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Defying gravity

I need help from people who know more than I do about science — in particular about gravity and what we do or don't know about how it works.

What I'm trying to do is to find another angle for breaking through the protective shell that makes communication with "creationists" almost impossible. Some of my best friends, as the saying goes, are creationists, and it isn't good for them. It warps their faith and it puts them on the wrong side of a dangerous anti-science trend that affects a wide range of very important things, from climate change to vaccination* to the insane notion that the middle of a global recession is a smart time to start aggressively worrying about budget deficits.

When people stop finding science persuasive, when they distrust it precisely because it is science, then they become vulnerable to all sorts of Really Bad Ideas.

But anyway, I'm pretty well-equipped to engage my creationist friends and relatives on some of the other layers of their anti-science belief system. I can articulate a capable critique of their illiteralist hermeneutic and the way it vivisects the opening chapters of Genesis and transforms them into something unintended and antibiblical. And I'm pretty good at addressing their notion that Christian faith rests entirely on the basis of a modernistic "literal" interpretation of every verse of scripture, meaning that their world will crumble if Noah's Ark can't be found on Ararat because that would mean that Jesus doesn't really love us.

On the biblical and theological side, in other words, I can speak their language. I'm fluent in the idioms, allusions, connotations and quirks of evangelicalese.

But when I'm addressing the "science" aspects of "scientific creationism" I find I'm unable to communicate with them — not just because I'm less fluent in the language of science, but because when they start talking about science then words no longer seem to mean what they mean for the rest of us. They use familiar-sounding words, but you quickly realize that they're using these familiar words in unfamiliar ways, using them to communicate vastly, irreconcilably different things.

The most common and frustrating example of this is probably the way creationists talk about a "scientific theory." This seems to mean, for creationists, something like, "a wild, uneducated guess unsupported by evidence that can be dismissed and ignored without consequence," with additional overtones of "a conspiracy to deceive and corrupt the youth of America."

I heard these words used this way a few nights ago in a BBC radio story following a group of fundamentalist Christian middle school students as they toured a museum of natural history, itching for a fight with the evolutionist scientists running the place. "Why won't you admit that evolution is just a theory?" their teacher said to the scientist leading the tour.

And then, to hammer the point home, he added, "It's not like gravity."

Aha. So here we come to where I need some help from actual science types. Because it strikes me that the teacher is sort of right about that, but just not in the way he thinks. Gravity is also "just" a theory — but if I understand these things properly, it's a theory with some serious problems. Like that it doesn't work at the atomic level and that it gets a bit wibbly wobbly when trying to explain the behavior of astronomically large things as well.

The comparison with gravity, it seems to me, underscores the comparative strength of evolution. I think it might be helpful to point that out when our creationist friends, inevitably, start going on about the alleged shortcomings and flaws of the justatheory of evolution.

So what I'd like to be able to say to them would be something like this:

Well, OK then, but gravity is justatheory too, the way you're using that word. And gravity, as justatheory, has much bigger unresolved problems than the justatheory of evolution does. If we took your standards for evaluating the justatheory of evolution and applied those standards to gravity, then we'd have to conclude that the justatheory of gravity is even more wrong.

So, a little help from you science types, please. Does that work? Is it a fair/accurate line of argument? Does it need to be qualified? Amended? Embellished? Abandoned? Please let me know.

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* Yeah, I'm talking about you, Bill Maher (via). The Real Time comic has become a self-appointed advocate for the spread of H1N1 and of seasonal flu.

Here I would remind us, again, of Wendell Berry's distinction between religion and superstition. Religion, Berry said, is belief in something which cannot be disproved. Superstition, on the other hand, is belief in something that has been disproved. The former can be reasonable, the latter cannot. For all of Bill Maher's railing against religion as "mere superstition," it seems he doesn't understand either of those ideas. His latest anti-vaccine, anti-medicine, anti-science crusade is superstitious nonsense. It's religulous.

  • Anton Mates

    I think you are failing to appreciate the full impact an unfalsifiable belief has on a person’s worldview. You say that certain beliefs are falsifiable after all, “even if the person doesn’t know that” — but this implies that you know something that person doesn’t. How did you come by this knowledge ? You are not omniscient, so either you came to your knowledge through some sort of faith, or by looking at empirical evidence, or by deriving a logical conclusion from existing premises. The problem is that unfalsifiable beliefs cannot, by definition, be overturned by any of these means.

    Again, you’re assuming that beliefs about falsifiability are themselves unfalsifiable. But this isn’t generally true. Most people would agree that “It’s raining outside” is falsifiable–and they wouldn’t agree as a matter of faith, but because they realize that you can just go outside and check. In other words, the claim “‘It’s raining outside’ is unfalsifiable” is, itself, false. Note that you don’t have to find out whether it is raining outside to falsify the preceding claim–you just have to know that there’s a way to find out.
    Likewise, you can verify some claims about falsifiability. For instance, “‘The universe is deterministic’ is unfalsifiable.” This claim can be verified with a bit of logical reasoning–a deterministic universe is indistinguishable from an indeterministic one where all the same events just happen to occur, and so on.
    The scientific community is currently arguing over whether string theory is falsifiable. At some point, clever people may come up with a testable prediction and an experiment to test it, and then the community will conclude that it is falsifiable. Or perhaps clever people will come up with a Bell’s Theorem-style proof that its predictions can never be testable, and then the community will conclude that it’s not falsifiable. But either way, a conclusion is possible. Similar arguments were resolved in the past over things like the existence of atoms and the nature of celestial bodies.
    So yes, a person can be wrong about the falsifiability of one of their beliefs, and I can know something they don’t on the subject, thanks to empirical data or logical reasoning, and I can even (sometimes) persuade them to change their minds. Of course, it can’t work if they’re a global skeptic and don’t believe that any beliefs are falsifiable–then we have no common ground to start from. But such people are quite rare, I think.
    It also won’t work if the person is basing their falsifiability judgment off bad data or bad logic, and ignores or avoids anyone who can correct them–and those people are quite common. But we were talking about whether a belief itself is falsifiable, not whether a given believer will actually have the desire and opportunity to test its falsifiability.

    Now, in practice, people with lots of unfalsifiable beliefs usually do end up having to pick between those beliefs and science, because these beliefs overlap too much of it, but, strictly speaking, this doesn’t have to be the case.

    And yet Newton and Kepler and Brahe and Hutton and Darwin and Wallace and Lyell and Hutton and all the rest of them did not have to pick between their unfalsifiable beliefs and science. And not because they happened to study some area of science which was particularly insulated from their beliefs–quite the contrary, many of them believed that God had intentionally created the systems they were looking at, and that by examining those systems they could better understand his mind. They didn’t have to pick because unfalsifiable beliefs don’t have falsifiable consequences like “studying this scientifically won’t work.”

    If you draw conclusions regarding bunnies from your X-agnostic study, and you treat such conclusions as being at least as authoritative as your beliefs about X, then you have just attached some falsifiable beliefs to your set of beliefs about X, haven’t you?

    No. If your study is X-agnostic, then the falsifiable beliefs you’ve taken on board thanks to the study are, by definition, not about X. “Boy plus girl bunny equals baby bunnies” makes no reference to X at all. X might exist and be responsible for this phenomenon, might exist and not be responsible, might not exist.
    Now, you may go on to use those beliefs plus your existing unfalsifiable beliefs about X to come up with other beliefs that are both falsifiable and about X. For instance, “X has irrevocably determined that boy plus girl bunny equals baby bunnies,” is falsifiable, since it would be refuted if you observed that bunnies don’t actually reproduce that way. And it’s also a claim about X. But this is not a conclusion of your study; it’s a personal inference you’ve made by stepping out of the X-agnostic perspective and combining your study conclusions with your X-theology.

    They are trying to expose the worldwide evolutionist conspiracy (or some such). Their own beliefs are not in question; they’re just trying to win converts.

    But most of this rhetoric is directed at their own communities, and particularly their children, who are hardly born committed evolutionists. If they’re trying to expose the worldwide evolutionist conspiracy, they’re doing it mostly for the benefit of other people who are already “weakly creationist”–and yet they still spend their time arguing that the scientific case for evolution is flawed. Because they think that’s a key issue.

    A perfectly rational agent would not reject his faith-based unfalsifiable belief that he holds to be absolutely true; instead, he would reform his other beliefs as more and more seemingly conflicting evidence comes in.

    On the contrary, were his belief unfalsifiable, and were he perfectly rational, there would be no seemingly conflicting evidence–or supporting evidence, for that matter. He would realize that all possible empirical data is irrelevant as evidence.
    But the people I’m thinking of generally either started out believing, or came to believe, that their creationist beliefs were falsifiable. Often they got started studying the evidence because they expected it to actively support their beliefs–then they found that it refuted their beliefs instead.

    But people are not perfectly rational agents, and, at some point, it becomes easier to simply abandon creationism rather than keep rejecting evidence.

    I can only say that, in my experience, ex-creationists do not appear to be less rational about their (former) beliefs than current creationists are. No one’s a perfect rational agent, yes, but their reasoning on this particular topic is generally pretty sound.

    Note, though, that if there’s any benefit to accepting evolution over creationism, then this case is a clear demonstration of an unfalsifiable belief that does, in fact, have negative consequences for the believer.

