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Frank Turek’s Criminally Bad C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument: Reason

This is a continuation of a critique of Frank Turek’s arguments in favor of Christianity made at a recent debate. See the beginning of the discussion here.

The R in CRIMES is Reason

Turek said, “If you’re an atheist, you can’t justify reason.” He says that Darwin knew this. Darwin said, “Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” If our minds are just the end result of a long series of evolutionary steps, why trust them?

First, who cares what Darwin said? If the subject is History of Science, that’s interesting. If it’s simply what evolution or physiology say today, we’re not bound by what Darwin says. No one consults Darwin’s writings to ensure that the latest findings don’t contradict the great man.

The fallible human brain

Second, I agree that our brains are quite fallible. Who would disagree? This passage from my book Future Hype (2006) summarizes some of our blind spots.

Ongoing risks with a track record (such as the number of deaths per year) are easy to compare with each other. Nevertheless, most people weigh risks poorly. The average American is much likelier to die in a car accident than a plane crash, much likelier to die from lightning than fireworks, and much likelier to die from influenza than anthrax. You’re less likely to win the jackpot in a major lottery than to die in an accident while driving to buy the ticket. The likeliest calamity that could happen to a traveler to another country is not terrorism or kidnapping, but a car accident. Tornadoes and hurricanes combined aren’t as deadly as heat waves; heroin and cocaine combined aren’t as deadly as alcohol. Risk experts say that nuclear power is quite safe and swimming is not, while most people feel the opposite. Money spent on disease research is only vaguely proportional to each disease’s impact. We worry about cell phones and brain cancer when we should be worried about cell phones and driving. The public’s ranking of fears doesn’t match up with the real risks, and a technology with the same death rate as a natural risk is perceived as more dangerous.

Here are more examples of the fallibility of our brains.

  • Our brains play tricks on us: consider placebos, psychosomatic illnesses, and phantom limb pain.
  • We can be fooled by optical and auditory illusions. Pareidolia is seeing patterns where none exist—a message in a song played backwards or the face of Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich, for example. Coincidences can seem meaningful even when random.
  • We confuse confidence with accuracy when we overestimate how reliable our memories are. Richard Wiseman’s awesome color-changing card trick shows that your skills at observation may not be as good as you might think.
  • We’re poor at weighing harm. We’re in the middle of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, but based on how many people are actually killed, Cow Week would make more sense. That’s right—cows kill more people than sharks. Psychic numbing is a related problem. This is the observation, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”
  • A popular misconception in South Korea is that electric fans in closed rooms can be deadly, but we Americans shouldn’t get too cocky. We have our own blind spots. In a 2013 poll of Americans, 21% say a UFO crashed in Roswell, 28% believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, 20% believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 7% think the moon landing was faked, 13% think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, 14% say the CIA created the crack epidemic, 9% think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons, 4% believe lizard people control our societies, and 11% believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen.
  • We know how crop circles are formed, and yet some people are determined to see them as the work of extraterrestrials. Most of us have probably used Snopes to investigate a suspicious story passed along by email, and yet urban legends continue to deceive.
  • We’re surrounded by simple instances of probability, and yet we’re terrible at it. If you want to see how good your instincts are, give the Monty Hall problem a try.
  • We have cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, where we focus on evidence that confirms our thinking and ignore evidence that refutes it.
  • The weighty Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists hundreds of kinds of mental illness.

Now that we’re on the same page that the human brain is imperfect, how do the atheist and theist proceed from here? Turek’s line is, “If you’re an atheist, you can’t justify reason.” So therefore the Christian can?

This is just another argument of the form “Ooh! Ooh! I know! It was God!” No—your unsupported dogma isn’t even in the running. Show us the evidence, or remain at the children’s table.

Evolution selected for animals that had a good understanding of reality. Those that didn’t—those whose senses gave unreliable information and whose brains evaluated the information poorly—became lunch. (I respond to Alvin Plantinga’s similar Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism here.)

The human mind is indeed unreliable for finding absolute truth. The best we can hope for are good approximations. If Turek can access absolute and immutable truth, he needs to share that marvelous fact with the rest of us.

If we agree that the human brain is imperfect, why does the Christian trust it when it makes the incredibly outrageous claim that God exists? Apparently Turek thinks that atheists can’t rely on God’s imperfect gift but Christians can.

Continue with Part 4.

Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully
as when they do it for religious convictions.
— Blaise Pascal

Photo credit: Fori

About Bob Seidensticker
  • smrnda

    Our minds aren’t always great at finding truth, which is why we came up with the scientific method along with other means of getting around the flaws in our thinking. Taking the example of cognitive biases – we become aware that these biases exist, and we start second-guessing our natural responses and looking for means of removing our biases from decision making processes.

    An example would be if we started removing names from resumes, so that biases against men or women or people of certain ethnic groups would be removed from hiring processes.

  • RichardSRussell

    “Turek said, ‘If you’re an atheist, you can’t justify reason.’ He says that Darwin knew this.”

    Spoken like someone totally devoted to obsequity before the voice of authority.

    Indeed, the very phrase “absolute truth” implies a kind of sad insecurity, a hope that there really is such a thing, instead of merely the best we can do in figuring out the world as mediated by our imperfect senses, prior findings, and cognitive capacities. What we’ve got will never be perfect, and the sooner we admit that, the sooner we can get on with the task of just trying to make it as good as we can get it.

    How do we do that? We match our best hypotheses against reality, keep the ones that describe (and predict) it most accurately, and discard the stuff (like God) that doesn’t have reliable explanatory power. We keep getting better at it thru practice.

    Religion, OTOH, is emotionally wedded to the best guesses that a bunch of arrogant, ignorant, self-important, bloodthirsty, superstitious nomadic shepherds made during the Bronze Age. We’re so much better than that now, but try to tell them that.

