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Scientist Thinking vs. Lawyer Thinking

Black and white drawing of lawyerConsider the difference between a lawyer in the courtroom and a scientist in the university. The scientist is encouraged to share research with colleagues and ask for advice. Unless the scientist is working on confidential research, openness and camaraderie are essential parts of scientific research.

Contrast that with how the lawyer works. The courtroom is intentionally an adversarial environment. There is no collegial give and take between the opposing sides, no meeting of the minds, no compromise. If I’m paying someone to represent me in court, that lawyer had better present just one side of the case—mine. I want that lawyer to be biased and argue very effectively about just one side of the issue.

But, of course, the opposition is doing the same thing from the opposite viewpoint, and a judge or jury decides the merits of the two cases.

The thinking of the scientist vs. that of the lawyer is brainstorming vs. winner take all.

Forum vs. battleground.

A search for the truth vs. a presupposition of one’s rightness.

There’s nothing wrong with lawyer thinking—in its place. But let’s not confuse it with scientist thinking. The mistake is using one when we imagine we’re using the other.

I was at a debate last night (a rematch of a debate held last spring) in which an atheist and a Lutheran pastor debated “Does God exist?” At one point, the pastor, an old-earth Creationist, turned to the topic of evolution and demanded that we follow the evidence. This sounded bizarre given his rejection of the scientific consensus about evolution, but this was his way of giving himself license to make conclusions himself. He has no doctorate in biology, of course, but he pretends that as an armchair biologist he’s entitled to weigh the evidence and reject the results of 150 years of scientific research and the consensus of tens of thousands of people who actually are practicing biologists.

This is why I’m annoyed by philosopher William Lane Craig prancing around in an imaginary lab coat (more on that here) playing make-believe as a scientist. Or take the Reasons to Believe ministry (mission: “to show that science and faith are, and always will be, allies, not enemies”). They cherry-pick their science to support their preconceptions. This is lawyer thinking, not scientist thinking.

Note that the lawyer’s approach isn’t necessarily unjustifiable outside the courtroom. One might wonder, “If we applied some brilliant minds to the God question, what supporting arguments could they find?” That’s a reasonable question as long as we don’t pretend that it’s a quest for the best explanation.

Lawyer thinking feels natural. Our imperfect brains are saddled with biases—confirmation bias (noticing only the evidence that confirms what we already believe), for example. These biases make lawyer thinking a natural rut for us to fall into, but it begins with the conclusion rather than following the evidence where it leads.

Admit to yourself when you adopt this view; don’t pretend to be thinking like a scientist. Too often, these two positions are conflated or confused.

Hey, we all have biases. None of us enjoys being wrong, and each of us probably needs to rein in our lawyer thinking. That goes for me as well.

Too often I’ll read something with the unstated theme, “Here’s how I interpret the facts to support my presupposition.” More useful would be, “Here’s where the facts lead.”

I respond to a response from a Please Convince Me podcast here.

In science it often happens that scientists say,
“You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,”
and then they actually change their minds
and you never hear that old view from them again.
They really do it.
It doesn’t happen as often as it should,
because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful.
But it happens every day.
I cannot recall the last time something like that
happened in politics or religion.
— Carl Sagan

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Ryan

    I’ve wondered for some time if this is a factor in the impressively-strong percentage of lawyers among the higher-educated ranks of ID and YEC proponents, just as with the similar decline in high-level science-educated (especially biological sciences) people in the same. My father, an ID proponent and Lawyer, reluctantly concedes that law training rewards not just convincing-but-wrong arguments, but especially high-quality sophistry, as long as they both are effective to the intended audience, and that he has seen many lawyers get trapped in epistemic closure about an issue they take a side on in court. It seems like not much of a leap that Lawyers might be prone to convincing themselves of their own sophisticated BS on religion, not just law.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The category of lawyers/police who want to use the tools of their trade to argue for apologetics is pretty large: John Warwick Montgomery (Tractatus Logico-Theologicus), J. Warner Wallace (Please Convince Me podcast), Simon Greenleaf (a founder of Harvard Law School), A Lawyer’s Case for God by Jim Jacob (messianic Judaism), Religion on Trial by Craig Parton

      • BradC

        There is a new one coming out in that vein, “Cold-Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace, a current (retiring shortly) LA-county cold-case homicide detective.

        It apparently has some people excited: http://jwwartick.com/2012/12/12/ccc-wallace/

        “Overall, Cold-Case Christianity is the best introduction to the historicity of the Gospels I have ever read. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough. Wallace covers the evidence in a winsome manner and utilizes a unique approach that will cause even disinterested readers to continue reading, just to see what he says next. I pre-ordered two copies to give to friends immediately. I am not exaggerating when I say that this book is a must read for everyone.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve been on his Please Convince Me podcast once. Nice guy, but I doubt that his book will provide new insights. A good introduction for a Christian beginning, I’m guessing.

        • Rick Townsend

          Can you point us to the podcast? I’d like to hear how the discussion went.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve heard him say that it’s in his archives. In fact, he mentioned this in his most recent (12/26/12) podcast. I was on to discuss abortion, but a quick search just now didn’t turn up anything. It was several years ago.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          jwwartick on ‘Cold Case Christianity’: By arguing that we are able to see how the New Testament was passed authoritatively from one eyewitness to disciple to disciple and so on…

          That sounds pretty dreadful. The Gospels were not eyewitness accounts. They don’t even claim to be. It sounds like the same old same old apologetics wrapped up in CSI lingo to sell it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I just listened to Wallace’s Jan. 1 podcast. He makes a brief mention to my rebuttal to his podcast rebuttal to this post.

          Unfortunately, he’s off topic again. I guess this highlights one difficulty of alternating podcasts/blogs rather than a conversation. He disagrees with me but then everything he said I agree with.

          For what it’s worth, I was defining “lawyer thinking” and “scientist thinking,” while he seemed sidetracked on what lawyers do and what scientists do. I’m sure he’d agree with me on the distinction and agree with me that the bias inherent in lawyer thinking has its place in the courtroom but pretty much nowhere else.

          Oh well.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    There are several Creationist books based on the premise that if only we would consider the relevant evidence in a logical, lawyerly way, we would do better than those scientists have done. See for examples Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson and Darwin Retried: an appeal to reason by Norman MacBeth.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Excellent examples, thanks.

      Have you read them? Any thoughts on the effectiveness of their case?

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Yes, I have read both. From the dust jacket of Darwin on Trial:

        Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson looks at evidence for Darwinistic evolution the way a lawyer would – with a cold dispassionate eye for logic and proof.

        Really, is that the public perception of lawyers? I don’t think so. He soft-peddles any evidence against his side. He buries a key point against in a footnote. And then when it comes around to the conclusion, he gets all fiery and overstates his case to the point that it bears no resemblance to what came before. I.e. he pulls every dirty trick that gives lawyers a bad name, and that we have all seen in countless movies (for those of us fortunate enough not to have spent much time in actual courtrooms).

      • Reginald Selkirk

        I have to point out that I have a strong grounding in science and a PhD in molecular biology, so I can tell when he is cheating. I can’t say how a ‘typical person’ would read it.

  • smrnda

    I don’t want to disparage lawyers too much since they are supposed to provide the best advocacy for their clients so that some semblance of a fair hearing goes on for everyone. (I doubt this really happens, but had to state it.) A big difference between the two is that scientists make hypothesis, and want to reject one if it doesn’t turn out to be true. They want other people to poke holes in the theory and see if they can come up with a better one. They’re allowed to be honest about what they don’t know or when results are inconclusive.

    Attorneys are supposed to win, period, and so they’re supposed to make their cases look stronger than they do and try to hide any weaknesses in their arguments. They’re supposed to be willing to do anything to discredit the opposition, including ad hominem attacks or discrediting reliable sources or using emotional manipulation. I think many attorneys can realize that what they’re doing is a pretty mercenary task and can partition between that and life, but perhaps not everyone.

    In all, it has a lot in common with advertising, and both seem pretty similar to what many religious people do. (I say some since not all religions seem interested in recruiting.) Pastors are trying to get people to buy a product, and they succeed by making sales, and are going to use any means necessary to get those sales. I don’t think they consciously set out to manipulate people much of the time, but it’s a skill you either learn or else you fail at your job. This is why I don’t think atheists do well in debates with religious people; religious people go in to work the crowd, not necessarily to make a rational case.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      smrnda: Good points. I wish I’d added a few of those comparisons into the post.

    • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

      While I think your main point that we should all be aware of both our biases, and where we have a vested interest in a particular conclusion, there are a few points that need to be made.

      First of all, scientists are not necessarily the paragons of neutrality and open-mindedness that you seem to paint them. They often have a lot of emotional investment in their own hypotheses. Often in today’s world, there are also significant financial implications depending on whether a particular hypothesis can be substantiated. Check out the history of AC and DC electricity for a good example of how scientific thinking can be clouded by mixed motives.

      Also, there are those who function in a legal setting whose job is not adversarial. A judge or jury, for example, is tasked with weighing the evidence from both sides to determine to their best knowledge the correct conclusion. Many lawyers also function in mediation or reconciliation work, where their goal is anything but adversarial.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Karl: I agree with your points, but I think they are merely clarifications.

        Check out the history of AC and DC electricity for a good example of how scientific thinking can be clouded by mixed motives.

        Where scientists aren’t engaging in scientific thinking, then they aren’t engaged in scientific thinking. Yes, a tautology, but my point is that when scientific thinking is clouded, don’t blame the thinking process, blame the scientist or the environment.

        Also, there are those who function in a legal setting whose job is not adversarial.

        Yes. I think I made clear that I was talking about a lawyer in a courtroom.

        • Drewl

          Bob I don’t understand how you put such faith in a supra-human scientific discourse. This is the most explicit statement of dogmatic faith in the infallibility of science that I’ve seen, and this directly after a post recognizing that human reasoning likely has evolutionary defects. Who are these superhuman scientists who occupy this imaginary plane of infallible knowledge in your scientific fantasy?

          Wouldn’t it be easier to say that scientists, like religious people, like atheists, like all of us here, are subject to the same types of biases and poor reasoning that we should expect from all human-reasoning based endeavors? And do away with this pie-in-the-sky faith in some perfect form of an infallible scientific process that no human mind has ever tainted?

          I really just don’t understand your faith beliefs in the existence of this “pure” scientific thinking….particularly in the face of so much empirical evidence to the contrary. Perhaps you can help me suspend my demand for empirical evidence and take hold of the same strong faith that seems to be guiding you.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Last time I checked, the topic wasn’t the infallibility of science but a comparison of two different kinds of thinking.

          This is the most explicit statement of dogmatic faith in the infallibility of science that I’ve seen

          Perhaps you were reading a different post?

          Wouldn’t it be easier to say that scientists, like religious people, like atheists, like all of us here, are subject to the same types of biases and poor reasoning that we should expect from all human-reasoning based endeavors?

          In a post about biases or the limits of human reasoning, sure. I’ll make a note of this for when I write such a post, thanks.

        • Drewl

          Ah, no need to wait for such a post to appear, as you have written one above:

          Lawyer thinking feels natural. Our imperfect brains are saddled with biases—confirmation bias (noticing only the evidence that confirms what we already believe), for example. These biases make lawyer thinking a natural rut for us to fall into, but it begins with the conclusion rather than following the evidence where it leads.

