The nature of the supernatural

Astronomer Phil Plait notes a webcomic addressing testability and the supernatural, and makes an odd endorsement of this position:

there’s no such thing as the supernatural. Either something is natural — that is, part of the Universe — or else it doesn’t exist.

If you posit some thing that has no perceivable or measurable effect, then it may as well not exist. And as soon as you claim it does have an effect — it can be seen, heard, recorded, felt — then it must be in some way testable, and therefore subject to science.

Not quite. The issue with the supernatural is not whether it’s part of the universe, but whether it is bound by the same laws as all the other elements of the universe. The bizarre claim about ghosts is that they somehow obey some laws but not others, for no obvious reasons.

Something supernatural could, in principle, interact with the universe sometimes but not at others. If it is operating outside of natural laws, that doesn’t obviously preclude it from sometimes interacting with things that do obey those laws, either by its own choice to obey those laws (“186,000 miles per second, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law”), or by accident in the course of some random fluctuation of its supernatural nature.

Plait’s point, and the webcomic’s, is more about the transcendent than the supernatural. The explicitly miraculous could, in principle, exist and interact with nature, without being scientifically explainable or otherwise within the scope of science. Of course, if these miracles were common enough, we might detect some lawlike nature to them. If they could be reliably induced through prayer or other actions, that would itself be a law of nature, and would help naturalize those supernatural phenomena. That path has been followed before, with phenomena like gravity being seen first as supernatural (“spooky action at a distance”) to fully natural and lawlike.

The comic concludes with the thought that, if the supernatural exists but doesn’t interact with the world, “then why do we care?” That’s a fair question, but not one that serves atheists. It’s the reply of an apathist agnostic, who acknowledges that god(s) or other supernatural entities might exist, but are so uninteresting and irrelevant as to be unworthy of the time and energy so many people invest in either affirming or rejecting their existence.

Comments

  1. #1 Sascha Vongehr
    June 21, 2011

    “The issue with the supernatural is not whether it’s part of the universe, but whether it is bound by the same laws as all the other elements of the universe.”
    So you object simply because of your private idea about what “the universe” refers to. We have good reason to conclude that the quantum universe is simply based on all that is possibly consistently observed. Anything that could possibly leave any trace at all belongs to the physical and enters the subject matter of physics simply by having an effect, any effect. There exists no supernatural realm. You could claim that “nature” is all the classical physics, which would make quantum interference effects spooky and strictly supernatural, sure, but this just implies a too simplistic model of nature.

  2. #2 Andrew G.
    June 21, 2011

    The issue with the supernatural is not whether it’s part of the universe, but whether it is bound by the same laws as all the other elements of the universe.

    An incoherent statement; if something does not behave according to all physical laws, yet has some physical effect, then it shows that the physical laws are incomplete not that something can somehow be “not bound” by them. (And the right answer is not to invent a “supernatural” category but to fix the physical laws.)

    A better non-vacuous definition of the supernatural is “mental causes or effects not mediated by physical phenomena”. As an extensional definition this works pretty much perfectly (it covers all the phenomena usually labelled “supernatural”, whether it’s prayers, or Gods, or souls, or ghosts, or “The Secret”) even though it may not match up with what people are thinking when they label something “supernatural”.

    Defined this way there are still no supernatural phenomena that exist, but that’s not because we’ve defined them out of existence but because as an observed fact there are no mental phenomena that are not simply descriptions of physical states.

  3. #3 Bruce Gorton
    June 21, 2011

    Natural laws are not legislated rules of the universe – they are a description of how the universe acts.

    Therefore if we can observe something acting “outside” of these natural laws that doesn’t render that something supernatural, it simply indicates that our understanding of those laws is wrong.

  4. #4 Ender
    June 21, 2011

    “We have good reason to conclude that the quantum universe is simply based on all that is possibly consistently observed.”

    This is means nothing. And what little it means is incorrect.

    “There exists no supernatural realm.”

    And your evidence is…

    “You could claim that “nature” is all the classical physics, which would make quantum interference effects spooky and strictly supernatural, sure, but this just implies a too simplistic model of nature.”

    No, your understanding of how words are defined is too simplistic.
    We could indeed define “nature” as classical physics, it would be a useless choice and one that is not congruent with the classic definition of nature; but it would be an entirely valid definition that does not “imply a too simplistic model of nature” – also there is no such thing as “a model of nature” – nature or “natural” is defined not modelled, then various processes that fall within that definition are modelled.

  5. #5 Ender
    June 21, 2011

    “An incoherent statement; if something does not behave according to all physical laws, yet has some physical effect, then it shows that the physical laws are incomplete not that something can somehow be “not bound” by them.”

    Close, if you’re defining natural as “all that exists” and physical laws as “all that apply to that which exists”, but even then an entity that was not affected by any physical laws and could modify, change and reverse them all in its local vicinity would be “super” or above/in control of the natural, and it would be “not bound” by physical laws, unless you changed all the physical laws to F = Ma except for entity X where F = Whatever the entity chooses. Which is a pretty rubbish physical law.

  6. #6 Ender
    June 21, 2011

    “Natural laws are not legislated rules of the universe – they are a description of how the universe acts.”

    By that definition all laws of alternate universes, as predicted by some interpretations of quantum mechanics, are supernatural laws.

    “Therefore if we can observe something acting “outside” of these natural laws that doesn’t render that something supernatural, it simply indicates that our understanding of those laws is wrong.”

    Nope, that’s the case if the “something” observed is of this universe, but if it is from an alternative universe, or we are observing it in a different universe our understanding of our laws is correct and the something is “supernatural”.

    You have to be careful with your definitions.

  7. #7 benjdm
    June 21, 2011

    The characteristics of natural laws:

    Physical laws are:


    Universal. They appear to apply everywhere in the universe. (Davies, 1992:82)

    Absolute. Nothing in the universe appears to affect them. (Davies, 1992:82)

    Omnipotent. Everything in the universe apparently must comply with them (according to observations). (Davies, 1992:83)

    We never ‘freeze’ our understanding of natural laws and claim that the current understanding is THE correct one. Any phenomena that contradict our understanding modifies the understanding – it doesn’t get labeled supernatural.

    By this conception of ‘supernatural’, we might as well label our understanding of natural laws from the 1800s the natural laws and label the sun’s burning (un-explainable by chemical reactions) as supernatural. Right?

  8. #8 informania
    June 21, 2011

    Take it easy little boy; there’s no such thing as ghosts

  9. #9 DW
    June 21, 2011

    I started reading scienceblogs because Phil Plait pissed me off enough times that I had to stop reading his garbage and find a better blog.

  10. #10 Anthony McCarthy
    June 21, 2011

    There exists no supernatural realm. You could claim that “nature” is all the classical physics, which would make quantum interference effects spooky and strictly supernatural, sure, but this just implies a too simplistic model of nature.

    You do know that the making distinction between the natural and the supernatural has never been more practiced and supported than among materialists who exert that what has been called “the supernatural” “doesn’t exist”. It was largely at the behest of materialists that the distinction has attained its rote characteristics, anamists, for example, have generally had a more capacious view of existence.

    If you’re proposing that there will be an new heaven and a new Earth, you should give the citation or someone will think you’re cribbing.

  11. #11 Anthony McCarthy
    June 21, 2011

    As to whether or not ghosts exist. I’ve never seen one but I’ve heard people who are credible who claim to have seen them. Knowing their honesty and credibility is among those things I have to take very seriously in deciding to believe them, theoretical assertions of fraud or delusion are, generally, raised by people who have no knowledge of them.

    My policy is that as long as no one is being demonstrably harmed or cheated I don’t mind people believing in ghosts. Short of proven harm, others get to run their mouths, those people get to run their business.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_QUEdNsd_I

  12. #12 informania
    June 21, 2011

    It’s a terrible thing to see a loved one going through a psychotic phase.. I admit.
    But, just maybe, you should question your judgement of credibility.

  13. #13 Ender
    June 21, 2011

    @benjdm – Don’t get caught up in one ‘standard’ definition – that may not be the context people are using the words in.

    If there is a creature that is “immune to all known physical rules” then by the definition of physical laws your link provides, which includes “Universal. They appear to apply everywhere in the universe”, there are now no physical laws, none whatsoever.

    So with a simple understanding of the definition we can see that your chosen definition (which is not the only possible one) does not rule out the supernatural, it merely rules out “Natural laws” if the supernatural exists.

    Seems reasonable.

  14. #14 informania
    June 21, 2011

    I mean, honestly; I’ve seen stuff like that f*ck*n up children.

    “She’s “special” because she sees things.. We can’t see them, but they must be there though,, it must be the supernatural”

    Creating a social misfit in the process, while a condition like such might just be still treatable without heavy medication at a yough age.
    This stuff has mentally fragile people permanently shifting out of reality.

  15. #15 harold
    June 21, 2011

    I am a skeptic who doesn’t believe in ghosts (or certain other commonly asserted supernatural entities, but let’s stick to ghosts). I have some questions.

    First, some clarifications.

    I am not claiming, of course, that I have “proof that ghosts don’t exist”. I think it is very important to clarify this, because otherwise, there is a marked tendency for people to construct and attack that particular straw man. What I am saying is that I currently have no reason to believe that they do exist.

    Likewise, I am not biased by a desire to “deny” the existence of ghosts. Although technically this would not be strictly relevant to the question of their existence, changing the subject and making this claim, in its various forms, another common method of dissembling. In fact, I wish I did believe in ghosts, they are kind of a cool concept. So is Santa Claus. I’m not emotionally biased against him, but I don’t believe in him, either.

    Finally, I don’t deny that others may have some idiosyncratic ability to observe ghosts in a way that I never can and that never really affects me. That is irrelevant to me.

    It’s simply that, given my linguistic and cultural understanding of what ghosts are, my default state is that I don’t believe in them.

    Now, having said all that, does anyone have any evidence of the existence of at least one ghost that might convince a reasonable yet skeptical person like me?

  16. #16 benjdm
    June 21, 2011

    If there is a creature that is “immune to all known physical rules” then by the definition of physical laws your link provides, which includes “Universal. They appear to apply everywhere in the universe”, there are now no physical laws, none whatsoever.

    I agree. That’s why the ‘supernatural is that which is immune to natural laws’ definition doesn’t work very well. It’s incompatible with the way science is done. You could never falsify anything or improve our understanding of natural laws under this definition.

    So with a simple understanding of the definition we can see that your chosen definition (which is not the only possible one) does not rule out the supernatural, it merely rules out “Natural laws” if the supernatural exists.

    What would be the new definition of supernatural? The ‘immune to natural laws’ definition cannot be used if there are no natural laws. Or you would have to provide a new definition for natural laws.

  17. #17 Ed S.
    June 21, 2011

    Agree with Plait’s simple posit. Humans have spent thousands of years attempting to define the supernatural INTO existence. It’s likely that many more supposedly super- events will be rendered -natural as research on mental states advances.

  18. #18 Josh Rosenau
    June 21, 2011

    My main issue above was with the equation of “might as well not exist” and “doesn’t exist.” A teapot-shaped rock might be orbiting Jupiter, but if so, it makes no difference, and might as well not exist. But whether or not it exists is a separate matter. With the rock, we can do a survey of Jupiter’s orbit and examine the shapes of objects. With a supernatural entity, we cannot (by assumption) observe it reliably.

    A clarification that may help.

    In order for the story of Jesus to be true (I’m not saying it is, just exploring how supernatural and natural are hypothesized to interact), it would have to be the case that Jesus was subject to most natural laws (he doesn’t usually go faster than the speed of light, he’s composed of matter organized into cells and organs, he eats, he converts food into energy in the usual ways, obeying thermodynamic laws, etc.). But that doesn’t mean that when he miraculously turns water to wine, that event is natural or necessarily subject to science. Nor would the mere fact that God caused a woman to become pregnant (clearly interacting with nature somehow) require that everything else God does must be constrained by natural laws.

    As I said above, if we could consistently observe such a being, we might find that it does not act completely randomly, and obeys its own set of laws. And that would, essentially, naturalize that aspect of the supernatural. But a being which is not observable (at least, not regularly observable) and which is capable of doing anything, is not subject to scientific testing.

  19. #19 abb3w
    June 21, 2011

    Josh Rosenau: The issue with the supernatural is not whether it’s part of the universe, but whether it is bound by the same laws as all the other elements of the universe.

    Yet another person to complain that this is sloppy.

    If you have two groups of entities A and B, with entities in A governed by a rule set RA and entities in B governed by a rule set RB, then a rule set for the union of A and B can be given by “if it is a type-A object, it follows RA, and if it is a type-B object, it follows RA.” Once the existence of a rule set is established, science can then go about the usual business of trying to infer what that rule set is.

    I suspect the underlying problem is that you’re confusing the actual set of rules of the universe’s pattern (“laws”) and the set of pattern rules we have currently inferred (also called “laws”, so the confusion is unsurprising). This is highlighted by your remark that “if these miracles were common enough, we might detect some lawlike nature to them.” For any finite data set, there necessarily must be at least one finite rule to describe the pattern — because a rule can be constructed from a simple enumeration of the data set. In fact, there’s always a countably infinite set of rule sets, simply because one can use a redundant description. Less trivially, it is often possible to give an alternate description. The string “abababababababab” can be described by “string abababababababab repeated 1 time”, but also by “string ab repeated 8 times”. Thus, it’s not a question of whether we can detect a pattern, but whether we can detect the actual underlying pattern – or more exactly, how to identify what the actual underlying pattern is.

    I’d recommend (yet again) the paper “Minimum Description Length Induction, Bayesianism and Kolmogorov Complexity” by Paul M. B. Vitányi and Ming Li, which (among other things) provides a formal mathematical treatment of the problem. If you’re not up on the background material of theory of computation, a book such as Sipser’s Introduction to the Theory of Computation or Linz’s An Introduction to Formal Languages and Automata covers the foundations and formalities of what the term “pattern” translates into in the language of mathematics.

  20. #20 benjdm
    June 21, 2011

    As I said above, if we could consistently observe such a being, we might find that it does not act completely randomly, and obeys its own set of laws. And that would, essentially, naturalize that aspect of the supernatural.

    You’re contradicting yourself. You’re first claiming ‘supernatural’ is a property that applies to things – where we’re disputing whether there is anything that is supernatural or not. Here you are saying that whether something is ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ depends on our knowledge of it! Learning about it would ‘naturalize’ it.

    If supernatural really means ‘phenomena that we’re ignorant of’, then clearly the supernatural exists. The sun’s burning was supernatural until we learned of fusion reactions and natural afterward. Is that really what you think the natural / supernatural distinction looks like?

  21. #21 Anthony McCarthy
    June 21, 2011

    Agree with Plait’s simple posit. Humans have spent thousands of years attempting to define the supernatural INTO existence. Ed S

    I haven’t researched the history of statements being made about the “supernatural”. I wonder when the term, in the way it’s used here, originates.

    Humans have spent thousands of years attempting to define a Universal with no results reported yet. There are any number of things that lack definition or which defy definition. If there is a God which is infinite in capacity, knowledge, ability, etc. it would be impossible for all of the collective human powers of definition to define God.

  22. #22 Tacroy
    June 21, 2011

    It’s kinda like Epicurus all over again –

    If it interacts with the universe and agrees with the observed laws of nature, isn’t it natural?

    If it interacts with the universe and contradicts the observed laws of nature, isn’t it the observed laws that are wrong*?

    If it does not interact with the observable universe, why claim it exists at all?

    *Example: The observed orbit of Mercury deviated significantly from theory until Einstein, as there are some relativistic effects that need to be taken into account in its orbit. Newtonian gravity was wrong, in that case, and when we changed it the error pretty much disappeared. However, Mercury’s orbit was still natural.

  23. #23 Tim
    June 21, 2011

    @Tacroy

    Look at this way: if a Supernatural being were to interact with our natural world, there is no reason to suppose that the interaction would follow any discernable pattern or existing law. The effect would be manifestly physical and measurable, but there is no reason to assume that one could measure the root cause of the phenomena. For example, if you happened to be around when Moses allegedly parted the Red Sea, all you would be able to measure would be the actual movement of the Sea Water. “Why” the sea water decided to move would be completely unknowable and untestable. It would be (or “could be,” I should say) as though there were a “temporary” law of the universe that dictated that the sea water must move. The seawater moved because it’s movement is built in to the fabric of our universe. (Just like the speed of light in a vacuum is built into the fabric of our universe.)

    So, in this case, the “law of parting waters” is nothing more than the whim of the deity to make something happen in our universe.

    Tim

  24. #24 abb3w
    June 21, 2011

    Josh Rosenau: As I said above, if we could consistently observe such a being, we might find that it does not act completely randomly, and obeys its own set of laws.

    I’d add “random” to the list of concepts I think you’re being sloppy with. One of the classic oddities of Mathematics is the Bertrand Paradox; “random” needs to indicate what the event space is that the distribution is over.

    benjdm: Here you are saying that whether something is ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’ depends on our knowledge of it! Learning about it would ‘naturalize’ it.

    …which is a philosophical position I’ve encountered before.

    However, this by implication means that supernatural phenomena are subject to study by science (in sense of philosophical discipline and practice), as over the centuries science (in the sense of the associated body of knowledge) has increased in knowledge by the studying of things not yet known about.

    Tim: Look at this way: if a Supernatural being were to interact with our natural world, there is no reason to suppose that the interaction would follow any discernable pattern or existing law.

    You appear to be making the same errors about “pattern” and “law” that I discussed a bit above.

    Tim: The effect would be manifestly physical and measurable, but there is no reason to assume that one could measure the root cause of the phenomena.

    Root causes are never measured; rather, they are inferred from the experience measured.

  25. #25 Mark in DC
    June 21, 2011

    Excellent post Josh Rosenau – sounds like you’ve studied your CS Lewis.

    The fact of the matter is that any honest cosmologist must admit that we now have valid evidence for the supernatural. Being that the universe is both finite and temporal then any ‘natural’ cause would of course violate both the law of non-contradiction and the law of infinite regress.

    Obviously nature is a caused effect and nature cannot also be the cause. Only something self-existent, superior and outside of nature could be said Cause, unless you believe nothing is something and chance is an action, lol.

  26. #26 Mark in DC
    June 21, 2011

    Excellent post Josh Rosenau – sounds like you’ve studied your CS Lewis.

    The fact of the matter is that any honest cosmologist must admit that we now have valid evidence for the supernatural. Being that the universe is both finite and temporal then any ‘natural’ cause would of course violate both the law of non-contradiction and the law of infinite regress.

    Obviously nature is a caused effect and nature cannot also be the cause. Only something self-existent, superior and outside of nature could be said Cause, unless you believe nothing is something and chance is an action, lol.

  27. #27 rob
    June 21, 2011

    i think that there is no supernatural; only the natural. and the natural can eventually be explained, provided we devise clever enough experiments.

    talking about the possibility of the supernatural is, ultimately, a waste of time.

    it is like the monkeys typing Hamlet argument. yeah, it is possible for a finite number of monkeys to pop out Hamlet, but the odds are so remote that it can be used as an operational definition of “never.”

    it is the same thing with this supernatural discussion. sure, science can’t definitively rule out supernatural phenomena. but with how many supernatural phenomena that have been puported to have happen over the years of recorded history, and the magnitude of the effects, you may as well ignore them. they occur so infrequently, or are so insignificant on the scale of the cosmos, that they might as well not occur at all.

    operationally, you can say that supernatural phenomena don’t exist.

  28. #28 Anthony McCarthy
    June 21, 2011

    talking about the possibility of the supernatural is, ultimately, a waste of time.

    If people want to spend their time doing it, it’s their time. Though I would assume you think spending their time talking about the impossibility of it as well. I’d agree with that, especially when people try to do it using the frame work of science, which is inapplicable, to do it.

    it is like the monkeys typing Hamlet argument. yeah, it is possible for a finite number of monkeys to pop out Hamlet, but the odds are so remote that it can be used as an operational definition of “never.”

    The irony here is that the analogy was used by Eddington, who was a practicing Quaker, in “The Nature of the Physical World”

    If I let my fingers wander idly over the keys of a typewriter it might happen that my screed made an intelligible sentence. If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum. The chance of their doing so is decidedly more favourable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel.

    And who wrote more than a little on the relationship between “Science and the Unseen World”.

    http://anthonymic.blogspot.com/2009/07/science-and-unseen-world.html

    Note: I still haven’t gotten around to cleaning it up, it contains numerous typos.

  29. #29 Tim
    June 21, 2011

    Josh: You appear to be making the same errors about “pattern” and “law” that I discussed a bit above.
    Perhaps. But I don’t think it matters. :)

    If I’m not mistaken, I think we’re on the same side of the argument here. I was just trying to illustrate your point using a concrete example.

    Josh: Root causes are never measured; rather, they are inferred from the experience measured.
    What “root cause” can you infer from the fact that light travels in a vacuum at 186,000 m/sec?

    A supernatural event, a miracle of some sort, might simply look like it was “natural” for the phenomena to occur as far as our understanding of nature is concerned. A “transitory” law of nature, if you will. But we couldn’t necessarily predict or explain the phenomena based on any known law of nature. And that, by definition, would make the phenomena supernatural.

    Tim

  30. #30 harold
    June 21, 2011

    Mark in DC –

    I’m going to assume that your comments are not jokes and address them.

    The fact of the matter is that any honest cosmologist must admit that we now have valid evidence for the supernatural. Being that the universe is both finite and temporal then any ‘natural’ cause would of course violate both the law of non-contradiction and the law of infinite regress.

    Neither of the “laws” you mention is a principle of Physics. There is no evidence from cosmology of any specific supernatural entity.

    Indeed, even if your argument were valid, it is some kind of vague argument for an ill-defined supernatural. What use is that? How would we know if it is Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, or something altogether different?

    Obviously nature is a caused effect and nature cannot also be the cause. Only something self-existent, superior and outside of nature could be said Cause, unless you believe nothing is something and chance is an action, lol.

    This is just word games, but again, even it were accepted as evidence of “the supernatural”, what good would that do?

    In comment number 15, I asked for evidence for the existence of ghosts. I didn’t expect anyone to answer, and no-one did.

    However, if you look at that comment, I would be delighted to see a reply, substituting for “ghost” any reasonably specific supernatural entity, be it a specific deity, saint, monster, etc.

    Just some evidence for a specific supernatural entity, not wordgames about “the supernatural”, but some specific evidence, that’s all I ask.

  31. #31 Beth
    June 21, 2011

    It seems to me that mathematics qualifies as supernatural under Plait’s definition. Count me among those who think that the supernatural is just the natural unexplained.

    I am undecided about whether mathematics should be considered supernatural, but Plait’s definition seems quite good when I’m leaning that direction.

  32. #32 Josh Rosenau
    June 21, 2011

    Mark in DC: Nope, no CS Lewis (other than Narnia, which I enjoyed in 6th grade, until the hamfisted allegory became inescapable in the last book). And I doubt many cosmologists think there’s valid evidence for the supernatural. Indeed, my argument above is that there cannot be evidence for the supernatural. The argument from first causes is trivial and wrong.

  33. #33 Josh Rosenau
    June 21, 2011

    Abb3w: I’m not arguing that all supernatural phenomena are inherently naturalizable. That would lead to god-of-the-gaps arguments, and so forth.

    No doubt many things that were once regarded as supernatural were subsequently naturalized as theory was developed that could explain them. If someone wanted to draw the induction that all purported supernatural phenomena would be so naturalized some day, I’d find the logic of the induction shaky, but wouldn’t feel obliged to dispute the result.

    But I can understand where some folks come from in arguing that certain supernatural claims are inherently impossible to naturalize, and that those are truly supernatural phenomena. I don’t find those sorts of phenomena terribly interesting, but they might exist.

    And yes, I was using the word “randomly” in a colloquial sense. “Arbitrarily” would have been better.

  34. #34 Tim
    June 21, 2011

    Mark in DC: However, if you look at that comment, I would be delighted to see a reply, substituting for “ghost” any reasonably specific supernatural entity, be it a specific deity, saint, monster, etc.
    There is no credible evidence. Of course, there’s lots of hearsay. ;)

    Tim

  35. #35 Matti K.
    June 22, 2011

    It doesn’t take a terrible amount of time and energy to reject the existence of those gods that
    have been presented in nuomerous theist hypotheses. It is a reasonable thing to do, just like is the rejection of the concepts of phlogiston and luminiferous ether.

    But then again, the majority of people are not supporters of the concepts of phlogiston or ether, so there is not a niche for “apathetic agnostics” to earn a living selling science (outside phlogiston and ether) to the phlogiston- and ether-believing majority.

    do PR-workNo scientist gains points as being a liberal and open-minded person by stating that he/she is an “apathetic agnostic” regarding these matters.

  36. #36 Bruce Gorton
    June 22, 2011

    Posted by: Ender | June 21, 2011 3:51 AM

    Nope, that’s the case if the “something” observed is of this universe, but if it is from an alternative universe, or we are observing it in a different universe our understanding of our laws is correct and the something is “supernatural”.

    Nope – the laws would still be natural laws to their universe. In order to observe them in our universe it would require a natural means of doing so – rendering the observation subject to natural laws.

    Plus such an observation may indicate that the multiverse isn’t so much a multiverse as another element to the universe.

    The issue here is that a natural law is descriptive not prescriptive. For example say ghosts exist – and we observed them.

    It would not be an observation of the supernatural, but an obersvation of the natural we didn’t previously know about.

  37. #37 Connor
    June 22, 2011

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  38. #38 rturpin
    June 22, 2011

    Josh Rosenau:

    But that doesn’t mean that when he miraculously turns water to wine, that event is natural or necessarily subject to science.

    Jesus: “Here, I have turned your water to wine.”

    Guest: “Hmmm. Still tastes like water. Still looks like water.”

    Jesus: “See, it’s supernatural wine. No ordinary test will distinguish it from water.”

    Host: “Jesus, you’re the life of the party.”

    Guest (to Host): “Are you sure you don’t have some of that ordinary wine still stuck away in the back of the cellar?”

