A Scientific Question? Part 3

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins asserts some interesting and controversial claims about the epistemology of religious belief, especially the belief that God exists. He asserts that this belief is a scientific hypothesis, that the question at issue is a scientific question, and that the correct answer to the question is a scientific fact.

A Scientific Hypothesis

…’the God Hypothesis’ is a scientific hypothesis about the universe…
(TGD, p.2, emphasis added)

…the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.
(TGD, p. 50, emphasis added)

A Scientific Question

Either he [God] exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question
(TGD, p.48, emphasis added)

A Scientific Fact

…God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe…
(TGD, p.50, emphasis added)

Because Dawkins has been the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford since 1995, it is no surprise that his chapter on “Scientific Investigation” provides a clear and plausible explanation of what he means by a “scientific hypothesis”. Actually, there is no such chapter in The God Delusion, but in the Chapter subsection (there are more than 50 subsections in the book) on the nature of science, Dawkins does give a solid explanation of what is involved in scientific inquiry; except that, there is no such subsection. But he spells out a good analysis of the concept of a “scientific hypothesis” in a few paragraphs in Chapter Two….wait; no he doesn’t.

To be honest, there is not a single sentence, at least in the first four chapters of The God Delusion (the Chapters where Dawkins deals with the question of the existence of God), in which Dawkins defines or attempts to clarify what the phrase “scientific hypothesis” means, or any other related phrase (“scientific question” or “scientific fact”). So, the interesting claim that Dawkins makes in the area of epistemology of religious belief, is left as clear as mud.

Any philosopher who attempted to publish an article defending the claim that the question of the existence of God was “a scientific question” while providing no definition or clarification of the term “scientific question” would not only fail to get published, but would likely be advised to return to school to learn some basic skills in philosophical reasoning. That is the advantage of publishing a popular book about the existence of God: one need not worry about getting past peer reviews by people who can reason well.

Before I attempt to clarify either what Dawkins had in mind, or to do my own analysis of the concept of a “scientific question”, I will argue that when Dawkins makes a similar claim about belief in miracles, his own example reveals this claim to be false.

In discussion about NOMA (Stephen Gould’s presentation of the idea that science and religion/theology deal with very different sorts of questions and thus science has no relevance for determining the truth of religious/theological beliefs), Dawkins asserts that miracle claims should be investigated scientifically and only scientifically:

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice – or not yet – a decided one. So also is the truth or falsehood of every one of the miracle stories that religions rely upon to impress multitudes of the faithful. (TGD, p.58-59, emphasis added)

Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth?…Did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Did he himself come alive again, three days after being crucified? There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover it in practice, and it is a strictly scientific answer. The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods. (TGD, p.59, emphasis added)

On the face of it, Dawkins’ epistemological claim about miracles has a better chance of being correct than his epistemological claim about God, because miracle claims concern observable events in the physical world, whereas the belief in God is a belief about the existence of an invisible, intangible, non-physical person or mind.

Scientific investigation seems more likely to have something to say about observable events in the physical world than about invisible, intangible, non-physical persons. So, if Dawkins’ claim about epistemology of miracles is wrong, then we should be very skeptical about his epistemological claim on the question of the existence of God.

Here is an example from Dawkins of how scientific investigation could resolve the status of a miracle claim:

…imagine, by some remarkable set of circumstances, that forensic archaeologists unearthed DNA evidence to show that Jesus really did lack a biological father. Can you imagine religious apologists shrugging their shoulders and saying anything remotely like the following? Who cares? Scientific evidence is completely irrelevant to theological questions. …Neither DNA nor any other scientific evidence could ever have any bearing on the matter, one way or the other.
The very idea is a joke. You can bet your boots that the scientific evidence, if any were to turn up, would be seized upon and trumpeted to the skies.
(TGD, p.59)

While this example does indeed cast serious doubt on NOMA, especially the idea that science can have nothing to say about religious/theological questions, it also shows that miracle claims cannot be evaluated “purely and entirely” by means of “scientific methods”. Miracle claims are often historical claims, and any miracle claim about an alleged event in the life of Jesus is necessarily an historical claim, so unless historical investigation can be reduced to scientific investigation, then Dawkins’ strong claim looks very dubious.

A bit of reflection about the example that Dawkins gives will show this to be a very serious difficulty for his epistemological claim about miracles. Finding a bit of human DNA that has indications that the person from whom the DNA came had no father does not settle the question “Did Jesus have a human father?” nor does it answer the question “Was Jesus born to a mother who was a virgin at the time of his birth?” In order to answer those questions, we need DNA from Jesus, not just from any random person.

How might we come across DNA from Jesus? Suppose that dried drops of human blood were found on the Shroud of Turin, and the DNA in that blood showed evidence that the person from whom the blood came had no biological father. We still need to ask the question, “Were these drops of blood from Jesus?” otherwise, the DNA evidence has no relevance to our theological questions, which are questions about Jesus.

One way of trying to connect the Shroud of Turin to Jesus, is to argue that the particular wounds indicated by the image on the Shroud are strikingly similar to the wounds that Jesus received when he was beaten, scourged, and crucified. I’m not impressed by this argument, but I can imagine the evidence for these correspondences being stronger and clearer. It is, at least in principle, possible to find such evidence plausibly linking a shroud to Jesus of Nazareth.

However, we are making some important assumptions here. Was Jesus of Nazareth an actual historical person? If so, when and where did Jesus live? If so, was Jesus in fact crucified by the Romans? If so, what sort of beatings and wounds were inflicted upon Jesus as part of the crucifixion? Was Jesus nailed to the cross, as most depictions of the crucifixion show, or was he tied to the cross, as many other victims of crucifixion were? These are clearly historical questions. The main evidence comes from the Gospels, but there is also some archeological evidence, and some other historical sources that must be taken into consideration.

It seems fairly obvious that these historical questions require historical investigation, that is, the use of historical evidence and historical methods for dealing with that evidence. Biochemistry and physics simply will not answer these historical questions.

So, yes, DNA evidence could conceivably become relevant to the “theological” question, “Was Jesus born to a mother who was a virgin at the time of his birth?” So, NOMA is false. But, no, the use of methods that are “purely and entirely” scientific methods will never yield an answer to this question, because in order for DNA evidence, for example, to be relevant, the DNA sample must first be connected to Jesus, and the job of doing that connection belongs to historians and requires the application of historical methods to historical evidence.

