Responding to CognitiveFaith

I happened across a blog which criticized me for saying that empirical scientists and rational skeptics care more about truth than religious believers do.

Interesting thought.  Especially since Mr. Ra also believes that those who believe in God have no interest in the truth.  But is the truth rational skeptics, as Mr. Ra identifies himself as, care about the whole and complete truth, or is any partial truth ok?  Or is it that since, in Mr. Ra’s estimation, Christians have no real care for the truth that any care for the truth no matter how small or partial , would be more?  Somehow I get the impression that neither of these is what he meant.

What I meant is that scientists only care about how accurate their position can be shown to be, and not whether they’ve convinced anyone else. Meanwhile religious believers only care about how convinced they appear to be. Since nothing they believe is in any way implied by any testable data whatsoever, they have no reason to believe what they do. Yet somehow it doesn’t bother them that none of their beliefs are verifiably accurate to any degree at all. Thus they have virtually no probability of being even partially correct, and no possibility of being completely or certainly correct.

Many times theists have made public statements to the effect that whether they believe matters more than whether any of it is true, because they think there are consequences to believing differently or not believing any of it at all.  They imagine their god will punish them simply for not believing. According to their interpretations of man-made mythology, that is the one-and-only thing their god seems to care about. This to me is an indication that the god in question was created in the minds of people who really really want to pretend that they’re more important than they are, and that they have some destiny beyond what could really be due to them. I find it sad to see people in such a state.

The only thing that really matters is that we find some way to determine where and how we ourselves are wrong, what are the flaws in our position, and how do we correct them? Because that is the only way our understanding can improve. Faith prevents this. Even though it is an unsupported assumption asserted without warrant, faith makes the erroneous claim of certain knowledge of absolute truth, and often insists that it cannot even be wrong. This is just part of the reason why faith is the most dishonest position it is possible to have.

But my critic continues:

So if Mr. Ra is so committed to truth why does he have such an aversion to it?  While busily stating over & over , I suppose in the hope that repetition will make something true, that evolution has been proven, he steadfastly avoids calling evolution a law, the scientific proclamation of true, provable, and reproducible fact.  Fair enough, part of scientific law requires a theory to be reproducible, ie: standing on Earth, let go of an object and it will fall to the ground.
1. I have no aversion to truth.
2. Evolution is a provable, reproducible fact which is evidently true, but it would be inappropriate to call it a ‘law’, because there are actually many laws of evolution.
There are also many laws within the theory of gravity, some devised by Newton, some worked out by Einstein.  My critic’s problem is that, -like all creationists- he does not know what a ‘theory’ is.
But here is where Mr. Ra’s statements start to break down.  At 10:01 of his recorded lecture at Eastern Illinois University “Because it’s called the theory of gravity”.   Yes that’s right the theory of gravity.  Do you find it interesting that it is now the theory of gravity.  Has gravity been “Plutocized” from a law to a theory?  My guess is that the hope is by reducing certain laws of science to theories it will help elevate the theory of evolution in the public eye.
My critic goes on to accuse me of changing the meaning of the word he never understood. He even accuses me of lying about what a scientific theory is. So there would be no point in my citing where I have presented concise specific definitions from the Atheist Dictionary, even though I can prove that all those definitions are correct. Nor would it do any good for me to show him part 1 and part 2 of the video where I explain what a theory is. He doesn’t know what a law is either, but since he has already accused me of lying about these things, I suppose there would be no point in my explaining that either.
I could suggest that he do something he has obviously never done, and question his own assumptions: He should fact-check himself, look it up before pretending to know what he obviously doesn’t really know. But then, that’s what faith is all about, isn’t it?
On that note, I would like to mention that this weekend, I will finally get to meet Dr. Peter Boghossian at the 3rd Imagine No Religion conference in Kamloops British Columbia.
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  • tiberiusbeauregard

    What surprises me, time after time, is that so many theists make the exact same mistake.

    Why do SO MANY of them not know the basics about the things they’re trying to attack ?

