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Gary Gutting on Richard Dawkins’ Atheism

August 15th, 2010 by Matt

The New York Times has an accessible and excellent critique of Richard Dawkins’ argument for the non- existence of God, written by University of Notre Dame Philosopher Gary Gutting entitled, “On Dawkins’s Atheism: A Response.”

Enjoy.

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  • I thought the original article by Gutting was strange, because I’m not sure what was his point. Was it that agnosticism is acceptable? Was it that humility should be considered a virtue again? I wasn’t sure.

    Anyways, this response was much better. Clear, concise and to the point. As this site and others have shown time and time again, when you consider history, theology and philosophy (even philosophy of science), TGD literally has hundreds of errors. Gutting focused on some of the errors in the major arguments, and did it clearly.

    It’s a shame that the majority of commenters continued to tow their party line with mounds of rhetoric and continued propagation of spurious thinking.

    I think it’s clear that the day of the New Atheists has passed, or at least moved well beyond it’s peak and is declining.

  • Did you hear Graeme Hill’s Radio Live show on the weekend?

    Talk about giving a pulpit to atheists of the least intellectual kind.

    Gutting’s article was interesting, however he may forget that the kind of people who worship Dawkins merely want their prejudices confirmed. They aren’t interested in truth, or even in valid arguments.

  • I find Gutting’s article misrepresents the ideas presented by Dawkins.

    In “The God Delusion” Dawkins does not believe that he, or anyone else, has rationally proven that god does not exist.

    Conversely, neither he nor anyone else in the history of the world, has rationally proven that god does exist. It is currently a standoff!

    Increasingly the higher educated people of the world, backed by an increasing awareness and trust in, scientific inquiry with evidence, is reducing their dependence on, faith without evidence, as the deciding criteria.

  • Paul,
    Keep trumpeting the triumphalism of science and reason. In so doing, you parrot what two hundred years of rationalists have done before you. If you trumpet it loud enough, you may be able to drown out the sounds of the real world around you. As secularism continues to decline worldwide and has even lost its foothold to relativism and neo-Paganism throughout most of Europe, I can only imagine that continuing to shout about your impending victory serves as a salve against the hard facts of reality.

    You may not realize this, but atheism is one of the only major population segments that is declining so rapidly worldwide (primarily in China) that the decline is both in percentage against total population and total population. Most population segments reproduce to at least keep their total numbers stable…but not atheism. Atheists, for instance, have declined by 25 million people in total population since 1970 (19% of total current atheist population). Whereas agnosticism has gained almost 120 million since 1970, it’s not enough to keep up with population trends worldwide, and they have lost in percentage of world population.

    Of the largest 10 religious groupings (which includes non-religious), only atheism and agnosticism have negative trends. Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Neo-Paganism and Christianity continue to grow faster than the population.

    You could say, “Oh, well that’s just because atheism is hard to define” or “well, those religions are only growing among the uneducated,” but once again the statistics show you to be incorrect.

    Anyone familiar with the rebirth of religion in China knows that it’s not among the rural and uneducated. Just this month China Daily, a government run newspaper, described the growth of Christianity as having “a continuing influx of young people, intellectuals, and professionals from various fields.” In China, Malaysia, Singapore and Korea, there is a direct correlation between higher education and Christianity. In Yunnan province, where I used to live, It’s the villages of old grandparents who remain staunch atheists and refuse to the listen to the more robust worldview presented by their kids. The Christian gospel continues to take hold among the Ph.D.’s at the universities, but can’t make inroads into the life of the agricultural workers. As a Christian, I pray this changes and that all may come to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    The Chinese, like their counterparts in the West, heard the claims of the rationalists that God and science don’t mix. They are still taught Marx in their middle school curriculum. We heard the claims that people were only justified in believing in things on a purely evidential basis. We heard that science and rationalism would bring a new utopia. We heard these things…and then we realized that they were manifestly untrue. In Asia, most are returning to Buddhism or to Christianity. In Europe, its into generic spirituality and neo-Paganism.

    When you consider the data and reality of the world situation today, your final paragraph seems like a cultural artifact from the late 19th or early 20th century. We’ve moved far beyond that point now and secularism failed to make the move it kept saying it was going to make.

  • By the way,
    Some places to begin your research would be these:

    1. God is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodbridge (2009) – Both are atheists, so you don’t have to be afraid to read something outside your worldview ;-)
    2. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World by Alister McGrath (2006) – He’s a former atheist of course.
    3. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins (2007) – I think he’s agnostic

  • PS The word used for faith in the New Testament is pistis and it was generally understood as trust based on evidence.

  • Paul writes In “The God Delusion” Dawkins does not believe that he, or anyone else, has rationally proven that god does not exist. Well a lot of this depends on what you mean by prove, in philosophical terms no one has proved the existence of morality, the external world, the existence of other people, and a whole lot of things. Dawkins does however have a chapter entitled “why God almost certainly does not exist” and does as Gutting notes actually provide and latter summarise an argument for the conclusion that God most almost certainly does not exist. Gutting notes also like many others Plantinga, Craig, Swinburne, Ruse, Nagel, that this argument is extremely poor.

  • @ G Kyle Essary,

    Firstly, nice try, but when you refer to the rise of religion, especially in China, you neatly forget two things:

    Firstly the huge majority who are returning to a religion in that country are choosing the traditional Chinese religion of Buddhism, that is being supported by the government as an integral part of the Chinese culture.

    Buddhism is the largest & fastest-growing religion in China, thriving throughout the country as they are allowing it to spread. One estimate puts the number at – 102,000,000

    Secondly, some would argue that Buddhism is one of the most inspiring world philosophies, rather than a religion at all.

    Thirdly, as far as growing numbers in other countries are concerned, there is evidence to support some of what you say, however, the equally interesting and opposite trend is the number of people who are becoming atheists and agnostics. In fact you even commented about the gain of almost 120 million new agnostics since 1970, which, given Richard Dawkins stance of being about an 8 or 9 personally on the agnostic scale, I actually take as a good thing!

    Also, this trend is strongest in what we tend to view in the west, as first world nations. In particular, North America has some of the most dramatic changes to traditional belief patterns and as Richard Dawkins noted in his TED Talk, the higher educated you are within the American Scientific community, the less likely you are to believe in the existence of a god or gods. Speaks volumes really!

    In fact, at current rates, Christianity will become a minority religion in the US by 2050

  • @ Matt,

    You’re entitled to your opinion about Dawkins argument and Guttings view of it, but the fact remains, there is no credible evidence for the existence of god or gods.

    You can flap about trying to find definitions of “necessary” or “simple” that just possibly might be consistant with what we know about the world all one likes, but that does nothing to establish the existence of any putative entity.

    To establish the existence of a putative entity to any degree of certainty, one must use science. And that means evidence. End of story.

    Because, and this deserves writing up in great big letters, THERE IS NO OTHER METHOD OF COMING TO KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE WORLD. Or, at least, we have not discovered another one yet.

    Everything we know – absolutely everything – comes from a scientific process – the application of reason to evidence. If it is not backed up with evidence then we do not know it at all, and at best it is mere speculation.

    People are often afraid to say that science is the only means of knowing that we have. But what are the alternatives? There simply aren’t any.

    Hence we must assume the validity of materialism, because science has so far turned up nothing but the material AND WE DON’T HAVE ANY OTHER WAYS TO FIND THINGS OUT ABOUT THE WORLD.

    Claiming that materialism hasn’t been demonstrated conclusively is utterly fatuous – it’s just about the only philosophical position that HAS been demonstrated.

    Oh, and people’s thoughts and personal subjective experiences of gods are NOT EVIDENCE for the existence of those gods.

    Mr. Gutting should be embarrassed to have even entertained such speculations.

  • @Paul
    Take these comments with the playfulness with which they are intended…but take them seriously nonetheless:

    1. Your comments on the rise of religion in China are almost completely incorrect, and I would assume come from ignorance, so I will attempt to inform you on the actual situation.

    Buddhism is not supported by the Chinese government. Buddhist temples in smaller villages are still frequently destroyed by the communist regime as they believe any religion could take time and effort away from their agricultural work. In reality, the government “allows” five religions, but they all have to fall under the control of the government in what they teach and how they worship. The government still requires all leadership to be atheists and still continues to enforce atheism in most areas (especially outside of the cities).

    2. You’re right in saying that “some would argue that Buddhism is one of the most inspiring world philosophies, rather than a religion at all.” The problem is that they would be wrong. In some strict forms of Theravada, there is no creator god. But even then, there are countless rebirths and a supernatural realm. In most Theravada countries, they have taken on the concept of a creator god and other lesser deities. Unquestionably, the majority of Theravada Buddhists in Myanmar and Thailand today believe in a creator god.

    Those who hold to Mahayana Buddhism (approx. 95% of Buddhists in China, and the religion of the Chinese diaspora), believe in a plethora of gods. Some only believe in a few hundred gods on the celestial plane, but some believe in literally millions of gods. My Chinese teacher, a strict Mahayana Buddhist, once even told me that Shang Di, the creator god, sent me to China to serve the people. These gods are prayed to daily, offered incense, given sacrifices of paper money.

    And then there are the Tibetan Buddhists. Tibetans are even more extreme than Mahayana in these regards, having levels of heaven and hell on the circle of life. They hold to the existence of billions of gods and demons. Whenever I visited Tibetan lands, the monks would teach that you had to be very careful with the particulars about how you did things, because the gods lived everywhere and were in all sorts of creatures around us.

    So you could say it’s not a religion, but at best you’d be referring to a few hundred thousand Zen Buddhists living in western countries, and even then most believe in generic spiritualities which most (and definitely any atheist) would call religions. In reality, those who would make this “argument” are simply trying to be apologists for atheism. ;-)

    3. You are proud that agnostics grew by 120 million, yet you obviously missed the point. Let me try to be more clear. World population in 1970 was 3.7 billion. At the time, there were 165 million atheists and 542 million non-religious (agnostics). That makes for percentages of 4% and 15% respectively. In 2010, the number of atheists has dropped to 139 million and the number of agnostics has slightly grown to 660 million. BUT, world population has almost doubled to 6.9 billion. That means that the percentages have both dropped. Atheists have lost just more than half of their total percentage (2% of world pop today), and agnostics are currently at 10%, which means a percentage drop of 5 points. I hope that makes clear why your rejoicing over the gain in agnostics seemed to miss the point I was making.

    Since the 1970s, we have seen more people receive higher education than in any point in history. Yet atheism has lost people over that stretch (nearly 26 million), and agnosticism continues to lose from the total percentage of people (15%-10% of world population total), so it appears that higher education doesn’t lead to the agnostic atheism that you support.

    4. As for Dawkins and scientists, you’ve gotta love how he extrapolates one small survey and acts like it matters. His research, which you might not know, was an informal survey taken of members of the NAS in 1998. Only 250 of the total group of NAS scientists responded to the survey (about 50% of the total at the time), and of those who responded, Dawkins only uses the results from certain fields of science (cutting the sample size in half again). If you look at the whole, 77% disbelieve in God and 8% believe in God. That’s not too good for us theists is it?

    It’s also not good for females. You see, it turns out that over 90% of the NAS scientists at the time were male. Females, of course, must be less intelligent, because according to you and Dawkins, “the higher educated you are within the American Scientific community, the less likely you are to…” be a female. Oh, and well over 90% also happen to be white, raised in affluent homes and from certain areas of North America. Asians, Latinos and African Americans are clearly less intelligent according to your “research.” They’re also disproportionately above the age of 70. Apparently, those educated since 1950 are less intelligent as well. I hope you get the humor of my point, and see why Dawkins “argument” so miserably fails.

    Maybe you and Dawkins should look at more recent research, such as Elaine Ecklund’s study from last year, that was both formal and published by Oxford University Press. She’s an agnostic herself, but finds myths like those you are propagating to be…well…myths.

    She finds among other things that one third of scientists in elite universities disbelieve in God, and that one third believe in God with another third unsure (leaning both ways). 65% are very interested in spirituality, and 50% identify with a specific religion. The trend moves toward belief in God among younger scientists, with the older scientists being more antagonistic toward supernatural beliefs. Many of the religious said they had to keep their beliefs secret due to persecution from older, non-religious scientists (you know how atheists act when given power, haha) She also found that in almost every case, those who were not theists disbelieved for reasons outside of their education and science. Most were either raised non-religious or had a bad personal experience in a church or with a religious person.

    According to Ecklund, the types of things Dawkins and others say about the relationship between scientists and faith “is a caricature, a thought-cliche, perhaps useful as a satire on groupthink, but hardly representative of reality.”

    And I feel that this is how you deal with things in our discussions as well. You are presented with facts, data, logic and a worldview that better encapsulates all of your experience. Yet you actively suppress reality and respond with links to bad videos, and bad all around arguments. You continue to spiral in the same circle showing no growth. Then, you refer to this as the future and hope that this type of “thinking” spreads the world over as though this worldview has not been tried and found wanting. I fear such a return to irrationality, as the world has known such times before, and they were not good.

    As such, I can only pray that you will finally submit yourself to the God who made you and gave you the capacity to reason rightly.

    Blessings.

  • Paul,

    1. Gutting view is the view of pretty much most Philosophers who specialize in the arguments for the existence of God athiest or theist. You state the fact remains, there is no credible evidence for the existence of god the problem is (a) Dawkins wasn’t objecting to theism because there is no evidence for it he was arguing there was compelling evidence against it so even if what you say is true it has no bearing on his argument (b) the claim that there is no credible evidence is clearly false, any one familiar with the literature knows that the best that can be said is the evidence is inconclusive, numerous rigorous arguments have been offered some experts think they are successful others do not. In fact even leading atheists like Graham Oppy will tell you this. Ignorance about a subject is not really terribly compelling.

    2. You write To establish the existence of a putative entity to any degree of certainty, one must use science. And that means evidence. End of story if this is true then you would have to doubt more than theism, moral properties can’t be scientifically demonstrated. Neither can the existence of the physical world, laws of logic, causation, and other minds and so on, familiarity on the literature on these issues would familiarize you with the skeptical problems your position would entail.

    3. You write “You can flap about trying to find definitions of “necessary” or “simple” that … that does nothing to establish the existence of any putative entity. I agree, but Gutting was not saying it did, what he was saying was that Dawkins assumes that if God existed is not simple and non necessary, despite the fact that there have been important arguments made to the contrary by theists. Making assumptions which others have argued against and ignoring their argument is not compelling.
    Dawkins fans so a surprising amounts of cognitive dissonance here. If a theologian wrote a critique of evolutionary theory and based it on assumptions which lead evolutionary biologists had offered rigorous arguments against in the literature they would rightly reject the critique as uninformed. The method does not become rigorous just because you like the conclusions.
    4 . Finally you state “Because, and this deserves writing up in great big letters, THERE IS NO OTHER METHOD OF COMING TO KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE WORLD. Or, at least, we have not discovered another one yet.” This has several problems. First, science developed in the 14th -17th centuries in Western Europe. If science is the only way of knowing then it follows that prior to the 1400’s no one new anything, and most non western countries knew nothing at all till much latter, this is pretty evidently false. Second moral truths such as “its wrong to rape people for fun” I think are true and known to be true yet one can’t scientifically demonstrate them or detect them by science, a theory that entails its not true that raping people for fun is wrong is pretty evidently false. Third, as you have stated it your position is self refuting: take the claim “science is the only method of knowing things” this is a philosophical claim which cannot and has not been demonstrated scientifically, therefore, if we accept it, we will have to conclude we cannot know its correct, that its actually “mere speculation”.
    4. Your simply mistaken the materialism has been demonstrated.

    5. You state “ personal subjective experiences of gods are NOT EVIDENCE for the existence of those gods. “ the problem is that this line of argument would undercut all sensory experience, my belief that a computer is in front of me is based on sensory experience, I subjectively perceive the computer. My belief in my own thoughts and feelings are based on my subjective awareness of them. By belief in the based is based on my subjective awareness of things I did in the past via memory and so on, if experiencing X is not evidence for X, then we have no evidence for the past, the external world, or our own thoughts and feelings. Scientific reasoning which relies on sensory experience would not get off the ground.

  • This is a good article I found a while ago.

    http://atheism-analyzed.net/First%20Principles.htm

    Naturalism and Materialism declare that intuition and other transcendences cannot exist, yet the basis for Naturalism and Materialism is itself necessarily intuitive and transcendent.

    So Naturalism and Materialism deny their own foundational validity, and thus are paradoxical (violate the Principle of Non-Contradiction), and so are neither coherent nor valid.

    This paradox is fatal, rationally speaking, for Naturalism and Materialism, but not for Empiricism, because Empiricism has voluntarily chosen to limit its range of investigation, and, in theory any way, does not say anything at all about transcendences or about value systems, except that they are out of the range of the testability and verification constraints placed upon Empirical processes. (Empiricism is a process, not a worldview or value system).

    In this manner Empiricism retains its validity as a process for obtaining information about physical reality. Naturalism and Materialism are seen to be invalid, non-coherent worldviews, spun off from Empiricism, but no longer identical to it.

  • @ G Kyle Essary,

    Your perspective on China and the Buddhist religion, reveal more about your Christian and I’m guessing American stance than they do about anything else. At least I’m clear about your “Cold War” style distrust of them as a government if nothing else.