    No, it’s not, because creationism in the antievolution sense is a falsifiable belief. Whether you’re going with “The earth is demonstrably several thousand years old and a giant flood once killed almost everything and all modern species evolved from a few progenitors in the Ark,” or a more general “evolutionary theory can’t explain observations X, Y, and Z”, these claims are entirely falsifiable (and false.)
    If you strip away all the falsifiable stuff from creationism, you get plain old theism or deism, in which case choosing evolution over it is unnecessary–you can simply be a theistic/deistic evolutionist. And I haven’t seen any clear demonstration that theistic evolution has negative consequences for the believer, as opposed to agnostic or atheistic evolution.

    What would they say in response to all those studies that show prayer having no effect on healing ?

    Dunno, I’ve never asked them. I would guess–just based on how I’ve seen other people react online–that they’d either attack those studies as badly conducted or would say that it was the wrong sort of prayer, or said by the wrong people. (Again, just because your beliefs are falsifiable doesn’t mean you’re actually going to make a good-faith attempt at verifying or falsifying them.)

    Fair enough, but we could, conceivably, construct some machine to evaluate the proof for us, and ensure that this machine is free of error, etc. With empirical claims, there’s nothing we could ever do in order to become 100% sure, other than becoming omniscient.

    But note that “the machine we have constructed is free of error” is an empirical claim! Thus we can never be 100% certain that it doesn’t have hardware defects, coding mistakes, etc. which have subtly corrupted its proof-checking behavior. And that goes double when the “machines” we’re using to test a proof are our own brains.

    This is certainly true, but it’s not what I meant. I take “2 + 2 = 4″ as a statement such as the following: “Let me set up some a priori rules that describe entities I call “numbers”, and a process I call “addition”. According to these rules, performing the “addition” of these specific “numbers” results in this other specific “number””. There’s no intuition involved here, since all the rules are outlined in advance.

    That is, you take a formalist view of mathematics, while I take an intuitionist view.
    The reason formalism doesn’t work for me is that it seems to invite an infinite regress. What does “according to these rules” really mean? Given some description of the rules, how are we to decide how to actually apply them? In what sense is it wrong to read your description of “addition,” and then proceed to do what you’d call subtraction instead?
    To close this loophole, we need new rules about how to interpret the existing rules. And then we need rules about how to interpret those, and so on. The only way to exit the infinite regress is to, at some point, define the “correct” interpretation of these rules as the interpretation which seems obvious to you–or to 99% of humanity, or to some other reference set of real-world minds. But then we’re back to intuitionism.
    That’s my take on it, anyway. Feel free to poke holes in my argument.

  • Anton Mates

    I think you are failing to appreciate the full impact an unfalsifiable belief has on a person’s worldview. You say that certain beliefs are falsifiable after all, “even if the person doesn’t know that” — but this implies that you know something that person doesn’t. How did you come by this knowledge ? You are not omniscient, so either you came to your knowledge through some sort of faith, or by looking at empirical evidence, or by deriving a logical conclusion from existing premises. The problem is that unfalsifiable beliefs cannot, by definition, be overturned by any of these means.

    Again, you’re assuming that beliefs about falsifiability are themselves unfalsifiable. But this isn’t generally true. Most people would agree that “It’s raining outside” is falsifiable–and they wouldn’t agree as a matter of faith, but because they realize that you can just go outside and check. In other words, the claim “‘It’s raining outside’ is unfalsifiable” is, itself, false. Note that you don’t have to find out whether it is raining outside to falsify the preceding claim–you just have to know that there’s a way to find out.
    Likewise, you can verify some claims about falsifiability. For instance, “‘The universe is deterministic’ is unfalsifiable.” This claim can be verified with a bit of logical reasoning–a deterministic universe is indistinguishable from an indeterministic one where all the same events just happen to occur, and so on.
    The scientific community is currently arguing over whether string theory is falsifiable. At some point, clever people may come up with a testable prediction and an experiment to test it, and then the community will conclude that it is falsifiable. Or perhaps clever people will come up with a Bell’s Theorem-style proof that its predictions can never be testable, and then the community will conclude that it’s not falsifiable. But either way, a conclusion is possible. Similar arguments were resolved in the past over things like the existence of atoms and the nature of celestial bodies.
    So yes, a person can be wrong about the falsifiability of one of their beliefs, and I can know something they don’t on the subject, thanks to empirical data or logical reasoning, and I can even (sometimes) persuade them to change their minds. Of course, it can’t work if they’re a global skeptic and don’t believe that any beliefs are falsifiable–then we have no common ground to start from. But such people are quite rare, I think.
    It also won’t work if the person is basing their falsifiability judgment off bad data or bad logic, and ignores or avoids anyone who can correct them–and those people are quite common. But we were talking about whether a belief itself is falsifiable, not whether a given believer will actually have the desire and opportunity to test its falsifiability.

    Now, in practice, people with lots of unfalsifiable beliefs usually do end up having to pick between those beliefs and science, because these beliefs overlap too much of it, but, strictly speaking, this doesn’t have to be the case.

    And yet Newton and Kepler and Brahe and Hutton and Darwin and Wallace and Lyell and Hutton and all the rest of them did not have to pick between their unfalsifiable beliefs and science. And not because they happened to study some area of science which was particularly insulated from their beliefs–quite the contrary, many of them believed that God had intentionally created the systems they were looking at, and that by examining those systems they could better understand his mind. They didn’t have to pick because unfalsifiable beliefs don’t have falsifiable consequences like “studying this scientifically won’t work.”

    If you draw conclusions regarding bunnies from your X-agnostic study, and you treat such conclusions as being at least as authoritative as your beliefs about X, then you have just attached some falsifiable beliefs to your set of beliefs about X, haven’t you?

    No. If your study is X-agnostic, then the falsifiable beliefs you’ve taken on board thanks to the study are, by definition, not about X. “Boy plus girl bunny equals baby bunnies” makes no reference to X at all. X might exist and be responsible for this phenomenon, might exist and not be responsible, might not exist.
    Now, you may go on to use those beliefs plus your existing unfalsifiable beliefs about X to come up with other beliefs that are both falsifiable and about X. For instance, “X has irrevocably determined that boy plus girl bunny equals baby bunnies,” is falsifiable, since it would be refuted if you observed that bunnies don’t actually reproduce that way. And it’s also a claim about X. But this is not a conclusion of your study; it’s a personal inference you’ve made by stepping out of the X-agnostic perspective and combining your study conclusions with your X-theology.

    They are trying to expose the worldwide evolutionist conspiracy (or some such). Their own beliefs are not in question; they’re just trying to win converts.

    But most of this rhetoric is directed at their own communities, and particularly their children, who are hardly born committed evolutionists. If they’re trying to expose the worldwide evolutionist conspiracy, they’re doing it mostly for the benefit of other people who are already “weakly creationist”–and yet they still spend their time arguing that the scientific case for evolution is flawed. Because they think that’s a key issue.

    A perfectly rational agent would not reject his faith-based unfalsifiable belief that he holds to be absolutely true; instead, he would reform his other beliefs as more and more seemingly conflicting evidence comes in.

    On the contrary, were his belief unfalsifiable, and were he perfectly rational, there would be no seemingly conflicting evidence–or supporting evidence, for that matter. He would realize that all possible empirical data is irrelevant as evidence.
    But the people I’m thinking of generally either started out believing, or came to believe, that their creationist beliefs were falsifiable. Often they got started studying the evidence because they expected it to actively support their beliefs–then they found that it refuted their beliefs instead.

    But people are not perfectly rational agents, and, at some point, it becomes easier to simply abandon creationism rather than keep rejecting evidence.

    I can only say that, in my experience, ex-creationists do not appear to be less rational about their (former) beliefs than current creationists are. No one’s a perfect rational agent, yes, but their reasoning on this particular topic is generally pretty sound.

    Note, though, that if there’s any benefit to accepting evolution over creationism, then this case is a clear demonstration of an unfalsifiable belief that does, in fact, have negative consequences for the believer.

    No, it’s not, because creationism in the antievolution sense is a falsifiable belief. Whether you’re going with “The earth is demonstrably several thousand years old and a giant flood once killed almost everything and all modern species evolved from a few progenitors in the Ark,” or a more general “evolutionary theory can’t explain observations X, Y, and Z”, these claims are entirely falsifiable (and false.)
    If you strip away all the falsifiable stuff from creationism, you get plain old theism or deism, in which case choosing evolution over it is unnecessary–you can simply be a theistic/deistic evolutionist. And I haven’t seen any clear demonstration that theistic evolution has negative consequences for the believer, as opposed to agnostic or atheistic evolution.

    What would they say in response to all those studies that show prayer having no effect on healing ?

    Dunno, I’ve never asked them. I would guess–just based on how I’ve seen other people react online–that they’d either attack those studies as badly conducted or would say that it was the wrong sort of prayer, or said by the wrong people. (Again, just because your beliefs are falsifiable doesn’t mean you’re actually going to make a good-faith attempt at verifying or falsifying them.)

    Fair enough, but we could, conceivably, construct some machine to evaluate the proof for us, and ensure that this machine is free of error, etc. With empirical claims, there’s nothing we could ever do in order to become 100% sure, other than becoming omniscient.