  • WalterP

    Let me fix this for you:

    The human mind is indeed unreliable for finding absolute
    truth. The best we can hope for are good approximations. If Bob can
    access absolute and immutable truth, he needs to share that marvelous
    fact with the rest of us.
    If we agree that the human brain is imperfect, why does the atheist
    trust it when it makes the incredibly outrageous claim that no supernatural being(s) exist?

    Or, alternatively, do you have access to the absolute and immutable truths that evolutionary development is keeping from the rest of us?

    There’s nothing I love more than atheists who exempt themselves from the effects of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary deficiencies for my opponents, infallibility for me.

    This is what we call being prejudiced against a particular type of people.

    • Greg G.

      Whether supernatural beings exist or not, it is unreasonable to claim that they do exist. If you want us to believe they exist, it’s as simple as showing us one instead of offering excuses for why you can’t.

      • WalterP

        …it is unreasonable…

        Such dogmatic certainty.

        I refer you to Bob’s beautiful post about the limits of reason above. Perhaps you should stop speaking in such absolutist terms, as he suggests.

        • Greg G.

          A thing is reasonable when reason can be used to establish probability for the proposition. Until then it is unreasonable. Provide us a reason to believe what you say.

          I don’t know anything with absolute certainty and neither do you.

        • WalterP

          A thing is reasonable when reason can be used to establish probability for the proposition.

          Did you read Bob’s post? We’re not so hot at doing probability…

        • Greg G.

          Did you read the last three paragraphs? Evolution explains our thinking abilities better than the god hypothesis. If thinking had no selective advantage, it would remain qt a lower level than we have because it is biologically expensive to run a large brain. If brains ran on godidit, there would be no need for size, extra food, and extra oxygen and our brains wouldn’t fall for the persuasions of talking snakes.

          Our brains tend to make Type I errors- false positives. That is what would be expected by development in a world with things that want to eat you. You can reproduce more if you run up a tree whenever you don’t know what made a strange noise instead of gathering sufficient evidence to make a more informed decision.

          So we recognize we are prone to hasty false positives and fear. These are exploited by religion. We can safely contemplate and compensate for our natural tendencies to make certain types of errors by learning from the errors. We can identify errors that are usually wrong but prudent and errors that are usually right but not always from thought tools that are always right. Those thought tools that are always right are what we call logic. The others we call fallacies. We are still stuck with incomplete knowledge but the fact that humans can make computer so easy that religious nuts can use them shows we are not incapable of separating information from noise. That we can dig stuff out of the ground and configure it in ways that enhance our thinking ability shows that the natural part of thinking is not God-given.

        • WalterP

          Evolution explains our thinking abilities better than the god hypothesis…

          There is no “god hypothesis.”

          Those thought tools that are always right are what we call logic

          ..and evolutionary theory tells us our logic is sometimes flawed. Did you read the post? If you are professing faith in infallible, always-right logic you’re going to need to show some evidence…

        • RichardSRussell

          No, dogmatic certainty would be saying “God definitely does not exist.” Saying that it’s unreasonable to think that God exists is the very essence of non-dogmatic analysis. You seem to have some difficulty grasping the concept of “absolutism”, which you fling about with little apparent regard for its meaning.

        • WalterP

          Why do you have so much faith in what we think is reasonable and unreasonable? Didn’t you read Bob’s post?

        • RichardSRussell

          Don’t chalk up to faith what can be explained by a better decision-making method, such as confidence, trust, or reason. If I really did rely on faith, who knows what cockamamie crap I might believe? (Well, maybe that wasn’t a rhetorical question after all. Apparently you would.)

        • WalterP

          I don’t think you answered my question, unless you’re claiming we know what’s reasonable and unreasonable based on reason.

        • RichardSRussell

          I wasn’t trying to answer your question. I was objecting to your saying that my comment was based on faith, which is the world’s worst decision-making method and should be avoided like the plague.

        • WalterP

          I get the sense “faith” is a stand-in word for how the other guy reasons. So I’ll agree: it’s a terrible decision-making method. I hate it too.

        • Greg G.

          Then stop promoting faith. Give us actual reasons for your contentions.

        • WalterP

          I hate faith. So foolish.

          Who is promoting it? Not me.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t think you answered my question, unless you’re claiming we know what’s reasonable and unreasonable based on reason.

          That’s right. There is no other way to separate the reasonable from the unreasonable except by reason.

          Bob has pointed out that our monkey brains are susceptible to error, particularly false positives but we are able to recognize this. Reason is the tool we use. We can determine that which is usually true from the always true. The former we call fallacies. The latter, reason. No god needed to get there.

        • WalterP

          We can determine that which is usually true from the always true.

          Oh, we can? Ah, a faith belief in the infallibility of human reason, evidence be damned.

          I don’t know if I can “reason” with you on this if you’re going to state things that can’t be backed up by evidence.w

        • Greg G.

          Are you disputing that 2 + 2 = 4 all the time?

        • WalterP

          I’d maintain human brains, despite cognitive deficiencies, can still do basic propositional logic, particularly when its merely analytical statements. But is that really the concern?

          If you read Bob’s post (did anyone here read it?), it’s all the other things in life we need to be concerned about. If we take evolutionary theory seriously that is, and don’t conveniently exempt ourselves and our identity movements…

        • Greg G.

          Are you saying that the tendencies to make certain types of errors is not true? Humans are especially prone to false positive errors but since the brain developed in a world of predators, it is a prudent error to make instead of trying to make the correct assessment by collecting more data.

          We can develop better thinking skills and contemplate in a relaxed atmosphere.

          Yes, we all read Bob’s post and understood his tacit point.

        • WalterP

          We can develop better thinking skills and contemplate in a relaxed atmosphere.

          Except, all of Bob’s cited studies come from modern Western “relaxed” atmospheres.

          Relaxed, and yet, errors.