    Also, if push came to shove and I had to pick, I’d take a buddhist over a christian fundamentalist any day, as I can at least see the appeal of some of the philosophy of the first rather than the second.

    As far as the figures concerning agnostic and atheistic numbers go, I appreciate your mathematics, but, as Mark Twain said, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” and before you say it, I agree you can say the same of any numbers I may come up with as well.

    However, as far as the trends you describe are concerned though, they are part of what drives myself and no doubt other atheists, agnostics, etc to worry about the indoctrination of children in particular with religious propaganda all over the world.

    No doubt, a large amount of any religions growth can be put down to this alone. Especially when you take into account the worrying influence of faith schooling, such as the Islamic Fundamentalist ones in Europe and the Christian Fundamentalist ones in the US, such as the New Life Academies or perhaps the most worrying, especially as you specifically point to higher education, institutions like Patrick Henry College near Washington DC, that really concern: http://www.watch-documentaries-online.com/you-are-watching-gods-next-army

    Of my personal growth, I appreciate your concern, but when you talk of returning to a time of irrationality, I tend to think of the dark days of religious persecution, such as the infamous Catholic Inquisition, etc, etc. Mind you, now I think of it, even in the present we continue to have dark days, in the form of a Catholic Church happy to protect pedophiliac priests, etc. The more things change, the more they stay the same and all that.

    So, all things being equal, I think I’ll stick with my personal viewpoint until you can show me something more convincing. At the end of the day, how logical is it to base your life on the contents of a book that claims someone can rise from the dead, etc, etc.

    As Billy Connolly once said, when somebody claims they can hear god talking to them in their head, then normal everyday people usually think of mental illness. How true!!!

  • @ Matt,

    1 – I beg to differ, but it has everything to do with the argument, that is the problem. You decide to ignore the reality that you can’t prove god exists, unless you use some academic philosophical sleight of hand, yet that is the whole point, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this debate in the first place.

    2 – Nice try on this, but I’m looking for concrete proofs here, not more intellectual smokescreens. The reality of science is like a good spotlight, that allows us to see clearly, rather than some grey or worse still pitch black ignorance that you ask me to prefer.

    3 – The comparison with theologists arguing aspects of evolution are laughable, as the biologists use science, reason and provide evidence to support their claims.

    4 – First – We may have been aware of things from the dawn of man, for example thunder and lightning, but without science, we were at the mercy of our fear of the unknown, so viewed such things as the work of god or gods. Only science has allowed us and continues to allow us to truly understand the truth behind such aspects.

    Second – Moral truths are increasingly being revealed in scientific terms that we can understand, especially the reality of our inherent moral instincts that we have evolved.

    Third – There you go again Matt. I’m sorry but I don’t agree to your philosophical tactics. I live in the real world, so don’t have much use for arguments that ignore that.

    5 – Sensory experience, especially of a personal nature, can be deceived. You may be dreaming about the computer or it may be a very realistic holograph. In contrast Science relies on huge amounts of substantiated evidence, that is peer reviewed and challenged to allow us to make a more realistic claim about the computer, or anything else for that matter, actually existing.

    Not forgetting, and this is perhaps the best part of science, being continually ready and willing to modify any such truths in the light of additional or new evidence, unlike a theistic stance, that appears to be written in stone much like the ten commandments that god gave to Moses. Yeah right!

    Now, as G Kyle Essary would say, my post would not be complete without a link to a bad video. Enjoy All!

    http://www.youtube.com/user/richarddawkinsdotnet?blend=1&ob=4#p/f/8/2tcOi9a3-B0

  • In addition,

    I’d also say that the most damning piece of evidence against theism of all is the fact that it can be explained away perfectly, in every detail, as the product of history, culture and human psychology.

    It looks exactly as we would expect it to look if it were just dreamed up by the pattern-seeking brains of human beings, and behaves in precisely the same way as every other cultural or intellectual trend in history.

    Theism simply makes the most sense as a mere product of human imaginings, when measured against the totality of everything else we know.

    This, and this alone, is enough to comprehensively refute theism once and for all.

    The only way it can again become credible is if we find out that vast swathes of what we now know about science, culture and ourselves are fundamentally wrong on every level.

    In the modern intellectual climate, at this point in our species’s progress, atheism is an utterly inescapable conclusion for the intellectually honest person.

  • Paul

    1. Sorry but (a) something is not relevant because you state I “beg to differ”. If a person offers a bad argument against A it does not become a good argument because you think there is no evidence for A. Thats actually a fallacy. (b) labelling arguments “slieght of hand” does not refute them, to do that you need to actually offer arguments. If your method were sound I could refute Dawkins by calling his work slight of hand (c) I noted that you can’t prove that other minds exist, or that moral properties exist, or the past exists and so on, so the reference to lack of proof really lacks the cogency you give it.

    2. Again calling a position an “intellectual smokescreen” is not a rebuttal either. If my contention that none of the things I mentioned can be scientifically proven can be dismissed by calling it an “intellectual smokescreen”, then Theists could dismiss your complaint about God not being scientifically proven by calling your position an intellectual smokescreen. if you demand substantive proof for belief in God I will demand substantive proof from you.

    3. Calling a point laughable is not a response either. Gutting noted that theologians have offered arguments (i.e logic and evidence) as to why God is simple and necessary. He even cited examples. Simply saying “thats laughable” and then asserting a denial of the claim is not a response. If it was I could refute you by simply asserting your wrong and saying your laughable.

    4. Re your first point, apart from the very inaccurate view of how science and theology developed in history, it actually ignores my point which was that people in other times and cultures knew plenty of things prior to the rise of science, hence it follows science is not the only way one can gain knowledge.

    Your second point also evades my criticism, I did not say we cannot get a scientific understanding of how we form moral beliefs. I said moral truths can’t be scientifically proven. Some evolutionary pscologists have developed models of how we form religious beliefs you would not accept this as proof of religion so why does the fact that similar models have been developed for moral beliefs entail a scientific proof of morality.

    Re your third point, sorry but when someone points out your position contradicts itself calling there argument names and saying you live in the real world is not a response. In the real world contradictions are not true.

    5. Yes, sensory experience can be mistaken, so can scientific studies, that really proves nothing. the issue is whether seeing something provides grounds for thinking its there and it clearly does. The reason I believe my computer is in front of me right now is because I see it.

    Second your claim about peer review and evidence underwrites my point. You need to read peer reviewed articles and that requires trusting your eye sight. The reviewers need to read your study and that requires them trusting what they see, those who gather empirical data have to see this data and remember which parts they have already gathered and so on, in other words the whole enterprise you talk of relies on the denial of the idea that subjective experience is not evidence.

    Third your claim being continually ready and willing to modify any such truths in the light of additional or new evidence actually tends to take away from your point. You only modify a scientific theory when you come to believe its mistaken, and hence not true. The reason scientists do not give up evolution or helocentricism or atomism for example is because they think it is true. If science is continually revising its claims this actually shows it has a history of getting it wrong. To suggest this is a strength is simply silly.

    I will note however how you contradict yourself, you dismissed sensory experience because it sometimes mistaken and then go on to affirm science is sometimes mistaken and that this its great strength.

  • @Paul
    You say, “Your perspective on China and the Buddhist religion, reveal more about your Christian and I’m guessing American stance than they do about anything else. At least I’m clear about your “Cold War” style distrust of them as a government if nothing else.

    What a strange response. I explain the actual situation on the ground having lived in southwest China, and all throughout southeast Asia; having daily talked with the Chinese in these areas. I explain their beliefs from knowing them, sharing conversations, becoming friends, etc. I’ve talked to the old aunties and heard stories about how their temples were torn down recently. I’ve heard the stories about how their traditions were removed from the school curriculum. It’s not a ‘Cold War’ stance, but a description of reality.

  • @Anon
    I stumbled across that site once. It appears the author was an atheist for forty years before getting so deep in the philosophy that he converted out (although I’m not sure it was to any particular faith). That article, as well as some others on the site, are very good.

  • @Paul
    Yep, that was another bad video, haha. Actually it wasn’t that bad this time.

    You do realize that it shoots your argument in the foot though, because the underlying (but never spoken) premise is that scientific knowledge is always incomplete. It assumes that it is constantly getting more precise, but it has no metascientific justification for these assumptions. And as the video makes clear, one generations conclusions are the areas where the next generation has to revise, as technology allows scientific knowledge to be more…well, we have to assume in this worldview…precise.

    Since you deny any metaphysical aspects of knowledge (when you say that other than science, “THERE IS NO OTHER METHOD OF COMING TO KNOWLEDGE ABOUT THE WORLD”), then you have admitted extreme skepticism and given us no justification for believing that other people exist, that our experiences are real, that the external world exists, that scientific properties correspond to anything outside of your mind and countless other things, and now that science can give us anything more than incomplete knowledge, with no justification that the incomplete knowledge it gives brings us any closer to accurate knowledge (since that assumes metascience).

    I must admit though, at least you are being true to your materialism. Patricia Churchland, a fellow atheist philosopher and scientist, says that if materialism and evolution are true (something she believes to be the case), then “truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost.” Truth and falsity are illusions according to a world of pure science and materialism. Thus, a consistent materialist is nothing if not an irrationalist.

  • @ G Kyle Essary

    I realise your Texas Ranger icon may just be for show, like the “The Atheist Missionaries” tag, (although I do like that one) but assuming it implies your from the Southern States, I bring more bad news about the state of American Education.

    Although from your perspective, I’m guessing you would probably agree with what the Texas State Board of Education is trying to do. Land of the free? Not when it comes to childrens minds by the look of things!

    http://action.secular.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=4621

  • @ G Kyle Essary,

    And now for the good news!

    Meanwhile, in the UK Richard Dawkins is attempting to highlight some of the issues related to faith schooling that the British Humanist Association has been campaigning against.

    schoolshttp://richarddawkins.net/articles/501585-dawkins-denounces-religious-education-as-‘wicked-practice’

  • More good news, unless your Matt that is!

    With university budget cuts of £200m planned, the loss of the department is unlikely to be an isolated case. At the University of Birmingham’s school of philosophy, theology and religion, one of the largest in the UK, up to a third of staff are facing redundancy, while the University of Sheffield’s biblical studies department was also threatened with closure last year.

    UK Universities are under pressure to make immediate and drastic savings, and theology seems to be failing to make the case for its survival as a discipline worth studying.

    Many will argue that if anything is going to be cut, theology departments are a pretty obvious target. Theology doesn’t cure cancer, build skyscrapers or even produce books that anyone in their right mind would want to read.

    Thomas Paine said that theology “is the study of nothing”, while science fiction writer Robert A Heinlein, in a memorable metaphor, likened it to “searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn’t there”. (I have to say I like that one!)

  • Ok, Back to the Gutting article

    I wish you theists would provide a concrete definition of the word “God”. The word is so ambiguous that it makes discussions about God a pointless exercise in meaningless semantics and question begging.

    It’s clear that the God Dawkins was arguing about was the tremendously powerful, personal, tyrant interventionist god a la Yahweh of the Old Testament or Thor or the millions of other primitive Mountain or Volcano type gods.

    The God of what David Hume described as “Natural Religion” that most religious people actually believe in and always have done throughout history, not “Traditional Religious thinking” as this guy claims.

    The entire article is based on the question begging “possiblity” that a particular conception of god is that it outside the realms of scientific enquiry and reason and thus can’t be rationally proven or falsified. How convenient!

  • Paul theists have and do give definitions of what they mean by God. The fact you say that further underscores Gutting’s point. You attack theism without having read what theists write.

  • @Paul
    I’m American, but I’ve lived most of my life in Asia actually, growing up in Yemen for a time, studying at a university in China and spending the last few years in Malaysia and other SE Asia countries. I’m a huge baseball fan though (thus the Rangers logo). I’m also a fan of Chelsea and Lee Chong Wei, so the logo has nothing to do with anything outside of showing my support for a baseball team. None of this has anything to do with our discussions thus far though, and is only (rather obviously) an attempt on your part to change the topic from attacks against your materialism.

    As for your last three comments, they are diversions from the discussion at hand. When you’re backed up against the wall, it’s always a good idea to attempt to divert those who have you backed up and see if you can change topics. Texas education, funding for faith-based schools in the UK and bare assertions showing your ignorance concerning definitions of ‘God’ are mere diversions. We’re going to stay on target…will you?

    Do you agree with Patricia Churchland’s comment that I quoted above? If not, how does the combination of evolution and naturalism provide a grounding for “truth.” If the only means of finding knowledge is the scientific method, are we forced to merely assume that the results are true? What grounding could we possibly have for such an assumption, since the scientific method itself cannot provide such a grounding? If there’s no such thing as truth in your worldview, then there’s little point in your arguing for the superiority of “reason,” since it’s just as mythical as the gods you claim to deny.

  • The entire article is based on the question begging “possiblity” that a particular conception of god is that it outside the realms of scientific enquiry and reason and thus can’t be rationally proven or falsified. How convenient!

    This is a caricature of the article. First, nowhere does Gutting say God is outside the realms of scientific inquiry.

    Second even if he suggested that this was possible how is this question begging, in a debate about Gods existence it would be question begging to suggest that God existed, but to simply assert a particular type of entity is possible does not beg the question.

    You have quite nicely shown however how you assume that nothing is outside science, and will not even contenance the possibility this is mistaken, despite several arguments given by Kyle and myself to show this is false.

    Third, your argument assumes that nothing can be said to be unless it can be proven or falsified scientifically. Well as I pointed out moral propositions such as “rape is wrong” cannot be scientifically proven or falsified. So can you tell me wether you reject this claim, is it superstitious nonsense which should be rejected?

    Finally you also work with a concept of the scientific in terms of which something is not scientific if it cannot be falsified. This however is pretty much rejected by contemporary philosophers of science. Whole theories can be falsified, but scientific statements in isolation often cannot be. I suppose this is convienent and should be rejected.

  • 2Paul
    Paul Copan has said it better than i could and in very plain english….

    “Scientism, particularly its strong form, is a worldview or philosophy of life that affirms two things: the material world is all that there is, and science is the (only) means of verifying truth claims. All claims of knowledge have to be scientifically verifiable; otherwise, they are meaningless.”

    This sounds like your position Paul, trouble is…

    “Though scientism is quite common, it is also problematic for several reasons. First, it is arbitrary. Horwich’s claim that the sciences exhaust what can be known is not the result of a widespread scientific observation; it is an arbitrary philosophical pronouncement, making the reality-claim that the physical world is the only reality there is, no questions asked. God, objective moral values, the soul, and free will — these are outside the realm of “science”; so they are not real. But why should we agree to this? After all, science does not have the capability of telling us whether free will, right and wrong, or the soul exists, yet these thinkers tell us that they just do not exist because science cannot “prove” them. It’s another one of those “because I said so” reasons.

    There is another problem: Scientism is self-refuting. That is, the demand that “all truth claims must be scientifically verifiable to count as knowledge” cannot itself be empirically verified. It is a self-refuting view since it does not measure up to its own standards. The very articulation of the statement actually undermines the statement — like saying, “I cannot speak a word of English” or “I do not exist.”

    Those who say “if you cannot scientifically prove something, then it is not true” are saying something that cannot be scientifically proven. In other words, how can you scientifically prove that all claims must be scientifically provable?

    So we cannot validate science by appealing to science. Philosophers have severely discredited the notion that all genuine knowledge is scientifically verifiable, since this view is nothing more than an incoherent philosophical assumption.”

    What more can be said?

  • Hi All,

    Feel free to cut your teeth on the following. Enjoy!

    Why Evolution is True?

    Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at The University of Notre Dame, has been bashing atheism in the New York Times.  His latest column, a critique of Gnu Atheism, has been pretty well eviscerated at Butterflies and Wheels and Pharyngula. I want to talk about something that hasn’t yet come up: Gutting’s complete failure to show that we should take the existence of God seriously.  He’s adept at producing philoso-speak, but a miserable failure at adducing evidence.

    First, his claim.  Gutting basically reprises the Courtier’s Reply, saying that nobody should take The God Delusion seriously since
    Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires. The basic problem is that meeting such standards requires coming to terms with the best available analyses and arguments. This need not mean being capable of contributing to the cutting-edge discussions of contemporary philosophers, but it does require following these discussions and applying them to one’s own intellectual problems. . . .

    Friends of Dawkins might object: “Why pay attention to what philosophers have to say when, notoriously, they continue to disagree regarding the ‘big questions’, particularly, the existence of God?” Because, successful or not, philosophers offer the best rational thinking about such questions.
    What is the “best rational thinking” of contemporary philosophers that bears on Dawkin’s case?  First, that God could be simple.  Ergo, Dawkins’s argument that a complex God demands explanation holds no water.  P. Z. and Ophelia have exposed this gambit for the ad-hocery that it is.

