Tom Gilson

Expelled: The Pre-Controversy (Part 2)

Yesterday we heard about claims that Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed employed deception in interviews with Intelligent Design opponents. Today, the other broiling controversy:

As for publicity, the filmmakers are apparently relying on bribery to promote their propaganda. Gotta spend money to make money, right? Schools will be “paid” according to the number of ticket stubs they collect. You’d think that a creationist propaganda movie would have other publicity options at Christian fundamentalist schools. But apparently, nothing is a sin when you’re doing the work of God. Bribery, brainwashing, crusading … it’s all for the greater good.

Aaron Elias, New University Online, University of California, Irvine

The charge is that the film’s producers are bribing Christian schools to bring their students to see it. L. Ron Brown (The Frame Problem) echoes:

Producers of the Intelligent Design propaganda film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed are trying to bribe Christian schools in America to facilitate or even force their students to go see their movie.

It’s a marketing tactic. Schools that purchase large blocks of tickets for their students will receive donations from the production company.

Does anybody remember the Golden Compass movie? Its producers tried to market it through an “Amazing Student Sweepstakes (pdf)” and by trying to persuade teachers to make the related books required reading. Sure, I raised a big complaint about that. It was not, however, that it was so horrible to try to market a film through schools, or to use monetary incentives. My complaint was just that it was wrong–on Constitutional grounds–to make required reading of materials that were so markedly hostile toward religion.

So what’s the problem with Expelled? It’s “propaganda,” says Aaron Elias, “brainwashing, crusading … ” The problem, in other words, is that Aaron Elias and L. Ron Brown disagree with the movie’s message. Which they haven’t even seen yet. What if the movie makes its case successfully? Maybe that’s the real fear.

Next in this series: How ID proponents ought to deal with the pre-controversy, and prepare for the real controversy when the movie appears.

Related:

Expelled: Then What?

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93 thoughts on “Expelled: The Pre-Controversy (Part 2)

  1. I wonder if Aaron Elias thinks this is alright?

    As for publicity, the California State Government is apparently relying on bribery to promote their propaganda. Gotta spend money to make money, right? Schools will be “paid” according to the number of lottery tickets sold.

  2. Greetings,

    I haven’t heard of the aforementioned marketing tactics for the Golden Compass, nor have I read the book or seen the movie. The only way I would side against their tactics is if there was reason to believe that there was disingenuity in the making of the movie.

    As for Expelled, it’s not simply that I disagree with its message, it’s that its message is peppered with dishonesty. Firstly, ID is not science. It is based on no evidence and makes no predictions. Moreover, Barbara Forrest *proved* in the Dover Trial that it is 100% religious in nature, when she provided text showing that the proposed ID textbook was actually a Creation Science textbook with words like “God” substituted with “Designer”, “Creationism” substituted with “Intelligent Design” and so on. They frame the issue as one of academic freedom, but that’s not what it is at all. It’s that they want their unscientific beliefs to be given special treatment. They want to call their position scientific, but not have the rules of science applied to them.

    Next, they act as if Science has it out for intelligent design creationism in particular, and that it is dogmatically bound to evolution. Both of these notions are false. Firstly, science doesn’t have it out for IDC in particular. It has it out for all ideas that are tenaciously pushed forth despite being evidentially vacuous. It’s not like the scientific community has been any kinder to astrology, alchemy, or the search for Big Foot. And science is not dogmatically bound to evolution. It just so happens that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of evolution, and so the scientific community accepts it and will not respect counters to it that are not backed up by a strong case.

    Third, from their trailor and from reviews, it seems that they are misrepresenting evolution severely. They are calling biological evolution “Darwinism”, a derogatory term which is often used in order to portray evolutionary biology as if it were some sort of dogmatic religious movement that revered Charles Darwin, to neglect the scientific research done since Darwin’s day (allowing them to address arguments made by Darwin without attending to subsequent relevant research), to imply that evolution=natural selection (neglecting the other mechanisms which have been supported by research, and the extensive research showing that evolution is a historical fact), and to link evolution to social Darwinism so as to imply that belief in evolution leads to evil, which is ridiculous because evolutionary biology is simply a scientific worldview, not a moral worldview; just as the ecologist who discovers that some animals rape each other is not saying that animals or humans *should* rape each other, the evolutionary biologist is not saying that we should practice eugenics, racism, etc. In fact, it is often the academics that are among the first to oppose such inhumane practices. And it’s clear that they flesh out some if not all of these meanings in some detail. They link evolution to Hitler and Stalin. According to at least one reviewer, they pay extremely little attention to modern evolutionary research. Casting false links to recognized evils and ignoring evidence to the contrary of the endorsed position are hallmarks of disingenuous propaganda.

    And then on top of all of this, there is the dishonesty and shady marketing tactics employed by the producers, which you have already discussed (e.g., lying to interviewees like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers about the title and intent of the documentary; bribing Christian schools to facilitate or force students to attend; attempting to censor reviewers).

    There is no fear that the movie will make its point successfully. It won’t. ID/Creationism proponents have failed to do this in the scientific community. Over 99% of the world’s biologists reject ID/C as science. Moreover, the only scientists that defend ID/C are devout religionists. Why, if evolution is so weak and ID/C so strong, are there no religious moderate, agnostic or atheist scientists speaking in favour of ID/C and against the supposed oppressive Darwinist dogma? ID/Cers have also failed to make their point in the American court system, having lost every case they’ve ever been a part of in order to get ID/C into the science classroom or to ban the teaching of evolution. They’ve also failed at making their point to many *religious* organizations. ID/C is opposed and evolution accepted by the Catholic Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregations, the United Church of Christ, and probably a long list of others.

    Tom, I don’t blame you for writing the article that you wrote. ID/Cers have aggressively marketed themselves as victims, mainsteam science (or “Big Science”) as a totalitarian regime, the evolution-Creationism debate as a scientific debate, and the evolution-Creationism issue being about academic freedom and equality for all beliefs. But all of this is propaganda. ID/Cers can’t win at the science conference, they can’t win in the court room, and they often can’t even win in the church. Disingenuous framing to the non-expert public is simply Plan D.

  3. Ron,

    It is based on no evidence and makes no predictions.

    Wrong. See here for a convenient starting point.

    Moreover, Barbara Forrest *proved* in the Dover Trial that it is 100% religious in nature, when she provided text showing that the proposed ID textbook was actually a Creation Science textbook with words like “God” substituted with “Designer”, “Creationism” substituted with “Intelligent Design” and so on.

    There’s a huge leap between premise and conclusion there. Huge.

    They are calling biological evolution “Darwinism”, a derogatory term which is often used in order to portray evolutionary biology as if it were some sort of dogmatic religious movement that revered Charles Darwin,

    How about a tu quoque for you? Isn’t “Intelligent Design Creationism” exactly the same kind of thing you charge this with being? But I could very easily find evolutionists who use the term “Darwinism” and do not consider it pejorative.

    And then on top of all of this, there is the dishonesty and shady marketing tactics employed by the producers, which you have already discussed (e.g., lying to interviewees like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers about the title and intent of the documentary; bribing Christian schools to facilitate or force students to attend; attempting to censor reviewers).

    Which I have already discussed, and presented an argument to the contrary, which you have not rebutted or refuted. You have just repeated the charge. Not very fruitful for debate, my friend.

    Moreover, the only scientists that defend ID/C are devout religionists.

    Not true.

    And above all, your opening charge that ID is dishonest is a character charge that you cannot support. You would have to not only be more successful than you were with the points you tried to make in this comment, you would also have to show that there is intentional deception. Sorry, but you haven’t done that.

    I’m not lying. I’m not being dishonest.

  4. Responding to your post on the Design Matrix Book:

    “These hints and clues he summarizes into his “Design Matrix,” four relatively independent factors to test for in nature:
    • Analogy with known instances of design [Okay, but we observe human designers designing things. We did not observe God building things. Further, there is a known mechanism by which complex biological functionality can emerge without a designer—evolution by natural selection. This scientific theory is backed by more scientific evidence than just about any other scientific idea ever developed. What piece of evidence for God does not amount to an argument from ignorance?]
    • Discontinuity with observed or means by which evolution works [Discontinuity is all over science. We don’t know everything, we haven’t observed everything. There will always be discontinuities. To claim that this is a signal for God is to make an argument from ignorance. As it stands, the fossil record, genetics, and comparative anatomy, embryology and cognition all point to evolution. There are discontinuities in the fossil record, but this guaranteed by the fact that fossils will be preserved in only some environmental conditions. Nevertheless, the fossil record as it stands and genetics, comparative anatomy, embryology and cognition all converge on evolution. The God theory accomplishes nothing but replacing one set of questions with a new question that is no smaller or less daunting than the one we started with.]
    • Rationality apparent in the design of the natural feature [Where is the rationality in having a blindspot or upside-down eyes? Or in having our wind and food pipes sharing a common entrance leading to many choking hazards? Or in the infant head barely being able to squeeze out of the vaginal canal—thereby contributing to a sizeable minority of women dying during childbirth in the absence of medical technology? Or in having lower backs that are incredibly prone to debilitating injury and pain (though its architecture is quite consistent with it having evolved from quadripeds? I could go on and on referencing the panda’s thumb, the human male prostate gland, and so on. The point is that there is plenty of bad design in nature. Such bad design, however, is nicely accounted for by evolutionary theory, which says that natural selection selects advantageous traits and modifications, which may or may not be ideal. The rational design is also accounted for be evolution by natural selection, as those organisms with enhanced functionality in a given niche are more likely to reproduce more.
    • Foresight apparent in the design of the natural feature [What foresight?]”

    “These are defined such that they can all lead to testable research hypotheses.” So every time you see something with apparent functionality, that is said to be one point for ID? Even though natural selection explains the same thing without requiring the postulation of a question that is more daunting than the one being asked, and is consistent with far more of the evidence (e.g., genetic continuity, fossil record, comparative anatomy, embryology and cognition). Every time one cannot figure out how something could have evolved in a stepwise fashion, one says that its evidence for design? This is just lazy. Why not go back to the days where we attributed illness to witchcraft (because we hadn’t thought of germs), thunder to Thor (because we hadn’t developed meteorology), and so on. Evolution is richly supported. Invoking God creates the problem of accounting for a superpower that is more complex than that which we are trying to explain. It should be the last invocation we make, not the first, as it is an argument from ignorance that leaves us in a worse epistemological position than we were in to begin with.

    Next, how was my inference regarding Barbara Forrest a leap? Creation Science is explicitly a Conservative Christian attempt to scientifically prove the Bible true. When Barbara Forrest digs up the old Creation Science text and the new ID text (“Of Pandas and People”) and finds that the content is essentially the same, but with religious terms replaced with words like “Intelligent Design” (for “Creationism”), “Designer” (for “God”), and even found “cdesign proponentists”, apparently a miss-edit that was intended to convert “creationists” to “design proponents”, what other inference is one left to draw?
    As for pejorative labeling. Intelligent Design has been shown to be a simple next phase of Creationism, intended to put Creationism in more scientific language. One piece of evidence is the aforementioned textbook. And then of course there is the case-closed evidence of the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document, which described its strategy to re-Christianize America by using the scientifically-framed Intelligent Design to open a wedge in which Christianity can be pushed through. And yes, some evolutionists do use the term Darwinism. But it’s also true that this term is being used to cast evolution in an inappropriate light (i.e., to create false impressions).

    Regarding the dishonest tactics in making the movie. Firstly, I addressed the comparison to Golden Compass by saying that if GC is a disingenuous production, then I’ll side against it without hesitation. Regarding the dishonest solicitation of Dawkins and Myers, it seems pretty clear that they were deliberate in their secrecy. They knew he was opposed to ID/C, it would have probably helped had they been clear about their intents. Had they told him that, he could have tailored what he said to the intents of the movie makers so that he could address the sorts of things that he figured they would be aiming to emphasize. At least with Dawkins—Haggard, Haggard knew who Dawkins was. Also, I haven’t seen Dawkins’ documentary. But what I will say is that I do not support disingenuity on either side of the debate. Further, it would not surprise me if Dawkins gave a real glass-half empty portrait of religion. You will not find me defending the acts of atheists simply because they’re atheists. While I definitely support people showing the sorts of negative things that religious beliefs can lead to, they should be shown in a broader context which includes the demonstrating the good that religious belief has motivated, and how good and bad behaviour can be justified by religious and secular ideas; indeed, it often seems that particular belief systems are used to justify actions that are motivated by something else (e.g., economic/political struggles).
    Lastly, regarding atheist scientists supporting ID. At most, you have presented evidence that there are 2 atheist scientists who support ID as a science. And one of them (Klone) does not provide any info (that I saw) on him being a scientist in a relevant field. I’ve bookmarked the blog and will read it in the near future. But in the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me for being unimpressed by the finding of 2 *potential* atheist IDist scientists when the argumentation I’ve heard for and against ID and the distribution of scientists for and against it are so staunchly opposed to the view of ID as being a science and as being a real contender.

    Lastly, there is genuine evidence for dishonesty in the ID/C movement. Firstly, the points being made day in and day out by ID/Cers have been addressed by evolutionists ad nauseum for years now. Yet ID/C spokes people and writers have continued to make the same rebutted points over and over again to fresh audiences who are likely to be unfamiliar with the evolutionist rebuttals. Then there’s the aforementioned editing of the Creation text, which shows quite clearly that ID is a repacking of Christian Creationism, something that the IDists denied, instead claiming that ID is distinct from Creationism and is a genuine nonreligious scientific pursuit.

