like, but it’s just

  59. #59 Damien
    November 20, 2006

    “Because in a universe where natural laws only work most of the time, and they can be violated at any time by supernatural forces, there is no point in studying the universe.”

    I don’t see how that follows. If interference is rare, you can still figure out how the universe operates normally. Planes may occasionally fall to supernatural terrorists, but they’ll mostly fly.

    If interference is common, then it is random, reasoned, or perverse. If it’s random we can collect statistics with which to hedge our risks. If it’s reasoned then we can infer the rules the gods go by — the rules might involve intelligent input such as “when chanting the right formula by a person who’s given enough alms in the past month” but they’d still be rules.

    Perverse would be if the gods deliberately defy prediction and frustrate our plans, which I think moves into ongoing sadism.

  60. #60 Tyler DiPietro
    November 20, 2006

    mtraven,

    What makes mathematical objects anymore “supernatural” than the text you’re reading right now? Mathematics is only a contrived syntax, just like human language. If you are going to define “supernatural” in such a fashion you have rendered it vacuous.

  61. #61 Tyler DiPietro
    November 20, 2006

    And what is your scientific evidence that the presence of ketamine isn’t the result of being near the radiation of the Pearly Gates or that it isn’t the substance that God made sure was available in human bodies to enable the person to sense the afterlife?

    Wow, good point.

    I’m now awaiting supposedly “scientific” evidence that my penis is not 600 feet long and erect right now.

  62. #62 John Wilkins
    November 20, 2006

    Sorry about the claim Genie is a theist. I thought I heard her say she went to a church when I met her and her family, but my memory isn’t all it once was. I think. It may be, and I just don’t remember.

    As to Argumentum ad populam, I’m not arguing that the existence of God is live because forty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, but because in the cultural conversation, enough people discuss this topic that it is something worth debating. Personally, I don’t think there’s reason to accept there is any kind of deity. But as a matter of parity (and civility) I don’t think there’s reason to deny it either. If people want to believe in the existence or nonexistence of God, that’s there concern, not mine. I will continue to treat them as if they were reasonable people anyway. The headline is: people are neither rational nor irrational simply in virtue of taking a stance. And it’s foolish to think otherwise.

    As I said before, if a claim is made for a God that entails an empirically testable state of affairs, then it is within the scope of science. Many such claims are. The existence of qi is well within the scope of science (it doesn’t exist). The age of the earth defeats both fundamentalist Christian and Islamic creationism, and Hindu creationism. But what religions typically do is trim their doctrine to match the best current knowledge (or rather, the current knowledge of the youth of the present generation of theologians, which is usually about 30 years out of date), and personally I think that is a good thing. We shouldn’t chide anyone for revising their belief system to match the evidence and the best (ceteris paribus) science.

    On “supernatural”; it is defined as a negative set. It is anything that is not susceptible to empirical investigation that can be claimed as part of the “nature” of God or the divine. There is no general positive definition of it, and no way to investigate it. For those who think that nothing that cannot be investigated should be asserted to exist, the supernatural is nonexistent. But many people have epistemic standards that allow such things to be asserted. Cavil with them all you like – it gets down to “I say, you say”. So far as I know, there is no independent way to specify what does and does not count as a proper epistemic standard outside the arena of empirical science, and possibly logic and mathematics (and the latter I think is conventional anyway).

    On the supposed fallacies Catshark is supposed to have committed: ad hominem is not a fallacy when it is the person who is at issue. He is right that “science” as an abstract process or epistemic program has nothing to say on matters it cannot investigate. He is right that some scientists think that because they do science, that is all that is worth doing. That is not an ad hominem fallacy, it is reportage. Nor is it an argumentum ad ignoratiam to say that the burden of proof is on those who make a positive assertion (although it is highly arguable what constitutes a positive claim or a burden in a dialectic; for my money that is a historical issue, or perhaps a sociological one, but not a matter of formal logic). I have already dealt with the ad populam claim.

    On Zeus and Xenu: I tend to agree, with Hume, that a claim that runs contrary to all experience should be rejected in favour of a possible explanation however unlikely, so Zeus impregnating some female is likely to have a perfectly ordinary explanation. On Xenu, there are empirical claims made about human evolution, the age of the earth, and other physical issues (such as faster than light travel). I do not need to respect those claims, no matter how well they are dressed up in logical possibility. Likewise creationism, ID and woo medicine. Just occasionally, though, something that is excluded from realistic probability turns out to have some foundation, and from a philosophical perspective, that should give us pause. Consider it anti-Cartesian skepticism…

  63. #63 Dave Carlson
    November 20, 2006

    Tyler –

    Alright, if you’ll supply the materials, I’ll conduct the necessary experiments to test your hypothesis. It’s a dirty job, but I guess–for the sake of science–somebody has to do it. ;)

  64. #64 Pete
    November 20, 2006

    Can someone remind me what the agnostic position on the Flying Spaghetti Monster is, again? And if the agnostic’s position is “Not very likely, but I’ll leave the door open just in case”, then how can an agnostic disbelieve in anything? Would an agnostic argue that disbelief is just not a useful attitude? I can kind of see someone saying that, but then it becomes just a matter of translation – what the agnostic calls “leaving the door open just in case”, is what I call disbelief, because that predicate will for the most part map on to the same set of subjects.

    Also: some posters here seem to be under the impression that Science is limited to the fields that end in “-ology”. In particular the feeling seems to be that if you are just using common sense about everyday things, this is not science. This is getting it backwards: science is really nothing more than disciplined common sense, or rationality. If you test-drive a car before you buy it, you are taking a scientific attitude. Likewise if you taste milk to see if it’s sour, or water your plants to keep them from dying, or open your windows if it’s too hot in your room.

    As a side note, forget math and numbers: if you want a good example of a subject matter that science has no say about, think of sports. The rules of basketball (e.g. “A free throw is worth one point”) do not fall under the magisterium of science. To the extent that religious claims are like this, science has nothing to say about them. As a corollary, the moment at which religious claims cease to be entirely about imaginary or socially constructed entities, and instead start involving the real-world entities that we can study with science, is the moment they must be rejected for lack of evidence.

  65. #65 John Wilkins
    November 20, 2006

    Can someone remind me what the agnostic position on the Flying Spaghetti Monster is, again? And if the agnostic’s position is “Not very likely, but I’ll leave the door open just in case”, then how can an agnostic disbelieve in anything,/i>? Would an agnostic argue that disbelief is just not a useful attitude? I can kind of see someone saying that, but then it becomes just a matter of translation – what the agnostic calls “leaving the door open just in case”, is what I call disbelief, because that predicate will for the most part map on to the same set of subjects.

    This canard is old. Of course agnostics disbelieve in things. I, personally, disbelieve in the four humours, geocentrism, the “preprogrammed immune system”, ether (of the non-sniffable variety), and a slew of old discredited ideas. I doubt that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is likely, although I am a practising Pastafarian. I also disbelieve in fairies, goblins, and Graecoroman gods. I disbelieve in virgin births to a lesser extent – it is possible there is some rare process of mitosis of germ cells that permits it. I doubt all kinds of things (including gods). But there is a sliding scale of disbelief that ranges from Practically Disconfirmed to Merely Unlikely, and given that our best epistemology is fallibilistic, the possibility of error is always present. And I don’t think that is a failing.

    To use a formulation of Imre Lakatos’, we have core beliefs that are relatively protected and peripheral beliefs that are freely abandoned. To each revision there is an epistemic cost that must be paid in terms of revision and reweighting of beliefs elsewhere in the epistemic corpus. As Quine said, everything is reviseable, but it doesn’t follow that I must revise everything. Having a fallibilistic epistemology turns out to be the most successful way of learning things, and given the right conditions, even the Unlikelihood of God is reviseable.

  66. #66 AndyS
    November 20, 2006

    Caledonian writes,

    We ARE taking a reasonable position, a point which you have steadfastly refused to acknowledge. … Most of the people who concern themselves with “philosophy” have no interest in applying the standards that rational thought requires, and as a result the field far exceeds the minimum guaranteed by Sturgeon’s Law.

    Even at my rather advanced age I’m am still astounded that those who pound the podium and shout about “applying the standards that rational thought” generally apply those standards to everyones’ arguments but their own. Caledonian will not articulate the “reasonable position” he takes because to do so would entail appealing to the work of philosophers who in his estimation have no interest in “applying the standards that rational thought.” It’s a negative circular chain of implications.

    Both he and PZ seem to think it’s just obvious there is this clearly delineated “rational scientific worldview” which anyone with an ounce of sense should be able to see. For them, to layout that worldview in some detail is either too burdensome or perhaps too much like philosophy (it would be in fact philosophy).

    It’s too bad they can’t or won’t do that work for they both have a lot to contribute. The likely outcome would be their discovering that many philosophers already have completed the project to varying degrees of success; after all, the field called philosophy of science has been around for a while. (I’m betting Wilkins knows a little bit more about this than I do.).

    What we end up with is bloviating or, more politely, armchair philosophy by people who have no training in the discipline. It does, however, make for a very popular blog. PZ as much as admits to this in the first few sentences of this post: “…the difficult task of treading the line between being a representative of science and building an interface with culture and politics. I couldn’t do that job. I’d be inspiring rioting mobs outside the office window.”

  67. #67 lo
    November 20, 2006

    @article:
    The stupidity of people amazes me each time anew, especially if one hasn`t even met nor familiarized with ones own stupidity and ignorance. Instead of actually trying to get an estimate of what is science todays and the vastness it encompasses one rather does nothing but yap, yap, and yap and philosophize based on a ground knowledge of what a 8year old can have accumulated in the 21st century.

    But even more so, the populace starts to listen because really they are not interested in what science is or what it encompasses but someone just as frigging ignorant and assuring them it`s alright to be mindless, thoughtless zombie and opposing the very science that enabled most people their very lives in the first place.

    And that the imagination of people is running rampage ain`t a wonder either with all the media cooking their brains. I once got the chance to see American television and it showed me a new level of stupidity and with such constancy i thought couldn`t be reached by an industrial nation.

  68. #68 G. Tingey
    November 20, 2006

    Signs that you (or anyone) are a
    Dangerous
    Fundamentalist
    Hostile

    Atheist ……

    Doesn’t RESPECT religion
    Ridicules religion
    Suggests that { Insert name of specific religion here } does not have the whole and only access to “God’s truth and holy will.”
    Points out the historical, and continuing trail of murder, blackmail, torture, lies, oppression ( epecially of WOMEN perpetrated by religion(s)

    etc.

    I’m sure others can improve and add to this list.

    Basically it boils down to …
    But we’re believers!
    How dare you criticise us?

    {BTW – In the good old days, we’d have you burnt at the stake – and in muslim countries and others (Rushdie, van Goch) we can and will still kill you, so there! }

  69. #69 Numad
    November 20, 2006

    AndyS,

    Who are those four paragraphs addressed to, really? Cheap rethoric, all of it.

  70. #70 John Wilkins
    November 20, 2006

    after all, the field called philosophy of science has been around for a while. (I’m betting Wilkins knows a little bit more about this than I do.).

    I’ve heard of it, yes… ;-)

  71. #71 Loren Petrich
    November 20, 2006

    John Pieret is just plain wrong about those “billions” of people, because those “billions” of people have experienced lots of different gods and angels and demons and devils and saints and prophets and bodhisattvas and …

    Why doesn’t the Virgin Mary ever appear to Protestants or non-Xians?

    Why hasn’t the Archangel Gabriel revealed anything to Hindus and Buddhists, in the fashion of his revelations to Xians and Muslims?

    Why don’t Bodhisattvas ever appear to non-Buddhists?

  72. #72 John Pieret
    November 20, 2006

    Buridan:

    Wilkins has already disposed of your claims about my “logical fallacies” but I’ll add a few points. Saying that “billions of people report a personal experience of God” is an Argumentum ad Populum only if I claim that shows it is true that God exists because a lot of people say so. That’s not what is at issue. The claim being made by some is that there is no evidence for God and, therefore, the question is not even a live one that they have to respond to at all. That claim is disposed of merely by showing any evidence for God. You may not think much of personal experience as evidence, but if a fly lands on your nose while you are alone, do you deny that it happened because no one can confirm it and it is a non-replicable historic event? Your personal experience carries some (rather considerable) epistemological weight with you, even when it can’t be forced into the form of scientific knowledge.

    Wilkins is right that claims of who bears the burden of proof are always questionable and my statements there were as much to demonstrate how easy it is to manipulate such arguments as anything else. But it still remains true that, if you want to make the positive claim that there is no other way of knowing than empiricism you have failed to demonstrate justification for it. But hey, if Hume couldn’t either …

    As for my “fancy,” it wants to thank you for demonstrating my larger point so neatly.

  73. #73 From So Simple a Beginning
    November 20, 2006

    In my humble opinion, anybody who talks about the interface between science and religion should ask themselves the following question.

    Let us just imagine that tomorrow Zeus walks into our labs and claims that He(and it is a He) is the one God and he can prove it to scientists the way they want it to be.

    And Imagine further that experiment after experiment proves him right – say, he can change the fundamental constants according to his whims which can be measured to ten decimal places in labs across the world. Imagine further that he helps us out in solving the numerous riddles that scientists are interested in – and his theories are verified to an unprecedented level of accuracy.

    Further, say he has a super-TV which can show you any event happened in the past and he allows scientists to verify its accuracy about things we know about past. Extinction of Dinosaurs, Cambrian “explosion”, Baryogenesis- you name it. And after it has mustered enough scientific ground, scientists turn their knobs to focus on the “miracles” and one by one everyone of those miracles(except those due to Zeus) turns out to be either fraud or explainable scientifically.

    Now, What should/would science/scientists do ?

    For anybody who understands the basic methods of science, this question is a simple one to answer. Study of Zeus, his physiology, the physics of his interactions with the universe etc. will become scientifically fashionable and scientists world over would be organising conferences to understand his miracles.