          I sense the faith in infallible reasoning being professed here will not be swayed by an empirical lack of evidence for such beliefs.

        • Greg G.

          But the cases cited are where people are using intuition rather than measured reason. Those cases are shown to be wrong by using measured reasoning. The errors are mostly Type I errors, false positives based on incomplete evidence. When the evidence is gathered, monkey brains can see the errors. When a strange noise is heard in the grass, it’s prudent to climb a tree, making a Type I error. But when the monkeys see that noise was not made by a predator, they realize they made an error and go back to eating on the ground. It’s better to make a lot of Type I errors because of the consequences of a single Type II error. So, yes, we are prone to making certain errors because making such errors are safer than trying to not make the error. We are also good at recognizing the errors we tend to make and can compensate for them.

        • WalterP

          Sigh…more unempirical beliefs about infallible reasoning…you guys should start a church or something!

          We are also good at recognizing the errors we tend to make and can compensate for them.

          Nope. It’s the exact opposite: we’re also “blind to our blind spots.”

          http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303936704576397771567839728.html

        • Greg G.

          There you go again, trying to put “infallible” into my mouth. I said “good”. If we didn’t have the ability to tell when we were wrong, we would think we were infallible.

        • WalterP

          But the science says we’re not even “good.”

          I am loving the attempts to save reasoning from the dismal findings on reasoning, through….more reasoning.

          We’ve definitely got a sacred cow here that must be preserved at all costs.

        • Greg G.

          You keep trying to point out where humans are wrong by using cases where humans have recognized where humans go wrong. Remember, it’s

          1. Draw

          2. Aim

          3. Pull trigger.

          You keep shooting yourself in the foot by skipping the first two steps.

        • WalterP

          Yes, and the above article shows even the guy who is showing us how/where we go wrong…still. went. wrong.

          If you think the narrative here is “once we figured out all our cogntive deficiencies we just stopped making them,” you’re not just reading the research poorly, you’re reading the research through a deeply-entrenched ideological lens that is keeping you from truth.

        • Greg G.

          Yes, and the above article shows even the guy who is showing us how/where we go wrong…still. went. wrong.

          What you aren’t comprehending is that every instance of people being wrong in the article implicitly is people recognizing that people tend to be wrong.

          you think the narrative here is “once we figured out all our cogntive deficiencies we just stopped making them,” you’re not just reading the research poorly, you’re reading the research through a deeply-entrenched ideological lens that is keeping you from truth.

          Give it a rest, Walter. Your arguments have gone so poorly, you have resorted to attacking strawmen arguments of what you wish others were arguing.

          Most of the world is religious but hold various contradictory religious views so 2/3 of the world disagrees no matter what. Therefore we know most of the world is wrong when it comes to religion and so we know humans are not good at picking true religions. If every religious person applied the same skepticism toward their own that they use for every other religion, the human population would be closer to the truth and possibly nail it by rejecting religion completely. Heck, that follows your line of reasoning.

        • WalterP

          If every religious person applied the same skepticism toward their own
          that they use for every other religion, the human population would be
          closer to the truth and possibly nail it by rejecting religion
          completely.

          And There. It. Is. Exemption of one’s own group from the evolutionary cognitive defects. I wouldn’t expect you to be so explicit about it, but that’s exactly what you did.

          Defects for everyone else, infallibility for us.

          But your rejection of scientific findings as they apply to your own belief is telling. This is what we call being prejudiced against a particular type of people.

        • WalterP

          It’s amazing how much effort is required to convince atheists they should believe in science. Bob posted all this research to shoot down a Christian argument, but I don’t think it’s Christians who need convincing of this stuff.

          It’s more likely the crowd who foolishly named their gathering the “Reason Rally.” Sacred cow, indeed.

        • Greg G.

          It’s amazing how much effort a Christian will exert in order to convince himself that he can reject the science that is discomforting to his belief.

        • WalterP

          I’m standing with Bob and his science here.

          You guys are hemming and hawing trying to exempt yourselves from what science tells us.

          Burden is on you guys to explain why you’re anti-science on this point…

        • Greg G.

          I have not exempted my own group from anything. Haven’t you been paying attention? You are cherry-picking one statement out of days of conversation and ignoring everything I said prior in order to twist the meaning into something you wish I said. I said, ” the human population would be closer to the truth and possibly nail it by rejecting religion completely” which requires you to be completely dishonest to even imply I said something that should be taken as absolute or infallible.

          So you’ve gone from constructing strawmen to out-and-out dishonesty in order to assuage your ego that you have not lost the argument completely.

        • WalterP

          the human population would be closer to the truth and possibly nail it by rejecting religion completely

          Translation: everyone else needs to fix their flaws so they can arrive at what I believe.

          Your naturalism is exempt from cognitive flaws, you’ve made that clear.

        • Greg G.

          Your “translation” is a dishonest interpretation of what I said.

          It is exactly as rational to believe that there are gods who ride purple unicorns as it is to believe that there are gods who ride pink unicorns because we have no evidence for either. Since we have no evidence for these supernatural beings, the level of rationality is zero, which means it is irrational to believe that there are gods who ride unicorns of any color and it is irrational to believe there are gods who do not ride unicorns because we have the same evidence for all of them. There is no reason to believe in any of them.

          So when we remove all the unevidenced beliefs of all supernatural beliefs, we are left with naturalism. If we remove all the unevidenced beliefs from naturalism, we are left with naturalism. Naturalism is rational because it lacks belief in things that are irrational to believe in.

          It is irrational to believe in things without evidence just because Walterp really, really wants to believe in them, even if your name is Walterp. If Walterp really, really wants to believe in irrational things, he should pursue his bliss, but he should keep it to himself because there’s no telling where that level of dishonesty will lead.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Natualism is like heat (all other forms of energy simplify into heat eventually).

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Nicely stated!

