Tag Archives: Science

A Tough Questions Debate: Greg

In the midst of a great debate and discussion at Bill Pratt’s Tough Questions Answered blog we were interrupted frequently by theistic interlocutors who wanted to hack and slash at the skeptic and beat them over the head with a heavy old english book and then duck for cover.  Although the exchange below has been heavily scrubbed to free it of the vitriol (you can read the original in all it’s glory here) and clear hatred of having long held beliefs challenged it proved to be an exchange that provided the opportunity to stretch my thinking and further iron out why some things just don’t make sense.  See this post for the original Tough Questions Answered entry for full context.

Greg says:
May 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm

WOW. I am continually amazed as to how Atheists seem to believe they are the ONLY ones who understand “science”. The fact that most of the early scientists believed in God is quite puzzling.
Way way up the chain Doubting T seems to think my good friend Bill is without scientific aptitude (he has many other faults but science he knows!).

His statement: [Doubting T] “You seem to be working from several assumptions, whereas, virtually all of the atheists I know have no assumptions and accept the results of the scientific method and evidence. In essence, you put faith over reason and we take the opposite view.”

is completely false!! Atheists make assumptions every day. They first assume God does not exist (do they have absolute proof?? No, then it’s an assumption). They assume that the universe is either eternal (which it can’t be according to the science of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) or they assume that it sprung seemingly self-caused from nothing. Both of those assumptions are ridiculous. Nothing can be self-caused because it would have to first exist to cause something. We all know that not even the GREAT STEPHEN HAWKING and all of his almost infinite wisdom can use science to explain how something can come from nothing. Nothing is the absence of everything so how could anything come from it all by itself?  But sometimes atheists assume that the universe did come into existence and they assume there is no God so they in turn assume their position to be the only possible one. Then they assume that multiple universes “might” exist and matter can leak from one to the other creating “our” Big Bang. They also assume there is no need to regress the 2nd law back to the multiple universes to where the first matter came from.

Everyone on this planet makes assumptions and not even atheists are excluded. Science is so full of assumptions to claim it is based purely on fact is to clearly not have any understanding of science. Darwin made hundreds of assumptions for Origin of the Species. He had ZERO observable, repeatable evidence to support his assumptions and still there are virtually no reliable reasons to believe in macro-evolution today. Darwin must have made assumptions about first life and the birth of the universe as well because he did not address them. I’m thinking he assumed his hypothesis to be correct and he needn’t bother with the details.

Please go and find me science that explains how the system for blood clotting could have evolved. Or explain to me thru science how the fish evolved over millions of years to the amphibian? Did the theory of evolution not apply here because certainly over the millions of years that the fish was developing a land based respiratory system it is tough to explain how it would have helped the fish to better gather food or repopulate thus allowing that mutation to proceed? Why wouldn’t the lungs just have disappeared then as Darwin’s theory states?  In fact… aren’t you “assuming” that virtually all of the atheists you know don’t use assumptions? Have you literally sat with them all for 24 hour periods checking their every statement and thought to something that science can back up with observable repeatable data? I assume not.

Do you believe it is morally bad to murder everyone in a specific family, neighborhood, city, or country based purely on the enjoyment of murdering people? If you say yes, then please use observable repeatable science to prove your case. See, without someone to define what is good and what is bad, everything that happens is just subjectively good and bad. You have opinions and I have them. Neither is absolute. I say Hitler was bad, you say he was good. But again, without a definer there can be NO absolute definition.

Now I know you will try to explain to me how morals evolved because of how they protect the tribe or herd but that is not absolute. Your definition of morals change as evolution sees fit to change them. The morale code I am bound to NEVER changes and is clear and concise  Please use science to explain why science exists at all. This should be easy….  But then again, I’m just another delusional, non-scientific Christian without a clue. I keep searching for the clues to de-convert me but there just aren’t any. Seems elementary to me Watson.

Willie G says:
May 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm

…. So maybe you would like to take a stab at answering my question which I will rephrase once again:

Even if all of the arguments listed in various comments above do indeed strengthen the probability for the existence of a god, why the christian god? Why not Allah and his prophet? Why not Krishna, or Vishnu? Why not Ra or Mithra or Baal? Since you are agnostic toward the existence of all these gods, why are you not agnostic towards Yawheh? Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?

