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Religion, Science, 9/11 and the Moon: Dawkins’ Response to Copan

March 9th, 2011 by Matt

Richard Dawkins and Paul CopanParchment and Pen, has an audio of a brief exchange between Paul Copan and Richard Dawkins who was speaking in Ft. Lauderdale at Nova Southeastern University on “The Fact of Evolution.” (The following week, Paul Copan spoke on “The Fact of God” at Nova Southeastern and gave a direct response to Dawkins.) This MP3 of Paul Copan and Richard Dawkins’ exchange is from the Q&A of Dawkins’ talk.

In it Paul alludes to an argument advanced by C S Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Michael Rea, Victor Reppert and also alluded to by Patrica Churchland, Thomas Nagel, William Whewell and Friedrich Nietzche. The argument is that if our cognitive faculties evolved by natural selection, unguided by God, then our cognitive faculties cannot be rationally relied on to give us truth. The literature on this argument is interesting but I won’t comment on that here.

What interests me is the comment Dawkins made in the MP3 which got the applause of the audience. Dawkins appears to not grasp the point of the argument and takes it to be asking for a reason why he supports “scientific rationalism”. He said he believes in scientific rationalism because it “works”. He then provided an example of how it “works”, it is that “science flies us to the moon, while religion flies planes into buildings.”

Much could be said here but I want to limit myself to a single point, the evidence Dawkins cites that science works and religion does not. Dawkins offers that science has done good things such as getting us to the moon; religion has done bad things like destroying the World Trade Centre on 9/11. In other words, the positive things science does commends it as a something we should trust whereas the negative things religious does commends it as some thing which we should not trust.

So let’s look at the claim Dawkins made that “science” got us to the moon. Now how does a subject, get us to the moon? Presumably what he means is that it was through science that we developed the rocket propulsion technology which enabled us to get to the moon.

But here is the problem. If the fact that science developed the propulsion technology that got us to the moon means that science is responsible for the flight to the moon, and can take credit for it, then science must be responsible for the flight into the World Trade Centre; science developed the propulsion technology of aeroplanes, hence, it should be science not religion that is blamed.

Moreover, rockets are used for other things apart from space and air travel.  The first country that flew to the moon has used rockets many times to kill people. So if science is responsible for getting us to the moon, the same reasoning suggests it is also responsible for everyone who is killed in combat by rockets.

On the other hand, if science is not responsible for the World Trade Centre attack because science only developed the technology and the people who did it were motivated by ideals, vision and motivation over and above the technology used to carry it out then science is not responsible for getting us to the moon; it was not merely technology that got us there, it was also people with certain ideals, vision and motivation.

The point is that one cannot credibly give science the credit for something when scientific technology, like rocket propulsion, is used for good purposes and claim this as evidence that science “works” and yet not also give science credit when rocket propulsion is used for negative purposes and not concede this as evidence science “does not work”.

The reality is that the benefits science gives us are not just the result of technology but also the use of that technology by people with certain vision, ideals, motivation and so forth. Questions of how we should live? what is right and wrong? what sorts of purposes should we pursue? are philosophical and theological questions which science cannot, by itself, answer. In the same way the evils done in the name of religion are the result of not just certain religious values but also the use of scientific technology – often technology researched and developed precisely for the purpose of killing people.

The point then is that, both science and religion cause harm and both cause benefit. Technology benefits us when it is used by people who have certain moral and spiritual orientations, who harness science to good. Science will not save us from those of bad character, it will simply give them the tools to do more evil. Similarly, the correct spiritual and moral orientation, by itself, will not benefit people much without the tools to do so.  Both forces are at play in every achievement and lack of achievement of mankind. Neither “work” or fail to “work” in the sense Dawkins mentions. Dawkins’ comments on scientific rationalism may work when it comes to getting the crowd to laugh but that’s all.

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107 responses so far ↓

  • It’s obviously that Dawkins didn’t address what Copan was actually saying, but to Dawkins credit, Copan’s question could have been more clearly stated.

    You seem to imply above that he was alluding to the Argument from Reason or even to EAAN, but it seems to me he was actually asking something weaker. It appears he is asking why Dawkins is not consistent in a position that should lead to determinism. He seems to be asking, “If we are all just dancing to our DNA, how can anyone say they are more rational than anyone else since our non-rational DNA are ultimately directing us.”

  • I haven’t listened to the mp3, but I have heard this argument before, and I think Dawkins was going for emotional impact, but the point is not that “science has done good things” as you said, but rather that it “works”. Science is merely a system that attempts to mitigate our evolutionarily flawed senses and his point would have be equally well made if he’d used zyclon-B, or as his example instead of the Apollo Program. Both of which, it should be noted, “worked”.

  • The argument is that if our cognitive faculties evolved by natural selection, unguided by God, then our cognitive faculties cannot be rationally relied on to give us truth.

    If that is Copan’s argument, I’m not surprised Dawkins didn’t get the point – he probably couldn’t imagine such a stupid argument being seriously presented.

    First, science doesn’t depend solely on “cognitive faculties” for truth. As an overly simple example, you can back up your cognitive recognition that 2+2=4 by getting four of something and physically demonstrating it.

    Second, if we accept that cognitive faculties cannot be rationally relied on for truth, proposing a magical entity external to the physical universe to act as a guarantor of truth doesn’t actually solve that problem.

  • The atheistic destruction of reason, as Charles Darwin described it:

    “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind…?”

  • Pschyo, while I am not convinced entirely by the argument Copan refers to, it is a serious philosophical argument and calling it obviously as stupid is prematurely dismissive.

    “First, science doesn’t depend solely on “cognitive faculties” for truth. As an overly simple example, you can back up your cognitive recognition that 2+2=4 by getting four of something and physically demonstrating it.”<

    This is addressed in the literature, its a circular response, the only way you can “get” two things is by observing two of something, realising how to approach it, and grab it and so on, this involves using your perceptual and spatial judgements, which are part of your your cognitive faculties, hence the method you mention words only if you assume these faculties are reliable. The fact is one cannot demonstrate ones faculties are reliable without relying on them in the demonstration.

    Second, if we accept that cognitive faculties cannot be rationally relied on for truth, proposing a magical entity external to the physical universe to act as a guarantor of truth doesn’t actually solve that problem.

    That’s a caricature of the argument, first no one refers to a “magical” entity. Second the argument is not, once you accept that one can’t rely on your cognitive faculties you can then suddenly bring God in to solve it. The argument is not an argument for Gods existence at all. It is rather an argument that naturalism leads to a problematic skepticism.

  • Ryan, no one denies that science “works” the question is wether it is a reliable method of gaining truth. Anti realisms for example will grant it works but claim its simply a tool to achieve certain goals but not a method for gaining true descriptions.

  • Matt; if it didn’t “work”, it wouldn’t be”true”, right? Does zyclon-b make cells unable to use oxygen?

  • The argument is not an argument for Gods existence at all. It is rather an argument that naturalism leads to a problematic skepticism.

    It seems an utterly pointless argument. If you can’t trust your faculties to the extent of being able to round up four objects and divide them into two groups of two, no argument is possible and you might as well sit down and wait to die.

    In any case, Dawkins has a very effective counter-argument in the form that science works – you might be unwilling to trust your faculties when they tell you that aircraft exist, but the fact remains they exist.

  • “Matt; if it didn’t “work”, it wouldn’t be”true”, right? Does zyclon-b make cells unable to use oxygen?

    A theory can work and be false, Ptolemy’s theory worked for centuries in that it made the best predictions, took account of all the empirical data and so on.

    Also science could “work” in a particular domain but fail in other domains, science for example has pretty much failed to provide any answers to moral questions for example.

  • ”It seems an utterly pointless argument. If you can’t trust your faculties to the extent of being able to round up four objects and divide them into two groups of two, no argument is
    possible and you might as well sit down and wait to die.”

    But no one was arguing you can’t trust your faculties, the argument is that if naturalism is true you can’t rationally trust your faculties.

    As to truth being linked to survival, that’s again is addressed in the literature. First, for true belief to cause adaptive behaviour, it has to be the case that beliefs cause behaviour in virtues of there content. This is not given, there are other alternatives, for example behaviour could cause our beliefs, or beliefs could have no relationship to behaviour, or beliefs could cause behaviour in virtue of there neurophysiological properties and not in terms of content. One would have to argue that given naturalism and evolution the first of these options is the most likely. Second, even if behaviour is caused by belief content, coherent falsehoods can be adaptive, if naturalism is true certain religious systems would be an example, they could be highly adaptive, causing social cohesion encouraging behaviour that is adaptive and yet false. So its not actually given that adaptive behaviour is caused by true beliefs, arguments have been made that on naturalism this is unlikely, they may be mistaken but they can’t be dismissed with “that’s silly”.