    But note that “the machine we have constructed is free of error” is an empirical claim! Thus we can never be 100% certain that it doesn’t have hardware defects, coding mistakes, etc. which have subtly corrupted its proof-checking behavior. And that goes double when the “machines” we’re using to test a proof are our own brains.

    This is certainly true, but it’s not what I meant. I take “2 + 2 = 4″ as a statement such as the following: “Let me set up some a priori rules that describe entities I call “numbers”, and a process I call “addition”. According to these rules, performing the “addition” of these specific “numbers” results in this other specific “number””. There’s no intuition involved here, since all the rules are outlined in advance.

    That is, you take a formalist view of mathematics, while I take an intuitionist view.
    The reason formalism doesn’t work for me is that it seems to invite an infinite regress. What does “according to these rules” really mean? Given some description of the rules, how are we to decide how to actually apply them? In what sense is it wrong to read your description of “addition,” and then proceed to do what you’d call subtraction instead?
    To close this loophole, we need new rules about how to interpret the existing rules. And then we need rules about how to interpret those, and so on. The only way to exit the infinite regress is to, at some point, define the “correct” interpretation of these rules as the interpretation which seems obvious to you–or to 99% of humanity, or to some other reference set of real-world minds. But then we’re back to intuitionism.
    That’s my take on it, anyway. Feel free to poke holes in my argument.

  • Tonio

    And yet Newton and Kepler and Brahe and Hutton and Darwin and Wallace and Lyell and Hutton and all the rest of them did not have to pick between their unfalsifiable beliefs and science. And not because they happened to study some area of science which was particularly insulated from their beliefs–quite the contrary, many of them believed that God had intentionally created the systems they were looking at, and that by examining those systems they could better understand his mind. They didn’t have to pick because unfalsifiable beliefs don’t have falsifiable consequences like “studying this scientifically won’t work.”
    Would you explain what “understand a god’s mind” means? It sounds very psychological. The problem with those scientists’ god belief is that it changed the hypotheses about those systems in a way that made them unfalsifiable. That belief doesn’t qualify as a value proposition or an opinion or a theological interpretation, because it’s a positive assertion that is either correct or incorrect.

  • Tonio

    And yet Newton and Kepler and Brahe and Hutton and Darwin and Wallace and Lyell and Hutton and all the rest of them did not have to pick between their unfalsifiable beliefs and science. And not because they happened to study some area of science which was particularly insulated from their beliefs–quite the contrary, many of them believed that God had intentionally created the systems they were looking at, and that by examining those systems they could better understand his mind. They didn’t have to pick because unfalsifiable beliefs don’t have falsifiable consequences like “studying this scientifically won’t work.”
    Would you explain what “understand a god’s mind” means? It sounds very psychological. The problem with those scientists’ god belief is that it changed the hypotheses about those systems in a way that made them unfalsifiable. That belief doesn’t qualify as a value proposition or an opinion or a theological interpretation, because it’s a positive assertion that is either correct or incorrect.

  • Anton Mates

    I’ve never heard of that phenomenon.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy_prone_personality
    Glancing at Google Scholar, I see that “fantasy proneness” is now often studied as a dimension, or set of dimensions, of personality.

    I’ve had similar experiences, but these seem to be the subconscious influencing the conscious, as opposed to originating with conscious thought.

    I’m sure subconscious influence is involved as an intermediate step, but so far as I can see, that influence in turn originates in conscious thoughts and memories like “I usually park my car in this driveway.”

    Either way, these don’t cause the atoms of the rock to reform themselves into a car that anyone can perceive.

    Anyone else, at least. But neither do sensory perceptions; if you suddenly go blind, all light doesn’t immediately vanish from the universe. So sensory perceptions and emotions and thoughts are all in the same boat here.

    The issue is not that the pattern resembles a face, the issue is the claim that a supernatural entity caused the burn to appear in that pattern. One wouldn’t have to have prosopagnosia to consider the alternate theory that the resemblance was simply a coincidence.

    No, but in order to accept it over the “obvious” explanation, one would have to be willing to interpret some sensory data as false or misleading.

    By “precedence” I mean that thoughts are like scientific hypotheses that are evaluated against new data, which is sensory input.

    I would say that both thoughts and sensory perceptions are like hypotheses and like data. They’re both like data in that they both reflect/represent the physical behavior of your brain and body, which in turn helps you understand the environment that created and influenced that body. And they’re both like hypotheses in that they aren’t “raw” data, they’re interpretations and summaries your brain has provided, which might be wrong or misleading. (For that reason, I think it’s a misnomer to speak of sensory “input.” The actual raw input, the photons impinging on your retina and the sound waves passing through your hair cells, you’ll never sense directly.)

    Would you offer an example? I’m describing the specific emotion where one wants things or doesn’t want things to be a certain way.

    Why that specific emotion? I don’t think it’s particularly dominant in driving belief in the unfalsifiable.

    I’m suggesting that Paul was assuming that order could only have been designed, and that he was filtering his perceptions through that assumption.

    Perhaps. If so, though, he evidently considered that assumption self-evident.

    I’m observing that no one can hear my earworms if I don’t say what earworm I’m having.

    I don’t think that’s true; aren’t most earworms popular songs or ad jingles? I’m sure quite a few people are having the same earworms as you, because they happened to listen to the same song and found it catchy just as you have. That seems closely analogous to “two people listen to a symphony and hear the same music.”

    I can say a word in my head and no one can hear the word if I don’t speak it with my mouth.

    But they can say the same word in their head, unless it’s a word you just made up and is so bizarre that no one else would ever think of it. Analogously, if you whack yourself in the eyeball or take the right cocktail of drugs, you might have a sensory experience that will never be shared by anyone else.

    And no, I’m not sure that there are no alternate explanations.

    Then I don’t see why mystics aren’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that they’ve met God, or that Paul isn’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that God made the world, even when they haven’t ruled out alternate explanations.

    That’s the one-size-fits-all explanation that really amounts to no explanation, because it doesn’t explain how the gods came to be or why the gods caused the events to happen.

    No explanation explains its own premises, though. Saying “the planets orbit each other because of an inverse-square attractive force we call gravity” doesn’t tell you how or why gravity exists…does that mean it’s a bad explanation?
    I’m not swayed by theistic explanations because they aren’t testable, but they are explanations so far as I can see. Just not scientific ones.

    They’re the same in the sense that they’re duplicates. The thoughts and feelings still have separate existences.

    And if two people with similar hearing listen to the same symphony, they may have duplicate sensory perceptions, but those perceptions still have separate existences. What’s the difference?

    I mean that someone’s earworms don’t cause air to move that the ear can perceive as sound.

    Neither do someone’s perceptions of sound. It’s not like your ears can replay the sounds that enter them!

    Because they’re saying that the value comes from a source of ultimate authority that can never be challenged.

    There’s the is/ought problem again. Whatever source they’re saying it comes from, describing it as “ultimate authority that can never be challenged” is a value assertion; facts have nothing to do with it.

    To clarify, it’s not really a value assertion if it rests on a fact assertion of an ultimate authority that can never be challenged.

    Yes it is, because any authority can be challenged. Even the most authoritarian conservative Christians believe that people challenge God’s authority all the time; he just retaliates with horrible punishments, and is right to do so. To say that a being is an authority that can never be challenged is really to say that it’s a rightful authority that should never be challenged–that’s
    a value assertion.

    The issue with the claim of supreme goodness is that it’s natural to be afraid or unwilling to challenge it, because no one wants to be a bad person. The result is that the claim escapes scrutiny.

    I’m challenging it right now, you’re challenging it, and members of almost any competing religion would challenge it. Religion has a long history of squelching dissent, but I don’t think this particular claim is terribly effective at doing that by itself.

  • Anton Mates

    I’ve never heard of that phenomenon.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy_prone_personality
    Glancing at Google Scholar, I see that “fantasy proneness” is now often studied as a dimension, or set of dimensions, of personality.

    I’ve had similar experiences, but these seem to be the subconscious influencing the conscious, as opposed to originating with conscious thought.

    I’m sure subconscious influence is involved as an intermediate step, but so far as I can see, that influence in turn originates in conscious thoughts and memories like “I usually park my car in this driveway.”

    Either way, these don’t cause the atoms of the rock to reform themselves into a car that anyone can perceive.

    Anyone else, at least. But neither do sensory perceptions; if you suddenly go blind, all light doesn’t immediately vanish from the universe. So sensory perceptions and emotions and thoughts are all in the same boat here.

    The issue is not that the pattern resembles a face, the issue is the claim that a supernatural entity caused the burn to appear in that pattern. One wouldn’t have to have prosopagnosia to consider the alternate theory that the resemblance was simply a coincidence.

    No, but in order to accept it over the “obvious” explanation, one would have to be willing to interpret some sensory data as false or misleading.

    By “precedence” I mean that thoughts are like scientific hypotheses that are evaluated against new data, which is sensory input.

    I would say that both thoughts and sensory perceptions are like hypotheses and like data. They’re both like data in that they both reflect/represent the physical behavior of your brain and body, which in turn helps you understand the environment that created and influenced that body. And they’re both like hypotheses in that they aren’t “raw” data, they’re interpretations and summaries your brain has provided, which might be wrong or misleading. (For that reason, I think it’s a misnomer to speak of sensory “input.” The actual raw input, the photons impinging on your retina and the sound waves passing through your hair cells, you’ll never sense directly.)

