Friday, March 18, 2005

Dialogue With an Atheist on the Relationship of Christianity and Metaphysics to the Scientific Method (vs. Sue Strandberg)

From public discussions on an Internet List devoted to the question of God's existence: May-July 2001. Uploaded with the full permission of Sue Strandberg (she refers to herself primarily as a secular humanist). Her words will be in blue:

Slavery would be hard to justify as fair and unbiased if one could not empirically demonstrate that certain races were actually better suited and even better off as slaves. This was one of the most common justifications for slavery in the South, that adult black people were like children and couldn't handle independence -- the other common justification of course was that God created the black race to be the servants of the white race.

Both are nonsense and quite evil, of course.

You could use scientific reasoning to refute the first claim: science is helpless before the second claim -- all you can do is argue scripture and who has the more holy sense of the divine.

Racism has often been quite respectable in scientific circles too. There was this nonsense of measuring skulls and determining "intelligence" and "character" based on that (phrenology). Eugenics was also firmly grounded in supposed "science." The Nazis enlisted scientists and doctors every step of the way to determine whose life was worthy to be lived (one recalls their bizarre experiments). Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) picked up on this approach and utilized it for her notions of population reduction. This was a way to reduce the "inferior" black population.

Steven Jay Gould writes:

Racism has often been buttressed by scientists who present a public facade of objectivity to mask their guiding prejudices.

{The Panda's Thumb, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1980, 176}

As religion can be abused for nefarious ends, so can science.

I agree. My point was that if a mistaken conclusion is formed from scientific methods it can be and probably will be corrected using the same methods. Nothing shows the critical, crucial importance of science more than bad science. A continuing discussion and dispute on evidence -- and a strict accountability to demonstration -- will tend to weed out bad theories over time as long as the scientific community is not stifled from open investigation and analysis. The fact that phrenology was discarded by scientists themselves is one indication of this.

I agree; my point was not anti-science, but rather, anti-dogmatism in science (or more accurately, that scientists are no less prone to the usual human shortcomings than the rest of us) - a fact of history which is often unknown or ignored by those who think that such properties are the sole possession of religionists. I would say that such unfortunate occurrences are in a sense even more shocking in science, given the very fact of its strict methodology of proof (whereas religion involves many tenets not empirically verifiable, so that much nonsense may possibly be inculcated). But does dogmatism per se surprise me in any person, even a scientist? Not at all . . .

When religion makes false claims about the nature of reality based on
spiritual insights, however, it is difficult if not impossible to refute them.

If they are irrational or demonstrably untrue, one can (e.g., the Mormon poppycock of founder Joseph Smith supposedly having found tablets of "Reformed Hieroglyphics" on a hill in New York). Other things are matters of historical investigation. With Christianity, there are some unprovable tenets which derive from larger evidences which are demonstrable and verifiable through various means. But this is true of pretty much any view. And the starting assumptions are equally unprovable, even for science. My larger point is that any field of thought shares basic similarities with virtually all others, in terms of the axiomatic nature of starting-points and inability to explain at the deepest - metaphysical - levels of analysis. Some things are simply goofy and intellectually vapid from the outset (flat-earth, KKK, doctrinaire Marxism, occultism, etc.).

In fact, there is no way for us to really know, or prove, that they are indeed false.

That's simply not true in most cases.

For instance, if a religion says that black people have dark skin because they have been cursed by God, no amount of study on melanin or evolutionary origins of race or biology or psychology is going to be sufficient to refute this because none of this addresses spiritual reality. This claim is "outside of science" and yet will impact on how we treat people. I find this dangerous.

So do I. You couldn't prove this particular false view by science - strictly speaking - because it is a religious claim. Yet this claim is made on the basis of certain texts in Genesis, involving the "curse of Ham." It is easily shown that this interpretation is groundless and without any support in Genesis, through the usual means of hermeneutics and exegesis and the linguistic tools brought to bear on biblical texts (even historical factors, such as Moses marrying a black woman, or the irrelevance of race as a social factor in ancient Mesopotamian cultures, etc.). Those things are intellectual, "scientific" methods themselves, so any Christian religion which follows the Bible would be subject to such objective analyses (not to say that there is never any disagreement on interpretation . . . ).

The same method that can claim that it is an empirical fact that God made all men equal can claim that it is an empirical fact that God made some men to rule over others, and there is no way to arbitrate between dueling divine insights.

Again, when it comes to the Bible, it can be shown that it teaches no such thing. It is much more likely, historically-speaking, that Communism or tribalism causes such a view to occur. Religion isn't spotless on this score by any means, either, but the non-religious ideologies have produced far worse fruit.

I agree that tribalism is at the root of many of our aggressive tendencies, religious or not, but I think you have expressed far too much confidence in how easily Biblical disputes can be resolved if one just examines the Gospel clearly and in the light of scholarship.

Naw; you should read my debates with Protestants who espouse a notion called "perspicuity" (clearness) of Scripture, whereby (when all is said and done) anyone can have an essential grasp of biblical teachings without the need of a Church. Catholics deny that, yet agree that the Bible's teachings are relatively clear (my entire website presupposes this), just not sufficiently so to make it unnecessary to have an authoritative teaching Church to be the court of final appeal on true and false doctrine (note: doctrine - not the orthodox interpretation of each and every verse). This is a major difference between Catholics and Protestants: "Scripture Alone vs. apostolic Tradition or succession."

I've noted that Catholics seem to feel they have a means to escape the
problem of competing interpretations of scripture by virtue of interpreting scripture as indicating a final arbiter in the form of an authoritative Church. The problem, of course, is that from the point of view of an atheist or even a non-Catholic there is still a subjective evaluation involved here, and this choice will always rest on various combinations of reason and faith. It is not Catholics (who are all in agreement) vs. Protestants (who differ with each other) but Catholics who agree vs. Lutherans who agree vs. Evangelicals who agree vs. Calvinists who agree and on and on, with each sect having divisions within it who all agree with each other and disagree with the rest, sometimes on minor matters, sometimes on matters they consider very crucial indeed.

People within a church who agree on what God is don't really see themselves as agreeing with each other but as agreeing with God. From within the Catholic religion it is relatively easy to resolve disputes by appealing to the authority of the Church as it has been set up. But whether this Church has indeed been set up by God or by men is the real dispute between Catholics and non-Catholics, and appeals to resolve this can't rest on what the Church says, but on what the Bible indicates as illuminated by faith and reason ...and we are back where we started.

Well, of course this is a very complicated and controversial issue, and is an in-house fight, as you well know.

To sum up very briefly, the Catholic notion of authority is not a circular claim in the same vein as "the Bible says so" (i.e., when spoken to an atheist or someone who doesn't accept biblical authority). The Catholic belief in apostolic succession and Tradition is historically-based, and verified by recourse to Christian history; particularly the Church Fathers.

This was more or less universally the formal principle of authority in Christianity for 1500 years, until Luther and Calvin came around and arbitrarily changed the principle to "sola Scriptura" ("Bible Alone"). That concept itself cannot be shown to be taught in the Bible, which makes it utterly self-defeating. It was adopted at first simply because an alternate to Catholic authority was needed by those who were dissenting against same and (ultimately) setting up their own churches.

Nor does the Catholic Church proclaim an infallible, authoritative interpretation for hundreds (or all) of the passages in the Bible, as is often supposed (in fact, there are only six or so of such non-optional interpretations). Rather, it is doctrine which is proclaimed in a binding sense, and alleged "proof texts" used to support false doctrines are deemed as being used incorrectly, for that reason.

There is intelligent, reasonable disagreement on virtually every tenet in Christianity, and these disagreements are often fundamental, have lasted for hundreds of years, and are unlikely to be resolved given new information or scientific discoveries. And if you bring in conflicts between different religions the probability is even more remote.

See my last response. That said, there is also a significant core area of agreement among all Christians, apart from fringe, heretical, cultic groups. This would be that which is described in C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity or roughly synonymous with the Nicene Creed.

Certainly there are disagreements in science, but appeals to empirical evidence and insistence on demonstration make it much more likely that consensus will be formed over time.

Great. I don't see that the nature of science has anything particularly to do (epistemologically) with the dogmas of religion and how they are arrived at. Why must you oppose them? They are two different things. I gladly accept both. You accept only science, so you have to run down religion to some extent as an arbitrary, irrational enterprise.

Theism gives 'why' answers in personal terms, as one might tell a story. "Why is the sky blue?" can be answered in concrete terms of atmosphere and molecules and light. Or it can be answered in terms of motivation -- "because God wanted it that way" -- or in terms of teleology --"because it is prettier that way." But when we are talking about giving an ultimate account of something we often mean not just motives (if they apply), but methods (which would always apply.) The nuts and bolts of how something is, and what something is, and the modus operandi. Theism is more or less an appeal to magic in this area.

No; it is a serious attempt to explain the phenomena we observe with regard to ethics and human nature, just as much as atheism is. Belief in the supernatural is not necessarily an appeal to "magic" as if the thought is on the level of a child's fairy tale or something. I know it is fashionable to think in those terms, but I suppose both sides tend to caricature the other.

Furthermore, if we must refer to storytelling and "magic"; well, nothing is a greater fairy-tale than the more fantastic elements of the theory of evolution.

I don't think your analogy holds on the point I am trying to make. The issue is not belief in God vs. Evolution, but the explanatory scope of miracle explanation vs. science explanation.

But who says truth is determined solely by explanatory power? This is one of the fallacies which seems to keep coming up, but to me it appears to be based on the circular reasoning that scientific knowledge is the only sort of reliable knowledge; therefore anything outside of it is either inferior or suspect as irrational and epistemologically unjustifiable, and hence subject to all sorts of excessive and misguided skepticism and cynicism.

If God exists and we have good proof that it does . . .

Which would be what?

. . . then there would be nothing unscientific about bringing God into our explanations: in fact, it would be downright unscientific not to, miracles or not. We would not be able to understand how the miracles work, but we could know that they do, and that they work because they are caused by a Being who is beyond our ability to observe.

Well, of course there are many of us now and through history who do think there are more than enough proofs for God's existence.

What I was pointing out was that Evolution attempts to explain complexity by virtue of being a testable theory which endeavours to unify a large number of observations from geology, biogeography, genetics, zoology, anatomy, molecular and biochemical biology, etc. It tries to break the problem of complex forms of life down into simpler stages in order to understand how and why they formed the way they did through an interaction between genes and environment. And it relies on the same natural laws, interactions, and processes that we can observe today.

That's fine as far as it goes (and remember, I do accept microevolution). I simply deny that it has sufficient evidence and scientific data to explain certain rather extraordinary natural phenomena. It is limited just as is virtually any other theory or explanation set forth by us mere mortals. It can't explain everything. Why this should be such an amazing and terrible thing (to point out the obvious) I know not.

Hard-nosed, skeptical atheists manage to believe in a number of concepts within the sphere of macroevolution which provide absolutely no explanatory value whatever. You think an eye can evolve from a "light-sensitive spot" or a brain from organs exponentially-less complex, or DNA from the initial gasses of the Big Bang, or life itself from the same initially homogeneous conditions, or mammary glands, hair, warm-bloodedness, a different way of hearing, and an expansible thorax in mammals from their alleged ancestors, the reptiles.

I am not really saying that belief in the supernatural is itself an appeal to magic.

Okay; good.

I am pointing out that when it comes to how God actually works theists either deal with natural explanations that can be supported empirically and thus are consistent with nontheism as well or they resort to the claim that God's ways cannot be known by Man. God-explanations are unscientific not because they are supernatural but to the extent that they give no specifics and we cannot ever know how they work.

I think "non-scientific" or perhaps "supra-scientific" would be better terms, because "unscientific" suggests to most people an inferiority or lower level of knowledge and believablity and rationality.

Science might be able to tell us that real magic is afoot, but the magic itself is closed to our scrutiny.

Science and philosophy have their limitations and boundaries just as religion does.

You can simply chant the mantra "evolution" or "chance" and all is explained and answered and all difficulties removed. How is that any different from us positing "God" at the point of a complete lack of explanation (and we have far more serious philosophical proofs than biologists possess demonstrable proofs for macroevolution)? Yet our view is fairy-tale and magic and yours supposedly "science." Why is it that when we come to these topics, suddenly I become the hard-nosed skeptic and agnostic, while atheists are full of wide-open, "anything is possible" "faith"?:

There seems to be no direct proof that evolution can work miracles . . . Is it possible that man, with his remarkable powers of intellect and spirit, has been formed from the dust of the earth by chance alone? It is hard to accept the evolution of the human eye as a product of chance; it is even harder to accept the evolution of human intelligence as the product of random disruptions of brain cells in our ancestors.

{Astronomer & Geologist Robert Jastrow, founder of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, SCIENCE DIGEST, Dec. 1981, 87}

[Evolutionary theory is] one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus outside empirical science but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training. The cure seems to us to be . . . more skepticism about many of its tenets.

{L.C. Birch & P.R. Ehrlich, NATURE, 4-22-67, 352}

This does not mean that it [theism] isn't a true account of how we got to be the way we are, of course; but it does mean that the explanation will of necessity be deliberately incomplete and unanswerable.

Precisely as the theory of evolution is, as some evolutionists themselves admit above. Now, let me point out that I am making an analogy pertaining to the selectivity of skepticism and the "scientific attitude." I say that atheists have a double standard.

But of course, with no God, some sort of naturalistic evolution must be true, so this becomes (in practice) an unimpeachable dogma for the atheist, impervious to any difficulties because it has to be true.

Hence the epistemological and scientific silliness such as we see referred to above; rather like what Bertrand Russell states about Aquinas not being a philosopher because he dares to accept dogmas of Christianity beforehand. :-) Catholics, however, are free to accept evolution with only a few modifications (such as the direct creation of each soul by God), so we don't have to engage in this sort of special pleading and imperviousness to scientific evidence or the essential need for falsifiability (as Popper would say). We can follow the evidences wherever they lead.

An explanation normally seeks to explain something complex in terms
of something simpler, and something unknown in terms of something
better known. "God" is a simplistic answer to questions, not a simple one. It is an appeal to irreducible, fundamental complexity, in that the mysteries we seek to deal with -- life, morals, values, and mind -- have been as they are forever and ever, and are an ultimate mystery.

And this hypothesis is rationally superior to the atheist alternative, especially on moral grounds, more plausible, coherent, and consistent, as I hope to show in due course.

To say that the universe or -- more clearly -- Ultimate Reality is always and has always been puts no unnecessary elements into our assumptions.

Except that it clashes with Big Bang cosmology, which established that the universe had a beginning.

What Reality "really" is can be pragmatically assumed as something uncomplicated and basic from which more complicated things emerge due to simple processes working together over time, a coherent series of cause-and-effect which works across different levels of explanation. We can learn to understand the world in terms of smaller and smaller elements, systems, and levels, and then build our understanding from the ground up.

I find it curious that you have no problem accepting the prior axiom of a grand cosmological process of simple-to-complex, (ultimately) based on (it seems to me) numerous evolutionary assumptions which themselves are unproven, and have little or no explanatory value (the above citations), yet you dismiss the hypothesis of complex-to-complex, which forms the presupposition of theism (cosmological and teleological arguments).