    ”In any case, Dawkins has a very effective counter-argument in the form that science works – you might be unwilling to trust your faculties when they tell you that aircraft exist, but the fact remains they exist.”

    Actually this is not an effective counter argument, first as I noted its circular, the only way you can verify something works is with your cognitive faculties, so appealing to this to prove they are reliable has to assume this. Circular arguments are not effective ones. This is the science equivalent of arguing that the bible is the word of God because I have read some versus in the bible that says so.

    Second, those who make this argument are not saying they are unwilling to trust there faculities, they are simply saying that, if a Naturalism is true one can’t rationally do this. The point is to show that naturalism has absurd implications and hence should be rejected.

  • @ Matt:

    “The point is to show that naturalism has absurd implications and hence should be rejected.”

    and replaced with what and how would that fit in with the scientific method ?

    from the OP

    “Technology benefits us when it is used by people who have certain moral and spiritual orientations, who harness science to good.”

    I think making a buck is the major motivator for providing benefit, not moral and spiritual orientations, and how is benefit and good to be judged anyway ?

  • @ Paul “The point is to show that naturalism has absurd implications and hence should be rejected.”
    and replaced with what and how would that fit in with the scientific method ?”

    This assumes that naturalism is the only position compatible with the scientific method. I see no reason for accepting that claim. But suppose it’s true. Here is the problem.

    The fact that something fits with the scientific method counts in favour of that thing, only if the scientific method is a reliable guide to truth. The problem is the argument we are discussing argues that if naturalism is true, our cognitive faculities are unreliable and so the scientific method is not reliable. So your response amounts to assuming the argument above is unsound.

    You can’t respond to an argument however by raising an objection that assumes its unsound. That’s circular reasoning.

    “I think making a buck is the major motivator for providing benefit, not moral and spiritual orientations, and how is benefit and good to be judged anyway ?”

    Simply being out to make a buck is a spiritual orientation, but more to the point. If one can’t judge whether a something is a benefit and good, then Dawkins claim that religion caused something harmful and evil at 9/11 and his use of it in argument, is based on an unjustified stance.

    You can’t raise the “whose to judge” question when the results of scientific advances are is questioned and then ignore it when the effects of religion are being judged.

  • @ Matt:

    “This assumes that naturalism is the only position compatible with the scientific method. I see no reason for accepting that claim. But suppose it’s true. Here is the problem. ”

    But what is the alternative and how would it be applied to the sciences ?

    If naturalism is incorrect then does that mean that all scientific discoveries made using that as a premise must be revisited ?

    I’m struggling to get my head around the idea that basing a line of enquiry on the premise that there is a natural explanation for a phenomena is incorrect and that a better premise exists.

    It begs the question as to why we are not using whatever that other premise is.

    Is it a secret ?

  • …those who make this argument are not saying they are unwilling to trust there faculities, they are simply saying that, if a Naturalism is true one can’t rationally do this. The point is to show that naturalism has absurd implications and hence should be rejected.

    It remains an utterly pointless argument. It’s akin to claiming your opponent’s argument is wrong because no-one can prove the world as you perceive it isn’t merely a fantasy playing out in your own head – ie, it may be true, but it’s essentially a worthless contribution.

  • Paul,

    Why make the assumption that atheism equals methodological naturalism? Is non-belief necessary for you to be a good surgeon, doctor or engineer? No its not. Atheism and agnosticism are meta-physical propositions that deal with a different area of competence and don’t necessarily affect one’s ability to apply scientific principles in the creation and modification of technology.

    Scientists in the 18th-19th century pretty much discovered and improved upon exisiting theories about medicine, biology and industry irregardless of their beliefs (e.g. Louis Pasteur, Joseph Listner, Gregor Mendel, Thomas Huxley, Charles Darwin) about god whether Deist, Theist, Panentheist and so on. Those on the theistic side were operating on the paradigm of Natural Theology and Providential Design that was the 50% view of academia at that time before Lamarck and the Evolution revolution and they pretty much made competent observations and used the scientific method of inquiry (Mendelian genetics and Agassiz’s work on geology.)

    It seems Dawkins and the fundy atheists want science to be atheistic, when its not. Its a neutral field of study, the reason why there is debate on which is bad science and good is because of a clash of ideologies.

  • @ Alvin

    The issue is not atheism or agnosticism but methodological naturalism itself.

    I’m just trying to ascertain what the alternative that we should all be using is and what impact that would have on science and the scientific method.

  • Paul, they don’t want to answer your question because they have no answer. They have no alternative to naturalism.

    Matt continually makes the point that if naturalism is true you can’t trust your faculties. So what? You sound like Alvin Plantinga (take your bow and then keep reading) when he writes: Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely that the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief Warrant and Proper Function, (New York: Oxford University Press), 1993. pp. 225-226

    English philosopher Stephen Law nips this argument in the bud: It is true that any false belief can, on any occasion, be made to result in adaptive behaviour if it is paired off with the right desire, and also that any desire (even a desire for something that hinders ones chances of surviving and reproducing) can result in adaptive behaviour if it is paired off with the right belief. However, it is not so easy to see what set of desires would make unreliable cognitive mechanisms of the sort we have been examining here result in adaptive behaviour. Indeed, it seems to me highly unlikely that a species will evolve unreliable mechanisms such as those described above, given there is no way to neutralize their otherwise maladaptive likely consequences by hard-wiring them with certain desires. Unguided evolution is far more likely to produce reliable cognitive mechanisms in combination with desires for things that enhance our ability to survive and reproduce. Latest version EAAN paper – for comments, November 30, 2010 blog post at: http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2010/11/latest-version-eaan-paper-for-comments.html

    What is Matt and Plantinga’s alternative to unguided evolution as likely to produce reliable cognitive mechanisms: a magic wand?

  • Sorry TAM but in fact Law ignores Plantinga’s other examples which address this point. For example the witch example, and the Liebnezian example. You also ignore my own example of religion above, there is also the Ruse, Wilson, example of morality. Berkleyian idealism provides another example of a case of systematic false belief which would be adaptive.

    Just because someone writes on a subject and you agree with there conclusion does not mean they have “nipped” the argument in the bud.

  • Oh and no one ever suggested a “magic wand”

    Caricature and straw men is never a substitute for an argument.

  • OK, thank-you for confirming that you are not suggesting a magic wand as an alternative to naturalism. What, exactly, are you suggesting?

  • No one actually denies naturalism – this is a common misunderstanding. Of course the natural world exists and of course the majority of the time it operates as though according to a fixed set of laws. And naturally science proceeds along these lines. There is not an “alternative” to naturalism – it is more that naturalism is not the whole picture.

  • You do take jokes so very over-literally, Matt.

    Science gave us Newtonian physics in the 16th Century and Evolutionary biology in the 19th Century, but conservative Christians gave us geocentrism in the 19th Century and Creationism even in the 21st Century. Rather than the moral inference you took from Dawkins’ statement, perhaps you might consider how reactionary (and even how incorrect) this conservative Christian approach has consistently been.

  • Deane, you write ” perhaps you might consider how reactionary (and even how incorrect) this conservative Christian approach has consistently been.

    I actually think this is historically inaccurate, so I am not sure what I am supposed to consider.

  • Deane I have no problem with humour, its when people use humour to make substantive points, points which are false, and then hide behind “its only humour” to avoid criticism, that I object.

    I am sure if someone told a racist or homphobic joke, the “its only humour” card would not be accepted, showing that people don’t really buy this line.

  • TAM, I think the alternative to naturalism (defined the way it is in the discussions this argument refers to) is theism.

    But suppose I am wrong, how does this address the criticism raised. You and Paul seem to be operating with a principle: sceptical doubts about X can’t be taken seriously unless an alternative to X is provided. this seems to me false, consider, you find a walk man in the back yard, I propose it was dropped there by Elvis, do you have to offer an account of who did drop it to be sceptical about this? I doubt it.

  • @ Matt:

    “TAM, I think the alternative to naturalism (defined the way it is in the discussions this argument refers to) is theism.

    But suppose I am wrong, how does this address the criticism raised. You and Paul seem to be operating with a principle: sceptical doubts about X can’t be taken seriously unless an alternative to X is provided. this seems to me false, consider, you find a walk man in the back yard, I propose it was dropped there by Elvis, do you have to offer an account of who did drop it to be sceptical about this? I doubt it.”

    I was actually hoping for a serious explanation of what alternative we should be using or what we should be using in addition to naturalism and you’re proposing Theism.

    Ok, so how does that work in a Chemistry lab ?

    If that quite seems deliberately obtuse then perhaps it would help if you would outline the areas of research where naturalism is still ok and the areas where we should be looking towards theism instead.