    (If scientists refused to do that, they won’t be scientists. And if they claimed in their defence that they cannot do it because most people in this world do not believe that Zeus existed, no scientist worth his/her name would buy that defence.)

    Now, after science has gone that way, where would the non-greek religions stand ? In particular, which way would Vatican go ?

    That is an easy question too. A few enlightened individuals will see the end of the tunnel and would leave the church to join a religion more consistent with Zeus and his TV. And as for the majority, they will just jump through one philosophical hoop after another to justify christianity. And I won’t be surprised if some atheists insist that Zeus does not exist.(After all, we know all atheists are not enlightened either.) And by the way, we will be faced with “Zeus is just a theory not a fact” stickers along with the ones existing already :)

    Now, in this scenario, where would Gould’s NOMA fit ? People who argue for NOMA continuously remind us of the limitations of science. But, they forget that there exists another limitation of science at the same philosophical level as their own arguments – that science CANNOT sign on the treaty with NOMA.Science can not give up the right to walk into a battle with non-greek-religions if and when Zeus comes. See it as one of the limitations of science if you will. Science simply cannot give the assurance that it will never attack religion(unless religions give an assurance to drop their gods if and when Zeus arrives, which I don’t see happening. And it would be much better if people like Scott reminded people that any truce is possible only after such an assurance is given.) – it might be forced to do so by the reality of things much beyond science’s control ! And by the way, in case, it is not clear from the above example, I will note that science cannot give an ssurance to atheism either(of whatever variety except those who are ready to turn Zeus-theists
    when evidence is presented.)

    P.S. : I do understand that the incident above is highly contrived and so improbable that no scientist is losing his/her sleep over it.(I think that might be true of many atheists/theists here too.) But, I believe that the dialogue on science-religion interface is at a philosophical level where possibility of such incidents makes a crucial and a relevant philosophical point which should not be lightly dismissed. Especially, people who talk of “limitations of science” are already at that level and cannot easily escape by throwing the excuse that “it is contrived”. At the bare minimum, we need the assurance from religions that if and when Zeus gets
    established scientifically they would concede their defeat before we can talk of NOMA.

    P.P.S. : For those of you who believe that the socio-political scenario in US demands that scientists pay lipservice to NOMA, I can only wish your god(s)/FSM are with you. It might be a great political strategy to flaunt such a truce but please don’t ask science to sign on it. May be flaunting a truce which you would never sign is a great strategy.(I should accept that I don’t understand politics very well and as a science student living outside US, I don’t know much about US politics and I am not interested either. I just try to manage with the bare minimum politics required for delivering my duties to the democracy I live in.)

    If you’ve come this far, thanks for your patience. I hope it was worth it.

  74. #74 John Pieret
    November 20, 2006

    I’m now awaiting supposedly “scientific” evidence that my penis is not 600 feet long …

    You only can see and feel your penis when you are near death?

    My sympathies.

  75. #75 Steve LaBonne
    November 20, 2006

    I once got the chance to see American television and it showed me a new level of stupidity and with such constancy i thought couldn`t be reached by an industrial nation.

    You think that’s bad? You’d go into a lethal depression if you got a chance to listen to American conservative talk radio. That is a level of stupidity one would have thought couldn’t be reached by anyone with enough functioning neurons to be able to breathe. The connection between this degree of stupidity and the over-the-top religiosity of American culture is an intimate one.

  76. #76 Richard Wein
    November 20, 2006

    Quoted from Eugenie Scott:

    Yet despite this, science is a limited way of knowing. The reason for this is that science can only explain the natural world, the universe of matter an energy, and as such, it can only use natural causes.

    Why? If something exists which is neither matter nor energy but which has an observable effect, what makes it immune from scientific investigation?

  77. #77 John Pieret
    November 20, 2006

    John Pieret is just plain wrong about those “billions” of people, because those “billions” of people have experienced lots of different gods and angels and demons and devils and saints and prophets and bodhisattvas and …

    This assumes you know the intent of this God thingie, who might appear in different forms to different people for his/her/its own purposes. Why would you expect an infinite being to appear the same to all people? And it ignores the known tendency of humans to badly report their experiences and to, after the fact, fit them to any predispostions they have.

    While I’m no expert in comparative religion, I believe there are certain core concepts of God shared across many, if not most, religions. By your argument, that consistencies/inconsistencies are viable evidence on this issue, we’d then have to consider those core concepts confirmed attributes of God.

  78. #78 windy
    November 20, 2006
    When one says Zeus impregnated a human female, then I can say that science does take a stand on that: it almost certainly is false. It doesn’t even make sense.

    Really? Please lay out your research proposal and who you are going to submit it to for funding, that won’t laugh you out the door.

    The Templeton foundation? :)

  79. #79 poke
    November 20, 2006

    Some of you have some really bizarre ideas about science. So far I’ve seen here (to select just a few): (1) The idea that scientific results can’t be applied to the past (i.e., “science has nothing to say about the virgin birth 2000 years ago”). (2) The idea that it’s only “science” if you launch a new scientific investigation and is not science if you just apply existing results (i.e., “the only evidence against virgin birth would be a DNA test”). (3) And, of course, the idea that science is restricted to “the natural world” (whatever the hell that means).

    Compare this with reality: (1) Scientific results are routinely taken by scientists to apply at any time and any location – including the past, future, far off galaxies, etc – regardless of any alleged “problems” philosophers might have dreamed up. It would, in fact, be completely impossible to do science unless this were true. (2) The majority of science involves applying old scientific results to new areas without methodological investigation. Something is only investigated in science because such an investigation would add something to the existing body of knowledge. Many more things are simply ruled out by that body of knowledge with no investigation, experiment, etc. (3) In the whole of science there is absolutely nothing to be found that would allow one to distinguish the “natural” from whatever.

    The weirdest thing is that the basic stuff of science is this very idea that evidence can be used to create theories that are applied broadly, far outside the initial scope of investigation.

  80. #80 Jud
    November 20, 2006

    Re what is and isn’t subject to investigation by science:

    I doubt science has much to tell me about Marquez’ “100 Years of Solitude.” There are better ways of investigating and appreciating that, and other works of fiction. But the Old and New Testaments aren’t being put forth as fiction. When something is claimed to represent reality, then ISTM it becomes subject to investigation by the best tools we’ve come up with to learn about reality, i.e., the scientific method.

  81. #81 John Pieret
    November 20, 2006

    The Templeton foundation? :)

    I thought of throwing that in but, empirically, I knew PZ wouldn’t stoop …

    Let us just imagine that tomorrow Zeus walks into our labs and claims that He(and it is a He) is the one God and he can prove it to scientists the way they want it to be.
    And Imagine further that experiment after experiment proves him right

    I don’t know about the Vatican’s reaction, but I’d be quoting Arthur C. Clarke (from memory):

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguisable from magic.”

  82. #82 lo
    November 20, 2006

    “,Eugenie Scott is an atheist…” atheism my ass. What good is it if one is just as ignorant as the religious. In fact the only difference then is their upbringing but not their mindset.

    The problem ain`t religion, the problem are industrial social systems who overall do increasingly less value education yet ironically base their very existence, our very existence upon it. If one doesn`t believe in God but is just as easily polarized by a two hour movie depicting some lame idea – then truly i don`t wanna be GROUPED with those sorry excuses of “modern humans”. And truly we all went through those very phases as well, namely when we were young, ignorant, stupid and craving for a deeper understanding – then we too were constantly dragged from one side to another – but too see the same immaturity on such a scale in todays adults is puzzling, and problematic to say the least, coz parents should, in fact MUST be – due to the evolution of our mammalian brain – be the MAJOR role model. (As scientific findings have it, this holds true even for kids whose parents commit terrible physical and mental abuse on their children).

    In about 160.000 years of human existence there didn`t exist one lousy – i repeat that ONE FRIGGING LOUSY – case that defied our ever expanding scientific base. Either it was as simple (but scientifically complex) as reasons to be found directly in the human brain, in social phenomena or actually in natural science itself.
    IT IS ABOUT TIME TO WAKE UP AND NO LONGER ASK IF THERE MAY BE SOMETHING THAT DEFIES SCIENCE BUT RATHER WHY DO SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT/ OR ARE POLARIZED TO THINK SOMETHING DEFIES SCIENCE!!!…and who profits from it.

    Guess what when i rub my eyes hard enough i see rings and fairies flying around, but i, don`t ponder the question how come there are fairies in my eyes swarming around but rather use the current scientific understanding (so freely and easily accessible) to answer such questions, even though a high schooler with a proper school education schould be able to make such ridiculously simple deducations by himself.

    (…and conclude that this must be due to chemical processes and the flow of electric energy being sent down the optical nerve. Oh wow, that high schooler must be some sort of a genius, a prophet sent from the heavens – with such a stock of divine knowledge, even though in a world where after 160.000 years of human curiosity WE FINALLY CONCLUDED THAT THERE IS NOTHING BUT MATTER – INTERCONVERTIBLY RELATED TO ENERGY – and thus all this very same high schooler would have to bring into his stupid deductions are those two component. Oh yeah please don`t respond to me now with: “BUT THERE IS TIME AS WELL”. If you do that i am gonna have a heart attack.

  83. #83 Russell
    November 20, 2006

    BC writes:

    What’s so impossible about the idea that the world works according to laws most of the time, but that a deity could occasionally implant an egg in a woman or raise a body from the dead? There’s really no scientific reason we can claim that deities *never* interact with the world.

    There’s also no reason to think that this happened. There are all sorts of fantasies that might be, that cannot be disproved because if they occurred, they managed to leave no evidence in the current world. That includes not just the virgin birth of Jesus, but also Athena whispering to Odysseus, and every other tale from myth and religion, including new religions, such as Scientology’s claim that billions of aliens were blown to smithereens in an ancient volcano, and the purposely concocted tales of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Who’s to say he’s not implanting the idea in skeptics to purposely introduce himself to humanity in a non-threatening fashion?

    What reason requires is to recognize the empty evidential basis for all of these. A believer is acting irrationally when he elevates one of the other and insists it is truth, without first establishing evidence for it. And no, the spread of Christianity is no more evidence for Jesus’s virgin birth than the spread of Scientology is evidence for Xenu. These are evidence for Paul’s work and Hubbard’s work to create their respective churches. The nature of that work, and their rejection of rational investigation in various ways, is evidence that these doctrines were established by religious and superstitious means, not rational ones.

  84. #84 lo
    November 20, 2006

    Heck am i going mad or is OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM REALLY GOING TO THE FKK SHITTER ON A GLOBAL SCALE!!!

    IT IS HORRIFIC, HORRIFIC, HORRIFIC and UNBELIEVABLE. A Kindergarden kid could understand such simple scientific concepts, yet we stuff it full with notions of fairies, supernaturalism, devils, hells, demons – wonder then if the cute little kiddie suddenly experiences nightmares, makes mummy acquainted with his imaginary buddy “superterminator” and his other buddy “i kill u mfkk coackroach” and his worried soccermummy finds out that this is all normal during a child`s developmental stages so long as the kid visits a therapist (and later on there`s always the option of drugging him). I wonder if a Kindergarden kid can have notions of such elaborate imaginaries of marketing props manifested in his mind, if there might be a slight chance the kid could also understand the notion of atoms. But HELL NO, leave the poor kiddie alone with YOUR scientific dreck. You are completely overstraining his mental capabilities you bastard! He`s just 6…..(and so the years fly by)…16 years old!

    PS: Of course the notion of atoms doesn`t explain how we animals and humans came about, crystals mimicking their inner nanoscopic structure on a macroscopic scale, phase states, a.s.o. – this description has been achieved by a hundred year old theory – and the subsequent model that is considered the most successful model of all of science: Quantum mechanics maturing into the Standard Model. That coupled with a few physical laws – which just so happens to be boasted by nature for all to see – especially the laws of thermodynamics, make up for a pretty much complete description of the world around us.

    EVERYONE WANTS TO PROFIT FROM SCIENCE, at least when it comes to actual near death situation the BS about fairies or God saving one dissipates rather fast – mostly due to the release of hormones such as epinephrine switching not only the body into survival mode (that we owe to mammalian evolution as well) but also the brain as well – which is why severely wounded patients behave so utterly strange as if they were infuriated about being helped, BUT HARDLY ANYONE THINGS ABOUT MHHHH MAYBE GIVING BACK SOMETHING. You could start right away with some popper parenting – after you smoked that joint, drank those three bottles of beer, ate those three cheeseburgers and fries, and had a nice talk with your son about the esoterical state of the world being overcome with a feeling of proud of just how smart your son has become. He had just concluded that the universal ether around us is probably some alien slime, a remnant of ancient times, when the very aliens who gave us hieroglyphs (and made some authors millionaires after they finally came clean ,because they just couldn`t stand it any longer to bear the burden the burden of such an important secret all by themselves, wherefore they felt obliged to shared their insight with the whole world) left earth and just in total analogy to how our cars operate the wast products of theirs was ETHER. It`s SOOO SIMPLE!

  85. #85 toucantoad
    November 20, 2006

    Speaking as an athiest and a scientist, this debate demonstrates clearly why Scott’s approach is far more likely to promote sound science education in 21st century America. Joe Lunchbox is suspicious of scientists and their science while enjoying the benefits of its efforts. And telling him that the only honest way for him to accept educating his children in genuine science is for him to throw out his entire faith enchilada will get you nowhere. The position that he should do so is honest and may one day meet fruition, but today all it does is fuel his dislike of scientists. He suspects that at the heart of this debate is not evolution but rather a drive to deprive him of the religion of his parents. His children or grandchildren are more likely to be eased into this rational realization by the year 2100. I think Scott is moving he and his in that direction by not suckerpunching him in the gut. Remember, as PZ pointed out, he is one Supreme Court vote away from being in position to win the next Dover case.