Greg says:

May 25, 2010 at 5:46 pm

….  As to why the Christian God vs. all the other false gods…. Please see any one of the numerous posts that Billy has presented to explain the evidence for Jesus and Christianity. I will not spend any more time defending my God because he needs no defense and you have been given all the proof you need to believe (Rom 1:18-20).

Why is it that when a Christian challenges an atheist we are being rude but the reciprocal is to show how delusional we are? I beg of you to search in science for a logical answer to any of the below and then i would be more than willing to change my view if they are rationally sound:

1. Origin of the universe

2. Origin of Life

3. Evolution of blood clotting

4. evolution of any system in the human anatomy

5. Origin of ABSOLUTE morality

Bring a solid argument and i will be more than willing to listen….

Greg says:

May 26, 2010 at 8:46 am

…please also understand that I continually search out “meaning” and truth. In fact, I’m the Christian that watches almost every program that NatGeo has about evolution, parallel universes and anything with Stephen Hawking. I listen carefully but I hold the programs accountable to the principals of science. And do you know what i most often hear, words like possible, probable, might (as in might have happened this way), could have, and the like. Also, the statements most often made have no scientific data to support the statement (at least any that is observable and repeatable).

I grew up watching Dr. Carl Sagan on PBS talk about the billions and billions of galaxies but he never could give me a good explanation for where they came from. Even at an early age I understood that nothing can come from nothing, and certainly [not] by a self imposed act. Again, is it wrong for me to ask atheists to use science to support their beliefs? Unfortunately, when we Christians do ask we just get told how stupid we are and that we don’t understand. Seemingly you would think that someone would prove to us that God doesn’t exist using adequate science but they don’t.

….  My desire is not to prove anyone wrong; God will do that on judgment day. It is my desire though that lost people come to an understanding that God does exist, we are not worthy of his love, he gave us the law which we did not uphold and had planned from the beginning to offer his Son as a living sacrifice to atone for our sins; that because of Christ’s sacrifice those who accept him as Lord and Savior are given a grace that is unearned and it is this grace thru our faith in Christ that provides for our salvation. Apart from this all are lost and will spend eternity separated from God.

I truly apologize if you think I am trying to be condescending or trying to offend you. I only ask for the same “scientific” proof to support atheism that you ask of a Christian. I really can’t see how one request can be so offensive and the reciprocal not the same.

I am sorry you choose not to try and answer or at least seek valid answers to the questions I asked in previous posts. If you seriously study the logic behind what the world has offered as answers you can clearly see the errors in the logic. I do have an open mind and open heart but you think I am closed minded because I do not believe as you do.  I clearly cannot convince you of anything nor am I trying to. My original post only asked for someone claiming to understand science to use it to explain clearly how and why some things exist. No one seems to want to do that though. If the science were so clear wouldn’t it be quite easy to prove me wrong?

Willie G says:

May 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

….I hope you are ready to read and think, because this is going to be a long one.

You said: “…I continually search out “meaning” and truth…. I’m the Christian that watches almost every program that NatGeo has about evolution, parallel universes and anything with Stephen Hawking.”

Although I watch and enjoy NatGeo, the Science Channel, Discovery, etc as well, you have to know that these programs are not “Science”. Rather they are entertainment distilled for the masses. Sure the topics are of things relating to science (i.e. about evolution, about astronomy, about biology) but they are not university training in research methodology, experimentation methodology, or the general principles of the scientific method. Peer reviewed scientific white-papers are above the abilities and education of the general public and have to be watered down to generalizations in order to be entertaining to the masses. If you want to debate the evidence for evolution, molecular biology, genetics, astrophysics or cosmology you are going to have to study the sources and the published works of the scientists themselves. Then and only then will you be qualified to offer a dispute of the masses of evidence that has been accumulated. You say you like Stephen Hawking, well I can promise you if your exposure to him is only on television, or even in reading his book “A Brief History of Time” that you may not like him so much after trying to digest any of his peer-reviewed papers on quantum mechanics and gravitational singularities.

You said: “I listen carefully but I hold the programs accountable to the principals of science… Also, the statements most often made have no scientific data to support the statement (at least any that is observable and repeatable).”

 

I’m not exactly sure how you are holding a program accountable to anything, especially a program that is designed to deliver general information and provide it in an entertaining format that will appeal to most people possible and earn the most advertising dollars that it possibly can. NatGeo makes no claims that it is providing scientific proof of anything. They are merely reporting the findings and claims of scientists. To do anything more would put their audience to sleep, or worse result in everyone changing the channel.