  39. #39 Jet10
    June 22, 2011

    If you’re proposing that there will be an new heaven and a new Earth, you should give the citation or someone will think you’re cribbing.

  40. #40 Mark in DC
    June 22, 2011

    Harold – how kind and progressive of you to make that assumption, lol. It still kills me how such an arrogant minority can assume and proclaim intellectual superiority on such a regular basis. Your views are represented by what % of the human race again? Lol

    You wrote, “Neither of the “laws” you mention is a principle of Physics. There is no evidence from cosmology of any specific supernatural entity.”

    Ahh I see. The rules of logic don’t apply to physics. Lol I guess that is why physicists so often make irrational and invalid scientific statements. Thanks for clearing that up.

    In fact there is great evidence, from cosmology, of a SPECIFIC supernatural entity. The fact that nature is finite is valid evidence that there is a singular supernatural cause. Why singular? Because the cause must be infinite (so as to not violate the law of infinite regress) and infinity must always be singular (two infinite objects violate the law of non-contradiction).

    You continue, “Indeed, even if your argument were valid, it is some kind of vague argument for an ill-defined supernatural. What use is that? How would we know if it is Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, or something altogether different?”

    What use is an ill-defined supernatural? It’s a first start obviously, lol. Science takes little steps – that’s its nature. Sol-centricity was a useful theory even before we determined all the details such as elliptical orbits, etc.

    As to how you would know if it is Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, etc, well that is a theological question that requires the scientist to explore the proclaimed attributes of Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, etc and determine their validity. For example, Vishnu is a representation of a naturalistic polytheist belief so obviously Vishnu’s attributes conflict with the valid singular nature of the supernatural cause.

    As for your asking for evidence, I have presented you with plenty, all of it scientifically valid. And your response was that it was just word games. Such a response is typical sophistry from those who prefer to hold on to their biases and not deal with the evidence at hand.

    Deal with the evidence at hand and then we’ll go from there: Obviously nature is a caused effect and nature cannot also be the cause. Only something self-existent, superior and outside of nature could be said Cause, unless you believe nothing is something and chance is an action.

  41. #41 Mark in DC
    June 22, 2011

    Too bad Josh – your argument was strikingly similar to the one Lewis made in his masterpiece ‘Miracles’. You should check it out, if you have the courage.

    I agree with you about your doubt that many cosmologists think there’s valid evidence for the supernatural which is why I prefaced my comment by saying ‘honest’ cosmologists. And I doubt there are many of those out there. And I can prove it: an honest scientist never responds to an invalid argument by solely arguing it is trivial and wrong. An honest scientist lays out valid or empirical reasons for why it is wrong.

  42. #42 rturpin
    June 22, 2011

    Mark in DC:

    Being that the universe is both finite and temporal then any ‘natural’ cause would of course violate both the law of non-contradiction and the law of infinite regress.

    I should know to avoid these ratholes, but I’d love to see the formalization of “the law of infinite regress.”

  43. #43 Mandrellian
    June 22, 2011

    Jeepers H Crackers, somebody actually invoked amateur theologian CS frigging Lewis’ Oprah Winfrey ‘lightbulb moment’ argument: “OMG nature was caused, therefore something outside nature caused nature; OMG laws!; OMG first cause OMG GOD!”

    Look – if the common scientific argument indeed was something like “the universe caused itself to exist” – what’s wrong with that? It’s no more ridiculous than “Infinitely intelligent omnipowerful uncaused nonphysical entity always existed and *then* caused the universe to exist with his mighty wand” – in fact it’s orders of magnitude less ridiculous. Regardless, data on the beginning of the universe is incomplete. Any hypothesis needs to be provisional and based on what evidence is available. No current evidence indicates “supernature”.

    On CS Lewis “Miracles”, Mark from DC then said:

    You should check it out, if you have the courage.

    That’s how you argue your case? By demanding Josh read the work of someone whose arguments he’s already discounted as relevant or sufficiently versed in the topic and then condescendingly implying he’s afraid of what he might find out? Be a grownup: argue your own argument; don’t appeal to alleged authority figures.

    If we mere “natural” humans are able to perceive something, how could we even tell if it was natural, or something supernatural interacting (partially or completely) with the natural universe in a way we could comprehend? It’s on a par with deciding which bits of the Bible to take literally and which are allegory or metaphor or poetty. There’s no guide and no method of comparison because, like this vague, waffly concept of “the supernatural” (the supernatural what, exactly?), noone has had direct physical experience of any gods. We have a choice: fill in the gaps of revelation/supernature and go with it, or say “Unsupported. Supernature/god not indicated. Discard hypothesis. Keep investigating.”

    Sheesh, Josh, they’re getting in through the cracks.

  44. #44 Ender
    June 23, 2011

    @rturpin

    Josh:
    “But that doesn’t mean that when he miraculously turns water to wine, that event is natural or necessarily subject to science.

    Rturpin:
    “Jesus: “Here, I have turned your water to wine.”
    Guest: “Hmmm. Still tastes like water. Still looks like water.”
    Jesus: “See, it’s supernatural wine. No ordinary test will distinguish it from water.”
    Host: “Jesus, you’re the life of the party.”
    Guest (to Host): “Are you sure you don’t have some of that ordinary wine still stuck away in the back of the cellar?””

    You have failed to understand Josh’s example – in it the wine has changed but has not changed because of any natural reaction, causality or law. It would go more like this:

    Jesus: “Here, I have turned your water to wine.”

    Guest: “Hmmm. Tastes like wine. Looks like wine, used to be water.”

    Guest: “But where did it come from? What equation governs the change of water to wine?”

    Jesus: “There’s no equation. See, it’s a supernatural process. No test will reveal a natural law that caused it.”

    Host: “Jesus, thanks for the wine.”

    Guest (to Host): “Never! I shall find the law. I have faith that there is a natural law that shall explain this change. To my amateur laboratory!”

    *leaves*

    Host: “Is he going to find one?”

    Jesus: “Of course not, there is no natural law that governs the instantaneous change of water to wine, I just told him that. He doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the natural and the supernatural and he’s looking for something that doesn’t exist.

    Host: “What a fool. Back to the party.”

  45. #45 Mark in DC
    June 23, 2011

    Mandrellian writes, “Jeepers H Crackers, somebody actually invoked amateur theologian CS frigging Lewis’ Oprah Winfrey ‘lightbulb moment’ argument: “OMG nature was caused, therefore something outside nature caused nature; OMG laws!; OMG first cause OMG GOD!”

    Amateur theologian? Is that supposed to be an insult? Of course it is – because you can’t have it any other way, right? Insulting opposing ideas and especially their originators is all you can bring to the table. If you had your way you’d do more than insult, right?

    In truth you are no different than those who insulted and then arrested Galileo. They also couldn’t abide any ideas that conflicted with their preconceived biases.

    You continue, “Look – if the common scientific argument indeed was something like “the universe caused itself to exist” – what’s wrong with that? It’s no more ridiculous than “Infinitely intelligent omnipowerful uncaused nonphysical entity always existed and *then* caused the universe to exist with his mighty wand” – in fact it’s orders of magnitude less ridiculous.”

    What’s funny (or is it sad) is that, besides being shoddy at insults, you aren’t even capable of A. accurately explaining your own position or B. reframing mine.

    What’s wrong with the hypothesis that: Nature caused nature to exist? You really don’t find that ridiculous? You see nothing wrong with this logic?

    Wouldn’t nature have to exist before it existed to cause its existence?

    You don’t find any violations of the law of non-contradiction there? Of course you don’t because like Harold you don’t believe logic applies to physics, lol. One can’t be held to rational accountability if one denies the existence of validity, right?

    “Infinitely intelligent omnipowerful uncaused nonphysical entity always existed and *then* caused the universe to exist with his mighty wand” you say?

    Where did I say anything about magic or a wand? Why did you insist upon reframing my argument using a strawman? Don’t you know that’s the tactic of a sophist?

    And why is it “ridiculous” to believe that the cause of space-time must be infinite and eternal? You have yet to lay out your argument. Why is that? I’ll tell you why that is – it’s because you are not smart enough to devise one so all you have to fall back on are stramwen and insults.

    You continue, “Regardless, data on the beginning of the universe is incomplete. Any hypothesis needs to be provisional and based on what evidence is available. No current evidence indicates ‘supernature’.”

    So because data on the beginning of the universe is incomplete, that’s your way of arguing that the universe is eternal? Regardless, data on the temporality of the universe is valid. You can deal with it like a rational scientist and allow it to formulate your cosmological understanding or you can live in denial because it upsets your personal biases. I see which option you’ve chosen.

    And no matter how much you insult others, you cannot escape from the validity of the temporality of nature, which is also valid evidence that nature must be caused by an external and eternal source. That you refuse to even acknowledge this is further proof that you enjoy wearing your bias blinders.

    You then return to stawmen and more insults, “That’s how you argue your case? By demanding Josh read the work of someone whose arguments he’s already discounted as relevant or sufficiently versed in the topic and then condescendingly implying he’s afraid of what he might find out? Be a grownup: argue your own argument; don’t appeal to alleged authority figures.”

    What demand? You have no qualms with lying? Why the incessant need to rely on strawmen? I recommended Lewis, nothing more. I clearly made no demands.

    Furthermore, how could Josh discount Lewis’ arguments as irrelevant or insufficient if he hasn’t read Lewis’ argument? By assuming he already knows his arguments? You come across as amazingly moronic by making this last feeble whine. Is this really the best you can do?

    Don’t appeal to authority, you say? LMAO Well that explains your ability to reason to a tee. I highly “demand” that you start appealing to authority before you open your insipid mouth next time!

    “Sheesh, Josh, they’re getting in through the cracks.”

    Yes, we can’t have my type perverting your precious worldview, can we now? Next you should remove my posts so no one can read them and then you may want to go further because I can still cause trouble so you may want to have me and those like me silenced. That’s really the only way to keep “us” from getting in, isn’t it?

    Goebbels would be so proud of you! And I must assume Josh is too…

  46. #46 Greg Fish
    June 23, 2011

    @Josh,

    If someone wanted to draw the induction that all purported supernatural phenomena would be so naturalized some day, I’d find the logic of the induction shaky, but wouldn’t feel obliged to dispute the result.

    So what was the point of your posts and your arguments other than to say that not caring about extant but undetectable phenomena is more of an agnostic idea than an atheist one? What is your actual point? I can’t really seem to find one.

    At any rate, I would argue that if we define nature as the entirety of actual existence, including all things seen and unseen, known and unknown, there’s really nothing supernatural because if it exists, it’s part of nature. It’s as simple and that and appears to be a question of nomenclature than science.

  47. #47 Greg Fish
    June 23, 2011

    @Mark in DC,

    Very nice job trying to crucify yourself and hurling out invocations of Godwin’s Law. Unfortunately, that’s not the debate tactic of someone who has any real evidence on his side, it’s the line of attack for someone who wants to play victim and get pity points. As to the actual arguments you did try to make…

    “Nature caused nature to exist? You really don’t find that ridiculous? You see nothing wrong with this logic?”

    You missed the application of Occam’s Razor, a postulate which states that when two explanations are offered for the same event, the one with least assumptions and the simplest explanation is likely to be correct unless other evidence is introduced. Nature coming into existence by a yet unknown but tangible phenomenon makes fewer assumptions than it being created by a deity. After all, that phenomenon should be able to be described in solely mechanistic terms. A deity involves much, much more than that.

    Not only do you have to define what a deity is, but whether there is only one, how it came to be if it did and show why your explanation is correct, show how it became or always was intelligent, how and why it created nature, etc, etc, etc, to infinity. So a Big Bang seems like a simpler and more thorough explanation in this context, especially if we consider that over eons, the likelihood of event event taking place, no matter how incredibly unlikely it is, approaches a p of 1.

    “So because data on the beginning of the universe is incomplete, that’s your way of arguing that the universe is eternal?”

    Says the guy who decided to play strawman police… Nothing was said about the universe being eternal. You were responding to another application of Occam’s Razor and didn’t want it to get in the way of your temper tantrum.

    “… you cannot escape from the validity of the temporality of nature, which is also valid evidence that nature must be caused by an external and eternal source.”

    Temporality of nature is only evidence that the universe as we know it is not eternal, that it had a beginning, and that it will very likely have an end. This says nothing about what caused it to begin, much less say anything about the source. What is external to nature? How did it get there? How did it interact with nature? Why did it cause it? Unless you have answers to these questions, you have no evidence for a first cause. In addition, the first cause argument can be protracted to infinity with every first cause having to have it’s own first cause.

    I mean how can you get away with creating your own unnamed eternal causal agent without providing any evidence for it other than by saying: “nature is temporal, therefore it much have been created by an external, eternal agent?” How is that any better than the nature caused nature argument at which you were foaming at the mouth? It’s actually worse because you don’t even try to describe a causal agent, just postulate than one exists.

    Really, try considering the weight of your own arguments (or rather lack thereof) before calling people morons and propagandists. Just a suggestion…

  48. #48 Vasha
    June 23, 2011

    In this universe, living things that take actions and make decisions have reasons (however hard to fathom) for doing so, and the causes of their actions ultimately are their physical makeup and the history and context of their actions.

    Now we can take that one step back: suppose there were a sentient being “outside” our universe that could change our local physical laws, apparently capriciously? Could we call those interventions supernatural because they’re “willed”? No: there are good reasons for thinking that actions in ”our” universe don’t come from a space of “mind” or pure free will, but rather are an inextricable part of the universe; and we can extend that to argue that this “higher” being would act according to its nature and context too. It’s not much progress to propose (purely theoretically!) that there could somehow be a being of “mind” or “pure free will” ”outside” the universe if there isn’t inside it.

    We would be very much handicapped in trying to learn about this being or find much rhyme or reason in its actions, when we couldn’t observe the world it lived in and that world was unlike ours — imagine virtual beings in a vast computer simulation trying to observe outside the computer. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t deduce ”some” things about the being and its world, perhaps more than you’d think at first.

  49. #49 Vasha
    June 23, 2011

    …As comment #2 already pointed out, “pure mind” seems to be what some people imagine as supernatural.

  50. #50 Russell
    June 24, 2011

    Ender, I think you’re missing the point. Science many things that are studied observation that don’t yet have explanation. The expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating. Cosmologists currently don’t have a good explanation for that, though they are working on several notions to account for that expansion, from various forms of dark energy to adding a cosmological constant to GR. There is no guarantee any of those will pan out.

    But the fact that there is some good data provides a hook for speculation. In contrast, gods turning water into wine (as much as I approve that particular miracle) falls into the same category as ghosts and vampires: the alleged data resides solely in myth, story, and legend. Until we get some good data on those, none seem so much miraculous as they do “fabled.” The moment that changes — i.e., once we get some actual data on this water-into-wine event — then there is something that scientists can speculate about. There’s no guarantee of explanation. (But there’s no guarantee we’ll explain, either, that we’ll explain why the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating.)

    Or to put it another way, before believers speculate wildly on the obdurate nature of miraculous events, they ought to have documented miraculous events. So long as that category is synonymous with “fabled,” there’s no reason to believe they’re unexplanable. The last line in your fable might as well be the host saying: “Wait! What’s this? That guest has found your confederate, and donkey, and amphorae?” All fables are epistemologically equal.

  51. #51 Ben Washington
    June 24, 2011

    “Of course, if these miracles were common enough, we might detect some lawlike nature to them. If they could be reliably induced through prayer or other actions, that would itself be a law of nature, and would help naturalize those supernatural phenomena.”

    One point of clarification is that if there is a supernatural, something else besides this material world, it must be an intelligence, somethings besides more material. Therefore supernatural events, done by this intelligence would have the consistency of a personality, not a physical law. Personalities are quite different than physical laws.

    Ben W
    basementscience.blogspot.com

  52. #52 Russell
    June 24, 2011

    Ben W:

    One point of clarification is that if there is a supernatural, something else besides this material world, it must be an intelligence, somethings besides more material.

    There is no reason at all to suppose that. All the intelligences we know are in the universe we know. If there is something beyond the universe we know, there’s no more reason to suppose it is intelligent than to suppose it is striped.

    The supposition you make is one place where most of the formal arguments for god founder. Those who make them want to ascribe to whatever “Initial Mover” or “Ground of Being” or whatever their argument concludes must be some attributes that would connect it to the gods of their religions. You’ll sometimes even read a line such as “…and let’s call it god” in the rhetoric of such arguments. But you might as well say, let’s call it “frong.”

  53. #53 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    “If there is something beyond the universe we know, there’s no more reason to suppose it is intelligent than to suppose it is striped.”

    False. If intelligence exists in nature then the Cause of intelligence must be at least equal if not superior to the effect. Your argument that intelligence can be caused by non-intelligence violates the law of non-contradiction, not to mention all observed phenomena.

    “But you might as well say, let’s call it “frong.”

    I will apply this rule to dark matter, dark energy, dark time and dark flow from now on. And I’d ask you to replace the word ‘dark’ with ‘God’ in all future hypotheticals! lmao

  54. #54 Russell
    June 24, 2011

    Mark in DC:

    If intelligence exists in nature then the Cause of intelligence must be at least equal if not superior to the effect.

    Nonsense. “Superior” is a deontic notion, and there is no reason to think it has any relation at all to causality. When words like “superior” get pinned to discussion about allegedly factual matters, they are a fair sign of where someone is sneaking metaphysical premises in.

  55. The supposition you make is one place where most of the formal arguments for god founder. Those who make them want to ascribe to whatever “Initial Mover” or “Ground of Being” or whatever their argument concludes must be some attributes that would connect it to the gods of their religions. You’ll sometimes even read a line such as “…and let’s call it god” in the rhetoric of such arguments. But you might as well say, let’s call it “frong.”

    Maybe we should call the absolute foundation of mathematics “frong” or whatever is really way, way, way, way down there at the Planck scale. Or maybe it’s the real driver of evolution, what the Dawkinsites call “natural selection,” which is as much a mental construct as any named god or any reduction of God into an entity in a formal argument.

    Maybe “frong” is all there is, if you want to go all monist.

  56. #56 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    Greg fish – thanks for coming to my defense against the bigots. Oh wait – you also played the sophistry insult card. But don’t worry – I always expect as much from the atheist faithful.

    >>>”Nature caused nature to exist? You really don’t find that ridiculous? You see nothing wrong with this logic?”

    Greg wrote, “You missed the application of Occam’s Razor, a postulate which states that when two explanations are offered for the same event, the one with least assumptions and the simplest explanation is likely to be correct unless other evidence is introduced. Nature coming into existence by a yet unknown but tangible phenomenon makes fewer assumptions than it being created by a deity. After all, that phenomenon should be able to be described in solely mechanistic terms. A deity involves much, much more than that.”

    Actually I did apply Occam’s razor. I never said that nature came into existence by an unknown, did I? Your distortion of what I said is just another strawman. Is that all your sides got?

    I said that science currently knows that nature did not come into existence from something natural because science has discovered that nature is finite (both temporally and spatially). And science knows that the First Cause must be an eternal, infinite, self-existent and super-natural force. And you have the nerve to argue that those attributes represent an unknown? lmao

    When you apply Occam’s razor you have to apply it to what is known about the phenomenon not to distortions about what is known.

    Greg continued, “Not only do you have to define what a deity is, but whether there is only one, how it came to be if it did and show why your explanation is correct, show how it became or always was intelligent, how and why it created nature, etc, etc, etc, to infinity. So a Big Bang seems like a simpler and more thorough explanation in this context, especially if we consider that over eons, the likelihood of event event taking place, no matter how incredibly unlikely it is, approaches a p of 1.”

    Neither science nor Occam’s razor requires that I MUST define what a deity is – ONLY what nature tells us about the attributes of nature’s First Cause, which, if you had read what I wrote, I did: the Cause must be infinite, eternal, self-existent and outside of nature. There are other attributes as well but I’ll leave it at that for now.

    Furthermore, the big bang was a natural effect not a First Cause. You weren’t aware of this? You should really brush up on your science.

    >>>”So because data on the beginning of the universe is incomplete, that’s your way of arguing that the universe is eternal?”

    Greg spins, “Says the guy who decided to play strawman police… Nothing was said about the universe being eternal. You were responding to another application of Occam’s Razor and didn’t want it to get in the way of your temper tantrum.”

    I threw no temper tantrum – I realize that you MUST construe it as such as your faith refuses to allow you to hold an open mind. But there is no other reason why he would bring up the incomplete data about the beginning of the universe UNLESS he was implying that the verdict is still out about nature’s temporality.

    Don’t blame me if his point was over your head.

    >>>”… you cannot escape from the validity of the temporality of nature, which is also valid evidence that nature must be caused by an external and eternal source.”

    Greg writes, “Temporality of nature is only evidence that the universe as we know it is not eternal, that it had a beginning, and that it will very likely have an end. This says nothing about what caused it to begin, much less say anything about the source.”

    Of course it does and your refusal to acknowledge it prevents you from being objective or rational.

    You yourself acknowledge that nature had a beginning – that means that energy, space, time itself had a beginning. That means ALL of nature. You cannot then argue that some aspect of nature existed before nature existed to then cause its own existence, unless you want to also argue that 2+2=5. Such an argument is absurd and only made by irrational minds.

    However it may simply be that you prefer irrationality and if that’s the case then nothing can be said to persuade you of the validity of ANY argument, including the argument that 2+2=4.

    Greg continues with, “What is external to nature? How did it get there? How did it interact with nature? Why did it cause it? Unless you have answers to these questions, you have no evidence for a first cause. In addition, the first cause argument can be protracted to infinity with every first cause having to have it’s own first cause.”

    This is another absurd argument. Why did the big bang go bang? See how absurd your argument is? According to your rationale, we must now discount the big bang because we don’t know why it went bang. lmao

    Science observes causes all of the time that it doesn’t have all of the reasons for such causes. Yet that is never an absolute requirement to reject the cause.

    And I already addressed this point above. Science discovered sol-centricity before it knew all of the evidence for the cause for why the earth circled the sun. It was years later even before elliptical orbits were first hypothesized and then many years later before they were validated. And we still don’t fully understand gravity which means we still don’t fully know why the earth circles the sun.

    However, because we know certain qualities about the attributes of First Cause then we already know the answers to some of your questions such as how did it get there: it’s infinite and eternal.

    As for the remaining questions, well that’s why theology is a science.

    Greg continues, “I mean how can you get away with creating your own unnamed eternal causal agent without providing any evidence for it other than by saying: “nature is temporal, therefore it much have been created by an external, eternal agent?” How is that any better than the nature caused nature argument at which you were foaming at the mouth? It’s actually worse because you don’t even try to describe a causal agent, just postulate than one exists.”

    Wow – how is it better? Because it is SCIENTIFICALLY valid where as the nature caused nature argument is logically invalid, making it unscientific. It’s called the application of Occam’s razor. You should try applying it some time!

    Look, there are only 4 possible scientific explanations for the existence of nature. ONLY FOUR. And three of them are scientifically and logically invalid. Only one passes the logic test. Now apply Occam’s razor.

    Those four are:

    1. Nature was caused by nature

    2. Nature is an illusion

    3. Nature is eternal

    4. Nature was caused by an eternal, infinite, self-existent, super-natural force

    The truly funny thing is that you will now refuse to apply it.

    Greg whines, “Really, try considering the weight of your own arguments (or rather lack thereof) before calling people morons and propagandists. Just a suggestion…”

    Really, try debating using valid logic and science without strawmen and with an objective motive before you waste my time next time.

  57. #57 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    Greg fish – thanks for coming to my defense against the bigots. Oh wait – you also played the sophistry insult card. But don’t worry – I always expect as much from the atheist faithful.

    >>>”Nature caused nature to exist? You really don’t find that ridiculous? You see nothing wrong with this logic?”

    Greg wrote, “You missed the application of Occam’s Razor, a postulate which states that when two explanations are offered for the same event, the one with least assumptions and the simplest explanation is likely to be correct unless other evidence is introduced. Nature coming into existence by a yet unknown but tangible phenomenon makes fewer assumptions than it being created by a deity. After all, that phenomenon should be able to be described in solely mechanistic terms. A deity involves much, much more than that.”

    Actually I did apply Occam’s razor. I never said that nature came into existence by an unknown, did I? Your distortion of what I said is just another strawman. Is that all your sides got?

    I said that science currently knows that nature did not come into existence from something natural because science has discovered that nature is finite (both temporally and spatially). And science knows that the First Cause must be an eternal, infinite, self-existent and super-natural force. And you have the nerve to argue that those attributes represent an unknown? lmao

    When you apply Occam’s razor you have to apply it to what is known about the phenomenon not to distortions about what is known.

  58. #58 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    Oops – sorry about the last post – didn’t think it had posted.

    To Russell, who wrote, “Nonsense. “Superior” is a deontic notion, and there is no reason to think it has any relation at all to causality. When words like “superior” get pinned to discussion about allegedly factual matters, they are a fair sign of where someone is sneaking metaphysical premises in.”

    LMAO – umm no. Superior in this context is not of a moral or epistemological nature but in the sense that 2 is superior to 1.

    In other words the cause of intelligence must be equal to or greater than the effect.

    However if you insist on believing that something can be caused by its opposite meaning, then I’m sure there is nothing I can say to persuade you.

  59. #59 harold
    June 24, 2011

    Mark in DC –

    I had forgotten about this thread.

    how kind and progressive of you to make that assumption, lol. It still kills me how such an arrogant minority can assume and proclaim intellectual superiority on such a regular basis.

    Whether or not someone is “intellectually superior” is not strictly relevant to whether their particular argument is correct.

    Your views are represented by what % of the human race again? Lol

    The percentage that has 1) access to at least a high school level science education, and has 2) the ability and character to make use of that access, coupled with 3) sufficient honesty to resist repeating propaganda slogans.

    You wrote, “Neither of the “laws” you mention is a principle of Physics. There is no evidence from cosmology of any specific supernatural entity.”

    If you disagree with this, simply present some evidence.

    Ahh I see. The rules of logic don’t apply to physics. Lol

    No-one has said this. What a dishonest straw man to construct.