          Admit to yourself when you adopt this view; don’t pretend to be thinking like a scientist. Too often, these two positions are conflated or confused.

          Hey, we all have biases. None of us enjoys being wrong, and each of us probably needs to rein in our lawyer thinking. That goes for me as well.

          I can underline all the parts that mention biases or the limits of human reasoning if that helps?

          I was responding to your faith-in-science views that you professed in your response to Karl, so again, this is the topic at hand, and you brought us here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I can underline all the parts that mention biases or the limits of human reasoning if that helps?

          Yes, the post talked about biases.

          Now, back to the point: “This is the most explicit statement of dogmatic faith in the infallibility of science that I’ve seen” (Drewl). How we jumped from “we have biases” to “science is infallible” I’ve missed. You must have a quicker mind than I do.

        • Drewl

          Ah, that would be when you stated your faith belief in a tautology: when scientific thinking is flawed, it’s not scientific thinking. Technically this is a form of begging the question. But these types of statements are very useful as expressions of beliefs in something being protected from empirical evidence to the contrary (and thereby dogmatically believed). For instance: If God didn’t answer a prayer, it simply wasn’t his will for it to happen! or If science contradicts the Bible then we know it’s bad science! or If religious belief leads to terrorism, we know it’s not true religious belief.

          You should rightfully find all those statements frustrating. That’s where I am with your faith statement.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Ah, that would be when you stated your faith belief in a tautology: when scientific thinking is flawed, it’s not scientific thinking.

          No, actually it was, “Where scientists aren’t engaging in scientific thinking, then they aren’t engaged in scientific thinking. Yes, a tautology, but my point is that when scientific thinking is clouded, don’t blame the thinking process, blame the scientist or the environment.”

          You can toss out random problems, but for it to be a problem in this post, you actually have to stay on the subject.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Sure, scientists are human and fallible. Nonetheless, the ideal exists that a scientist should be open to new data, should attempt to disprove her own ideas, etc. We can hope that at least some of the time, some of them come close to meeting those ideals.
          .
          Meanwhile, the idea for a defense attourney is to make the best case for her client, not to be dispassionate and logical. Perhaps a judge is expected to display those traits, and a public prosecutor also has some obligations to fairness, but not a defense attourney. Defense attourneys do not even have the ideal of being purely rational, so there is absolutely no erason to expect it of them.

        • Drewl

          Where scientists aren’t engaging in scientific thinking, then they aren’t engaged in scientific thinking.

          compared to…

          When scientific thinking is flawed, it’s not scientific thinking.

          You may charge that my reinterpretation of your statement is flawed (and that would likely lead to an engaging, thoughtful discussion, wouldn’t that be fun?), but your charge of drifting off subject here is reaching, to say the least.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          your charge of drifting off subject here is reaching, to say the least.

          Cool. Then respond to what I’ve said rather than what you imagine I’ve said or what you’d like me to have said. Everyone will be much happier–you won’t have to deal with me pointing out changes of subject, and I won’t have to rein you in.

          I can see world peace as a result of this new accord.

        • Drewl

          Still waiting for you to justify your belief in the purity of scientific thinking with a tautological statement of faith. Your response seems to be: “no justification needed.” Awesome. Well now we know. End of discussion.

      • smrnda

        True. I actually deal with lawyers a lot mostly just for consultation on how I should run my business, handle intellectual property and contracts and other such stuff. Bob was mostly doing the ‘courtroom lawyer’ thing so I went along with that. I mean, my interactions with lawyers are no different than my interactions with accountants, or marketing people. I deal with them just to get information that’s outside of my area of expertise.

    • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

      This is why I don’t think atheists do well in debates with religious people; religious people go in to work the crowd, not necessarily to make a rational case.

      Really?!
      I’ve listened to several debates where the atheist has clearly dropped a line to play to the crowd, whether it be a reference to the FSM, or calling Christianity a zombie religion, or one of the many old saws that get trotted out again and again. And it’s got nothing to do with what I think of the validity of such statements, the loud clapping and cheering after the statements is clear evidence that these lines are being given for the cheerleaders.

      Pastors are trying to get people to buy a product, and they succeed by making sales, and are going to use any means necessary to get those sales.

      While there are several pastors out there who resemble used car salesmen in the way they work, the vast majority will not “use any means necessary”.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        the vast majority will not “use any means necessary”.

        If you say so, but when one’s immortal soul is at stake, the ends do indeed justify the means from certain perspectives. If means were available that a pastor did not use, one would question his dedication to his job or his conviction that we really have a soul in the balance.

      • smrnda

        I should probably clarify what churches I went to. I’ve attended a few more traditional ones, and I’ve attended a number of Jewish religious services. They were mostly ritual or tradition, with very little attempt at persuasion.

        Then, just to find out what it was like, I went to a large evangelical church. They used lots of multimedia, lots of big, huge, well crafted emotional performances; they were much more working the crowd, with the idea of creating a huge, emotional moment when people will convert in a very visible fashion. The speaking style was more emotional – you had goofy speakers to get the crowd laughing in the beginning, speakers (pastors?) who seemed to specialize in being more sombre, and they would finish with the more tearful, emotional appeals.

        I don’t think these people sat down and thought ‘how do we use emotion, music and media to get people to join our club?’ I just think they will use what works.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t think these people sat down and thought ‘how do we use emotion, music and media to get people to join our club?’ I just think they will use what works.

          It’s an interesting irony when an evolution-denying church evolves to improve its pitch.

  • Drewl

    Very nice post, Bob. I have seen other patheos atheist blogs deal with the empirically-proven existence of confirmation bias as something the other guy needs to work through, not something that we high-minded atheists must trouble ourselves with. Watching the group that typically champions evolutionary theory declare themselves exempt from its implications (and thus outside the human evolutionary development process–amazing!) is always amusing. I’ve made this charge of your own thinking in the past, but here you’ve demonstrated the epistemological humility that I think we should all openly affirm.

    Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal. That’s a good quote to hold close in one’s dealing with people on any topic. It’s also particularly relevant to any pocket of the internet susceptible to hivemind consensus-forming, whether it be following a sports team, a religion, or atheism.

    I’ve shared this article before, but it makes the very critical point that we not only have blind spots but we are blind to our own blind spots.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303936704576397771567839728.html

    There is a larger issue here in recognizing the imperfections of human reasoning, as this proves threatening to foundationalist approaches to knowledge and rationality that Enlightenment thinkers championed. Much of this thinking lives on today in forms of logical positivism that underlies a lot of new atheist thought. I won’t develop this any further unless someone wants to engage it, but there is a tension in trying to acknowledge both empirically-proven cognitive defects (as Bob does above) and yet at the same time placing faith in individual human reasoning processes as the ultimate and final arbitrator of truth. Wikipedia awaits all who want to explore this tension…

    • avalon

      Drew,
      You presented a link to an article which you suggest invalidates the scientific method (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303936704576397771567839728.html).
      Just the opposite is true. When Mr. Gould decided to work alone to analyze Morton’s data he was practicing bad science. (“Because scientists are human and prone to error, empirical data is often gathered by multiple scientists who independently replicate experiments. This also guards against scientists who unconsciously, or in rare cases consciously, veer from the prescribed research parameters which could skew the results.”)

      When good scientific methods were used Gould’s flaws were revealed:
      “How, then, did Mr. Gould come to his harsh conclusion? According to the anthropologists, Mr. Gould was guilty of the very same flaw he saw in Morton. By reanalyzing Mr. Gould’s own analysis, they demonstrate that he cherry-picked data sets, misused statistics and ignored inconvenient samples. As the scientists note, “Ironically, Gould’s own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of a bias influencing results.”

      Mr. Gould working alone was not “multiple scientists who independently replicate experiments”. So his results could not be considered empirical evidence.
      Good article on how NOT to do science!

      avalon

      • Drewl

        I certainly didn’t say that the scientific method is invalidated. I wouldn’t say this, and anyone who does should be denied modern medicine and the use of modern technology until they come to their senses.

        In fact, I don’t see that I said anything about the scientific method. I liked what the article had to say about blindspots, and I agree with your reading that a more careful replication of experiments worked to overcome blindspots and improve knowledge. My point was to reinforce Bob’s original argument: in his words, our imperfect brains are saddled with biases. And believe it or not, scientists’ brains come from the same stock ours do.

        • Kodie

          That’s why they collaborate, and probably the most important reason to. Other people can see our mistakes better than we can. You should know.

  • avalon

    Drew,
    I think there’s a flaw is what you’re saying.
    1) You accept empirical evidence that human reasoning is flawed (“empirically-proven cognitive defects”).
    2) You “demand” empirical evidence (“Perhaps you can help me suspend my demand for empirical evidence…”)

    Where did the empirical evidence that human reasoning is flawed come from, if not from human reasoning? If, as you say, all human reasoning is flawed then there can be no “empirical” evidence of any sort; this includes evidence of flaws in reasoning. Saying you have evidence that human reasoning is flawed is like sawing off the tree limb you’re sitting on.
    But, if you accept that evidence obtained by mere humans can be empirical then, by extension, you accept that it’s possible for humans to reason in an unbiased way.

    Your “demand” for empirical evidence would suggest that you think it’s possible for humans to obtain unbiased evidence. What method would you suggest we use to obtain this unbiased evidence? Bob has suggested the scientific method.
    “The objective of science is that all empirical data that has been gathered through observation, experience and experimentation is without bias. The strength of any scientific research depends on the ability to gather and analyze empirical data in the most unbiased and controlled fashion possible. However, in the 1960s, scientific historian and philosopher Thomas Kuhn promoted the idea that scientists can be influenced by prior beliefs and experiences.
    Because scientists are human and prone to error, empirical data is often gathered by multiple scientists who independently replicate experiments. This also guards against scientists who unconsciously, or in rare cases consciously, veer from the prescribed research parameters which could skew the results.”
    http://www.livescience.com/21456-empirical-evidence-a-definition.html

    If a theist presents evidence based on revelation or metaphysical intuition do you count that as “empirical evidence’? Perhaps there’s some method of gathering and examining evidence that I’m unaware of. So please enlighten me, what method do you use to obtain empirical evidence?

    avalon

    • Reginald Selkirk

      If, as you say, all human reasoning is flawed…

      Were we not supposed to notice that insertion?

      • avalon

        Reginald Selkirk says: “Were we not supposed to notice that insertion?” in regards to my statement: “If, as you say, all human reasoning is flawed…”

        There’s no need for me to insert anything. See Drew’s post:
        Drewl says:
        December 13, 2012 at 1:52 am
        “Wouldn’t it be easier to say that scientists, like religious people, like atheists, like all of us here, are subject to the same types of biases and poor reasoning that we should expect from all human-reasoning based endeavors?”

        avalon

        • Reginald Selkirk

          “are subject to the same types of biases and poor reasoning that we should expect from all human-reasoning based endeavors?”
          ==>
          ““If, as you say, all human reasoning is flawed…”

          You skipped a few steps, and substituted the modifier for the object. This is so far off topic that I won’t pursue it further.

