Friday, June 17, 2011

The "no evidence" charge

I have often been puzzled by the charge, made by many atheists, that there is NO evidence for God, or for the supernatural, or paranormal, or what have you. The reason is that as I understand evidence, X is evidence for Y is X is a fact of our experience that is more likely to be the case if Y is true than if Y is false. And it looks to me that there are all sorts of things in our experience that are more likely to be there with God than without God. The kind of testimony to the Resurrection that we have, it seems to me, is more likely to be there given the existence of God than without the existence of God. That doesn't mean that there is a God, to be sure, or that the Resurrection happened.

In an exchange on Debunking Christianity, someone said


To a rational, skeptical mind, claiming to have seen evidence of the paranormal is, in and of itself, evidence of 
delusional thinking.


When I said that I had seen evidence of the paranormal, I was referring to the violin teacher incident  that I discussed a few months back. Now I can easily see coming out of that discussion thinking that it wasn't a genuine episode of clairvoyance. What I can't see is thinking that it provides no evidence at all for clairvoyance. It seems to me that of course, it's something that is more likely to have occurred if there were such a thing as clairvoyance as opposed to if there were no such thing, even if it is really wasn't clairvoyance 
after all.

102 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe someone can explain how the term "evidence" is being used here.

In a completely slipshod, purposefully bogus way?

There's plenty of evidence for God. Someone can argue that the evidence is insufficient, or should be taken another way, or so on. I disagree. But to say there's no evidence is itself evidence of either intellectual dishonesty or stupidity.

Crude said...

The reason is that as I understand evidence, X is evidence for Y is X is a fact of our experience that is more likely to be the case if Y is true than if Y is false.

I think evidence goes beyond this.

Philosophical arguments that are not flat out refuted constitute some evidence.
Experience constitutes evidence.
Proof of concept constitutes evidence.
What you mention constitutes evidence as well, but I think evidence is far more broad.

To a rational, skeptical mind, claiming to have seen evidence of the paranormal is, in and of itself, evidence of
delusional thinking.


It's rational and skeptical to flat out believe that anyone who claims to have seen something you don't believe in at the moment must be delusional? Huh.

I'm not sure I'd agree with your estimation of the violin experience. I absolutely think it would count as evidence, but I'm not sure 'this would have been more likely given clairvoyance than its lack' is the right way to frame it.

David Parker said...

Swinburne distinguishes between a P-inductive argument and a C-inductive argument.

A correct P-inductive argument is one that renders the conclusion more probably that not.

A correct C-inductive argument renders the conclusion more probable.

Surely we can grant that a cumulative argument (conjoining all compatible theistic arguments) will render a correct C-inductive argument.

If the atheist just means that we don't have a correct P-inductive argument, who cares?

unkleE said...

I think one of the problems here is our definition of "paranormal". I would use this word to mean something for which we don't at present have a natural explanation, and which seems to be contrary to what we know about nature.

Thus radio would be paranormal for a stone age tribesman, but quite normal to us. Things which we currently call paranormal may perhaps one day be shown to be true and naturally explicable. NDEs may be one case of something that is seen as paranormal by some (i.e. actual post death experiences) but normal by others (i.e. simply brain states).

But I think some naturalists/physicalists /materialists use the word differently. They believe there is nothing beyond the physical and no explanations beyond physical ones, so if something appears to be outside those boundaries, then by definition (to them) it could not have happened and anyone who thinks it could must be 'delusional'. The resurrection is clearly in this category, but I'm not sure why someone might think there couldn't possibly be a natural explanation for other 'paranormal' events.

Anonymous said...

"Evidence" there refers to something that would absolutely convince that particular skeptic.

Ana said...

"To a rational, skeptical mind, claiming to have seen evidence of the paranormal is, in and of itself, evidence of delusional thinking."

If we assume the above is correct -- for the sake of the argument -- then it seems to me that a corollary to it would be that asking for evidence of the paranormal, is also an engagement in delusion, because the request suggests there can be such a thing (and that it can be accessed by humans) in theory. And yet atheists demand evidence for such all the time!

So if an atheist were presented with evidence of the paranormal, and were to accept it as authentic, then (per the quoted comment), that atheist is under a delusion.

Ilíon said...

The "no evidence" charge is just one more example of the irredeemable intellectual hypocrisy of 'atheists' and "skeptics."

Ilíon said...

anon ""Evidence" there refers to something that would absolutely convince that particular skeptic."

Many people -- and these selectively hyper-skeptical "skeptics" are among the worst of the lot -- do not want to be convinced, which is function of freedom; rather, they demand to be mentally/intellectually raped. Their attidude is this: "So long as I can assert that you have not made a case for 'X', then you have not made a case for 'X'" ... and, of course, they will *always* deny that a case has been made.

Ilíon said...

UnkleE: "But I think some naturalists/physicalists /materialists use the word differently. They believe there is nothing beyond the physical and no explanations beyond physical ones, so if something appears to be outside those boundaries, then by definition (to them) it could not have happened and anyone who thinks it could must be 'delusional'. The resurrection is clearly in this category, ..."

They are intellectually dishonest: they are hypocrites with respect to truth, reason, evidence and argumentation. As I discuss here, by their own worldview, they have absolutely no rational standing to reject *any* miraculous or "paranormal" claim.

It is not "miracles" to which they (pointlessly) object, but rather to the attribution of "miracles" to the agency of God; a "miracle" without an agent behind it is just fine with them.

JS Allen said...

By evidence, they mean something that is actually evidence. Like the stars forming the pattern "Richard Carrier, Turn or Burn", or DNA containing the sequence "Slartibartfast was Here".

That would be evidence until a naturalistic explanation was found.

Bobcat said...

I think they most of them mean empirical evidence. Thus, no philosophical argument for God can offer evidence, by definition. (Even if the ontological argument were successful, I think these people would think it offers no evidence.)

Now of course, they mean not *just* empirical evidence, for if that's all they meant, then they would have to take eye-witness reports of miraculous phenomena to count as empirical evidence for theism. So, they mean a certain subset of empirical evidence, namely empirical evidence that (1) receives broad support, or at least broad respect, from the scientific community, or that (2) would be regarded by most members of the scientific community as obviously compatible with natural scientific theories that are regarded as more-or-less established.

(I include (2) because I think these skeptics would admit that my seeing my cat on my bed counts as evidence that my cat is on my bed, even though the claim, "Bobcat's cat is on his bed" does not receive broad support/respect from the scientific community.)

John W. Loftus said...

Victor, I just read about your Spelling Bee incident and I must say more than ever that this book will help you think your way through it. Incredibly improbable things happen all of the time if for no other reason because there are so many people and so many minutes in life. The authors demonstrate this.

There is another thing. Our memories have been demonstrated to be poor. Each time we recall a memory we can add bits to it that were not part of the original incident even though we still feel certain that our memory is of what actually happened. On memories see this book.

So as a young boy you did not have the ability to see what was going on and your memory of what happened changed over the years.

There, that wasn't hard.

GET THAT BOOK!

John W. Loftus said...

Victor, even if your memory is correct, as a boy you had no clue that your violin teacher could see on your face that you had won the Spelling Bee. So quite naturally the previous champion had lost, which means it would be a good guess when he lost. And if he was wrong "cold Reading" does the rest, for he could have said earlier and you told him when.

This is all basic stuff.

And he wanted to teach you about clairvoyance. You said so. Put two and two together. Adults who want to teach children something can easily fool them.

John W. Loftus said...

Link

Mr Veale said...

John, John, John

While I await the devastating counterattack from your devotees, let's look at some basic facts about evidence.

If (e) increase the probability of (h) it is evidence for (h1).

P(e|h1) may not be >(0.5)

(e) might provide evidence for other, competing hypotheses.

Now if P(e) is very high on (h2), and only slightly higher on (h1) then (h1) is "explained away".

But as long as p(e|h)>p(e|not-h) then (e) is evidence for (h).

This is fairly basic stuff. There's nothing really controversial at all about Vic's definition.

Graham

Mr Veale said...

So a strange wakes in the waters of Loch Ness can be evidence of big beasties, big fish and strange currents.
Sentient noises can be evidence of poltergeists, telekinesis, and a hoax.
The question is "which hypothesis is best supported by the evidence?"

Graham

Chris said...

What atheists mean by evidence is 'non-subjective' evidence. Anecdotes are not non-subjective evidence, so they are dismissed. You can debate whether they still constitute evidence or not, but really it's all about where you draw the starting line. (Though perhaps you are right that it is unfair to say 'no evidence'.)

Many atheists formerly believed in God, the paranormal, etc. – I know I did, and partly on the basis of this type of evidence. Once this type of evidence was undermined for me, one of the pillars of my belief was removed; eventually I became an atheist when I stopped believing in the paranormal/supernatural (among other reasons). So the same things you find compelling were once compelling to many atheists, but no longer are (my point being that atheists are not all walking around blindly refusing to even look at the evidence).

Tony Hoffman said...

Well, I think the problem cuts both ways here as well. If you think that skeptics are slippery with what they consider evidence, I’d also point out that believers are slippery with the thing they’re claiming to have evidence for. Case in point would be the Big Bang – I agree that it could be evidence for the Christian God, but it is more likely evidence for a deistic god, a tinkering force, a program simulation, a multiverse, or any other countless number of options. To make the claim that the universe’s beginning is evidence for a particular God seems like focusing too narrowly on what can be inferred, to the point that I’d say it is a mis-application of the term “evidence.”

Another problem is cherry picking partial results and calling those evidence. This seems to me akin to saying that there is evidence for rain dancing’s success because, in some instances, it does rain after rain dancing. But this is actually a misappropriation of the term “evidence” – the evidence isn’t the result that it sometimes rains after rain dancing, the evidence is that it rains after rain dancing no more than it does without rain dancing. Detecting an event isn’t evidence – it is data. Evidence is the measuring of data to see if it differs from noise.

Seen though that lens, I think that the shorthand phrase “There is no evidence for God,” while jarring to the ears of a theist, is useful and fair so long as it’s unpacked correctly.

Leonhard said...

I've hesitated a bit in making this reply, since There's a lot of questions rolled together in the blog post you made. Dissecting it and responding to the parts will be a long project. I can't give an adequate account of the answers, especially because of the letter limit. I'm not gonna post twenty posts back to back, so I'll have to give a short answer. Secondly it seems like this post has more to do with things that John Loftus says, than what atheists in general say.

I'll start by clarifying that if Loftus is the source of the quote, then he's gotten it pretty much wrong. At least you'd have to apply a very generous interpretation to make that statement equivalent to what I will hold. If we have very good evidence that paranormal events don't occur, then I think we might be rationally justified in suspecting a person of delusion. However even then I do think there's a question of tact, and handling a person graciously. If my uncle came down from a trip the Alps, wild eyed and claiming to have seen Big Foot. Then I wouldn't say that he saw no such thing. I'm very certain he probably saw something, but I'd be far from convinced that it was Big Foot. Hypnogogic waking dream? Third Man Syndrome? Psychotic breakdown? Or even more humble, mistaken identity of another person on the alps? I know all of these other events are regularly occuring. Isn't it more reasonable to suspect these first? However if he was right, then I might find Big Foot steps in the mud, fur clinging to leafs, perhaps bones from a dead Big Foot.

Or here's another thing, say you wake up this morning and experience a velociraptor standing in your living room, moving about sniffing things and giving you a leer and hiss from time to time. You manage to sneak out of your home and contact your friends, you come back and find the house empty. There are no clawmarks on the floor, no knocked over furniture, or lingering smell or any type of residue. But you saw it, felt it, heard it, smelt it... but wouldn't you then have to accept that whatever you saw, it wasn't an actual physical dinosaur in your living room?

The fact that people hold to beliefs of ghosts, goblins, healing crystals, angelology, homeopathy, aliens and other such things don't mean that these thigns are signs of delusion in and off themselves. Each of these have to be investigated on and case by case basis. And so far, and I'm siding with the skeptics belonging to the The Center For Inquiry and The James Randi Educational Foundation, which have been examening these claims for decades, that there's nothing to them.

I'm a naturalist and believe there's no good evidence for the existence of God. Sure there's personal experience, which varies from person to person and is universal between all religous people. However there's nothing externally verifying piece of evidence. I don't think that the theistic argument, whether its the ontological, moral, transcendental (I have your book on the backburner), or cosmological arguments actually work. The design argument, which was basically the strongest argument for theism that ever was, died with the advent of evolutionary biology. The mystery of appearance of order in the universe, I think died with the mechanistic revolutions in physics. This is just my opinion. Again each argument is a case by case evaluation. If there's any evidence for God left, I think its about as strong as the evidence you'd have that there was a velociraptor in your living room.

Ilíon said...

a selectively hyper-skeptical "skeptic" "To a rational, skeptical mind, claiming to have seen evidence of the paranormal is, in and of itself, evidence of
delusional thinking.
"

Then again, according to my parents, I wouldn't even be alive today were it not for a "paranormal" event, as I briefly discussed here.

Interestingly, an 'atheist' shares a similar story in the comments ... and then declines to acknowledge the only two rational possibilites of it:
1) that his sister was lying;
2) that his sister's experience cannot be squared with materialism/naturalism ... which means that materialism/naturalism is not the truth about the nature of reality.

John W. Loftus said...

For the record I did not say such a thing as Victor quoted off my blog.

Victor Reppert said...

Quite right, it was said by one of your commentators. But I wonder if you endorse the claim that there is no evidence for God, or the paranormal, and if so, what you mean by that statement.

Ana said...

"By evidence, they mean something that is actually evidence. Like the stars forming the pattern "Richard Carrier, Turn or Burn", or DNA containing the sequence "Slartibartfast was Here".

That would be evidence until a naturalistic explanation was found.


If theists characterized such a thing as evidence, the skeptics' charge that would conceivably follow from that is "God of the gaps!!!!!"

Crude said...

Some scattered comments.

The design argument, which was basically the strongest argument for theism that ever was, died with the advent of evolutionary biology.

It did no such thing, because "the design argument" was never a single argument. Evolution damaged (and didn't even completely remove) one particular design argument. Plenty of others remain, and have even grown stronger since that time. Indeed, evolution itself increasingly looks like applied technology.

The mystery of appearance of order in the universe, I think died with the mechanistic revolutions in physics.

Except the mechanistic revolution was A) primarily philosophical/metaphysical, and B) never resolved the appearance of order in the universe. It just categorized the order in a particular way. Science as science does not address the source or nature of natural laws, much less the order in the universe.

That would be evidence until a naturalistic explanation was found.

As Ana said, that would then be 'the God of the gaps'. Further, if lacking a naturalistic explanation suffices for evidence, there is evidence like mad for God.

Regardless - there is plenty of evidence for God (and complaining that 'the evidence is compatible with deism, or polytheism, or...' etc, still leaves one with evidence for God/god(s), and evidence against atheism). Even empirical evidence. Admitting this may make some atheists grind their teeth, but at the end of the day it's the case whether they like it or not.

Alex Dalton said...

JS Allen: By evidence, they mean something that is actually evidence. Like the stars forming the pattern "Richard Carrier, Turn or Burn", or DNA containing the sequence "Slartibartfast was Here".

That would be evidence until a naturalistic explanation was found.

Alex: Um, we already have a naturalistic explanation for that. In an exhaustive/infinite multiverse, the probability of this occurring is actually one, so we shouldn't be surprised to see it.

Anonymous said...

@Chris
You say, "What atheists mean by evidence is 'non-subjective' evidence."

I think this definition is naive (especially from an atheist), and part of the reason why modernism fell apart. What could anyone mean by "non-subjective" anymore?

1. Every experience you have, including your experimentation and assessment of evidence, is subjective.

2. You may attempt to define "non-subjective" as agreed upon by the masses, but this only gives into issues of our communal subjectivity against their communal subjectivity, usually meaning that the community with power wins and defines knowledge for the society. Foucault famously turned Francis Bacon's dictum around when he said, "power is knowledge."

3. Even within a modernistic paradigm, how can we continue to think of any assessment of evidence apart from observer/instrument effects? Quantum physics opened the door for the realization that the observer plays greatly into the results of an experiment. The "subject" plays into the observation of the "object."

So if the atheist demands "non-subjective" evidence for God, the movement of particles or anything else, then they will not find it for it does not exist.

Leonhard said...

Just a quick reply to Crude. I am aware that there's no single design argument, just there's more than one ontological argument. This might have been clearer if I had used plural. As for whether new and/or modified design arguments are stronger today I dont think so. I specifically said that that was my opinion. Each of those points require a lengthy defense, which I don't see is that relevant to Reppert's opening question. All I was saying was 'in the abscence of any good arguments for the existence of God, I wouldn't have better evidence for his existence than for a velociraptor in having been in my living room'. I also gave my opinion on the quote Reppert started out with. You're free to counter my opinions with your own, but I wasn't making a defense of these points in this thread.

JS Allen said...

@Alex - LOL!

In fact, we're probably close to proving via BBP that Pi is mathematically normal, which would indicate that the digits of Pi definitely contain the message "Richard Carrier, Turn or Burn" an infinite number of times -- the first time within the first 10^26 digits.

Anonymous said...

Atheists, there's an agreed upon definition of what constitutes evidence and it is exemplified in Bayes' Theorem. Why the need then to invent some other definition of evidence? Is it just to preserve the polemical claim "there is no evidence for God?" Why not just retire that phrase and start using the more rational and accurate polemic "there isn't sufficient evidence for belief in God." Why do you insist on making the theist's job so easy? Why do you, who define yourselves by your rationality, open yourselves up so broadly to an immediate attack on your rationality? To an agnostic, this appears a desperate move on your part, and reeks to high heaven (you'll pardon the phrase) of special pleading.

Chris said...

"I think this definition is naive (especially from an atheist), and part of the reason why modernism fell apart. What could anyone mean by "non-subjective" anymore?"

Thank you for your response; you make good points. Probably it is naïve. If you are right, perhaps I can now dismiss all would-be evidence of the supernatural *even in principle*, as I await my own personal, subjective supernatural experience; presumably it will only be equally naive theists who call me to account for this.

I am a little skeptical that you are able to maintain a perfectly postmodern mindset at all times. Even in your post, you reference something called ‘quantum physics’ for support.

Subjective experience seems also to be no less fraught with philosophical difficulties, and no less subject to shaping by social power. Then there are unconscious mental processes and results that we remain entirely unaware of (well, that’s what I ‘read,’ anyway)....

In any case, I admit I have no solution to the problem of knowledge. Here in my vat, I do the best I can.

Alex Dalton said...

JS Allen - the funny thing is that my naturalistic explanation is not a joke! This is what many atheists and scientists currently use to explain the fine-tuning, and it can be used to explain any improbable arrangement of matter. Thus, according to your statement "That would be evidence until a naturalistic explanation was found", the evidence you presented would not be evidence. So your attempt to elucidate the nature of evidence for theism fail.

Leonhard said...

To the anonymous who went on a rant against atheists in general. I'm not gonna respond to all the questions, mostly because they have the smell and feel of flame bait.

I agree with you that Bayes theorem is a good way of assessing evidence. Its hard to see exactly what your argument is, but it seems you're arguing that if there some evidence E, that makes the hypothesis H more likely than not, then why are 'you atheists' claiming that there's no evidence for H? Well that's easy because I'm claiming that there's no evidence to raise H. None of the theistic arguments work, that's my claim, therefore we only have the prior probability that Christianity is true. Reppert might object that all prior probabilities are subjective, though I'm not sure he'd argue that you can set them at whatever. The prior probability of a more complex hypothesis is lower than a simpler hypothesis. A good lower limit is to take the number of unambiguous yes and no questions it would take to describe the hypothesis, the prior probability would then be 2^-N, where N is the number of questions (or bits in a program that generates the hypothesis). The former assumes that all the yes and no questions are independent. It would be the equivalent of saying that given what we don't know, what's the chance of each these questions to receive the right answer.

P(H|E) = [P(E|H)/P(E)]*P(H)

No matter how low the prior probability is, if you have good enough evidence then the Bayes Factor can make the probability of the hypothesis large enough to warrant belief.

Now Reppert argues that there's plenty of types of event that can figure as E, where P(E|H) is large for theism. Well the problem is that P(E) might not be low, and that P(H) is low (since it requires several counterfactuals turning out just right).

Finding claw marks on your floor, knocked over plants, some dino droppings, a few scales that don't match anything in the reptilian world etc... all that is extremely unlikely to be found given the hypothesis that there wasn't a dinosaur in your room. However not finding any of these makes the probability that there ever was dinosaur in your room very low. All sorts of other possibilities would be competing as a reasonable explanation: Waking dream, psychotic breakdown, perhaps a prank played by some frat buddies using a well made animatronics robot. Of course each of those possibilities would invite its own investigation. Just saying that out of this space of possibilities, why would you insist that a dinosaur was in your room, if you didn't find any trace of it when you returned?

Mr Veale said...

I think that there is a serious breakdown in communication between statisticians and scientists who use Bayes Theorem.

In any case NO evidence for God. There's no order in the universe, for example?
I'm not arguing (for the moment) that there are no better hypotheses. But Theism does raise the probability of order, design etc.

Unless you're Elliott Sober.

Graham

Leonhard said...

Well if we're gonna quibble about what ought to be called evidence, all I'll say is that if all it takes for something to be called evidence that "Its plausible given the hypothesis", then just about every single hypothesis has *some* evidence for it.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm inclined to think that. I think that there is evidence for just about everything. In cases of very implausible things, there is just not enough evidence.

Tony Hoffman said...

VR: “I'm inclined to think .... that there is evidence for just about everything.”

I understand now that this is your approach. I’m partly sympathetic, but I think there needs to be a filter for noise, bias, etc. in terms of accepting evidence with regard to testimony.

I wonder what your heuristic would do with this scenario: You claim to have seen a UFO, but you are mistaken (say you mistook an optical illusion). I claim to have seen a UFO, but I am lying.

Now, to some (especially you), it would seem that we have evidence (possibly even plausible) evidence that UFO’s exist. But in fact, we have evidence of an optical illusion (your experience) and evidence of lying (me).

It is in fact plausible (I’d even say likely) that all reports of UFO’s follow this pattern. Applying Bayes Theorem we’d have to know something about the existence of UFO’s (and we don’t, except for the reports above, multiplied by thousands of similar reports) against the likelihood that UFO reporters are mistaken or lying. But the only evidence we have is based on the reports. Hmmmm. In this case, and I’m not sure how it would be drawn out as an equation, it seems appropriate that a filter should exist that prevents the large number of false reports from increasing the likelihood that UFO’s exist, rather than the likelihood that people can be mistaken and that people lie.

My point being that when it comes to testimony, especially testimony in which time has elapsed or has been relayed through hearsay, evidence “for” something is probably more appropriately relegated to a more mundane occurrence, such as mistaken apprehension, faulty memory, intentional deceit, etc.

JS Allen said...

@Alex - I know! I was just suggesting that Pythagoras proposed this argument 2500 years before Hawking, and Pythagoras's argument was far more beautiful.

If you're designing a multiverse generator that will exhaustively try all possible values (and land on life), you have 3 choices:

1) Infinite monkeys randomly beating on typewriters. For this, you need true indeterminism, if such a thing exists.

2) Sequentially iterate through all values, like a factorial or nested loop

3) Pick a simple mathematical equation that is both irrational and completely normal. Like a circle. All you need to make a circle is a consistent distance from a center, and your precision increases as you get further from the center. Nothing could be simpler.

Pythagoras insight was based on polygons with increasing number of sides (with infinite sides being a circle).

It seems like Hawkings and co are assuming the multiverse is #1 or #2, but I say you need to prove that Pythagoras was wrong. Where does #1 come from anyway? How can we be sure that our "true indeterminism" isn't just the "pi" of the aliens who wrote the simulation that we're running inside of?

Anonymous said...

Leonhard,

As I understand it, according to Bayes' Theorem, the only way H could fail to be raised in the presence of data more likely to exist if H is true is if the prior probability for H is zero. In other words, only if the existence of God were logically impossible could we say that the data we have that tends to confirm theism does not raise the probability of theism at all. Forget the arguments for God, just the mere fact that people believe in God is evidence for God, since it's more likely that people would believe in God if God exists than if He didn't. The fact that people have claimed to talk to God is evidence for God, because those claims are more likely if God exists than if He didn't. Now, OF COURSE that evidence isn't sufficient for belief in God (it doesn't raise the probability over .5), but it very much is evidence. It's a straightforward, easily established mathematical fact that it is evidence.

So, again, I don't understand from a tactical standpoint the decision of the atheist movement to wed itself to such an obviously false claim. Is it really worth your intellectual integrity just to be able to say "there is no evidence for God?" What is it that you're afraid will happen if you just make the slight change from the "no evidence" to the "insufficient evidence" claim?

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon: "The fact that people have claimed to talk to God is evidence for God, because those claims are more likely if God exists than if He didn't. Now, OF COURSE that evidence isn't sufficient for belief in God (it doesn't raise the probability over .5), but it very much is evidence. It's a straightforward, easily established mathematical fact that it is evidence."

No. Mathematics does not determine whether or not something represents evidence. Only a process like science does. This is a serious error on your part.

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon: "The fact that people have claimed to talk to God is evidence for God, because those claims are more likely if God exists than if He didn't. Now, OF COURSE that evidence isn't sufficient for belief in God (it doesn't raise the probability over .5), but it very much is evidence. It's a straightforward, easily established mathematical fact that it is evidence."

No. Mathematics does not determine whether or not something represents evidence. Only a process like science does. This is a serious error on your part.

Papalinton said...

@ Tony Hoffman

You say, " ... it seems appropriate that a filter should exist that prevents the large number of false reports from increasing the likelihood that UFO’s exist, rather than the likelihood that people can be mistaken and that people lie."

This is the quintessential modus for the development of christianity over time. While there may have been a 'kernel of truth' somewhere in the legendizing mix, we don't know and we don't have any evidence where that kernel may have resided.

To seek the answer through Apologetics, due to the very nature and professed purpose of the discipline, would be fruitless and unproductive. The the level and degree of corrupted documentation, chronicle and testimony, corrupted through calculated and intentional practice, as well as unwitting and inadvertent carelessness, by both 'well-meaning' scholars together with those whose life's investment is wholly centered around propagating the legend, would be simply too difficult to tease out and assess.

Anonymous said...

Tony Hoffman,

But of course, we aren't referencing pure mathematics. We're using mathematics to analyze the empirical data. Reports of God belief, reports of communication with God, reports of miracles, etc, are data points that, when given any finite value and plugged into Bayes' theorem, raise the probability of the hypothesis that God exists. It may only raise it from 0.00001 to 0.00002. But that it raises it at all is sufficient to establish it as evidence in the technical sense.

Bayes' Theorem, according to my meager understanding of it, tells us that a piece of data is evidence for a hypothesis if it is more likely to exist if the hypothesis is true than if it isn't. Do you disagree with the core reasoning behind the theorem? Unless you do, there is no rational reason to deny there is evidence for God. So why not move on to the far more interesting question of whether there is sufficient evidence for God?

Chris said...

"Bayes' Theorem, according to my meager understanding of it, tells us that a piece of data is evidence for a hypothesis if it is more likely to exist if the hypothesis is true than if it isn't."

I'm curious how this (“more likely to exist if the hypothesis is true than if it isn't “) can be determined (or is it simply assumed since God is not logically impossible?), especially given the complex perceptual/cognitive (i.e., evolutionary) and psychological (social and individual) factors that may be involved in god-belief. For example, I believe there are studies that show that religious believers produce more offspring than nonbelievers (atheists are often unmarried and childless); this reproductive benefit alone can account for the high prevalence of religious belief around the world but could plausibly be of no particular relevance to increasing the likelihood of God’s existence.

In addition, delusional people in asylums claim to speak with God; people who murder their family claim to speak with God – my point being that people that both theists and atheists could agree are ‘unreliable’ make this claim. Even though they are simply outliers, they indicate that there is a continuum of reliability that needs accounting for (though this seems impossible).

In short, I suppose I am asking how Bayes’ Theorem accounts for the reliability of the data. If the data are unreliable in the sense that many complex factors are unaccounted for, can that data be used as probability increasers, even for a very small range?

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon: "Reports of God belief, reports of communication with God, reports of miracles, etc, are data points that, when given any finite value and plugged into Bayes' theorem, raise the probability of the hypothesis that God exists."

Or they raise the probability that people deceive themselves, deceive others, or are mistaken. Here's the problem: What is the probability that people will report communication with God if God does not exist, compared to if God does? If we don't have the answer to this question, we have no reason to put ANY finite value for these reports into a Bayes Theorem, which assumes we've taken care of answering questions like these prior to asking it for a result. Otherwise it seem like we're just feeding it our intuitions in an effort to validate a belief that we already hold.

Anonymous said...

Chris,

You pose interesting questions that for the sake of the particular point I'm trying to make don't matter at all.

Victor can certainly explain this better, but again, as I understand it, the reliability of the evidence is captured in Bayes by including the probability of the evidence if the hypothesis weren't true. I believe it's written out as: P(E/~H). If that probability is very high, then the evidence is very weak. If it's low, then it's pretty strong.

So the question is, all things being equal, is it more or less likely that there will be reports of communication with God if God exists? The answer is obviously more likely. Even granting that in either case there will be numerous false reports of God's existence, granting certain assumptions about God (i.e. that He's personal) if God exists, there would be some actual instances of communication along with the false positives. So, it's more likely that God exists given such reports, even if only slightly.

Even if all the people who claim to have communicated with God are not just untrustworthy but certifiably insane. That would still be evidence that God exists. It would be even weaker than the situation we have, when even some very reputable, honorable people claim to have had communication with God, but it would still be evidence, however weak.

What I think is getting lost in the translation here is that no one is referencing Bayes to establish that it's true that God exists or that it's more likely than not that God exists. All we're addressing here is the "no evidence" charge. Bayes Theorem shows that charge is false. The evidence for God may be very bad, it may be so appallingly shoddy that no rational person should believe on the basis of it, but it is a trivial fact that there is evidence for the existence of God. I'm going to borrow from Richard Dawkins and say that anyone who doesn't acknowledge this is either stupid, uninformed, or insane.

Look, there's evidence for Santa Claus. There's evidence for the Easter Bunny. There's evidence for UFO landings at Roswell. It would be very hard to come up with a hypothesis for which there is literally no evidence, outside of purposefully forming a hypothesis that is logically impossible.

My word, this is such a small concession that I cannot imagine the psychological trauma that is motivating nearly the entire atheist community to refuse to continue to refuse to make it. As a group, you really act as if the Earth would open up and swallow you were you to admit this very insignificant, very obvious fact.

Anonymous said...

Tony Hoffman,

"Here's the problem: What is the probability that people will report communication with God if God does not exist, compared to if God does? If we don't have the answer to this question, we have no reason to put ANY finite value for these reports into a Bayes Theorem, which assumes we've taken care of answering questions like these prior to asking it for a result. Otherwise it seem like we're just feeding it our intuitions in an effort to validate a belief that we already hold."

As I just said to Chris, Bayes includes your question in the theorem in the form of the value of P(E/~H).

Of course Bayesian analysis is subjective in terms of the probabilities one gives for any particular event. But the only thing that matters on this particular question is this: are claims that God exists more likely or less likely if God exists?

Only if you would go so far as to say that claims that God exists would be LESS LIKELY if God exists can you say that claims of God's existence are not evidence for God. You may set the probability that the claims of communication with God would be made even if God doesn't exist so high that such claims only improve the probability that God exists by a very small amount, but that it improves the probability at all is enough to establish that it is evidence.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me, the sentence in the last response should read:

"Only if you were to go so far as to say that reports of communication with God would be LESS LIKELY if God exists could you claim that such reports were not evidence for God."

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon, this is where you run into trouble: "So the question is, all things being equal, is it more or less likely that there will be reports of communication with God if God exists? The answer is obviously more likely."

You are asserting this, but in order to apply it to Bayes you need to demonstrate that this is true. (There are many, many reasons why I can imagine that your statement above would not be true -- God may not want communication with him to interfere with our belief, he may us to find virtue on our own, etc.)

If you are relying on your intuitions to input numbers into a Bayesian calculation, I believe you are not improving your thinking. In that case I think you just cut out the math -- the middleman -- and defend your intuitions on some other grounds.

Tony Hoffman said...

Anon: "Of course Bayesian analysis is subjective in terms of the probabilities one gives for any particular event."

No. The Bayesian calculations I know of do not rely on subjective probabilities. You appear to have that exactly wrong. Engineers, statisticians, medical researchers, etc. use objective data when doing Bayesian analysis. And that is why it works.

Chris said...

Thanks for your helpful reply, Anon. I do want to clarify that I wasn't trying to defend the idea that there's no evidence for God – I was just trying to get a better handle on Bayes' Theorem and how it is being used by probing a bit (since my knowledge of Bayes is rudimentary). I agree with you that it's a small concession for atheists to substitute 'insufficient evidence' for 'no evidence' (one I will make, fwiw).

Tony Hoffman said...

To be clear (and to sum up), I think it is Victor's position (and some others here) that there is ample evidence for God, and evidence is defined as evidence of the kind that should correctly be used in a Bayesian calculation.

I question this because it doesn't seem to me that there is any reliable, objective way to compare the likelihood of reports of something like a Resurrection in a world with and without God. We don't have any data comparing the two universes, and I can imagine ways in which a world with God would have the same or fewer reports of supernatural events than a world with God. So it seems that if we use the screen that a Bayesian calculation requires known probabilities about events, it appears that the event VR gave (testimony about a resurrection) is not actually evidence for God.

So my question would be, if not reports of supernatural events, what other type of evidence is there (of a kind that could be entered into a Bayesian calculation) for God?

JS Allen said...

"No. The Bayesian calculations I know of do not rely on subjective probabilities. You appear to have that exactly wrong. Engineers, statisticians, medical researchers, etc. use objective data when doing Bayesian analysis. And that is why it works."

I think he was just saying that Bayes depends on subjective estimates that are then refined by data. From Wikipedia:

"Bayesian inference uses a numerical estimate of the degree of confidence in a hypothesis before any evidence has been observed, and then it calculates a numerical estimate of the degree of confidence in the hypothesis after a set of evidence has been observed. Bayesian inference usually relies on degrees of belief, or subjective probabilities, in the induction process, and it does not necessarily claim to provide an objective method of induction."

And of course subjectivity can creep in via priors.

JS Allen said...

"Or they raise the probability that people deceive themselves, deceive others, or are mistaken. "

Correct. Anecdotal experiences of God can count as evidence for several competing hypotheses.

Alex Dalton said...

JS Allen - sorry you lost me on the Pythagoras stuff.

My point is that if evidence X for theism must meet the criterion of "no naturalistic explanation is available for X", then there can literally be no evidence for theism. Anything can be explained naturalistically. If naturalistic explanations are to be preferred to theistic explanations, just by virtue of being naturalistic, then theism is ruled out from the start.

Tony Hoffman said...

JS Allen, just to be thorough and proper about defining Bayesian inference, here’s the first sentence from the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Vol. 30, No. 2, 1968 (by A.P. Dempster): “Reduced to its mathematical essentials, Bayesian inference means starting with a global probability distribution for all relevant variables, observing the values of some of these variables, and quoting the conditional distribution of the remaining variables given the observations.”

My point remains that there doesn’t seem like a place in any theorem that I can imagine to conduct inductive tests that would increase or decrease the likelihood of God’s existence. It seems that some are suggesting that we can choose from whatever lies about, plop it into a Bayes theorem, and say we have rationally tested for God’s existence. This seems to lack any real rigor, and I think current claims of having evidence worthy of inclusion in a Bayesian inference seem, to say the least, a tad overblown.

Alex: “My point is that if evidence X for theism must meet the criterion of "no naturalistic explanation is available for X", then there can literally be no evidence for theism.”

Well, if you are willing to allow theism to be defined as a kind of God of the Gaps (if it can’t be explained naturally therefore God), then I would agree with you. But this is easily fixable; devise a working hypothesis for theism, and test it. That’s what I would do if were a theist, anyway.

Alex: “Anything can be explained naturalistically.”

By this if you mean that it’s possible that there can be found a natural explanation for all phenomena, I would agree. If you mean that we can currently provide good explanations for all natural phenomena, I would disagree.

Alex: “If naturalistic explanations are to be preferred to theistic explanations, just by virtue of being naturalistic, then theism is ruled out from the start.”

I doubt anyone is arguing that. I have never heard a naturalist make that argument, for instance. As a skeptic, I can’t think of any theistic explanation for any phenomenon that is superior to a natural explanation. This doesn’t mean that I find all natural explanations satisfying, but that the theistic explanations (not deistic ones, mind you) for the same phenomena seem to offer no more of the qualities I expect from a good explanation than the natural non-explanation.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony:
By this if you mean that it’s possible that there can be found a natural explanation for all phenomena, I would agree.

Alex: I do, so we're in agreement.

Tony: I doubt anyone is arguing that. I have never heard a naturalist make that argument, for instance.

Alex: That's the straightforward reading of JS Allen's "That would be evidence until a naturalistic explanation was found." Apparently finding a naturalistic explanation rules out a theistic explanation. Maybe he can clarify if he meant a certain kind of naturalistic explanation. But I've seen skeptics make this argument often, and its premised on the idea that naturalistic explanations are always going to be more probable than divine intervention/miracles.

Tony: As a skeptic, I can’t think of any theistic explanation for any phenomenon that is superior to a natural explanation.

Alex: I'm interested to see if you can think of any possible theistic explanation for any hypothetical phenomena that could be superior to an infinite/exhaustive multiverse, suspending judgment, a hallucination hypothesis, etc.? Short of us actually having been born in heaven, it seems like skeptics have pretty good catch-all naturalistic hypotheses for just about anything we could reasonably expect to find in a universe somewhat similar to our own.

JS Allen said...

@Tony - Dempster's definition is fine. It doesn't contradict anything I said. I've done Bayes professionally in several problem domains, and I just wanted to make sure you weren't misrepresenting how Bayes works. Bayes results in something that we often consider to be objective, but there is plenty of subjectivity in input.

I think you're just making the point that Bayes can be abused to arrive at preposterous conclusions. For example, the fellow in the comments of another post here who thought that he could invent an infinite number of pink unicorn hypotheses to dilute the God hypothesis to zero. Or the Doomsday Argument. It's fun to abuse Bayes for shock value.

It's not always easy to decide if someone is abusing Bayes or not, and I share your suspicion about use of Bayes in situations like this. There are some very substantial priors that both sides bring to the table which ought to have a very low confidence level, IMO.

But I don't think we can flatly rule out Bayes for testing a God hypothesis simply because it's "supernatural". Obviously, you would agree that Bayes can be applied to the question of whether or not we are living in a physical simulation created by a powerful alien species. The God hypothesis is roughly equivalent.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "I'm interested to see if you can think of any possible theistic explanation for any hypothetical phenomena that could be superior to an infinite/exhaustive multiverse, suspending judgment, a hallucination hypothesis, etc.? Short of us actually having been born in heaven, it seems like skeptics have pretty good catch-all naturalistic hypotheses for just about anything we could reasonably expect to find in a universe somewhat similar to our own."

I don't know if I follow you here. I understand that many people feel that the anthropic principle needs explanation, etc., but I have never understood that. My mind reels, of course, at the thought of the infinite, the concept of non-existence, etc., but I am not one who feels that, given our vantage, the physical constants need explanation. I just don't understand the question, I think. Could you please re-phrase your question?

JS Allen: "I think you're just making the point that Bayes can be abused to arrive at preposterous conclusions."

Partly, but I was more quibbling over what I thought was a novel approach by Victor et al. -- the contention that if something can be entered into a Bayesian calculation it becomes (poof) evidence. This seems like a too-low threshold to me, and could appear to be a sneaky way of avoiding the scrutiny that should be required at the front end.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: I don't know if I follow you here. I understand that many people feel that the anthropic principle needs explanation, etc., but I have never understood that.

Alex: I personally think the anthropic coincidences are extremely strong evidence for theism (and obviously so), but that is not at all what I'm referring to here. I am basically asserting that, with the current naturalistic explanations available to skeptics (and given that most skeptics feel naturalism is the most rational default position), it seems that we can better explain any possible observation.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex, okay. But I thought you were asking me a question above, and I felt like I didn't understand it exactly. If you could rephrase the question, I was curious what you meant. (The Question: ""I'm interested to see if you can think of any possible theistic explanation for any hypothetical phenomena that could be superior to an infinite/exhaustive multiverse, suspending judgment, a hallucination hypothesis, etc.?")

Alex Dalton said...

Can you think of any potential evidence for theism, that is not better explained by some of the current naturalistic scenarios proposed by skeptics/naturalists?

Leonhard said...

A lot of comments have erupted while I was gone. Can't reply to it all I'm afraid.

To the Anon who posted after me: "What are you afraid off?" oh get over yourself.

To the more interesting question about Bayesianism. Then yes you're right, if P(H) isn't zero, then any evidence E that's more likely given H than not H will raise the probability of H given E. However we're not living in a single hypothesis universe. The theistic worldviews are competing with various naturalistic worldviews. Sure the evidence might raise G, but it'd also raise the probability of N. The question is if the evidence raises one more than the other. If it doesn't, then I don't think its interesting evidence. If you were deciding who commited a murder, then and someone told you that they both have a knife, and have motives for commiting the murder, then that wouldn't help you decide which of them had done it.

Having skimmed through the comments, I think we've reached a situation where people are basically in agreement, but are disagreeing about what things should be called. When I say that there's no evidence for God, what I mean is that there is no evidence that really makes a difference as to whether God exists. Now this is conditional on my beliefs (warrented or not) that there are no rational arguments for God, and that personal experience of the truthiness of Christianity is not much different from other religions. That miracle and paranormal claims are dubious and so forth. I'm very sure many people here will disagree, but that's a different discussion. I am a naturalist after all, I believe the there isn't case for the supernatural. This is the real answer to Reppert's question in the OP imho.

The other group is arguing that everything should be called evidence if its more likely to be true given a hypothesis. However they agree that not all evidence is good. There's some arguing whether Bayesianism is a good way of handling evidence. Some say there's two ways of doing statistics, Bayesianism and the wrong way. I think personally it is a good way that avoids some pitfalls other methods have, though its there still might be other good methods out there, likelihoodism is another.

So should it be called 'Insignificant evidence', or 'No evidence'? Word quibble. Otherwise there seems to be agreement. I say 'no evidence', because I know of *no* evidence that really changes the likelihood of God existing.

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: "Can you think of any potential evidence for theism, that is not better explained by some of the current naturalistic scenarios proposed by skeptics/naturalists?"

Okay, that's an easy question (after all) to ask a skeptic like me. No.

The real question, I think, is what do theists think is the best evidence for a theistic God? I think we're coalescing around the idea that the examples proffered so far (testimony of a resurrection, testimony of supernatural communication) do not qualify because they have mundane explanations that appear (at least) as likely as a supernatural one.

Alex Dalton said...

Alex (old): "Can you think of any potential evidence for theism, that is not better explained by some of the current naturalistic scenarios proposed by skeptics/naturalists?"

Tony: Okay, that's an easy question (after all) to ask a skeptic like me. No.

Alex: I think you think I'm asking you to think of potential evidence that already exists. I'm actually trying to ask for you to imagine any potential evidence.

So to rephrase: "Short of being born in heaven, can you think of any potential evidence for theism that God could have provided, that is not better explained by some of the current naturalistic scenarios proposed by skeptics/naturalists?"

Tony Hoffman said...

Alex: : Alex: I think you think I'm asking you to think of potential evidence that already exists. I'm actually trying to ask for you to imagine any potential evidence.”

Ah, now I get it -- I thought maybe you were driving at something I wasn’t quite grasping. And I think that’s a great question.

For starters, just about any of the miracles that Jesus performed in the NT would be strong evidence for me. I think it’s extremely odd that Jesus would perform miracles regularly, but we do not see them in real life. (Why would God perform miracles to some audiences, and not to others?)

But if were to look for evidence from the god of classical theism, I think we’d expect the world to be very different than it is now. In our world, the innocent and virtuous are punished with cruelty and indifference. The guilty and malevolent often go free. In an ordered world, designed by an omnisicent, omnipotent, all-good God, I would expect that those who lived virtuously would be rewarded, and more importantly, there would not be needless suffering. I would find that world to be one in which strong evidence for God existed. Instead, I see a world that is ruled by random forces, and that is indifferent to suffering.

Additionally, I think any kind of real prophesy would be tremendously persuasive. If earth quakes were to be predicted (precise place and time, months or years in advance), etc. Basically, actionable prophesies like the kind Camping gave. The man is deluded or a huckster, but I have to hand it to him for making an empirical prediction that we could all witness come true or fail. I would consider prophesies of that nature, if fulfilled, to be good evidence for God.

Ilíon said...

"So to rephrase: "Short of being born in heaven, can you think of any potential evidence for theism that God could have provided, that is not better explained by some of the current naturalistic scenarios proposed by skeptics/naturalists?""

You, and every other human being, is the evidence that falsifies naturalism/atheism. While Mr Reppert doesn't state it that strongly (as he could and ought), that *is* the point of the Argument fron Reason.

Alex Dalton said...

Tony: For starters, just about any of the miracles that Jesus performed in the NT would be strong evidence for me. I think it’s extremely odd that Jesus would perform miracles regularly, but we do not see them in real life. (Why would God perform miracles to some audiences, and not to others?)

Alex: Well, that's the point of a miracle. The Jews, even as portrayed in the gospels, did not see these kinds of miracles regularly. But really anything you could possibly imagine comparable to what Jesus did, could just as easily be explained as a naturalistic trick of sorts. I think even if we saw such things, according to the skeptic, it would be best to withhold judgment. After all, so many modern miracles have been debunked.

Tony: ...Instead, I see a world that is ruled by random forces, and that is indifferent to suffering.

Alex: This wouldn't be evidence for theism. The Buddhists for example see our world as part of a wider multi-layered cosmology where such karmic justice is actually doled out, but it doesn't provide evidence for God.

Tony: Additionally, I think any kind of real prophesy would be tremendously persuasive. If earth quakes were to be predicted (precise place and time, months or years in advance), etc.

Alex: Also, as a modern skeptic, I'd have to say this would have a naturalistic explanation as well. In an exhaustive/infinite multiverse, there is bound to be one such planet where such predictions come true. Further, this wouldn't be evidence for God - just clairvoyance.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: “But really anything you could possibly imagine comparable to what Jesus did, could just as easily be explained as a naturalistic trick of sorts.”

I think that if a Jesus-type miracle were performed under modern scientific scrutiny it would be very persuasive. Stories without the controls, not so much.

AD: “Well, that's the point of a miracle.”

Not sure what you mean by this. As I understand your statement it seems that the point of a miracle is to reveal something to a sub-group but withhold it from another?

AD: “[A world that is ruled by predictable forces, and that is not indifferent to suffering] wouldn’t be evidence for theism.” The Buddhists for example see our world as part of a wider multi-layered cosmology where such karmic justice is actually doled out, but it doesn't provide evidence for God.”

Christians seem to feel a similar way -- that justice will be doled out in heaven, after the second coming, etc. But it appears both (Buddhism and Christianity) imagine a way in which justice is doled out, rather than observe it. And that is my point. If the world is ruled by a theistic force, why should we observe that this world is indifferent to suffering? (Saying it all balances in another life, without any evidence that entities like souls exist, does not overcome the evidence problem.)

AD: “Also, as a modern skeptic, I'd have to say [real prophesies] would have a naturalistic explanation as well.”

I agree that real prophesies could always have a possible (unknown) naturalistic explanation, but the question is what would I consider evidence for God, and I would think that prophecies that are considered beyond the scope of modern forecasting (future earthquakes, exact places and times of tornado strikes, astronomical events whose prediction would defy physical laws, etc.) to be possible evidence for God. And by that I mean that the success of the theistic predictions would probably outweigh the likelihood of fraud or that we must over-turn our knowledge of the natural world, etc. (Time travel comes to mind, for instance.)

Anyway, you asked what I would consider evidence for God. I think that predictable phenomena that defy natural explanation is the baseline. (I didn’t mention biological evidence, but I’m sure there are a slew of phenomena that would fit this bill as well – observation of spontaneous generation, evidence for special creation, etc.)

Alex Dalton said...

TH:I think that if a Jesus-type miracle were performed under modern scientific scrutiny it would be very persuasive. Stories without the controls, not so much.

AD: Scientific fraud, human error, mechanical error, coincidence, or even aliens intervening with technology far beyond our own, to bring about such events, would all be naturalistic explanations of such events. But really - why would we conclude that a person with some amazing abilities beyond our understanding proves that an all-knowing non-physical mind exists?

AD: “Well, that's the point of a miracle.”

TH: Not sure what you mean by this.

AD: I mean that the point of miracles is that they go beyond the norm - so regularly occurring miracles would sort of defeat the purpose.

AD: “[A world that is ruled by predictable forces, and that is not indifferent to suffering] wouldn’t be evidence for theism.” The Buddhists for example see our world as part of a wider multi-layered cosmology where such karmic justice is actually doled out, but it doesn't provide evidence for God.”

TH: If the world is ruled by a theistic force, why should we observe that this world is indifferent to suffering?

AD: That's a great question, but it is beside the point. My point was that evidence for karma wouldn't necessarily be evidence for theism. How does your suggestion point towards a god?

TH:...I would think that prophecies that are considered beyond the scope of modern forecasting...to be possible evidence for God. And by that I mean that the success of the theistic predictions would probably outweigh the likelihood of fraud or that we must over-turn our knowledge of the natural world, etc. (Time travel comes to mind, for instance.)

AD: The problem is that there are naturalistic and even supernaturalistic hypotheses that can account for such phenomena without appealing to a god. A race of advanced time-traveling (or simply intervening) aliens who are aware of (or control) future outcomes could do this. Or it could just be the case that there is no god, but clairvoyance is possible. Why would this point towards god?

Chris said...

I think Alex is making the point that there is no empirical way to determine what is natural and what is supernatural, and that anything empirically 'supernatural,' should it be found, does not necessarily lead to God, or even the supernatural.

Therefore, presumably, we must look to metaphysics to answer the question of God's existence; and (extrapolating and presuming some more) that metaphysics leads inescapably to God; who in turn justifies or 'grounds' metaphysics.

Apologies if that is a misrepresentation....

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: “But really - why would we conclude that a person with some amazing abilities beyond our understanding proves that an all-knowing non-physical mind exists?”

I didn’t say that it proves that God exists – the question is, what kind of evidence could there be for God? I was suggesting that a person who performed some Jesus-like miracles AND attributed this ability to the existence of God could then be in the running for the God explanation.

I think that if we’re talking about the God of the Bible, then some miracles like those seen in the Bible (as opposed to stories about miracles) could be persuasive evidence. We avoid the Humean objection, for starters, and I think that would knock down a lot of skepticism (starting with mine).

AD: “I mean that the point of miracles is that they go beyond the norm - so regularly occurring miracles would sort of defeat the purpose.”

Well, I think that miracles have to do more than go beyond the norm. Highly unusual things occur naturally all the time – it snows in May, you accidentally run into your next door neighbor on the other side of the world, etc. I am suggesting that miracles are more than unusual – they should also defy natural explanation. Otherwise, we’re just talking about the improbable, and the improbable (without the narrowing offered by prediction) is also mundane.

AD: “My point was that evidence for karma wouldn't necessarily be evidence for theism. How does your suggestion point towards a god?”

I believe that in this case I was talking about the God of classical theism. I think that if the world did behave in a way that comported with karma, that would be evidence for an omniscient, omnibenevolent God. I know that there are theodicies that deal with this issue, but it seems obvious that things would make more sense if the theodicies were not required – that fact is, we need to explain the disparity between God’s purported abilities and the world we observe.

AD: “Or it could just be the case that there is no god, but clairvoyance is possible. Why would this point towards god?”

I am just saying that if one were to demonstrate clairvoyance, AND the explanation for the ability was the existence of a God who communicated this information, then that might very well be evidence for the existence of that God. Of course, the evidence for a God depends very much on what kind of God we’re talking about (is the God we’re referring to personal, and desires to communicate with us?), which is something that I can only guess at or imagine.

Tony Hoffman said...

Chris: “Therefore, presumably, we must look to metaphysics to answer the question of God's existence; and (extrapolating and presuming some more) that metaphysics leads inescapably to God; who in turn justifies or 'grounds' metaphysics.”

I see your point. The problem here is that it abandons a claim to a God that is meaningful, and I’ve found that most theists don’t think that their God is meaningless. What does it mean to be “grounded” in God? In order for this claim to mean something, shouldn’t it eventually have an impact on the reality that we observe?

Alex Dalton said...

TH: I was suggesting that a person who performed some Jesus-like miracles AND attributed this ability to the existence of God could then be in the running for the God explanation.

AD: Even if they attributed this to God, how do we know they are not lying? Are people with special powers honest by default? Wouldn't we need some sort of evidence that these powers actually came from an all-powerful being and not the human being they seemed to have come from, beyond some fallible testimony? That's assuming we could even rule out fraud.

TH: Well, I think that miracles have to do more than go beyond the norm.

AD: Well, yeah. I was responding to the perceived oddity of regular miracles with Jesus, but allegedly no evidence for them now.

TH: ...I am suggesting that miracles are more than unusual – they should also defy natural explanation.

AD: What does it mean to "defy natural explanation"? That we can't explain it naturalistically? Or that we'd have to come up with an improbable naturalistic explanation. And if the latter, what would make theism better than an improbable naturalistic explanation?

TH: I believe that in this case I was talking about the God of classical theism. I think that if the world did behave in a way that comported with karma, that would be evidence for an omniscient, omnibenevolent God.

AD: You keep saying this but I'm asking why? How is a moral order to the universe evidence of a God? Why not just be a Buddhist, or a moral platonist of some sort? They believe in such a moral order, without a god. How does a moral order that seems to exist, make it more likely that an all-powerful non-physical being also exists?

AD: “Or it could just be the case that there is no god, but clairvoyance is possible. Why would this point towards god?”

TH: I am just saying that if one were to demonstrate clairvoyance, AND the explanation for the ability was the existence of a God who communicated this information, then that might very well be evidence for the existence of that God.

AD: So again, your evidence that such a phenomenon is theistic in some sense, is basically resting on someone's testimony.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: “Even if they attributed [their ability to perform Jesus-like miracles] to God, how do we know they are not lying?”

I didn’t say we would know. I said I thought this might be considered evidence for God (if God’s intervention was offered as the explanation).

AD: “What does it mean to "defy natural explanation"?”

To evidence behavior that is contrary to what we expect from our understanding of the natural world. Jesus walked on water. In the way that the miracle is understood, this should not be able to happen (the surface tension of water is not strong enough to suspend a man). Not only would we not know how it happened, we would know that it should not happen.

AD: “How is a moral order to the universe evidence of a God?”

In the same way that a world that is indifferent to suffering is evidence for a world without God, or a creator God that is not omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

AD: “So again, your evidence that such a phenomenon is theistic in some sense, is basically resting on someone's testimony.”

Yes. If the person performing the miracle said that God’s intervention was the reason the miracle was being performed I don’t see why we would rule this out automatically. If I explained that the reason I could guess the card you were holding was that a television camera was behind you, with a person watching the video, and they were then radioing me the answer, then my testimony would be part of the explanation for how I could pull off this card trick. And the fact that I could pull off the trick would be evidence for my explanation.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: I didn’t say we would know. I said I thought this might be considered evidence for God (if God’s intervention was offered as the explanation).

AD: But there are simpler, more probable, naturalistic explanations. Shouldn't we always prefer those? Why explain one mystery (man with strange powers) with another (all-powerful being)?

AD (old): “What does it mean to "defy natural explanation"?”

TH: To evidence behavior that is contrary to what we expect from our understanding of the natural world.

AD: This is a very vague criterion. Quantum mechanics would be evidence for god by this standard.

TH: In the same way that a world that is indifferent to suffering is evidence for a world without God, or a creator God that is not omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

AD: On that conception of evidence, it is equal evidence for Buddhism or moral platonism - two non-theistic alternatives. So ultimately, we should choose either of these two as they allow us to avoid having to posit a god.

TH: Yes. If the person performing the miracle said that God’s intervention was the reason the miracle was being performed I don’t see why we would rule this out automatically.

AD: I'm not saying we should rule it out. Its just the least probable among the alternatives, according to modern skepticism.

TH: If I explained ...then my testimony would be part of the explanation for how I could pull off this card trick.

AD: That's a naturalistic explanation though. We know things like this happen all the time. It doesn't posit any new, formerly non-evidenced, entities.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: " But there are simpler, more probable, naturalistic explanations. Shouldn't we always prefer those? Why explain one mystery (man with strange powers) with another (all-powerful being)?"

If the God explanation performed better as an explanation, then I think we would prefer it to simpler, naturalistic explanations. Not being a theist, I am not sure how this would go, but I'd imagine: God has an attribute of minds which, when taken into account, better predicts this phenomenon.

I agree that there appears to be a gaping disconnect in, "There are supernatural events, therefore God."

AD: "[To evidence behavior that is contrary to what we expect from our understanding of the natural world] is a very vague criterion. Quantum mechanics would be evidence for god by this standard."

What I mean is that if we had a very good, well-established natural explanation for something (e.g., the evolution of life), and then we observed evidence that is not compatible with this explanation, then we could have evidence for God. For instance, if we had evidence that Man alone did not possess DNA, this would be evidence for the special creation predicted by the writers of the Bible, etc.

I like your point, though. It all seems very fuzzy -- when is a natural explanation "very good and well-established," what is the demarcation from one phenomenon to another? I don't know that this could be parsed out adequately.

AD: " On that conception of evidence, it is equal evidence for Buddhism or moral platonism - two non-theistic alternatives."

Not sure what you mean here. I understood you to mean that Buddhism posits moral balance in a way that's imagined (souls that migrate to other creatures?), whereas I am talking about world where moral balance is realized.

AD: "I'm not saying we should rule [supernatural explanation of observed miracles] out. Its just the least probable among the alternatives, according to modern skepticism."

But modern skepticism allows for Bayesian analysis. The repeated, continued success of supernatural explanation for evidence of miracles would account for this. In other words, more and more evidence would overcome this skepticism.

Tony Hoffman said...

I think another way of looking at this is to ask how meaningful would the question be, What is evidence for naturalism? The question almost seems non-sensical to me, as I would say that anything empirical is evidence for naturalism.

Really, I think the question about evidence isn't a matter of determining if something is evidence for naturalism or for theism, but what explanation makes the most sense of the evidence. So in some regards I'd happily concede that everything is evidence for God (and for naturalism, for that matter), but that there doesn't seem to be a theistic explanation that works better than a natural one for any of the evidence.

So I am thinking that large part of the problem in examining the question, What is evidence for God? is that the explanation "God exists." doesn't really seem like a proper explanation. We can throw evidence at that explanation, but it doesn't really seem to stick in a proper way. It seems like what we need to answer that question is an explanation that involves God that works more like a hypothesis. And by that I mean that evidence for a God explanation, that does not at least involve something like prediction, seems doomed to a toothless exercise in semantics.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: And by that I mean that evidence for a God explanation, that does not at least involve something like prediction, seems doomed to a toothless exercise in semantics.

AD: What predictions does naturalism make?

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: "AD: What predictions does naturalism make?"

That's my point -- terms like naturalism and theism don't seem like explanation per se.

Of course, any scientific theory (a product of naturalism) makes predictions, so while naturalism makes no predictions theories based on it do. So if we are to approach the world form a theistic understanding instead (as well?), what sort of explanations and predictions would we then encounter? Those theistic theories should offer us some kind of predictions, and it seems like that's the where we should find evidence for God.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: Of course, any scientific theory (a product of naturalism) makes predictions, so while naturalism makes no predictions theories based on it do.

Alex: What theories are based on naturalism in any relevant way? By that I mean - name a theory that would be any different, were it the case that God or spirits, or something non-natural, existed.

So if we are to approach the world form a theistic understanding instead (as well?), what sort of explanations and predictions would we then encounter? Those theistic theories should offer us some kind of predictions, and it seems like that's the where we should find evidence for God.

Alex: Plenty of scientists, and many of the greatest scientists - Kepler, Copernicus, Netwon, etc. - gave us some of our greatest and most revolutionary scientific theories, which they felt were very much grounded in their theistic worldview, so I'm not sure what you're even talking about here. But Christian theism would predict things like 1. the universe should appear to have a beginning 2. the world should in some sense appear to be made for man 3. man should appear to have certain attributes that are congruent with the attributes of God, etc. And all of these obviously are confirmed according to most Christian theists.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: "What theories are based on naturalism in any relevant way? By that I mean - name a theory that would be any different, were it the case that God or spirits, or something non-natural, existed."

Every theory is based on the fact that God, or spirits, or something non-natural is not necessary. As they story goes, we "have no need for them in our hypotheses." Theories do not account for things that don't make a difference; they account for the fewest things that do.

AD: "Plenty of scientists, and many of the greatest scientists - Kepler, Copernicus, Netwon, etc. - gave us some of our greatest and most revolutionary scientific theories, which they felt were very much grounded in their theistic worldview, so I'm not sure what you're even talking about here."

And others who are not theists did as well. It's unremarkable that men who helped us emerge from a more superstitious time were inculcated in the culture in which they grew up. But most importantly, if theism was essential to their theories, why do none of their theories rely on the existence of a God? Where is God in their hypotheses?

AD: "But Christian theism would predict things like 1. the universe should appear to have a beginning 2. the world should in some sense appear to be made for man 3. man should appear to have certain attributes that are congruent with the attributes of God, etc. And all of these obviously are confirmed according to most Christian theists."

I think one is maybe the best case for a Christian prediction. It may still be wrong. Unfortunately, other religions "predict" that the universe had a beginning, but most importantly the universe having a beginning is not evidence, per se, for a theistic God, nor the Christian one.

2 and 3 don't seem to be predictions at all. I think the first is an observation that's better explained by Evolution (which does make real, testable predictions), and 3 just seems to beg the question.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: Every theory is based on the fact that God, or spirits, or something non-natural is not necessary. As they story goes, we "have no need for them in our hypotheses."

AD: No scientific theory is based on this; it is not even a topic of discussion amongst scientists. Quoting an anecdote from Laplace, who was actually religious, doesn't tell us anything about the philosophical foundation of scientific theories. Again, name a scientific theory that would be different if we posited the bare existence of a deity.

TH: And others who are not theists did as well. It's unremarkable that men who helped us emerge from a more superstitious time were inculcated in the culture in which they grew up. But most importantly, if theism was essential to their theories, why do none of their theories rely on the existence of a God? Where is God in their hypotheses?

AD: You could say atheists are inculcated in the culture they grew up in as well. That's not really an argument. And its also beside the point. I never said theism was *necessary* to anything. I was responding to your question that "So if we are to approach the world form a theistic understanding instead (as well?), what sort of explanations and predictions would we then encounter?". We already know the answer to this. We've seen it in the history of modern science. Copernicus, Kepler, Bacon (aka "the father of the scientific method"), Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Boyle, Faraday, Mendel, Kelvin, Planck, etc. all approached the world from a theistic understanding, and we see that they created and carried modern science to great heights.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: I think one is maybe the best case for a Christian prediction. It may still be wrong. Unfortunately, other religions "predict" that the universe had a beginning, but most importantly the universe having a beginning is not evidence, per se, for a theistic God, nor the Christian one.

AD: We were discussing whether or not theistic understandings make any predictions, and I'm not sure how its relevant that another religion predicts this as well. It doesn't really argue against a particular religion actually making certain predictions to point that out. I think there's plenty of evidence but that is not exactly the topic either.

TH: 2 and 3 don't seem to be predictions at all. I think the first is an observation that's better explained by Evolution (which does make real, testable predictions), and 3 just seems to beg the question.

AD: 2. as a prediction seems to work quite well. If God created the world (I should say *universe* here as that is what I meant) to be inhabited by man, "the world should in some sense appear to be made for man." And this doesn't bar out an evolutionary explanation of origins in any way. As for 3., how can a prediction beg a question? I'm not making an argument. I wrote "man should appear to have certain attributes that are congruent with the attributes of God (note: I'm speaking of the concept of God here), etc." Wouldn't that be the case, *if* man were made in God's image? That is what I'm saying, ON Christian theism, 3. would seem to be predicted. I am not arguing that man indeed *does* have attributes traditionally associated with the concept of the Christian God. Indeed, many naturalists would deny this. However, it should be true, if Christianity is true.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: “Again, name a scientific theory that would be different if we posited the bare existence of a deity.”

Then you agree that the existence of God is meaningless to scientific theories? If we add God and nothing changes, then, by one of the principles of good science (parsimony), God is not necessary to that theory. Are you denying this?

“I never said theism was *necessary* to anything. I was responding to your question that "So if we are to approach the world form a theistic understanding instead (as well?), what sort of explanations and predictions would we then encounter?". We already know the answer to this. We've seen it in the history of modern science. Copernicus, Kepler, Bacon (aka "the father of the scientific method"), Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Boyle, Faraday, Mendel, Kelvin, Planck, etc. all approached the world from a theistic understanding, and we see that they created and carried modern science to great heights.”

I think you misunderstand my question. I am not saying that theism is a hindrance to science – clearly, many good scientists have been theists. But many have been men, and many have had beards, and many have been Hungarian, and... you get the picture. (And I think the notion that theism is necessary to science is laughable, but I don’t want to divert from this point.) The question is, If God is added to any scientific theory (and you are free to show me where God is part of a scientfic theory – right now, I haven’t seen you mention that), what would change? Please just answer this question.

AD: “If God created the world (I should say *universe* here as that is what I meant) to be inhabited by man, "the world should in some sense appear to be made for man."

But this isn’t a prediction that differs from a world in which God does not exist, as the fact of our existence indicates that the world is in some way made for us. And black holes, and everything else that’s in our world. This appears to be an observation trying to pass itself off as a prediction.

AD: “And this doesn't bar out an evolutionary explanation of origins in any way.”

Which makes it not so valuable as a prediction now, doesn’t it?

AD: “As for 3., how can a prediction beg a question?”

Really? If I were to predict that tomorrow will unfold in exactly the way that it should, I haven’t really made a prediction – I’ve just restated that events will occur, and called that a prediction.

AD: “...man should appear to have certain attributes that are congruent with the attributes of God (note: I'm speaking of the concept of God here), etc. " Wouldn't that be the case, *if* man were made in God's image?"

So, the attributes of man should be congruent with God because man was made in God’s image (which is another way of saying that man has attributes that are congruent with God). This kind of argument is normally called begging the question.

I think I’m about done here. Unless you want to want to make a positive case that there is something like a hypothesis for God that could call evidence on its behalf, I think we’re at the point of diminishing returns; I’ve heard all of this before, and I’m learning that when I stop learning new things or thinking about things in new ways it’s more efficient to move on.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: Then you agree that the existence of God is meaningless to scientific theories?

AD: The *philosophical* and metaphysical issues of naturalism and theism are bracketed out of science, for good reason - scientists aren't trained to deal with them. Many theistic scientists past and present see theism as providing the framework and impetus for their research though, and many also see certain aspects of science as confirming theism. No scientific theory depends on naturalism or theism actually being true. You have asserted this, but haven't argued it.

TH: If we add God and nothing changes, then, by one of the principles of good science (parsimony), God is not necessary to that theory. Are you denying this?

AD: LOL, yes of course I agree that adding God to a theory, that was originally intentionally devised to bracket the issue of whether or not God exists, without effect, would show that God was not necessary to the theory. But we knew that from the beginning.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: And I think the notion that theism is necessary to science is laughable, but I don’t want to divert from this point.

AD: What's laughable is your reading comprehension. Not only are you putting words in my mouth, but you apparently are unaware of your own. Let's get it straight. Firstly, no one said theism was necessary to science. Secondly, you claimed naturalism is. You wrote:

"Of course, any scientific theory (a product of naturalism) makes predictions, so while naturalism makes no predictions theories based on it do."

Here's a laughable claim - that *the* scientific theory is a "product of naturalism". But putting that aside, basically, here you are asserting that individual theories are based on naturalism. I challenged you to name such a theory and demonstrate such dependence on the truth of naturalism, and you failed to do that, but then changed your claim. You wrote:

"Every theory is based on the fact that God, or spirits, or something non-natural is not necessary."

Well, of course, no theory in science is based on this either. That's just a freethinker bumper-sticker, that comes from misappropriating the irrelevant comments of a religious scientist. But this is actually now a new claim - do you realize this? How about supporting your first claim, first?

Alex Dalton said...

AD: “If God created the world (I should say *universe* here as that is what I meant) to be inhabited by man, "the world should in some sense appear to be made for man."

TH: But this isn’t a prediction that differs from a world in which God does not exist, as the fact of our existence indicates that the world is in some way made for us. And black holes, and everything else that’s in our world. This appears to be an observation trying to pass itself off as a prediction.

AD: Note that I made no claims about the actual world. You are making that claim and begging the question. I'm simply talking about what we should observe, *if* the world were made by God. You don't seem to understand the difference between a prediction and claims that a prediction is confirmed by some state of affairs. And to assert that "the fact of our existence indicates that the world is in some way made for us" only satisfies the prediction by abusing the English language. On naturalism, the world would not "be made for us" which clearly indicates intention/purpose/forethought. We would simply be adapted to the way the world is. Big difference.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: Which makes it not so valuable as a prediction now, doesn’t it?

AD: Um, only if we assumed that evolution was somehow not capable of being a means by which a god might bring about our existence.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: So, the attributes of man should be congruent with God because man was made in God’s image (which is another way of saying that man has attributes that are congruent with God). This kind of argument is normally called begging the question.

AD: LOL, no.

If Christianity is true, then we should see some aspect of man that is congruent with the concept of divine personhood. I never actually said man *has* those attributes, or *assumed* that he does, *because* he was made in God's image. Once again, you fail to distinguish between a prediction and an argument. Basic reading comprehension here.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: I think I’m about done here. Unless you want to want to make a positive case that there is something like a hypothesis for God that could call evidence on its behalf, I think we’re at the point of diminishing returns; I’ve heard all of this before, and I’m learning that when I stop learning new things or thinking about things in new ways it’s more efficient to move on.

AD: You should take more time when you read peoples' posts and stop jumping right to demanding evidence for God. The topic at hand is what kind of predictions we can expect from theism, and particular brands of theism. If you want to discuss that, I'm fine to do that, but please stop misconstruing this conversation as an actual argument for the existence of God. We're arguing about whether or not theism(s) make predictions at the moment. That discussion would be prior to arguing about whether or not such predictions are confirmed. Let me know if you can see the difference. I myself am getting weary of the typically impatient/immature skeptical "show me proof of God right now or I'm gone!!!", which it looks like you are descending into.

Ilíon said...

AD,
As you're noticing, it's just about impossible to have a rational discussion (or argument, if one prefers that word) with most internet-atheists. And, in fact, with most of them, due to their behavior, specifically their intellectual dishonesty, it is logically impossible to have that discussion.

The best one can hope to do with most of these internet-atheists is to point to them, and identify the illogic and irrationality (and dishonesty, when applicable) of their "arguments" for the sake of the fence-sitters and "wobbly theists".

Ilíon said...

AD: "You should take more time when you read peoples' posts and stop jumping right to demanding evidence for God."

At the same time, this foolish and dishonest person whom you were addressing already *has* the irrefutable evidence that God is: and that evidence is himself; that he is a self and a rational mind.

That there are selves and rational minds living in this material/physical universe is not only inexplicable on the presumption of atheism, but is logically contrary to atheism. Therefore, atheism is seen to be false. Therefore, it is seen that God is.

The reality of the human self is the very sort thing these people demand as the only evidence for God that is admissible. And how do they deal with the evidence? Why, they wave their hands and declare either:
1) that there are no selves, there is no consciousness, there are no minds; it's all an illusion;
2) that minds and the perception of selfhood "emerge" from neurological activity -- that the mind is just a buzzing in the brain -- BUT, this is just a different way of phrasing 1) above.

These so-called atheists, to maintain their God-denial, are reduced to denying that they themselves exist -- just as John Donne said they must, when he said, centuries ago: "He must pull out his own eyes, and see no creature, before he can say, he sees no God; He must be no man, and quench his reasonable soul, before he can say to himself, there is no God."

Helping the fence-sitters see that this is where God-denial *must* end can only be a good thing.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: “No scientific theory depends on naturalism or theism actually being true. You have asserted this, but haven't argued it.”

Whaaa? I asserted this where? Please quote me.

Tony Hoffman said...

TH: “If we add God and nothing changes, then, by one of the principles of good science (parsimony), God is not necessary to that theory. Are you denying this?”

AD: “LOL, yes of course I agree that adding God to a theory, that was originally intentionally devised to bracket the issue of whether or not God exists, without effect, would show that God was not necessary to the theory. But we knew that from the beginning.”

LOL as well.

So what theories can we devise that are not “intentionally devised to bracket the issue of whether or not God exists,” and how can we examine their claims?

Tony Hoffman said...

TH: “And I think the notion that theism is necessary to science is laughable, but I don’t want to divert from this point.”

AD: “What's laughable is your reading comprehension. Not only are you putting words in my mouth, but you apparently are unaware of your own. Let's get it straight. Firstly, no one said theism was necessary to science. Secondly, you claimed naturalism is.”

Wow. I think we’re done here. Here’s why:

You accuse me of having trouble with reading comprehension, claiming that when I wrote “...I think the notion that theism is necessary to science is laughable,” I put words in your mouth. But notice from my quote above, I did not say “You (or AD, or Alex Dalton, etc.) have asserted that theism is necessary to science.” I mentioned that I was familiar with the notion and that it was a diversion from our conversation, but I did not attribute it to you, or even say that that was your position. In other words, you accuse me of poor reading comprehension by, wait for it, miscomprehending what I wrote.

The term for this is ironic. It’s also typical of a kind of psychological projection I see in discussions that devolve as this one has. And it’s also (from my experience) typical sign that you are letting your emotions get the best of you. Which is too bad, because I thought you started out promisingly enough, willing to construct and compare arguments.

Of course, by also writing this in the paragraph above “Firstly, no one said theism was necessary to science.” you are making a histrionic statement, for clearly many historians and apologists (Jakie et al.) have made this argument, and it’s a frequent topic in apologetics. So again, you are simply making a false statement in the paragraph above (the first being that I put words in your mouth; clearly, I did not.)

And then you wrap it up by claiming that I said that, “Secondly, you claimed that naturalism is [necessary to science]” But I did not say this in our comments here. Which is either a misrepresentation or a failure of reading comprehension on your part.

I could go through the rest of your comments, but I’m done here. In my experience, when a commenter becomes unhinged in the ways I detailed above the discussion is past the point of saving.

Cheers.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: I mentioned that I was familiar with the notion and that it was a diversion from our conversation, but I did not attribute it to you, or even say that that was your position. In other words, you accuse me of poor reading comprehension by, wait for it, miscomprehending what I wrote.

AD: Seemed an odd thing to bring up in response to me on the relationship of science and religion/theism if it wasn't really in response to me, but I'll grant that that wasn't your intention if you say so.

TH: for clearly many historians and apologists (Jakie et al.) have made this argument, and it’s a frequent topic in apologetics.

AD: Jaki argues for the historical significance of Christianity with regards to the birth of science, not theism in general.

You were ready to bail long before you accused me of loosing my cool. But I admit to losing my cool; tend to do that alot and I apologize. Your reasons for being "about done" earlier were apparently that you weren't learning about anything new, or thinking about anything in a "new way".

You don't need to list your reasons, or change them. If you don't want to discuss these matters, you're obviously free to stop blogging.

Alex Dalton said...

TH: Of course, by also writing this in the paragraph above “Firstly, no one said theism was necessary to science.” you are making a histrionic statement, for clearly many historians and apologists (Jakie et al.) have made this argument, and it’s a frequent topic in apologetics.

AD: I'd like to see you get more specific on what "necessary" means here - necessary as a metaphysical/philosophical framework, an historical precursor, etc. - and then provide evidence that Jaki and "many" other historians/apologists are making this argument.

Alex Dalton said...

AD: “No scientific theory depends on naturalism or theism actually being true. You have asserted this, but haven't argued it.”

TH: Whaaa? I asserted this where? Please quote me.

AD: I already did quote you on this. You wrote:

""Of course, any scientific theory (a product of naturalism) makes predictions, so while naturalism makes no predictions theories based on it do.""

Obviously if scientific theory is a product of naturalism and theories are based on naturalism, then "scientific theory depends on naturalism or theism actually being true."

TH: So what theories can we devise that are not “intentionally devised to bracket the issue of whether or not God exists,” and how can we examine their claims?

AD: Whether or not you want to call it "theorizing", the Philosophy of Religion has 1000s of yrs worth of argument and debate regarding the existence of God to consider. We can examine the claims of either side by reading their books and considering them. The existence of God is a proper subject of study in this field. In science, it is not. Is this news?

Tony Hoffman said...

Me: "Of course, any scientific theory (a product of naturalism) makes predictions, so while naturalism makes no predictions theories based on it do."

AD: "

Obviously if scientific theory is a product of naturalism and theories are based on naturalism, then "scientific theory depends on naturalism or theism actually being true."

I don’t follow you here. For instance, one might say that the Night of the Long Knives in prewar Germany was a product of anti-semitism. That does not mean that the Night of the Long Knives was dependent on anti-semitism being true.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: "I'd like to see you get more specific on what "necessary" means here - necessary as a metaphysical/philosophical framework, an historical precursor, etc. - and then provide evidence that Jaki and "many" other historians/apologists are making this argument."

I've already mentioned that I thought this would be a diversion from the main topic. Why do you disagree?

Other historians/apologists equal: James Hannam, Rodney Stark, and many lesser lights (apologists) I've encountered on blogs like this one. It seems foolish for you to claim ignorance of this kind of claim, as I've encountered it so often in one form or another on sites like this.

Regarding the kind of argument Jaki makes, he writes this: "Once more the Christian belief in the Creator allowed a break-through in thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be thought of as being powerful enough to create a nature with autonomous laws without his power over nature being thereby diminished. Once the basic among those laws were formulated science could develop on its own terms."

I believe the wording there is clear enough to answer your question above.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: " Whether or not you want to call it "theorizing", the Philosophy of Religion has 1000s of yrs worth of argument and debate regarding the existence of God to consider."

True. But the topic here was about evidence, not about (logical) arguments and a history of debates. The title of this post is, "The No Evidence Charge." And you have already quoted me stating, (Me): " …theistic theories should offer us some kind of predictions, and it seems like that's the where we should find evidence for God."

Ad: "We can examine the claims of either side by reading their books and considering them. The existence of God is a proper subject of study in this field. In science, it is not. Is this news?"

Is it news to you that I am arguing that the claims made by theists do not appear to make use of evidence? It seems from the statement above that you agree with me, in which case I am not sure what argument you are making.

Tony Hoffman said...

AD: "You were ready to bail long before you accused me of loosing my cool. But I admit to losing my cool; tend to do that alot and I apologize."

I think my comments were fairly placid before you began commenting here. But I've been caustic on occasions before, so I am willing to forgive anyone their commenting transgressions that rise to the level of rudeness I've displayed in the past. You're certainly under that threshold here, so no worries."

AD: "Your reasons for being "about done" earlier were apparently that you weren't learning about anything new, or thinking about anything in a "new way"."

I meant that. I do not think of you as my teacher nor my student, but (unlike some here) your comments often appear to be worth engaging. But like all of us, I do not have unlimited time and energy, and when the discussion seems unlikely to produce any new or original thinking on my part I've learned to move on.