Dawkins own example refutes both NOMA and his own strong epistemological claim about how we should investigate alleged miracles, especially the traditional historical miracles used to promote religious belief. Thus, we should be very skeptical about Dawkins epistemological claim concerning the power of science to settle the question “Does God exist?”

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    You seem to be going to a lot of trouble to misunderstand the obvious.

    Your whole argument seems to be based on creating a false distinction between "scientific" claims and "historical" claims based on semantic hairsplitting. It's as if you wish to create another non-overlapping magisterium — "History" — about which "Science" cannot have anything meaningful to say.

    I suppose Dawkins might have devoted more time in his book to nailing down precisely what he means by "a scientific claim," but he probably just thought — as I do — that would be a tedious bit of pedantry. It's obvious that Dawkins means "a claim about things actually happening in the world." In that sense "History" and "Science" broadly overlap, and "historical claims" are special categories of "scientific claims."

    Dawkins point is that religion routinely makes such claims actual things in the actual world, and Gould's NOMA is merely a bit of wishful thinking that a kind of "Religion" that never made any such claims would be safe from skepticism and satisfying to the vast majority of its own practitioners.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    By "scientific," Dawkins simply meant "empirical." It is an interesting question whether or not God's existence is an empirical matter. I think it depends entirely on how you define "God." By some definitions, it would be empirical, with the evidence pointing to God's nonexistence. (My book shows that.) By other definitions, it is an a priori issue, with relevant a priori arguments proving God's nonexistence. (My essay on incompatible-properties arguments provides examples.) And by still other definitions, the sentence "God exists" would be cognitively meaningless and neither an empirical nor a priori matter at all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Browning:

    You write: "I suppose Dawkins might have devoted more time in his book to nailing down precisely what he means by 'a scientific claim,' but he probably just thought — as I do — that would be a tedious bit of pedantry. It's obvious that Dawkins means 'a claim about things actually happening in the world.'"

    There are many clearly scientific claims which are not claims about things actually happening in the world. So if that's what Dawkins means by "scientific claim" then he is obviously wrong. Or perhaps it's you who are wrong in thinking that this is what Dawkins means. Which once again shows that it is a really good idea to define one's terms.

    I think the truth is that Dawkins's "The God Delusion" is just a piece of mediocre work where nothing makes much sense, especially not his philosophical argument for the (as he puts it) scientific question about the existence of God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    @ Dianelos.

    You say, "There are many clearly scientific claims which are not claims about things actually happening in the world."

    Such as? Are you referring to claims that might be wrong? Or are you confused by the tense "happening?"

    If so, I think that is a deliberately obtuse misunderstanding of what Dawkins (and I) are saying, and I think you are determined to misunderstand in this way because you think it gives you some slim purchase to rag on Dawkins' book.

    But if you have some example of even a single scientific claim that is not concerned with things happening in the world, I will feel most enlightened and grateful to know what it is.

    Regarding Dawkins' mediochre and nonsensical philiosophy: Every criticism of Dawkins' philosophy that I have ever read either fails to state directly any case against him at all — relying strictly on allusions to absent authorities — or, in the rare case where his critics feel brave enough to articulate a case, it turns out to be a lot of transparently desperate sophistry, and you can see why the were so slow to bring it into the light in the first place. If you have something to offer besides a bald assertion, I will be happy to have my mind changed, but so far it looks like there's no there there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Ted,

    The term “empirical” is quite ambiguous itself. For example, is the experience of God many mystics speak of empirical? Is the claim that “Halle Berry is more beautiful than Winston Churchil” an empirical one? Math is a science, but would you say that the mathematical claim “there is no greatest prime” is an empirical one?

    Perhaps by “empirical” you mean “objectively measurable”, or “objectively testable”. If so, I'd tend to agree with you. But if that’s Dawkins’s meaning, then how come the existence of God is a scientific claim? To my knowledge no theistic philosopher has claimed that the existence of God is objectively measurable or testable.

    I personally would say that a claim is scientific if it is a claim about physical phenomena – either individual observational facts or mathematical patterns present in such observational facts. I think that’s a good understanding of what “scientific claim” means, because if I opened any scientific book (including books on mathematics) I would only find claims that comport with that understanding. I wonder if a reader could suggest a counterexample.

    Conversely, the fact that no scientific books, such as are taught in serious universities in the recognized fields of science, discuss the existence of God one way or the other, belies Dawkins's belief that "God exists" is a scientific claim. His idea is really made-up nonsense, and I wish knowledgeable atheists would speak up against it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Browning,

    You write: “But if you have some example of even a single scientific claim that is not concerned with things happening in the world, I will feel most enlightened and grateful to know what it is.

    My knowledge of English is not perfect, but I understand “happening in the world” as synonymous with “event”, and there are many scientific claims that do not refer to events, for example the claim about the mass of electrons. Would you say that the claim that an electron has a mass of 9*10^-31 kg is something “that is happening in the world”? Never mind such claims as “The highest peak on Earth is Mount Everest”, or “The smallest prime is 2”.

    Every criticism of Dawkins' philosophy that I have ever read either fails to state directly any case against him at all — relying strictly on allusions to absent authorities — or, in the rare case where his critics feel brave enough to articulate a case, it turns out to be a lot of transparently desperate sophistry, and you can see why the were so slow to bring it into the light in the first place. If you have something to offer besides a bald assertion, I will be happy to have my mind changed, but so far it looks like there's no there there.

    Well, I suggest you read noted philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s review (http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/marapr/1.21.html) or noted biologist H. Allen Orr’s review (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/jan/11/a-mission-to-convert/). Or even mine at the Amazon.com customer reviews page. I don’t think you’ll find “allusions to absent authorities” or “transparently desperate sophistry” in them.

    Incidentally, which criticisms of “Dawkins’s philosophy” have you read? And why would you say that Dawkins is doing philosophy when, as Dawkins says, the existence of God is a scientific question? Do you think that philosophy is the proper way to deal with scientific questions?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17239457772830013242 tmdrange

    Dianelos wrote: The term “empirical” is quite ambiguous itself. For example, is the experience of God many mystics speak of empirical? Is the claim that “Halle Berry is more beautiful than Winston Churchill” an empirical one? Math is a science, but would you say that the mathematical claim “there is no greatest prime” is an empirical one?