    Would you offer an example? I’m describing the specific emotion where one wants things or doesn’t want things to be a certain way.

    Why that specific emotion? I don’t think it’s particularly dominant in driving belief in the unfalsifiable.

    I’m suggesting that Paul was assuming that order could only have been designed, and that he was filtering his perceptions through that assumption.

    Perhaps. If so, though, he evidently considered that assumption self-evident.

    I’m observing that no one can hear my earworms if I don’t say what earworm I’m having.

    I don’t think that’s true; aren’t most earworms popular songs or ad jingles? I’m sure quite a few people are having the same earworms as you, because they happened to listen to the same song and found it catchy just as you have. That seems closely analogous to “two people listen to a symphony and hear the same music.”

    I can say a word in my head and no one can hear the word if I don’t speak it with my mouth.

    But they can say the same word in their head, unless it’s a word you just made up and is so bizarre that no one else would ever think of it. Analogously, if you whack yourself in the eyeball or take the right cocktail of drugs, you might have a sensory experience that will never be shared by anyone else.

    And no, I’m not sure that there are no alternate explanations.

    Then I don’t see why mystics aren’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that they’ve met God, or that Paul isn’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that God made the world, even when they haven’t ruled out alternate explanations.

    That’s the one-size-fits-all explanation that really amounts to no explanation, because it doesn’t explain how the gods came to be or why the gods caused the events to happen.

    No explanation explains its own premises, though. Saying “the planets orbit each other because of an inverse-square attractive force we call gravity” doesn’t tell you how or why gravity exists…does that mean it’s a bad explanation?
    I’m not swayed by theistic explanations because they aren’t testable, but they are explanations so far as I can see. Just not scientific ones.

    They’re the same in the sense that they’re duplicates. The thoughts and feelings still have separate existences.

    And if two people with similar hearing listen to the same symphony, they may have duplicate sensory perceptions, but those perceptions still have separate existences. What’s the difference?

    I mean that someone’s earworms don’t cause air to move that the ear can perceive as sound.

    Neither do someone’s perceptions of sound. It’s not like your ears can replay the sounds that enter them!

    Because they’re saying that the value comes from a source of ultimate authority that can never be challenged.

    There’s the is/ought problem again. Whatever source they’re saying it comes from, describing it as “ultimate authority that can never be challenged” is a value assertion; facts have nothing to do with it.

    To clarify, it’s not really a value assertion if it rests on a fact assertion of an ultimate authority that can never be challenged.

    Yes it is, because any authority can be challenged. Even the most authoritarian conservative Christians believe that people challenge God’s authority all the time; he just retaliates with horrible punishments, and is right to do so. To say that a being is an authority that can never be challenged is really to say that it’s a rightful authority that should never be challenged–that’s
    a value assertion.

    The issue with the claim of supreme goodness is that it’s natural to be afraid or unwilling to challenge it, because no one wants to be a bad person. The result is that the claim escapes scrutiny.

    I’m challenging it right now, you’re challenging it, and members of almost any competing religion would challenge it. Religion has a long history of squelching dissent, but I don’t think this particular claim is terribly effective at doing that by itself.

  • Anton Mates

    Would you explain what “understand a god’s mind” means? It sounds very psychological.

    I can’t explain in detail because I’m not particularly an expert on their theologies, but I think it is psychological. They were hoping to understand their creator’s priorities and “design ethic” by looking at his creations.

    The problem with those scientists’ god belief is that it changed the hypotheses about those systems in a way that made them unfalsifiable.

    Which hypotheses? It certainly didn’t change their empirical hypotheses in that way, because they were scientists, and great ones–they formed and tested important hypotheses about how the world works. Perhaps it changed their hypotheses about God in some way, but evidently that wasn’t a problem–their religious beliefs positively motivated their attempts to understand the empirical world.

    That belief doesn’t qualify as a value proposition or an opinion or a theological interpretation, because it’s a positive assertion that is either correct or incorrect.

    An opinion or theological interpretation can’t be a positive assertion that’s either correct or incorrect?

  • Anton Mates

    Would you explain what “understand a god’s mind” means? It sounds very psychological.

    I can’t explain in detail because I’m not particularly an expert on their theologies, but I think it is psychological. They were hoping to understand their creator’s priorities and “design ethic” by looking at his creations.

    The problem with those scientists’ god belief is that it changed the hypotheses about those systems in a way that made them unfalsifiable.

    Which hypotheses? It certainly didn’t change their empirical hypotheses in that way, because they were scientists, and great ones–they formed and tested important hypotheses about how the world works. Perhaps it changed their hypotheses about God in some way, but evidently that wasn’t a problem–their religious beliefs positively motivated their attempts to understand the empirical world.

    That belief doesn’t qualify as a value proposition or an opinion or a theological interpretation, because it’s a positive assertion that is either correct or incorrect.

    An opinion or theological interpretation can’t be a positive assertion that’s either correct or incorrect?

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    But neither do sensory perceptions; if you suddenly go blind, all light doesn’t immediately vanish from the universe. So sensory perceptions and emotions and thoughts are all in the same boat here.
    I’ve been told that part of meditation is simply noticing one’s thoughts and emotions. It should be possible to do the same with sensory perception.
    but in order to accept it over the “obvious” explanation, one would have to be willing to interpret some sensory data as false or misleading.
    Not necessarily. One can see an appreciate the burn pattern’s resemblance to a face without coming to any conclusion as to its origin. The fronts of 1958 Corvettes look like faces with buck teeth to me at first glance.
    And they’re both like hypotheses in that they aren’t “raw” data, they’re interpretations and summaries your brain has provided, which might be wrong or misleading. (For that reason, I think it’s a misnomer to speak of sensory “input.” The actual raw input, the photons impinging on your retina and the sound waves passing through your hair cells, you’ll never sense directly.)
    If you’re talking about interpretations and summaries that aren’t the products of deliberate thought, I would say these need to be scrutinzed as data. When I talk about “sensory data” I mean the perceptions separate from deliberate thought. If one has a good or bad emotional association with something, one can step back from the emotion and treat it as data.
    Why that specific emotion? I don’t think it’s particularly dominant in driving belief in the unfalsifiable.
    I was postulating that some (not all) beliefs in gods are based in fears of the unknown and fears of having no control over the universe.
    But they can say the same word in their head, unless it’s a word you just made up and is so bizarre that no one else would ever think of it.
    But they don’t seem to be able to discern which word I am saying in my head no matter what word it is.
    Then I don’t see why mystics aren’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that they’ve met God, or that Paul isn’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that God made the world, even when they haven’t ruled out alternate explanations.
    Because I don’t have a belief or a conclusion about earworms existing in a separate realm. I’m saying it simply seems to be that way but this could be misleading – I don’t have enough informaton to make either. It’s possible that my earworms can be heard as sound by others and they aren’t disclosing this to me.
    Also, what I’m describing is about my own head. The mystics and Paul are asserting that everyone in the world is under the authority of their gods. My point about my earworms would only be comparable if I claimed that they represent commands that the entire human race may follow.
    I’m not swayed by theistic explanations because they aren’t testable, but they are explanations so far as I can see. Just not scientific ones.
    They’re not true explanations because they don’t explain why the outcome would be one way and not another. They’re so open-ended as to allow anything. It would have been just as easy for gods to create the universe so that planets are square and intelligent animals have no bilateral symmetry.
    And if two people with similar hearing listen to the same symphony, they may have duplicate sensory perceptions, but those perceptions still have separate existences. What’s the difference?
    The difference is that there appears to be a point in the process where the perceptions reach the brain but the brain hasn’t yet acted deliberately or unconsciously on the perception.
    Even the most authoritarian conservative Christians believe that people challenge God’s authority all the time; he just retaliates with horrible punishments, and is right to do so. To say that a being is an authority that can never be challenged is really to say that it’s a rightful authority that should never be challenged–that’s a value assertion.
    Valid point. The fact assertion is the part about the god having inherent authority and the part about the retaliation.
    I’m challenging it right now, you’re challenging it, and members of almost any competing religion would challenge it. Religion has a long history of squelching dissent, but I don’t think this particular claim is terribly effective at doing that by itself.
    It might not be effective in frightening adults into not questioning it, but it might be so for children, and it describes some types of religious instruction for children. But even when it’s not effective, it’s still wrong in principle.
    They were hoping to understand their creator’s priorities and “design ethic” by looking at his creations.
    That only works if one assumes that those things were the products of directed processes. Wny
    Which hypotheses? It certainly didn’t change their empirical hypotheses in that way, because they were scientists, and great ones–they formed and tested important hypotheses about how the world works. Perhaps it changed their hypotheses about God in some way, but evidently that wasn’t a problem–their religious beliefs positively motivated their attempts to understand the empirical world.
    A theistic evolutionist believes that his god(s) created the processes in the universe that result in natural selection. It changes the natural selection hypotheses because it asserts an explanation of how the process originated. While I’m obviously not the scientific equal of those people, I find their apparent compartmentalization to be frustrating. When one asserts that gods carry out specific actions in the universe, there’s no discipline involved in proposing such a hypothesis – the assertion can be anything that one wants it to be.
    An opinion or theological interpretation can’t be a positive assertion that’s either correct or incorrect?
    They can, but the statement “A certain god created the universe” is a positive statement and not an opinion or a theological interpretation.”