    • Drewl

      Ah very nice response avalon. Let me try to identify where I think you’re misreading my argument:

      If, as you say, all human reasoning is flawed then there can be no “empirical” evidence of any sort; this includes evidence of flaws in reasoning. Saying you have evidence that human reasoning is flawed is like sawing off the tree limb you’re sitting on.

      You have two misreadings here. First of all, my take–supported by the empirically-based cognitive research–is that all human reasoning is subject to flaws and biases. There is a large gap between that understanding and what you’re pushing: that all human reasoning is flawed. Why would we even reason right now if I thought everything we said was inherently flawed? And how would I trust the reasoning behind my belief that all human reasoning was flawed anyway–that’s flawed too! So no, I am not arguing what you think I am.

      Second misreading: the biases and flaws to which human reasoning is subject nullify the possibility of empirical readings of reality. No, absolutely not. For example: a mother is subject to biases related to describing her child’s intellectual capacities. Does this mean the mother is epistemologically incapable of arriving at any sort of knowledge of the child’s intellectual capacities–even when, say, starting at standardized test scores at a parent-teacher conference? No. Subject to biases? Yes, absolutely.

      So to apply this, the scientists who can show us studies of confirmation bias occurring–they themselves have brains prone to confirmation bias. You seem to think that would require me to dismiss their capacity to show us confirmation bias exists. I don’t see that such a conclusion is warranted from my recognition of the fallibility of human reasoning.

      Your “demand” for empirical evidence would suggest that you think it’s possible for humans to obtain unbiased evidence.

      (I’m loving that you cite Kuhn, in a previous point I raised the question of whether any living new atheist has ever read Kuhn–I am not the first person to point out the significant ignorance here. So hats off to you.)

      I was being slightly facetious in asking what evidence Bob had in his statement of faith-in/divinization-of science. But I think you’re collapsing two things into one. Yes, human reasoning is subject to cognitive flaws–I would also add it is also incredibly susceptible to–and can never completely escape–the culturally-bounded theories and values that underlie the scientific enterprise as a whole. So you could say I think it’s impossible to obtain empirical evidence that is not subject to particular biases and cultural prejudices. BUT: you also need to recognize I don’t have any problem relying on such empirical evidence, as is, nor am I bothered by such qualifiers. You seem to have me throwing out the baby with the bathwater here, I actually think we’re deceiving ourselves if we don’t keep both the baby and the bathwater, but only after we have an honest conversation about why the bathwater may not be perfectly ideal.

      As an example: if someone makes the argument Christianity is in significant decline with the rise of the internet (an argument made on here not long ago), I’ll gladly post empirical studies to refute that. The social scientist who ran those numbers is subject to all types of biases and cultural influences. I don’t care, I’d still validate his/her method (particularly if it appears to be replicable) and findings and, to take your point, I grant it even more authority if I know other social scientists have arrived at similar findings. I am not anti-empirical knowledge, or anti-science or anti-realism or anti-whatever else you see me slipping into. I hope that helps clarify some things.

      • avalon

        Hi Drew,
        Thanks for clarifying. I agree that science isn’t perfect (but scientists do have a desire to improve their methods). But, I don’t recall Bob making the claim that science was perfect. He is merely comparing two methods of gaining knowledge (scientists vs lawyers) and saying scientists are more likely to give you empirical evidence. In your search for empirical evidence without bias, which would you prefer?

        avalon

        • Drewl

          I think Bob actually is saying that science is perfect. I’m basing this off two major types of statements he loves to make that are meant to protect science’s pure and innocent perfection.

          Where scientists aren’t engaging in scientific thinking, then they aren’t engaged in scientific thinking. Yes, a tautology, but my point is that when scientific thinking is clouded, don’t blame the thinking process, blame the scientist or the environment.

          and from his creationist post:

          …when they advocate policy, they’re in the domain of policy. Science is “what is the truth?” and policy is “what do we do about it?”

          This is a man who clearly wants to preserve science as an ideal, pure form of reasoning and inquiry, apparently not susceptible to any sort of wrongdoing or contamination by cultural prejudice . It’s really a form of dualism.

          What’s interesting is how Bob’s argument and beliefs (with a notable lack of empirical evidence and a self-admitted tautology at the center) would actually leave him unable to criticize this hypothetical argument:

          The Catholic Church stands strongly against acts of violence and hatred against homosexuals, holds no tolerance for pedophilia, condemns antisemitism in all forms, embraces the theory of evolution, and stands committed to the full freedom of intellectual explorations that pursue truth over any form of dogmatism or close-mindedness. Any occurrence or place where these values have been violated is truly not in accordance with the religion of the Catholic Church.

          Hmm…sounds more “No True Scotsman-esque” when applied to something we aren’t so fond of, eh? And yet I’ve constructed this argument based on the Catholic Church’s official teaching and practice on all of those issues–I can provide sources if needed. I’m curious to hear some thoughts why one form of pie-in-the-sky idealism is acceptable while the other is dogmatic and selectively historical.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          I think Bob actually is saying that science is perfect.

          Science isn’t perfect. I’m glad I was able to resolve this knotty conundrum.

          - Bob

        • Drewl

          Ah, helpful. I’m noticing your posts seem to take a more blind-faith-in-scientific-triumphalism tone, while your comments often admit science is far more fallible, or “provisional” as you once said. Perhaps this marks an evolution in thinking for you? I notice many of your posts are recycled from a year ago.

          Although this doesn’t explain your scientific-purity tautology stated above, but I’ve concluded you’re just being upfront about the irrational basis of your beliefs. That’s something I’d applaud any atheist for doing.

        • avalon

          Hi Drew,
          I think perhaps you misunderstood what we’re saying.
          Bob said: “Where scientists aren’t engaging in scientific thinking, then they aren’t engaged in scientific thinking. Yes, a tautology, but my point is that when scientific thinking is clouded, don’t blame the thinking process, blame the scientist or the environment.”
          You think that means “I think Bob actually is saying that science is perfect. I’m basing this off two major types of statements he loves to make that are meant to protect science’s pure and innocent perfection.”
          But you linked to a page where we can (in Bob’s words) “blame the scientist” for not “engaged in scientific thinking”.
          Bob’s never claimed individual scientists are perfect, he’s saying the scientific method is designed to minimize bias with checks and cross-checks and blind experiments.
          You need to recognize the distinction between science as a method and the individual scientist as a person subject to bias.

          avalon

        • Drewl

          You seem to want it both ways. Science is not perfect, but it’s designed to minimize bias with checks and cross-checks and blind experiments. And yet you think there’s a distinction between the “method”–which you imply is not subject to bias–and the individual scientist, so perhaps science as a process is perfect?

          As I laid out in another thread, there is absolutely no question the scientific method, as carried out by the top scientists in their field, has not demonstrated a capacity to prevent the effects of bias, whether of individual scientists or cultural prejudice. Anyone with a decent knowledge of history recognizes that. Bob has admitted it’s messy and provisional. (At times this is packaged with faith in a sort of scientific determinism: “It always eventually figures things out!” which is probably not an empirically-verifiable statement, though it’s a perfectly fine faith statement.)

          So yes, I understand the idea the the process is “designed to minimize” the biases of individual scientists, just as airplanes are designed to minimize individual pilot error, but neither the historical practice of science nor the historical mechanical functioning of airplanes has anywhere close to a perfect, spotless record. So this whole mantra of always blaming the individual, biased scientist and preserving the infallibility of the scientific process is simply not an historically-supported view. Perhaps you can clarify if that’s what Bob wants to do? If so I’d call him either historically-under-educated or a man of great faith against evidence to the contrary.

          And there is still the lurking problem of this slipping into a “No TRUE Scientist” argument, which again, is going to look hypocritical if you protest a parallel “No TRUE Religious Person” argument used in the same manner.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          The only riddles are the ones you’ve invented I’m afraid.

          Your struggles to show that my beliefs are irrational have born no fruit. Maybe you should find another hobby.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          At times this is packaged with faith in a sort of scientific determinism: “It always eventually figures things out!” which is probably not an empirically-verifiable statement, though it’s a perfectly fine faith statement.

          No, science doesn’t always figure things out.

          Your overall goal seems to be something along the lines of, “Irrational for having faith, am I? Well … well … so are you!” and pull the atheist down to your level.

          I’d think that a stronger approach would be to celebrate faith in some way. Or maybe avoid the subject. Faith is useless to me, but to admit that it’s bad by arguing that the other guy has a similar faith doesn’t seem to be the best way to approach this.

          [not] anywhere close to a perfect, spotless record.

          And you’ve stumbled and lurched to the point where you’re saying the same thing about science that atheists do.

          It’s a war-on-Christmas miracle!

          So this whole mantra of always blaming the individual, biased scientist and preserving the infallibility of the scientific process is simply not an historically-supported view.

          Yeah, I don’t think that any of us say that the scientific process is infallible. I think you’ll have to find another dead horse to beat.

        • Drewl

          This is becoming a difficult conversation because you either communicate your stance poorly or are not recognizing its very rapid-evolution. Earlier your response to the possibility of science having “mixed motives” was: Where scientists aren’t engaging in scientific thinking, then they aren’t engaged in scientific thinking. Now it seems mixed motives can be part of scientific thinking after all. Brilliant, couldn’t you have said that earlier?

          In fact, you’ve developed your thinking quite significantly from your “How to Deal with a Creationist” post, as you don’t seem interested in defending science’s clean-hands purity as you did then. I’ll even go back further: the Bob of today says that science “doesn’t always figure things out” but the Bob of August, in his most scientific-triumphalism post of all time, stated: “A new scientific theory isn’t culturally specific, and, if it passes muster, it peacefully sweeps the world…there can be some not-invented-here thinking—scientists have egos, too—but this only slows the inevitable.”
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2012/08/why-map-of-world-religions-but-not-world-science/

          This was faith in scientific determinism at its finest! Yet now we have this new Bob who seems to have lost his schoolboy innocence about science sweeping truth peacefully around the globe like a preer-reviewed superstition-busting Santa Claus. And you haven’t even challenged my charge here that science can never completely escape cultural influence! Maybe your hours of research a day are paying off.

          So you’re right: I’ve been trying to argue with an older form of Bob who doesn’t seem to be showing up on this thread. I apologize for wasting everyone’s time. I eagerly await future posts that contain this more sophisticated thinking about science.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          This is becoming a difficult conversation

          Ah! It’s great to find a point of agreement.

          Your goal doesn’t seem to be to focus on the apologetics arguments I’m making, either pro or con. Rather, it seems to be a personal attack. How about if I just agree that, yes, I am a poopy-head, and we can move on?

          It’d be interesting to have your active mind focused instead on finding errors in my counter-apologetics, not whatever it is that has attracted your interest now.

          couldn’t you have said that earlier?

          I’ve seen no evolution of my thinking. Perhaps the change is your dropping an attack that hasn’t worked?

          the Bob of today says that science “doesn’t always figure things out” but the Bob of August, in his most scientific-triumphalism post of all time, stated …

          While it’s flattering to have my writing treated as canon, with you making points by quoting from this or that post like you’re quoting from the Bible, it’s unnecessary.