    By "empirical," I mean "knowable, though requiring sensory experience to be known." That would exclude mystical experience, aesthetic judgments, and pure math (such as number theory), though applied math could be empirical.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    @Dianelos.

    I think we are all talking about the same thing — that is, scientific claims are concerned with "objectively measurable events" or "things happening in the real world." I stand by my phrasing though. The mass of an electron is not some static abstract fact. The concept of an electron's mass is meaningless unless it exerts some observable effect on the world, which is an event. We can only know the mass of an electron by finding some way to measure it, and that measurement is itself an event. There may be a distinction to be drawn here, but I don't see that it's particularly relevant to this conversation. Quibbling over it is a red herring.

    You ask: "Why would you say that Dawkins is doing philosophy when, as Dawkins says, the existence of God is a scientific question?" Well, why not? The assertion that God is a scientific hypothesis is in a sense a philosophical one. The standard critique of TGD is that Dawkins is a embarrassingly naive philosopher. In other words, his critics are claiming that he is "doing philosophy" — but doing it very badly. So I'm not sure where your questions are coming from. Are you asking because you think that Dawkins is not doing philosophy? Or that, being a scientist, he has no right to do philosophy? Or that any proposition that contains the word "science" is necessarily not philosophical? Are science and philosophy now supposed to be NOMA as well?

    What critiques of Dawkins have I read? I've read a some articles and reviews by Karen Armstrong and Terry Eagleton and many others whose names escape me at the moment. I gave Orr's review a read on your suggestion. I think I may have read it before and forgotten it. I didn't find much in the way of meat there. A lot of irritatingly flimsy concern trolling. I've read the Plantinga piece. Really not impressed with him.

    Plantinga is the one who seems confused, deeply. His argument that naturalism is incompatible with evolution is laughable because he observes that a belief need not be true to be adaptive (true enough) and from that he assumes that any false belief is equally likely to be adaptive as any true one (absurd), and from there it's just a small bit of jiggery pokery to get to the remarkable conclusion that evolution is incompatible with naturalism. It's just a kind of cyncially tactical radical skepticism with a great deal of hot air whipped into it to give it bulk. It's transparently ridiculous. Also Plantinga seems to think that the burden of proof is on atheists to show that God is improbable, since God "according to classical theism" is "maximally probable." Oh, well, okay then. I guess we're just lucky that there is no such thing as classical fairyism to tell us that fairies are maximally probable, because then we'd have to get busy making the case for the improbability of fairies as well, and there are only so many hours in the day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Browning,

    You write: “We can only know the mass of an electron by finding some way to measure it, and that measurement is itself an event.

    That one needs some event to measure the electron’s mass does not make the electron’s mass an event. The electron would have exactly that mass at the absence of the event of measuring it. But this is an insignificant point. The point I wish to make is that even third rate philosophers define their terms, and if Dawkins wished to play philosopher he should have defined his terms also.

    So I'm not sure where your questions are coming from. Are you asking because you think that Dawkins is not doing philosophy?

    What I am saying is that it is absurd to claim that question X is a scientific one and then proceed to answer it using philosophical means, as Dawkins does. If there is one thing everybody agrees with is that scientific questions are to be answered by scientific means. So Dawkins appears to be rather confused here.

    Or that, being a scientist, he has no right to do philosophy?

    Sure he has the right. Fundamentalist Christians who have not really studied the relevant science, also have the right to play scientists and argue that Darwinism is almost certainly wrong because their grandfather does not look like an ape.

    As for the issue of the reviews of “The God Delusion”, I’d say that as a matter of fact most reviews by knowledgeable people have not been positive. Which, frankly, I find not surprising. The other thing we may be fairly certain of is that Dawkins’s philosophical argument to show why God almost certainly does not exist, and which according to Dawkins is the centerpiece of the book, won’t be taught in academic courses of philosophy in the future.

    I guess we're just lucky that there is no such thing as classical fairyism to tell us that fairies are maximally probable, because then we'd have to get busy making the case for the improbability of fairies as well, and there are only so many hours in the day.

    As is the case with so many analogies one finds in popular atheism, this analogy too is a bad one. After all fairies are supposed to live within the physical universe, are supposed to be physically visible, and so on. Thus the existence of fairies is a scientific question, and can easily enough be answered by scientific means. I mean it’s not like we believe that fairies almost certainly do not exist because of some philosophical argument of the type that Dawkins puts forward in his book. Nor has Dawkins written a book titled “The Fairies Delusion”, or has debated with other eminent thinkers the existence of fairies. Nor do many naturalistic philosophers study fairyology. Nor are there Nobel laureates in physics who believe in fairies. So the analogy between belief in God and belief in fairies is about as dim-witted as it gets.

    What I find remarkable is how so many atheists who fancy themselves experts in matters of self-delusion, demonstrably delude themselves into thinking that belief in God is not just false but trivially so, comparable to believing in fairies, or to believing in orbiting tea pots, flying spaghetti monsters, invisible dragons in the garage, and other such nonsense. Not to mention Dawkins’s delusion to believe that he was so philosophically astute as to spot a definitive philosophical argument against theism that all professional atheistic philosophers had missed. Or the delusion of millions of his admiring readers that he has made a good case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley,

    You write: “So, yes, DNA evidence could conceivably become relevant to the “theological” question, “Was Jesus born to a mother who was a virgin at the time of his birth?” So, NOMA is false.

    NOMA does not say that theistic beliefs cannot possibly contradict science. Of course they can, and indeed many theistic beliefs have been proven wrong by science. On the other hand please observe that what counts as a “theistic belief” is often what is written in ancient scripture. Ancient scripture does not consist of purely religious thought, but also includes much of the thought at the time they were written in fields which we would now call natural science, history, sociology, morality, epistemology, etc. No reasonable person would expect all that ancient knowledge to be free from error.