    I guess that is why physicists so often make irrational and invalid scientific statements. Thanks for clearing that up. In fact there is great evidence, from cosmology, of a SPECIFIC supernatural entity.

    What is the evidence then?

    The fact that nature is finite is valid evidence that there is a singular supernatural cause. Why singular? Because the cause must be infinite (so as to not violate the law of infinite regress)

    Incorrect. It is true that you will provoke an infinite regress unless you define your deity as infinite (“Who created god? Who created whoever created god…?)

    However, this is not evidence that the universe was created by a deity.

    and infinity must always be singular (two infinite objects violate the law of non-contradiction).

    This is just wrong. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity

    You continue, “Indeed, even if your argument were valid, it is some kind of vague argument for an ill-defined supernatural. What use is that? How would we know if it is Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, or something altogether different?” What use is an ill-defined supernatural? It’s a first start obviously, lol. Science takes little steps – that’s its nature. Sol-centricity was a useful theory even before we determined all the details such as elliptical orbits, etc.

    As to how you would know if it is Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, etc, well that is a theological question that requires the scientist to explore the proclaimed attributes of Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, etc and determine their validity. For example, Vishnu is a representation of a naturalistic polytheist belief so obviously Vishnu’s attributes conflict with the valid singular nature of the supernatural cause.

    As I noted above, your statement about singularity is simply incorrect.

    Furthermore, your statement about Vishnu is oversimplified and biased, and not even accompanied by any references. (I’m most certainly not arguing in favor of Vishnu here, but rather, pointing out that your arguments against Vishnu are false, which is not at all the same thing.)

    I think you are confusing Ptolmeic astronomy, which is earth-centered, with “Sol-centric” astronomy, as even the earliest proponents of the solar system recognized elliptical orbits, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler. However, the reason that early astronomical models were useful and could be built on is that they were based in objective observations, made predictions, and could be modified and expanded. Your claims have none of these features.

    As for your asking for evidence, I have presented you with plenty, all of it scientifically valid. And your response was that it was just word games.

    All you have done is 1) make the correct observation, albeit in weasel-worded way, that stating “god created the universe” raises the question of who created god or why, if god doesn’t need a creator, the universe does, and 2) make a false statement about infinity.

    Such a response is typical sophistry from those who prefer to hold on to their biases and not deal with the evidence at hand.

    On the contrary, I am asking for evidence, and you are offering rather lame sophistry.

    Also, may I ask, if your objective is to convert people to Christianity, as it seems to be, why are you using false arguments and an arrogant, hostile, unfriendly, defensive tone?

    Deal with the evidence at hand and then we’ll go from there: Obviously nature is a caused effect and nature cannot also be the cause.

    I don’t agree that this is “obvious”, but instead of wasting time on scholastic sophistry, why don’t you just present some unequivocal evidence for the existence of your specific deity.

    Only something self-existent, superior and outside of nature could be said Cause,

    First of all, the term “superior” makes no sense here, it is a subjective term of judgment.

    Even if we strip that away, this is just an untestable claim.

    unless you believe nothing is something

    “Nothing” is something. In fact, it’s a word. And the word describes something – an abstract concept.

    and chance is an action.

    I’m not able to understand what you mean by this, can you express it more clearly?

  60. Greg wrote, “You missed the application of Occam’s Razor, a postulate which states that when two explanations are offered for the same event, the one with least assumptions and the simplest explanation is likely to be correct unless other evidence is introduced.

    Ockham’s Razor, in the senses in which it can be found in Ockham himself, never allows us to deny putative entities; at best it allows us to refrain from positing them in the absence of known compelling reasons for doing so. In part, this is because human beings can never be sure they know what is and what is not “beyond necessity”; the necessities are not always clear to us. But even if we did know them, Ockham would still not allow that his Razor allows us to deny entities that are unnecessary. For Ockham, the only truly necessary entity is God; everything else, the whole of creation, is radically contingent through and through. In short, Ockham does not accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ockham/#4.1

    Sorry, I didn’t have time to look up the relevant passages in Ockham’s work myself. This will have to suffice.

  61. #61 Russell
    June 24, 2011

    Mark in DC:

    Superior in this context is not of a moral or epistemological nature but in the sense that 2 is superior to 1.

    2 isn’t superior to 1. 2 is arithmetically greater than 1. Precision matters.

    In other words the cause of intelligence must be equal to or greater than the effect.

    “Equal to or greater” in what sense? If you’re saying that causes must be more intelligent than what they produce, that is trivially false. Dumb parents sometimes have smart kids. Humans evolved from less intelligent species. There is no “2nd law of intelligence” that says it always declines. If you’re claiming something else, then what? Precisely?

  62. #62 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    “The percentage that has 1) access to at least a high school level science education, and has 2) the ability and character to make use of that access, coupled with 3) sufficient honesty to resist repeating propaganda slogans.”

    Fine. Justify it. I just think it has no place amongst rational objective minds.

    “No-one has said this. What a dishonest straw man to construct.”

    How do you figure?

    I think the words we use should have a shared common meaning so that when we communicate we both understand the other’s POV.

    How am I to equate that on the one hand you argue that those two laws are not principles of Physics and then you simultaneously argue that you never inferred that those laws, being rules of logic, didn’t apply to Physics?

    You do agree that for us to have a rational discourse that the laws of thought and the Principle of contradiction are necessary, right?

    “Incorrect. It is true that you will provoke an infinite regress unless you define your deity as infinite (“Who created god? Who created whoever created god…?)
    However, this is not evidence that the universe was created by a deity.”

    I never said it was evidence that nature was created by a deity. What I said was that it is evidence that the Cause of nature must be eternal, infinite, supernatural and self-existent.

    If you want to explore how only the Bible, and no other human paradigm from all antiquity, just those books from the Old and New Testaments, describes a Deity who has those very same attributes then we’d be discussing theology.

    >>>>and infinity must always be singular (two infinite objects violate the law of non-contradiction).

    “This is just wrong. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity”

    How is it wrong? Why not simply explain to me why you believe it is wrong?

    Now think about it for a second: if you have two infinite objects in what way would object A be different from object B?

    From your link: infinity is a quantity without bound or end. But you say there are two quantities so how would you know? How would you differentiate one infinity from another infinity?

    Any answer you come up with is an example that your quantity was quantifiable and thus not infinite.

    Ergo there can only be ONE infinite object.

    Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is what? Oops – sorry – that’s theology again…

    “Furthermore, your statement about Vishnu is oversimplified and biased, and not even accompanied by any references. (I’m most certainly not arguing in favor of Vishnu here, but rather, pointing out that your arguments against Vishnu are false, which is not at all the same thing.)”

    Yes that is correct, my statement about Vishnu was simple and it wasn’t accompanied by any references. However it was hardly biased and I do believe on the mark.

    If you disagree then I do believe it is your responsibility to point out why I am in error and please do accompany it with some references.

    “I think you are confusing Ptolmeic astronomy, which is earth-centered, with “Sol-centric” astronomy, as even the earliest proponents of the solar system recognized elliptical orbits, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler.”

    Nope I am not confusing it with Ptolmeic geo-centricity.

    Now to your link. Did you read it? I don’t think you did – because it’s not a working link. And if you had read about Kepler on wiki you would have read this:

    Kepler’s laws were not immediately accepted. Several major figures such as Galileo and René Descartes completely ignored Kepler’s Astronomia nova. Many astronomers, including Kepler’s teacher, Michael Maestlin, objected to Kepler’s introduction of physics into his astronomy. Some adopted compromise positions. Ismael Boulliau accepted elliptical orbits but replaced Kepler’s area law with uniform motion in respect to the empty focus of the ellipse while Seth Ward used an elliptical orbit with motions defined by an equant.

    Also, did you know that:

    In Astronomia nova (1609), Johannes Kepler had used an elliptical orbit to explain the motion of Mars. In Epitome astronomia Copernicanae he developed a heliocentric model of the solar system in which all the planets have elliptical orbits. This provided significantly increased accuracy in predicting the position of the planets. Kepler’s ideas were not immediately accepted. Galileo for example completely ignored Kepler’s work. Kepler proposed heliocentrism as a physical description of the solar system and Epitome astronomia Copernicanae was placed on the index of prohibited books despite Kepler being a Protestant.

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

    And you do know that Copernicus and Brahe preceded Kepler, no?

    “However, the reason that early astronomical models were useful and could be built on is that they were based in objective observations, made predictions, and could be modified and expanded. Your claims have none of these features.”

    Of course they do. All you have to do is prove that nature is an illusion, eternal or infinite and my argument is invalid.

    “Also, may I ask, if your objective is to convert people to Christianity, as it seems to be, why are you using false arguments and an arrogant, hostile, unfriendly, defensive tone?”

    You may ask. My objective is to discuss these issues rationally and objectively. It is you, as this post has handily PROVEN, just like so many others amongst the humanist faithful, who refuses to consider theories that conflict with your preconceived notions.

    Your accusation that I am using false arguments (I guess you’re inferring that I’m intentionally using them if taken in the “Christian” context) has been shown to be false.

    As to my tone, I do believe the Pharisees said the very exact same thing of Christ. In fact, they were so outraged by His treatment, hostile tone and absolute arrogance by refusing to acknowledge their superiority that it drove them to such rage they murdered Him.

    I guess I’m in good company! Lol (How much do you want to bet that the atheist faithful will find no humor in this last bit?)

    “I don’t agree that this is “obvious”, but instead of wasting time on scholastic sophistry, why don’t you just present some unequivocal evidence for the existence of your specific deity.”

    But you do agree that nature is a caused effect, right?

    “First of all, the term “superior” makes no sense here, it is a subjective term of judgment.”

    Superior meaning greater than.

    “”Nothing” is something. In fact, it’s a word. And the word describes something – an abstract concept.”

    And you accuse me of sophistry? Wow. Nothing means no thing. Yes, it is a word (Yay you got one right) but a word that represents the concept of NO THING.

    And now you argue that no thing is some thing?

    Man them liberals really did a number on the public school system in this country. Have you never studied logic?

    Please apply the Principle of contradiction to the notion that some thing = no thing.

    >>>and chance is an action.

    “I’m not able to understand what you mean by this, can you express it more clearly?”

    Many sophists argue that the universe is the result of chance as if chance were a force or an action. Chance is nothing more than an observation regarding something concrete (or hypothetical).

    Chance, in and of itself, is not a thing but an observation about the probability of a thing happening.

    What is the chance that you’ll get a heads when you flip a coin? 50-50? What role did chance play in getting you that heads? Absolutely none because chance is not an action or a force.

    BTW, I really like how you indent the previous remarks. How do you do that? Sorry mine are so hard to differentiate!

  63. #63 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    “2 isn’t superior to 1. 2 is arithmetically greater than 1. Precision matters.”

    Wow.

    Read and weep:

    superior: greater in quality, quantity, etc

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/superior

    ” If you’re saying that causes must be more intelligent than what they produce, that is trivially false.”

    I’m not saying that. I’m saying first causes must be equal to or greater than. Your dumb kid analogy still confirms that intelligence was caused by intelligence. That your example may be smarter than his parents assumes that no other factors, such as genetic entropy, played a part.

    But if you believe something, like intelligence, can come from nothing or non-intelligent matter then I’m sure you’d be happy to present your observed evidence that such a belief is valid?

  64. #64 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    “The percentage that has 1) access to at least a high school level science education, and has 2) the ability and character to make use of that access, coupled with 3) sufficient honesty to resist repeating propaganda slogans.”

    Fine. Justify it. I just think it has no place amongst rational objective minds.

    “No-one has said this. What a dishonest straw man to construct.”

    How do you figure?

    I think the words we use should have a shared common meaning so that when we communicate we both understand the other’s POV.

    How am I to equate that on the one hand you argue that those two laws are not principles of Physics and then you simultaneously argue that you never inferred that those laws, being rules of logic, didn’t apply to Physics?

    You do agree that for us to have a rational discourse that the laws of thought and the Principle of contradiction are necessary, right?

    “Incorrect. It is true that you will provoke an infinite regress unless you define your deity as infinite (“Who created god? Who created whoever created god…?)
    However, this is not evidence that the universe was created by a deity.”

    I never said it was evidence that nature was created by a deity. What I said was that it is evidence that the Cause of nature must be eternal, infinite, supernatural and self-existent.

    If you want to explore how only the Bible, and no other human paradigm from all antiquity, just those books from the old and new testaments, describes a Deity that has those very same attributes then we’d be discussing theology.

    >>>>and infinity must always be singular (two infinite objects violate the law of non-contradiction).

    “This is just wrong. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity”
    How is it wrong? Why not simply explain to me why you believe it is wrong?

    Now think about it for a second: if you have two infinite objects in what way would object A be different from object B?

    From your link: infinity is a quantity without bound or end. But you say there are two quantities so how would you know? How would you differentiate one infinity from another infinity?

    Any answer you come up with is an example that your quantity was quantifiable and thus not infinite.

    Ergo there can only be ONE infinite object.

    Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is what? Oops – sorry – that’s theology again…

    “Furthermore, your statement about Vishnu is oversimplified and biased, and not even accompanied by any references. (I’m most certainly not arguing in favor of Vishnu here, but rather, pointing out that your arguments against Vishnu are false, which is not at all the same thing.)”

    Yes that is correct, my statement about Vishnu was simple and it wasn’t accompanied by any references. However it was hardly biased and I do believe on the mark. If you disagree then I do believe it is your responsibility to point out why I am in error and please do accompany it with some references.

    “I think you are confusing Ptolmeic astronomy, which is earth-centered, with “Sol-centric” astronomy, as even the earliest proponents of the solar system recognized elliptical orbits, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler.”

    Nope I am not confusing it with Ptolmeic geo-centricity.

    Now to your link. Did you read it? I don’t think you did – because it’s not a working link. And if you had read about Kepler on wiki you would have read this:

    Kepler’s laws were not immediately accepted. Several major figures such as Galileo and René Descartes completely ignored Kepler’s Astronomia nova. Many astronomers, including Kepler’s teacher, Michael Maestlin, objected to Kepler’s introduction of physics into his astronomy. Some adopted compromise positions. Ismael Boulliau accepted elliptical orbits but replaced Kepler’s area law with uniform motion in respect to the empty focus of the ellipse while Seth Ward used an elliptical orbit with motions defined by an equant.

    Also, did you know that:

    In Astronomia nova (1609), Johannes Kepler had used an elliptical orbit to explain the motion of Mars. In Epitome astronomia Copernicanae he developed a heliocentric model of the solar system in which all the planets have elliptical orbits. This provided significantly increased accuracy in predicting the position of the planets. Kepler’s ideas were not immediately accepted. Galileo for example completely ignored Kepler’s work. Kepler proposed heliocentrism as a physical description of the solar system and Epitome astronomia Copernicanae was placed on the index of prohibited books despite Kepler being a Protestant.

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

    And you do know that Copernicus and Brahe preceded Kepler, no?

    “However, the reason that early astronomical models were useful and could be built on is that they were based in objective observations, made predictions, and could be modified and expanded. Your claims have none of these features.”

    Of course they do. All you have to do is prove that nature is an illusion, eternal or infinite and my argument is invalid.

    “Also, may I ask, if your objective is to convert people to Christianity, as it seems to be, why are you using false arguments and an arrogant, hostile, unfriendly, defensive tone?”

    You may ask. My objective is to discuss these issues rationally and objectively. It is you, as this post has handily PROVEN, who refuses to consider theories that conflict with your preconceived notions.

    Your accusation that I am using false arguments (I guess you’re inferring that I’m intentionally using them if taken in the “Christian” context) has been shown to be false.

    As to my tone, I do believe the Pharisees said the very exact same thing of Christ. In fact, they were so outraged of His treatment, hostile tone and absolute arrogance by refusing to acknowledge their superiority that it drove them to such rage they murdered Him.

    I guess I’m in good company! Lol (How much do you want to bet that the atheist faithful will find no humor in this last bit?)

    “I don’t agree that this is “obvious”, but instead of wasting time on scholastic sophistry, why don’t you just present some unequivocal evidence for the existence of your specific deity.”

    But you do agree that nature is a caused effect, right?

    “First of all, the term “superior” makes no sense here, it is a subjective term of judgment.”

    Superior meaning greater than.

    “”Nothing” is something. In fact, it’s a word. And the word describes something – an abstract concept.”

    And you accuse me of sophistry? Wow.

    Nothing means no thing. Yes, it is a word (Yay you got one right) but a word that represents the concept of NO THING.

    And now you argue that no thing is some thing?

    Man them liberals really did a number on the public school system in this country. Have you never studied logic?

    Please apply the Principle of contradiction to the notion that some thing = no thing.

    >>>and chance is an action.

    “I’m not able to understand what you mean by this, can you express it more clearly?”

    Many sophists argue that the universe is the result of chance as if chance were a force or an action. Chance is nothing more than an observation regarding something concrete. Chance, in and of itself, is not a thing but an observation about the probability of concrete things happening.

    What is the chance that you’ll get a heads when you flip a coin? 50-50? What role did chance play in getting you that heads? Absolutely none because chance is not an action or a force.

    BTW, I really like how you indent the previous remarks. How do you do that? Sorry mine are so hard to differentiate!

  65. #65 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    “The percentage that has 1) access to at least a high school level science education, and has 2) the ability and character to make use of that access, coupled with 3) sufficient honesty to resist repeating propaganda slogans.”

    Fine. Justify it. I just think it has no place amongst rational objective minds.

    “No-one has said this. What a dishonest straw man to construct.”

    How do you figure?

    I think the words we use should have a shared common meaning so that when we communicate we both understand the other’s POV.

    How am I to equate that on the one hand you argue that those two laws are not principles of Physics and then you simultaneously argue that you never inferred that those laws, being rules of logic, didn’t apply to Physics?

    You do agree that for us to have a rational discourse that the laws of thought and the Principle of contradiction are necessary, right?

    “Incorrect. It is true that you will provoke an infinite regress unless you define your deity as infinite (“Who created god? Who created whoever created god…?)
    However, this is not evidence that the universe was created by a deity.”

    I never said it was evidence that nature was created by a deity. What I said was that it is evidence that the Cause of nature must be eternal, infinite, supernatural and self-existent.

    If you want to explore how only the Bible, and no other human paradigm from all antiquity, just those books from the old and new testaments, describes a Deity that has those very same attributes then we’d be discussing theology.

    >>>>and infinity must always be singular (two infinite objects violate the law of non-contradiction).

    “This is just wrong. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity”
    How is it wrong? Why not simply explain to me why you believe it is wrong?

    Now think about it for a second: if you have two infinite objects in what way would object A be different from object B?

    From your link: infinity is a quantity without bound or end. But you say there are two quantities so how would you know? How would you differentiate one infinity from another infinity?

    Any answer you come up with is an example that your quantity was quantifiable and thus not infinite.

    Ergo there can only be ONE infinite object.

    Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is what? Oops – sorry – that’s theology again…

    “Furthermore, your statement about Vishnu is oversimplified and biased, and not even accompanied by any references. (I’m most certainly not arguing in favor of Vishnu here, but rather, pointing out that your arguments against Vishnu are false, which is not at all the same thing.)”

    Yes that is correct, my statement about Vishnu was simple and it wasn’t accompanied by any references. However it was hardly biased and I do believe on the mark. If you disagree then I do believe it is your responsibility to point out why I am in error and please do accompany it with some references.

    “I think you are confusing Ptolmeic astronomy, which is earth-centered, with “Sol-centric” astronomy, as even the earliest proponents of the solar system recognized elliptical orbits, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler.”

    Nope I am not confusing it with Ptolmeic geo-centricity.

    Now to your link. Did you read it? I don’t think you did – because it’s not a working link. And if you had read about Kepler on wiki you would have read this:

    Kepler’s laws were not immediately accepted. Several major figures such as Galileo and René Descartes completely ignored Kepler’s Astronomia nova. Many astronomers, including Kepler’s teacher, Michael Maestlin, objected to Kepler’s introduction of physics into his astronomy. Some adopted compromise positions. Ismael Boulliau accepted elliptical orbits but replaced Kepler’s area law with uniform motion in respect to the empty focus of the ellipse while Seth Ward used an elliptical orbit with motions defined by an equant.

    Also, did you know that:

    In Astronomia nova (1609), Johannes Kepler had used an elliptical orbit to explain the motion of Mars. In Epitome astronomia Copernicanae he developed a heliocentric model of the solar system in which all the planets have elliptical orbits. This provided significantly increased accuracy in predicting the position of the planets. Kepler’s ideas were not immediately accepted. Galileo for example completely ignored Kepler’s work. Kepler proposed heliocentrism as a physical description of the solar system and Epitome astronomia Copernicanae was placed on the index of prohibited books despite Kepler being a Protestant.

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

    And you do know that Copernicus and Brahe preceded Kepler, no?

    “However, the reason that early astronomical models were useful and could be built on is that they were based in objective observations, made predictions, and could be modified and expanded. Your claims have none of these features.”

    Of course they do. All you have to do is prove that nature is an illusion, eternal or infinite and my argument is invalid.

    “Also, may I ask, if your objective is to convert people to Christianity, as it seems to be, why are you using false arguments and an arrogant, hostile, unfriendly, defensive tone?”

    You may ask. My objective is to discuss these issues rationally and objectively. It is you, as this post has handily PROVEN, who refuses to consider theories that conflict with your preconceived notions.

    Your accusation that I am using false arguments (I guess you’re inferring that I’m intentionally using them if taken in the “Christian” context) has been shown to be false.

    As to my tone, I do believe the Pharisees said the very exact same thing of Christ. In fact, they were so outraged of His treatment, hostile tone and absolute arrogance by refusing to acknowledge their superiority that it drove them to such rage they murdered Him.

    I guess I’m in good company! Lol (How much do you want to bet that the atheist faithful will find no humor in this last bit?)

    “I don’t agree that this is “obvious”, but instead of wasting time on scholastic sophistry, why don’t you just present some unequivocal evidence for the existence of your specific deity.”

    But you do agree that nature is a caused effect, right?

    “First of all, the term “superior” makes no sense here, it is a subjective term of judgment.”

    Superior meaning greater than.

    “”Nothing” is something. In fact, it’s a word. And the word describes something – an abstract concept.”

    And you accuse me of sophistry? Wow.

    Nothing means no thing. Yes, it is a word (Yay you got one right) but a word that represents the concept of NO THING.

    And now you argue that no thing is some thing?

    Man them liberals really did a number on the public school system in this country. Have you never studied logic?

    Please apply the Principle of contradiction to the notion that some thing = no thing.

    >>>and chance is an action.

    “I’m not able to understand what you mean by this, can you express it more clearly?”

    Many sophists argue that the universe is the result of chance as if chance were a force or an action. Chance is nothing more than an observation regarding something concrete. Chance, in and of itself, is not a thing but an observation about the probability of concrete things happening.

    What is the chance that you’ll get a heads when you flip a coin? 50-50? What role did chance play in getting you that heads? Absolutely none because chance is not an action or a force.

    BTW, I really like how you indent the previous remarks. How do you do that? Sorry mine are so hard to differentiate!

  66. #66 Mark in DC
    June 24, 2011

    “The percentage that has 1) access to at least a high school level science education, and has 2) the ability and character to make use of that access, coupled with 3) sufficient honesty to resist repeating propaganda slogans.”

    Fine. Justify it. I just think it has no place amongst rational objective minds.

    “No-one has said this. What a dishonest straw man to construct.”

    How do you figure?

    I think the words we use should have a shared common meaning so that when we communicate we both understand the other’s POV.

    How am I to equate that on the one hand you argue that those two laws are not principles of Physics and then you simultaneously argue that you never inferred that those laws, being rules of logic, didn’t apply to Physics?

    You do agree that for us to have a rational discourse that the laws of thought and the Principle of contradiction are necessary, right?

    “Incorrect. It is true that you will provoke an infinite regress unless you define your deity as infinite (“Who created god? Who created whoever created god…?)
    However, this is not evidence that the universe was created by a deity.”

    I never said it was evidence that nature was created by a deity. What I said was that it is evidence that the Cause of nature must be eternal, infinite, supernatural and self-existent.

    If you want to explore how only the Bible, and no other human paradigm from all antiquity, just those books from the old and new testaments, describes a Deity that has those very same attributes then we’d be discussing theology.

    >>>>and infinity must always be singular (two infinite objects violate the law of non-contradiction).

    “This is just wrong. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity”
    How is it wrong? Why not simply explain to me why you believe it is wrong?

    Now think about it for a second: if you have two infinite objects in what way would object A be different from object B?

    From your link: infinity is a quantity without bound or end. But you say there are two quantities so how would you know? How would you differentiate one infinity from another infinity?

    Any answer you come up with is an example that your quantity was quantifiable and thus not infinite.

    Ergo there can only be ONE infinite object.

    Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is what? Oops – sorry – that’s theology again…

    “Furthermore, your statement about Vishnu is oversimplified and biased, and not even accompanied by any references. (I’m most certainly not arguing in favor of Vishnu here, but rather, pointing out that your arguments against Vishnu are false, which is not at all the same thing.)”

    Yes that is correct, my statement about Vishnu was simple and it wasn’t accompanied by any references. However it was hardly biased and I do believe on the mark. If you disagree then I do believe it is your responsibility to point out why I am in error and please do accompany it with some references.

    “I think you are confusing Ptolmeic astronomy, which is earth-centered, with “Sol-centric” astronomy, as even the earliest proponents of the solar system recognized elliptical orbits, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler.”

    Nope I am not confusing it with Ptolmeic geo-centricity.

    Now to your link. Did you read it? I don’t think you did – because it’s not a working link. And if you had read about Kepler on wiki you would have read this:

    Kepler’s laws were not immediately accepted. Several major figures such as Galileo and René Descartes completely ignored Kepler’s Astronomia nova. Many astronomers, including Kepler’s teacher, Michael Maestlin, objected to Kepler’s introduction of physics into his astronomy. Some adopted compromise positions. Ismael Boulliau accepted elliptical orbits but replaced Kepler’s area law with uniform motion in respect to the empty focus of the ellipse while Seth Ward used an elliptical orbit with motions defined by an equant.

