Saturday, April 26, 2008

Creationism - further comments

Here’s a quick-ish response to some of author@ptgbook’s (a creationist, if a slightly unorthodox one) comments on my preceding post.

1. EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE FOR/AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

First, author suggests that the supernatural/God is not something that science can address.

Yet he or she suggests that, actually, there could be empirical evidence for God’s existence. Indeed, he/she cites the truth of prophecies, the fine-tuned character of the laws of nature, etc., and suggest there might also be evidence for ID.

Well, good, so we agree that there can be empirical evidence for, and thus also against, God’s existence.

Let’s look at some of author's alleged evidence supporting belief in God (which is threefold, thus far: fine-tuning, ID and truth of Biblical prophecies).

Actually, fine-tuning and ID-type evidence are evidence, at best, for some sort of intelligence working behind the universe. It’s a huge further, unwarranted leap to conclude this intelligence is all-powerful and supremely benevolent, rather than, say, morally neutral. So it’s a huge further, unwarranted leap to the conclusion that the intelligence is the author’s God.

Second, there’s fantastically good empirical evidence (whether or not you call it “scientific”) against the existence of an all-powerful and supremely benevolent being such as that believed in by author. I am referring to the sheer quantity of suffering unleashed upon humanity, and of course the other countless other sentient creatures with whom we share this planet, suffering taking place not just now, but stretching back over millions of years. Surely such a being would not inflict such literally unimaginable amounts of horror, often on the most innocent?

Quick summary. The evidence offered for the author's God is very weak. We have, in addition, fantastically good evidence that there's no such being.

Conclusion: A quick survey of the alleged "evidence" suggests that what author believes is highly irrational (not withstanding his/her evidence from “prophecies”, which to me seems comical, frankly - but perhaps s/he’d like to defend a particular example? In fact, I'd like them to - be a good discussion, I think.)

2. CREATIONISM

On author's comments on the whole creationism/evolution issue (he/she defends a form of creationism on which humankind and all currently existing species were created as described by Genesis about 6k years ago, but the universe itself is much older, the Earth previously being populated with dinosaurs etc.), I have not much to add to what others have already said, other than to point out (as does Steelman and others) that author does pretty much exactly what I described in my essay.

That’s to say, he/she tries to show that what they believe is consistent with the fossil record E.g. There's evidence of an ancient Earth with dinosaurs etc. developing over millions of years; the Bible doesn’t explicitly deny this (if we suppose this all took place before day 1 of Genesis); therefore the author’s Biblical theory “fits” the evidence too! Of course this move raises all sorts of other problems, but I don’t doubt that, just like the lunatic who believes dogs are spies from Venus [see my essay below], author can and will continue to come up with further explanations that make his theory "fit”.

Scientists, by contrast, have repeatedly strongly confirmed the theory that current species have gradually developed from simple life forms over millions/billions of years, by natural selection, etc.

Author objects to the latter theory being taught as “fact” in schools because, for example, it is not “proved” that God didn’t intervene on occasion.

But as others have pointed out, there’s no good evidence that he did intervene, and, moreover, the naturalistic explanation offered by science seems to do the job of explaining the emergence of new species, etc. without any supernatural help.

So, to insist that the above naturalistic theory not be taught as “fact” is akin to insisting that children should not be taught how plants function by photosynthesis as scientists have not proved that, say, invisible, intangible fairies are not somehow also sometimes involved in the process (for how could scientists "prove" that?).

But bear in mind, in any case, that even if there were evidence for an “intelligent designer”, there’s also abundant evidence that the designer in question is not author’s God.

POST SCRIPT. I am pleased that author is contributing as it's fascinating debating with someone with such a bizarre belief system.

But I wouldn't want anyone, including the author, to go away thinking that this debate - and the way it tends to go on and on - shows there must, then, be at least something to creationism after all. It doesn't (anymore than the fact that my debate with a schizophrenic who thinks dogs are Venusian spies goes on and on shows that there must be something to what they believe).

The interminable character of the debate is not evidence that it cannot be rationally settled (it can) - rather, it shows that, by adopting a certain sort of strategy, any theory, no matter how ridiculous, can be defended ad nauseum.

What most interests me is the question: how do we reach author? I know he/she will find this terribly patronizing - and I guess it is - but he/she has locked themselves inside a bizarre and seemingly impenetrable bubble of belief which leaves us scratching our heads as to how anyone could believe such patent cobblers (to me, author really does seem very much like the lunatic who thinks dogs are spies from Venus), and leaves him/her convinced that we are part of some global conspiracy against THE TRUTH (and perhaps also the agents of Satan).

My essay suggests that it's the overall patterns of thought exhibited by creationists like author that we need to expose. I guess I want to ask him/her: why do you think you're not like someone who believes that dogs are spies from the planet Venus? After all, they can make their beliefs "fit" the evidence too. And by much the same means!

26 comments:

Kyle P. said...