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    But neither do sensory perceptions; if you suddenly go blind, all light doesn’t immediately vanish from the universe. So sensory perceptions and emotions and thoughts are all in the same boat here.
    I’ve been told that part of meditation is simply noticing one’s thoughts and emotions. It should be possible to do the same with sensory perception.
    but in order to accept it over the “obvious” explanation, one would have to be willing to interpret some sensory data as false or misleading.
    Not necessarily. One can see an appreciate the burn pattern’s resemblance to a face without coming to any conclusion as to its origin. The fronts of 1958 Corvettes look like faces with buck teeth to me at first glance.
    And they’re both like hypotheses in that they aren’t “raw” data, they’re interpretations and summaries your brain has provided, which might be wrong or misleading. (For that reason, I think it’s a misnomer to speak of sensory “input.” The actual raw input, the photons impinging on your retina and the sound waves passing through your hair cells, you’ll never sense directly.)
    If you’re talking about interpretations and summaries that aren’t the products of deliberate thought, I would say these need to be scrutinzed as data. When I talk about “sensory data” I mean the perceptions separate from deliberate thought. If one has a good or bad emotional association with something, one can step back from the emotion and treat it as data.
    Why that specific emotion? I don’t think it’s particularly dominant in driving belief in the unfalsifiable.
    I was postulating that some (not all) beliefs in gods are based in fears of the unknown and fears of having no control over the universe.
    But they can say the same word in their head, unless it’s a word you just made up and is so bizarre that no one else would ever think of it.
    But they don’t seem to be able to discern which word I am saying in my head no matter what word it is.
    Then I don’t see why mystics aren’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that they’ve met God, or that Paul isn’t equally entitled to say it “seems obvious” that God made the world, even when they haven’t ruled out alternate explanations.
    Because I don’t have a belief or a conclusion about earworms existing in a separate realm. I’m saying it simply seems to be that way but this could be misleading – I don’t have enough informaton to make either. It’s possible that my earworms can be heard as sound by others and they aren’t disclosing this to me.
    Also, what I’m describing is about my own head. The mystics and Paul are asserting that everyone in the world is under the authority of their gods. My point about my earworms would only be comparable if I claimed that they represent commands that the entire human race may follow.
    I’m not swayed by theistic explanations because they aren’t testable, but they are explanations so far as I can see. Just not scientific ones.
    They’re not true explanations because they don’t explain why the outcome would be one way and not another. They’re so open-ended as to allow anything. It would have been just as easy for gods to create the universe so that planets are square and intelligent animals have no bilateral symmetry.
    And if two people with similar hearing listen to the same symphony, they may have duplicate sensory perceptions, but those perceptions still have separate existences. What’s the difference?
    The difference is that there appears to be a point in the process where the perceptions reach the brain but the brain hasn’t yet acted deliberately or unconsciously on the perception.
    Even the most authoritarian conservative Christians believe that people challenge God’s authority all the time; he just retaliates with horrible punishments, and is right to do so. To say that a being is an authority that can never be challenged is really to say that it’s a rightful authority that should never be challenged–that’s a value assertion.
    Valid point. The fact assertion is the part about the god having inherent authority and the part about the retaliation.
    I’m challenging it right now, you’re challenging it, and members of almost any competing religion would challenge it. Religion has a long history of squelching dissent, but I don’t think this particular claim is terribly effective at doing that by itself.
    It might not be effective in frightening adults into not questioning it, but it might be so for children, and it describes some types of religious instruction for children. But even when it’s not effective, it’s still wrong in principle.
    They were hoping to understand their creator’s priorities and “design ethic” by looking at his creations.
    That only works if one assumes that those things were the products of directed processes. Wny
    Which hypotheses? It certainly didn’t change their empirical hypotheses in that way, because they were scientists, and great ones–they formed and tested important hypotheses about how the world works. Perhaps it changed their hypotheses about God in some way, but evidently that wasn’t a problem–their religious beliefs positively motivated their attempts to understand the empirical world.
    A theistic evolutionist believes that his god(s) created the processes in the universe that result in natural selection. It changes the natural selection hypotheses because it asserts an explanation of how the process originated. While I’m obviously not the scientific equal of those people, I find their apparent compartmentalization to be frustrating. When one asserts that gods carry out specific actions in the universe, there’s no discipline involved in proposing such a hypothesis – the assertion can be anything that one wants it to be.
    An opinion or theological interpretation can’t be a positive assertion that’s either correct or incorrect?
    They can, but the statement “A certain god created the universe” is a positive statement and not an opinion or a theological interpretation.”

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    To make my point clear about the burn mark, it’s one thing to observe that it resembles a human face. But there are huge assumptive leaps in the deliberate conclusion that some gods caused the burn mark to appear on the tortilla.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    To make my point clear about the burn mark, it’s one thing to observe that it resembles a human face. But there are huge assumptive leaps in the deliberate conclusion that some gods caused the burn mark to appear on the tortilla.

  • Caravelle

    You guys still posting here ? Wow.

  • Caravelle

    You guys still posting here ? Wow.

  • Anton Mates

    I’ve been told that part of meditation is simply noticing one’s thoughts and emotions. It should be possible to do the same with sensory perception.

    To some degree I’m sure it is, but there must be a limit to the amount of thought, emotion or sensory perceptions you can be consciously aware of at once. Even if you could be aware of any given process going on in any part of your nervous system at any time, you couldn’t simultaneously monitor them all with a mind running on the same system.

    One can see an appreciate the burn pattern’s resemblance to a face without a coming to any conclusion as to its origin.

    A conclusion is likely to be offered by your senses, though; much of our sensory perception is quite high-level. When you walk down the street, you regularly accept sensory statements about “faces” and “cars” and “trees” you pass, rather than mentally qualifying them as “objects that apparently resemble faces and cars and trees.” In the case of the burn pattern, you need to reject that sort of conclusion.

    If you’re talking about interpretations and summaries that aren’t the products of deliberate thought, I would say these need to be scrutinzed as data. When I talk about “sensory data” I mean the perceptions separate from deliberate thought.

    Why wouldn’t deliberate thought be scrutinized as data as well?

    I was postulating that some (not all) beliefs in gods are based in fears of the unknown and fears of having no control over the universe.

    They may be, but I’d look for evidence that a specific case of belief is based on this before attacking it on those grounds.

    But they don’t seem to be able to discern which word I am saying in my head no matter what word it is.

    Not without you providing them with stimuli that will make them mentally say the same word, but that’s just a special case of “mental phenomena can’t be directly shared.” They can’t hear what you’re hearing either, unless you provide them with stimuli that will produce a similar perception.

    Because I don’t have a belief or a conclusion about earworms existing in a separate realm. I’m saying it simply seems to be that way but this could be misleading – I don’t have enough informaton to make either.

    Saying that it seems obvious they exist in a separate realm certainly sounds like a belief to me. Just because it isn’t a belief you hold with 100% certainty (which could be the case for the mystic as well) doesn’t mean it isn’t a belief. Many believers–again, including many on this forum–have said God seems to exist but that they could be wrong about this.

    It’s possible that my earworms can be heard as sound by others and they aren’t disclosing this to me.

    That would mean they were not sensory perceptions, though, but were actual physical vibrations in the air.

    Also, what I’m describing is about my own head. The mystics and Paul are asserting that everyone in the world is under the authority of their gods.

    Not as a general rule. Paul is, but many mystics (such as many associated with Gnosticism, for instance), would say that that this world is under the authority of gods other than those they worship. Unless we’re talking about moral authority, in which case we’re back to a question of values, and fact claims about your perceptions and their real-world correlates are irrelevant.

    They’re not true explanations because they don’t explain why the outcome would be one way and not another. They’re so open-ended as to allow anything. It would have been just as easy for gods to create the universe so that planets are square and intelligent animals have no bilateral symmetry.

    But most theistic accounts posit that their god(s) wanted to create a universe with round planets, or with intelligent animals that looked human-ish, or with some other observable feature. They don’t explain everything, of course, but they explain some things, and disallow alternatives. (And before you say, “But why did their god(s) want to create that particular sort of universe?”, no explanation explains itself.)

    The difference is that there appears to be a point in the process where the perceptions reach the brain but the brain hasn’t yet acted deliberately or unconsciously on the perception.

    There does? The perception itself is a brain action. There would be no perception at all without convoluted chains of processing in the retina, optic nerve and brain.

    The fact assertion is the part about the god having inherent authority and the part about the retaliation.

    If by “inherent authority” you mean power, yes.

    It might not be effective in frightening adults into not questioning it, but it might be so for children, and it describes some types of religious instruction for children.

    It does, yes. Still, “it might frighten the children” isn’t a strong refutation of the argument itself.

    That only works if one assumes that those things were the products of directed processes.

    Or if one arrives at that conclusion after thought, of course.

    A theistic evolutionist believes that his god(s) created the processes in the universe that result in natural selection. It changes the natural selection hypotheses because it asserts an explanation of how the process originated.