  86. #86 Steve LaBonne
    November 20, 2006

    Toucantoad, I (like PZ and Larry Moran) completely disagree that this is the most promising longterm approach. (It reminds me a lot of the way Democrats always fall for the Rethugs’ “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable” routine.) Thanks in part to the “efforts” of many generations of Eugenie Scotts, most Joe Lunchboxes, and even more important most Joe Jrs. and little Jill Lunchboxes, have never so much as encountered the idea that religion can be seriously questioned by people who don’t have two heads and aren’t mass murderers. The reaction of the clerical establishment and its hangers-on to Dawkins’s book shows that they’re worried about what might happen when some of these people are induced to think for the first time in their lives- and they know their sheep, so if they’re worried enough to react sharply, why should we assume there’s no reason for them to be? As I keep saying, the comparatively secular nature of contemporary European society is not something that just happened to come about by accident, it’s the result of centuries of struggle by courageous intellectuals who, unlike Scott, did not accept defeat before even starting to fight. That fight is a couple hundred years overdue in the good old USofA. I say, bring it on!

  87. #87 lo
    November 20, 2006

    I really wouldn`t give a crappidy crap about people`s believes if people would mingle as little with science as scientists do when it comes to their religion! And please when did jesus or the bible ever say that religion has become about amassing billions, afaik the opposite is true.
    Taxes are for the maintenance and furthering of the state which depends on science thus also needs to finance scientific research.

    The argument that religious people should have a say in the topics of science from a religious standpoint is thus bull _ IN A SYSTEM THAT ACTUALLY VALUES THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.

    It is sad that one of the causes that drives me and gives me a piece of mind is that ultimately homo sapiens will as well bifurcate just like any species before us. And that is a fact. Even though we deem ourselves so special (and we certainly are when it comes to interhuman interaction), evolution can be seen no more clearer than within the fabric of our human world. I honestly may be wrong, since no-one can really predict the further complexity to which our civilizations have evolved. But i stick to this suave faith of mine looking back at human history which is rather self-assuring in many points.

  88. #88 CCP
    November 20, 2006

    “billions of people report a personal experience of God”

    And at least one reports a personal experience of Jerry Garcia’s space helmet. The claims are of equivalent validity.

  89. #89 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 20, 2006

    “What, in precisely bounded terms, does “supernatural” mean?”

    A good question, which also illustrates some of the differences here.

    “Supernatural” can be used to package the claims that religions make on the world outside what we can explain naturally.

    First one can note that it is a dualism.

    Second one can note that one can’t make a positive definition or a model without reliable observations, so it is usually defined as a negative.

    Third, there is a divide between those who want to reason to best ability (Dawkins) and those who want to defer all observational claims (Wilkins). The latter assumes that religions under the pressure of observations “trim their doctrine to match the best current knowledge” so one can take the philosophical position of a nontestable dualism.

    Accordingly, the first group could define supernatural as “things that can’t happen naturally in our universe” (nonnatural things), while the later could define supernatural as “nontestable things”. (Since nonobservable entities are part of many testable models.)

    Nonnatural will depend on the frame. If one look at Tegmark’s ultimate ensemble multiverse, it contains all mathematical realizable objects. This model is both an attempt to cut out a middleman of physicality and to establish a platonic view. If one looks at our own universe, it will be impossible physical events (miracles).

    For example, matter-energy depends on basic symmetries of our universe – we observe that the laws of physics are the same everywhere. In a chaotic universe with different ‘laws’ randomly and instantaneously changing on all scales (of both space and time) we wouldn’t have matter-energy.

    But we have, and we know from the universality and observations that matter-energy and associated probabilities must be conserved locally. (General relativity introduces some caveats. Which again a quantum theory of gravity may eliminate.) Every observation of “something other than matter-energy” (walking on water or the appearance of Zeus) would be a sure sign of a supernatural event.

    Not that it is likely. ;-)

  90. #90 Kyle Rogoff
    November 20, 2006

    Michael could totally take out Moroni in a wrestling match!

  91. #91 Buridan
    November 20, 2006

    Sorry but Argumentum ad populam still holds. In fact, Wilkins argues fallaciously again when he says, “…enough people discuss this topic that it is something worth debating.” Whether god’s existence or non-existence enters into the argument is immaterial. Fallacies are formal mistakes in argumentation.

    I think Wilkins was confusing a bunch of different posts in his response, conflating responses, etc., but be that as it may, I’ll just quote (in block quote) John Pieret’s statements again:

    It is not science that says it is ridiculous, it is some scientists who try to turn science into a philosophy who say it is almost certainly false.

    Translation: Science as a whole doesn’t claim that religion is ridiculous, it’s only scientists who have a vendetta against religion that find religion ridiculous and they’re only a few (read “some“); thus we can dismiss those few scientists and feel good that science as a whole doesn’t think religion is ridiculous.

    Again, a variation on Argumentum ad hominem – the basis for dismissing a claim is due to some characteristic of the individual or (in this case) individuals making the claim and having nothing to do with the claim itself. John Pieret emphasized the “some” in his original quote. I suppose you could also label this fallacy Argumentum ad unpopulam – only a few people believe X, therefore it must be false. No matter how you slice it it’s fallacious. Now I’m sure John Pieret will have a very entertaining spin on what he really meant.

    I’m saying you have yet to show support for your contention that the material universe is all there is to the “world”.

    Again, the Argumentum ad Ignorantium still holds here as well. The above statement is about as clear as an example of this type of fallacy as you can get. In other words, for those who need a little help, John Pieret is saying “prove to me that there isn’t something more to this world than what we see…” This is no different than saying the following – “prove to me that there isn’t a perfect teapot orbiting around the sun…” I’ll repeat, fallacies are formal mistakes in argumentation.

    John Pieret, I would love to continue this instruction on the finer points of what constitutes a fallacy but I suspect you’re simply unwilling to take instruction from me, which is fine. So may I suggest you Google “fallacies” and read a little on the subject and then decide for yourself.

  92. #92 Caledonian
    November 20, 2006

    Or even better, he can Google ‘fallacies’ and read a little on the subject and then accept the valid conclusion. I think it’s demonstrated that he’s not so hot at deciding things for himself.

  93. #93 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 20, 2006

    I should add that the position of “nontestable things” are as much frame-dependent as “nonnatural things”.

    In fact, one can criticize that position with stating a demarcation criteria. We can often tell a priori what is nonnatural, but not state definitely what is testable or nontestable without a complete theory on science and the universe.

    Unless one makes the unwarranted assumption that one discusses “noninteractive things” instead.

  94. #94 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 20, 2006

    “with stating a demarcation criteria” – with asking for a demarcation criteria.

    Obviously time for a coffee break…

  95. #95 SLC
    November 20, 2006

    Well, Prof. Myers and his followers on this blog have apparently become fatigued with beating up on Ken Miller and have now switched their attention to Eugenie Scott who, unlike Ken Miller is an atheist but not sufficiently antagonistic to religion to suit their tastes. As I have previously stated on other threads, nothing is to be gained by bashing the friends of science when the true enemies are the born agains. As any number of military commanders have learned to their sorrow, attempting to fight a two front war is usually the way to defeat.

  96. #96 jimmiraybob
    November 20, 2006

    Billions of people report a personal experience of God. – John Pieret

    Billions of people around the globe also report a personal experience of gaseous intestinal distress. Some may attribute it to Satan. Doesn’t make it so.

  97. #97 Steve LaBonne
    November 20, 2006

    SLC, no amount of mere assertion that the religiously deluded are “friends of science” unless shown to be completely crazy fundies, will make it so. All of them are prepared to jettison reason and science the moment they appear to threaten whatever core of fairy tales they hold most dear. The only difference between “moderates” and fundies is the size of the territory they’re prepared to defend for preposterism.

  98. #98 lo
    November 20, 2006

    “Billions of people report a personal experience of God.”

    Gee, i can`t take this why are you ridiculing this. This is probably the most amazing thing all of life has to feature at least in our solar system. You people do realize that anyone who doesn`t have a personal relationship to his mind, or the illusion thereof is called in the human world either severely brain damaged or unconscious.

    Core consciousness is something other mammals show as well, extended consciousness is as far as i know unique to primates and entails this personal relationship to ourselves – which is why we are the only ones who individualize/personalize ourselves and our environment so much. Each of you, coz i know myself – is constantly talking, vocalizing with an inner voice, sometimes being fed up with himself, sometimes granting himself a big dose of dopamine and so forth. The modern human must have a personal relationship with his mind, and it starts at about the age of two once a child becomes aware that is unique and can differentiate itself from other individuals.

    Also the personal relationship with ones mind can become sick and this is wherefore some people need therapy, so they can learn how to interact with themselves. This is no rip-off but is very well objectively based. Only now has this become more and more re-integrated into the hard core scientific world as psychology and neurobiology have advanced.

    That people think it`s god is just a lack of education, but at least one shouldn`t actually downright ridicule everything. It clearly shows people are not just completely dumb and ignorant but do very well notice things, and do wanna make sense of it. THIS IS ALSO WHY PSYCHOLOGY COURSES WOULD BE SO IMPORTANT AS EARLY ON AS POSSIBLE!

    So that one get`s less exploited but can also familiarize himself more with our uniquely trainable yet fundamentally same core abilities of our human mind.

    So really if one reads:
    “Billions of people report a personal experience of God” that`s probably the smartest and most satisfying statement i have read in a while. It also gives you more insight into the depths of how religion works.
    Our normal hectical society does not encourage the trained interaction between one`s mind (which is not obvious since we grow up with it and grow old with it and take everything with it for granted – unless those few who develop mental illnesses). …trained interaction, such as deep focus techniques, meditation (highly interesting results with fMRI!) and so on.
    So no wonder that people are ripped off on that basis, by showing them unknown experiences with their own mind. The same hold true for drug induced mind-experiences where the abuse is even worse.

  99. #99 gengar
    November 20, 2006

    Somewhere way upstream someone said:

    The vexing thing about this whole argument is that the intellectual defenders of religion keep themselves to type-1 claims, which turn out to be devoid of real content, while Joe Theist has a head full of type-2 claims, which run afoul of science’s stringent demands for evidence.

    Where type 1 and type 2 claims represent ‘non-scientific’ (there are angels in Dimension X) and ‘scientific’ (Angels from Dimension X talk to me) claims.

    Here’s the thing – when it really boils down to it, you don’t meet many religious people who stick completely to those type 1 claims. Sooner or later, they get to the stage where they start to talk about things which are open to empirical investigation, even if only theoretically so at present (such as fine-tuning, and often much more tangible than that), which they use as justification for their beliefs.

    That’s fair enough – they can interpret the Universe however they like. But the findings of science do have some bearing on these interpretations – namely that they’re pretty bloody unlikely. Pretty bloody likely is not impossible, of course, but I take issue with the fact that when people point out the bloody unlikelinesss, we get much gnashing of teeth and wailing of ‘Non-ovelapping magisteria! Non-overlapping magisteria!’. Not the way you want to play the game, boys and girls.

    In other words, they started it.

  100. #100 gengar
    November 20, 2006

    Arrghh. the second ‘likely’ in my final paragraph should, of course, be ‘unlikely’.

  101. #101 Scott Hatfield
    November 20, 2006

    Caledonian: I’m afraid the person who has cut themselves is you. Obviously, the Virgin Birth is a supernatural claim. As soon as you explicitly invoke the supernatural, it is excluded from science via methodological naturalism. I deliberately recouched it sans supernatural reference to illustrate the unlikelihood that the claim could ever be formulated in such a way that its supernatural aspect could be discounted. Dawkins notoriously makes an argument to the contrary which is simply naive. The advocates of pseudoscience *always* have multiple ‘outs’ by appealing to the supernatural. Even if you somehow could *prove* that you had Jesus’s DNA and that he *must* have had an earthly father, thus ‘falsifying’ the Virgin Birth, the doctrine could always be revived in some non-falsifiable form.

    And (yawn) please don’t batter me with the screed that ‘the natural is all there is.’ Even if, for the sake of argument, I agreed with you on that point it has no relevancy with respect to Eugenie Scott’s choice of tactics…..SH

  102. #102 John Pieret
    November 20, 2006

    It is not science that says it is ridiculous, it is some scientists who try to turn science into a philosophy who say it is almost certainly false.

    Translation: Science as a whole doesn’t claim that religion is ridiculous, it’s only scientists who have a vendetta against religion that find religion ridiculous and they’re only a few (read “some”); thus we can dismiss those few scientists and feel good that science as a whole doesn’t think religion is ridiculous.

    Again, a variation on Argumentum ad hominem …

    Whew! You have to read all that into my words in order to find an argumentum ad hominem (and still fail)? I said “some” because that is accurate. Or are you claiming that all scientists contend, along with PZ, that science can say that all miracles are “almost certainly false”? If so, that claim is empirically false. There are many who either accept that science is incapable of that and/or who actively believe in miracles themselves. And I’m sure, after your lectures on logical fallacies, that you are not saying that philosophy is something to be ashamed of!

    As to your claim of Argumentum ad Ignorantium you are missing the point. I’m not asking you to disprove anything, per se. I’m asking why you think empiric evidence is logically relevant to the question of the existence/nonexistence of God and what type of evidence you are talking about and how you would use it. With teapots orbiting around the sun, I at least have an idea of what empiric evidence I could bring to bear on the problem and I know that empiric evidence could tell me that I had found one if I did. You (and no one else) has told me what kind of empiric evidence I can bring to bear on the question of God’s existence and particularly what kind of empiric evidence could tell me that I had found this God. Without that possibilty, any claim based on the supposed lack of empiric evidence for God is empty, simply because that game is rigged.

    But I’m sure I’ll sorely miss my “continued education” in logical fallacies from you.