    Gutting further argues that “Dawkins’ argument ignores the possibility that God is a necessary being (that is, a being that, by its very nature, must exist, no matter what).”  Wrong.  Dawkins certainly discusses—and disposes of—ontological arguments like the “necessary-being” gambit in The God Delusion. He also discusses first-cause arguments analogous to those used to buttress a “necessary being.“

    But who cares? I can’t conceive how philosophical argument alone, without any input of data, is going to prove—or even strongly suggest—that God exists. Indeed, as Gutting somewhat poignantly admits, all the “best rational thinking” of philosophers hasn’t settled the case:

    Of course, philosophical discussions have not resolved the question of God’s existence. Even the best theistic and atheistic arguments remain controversial.
    But the “best atheistic argument” is not controversial: it’s simply this: “I don’t see convincing evidence for God.”  As the best theistic arguments fail, the best atheistic argument becomes even stronger.

    But philosophy is overrated here.  The existence of a deistic God—one who doesn’t do anything tangible—is forever beyond the purview of both philosophy and science.  And for a theistic God, philosophy alone won’t do.  You need evidence, and by that I mean something more than revelation or intuition.   Rather than keep countering the feints of apologists wielding the rubber rapier of the Courtier’s Reply, let us go on the offensive, asking  them to state their positive case for God.  And by this I mean answering these three questions:

    1) What evidence do you have for God’s existence?
    2) Does that evidence, whatever it is, support the particular God you accept rather than gods of other faiths—or a different kind of god entirely?
    3) How would you know if you were wrong?

    In practice, these good folks never go beyond #1. Nor does Gutting.  So what does he bring to the table? He’s got one argument:

    Revelation and intutition.

    As Gutting says:
    There are sensible people who report having had some kind of direct awareness of a divine being, and there are competent philosophers who endorse arguments for God’s existence. Therefore, an agnostic stance seems preferable [sic] atheism.
    Leaving aside the issue of whether a person claiming that God exists because she’s “aware of him” could be considered sensible, this is hardly evidence, and certainly no reason to think that, well, maybe there might be a god after all.

    Jails and asylums are full of people who have direct awareness of things that don’t exist.  Tons of people believe in alien abduction.  Millions more have direct awareness that diluting one biomolecule in an ocean of water makes a good nostrum.  And if you argue that those who are “aware of God” are much more numerous, I respond that those cases of awareness are not independent, since nearly everyone is taught from infancy that God exists.

    As for those “competent philosophers” who endorse arguments for God’s existence, Gutting himself has admitted that those arguments have all failed.  I give those “competent philosophers” no more credence than I do the “competent postmodernists” who declare that there are no objective truths.
    And if you dare suggest that we need not just mass intuition, but material evidence, Gutting has an answer:

    But what is the evidence for materialism? Presumably, that scientific investigation reveals the existence of nothing except material things. But religious believers will plausibly reply that science is suited to discover only what is material (indeed, the best definition of “material” may be just “the sort of thing that science can discover”). They will also cite our experiences of our own conscious life (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.) as excellent evidence for the existence of immaterial realities that cannot be fully understood by science.

    Here Gutting is wrong, for while science is impotent before the completely immaterial, it’s not before the material effects of immaterial beings. A theistic God is one who has effects on matter, and so comes within the purview of science.  Does Gutting not realize that a virgin birth, or a resurrected dead person, or answered prayers, constitute material realities supposedly produced by an immaterial reality? Gutting’s argument works for an indolent deistic God, but not a theistic one. 

    Any God who works in the world becomes a god whose existence can be demonstrated empirically.  And of course that’s the kind of God that most Americans accept.
    People like Gutting spend their days attacking Dawkins because they can’t themselves confect a convincing case for God.  When they’re forced to produce one, it invariably comes down to asserting either a) “You can’t prove me wrong since my God is totally elusive, dude” or b) “God exists because I and lots of other folks think he does.”  These arguments don’t play well in public, which is why religious scientists always wriggle like eels when asked to explicitly declare their beliefs and justify their faith.

    We should spend less time defending ourselves against things like the Courtier’s Reply and more time demanding that our opponents make a positive case for God, answering the three questions given above.   That, I think, is the best way to show that they got nothing.

    Original Article By JERRY COYNE – http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/whaddya-got/

  • I see Paul you still think caricature and agressive rhetoric actually counts.

  • Matt,

    Is this more to your taste then?

    Gary Gutting is a philosopher of religion at Notre Dame, a Catholic university in the US; he writes for the New York Times philosophy blog The Stone. He has a long post saying what’s wrong with Dawkins’s arguments for the strong improbability of god. It’s worth reading because it’s more than just shouting or hand-waving or tone trolling or border disputing or last Thursdayism or science has nothing to say about the supernatural-ism. That’s not to say it’s convincing, but at least there’s something there.

    He addresses Dawkins’s argument (not unique to him, of course) that a god that created the universe would have to be even more complex than the universe, and thus would require explanation even more than the universe does, so it doesn’t explain the universe after all, so it’s not a good argument for the existence of god. (That’s not how Gutting puts it, it’s how I do.)

    Here Dawkins ignores the possibility that God is a very different sort of being than brains and computers. His argument for God’s complexity either assumes that God is material or, at least, that God is complex in the same general way that material things are (having many parts related in complicated ways to one another). The traditional religious view, however, is that God is neither material nor composed of immaterial parts (whatever that might mean). Rather, he is said to be simple, a unity of attributes that we may have to think of as separate but that in God are united in a single reality of pure perfection.

    Okay…but what good is that? What good is a view, what good is “he is said to be”? It’s just saying. Anyone can say, but that doesn’t mean anyone else should believe what is said.
    Obviously, there are great difficulties in understanding how God could be simple in this way. But philosophers from Thomas Aquinas through contemporary thinkers have offered detailed discussions of the question that provide intelligent suggestions about how to think coherently about a simple substance that has the power and knowledge attributed to God.

    Okay, but I don’t really see why anyone should bother, given that there’s no real reason to pay attention to the claim in the first place. Saying “God is simple” is an ad hoc way to get around the “god would have to be more complex” objection, but it’s not a claim with any apparent relationship to observable reality. That means that intelligent suggestions about how to think coherently about this legless claim don’t strike an outsider as all that valuable.

    Making Dawkins’ case in any convincing way would require detailed engagement not only with Swinburne but also with other treatments by recent philosophers such as Christopher Hughes’ “A Complex Theory of a Simple God.” (For a survey of recent work on the topic, see William Vallicella’s article, “Divine Simplicity,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
    Okay, I had a look.

    According to the classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and their adherents, God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter/form composition, potency/act composition, and existence/essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes.

    Okay, but again, this is just dogma. It’s just saying. I’m sure it’s internally coherent, but there’s no reason to believe it in the first place. Without any reason to believe it in the first place, it’s hard to care whether it’s internally coherent or not. Don’t you find?

     God is what he has. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence. This is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). It is represented not only in classical Christian theology, but also in Jewish, Greek, and Islamic thought. It is to be understood as an affirmation of God’s absolute transcendence of creatures.

    Okay – that all makes sense if you believe in this god in the first place. But if you don’t, it just sounds like people saying fancy things about something they know absolutely nothing about. It sounds grand, that kind of thing, but it’s just saying. Just saying is not convincing to outsiders.

    You need a better first step. I already know that theology sounds explanatory and serious to insiders, but you need a better first step to convince outsiders. Science and other empirical forms of inquiry have that better first step; theism doesn’t.

    By Ophelia Benson – http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2010/you-need-a-better-first-step/

  • Oh dear,

    1. Coyne apparently defends the idea that you can write a book on why the arguments for something fail without studying what the arguments are because they are “philosophical” and philosophers “, notoriously, they continue to disagree regarding the ‘big questions’, particularly, the existence of God?” the problem is that by critiquing these arguments and also by putting forward criteria for rational belief, Coyne is enaging in Philosophical discussion, so by his own logic we should not take him seriously.

    2. He states Wrong Dawkins certainly discusses—and disposes of—ontological arguments like the “necessary-being” gambit in The God Delusion. He also discusses first-cause arguments analogous to those used to buttress a “necessary being.“ Actually Coyne is wrong; Dawkin’s does not address any of the actual arguments for these claims that Gutting mentions, Gutting actually cites arguments he does not address in his article. Dawkins misunderstands some arguments of Aquinas and Anslem from the 13 century but that is not the same as addressing the arguments of contemporary theists.

    3. Coyne says . Even the best theistic and atheistic arguments remain controversial. But the “best atheistic argument” is not controversial: it’s simply this: “I don’t see convincing evidence for God.” As the best theistic arguments fail, the best atheistic argument becomes even stronger.

    This is simply rubbish, in fact the argument he refers to is highly controversial just as controversial as the arguments for the existence of God, people like Alston, Plantinga, Wolterstorff, Van Inwagen have been offering sustained criticism of this objection for the last four decades. Again Coyne contradicts himself, if we can dismiss theistic arguments because philosophers do not have not settled them then we must reject this argument because its clearly not settled.

    4 Coyne states People like Gutting spend their days attacking Dawkins because they can’t themselves confect a convincing case for God. When they’re forced to produce one, it invariably comes down to asserting either a) “You can’t prove me wrong since my God is totally elusive, dude” or b) “God exists because I and lots of other folks think he does.” This is again false , a little familiarity with Guttings writings as well as the writings of his colleagues at Notre Dame would falsify it. No theist philosopher of any stature I know of has offered arguments like this. Coyne apparently thinks telling fibs is a rebuttal.

    5. Coyne writes We should spend less time defending ourselves against things like the Courtier’s Reply and more time demanding that our opponents make a positive case for God, answering the three questions given above. This is really bad, Gutting had pointed out several places where people had made a positive case for God. Coyne had argued we should ignore such arguments, then he turns around and says after ignoring such arguments we can conclude they have nothing because they never offer any. That’s clearly circular reasoning, there is no evidence because I have ignored it and when I ignore it find there is none.

    6 Coyne’s attack on religious experience is particularly bad he states “Leaving aside the issue of whether a person claiming that God exists because she’s “aware of him” could be considered sensible, This however is circular, he has suggested that no sensible person has such experiences because if you have such experiences your not sensible. By the same reasoning I could dismiss Coyne, no sensible person buys his arguments because if you buy his arguments your not sensible by my definition of sensible.

    He adds”Jails and asylums are full of people who have direct awareness of things that don’t exist. Tons of people believe in alien abduction. This totally ignores the literature on the topic (some of it by Gutting) which addresses this very point first (a) the same reasoning would undercut the claim that we can detect things through our five senses after all some people have visual hallucinations some have auditory hallucinations so by Coynes logic we should never believe anything we see hear and touch. (b) I already pointed this out to you so repeating it does not make it sensible (c) almost any introductory discussion of the arguments from religious experience addresses this argument. For Coyne to cite like an unanswered silver bullet only shows what an ignorant person he is.

  • Ophelia’s is better but not much

    First she says “Okay…but what good is that? What good is a view, what good is “he is said to be”? It’s just saying. Anyone can say, but that doesn’t mean anyone else should believe what is said.
    But Guttings point was that people had offered arguments for the claim that if God existed he would be simple, so he didn’t just say so.

    Second she says ” Okay, but I don’t really see why anyone should bother, given that there’s no real reason to pay attention to the claim in the first place. Saying “God is simple” is an ad hoc way to get around the “god would have to be more complex” objection,” But this is false, the doctrine of divine simplicity was formulated centuries before Dawkins argument and for reasons that had nothing to do with it, as the articles on the topic show.

    Third she states ” Okay, but again, this is just dogma. It’s just saying. I’m sure it’s internally coherent, but there’s no reason to believe it in the first place. Without any reason to believe it in the first place, it’s hard to care whether it’s internally coherent or not. Don’t you find?” The problem is the authors who defended divine simplicity do provide reasons for thinking its true, they write whole articles explaining why they think that God if he existed must be simple, again ignoring what others say and shouting “I am right, I am right” in loud sarcastic tones is not a response.

    Fourth she states ” Okay – that all makes sense if you believe in this god in the first place. But if you don’t, it just sounds like people saying fancy things about something they know absolutely nothing about.”
    But this misses the point, people are arguing that if God exists he would have these attributes, her claim then that this makes sense if God exists is entirely the issue. Moreover, Dawkin’s claim is that a God who made the universe would be complex, in other words he saying that if God existed he would not be simple. By admitting this then Ophelia grants Dawkins is wrong and Gutting’s central point is correct.

    Apparently she thinks she has refuted Gutting and defended Dawkins by doing the opposite.

    All this crap reinforces what people say about Dawkins and his fans, they simply do not understand what they are talking about. They rush into a topic with no knowledge of the debates and pronounce on how the debate is decided usually by offering arguments everyone is already aware of and have been addressed and dropped by both sides.

  • @Paul
    Please keep ignoring the critiques and arguments presented against your worldview. Please keep posting links to things that are only partially relevant (we especially like discussions of philosophical topics by non-specialists like Coyne). And please, please, please keep posting links to videos about Isaac Asimov’s opinions concerning the incompleteness of science. You’re doing a good job of showing how well atheists can answer critiques against their position, hehe. ;-)

    People like Gutting…can’t themselves confect a convincing case for God. When they’re forced to produce one, it invariably comes down to asserting either a) “You can’t prove me wrong since my God is totally elusive, dude” or b) “God exists because I and lots of other folks think he does.”

    Coyne in one swoop shows that he’s out of touch with both philosophy of religion, other religious scientists and most people in the pews. I’ve never heard anyone make either the argument from others think God exists and so should I, nor the argument from God being elusive. Furthermore, he should try reading books by religious scientists like Denis Alexander, Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, Owen Gingerich, etc. because they never make the arguments he accuses them of either. Basically, he’s ignorant of the actual discussions going on in reality, and would rather keep parroting the cliches and strawmen presented by the atheist evangelists in his little corner of the internet. Sadly, countless ignorant followers will assume he’s right without putting any thought into it.

    From our Christian perspective, there are Modal Ontological Arguments, Thomistic Arguments and countless other arguments that lots of philosophers think are sound (whether they agree or not). If these work, and lots of philosophers think they do, then they are evidence that reason leads to believing in God’s existence. Furthermore, none of these merely prove a “deistic God,” but prove a maximally great being, Pure Act or the like.

    Beyond these, there are arguments from miracles, arguments from reason, arguments from history, arguments from experience, arguments from the impossibility of the contrary, arguments from the impossibility of naturalism and evolution, arguments from aesthetics, arguments from desire, arguments from fine-tuning and the rationality of the universe, arguments from intentionality, arguments from physical constants, arguments from proper function and positive epistemic status, arguments from evil and many, many more.

    Furthermore, the people who study these types of arguments (even at secular institutions) think they work for the most part. According the Phil Papers survey of elite US institutions (almost all secular with the exception of Notre Dame), 72.4% of Ph.D. philosophers of religion believe theism to be true. They’ve studied these arguments with more depth than people in any other field, and by a greater than 3-1 margin they favor theism. And of course this doesn’t count the thousands of Ph.D. level philosophers at seminaries, divinity and theology schools who would spike the percentage even more favorably toward theism if included.

    Coyne’s ignorance of these arguments and topics only makes him sound foolish to claim that “When they’re forced to produce one, it invariably comes down to asserting either a) “You can’t prove me wrong since my God is totally elusive, dude” or b) “God exists because I and lots of other folks think he does.” He must be an outstanding biologist, because his apparent knowledge in other fields is embarrassing.

    Of course, most of us here are Christians because we believe the historical event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is compelling and justifies our belief. That miracle does not prove the existence of Kanaka the Vashra or Parashurama, but the God of Christian theism. It is a specific miracle in a specific historical situation with specific theological implications that not only makes a case for Christianity, but works against all of the other competing worldviews.

    Furthermore, all of the arguments we’ve presented showing the internal inconsistencies, nay impossibility, of a coherent naturalistic worldview (that you keep ignoring by posting more diversions) are arguments and evidence for our position.

    I’d say that whereas an evidential framework is not necessary for justified belief in God, nor of justified belief in the Christian worldview, that when we are talking about evidence, the ball clearly remains in our court. Your ignorance of such evidence doesn’t mean it’s not there (the list above should get you started down the proper path, as can doing a search for Plantinga’s “Two Dozen (Or So) Theistic Arguments.” I’m pretty sure that Coyne’s two arguments above that all theistic arguments “invariably comes down to” aren’t listed.

    I’m sorry if this comment seems frustrated, as that’s not my intention. I do tire of going around and around in circles with people only to have them keep diverting the discussions elsewhere, but it doesn’t actually frustrate me. I hope you have a fine day and will catch up with you on another thread in the future I’m sure…but as for this thread, I’m done.

  • I’m a rather simple peasant and my university education is only to bachelors level and that was in applied sciences not philosophy but it seems to me there is one big question being missed in all this.
    Throughout known history the overwhelming majority of the worlds population have beleived in the supernatural [ ie that there is more than just material reality]. Clearly majority belief doesnt determine truth but given this situation surely it is up to the atheists [materialists] to “prove” thier position rather than the other way around. Can science prove there is nothing beyond the material?
    Paul , that should be more simple than disproving God.
    At the risk of being cheeky[ and knowing a little quantum physics] — can science even prove the material nature of reality?

  • @ Jeremy

    Nice try, but I’m with Coyne on this one, when he says that a non-deistic god cannot exist purely beyond the realm of science, for his miracles and interventions must act upon and within the materialistic domain of science for us to observe it.

