Assume You’re Wrong and Jerry Coyne Is Right. Now Discuss Which of You Is Right.

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I’m reading through Jerry Coyne’s new book, Fact Versus Faith: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. I’ve been looking for overall themes to comment on, and while it’s premature to say what those might be, I’m getting clues.

Where I’m currently reading, he’s trying to make the case that if there is a God he should be detectable on scientific terms–indeed, on naturalistic scientific terms. That is, if there is a God, we ought to be able to assume there is no God, and then detect him on that basis.

Am I distorting his views? Judge for yourself. (This is on or near page 47; exact page numbers are hard to grab from a Kindle.)

Advocates of theism argue that God’s interventions in the universe should be detectable. At the very least, those theists should be able to describe what the world would be like had it arisen in purely naturalistic manner, and if their god didn’t exist.

There’s some highly problematic, circular reasoning encased in there. It comes down to, Let’s assume, “at the very least,” that you’re wrong and I’m right. Now, let’s discuss which one of us is more likely right.

Here’s why I say that. On the biblical view of God (rather obviously), if God exists then everything we could ever imagine or think about is absolutely and completely conditioned by the materials he created for us to think with and think about. That’s what it means for us to be God’s creation; it’s wrapped up in the very meaning of the word “God,” on biblical theism.

But this dictum of Coyne’s requires that we have the ability to imagine a world without any God or gods, which we could only do successfully if biblical theism were in fact false.

So therefore Coyne is telling Christians that if we want to show evidence for the existence of the biblical God, we ought “at the very least” be able to do so on the assumption that the biblical God doesn’t exist. The same thing goes for the God of Judaism, of Mormonism, of Islam, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a lot of other religions’ gods.

He’s calling on us to demonstrate theism on anti-theistic, naturalistic terms. Either that, or else he’s saying, “Let me demonstrate how I know there’s no God,” while at the same time demonstrating that he doesn’t know what the word “God” means.

I’d love to see him take seriously what it really might mean. It would make for a more interesting book, for one thing. Who wants to read a book supposedly about God, written by someone who doesn’t know what the word means?

But again, I’d love to see him take seriously what God is all about. He’s rejecting the best, most important truth in all reality, and as he’s demonstrated here, he doesn’t know what he’s missing.

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125 Responses to “ Assume You’re Wrong and Jerry Coyne Is Right. Now Discuss Which of You Is Right. ”

  1. But this dictum of Coyne’s requires that we have the ability to imagine a world without any God or gods, which we could only do successfully if biblical theism were in fact false.

    I have the ability to imagine a world without any God or gods. In fact, I just did so, successfully. I can also imagine a world with a God or various gods. This is not a high bar.

  2. A theory must be falsifiable. If you suggest there’s a God, then you have to show how this godly world differs from some imagined world without God. That’s how science works. It has to be falsifiable. Coyne can’t help thinking like a scientist.

    Your point seems to be that the whole world wouldn’t even exist without God, so it’s impossible to even imagine a world without God. But in that case it’s hard to see any difference between God and the world as a whole. If you define God simply as “that which exists,” then your idea is correct but trivial.

    What about considering a particular aspect of God? Imagine a world that God created and then abandoned, with no heavenly intervention at all. How would such a world look different from our real world?

    Maybe you’ll say it’s impossible to imagine a world that God created but doesn’t care about. Indeed, it’s really impossible to cut God up into small pieces to analyze separately. But again, this leads to the trivial position that God is simply everything.

  3. Gavin, if the biblical God exists, you don’t have the ability to imagine a reality in which the biblical God does not exist. Please re-read the OP, where I explained why that’s true.

    If the biblical God exists and created you and everything else, then to imagine a world without that God is to imagine a world in which you do not exist, and nothing you’re familiar with exists, either.

    Therefore, conversely, to claim that you can successfully imagine a world without God is to claim that you know the biblical God does not exist. To claim that theists should be able to do the same is to claim that theists should agree that theism is false.

    Hence the title of the blog post, hence the fifth paragraph of the OP. and hence the circularity of Coyne’s dictum.

    Your simple assertion here carries no more logical weight than, “I can imagine squaring a circle by Euclidean means.” That is, just because you say you can imagine it means nothing, when reasons are available to show that you cannot.

  4. John, you’re taking the discussion in some other directions, interesting ones to be sure, but different from Coyne’s.

    His dictum clearly entails circular assumptions. Would you agree with that?

    Much of the rest of what you wrote could be addressed in these terms: God makes himself known, but not on Jerry Coyne’s terms. Your assertion,

    Your point seems to be that the whole world wouldn’t even exist without God, so it’s impossible to even imagine a world without God. But in that case it’s hard to see any difference between God and the world as a whole

    displays a basic misunderstanding of God’s relation to the world, on theism. Suppose I said this blog post couldn’t exist without me, so it’s hard to see any difference between me and the blog post. I don’t think you’d go there! We could discuss that more if you’d like, but first I’d be interested in knowing how you would answer the question I just asked you about Coyne.

  5. The problem in theism is that you can’t set aside a control group. In a scientific experiment you would try to have two groups, one with God and the other without, and the two groups would be otherwise identical. That way you could observe the difference God makes, if any.

    But it’s absurd to think this way, because you can’t sequester God into one little group while keeping God out of the other group. God is the very reason why we are able to make groups or do science at all.

    I’m not sure I’d call it circular reasoning, but it definitely is absurd to postulate that God doesn’t exist and then wonder what happens next.

    Maybe Coyne would actually agree with you that this is an unfair test. And Coyne’s point would be that we simply can’t apply science methods in our study of God. (I’m just speculating since I don’t have the book yet.)

  6. Gavin, if the biblical God exists, you don’t have the ability to imagine a reality in which the biblical God does not exist.

    I do have the ability to imagine a reality in which the biblical God does not exist. That is simply a fact. Draw whatever conclusions you like.

    Do any other readers here have the ability to imagine a reality in which the biblical God does not exist?

  7. Let me say that I am very impressed that you used your theistic model to make an actual prediction about the world, claiming that in your model it would be impossible to imagine a world without God. Strong work!

    Now I have tested that prediction and found that it is false. I can imagine a world without God. Other people interested in this debate don’t have to take my word for it. They can try it themselves, or ask one of their more imaginative friends, or any ask any five year old. It is very reproducible. I bet almost anyone can do it! Maybe not everyone, but certainly a great many people can imagine a world without God, even many believers.

    Your logic is flawed, or God doesn’t exist. Take your pick.

  8. A theory must be falsifiable.

    The problem in theism is that you can’t set aside a control group.

    Perhaps a better way of expressing this is that the hypothesis “God exists” is unfalsifiable by empirical methods for many definitions of God, including those used by most religions. What would it look like to create a model of God’s behaviour and then change conditions to test what happens?

    That said, many religions have claims that are amenable to historical testing, and almost all make claims that are amenable to philosophical testing.

    I suspect part of the issue is the rhetorical sleight of hand to use “unscientific” to mean “false” rather than simply “beyond the capabilities of the scientific method”.

  9. Gavin, you’re not taking the full context into account. Please re-read the whole OP, not just the line or two you quoted from it.

    If you’re imagining a world in which God doesn’t exist, and if you’re doing it successfully, then you’re right: God doesn’t exist. But how do you know you’re doing it successfully? You’re doing it successfully only if you can create a mental picture in which God is both nonexistent and non-necessary, which in turn is possible only if it’s true that God is indeed nonexistent and non-necessary. Otherwise you’re creating a mental picture that’s informed by God and his work. Tell me then: how would you discern the difference? How would you know, in some non-question begging way, whether your mental picture was or wasn’t informed by God and by his work?

  10. I’ve read the whole OP several times. I understand your argument. Your argument leads to a prediction, which is great.

    Now collect some data. See if you can find people who can imagine a world without God. I can create a mental picture in which God is both nonexistent and non-necessary. It’s easy. But don’t trust me. Ask around.

    I’m sorry I can’t join you, because it would be great fun watching you inform people that they are not imagining what they are in fact imagining. Post some of their incredulous reactions for us some time.

  11. Gavin and John,

    A few problems:

    1) “Otherwise you’re creating a mental picture that’s informed by God and his work. Tell me then: how would you discern the difference? How would you know, in some non-question begging way, whether your mental picture was or wasn’t informed by God and by his work?”

    2) viz. D. Hart ~ The Necessary – the infinite wellspring of being, consciousness, and bliss that is the source, order, and end of all reality – is evident everywhere, inescapably present to us, while “autonomous nature” is something that has never, even for a moment, come into view. Pure nature is an unnatural concept.

    3) A troubled layer added to both #1 and #2 finding that one cannot viz. materialism’s cognition imagine what one thinks one can imagine – given necessity – and necessity is – well – Necessary: “The most egregious of naturalism’s deficiencies, however, is the impossibility of isolating its supposed foundation – that strange abstraction, self-sufficient nature – as a genuinely independent reality, of which we have some cognizance or in which we have some good cause to believe. We may be tempted to imagine that a materialist approach to reality is the soundest default position we have, because supposedly it can be grounded in empirical experience: of the material order, after all, we assume we have an immediate knowledge, while of any more transcendental reality we can form only conjectures or fantasies; and what is nature except matter in motion? But this is wrong, both in fact and in principle. For one thing, we do not actually have an immediate knowledge of the material order in itself but know only its phenomenal aspects, by which our minds organize our sensory experiences. Even “matter” is only a general concept and must be imposed upon the data of the senses in order for us to interpret them as experiences of any particular kind of reality (that is, material rather than, say, mental). More to the point, any logical connection we might imagine to exist between empirical experiences of the material order and the ideology of scientific naturalism is entirely illusory. Between our sensory impressions and the abstract concept of a causally closed and autonomous order called “nature” there is no necessary correlation whatsoever. Such a concept may determine how we think about our sensory impressions, but those impressions cannot in turn provide any evidence in favor of that concept. Neither can anything else. We have no immediate experience of pure nature as such, nor any coherent notion of what such a thing might be. The object has never appeared. No such phenomenon has ever been observed or experienced or cogently imagined.”

    4) If the materialist then wants to dive into this or that flavor of Idealism or Useful fictions, and so on, and employ Mind as the means to make claims upon that strange abstraction called Actuality – that strange abstraction called autonomous nature – or any other End of The Line – there inside of the Ocean of mental abstraction that just is The Necessary – well the Theist is happy to join him in said dive. The topography of such a landscape will – the materialist will soon find – become quite troublesome for him and quite friendly to the Theist.