  103. #103 Steve LaBonne
    November 20, 2006

    I’m asking why you think empiric evidence is logically relevant to the question of the existence/nonexistence of God

    That’s easy- it’s because there’s no reason to believe X exists if there’s no empirical evidence for its existence. And because if empirical evidence for X is in principle unavailable then it’s a gross abuse of the language to say that X exists or even that it could exist. We’ve been on this particular detour a number of times around here recently. It will lead you nowhere. Is that the best you can do?

  104. #104 August Pamplona
    November 20, 2006

    I don’t think that there is much of a problem with the statement that “science is a limited way of knowing”. The problem lies in the intended implication that there exists any other ways of knowing.

    Sure, you can talk about religion, for instance, as a different way of knowing but it is only this in the same sense that I know that 5+3 = 7.

  105. #105 George
    November 20, 2006

    “As soon as you explicitly invoke the supernatural, it is excluded from science via methodological naturalism.”

    God is impervious to all arguments against him. That’s why he’s God.

    How convenient.

  106. #106 BC
    November 20, 2006

    Some of you have some really bizarre ideas about science. So far I’ve seen here (to select just a few): (1) The idea that scientific results can’t be applied to the past (i.e., “science has nothing to say about the virgin birth 2000 years ago”).

    I assume you’re talking about my view here. I do not believe that “scientific results can’t be applied to the past”. What I said was, “one time events that are buried in the past may or may not leave traces of evidence that can be evaluated [by science].” The virgin birth is one of the events that isn’t in a position to be evaluated by science.

    What’s so impossible about the idea that the world works according to laws most of the time, but that a deity could occasionally implant an egg in a woman or raise a body from the dead? There’s really no scientific reason we can claim that deities *never* interact with the world.

    There’s also no reason to think that this happened. There are all sorts of fantasies that might be, that cannot be disproved because if they occurred, they managed to leave no evidence in the current world.

    My point is this, many of the people here think that a virgin birth or resurrection cannot happen because, based on our scientific knowledge about conception (happens through sex) and resurrection from the dead (never happens), that SCIENCE has disproven these events. But, the claim is that some supernatural being intervened in the world to make things happen. The fact that conception only seems to happen with sex does not and cannot allow us to claim that a supernatural being cannot bring about conception. Thus, to claim that science has disproven the virgin birth or resurrection (through supernatural means) is clearly false.

    As for the claim that we have no positive evidence of these events, therefore we should assume they didn’t happen. So what. I’m arguing against the claim that you have scientific evidence or proof that they *didn’t* happen. Look at it this way: there is the claim that the virgin birth happened, there is the claim that the virgin birth didn’t happen. What does science say about this? Science might not support either claim. Some people are saying that if we don’t have positive evidence that the virgin birth happened, then science supports the claim that the virgin birth *didn’t happen*. That’s just plain false, because there’s a third option: science supports neither claim. And, in the case of the virgin birth, science doesn’t support either claim. As I pointed out earlier, when we dismiss these sorts of claims, we do so on the basis of our preexisting beliefs and experience of the world and how it works. That’s different than claiming that science disproves it. Our thinking might be entirely reasonable in dismissing these things, but that doesn’t mean it’s scientific.

  107. #107 Caledonian
    November 20, 2006

    What I said was, “one time events that are buried in the past may or may not leave traces of evidence that can be evaluated [by science].” The virgin birth is one of the events that isn’t in a position to be evaluated by science.

    Wrong. Our current technological level might not make it possible for us to make meaningful observations on the subject, but an event of that nature in the past leaves traces that can be evaluated by science.

    You are failing to distinguish between science and our implementation of science.

  108. #108 John Pieret
    November 20, 2006

    That’s easy- it’s because there’s no reason to believe X exists if there’s no empirical evidence for its existence. And because if empirical evidence for X is in principle unavailable then it’s a gross abuse of the language to say that X exists or even that it could exist. We’ve been on this particular detour a number of times around here recently. It will lead you nowhere. Is that the best you can do?

    [Sigh ... once more around the mullberry bush.]

    So you declare empiric evidence to be the only evidence worth considering. On what basis? Hume, over 200 hundred years ago, showed that it can’t be on the basis of empiric evidence. If you can’t show that empiric evidence is the only evidence worth considering by empiric evidence, don’t we, by your rules, then have to assume your claim is not true, by default?

  109. #109 Caledonian
    November 20, 2006

    Obviously, the Virgin Birth is a supernatural claim. As soon as you explicitly invoke the supernatural, it is excluded from science via methodological naturalism.

    Oh Hatfield, Hatfield, why must you always rush to demonstrate your foolishness to the world? Can’t it ever wait for a while? Take a break.

    There is nothing supernatural about a virginal birth. The “Virgin Birth”, however, being an event attributed to divine intervention from a supernatural deity, is excluded from existence by basic logic.

    A Palestinian woman could easily have given birth without having sexual intercourse two thousand years ago. Whether this actually happened is within the scope of the scientific method, although likely not our current technological capacity to verify one way or another.

  110. #110 Rich Hammett
    November 20, 2006

    In re strictly defining “supernatural”:

    You can’t do it. It’s a foreground/background problem. It’s an anti-clade,
    all things that do not belong to the set of all things. Okay, that last bit is a little
    snarky, but you get the point.

  111. #111 poke
    November 20, 2006

    Obviously, the Virgin Birth is a supernatural claim. As soon as you explicitly invoke the supernatural, it is excluded from science via methodological naturalism.

    Wow. Does it hurt to say something that stupid?

  112. #112 Caledonian
    November 20, 2006

    So you declare empiric evidence to be the only evidence worth considering. On what basis? Hume, over 200 hundred years ago, showed that it can’t be on the basis of empiric evidence.

    Ah, but all of our knowledge and beliefs originates in empirical evidence of one kind or another.

  113. #113 Scott Hatfield
    November 20, 2006

    George wrote: “God is impervious to all arguments against him. That’s why he’s God.

    How convenient.”

    Convenient to whom, George? To supernaturalists eager to posit an impregnable redoubt for God, while using the ‘authority of scripture’ to attack science? Or to diehard naturalists eager to enlist the power of science to ‘disprove’ (as if such a thing was possible) God’s alleged existence, no matter how many real-world constraints they must ignore?

    I reject both of these views as metaphysical intrusions into the practice of science, and the constant nattering of partisans on either side to be most inconvenient (in fact, damaging) to the promotion of science itself.

    Assertively…SH

  114. #114 PZ Myers
    November 20, 2006

    So you declare empiric evidence to be the only evidence worth considering. On what basis?

    Pure, unadulterated, naked pragmatism.

    It’s worked so far, it works now, it has provided a basis for an incredible explosion of knowledge. I can understand in a purely philosophical sense that maybe the foundation we’re building on could have some weaknesses, but since we’ve managed to erect a skyscraper on it so far, I don’t think the implication that it is rickety and untrustworthy is tenable.

    Now maybe we’ll hit the limits soon. Maybe empiricism will fail at some point. It hasn’t yet, though, and most importantly, no one, let alone the complainers here, have provided an alternative. Please do.

    I’ll also add that it is clear that religious faith is not the next generation replacement for science. Complaining that there is this nuisance problem of induction floating around in our philosophies and scientification does not imply that religion has any validity. I hope that fallacy isn’t going to be making an appearance here.

  115. #115 Steve LaBonne
    November 20, 2006

    I think people who presume to cite Hume really ought to read him first. The upshot of that argument is a thoroughgoing scepticism which if anything is even more lethal to religion than anything I have said (as Hume himself made clear to the maximum extent he felt he could get away with without landing in jail). You don’t get to cherrypick the bits of Hume that seem convenient for your ramshackle “argument”.

    By the way the answer to Hume’s scepticism (which if taken to its logical conclusion is really incompatible with knowledge of any kind, including science), is in my opinion that empirical knowledge depends on some form of non-demonstrative or probablistic reasoning, of which Hume had but little notion (in fact he explicitly rejected appeals to probability as a way of justifying induction) in concert with “abduction” (inference to the best explanation).

  116. #116 BC
    November 20, 2006

    BC:

    What I said was, “one time events that are buried in the past may or may not leave traces of evidence that can be evaluated [by science].” The virgin birth is one of the events that isn’t in a position to be evaluated by science.

    Caledonian:

    Wrong. Our current technological level might not make it possible for us to make meaningful observations on the subject, but an event of that nature in the past leaves traces that can be evaluated by science. You are failing to distinguish between science and our implementation of science.

    So your position is that my use of “science” here is incorrect, but your statement that “Our current technological level might not make it possible for us to make meaningful observations on the subject” means you agree with me that science has not disproven the virgin birth? Great. Glad to see you’ve come around. :)

  117. #117 Gerard Harbison
    November 20, 2006

    Look at it this way: there is the claim that the virgin birth happened, there is the claim that the virgin birth didn’t happen. What does science say about this? Science might not support either claim.

    Science says no haploid human has ever been shown to exist, and would not be viable given our current knowledge of biology. It says a diploid human based on the genome of a single woman would be non-viable. It says that a male human needs a Y chromosome that a female human can’t provide. It says that parthenogenesis does occur in other species, but does not occur spontaneously in mammals, and artificial parthenogenesis is not the same thing. All of these are scientific evidence the virgin birth did not happen.

  118. #118 George
    November 20, 2006

    Scott: I reject both of these views as metaphysical intrusions into the practice of science, and the constant nattering of partisans on either side to be most inconvenient (in fact, damaging) to the promotion of science itself.

    I hope scientists never become satisfied with saying that an “alleged” God exists or does not exist, like a big question mark in the sky, just because the “metaphysical” status of this “alleged” being is not something that can ever be determined, by science or other means.

    Talk about god and the supernatural is just that: talk. It’s not science, it never will be science, but the discussion and “nattering” is incredibly valuable because people can see, as they work through the arguments on either side, that the scientists are smarter, more thorough, more honest, and more grounded in reality than god-intoxicated people like Luskin who are reduced to using bad Pinto analogies to put forward a case for intelligent design.

    If nothing can be proved, it’s a question of who to trust, and I would put my trust in the scientists anyday.

  119. #119 Koray
    November 20, 2006

    As always, these threads are done to death. For 100+ responses, you have to have indentions or something so that one can see which post is in reply to which.

    I just wanted to say that I have a major problem with that table with yes & no & no opinion.

    Firstly, how exactly does religion define supernatural? How does one recognize when an observed event is supernatural? (such as revelation of Gabriel, virgin birth, etc.)

    People of the 2k years ago couldn’t conjure that voices could be recorded digitally and sent over a wireless network to be played back. Let’s say you show 2 cellphones at work to them, do you really believe that they wouldn’t classify this event as supernatural despite the lack of their physics knowledge? They can’t explain how it works, but they somehow know that it’s just advanced physics?

    A supernatural event by definition spans all times. It has to be the kind of event that cannot be explained with the science of *any* century, yet somehow known not to be produced by more advanced science.

    The problem is that if I were to observe something that I can’t explain, in order for me to classify this event as “supernatural”, I must know the science of the future. Another problem is that supernatural events of the past can’t be analyzed easily with today’s science either because they just didn’t know what kind of data to collect with the necessary accuracy.

    None of this has anything to do with whether there have been supernatural events. My gripe is that nobody can have any credibility when making such a claim. And all of this discussion started with not billions of people’s personal relationship with god, but by the claims of people named Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, etc.

    Just tell me why *they* get so much credibility that some people would rather write pages of philosophy instead of simply considering that they may have fabricated the stuff.

  120. #120 David Wilford
    November 20, 2006

    Just tell me why *they* get so much credibility that some people would rather write pages of philosophy instead of simply considering that they may have fabricated the stuff.

    For the sake of argument, of course. And the consumption of alcohol:

    Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
    who was very rarely stable.
    Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
    who could think you under the table.
    David Hume could out consume
    Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
    And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
    who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

    There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya
    ’bout the raisin’ of the wrist.
    Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

    John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
    after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
    Plato, they say, could stick it away,
    ‘alf a crate of whiskey every day!
    Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
    and Hobbes was fond of his Dram.
    And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
    “I drink, therefore I am.”

    Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
    A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he’s pissed.

    — Monty Python

  121. #121 BC
    November 20, 2006

    Science says no haploid human has ever been shown to exist, and would not be viable given our current knowledge of biology. It says a diploid human based on the genome of a single woman would be non-viable. It says that a male human needs a Y chromosome that a female human can’t provide. It says that parthenogenesis does occur in other species, but does not occur spontaneously in mammals, and artificial parthenogenesis is not the same thing. All of these are scientific evidence the virgin birth did not happen.

    Right, but that’s not what the religious are alledging happened. The religious aren’t claiming that Mary had a virgin birth by some odd naturalistic phenomena, they are claiming that a supernatural entity caused her to become pregnant (it’s well within a deity’s power to supply the necessary genome to create a viable human being). You can’t disprove the supernatural pregnancy of Mary by disproving the spontaneous naturalistic pregnancy of Mary.

  122. #122 John Pieret
    November 20, 2006

    So you declare empiric evidence to be the only evidence worth considering. On what basis?

    Pure, unadulterated, naked pragmatism.

    It’s worked so far, it works now, it has provided a basis for an incredible explosion of knowledge.

    I have no problem with that as long as it is recognized to be a philosophical position, not a scientific one. This argument has never been about whether theists or atheists are right, just about what extent science has a hand in the game.

    Complaining that there is this nuisance problem of induction floating around in our philosophies and scientification does not imply that religion has any validity. I hope that fallacy isn’t going to be making an appearance here.

    Nope. It is a two way street as far as that goes. Science’s inability to address internally consistent theistic claims not subject to empiric verification/refutation is just that: an inability to determine one way or the other. Ultimately, it says nothing more about the truth of those claims than it says about their falsity.

  123. #123 Steve_C
    November 20, 2006

    They can’t even prove Mary existed.

    Why even go there? Virgin birth? Have them prove she didn’t have sex first.