          This passion to show my inconsistency is odd. Maybe even a little stalker-ish? If you have an honest question about what I think, I can resolve it, but nothing seems to satisfy you since your agenda isn’t getting questions answered but showing me as inconsistent or whatever.

          This was faith in scientific determinism at its finest!

          Oh? I missed it. You’ll have to explain it to me.

          That quote says nothing about the correctness of the scientific consensus, just that “religious” convictions won’t prevent it from sweeping the scientific community. Interpret things in context, please.

          Yet now we have this new Bob who seems to have lost his schoolboy innocence about science sweeping truth peacefully around the globe

          The subject isn’t “truth.”

          I apologize for wasting everyone’s time.

          Yeah. Your witch hunt is definitely a waste of time.

          I eagerly await future posts that contain this more sophisticated thinking about science.

          Don’t hold your breath. I’m convinced that you won’t be satisfied with anything I write.

        • Drewl

          The difference between you and me is I think everyone’s beliefs should be held up to rational scrutiny, while you seem to think only religious people should be subjected to this. So you see yourself as an intellectual liberator of sorts in showing inconsistencies among religious believers, yet when someone does the same to your beliefs, you think it’s an “odd passion” and instead label it a personal attack verging on stalker-ish behavior.

          I would call this an inconsistency, but that’s just my odd passion speaking. So carry on.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          The difference between you and me is I think everyone’s beliefs should be held up to rational scrutiny, while you seem to think only religious people should be subjected to this.

          Wrong again.

  • smrnda

    I think one should contrast between ‘trusting science’ and ‘trusting scientists.’ When Karl Udy mentioned AC versus DC electricity, I had actually read a book about the rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse in which each sought to prove that their technology was superior simply to make more money. Though individual scientists aren’t infallible, science is done by a community. Though it might not happen instantly, bad ideas get weeded out eventually, provided someone gives the matter proper attention.
    A problem with that analogy is that Edison and Westinghouse weren’t really scientists, but engineers, the same way that doctors aren’t exactly scientists either, but I don’t think it matters too much for this discussion.

    As for Drew and slamming the scientific method, when he comes up with a better one that produces more tangible results, I’ll bother with the criticisms. Until then, the scientific method isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got. The other thing is that the scientific method acknowledges that people are biased. This is why you have experiments when the people who actually carry out the work of running the experiment and measuring results are blind to the hypothesis at times – since they don’t know what the hypothesis is, they won’t be able to be influenced by it. I mean, psychology has shown how people are biased, but this is just another bit of scientific evidence we use to improve the method.

    Also Drew, the name dropping or denouncing people for promoting ‘isms’ is no substitute for writing, in your own words, what you find wrong with a point.

    • Drewl

      I had a good laugh at your characterization of me “slamming the scientific method.” Somewhere between telling Bob he needed more empirical evidence for his beliefs and posting an article about scientists replicating experiments to improve scientific knowledge–as avalon wisely observes–apparently I had a whole science hate-fest on here.

      Your reading of science seems fair. Since you recognize scientists are not infallible, science isn’t perfect, and even the scientific community as a whole may only after a duration of time weed out bad ideas, perhaps you can join me in convincing Bob his pure, untainted scientific thinking may be far rarer than he wants to admit.

      • smrnda

        Sorry if I misunderstood you, but I think you’ve misunderstood Bob. I don’t think he ever said that the scientific method was infallible, just that’s it’s better than other methods mostly because it anticipates the fact that individual people are fallible. To me, he’s contrasting two methods of obtaining information and stating that one is more reliable, and I think his *point* is that the promotion of religion is more like the courtroom lawyer.

        My take on science is that it isn’t perfect, but it’s the best method we’ve got.

        • Drewl

          I would be in full support of the “science is fallible and far from perfect, but it’s the best method we’ve got for many things” conclusion. I think this steers us clear of the very anti-intellectual dogmas of a) science infallibility b) scientism (science is the only source of reliable knowledge) or c) science-worship or science-divinization.. All three of these things often appear in the belief systems of leading New Atheists, so if the atheist community here can avoid such dogmas, we’re in fine shape.

          Of course the next step is acknowledging the universal rejection of the faith-and-science conflict thesis among historians and academics. But I won’t hold my breath for that…

        • avalon

          Hi Drew,
          Drew said: “scientism (science is the only source of reliable knowledge)”

          What do you see as other sources of reliable (can we say empirical?) knowledge?

          Drew said: ” science-worship or science-divinization”

          Can you explain what these are?

          avalon

        • Drewl

          Scientism is believing the scientific process is the only reliable way to obtain knowledge about the world. It has several major problems, most notably being: a) Science itself is based upon presuppositions that cannot be scientifically verified. b) Our day-to-day lives simply are not conducted with a trust-only-science attitude, as we tend to trust common sense, intuition, the authority of others, the way things have happened in the past. c) The scientific process is incapable of proving some things that we tend to be quite fond of as modern thinkers, such as the existence of the subconsciousness, human dignity, human rights, the existence of our own mind/consciousness, the rules of logic, the existence of other people’s minds/consciousness, moral reasons not to go on shooting rampages, etc.

          So to answer your question, other reliable sources of knowledge are: our personal memories (I can’t run an experiment on where I was on January 2nd, 2012 but I have reliable knowledge about it), the authority of others, patterns of the past that we project on the future, intuitions (Bob has said he knows his moral beliefs through intuition, not science), practical custom passed down to us (we “know” how to greet someone, for instance)…there are many others.

          For science worship or science divinization: check out the Wikipedia article on Ideas of Progress, or google “Myth of Progress.” Then take a look at the definition of worship. Carl Sagan is an example here: if worship is defined as ” to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion” then Sagan was probably a science-worshipper. I imagine some people may object to this due to the “great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion” they feel toward Sagan…I’ll let them figure out what this means for themselves.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Science itself is based upon presuppositions that cannot be scientifically verified.

          What are these presuppositions?

          It is true that we can build mathematical or logical proofs using more primitive theorems, but working backwards, you are eventually at the axiom level–things we can’t prove with yet-more-primitive theorems.

          But these axioms aren’t taken on faith; we test them out. They’re axioms because they have passed every test.

          So to answer your question, other reliable sources of knowledge are: our personal memories (I can’t run an experiment on where I was on January 2nd, 2012 but I have reliable knowledge about it), the authority of others, patterns of the past that we project on the future…

          I wonder how far from science these actually are. There’s no laboratory, but testing, peer review, and repeatability are important in this domain, too. What would we call this larger domain that includes science–reason, perhaps?

        • Drewl

          There are a few different ways that science is built upon non-scientifically-verified presuppositions.

          Karl Popper, for instance, pointed that the the process of inductive thinking itself which underlies the scientific method makes a logical jump to say that any human observation (or multiple observations) of anything is necessarily indicative of anything pertaining to universalistic human knowledge. This seems rather obvious: you observe mitosis first in one cell, then another cell, then another cell. What you can say with certainty is that mitosis occurs that way in the three cells you observed. Yet what scientific theory does it expand these observations to a universalistic level. Is this a “wise” move for science? It seems reasonable, but if you take a moment to deconstruct your “it seems reasonable” notion, there’s nothing verifiable backing it up. So yes, you add more scientists, more observations, more variables, more types of cells…making a universalistic statement about knowledge seems all the more reasonable to us. But Popper pointed out: to have certainty of a universal phenomenon requires not just a seemingly reasonable number of cases observed, it requires a positive finding in every case, most of which remain forever in the inaccessible future. So we never get certainty from science. But you’re thinking: “Yeah but that’s just being pedanctic, I’m comfortable to trust X number of cases observed in Y number of conditions with Z number of failsafe checks in the process–that will produce some pretty darn good knowledge.” And yet Popper’s response is: Okay, sounds fine, but can you empirically ground this “comfortable level” of getting some “pretty darn good knowledge”? The answer is, no. To test your comfortable-observation-level threshold even once we’d need an observation of EVERY CASE of something, including those in the future (Popper is merging with some of Hume’s arguments here). We’ve never had that, so we’ve got this untested presupposition right in the middle of scientific induction that all scientific knowledge passes through.

          Other theorists have noted that science is built upon a rather arbitrary or theoretically underdeveloped standard of accepting or rejecting a hypothesis. In brief, all experimentation relies upon statistical measure to determine not whether any hypothesis is true, but rather the null hypothesis can be probabilistically rejected. Many many many theorists have questioned not only the arbitrary threshold at which that “probabilistically rejected” falls (think p-values here if you’ve taken statistics), but the entire process of arriving at scientific knowledge in this way. I’ll just link to a Wikipedia article here:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_hypothesis_testing#Controversy

          Finally, the logical positivism that animates science runs into a problem that Bob demonstrates quite well. He claims But these axioms aren’t taken on faith; we test them out. They’re axioms because they have passed every test. The problem with this is, while you think you’ve dug down to the very core foundation of knowledge here to find some hard undoutable ground, you still need axioms to draw upon to make those conclusions. How should we test axioms? What standards determine the threshold at which an axiom passes a test? Or most fundamentally, why are tested axioms better than untested axioms? Anthony Kenny, an atheist philosopher, states this beautifully:

          Logical positivists proclaimed the verification principle: meaningful propositions were either analytical or capable of verification or falsification by experience. However, the verification principle itself was neither analytic nor empirical. Accordingly, it had to be meaningless.

          So Kenny would recognize you have the verification principle worked into how you approach axioms, yet this principle doesn’t meet your criteria for axioms because it can’t be tested. You want to make your primary claim that other claims should be subject to “testing, peer review, and repeatability” but you can’t hold your primary claim to the standard you propose for your other claims. Something smells non-verifiable.

          That is only a brief journey into the philosophy of science. No one in this field has any sort of faith-agenda, but all of them are quite fond of showing us the very foundations on which our “rational” perspective of the world are built are not in fact that rational or logical and certainly not verifiable through experimentation. Of course, I think most people’s reaction is to dismiss this as silly hair-splitting theoretical musing and fall back on several “well of course we have limit x…” or “well of course our knowledge should be qualified by y and z…”…

          Those of-course statements are the presuppositions you were asking about.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          But Popper pointed out: to have certainty of a universal phenomenon

          Who argues certainty using science? Not me.

          In fact, if we consult the Book of Bob®, and turn to the 8/13/12 entry, we read:

            Understand that science can get it wrong and that its pronouncements are always provisional.

          And, from 6/21/12,

            Science is always provisional.

          Let us now pray …

          Other theorists have noted that science is built upon a rather arbitrary or theoretically underdeveloped standard

          Are you getting at anything here? How about arguing why Christianity is true? That would be a little more on target.

          This seems rather like the Zeno-esque claim that you can’t bounce a ball, because before it gets to the floor it has to get halfway there, and then it has to get halfway of the remaining distance, and so on.

          “Flawless reasoning,” agrees the listener as he bounces his ball against the floor.

          And whatever it is you’re saying by channeling Popper is also compelling and reasoned flawlessly … as we communicate via the internet, using electronics built on quantum physics, using a monitor built with chemistry, and everything else that our science-saturated world has given us. As nervous as Popper might make us, science seems nevertheless to deliver.

          you’ve dug down to the very core foundation of knowledge here to find some hard undoutable ground

          Are you reading my stuff? What’s undoubtable? Nothing that I’m aware of.