You said: “…I most often hear, words like possible, probable, might (as in might have happened this way), could have, and the like.”

Here is our biggest disconnect. If you understand the scientific method as you claim then you know that science, in all cases, makes only limited and temporary claims to truth. A scientist looks at evidence (verified factual data) and states a hypothesis about what they think is possible or probable in relation to that body of evidence. Groups of like hypotheses are gathered and linked to form a synthesis. This synthesis is them referred to as a scientific theory (not a theory in the common sense that it is a guess, but rather a body of hypotheses that are supported at varying levels of certainty) or the best understanding of how a certain thing functions. Each individual hypothesis is the tested with carefully designed experiments in order to disprove the hypothesis. A true scientist will never speak of absolute truth, but will only speak of what has been observed and verified at this point in time. Only the theist will speak in terms of absolute truth never allowing for future variance.

Since you mention watching the shows of Sagan and Hawking I think I’ll let them speak to your misunderstanding of the scientific method:

” There are many hypotheses in science that are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; it’s the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny…. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge and there is no place for it in the endeavor of science.”

 

–Carl Sagan in Cosmos

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory. As philosopher of science Karl Popper has emphasized, a good theory is characterized by the fact that it makes a number of predictions that could in principle be disproved or falsified by observation. Each time new experiments are observed to agree with the predictions the theory survives, and our confidence in it is increased; but if ever a new observation is found to disagree, we have to abandon or modify the theory.”

– Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time

You said: “…Carl Sagan [talked] about the billions and billions of galaxies but he never could give me a good explanation for where they came from.”

 

No scientist on earth would ever make any claim to have used the scientific method to establish a position on the origin of the universe. The discussion of origins is left to the realm of philosophy and theology. Only a fool would claim to “know” where “they came from” as you say. The statements that you will hear scientists make are that based on the evidence that we have and understand at this point in time we have found everything to this point to have a natural explanation, so with regards to the origins of our universe, although we cannot explain it yet, there is no evidence that would lead to hypothesize about an type of supernatural cause. Until that evidence presents itself we will continue to pursue a naturalistic explanation.

Again Carl Sagan has some pointed thoughts here:

“The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.”

–Carl Sagan in Contact p. 162

You said: “…is it wrong for me to ask atheists to use science to support their beliefs? Unfortunately, when we Christians do ask we just get told how stupid we are and that we don’t understand.”

It is absolutely your right to ask me to present evidence to support any statement that I claim to be a positive fact. Since this response is running so long already I am not going to argue anything other than to your comments I am addressing here. If you want to challenge me for evidence on some particular item, then ask about something I stated specifically when you respond and I will address it.

For the record I have never called you stupid or even questioned your intellect. I do however question your true understanding of the scientific method and what scientists’ motives and objectives are. I believe that you have a very shallow understanding of science that leads you to make some very misleading and misguided statements about the claims of science. (That is not an insult. That is a challenging and confrontational statement, but not a personal attack).

You said: “…you would think that someone would prove to us that God doesn’t exist using adequate science but they don’t.”

This is a prime example of why I hold that you do not truly understand either science or it’s methods, and further do not understand philosophical methods of logic and argumentation. Plain and simple, you cannot prove a negative. Neither I nor anyone who has ever existed can prove to you using science, chicken feet or a Ouija Board that your God or any gods does/do not exist. You cannot prove a negative.  Why is this? You may ask. Because no matter how many times I proclaim gods do not exist because I have found no evidence sufficient prove his existence you can always say “then keep looking because you haven’t looked in the right place.”

So again, plain and simple, you can only prove a positive. You and all god believers everywhere are making a positive claim; “God Exists.” So the burden of proof is on you, not me. You must present evidence that demonstrates and proves the existence of God. We can never say that God truly does not exist. We can only say that adequate evidence has not been presented to accept the he/she/they exist. Therefore we are agnostic to the existence of supernatural beings.

You said: “You say that my only desire is to prove you wrong? Isn’t that your desire, to prove that all Christians are delusional?”

