Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Loftus on Punting to Science

Vic, I have made several good comparisons here under this post and in my books. I have made good arguments too. Part of making these arguments is in also explaining why believers would want to believe despite the overwhelming evidence. It's part of the case I make based upon the sciences, especially psychology, anthropology and sociology, but also neurology. In these arguments I'm not telling you that you are wrong about Exodus or the Nativity stories. I do that elsewhere. What I'm doing is offering some very good arguments why people are not reasonable about such things. Hell, we're not reasonable about much at all, especially when we have a vested interest in what we believe. In fact it's been shown that to the degree someone has a vested interest in some belief then the contrary evidence will actually convince that believer he is even more right than he realized. That is a proven fact.

Now work with me here so you can understand me. If you are deluded then the evidence to the contrary, even if it is overwhelming, with not convince you otherwise. So, in order to help complete my case I must also show you from the sciences that you are not being reasonable with the evidence.

The sciences conclusively show that this is how we all think for the most part. Except that there are people who are better critical thinkers than others because they understand this about themselves. For once someone understands what the sciences tell us then that person will question what he claims to know. Such a person will be more demanding of hard evidence before concluding much of anything. Such a person will, in the end, be a skeptic.

The major implication is this: We are all in the same boat THEREFORE we should all be skeptics. It's the only reasonable position to take based on the sciences. The only way to escape this conclusion is to reject the sciences. Good luck with that.


This is at least one of the basic Loftus arguments that deserves some attention. Although it melds into the OTF I think it's really a distinct argument. I am going to call it the Punting Argument. In giving it this name I am not attempting to denigrate it, but simply to understand it.
Let me start by explaining an argument that I think bears some similarity to Loftus', though it reaches a very different conclusion. Protestants argued that you could doubt the Catholic Church because of what we find taught in the Bible. Some Catholic apologists argued that if you doubt the Church based on the Bible, you could doubt the Bible based on something else, and doubt whatever you used to doubt the Bible, etc. etc. etc. until you end up not believing anything. So, just accept the Church, because you won't do any better by doubting it.

Of course, I don't think John would like this argument at all, but his argument has something of a similar structure. The first part of it points out that we are not very rational people, who don't typically think critically very much or very well. He raises questions as to how anyone can reasonably reach any conclusion.

Now, we could react to this part of John's argument in various ways. We could just throw up our hands and believe whatever we prefer to be true. We're going to end up doing this anyway, so why not just do it openly and honestly and be done with it. Why would this not be the right moral to draw?

That response isn't very appealing to me, however. I want to know the truth. I majored in philosophy because, if there were good objections to Christianity, I wanted to hear about them sooner rather than later. I was aware that there were people who thought Christianity was just wishful thinking, and I wanted to be sure that wasn't just believing because I wanted to. What I would like to say is that I remain a Christian because I've looked hard at the reasons on both sides, tried my level best to be fair, and have concluded that Christianity is the most reasonable conclusion. If I have erred, I think I can say it's not because I haven't tried. And I have run into various people like myself, from C. S. Lewis, to Joe Sheffer, to Al Plantinga, to Bill Hasker, etc. I know it's difficult to be rational, but the only reasonable antidote is simply to try very hard. I have received the best intellectual training I could possibly get, I have had my beliefs grilled by numerous skeptical philosophers, but here I am, still Christian after all these years. I could be mistaken, but it's hard for me to believe that I've blundered in some obvious way, or that I have rejected evidence that is clearly overwhelming.

Scientific evidence that people, as a whole, aren't great at thinking critically isn't going to move me, unless it can really be shown that people who put a lot of effort into thinking critically, and who did not have the kind of upbringing that discouraged the questioning of my beliefs.

But Loftus thinks that even a critical thinker like me needs to punt. By punting, he maintains that given the intellectual malaise of the human race, the best any of us can do if we are interested in the truth is to punt to a scientific, and therefore a skeptical point of view. He suggests that a skeptic is someone who won't believe much of anything without hard evidence. Such skepticism will, it seems save us from the adoption of false beliefs, but might lead us miss out on the opportunity of believing truths. The question I have is whether this is really rationality, or whether it is just sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "Won't Get Fooled Again" at the top of your lungs. Is being tough-minded the same as being rational? Does it really protect us from wishful thinking and all the other malaises of the mind?

Here's where I get skeptical of the skeptic. First, if there is something religiously true, shouldn't I make sure I don't miss it? Someone looking for a contact lens needs to look it the most lighted areas in hopes that the contact is in that area, even though it is just as likely to be in the darkened area. Is the greater danger, from an existential standpoint, missing spiritual reality, as opposed to believing in it falsely?

Second, how good are we laypeople in drawing the right lesson from science, at seeing what science really has successfully shown, and what has less than the full authority of science. I watch a Nova show on string theory and think that string theory is pretty cool. Then I start looking around and find that there are serious science debates going on about string theory. Not being a practicing physicist myself, what are I warranted in thinking? Hard to say.

Loftus has representatives of the sciences, such as Eller and Tarico, present evidence to support his overall agenda. But are they top of the line sociologists and cognitive scientists, respectively? Jason Long is a pharmacist by occupation. Reading those chapters of The Christian Delusion should raise in one's mind the question as to whether these people actually represent the best science available on the relevant topics. I think we need a lot more information about these claims, to survey the literature on the subject, before concluding based on something that, say, Tarico says, that it deserves a "Science said it, I believe it, that settles it" response. Lest anyone think that I am denigrating science here, let me just point out that I am just saying that science isn't as easy to read as Loftus makes it sound. Remember, Loftus isn't a practicing scientist, either.

As another example of the "Science said it, I believe it, that settles it" attitude, consider this post. OK, scientists have come up with this idea of a gene for promiscuity, but is this established science??? Is this going to stand up when other scientists try to repeat the results? Is it going to be debated in the scientific community? I sure hope so. It sounds like we need skepticism for something other than religion here.

Does skepticism save us from bias? We have seen the case of Richard Carrier, who has been shown to know a whole lot less about Bayesian theory than he thought he knew. We have Robert Price, who presents an argument that, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads to the conclusion we all have no idea what Abraham Lincoln looked like, since he's no longer around to inspect.