    A theist would then need to catch a miracle in action, or rather, a law-of-physics breaking event as it happens. If that sounds too grueling then perhaps they’d like to meet the teams at SETI and underground labs trying to find tachyons and other theorized particles. See, they don’t just CLAIM they exist, they spend decades doing the necessary legwork to LOOK for them. Theists simply don’t bother.

    If God truly exists beyond any detectable causal nexus with our physical universe, then he might as well NOT exist, nor be claimed that might possibly exist, because for what reason would one make such a claim? Like Russell’s Teapot, not only is it a ridiculous notion, but what effect on our lives would it have even if true?

    But some people claim to have DIVINE REVELATIONS which are so personal and REAL to them – i.e. utterly subjective. But what “godness” are they detecting that science cannot? Bodies of the religious are made up of the same matter as scientific instruments (and scientists, for that matter), so unless they possess a supernatural ability, how is this possible?

    Well, I suppose that is just what they claim, supported by the circular (and of course evidenceless and hermetically non-provable) circular illogic of: “Scientifically undetectable god bestows supernatural powers of god-detection upon select people, who then claim to have proven god by having detected (“felt”) him.”

    However, if that is the SOLE method by which YOUR LORD meddles with the universe, it brings up two points:

    His powers are limited to letting some know he is there, but that wherever he is he does absolutely nothing else that one can detect in the universe, so other than his “hello!” what is his purpose (as a “necessary being”) then?

    and

    We are left with something to study: PEOPLE! If a person’s brain is the sole recipient of supernatural meddling (though personally I don’t think it’s god) then “thankfully” that greatly narrows the scope of things we ought to be looking at to catch the supposed god-the-meddler in action. Either that or it’s back to evolution.

  • Ah, the endless argument.

    Of course gods exist. Just not as objectively existing entities (as far as we can tell).

    They exist in human minds. And that is the important fact.

    There is a lot of research currently being done on this phenomenon and it is extremely interesting.

    It seems to me discussion of this research, why the god beliefs persist, and the effect they have on society (everyone admits this is in some cases bad) is the real discussion to have.

    Discussing the possibility of an objectively existing god entity seems to me rather childish and diversionary. At least until some real evidence comes along.

  • Let’s pray that evidence comes along soon then Ken ;)

  • Seems to me Paul that there is lots of evidence of all sorts of miracles, i can remember Rob Storey [NZ journalist] making a very carefully researched and medically documented TV documentary on healing in NZ. The problem is that people such as yourself or Ken will simply never accept that kind of thing. Then there is Ken, no matter the testimony or experience of any individual he will invariably say its all in their mind and that science can observe whats happening in their brains. Or the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ, well documented, witness testimony etc but now people like youself dismiss it as unreliable or too far ago or impossible because its outside what you will accept as possible.
    Or back to Ken who always likes to point out that relgion has had some back effects , never mentions the good effects nor the bad effects that anti relgious groups have had.

    I continue to find the atheist stance one of the most overwhelmingly arrogant and illogical a person can make. To make the claim is to claim godlike omniscience, do you expect our worship? Or will you more modestly withdraw to agnosticism and admit you just dont know?

    I see you avoided the questions so i will repeat them.
    Can science prove there is nothing beyond the material?
    Paul , that should be more simple than disproving God.
    At the risk of being cheeky[ and knowing a little quantum physics] — can science even prove the material nature of reality?

  • Yes.. there are literally millions of people who have had some sort of encounter with God… and will happily tell Ken about it – but this evidence will all be rejected as unreliable. Ken holds a non-falsifiable… and ultimately unscientific stance. Why ARE you so anti-science Ken?

  • As I said. Childish and diversionary. Gods exist in the minds of humans. That’s where they have their influence, for good or bad.

    If we were discussing that reality there would be facts, evidence, theories. Currently you guys keep away from such disturbing things.

  • clearly either delusional or insane, and none of them could possibly be well educated particularly not in the sciences. damned plebs what would they know. i think but i am not.

  • “You decide to ignore the reality that you can’t prove god exists, unless you use some academic philosophical sleight of hand”

    Why is it that some people assume that any argument that concludes “God exists” must somehow be a trick, a bit of sleight of hand? Is it because their belief that God doesn’t exist comes prior to the consideration of any arguments?

  • And the best argument Ken can come up with is some… name calling (” Childish and diversionary”) … then a re-assertion of his belief with no evidence (” Gods exist in the minds of humans. That’s where they have their influence, for good or bad.”)

    Then an odd dismissal of the experiences of millions of people over thousands of years as being not “facts,” the way these experiences of millions of people point towards something as not “evidence” and the theories about what it is these facts and evidence point towards as well.. not “theories”:

    “If we were discussing that reality there would be facts, evidence, theories. Currently you guys keep away from such disturbing things.”

    It is you Ken who is shying away from any evidence, and refusing to examine facts. So I ask you again: Why are you so anti-science?

  • This little gem seems to sum up the theistic stance quite well:

    As Eric Idle said in “Nuns On The Run”, “Look Charlie, some con men sell life insurance. The church sells afterlife insurance. It’s brilliant! Almost everyone thinks you might need it, and no one can prove you don’t. ”

    I’ll check back tomorrow to see if we have made any progress ok!

  • @ Glenn

    Please feel free to give me proof of gods existence using easily verifiable scientifically sound evidence or data, not philosophical smoke and mirrors, that allow you to use word play for the same purpose.

    Surely you can see that that is at the heart of what frustrates the majority of atheists!

  • Paul, please provide me with verfiable non circular scientific evidence that

    (a)other people exist.
    (b) rape is wrong
    (c) the past is real and did not pop into existence six seconds ago complete with all apparent signs of age
    (d)that logic is reliable.

    Good luck,

    Until you do, please stop assuming unscientific superstitious things in your arguments.

    BTW Gutting actually provided links to some arguments for Gods existence in his article. I note again like Dawkins you ignore them or simply respond by calling them word games. Whose evasive here.

  • Max, the god beliefs of millions of people over thousands of years is an interesting fact. Science is studying that. It has been an extremely interesting area of research and I find the current writings fascinating. Personally I look forward to the extension of some of of this work to include non-believers. I think there is a fertile area there. In contrast there us no credible research on the specific beliefs. There aren’t even any well defined hypotheses describing an objectively existing god to get started on. Do that specific debate is a mug’s game.

  • If we were discussing that reality there would be facts, evidence, theories. Currently you guys keep away from such disturbing things. Actually both Gutting and Kyle linked to examples of wht you talk about.

    Moreover, arguments for religious experience typically parallel the arguments for the rationality of belief in things like chairs or tables or computer screens.

    Ken without relying on your subjective perceptual experiences, please provide me with scientific proof that my computer exists. I want facts and theories not experiences. Please do so.

  • Matt, questioning the existence of your computer is the typically childish argument used by theologians to avoid the real interesting area of research. This is anthropological, psychological and sociological. Not physical. Matt, what do you think of that current work? You never discuss it. Personally I find it fascinating.

  • Now would seem a good time for some light hearted relief and entirely ON THE SUBJECT http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QERyh9YYEis Thanks to Glenn [i think] for posting this link on facebook a few weeks back.

  • @ Ken
    “Max, the god beliefs of millions of people over thousands of years is an interesting fact.”

    In fact the overwhelming majority of mankind throughout history.

    So, and while acknowledging that majority belief doesnt prove truth, i would still have thought that the onus was on the dissenting opinion to prove their position.

    So Ken you put up good arguement and evidence for the non-existence of God, if you want to change the belief paradigm of the world. Your choice to not believe does not put any onus on the rest of us to prove or change our position.

  • Jeremy – you should try and read my actual comments. As I said this debate on the existence or otherwise of an objective god entity is a mug’s game. But apparently one you specialise in.

    But the facts of god beliefs are extremely interesting. We should be asking how these arose, what function they serve. How they influence society for good and bad. And, especially pressing today, how can we overcome the negative effects of religious violence its causes.

    There is a whole field of new research on these questions. I find it fascinating.

    So, it seems silly to me for a theologian to doubt the existence of the computer he uses to express that doubt! What a waste of time and effort! Much the same as using similar arguments to “prove” the existence of his invisible friend.

    There are far more important (and interesting) questions in the world. And you guys avoid them with such irrelevant debate.

    I am undisturbed about the fact that you believe in an invisible friends. Everyone has a hobby. Just don’t involve me in yours.

    But let’s face it. We as a species face some important problems. And arguing about the existence of one’s computer or invisible friend is not one of them.

  • @ Ken
    ” As I said this debate on the existence or otherwise of an objective god entity is a mug’s game. ”

    It is entirely your opinion that there is no objective God and as the minority dissenting opinion the onus is on you to provide support for that opinion.

    On the subject of whats important, mans inhumanity to man would appear to be at the root of many if not most of our problems, and that is a question of good and evil, of morality and its source. Unless we are wholely and solely the product of a purely material universe, in which case its just the way we are and survival of the fittest is the only valid rule.

    I on the other hand prefer to treat people as individually valuable and hope they do the same for me. Good luck in your world.

  • Ken I see, so when Thiests do not provide proof for the existence of God but appeal to experience its evasive and childish. However when you can’t provide proof in the existence of physical things and believe them on the basis of experience the demand for proof is said to be childish. Which is it?

    I note also that when theists do not give proof you suggest they are changing the subject , the real issue is facts and evidence. When I asked you for proof you dimissed the demand for proof and changed the subject to anthropological studies.

    Keep contradicting yourself and justify it with name calling, it really reinforces my points.

  • Ken wrote So, it seems silly to me for a theologian to doubt the existence of the computer he uses to express that doubt! What a waste of time and effort! Much the same as using similar arguments to “prove” the existence of his invisible friend.

    Here again there is distortion, First I was not doubting the existence of computers. I was pointing out your argument for doubting God entails we should doubt the existence of computers. I agree thats silly, thats my point your and Pauls argument is a silly one and would be recognised as such in any other context.

    Second, your inconsistency is apparent to all, apparently when its beliefs you accept ( such a computers) its silly to reject them because they can’t be proven independently of experience. When its a belief you don’t accept ( God) one should provide such proofs independent of experience or your position is silly.

  • Matt, I really don’t know what you are blathering on about. As I have said – I don’t doubt the existence of gods – in human minds. That is the fruitful area of scientific investigation. It is producing intriguing and useful results.

    I asked if these studies were of interest to you. You didn’t answer.

    Silly “arguments” for the existence of gods, wood spirits, or whatever seem irrelevant to me.  There is no credible hypotheses or evidence. Until there is the debate is, as I say, a mug’s game. Life is too short and interesting for me to bother with such issues.

    I can appreciate some people like to get into discussions about the existence of their computer or their gods. They are welcome to waste their time. Personally I am more interested in the science that provided us with the technology underlying my computer, my health care, etc.

    But, as I said, everyone is entitled to have a hobby. It’s just that yours doesn’t interest me.

  • Jeremy, dragging in the morals question is rather weak. We both know that our morality is quite independent of any god beliefs we might have.

    And again discussing morality from a theological perspective is shallow and unproductive. Its like discussing the origins of the Grand Canyon from the perspective of the biblical flood myth only.

    There is just so much good evidence, overarching geological theories, etc., which provide excellent inputs for a discussion on the genesis of the Grand Canyon. Why be bound by old religious myths? Surely that is not a good way of understanding anything – “god did it” has never been a successful explanation.

    Similarly on the question of sources of our morality. There is just so much good evidence and exiting theories out there at the moment. One would be a fool to ignore them.

    There is now a very useful resource on the scientific understanding of morality. It provides video and audio files from the Edge Seminar “ THE NEW SCIENCE OF MORALITY” held a few weeks back. The speakers include:

    Roy Baumeister (Head of the social psychology graduate program at Florida State University),
    Paul Bloom (Professor of psychology at Yale University),
    Joshua D. Greene (Cognitive neuroscientist and a philosopher),
    Jonathan Haidt (Professor in the Social Psychology),
    Sam Harris (Neuroscientist and Co-Founder and CEO of Project Reason),
    Marc D. Hauser (Professor of Psychology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Biological Anthropology at Harvard University),
    Josua Knobe (Cognitive Scientist and one of the founders of the ‘experimental philosophy’ movement),
    Elizabeth Phelps (Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University), and
    David Pizarro (Psychologist at Cornell University).

    Several of these participants have authored important books in the field of moral science. For example Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis” and Hauser’s “The Moral Mind.” They are excellent books.

    I have had a fascinating few days watching the videos of the presentations. But there is still more to come. Eventually Edge will have about 10 hours of video from this seminar uploaded.

    Now, those videos would be interesting to discuss. But weird justifications for morality from god beliefs are really beside the point.

  • @ Ken

    “Jeremy, dragging in the morals question is rather weak. We both know that our morality is quite independent of any god beliefs we might have.”

    Another oustanding claim, you know more about what i think and believe and the root of those beliefs than i do. I bow in worship of your godlike knowledge. I guess i was mistaken in what i believe and why i believe it and the justification of those beliefs.

    “And again discussing morality from a theological perspective is shallow and unproductive. Its like discussing the origins of the Grand Canyon from the perspective of the biblical flood myth only.”

    Again , your point of view, doesnt make it right, just an assertion. And what has the biblical flood got to do with the Grand Canyon or are you coming out of the closet as a hyper-literal creationist?

  • Hi All,

    Been without an internet connection most of today, so have been unable to comment. So have quickly read over the posts.

    @ Ken, I’m with you on this one. Have juts finished watching “The Edge” presentations. Of which I found the research and findings concerning babies development and bullying by children of real interest as I’m a teacher. I recommend them to all. The shortest is 17 minutes long. The longest is 33 minutes, but the most interesting part is the Q&A discussion at the end of each. Enjoy.

    @ Jeremy, You say: I guess I was mistaken in what I believe and why I believe it and the justification of those beliefs.

    That is exactly where the evidence from Science is pointing us. The reality of evidence from growing research shows that moral behaviour is an obvious aspect of our evolutionary background. One of the clearest examples is in primates, where altruistic acts, such as conflict resolution shown by one ape diffusing a dispute between two other apes within a troop gains it favour within the troop hierarchy.

    Your view of a simplistic “survival of the fittest” does not add up. In fact one could argue, in the more developed species, it’s a case of the survival of the smartest, by using these behaviours to “win friends & influence people” as the old saying goes.

    We are social animals, that’s why we have empathy, sympathy, etc. It drives us to behave the way we do. As does anger, rage, etc. We are merely human at the end of the day.

    @ Matt, you say: Here again there is distortion, First I was not doubting the existence of computers. I was pointing out your argument for doubting God entails we should doubt the existence of computers. I agree thats silly, thats my point your and Pauls argument is a silly one and would be recognised as such in any other context.

    Yet I can prove the real existence by simply touching the computer, or prove it’s existence using Scientific means.

    You ask that we believe in the existence of god without you being able to prove it in such an evidential way. You revert to “a feeling” that you have, much like my sensory feedback from touching the computer, but, and here’s the big difference, the Scientific means allow me to verify that initial feeling as being true, again, again and again and if I wish, in different forms. I can photograph it, weigh it, x-ray it, etc, etc.

    In comparison, your faith is sadly lacking. In fact, much like a proponent of a flat earth, your arguments, evidence and opinions are not worth entertaining, in the same way that geographers, geologists and the like ignore them, so do we you.

    You can jump up and down about how highly sophisticated your philosophical argument may be, but that doesn’t change the fact that you still can’t prove the existence of god.

    I live in the real world. You believe in the capabilities of Science, even if you wont admit it. The car you drive, the home you live in, the on-line blog you run so well, all use the basis of Science to work.

    If you, Madeleine or any of your kids was to get sick or injured, the first thing you’d look to for help, would be Science in the form of the medical profession. Only when you had exhausted all the Scientific options open to you, would you rely on faith.

    You know this in your heart of hearts, you would try anything, clutch at any straw, believe anything to save those that you care about, no matter how irrational it may seem at the time. In contrast, you would willingly sacrifice yourself to defend those you love from harm. Because the biology we have evolved forces us to.

    We might get lucky and have those that we love return to us or we not, but it wont have had anything to do with your faith. It will just be the random chance of life doing what it does to us.

    As the old saying goes, it’s the whole reason why you wont find any atheists in foxholes. Any human being placed in such an insane situation as a heavy shell bombardment is going to grab hold of anything they think might think will make a difference to their possible survival, however imaginary or silly it may seem.

  • @Paul
    Ist of all how do your “Edge Seminar” scientists define moral behaviour
    2nd how do they explain immoral behaviour
    3rd is there a suggestion that moral devolution is occurring in humans or just that what is moral is what works for us at any given time.

    This would still be survival of the fittest [ fitness is defined as whatever helps survival, gets those genes to the next generation]

    Of course we believe in the capabilities of science and utlilise them everyday. But you also live a life of faith. Faith that your food is safe, faith that most drivers will obey the rules, faith that the govt will uphold your rights, in fact endless regressions of faith that things are the way you need them to be. You do not use your science each and every time to make sure things are right. Much of your faith is in the testimony of other people. You could not live your life otherwise.
    Seems we might have evolved to have faith, even to need it, how and why could that be?
    Got to go now, may log on later. shalom

  • Ken – I don’t doubt the existence of computers in human minds – and it is an interesting scientific question to ask: why do we hold such beliefs, and how do they influence society for good or bad? But to think there are real computers is childish superstition.