  12. Gavin, John,

    This is why the Skeptic’s claim that the Theist is somehow here describing “pantheism” is completely misguided.

    The Skeptic not only has no understanding of “God” in the Christian sense – but he also seems to have no understanding of his own claims of imagining that curious abstraction he calls “autonomous nature“. As D. Hart noted, we have no immediate experience of pure nature as such, nor any coherent notion of what such a thing might be. The object has never appeared. No such phenomenon has ever been observed or experienced or cogently imagined.

    Sensory perceptions organized into the abstractions we call reality give us no immediate knowledge of what the Skeptic claims to be able to imagine. Not unless incoherence and wish-fulfillment count as “imagining”.

    D. Hart goes on:

    “We cannot encounter the world without encountering at the same time the being of the world, which is a mystery that can never be dispelled by any physical explanation of reality, inasmuch as it is a mystery logically prior to and in excess of the physical order. We cannot encounter the world, furthermore, except in the luminous medium of intentional and unified consciousness, which defies every reduction to purely physiological causes, but which also clearly corresponds to an essential intelligibility in being itself. We cannot encounter the world, finally, except through our conscious and intentional orientation toward the absolute, in pursuit of a final bliss that beckons to us from within those transcendental desires that constitute the very structure of rational thought, and that open all of reality to us precisely by bearing us on toward ends that lie beyond the totality of physical things. The whole of nature is something prepared for us, composed for us, given to us, delivered into our care by a “supernatural” dispensation. All this being so one might plausibly say that God – the infinite wellspring of being, consciousness, and bliss that is the source, order, and end of all reality – is evident everywhere, inescapably present to us, while that [curious abstraction] “autonomous nature” is something that has never, even for a moment, come into view. Pure nature is an unnatural concept.”

  13. Gavin @11: You didn’t answer my questions in #10.

    If there is a God as depicted in the Bible, then logically it’s impossible for you to imagine what the world would be like if it were not created by God.

    It is not logically impossible for you to think you can imagine it, but it’s impossible for you to successfully imagine it. I used that word “successfully” as part of the logical condition statement in the OP. In #10 I challenged you to show how you would demonstrate that you were successful. You didn’t try; you only repeated yourself.

    Until you can answer the questions in #10, logically and coherently, I can only conclude that you have no idea whether you are being successful in imagining how the world would be if it were not created by God.

    Since the challenge was to do so successfully, and you have no way of knowing whether you’re doing it successfully, then you have no grounds for claiming you’ve defeated the point of the OP.

  14. If there is a God as depicted in the Bible…

    God is depicted in the Bible as creating the world in seven days.

    …then logically it’s impossible for you to imagine what the world would be like if it were not created by God.

    I can logically imagine that, if the world were not created by God as depicted in the Bible, it would not, on observation of the available evidence, appear to have been created in seven days. And indeed, this is what we observe.

  15. AdamHazzard:

    1. Your reading of Genesis 1 and 2 partakes of the same fundamentalistic literalism you probably think (falsely) Christians are guilty of. If you can’t think of a way to read the Bible in context of its genre, that doesn’t mean no one else can.

    2. The question was not in any event, “Can you imagine some point at which theistic predictions fail to match observations?” The question was, “Can you successfully describe the way the world would be if there were no God?” That latter question is the one Coyne seems to answering “Yes,” and it’s the one I’ve identified as question-begging.

  16. Can you successfully describe the way the world would be if there were no God?

    Sorry if this seems tendentious, but you would have to specify a definition of God for the purposes of the question. (You offered a slightly more specific “God as depicted in the Bible,” but then ruled out a literal interpretation of Genesis. Which is fine, but I can’t predict a priori which literal or figurative interpretation of any particular Biblical text you may prefer.)

  17. Tom Gilson –

    It comes down to, Let’s assume, “at the very least,” that you’re wrong and I’m right. Now, let’s discuss which one of us is more likely right.

    OK. Assuming that is a bad thing. Got it.

    Now, you say, “On the biblical view of God (rather obviously), if God exists then everything we could ever imagine or think about is absolutely and completely conditioned by the materials he created for us to think with and think about.” And you expand to Gavin, “…if the biblical God exists, you don’t have the ability to imagine a reality in which the biblical God does not exist.”

    So, help me out. It sure looks like you’re assuming that Coyne (and Gavin, etc.) are wrong (“if the biblical God exists…”), and then discussing which of you is more likely right. That’s bad when Coyne does it, but apparently not when you do it. What am I missing?

  18. No, Ray, I’m not assuming Coyne is wrong about the existence of God in this post. I’m pointing out that his dictum requires that Christians be wrong about the existence of God.

    This is not about whether God exists, but about whether Coyne’s dictum is question-begging.

    Adam, the only definition of God necessary for the purpose I’ve undertaken here is “Creator of all that is in the material world.” If we define God with nothing more specific than that, then my criticism of Coyne applies.

  19. @Gavin:

    I have the ability to imagine a world without any God or gods. In fact, I just did so, successfully. I can also imagine a world with a God or various gods. This is not a high bar.

    previous note: I am not sure I understand exactly what Tom’s argument is, but here is my reconstruction of it. For my purposes I will replace Tom’s “Biblical theism” by “classical theism”.

    Of course it is not a high bar, but then you are equivocating on the word “imagine” (but admittedly, the fault is probably not yours). What you are doing is something like this: you conjure a mental image of the universe, put a caption to it “God does not exist here” and then proceed to declare victory. But this victory is a rather pyrrhic one that counts for nothing. For if the arguments for classical theism are valid and sound (and they are; grin) while you can conjure a mental image of such a universe, as a matter of metaphysical necessity such a universe could not possibly exist.

  20. Adam, the only definition of God necessary for the purpose I’ve undertaken here is “Creator of all that is in the material world.”

    Thanks. So your assertion becomes, “If there is a creator of all that is in the material world as depicted in the Bible, then logically it’s impossible for you to imagine what the world would be like if it were not created by a creator of all that is in the material world.”

    In other words, you seem to be saying that we can’t logically imagine a world without a creator, if we live in a created world. Which seems not to follow. (We can imagine an eternally existing material world, for instance, whether or not that’s actually the case.)

    Or you might be saying that it’s logically impossible to think of the created world as lacking a creator. But that begs the question.

    Or I’m misunderstanding you at some fundamental level, which is certainly possible.

  21. Gavin and Adam,

    May I suggest this: Imagine what the universe would be like if there never had been a Big Bang. That may start you down the right track to figuring out why Jerry Coyne is wrong and why his approach is nonsense to Christians.

  22. Jenna: “May I suggest this: Imagine what the universe would be like if there never had been a Big Bang.”

    Presumably, in that case, the universe would not be observed to be expanding, and the (now discarded) Steady State hypothesis would be confirmed. Or the observed expansion would require some other explanation, if we were to somehow rule out a Big Bang. Either alternative seems perfectly imaginable.

  23. Adam, RE: #23

    So if scientists are able to imagine different scenarios that don’t match up with the physical, empirical evidence, is this proof that the Big Bang never happened?

  24. Jenna: “So if scientists are able to imagine different scenarios that don’t match up with the physical, empirical evidence, is this proof that the Big Bang never happened?”

    No, of course not. Why do you ask?

  25. You’re not getting it yet.

    Theism is (among other things) the view that whatever is, is dependent for its existence and reality upon God as prime reality. Therefore your imagination, and your ability to describe possible states of reality, are dependent on God as the prime reality. The view we call theism is therefore (among other things) the view that there is absolutely no possible way whatsoever to imagine a world in which God is not the prime reality.

    Coyne is saying theists ought at the very least be able to describe what the world would be like without a God; but theism is (among other things) the view that this is an impossible task for any human at any time whatsoever.

    Now, so far in this comment I haven’t stated that theism is true. I haven’t even gone so far as to take the controversial stance of classical theism, which G. Rodrigues stated earlier. (I think that stance is true, but I know others disagree with it.) I’m only taking a stance here that we should be able to agree on: that it’s definitional of theism that if theism is true, then it’s absolutely and completely impossible for any person to imagine or describe what the world might be like if there were no God.

    If you deny that this is part of the definition of the belief, “theism,” then you’re only displaying your ignorance of the meaning of the word.

    What Coyne says theists should be able to do in the course of defending our beliefs, at the very least, is to describe what the world would be like if there were no God. Since by definition it’s impossible for anyone to do that if theism is true, Coyne is saying that theists ought to be able to defend our belief by defining theism in terms that contradict our belief.

    That’s question-begging. It’s question-begging on the terms I’ve put forth here: not assuming that theism is true, but simply accepting that theism is defined (among other things) as the belief that all reality, including our ability to describe any imagined reality, is dependent on the existence of God. Again, if you have any problem with theism being defined that way, you’re only displaying that you don’t know what the belief system theism is, by definition.

  26. In simpler terms, Coyne’s dictum is as meaningful as, “Describe the way the world would like if absolutely everything whatsoever about the world were absolutely different than it is.”

  27. Tom: “What Coyne says theists should be able to do in the course of defending our beliefs, at the very least, is to describe what the world would be like if there were no God. Since by definition it’s impossible for anyone to do that if theism is true…”

    Not impossible at all. A theist might say, for instance, “If God did not exist, neither would the universe.” In fact, I take this to be your position.

    You’re claiming that, under the assumptions of theism, a wholly naturalistic universe is impossible. All material phenomena ultimately derive from a non-material creator being, in this view.

    Fine. But that’s a hypothesis about how the material universe came into existence (i.e., by the will of an immaterial creator being). All you’ve said is that you know of no way of empirically confirming or refuting that claim, since the existence of any material phenomenon of any conceivable kind is compatible with the hypothesis.

    But as Coyne says in the book (p. 34 of the print edition), “In the end, a theory that can’t be shown to be wrong can never be shown to be right.”

  28. Tom,

    I went on to Amazon and looked at the preview of Coyne’s book. In stating “The Problem” he says that science and religion are “competitors at discovering truths about nature…” and that “Religion has no ability to overturn the truths found by science…” and that the issue is “…the ability of science to erode the hegemony of faith…”

    There are several questions or issues as I see it:

    1. What is the relationship between God and nature? Can God be taken out of nature and examined as apart, distinct and separate from nature, as the naturalists claim to be able to do?

    2. Does any religion, much less Christianity, seek to “overturn scientific truths”? If so, why? For what purpose? To achieve what goal?

    3. What is meant by the “hegemony of faith” and has science been assigned the role of “eroding” it, and if so, why?

    We easily get the gist of his argument. Having not read the book, I wonder how he frames the relationship between God and nature in making the statement you quote above:

    “… those theists should be able to describe what the world would be like had it arisen in purely naturalistic manner.”