          How should we test axioms?

          Reductio ad absurdum. Assume it works and see if the edifice you build from it collapses. Or test it directly. Does 1 + 1 = 2 work for rocks? For fruit? For people? After enough tests, our confidence increases.

          Are these just rhetorical questions? Surely you’d answer them in roughly the same way.

          the very foundations on which our “rational” perspective of the world are built are not in fact that rational or logical and certainly not verifiable through experimentation.

          And are you actually making a point—that science is useless, perhaps? We shouldn’t be all that confident in science? What?

        • Drewl

          Oh yes, I would probably answer all these questions in the same way as you. We still all use science and the achievements of science, I just think it’s foolish to march around praising the accolades of its objectivity and certainty once we see how the sausage is really made. But perhaps you never did this in your mind?

          But if you’re going to continue to play this “Oh I have always believed that!” game long enough, when are you going to admit that your belief system, built on…

          untested assumptions
          logical fallacies (returning to your self-recognized tautology)
          less-than-certain scientific knowledge
          entirely doubtable claims
          non-scientific intuitions

          ..bears far more resemblance to people you consider “religious” than what you’re comfortable with? You still have a squeamishness to the F word (faith) that doesn’t make any sense if there are untested assumptions at the bottom of your belief system.

          I should warn you: most of the things you’ve professed in this thread are not things that Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris would back you up on, so you’re on some uncharted atheist ground here. Perhaps you’re escaping some of the -isms that most new atheist profess…I generally can’t tell until your actual posts, when your dogmatic beliefs are stated far more confidently without all the qualifiers and me-too’s that you’re providing here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          We still all use science and the achievements of science, I just think it’s foolish to march around praising the accolades of its objectivity and certainty once we see how the sausage is really made.

          The results of science are fantastic and almost incredible. The scientific method is far, far better than using faith to ground one’s thinking. And yet science is wrong sometimes, scientists do bad things, and the fruits of science can be used for bad purposes.

          Are we all on the same page? If so, I’m not sure why all the energy behind this topic.

          As for the sausage, what is your view? Perhaps you could stop your hysterical witch hunt and just straighten us out. Science is a messy, flawed process, and therefore … ?

          But if you’re going to continue to play this “Oh I have always believed that!” game long enough

          1. You’ve yet to provide the contradiction that (so far) exists only in your mind.

          2. We’ve already agreed that I’m a poopy-head, so you can declare victory and move on.

          when are you going to admit that your belief system, built on…untested assumptions

          As I’ve stated, axioms are testable. We test them every time we rely on them, and we discard them once that trust proves flawed.

          What are my untested assumptions?

          You still have a squeamishness to the F word (faith)

          That’s true. Where do I apply faith?

          most of the things you’ve professed in this thread are not things that Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris would back you up on

          Am I breaking union rules? Will I be excommunicated?

          And, back to my earlier post, do you want to tell us what your point in all this is? Tell us your view of science?

          With all the agreement going on, I doubt there’s much disagreement left.

        • Drewl

          This gets pretty simple…if you’re going to say this:
          As I’ve stated, axioms are testable. We test them every time we rely on them, and we discard them once that trust proves flawed.

          …(notice the test here is not “science” but a test of experience, unless there’s a peer-review journal on foundational axioms of belief systems I don’t know about)…

          …what will you say to a person whose foundational axioms a) seem to comply with common sense, like yours b) follow the “assume it works and see if the edifice you build from it collapses” principle just like you do, c) are doubtable, just like you say yours are, and d) are discarded once they have proved flawed, just like yours are…

          and yet…

          this person’s axioms….

          might possibly be…(wait for it, this is going to scare you)
          .
          …in alignment with some traditional religious belief system?

          I assume that such a person, regardless of how much they approach their foundational axioms exactly like you do, solely because said axioms happen to bear resemblance of a religious belief system, would immediately provoke condemnations of “irrational!”,”dogmatic!”,” anti-scientific!” from you. Yet you’re both going through life without complete certainty, experientially testing axioms against your sense of reality (whether a transcendent-infused reality or an entirely immanent reality) for their utility and veracity, discarding beliefs that don’t seem to work, selectively employing scientific methods where appropriate and possible, but ultimately stringing together beliefs that seem to “work” best for you?

          From the very beginning I’ve hypothesized that your opposition to religion is based on nothing but “non-scientific” personal prejudices and biases disguised as high-minded rational and “scientific” objections. Now that you’ve conceded that you yourself lack undoubtable knowledge or scientific certainty AND recognize your most basic beliefs must be first “assumed” (aka on faith, the dreaded F word) only to be tested post hoc without clear a priori standards to measure them against AND you still haven’t budged off your logically-irrational faith-in-scientific-thinking belief….well my hypothesis is looking better and better. Strange that in the midst of all my science-bashing I’m testing a hypothesis right here.

          You won’t agree with any of this of course, and I have taken us off topic, so this will be my last response to you on this thread. We’re probably both lawyer-logic-ing at this point anyway, although you enjoy calling my logic “personal attacks,” which is unfortunate. Well in any case, it’s been fun.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          …in alignment with some traditional religious belief system?

          Uh, OK.

          Yet you’re both going through life without complete certainty

          Somehow, the scientist’s “not complete certainty” and the believer’s “not complete certainty” strike me as being very different things.

          As has been said, the believer has certainty without evidence, and the atheist has evidence without certainty (or something like that).

          From the very beginning I’ve hypothesized that your opposition to religion is based on nothing but “non-scientific” personal prejudices and biases disguised as high-minded rational and “scientific” objections.

          Yep, just prejudice and bias; not evidence or argument behind it.

          Now that you’ve conceded that you yourself lack undoubtable knowledge or scientific certainty

          “Conceded”? Wrong again.

          AND recognize your most basic beliefs must be first “assumed” (aka on faith, the dreaded F word)

          Nope, not on faith.

          you still haven’t budged off your logically-irrational faith-in-scientific-thinking belief

          Faith? No–trust.

          And you have yet to state your position on science. Perhaps it’s embarrassing? I wonder if it’s much different from mine.

          this will be my last response to you on this thread

          There IS a god!

  • J-Rex

    This is why Lee Strobel annoys me. I haven’t read A Case for Christ, but I’ve watched the movie and read some student version of it in small groups (another thing that made me realize that Christianity doesn’t have any evidence because I would expect to see it in a book about the evidence for Christianity).
    He always talks about how he was a lawyer, so that makes his investigation so totally unbiased. No…that just means that he knows how to argue to support what he wants to prove. If being a lawyer makes your argument totally legit, then I guess Casey Anthony really is innocent…

    • Bob Seidensticker

      That frustrates me about Strobel as well. He is always introduced as having been this tough-minded skeptic, but then his books are always one-sided presentations of his “search.”

      I don’t mind a book from just one side of the issue, but don’t tell me that you’re doing an objective survey.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Cape Fear – in which Max Cady, an ex-convict, stalks Sam Bowden, his defense attourney, because Bowden did not do a good job of representing him in court.

    Sam Bowden: “A lawyer should represent his client… ”
    Max Cady: “Should ZEALOUSLY represent his client within the bounds of the law.” I find you guilty, counselor! Guilty of betrayin’ your fellow man! Guilty of betrayin’ your country and abrogatin’ your oath! Guilty of judgin’ me and sellin’ me out!…

  • IB Bill

    To paraphrase Casey Stengel, it’s a fact, you can look it up. Whatever is, it’s there whether we have an opinion on it or not. If it’s a fact, it is or isn’t. Now, just because it’s a fact, doesn’t mean it lends itself to human inquiry. Or what we can find out always lends itself to counter-arguments. Then we sort of intuit, well, it seems to me that the truth is more on this side than that side.

    That’s why we have a jury system. In our justice system, we figure, OK, if 12 people can look at all the evidence and that 12 of 12 intuit beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, then our legal system makes a fact determination that he’s guilty. But it doesn’t, in fact, mean he’s guilty. It just means that this is the best way we know of to make that determination.

    Similarly, scientists seek to prove themselves wrong. They come up with hypotheses and then design tests to prove the hypotheses wrong. Let’s drop two different weighted balls from a tower. Oops, they hit the ground at the same time. We can intuit, but we test.

    Problem is, with the inquiry into God, we can’t really test for God. The only way believers tell you to know God is to have faith. An atheist points out that’s a tautology: Believe in God and you’ll believe in God. A believer will offer — yes, go with it for a moment, then the miracle happens. An atheist points out that’s confirmation bias. A believer says OK, but really, there’s something happening there that goes beyond confirmation bias. An atheist says, oh no, mysticism. What about contradictory mystical experiences from different religions? A believer then says something like, well, there’s God and Satan, and mine’s real and the rest are delusions or not as complete, and there are also commonalities in mystical experience. The atheist says, well, isn’t that convenient. How do you know yours is correct? The believer replies, faith. The atheist takes a stiff shot of single-malt Scotch and says, are you friggin’ kidding me!!!!!!! The believer replies, well, actually, no. Would you like a hug? Come on in, the water’s fine. The atheist says, I don’t believe you’re making this argument. The believer says, OK, doesn’t the fact that there are varieties of religious experiences and a history of mysticism actually indicate that there is something there, that we’re not just all making it up? The atheist says … (actually, I don’t know the answer to that one.)

    But no matter who argues their point better, either God is or isn’t. In the end, each side does an “intuit” thing where you say, it seems to me … it’s kind of an act of faith either way. Of course, that argument lends itself to a counter-argument that, well, hey, wait, there are studies that show that intuitions are actually algorithmic thinking sped up, kind of a brain macro, and are subject to a whole host of cognitive biases. Which makes me wonder how any of us get through a day without going mad :)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Bill:

      In the end, each side does an “intuit” thing where you say, it seems to me … it’s kind of an act of faith either way.

      I’m not sure it’s as parallel as that. We simply don’t have reason to believe in God, just like we don’t have reason to believe in unicorns or leprechauns. Therefore, we don’t believe in all three (at least if we’re consistent).

      We go where the evidence points. No evidence? Then we don’t go there.

      • IB Bill

        Do you believe there is no evidence of God?

        • Reginald Selkirk

          1) Which god? Do you believe there is evidence for Thor, Zeus, Vishnu, and Tezcatlipoca?
          2) What is the quality of the evidence? It would be too generous to say that the methods of evidence-gathering used by religions are not known to be reliable. It is actually much worse: the methods of evidence-gathering used by religions are known to be unreliable.
          a) We know that ancient scriptures are not a reliable source of evidence. You yourself probably do not consider Hindu scriptures to be reliable.
          b) We know that personal experience is not a reliable form of evidence. There are plenty of people who think they have seen God, or are God, in insane asylums. And if you have a personal religious experience, you can’t share that with me. I don’t get the experience myself, I just get your story. And then I have to consider the possibility that your story is unreliable. Because people do lie.
          c) Reports of miracles are not reliable. You probably do not consider reports of Hindu miracles to be reliable. And God hates amputees.

          So, if you think that there is evidence for God, you need to explain to me why I should think that it is reliable.