  • “But, as I said, everyone is entitled to have a hobby. It’s just that yours doesn’t interest me.”

    Now that is clearly a lie… since you seem to spend a lot of time reading about it and writing comments about it. You are interested… which is a good sign ;)

  • @ Jeremy,

    A little off topic, but you’re right, after reading this I do have faith – Faith in the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) as they have ruled that the controversial billboards proclaiming there is no god do not breach advertising rules. For more, use this link:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10667628

  • Paul,
    You write “Yet I can prove the real existence by simply touching the computer, or prove it’s existence using Scientific means.”

    Actually touching and seeing the computer is compatible with it not being there. Anyone who has watched the matrix knows this, hence the mere touching and seeing does not entail it exists.

    You are correct however in that despite the fact that we can’t prove the computers existence we rationally believe it on the basis of sight and touch that is perceptual experience.

    So when you earlier stated it was irrational to believe things on the basis of experience you were wrong.
    Yet I can prove the real existence by simply touching the computer, or prove it’s existence using Scientific means.

    ”the Scientific means allow me to verify that initial feeling as being true, again, again and again and if I wish, in different forms. I can photograph it, weigh it, x-ray it, etc, etc.”

    Actually this is mistaken, to set up the camera, take the photo and Look at the so on I would need to rely on my experience Similarly scientific tests involve observation and hence visual experience. So far from verfying that our experience is reliable such tests rely on visual experiences relaibity in order to prove them, hence such arguments are actually circular.

    ”You ask that we believe in the existence of god without you being able to prove it in such an evidential way.” I just pointed out that you can’t prove that computers exist in an evidential way, so this really does not count for much.

    In fact, much like a proponent of a flat earth, your arguments, evidence and opinions are not worth entertaining, in the same way that geographers, geologists and the like ignore them, so do we you” This analogy works against you, the claim that the earth is flat is a claim within the feild of geography, the experts in that field have examined the evidence and rejected it none conclude the arguments even worth considering . The claim that God exists is disanalogous, its a theological philosophical claim and within that field, the experts are divided over wether the evidence is conclusive and all of them consider the arguments to be worth examining. Its biologists like Dawkins that think otherwise.

    A more accurate analogy would be a controversial thesis within biology, where the leading biologists disagreed over a position and carefully argued peer reviewed studies had been published on both sides of the debate, and then a lawyer with a chair in law who had never read these studies claiming that the thesis was silly stupid and obviously false.

  • @ Jeremy & Matt

    Hate to do this to you, but according to wikipedia the word FAITH can be used in two ways:

    First: Faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.

    In the social sciences, the subtleties of trust are a subject of ongoing research. In sociology and psychology the degree to which one party trusts another is a measure of belief in the honesty, fairness, or benevolence of another party.

    The term “confidence” is more appropriate for a belief in the competence of the other party. Based on the most recent research, a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of benevolence or honesty.

    In economics trust is often conceptualized as reliability in transactions. In all cases trust is a heuristic decision rule, allowing the human to deal with complexities that would require unrealistic effort in rational reasoning.

    Second: The word faith can refer to a religion itself or to religion in general.

    As with trust, faith involves a concept of future events or outcomes, and is used conversely for a belief “not resting on logical proof or material evidence.”

    Informal usage of the word faith can be quite broad, and may be used in place of trust or belief.

    So, with the above definition in mind your previous post would look more like this:

    But you also live a life of faith. Trust that your food is safe, confidence that most drivers will obey the rules, belief that the govt will uphold your rights, in fact endless regressions of “faith” that things are the way you need them to be. You do not use your science each and every time to make sure things are right as that would force you to deal with complexities that would require unrealistic effort in rational reasoning.. Much of your faith (trust/confidence/belief) is in the testimony of other people.

    And my previous post should look more like this:

    If you, Madeleine or any of your kids were to get sick or injured, the first thing you’d look to for help, would be Science in the form of the medical profession. Only when you had exhausted all the Scientific options open to you, would you rely on faith, or a belief “not resting on logical proof or material evidence.”

    That makes things so much clearer Jeremy. Thanks for helping me clarify my stance and obviously yours, so as you said earlier

    What more can be said?

  • Paul, you write “If you, Madeleine or any of your kids were to get sick or injured, the first thing you’d look to for help, would be Science in the form of the medical profession. Only when you had exhausted all the Scientific options open to you, would you rely on faith, or a belief “not resting on logical proof or material evidence.”

    Apart from the fact you have ignored all my arguments above ( you seem to think ignoring an argument, asserting the opposite and changing the subject counts). What you say is false.

    First, when I go to the doctor I do not refuse to believe him untill he has proven he is correct, nor would I try and examining the medical journals to see if I agreed with him. I would simply trust i.e have faith he is correct independent of proof.

    Second, to even go to the doctors I would believe lots of things I could not prove. I would for example trust that the road I observed existed, the car existed, I would believe Madeleine existed, I would rely on my visual and auditory experience, my memory of the past and , I would rely on moral beliefs about the propriety of different courses of action and so on. I would not demand these things be scientifically proven before I believed them or acted on them, neither would you.

    The reality is people do not walk around refusing to believe anything until its proven scientifically. We adopt this stance only towards a small segment of what we believe, that is scientific theories such as evolution or quantum mechanics, and even here most people simply trust what they were taught at school or what the experts say and don’t demand proof before believing.

  • @ Jeremy

    I meant to post this after your funny link about Dawkins. Enjoy!

  • Jeremy, there is a really good way of finding out how the scientists at the “New Science of Morality” seminar define their terms.

    Watch the videos or listen to the audio files. They are really interesting and best not filtered through others preconceived views. You will find a lot to think about.

  • @ Matt

    You say: First, when I go to the doctor I do not refuse to believe him untill he has proven he is correct, nor would I try examining the medical journals to see if I agreed with him. I would simply trust i.e have faith he is correct independent of proof.

    So you apply the first Social Sciences definition here: Faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.

    No doubt, in no small part due to the fact that your doctor has got to this position through the successful completion of medical training and holds the appropriate qualifications, earned through a reputable medical school, etc, etc.

    In all cases trust is a heuristic decision rule, allowing the human to deal with complexities that would require unrealistic effort in rational reasoning. OK covered that one

    Next, you say: Second, to even go to the doctors I would believe lots of things I could not prove. I would for example trust that the road I observed existed, the car existed, I would believe Madeleine existed, I would rely on my visual and auditory experience, my memory of the past when I saw Madeleine sick was reliable, etc, etc

    Once again wikipedia comes to the rescue: In common usage, existence is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them.

    This is what you have applied to the road, car,etc

    You wouldn’t use wikipedias other definition: In academic philosophy the word has a more specialized meaning, being contrasted with essence, which specifies different forms of existence as well as different identity conditions for objects and properties. Philosophers investigate questions such as “What exists?” “How do we know?” “To what extent are the senses a reliable guide to existence?” “What is the meaning, if any, of assertions of the existence of categories, ideas, and abstractions?

    OK covered that one as well.

    Finally you say: The reality is people do not walk around refusing to believe anything until its proven scientifically. We adopt this stance only towards a small segment of what we believe, that is scientific theories such as evolution or quantum mechanics, and even here most people simply trust what they were taught at school or what the experts say and don’t demand proof before believing.

    Wikipedia helps once again! A scientific (or empirical) skeptic is one who questions the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to a systematic investigation. The scientific method details the specific process by which this investigation of reality is conducted. Considering the rigor of the scientific method, science itself may simply be thought of as an organized form of skepticism.

    Common topics that scientifically skeptical literature questions include health claims surrounding certain foods, procedures, and alternative medicines, such as homeopathy, Reiki, Thought Field Therapy (TFT), vertebral subluxations; the plausibility and existence of supernatural entities (such as ghosts, poltergeists, angels, and gods as well as the existence of ESP/telekinesis, psychic powers, and telepathy, and thus the credibility of parapsychology); topics in cryptozoology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, alien visitations, UFOs, crop circles, astrology, repressed memories, near death experiences (NDE), creationism/intelligent design, dowsing, conspiracy theories, and other claims the skeptic sees as unlikely to be true on scientific grounds.

    Sorry, that was a bit longwinded, but I know you love detail. So I take it you would apply this form of definition towards a small segment of what we believe, such as those listed above. I note your two examples don’t make the list!

    Now on the other hand, we also have: Philosophical skepticism
    In philosophical skepticism, pyrrhonism is a position that refrains from making truth claims.

    A philosophical skeptic does not claim that truth is impossible (which would be a truth claim). The label is commonly used to describe other philosophies which appear similar to philosophical skepticism, such as academic skepticism, an ancient variant of Platonism that claimed knowledge of truth was impossible.

    There was a lot more, but I realise you’re the expert in this area.

    So, I live a normal life, in the real world, like most people and faced to choose, like most people, I find, as you have demonstrated above with regards to the choices and beliefs we hold about things and people, that we have two choices, so what do I opt for?

    The pragmatics Scientific, well proven approach, that allows us a large degree of certainty or your philosophical method, that possibly can’t even deliver a truth of any form, no matter how many books I read, philosophers I study or debates that I attend.

    As with Jeremy earlier, thanks Matt for helping me clarify my personal perspective. If nothing else, your expertise and thinking in these matters has made me much more certain of my atheism.

    Final thought. Having personally been in education for almost twenty years, I am really encouraged by the rise of “Critical Thinking Skills”, “Enquiry Based Learning” , etc. So, I would hope, as you pointed out, that future generations of Kiwis will have a much more skeptical approach to what they are taught, where it comes from and everything else.

  • Paul, if you think reading Wikipedia enables you to offer informed refutations of some widely held views in contemporary epistemology of religion you are gravely mistaken.

    1. Re the doctor, you note he is trust worthy because of his credentials I agree. The problem is to know his credentials I have to rely on what other people tell me. i have to take the word of the university in question, I have to take the word of those who hold the university in repute. i have to take the degree as not a fraud and so on. If you really adopted the approach of not believing anything until it was empirically proven, you could not believe the doctor had these qualifications. So again your comments bear my piont out.

    2. Yous say “existence is is the world we are aware of through our senses, and that persists independently without them.” But offering a definition of existence does not answer my point, which is that one cannot prove that a world exists independently of our senses, we never percieve the world independently of our senses, and everything we percieve is entirely compatible with the world not being there ( consider the Matrix). Yet despite this the sensible and rational thing to do is to believe the world exists and to do so merely because we perceptually experience it. This shows that a person is justified in believing something they cannot prove on the basis of experience.

    3. Similarly pointing out philosophers invesitigate a series of topics according to Wikipedia does not answer my point as well.

    4. Your suggestion that The scientific method details the specific process by which this investigation of reality is conducted. Considering the rigor of the scientific method, science itself may simply be thought of as an organized form of skepticism. does not follow, you suggest that because science is rigorous its organised skepticism, this assumes that any thing that is rigorous must be skeptical, but thats the whole issue we are discussing. Here you simply assume that what you are saying is true and use it define it.

    But again you avoid my actual arguments, For example you have still to address my point that: the claim that everything must be proven contradicts itself. Where is the scientific proof for this claim, and moreover if you offered it. I could ask for proof of the proof, and proof of the proof of the proof and so on. This is why almost no one demands this sort of standard for knowledge or rational belief outside of a religious context. Why then adopt it inside such a context.

  • I find it ironic that Paul and Ken are doing something useless in their time, namely arguing about how God does not exist with Theists, instead of moving on full-time towards studying scientistic arguments; if they keep insisting that Theology and God arguments have become insignificant and are no longer taken seriously by the scientific community. Then as lemmings they should go with the majority and stop visiting sites like these in the future

    There is something deranged with Rationalists trying to argue rationality with the insane.

  • @ Matt,

    Now, with all respect, if you guys are going to use comparisons such as “The Matrix” to help back-up your arguments, then I think I’m more than entitled to use wikipedia, after all, you don’t see me using “2001 A Space Odyssey” as a basis for any of my arguments, even though it could be used given its content.

    Religious knowledge, according to religious practitioners, may be gained from religious leaders, sacred texts (scriptures), and/or personal revelation. Some religions view such knowledge as unlimited in scope and suitable to answer any question; others see religious knowledge as playing a more restricted role, often as a complement to knowledge gained through physical observation. Some religious people maintain that religious knowledge obtained in this way is absolute and infallible (religious cosmology).

    The scientific method gains knowledge by testing hypotheses to develop theories through elucidation of facts or evaluation by experiments and thus only answers cosmological questions about the physical universe. It develops theories of the world which best fit physically observed evidence. All scientific knowledge is subject to later refinement in the face of additional evidence. Scientific theories that have an overwhelming preponderance of favorable evidence are often treated as facts (such as the theories of gravity or evolution).

    Ok, as can be seen above we have differing approaches to knowledge. And, as you, Matt and a number of other people have commented, Science can’t reveal truths about a supernatural domain that god or gods may inhabit. Ok got that.

    Now as I said in my previous post, I’m faced with a choice.

    On the one hand, I can go with religion, that from some perspectives contains knowledge that is absolute and infallible, gained from religious leaders, sacred texts and/or personal revelation.

    1 – I haven’t heard a convincing enough argument yet from a religious leader, living or dead, that would cause me to convert.

    2 – My understanding of sacred texts, especially helped by Matt’s authority on this area, show that some of it is metaphors, other bits are hybole and yet other bits should be taken as literal. To be honest, that just makes it very confusing and from my perspective, rather flawed and lacking any clarity to help.

    3 – Now, firstly, I haven’t experienced anything like personal revelation in all my years on this earth. Even the birth of my two daughters, while being very emotional moments, didn’t give me any glimpses of higher powers or whatever it is, so no again.

    Or on the other hand, I can go with Science, that has theories that have an overwhelming preponderance of favorable evidence which are then often treated as facts, but, and this is the real clincher for me, are subject to later refinement in the face of additional evidence.

    Now, the flaw in my argument is obvious, by choosing to restrict myself to a Scientific perspective, I am excluding myself from the supernatural domain.

    However, Science may, at some time in the future, develop ways or means to analyse some or all aspects of this area. Or it may not.

    Meanwhile, the real world that I live in, rather than the duality of “The Matrix” allows me to have a relatively content life, enjoying the company of my wife and children, who may or may not exist, along with all the other things that I enjoy.

    If it is all made up, then so be it. I have “faith” in the reality I am confronted with on a daily basis, as their is no evidence, that I see, feel or hear through, In your opinion, flawed senses, to support any other view.

    So Madeleine, you state and then ask: This is why almost no one demands this sort of standard for knowledge or rational belief outside of a religious context. Why then adopt it inside such a context?

    Because you are asking me to believe in the supernatural, a realm I don’t rationally believe exists, that’s why! You have to do better, I mean really better. Supernatural claims demand super evidence!

  • Jeremy – there were nine scientists presenting in this seminar. You really have to watch their presentations to get a proper taste of the current knowledge in the science of morality. However, let me assure you none of them attribute morality to a god in the way you do. You are quite out of step with modern science on that one.

    Many of the presentations/discussions relate to the basis of morality in evolved human instincts and intuitions. The role of emotion and reason was discussed. Even the fact that it is impossible to completely separate intuition/emotion and reason – that emotion is essential to reason. Haidt discussed the issue along the lines of a taste metaphor and Greene along the lines of a modern camera with automatic and manual settings.

    Sam Harris was the odd one out – actually his research has been in the neural correlates of belief rather than morality. However he is currently presenting strong arguments against moral relativism which I, personally, think are valuable, are probably the reason for his inclusion and certainly did provoke a lot of debate. Worth watching for that alone.

    If you really can’t watch the presentations and want something to read my review of Teehan’s book In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence (see Evolution of gods, morals and violence) could be useful.Teehan gives an excellent summary of much of the current status of the science of morality.

    I have also summarised my own ideas in a series of posts on Human Morality (I: Religious confusion, II: Objective morality, III: Moral intuition, IV: Role of religion and V: The secular conscience.

    As for your claim that “Atheism as effectively godlike and omniscient in its claim” - I don’t know where you got that crazy idea from. Atheism is simply the belief that no gods exist. That’s hardly omniscient. Not even a claim as such. Just a belief.

    Perhaps you should actually read some atheists or listen to what they say, rather than religious apologists who are hardly objective or accurate.

  • @ Alvin

    You say:

    I find it ironic that Paul and Ken are doing something useless in their time, namely arguing about how God does not exist with Theists, instead of moving on full-time towards studying scientistic arguments;

    But Madeleine originally invited us hear in the “Fisking Atheist Bill-boards” post she made over on the No-God site that led me here in the first place. Before then I didn’t even know the M&M site existed!

    Then you say:

    if they keep insisting that Theology and God arguments have become insignificant and are no longer taken seriously by the scientific community. Then as lemmings they should go with the majority and stop visiting sites like these in the future

    1 – Sorry Alvin, but on this very site and from my own research, I’m more than aware that atheists are not the majority, so when faced with an obvious majority of deluded individuals in the world, wouldn’t you attempt to engage in the debate if the roles were reversed?