  5. I think you might want to read Mike Gene’s book, Ron, if you want answers to your questions about it. There’s a reason he wrote it into a book rather than a blog.

    How was your inference regarding Barbara Forrest a leap? Here is the form of your argument:
    1. There is evidence that Pandas has creationist roots.
    2. Therefore all of ID is “100% religious in nature.”

    I truly hope you can see that this constitutes a logical leap.

    The rest of your post constitutes a list of common complaints against ID that I will not be taking time to address now. I’ve done most of it before (see the links here).

    You say that because ID people won’t accept the evolutionist line, we’re being dishonest. I don’t think there’s a lot of mileage for you to gain by pointing by pointing out we disagree, however. After all, we’re not exactly trying to hide the fact.

  6. “I think you might want to read Mike Gene’s book, Ron, if you want answers to your questions about it. There’s a reason he wrote it into a book rather than a blog.” [Does this translate into “I am not able to rebut your points?” It seems like an evasion.]

    “How was your inference regarding Barbara Forrest a leap? Here is the form of your argument:
    1. There is evidence that Pandas has creationist roots.
    2. Therefore all of ID is “100% religious in nature.”” [Pandas was the book being endorsed by the leaders of the ID movement. The leaders of the ID movement, as well as all of its followers (save perhaps a couple) are Conservative Christians. The roots of ID as a whole is known to have Conservative Christian Creationist roots, as is evidenced by the DI’s Wedge Document and the pioneer of ID, (first name) Johnson. Pandas as Conservative Christian Creationist roots, and so does ID as a whole. It may be possible to be an deist IDist, but one could probably count the number of these individuals in the international scientific community with one’s appendages]

    “The rest of your post constitutes a list of common complaints against ID that I will not be taking time to address now. I’ve done most of it before (see the links here).” [I may check out these links, but I’m highly doubtful that I’ll be impressed if I do. And it’s not because of any bias. If the alphas of the ID community cannot convince even 1% of biologists, if they’re getting trounced in court cases with Conservative and Christian judges (e.g., John Jones, Dover Trial), and they also fail to convince a number of major religious organizations, then I strongly doubt that you will be able to pull it off. If you can, then you should become the DI’s next top spokesperson.

    “You say that because ID people won’t accept the evolutionist line, we’re being dishonest. I don’t think there’s a lot of mileage for you to gain by pointing by pointing out we disagree, however. After all, we’re not exactly trying to hide the fact.” IDists regularly make claims that are plainly indefensible. For example, they make the irreducible complexity argument constantly, saying that one cannot evolve a complex functioning system that requires all of its parts to be in place in order for the collective to be functional because evolution is a gradual stepwise process that does not have foresight. Despite being addressed on this numerous times, they continue to make this argument even though it easily falls apart. The individual parts of a complex system need not only be useful in their role in that system. Many of them could have originally evolved for an unrelated function, but then became part of the apparatus upon which natural selection could build off of. This is very simple and IDists have heard it many many times, and yet to my knowledge they are continuing to make the IR argument. Even Stephen Colbert mockingly alluded to this when Michael Behe was on the Colbert Report.

  7. I referred you to Mike Gene’s book because you were disagreeing with his conclusions based on bullet points I listed in a review of the book. It seems to me that if you’re going to disagree with a book, you would be well advised to read it first. Now of course in this venue I don’t want to–and cannot–repeat all of what he wrote, and make his case all over again. It’s a good book, moving systematically through his position from beginning to end. I don’t intend to do that all over again here. It’s not an evasion, it’s just a statement of fact.

    Your response to what I wrote about the Barbara Forrest argument helps some in covering the logical ground you leapt over earlier. I think it’s fair to say that the motivational roots of ID are largely religious, which I think is your point. You’re probably aware of the genetic fallacy, which is to assume that a proposition is wrong because the source is (in your mind) discredited. It’s also an error to assume that because something has religious motivational roots, it’s “100% religious in nature.” Many of the greatest scientists in history were motivated by their expressed desire to understand how God worked to create the natural world. Their motivational roots were Christian, their science resulted in things like the laws of thermodynamics. (Are the laws of thermodynamics 100% religious in nature?) I dealt with all this analytically here, which I’ve invited you previously to read.

    I may check out these links, but I’m highly doubtful that I’ll be impressed if I do. And it’s not because of any bias. If the alphas of the ID community cannot convince even 1% of biologists, if they’re getting trounced in court cases with Conservative and Christian judges (e.g., John Jones, Dover Trial), and they also fail to convince a number of major religious organizations, then I strongly doubt that you will be able to pull it off. If you can, then you should become the DI’s next top spokesperson.

    I’m just a contributor to a discussion. Those links are about the relationship of ID to religion and philosophy, which is my area of specialty. I’m not trying to prove IC or to show that ID is scientifically correct; I’m trying to correct false beliefs about how it does or ought to relate to religion and philosophy. (I also work in the area of correcting false media conceptions regarding ID, which is what this series is about.)

    Now, you know how a blog is–sometimes you pick up any topic that comes by and you discuss it, and sometimes you develop your own topic. The posts I’ve pointed you toward–especially the second and third ones there–are some of those where I’ve developed my own topic. I wrote these because I did not think anyone else had addressed these particular questions with enough clarity in a relatively short form. If you read there, you’ll find a clear yet brief presentation of the proper relation between ID, religion and philosophy. If you don’t read there, then I conclude you’re not really in this particular discussion to learn.

    IC is still on the table for discussion, in my opinion. Your conclusion of dishonesty among those who agree with that is a) really judgmental, and b) a false logical leap again. You and the Judge may disagree with IC and with everything else we ID proponents stand for, but that doesn’t make us dishonest. It might make us wrong, but it doesn’t make us liars. Your disagreeing with IC might in the end make you wrong–but it doesn’t make you dishonest, either.

    Anyway, if you’re unwilling to explore this by looking at a few other sources on the web, then I’m not willing to continue this dialogue any further here. Your mind is made up, your judgmentalism is showing through clearly, and you won’t read other analysis. You think I’m being evasive, and I assure you I’m not. This does not make for fruitful discussion of the kind I would want to continue in.

  8. I think the bottom line is that until ID can offer a theory that meets the standards of the scientific community and cannot be easily disproved there is no chance that ID will be considered anything other than a religious idea. All attempts to bolster ID to the level of science through other methods are just a waste of time and money and make ID look bad.

    Tom, your intense support of ID confuses me. I think of you as an intelligent person, but when I read the DI info or some of the other links you’ve provided, I see gaping holes and propaganda. I don’t understand why you don’t see this.

  9. Hi OS,
    Could you describe the nature of Tom’s intense support for ID?

    Why would it surprise a relativist who doesn’t believe in the accessibility of truth and doesn’t think truth content is important to find that an intelligent person does not see a particular situation the same way as she does?

  10. Another argument for the religiousness of ID: Except for maybe a couple of potential exceptions, everyone who supports ID seems to be devoutly religious. ID is religious in its roots, and its predictions are either vague (e.g., does it look like design?), alternatively explained by an established theory which doesn’t depend on postulating a God which represents an epistemological problem as big or bigger than the problems we’re already dealing with (e.g., natural selection can explain functional complexity, or design), or dependent on (often willful) ignorance of straight-forward and well-known counterarguments (e.g., the case of irreducible complexity). ID depends on looking for design (which can be accounted for nicely by natural selection) and looking for human ignorance (e.g., things that can’t be explained by current theory). As it stands, ID is very, very weak, as is attested by the fact that for all intents and purposes the entire scientific community rejects (with probably well over 99% of the exceptions being strongly religious) as does the US court system and many major religious organizations. It seems pretty likely, then, that when a proposed theory is this weak, and pretty much everyone in the know rejects it, and the only people who support it (save a few exceptions) are highly religious, that religion is probably playing a large role in the life of the proposed theory. One could say that the designer need not be of any of our religions. Indeed, if there is a designer, there is good reason to believe that it has nothing to do with any of our Gods. But the fact that the theory is so devoid of evidence or predictions (i.e., devoid of any scientific content) and that those who believe it are essentially always highly religious suggests this deist speculation has little if anything to do with why the idea is being endorsed. If a deistic designer was a reasonable scientific speculation, there should be plenty of religious moderate, agnostic and atheist scientists standing up for this possibility. Who knows, maybe in 20 years there will be. But in the meantime, I hardly see it as being responsible for nonscientists like us to be acting as if this is a valid scientific idea. And given your clear motivation to believe in a God, it’s pretty obvious that you have clear non-scientific drive to support ID; in your blog subname you assert that Christianity is flat out true.

    In response to your final statement, it seems like you’re the one who is biased. Not me. When over 99% of the world’s recognized top experts on biology are saying that ID is not science and baseless, and those that dissent are effectively always highly religious, and when the arguments presented for design depend on arguments from ignorance, ignorance of natural selection, and often willful ignorance of well-known rebuttals to IC, and when ID proponents can’t convince courtrooms or liberal churches, for a nonscientist religionist to still be confident that ID has value seems very indicative of a motivation to believe, rather than a motivation to be honest.

  11. Ron is trying his best to say that anything with (largely) religious roots/motivations is automatically not scientific. As Tom pointed out, Ron is falling for a logical fallacy and history has proven Ron wrong time and time again.

    If a deistic designer was a reasonable scientific speculation, there should be plenty of religious moderate, agnostic and atheist scientists standing up for this possibility. Who knows, maybe in 20 years there will be. But in the meantime, I hardly see it as being responsible for nonscientists like us to be acting as if this is a valid scientific idea.

    If ID is pure religion then how will 20 years change the mind of the scientific community? Is the validity of ID subject to a popularity contest?

  12. I’d like a bit of clarification here.

    Do IDers believe Neo-Darwinian evolution operates parallel to a designer that interferes occasionally in biological history?

    Or do they believe in a different sort of evolution that requires a designer’s interference?

  13. Hi Econ,
    ID postulates that chance and necessity are not sufficient to account for what we observe in nature. ID, as such, does not require “interference”, whether occasional or ongoing. As MikeGene’s FL suggests, ND could have brought designed life to its current state if the first life was sufficiently equipped, and as Mike Behe suggests, all of the design of the universe (life included – maybe right to the levels of family or genus) could have been in place since its inception.

  14. “Ron is trying his best to say that anything with (largely) religious roots/motivations is automatically not scientific. [Not true. Similarly, I am not against ideas simply because they come from religion. I practice mindfulness meditation, a creation of Eastern traditions, everyday. Why? I first started meditating after reading of numerous studies in psychology and medicine showing numerous health benefits of meditation.]

    SteveK quoted me on this: “If a deistic designer was a reasonable scientific speculation, there should be plenty of religious moderate, agnostic and atheist scientists standing up for this possibility. Who knows, maybe in 20 years there will be. But in the meantime, I hardly see it as being responsible for nonscientists like us to be acting as if this is a valid scientific idea.”

    To which Steve responded “If ID is pure religion then how will 20 years change the mind of the scientific community? Is the validity of ID subject to a popularity contest?” [It’s ironic that you ask if the validity of ID is a popularity contest, because this reflects the tactics used by ID leaders. Since they have failed and continue to fail in garnering support in the scientific community, the court room and all but the most hard-line churches, they are now trying to turning more and more to the non-expert literalist Christian general populace to gain support for ID. There’s a bit more irony in that in defences of religion, an argument for religion that is somewhat common is reference to the popularity religious belief—“all these people believe in the Christian God, are you saying the grand majority of all the humans who have ever lived are/were unreasonable with respect to God?”.

    Next, 20 years could make a difference if there is any actual and significant academically meritorious content in ID. If such content exists, then IDers can use this 20 year period to demonstrate it and win a few more minds over to their side—which hopefully won’t just be more fundamentalists. Consider again mindfulness meditation. In the last 20 years the acceptance of meditation as a genuinely valid secular practice has increased dramatically as a consequence of a rapidly expanding body of reserach on it and popularization of the findings.]

  15. Ron,

    Next, 20 years could make a difference if there is any actual and significant academically meritorious content in ID. If such content exists, then IDers can use this 20 year period to demonstrate it and win a few more minds over to their side

    I agree. I’m taking a wait and see approach to this. I’m not convinced ID has the scientific ‘legs’ to go the distance, but I also don’t want to poison the well, as so many of the critics are trying to do with their pejoratives.

    NOTE: Use the ‘blockquote’ tag when quoting other people. Makes it easier to read.

  16. SteveK:

    Where is the blockquote button?

    The wait and see approach is a very good one to take. But my problem with ID is that the well is already poisoned because the people who have built ID have built it on a framework replete with dishonesty. They claim that it is a secular science program, but it is a well-documented adaptation of Creationism with the specific purpose of forwarding Conservative Christianity. Its supporters constantly misrepresent evolutionary biology and science as a whole, and they willfully take advantage of the scientific ignorance of the general public (note: this is not an insult to the public; we can’t all be experts on everything) in order to make arguments that seem impressive to the uninformed but are laughable to over 99% of people in biology and to paint the scientific community as oppressive totalitarian dogmatists.

    ID is not an honest or a scientific intellectual movement. Even the founder of ID, (something) Johnson, has admitted that it has not worked out a scientific theory. It is, at its core, an argument from ignorance. Even if we found something that appears that it could not have possibly been a product of natural processes, it hardly makes sense to do anything but to say that there *might* be a Creator. It is no basis for having confidence in there being a Creator, as the existence of a Creator capable of creating that which *seems* unexplainable by naturalistic explanation can hardly be stated to be a less likely occurence than a supposed super-being capable of creating it and everything else.

