Thursday, October 01, 2015

Victor Reppert on the No Evidence Charge

My own response to the "no evidence" charge is, I think pretty well known, and it goes like this: 

We first have to define what evidence is. 

I understand evidence in Bayesian terms. For me, X is evidence for Y just in case X is more likely to exist given Y than given not-Y. By this definition, something can have evidence for it and be false. 

There is a whole boatload of stuff that look to me to be a LOT more likely to exist if God exists than if God does not exist. Some of it's in the Bible, most of it isn't. 

Here's a short list: 

1) The fact that we can reason about the world. The fact that it is even possible to go from evidence to a conclusion. If this isn't possible, then science isn't even possible. But that implies that our acts of reasoning are governed by the laws of logic, as opposed to the laws of physics. But naturalism says the laws of physics govern everything, and the laws of logic are superfluous as an explanation for any event in the universe. 
2) That there are stable laws of nature, so that the distant past resembles the recent past. It's easy to imagine an atheistic world with no stability at all, where the laws keep changing for no reason. Why is that not the actual world? 
3) The we have just the right cosmic constants for life to emerge. 
4) That DNA allows for gradual change, as opposed to being completely static or so radically changeable that it is completely unpredictable. 
5) That monotheism arose against all odds in a polytheistic world in a country that hardly qualifies as a world superpower, and that it persisted in spite of the efforts of the superpowers like Assyria, Babylon, the Seleucids, and the Romans, to get it to assimilate into a polytheistic culture. 
6) That the disciples of Jesus got in the faces of those responsible for Jesus's crucifixion and told them that the Jesus they crucified was Lord and God, and lived to tell the tale and found Christianity. (If they killed Jesus, they can kill you too). 
7) That archaeology has discovered that if Luke was writing a story about the founding of Christianity, it wrote it in such a way that the "research" for his "fictional" story was corroborated centuries later by archaeology, "research" that would have required him to know all sorts of detail from Jerusalem to Malta at just the right time in the first century. 
8) That Christianity became the dominant religion of an empire in spite of getting no help, and intermittent persecution, from the political leaders of that empire, for nearly three centuries.

I can understand concluding, at the end of the day, that this evidence is outweighed by the evidence for atheism. What is beyond my comprehension is the idea that this somehow isn't evidence AT ALL. Repeating "God of the Gaps" fifty times is not a response. 

45 comments:

B. Prokop said...

I'd like to add to your list of evidence, that which supports the physical, literal, and historical reality of the Resurrection. This comes in two parts:

1) The evidence we do have (mainly, the testimony of the Apostles) is fairly strong. For me, it satisfies all by itself. That's the "positive" evidence. But then, we also have

2) the fact that, despite 2000 years of decidedly hostile attempts, no one has ever come up with an alternative explanation to the details that are not in dispute, which can stand against the least scrutiny. They all fail Big Time - every one. That's the "negative" evidence.

And no, I am not a Catholic Christian because of some "proof", but rather because I understand the meaning of "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!" (John 6:68) I've never in all my years ever heard anyone answer with a rebuttal to that declaration that would cause me to walk away from the Truth.

Cal seems to fond of "challenges". Well, here are two for him. First, explain what happened on Easter morning, A.D. 33. And second, "To whom should we go?"

Jezu ufam tobie!

nas lost said...

"2) That there are stable laws of nature, so that the distant past resembles the recent past. It's easy to imagine an atheistic world with no stability at all, where the laws keep changing for no reason. Why is that not the actual world? "


Ver nice, i argued the same thing in the past, although somewhat differently.

To quote myself:

"
Regularity, Order and Intelligibility of the Universe



On theism, it is plausible to expect the universe to be intelligible, meaning that it would exhibit certain regularities, a general orderliness, that would allow the beings in it to have a meaningful existence.
And god can easily account for the laws of nature that science observes, either by external providence over the natural world or by implementing internal teleology into the things in the world.

On naturalism, i don't see why we would expect any order or regularity at all.


And i am not sure how naturalism accounts for laws of nature at all.
What are they? What ontological status do they have?
Are they abstract objects? Or do they cause the objects in the world to behave a certain way?
David Hume argued that the laws of nature are just the regularities we observe in nature. But that is not an explanation at all, it just claims that regularity in nature is a brute fact.
Well, we should prefer an explanation over a brute fact, i think."

B. Prokop said...

nas lost,

Lewis covered this quite well in The Discarded Image when he pointed that the modern world's attributing everything to natural "laws" no no less anthropomorphic than the Medieval world crediting it all to "Love".

Jezu ufam tobie!

Legion of Logic said...

This was a response I made elsewhere to the question "Are there any good arguments for God".