    You have to take all the possible reasons for her pregnancy, virgin or no virgin.

    The whole debate is silly anyway. Which is more likely? she had sex or that she didn’t.

    An omnisceint god can do anything he likes… he just hasn’t bothered for 2000 years?

  124. #124 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 20, 2006

    Steve_C wrote:

    An omnisceint god can do anything he likes… he just hasn’t bothered for 2000 years?

    If he’s eternal, what’s the hurry?

  125. #125 Caledonian
    November 20, 2006

    You can’t disprove the supernatural pregnancy of Mary by disproving the spontaneous naturalistic pregnancy of Mary.

    Correct. We can disprove the supernatural pregnancy of Mary by noting that the concept of ‘supernatural’ cannot be coherently combined with the concept of existence in the natural world. By analyzing the semantic content of the assertion in question, we can determine that said “Virgin Birth” cannot both exist and be supernatural – only one or the other is possible. If it is supernatural, then it did not happen. If it happened, it is not supernatural.

    This is too simple for you to be too stupid to understand it.

  126. #126 Caledonian
    November 20, 2006

    Or to diehard naturalists eager to enlist the power of science to ‘disprove’ (as if such a thing was possible) God’s alleged existence, no matter how many real-world constraints they must ignore?

    Surely you are familiar with the paradox of the Irresistable Force and the Immovable Object? Your God is the meeting of these two things: linguistically invalid. No matter how hard you stamp your feet, how long you hold your breath, logic will not give in and present you with the conclusions you desire. Your deity has been assigned mutually incompatible properties, and no such entity described by those properties exists. You are simply wrong, and you are guaranteed to be wrong by rudimentary principles of semantics.

    Your beliefs cannot even be taken as axiomatic, because the concepts necessary to describe them by themselves render them invalid. They cannot be correct in any possible universe.

  127. #127 Steve_C
    November 20, 2006

    If he’s eternal why would he even care?

    How about before some says that something is regarded as supernatural…

    someone prove that the “supernatural” anything exists. Anything supernatural at all…

    I understand the concept… but it’s never happened. Ghosts which are supposedly common, spirits which we’re all supposed to have, magic which christians burned witches for… none of it has evidence.

    The supernatural has never explained anything… ever. It’s always been a sham.

  128. #128 Caledonian
    November 20, 2006

    There is a reason the term ‘paranormal’ was coined: people eventually recognized that there was no way a truly ‘supernatural’ thing could exist if we remained open to modifying our ideas about the natural world.

    The best available evidence strongly indicates that things like psychic contact and ghosts are unreal. But if tomorrow we were able to show that they were indeed real, we would have to discard the idea that they were supernatural. Existing concepts of natural law might need to be discarded in the process, but our conception of ‘natural’ would expand to match the reality we observed.

    A thing which is necessarily supernatural is necessarily nonexistent.

  129. #129 Gerard Harbison
    November 20, 2006

    Right, but that’s not what the religious are alledging happened. The religious aren’t claiming that Mary had a virgin birth by some odd naturalistic phenomena, they are claiming that a supernatural entity caused her to become pregnant (it’s well within a deity’s power to supply the necessary genome to create a viable human being). You can’t disprove the supernatural pregnancy of Mary by disproving the spontaneous naturalistic pregnancy of Mary.

    I can’t disprove invisible pink unicorns either. In fact, the list of things I can’t disprove is infinite. A miraculously appearing Y chromosome is certainly a member of the list. If your point about the limitations of science is that it can’t disprove any proposition that has no cause in the natural universe, then you are right. I counter that that’s not much of a limitation. We know from other scientific results that miraculous happenings are at most extremely rare, and so the approximation that they are non existent is at worst excellent and at best perfect.

    And that’s the way we do science. The zero-order approximation that all phenomena have natural causes is a first rate one; and to argue for including a first order correction, you need to show positive justification. And a 2000 year old folk-tale of dubious provenance is not the place to start, IMHO.

  130. #130 J. J. Ramsey
    November 20, 2006

    Caledonian: The best available evidence strongly indicates that things like psychic contact and ghosts are unreal. But if tomorrow we were able to show that they were indeed real, we would have to discard the idea that they were supernatural. Existing concepts of natural law might need to be discarded in the process, but our conception of ‘natural’ would expand to match the reality we observed.

    If this is what you mean by “natural” and “supernatural,” then all you meant when you wrote,

    we can determine that said “Virgin Birth” cannot both exist and be supernatural – only one or the other is possible.

    is that if the Virgin Birth were to have happened, then the definition of “natural” would have expanded to include a deity impregnating a woman without having sex with her.

  131. #131 Madam Pomfrey
    November 20, 2006

    Reminds me of Carl Sagan’s famous analogy of the fire-breathing dragon in the garage. (I’m probably getting some details wrong here as I don’t have the wonderful “Demon-Haunted World” in front of me). Guy says he’s got a bright pink fire-breathing dragon in his garage. You say you can’t see a thing. Guy says dragon’s invisible. You spread ashes on the floor to check for footprints…but now the dragon’s not only invisible but floating in the air. You offer to check for a heat signature but of course you hear that the dragon gives off no heat….on and on and on. So, Sagan asks, what’s the difference between an invisible, heatless, floating dragon that no one can detect in any way, and *no* dragon?

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  132. #132 BC
    November 20, 2006

    I can’t disprove invisible pink unicorns either.

    I’ll reiterate my position, since you may have missed it. My position is not that the virgin birth happened, or that the resurrection happened. My position is that people cannot say that these events have been disproven by science. (Or, in PZ’s words: that science says these claims are BS.) To take the pink unicorns example, we can say that pink unicorns probably don’t exist. We don’t have any evidence for them, it seems like an odd claim. We do this on the basis of our beliefs and experience in the world. Does that mean that science has *disproven* the existence of pink unicorns? If a bunch of people walked up to us and said they believe in pink unicorns, could we confidently tell them that *science* has *disproven* the existence of pink unicorns? Of course not. We might legitimately look at them funny and think that they are crazy, but our opinion of the non-existence of pink unicorns is in no way based on the erroneous belief that science has disproven their existence.

    My position is that science has nothing to say about these events (there is nothing to test, no evidence in either direction; only the fact that virgin births caused by supernatural entities are outside our experience), and therefore, people are wrong when they say that science has disproved it.

    And that’s the way we do science. The zero-order approximation that all phenomena have natural causes is a first rate one; and to argue for including a first order correction, you need to show positive justification. And a 2000 year old folk-tale of dubious provenance is not the place to start, IMHO.

    I am not arguing for a correction. I am arguing that to define the virgin birth or resurrection as disproven on the belief that “all phenomena have natural causes” is faulty reasoning. We cannot prove that “all phenomena have natural causes”, and to walk up to a Christian and say that the virgin birth or resurrection are *proven* to have never happened because “all phenomena have natural causes” is absurd. This is the problem: people say that science disproved some event, when really what’s going on is that our prior beliefs, experiences, and views on how the world works is informing us about the likelyhood that something is true. Our views may be completely legitimate and correct, but that’s a whole different issue because our views and our logic does not make it science. I have a problem with people taking their views, calling it science, and claiming that *science* has *proved*/*disproved* this or that about the world around us.

  133. #133 poke
    November 20, 2006

    Just because you can conceive of the virgin birth – just because you can imagine it in your head – does not endow it with the virtue of possibility, let alone assign it a probability! How arrogant to think that human fantasies amount to anything so grandiose. It’s magical thinking – as ego-centric as any religion – to believe that merely thinking about or uttering the words “virgin birth” cause to be in the world something like “the problem of whether or not there was a virgin birth.” It does not!

    But what could replace that? What could replace our ability to magically think problems into the world and then argue about them endlessly? Oh, I don’t know, maybe we could try creating “experiments” that interact with the physical world and carefully construct formal languages in order to express the relationships they uncover? Maybe we could restrict the role of the human imagination to speculation, to uncovering the best way to proceed? And, I don’t know, if doing so created the greatest advance in all human knowledge in a mere handful of centuries, maybe we might grant such a project success?

  134. #134 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 20, 2006

    “Complaining that there is this nuisance problem of induction floating around in our philosophies and scientification does not imply that religion has any validity.”

    Also, I doubt ideas of induction takes philosophies of science very far. Much of observational science is hypothesis testing which is logically proof by contradiction on the null hypothesis or its negation by the properties of the observation set. It is very like falsifiability on theories by modus tollens.

    IIRC there is even a modern philosopher who tries to explain the methods of science along these lines. And as long as one consistent philosophy is as good as another….

    ‘Science doesn’t make proofs but disproofs’ seems to work well. (Induction is of course great to propose hypotheses from isolated observations.)

    “I have no problem with that as long as it is recognized to be a philosophical position, not a scientific one.”

    I believe the point was that a methodological success makes a qualitative difference. What is the proven success for your alternative evidence? Does it enable you to predict anything, ie make a difference?

    “Ultimately, it says nothing more about the truth of those claims than it says about their falsity.”
    I believe the point was that discussing the vague nature of induction doesn’t make science as unpredictive as theology. PZ was discussing religion as replacement for science. It seems you haven’t addressed his concerns.

  135. #135 Scott Hatfield
    November 20, 2006

    Caledonian: Just how many times can you either misinterpret or misrepresent what I write in a single thread? You first offered the following comment:

    “And that is not the claim. The claim is that said Palestinian female was impregnated by a supernatural being.”

    You misread me there. I offered a clarification subsequently that my cute language about a ‘Palestinian female’ was intended to signal the pointlessness of attempting to ‘disprove’ a supernatural claim, because it can always be ‘resurrected’ in some non-falsifiable form by something like special pleading. Your response seems determined to ignore that point, and to make it appear as if I didn’t know the difference between the two propositions:

    “There is nothing supernatural about a virginal birth. The “Virgin Birth”, however, being an event attributed to divine intervention from a supernatural deity, is excluded from existence by basic logic.”

    With respect to the first proposition, I never claimed otherwise. Why try to make it appear as if I did? I wasn’t discussing the ‘truth’ of either human parthenogenesis or Catholic dogma, Caledonian. I was discussing the epistemic status of such claims, as anyone who read either earlier post carefully could have realized.

    With respect to the second proposition, it wasn’t what I was talking about, but it is definitely the loudest note on your horn and you never miss any opportunity to play it.

    Look, it’s not that hard. Eugenie Scott and the NCSE have chosen to invoke a distinction between methodological and metaphysical naturalism to exclude certain kinds of claims from science; whereas, you and others would prefer on different grounds to deny that such things are possible at all. Fine, I understand that, but why do you find it necessary to mangle my views in order to push your own?

    Puzzled….SH

  136. #136 Scott Hatfield
    November 20, 2006

    TL: As usual, I learn something by reading your posts and googling the references you provide. I thank you.

    Caledonian: Just caught your most recent post. It was wonderful poetry, but carries no force with me. You should listen to yourself talk: ‘linguistically invalid’, ‘principles of semantics’?

    Do you honestly expect us to believe that the universe has to comply with your use of language? So often, what you say boils down to this: ‘no universe which is not consistent with my definitions can possibly exist.’ That’s the sort of rarified narcissism I associate with strict Biblical literalists, frankly.

  137. #137 BC
    November 20, 2006

    Just because you can conceive of the virgin birth – just because you can imagine it in your head – does not endow it with the virtue of possibility, let alone assign it a probability! How arrogant to think that human fantasies amount to anything so grandiose.

    I’m not even sure what you’re ranting about. I’m just pointing out the logical fallacy of declaring that science has disproven something for which we have no evidence in either direction. On a similar note, perhaps someone would like to declare that science has *disproven* the existence of alien life in the rest of the universe because we have no evidence for it.

  138. #138 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    Do you honestly expect us to believe that the universe has to comply with your use of language?

    You are a idiot. Our conclusions must comply with the proper use of language. That’s ultimately all logic is: rigorous use of language to describe concepts and their interactions.

    You speak nonsense because you don’t bother the examine the implications of the words you string together. Your statements only have meaning due to the principles of language, and those principles render your conclusion incoherent. The concept you claim to believe is self-contradictory; it cannot refer to any actual entity, not even in potential.

    And the result is that you constantly make a fool of yourself, all while you congratulate yourself on being wiser than the people who take a moment to think about what sentences actually mean instead of just getting warm fuzzy feelings about them. It’s not surprising that you’re a Christian, a member of a faith that prides itself on failing to make sense.

  139. #139 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    I’m just pointing out the logical fallacy of declaring that science has disproven something for which we have no evidence in either direction.

    But you’re wrong: we have absolute evidence that indicates the “Virgin Birth” did not take place, and we have very strong evidence that indicates an unfertilized birth did not take place. A merely virgin birth is trivially easy to arrange.

  140. #140 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    I offered a clarification subsequently that my cute language about a ‘Palestinian female’ was intended to signal the pointlessness of attempting to ‘disprove’ a supernatural claim, because it can always be ‘resurrected’ in some non-falsifiable form by something like special pleading.

    ‘Disproving’ a supernatural claim isn’t necessary, because the claim is inherently invalid. Paranormal claims can always be saved by special pleading, but that’s not limited to the paranormal – any old claim can be reconciled with any amount of contradictory evidence if you’re willing to assert a sufficiently complex and specific set of circumstances that create a false appearance.

    But you don’t even understand the reasoning behind those basic principles, do you? You really do think all of human reasoning is an arbitrary game purposely set up to deny the existence of your absurd faith…

  141. #141 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    If this is what you mean by “natural” and “supernatural,” then all you meant when you wrote,

    we can determine that said “Virgin Birth” cannot both exist and be supernatural – only one or the other is possible.

    is that if the Virgin Birth were to have happened, then the definition of “natural” would have expanded to include a deity impregnating a woman without having sex with her.