Theism does the opposite. It begins complex, and then derives like from like. This is why I consider it not necessarily false, but nonexplanatory.

No more so than macroevolution, which tells us very little about process, yet claims to be "scientific" and de facto "proven." If the choice is a "science" which gives precious little explanation, and metaphysics/religion, which explains quite a bit within solid philosophical premises, I choose the latter, because it is successful and consistent and coherent within its own epistemological sphere, whereas macroevolution-without-God is not, and involves much faith and incoherence, at least given our present state of knowledge. So I am an agnostic and skeptic in these matters (and also with regard to possible alternative creationist schemas), due to woefully insufficient evidence to justify belief, just as atheists are with regard to God.

If God exists and is capable of effecting events and elements in the
universe, I see no reason why a scientific approach to understanding
would be unable to discover this.

Me neither, which is why I think so highly of the cosmological and teleological arguments.

Empiricism doesn't exclude God, it simply doesn't start out with an assumption that couldn't be disproven even if wrong.

That starting-point has been only since (basically) Darwin's time. Before that, science didn't start with materialistic or naturalistic premises. It acknowledged the limitations of its own field of inquiry (matter) and didn't pronounce on ultimate questions of origin and metaphysics as scientists routinely have the arrogance and chutzpah to do today.

And by demanding that science "explain" DNA or abiogenesis --and by appealing to arguments such as the kalam -- it seems you are already speaking of explanation in empirical terms yourself. It is then a matter of consistency.

Exactly. I love empiricism. I am only demanding that it stick within its own sphere of knowledge, be applied consistently, and not claim to be the sum and total of all knowledge. If evolutionary science claims to explain the universe better than the theistic concept, then we are merely requiring ("demanding") of it what it claims for itself: the ability to explain materialistic evolutionary processes so that no one need appeal to God as the origin and cause of matter and the processes of natural law. But we will not put up with this poppycock (I'm not saying you do this) of claims that the atheist stands on science and rationality and Occam's Razor with no need of God, while the Christian/theist is supposedly standing on "God of the gaps" and "blind [irrational] faith" and "magic" with no need for (or disdain for) science. It simply isn't true. And demonstrably so.

Quite the contrary, actually. In being skeptical of certain grandiose and unsubstantiated claims of the theory of evolution, I vigorously and zealously contend that I am being eminently of a scientific mindset. I simply demand empirical evidence before I grant assent to propositions which are strictly within the realm of empirical observation. Atheists, on the other hand, often demand absolute empirical proof of a Being that is Spirit in the first place, which is irrational and unreasonable (even though good arguments of that sort exist).

I understand that you don't find the evidence for its [evolutionary theory's] truth as compelling as you think it ought to be. But that isn't relevant.

It certainly is, when such a flawed unproven theory is presented as a disproof of God or the need for God. You can't reject God on the basis that He isn't scientifically-testable, and then go on to "substitute" a theory, aspects of which are equally mysterious and untestable, and which involves equally huge or even larger extrapolations, inductive leaps, and faith.

Even assuming you are correct, the extrapolations and inductive leaps in Evolution are still being made in terms of a process. There is nothing
mysterious or mystical about replication, variation, and selection, we
observe them all the time.

But that's beside the point. I reject macroevolution precisely because it lacks these elements and therefore fails the criterion of proof. It's almost as if the atheist or secularist in effect worships science and oftentimes, politics (or something like radical feminism). Those things become lifted up far beyond what their nature would allow.

Has God been rejected on the basis that it isn't scientifically testable? I don't think I meant this. I was pointing out that all other things being
equal, a theory which proposes a mechanism is to be preferred to one that doesn't.

Only if the subject at hand is empirical in its essence. Otherwise, I don't see why mechanism is crucial.

For example, homeopathy, if true, would not only go against what
we understand about physical laws but doesn't propose any process in their place. If homeopathy actually worked over many blind clinical studies, though, this is just tough luck for the scientists (or perhaps an exciting new area of discovery.) They either need to find out now how it works or accept homeopathy as scientifically correct but currently, and maybe even permanently, inexplicable by known laws of physics. And they'll need to build it into other theories.

Being wrong about the existence of God must be a very different thing than simply being wrong about astrology or homeopathy, if you work on Christian assumptions and bring in spiritual 'facts.'

It requires (to some extent) both grace and faith. Astrology, though? That's a weird comparison. I consider it largely hucksterism. I like homeopathy. My wife and I are also into health food, vitamins, herbalism, and chiropractic. I have discovered cures or treatments for hypoglycemia and allergies and depression through these means.

Oops, I would not have used homeopathy as an example if I knew you believed in it!

Well, only because it works. Believe me, when something takes away your 4-year-old's fever, you use it. And a sneeze is a sneeze - not much complexity or ambiguity there. If a little pill takes away my allergies, I use it. I don't care what all the mechanics of that are, or what some doctor or scientist in a white suit thinks about it. When it comes to feeling lousy (whether me, or my wife or kids), I become almost entirely a pragmatist. :-)

No, I'm not going to get into an argument about homeopathy. I was trying to find claims which both you and I agree are false, but the acceptance of which does not put the acceptors automatically into the category of insanity or depravity or any other moral hellhole.

There are many such beliefs. I don't know how many we would agree on, though. You keep exaggerating the role of bad morals or will in my viewpoint towards opinions not my own.

I think you are mistaken about homeopathy, but I understand why personal experience would carry a great deal of weight with you. Personal experience carries the same weight with those who believe in the healing powers of crystals or the safe-keeping powers of rabbit's feet -- as well as with those who are experiencing the very real effects of a medicine which is on the cutting edge of a breakthrough in science.

Why could not homeopathy be an instance of the latter? Something can work before we know why it works, no? Herbalism used to be widespread before modern medicine, too. That was scoffed at, but more and more, science is discovering that these herbal cures were based on very real biochemical factors. Science - again - seems to often have this arrogant attitude that no alternate to it can possibly be legitimate.

So the medical establishment fought chiropractic tooth and nail, as well. Well, it helps my back! It helps my wife's back quite a bit (and she has scoliosis). The critics can go jump in the lake. I'm just trying to feel better, whereas the medical establishment is trying to maintain a status quo where they completely control the healing process, regardless of how many people might suffer in the meantime. They're geniuses and everyone else is a backwoods moron and a snake oil salesman. Who is being more "scientific" and compassionate then?

I don't think there is as sharp a dividing point between religious belief and paranormal belief as you seem to think. Astrology is seen as very respectable indeed by some remarkably intelligent people.

So is atheism. :-) I don't consider either particularly respectable intellectually (in terms of grand theories), but that doesn't mean I have to deny that the believers in them are intelligent. I simply believe that they are laboring under false notions. They might even apply the false premises into theories cleverly and ingeniously, but a house built on sand isn't worth very much.

Strangely -- and unfortunately, I think -- the only two times I have run into Hindus in a debate forum the argument focused on astrology: it is taught as a science at the university level in India, evidently, and Hindus feel it provides clear, clean, consistent and scientific evidence for their spiritual claims.

And Gandhi, I hear, would drink a tea with cow dung every morning. People manage to believe in many different things. Nothing ever surprises me. Hinduism strikes me as a particularly intellectually-bankrupt religion. If one is to go the eastern religious route, Buddhism or Taoism are much more respectable and devoid of the strange rituals and beliefs of Hindus.

We both seem to disagree with this (?)

Yes, I think astrology is part nonsense and part quackery (the columnists in the newspapers). And people believe in it by the millions, because, as Chesterton said (close paraphrase):

"When people reject Christianity, it isn't so much that they will believe in nothing, but that they will believe in anything."

This is interesting, because while Secular Humanists reject Christianity
(provisionally, of course ;), you could not really call us willing to
believe in anything, I think.

I think secular humanists are more in line with 17th and 18th century English rationalism, or 19th-century figures like John Stuart Mill (as I understand it, anyway).

Your major complaint is that we are too skeptical and have thrown the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.

Well, yeah; I think the excessive skepticism is a harmful thing, causing much damage to other areas of thoughts, or (often) an inconsistent application, such as extreme "faith" where doctrinaire evolution is concerned, while exercising extreme cynicism concerning Christianity, miracles, etc.

Astrology, tarot cards, chi energy, crystal power, alien abduction, spirit
channeling, leprechauns, reincarnation, levitation, ghosts, reiki healing,
psychic surgery, angels, numerology, and fortune telling are all connected to mystical, magical, religious, spiritual ways of thinking and
understanding the world, not what you see as an overreliance on science.

I agree, with regard to most of these. But many of them are eastern or New Age or occultic religious concepts, and can hardly be lumped in with western religion and Christianity in particular.

And just as I guessed so poorly with homeopathy,

I know virtually nothing about homeopathy or its supposed principles. I just know that it works. My youngest son had a fever, and these pills took it away. Would you let your child have a fever, because you disagreed with the philosophy of homeopathy? I had my usual allergies, and this worked. I use it because it works. It's as simple as that. The advocates of it may be right (insofar as it heals and cures) for the wrong reasons. They may explain what is a potentially rationally or scientifically explainable process incorrectly, but the process works nonetheless. And if it works, I utilize it, because physical health is a good thing.

I have little confidence that you agree with me that these are probably not real or valid phenomena. You may think some are true, some are false, and some have some good evidence but you're still on the fence: I really don't know for sure where you're likely to jump on any of the above items, which seems to give the lie to the good Mr. Chesterton here.

:-) Cute. Okay; I'll comment on each individually:


Nonsense and (often) quackery. It is also forbidden by Jewish law in the Bible, incidentally. This was the religion of the Babylonians, which was regarded as rank blasphemy and idolatry by the Hebrews.

tarot cards,

Occultic nonsense and (often) quackery.

chi energy

Probably false, insofar as eastern religious concepts are regarded as falsehoods by Christianity.

crystal power,

Ditto. New Age gibberish.

alien abduction,

Absurd and utterly unproven.

spirit channeling,

This would be what the Bible condemns and forbids as necromancy. Christians believe that some of this stuff can occur in the demonic realm, so that it is regarded as real but evil, rather than untrue altogether.


Irish mythology; of no substance. But awful fun, in a fictional, imaginary sense (I got the Celtic in my blood . . . ).


Absolutely false, insofar as eastern religious concepts are regarded as falsehoods by Christianity, and stated as false in the Bible. No self-consistent Christian can believe this.


There can be demonic or Christian levitation (there are reports of saints doing this), so I think it is real.


Ghosts are a permissible concept in Christianity, because we believe that the dead are alive and conscious as souls or spirits.

reiki healing,

I don't know what this is, but we would say there can be both demonic and divine healing also.

psychic surgery,

Ditto. I would think this is a demonic manifestation; thus forbidden to Christians. Weird stuff . . .


Of course we believe in angels.


Nonsense and quackery.

and fortune telling.

Sheer nonsense.

There you have it!

When people reject Christianity, most of them believe in some other
religion. And all the forms of supernatural or paranormal claims I
mentioned above are included in at least one religion.

But you don't seem to make any distinction between the relative validity of religions, as if they were all equally irrational.

The point I was making was that all of the supernatural and paranormal
claims rest on the same kind of evidence. By accepting some through faith and historical and anecdotal evidence and yet rejecting others which rest on the same kind and type of evidence you're being inconsistent. From what I can tell the difference you see is that "well, some of them are true, so in those cases we ought to make an exception to the general rule." But you can only know they are true if you first make the exception.

While some religions -- such as Mormonism -- contain more specific claims that are directly falsifiable than others, at their foundation what
distinguishes a religious belief from a natural one is its reliance on the
subjective. The miracles reported in the Bible contradict what we are
justified in believing based on science. Thus, even if they actually
happened, they can only be accepted on faith. The belief that it MIGHT be true and this makes their acceptance "congruous" with scientific thinking forgets that scientific thought requires strictly disciplined acceptance only of those physical laws which can be open to public demonstration. Someone on this list -- I think it was Len -- noted that "the plural of anecdote is not 'data.'" Indeed.

You have insisted that you believe that knowledge should be a unified
thing, that we ought not to compartmentalize our religious beliefs from our secular ones. And yet by merging the two you end up using one criteria on those paranormal claims you think are True and another criteria on everything else. Bottom line, I do not believe that reason and revelation can be successfully synthesized because the subjective acceptance of private, nondemonstrable knowledge is in conflict with an epistemology that disciplines itself to accept only what can be objectively demonstrated.

I suspect it is not really the religionists, but the Secular Humanists, who seek a unity of knowledge. We attempt to examine all empirical claims about the nature of reality by using the same skeptical standards. It seems to me that Christians pick and choose. From my point of view there is little rhyme or reason for your acceptance of angels and levitation and your rejection of numerology and reincarnation. You seem to examine each claim not in light of the scientific evidence behind it, but whether or not it is accepted as real by Christianity and the Catholic Church. And yet when you reject the unproven you are very quick to point out that it is unproven. A
Hindu would hotly argue that reincarnation has indeed been demonstrated to the level of science, and therefore compels your reluctant acceptance -- and so it has, if anecdotes are included in science.

Science compels our acceptance because it tries to eliminates as many prior commitments as possible. To eliminate your commitments sometimes and yet bring them in other times is not a way to reconcile reason and revelation. It is a way to smash them up against each other and claim they fit.

I personally know Christians who believe in astrology, as well as other combinations of these beliefs.

They are inconsistent and heterodox. But Martin Luther's successor Philip Melanchthon was a strong believer in it, as I documented ten years ago in my research into early Protestantism (Luther and Calvin also strongly denied heliocentrism. Luther called the Catholic Copernicus an "upstart astrologer"). You can always find gross inconsistencies among Christians, just as with anyone else. Ignorance abounds. Shoddy thinking flourishes.

To paraphrase:

"When people reject one form of the supernatural, it isn't so much that they will believe in none of them, but that they will believe in other ones."

Well, yes. 'Cept the Secular Humanists, of course

Turnabout is fair play! :-)

But if [astrology is] true, the fact that the stars and planets have a measurable effect on the lives, fortunes, and personalities of human beings would seem to support a cosmic preoccupation with human interests, a kind of universal one-ness intermixing matter and mind, a fundamental connection between the private inner world of thought and feeling and the remote outer world of object and event -- which would not make a bad apologetic. ;)

Well, the moon affects tides, right (and lunatics, and perhaps love)? I don't think it amounts to much more than that; a function of gravity.

I see a critical difference... and an ethical problem here similar to what
I referred to earlier.

I think atheism has a big intellectual problem: being hyper-skeptical about religious tenets where (in my opinion) one is not justified in doing so.

If all you thought was that atheism has a "big intellectual problem" I would not have as much of a problem with some of the ethical implications in Christianity as I do.

Good, then you won't get mad at my "disrespectful" remarks above. :-)

Heh, I don't think any of your remarks have been "disrespectful," which is one reason I enjoy our dialogue.

Well, what can I say? Great!

And I seldom get mad; I'm too cynical. Idealists get mad; they are so often unpleasantly surprised. ;)

That's weird. My impression of you was that you were quite idealistic, in the 60s sense.