Anyway, if you are referring specifically to the Christian deity (since you are saying "God" instead of gods or a god), then yes that does take a measure of faith (which, by the way, is not the oft-cited yet incorrect "belief without evidence", or even worse, Boghossian's idiotic "pretending to know what you don't know" when one is speaking of biblical faith). But an agnostic honestly seeking truth shouldn't start at Christianity. First, it has to become clear that by using logic, a deity is the only reasonable conclusion.

Just to toss out examples of evidence that supports the belief in a creator deity, there is no reason to believe that matter and energy have simply existed forever, for no reason whatsoever. There is even less reason to believe they spontaneously appeared from absolutely nothing (and we mean an actual nothing, not Krauss' cop-out quantum vacuum version). Furthermore, we have no reason to believe that this matter and energy just happened to have dependable and regular properties that obey what we call the laws of physics, nor do we have reason to believe that said laws of physics just happened to exist. We have no reason to believe that these things just happened to be able to form a universe, let alone an infinite number of multiverses.

We have no reason to believe that matter and energy just happened to have the properties necessary to allow certain molecules within certain parameters to begin self-replication to the point that the molecules are genuinely carrying complex information. We have no reason to believe that this universe just so happened to have properties allowing this information to interact with its environment for self-sustenance. We have no reason to believe that these molecules just so happened to be capable of adding and retaining additional information so that it can eventually go from a "simple" self-replicating molecule to an insanely complex and self-sufficient organism with multiple interdependent systems governed by a powerful biological computer.

We have no reason to believe that matter and energy just so happen to have the exact properties necessary to produce life from non-life. We have no reason to believe that from the inanimate can spring consciousness - that the universe can literally become self-aware. We have no reason to believe that one - and exactly one - form of matter and energy has the ability to transcend base nature and choose to become something more than merely responding to instinct and urges. That it has the ability to imagine, invent, inspire, sacrifice, organize, create, and also to utterly destroy. And for the vast majority, that it is inclined to believe in a higher, supernatural creative power.

That's just for a starting point. Any one of those is not in of itself all that indicative of anything. But taken all together, it seems the alternative to a creator deity would be "It just so happens to be this way. Or there just so happen to be an infinite set of multiverses, and we just so happen to be in one that allows life."

If that works for you, well then I'm not one to dissuade you. But it definitely would require the type of faith that Dawkins and Boghossian always talk about.

nas lost said...

@Bob Prokop:


I do run into this 'laws of nature'-sentiment regularly when people deny the first premise of the Kalam-Argument that states:

"Everything that begins to exist has a cause"

When i then proceed to ask those who deny this, why, if things can begin to exist without a cause, not every kind of object begins to exist all the time, everywhere, i get the reply:

"Well, its because of the laws of nature"

When i then ask, what the laws of nature actually are, that they seem to be able to 'prevent' things from happening, i dont get very many coherent replies.

nas lost said...

I would like to add that Paul Draper seems argues that uniformity in nature is intrinsically more probable than its opposite because its a more 'modest' hypothesis.

I just fail to understand why proposing the existence of a certain set of laws should be, in any sense, a more modest hypothesis than the absence of any laws.

B. Prokop said...

Yes, yes, yes. Christians should continue to demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy and fundamental incoherence of atheism. But our focus should nevertheless remain on the positive, as far as why one should hold to the Christian Faith. And that means the Resurrection.

Firstly, Christ's Resurrection needs to be simply announced. It is astonishing how many people in today's world, even in this supposedly Christian USA, have not the slightest idea of what the Resurrection is, or what it means to them personally. The requirement for simple evangelism will never cease, as long as we keep having new generations of humanity.

Secondly, we need to show why it is not only rational and logical to believe in the Resurrection, but to demonstrate why disbelieving in it requires an active closing of the mind to the evidence and a willful rejection of both facts and conclusions, a deliberate acceptance of known falsehoods, knowing them to be false.

Thirdly, we need to spark an awareness of how central this event is to quite literally everything else. There is nothing that is not in some way affected by the Resurrection. You cannot look at the sky, the ocean, a flower, a stone, a fellow human being in the same way once you've realized that "Khrystos voskres".

And finally, we need to make clear the consequences of one's belief or disbelief in the Resurrection. How does embracing Christianity change one's life, one's relationship with the rest of humanity and with the natural world, one's daily routine and actions in the home and the marketplace? How does it change one as a person?

Jezu ufam tobie!

entirelyuseless said...

I agree with your definition of evidence, and that those things are evidence for the existence of God.

Atheists are, I think, generally reasoning "a priori" to conclude to the "no evidence charge." In other words, someone like Richard Dawkins reasons like this: "Christianity is false. So it is just a bunch of random made-up claims. There can't be any meaningful evidence for random made-up claims, so there must not be any meaningful evidence for Christianity."