    That’s no great task – I could manage that personally. But the important point is that if such a thing took place according to currently unknown principles, those principles would still be natural. The claim that something is supernatural and real is incoherent – the idea is not that a natural entity impregnanted a women through mysteriously unknown but natural means, but that it somehow happened in violation of the natural order. There are no violations of the natural order. The people who imagine otherwise have very specific ideas about what ‘natural’ is, and thus cannot put the scientific method into practice.

    This talk of ‘philosophy’ vs. ‘science’ is meaningless. The scientific method isn’t an arbitrary set of rules – there are reasons for the principles. Science is inherently philosophical, and the philosophy cannot be excised.

  142. #142 AndyS
    November 21, 2006

    This talk of ‘philosophy’ vs. ‘science’ is meaningless. The scientific method isn’t an arbitrary set of rules – there are reasons for the principles. Science is inherently philosophical, and the philosophy cannot be excised.

    Well, Humpty Dumpty, I guess words mean what want them to mean. Your statement is equivalent to saying religion is inherently theological: it conveys nothing.

  143. #143 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    For the record:

    phi‧los‧o‧phy  -noun, plural -phies.
    (1) the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
    (2) any of the three branches, namely natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysical philosophy, that are accepted as composing this study.
    (3) a system of philosophical doctrine: the philosophy of Spinoza.
    (4) the critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a particular branch of knowledge, esp. with a view to improving or reconstituting them: the philosophy of science.

    Philosophy is part of science in every one of those definitions. I hold that the second definition is incorrect – morality and metaphysics are generally incoherent, and to the degree that they are coherent, they’re part of ‘natural philosophy’. But whether you recognize the correctness of that position or not, the definition as it stands still has science as one of the three branches of philosophy.

    This “you’re talking philosophy, not science” talking point you’ve seized on is neither reasonable, meaningful, nor coherent. Given your previous behavior towards incorrect arguments, I expect you to cling to it to your dying breath.

  144. #144 Steve LaBonne
    November 21, 2006

    I have no problem with that as long as it is recognized to be a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

    So is your attempt to (mis)use Hume to discredit an insistence on empirical evidence. Your point?

    Caledonian is correct in that science has essential philosphical underpinnings, to discard which is effectively to discard science. We keep coming back to the ineluctable conclusion that at some point one must choose between science and making shit up. I know what my choice is.

  145. #145 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    And we know what their choice is.

    They’ve learned that if they scream long enough, other people will give in and let them have what they want. Not being able to perceive realities other than the social sphere, they haven’t yet learned that some realities don’t give in. Some people, too.

  146. #146 Robin Levett
    November 21, 2006

    I’ll leave the two Johns to argue with Caledonian and Steve LaBonne for the present…

    In the meantime – have you, PZ, noticed that dear William D has decided, on the evidnece of this blog article, that you want either to intern or inter all ID proponents? Why arguing against religion has anything to do with ID, I have no idea, but he seems to think it does…

    (see http://www.uncommondescent.com/archives/1800)

  147. #147 poke
    November 21, 2006

    I’m not even sure what you’re ranting about. I’m just pointing out the logical fallacy of declaring that science has disproven something for which we have no evidence in either direction. On a similar note, perhaps someone would like to declare that science has *disproven* the existence of alien life in the rest of the universe because we have no evidence for it.

    Yes, and stating that there’s something to disprove, is stating that the mere conceivability of that thing lends it substance: possibility. You’re introducing a huge, lumbering metaphysical apparatus here. An entire non-natural metaphysics of logical possibility; one that science can happily do without.

    The example of alien life is entirely different: we know, because we have scientific results to that effect, that there is the possibility of alien life. There is nothing about biology to make it inherently local and therefore not applicable to other worlds; nothing in physics to suggest that other parts of our galaxy aren’t similar; nothing in astronomy to rule out Earth-like planets orbiting similar stars to our own. It’s the results of science that make alien life possible not the mere fact that I can conceive of alien life as being possible.

    The virgin birth is not like this. The virgin birth you only consider possible because you can conceive of it. What I’m arguing is that merely being able to conceive of something does not endow it with possibility. Alien life is possible because it fits in our scientific framework; the virgin birth is not possible.

    The argument is often made here (and I’m not saying you’re making it but want to use it to clarify my position) that “metaphysical naturalism” is a stretch too far, it’s entering into metaphysics, but nobody questions the free and liberal use of modality, logical possibility, and all these other metaphysically-rich concepts. There’s a way of looking at these matters that’s both naturalistic and parsimonious: human imagination is merely a tool we can use to organise our investigation into the world. It fixes nothing and is incapable of creating problems.

  148. #148 Gerard Harbison
    November 21, 2006

    My position is that people cannot say that these events have been disproven by science. (Or, in PZ’s words: that science says these claims are BS.) To take the pink unicorns example, we can say that pink unicorns probably don’t exist. We don’t have any evidence for them, it seems like an odd claim.

    Only if you adopt a certain, very limited category of proof: mathematical proof. But we accept all sorts of other categories of proof: proof beyond reasonable doubt, proof by preponderance of the evidence, etc.. Scientific proof is closer to ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ than it is to mathematical proof.

  149. #149 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    Pink unicorns are perfectly possible – they could be engineered even if it turns out they don’t currently exist on this planet.

    Invisible unicorns may or may not be possible, but it’s not a contradiction in terms.

    Invisible pink unicorns, however, do not exist. They do not exist here, they do not exist there, not in the present, past, or future. They do not exist anywhere, because they are a contradiction in terms.

    The proof that this is the case is as absolute as any proof can be.

  150. #150 Scott Hatfield
    November 21, 2006

    Caledonian, how do you expect anyone to take your claims about language and logic seriously when you clearly don’t bother to carefully read the work of others before releasing another broadside of putdowns and misrepresentations?

    I protested previously about this, and in this last post you finally did quote my response, but you went on to essentially recouch my point in more expansive terms (‘any old claim’ vs. ‘supernatural’ claims).

    Apparently you agree with the general correctness of my point, you just don’t think it’s the best argument, in that you would rather rule out the supernatural by definition. And, of course I’m just an idiot for not embracing your preferred strategy, followed by this sublimely inventive putdown: “You really do think all of human reasoning is an arbitrary game purposely set up to deny the existence of your absurd faith…”

    Your imagination (and hubris)knows no bounds. First, you imagine that no universe can exist which is inconsistent with *your* use of language (or, if you insist, the inexorable ‘conclusions’ drawn from said usage). Now, you imagine that because I’ve challenged *your* spin on the matter, that somehow I’m setting myself against ‘all of human reasoning’?

    Caledonian, the avatar and exemplar of reason! Wow. I don’t think I’m anywhere near that important, nor do I possess the strange sense of certainty (and the willingness to condemn others that disagree with you) that you seem to evince on a regular basis.

    Tell you what, semantic theorist supreme: since you seem to think that human logic, properly applied, can eliminate all the impossible universes, try this conjecture on for size:

    That there are arguments that exist which, if applied to real-world circumstances, can lead to false conclusions by their failure to account for the passage of time.

    Do you agree?

    By analogy would it follow that IF there are more than n dimensions, any logical structure which is limited to n dimensions might similarly lead to a false conclusion?

    If not, then I think you are obligated to explain how you, a time-bound creature, could possibly develop a logical structure completely contained in n dimensions that could
    eliminate ‘impossible universes’ with more than n dimensions?

    TL, as always, chime in because I think I learn something from *your* comments….SH

  151. #151 J. J. Ramsey
    November 21, 2006

    But the important point is that if such a thing took place according to currently unknown principles, those principles would still be natural.

    You’ve defined “natural” such that it is synonymous with “existent,” so based on your definition of “natural,” this statement is trivially true.

    The claim that something is supernatural and real is incoherent – the idea is not that a natural entity impregnanted a women through mysteriously unknown but natural means, but that it somehow happened in violation of the natural order. There are no violations of the natural order.

    The problem is that your justification for the claim, “There are no violations of the natural order,” is that you had argued that if something were to be discovered that violated what we understood as the natural order, it would then be co-opted as part of the natural order. You aren’t arguing against the real question, which is whether a deity impregnated a woman without sex at the beginning of the first century, but rather whether this purported act of the deity should be labeled “supernatural” or not.

  152. #152 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    You’ve defined “natural” such that it is synonymous with “existent,” so based on your definition of “natural,” this statement is trivially true.

    That’s what the word means. What principle, pray tell, would permit us to distinguish between an observed thing that is part of the natural world and an observed thing that is part of a supernatural world? If we leave our conceptions of natural law open to revision, as a search for truth requires, new observations will be incorporated into our ideas.

  153. #153 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    Apparently you agree with the general correctness of my point,

    You haven’t been able to comprehend my posts well enough to grasp what arguments they do and do not address.

  154. #154 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    I’ll tell you what, Mr. Ramsey. Here is a link to what I think is an acceptable definition of ‘nature’: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nature

    You tell us: what part of this definition is unacceptable to you, and what definition would you put in its place?

  155. #155 Scott Hatfield
    November 21, 2006

    J.J. Ramsey: Caledonian seems to prefer arguments that eliminate possibilities on the basis of definitions. I’m genuinely interested in your response, which seems to harbor some skepticism about this approach, as opposed to any particular conclusion.

    Would the above be an example of affirming the consequent, or in your judgement would this line of reasoning be valid under some circumstances, and if so, what?

    I would love to hear what others thought about that…SH

  156. #156 Caledonian
    November 21, 2006

    You aren’t arguing against the real question, which is whether a deity impregnated a woman without sex at the beginning of the first century, but rather whether this purported act of the deity should be labeled “supernatural” or not.

    On the contrary, various arguments regarding the absurdity of claims made about said hypothetical deity are frequently dismissed by people claiming that said deity is not subject to logical analysis in general and known physical principles in particular. Since evidence is necessarily part of this universe, they (incoherently) argue, evidence has no bearing on the existence of such a deity. An existent thing being outside of the universe is a contradiction in terms, and claiming that such a thing is real demonstrates a glaring lack of ability to parse language on the part of the arguer.

    Quite simply, the traditional conception of ‘God’ found in the religions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism is impossible, and thus claims that the conception describes a real thing are wrong. This has a great deal of relevance to the people who insist that ‘God’ cannot be shown to be nonexistent on logical grounds.

  157. #157 Matteo
    November 21, 2006

    Caledonian, over the years I’ve seen many, many atheists arguing for their position. But I’ve never seen anything remotely as vapid as your main argument (the one you keep hammering on in this thread), which, as far as I can tell, simply boils down to: “God does not exist. By definition. QED,” or if you prefer, “The impregnating of a human female by a supernatural being is, by definition, incoherent, and thereby impossible. QED. And, by the way, anyone who could even entertain such a notion is mentally defective, unlike Caledonian.”

    Your argument is utterly void of content or logical force, and I wonder why you keep using it. It could not possibly hold any sway with theists, and it shouldn’t hold any sway with clear-thinking atheists. There is simply no there, there.

  158. #158 J. J. Ramsey
    November 21, 2006

    Scott Hatfield to me: Caledonian seems to prefer arguments that eliminate possibilities on the basis of definitions. I’m genuinely interested in your response, which seems to harbor some skepticism about this approach, as opposed to any particular conclusion.

    Ask yourself this. When BC wrote,

    You can’t disprove the supernatural pregnancy of Mary by disproving the spontaneous naturalistic pregnancy of Mary

    do you really think that he was using the word “supernatural” in the way that Caledonian has?

  159. #159 AndyS
    November 21, 2006

    Caledonian writes,

    This “you’re talking philosophy, not science” talking point you’ve seized on is neither reasonable, meaningful, nor coherent.

    And Steve LaBonne chimes in,

    Caledonian is correct in that science has essential philosphical underpinnings, to discard which is effectively to discard science. We keep coming back to the ineluctable conclusion that at some point one must choose between science and making shit up.

    I really do want to understand what you mean when you say “science.” To me it is a methodology. In layman’s terms: “The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.” The everyday sense of the term has to do with forming hypotheses, testing them, and seeing if others can replicate your results. At least that’s my understanding. Sure there are philosophical underpinnings I’m asking you to explicate them.

    It seems as if you believe science is the only way of knowing anything. One of my hobbies/chores is bread making. I work hard to create a good loaf, something I can repeat reliably. Calling that effort science seems pretentious. I know a bit about the chemistry involved, but my great aunt Betsy who suffered from brain damage at birth and knew nothing about the chemical reactions that occur during rising and baking could turn out an incredible loaf of bread with a perfect crust time after time. Was she doing science? She didn’t even use measuring devices.

    Where does science begin and end for you? It’s not fair just to claim that philosophy is part and parcel of science. You need to say something about what that philosophy entails, how to determine what is science and what is not, what are its limits. All I hear from you is that science is the be all and end all of everything — a quite useless statement.

  160. #160 Kayla
    November 21, 2006

    I’m probably as much of a skeptic as you are, but I think in a certain sense she’s right. Most religions are based on assumptions that are non-falsifiable, and thus science cannot in itself be used to prove or disprove them.

    For example, the concept of an afterlife simply cannot in any way be falsified, and so we cannot truthfully say that science has (or even can) prove that there is none. We can certainly say that we think it’s bunk and illogical, but we can’t say that we can know it to be empirically false (or for that matter, true). Therefore, the existence or non-existence of an afterlife (or similarly unfalsifiable claims) is outside the realm of science.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that all religious claims are outside the realm of science. Take Biblical inerrency, for example. The Bible contains claims about natural history that can be studied empirically and falsified. Therefore, if we find them false (as we have), the doctrine of Biblical inerrency that requires them to be true is also false. But as long as a Christian or Jew accepts that disproved Biblical claims are false, there’s not much more science can say on the matter.

    The point is, scientists can and should argue against superstition and woo-woo mumbo-jumbo, regardless of whether it’s falsifiable or not. But science as a discipline cannot address many of these claims, and it would be deceptive to say it can.