In short, I don't see that skepticism solves the malaises of the human mind. We have to try our best to be rational, consistent with having to live a life that includes a lot more than being rational, and then rest, if we can, in the knowledge that we have done our best. There are no privileged "skeptical" or "scientific" positions to which we can punt. Science meanders its way toward the truth, but what lessons we can draw from science outside the narrow specialization of science is not a matter of science itself, or of accepting science.

So I say, don't punt. Just try your best. 

82 comments:

Landon Hedrick said...

Victor,

Interesting post. The one thing that caught my attention was the comment about Robert Price. I'd like to see you work your criticism out a bit more to see whether that really is a logical consequence of what Price said. I think you've said very little about it so far, and I tried to show how the analogy to Lincoln breaks down in the comments. Maybe I was just misunderstanding?

But back to the overall blog post here, I just have one comment. Don't you think you're too brainwashed to take the evidence seriously? ;)

Boz said...

Did I spot Pascal's Wager in there?

:p

Anonymous said...

Notice what Loftus is saying here. He's been convinced by evidence that shows that evidence will not convince people they are wrong, and in fact can (and likely will) even make them more certain of their beliefs. So he's motivated by the evidence to offer people evidence that evidence will not convince them and thus the evidence indicates they should only accept certain kinds of evidence. He thinks this is a good, reasonable plan.

And remember: He's been thinking critically all his life. Presumably even during that large stretch of time when he was a christian.

Anonymous said...

How could you have spotted Pascal's Wager when Victor manifestly didn't accept the wager? He spent years engaging skeptics, studying the arguments, and trying to decide what the most rational choice was with regards to belief in God. That's the opposite of deciding to believe something on a gamble.

John W. Loftus said...

Folks, when the spam filter detects spam then it does no good to repost it again, since that's the case I'm breaking it up into different pieces.

Vic, again, if you are deluded then the evidence to the contrary, even if it is overwhelming, will not convince you otherwise. Just think of the Mormons. Perhaps you can explain to me why Mormons still believe even though it's been shown through DNA evidence that Native Americans are not descendants of Semitic peoples, in this book: "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church." Like the Mormons you were raised to believe and you now defend what you were raised to believe in a Christian culture despite the evidence just like they do because they were raised in a Mormon culture. That's my claim. I do not expect you to accept it. But I also back it up.

John W. Loftus said...

We know people do not think critically. we know this! People even deceive themselves into thinking they are skeptical when they are not. Now you place yourself as prime example A. Okay, fine, but who cares? Surely you cannot speak for others, or is that your intent, that you are setting yourself up as an authority figure where some Christian can say, "Hey, Vic has been skeptical so I can trust him and believe what he does." It does not work like that. You are responding to the sciences with personal anecdotal evidence, even if I can accept your self-professed skepticism. But I can't because of what the sciences do to Christianity just like what the have done to Mormonism.

John W. Loftus said...

And this thing you call skepticism. Is it science based? You claim science has disputes, fine. But science continues to progress. It's the best and only game in town if you truly want to be skeptical. What can it even mean to be skeptical if there is no method behind it? The sciences provide that method.

So this is why we should trust the sciences and I have written on the seven ways science debunks Christianity in the same way as the sciences debunk Mormonism. Included in that link at the bottom are the top ten occupations that lead to atheism and they are almost all science based.

Thanks, by the way for understanding that this is an argument all its own and not Bulverism.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

Soooo, let's see, punting to science or repeatedly punting to faith? Choices, choices...

Bob Prokop said...

John:
You say, "some Christian can say, "Hey, Vic has been skeptical so I can trust him and believe what he does." It does not work like that."

But it does work like that, John, it does. I've posted words to this effect before, but it's worth repeating myself in this instance (even at the risk of imitating the insufferably repetitive Steven Carr). Here is what I wrote on december 10th:

In my opinion the Argument from Authority has for too long gotten a bad rap. Here is what I mean. The fact that such and such an authority holds a particular belief may not be PROOF of that belief, it nevertheless has (at least for me) tremendous weight, if I have any respect for that individual’s thoughts, actions, character, etc. I will not lightly (even in the absence of cooborating evidence) disregard that authority’s position, or at least not without definite contrary evidence.

So: as far as the question of “the existence of God” goes, I am extremely loathe to say that the overwhelming consensus of nearly every single great mind in history regarding this issue is in error. For me to disbelieve in God means I have to say that little ol’ me knows better than Homer, Hesiod, Dante, Thomas Aquinas, Daniel Berrigan, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, St. Thomas of Canterbury, Copernicus, St. Dominic, St. Francis, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Augustine, Andrei Rublev, Giotto, Gustav Mahler, Graham Greene, Siddhartha, J.R.R. Tolkien, Anton Bruckner, Sir Isaac Newton, etc., etc., etc.

Any single one of these intellects could think me under the table in their sleep, and I am supposed to know better than all of them COMBINED??? Before I ever consider going that route, someone had better present me with a damn good Burden of Proof that they are wrong.

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, yes the argument from authority does carry persuasive weight since authorities do persuade us, especially if a great many of them agree with each other. And yet which authorities carry that weight? Scientists do. In the National Academy of Science only 7% are believers.

Bob Prokop said...

For some really excellent insight into the fallibility and non-objectivity of the "scientific mind", might I suggest a wonderful little book I just finished last night: "How I Killed Pluto, and Why It Had It Coming", by Mike Brown. This extremely readable (and relatively short) book gives a good account of the infighting, politicking, skullduggery, occasional pigheadedness, and borderline criminality of many in the scientific community.

My point? Just this: scientists are no different than the rest of us, neither better nor worse, and certainly not more reliable!

Bobcat said...

There is also some worry about scientific studies. See

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/

though John would probably like this response to the above:

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/09/the_cranks_pile_on_john_ioannidis_work_o.php

John W. Loftus said...

