God Probabilities Are Pointless, Even From Physicists

Physicist Sean Carroll indulges one of his physics colleagues in a post Guest Post: Don Page on God and Cosmology. Sean:

Don Page is one of the world’s leading experts on theoretical gravitational physics and cosmology, as well as a previous guest-blogger around these parts. … He is also, somewhat unusually among cosmologists, an Evangelical Christian, and interested in the relationship between cosmology and religious belief.

From here on I’ll address Don on his piece, by picking up only the statements I think are really problematic. I’m basically repeating what I wrote in the comments section, with some minor mods.

So, Don you say this:

… such as my assumption that the world is the best possible …

Why would anyone make such an assumption? Based on what? Compared to what? What’s a worse world? What are the metrics? The comment by Phillip Helbig says it all:

The optimist believes that he lives in the best of all possible worlds. So does the pessimist.

Back to you Don:

I mainly think philosophical arguments might be useful for motivating someone

Like propaganda? It is clear that theists are manipulating and abusing philosophy, logic, reason, evidence, to make it best fit their beliefs.

… raise the prior probability someone might assign to theism. I do think that if one assigns theism not too low a prior probability …

You shouldn’t have a prior probability about something for which you have zero data. The prior probability isn’t 100%, isn’t 0%, isn’t 50% – it’s unknown. No data. Making a guess, or expressing a bias from personal religiosity and assigning a probability is doing a great injustice to probability.

the historical evidence for the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus

What, like hearsay of Josephus passed off as evidence? There is no historical record of the words or teachings of Jesus. The death? We can barely support his existence, by extensive hearsay, but as ‘evidence’ it’s no better than claims made about Mohammed’s revelations. By the way, how do you set the prior probability that Mohammed was telling the truth about his revelations, or the likelihood he was lying, or that he was delusional? What’s the prior probability that Jesus was a nutty preacher. Using the statistics of what we do know about how common nutty preachers were at the time the best evidence we have is he’s one of many. I’d really like to know on what basis all this is judged remotely true.

Ben Goran in the comments refers to Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. Good choice.

… can lead to a posterior probability for theism (and for Jesus being the Son of God) being quite high.

This really will not do. For miraculous things to happen, such as a resurrection, you need a God. You presuppose a God. Then you find stuff that’s in a book that says, look, here’s a miracle of that God – without any evidence it happened beyond hearsay, and again I remind you your hearsay is competing with that about Mohammed. Then you say, look, it’s all real, Christianity rules, OK.

But if one thinks a priori that theism is extremely improbable, then the historical evidence for the Resurrection would be discounted and not lead to a high posterior probability for theism.

Don, you are mistaken in that direction too. This is really important! There is no need to think theism is improbable. One has only to be totally open to it, and then look at the evidence. There is none. What is offered as evidence turns out to be: unevidenced hearsay, nothing that can’t be illusions and delusions, lies and propaganda – and all these have at least some actual prior probabilities because we know that these latter human frailties do actually occur.

I tend to favor a Bayesian approach in which one assigns prior probabilities

But Bayesian stuff works only when you have actual statistics to form your prior probabilities. Even if they are as flaky as much statistical evidence is (and we know how we often reach wrong conclusions about the efficacy of medicines in that arena), at least it’s actual data of a sort. But for universe creation and gods it’s no better than a pretence at mathematical credibility when there’s no data to work with.

… when the product is normalized by dividing by the sum of the products for all theories

This is crazy talk. Are probabilities based on the human capacity to imagine ideas, invent fantasies? is the correct probability determined by one’s own credibility? This is not to be treated like some meta-analysis of numerous sets of actual statistical results. It’s a meta-analysis of guesses. It’s pointless.

… since we don’t yet have _any_ plausible complete theory for the universe to calculate the conditional probability, given the theory, of any realistic observation.

So, the correct response to the question of whether there is some sort of intelligent agent creator of universes is to say: I haven’t got the foggiest clue.

From there proceed to act on what we do have. The empirical investigation of the universe and what that tells us. Our understanding of minute physics may still be open to question, but at the level of chemistry, creating medicines, building planes that don’t fall out the sky randomly – and it’s all quite mechanistic, naturalistic.

The working conclusion, then, is to live **as if** this: that what we empirically find is all there is, whether it is or not, because if we cannot detect a god of any kind knowingly then whether there is one or not makes no difference. It really is that simple.

However, since to me the totality of data, including the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is most simply explained by postulating that there is a God …

What? We’ll come back to evidence shortly, but for now let’s just go back to an earlier point, from above:

can lead to a posterior probability for theism (and for Jesus being the Son of God) being quite high

And let’s put these together:

  1. the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is most simply explained by postulating that there is a God
  2. can lead to a posterior probability for theism [i.e. there is a God]

So, postulating a God basically leads to a posterior probability that there is a God. And, while we’re at it, the assertion that the resurrection occurred is used to show that Jesus was resurrected [because he really was the son of God].

Doesn’t that look just a tad suspicious? Don, that looks embarrassing to me.

This is no more than affirming the consequent, invoking a circular argument. Don, you could only make an argument if you had good evidence of a God, and then good evidence of a naturalism busting resurrection. You have evidence of neither. You are presupposing there’s a God that can do stuff like resurrections, taking one of the many myths and taking that to be caused by this presupposed God, and then using that resurrection as the evidence of the divine Jesus, who is God. What? Seriously, What?

But on the matter of evidence, the pretend evidence for the resurrection is most simply explained by being the myth of one of the many myth asserting religions, and that people that believed in gods in ancient times were probably even more gullible than people today. Don, you think they may not have been so gullible. How gullible do you think Scientologists are? What are your probabilities for the existence of Thetans? How about Joseph Smith? Not convinced? Well, a hell of large number of reasonably well educated 21st century people believe that nonsense. Can you see why it’s far more reasonable to think these ancients were duped, or self-duped?

I do believe by faith…

Oh no! Don, please! Not the faith get out of jail card? Well, okay, in which case you can dismiss all you said before this point as it means nothing now in this context. All that effort doing just what William Lane Craig does, pretending to use reason and evidence and probabilities picked out of your nether regions – even though you reject some of WLC’s reasoning. And all it really took is faith. Why not faith in Mohammed? Well, you’re a Christian. Is that how you do your physics?

We simply do not know whether or not our universe had a beginning, but there are certainly models

See, you can do it correctly if you try. We simply do not know. And, for God there are no models that are based on other confirmed models of physics and cosmology. Sean’s work and your work in physics and cosmology does not come out of nowhere, but all religions do: there’s always someone that we know invented a religion, or the origins of the religion are lost entirely in time. You really should be applying this cosmological scepticism to God: we do not know and we have no models and no data. There are no measurements, no mathematic models, nothing but hearsay and the occasional claims of messianic individuals that think they are hooked up with their own god.

In summary, I think the evidence from fine tuning is ambiguous

Ambiguous? It’s down right dumb. What do we know about the extra-universe ‘physics’ of universe creation, such that it does not necessarily cause universes just like this one. What if all universe necessarily must have the physics of this one, because of some as yet unknown extra-universe feature? How do we know that all these universes are not such that only initial conditions determine whether life evolves abundantly, rarely or not at all. We don’t know that the constants that **allow** evolved life actually **necessitate** evolved life. With different initial conditions it could be that the universe evolve without ever experiencing intelligent life that goes on to wonder if the universe is fine tuned. We’d then have a ‘fine tuned’ universe tuned with no tuned products in it. What reason would we have to think such a universe is fine tuned?

There’s a big difference between:

– Speculative interpretations of limited cosmological data with multiple speculatively viable theories

and

– Believing ancient religious stories based on stuff that’s indistinguishable from all the other stories you too would pass off as myth

That difference is that with physics one does not tend to make assertions about behaviour any morality based on them – unless they very specifically inform our understanding of human behaviour and morality, such as evolution, psychology, neuroscience. There are no moral or behavioural prescriptions or proscriptions associated with Sean’s preference for Everett, but there are real human consequences that result from people believing stuff for which there is no evidence, in religion, and the consequences are all too often not good ones.

Look at it this way:

Problem 1: A company makes bags of 100 black balls, but manufacturing errors cause some balls to be white. We know the limits: 100 black, 100 white. We know from experience that people complain if they have more than 40 white balls. We do some tests and stuff. We play with probabilities. We use Bayes. We run controlled trials. Whatever. It’s real if uncertain data. What’s the probability of getting a bag with 100 black balls? We can start to look into it, come to some conclusions, do more measurements, more sampling, more calculations.

Problem 2: How are universes made? We don’t know. As an analogy for this, this is me telling you there’s a bag out there; possibly an infinitely large bag; and it might have some balls in it or it might not. If it has, then some might be black, or not. Some might be white, or not. The bag might contain refrigerators rather than balls, or not. Now, what are you going to tell me about the content of the bag – the probability that there are 100 black balls in the bag, that there’s God in the bag, ten gods, …? Nothing. Oh, and there might not actually be a bag out there; there might just be this universe.

Problem 1 is the sort of problem we can play with. Problem 2 is God stuff. The former is the reality we have to deal with. The latter is make believe – faith, indeed.