I think there is a big intellectual problem for astrology, but though I may make up my mind about theories I do not at the same time make my mind up about people.

That's where we are alike, and why I enjoy your posts the best.

I do not have to connect either credulity or skepticism with damnation.

Neither do I. I leave damnation up to God. He is in a much better position than I am to make those decisions. :-)

With regard to macroevolution: it needs to be admitted that it is "inexplicable by known laws of biology and genetics." But it can't be shown to "work" beyond doubt. Homeopathy can. It either works or it doesn't. The proof is in the pudding. In my experience it does. So does chiropractic and natural treatments for hypoglycemia, etc. To Hades with doctors and scientists who want to argue with me whether my allergies or my back or my low blood sugar are improved or not. I'm being much more "empirical" than they are at that point. They are being irrationally dogmatic and reactionary.

Personal testimonies, however sincere, are not science,

No, but they may be not-inconsistent with science, as an observational evidence. The true scientific approach would want to pursue that, out of intellectual curiosity and the desire to learn and explain more.

Exactly. And one pursues intriguing anecdotes by testing to see if they
stand up to critical scrutiny. This is why some herbal cures (not all) and
some forms of chiropractic (not all)

The correct terminology is "chiropractic."

are today accepted as part of the mainstream.

Chiropractic still is not (nor herbs, I don't think). E.g., my wife had a severe pain in her shoulder. She went to a "doctor" and he proceeded to more or less brutalize her, by unnecessarily repeatedly doing things my wife said were very painful. He put her down, put chiropractic down (where my wife's scoliosis is greatly aided on a regular basis) and sent us a bill for some $300. Who is the "quack doctor" in this instance? I still get mad today, thinking about this idiot. Not that all physicians are of that ilk (I was referring to his disdain of chiropractors). Our family doctor is a wonderful man.

They were never "alternatives to science," they were untested evidence which stood up to strict investigation and rigid criteria of proof and demonstrated their merit enough to be accepted in the scientific community.

Anything which dares to differ from the medical or scientific establishment is regarded as medieval quackery, alchemy, snake oil stuff, whether it is chiropractic, herbalism, homeopathy, natural childbirth, health food, alternative cancer treatments, vitamins and minerals (this area is the least controversial, thanks to Linus Pauling and others). I know firsthand, because we have explored all of these areas (apart from the cancer treatments, which were used by my brother), to great benefit.

Even your own approach to these things, lumping them in with all sorts of occultic and New Age balderdash, demonstrates a particular type of rationalist intellectual condescension, as if modern science (great as it is) is the be-all and end-all of all knowledge. No one ever figured out how to cure any malady until modern science: all the former healing techniques were mythological nonsense and placebo effect . . .

As one skeptic put it, "there is no such thing as alternative medicine: there is medicine that has been clinically tested and verified and medicine which has not."

I do my own testing and verification by reading and trying different things (and save hundreds of dollars in the process, thank you very much). As I said, I cured my own hypoglycemia in 1983 from self-diagnosis and treatment (no sugar and white flour; whole foods; various vitamins and minerals). My allergies have been greatly helped. I found another pill that helped my back pain, but it aggravated my low blood sugar (it had glucose in it). My wife was taking Zoloft for depression, and it was making her into a "zombie." I found amino acids which took care of the depression, without the side effects.

Now what would you have me do? Ditch all these wonderful discoveries because they don't fit into your neat little, rationalistic scientific world and worldview? I say that all these things can be explained scientifically, now or in the future.

If all these things can be explained scientifically, now or in the future,
then they do indeed fit into my neat little rationalistic scientific world
and worldview. If they really work for the reasons they say they work -- or work, but for different reasons -- then they are not in conflict with
science at all, they are simply unexplored areas of science. Don't confuse our current understanding of what has been scientifically verified with what is scientifically verifiable.

My argument is not with what has not yet been demonstrated, but with what has not been scientifically verified but has been accepted as true
nevertheless by using its own "scientific standards" in its own "scientific community." It is because astrology has not succeeded in convincing the mainstream of cosmological peer experts that it is not up there with astronomy in our universities.

Well, not yet, at any rate: that may change, I've read. Astrologers are
trying to get legitimate academic credentials in the United States, and
appear to be succeeding in India. The humanists will protest, of course,
but it will be hard for Christians to insist that astrology isn't
scientific "enough" to be taught to undergraduates when it already meets those looser standards of truth that allow "observational evidence" that is "not-inconsistent" with rigorous clinical proofs.

E.g., the amino acids have to do with the part of the brain that is connected with anxiety. Amino acids are manufactured by our body, as the components of protein - nothing "unscientific" or "mystical" there. But doctors would rather have her take Zoloft and be a zombie and spend six times as much, than to take a simple pill which costs about $4 per 100. They may be ignorant about these alternative remedies, but I am not. Or they are beholden to the pharmaceutical companies, etc.

Patient reports are accepted as valid reports on how the patient feels or thinks, but just as one ought to be skeptical when people claim that magic crystals work -- and yet say the same thing when ordinary glass is slyly substituted -- we need to be skeptical on cause and effect.

Like I said, isn't the removal of a migraine headache or a constant runny nose or fever or depression sufficient? If you have a migraine and something takes it away, believe me, you take it. I wouldn't care if it was the ligament from a baboon's knee, or ground-up turtle shells, if it worked. It works for a reason (cause and effect). I may not (almost always don't) know the reason, but I believe that it is discoverable through scientific method.

Homeopathic remedies, for example, often contain [no] ngredients other than water and that one special molecule of the active agent -- stuff like aspirin.

It worked . . . I don't care about the details.

Someone once wrote something to the effect that "the halls of medicine are littered with the corpses of infallible remedies that people once swore by, and which nobody uses today." Back at the turn of the century there was a fad for drinking irradiated water after X-Rays were discovered. People slowly died of radium poisoning, of course, all the time insisting that they were feeling oh so much better every day.

So because there was some silliness and falsehood, therefore all non-conventional cures are false and quackery?

And [scientists] are not being irrationally dogmatic or reactionary to insist that homeopathy pass clinical muster.

No, not in the sense of conducting experiments on effectiveness. I am objecting to the mentality that cares not whether people feel better from homeopathy or herbs or vitamins or a hypoglycemic diet (I diagnosed myself - after reading a few books - and cured myself of low blood sugar symptoms back in '83), whatever it is. I guess these folks (and you?) would say my feeling better for now 17 years was all in my head; a placebo effect? My migraines before I did the new diet were not real (they were just in my head, too LOL), so that I didn't know when I didn't have them anymore? And this is another tendency of many scientists and medical professionals. The patient or experimental subject is an idiot. Their report is worth little. To me, all of this is a perversion of science, not the true scientific spirit.

There are other possible causes for your improvement.

Why should I care? All I care is that I felt better.

Sure; as a personal, practical matter, it probably makes no difference. If it works for you, take it, it's a reasonable thing for you to do in the


However, as a general rule to live and learn by, I think it matters because we ought to care about truth.

The truth here is that the remedy somehow effects a cure.

And if it is quackery, you would do just as well or better with something else.

I would only have a problem with psychic techniques, not with any natural product which comes from God's green earth.

When a society as a whole places personal comfort over knowledge and understanding, easy assumptions over caution and care, I think people lose an important part of their integrity. And to quote Chesterton, "they will believe in anything."

But that has nothing to do with what I am talking about. Immoral sex has a lot to do with this, though.

I think this example here of the difference between us in what weight we put in personal experience . . .

Oh, so you wish to assert that one can't tell when they have a migraine headache and when they don't, or a backache, or an allergic reaction where you have to blow your nose 47 times? Do you put less "weight" in those occurrences than I do?

. . . points out what I have long said seems to be one of the main differences between theists and atheists. It is not in our hearts, our morals, or our intelligence -- it is not in the way we see God -- it is in the way we see evidence.

Perhaps so (that would fit in with my primarily "intellectual explanation" of nonbelief), but this line of argument you are currently on is quite underwhelming. I like the way you argue, because you use analogy as I do, and I love that form of argument, but the topical matter in this one is lacking, with all due respect.

Secular Humanists, ironically enough, have far less confidence and faith in the human potential to KNOW than theists seem to.

I don't think this is surprising or ironic at all, because the humanist/atheist is primarily of a skeptical bent, or what I would call "hyper-rational." Humanists are always railing against Christianity. They seem to define themselves largely based on what they are not, rather than what they are.

Yes, this is a failing among all too many of us. I agree that secular
humanists tend to talk too much about what we are against rather than what we are for. You're not the only one to point this out: it is a common criticism we often express to each other, and at least some of us take it to heart.

Glad to hear that. Thanks for sharing it with an "outsider."

But I think it may perhaps be explained in part as a function of what
Humanism is: a search for common ground in all matters. There is nothing in Humanism which is not found in many other philosophies and religions. We see this as a great strength, but it does mean that humanist viewpoints are constantly being promoted by Christians, Hindus, and all sorts of people, even Catholics -- not necessarily as "humanist" views, but what is in a label after all? We share the common true philosophy of humanity, we claim
no special knowledge or revelation.

What is promoted far less among the general public than the humanist
ethical or democratic views, however, are the epistemic views, particularly those that address the scientific investigation of testable paranormal or supernatural claims. The other night on the Larry King Show one of the spiritualists who Talks to the Dead sneered at skeptics as people who "just tear things down, instead of building people up" or something like that. Looking for what is true is not tearing anything down so much as finding the ground on which we can best build -- but the public perception seems to be that only mean, cruel people would cast doubt on stuff like whether or not the spirits of dead pets can communicate through a medium to tell their owners "I play ball lots now."

Silly, sure. Yet what may be a harmless or amusing individual folly can be disastrous when adopted by an entire culture. "If it feels good, believe it" is just as bad as "if it feels good, do it" as a general guide to life. Pleasure is not always the same as Happiness.

I agree completely. But I would not apply this to herbalism, health food, and homeopathy. I apply it to personal behavior and ethical thought.

And of course while there are many other nontheistic philosophies, Secular Humanism is often either misunderstood or vilified in the public
perception, lumped in with devil worship or the totalitarian views of
Stalin or the postmodernist irresponsible liberal feel-good politically
correct philosophies of Anything Goes. So we have to point out we're not that, either. I'll take my knocks from people who disagree with my beliefs, but I hate getting battered by people who disagree with me over things I do NOT believe.

I sympathize. I'm well-acquainted with that process and routine.

I said this [humanist skepticism about human ability to know] is ironic because the stereotype is that theists are humble enough to admit there is a God before whom they are nothing and atheists are arrogant enough to think they can find things out on their own. But I think if you examine the basic disagreement you will see that there is an enormous amount of epistemic pride in the assertion that we can correctly evaluate our own private and personal experiences to the point where doubting them is no longer doubting their source, but the honesty and worth of their Source.

Interesting comment . . .

Science is such a powerful tool because it takes the opposite stance, it works on the assumption that personal experiences need to be examined in the public arena.

But Catholicism is not much different. That's why we draw a clear distinction between private and public revelation. Private revelation (even famous stuff like the Lourdes and Fatima Marian apparitions) are not binding on anyone. This is why we have investigations for scores of years, concerning sainthood, and alleged miraculous occurrences. This is a scientific outlook.

The methods are impersonal, and ought to be capable of being duplicated by anyone. "I tried it and it worked so that is good enough for me" is a common human assumption which is correct often enough that it is trusted in areas where it is often not correct. It is a very personal method of evaluation.

So tell me how I was wrong with regard to, e.g., my hypoglycemia, and how that reveals a somehow-unscientific attitude on my part? Many doctors didn't even acknowledge the existence hypoglycemia back when I was studying about it. Apparently that is changing now.

If God should be "included in science" then this entails that it is a
theory in science. Not having explicable mechanisms is a drawback, but no, this doesn't rule it out.

Okay; well, I would say that religion and philosophy intersect with science at the point of origins and possible teleology. That doesn't "make" them science, but it does mean that science cannot totally explain absolutely everything it comments upon.

You still recognise that evolution makes an effort, failed or not, to give a specific empirical account of how we all became the way we are.

Of course.

Whether you think evolution is bad science -- or even pseudoscience(!) -- you still can see that its method of explanation is one that tries to give an account through specific processes and operations.

More and more it seems as if "explanation" is the new "god." It used to be "chance" or "natural selection." All of these things become the new "omniscient god": sufficient to supposedly explain everything.

There are areas where you agree that the theory can indeed explain a step by step process, what you call microevolution. This kind of particularized explanation is familiar to us. Evolution isn't considered science just because it talks about biology, but because of HOW it talks about biology. And you recognise it as a science.

God explanations don't do this.

To some extent they do; other times they do not. But so what? Unless your point is that scientific/philosophical knowledge is the sum of knowledge (sui generis), then this is of no relevance, and is merely stating truisms. Maybe I am missing your point.

"Like comes from Like" doesn't try to explain the nuts and bolts of why, it simply appeals to the vague intuition of Affinity. There are almost never any understandable processes or operations involved. Any attempt to explain exactly how God works a miracle is going to sound like New Age pseudoscience, so most theists wisely avoid it. Pseudoscience can be critiqued.

I have never said that creationism is science. My position has long been that creationist explanations (to the extent that they exist at all) reduce to philosophy and religion, but also that evolutionary hypotheses at obscure points do the same.

Science itself will reduce to philosophy, certainly, since in order to use
science you have to make certain metaphysical and epistemic assumptions.

We agree on that.

But I did not think that you were trying to argue that science is an
inferior way of knowing things so much as trying to bring God explanations into science.

Again, not into science per se, but into explanations of science which are already going beyond what science has authority to speak on (notably, origins of life and the universe and irreducible complexity).

Both cosmological and design arguments assume the validity and worth of empirical methods such as science: in this thread and others you seem to have been asserting either that science is a path to God,

I think its conclusions lead to (or are at least not at all inconsistent with) a reasonable belief in God.

or that theism is a powerful scientific hypothesis which best explains certain empirical facts about the world and should thus be included in scientific explanations.

No, that's going too far. I think theism picks up where science ends, and that science points to it (if one were to get "metaphysical"). Nothing in theism contradicts true science. Miracles do not because they are exceptions to the rule. Uniformitarianism cannot prove that miracle X will "never ever ever happen."

It is not too far; it is where you have gone. If you claim a miracle has happened and wish to hide behind arguments that say we can't rule anything out (which is true) you cannot then try to gain credence with science, which says we do rule things out on a tentative basis.

Science simply cannot rule out miracles, because they are not part of its study. How could supernatural events come under the category of "natural events"? I explained earlier the distinction between this inability of science to dogmatically say "no miracles/design/creation" and the Christian's perfect right to assert that nothing in science is inconsistent with various spiritual or supernatural occurrences. In other words, it is not a perfect "epistemological symmetry," so to speak.

Untestable claims are outside of science because they are untestable. You seem to be pointing out that they could still be right and then concluding that we can thus give the benefit of the doubt to what we like and dismiss the rest of what we don't like as nonsense or unproven or provisionally unlikely. This is not being "inconsistent" because we use science the rest of the time to assume probabilities on claims that do not purport to be paranormal.