    Where did they ever learn that a “theory” is merely an idea that you just pulled out of your ass?

    Where did they ever learn that a “theory” somehow “advances” to become a “natural law” or “a truth” ?

    Where exaxctly do all these different people get the same kind of mental horseshit treatment ?

  • smrnda

    This seems like an over-emphasis on wording on their part at the expense of saying anything meaningful. Science is about testable, falsifiable hypothesis. Religion involves unfalsifiable claims – answered prayers prove a god is real, but unanswered ones don’t disprove the god is real, or that the god loves the believer.

    I think this is at the root of the problem. Religious people make the mistake of viewing scientific ‘truths’ as some kind of axiomatic system rather than as a series of hypotheses that are tested and discarded, or possibly refined with better evidence.

  • Stacy

    Where exaxctly do all these different people get the same kind of mental horseshit treatment ?

    Well, a lot of them probably are getting their misinformation from the same places. Groups like Answers in Genesis and various other creationist groups propagate this stuff.

  • Mr. Dave

    This is a classic scene that I see played out repeatedly without end. Ignorant person attempts a debate with misrepresentations, lies and fallacies, the defense of which goes straight back to ignorance. There are those who expect to be given what I basically call a remedial science course, wasting great lengths of time, then turn around and ape (evolutionary pun intended) Ray Comfort by pretending that they have not understood a single bit of it. It is simply a time waster to frustrate people and then claim victory when no sane person who values their time, will debate with them.

    Aron, I would suggest charging people like this for your time up front, calling it an ‘educational fee”, two hours minimum fee, with continuous payments as the conversation goes on. (Like a long-distance call from a pay telephone, deposit x funds, or the call will be terminated.)

    There are too many more meaningful things to be done than waste time on the Ray Comforts of the world. he gets paid for playing the idiot, why not be paid for educating? Otherwise, just blow them off and tell them to go to school or read real science books, not religious bovine-fecal-matter-sculptor websites.

    • Kees

      I can’t speak for Aron, but Richard Dawkins has made the point that whenever he publicly opposes creationists it is not about them. It is for the benefit of the audience.

      Suppose Aronra debates Comfort. He will never convince or educate Comfort, but an indoctrinated, ignorant follower of Comfort will have Comforts faults exposed. Though I doubt that a single debate is enough to convince anyone, hopefully there is dissonance that results from hearing Comfort schooled. This could prompt someone like that to start reevaluating some of their beliefs, and seed some doubt about their own education on the subject.

      • Mr. Dave

        And the key words to what Mr. Dawkins does, are “publicly opposes”. I’m talking from the viewpoint of one-on-one conversations that are not generally known of. Would you think Aron would consider it worthwhile to have his conversations with the likes of Comfort in private? I don’t think so. I’m at fault for not stating this more clearly, so I apologize for that.

        • Kees

          Would you think Aron would consider it worthwhile to have his conversations with the likes of Comfort in private?

          Who knows :D ?

          General: Aron, what is best in life?

          Aron: To crush creationists, see them squirm before you, and to hear the lamentations of their strawmen!

  • Kevin

    Same old same old.

    Some idiot doesn’t understand the first thing about science, but doesn’t like it.

    They grow them stupid in whatever part of the world he’s from (which sadly, could be just about anywhere in the world).

    • Lord Narf

      They grow them stupid in whatever part of the world he’s from …

      It’s often right here in the US, though, sadly.

    • L.Long

      Its not that they are stupid. Its the idea that evilution opposes their genesis/jesus myth AND they have no direct need of it, so it aint true. But the same science that lets the boob-tube work and the newest idiot-tube, the iPhone work is important so that is real and OK.. I told one Xtian that he was a lying hypocrite and when he throws away his iphone I will believe that he really thinks science is wrong; he has yet to do so.

      • Kevin

        You give them way too much credit.

        I live around these people. They’re not “uneducated”. They’re stupid.

        As is “the world is average and they’re under-achieving.”

        As in “not the sharpest set of knives in the drawer.”