    By that argument, everyone who accepts the Big Bang theory has changed the hypothesis of natural selection by asserting an origin as well.

    When one asserts that gods carry out specific actions in the universe, there’s no discipline involved in proposing such a hypothesis – the assertion can be anything that one wants it to be.

    You’re back to assuming theism is primarily powered by wishful thinking.

    They can, but the statement “A certain god created the universe” is a positive statement and not an opinion or a theological interpretation.”

    It’s all three. It’s a statement about a property the universe has, so it’s positive; it’s presumably believed by the speaker, so it’s an opinion; and it’s about god, so it’s a theological interpretation.

  • Anton Mates

    You guys still posting here ? Wow.

    What else can atheist skeptics do for the holidays? Happy Quarrelmas!

  • Anton Mates

    You guys still posting here ? Wow.

    What else can atheist skeptics do for the holidays? Happy Quarrelmas!

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    We seem to have gone far afield of the point I was trying to make about thought. I’ve mentioned before that while doing extended physical tasks such as yard work, I often have passages of books running through my head. This mental phenomenon seems to exist separately from what I perceive with my senses, even though a particular sensory perception can sometimes spark the running of a particular book in my head. By “separately” I mean that the content of the passage doesn’t seem to affect the world outside my head except through my actions. I imagine the alternative would be some form of involuntary telekinesis or psychic communication.
    The key difference between that and claims about “talking to gods” is that I make no claim that other beings are injecting the passages directly into my head.
    The claim under scrutiny here is this – Person X insists that he is receiving mental communication from one or more god-beings. This issue wouldn’t be so critical if the claim ended right there. But he goes on to insist that these communications represent orders for the entire human race, or at least desires by those beings for human conduct. He goes on to claim that these beings have inherent authority that cannot or should not be questioned. And he finally states that he cannot prove these claims yet others must or should obey those orders. Labeling those claims as beliefs amounts to letting the person off the hook for provability – we cannot tell if he is simply making up those orders himself and claiming a divine source to try to give the orders credibility, or if he got the orders wrong through an honest mistake. The difference between “My gods have a plan for me” and “My gods have a plan for YOU” is vast, and is the whole issue. The latter requires testable evidence.
    When you walk down the street, you regularly accept sensory statements about “faces” and “cars” and “trees” you pass, rather than mentally qualifying them as “objects that apparently resemble faces and cars and trees.” In the case of the burn pattern, you need to reject that sort of conclusion.
    You would have a point if we were talking about one’s senses simply mistaking the burn pattern for an actual face of a being. My point is that concluding that gods put the burn pattern there may require deliberate thought.
    Why wouldn’t deliberate thought be scrutinized as data as well?
    It certainly would, and it’s part of my point about always testing what one perceives in one’s head with what one perceives with the senses.
    They may be, but I’d look for evidence that a specific case of belief is based on this before attacking it on those grounds.
    Valid point.
    Saying that it seems obvious they exist in a separate realm certainly sounds like a belief to me. Just because it isn’t a belief you hold with 100% certainty (which could be the case for the mystic as well) doesn’t mean it isn’t a belief. Many believers–again, including many on this forum–have said God seems to exist but that they could be wrong about this.
    I’m describing a perception and not necessarily a conclusion. I went too far with “separate realm” which was a clumsy attempt at fancy language. I meant to say that I simply don’t perceive a physical connection between my earworms and my sensory perceptions.
    many mystics (such as many associated with Gnosticism, for instance), would say that that this world is under the authority of gods other than those they worship.
    There’s no practical difference between that and Paul’s claim, since god-authorities would be god-authorities even if the claimants don’t worship them.
    But most theistic accounts posit that their god(s) wanted to create a universe with round planets, or with intelligent animals that looked human-ish, or with some other observable feature. They don’t explain everything, of course, but they explain some things, and disallow alternatives. (And before you say, “But why did their god(s) want to create that particular sort of universe?”, no explanation explains itself.)
    But this type of proposed explanation requires an examination of motive. Otherwise it’s not an examination at all, but merely an argument from incredulity. When one claims that gods are responsible for an unexplained event but one doesn’t know why, that’s like squeezing the air out of one part of a balloon and thinking that the air doesn’t cause another part of the balloon to swell.
    By that argument, everyone who accepts the Big Bang theory has changed the hypothesis of natural selection by asserting an origin as well.
    That’s not quite accurate since the Big Bang isn’t asserted to be the immediate preceding event. It might be accurate if we were talking about the phenomena that cause genes to mutate.
    You’re back to assuming theism is primarily powered by wishful thinking.
    Not necessarily. I’m saying that without the principles of testability and falsifiability, a hypothesis can be anything. This includes the products of wishful thinking but is not limited to it. Without those principles, all hypotheses amount to speculation.
    It’s a statement about a property the universe has, so it’s positive; it’s presumably believed by the speaker, so it’s an opinion; and it’s about god, so it’s a theological interpretation.
    Part of my point is that whatever amounts to fact is not a matter of “opinion.” I try to reserve that word for statements of subjective value. And I don’t see how a positive statement about gods can be a theological interpretation.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    We seem to have gone far afield of the point I was trying to make about thought. I’ve mentioned before that while doing extended physical tasks such as yard work, I often have passages of books running through my head. This mental phenomenon seems to exist separately from what I perceive with my senses, even though a particular sensory perception can sometimes spark the running of a particular book in my head. By “separately” I mean that the content of the passage doesn’t seem to affect the world outside my head except through my actions. I imagine the alternative would be some form of involuntary telekinesis or psychic communication.
    The key difference between that and claims about “talking to gods” is that I make no claim that other beings are injecting the passages directly into my head.
    The claim under scrutiny here is this – Person X insists that he is receiving mental communication from one or more god-beings. This issue wouldn’t be so critical if the claim ended right there. But he goes on to insist that these communications represent orders for the entire human race, or at least desires by those beings for human conduct. He goes on to claim that these beings have inherent authority that cannot or should not be questioned. And he finally states that he cannot prove these claims yet others must or should obey those orders. Labeling those claims as beliefs amounts to letting the person off the hook for provability – we cannot tell if he is simply making up those orders himself and claiming a divine source to try to give the orders credibility, or if he got the orders wrong through an honest mistake. The difference between “My gods have a plan for me” and “My gods have a plan for YOU” is vast, and is the whole issue. The latter requires testable evidence.
    When you walk down the street, you regularly accept sensory statements about “faces” and “cars” and “trees” you pass, rather than mentally qualifying them as “objects that apparently resemble faces and cars and trees.” In the case of the burn pattern, you need to reject that sort of conclusion.
    You would have a point if we were talking about one’s senses simply mistaking the burn pattern for an actual face of a being. My point is that concluding that gods put the burn pattern there may require deliberate thought.
    Why wouldn’t deliberate thought be scrutinized as data as well?
    It certainly would, and it’s part of my point about always testing what one perceives in one’s head with what one perceives with the senses.
    They may be, but I’d look for evidence that a specific case of belief is based on this before attacking it on those grounds.
    Valid point.
    Saying that it seems obvious they exist in a separate realm certainly sounds like a belief to me. Just because it isn’t a belief you hold with 100% certainty (which could be the case for the mystic as well) doesn’t mean it isn’t a belief. Many believers–again, including many on this forum–have said God seems to exist but that they could be wrong about this.
    I’m describing a perception and not necessarily a conclusion. I went too far with “separate realm” which was a clumsy attempt at fancy language. I meant to say that I simply don’t perceive a physical connection between my earworms and my sensory perceptions.
    many mystics (such as many associated with Gnosticism, for instance), would say that that this world is under the authority of gods other than those they worship.
    There’s no practical difference between that and Paul’s claim, since god-authorities would be god-authorities even if the claimants don’t worship them.
    But most theistic accounts posit that their god(s) wanted to create a universe with round planets, or with intelligent animals that looked human-ish, or with some other observable feature. They don’t explain everything, of course, but they explain some things, and disallow alternatives. (And before you say, “But why did their god(s) want to create that particular sort of universe?”, no explanation explains itself.)
    But this type of proposed explanation requires an examination of motive. Otherwise it’s not an examination at all, but merely an argument from incredulity. When one claims that gods are responsible for an unexplained event but one doesn’t know why, that’s like squeezing the air out of one part of a balloon and thinking that the air doesn’t cause another part of the balloon to swell.
    By that argument, everyone who accepts the Big Bang theory has changed the hypothesis of natural selection by asserting an origin as well.
    That’s not quite accurate since the Big Bang isn’t asserted to be the immediate preceding event. It might be accurate if we were talking about the phenomena that cause genes to mutate.
    You’re back to assuming theism is primarily powered by wishful thinking.
    Not necessarily. I’m saying that without the principles of testability and falsifiability, a hypothesis can be anything. This includes the products of wishful thinking but is not limited to it. Without those principles, all hypotheses amount to speculation.
    It’s a statement about a property the universe has, so it’s positive; it’s presumably believed by the speaker, so it’s an opinion; and it’s about god, so it’s a theological interpretation.
    Part of my point is that whatever amounts to fact is not a matter of “opinion.” I try to reserve that word for statements of subjective value. And I don’t see how a positive statement about gods can be a theological interpretation.