  17. Ron,

    It seems pretty likely, then, that when a proposed theory is this weak, and pretty much everyone in the know rejects it, and the only people who support it (save a few exceptions) are highly religious, that religion is probably playing a large role in the life of the proposed theory.

    I can accept that, with the proper caveats against the genetic fallacy. I also think that metaphysical views are playing a large role in evolutionary theory. A whole lot of people agree with Provine that “we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.”

    And yet I also think that metaphysics and religion, responsibly pursued, can supply actual knowledge that can cross disciplines, so it’s not necessarily an epistemic sin to let them influence science.

    Look, maybe you haven’t seen me write this before, but I have: I don’t know if ID will ever successfully make its scientific case. I know plenty of people who think it already has, and plenty more who are convinced it never will. My stake in this, and my contribution to the discussion, is this: ID has been really, seriously misrepresented in both the popular and academic media. ID proponents have been seriously misrepresented. ID has been largely shut down as a result. I can’t see a single good reason why ID-related research should not proceed, but a whole lot of people are standing against it.

    And before you stand up and shout, “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ID-RELATED RESEARCH BECAUSE IT ISN’T A SCIENCE!!” read Mike Gene’s book. He actually takes the position that ID is not ready to be called a science. And then he outlines a strong research agenda for it.

  18. Ron, please be advised that this is intended to be a friendly discussion place. There are discussion policies above the comment box. But there is also this: I would hope to maintain the kind of conversation here that a good group of interested people would want to maintain around a table at Starbucks. When one of the conversants continually calls me dishonest, I don’t generally consider that a friendly Starbucks kind of group. You are making judgments on others’ internal motivations (which are not accessible to you), discounting most of their public statements, and making yourself the arbiter of their ethics.

    How about if you just stick to the issues instead, please?

  19. Tom:

    Clarification: I’ve never intended to refer to you as dishonest. I’m referring to the leaders of the ID movement and the roots of the movement as established by these leaders.

    As for the divine foot in the door, there are good reasons for not allowing it in without strong evidence for it. Firstly, it is often a science-stopping cop-out. Secondly, it is often if not always self-defeating as it consitutes explaining an observed poorly understood phenomenon with a supernatural phenomenon which is equally and often more complex and mysterious than the thing being explained.

    How many things have been explained by reference to Gods or spirits or demons only later to be naturalized? Illness and disease, thunder, sun, rain, crop success/failure, natural disasters, child birth and related complications, various forms of psychosis, and so on.

    If one is to postulate a supernatural factor in science, I don’t think it’s enough to simply refer to a poorly understood phenomenon or the appearance of intentionality (when such apparent design has already been successfully accounted for by natural selection, which along with the whole of evolution is highly supported and allows for the complexity we see without postulating an unseen unexplained super-force and the consequent super-questions).

    In my experience arguments for God tend to fall into one or more of the following categories of fallacious reasoning. In order for me personally to give a theistic argument the time of day, it has to stand outside of these pitfalls.

    1. Arguments from ignorance.

    2. Arguments from consensus (if all these people believe in it, it’s gotta be a good idea).

    3. Arguments from authority (this often overlaps with arguments from consensus)

    4. Arguments from the need for morality (“we need an objective morality”, or “where else would morals come from?”; There is no evidence for there being an objective morality that transcends humanity; there have been perfectly reasonable accounts for moral cognition from the cognitive sciences and evolutionary biology; a big set of factors include mirror neurons, kin selection, and the finding of apparent moral cognition in a variety of species ranging from mice to primates)

    5. Arguments from cherry-picked scripture

    6. Arguments from personal religious experience (Problems with this include: People of all religious traditions have these experiences; they can’t all be correct; Now one may say that there could very well be a God, and each religion presents a path to that God. But users of psychedelic drugs and subjects of Laurentian University professor Michael Persinger’s research using the “God Helmet” have been led to feel a sort of external agentive presence as a function of having their brain waves altered; moreover, secular meditators have also experienced significantly altered states of consciousness which have many of the qualities often described in religious experiences–e.g., decreased sense of separation of self from other people and from the universe, decreased self-consciousness, insight, etc.)

    7. Misunderstandings of evolutionary biology or other sciences

    8. Mischaracterization of atheism as a religion in and of itself, containing its own dogmatism. (Firstly, while it would be dogmatic and intellectually unjustified for one to refuse the possibility that there could be a God (any God), the position of agnostic atheism (my position, btw) involves no dogmatism or faith. It’s simply a lack of belief in a God until presented with compelling evidence. There is no claim that a God doesn’t exist, just that at present it seems unreasonable to believe that one does exist. I should also say that even if atheism were just another dogmatism, it wouldn’t make any other religion any more true).

  20. How about this theistic argument?

    1. Argument from the inference to the best explanation.

    BTW, I don’t consider ‘God did it’ as a scientific explanation.

  21. Steve: Can you go into how the Christian God is the beste explanation? Or, if that doesn’t suit you, how any other God (e.g., Allah) is the best explanation? Or, if neither of these suit you, how an unknown intelligent designer is the best explanation (though, if stance was taken, you would have to concede any claims to transcendent moral authority of any world religion).

  22. Ron,
    If we stick to explaining the events surrounding Jesus and the resurrection – which Christianity cannot do without – then the inference to the best explanation is Jesus is who he says he is – God incarnate.

    I’m not saying there are no naturalistic explanations for what occured (there are many) but these explanations require arguments from ignorance or explanations that sound like 9/11 conspiracy theories because they lack any evidence to support them. All this to say that naturalistic explanations fall short compared to the Christian explanation.

  23. So you’re basically starting from a position of trust. Trusting that the story that Jesus supposedly existed and rose from the dead is true. Well, if you’re going to just trust this extreme 2000 year old claim, then we can’t even talk, really. As far as you’re concerned, the matter is already solved. The stories aren’t lies, fairy tales, full of embellishment, or based on hallucination (note: I have read in numerous places that psychedelic substances were readily available in the place and time of Biblical figures (e.g., in the acacia tree; moreover, a variety of the supposed events (e.g., the burning bush) display many of the hallmarks of hallucinations produced by psychedelics). Jesus really did rise from the dead.

    I should point out that there are people in India today who view a current day guru as a messiah because he has performed supposed “miracles” in front of millions of them in this day in age. He also claims to have been born of a virgin (a claim that is pretty common actually among those claiming to be divine).

    And what arguments from ignorance are naturalistic theories dependent on? One of the first principles of science is to assume ignorance and simply follow the evidence where it goes and have confidence in beliefs to the degree that the evidence attests. The willingness to accept ignorance and have beliefs in accordance with evidence is a pretty strong deterrent against upholding arguments from ignorance.

  24. Ron,

    So you’re basically starting from a position of trust.

    No. I’m starting from the possibility that the reports might be true and then looking at the evidence.

    As far as you’re concerned, the matter is already solved.

    As I said, I didn’t start with this conclusion. I arrived at it via inference to the best explanation.

    The stories aren’t lies, fairy tales, full of embellishment, or based on hallucination (note: I have read in numerous places that psychedelic substances were readily available in the place and time of Biblical figures (e.g., in the acacia tree; moreover, a variety of the supposed events (e.g., the burning bush) display many of the hallmarks of hallucinations produced by psychedelics). Jesus really did rise from the dead.

    You are arguing without facts to support your claims. What facts support the hallucination theory in this specific case besides the fact that hallucinogens were available at the time?

    I should point out that there are people in India today who view a current day guru as a messiah because he has performed supposed “miracles” in front of millions of them in this day in age. He also claims to have been born of a virgin (a claim that is pretty common actually among those claiming to be divine).

    Get specific. I’d like to know more about these people and claims. Until then I withold judgement.

  25. I still don’t understand how Christianity is the best explanation? Why not Islam? Or Hinduism? Or none of the above? Why not just say that you do not know? Or why not do what I do, and say that you do not know, and the evidence provided by those who claim to know (e.g., Christians, Muslims) appears to be quite insufficient with regard to the claim being made.

    As for the reality of hallucinogenic use: Scientists have shown that hallucinogens can produce spiritual experiences. At least one scientist has found great overlap between the statements of people like Moses and those of other people in history that have used these drugs. See http://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/moses-was-very-probably-high-on-psychedelic-drugs-says-cognitive-psychologist/.
    Now, of course, none of this proves that psychedelics are the root of the original statements. But they provide a ready alternative explanation for the origination of the beliefs that is based on the effects of drugs known to be readily available in the area. This explanation seems to be far more plausible than such ideas as burning bushes, virgin births, 6 day creation and adam and eve, and so forth.

    In the next day or two or three, I’ll post info on the Indian guru. I’ve been meaning to do a blog entry on him anyway, so I’ll kill 2 birds with one stone. If you want to look him up in advance though, part of his name includes “Sai Baba”. So you could google or wikipedia “Sai Baba Indian guru messiah” or soemthing like that and find plenty. Otherwise, sit tight and I’ll post on him soon enough.

  26. Ron,

    I still don’t understand how Christianity is the best explanation? Why not Islam? Or Hinduism? Or none of the above?

    The best explanation for what, the resurrection? How could Islam or Hinduism explain the resurrection of Jesus?

    Why not just say that you do not know?

    I say that a lot. I don’t say it in the case of the resurrection because I think the evidence tips the scale past the point of not knowing. I’m not dogmatically certain, but I’m also not agnostic.

    As for the reality of hallucinogenic use: Scientists have shown that hallucinogens can produce spiritual experiences.

    This has nothing to do with the evidence in this specific situation. Hallucinogens produce irrational behavior so can I say all irrational moments are caused by hallucinogens? Obviously not. You can’t paint with such a broad brush.

    On the other hand modern science has repeatedly and empirically shown that a living being can never be created without input from an intelligent source somewhere along the causal chain of events, therefore some form of ID is the best explanation for life. Right?

  27. SteveK, are you sure you meant what you wrote above? Science has not shown that a(ny) living being (a squid?) can’t be created with an intelligent source. Squid are created from other squid. The ones I’ve talked to don’t seem particularly intelligent. ; ) Science surely hasn’t shown that God, for instance, is ultimately at the end of that chain of creation. So I don’t get what you mean.

  28. Interesting turn here. Ron, the hallucinogen theory is a grasping at straws, in view of what it’s intended to explain. What needs explaining is not “a spiritual experience.” It’s a testimony shared by hundreds of people regarding actual experiences they had in common. They stuck with this testimony, many of them, to the very death. Hallucinogens won’t produce that kind of belief or behavior.

    Steve is doing a great job of responding to much of what you’ve said. I want to pick up on your “argument from a need for morality.” That’s not a theistic argument, actually. Theism begins with the fact of morality when making this argument. There is ample evidence of shared morality throughout times and cultures–not universally agreed, obviously, but shared enough so that we can see that morality is a fact of human existence.

    That much, evolution can explain as well as theism (or at least, many claim that it can, and for my purposes here there’s no need to dispute it at this point). What evolution cannot explain is how we can apply the terms “right” and “wrong” in their normal meanings to actions. Evolution knows nothing of right and wrong; it only knows successful and unsuccessful.

    No materialist account of origins can explain how right and wrong got introduced into our experience, except (possibly, by some accounts) by turning the words into proxies for successful/unsuccessful. (Some culture developed a taboo against incest, it was more reproductively successful, evolution selected favorably for that group, so the taboo spread, the taboo turned into some kind of sense of wrong….) This distorts the terms badly, however, for we all know of people who are obviously successful yet are doing wrong, or unsuccessful (in Darwinian terms) yet are doing right. We all know that right and successful are not synonyms, yet evolutionary theory pretty much has to equate them on some level.

    This is (very briefly) a more accurate way to view the theistic moral argument. To summarize: for those who hold that “right” and “wrong” have actual meaning according to their normal usage and sense, materialist accounts of origins are insufficient.

  29. Paul

    SteveK, are you sure you meant what you wrote above?

    I probably should have said it differently. Something like: modern science has repeatedly shown that life can never come from non-life without another life source involved in the process, therefore some form of ID is the best explanation for the first life on earth.

    My point in all of this was to use Ron’s “Scientists have shown that…” argument against him in the case of ID.

  30. Tom, evolution produced organisms that can assign spoken sounds to refer to certain actions. Evolution doesn’t have to know about right and wrong. Also, remember that right and wrong in this scenario don’t have to be absolutes, they only need to be emphasized, to a greater or lesser degree, through evolution. And when evolution selects something, it’s doesn’t have to do it to an absolute, %100 extent.