    Also, did you know that:

    In Astronomia nova (1609), Johannes Kepler had used an elliptical orbit to explain the motion of Mars. In Epitome astronomia Copernicanae he developed a heliocentric model of the solar system in which all the planets have elliptical orbits. This provided significantly increased accuracy in predicting the position of the planets. Kepler’s ideas were not immediately accepted. Galileo for example completely ignored Kepler’s work. Kepler proposed heliocentrism as a physical description of the solar system and Epitome astronomia Copernicanae was placed on the index of prohibited books despite Kepler being a Protestant.

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

    And you do know that Copernicus and Brahe preceded Kepler, no?

    “However, the reason that early astronomical models were useful and could be built on is that they were based in objective observations, made predictions, and could be modified and expanded. Your claims have none of these features.”

    Of course they do. All you have to do is prove that nature is an illusion, eternal or infinite and my argument is invalid.

    “Also, may I ask, if your objective is to convert people to Christianity, as it seems to be, why are you using false arguments and an arrogant, hostile, unfriendly, defensive tone?”

    You may ask. My objective is to discuss these issues rationally and objectively. It is you, as this post has handily PROVEN, who refuses to consider theories that conflict with your preconceived notions.

    Your accusation that I am using false arguments (I guess you’re inferring that I’m intentionally using them if taken in the “Christian” context) has been shown to be false.

    As to my tone, I do believe the Pharisees said the very exact same thing of Christ. In fact, they were so outraged of His treatment, hostile tone and absolute arrogance by refusing to acknowledge their superiority that it drove them to such rage they murdered Him.

    I guess I’m in good company! Lol (How much do you want to bet that the atheist faithful will find no humor in this last bit?)

    “I don’t agree that this is “obvious”, but instead of wasting time on scholastic sophistry, why don’t you just present some unequivocal evidence for the existence of your specific deity.”

    But you do agree that nature is a caused effect, right?

    “First of all, the term “superior” makes no sense here, it is a subjective term of judgment.”

    Superior meaning greater than.

    “”Nothing” is something. In fact, it’s a word. And the word describes something – an abstract concept.”

    And you accuse me of sophistry? Wow.

    Nothing means no thing. Yes, it is a word (Yay you got one right) but a word that represents the concept of NO THING.

    And now you argue that no thing is some thing?

    Man them liberals really did a number on the public school system in this country. Have you never studied logic?

    Please apply the Principle of contradiction to the notion that some thing = no thing.

    >>>and chance is an action.

    “I’m not able to understand what you mean by this, can you express it more clearly?”

    Many sophists argue that the universe is the result of chance as if chance were a force or an action. Chance is nothing more than an observation regarding something concrete. Chance, in and of itself, is not a thing but an observation about the probability of concrete things happening.

    What is the chance that you’ll get a heads when you flip a coin? 50-50? What role did chance play in getting you that heads? Absolutely none because chance is not an action or a force.

    BTW, I really like how you indent the previous remarks. How do you do that? Sorry mine are so hard to differentiate!

  67. #67 Russell
    June 24, 2011

    I wrote:

    If you’re saying that causes must be more intelligent than what they produce, that is trivially false.

    Mark in DC responds:

    I’m not saying that. I’m saying first causes must be equal to or greater than.

    Equal to or greater in what respect? If you’re not saying causes must be more intelligent than results, then what are you saying? Because right now, I just see “equal to or greater” papering over a lot of hand-waving.

  68. #68 Sydney
    June 25, 2011

    Great source of information. Thank you!

  69. #69 harold
    June 25, 2011

    You indent comments like this, but using the “less than” “greater than” symbols instead of “[” –

    [blockquote]This comment will be indented[/blockquote]

    I never said it was evidence that nature was created by a deity. What I said was that it is evidence that the Cause of nature must be eternal, infinite, supernatural and self-existent.

    Really? Well then, to some degree, that ends our dispute.

    I asked for positive evidence of your deity.

    I am not, of course, arguing against the existence of your deity, that’s not relevant to me. I simply asked if you had some objective, mutually acceptable evidence for your deity.

    If you want to explore how only the Bible, and no other human paradigm from all antiquity, just those books from the old and new testaments, describes a Deity that has those very same attributes then we’d be discussing theology.

    If true this would simply be irrelevant and border on being circular. You have declared that your deity has certain characteristics and now you (inaccurately) claim that the deity in the Bible is consistently described as having those characteristics. I’m sure we both agree that you think you worship the god of the Christian Bible, so there’s no need for you to persist in arguments proving that you think you consider yourself a Christian.

    As it happens, you are incorrect on two counts. The Bible does not consistently describe God as ominiscient and omnipotent, and other ancient sources do describe such a deity (link in another reply below).

    Now think about it for a second: if you have two infinite objects in what way would object A be different from object B?

    From your link: infinity is a quantity without bound or end. But you say there are two quantities so how would you know? How would you differentiate one infinity from another infinity?

    Any answer you come up with is an example that your quantity was quantifiable and thus not infinite.

    Ergo there can only be ONE infinite object.

    The link very clearly explains why this is not the case.

    You are arguing against very basic mathematical concepts that have been unequivocally mathematically proven.

    I’m sure you’re capable of understanding the concepts, but you’ve now proven that you are too biased to understand them.

    Nope I am not confusing it with Ptolmeic geo-centricity

    That’s good; this wasn’t terribly relevant, I was just wondering if you had made that mistake.

    I do have a question here – How old is the universe?

    Yes that is correct, my statement about Vishnu was simple and it wasn’t accompanied by any references. However it was hardly biased and I do believe on the mark. If you disagree then I do believe it is your responsibility to point out why I am in error and please do accompany it with some references.

    I’m not Hindu nor interested in becoming Hindu; however, there are so many sources of information on Hinduism that your ignorance is deliberate. Here is a link might guide an honest and intellectually open person to more study. Hinduism makes use of the concepts of One, Infinite, Eternal Truth extensively. Many religious Hindus would view the Christian description of God as a vaild but partial understanding of God. http://www.spaceandmotion.com/Philosophy-Hinduism-Hindu.htm

    Of course they do. All you have to do is prove that nature is an illusion, eternal or infinite and my argument is invalid.

    These are not “useful predictions” and do not provide any basis for further study.

    As to my tone, I do believe the Pharisees said the very exact same thing of Christ.

    A bizarre justification. By the logic, in the Bible, enemies of the character Jesus accuse him of being in league with Satan. Therefore, you might as well get into a league with Satan. According to your “if someone accused Jesus of doing something negative then I can do the same negative thing” logic, it would make perfect sense.

    Meanwhile, of course, neither evangelicism nor “rational objective” discourse is served by an emotional tone of rudeness, arrogance, and hostility.

    Nothing means no thing. Yes, it is a word (Yay you got one right) but a word that represents the concept of NO THING

    Yes, as I said, nothing, from “no thing”, is a word which represents an abstract concept. There is no concrete example of “nothing” in physical reality. Assuming with take the word as synonymous with “zero”, “null set”, and so on, it is a very useful concept in mathematics. It very much is true that “nothing” is something. If I have a dog and name it “Nodog”, it is still a dog.

    What is the chance that you’ll get a heads when you flip a coin? 50-50? What role did chance play in getting you that heads? Absolutely none because chance is not an action or a force

    The result of a fair coin flip is, in fact, a random variable. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_variable

    A random variable is an outcome sampled from a set of possible outcomes. From the human perspective, the expected frequency of an outcome can be known, the but the results of each individual trial can never be predicted with certainty.

    Quantum mechanics models a number of basic properties of the universe as random variables.

    Whether or not random variables actually are truly unpredictable in an absolute sense, or merely reflect human ignorance of some underlying purely deterministic process which is invisible to humans, is a common question, and one that holds little interest for me.

    In closing, I have exactly the following questions that I would like you to answer –

    1) Could anything ever change your mind from your current beliefs? 2) If you thought a lie would advance your current beliefs, would you lie? 3) How old is the universe? Just curious. 4) How did human beings come into existence? 5) Were you home-schooled? Just curious? 6) What are you doing in DC? Just curious.

  70. #70 harold
    June 25, 2011

    Mark in DC –

    You may be wondering why I asked the particular questions I did, immediately above.

    Let’s review our discourse so far.

    Your initial comment was perfectly civil, but in declaring that cosmology provided evidence for one particular religion, it was disrespectful toward all others with different beliefs.

    My initial response was civil but quite dismissive.

    Your response to that had a certain emotional tone, which I described and which you did not dispute.

    But let’s put this in perspective. My original question on this thread was whether anyone had definitive evidence of a supernatural entity.

    I haven’t seen any that’s remotely convincing to me, here or anywhere else, but I respect your right to live and believe as you see fit.

  71. #71 amandeep singh
    June 26, 2011

    whatever happen in this world there is a reason behind that. i dont think so that there is any such power what we say super natural.be practical and found the reason behind the happenings.answer will be there.

  72. #72 Bruce Treater
    June 27, 2011

    Some intriguing comments.

    I have been an atheist, an anarchist and a non believer in many things. This has been due largely to an engineering upbringing. However the more that I have studied astronomy and teachings about things like syncronicity by Deepak, the more that ‘supernatural’ things seem possible.

    I think the distinction needs to be made between the occult/ religion concepts and the possibility of universal vibrations and concepts of ‘non local intelligence’. How quantum physics concept of matter wave duality showing that occurances in one space area can instantly be felt in another area have recently been shown.

    Perhaps its about re-framing the question and taking the hocus-pocus out of it that will allow science to take the blinkers off and find ways of searching and ‘proving’ to itself and others that its not all about Newtonian physics. Other things that we dont yet understand can be at play and ‘exist’.

  73. Bruce Treater, the fact that atheism is stuck in the 18th century, whereas science and philosophy have explored things that would be impossible in that framework is one of the less considered parts of the new atheism.

    The categories “natural” and “supernatural” are ideas based in human understanding, they are not absolute, known aspects of reality. If the “supernatural” turns out to just be part of the natural universe that amalgamation can’t happen without what is believed to be contained in the “natural” universe being radically altered. I think that some of recent physics is an attempt to get our thinking around the necessity of that radical expansion to include ideas that mechanistic, 18th century thinking would banish as impossible. While I don’t think Chopra is anything like an adequate person to consult in thinking about that the idea makes more sense in terms of recent science than the conventional materialists do. They rely on lazy habits of thought and convention to sustain them but they are increasingly at odds with science and philosophy. I think if our culture continues for long they might be most famous as having tried to stop scientific research and consideration. Ironically, the most famous of them, James Randi, Paul Kurtz, are about as far from being scientists as your average TV psychic is. Both were named by Dennis Rawlins as confessing to a total lack of knowledge of statistics, they couldn’t even begin to understand the science they were, alternatively, attacking and presenting themselves as defending. But, having recently had reason to look at my old research on the “skeptics” has brought up a lot of the less attractive side of organized “skepticism”.

  74. #74 harold
    June 28, 2011

    Bruce Treater said –

    I think the distinction needs to be made between the occult/ religion concepts and the possibility of universal vibrations and concepts of ‘non local intelligence’. How quantum physics concept of matter wave duality showing that occurances in one space area can instantly be felt in another area have recently been shown.

    I have some questions. My objective here is not to dispute your personal beliefs, but to determine whether or not there is objective evidence for specific entities or events which a I would term “supernatural”. (I should add that I have nothing against the term “spiritual”, but currently perceive it as referring to positive but purely neuropsychological experiences.)

    1) What is a testably specific and rigorous definition of “universal vibrations”? What is a specific experiment that can rule their presence in or out? Who should perform such an experiment? Why don’t you? How should it be funded? How should the results be published? Should replication be attempted? By who?

    2) Exact same questions for “non-local intelligence”.

    Perhaps its about re-framing the question and taking the hocus-pocus out of it that will allow science to take the blinkers off

    3) I think we can clearly agree that “take the blinkers off” is a pretty negative term. Use of this term pretty strongly implies that you think that “science” as a whole is doing something wrong, and perhaps that you propose yourself as one who can correct the flaws in science.

    Let’s expand on that. Can you give an example of a specific scientific paper which you feel was compromised by “having the blinkers on” with regard to the supernatural, universal vibrations, or non-local intelligence? Please be specific. What other experiments should the authors of the compromised paper have performed? How would their results have been better interpreted, if they had taken the supernatural, universal vibrations, or non-local intelligence into account? A single example would suffice.

    and find ways of searching and ‘proving’ to itself and others that its not all about Newtonian physics. Other things that we dont yet understand can be at play and ‘exist’.

    I think we can certainly agree that creating insulting straw man positions and imputing them to other people is not a very nice thing to do.

    I’m sure you didn’t mean to, but here, you created quite a straw man.

    Do you seriously suggest that any active modern scientist or science-literate person rejects relativity and quantum theory, and/or denies that there are things in the universe that we don’t yet understand? Isn’t the latter trivially disproved by the fact that scientists do research? Isn’t the whole point of research to learn new things and expand knowledge?

  75. #75 bo moore
    June 28, 2011

    “The supernatural realm is a product of the human brain. It exists nowhere else. It is our mistaken belief in the supernatural as the source of reality that causes us to wreak havoc in the natural world. The brain does not create reality; it creates ideas about reality, most of which are innacurate.” from WHO DO I THINK I AM? and MAGICAL THINKING in AMERICA. Both volumes published by dexadogbooks.com

  76. #76 bo moore
    June 28, 2011

    By definition the supernatural is outside reality: that’s why people love it. Supernatural acts DEFY reality; pigs fly, Jesus reads your every thought, Aliens intervene in your drearly little life and make you somebody. Invisible beings spare your house in a hurricane, but wipe out your neighbors. The supernatural is a nasty undemocratic realm of magic, narcissism, and ill-will against other people.

  77. bo moore, thank you for serving as an exhibit demonstrating the fact that atheism is stuck in the 18th century.

    You could also serve to demonstrate that it’s historically illiterate as well.

  78. #78 rturpin
    June 28, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy complains that “atheism is stuck in the 18th century.” Which is more than a bit of exaggeration.

    That said, I agree in a sense. The latest wave of atheist writing has more to do with making old arguments to a new audience than with creating anything novel in philosophy. That’s more a recognition than a criticism. New presentation is important. Calculus texts still get written. Even if the substance hasn’t changed much in a long time.

    Should atheists be concerned that the arguments aren’t changing? Not really. There also are no new reasons for believing in a god. One might as well complain that the arguments against geocentrism haven’t changed much in the last century or two. Or that there are no new arguments against vitalism. (Which is a somewhat better analogy, since geocentric astronomy was legitimate science.)

    Can McCarthy point to an argument for belief in god that isn’t centuries old? I can think of some modern refinements of old ones. And the refinements have been answered. And not much has changed.

  79. People believe in God based in their personal experience. That’s the basis of that belief, not some formal argument. There hasn’t been a formal argument attempting to prove God that wasn’t susceptible to attack, there is no formal argument against God that isn’t susceptible to attack. That is because those are beside the point when it’s a matter of believing or disbelieving in God. People who believe in God believe that on the basis of their experience, apparently people who don’t believe in God lack that experience. I’m not especially bothered at the disbelief in God, I’m annoyed by people who dishonestly assert they can use formal, logical argument based in physical evidence to support atheism or religious belief. That’s because those attempts are dishonest.

    The new atheist line of argument is essentially the same as that made by atheists in the 18th century, based in what was known about the physical sciences then when the basis of physical science has changed in ways that make those arguments invalid. But, as I just said and have always said, you can’t apply what is knowable about the physical universe to God who is held to be superior to and not subject to the laws people make about the physical universe.

    Thank you for acting as a second demonstration that atheism is stuck in the 18th century, rturpin. And it isn’t the most intellectually developed of the relevant 18th century thought that it’s stuck in. But, then, if they knew where to look in the 18th century, they might not have gotten stuck.

  80. #80 rturpin
    June 28, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    People who believe in God believe that on the basis of their experience, apparently people who don’t believe in God lack that experience.

    There are two important corrections to that claim. First, people mostly believe the god(s) they were raised to believe. So to the extent that experience is involved, it is experience shaped by what they were taught as children. Christian children have experience that confirms their parents’ teachings about the Christian god, Muslim children experience that confirms their parents’ teachings about the Islamic god, Hindu children experience that confirms their parents’ teachings about the Hindi gods, etc. That says something significant about the experience involved.

    Second, many (if not most) atheists also were raised to believe and also had similar experience. The question is how religious experience actually tests religious belief. What distinguishes those who leave religion from those who stay isn’t their religious experience, but how much they pursue that question.

    And for what it’s worth, that kind of appeal to experience leaves religion stuck in about the 5th century.

    BCE.

  81. #81 Wowbagger
    June 28, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    People who believe in God believe that on the basis of their experience, apparently people who don’t believe in God lack that experience.

    rturpin alluded to this, but I’ll rephrase it just in case what I’m getting at isn’t what s/he was: if people are religious based on their experience, how can there be ex-religious people?

  82. First, people mostly believe the god(s) they were raised to believe. So to the extent that experience is involved, it is experience shaped by what they were taught as children.

    Oh, for Pete’s sake, you can say the same thing about lots of atheists. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read some of them bragging about how they were brought up irreligious, profane, as ideological materialists, etc. I don’t know how many I’ve read who were, clearly, brought up with the most absurdly romantic ideas about science, many of those bragging about the influence that science FICTION has had on their intellectual development. The total jerk, Rickey Gervaise, has gained the adoration of neo-atheists by claiming he was converted to atheism at nine, or was it eleven, by his teenaged brother. Apparently his ideas on the subject, clearly not the only thing about his character that was arrested at that young age, in its juvenile state is held to be sufficient by many of you.

    I guess we’re supposed to be surprised that peoples’ experience includes what they experienced as children.

    how can there be ex-religious people?

    I’d imagine the answer to that question would be different for different ex-religious people. Maybe they never tested their original assumptions about their experience and subsequent experience produced an overreaction. I’m struck at how angry so many of the ex-“religious” new atheists are at everyone who is religious, including the majority of religious people who, generally, never believed in the dogmas and doctrines that make those ex-ies so angry. But I’m not going to judge their own conclusions about their own experience.

    In true reductionist fashion, you are looking for a single answer, as if people were a predictable chemical reaction or object being measured as it falls. That’s not what people are like unless they choose to be and they aren’t ever successful in that choice. That is why your brand of atheism will not convert most people. It starts out being unrealistic and it continues in the arrogant certainty of those who believe they have found a certain guide to thought.

  83. Oh, by the way, there are ex-atheists and even ex-ex-religious folks who find out that their ideas about atheism were as unsatisfying as their original ideas about religion were. Quite a number of those find other ideas about religion that answer their condition better than their previous faiths.

    If someone goes back and forth more than that I’d think they need to settle down in agnosticism because they’re clearly looking for a certainty that isn’t available. Though there are religions that take that into account. Atheist fundamentalism, as religious fundamentalism, being an emotional insistence that their beliefs in these areas are knowledge, can’t admit that.

  84. #84 rturpin
    June 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    If someone goes back and forth more than that I’d think they need to settle down in agnosticism because they’re clearly looking for a certainty that isn’t available.

    Most atheists are agnostic in some regards. I’ve never encountered an atheist who claimed they could disprove any and every god. Or even that they have enumerated all conceivable gods. One thing I sometimes point out is that there are far more gods people haven’t yet imagined, than ones that they have. And that the former are just as likely as the latter.

    Agnosticism doesn’t preclude belief. I’ve heard more than a few believers who hold that their god can be neither proven nor disproven, and it is simply their choice to believe in him. So saying people should “settle down in agnosticism” doesn’t actually address the issue. There are both rational and irrational responses to what we don’t know.

    Atheist fundamentalism, as religious fundamentalism, being an emotional insistence that their beliefs in these areas are knowledge, can’t admit that.

    My atheist belief is quite simple: that I’ve yet to see anyone give a credible and rational argument why we should think there is a god. It is quite testable. If you think it is wrong, you may refute it by pointing to such an account. And yes, I think that it is knowledge. In much the same way that “no one has shown that P = NP” is knowledge.

  85. Most atheists are agnostic in some regards. rturpin

    I’ve noted that in the past and that I’ve never had any problem with that kind of atheist. I’ve often pointed out that the new atheists, just as religious fundamentalists, are a minority of the larger sets people usually put them in.

    I’ve never encountered an atheist who claimed they could disprove any and every god. rturpin

    I can’t believe that you don’t read the atheists who comment on these and most of the other blogs I’ve read. The claim that they can “falsify” God or, alternatively, that God doesn’t exist because of “unfalisfiabilty” on the Scienceblogs and new atheist blogs is about as regular as a well run city bus. Usually made by people as clueless about the issues surrounding “falsifiability” as they are about “Ockham’s razor” and the other buzz words and phrases that are the intellectual armamentarium of the new atheism and “skepticism”.

    My atheist belief is quite simple: that I’ve yet to see anyone give a credible and rational argument why we should think there is a god. It is quite testable.

    That you believe that is your business, that you believe that your belief is “quite testable” is also a belief which would not be accepted even by many atheists and many agnostics. The basic matter of definition of terms in these areas are far, far from simple and universally accepted.

    You get to believe what you do but if you claim abilities surrounding that belief that you don’t have you open yourself up to challenge. You do know that Christians could point out that it’s forbidden to put God to a test. And, as they describe the God they believe in, God is quite able to thwart any test which God would choose to confound. You can’t make that God the subject of your test.

  86. #86 bomoore
    June 29, 2011

    People love the crap that goes on in their brains. All philosophy is WRONG. It’s just mental masturbation; a male power trip.

  87. #87 bomoore
    June 29, 2011

    What is the basis of the statement that atheism is stuck in the 18th Century? The 18th C. by the way, was a damn good century, when human thought and creativity topped the charts. Judeo-Christian mythology is stuck in the human-hating nightmare of Old Testament butchery, and perpetuates Stone Age violence and brutality. Philosophy CAN’T turn a turd into something “new.”

  88. #88 rturpin
    June 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy: “You do know that Christians could point out that it’s forbidden to put God to a test.”

    Sure.

    When interpreted epistemologically, to anyone rational, it means that those Christians really do have zero basis for their belief. Not only do they not test it, they have been told by their religion that they can’t and shouldn’t. (Note they haven’t been told this by their god. If that were the case, they would have a test of him!)

    Whereas to those believers, it is a convenient excuse for overlooking how blind their religious faith is.

  89. #89 Adrian Cole
    June 29, 2011

    My point would be that some people just refuse to be rational. They may understand that their beliefs have no testable evidence, but proceed to engage in their faith for the feel good factor. In my opinion, they would rather be ignorant yet blissful rather than, enlightened, and knowing the hard truth. It’s pretty sad how America is heading in that direction.

  90. #90 harold
    June 29, 2011

    Andrew McCarthy –

    I don’t label myself as an “atheist”, let alone a “gnu atheist”; however, I am not religious. I was raised in a nice, non-traumatizing religious atmosphere (Baptist, but mainstream liberal Protestant type Baptist). All other things being equal I’d probably “prefer” to be a sincere liberal Christian believing that the universe is ultimately in the hands of a humane, compassionate, loving deity as I would understand those terms, but I just don’t believe that and am not willing to excessively pretend that I do.

    Furthermore, the Christian canon is, to my reading, internally inconsistent. As is demonstrated by the extreme number and conflicting ideas of Christian sects. Even if I believed there was a deity out there, the Christian canon would offer me no clue as to its nature.

    I certainly have no proof that there are no gods. I do note that for virtually every physical phenomenon for which supernatural explanations compete with scientific explanations, the scientific explanations are better.

    I would like to point out that I have made several requests for simple empirical demonstration of supernatural entities in this thread, including ghosts, the religious right sectarian deity of Mark in DC, universal vibrations, and non-local intelligence. No evidence has been offered.

    The new atheist line of argument is essentially the same as that made by atheists in the 18th century, based in what was known about the physical sciences then when the basis of physical science has changed in ways that make those arguments invalid.

    Please elaborate. Please quote a line of argument from an 18th century atheist, fairly (Voltaire will do), and then please explain how contemporary physical science makes the argument invalid. If you can accomplish that, then please document that contemporary atheists are using the invalid line of eighteenth century reasoning.

  91. When interpreted epistemologically, to anyone rational, it means that those Christians really do have zero basis for their belief. Not only do they not test it, they have been told by their religion that they can’t and shouldn’t. rturpin

    Which writers on scientific epistemology are you citing in support of your charge that Christians are not “anyone rational”? James Jean? Arthur Stanley Eddington? Kurt Godel? All of whom would probably have fallen out of your category of “anyone rational”.

    Falsify time. Falsify existence. Falsify any assertion made about matter on the Planck scale.

    The 18th C. by the way, was a damn good century, when human thought and creativity topped the charts. bomoore

    People love the crap that goes on in their brains. All philosophy is WRONG. It’s just mental masturbation; a male power trip. bomoore

    Yes, clearly you possess the intellectual capacity and emotional maturity to evaluate and dismiss entire and enormous areas of intellectual activity.

    I forget, are you one of those who has been going on about “falsifiability” a popular idea that comes from THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE. I wonder how your fellow new atheists who have been gassing on about falsifiability would like to address its standing as an idea according to your brilliant analysis. Try rturpin, who I just quoted on the topic of epistemology, a branch of PHILOSOPHY. I wonder what poor old Bertrand Russell would do if he realized this is where popular atheism has ended up, dismissing the largest part of his efforts, the basis of his own formal analysis of religion and in favor of atheism. And, get this CSICOP-CFI fans, bomoore just called Paul Kurtz and many of the current mugwomps of CFI a bunch of names.

  92. Furthermore, the Christian canon is, to my reading, internally inconsistent. As is demonstrated by the extreme number and conflicting ideas of Christian sects. Harold.

    Here is a short list of scientific disciplines which have experienced an “extreme number of conflicting ideas”:

    Evolutionary Biology, just the recent one of Lewontin and Gould vs. Wilson and Dawkins could make a life time of study. And that’s not even getting to the recent and ongoing schism between Wilson and Dawkins.