This is one of those things where I am baffled. I can't even reach my mother, who doesn't believe the nonsense that author is spouting, but rather some weird form of Catholicism that doesn't make sense to me either. In any case, her beliefs are based on "experiences" of the supernatural - of "god". I cannot get through her skull to point out that we have reason to doubt that kind of experience (in her case especially, as she has a neurological disorder that affects her memory). It's as if she wants to believe so hard that she is special and "god" is watching over her that any amount of trying to convince her otherwise only results in ire.

Recently, I've been using the tack that WANTING to believe something is true is quite different from it ACTUALLY being true. You can want something to be true, and come up with reasons why you think it must be true, but, as with author's case, those reasons seem to be a madman's ramblings. The problem is explaining why those reasons are mad, for me anyway. When they can come up with "reasons" ad infinitum, as you've pointed out, how do we do it? I guess I'm just rambling, but oh well.

Kyle P. said...

I've also been talking about how the term "god" is incoherent lately. As an aside, what are your thoughts on that, Stephen? My first post at:

http://science-community.sciam.com/blog/Wolfgangsenffs-Blog/570002924

is the question, "What is 'god' made of?" Someone claims that "god" could be made of something we can't even detect. It's hilarious because that person then goes on to claim that maybe "god" is made of photons. I responded with the simple case that, if we can't detect what "god" is made of, then we don't have any good reason to believe that "god" actually exists.

There's a good discussion in the comments of that one, and in the next post. There's also a bunch of programming stuff, and stuff about the kittens that we foster for a local animal shelter.

Kyle P. said...

Sorry, but that URL seems to have not been properly formatted. If you select the whole thing, it'll still put all of it into the address bar of your internet browser, but I don't know what screwed it up.

anticant said...

Stephen, you say "it's fascinating debating with someone with such a bizarre belief system."

I don't agree. I think that in a philosophical context it's boring and a sheer waste of time. Perhaps if you were a psychiatrist you would enjoy spending ages trying to convince someone that they're not a poached egg. [Sit them down on a piece of toast, stick a fork in them, and they will then indignantly ask "Why did you do that?"]

And Kyle p, why bother trying to convince your mother that she's wrong? You'll never succeed. As I've said on previous threads, the real-life issue we have to confront is not whether peoples' beliefs are "true", but what their practical consequences are. If billions of people around the globe believe arrant nonsense of various cranky kinds, as is the case today, we're in big trouble and cannot afford to waste time convincing them that they are 'wrong'. We have to pursue a strategy of urgent damage limitation - such as doing our utmost to ensure that 'faith schools' and creationist academies don't receive any public money.

As for the logical/philosophical case against God, read "Atheism: The Case Against God" by George H. Smith [Prometheus Books].

Stephen Law said...

Well, whether or not we find it boring or fascinating is just a mater of personal taste, I guess.

But it might not be a waste of time, I suspect. I certainly don't rule out the possibility that we might yet discover some fairly effective strategy...

Paul C said...

I'm with anticant - it's an alliance of convenience! - this will not go anywhere. I don't think Kyle P should try to reach his mother - there's nothing to be gained from it, because she's so invested in her beliefs. Ditto Author - if you read their online book, it's clear that they're very heavily invested in these particular beliefs.

I'll make a fairly safe prediction - we won't be able to "reach" Author. This will rage on forever because we're not even having the same discussion. Author thinks that they're persuading us of the credibility of their views, while for us (meaning, the non-theists) this is more a case study than a serious discussion.

Blog comments are not an effective place to reach out to people on these particular issues...

Terence said...

I think that it is very unikely that you can (or should expect to) change a person's opinion who is firmly entrenched in their "bubble of belief". That sort of belief system lacks the error-detecting and self-correcting mechanism of rationality.

Nevertheless, I do not think it is boring or a waste of time to debate or argue with people caught in their "bubbles". While it may not change their minds, those arguments can help us (by forcing us to reconsider our own views from different perspectives, to marshall reason in support of our views, etc.) and it may help others who are not yet sealed firmly in their "bubbles" (to see contradictions and limitations in those beliefs).

Kyle P. said...

I guess you all miss the point about the fact that I actually love and care about my mother, and think it's wrong and ridiculous for her to waste her time doing such things. And of course I also think about the practical consequences!

However, that seems to me like what you're saying is that you should only fight the symptoms of a disease, and never look for the cure for it. The cure is resolving irrationality. You can fight the consequences your entire life and never successfully prevent the spread of the disease. You have to hit it where it hurts - in the nuts. By that I mean you have to convince people that they're crazy for believing what they believe, and show them why!

anticant said...

Oh dear, kyle p., maybe you should change your blogging name to don q., as you do seem to want to tilt at windmills of the mind.

Of course reason matters - see my post on anticant's arena:

http://antarena.blogspot.com/2008/01/does-reason-matter.html

Its formulation and articulation are what distinguishes us humans from other species; but irrationality is also ingrained in our being and will never be entirely eliminated from our discourse and relationships.

Yes, we must do our best to increase the acceptance of rational thinking in the world, but sometimes insisting that we are 'right' can damage more important things, such as relationships with significant others.