        Oh no. I see stupid people. They’re everywhere. In fact, for many of these benighted personages, I don’t even bother. The elevator does not rise to the floor necessary for them to understand what it is I’m talking about. And, in fact, they don’t even have a button for that floor in their personal elevator.

        Stupid is. It’s as real as air.

      • theignored

        If he’s anything like Vox Day, he’ll say that technology is (somehow) different than science and that it’s “entrepreneuship” that brought it about.

  • Kevin

    Aron: I don’t think you should charge them for your time. I think you should make them pass a basic science literacy test before you even start.

    1. What is the age of the universe to our best approximation?

    2. What is the age of the solar system?

    3. What is the minimum number of stars that had to die before our solar system was possible?

    4. What does “descent with modification” mean

    5. What does “natural selection” mean?

    6. If you discovered a crocoduck or a cat giving birth to a dog, would that count as a proof or disproof of evolutionary theory?

    7. What is the definition of “scientific theory”?

    My guess is that you’d just have to hand out “You Fail” cards to the vast majority. Save your breath for someone who at least won’t trot out tired canards.

    • Kees

      I actually have no idea what the answer to number 3 is…

      Number 6 would be a nice question, as it can expose a whole range of stupid ideas, and it forces creationists to actually think about what their mental model of evolution is, and what it would and would not predict. I would change the word ‘proof’ with ‘evidence’ though.

      If he saves his breath until he finds a creationist that doesn’t use tired canards, he’ll soon be able to traverse the Atlantic by swimming underwater.

      • Lord Narf

        Question #3 is a little odd.

        It’s more complex than just a sequential series of supernovas.

        • Kevin

          The answer is “at least two, one of which had to have been a supernova”.

          Source: Lawrence Krauss in his book “Atom”. It’s a good read.

          • Lord Narf

            Yup, that’s what I said down on comment 6.3. I don’t recall the exact reasoning for it … why we need the non-supernova to be in there … but I’ve read the explanation previously. The actual number is much higher and more complicated than that, but he’s addressing hypothetical minimums.

    • L.Long

      #6 is easily answered……Its a MIRACLE from Jesus!!!!!!!

    • EnlightenmentLiberal – formerly codemonkey

      >3. What is the minimum number of stars that had to die before our solar system was possible?

      Was your intended answer “1”? Because of stellar nucleosynthesis and the accretion theory of our solar system formation?

      • Lord Narf

        I’ve heard physicists say 2, although I can’t remember the exact reason why the first one wouldn’t have given us all of the elements we find on earth.

        • moarscienceplz

          I think the way it works is that a 1st gen star can form the elements up to Iron, but no further because fusion of heavier atoms consumes more energy than it generates. Then it takes the energy of a supernova explosion to “glue’ multiple heavy atoms together in order to get Uranium and such.

    • Jasper of Maine

      I don’t know that I’d have trivia as part of this qualifications test… I’d keep it to the methodology/standards of evidence. Anyone can have missing information about particular little facts.

      I think your 4 through 7 are a good start, particularly when it comes to the evolution/creationism/intelligent design(creationism) debate.

      I’d throw in some basics for common logical fallacies – arguments from ignorance, arguments from analogy, association fallacies, false dichotomies, and equivocation fallacies, etc. If they don’t know these, the conversation isn’t bound to be productive.

      • Kevin

        Well, you consider the age of the universe and solar system trivial…but trust me, about 40% of the US population will claim the answer to both questions is “about 6000 years old”.

        If he gets that answer, he can just give a “Fail” card and move on.

        FORTY PERCENT of the US population thinks the universe AND the solar system is 6000 years old or thereabouts.

        • Lord Narf

          I think what he was objecting to is the requirement for detailed trivia. If someone says 3 or 4 billion, for the age of the universe, good enough. You can’t expect every non-scientist to know the exact age of the universe to 3 decimal places. Any answer within an order of magnitude is good enough, for screening purposes.