  31. SteveK and Tom:

    I have just begun reading of Sathya Sai Baba. Before you continue to be so confident in supposed testimonies of supposed ascension of a supposed Jesus Christ, you should consider that there are millions of people *today* who believe that Sathya Sai Baba is devine, claiming that they have witnessed him perform a wide range of miracles. Sai Baba followers are greater in number, are contemporary, rather than written of years after Christ, and are still alive today.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sathya_Sai_Baba

    On morality: There is no evidence of an objective morality that transcends humanity. That people share many moral elements does not mean that there is an objective morality that transcends us. There is a perfectly reasonable cognitive evolutionary basis for common moral sentiments among humanity. The primary basis is the ability for empathy–to vicariously sympathize with or experience the feelings of others. This seems to be based on mirror neurons, which are neurons that fire both when one is doing, intending or experiencing something, *and* when one observes another cognitive agent of one’s species and of a certain range of other species doing, intending, or experiencing something. When these mirror neurons fire, they set of a cascade of neural firing which activates not just an understanding of the intention, experience or action but also the associated emotional cognitive neurological reactions. Hence, we can feel aversion to another’s fear, pain, and so on. Hence, it is far easier for us to tolerate inhumane treatment when we can’t see it rather than when it’s right in front of us. Hence, men often feel squeamish when they see another man kicked in the groin. Hence, it is easier to kill with a gun from 500 feet away than point blank. Mirror neurons are well-established in research in primates, song birds, humans, and a wide variety of other species. They appear to be highly relevant in giving rise to various social aspects of cognition, such as language acquisition, theory of mind, social reasoning, and moral cognition. Final point: just as most of us see killing as wrong, most of us see stop signs as red; killing need not be objectively wrong, and stop signs need not be objectively red; we may simply have evolved by an unintelligent but nonrandom process of selection to process and reflect upon information in certain ways.

    Regarding the law of biogenesis, the law written of by Pasteur refers to the sudden emergence of complex life out of nowhere. It says nothing about extremely simple life coming from increasingly complex carbon-based structures. And what is more unlikely, an extremely rudimentary form of single-celled life coming from increasingly complex carbon agregates, or an all-powerful, all-knowing super-being capable of basicaclly (if not absolutely) anything just being there?

    The God argument reminds me of the humunculus in cognitive science. Some time ago, when asked how the mind works some people would say something to the effect of: “well, inside of each of our heads is a little man who sees what the eyes project onto the retina, hears what the ears present on internal speakers, and so on for all the senses; the little man processes the information and makes decisions based on how to act”. The next question would be, how does the little man’s mind work? To which the reply would be a repetition of the explanation for the original mind, which would be the second iteration of an infinite regress. The God argument is remarkably similar to this. We ask how did the universe get here, why is it the way that it is, is there right and wrong and what is right and wrong, what happens after death, and so forth, and then someone tells us about this or that God. Have we come any further? Not really. We’ve just repackaged all the mysteries into a big nebulous catch-all called God which we will defend using reason wherever possible, and when that fails says something like “it’s a matter of faith” and/or “God’s will is unknowable or mysterious”.

    Christians are not alone in believing remarkable claims made about the divinity of their supernatural leader. Christianity is not the first or the last or the only contemporary set of supernatural beliefs undergirded by claims of witnessed miracles. They are also not alone in their inability to present anything close to concrete evidence for their beliefs, or to get around the charge of argument from and repackaging of ignorance.

  32. Ron, this mirror neurons information doesn’t begin to address what I said about the meaning of right and wrong earlier. Hope you caught that. Your account here shows how a sense of right and wrong might have developed in the absence of any actual right and wrong. This is a discussion several of us have had on this blog many times. My conclusion has always been, if you deny the existence of actual right and wrong then you can hold to whatever evolutionary theory you choose. But when you use the words “right” and “wrong,” remember you’ve changed their meaning. And though this doesn’t necessarily apply in your mind, it does in mine: it would be wrong for you not to inform your listener that you have changed the meaning thus.

    In other words, the moral argument is not a proof of God, nor intended to be. It is instead an indicator of what you must give up in order to take the conclusion you do. You must give up the normal sense of right and wrong; you must give up their actual realities. And if someone punches you in the nose or rapes your wife and you say “that’s wrong!” you’re really saying, “that’s not in accord with what has been evolutionarily successful for our species!”

    I’ll speak to Sathya Sai Baba in a later comment.

  33. Ron,
    This is the first time I have heard of Sathya Sai Baba. Interesting. His official website has this to say.

    Sathya Sai Baba is a highly revered spiritual leader and world teacher, whose life and message are inspiring millions of people throughout the world to turn God-ward and to lead more purposeful and moral lives.

    First observation is Sathya doesn’t claim to be God so I have no reason to think he is on an equal plane with Jesus.

    Yet, he is not seeking to start a new religion. Nor does he wish to direct followers to any particular religion. Rather, he urges us to continue to follow the religion of our choice and/or upbringing.

    Pluralism….ugh. Sathya wants you to follow his teachings AND the teachings of your own religion – at the same time. Sathya is saying that multiple realities exist. He says you need to be forgiven for your sins AND you don’t. In fact sin is both real and imaginary, Jesus is both God and not God, God exists and he doesn’t. As I said, ugh.

    My reality (one of several) says Sathya is incorrect.

  34. BTW, on the moral argument: I said it’s not a proof for God but an indicator of what one gives up by rejecting theism. On that ground, though it’s not proof, it certainly is evidence in favor of theism. It weighs heavily, in my considered opinion, because the moral reality seems to be undeniable.

  35. Tom, I don’t really disagree with you about the changed meaning of the words right and wrong, but with one caveat. A believer in evolutionary morality would still tend to act much of the time *as if* right and wrong were absolute, even though, upon reflection, morality isn’t absolute. It’s like we know that the earth circles the sun even though it sure appears to us that the sun circles the earth, and we even talk about it in that fashion (“when the sun comes up,” etc.) Evolutionary morality holds that it can seem to a person like their morality is absolute, and they can discuss it in those terms, even if it isn’t.

  36. Hi Paul,
    That’s an interesting take.
    Substitute rationality for morality, as is necessarily appropriate given your worldview, and you argue against rationality.
    Which, of course, argues against your worldview.
    Enter the argument from reason.

  37. Hi Econ,
    By the way, I was just running through some of my notes and thought this might interest you from Michael Behe’s Edge Of Evolution:

    But the assumption that design unavoidably requires “interference” rests mostly on a lack of imagination. There’s no reason that the extended fine-tuning view I am presenting here necessarily requires active meddling with nature any more than the fine-tuning of theistic evolution does. One can think the universe is finely tuned to any degree and still conceive that “the universe [originated] by a single creative act” and underwent “its natural development by laws implanted in it”. One simply has to envision that the agent who caused the universe was able to specify from the start not only laws but much more.

    page 231, EoE

    Those who worry about “interference” should relax. The purposeful design of life to any degree is easily compatible with the idea that, after its initiation, the universe unfolded exclusively by the intended playing out of natural laws. The design of life is also fully compatible with the idea of universal common descent, one important facet of Darwin’s theory. What the purposeful design of life is not compatible with, however, is Darwin’s proposed mechanism of evolution – random variation and natural selection – which sought to explain the development of life explicitly without recourse to guidance or planning by anyone or anything at any time.
    page 232

    Hope this is somewhat clarifying for you.

  38. Tom:

    Regarding the right and wrong thing. As I said earlier, there is absolutely no evidence of an objective right and wrong. There is no evidence of a right and wrong over and above human opinions on the matter. However, there is a compelling cognitive evolutionary account for why we feel that there is.

    That said, I am not advocating for a world devoid of moral considerations, nor am I saying that there is no basis for moral considerations. A cornerstone of a society that is safe and secure is one that is structured so as to promote the safety and security of individuals. Thus, there are pragmatic bases for the siding against such things as violence, theft, lying, and the like (barring certain exceptions, which will revolve around a core concern of a respect for human well-being, freedom from unnecessary and unwarranted suffering, and autonomy).

    We have the cognitive abilities of empathy and compassion, and advanced reasoning skills. When raised in a context that encourages us to respect the autonomy and feelings of others, we are quite able to live moral lives—something that I am not saying that you disagree with. Lack of belief in God or in an objective moral standard does not negate this.

  39. SteveK: Thanks for presenting that info on Sai Baba. As I said, I hadn’t really read of him yet, I’d just heard of him being compared to Jesus. I’ll look into Sai Baba more. I’m currently beginning to read on the resurrection.

  40. Regarding the right and wrong thing. As I said earlier, there is absolutely no evidence of an objective right and wrong. There is no evidence of a right and wrong over and above human opinions on the matter

    No evidence except for the fact that virtually all of the billions of people that have lived in history have considered it to be true.

    So, what’s a little argumentum ad populum among friends? Or maybe it’s not just an argumentem ad populum after all. Maybe there’s a reality there that we all recognize on a very basic level?

    Maybe the question is, “what counts as evidence?” If the testimony of billions of people doesn’t count as evidence, then what does? Does it have to be weighed, measured, counted, photographed to be evidence?

    However, there is a compelling cognitive evolutionary account for why we feel that there is.

    There are a whole lot of conflicting evidence-free just-so suppositions for how this might have evolutionary roots. The only evidence I’ve seen for it is the presupposition that, because evolution is taken to be the whole explanation of our origins, therefore one of these conflicting just-so suppositions must be right.

    And I challenge you to find me one solid piece of evidence of any other nature: some record in pre-history of actual moral decision-making and its outcomes, for example.

    Again there’s the key question: what counts as evidence, anyway? If you’re going to call yours a scientifically demonstrated position, how about something physical to observe in association with it?

  41. Tom:

    How does popularity among humans count as evidence for something over and above humanity? Right now Islam is on pace to become the world’s most populace religion. Does that mean that Islam’s truth value is increasing?

    What we’re talking about here is objective morality that transcends humanity. You can’t look to human opinion and say that it counts as evidence for something over and above humanity. Just because all sighted non-colour-blind humans see the sky as blue doesn’t mean that the sky is objectively blue.

    Next, I need not posit an evolutionary just-so account. Here are the facts. 1) We have mirror neurons that respond not just when we intend, experience or do something, but when we witnesss others intend, experience or do it; 2) mirror neurons have been found in species ranging from song birds to chimps to humans; 3) apparently moral behaviour as well as various other behaviours indicating awareness of social relations have been found in mice, dogs, chimps, and other species. Some examples of findings in nonhuman species:

    i) animals have been shown to be willing to fore-go benefits (e.g., food) in order to stop another animal who they have no relationship with from being subject to pain. This is done by applying electric shock to the stranger animal each time the other animal endulges in eating. Soon enough the animal to which food is available will stop eating.

    ii) various primate species have been shown to be able to keep track of various types of social relationships. They can recognize sexual infidelity and they respond negatively to it. Also, in studies in which a child primate’s cry is audio recorded and then played back at a later time, the mother primates all look at the mother of the recorded primate. The interpretation being that they understand that the mother of the recorded primate is the one who should be responding to these cries.

    iii) I cannot remember what species this was found in, but it was found that when one animal witnesses two other animals being fed and one is presented with a great meal and the other is presented with mere scraps, if the observing animal is given more food than it needs, it will give its surplus to the animal that had been given scraps.

    iv) famous findings of martyrdom among non-human species, which allows the group to survive.

    All of this is evidence for evolutionary continuity. One could say that all of these species have access to the universal objective morality, but then why do we observe such things as increased likelihood of inhumane treatment if the distance between actor and recipient is increased? Why is it easier for one to kill by pressing a button to launch a missile that will kill hundreds than it is to stab or shoot someone point blank? Why are Western societies not flipping out in outrage over the poverty in 3rd world nations and the exploitation of this by our corporations? Are these things all perfectly good? I doubt you’d grant such moral consent. However, our cognitive evolutionary account deals with this just fine: mirror neurons aren’t going to fire for people we cannot see. We’re not going to experience nearly as strongly an emotional response if we don’t see and hear the screams, the blood, the terror, and so on.

    Lastly I’ll say that there is a big difference between *that evolution occurred* and *how evolution occurred*. We can be pretty confident *that* it occurred given the tremendous (and mutually corroborating) evidence we have from the fossil record, genetic continuity, comparative anatomy, embryology and cognition, mathematical probability analyses, and various types of artificial life simulations (e.g., of the evolution of the eye). Explaining how, though, is far more difficult as we weren’t there when it happened and there are many many interacting variables. We have the fossils, the genetics, and the overlap in anatomy, embryology and cognition, but we do not have the play-by-play or a list of every variable and every interaction. Thus, explaining *how* will be very difficult. But it is nevertheless clear that up until this point in time, that evolution occurred is the most substantiated idea on the table.

  42. Charlie, I appreciate that quote.

    Mr. Gilson,
    I’d venture to point out that Chimpanzees possess a rudimentary sort of morality. Chimpanzee’s rudimentary morality is different from ours in that it seems based on intent but not motive.

    I’m a moral absolutist but I do believe we can see that moral awareness percolated through evolutionary mechanisms.

  43. Ron, you still haven’t answered the key question. Maybe I didn’t phrase it correctly:

    What counts as evidence?

    or,

    In general, what kind of information do you look for as being supportive of a theory? What characteristics does “evidence” have to have? Does it have to be scientific, for example? Does it have to be publicly observable? Does it have to be measurable/countable? Why does the virtually universal agreement of humanity not count as evidence?

    Please distinguish, as I am, between evidence and proof. I’m not asking what counts as proof, but what counts as evidence. The difference is that proof settles a belief, whereas evidence just tips the scales toward a given opinion. It’s information that’s favorable toward accepting a belief, without necessary nailing it down.

  44. “What counts as evidence?”

    “In general, what kind of information do you look for as being supportive of a theory? What characteristics does “evidence” have to have? Does it have to be scientific, for example? Does it have to be publicly observable? Does it have to be measurable/countable? Why does the virtually universal agreement of humanity not count as evidence?

    Please distinguish, as I am, between evidence and proof. I’m not asking what counts as proof, but what counts as evidence. The difference is that proof settles a belief, whereas evidence just tips the scales toward a given opinion. It’s information that’s favorable toward accepting a belief, without necessary nailing it down.”