    It seems to me that NOMA is not only true but trivially so. Science is the study of nature, and, according to a basic theistic belief, nature is one more thing that God does. Theism is the study of God, including all that God does and why. So, when science proves that a belief held by theists about nature is wrong, then science does precisely that: correct a belief about nature that theists used to hold. NOMA does not say that there can’t be false beliefs about nature that theists used to hold; just that science’s and religion’s fields of study are complementary (or, to be more precise, that the natural sciences are a specialized field of study within theism). When a theist works in natural science, she feels like illuminating part of what God really does. And if she discovers something that falsifies some previously held belief about God’s own physical universe, so much the better. All knowledge about what God does is welcome by a theist.

    The converse does not hold, for naturalism and natural science do overlap in a dangerous way. And, sure enough, recent scientific discoveries, from the nature of quantum phenomena, to the complexity of the behavior of physical primitives, to the Big Bang cosmology, to the apparent fine-tuning of the fundamental constants, to the deeply mathematical nature of the universe, to the fact that the great advances of neuroscience are not helping solve the hard problem of consciousness – all produce conceptual problems for naturalism. Scientific naturalists used to think that the umbilical cord that connects their metaphysics with the natural sciences was its great strength, but it seems it is actually dragging naturalism down. I think this fact will one day count as one of the great and surprising reverses in the history of philosophy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    @ Dianelos:

    I agree that your point about the mass of electrons is insignificant. As I said, quibbling red herring.

    And thank you for clarifying your position that on the relationship between science and philosophy, but I think you are the one who is confused. Dawkins asserts that God (as he is understood by the vast majority of theists) should be seen as a scientific hypothesis. This assertion is a philosophical one. You might argue that it is a false one, but you haven't done so yet in any credible way. When you dismiss him out of hand for doing bad philosophy merely by philosophizing about science at all, you show only how easily confused you are. If I were write a book on the history of chess problems, it's as if you were to say "But it's absurd to write a history of chess problems, because chess problems cannot be solved by examining history! Ergo, you are a very bad historian, and I shall hear no more from you."

    I don't expect you'll like that analogy any more than the fairy one, and there is some dimwittedness going on here, but it's not in my analogy. All of your objections to the analogy are easily answered. I don't think there is any orthodoxy on fairies, so it's a small matter to say that they are immaterial. When they appear to a human, it's a fairy miracle. Or we might claim that they never do so, or that they only ever did so in the ancient past. We might say that they are necessary for the motion of electrons, making them maximally probable. How else do electrons move, if they are not moved by fairies? It is not possible to precisely determine their effects empirically, because that is just the nature of fairies. They are inscrutable to science because it's just all part of their mysterious magical fairy nature. Now do you agree that the burden of proof is on you to show that my fairies are improbable? Wouldn't it be ridiculous for me to ask you to prove that? And yet, that is precisely what Plantinga does in his critique of Dawkins, substituting God for fairies. So I find theists and their delusions just as remarkable as you claim to find atheists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Browning said…

    It's obvious that Dawkins means "a claim about things actually happening in the world." In that sense "History" and "Science" broadly overlap, and "historical claims" are special categories of "scientific claims."

    Response:

    This is not obvious to me.

    In order for your point to be “obvious” it must first be true, but I believe your point to be false, so it is a non-starter for being an “obvious” point.

    First, this is, at the least, an unusual way of using the word “science”. Your point is implausible on the face of it.

    History is not normally considered to be a part of “science”. If Dawkins meant what you say he meant, then he was using words in a very sloppy and misleading way.

    Second, your interpretation of Dawkins does not fit well with his references to “scientific method” and “scientific methods”, making this a key concept for distinguishing between reasonable TAP agnosticism and unreasonable PAP agnosticism.

    Even if we allow the word “science” to be used in a very stretched sense to encompass history and historical investigations, the phrases “scientific method” and “scientific methods” will not stretch that far. It would be very odd and contrary to ordinary use of these phrases to use them to encompass ordinary history and ordinary historical investigation.

    Third, the fact that Dawkins is using the phrase “scientific methods” in its normal sense (which does not encompass normal methods of historical investigation) is reinforced by the fact that his counterexample to PAP in the area of miracle claims focuses on the use of DNA and other “scientific evidence”. This suggests the normal distinction between “scientific evidence” and ordinary “historical evidence”.

    Fourth, “a claim about things actually happening in the world” would include moral judgments, which are about human actions, and human actions are things that actually happen in the world, but Dawkins appears to wish to exclude moral judgments from the scope of the phrase “scientific hypotheses”, so your interpretation of Dawkins seems overly broad, even if Dawkins was using the word “science” in a broad and stretched sense.

    Fifth, “a claim about things actually happening in the world” is also too narrow and restrictive, since one key element of scientific laws and causal claims is that they involve counterfactuals.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    tmdrange said…

    By "scientific," Dawkins simply meant "empirical." It is an interesting question whether or not God's existence is an empirical matter. I think it depends entirely on how you define "God."

    ===========
    Response:

    "empirical" questions would include historical questions, so, as I argued in my response to Browning, this interpretation of Dawkins does not fit well with his references to "scientific methods" and to DNA, and "scientific evidence".

    The word "science" or "scientific" may be used in a loose or broad sense to mean "empirical", but these other phrases and the comments that Dawkins makes using these phrases do not fit well with this loose and broad understanding.

    Whatever it is that Dawkins meant, I agree that how we define "God" can make or break the claim that "God exists" is a "scientific hypothesis". On some definitions, "God" is an incoherent concept. On other definitions "God" is a coherent concept. We need to have a coherent concept of "God" before we can conduct any sort of empirical investigation into the question "Does God exist?"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    @ Bradley.

    Thank you for such a thorough response. I see your points, and, though I find them to be very well argued in their particulars, and while I would be wise to revise and clarify some of my hasty formulations, I also find that your response seems to verify my original central point.

    1. Dawkins meant something simple and specific and obvious (at least to me). What he means to say may very well be false AND obvious, where the word "obvious" refers to his intended meaning, not the truth value of his statement.
    2. You seem to me to be confused as to what exactly Dawkins means.
    3. You seem to be going to a lot of trouble to reach that state of confusion.
    4. The trouble you are going to is very tedious and very pedantic.

    Maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe philosophy, when it is done correctly, is a very pedantic, and also potentially very tedious to a guy like me. Maybe being "confused" as to what someone means is just a Socratic tactic to reveal a confusion in that person's thinking.