  • Anton Mates

    I’ve mentioned before that while doing extended physical tasks such as yard work, I often have passages of books running through my head. This mental phenomenon seems to exist separately from what I perceive with my senses, even though a particular sensory perception can sometimes spark the running of a particular book in my head. By “separately” I mean that the content of the passage doesn’t seem to affect the world outside my head except through my actions.

    Okay, but that still doesn’t differentiate it from a sensory perception. If you have tintinnitus, the world outside your head doesn’t seem to register the presence of a corresponding soundwave; if you go blind, light doesn’t vanish from the external world.
    I’m not disagreeing with the way you’ve characterized mental phenomena here, I’m just saying that it’s a poor basis for claiming that sensory perceptions and thoughts/emotions are fundamentally different.

    The claim under scrutiny here is this – Person X insists that he is receiving mental communication from one or more god-beings. This issue wouldn’t be so critical if the claim ended right there. But he goes on to insist that these communications represent orders for the entire human race, or at least desires by those beings for human conduct. He goes on to claim that these beings have inherent authority that cannot or should not be questioned. And he finally states that he cannot prove these claims yet others must or should obey those orders.

    Who’s Person X? He certainly doesn’t seem to be a liberal theist.

    Labeling those claims as beliefs amounts to letting the person off the hook for provability – we cannot tell if he is simply making up those orders himself and claiming a divine source to try to give the orders credibility, or if he got the orders wrong through an honest mistake.

    But that issue has nothing to do with whether there’s evidence that his claims are correct. If you want to know whether he made up the orders, you just need to know whether he thinks he has such evidence. That’s a question about his psychology, not about the existence or nonexistence of gods.

    The difference between “My gods have a plan for me” and “My gods have a plan for YOU” is vast, and is the whole issue. The latter requires testable evidence.

    Why? Why would it require any more evidence than the former? If someone said, “My gods don’t care what you do, but they want me to commit arson every day and live on a strict diet of mountain gorilla,” would you give them a pass on the evidence question?

    You would have a point if we were talking about one’s senses simply mistaking the burn pattern for an actual face of a being. My point is that concluding that gods put the burn pattern there may require deliberate thought.

    And mine is that it may require no more deliberate thought than concluding that, say, sensory perceptions and thoughts exist in separate realms.

    It certainly would, and it’s part of my point about always testing what one perceives in one’s head with what one perceives with the senses.

    Why not the other way, though? If they’re both data, each can be checked against the other

    I’m describing a perception and not necessarily a conclusion.

    But what sense are you using to perceive this fact about your mental states?

    I meant to say that I simply don’t perceive a physical connection between my earworms and my sensory perceptions.

    Do you perceive a physical connection between your earworms and your emotions, or between one thought and another?

    There’s no practical difference between that and Paul’s claim, since god-authorities would be god-authorities even if the claimants don’t worship them.

    Only in the sense that, say, the force of gravity has authority over your motion in midair whether you approve or not. Or the US government has authority over American citizens whether or not the latter find that legitimate.

    But this type of proposed explanation requires an examination of motive. Otherwise it’s not an examination at all, but merely an argument from incredulity.

    Explanations aren’t arguments at all, though.

    When one claims that gods are responsible for an unexplained event but one doesn’t know why, that’s like squeezing the air out of one part of a balloon and thinking that the air doesn’t cause another part of the balloon to swell.

    Again, all scientific hypotheses work that way. Newton claimed that the force of gravity was responsible for planetary motions, but he didn’t know why. Einstein claimed that space-time curvature was responsible for the force of gravity, but he didn’t know why.
    By that argument, everyone who accepts the Big Bang theory has changed the hypothesis of natural selection by asserting an origin as well.

    That’s not quite accurate since the Big Bang isn’t asserted to be the immediate preceding event. It might be accurate if we were talking about the phenomena that cause genes to mutate.

    But theistic evolutionists don’t assert that the existence or action of God is the immediate preceding event either.  They recognize all the same events preceding natural selection that atheistic evolutionists do–mutations, differential reproduction, abiogenesis, planetary and stellar formation, and so on back to the Big Bang.  They just think God’s will underlies all that. (If they think God’s miraculous intervention is an immediate preceding event, then they’re not theistic evolutionists, but intelligent design advocates.)

    Not necessarily. I’m saying that without the principles of testability and falsifiability, a hypothesis can be anything.

    And I’m still disagreeing with that; there are all sorts of other principles which could be used to constrain hypotheses.  Just because somebody doesn’t follow your particular set (or my particular set) of principles, it doesn’t follow that they’re just pulling random beliefs out of a hat.
    After all, humans were around for hundreds of thousands of years before the concepts of testability and falsifiability were even invented.  By and large, they seem to have avoided forming hypotheses we’d consider insane.

    Without those principles, all hypotheses amount to speculation.

    All hypotheses amount to speculation anyway. Presumably you mean they amount to speculation you consider unjustified?

    Part of my point is that whatever amounts to fact is not a matter of “opinion.” I try to reserve that word for statements of subjective value.

    Hey, you can do that, but most English-speakers don’t reserve the word for those statements AFAIK. And doing that makes it kind of a useless word in a discussion like this one, where people disagree on how to make the factual/subjective distinction in the first place.

    And I don’t see how a positive statement about gods can be a theological interpretation.

    Theology is the study of the divine. How could a positive statement about gods be other than theological?

  • Anton Mates

    I’ve mentioned before that while doing extended physical tasks such as yard work, I often have passages of books running through my head. This mental phenomenon seems to exist separately from what I perceive with my senses, even though a particular sensory perception can sometimes spark the running of a particular book in my head. By “separately” I mean that the content of the passage doesn’t seem to affect the world outside my head except through my actions.

    Okay, but that still doesn’t differentiate it from a sensory perception. If you have tintinnitus, the world outside your head doesn’t seem to register the presence of a corresponding soundwave; if you go blind, light doesn’t vanish from the external world.
    I’m not disagreeing with the way you’ve characterized mental phenomena here, I’m just saying that it’s a poor basis for claiming that sensory perceptions and thoughts/emotions are fundamentally different.

    The claim under scrutiny here is this – Person X insists that he is receiving mental communication from one or more god-beings. This issue wouldn’t be so critical if the claim ended right there. But he goes on to insist that these communications represent orders for the entire human race, or at least desires by those beings for human conduct. He goes on to claim that these beings have inherent authority that cannot or should not be questioned. And he finally states that he cannot prove these claims yet others must or should obey those orders.

    Who’s Person X? He certainly doesn’t seem to be a liberal theist.

    Labeling those claims as beliefs amounts to letting the person off the hook for provability – we cannot tell if he is simply making up those orders himself and claiming a divine source to try to give the orders credibility, or if he got the orders wrong through an honest mistake.

    But that issue has nothing to do with whether there’s evidence that his claims are correct. If you want to know whether he made up the orders, you just need to know whether he thinks he has such evidence. That’s a question about his psychology, not about the existence or nonexistence of gods.

    The difference between “My gods have a plan for me” and “My gods have a plan for YOU” is vast, and is the whole issue. The latter requires testable evidence.

    Why? Why would it require any more evidence than the former? If someone said, “My gods don’t care what you do, but they want me to commit arson every day and live on a strict diet of mountain gorilla,” would you give them a pass on the evidence question?

    You would have a point if we were talking about one’s senses simply mistaking the burn pattern for an actual face of a being. My point is that concluding that gods put the burn pattern there may require deliberate thought.

    And mine is that it may require no more deliberate thought than concluding that, say, sensory perceptions and thoughts exist in separate realms.

    It certainly would, and it’s part of my point about always testing what one perceives in one’s head with what one perceives with the senses.

    Why not the other way, though? If they’re both data, each can be checked against the other

    I’m describing a perception and not necessarily a conclusion.

    But what sense are you using to perceive this fact about your mental states?

    I meant to say that I simply don’t perceive a physical connection between my earworms and my sensory perceptions.

    Do you perceive a physical connection between your earworms and your emotions, or between one thought and another?

    There’s no practical difference between that and Paul’s claim, since god-authorities would be god-authorities even if the claimants don’t worship them.

    Only in the sense that, say, the force of gravity has authority over your motion in midair whether you approve or not. Or the US government has authority over American citizens whether or not the latter find that legitimate.

    But this type of proposed explanation requires an examination of motive. Otherwise it’s not an examination at all, but merely an argument from incredulity.

    Explanations aren’t arguments at all, though.

    When one claims that gods are responsible for an unexplained event but one doesn’t know why, that’s like squeezing the air out of one part of a balloon and thinking that the air doesn’t cause another part of the balloon to swell.

    Again, all scientific hypotheses work that way. Newton claimed that the force of gravity was responsible for planetary motions, but he didn’t know why. Einstein claimed that space-time curvature was responsible for the force of gravity, but he didn’t know why.
    By that argument, everyone who accepts the Big Bang theory has changed the hypothesis of natural selection by asserting an origin as well.

    That’s not quite accurate since the Big Bang isn’t asserted to be the immediate preceding event. It might be accurate if we were talking about the phenomena that cause genes to mutate.

    But theistic evolutionists don’t assert that the existence or action of God is the immediate preceding event either.  They recognize all the same events preceding natural selection that atheistic evolutionists do–mutations, differential reproduction, abiogenesis, planetary and stellar formation, and so on back to the Big Bang.  They just think God’s will underlies all that. (If they think God’s miraculous intervention is an immediate preceding event, then they’re not theistic evolutionists, but intelligent design advocates.)