    Physics

    Geology

    Just about any of the social and behavioral “sciences”

    If I had time I would attempt to compare the numbers of variant varieties of these and try to compare those with the length of time that those sciences and “sciences” have existed as compared to the two thousand year history of Christianity. Though just those two variables would give a distorted picture because you would need to consider the numbers of those who were engaged with the sciences and “sciences” and the far, far larger numbers of those involved with Christianity and even “christianity”.

    You can believe whatever you want to and disbelieve that too, but your comparison is demanding of the very human activity of religion something you would probably want to exempt science or other areas of human activity from. You don’t get to compare the best of science with the worst of religion and get to call your conclusions honest.

  93. #93 rturpin
    June 29, 2011

    I wrote:

    When interpreted epistemologically, to anyone rational, it means that those Christians really do have zero basis for their belief. Not only do they not test it, they have been told by their religion that they can’t and shouldn’t.

    McCarthy objects:

    Which writers on scientific epistemology are you citing in support of your charge that Christians are not “anyone rational”? James Jean? Arthur Stanley Eddington? Kurt Godel?

    I will amend: “to anyone looking at this rationally.” There are a host of scientists and philosophers who have cut out an exception for their religious beliefs.

    Falsify…

    I didn’t say anything about falsification, but started with the general notion of “test,” as you were the one who brought up the fact that according to some versions of Christianity, its god is not to be tested. I’m pointing out something quite simple. If a religion says “believe in X,” but “don’t test X,” it has moved itself beyond any kind of rational discussion. Anyone who accepts a religion on that basis has a faith as blind as any there is.

  94. #94 harold
    June 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy –

    I strongly disagree with your contention that the sciences are as inconsistent as the Christian canon. Having said that, we no longer need to discuss that point. If you had disagreed with me on that point, the logical rebuttal would have been to make rational arguments showing the Christian canon to be consistent. By arguing that the sciences are “also” inconsistent, you essentially concur with my point about the Christian canon.

    But you forgot to answer my direct question.

    The new atheist line of argument is essentially the same as that made by atheists in the 18th century, based in what was known about the physical sciences then when the basis of physical science has changed in ways that make those arguments invalid.

    Please elaborate. Please quote a line of argument from an 18th century atheist, fairly (Voltaire will do), and then please explain how contemporary physical science makes the argument invalid. If you can accomplish that, then please document that contemporary atheists are using the invalid line of eighteenth century reasoning

    If you can’t, please admit so, withdraw the false claim quoted above, and refrain from using it again in the future. It’s the only honest thing to do.

  95. I will amend: “to anyone looking at this rationally.” There are a host of scientists and philosophers who have cut out an exception for their religious beliefs.

    Anyone who would look at this rationally would point out that the standards of thinking applied to what is believed as opposed to what is considered to be what is known are far different. What the new atheists do, almost to a person, is pretend that the very specific, very specialized and otherwise inapplicable standards used in science are a legitimate basis for judging personal beliefs which don’t deal with things that those standards can’t be applied to.

    That is what a truly rational person, as opposed to someone pretending to deal with those questions rationally, does when considering those questions. Of course, if the question is the age of the earth or the fact that the species living today have evolved from other species, those are questions science can address. If if the questions posed about Genesis are what the real intentions of the stories in it can teach about life and the universe in terms of moral conduct, that is something science is entirely and absolutely unable to do.

    If a religion says “believe in X,” but “don’t test X,” it has moved itself beyond any kind of rational discussion.

    If the proposal is to test God who is held to be omnipotent, omniscient, eternal and above the physical universe then anyone proposing to test that God is the one proposing to do something irrational. There would be no test that could be applied to that God, advising against trying that kind of test would be the height of rationality.

    Harold, I was thinking more in terms of Hume and classical physics, though Voltaire would probably do as well. I’m not really going to go into it. The assumptions about classical physics that became superannuated in the early 20th century have made most of what has been traditionally asserted by atheists, even some of whom should know better, hopelessly quaint. I have heard no new arguments made by atheism in the past 45 years or more and all of those stood on the popular atheists of even earlier periods, all of those based in assumptions derived from the world view that classical physics and science provided to it. I got tired of arguing with those arguments before most of the people here were born. I’ve never seen one that was logically sound.

    The arguments that lead to agnosticism are an entirely different order, agnosticism is as far as you can get that way and it’s entirely possible to be an intellectual agnostic and a religious believer.

  96. Rturpin, I forgot, this is what I said to bomoore:

    Try rturpin, who I just quoted on the topic of epistemology, a branch of PHILOSOPHY.

    I said it in relation to bomoore’s dismissal of the entirety of philosophy. I suspect that bomoore frequently makes recourse to the product of philosophy but is too ignorant to know that I wonder if bomoore ever does go on about “Ockham’s razor” or the popular misapplications of terms of logical fallacy, another product of PHILOSOPHY, that the new atheists are so addicted to. Call me suspicious, but I’ll bet so.

  97. #97 rturpin
    June 29, 2011

    I wrote:

    If a religion says “believe in X,” but “don’t test X,” it has moved itself beyond any kind of rational discussion.

    McCarthy writes:

    If the proposal is to test God who is held to be omnipotent, omniscient, eternal and above the physical universe then anyone proposing to test that God is the one proposing to do something irrational.

    Nonsense. The first thing claimed of the Christian god is that he is real, rather than just a myth. An omnipotent god is at least as capable of demonstrating his own existence, in testable fashion, as you or I am. And indeed, the Bible is full of stories where its god did this, from walking with Adam to speaking to Moses from a burning bush.

    You’re playing a trick that is common in these kind of discussions. “Oh, it is irrational to think you can test whether something is omnipotent.” But that’s not the issue. Not even close to the issue.

    The first question is whether this god even exists. Once we’re past the hurdle of distinguishing it from something its adherents merely imagine, then we start to discuss his alleged qualities. Classicists don’t much worry about the divergent histories of Heracles. Or how to resolve them. Because they have no reason to think him real.

    For what it is worth, there are quite a few significant contradictions in the notions “omnipotent” and “omniscient.” So a second hurdle prior to any discussion involving those is simply defining what they mean in a fashion that doesn’t stumble into those. Those notions are relatively late on the theological scene, so a traditional Christian might simply note they’re not even mentioned in the Bible. On the other hand, it is quite easy to imagine how a god could demonstrate tremendously great power or knowledge. Say, his ability to precisely predict the future. And how he could do so in a rigorously testable fashion.

    The bottom line is that it’s easy to imagine testing a god like the Christian god. If he wants us to have evidence of him. It’s also easy to imagine a god who purposely keeps himself hidden. Alas, we don’t have to imagine believers who run in circles, telling us: a) Their god wants us to know him. b) Oh, no evidence? Well that’s because their god refuses to be tested. c) What, that makes faith blind? But… it’s silly to think you could test god! d) Oh, yes, a god could make his presence obvious? But he wants you to choose freely! e) Oh, there is a difference between “recognizing his existence” and “deciding to follow”? But there is plenty of evidence for his existence!” (Return to b.)

    What century dates that cycle?

  98. #98 harold
    June 29, 2011
    The new atheist line of argument is essentially the same as that made by atheists in the 18th century, based in what was known about the physical sciences then when the basis of physical science has changed in ways that make those arguments invalid.

    Please elaborate. Please quote a line of argument from an 18th century atheist, fairly (Voltaire will do), and then please explain how contemporary physical science makes the argument invalid. If you can accomplish that, then please document that contemporary atheists are using the invalid line of eighteenth century reasoning

    If you can’t, please admit so, withdraw the false claim quoted above, and refrain from using it again in the future. It’s the only honest thing to do.

    And the answer I got was –

    “I’m not really going to go into it”. Followed by a repetition of the assertion, with no clarification.

    I started this thread asking if anyone had any actual objective evidence for the existence of any supernatural entity. (Please note that this is not an effort to change anyone’s beliefs about anything, it’s a question about evidence.)

    And the answer to my question is “No”.

  99. Harold, my answer was that I had been around and around that stuff for decades, I wasn’t interested in going around that revolving door again. The arguments of atheist fundamentalism are essentially a demand to make beliefs about the supernatural conform to the methods that science invented to deal with a small part of the physical. The stupidity of that is pretty much just the reverse side of demanding that science conform to religious dogma.

    Your demand for “actual objective evidence for the existence of any supernatural entity” is sufficient to show that your atheism hasn’t caught up with developments in science, which pretty conclusively show that there is no such thing as “objective evidence”, not even for objects in the physical universe that science can work with. Expecting there to be “objective evidence” that God, outside of and above the objects within the physical universe is demanding religion do what we know science can’t do. While the actual argument is a lot more complex, you’re also demanding that what it was formerly believed was possible for people to do in regard to physical entities, be applied outside of that category. There was never any known way to do that. You might as well demand “objective evidence” supporting the Wall of Separation of Church and State” or The Declaration of Human Rights.

  100. “The first thing claimed of the Christian god is that he is real, rather than just a myth.” rtutpin

    Oh, that’s the first thing claimed of the Christian God? I thought the first thing about the Christian God was that In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.

    “An omnipotent god is at least as capable of demonstrating his own existence, in testable fashion, as you or I am. And indeed, the Bible is full of stories where its god did this, from walking with Adam to speaking to Moses from a burning bush. ” rturpin

    In that story, Moses didn’t ask God to “demonstrate ‘his’ own existence,” Moses wasn’t much expecting it to happen. And I’m not aware of God acceding to any demand from anyone to prove ‘his’ existence. If I was God and you demanded me to prove my existence I think my first impulse wouldn’t be to obey you.

    What do you mean by “existence” and “exists”? Just what do you imagine those mean. If you think you can come up with a definition of those terms that is universally accepted which exhausts the meaning of those terms, go for it. You’ll have done what I don’t think any credible writer on epistemology would claim to be able to do.

    Face it, kids, there is no objective knowledge, you’ve been sold a bill of goods by some dime store ideologues posing as the voices of science and reason.

  101. #101 Wowbagger
    June 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote (on the topic of ex-religious people):

    I’d imagine the answer to that question would be different for different ex-religious people. Maybe they never tested their original assumptions about their experience and subsequent experience produced an overreaction.

    So, you’re saying that people can be wrong about an experience they consider religious, and which is the source of their faith?

    I’m struck at how angry so many of the ex-“religious” new atheists are at everyone who is religious, including the majority of religious people who, generally, never believed in the dogmas and doctrines that make those ex-ies so angry.

    Why “religious” – i.e. why the scare quotes? Were they not, in your opinion, genuinely religious? Is that another indication that you believe people can be genuinely wrong about an experience that leads them to be religious?

    In true reductionist fashion, you are looking for a single answer, as if people were a predictable chemical reaction or object being measured as it falls.

    You gave a single answer – that people are religious because of their experience – how is that any different?

  102. #102 rturpin
    June 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Oh, that’s the first thing claimed of the Christian God? I thought the first thing about the Christian God was that In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.

    Exactly. “In the beginning, God…” For real? Or just make believe? If it’s just make believe, what replaces that ellipsis doesn’t really matter. Or rather, it matters only in an imaginary way.

    And I’m not aware of God acceding to any demand from anyone to prove ‘his’ existence. If I was God and you demanded me to prove my existence I think my first impulse wouldn’t be to obey you.

    I’ve acceded several times above to the possibility of a god who purposely hides his existence. There seems to me significant tension in developing a Christian theology along those lines, since Christians are wont to tell us their god wants a relationship with us. People can’t have a relationship with a god who hides from them. Those who claim to do so in fact have only a relationship with the god of a story.

    What do you mean by “existence” and “exists”?

    In this context, it is what distinguishes my relationship with my sister (as example) from my relationship with Alicia Florrick. One is real, the other is just a character in a TV show. Fortunately, I recognize that. This isn’t hard. There are real persons and make-believe persons. The way you recognize that a child’s friend is make-believe is that the friend never is directly available for independent observation or discussion, that everything said about the friend is plausibly from the child’s make-believe world, and that there is no objective evidence for the friend outside that make-believe world, even when there ought to be.

    Face it, kids, there is no objective knowledge.

    So, you would say there is no difference between a child having a real friend and a child having a make-believe friend? If that actually is your outlook, then yes, I would say you have successfully constructed a philosophical position from which religious belief looks as rational as any other. I just hope you’re not a parent.

  103. #103 g724
    June 29, 2011

    The denotation of “supernatural” is “above or outside of nature.” All the rest is connotative meaning that should be dismissed as irrelevant to the core issues.

    Long story made short, the only type of entity that truly qualifies as “supernatural” is a deity per the traditional definition that includes omniscience and omnipotence.

    However the existence of any such entity would be impossible to confirm or disprove, because a) it could gain knowledge of any experiment performed to test its existence, and b) it could deliberately confound any such experiment. Therefore no such experiment can be valid, a-priori.

    Anything less than an omnipotent and omniscient entity can at least in principle be subjected to an experiment that it can’t confound. Once that’s possible, the entity in question is demonstrably part of the spectrum of nature, and the “laws” of nature can be (must be) modified to make room for its existence and its observable (testable) properties.

    Any phenomenon that is not considered to have independent agency or free will can also in principle be tested. Even if the phenomenon is purely subjective, observers can be trained to report the contents of their experiences in a manner that is testable and repeatable.

    This has already been done to an extent, for phenomena that are in no way “supernatural” but are or were difficult to get a grip on any other way. For example Siegel trained his research subjects to use standard terminology and color reference points for reporting visual imagery while under the influence of psychedelic drugs. For example Buddhism has specific terms for referring to experiences that occur in meditation; these terms can be used as a starting point for an examination of meditative states. (For the generalization, see C. Tart, “State-Specific Sciences,” about training observers to report subjective experiences in ways that are amenable to experimental methods.)

    Some of the problem we’re having here is purely cultural: an inability to describe subjective states and phenomena leads to a tendency to leave certain things “ineffable” and therefore more likely to be considered “supernatural.” This is a limit of our culture, not a hard boundary of scientific method or even a hard boundary of nature itself. Aside from Siegel’s research subjects, experienced meditators with a grounding in scientific method, and C. Tart’s hypothetical next step on this front, our culture is notoriously bad at describing even the most basic and common emotional states, much less the subtleties of altered states phenomena (e.g. “stillness” in meditation).

    Realistically, before we’re even in a position to address the issue of apparently “supernatural” subjective phenomena (such as “seeing ghosts”), we have to fix the cultural problem.

  104. #104 scientist
    June 30, 2011

    I have heard no new arguments made by atheism in the past 45 years or more and all of those stood on the popular atheists of even earlier periods, all of those based in assumptions derived from the world view that classical physics and science provided to it. I got tired of arguing with those arguments before most of the people here were born. I’ve never seen one that was logically sound.

  105. In this context, it is what distinguishes my relationship with my sister (as example) from my relationship with Alicia Florrick. One is real, the other is just a character in a TV show. rturpin

    Well, that wouldn’t be adequate to the problem you posed. God isn’t a person. While people are entirely more complex than materialist-reductionists ever admit them to be, God is infinitely more complex than any person is. That is the belief you’re up against in your quest to prove God’s nonexistence.

    God, as defined in the Jewish tradition, of which Christianity is a part, as being omniscient, omnipotent, infinite in temporal dimensions, the author of the universe of which we’re a part, unseen and distinctly and definitely not a human being. That means any God we can conceive of will be defined by as set of aspects but, even when those might be on the right track, nothing like a complete picture. God is in a very real sense an imagined God.

    That’s not a huge surprise, the universe we think about is an imagined universe, even any object in that universe we think about is an imagined object. The simplest object we think about is imagined. Modern physics has pretty well proven that even our act of perception has an effect on those objects. Even the physical sensory apparatus we use to think about the universe is subject to those effects. We try to make up for the crudest and most easily weeded out delusions in that process with things like scientific method and allegedly objective judicial processes but those are crude and are certainly subject to being wrong. In both cases wrong ideas are propegated and become widely held within both science and the law, as the Marc Hauser scandal, luminous aether, the Piltdown forgery and practically the entire record of the Roberts court prove.

    You might think you know your sister but you don’t know everything about her. Your concept of her is imagined, it’s quite possible that some of your imagined sister isn’t real but I wouldn’t know that. I’ll bet if you get to be my age you’ll find out that there’s a lot you believed you knew about her that you’ll find out wasn’t true.

    The TV character, you certainly don’t think the writer and actor really thought you were going to believe that was real, do you? I’d imagine either one might find the idea that you would and that you would act on that belief to be rather disturbing.

  106. So, you’re saying that people can be wrong about an experience they consider religious, and which is the source of their faith? wowbagger

    Well, duh? What’s so odd about that? People can be wrong about what they believe to be objective science, backed up by a majority of trained scientists. Why is it any surprise that people can be wrong? I think you’re surprised because you believe all of religion is rigidly fundamentalist, the common folly of new atheism. Most religious belief is far more flexible and less frantically desperate to assert it’s certainty than that.

    If you want to go into the assertion of dogmas and doctrines and their brutal enforcement, I’ll be glad to give you my ideas about that but I’m afraid you’ll find those to be quite political, using religion as an excuse and a cover in pretty much the same way materialist despotisms of the past century used science as an excuse and a cover. You’ll find it quite unsatisfying in regard to new atheist dogmas and doctrines.

    Why “religious” – i.e. why the scare quotes? Were they not, in your opinion, genuinely religious? wowbagger

    I’m going to have to find out where this idea of “scare quotes” comes from. I’ve never found quotation marks to be scary.

    I just got done noting that different people had different experiences that they called “religion” and that different people would have had different motives in identifying themselves as “ex-religious”. I don’t get to decide for those people if their experience was genuine or not, they do.

    I am not, though, going to go along with any effort that tries to characterize different experiences, motives, conclusions, etc. made for different reasons and coming out in different places as being all the same phenomenon about which general statements are made and then those statements used to create a neat little block of thought. I’ve found that a lot of what gets mistaken for thought among the new atheists is just an arrangement of those kinds of thought blocks. I’m not playing that game. So I put the word “religious” in quotes. I doubt that whatever ideas those people had and that they might call “religion” are really the same kind of thing.

  107. For example Buddhism has specific terms for referring to experiences that occur in meditation; these terms can be used as a starting point for an examination of meditative states. g724

    I’m mostly familiar with the Theravada texts, which have some pretty impressive insights, a lot of which are more impressive than modern psychology has managed to get.

    When thinking about a supernatural we’re stuck with using analogies derived from physical experience in the natural universe, that can’t help but create distortions in our conception of what we call a supernatural. Or at least it would seem likely. Something which is supernatural would have different qualities and characteristics than something natural or it would be natural.

    I think that the problem a lot of people get into is thinking that what they define as “natural” is the same thing as what is real and that which is natural is the same thing. A lot of people who believe in the supernatural would put it in the same realm of reality that they do the natural universe of sense. Animists have never had a problem with considering the supernatural as being part of the same entity as the natural universe of sense, they’re way ahead of people coming at it from a science tradition.

    It’s the 18th century mindset some atheists are stuck in that makes it hard for them. But we know that science doesn’t even catch all of the physical universe, there are aspects of that which are unknown and it’s rational, when looking at our means of discovering things about the universe, to assume that there is more there than we have the ability to perceive and comprehend.

    I keep coming back to me getting Sean Carroll to admit that there isn’t a single object in the physical universe which science knows completely and exhaustively. It was like pulling hen’s teeth to get him to say it and it was clear he hated saying it. If we, with all our sensory equipment and science can’t know the simplest object in the universe to that extent, there isn’t any reason to believe that we can have an adequate theory of everything and there is far, far less reason to believe we could begin to approach an understanding of anything outside of the physical world of sense and reason. Anything we say about it would be based in metaphors that begin by being incomplete and inadequate. In the worst cases, though, we believe those metaphors are the things they are supposed to elucidate. When that happens they produce the opposite of that. Atheist fundamentalism just as religious fundamentalism makes that mistake.

  108. #108 rturpin
    June 30, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    God isn’t a person.

    That dismisses the Christian god, whose myth has him born of a virgin, raised by a carpenter, preaching and performing miracles, crucified and raised, appearing miraculously afterwards to his followers, instructing Thomas to probe his risen body, and who, by orthodox theology, is two other persons besides. And every evangelical I hear says this god wants a personal relationship with his adherents. For such a god, the distinction between his being real and imagined boils down to very much the same kind of issue as to whether a child’s friend is real or imagined.

    God, as defined in the Jewish tradition, of which Christianity is a part, as being omniscient, omnipotent, infinite in temporal dimensions, the author of the universe of which we’re a part, unseen and distinctly and definitely not a human being.

    All of which is irrelevant. God, in that tradition, also is a person who directly intervenes in human affairs, speaking directly to some, sending his angels to inform others. Such a god as capable of demonstrating his existence as you or I am. The very tradition to which you point has him doing that quite often. If he desires. If he is real. So can we please get past this notion that that is impossible?

    You might think you know your sister but you don’t know everything about her. Your concept of her is imagined…

    Sure. Now, how far are you going to take that line of thought? So far, that you claim it is impossible to distinguish between a real person and a make-believe person? Because that is what is required to sustain your argument that a god cannot reveal himself as real. If you stop anywhere short of that, then you have cut off the basis for your current claim. I don’t know everything about my sister. I don’t have to know everything about her to know she is real rather than imagined. Similarly, if the Christian god is real, we wouldn’t have to prove his omniscience, etc., to know he is at least real. There are all sorts of ways he could demonstrate the latter. He is described as doing just that in the traditions to which you refer! The question is why does it happen only in myth? Why not still? Why not for all? There is no theoretical problem with the Christian god making himself known to all. If he desires. If he is.

    Apologists pretend there is a theoretical problem with that only because they don’t want to face that glaring absence. And they pretend that there is a theoretical problem, despite the clear contradiction to the traditions to which they refer in their concept of a god.

    And in doing so, they are repeating a trick from the 18th century. When they are asked for evidence of the personal god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they suddenly and temporarily pretend that theirs is the abstract god of Deism, for whom evidence is impossible because it is so far removed from human affairs that it has no desire to interact with us.

  109. That dismisses the Christian god, whose myth has him born of a virgin, raised by a carpenter, preaching and performing miracles, crucified and raised, appearing miraculously afterwards to his followers, instructing Thomas to probe his risen body, and who, by orthodox theology, is two other persons besides. rturpin

    Christians who hold that Jesus was divine as well as human certainly don’t hold that he was like other people. Paul might have said that Jesus was like us in all ways except that he was free of sin but that alone would make the person of Jesus quite unlike all other people. Trinitarian Christians, believe that God, containing the person of Jesus is certainly not limited in the same way that human beings are. The recorded sayings of Jesus certainly don’t present God as being like people are. If you want to pick holes in what you think are contradictions in the various statements Christians make about God, feel free. It won’t do anything to what I said about human beings not having the ability to do more than create a limited image of God.

    Sure. Now, how far are you going to take that line of thought? So far, that you claim it is impossible to distinguish between a real person and a make-believe person?

    As far as is warranted. It was your lousy example, not mine. In so far as the TV character was relevant, I said that no one who was involved in her creation would have expected anyone to imagine she was a real person. Though there are fictitious people whose authors hope people to believe are real, quite often when they’re trying to cover up a lie or a crime.

    My larger point was that the quality of being imagined doesn’t necessarily mean that what is being imagined is entirely fictitious. People imagine all kinds of things about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. I’d imagine what many people think about those real human beings is fictitious to some extent. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t real, it means that their re-creation in our minds is an act of imagination, sometimes incorporating untrue information as well as such accurate information as their names and their general claim to our attention.

    God is not proposed to be in any way as limited as a human being, if we can’t imagine a person as close to us as a family member, completely and accurately, it’s absurd to think that human beings would be able to imagine God completely and accurately.

    You claim that there is a “glaring absence,” which is your description of your experience in thinking about God. Well, if you were familiar with the literature of religious mysticism you would see that experience would seem to have been recognized and dealt with by recognizing the unknowability of what those religious people had experienced. I’m always finding that religious people who confront that experience are far better at dealing with its implication than materialists. They seem to much more calmly accept the limits of human abilities whereas the materialists stubbornly insist that they can do what human beings cannot do. None of us can see into the totality of existence, we can’t even know how shallow a view of it we have, though it is certainly safe to guess we don’t see more than we are able to.

  110. I forgot this:

    And in doing so, they are repeating a trick from the 18th century. When they are asked for evidence of the personal god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they suddenly and temporarily pretend that theirs is the abstract god of Deism, for whom evidence is impossible because it is so far removed from human affairs that it has no desire to interact with us.

    No, the god of Deism was a lame brained attempt to squeeze God into what was known about physical reality in the early period of science. It was a foolish idea stemming from the arrogance of those who mistook the ability to have enhanced reliability about some observations of the physical universe as evidence that people had the ability to see absolute reality. They claimed for the human invention of science powers that were absurdly overblown, something that has continued till today, though usually in explicitly atheistic terms. Even in the early period of formal agnosticism, with figures like Thomas Huxley, that arrogance was frequently matched by a clear desire to use science to enforce social superiority thought the assertion of a natural hierarchy based in inherited “fitness”. Personally, again, I think a lot of it was a bunch of aristocratic snobs looking for reasons to believe they were superior to the unclean, ignorant and so undeserving masses and their desire to not have any moral obligation to them. The whole thing reeks of that.

  111. #111 rturpin
    June 30, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    God is not proposed to be in any way as limited as a human being, if we can’t imagine a person as close to us as a family member, completely and accurately, it’s absurd to think that human beings would be able to imagine God completely and accurately.

    Again, the issue isn’t whether we can imagine your god “completely and accurately,” but whether there is any evidence that he actually is. In this regard, you are the one who continually limit him, saying what it would be impossible for him to do.

    If a god as you describe wanted us to know he exists, he wouldn’t have to shift the stars in the sky every night, on the stroke of local midnight, to spell a message, in every local language. Being omnipotent, he could do that. It would prove he was pretty damned powerful.