      • Drewl

        …Yet you profess that an empirically-unverified tautology underlies your faith and trust in the purity of scientific reasoning. What happened to “No evidence? We don’t go there.” for that one?

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Drewl: … an empirically-unverified tautology underlies your faith and trust in the purity of scientific reasoning

          What the bleep are you running on about? There is plenty of empirical evidence that scientific reasoning works.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      IB Bill: Problem is, with the inquiry into God, we can’t really test for God…

      That depends on what your definition of “God” is. There have been many, many gods proposed over the course of human history. Gods used to make volcanoes erupt and rain fall. It is only with the rise of science that God has become nebulous and unknowable.
      But even most of the gods put forth today can be tested. Intercessory prayer for healing has been put to the test in numerous scientific experiments, as one example. In every case in which the study was large enough to be statistically meaningful, and the experimental protocol well-designed, the result has been negative. Except for two studies which reported positive results but were fraudulent (Elisabeth Targ, and the Columbia prayer study).

      IB Bill: The believer says, OK, doesn’t the fact that there are varieties of religious experiences and a history of mysticism actually indicate that there is something there, that we’re not just all making it up? The atheist says … (actually, I don’t know the answer to that one.)

      The atheist says that the variety of incompatible religious experiences indicates that most religions must be false. If there are, say 10000 incompatible religious explanations, at least 9999 of them must be false. So the likelihood of any one explanation being correct is very small, and even the theist agrees with the atheist about the 9999 explanations which are not his own.
      The atheist also points out that your second point – that mysticism is widespread, therefore God – not just fallacious, it is perverse. You are trying to claim that belief in the volcano god and the rain god are somehow evidence for the existence of whichever god you are pushing. That’s chutzpah.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      IB BIll: well, hey, wait, there are studies that show that intuitions are actually algorithmic thinking sped up, kind of a brain macro, and are subject to a whole host of cognitive biases. Which makes me wonder how any of us get through a day without going mad.

      But we can actually study perceptual and cognitive biases. We can design illusions that reproduce biases, and manipulate them to understand the basis of the bias. In some cases (e.g. Monty Hall problem) we can apply maths which very clearly show us the correct answer, in spite of the illusion. We can run simulations to verify the correct answer empirically.
      Knowing about these various illusions and biases, we can design experiments to avoid them. The situation is not all all so throw-up-your-hands hopeless as you make it out to be. If you are not the sort of person who can recognize and compensate for biases, then perhaps you should leave science to others.

    • smrnda

      My feeling on god or gods (which I’ve expressed before) is that the whole god thing is not open to any form of systematic inquiry, so I completely dismiss it as another claim that I’m not going to waste my time with, particularly when it’s so clear that religious belief is a totally unfalsifiable experience – you pray and the gods say nothing, it’s not proof they don’t care, you pray and get something, and the gods care.

      I will admit thae histories of these things because most people throughout history were pretty ignorantt you can look at the personal experiences of religious people, but I never really see much that’s particularly desirable or persuasive. I see people get the same buzz of non-religious things, and most people who find happiness in religion are probably really just finding it in community and then, out of a sense of obligation, admitting they’re there because of some god.

      My problem with mysticism is that it doesn’t produce clear statements that I can evaluate – it seems like a system of using vague, obfuscating language to give the appearance of substance where there is none. Since nothing is said precisely, nothing can be refuted, and the mystic can always claim that I’m just not getting it.

    • avalon

      IB Bill says:”Then we sort of intuit, well, it seems to me that the truth is more on this side than that side.
      That’s why we have a jury system. In our justice system, we figure, OK, if 12 people can look at all the evidence and that 12 of 12 intuit beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty,”

      avalon: If I ever need a jury I hope they’re using logic and reason, NOT intuition!

      IB Bill says:”In the end, each side does an “intuit” thing where you say, it seems to me … it’s kind of an act of faith either way.”

      avalon: No, it’s not. Intuition doesn’t have to be logical. Reason does.

      avalon

  • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

    Apologetics is religious lawyering.

    • Drewl

      Agreed. Atheist apologetics and religious apologetics alike. Not sure why Bob and others spend time watching these staged “debates”: it’s just lawyer-logic in the form of a well-oiled, crowd-pleasing performance.

  • Jason

    Bob,
    FYI, your scientist/lawyer pair is basically the same thing as the ancient debate between philosophy and rhetoric. The former aims at truth and the latter at persuasion. Plato illustrated this distinction with a doctor and a cook. A doctor wants to help you get better (i.e. tell you the truth) even if it hurts and you don’t want to hear it. A cook just wants you to think his food tastes good and could care less if it helps you or is objectively good.

  • avalon

    Hi Drew,
    Thanks for your replies. I’ve combined them for ease of communication.
    Drew: “You seem to want it both ways. Science is not perfect, but it’s designed to minimize bias with checks and cross-checks and blind experiments. And yet you think there’s a distinction between the “method”–which you imply is not subject to bias–and the individual scientist, so perhaps science as a process is perfect?”

    avalon: You seem to want to argue with something I haven’t said. To repeat, “I agree that science isn’t perfect (but scientists do have a desire to improve their methods).” As Kodie said, “That’s why they collaborate, and probably the most important reason to. Other people can see our mistakes better than we can.”

    Drew: “As I laid out in another thread, there is absolutely no question the scientific method, as carried out by the top scientists in their field, has not demonstrated a capacity to prevent the effects of bias, whether of individual scientists or cultural prejudice.”

    avalon: And yet you link to an article that shows how multiple scientists examining data detected the bias of a single scientists work. And you agreed it worked! So tell me please, who wants to have it both ways?

    Drew::So yes, I understand the idea the the process is “designed to minimize” the biases of individual scientists, just as airplanes are designed to minimize individual pilot error, but neither the historical practice of science nor the historical mechanical functioning of airplanes has anywhere close to a perfect, spotless record. So this whole mantra of always blaming the individual, biased scientist and preserving the infallibility of the scientific process is simply not an historically-supported view. Perhaps you can clarify if that’s what Bob wants to do? If so I’d call him either historically-under-educated or a man of great faith against evidence to the contrary.”
    avalon: Needless arm-waving since that’s not what’s being said.

    Drew: “Scientism is believing the scientific process is the only reliable way to obtain knowledge about the world. ”
    avalon: Are we talking empirical knowledge or just any old sort of knowledge?

    Drew: “It has several major problems, most notably being: a) Science itself is based upon presuppositions that cannot be scientifically verified.”
    avalon: Like math?

    Drew: “b) Our day-to-day lives simply are not conducted with a trust-only-science attitude, as we tend to trust common sense, intuition, the authority of others, the way things have happened in the past.”
    avalon: I see we’re not in the realm of empirical knowledge anymore. Common sense can be proven wrong empirically with science (Monty Hall problem). Intuition is just a feeling, so it’s not an empirical way to obtain knowledge. The authority of others should always be examined in a critical way. And “the way things have happened in the past” is a good description of the laws of physics, so that counts as science.

    Drew: “c) The scientific process is incapable of proving some things that we tend to be quite fond of as modern thinkers, such as the existence of the subconsciousness, human dignity, human rights, the existence of our own mind/consciousness, the rules of logic, the existence of other people’s minds/consciousness, moral reasons not to go on shooting rampages, etc.”
    avalon: “some things that we tend to be quite fond of” would indicate an emotional attachment to certain things, not empirical evidence that you demand. The existence of the subconsciousness is pretty easy to prove with science; that is, if you really have an interest in looking into it. Human dignity, human rights are emotional issues and science can explain why we have those emotions (and why some people don’t) and how they work in our brains. The existence of our own mind/consciousness is one of my favorite science topics. Thanks to lots of reading on the topic, I have a very good handle on consciousness. Anyone could do the same. The rules of logic: see the rules of math above. The existence of other people’s minds/consciousness: questioning this is philosophical masturbation, fun to do but ultimately lonely. Moral reasons not to go on shooting rampages (see emotions above).

    Drew: “So to answer your question, other reliable sources of knowledge are: our personal memories”
    avalon: You have empirical evidence that personal memories are reliable? That seems to be disproven by science.

    Drew: “the authority of others”
    avalon: But not scientific authorities, right? They’re subject to bias?

    Drew: “patterns of the past that we project on the future”
    avalon: Which describes the laws of physics.

    Drew: “intuitions (Bob has said he knows his moral beliefs through intuition, not science)”
    avalon: Yes, and Bob understands the emotional basis of his intuitions and where those emotions come from. Science explains that.

    Drew: “practical custom passed down to us (we “know” how to greet someone, for instance)”
    avalon: Now you’re just grasping at straws…

    avalon

  • Drewl

    avalon: And yet you link to an article that shows how multiple scientists examining data detected the bias of a single scientists work. And you agreed it worked! So tell me please, who wants to have it both ways?

    This is borderline amusing: science “worked” once, so you think it’s problematic that I can affirm both that it “worked” once while also noting it doesn’t work all the time? And aren’t you and Bob now profusely nodding your heads to my historical examples of science not working in the past? So I think everyone here is saying “Wow, science worked really well in the Wall Street Journal article!” and also “Wow, science still contained biases and cultural prejudices and failed to arrive at accurate knowledge in historical cases x, y, and z.” We’ve all having it both ways; there’s no problem here.

    avalon: I see we’re not in the realm of empirical knowledge anymore.

    I think everything else in your post simply demonstrates we are operating off of two different understandings of ‘empirical.” You seem to think empirical knowledge is only that which is obtained through experimentation, I include both experimentation and observation, which follows Wikipedia’s definition. Observation would entail everything that I’ve listed here, which is knowledge gained through the senses of the outside world. The phenomenology tradition–not at all driven by religion–probably made this case the strongest in pointing out how much “stock knowledge” or “common sense” we operate on every day that is not scientifically verified in any sense. So intuitions are empirical knowledge: if your friend calls and you get a sense from her voice that she is emotionally distraught, you have intuitional empirical knowledge–not an experimentally-tested, peer-reviewed hypothesis-tested scientific knowledge–that something is wrong. If all the cars in front of you are tapping their brakes around a curve, you have common sense empirical knowledge, based on previous observation, there may be a police officer ahead.

    “Authority of others” means you trust other people for knowledge you can’t have personally. You don’t have personal knowledge of the failure rate of the stoplight you drive through most regularly, and you’ve also never done laboratory-based empirical testing of that stoplight. But you trust that someone has certified it and it’s reliable; you’ve probably never even contemplated its failure rate because of how taken-for-granted this empirical knowledge is. You also trust when your family tells you where they’ll be for Christmas that they’re telling the truth; you’re taking that on trust. For the present discussion, scientism would try to convince us this knowledge isn’t reliable. The way that we all live our lives would suggest we’re quite okay with it.

    I don’t think I need to say more; our definitional differences in what empirical knowledge is drove most of your comment, so that will need to be settled. I’ll use my favorite catchphrase: go read wikipedia.

    • avalon

      Hi Drew,
      Drew: “This is borderline amusing: science “worked” once, so you think it’s problematic that I can affirm both that it “worked” once while also noting it doesn’t work all the time? And aren’t you and Bob now profusely nodding your heads to my historical examples of science not working in the past? So I think everyone here is saying “Wow, science worked really well in the Wall Street Journal article!” and also “Wow, science still contained biases and cultural prejudices and failed to arrive at accurate knowledge in historical cases x, y, and z.” We’ve all having it both ways; there’s no problem here.”

      avalon: After your last post I have a much better handle on where you’re coming from.
      For me, the bottom line is this: science isn’t perfect, but when I compare the scientific method with the religious methods of revelation and intuition; I find that science has corrected many religious errors and corrected itself as well. But I don’t know of a single time when religion ever corrected science. Now you can play mind games and say that doesn’t prove it won’t ever happen or you can call into question the rules of logic, but that’s just wishful thinking.
      It seems you’ve taken Luther’s advise:
      “We know that reason is the Devil’s harlot, and can do nothing but slander and harm all that God says and does…Therefore keep to revelation and do not try to understand” Martin Luther

      avalon

      • Drewl

        Heh Luther had some crazy thoughts. I actually stick closely with the secular-minded post-Enlightenment philosophers when it comes to human reasoning and science–I don’t know that I want to or need to read any religious-minded thinkers on the subject.

        I have no problem with the observation that science has corrected religious belief far more than religious belief has corrected science. But I’d want you to produce some sources on what exactly a “religious method” is. Keep in mind that religious thinkers gave us the scientific method, as much as that seems strange to our modern enlightened thinking. Bacon, Newton, Galileo, as well as Muslim scholars, mathematicians, and astronomers before them, were all in their minds seeking truth and knowledge about the world in a way that fell squarely within their very religious-minded worldviews. So the originators of the scientific method would be puzzled if you tried to set up their method against a “religious method.” Again, this gets back to the universal rejection of the “conflict thesis” among historians–the religion-and-science conflict exists not so much in history as in the minds of angry new atheists.

        That said, I would guess you have in mind a “religious method” of trying to answer an empirical question (such as, is the earth’s temperature rising?) with prayer, reading of scripture, and waiting for a divinely-inspired intuition to lead you to the correct answer. I’d agree that’s foolish, but I’m blanking on any religious tradition that champions the “religious method” over the scientific method in all situations. Even the Amish–hardly known for being on the cutting edge of science– in their carpentry will test hypotheses, take careful measurement, observe variation, induct general principles, apply knowledge from previous experimentation–they’re not sitting around praying about how to build furniture. So we probably agree the prayer-and-revelation approach would be pretty foolish for a lot of cases, but do you see that any particular religion insists on that approach in every case?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Again, this gets back to the universal rejection of the “conflict thesis” among historians–the religion-and-science conflict exists not so much in history as in the minds of angry new atheists.

          It’s in the mind of the “angry new” atheists simply because they are responding to the anti-science attitudes among many protestant theologians and politicians. It’s not an action, it’s a reaction.

        • Drewl

          Ah, responding to anti-intellectualism with your own form of anti-intellectualism. Interesting strategy.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          No–just responding to anti-intellectualism with science. Not a crazy idea.

          Does this “interesting strategy” seem flawed? Should those who reject science be ceded the floor, or should we respond. I’ve heard both arguments.

        • Drewl

          It’s “scientific” to be ignorant of history? Please, say more….

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ?? Uh, no, it’s not “scientific” to be ignorant of history. I’d say more if I could figure out what you’re talking about.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Drewl: Keep in mind that religious thinkers gave us the scientific method… Again, this gets back to the universal rejection of the “conflict thesis” among historians–the religion-and-science conflict exists not so much in history as in the minds of angry new atheists.

          We’ll wait here while you go read up on the Genetic Fallacy. Next application: Jesus H. Christ was a Jew, therefore it is silly to imply that any conflict could have ever arisen between Judaism and Christianity.

        • Drewl

          Take it up with the historians; it’s not my argument. Wikipedia awaits your insightful corrections.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Failure to offer a cogent response noted.

  • Drewl

    I’m sorry, I read your first response as a defense for ignorance among new atheists concerning the “conflict thesis.”

    With religious people being so stupid, how else could new atheists react but with a false conception of history? They had no choice!

    So you were not making that argument? Then I don’t know what you were saying, sorry.

    • avalon

      Hi Drew,
      Drew: “what will you say to a person whose foundational axioms a) seem to comply with common sense, like yours b) follow the “assume it works and see if the edifice you build from it collapses” principle just like you do, c) are doubtable, just like you say yours are, and d) are discarded once they have proved flawed, just like yours are…
      and yet…
      this person’s axioms….
      might possibly be…(wait for it, this is going to scare you)
      .…in alignment with some traditional religious belief system?”

      avalon: Religious systems don’t start with axioms, they need ASSUMPTIONS instead. For religious interpreters of the bible there are four:
      1. The bible is a divinely-given text
      2. It contains no contradictions or mistakes
      3. It is a book of lessons that apply today
      4. It is cryptic in nature

      Drew: “I have no problem with the observation that science has corrected religious belief far more than religious belief has corrected science. But I’d want you to produce some sources on what exactly a “religious method” is.”

      avalon: The religious method is to take the above assumptions and then make sure all your reasoning conforms to it. Reject any reasoning which is contrary to those assumptions.

      Drew: “Keep in mind that religious thinkers gave us the scientific method, as much as that seems strange to our modern enlightened thinking. Bacon, Newton, Galileo…seeking truth and knowledge about the world in a way that fell squarely within their very religious-minded worldviews. …the religion-and-science conflict exists not so much in history as in the minds of angry new atheists.”

      avalon: Galileo 1633 found guilty of heresy and imprisoned based on a biblical argument. 1758 (125 yrs later!) books advocating heliocentrism removed from list of forbidden books. 1820-1835 books endorsing heliocentrism still not endorsed completely by the church. Feb. 15, 1990 “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune” ( Cardinal Ratzinger quoting Paul Feyerabend). 2000: pope apologizes to Galileo (367 years after the fact!).
      I’d say Galileo was very much aware of the conflict and it wasn’t atheists who were angry.

      avalon

      • Drewl

        Religious systems don’t start with axioms, they need ASSUMPTIONS instead. For religious interpreters of the bible there are four:
        1. The bible is a divinely-given text
        2. It contains no contradictions or mistakes
        3. It is a book of lessons that apply today
        4. It is cryptic in nature

        Three problems here. One: citation needed. Who are these “religious interpreters” of the Bible, and who is the authority requiring these assumptions to be made? And secondly, let’s say you can dig up some fundamentalist sect that packages together these four assumptions (probably one that you’ve had particularly scarring personal interactions with in the past, I would imagine)–Bob loves to argue against religion writ large. I can assure you that statistically the majority of religious institutions and organizations existing in the world today don’t insist on these four assumptions, it’d be rare that they consent to more than one. The majority of religious people and religious leaders would be surprised to learn that these assumptions are even on the the table as possible “religious assumptions.”

        Finally, the third problem: if we cut away the specific content you think religious assumptions MUST entail, but accept that religion still requires assumptions, you’re going to have to explain to me how “assumptions” differ from Bob’s axioms, which he admits are in fact “assumed” (his exact word) to work a priori to any testing, so that only after one assumes them can they apply a post hoc experience-based evaluation to if it works or “if the edifice you build from it collapses.” Bob even seems to admit trust is part of his underlying belief system while still maintaining his f-word squeamishness–I fear the day he realizes faith and trust are synonyms in every major dictionary/thesaurus.

        The religious method is to take the above assumptions and then make sure all your reasoning conforms to it. Reject any reasoning which is contrary to those assumptions.
        Yeah, you’re going to need to cite a source here too. And I’d prefer you avoid all those annoying “Christian apologists”–could you cite someone who actually speaks with authority beyond a book contract? Maybe a someone who has a statue somewhere–in other words, has been taken seriously in history. If we’re talking Christianity, do you read Luther or Calvin or Augustine or Aquinas or Wesley or Edwards or Barth or any Pope saying these things? I’d be curious to hear where you’re pulling this. If it’s just pocket fundamentalist sects you are angry at, let’s get that out on the table, because I am no fan of anti-intellectual fundamentalism and could probably sign on to what you’re saying.

        Finally, you are winning the prize in knowing relevant scholarship on these topics, but you have a pretty big challenge here: find me a source that says Galileo was not a man of faith. I’ll wait. Disagreeing with the Pope does not an atheist make: see the Reformation. As one (secular) historian says, “The traditional picture of Galileo as a martyr to intellectual freedom and a victim of the Catholic Church’s opposition to science has been demonstrated to be little more than a caricature.” Galileo even after his trial continued to be involved in the community of Jesuit scholars thinking through issues of science. So I’ll stand by my point that every significant originator of the scientific method held a religious worldview and wouldn’t be able to comprehend your distinction between the “scientific method” and the “religious method,” much less be convinced religious belief restrains empirical exploration of the natural world.

        • avalon

          Hi Drew,
          Drew: “Three problems here. One: citation needed. Who are these “religious interpreters” of the Bible, and who is the authority requiring these assumptions to be made?”

          avalon: How about the apostle Paul? In the OT Paul (and other contemporaries) reads that Melchizedek is the first priest. Problem: the first Jewish priest (Mel) isn’t Jewish, he’s not listed in the genealogy. Logical conclusion: myth. Apologetic conclusion: with the assumptions, the genealogy must be correct and the story of Abe and Mel must be true also. Apologetic answer: Mel wasn’t born of humans: Heb. 7:3 states, “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he (Melchizedek) remains a priest forever.”
          Melchizedek is described by Paul, the apologist, as a divine being based on the four assumptions.
          There’s more examples, but this isn’t the place for a bible study. I could suggest some good books if you’re really interested…

          Drew: “And secondly, let’s say you can dig up some fundamentalist sect that packages together these four assumptions (probably one that you’ve had particularly scarring personal interactions with in the past, I would imagine)…”

          avalon: No need for fundies. Apologetics started shortly after the Babylonian captivity and was in full swing by the time of Paul. Later church fathers confirmed the divine origin of Mel, as stated by Paul. Look it up if you like.

          Drew: “I can assure you that statistically the majority of religious institutions and organizations existing in the world today don’t insist on these four assumptions, it’d be rare that they consent to more than one. The majority of religious people and religious leaders would be surprised to learn that these assumptions are even on the the table as possible “religious assumptions.”

          avalon: Critical bible scholars don’t use these four assumptions, but theists are likely to call them heretics. See the history of Charles Briggs or Bart Ehrman.

          Drew: “Finally, the third problem: if we cut away the specific content you think religious assumptions MUST entail, but accept that religion still requires assumptions, you’re going to have to explain to me how “assumptions” differ from Bob’s axioms,”

          avalon: You’re a very intelligent man, so I’ll assume you know the difference. I’ll give you an example from science just in case: Einstein assumed the universe was static and infinite. This was an assumption, not an axiom. When Einstein examined Hubble’s findings, he dropped his assumption.

          Drew: “Yeah, you’re going to need to cite a source here too. And I’d prefer you avoid all those annoying “Christian apologists”–could you cite someone who actually speaks with authority beyond a book contract?”

          avalon: The apostle Paul, cited above. Early church fathers (Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho, etc…).