And as I've mentioned before, this makes all untestable paranormal claims equally likely, or allows the individual to make an arbitrary distinction between untestable one-time incidents that are likely to be human error and untestable one-time incidents that are likely to be actual events.

Not at all, because they have to be consistent with reason and existing knowledge. I have shown you how many supernatural claims are either denied as unreal by Christianity or condemned as evil and demonic. Our view does not in fact lead to what you claim it leads to.

And I'm not even going to get into the problems with saying that paranormal claims for religions not your own are tricks of Satan. I'm too damn tired of listening to Fundamentalists tell me that all those visits by the Virgin Mary are real but just the devil's way of trying to get people to be Catholic so they can be damned.

As always, this can be abused too. But the demonic is real. The Exorcist was based on a real, and fairly famous incident. One doesn't have to adopt a ridiculous Flip Wilson "the devil made me do it" mentality in order to acknowledge the presence of personal evil and demonic spiritual forces in life. But can I prove such a thing to you? I don't expect to at all. I'm just sharing how a Christian looks at these various phenomena.

I think you want to have things both ways.

I think you are confused in your categories and epistemology, as I have stated before.

If science is pointing to something then it is pointing to a theory. That is what science points to, theories that might be wrong, not metaphysical absolutes.

Of course. The statement "the Big Bang is a theory" is a scientific one. The statement "the Big Bang is entirely consistent with the concept of creation ex nihilo" is a statement of philosophy of religion, having to do with a scientific subject. Big difference. One can do both. There is no conflict here.

So I don't think it makes sense to both argue that our scientific evidence leads to God as the best explanation for some specific problems in science and at the same time try to undermine science as a good way of knowing things.

How have I ever "undermined" science? To my knowledge, I never have. Simply pointing out what it has not the ability to do is not undermining it, but rather, being truthful and honest about it. I don't respect a tightrope walker by claiming that he is able to walk through thin air without a tightrope. Macroevolution is lousy, rotten science with no basis in experimental observation. You will disagree, but it is still not the case that I am undermining science. From my perspective, I am honoring it by denouncing its "counterfeits."

I understand this. I am saying that I see a conflict between saying that science should be tighter in its demands for proof and evidence in area X, but that area X is outside of science's proper sphere of discovery. Which is it?

Already explained.

When scientists attack creationist theories, it is seen as an attack on religion. But if Creationism were to turn out to be true, I agree with you that it would support science. What is or isn't scientific isn't the conclusion -- "God exists" is a perfectly acceptable scientific conclusion, Metaphysical Being or not -- it is the method. You don't want scientific methods used on God theory, you don't want critical demands for strong evidence, you see this as dogmatic or close-minded or reactionary.

I want consistency and clear thinking; that's what I want. Just as much as you do, I assure you.

Although the theory that God directly intervenes in nature is supposed to be accepted as most likely by scientists when they run up against a problem which is hard to solve, God should not be treated like any other theory in science, it's special. It's outside of science's scope.

That's right, because God is a matter of both science (quite indirectly) and metaphysics (directly). Science is itself the philosophical viewpoint of empiricism. Science is philosophy. When we come to the borderlines and intersections of different fields of knowledge, it gets very complex and tricky.

But I think that if you have two propositions which each seek to answer the same question about facts of nature, the only way they can be truly evaluated against each other is to apply the same standards of inquiry to them. You want to say that evolution has not met its criteria at the same time that you say that God doesn't have to meet any criteria, that we go "too far" when we treat God as a powerful scientific hypothesis and wonder about mechanisms and methods, inquire into how to distinguish the will of an unknowable Being from something that is simply not known. I don't agree. I think you are being inconsistent here.

Well, I've spoken on this before, so I will desist.

Evolution, for good or bad, is a scientific hypothesis, even in the
"obscure points." If a God explanation wishes to compete with it on the
same level, it ought to provide mechanisms and processes that are equally explanatory.

It cannot, and shouldn't be required to. God is no more the end result of a scientific experiment than He is the end result of a clever syllogism. This demand is irrational, because it is unreasonable to accept something merely because it is deemed superior to an alternate explanation, despite its own grave inconsistencies and shortcomings. The rational thing to do is to withhold judgment on those portions of it which are inadequately supported empirically. But I understand the modern scientific mindset. I cited Thomas Kuhn in that regard on this list.

If it can't or doesn't do so that won't mean we don't entertain it as a possibility, of course, but, like homeopathy, it won't tell us much about how the world actually works. And it better have very strong additional proof.

How likely is it that a monkey could sit at a typewriter and type out the US Constitution, word-for-word, or assemble a Boeing 747 from junkyard materials? Genetic codes are infinitely more complex than that, yet materialist scientists think nothing about asserting that they could have come about by random mutations, under the ubiquitous "explanation" of natural selection. The rational thing is to conclude that there must be a Designer somewhere along the way. But if one makes Matter God, with all the powers of omnipotence, even omniscience in a sense, this extreme difficulty is magically annihilated.

I am free as a rational mind, with full respect and admiration for scientific method, to reject what I feel is an inadequate scientific hypothesis (in this case, macroevolution, and origination of the higher complexities of biological life) without immediately adopting another explanation. I am agnostic as to God's methods, and to nature's methods where we don't have enough information to solidly posit a particular process or mechanism of change.

I understand that this is heretical and anathema according to many scientists today, but I don't care. That takes us right back to whether science has the inherent power to determine all knowledge and all truth. It does not, anymore than any other system of thought does. And I say that is self-evident (though rarely acknowledged).

If you are genuinely unconvinced by the evidence for evolution, then by all means you ought to hold back from accepting it, there's nothing wrong with that. But this is different than going on to question the worth of science.

I deny that I have ever done that. Why would you think that I did? I love science and theology alike. It is you who question the worth of theology! :-)

It seems to me that science's validity in its ability to determine that God exists is indeed being assumed in Natural Theology. Is God being used as a type of scientific explanation? I think it is, as long as it is trying to answer scientific questions concerning the universe and man. And that means that the existence of God is a theory which is open to confirmation, refutation -- or being discarded as irrelevant or unknown.

I don't know what else to say. I've written much about these notions. My view must be difficult to get across or something. That's not surprising, since it would virtually never be heard in any public school or university (being contrary to current secularist dogma). What is unfamiliar becomes that much more implausible, by not having been heard enough to even have a chance to take on an air of plausibility, or a ring of truth.

In order to hold God back from being one hypothesis set forth against other hypotheses in science, you will have to keep God safely in the realm of philosophical ethics or metaphysics -- where every observation would look exactly the same if God existed or not. Science can't go there. But as long as you insist that God directly interferes in the workings of natural laws and divine intervention can be the 'best explanation' for facts like the Big Bang or the cell I think you should accept the consequences of bringing a "spiritual" Being into the realm of science.

I agree with the famed paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson that the "results" of metaphysics can be examined by scientific method. That is an intersection of God/metaphysics and science. But even accepting your challenge, how would one go about proving scientifically that God created any particular thing? It can't possibly be done. God is a spirit and any means of creation would (it seems to me) involve extraordinary processes which are not familiar to us. Yet certain phenomena like the Big Bang or the Cambrian explosion are consistent with special creation, and a few brave evolutionists have even admitted as much.

If it can't be proven that God created any particular thing then how can you use it as a theory which explains the Big Bang and the cell? Creation (note: not creationISM) is not a scientific theory.

It is a religious/metaphysical belief which can be shown to be quite consistent with what we know in science presently. That God created is a Christian dogma. One doesn't arrive at these beliefs through scientific experiment, but through other means. When I put forth God as an "explanation" of the Big Bang or the cell it is not a scientific approach in terms of experiment and observation and testable hypotheses. It is a metaphysical belief without knowledge of all the particulars. I have always held this view, ever since I studied the evolution controversies, back in the early 80s.

Because it doesn't claim to be scientific in the strict sense, there is no obligation to prove mechanism, etc. (if indeed that were even possible). "Explanations" of the evolution of the eye or of life and suchlike, however, are of an entirely different order. They claim to be scientific through and through, yet fall short of the mark because they explain little. They are, in effect, metaphysical theories masking themselves as "scientific explanations." But this is intellectually dishonest, because they are not accurately described for what they are, and there is a pretense of detailed, technical, scientific understanding and an unseemly scoffing at those who are skeptical, such as myself. Belief in a Creator involves no such internal inconsistency.

Of course the Big Bang and the Cambrian explosion are consistent with the existence of God: what isn't?

That isn't the claim. It is that these things are consistent with possible acts of creation.

Theologians are on top of all the mountains. And whatever is found or discovered it is still possible to go one step over or above or behind or beyond and say God is the sustaining reality for that.

No different than the inability of so many evolutionists to admit that they don't have a lock on the whole of reality . . .

But using facts in nature to argue specifically for a direct intervention of God over a natural process which is "sustained" by God means you've crossed into an area where different levels of proof are required.

Precisely, because this becomes metaphysics, as I have said all along.

No, I am saying that claiming that God sustains everything that happens or
is "consistent" with everything that happens is a metaphysical claim.


Saying that God intervened directly in nature and did a miracle and that
the scientific or natural theories that account for the same event are
WRONG means that you are no longer in metaphysics. When the claims of
science and the claims of religion overlap and contradict each other you
can't say they are in separate areas, nor can you say they are both in
metaphysics. They are in the area where we deal with empirical epistemic
philosophy; i.e., science.

But they still need not contradict, simply because miracle or divine intervention is an exception to the rule, or interruption of "normality." I don't have to throw out science simply because I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ or the miracle of the loaves (feeding of the 5000). I agree that there is overlap. I strongly disagree that you have revealed some glaring epistemological or logical inconsistency in my thinking in these areas thus far. Perhaps you can persuade me on some particulars in due course . . .

You are arguing against scientific theories you deem to be inadequate, and in order to do that you either have to stand on scientific turf and argue using its methods or stand far aside and scorn science as just one of the many culturally-bound relativistic ways of choosing to see the world.

No, my friend. This is yet another false dichotomy, brought on by an inadequate epistemology and a seeming "science-only" mindset. It only works by assuming your own assumptions from the outset. But I don't accept them, so this has no relevance to my position. It shows quite a bit about the inadequacy of yours, though, I think.

I don't have to (and don't) scorn science at all. I scorn materialistic or dogmatic science, because I think that is not what science is about in the first place. Again, I make arguments along these lines in two ways:

1. When I am critiquing the inadequacy of evolution, I use the criteria which evolutionists themselves use, and cite scientists as to the problems and mysteries therein. It is a critique of the internal consistency, just as Argument From Evil purports to be, with regard to the Free Will Defense. I don't have to mention God at all to do this.

The argument is that your objections have been met, or are not the problem you think they are. But I'm not getting into this thread, which seems defunct now anyway.

2. And when I am positing God in this regard, I am already consciously in the realm of metaphysics, even though there are some connections to science. I don't have to prove God in a laboratory, nor do I think it is even possible. God is a spirit, and it requires some faith to believe in Him. Neither of those entities sound particularly scientific to me.

And I disagree. You are not in the realm of metaphysics when you claim that mysterious spirit actions are a better explanation for an observation than natural scientific theories which may or may not have adequate support. You are in the area of empiricism, since your theory might be proven wrong.

I think I agree. You have spoken so much of this metaphysics vs. science thing that I sometimes get confused as to what point you are making at the moment.

I'll just point out again that while your concern that evolution has not accumulated enough direct empirical evidence may or may not be justified, you are still criticizing evolution on scientific grounds. You are demanding specifics, you want to know exactly HOW it works -- you don't want vague generalizations that it works but we can't really know how. Your skepticism is based on the assumption that evolution darn well better show its work or you won't accept it.


The skeptical equivalent on the nontheist side for the inadequacy of
God explanations is not "prove to us that God exists" but "an
explanation ought to show its work -- HOW does God work?"

But isn't that applying a scientific epistemology and methodology to a non-material entity, and religion and metaphysics? On the other hand, I am criticizing evolutionary theory by using its own presuppositions.

The fact that this can't be known (unless you are going to claim that God works through nature and thus all natural explanations show how God works) is a problem when it comes to deciding which kind of explanation is a "thoughtful explanation" that gives an adequate grounding for our knowledge.

It is a problem only for one who makes science the end of all knowledge. That's what I've been trying to demonstrate: that this demand itself is unreasonable because it is circular; also that it doesn't take into account that the most fundamental scientific presuppositions also are unprovable and are axioms. Everyone accepts something on "faith," so to speak. This has long been a theme of my thought. I love to get to the bottom of things.

I really don't think we are being selectively skeptical to accept evolution but not accept that the existence of God provides an adequate solution to scientific problems.

Again, it is not so much that God gives "solutions" (scientific solution is implicitly implied by you, I think) to "scientific problems." Rather, it is that the God hypothesis or theism provides solutions to philosophical problems which are often falsely believed to be scientific problems (when in fact they go far beyond science proper). To put it more simply: both approaches (broadly: evolutionism vs. creationism) eventually break down into metaphysics. But scientists too often don't admit that their thought is doing that, while the theist freely admits it. So it is a question of intellectual honesty and categorization, to a large extent.


Well, let us cut to the chase on this.

I love that phrase . . . :-)

Do you agree that it is possible that questions such as the Big Bang, abiogenesis, cell formation, and the origins of the human drive to form moral systems MIGHT have a natural explanation which science can discover?

Of course. I have already admitted this on the list. You must have missed it.

I know you think that the current theories on these subjects are not adequate, sufficient, complete -- but is it possible that there COULD be a natural scientific explanation for these factors which would be adequate, sufficient, and complete?


Could there ever be empirical discoveries that would persuade you that naturalist theories on these issues, at least, are scientifically sound ... and that God may exist, but sustains or created or caused the natural means?

All Christians believe that God created and sustains His creation, whether He used evolution as the means or some form of miraculous special creationism. All theistic evolutionists (guys like Kenneth Miller or Lecomte du Nouy) - I believe - would say that God had to put the initial potentialities into matter to make the subsequent developmental evolution possible in the first place. This is no novel concept. Many Catholics and other Christians are evolutionists.

I'm aware that evolution doesn't directly address the question of God's existence -- usually, science itself has nothing to say one way or the other on metaphysical questions which either claim to be about other realities we can't observe or would look the same whether they were true or not. How would one go about trying to prove that everything is, or is not, inside some other totally inaccessible reality, for example? What kind of observation would be to the point?

No scientific one that I can think of. As I wrote before, one can only determine if the scientific explanation is consistent with some brand of creationist metaphysics or theistic evolution.

I claim that these questions are indeed scientific questions.

Again, how would one prove in a laboratory that God is sustaining the existence of any physical thing? That can no more be done than an analysis of the cells of Jesus Christ could prove that He was both God and man.

Yes, one could not prove or disprove that something is being metaphysically sustained. But that is just my point. We cannot imagine what such a proof would look like. But we can both very clearly recognise that abiogensis, the cell, evolution, and cosmological theories like the Big Bang could have supporting evidence one way or the other. A scientific theory can not only be wrong, but can be known to be wrong.