        • Greg G.

          I sense the faith in infallible reasoning being professed here

          Your sense is showing fallibility. You keep trying to put words into people’s mouths that they believe reason is infallible. Nobody believes that. We simply believe it is the best way to determine what is true and what is not. As soon as a better way of determining what is true comes along, we’ll switch to that. Until then, we’re stuck with reason.

        • MNb

          So you don’t think that square circles are unreasonable? Or do think you can reject square circles in absolutist terms?
          You see, Herman Philipse rejects theism for similar reasons.

        • WalterP

          Bob’s the one tearing down reason, not me. Take it up with him.

        • MNb

          “Take it up with him.”
          Ah, that’s my cute little apologist. When matters become difficult the motto is Giu la Testa (1971).
          But I always can try again. Do you think it’s the absolute truth that square circles don’t exist?

        • WalterP

          Bob’s the reasoning master here, so ask him if the human brain is capable of knowing absolutely that square circles can’t exist. Sometimes he likes absolutism, sometimes he retreats to approximations, seems to depend on the day for him.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I have no idea what your point is. I claim no access to absolute truth.

      • WalterP

        My mistake, I thought atheists claimed there was no god.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I make no such absolute claim.

          Now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, let’s go back to your comment and try to find the good points.

          There’s nothing I love more than atheists who exempt themselves from the effects of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary deficiencies for my opponents, infallibility for me.

          This is what we call being prejudiced against a particular type of people.

          Nope. Nothing.

          You might want to make sure you haven’t been hacked. Someone is using your name to write gibberish.

        • WalterP

          Sounds like you have your approximations, Tureks has his, and I have mine. No one has the absolute truth on the matter, and our understanding of cognitive defects should give us pause in our respective beliefs.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, I agree that no one has any right to claim access to absolute truth. But as for “you have your approximations,” that’s sounding awfully relativistic. Is that your view?

          What I reject (as you know) is lay people picking and choosing their science as if they’re at a buffet.

        • WalterP

          What grounds would we adjudicate different approximations on? You’ve already said reasoning is flawed. And you’ve admitted you don’t care what scientists think about religion since it’s not their specialty. So there’s no scientific consensus to consult…

        • smrnda

          God and gods are outside of any means of empirical investigation. They are typically part of unfalsifiable belief systems and are therefore speculation and not a form of systematic knowledge.

        • WalterP

          So is a belief in naturalism.

        • smrnda

          If you can provide me with empirical evidence that I’m missing something out there in my materialistic worldview, then I’d be glad to consider the possibility. Only things that are within the material universe can be investigated in any systematic way.

          Are you the type that actually loses sleep over whether or not the world is real or is just some high-powered simulation like the matrix? I’ll admit that I can’t disprove that, but it appears useless to consider.

        • WalterP

          The world is very real, fear not.
          Sounds like you’re ready to admit naturalism is speculative in some sense. Even if it’s not directly non-falsifiable, I would guess your commitment to empiricism is not up for debate, so that’s where your non-falsifiable, non-verifiable beliefs comes in.

          I don’t see that you’ve challenged my claim in any way.

        • smrnda

          Naturalism is speculative on the level of believing that we’re not all in the matrix is speculative.

          Outside of gathering empirical data and testing falsifiable hypothesis about the outside world, what other methods of gaining information would you suggest I become open to? Just any sort of mysticism?

        • WalterP

          If you think the only two possibilities are empiricism or “any sort of mysticism,” you have much to learn. Nearly all philosophers are somewhere in between those two approaches.

        • smrnda

          To me, anything outside of hard empiricism is pretty much woo and more woo. I don’t event think mathematics ‘exists’ outside of human-made axiomatic systems.

        • WalterP

          You have a very inconsistent and logically-flawed approach to knowledge then. There’s a reason Kant was already tearing up empiricism in the 18th century: it sucked.

        • smrnda

          I haven’t provided any details on my approach. Plus, given that I’m not really into the lingo I should probably say that I’m a materialist rather than any other label. I’m also what’s termed a mathematical formalist rather than the more common Platonist (which seems like a ridiculous view to me.)

          If I want to gain knowledge, I need to use some approach where I can test falsifiable claims about the outside world by finding a way to observe empirical data. If someone says that eating too much rice causes cancer, or that HR departments reject applicants with hard to pronounce names, I’d look at the evidence.

          Could you give me a concrete example of some sort of knowledge that I am missing by my approach? I am a very concrete person and need examples.

          The reason for my disbelief in god is that nobody has provided me with any way of testing the hypothesis.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That’s like the puzzle from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: he likened gravity to a ghost. Before Newton, there was no gravity. (I’m doing a poor job in summarizing the point.)

          The issue is that there was always gravity; it was the Law of Gravity that didn’t exist before Newton. That relationship existed; the law didn’t.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          That is an important point, Bob. The things in Nature do what they do, and we make up “laws” as maps to help us find our way (predict what will happen) in the world. The map is not the territory.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The map is not the territory.

          Good distinction.

        • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

          It is my main objection to the “fine-tuning” canard, where you are asked to believe something based on what is not on the map, but someone claims would be on the map, if it were a different map (that you can’t actually check). I wrote about that here.

        • WalterP

          This is an extremely important distinction. Q Quine is my new favorite guy here, sorry everyone else.

          It also problematizes arguments such as “I can’t believe X exists because there’s no consensus.”

          X exists (or doesn’t) regardless of and independent of consensus.

          Bob sometimes struggles with “If it’s not on my map, I can be certain it doesn’t exist within the territory.”

          Perhaps we can save him from this fallacy.

        • Greg G.

          So is a belief in naturalism.

          Every creature has a belief in naturalism. They use it to survive. Engineering is based on naturalism. Science is based on naturalism because it works. When you try to build on false ideas, you get nowhere. That’s a clue that your premises are false. Trying to square everything with theology resulted in the Dark Ages. The successes we’ve achieved without appeal to theology is a testament to the usefulness of that method qs opposed to the former method.