    Tom, I’ll say it again, near universal human agreement is not anything close to sufficient evidence for the claim of an objective morality anymore than the human perception of blueness is evidence of objective blueness. How can one use human opinion as evidence for something that is supposed to be independent and above human opinion?

    Next, what counts as evidence? Well, different things for different claims.

    For first-person experience the evidence would be first-person experience itself. The experience of a ball is proof in and of itself of the experience of the ball. Of course no one could ever prove this first person experience to another person, however. Let me clarify something here is there is a good chance of misinterpretation here. I am referring to experience being proof of experience, not of the experienced—the ball need not actually exist in order for the person to have the experience of the ball, as the experience could simply be decoupled from the supposed external objective morality.

    For claims about the external objective universe, the evidence should come from rigorous critically-minded observation of the external objective universe. Types of evidence include successful predictions made by a theory, converging evidence from different studies and approaches to research (e.g., different disciplines). What is the evidence precisely? Well, this varies as a function of the subject matter. What counts as evidence for one question (e.g., is there a part of the brain that generates human biological rhythms?) will be different from what counts as evidence for another question (e.g., did humans evolve from other species?). In the case of the first question, we could see if the brains of animals with erratic rhythms differ in a regular way from those with normal rhythms? Do certain types of brain damage tend to lead to disordered rhythms? Does removing, disconnecting, or damaging certain brain structures disrupt rhythms while leaving other cognitive function intact (excluding changes due to disrupted rhythm)? The to these questions, by the way, is “yes”. As for humans having evolved from other species: Is there continuity in the fossil record, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and cognition? Yes across the board.

    The types of evidence differ within material science and between material science and the probing of first person experience (even when cognitive scientists use science to study psychological states, they have to take the person’s word with regard to their psychological state). You cannot use physical measurements to directly measure thoughts and experiences, and you cannot trust private experiences in prayer, dreams, meditation and so on as evidence for anything more than the experience itself. Now, this statement will of course lead to the question: how can we know anything? If we cannot know God by way of first person experience, how can we know evolution by first person experience of the scientific evidence (e.g., seeing fossils, reading the articles in Nature on genetics, etc.)? Objectively speaking, as far as I can tell we cannot know anything for certain beyond that experience occurs (as we experience it). However, while it may not be the case that we can claim objective knowledge, there does seem to be clear evidence that there are differences in credibility among different beliefs. While we cannot say that we know that the world out there exists, if we simply go along with what our experience (which is all we have) tells us (i.e., that there is a world out there in which there are actions and consequences, love and hate, etc.), it would make more sense to believe that there is a part of our brains that is critically involved in controlling our biological rhythms than to believe that our thoughts are controlled by martians living 40 feet below the surface of Stockholm. While the latter claim cannot be disproven, there is no positive evidence for it, while there is for the case of a neurological centre for biological rhythms. We have extensive evidence for evolution, but not for this or that or any particular God.

    Now what would count as evidence for God? Depends on how we define the God. Some people define God so openly as to allow for anything to be God. God to many of these people is simply the answer to the question: where did all of this come from? Whatever the answer is, that’s God. No evidence is needed for this, as all it is saying as that there is some truth out there. I guess technically then, for no evidence to be required would require that these people say that God is the answer assuming that there is a genuinely true explanation and that all of this really exists in the first place.

    If God is an intelligent being that is not related to any of our religious texts, I would expect very strong evidence. Simply pointing to elements of nature that appear to require design may be consistent with there being an intelligetn designer, but I wouldn’t qualify it as much more than consistent. I would hardly call it evidence, as it might just reflect failures in human thinking on the matter. It might be evidence, but who knows?

    I think that meaningful evidence of this God would have to be something big. For instance, the God coming out and speaking to everyone and doing some demonstrations of miracles. Now, you will claim that the Christian God has already done this. The only evidence, however, is supposed testimony which may or may not be real or true. I’m currently looking into the resurrection, so I’ll be able to speak more on this later.

    For evidence for a particular God, I’d say that evidence would have to be all of what was required for the above situation plus the God doing a number of things that strongly correspond to the relevant religious texts. The more overlap, the more evidence.Evidence could range from trivially little to extensive.

    Now, I know that in some cases I’ve muddled the distinction between proof and evidence. This is due in large part to the magnitude of the claim, though. It’s a magnificently extraordinary claim, and so I think that for something to count as evidence, it’d have to be pretty big. Perhaps smaller scale stuff like the appearance of design, personal religious experience and so on could be called evidence, but it would be grossly insufficient evidence.

  45. Hi Ron,
    Not that I agree that mirror neurons can provide any accounting for the existence of morality, but are you not over-stating the case when you keep saying that they have been observed or are known to exist in humans?

  46. Tom,
    Regarding evidence, science and the scientific method…you mentioned in a previous comment that the scientific method is regularly used by everyday people. I think you read about this in a book by Moreland. Can you blog on this, or just post a comment or two about it? Thanks.

  47. Charlie: It’s not an overstatement. Mirror neurons have been found in humans. And by themselves, no, they couldn’t account for moral cognition. But in conjunction with other brain centres (e.g., those that give rise to emotional responses), it seems that we could have mapped out a big part of the cognitive neuroscience of moral cognition.

  48. Hi Ron,
    I guess I was behind the times. In further reading I see that such neurons have, indeed, been found in recent studies.

    Whether or not such activity in these neurons is responsible for feelings of empathy (for instance) or is the effect of such feelings is not determined, just as the theories about the functions of such a mirror system have yet to be settled.
    Yes, we are having significant success in mapping (generally) areas of the brain which are correlated with different experiences but correlation is exactly what is being determined, not causation.
    For instance, perhaps you are aware that fMRIs correlated with internal, subjective spiritual experiences are consistent with the subject’s having external, objective experiences.
    Would you take this as evidence that spiritual experiences are encounters with an external, objective reality?

  49. “For instance, perhaps you are aware that fMRIs correlated with internal, subjective spiritual experiences are consistent with the subject’s having external, objective experiences.” How are we to confidently refer to external objective experiences of the spiritual variety? How do we know that these spiritual references are not simply creations of the mind? [note: I’m aware that one could also ask how do we know that anything is not simply a hallucination created by the mind; I suppose that a reasonable comparison between the spiritual and the mundane is asking whether or not one needs to believe in the spiritual in advance to “perceive” it (e.g., would an atheist or a person of a different faith feel what is claimed to be felt by others while in a charismatic church?); in the case of the mundane, even the infant could perceive it; it may be a hallucination nevertheless, but no indoctrination is needed to perceive it.

    Tom: Regarding the Spiritual Brain book. I personally have very little trust for Denyse O’Leary. I’ve read a number of her posts and she displays constant ignorance of evolutionary biology and cosmology, is highly closed-minded, and appears to have little interest in seriously considering the views of people outside of her belief system.

    Example: In one of her writings roughly 2 months ago she wrote so as to basically say “sorry for your luck” to atheists by saying that she cannot help that the universe was clearly fine-tuned for us. This displays so much ignorance, and there is no doubt that she has heard the criticisms hundreds of times over given how much blogging she’s done on these matters. The fine-tuning argument is peppered with ignorance. It neglects the fact that our corner of the universe is an extremely small piece of the entire universe. It neglects to consider that had the universe been a bit different in its universal constants, sure we may not have have existed, but who cares? Why is our existence so special? Perhaps had the constants been different there would have been forms that are analogous to life as we know it; or not. Further, perhaps the entire universe around us is completely devoid of life—or not. Further still, for all we know there are parallel universes co-existing with ours, some containing life (or something that is in someway analogous to life as we know it), some not. The fine-tuning argument also seems to de-emphasize (or leave out altogether) the interpretation that maybe the universe isn’t suited to us, maybe we’re suited for it in that we evolved with in it (first chemically, then biologically).

    Anyone who is so willfully ignorant of all of these unbelievably obvious criticisms of her position is not someone that I personally have any interest at all in reading.

  50. Hi Ron,

    How do we know that these spiritual references are not simply creations of the mind?

    The procedure is the same as that for assessing the presence/activity of mirror neurons. You observe the brain using fMRI while the subject has both kinds of experiences (objective, external v. spiritual) and you compare the results.

    I suppose that a reasonable comparison between the spiritual and the mundane is asking whether or not one needs to believe in the spiritual in advance to “perceive” it (

    This is a good question. Yes, those people most likely to have a spiritual experience are those who are practiced at it and they are the ones who show the greatest measurable effect. Likewise, with mirror neurons. This is why I qualified the term “mapping” as no two brains can be mapped in the same way and, in fact, a single individual’s brain changes daily with new experiences demonstrating its plasticity. This is, in my mind, an interesting challenge to the reductionist. If the will/desires/cognitions are the product of the brain why is it that we can change the brain by directing our will/desires/cognitions, etc.?
    As I alluded to in an earlier point, and as some cognitive scientists will say of mirror-neurons, it is just as likely that what is being observed is the effect of empathy (again, for instance) as it is the/a cause.
    The comparisons of mirror-neurons to genes seems particularly apt, in my opinion, in this era when biologists are starting to look at the organism as a whole once again and are realizing that DNA is as much a record of what life is doing as it is the blue-print or cause of what life is doing.

  51. Denyse O’Leary was not the main author of that book, Ron. The main author is a highly regarded neuroscientist, quite favorably quoted in Scientific American for his peer-reviewed research, and the most important information in the book is clearly his, not hers. It quite plainly and clearly answers the question you asked,

    How are we to confidently refer to external objective experiences of the spiritual variety? How do we know that these spiritual references are not simply creations of the mind?

    It doesn’t give the whole answer, but it probably represents some of the the best that science has to offer at this point.

  52. Hi Ron,
    Your dismissal of the work of O’Leary and her co-author, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard is, of course, a commission of the genetic fallacy.

    I know Tom has better and more considered answers to your points than I do, but let me fire off a response to your cosmology comment before I run out…

    It neglects to consider that had the universe been a bit different in its universal constants, sure we may not have have existed, but who cares?

    Very many physicists (such as agnostic Paul Davies, who has written several books on the subject) who spend a great deal of time trying to figure out, explain and account for the fine-tuning care. Yes, we are suited to this universe, but no, that is not the answer. The universe is suited to life itself (in dozens and dozens of precise ways) , and those who study the issue are talking about life, not just life as we experience it here on earth. Without the finetuning there are no complex molecules, nothing beyond hydrogen and helium. It is not just a failure of the imagination to say that without sufficient matter there would be no life – unless one is an anti-materialist.

    Further still, for all we know there are parallel universes co-existing with ours, some containing life (or something that is in someway analogous to life as we know it), some not.

    This is not really “for all we know”. What we do know is what we can see and measure. Positing multiple, parallel universes which are forever causally disconnected from us, in principle, and have no objective, empirically derived existence answers your “who cares” question. The people who would call this science when their ideas of what constitutes evidence is so much higher in other matters obviously recognize the problem of fine-tuning and care.

    I don’t think you’ve presented anything here to demonstrate that Ms. O’Leary is ignorant in this matter – and especially not willfully so.

    Why is our existence so special?

    Now that is a very good question. In the atheistic worldview I can’t see that it is special at all. But those of us with a Christian point of view have an answer.
    “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him . . . ?(Psalm 8:3-4a).”
    http://www.raystedman.org/power/1028.html

  53. And where have you gathered this bit from?

    The fine-tuning argument is peppered with ignorance. It neglects the fact that our corner of the universe is an extremely small piece of the entire universe. It neglects to consider that had the universe been a bit different in its universal constants, sure we may not have have existed, but who cares? Why is our existence so special?

    Every place where I’ve studied this question–including the Christian sources–these questions have been quite specifically addressed. This accusation of “peppered with ignorance” is very, very far off base. I don’t want to carry this discussion off into yet another topic, but Ron, your comment here is really quite misinformed itself.

  54. Steve, you asked,

    Regarding evidence, science and the scientific method…you mentioned in a previous comment that the scientific method is regularly used by everyday people. I think you read about this in a book by Moreland. Can you blog on this, or just post a comment or two about it? Thanks.

    I can’t find the previous comment you’re referring to, and I’m not sure I understand just what you’re asking. Can you help? Thanks.

  55. Why isn’t the fine-tuning argument the same as the lottery winner being incredulous when he/she wins the lottery? Some lottery ticket had to be the one that was picked. Yeah, those random numbers produced a winner, but who knows what other combinations of numbers might have meant? Other universes with different constants could have produced something other than life that we can’t imagine, even with only hypdrogen and helium, some could have produced life based on other assumptions, etc. We only see use beating the odds because our universe was the one that had the winning numbers, even randomly chosen.

    We don’t know what the other universes would have been like to be able to say that ours, with life, was so improbable (beyond the fact that any universe would have been improbable, given the total of all possible universes with different constants). If we think of a set of the following: chairs, love, 7, myxtlplk, . . . ., continuing in as diverse a manner as possible, any one randomly chosen item will be seen as highly unlikely.

  56. Four answers, Paul:

    1. You’re assuming there were other universes. The many-worlds theory is without evidence, however. There is no actual observational support for it whatsoever. In other words, it’s (yes) faith-based.

    2. The lottery example therefore does not apply. Although the odds of any one player winning the lottery are very small, the odds of someone winning the lottery in a reasonable time frame are very near 100%. You don’t get the same probabilities for fine-tuning unless you posit an extraordinarily vast number of universes, which runs up against number (1) here.