          #3 is far too picky. Knowing that our solar system formed from the castoff of the supernova of a previous star is quite sufficient cosmological knowledge to make someone worth talking to. When you’re putting together a list of screening questions, you need to be very lenient and focus more on patterns of thought, rather than trivia.

    • Jasper of Maine

      I think I’m getting to the point where I’d like to insist on some actual productive debate.

      In a scientific sense, in order for something to be held as true, it typically goes through several tiers:

      1) Basic Observation and data collection, where evidence is validated against the standards of evidence.

      2) Sufficient evidence is gathered and is used to make a case for a proposed theory/model that explains all the available data with the fewest assumptions, and contradicted by the smallest amount of data.

      3) Peer review

      4) Well supported by several studies/scientific consensus

      … but when talking to creationists, we don’t even succeed at #1. They have no observations, and they have no idea of even the most rudimentary concepts of standards of evidence. Half the time, they’re “evidence” is disqualified, and they’re left with nothing.

      After spending so long being stuck at Tier 0 – data disqualified due to sophisticated interwoven networks of logical fallacies and discordance with the basic standards of evidence – I’m a little antsy to graduate from this kindergarten debate.

      • Kevin

        It’s the pre-suppositionalist mindset — it completely negates the standard definition of what is counted as “evidence”.

        Pre-suppositionalists will declare the existence of the universe to be evidence for the existence of god. Other “evidence”:

        The constants of nature

        The beauty of a sunset (seriously)

        The feeling of love you get looking at a baby (who isn’t screaming right behind you on an airplane)

        The fact that one person survived a natural disaster — and especially if that person was a child.

        And on and on.

        They have no idea what the word “evidence” means.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal – formerly codemonkey

          At the very least, it’s evidence for a claim if you expect to see it if the claim is true, and – here’s the important part – you expect to not see it if the claim is false. Otherwise, it’s an interesting factoid, not evidence.

          It’s related to something I shamelessly steal from the logical positivists: propositions about things in our shared reality with material causal power have to be (scientifically) falsifiable to even be worthy of consideration.

          Also, this is me raging from just thinking about how presups conflate the christian god with nebulous deist first-case gods. One has nothing to do with the other. Demonstrating first-cause gods gets you no closer to demonstrating the christian god.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal – formerly codemonkey



    How can people really be this willfully ignorant to say anything so stupid? You know it’s been explained to this person many, many times, and they refuse to listen. Semantic word games; missing the forest for the trees.

    • moarscienceplz

      Well, if it’s been explained to him and he still won’t accept it then bad for him. But to be fair, I thought for a very long time that there was a hierarchy from Hypothesis to Theory to Law. I think many scientists (and a WHOLE lot of science teachers) still do.

      • EnlightenmentLiberal – formerly codemonkey

        Meh. I stand corrected.

        If this is an important issue to them, and if they claim to be educated on the topic, then they have no excuse. But I suppose the average person has a decent excuse of non-willful ignorance.

  • No One

    Russ Pratt,

    since you don’t have a degree in science*:

    Man up, admit you spoke from ignorance, and apologize.

    * like Aron has.

  • PZ Myers

    Have a good time in Kamloops — it’s an excellent meeting. I’m sorry I couldn’t go this year, but I made a prior promise to go to Women in Secularism this time around.

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  • timberwoof

    Your critic doesn’t understand what a scientific law is. Hypotheses don’t graduate to become theories, and theories don’t get promoted to laws. They are very different things from one another.

    A scientific law is a mathematical relationship: Newton’s Laws state the equations that describe Newton’s Theory of Gravity. Maxwell’s equations and Einstein’s equations are laws that describe the electrical theory and Relativity. Plot the number of earthquakes by magnitude and you find they follow a “power law”: ten times as many M3 as M4, and so on. The best example of theories not graduating to become laws is Keplers Laws of planetary motion, which were described before Newton came up with his theory of gravity.

    • Jasper of Maine

      My analogy has been: “Law is to Theory as Screwdriver is to Toolbox. Screwdrivers are not graduated toolboxes.”