  29. AdamH.,

    ““In the end, a theory that can’t be shown to be wrong can never be shown to be right.””

    This is why metaphysical seamlessness matters. Philosophical Naturalism and Theism are not within the reach of scientism specifically and science more generally – to falsify or to demonstrate.

    PN cannot be verified or falsified by such means.

    The moment one understands *why* both are unanswerable by such modalities one will understand the incoherent assumptions in Coyne’s appeal to mind-dependent abstractions to invent what they cannot reach.

    His challenge works against PN to an equal degree and that is so necessarily.

    Hence the question-begging which Tom justifiably points out.

  30. Coyne is wrong on p. 34 of the print edition. The falsification criterion has been falsified.

    Theory:

    1 = 1
    None of your ancestors died childless
    No theory can be shown true unless it could be shown to be false.

    All of those are true; none of them are falsifiable.

    Further, there are unfalsifiable theories we take to be true for good reason, even though technically they could be false.

    There are other minds beside my own.
    I am not a Boltzmann brain.
    Electrons exist.

    All you’ve said is that you know of no way of empirically confirming or refuting that claim, since the existence of any material phenomenon of any conceivable kind is compatible with the hypothesis.

    Really? I said that? Where? I’m not even finding where I said theism is an hypothesis about how the material universe came into being. I don’t think it fits the usual definition of “hypothesis” at all.

    I never said these things were unknowable. They’re just not knowable on Coyne’s tendentious and question-begging terms. If you’re going to cover “all that [I’ve] said,” you might include the fact that I’m saying Coyne has written a book on a topic he doesn’t understand. That was the point of my blog post. I should think that would qualify it as being one of the things that I’ve said.

  31. “Religion has no ability to overturn the truths found by science…”

    Whoever said it did? It’s a classic straw man argument. Claiming religion wants to do something it doesn’t want to do nor claim to be able to do. On the other hand, science as we know it, is almost wholly dependent on the philosophical underpinnings provided by theism as has been discussed here many times.

  32. Tom –

    Adam, the only definition of God necessary for the purpose I’ve undertaken here is “Creator of all that is in the material world.”

    Isn’t there at least one additional trait that’d be critical – that the “Creator” is in some sense personal, that the “Creator” has some kind of consciousness? That “all that is in the material world” had an origin is one thing, that there was a choice about it is something else.

  33. Further, there are unfalsifiable theories we take to be true for good reason, even though technically they could be false.

    I wouldn’t call what you listed in your response “theories”; rather, they’re more “axioms”. Not only are they unfalsifiable, but they are the kinds of things that are required to base falsifiable theories on.

    Well, except, “None of your ancestors died childless”. That’s more a theorem than a theory. It’s the consequence of a syllogism, from the fact that you exist and the definition of an ‘ancestor’.

  34. BillT,

    Constructing a straw man. That’s what atheists must do. You can’t burn a straw man at the stake until you construct one, no?

  35. Ray, RE: #33

    Aren’t you straying from the discussion of Coyne’s argument? He asks Christians to envision a universe without God, and consequently, a universe with a creator, while you enter into musings about what a Creator would be like.

    I don’t think that it is correct or philosophically and conceptually sound to call “creator” or “Creator” a “trait” (aka, attribute, characteristic, etc.) of the deity of monotheism.

  36. Ray,

    “…Not only are they unfalsifiable….”

    This is why metaphysical seamlessness matters.

    Philosophical Naturalism and Theism are not within the reach of scientism specifically and science more generally – to falsify or to demonstrate.

    PN cannot be verified or falsified by such means.

    The moment one understands *why* both are unanswerable by such modalities one will understand the incoherent assumptions in Coyne’s appeal to mind-dependent abstractions to invent what they cannot reach.

    His challenge works against PN to an equal degree and that is so necessarily.

    Hence the question-begging which Tom justifiably points out.

  37. J.B.

    @ #38

    Your point, while valid, is only a problem if one’s stopping point is scientism specifically or physicalistic science more generally.

    For example:

    To falsify one’s mind, one’s self – well it *is* possible but only if one embraces the stopping point of scientism specifically or physicalistic science more generally, as such inevitably give rise to the disappearing-self. So – in a way – the non-theist does hold that even “truth” is (truly?) falsifiable at some point.

    Exercise:

    Close your eyes and imagine a world in which truth is falsifiable.

    If you can.

  38. Jenna @ 38,

    If theism is true, and if God is not only Creator but providential sustainer of all that is, “in whom all things hold together,” and for whom all things exist, then one prediction of that would be that there’s nothing in all reality that could actually point toward his nonexistence. Some things might seem to do so, but if God is that kind of God, then it’s only a seeming; it’s the result of incomplete knowledge and misapprehended inferences.

    Properly understood, the concept “God” is only falsifiable if it is actually false. The theist is under no burden to demonstrate falsifiability, since that would be saying that in order to show God is, we must show that he meets a condition predicted only by atheism.

    This is no apologetic copout; it’s inherent in the definition of “God.”

    There is evidence for God; there is reason to believe; but it’s not of the form, “describe a world with God and another without God, and test to see which more nearly resembles the world we live in.”

  39. I think I see a new argument against God:

    1. All facts must be falsifiable in principle.
    2. God is not falsifiable in principle.
    3. Therefore God is not a fact.

    Or something like that.

    It’s handy how that works: it requires no evidence at all, only some definitions;: “fact,” “falsifiable,” and “God.” God is ruled out by definition, no science required, no empiricism required, no observation required.

    The only problem is that Premise 1 is false.

  40. Not to say Coyne has well made case.. but Tom’s objection is basically just another ontological argument, ala Anselm – which no matter which version you choose, have some pretty tremendous difficulties.

    Either way, it seems to me like theist thinkers actually imagine a Godless universe all the time: i.e.: “If God does not exits, the moral values do not exist”, etc.

  41. The Skeptic has to succeed in imagining a world in such a way that what you image in your imagining is void of all which one’s own sensory perceptions organized into mind’s abstractions gives to you. That which exists out there – which you picture in your mind in said experiment – which is both present and void of the Divine Mind – must be imagined by you as that which is void of all which mind’s abstraction gives to you. If you succeed then you’ve succeeded in imagining what sums to no-thing – more specifically that which sums to non-being.

    The Skeptic cannot achieve this – and, as noted earlier, the only reason he thinks he can succeed in the experiment is because he mistakenly thinks we have an immediate knowledge of the material order but of any more transcendental reality we can form only conjectures; and what is nature except matter in motion? But this is wrong, both in fact and in principle. For one thing, we do not actually have an immediate knowledge of the material order in itself but know only its phenomenal aspects, by which our minds organize our sensory experiences. Even “matter” is only a general concept and must be imposed upon the data of the senses in order for us to interpret them as experiences of any particular kind of reality (that is, material rather than, say, mental).

    To actually image in our minds reality void of the Christian God – the Necessary Mind – the source, order, and end of all being – and so on – means imaging a very specific something – a very specific something intimately amalgamated with all that sums to mind – to abstraction.

    The Skeptic is mislead here on what it means to succeed merely because he thinks we have an immediate knowledge of that bizarre and never before seen abstraction which he calls autonomous nature – which he (again mistakenly) thinks sums to “matter”.

    Such un-sophisticated philosophy is why the Skeptic thinks he can image what he thinks he can image.

    The imaged reality would have to (actually) satisfy the following:

    Non-being void of any and all contours which sum to this or that contour of mind, of abstraction, of mind’s abstraction. Should any image he images in his mind be granted to him by such contours – he at once fails the experiment.

    In a curiously related sense there is yet another impossible world which the Skeptic may need to attempt should he wish to succeed:

    If the Skeptic wants to imagine a world which Scientism can build for him – then he merely needs to close his eyes and imagine a world in which Truth, Fact, is falsifiable.

  42. d, it’s not an ontological argument, and it doesn’t share any of such difficulties. It’s an explanation of how Jerry Coyne is writing about theism and doesn’t understand what he’s talking about.

  43. Either way, it seems to me like theist thinkers actually imagine a Godless universe all the time: i.e.: “If God does not exits, the moral values do not exist”, etc.

    We don’t try to describe what the universe would be like without God. We explore features taken individually in light of the premise, “there is no God involved in this feature.”

    For example, we examine non-theistic explanations for the existence of moral values and duties, and we compare those explanations to theistic explanations.

    That’s hardly the same as Coyne’s dictum of describing what the whole universe would be like if it had arisen naturalistically.

  44. Tom Gilson –

    All facts must be falsifiable in principle.

    What if the principle is, rather, “All statements of fact must be falsifiable in principle”?

    And, really, you have to limit this to “All statements of fact about real-world things must be falsifiable in principle.” Statements of fact about mathematics are based on axioms and theorems derived from those axioms. Statements about the world are based partially on axioms, partly on sense-data and experience, etc.

    I’d be prepared to defend a statement like that. See this essay by Carl Sagan for some illustrations. “Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?”

  45. All statements of fact about real-world things must be falsifiable in principle.

    If this is a true statement that exists as a fact in the real world, then it must be falsifiable. If it’s a falsifiable fact of the real world then that statement is not true.

    Here’s the problem: you’re pitting truth against itself and demanding that it be false (possibly false), but that can never be the case. Truth cannot possibly be non-truth – ever.

  46. @Tom

    We don’t try to describe what the universe would be like without God. We explore features taken individually in light of the premise, “there is no God involved in this feature.”

    For example, we examine non-theistic explanations for the existence of moral values and duties, and we compare those explanations to theistic explanations.

    That’s hardly the same as Coyne’s dictum of describing what the whole universe would be like if it had arisen naturalistically.

    Fair enough, I *think* I understand your point a bit better.

  47. SteveK –

    If this is a true statement that exists as a fact in the real world, then it must be falsifiable.

    So far as I can tell, there’s at least a couple kinds of ‘real’. Whatever sense that the number pi ‘exists’, it’s rather different from the way the banana on the desk to my right exists. The kind of ‘real world’ I’m talking about is the latter. The former sense – more of a Platonic sense, a ‘couldn’t not be’ sense – applies to logical statements like the one you’re quoting.

    In short, “there are no even primes greater than 2” is a different kind of statement than “there are no winged unicorns”.

  48. Ray,

    Truth is not falsifiable.

    Listing 10K examples of other things cannot change that.

    As in: “Truth is not falsifiable” remains unchanged by all your examples thus far – as if 10K examples can offer you a bit of hazy wiggle room.