    2 – At the end of the Bradley v Flannagan debate, everyone who attended, myself included, was encouraged to continue to question the themes that had been debated. If I retreat to debating with atheists, agnostics, rationalist, etc then I’m not challenging my own beliefs, knowledge or perspectives. How unhealthy would that be.

    Finally you say:

    There is something deranged with Rationalists trying to argue rationality with the insane.

    I can’t speak for Ken here, but I’m not aware of claiming anyone on this site was insane, although I do remember Richard, who from his comments appears to be theistic, called Tim Ropata, who is also a theist, a fruitcake, so if anyone is attacking anyones mental state, it appears to be the theists.

    Matt will back me up here, as not only did I comment on the site that I thought it was inappropriate, I also sent him a message on facebook as well

    Now, as far as I’m concerned, I continue to engage with the site, as:

    Firstly, I think I would be right in saying that Matt would have to one of, if not the leading theological philosopher in NZ at present, so I’m getting a great education from his knowledge.

    Secondly, due in no small part to his reputation, the site attracts a wonderful variety of viewpoints. For example, Ken has provided links that I have found useful, as have theists. The Atheist Missionaries posts have also provided food for thought, and so on.

    Surely Alvin, regardless of what you may think of my atheistic stance, you can see the logic behind my thinking here.

  • Ironically while i have quite a lot of time to respond on this site, the full time self employed nature of my work and limited internet access at work mean i dont really have the ability or time to download and watch all those videos.
    So perhaps Ken or Paul could actually answer my previous three questions

    Ist of all how do your “Edge Seminar” scientists define moral behaviour
    2nd how do they explain immoral behaviour
    3rd is there a suggestion that moral devolution is occurring in humans or just that what is moral is what works for us at any given time.

    So far the only example given by Paul was strictly utilitarian and consequently not what i would consider “moral” at all.

    I suspect that evolution can only ever yield utilitarian “morals”.
    I also suspect that just as Paul has pointed out a rather wide range of understanding of the word “faith” what we have here is a rather broad an non specific use of the word “moral”

    Feel free to enlighten me

    I note that neither Ken nor Paul have answered my criticism of Atheism as effectively godlike and omniscient in its claim. Far from being intelectually honest it is breathtakingly arrogant. Agnosticism is honest.

    What kind of evolutionary pressure would hardwire an entire species to believe in something for which you claim there is no evidence and [given the way you and Ken argue against it] has no “advantage”

  • But Paul, in this part of the world, you represent a member of the irreligious majority comprising of the once religious now secular industrialized nations… I mean your co-worker who is indifferent or the person walking down the side-walk who doesn’t hold nor doesn’t argue for the existence/non-existence of god is more of an atheist than you are…

    I mean, i agree with you that Christians in the future are now and will be the minority as do the folks who ponder so much on debates about God; I recall an article from the UK, that majority of its populace tend to look down or avoid people who ponder so much on the meaning of life. So, Scientists are done with God, so does the academic and lay elite, its time to jump ship and move on,,there is no sense in arguing about God’s existence with a dying minority

    Besides, majority of religious fanaticism has died down, due to the death of Christendom and the softening of the Islamic Caliphate with the push of liberal secularism into the Muslim Heartland. so you needn’t worry about religious fanatics, they only have limited space, few resources, but not overwhelming clout as they had before. Sure, there’s pentacostal africa, but give it time and the gospel of democracy and liberalism will be able to soften it to a moderated, sugar-coated version of itself.

    I find it Ironic, Paul that what the aggressive persecutions of pagan, and secular regimes sought to aim at: namely wiping out Christianity, the nicer,more humane version of godless thought is now the cause for much of its demise, so what Mao and Stalin failed to do; Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris will surely finish.
    No sense then in contending questions with a dying faith, now that secularism has trumped christianity just as people before started ignoring and abandoning pagan idols in favor of innovative Christianity, people today flock to humanism, because of the independence, inclusiveness and rationality that it supposedly offers.

  • Alvin – you should really try to read what I have written. I have actually made the point that it is useless, a waste of time, to debate with theists that their god doesn’t exist. As I said a mug’s game. So why say I am “doing something useless in their time, namely arguing about how God does not exist with Theists”. I actually agree with you.

    To repeat – my argument is that gods do exist – in the minds of humans. That is why we should be studying this as a sociological, psychological, anthropological issue – not a problem in physics. And in fact science is doing exactly that. As I said there is an interesting, fascinating, body of literature on god beliefs now. Contrast that with physics. No physicist or cosmologist is seriously researching the god question, are they?

  • I find myself half agreeing with you Ken. Yes sociological, psychological, and anthropological studies are very useful for understanding how beliefs about God or gods have developed, how they emerged, why they differ in different places and times etc. However you are making a mistake to think that these studies are only compatible with gods ONLY existing in people’s minds (I don’t think anyone would deny that concepts of gods do exist in people’s minds). There are actually many theists (some of whom I know) who work in these very fields and, while accepting that human concepts of God or gods develop, and this development is a legitimate area for research, still non-the-less also believe in God existing in a very real way outside of human imagination. You are just repeating the rather tired “science vs. religion” myth in a slightly different arena. That horse is long dead. Stop beating off over it.

  • who gives a crap about how or why people believe in god? There are other endeavours out there that have more merit in doing some good. Like researching synthetic proteins for meat, curing brain disease, or limb regeneration. Why are sociological studies about how people believe in God useful? Why not scrap this project and go about it in a different way like emulating religion to give it a godless context much like that failed experimenter Comte did? like what Carolyn Porco is doing now? Good Luck Porc Chop!

    I fail to see why such god-in-the-brain studies are useful, unless you want to pretend to act like them, or to emulate them in order to achieve some sort of result. Scott Atran did it, He respected the Islamic fundies for their beliefs, by the way Ken, I find you’re very patronizing on the religious, by viewing them as lab rats to be prodded and analyzed upon, so to better deconstruct their beliefs. if you told that to the taliban, they would have shot you on site, pretty much what Atran told Dennett and company, that their aggressive and elitist atheism will not be tolerated, because they viewed religion as a construct to be studied.

  • @ Alvin

    Now I’m confused as to where you stand

    First you reply to me by saying:

    Besides, majority of religious fanaticism has died down, due to the death of Christendom and the softening of the Islamic Caliphate with the push of liberal secularism into the Muslim Heartland. so you needn’t worry about religious fanatics, they only have limited space, few resources, but not overwhelming clout as they had before.

    Then you reply to Ken and say:

    if you told that to the taliban, they would have shot you on site, pretty much what Atran told Dennett and company, that their aggressive and elitist atheism will not be tolerated, because they viewed religion as a construct to be studied.

    So which is it? Should we not be worried, as you first claim, or should we be really worried, as shown in your second!

    Personally, I’m with you on your second stance. Because if people can be convinced to fly planes into a building due to their religious faith, then think what else they may be capable of.

    Also, for this very same reason, I feel that lends more weight to the areas of research that Ken was outlining for you.

    Personally, one of my favorite aspects of my teaching degree was the elements of sociology and psychology, albeit with a bias towards child development specifically, that I found most fascinating. Surely, to have a better understanding of what makes us tick, is a good thing. For example, I have a pupil who requires specific, unique teaching strategies due to their special needs, then if I have a greater understanding of how their brain and mine work, I have a far greater chance of succeeding.

    Obviously, these sorts of applications can then be used to target all sorts of interventions, as some of “The Edge” presentations discuss. Surely, regardless of your personal perspective with regard atheism/religion, you can see the worth in that, or, if your honest, is it just because you don’t like the answers it gives?

  • “However, let me assure you none of them attribute morality to a god in the way you do. You are quite out of step with modern science on that one.”

    Absolutely, modern science operates within a paradigm of naturalism and materialism, by definition it refuses to even allow the possibility of God. I find this somewhat ironic given that western science is built on the idea that a rational God created a rational universe and hence rational explainations of the way it works should be possible.

  • Max, I’d take your comments a step further. Note how Ken and Paul appeal to studies in evolutionary Psychology to argue that athiesm does not entail moral nihilism. This seems strange given Kens comments. if the the existence of evolutionary accounts of religious belief means God does not exist and such beliefs are false, then why wouldn’t evolutionary accounts of moral belief entail that morality does not really exist and moral beliefs are false.

    The argument seems the same in both cases yet the opposite conclusion is drawn in each instance.

  • A agree with you Max. And people in these fields usually make the point that their studies are not at all aimed at answering the question of the objective existence of gods. So, of course, some of these scientists may themselves have god beliefs. (usually scientists don’t feel compelled to declare belief or disbelief in gods so this is not a real issue).

    Personally I think that if one were to investigate the objective existence of gods that would be a study to be made by physicists or cosmologists. I personally don’t see any reason to undertake such a study because there is no evidence to start with and no proper hypothesis (or rather millions of hypotheses, poorly thought out).

    That is why I myself am quite happy to currently believe there is no god. Like all my beliefs this one is open to being changed – it just needs evidence and some sort of verification of a well structured hypothesis.

    I have absolutely no problem with people who believe differently. As long as their beliefs don’t lead them to interfere with my life or to make outrageous claims about science. (Quite a bit of the later goes on here). I will happily defend scientific methodology against such attacks.

    And I am rather partial to human rights. So consequently I do get motivated when I see interference with these. Religion is often guilty of such interference and also often demands and gets privileges. I will be vocal on that as well.

    But otherwise – live and let live. Debating god beliefs is a mug’s game.

  • Paul,

    you said:
    “Personally, one of my favorite aspects of my teaching degree was the elements of sociology and psychology, albeit with a bias towards child development specifically, that I found most fascinating. Surely, to have a better understanding of what makes us tick, is a good thing. For example, I have a pupil who requires specific, unique teaching strategies due to their special needs, then if I have a greater understanding of how their brain and mine work, I have a far greater chance of succeeding.”

    I fail to see how this answers the usefulness of why the need to study God in the Brain..If anything this is more an accomodation given to people with mental disabilities, what are you implying Paul, that religious people are mentally deficient? that you need to pretend to be living in their world view and so deceive yourself to better communicate with them? Its this kind of insensitivity and deception that secularists pull to further mock and provoke intelligent religious people.

    I think such studies are useful towards humanist ideology seeking to destroy belief rather than appreciate it, by showing the believer that what he genuinely treasures, his cultural values are nothing but manufactured brain-chemicals or byproducts of evolutionary development. There is no common good arising from these studies, they are only one-sided benefits to atheism, instead of contributing to the public good in which believers and non-believers can benefit

  • That is why I myself am quite happy to currently believe there is no god. Like all my beliefs this one is open to being changed

    This is false, are you open to changing your mind that the moon is not made or green cheese, that rape is not an acceptable past time. That the world exists and you are not a avatar living in the matrix and so on….

    – it just needs evidence and some sort of verification of a well structured hypothesis.

    Ken given this claim has been refuted so many times on this blog, why do you keep repeating it. It wouldn’t be that your are not open to changing your mind and you ignore evidence would it?

    Perhaps you can respond the several arguments I have given to the effect that not all beliefs need scientific evidence to be rationally believed.

  • Paul is it your view that “mainstream science” has a position on what the correct meta-ethical position is?

  • Saying that a moral belief is evolutionarily advantageous does not tell you that it is a “correct” belief, only that it is useful.

    Attempts to find moral behaviour in the mind likewise only tell us that that is what is in our minds. It does not tell us that those moral beliefs in our minds are correct.

    Moral beliefs that are exclusively within the mind are subject to the same criticisms as “god belief is exclusively in the mind” and fail based on the same premises. If “god in the mind” is not God in reality, then “morals in the mind” are likewise not morals in reality.

    If there is a God in reality who has impressed on humans some moral order, then that moral order has a reality outside our own minds. The observations would be identical, our minds have moral intuition, but those intuitions would have real force.

  • Matt – you claim that my point on the god belief “it just needs evidence and some sort of verification of a well structured hypothesis.” has been refuted!

    Strange – I haven’t seen the refutation. I have never seen here, or elsewhere, any real evidence or well structured hypothesis for a god belief, let alone verification.

    However, I can appreciate that as a scientist my requirements are rather different to yours as a theologian. Arguments about the non-existence of one’s computer or that the moon is not made or green cheese are really quite irrelevant to me. Although they seem to be important to theology?

    I have this picture of a theologian getting into the research on the existence or otherwise of the Higgs field. Is she going to furiously debate the existence of the computers at the Large Hadron Collider. Or perhaps if the moon is made of green cheese. Or burble on about the Matrix? How long do you think she would last? She might provide some humour for a while – but scientists have more creative ways of finding humour.

    On the other hand the scientists doing this work have an extremely well structured and verified theory. We know it doesn’t explain everything and the hypothetical Higgs particle is currently being searched for. Talk about non-existing computers won’t help here – but the collider experiments will.

    Interestingly, the scientists attitude is not dogmatic. Even though creation of Higgs particles will confirm the Standard Model, many physicists are hoping that it won’t be found. This would mean the theory has broken down and they see a chance for progress. (Scientists just love it when their strong beliefs are proven wrong).

    My attitude to the god hypothesis is the same. I would certainly be interested if there were a well structured hypothesis and evidence. This would then raise the possibility of testing in reality. Of verification.

    If such an hypothesis was verified I would have no trouble changing my current beliefs to accommodate the fact. (I have certainly done this before on major issues).

    But the evidence is not there. There is no well structured hypothesis. The question of verification doesn’t even arise. So I am happy to stick with my current beliefs on the matter for the moment.

    In this situation my guess is at least as good as yours.

  • @ Alvin,

    Your comment says more about your own insecurities and prejudices than it does about me.

    The kind of pupils I’m talking about, may have dyslexia or be part of our GATE program (that’s Gifted & Talented Education) for those pupils who require accelerated learning and yet others who may have emotional and behavoural issues. None of these need apply to mental deficiency of any form.

    Far from making me insensitive, having a greater grasp of all there needs, especially being aware of the latest research with regard to how their and my brain works, as in the case of dyslexia, then allows me to better tailor learning to their specific needs.

    No doubt, if I dared to mention the pupils I deal with who may have physical disabilities, you would automatically believe I was implying religious people are handicapped or something!

    So, personally speaking, I find the continued revelations that are being made by researchers into all aspects of the brain, including the fascinating findings coming from such groups as “The Edge” wonderful.

    Obviously, from your theistic perspective, I can see how you might find them intimidating, but I feel in the long run it could help.

  • @ Matt,

    Firstly, personally I would have to say that I’m not aware of all the Science on this area, so don’t have a comprehensive view and therefore don’t feel confident enough to answer at this time.

    Second, but I do find the research really interesting, so will be watching for developments as they become available.

    Thirdly, and your thoughts on the same are?

  • Paul, I think that some interesting evolutionary scenarios have been proposed as to how human beings developed an sense of right and wrong.

    But, I don’t think this tells us anything about whether moral properties such right and wrong exists, noting an evolved moral capacity is compatible with both (a) it could be right and wrong do not exist but humans have developed a sense that they do for survival resons, or (b) it could be that right and wrong do exist and we have evolved an accurate or reliable way of discerning them.

    Nor do I think these studies answer the questions ethicists ask such as what is the nature of right and wrong or what the correct ethical theory is.

    For this reason I do not think holding that right and wrong are constituted by Gods commands is incompatible with this research at all.

  • Ken,

    1. I think you misunderstand me, I did not suggest I had provided the evidence you ask for. I said I had refuted the claim you need such evidence. My point about the computer is a case of this, not everything one believes functions like a scientific hypothesis for which one needs evidence. With computers we don’t postulate the existence of computers as a hypothesis to explain data. Rather we directly percieve computers, this the distinction between basic and non basic beliefs I have talked about before.

    2. I agree with you that ”Arguments about the non-existence of one’s computer or that the moon is not made or green cheese are really quite irrelevant to me.” That was actually my point, there are plenty of things which its rational to believe in which we do not believe on the basis of “evidence in favour of well structured hypothesis” yet the absence of such evidence does not in the slightest incline you to consider such beliefs irrational. That was my point entirely, not every thing needs to be scientifically proven to be rationally believed.

    (BTW, its philosophers not theologians who discuss the “matrix scenario and they do so not because they doubt that we can know computers exist but because the example highlights certain problems about knowledge which need to be addressed in an adequate theory of knowledge)

    4. You state “But the evidence is not there. There is no well structured hypothesis. The question of verification doesn’t even arise.” As I have pointed out your claim here is highly contentious, there are important studies where Theism is defended as a hypothesis, Robin Collin’s work on fine tuning is an example. Richard Swinburne’s volume where he argues theism is the best explanatory hypothesis for a whole range of phenomena. Timothy O Connors book arguing that theism provides a good explanation for contingency. Robert Adams argument that divine commands are the best explanation of morality and so on, so the claim no such work has been done is false. If one is going to say such work is a failure you need to actually show that it is not assert it, and you certainly cannot simply assert the work does not exist. In the past when I have pointed this out I have been told you will not read such work because its “jelly wrestling”. Here we see the circular self imposed ignorance, if someone does do what you ask you dismiss it because you have already decided Theism lacks credibility and theism lacks credibility because no one has done the work. Hardly a compelling inference.