        • WalterP

          Every creature has a belief in naturalism.

          Not an empirically provable belief, but nice speculation.

          They use it to survive.

          You must be some sort of animal whisperer…

          Engineering is based on naturalism. Science is based on naturalism because it works.

          Sure, but “based upon” is misleading. Science presupposes naturalism, yes. But every scientific endeavor presupposes a variety of things, some of which we later find later should not have been presupposed. You may be arguing science proves the veracity of its presuppositions post hoc, but that’s a naive argument that ignores science can still be efficacious when it presuppose false things: Newton presupposed non-relativity, for instance, and it “worked.”

          When you try to build on false ideas, you get nowhere. That’s a clue that your premises are false.

          Nope, check history. How many false ideas did Galileo have? Got pretty far.

          Trying to square everything with theology resulted in the Dark Ages.

          Muslim scholars did great work we still draw upon today during the “dark ages,” and Christian scientists were to ones to give us modern science. Try again.

          The successes we’ve achieved without appeal to theology is a testament to the usefulness of that method as opposed to the former method.

          You must be in the Sam Harris school of history. You should try a less revisionist flavor.

        • Greg G.

          Do you think animals use supernatural abilities to find food or escape becoming food?

          Newton presupposed non-relativity and it “worked” for certain measurements but not for Mercury’s orbit. Absolute time was one of his premises for arriving at the conclusion of a deity. Since his premise was wrong, his conclusion didn’t follow, so you can’t use Newton as an example of a scientist believing in a deity with a valid argument.

          Galileo corrected many false ideas, too.

          Muslim scientists were doing well until the religion became fundamentalist and began to interfere. Then Muslim scientific progress halted abruptly.

          Copernicus sat on his findings for decades and published on his deathbed because he feared the church’s reaction. Newton’s work on interpolations in the New Testament wasn’t published until 50 years after his death because it was against the law to question the Trinity. We can never know how much good science was lost and delayed by religious intimidation in the Christian and the Muslim worlds. The Plague may have been a blessing as it weakened the church’s hold and allowed the Renaissance/Enlightenment to happen. The religious monopoly on education should not count as the church’s contribution to science.

        • Dan Fu

          What do you mean that no one has a right to claim access to absolute truth?Do you know what absolute truth is?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I was referring to absolute moral truth.

        • Dan Fu

          Moral truth can’t be defined as an absolute truth.rather,you are an absolute truth.Wud you agree on that and why?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t agree with the statement “I am an absolute truth” because I have no idea what it means.

        • Dan Fu

          So why disagree on I am an absolute truth if you don’t know what it means or is? And why denying anyone the right of access from the absolute truth hence you don’t know anything about it? Remember what Jesus said…I am the truth…think about it for getting what he said and done at this moment.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          As I made plain before, I don’t understand “I am an absolute truth.” I neither disagree or agree. It’s meaningless.

          I’m not standing in anyone’s way on the road to absolute truth. I am asking those who claim that absolute (or objective) moral truth exists to back up this claim with evidence. The natural explanation is sufficient.

        • Dan Fu

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        • smrnda

          Different people use different methods in obtaining what limited truth they have. Not everybody’s approaches are equally good at avoiding our cognitive deficits and biases – conclusions reached using better methods should be trusted more.

          Saying everybody is using ‘approximations’ is like saying every estimation technique is equally accurate. Just because none are perfect. That would be an absurd claim.

        • Dan Fu

          What’s absolute truth,and what do you mean,when you said that the human mind is unreliable and brain is imperfect?

        • Greg G.

          Atheists don’t believe a god exists. There are thousands of things around me that I believe are real so it’s not hard to make me believe something is real. If you have evidence for a god, please, please, please provide it. If you don’t have evidence for a god, then you are a theist for bad reasons.

        • Norm Donnan

          Have a closer look at those things around you Greg,all the evidence gives you good reason to be a theist.

        • Greg G.

          Been there, done that, Norm. It turns out that if you look even closer, there is no need for the god hypothesis.

        • Norm Donnan

          Ah yes but you have to replace it with a healthy dose of wishful thinking and denial

        • Greg G.

          If you mean replacing the serious view of reality with wishful thinking and denial to get back to mindless theism then sure, I agree. It’s the only way your reply makes sense.

  • Marcion

    How can a christian justify reason? God could easily be beaming a constant stream of disinformation into your head, and you’d have no way of knowing.

    • Greg G.

      Not only that, the Flying Spaghetti Monster could be beaming disinformation into Yahweh’s mind and he would have know way of knowing that either. If Yahweh rejects that idea, then he is an atheist.

      • MNb

        I suspect that’s the case since about 200 years or so.

  • Kodie

    Brains invented gods and religions.

    • WalterP

      and atheism.

      • ZenDruid

        Atheism is the default null hypothesis regarding whether any supernatural entity exists.

        Religion began as storytelling, pretty much right after language developed.

        Religion continues to be storytelling.

        • WalterP

          Atheism is the default null hypothesis regarding whether any supernatural entity exists.

          …and brains invented it.

          I have no idea what you mean by “default” but I assume it serves to ground your intellectual superiority somehow.

        • ZenDruid

          My ego isn’t on the table here; no need to play that card.

          By default, I mean ” A situation or condition that obtains in the absence of active intervention.” I’m not using the legalese definition, but the programming one. Hope that helps.

        • WalterP

          That works. So tell me which of these statements differs from the others:

          Lactose-intolerance was the default condition for humans.

          Hunting and gathering was the default society-type for humans.

          Atheism was the default belief system for humans.

        • ZenDruid

          For the first two, you use ‘default’ to imply a lack of options, and I have a problem with it, simply for the sake of other opportunities or genetic predispositions. Otherwise they are safe generalizations to make.