    3. John Leslie’s firing squad argument (summarized by Joe Carter) also answers your objection directly.

    4. And there are other problems with multiplying universes.

  57. All: I’m not gonna address the replies on Denyse O’Leary, as it is peripheral to what we were talking about.

    Charlie:

    The procedure is the same as that for assessing the presence/activity of mirror neurons. You observe the brain using fMRI while the subject has both kinds of experiences (objective, external v. spiritual) and you compare the results.

    This still wouldn’t determine whether the believed-in spiritual referent were real or illusory. There could simply be a difference in how the brain responds to mundane physicacl objects and believed in supernatural referents. In fact, we could likely both agree that this is certainly the case. If not, let me know.

    This is a good question. Yes, those people most likely to have a spiritual experience are those who are practiced at it and they are the ones who show the greatest measurable effect. Likewise, with mirror neurons.

    Fair enough, though I don’t see the analogy with mirror neurons. And still, I imagine that we can all agree that is possible for people to claim to be experiencing something (and showing corresponding neurological activity) that they are imagining—e.g., medical placebos, false Gods, etc.

    As I alluded to in an earlier point, and as some cognitive scientists will say of mirror-neurons, it is just as likely that what is being observed is the effect of empathy (again, for instance) as it is the/a cause.
    The comparisons of mirror-neurons to genes seems particularly apt, in my opinion, in this era when biologists are starting to look at the organism as a whole once again and are realizing that DNA is as much a record of what life is doing as it is the blue-print or cause of what life is doing.

    I’m not familiar with cognitive scientists’ discussions on mirror neurons as a cause versus consequence (or both) of empathy. I would figure that at minimum, mirror neurons are partially a consequence of empathy, as had the person never had the opportunity to feel empathy these neurons may never have developed to function as they do in normal individuals. Similarly, if a cat is blindfolded from birth their visual cortex will not develop appropriately due to lack of normal visual stimulation. But this is not to say that there is not an evolutionarily set genetic program for the development of moral cognition and vision given the necessary environmental factors (e.g., the basics like food and shelter; the specifics such as regular visual stimulation in the case of vision, and social engagement in the case of empathic/moral cognition).

    I certainly haven’t heard of significant debate on whether genes have a causal role in development.

    As for fine tuning:

    When I said “who cares”, I wasn’t asking if there are any humans who care about this question. I was saying “who cares” in the sense of “so what, what makes us think that this outcome is so special?”. And the only life that might’ve been prevented is *life as we know it*. This is why I referred to analogous forms. Just because our uniforms have constants X, Y, Z, and elements H, He, and C, doesn’t mean that other potential universes would have anything even remotely similar to this. Other universes could have nothing even remotedly similar to Hydrogen, Helium, Carbon, gas laws, gravity, and so on. They could differ from our universe an any number of quantitative and *qualitative* ways. Similarly, maybe they have forms that are some way analogous to life in our *unbelievably small corner* of our universe, maybe not. Similarly, maybe there is life (or analogous forms) in other parts of this universe, maybe not. I see no reason to believe that our universe is in anyway special. Wow, life as we know it exists—and for all we know, it only exists in one tiny spec of the universe, the rest very possibly being devoid of anything classifiable as “life”. It could just as easily not have existed or have taken a radically different analogous form that is beyond our comprehension.

    This is not really “for all we know”. What we do know is what we can see and measure. Positing multiple, parallel universes which are forever causally disconnected from us, in principle, and have no objective, empirically derived existence answers your “who cares” question. The people who would call this science when their ideas of what constitutes evidence is so much higher in other matters obviously recognize the problem of fine-tuning and care.

    First off, I’ve never heard of a God measurement. I didn’t know you could measure things outside of space and time. Next, I could very easily flip your assertion about differential standards with regard to evidence on you. You show very high criticality with regard to the role of mirror neurons with regard to emotion. Do you show anything even remotely close to this level of agnosticism with regard to your God? What makes you so confident that your personal experiences are correct? That they’re not hallucinations? Surely you must think that some religious people are entertaining false ideas, as not all religions can be correct. If other people’s personal experiences and beliefs can be wrong, why not yours? Why not all of them?

    Next, I did not say that I believed that other universes exist. All I said is that for all we know, they might. Do we have any proof that they don’t? No. We also do not have any proof that this or that God does not exist. So if we’re going to consider one set of undisproven potentialities (deities), why not another (other non-intelligent universes)?

    Tom: I have heard defenders of the fine-tuning argument neglect these points or just skoff them off. I can’t give you any references, so you can take my word for it or not. But, really, wouldn’t these and the other arguments I listed *have* to be neglected (at least some of them)? When you consider the following, I don’t see how the fine-tuning argument can be taken at all seriously:
    * life is only known to occupy a very small porition of the universe; the vastness of the universe in space and time offers plenty of opportunity for any number of things to happen;
    * For all we know, there are other universes where life may or may not exist, or something that in some ways analogous to life as we know it may exist. For all we know, there is an infinite range of other universes out there. I’m not saying that I think there is, but I don’t see how we can entertain the God idea without also entertaining this one.
    * In our universe, had things been different perhaps an analogy to life as we know it could have emerged (or not). This point is a hybrid of the two above.

    Just to continue a bit more on this topic, but with a focus on your response to Paul:

    You said that his position assumes other universes and that there is no such evidence for other universes. I only skimmed Paul’s message but it seems very inline with my point: for all we know there are other universes where life may or may not exist and could take on any number of radically different forms; so why assume that we are special? No one needs to assume that such alternative universe exist to posit this sort of argument; the only requirement is that one is open to the mere possibility that such universes may exist. Next, where is the evidence for your or any other set of religious beliefs that even comes remotely close to addressing the magnitude of the claims and does not fall into one of the may pitfalls I listed above?

  58. Ron, you respond to the fine-tuned problem with:

    And the only life that might’ve been prevented is *life as we know it*.

    I wonder where you’re getting your information from. The accepted version–by both secularists and theists–of fine-tuning agrees that if the minutest changes were made in any of dozens of physical constants, then there wouldn’t have been any stars, the universe would have imploded on itself, nuclear reactions would never happen so there would be no energy source, stars would burn out very young before any complex life would develop, no heavy elements would have been created, etc. That’s not to say that all of these would have occurred, for some of them are opposite outcomes of each other, but any one of them would have prevented any chemical complexity of any kind every forming anywhere. In other words, fine-tuning was not just essential for *life as we know it*. It was essential for any conceivable complex *anything* to have formed.

    I’ve never heard of a God measurement. I didn’t know you could measure things outside of space and time.

    Agreed. There is no observational evidence for other universes, then, is there? That was the point.

    Next, I did not say that I believed that other universes exist. All I said is that for all we know, they might. Do we have any proof that they don’t? No. We also do not have any proof that this or that God does not exist.

    I think we could say this: there is evidence that God exists. You may not think it’s persuasive, you may think it can be interpreted in other ways, but you cannot deny that there is evidence. What actual evidence is there for other universes, other than:

    1) Our universe is fine-tuned to an extraordinarily improbable degree on the face of it
    2) Fine-tuning can only be explained by intentional design or by using multiple universes to increase the probabilistic resources
    3) Intentional design is rejected
    4) Therefore multiple universes

    It’s negative evidence only. There is no positive evidence for it whatever. Interestingly, Intelligent Design is often (and falsely) accused of relying purely on negative evidence.

    As to the arguments you say are often neglected, I have to wonder still where on earth you’re getting your information from:

    life is only known to occupy a very small porition of the universe; the vastness of the universe in space and time offers plenty of opportunity for any number of things to happen;

    No, the physical constants problem refers to the entire universe. See above. Given minuscule changes in them, no life could have developed anywhere in the entire universe. This is standard and non-controversial in science.

    * For all we know, there are other universes where life may or may not exist, or something that in some ways analogous to life as we know it may exist. For all we know, there is an infinite range of other universes out there. I’m not saying that I think there is, but I don’t see how we can entertain the God idea without also entertaining this one.

    Ron, this has been taken seriously! See the firing squad argument above. See my post linked above (here it is again) on the absurdity of “for all we know, there is an infinite range…” We have dealt with these things!

    * In our universe, had things been different perhaps an analogy to life as we know it could have emerged (or not). This point is a hybrid of the two above.

    No. See above.

    I’m concluding that you haven’t read the many-worlds hypothesis even in a good secularist form. Here is one summary you might check out, and here is another, and yet one more. For a longer list of the fine-tuned qualities of the universe, try this article.

    And finally, to see some scholarly rebuttals to your points, check out these articles.

  59. Hi Ron,

    This still wouldn’t determine whether the believed-in spiritual referent were real or illusory. There could simply be a difference in how the brain responds to mundane physicacl objects and believed in supernatural referents. In fact, we could likely both agree that this is certainly the case. If not, let me know.

    That’s right, brain studies provide certain evidences, not proofs. They demonstrate correlations and these must be explained by competing theories.

    Fair enough, though I don’t see the analogy with mirror neurons.

    It’s not really an analogy. The two cases are exactly alike. When dancers watch dancers the systems we call mirror systems are more active than when non-dancers watch dancers. Brains which have experience with a particular endeavour have strengthened and developed the neurological pathways associated with such activities. This is apparent in research in both cases described.

    And still, I imagine that we can all agree that is possible for people to claim to be experiencing something (and showing corresponding neurological activity) that they are imagining—e.g., medical placebos, false Gods, etc.

    Sure, people can experience things that are not real. But, as I said, the evidence is that people experiencing God are not having similar experiences as those imagining, hallucinating, or having emotional reactions. They are more akin to people experiencing something “other”.
    As before, we are not discussing proof but evidence. And this evidence is similar to the evidence you seem wholeheartedly to embrace when it supports your theory of mind.

    I certainly haven’t heard of significant debate on whether genes have a causal role in development.

    Not a causal role, but the causal role. The one-to-one, direct causation, reductionist theory of genes is pretty much dead. Those promoting mirror neurons as the magic-bullet and saying “this is like the discovery of DNA” are probably closer than they realize.

    And the only life that might’ve been prevented is *life as we know it*.

    I think the only life that would have been prevented is anything that fits our definition of life.

    I see no reason to believe that our universe is in anyway special

    The experts think our situation is pretty special. They write books like Rare Earth and The Cosmic Jackpot.
    Your response on finetuning is nothing but much speculation, many maybes, and no evidence. This does not fit well with skeptics’ demands about appropriate evidences.

    It could just as easily not have existed or have taken a radically different analogous form that is beyond our comprehension.

    It could have been infinitely less likely – given naturalism.

    First off, I’ve never heard of a God measurement. I didn’t know you could measure things outside of space and time. Next, I could very easily flip your assertion about differential standards with regard to evidence on you

    What you don;t understand is that you have been the victim of the flip. Where is the “infinite universe with all the maybes” measurement?

    You show very high criticality with regard to the role of mirror neurons with regard to emotion.

    I show the appropriate amount of skepticism. I think the evidence that a layman such as myself can review demonstrates a very strong correlation between all brian functions, mirror-systems as well as otherwise, and experiences, including emotions.
    But where my skepticism remains even higher is where one decides to draw a causal connections from emotions to morality. This pleasure-seeking reduction of morality does not hold any sway with me whatsoever.

    Do you show anything even remotely close to this level of agnosticism with regard to your God?

    It is true that I am way past agnosticism on the existence of God. I wrestled with my doubts at about the same age that most atheists seem to say they had theirs.

    What makes you so confident that your personal experiences are correct? That they’re not hallucinations? Surely you must think that some religious people are entertaining false ideas, as not all religions can be correct. If other people’s personal experiences and beliefs can be wrong, why not yours? Why not all of them?

    Indeed, and why not yours?
    Unlike other commenters here, I don’t think that there is any reason one ought to entertain the idea that his perceptions and experiences are hallucinations just on the sheer logical possibility. For this reason I believe that we can communicate with one another, learn from our environment, learn the truth and undertake such activities as scientific investigation.

    Next, I did not say that I believed that other universes exist. All I said is that for all we know, they might. Do we have any proof that they don’t? No. We also do not have any proof that this or that God does not exist. So if we’re going to consider one set of undisproven potentialities (deities), why not another (other non-intelligent universes)?

    This is pretty much my point to you and other skeptics in a nutshell. This is my point about skepticism and evidentialism and the charge of proving negatives. Since the two competing theories for the existence of the universe are God and multi-verses then you take your pick, I guess. But God is not posited as an explanation for the existence of the universe and the its finetuning. God is evidenced in so many other ways, and this is just one of the many things that He makes sense of; including morality, reason, purpose, history, experience, etc.

    life is only known to occupy a very small porition of the universe; the vastness of the universe in space and time offers plenty of opportunity for any number of things to happen;

    The vastness is taken into account in such treatments as deal with Galactic Habitability Zones. Sheer size is not a solution.

    For all we know, there are other universes where life may or may not exist, or something that in some ways analogous to life as we know it may exist.

    For all we know the may not and such life may not. Such an hypothetical outlook is not really an answer for the things we actually do know.

    For all we know, there is an infinite range of other universes out there. I’m not saying that I think there is, but I don’t see how we can entertain the God idea without also entertaining this one.

    If there is an infinite range of universes out there then everything that could happen has happened, and is still happening. Therefore, there would necessarily be universes in which God exists, created life, and is the transcendent moral authority over the humans occupying that universe. For all we know, that universe is this one.