If not, then you should stop demanding evidence you would never accept, no matter what.

This is moot.

Someone years ago could have insisted that the origin and nature of
lightning was not a scientific problem, but a philosophical one. Where is
the demarcation point?

At events and amazingly complex systems where we don't have the slightest clue as to origin or process, and where known laws cannot even begin to explain them. As Michael Behe stated: we should have the courage to go where the facts lead, even though it may make us uncomfortable. This is not true at all with lightning, though it may have seemed so at one time. People once thought comets were supernatural things too. With more knowledge, that was shown to be a false assumption.

And with more knowledge, things like "irreducibly complex" cells might become explained as the result of understandable natural processes in evolution.

Then I might accept the standard evolutionary theory with regard to that point, but not until then.

You say this has not happened yet, but surely you don't mean to then dogmatically claim that it could not happen, especially when so many people are taking reasonable stabs at the question.

Of course not.

Your very demand for stronger empirical proof in evolution shows that you are dealing with a science question and know this.

Scientists are working on the problem (irreducible complexity, etc.), but what they have told us thus far is little more than "empirical metaphysics" at best and fairy tales at worst.

You must have some sort of thing in mind that would persuade you, some finding or experiment or formula or series of discoveries which would give us a "clue" to a natural explanation.

Sure: an explanation which has causal steps and real descriptions of mechanism and process, like that in any number of other scientific areas; something which has some substance and is not simply believed because it fits into a larger theory; something which gives us more than reverent, faith-filled invocations of the goddesses of Mutations and Natural Selection, as if the mere stating of the words solves the problems under consideration.

You can always keep God above science by keeping it in metaphysics. God-as-theory is far too vague to ever be wrong. Evolution could be wrong. This is what makes it a scientific theory.

It almost seems as if you wish to worship science as this amazing thing, because it stresses falsifiability. Well, I agree that it is wonderful, but it is only one means of knowing among many. I don't see why science has to be King, while all other knowledge is inferior and scoffed at.

I don't worship science. How can one worship something that scoffs at blind
obedience and insists you can be wrong?

Just as I can worship a God who scoffs at blind obedience and insists I can be wrong . . .

How can you worship something which has conclusions which are forced to keep changing?

Just as I worship Someone Whose Moral Law "forces" me to keep repenting when I fall short of it.

It's just that I'm very impressed with a method of learning that doesn't worship me.

Me too! I sure know God doesn't worship me! LOL

When you get right down to it, revelation worships Man by demanding that he trust.

I don't follow your point.

You equate trust in an infallible God to trust in a method that insists
that we don't give ourselves too much credit for infallibility, because you
see God as a Being that humbles one in the same way that science can humble
someone. The problem here is that you are putting apples against oranges --
or, rather, apples are being put up against apple-picking.

God isn't a method. God isn't an approach to how we learn and understand
things. God is a claim to knowledge itself, a presumed personal Being that
creates and rules the universe and tells us things so that we may learn and
understand. This use of God as a means to knowledge is different in a very
critical way from the use of our reason to get to the knowledge that God
exists as this means. Humbling yourself before God's revelation is NOT the
same as using a method that humbles you, that takes care that you do not
make claims that can't be corrected. In order to humble yourself before
God's revelation you must simply assume that you are right about what you
see as a revelation from God. Faith is central to this. And faith is a
method that flatters us by telling us to believe.

How can you be so indignant when you see what you think is faith as being
used in evolutionary theory and then indulgent when it is used on miracle
claims? If miracle claims are not in any way inconsistent with science then
why the problem with leaps of faith in any other area? How can you insist
that you don't need to use scientific methods on God because God is a
metaphysical being and then claim that scientific methods are perfectly
capable of showing that it is more likely that God exists than that it

I think you recognise the arrogance of faith when you see it used on
scientific claims. The inconsistency is that you don't see that this kind
of faith is arrogant whenever it is used.

It tells us to admire and cultivate the terrible certainty that one point of view is right -- that revelation is a revelation from God, who cannot be wrong, and not from ourselves, who can.

Such a thing is either possible or not. I say it is clearly possible. Now the trick is to determine whether it is actual. We believe it is, partially based on corresponding reason, and also based on faith. Are 2+2=4 or a=a or e=mc2 also "terrible certainties"?

My complaint is that you are using God as a means to explain nature in direct competition with scientific theories. When God explanations compete with scientific explanations they are no longer metaphysical claims: they are scientific claims. They become another scientific explanation which you feel has more support than different scientific explanations. And there is nothing at all wrong with using scientific criteria on a scientific claim.

I've written enough above about my view of the relationship of metaphysics and science. You seem to want everything to be neatly tucked inside the scientific banner. I would expect that, if you don't acknowledge other forms of knowledge, or don't give them much attention. But you can hardly expect those of us who disagree to adopt your epistemology, just so the argument can proceed further.

This reminds me (here goes my analogical mind again) of Democratic so-called "bi-partisanship." To the Democrats, this means taking the Democratic view (roughly synonymous with political liberalism). I should think that the legitimate meaning of the word, however, is more like ecumenism: working together despite honest and principled differences, to achieve some worthy goal. So if - in order to talk about God as Creator - one must adopt a strict scientific methodology and modus operandi, then the confusion of categories has become victorious and the theistic, Christian argument essentially conceded.

Perhaps atheists would love for God (even in Christian theology) to be reduced to merely a scientific construct, but that is not the God we worship. You can't prove this God in a test tube. To me, this is almost as silly as that cosmonaut (Gagarin, I think) going out in space and saying "see, I looked all around and I didn't see any God." LOL

I don't think we get into the philosophical area of metaphysics until and unless we 1) question the foundations of empirical science as a method

You'll have to explain this. To me it just sounds like fallacious "either/or" reasoning and a false dichotomy; yet another instance of the modern tendency to arbitrarily compartmentalize knowledge. But maybe I am reacting too hastily. We'll see . . .

or 2) assume a basic underlying structure which "sustains" or contains or supports all forms of the knowable universe and thus science can't deal with it at all.

All Christians believe this, but it is not incompatible with natural science (nor necessarily with Darwinism); nor can it be demonstrated or refuted by same. It can at least offer some reason to believe that unknown processes could have occurred in the first place. It can give some account, however meager, for irreducible complexity. To that degree it becomes a teleological argument.

If you try to question the validity of science as part of #1 you undercut your claim that science can support or lead to God as the best explanation:

But I have never done that, and never will. You're right: it lies behind my use of the teleological and cosmological arguments, which are my favorite theistic proofs. These enlist science as an "ally," so to speak, especially in my own formulations of them.

if you try to define God as a metaphysical assumption via #2 then I don't think you can bring in God in the form of observable miraculous supernatural interventions which can be distinguished from ordinary natural occurances and thus lead us to belief in God.

You can neither prove nor disprove God from science. But that doesn't mean that one is prohibited from positing that perhaps some sort of Creator/Designer God can provide a good explanation in terms of First Cause for phenomena which remain quite mysterious to us. Even Einstein spoke of some sort of "spirit" in the universe, and I don't think you would question his commitment to scientific method. Even David Hume accepted a version of the argument from design.

And of course science began in a thoroughly Christian milieu. Naturalism or materialism was not believed to be central or fundamental to the definition of science or its method till basically after Darwin's time. This dichotomy you speak of was not always there. Relatively little conflict between science and God or Christianity was observed before 1859, though there were occasional exceptions, such as the much-ballyhooed Galileo incident. Newton could be a devout Christian, yet discover what he did. Likewise with Copernicus, Mendel, Pasteur (who was very fond of the Rosary), Pascal, Kepler, Boyle, Fleming, Faraday, Agassiz, Maxwell, Linnaeus, and on and on.

What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? ;)

Early science had very much to do with Jerusalem. This was no coincidence at all. And unless the history of science is understood, then much of what I argue falls on deaf ears, because the presently fashionable categories of thought and fields of study do not permit it. The only place it can be relegated to is "the fundamentalist, backward, anti-scientific mentality." That's because the discussion hasn't even been allowed in schools and universities for several generations now. So whoever talks differently is immediately labelled by many as ignorant of science and its findings, as Behe was when he dared to think differently and not take in the prevailing evolutionary orthodoxy with his mother's milk. I'm not saying you're doing this to me. I'm speaking generally.

Philosophy and science are built upon the contention that knowledge is hard won by human beings here on earth, and that through the competition of minds we come closer to understanding. It encourages disagreement, demonstration, and a willingness to change and be persuaded.

Don't both build on past accumulation of knowledge, too, though, so that - in a certain sociological sense - science and philosophy both develop time-honored "traditions" as religion does?

Time-honored, yes. Infallible, no.

Yet nothing can ever overthrow Neo-Darwinism, no matter how many flaws it exhibits. This may not technically be "infallibilism," but practically speaking, I see precious little difference. It is dogmatic, it functions as a religion for its avid followers, it must be true (for creationism is either unthinkable or virtually impossible, especially for an atheist, who would have to overthrow his atheism to espouse it).

If a scientist succeeds in overturning or (more likely) modifying a major tenet of science he is eventually given acclaim and honor within science. If a theologian succeeds in attacking a major tenet of his religion the religion is in trouble: all it has is what it began with, what follows is an attempt to clarify and understand the true revelation from God and that can only pull so far before it becomes heresy and infidelity.

This is true. But I see nothing wrong with it. I see no reason to regard as impossible a point of view whereby something is revealed and not subject to constant questioning. Not all knowledge is philosophy. If you think otherwise, then try to prove it to me. I challenge you here and now. And if you can't, then revelation is conceivable, and your objection is based on mere personal preference, not solid, irrefutable thinking. Your thought would then be based on the unproven axiom:


"All knowledge must be subject to constant attempted falsification or else it is somehow not believable knowledge."

This you can't prove; therefore your objection collapses. In fact, it is even self-defeating, for if the above sentence is indubitably and always true, then the principle or axiom would be untrue. If it is untrue, then my point stands. Either way, your case for "scientism" collapses.

I have already agreed that revelation and miracles are conceivable. It is
not impossible that something has happened in the past which goes against
the known and accepted laws of physics as understood today, nor is it
impossible that such miraculous events go on today, on a regular basis. The
issue isn't possibility, but believability. Is it reasonable to simply
decide to believe in a miracle, or a revelation, on the basis that it
"might" be true, or is it more reasonable to say that such events are
unlikely till they can be demonstrated in such a way that they leave out
human errors in attribution, memory, and transmission? I say the latter,
you say the former. I base my view on the demonstrated fact that humans
can err in such matters, and often do.

Is all knowledge philosophy? In one way or another, I think so. Your demand
-- or challenge - that I somehow prove that revelation is impossible or
hasn't happened reverses the burden of proof. One person can only prove or
demonstrate the truth of something to another if there is already a
background of agreement from which the probability can be measured, a
common ground of demonstration. You and I already agree that science works
in verifying claims in reality. We stand together here; I needn't prove the
value of empiricism to you.

But you are making an additional claim: there are also such things as
revelations, as mystical ways of knowing that come from a supernatural
world of spirit. Can you demonstrate this to me using the same background
beliefs we both have about the utility of science in weeding out truth from
error? Unless I grant your claims a special status that I don't grant
others you cannot. If you could, you would not suddenly try to shift burden
and say "prove it isn't true."

I know what it would look like to prove the existence of supernatural
claims via science because I know what it looks like to prove natural ones.
I do not know what it would look like to disprove them if the lack of
scientific proof itself is not seen as a prima facie reason to work on the
assumption that they don't exist. Neither do you, or anyone else.

I do not claim that the premise "all knowledge must be subject to constant
attempted falsification or else it is somehow not believable knowledge" is
indubitably and always true. I try not to deal in indubitable postulates,
but work towards general probabilities using induction. Thus the statement
you wrote is a stipulative theory, a working assumption open to being
falsified. In fact, to argue against it you must assume my good will and
willingness to be shown wrong. In order to say that this working guideline
is not legitimate you have to work on the assumption that it IS legitimate,
and that I ought to change my viewpoint when you can logically and
rationally demonstrate to me that there are empirical truths that ought to
be accepted on faith.

As long as I do not insist that the working assumption is Truth that can't
be questioned I don't think I'm involved in any self-refuting circularity.
But when you must assume the truth of what I write in order to challenge
it, it seems to me that you get into such difficulties yourself.


If you succeed in demonstrating the inadequacy of evolution as explanation you will be supporting science, not attacking it.

That's what I've claimed all along.

If an atheist succeeds in demonstrating the inadequacy or irrelevence of
God as direct explanation for something we're not supporting religion.

No; you're not supporting theism. Some religions do not require any sort of god at all.

Religion is built upon the idea that there are eternal truths which are given to us directly through revelation and intuition, and the most important thing is to have faith, to believe, to accept. "Question all things," says Socrates. "Unless ye become as a little child ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven," says the Bible. At some point any synthesis of these views is going to run into a conflict.

LOL Now Sue, your extreme dichotomies are getting to be a bit too much to take. You act - typically for a modernist or postmodernist - as if science and philosophy involve no axioms and unproven starting-assumptions, and as if religion has nothing whatever to do with rationality and reason. So for you (as with Bertrand Russell) Thomas Aquinas is no philosopher? We believe that there is reason and there is revelation, and that the two do not have to necessarily conflict. They are simply two forms of knowledge.

I'm saying that there is a basic difference in the way science and Greek
philosophy approach truth, and the way religion does.

Of course there is, but so what? What's your point? Are we back to my previous query about your perspective: that science is all there is? Even if atheism were granted as true, this would not be self-evident at all.

The "unproven axioms and starting-assumptions" in philosophy and science -- by which I assume you mean things like the basic reliability of our senses and the laws of logic -- are shared by religion: these are the starting grounds for all knowledge and all methods of knowledge. It is religion that is adding in new elements, new assumptions, new methods -- or trying to.

Yes, and some of those elements are valid and some are not.

Reason is the means of working out solutions to problems. Revelation is the
means of getting an answer without all the fuss and bother.

If God in fact exists, that is the nature of the case, just as I get a "revelation" from a car mechanic or a brain surgeon about my motor or my brain "without all the fuss and bother." And thank God for that! I have less than no interest in either "philosophical procedure."

That the two do not necessarily conflict is not important.

It is supremely important. But the fact that you so easily dismiss this might explain why we keep acting as ships passing in the night.

It is not up to the philosopher to show that revelation is not adequate:

They do all the time by denying that it is a valid category of thought and knowledge.

it is up to the religionist to demonstrate to the philosopher that it is.

One can't do so when the opponent has eliminated the possibility of it by means of a charge (explicit or implied) of "illegitimate category." The atheist obviously has a huge problem with it (it is categorically impossible because there is no God to give it). The deist and the like has less problem, but there is still a huge hurdle to jump. One only has so much time. I can't dismantle Mt. Everest with my hands and rebuild it again.

And without the ability to rationally demonstrate truth, revelation collapses on any terms but its own.