One problem is that this argument does not follow, because even a false religion is not just random made-up claims in the sense required. People want to believe their religions, and they have ways to get evidence for them. For example, suppose I say, "Yesterday I had a vision of Christ and he told me that he was truly resurrected. Just to confirm that it was not my imagination, I asked him to factor the number 238494749282429894749827849729482, which he then proceeded to do." I may be lying. But none of you can know for sure that I am lying, so this will be evidence for the resurrection, as far as you are concerned. The consequence is that religions are going to have a substantial amount of evidence for them, whether or not they are true. And no, that does not mean it is fake evidence and not real evidence. It is real evidence.

Cal Metzger said...

entirelyuseless: "In other words, someone like Richard Dawkins reasons like this: "Christianity is false. So it is just a bunch of random made-up claims. There can't be any meaningful evidence for random made-up claims, so there must not be any meaningful evidence for Christianity.""

Sigh. Can you reference Dawkins actually making that argument? Can you reference any atheist making that argument?

entirelyuseless: "The consequence is that religions are going to have a substantial amount of evidence for them, whether or not they are true."

And that is the problem with the definition of evidence that you are espousing. It assumes that the natural competitor for a hypothesis is the negative of the hypothesis, but in truth its competitor should be an alternative hypothesis. Otherwise, you're just pumping your intuitions.

entireluseless: "And no, that does not mean it is fake evidence and not real evidence. It is real evidence."

If I perpetrate a hoax that I have invented a perpetual motion machine, and my hoax is discovered, the fact of my hoax should not remain evidence for a perpetual motion machine. It become evidence that I have perpetuated a hoax. Do you disagree with this?


Legion of Logic said...

Richard Dawkins: "But I was persuaded, mostly by Steve Zara, who is a regular contributor to my website."

Steve Zara: "More stridency? Like this – we should challenge the very concept of gods, we should not let believers set the rules of the game with flim-flam about the possible truth of Biblical miracles, or other ways of knowing reality, or necessary beings. We should make it clear that all arguments that lead to gods are wrong because they lead to gods! God is a singular mistake, a philosophical division by zero, a point at which the respectability of arguments break down. God is out of the question, the ultimate wrong answer."

Summary of Richard Dawkins: "God is the wrong answer, so show me your evidence for God, and I will believe in aliens or David Copperfield."

Cal Metzger said...

Dawkins goes on, from the same quote, "[Zara] more or less persuaded me that even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory, the probable explanation is that it is a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield. He made the point that a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything. A non-supernatural Second Coming could be aliens from outer space."

Which I basically agree with. And which is very different reasoning from what entirelyuseless originally said -- that Dawkins starts out with the premise that Christianity is false. Dawkins doesn't. He allows that natural explanations for any phenomena that we may experience are possible (I don't disagree), and he goes on to remark that 'supernatural' explanations aren't really explanations -- that the concept of the supernatural is actually incoherent (I don't disagree). Incoherence and false are not the same thing.

So I'd rewrite Legions' summary of Dawkins to: "The concept of the 'supernatural' is incoherent, so when we experience extraordinary phenomena not only can we be confident that the vast, overwhelming likelihood is that the phenomena have natural explanations (including hallucination, etc.), there's really no alternative to a natural explanation for us to consider; a 'supernatural' explanation is an oxymoron."

For reasons I've stated in other comments here recently, the notion of a being that is not physical, but interacts with our world, is simply incoherent. And a being that isn't physical and doesn't interact with our world is meaningless.

Victor Reppert said...

In response to this, I will give you my Apostles' Creed argument.

Here's what I believe as a Christian:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Amen.

You will notice that the word "supernatural" does not appear in the creed, at all. If someone comes up with a science that explains every bit of all of this, so that none of it is the least bit supernatural, I couldn't care less. I'm not about to tell scientists what they can't talk about. But if they tell me what they can't talk about, and tell me that since we are talking about nature we can't put thus and so into our explanations, then and only then do I qualify as a supernaturalist.

B. Prokop said...

I partly agree with you,Victor, with (at least) one huge exception. If we regard the Creator God as belonging to the natural world, then we have not solved the problem of the universe creating itself (which is self-evident nonsense). We no longer have an "uncaused cause" but simply another being amongst many, albeit a very powerful one. Such a "god" (lower case on purpose) would simply be one of the Olympians - not "Being Itself".

Belief in pagan gods does not require a distinction between natural and supernatural. Belief in the God who said to Moses "I am who am" does.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "If someone comes up with a science that explains every bit of all of this, so that none of it is the least bit supernatural, I couldn't care less."

Science (Psychology, History, etc.) does explain all of this, and those explanations are simple, consistent, with great scope, they can be used to predict likely human behavior in the future and what we will subsequently find out about past societies, etc. The tendency for humans to form creation myths, posit agency behind natural events, develop legends that evolve, benefit from groupishness, create and pass down cultural norms, etc., all of these things are explainable with what we know about human behavior.

VR: "But if they tell me what they can't talk about, and tell me that since we are talking about nature we can't put thus and so into our explanations, then and only then do I qualify as a supernaturalist."

If you want to posit something that is meaningless, that can't be tested, that isn't productive, that does a poor job of predicting, is more complex and ad hoc than a perfectly good explanation that does all of those things then you shouldn't be upset about that explanation's label. You should be upset with those other things.

Victor Reppert said...

What I meant was explaining the reality of these things, not an explanation of false beliefs in this area.

Victor Reppert said...


With restrictions on the nature of science that most people would agree to, I don't see any naturalistic explanation of science itself that does not explain science away. If you say that all natural causation is physical causation, and therefore not, in the last analysis mental causation, then you have an explanation for why someone believes something based on evidence which reduces down to a claim that evidence is really irrelevant and superfluous to the explanation of belief.

Legion of Logic said...

Sciences do offer explanations for things. But as my first post in this thread demonstrated, it's beyond nonsense to claim that a god is not only unnecessary, but that a god explanation is incoherent. There are few "ideas" less coherent than atheism.

Legion of Logic said...

The idea that matter and energy created themselves is absurd. The idea that they have always existed for no reason whatsoever is equally absurd. Whether or not God has a physical body is irrelevant because whatever form this body takes, it is not the same matter that forms our universe. It is not made of light or x-rays or heat or other forms of energy that exist in our universe. We know this because the creator of those things can't itself be comprised of those things. It is a logical impossibility.

So, if God is not made of anything we know to be physical (matter) then it is not wrong to say his body is not physical. Whatever it may be, it's not like anything we know.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "What I meant was explaining the reality of these things, not an explanation of false beliefs in this area."

I just don't know what you mean by this. Can you rephrase what your mean (and reference what you're responding to)?

Victor Reppert said...

What I meant was this. Suppose the Apostles' Creed is true, but the nature-supernature distinction turns out to be an artificial one, so that there is no sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Suppose all we mean by physical is that it interacts with the physical world. So it turns out what we used to call God, angels, and souls turn out to be physical things, by some definition of physical. We can call them the theon, angelons, and psychons. My reaction to that, is, "So what. No problem." Only when you put limits on what can be natural am I going to be concerned about defending the belief that there is something super-that.

Cal Metzger said...

I don't think I disagree with the first part of your comment. The only part I would even quibble with is the last sentence.

VR: "Only when you put limits on what can be natural am I going to be concerned about defending the belief that there is something super-that."

It sounds to me that you feel as if others like myself are declaring, a priori, that there cannot be such things as pixies and sprites because such things are not natural.

But that's not what we're doing.

We're pointing out that pixies and sprites aren't examinable (meaning they fail to show up in ways that can be detected reliably, verifiably, and objectively), in exactly the same way that Hogwarts, mermaids, unicorns, etc. are not examinable. Meaning they can be safely categorized with all those other things that have no reality outside our shared imaginations.

As opposed to hats, and bears, and root beer, and all the other things that we have no problem locating evidence for.

David Brightly said...

Nas and Bob, I don't know if Tom Clark would agree with me but I see naturalism as the project of understanding as much of the world as possible without recourse to mind. As such, it's not necessarily opposed to theism, and comports with the natural/artificial distinction. The laws of nature are then the products of the naturalistic project. They are compact but very general descriptions of the regularities we find in the world. Hence it makes no sense to attribute causal powers to said laws, and the answer to the question Why do we have the laws we have? is contained in the history of science.

To go beyond this seems to me to lose empirical contact with the world. The only criterion for truth then becomes internal consistency or aesthetics. This seems to work in mathematics, but nowhere else.


Cal, why do you say that the concept of the supernatural is incoherent? One might picture the relation between the supernatural and the natural as analogous to that between a mind and its body. Difficult to explain, perhaps, but hardly incoherent. Rhetorical overkill?


Victor, you said,

If you say that all natural causation is physical causation, and therefore not, in the last analysis mental causation, then you have an explanation for why someone believes something based on evidence which reduces down to a claim that evidence is really irrelevant and superfluous to the explanation of belief.

Did I read this right? Are you saying that on a physicalistic account the presence of beer in the fridge could never play a causal role in my belief in its being there?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Cal, why do you say that the concept of the supernatural is incoherent? One might picture the relation between the supernatural and the natural as analogous to that between a mind and its body. Difficult to explain, perhaps, but hardly incoherent. Rhetorical overkill?"

I find the term "supernatural" to be a claim without any responsibilities. Per my criticism of god being non-physical, I think that the claim for a phenomenon to be "supernatural" to mean both more and less than it says; the supernatural claim has a physical component (the ghost knocks on the door), and a "supernatural' component (but the ghost can't be detected physically).

It seems to me that hallmark of supernatural claims is to a) make two statements that contradict one another (something is here but not here), and b) steadfastly avoid any way of explaining the physical phenomenon supposedly effected by the supernatural thing by referring to its contradiction.

Every supernatural claim takes this form:

1) Claimant: A ghost knocked at the door.
2) Questioner: I just opened the door and there's no ghost here.
3) Claimant: And that, my friend, is how we know that only a ghost could have knocked at the door.

But thanks for asking me the question in that way, because that's what has made it occur to me that this is what distinguishes supernatural claims from other false claims.




I can't think of any claim that's termed "supernatural' that doesn't

Victor Reppert said...

But this happens a lot of times. We see effects of something, we can't perceive the objects, but we infer that something systematic has to be behind it.

We don't actually perceive electrons. We perceive electron trails.

Victor Reppert said...

David: Are you saying that on a physicalistic account the presence of beer in the fridge could never play a causal role in my belief in its being there?

In a case like that, where it is the immediate perception of a physical object, the question is whether my belief that there is beer in the fridge can cause me to have the belief that the beer is in fridge without my having to draw any inferences. But what if someone asks me (OK, I know you had the experience of seeing the beer in the fridge? But couldn't you have that experience without the beer being actually there? You could be hallucinating, you could be a brain in a vat, etc.

If we infer logically from evidence, then we have to be aware of logical principles, which have no location in space and time. Naturalism doesn't really allow for this.

Cal Metzger said...

Me: "It seems to me that hallmark of supernatural claims is to a) make two statements that contradict one another (something is here but not here), and b) steadfastly avoid any way of explaining the physical phenomenon supposedly effected by the supernatural thing by referring to its contradiction."

VR: "But this happens a lot of times. We see effects of something, we can't perceive the objects, but we infer that something systematic has to be behind it."

Yes, some parts of reality are understood as not being detectable directly, but only through their effects. (We could even go one step further and look at structural realism, but that would be another diversion.) But if we are talking about electrons, we are talking about an electron's effects, and these effects are available every time they're examined.

With the claim of a ghost, every examination fails to uncover any effects, and the reason for this is because the explanation is, "It's supernatural."

With an electron, we are examining effects, and positing an electron, because every time we check the effects they are there, and the electron is the best explanation.

With supernatural claims, we can't examine the effects (supernatural claims are, every time and as far as I know, stories told after the fact), and the reason given for our not being able to examine the effect is that the thing that caused the effect is supernatural.

That's a serious imbalance between the two claims.

Aragorn said...

Personally, I use a "no compelling evidence/reason to believe" charge with all the attendant subjectivity it denotes. (It seems less of a charge than a personal assessment, come to think of it)

Victor Reppert said...

From my first published paper.
http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Reppert-Miracles-and-the-case-for-theism.pdf

In response to this objection, it seems clear that even though theists
believe God to be omnipotent, they nevertheless have some ideas,
based on their own theology, about how God can be expected to
use his miraculous power. Even though believers may be unable to
predict miraculous occurrences, they are prepared to assign higher or
lower probabilities to some miraculous occurrences on the basis of
what they believe God to be like. If they are Christians they expect
God to exercise his miraculous power in the way that Jesus did (especially
if they believe Jesus to be God Incarnate). Thus Christians
are more likely to believe reports that God healed someone or raised
someone from the dead than they are to believe that God levitated
Gregory Hall for 15 minutes in order to disrupt philosophy classes at
the University of Illinois. The mere belief that God is intelligent and
has purposes renders those miracles that serve some apparent divine
purpose more likely to occur than miracles that seem to be just thrown
into the universe for no reason. And other properties attributed to
God, such as benevolence, will provide some reason to think that certain
miracles are more likely to occur than others.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "In response to this objection, it seems clear that even though theists believe God to be omnipotent, they nevertheless have some ideas, based on their own theology, about how God can be expected to use his miraculous power. Even though believers may be unable to predict miraculous occurrences, they are prepared to assign higher or lower probabilities to some miraculous occurrences on the basis of what they believe God to be like."

What does it mean to be "prepared to assign higher or lower probabilities to some miraculous occurrences" and not be able to predict? This makes no sense to me. Prediction doesn't have to mean 100% right. Prediction is about probabilities, and doing better than noise. Can believers do this with what will be the next 'miracles?' (That's rhetorical; they can't.)

VR: "If they are Christians they expect God to exercise his miraculous power in the way that Jesus did (especially
if they believe Jesus to be God Incarnate). Thus Christians are more likely to believe reports that God healed someone or raised
someone from the dead than they are to believe that God levitated Gregory Hall for 15 minutes in order to disrupt philosophy classes at the University of Illinois."

To be clear, this has nothing to do with prediction. This has everything to do with category of story that Christians should more gullible about. I don't think this is a very good defense of supernatural claims.


VR: "The mere belief that God is intelligent and has purposes renders those miracles that serve some apparent divine purpose more likely to occur than miracles that seem to be just thrown into the universe for no reason."

And this just appears to give a god credit for anything that happens that is perceived to be good, and excuses a god for anything that happens that is perceived to be bad. This isn't prediction; this is 100% obviously biased thinking.

VR: "And other properties attributed to God, such as benevolence, will provide some reason to think that certain miracles are more likely to occur than others."

Sooo, no ability to actually predict, but the ability to assign, post hoc, a reason for whatever happens based on a pre-conceived notion of what should be, with no mechanism for testing? What could possibly be wrong with this defense of supernatural claims? Anything?

Legion of Logic said...

Cal's last paragraph demonstrates how those beholden to scientism can never be expected to be able to perceive truth beyond science's ability to measure. Since science can't predict what God is going to do, and science can't design an experiment to test what God is going to do, then God doesn't act in the world. And doesn't exist, either.

What could possibly be wrong with this misapplication of science? Anything?

Once the scientism claims come rolling out when talking about God, it can be safely assumed that the person holding to scientism can't even begin to comprehend reality without science telling them what to think.

David Brightly said...

You're welcome, Cal. I think what you want to say goes something like this. The statement 'there's a knock at the door and there's nobody there' is in contradiction with the well-attested 'law of nature' statement 'whenever there's a knock at the door there is somebody there'. The supernaturalist resolves the contradiction by claiming that the second statement isn't strictly true. There can beexceptions to 'laws of nature'. Is this incoherent? I don't think so.

Not sure I follow you, Victor. To make inferences do we have to be aware of logical principles or merely able to instantiate them? The geometry of Venn diagrams and the physics of containment do the latter.

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"The laws of nature are then the products of the naturalistic project. They are compact but very general descriptions of the regularities we find in the world."

Then the naturalist project is vacuous from the get-go, because what is appealed to as an explanation -- and explanations are be*causes*, that is, they are causal in some form or another -- does not explain jack but is a mere description. But we need no stinkin' naturalists to *describe* for us the "regularities we find in the world", we have scientists for that thank you very much.

David Brightly said...

Do you think, then, GR, that the descriptions that scientists come up with explain nothing?

grodrigues said...

@David Brightly:

"Do you think, then, GR, that the descriptions that scientists come up with explain nothing?"

This is a bizarre question since I simply made explicit what follows from what *you* said, not what *I* believe. Anyway, the answer is no.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "I think what you want to say goes something like this. The statement 'there's a knock at the door and there's nobody there' is in contradiction with the well-attested 'law of nature' statement 'whenever there's a knock at the door there is somebody there'. The supernaturalist resolves the contradiction by claiming that the second statement isn't strictly true. There can be exceptions to 'laws of nature'. Is this incoherent? I don't think so."

Hmm. That's exactly what makes it incoherent, I think.

The fact is, a supernatural claim basically says, "All bets are off --the foundation upon which we can build an understanding of reality is no longer solid enough to stand on."

Laws of physics? Forget about them. Logic and validity? Meaningless. Axioms and their consequences? Throw them away. As far as I can tell, a supernatural "explanation" is like saying, "Don't try and understand this, because not only is anything possible with a supernatural explanation, but that which is impossible can't be ruled out either."

And on top of that, there's the fact that a supernatural explanation can't, perforce, rule out that an explanation that DOESN'T do all of the above remains possible.

That's incoherence.

Victor Reppert said...

“But, don’t you see,” said I, “that science never could show anything of the sort?”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists—anything ‘outside.’ How could you find that out by studying simply Nature?”

--C. S. Lewis
Natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Natural laws only tell you what will happen as long as there is no interference in the system from the outside. Furthermore, those laws can’t tell you if such interference is going to occur."

Why single out natural laws? All other things suffer from the same deficiency -- nothing can tell us if there is anything outside our "system."

I will repeat this: nothing can tell us if there is something outside our system.

This objection to natural laws is like saying, "Do you know what I can't stand about math class? It doesn't provide us with endless, unlimited power."

David Brightly said...

For Cal. Well, it rather depends on how you think of the laws of nature. If you think of them as exceptionless assertions, then that's incoherent because self-contradictory. If you think of them as referring to entities causing what happens to happen, as the machinery underlying reality, as it were, then that's incoherent too because it supposes what it's trying to explain---why does sunlight cause plants to grow, and so on. If you think of them as best-efforts descriptions, then exceptions are unproblematic, for we know that even our best efforts at description can leave things out or get things wrong. This view is quite friendly towards theism. But on the other hand, there may be no exceptions after all.

Consider also this. If we think of naturalism as the project of explaining stuff without recourse to mind as an explanatory element, then the Eiffel Tower is a supernatural object. For the mindfulness of M.Eiffel seems an essential part of why his tower is what it is, and we hardly have a naturalistic account of minds.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "If you think of them as best-efforts descriptions, then exceptions are unproblematic, for we know that even our best efforts at description can leave things out or get things wrong."

Of course that's what I assume is meant by "the laws of nature." The laws work that best describe reality. The laws that best work with reality are the ones that we have found, and use.

Brightly: "This view is quite friendly towards theism."

It seems that they are quite friendly to theism in the same way that hats are.

Brightly: "If we think of naturalism as the project of explaining stuff without recourse to mind as an explanatory element, then the Eiffel Tower is a supernatural object."

This isn't part of naturalism. What you call "mind" is a product of brains, the same way that digestion is a product of our digestive system. These things are all accounted for in naturalism, despite any insisting that they cannot be. There's no reason to imagine or believe that minds exists independently of brains. There is every reason to believe that minds cannot exist independently of brains.

Brightly: "For the mindfulness of M.Eiffel seems an essential part of why his tower is what it is, and we hardly have a naturalistic account of minds."

We can be very certain that minds are the products of brains, which are natural. Are you just making a god of the gaps argument concerning thoughts and consciousness, or do you have something specific and tractable about minds that you think science cannot ever explain?

David Brightly said...

Hello Cal. I'm sympathetic to much of what you say but disagree on two specific points.

The first is your claim that 'the supernatural' is in itself an incoherent concept. As I said back at the beginning, I think a good model for the relation between the supernatural and the natural is the ordinary way of conceiving the relation between our mind and our body. Somehow the two are very different kinds of thing but there is a two-way traffic between them, with the mind causing bodily movement and the body causing changes in the mind. People have operated with this idea for centuries and don't find it incoherent. Of course, putting this in the context of certain naturalistic hypotheses may result in contradictions. But the supernaturalist is at liberty to reject these hypotheses, as we have seen in the 'laws of nature' thread. At least, that's what I think is happening there, it's hard to tell.

Second, I think you are much more gung-ho than is justified regarding a naturalistic account of mind. We just don't have one. And there appear to be huge conceptual obstacles to getting one. Tom Nagel, himself an atheist, rehearses them in Mind and Cosmos. On good days I can persuade myself that the hurdles of intentionality and value can be overcome. Where I run into a brick wall is the first-person phenomenology of the mental.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "As I said back at the beginning, I think a good model for the relation between the supernatural and the natural is the ordinary way of conceiving the relation between our mind and our body. Somehow the two are very different kinds of thing but there is a two-way traffic between them, with the mind causing bodily movement and the body causing changes in the mind. People have operated with this idea for centuries and don't find it incoherent."

This seems to be the same problem that I have had in the other thread. It sounds like you define incoherent as not involving contradictions, and as being accepted. I am trying to explain that a better definition (and the one I am working with) defines incoherence as something that does some work, that is productive, etc. As Victor pointed out, wave-particle behavior seems incoherent, but as I pointed out, this doesn't matter because we have (good) evidence for it. The problem I am pointing out is for something like supernaturalism, where we both a) have no (good) evidence, and b) no one can provide a workable hypothesis for supernaturalism that can do something (anything) -- explain, simplify, predict, etc.

I get your point on theory of mind (at least dualism) being similar to supernaturalism, in that both seem to involve something that seems immaterial interacting with (or supervening, etc.) on the material (or physical, or real, etc.). But I think that they seem similar because both are probably making a fundamental mistake in how the question is being framed; at their best, supernaturalism and dualism, for instance, rise to some version of coherence and are disproved.

Brightly: "Of course, putting this in the context of certain naturalistic hypotheses may result in contradictions."

I am just not sure what you mean here -- can you give me an example?

Brightly: "Second, I think you are much more gung-ho than is justified regarding a naturalistic account of mind. We just don't have one."

I suspect that, to the extent this is true, it's because we have a muddled concept of "mind."

Brightly: "And there appear to be huge conceptual obstacles to getting one. Tom Nagel, himself an atheist, rehearses them in Mind and Cosmos. On good days I can persuade myself that the hurdles of intentionality and value can be overcome. Where I run into a brick wall is the first-person phenomenology of the mental."

I think I understand this. My thoughts seem to reel when I try to reconcile what I know about time and phsyics and how it is that my thoughts occur inside this reality. But I learned long ago not to let something as trivial as that disorientation stand for much. People pronouncing a problem unresolvable are too often later revealed to be ignorant, or have been misled in their approach, etc.

(Sorry about the late reply; too many threads here for me to keep track of very well.)

David Brightly said...

Cal, A theistic supernaturalist might well say that his brand of supernature is productive. It explains the first cause, the origin of the universe, the human condition, and so on, in a satisfying, coherent way. I doubt that the medievals would have built their cathedrals had they thought their theism was incoherent, just as we would not have invested in the LHC had we thought that QFT was not coherent. I tend to see supernaturalism of one sort or another as a natural outgrowth of the common sense understanding of the world and our place in it. But we moderns now have an alternative picture of the world---the 'scientific image'---and the two images do not gel. One example might be the 'interaction problem' for substance dualism when confronted with the conservation laws of physics, perhaps. Another, the free will question. Both images are coherent within themselves, if perhaps incomplete, but most of us are unable psychologically to stand simultaneously in both (though some people do). The dissonances are too great. So we tend to fall one way or the other, and from either camp the other seems untenable. I think it's important to realise that the camps have different strengths and weaknesses, and that to operate in one or other mode exclusively may not be the best way to live. And a further consequence of this stance is that it may not matter too much which brand of supernaturalism you go in for.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "Cal, A theistic supernaturalist might well say that his brand of supernature is productive. It explains the first cause, the origin of the universe, the human condition, and so on, in a satisfying, coherent way."

Yeah, there it goes again; you are using words like productive, explain, concerning supernaturalism, but what I think you mean is (at least for some people) "satisfying." I don't doubt that some forms of supernaturalism make some people feel somehow safer, more secure, more respected, etc. I am just pointing out that those are side effects that it borrows from things that are actually coherent.

Brightly: "I doubt that the medievals would have built their cathedrals had they thought their theism was incoherent, just as we would not have invested in the LHC had we thought that QFT was not coherent."

Please try and understand this point: I am pointing out that your opinion about something being coherent, and my opinion about something being coherent, and the medievals opinion, etc. -- those opinions don't matter. What matters with coherence is whether or not it explains, predicts, simplifies, etc. These are not matters of opinion. They are matters of fact.

The cathedrals are not supernatural buildings. They are (wonderful) buildings. The only coherence found in a cathedral is among its engineering principles, principles that coherently account for gravity, structural strength, etc. -- things that actually exist. Just as the particles that the LHC measure actually exist, and just as the techniques and equipment used there form coherent explanations of the how and what is being measured.

Show me how a cathedral was built using supernaturalism, and I will be persuaded that supernaturalism is coherent. Without that, you are arguing that opinion matters, and I am explaining why it should not. So please stop telling me that opinion matters regarding coherence. Opinion is a product of coherence, not a description of it.

Brightly: "I tend to see supernaturalism of one sort or another as a natural outgrowth of the common sense understanding of the world and our place in it. But we moderns now have an alternative picture of the world---the 'scientific image'---and the two images do not gel."

Hmm. What should we do about that? I wonder.

Brightly: "One example might be the 'interaction problem' for substance dualism when confronted with the conservation laws of physics, perhaps. Another, the free will question. Both images are coherent within themselves, if perhaps incomplete, but most of us are unable psychologically to stand simultaneously in both (though some people do). The dissonances are too great. So we tend to fall one way or the other, and from either camp the other seems untenable."

I just don't understand what you're saying here.

Brightly: "I think it's important to realise that the camps have different strengths and weaknesses, and that to operate in one or other mode exclusively may not be the best way to live. And a further consequence of this stance is that it may not matter too much which brand of supernaturalism you go in for."

I go for the one that identifies supernaturalism as being incoherent. You haven't persuaded me that there is any other brand.

David Brightly said...

Cal, several things you say suggest that our understandings of 'coherence' are rather different:

"...those are side effects that it borrows from things that are actually coherent."

"The only coherence found in a cathedral is among its engineering principles..."

"...and just as the techniques and equipment used there form coherent explanations of the how and what is being measured."

I can't make these statements fit with my own understanding. I think of coherence as a logical property of sets of sentences or ideas, roughly that they entail no contradictions, have no circular definitions, and support one another in offering an account or explanation of a common subject matter. This is quite a narrow understanding. An architect might want to say of the cathedral that its various internal spaces form a coherent whole, or something like that, and I think I see what he might mean, but that's too loose for a philosophical discussion, in my view.

With this understanding it's easy to see that if we put together two sets of ideas, each set coherent (non-contradictory) on its own, we may end up with an incoherent (contradictory) whole. This is what I'm getting at in the examples. Common sense ideas about our having free will make sense on their own. Ideas in physics make sense on their own. But put them together and we run into trouble.

Lastly, for a body of sentences to be coherent they don't have to be true.

Aron Zavaro said...

Victor,

It seems to me that every God of the Gaps argument can be converted into a valid Bayesian argument. Consider this God of the Gaps argument:

1. We can't explain lightning
2. Therefore, Zeus is Thr explanation for lightning

This is invalid but it can easily be reworked:

1. If naturalism is true, lightning is surprising because there is no explanation for how lightning could naturally come about -- P(L|N)<<1
2. If Zeus exists, we would expect there to be lightning -- P(L|Z) is close to 1.
3. Therefore, lightning confirms Zeus over naturalism.

This is a valid argument, but it's only trivially true. No one should believe in Zeus for this reason. Zeus is an ad hoc explanation. How are your arguments for theism different (they might be, but I'm not quite sure how)