    Not necessarily. I’m saying that without the principles of testability and falsifiability, a hypothesis can be anything.

    And I’m still disagreeing with that; there are all sorts of other principles which could be used to constrain hypotheses.  Just because somebody doesn’t follow your particular set (or my particular set) of principles, it doesn’t follow that they’re just pulling random beliefs out of a hat.
    After all, humans were around for hundreds of thousands of years before the concepts of testability and falsifiability were even invented.  By and large, they seem to have avoided forming hypotheses we’d consider insane.

    Without those principles, all hypotheses amount to speculation.

    All hypotheses amount to speculation anyway. Presumably you mean they amount to speculation you consider unjustified?

    Part of my point is that whatever amounts to fact is not a matter of “opinion.” I try to reserve that word for statements of subjective value.

    Hey, you can do that, but most English-speakers don’t reserve the word for those statements AFAIK. And doing that makes it kind of a useless word in a discussion like this one, where people disagree on how to make the factual/subjective distinction in the first place.

    And I don’t see how a positive statement about gods can be a theological interpretation.

    Theology is the study of the divine. How could a positive statement about gods be other than theological?

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    I’m not disagreeing with the way you’ve characterized mental phenomena here, I’m just saying that it’s a poor basis for claiming that sensory perceptions and thoughts/emotions are fundamentally different.
    What I’ve been trying to refute is the pseudo-Aristotelian idea that one can divine the nature of the universe through logical thought alone. That’s because thoughts can be anything. One could hypothetically have thought in the absence of sensory perception. I remember you mentioning that ideas and hypotheses can be tested against systems of internal logic such as theology, That internality is precisely the problem with those systems – they hold up only as long as one grants the base assumptions involved, and the base assumptions can be anything. In practice, using those systems to evaluate hypotheses is not much different than using personal opinion.
    If you want to know whether he made up the orders, you just need to know whether he thinks he has such evidence. That’s a question about his psychology, not about the existence or nonexistence of gods.
    True. I brought up that possibility to emphasize that without external testability, we have no standing to reject made-up orders other than our own opinions.
    Why would it require any more evidence than the former? If someone said, “My gods don’t care what you do, but they want me to commit arson every day and live on a strict diet of mountain gorilla,” would you give them a pass on the evidence question?
    No, but the actions can be judged on their own merits as to the harm they may cause. I’m talking about the claim of authority itself. If I accepted someone else’s claim, that would be tantamount to ceding decision-making power over my own life.
    But theistic evolutionists don’t assert that the existence or action of God is the immediate preceding event either.
    Some do, when they assert that their gods cause the mutations that produce new species, or cause the conditions that lead to the extinction of some species in favor of others.
    Again, all scientific hypotheses work that way. Newton claimed that the force of gravity was responsible for planetary motions, but he didn’t know why. Einstein claimed that space-time curvature was responsible for the force of gravity, but he didn’t know why.
    But they admitted that they didn’t know why, which is the key distinction. Theistic explanations are advertised as all-encompassing – the proponent professes to know that gods were responsible but ducks the question of their motives, with statements such as “God works in mysterious ways.”
    And I’m still disagreeing with that; there are all sorts of other principles which could be used to constrain hypotheses. Just because somebody doesn’t follow your particular set (or my particular set) of principles, it doesn’t follow that they’re just pulling random beliefs out of a hat.
    Of course it doesn’t automatically follow. The issue is that the principles are created by humans – they’re merely systems of internal logic. I’m talking about testing hypotheses against things that are external to anyone’s mind or anyone’s set of principles. Without external testability, any principles have no concreteness.
    How could a positive statement about gods be other than theological?
    Because “the study of the divine” is really the study of human-created assumptions about the divine. Those positive statements amount to the driving assumptions behind the theology.
    All hypotheses amount to speculation anyway.
    A hypothesis is not speculation if it successfully predicts new data. It’s only speculation if it has not been tested against data, or if it is untestable. One can argue that an untestable proposition doesn’t even qualify as a hypothesis. Speculation is the forming of propositions exclusive of data.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    I’m not disagreeing with the way you’ve characterized mental phenomena here, I’m just saying that it’s a poor basis for claiming that sensory perceptions and thoughts/emotions are fundamentally different.
    What I’ve been trying to refute is the pseudo-Aristotelian idea that one can divine the nature of the universe through logical thought alone. That’s because thoughts can be anything. One could hypothetically have thought in the absence of sensory perception. I remember you mentioning that ideas and hypotheses can be tested against systems of internal logic such as theology, That internality is precisely the problem with those systems – they hold up only as long as one grants the base assumptions involved, and the base assumptions can be anything. In practice, using those systems to evaluate hypotheses is not much different than using personal opinion.
    If you want to know whether he made up the orders, you just need to know whether he thinks he has such evidence. That’s a question about his psychology, not about the existence or nonexistence of gods.
    True. I brought up that possibility to emphasize that without external testability, we have no standing to reject made-up orders other than our own opinions.
    Why would it require any more evidence than the former? If someone said, “My gods don’t care what you do, but they want me to commit arson every day and live on a strict diet of mountain gorilla,” would you give them a pass on the evidence question?
    No, but the actions can be judged on their own merits as to the harm they may cause. I’m talking about the claim of authority itself. If I accepted someone else’s claim, that would be tantamount to ceding decision-making power over my own life.
    But theistic evolutionists don’t assert that the existence or action of God is the immediate preceding event either.
    Some do, when they assert that their gods cause the mutations that produce new species, or cause the conditions that lead to the extinction of some species in favor of others.
    Again, all scientific hypotheses work that way. Newton claimed that the force of gravity was responsible for planetary motions, but he didn’t know why. Einstein claimed that space-time curvature was responsible for the force of gravity, but he didn’t know why.
    But they admitted that they didn’t know why, which is the key distinction. Theistic explanations are advertised as all-encompassing – the proponent professes to know that gods were responsible but ducks the question of their motives, with statements such as “God works in mysterious ways.”
    And I’m still disagreeing with that; there are all sorts of other principles which could be used to constrain hypotheses. Just because somebody doesn’t follow your particular set (or my particular set) of principles, it doesn’t follow that they’re just pulling random beliefs out of a hat.
    Of course it doesn’t automatically follow. The issue is that the principles are created by humans – they’re merely systems of internal logic. I’m talking about testing hypotheses against things that are external to anyone’s mind or anyone’s set of principles. Without external testability, any principles have no concreteness.
    How could a positive statement about gods be other than theological?
    Because “the study of the divine” is really the study of human-created assumptions about the divine. Those positive statements amount to the driving assumptions behind the theology.
    All hypotheses amount to speculation anyway.
    A hypothesis is not speculation if it successfully predicts new data. It’s only speculation if it has not been tested against data, or if it is untestable. One can argue that an untestable proposition doesn’t even qualify as a hypothesis. Speculation is the forming of propositions exclusive of data.

  • Go_4_tli

    I know I’m very late to this discussion, but the topic really interests me.

    You have the right idea there. I think the basic flaw comes from people having the wrong ideas about what science does or what it claims. Those who back into justatheory want to reassure themselves that evolution isn’t, like, a *law*; it’s not *proven*. Of course, science doesn’t even set out to prove *anything*.

    The whole idea seems to be in the idea that perhaps science allows things to “graduate” from hypotheses to theories to laws or something. They’re not even similar. A law simply describes generally how something behaves — we seem to see something happen over and over, and we try to gain general understanding of it. (“What goes up must come down”, as applies to gravity, or “Organisms evolve”, as applies to evolution; yes, we’ve seen it directly, and not just the “microevolution” some creationists try to describe.)

    Another common objection is that science can’t address something we don’t directly observe or can’t repeat. That’s blatantly false, of course — otherwise, forensic science couldn’t exist. And we’ve directly observed it in repeatable fashion in any case.

    I know this is much later that your original post, but I still hope this can help you somehow.

  • Go_4_tli

    Sorry, I forgot to mention the difference between a law and a theory. Whereas a law tries to describe what is so, a theory attempts to describe *why* it is so. The law says things fall; the theory says that things are attracted by a force related to the masses involved and the distance between their centers. The law says organisms evolve; the theory says that they have all evolved from one or a few initial organisms.

    So in a way, a theory is *stronger* than a law, because it creates predictions we can test much more directly than a law’s; a theory explains why things are one way and not some other, equally-conceivable way. Do objects accelerate in accordance with the force attributed to gravity? Do the structures and genomes of organisms relate to one another in accordance with the predictions generated by Common Descent and notions of heredity with variation?

    Turns out, they do. Holy sweet monkey, do they ever. Which gives us greater and greater confidence that the theory is substantially correct.

    I was careful to point out Common Descent there because even the most hidebound creationists will often allow that natural selection can work within certain boundaries (say, within a species or some other arbitrary “kind”). The evidence is voluminous and compelling that Common Descent is true, no matter *what* you say about natural selection.

    (I happen to accept natural selection; I just want to point out the power and compelling nature of the theory, being strong enough to be accepted beyond any reasonable doubt even without natural selection as a mechanism to drive evolution along.)


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