35 thoughts on “God Probabilities Are Pointless, Even From Physicists

  1. I thought that post on Carroll’s blog was worth a laugh, but not much more.

    As I read it, the argument was: if put your hand on the scales to bias it toward theism, you will end up with evidence for theism.

    Yes, it’s no doubt true. Self-deception sometimes works.

  2. Hi Neil,

    As laughable as it is I think it’s also pretty serious. The faith that Don uses to bypass all arguments against and lack of evidence for theism generally, and specific religions in particular, is exactly the faith that a jihadist might use, or a Young earth Creationist thwarting science education.

    Once Don Page makes a ham fisted attempt at explaining his views on the justification for belief, but falls back on faith in the end, he has no way of making a case against any vile theist out there. He might point to humanist concerns, or to Jesus, or to any evidence or argument he can, but it doesn’t matter, because the vile theist just has to point out that their faith tells them otherwise and if Don feels his faith does the job then so too do they.

    Of course many ‘benign’ theists don’t see it that way. They tend to be very much of the opinion that their faith is reasonable (probabilistic even, LOL), but of course nobody in their right mind would believe the stuff the extremists believe. They seem unable to appreciate that at some time their beliefs were novel, extreme even.

    I can see how some scientists in some fields can get by without addressing these issues. An industrial chemist, for example, might never need to question belief. Someone that has the education and training of Don Page must be confronted by some seemingly overwhelming ides:

    – Science, the sciences, have been incredibly successful at telling us more about reality and the universe that any other approach.

    – Humans are particularly limited in what they can figure out about the universe. Despite the success of science, physics and cosmology really do expose the limits of what we know.

    – The biases and errors that human brains make are a stark reminder of how easy it is to go wrong.

    I’m not sure how physicists/cosmologists don’t get this. If Don’s belief withstands these wakeup calls to the brain it should be a serious wakeup to the rest of us that we are letting religious belief infect brains with far too little concern.

  3. Have you read Luke Barnes on (1) Bayes and specifically on (2) fine tuning (his arguments with Victor Stenger) and again his recent comment on April 10 (that has a video) after your post; and have you tried to engage him in a discussion since? If ever you do please give us the results:
    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/20/guest-post-don-page-on-god-and-cosmology/

    He would be one of the few to argue with as a start. Won’t you agree?

    Thank you.

  4. Hi TY,

    I’ve not (or don’t remember specifically) read Barnes on Bayes, but I have read some on fine tuning and some of Stenger. But are they relevant to Don’s points?

    This is a useful remark: “He [Stenger] doesn’t seem to realise that a scientific fine-tuning claim is not necessarily a theistic claim.”, here: http://www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/clues/the-fine-tuning-of-the-universe-stenger-vs-barnes/

    But basically the Barnes/Stenger argument is over cosmology, based on theory and experiment/observation available to us now, **inside** this universe. If the consensus is that Barnes is right on some points, that’s fine, but it doesn’t tell us anything regarding religion – which is what I was addressing in commenting on Don’s post over at Sean Carroll’s.

    The theistic fine tuning argument is just as much a God of the Gaps argument as God of the gaps arguments usually are. It’s basically a more refined form of the argument I get from local visiting witnesses that know nothing of any science, but who say, look how wonderful the world is, surely it must be designed.

    The theistic fine tuning argument is presuppositionally ruling out fine tuning by natural means, accidental fine tuning if you like, but fine tuning unplanned by any mental/spiritual agent.

    There is no more reason to accept any intelligent design implication than there is to accept any specific religious claims about Jesus or Mohammed. The cosmology doesn’t address that.

    1. You write:
      “The theistic fine tuning argument is just as much a God of the Gaps argument as God of the gaps arguments usually are. It’s basically a more refined form of the argument I get from local visiting witnesses that know nothing of any science, but who say, look how wonderful the world is, surely it must be designed.”

      According to Roger Penrose, there are 10 to the 10th power to the 123rd power possible universe configurations to chose from and only 1 we know supports life as we know it. The multiverse is not an explanati0on of fine-tuning (see Aron Wall: http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/a-question-about-the-multiverse/

      Wall writes:
      “In order to have a multiverse of the sort that might be conceivably relevant to fine-tuning, you need to meet two criteria: (a) a mechanism for producing gazillions of different universes (at least 10^150 without supersymmetry, or 10^60 with supersymmetry), and (b) in these different universes, there are an equally large number of different effective parameters describing the low energy physics in each of the universes.

      Eternal inflation is conducive to (a) insofar as it would result in widely separated regions which can never causally communicate with each other even at the speed of light. But it does not by itself do anything to meet condition (b). The best argument for (b) is probably string theory, which seems to have gazillions of different types of metastable vacua, but there is currently no successful experimental predictions for string theory. (String theory does seem to imply the existence of gravity, but that’s more of a retrodiction, and isn’t unique to string theory…)”

      I’m not a physicist (and neither are you) and I would have to go with Aron Wall who does physics for a living. And by the way, for anyone to discount God, that prior probability will have to be < 1/ (10^10^123). I wouldn’t quite put those odds to God of the Gaps but to GOD the creator, the mind or the mathematician.
      Even the staunchest atheist will find that prior hard to justify.

      I would like you and your readers to listen to Luke Barnes:
      [audio src="http://ia802708.us.archive.org/4/items/ConversationsFromThePaleBlueDot040-LukeBarnes/040-LukeBarnes.mp3" /]

      He’s interviewed by atheist, Luke Muehlhauser. You will hear Luke Barnes say that fine tuning is a plausible (he even said “persuasive’) argument for theism. He explains why the naturalism hypothesis is incomplete if the hypothesis is that naturalism is all there is. The “why” cannot be answered science: why are there natural laws at all? Why does science work? What breathes fire in the equations (Stephen Hawkings)?

      I urge you to listen to that interview and if you have any disagreement, discuss with Luke Barnes and tell us the outcome. Please share the information with me and other readers. By the way Luke Barnes is quite sympathetic to the fine-tuning arguments by William Craig and Robin Collins. So while fine-tuning is not necessarily proof of God's existence, it supports theism more than the alternative hypothesis, naturism.

      Thank you.

  5. Let’s for the moment suppose you are right and that fine tuning really does suggest there’s a fine tuner – I still say it does not in any way suggest that, but is merely consistent with that.

    So, what does it tell us about this fine tuner? Is it a monotheistic God, as in one of the religions? Is it trans-universe super-alien with a mind just 1,000 the capacity of ours but with trans-physics powers, plus super-duper technology that allows it to create universes? Or is its ‘mind’ a gazillion times more powerful than ours such that it only has to think universes into existence?

    Or is it a child god of a super-verse of gods and our little universe is its school project?

    Is it a dual-god system – that would explain good and evil perhaps, if our universe is their gaming console in which they fight out their ideas on good and evil?

    Whatever our creator god or gods are, are they too designed? I mean, they seem fine tuned for creating universes, so surely they must have a designer in turn, no?

    Or is the fine tuning of our universe a coincidence of some non-agency super-verse process that consists of super-physics that Penrose and Barnes haven’t even considered, because they can’t, because they don’t have any data on how universes come into existence.

    What you see from some of these ‘numbers’ is they are based on the physics we do know. Take what we do know and do some guessing on how that might vary. Pluck some number out one’s ass and declare that this represents the number of possible universe. Well, yes, if universes are limited to the bound you just used to get that number, then that will be the number of possible universes.

    That does not account for any physics, super-physics, that causes universes to come into existence – and presumably go out of existence, though that too is speculative because we only know of one universe that exists, this one – so of course none of that can be taken into account.

    The biggest problem with all of this is that theists are so motivated to get their god into the picture they don’t even consider how little they know. It’s either God (their God) or atheism, and the God of the Gaps argument.

    “I’m not a physicist (and neither are you) ”

    And nor are Luke Barnes or Roger Penrose when it comes physics for which they have zero data.

    I’ll listen to the Barnes piece, and I’ll do some more reading on his ideas. After that I’ll try to engage with him. If I get anywhere I’ll get back to you.

    In the meantime, back to my ‘consistent’ point from the top of this comment. If you define a god so vaguely, or basically avoid defining it at all, which is what it amounts to, then you can make an invented agent account for anything.

    Suppose the universe where not fine tuned. Suppose that the constants could take on a multitude of values, with something like a normal distribution representing how likely they might form a life giving universe. That would be a non-fine-tuned universe. And the theistic argument would be, look, God has made it possible that life exists in so many ways, he has ensured there will be life, so surely there must be a God. This is how theology works. It’s bollocks.

    1. I’d like to get your thoughts on this: do you think Stephen Hawking is not a physicist because he lack experimental evidence that black holes emit black body radiation known as the Hawking’s radiation?.

  6. He’s not an experimental physicist. He’s a theoretical physicist.

    Is a physicist with regard to theories about black holes observed and theorised about **in this universe**? Sure is.

    Is he a physicist on the nature of god, the origins of the universe prior to, and for that matter at, the Big Bang (presuming ‘prior to’ and ‘at’ are actually meaningful in that context), whether the universe was designed by some ‘intelligent’ entity? Hell no.

  7. Thanks for the reply.

    So let me try to understand exactly what is your metaphysics (I’m not a Philosopher by the way).