    It would also help if you would define which, if any, specific theism you’re suggesting we use and justify the choice over any others available.

  • Paul

    “Ok, so how does that work in a Chemistry lab ?”

    this again misconstrues the issue, the argument is that a certain metaphysical position ( naturalism) plus contemporary evolutionary theory undercuts the reliability of our cognitive faculties. These are epistemological and philosophical questions, no answer to them Wether secular or theological can be “verfied” in a chemistry lab.

    In fact as I noted to verify things in a chemistry lab one needs to be able to rely on ones cognitive faculties the question is what perspectives about the world make this reliance defensible.

    “If that quite seems deliberately obtuse then perhaps it would help if you would outline the areas of research where naturalism is still ok and the areas where we should be looking towards theism instead.”

    I don’t think naturalism (as I define the term) should be assumed in any discipline. That’s because I believe naturalism is false.

    “It would also help if you would define which, if any, specific theism you’re suggesting we use and justify the choice over any others available.”

    Interesting, let me note what’s occured here, I noted an argument exists which purports to show that if naturalism is true then one cannot rationally rely on our cognitive faculties. Instead of responding to this argument, I am told that I must offer an alternative to naturalism and prove its true.

    Can Christians play this game, suppose you offer an argument against the existence of God, can I ignore it and demand that you justify which of the many non Christian perspectives of in the world you adopt and then justify your choice over all these alternatives? There seems to be an assumption that naturalism is somehow the default position and no questions can be asked about it until someone proves an alternative correct. What’s the basis for this?

    Second I already noted this stance is dubious, one does not have to justify an alternative before they raise doubts about a position. Like I said, you find a radio in the back yard, I propose it was dropped there by Elvis, do you have to offer an account of who did drop it and justify it before you can be sceptical about this? I doubt it.

  • @ Matt:

    I appreciate what you’re saying – and all that I’m trying to ascertain is how is would be practically applied.

    You’ve put forward an alternative to naturalism and I’m treating that as a serious proposition and asking how it would work in applied science. In such a circumstance asking for more information is a normal path of enquiry (afaik).

    I keep coming back to the practical issues (sorry about that) but what is the purpose of querying naturalism and proposing theism if you do not consider how science and the scientific method will or should be affected.

    Otherwise, why should the scientific community (particularly the applied sciences) consider naturalism as under query and consider an alternative, such as theism ?

    In research labs across the world scientists are using naturalism and the scientific method every hour of every day, and it seems to work for them, so I think they’ll need a little convincing that it may be in error, and it may take a bit more than a radio in a backyard that may or may not belong to Elvis.

  • Paul, two quick points,

    First, I think your conflating “methodological naturalism” and metaphysical naturalism, research labs use the former not the latter.

    Second, theism and naturalism have some overlap, both for example accept there is a physical world, both accept this is governed by natural laws, both accept in normal circumstances the universe operates according to these laws. The theist adds that God created this world sustains it, and that its possible for God to on occasion do something special ( whats often called a miracle).

    What this means is that on many topics theism and naturalism will not differ in the sciences, a biologist can look for laws of nature and try and figure them out just as a theist can.

    The difference is that in certain contexts, like the origins of the universe, or in researching claims of miracles, the theist will be open to an alternative that the naturalist is closed to, direct special action of God. Of course they must still follow the evidence and the evidence may show that God did not do anything special here, but it will not be ruled out.

    So in most cases things would be the same but in some they will differ, moreover the theist is open to certain possible explanations which the naturalist is not.

  • Besides Paul,

    It would make sense if people can emulate natural mechanisms in principle with Intelligent Design and apply it to areas of human living. (e.g. I have heard that chemists utilizing ‘water-proofing’ textures in certain plants to create gore-tex insulating for jackets or using how the brain communicates to certain regions, which in turn controls certain areas of human anatomy, would make excellent research ideas for neural networks on Information Technology) It logically follows that mechanisms in nature have a purpose to them afforded by the Designer, but it doesn’t make sense to re-create stuff that was selected naturally by blind forces and chance.

    And assuming Noah’s flood happened which the folks in AIG claim it did. It would explain why various cultures have all got flood stories, so at least having a creationist world view would add value to Anthropology. These are just examples of the explanatory power behind alternative forms of inquiry not just a monolithic methodological naturalism.

  • This has been a useful discussion.

    Matt writes: The difference is that in certain contexts, like the origins of the universe, or in researching claims of miracles, the theist will be open to an alternative that the naturalist is closed to, direct special action of God. Of course they must still follow the evidence and the evidence may show that God did not do anything special here, but it will not be ruled out.

    “God did it” is not an explanation anymore than” the alien teenager from a dimension beyond our comprehension did it.”

    Matt, the problem (as I am sure you recognize) is that many theists are unfollowing to follow the evidence if it conflicts with their dogma.

  • Deane,

    just a correction, its theistic scientists abrogating pagan scientists (aka natural philosophers) view of the earth’s place in the cosmos. Science didn’t give us anything rather its the scientists and the people behind them that refined the theories overtime.

    how wonderful that at least philosophy got unhinged from the study of physical sciences and came out as a separate disciplinary field. But the mistake most secularist fundies are making is integrating Atheism with science when the two, answer different questions. At least the creationists are honest in saying we have a lens to view science, the evolutionists are not.

  • Matt, let’s say you and I went back in time before human beings arrived on the scene and had this discussion about the species that existed. Let’s also assume evolution. Would you be able to say that a frog who learned to adapt to its surroundings by catching flies requires a soul, a mind, or a god? Why then is it different with human beings if evolution is the case? Like frogs we’ve learned to adapt to our environment and for us it means exploring the universe. The whole Argument from Reason is a bogus for this reason. And the conclusion must never be more than what an argument leads to anyway. While the conclusion might be consistent with your god-belief, it is also consistent with a god who committed suicide after creation, or a deist god, or a scientist god who like observing rats in a maze, or a trickster god who deceives people into believing what you do. What Reppert and Plantinga and you have is a belief from birth in search of confirmation. And the Euthyphro dilemma applies to reason as well as morality. Pragmatism, if you care to look at it, represents the most coherent epistemology. Look up John’s Shook’s Cambridge Companion on it.

    Cheers

  • Oops, your comment box is on top and I didn’t see the other comments before I commented. Now it’s time to read them.

  • Matt: “A theory can work and be false.”

    Sure, but how do you propose to know that something is false other than the fact that it works?

  • Matt: “But no one was arguing you can’t trust your faculties, the argument is that if naturalism is true you can’t rationally trust your faculties.”

    The fact is we cannot really trust our faculties, but it’s all we’ve got. Psychology confirms this over and over and over.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/03/jesse-bering-on-kluver-bucy-syndrome.html

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/05/how-do-you-know-that-which-you-claim-to.html

  • @ Matt:

    “First, I think your conflating “methodological naturalism” and metaphysical naturalism, research labs use the former not the latter. ”

    Aha ! I’ve learned something new today then. 🙂

  • TAM,

    On the contrary, evolutionary scientists have been shown to modify theory in light of evidence in favour of god. Big Bang cosomology for example, secular astronomers like Eddington, Hawkings admit they’re uncomfortable with it because it has theistic implications. So what they did was to create various theories to explain the singularity factor away e.g. steady-state, oscillitating model. Bill Craig interviewed by Strobel in the Case for the Creator pointed out that Hawkings for exampled employed the use of imaginary numbers to grease and fudge the results. But that’s the problem its ‘Imaginary’ Re-convert the imaginary variables to real ones and the singularity appears.

    And the case of Gould’s punctuated equilibrium to explain why from a single-multi cellular organism, there was a sudden spontaneouos transition to complex body forms as documented in the Cambrian Explosion. It fits the Creationist model of God creating creatures by their kinds and not the slow gradual transition as predicted by evolutionary theory. So what he did when presented with the fossils, Gould somehow modified evolution to contain an acceleration of changes to conveiniently explain the sudden change.

    You accuse creationists of inserting god when the model fails, but its been documented that evolutionary scientists have done the same thing when presented with contrary evidence.

    Also, I’m more sympathetic to the God did it argument, because at least analogy-wise, one can understand where all the technological marvels and comforts of civilization come from namely sentient beings, but to argue that all sentient life coming from Goo, blind processes and a bit of luck seems really far-fetched to me.

  • Alvin,

    It logically follows that mechanisms in nature have a purpose to them afforded by the Designer, but it doesn’t make sense to re-create stuff that was selected naturally by blind forces and chance.