  60. Tom:

    As for the fine-tuning argument, I’ll take your word for those dramatic consequences. However, this does not negate the possibility of radically different forms of the universe taking place. We speak of things like carbon, hydrogen, cells, and so on, because it’s all we know of. Perhaps there could have been another form of universe in which the building blocks were of a completely different dimension that is unfathomable to us. Again, who knows? None of us would disagree that there could be things that are or could potentially happen that could be outside of our realm of conceptualization.

    Regarding parallel universe: I really don’t know why I’m having to go to such lengths to communicate the value of this point. I am fully aware that there may be no evidence for or means of measuring other universes (or maybe there is, I’m not a big physic buff, but it’s irrelevant anyhow and I’ll assume that there is no such evidence or means of acquiring it). The whole point is to show that there is no good reason to believe in fine-tuning by a fine-tuner because rather than viewing this universe as having been a 1/infinity crap shot, we can say that it was a 1/infinity crap shot out of a potentially infinite number of crap shots. What reason is there to say that a God is more likely than an infinite array of universes? Heck, what reason is there to say that a God is more likely than a 1/infinity crap shot? In the case of God, we’re not assuming any less complexity, we’re just giving the cop-out that God exists outside of space and time and therefore we don’t have to account for him/her/it.

    Next, here’s a new idea that just came to me. Lets say that there are only certain universal configurations that are stable and that could give rise to any type of complex life. Now, there could also be a certain range of universe configuration sets that could give rise to a stable universe that is devoid of life, or complex life. If a universe like this had emerged, there could have been no (complex) life, unless of course there were parallel universes which had settings that could allow for the emergence of life.

    For those universes that that have settings that do not allow for stability, existence either would not occur or would be very brief. For those with stability, existence could be quite protracted. For all we know, our universe may not have been the only universe to have ever existed. It may simply be one that has settings that allow it to be stable for a length of time sufficient for complexity to build up, and in which complex life can develop.

    I’ll read your links.

  61. Alright, I’m gonna look at those links and will come back in due time and reply on them. But other than that, I can’t keep this discussion going. Monday is coming and I can’t keep spending hours a day responding to long arguments with long arguments to multiple others.

    To Charlie, I’ll simply respond to his counter-question of how I’m so sure that my position is right: my position is an agnostic atheist position. I don’t claim to know anything about the big questions. I just strongly doubt that anyone else knows either. I need not feel confident in any position because the only position I endorse is the stance of having beliefs correspond to evidence. I don’t claim to have any beliefs about the universe’s origin and the like that corresponds to the evidence.

  62. Tom, I’m not assuming other universes currently exist, just that our universe would be different (a “different” universe) if the constants were different.

    2. Because I’m not positing actual multiple universes, we can easily get a large number of potential other universes if we vary all the constants a small bit one at a time.

    the odds of someone winning the lottery in a reasonable time frame are very near 100%.

    The analogous formulation is that the odds of getting *a* universe is 100% for any combination of values of the constants.

    Leslie’s firing squad only says that the lottery winner is surprised to win, but someone has to win. Yes, the universe does have characteristics that support life, and the odds of the constants being such to let this happen are great, but it could have just as easily happened that the constants weren’t able to support life, or would have supported life based on entirely different principles, or would have supported something else that we can’t even imagine.

    The other problems with multiplying universes don’t apply to my idea here, because my other universes are only potential ones if the constants were different, which they aren’t (they are what they are).

  63. I just skimed about 65% of the first article. I don’t really see why Koonin or anyone else need assume that every possible universe need occur.

  64. Hi Paul,

    Tom, I’m not assuming other universes currently exist, just that our universe would be different (a “different” universe) if the constants were different.

    “Different” in this case means mostly “non-existent” and nearly as often “lifeless”. Do you know what the estimations are in the parameters being discussed?

    2. Because I’m not positing actual multiple universes, we can easily get a large number of potential other universes if we vary all the constants a small bit one at a time.

    These potential universes are mostly not potential.

    The analogous formulation is that the odds of getting *a* universe is 100% for any combination of values of the constants.

    That is completely unfounded.

    Yes, the universe does have characteristics that support life, and the odds of the constants being such to let this happen are great, but it could have just as easily happened that the constants weren’t able to support life, or would have supported life based on entirely different principles, or would have supported something else that we can’t even imagine.

    Quite the fall you’ve taken from when you blustered onto this blog a couple of years ago demanding empirical evidence for every claim and insisting that theistic beliefs were irrational. Now you’ll pin your hopes on things you can’t observe, are unable to observe in principle, and can’t even imagine (because they so violate everything we actually do know).

  65. Just read the antropic-principle.com article. So there it goes into the possibility of other universes. It further says that current physics may even suggest the existence of other universes.

    However, even if we have no evidence at all for other universes, I don’t see how it is justified to believe in a God. And to believe in a God in a general Deist sense would be one thing—and apparently unjustified in and of itself. But to beleive in a partcular God like that of the Bible seems to take the unjustifiability to great new heights.

  66. Charlie, your last paragraph makes comments about me, as distinct from comments about the substance of my ideas (I’m not saying whether the paragraph *also* contains substantive comments, I’m just talking about the comments that are about me).

    If you’re willing to discuss *only* the substance of the ideas, then I’ll reply. If you’re not willing, or if you don’t reply clearly either way, then I won’t continue the conversation with you.

    Please note that I’m not asking to you reply one way or the other, or to even reply at all. I’m just laying out what I will do in each situation.

  67. Alright, I’ve read through about 35% of the last article presented, in which the author says that many scientists are using the many-universes idea as an evidentially-unjustified cop-out.

    Here’s my thing. I am *not* saying that there is no God. I have no idea if there is a God or not, nor do I have any idea with regard to the probability of there being such a God. I just don’t see any reason to believe that there is such a God, and I especially don’t see reason to believe in this or that God in particular. Relatedly, I don’t see any reason to reject the possibility of a deist God out of hand—though I fully understand high levels of doubt with regard to particular Gods. Thus, when I bring up the many universes idea, it is simply to show that positing an intelligent designer is not our only option. Further, I don’t see how it is an option that is inferior to invoking a God. At the end of the day, I have no idea what the answers are to the big questions, and have yet to meet anyone who seems to be able justify their beliefs with regard to the big questions.

  68. Hi Ron,
    I respect a position as you’ve outlined where you say you have no idea if there’s a God, no idea about the probability of God’s existence and no opinion on the big questions. I also think it’s legitimate for you to doubt that anybody else has answers.
    I think this is far more honest than most positions we encounter where skeptics claim to have been convinced by the evidence that there is no God, and that it is irrational to believe in His existence.
    From my perspective you would seem to be where many a person would be when he only has the empirical evidence to go by. I think it is entirely rational to be an atheist and I find my biggest beef is with those who don’t allow the same for believers.
    I’m sure you won’t be surprised to find that Christians think that there is more than the empirical evidence, however. And, in fact, it is quite common to say that the empirical evidence is rarely the determining factor and that it merely provides support for what is known experientially (properly basic, some might say). I don’t know that that is always the case, but I can’t actually deny it, either.
    As much maligned as it has been by people who don’t understand it, I believe that Pascal’s wager is formulated just for people in your position.
    In other cases hearing the Gospel or reading the Word is often the tipping point. And in some cases I think the answer to your previous question, “what’s so special about us?” can make the difference. And I readily admit that for others nothing will ever change their minds.
    I’ve seen very few skeptics willing to stick around and discuss the justification for Christian beliefs, as opposed to engaging in criticism and arguing for argument’s sake, but if you do I think you’ll find such justification exists.
    Regards,
    Charlie
    ===
    Hi Paul,

    If you’re willing to discuss *only* the substance of the ideas, then I’ll reply. If you’re not willing, or if you don’t reply clearly either way, then I won’t continue the conversation with you.

    Do as you will. My comment is there and you can respond or not. Same old same old.

  69. Charlie:

    I greatly appreciate your many kind words. A few responses to some thing said:

    I think it is entirely rational to be an atheist and I find my biggest beef is with those who don’t allow the same for believers.

    The big thing is that the atheists who would strongly doubt the rationality of the believer are the ones who are of the opinion that believers are believing in something that has not been rationally justified. In your just-quoted statement, the implication one can derive is of polite fairness: You’ve acknowledged the rationality of atheism, so it would be polite and fair for the atheist to return the favour. The thing is that the atheist who will not return the favour is not returning the favour for the reason that they do not view the belief as a rational belief. Many of these atheists feel that there is socially-imposed double standard favouring religious considerations. If two people are arguing about whether or not Abraham Lincoln is still alive and the believer says that he recognizes the rationality of the skeptic’s hefty doubt, the skeptic would be highly unlikely to similarly concede that he can see how the believer could have rationally arrived at and maintain his belief, and any observers would probably find it rather peculiar if he did offer such a concession. Many atheists, myself included, are greatly troubled by this double standard. And it doesn’t even exist simply between religion and other unconventional claims; it also exists within the domain of religions and cults (aka “new religious movements”; note: I’m not saying that established organized religions and cults are similar in every way but size and age; generally speaking, cults can be far more controlling, abusive, and isolationist–though there are exceptions, such as fundamentalist Islam and, to a lesser degree, fundamentalist Christianity). What I mean by this is that the amount of respect accorded to different religious traditions is a matter of politics more than anything else. Consider the differences in respect accorded to Christianity, Mormonism, and modern cults. I’m not sure if you would say that Hinduism receives as much dignity as Christianity. It’s hard to comment on Islam and Sikhism here given the confounding of political tensions, terrorism, and the resultant culture of fear.

    Pascal’s Wager does not carry any weight with me because it could just as easily be stated as an argument for an infinite range of speculated angry Gods. If Pascal’s Wager is to be taken seriously, then we should be living in a global culture of fear as each person should believe that he/she is probably believing in the wrong God.

    As for discussing the case for Christianity, we can try this. The reason I say “try” is because:
    1. I will get busier this week;
    2. I’ve had this discussion with a number of people before.

    If we could move it over to my blog, it would make it far easier for me to participate because then I could kill two birds with one stone as my participation in that debate could be my blog writing, too—I like to keep it going. And Tom can promote the discussion on his blog, too. That way readers from both blogs will know of it.

    I’m not sure if you’ve viewed my blog, but as you probably guess, it is a pro-atheist blog, and I know of a few regular readers that will probably break into ridicule within a few posts. I can’t stop that—I’ve never censored a single comment. All I can do is request civility. However, there are also a few Christians and one liberal Muslim who read and comment regularly, as well as a number of mild-mannered atheists.

    If this is something you’re interested in, perhaps you could write an introductory argument and I’ll post it.

    If you’d prefer to do it here, okay. But I won’t be able to devote as much time to it as I’ll also want to keep things busy over there, too.

  70. Hi Ron,
    It’s not about being fair, or being politically correct, but about being consistent with the evidence. Even atheistic philosophers admit the rationality of belief, all the while defending the rationality of their own disbelief. And I don’t make the concession that your point of view is rational out of politeness. Nor do I make it because I find the reasons for atheism valid or convincing. I make it because it is a fact that a belief that God does not exist, a belief God does exist, and a belief that we can’t know are all rational beliefs – or at least, can be. This means that a person who has fairly looked at the evidence available, from their own perspective, given their past experiences and background knowledge, has a justified right to their belief. That is, to call a claim a rational one is to make a normative statement about it. Please note that this is not a post-modern position whereby one claims that there is a truth separate for everybody – I think that atheists are wrong who say that there is no God, I think they are wrong when they say there is no evidence, and I think agnostics are wrong when they say we cannot know. And my position is based upon reasons and an examination of the evidence, ie: it is rational.

    Unfortunately I don’t think you understand Pascal’s Wager as it is not an argument for God (or angry gods) at all. It is an argument for the rationality of belief when reason itself has left you without a way to choose (as it has you) – and choose we must. Given the fact that you do not even have a probabilistic commitment to one side or the other the argument, when properly formulated, is a valid one.
    Your statement about global fear does not make any sense to me as a byproduct of Pascal’s Wager.

    Thank you for the offer to engage on your blog. I have followed your link and have read some of it and must decline. Like you, my time is limited, and I must pick my discussions carefully, based upon what I already have to say on the subject. I don’t even maintain an active blog of my own and only comment here and there on topics that interest me and appear relatively amenable to my input.

  71. I don’t claim to know anything about the big questions. I just strongly doubt that anyone else knows either.

    You know nothing about the subject matter but you know enough about other subjects to conclude that everyone is probably wrong. This makes no sense at all.

  72. Tom,

    I can’t find the previous comment you’re referring to, and I’m not sure I understand just what you’re asking.

    Well, I didn’t quite get it right. Here’s the comment you made in this recent post.

    There are some things I will come back to, like the misconceptions surrounding the “scientific method” we all learned in school: science doesn’t always use it, science doesn’t only use it (other disciplines employ many of the same methods). There’s some very fascinating stuff there to discuss.

  73. SteveK: You misunderstood me. What I meant is that I do not know the answers to the big questions and those who claim they do know have provided woefully insufficient argumentation to justify their knowledge claim. Recall above I cited a list of pitfalls that I have never heard a theistic argument avoid.

    Charlie:

    Well, to be more clear about my position: I think that any position other than agnostic atheism is based on irrationality and/or ignorance (willful or not). Personal experience, in my opinion, should become far less compelling when one finds out that there have been billions of people who have had what they have deemed to be compelling personal experiences with regard to irreconcilably different beliefs.

    As for Pascal’s Wager, who ever said that we *must* choose? I don’t understand why so many people think that they’re somehow obligated to say “Yes, a God does exist” or “No, a God doesn’t exist”. Why not simply say “I don’t know”?