I haven't yet read the links, Bob. But I will say this: yes scientists duke it out. So? Give them time and they will come to a consensus if a consensus can be found. The history of science is a history is error, yes. So? Science has its problems because it's done by scientists who share in the same kinds of fallible reasoning we all share. So? Here's the point. If scientific experiments cannot change the minds of scientists who agree on using the same method then how much more is it the case that religionists cannot agree because they don't even agree on a method, or if they do, it's a faith based one as opposed to a science based one.

The point is that given time scientists agree. Given our tendency to be unreasonable with the evidence we have no reason to trust anything else but science. That's why it's the best and only game in town and it debunks Christianity just like it does with Mormonism.

Cheers

Nick said...

Barrow and Tipler warned us in "Impossibility" that we can never say "Science says." It's always some scientists saying some things. There can be less consensus in philosophy and theology. So what? That means we just throw it all out? Why not just take it as a reason to think harder.

Also, those of us who are not scientists, like myself, I really do not believe should be debating science qua science. Leave that to the scientists. We call out Richard Dawkins for stepping out of the lab and acting like he knows something about theology and/or philosophy. We rightfully do so. I believe in the same way our theologians and philosophers who are not trained in science should not speak about science qua science.

Also, the punt to science allows posts to be made and then one just sits back and lets all the science people, or the ones that think they are science people, do one's own arguing for them.

I've called it the punt before. It's the name it deserves.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Wilfrid Sellars: "[I]n the dimension of describing and explaining the world, science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not."

Victor Reppert said...

I'd like to focus attention on the problem that I was pointing out, which is that it is less than clear that even when science is authoritative within its own discipline, it still remains an essentially philosophical problem to see how we go from this or that result in science to some broader conclusion about, say Christianity. We have to be sure that we have the best science we can get, and then drawing the wider implications is more difficult still.

I don't think you can short-circuit that process by appealing to some poll of the NAS. In drawing conclusions for religion from science, scientists are "off the clock" and can be ignorant and prejudiced. Being a scientist doesn't make you rational generally, and what makes science strong is the community of self-correction, which allows all sorts of individual pig-headedness to be washed out in the long run. Dawkins knows plenty of science, but is very ignorant about religion, and doesn't care.

Bob Prokop said...

Damn. Nick and Victor both beat me to what I was going to say.

I have great respect for reputable scientists, when they are speaking as an authority within their expertise. But I am not impressed when one (such as Dawkins) ventures outside his field of competency.

Just as no one should ever cite me as an authority on brain surgery, neither should anyone use a (generic) scientist as an authority on spiritual matters solely on the grounds that he is a scientist. I'll trust a poet, musician, or an artist first.

Anonymous said...

It's funny that a link between scientists and atheism is being talked about, as if this was a link between *science* and atheism. But that doesn't seem to be the case. It seems that atheists more typically tend to go into science, not that becoming a scientist tends to make people atheists. And of course, outside the NAS the story is different as well.

And what about when 'religionists' agree? They often come to a consensus as well, even across faiths. If consensus is important, if it reflects being persuaded by evidence and reason, then there's plenty religion can call on just as well. Really, the history of natural theology is one of Christians, Muslims, pagans and more all influencing each other through rational argument, even picking up arguments and thought that originated in different spheres. And of course, the debunking is a two-way street, as atheistic views have gotten debunking as well, even within science.

Insofar as science has any success at all, it affirms Victor's views over John's. We have to evaluate the evidence on our own, and decide what is reasonable to believe in science as well as religion. We study the data, scientific and not, and we arrive at conclusions, scientific and not, all while striving to be reasonable and fair. Unqualified screaming of "science says" isn't a great sign that you're a skeptic, so much as a sign of what manner of credulous, biased thinking you subscribe to.

Victor Reppert said...

It isn't a choice of punting to science or punting to faith. What I am saying is we don't have to punt.

Victor Reppert said...

It's not exactly Pascal's wager, but in decision theory, you have to consider not only the probabilities but also the payoffs of any course of action.

Nick said...

I keep thinking of this:

http://www.drjbloom.com/Public%20files/Lewontin_Review.htm

Let's get a few highlights.

"First, we are told that science "delivers the goods." It certainly has, sometimes, but it has often failed when we need it most. Scientists and their professional institutions, partly intoxicated with examples of past successes, partly in order to assure public financial support, make grandiose promises that cannot be kept."

"The concentration on the genes implicated in cancer is only a special case of a general genomania that surfaces in the form of weekly announcements in The New York Times of the location of yet another gene for another disease. The revealing rhetoric of this publicity is always the same; only the blanks need to be filled in: "It was announced today by scientists at [Harvard, Vanderbilt, Stanford] Medical School that a gene responsible for [some, many, a common form of] [schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, arterio-sclerosis, prostate cancer] has beenlocated and its DNA sequence determined. This exciting research, say scientists, is the first step in what may eventually turn out to be a possible cure for this disease."

"Second, it is repeatedly said that science is intolerant of theories without data and assertions without adequate evidence. But no serious student of epistemology any longer takes the naive view of science as a process of Baconian induction from theoretically unorganized observations. There can be no observations without an immense apparatus of preexisting theory."

Nick said...

Part 2:

"As to assertions without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them, especially the literature of popular science writing. Carl Sagan's list of the "best contemporary science-popularizers" includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market."

"But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution."

And of course...

"It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen."

John W. Loftus said...

Hey, let's keep an important distinction here when talking about science. There is "cutting edge science," and then there is the "agreed upon science" of the past.

In every era scientists doing cutting edge science have had their disputes. But there are an accumulated number of findings that scientists all agree upon as established facts.

So in every contemporary era believers can look at the cutting edge science of their day and claim science isn't that great because of the disputes. That's not fair you see.

There are a wealth of findings that scientists all agreed upon. Just touch the cover of "The New York Public Library Science Desk Reference" to see this. The book is massive, weighing in at 668 lbs (I mean pages).

The lesson? You cannot disparage science because it looks messy while doing the cutting edge science of the day. Give it time. There will be shared consensus in years, decades from now, if there is to be a consensus at all.

That's progress baby. ;-)

John W. Loftus said...