    What? Because we can find a purpose from something in nature, that thing has a purpose in nature. What you have missed there is… evolutionary biology since about 1859

    And assuming Noah’s flood happened which the folks in AIG claim it did. It would explain why various cultures have all got flood stories, so at least having a creationist world view would add value to Anthropology

    Well, a global flood of the sort described in the bible isn’t possible, so I don’t think starting by preuming it was true is a very good idea. Moreover, methodological naturalism is no barrier to studying flood myths from across the globe, but because anthropologists don’t start with the presumption that the version of this myth that made it to the bible is true, they can propose theories to explain the data and then test them against their predictions. Which is kind of the point.

    Then you talk about cosmology as if it was evolutionary biology (?) and say this about Gould and Elridge:

    And the case of Gould’s punctuated equilibrium to explain why from a single-multi cellular organism, there was a sudden spontaneouos transition to complex body forms as documented in the Cambrian Explosion. It fits the Creationist model of God creating creatures by their kinds and not the slow gradual transition as predicted by evolutionary theory. So what he did when presented with the fossils, Gould somehow modified evolution to contain an acceleration of changes to conveiniently explain the sudden change.

    That’s not what punctuated equilibrium is, and I don’t really think it’s a major contribution on evolutionary biology (except in that it reminds us how common stasis is) , but even then, modifying a theory to fit with data is probably a good idea, no?

    And finally this one

    At least the creationists are honest in saying we have a lens to view science, the evolutionists are not.

    Well, in many countries most ‘evolutionists’ are religuous. But, more to the point, you fail to grasp the difference between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism. No one is saying you you can’t introduce the supernatural into the way you view the world, only that you can’t introduce it to science because then science doesn’t work.

  • As for the EAAN. The annoying thing for me is that no one that presents seems to have taken a moment to actually understand how our cognitive faculties work.

    As John Loftus points out, just one thing you’d notice if you did is that we have a massive list of known cognitive biases, many of which make a good deal of sense for a social primate living in small bands but are shown up horribly in the modern world. That sounds like and argument against theism to me.

  • John you write “Would you be able to say that a frog who learned to adapt to its surroundings by catching flies requires a soul, a mind, or a god? Why then is it different with human beings if evolution is the case? Sorry, how does this point refute the argument?

    You have shown an example of how a being with no mind, and no beliefs can have adapative behavour and suggested the same could be true of humans, they would not need minds and ( and hence true beliefs) to have adaptive behavour.

    In fact something like this is actually one of the points Plantinga makes in favour of EAAN.

    Consider a frog sitting on a lily pad. A fly passes by; the frog flicks out its tongue to capture it. Perhaps the neurophysiology that causes it to do so, also causes beliefs. As far as survival and reproduction is concerned, it won’t matter at all what these beliefs are: if that adaptive neurophysiology causes true belief (e.g., those little black things are good to eat), fine. But if it causes false belief (e.g., if I catch the right one, I’ll turn into a prince), that’s fine too.

    I am not sure how repeating a point in an argument is supposed to be a counter example to it.

  • David, Loftus response actually fails to address EAAN at all.

    There is a distinction between infallibility and reliability, the former states a source is never wrong the latter says a source can be counted on in most circumstances to get it right, reliability is compatible with some error.

    If the studies Loftus cites show our cognitive faculties are unreliable and can’t be counted on to get things right, then they undercut themselves, after all the people who wrote those studies relied on their own cognitive faculties to do the research, there own reasoning and so forth. So if we accept there conclusions we have to take the source they got them from be untrustworthy. In which case we can’t rely on the study.

  • So John, does that mean I can assume that all the reasoning in the Christian Delusion is based on unreliable inference rules and unreliable sources, and that atheism is simply a pragmatic view not the truth?

  • As I said Matt, “The fact is we cannot really trust our faculties, but it’s all we’ve got.” Again, it’s all we’ve got. I think it’s good enough, but it clearly fails us. This something I recognize but your Christian delusion causes you to minimize or reject the obvious facts. Are they obvious? Yes, to the degree we can trust neurology and psychology, which again is all we’ve got until such time as you can propose a better method than the sciences to break through delusions.

    All you’re doing is claiming the high ground here, but that claim is akin to the story of the Emperor with no clothes. Claim whatever you wish but facts are stubborn things.

    No, there’ll be no catching me in any contradictions here. If you try it will reveal your ignorance.

    What lessons can we learn about out ability to think rationally?

    This: we’re all in the same epistemological boat. Therefore we should only trust the sciences to light our path.

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/10/implications-of-book-mistakes-were-made.html

    Cheers

  • Sorry about the typos. Can’t fix them now.

  • Matt, the more I deal with Christianity the more I focus on the psychological state of mind of the believer. I’ve already made the arguments and they show your faith quite untenable. Now I’m looking into why you cannot see the nose on your face. 🙂

    Here is a brief summary of the things you might want to consider:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/03/people-dont-know-when-theyre-lying-to.html

    Cheers

  • Matt,

    Well all you need to add is that we have pretty good reasons to belief our most basic cognitive faculties need to map to reality in order for them to work.

    Take a specific example, human brains are very poor and dealing with probability. Toss four heads in a row, and somewhere deep inside brain, no matter how much you know about probability or how recently you’ve seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead you get the feeling we’re “due” for a tail.

    The only faculties we require to develop our belief that this instinct exists and is wrong is the ability to record someones predictions and the ability for us to recognise and count heads and tails. I think it’s fair to say that a brain that failed at such simple tasks as recognising discrete objects and counting them wouldn’t serve much purpose so I’m confident that we can do that .

    How then do we explain this congnitive bias? On naturalism we can say that in the wild animals very rarely deal with truly random and indepentand events – if it hasn’t rained for a week rain really is “due”, if a predator just walked past there probably isn’t much chance of it coming past the same spot again. So a brain that can’t deal with truly random events very well is no great surprise. If you want, instead, to claim the brain was created by special creation or guided evolution then you have a god that created us with brains that don’t work very well in specific cases. this seems odd to me.

  • “How then do we explain this congnitive bias?”

    Surely theism – even a YE creationist version of theism – would use exactly the same explanation.

    They can say that in the wild animals very rarely deal with truly random and indepentand events – if it hasn’t rained for a week rain really is “due”, if a predator just walked past there probably isn’t much chance of it coming past the same spot again. So a brain that was created to deal with predictable rather than truly random events very well is no great surprise.

    This issue does not seem to me to weigh one way or the other.

  • Ok, so here’s the bit I missed, we do have to deal with truly random events now days. So what was a good heuristic at one stage breaks down in the modern world. Most christian theists, and certainly most YECs, think that god is all knowing, so he foresaw a world with random events and gave us a brain that doesn’t deal with them. Again, I find this odd.

  • “Ok, so here’s the bit I missed, we do have to deal with truly random events now days. So what was a good heuristic at one stage breaks down in the modern world. Most christian theists, and certainly most YECs, think that god is all knowing, so he foresaw a world with random events and gave us a brain that doesn’t deal with them. Again, I find this odd.”

    Well as far as I can tell humans have managed to survive in this modern world despite our “faulty” reasoning skills. I could come up with any number of post hoc stories: maybe we as a species would not have survived until now without the brain being wired to over-estimate certain risks, and so god wired it this way, and it is against his plan to rewire the entire human race now…. as I said I could invent a few more such “just so” stories if you like. But on the flip side this is all the hard core naturalist is doing as well. What works for one side works equally for t’other – and what attacks the one attacks t’other too.

  • well, I guess there’s two things there.

    1) I don’t think this is a knock out blow, just that our long list of cognitive biases are better explained by our “lowly origins” than by a creator god who gave us faculties that routinely fail.

    and

    2) You can provide post-hoc explanations for most things, but the “hardcore” naturalist’s explanations are at least testable. (Although, it has to be admitted, evolutionary psychologists aren’t the poster-children for testing their theories against data)

  • That is a bold claim. If you bold claim was true then obviously I would agree. However. I don’t think that cognitive biases are explained by our lowly origins at all. The best we have are a series of post hoc guesses created to fit with the data. Also I don’t see how the other explanations “routinely fail.

    “You can provide post-hoc explanations for most things, but the “hardcore” naturalist’s explanations are at least testable.”

    Indeed they are. Which is why speculation about why a certain distant ancestor developed a certain way or perceiving chance is not really science.

    “(Although, it has to be admitted, evolutionary psychologists aren’t the poster-children for testing their theories against data)”

    Right… exactly my point. 😉

  • John, suppose you offered an argument for the claim the bible was unreliable in what it asserts. I responded, “I agree, oh and by the way I note your mistaken in your atheism because the bible ( we both agreed was unreliable in its assertions) assertions that theism is true.”

    You would see immediately that my position was indefensible, in claiming that the bible is unreliable in what it asserts I have undercut my ability to then appeal to it when I argue for theism.

    When Plantinga offers an argument that given naturalism our cognitive faculties are unreliable in what they tell us, you respond by you agreeing and then arguing that when we use our cognitive faculties our they tell atheism is true, you give an analogous line of reasoning.