I loved and cared about my mother, too. When I ws a teenager, she became heavily hooked on Christian Science, which I regarded as a load of intellectual codswallop. But I soon realised that arguing this with her only alienated us and wasted hours in useless acrimony, so I eventually avoided the subject and merely regretted the hours she spent perusing the incomprehensible works of Mrs Mary Baker Eddy in the mistaken belief that they contained something profound.

In fact, I came to realise that she actually did gain some benefit, both in a more positive attitude towards poor health and by meeting a number of really pleasant people who, apart from their common foible, were very nice.

Fortunately, my fears that the "Latter Day Saints" might extract large sums of money from her proved groundless. And she had the good sense not to become teetotal!

author@ptgbook.org said...

Stephen Law

I agree that "fine-tuning" may not be evidence for the benevolence of God, only that a God exists that has the mind, intelligence, and power to design a universe and bring it into existence. By itself, it may not be evidence that God is good.

(By the way, to help you save time in typing, I am "he".)

You wrote: "Second, there’s fantastically good empirical evidence (whether or not you call it “scientific”) against the existence of an all-powerful and supremely benevolent being such as that believed in by author. I am referring to the sheer quantity of suffering unleashed upon humanity."

On the subject of suffering, you might look at my last comment on the previous post before this one started.

But is this science? Has science studied the issue of God's existence and concluded that the "best evidence" of suffering in the world indicates that there is no benevolent God?

You wrote: "We have, in addition, fantastically good evidence that there's no such being."

You are going completely out of the domain of science and the scientific method to make your arguments, right? You are discussing this according to your profession, that of a philosopher, not just a scientist, right? I am not criticizing that. Correct me if I am wrong, but philosophy studies a wider scope of things and employs more than just the scientific method in its thinking, doesn't it? Philosophy can explore science issues, theological issues, ethical issues, legal issues, and probably many other things. Its range of thought can be very far-reaching, and its methodology for study can employ more than the scientific method allows. Tell me if I am wrong on this.

My point is, you have to go outside the role of scientist and outside the scientific method to even begin to explore the issues involved here. Science has never explored the issue of God's existence in light of the suffering that exists on earth. It can't. It doesn't want to. It shouldn't.

Individual scientists can study this on their own and reach their own private conclusions, but that is not part of their work and teaching as scientists.

My problem is that science teaches evolution as fact without examining the evidence that a believer in God might present for the existence and intervention of God. Why is that wrong? The problem is not that it doesn't examine theological issues of "why does God allow suffering?" The problem is that science doesn't acknowledge that such an examination is necessary to refute the evidence a believer of God might present to show God exists and intervenes in the physical universe.

Look at your own arguments as an example. You can't counter the arguments of those who believe in God within the bounds of science and the scientific method. You have to step outside of science and talk about, "How can an all-powerful, all-benevolent God allow so much suffering? Therefore, since there is no answer, there must be no God." That may be philosophy, and theology might offer an answer, but it is not a science question.

What I think may be happening is that scientists (not all of them) in their personal thinking conclude as you do, that the suffering in the world means there is no God. Some may think deeply about it and some may dabble in it. But most or at least the leading scientists and teachers, conclude that way. When they teach or write about evolution, their unstated belief that there is no God that intervenes in physical processes influences how they teach and discuss evolution. They already know there is no God, or that if He exists He never intervenes in physical processes, and that belief causes them to speak and write about evolution through natural causes only as if it is a definite fact. This comes through to students as the same thing as science saying that they have proved that evolution through natural causes definitely happened.

The problem is that the unspoken reasoning of evolutionist writers and teachers that the suffering in the world is evidence for them that there is no God is never openly discussed or put on the table for students to examine themselves. This is important, because many of those students and their families have considered that same issue, "why does God allow suffering", and reached a different conclusion. They believe that suffering is not evidence against the existence of God.

This "suffering in the world" issue is just one example where students and their families may disagree with evolutionists about God. There are other things, such as the existance and laws of the universe that seem to indicate design, what you have called "fine-tuning". You and many scientists may not see that as evidence of God, and you may have your reasons, but millions of believers in God see that as very strong evidence for God's existance, intelligence, and power, and they have their reasons also.

Evolutionists teach students that species arose through natural forces only, but evolutionists do not mention the fact that part of the reason they teach that is because they believe there is no God that intervenes, and they do not lay their reasons for that belief on the table so students can decide if their reasons are valid or not. They do not teach, "there’s fantastically good empirical evidence against the existence of an all-powerful and supremely benevolent being. I am referring to the sheer quantity of suffering unleashed upon humanity" as you have stated so students can know the biases of their teachers and decide for themselves if they agree with the "suffering" argument or other arguments against God's existence.

What do I think is the solution to this, and what am I advocating? I am not advocating that science teachers and textbook writers start discussing theology or philosophy or their reasons for their beliefs about about whether or not God exists. I am not advocating that they discuss in the public school classroom their reasons why they believe there is no intervening God. I only want them to acknowledge that their teaching of evolution through natural causes only as definite fact is partially based on their belief that there is no God who intervenes in physical processes.