I’m sorry but I desire to prove anything. I was asked a specific question, how do I explain that some many people in the world, many highly intelligent believe in a god. I answered that question by stating that they are delusional. I was then told that for various reasons that Bill presented that my position was weak. So I asked a very specific question that has yet to be answered, and again it went like this:

Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?  That doesn’t sound like I’m trying to prove anything does it. I was told my position was weak, and I asked why. That’s it.

You said: “Is that not being mean spirited as you accuse me?”

Absolutely not. Lots of people are deluded about lots of things. That doesn’t mean that they are mentally deficient or even mentally ill. It means that they have been misled or misguided so deeply that they have become blinded to any contradictory information. I understand that no one would like to have this term (delusional) applied to themselves, after all it would be very embarrassing to have to admit that, but it is not derogatory in the sense that all of you here are taking it. If you don’t like being thought of as delusional, then I challenge you to answer my question.

You said: “My desire is not to prove anyone wrong; God will do that on judgment day.”

Threats are totally not helpful Greg. If I don’t believe in God then why would I concern myself with a non-existent judgment day? All this kind of thing does is drive a wedge between us and shut down the dialogue. Although we may disagree with one another very strongly don’t you think there just might be something we can learn from one another if we keep talking? I think we can. However, if you are going to just threaten me with judgment and Hell, then go talk to someone else.

You said: “I only ask for the same “scientific” proof to support atheism that you ask of a Christian.”

As I stated above I can offer no scientific proof for the non-existence of God. I can only refute evidence you present for his existence. So maybe a good place to start would be for you or somebody here to answer my question that I have asked about 40 times now.

You said: “I am sorry you choose not to try and answer or at least seek valid answers to the questions I asked in previous posts.”

Why do you answer my question with a question? Bill and I were deep in our conversation before you ever showed up in this thread. You have already distracted me from paying attention to Bill, the person I really want to dialogue with, and now you demand answers to your questions. Go get your own blog post to hijack, I already hijacked this one!!

You said: “If you seriously study the logic behind what the world has offered as answers you can clearly see the errors in the logic.”

 

I have, and I don’t.

You said: “…you think I am closed minded because I do not believe as you do.”

No, I think because you have been deluded by your church, Christian culture and American religious society in general that you are closed minded. I really don’t care what you believe. You can believe anything you want.

You said: “My original post only asked for someone claiming to understand science to use it to explain clearly how and why some things exist.”

I do understand science. How and why are two different questions that are not answered by the same methodologies. I can offer you scientific evidence for how many, many things have come to be, others are mystery and will probably never be understood. I cannot tell you why. I have no knowledge or evidence of why things came to be. I am relatively certain that when that answer is discovered it will be found in nature. I have been presented no evidence to believe otherwise.  Sorry for the length of this response. I didn’t know how to address it any shorter.

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A Tough Questions Debate: Eric Sawyer

For primary context for this discussion see the primary conversation.  In the midst of a debate with Bill Pratt of Tough Questions Answered Eric Sawyer jumped into the discussion with some very interesting points and perspectives.  Although our conversation was brief Eric brought a courteous and respectful change of pace to what had become a heated conversation.

Willie G says:

May 26, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I actually like the moniker Philistine Dog. It truly made me laugh out loud. And the thought of having my own private corner of hell in the mind of the likes of DOTW gave me a chuckle as well. In fact I think I will use both of these phrases as the title and subtitle of a new blog that will discuss what skeptics should expect from lunatic fundamentalist Christians when they chance upon them while asking honest seeking questions.

R. Eric Sawyer says:

May 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Thanks WG. The Philistines sometimes get a bit of a bad rap, I think. If I remember rightly, I think David spent some time amongst them.  I’ve probably offended enough on this topic, though I should probably bow out unless I have something burning my tounge out to say.  BTW, I think you are wrong, and importantly so, but you seem as honest and as rational as most of us. (and as dishonest and irrational as most of us, for what THAT is worth!)

Willie G says:

May 27, 2010 at 8:42 am

You said: “I think you wrong, and importantly so, but you seem as honest and as rational as most of us.”

This is the first time in this long thread that you have engaged with me directly. Since you have now stated that you think that I am wrong in an important way I am assuming that you have some more developed thoughts on my question. Would you mind taking a few minutes to elaborate?  Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God? Why do all the philisophical / apologetic / experiential arguments lead you to Yawheh and not Allah, Vishnu, Ra, etc?  Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?