It is testable by things like miracles and fulfilled prophecy; the first is evidence of a superior power over nature, and the second indicates superior knowledge: consistent with omnipotence and omniscience (and possible timelessness).

We already agree that science can give us true knowledge of the world, we
stand on common ground here. You have to show me that revelation can give
us true knowledge of the world, too, and you can't do it by using
revelation, but by using the same approach you and I share for everything
else, that of reason and science.

Its evidences are mainly in the realm of historico-legal evidence, and you don't seem to think much of that, either.

Do I consider Aquinas a philosopher? Yes. However, I suspect he made some
philosophical errors, from what I understand of what he has written. I'm
not well read in Aquinas, or, at least, probably not as well read as I
ought to be if I were to involve myself in a deep discussion on him. But
yes, theologians are philosophers.

Obviously, if you reject revelation as a form of knowledge, then you must place it outside the realm of reason (so that you don't have to deal with its claims at all - they being supposedly purely a matter of faith, and contrary to reason). But again, you characterize entire fields of knowledge as purely faith (which is certainly an essential aspect, but not its entirety), wholly apart from reasonable considerations. That would come as a huge shock to Augustine or Origen or Justin Martyr or the Apostle Paul or Boethius, Bonaventure, Anselm, Albert the Great, all the notable Christian scientists, Ockham, Duns Scotus, Erasmus, Thomas More, Dr. Johnson, and on and on through all the great Christian thinkers.

It is one thing to not accept something yourself; quite another to paint it in surreal, cardboard-caricature colors (reasonable, intelligent open-minded scientists vs. irrational fideistic closed-minded Christians), so that its practitioners would not be able to recognize it in your description.

If I have done this or appeared to have done this I apologise. I have been
trying to point out that there are basic differences between the principles
of reason and revelation, not between the persons of scientists and
Christians, or atheists and the same. I think that people tend to use a
wide variety of positions and beliefs and approaches to the world, and
there are seldom clear distinctions between different types or kinds of
people. We are all fuzzy combinations of reason and irrationality, good and
evil, tolerance and close-mindedness -- scientists and theologians alike.
Principles are not people, and vice versa.

Fair enough. Thanks. But I still think your thought is far too "dichotomous" with regard to this science vs. religion/metaphysics discussion. I didn't believe you were trying to attack people. I think you can grasp the concept that our view is logically self-consistent without adopting the view itself. You don't seem to be able to accept that. I readily grant that humanism or atheism is self-consistent (I deny its premises).

I think Christianity is logically self-consistent only if one accepts that
general consistency is not important or valid, that some claims ought not
be put up against the same kind of standards as similar claims because they
are "special." Christianity is logically consistent if one assumes, as a
postulate, the value -- and virtue -- of faith.

The only means I have to argue for my viewpoint that it is wrong to use
such methods of faith on empirical claims about the nature of reality is
your prior agreement with me that faith is a poor method to rely on when it
comes to scientific understanding, and that it is a poor method to rely on
when it comes to religious, supernatural, or paranormal views that are not
your own.

There is I think a dissonance between most of your secular beliefs and your
religious ones, and to the extent that you value consistency and coherency
in how you approach understanding you will value evidential arguments over
fideistic ones. The combination of the two is not an easy synthesis because
the methods of justification which rely on objective demonstration clash
with the methods of justification that rely on subjective conviction. Once
you bring in faith all beliefs are on equal footing, and you have no means
to separate fact from "flapdoodle" (no, not my own term ) .


Science was done by many Christians, but I do not think it came out of the mystical revelation of Jerusalem; I think it came out of the rational marketplace of contending ideas that was Athens.

It was both. Greek philosophy more fully interacted with Jewish/Christian thought in the Middle Ages. Out of this milieu came modern science. If it was solely Athens, then surely it would have developed back during Aristotle's time. But it required the input of Christianity. Why do you think that is? And how can Christianity be something so allegedly foreign to science, when it was so instrumental in its formation? This is why history is so crucial to study.

I see we have different views on the historical background for the
evolution of science. I'm not sure I want to start another thread here, but
I should probably explain a bit why I disagree that it was both -- or,
rather, that science simply could not have evolved without Christianity.

Modern science does not seem to have come directly from the mystical aspect
of Christian thought, but out of a unique combination of philosophical and
historical factors: the renewal of interest in Greek philosophy and its
replacement of dogma with debate; autonomous, self-governing political
states; capitalism and the rise of a middle class with the leisure and
means to have a scientific community; and even the development of the
printing press. I'm not sure that there was anything unique in Christianity
itself that was instrumental in the formation of science. I think it was
the Catholic Church's attempt to merge Christianity with Greek philosophy
which provided one important framework for its development.

The belief that the cosmos is ultimately understandable doesn't necessarily
need to rest on the assumption that it was set up by a rational and
understandable God who can be arrived at through reason,

Not necessarily, but in point of fact, historically, this is what happened. I don't think that can be so easily dismissed.

because the belief that God is rational and understandable enough to be arrived at by reason instead of faith doesn't seem to come out of scripture, but out of the love the Church developed for the power of deductive and inductive reasoning as espoused by the Greeks. Science is, I believe, an historical fluke, not something that was natural to the progression of human thinking, which is religious in nature far more than it is scientific.

Why, then, if the Greeks - to their great credit - constructed all the essential elements of philosophy over hundreds of years, did science not develop by 300 B.C.?

I mentioned some historical factors in the earlier email, such things as
capitalism and the development of the printing press. If you're interested
in exploring this idea in more depth I would recommend Alan Cromer's
Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science. Good stuff.

Christians (even creationists in many instances), in fact founded most of the various disciplines of science, including bacteriology, calculus, chemistry, electronics, electromagnetics, genetics, oceanography, paleontology, pathology, physical astronomy, thermodynamics, systematic biology, and several others. Francis Bacon was instrumental in establishing scientific method itself. Leonardo da Vinci was largely using the experimental method even before Bacon! Your attempted dichotomy of science vs. religion/metaphysics would surely appear quite strange to these men.
And this is why history is vitally important, to show how we got to where we are, in the world of ideas.

Evolution tries to explain complexity through smaller steps which are open to scrutiny and criticism.

In theory, yes. In practice, too often no. Once the dogma becomes entrenched, then it is unthinkable to question it, simply because the overwhelming consensus mitigates against such skepticism. Stephen Jay Gould has written as much about various aspects of science. This is not my own novel idea.

God theory explains complexity by bringing in even more complexity and is not open to scrutiny and criticism.

It certainly is open to criticism, but this is philosophy and religion (and/or theology) - as much of evolutionary theory also is.

A theory that deliberately conceals its methods and processes is a problem in a different way than a theory that hasn't yet firmly established that the methods and processes it is claiming happened actually did happen.

I still say you are applying circular assumptions. Evolution is part science and part philosophy. Creationism or intelligent design is virtually all philosophy (though with an obvious close relation to empiricism or observation), with religious elements to more or less degrees. Therefore, it isn't - strictly speaking - subject to scientific methodology, by definition. But then again, the situation is largely the same with macroevolution and the problem of biological origins and complexity. And that's the double standard I keep pointing out. Our views are required to be able to explain and be tested according to scientific rigor, while the same scrutiny is not applied to the areas of evolutionary theory I mention.

If the Universe is defined as All That Has Existed, Does Exist, and
Will Exist then the Big Bang may properly be understood as the beginning of a form of the universe, the one with the properties we observe. Whether Reality has or had or includes other forms (including God) is an open question.

Okay. I have no particular response.

I don't dismiss it, but I do find the idea of irreducible complexity far less plausible than the idea of irreducible simplicity. This is in part because every explanation I have ever heard builds understanding from the ground up, and I have never encountered a phenomenon that is complicated and involved, but it can't be broken down and understood in terms of its parts and their levels of interaction.

Wouldn't the nature of light, sub-atomic particles (quantum mechanics), black holes, and similarly complex notions qualify for such things? Why not brains, DNA, and eyes? It seems to me that you can't explain any of these things in very simple terms.

There are of course many cases where a level of explanation loses its character when the systems which make it up are examined, but this isn't the same thing because one could at least in theory understand the dynamics of the entire process. We don't appeal to irreducible complexity in anything else besides God,

I think we do with the above concepts, and I'm sure many others could be suggested as well.

unless we are talking about relating to people on a personal level, and then we don't deny that people are the result of prior causes and laws, we simply don't bring it up. When I deal with someone socially I usually don't need to take into account that he is made up of molecules, or was formed by biological processes, etc. And this seems to be the way God is being brought in as explanation. Not as an actual explanation as to method, but a social and psychological explanation.

No; rather, as a philosophical First Cause (Aquinas) or Designer (Hume; even Darwin) or the Ground for objective morality (Kant), or "properly basic" (Anselm, Hartshorne, Plantinga). This is philosophy, my dear, not social psychology.

"Why did the volcano errupt" answered not in terms of geology, but in terms of what those people who died in the volcano did wrong, or what their deaths are supposed to teach us so that we may be better people and improve ourselves in relating to our group and Leader.

That is mythology.

But if God exists and effects the universe, it too would be equally within the realm of empirical observation and explanation. I think you've agreed with this several times.

Indeed; and so have several evolutionists I cited. But it is in a limited sense only, as I have sought to explain.

And if it is possible that God exists and it is also possible that God doesn't exist, it seems eminently reasonable to demand the kind of strict empirical evidence that one would demand for any kind of supernatural claim. It isn't that science has ruled out the paranormal and supernatural by Grand Fiat, but that up till now no supernatural claim has been able to establish itself with the same kind of rigor we expect from unexpected yet true natural claims.

What do you mean by "rigor"? if not again a smuggling in of a scientific/empirical epistemology for a Spirit Being, which is irrational from the get-go. Your entire statement above hinges on that definition, and you must explain it in order to escape circularity.

If metaphysical or spiritual beings, be they ghosts, angels, or gods, are
acting in nature then science should be capable of discovering this.

Not necessarily. It can observe results of such actions (as G.G. Simpson stated), but it can't prove that they occurred as a result of spiritual beings. Questions of origins necessarily reduce to metaphysics, whatever view one takes.

Perhaps questions of Ultimate origins reduce to metaphysics, but if ALL questions of origins reduce to metaphysics then science has answered hundreds and thousands of metaphysical questions to our satisfaction. I think it is very easy to pick and choose which questions are "beyond science." Different theists put the barrier at different places: you yourself are more than happy to move the barrier if new information comes up. If new information can conceivably cause you or anyone else to move the barrier, it's only a barrier of ignorance, not one of absolutes. And yes, as much as I have tried to avoid using this term (since I know you hate it), I think we are indeed dealing with a God of the Gaps Argument (there, I am done).

Am I supposed to be surprised? This is the stock answer of those who seem unable to conceptualize categories of thought and an approach to knowledge which dissents from the post-Enlightenment model. If anything is "god of the gaps," though, it is the twin goddesses of Mutation and Natural Selection, which can explain absolutely anything we see in the biological world. We need merely say these words, and all difficulties instantly vanish.

What science is not capable of discovering is whether or not things that are
natural are "sustained" or part of some larger reality which is closed to

That's right. But the results of scientific investigation can lead one to believe rationally (according to Hume) that the processes are so remarkable as to suggest an Intelligent Designer.

For example, Solipsism, the claim that nothing in the universe exists but your mind, is a metaphysical assumption which no additional set of facts or observations could either prove or overset. If someone comes up with a way to "prove" or demonstrate solipsism it becomes a theory.

Of course that is complete idealism, so science would have even less to do with that than with theism, which involves both matter and spirit.

I do not have to "smuggle" a scientific/empirical epistemology into a
scientific empirical claim. If we can investigate the existence and
behaviors of ghosts, angels, or gods through our scientific observations,
the fact that they are "spirits" whose ways of working are beyond our
ability to understand or discover is irrelevant. God is assumed as a
"metaphysical entity" which is answering philosophical questions on a
higher level than those of mere science at the same time that it is being
dragged in as something which has a direct effect in nature which science can detect. I suspect the confusion is not in how I am dealing with God.

Your confusion is with categories of knowledge, and how they relate to and intersect with each other, in my opinion. This has long been an interest of mine, in conjunction with my love for history of ideas.

The Cosmological and Teleological Arguments examine the results of alleged, theorized creation and we believe they strongly suggest a Creator. They tie into the Big Bang and intelligent design / extreme biological complexity, respectively.

God can be neither proven nor disproven in any absolute sense by science (anymore than science can be disproved by religion or theology), but Creation as a construct can be so examined. If it is then decided that the best explanation for nature is a Creator, then that goes beyond science - but so do Grand Materialist or Atheist Scenarios of the Origins of the Universe and Life. I see no difference whatever once we get back to that initial point of inquiry.

Nothing in science is ever proven or disproven in any absolute sense: science doesn't work that way. But if science has lead one to the conclusion that the "best explanation" for what would otherwise be assumed a natural occurrence is a supernatural one, then nobody has gone "beyond science" at all. Science is not the study of the natural world: it is the study of Reality.

That's an interesting statement. Care to elaborate?

I mean that if there is a supernatural world which can be somehow detected in this one, which has effects we can observe, then science should be able to discover it. This is exactly what you are claiming. I explain below:

Supernatural entities would not be ruled out as long as they are capable of meeting the requirements of natural ones, which, if they exist and act in distinctive ways which mark them as distinguishable from natural events, they ought to be capable of meeting.

What are these requirements of natural entities?

Observable, measurable, and capable of being independently tested and standing up to alternative theories and explanations in order to achieve a consensus of informed opinion by competent researchers, usually.


The existence of God is a theory. It might be right, it might be wrong. If it is wrong, what other theories are likely, and would they be more consistent with our background beliefs, or less? More, I think. You, of course, don't agree. And that's okay: in Humanism, nobody is damned for an honest mistake in epistemology or metaphysics -- they are not even damned for a "dishonest" one ;)

No particular comment springs to my mind.

We are not dealing with an initial point of inquiry that exists in a metaphysical haze where nothing can be determined from observations if we deal with empirical, evidential arguments for the existence of God. We are working within a system that assumes that empirical evidence is not only valid, but ought to be examined in a systematic way. I think you are confusing a nonphysical being that can be discovered through empirical methods with a metaphysical assumption which would be unaffected by any observation whatsoever.


This demand is based on the assumption that humans are prone to error, and anecdotes and personal experiences which can't be shared -- and thus can't be checked -- might be a wrong interpretation of experience. We are very easy to fool, and it is even easier to fool ourselves, as Richard Feynmann once noted.

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly to that. But I apply that to your kinds of folks, too, as well as to my own camp. :-)

Demanding empirical proof of the existence of Spirit does not seem to be unreasonable or irrational to me, but responsible.

Please explain to me how that can make any sense.

Spirit sounds an awful lot like Essence of Personhood, and we have a rather sorry history of injecting Essence of Personhood where it doesn't go.

No particular comment.

My point was that we have both a natural explanation for why we
might feel a need for a God

I don't think so . . .

and a supernatural explanation which includes all the elements of the natural explanation, plus adds in the fact that there really is a God. Occam's razor, as you know, does not tell us what is true.