Regarding Dawkins here is what I said at the 2009 SBL Annual Meeting discussing Bill Maher's mockumentary:

"While professor Reed is correct that the New Atheists need to become better informed by secular Biblical scholars, I myself question how much scholarship it really takes to reject any given religion. The Joe six-pack’s of our world do not have the time to research into any given religion, much less all of them, nor even become literate enough to read the scholarly works. And yet they can still be justified in rejecting one, or more, or all religions based upon all that they know. That best explains why Dawkins probably thought it was a waste of time researching into religion for his book. He already knew from the fact of evolution, his stock and trade, that religion is a delusion. Until someone can show him that evolution does not explain everything in the biological world, he has no need for the God hypothesis, and no need to put a great deal of time researching into it."

You see, it doesn't take much knowledge to fault a builder if the house he builds is crooked, just like it doesn't take a lot of knowledge to smell a rotten egg. We need not know how to build a house in order to say it wasn't designed well, nor do we need to know how to lay an egg to smell a rotten one.

Anonymous said...

The lesson? You cannot disparage science because it looks messy while doing the cutting edge science of the day. Give it time. There will be shared consensus in years, decades from now, if there is to be a consensus at all.

Of course, there's plenty of consensus among religious people, even across faiths. Ah, but that's different.

I also love the "give it time" argument conjoined with "if there is to be a consensus". Science will find a consensus, if it can find a consensus. And we can trust this consensus, unless the consensus is overturned later. Because it's not science that matters, but consensus. But only when it's scientific.

Anonymous said...

You see, it doesn't take much knowledge to fault a builder if the house he builds is crooked, just like it doesn't take a lot of knowledge to smell a rotten egg.

Oh boy. We have to trust in science, and that means trusting the experts. Pay no attention to the history of science, overturned consensus, and modern disagreements. Also, you don't need much knowledge to know if something is wrong. You can just guesstimate it and you'll probably be right.

Behold the rational thought, the critical thinking.

Nick said...

There was also consensus at one time in the Phlogiston theory.

There was consensus from Aristotleanism that the sun went around the Earth.

There was consensus that the universe was eternal.

Science has its ups and downs and as Chesterton said, he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow.

Hmmmm. You don't need to understand religion to argue against it. Okay. Let's see how that works the other way.

I think it should be patently obvious that one cannot begin on a planet with no life and have a one-celled organism just appear by chance and have that organism develop so much that humans exist today. Therefore, since life could not arrive by chance, there is a God.

No one's disparaging science. We're just saying we're not being married to scientific theories that are new on the surface and have not had the chance to be around and especially ones that some can admit we have no formal study in.

Dawkins, on the other hand, proudly admits he does not want to bother study religion, but yet he writes against it. You should not write about that which you know not. He can have an opinion and express it, but to be seen as an authority is another matter.

Bob Prokop said...

What Loftus has described with his "there will be consensus" is not science: it's Marxism-Leninism, or at the very least, Hegelianism (not that there's anything wrong with that). But let's be honest about what it is, and is not.

John W. Loftus said...

Ahhhhh, yes, here come the science bashers. You ought to read what Mormons are saying about science.

Hint: They agree with you about it, fancy that.

This is why I cannot take believers seriously. Many write about science as if it's no better than religion to help us understand the truth. That's utterly ignorant.

You don't understand this. Maybe someday you will.

Nick said...

Let's see. Saying that there has been consensus in the past when science has been wrong is bashing science?

No. It's just stating the facts. Consensus does not equal truth in any field. It can give weight to a belief, but it does not confirm the belief. 30 million Frenchmen can be wrong.

In fact, I think science is superior....at studying the material world. Outside of that, you go to other disciplines. If you want to know about the material world however, you go to the physical sciences. They're the best.

If you want to know about religion, ethics, literature, mathematics, etc., do not go to science.

Sounds pretty simple to me.

John W. Loftus said...

Nick in every era there were gaps in our understanding. We knew how women got pregnant but we didn't know the process, so guess what? God did it. We knew rain fell from the sky but we didn't know the process so guess what, God did it.

So long as there are gaps there will be believers, so I expect believers will always exist.

But look what's going on here, okay? Science closes the gaps. When it does it creates deeper problems and with them come the recognition of new gaps. The whole discussion about wormholes and cosmic singularities has been brought to us by the same science that closed a thousand previous gaps. Believers have been wrong to find God in the gaps of the past just as they are wrong to find him in today's gaps. To do this is to make an Argument From Ignorance. This is not considered positive evidence for your god just as the evidence showing that an object is not a door tells us nothing about what that object is. The ONLY science that supports your faith is therefore negative evidence based in an Argument for Ignorance. If you think otherwise then provide me just one thing that is to be considered positive evidence that your god exists. Just one.

And no, historical evidence so-called, is poor evidence.

Nick said...

Oh this is amusing.

Yes. People did not know how exactly it was that the sperm and egg formed a baby.

But somehow, they did know that it took the act of sex to produce a baby. Because they did not know all the ins and outs, they therefore said "God did it." Really? Is there any real evidence to back such a claim?

We knew rain fell but we didn't know the process, thereby God did it. Of course, this completely ignores that in the ancient world, the deity or deities were responsible for everything somehow even if it was an instrumental means. That God uses a cycle to water the Earth does not argue against His existence. It argues against Him performing a certain way.

God-of-the-gaps? Nope. I can grant you an eternal universe, and a multi-verse, and macroevolution and I'll still have a case for theism. Mine's based not on physics but on metaphysics and of course, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Science doesn't argue against my faith. If all these gaps were so dreadful, it makes one wonder why it was that Christians were the ones seeking to fill them. To me, this "God-of-the-gaps" idea is a complete straw man.

John W. Loftus said...

Here's a musical clip while you think.

John W. Loftus said...

Nick, positive evidence.

No fudging. No sidetracking. No red herrings.

Positive evidence.

I'm waiting.

Nick said...

Positive evidence. Hehehe. That's cute. Sorry Johnny. I don't look to the sciences to prove or disprove metaphysical considerations. They can't do either. Science is superior at studying matter and not studying the immaterial. I'm not even a full-hearted supporter of ID as ID. I prefer more final causality than what I see, although it certainly is interesting.