R. Eric Sawyer says:

May 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm

(By the way, Willie, I can appreciate your idea of reading people who disagree with you. I have a couple of atheist blogs I visit from time to time ((Billy)) the Atheist being one, and have found it to my profit. Those guys give no quarter, but on the rare times I post there, the interaction always helps me cut the bs out of my argument, and they have alway treated me with about the same level of respect I give them. I learn very little by only reading people who agree with me. The only danger, Willie, is as true for you as it is for me. And that is to develope a love of debate for its own sake, not as a route to truth upon which I should change my life, but just because it is entertaining. Doing that can lead either one of us to an intellectual, emotional and spiritual life fragmented from our real self, and therefore illusionary. I don’t have much more hope for the eternal existence of the illusionary human than I do for the illusionary unicorn. Probably less – there may yet be real unicorns)

Willie G. wrote: Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God? Why do all the philosophical / apologetic / experiential arguments lead you to Yawheh and not Allah, Vishnu, Ra, etc? Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?”

Willie (or should I say PhD –for Phillistine Dog? Maybe Willy G., PhD.?)  I’m afraid I am not going to be able to give you answers that satisfy an intellectual proof. That is largely why I have avoided speaking directly to that issue on this thread. But I will be happy to lay out some of my thoughts.

My difficulties are several: first, I wish to defer to those who have spent for [sic] time with the classical arguments, and suspect both Bill and you surpass me on that score. I am not likely to strike fire where my superior has not.  Secondly, and probably more to the point, I do not believe such an irrefutable argument for the existence of the Christian God is to be found. This is decidedly not due to any ambivalence on my part: you saw (if you particularly enjoy watching train wrecks) me publicly state that I affirm 95% of our late friends theological statements. I’ll hold to that. I’m as knee-jerk orthodox as anyone. But from what I can see from the statements of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, it doesn’t seem as though a Q.E.D. proof was intended. Paul does indicate in Romans 1 that at least the beginnings can be plainly seen, and that seems evident to me. At the very least, I think we can see that someone/some principle/something is “in charge”, and further, that it ain’t me.

Lastly, what proofs I do have involve anecdotal evidence. As an undergrad, most of my training was in statistics and experimental design, for an intended academic career in psychological research. That path has been long abandoned, but it did leave a residue of “how do you know what you know, and how does one prove it?” Probably one of the more useful “abandonded” majors anyone could have. But anecdotes are not proof, only suggestions for further research (and more grant money).

With those disclaimers, I’ll dive in.  My path has not been terribly different from what you describe. I became a practicing Christian in High school, a committed one in univ., but about 10 years after that, I went through a crisis of faith that compelled me to throw it all away, like a bag of worthless stones. I remember standing at the end of a jetty off of Galveston Island praying to “whoevver is listening, if anyone.”  Some six – twelve months latter, when I next took up the issue, I tried to figure out what I did actually believe. I discovered that I was a theist – that I definitely believed that there was a God (and by pretty clear deduction, this meant one and only one, whatever I should call him or it), later I found that I believed this entity to be good, and later, that it was personal (meaning having the characteristics of personality, and person-hood, not that he was necessarily connected to ME). This took me close to a year, but having got this far, the whole of Christian orthodoxy came rushing back as if a dam holding it back had broken. This re-affirmation, or re-discovery was both intellectual and emotional. I feel a lot of kinship with your struggle, but where I “bounced off” some bottom, you broke through. That was not due to any virtue in me that you lack; some would see it as me lacking a virtue you possess. But I do not believe it was from within me, and I don’t understand it outside of God’s grace.

To get more to the question, I take it that your question does not relate to specific deities proposed in other systems (I know v. little about comparative religion, although ignorance is often not an impediment). Rather I see it as a question about Christianity v other religion in abstract – why THIS instead of any other system one could devise?  And partly, the answer is as subjective as why I married the woman I did.  I did not read the book, her CV, and say “this proves it – she is the one for me!” Instead, I engaged a process of right foot – left foot, where my advancing intellectual knowledge of her fed my advancing emotional connection, which being found to be reliable so far, led to further exploration and advances in relationship until the point of commitment was reached.