You and other participants have often used examples of ridiculous beliefs like dogs being spies from Venus. I suppose you think belief in a creator God is just as ridiculous. I guess it would do no good to try to point out evidence for God, because you would just discount it. You might even think it funny. So I will point out one difference between these silly examples and belief in God that has nothing to do with evidence of God.

I said before that evolution is more than a science issue. It is also a theological and religious issue and it is a legal and constitutional issue.

There are millions of students and their families in the United States that believe in a creator God. Not dogs from Venus or any of the other ridiculous examples I have seen posted. This nation was founded by people migrating from Europe, many of whom came here seeking religious freedom, and the writers of the constitution felt it was so important that they made religious freedom part of the law of the land. The Supreme Court has interpreted separation of church and state as meaning that the government should be neutral in regards to religion, and I agree with that.

"Dogs from Venus" is not a controversial issue. ("Dogs from Venus" - that has a nice sound to it - anyone want to start dogsfromvenus.com, or dogsfromvenus.blogspot.com if you want it free? Or how about venusspydogs.com?)

Evolution is a controversy. There are millions on both sides, and they feel strongly about it. The public school classroom is where three fields of study collide over this issue: science, religion, and law. And it cannot be equitably settled without considering all three fields. That isn't true about dogsfromvenus.com.

And because of the religious sensibilities of students and their families, there should be more caution in being absolutely fair and accurate and truthful in the way evolution is taught in the public school classroom.

I am not advocating that the theory of evolution not be taught in science classes. I know that it will be.

I am not advocating that a package of doctrine labeled "Intelligent Design" be taught side-by-side with evolution as a kind of "alternative science" in which a theory of a 6,000 year old earth be taught. "Intelligent design", however it is packaged, implies creation by God, and though I strongly agree that God exists and is the creator, I recognize that teaching this in the public schools is just as unconsititional as teaching that there is no God.

All I am advocating is that students be taught as a short preamble to classes in evolution that the lectures, discussions, and texts about evolution that teach that species arose through natural forces only are based in part on beliefs that science through the scientific method cannot directly investigate, namely, that there is no God that has intervened in physical processes in the past. It doesn't have to be worded exactly that way, but that is the meaning.

Am I asking too much?

This would be a way of laying the biases of science on the table, which now are partially hidden. It would help to clarify in the minds of the students the limitations of science and the scientific method.

You wrote: "What most interests me is the question: how do we reach author? I know he/she will find this terribly patronizing..."

Not at all. I understand you think I'm either nuts or at least very irrational in this thing. I am not offended. I'm not being irrational or nuts, but you don't know that yet.

But I just started wondering, do you think everyone who believes in a creator God who created the species and thinks that evolution is wrong is irrational? Or bizzare in their beliefs? Or just me because I do not go along with the 6,000 year old earth crowd? Do you think the millions in this country who go to church, pray, and do not accept evolution are bizzare? Or maybe you think I am more bizzare than other religious people because I try to reconcile the Bible with fossil evidence. Maybe you think they are simply uneducated and ignorant, but because I may seem to be a little better informed I ought to know better.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I am not trying to persuade you or anyone else in this blog that God exists or that evolution is false or that the Bible is true. I know I cannot do that. Some things are just a matter of choice. Two people can look at the universe, the stars, the galaxies, and even study into the laws of physics and learn about atoms, elections, protons, neutrons, the strong force, the electromagnetic force, gravity, etc. One will think, "there must be a God who designed and created all this". The other will think that is ridiculous. Neither can persuade the other no matter how much they discuss it. Each will not understand why the other thinks as he does, and each might suspect the other of being irrational. People thinking that people who don't agree with them are irrational is a very common thing.

All I am trying to say is that there are hidden biases and assumptions built in to evolutionary teaching, and these biases and assumptions should be made more clear and laid on the table so students can more readily realize they are there. No doubt many students will agree with these assumptions and will readily accept evolution. Fine. I have no objection to that. But put them on the table. That is all I am asking.

You wrote: "I guess I want to ask him/her: why do you think you're not like someone who believes that dogs are spies from the planet Venus? After all, they can make their beliefs "fit" the evidence too."

Ok, I'll take a crack at this one. The simple answer is that I interpret the design of the universe differently than you and many others who do not believe in God. You do not see evidence for God's existence in this - I and millions of others do. When I study physics and learn about the laws of physics, it seems to show that design choices were made. Ordinary space is 3-dimensional (I know some scientists theorize that there are more hidden dimensions, but I am talking about ordinary dimensions). Why 3? Why not 4 or 2? Mathematics can handle space of any number of dimensions, and each type of space would be equally logical and self-consistant. There are four known forces ranging from the gravitational force, which is the weakest, to the strong or "nuclear" force, which is the strongest. Each has its own characteristics, for example the strong force is very short range, the electromagnetic force involves both attraction and repulsion, the gravitational force is attraction only, etc.