I'll take metaphysics and history instead. Metaphysics for God's existence. History for his actions.

And here's a little song back.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFXIALf9zDA

Victor Reppert said...

John: Don't anyone understand the basic distinction between the a criticism of science and a criticism of the ability of some people, including scientists, to draw inferences beyond the range of the scientific data itself? When scientists do this, they are, as I indicated, off the clock, and their authority within their field can't be transferred to conclusions that they might draw outside their field. Dawkins is a biologist by profession who is a rank amateur in the philosophy of religion. I challenge him to write a paper defending atheism that could pass a blind review in any philosophy journal, including Philo, the journal for the Society of Humanist Philosophers.

John W. Loftus said...

Nick, I remember you now.

You're a science basher. What would your father-in-law think if he knew that?

Anyway, I'm not exactly saying there isn't any positive evidence for your specific god to be regarded as important. I just want to know what you think it is.

Metaphysics?

Become a Mormon.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, compared to Nick I'd much rather respond to you.

I already told you what it would take to convince Dawkins that your god exists earlier.

Or, do you think that what anyone accepts as true about religion must pass peer-review?

hell, my daughter doesn't believe but she doesn't understand metaphysics or the philosophy or religion nor, as far as I can tell, will she ever.

Nick said...

Nope. Not a science basher at all. Just stating the facts. Science is great at doing science. It's not great at doing everything.

What would my father-in-law think? I'm sure he'd have no problem with my opinion since I've never gone out and bashed science. I've just said it has limits. Do you want to fault Nicholas Rescher and John Barrow as science bashers?

As for my father-in-law, he's quite proud of me, and I find it very revealing that in a debate about a particular subject matter, that you would want to bring in family.

Once again, you show your character. It never takes long.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic is a philosopher by profession who is a rank amateur in the sciences. I challenge him to write a paper defending theism that could pass a blind review in any science journal, including Nature.

Do you see what's going on here? You're demanding the impossible again. It does not take the ability to build a house in order to say that a house is out of whack. Dawkins does not need to understand the philosophy of religion to debunk religion. He knows science. He speaks as a scientist.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, what you demand is a sort of elitism, that the philosophy of religion is where it's at. I however do not have much respect for it, even though I understand it, just as Keith Parsons doesn't.

I was shocked when I saw Richard Swinburne's book, "The Resurrection of God Incarnate," where he argued that if God exists then it's a 97% probability that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is one of the brightest Christian philosophers, mind you, who argued for an utterly ignorant conclusion. What? If philosophy can be twisted this badly then it can't be very useful in our debates.

Victor Reppert said...

I would have to look at the context in which he asserts this 97% probability claim.

You'll notice that I'm not attempting to do any science here. I'm staying firmly within my field. I also have studied the philosophy of science as well. I'm pointing out that there are enormous difficulties in making inferences from science to matters that fall outside the scope of the science itself.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm very uncomfortable with people putting science on a pedestal.

Sure, science has its scope within which any other approach would be futile (e.g., molecular mechanisms of synapse formation). But there are always questions that scientists haven't even begun to address experimentally or mathematically yet. These conceptually (rather than mathematically or experimentally) formulated questions are real, substantive, interesting, and often central for many people from the perspective of real life (e.g, do any gods exist)? After all, that's where we all live our life.

The question of whether gods exist is one of the few questions that science studiously avoids asking, so it would be a mistake to say that science directly supports atheism. You could argue that it indirectly supports atheism in virtue of the unqualified success of science on so many interesting questions, and the abject failure of gods to come even close on anything substantive. I would take that as a decent-enough inductive argument, but I'd be wary of pushing the view that science directly disproves god or whatever.

If you set up the issue as "God versus science" you end up with a lot of people rejecting science. It's a false dichotomy, it is perfectly consistent to attack one problem scientifically, but approach other problems as a Christian. E.g., I could think synapse formation is a natural process, but God is sustaining the universe at all times, and has performed miracles in the past that cannot be scientifically verified.

Nick said...

I agree BDK. It isn't an ideology but a kind of theology that drives people away from Christianity. God must act as a direct efficient cause at times rather than through instrumental causes. I do believe if there is any supposed warfare going on, the church is partly to blame however for responding with panic to something the Bible never demanded.

And yes, there are major questions that science cannot answer and we should accept this. That's not downing science. I love theology, but if I'm wanting to know the solution to a mathematical equation, I'm going to do Math, not theology. I love philosophy, but if I get sick, I'm not going to think about the nature of sickness (Well, okay. I will do that), but I'll go to a doctor and let him treat me. Let each body of knowledge handle the question in its own domain, as Gilson would say.

To hold to scientism is not to discredit religion. It's to discredit science.

cl said...

I'm new around here, so I don't know all the backstory about you and John, but, that said -- bravo to you, Victor. I think you really held your own in this response.

I could be mistaken, but it's hard for me to believe that I've blundered in some obvious way, or that I have rejected evidence that is clearly overwhelming.

That's because you haven't, although, it is nice to see a thinker with humility. Contrary, Loftus' argument strikes me as specious. In my opinion, the OTF and this "punt to science" nonsense are both the same sort of intellectually chauvinist, "if you really use the tools of reason you'll think like me" type of "argument," the same sort of thing as this. Some atheists just think they have a monopoly on reason. Why anybody entertains a guy with such a penchant for ad hominem strategy and stacking the deck is beyond me.

cl said...

Mr. Loftus:

Despite the fact that you published the work of a pharmacist in your recent compilation that purports to debunk Christianity, you denigrated Victor as,

...a rank amateur in the sciences.

Then, you said,

I challenge him to write a paper defending theism that could pass a blind review in any science journal, including Nature.

Yet, you defended Dawkins "rank amateur" status in the world of philosophy by saying,

Dawkins does not need to understand the philosophy of religion to debunk religion. He knows science. He speaks as a scientist.

If Dawkins doesn't need to know philosophy of religion to debunk religion, why on Earth are you demanding that Victor step outside his bounds to bolster his case for theism? Isn't the OTF ostensibly about impartiality in applying the tools of reason?

It's all the bossiness, denigration, and tendency towards fallacious reasoning [in this particular case, special pleading] that make me highly suspect of your stated penchant for rational rigor.

Bobcat said...

John,

I brought up the study not to bash science in general, but to raise some doubt about some contemporary psychology that purports to show the extent of our irrationality. Speaking personally, I believe that most of us reason irrationally, and I find the social psychology, cognitive science, behavioral economics, etc., that I've read to be quite suggestive. But I gather that some of the claims haven't been repeatedly tested (though the Milgram experiment has -- that appears to be solid), and so it could be that in five years a lot of the data that shows that most people are bad reasoners will be overturned by someone like Gigenrenzer.

That said, I wanted to raise the question why you (John) show up to talk to the likes of Vic and his commenters? I gather you think that they're delusional, that they have psychological barriers, and that they're not really listening to you (for if they were, they would agree with you by now). Given that they have these problems, why talk to them? It seems that you'd be better served spending more time evangelizing.

That said, I do enjoy reading your comments.

Anonymous said...

That said, I wanted to raise the question why you (John) show up to talk to the likes of Vic and his commenters?

Y'ever hear of self-promotion?

Bobcat said...

Ah. Good point.

John W. Loftus said...

Bob asked: That said, I wanted to raise the question why you (John) show up to talk to the likes of Vic and his commenters?

I'm blessing you.

That said, I do enjoy reading your comments.

Then consider yourself blessed.

;-)

Tom Talbott said...

Victor wrote: “even when science is authoritative within its own discipline, it still remains an essentially philosophical problem to see how we go from this or that result in science to some broader conclusion about, say Christianity. We have to be sure that we have the best science we can get, and then drawing the wider implications is more difficult still.”

Exactly. A retired colleague of mine in our physics department once shared with me a wonderful quotation from the Nobel Prize winning physicist Alfred Lande, who admittedly is not much in vogue these days. Although I have been unable to locate the quotation, which appeared in a chapter on quantum mechanics, the gist of it was this: Much of the scientific literature on this subject is philosophically confused, he claimed, and even rests upon a rather elementary category mistake.

I am in no position, of course, to endorse such a statement. But here is the interesting part of what Lande said. Pay little attention, he exhorted, to what scientists say when they talk about, or draw implications from, their own work. They are as apt to jump to conclusions, or to embrace a set of non sequiturs, as anyone else. But pay the closest possible attention to what they do in the laboratory and to the actual experiments that they perform.

As for the issue of bias, which is not always a bad thing in my opinion, the best protection against excess, I would wager, is, first, to acquire a degree of skill in logical analysis and in the art of drawing inferences rigorously, second, to proceed slowly and carefully and with a resolve not to jump to unwarranted conclusions, and, above all, to cultivate genuine humility in the face of complexity and a genuine respect for those who see things differently than we do.

SteveK said...

>> You could argue that it indirectly supports atheism in virtue of the unqualified success of science on so many interesting questions, and the abject failure of gods to come even close on anything substantive. I would take that as a decent-enough inductive argument, but I'd be wary of pushing the view that science directly disproves god or whatever.

There are many fields of study that don't address the topic of God. Law, for example. You wouldn't say Law indirectly supports atheism so why would Science indirectly support it?

My view is that atheism stems from a person's worldview - their understanding of reality - it's nature or essence, if you will. That goes for theism too.

Blue Devil Knight said...

SteveK:
There are many fields of study that don't address the topic of God. Law, for example. You wouldn't say Law indirectly supports atheism so why would Science indirectly support it?

Because it explains how the world works, and has so frequently won out when in direct competition to theological explanations (e.g., life, astronomy, etc).

Blue Devil Knight said...

I should say my main point is that 'science versus Christianity' is a false dichotomy, and this should be obvious to anyone that sits down and thinks through the issues. In the US, this falsehood mainly hurts science.

While I do think that scientific data, and the history of scientific thought, can be used as part of an atheistic worldview, I do not think such considerations establish an atheistic worldview.

Al Moritz said...

John said:

Vic is a philosopher by profession who is a rank amateur in the sciences. I challenge him to write a paper defending theism that could pass a blind review in any science journal, including Nature.

1. John, you seem to forget that you are a rank amateur in the sciences as well, even though you talk as if you have greater authority -- given that you have a wholehearted, yet naive, embrace of science for *everything*. How is that justified? Nick and Victor only point out limits and boundaries of science, and as a scientist who is also informed about philosophy I have to agree with them.

2. An article about theism has no business in a science journal, since theism is not a scientific question. You, however, are again in the business of confusing philosophy and science.

Here is what the National Academy of Sciences says:

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309063647&page=58

"At the root of the apparent conflict between some religions and evolution is a misunderstanding of the critical difference between religious and scientific ways of knowing. Religions and science answer different questions about the world. Whether there is a purpose to the universe or a purpose for human existence are not questions for science. Religious and scientific ways of knowing have played, and will continue to play, significant roles in human history.

"No one way of knowing can provide all of the answers to the questions that humans ask. Consequently, many people, including many scientists, hold strong religious beliefs and simultaneously accept the occurrence of evolution.

[...] "Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. It is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral."

Al Moritz said...

I should say my main point is that 'science versus Christianity' is a false dichotomy, and this should be obvious to anyone that sits down and thinks through the issues. In the US, this falsehood mainly hurts science.

While I do think that scientific data, and the history of scientific thought, can be used as part of an atheistic worldview, I do not think such considerations *establish* an atheistic worldview.


Bravo, BDK.

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, Okay, I wasn't going to bless you here again, but you have been such good boys...

The sciences cannot prove religion is false. Never did. Never will (at least as far as I can foresee).

But they do several things that undermine religious faith (let me count the ways...)

1) The sciences offer disconfirming evidence for religious claims which produce reasons to doubt.

2) The sciences offer alternative natural explanations for religious phenomena.

3) The sciences can and do prove some religious claims are false (Think DNA and the Mormon, or archaeology and the Exodus).

If nothing else the method of naturalism within the sciences undercuts religious claims. It is the only serious method for studying a particular phenomena and this method undercuts all reasonable attempts to establish miraculous events by either disconfirming them, offering natural explanations of them, or by proving them false.

Besides boys, what reasonable person would ever demand that a particular claim must be proved false before said claim should be rejected as improbable anyway?

I might write more on this as I think more about it. This is interesting to me.

No need to thank me. It's what I do.

Cheers. ;-)

Blue Devil Knight said...

John Loftus reminds me a lot of Rex Ryan.

Nick said...

John: 1) The sciences offer disconfirming evidence for religious claims which produce reasons to doubt.

Reply: My faith is based on the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. That depends on miracles being possible and science cannot prove the possibility or impossibility of miracles.

John: 2) The sciences offer alternative natural explanations for religious phenomena.

Reply: Depends on what you mean by religious phenomena. For instance, sex produces babies. The church and Jews did not say "God makes the baby appear in the womb." They knew there was a connection between sex and childbirth and even between the semen and childbirth, even if they didn't know the ins and outs of it.

John: 3) The sciences can and do prove some religious claims are false (Think DNA and the Mormon, or archaeology and the Exodus).

Reply: No problem there, although I would not say the Exodus has been disproven. That's secondary. Some interpretations can be disproved, like I think YEC has been, but all I need is the resurrection.

John:If nothing else the method of naturalism within the sciences undercuts religious claims. It is the only serious method for studying a particular phenomena and this method undercuts all reasonable attempts to establish miraculous events by either disconfirming them, offering natural explanations of them, or by proving them false.

REply: The assumption is that if natural, therefore not God's activity. I don't buy that. I have no problem with God working through instrumental means. Also, if all you allow is naturalistic explanations, then don't be surprised if you take that to naturalism.

Finally, science explains what happens naturally, not what happens if there is outside interference.

Of course, this is probably seen as "science-bashing."

Eric said...

Vic: "Doesn't anyone understand the basic distinction between a criticism of science and a criticism of the ability of some people, including scientists, to draw inferences beyond the range of the scientific data itself?"

This is an excellent point.

If I remember correctly, van Inwagen argues that since equally well trained and equally intelligent scientists with access to the same information often disagree about what properly scientific conclusions the data entails/implies, it follows that even scientists qua scientists "draw inferences beyond the range of the scientific data itself," which brings us back to BDK's excellent point about "putting science on a pedestal."

Victor Reppert said...

BDK: That's not nice. Now, if I can just figure out to whom it's not nice.

John W. Loftus said...

Ahh, yes, the ad hominems.

...when all else fails.

I'm still waiting to hear from a believer who will say something like this: "Hey, who knows what science will be like in the future? So what confidence can we place on it today."

Anyone? Anyone?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic: "Doesn't anyone understand the basic distinction between a criticism of science and a criticism of the ability of some people, including scientists, to draw inferences beyond the range of the scientific data itself?"

Let's think instead of the distinction between having to prove a religious faith is false from showing said faith is improbable because it is an unnecessary hypothesis. This is what the sciences show us.

What you decide to do with an unnecessary hypothesis is for you to decide. Most scientists who conclude that an unnecessary hypothesis is useful were already believers from their youth.

Eric said...

"Let's think instead of the distinction between having to prove a religious faith is false from showing said faith is improbable because it is an unnecessary hypothesis. This is what the sciences show us."

Hi John

I agree that this too is an important distinction, and that science can and often does show us that certain 'religious explanations' of natural phenomena are 'unnecessary.' (Paley/Darwin is probably the best example.) But in such cases, does the scientific explanation really show that "said faith is improbable," or does it merely knock down a particularly poor justification for said faith? I don't see how knocking down a poor argument for a conclusion renders the conclusion improbable.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, as always I enjoy talking to you.

The distinction you refer to is none other than the god of the gaps argumentation. Since you and I are discussing that topic on my blog let me just refer to it by link for those interested.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, yes, the ad hominems.

...when all else fails.


You engage in ad homs constantly, John. So I guess we should classify your arguments, debates and intellectual efforts as a long string of failures?

Wait a second. That sounds about right. ;)

Jake Elwood XVI said...

Paw Loftus complaining about people insulting him. Well how does it feel to have the boot on the other foot?

Maybe because Loftus always puts his foot in it. He would do better to put his best foot forward but it seems like his feet are stuck in the mud.

I think his OTF has one foot in the grave, but he thinks its the cure for the sole.

It would be nice to see Loftus at least give a little in his argumentation, but maybe that is step to far for him.

Maybe BDK needs to apologise as got off on the wrong foot with Loftus

Victor Reppert said...

OK, so when science provides a natural explanation for a religious phenomenon, that helps to disprove that phenomenon.

But if science fails to provide such an explanation, and theists use the failure to come up with such an explanation as evidence in support of their religion, that's god of the gaps reasoning, and is only negative, not positive evidence. It's just appealing to ignorance.

It's starting to look as if the dice are loaded here. Heads, I win, tails, you lose.

cl said...

John Loftus:

...I have written on the seven ways science debunks Christianity...

...and, I have openly challenged you to take responsibility for what you pass off as "truth" in the name of science. Your article is literally rife with fallacious reasoning, sweeping generalizations, bare assertions, cherrypicked evidence, and conclusions which do not flow from their premises.

You are misleading and misinforming people, ostensibly in the name of science and reason.

Eric said...

Hmm, I've just had a thought about the 'deluded' business.

It seems to me as if it's one thing for an atheist to say, "oh come on now, you believe in an invisible magic man in the sky, etc. hence you're deluded," but another thing entirely for him to say, "oh come on now, you've concluded that reason cannot be accounted for on naturalistic grounds, hence you're deluded" or "you've concluded that the universe as a whole is not exempt from the principle of causality, hence you must be deluded" and so on. In other words, the real disagreements between informed theists and informed atheists often boil down to whether a particular premise is true or false -- is an infinite regress of causes, or of contingent beings, etc. possible? do objective moral values exist? -- and not simply to whether god exists. I know, this is painfully obvious, but it seems to me as if this obvious truth is often forgotten in discussions about whether theists are deluded. To take a popular example, it doesn't seem to me as if one would have to be deluded to believe both that (1) there are moral facts, and (2) if god does not exist, there can be no moral facts. Many presumably non-deluded accept the truth of either (1) or (2). But if one can believe (1) and (2) without being deluded, it follows necessarily that one can believe that god exists without being deluded. Apply the same procedure to your favorite, logically valid argument for god's existence: if the atheist concedes that the premises can be rationally believed, it follows that the conclusion can be rationally believed. And, to conclude that the conclusion -- god exists -- cannot be rationally believed, he must conclude that the premises cannot be rationally believed.

Am I missing anything here?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Jake Elwood I refuse to foot the bill for that one, no matter how much anyone drags their feet, I resuse to wait on anyone hand and foot.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic said: It's starting to look as if the dice are loaded here. Heads, I win, tails, you lose.

Vic this is why I don't value the philosophy of religion too much. You can twist and turn and gerrymander around the real point of the argument with your language games to support your inherited faith.

All you got is the centuries old claim that science can't explain this or that, and when it does you move the goal posts. The point is that science explains and you can't do anything but continue to move the goals posts.

You just don't see it. Your faith makes you look stupid.

John W. Loftus said...

Either you argue for the god of the gaps or you do not. If you do it's a fallacy. If not, then a universe plus god in it looks indistinguishable from a universe without god in it. That is, unless there is positive evidence for the the existence of your god.

What's not to understand here?

Why is this a heads I win tails you lose thing?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, yes. But I haven't the time.

There are degree of delusion, it's not a question of "you either are or your aren't.

Eric said...

John, I'm interested in your thoughts about the point I raised in my last post here: While it may seem initially plausible to some to say, "If you believe in god you're deluded," it doesn't seem to me that it's at all plausible to say, "if you believe [insert the conjunction of the premises of any of of the more popular arguments for god's existence here], you're deluded." But if it's not plausible to say I'm deluded because I've concluded, say, that everything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence, then why am I deluded for accepting the logical consequences of the conjunction of these sorts of premises?

Eric said...

Sorry John, I began writing that last post before I saw your response.

Victor Reppert said...

I've never seen any refutation of Larmer's argument that God of the Gaps reasoning is not fallacious, or, at least, not necessarily so. I looked at your response to that, and I didn't see much of a real argument. You can have retail arguments against particular god of the gaps arguments, but I don't think a wholesale rejection is merited.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, you've touched the cover of my book, WIBA? This is the first I've heard.

In it I said that if Larmer is correct,

...then I can legitimately argue from the fact that science is closing these gaps to the nonexistence of God. It’s not a large step to take. Since it’s reasonable to think there will always be gaps in our understanding, the only question left is which set of control beliefs best explains why these gaps are being closed. The point is that Christians must admit that the scientific method is indeed extremely fruitful, but then deny it should be applied to an investigation of the Bible and its claims of miracles, including the origin of the universe. They have to deny what seems to scientifically literate people undeniable, or at the very minimum, most probable. They must apply a double standard here, for while they accept it in all other areas of their lives they deny it when it comes to the Bible. Why the double standard?

Christian philosopher W. Christopher Stewart objects to the “god of the gaps” reasoning because, as he says, “natural laws are not independent of God. For the Christian theist, God upholds nature in existence, sustaining it in a providential way.” From his perspective this is true. But his rationale for objecting to this type of reasoning is a bit strange. He says, “To do so is to make religious belief an easy target as the gaps in scientific understanding narrow with each scientific discovery.” Now why should he be concerned with this unless science truly is leaving less and less room for the supernatural? He’s admitting the evidence does not favor his faith. He’s trying to explain away the evidence. I dare say that if he still lived in a prescientific era before science could explain so much he’d be arguing this is evidence that God exists! In the future if all of the gaps are closed, which is theoretically possible but not likely, will the theist then admit there is no evidence for God, or will she again switch tactics?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor: gap-based arguments are pretty weak in general, have a pretty bad track record.

Also, Loftus raises a good point that once you give up the God of the gaps type reasoning for God, your position can become empirically indistinguishable from nontheism.

If I were a theist, it would not be because of gaps in our knowledge about things like magnetic field reversals, consciousness, etc.. I would likely think that God is needed to explain everything as a sustaining cause, even things that science can explain, as a sustaining cause: X is a natural process, but X exists because God sustains its existence. But this is largely indistinguishable, empirically, from naturalism. (Same problem with pantheism).

On the other hand, I think that it is easy to get out of this with appeal to miracles. Arguments from miracles typically aren't god-of-the-gap type arguments. Same with arguments from personal experience of the divine, etc..

One thing I have noticed about Victor is that he seems to have a strong weakness for god-of-the-gap type arguments, so this blog is a bit skewed (argument from reason, after all, is ltimately a god of the gaps argument).

I was very surprised here when I asked if all the gaps were eliminated for things like consciousness, morality, etc., would you still believe? And many people here, to my great surprise, said no (I can't find the post). Suggests there is a strong selection bias at this blog for people with sympathies for gap-based inference.

John W. Loftus said...

BDKk, is that really you? Or is someone impersonating you?

;-)

JS Allen said...

We have no evidence that the Bible was concerned with explaining away "gaps" in our understanding of nature. The idea just isn't credible. What seems more plausible is that the authors of the Bible were attempting to preserve their insights about metaphysics.

The fact that some superstitious Christians make "gap-based" explanations doesn't mean the Bible is about "filling in gaps", anymore than the fact that some Christians have affairs means that the Bible is a sex manual. To me, it's no different from the way that John sometimes makes sweeping superstitious appeals to "science", while butchering the science. The fact that lay people like John sometimes use science improperly doesn't mean science is *meant* to be used that way.

BTW, sections 1-10 of the Herrick paper Vic linked a couple days ago has a discussion of the validity of "argument from ignorance" that is more interesting than the Larmer paper, IMO.

cl said...

John W. Loftus,

As just one example of what I allege to be a false, misleading and cherrypicked claim, do you stand by your statement that archaeology has shown us there was no Exodus?

If so, where are your responses to criticisms from Victor and myself?