    I think what Dawkins means is there are some things that science cannot determine even in principle, and some things that it can determine in principle, though perhaps not in practice. And the things that science can determine in principle are claims regarding any empirical facts about the physical, natural world. (Would you agree that that is what Dawkins means? Would you agree that it is obvious that this is what he means? Not that it's true, but that it's what he means.) So, thinking this way, either Socrates was born on a Wednesday, or he wasn't, and therefore, science could determine that in principle, even if it can't do so in practice. Ergo, according to Dawkins, "Socrates was born on a Wednesday" is a scientific hypothesis, though perhaps one about which we'd need to be to be Temporarily Agnostic in Practice (TAP).

    (to be continued)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    (continued from previous comment)

    Your argument (it seems to me — correct me if I'm wrong) is to say that science, as it is commonly understood, cannot determine Socrates' birthday, even in principle, for to do so it would need to lean on history, and a claim that can only be settled by an appeal to history disqualifies it from the realm of science. Ergo, "Socrates was born on a Wednesday" is NOT a scientific hypothesis.

    Thinking in this way, I wonder if science determine if Julius Caesar, or Alvin Plantinga, or Bradley Bowen were born on Wednesdays. Even in principle. I'm not so sure. There is a lot of tedious, pedantic work to be done to figure out if authenticating this birth certificate, or heeding the testimony of that mother, can properly be called "science." Terms must be defined. What do we mean by "science"? What do we mean by "authenticate?" What do we mean by "testimony?" It may be the case that we could determine such a thing legally, or historically, or mathematically, but not scientifically. In fact, if I say that "'Bradley Bowen was born on a Wednesday' is a scientific hypothesis," without defining all these terms, I would be on very shaky ground. I am revealing myself to be a grossly incompetent philosopher, and we should be very skeptical about anything I might have to say on the subject of birthdays. Or Wednesdays.

    This strikes me as an odd position to take. Because if you understand what Dawkins means, any leaning that science does on history could, in principle, eventually be given a scientific leg to stand on. Finding your birth certificate might not satisfy the requirements of science, or a certain kind of skeptic, but perhaps the birth certificate could be confirmed by some other more properly scientific means. And even if you could never do so in practice, you could be at worst TAP about the historical bits, but more likely you'd be reasonably sure about them. I still expect to be able to say that "Bradley Bowen was born on a Wednesday" is a scientific hypothesis without being sent back to remedial philosophy class. Is it naive of me to expect that?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Here is a nice characterization of "the scientific method":

    The scientific method may be summarized as the following sequence of steps: identification of a knowledge problem; precise formulation or reformulation of the problem; examination of the background knowledge in a search for items that might help solve the problem; choice or invention of a tentative hypothesis that looks promising; conceptual test of the hypothesis, that is, checking whether it is compatible with the bulk of the existing knowledge on the matter; drawing some testable consequences of the hypothesis; design of an empirical (observational or experimental) test of the hypothesis or a consequence of it; actual empirical test of the hypothesis, involving a search for both favorable and unfavorable evidence (examples and counterexamples); critical examination and statistical processing of the data (for example, calculation of average error and elimination of outlying data); evaluation of the hypothesis in the light of its compatibility with both the background knowledge and the fresh empirical evidence; if the test results are inconclusive, design and performance of new tests, possibly using different special methods; if the test results are conclusive, acceptance, modification, or rejection of the hypothesis; if the hypothesis is acceptable, checking whether its acceptance forces some change (enrichment or correction) in the background knowledge; identifying and tackling new problems raised by the confirmed hypothesis; and repetition of the test and reexamination of its possible impact on existing knowledge.

    [from: McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 5th edition]

    The first four steps would work for most empirical questions, including historical questions, but the next few steps would not.

    In any case, the next few steps are not required for a good historical investegation of an historical question or even for the resolution of an historical question.

    This supports my contention that Dawkins' use of the phrases "scientific method" and "scientific methods" do not fit well with the interpretation that he was merely refering to "empirical" or "factual" questions by the term "scientific questions", since historical questions are, in general, included in the categories of empirical questions and factual questions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Another consideration, for interpretation of Dawkins phrase "scientific question" is to look at what Huxley and Gould meant by "science" and "scientific" in their discussions relating to agnosticism.

    If they used these words in a very broad and stretched sense (that would include, for example, historical investigation), then that would support the interpretations of Browning and tmdrange. If they used these words in their more common and narrower senses (that woud exclude, for example, ordinary historical investigations), then that would support my interpretation.

    We can try to clarify what Dawkins had in mind by clarifying the ideas of the agnostics whose views Dawkins opposes and rejects.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    @ Bradley:

    Actually, I am willing to back off the idea that Dawkins' meaning of science is stretched to include the discipline of history. That was a poor way of putting it. I'd say rather that history is a discipline that is complimentary to science, but I would also say that, according to Dawkins, the gaps in scientific knowledge that science relies on history to fill are also fillable, in principle, by science.

    You seem to believe that any empirical question that can may be answered by historic inquiry may very well be unanswerable through scientific means, even in principle. That is, we may be able to know if you were born on a Wednesday, but we may not be able to know this by scientific means, even in principle.

    I think it's pretty clear that Dawkins doesn't believe this. Are you arguing that he should have been clearer on that point? Or that he is mistaken in that belief? Or both?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Huxley, it turns out, did clearly use the word "scientific" in a broad sense that included ordinary historical investigations, so that is a big point in favor of how Browning and tmdrange interpret Dawkins:

    "Now, the question as to what Jesus really said and did is strictly a scientific problem, which is capable of solution by no other methods than those practised by the historian and the literary critic. It is a problem of immense difficulty, which has occupied some of the best heads in Europe for the last century;"

    [Agnosticism (1889), from
    Volume V, Science and Christian Tradition, of Huxley's Collected Essays.]

    http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/CE5/Agn.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Browning:

    You write:“ Dawkins asserts that God (as he is understood by the vast majority of theists) should be seen as a scientific hypothesis. This assertion is a philosophical one. You might argue that it is a false one, but you haven't done so yet in any credible way.

    I haven’t? Let me try again:

    1) The vast majority of theists, including Nobel price winners in physics, do not see the existence of God as a scientific hypothesis, and it is not clear on what kind of warrant an atheistic scientist like Dawkins may claim that they should, especially when he does not explain why they should. You appear to understand Dawkins very well, so perhaps you can explain why theists should consider the existence of God as a scientific hypothesis.