          For the third, I reckon that every human alive started with the belief system that says “I am the center of the universe.” After about a year or so, once that human achieves milestones in communication and coordination, the larger context of the world (which includes religion) begins to intrude. Whatever that context might be, a child will acquire the religion of its parents via the usual methods.

        • WalterP

          For the third, I reckon that every human alive started with the belief system that says “I am the center of the universe.”

          At this point in the child’s development he/she is essentially a solipsist, not an atheist. That is, he/she may not have a grasp that anything has ontological existence, whether things out of sight, other people, causal mechanisms, language, temporal or spatial relations, patterned reality, the solar system, evolutionary theory, death, etc. So yes, maybe an a-theist, but also an a-science-ist, an a-personist, an a-worldist, an a-linguist, etc. Nothing to celebrate here intellectually, as this clearly isn’t a rational being yet capable of freely assenting to much of anything.

          …the larger context of the world (which includes religion) begins to intrude. Whatever that context might be, a child will acquire the religion of its parents via the usual methods.

          You have at least two problems here:

          1) You can’t arbitrarily valorize one particular aspect of your tabula rasa baby mind without valorizing all. So your argument “babies are born with property x, property x is the human default, therefore x is an untainted, superior state” will thereby require we also not “intrude” on babies in other ways of alteration: teaching language, potty-training, the existence of loving parents, critical thinking skills, survival skills, etc. After all, none of these are the “default” position! We’re “intruding” or undertaking “active intervention” which undermines the holy default status across the board! How dare we!

          2) Having atheist parents is a strong statistical predictor of being an atheist yourself. So we have every reason to believe atheism is inculcated/socialized/indoctrinated just as religion is, via the “usual methods” of “intruding” on the poor soul. How dare we!

          Should you want to hold the (empirically unsupported) belief that babies are born with well-developed a priori presuppositions about a godless, materialistic world of all naturalistic causes and entities, I’ll one-up you and claim all babies are born fluent Portuguese speakers. It’s only when their parents begin “intruding” on them with the oppressive parental language that babies are forced to forfeit their “default” language.

          Wait, we have no evidence babies can utter complex Portuguese sentences before being inculcated with their parents’ language? Yes, I believe that would be the problem with your view as well.

        • ZenDruid

          At this point in the child’s development he/she is essentially a solipsist, not an atheist.

          Definitely a solipsist, good point.

          You have at least two problems fallacies here:

          1) Slippery slope.

          2) Tu quoque and false equivalence.

        • WalterP

          You’re misapplying both “slippery slope” and tu quoque accusations, both of which are appropriate for moral arguments. No moral arguments were made here, sorry buddy.

          I’m challenging you to provide your criteria for your assumed approval of overriding the baby’s “defaults” in some cases but not others.

          And you have no response to the well-documented phenomenon of atheist-parent inculcation of their children. Nor can you produce empirical evidence babies come out of the womb adhering to atheistic truisms.

          Burden’s on you to back up this “atheism is default” thing.

          Unless it’s just a “faith” belief you hold without evidence.

        • ZenDruid

          Whatever….

        • WalterP

          Ah, I will presume it was a faith belief.

        • Kodie

          Where is your reply to my post? Do you have any left to poop?

        • Greg G.

          No, the null hypothesis is the state where nothing is invented. You begin there and work from the evidence. You can imagine all sorts of things with poor evidence. Isn’t it amazing what our monkey brai s can figure out and make work without even taking a god into consideration?

      • Kodie

        Atheism is a response to the made up bullshit of theism. Atheism isn’t made up by brains for no reason. Someone has to suggest there’s a god and things about him first. Without this element of storytelling, I would not believe there is no god. There would not be a concept to disagree with. If you point to a tree and say “there is a tree”, I would be able to see it and know and we would agree. You are saying that there is a god, and I just invented that there is no god. You can’t show it to me – all you have is made up stories about him and what he wants. God only exists as an imaginary figure that people believe in sincerely. If god were as obvious as a tree, people would know all about him and agree on his attributes and what he wants from all of us. There would be no dispute.

        If you point to a dog and say that is a tree, we will have an argument. If you point to a space in a parking lot and say there is a tree, I will say there is no tree there, but I know about trees and that a parking space is not a tree. If you say there is a god, you will have one concept of what that is, and you could point to a parking space or a dog and say “there is god” and nobody will think you are right in the head, but if you have to have a conversation about what god’s qualities are with another theist, you will almost certainly have a disagreement about these things. It can’t be studied, it can only be understood through other people and in your own head. Unless you are standing in the church parking lot, you will not know the same things about god that another person has learned. It’s a superstitious figurehead. You bow to random chance, you try to appease an uncaring universe. Without theists, there is no reason to wake up in the morning and declare to another person “there is no god, I don’t believe in him,” because nobody would have then made up all the stories that don’t make any sense.

        Just like nobody walks around declaring they don’t believe in Han Solo. Everyone agrees Han Solo is a fictional character. If you told someone about Han Solo, and they never heard of him, never saw Star Wars, you’d be a little bit incredulous how they could get this far in life without ever being aware of Star Wars and at least know the names of some of the major characters. But Christians think nobody has ever heard of Jesus. Anyway, this person will not be against Han Solo – they are likely to understand that he is a fictional character if you say so, and there is plenty of information on the internet to support that. There is no argument.

        Just like nobody walks around declaring they don’t believe in the authority of the flying plastic bag – nobody has proposed the qualities of god are inhabited by free-roaming trash. Believing in god is as absurd though. It’s been proposed in many, many forms that are as absurd in believing an airborne shopping bag is a god. What someone can imagine, so can I. Do you believe in the bag? Will you come with me and pray so we can discern what the bag wants? Or will you say, hey, that sounds like a stupid thing to waste time doing? What if I made up an epic tale involving this bag, as epic as Star Wars or the bible, but I was convinced it was real, would you start to believe it too, would you be open-minded about the possibility that I had some enlightenment about the bag that you were just unaware of, would you find my personal revelations and relationship with the bag compelling? Or would you argue me away from my conviction, or just walk away from the crazy lady talking nonsense about something that’s obviously made up and not true?