    Debate decline accepted and understandable. They can be quite taxing.

  74. Ron,

    SteveK: You misunderstood me. What I meant is that I do not know the answers to the big questions and those who claim they do know have provided woefully insufficient argumentation to justify their knowledge claim.

    That makes sense now.

    Recall above I cited a list of pitfalls that I have never heard a theistic argument avoid.

    Every argument is dependent on a set of premises or axioms. Theistic arguments that don’t violate logic fail for the same reason many naturalistic arguments fail – because the person you are convincing doesn’t accept one or more premise. It’s not as if great theistic thinkers don’t have logical arguments – they do – it’s just that naturalists don’t accept the setup for one reason or another.

  75. SteveK: As for axioms. Yes, and I don’t think they have sound axioms. You can rationally prove anything if you’re going to allow for axioms that are indefensible. Again, the pitfalls I’ve described above have been found in every theistic argument I’ve ever heard. They’ve been present in the premises, and no one I’ve ever heard has been able to step out of the hole without disqualifying their argument.

    Now, you can say something like “that’s your opinion”, but when a person cites personal experience (for instance) and cannot give any reason to support the implicit notion that their personal experience is more likely to be right than that of a person of another religion, I feel pretty confident in my opinion.

  76. Ron,

    You can rationally prove anything if you’re going to allow for axioms that are indefensible.

    Premises have no reasoned defense. You can’t reason your way to a premise, they are assumed true because they seem true.

    Again, the pitfalls I’ve described above have been found in every theistic argument I’ve ever heard. They’ve been present in the premises, and no one I’ve ever heard has been able to step out of the hole without disqualifying their argument.

    Naturalistic premises suffer from the same problem so I fail to see why this is unique to theistic arguments. If you can give a logical argument/reason to support a premise then it isn’t a premise is it? Ask “how?” or “why?” enough times and every naturalistic argument will suffer the same fate.

  77. Hi Ron,
    Why must you choose? Because the question, when formed appropriately, demands it.
    When the question is “do you believe in God?” then the answers are “yes” and “no”. Agnosticism is “no”. Same thing for “do you put your trust in God?”.
    If somebody throws you a life-preserver and you decline to make a decision about taking it you have made a decision not to take it.

  78. Let’s explore that theme a little.
    As Paul Davies says in The Cosmic Jackpot, most everyone agrees that the world (all of known existence) looks designed. The statements to that fact are myriad – “appearance of design”, “greater intellect has been monkeying with the constants”, “universe knew we were coming”, “must constantly remind themselves it was not designed”…etc.
    Now, of course, the rational, reasonable, common-sense thing to do in the face of all of this apparent design is to reason that it looks designed because it is designed.
    What is the rationally mandated objection to accepting this conclusion?
    In what way is the atheistic position logically demanded or empirically compelled?
    How is the agnostic position not an appeal to ignorance?

  79. Charlie,

    Now, of course, the rational, reasonable, common-sense thing to do in the face of all of this apparent design is to reason that it looks designed because it is designed.

    I agree. So why would someone say the apparent design is not design? On what logical/empirical basis would they conclude that if it was not demonstrated to be true? I have no answer. Maybe Ron does. Seems like the reasonable thing to do – logically, empirically and philosophically – is hold on to what is apparantly true until you learn otherwise.

  80. Charlie and SteveK

    Okay, very well. I have to choose whether I believe or not. Pascal’s Wager is still weak beyond words. It’s hardly a good reason to believe in something simply because of the potential outcomes of the belief. If someone offers me money to believe in something, it may be rational fro me to pretend to believe to get the money, but it woudln’t make the actual belief anymore reasonable. Secondly, which God? One could apply PW to an infinite range of Gods. So what’s the point? Why not simply say “I don’t know”? Then you don’t beleive, but you’re not pretending to know of an absense of God.

    As for evidence for premises. What you’ve argued for here is not the rationality of theism, but the irrationality of confidently believing in anything. If you were to ask me what I think I know for certain, the only thing I could really have any claim at is my own conscious experience itself as it is the only thing I have direct access to. The contents of that consciousness may be a big heap of illusions, but the consciousness itself is directly experienced. However, I can have pragmatic and procedural knowledge based on rational considerations of the evidence I perceive and am presented with. Hence, I will act assuming gravity will ccontinue to apply even though I have no basis for this and do not claim to know it and will admit that any such claim would be unfounded. I can act assuming that other people are out there because my experience (which is all that I have) compellingly tells me it is so in a myriad of ways. and if you were to start telling me that others are illusions, I’d have to admit that you could be correct. However, I would still have to act as if they are not because e very real and immediate consequences to going the other way. You could tell me that others are just robots with no consciousness, and I could not disprove this. However, it would not be reasonable to act as if this were true, as it would produce immediate and real negative consequences, and I certainly wouldn’t want these others (be they hallucinations or not) to start treating me like I was a mindless robot.

    But as for Gods? On what grounds can such belief be rationally based?

    As for agnosticism being an argument from ignorance. That is a terribly ignorant statement. Agnosticism is admitted and accepted ignorance. I admit and I accept that I do not know. I don not go and say “ohh, look at all this complexity, how did it get here. Someone must have designed it because I just can’t think of any other way it could have come to be”

    As for the appearance of design. To invoke a designer is to immediately shoot yourself in the foot. Have you explained anything? No. You’ve just started off an infinite regress. And what’s the antidote to the regress? To simply declare that God exists outside of space and time. This is a baseless cop-out.

  81. HI Ron,

    Pascal’s Wager is still weak beyond words. It’s hardly a good reason to believe in something simply because of the potential outcomes of the belief.

    Pascal’s Wager is very good for its intended purpose. You must recall that Pascal was a gambler and the first expert in risk management. As you have admitted now that you have no choice but to gamble. You have to act. When you have to act, and the choices are completely undetermined by probabilities, as you’ve said, then the proper action – the rational action – is the one based upon the greatest potential reward to risk ratio.
    Which God, you ask? That’s another question and you’d have to study many different things to determine which God makes the most sense of the world, which theology is internally consistent, etc. Pascal was formulating his Wager in a place and time where it was explicit which God he was talking about and the questioner was not comparing the rationality of believing in the pantheon against disbelief, was comparing the belief in the God revealed to us through His Son.

    As for agnosticism being an argument from ignorance. That is a terribly ignorant statement. Agnosticism is admitted and accepted ignorance. I admit and I accept that I do not know.

    My statement was not ignorant in any way. I said agnosticism is an appeal to ignorance and that’s exactly what it is. Just as the goofy theist in your scenario waves his arms in the air and determines that design must implicate a designer because of his own personal lack of imagination (this is not how we come to believe in God, by the way) is appealing to ignorance, so is the agnostic. Take the existence of fine-tuning, for example: you see no evidence (independent of this argument) for the existence of God and appeal to our ignorance in order not to make a decision. You suggest that because we can’t disprove a universal negative that there might be infinite multiple universes increasing the probability of ours being fine-tuned to what it is. You appeal to the supposed ignorance of what kinds of life-forms may exist (violating all of our actual knowledge) to say that the fine-tuning is not that special. But we are not arguing from ignorance on this subject, we are arguing from what we know (the observed fine-tuning) and our background knowledge (other evidences for the existence of God and personal experiences).

    You say you see no evidence of God, and that is ignorance of evidence. As I said, this does not make the position irrational, but it is no argument against the rationality of belief by those who are not ignorant of the evidence.

    As for the appearance of design. To invoke a designer is to immediately shoot yourself in the foot. Have you explained anything? No. You’ve just started off an infinite regress. And what’s the antidote to the regress? To simply declare that God exists outside of space and time. This is a baseless cop-out.

    You are arguing a side issue here, namely, the applicability of ID science, as opposed to the rationality of belief in God. Making the common-sense inference that apparent design is likely real design is not a shot in the foot. And it is not an attempt to explain the design. It is acknowledging what is obvious and true. With this acknowledgment comes the ability to do many other things. The history of science is the history of men and women who acknowledged that design and, rather than shooting themselves in the foot, set about studying, understanding, modeling and explaining the design.

  82. Ron,

    As for the appearance of design. To invoke a designer is to immediately shoot yourself in the foot. Have you explained anything? No. You’ve just started off an infinite regress. And what’s the antidote to the regress? To simply declare that God exists outside of space and time. This is a baseless cop-out.

    This line of thinking dooms your infinite universe argument to a baseless cop-out. As I said before, all arguments regress to an unprovable (subjective) premise/axiom that cannot be reasoned to from objective reality. Empiricism has limitations ya know.

  83. Ron,

    Thank you for hanging in here! I understand the time issue, and the preference to do this kind of thing on your own blog. So I appreciate your being here, and as Charlie said, I appreciate your respectful responses even where you disagree.

    If you still have time to continue…

    The big thing is that the atheists who would strongly doubt the rationality of the believer are the ones who are of the opinion that believers are believing in something that has not been rationally justified….

    …to be more clear about my position: I think that any position other than agnostic atheism is based on irrationality and/or ignorance (willful or not). Personal experience, in my opinion, should become far less compelling when one finds out that there have been billions of people who have had what they have deemed to be compelling personal experiences with regard to irreconcilably different beliefs.

    Amazingly enough, people who talk about “rationally justified” rarely understand how hard that phrase is even to define. You would probably say something like “based on sufficient evidence,” but believers in Christ do consider their evidence to be sufficient, and can marshal strong arguments in favor of that. Charlie is right: all the positions are somewhat underdetermined by the evidence, but that doesn’t mean Christianity is unjustified.

    This has been covered in quite a fascinating way in Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief, in which he even makes a good case for the rationality of relying on personal experience for evidence.

    But I agree, personal experience sans objective verification is worth little. My personal experience of God might just as well be a misfiring in the brain or the result of too much pizza. But there is objective verification in history and in numerous other forms. I’ll refer to Alvin Plantinga again for a couple dozen or so such arguments–not to try to link-dump on you, but just to show that there are several intellectually respectable lines of evidence in favor of Christian belief.

    As for the appearance of design. To invoke a designer is to immediately shoot yourself in the foot. Have you explained anything? No. You’ve just started off an infinite regress. And what’s the antidote to the regress? To simply declare that God exists outside of space and time. This is a baseless cop-out.

    Is this any worse than the infinite regress you implicitly choose with multiple universes? At least with God, we have a conception of a Being that is a First Cause. The regress is not, in fact, infinite, in spite of what Dawkins and others have said. Not everything that exists logically requires a cause. The proper statement is that everything that begins to exist has a cause. A beginningless First Cause is the end of regress. And not baseless–because there are, as I said, multiple lines of evidence in favor of God. The theistic solution just fits, better then other explanations.

  84. Tom:

    I’ll check out the Alvin P link.

    Regarding your last point about how multiple universes also leads to an infinite regress: again, I’m not saying that I believe in the multiverse idea. I just put it forward to show that there are other ways of getting around the apparent low odds of this universe being here and supporting life as we know it. I have no idea about the origin of the universe. Another thing I didnt mention earlier regarding fine-tuning was this: while an off-setting of some of the constants by a fairly meager amount may have made this universe collapse upon itself, perhaps had their been different initial constants an alternative stable universe would have formed (and perhaps in this universe there would be eventually be analogous forms of intelligence that would talk about how unlikely their universe’s emergence was). Or perhaps no other stable universe would have been born. Or perhaps many unstable universes would have come about and collapsed, and some more stable universes may have come about and lasted longer (perhaps in parallel with each other). Now, who knows how much sense what I just said makes in terms of the objective universe. I just implied time *in between* serially-related universes. Time may not even exist outside of universes. Again, I just don’t know. But I throw out more and more possibilities among which God ideas should be considered, so as to show that God theories are only one type of possible answer.

    But yes, I will look at your link.

  85. Thanks, Ron.

    I think we can agree that God is not the only potential explanation for the universe, and that it’s fine to explore other options. We certainly don’t know everything.

    There’s some fascinating reading out there, though. Alan Guth’s inflationary hypothesis holds some potential for some indirect, inferential, circumstantial support for multiple universes. On the other hand, it also contains within it a pretty strong counter to your hope that other initial constants could have produced a universe conducive to complexity.

    (Note that the issue is complexity. “Life as we know it” could be fairly parochial, but fine-tuning implies that no chemical/physical complexity of any kind could exist if our physical laws, constants, and–by the way–initial boundary conditions also, were not just what they were.)

    The alternate stable universe you suggest, if it is to be conducive, is not possible without fine-tuning, in other words. If there were adjustments of some parameters to make an alternate universe, there would have to be incredibly fine-tuned adjustments in many other parameters in order for that universe to be stable and conducive to complexity. Based on the current science, you can’t escape it.

    Serial universes get into a serious problem of infinite regress and the impossibility of a beginningless cosmos, or a beginningless series of them.

    I want you to understand that theism doesn’t arise out of nowhere, and that we haven’t gone without thinking about these issues. Christianity in particular arises out of God’s interaction with His people through time and history (see links from here; I need to find a way to summarize that in shorter form). But it’s also supported by the fact that it’s a really elegant, economical answer to questions like where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Why does life and the universe appear to be designed?

    I think it was Charlie who referred to God as (among other things) the “best explanation” for these things. It’s not that other explanations can’t be put forth, and it’s not that God was concocted just for this handy purpose. It’s that where explanations are called for, the theistic answer is a very satisfyingly complete one, and in my mind, has far fewer philosophical and evidential problems than, say, multiple universes.

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