    They can’t.

    Ever.

    Are you really arguing the point?

    I don’t think you are.

    Because you can’t.

    Rather – you’re merely (it seems) doing the typcial Skeptic’s dance towards illusion breaking through “at some point for all we know” as the disappearing-mind ushers in viz. elimination’s sacred vapors.

    Imagine a world which Scientism can build for us – a world in which Truth is falsifiable. Such a world exists and illusion/delusion wins the day – or – scientism fails to inform us of necessary contours within reality granting then that quite another *kind* of some-thing becomes necessary to build our imaginable world.

    It’s one or the other.

  49. Here’s a statement of fact about the real world, Ray: Every ancestor to every person now living had children who lived.

    This is not falsifiable, because it’s true. The conditions under which its falsification might be conceivable are actually inconceivable.

    Now Coyne’s statement is not quite the same: people can conceive of the possibility there is no God. What’s not conceivable is for those who believe in the theistic God to describe the way the world might be if there was no God. The request from Coyne is simply a display of his misunderstanding of theism.

    Shall I try to state it again a different way? I mean, it’s obvious to me, but it’s not getting through. Coyne’s dictum is logically equivalent to, “Theists should at the very least describe what they think reality would be like if every foundational truth they think about reality were false.”

    I can’t do it. I can’t do it because if I wipe out every foundational truth I think about reality, then I’m left with no starting point. I have no reason to think there would even be any reality, much less that I’d be able to describe what it would be like.

  50. This is similar to what Jenna was getting to when she brought up the Big Bang. There are alternate ways to conceive of the universe, so her attempt wasn’t quite successful. But let’s take it the rest of the way:

    “Atheists should be able at the very least to describe what the universe would be like if every foundational truth by which they understand the possible origins and the actual nature of the universe were false.”

    Where would you begin?

  51. RE: different kinds of “real.”

    If God exists, which kind of “real” is he? Is he the kind of real that must be falsifiable in principle? I think not; for if God exists, he exists more necessarily than the value of pi.

    The same argument of course goes for statements about God. If God exists, then true statements about God are more necessarily true than true statements about the value of pi.

    I shake my head in amazement over how some people will take a contingent and local principle of epistemology and think it applies to the very foundational, most necessary conditions underlying all of reality.

    Fact: the universe exists.

    Is that falsifiable?

    Suppose God exists, and exists necessarily.

    Why should that be falsifiable?

  52. Tom @52

    One place I could begin is with your version of biblical theism, since you claim that every foundational truth about it is fundamentally tied to God. I don’t have to start from scratch; you’ve got something to offer.

    And so do atheists. You could try it.

  53. Back to the atheistic ontological argument:

    1. No statement of fact that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.
    2. The statement, “God exists necessarily,” is a statement of fact that if true, is not falsifiable.
    3. If it is true that God exists necessarily, cannot be known to be true.

    Okay so far? Try it this way:

    1. No statement of fact that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.
    2. If the statement is true, “A God who can communicate knowledge of himself truly to humans exists necessarily,” that statement is not falsifiable.
    3. If it is true that God who can communicate knowledge of himself truly to hims, exists necessarily, then humans cannot know that this is true.
    4. If God can be known truly by humans then he cannot be known truly by humans.

    That’s a reductio ad absurdum. Premises 3 and 4 are valid inferences from the preceding premises, so the problem has to be in 1 or 2. Premise 2 seems sound: see comment 53, especially the end of it. Premise 1 seems to be the point of failure.

  54. Back to the OP, Gavin, you’re right to this extent: If I provisionally accept that atheism is true, then I can echo atheists’ description of how the universe came to be. That’s trivially easy, and for that reason I don’t think it’s what Coyne was getting at. If he was, then I’ve misconstrued him, no doubt. Also if he was, then he was saying theists should be able to do what any educated theist obviously could do; which leaves one wondering why he would say it.

  55. Echoing is trivially easy. Understanding atheists’ description of how the universe came to be is not. I think that any educated theist obviously could do it. Very few do. This, I think, is why Coyne points out that they should.

  56. Back to the atheistic ontological argument:

    1. No statement of fact that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.
    2. The statement, “God exists necessarily,” is a statement of fact that if true, is not falsifiable.
    3. If it is true that God exists necessarily, cannot be known to be true.

    But, Tom, “God exists necessarily” is not a statement of fact. It’s a metaphysical speculation about God (both that a God exists and that the existence of such a God is necessary to the existence of all things). It’s a metaphysical speculation that you accept as a statement of fact. It’s a metaphysical speculation that I do not accept as a statement of fact. We cannot, alas, resolve our disagreement by recourse to confirming or disconfirming evidence, because the speculation (like so many other metaphysical speculations) is not falsifiable. (As the Christian philosopher Peter van Inwagen says in his textbook on metaphysics, “philosophy has not been able to produce any uncontroversial results.”)

  57. AdamH.,

    Truth is not falsifiable.

    Or:

    The Necessarily True is not falsifiable.

    Tom’s point is that there is no need for the Christian to present a falsifiable God.

    The Skeptic who demands that the Christian present – or imagine – a world in which The Necessarily True (or God) is falsifiable is burdened with the painful task of *presenting* a coherent argument that such a world – a world in which the Necessarily True is falsifiable – is in fact a possible world.

    Only Scientism can hope to build such a world.

    Imagine a world which Scientism can build for us – a world in which Truth – in which The Necessarily True – is falsifiable. In such a world illusion/delusion painfully wins the day at some seam somewhere – or – Scientism simply fails to inform us of necessary contours within reality granting then that quite another *kind* of some-thing becomes necessary to build possible – imaginable – worlds.

  58. Okay, Adam, try it this way. This is logically equivalent to the first version, but you might like it better anyway.

    1. No statement of fact that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.
    2. If the statement, “God exists necessarily,” is a true statement of fact, it is not falsifiable.
    3. If it is true that God exists necessarily, it cannot be known to be true.

    (When someone speaks of a “statement of fact” that might or might not be true, most readers can understand from the context that it means a putative statement of fact.)

    While I’m at it I might as well repeat the second argument and fix some typos in it:

    1. No statement of fact that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.
    2. If the statement is true, “A God who can communicate knowledge of himself truly to humans exists necessarily,” that statement is not falsifiable.
    3. If it is true that a God who can communicate knowledge of himself truly exists necessarily, then humans cannot know that this is true.
    4. If there is a God who can be known truly by humans, then there is no God who can be known truly by humans.

    Better now?

    Your objection was logically irrelevant before, but maybe it wasn’t obvious enough then. It should be more clear in this form.

  59. To the second part of your objection, it just isn’t true that a statement must be falsifiable to be knowably true. You can repeat that all night long, but when you wake up in the morning, you could look up some current works in epistemology and discover that the falsification criterion has been almost universally agreed to be non-universal.

    Can we agree that it’s true that every living organism’s ancestors going back to the beginning of beginnings had offspring that lived?

    Can we agree that there is absolutely no conceivable condition under which this general claim could be falsified? What would it be? Would you say the claim is true just because no one has ever found an organism whose parents never had any living offspring? That would seem to be the empirical ticket for you, but it’s inconceivable. Therefore by your epistemology, we can’t be confident of the claim.

    So could you please quit bringing up arguments that have been rebutted, acting as if they have authority just because you’re willing to repeat them over and over again?

    (Don’t take van Inwagen too literally, and for Pete’s sake, don’t try to foist such a context-free partial-sentence quote on us. Was he talking about all philosophy of all times in all circumstances and contexts? I doubt it.

    Philosophers do agree on some things.)

  60. Note also that the falsifiability criterion has been rebutted for this context, and I think probably also refuted, in the second argument of #62.

    If you can find a way to restore the criterion’s legitimacy in this context, go ahead. Until then, any claim you might repeat, that God is unknowable because God is unfalsifiable, is just the noise of a claim being repeated long after it’s been refuted.

  61. Try this:

    1. No claim that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.
    2. The claim “A God necessarily exists who can communicate reliable knowledge of himself to humans” cannot be known to be true unless:
    (a) the claim that a God necessarily exists is falsifiable;
    (b) the claim that communication with this God has taken place is falsifiable; and
    (c) the claim that what is allegedly communicated is true is falsifiable.

    Note that (a) is not falsifiable and (b) is probably not falsifiable. As for (c), the falsifiability of the content of claims allegedly communicated by God depends on the specific nature of the claim; if you were to say, “God has told me that living things cannot originate from inanimate matter,” we would have a distinctly falsifiable claim.

    You clearly want to take issue with (1), “No claim that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.” Which is fine, but we’re left wondering what methods you then use to sort true unfalsifiable claims from untrue unfalsifiable claims.

  62. In other words, Tom, you may be entirely correct that there are truths that cannot be tested against the standard of falsifiability. But there are certainly also falsehoods that cannot be tested against the standard of falsifiability. How do we discern one from the other?

  63. Good question. We’re making progress.

    It’s going to take a few steps to get to the answer.

    Would you agree that it’s not logically impossible that God exists, and that if God exists, that God might be the kind of God who is not unable to communicate his reality reliably to humans?

  64. By the way, I do want to take issue with (1). I’m saying you should reject it, too. I gave reasons for saying so. I’m happy to hear you say (#66) that I might be right. It’s not that I need to be right about it, it’s that I think we’ll proceed a lot more profitably here if we give up on what’s not right–like the belief that falsifiability is a universal criterion for knowledge.

  65. Would you agree that it’s not logically impossible that God exists, and that if God exists, that God might be the kind of God who is not unable to communicate his reality reliably to humans?

    Well, I can’t really know what you mean by “God,” so I’ll have to hedge my answer: you may have in mind a conception of God that is logically impossible, for all I know. And “not logically impossible” is perhaps the lowest possible bar to set. But let’s pass that by and stipulate for the sake of argument that the existence of God is not logically impossible. Might such a God be able to communicate his reality reliably to humans? Well, depends on what you mean by “reliably.” If you mean, “in some form that meets the criterion of falsifiability,” then yes, God should be able to do this.

    The absence of communication from God that meets the criterion of falsifiability, in that case, might seem surprising, if such a God actually exists, and might be better explained by the non-existence of God.

  66. Okay,

    By “God,” I mean an all-powerful, all-knowing, immaterial being who created all reality. (I could say more about God that’s enough for these purposes.)

    If a God existed who could communicate his existence reliably to humans, what principle determines that this God’s communication must be subject to a (thoroughly rebutted) principle like the falsifiability criterion? Is there something about that criterion that necessarily makes an all-powerful, all-knowing creator subject to its mandates?

  67. “Communicate reliably” means in this case, “To communicate himself successfully enough so that humans can know something about God, and know that they know it.”

  68. If a God existed who could communicate his existence reliably to humans, what principle determines that this God’s communication must be subject to a (thoroughly rebutted) principle like the falsifiability criterion? Is there something about that criterion that necessarily makes an all-powerful, all-knowing creator subject to its mandates?

    Any communication from any source is going to be falsifiable (i.e., we will have that very valuable tool by which to evaluate its reliability), or it will not be falsifiable, in which case it may be indistinguishable from a metaphysical conjuecture.

  69. Now we see the problem.

    You think that if an all-knowing, all-powerful creator God exists, he necessarily lacks the knowledge and the power to create humans in such a way that we can acquire true knowledge about him except by some (thoroughly rebutted) falsifiability criterion.

    Has it occurred to you that you might be placing the (thoroughly rebutted) falsifiability criterion at a level higher than any possible all-knowing, all-powerful creator God?

    What if falsifiability weren’t higher than any possible God? Could you imagine that possibility?

  70. You think that if an all-knowing, all-powerful creator God exists, he necessarily lacks the knowledge and the power to create humans in such a way that we can acquire true knowledge about him except by some (thoroughly rebutted) falsifiability criterion.

    Not at all. In fact I think that if an all-knowing, all-powerful creator being did exist, he would be perfectly able to share the kind of knowledge that by its nature can be subjected to a criterion of falsifiability.

    Let me add that, since no such being has shared information with me, falsifiable or not, my only source for such claims comes from other human beings, including any claim that the source is ultimately divine. If these human claims are falsifiable, I can use that excellent tool to evaluate them. If these human claims are not falsifiable, they may not be distinguishable from metaphysical speculation or mere ungrounded assertion.

  71. Not at all. In fact I think that if an all-knowing, all-powerful creator being did exist, he would be perfectly able to share the kind of knowledge that by its nature can be subjected to a criterion of falsifiability.

    That’s not controversial and it’s not the question I asked. Why is it that you said, “Yes, he could indeed do x,” when what I asked was about the logical possibility of him doing y?

    Do you or do you not think that such a being would be limited to making himself known through means that meet the (thoroughly rebutted, although all those rebuttals are being roundly ignored) falsifiability criterion? Do you think it’s at least conceivable that an all-knowing, all-powerful creator could make himself reliably knowable without subjecting his self-revelation to the (thoroughly rebutted) necessity of falsifiability?

    If we can get through that important step, then we can deal with what you said in your next paragraph.

    If you hadn’t noticed, I’m actually camping not only on the logical possibilities that might attach to an all-powerful, all-knowing creator, but also on the fact that you keep camping on a thoroughly rebutted criterion. Hadn’t you noticed? Why do you ignore it?

  72. Adam, RE: #74

    Putting aside terminology that may obscure rather than illuminate our mutual understanding at this point, it seems to me that in this comment (and please correct me if I am wrong), you are saying that unless God reveals Himself to you personally and individually, you cannot accept (believe in) His existence based only on the testimony of your fellow human beings. My question to you is, why don’t you believe the testimony about God of other people? What reason do you think other people would have for being untruthful about their/our know of and experiences of/with God? This includes the testimony of the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians. I really am curious about this. JB

  73. Regarding all those reminders of the rebuttals, Adam, this is how it appears from here. You’re insistent on a criterion of falsifiability. If you really believed in the criterion you’d be carefully inspecting the argument to determine whether it has in fact been falsified. Instead you’re using the epistemology of repetition. You keep repeating your position without regard for whether it’s been falsified.

    If you take your falsifiability criterion seriously, then don’t ignore the possibility that it’s been falsified.

    Otherwise you’re just being hypocritical.

  74. Do you or do you not think that such a being would be limited to making himself known through means that meet the (thoroughly rebutted, although all those rebuttals are being roundly ignored) falsifiability criterion?

    What does it mean to say that an immaterial being can make itself known through means that do not meet the useful criterion of falsifiability?

    Do you think it’s at least conceivable that an all-knowing, all-powerful creator could make himself reliably knowable without subjecting his self-revelation to the (thoroughly rebutted) necessity of falsifiability?

    “Reliably knowable” in what sense? How would we judge such imparted knowledge to be in fact reliable? It may be, for all I know, that “imparted information that can be known by human beings to be reliable but is not falsifiable” is a logical contradiction — in which case God could no more perform such an act than he could create a round square.

  75. You’re insistent on a criterion of falsifiability.

    Not really. I do insist that it is one method that serves very well for evaluating at least some claims. (Do you disagree?) I don’t insist that any claim that is unfalsifiable is necessarily untrue. I do insist that there are unfalsifiable claims that are necessarily false — we know this because some unfalsifiable claims contradict other unfalsifiable claims.

    Where two unfalsifiable claims are in contradiction, how can we determine which one is true, or whether either of them is true?

    Note also that I’m not rejecting or condemning metaphysical speculation. It’s the process by which you transit from metaphysical speculation to reliable truth without a criterion of falsifiability that puzzles me.

  76. Jenna:

    it seems to me that in this comment (and please correct me if I am wrong), you are saying that unless God reveals Himself to you personally and individually, you cannot accept (believe in) His existence based only on the testimony of your fellow human beings. My question to you is, why don’t you believe the testimony about God of other people?

    Jenna, I live in a world in which there is much testimony on the subject of God, and a great deal of it is contradictory. (Moreover, much of this testimony concerns matters of metaphysics, which can no more be resolved by testimony than they can be subjected to the criterion of falsifiability.) Where these contradictions arise — and even where the contradictions are merely possible objections, plausible counterarguments, or alternative explanations of posited events — I need something more than testimony in order to arrive at a reasonable judgment.

    In the community of human thought, the existence and nature of God is very much an open question, with all kinds of proffered testimony available to seekers. You seem to be asking me to privilege Christian testimony over testimony from non-Christian or non-theistic sources. But I would need a compelling reason to do that.

  77. Adam,

    As a Christian, I am very intensely engaged in discussions of the “matters of metaphysics” surrounding questions about God and I highly value these discussions because I learn a great deal from the intellectual exchanges. But when I speak about testimony, I’m referring to the way I and other Christians live our Christianity and experience God, not just about the cognitive, intellectual, rational side of our Christian beliefs and our faith. This is where I know God and have a relationship with God that I live out every day. For me, apologetics is about testifying as to the joy, healing, peace, and deep sense of aliveness and connectedness to the Source of all life that Christianity gives me. That’s where I hope you will explore Christianity, with a Christian whose life you respect that you know and can talk to one-on-one about his/her faith.

    I am not asking you to “privilege” Christian testimony over other sources: I merely express my hope that you will in fact hear the testimony of one or more living breathing faithful Christians before rejecting Christianity because of “matters of metaphysics” that remain unresolved for you intellectually.

  78. Adam @78,

    You should be able to answer the question I put to you, even without knowing what it would mean for God to do it. The question we’re working on at this point is logically equivalent to,

    Would you agree that it’s not logically impossible that God exists, and that if God exists, that God might be the kind of God who is not unable to communicate his reality reliably to humans, through means which need not necessarily meet the falsifiability criterion?

    All you would need to add is one more condition:


    Would you agree that it’s not logically impossible that God exists, and that if God exists, that God might be the kind of God who is not unable to communicate his reality reliably to humans, through means which (a) need not necessarily meet the falsifiability criterion, and (b) need not be understandable to all humans?

    I’m shaving the question down to bare bones with these conditions, making it as specific as I possibly can. I’m doing it to help us discover where you’re willing and/or not willing to go with logical possibilities. If you can go this far, that leads the conversation in one direction, and if not, then it leads it in another.

    I’ve already answered the “reliably knowable in what sense” question. See #71. This is sufficient information for you to answer the question.

    You’re simply wrong, by the way, to suppose that reliable knowledge must be open to the falsifiability criterion. It’s been rebutted several times. Here’s another rebuttal: Do you know that you are having an experience of perceiving the computer/tablet/mobile device you’re reading this on at this moment? What possible conditions could falsify your knowledge that you are having that experience? (I’m not asking if your experience is veridical, I’m only asking whether you know you are having the experience.)

    Where two unfalsifiable claims are in contradiction, how can we determine which one is true, or whether either of them is true?

    I could answer that if you could answer the question I put to you about God’s logical possibilities for imparting knowledge. If we jumped to this question ahead of that one, all that would do would be to force us to circle back around to the one I asked first. I do have an answer. I just don’t want to provide the second half (the part you’re asking about here) before we’ve gone through the first half (the part I’ve been asking you about).

    I don’t mind letting you know how I think you should answer my question, though. It should be plain to you that if the question is about some God whom I take to be real but you do not, you ought to be considering the same God that I’m considering. I’m considering a God who has all power, knowledge, and wisdom, such that if he decides to do something he can do it. He cannot make a square circle because he cannot deny himself; other than denying his own nature and his own decisions and will, however, he can do anything he chooses to do.

    This God has created humans in his image with the intent of having a relationship with them. Relationship entails mutual information sharing. God, who created us for that relationship, is able to communicate information with us, and he is not limited by human epistemic rules, especially thoroughly rebutted ones like the falsification criterion. To deny that logical possibility is to deny the definition of God that’s on the table for discussion.

    Now, if you think there’s some logical contradiction in what I’ve just depicted, you’re welcome to put it forth here. Just to say, however, that for all you know there might be something contradictory in it, is to say that you’re unwilling to think through the question. If you’re unwilling to think it through, then it would behoove you not to act as if you had thought it through.

  79. @Adam Hazzard:

    1. No claim that is not falsifiable can be known to be true.
    2. The claim “A God necessarily exists who can communicate reliable knowledge of himself to humans” cannot be known to be true unless:
    (a) the claim that a God necessarily exists is falsifiable;
    (b) the claim that communication with this God has taken place is falsifiable; and
    (c) the claim that what is allegedly communicated is true is falsifiable.

    Just to make Tom’s points very clear (hope he does not mind me barging in):

    The claim “No claim that is not falsifiable can be known to be true” is not falsifiable, therefore it cannot be known to be true, therefore your argument does not even get off the ground because it undermines itself, in the sense that the major premise cannot be known to be true.

    Besides being self-undermining it is blatantly false, as there are plenty of examples of claims that are not falsifiable, we can know that are true, and the degree of certainty we can know they are true is much higher than any falsifiable claim.

  80. Tom @82: I’m enjoying this conversation, and I appreciate the time you’ve devoted to it, but rather than become a nagging combox presence on your blog, it’s probably appropriate at this point to let you have the last word. But I’ll answer your question as honestly as I can:

    Would you agree that it’s not logically impossible that God exists, and that if God exists, that God might be the kind of God who is not unable to communicate his reality reliably to humans, through means which (a) need not necessarily meet the falsifiability criterion, and (b) need not be understandable to all humans?

    I hope this doesn’t sound dismissive — I don’t mean it that way — but how would I know?

    Let me refine that a little further. I frankly do not know whether it’s logically impossible that God exists or could behave in the way you describe, in part because I don’t entirely know what you mean by God, in part because I don’t have the kind of information about ultimate reality that would allow me to pronounce on what putative divine beings can or cannot logically do.

    I can speculate, for instance, that even if it is logically possible for a God to instill certainty about his existence in a human being, that human being would nevertheless know from experience that that feelings of absolute certainty are not intrinsically reliable. What can God do in view of this person’s factual knowledge about the unreliability human certainty? Erase her memory? Force her to ignore the dictates of reason?

    For me to pronounce on whether any of this is “logically possible” would be to arrogate to myself a metaphysical knowledge I simply don’t possess.

  81. Jenna @81:

    I appreciate the thoughtful and generous tone of your comment. I do sometimes wish Christians and atheists had a forum in which they could simply compare notes about their experience without diving immediately into argumentation. I do enjoy conversations like that.

    I don’t want to hijack Tom’s thread for that purpose, though. So I’ll simply say that I like your ground-up approach to Christianity, and that, interestingly, I take the same ground-up approach to my atheism.

    My atheism didn’t start with a rejection of any rarefied metaphysical concept of God. It started when I first encountered — I was going to say the Nicene Creed, but it may in fact have been the creedal statement of whatever Protestant church my folks were attending at the time. In any case, I looked at that list of “I believe” declarations and realized that I didn’t actually believe — well, any of them. For all kinds of reasons. Clearly, I was a non-Christian. And when I generalized my objections across other faiths that made analogous claims, I became essentially irreligious. And all that remained after that was philosophical and metaphysical theism, which I found not even remotely convincing. Which ultimately defined me as an atheist.

    It’s as simple as that, really.

  82. Pretty interesting responses on this thread. First, you had a number of posters who didn’t seem to be able to grasp the concept that Tom put forward in the OP. This despite it being a fairly simple proposition. We finally finish up just above with a poster who seems to be trying awfully hard not to be able to answer. And none of the questions required anyone to admit that theism was true. They were basically questions that sought to establish what theism is. You would think anti theists would be eager to engage on proposition that accurately describes what it is they oppose. No?

  83. Adam, you say,

    For me to pronounce on whether any of this is “logically possible” would be to arrogate to myself a metaphysical knowledge I simply don’t possess.

    I thought I had made it even easier than that. The original question was, “Would you agree that it’s not logically impossible that God exists, and that if God exists, that God might be the kind of God who is not unable to communicate his reality reliably to humans?”

    I think what you’re saying at in your last comment is that as far as you know, it’s not logically impossible. Nevertheless right up to the end you’ve been acting as if it is, because you can’t imagine any form of knowledge other than that which meets the falsifiability criterion. You haven’t offered any reason to think the falsifiability criterion is necessary for knowledge, and you’ve persistently ignored the rebuttals that we’ve put forward against it.

    Or to condense that:

    1. You don’t know that the proposition is logically impossible to be true, but you persist in acting as if it is.
    2. You’ve presented no solid reason to believe the falsifiability criterion is essential to knowledge, you’ve ignored multiple good reasons to believe it isn’t, and yet you continue to cling to it as if it were.

    Final question on this topic: do you consider yourself a rational person? Are your actions here consistent with that?

  84. The reason I’m asking is this: I think there are times when we all think we’ve got the world wired. Science is about mastery. Christianity (more than any other belief system) is about humility, accepting that God is and that he can and will do things for us if we’ll allow him. Mastery of nature is fine, so I have no beef at all with science serving us in that manner. It’s when we confuse that mastery with mastery over all knowledge that we fall into error.

    God is, and God loves you, and wants to make himself known to you. Your attempts at rationality with respect to God are first of all, not succeeding with respect to reason and rationality. You’re taking up a position that doesn’t follow from evidence or reason. Second, your clinging to that unsuccessful “rationality” is also a way of denying God, the one who loves you the most.

    You could open up your mind to him if you were willing to let go of the need to control knowledge the way you’ve expressed it here; if you would choose to allow God to reveal himself to you. It’s the path to life, Adam. Your unsuccessful reasoning is the way toward death.

    Now, I’m quite sure that 75% of that is pure gobbledy-gook in your mind. Perhaps, though, the part where your lack of success in reasoning will get through. (We should be on common ground at least as far as what constitutes good reasoning.) Recognizing that would be a step in the right direction. That’s all I’m really hoping for and expecting here. I urge you to take a good look at that much, at least.

  85. I think what you’re saying at in your last comment is that as far as you know, it’s not logically impossible.

    This may be the source of our misunderstanding. No, I’m not saying “as far as I know, (some metaphysical proposition) is logically possible.”

    I’m saying that my answer to the question “Is it logically possible?” is, “I don’t know.”

    I’m not sure how to make that any clearer.

    This need not be an impasse. We can certainly posit for the sake of argument that some metaphysical X is logically possible. You could, for instance, ask me something like:

    “Supposing for the sake of argument that it’s logically possible that God [per some definition of God] exists, can you think of any reason why such a being would be unable to communicate his reality reliably through means which (a) need not necessarily meet the falsifiability criterion, and (b) need not be understandable to all humans?”

    To which the answer is: Well, you really need to spell out that definition of God before I can give you an adequate response. But potentially, yes, I can think of some reasons why that might not be a logical possibility.

    As for your last question:

    Final question on this topic: do you consider yourself a rational person?

    Really, this is beneath you, and I take it as a sign that the useful part of this conversation has come to an end.

  86. “We know from experience that change exists. But the existence of change is nevertheless not empirically falsifiable in the same way that theories in physics and chemistry are, because any experience or set of experiences that could be put forward to falsify it would themselves be instances of change. Thus, if you are going to try to defend a radically non-Aristotelian philosophy of nature – for example, one that denies change altogether – you are going to have to do so on the basis of considerations that go beyond anything physics, chemistry, etc. or experience in general can tell you. That is to say, if you are going to falsify Aristotelianism, you are not going to be able to do it on observational or experimental grounds, but only on competing philosophical grounds.” (Feser)

    For all the same reasons (and more) we find that Atheism’s advocates have yet to put forward an argument – philosophical or otherwise – which demonstrates that the idea of God – of the Necessary Being – and so on in the Christian’s rigorously delineated ontological real-estate – is logically incoherent. The claim of, “I don’t know if it’s logically coherent” is itself incoherent pending a logical justification of incoherence. Short of such an argument there is no reason to question the “logical coherence” therein. Such is not a question of “belief in existence”, but of the “logical coherence” therein. There’s a difference. A big difference. We’ve never seen such an argument from the Skeptic – the internal coherence and logical lucidity of Christian metaphysics remaining intellectually unassailable. That is why all attempts to break it have to first change the Christian’s internal definitions to gain any traction – but of course from that point onward the discussion is about some Non-Christian ontology. And yet the Skeptic will fain reluctance at incorporating logic’s lines. But then the Skeptic never has been fearful of trading away logical lucidity for the sake of his own a priori commitments. We see it all the time – such happy dives of the disappearing-self into illusion at some seam somewhere – lest those peculiar semantics of the Necessary uncomfortably approach – that is to say – lest God approach.

  87. Adam, you find this question offensive:

    As for your last question:

    Final question on this topic: do you consider yourself a rational person?

    Really, this is beneath you, and I take it as a sign that the useful part of this conversation has come to an end.

    I gave my reasons for that question in the following comment. Obviously (based on that next comment in particular) I know that you consider yourself to be a rational person. My point is that a person’s practice ought to match up to his self-perception, and in this part of our conversation, I’m challenging you on whether you’re succeeding in that.

    I don’t think that’s beneath anyone to ask anyone. I think misconstruing my intent might be beneath you, however. Read it again.

    If you find it uncomfortable to look in the mirror, it’s either because the mirror is distorted or because there’s something amiss in your own visage. If you think I’ve distorted the mirror I’ve held up before you to look into, you might as well just say so. I can handle it. If not, and if you’re uncomfortable looking into an accurate reflection, then don’t blame the mirror.

  88. As far as I can tell, Tom, you’re asserting that I’m wrong about — well, something — to which you’ve added the insulting suggestion that my remarks might be motivated by a vain desire to avoid acknowledging my own obvious irrationality.

    Perhaps we can agree to disagree about that. In any case, we seem to have exhausted each other’s capacity for cordial interaction.

  89. If you don’t know what I’m asserting you’re wrong about, then we’ve exhausted my expectation of communicating successfully despite try after try after try; or else we’ve exhausted your ability to understand logical reasoning; or else I haven’t said anything logical.

    You’ll draw your own conclusion as to which of the three is correct. You may have also drawn your own conclusion concerning my desire for cordiality, and if so, then that, at least, I can assure you is a wrong conclusion. If you can’t respond cordially to an invitation to look at yourself in the mirror, with reasons offered for why you might want to do that, then that’s your decision and your responsibility.

    I have said that your responses are lacking in rationality. I stand by that. If I am wrong, then I am objectively wrong, and you can show me how I’m wrong; and if it seems like an insult to you, all you need to do is explain that I’ve only insulted myself through my failure to think clearly.

    If on the other hand I’m right then I’m objectively right. If so, then you could take it either as a learning opportunity or an insult for you. Which path do you think you would advise a person to follow?

    I don’t see how taking it as an insult helps you in either event.

    But that’s not for me to decide, it’s your response, they’re your feelings, and it’s your responsibility.

    Thanks for the conversation, anyway.

  90. Tom,

    [Coyne writes:]
    Advocates of theism argue that God’s interventions in the universe should be detectable. At the very least, those theists should be able to describe what the world would be like had it arisen in purely naturalistic manner, and if their god didn’t exist.

    I didn’t see the following point raised in the discussion so I’ll bring it up. Coyne is referring to a theistic view of a mechanistic universe that has teleology imposed from outside: the theism of intelligent design, in other words. Ed Feser opposes this theological view for much the same reasons you do: it allows, in principle, for the world to exist and operate just as it does apart from God.