    But that’s not necessary merely to show he is real. For that, he could do something simple. Talk with each and every one of us for three minutes between first coffee and breakfast. Sometimes individually, sometimes in groups. Easy.

    You claim that there is a “glaring absence,” which is your description of your experience in thinking about God. Well, if you were familiar with the literature of religious mysticism you would see that experience would seem to have been recognized and dealt with by recognizing the unknowability of what those religious people had experienced.

    And why this limitation? You are the one who refers to the Jewish and Christian traditions. It describes a god who would talk with people. And write to them. In their own language. See, that’s how you have a personal relationship.

    Pointing to mystic experience as evidence of a god is like pointing to psilocybin as evidence of human psychic abilities. Both kinds of experience are real. But there’s the hard question of what they evince.

    In contrast, it’s easy to imagine how the Christian god could reveal himself. No mystic experience required. Read your own traditions. There are plenty of stories of him doing just that. Which is why his absence outside those myths is so glaring. Just as it is for Athena.

  112. #112 rturpin
    June 30, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    No, the god of Deism was a lame brained attempt to squeeze God into what was known about physical reality…

    The Enlightenment wasn’t just about science. People were looking back on their inherited traditions. They started asking why Yahweh and Jesus should be viewed as any less mythical than Mithras, Athena, or any of the other gods. It is a good question, how to know which gods are real and which are not, and one that you have not yet answered! Miracles and apparitions that are so common in myth, and even among current believers, receded strangely when sought by the prying eyes of skeptics.

    Deism, and in the early US, the rational theism of Jefferson, was an attempt to retain the notion of a god, while shucking the mythical. If you make god abstract, eliminate his personal qualities, and remove him from human interaction, then his absence in the modern world, vis-a-vis the mythical world of the Bible, isn’t quite so glaring. The Deists and rational theists at least were honest about what kind of god results when you do that.

  113. #113 g724
    June 30, 2011

    Something just occurs to me, and this may be entirely wrong or “not even wrong” but I’m going to drop it in the pond here and see what people think:

    One of the implicit issues here is the nature of human consciousness, and the nature of a hypothetical deity.

    Conventionally we say that minds are emergent properties of brains. The “strong AI” position is that minds are algorithmic: software that can in principle run on any platform, for example a sufficiently powerful computer. (C.Tart also exposes this as the latest version of “mind as analogized with current technology”: first the steam engine, then the telegraph, then a telephone switchboard, now computers.)

    But IF the strong AI position is correct, THEN we can get “minds” from sufficiently complex arrangements of automated buckets of water and pumps, since they after all are nothing more than a different type of “computer” platform that could be made to run “software.” Will anyone here assert with a straight face that this is possible?

    So here’s where my present wild speculation comes in: IF minds are algorithmic and are basically software that can run on any platform, THEN any sufficiently complex interacting set of physical phenomena should give rise to a mind-like entity. Know what that gets us? God as “mind of the universe,” consisting of the “platform” of matter/energy/spacetime, running the “software” of natural laws both known and presently-unknown.

    Thus the strong AI position, the “algorithmic mind” position, ultimately and necessarily gives rise to an affirmative answer to the question of the existence of a deity! Strong-AI’ers have indirectly re-invented a new theism, and there is no way out of that!

    (I should mention, I tend to believe that Chalmers’ interactionist theory of mind is correct, and that Penrose & Hameroff’s theory of nondeterministic neural computation is correct, and that the AI position is not correct.)

    ===

    Now back to the cultural stuff, and R.Turpin #107:

    “Pointing to mystic experience as evidence of a god is like pointing to psilocybin as evidence of human psychic abilities. Both kinds of experience are real. But there’s the hard question of what they evince.”

    Excellent! Now we’re making real progress!

    There is a) the mystical experience of oneness with (or at least communication with) a deity, and there is b) the deity itself.

    (a) is provably real: “the experience of…” is real, by first-hand reports throughout history and in all cultures. First-hand reports of subjective experiences can be assumed to be truthful in the absence of reasons to believe they are lies. However, the truth of the experience itself is not evidence of the truth of the content of the experience.

    (b) is the source of contention between theists and atheists: “the existence of the deity (itself)”, and per my point about deities confounding any experiment to test their existence, is untestable. This is a nasty-tasting pill to swallow, for anyone (myself included) who believes that every question in nature is amenable to experimental methods. However that is precisely what makes a deity “supernatural” by definition.

    Further we can also have (c) humans preaching about (a), and we can also have (d), stories told about (c). Thus, (c) Jesus preaches about God and exhorts humans to behave in certain ways, and then (d) Jesus’ disciples tell the stories of Jesus’ preaching and other activities.

    Hypothetical: Jesus speaks to a crowd of hungry people, and somehow convinces them to share what food they have. The people listening to him have a change of heart and share their fishes and loaves. Now Jesus’ disciples pick this up and it gets amplified at each re-telling until it has Jesus miraculously causing the fishes and loaves to materialize from out of the luminiferous ether!

    One can be an entirely rational Christian in the same manner as one can be a rational Kantian or a rational adherent of any other philosopher’s teachings, and read the Biblical story of fishes and loaves, and figure out that it was probably more or less as I described it: Jesus preaching communism and people being moved by his words to share what they had.

    ===

    The ability to discern and detect altered states is highly variable.

    You’re lying on the couch in a psych lab, the ceiling turns into an oriental rug, and you say “the psilocybin that the doctor gave me an hour ago is taking effect.”

    Yet, you go to sleep at night and dream of flapping your arms and flying, and you don’t immediately say “aha!, I must be asleep and having a dream!” Or rather, you can train yourself to do that (S. LaBerge, lucid dreaming), but for most people it is a latent ability that does require training.

    Further, some drugs even short-circuit the ability to discern their own effects, or example alcohol and judgement of coordination and driving ability.

    And emotional states, which are effectively the same thing as drug effects (for every emotion there is a brain-chemical), are also notoriously lacking in lucidity. How often do you meta-comment on your own emotional state? (Once again, a latent ability that can be learned, for example through mindfulness meditation.)

    So once again, the cultural problem: humans particularly in Western cultures, need to learn to be the sysadmins of their own brains, before they can start to discern the difference between e.g. “a religious experience” and “a deity that was the subject matter of that experience.” This, I think, will bring unusual mental phenomena within the scope of nature, and leave only the issue of the deity itself as remaining in the area of “supernatural.”

  114. #114 rturpin
    June 30, 2011

    g724:

    Further we can also have (c) humans preaching about (a), and we can also have (d), stories told about (c). Thus, (c) Jesus preaches about God and exhorts humans to behave in certain ways… One can be an entirely rational Christian…

    Jefferson called himself a Christian, but to any Trinitarian, he wasn’t. I don’t worry much about labels, but it’s important to keep in mind the kinds of arguments that apply to the personal god that most Christians believe, and those that apply only to a more abstract kind of god.

    Conventionally we say that minds are emergent properties of brains. The “strong AI” position is that minds are algorithmic: software that can in principle run on any platform, for example a sufficiently powerful computer.

    It often is pointed out that AI is unlikely to produce anything like a human mind, because we have very little incentive to create computers with a range of human motivations and emotions. I would go a step further, and say that we don’t know how to do that. It’s certainly worth studying. And maybe once we know how to do it, current technology will be a bit closer fit to modeling the human brain.

  115. Deism, and in the early US, the rational theism of Jefferson, was an attempt to retain the notion of a god, while shucking the mythical. If you make god abstract, eliminate his personal qualities, and remove him from human interaction, then his absence in the modern world, vis-a-vis the mythical world of the Bible, isn’t quite so glaring. The Deists and rational theists at least were honest about what kind of god results when you do that.

    The god of Deism assumes that God is apart from the continual motion and development of the universe because science can’t account for anything but matter and physical forces. Which is pretty silly if you also believe that God created the universe and what humans discern as its laws. It is a god imagined from the predispositions of those overly impressed with the new science and what it could find in its infantile state.

    The atheism of the 18th and 19th centuries continued that over confidence in the capacity of science to include the basic working of the universe and the completeness of what had been found, claims of The End of Physics were hardly unknown among the materialists of the time. The cultural slop over outside of science was seen among a number of atheists who were eager to grab the widespread faith in science and claim it for their political and social ideas, most of which have turned out to be pretty well mistaken, sometimes horrendously so.

    The extent to which Jefferson and his associates were “enlightened” is certainly limited by their practice of slavery, subjugation of women, genocide and theft on a scale that is rivaled by many of the 20th century “science based” regimes. The progress to fix those in the 19th century and beyond were generally more associated with Christians than they were the, by then, pretty much extinct deists and atheists. Marx, though I believe his intentions were good, couldn’t help pretending to a scientific standing for his ideas that produced some of the worst excuses for the people who killed millions in the name of that “science”. As I’ve pointed out, Marx may have had an inkling of the dangers of that kind of thing when he told an ardent young Marxist that he, himself, was not a Marxist. I’ve always been impressed at the ease with which “scientific” reformers have dispassionately contemplated the necessity of many, many people getting killed in the unfolding of their “scientific” theories in real life. Their disciples certainly didn’t trouble themselves about that aspect of things. The replacement of the national mythology in the First Testament by “scientific” forces doesn’t seem to have produced much in the way of enlightenment. I’m far more impressed by Hillel’s most famous observation about The Law, mirrored by Jesus, than I am with any of the sciency approach to human conduct.

    We know now that things were never as they so much seemed to those folks. We have a better view of the incompleteness of our knowledge and have very good reason to believe that incompleteness is an intrinsic part of our ability to know the physical universe. Atheism, though, has not caught up.

    But for the entire time all that was going on there were religious people who were informed of the science without going overboard about what was known and the implications of that.

  116. #116 rturpin
    June 30, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    We know now that things were never as they so much seemed to those folks. We have a better view of the incompleteness of our knowledge and have very good reason to believe that incompleteness is an intrinsic part of our ability to know the physical universe.

    You’re repeating yourself. You continue to ignore harold’s good point above: Please cite some of these Enlightenment philosophers who thought they had a complete understanding of the physical universe. If that is your bogeyman, at least pin him down historically.

    Even that, though, doesn’t address the relevant question: Why should Jesus or Yahweh be considered any more real than Mithras or Athena? Atheism doesn’t involve any claim about our understanding of the physical universe. It more concerns believers’ understanding of their gods. Your jumping up and down about some imagined, 18th century atheist who had some unjustified view of science is a distraction to what is relevant to this discussion.

  117. Why should Jesus or Yahweh be considered any more real than Mithras or Athena? Atheism doesn’t involve any claim about our understanding of the physical universe. It more concerns believers’ understanding of their gods. rturpin

    Well, there is certainly more historical evidence that Jesus existed. I think you, as just about every atheist I’ve argued these things with, suspects I’m trying to convert you to belief. Well, I don’t happen to be a Christian, though I have a great deal of respect for the teachings of Jesus. I’m just telling you that your arguments against what Christians believe are not convincing, they’re not even internally consistent. I have no idea how to give you the experience you would need to have in order to really believe. I figure that’s not my job.

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, the entire repertoire of atheist dogma is intimately tied to beliefs in scientism, materialism, and other ideological dogmas. If it couldn’t make absurdly absolute claims for the ability of science it wouldn’t have nearly as much to say. That science, itself, doesn’t support that view of science doesn’t much matter to atheists, they just ignore that. Atheism has been tied to that kind of materialist dogma since before the 18th century and to the pretenses of scientism since the early decades of science. Why do you think I’ve been engaged in debunking that nonsense?

    The slipping and sliding that happens when atheists get challenged on the ideological basis of their beliefs always gets to this point when they deny the nature of the arguments they’ve made. It’s one of the reasons I’m not interested in going down the road Harold wants me to, I’ve been down that cul-de-sac many times.

    Atheism is as prone to fundamentalism as religion is. It is as essentially dishonest as fundamentalist religion, just in a different way. The new atheism is a shallow fad that impresses a bunch of people who are way too impressed with themselves. It will last a while, then it will pass leaving an obnoxious rump for a few decades. Most people will ignore it unless they can avoid it, in which case they’ll either roll their eyes or argue with you.

  118. #118 rturpin
    June 30, 2011

    Well, there is certainly more historical evidence that Jesus existed.

    Possibly. Is there evidence he still exists? Lots of gods have semi-historical origins that may involve pieces of the life of an actual person. That doesn’t make the god real. Theseus may have existed. It doesn’t mean he was sired by a god and killed a minotaur. Or that gods and minotaurs existed. Myth is like that.

    I have no idea how to give you the experience you would need to have in order to really believe. I figure that’s not my job.

    Actually, that is precisely your job, if you want to rebut atheism. The basic claim the atheist makes is that he has no reason to believe in any god, that he doesn’t know of one that rises above the epistemological level of ghosts, minotaurs, fairies, vampires, and other mythical beings. The way to rebut that is to specify the god you think does so, and to provide the reason for thinking that, including, if the argument requires, how to acquire the experience to back that reasoning. That is the issue on the table. All the rest is beside the point. Including, especially:

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, the entire repertoire of atheist dogma is intimately tied to beliefs in scientism, materialism, and other ideological dogmas. If it couldn’t make absurdly absolute claims for the ability of science it wouldn’t have nearly as much to say. ..

    You’re here in this thread conversing with some real atheists. If we were doing that and you were pointing that out, that would be one thing. The problem is that you’re busy raising the flaws you perceive in “the entire repertoire of atheist dogma” as a dodge to addressing the actual discussion here.

    The slipping and sliding that happens when atheists get challenged on the ideological basis of their beliefs always gets to this point when they deny the nature of the arguments they’ve made.

    Being lazy and not wanting to re-read what every participant has written above, I will point out that has NOT been the nature of my arguments. Yet you keep raising it as a dodge.

    It’s one of the reasons I’m not interested in going down the road Harold wants me to, I’ve been down that cul-de-sac many times.

    Given the breadth and depth of history, I would not be surprised in the least if there are some historical atheists who fit the bogeyman you want to slay. But if you want to claim that that is what atheism has been “since before the 18th century,” you might at least point to those historical examples, and where we can read that. It’s best to rebut real arguments. If not the arguments of your respondents, then the arguments of real authors made in writings you can cite. I don’t give a damn what you or anyone claims is the “repertoire of atheist dogma.”

  119. Is there evidence he still exists?

    I’ve seen no evidence against that. Certainly none that Christians who believe in the Resurrection find convincing. You do realize there is no scientific argument that can be made against the Resurrection since it is said to have happened exactly once in all of history, was not claimed to have happened within the ordinary processes of nature and there is no physical evidence to examine or test. Just the same reason that the Virgin Birth of Jesus can’t be handled with science, don’t bother trying I’ve been through that one a half dozen times. You don’t have to believe it but you can’t debunk either with science.

    Actually, that is precisely your job, if you want to rebut atheism.

    I have no absolutely interest in rebutting your atheism, though if you make the usual kind of arguments in support of that it’s not very hard to debunk them.

    I coexisted uneventfully with atheists for decades with no problem until c. 2006 when this phase of obnoxiousness became too much to tolerate. I wrote a post at the blog I used to write for as to why it was politically foolish in relationship to the election that year, when there was a good chance to win back the House and to do something to stop the Bush II regime which had no real opposition up to that point.

    http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/2006_09_03_archive.html#115782485401163896

    A bunch of obnoxious atheists declared war on me and I’ve had no problem keeping up my side of it ever since. New atheists continue to be politically clueless and obnoxious. If they didn’t have the potential to do what the creationists have thanked Dawkins for doing, helping them to recruit on behalf of neo-fascism, I would be content to go back to ignoring atheists.

    Mine is an entirely practical effort, I have no interest in your atheism, though it is all that I said above. I’d never have bothered to point that out otherwise, though I had a lot of practice arguing with my dear old Latin teacher, an atheist in the genuine, Bertrand Russell tradition. The present reiteration of that doesn’t match what he could do.

  120. #120 Wowbagger
    June 30, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Why is it any surprise that people can be wrong?

    Okay, so we’ve established that people can be wrong, and what they think is a genuine religious experience can turn out to not have been a genuine religious experience, correct?

    I’m going to have to find out where this idea of “scare quotes” comes from. I’ve never found quotation marks to be scary.

    From Wikipedia: ‘Scare quotes are quotation marks placed around a word or phrase to indicate that it does not signify its literal or conventional meaning.

    And it does appear you were using them in exactly that sense – to imply that someone who once called themselves religious but no longer does didn’t actually have a genuine religious experience in the first place; they weren’t religious, they were “religious” – i.e. not (genuinely) religious at all.

    That would fit with this statement:

    I doubt that whatever ideas those people had and that they might call “religion” are really the same kind of thing.

    So, as far as you’re concerned, people who once considered themselves to believe in a god or gods but no longer do never had a genuine religious experience – because if the experience they had was genuine, they couldn’t have stopped being religious.

    Which leads to the obvious question: if people can be wrong about what they think is a genuine religious experience, what can be done to discriminate between a genuine religious experience and a false one?

  121. #121 Russell
    June 30, 2011

    Mine is an entirely practical effort, I have no interest in your atheism, though it is all that I said above. I’d never have bothered to point that out otherwise, though I had a lot of practice arguing with my dear old Latin teacher, an atheist in the genuine, Bertrand Russell tradition.

    I still think you’re picking at your own bogeyman. I haven’t read most of the new atheists. I have read Russell and Quine and Mackie and Ayers. It doesn’t take science to point out the absurdity of what gets said in defense of religion. You write as if that weren’t the case. Once that is cleared away, the result is atheism. Atheism, of the old-fashioned variety, whose only rebuttal is a good defense of some god. Something you haven’t even attempted.

  122. Again, the issue isn’t whether we can imagine your god “completely and accurately,” but whether there is any evidence that he actually is

    Do you have any evidence that infinitely large numbers are?
    Do you have any evidence that the strings of string theory are?
    Do you have any evidence that the membranes of M-theory are?
    Do you have any evidence that memes are?
    Do you have any evidence that a single one of the behaviors asserted by evolutionary psychology are?
    Do you have any evidence that the right to the presumption of innocence is?
    Do you have any evidence that any of the rights mentioned in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution are?

    Good Lord, I could go on all day.

    I don’t care if you don’t believe in God, I’m not trying to convince you to believe in God, you get to decide that you don’t believe in God. You DON’T get to decide if other people shouldn’t believe in God, they do.

    Which leads to the obvious question: if people can be wrong about what they think is a genuine religious experience, what can be done to discriminate between a genuine religious experience and a false one?

    You can’t. But, hey, guess what, you can’t tell if someone is misrepresenting their experience to you in just about any other instance which is why opinion polling and most of the social sciences that rely on people reporting on their ideas and experience are pseudo-scientific.

    You can tell if someone says that they believe something and then they act in a contrary manner, demonstrating hypocrisy, which would be a far more useful thing for busy-body atheists to spend their time on, but, no, since so many of them are professionally and emotionally invested in pretending they can read other peoples’ minds and evaluating their personal experience, they spend their time pretending to do what they can’t do.

    It’s no accident that so many of the big wigs in the new atheism come from some phony science that pretends to deal with behavior and thinking. It’s all part of the same thing.

  123. It doesn’t take science to point out the absurdity of what gets said in defense of religion. Russell

    Gee, it’s a long, long time since I looked at Quine, but I seem to remember he was an advocate of leaving thinking about thinking to psychology (see my last comment), wasn’t he? I forget, was it behaviorism, in his case? Considering it’s history and the quality of its standards of research and review, a faith in psychology is absurd.

    Where were you when bomoore was junking all of philosophy? Though I’d have thought a good part of Ayer and Russell got junked or at least put on the white elephant table by other, clearly more realistic philosophers. At least one of them, Godel, a Christian.

    Since all of them made huge numbers of statements that can’t be dealt with by science, I’d think you’re something of an oddity among new atheists.

    I’m unfamiliar with Mackie. I’ve got nothing to say about Mackie.

    As I said, above, I don’t care about your personal faith, I only care about the effects of its public expression on politics and the wider society. Your atheism will never be the predominant faith, it’s rejected by more than a small number of people. I’ve heard just about all you guys have got and it’s pretty unreasonable. You pretend you can do what you can’t do. Agnosticism, being more reasonable, has more potential to gain numbers but I doubt it’s going to ever predominate either. They don’t match match peoples’ experience, they don’t answer their condition, they offer them nothing. They can, however, annoy people and be used by Republicans and fascists, or do I repeat myself, as a political tool. That is their predominant influence in American politics, I’d imagine in politics in other places as well. That interests me, as I said in the first thing I ever said about them online, the thing that made a bunch of new atheists lie about what I’d said, the thing that began this war which I have no intention of surrendering in.

    If the new atheists would stop lying about the state of their belief, pretending it’s knowledge, even if they’d redirect their fire soley at the hypocrisy of religio-fascism, I’d probably have no problem with it. But they won’t because 1. the vast majority of them are ignorant bigots who couldn’t distinguish a liberal Congregationalist from a member of the Phelps cult and 2. they love to think they’re better than other people on some basis and they’ve chosen religion as their method to do that. So like their flip side in religious fundamentalism. I’m even impressed at how many of them share the fundamental morality of fundamentalism, in its rank hypocrisy.

  124. Oh, and, Russell, are you familiar with the stories about Ayer’s near death experience? How he told his surgeon that he’d seen The Supreme Being, much to his disappointment? And how his wife reported that he was much easier to get along with after it? Though Ayer still hated the idea that he might have been wrong about all of that and he might have an afterlife?

    I have no idea if its true but if his surgeon and wife aren’t lying, he apparently had some kind of experience that perturbed his certainty. They say that Aquinas had a similar sounding experience that led him to consider his previous work as not that important.

    Fun to think about, especially in Ayer’s case since he was such a snooty pain in the neck. But I’d really rather win a few congressional seats away from the fascists next year.

  125. #125 Will
    July 1, 2011

    This is interesting. I watched a show last night on a guy who knew the secrets to how the pyramids were build but died before he told anyone. There a rock garden in Florida and this guy was able to move these 30 ton boulders by himself with no modern equipment. Somehow he was able to levitate huge rocks. This sounds pretty supernatural to me, but I’m hoping someone can discover how to do this…maybe using electromagnetic forces.

    The question is weather ancient people were able to make these amazing structures with man power and no modern equipment or is there some more powerful supernatural being that is responsible.

  126. #126 Neil Bates
    July 1, 2011

    This is aside from whether something many people would want to call “supernatural” could exist or express itself. Suppose something acted oddly, broke what we consider “the laws of Nature” (or what *are* the laws of physics in that the LON are whatever they really are, and the LOP are definable as our formulation which may be wrong.) Many here claim, that would just by definition mean our idea of Natural Law was incomplete and just didn’t yet include this particular way to be. But that misses the point. “Laws of Nature” are based on observing things here and finding out their “way”, how they behave. But existing here where we can get to is not *logically* synonymous in principle (again, aside from whether there is any such else) with “existence”. “Exist” is not a descriptive predicate as we all know. “Natural” when defined properly is about “our world” (good name even in advance of any proof of other dimensions etc, so we have the logical tools to rightly talk about them and us.) It is not just another name for “real.”

    Indeed, if “natural law” meant “to include whatever any real thing did” it would be a useless circular definition. It would fail precisely becasue it did *not* make any distinction, that is to say any criterion of “if we did observe such and such, it would not be ‘natural’ anymore.” So people, please try to exercise basic semantic hygiene regarding useful definitions. If something that acted differently acted upon our world in a way that looked like “interference”, or something did not follow the laws we’ve come to expect for awhile with no apparent cause, would you really want to use a silly empty definition that it’s just weird naturalness by fiat circular definition? Clearly the more important thing is, it’s a different “way to be” and we can’t connect it to comprehensible causal interactions. Sure, we could be wrong in thinking it was a candidate for an intrusion. But that’s just a mistake, and the risk of that doesn’t justify some other broad error of principle.

  127. #127 Russell
    July 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Do you have any evidence that infinitely large numbers are?

    Numbers are abstractions we have defined. So the evidence for infinite cardinals and ordinals is precisely what you would find in a topology or number theory text. And yes, all gods yet conceived, from Yahweh to Xenu, exist in that same sense. The question atheists press is whether there is anything more to them than that.

    Do you have any evidence that any of the rights mentioned in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution are?

    Of course. Not only are they prescribed there, but there is long US history on how they have been applied, attempts to extend them after the Civil War, initial case law rejecting that, and subsequent case law applying that, defining those rights and protecting them. Oh? Did you mean, as some kind of Natural Right, out there, independent of politics? No, sorry, Bentham had that correct: Nonsense on stilts.

    Agnosticism, being more reasonable, has more potential to gain numbers but I doubt it’s going to ever predominate either. They don’t match match peoples’ experience, they don’t answer their condition, they offer them nothing.

    I actually agree with this in a sense. Losing belief is a process, and it’s not one that most people will far travel. It has none of the social benefits of religion. To the extent that there is a movement atheism, as there has been when it is taught as a consequence of some ideology such as Communism or Objectivism, it is atheism as ideology rather than atheism as lost belief in mythical gods.

    They can, however, annoy people and be used by Republicans and fascists, or do I repeat myself, as a political tool.

    Republicans were using religion as a wedge long before Dawkins wrote a book on the foolishness of belief in god. I seem to recall that you and I have had this discussion before. I don’t believe that the New Atheists will usher in a golden age of skepticism. I also don’t believe that the GOP relies on them as a necessary enemy to maintain its political strength. The GOP has a long line of targets to foam the mouths in their ranks, from academics to gays to environmentalists. Preachers like Bryan Fischer and demagogues like Limbaugh are experts at creating bogeymen.

  128. Losing belief is a process, and it’s not one that most people will far travel. Russell

    You make it sound like degrees of Free Masonry. “Losing belief” is something that continually happens to everyone. I lost faith in the ability of reason to tell anything about the exitence or non-exitence of the supernatural, I lost my faith in the honesty of many of the lions of atheism and the intellectual bases of it. I lost my faith in many of the cultural assumptions of it. I lost my faith in modernism and lots of all kinds of things I grew up on. I always found Hegalianism to be pretty much garbage, as I did positivism so I didn’t have to give up faith in those, luckily, it kept me from buying Marxism while allowing me to respect much of the work of Marx. It didn’t keep me from taking the Fabians way too seriously for way too long. Eventually it was noting their class snobbery and basic hatred of poor people that got rid of that delusion. With that pretty much went the Anglo-American blinders I’d been brought up to have.