  • Matt, you really go in for straw mannery, don’t you? No one has suggested there is no work on the god hypothesis. After all that’s what theologians do, isn’t it. And I am sure they work hard at it.

    But I repeat there is, in my view, no well structured god hypothesis (rather thousands of vague ones) and no evidence to base one on, let alone verification.

    You yourself argue for belief in the absence of evidence. You are welcome to that argument but our species didn’t make the progress it has by using such self fulfilling argument. And one can use the same argument to justify belief in any of the vaguely proposed gods (thousands of them), fairies, gnomes, unicorns, or whatever.

    And, of course, you then go on to argue that there is evidence (not really confident with your first argument are you?). But all this work, all this “verification” is theological not scientific. And theology of course starts with the assumption it wishes to “prove.”

    The fine tuning argument is typical – and I have read some of the theological arguments on that one. Personally I find them dishonest, using scientific data dishonestly, distorting it and outright lying about it. The sort of behavior which seems acceptable in theology but we try hard to prevent in science. Specifically on the fine tuning argument I have written on the cosmological constant where I show how people like Craig, Ross, etc, have completely misrepresented the real situation. On the so-called cosmological argument I have explained how people like Craig and de Souza have been caught completely misrepresenting the so-called “singularity” – to the extent of quoting from Hawkings in a way that says exactly the opposite of what he wrote.

    So you may be happy with the work these theologians have done. As a scientist my standards are higher and include an ethos of objectivity and honesty. I don’t start with conclusions.

    So yes I do reject theology. I do consider theological arguments as jelly wrestling and you have illustrated this here with silly ideas on non existing computers and moons made of cheese. We never get that sort of carry on in real scientific discussions. So I feel quite vindicated in keeping away from theology. It’s never helped us understand reality – quite the opposite. So why should I bother with it?

  • Ken. I think you have misunderstood Matthew in a spectacular manner. YOU are the one who is going on about moons made of cheese. YOU are the one disbelieving in computers. Do you really not get this?

  • Extremely weak, Max. I expected better!

  • Its not weak Ken – you just don’t seem to be able to grasp quite simple concepts sometimes. Let me spell it out for you in baby steps then… you realise that only a moron would doubt the existence of the computer which is right in front of them.. despite the fact that they can’t prove its existence…. now… many people have a direct experience of God… but for THESE people you think they should doubt this experience, and that in THIS case they need to be able to “prove” God exists. Your attitude to those who know God is a reality in their life is just like the moron who says he does not have a computer in front of him… despite his direct observation. Can you now see that is is not Matt but you who is the mor… one making strange claims about the existence of computers? I hope this clears it up for you.

  • Still inappropriate, Max. 

    I am happy for you to believe what you like. Gods, fairies, ghosts, astrology. Go for it. Just don’t expect me to humor you or participate.

    I am happy with my own beliefs. I am also happy to change my beliefs in appropriate situations – evidence, structured hypothesis, validation. Sure, you don’t require that. But it doesn’t worry me one bit. It would be nice if you had the same attitude and respected right to my own beliefs.

    Now, given the lack evidence, hypotheses and validation I think this sort of discussion is a mugs game. A waste of time. Discussing moons made of cheese and non-existence computers surely shows how stupid it is. These sort if theological debates do not interest or impress me.

    I have made my point that gods exist as beliefs and that is a sociological, anthropological, psychological question. It is studied as such – even by people with such beliefs. It’s fascinating and important. Especially given the problem of religious contribution to in group/out group problems and violence/terrorism. And to
    Make myself clear religion is only one component, although currently a critical one.

    Frankly I see Matt’s attempts to divert my point on to silly theological arguments as a conscious avoidance of the real and most fruitful issue.

  • @Ken
    Dont you think it might just come across as a little arrogant and condescending to write off the experience of millions of people of the reality of God in their lives, as nothing more than some kind of mental delusion?
    You are free to choose your on beliefs, you are free to deny experience as a valid basis for belief, but why the compulsion to so obnoxiously denigrate other peoples experience.
    Why do you harp on about the negative component of religious belief to the in group/ out group experience, why not the non relgious components of the same issue.
    Why not seek to understand why men when given the moral freedom of atheist ideologies appear to have treated each other far worse than when constrained by the relgions you so despise?
    You are free to choose your beliefs, you ask to have others respect your right to do so but your own atheist stance is as intolerant and by you own admission prejudiced as anything you complain about.
    Intolerant because you deny the validity of others experience, prejudiced because you have repeatedly said you are not interested in examining or understanding religious/philosophical viewpoint.
    I think you need to back off a little and examine your own behaviour, no one is demanding that you believe anything, just a little consistancy and that you offer the same respect you demand.
    Peace and wholeness to you and your family.

  • Ken

    1. You state there is work on the God “hypothesis” however its vague and no empirical verfication has been given. The problem is that is false, I gave several counter examples in my last comment. Simply ignoring my point and repeating your self is not a rational response.

    2. You say my view ( actually its an uncontroversial view in epistemology secular or religious) that some things are rationally believed in without proof, would impede progress. This is also false, if you humans never commited to anything or believed anything until they proved it was the case, no progress at all would be made. I would not believe B till I had proved it from evidence C and I would not believe C till I had proved it from evidence D and I would not believe D till I had proved it from E and so on…

    3. You say this argument can be used to “prove” the existence of fairies unicorns and so on, but this is also false. First, the argument does not purport to prove the existence of God, it denies you need to. Rather its an argument that one does not need to prove Gods existence. Second, you are clearly unfamilar with the argument because it claims that a person can believe in something without proof under certain conditions. Typically it contends that (a)one has to directly experience God in some way (b) one not be aware of any good reasons to the contrary. Now most people do not percieve fairies or gnomes or unicorns, these are afterall physical beings which if seen would be seen by the five senses, second there are good arguments against the existence of such beings in many cases, if one contends for example that faires exist in my garden I can go down to the garden and look. Of course most of this sort of stuff is covered in the literature, Gutting in fact addresses this point in the post above. But once again you ignore what Philosophers ( not theologians) have actually said.

    4 Re the arguments, first you respond simply by attacking the character of those who propose it and then saying Theologians are dishonest, thats actually a basic fallacy known as the ad hominen it might pass in science but first year logic will tell you its a fallacy.

    Second, you mention the work of Craig, Ross and De Souza, however I never mentioned these authors. Ross and De Souza are in fact largely popular writers and hardly representative of the work done. What I mentioned was the work of Swinburne ( Philosopher of Science at Oxford) O Connor and Adams, and Robin Collins so again you ignore the actual works I refered to. Now if you think these peoples work is so poor it can easily be dismissed, I suggest you write to Oxford Uni press and get your dismissal published a decisive refutation of this sort it clearly will be ground breaking, good luck with that.

    As to Craig, in fact his argument does not depend on his views of singularity, so even if what you say is true it does not address his argument. Instead again we have an ad hominem fallacy. Moreover, Craig has in fact defended his argument numerous times in the peer reviewed literature often against highly scientifically literate opponents. So if it is as easy as you say again I suggest you send your comments to one of the leading journals and see the response, again good luck with that.

    5. You again engage in circular reasoning, stating theology is rubbish because they don’t provide arguments and then saying you don’t read the arguments because they are rubbish. Moreover, you also again miss my point, you state scientists never get into silly discussions about the existence of computers. That is exactly my point, you note that there are things which it is silly and stupid to demand proof for things which you directly experience such as computers. Thank you that’s my point.

    The irony here is that its you who are being inconsistent and silly, you have said many times that one should not believe in the existence of something unless you can propose it as a structured hypothesis and then provide compelling empirical proof for it. If this is true, scientists should engage in debates about the existence of computers, until someone gives a structured hypothesis about computers and tests it scientifically no one can believe in them, the fact they scientists do not do this, shows that your claim that scientists always demand evidence for what they believe, etc is false.

  • Jeremy, if you are not trying to impose your beliefs on me I thank you for showing me some respect. It just doesn’t come across that way. Partly because you misrepresent my position. Mainly  because you refuse to respond to my point about the scientific research on god beliefs.

    Matt, you also refuse to respond to that fact of the scientific research on god beliefs. Really no one us interested in your theological arguments for the objective existence of your gods. The scientific journals are hardly bulging with such literature. You are welcome to that belief – we live in a pluralist society and such variety of belief is well accepted. I certainly have no trouble living with people who have different beliefs toy own.

    OK you are unhappy about my reference to the dishonesty of some theologians. Tough. That is just a fact and I can give you specific examples related to the distortion of Hawkings quote and to the claim of fine tuning if the cosmological constant.

    Are you prepared to look at that evidence or will you reject it out if hand?

    Now, give up trying to impose your god belief on me. I am not a child and have my own well developed beliefs and understanding. Theological arguments don’t impress me. It’s s mug’s game.

    But I would be interested in your response to the current scientific understanding of god beliefs.

  • In other words:

    Matt is consistent and scientific.
    Ken is inconsistent and pseudo-scientific.

    It pains me to say it but there you have it.

  • Ken, I don’t generally respond to evasive attempts to avoid the issues being discussed. In fact the origin of a belief is actually irrelevant to its truth, google the genetic fallacy sometime.

    But I did actually address this issue in a previous comment here is what I said:

    Ken and Paul appeal to studies in evolutionary Psychology to argue that athiesm does not entail moral nihilism. This seems strange given Kens comments. if the the existence of evolutionary accounts of religious belief means God does not exist and such beliefs are false, then why wouldn’t evolutionary accounts of moral belief entail that morality does not really exist and moral beliefs are false.

    The argument seems the same in both cases yet the opposite conclusion is drawn in each instance.

    Again you avoided the issue.

    And with regards to Craig and Ross, I pointed out (a) I did not mention their arguments so what you say is irrelevant (b) Craig’s argument does not depend on his citation of Hawkings so again irrelevant (c) attacking a persons honesty instead of his argument is a fallacy ( logic 101).

    But I do remember a comment a few weeks back where you complained about GW skeptics attacking the character of scientists as opposed to actually addressing the arguments in the literature, thanks again for showing us how inconsistent and self serving your scientific rigor is.

  • @ Ken
    “Now, give up trying to impose your god belief on me. I am not a child and have my own well developed beliefs and understanding. Theological arguments don’t impress me. It’s s mug’s game.”

    MandM make us all welcome and post dissenting opinion, i recall you actually making a complimentary post on this point, but….

    “The MandM blog addresses philosophy of religion, ethics, theology, jurisprudence and social commentary from a Christian perspective”

    You dont have to accept thier God beliefs but if you will log on, read and participate in the discussions, what exactly do you expect to get as responses?
    Agreement with your atheist stance? really?

  • @ Ken
    “Mainly because you refuse to respond to my point about the scientific research on god beliefs.”

    I’m not entirely sure what your point was…..perhaps that people are doing this research and you find it interesting. Thats nice, i actually find it interesting too. I dont see that it has any impact on whether God is real or not or on the nature of right and wrong. Paul quoted earlier an example of the development of “mediation” type behaviour in bonobos possibly providing social status but this seemed strictly utilitarian and consequently entirely what one would expect evolution to produce. Lets face it evolutionary theory can be summed up as “succeed to breed”. The research may well come up with a coherent theory on the development of humans believing in right and wrong, but what is right and wrong would still be an unanswered question.
    The science paradigm within which you work and believe can only ever give materialist utilitarian answers ie what appears to work or not in any given situation.
    As long as you work only within that paradigm you will remain forever closed to any other possiblities, like right and wrong and moral truth.

  • Christ – you guys are super sensitive.

    1: I have made clear several times that the scientific investigation of morality, religion and the god belief, its origins, role and consequences. says nothing about the objective existence of gods, ghosts, ancestors, ravens, turtles, etc. That is quite a separate issue and is a matter of belief. As Matt points out repeatedly, not requiring evidence. It is different in different cultures. Scientists with different god beliefs are quite capable of compartmentalizing this and can do excellent work in anthropology, psychology, sociology and the so-called natural sciences.

    I would have thought this was extremely obvious so find your knee jerk reactions silly. However, perhaps that explains why most texts I have read on this subject usually make very clear at the beginning that they are not into questioning specific personal god beliefs. I can now understand why Dennett called his book “Breaking the Spell.” There really is a taboo on some people’s minds about scientific investigation of things like belief and morality. We get accused of treating you like lab rats, for example. Or it is assumed that when we discuss the science we are arguing for atheism.

    Let’s make it clear – we aren’t. You are welcome to those particular god beliefs. Just don’t expect me to necessarily accept your specific beliefs. That would be quite impossible (and unscientific) considering the field studies thousands of religions.

    2:
    Matt, I don’t evade your arguments for your god. I am just not interested in them. Especially I am never convinced by argument alone, without evidence. I am not convinced by theological arguments because they are independent of evidence and verification by their very nature.

    Don’t take that personally. We live in a pluralist society and most people won’t share either your or my belief. See that as part of the rich diversity of human life. Not something to be threatened by. I never feel the need to proselytize for my beliefs and can’t understand why you guys should. Just accept people.

    My comments above should make clear that your comment attributed to me: “the existence of evolutionary accounts of religious belief means God does not exist and such beliefs are false” is completely inappropriate. I have said nothing of the sort.

    Perhaps your motive for pretending offense and pretending it is a specific argument for atheism is really to evade discussion of the scientific study of religion?

    3: Having said that I will defend evidence based reason and science. I will point out when science is being used inappropriately or dishonestly (“scientism’). My participation in this forum is usually for that reason.

    4: Regarding the habit of theologians in using the fine-tuning and cosmological arguments falsely I said to you Matt: “Are you prepared to look at that evidence or will you reject it out if hand?”

    You appear to be uninterested in seeing the evidence and instead will, blindly assert my comments are inappropriate of that your favorite theologians are correct. You use the old evasion of accusing me of “attacking the character” of your theological mates.

    But, that is far from what I am doing. I am just stating a fact. They have specifically used false “fine-tuning” of the cosmological constant as a “proof” for their belief. They have falsely used big bang theory incorrectly for the same reason (Something Le Maitre warned Pope Pius about decades ago).

    You, yourself, should take Le Maitre’s comments to heart because when you glibly pass of these arguments as evidence for your own beliefs you have made that mistake. If you are going to use science in this sort of way it will inevitable come back and bite you on the bum. It must do because it is basically a progressive epistemology changing and improving with time. One has to be prepared to change one’s conclusions so science is really no good for “proving” preconceived beliefs.

    5: The theological method sharply conflict with science because it starts with a conclusion. This means that there is a normal procedure of using “argument” opportunistically and selectively. Because there is a commitment to get the right conclusions. That is not a criticism as such – it is perfectly natural. We have evolved to do that and probably would not have survived if we were completely rational. Any honest person looking at their own behaviour will admit that they do this instinctively.

    However, science has become successful because it has developed methodologies to avoid, overcome, such subjectivity. Of course not completely successful But the self-correcting nature of science has enabled the huge progress we have made in the last 400 years. This has required science to break away from philosophy in a sense and especially from religion. And of course we need to protect that independence – something almost all scientists will agree on whatever their religious beliefs.

    6: Talk about a “materialist” “science paradigm” is common for those who wish to force science back into a theological paradigm. It is malicious because it doesn’t correspond to reality. The “paradigm” of science is evidence, hypotheses, testing against reality, theory and validation. Give that up and we wouldn’t have science. And this is what the advocates of “theological science” wish to do.

    Scientists never ask “Is this natural or supernatural?” “Is this materialist?” They just get on and do the work. They look at the evidence, collect more evidence, etc.

    When people talk to me about a “materialist” or “naturalist” “science paradigm” I know they want to avoid or redefine evidence. That’s what it is really about.

  • Ken – as part of a scientific programme to determine how belief in god arose, would you accept that the hypothesis: “because there is a God’ is a viable one? Would the millions of religious experiences provide weight for this hypothesis? Or do you rule this out as a possible explanation. Is so why?

  • Ken says I have made clear several times that the scientific investigation of morality, religion and the god belief, its origins, role and consequences. says nothing about the objective existence of gods, ghosts, ancestors, ravens, turtles, etc.

    Great, I agree, so when you and others claim that such studies answer the objection that science can’t verfiy the truth of moral claims you were mistaken.

  • Max - You ask “as part of a scientific programme to determine how belief in god arose, would you accept that the hypothesis: “because there is a God’ is a viable one? Would the millions of religious experiences provide weight for this hypothesis?”

    Sure, that is a starting point. One would have to objectively look at the evidence that exists and if considered worthwhile going further them propose an hypothesis. I have not seen any proper structured hypothesis advanced, here or anywhere else. Plenty of vague ideas. A lot of resistance to evaluation or scientific investigation. People’s gods are usually very personal – I have heard of one survey where members of the same Chrsitian congregation were asked for their own description and everyone differed! But no structured hypothesis. If you disagree – point me to the appropriate scientific publications, or get stuck in and do the work yourself. I personally see no future in it at this stage (but I know we are crap at predicting the future).

    Of course, one has to be open minded and ask what is meant by “religious experiences”. One also has to avoid starting with a conclusion – especially an extremely vague god idea without any advanced mechanism or description. This is not a problem of “naturalistic paradigm” – just a matter of evidence and data.