    I am wondering which of these two philosophies you subscribe to: (1) Scientism, which says that only what can be proven scientifically is the truth and the sole source of knowledge, or (2) Naturalism, which says physical events have ONLY physical causes (nature is all that exists; hence no supernatural causes.)

    I suspect you don’t belong to Camp 1 because Scientism isn’t logically consistent with itself. See atheist Richard Chappell’s argument in: http://www.philosophyetc.net/2008/04/overcoming-scientism.html. for why Scientism is self-defeating.

    So I am 99.99% sure you belong to Camp 2, Naturalism. No so?

    Ron, I take it that a thunderous phrase like “hell no” is no indication you believe in hell (or heaven), just to be sure.

  8. I wouldn’t say I subscribe to them ‘as a philosophy’ in anything like the sense of subscribing to a religion. But I find both to be working contingent perspectives, based on what we have come to know that seems pretty reliable.

    Scientism is a disparaging term invented to assert that advocates of science over theology/philosophy for knowledge acquisition actually think that “only what can be proven scientifically is the truth and the sole source of knowledge”. It’s a fake label that science proponents don’t actually hold to. But Stephen Pinker among others reclaim the term reclaimed the term. Scientism is having the sense to know that science can’t tell us everything, but it’s the best of what we’ve got.

    To expand …

    Humans are animals with nervous systems. The peripheral nervous system of sensing is usually associated with the experiencing aspect of empiricism. But brains are made of the same stuff. So brains are experiencing systems too – though they spend a lot of time on internally experiencing internal processes. We are empirical creatures. Human knowledge acquisition is achieved using those processes. That’s the only way humans can acquire knowledge.

    Science is the term used to represent the methods and equipment used to do that knowledge acquisition more rigorously. So, while science can’t tell us everything, because humans can’t know everything and humans as a species have a finite time in this universe as far as we can predict, it can tell us a heck of a lot more than not using science.

    There are no other ways of knowing for humans than human empiricism. Claims to other ways of knowing still use the same basic human knowledge acquisition, but not as well as is possible with science. Some knowledge acquisition can be achieved more efficiently without going to the trouble of the rigour of science, but science can do it more precisely and accurately, if required – and, of course, if the science is advanced enough. So, if I run a bath do I use science to tell if it’s not too hot or not too cold? I could, but I don’t bother. Do I use science to tell me how much my wife loves me? The science isn’t up to that yet, but in principle it could; but I don’t bother because I use more efficient and sufficient methods that humans have developed for judging the sentiments of other humans. That doesn’t always work though – humans make mistakes, or change. When it becomes possible to gather a bunch of physiological and psychological metrics that represent one person’s love for another, will it be used? Maybe, maybe not. But it could be.

    Art? Another aspect of normal human knowledge acquisition, through imaginative invention and exploration of ideas. The benefits of the freedom of art seem to outweigh any need to be more rigorous.

    Faith? A complete rejection of human knowledge acquisition’s capabilities.

    Human knowledge acquisition through empiricism is what we do, and science is merely a way of doing that more rigorously.

    As for naturalism, it’s pretty straight forward. What we have so far is a physical ‘naturalistic’ world view – physics, chemistry, biology, all part of the same reality. There might be other ‘things’ or ‘stuff’ out there, as yet undiscovered, but if there then it will appear to us somehow, and that new experience will be included in our world view. So, by default, anything out there is part of this natural world already, and we just haven’t discovered it.

    The strong and weak nuclear forces were there before we discovered them. They weren’t some supernatural spooky stuff. They are part of our naturalistic understanding of the universe.

    But the dualist notion of minds or souls remain undiscovered, and as such they might well not exist, when the physical world can already account for them.

    The early universe looks simple compared to the current universe. It seems that things evolve into more complex forms due to fluctuations and waves of dynamic activity. Pebbles roll down a steep beach, but can be pushed back up against the gravity gradient by strong waves. We are the peaks of some of the waves that flow in this region of the universe, driven by the action of the sun on the earth and the activity within the earth, all the result of early dynamic action in a cloud of material. Complexity can come from simplicity. So there’s no reason to suppose complexity, no need to suppose the complexity of intelligence being at work in ‘designing’ our universe.

    We are natural complex products of this universe. If there is a complex intelligent cause of our universe and we discover it, then it would make sense to search for its cause too. It would be part of the natural system, extra-universal in that case, that we explore.

    This is the sense of a naturalistic world view, for me at least.

    An I have no reason to believe in anything like hell.

    1. Allow me to summarise, as accurately as I can. You make the following huge claims:
      1. “Scientism is having the sense to know that science can’t tell us everything, but it’s the best of what we’ve got”;
      2. All reality is physical (physics, chemistry, biology) and therefore can be modeled completely mathematically given the state of knowledge. For the yet to be discovered, science will discover it.
      3. There are no other ways of knowing for humans than human empiricism;
      4. Methodological naturalism (the methods of science which is not to include the supernatural) is the same as metaphysical naturalism (the worldview that no supernatural entities exist, which is your view I conclude); and
      5. “But the dualist notion of minds or souls remain undiscovered, and as such they might well not exist, when the physical world can already account for them.”

      My comments on the above, respectively:
      1. Since you reject the extreme version of Scientism you should concede there are other evidence-based inquiries, or fields of human knowledge, such as in history and in law. But then you say science is the “best we’ve got” to explain anything. You can’t have it both ways, Ron. If we were to adopt the claim, we be would be compelled to dismiss many areas of knowledge outside “science”.

      2. Physical reality can be modeled, laws of nature can be described by equations, but they remain an abstraction of reality. Even if reality can be perfectly modelled (by a single equation or a system of equations), they do NOT bring matter and energy into existence. Models (I know this from what I do for a living) are permeated by assumptions and postulates that cannot be proven.

      As for the “stuff” out there, as yet discovered” but will be (by Naturalistic Science only?), Isn’t it rather presumptuous to appeal to future scientific discoveries (of things that haven’t happened yet) as an argument for the position. And then you say, “yet undiscovered, but then it will appear to us somehow, and that new experience will be included in our world view. So, by default, anything out there is part of this natural world already, and we just haven’t discovered it.”

      Which world view? If one is already committed to the Naturalistic Science, then I totally agree with the “by default”, which seems more like question begging to me. The fact that you are methodologically committed to accepting ONLY hypotheses positing natural/ physical causes would not, however, justify negating my claim that that there are miracles. I don’t know what rules of logic would allow you to do so.

      (Now, Ron, I’m not saying you can’t have your biases from religion, personal beliefs, as I think it’s necessary in non-compartmentalised thinking. Ardent atheist, Fred Hoyle, was committed to the notion that there was no beginning of the universe and he championed the Steady State Theory up to his last breath. I won’t say that the Book of Genesis influenced Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest, but Big Bang Theory triumphed over its rival theory.)

      3. I don’t quite get what you mean by “empiricism” or “empirical facts” in knowledge acquisition. Of course you need empirical facts as part of any satisfactory explanation but they are never the FULL explanation for anything, even if we don’t talk about supernatural phenomena. Is Ron Murphy saying that metaphysical constructs are inadmissible or must be avoided at all and any costs? Some would call that bias. The Law of Gravitation s a metaphysical construct (not tangible and physical); yet it must be postulated so that with the fact of the moon’s existence, we can explain the tides.

      4. You seem to conflate Methodological Naturalism and Metaphysical Naturalism, which is the view that no supernatural entities exist. The former makes no such claim but takes the position that science only looks at natural phenomena (though supernatural realities exist or might exist). So whatever cannot be mathematically modeled, whatever cannot be quantified, was swept under the rug of the Reductive Methodology, which was the approach of the Enlightenment philosophers and scientists (Galileo, Descartes, etc).

      5. You say “the dualist notion of minds or souls remain undiscovered” and right after that follows the 24-foot long jump to “and as such they might well not exist, when the physical world can already account for them.” Why do think that because something is not discovered/ quantified/ measured might “well not exist” Be a bit more optimistic, Ron? Do you believe consciousness exists; or do you have one? And if it does exist, would it be physical?

      Here is a series of essays by a Christian physicist (Aron wall) you and those who are reading our exchange might want to read and challenge (by writing to Aron)
      http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/fundamental-reality-index/.

      As a reminder, It would be nice of you to present the discussions after you’ve communicated with Luke Barnes on Fine Tuning. See his latest comment and a video in this link (Guest Post: Don Page on God and Cosmology):
      http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/20/guest-post-don-page-on-god-and-cosmology/

      Thank you for sharing your philosophy with me (and others) and for the opportunity to share my Christian and theistic beliefs with you (and others).

  9. TY,

    These are not ‘huge claims’ in any absolute sense, such as the way in which some theists ‘know’ that Jesus will save them, or have faith in Jesus or some such. These are contingent claims based on observation of a finite part of this universe by a succession of finite humans. I may facetiously put it in assertive language, but I’ve explained the contingency many times. If you’re still unsure about how uncertain all this is try the first few posts listed here: https://ronmurp.net/thinking/ Bit an important point is made in this blog’s strap line: “I haven’t a clue, and nor have you.”, implying that whatever limitations to human knowledge acquisition I appreciate, and whatever limitations theologians and philosophers like to tell us apply to science, at least the same applies to any other non-science methods of acquiring knowledge. Science is the best we have, as I’ll explain for specific examples.