    Republicans were using religion as a wedge long before Dawkins wrote a book on the foolishness of belief in god.

    Passing over your characterization of the belief in God as “foolish”, the cluelessness of the new atheists and their immediate predecessors in light of the successful use of anti-religion in politics – matched with the impotent idiocy of the, mostly, atheists who hijacked the American left beginning in the 30s – doesn’t make Dawkins look much Brighter if he expected more of the same would have more salubrious effects. But, given his promotion and praise of the neo-cons Harris and Hitchens, a successful left might not have been very high on his agenda. I am impressed with the disdain that the new atheists have for the great unwashed, they’re essentially a blend of self-interested libertarianism and class snobs with a good dose of Islam haters and old line culture warriors thrown in.

    I am so, so very unimpressed with the liberalism of the new atheists and many of the old atheists, for that matter.

  129. #129 Russell
    July 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I lost faith in the ability of reason to tell anything about the existence or non-existence of the supernatural.

    Assuming you view the gods as supernatural, you have just reached as a conclusion what the New Atheists (and old atheists) are saying: there is no reason to believe they exist. The problem you have isn’t with atheists, but with rationalists, people who hold that reason matters.

    (Again: I think the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” is messily and poorly drawn. If it is drawn in a fashion to include only that which cannot be evinced in any form or fashion, then it excludes most gods that have been imagined. Remote gods aren’t nearly as attractive as the gods who inject themselves into human affairs.)

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I am so, so very unimpressed with the liberalism of the new atheists and many of the old atheists, for that matter.

    Ah. This is your grind? But why would you expect a singular political view from atheists? That’s a bit like complaining that you’re unimpressed with the liberalism of determinists. Or of pragmatists. While there are connections between religion, its absence, and politics, it’s not as if atheism determines political viewpoint.

  130. Assuming you view the gods as supernatural, you have just reached as a conclusion what the New Atheists (and old atheists) are saying: there is no reason to believe they exist. Russell

    You are mixing meanings of the word “reason”. Not all reasons for doing something are reasonable, though they are still reasons. The word “reason” in the sense I used it in that sentence refers to (somewhat) formal ratiocination, not the cause of a result. Most of what we believe is believed on the basis of experience, much of the rest is based on preference. You prefer to buy the lines of a bunch of old Brit atheists, though those are certainly far from air tight in terms of reason. Most peoples’ experience leads them to reject those lines.

    The problem you have isn’t with atheists, but with rationalists, people who hold that reason matters.

    I set out my problems with atheists, most of whom are hardly rationalists, most of whom seem to have little use for reason except as a slogan while actually holding up a pantomime like a team mascot. See your pal bomoore above and how very unbothered your fellow new atheists were with that spewage. I have seldom seen a new atheist object to the bigotry, irrationality and false statements of the other members of the club.

    I am finding that when you scratch a materialist you find a would be oligarch. Which is unsurprising among those who believe people are nothing but complicated chemical reactions. There is no reason for them to consider human beings as a locus of rights and most of them, given the right conditions, give up the pretenses of acting is if they were.

    If you read that post I linked to above, you would see that I was clear about my motives of addressing the new atheists from the first time I did it. Though in the experience of arguing with them for the past five years I am far more skeptical of their motives and the eventual results of their ideological program. Or do I repeat what my problem with the new atheists is, again.

  131. #131 Russell
    July 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Most of what we believe is believed on the basis of experience…

    Again, I will point out that most of what people believe about religion is what they are taught. If there were a Christian who believed in Jesus because of his nightly discussions with Jesus over strudel and coffee, the debate over Jesus’s existence would be quite different. That Christian, instead of pointing to the Bible, a book he might never have bothered to open, would say, “yeah, I asked Jesus about dinosaurs last night, and he said he rather liked ‘em. And then he showed me how they were feathered and what colors they were. Wait ’till the paleontologists learn about this…”

    But that’s not how it goes. Christianity, like most religions, is a teaching. The “experiences” that are important to religious belief are having it taught in church and religious school, explained in inspirational literature, earnestly encouraged on a personal basis from other believers, etc. Now yeah, there may be “coming to Jesus” experiences, born-again experiences, even speaking-in-tongue experiences. After the belief is already inculcated.

    All of which is exactly the kind of thing that reason untangles. If reason isn’t applicable to teachings like religions, it’s not applicable to anything.

  132. I will point out that most of what people believe about religion is what they are taught.

    Oh, I don’t know about that. I don’t think someone really believes in God unless it’s on the basis of experience. If you mean what someone concludes about their experience is based on what they’ve learned, well, of course. Do you think that’s different from what most people believe about science or, indeed, any other thing? Do you, reading the new atheists on the blogs, really think that most of them understand all of the science and other things they recite by rote? Do you think bomoore has the slightest idea what s/he wrote about philosophy means

    Your story about Jesus and dinosaurs, are you referring to an incident that happened or is this a Just So story of new atheism? I’ve never met a single Christian who would say anything like that, not even those who don’t believe in evolution. In the United States, the majority of those who accept evolution as a fact are probably Christians, they are certainly religious. I’d guess that a good number of people who deal with it professionally are Christians.

  133. #133 Russell
    July 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    If you mean what someone concludes about their experience is based on what they’ve learned, well, of course. Do you think that’s different from what most people believe about science or, indeed, any other thing?

    No, of course not. What I pointed out is that this is exactly the area where rational criticism is both applicable and most important. Someone learns about some subject from a set of books and teachers and friends. In that teaching is the recommendation for some actions, and predictions of experiences that will follow. The individual follows those actions and has those experiences. What does that say about that teaching?

    Much of what people believe is propagated in that fashion. Astronomy, astrology, religion, all sorts of views on medicine, career improvement, and scads more.

    Your story about Jesus and dinosaurs, are you referring to an incident that happened or is this a Just So story of new atheism?

    Neither. I was pointing out the absurdity of claiming that religious belief is based primarily in experience. If it were, people would no more need a book to tell them which gods were around them than they need a book to tell them who lives next door are or whether their cat is black.

    You work hard to remove religious teaching from the kind of thing about which we should reason. I’m pointing out where the excuses fail. Religions are culturally propagated teachings. So what motivates people to say they should be exempted from rational criticism?

  134. I was pointing out the absurdity of claiming that religious belief is based primarily in experience. If it were, people would no more need a book to tell them which gods were around them than they need a book to tell them who lives next door are or whether their cat is black.

    I’ve never met a person who conformed what they believed solely to what they found in The Bible, not even the Biblical fundamentalists I’ve met. It would certainly be impossible to intuit the teachings of Jesus from the conduct of any Biblical fundamentalist I’ve ever known of. Just as I’ve never met a fundamentalist atheist who lived up to whatever imagined standard of “evidence only” or “science” or whatever they asserted to follow in their allegedly higher standard of what to believe.

    As we’ve been through before, you believe things in science that you haven’t checked out for yourself due to your experience that the product of science being reliable. Most people do. Those few things they might, possibly, go into in great depth are believed though doing that, discarding what of that doesn’t pass whatever standard you use in doing that. You restrict yourself to your sensation of the material world around you and you conclude that, that world is the only thing there. Though any thought at all would tell you that what you experience is only a tiny part of the world or the universe and, beside that, your experience isn’t of even the entire physical world around you. And for all I know, your experience is deficient in some way. People who believe in religion consult other parts of their experience and conclude that there is a God. In societies where no one is forced to follow religions of their parents, most people still believe in a God or gods or something other than the material universe. Have you ever wondered that maybe they can experience things about life that you either can’t perceive or you choose to ignore?

    That is another, common trait of the new atheists, their absurd level of confidence in their judgement. I’ve yet to hear one open to submitting their beliefs to the same degree of skepticism they apply to the thoughts of the large majority of the human population. They like to think it’s because they have science and reason on their side, when, if there’s something obvious about the comment threads of PZ’s playhouse or Randi’s “educational” foundation, all over the blogs, the bizarre aspects of Harris and Hitchens and Dawkins and Dennett and even the late Maddy O’Hair, it’s that the new atheism contains mountains of angry, irrational hooey.

    I’m not claiming that religious people are any better than they are, though some of them are quite good. I’m not claiming perfection for any of them. I’m not even claiming that religious societies and, especially, governments have anything except a very bad record -though, as compared to explicitly atheist governments, taken in aggregate, they’ve certainly not got one that bad. I’m not claiming for religion anything but the obvious fact that it is as flawed as human beings are. I am saying that it has the potential to make people behave better than they normally would left only to their desires, in some cases, in some religious traditions in some people. I base that in my experience of even some religious traditions I believe are mistaken in what they believe, otherwise.

    I see no comparable force within atheism which has that ability to restrain bad behavior. I think the combination of nasty boy assholism rampant in the new atheism with a few mean girl assholes thrown in which is obviously acceptable to the new atheism shows it has no mechanism for restraining that kind of behavior. It explicitly encourages arrogant certainty in atheists that they are superior, that their judgement is correct, that they own science and by virtue of that they don’t need to know what other people think and the reasons for that. It is as bad as the worst of fundamentalist religion in that.

    I have no doubt, based on my experience of them and the past record of anti-religious governments, that the rule of the new atheists would be the opposite of good. It wouldn’t even be merely bad. As the best evidence available, I take the results of those previous experiments in anti-religious government as an indication that materialism produces a higher level of depravity. Having the arrogance born of the faith in the supremacy of science, it would encourage people to believe that what was awful was just the way nature was, there was no escaping it. That would be the wonderful contribution of evo-psy and cog-sci and whatever turn out to be its successors in the mix. I’m impressed with how stunningly credulous even the new atheists who are prominent in the real sciences are for that pseudo-scientific tripe.

    In the mean time, for all the reasons I laid out in 2006, the new atheism’s major political impact here will be to lose votes to Republicans, if Republicans are successful in painting their opponents as the enemies of religion. That’s where I came into this war and it’s still my position. The new atheism is just a self-absorbed, obnoxious and selfish ideological clique, though one uniquely impractical and unrealistic both in basic concepts and ultimate goals with a uniquely strong ability to defeat progress. I base that in the political effect of those atheists who helped destroy the left and who still are dragging it down. I encourage other people not to kow tow to it and to drop it. There is no reason to act as if the new atheists should be taken seriously and that their absurd demands need to be considered on equal terms as those which are worth while. As I laid out in that 2006 post, your big political “issue”, of getting people to vote for an atheist as president demands a “right” that no one has, though the new atheism might use that phony issue to sucker the more gullible of those on the left. If there’s one thing leftists are suckers for it’s the whining of atheists. They certainly got taken in by the various communist faction which used their one great achievement, their victimization at the hands of conservatives, to get the misplaced sympathy of the left, acting as more dead weight to drag it down, unwarranted by any fact or claim to sympathy. That is the one and only thing that atheism has achieved in politics in the United States.

    As you can see, what I believe about this is based on a rather complex mix of reading history, going to too many political meetings where I heard and participated in too many absurd ideological arguments, overcoming my past mistaken sympathies for people whose ideologies were a proven disaster when those were achieved. But they are all based in experience. Experience is the base of all belief, the rest is just inference and reference material.

  135. #135 Russell
    July 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I’ve never met a person who conformed what they believed solely to what they found in The Bible, not even the Biblical fundamentalists I’ve met.

    No, of course not. Christians are taught their religion by a host of books and tradition outside the Bible. Even those who then chant sola scriptura. Large swathes of fundamentalists preach ideas originating with John Darby. Yet couldn’t tell you who he is. That doesn’t rebut my claim that their religion is a cultural teaching. Rather, it reinforces how broadly believers have failed to make even a rudimentary investigation of their own belief.

    And for all I know, your experience is deficient in some way. People who believe in religion consult other parts of their experience and conclude that there is a God.

    A friend of mine calls that the “god bit.” It’s turned on in some people’s brains, and off in others. The question, of course, is whether there is any reason to think that the experience believers “consult” is actually informative of anything other than their own psychology? There are ways to test that. And obvious conclusions to draw about religions that insist their gods will not be so tested.

    I’m not claiming for religion anything but the obvious fact that it is as flawed as human beings are. I am saying that it has the potential to make people behave better than they normally would left only to their desires, in some cases, in some religious traditions in some people. I base that in my experience of even some religious traditions I believe are mistaken in what they believe, otherwise. I see no comparable force within atheism which has that ability to restrain bad behavior. …

    So? Atheism doesn’t carry an ethical teaching. Religion does. I’m not going to follow you into discussing the actual consequences of that, because it is completely irrelevant to the issues we have been discussing. Even if a religion turned every one of its adherents into a better person, who refrained from their worst impulses, treated their family and neighbors well, and voted against the right-wing, that would have absolutely zero bearing on what if any gods there were. To the extent that that religion attracted adherents because of its benefits, and they then believed in that religion’s god(s) because of their commitment to the religion, that would be an example of completely irrational belief. Atheists would be quite correct to point out that those believers have zero evidence for their god(s).

    In the mean time, for all the reasons I laid out in 2006, the new atheism’s major political impact here…

    Is completely irrelevant to whether we have any reason to think there are any gods, and to whether atheist claims are correct.

    As I laid out in that 2006 post, your big political “issue”, of getting people to vote for an atheist as president…

    Say, what? I never heard of a push to have people vote for an atheist candidate for president. Who was doing that? I voted for a long list of Christian candidates. So be careful with your “your.”

  136. Rather, it reinforces how broadly believers have failed to make even a rudimentary investigation of their own belief. Russell

    You don’t see the problem of insisting that people believe things they don’t know about? What you’re talking about isn’t what people believe, it’s the problems of 1. trying to squeeze very complex denotations of words into a very small definition, 2. people professing allegiance to very complex ideas that a. contain multiple definitions, b. contain more than they’re either aware of or in agreement with. Or: Why someone who has read Quine and Ayer don’t practice what they profess and neither did they.

    I’m talking about what people really believe, not what’s merely professed without consideration. Though people get to do that too. Until their professions or their actions impinge on the rights of others, that’s their business.

    A friend of mine calls that the “god bit.” It’s turned on in some people’s brains, and off in others.

    And you and your friend have done the necessary work to ascertain that the belief of one person in God is as a result of the same physical action within the brain as another person believing in God, you have ascertained that there is such a physical action that happens in billions of brains all in the same way.

    You do know that is a belief that contains a huge number of very difficult, no, make that impossible assumptions to back up with some science that is way, way, way past the abilities of present day science. Or maybe, due to an absurd faith in stuff like psychology, cog-sci, linguistics, etc. you don’t know that. In any event, it’s a matter of faith.

    So? Atheism doesn’t carry an ethical teaching. Religion does.

    Oh, yes, atheism does carry ethical teaching about stuff like whether or not someone should believe the current holdings of science, that they should reject beliefs that aren’t the product of physical evidence or whatever crappy subsitute for that which someone like Dawkins or Dennett invent out of thin air, and a host of other articles of theology. A lot of atheists assert the pseudo-ethics of utilitarianism, quite seriously.

    There is zero evidence for most of what atheists assert.

    I’m entirely within my rights to point out my motives in this argument.

  137. #137 Russell
    July 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    You don’t see the problem of insisting that people believe things they don’t know about?

    Let’s be clear what I described. There are many fundamentalists who hold to a dispensationalism that they believe comes straight from the Bible. They believe that because they have been taught that, by routes other than simply reading the Bible. They have little notion of how or when those dispensationalist ideas originated. In short, they believe an ideology of whose history and origin they are ignorant.

    No, I have no problem pointing that out. It happens all the time in all sorts of contexts. American conservative in the south parrot the ideas of the Lost Cause without knowing how those originated.

    Now, yeah, there are ways to investigate ideas without knowing their origin. For many ideas, that is the least interesting thing about them. But the same fundamentalists will tell you their dispensationalism is correct because of its origin. (Which isn’t what they think it is.) And Lost Cause ideology is a purposeful papering over of historical facts.

    Oh, yes, atheism does carry ethical teaching about stuff like whether or not someone should believe the current holdings of science…

    There are many atheists who don’t know much about science. Atheism isn’t about science. It’s about religion. We’re going around in circles. You trot out your bogeyman. I point out he’s not relevant.

  138. Russell, why don’t you address what I said about the difference between actually believing in something and professing to believe in something about which one is ignorant. When someone says “I am a Christian” and someone tries to figure out what that means the problems begin to multiply very quickly. There is no, single, definition of what Christianity means, there are thousands, if not billions of possible definitions of what that means. So when someone says “I am a Christian” you can’t reduce that to a simple formula and make unfailingly accurate assumptions about what they really believe. Your example does that, though I’m fairly certain that even under your limited definition of Christianity, you would find an enormous variation in what that would mean in terms of stated agreement with points of dogma and, very certainly, in demonstrated conduct. It doesn’t matter in the slightest that the consequences of that are that your facile pigeonholing is inaccurate much if not most of the time and so your conclusions about what those people believe is frequently false. That’s just the way it is when you do this kind of thing.

    Since you have been frequenting this blog, reading what the atheists who come here say and, I’m fairly certain, other of the atheist blogs your attempt to divorce the new atheism from its use of science is also dishonest. You are certainly familiar with Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and other far from insignificant figures in the new atheism and their adoring fans. You might even be familiar with the species of new atheist who are so clueless about science that they believe James Randi to figure into it somehow. The pretentious and ludicrous identification of atheism with science goes back well into the 18th century and even into the classical period, even before science was science.

    I certainly wasn’t arguing that the new atheism was a manifestation of scientific erudition or, indeed, erudition of any kind. It shares that with religious fundamentalism.

  139. #139 Russell
    July 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, why don’t you address what I said about the difference between actually believing in something and professing to believe in something about which one is ignorant.

    I thought we were discussing just that, in my example of the fundamentalist who doesn’t realize where his dispensationalism originates.

    There is no, single, definition of what Christianity means… So when someone says “I am a Christian” you can’t reduce that to a simple formula and make unfailingly accurate assumptions about what they really believe.

    Of course. You might consider that the same applies to “atheism.” I don’t ask any Christian to defend something they don’t believe, just because it is attached to some strand of Christianity they don’t hold.

  140. I thought we were discussing just that, in my example of the fundamentalist who doesn’t realize where his dispensationalism originates.

    Which has nothing to do with what I said about the difference between professing belief and really believing something. Or that professing belief wasn’t actually an expression of a belief, though not necessarily in what was identified as belief. And you don’t necessarily need to know the actual origin of an idea to believe in it. People believe in a lot of things which are mistaken, as in my example of the many adoring fans of James Randi who believe he is an important figure within science and the truth a when he’s a stage conjurer who has a record of lying about things. As in when he lied about having conducted experiments falsifying a published experiment by Rupert Sheldrake.

    Of course. You might consider that the same applies to “atheism.” I don’t ask any Christian to defend something they don’t believe, just because it is attached to some strand of Christianity they don’t hold.

    I believe somewhere above on this thread I made a distinction between agnostic atheists and fundamentalist atheists, I’ve always made a distinction between new atheists and most atheists. And one of the distinguishing features of the new atheists is their insistence that all religion was responsible for the worst of it. It is a shallow, bigoted intellectual fad.

  141. #141 porno izle
    July 2, 2011

    Is completely irrelevant to whether we have any reason to think there are any gods, and to whether atheist claims are correct.

  142. #142 Russell
    July 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Which has nothing to do with what I said about the difference between professing belief and really believing something.

    Well, that’s true. No preacher knows how many in his pews take seriously what his church teaches. No doubt there are many cryptic atheists, who attend church or mosque, and go through the motions, for the sake of family, friends, and community.

  143. #143 Anthony McCarthy The Thought Criminal
    July 3, 2011

    Russell, if you had read The Bible you’d have seen people have known for quite some time that there were people who professed religions and even the moral values taught by those religions but who didn’t seem to really believe in them. How many of the people who claim to believe that Jesus is no less than God certainly don’t follow what he said about giving money to the poor, treating the outcast and stranger and women with justice, who put mercy before the letter of the law? I’d guess most fall short of their professed faith. But then, Jesus said that most people would have a hard time following his teaching.

    How many of the science worshipers among the blog atheists have bothered to learn sufficient math to be able to understand it at even a high school level? Somewhere above, I seem to recall, I pointed out that some of the most prominent atheist “skeptics” and debunkers of controlled experiments in PSI were entirely ignorant of the statistics they would need to even understand the research. So, you see, atheists can be quite deficient in the necessaries of the faith they profess, as well. And even among the best of them, Ray Hyman, for example, there are a few instances of suppressing reports and rigging a, well, it was presented as an experiment, in violation of statistical reasoning. I guess even atheists can be tempted by the dark side to violate their professed beliefs.

  144. #144 rturpin
    July 3, 2011

    Anthony, do you see no difference between a) someone who recognizes the nonsense his preacher says and doesn’t believe it, and b) someone who idolizes some aspect of science without understanding it? Seems to me the first person is thinking rationally, even if keeping it secret (something which may deserve ethical criticism), while the second is acting with all the irrationality you attribute to them. The right analog to the second isn’t the skeptic in the pew, but the believers in the pews who accept religious teaching.

    I quite agree, there are people who treat science as a religion. And yes, they are just as irrational as those who practice religion as a religion.

  145. rturpin, you are mixing an instance of skepticism with an instance of credulous acceptance, why are you asking me if I don’t see a difference that is readily and obviously apparent as if I hadn’t been making that distinction for most of this discussion?

    If you don’t think religious people are not constantly skeptical you couldn’t know much about religious people who are internal critics within their denomination and religious people who are interdenominational critics, internally within larger religious groupings. If you start looking at the contemporary literature of internal religious criticism you will be in for a big surprise. I’d suggest Fr. Hans Kung as a very good place to start being surprised.

    I see almost none of that kind of internal criticism within the new atheism or within organized “skepticism”. I gave the example of Rupert Sheldrake because he is a far better skeptic than his “skeptical” critics. And, unlike many of them, he has, actually, conducted scientific experiments which have been published. I could have cited Dean Radin, though I didn’t have a Randi story about Radin. As the new athist-“skeptic” idol, Richard Feynman, said, the internal criticism in formal research into PSI is quite good, quite a bit better than the external criticism of it.

    I take no position on the reality of PSI because I don’t have much interest in it, though, unlike just about any of the blog jerks at the “skeptical” blogs, I’ve looked at the meta analyses of it and agree with the conclusions that the eminent statistician Jessica Utts came to:

    http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jutts/air.pdf

    I did that in researching my critiques of evo-psy and psychology, neither of which comes close to the standards and practices of that controlled research yet both are uncritically accepted by “skeptics”, many of whom are professionals in both of those so-called sciences. As has been pointed out, if psychology had to abide by the same standards followed by the formal, controlled research that is done in PSI, it would disappear. Which leads me to conclude that psychology, as a discipline, is, in fact, a pseudoscience, evo-psy, with even more ludicrous standards, incorporating active mythologizing, is obviously pseudo-science.

  146. #146 rturpin
    July 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    If you don’t think religious people are not constantly skeptical you couldn’t know much about religious people who are internal critics within their denomination and religious people who are interdenominational critics, internally within larger religious groupings.

    Yes, of course. I’ve seen all sorts of professional work in the religious world that is quite scholarly and critical on subjects ranging from archaeology to religious sociology to addiction treatment. The question is: are they equally critical on the one issue that is relevant to this discussion and that separates most people who call themselves Christian from atheists, to wit, the existence of the Christian god?

    If you think there is a rational basis for belief in a god, don’t point to theologians who are doing critical work on all sorts of subjects that may be more or less related to that, but that doesn’t actually address that central question. Instead, point to the specific work that you think answers it. The atheist doesn’t claim that a priest can’t be a good historian, and even a good historian of religion. Or that every piece of research coming out of seminaries must be wrong. The atheist criticism is that there is no reason to believe in any god, neither Jesus nor Allah any more than Athena or Theseus. The central question for the Christian theologian is whether the core positive claims of Christian theology are factual. All other “internal religious criticism” is irrelevant (except to the extent that it often has non-religious implications), if that one question can’t be answered. For those doing related research, the lack of an answer to that central question leads one to wonder why are they doing that research within a religious context, instead of a secular one?

  147. The question is: are they equally critical on the one issue that is relevant to this discussion and that separates most people who call themselves Christian from atheists, to wit, the existence of the Christian god?

    What do you mean by “equally critical”? If you mean do religious people doubt the existence of God, of course they do. You hear about the big fuss made about the publication of Mother Teresa’s diary a while back? There’s nothing unusual about that, anyone who acknowledges the difference between belief and knowledge deals with doubt. I was an agnostic, I certainly dealt with doubt. Sheldrake used to be an atheist, I’d guess he did. Do you think I haven’t read the atheists on that question? Their arguments are unconvincing, certainly not as compared with the Buddhist texts dealing with a belief in gods. And reading those didn’t keep me from believing after taking those very seriously.

    Why would it mean that there is no God because human ideas about God have changed over time? Do you think that there is no reason to believe in chemistry because of the relevant Samkhya theories about that? How about other theories about chemistry Or that physics shouldn’t be believed in because of the many, different theories people had about that? How about we take it out of the physical and I ask you if you think the separation of church and state or the right to marry shouldn’t be believed in because people have different ideas about that?

    There is no reason to believe in materialism because of the various things people have believed about the nature of matter. How about that?

  148. #148 harold
    July 3, 2011

    I can’t believe this thread is still going on.

    Here is my terse paraphrase of the arguments I see from Anthony McCarthy.

    Anthony McCarthy, I have no interest in changing your religious beliefs, but I must suggest that you have offered these arguments. I believe my paraphrase is fair.

