Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Latest response to author@ptgbooks

author@ptgbooks has been contributing to this blog on creationism.

I have divided my posts into two: those dealing with the issue of whether it's reasonable to suppose the authors' Judeo-Christian God exists, and those dealing with whether creationism should be explicitly acknowledged in school science classes as something science has not disproved (which is what author wants).

On the first issue: two posts ago I pointed out that evidence from design etc. is very weak evidence for the very specific god believed in by Christians (who is all-powerful and good), and that there is, in addition, very powerful evidence against the existence of that God supplied by the problem of evil/suffering. So, in terms of reasonableness, author's belief system looks very unreasonable indeed.

In response, author comments that:
(i) he doesn't want to focus on this issue
(ii) that he has faith - i.e. "chooses to believe what God says" about his own goodness
(iii) that the evidence for his good God is "of such a subjective nature that I wouldn't suggest it to someone who is biased against it".
(iv) he adds "And even to the extent that there may be objective evidence of God's goodness, I don't think you would accept it, and I wouldn't want to debate it here."

So author suggests he might have "objective" evidence, but refuses to present it because I am biased and would not accept it. Also much of his evidence is "subjective", and a matter of "interpreting".

Seems to me the author's "subjective" evidence is not evidence, for it appears to boil down to just always insisting that, no matter how horrific the suffering unleashed upon humanity, etc. might be, he chooses to see it - "interpret" it - as somehow all for the best. But this is not "evidence for" a good God. Actually, that's simply choosing to ignore (or explain away) the evidence against what you believe.

As for the "objective" evidence which is hinted at but never presented - why not present it?

It seems to me author is now becoming highly evasive. These are exactly the kind of moves we expect from believers in auras, astral planes, chi-energies, etc.

They say such things as:

"You can't see the aura? - well, that's your problem: you are not subjectively attuned like me. Plus I have lots of objective evidence for auras, but I won't present it to you 'cos you're biased and won't accept it!"

I bet author sees straight through such moves when employed by practitioners of these flaky arts. So why does he feel he can get away with the exact same moves here?

Summary: seems to me that, on my point that belief in the author's specific God is not supported by his evidence, and in fact the empirical evidence pretty much conclusively refutes that belief, the author is now quickly running out the door...

So perhaps I should now turn to his case for saying school science classes should explicitly acknowledge that creationism has not been disproved by science...

21 comments:

anticant said...

What's less flaky about 'author's' arguments than those from believers in auras, astral planes, chi-energies, etc.?

They're all pretty much the same inane codswallop.

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Stephen, Author and others.

I've been thinking about this "what counts as evidence" stuff and my contention that evidence for a theory is a deductive entailment that another theory does not make.

I have tried to prove it (and why the fossil record is evidence for evolution but not for creation) on:

http://epistemologybolg.blogspot.com/

Steelman said...

Could there really be an undetectable, supernatural influence behind phenomena, for which science has already provided a natural explanation (i.e., theory)? Well, if you equate pure speculation with knowledge, then you'll never ask yourself the following question: "What's the difference between an undetectable influence and no influence at all?"

The influence of the supernatural, if it exists, can only be measured by its affects on the natural world. Scientific methods could certainly be employed to examine any such affects. However, there's no good reason, even for religious believers, to assume a supernatural explanation where a natural one is already sufficient. That's why most of us (even most Catholics!) prefer prescription drugs, rather than exorcisms, as a solution for what ails us.

Science must remain agnostic about that which its methods cannot detect. There's no impetus for science teachers, of any discipline, to make disclaimers in the classroom regarding the possibility of speculative, and/or superfluous, entities. This includes the workings of gods, demons, fairies, space aliens, etc. Their only job is to advise the student body of what science has discovered, and how it has done that discovering, and leave the rest to people's private imaginings, or to world religions or philosophy classes.

It's fine for a science teacher to say, "we don't yet know the cause of X," but not to say, "we don't yet know the cause of X, but we've never disproved supernatural causes A, B, C, D...", and certainly silly to say, "we do know the cause of X, but, hey, [insert whatever you like here] could be secretly working behind the scenes!"

anticant said...

Having perused 'author's' article "Why Evolution is a Faith", it is obvious that 'author' either does not understand the basis of scientific method, or else that he deliberately misrepresents it by erecting a straw man to knock down with his illogical arguments.

Contrary to what 'author' asserts, it is not the job of science to "prove that evolution actually happened and is the way that life came to be on the earth." Science's role is to test different hypotheses against the available evidence, and to explain which is the best 'fit'. If a more compatible explanation of the evidence than evolution was available, science would accept that. But there is not.

Nor is science called upon to "prove that there is no God that has supernaturally intervened in physical processes to create life in all its variety that we see today." You cannot prove a negative. Scientific method, however, can and should be applied to evaluation of the evidence alleged by creationists for God's intervention in natural processes.

'author' says: "You have to consider supernatural causes before you can rule them out according to evidence. But science cannot consider supernatural causes. That is forbidden by the scientific method." And: "A basic premise of the scientific method as practiced by the scientific community is that no supernatural explanation for any physical evidence is even to be considered." What scientific authority says so? These statements by 'author' are rubbish. Scientists can, and do, evaluate evidence of the 'supernatural' and the 'paranormal' presented by theists, psychics and spiritualists. Such claims have been exhaustively studied and dismissed by scientists.

'author gives the game away when he says: "Science requires that scientific theories be empirically testable and be based on multiple observation, often in the form of controlled, repeatable experiments. This alone excludes consideration of supernatural causes for physical evidence. The intervention of God is not subject to repeatable experiment."

Precisely. The only evidence for God's 'intervention' in physical processes and human affairs is unsupported assertions by believers. In other words, old wives' tales.

Kyle P. said...

This seems like a case of a madman trying to push the burden of proof onto everyone but himself. My former boss was very similar. He tried to argue that it was the atheists job to prove that there was NOT a "god", because by default it is more reasonable to believe that "god" exists, because, "How did the universe get here then?!?" It's that type of argument from personal incredulity that I got every day. We're lucky that author hasn't resorted to those. Or has he? I haven't been able to read his horribly long-winded comments (no offense. I too am often long-winded).

I'm kinda new to this whole philosophy thing, relatively speaking. Is there a method that can actually determine who has the burden of proof? I always thought it was just, "Whoever is making the claim", which in this case we would consider it to be, "'god' exists", whereas author would consider it to be, "'god' does not exist". As anticant says, you can't prove a negative, so it seems more reasonable that we would have to accept "'god' exists" as the statement, and thus the burden lies on author to prove it. However, that seems a little lackluster. Is there anything else?

Maybe you could write something on that, Dr. Law, if you get a chance.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle

You can prove a negative in fact (after all "you can't prove a negative" is a negative, so, if true, unprovable.

There is a really good article on this here (click "full article text"):

http://departments.bloomu.edu/philosophy/pages/content/hales/articles/proveanegative.html

As to burden of proof: those who are making the case for a supernatural entity of some sort clearly have the burden of proof on them.

Certainly, it won't do to say, e.g. you can't prove there are no fairies, goblins, etc. therefore it's as reasonable to suppose they do exist as that they don't".

In fact this is a version of what I call the "You can't prove it" move. I'll post on that....

Anonymous said...

Steelman said "The influence of the supernatural, if it exists, can only be measured by its affects on the natural world. "

This is the clincher for me. If something has an effect on the natural world it is itself surely part of the natural world. Maybe a part we do not fully understand but understanding is not the issue.

Don't forget that the natural world includes far more than simply the matter of everyday experience. There are exotic kinds of matter in the form of subatomic articles, energy in many forms, various field phenomena, space itself and all the interesting properties which arise from the interaction of these.

If something has no interaction with the natural universe then can it be said to exist at all in anything other than an abstract (e.g. platonic) sense? I think that the supernatural is by definition non-existent.

Paul Power said...

anticant:

the first posting on author had this quote from him:

"You gave a definition of creationism that includes belief in a 6,000 year old earth, even tho not all creationists believe in a 6,000 year old earth. But that definition is convenient for you because the idea of a 6,000 year old earth is the easiest for you to try to refute."

Leaving aside whether this is a fair point by author, he himself is very fond of using his own idea of what his opponent says where convenient to himself, which is very often. That's why he says things like "scientists believe in evolution", "science has not proved evolution" [my paraphrases] and those you quoted.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Hi Stephen,

I think author is heading for the hills as fact as his God given legs will carry him. 'I would tell tell but you wouldn't believe me anyway' is school yard debating. He is not too far from a 'cause I said so!!!'

I too am looking for some YECs to respond to my latest post. Mind if I try and recruit a few here? I am arguing that genesis itself is inconsistant with the all-good all-powerfull God idea. I have asked a few questions. There repsonces so far have been of the ducking and diving variety.

Stephen Law said...

Hi CC - yes by all means recruit away.

Thanks again for the very valuable feedback from former YECs. I feel I should do something with this, but not sure what yet.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Stephen Law:
"So author suggests he might have 'objective' evidence, but refuses to present it because I am biased and would not accept it....It seems to me author is now becoming highly evasive."

There a matter of the cost in terms of the time involved to debate the goodness of God with you. If it is my judgment that no good would come of it, and if it is my judgment that such a discussion would be very time-consuming, then it is perfectly reasonable for me to focus what limited time I have available for blogging on issues that I have more interest in discussing. I commented on your original blog about evolution because I felt that there is a serious legal and constitutional issue with the way evolution is taught in United States public schools. I also did not know how evolutionists would respond to my arguments. Discussing this issue in this forum and others has helped me clarify my thoughts and articulate my arguments better. And it has helped me learn areas where I need to educate myself better in some of the terminology science uses in discussing evolution so that what I say will not be misunderstood.

But I have no interest in debating the goodness of God with someone who thinks the existence of God is as ridiculous as spy-cats from Mars.

I also think that there are several points about the topic of evolution being taught in public schools that have not been adequately answered, and I don't like leaving those dangling to go on to a different topic. When you went to the topic of the goodness of God, I felt you had enough of the evolution-in-the-classroom debate and wanted to end it.

Stephen Law said...

Hi author

Well, you earlier said you thought there was evidence for your particular God. You said:

"I believe, and I feel I have found evidence for this, that God exists, that He created the universe, the earth, life, and mankind for a great purpose, and that He is working out that purpose, actively and intelligently intervening in physical processes as it suits Him."

You went on to cite some evidence.

I pointed out that your evidence for this particular God was remarkably weak, and in fact there's powerful evidence against the existence of your God.

Now you want to drop the subject as "no good would come of it" and you "can't spare the time", etc.

Hmm. Doesn't that sound a bit evasive?

Is not the real reason you don't want to pursue this issue, not that you "can't spare the time" etc., but that you know you are going to take a beating, rationally speaking?

But OK, back away from that issue if you like.

Let's return to evolution, etc. I am away till middle of next week, so shall resume then. Mind you, I think your case for having creationism officially acknowledged as "not disproved" in science classrooms has already been more or less nailed by other contributors already. But I do realize you will take a lot more convincing!

Many thanks for sticking with this, btw.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Stephen Law:

"Is not the real reason you don't want to pursue this issue, not that you 'can't spare the time' etc., but that you know you are going to take a beating, rationally speaking?"

Nope.

To me, the existence of a creator God is an entirely separate topic from the question of God's goodness. Two people might believe God exists. One believes in His goodness and the other does not.

Also, while one might find evidence in the design of the universe that there is a creator God, and while that design may demonstrate supreme intelligence and power, design alone does not prove God's goodness, at least to me it doesn't.