    Fallacious arguments don’t become valid because they are made by atheists, and changing the subject when this is pointed out is not valid either.

    You say you have studied the Pscology of theism, that’s nice, but you just said that our cognitive faculties are unreliable, therefore the mind you used to do this study is unreliable, so why should I accept your claims. Sorry but you can’t shoot your self in the foot and then demand that I accept you can walk.

  • “This: we’re all in the same epistemological boat. Therefore we should only trust the sciences to light our path.”

    I see, so we are all in the same epistemological boat, so we can trust one method as better (epistemologically) than others.

    Sorry John, but contradictions don’t impress me, your fans on your blog might think saying things like ” reasoning is unreliable, and now listen to my reasons as to why you are wrong” is sensible. But it’s not.

    Try to come up with something other than a contradiction.

  • Matt, lets say you have a tool that is damaged to some degree. Let’s say it’s a circular saw and the blade is in need of sharpening, or even worse, needs thrown away.

    Can you still cut timber? Yes or no?

    Now let’s say you have no other tool that will do the job better.

    What to to?

    I find it to be an impossible argument to say that our brains are completely and utterly untrustworthy given evolution. THAT”S the argument you have to make, and it cannot be made.

    What to do?

    Given that we know from all scientific studies that we are not all that rational then we can know this, that we are not all that rational. And yet this is the only tool in our toolbox. So we must use it to find our way.

    You’re only recourse is to denigrate the sciences. The sciences operate by way of hard cold evidence. It’s our only way out of this morass.

  • It’s only a contradiction, Matt, if I said we cannot trust our brains for anything and yet attempt to use them. THAT”S most emphatically not my argument. Please, no straw men.

    Cheers

  • Matt, let’s start with this. Do you or do you not agree that as a human species we are not all that rational? Chapters 1-4 in “The Christian Delusion” argue this with respect to religious faith.

    Apart from my book and the links I provided earlier here are a list of some of the many books on this topic. Just reading the titles and the credentialed authors should be enlightening if nothing else:

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/05/how-do-you-know-that-which-you-claim-to.html

  • John, if my comments were a straw man then your intial response to EAAN is invalid. At Mar 11, 2011 at 3:59 am you responded as follows.

    Matt: “But no one was arguing you can’t trust your faculties, the argument is that if naturalism is true you can’t rationally trust your faculties.”

    The fact is we cannot really trust our faculties, but it’s all we’ve got. Psychology confirms this over and over and over.

    Here I cited Plantinga’s argument (EAAN) that if naturalism is true then our cognitive faculties are unreliable, your response was to claim the consquent of this conditional was true.

    So in context, the issue is what Plantinga mean’t not what you mean’t. If you now want to say you only mean’t that our cognitive faculties are unreliable in some more limited way, your intial argument, which started this exchange fails.

    You don’t get to use a term one way to attack EAAN and then redefine it when critical comments are raised about it.

  • Matt, how do you interpret the Bible? Do you do the same thing with it as you do with my words? Do you find the contradictions or do you instead use the principle of charity and give it the best interpretation possible so that there isn’t a contradiction? I suspect the latter.

    Now go and do likewise with me, or, do you purposely try to distort what I say and purposely gerrymander around the difficult passages in the Bible to make it consistent with itself without error? The science of hermeneutics applies equally to my words and the words in the Bible. You did take a Hermeneutics class, right?–sorry.

    Just fact checking for double standards, that’s all.

    And how, even if you’re correct, does this do anything to answer me?

  • Matt, you know what propositions are, don’t you? Several different statements can all express the same proposition.

    Okay, so let me help you.

    “we cannot really trust our faculties, but it’s all we’ve got.

    “our cognitive faculties are unreliable.” Did I say it this way?

    “We’re not all that rational’

    I take it that all three expressions state the same proposition.

  • Matt: “if naturalism is true then our cognitive faculties are unreliable, your response was to claim the consquent of this conditional was true.”

    I agree but then my point is that this is trivially true. Nothing follows from this admission. In a way I bite the bullet depending on what that bullet is. It does not follow that there is a god. And it most emphatically does not follow that our brains, like dull blades, cannot come to correct conclusions about the natural order.

    My criticism goes deeper. Since I know that we are not all that rational as human beings you and Plantinga should doubt these conclusions of yours.

  • But Matt – Christianity says that human reasoning is flawed and that our basic nature is flawed too… over and over… so you are left in exactly the same situation.

  • Whether we are fallen creatures or evolved human beings I find it utterly uncaring and inconsistent for a God to demand that I ask him to keep me from being deceived when I don’t know enough to realize I am to ask him.

  • “Whether we are fallen creatures or evolved human beings I find it utterly uncaring and inconsistent for a God to demand that I ask him to keep me from being deceived when I don’t know enough to realize I am to ask him.”

    But you do… you just said as much.

  • John I do use the principle of charity, in this instance I assumed you were not attacking a straw man when you said you endorsed the consequent of Plantinga’s conditional.

    Plantinga’s argument is that if naturalism is true then we cannot rationally trust our cognitive faculties. They are unreliable.

    Note this is not the claim that humans are not entirely rational nor is it the claim that, humans can be baised often use flawed reasoning and so forth. It’s the claim that our cognitive faculties are unreliable. This is not the same thing. Plantinga is quite clear what he means in EAAN. I am sorry but I assumed that you actually understood what he said and meant to affirm the consequent.

    Your analogy of the “dull” saw does not work in this context, if as you say we can still cut down trees with a dull saw, then we can rely on the saw to cut down trees, its reliable in this function, sure we may not be able to always rely on doing it well, and we might find it hard going, but we can trust the dull saw to cut. With EAAN the conclusion, that we cannot rely on our cognitive faculties to give us truth. The analogy is with a saw which we cannot rely on to cut down trees.

    So you can’t accept Plantinga’s consequent and then turn around and rely on our cognitive faculties to get us truth about say science or Pscycology. Thats like telling me that I can’t rely on the saw to cut and then commending it to me as a reliable tree cutter.

  • “Thats like telling me that I can’t rely on the saw to cut and then commending it to me as a reliable tree cutter.”

    Not quite. It is like telling you the saw is unreliable but telling you to use it anyway. This seems reasonable enough.

  • Sure, but if I use it anyway I can’t rationally expect it to cut the tree.

    My point is that if the argument is correct, that naturalism (defined as the view that nature is all there is and there is no God or anything like him) makes it probable that our cognitive faculties are unreliable and hence we cannot know anything. The sensible thing would be to deny the antecedent not affirm the consequent. Its hard to see how we could accept the consequent and claim to rationally affirm the antecedent when we have in accepting the consequent denied we rationally believe anything.

    This type of response to the argument is a non starter.

  • “Sure, but if I use it anyway I can’t rationally expect it to cut the tree.”

    Yeah you can. It will probably cut down the trees – but then again it might break… your problem as often is binary thinking Matt. Reason working is not an on/off thing – and nor is a saw working. A blunt saw works somewhat – and cuts stuff down badly and might fail now and then.

    My point is that if the argument is correct, that naturalism (defined as the view that nature is all there is and there is no God or anything like him) makes it probable that our cognitive faculties are unreliable and hence we cannot know anything. The sensible thing would be to deny the antecedent not affirm the consequent. Its hard to see how we could accept the consequent and claim to rationally affirm the antecedent when we have in accepting the consequent denied we rationally believe anything.

    This type of response to the argument is a non starter.

  • OOPS presses Submit too early… and you now lack any ability to edit the post.. why is that??? Anyway:

    “t our cognitive faculties are unreliable and hence we cannot know anything.”

    See there is your big mistake. You go from somewhat unreliable – to completely broken in all ways (binary thinking).

    “we have in accepting the consequent denied we rationally believe anything.”

    Again: No. To say that human reason is not perfect and makes mistakes is not the same as admitting we can’t rationally believe anything. Can you not see this massive leap you keep making?

    And again – Christianity also says our reason is messed up… so you are in no better a situation.

  • Matt: “Plantinga’s argument is that if naturalism is true then we cannot rationally trust our cognitive faculties. They are unreliable.” Stephen Law refuted Plantinga so I was making additional comments for your consideration.

    What you and he are claiming is not just that they are unreliable, but that they are utterly and completely unreliable apart from luck to know the truth. That is, if naturalism is true we should not trust them at all.

    And I said that is an impossible argument to defend. The more you claim the harder it is to defend, right. That’s a very large claim indeed, and I argue it cannot be successfully made given evolution. If we and our brains evolved to survive in this world then they have to be at least somewhat reliable otherwise we would never have arrived at this point in human history. This is undeniable. Why theists have to deny the undeniable is beyond me.