    “you should concede there are other evidence-based inquiries”

    I did. I called it all empiricism, the only way to human knowledge acquisition, since sensing and probing the world empirically, and reasoning about what we sense (and bearing in mind that I said brain activity, including reasoning, consists of brain neutrons empirically acting and responding) are all that we have.

    History? How do you come to historical knowledge? Personal history we try to remember. What do we remember? We remember past empirical experiences. Human history? We read books, examine artefacts. If we are professional historians we do a lot of that. How could we do history better, where basic human observation limits us? We can apply science. Forensic sciences can age artefacts, examine stains on clothe purported to be the shroud of Jesus. As I said earlier, often we don’t bother with rigorous science, because natural human observation is enough. But it’s all empirical.

    The law? Same thing, except there’s a lot of empirical examination of books and case history. Reading, digesting and conceptualising about case law and other aspects of law is carried out using the empirical process of reading. Is there anything else? Any magic, or paranormal, or, …, anything? We are empirical beings. And of course science can help in law too.

    It’s too easy to take a restrictive view of science. Instead think of ‘the sciences’. There are the ‘hard sciences’ These work with relatively simple things that follow quite consistent laws (as we model them) – physics. The ‘laws’ of chemistry are not quite so straight forward – the periodic table is a lot messier than the descriptions of physics of basic particles. There is a greater variety of chemical elements than there are sub-atomic particles, and yet all the elements are made up of those particles. Biology is messier still, and yet it consists of elements, and particles in turn. And human sciences – psychology, the social sciences, are most complex. The particles in a physics experiment can do a fee different things – think traces in a cloud chamber, it looks pretty messy. But compare that with looking down on the motion of human particles moving around a city, and think of all the component dynamic atomic particles in each of those humans – many many orders of complexity difference. Try this: https://ronmurp.net/2012/07/13/psychology-the-hard-science/

    On models, I wasn’t aware I was making any claims about their being anything other than abstractions, and I certainly wouldn’t expect them to be perfect. So I’m not sure what you’re point is with (2).

    “Isn’t it rather presumptuous to appeal to future scientific discoveries (of things that haven’t happened yet) as an argument for the position.”

    Yes and no. If you presuppose there is something other than ‘natural’ stuff, then yes, it would be presumptuous. On the other hand, it seems quite straight forward to say whatever we discover will come to be understood as natural. This doesn’t mean that I think we necessarily know all there is, in terms of matter, energy, forces, laws. I think we have a pretty good handle on a lot of what there is in this universe, but maybe not everything. But I haven’t he foggiest what causes universes to come into existence. As I said earlier, this might well involve something we call super-physics – the physics of of what causes universes, such that the models we make of it are extensions to physics in this universe, or physics in this universe is a subset of the super-physics. But, what if this universe was created by some intelligent entity? Then what is the super-physics he uses? And what hyper-physics created his super-universe.

    These are all such far off speculative metaphysical matters that the ‘natural’ ‘super-natural’ cannot take on any significant meaning until we discover at least some data that gives us a clue there’s something ‘out there’ beyond this universe (in whatever sense you want to use ‘beyond’). They might as well be considered to be natural as anything else. The important point being, if you think it’s a stretch calling it ‘naturalism’ all the way, then it’s even more of a stretch supposing there IS some magical being out there, when the only examples of intelligent beings are right here – us, and all other animals we know of are less intelligent – as far as we can tell. And it’s the ‘as far as we can tell’ that’s the killer for claims about gods. No thesis can show they have any access to anything other than the empirical processes that we all have. Nothing claimed to be a message from gods is sufficiently distinguishable from delusion to be presumed to have any merit.

    “If one is already committed…”

    I don’t know how many ways to say it. I’m not committed to it. Show me something that is not natural. Show me some knowledge acquisition that is empirical. You could say ‘intuition’, for example. But what’s intuition? I intuition is the combination of unconscious brain processes working on past (possibly inherited) feelings, then I’d like to know what it is.

    “The fact that you are methodologically committed to accepting ONLY hypotheses positing natural/ physical causes would not, however, justify negating my claim that that there are miracles.”

    I don’t need to negate your claim that there are miracles. You first have to show me that there are some. You have to offer specific miracles. And then, if some non-miracle explanation can be provided, then the miracle is indistinguishable from a non-miracle and can be treated as if it isn’t one. Go ahead, give me some miracles.

    I agree, we can’t avoid our biases. So, we’re all on common ground there. But you know full well that science, particularly over the last several decades as psychology and neuroscience have improved, we’ve come to understand quite a bit about biases (and those biases have been better understood through science, you’ll note) and are getting better at accounting for them. Is there anything comparable to the double blind trials in theology? I don’t think so.

    “Of course you need empirical facts as part of any satisfactory explanation but they are never the FULL explanation for anything”

    I didn’t claim anything about FULL facts. We’ve been getting by quite well with partial facts since the dawn of human inquiry. Animals seem to live reasonable lives without knowing much in the way of facts at all, other than the natural empirical behavioural processes of the senses and their brains’ ability to survive using those senses.

    “Is Ron Murphy saying that metaphysical constructs are inadmissible or must be avoided at all and any costs?”

    I haven’t said that. What I am saying is that they are unreliable as facts. They will do as speculative ideas that might prompt future enquiry, but metaphysical speculations do not constitute knowledge about the world. They are still knowledge in a trivial sense though. They constitute knowledge about metaphysical ideas. So, we can speculate on the metaphysics of dualism, solipsism, and so on. We can learn the facts about what various philosophers have said on these matters. we can construct in our brains abstract models, say, of a dualist immaterial mind. But we have no facts about such things in the real world because they are imaginative speculations about how the world might be.

    This is also the case for naturalism: it’s an abstract representation of reality. The differences is that it works. The Greeks come up with the abstract notion of atoms, and a few millennia later we have come up with experiments that provide data that represent atoms. Of course the Greek concept was simpler perhaps and there’s a lot more to our understanding of atoms. If you like you could consider naturalism a speculative metaphysics that works, that matches experiments to some reasonable high degree. What’s the height of matching the world when it comes to the theological metaphysical notion of antirecessionary prayer? There is no match.

    I’m not conflating the naturalism, because I’m not making any specific claim about the supernatural other than we don’t know anything about anything outside this universe so we’re not in a position to say there is anything ‘super’ at all. I gave some examples about about how we might consider ‘super-physics’ and even ‘super-beings’, but we’re in no position to give them the label ‘super-natural’ in the sense that theologians mean it. It’s all a big ‘DON’T KNOW”. Of course another possibility could be that all there is is this universe, and nothing else, no ‘super’ anything. We have difficulty with that concept and are tempted to think of stuff on the outside, and on the origins of this universe, but that might be completely meaningless. But, we ‘DON’T KNOW’ – end of. For now.

    “So whatever cannot be mathematically modelled, whatever cannot be quantified…”

    I’m not sure where that came from. I don’t know for sure that everything can be mathematically quantified. We get by with many branches of science with very little maths, and for the complex human sciences the detailed maths isn’t attempted – we use statistics and probability instead. It’s too difficult to model some things mathematically. We tend to go in for vague descriptive instead.

    On dualism, there was a slight typo. It should read “they might as well not exist” My point being the following … brea with it …

    We have a pretty good idea what constitutes a sandstone rock. Why do we not talk to it as if it’s an intelligent entity? Well, it’s fairly static. It’s not complex and dynamic the way other intelligent entities are. It doesn’t even compare with a worm in the intelligence stakes. Why would we bother going to the trouble acting ‘as if’ it were intelligent?

    While we’re on this Chopra point, is a mountain conscious? When a rock falls off a mountain does that become a little bit of the consciousness of the mountain, or does it become its own mini-consciousness at that point? … and so on. Chopra stuff is dumb. But, let’s say theres this smidgen of consciousness in a rock. Are we going to give the rock rights? Or do we carry on treating it as if it’s a non-conscious rock? Do we treat it ‘as if ‘ it’s no conscious?

    Now, on dualism. There’s supposed to be this free floating mind that comes up with decisions freely will from who knows where. What is that sort of mind supposed to look like? Like this, what we’re doing now. On the other hand, we open skulls and all we see is physical stuff. We measure neuronal action potentials, brain waves, neurochemicals, and …..? Nothing. we find nothing that isn’t already in our physical compendium. Your move. Give me the mind to examine. Explain the immaterial nature of it.

    On Luke Barnes, see this comment:
    http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/20/guest-post-don-page-on-god-and-cosmology/#comment-7295910552604306451

    This makes the same sort of point I’ve been making. You can’t do probabilities with data you don’t have. We know nothing about what multiple universes might be made up of. The ‘possible universes’ idea is based on some notion of permutations on physics IN THIS UNIVERSE.

    Take a dice side 6 to represent our universe. Luke Barnes says, well, there are six possible universes, so the probability of getting a universe like ours is 1/6. The response to that would be, hole on Luke, what if the external stuff of universe making crap is actually a 50-sided thingy, the chance of our universe occurring would be 1/50 – and only then if all 50 possibilities were equally possible; and then what if the stuff of universe creation is only one sided, with a 6 on it, so all universes ever created have a probability of 1 of having our physics.

    I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do on Luke Barnes, so I can’t say more than that for now.