To me this shows evidence of a designer who made design choices. Otherwise, why three dimensions? Why not two? Why not four? Why are the forces the way they are? The question arises in my mind, who decided these things? Who decided how many dimensions there would be, how many forces and with what characteristics and in what strengths there would be? The universe shows design and design choices, and that indicates to me that there is an intelligent designer. I suppose you think that makes me irrational and bizarre for thinking that way.

There are millions of others who have no knowledge of physics, but they see the same principle in the earth, the sky, plants and animals, and human life, and they say, "someone must have created this." You might think they are bizzare.

I know that I have a conscious mind. It is difficult sometimes to discuss consciousness because not everyone uses the word the same way. To me it is the sense of "me" inside my body. I don't know how else to describe it. I know I am more than just a complex arrangement of molecules. And I know that science has no explanation for it. I seek an explanation because I try to understand everything, and the only explanation I can come up with is that there is a creator God who made my conscious mind.

I have read the Bible and studied prophecies and I found enough fulfillment in history in a way that indicates to me the extreme unlikelihood of the fulfillment being a coincidence. This indicates to me that the Bible is what it claims to be - inspired by God. I won't rehearse those prophecies in this blog. You already stated you think the idea is comical, and I am not trying to entertain you. But I was not careless or gulliblle in the way I did this. I was deliberately skeptical and looked for evidence against the Bible. I studied the mathematics of probability and tried to apply it as best I could to try to be objective.

I also found a consistancy in the Bible and relationships between its parts that would unlikely have occurred if it was authored only by uninspired men.

I also have experienced what I am convinced is God's intervention in my life and answers to prayer. I won't try to itemize them. Most of them are personal, and they wouldn't convince anyone else anyway because you couldn't be sure I wasn't lying or deluded. But things have happened in a way that seem to be unlikely to have happened by chance.

I am not trying to convince you, but just answering your question about why I think I am not like someone who believes in dogs from Venus.

And finally, in studying the Bible, I found that the Bible makes very good sense of the world and why it is the way it is, and it answers what I regard as the big questions in life in a very logical, rational way.

And I have no doubt that after reading my last statement, you probably think I am beyond bizzare and have gone full-blown off the cliff into the catagory of "nuts". But you are wrong about that. There are answers about the Bible, and you are not looking for them.

One more thing about why I think I am different from those who believe in dogs from Venus. In science, if there is a choice between a complex explanation and a simple one, which is prefered? The simple one, obviously. Also, what is preferred, a theory that explains many things or a theory that explains one thing only? For example, if someone came up with a theory that explains why gravity pulls us down on the earth, but doesn't explain how gravity holds the solar system together, and someone else has a different theory of gravity that explains gravity on the earth, the solar system, and the whole galaxy, which is preferred? The more general theory is preferred because it explains more. It is more economical, in a sense. Likewise, a simple theory is preferred over a complex one for the same reason, economy.

A general theory of gravity is better than a narrow theory of how gravity only works on the earth because you can derive the specific case of earth's gravity from the general theory but not the other way around.

The simple is always chosen over the complex, and the general over the specific. An intelligent, all-powerful creator God who made everything that exists is a very basic, general concept. And it explains the existence of everything. The idea of dogs being spies from Venus is a very narrow idea. It explains nothing. There is a great deal of complexity behind it and rather than explain other things, you need a lot of explanation to even get to the existance of these "Venus spy-dogs", and that explanation must be very detailed.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Kyle P.:
"Recently, I've been using the tack that WANTING to believe something is true is quite different from it ACTUALLY being true. You can want something to be true, and come up with reasons why you think it must be true, but, as with author's case, those reasons seem to be a madman's ramblings."

You guys are making me think that every time I try to answer an argument, you will interpret it as more ramblings of a madman.

Your point about believing something because you want to believe it is valid. Many people do this on both sides of many issues, not just evolution. And you have every right to consider that I might be biased in my conclusions because I want to believe in God and this desire to believe in God colors the way I see everything, and I unconsciously twist every bit of evidence to fit the belief system I want to believe in. Maybe I want to believe in God because I am afraid to face the end of my existence in death and the idea of an afterlife comforts me. Or maybe I started believing in God a long time ago and now if I change it would mean admitting I was wrong, and I can't bear facing that. And if this desire to believe in God is clouding my judgement, I would not even be aware of it. That is the way the human mind works.

But can you see, without interpreting my comment here as "mad", that this is a common human failing that can operate with anyone on both sides of any issue? Yes, by all means, religious people can be influenced by what they want to believe. But so can non-religious people. I pointed out motives that might influence those who believe in God to want to believe in God, but there are potential motives also that can influence someone to want to believe that there is no God. One possible motive might be fear of judgement. If God exists as our creator, He would have authority over how we live our lives, and we may also have to face Him in a judgement. Some people might be influenced into not wanting to believe in such a God because they want to feel free to do what they want without fear of punishment. Is it possible such a motive might cloud the judgement of an atheist?

I am not saying this is the case with you, and I do not think I am believing what I believe just because I want to. I only point out that this is a possibility that can work both ways, with anyone.