    I can appreciate there has been quite a bit of work investigating “religious experience” – especially of late with the availability of fMRI. Some fascinating work on mediation. I have read some of it. The Tibetan Buddhists have participated in this – the current Dali Llama is very supportive of such research and science in general.

    I understand similar work has been done with praying Nuns.

    However, I don’t think any credible researcher has found evidence for an objectively existing god from this work.

    Matt – you ask “when you and others claim that such studies answer the objection that science can’t verify the truth of moral claims you were mistaken.”

    Now, I have said again and again that science makes no claim to moral decisions. These are a matter of judgment and everyone, scientist, baker, theologian, street sweeper, has equal input into these. Science informs us of the facts, it helps us understand the nature and origins of our morality, but we make the judgments.

    A clear example is in the area of climate change. On this the science is very strong. There is a change occurring and humans are very likely (>90% probability) to be contributing to it.

    That is the science. It is now up to societies, not science, to make decisions and take actions. Moral judgments come in to this. To what extent are we prepared to sacrifice a small amount of current GNP for the sake of the quality of life, and probably lives in many cases, of our grandchildren? To what extent are we committed to a dogmatic free market politics when confronted with the need for social action?

    Climate scientists have provided us with the information. Economists and sociologists can help with providing likely outcomes for different scenarios. But it is everyone, through our social and political structures who make the moral judgments.

    Clearly, there are malicious influences involved in this process and one tactic is to dishonestly attack the science. That in itself is a moral question.

    Strange that you put this question again because it has been answered here several times. I know I have worked to make my attitude to this very clear in the past. perhaps you haven’t bothered reading my previous responses on this?

    Now, I know you want to claim a religious hold on morality and a objective god-determined right and wrong. I have seen plenty of vague argument but no evidence or even good argument for that case. So I certainly don’t accept it.

    I think it can be misleading to talk about “truth of a moral claim.” In fact I have argued such an approach, tied in with a concept of “god-given right and wrong” is a sure road to justifying almost any action. A road to moral relativism.

    However, I do argue for an objectively-based human morality. Based, on the one hand, on our existence as a sentient, empathetic, social and intelligent species. And based, on the other hand, on the facts of each situation. This enables us to apply a moral logic, make moral decisions after debate and investigation.

    It is of course far more complex than that. There are roles for subconscious and conscious processes, emotion and reason, etc. I think the Edge Seminar provides an excellent introduction to the science of morality. Well worth watching the videos.

  • “Scientists never ask “Is this natural or supernatural?” “Is this materialist?” They just get on and do the work. They look at the evidence, collect more evidence, etc.”

    Well of course they dont, naturalism only is a fundamental scientific paradigm, to even ask those questions would get you laughed at by the rest of your community.

    “When people talk to me about a “materialist” or “naturalist” “science paradigm” I know they want to avoid or redefine evidence. That’s what it is really about.”

    Rubbish thats just you projecting your prejudice. There is nothing particularly wrong with the scientific paradigm as long as you are honest enough to admit that it has its own limits. I dont want to avoid or redefine evidence, rather i am suggesting your scientific paradigm predetermines the kind of interpretations you will put on that evidence.
    Back to Max’s questions about peoples experience of God, your naturalist materialist scientific paradigm immediately rules out the possibility that people have God experiences because God exists. You take an atheist rather than an agnostic stance so your personal belief is already precluding God as well. You may not be searching for a specific foregone conclusion but you have made a conclusion. You concede that gods exist in the minds of people but this too is a pre-existing parameter.
    All science is done within the culture of the day and whatever contemporary paradigms are operating, the idea that scientists are truly objective is to deny the reality of human nature.

    While i’m mentioning human nature…

    “However, I do argue for an objectively-based human morality. Based, on the one hand, on our existence as a sentient, empathetic, social and intelligent species. And based, on the other hand, on the facts of each situation. This enables us to apply a moral logic, make moral decisions after debate and investigation.”

    A morality which comes to different descisions depending on situation, investigation, debate comes very close to being relativist utilitarianism and then we are back to “whatever works/whatever we can get away with” , that may technically be a “morality” but its not one that most of us could live with, especially when others were trying to apply it to us.

  • Jeremy, my comments on science are based on 40 years experience of scientific research where I have worked with colleagues having a wide range of religious beliefs. So they are not made lightly. I see your comment “Rubbish thats just you projecting your prejudice. “ as irresponsible rejection of real experience. Completely unjustified and rather arrogant.

    So “your naturalist materialist scientific paradigm immediately rules out the possibility that people have God experiences because God exists.” is just your way of avoiding evidence.

    Scientists, if they are trying to work objectively, don’t start with a conclusion. They postulate their hypotheses using the evidence they have. These are tested and validated against reality.

    Now if one could postulate a god hypothesis, test it against reality and validate it – why not? I certainly would have no objection to that.

    But if one could also validate a particular neural reaction when meditating or praying, one could build a structured hypothesis and scientifically validate it. I think this is the process that has been done.

    In fact, some workers have duplicated these “religious experiences” using transcranial stimulation.

    Personally, I think that if these experiences are due to the objective existence of gods we should have seen the evidence. or we will in the future.

    As a scientist I just do not preclude anything. That is a false assertion on your part. The fact is Jeremy, I am used to being surprised by reality. It is quite counter-intuitive. Science has incorporated things far more amazing and counter-intuitive than gods – so why should we preclude those? We just need good evidence. We need to check and validate.

    “Arguments” are just not sufficient.

    Now who is making the claim that “scientists are truly objective?” Certainly not me. Scientists are human and humans are not a rational species, more a rationalising one. However, the success of modern science can largely be placed on the fact that it has developed procedures for overcoming this human problem. An important aspect of this is that ideas are validated against reality. Reality keeps us honest. (That is basically why theology is not honest – it never validates against reality).

    Also, the social nature of science ensures that eventually things do get checked. Science is self-correcting – in the long run. And again there are opportunities to check these ideas, and new ones, against reality.

    Yes, we do operate within the culture of the day. Perhaps not as much as theologians who probably operate more within the culture of the middle ages. In many sciences the cultural environment has little effect. In others, particularly the social ones, this effect can be important. It is something we are aware of and it is dishonest to pull that argument every time some scientific fact upsets you.

    Jeremy, you are quite prejudiced in your assessments. You put words in others mouths and make unwarranted declarations.

    Now I do not consider my morality relativist. But, let’s face it, a “god-given” concept which can declare slavery right, then wrong, murder right then wrong, oppression of women and gays right then wrong, etc., etc,. is basically relativist.

    A god given concept of right and wrong (really given by religious leaders who “know” what god wants) is extremely dangerous. We can see how when children have been raised in strict religious cults they are just unable to internalise a moral system because they rely on their religious leaders to make the decisions for them.

  • “When people talk to me about a “materialist” or “naturalist” “science paradigm” I know they want to avoid or redefine evidence. That’s what it is really about.”

    So Ken, you’ve had 40 years of experience of people doing this to you? Biggest problem i have is that “naturalist/materialist” is part of the fundamental definition of modern science, its hardly arrogant when i mention sciences own definition of itself.

    “In fact, some workers have duplicated these “religious experiences” using transcranial stimulation.”

    So what… if i feel extreme emotional pain or joy , apparently the neural chemical reactions in my brain are very similar as are the physical expressions of those feelings. Just because you or any scientist can duplicate that using transcranial stimulation doesnt mean my Father didnt die or my son wasnt born.
    In the same way a scientist artificially inducing a brain response doesnt falsify the external factor that would normally induce that response.
    You should know better than this.

    “However, the success of modern science can largely be placed on the fact that it has developed procedures for overcoming this human problem. An important aspect of this is that ideas are validated against reality. Reality keeps us honest. (That is basically why theology is not honest – it never validates against reality).”

    Strangely it was the christian doctrine of the fall and the imperfection of man [ and hence the imperfection of reason alone] that provided the philosophical foundation for the necessity of repeatable empirical evidence.
    I find that the Judeo-Christian worldview has far and away the most honest and real understanding of the character of man, very grounded in reality.
    Its also the worldview that expected to find a rational and understandable universe and hence provided a culture that allowed the rise of modern science. That turned out to be real too.

    All i can assume is to take you at your word, that you are sufficiently disinterested in theology so that you know too little about it to meaningfully comment or judge. Pre-judgement, theres another word that means the same…

  • Jeremy, you obviously rule yourself out of reasoned discussion. On this issue anyway.

    My position was, I think, clearly expressed. All you can do is distort it because you feel threatened, I guess.

    You also appear to wish to remove all trace of the contributions made to science by great cultures – Babylonian, Greek, Indian, Chinese, medieval Islam. Naive, childish Christian chauvinism – worse than Stalin’s rewriting of history.

    You don’t understand science or it’s history and I pick you don’t want to. Remember what I said about reality and honesty.

    Really no point in continuing “dialogue” with that sort of attitude. Waste of time.

  • Actually Ken I am reasonably well read on science and history and as previously mentioned i too have a university science degree, I wouldnt discount the contributions of other cultures but have to note that it was “christian” culture that allowed modern science to florish, thats hardly chauvinistic just an historical fact.
    Possibly you should go and read a little history of Greek, Chinese, Indian culture and beliefs and see why modern science could never have florished in those cultures as it has in ours.The big differences are all in how their theologies informed their worldviews eg the Hindu cycle of reincarnation leads to acceptance of how things are [ no impetus for change] cause if you do well with what you have you will get another go round in a better situation.
    See i even agree with you in a way, religion has a lot to answer for except its not religiom as such but the character of men, and the atheist position offers no hope in dealing with the character of men. From a strictly Christian point of view dealing with the character of men is where all our problems and solutions are to be found.
    And i suspect thats why MandM blog site exists to address philosophy of religion, ethics, theology, jurisprudence and social commentary from a Christian perspective.
    Shalom

  • I found this article by Denis Alexander interesting.
    This link was recentedly posted by Jason and is relevant to the recent discussion.

  • I don’t find the Edge Contributions to neurology intimidating, but useful as you say in helping the mentally challenged find ways to cope with their disability or better understand their giftedness. But as for their studies of God-belief on why people believe in supersititous facts: Such studies are useless to the general public; its as useful and as partisan as theology is valued by the apologist. It’s only useful to the humanist/skeptic in undermining religious people’s belief. The edge scientists, neurologists in general would be better off delving into how the brain works rather than concerning themselves with useless specifics such as how religion evolved into the brain.

  • What Edge contributions are you talking about, Alvin. I was referring to THE NEW SCIENCE OF MORALITY. The seminar with nine scientists of various disciplines.

    This didn’t deal with god belief, only morality. So I can’t understand your comment.

  • Ken,

    I was talking to Paul, not you

  • OK Alvin, But still – what edge contributions were you talking about? I am interested in the whole subject.

  • Hello Jeremy,

    just to reiterate, you mentioned that science can better be cultivated if it was explored in a judeo-christian setting, but this is false. As ken said there are contributions made by pagan and muslim philosophers like lucretius, democritus, chu-sieh-kieh, kautilya, ashoka, averroes towards refining the many branches of the philosophy of science and learning, the judeo-christian worldview is one of those that made significant strides to preserve a huge pagan knowledge base from destruction by rampaging hordes of barbarians after the fall of Rome. If it wasn’t for christian monks who looked after books and preserved scrolls in their monastaries, it might have stunted the rise of the reinassance and the growth of science in europe. So, you’re right in that Christians valued knowledge and learning, but so did the academic elites of the pagans and muslims as well

    Needless to say, anyone competent and disciplined enough can contribute towards adding something to the cummulative knowledge of humanity’s understanding of the many worlds surrounding them, be they atheist, creationist, buddhist, hindu. Science should be accessible to all and neutral despite the unreasonable objections of fundy atheists saying that they have a monopoly on science.

  • Ken,

    You have to ask Paul about the Edge question. That also I wouldn’t have reacted if it were not for so many fundy atheists that have claimed to speak for the whole stinkin lot that you have to be atheistic to be scientific. Also another braggard in Skeptic magazine saying that the best way to defrock someone of their beliefs is to show that it didn’t come up by supernatural means and to do this, one has to rely on resulting research coming from Scientific studies of belief and morality; Perhaps you’re the one out of touch with reality Ken, with all your distortions, or is it because atheism itself does not have a unifying message of intention? , because of all the mixed motives and intentions. One says atheism is no threat to religion, is respectful of it..the other says no it’s not; One says Christians are benign deluders, the other says Christians are brain-damaged.

    For Fuck’s sake, can not atheists make up their mind about what position to adopt, instead of all the babel? The whole movement’s beginning to emulate the various confusions and doctrinal battles religions undertake to give out an official message. Pathetic, really

  • @ Alvin
    “just to reiterate, you mentioned that science can better be cultivated if it was explored in a judeo-christian setting,”

    Not quite what i was saying, rather that the judeo-christian worldview expects and accepts a rational and explainable universe hence science has been able to florish in our culture to a degree it never did in others. This is no way denigrates what has been achieved elsewhere, just makes the point that it didnt happen in other cultures the way it has in ours.
    I will refer you back to my Hindu example, its not that Indians never achieved great things, rather their culture didnt expect, accept or use them the way ours has done.

  • Ken wrote “You appear to be uninterested in seeing the evidence and instead will, blindly assert my comments are inappropriate of that your favorite theologians are correct. You use the old evasion of accusing me of “attacking the character” of your theological mates.” More empty rhetoric from Ken,

    In fact as I pointed out I did not even mention Craig and DeSouza, I mentioned several other philosophers, so to state I was objecting to you attacking my favourite theologians is simply to ignore what was actually said.

    Second, pointing out that attacking a persons character is a fallacy is not an evasion its an elementary point of logic, in fact you have complained about the use of this fallacy by climate change skeptics on numerous occasions.

    Third, I have read your posts on Craig. I am also familar enough with Craigs writings to know its you who are distorting things for example you write

    “He refers to the claim made by some apologists like Dinesh D’Souza and William Lane Craig that “big bang” cosmology shows that the universe, including space and time, started as a singularity. That this must have had an external cause – and you can guess what (or who) they claim for the cause.

    Cherry picking
    Apologists will often quote Stephen Hawking (in particular his book A Brief History of Time as their evidence for a singularity.”
    You go on to provide a quote from De Souza but fail to cite Craig.

    This is interesting because if you look at Craig’s article “The existence of God and the beginning of the Universe” he does not cite Hawking, he does however cite several other cosmologists including Hoyle.

    As to your citation of Hawking’s rejection of this position, Craig has published numerous articles criticising Hawking’s position, so he has not ignored it, these articles are available on his website.

    Moreover, Ken in your critique of Craig on open parachute you raise two objections Craig has explicitly noted and responded to in several places.

    I also pointed out that Craigs argument does not depend on his views of singularity so even if you were correct it would not address his argument.

    So yes I am open to evidence of evasion and distortion I only need to read Open parachute for examples.

  • Appreciate, clarifying your comments Jeremy,

    But maybe, science flourished under a christendom due to so many borrowed advances coming from its exposure to other cultures like Islam. It is known that while monks kept knowledge of western Rome, much of the Greek traditions, philosophies and discoveries migrated to the Arabs, because of trade or Turkish victory over constantinople. While Europe was in a dark age, Islam was busy translating, refining theories proposed by aristotle not to mention having some help from Jewish, even Coptic Christian scholars, because the muslim states back then allowed limited tolerance on other religions, in contrast to christian europe

    And when the Crusades happen, they took some of the knowledge the western crusaders were exposed to during their tour of Muslim Palestine and further advanced it. So, its not just under a Christian worldview can science be driven forward. Other abrahamic faiths similar to Christianity can give that impetus as well like Islam and Judaism, who posit a separation of essence between created and creator.

  • Ken on MandM at http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/08/gary-gutting-on-richard-dawkins-atheism.html#comment-83068 http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/08/gary-gutting-on-richard-dawkins-atheism.html#comment-83068

    “On the so-called cosmological argument I have explained how people like Craig and de Souza have been caught completely misrepresenting the so-called “singularity” – to the extent of quoting from Hawkings in a way that says exactly the opposite of what he wrote.”

    Ken on open parachute ( after I challenged him on it)

    “The issue Stenger raised of dishonestly quoting Hawking’s related to D’Souza. I think the evidence here is irrefutable. Your attempt to drag Craig into that specific issue was a diversion.”

    But of course Theologians are the ones that dishonestly attribute views to people.

  • It is a diversion Matt. As our discussion made clear the criticism of Stenger’s specifically relating to maliciously misquoting Hawkings was specifically related to D’Souza (see Godless cosmology). You remain silent on that.

    My argument that Craig quotes science opportunistically to claim support of his “personal creator” stands of course. And I recently provided you an example of this (Godless cosmology – opportunistically quoting Vilenkin:).

    My comment on this was:
    “Now, I have said before that this sort of opportunism, which is a manifestation of using logic to “prove” an argument, a preconceived conclusion, is perfectly natural. Science as a profession has ways of getting around, or at least minimising this. Basically validation against reality and the social processes involved.

    Theology doesn’t – and hence is very prone to this sort of opportunism.”

  • August 2010 Biblical Studies Carnival…

    Matt Flannagan points us to the fine essay by Gutting which guts Dawkins. A fun read to be sure….