  • avalon

    “If you’re an atheist, you can’t justify reason.” Frank Turek

    What good is it to justify reason if you’re just going to reject it?

    “Reason is the Devil’s harlot.” Martin Luther

    “I believe because it is absurd” Tertullian

    Reason: something theists justify then reject.

  • MNb

    The argument from logic/reason is somewhat less bad than the cosmological argument. At least it doesn’t contradict science. Still Turek again shows that he is intellectually dishonest. He doesn’t mention the assumption it’s based upon: that logic/reason is independent from mankind and the universe. So if the entire universe would disappear one day logic/reason would continue to exist. Now I can’t imagine what that is supposed to mean. That might be my flaw of course, but Turek doesn’t do anything to remedy this. Neither does any other apologist I know,
    This assumption has some weird consequences. First of all it applies to checker, chess and go as well. Many chessplayers are capable of playing chess without board and pieces; I can. So braingames are a divine gift as well. How peculiar that Turek’s god gave chess to India, China and South-Korea (in different forms), while he gave his revelations to Israel.
    What’s more, we get the Eutyphro dilemma in another form. Sometimes we can read that god is omnipotent, but still has to obey the laws of logic/reason, as perfection also means that he is consistent. Then again we can read that god is responsible for miracles, which by definition defy logic/reason. This means that god applies logic/reason in an arbitrary way.
    So the argument from logic/reason creates more problem than it solves. Does anyone know where William Ockham is? I need his razor.

  • smrnda

    The fact that our reason is naturally flawed is no more a limitation on what we can figure out than our limitations in physical strength, vision or motor control. When some organ can’t do what we want it to do, we invent a machine to do it for us, or we find a new way of using our existing equipment augmented by technology or better procedures.

    If you think about how an experiment works, it makes the investigation of a hypothesis as simple, mindless and automatic as possible so that people who often know nothing at all can conduct the experiment.

    On bias – people tend to show in-group biases. Let’s say two people are reviewing candidates for jobs – one person decides to remove names from the resumes. The person who did that has just avoiding being biased because there are now fewer indicators if in terms of race/ethnicity/gender a particular candidate is the same as the reviewer. We can get around many of our biases and limitations if we use the right techniques, so we can tell whose conclusions are more trustworthy based on the methods the person used.

    The ‘everybody is biased so you’re just as biased’ schoolyard taunt refuses to acknowledge that we have well-established procedures for avoiding bias and for helping us reach better conclusions.

    Saying that everybody’s reasoning is limited so we’re all equally fallible is like saying that since nobody can lift over 2000 pounds that a person with only their body and someone else with a crane *both cannot lift a car.*

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      The ‘everybody is biased so you’re just as biased’ schoolyard taunt

      This is like the, “Well, so what if I use faith? You do, too!

      Instead of celebrating faith, their way of finding information, they acknowledge the limitations but insist that the naturalist is just as flawed.

      A refreshing admission, I suppose.

    • WalterP

      This is fair.

      The problem with we’re-flawed/systems-aren’t thinking is that:

      a) scientific knowledge (or any other system) has been historically fallible. This is old news.

      b) there is no scientific consensus on theism/atheism anyway (find a peer-reviewed article testing atheism, for instance)

      c) Beyond that, Bob says scientists aren’t credible outside their subject area anyway (since many are crazy), so he refuses to let “the system” do heavy-living thinking for us on religion.

      To whom do we now turn, dear smrnda? Tell us.

      • smrnda

        Let’s say we had 2 weather predictors. One was correct 60% of the time. The other was correct 1% of the time. We’d go with the better one.

        Science gives us ‘current best hypotheses’ provided there are any – there are areas up for dispute, areas where the consensus is weak, and areas that are poorly explored. We also get better information when we get better lab equipment sometimes. Psychology is a whole new field thanks to things like the MRI machine.

        The other thing is that science gives us technologies that work. Even some science which gets labeled ‘outdated’ by people who want to poke holes in ‘scientism’ is still quite useful. Newton’s equations are not true in some extreme cases, but they still work fine for many engineering applications.

        So, overall, I’m going with science for useful information. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got.

        So what if it isn’t perfect? One thing that I do for work is I design software for making various predictions. I’m not going to hit 100% accuracy, but I have to hit a high enough mark that the software is actually useful, and this depends on the client and their needs. Sometimes just a better than chance (50%) rate is good enough to make a huge difference.

        As I’ve said before, I dismiss theism as pure speculation, and I’m interested in concrete, verifiable things. You can’t even test prayer since most religions are careful to explain away unanswered prayers. I see no reason to get involved with religion and I see no evidence for gods.

        • WalterP

          Sounds like you’re biting the bullet on a).

          But you haven’t overcome the problems of b) and c).

        • smrnda

          If you have some better means of obtaining reliable information about the universe outside of the scientific method, I’d like to hear what it is.

          Religious questions cannot be settled as they are (as I said many times prior) speculation, and that the claims of religion (gods existing or not) cannot be evaluated systematically.

          If I told you my house was haunted by extremely shy ghosts, I’d be supplying you with a hypothesis that I would consider roughly equivalent to a god hypothesis. Without any evidence aside from personal testimony or tradition (the previous 3 residents will agree with me, let’s say) and that the shy ghosts make dust appear and let spiders in the basement, I’d be providing you with a claim that’s qualitatively quite similar to a god hypothesis.