Terence:
"Nevertheless, I do not think it is boring or a waste of time to debate or argue with people caught in their "bubbles". While it may not change their minds, those arguments can help us (by forcing us to reconsider our own views from different perspectives, to marshall reason in support of our views, etc.) and it may help others who are not yet sealed firmly in their "bubbles" (to see contradictions and limitations in those beliefs)."

I agree.


Kyle P.:
"However, that seems to me like what you're saying is that you should only fight the symptoms of a disease, and never look for the cure for it. The cure is resolving irrationality."

Just for the record, do all of you think that anyone who believes in God is crazy?

Tony Lloyd said...

I do not think that anyone who believes in God must be either mad, irrational or stupid. Whatever anyone's feelings towards Ratzinger for example it cannot be denied that the man has the brain the size of a planet, is very sane and puts together cogent arguments that would put many other people to shame. (I do think that Creationism, in all the forms I have seen, is an anti-rational mixture of cherry-picked evidence, distortion, downright lies, rhetorical tricks and high sounding gibberish).

Kyle's discussion with his mother seems to stem from the premise that Kyle is right, Kyle is obviously right and that, thus, disagreement is sign of irrationality. Kyle has no God-given right (stupid phraseology intended) to "get through her skull". There are similar sceptical arguments against everything Kyle believes (including the fact that the vast majority of all scientific theories that have been accepted as true are now accepted as false).

We could call that "level 1" : we have no right to "correct" others.

We do have the right to try and convince them. "Level 2" is Stephen's attempt to convince Author. He may fail. He may succeed. My money is on abject failure. "How do we reach author?" We may not, but there is no harm in trying.

But then there is "level 3". Author has carefully ensured that his theory cannot be proven wrong, mainly by getting it to make no firm predictions about the state of the world. Now we would have to live with "I think this, you think that". But that is not enough for author. Author wants our theory removed from schools.

"I am simply saying that if science is going to teach evolution in the public schools, it should be not be taught as proven fact but as science's best theory as to how life came into existence if there were no supernatural causes."

If that is all author is saying then we have no argument, at all. Evolution is not taught "as fact" any more than (Stephen's example) photosynthesis is taught "as fact", weather patterns are taught "as fact" and historical events taught "as fact". If a school is "teaching" children anything in the sense of "this is how it is, you will agree" then that is a scandal. I would, and I'm sure that Stephen would, condemn a school imposing dogmatic atheism as much as Stephen condemns the teaching of dogmatic religion.

It doesn't happen often, where it does we are all agreed it should stop.

So what the **** are author and other creationists saying about teaching evolution in schools? I am guessing but I think they have a fear that if children are exposed to evolution then they may lose their faith. To recap, no one is saying we should tell kids "this is evolution, there is no God". The problem is that kids might make that link ON THEIR OWN. Evolution might give them the premises in an internal argument that ends up with the rejection of religion. Author and other creationists want "dangerous" material removed from school lest children fall into heresy.

This is a very different argument from the truth or otherwise of evolution or creation. There is no "veto" on the curriculum produced by the non-falsity of a rival theory. Confusing arguments about "level 2", is creationism true or false, masks the creationism hidden agenda.

We have no right to impose our theory on creationists.

We have a right to try and persuade them to our point of view.

We have a duty to stop them removing childrens' education just so those children might be less likely to disagree with them.

Kyle P. said...

Anticant, I tilted at no windmill. Having not read your post, you explicitly said not to bother trying to convince my mother because I won't succeed. I was simply explaining why I had to try. Unless you're saying that my mother is a windmill, and that I'm tilting at her. That would be incredibly funny, and possibly true!

Sheesh, author, you're pretty good at making stuff up.

"My problem is that science teaches evolution as fact without examining the evidence that a believer in God might present for the existence and intervention of God."

This, of course, is false. Science has examined that evidence long, long ago, and come to the conclusion that it's simply not up to par. Sometimes we dismiss it, it's true, but can you really blame us? I mean if we look at every piece of "evidence" that a lunatic brings up, that would waste more time and money than I would care to.

Author, your claim that scientists teach evolution as fact because they think the amount of suffering in the world is too much for there to be a "god" is simply false. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you probably didn't mean all people who teach evolution, since there are a great many biologists who teach evolution and who believe in some kind of "god". But other than that, there is huge, independent body of evidence that evolution happened. You just have to look it up.

Author said, "They do not teach, 'there’s fantastically good empirical evidence against the existence of an all-powerful and supremely benevolent being. I am referring to the sheer quantity of suffering unleashed upon humanity'"

You're exactly right that they do not teach that! That's because of the huge body of evidence that supports evolution on the side. What reason would they have for needing to claim anything related to "god" in that equation?

Yes, you're asking too much. After we conclude that it's possible that some inviso-man in the sky had anything to do with scientific proceedings, then why can't we just start making any old claim regarding it? The States would become as twisted and superstitious as Jeebus-era Israel! Suddenly, dragons and unicorns take over the senate, and we're looking at a full-scale world war 3. Horrible.

I'm not going to bother responding in this comment to the rest of that comment - there's simply too much to write about. However, I would like to point out that the design inference is faulty. I would have thought someone that seems to be pretty smart would realize that. The reason is that I don't see the design. Design is a relative thing. The term "design" has no meaning outside conscious beings. Did you stop to think that you would ask the question, "Why 3 dimensions?" regardless of how many dimensions there actually are? "Why 2 dimensions?" "Why 8 dimensions?" etc.

Kyle P. said...

Author asked, "Just for the record, do all of you think that anyone who believes in God is crazy?"

Not completely, at least. I do believe the rational person comes to the conclusion that there probably is no "god" (whatever that is. My inability to understand what that term means is why I put it in quotes. I'm referring to the nature of such a being). From the people that I've talked to who I do not think are crazy and who still believe in something like you do (I'm talking old-earth creationism here), they clearly have a compartmentalization that causes them to see certain parts of the world unrationally, while being fairly rational in other areas.

Kyle P. said...

By the way, there's no controversy over evolution. That's what is called a "false controversy". A few people start up a false controversy in order to get whatever crazy thing they want into the media and convincing people into believing its right. This has clearly happened with "intelligent" designism, so how you can claim that there's millions on both sides is silly. Even if that's the case, it's a scientific matter, and the millions on the side of science are probably right, while the millions on the side of intelligent designism are probably not.

Kyle P. said...

Sorry for leaving so many comments. I don't like to bunch them all together.

Tony said,
"Kyle's discussion with his mother seems to stem from the premise that Kyle is right, Kyle is obviously right and that, thus, disagreement is sign of irrationality...There are similar sceptical arguments against everything Kyle believes (including the fact that the vast majority of all scientific theories that have been accepted as true are now accepted as false)."

That's not the premise at all, of course. I know my mother, and she doesn't have the capability to use logic at all. I do (I've studied philosophy, mathematics, and more). My main complaint/premise is that she did not use logic to come to any conclusions with respect to "god" existing.

On the other hand, since I came to my conclusion that "god" cannot exist through scientific reasoning, as well as philosophical reasoning (such as the term "god" is totally incoherent), are you claiming that we can just make anything up and it's as good or better than using science to come to conclusions? I ask because you say my reasoning for claiming my mother is wrong is purely fallacious, and you go on to say that the vast majority of scientific theories are now rejected. It seems like you're proposing that there must be something else which can bring about knowledge.

Tony Lloyd said...

"My problem is that science teaches evolution as fact without examining the evidence that a believer in God might present for the existence and intervention of God."


I do not think that is false. I think it irrelevant. "Science" no more teaches evolution as fact without.... than woodwork teaches the way to use a saw without examining the evidence a believer may have for the existence and intervention of God.

It just irrelevant. You do not need to assume the non-existence of God to put forward evolutionary theory. You do not contradict evolutionary theory by positing the existence of God. Would the Jesuit Scientists that Stephen Gould conversed with ( http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html ) adopt a theory that conflicted with their belief? How is it that Ken Miller teaches evolution in the week and then goes to church on a Sunday if they conflict?

Evolutionary theory does not contradict the existence of God, the best way to make a Margerita or a whole host of statements.
Evolutionary theory does contradict creationism. Creationism, however, does not equal God.

The Creationists seek to imply that evolution is equivalent to teaching children atheism. No it isn't: saying "this is how the species came about" without talking about the involvement of God is not saying "this is how the species came about without the involvement of God". It IS saying "God didn't do all this six thousand years ago", but that is the extent of its contradiction. The Pope can cope with this. Ken Miller can cope with this. BEHE can cope with this. THE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE can cope with this. And, finally, if an individual child wishes to disagree with this then they are entitiled to do so.

Teaching evolution in schools does not say “stop believing in God”. It does say “your theory is shit” and you are going to have to do a lot better than “we can twist

Kyle:

“are you claiming that we can just make anything up and it's as good or better than using science to come to conclusions?”

If we are talking about the genesis of propositions then that is precisely what I am saying. Science gives us no method of producing propositions that are any more likely to be true than sheer guesswork. Testing them afterwards helps us to exclude false guesses, but the guess has to be made before its tested. If you think this is overly Popperian have a look at Mr. “philosophy of science is rubbish” Feynman:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozF5Cwbt6RY


“I ask because you say my reasoning for claiming my mother is wrong is purely fallacious”

No. I claim that your (inferred) claim that the truth of your position is sufficiently confirmed for disagreement to be irrational is fallacious. I had rather “leapt” on your post, mostly because I could use it as an example of “authoritarian rationalism”: the idea that we have found the secret of knowledge such that we can enforce it on others. Your Mother may be being completely irrational, but that is because she says something contradictory to reason (ie she contradicts herself) rather than not formulating propositions in the correct manner.

“and you go on to say that the vast majority of scientific theories are now rejected. It seems like you're proposing that there must be something else which can bring about knowledge.”

Not if you think in terms of “justified, true, belief”. I do not believe that we have very much justified true belief and NO justified true belief about individual claims of justified true belief (we may know, we can never know that we know - if knowledge is justified true belief)

Paul Power said...

author wrote "My problem is that science teaches evolution as fact ".