          Drew: “I’d be curious to hear where you’re pulling this. If it’s just pocket fundamentalist sects you are angry at, let’s get that out on the table, because I am no fan of anti-intellectual fundamentalism and could probably sign on to what you’re saying.”

          avalon: Hope this brief example will lead you to examine the history of apologetics in greater detail.

          Drew: “Finally, you are winning the prize in knowing relevant scholarship on these topics, but you have a pretty big challenge here: find me a source that says Galileo was not a man of faith. ”

          avalon: There is faith, then there is Faith. Einstein had faith in his assumption and dropped it when presented with contrary evidence (I suspect Galileo had a similar faith). But the 4 assumptions about the bible are taken on Faith. That is, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, the believer still believes. In fact, it’s a badge of honor to believe in the face of contrary evidence. Briggs and Ehrman started with faith, but they didn’t have Faith.

          Drew: “Finally, you are winning the prize in knowing relevant scholarship on these topics, but you have a pretty big challenge here: find me a source that says Galileo was not a man of faith.”

          avalon: The evidence points to the Church being aware of the truth of Galileo’s findings. But as Ratzinger’s quote shows ” she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too”. That is, the truth might damage someone’s Faith. So much for an unbiased search for truth…

          Drew: ” I’ll stand by my point that every significant originator of the scientific method held a religious worldview and wouldn’t be able to comprehend your distinction between the “scientific method” and the “religious method,” much less be convinced religious belief restrains empirical exploration of the natural world.”

          avalon: Agreed. However, there are people who value the search for truth over Faith. These include Galileo, Briggs, and Ehrman. When the facts contradict their Faithful Assumptions they lose their Faith.

          avalon

        • Drewl

          Thanks for the thoughtful response, I am glad to see more of your thoughts on this. Selecting the writer of the Hebrews (possibly but probably not Paul) as your example of the authority demanding consent to your four assumptions is interesting, but it faces numerous problems.

          If I understand your argument correctly, you’ve found a case in a passage of the Bible where writer seems to draw a conclusion from an assumption without bothering to logically “prove” the assumption bur rather assume it is true and work backwards from it, thereby arriving at the WRONG conclusion, thereby demonstrating what you call the “religious method” of forcing reasoning to comply with particular assumptions, which you’re again opposing against a more superior “logical method” that arrives at correct answers. And you presented this in response to my request to show where religion commands that religious people make sure all their reasoning conforms to certain assumptions.

          Several problems:

          By this standard you could declare all writing guilty of this “religious method” at times. Your grocery list, for instance, fails to prove the assumption that said groceries exist. I could declare that you are simply blindly complying with the assumption that these groceries exists and forcing your reasoning to conform to that assumption, thus you’re failing to reach “logical” conclusions. Or take a historical example. If I am doubting that the Roman Empire ever existed, I can read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and declare he used the “religious method” in simply assuming the Roman Empire existed; he simply worked backwards from assumptions, where’s the premise-by-premise argument? But is this conclusion really worth anything, or have I simply ignored the genre and context of the writing and applied an inappropriate critical questions to it? The truth is, a text as long as the Bible is going to incorporate inductive logic, deductive logic, rhetorical logic, appeals to authority, reasoning from assumptions, appeals to emotion/intuition in certain passages, etc, just as any Hitchens or Harris book does in certain parts. I don’t think it’s fair to police any text for reasoning from assumptions and then declaring it to be endorsing the “religious method”: you need to do more to show that this is the commanded MO for religious people today.

          The persuasive methods used by 1st Century Jewish writers are not the same as modern-day apologetics. We know that 1st Century Jews approached questions of epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, and history through a particular worldview, and their worldview seemed natural to them and was largely taken-for-granted. We also know that you as Mr. Western Post-Enlightenment Modern Guy approach epistemology, ontology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, and history through a particular worldview, and your worldview seems natural to you and largely taken-for-granted. Unfortunately those two worldviews are incredibly different. We know that Jewish approaches to exegesis were much looser about “historical” and “literal” meanings than what we moderns are used to. The book of Hebrews (“inspired” or not) was written with a particular audience in mind who was accustomed to these practices and logically conformed to those practices to make an argument; the writer (sadly) did not take Mr. Western Post-Enlightenment Modern Guy into consideration (sorry).

          This means your reading of the passage is seems anachronistic: The Hebrew writer is about as likely to “demythologize” ancient history (an early 20th century Biblical hermeneutic strategy) or provide “evidential apologetics” (a 17th century century epistemological principle) for Melchizedek as he is make a drop a Hemingway reference or write in Shakespearean iambic pentameter. I really don’t want to debate this, because it becomes irrelevant when you consider:

          The burden is still on you to show that a) the Hebrew author is endorsing–or even adheres to himself!–your four principles in this passage and b) that some organized body or authoritative theologian has chosen THIS form of logic to codify into THE required logic of religious people. You may have been thinking up to this point: “Ah, so you’re saying religious people have to adopt the pre-modern, pre-scientific myth-adhering view of the world that 1st Century Jews held! See, dogmatic assumptions forced on religious poeple!” Not at all, I’m just helping us arrive at a better hermeneutical approach to what the Hebrew author is doing, just as 2nd Amendment discussions generally begin by helping us understand the founding fathers’ concerns before proceeding (and notably, these discussions don’t insist that we adhere to 18th century colonialist fears even if we still believe in the 2nd Amendment today). So no, no Christian tradition demands we return to 1st Century Jewish epistemology/ontology/cosmology, and I would also note that your Four Assumptions are not 1st Century Jewish assumptions anyway, nor could you get many early church fathers to sign on to them in the way you’re presenting them (you will be surprised to learn the doctrine of inerrancy is almost completely a product of modern thinking, but that’s a different discussion).

          I would contend you are fighting the ghosts of 20th Century American Protestant Fundamentalism here and inflating that group to “religion” writ large, or at the least, Christianity writ large. This actually creates agreement between us: I want to agree with you that the Hebrew writer is a poor “apologist” who is writing a poor “apologetic” text (by today’s standards). But I would also ask you who told you a 1st Century writer is an apologist writing an apologetic text that could meet the criteria of 17th century evidentialism or rationalism so that I could go punch that person in the face for you. As several philosophers have argued, evidentialist apologetics are purely a product of modern Enlightenment thinking, and in the Christian tradition even up to Aquinas, NO ONE would conceive of proving God’s existence using an “evidence” or a rationalistic approach (a close reading of Aquinas reveals even he wasn’t trying to prove God’s existence with his “proofs,” but that’s a separate matter). So I feel sorry for you that you’ve been mislead to read the Bible as an apologetic text and to think of all Christian thinkers as apologists, and then I feel sorry that you think those Four Assumptions were somehow authoritatively demonstrated by those “apologists” and thereby now required of “religious interpreters of the Bible.” I can see why you were then led to the conclusion that religious people writ large are required to rein in their reasoning, should these four assumptions be required. If I read the Bible through this narrow evidentalist lens or if I felt religion enforced those four assumptions, I would absolutely agree with your assessment here that religion is radically opposed to the scientific method, logical thinking, Bob’s approach to knowledge, and everything else you’ve argued.

          I should note: I absolutely just made the claim that the Bible does not “prove” the existence of God or make it “rational” to believe in God or meet the standard of evidence demanded by Enlightenment epistemologists. Of course as we saw earlier and Bob affirmed, science faces a similar predicament: it also requires unprovable, non-evidentalist, non-testable presuppositions, or beliefs taken on fai–I mean….trust, sorry. Again, this is why there aren’t many logical positivists around these days.

        • Drewl

          …and please stop trying to recast Galileo as an atheist who “lost his faith.” He wasn’t even that great of a scientist, I don’t know that you really want him on your team.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          but you have a pretty big challenge here: find me a source that says Galileo was not a man of faith…

          You already said, “this is not my argument.” So stop using it. Your genetic fallacy is rejected.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          he realizes faith and trust are synonyms in every major dictionary/thesaurus.

          What do you call belief based firmly on evidence and which would be overturned by sufficient contrary evidence?

          And what do you call belief poorly based on evidence or even in the face of contrary evidence, and which wouldn’t be overturned by contrary evidence?

          Apparently it’s just me, but I think we need two terms here.

          I am no fan of anti-intellectual fundamentalism and could probably sign on to what you’re saying.

          Why do you have to see who said it before you know if you agree or not? If you could sign on to what avalon’s saying, then do so.

        • Drewl

          And what do you call belief poorly based on evidence or even in the face of contrary evidence, and which wouldn’t be overturned by contrary evidence?

          Citation needed. Is this something you can find in church teaching? Or some authoritative voice in your past you’re trying to cast out of your head?

          I can tell you now: I have heard very wild interpretations of Hebrews 11:1, some of which would probably encompass your definition here, but the historic understanding articulated through August-Luther-Calvin-modern theologians-is not this sort of “close your eyes and lie to yourself” understanding.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Citation needed.

          A citation for what??

          You can’t answer the question for religious reasons? Are you citing the Fifth Amendment? Do you need your lawyer present? Does it make you uncomfortable? What?

          These are two important categories of belief. I think they need labels.

        • Drewl

          I agree that two categories are needed. Now is your first category something that is endorsed by a particular organized religion (in which case, show me where), or is it just an intellectually-deficient position you dreamed up one afternoon to scare yourself (in which case, no citation needed, but you might need another hobby).

        • Kodie

          Excuse me, who needs another hobby?

        • Kodie

          The weird standard you seem to have is that it’s either canon or else Bob made it up. Do you read these blogs and read what Christians say on them? Have you seen twitter and facebook comments by Christians themselves saying things that in no way resemble reality? Are you criticizing them for pulling facts out their butts?

  • Kodie

    Drewl – do you ever feel like a hypocrite? I don’t understand most of what you’re talking about because it mostly sounds like you are affecting some type of intellectual style, but I also think you make a lot of assumptions first and then roll with them. You are not starting with what was said, you are reading something else into it and you get this triumphant attitude like you are winning. I don’t get the sense that you are winning or saying anything that would win. I don’t think Bob Seidensticker is perfect so don’t even try to accuse me of licking someone’s boots or hopping on some kind of bandwagon. He is right, you seem to think what he says on his blog is set in stone. What I see is he makes some kind of observation and fits it with reality, compares it to religion, and then we discuss it. He may have errors, and we discuss it. I haven’t seen him rigidly or strictly sticking to every word that he says if someone makes a good point. I have been looking at this blog for a few months and have yet to see you make a good or valid point.

    Bob’s methods seem in the realm of scientific thinking. We are discussing ideas, adding and subtracting and bringing up other factors to consider. It’s not as scientific as proposing a formal study and proving something.

    The lawyer method, comparatively – can you see the difference at all? – is an effort to invent more convincing arguments to change someone’s mind. Whatever examples you find of scientists not sticking to the format does not change what the methodology is and how it would ideally work. Lawyers will say anything to be right and never admit that it’s wrong, and science wants to actually be right and will admit when it is wrong. Lawyering starts with a given premise, and science starts with a guess. Is this guess correct? It may not be correct. We don’t cling to the idea of its rightness when it is proven wrong. Can science test for god? Lawyering for Jesus just knows, and will make up any amount of colorful prose to make it seem true, and sciencing for Jesus isn’t science, it’s more lawyering.

    What is your deal, man?

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