    1. SCIENCE AND BELIEF IN GOD
      On philosophical grounds in epistemology, at least we have moved closer to common turf: the acquisition of knowledge, the philosophical per-suppositions on which reasonable people base their conclusions, working with limited information (“facts”), and so on. I always believed that science is the best way to explain nature. That science is astonishingly successful at explaining the ‘how” is without question. But science is not equipped, methodologically as we know it being done today, to handle the metaphysical questions related to the “why”. God of the Gaps to fill holes in the body of scientific knowledge is as much a caricature as Naturalism of the Gaps.

      William D. Phillips (Nobel Laureate in physics) notes in a reply to Steven Pinker in “Does science make belief in God obsolete” (John Templeton Foundation):

      “But my belief in God does not depend on such gaps [in the body of scientific knowledge], nor does the belief of most people who, like me, take both science and religion seriously. Rather, our belief depends on a rational choice to accept certain truth as a matter of faith. It depends on our understanding that science is not the only standard of truth. For many of us, our belief depends on the personal experience of having been touched by God’s spirit. And that belief leads us to a commitment to live in accordance with the same moral principle enunciated by you [referring to Steven Pinker] (and by Jesus and any member of religious figures) – to behave towards others as we would have them behave towards us.”

      There is no contraindication between theism and science; you can say, like John Polkinghorne, the two approaches to discovering truth are complementary. The tensionm as far as I can tell, is between theism and Scientific Materialism, which is like a religion. In his book “Modern Physics and Ancient Faith”, physicist Stephen Barr, defines Scientific Materialism this way: “The basic tenet of so-called “scientific materialism” is that nothing exists except matter, and everything in the world must therefore be the result of strict mathematical laws of physics and blind chance.”

      On our beliefs about God? “Hell no!” as you would say, but hold a second because as I’m hopeful of a spiritual conversion. Why this abundance of optimism? (1) Dawkins, the world’s most famous atheist, has a 7-point scale of God-belief – not disproof of God scale: 1 = I know God exits; 2 = I know God doesn’t exist. He said in plain English to an audience that was wide awake and lucid that he not a “7” and so he’s a skeptic and not an atheist! Sent tsunami-strength tremors in the atheist camp. So he’s explicitly assigning Bayesian (subjective) probabilities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfk7tW429E4.
      (2) Tony Flew, 6 years before he dies at age 87, turned theist. In his day, he made Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, sam Harris look college chaplains. So I have tremendous hope for Ron Murphy and I won’t credit that to old age or fear of dying; it will be his rational choice.

      ON MIRACULOUS EVENTS AND EXPERIENCES
      Ron challenges: “Go ahead, give me some miracles.” (Sounds Clint Eastwoodesque: “Go ahead, make my day!”). Ron. I believe in miracles – doesn’t mean that the Laws of Nature are abrogated — and my best pick is Jesus’ resurrection for it is the foundation of my Christian faith and the promise that we too will be resurrected in the life to come. You too, in spite of your (current) disbelief. What evidence supports my extraordinary belief for this extraordinary claim? His physical death on the cross, his physical burial in a tomb, the emptiness of the tomb, his appeared before many on various occasions and places, and the fact that his disciples could not have believed and preached a myth in the face of violent persecution. There is the faith component which touches personal experience but that’s is not evidence to the atheist (per-suppositions/ bias again)

      I’d like to quote Aron Wall not because I’m intellectually lazy but because he states the point best. (Note: the honorific “St” is his way of addressing Christians in his excellent blog that ties Physics and religion.)

      “Now, as St. Scott points out (with many references) you can find experts with many different points of view on the subject of Biblical history. I can see why you would think that the religious scholars are biased towards finding that the Bible is historically accurate (and I agree that many of them are biased) but what I can’t understand is why you think secular scholars would be un-biased! As St. Chesterton says:

      “Why should they be impartial, what is being impartial, when the whole world is at war about whether one thing is a devouring superstition or a divine hope? I do not pretend to be impartial in the sense that the final act of faith fixes a man’s mind because it satisfies his mind. But I do profess to be a great deal more impartial than they are; in the sense that I can tell the story fairly, with some sort of imaginative justice to all sides; and they cannot. (The Everlasting Man)”

      Ref: Aron Wall in “Some Questions on Biblical history” http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/some-comments-on-biblical-history/ Also if you and readers have a bit of time: “All saints day Roundup.” http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/all-saints-day-roundup/

      Thanks again, Ron, and ever hopeful of a miracle.

      1. Ron, a footnote. I was just reading the current exchanges in Sean Carroll’s blog and I see this on Don Page’s view of the laws of physics and Jesus’ resurrection. What a co-incidence. Now I do think you have the opportunity to challenge Don Page with all the reasons you think miracles cannot happen and there are no empirical facts to prove they do happen.

        How about that?

        Thanks.

        http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2015/03/20/guest-post-don-page-on-god-and-cosmology/#comment-7295910552604307358

        Don N. Page says:
        May 7, 2015 at 8:39 am

        Simon Packer, I agree with your statement, ‘Laws governing the fabric of our experienced reality (which we classify as ‘physics’), even if discovered completely, are not necessarily immutable, but are readily and easily re-scripted by an infinite God to better serve his relational purposes’. I do indeed believe that God re-scripts the laws to perform miracles, in particular the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

        However, I do believe that the laws of physics are deterministic in the sense that when God does use them, they completely determine what occurs within the universe. Of course, I believe that it is God who is the ultimate cause and determiner of everything. That is, I take creation from nothing in the strong sense that God alone completely creates and determines everything concrete (not logically necessary) other than Himself. This belief does have the implication that no creatures, such as humans, have libertarian free will, since free will choices would be concrete entities not created from nothing by God.

  10. TY,

    “But science is not equipped, methodologically as we know it being done today, to handle the metaphysical questions related to the “why”. ”

    1 – If science can’t answer ‘why’ questions, what else can? Theology is about making up stories – with no evidence, what else is it? Similarly, philosophy isn’t about discovering stuff, it’s about reasoning about stuff, but the problem is that requires something to reason about: empirical data about how the world is and how it works.

    2 – To be able to answer a why question, such as ‘Why does God want us to do X?’, requires some ‘How?’ and ‘What?’ and ‘Is?’ answers first: How does the universe come into existence? What is God and how does that entity work? Is there a God, or is the whole God notion just something humans have dreamed up based on unsupportable extrapolations from observation of humans?

    Let’s face it, if you want to know why a dead victim with a knife in their stomach was ‘murdered’ you have to find the murderer and then try to figure out the motive; or perhaps you are mistaken and there is no murderer because it was an accident that the ‘victim’ feinted and fell on the knife. This is the gallingly silly state of ‘Why?’ questions about God.

    3 – If there is no ‘purpose’ in the universe then yet again you are offering a question begging proposition, that a ‘Why?’ question is meaningful. If there is no God, and universes are created by some purposeless process, then the is no ‘Why?’.

  11. God/Naturalism of the gaps…

    I agree that if one was to make a claim that science establishes that there is no God because we can’t find evidence for God, then you are right, that would be a naturalism of the gaps. But you are still missing the important points.

    1 – What would the universe look like if there was no God but it was a non-purposeful non-intelligent cause for the origin of this universe? It could look like this. What would the universe look like if a purposeful God created it? It could look like this. What would it look like if two Gods, good and evil, created the universe in order to play a game to see who could create a good/evil world? It could look like this. What if there were hyper-Gods that created super-Gods that created the universe? It could look like this. The specific claims about purposeful or non-purposeful origins are pointless when we have no data.

    2 – Science , or most thorough system of investigation, has come up only with matter, energy and some models of how all that works. There is nothing convincing about the paranormal, spirits, dualism, souls – things that are claimed to be here in this universe – and no data at all about anything ‘outside’ this universe.

    3 – Intelligence and purpose is something we attribute to the behaviour of humans. Now knowing more about brains we also attribute lesser intelligence and lesser purpose to smaller and simpler brains, until we get down to creatures with a few hundred neutrons to tens of neutrons. And when we get to bacteria and plants some people might be keen on attributing some purposefulness to them this seems like straight forward anthropomorphism mistake. By the time we get to non-life we see nothing but chemical reactions at most, and long term stable molecules at elements in things like rocks. Intelligence seems to be entirely based on complexity. Now, on the scale of universe, stars, star clusters, the early universe, everything looks far simpler, with no reason to suppose there’s anything to do with intelligence and purpose on that scale. What possible reason is there to suppose that the cause of universes coming and going is any more complex and so any more purposeful? The owners really is on on the theist to come up with really good reasons and evidence to support their God notions, and given how crazily different most theologians make their gods they don’t seem too reliable a source of ideas on extra-universe models.

    I have to say that all you are doing is restating the same questions in other ways, and I keep restating my understanding of why we have no data to be able to say anything at all on gods.

  12. “people who, like me, take both science and religion seriously. ”

    And this is a case in point. Taking ‘religion’ and science seriously? Religion? Really? Let’s just remind ourselves yet again some of the really weird stuff that theologians believe. You really cannot take that stuff seriously without doing a heck of a lot more work to show there is any God whatsoever, let alone a God of some crackpot religion. It really is a massive leap from knowing nothing about extra-universe matters, to speculatively imagining some sort of purposeful intelligence behind it with no evidence to support that notion, to dedicating one’s life to the service of that totally off the wall speculative notion, to making claims to believe any one of the many of the religions that have been invented throughout history. It’s totally dumb. Anyone making the barest of ID speculative musings has far more credibility than theists of Christianity or Islam or any other of the religions we are aware arose under really ignorant conditions.