Nor does an arbitrary acceptance of empiricism to the exclusion of metaphysics, religion, revelation, experience, or any sort of knowledge outside of science.

It simply cuts out the extraneous as unnecessary to the explanation. God might exist, but I don't think its existence is required in order to explain why human beings might have a desire for "God." This desire seems to be plausibly accounted for by elements we experience in our lives, the existence of which elements is not under dispute.

So there is no God in fact, but it just so happens that the vast majority of human beings in all times and places have developed a belief in some sort of God or spirituality. And you find that a plausible reason for there not being a God . . . That's as silly as a scenario where, say 90% of the people were atheists somehow "proved" that God must exist!

I think those religions which insist on complete consistency with secular methods of demonstration are more likely to be trustworthy in moral issues.

I contend that Christianity is more intellectually respectable than any other religion (followed very closely by Judaism).

And when it comes to religions not your own, this would probably be what you yourself would feel comfortable with, too.

I use the normal means of proof and intellectual arguments with any viewpoint I examine. To the extent that they are deemed "secular" (which is debatable) then I am using "secular methods."

Not much you can do about being accused of being a witch.

Nope, but not much you can do about having the misfortune of being in your mother's womb, when she doesn't want you for some reason, either. Talk about the "innocent" being falsely accused . . .

Is scientific knowledge the only reliable sort of knowledge? It may not be the only source of knowledge, but I think we both tend to count it the most reliable source if we are talking about answering empirical questions about the nature of reality.

But of course: that is true by definition, so it is completely uncontroversial. Yet it doesn't rule out things like teleology or a Creator, either, because that is not its domain, and it can't speak on those things (though many atheist scientists deign to do that anyway).

I don't understand. How can you both argue that science and a study of nature can lead one to the conclusion that God exists and there is a design and purpose in the universe and also claim that whether God exists or whether there is design and purpose in the universe are not science's domain and "it can't speak on those things?" According to you it speaks very eloquently indeed.

I was answering specifically your question: "we both tend to count it the most reliable source if we are talking about answering empirical questions." Teleology and God are not directly empirical questions (though, arguably, they are, indirectly, in a sense). All I was saying was that science is the most reliable guide for matter, but that it can't rule out spirit. There is no contradiction here at all. One is a positive assertion, the other a denial of a negative assertion. I think it is common sense and a self-evident truth.

I think that as long as you claim that God is known because it intervenes in the world in a measurable way which can be distinguished from purely natural causes -- as long as you point to scientific evidence for the existence of God -- then it is not only legitimate, but obligatory, for science to question the existence of God the way it would any other theory.

All I'm doing is expecting modern science to be consistent with its materialistic premises. If it wants to claim that it has domain over matter, fine. I have no problem with that at all. But when it claims that it can pronounce negatively and dogmatically on spiritual matters, it is overstepping its bounds. This is a double standard, but not the best science, as I understand it. It is a corruption of science, and hubris. Science needs to understand that it is not the sum of all knowledge, and that it is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy in turn intersects with religion at a certain point. I've gone over these things again and again on this list. I just don't think you grasp the point. It's difficult to see beyond one's paradigm and presuppositions.

And religion intersects with science as soon as it makes claims about the
nature of reality based on observations in this world -- claims that can
support theism against atheism. I'm not sure to what extent we can say that
metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality are immune to all
criticism. This seems to be a gray area here. If NO observation,
experience, experiment, or scientific finding could impact one way or the
other on the viewpoint, it may be beyond science because it is also beyond
our ability to know.

But this is not true with Christianity. There are a number of things which would theoretically disprove it or cast very strong doubt upon it; e.g,:

1. Produce proof of the existence of the bones of Jesus.
2. Prove that the New Testament was actually written in, say, 600 A.D. (so that no Apostles or eyewitnesses wrote it).
3. Prove that Jesus never existed.
4. Prove that people have existed eternally.
5. Prove that physical reality is an illusion.

For example, if tomorrow I wake up and discover that I am a brain in a vat
-- scientists hold a mirror up to the single eye floating on the fluid (a la
Ronald Dahl) and convince me with strong evidence that all I have
experienced up till now has been fed into me by machines, it would probably
not take long before I begin to wonder if this scenario of my being a brain
in a vat is not itself being fed into my brain by machines, and I am some
other brain in some other vat, perhaps, or a thought that I am a brain in a
vat, or something else very different. Thus, solipsism cannot be completely
refuted by any imaginable evidence whatsoever, and therefore is a
metaphysical belief beyond of reality beyond our observations -- and any
ability to know for sure.

But is metaphysical naturalism a theory that can't be refuted? Not if God
exists, and not if we can know this some way. It's a working assumption, a
theory capable of proof or disproof.

In some sense, maybe, but how does one go about proving that God set in motion and is controlling in some sense all natural laws and all events, in His Providence (as all Christians believe)? If you can give me such a "proof" I would be much obliged.

To say that belief in God is a metaphysical belief can either mean that no matter what, we can always say God exists: or it can be metaphysical naturalism disproven -- which means it is a theory. Evidence counted for it. This puts it on par with other theories. And open to scientific confirmation or provisional dismissal.

I think the evidence counts for it in a cumulative sense (many aspects of thought and observation being consistent with it, and making it more plausible than atheism). One can't absolutely disprove God's existence or naturalism, or much of anything, when you really get right down to it. But we all proceed on the basis of axioms anyway, and we all believe things whether or not we are philosophically sophisticated.

Science can't pronounce negatively and dogmatically on anything. It is not
a means to Knowledge and Certainty, but to Understanding, to tentative
conclusions which can be used as working assumptions to live by. In this it
is far more consistent with the Greek ideals of philosophy than with the
Eastern ideals of religion. It does not start out with indubitable premises
from which all certainty is derived, but with observations and experience
from which testable theories are induced, theories which must be open to
change because the men who form them can be wrong.

Science is thus that branch of philosophy which comes out of the ideal of
discussion, dispute, demonstration, and the competition of ideas in
understanding the nature of reality because it works from evidence
available to all, whatever their "faiths." One can always claim that there
are realities which science can never investigate, of course --

Is that not obvious? Science deals with matter, so that IF there is also a spiritual reality, clearly science can't investigate it except insofar as it affects or interacts with physical reality, where its results could then be scientifically observed. But to get from cause to result in terms of some compelling "proof" is still a huge problem, and the materialistic person will always see the evidence as insufficient to establish that.

and one can then claim through faith any damn thing they want about these realities without fear of contradiction or being proven wrong.

They can and do. For my part, I have argued that Christianity is entirely consistent with logic and science, but that in some respects it transcends science and mere reason. It is not irrational but in part supra-rational. One can go beyond something without contradicting it.

The problem I have with your insistence that science is helpless in understanding spiritual reality is that you don't seem to understand that spiritual reality might
not exist. There might be no God. There might be no miracles, no angel

Of course these things are theoretically possible, but that is another discussion, isn't it? I am trying to show that if these things exist, that they do not inherently conflict with either science or reason. I am arguing (in this dialogue) primarily for the coherence and consistency and rationality (also plausibility) of Christian belief, not that it is true (which I can hardly do in any single discussion because I believe that conclusion is reached on the basis of a multitude of various evidences taken together).

And if there is not you have insulated yourself from criticism, from finding this out, and from being forced to change your view or be persuaded to another one.

Not at all; this doesn't follow. How one approaches reality and truth claims is a distinct proposition from the truth or falsity of the same claims. I have the same approach to evidence and truth and epistemology whether Christianity is true or false, as you also do, whether humanism is true or false.

When religion does not conflict with science, it swallows it whole. All
discoveries are consistent with the existence of God. All discoveries are
also consistent with the nonexistence of God. The problem is that you seem
to want to have it both ways: science can in no way rule that any discovery
is inconsistent with the existence of God -- but there are many discoveries
which are not only consistent with God's existence, but are INCONSISTENT
with atheism.

That shouldn't surprise anyone due to the extraordinary, multi-faceted nature of the Christian God, whereas atheism is simply a negative, "minimalist" proposition, that this marvelous God does not in fact exist. So, e.g., one can observe:

1. The theory of gravity is perfectly consistent with the notion that God could have caused the physical universe to perpetually operate under these laws, as a function of design or teleology.
[note that this is merely a logical claim of consistency; not an alleged airtight, undeniable "proof" - and that is all I have ever claimed in any of my arguments]

But one cannot say:

2. The theory of gravity proves that God does not and cannot exist.
There is no "epistemological symmetry" here and thus no double standard, because proposition #2 is simply a much more difficult thing to prove, by its very nature. You can substitute the "laws of natural selection" or thermodynamics; it works the same way logically. It's the old thing about "it's very difficult to prove a negative."

Sometimes God is in this shadowy spirit realm of gassy metaphysics outside of our empirical sciences and sometimes God is a competing theory of the universe which walks and talks and sounds just like a science theory, but isn't because God is a metaphysical being.

What you see as an ethereal and arbitrary inconsistency seems that way because of the nature of the relationship of philosophy, science, and religion. It gets complicated around the edges, where the different types of knowledge intersect. It's kind of like the edge of a seashore. Where precisely does the shore begin and the sea end? It's not so easy to determine (especially considering tides). Yet we know there is a shore and a sea.

Or, e.g., consider "infinite smallness" (one of my favorite thought experiments in philosophy). If we take any material thing and keep dividing it in half, how far can we go till it becomes nothing? Or is that even possible? No matter how small something is, it can be cut in half, right? So are we able to get to a point where it can no longer be cut in half? Can matter merge into non-matter, by successive gradations?

Perhaps that is the difficulty with science and metaphysics/religion. You have already agreed that science is a type of philosophy, and metaphysics is also a type of philosophy, and arguably religion is a particular sort of metaphysics (at least in part). The edges are blurry, and my comments reflect that. Your task would be to demonstrate that the edges are not fuzzy, in order to establish that my claims in this area are what are fuzzy, illogical, and arbitrary.

Can science rule against the probable truth of astrology? What about the
ability of rocks to think? Can science investigate whether it is likely
that people can communicate through mind alone or can move objects at a
distance with thought?

It could, by observing results and making deductions, yes. I have stated this all along. I even cited noted paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, saying the same thing.

Can science tentatively rule out the existence of phlogiston, of chi energy, animal magnetism, and the ether? Where does one draw the line?

Where such things are utterly inconsistent with science. I haven't seen where Christianity or God falls into that category. The Big Bang is not inconsistent with ex nihilo creation. Evolution is not inconsistent with a notion of creation (of a particular type; i.e., not instantaneous, but progressive and prolonged; directed by God rather than random mutations) - nor are any natural laws. That may bother you, but this is logical reality, so get over it! LOL

Are fairies on the same side of the line of investigation as angels, or do angels exist in a special category because people see them as proof of God's love?

Fairies are derived from mythology, which process of thought is quite different from revelation, which claims to be based on history and a direct revealing of God to man.

If you strip the idea of God down to its basics, if you pull away all the
bells and whistles and hand-wavings and tears, what is being asserted is
that a Person which consists of Mind and Intention exists without a body in
a way that is obscure, causes effects in a way that is abstruse, and
supports and sustains everything in an ambiguous, vague, unclear,
mysterious, enigmatic way beyond our ability to understand. And yet it is a
person. Like us.

This is what we believe based on revelation (but also partially from natural theology). It requires some faith to believe in the Christian God, too.

I agree that science cannot rule this out completely, but I see no reason
to put this concept into reality. And every reason to think this is simply
another case of human beings trying to egocentrically see ourselves and our
concerns as the center of cosmic interest, the main characters in a
narrative which comes out of our own minds and tries to turn reality into
our image.

That is quite spectacularly ironic, coming from a humanist, who truly puts man "and our concerns as the center of cosmic interest." In humanism, man has to be at the center of inquiry because there is no God to even challenge his preeminence! So if Christianity is egocentric, how much more so secular humanism?!

I think this is a very important confusion here in how one sees Humanism,
and theists are not the only ones to make it. We do not put man at the
center of importance in all things, nor make humanity preeminent, nor do we
consider our concerns to be of cosmic interest. There is not necessarily
any conflict between being a humanist and believing in God.

Instead of seeing atheism as putting man first over God, I see it as being willing to accept an austerity and clarity of understanding that doesn't put man
God but puts self-control in methods first above any conclusion we
make, including whether God exists or not. Human beings are the inescapable
ultimate reference point for their own understanding because human
understanding is always that -- human, and thus fallible.

In science, man tries to take his subjectivity out of the equation as much
as possible. In religion, subjectivity is primary as a method of inquiry,
because in order to say we have methods that go beyond reason we must go
into faith, intuition, and insight, egocentric methods that confirm instead
of public methods that demonstrate. The humility involved in bowing to a
God and rejecting human capacity to understand is not the same thing as the
humility involved in bowing to our fallibility and insisting only on the
strict and rigorous methods of science before we decide whether or not
there is also a God to bow to.

The primary disagreement between us then seems to be this: does rejecting
science and objective means of inquiry in order to have faith and trust in
subjective methods of knowing constitute humility -- or arrogance? When one
decides that certain claims about the nature of reality require that we go
outside of science one is rejecting the methods of community in order to
embrace the methods of the individual. It doesn't matter what the
conclusion is, or how one bows to it. To put methods of subjective
individualism above methods of objective verification seems to me to be
pride of self.


God is not a "purely metaphysical question" any more than other paranormal
or supernatural claims. Questions that are purely metaphysical would be
unaffected one way or the other by ANY scientific finding, any observation
and experience that human beings can have, like solipsism. God is supposed
to be known through experience, and science can "point to God." Science can
point away from atheism. This is what you insist on. Thus I think we are no
longer dealing with a purely metaphysical question now. If I am
inconsistent because I am using epistemic methods on God, then so are you
and all the other theists who are using Natural Theology or other
evidential arguments.

Sigh. Sue, Sue . . . How is it inconsistent to say that the edges of metaphysics and science are blurry and confusing, or that natural theology and things like faith and the ontological argument are not contradictory, but complementary?

If I'm wrong about God I'm open to being convinced, because metaphysical
naturalism is, despite the words "metaphysics" in the name, a theory. It's
a working assumption about the nature of reality.

Fine, then. Tell me how I could possibly overthrow it in your mind? And please, come up with something more realistic and plausible than [philosophy professor] Ted Drange's "cosmic star-writing." I've already given several straightforward, quite theoretically possible ways to disprove Christianity. Now you do me one better . . .

If God exists, one could always put it into a Naturalist metaphysics by
simply defining God as one more natural phenomenon that works according to
natural laws that are less knowable from our standpoint, but of course this
is not what you are asking. You are asking what would prove the existence
of God to me, and I think I have answered this before, if not in this
thread, then in others:

I would want the same kind of evidence that would prove the truth of
astrology, ghosts, fairies, cold fusion, homeopathy, and tarot card
reading. All these things might be true "some of the time" but if they
can't meet scientific criteria we feel comfortable assuming they work "none
of the time." I want public demonstration: replicable, testable, regular,
falsifiable, predictive, and available to all. Not ancient stories that we
can all read; not anecdotes we can all hear; not mystical revelations or
appeals to ignorance or arguments that such a claim is "beyond science and
reason" and backed up with bad analogies.