That is why I consider it a separate topic. No evidence that I have used in reaching my own conclusion that the universe was made by a supremely intelligent and powerful creator God has played any part in my decision to believe that God is good. I have entirely different reasons for believing that God is good apart from my reasons for believing He exists.

As a matter of fact, I felt I had proved conclusively that He exists about ten years before I concluded that God is good.

My main concern is United States constitutional law and how evolution is taught in the public school classroom. I am willing to discuss why the existence of a God who has intervened to create the species is a reasonable alternative to the idea that species came through natural forces only, more reasonable than spy-dogs from Venus, because the existence of an intervening God directly bears on the constitutional legal issue. But His goodness has nothing to do with it.

Paul C said...

My main concern is United States constitutional law and how evolution is taught in the public school classroom.

Author, in a previous comment I asked you directly how you wanted evolution to be taught - e.g. what phrasing you wanted teachers to use. The reason for this is that your objections to the teaching of evolution not including reference to your god can be extended to every single subject in the school curriculum. Perhaps if you have time you could enlighten us as to exactly what you would have teachers tell their class that would make you happy.

Papilio said...

What interests me is why Author has chosen the particular mythology that he has. What is wrong with Ymir, Odin and Thor? Thor has a cool hammer for one thing, Jesus doesn’t. Does Author think that if someone tried to argue for the truth of Norse mythology we should take him as seriously? What makes Genesis special?

The only difference between the two mythologies that I can see is that one is currently popular, whereas the other is extinct. There is no physical evidence for either.

Kyle P. said...

Dr. Law,

Please delete the comment by David Mabus. This character has been threatening Dr. P.Z. Myers over at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula,
and you can read about it there (it's a little ways down on the blog). Apparently the guy has some serious mental problems, and may be considered very dangerous.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Paul C:
"Perhaps if you have time you could enlighten us as to exactly what you would have teachers tell their class that would make you happy."

How about, "The theory of evolution as it is taught in this class is in part based on the premise that there has been no supernatural intervention in the past to produce the species."

That would be an improvement in my opinion.

Paul C said...

Author: as I pointed out, the same disclaimer is true of absolutely every subject that is taught in schools. So why would you not have this disclaimer uttered in every lesson of every subject? And why would you not have this disclaimer included in every school textbook on every subject?

I'll tell you why: because it would be pointless and inane. Your complaint has nothing to do with the alleged bias against supernatural intervention in the theory of evolution, otherwise you would extend it to all areas of science; it's just a stalking horse for your personal religious views (views which are not shared by all Christians, incidentally).

Unless you can come up with a disclaimer that is not so broad as to be meaningless, then I would suggest that there is no requiremnet to adopt your proposal.

Tony Lloyd said...

Author wrote:

""The theory of evolution as it is taught in this class is in part based on the premise that there has been no supernatural intervention in the past to produce the species."

That would be an improvement in my opinion."

The problem is it wouldn't be true. One argues from premises to conclusions. "No supernatural intervention in the past to produce the species" is not part of the argument for evolution. It is not a premise.

People may (and do) conclude that there has been no surpernatural intervention in the past to produce the species. But then you don't want teachers to say "From what we are about to tell you many people have concluded that there is no God". Or do you?

Anonymous said...

"How about, "The theory of evolution as it is taught in this class is in part based on the premise that there has been no supernatural intervention in the past to produce the species.""

Fine. We preface all evolution lessons with that.

Would you be OK if we asked that you prefaced any Creationist classes with "Creationism as it is taught in this class is based on the premise that there is a higher intelligence at work that you might not exist."?

Stephen Law said...

I was going to pursue this further, but seems to me that other contributors have indeed nailed author's suggestion that schools teach evolution with the proviso that the teaching be prefaced by: "The theory of evolution as it is taught in this class is in part based on the premise that there has been no supernatural intervention in the past to produce the species."