  161. #161 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    But I’ve never seen anything remotely as vapid as your main argument (the one you keep hammering on in this thread), which, as far as I can tell, simply boils down to: “God does not exist. By definition. QED,” or if you prefer, “The impregnating of a human female by a supernatural being is, by definition, incoherent, and thereby impossible. QED. And, by the way, anyone who could even entertain such a notion is mentally defective, unlike Caledonian.”

    Then I don’t know what proof of nonexistence you would accept, because that’s how they’re ALL structured. ‘God’ is asserted to have certain properties. Those properties lead to contradiction. Therefore, ‘God’ does not exist.

    If you think that’s devoid of logical force, you’ve rejected all logic – and there’s no point in our continuing a discussion.

  162. #162 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    Most religions are based on assumptions that are non-falsifiable, and thus science cannot in itself be used to prove or disprove them.

    But I rather think you’re missing the point, Kayla. A non-falsifiable claim cannot have any consequences if it is true that it does not also have if it is false, and vice versa. Otherwise the two states would be distinguishable and a test could be conducted to tell between them. The only statements whose truth implies the same things as their falsehood are ones equivalent to the null statement. They don’t say anything at all, and so are meaningless.

  163. #163 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    I really do want to understand what you mean when you say “science.”

    Maybe you should have tried understanding before you rejected the arguments, eh?

  164. #164 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    Well, Ramsey? Are you going to provide us with your definition of ‘natural’, the one that we should use instead of the generally-accepted defiition, and your reasons why we should?

    The rest of you are of course welcome to join in. Explain your alternate defintions and how they cause concepts like ‘supernatural’ to become meaningful and coherent.

  165. #165 AndyS
    November 22, 2006

    But you make no argument, just declarations about being rational. That’s neither science nor philosophy.

  166. #166 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    Ignoring the arguments doesn’t make them go away. Nor does lying about them.

  167. #167 Scott Hatfield
    November 22, 2006

    Caledonian: I must have a higher opinion of you than you have of me, since I labor under the delusion that you are worthy of discourse, whereas you apparently have long held the opinion I’m not worthy of a substantive response, but only mockery. Nice.

    For the record, you never responded to my thought experiment regarding (n-1) dimensional descriptions of n-dimenstional universes. Watsamatter, cat got your n-dimensional tongue?

    No matter. Here’s another one for a wanna-be Wittgenstein: Let’s assume that the supposed ‘supernatural’ impregnation of a Palestinian female was in fact entirely in the accordance with the laws of nature. Would that rule out the action of an extremely powerful and subtle intelligence, effectively operating through means as yet unknown to science? I’m sure you know the Arthur C. Clarke quote about magic. Would you rule out such a scenario by definition as well (in which case, explain why) or would you allow that this scenario is possible under your definitions, just extremely unlikely to be true?

    Believe it or not, I’m still interested in your opinion. I’m hoping to get more than the usual putdowns.

    Cheers…SH

  168. #168 MartinM
    November 22, 2006

    For the record, you never responded to my thought experiment regarding (n-1) dimensional descriptions of n-dimenstional universes

    You’re assuming that dimension is a fundamental, immutable descriptor of a spacetime. That’s not necessarily the case.

  169. #169 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    Let’s assume that the supposed ‘supernatural’ impregnation of a Palestinian female was in fact entirely in the accordance with the laws of nature.

    No, let’s not ‘assume’. If the event took place, it was a natural event. This is tautological – if you can’t even acknowledge the validity of a straightforward tautology, why should I consider you competent and/or honest enough to deal with actual difficult problems?

    Would that rule out the action of an extremely powerful and subtle intelligence, effectively operating through means as yet unknown to science?

    We’ve been over this point dozens of times. I’m not using hyperbole – literally dozens. Are you being facetious in asking the question for the nth time?

    Would you rule out such a scenario by definition as well (in which case, explain why) or would you allow that this scenario is possible under your definitions, just extremely unlikely to be true?

    Already answered. You have a definite gift for asking questions whose answers have already been given to you, Hatfield. As for ‘respect’, your behavior and the quality of your argumentation shows what you really think of us, no matter what superficial courtesies you adopt.

  170. #170 J. J. Ramsey
    November 22, 2006

    Caledonian: Well, Ramsey? Are you going to provide us with your definition of ‘natural’, the one that we should use instead of the generally-accepted defiition

    Boy, is that ever begging the question! You are presuming the generally accepted definition of “nature” is “all that exists.” Let’s look at some of the definitions of “nature” from the link that you gave me:

    1. the material world, esp. as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.

    –snip–

    1. The material world and its phenomena.
    2. The forces and processes that produce and control all the phenomena of the material world: the laws of nature.

    Neither of those definitions are so expansive as to be equal to “everything that exists, whatever it is.” Certainly, it would be a stretch to say that, using most common definitions of “material world”, ghosts and souls and such would be considered part of the material world if they existed. Whether they exist or not is an empirical question, not one that can be answered by a dictionary.

  171. #171 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    No, whether they exist and are supernatural is a logical question.

    If we observe a phenomenon, how would we decide that it didn’t belong to the material world? Be specific, now.

  172. #172 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    I couldn’t help but notice that you left out some of the definitions, Ramsey.

    5. the universe, with all its phenomena.
    6. the sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe.
    7. reality, as distinguished from any effect of art: a portrait true to nature.

    Your avoidance of these points demonstrates that you’re capable of determining the consequences of these points. You’re just not honest enough to admit it.

  173. #173 J. J. Ramsey
    November 22, 2006

    I couldn’t help but notice that you left out some of the definitions, Ramsey.

    5. the universe, with all its phenomena. 6. the sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe. 7. reality, as distinguished from any effect of art: a portrait true to nature.

    Yes, and I also didn’t quote these definitions:

    4. natural scenery.
    –snip–
    12. the original, natural, uncivilized condition of humankind.
    13. the biological functions or the urges to satisfy their requirements.
    14. a primitive, wild condition; an uncultivated state.
    15. a simple, uncluttered mode of life without the conveniences or distractions of civilization: a return to nature.
    –snip–
    8. The fundamental character or disposition of a person; temperament: “Strange natures made a brotherhood of ill” (Percy Bysshe Shelley).

    Funny thing, I had quoted the definitions of “nature” that get used when most people contrast “nature” with such things as ghosts, deities, etc., and other things commonly labeled supernatural.

  174. #174 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 22, 2006

    Scott:
    I believe that you are saying that logic alone doesn’t suffice to exclude impossible worlds in a multiverse setting. For example possible worlds in modal logic vs ensemble theories of Tegmark (assuming math is informed by science).

    Yes, the success of science vs scholastics showed that a long time ago.

    A closed multiverse theory is possible, but one should refrain from making it so tightly closed around the brain that the eyes can’t see. Tegmark’s ensemble theory is AFAIK not closed because Gödel’s incompleteness theorems allow introducing ever more axioms as needed to describe encountered unprovable mathematical theorems within a formal theory.

    On the other hand, I think the possible infiniteness in structure of a natural multiverse further support the improbability of a supernatural explanation by removing all need. But that is me.

  175. #175 Caledonian
    November 22, 2006

    Funny thing, I had quoted the definitions of “nature” that get used when most people contrast “nature” with such things as ghosts, deities, etc., and other things commonly labeled supernatural.

    Even funnier thing — because of the way science defines ‘material’, those things that you claim are labeled as ‘supernatural’ are included even in those limited definitions you permitted to remain.

    Face it, definitions 1 through 7 deal with the fundamental, conceptual meanings of ‘nature’ as they apply to the philosophy of science. They don’t go away just because you don’t like them. If ghosts and deities are real, they’re part of the natural world just as all real things are. NO ‘supernatural’ ghosts or deities or leprechauns or whatever are real.

  176. #176 J. J. Ramsey
    November 23, 2006

    Even funnier thing — because of the way science defines ‘material’, those things that you claim are labeled as ‘supernatural’ are included even in those limited definitions you permitted to remain.

    That’s not science’s definition of “material,” that is your definition of “material.” Generally speaking, in discussions of the supernatural, “material” is contrasted with “spiritual,” and ghosts, angels, etc. belong to the latter category, not the former.

    Quite simply, you are using “material,” “natural,” and “nature” in a far more expansive sense than they are normally used, and then trying to interpret everyone else’s words as if they used “material,” “natural,” and “nature” in the same way that you do rather than in the way that they are used in ordinary discourse. This is the fallacy of equivocation.

  177. #177 Caledonian
    November 23, 2006

    That’s not science’s definition of “material,” that is your definition of “material.”

    Nope. Science does not recognize one single thing that is not material – not quantum wavefunctions, not quarks, not neutrinos, not photons.

    And guess what – if science discovers something new, something that doesn’t fit into our existing understandings of mass-energy, the list of things that are ‘material’ will be extended!

    Your “ordinary discourse” is inappropriate – the context is science and the philosophy within science, and its usages are what’re appropriate.

    Keep it going, Ramsey! Put on a show for us all!

  178. #178 Caledonian
    November 23, 2006

    By the way, where are those definitions, Ramsey? The ones that coherently define and operationalize the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’, the ones you claim we should be using?

    What are they, Ramsey?

  179. #179 windy
    November 23, 2006

    It seems as if you believe science is the only way of knowing anything. One of my hobbies/chores is bread making. I work hard to create a good loaf, something I can repeat reliably. Calling that effort science seems pretentious.

    You are applying rational thinking. But even if the bread-baker was operating by instinct, the process can be studied and understood scientifically.

    Read Carl Sagan (for an optimistic view) on how common “scientific thinking”, sensu lato, is in everyday life.

  180. #180 AndyS
    November 23, 2006

    Windy,

    What I’m proposing is that science is not the only way of knowing. I agree that bread making can be understood scientifically, but what my aunt was doing in her bread making didn’t come from a scientific or rational understanding. Calling her behavior instinctual doesn’t seem right either. I doubt our DNA codes for bread making. :-)

    When I taught skiing, one of the most effective teaching methods was to have the student ski right behind the instructor and attempt to copy the instructors movements. There’s nothing verbal going on in that at all, yet the student learns quickly and would report “I now know how to do this or that technique” which seems like a reasonable use of the term “know.”

    Most of what we claim to know is like this. Jazz musicians know something I don’t about making music and it isn’t something they can express in anything like scientific language. Similarly for much of mathematics and logic. If you talk to someone who teaches these subjects they often express how difficult it is to teach the process of solving differential equations or how to do proofs in first order predicate calculus. The knowledge to do those things appears quite different from what we commonly call scientific knowledge.

    I don’t think one must appeal to the supernatural to claim there are ways of knowing beyond the scientific and rational.

  181. #181 Caledonian
    November 23, 2006

    What I’m proposing is that science is not the only way of knowing. I agree that bread making can be understood scientifically, but what my aunt was doing in her bread making didn’t come from a scientific or rational understanding.

    What your aunt was doing wasn’t “knowing”, either. Does a bread making machine “know” what it does, other than purely metaphorically? If the bread suddenly began turning out differently, how would she determine whether the change was good or bad? How would she figure out what was responsible?

    She’d use the scientific method. That is, if she was capable of it. More likely she’d develop a superstition through a crude process of association, but the conclusions she’d reach would not qualify as knowledge.

    If you understood even the most basic aspects of the scientific method, you’d understand why your objections are stupid and inane. They teach those aspects in elementary school – what happened to you, then? Homeschooling? Special Ed classes? Did your parents take you out of school when science class started each year?

  182. #182 AndyS
    November 23, 2006

    Caledonian, why waste your time responding to my comments? All you ever do is fling insults rather than engaging in anything like a constructive discussion. Looks to me like you have some deep seated psychological problem akin to Tourette’s disorder. Get some help.

  183. #183 J. J. Ramsey
    November 23, 2006
    Me: That’s not science’s definition of “material,” that is your definition of “material.”

    Caledonian: Nope. Science does not recognize one single thing that is not material – not quantum wavefunctions, not quarks, not neutrinos, not photons.

    Your response is a non sequitur. It says nothing about whether science defines “material” in a certain fashion. Actually, your statement isn’t even quite true. A materials scientist (e.g. a metallurgist, polymer chemist, etc.) probably would not call such things “material,” because in materials science, that term gets used for various kinds of alloys, rubbers, paints, and so on. That’s not to say that photons and such are supernatural (!), but rather to say that the meaning of “material” is context-dependent and does not have a single scientific meaning.

    (Actually, the field that uses the word “material” in an expansive enough fashion as to include quantum wavefunctions is philosophy, and in that case, the word “material” is used in the context of materialism or naturalism, and the definition of “material” in that context typically excludes ghosts, deities, and the like.)

    Your “ordinary discourse” is inappropriate – the context is science and the philosophy within science, and its usages are what’re appropriate.

    In other words, if your opponent makes a claim using words in a nontechnical fashion, you are free to write as if he or she meant those words as technical terms, even if the technical meanings are at odds with what your opponent is trying to say. Nonsense. A fallacy of equivocation is still a fallacy, no matter how you dress it up.

  184. #184 Caledonian
    November 23, 2006

    I refuse to let the refuse you spew go unacknowledged and unchallenged. You demonstrably do not know what you’re talking about, yet you feel justified in loudly proclaiming your grossly ignorant beliefs and are outraged when you’re corrected.

    Very high standards have to be met before we can claim to possess knowledge of something. Beliefs aren’t knowledge, superstitions aren’t knowledge, hypotheses and random guesses aren’t knowledge. A statement has to be put through the fire and survive before we can consider it knowledge, and that is precisely what science is all about – putting ideas to the test. Anyone can practice science, from the world’s greatest minds to children barely able to walk, and whether you consider that “pretentious” is irrelevant. You have no arguments of substance to make, no counterpoints to offer, just the loud braying of self-satisfied scientific illiteracy.