I don't want "if you believe you will see" or "if part of the belief works it is all true." And most especially I want evidence that can't be just as plausibly explained as the result of natural causes. I want scientific evidence that a Mind is controlling the universe, that the universe was created with intention, and
that everything is part of a Grand Design, not the pattern-seeking
cause-inferring intuitional insight that this must be so or we would not be
here. If God exists it ought to be able to effect the universe in ways that
are specific and verifiable and distinguishable from natural explanations.
I want scientific proof of God or Naturalism wins by default.

So yes, the stars in the sky that spell out "I AM" would be hard to explain
without the existence of a super-powerful intelligence we would call God.
If God exists, the starwriting is not unrealistic, and the theory that God
did it would be by far the most plausible explanation. To demand less than
scientific evidence is not showing love for God: it is showing love for a

Is God a theory?

For those who regard religious matters as merely philosophical propositions and not primarily matters of faith yes. This is the fabled "god of the philosophers."

Could it be wrong?

Theoretically, yes.

Could we know it to be wrong -- or can we only know if it is right?

I think both beliefs require either faith or unprovable assumptions and axioms. There can be no absolute proof or disproof, in my opinion - not in the purely philosophical or scientific realm. On the other hand, I think there are forms of religious "certitude" which are quite different modes of knowing, as explicated notably in John Henry Newman's classic Grammar of Assent.

If we admit that science might actually be a reliable means of understanding ALL of reality

If all of reality is material, maybe, but then there are many mysteries and puzzles in science as well, some of which may never be resolved.

and that metaphysical naturalism is a serious possibility, then theism might win, but it might not. If it is excluded a priori then theism can't lose.

And vice versa. I come down on the side of theism . . . :-)

Science can't deal with metaphysical claims as such, but it can deal with metaphysical claims which have taken on the shape and form of empirically-based theory. If some findings can be said to especially "support" the existence of God,

In the sense of "not inconsistent with" (especially this might be asserted given a lack of empirical, causal explanation, as with irreducible complexity).

then other findings can be said to "go against" it. Science has a voice, because you have given it one.

Well, the distinction would be between "consistency with" (a metaphysical theory, possibly including God) and negatively pronouncing upon purely metaphysical questions from a supposedly empirical epistemology. I think these two things are qualitatively, essentially different. The former is entirely logical; the latter is illogical and even a bit arrogant, in my opinion, perhaps involving a sort of dishonesty or "sleight-of-hand," whether intentional or not (it is usually not intended, but flows from a lack of "metaphysical self-awareness," so to speak, or a certain intellectual naivete, utterly typical of postmodernism).

Revelation, intuition, and inspiration may give us correct knowledge about the facts of the world, but if you want to check to see if they have gotten it right I think you have to use the only method which is open to investigation and dispute.

Isn't historical-legal evidence of any worth? We use that to determine what happened in a certain place at a certain time, and who did what, right? Why can't it be used to verify miracles and suchlike, which are in the domain of religion?

Stories and anecdotes will verify all sorts of claims as long as the listener has little reason to be skeptical. Historical-legal evidence could verify miracles or other unconfirmed phenomenon in the strong sense -- it could persuade critics -- only if the historical-legal evidence was able to meet the strict standards of science, in that it could rule out human error and alternative natural explanations. I don't think it can do this.

It seems, then, that you are of the mindset that science is the key to all knowledge, or all reliable knowledge. I find that to be an absurd proposition from the outset. Do you frown upon all court cases on the same grounds? "Beyond a reasonable doubt" isn't enough? We should not convict any criminal unless "the historical-legal evidence was able to meet the strict standards of science, in that it could rule out human error and alternative natural explanations"?

If a court case contains assertions that the accused flew through the
window and was seen dancing with the devil, yes, I would frown on the
reliability of this eyewitness testimony. If the eyewitness claimed they
saw YOU do this, you would call for scientific backing quick enough, I
think. Spectral evidence was ruled inadmissible after the witch hunts in
Salem. Damn good thing, too.

But I was simply talking about forms of knowledge besides science, not legal evidence of supernatural events in particular.

We can rule out many things beyond a reasonable doubt, we just can't rule
out anything beyond an unreasonable doubt. If we claim that all miracles
and magic and supernatural and paranormal experiences are "beyond science"
then we have no way to draw a line between truth and superstition, real and

Scientific studies done today on paranormal claims show that so far no evidence has been able to confirm the existence of ESP, precognition, ghosts, PK, magic, reincarnation, etc.

Why should this surprise you, all these things being alleged spiritual phenomenon? What does that have to do with science? One might be able to demonstrate - again - that such explanations are conceivably consistent with the evidence. E.g., that the messed-up house from an alleged poltergeist cannot be proven to have been messed-up by any other cause.

I used to try to do telepathy, ESP, the Ouiji Board, astral projection, all sorts of weird occultic stuff, back in the 70s. I was very serious about it. In a way, I see this in retrospect as an openness to possible supernatural realities, a form of open-mindedness, rather than pure gullibility (though it was partially that, too). I simply needed more information, upon which to make rational choices about what I would consider "spiritual realities."

But I would contend that it was post-Christian secular culture which influenced me to pursue these things in the first place. TV shows like The Outer Limits and One Step Beyond and The Twilight Zone - arguably - were means of propagating non-Christian supernaturalist worldviews among the populace. In a truly Christian society, much of this material would be frowned-upon, if not outright forbidden; considered harmful to souls.

If these are real phenomenon this seems suspicious.

I don't see why.

Other studies, however, have been able to demonstrate that humans are liable to confirmation bias, wishful thinking, self-deception, selective thinking, post hoc reasoning, subjective validation, communal reinforcement, urban legends, ad hoc hypothesis, etc. Absolutely. And these would be some of the reasons that could be put forth for unbelief, as well as false religious belief (or true belief, stumbled upon for the wrong reasons).

Supernatural claims are unlike other claims in that exaggeration and error are much more directly connected, and much harder to check. They are singular extraordinary events which can only be believed or not.

Science can "confirm" a miracle in the sense that it can admit that it has not the slightest idea (let alone explanation) how such-and-such an event happened. Medical doctors talk like that all the time with regard to healings. But mainly, miracles are verified by historico-legal methodology.

Miracles are not verified by historico-legal methodology.

You can only say this by defining them out of existence in the first place, as Hume did. Hardly compelling . . .

They are believed by individuals who choose to combine a story with faith.

But there is such a thing as scientific verification. There have been plenty of instantaneous healings, verified (or, not contradicted, at any rate) by medical examination. But atheists and anti-supernaturalists will always find a way to dispute them.

The argument from ignorance is a weak one. When we have strong evidence that people are both ignorant and can err and couple this with an anecdote that does not fit in with our public, shared background knowledge it is more reasonable and consistent to assume an unknown naturalistic explanation over a supernatural one, human error over human reliability.

On the whole, yes, but this doesn't rule out any miracle ever taking place.

Science assumes that people don't know everything and can make mistakes so
we check ourselves against each other. Leaps of faith tell you to put trust
in the promptings of your intimate and personal desires. Such leaps can
take one anywhere.

Well, now you are again trying to construct a huge chasm between scientific rationality and the gullibility of faith. This is probably what I find least attractive in your argument. You show a detailed understanding of many of the Christian arguments, but then you seem to fall prey to rhetorical exaggeration again, which I think is much less helpful than most of your words.

It's a matter of caution: better the discipline of "I don't know but it is
probably a natural occurrence and not a miracle" over "I don't know but I
believe." From my point of view, anyway. :)

Sure; I agree with that, but again, it does not rule out the possibility of a miracle in all times, and places.

It is possible that miracles have indeed occurred and been faithfully recorded in the past.

Thanks for small favors. :-)

But even if this is the case it is not reasonable to believe in them outside of the religion they have supported.

That's not true. They can stand on eyewitness testimony regardless of religion.

You are under no obligation to renounce Christianity if other people from other religions claim that their holy men have done miraculous things. You are justified in being skeptical.

I'm skeptical of particulars until I see the evidence. But my religion doesn't require me to deny all miraculous events technically "outside" of itself. Quite the contrary. These could either be from God or from demonic spirits.

But of course, they might be right. So what level of evidence for miracles in another religion would cause you to reject Christianity and embrace a new belief? I strongly suspect it would not be anecdotes, however ancient, and however well-attested by the devout and pious.

You're right. Miracles alone would not make me renounce Christianity. I would also have to be presented with counter-explanations of the Christian evidences which are more plausible in every case than the Christian ones. I have never come remotely close to that. Mostly I see a bunch of illogical and silly nonsense (many proposed alleged biblical contradictions), misinformation (e.g., Jesus never existed), and sheer ignorance (e.g., Hitler was a Christian) when it comes to the understanding of my religion.

The Bible could be a book filled with contradictions, Jesus a combination
of mythic and historic elements, and Hitler a rabid Christian and
Christianity still be true.

If that was "Christianity," I certainly wouldn't be one.

All irrelevant. Which is why I don't bother with these arguments. Perhaps this is the result of having had most of my early contact with liberal Christians.

Same as me!

It may also, of course, be that neither an inerrant Bible, a founder draped in myth, or an example of a Christian I don't like has anything to say about the basic tenets of Christianity or their truth.

If Jesus was not what He plainly appears to be in the Gospels, then rest assured that Christianity would be fundamentally changed, if not altogether undermined. Remember, we claim to be Jesus' disciples, and we believe Him to be God in the flesh. If indeed He is not, if that was merely a myth created by later zealots unconcerned with truth, then Christianity would collapse. St. Paul basically says that.

One can always simply "increase understanding OF " God and Christ instead of reevaluating the probability that there IS a God or Christ.

Possibilities are fine; demonstration quite another thing. All I've seen in the skeptical theories of Who Jesus Was, is a bunch of nonsense, far more mythological than is claimed for the Bible and orthodox Christianity.

If you begin with the prior assumption that the supernatural is as
plausible an explanation as the natural, it is virtually impossible you
will ever be persuaded to change your mind.

Both exist. Whether the supernatural has occurred in any given instance, is another question, and one where I virtually agree with you.

A fake psychic doesn't disprove all psychics. 1,000 fake psychics and a clear explanation of cold reading won't work against one amazing story. Lack of scientific evidence doesn't say anything about that one special miracle event that can't be repeated. You can believe all supernatural claims or some of them, deciding on whatever criteria you want where you will draw the line between the likely and the unlikely, once you have abandoned the means to restrict yourself
from human error.

But I haven't taken that step; nor has Christianity as a whole. This is where you are mistaken. To accept the reality of the supernatural realm is not the equivalent of being a gullible simpleton who believes every cock and bull story he hears, or believing in any fantastic thing whatever (sort of an Alice-in-Wonderland mentality). You seem to be equating Christian supernaturalist belief with the worst excesses of unsubstantiated evidence. That's unfortunate . . .

If the Mormons claim that there were elephants and steel swords in ancient America and this conflicts with our background information in archeology and zoology, I think neither one of us would be particularly impressed with an insistence that revelation is a better way to know than science so this disparity doesn't count at all against the truth of the Book of Mormon.

Of course not. My view is that science and revelation are both valid forms of knowledge and that it is as nonsensical to speak of science as superior to religion (or vice versa) as it is to speak of the superiority of an apple to an orange, or Bach to Beethoven. They exist on their own and they are both valid. And both can be irrational. Incidentally, I have used this same argument against the Mormons. :-)

If a scientific finding you accept and a revealed truth you accept conflict, however, which one is likely to be revised?

There are many apparent conflicts. If the present physical/astronomical evidence suggested, e.g., that the universe were eternal, you could be sure that the materialists would be loudly proclaiming that there was no creation. But since the evidence shows a beginning at present, we don't hear much about it. Sometimes, things get ironed out in the end. The Christian has faith that both fields of knowledge are consistent with each other. What we see in science at the present time gives no great grounds for doubt of the Christian outlook of the compatibility of science and Christianity, and indeed much support.

I'm not sure what you wish to argue: do you wish to assert that there can be no real conflict between the claims of your religion and those of science because they will always be consistent and supportive of each other,

Yes, we believe this in faith, and nothing we see currently in science has caused us to revise this opinion. On the other hand, atheists are so uncomfortable with the Big Bang theory that they are now coming up with completely fanciful scenarios of the "oscillating universe" and the "hyper-universe" so that no hint of a possible theistic creation would ever be considered for a moment.

or do you wish to assert that there can be no conflict between the
two because they deal with totally different areas and science can neither
support nor undermine belief in God?

Absolutely not. That would be the fideistic or presuppositionalistic or (I say) "irrationalist" positions. It's difficult to comprehend how you wouldn't know this about my views by now. The very fact that I state that science and religion overlap, and my use of the cosmological argument prove that I don't believe the above at all.

Those are two different approaches, I think, and you seem to shift from one to the other.

I hope I have explained why I am not shifting, but merely moving through fuzzy areas, where anyone would not be able to totally nail down the boundaries.

Would an eternal universe cast doubt on your theory that God exists? I suspect not.

It would be difficult to reconcile with creation ex nihilo.

If the Big Bang were to be overthrown, I think that deep reflection would reveal to you that the apparent conflict was not a conflict at all, and the new information is just as consistent, if not more so, with God's existence -- and the Bible.

I would have to see what the alternative is, to even comment. But clearly, materialistic scientists are every bit as reluctant to admit that anything discovered by science, no matter how remarkable and extraordinary, is consistent with a Designer God, as Christians are to espouse the converse. Both sides work within their grand theories.

Revealed truths always bow to observation and test or people end up like the poor Mormons, valiantly digging around in the Mayan ruins claiming to find evidence for great Hebrew civilizations.

This is silly; there is a third way, just outlined.

From what I can tell, your third way consists of "reconcile." Or rethink.
Or redefine. This way "being wrong" is not an option.

"Wrong" is an option, but exceedingly unlikely, just as is the case with atheists. I don't see any big difference epistemologically here, granting initial starting-points.

I would submit that atheists within science have been far more irrationally dogmatic and reactionary than Christians making claims based on science. As soon as Darwinian evolution came around it was proclaimed that there was no longer any need for a Creator, as if the theory had anything definitive to say about that. Both Darwin and T.H. Huxley expressly denied this (so would a guy like Catholic evolutionist Kenneth Miller today), yet that was not enough to stop the nonsense and over-confident claims.

I do not know of nor can I think of any "revealed truths" which have given us any knowledge we could not have gotten without the supernatural revelation -- as long as we are talking about this world.

If you mean strictly the physical world, perhaps not, although creation ex nihilo might be said to have preceded Big Bang cosmology, as agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow suggested.

As for revealed truths of spiritual realities beyond this world, they don't come in conflict with science, but they don't necessarily say anything significant or true, either.

Not if one is prepared to disbelieve them come hell or high water.

No. If Hell and high water come we'd all be up to our necks in evidence. I am prepared to believe in that case. No problem. ;)

Uploaded on 19 July 2001 by Dave Armstrong from list dialogues.

No comments: