Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Has God a Future?

Has God a Future, debate. Shermer says "I can't prove a negative" at the start, which was disappointment. But bear with it...


Anonymous said...

As a not particularly knowledgable atheist, what would have been better for him to say?

Kaz Dragon said...

To anonymous: "Something else." One way to trivially prove a negative is by searching the entire domain of the statement.

For example, you can prove there are no green sheep by observing all sheep and seeing that none of them are green.

There are other mathematical tricks as well, but that should be enough to show that the statement is just wrong.

jeremy said...

... but Shermer's OWN MAGAZINE taught me you could! See here.

Derrida said...

It's a pity that Shermer used the old negative proof canard.

But Deepak Chopra was barely intelligible! I mean, I've never heard Deepak talk before, so I don't know if he was having a massive off day, but come on! I'm glad Sam Harris took him to task about pretending to understand physics.

Ron Murphy said...

Try this: God On My Mind

Paul P. Mealing said...

I disagree with Sam Harris that so-called 'moderate' religious followers create a 'haven' for the fundamentalists. It effectively encourages people to attack all religions and all religious believers, which is of no virtue to anyone.

Otherwise, I thought his arguments were quite good, especially his defence of science against so-called 'science-fundamentalism'.

Regards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I meant: against the accusation of science-fundamentalism.

Regards, Paul.

Ron Murphy said...

It's important to explain as often as possible the contingencies in the rational, scientific, atheist position. With that in mind I think Shermer's opening was as good a start as any.

The telling phrase is the last part of the sentence in the web page you referenced is, "You can prove a negative — at least as much as you can prove anything at all." We certainly don't know enough about the universe, or the extra-universe should there be such a thing, to be confident that laws of physics or logic hold 'everywhere'. Since 'everywhere' is the scope of the discussion in relation to God, then we don't know enough about what laws of physics or logic might or might not apply. All we can talk about is what we do appear to know, which Kaz Dragon covers...

Kaz Gragon,
"For example, you can prove there are no green sheep by observing all sheep and seeing that none of them are green." - But if you don't have access to all the sheep, and you know you don't have that access, then clearly you can't prove there are no green sheep. And even if you think you have access to all green sheep, how can you be certain that you have? No matter what we discover about the universe, or the extra-universe, how can we know we've found everything there is to know, or sufficient to know there is or is not a God or gods, whatever they may be?

In that sense, the sense of finding and enumerating entities rather the sense of providing valid argument with unsubstantiated premises, we can't prove the negative - that God does not exist.

Nor do I know what would prove that God does exist. Some atheist quip about if God wrote in big letters in the sky, or left something to find at the sub-atomic scale; but how would we know that was proof of God. Many thesist already see signs of God in what atheists think are natural phenomena.

And whatever logic is, it is never more tortured than by the mystical mind:

"'re not just a drop in the ocean, you're the mighty ocean in the drop..."
"..the eye/I by which I see God is the eye/I by which God sees me..."

The only route to finding what is 'real' and 'existent', whatever that means, in any sense that is within our capacity to know, is the rational examination of sensory evidence, with the scientific method as a means of providing confidence in our results. It's all contingent on this, it's the best we can do so far.

Sam Harris said it best, "The truth is that when you get out to some of those fringe areas, you are getting to an area of real scientific ignorance, and the first thing you want to do in the spirit of intellectual honesty is admit ignorance, not claim that you, by closing your eyes, can realise your identity with the cosmos, or you can get before the big bang with your intuitions, that's not how you discover what happens.", and, "...these are areas of genuine scientific uncertainty, but what is obvious is that the way to clarify this domain is not to pretend to know things you don't know."

My personal take on this video is that Deepak Chopra is a pure bullshitter and Jean Houston goes off at a tangent about stories. In fact there was so much bullshit on the God side of the panel that it's impossible to address here.

Kaz Dragon said...


"But if you don't have access to all the sheep, ..."

Then you don't have all the sheep. But that's a practical consideration, not a theoretical one. All I was doing was showing that the blanket statement that you "can't prove a negative" is wrong.

Ron Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Murphy said...

But Shermer and other atheist only use it in that specific practical context, in which case it's right. It's never used in the simple logical sense (e.g. the double negative and other examples in Jeremy's referenced article).

Bill Snedden said...

@Kaz Dragon: "Then you don't have all the sheep. But that's a practical consideration, not a theoretical one."

I don't think that's quite correct; it's actually an epistemological concern. You can never be sure that you've exhaustively searched any domain (how would you know that you'd seen all the sheep?*). So one can never prove the statement "no sheep are green" or any statement like it to be true OR false. I think all synthetic statements are in the same situation.

However, Shermer's statement is still wrong as it's very much possible to prove analytic statements absolutely true or false. The statement "There are no married bachelors" is absolutely true by definition. We don't have to search any domain as the term "bachelor" can only refer to "an unmarried man" and therefore there simply cannot be any "married bachelors". The same would be true of statements like, "no tree is a pencil box" or "no human is a dog".

* There's an old joke that goes something like this: An engineer, a scientist, a mathematician, and a philosopher are hiking through the hills of Scotland, when they see a lone black sheep in a field.

The engineer says, "What do you know, it looks like the sheep around here are black." The scientist looks at him skeptically and replies, "Well, at least some of them are." The mathematician considers this for a moment and replies, "Well, at least one of them is." Then the philosopher turns to them and says, "Well, at least on one side."

DM said...

Crystal Night, Atheists!


Have I said this before?



Einstein puts the final nail in the coffin of atheism...



atheists deny their own life element...



Kaz Dragon said...

I think you're getting tied up on an example I thew out.

The point was that one ways of proving a negative is to do an exhaustive analysis of the search space.

There are other ways, of course (for example, using mathematics, it's possible to prove that no koosh ball that has its filaments flattened will lack a seam).

"You cannot prove a negative" is an incorrect statement, and that Mr. Shermer should have said something else. That's all I was trying to say.