This manouevre is getting tedious. Yet again author makes a sloppy sweeping statement about an area of which he is ignorant which is untrue.

Science makes a distinction between facts and theories. There is a phenomenon in nature which is well attested, that organisms evolve. This is considered a fact by science. Then there is a theory called the Theory of Evolution . This is considered to be provisionally true as it fits all that we know so far. If we discover a better theory or some fact that the Theory cannot explain then we'll abandon the Theory of Evolution.
author seems to have a problem with the absence of God from the theory so the statement about "evolution" being taught as fact must refer to the theory. Therefore the statement must mean that author thinks that the theory is taught as a fact when it is not.

My said...

Oh we must all be grateful for your revelations that the presence of suffering is the proof against God ! And God must be ashamed that he coulndt enter into your logical scheme of proof ! Such a simple answer to all those problems !

Paul Power said...

author wrote :
"My problem is that science teaches evolution as fact without examining the evidence that a believer in God might present for the existence and intervention of God....
Evolutionists teach students that species arose through natural forces only, but evolutionists do not mention the fact that part of the reason they teach that is because they believe there is no God that intervenes".

Utter rubbish. The theory of evolution, like all scientific theories, uses only those ideas that it needs. For the rest it has nothing to say. It has no more need of the idea of God than it does, say, for the economic law of diminishing returns and on these outside questions it remains silent.
Moreover there is no evidence of any supernatural intervention in biology that requires mentioning in any biological theory. The experts in this area are happy with this and only an expert will know enough to convince them that this is an error on their part. Such an expert "author" is most definitely not. I am appalled by his arrogance: from a position of abysmal ignorance he declares he knows better than extremely intelligent and highly trained experts who have worked for many years in this field.

anticant said...

Kyle p., I don't think I said "not to bother trying to convince your mother because you won't succeed". If I did, that is not what I meant. What I was wanting to point out is that there are probably more valuable aspects of your relationship with your mother which are likely to be damaged if you persist in trying to convince her that she is wrong.

Why do you HAVE to try? Unless your mother believes something that is causing actual harm and damage to herself and other people, you don't need to prove to her, or to yourself, that you are 'right'. Surely she has the same privilege as you and I do to make up her own mind [rationally or otherwise]?

See my post on "the need to be right":

http://antarena.blogspot.com/2008/03/need-to-be-right.html

Tony Lloyd said...

Paul,

"the fact that part of the reason they teach that is because they believe there is no God that intervenes".

That is not just "utter rubbish". It is also a LIE. Author cannot be unaware of those who believe in God, believe in intervention, believe in miracles who never-the-less teach evolution. They cannot do "X" because of "Y" if there is no "Y".

Stephen Law said...

I have continued with another main posting....

P.S. I never said we were likely to convince author of the error of his ways. I am not optimistic. But that's not to say it's a waste of time.

Kyle P. said...

Anticant, I'm not going to go back and check. I read what you wrote as I shouldn't try to help my mother. It doesn't matter though. I shouldn't have lashed out! I apologize.

Paul Power said,
"The theory of evolution, like all scientific theories, uses only those ideas that it needs. For the rest it has nothing to say. It has no more need of the idea of God than it does, say, for the economic law of diminishing returns and on these outside questions it remains silent."

This made me realize something interesting (at least, I think so!). I think Author might be committing the fallacy of . . . hmm, I forget the name, but it goes along these lines: Scientists aren't mentioning that "god" might be involved in evolution, therefore they believe that "god" isn't involved in evolution. There are enough scientists who believe both evolution and in some kind of "god" that I don't think we need to go any further than to explain that, but maybe I'm wrong.

Kyle P. said...

Anticant: Funny, I just went back and reread your thing like I said I wouldn't, because I was looking for who suggested Atheism: The Case Against God. That's one of my favorite books, by the way. But in any case, the, "Why bother trying to convince your mother that she's wrong? You'll never succeed" said to me, "Don't bother trying to convince your mother that she's wrong."

anticant said...

kyle p., all human beings are an inextricable compound of rationality and emotion - if we were 100 per cent. rational, we wouldn't be human!

Because, unlike other species [so far as we are aware], we can articulate our thoughts, those of us who think that reason matters - not everyone does! - do our best to be logical and consistent in our thinking and our arguing. But that doesn't mean that reasoning is the ONLY path to knowledge - or, indeed, to wisdom and happiness.

Also, people - even well-educated ones - aren't "all of a piece", and can be much more rational in some areas of their thinking then in others. That is why the beliefs of people like 'author' - and both our mothers! - are so difficult to dislodge through reasoning or arguing with them.

Where matters of faith are concerned, not many people are willing to admit that they are 'wrong', even when they realise that their arguments are shaky ones. They employ fallacious reasoning to bolster what they wish to believe.

I was intellectually convinced that my mother was talking nonsense, but I knew emotionally that I would never convince her she was 'wrong', and that I would only alienate her if I went on trying to do so.

We need to reserve our mental fire power for more heavyweight targets.