    2) Scientists study physical phenomena, and create models that include concepts which refer to physical things. God is not supposed to be a physical phenomenon, or a physical thing. Which, it seems, implies that the existence of God is not a proper object of scientific investigation.

    3) I have studied some scientific books myself, in fields such as physics and biology. I don’t recall having encountered any discussion of the existence of God in them. Could you point out just one book taught in courses of natural science that discusses the existence of God? If not, don’t you find it strange that God should be seen as a scientific hypothesis when no scientist actually does consider God a scientific hypothesis in their professional work?

    4) Dawkins himself, after claiming that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis proceeds to (as he claims) prove the almost certain non-existence of God without using anything that resembles the scientific method, but is philosophy pure and simple. Doesn’t this strike you as incoherent?

    All of your objections to the analogy are easily answered. I don't think there is any orthodoxy on fairies, so it's a small matter to say that they are immaterial.

    A small matter indeed. It seems there is an unwritten epistemological principle in atheistic discourse that goes like this: “If you encounter any conceptual problem you can’t solve then redefine the meaning of the troublesome concepts”. You here try to redefine what “fairy” means. Others have tried to redefine what “free will” means, and what “morality” means, and what “personal responsibility” means, and what “consciousness” means. In a recent and particularly creative act of redefinition, physicist Victor Stenger redefines “nothing” as what has no structure (page 250, “Quantum Gods”).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    1) Two fallacies right off the bat: appeal to authority ("Nobel prizes" are irrelevant) and appeal to popularity ("vast majority"). Dawkins' argument is that if theists make any claims that God has a real empirical effect in the physical world (and they do), then science can test those claims. You might argue that Dawkins is wrong about this, but you have not yet made such an argument, Instead you have been discounting him out of hand for making a philosophical claim about the role of science, as if that were in itself an error (which is ludicrous).

    2) Dawkins' point is that God in inscutable to science if and only if theism makes no claims whatsoever that God has any real, empirical effect on the physical world. No miracles, no measurable effects of prayers (beyond psychological effects, like a placebo). But theists wish to have it both ways, They play a kind of shell game with God where they make claims about God's effects on the physical world, but when those claims are challenged they hasily redefine God as something that cannot be be measured. This is an oscillation between to incompatible positions, and Dawkins is calling theists out on it. My point is that if you want to play that kind of game, then you need to acknowledge that anyone can play it — say, people who make claims about fairies.

    3) This is a textbook fallacy of the appeal to tradition. Paraphrasing, "Science has not traditionally considered God to be a scientific hypothesis, therefore science should not do so."

    4) "Doesn’t this strike you as incoherent?" No. Dawkins is merely making a philosophical case that science ought to be able to measure the empirical effects of God in the universe (if there are any). As I said, this is a philosophical position that you have not even begun to challenge in any way that isn't obviously fallacious. Dawkins isn't shirking the scientific work. He's just saying it's all still ahead of us. If there is any evidence that God has any effect in the universe, then the burden is on theists to present that evidence and have it be tested by science. Otherwise it is safe to assume that the probability that God has any effect in the physical universe is about equal to the probability that phlogiston, or the Ether, or retrograde Mercury, or Tinkerbell does.

    Re: redefining fairies. My fairies are the imaginary denizens of a thought experiment, so there is nothing to prevent me from redefining them. Your point reinforces my last point. Theists make God safe from inquiry be redefining him as needed. But you can do that with anything, including fairies. (And people often do.) But unlike theists, I am not making the case that fairies are real. I am making the case that if a theist can argue that way, then so can a "fairyist," implying that fairies are no less real than God. (And I dispute that claim that redefining a concept to make it safe from inquiry is an "atheistic" tactic. That looks to me like a case of psychological projection.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Browning,

    You write: “ Dawkins' argument is that if theists make any claims that God has a real empirical effect in the physical world (and they do), then science can test those claims.

    Sure, but this does not imply that therefore “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe” as Dawkins says. I trust you see there is an enormous conceptual jump there.

    Theists have always held beliefs about the natural world which the natural sciences can test. Sometimes science has falsified these beliefs, sometimes it has upheld them. So, for example, the belief that the sun revolves around the Earth, which many theists used to hold, has been falsified by science. Other theistic beliefs, such as that time had a beginning, have been confirmed by science. Naturalistic beliefs about nature have also been falsified by science. So, up to quite recently, virtually all naturalists believed that the past was infinite, that space is local, and that reality is deterministic.

    According to theism since time immemorial (look up “general providence”) nature is one more thing that God does [1]. When a scientist discovers some truth about nature, then, from theism’s point of view, that scientist has added some knowledge to what we know about what God does. Whether that new knowledge happens to contradict beliefs many theists used to hold or not is of no relevance to theism. Unless, that is, one is a Biblical literalist. Biblical literalists make a lot of noise especially in Protestant circles in the U.S., but as a matter of historical fact already back in the fourth century the fathers of the church, from John Chrysostom in the East to Augustine of Hippo in the West, have taught against Biblical literalism. Even to theologically half-ignorant atheists it must be evident that Biblical literalism is not the strongest version of theism, but if they prefer to spend their time and energy arguing against it, it’s just as well.

    Dawkins isn't shirking the scientific work. He's just saying it's all still ahead of us.

    So you are saying that even though scientists have not been working on the “scientific hypothesis about the existence of God” up to now, they will do so in the future.

    Has it actually occurred to you that by dragging theistic beliefs into the scientific discourse you are helping those fundamentalists who are trying to bring theistic beliefs to be taught “as valid scientific hypotheses” in the classroom? In his scientism it seems Dawkins is blinded into providing arguments for the introduction of religious thought in science teaching.

    If there is any evidence that God has any effect in the universe, then the burden is on theists to present that evidence and have it be tested by science.

    The fundamental theistic claim is that God has created the universe and upholds it into existence by an act of will. For example, according to theism it’s the will of God that causes an apple fall down in the mathematically elegant way that scientists from Newton to Einstein have modeled. How would you suggest can science possibly “test” that fundamental theistic claim? And if science can’t test theism’s metaphysical claims, simply because metaphysics is not science’s business, how do you expect the existence of God to be a “scientific hypothesis about the universe”? In this context I trust you are aware that both theism and naturalism are metaphysical theories about reality.