    In the latter theological view, Coyne is correct to expect those theists to be able to articulate a naturalistic universe without God because they expect the universe to exist in such a way that God intervenes rather than upholds and sustains. Feser would argue that is because that theistic view is highly problematic.

    If you think God’s interaction with the universe is not intervening but rather upholding and sustaining, Coyne’s comment probably does not apply to your theological view.

  91. A comment on falsification. Many posters here seem to be firmly convinced of the necessity of falsification with comments such as “a theory must be falsifiable.”

    There are numerous well known issues with falsification which mean that its importance is diminishing. Here’s an overview.

  92. Tom Gilson –

    Every ancestor to every person now living had children who lived. This is not falsifiable, because it’s true.

    As I specifically said, In short, “there are no even primes greater than 2″ is a different kind of statement than “there are no winged unicorns”. It’s true by the definition of ‘ancestor’, the same way ‘no even primes greater than 2’ is true by the definition of ‘prime number’.

    Coyne’s dictum is logically equivalent to, “Theists should at the very least describe what they think reality would be like if every foundational truth they think about reality were false.”

    DougJC has a point about ‘intelligent design’. But there’s a separate issue – are you saying that there’s no way we can communicate because we have such radically different presuppositions (like Kuhn’s ‘paradigms’)? What if we perhaps limit the discussion to a finite number of models, rather than “anything that isn’t X”?

  93. When I start really looking at the fundamentals of Classical Theism, it always strikes me just how far out on the tightrope of logic and reason it goes. There are a million little embedded theories about everything to be found inside, that one can either decide to believe or doubt. No matter what you choose, you’ll land in the good company of some of the finest philosophers who ever lived.

    And it all gets bundled up in a neat little package, labelled ‘God’.

    ‘Existence’… predicate or not? Just what exactly can it mean to be a divinely simple, unchanging, perfect, eternal, yet intellect-possessing, free-willed, person-thing that created at least one universe and is also responsible for the salvation of its temporal inhabitants?

    The try to answer all that that while the very comprehensibility of these terms retreats off into the sunset, far far away from any notion that you or I can actually relate too or understand, to become little more than ethereal dancing shadows on the cave wall… on a good day.

    A million those kinds of questions reside within that rather small term – and this even before you get to questions like whether being itself (or is it a being among beings?) would send His avatar to the middle east 2000 years ago, to be executed, to be risen, and to leave rather questionable traces of evidence that any of it actually happened… for some reason.

    If any one of those numerous embedded notions has something that can reasonably be doubted, the tightrope walker falls. Maybe Coyne’s challenge can find some purchase, in light of that.

    Maybe being itself doesn’t actually make linguistic sense. Maybe all those complicated theories about the ontological sameness of the divine qualities, aren’t that solid?

    Can a theist ask what a universe might look like then? If its hard to come up with something other than what we see in front of us… maybe thats the point.

  94. I exist” does – as opaque skepticism often alludes to – begin to break down the further out we travel….. Illusion emerges at some seam somewhere. Logic, philosophical means and ends – and so on – all smell of a subtle trick of hand…. nebulous….non-concrete….. can’t weigh it in kilograms. … can’t measure it in nanometers…… the Self…. Being….

    Exist? Yes…. but not “really” …..”

    “….must …..remain…. skeptical….”

  95. A universe void of mind-dependent descriptives just is a universe void of various and necessary prescriptives which only the Theist can rationally retain.

    All other “possible worlds” find Truth uncomfortably falsifiable at some ontic-seam somewhere, thus leaving them in the trash bin of the opaque – the bizarre – the impossibility of Worlds.

  96. There are many theists who reject some or all of classical theism, so its not really just a skeptic thing… to question just what the mortar in that very elaborate thought castle consists of…
     

  97. Christians claim existence (Etc.) breaks down into a slight of hand…. an illusion…. at some ontic-seam somewhere….?

  98. Can a theist ask what a universe might look like then? If its hard to come up with something other than what we see in front of us… maybe thats the point.

    d,

    But doesn’t the logic run the other direction. We don’t look to God and extrapolate our existence. We look at our existence and realize it requires an explanation. We look for one that makes sense of our being, consciousness, morality, emotions, humor, creativity, desires and find God the only reasonable answer. (And on top of that he is not a silent God. He has spoken.)

  99. @scbrownlhrm

    Lots of notable Christian theists, aren’t classical theists – Plantinga for instance.

  100. Christianity claims illusion and delusion then.

    -Cause …. well cause Plantinga grounds all lines in we know not what. Not God, to be sure.

    Epistemology and ontology need not equivocate.

    The epistemology of His Simplicity and of our (the contingent’s) ontic-seams – and so on – houses the varioys necessary and sufficient (ontological) Means (quite unlike the epistemology of other paradigms) whereby logic’s lucidity casually sums to – emerges – amid Trinity’s milieu of pure intellect’s satisfying Ends. There Pure Act amid Pure Being finds Logos amid Transposition, Diffusiveness amid Good, Mind amid Person, Self amid Other, and so on, as the Triune God solidifies love’s topography amid ceaseless reciprocity all the while permiating logic’s incantation within that which is God, is with God, is transposed here in Contingency by nothing less than His Continuous Speech. Man spies in Logos the unexpected as love’s eternally sacrificed-self emerges in singularity with logic’s timeless lucidity. Logic and love carry us – not to the skeptic’s impossible world of truth’s fateful unimaginability – but rather into all possible worlds.

  101. BillT –

    We don’t look to God and extrapolate our existence. We look at our existence and realize it requires an explanation.

    It’s that ‘extrapolation from what’s known’ that’s the issue. Given any finite set of observations, you can spin a literally endless number of accounts of them. But humans haven’t shown a lot of talent for figuring out which models actually apply to reality.

    Humans have come up with lots of different models of the world, or parts of the world, and been thoroughly wrong. I’ve mentioned phlogiston here before. Geocentrism, humors & miasmas, trepanning, Aristotle’s belief that the brain was mainly a cooling system for the heart, educating women would make their wombs atrophy, etc. Relativity and QM were – ahem – rather large surprises.

    We’ve gradually increased our knowledge of the universe and how it works, pushing the boundaries of our understanding outward. But we have to carefully check (and often have someone else re-check) every step. I prefer my logic structures ‘low to the ground’ and close to what I’m pretty sure of. I’m all for speculating, but I like to define as clearly as possible the difference between what’s known and what’s speculated.

  102. Those who hold that QM, radioactive decay, and so on, gain the naturalist some – any – degree of traction simply don’t really understand what they are refuting.

  103. We’ve gradually increased our knowledge of the universe and how it works, pushing the boundaries of our understanding outward.

    Ray,

    And the above has what to do with our being, consciousness, morality, emotions, humor, creativity, desires? I’m all for increasing our knowledge of the universe and how it works, pushing the boundaries of our understanding outward. You aren’t suggesting there is a science of morality or emotions or humor or creativity are you?

    You couldn’t be pushing that old canard about religion being invented to “explain the universe.” The explanatory power of theism isn’t even a good secondary reason for belief in God. At least not the God of the Bible. Just where in the Bible are there all these “explanations of the universe.” (And please Ray don’t say Genesis. You’ve been here too long not to know Genesis is about why the universe was created and who created it, not how it was created.)

    Humans have come up with lots of different models of the world, or parts of the world, and been thoroughly wrong. I’ve mentioned phlogiston here before. Geocentrism, humors & miasmas, trepanning, Aristotle’s belief that the brain was mainly a cooling system for the heart, educating women would make their wombs atrophy, etc. Relativity and QM were – ahem – rather large surprises.

    Yes. And aren’t these examples of bad science not bad theology?

  104. BillT –

    And the above has what to do with our being, consciousness, morality, emotions, humor, creativity, desires?

    Well, we are part of the universe. And we’ve learned a bunch about ourselves over the past few thousand years – not just our physical bodies, but our mental makeup and such – our “consciousness, morality, emotions, humor, creativity, desires”.

    You aren’t suggesting there is a science of morality or emotions or humor or creativity are you?

    You’ve seen what I have to say about morality, where science is certainly an aspect. We’re still working out a real theory – in the scientific sense – of psychology, but we do have a lot of interesting data to play with, and some suggestive hypotheses – see, e.g. this.

    And aren’t these examples of bad science not bad theology?

    If we can screw up even the simple, repeatable, easily-replicatable stuff, why do we expect to do better at the fuzzier stuff?

  105. # 94 linked to an essay…itself with further links along the way.

    Perhaps of interest – those naturalistic thinkers who are more aware point to contours well beyond repeatable particle cascades:

    ““But [bad] ID arguments raise serious questions about Darwinism!” Maybe so, and that is not unimportant. But my interest here is in the question of what sorts of arguments establish the existence of the God of classical theism. And to challenge Darwinism, even to refute Darwinism, would not be to establish classical theism. Indeed, it would not even be to refute naturalism. For, the pretenses of its less astute advocates notwithstanding, naturalism is a metaphysical theory, not an empirical one; and it is always possible for a naturalist to throw up his hands at Darwinism’s failure to explain this or that, and insist on general metaphysical grounds that there must nevertheless be some other naturalistic explanation or other out there, even if we have not or cannot discover it. That is in effect the approach taken by wiser naturalists – not Darwinian religious fanatics like Dawkins, Dennett, and Co., but more sober and serious theorists like David Stove, Jerry Fodor, Thomas Nagel, and Noam Chomsky, none of whom thinks Darwinism has come anywhere close to a complete naturalistic explanation of biological phenomena. That is not to say that I think naturalistic metaphysics is believable even for a moment. It isn’t. But the point is that the dispute concerns basic metaphysics, not empirical science.”

  106. Aside from the question of God’s existence, if it is a question, it seem interesting to ask if God be detected by scientific means. Is there a straightforward yes or no answer to such a question?

    But what do we mean when we say God has acted in the world, that He has caused events or that he created a world? Whence the knowledge that allows us to argue for God as an underlying cause? From where can such knowledge come if not from physical forces and interactions?

  107. @Ray

    If we can screw up even the simple, repeatable, easily-replicatable stuff, why do we expect to do better at the fuzzier stuff?

    Apples and oranges. The ease with which the repeatable stuff is screwed up is comment on the scientific method only.

    It says nothing about our expectations for what you call the “fuzzier stuff”, given that the scientific method is not used to investigate it.

    Unless of course you have made some implicit assumptions, like it appears you have by using the term “fuzzier stuff”.

    we’ve learned a bunch about ourselves over the past few thousand years – not just our physical bodies, but our mental makeup and such – our “consciousness, morality, emotions, humor, creativity, desires”.

    When it comes to consciousness, I’d argue we’ve learnt little that is new about the so-called “hard problem” in the last few thousand years. Despite the optimism of neuroscientists, it seems to many philosophers that this is unlikely to change.

  108. bigbird –

    The ease with which the repeatable stuff is screwed up is comment on the scientific method only.

    I just can’t see it that way. Intelligent, experienced people come up with detailed, logical, internally-consistent models that they are confident are correct… and when we check, they’re wrong.

    In areas like the origins and underpinnings of universes, the fundamentals of reality, where we can’t possibly test yet, I have very little confidence in deduction and extrapolation, however logical. Same with consciousness – a brain is clearly necessary for human consciousness, though it’s possible it’s not sufficient. And we’ve not been in a position to really study the brain in any serious way until recently. We’d expect surprises, the way radioactivity was a surprise once we had the tools to actually detect it.

    When it comes to consciousness, I’d argue we’ve learnt little that is new about the so-called “hard problem” in the last few thousand years.

    In the last century or so, even in the last few decades, we’ve started getting a handle on what the brain is, and how it works. I think we’re kind of in an analogous position like when radioactivity was discovered. It was a critical step on the way to discovering QM, but it took a while before we had a solid theory. I grant that it’s a “hard problem”, but we’d expect hard problems based on our our origins and history.

  109. @Ray

    I just can’t see it that way. Intelligent, experienced people come up with detailed, logical, internally-consistent models that they are confident are correct… and when we check, they’re wrong.

    I’m not sure what your point is here. Science gets it wrong, often, I think we’re agreed. What has that to do with theology?

    In the last century or so, even in the last few decades, we’ve started getting a handle on what the brain is, and how it works. I think we’re kind of in an analogous position like when radioactivity was discovered.

    Optimism is useful, but philosophers like David Chalmers (with no theistic axe to grind) are convinced that physicalism is fundamentally flawed when it comes to philosophy of mind, i.e. progress on understanding the brain can never explain consciousness. The epistemic gap cannot be bridged, according to Chalmers.

  110. bigbird –

    What has that to do with theology?

    We had that whole ‘convergence’ discussion before. Theology varies (ahem) rather more broadly than any school of science, and keeps throwing off offshoots that don’t die out, but become separate religions. Nobody can agree on standards for theology, whereas science has not just standards but rather broad consensus on what’s known about the field of study.

    How do you check if a theology matches reality? Do the other theologies agree?

    Optimism is useful, but philosophers like David Chalmers (with no theistic axe to grind) are convinced that physicalism is fundamentally flawed

    Pessimism is understandable, but other philosophers disagree. I mentioned Dennett just a couple comments ago.

  111. Because the comparison is between Theology and Science.

    Really, one wonders if there are such people as to be inconstitutionally incapable of learning anything whatsoever.

  112. @Ray

    Theology varies (ahem) rather more broadly than any school of science, and keeps throwing off offshoots that don’t die out, but become separate religions. Nobody can agree on standards for theology, whereas science has not just standards but rather broad consensus on what’s known about the field of study.

    So? That just might be because the nature of theology means that there is a great deal of speculation and confusion surrounding it. It doesn’t mean that God has not provided revelation about his existence and nature.

    You’re comparing the nature of science (an investigation of the natural world) with theology (an investigation of God). These are vastly different tasks, and perhaps they are not analogous activities at all.

    How do you check if a theology matches reality? Do the other theologies agree?

    Surely it is not that difficult to determine if a theology is consistent with reality as we understand it?

    Does it matter if other theologies do not agree? The nature of theology might lend itself to many competing strands.

    Pessimism is understandable, but other philosophers disagree. I mentioned Dennett just a couple comments ago.

    Dennett probably isn’t the best example. His way of refuting anti-physicalist arguments is to explain away his own consciousness as some kind of illusion. Really, he’s implicitly conceding that a material universe can’t contain something subjective like consciousness.

  113. bigbird –

    Surely it is not that difficult to determine if a theology is consistent with reality as we understand it? Does it matter if other theologies do not agree?

    Given that literally billions of people disagree on that point, I think it pretty self-evident that it is that difficult.

    Leaving aside that “consistent with reality as we understand it” is a fairly low bar. The FSM is, technically, “consistent with reality as we understand it”. What if you have multiple theologies, all of which are “consistent with reality as we understand it”? On what basis do you choose then?

    [Dennett’s] way of refuting anti-physicalist arguments is to explain away his own consciousness as some kind of illusion.

    Thinking that consciousness is different than we generally suppose, or even generally perceive, is not the same thing as thinking it doesn’t exist. What have you read of Dennett, exactly?

    (There’s plenty of precedent for that, too. Compare how wrong we’ve been about our own physical bodies, which are even easier to probe and experiment with…)

  114. Convergence Within Knowledge:

    Convergence within the triad of the material order, the mind-dependent, and the mind-independent crowd out the philosophical naturalist on many fronts – forcing him to cling to ever more implausible a priori sets in all three arenas. A simple example is found in the convergence of the physical sciences with Scripture’s a priori of that which sums to Timelessness/Immaterial. The Theist always knew that physical vectors would – at some seam somewhere – carry us to the Timeless, the Immaterial and such peculiar landscapes are where we find physics of late moving towards. Such convergence brings us to the unavoidable fact that Science has driven the committed Philosophical Naturalist (PN) to choose between two absurdities – to argue the falsifiability of change (a purely philosophical argument – all empirical touch-and-go’s themselves instances of change) – the philosophical hope there summing to illusion – or – the ever more layered complexity in the multi-verse of a material infinity – the antithesis of parsimony forfeiting any hope of an intelligible singularity. Such unintelligible options and such a necessary sacrifice of convergence within that fateful triad emerge as problematic for internet atheists / materialists. Oddly, backed into such a corner, PN’s misrepresent Ockham’s Razor by claiming that plausibility ought to be sacrificed for any simpler any-thing and by misusing Ockham to assert the obvious fallacy that the simpler account is always the true account. That (often misrepresented) appeal to O’s Razor is “odd” simply because the physical sciences are driving the PN into a corner in need of a singularity which he cannot obtain but by forfeiting convergence within the triad of the material order, the mind-dependent, and the mind-independent.

    If the Philosophical Naturalist (PN) wants the simplicity which convergence offers us then he is going to have to stop sacrificing large swaths of both the ontological and the observational atop his sacred altar of scientism whereby his holy vapors of fiction fatally effervesce. If the Philosophical Naturalist wants the simplicity of Pure Act, Pure Being – void of potentiality in need of this or that actualization – the source, order, and end of all being, well it is clear that neither of the two absurdities his scientism is forcing him into will suffice. With no good arguments left when faced with PN’s unavoidable di-vergence amid reality’s fateful triad the internet atheists are often forced to employ worn out comedy such as the FSM. Also, with no good arguments left when faced with PN’s unavoidable di-vergence amid reality’s fateful triad the internet atheists will often race to the tired and dull monotone droll of appealing to QM and/or radioactive decay in hopes of tacking on some little nuance of fuzziness by which they can salvage at least an appearance of intellectual wiggle-room – all the while such a move only reveals the PN’s own (complete) unawareness of the nature of both the scientific problem and the metaphysical problem as necessary convergence crowds him out in both arenas.

    Stand To Reason” has a very basic introduction to convergence in a series of five brief OP’s (linked below) which provides a sort of intro to the meta-approach of finding / defining a more seamless, singular T.O.E. – the very sort which is becoming ever more plausible given the means and ends afforded by Theism (Christian metaphysics specifically) and ever more implausible for Atheism’s paradigm given the annihilation of convergence which Philosophical Naturalism is ever more often – on necessity – embracing. A slightly paraphrased list from one of the links offers some inescapable echelons of any T.O.E. seeking to claim the ontological real estate of seamlessness financed by convergence:

    (1) the existence of a theory-independent, mind-independent, external world

    (2) the orderly nature of the external world
    (3) the existence of un-falsifiable truth
    (4) the existence of the laws of logic

    (5) the existence of ethical values used in science
    (6) the existence of presuppositions used in science

    (7) the uniformity of nature and induction, both void of Hume’s insolvent metaphysical chain of IOU’s

    (8) the existence of numbers
    (9) mind-dependent truth predicates and abstract objects
    (10) anti-realism and truth

    The (basic) discussion of how science and theology converge rather than conflict has five parts:

    How Science and Religion Converge Rather Than Conflict Part 1 of 5 and How Science and Religion Converge Rather Than Conflict Part 2 of 5 and Part 3 of 5 and Part 4 of 5 and Part 5 of 5.

    On a related theme the question of anti-realism and presuppositional truth are touched on here and also here.

  115. scbrownlhrm,

    The length of your comments on this blog are like articles in themselves and take the topic into lots of interesting directions. Can I make a suggestion that you start your own blog?

    Tom, do you have any tips on how scbrownlhrm could start such a blog?

  116. @Ray

    Surely it is not that difficult to determine if a theology is consistent with reality as we understand it? Does it matter if other theologies do not agree?

    Given that literally billions of people disagree on that point, I think it pretty self-evident that it is that difficult.

    Billions of people adhere to different religions. That doesn’t mean they have all tried to compare the major religions’ consistency with reality. I suspect it isn’t an important criteria for most people, compared to cultural or family influences.

    Leaving aside that “consistent with reality as we understand it” is a fairly low bar.

    You set the bar by asking “How do you check if a theology matches reality?” I was responding to your question.

    What if you have multiple theologies, all of which are “consistent with reality as we understand it”? On what basis do you choose then?

    Consistency with reality is a minimum bar. But there are many other ways you might evaluate a religion.

    Thinking that consciousness is different than we generally suppose, or even generally perceive, is not the same thing as thinking it doesn’t exist. What have you read of Dennett, exactly?

    I’ve read a couple of papers of Dennett’s. I have Consciousness Explained but haven’t waded through it yet.

    I do know that Dennett claims qualia does not exist, and that to me is a major “consistency with reality” fail.

  117. I do know that Dennett claims qualia does not exist, and that to me is a major “consistency with reality” fail.

    Ray would insist that we just don’t understand how qualia can fit within his worldview.

    Considering that this mysterious secret has not been revealed to him by Mother Nature, he is left to rely on his very vivid imagination as to how that worldview must be true. That kind of faith is a faith without special revelation – a faith more blind than many religious faiths. At least Christian’s have divine revelation for the faith they have in their worldview.