    Instead if you take a weaker claim that if naturalism is true then we are not all that rational, as I think is a much more reasonable conclusion, then I don’t see a problem since this conclusion fits quite nicely with what we would expect given evolution. That would make this weaker claim trivially true, since we can use a dull blade to cut timber. And I think psychology and neurology both show us this is in fact the case. That’s why I claim that the sciences are the best and probably the only way to know the truth. Science is based on the five senses along with reasoning about this cold hard evidence. It’s the only tool in the tool-shed, so to speak, if properly understood. Why theists have to denigrate science to believe is beyond me.

    So it’s simply false to suggest, as you did that, “If the studies Loftus cites show our cognitive faculties are unreliable and can’t be counted on to get things right, then they undercut themselves, after all the people who wrote those studies relied on their own cognitive faculties to do the research, there own reasoning and so forth. So if we accept there conclusions we have to take the source they got them from be untrustworthy. In which case we can’t rely on the study.”

    Cold hard evidence from the sciences are what let’s us know about ourselves.

    And I suggested you should allow this evidence to cause you to doubt your conclusions. I do. We should all be skeptics whenever there doesn’t seem to be any cold hard evidence to settle our religious disputes. There is no cold hard evidence to settle our religious disputes (otherwise why isn’t there on religion?). Therefore we should all be skeptics.

    I mean really, if Richard Swinburne can make the argument that if God exists then he’s 97% sure Jesus was raised from the dead then there MUST be something wrong with our cognitive faculties. What then are the probabilities that he is standing on solid ground, if that’s the case? Philosophers have been building castles in the sky for centuries. What we need is evidence.

    Cheers.

  • John Loftus wrote: “if naturalism is true then we are not all that rational” and then said we should rely on science as it is “the best and probably the only way to know the truth”. But surely if naturalism is true and “we are not all that rational” then no method we come up with can be a rational way to know the truth. How can we rationally assess it as rational if we are not all that rational?
    Perhaps John meant that scientists are an exception to the claim that “we are not all that rational” (which is not reflected in the university test scores which show that philosophers and religion scholars consistently score higher in analytic reasoning scores) but how would we who “are not all that rational” and not scientists know this? Perhaps we should accept it on faith as afterall we have been taught by our western society to revere science since we were children …. but the outsider test says we should be sceptical of any claims we hold on the faith of our cultural indoctrinations.
    Hmm how does one rationally hold that science is “the best and probably the only way to know the truth” given we “are not all that rational” and that our epistemic peers disagree over whether science is “the best and probably the only way to know the truth”. Further that claim itself is a philosophical claim, not a scientific claim – how can one test this claim in a test tube using the 5 senses? (don’t some Hindus reject the 5 senses as being reliable and Berkley idealists too? Outsider test alert) (Not that exclusively using the scientific method to show the scientific method is sound is that rational anyway – just a tad circular!) Hmm, what a pickle, I know – special pleading! We’ll go with ‘we just happened to be born in the culture that got it right with regards to science’, I mean, “we are not all that rational” afterall.

  • Madeleine, we are not all that rational. Science shows us this. Skepticism is the default position when there is no cold hard evidence to settle our disputes.

    The only way to escape this conclusion is to denigrate the sciences.

    What is the alternative? Faith? LOL

    Faith can be used to justify anything one was raised to believe.

    These facts are all undeniable. Kick against the goads all you want to but that’s exactly what you’re doing.

    You do realize that it does you absolutely no good at all to claim you have a reason to think your cognitive faculties can be trusted when they produce so many contradictory results that it makes our heads spins, right? You should.

    Give us a better method and we might be willing to listen to you. What would that be?

    Cheers

  • Madeleine, we are not all that rational. Science shows us this. Skepticism is the default position when there is no cold hard evidence to settle our disputes.

    John your claim about skepticism is an assertion, as Madeline points out is also self contradictory. For two reasons

    First, in your book you base this conclusion on what you call the outsider test for he faith, which contends that one should adopt the stance of skeptical outsider to those philosophical and religious beliefs which are not shared by all people. Skepticism is not shared by all people, therefore if I follow you advice I should be a skeptical outsider to this claim.

    Changing the subject does not alter this.

    Second, the claim “Skepticism is the default position when there is no cold hard evidence to settle our disputes.” you have not provided any cold and hard evidence for this epistemic statement, therefore the default position towards it should be skepticism.

    Contradicting your self is not really a rational think to do.

    Give us a better method and we might be willing to listen to you. What would that be?

    I dealt with this above, a person does not have to offer a better answer to a question to show that the offered one is wrong. Try addressing arguments people making instead of asserting.

    But there also is a better method, I think Wolterstorff’s method of dialogic pluralism, for example is better than you self refuting skepticism which you offer. Wolterstorff’s position is at least consistent.

  • John, And I said that is an impossible argument to defend. The more you claim the harder it is to defend, right. That’s a very large claim indeed, and I argue it cannot be successfully made given evolution. If we and our brains evolved to survive in this world then they have to be at least somewhat reliable otherwise we would never have arrived at this point in human history. This is undeniable. Why theists have to deny the undeniable is beyond me.

    Sorry John, but this an assertion that your position is undeniable, the fact that EAAN and variants of it exist in the literature ( not all by theists) shows your claim is deniable.

    Moreover, Plantinga in fact offers, in his several articles on EAAN arguments against the claim you assert. So simply asserting his argument fails on the basis of an assertion he argued against is not really rebuttal.

    Once again the man who claims you should approach what you believe as a sceptical outsider, seems unwilling to do so when its a topic other than religion. Why are you not a skeptical outsider towards the claim you assert above?

    ”And I think psychology and neurology both show us this is in fact the case. That’s why I claim that the sciences are the best and probably the only way to know the truth. Science is based on the five senses along with reasoning about this cold hard evidence. It’s the only tool in the tool-shed, so to speak, if properly understood. Why theists have to denigrate science to believe is beyond me”

    Here you have a non sequtiur, you state that psychology shows us that humans often are baised, make mistakes , reason irrationally and so on, you infer from this that it follows that only science is reliable, but that does not follow at all, the fact that humans often act irrationally does not entail that its only in certain subjects they do, nor does it entail that in one the subject they do not. That’s simply arbitrary.

    Everything stated in your book about bias, applies to scientists as much as every one else. People are brought up to believe in science, people stake there careers on there theories, are emotionally attached to there academic status. Scientific rationalism is disproportionately accepted amongst western secular people, so show cultural correlation. Scientific rationalism is disputed by your epistemic peers, and so on.

    But moreover your claim Science is based on the five senses along with reasoning about this cold hard evidence. It’s the only tool in the tool-shed, so to speak, if properly understood.

    Here you simply assume that the five senses are the only reliable sources of information, moreover you assert that science is the only reliable way of gaining knowledge.
    Unfortunately here again you seem to shoot your self in the foot, remember most cultures outside the west would not accept this epistemic view, and many of your epistemic peers within the west do not either.

    In your book you state that any claim like this should be approached from the perspective of a sceptical outsider, we should not believe it until an argument is given for it from premises that all sceptical outsiders would accept.
    You have offered none, once again you refute yourself.

  • Matt, I’ve been looking at your series on the informal fallacies. It appears to me you only have a beginner’s knowledge of them. As one who has taught critical thinking I will be writing a post titled “The Truth about Informal Fallacies.” You’ll like it. Labeling a fallacy isn’t the same as showing someone committed it, and even if it is a fallacy it can still persuade. As an introduction to the topic if the Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy then is it wrong to appeal to to the fact that most people believe in God, and if so, should this never be done in any argument?

  • If we are not all that rational as human beings then persuasion can be used legitimately to influence what we want others to believe. In fact, if we aren’t that rational as human beings then persuasion plays a big role in what we believe.

  • Skepticism is not shared by all people, therefore if I follow you advice I should be a skeptical outsider to this claim.

    Looks like I have my work cut out for me in teaching you. Take my CFI atheism class in April, okay?

    Skepticism IS shared by all people. They are skeptical of other religious claims but their own. So I merely chide people into abstaining from having double standards.

  • Matt:

    you have not provided any cold and hard evidence for this epistemic statement, therefore the default position towards it should be skepticism.

    Contradicting your self is not really a rational think to do.

    The cold hard evidence can be found in the links I previously provided, or are you actually saying that skepticism is not a virtue, that it’s okay to believe what we were all taught? I find such an alternative ludicrous, but then this is what it takes to defend your faith.

  • Here you have a non sequtiur, you state that psychology shows us that humans often are baised, make mistakes , reason irrationally and so on, you infer from this that it follows that only science is reliable, but that does not follow at all, the fact that humans often act irrationally does not entail that its only in certain subjects they do, nor does it entail that in one the subject they do not. That’s simply arbitrary.

    A non-sequitur!? Yes, that settles it. Be done with me. Use words that claim the high ground that make me illogical. That’s called persuasion, and you just attempted it with me.

    You simply do not understand science. Just touch the cover of the New York Public Library Science Desk Reference. Look through it and you will find a heap of things we know because of the undeniable results of science. Theists always focus on the cutting edge of disputes among scientists and claim they don’t know jack and they totally ignore what science has concluded over the centuries. Yeah, that’s what it takes to believe–ignorance, massive ignorance. You yourself have doubles standards with regard to science for you will accept these results in an overwhelming number of areas except those few rare ones when they contradict what an ancient set of canonized writings by superstitious pre-scientific agency detectors said. .

  • Matt:

    Everything stated in your book about bias, applies to scientists as much as every one else. People are brought up to believe in science, people stake there careers on there theories, are emotionally attached to there academic status. Scientific rationalism is disproportionately accepted amongst western secular people, so show cultural correlation. Scientific rationalism is disputed by your epistemic peers, and so on
    Ahhhh, yes, denigrate science. That’s the ticket! That’s what it takes to believe.

    The fact is Matt, yes, science is done by scientists and so since they are not all that rational themselves they will get things wrong. we see this clearly in the disputes they have on the cutting edges of science. But when the dust settles they come to a consensus if one can be found. Every scientific discovery was hotly disputed, you see, because scientists, like the rest of us are passionate people who prefer the ideas of the past. But the point is that science has progressed because the evidence will eventually convince us if it can.

    So my point is that if this is the case with the sciences then how much more so should we be skeptical when there isn’t a silver bullet to decide between religions? Think on that and you should see this point should be obvious and non-controversial. Since we’re so bad at reasoning we must demand some cold hard evidence to believe.

  • John, so lets get this straight, your response is to (a) assert again and (b) refer me to what others wrote.

    In your book you say we should not rely on what others have told us and treat it with skepticism.

    So again all we see from you is simply assertions of your own epistemic positions, in a self contradictory way.

  • “Second, the claim “Skepticism is the default position when there is no cold hard evidence to settle our disputes.” you have not provided any cold and hard evidence for this epistemic statement, therefore the default position towards it should be skepticism. ”

    Matt – if I ever have to read this statement – or one of your many permutations of it – ever again I will scream. Have you not worked out what is wrong with this statement yet?

  • Matt, I am not surprised by the way you reason at all.

    There’s no convincing you. I know that. You are deluded, and that is not an argument just a conclusion I have about you.

    It’s fruitless to continue with you.

    Cheers.

  • John
    Skepticism is the default position when there is no cold hard evidence to settle our disputes.

    There is no cold hard evidence that murder is morally wrong.

    Should skepticism be the default position on this matter?

  • Reed, of course there is cold hard evidence that murder is wrong. There is the cadaver. Why would anyone think differently? And before you throw the “is-ought” fallacy on me you’ll need to read Richard Carrier’s chapter in “The End of Christianity” on this subject. There are several of the so-called informal fallacies that have no impact on what we’re arguing for, including the genetic fallacy and the argumentum ex silentio. But even if Carrier is wrong there is nothing about cultural relativism that says societies have no reason to jail murderers. They can do so for no other reason than self-preservation. Since self-preservation has cold hard evidence for it then we do.

  • Max, not sure what the problem with this is at all. John in his book, makes it clear we should apply his skeptical test to all beliefs one holds which are not universal across cultures. He even suggest that one should be skeptical of ones moral normative, and epistemic assumptions.

    Take the following:

    1.The bible is a reliable way of gaining information about God

    2. Science is the only reliable way of knowing about the world.

    Its hard to see how John can claim 1. is the kind of claim which his skeptical tests must be applied to, the reasons he gives for this are simply that if we were brought up in a different culture, they would hold different epistemic assumptions to 1. These considerations apply equally well to 2.

  • John, the fact there is a cadaver does not entail murder is wrong. It’s hard to see how you can take this argument seriously.

    Cadavers exist,

    Therefore

    Murder is wrong

    Is a pretty bad inference, and obviously invalid

    As to your claim that “why would any one think differently” and “cultural relativism would not endorse that” here is the problem. In your writings , you have criticised Christian cultures for endorsing what you consider murder, moreover you criticism the cultural laws of the Hebrews for doing this to adulterers, or the Canaanites, and so forth. So your own writing suggests other cultures have endorsed what you consider murder.

    If cultural relativism is correct, your criticisms of these cultures are invalid. Its not wrong for them to do these things at all.
    Morever, Reed’s problem stands, in the OTF you argue that because people would adopt a different religion if they were raised in Saudia Arabia, instead of the US, one should adopt a sceptical stance towards the religion people raised in the US take for granted.

    If you had been brought up in Saudia Arabia, you would have adopted a very different morality to the secular liberal one you champion in criticism of Christianity. Had you been brought up in Saudia Arabia, it’s likely , you would not think executing women for premarital sex is wrong, or that whipping women who have been raped is wrong, or your that certain sexist practises are wrong. Or that executing converts to Judaism is wrong. Therefore, your position suggest you should be sceptical of these moral ideals as well. But of course you are not, you in fact quite regularly appeal to moral ideals like these to attack Christianity.

  • John
    If you think you answered my basic question then you are deluding yourself.

  • Matt, the reason for trusting the sciences is because they present hard cold evidence that convinces others. What is the alternative? If they do not speak to issues outside their realm then it’s very hard to come to firm conclusions, which leaves more and more room for doubt. So this applies especially to religious faiths for many reasons. Why kick against the goads here?

    Matt said: “If cultural relativism is correct, your criticisms of these cultures are invalid.”

    I’m not saying it is correct, I only suggested what might be the case if it is correct. But if it is then it is, and that’s the end of the story. Or, would you think that there isn’t a sort of pre-cursor to cultural relativism in the animal kingdom who are our ancestors? Can we say that a dominant male lion is doing wrong by hoarding all of the females? This just might be the case with human beings too.

    As for having differing morals in differing cultures this is a complex topic. I think there really is a somewhat of a shared moral consensus about many things around the world. I think there is a grass-roots movement embracing democracy that we’ve seen since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Since we share in humanity we have common human values. There are wide differences too.

  • Matt, I find you to be as simplistic as I was when I believed. It’s easy to say I’m committed a fallacy. It’s another thing to look at it on a deeper level. Or, are you ignorant? Or are you purposely not being honest? Here is a case in point.

    John, the fact there is a cadaver does not entail murder is wrong. It’s hard to see how you can take this argument seriously.

    Cadavers exist,

    Therefore

    Murder is wrong

    Is a pretty bad inference, and obviously invalid.

    Are you seriously suggesting this is my argument? Oh, but wait. I’m an atheist. My arguments do not deserve any respect at all. No need to try to understand them. No need to charitably articulate them, right?

    The cold hard evidence is the cadaver which shows signs of being murdered. <— this is assumed. How do we get from a murdered cadaver to the idea that murder is wrong? [Not all killing is wrong but we'll leave that aside]. We do so in almost every other ethical norm. There are many reasons to think murder is wrong and they do not derive from a religion. religions were created by men so we'd expect religions would reflect human values. Just looking at the effect a murder has on the survivors and society itself tells us murder is wrong. So the evidence that murder is wrong is right in front of us. This is non-controversial. It's no different than when we're sick and so we conclude sickness is bad for us. It's no different than when we have an accident and conclude we should get our car fixed. there is no hard and fast division line between categorical and hypothetical imperatives. Not even Kant thought there was one.

  • Listen Matt, my claim is that you are ignorant about what an atheist thinks. I have seen it here. Perhaps you don’t want to understand me. That’s okay, if so. But may I humbly suggest that I could do you a favor, for if you actually decided to listen to me and treat my arguments charitably with some respect then you would be a better apologist for it. Maybe you have a big ego? That’s okay. So do I. But I can be useful to you and you’re not seeing it at all. Be my friend, okay? And take Dr. Randal Rauser’s advice in this book of his, which I reviewed:

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R24WY9R8BOONMN/ref=cm_cr_dp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1606570935&nodeID=283155&tag=&linkCode=

  • John, I am currently reading your book, I do treat you arguments charitably. Its not my fault they are so bad.

    You said in your book that any beliefs we are (a) taught to believe and (b) differ cross culturally, (c) not held by all our epistemic peers should be treated with skepticism.

    Moral beliefs clearly meet both criteria.

    “The cold hard evidence is the cadaver which shows signs of being murdered. <— this is assumed. How do we get from a murdered cadaver to the idea that murder is wrong? [Not all killing is wrong but we'll leave that aside]. We do so in almost every other ethical norm. There are many reasons to think murder is wrong."

    Nice assertion, there are reasons to think this?

    Maybe, but to meet the test you put down these reasons can’t appeal to any claims which meet (a) (b) or (c) above. So lets look at your answer

    “and they do not derive from a religion. religions were created by men so we’d expect religions would reflect human values. “

    here is a claim that different cultures and religions disagree with so, sorry by your own logic I have to be skeptical of this. To take your word for it would be to be “brain washed” try again.
    So sorry, gotta be skeptical of this premise.

    Just looking at the effect a murder has on the survivors and society itself tells us murder is wrong.

    Sorry but our epistemic peers do not agree on what makes Murder wrong. Singer, Marquis, Bentham, Tooley all offer different accounts so again I need to be skeptical here.

    So the evidence that murder is wrong is right in front of us. This is non-controversial.

    Sorry, but there is also a whole tradition of nihilists who deny there is such a thing as right and wrong, so again this answer makes a claim which is disputed by our epistemic peers so again I need to be sceptical.

    It’s no different than when we’re sick and so we conclude sickness is bad for us.

    Well seeing there are nihilists out there, you need to justify this statement from the perspective of sceptical outsiders nihilists.

    After all this is the standard you demand of Christians, we are not allowed to proceed on the assumption God exists, we have to treat that claim the way a sceptical outsider does, so by your logic we need to treat claims that murder is wrong the way a nihilist would.

    I also note you avoid the point I made that certain types of killing are not considered murder by all cultures.

    I am sorry John that applying this sceptical standard annoys you. But all I am doing is taking the standard you made in your book, and you reject Christianity the basis of this standard, and suggest Christians are “brainwashed” because they do not meet it. I am just asking you to be consistent. If you don’t think this is sensible you are welcome to admit the standard was not sensible to begin with.

  • It’s funny how Mr Loftus says to Matt: “It’s fruitless to continue with you”

    … and then continues with you.

  • Matt said: “If you don’t think this is sensible you are welcome to admit the standard was not sensible to begin with.”

    Here’s what I mean. Tell me what that standard is so I know you know what I mean?

    I betcha can’t do it.

  • You do realize of course, that if your faith does not meet the skeptical standard of the OTF then people who are born into different cultures cannot be convinced to believe by virtue of being raised in their respective cultures.

    This is logical.

    Don’t tell me people in the Southern Hemisphere are converting. That’s not the point.

    The point is that Christianity must have been made to pass the OTF, and if that’s so why kick against the goads. Why not apply its standard against what you were raised to believe?

  • Matt, I’m sure you see me as an enemy to be debated and not a fellow human being interested in the truth, as Rauser argues in his book. That is one of the marks of a brainwashed person.

    Think about it.

  • John the standard I am referring to is the outsider test for the faith (OTF) which you defend in chapter 4 of the Christian Delusion.

    You don’t precisely define the standard in that chapter and in fact say different things in different places, but the gist is clear.

    In fact I think that, on analysis, the OTF is really nothing new its really a modified version the kind of “classical foundationalism” which has been rejected pretty widely in contemporary epistemology. Its also quite similar to Rawl’s notion of “Public Reason” . The kinds of problems I raise above have also been raised against these kinds of positions. They assume that there is a body of premises which are shared by all people regardless of culture, religion, and so forth, which is sufficiently thick to serve as a foundation for the things we know. I agree with the critics that this is false, in fact if we rely only on premises which all people accept independently of there culture religion and so forth. Almost everything of substance we believe will be unjustified, including pretty much all the epistemological and moral beliefs sceptics employ in there critiques of religion.

    Certainly no secular view on life would stand this test, which is why its only ever applied to religion and then shelved when people like Robert Price defend methodological naturalism, or you attack capital punishment or laws which execute heretics, or when Avalos attacks slavery in other cultures and so forth.

    I think you spell out nicely the problems with the OTF your discussion of Plantinga, Craig, Keller and Reppert in the same chapter. I also think your counter arguments really involve evading the challenge, and special pleading. In fact at a crucial point you in fact abandon the test when its your own beliefs that are under scrutiny and instead ask what an outsider would believe if he were as informed as you were. Which of course is asking him to be an insider.

  • Matt

    I guess the difficulty with relying on common elements of Public Reason is corroborated by how religious/ spiritual people have a different matrix of reasoning from secular/non-religious people this in line with Scott Atran’s study on Terrorism.

    But even if people irregardless of beliefs can be united on certain values and causes like democracy and freedom of expression, its unsustainable on the level of deep unity or cohesion, such that after having attained the movement’s goals, it would peter off to indifferentism and individualism. Like the day after the world cup ended, it was only the feelings of unity not the substance of it per se.

    There’s a discussion and debate about how different groups of people’s ideas religious and non-religious can both resonate to outsiders by both Charles Taylor and Jurgen Habermas on this found on the Immanent Frame’s website

  • Now we’re talking Matt. Thanks!

    Perhaps we should start a discussion in the future as to the difference between religious faiths, moralities, worldviews, and cultures. I maintain they are different although they are seen by people to be one and the same. Once we separate them everything becomes clearer, at least it does for me. But I don’t have the time right now.

    The bottom line is that no matter what we think is the case, and no matter where we think knowledge comes from, or how we justify it, we all know what it is to doubt something. I’m asking people to doubt their own faith, which is not the same as throwing all of their beliefs out the window, or their culture, or their morality, or their worldview. Just their faith. One thing at a time. No double standards are allowed, either. I see no reason why someone cannot do this. Doubt is the adult attitude, and I’m not asking people to be Cartesian with their doubts either. Just no double standards. I see no justifiable reason why someone would not agree that doubt is the adult attitude.

    If I were to tell believers to critically examine their faith most all of them would say they ready have and they still believe. The militant Muslims who flew planes into buildings would say they have done so too! But once I tell believer to examine their own religious faith with the same skepticism they use when examining the other religions they reject THAT gets their attention. And they will all try to squiggle out from underneath the weight of that burden. I think this says something about believers reflected in the title to my book. After all, isn’t it patently obvious that Christianity should pass this same type of skeptical questioning, as I said previously?

    Cheers, I’m leaving for the University of Louisiana and must get to other things.

  • John, I should write a post on this some time where I can spell out my criticisms of the OTF in more detail.

    Alvin, I agree with you that public reason does not work. I am inclined to think something like dialogical pluralism is whats needed, and what i call hypothetical conditional reasoning, this is where instead of stripping away all presuppositions which are not shared by all, we try and understand what the other sides presuppositions are and look at why the position they take makes sense within it. Again something I should write on in the future.

  • I thought you said you were definitely going to write a blog post on the OTF after you had finished your review of The Christian Delusion for that journal? (Which is due at the journal tomorrow).

    It would be helpful if you did as it might help me decide whether I will include the OTF in my masters thesis or not as yet another rendition of Rawls’s public reason model in the literature (and Loftus’s response to criticisms of it are much like Gaus’s modifications of Rawls’ position – though very one sided).

  • Madeleine, I thought I’d check back. In “The End of Christianity” due out in July I’ve written further about the OTF. If you need an advance look at it let me know. The criticisms just keep coming in, which must mean it’s a thought provoker and for that I can be thankful. It looks like I’ll have to write a book on it, and that’s exactly what I plan on doing, but when I can’t say.

    Cheers

  • “The End of Christianity” – is that like the Mayan 21 Dec 2012 thing, as in do you predict a date or what?

    If I do decide to do a piece on the OTF I would appreciate any updated stuff – so thanks for that, I know how to find you if I need it. It will be some time before I get up to that, section though.

  • Who was it who said ‘God is dead’ again? I can’t remember his name, but he’s dead a long time ago.

  • Anon,

    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • He said “Gott ist Tott” or something in Thus Spake Zarathrusta

  • John,

    Do you doubt your skepticism at all?

    You also generalize emotional doubt as a mature marker of adult thinking when it can easily in of itself become tautological similar to the Fideist position. e.g. 9-11 truther’s DOUBTING the official story and coming up with conspiracy theories to prove their DOUBTS despite what really happened with the WTC.

    Being emotionally mature involves reconciling what you know and what you believe based on reliability of the evidence and its correspondence to reality as well as finding a balance between our inert irrationality and our reason, which is generally difficult. Even atheist psychologist Scott Atran noted that in the edge conference.

    Also in regards to your challenges to Faith, you do realize there are people who equate their religion with their morality like Islam. Some muslim and christian scholars recognized that the secular really is one of the manifestations of the sacred, but NOT the only one, so this dichotomy of sacred vs secular does not really hold, but stems from a very medieval Roman Catholic idea,

    If they abandoned their faith, the whole justification for morality and their culture gets thrown out as well. Nietzsche recognized this, as well as Sade, who argued for amoralism to counter the Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau, Voltaire et al. Even though the marquis shared in their godlessness, if not their optimism of human nature.