    [1] As it happens, today I went to a baptism of the child of some friends of ours. The walls of the small church were lavishly decorated and over the painting of a stern Christ the label PANTOKRATOR was displayed, a Greek work which literally means “he who sustains everything”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    @ Dianelos.

    You say: "When a scientist discovers some truth about nature, then, from theism’s point of view, that scientist has added some knowledge to what we know about what God does. Whether that new knowledge happens to contradict beliefs many theists used to hold or not is of no relevance to theism."

    It sounds as if the God that you claim to believe in is simply unfalsifiable. At least with regards to his effects on the natural world. Data that seems to confirm theistic claims (e.g., the universe has a beginning) you count as evidence for God, but nothing you could ever learn would cause you to disbelieve in him. You would just adjust your conception of him to suit the new data. Is that fair to say?

    You say, "So you are saying that even though scientists have not been working on the “scientific hypothesis about the existence of God” up to now, they will do so in the future."

    I would not put it that way. I would say that insofar as theists have made claims about God's effects on the natural world, science has been testing and falsifying them all along. As you concede, many of the claims that theists make about God and the universe have been thoroughly debunked. I meant, rather, that Dawkins' philosophical assertion that God is a scientific hypothesis is not something that he does INSTEAD of science (as you accuse), but as a philosophical precursor to scientifically judging any claims made about God that theists care to make.

    But you would protect God from the scrutiny of science by making his existence unfalsifiable, and making his effect in the world whatever it is that science finds. This strikes me as being very close to either (1) the Einsteinian pantheism that Dawkins has no problem with or (2) less agreeably, a God who is just a kind of fluid placeholder symbol for the set that includes a conveniently fluid pantheism plus anything else you want to believe that no one can disprove — a kind of hybrid of ad hoc pantheism plus a God of the gaps that more or less suits whatever religious tradition you like.

    Such a God can't be a scientific hypothesis, but it bears little resemblance to the God that the vast majority of theists claim to believe in. Nor is there any reason to take any claims about such a God seriously. What can be known about such a God empirically, only science can tell us, and everything else can only be arbitrary fantasies that cannot or have not yet been tested.

    "Has it actually occurred to you that by dragging theistic beliefs into the scientific discourse you are helping those fundamentalists who are trying to bring theistic beliefs to be taught “as valid scientific hypotheses” in the classroom?"

    Yes, actually. But fundamentalists are already making scientific claims without any encouragement from atheists or scientists — about the age of the earth and the "impossibilty" of evolution — and those claims have already been falsified. What's objectionable about creation science is not that it treats God as a hypothesis, but that it lies and cheats by refusing to acknowledge when its hypotheses have been debunked. It won't play by the rules of science.

    The trouble is that theists want it both ways. They want to say "This is true of God, and I can prove it," until they can't prove it, and then they want to say that proof is irrelevant to what they believe about God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Browning,

    You write: “It sounds as if the God that you claim to believe in is simply unfalsifiable.

    That the existence of God is not falsifiable is another atheistic myth, a curious one given that atheists themselves propose arguments which purport to falsify the existence of God.

    At least with regards to his effects on the natural world.

    Well, if theism is true and by implication nature is one more thing that God does, then there can’t be any natural phenomenon which falsifies the existence of God. But then again this is trivial, isn’t it? If theism is true then there can’t be any proper evidence, from nature or not, against theism. On the other hand, if theism is false then there can be such evidence, including empirical one. To take an idea from Keith, if the stars in our galaxy should suddenly change position to form letters and read: “Your attention please. You are living in a computer simulation, and due to CPU timesharing restrictions starting midnight I’ll have to eliminate all persons whose first name does not start with a D”, and sure enough suddenly more than 90% of all people would disappear into thin air – then virtually all remaining theists would be convinced that theism is false.

    Data that seems to confirm theistic claims (e.g., the universe has a beginning) you count as evidence for God, [snip]

    Actually I don’t, for if I did I would be committing the logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent. So I rather point out data that seem to disconfirm the naturalistic thesis. I only mentioned that science has falsified some theistic beliefs about nature and has upheld other theistic beliefs about nature in order to point out that this issue is quite irrelevant. People, including theists and naturalists, have gotten many things wrong about nature. So what else is new.

    You would just adjust your conception of him to suit the new data. Is that fair to say?

    Well, I do adjust my conception of God to suit new experiences and new thoughts. But I must say my adjustments are much smaller than the adjustments that many naturalists appear to be capable of in relation to nature (multiverses within multiverses and whatnot). Indeed, for many centuries now and at least since St. Anselm’s definition, virtually no theist has adjusted the main premises of theism, and specifically the premise that God is a person who is perfect in all respects.

    I would say that insofar as theists have made claims about God's effects on the natural world, science has been testing and falsifying them all along.

    I’d say that the really big effects that theism has claimed, for example that God has created the universe and upholds its natural order (including the falling of apples and the natural evolution of the species) has not been falsified by science, and being a metaphysical claim cannot be falsified scientifically.

    What can be known about such a God empirically, only science can tell us [snip]

    “Empirical” is another common concept that atheists redefine. The original meaning of the concept refers to all our experience of life; atheists redefine it as referring only to the objective part of our experience which is amenable to scientific investigation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Browning has made some interesting points about the relationship of history to science that I have not responded to.

    Sorry about that.
    I have been distracted reading Huxley's essay on Agnosticism and Gould's book Rocks of Ages.

    I will try to respond to some of those points by Browning tonight or tomorrow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Response to Browning…

    Thank you for your comments. I'm not very impressed with Dawkins' book The God Delusion, so it is good to have someone who is more sympathetic to Dawkins views to discuss this with, to make sure Dawkins gets a fair shake here.

    (1) Where's the beef?

    If you want to challenge my interpretation of Dawkins that is fine, but you need to provide some evidence for your alternative interpretation, or at least some evidence against my interpretation, and that means providing quotations from TGD.

    You have not provided any relevant quotes from TGD concerning my interpretation, so you cannot expect me, or anyone else, to take seriously your assertions that it is "clear" or "obvious" that Dawkins meant such-and-such. Your opinion that is is "clear" or "obvious" doesn't persuade me, nor should it persuade anyone else.