          I don’t believe in gods for the same reason I wouldn’t buy into the ‘shy ghosts’ story – it’s too easy to make up and cannot be disproved. In the absence of positive evidence for something, I’m going to disbelieve that it exists until I see evidence.

          So my question – what evidence for gods, outside of personal experiences, am I ignoring?

        • WalterP

          Well this is an interesting move: you seem to have come to somewhat of an impasse on the “infallibility through systems” attempt, so we’re back to convincing a single mind that something exists through reasoning.

          Yet your argument began as a means to move reasoning beyond the limited capacities of a single mind.

          You were actually on fairly strong ground for arguing for systems and procedure; that’s considered a “conventionalist” approach to truth. Yet I think the real problem is still b) and c): the system is silent on the matters we need them to answer for us.

        • smrnda

          No system is infallible – they keep getting better and we can’t foresee how good they will get. It could be possible that someone starts using some measurement tool that is found to have some flaw that later invalidates some findings, so there’s even a possibility that we might go backwards.

          I have repeated endlessly that any questions regarding god are outside of the realm of systematic knowledge. I cannot disprove that gods exist. There exist no ways of testing this matter (if you have some, please let me know.) Therefore, with no evidence on the matter and no way to obtain any, I’d just conclude that ‘god’ or ‘gods’ are worthless speculation, on the level of the shy ghosts of smrnda hall.

          What I would probably say is that there are some conceivable ideas that cannot be tested, investigated, or even reasoned about. The concept of ‘god’ is often logically inconsistent, so I just think they’re a waste of time.

        • smrnda

          You tend to use a lot of academic jargon, and I notice that you offer a lot of critiques but without putting for any concrete suggestions for alternatives.

          I disbelieve in god. What evidence am I ignoring? Is there some means of testing the existence of gods that I have overlooked? Please be concrete, I need concrete things since I am very much an arch-materialist, and I prefer concrete examples to banter about ‘isms.’ Why should the existence of gods be a pressing question to need to resolve?

          I mean, I don’t believe in ghosts, despite many people who testify that they exist, and I don’t spend time worrying about it either.

        • WalterP

          I have repeated endlessly that any questions regarding god are outside
          of the realm of systematic knowledge. I cannot disprove that gods exist.
          There exist no ways of testing this matter (if you have some, please
          let me know.)

          We are probably fairly close to being on the same page then.

        • smrnda

          Perhaps the difference is that I say the existence of gods cannot be verified, so any level of belief in them is speculation, or based on kinds of ‘evidence’ that nobody should expect anyone to find persuasive.

          Between the two claims of “I do not believe in gods” or “I believe in some particular god or gods” I find the latter to be more presumptuous. I’ll believe in Zeus when I can call on Zeus and he answers with a thunderbolt. Zeus could choose to do this consistently, if he existed. The fact that there’s some possibility that Zeus is real, but just not interested in making himself known doesn’t make me think ‘well, let’s start assuming that Zeus exists.’ If I said “at present, I see no evidence for Zeus” I feel like that’s the far safer claim than “well, the possibility that Zeus exists is not zero, therefore let’s worship Zeus.”

          My background is in mathematics, where proving something does not or cannot exist is a normal, everyday affair, bu which is harder to do outside of an axiomatic system. I don’t think anyone has ever run a marathon in one hour, but I can’t prove that nobody has, and the only evidence that it could be done would be someone doing it. So I would never say “I believe a one hour marathon is possible” nobody knows. I could say that it’s unlikely, but I know of no means of proving it cannot be done. Perhaps someone with better knowledge of exercise physiology could offer something, but we’d still only be dealing with relative possibilities and not absolutes.

        • WalterP

          If I said “at present, I see no evidence for Zeus” I feel like that’s the far safer claim than “well, the possibility that Zeus exists is not zero, therefore let’s worship Zeus.”

          Fair, but since you said earlier that “the questions regarding gods are outside the realm of systematic knowledge” and there are “no ways of testing this matter,” you should stop using the word “evidence,” which has strong evidentialist/empriicist/experimental undertones. I believe you’re comfortable recognizing naturalism, atheism, Zeus-ism and theism as questions going beyond the very narrow confines of what “science” can tell us.

          So stick with that: the possibility that religious system x is true is not zero, but you don’t find it personally compelling at this moment. And, as Bob says above, you are open to the possibility that you may “reject your views if a preponderance of evidence [in a broad sense] said that they were wrong” in the future.

          That sounds so very “reasonable”…probably too reasonable for this crowd.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      When “accused of faith” I answer: “I have reasonable expectations based on prior evidence.” Those expectations can be adjusted based on new data, and subjected to examination. Not so with “faith.”

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        The question, “Would you reject your views if a preponderance of evidence said that they were wrong?” if honestly answered, might help in separating religious faith from trust in science.

  • bizeditor84

    It seems like the commenters did not address this key point in our host’s blog post: “Evolution selected for animals that had a good understanding of reality.Those that didn’t—those whose senses gave unreliable information and whose brains evaluated the information poorly—became lunch.”
    Saying “evolution selected” is to self contradict. The neo Darwinian synthesis posits that evolution occurs when species undergo a mutation that confers a survival or reproductive advantage in the animal’s environment (“natural selection”). Evolution is not the subject of the verb “select” — evolution is the supposed process, which is undirected in mutations and in the environment where they occur.
    So – it seems our host needs now to explain how exactly the mutations occur that modify intelligence and modify behavior. I mean exactly how — not hand-waving assertions about what “must have happened” but an actual process explanation.
    My reading on the subject suggests that evolutionary biologists have no process-level explanation of undirected mutations causing changes in intelligence and changes in behavior. They usually just say in essence “if the species didn’t mutate right (adapt), then it died” — but that addresses only the second part of evolution (natural selection), not the all important first part: what mutated and how?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Your point is that you reject evolution? It’s the scientific consensus. I can’t imagine any lay response to that.

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