My belief in God as the Christian story describes Him (and from here forward, I’ll just refer to “God” meaning this whole phrase) is not primarily intellectual at all. But it is also not primarily emotional. It is hand-over-hand leading to an experiential understanding that I believe is central to authentic relationship; and I think that this is what God desires. In fact, I think it almost the prime desire of the universe. I wish I could give mathematical proofs (there are mathematical true things, but I don’t think any of them ‘prove’ God) but I think He intends things to be a little more willful from us, and a little less compelled.

Working backward, I can buy many of the arguments Bill would bring forth, and I think many of them true. Given the starting points I gave from Romans, that God is real, and I am not God, I can develop the doctrine of Trinity, creation, the fall, the restoration, and the ultimate consummation of the last chapters of the Revelation. There are of course, quite a bit that confuses me, but I find that the Biblical narrative holds together as a coherent story from beginning to end, even with all the diversions (like a Russian novel), and that unity both supports and is supported by my emotional experience. I find that, as I explore Christian doctrine, I find it shedding light on all sorts of experiences in this world, from sexuality to agriculture. I find that, like the sun, God is hard to look at. But by the sun, I can see everything else more clearly. And, if there truly is a trancendent, self-existant being who created all things including the very fabric of space and time itself, this is exactly what one should expect to find.  Still working backwards, if this God I posit above wishes to relate to us, then it would have to be in one of two fashions: a) Shakespeare must put something into Hamlet’s head about the author, or b) Shakespeare must write himself into the story. And Christianity’s claim is that God did exactly that: revelation and incarnation.

Willie, I could go on ad nauseum in the same fashion, but my point is either made or not by now. There is much that I don’t understand. After some 35 years, I am just beginning to see something of the mystery of how the death of Jesus and his resurrection is of personal benefit to me. I’ve long accepted it, but I am just starting to understand it a little, like a 2nd year physics student and quantum mechanics.  I believe in the Christian God because I heard a little, and asked him “is this true?” I understood that answer to that question as something like “come and see” I go back and forth between learning and experiencing, and should trust neither one, anymore than I should try to get down the road by hopping. The more I have understood and accepted the Christian story, the more sense this world, my place and your place, and everything else seems to make. If this story is indeed central to existence, I could expect no less. But I honestly do believe that there is relationship at the bottom of it; that God intends nothing less than the healing of this creation and us relating to him as in a marriage. Everything I have submitted to that framework fits, and is illuminated by it. That is why I believe it. That is why I believe there is great good to come for all who will accept it.

Willie G says:

May 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

You said: “…what proofs I do have involve anecdotal evidence…. My training was in statistics and experimental design…. [It left] a residue of “how do you know what you know, and how does one prove it?” But anecdotes are not proof, only suggestions for further research….”

Let me offer some statistics which illustrate the difficulty of my question:

There are estimated to be over 4200 religions worldwide. Of these there are now recognized 12 major religions (criteria being: large number of adherents, widespread reaching multiple countries, independent distinctness from other religions, possessing a body of doctrine [scripture or holy book], still in practice today). Christianity is largest world religion today with over 2 billion adherents.

See: http://www.theologicalstudies.org/classicalreligionlist.html

It is estimated that worldwide there are over 34,000 Christian denominations with greater than 15,000 being recognized by the IRS for tax-exempt status in the United States alone.

See: http://www.goshen.edu/news/pressarchive/02-25-08-roth-folo.html

The religions of the world are dispersed across the globe in very specific cultural and societal divisions, highly influenced by historical, political and socioeconomic dispersal routes.