    If you have good reasons for your intepretation, then presumably you are aware of some phrases, sentences, and/or paragraphs in TGD that support your interpretation or that conflict with my interpretation. You need to produce the evidence (quote the relevant passages) and explain why those passages support your interpretation.

    (2) Fact AND Theories

    "I think what Dawkins means is…the things that science can determine in principle are claims regarding any empirical facts about the physical, natural world."

    What about empirical THEORIES about the physical, natural world? Shouldn't we maintain a distinction between facts and theories? A view of science that excluded theories would be contrary to normal useage and would cover an extremely limited range of intellectual activity. I doubt that Dawkins intended to exclude theories, such as the theory of Evolution, from the scope of science and "scientific questions".

    I'm not clear how your interpretation/clarification of Dawkins relates to the question of whether historical questions are always/sometimes/never also scientific questions. Perhaps discussion of specific examples will help me to understand your point.

    (3) Socrates' Birthday

    Is the question "Was Socrates born on a Wednesday?" a scientific question? Could science answer or settle this question, at least in principle?

    Good example. Discussing this example, as well as Dawkins' virgin-birth-of-Jesus example will probably help to clear some things up.

    To be continued later…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    @Bradley.

    Thanks for giving such a considered response.

    You say: "I'm not clear how your interpretation/clarification of Dawkins relates to the question of whether historical questions are always/sometimes/never also scientific questions."

    Really? They are two separate issues but you seem to be connecting them to each other in your argument, and I am disputing both of them while taking pains to keep them separate. Lets call them (A) and (B).

    Your argument seems to me to be that (A) Dawkins is a bad philosopher because he does not adequately define "science." Therefore it is very difficult to know what he really means. Does he really intend to say that "science" could in principle determine whether, say, Jesus was born of a virgin? (B) If so, then he is clearly wrong because such a hypothesis cannot be judged by science, even in principle, since it would require support from history, and any question that makes use of history cannot properly be called a scientific one.

    I am saying that (A) Dawkins is very clear with regard to how he thinks of science, and he obviously means that questions of empirical fact about the natural world can be answered by science in principle if not in practice. Setting aside whether this is what Dawkins really means, or whether it's obvious that's what he means, there is the question of whether he would be right or wrong if that is what he means. I am saying that (B) if you are right that he would be wrong, then that has implications for questions that are not religious that seem counter-intuitive to me. E.g., Whether X was born on a Wednesday might be impossible to verify scientifically, even in principle. That is, no amount of scientifically derived data could ever settle the matter. That strikes me as an unusually hobbled concept of science.

    I feel as though I've already made my case with regards to B. But I'll add a little bit in response to your response.

    I chose to consider Socrates' birthday as opposed to the "virgin birth" because it's NOT supernatural. In fact, Caesar's birth, or Darwin's would be even better examples because there is some question as to whether the life of Socrates was real or fictitious or somewhere in between. Your (B) argument seems to me to hinge on whether science's apparent reliance on other disciplines, such as history, is really a problem for Dawkins' thesis. It seem obvious to me that Dawkins would consider the questions about the birthdays of Jesus, Socrates, Caesar, Darwin, Plantinga, Obama, and Bowen to be equally subject to scientific verification, in principle if not in fact.

    Regarding facts versus theories: Of course I distinguish between facts and theories, but I don't see the relevance here. Scientific theories are models that interpret facts and put them in a larger context and/or make predictions about them. The aren't independent of empirical facts that are determined by scientific means.

    [continued below]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    [Having trouble getting the second part of this comment to appear.]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    [continued from previous comment - trying again]

    Now, let's discuss (A).

    You say: "If you want to challenge my interpretation of Dawkins that is fine, but you need to provide some evidence for your alternative interpretation, or at least some evidence against my interpretation, and that means providing quotations from TGD."

    It's not so much that I dispute your interpretation of what Dawkins means. It's more that I dispute the necessity of your apparent confusion about what he means. And it seems to me that you have done a pretty good job of locating all the relevant passages in TGD already, and I find the prospect of going over them all myself to try to prove to you that your confusion is unwarranted to be pointless and stultifying. In fact, this was the point of my original comment.

    Poring over Dawkins' texts, and the texts that influenced his texts, prying apart the semantics of every utterance is a long and difficult task, and it seems to to me to complicate your understanding of something that is really fairly simple. It's as if you are applying the techniques that biblical scholars use to interpret scripture, and using them to parse the intended meanings of atheists and agnostic "scriptures." Secular prooftexting, basically.

    This strikes me as an odd thing to do. I mean, if you are really that unsure what Dawkins means, and if it's important, you might just email him and ask.

    [to be continued]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08967595781013844031 Browning

    [continued from previous post]

    But it seems to me that Dawkins is very clear about what he means:

    1. Science is properly the ultimate arbitrer regarding questions about the empirical, natural world, and any questions that it cannot answer in practice, it could answer in principle.
    2. Contra to theists claims, the vast majority of theists routinely make claims about God's effects in the empirical, natural world.
    3. Therefore, the God about which such claims are made is a scientific hypothesis.

    That's what Dawkins means. That's not a complicated idea, and he's very straight-forward about it. And I think you yourself have provided all the evidence for this interpretation, and your efforts to complicate this understanding seem to be motivated by a desire to give Dawkins the benefit of the the doubt, because you seem to think that if this is what he means, then he is clearly wrong.

    And this brings us back to issue [B].

    Now, maybe he is wrong. Maybe there are, as you seem to think, areas of knowledge about the physical, empirical world that science CANNOT determine even in principle. So we CAN know to our satisfaction that there was such a person at Caesar, but science can't, by itself, ever hope to determine that fact, even in principle. There are, then, areas of knowledge where science and history cannot not overlap, ever. Perhaps there is a case to be made there. (I don't think so, but I'll grant it for the sake of argument.)

    But even if I grant you this, it is essentially a quibble with Dawkins' argument in TGD, rather than a fatal flaw. It means merely that the God Hypothesis can, and must, be evaluated by one or more different disciplines used to investigate the empirical, natural world. It's the argument of the TGD with slightly more eclectic tastes in methods of determining the probability of God's existence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02770503575499582684 MyJesusTV.com

    Science and scientific method can be used to prove if Jesus is real or not. But, scientific method that we humans have identified for ourselves are very basic when it comes to spiritual world and spirituality.


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