    “Rather, our belief depends on a rational choice to accept certain truth as a matter of faith.”

    No. Really, no. Let’s take a couple of examples …

    1 – I do not have faith that the next plane flight I take will be a safe one, with no mechanical faults, with no co-pilot going off the rails, with no unexpected weather conditions to bring it down, with no terrorist act. What I have is a combination of trust in science, and a hope that I’m lucky enough to not meet the rare odds of one of those disasters – and they are in balance according to my natural human fears. But I certainly don’t have faith in planes.

    2 – I do not have faith in a non-purposeful cause of universe creation. I do not have faith in a purposeful cause of universe creation. What I do have is complete ignorance about such matters. And so do you. And so does Luke Barnes. And Don Page. No data. Zero. Nothing. We’re guessing.

  13. “It depends on our understanding that science is not the only standard of truth. ”

    Again, you are not responding to the points I’m making. I’ve already said: human knowledge acquisition consists of our observing the world and reasoning about it: empiricism. Science is a more rigorous method of doing just that. Therefore, science can generally give us more confidence that we are closer to the ‘truth’. What do I mean by ‘truth’ in that context? I mean that science creates more consistent and accurate models about the world because it makes more rigorous examinations of the world.

    Please. Give me something that gets to truth in a better way. And, give me some idea what you mean by ‘truth’ in that context. Because most theological notions of truth in this context meaning nothing more than flowery sounding tropes that provide some vague feel-good factor and don’t actually say anything concrete at all.

    “For many of us, our belief depends on the personal experience of having been touched by God’s spirit.”

    This is just utter nonsense, unless you can show that there is God to begin with. You are presupposing a God to be the cause of these ‘touches’ you claim to experience. Let’s suppose there is a God. How on earth do you know that God isn’t just sitting there laughing his head off, thinking, “These dumb theists. They think I’ve touched them, but I’ve done no such thing. LOL.”

    Try this: https://ronmurp.net/2010/04/22/wager-on-an-atheists-god/

    “And that belief leads us to a commitment to live in accordance with the same moral principle enunciated by you”

    Why invent a God for that? Especially when these God also have associated with them moral prescriptions like Quran 24:2 – lashing people who have sex outside marriage. You can be moral without God. You have no evidence for God other than some feelings or other. What’s the point?

    John Polkinghorne is a fraud. I’m going over his science and religion book again. I have notes on every page where he makes errors or jumps to unreasonable conclusions or misrepresents atheism, or science. He’s hopeless. But I guess we’ll have to leave that for another time.

  14. “Scientific Materialism, which is like a religion.”

    It is not. It is only theists that make that assertion, and it seems to be based on the flawed way in which theists come to their own beliefs. Because they use blind faith they think that atheist science proponents must too. I don’t need faith in anything. All my beliefs can be entirely contingent on current results of empirical experiences – made more confident when science provides more rigorous evidence. I do not have to keep faith in anything science produces. All I need to do is accept any result as a working result, and then only as long as it is shown to work. I am free to abandon any grossly wrong idea. I can abandon a perfectly reasonable model if that model appears to be completely wrong when more data comes in. I can accept a model of the world (Newton), and when something better comes along (Einstein) I can still choose to stick with the earlier model if it still works in limited circumstances.

    All this is totally different from religion.

    “Stephen Barr, defines Scientific Materialism this way: “The basic tenet of so-called “scientific materialism” is that nothing exists except matter, and everything in the world must therefore be the result of strict mathematical laws of physics and blind chance.””

    This is a fine example of a misrepresentation. Theists define Scientific Materialism in such terms that make Scientific Materialism like a religious faith, and then, surprise, they find that Scientific Materialism is like a religious faith. But that’s not the scientific materialism that many if not most scientists that are not theists hold to. Most atheist scientists already know the contingent and limited nature of science. The claim isn’ that scientific materialism MUST be all there is, but that it is all we have discovered, and without real theory and observational experiment to show there is a God, we might as well act as if there isn’t.

    What if I claim there is some strange force that pervades the universe making car keys disappear then reappear? Would you believe it, form a cult around it? Or would you say there’s probably a simpler explanation – we keep forgetting where we leave our keys, and later remember or re-find them?

    By the way, I’m still waiting for you to give me example miracles that we can get our teeth into.

    “Dawkins, the world’s most famous atheist, has a 7-point scale of God-belief – not disproof of God scale: 1 = I know God exits; 2 = I know God doesn’t exist. He said in plain English to an audience that was wide awake and lucid that he not a “7” and so he’s a skeptic and not an atheist!”

    Let’s get one thing straight: atheism. It’s true that some atheists could be ‘faith’ atheists – they believe there is no God with the same sort of blind faith that theists hold that there is one. But in the sense of Dawkins and people like me atheist means a-theism – not committing to theism, using the working conclusion that there is no God until such time that there is good evidence for one. An agnostic is someone who might be sort of persuaded by these erroneous probabilistic ‘priors’ and erroneous inferences from fine tuning and other arguments.

    Dawkins was doing not more than putting fairly arbitrary numbers on his general belief that we have no reason to think there is a purposeful cause of the universe, but he can’t rule it out. Which is just the position I’ve been promoting here: we can’t rule out various causes for the creation of the universe because we have no data. Dawkins was giving his guess, his hunch. I’d like to see you get him to commit to those figures as if they are meaningful.

    “Sent tsunami-strength tremors in the atheist camp.”

    No he didn’t. He said exactly what most atheist science proponents think, which is just what I’ve been saying here. It’s the theists that found his statements such a surprise because they mistakenly thought atheists had this absolutist belief they had a ‘proof’ there is no God. They didn’t, so it wasn’t news to atheists.

    The thing is, that video link to his debate with Rowan Williams starts with Dawkins clarifying this point, because it’s the theists that mistakenly thought he was offering a proof of the non-existence of God.

    Dawkins wants to get away from the 50/50 stance, but he too makes the mistake of putting it in probabilistic terms. He should not, and he has no need to. Perhaps he’s been persuaded by some Bayes proponents. From all the stuff I’ve read or heard from him he most often says simple, we don’t know, and his probabilistic ideas are some notional representation of his gut feeling.

  15. “Tony Flew, 6 years before he dies at age 87, turned theist.”

    I’m amazed theists are still trotting out Flew. There is nothing about the human brain that requires it to stick with a better idea (atheism) rather than a worse one (theism). Humans are susceptible to persuasion by bad ideas. Many philosophers really don’t get science as a subset of the basic empiricism of human beings. They are often fooled by the older notions from philosophy. It may be that Flew was always a poor atheist – only having a simplistic notion of atheism rather than the contingent one along with an understanding of evolution.

    Scientists and philosophers that really get understand science are quite different from philosophers that have a poorer understanding of science. Try this, about a debate between chemist Peter Atkins and philosopher Stephen Law – where the philosopher seems to have a far weaker appreciation of empiricism: https://ronmurp.net/2011/11/18/philosopher-stephen-law-doesnt-get-science/

    Try this, on why philosophy got off to a wrong idea about human minds and reasoning, and why science has given us quite a different perspective: https://ronmurp.net/2011/12/23/thought_v_experience/

    “In his day, he made Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, sam Harris look college chaplains. ”

    Really? In whose estimation? Flew offered nothing. Can you give some of the reasons Flew changed his mind?

    “my best pick is Jesus’ resurrection”

    OK, now, what’s your evidence for it? Hearsay …

  16. “the promise that we too will be resurrected in the life to come. You too, in spite of your (current) disbelief.”

    OK, so if I make an assertion too, “No, jesus was a fraud and there is no afterlife to be resurrected to.”, are we now evens? And what about the Muslims that assert that Jesus was a mere prophet and was not resurrected and was not God in some other magical form?

    In just making assertions like this you aren’t really even making assertions about Jesus. You are not actually saying Jesus rose again. You are asserting only that you BELIEVE that he rose again. You are giving me nothing more than a fact about what you believe and not a fact about which you hold that belief.

    You have nothing except these bits of data:

    – There seems to have been some guy that started a following. Not uncommon for the times.

    – He might have made some specific claims about his divine nature, but we can;t tell because we have zero data recording his words. We have no artefacts with inscriptions, no writing from him.

    – We know from hearsay (Josephus and others: https://ronmurp.net/2015/02/08/josephus-on-christianity-is-hearsay/) who don’t tell us about Jesus, but only what Christians were saying about Jesus.

    – We know from the gospels only what the gospel authors were saying – IF we have reliable records of the gospel writers. That’s not certain. And we have no way of telling if any of the specifics of what the gospel writers wrote is true. No data. Zero. It’s laughable.

    – Everything else in Christianity is stuff made up much later. At the time of Constantine there were many versions of Christianity in various parts of the eastern Mediterranean, and it took Constantine to help these factions come up with something that looked like a consistent story. And then various leading theologians made their own mods to christianity. And so we have all the factions we have today. It really is laughable.