    1) You claim that 18th century atheists made arguments that are only true if Newtonian physics, but (implicitly) not Quantum Mechanics of Relativity, accurately describes the universe, and further claim that atheists continue to use such arguments. If this were true, such specific arguments might or might not be false (since Newtonian physics is not “false” but is actually an extraordinarily good approximation that is preferable for many problems, but gives very wrong answers in some circumstances). However, you refuse to identify any such arguments from 18th century atheists in the first place.

    As I stated above, the honest thing to do is to retract the claim.

    2) You claim that my request for objective evidence is at odds with modern science. This is dissembling sophistry at its very worst. Quantum Mechanics, for example, is 100% grounded in objective observations and experiments which can be replicated. In fact, not only is this the case, but QM is a classic (no pun intended) example of empirically based science. Although there is now a body of theory, the empirical findings of QM are perceived as “counter-intuitive” by almost all who first encounter them. “Intuitive” musings had to give way to empirical fact.

    It is indeed true that if we define “supernatural” as “a proposition that is constructed so that it cannot be scientifically tested”, then anyone can make up supernatural things all day. What good does that do?

    If you tell me that you find QM unconvincing and ask me to provide you with a body of object evidence for it, which in theory you yourself could replicate, I can do that with ease.

    All I have asked is that someone do the same thing for some specific supernatural entity. I haven’t focused exclusively on your deity. I started asking about ghosts, and a single good definitive, evidence-supported example of a haunting by a ghoul would have satisfied me. But I consistently receive the same answer. I conclude that no such evidence exists at this time.

  149. #149 rturpin
    July 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Anyone who acknowledges the difference between belief and knowledge deals with doubt.

    Yes, but what then? After one has investigated and failed to produce knowledge? The act of faith is to believe anyway. When the rational thing is not to do so. That really is the crux of the matter. As I have said repeatedly, this isn’t about religion vs. science. The core conflict is faith vs. reason.

    Why would it mean that there is no God because human ideas about God have changed over time?

    The question isn’t whether ideas about the gods are changing over time, but whether there is any reason to think that Hans Kung’s god is any more factual than Allah or the gods of the ancient Greeks? If there were no reason to think modern chemistry more factual than medieval alchemy, I would say junk it and remove it from the universities as a sham.

    How about we take it out of the physical and I ask you if you think the separation of church and state or the right to marry shouldn’t be believed in because people have different ideas about that?

    Those are normative views, not factual claims. I think anyone who claims that the idea of separating church and state is somehow more true than the idea of uniting church and state is quite confused. It aligns with my desire for a liberal political order, and is something for which I will fight in the political domain. But it’s not factually true because it’s not the kind of assertion that can be factually true.

  150. Yes, but what then?

    They do this thing called “making up their own mind”.

    but whether there is any reason to think that Hans Kung’s god is any more factual than Allah

    Clearly you are entirely unfamiliar with Fr. Hans Kung, who would be the first to say that they are the the same God.

    http://www.bismikaallahuma.org/archives/2005/hans-kung-on-is-muhammad-a-prophet/

    or the gods of the ancient Greeks?

    I’m unaware of what he might say about that. It’s possible he’s addressed the question in his long written record.

    Taking into account the different uses that different people had for the Greek gods, I’d say that for some of them I don’t doubt they’re talking about the same thing, the same origin of a common experience. But I’d never claim that’s anything other than an intuitive belief.

    Those are normative views, not factual claims.

    That is exactly the reason I don’t trust the new atheism with my rights which I believe are as real as I am and as real as the rights of each and every other person. By real I mean as real as any physical object, as essential and as consequential in reality. The results of the denial of human rights are manifest in history, the results of the denial of them are as real as any genocide, any institution of slavery and subjugation of women. They are as real as can be, at least as real as any law of nature, perhaps more so.

    Harold, I already said I didn’t choose to go over that again. Atheists are stuck in the 18th century, they haven’t absorbed what physics and philosophy had already learned by 1931. The absurd certainty of the new atheism is as creaky as the 19th century atheists who jumped up and down on the findings of the 18th century have left their ideology.

  151. Oh, and, I’m always interested in people who complain that a blog conversation is going on, breaking into the conversation to complain it’s going on, making points apropos of the conversation (inaccurate, to some extent) as they complain about it.

    I’d been under the impression that all you had to do to avoid it was not to click on the thread.

    I can assure you, I could go on for quite some time. This is nothing compared to what dear old A.G. could come up with and I never lost a session with him.

  152. #152 rturpin
    July 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    They do this thing called “making up their own mind”.

    Yes, of course, people can believe whatever they want. But when people choose to go down a path of make-believe, are the rest of us supposed to pretend that they’re doing anything other than that? Here’s one way of looking at this. All atheists are saying is that the religious claims of Christians and Muslims and all the other religions should be taken no more seriously than people who “make up their own mind” to believe in crystal healing, fairies, and vampires.

    That is exactly the reason I don’t trust the new atheism with my rights which I believe are as real as I am and as real as the rights of each and every other person. By real I mean as real as any physical object, as essential and as consequential in reality.

    Then you are confused. About how language works. There is no deriving an “ought” from an “is.” Yes, Hume wrote in the 18th century. But no one since has worked around that. Rights are prescriptive abstractions in the minds of moral agents. They exist only in that sense.

    The results of the denial of human rights…

    Have absolutely no bearing on whether they have the kind of independent reality you would claim for them. Let’s untangle several different arguments that might be lurking here. 1) “Political view X has beneficial effect Y.” (Y may be that it prevents some terrible outcome O.) Whether that is the case or not is a factual matter for history to decide. 2) If it is true, and we view Y as beneficial, then that’s a legitimate normative argument for working for X. Precisely because X itself is a political view rather than a factual claim. 3) “Believing political view X is a fact of nature has beneficial effect Y.” The belief is confused. Whether it has beneficial effect or not. And finally, consider this general kind of claim: 4) “Belief in factual matter X has positive benefit Y.” That is a kind of factual claim about the consequences of believing something. Whether it is true or not has no bearing on whether X itself is true.

  153. But when people choose to go down a path of make-believe

    Which brings us back to why Richard Dawkins is a famous spinner of explanatory myths, why so many believe in M-theory or string theory, either East coast or West coast or any number of other, sometimes conflicting, holdings of the promissory materialism that is the chief dogma of atheists, those who have bothered to think about it on a level higher than the nasty-boy and girl blog atheists for which it’s about as considered as gang membership.

    Then you are confused. About how language works.

    No, you are confused if you think anything David Hume wrote about is as real as the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide. One is a bunch of words, the other are mountains of dead bodies made so by people who chose not to believe the people who owned those bodies had rights. Words cannot have more reality than the people who use them, the people who hear them. People, the possessors of inherent rights, are the only reason the words exist.

    Your confusion doesn’t surprise me considering what materialist-atheists believe people to be.

  154. #154 rturpin
    July 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Words cannot have more reality than the people who use them, the people who hear them.

    No, but there are facts about words and how people use language that don’t disappear just because you dislike those facts.

    And no matter how often you repeat it, neither string theory nor any other theory of physics is presumed by atheism. What’s more, physicists are quite aware how speculative some of their theories are. They are not asking people to believe string theory. Not even other physicists!

  155. #155 harold
    July 3, 2011

    Which brings us back to why Richard Dawkins is a famous spinner of explanatory myths,

    I don’t care much about Richard Dawkins, but if you’re going to say that, it’s pretty damn obnoxious not to be specific.

    Let’s see if we can treat Dawkins a little more fairly than Voltaire and Hume were treated. Can you give a specific, fair, in context quote from Dawkins that represents an “explanatory myth” and explain why it is a myth?

    why so many believe in M-theory or string theory, either East coast or West coast or any number of other, sometimes conflicting,

    Neither of these has the slightest thing to do with atheism and there are probably some people working in these fields who are religious. These are constructs from theoretical physics that model certain aspects of the physical universe. They aren’t really “theories” in the same way that the theory of evolution or the theory of relativity are. They’re products of “theoretical”, that is, abstract model-building, physics.

    holdings of the promissory materialism that is the chief dogma of atheists, those who have bothered to think about it on a level higher than the nasty-boy and girl blog atheists for which it’s about as considered as gang membership.

    This grouping of words can be understood to mean “I hate atheists”. Beyond that, it has no actual meaning.

    No, you are confused if you think anything David Hume wrote about is as real as the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide. One is a bunch of words, the other are mountains of dead bodies made so by people who chose not to believe the people who owned those bodies had rights. Words cannot have more reality than the people who use them, the people who hear them. People, the possessors of inherent rights, are the only reason the words exist.

    I know from past things you have said that we have some areas of agreement.

    However, I’m quite offended by this. It just isn’t honest. Most of the people who committed the Rwandan and Nazi genocides weren’t atheists. Their movements weren’t officially atheist. In both cases many of the perpetrators made claims that they were justified by the Christian God.

    Your confusion doesn’t surprise me considering what materialist-atheists believe people to be

    I consider humans to be big-brained animals, but I also believe strongly in human rights.

    What does being supernatural have to with having rights?

    (My normative values, of course, come from empathy, cultural background, and intellectual understanding of the value of mutual cooperation. Nevertheless, I hold to them strongly. Indeed, since they are not predicated on the belief in a deity who arbitrarily commanded them, there is no risk that I will ever turn into a mass murderer through loss of faith in a restraining deity, or through changing my mind about what some arbitrary deity commands.)

  156. #156 harold
    July 3, 2011

    I notice that Anthony McCarthy has gone from (falsely) claiming that atheists always use 18th century arguments to (falsely) claiming that they argue from string theory and m-theory.

  157. #157 harold
    July 3, 2011

    Which brings us back to why Richard Dawkins is a famous spinner of explanatory myths,

    I don’t care much about Richard Dawkins, but if you’re going to say that, it’s pretty damn obnoxious not to be specific.

    Let’s see if we can treat Dawkins a little more fairly than Voltaire and Hume were treated. Can you give a specific, fair, in context quote from Dawkins that represents an “explanatory myth” and explain why it is a myth?

    why so many believe in M-theory or string theory, either East coast or West coast or any number of other, sometimes conflicting,

    Neither of these has the slightest thing to do with atheism and there are probably some people working in these fields who are religious. These are constructs from theoretical physics that model certain aspects of the physical universe. They aren’t really “theories” in the same way that the theory of evolution or the theory of relativity are. They’re products of “theoretical”, that is, abstract model-building, physics.

    A while ago you were arguing that atheists use eighteenth century arguments, now you claim that they argue from m-theory, lol.

    holdings of the promissory materialism that is the chief dogma of atheists, those who have bothered to think about it on a level higher than the nasty-boy and girl blog atheists for which it’s about as considered as gang membership.

    This grouping of words can be understood to mean “I hate atheists”. Beyond that, it has no actual meaning.

    No, you are confused if you think anything David Hume wrote about is as real as the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide. One is a bunch of words, the other are mountains of dead bodies made so by people who chose not to believe the people who owned those bodies had rights. Words cannot have more reality than the people who use them, the people who hear them. People, the possessors of inherent rights, are the only reason the words exist.

    I know from past things you have said that we have some areas of agreement.

    However, I’m quite offended by this. It just isn’t honest. Most of the people who committed the Rwandan and Nazi genocides weren’t atheists. Their movements weren’t officially atheist. In both cases many of the perpetrators made claims that they were justified by the Christian God.

    Your confusion doesn’t surprise me considering what materialist-atheists believe people to be

    I consider humans to be big-brained animals, but I also believe strongly in human rights.

    What does being supernatural have to with having rights?

    (My normative values, of course, come from empathy, cultural background, and intellectual understanding of the value of mutual cooperation. Nevertheless, I hold to them strongly. Indeed, since they are not predicated on the belief in a deity who arbitrarily commanded them, there is no risk that I will ever turn into a mass murderer through loss of faith in a restraining deity, or through changing my mind about what some arbitrary deity commands.)

  158. Harold, you last statement is silly. You noticed no such thing, you misunderstood my point about making believe. Which was rather obviously in answer of an insulting statement by rturpin, so I don’t really believe you misunderstood it.

    If people are going to issue insults I’m able to reciprocate. I don’t allow new atheists to impose their usual double standard in these arguments.

  159. Well, Harold, they certainly weren’t following the teachings of Jesus, now, were they. You can’t say the same thing about the followers of Pol Pot or Stalin or Hoxha or Mao, to name a few of the anti-religious atheists who have gained power.

    As for the rest of it, I’d suggest you work backward and look at the comments I was answering.

  160. No, but there are facts about words and how people use language that don’t disappear just because you dislike those facts. rturpin

    You said “Rights are prescriptive abstractions in the minds of moral agents. They exist only in that sense.”

    To which I gave as concrete a refutation as is possible in the forms of mountains of bodies, the result of the denial of the reality of the rights of the people whose bodies those were. That result of the denial of the reality of those rights is the most solid possible evidence of the fact that denying those rights have realities have as great a consequence as human agency can have. I don’t recall if the great and wonderful David Hume dealt with that level of reality but, from what I recall of him, his thoughts generally resided in things far less obviously real than the huge numbers dead from the denial of the reality of the human rights they inherently possessed.

    I have had arguments with atheists over the idea of the inherency of rights, their not liking the implications of their being there by divine gift. I have never encountered an atheistic explanation for the existence of human rights that is as secure as that belief, which, as history shows, is quite too insecure itself. I have never heard an atheistic definition of rights that doesn’t put them on the same level as mere contracts or, more typically, as imaginary. Considering the consequences of the denial of human rights I’ve mentioned, it’s rather a more exigent problem than the materialistic purity of the evolution section of a high school biology class.

    And no matter how often you repeat it, neither string theory nor any other theory of physics is presumed by atheism.

    Ah, you must have missed all that new atheist crowing when Hawking banished God in favor of the version of M-theory he and his co-author were was peddling last year. That was the occasion of my long argument at Sean Carroll’s blog, the one where I had to hound him and finally bribe him into admitting there wasn’t a single object in the universe that physics knew comprehensively and exhaustively. But, since you want to go the nit-picky, philosophical route, “atheism” doesn’t exist except within the atheists who believe it. If they mix their atheism with M-theory, string theory, East, West, whatever, evo-psy, etc. those do, in fact, become as much a part of atheism as anything mixed into “religion” by religious believers.

    What’s more, physicists are quite aware how speculative some of their theories are.

    You try going on any blog where new atheists frequent and you point out how speculative those theories are and watch how furious the neo-athes get. I’ve had them say the most amazing things just from pointing out that there is zero evidence for the existence of the most ridiculous of them, memes and the explanatory myths of evo-psy. Why, on Orac’s blog last year, I had a knock down, multi-day fight with a flock of neo atheists who denied that Dawkins was a figure in the promotion of evo-psy, in a discussion he entered into. I have wondered ever since what he made of his adoring fans not knowing what his sciency claim to fame was. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that most new atheists are pig ignorant of even those things they claim to know about the atheism they are asserting.

    They are not asking people to believe string theory. Not even other physicists!

    Oh, for crying out loud. Since they’re producing no evidence for string theory, as dear Peter Woit has pointed out not even making predictions with it, all it is is the promotion of their ideas. As he says, it’s not even wrong, because they do nothing else with it. All it is is a PR campaign.

    Here’s some of a recent posting at his excellent blog:

    The opening talk was by David Gross, who tried to address the question “Where do we stand?” for string theory. He claimed the field is “extremely healthy”, “vibrant and exciting”, “making enormous progress in a variety of areas’”, with “stupendous progress” in N=4 planar SYM. At the same time, he acknowledged that it was “very sobering” that string theory was 43 years old.

    In the past, Strings XXXX conferences often featured a call for progress towards making predictions that could be tested at the LHC. With LHC data now coming in, Gross acknowledged that this had been a failure: there are no string theory LHC predictions. He put a positive spin on this by noting that the lack of any BSM signal at the LHC so far is not a worry for string theory, since string theory can’t be tested at the LHC. As for the lack of any supersymmetry signal so far, he says that “I personally am not yet worried”, while acknowledging that some people are becoming pessimistic. While no SUSY is not a worry for string theory, he feels that “it would be awfully nice for string theory if SUSY appeared”. Supposedly he has made bets on SUSY at the LHC, but he gave no indication of when he would start to worry (or pay off the bets) if SUSY continues to not be there.

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

  161. What the hell, I loved this part of Woit’s post:

    The additional questions raised by attempts to understand the emergence of spacetime in a deSitter background were one factor that inspired him to end with the quote that:

    The most important product of knowledge is ignorance.

    To which he added “After 43 years of string theory , it would be nice to have some answers.”

    Surprisingly, not a word from Gross about anthropics or the multiverse. I assume he’s still an opponent, but perhaps feels that there’s no point in beating a dying horse. Susskind isn’t there and oddly, the only multiverse-related talks are from the two speakers brought in to do public lectures (Brian Greene and Andrei Linde, Hawking’s health has kept him from a planned appearance). So the multiverse is a huge part of the public profile of the conference, but pretty well suppressed at the scientific sections. Also pretty well suppressed is “string phenomenology”, or any attempt to use string theory to do unification. Out of 35 or so talks I see only a couple related to this, which is still the main advertised goal of string theory.

    Much as I’d like to mediate on the original motivation of multiverse theory in materialist heebie jeebies, and it’s violation of that hobby horse of the new atheists “Ockham’s razor” even as they ride on this, the greatest possible, ultimate violation of entering complications into the mix, I’ll just let you absorb that much.

  162. Note, all of that last part except my closing mockery should have been in italics, it being from Woit’s post. In case you’re worried about Woit’s materialistic bona fides, I believe he is a declared atheist, just not one as star struck by the glamor of nifty, cutting edge, would be science. I know how the new atheists get the ickies about people who don’t agree with them, suspecting them of being closeted theists. It’s been the motivation of most of the promissory materialism posing as science for the past hundred and more years, which I’m finding has had more of an influence on science culture than most people would imagine from my beginning studies of the thoroughly repulsive “X Club”.

  163. Oh, and, I promise the last, Woit’s most recent update of that post:

    Update: The videos of the talks are now all up. I took a look at the Verlinde talk, and the ideas he is putting forward still strike me as pretty much empty of any significant content. In Jeff Harvey’s summary of the conference, he notes that many people have remarked that there hasn’t been much string theory at the conference. About the landscape, his comment is that “personally I think it’s unlikely to be possible to do science this way.” He describes the situation of string theory unification as like the Monty Python parrot “No, he’s not dead, he’s resting.” while expressing some hope that a miracle will occur at the LHC or in the study of string vacua, reviving the parrot.

    That the summary speaker at the main conference for a field would compare the state of the main public motivation for the field as similar to that of the parrot in the Monty Python sketch is pretty remarkable. In the sketch, the whole joke is the parrot’s seller’s unwillingness, no matter what, to admit that what he was selling was a dead parrot. It’s a good analogy, but surprising that Harvey would use it.

    [There, Monty Python. If someone used Doug Adams to admit the crisis, all the rules of new atheist rational discourse will have been acknowledged. A.M.]

  164. #164 rturpin
    July 4, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy complains:

    ..you misunderstood my point about making believe. Which was rather obviously in answer of an insulting statement by rturpin.

    So let’s recap the earlier dialogue that offended him:

    AM: Anyone who acknowledges the difference between belief and knowledge deals with doubt.

    RT: Yes, but what then? After one has investigated and failed to produce knowledge?

    AM: They do this thing called “making up their own mind”.

    RT: Yes, of course, people can believe whatever they want. But when people choose to go down a path of make-believe, are the rest of us supposed to pretend that they’re doing anything other than that?

    So, Anthony describes people “making up their mind” to believe some factual claim of which they have no knowledge, having investigated it. And he is offended that I call that “make-believe.” But isn’t that what the term means? Making belief. In the absence of knowledge. Even after investigation that might have yielded such knowledge failed to do so. Isn’t that exactly what we mean by “make-believe”?

    “Make-believe” is in not in any sense a vulgar term or one that always carries insult. Young children habitually practice it. Adults start to control the contexts where they do so, allowing it to themselves when reading fiction or watching a movie. Sometimes falling into it against their better prudence when hopes build up baselessly, for example, over a relationship possibility that isn’t, or an investment scheme that really is too good to be true. Which partly is why adults become more apt to call it out as that, in serious discussion of factual matters.

    And I suspect that is why McCarthy thought me insulting. And also a large part of the nub between non-believers and the faithful. The faithful have constructed an entire language to make what they are doing sound somehow more credible and more learned and ultimately more respectable:

    They don’t make-believe — they have faith.

    Their theologies aren’t full of contradictions — they hold many mysteries.

    Their gods aren’t magical beings like fairies and vampires — they’re undefinable and transcendent.

    The non-believer comes along and points out that that rhetorical shift is mere veneer, reflecting no actual difference. The words “make-believe,” “contradiction,” and “magical” aren’t inherently insulting. They’re viewed as insulting only because the believer wants his faith in Jesus viewed as somehow more credible than a teenager’s make-believe in vampires. For some reason, the religious believer doesn’t mind (or notice?) the implied insult handed to the teenage believer in vampires when the religious believer tries to elevate his own make-believe above other kinds. The atheist (if he’s practical) isn’t expecting people not to practice make-believe. It’s part of what humans do. He’s just calling it for what it is, refusing to pretend that one variety deserves more credibility, just because it has an established religion behind it.

    I will defend everyone’s right to believe whatever they want. I won’t even think any less of those whose make-believe world includes Jesus and Heaven and angels rather than Gaia or vampires or Xenu. But if you get insulted because I call that make-believe after you describe it as exactly that, I’m just going to chuckle.

    Now, here’s the thing about string theory: until it gets to the point where it can be tested, it is make-believe also. Physicists recognize that. Feel free to point this post out to all the physicists you know, to see if any of them want to jump in here and complain that I have insulted them. Please! I’m happy to have my views of physicists put the to test. Just as they are eager to get their theories to the point where those can be put to the test.

  165. #165 harold
    July 4, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy –

    Well, Harold, they certainly weren’t following the teachings of Jesus, now, were they.

    Not as you and I understand them. In fact, this is a point of agreement between us, and a point that gets me into unwanted disputes with other non-religious people. Although I don’t know if the Biblical character Jesus is based on a real person, and don’t beleive the magic parts even if he was, I do think that he outlines a very good ethical system overall.

    However, that’s cultural and subjective. I was raised in a church that emphasized certain messages from certain parts of the New Testament. Many Christians use the same canon to justify harsh, hateful behavior. Whether they or you have the right interpretation is not a question I am qualified to answer. I happen to feel that you and I have a better interpretation of the teachings of Jesus than, say, Fred Phelps, but the overall Christian canon is unclear enough to make others feel differently.

    You can’t say the same thing about the followers of Pol Pot or Stalin or Hoxha or Mao, to name a few of the anti-religious atheists who have gained power.

    I have never remotely suggested that all non-religious people are good or that all religious people are bad. Others may have that opinion, I do not.

    I can’t help replying to this.

    Do you have any evidence that infinitely large numbers are?

    I have more than evidence, I have unequivocal mathematical proof, and so do you if you want to learn about it. Numbers are abstract concepts that cannot always be perfectly represented by physical objects (although any integer of any size can, if you have enough objects). I don’t think anyone here has denied the existence of abstract concepts. This has nothing to do with atheism or religion.

    Do you have any evidence that the strings of string theory are?
    Do you have any evidence that the membranes of M-theory are?

    Not really, but these are hypothetically testable models from theoretical physics. They are testable models that make predictions about the physical world. You really should stop worrying about m-theory. It’s no more or less atheistic than Newton’s law of gravity.

    Do you have any evidence that memes are?

    Yes, meme is a word which refers to several different abstract concepts, all of which an honest person can recognize examples of.

    Do you have any evidence that a single one of the behaviors asserted by evolutionary psychology are?

    Not that I know of; this field is widely regarded as being an example of a scientific field that makes assertions about physical reality (including human cognition and behavior) but fails to follow up with convincing experimentation.

    Do you have any evidence that the right to the presumption of innocence is?

    Yes, it’s a legal convention grounded in a subjective idea of what is good or bad. I support it and think it is good, but that’s what it is. It is not directly related to Christianity, and strongly Christian societies took an exact opposite tack in the past.

    Do you have any evidence that any of the rights mentioned in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution are?

    Exactly the same answer as directly above.

    No-one has denied the existence of mathematical entities, abstract concepts, or legal conventions. Their existence is not an argument in favor of any specific supernatural entity, nor against atheism. Their existence may be an argument against an absurd straw man version of “materialism”, but it would be most unfair to imply that anyone seriously holds a view like that.

  166. Harold, you only confirm my original suspicions that engaging in discussion with you would be futile.

    rturpin, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m writing a post on we, gay folk, being told about the real, right way to be gay by straight people. That interests me more than this discussion now that it’s devolved into the list of neo-atheist snark points that is pretty much what you guys have got. If you want to get back to the reality of rights residing in real human beings as opposed to abstractions I might find that interesting.

  167. #167 harold
    July 4, 2011

    Harold, you only confirm my original suspicions that engaging in discussion with you would be futile.

    Although we arrive by different paths, we are at the same point as far as that is concerned.

    rturpin, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m writing a post on we, gay folk, being told about the real, right way to be gay by straight people. That interests me more than this discussion

    Well, I’m straight and I strongly support your right to be gay any way you want to. I agree that this sounds fundamentally more interesting.

    I hope whatever you say about straight people will be fair, specific, and well-documented.

    now that it’s devolved into the list of neo-atheist snark points that is pretty much what you guys have got.

    I don’t consider myself a “neo-atheist” and have not been snarky.

    If you want to get back to the reality of rights residing in real human beings as opposed to abstractions I might find that interesting

    As you already know we have a fair amount of overlap when it comes to the area of human rights. I’m perfectly prepared to agree that rights are an abstract concept. I don’t think they are contingent on the existence of a specific supernatural entity.

  168. #168 harold
    July 11, 2011

    Science blogs needs to do something to clear this from its front page. This is ridiculous. It’s a week since the last comment (not counting this one).

    The “catchy title” must be provoking drive by clicks or something.

  169. #169 screen repair
    August 2, 2011

    I believe there are supernatural entities, but perhaps they conform to other “rules”

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