    You ought to be ashamed.

  185. #185 Caledonian
    November 23, 2006

    Actually, your statement isn’t even quite true. A materials scientist (e.g. a metallurgist, polymer chemist, etc.) probably would not call such things “material,” because in materials science, that term gets used for various kinds of alloys, rubbers, paints, and so on. That’s not to say that photons and such are supernatural (!), but rather to say that the meaning of “material” is context-dependent and does not have a single scientific meaning.

    It has a very specific meaning in physics and the philosophy of science – in those fields concepts like ‘matter’ and ‘energy’ cease to be useful as distinctions.

    and the definition of “material” in that context typically excludes ghosts, deities, and the like.

    Because they are known to be unreal. If they were discovered to be real tomorrow, the list of things in the “material” category would be expanded to include them.

    In other words, if your opponent makes a claim using words in a nontechnical fashion, you are free to write as if he or she meant those words as technical terms, even if the technical meanings are at odds with what your opponent is trying to say.

    You have it backwards. I’m the one making the argument, and I began by using the terms in the technical sense. Furthermore, I pointed out that I was doing so and made it explicitly clear what their meanings were. Multiple times. You and your ignorami friends are the ones who persist in using the vernacular senses that’re inappropriate for use in philosophy and contradict the more limited meanings already being used.

  186. #186 Caledonian
    November 23, 2006

    Where are the definitions that operationalize a distinction between the natural and supernatural, Ramsey? You’ve had several oppportunities.

  187. #187 J. J. Ramsey
    November 24, 2006

    Caledonian: “Where are the definitions that operationalize a distinction between the natural and supernatural, Ramsey? You’ve had several oppportunities.”

    I’ve pointed out to you several times that “nature” does not necessarily mean what you think it means, but you kept missing the point. Go and read:

    http://www.naturalism.org/tenetsof.htm

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/n/naturali.htm

  188. #188 Caledonian
    November 24, 2006

    It’s been pointed out to you that in the context of philosophy ‘nature’ means exactly what I’ve said it means.

    Now, where are those definitions? They are not contained in either of your links.

  189. #189 windy
    November 24, 2006

    I don’t think one must appeal to the supernatural to claim there are ways of knowing beyond the scientific and rational.

    Ok, if we expand our definition from scientific to rational, what other ways of knowing are there?

    (It’s bleeding obvious that people knew things even before the modern type of scientific articles started getting published. But it’s a rather weird claim that ‘scientific and rational thought’ or anything like it didn’t exist before that.)

    In bread-baking I assume you and your aunt apply rational thought. You yourself said you want repeatability. You can change the recipe and attempt to better it by trial and error. Bread-baking may appear simple, but comes with thousands of years of accumulated knowledge from farmers, grain breeders, millers, oven makers and bakers who have accumulated this knowledge by trial and error. Many of them starved if they didn’t get it right! Yet you think you just happened by this knowledge of bread-making one day by non-rational means. Shame on you.

    Besides rational thought, I would say there is another way of “knowing” – our evolved sensibilities to our environment and to other people (theory of mind etc.) I suspect they explain a large part of how the student, in part unconsciously, learns by imitating the instructor (see ‘Ape and the Sushi Master’), our propensity to music, and even a part of our understanding of mathematics. We have an evolved capability to learn and transmit useful skills like bread-making without having to write it up.

    And finally:
    If you talk to someone who teaches these subjects they often express how difficult it is to teach the process of solving differential equations or how to do proofs in first order predicate calculus. The knowledge to do those things appears quite different from what we commonly call scientific knowledge.

    What? Are you contrasting maths and rational thought? You are really grasping at straws here. I guess you mean that the skill to solve differential equations is not the same thing as knowing the results of the equations or the results of scientific experiments. So what? Both things are arrived at by rational means.

  190. #190 Keith Douglas
    November 24, 2006

    “It is impossible for anyone to dispel his fear over the most imporant
    matters, if he does not know what is the nature of the universe but
    instead suspects something that happens in myth. Therefore, it is
    impossible to obtain unmitigated pleasure without natural science.” – Epicurus

    Shnakepup: For similar reasons I avoid the term. “Unlawful” or “immaterial” are better, since postulates of lawfulness and the nature of matter are formulatable. (From them, we can then adopt a postulate about what real things are, and so on.)

    Bro. Bartleby: Planck, like many scientists, illustrates the danger of ignoring what scientists actually do in favour of what they say about themselves. What is the evidence that we cannot solve any particular scientific problem because (somehow) we are involved? (For example.)

    Buridan: And I (a philosopher of sorts) do not defend such real estate either. There is no dividing line between science and philosophy, not even in the realm of ethics. Why? Consider the area of willed action and moral responsibility. What role does our recent developments in the neuropsychology of willing play in this? We can be obscurantists and say that we will hold our traditional philosophical views come what may, but that in itself is acknowledgement of the overlap.

    David Wilford: The distinction- that most humans prefer roses to shit smell-wise is objective. Your personal reaction to either is not necessarily such. (This remark is similar in character to what is called the “objective study of subjectivity”, which Caledonian also alluded to.)

    mtraven: Except of course many philosophers (and a few mathematicians) think that the idea that mathematical objects exist in some Platonic heaven to be absurd, for the same reasons that they find other immaterial objects inconsistent with what we know.

    Peter: You reproduce exactly the argument I have made for years. Congratulations. :)

    Damien: If the universe is actually unlawful, any pattern discoverable is potentially a whim or whatever you want to say is the “origin” of the lawfulness.

    Pete: Your question is addressed by Bunge’s Skeptical Inquirer piece, “Absolute Skepticism Equals Dogmatism”, which you might be able to chase down.

    Steve LaBonne: (re: making shit up) And that’s also why I have deep respect for Kierkegaard, for being honest.


    Oh, yes, science is a limited way of knowing, since we are limited beasts. But it (joined with philosophy, as I mentioned) is still a (sic) most precious thing we have.

  191. #191 J. J. Ramsey
    November 24, 2006

    Caledonian: “Now, where are those definitions? They are not contained in either of your links.”

    The links aren’t as direct as saying, “The definition of nature is …”, but the discussions show how “nature”, “material”, “physical”, and “supernatural” are used.

  192. #192 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 24, 2006

    Keith:
    “If the universe is actually unlawful, any pattern discoverable is potentially a whim”

    Exactly! I now see a deep connection between what you are saying on lawfulness on one hand and on the other hand the practical applications of the cosmological principle and its observational support:

    My position is (still) that probability and energy conservation tells us what is natural. Conservation laws builds on invariance of physical laws, especially for energy over time. The cosmological principle tries to tell us that the fundamental laws are the same over space and time. When the parameters starts to run near a bigbang singularity the conservation laws are AFAIK thought to hold even so.

    Of course, observations going far out in space and back in time confirm this parsimonity. Fortunately for us the universe and its laws are not chaotic and varying from point to point and/or time to time.

    So any unlawful nonnatural event would show up as changes in fundamental laws or their parameters, whatever they turn out to be, and/or massenergy of a system would not add up.

    Even if these events had a recurring pattern they would be easily distinguished as long as the universe is basically lawful. They would still be your local whim, albeit with (non-physical, non-quantum) spooky action at a distance correlations of some sort.

    (If Dawkins really says that “the presence or absence of a god/s fundamentally changes the nature of the universe” I must agree. I claim that the best theory we can make is that there is no mechanism, since we with high certainty don’t see any whimsical events.)

    Umm, so we have established that religion is a whimsical idea?! Ironic that which was originally thought up to give the universe laws turns out to be the opposite.

  193. #193 Scott Hatfield
    November 24, 2006

    TL: Since my appeals to Caledonian to actually address my arguments seem to inevitably fail on grounds of semantic impurity (sigh), let me address some of *your* comments—which, by the way, I appreciate and continue to learn from.

    You wrote: “I believe that you are saying that logic alone doesn’t suffice to exclude impossible worlds in a multiverse setting.”

    Yes, or at least not any logic that is constrained to a number of dimensions less than those proposed to exist. Though MartinM (above) makes an observation that my thought experiment assumes a constraint that may not exist on spacetime, which could be conceived of without dimensions. Of course, in order to do that you while maintaining some metric you’d have to probably add something like additional dimensions anyway, don’t you think?

    You wrote: “Tegmark’s ensemble theory is AFAIK not closed because Gödel’s incompleteness theorems allow introducing ever more axioms as needed to describe encountered unprovable mathematical theorems within a formal theory.”

    I need to learn more about that, frankly. The impression one receives is that it is possible in the same way that Ptolemaic epicycles were possible, but ugly. Of course, the universe doesn’t have to conform to our expectations here….

    You wrote: “On the other hand, I think the possible infiniteness in structure of a natural multiverse further support the improbability of a supernatural explanation by removing all need. But that is me.”

    I actually agree with you, which is doubtless part of some operational bias I have against multiverse schemes. The difference between me and some believers is that I am keen to see some versions of string theory actually put to the test, come what may.

    In fact, for anyone who cares, I’ll put my cards on the table: if the probability of a multiverse can be inferred from an experimental ‘verification’ of some unique prediction of some version of string theory, then I think by extension the existence of the ‘supernatural’ becomes falsifiable—or even false. I regard even the mere prospect of such an event as wonderful, whatever the outcome. But, as you say, that’s me.

    You wrote: “So any unlawful nonnatural event would show up as changes in fundamental laws or their parameters, whatever they turn out to be, and/or massenergy of a system would not add up…”

    I’m not sure that definitely follows, unless the event in question can definitely be shown to be universal. Any dramatic local event (say, a momentary suspension of Earth’s rotation) might seem to imply some sort of broken symmetry, but symmetry might still be rescued by appealing to a very large number of less dramatic events ‘elsewhere’ within our present universe whose sum have the effect of ‘cancelling’ out the original event. This is not that far out, when one considers that ‘dark energy’ is essentially posited as the amount of cancellation required to achieve the flat space-time geometry observed!

    Of course, we don’t see those dramatic local events that might imply symmetry breaking, consistent with the suggestion that the non-natural doesn’t exist. I’m not arguing for or against naturalism being *true* here; I’m just pointing out why a supposed dramatic symmetry-breaking event would not count as a demonstration that naturalism is false. And, of course, once you start adding additional dimensions as the string theorists do, all bets against naturalism are definitely off!….:)

    Thanks again…SH

  194. #194 Caledonian
    November 24, 2006

    The links aren’t as direct as saying, “The definition of nature is …”, but the discussions show how “nature”, “material”, “physical”, and “supernatural” are used.

    No! Explicit, coherent, operationalizable definitions are not to be found in that article. You insist that they exist – so, present them.

  195. #195 MartinM
    November 24, 2006

    Of course, in order to do that you while maintaining some metric you’d have to probably add something like additional dimensions anyway, don’t you think?

    Not necessarily. It’s possible in principle to describe physics in some N-dimensional Universe with reference to less than N dimensions. Look up adS/CFT correspondence.

  196. #196 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 24, 2006

    Scott:
    Thank you! The nice thing with a discussion is that we all learn.

    “Yes, or at least not any logic that is constrained to a number of dimensions less than those proposed to exist.”

    Well, that is another question. There is an old book called “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions” that was so entertaining that it gave rise to an industry of similar books. Among them are books that explains how a lower-dimensional being can deduce that he exists in a higher-dimensional setting. I believe “An Episode on Flatland: Or How a Plain Folk Discovered the Third Dimension” is one of them. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland )

    My point was that logic by itself isn’t enough. But with the help of empiricism we can choose correct theories. String theory is a result of empiricism and allows more than 4 spacetime dimensions, at least in principle.

    “Ptolemaic epicycles”
    Astute! Regarding Tegmark’s theories, he answers the parsimony argument and makes a case that his ideas are more parsimonious. ( http://www.wintersteel.com/files/ShanaArticles/multiverse.pdf )

    “if the probability of a multiverse can be inferred from an experimental ‘verification’ of some unique prediction of some version of string theory, then I think by extension the existence of the ‘supernatural’ becomes falsifiable—or even false.”
    My thinking is that it will explain fine-tuning and initial conditions (possibly by being infinite old and so lack them), and by Ikeda-Jefferys argument and others support naturalistic created universes. I don’t think it by itself eliminates all forms of supernaturalism, only origin (cosmological) and design (physical teleological) arguments. For example, ID (biological teleological argument) will remain.

    “but symmetry might still be rescued by appealing to a very large number of less dramatic events ‘elsewhere’”
    Yes, but only by “(non-physical, non-quantum) spooky action at a distance correlations of some sort”.

    Local non-natural events are definitely observable. For example, faster than light signals has been theoretically shown to destabilize gauge theories (field theories) in the causal lightcone from such events. And we are discussing more serious non-natural events.

    “I’m just pointing out why a supposed dramatic symmetry-breaking event would not count as a demonstration that naturalism is false.”

    As long as it is verified local dramatic symmetry-breaking events I think naturalism would be in trouble. If the universe were universally ordered (as we observe) or universally chaotic (as we don’t observe), it would be natural. But a whimsical universe? :-)

  197. #197 Scott Hatfield
    November 24, 2006

    TL, MartinM:

    Thanks for the comments, links. I look forward to learning more about this. Sincerely…SH

  198. #198 Jeb, FCD
    July 16, 2007

    I’m getting tired of fuckholes who want us back in the closet. That’s what it is. When they pander to the demented fuckwits, everything they say can be distilled to “don’t be seen or heard.”

    I am quickly cottoning to the idea of in-your-face atheism. They push, I want to hit.

    Religion will be the undoing of our species. I am formally making the prediction that the religious will cause the extinction of Homo sapiens in this century. Sagan was afraid that the political idealogues would use our knowledge and capabilities to ends most nefarious. I submit to you that the religious fundamentalists will, because they know they are right and they have backing from On High.

    Can I please get of this planet? The pond scum has infected the gene pool.