See: http://www.worldreligions.psu.edu/maps-introduction.htm

While none of these facts are intended to be proof of any philosophical position, they clearly point to the difficulty of answering my question of reasonableness. You speak of anecdotal evidence and experiential and emotional knowledge but can you point to any evidence to demonstrate that had you not been born and raised in the United States or some other culturally Christian society that you would still have anecdotal evidence for the Christian God. I would proffer that had you been born in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Iraq you would have anecdotal evidence of the true presence of Allah. Had you been born in India the evidence would be to Vishnu.  But lets focus just on Christianity. You have stated earlier that you used to be of one denomination and now you identify as Anglican (I think). While your particular denomination is more on the liberal end of the continuum, as has been loudly demonstrated in this thread there are others counted in the 34,000 or more other denominations that hold you not to be a Christian at all. I may be castigated as the Philistine Dog and the spawn of Satan, but I’m reasonably sure the DOTW considers you my next door neighbor (so keep the noise down over there!). So why is it reasonable that you have “Anglican” anecdotal evidence other than that is what your unique cultural, geographical, educational experience imposed upon you.  DOTW is convinced 100% that he is of the “true” faith, because his interpretation of his holy book is correct. I’m fairly confident that we could find between 15,000 and 33,000 just as sincere, passionate and outspoken folks that disagree with him in favor of their “true” faith and interpretation of the holy book.  But now step outside of that demise and add that there are 11 other major world religions all possessing their unique holy books as handed down by their unique holy gods. Multiply that by the thousands of sects contained in those religions (not to mention the 4188 minor world religions) all being influential culturally, socially and most important geographically, and suddenly my question is virtually impossible to answer.  In short, I would hypothesize that you are a Christian in general, and an Anglican in particular because you want to be. You find it, as Bill has said, “intellectually stimulating” and the practice of it has brought you a feeling of peace and security and it helps you be a good member of society and do good works for your fellow man. Plus, it allows you to formulate answers for questions that you have not been able to answer otherwise (viz. meaning and purpose of life, death, afterlife etc.).

R. Eric Sawyer says:

June 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

DOTW said:but why is experimentation a rational way of discovering true information about reality?”

Willie G said: “Wow. That’s all, just wow.”

I don’t know that anyone is nessesarily claiming that experimentation is NOT a rational way of discovering true information (BTW, that would not imply that it is a universal tool for producing such results. The fact that a hammer may be the only tool in my toolbox does not imply that it is the best or only tool for driving screws).  I would rather take it that “experimentation as a rational and effective tool” cannot come down from Mt Sinai , unless one wants to assert “divine revelation” as the underpinnings of science. For what it’s worth, I’m OK with that. I think that phrase [is] limited and limiting, but not wrong.  More likely, we have to avoid taking science as a given, else we are subject to all your doubts about religion.

What then are the underlying supports to scientific method and experimentation as ueseful tools?  One is that I asume the universe is rational. I can make no headway unless I take that as a baseline. But so taking it, because it is useful, is a long way from proving it or demonstrating why it should be so.  Another foundational idea is the idea of causality. Things happen for a reason. (Please forgive me for basic scientific philosophy, I expect you know these things) Is this normative, or simply discriptive? Is there a distinction between the two? Is causality universally operative? if so, how do we avoid B.F. Skinner’s (among others) idea that even our “rational thought” is simply conditioning?  If “science” is taken as a bedrock assertion on it’s own, it becomes a semi-religious idea, subject to all the weak points for which you call religion to task. It also needs to answer for them.

Willie G says:

June 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I think your comment overall is very broad and will be difficult to adequately respond to as you have crossed boundaries of many disciplines (scientific methodology, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy, theology, etc.). So I will make an attempt to zero in on what I think is pertinent to the overall discussion (please let me know if you think I have missed your intent).

You said: “[A] foundational idea is the idea of causality. Things happen for a reason…. Is this normative, or simply descriptive? Is there a distinction between the two? Is causality universally operative? If so, how do we avoid B.F. Skinner’s (among others) idea that even our “rational thought” is simply conditioning?”

I want to make three points based upon your entire response, but using the above quote as the starting point:

1. It is outside the capacity human reason to prove the existence of entities or events outside of the natural world.

Causality is a foundational ideal, or law if you will. However causality breaks down at the point of “infinite regress.” It is outside our natural ability to establish the truth or untruth of an uncaused cause. Science limits itself to the observable natural world and speculates (guesses, hypothesizes) what else there may be based on those observations.

2. Genetics, social-conditioning, innate psychological biases, survival instinct prevent us from ever possessing absolute certainty about anything, therefore everything is to be scrutinized.

I am very much in line with B.F. Skinner and many of the existentialist philosophers. We are all biased, conditioned, genetically and environmental predisposed to certain understandings. The only way we have any hope to overcome is to rationally question everything, all truth claims must fall under scrutiny and the more rational the methodology used for this process the more sure we can be that we have eliminated (or at least barricaded) our conditioning.

3. Science and the scientific method have proven to be the most reliable method for obtaining an understanding of the natural world and the humans that live in it as part of that natural world.