    “What evidence supports my extraordinary belief for this extraordinary claim?”

    – His physical death on the cross – you don’t know that. It seems plausible only because it was a method of execution at the time. There is zero evidence of any of the details – the nails, the spear in his side. Nothing. Hearsay.

    – his physical burial in a tomb – No evidence. Zero. Hearsay.

    – the emptiness of the tomb – No evidence. Zero. Hearsay.

    – his appeared before many on various occasions and places – – No evidence. Zero. Hearsay.

    – the fact that his disciples could not have believed and preached a myth in the face of violent persecution – Really? Why not? Plenty of people die in the name of Allah and Mohammad. Is that a myth? Why did Mohammad’s followers believe his crazy stories about being spoken to by Gabriel? Were was their scepticism? Were they justified in believing Mohammad? If so, why don’t you accept that Mohammad was the final and most correct prophet and that early Christians misunderstood Jesus, thinking he was divine and not just a prophet, as Mohammad says? If you don’t accept Mohammad’s story why would you not be just as sceptical about stories about Jesus?

    – And, how do you know they did suffer persecution? Where’s your evidence for that? Oh, the Bible again?

  17. Faith…

    “There is the faith component which touches personal experience”

    What does that mean? Seriously, what does it actually mean? This is a ‘ground of all being’ meaningless statement. You mean you have taken from your personal experiences some idea that there’s a God, and you’ve decided to have faith in that decision? With no evidence? Blind faith? What is a faith component? In what sense does this faith component (once you’ve clarified what it is) actually ‘touch’ personal experience. This sounds like your coming up with the typical flowery meaningless stuff that we see form many theists.

    “… but that’s is not evidence to the atheist (per-suppositions/ bias again)”

    It’s not evidence to theists either. They are mistaken when they think this is evidence.

    “what I can’t understand is why you think secular scholars would be un-biased!”

    You are not only allowing for the bias of theistic scholars you are presupposing a bias from secular scholars. Of course it depends on the scholars. But basically they have no positive bias, and they are not starting with a faith. Remember, to secular scholars it would be fantasic news if they were the ones that found anything that supported the existence of Jesus in detail. It would be a great feather in their scholarly caps if they found documents recorded by Romans that really demonstrated officially that there was this preacher that claimed to be the son of God. Note that this shouldn’t be a challenge to their atheism, but it would be a great find.

    On top of that, secular scholars aren’t plagued by faith. They can be sceptical without far less bias, at least when it comes to the details of the man Jesus.

    It’s not the same type of bias. You mentioned history earlier. The standards of historic inquiry need to be used. But theists are all to eager to take hearsay as evidence.

    And, you really do have to be specific with the evidence. Really. Josephus is hearsay: what Josephus reported about what Christians were saying. Many theists, including William Lane Craig, use Josephus as evidence. It is not.

    Again, the secular evidence about the details of Jesus the man are the same for both theists and atheists. And that evidence is near zero. We have only Christian sources, plus commentary on what Christians were saying. Where is the genuinely independent data?

    Consider the significance here, compared to other data from history. What if we are wrong about some facts on a Roman Emperor? Facts about Roman Emperors are really significant only for the careers of history scholars that focus on that subject. If something turns out to be wrong those scholars re-write their books, and eventually school history catches up. No big deal.

    What if evidence turns up that Jesus was a fraudster? That’s the lives of countless theologians, priests wasted, and so much time praying to a fraud by so many Christians. No wonder theistic scholars are biased.

    What if there turns out to be good evidence for the preacher Jesus, and a record of his words turn up and they match the gospels? Wow! Fantastic news, even for secular scholars.

    But what if it turns out that there’s evidence that Jesus was a real prophet and there’s evidence of God? Can’t see how that would come out of historic scholarship. God evidence really does need to include stuff that would rule out individual or mass delusion. It’s going to need physics, cosmology, neuroscience to be able to figure out that, yes, this person making these theistic claims match all this evidence and isn’t just someone hearing words in their heads.

    On that last point we know full well that human brains can really create inner sounds in the auditory cortex, and, alternatively, we know that human brains can mistake one’s own internal thinking for the voice of someone else. This understanding of the brain didn’t exist in the times when religions were invented. There really is far more work for theists to do than they realise.

    “But I do profess to be a great deal more impartial than they are; in the sense that I can tell the story fairly, with some sort of imaginative justice to all sides; and they cannot. (The Everlasting Man)”

    This is nothing more than a personal assertion. An empty boast.

    Note that in the Aron Wall post his main criticism of secular critics of what counts as evidence has a naturalistic presupposition. Well so does he and you. You have the naturalist presupposition that the Bible exists and that it was written (the NT) in the early first century. How do you know it does? Evidence from the history – the naturalistic evidence of tracing documents back to that time based on other naturlaistic evidence. Various copies of the Bible can be dated directly and by inference from the times, and all these can be plotted back to various sources, where we eventually lose track of original documents and end up with a few scraps. You use the naturalistic evidence when it suits, but then abandon naturalistic evidence when it fails to support your prior beliefs.

  18. “Thanks again, Ron, and ever hopeful of a miracle.”

    Your welcome, I suspect it will take a miracle. 🙂

    And I’ve posted another comment on Sean Carroll’s Don Page post.

    1. Ron, I saw your questions and let’s wait for Don’s reply.

      Miracles do happen and when we least expect on that road to Damascus; I can see you one day becoming a champion of theism in this same blog.

  19. I’d rather not wait for that response, because my questions here are to you. I have answered your questions in great detail. I’d really like to know how you personally support your ideas.

    You again assert miracles do happen. I doubt very much that any response from Barnes is going to address that claim. Can you back it up with very specific evidence. What is it makes you think there are miracles? Do you have an example of a miracle you yourself have witnessed and how do you determine it is a miracle?

    Miracles require a God, don’t they? Very specifically, what about your observations of the universe convince you there is such a God? What data do you have? Is it just ‘a feeling’, intuition? Or is it the Bible? What really convinces **you**?

  20. Ron,

    We can disagree on Bayesian epistemology, what is or is not historical evidence, whether fine-tuning is supports theism, and all that intellectual stuff, but ultimately, the best evidence of God is how tangibly He acts in our lives, day in, day out, and what your senses tell you when you observe in people.

    In my church, we have seen people turn their broken lives around, from drug addition, from abusive and violent behaviour, from deep marital problems, through God, His power and now lead normal lives. They are not fictional characters but real people in the congregation. If you dismiss these accounts, radical transformations, as “bollocks”, then you either are saying we (including social workers and medical professionals in my church) are liars and delusional. Or could it be, Ron, that your atheistic bias is so strong, so antagonistic to the even the idea of God that unwarranted skepticism has replaced rationality so that you see me holding up a bunch of grapes, but you say it is a watermelon, or you hear God whispering in your ears but all you hear is the sound of a train crash.

    More data? I have great hope for you, Ron.

    1. But you are not seeing God at work when in church and people turn their broken lives around. You are merely asserting that God is the cause.

      Muslims can offer the same examples. But no matter what pretensions there are about a common God they are clearly contrary. Many people in your church I presume put their recovery down to a faith in Jesus. But a Muslim recovering from a broken life would denounce such faith in Jesus because Jesus was only a prophet. So, Christians and Muslims, who are both heretics and blasphemers in each others eyes, both think god is helping them.

      And yet others are fixed by secular means, whether it’s through mental health organisations, yoga or meditation, or simply ‘getting their act together’ or under their own steam.

      “If you dismiss these accounts, radical transformations, as “bollocks”, then you either are saying we (including social workers and medical professionals in my church) are liars and delusional.”

      I take it most are sincere. But yes, delusional. This often strikes believers as an offensive remark, but look at the meaning of delusion – as well as the psychiatric meaning it also has the more mundane meaning of having erroneous beliefs:

      http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/delusional
      “having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions:
      Senators who think they will get agreement on a comprehensive tax bill are delusional.”

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Delusional
      “A false belief or opinion: labored under the delusion that success was at hand.”

      So, you tell me whether you think Muslims are delusional? Are Satanists? Hindus? Astrologists?

      “Or could it be, Ron, that your atheistic bias is so strong, so antagonistic to the even the idea of God that unwarranted skepticism has replaced rationality so that you see me holding up a bunch of grapes, but you say it is a watermelon, or you hear God whispering in your ears but all you hear is the sound of a train crash.”

      Well, yes, it could be. But you only raise that as a possibility. You offer no reason to think you are right. This is no more than a rhetorical means of making the assertion that I am wrong without backing it up. So, if you think I have ‘unwarranted skepticism’ and that it has ‘replaced rationality’, then please give actual reasons and evidence instead of giving these anecdotal examples of people turning their lives around by mere group-think and warmth of human kindness, and a nice story.

      This is a common theme by the way. A theist will start out somewhere in this loop:

      Theist: God is obviously present – just look at the designed world, too wonderful to be naturalistic.
      Atheist: No, here’s why it could be caused by natural process or by some intent, but we can’t tell the difference.

      T: But, what about the resurrection, that proves God.
      A: Well, what evidence? We have no record of the words of Jesus, and no Roman record of his execution. All we have is hearsay.

      T: No, we have independent evidence: Josephus! (or Pliny, or others).
      A: No, Josephus only reporting what he has been told by Christians, and no indication whether they were ones that had ever met Jesus. That’s hearsay.

      T: Well, look at fine tuning (or Kalam, or …)
      A: Here’s why they are not convincing: fine tuning would only be apparent if naturalist extra-universal physics always produced just these constants, …

      T: Well, look at all these people that turned their lives around because of (Christian, Islamic, …) God.
      A: And here are many others that turned their lives around, because they believed in other gods, or other stories you think silly, or using entirely secular means, or because they just came to a junction in their lives where they were able to change – nothing in any of that supports the existence of a god, only the existence of some people that can help other people change.

      T: Well, actually that’s by the by, I have **faith** and that’s all that’s required.
      A: Well, faith is a bad idea – just look at how Westbro Baptists demonise homosexuals; look at how some Muslims demand death for apostasy – they have faith that their beliefs reflect a God that demands these acts. So, faith can lead to belief in gods you don’t believe in, so faith is clearly a hit and miss affair – quite arbitrary really.

      This is usually a long-haul track, and the theist jumps off at this point with an ‘each to their own belief’ dismissal, or ‘you clearly don’t get it’, or ‘I have great hope for you’, or ‘I’ll pray you see the light’, …

      Or, sometimes, the theist will head back to one of the earlier arguments as if we hadn’t covered them at all – “But God is obviously present – just look at the designed world, too wonderful to be naturalistic.” … and around we go again.

      Note an important part of this pattern. This generally isn’t the atheist being chased around this loop. Any of the atheist arguments are sufficient not to believe in God – or at least not to believe in the god of a specific religion.

      And at no point do the theists actually give convincing responses to the atheist.

      So, for example, I asked for an example of a miracle, and all you offer is the anecdotal evidence that could apply to any religion or to none – so it’s not a miracle. Do you have any other miracles that you think are convincing?

      Look at how you try to pass off the other points as now unimportant:

      “We can disagree on Bayesian epistemology, what is or is not historical evidence, whether fine-tuning is supports theism, and all that intellectual stuff, but ***ultimately*** …”

      Well, I’m afraid it’s not a case of agreeing to disagree. I gave very specific reasons why I reject Bayes as having any hope of providing support for God, and why fine-tuning could only be apparent (one possibility being that all universe must have these constants because extra-universe naturalistic physics demands it. And your ***ultimate*** best evidence is no evidence at all. You seem to be complying with the circle of apologetic retreat I laid out above. 🙂

      I am always hopeful that one day a theist will see the folly of their delusional belief. 🙂

  21. By the way, you do realise that Muslims think we are all Muslims really. That’s why they consider converts to Islam to be reverting to Islam. Christians and Jews merely went astray.

    So, perhaps your anecdotal examples are cases of Allah the merciful taking pity and helping these people. Of course, you are still refusing Allah, so you’ll still go to hell.

    And, of course, I can make a similar case against Muslims.

  22. Ron, I’m feeling I knew you since grammar school through all this discussion. I’ll just comment on one thing you said:

    “Muslims can offer the same examples. But no matter what pretensions there are about a common God they are clearly contrary. Many people in your church I presume put their recovery down to a faith in Jesus. But a Muslim recovering from a broken life would denounce such faith in Jesus because Jesus was only a prophet. So, Christians and Muslims, who are both heretics and blasphemers in each others eyes, both think god is helping them.”

    That there are various religions, each claiming to be the ”true one”, is something I have wrestled with. And I agree with you that the finite set of theists {Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, ,,,,N } can’t all be true while each thinks the other is a heathen while they all believe in the common God. For me God is God, not a great answer, but that’s how my finite mind can apprehend this Fundamental Entity. I admit it’s an easy answer but I offer my honest opinion with of course my Christian bias. I think that regardless of the particularism of religious belief, God loves all and does not send people to Hilbert Hotel in Hell with infinite number of rooms for the departed souls.

    As a father of two children I know each has both common and dissimilar perceptions about me, so that each sees me differently from the other. Yet if any of them asks me for something and I have the means, I’ll make sure their desire is satisfied (provided it’s wholesome). You can say it is conditional love but not of this type: “If you take out the garbage and tidy your room, I’ll pay for the safari trip to Kenya.” I don’t know if you’re in the same boat, but parents of all cultures and race understand this. (We’re getting pretty close to the Moral Argument for God!)

    So by this analogy, I’m saying God IS love and it is in God’s essential nature to love all mankind. God transcends their tribalism. The Old Testament is full of passages which say God loves all, does not hate the offender but the sins, and the New Testament is based on the essential gospel that God loves both Jew and Gentile

  23. TY,

    “For me God is God, not a great answer, but that’s how my finite mind can apprehend this Fundamental Entity”

    OK. But you’ve been assenting to, or at least not objecting to, religious interpretations of the cosmos and beyond in a way that supports one or more of the religious notions of what God is: some agent-like entity, outside our universe, that created our universe and us in it, and that he possesses feelings something like our understanding of the abstract notion of love; and that he cares for us specifically, that he engages in miracles, …, and so on. That doesn’t look to me quite as modest a claim as this last one.

    And even then, this last one isn’t that modest a claim. The ” that’s how my finite mind can apprehend this Fundamental Entity” carries with it a far from modest claim that such an entity, and a fundamental one at that, actually exists.

    None of these claims go away simply by now making a more modest statement.

    Your mention of your children is a good point. It is exactly that sort of very human understanding of the human condition that makes it very tempting to extrapolate beyond all reason, and in addition to the belief that some ‘fundamental entity’ exists, that he has these very human like parental feelings for us. And since these ideas about a loving parental god came to us from the thoughts of ancient people unconstrained by the inconvenience of facts, doesn’t all seem a little too trite?

    “We’re getting pretty close to the Moral Argument for God!”

    I forgot to add that one to my list of theistic dodging, :), I’ll include it in future.

    Of course the moral argument for God is not a good argument at all. We can go into that if you wish.

    ” by this analogy, I’m saying God IS love”

    And I’m saying that this analogy doesn’t stand up to any inspection whatsoever. Without first showing there’s a God, and then showing that this God is parent-like towards us, and then showing that this God is a nurturing loving parent and not a brutal one, then the analogy is useless.

    “The Old Testament is full of passages which say God loves all”

    These sentiments trip of the tongue so easily, and neglect all that awful stuff in the Bible of the vengeful God.

    “I’m saying God IS love and it is in God’s essential nature to love all mankind. God transcends their tribalism.”

    I’m asking how you justify such assertions.

  24. TY,

    You might find this an interesting read.

    http://aeon.co/magazine/science/has-cosmology-run-into-a-creative-crisis/

    It covers the basic idea that current science tells us nothing, zero, not a jot, about the extra-universe aspects of the origins of this universe. Again, all the science we do have boils down to localised observations of distant (space and time) data coming to us, and inference from the data that implies the past nature of the universe, and the physics of understanding the material of which it is made. Absolutely zero on origins.

    It might also be worth reading the comments. You will see some reflection on some issues of the state of the science. But then, out of the blue, comes Milo, **asserting** God. Those comments take on a distinct difference to those of genuine inquiry and amount to nothing more than injecting something like random noise.

    I appreciate that millennia of belief passed down through generations, built into religious edifices of churches, dressing up, fogging the mind with litany. But, really, they are based on nothing that can be backed up. They are always bald assertions.

  25. Ron, there is great discussion raging on this blog: “Some comments on Biblical History:
    http://www.wall.org/~aron/blog/some-comments-on-biblical-history/#comments. And the subject on the veracity of Biblical records is right up your alley.

    It’s worth chiming in because so far I’m your only “debater” — and I love the discussion with you — but I think a wider audience will be good for critical discussion, and maybe, just maybe, a bit of will get in.

    1. Ron, in that post, the chap’s name is Arkenaten and he sounds exactly like you (in belief), and he writes:

      “I am always mystified how highly intelligent people like yourself maintain a Christian worldview in the face of an ever-growing body of scientific evidence that has already refuted the Pentateuch; now generally accepted as historical fiction, and is busy dismantling the New Testament.”

      He’s referring to Aron Wall.

      Place a comment.

      Cheers!

  26. Left out the main noun: light

    “It’s worth chiming in because so far I’m your only “debater” — and I love the discussion with you — but I think a wider audience will be good for critical discussion, and maybe, just maybe, a bit of light will get in” in the 7.40pm comment.

    TY

  27. Ron, I was at Church this morning and the parson was talking about how people enter our lives and he said:

    “People come into our lives for a reason;
    People come into our lives for a season; and
    People come into our lives for the long haul.”

    And guess who I was thinking about as I sat listening to the sermon from the choir bench? You got it right: Ron Murphy! God made him come into my life for a reason: (The long haul will take care of itself.)

    I was reflecting on your observation:

    “Your mention of your children is a good point. It is exactly that sort of very human understanding of the human condition that makes it very tempting to extrapolate beyond all reason, and in addition to the belief that some ‘fundamental entity’ exists, that he has these very human like parental feelings for us.”

    And it’s not extrapolation in the sense of a regression line projected outside its original range. You, me, human beings ARE created in the image of God. Of course we are capable of great evil but this is because God endowed us with free will.

    Take at look at that Aron Wall blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s