 Science is consistently and steadfastly making mistake after mistake, failure after failure, false conclusion after false conclusion. As a result of this process of elimination the antiquated falsehoods of the past are tumbling one by one. The workings of the natural world are being discovered, documented and leveraged. The myths of ancient civilizations are being refuted and replaced with observable, tested hard data. Superstition has eroded for the last 500 years to the point that religious belief pre-enlightenment is not even recognizable to the religious of today. Agnosticism, skepticism and scientific scrutiny have taught irrefutably the wisdom that nothing is undeserving of the critical and questioning eye.

So Eric, I ask you, in the light of the fast advance of science and it’s impact upon the knowledge base of the world, what other method seems reasonable to you to ascertain some semblance of truth?

R. Eric Sawyer says:

June 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm

You said: “1.  It is outside the capacity human reason to prove the existence of entities or events outside of the natural world.  Causality is a foundational ideal, or law if you will. However causality breaks down at the point of “infinite regress.” It is outside our natural ability to establish the truth or untruth of an uncaused cause. Science limits itself to the observable natural world and speculates (guesses, hypothesizes) what else there may be based on those observations.”

I can understand about causality breaking down in infinite regression. Although perhaps not totally. I can see why it would be impossible for science to speak to the cause of something that had no cause. Does it also follow that reason has nothing to say about something that has results, even if it has no cause? As we walk back along the chain, when we reach the first link, can we not even describe the chain, and the place of that link in it, how the other links relate to that pattern, even though our method is powerless to say what comes before the first?  Perhaps a more powerful example would be in the quantum realm, where, if I understand, causality breaks down pretty far. Statistics, probablility and uncertainty rule. And yet the sum of all that chaos, the world on our scale, seems pretty well causally anchored.  In providing fuel for your fire, I am acknowleging that you rghtfully put a hedge around science: as great a tool as it is, there are some problems that just don’t lend themselves to it. The question is that, given this “black-out zone” that science cannot look through, what (if anything) lies beyond it, how is that veil pierced, and with what reliability can we regard the answers. Actually, I think this may be a fair summary of our questions to date.

You said:2. Genetics, social-conditioning, innate psychological biases, survival instinct prevent us from ever possessing absolute certainty about anything, therefore everything is to be scrutinized. I am very much in line with B.F. Skinner and many of the existentialist philosophers. We are all biased, conditioned, genetically and environmental predisposed to certain understandings. The only way we have any hope to overcome is to rationally question everything, all truth claims must fall under scrutiny and the more rational the methodology used for this process the more sure we can be that we have eliminated (or at least barricaded) our conditioning.”

To tell you something completely obvious, I know very little philosophy. I ran into a lot of Skinner in school,”Beyond Freedom and Dignity” was all the rage. I disliked him intensly, but I could not then see the answer.  But I agree greatly that we are conditioned to an astoundingly and distressingly great degree. In fact, one of my private opinions is that movement “into God” is also “into truth,” and that part of the freedom we are to develop into is freedom from all these things, elevation from being another causal link (and nothing more) into something much more capable of being an actual initiator of events, the way we claim God (as ‘un-moved mover’)is. A part of man being made in God’s image. Even secular mental health practitioners seem to regard movement toward this type of freedom as movement towards health and wholeness.

You said: “3. Science and the scientific method have proven to be the most reliable method for obtaining an understanding of the natural world and the humans that live in it as part of that natural world. …”

I agree with you about the power of the scientific method, and its results. The danger with any successful technique though, is that its practitioners can assume that it is the right tool for any task. And with that, we have come full-circle. The fact that science is a very good tool does not change what you said earlier about science knowing that it has limits.  Knowing that we may be lacking in other tools does not make science an appropriate one. As you put it “… Agnosticism, skepticism and scientific scrutiny have taught … that nothing is undeserving of the critical and questioning eye.” This including agnostism, skepticism and scientific scrutiny.

You said: “So Eric, I ask you, in the light of the fast advance of science and it’s impact upon the knowledge base of the world, what other method seems reasonable to you to ascertain some semblance of truth?”

Fair enough…. But true reason knows what it cannot know, and that is (at least) in any existance beyond causality.  Anything on that side of the veil cannot even in theory be reached from here. It may not be knowable at all. But if so, it would have to be by revelation from “that side”. This does not come within a mile of proving that it happened, but it does show that, if there is to be such knowledge, it must come from the other side, not from beneath reason,and that is a common error, but from beyond it. It is subject to reason once it comes within our grasp, but not before.


Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism

Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism.