When an argument completely unravels

We saw that PMN purports to be some open-ended approach, where science, “in principle,” can embrace “God did it” as a scientific explanation if only we had some mysterious, ill-defined substance called “extraordinary evidence.”  But what might this extraordinary evidence look like?  In principle, of course (wink).

Boudry et al. never really try to answer this question, but they let the cat of the bag again in one place:

As science made progress, most scientists were led to abandon supernatural explanations altogether. However, in their polite reluctance to make theologians face the embarrassment, defenders of IMN now pretend that there really was no discussion to begin with, because science simply cannot deal with supernatural causes in principle. IMN suggests that natural explanations inevitably had to come out at the end of the day, and that things could not have been otherwise.

But there is no compelling reason to think that this is so. The pioneers of science could very well have bumped into phenomena that defied their every attempt at naturalistic explanation (but they didn’t). In the world we happen to live in, science is capable of giving a comprehensible natural explanation for many phenomena that were previously deemed ‘mysterious’. But this perspective can easily distort our view on what is logically and metaphysically possible. We are so accustomed to the absence of any evidence for the supernatural that we are tempted to conclude that such evidence has to be impossible.

Did you see the kitty?

 

No, not that one.  I’ll pick it out for you:

The pioneers of science could very well have bumped into phenomena that defied their every attempt at naturalistic explanation (but they didn’t).

Still don’t see it?  I’ll highlight it for you:

The pioneers of science could very well have bumped into phenomena that defied their every attempt at naturalistic explanation (but they didn’t).

See?  The “extraordinary evidence” that is supposed to purchase “God did it!” as an explanation is nothing more than something that defies their every attempt at naturalistic explanation.   A Gap.  Boudry et al. not only endorse the creationist’s criticism of MN, they also embrace the God-of-the-gaps approach for science!

And do you want to see just how subjective a gap can be?

Boudry et al. also write:

But as Pennock knows, modern science has extended its explanatory reach far beyond, including many domain that were traditionally reserved for the action of God: the origin of life, the beginning of the universe, the human mind, the edges of the observable world etc.

I think you will find that most creationists and IDers would consider the origin of life, the beginning of the universe, and the origin of the human mind to be plagued with massive gaps.  They offer up what Boudry et al. demand.  Boudry et al. respond by insisting science has explanations for these events.  But when it comes to the origin of life, for example, the scientific “explanations” are really more along the lines of speculations and hypotheses (i.e., there is no Theory of Abiogenesis).  So whether or not an “explanation” truly does exist is a matter of opinion. 

Here is how it shakes out.   Boudry et al. claim that their version of MN, PMN, is superior to IMN because it is not biased and takes supernatural claims seriously.  They argue that “in principle,” science (something they never define) could incorporate supernatural causation (something they never define) as long as someone comes up with something called “extraordinary evidence” (something they never define).  It turns out that this “extraordinary evidence” is supposed to be something that defies every attempt at naturalistic explanation.  In other words, a gap. A super-duper gap. And it’s not about defying attempts at naturalistic “explanation.”  It’s about defying all attempts at vague, naturalistic speculations and hypotheses.  By the time one runs this gauntlet of shrouded obstacles, there is no reason whatsoever to think that Boudry et al.’s subjective god-of-the-gaps approach is any more objective than IMN.  Thus, they fail to make the case that their version of MN is any improvement over the classic formulations of MN.

But it continues to get worse.  For not only is the existence of a super-duper gap a pure judgment call, but whether to take the next step and attribute the gap to God is entirely arbitrary.  Pay close attention to the way Boudry et al. introduce their PMN:

According to PMN, scientists are justified in adopting the guideline of MN in light of the huge success of naturalistic explanations and, correspondingly, the consistent failure of supernatural ones. To a reasonable scientist confronted with an empirical problem today, pursuing supernatural explanations is a waste of time and effort. However, the fact that supernatural explanations have turned out premature in the past does not necessarily mean that they are impossible. All scientific knowledge is fallible, and in principle supernatural explanations might be vindicated one day, although the prospects are rather dim, to say the least.

Since PMN adopts the guideline of MN in light of “the huge success of naturalistic explanations and, correspondingly, the consistent failure of supernatural ones,” and given that the proponent of PMN thinks “pursuing supernatural explanations is a waste of time and effort,” how can the proponent of PMN ever escape the conclusion that a discovered gap is just another in the long line of “premature” supernatural explanations?  In other words, imagine a proponent of PMN is shown a gap and no one can come up with a naturalistic speculation to explain it.  At this point, the proponent of PMN has two choices:

  1. Acknowledge this as extraordinary evidence and conclude “God did it!” as a scientific explanation, while abandoning further effort to explain it through naturalistic causes.
  1. Acknowledge that we cannot currently explain the phenomenon, but given the track record of success with naturalistic explanations, and track record of failure with supernatural explanations, the scientific approach would be to file this away as an “current unknown” that requires further scientific explanation with the scientific expectation that a naturalistic explanation would eventually be found.

Since option #2 fits perfectly within the framework of PMN, there is no reason whatsoever to think any proponent of PMN would ever reject it and reach for option #1. None.  So when the authors insist that a “commitment of scientists to naturalistic causes and explanations” “is in principle revocable in the light of extraordinary empirical evidence,” we can now see that PMN contain no mechanism to trigger such revocation of naturalistic causes.  The promise of such revocation is smoke and mirrors.

To sum up, Boudry at al.’s insistence that science could/would incorporate supernatural explanations is incoherent nonsense rooted in the god-of-the-gaps philosophy.  The existence of a gap is a matter of subjective opinion; the seriousness of a gap is even more of a matter of subjective opinion; and there is no mechanism to connect the gap to an abandonment of naturalistic explanations and an embrace of supernatural explanations. In their effort to move IMN away from bias by offering PMN in its place, the authors succeed only in stripping away MN’s definitional clarity and tossing it into a swamp of subjectivity and obscurity.  PMN does not remove the inherent bias of MN; it only tries to hide it as if it was something to be ashamed of.

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33 Responses to When an argument completely unravels

  1. chunkdz says:

    I love the “But they didn’t”. As if science has never encountered a phenomenon that defied explanation.

  2. Bilbo says:

    Let’s take an example of a case that I think most people would consider to be extraordinary evidence for the supernatural: Dembski’s pulsar. A pulsar a million light years away is detected sending morse code signals to us, answering all of our questions immediately, and can factor a number too large to factor in the time that is the same as the age of our universe. I think most scientists would take this as being extraordinary evidence for a supernatural intelligence.

    Let’s take a more ambiguous example: Morse code sent from a decaying local atom, that answers some but not all of our questions, and does not factor such a large number. Is it intelligent? I think most scientists would say yes. Is it supernatural? I think most scientists would shrug their shoulders. It’s not clear how scientists would proceed or if they could proceed at that point to decide whether it was supernatural or natural. But intelligent? Sure.

    So the origin of life: Evidence that the cause was non-intelligent and natural? Not a lot. Evidence that it was intelligent? Some. Evidence that it was supernatural? Probably less. So how to proceed? Those who think it was non-intelligent and natural will continue conducting abiogenesis experiments. Those who think it was intelligent will come up with various hypotheses and look for ways to test them. For example, I know one bloke who thinks the first cells were designed and front-loaded to evolve in a certain direction. He’s done some research with this hypothesis and seems to have some ideas for experiments.

    The point is that just because we reject the requirement of “extraordinary” doesn’t mean that we must accept MN. To those who insist that it must be “extraordinary evidence,” we can ask, “Why? What if the evidence is subtle or ambiguous?”

  3. There seems to be an assumption here that the fact there exist things that have natural explanation somehow disproves the supernatural. I see no basis for this assumption. There may be beliefs that claim that all events are supernatural, but Christianity certainly is not one of them. The whole idea of a miracle from the Christian perspective is a intervention in the natural order. It is this that makes them significant. Therefore the fact that there is a naturalistic explanation for most things we observe is not really to the point and means nothing. It is like saying that because mathematics is a useful method for describing many things, we require extraordinary evidence to believe anything that cannot be treated mathematically.

  4. Bilbo says:

    I don’t have that assumption, Mad Mike, and I’m willing to bet that most of the people here don’t have that assumption, either. The question is whether one could ever make claims about supernatural interventions that could be considered scientific. I think there can be. The other Mike doesn’t.

  5. Random says:

    I’m afraid your defence of the ‘In principle’ argument is simply confused. If we are confronted with phenomena that defy any naturalistic explanation and if a theist proposes a theistic explanation of that phenomena which meets the criteria we expect from a scientific explanation (empirically testable, falsifiable, strong predictive power, specifies precise details about causal mechanisms, is repetable, is consistent with background knowledge, explains the data better than any alternative etc) then we have no reason to reject this theistic explanation as unscientific. You are not in a position to say what would happen if a theistic explanation was offered that met the criteria sketched out here because the situation I just described has never occured.

    No theistic explanation for a scientific phenomena has ever been offered that a) was not surpassed by a naturalistic one and b) meets the rigorous requirements of science. As a research programme for science supernaturalism has failed spectacularly. The explanations we have seen (e.g. God made people by design) are viewed by scientists with suspicion not just because evolution is a better explanation but because it’s as vacuous as saying ‘thunder exists because Thor did it’ or ‘ the earthquake happened because the FSM willed it’. No wonder scientists are suspicious of empty explanations like that. If the design hypothesis met the requirements sketched out above it would be taken much more seriously. There is no ‘in principle’ reason why it shouldn’t. As a matter if fact it hasn’t.

    And if there is a reason for thinking that theism can’t meet such criteria even in principle you haven’t given it in your posts here. Even if you were right that if faced with a solid scientific theism the scientists would try to brush it under the carpet that does not mean that theism could not be scientific even in principle. To see why this is so imagine a hypothetical world where quantum physics is held by only a minority of scientists but still explains the facts better than any other theory, still has incredible predictive power, still has amazing applications. Imagine that the majority of scientists rejected quantum physics as unscientific purely because it contradicts previous (flawed) theories of physics and because lots of scientists dislike it on ideological grounds. Such an argument reveals many unfortunate facts about the psychology of many scientists than about the unscientific nature of quantum physics. Substitute qp with theism in that example and the same remarks apply.

    Your dichotomy between admitting that theism could be the best explanation and abandon the search for a naturalistic one is also obviously false. There is absolutely nothing inconsistent with admitting that theism is a best ( current) explanation for X while holding out for the possibility of a naturalistic explanation and working on such an explanation. Just as someone (say, Einstein) might once have thought that the evidence (currently) favors Newton but it is possible that he got something wrong and so decides to work on a better theory which supersedes Newton. Or someone (say, Roger Penrose) might think that quantum physics is best (current) explanation of the facts but still hold out the possibility of a better and deeper theory because they think there’s something fishy going on with our current theories.

    Naturally, in the actual world theism is rejected out of hand because it has never been able to meet scientific criteria-it has never been able to come close to the precision of quantum physics nor is it ever likely to. So to conclude…I think the authors of that paper are completely right-methodological naturalism is adopted in the sciences on a posteriori grounds not for a priori reasons. They are completely correct that rejecting the mere possibility of a scientific theism purely on the grounds that it is a theism is not rational and provides a propaganda tool for the ID set.

    They are wrong about one thing though. Debates about whether MN is a posteriori or a priori is only a big deal if you (like the authors of the paper apparently) think that science is the only way to discover facts about the world. Once you admit that this is not the case and that religious experience and philosophy are perfectly valid methods too you won’t really bothered by debates like this.

  6. Bilbo says:

    Hi Random,

    It sounds like you are directing your comments to the author of this blog, Michael. You misinterpret him, but I’ll let him defend himself. Meanwhile, did you happen to read my Dembki’s pulsar example? I’m wondering what you think of it.

  7. Random says:

    Hello Bilbo

    Yes my comments were directed at the author of this blog. How do you think I misinterpreted him? Regarding your pulsar example I think it depends on how you define supernatural. If you define supernatural as intentional agency in nature (e.g. talking trees and atoms that speak in morse code) than yes I think your example would be good evidence for the supernatural.

    If you define it as ‘the God of classical theism’-I’m not sure what your example (by itself) proves. If we wanted to argue that it is evidence for God then we should argue that God is the best explanation of this pulsar. To have this accepted by the scientific commnity we would have to come up a theistic theory that meets the criteria we expect of scientific theories and compare it naturalistic alternatives. If it consistently surpasses those alternatives and meets the criteria than I would say it provides good reason for thinking that the theistic explanation is true. But if we simply say ‘god did it’ is the best explanation and leave it at that than I doubt most scientists would be very impressed.

  8. Michael says:

    Random,

    Yes my comments were directed at the author of this blog. How do you think I misinterpreted him?

    Too many ways to list. It would help if you quote the excerpts from my posting you disagree with and show how/where I am wrong.

  9. Bilbo says:

    I wasn’t thinking of intentional agency in nature, such as talking trees, nor was I necessarily limiting it to God. I was thinking that we need an explanation of something that can communicate in morse code, send it from a million light years away, yet have it arrive immediately, answer all our questions, and factor a number that would take longer than the current age of the universe. And I think a very knowledgeable supernatural agent would best fit the description.

  10. Bilbo: For the record my comment was not directed at your comment nor was it disagreeing with the author of the blog. It was merely offering another another argument to support his contention.

    Random: It seems that you are the one who is maintaining that the scientific method is the only way to arrive at truth as you reject any explanation that cannot be proved scientifically.

  11. Random says:

    Erich

    Where did I say this?

    Michael

    As I understand it the authors of the paper claim that MN is a posteriori not a priori principle in science. As such it may be abandoned. Theism msu be admitted into thr scientific method if we are confronted with scientifically explicable phenomena that defy naturalistic explanation and are explained better by theism.

    You are claiming that this us wrong because:
    -Lots of scientists would say the theistic explanation was unscientific.
    -Accepting the theistic explanation necessarily entails abandoning the search for a naturalistic explanation.

  12. Random says:

    -It is unscientific to say ‘God did it in a puff of smoke’.

    In my post I explained why these points do not refute PMN. If you think I misrepresented you please explain how.

  13. Michael says:

    Random,

    You seem to be dancing around the arguments I laid on the table. Let’s instead deal with them. For starters, the authors are advocating the god-of-the-gaps approach to science. Do you agree that this approach should be part of science?

  14. Michael says:

    Random,

    You write: “No theistic explanation for a scientific phenomena has ever been offered that a) was not surpassed by a naturalistic one and b) meets the rigorous requirements of science.”

    I’m not sure what you have in mind when you talk about “theistic explanation.” Are you under the impression that as I theist, I should not be satisfied in explaining mitosis by natural laws and contingency? That as a theist, I am supposed to be postulating supernatural forces when it comes to anaphase?

    Also, you mention “the rigorous requirements of science.” Recall that Boudry et al. never lifted a pinky to define science. Also, Gnu leaders such as Jerry Coyne use multiple definitions of science:

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/dumbing-down-science-to-advance-an-agenda/

    It’s often hard to argue these issues because Gnu atheists prefer to obfuscate about the meaning of science.

    Your dichotomy between admitting that theism could be the best explanation and abandon the search for a naturalistic one is also obviously false.

    Only to you. According to Boundry et al., a “theistic explanation” is a Gap – something that cannot and can never be explained by science. If you have reached the conclusion that science can never explain the gap, there is no reason to look for such an explanation. On the contrary, you will be invested in shooting down any attempts to explain the gap to keep the gap a gap.

    I think the authors of that paper are completely right-methodological naturalism is adopted in the sciences on a posteriori grounds not for a priori reasons.

    Even if true, have they showed PMN to be any less biased than IMN? No.

    They are completely correct that rejecting the mere possibility of a scientific theism purely on the grounds that it is a theism is not rational and provides a propaganda tool for the ID set.

    If they truly believe this, why don’t they help ID people get published in the mainstream, scientific literature, where rejection comes post-peer review instead of pre-peer review? I recall back around 2001 or 2002, Michael Behe tried to make his IC = design argument in the Journal of Molecular Biology (or another similar journal). The editors denied his attempt because of methodological naturalism, saying that if science doesn’t solve the problem in the next 1000 years, then they would consider his thesis.

    In other words, if Boudry et al. are truly concerned about this propaganda tool, they should do something about it apart from writing words. Perhaps they, along with Coyne and Stenger, can publicly ally with the Discovery Institute on this issue.

    Debates about whether MN is a posteriori or a priori is only a big deal if you (like the authors of the paper apparently) think that science is the only way to discover facts about the world. Once you admit that this is not the case and that religious experience and philosophy are perfectly valid methods too you won’t really bothered by debates like this.

    LOL. I have long been arguing against scientism, while pointing out we all embrace truths that have not been discovered by science. It is Boudry et al. who appear to be championing scientism, so it makes perfect sense that I would point out their errors.

  15. Random says:

    Michael posted: “You seem to be dancing around the arguments I laid on the table. Let’s instead deal with them. ”

    I just summarised your reasons for rejecting PMN. Your reply does not contradict that summary. So instead babbling about how you’ve been misrepresented please provide a concrete example.

    “For starters, the authors are advocating the god-of-the-gaps approach to science. Do you agree that this approach should be part of science?”

    This is very simple. Science has a certain methodology. Aspects of that methodology were outlined in my first post. If a theistic explanation meets the criteria of that method and surpasses naturalistic explanations we should accept it. It is not impossible that such a situation should arise. It is not inconceivable that a cure for AIDS which postulates God and meets the tests expected of good medicine be developed. If a situation arose where such a cure was able to rid the world of AIDS while scientists where failing miserably in their search for a naturalistic cause then we should admit theism as a part of science.

    The reason we do not accept the actual theistic explanations is because they do not meet the criteria of science, do not have a track record of success, have no testable application (unlike the germ theory of disease or the postulation of electrons) and are often blatantly false. For example, the positive thesis of ID amounts to nothing more than saying ‘some designer somewhere at some time by some mystetious method made creatures for reasons we cannot know’. This is not science. It is vacuous nonsense.

    The fact that Jerry Coyne does not define science does not refute these points. The fact that Boudry et al did not bother to define science in that paper does not refute these points. Boudry wrote 287 page PhD dissertation defining science and making very similar points to the ones I made in my first post. This dissertation is linked in the writings section of the website to which you linked-his paper was just a short (though not very rigorous) summary of only some of his points there.

    The fact that some scientists would reject theism even if it cured AIDS or unified quantum mechanics with general relativity does not refute these points. The fact that theism has failed as a scientific research programme for several centuries, that theistic explanations do not meet scientific requirements and that Boudry et al think we should adopt MN on a posteriori grounds because of this does not refute these points.

    All that is required is an admission that a scientific theism is possible. If you are claiming that such a thing is intrinsically impossible you need to give better arguments than what you’ve given us so far. And if you’re seriously interested in refuting PMN I recommend that you engage with Boudry’s dissertation rather than waste time attacking a short (and poorly written) summary. Until you do so I will maintain that PMN still stands.

  16. Michael says:

    This is very simple. Science has a certain methodology. Aspects of that methodology were outlined in my first post.

    Yes, it is very simple. As one who understands the scientific method, I asked you a simple question:

    For starters, the authors are advocating the god-of-the-gaps approach to science. Do you agree that this approach should be part of science?

    You didn’t answer it. Try again. Instead of posting with some word blizzard, just tell us whether or not you think the god-of-the-gaps approach should be part of science. Yes or no?

  17. Random says:

    Dumbass posted: “I asked you a simple question…You didn’t answer it.”

    …….

    Clearly you didn’t read my response. Let’s try again. The only case where theism can be accepted as part of science is where a) it adheres to the scientific method and b) it surpasses naturalistic explanations.

    This is different from god of the gaps reasoning because a) gap explanations are characterised by vacuity (e.g. ‘God did it’ which cannot by itself be considered a scientific explanation) and b) gap reasoning is usually surpassed by naturalistic explanations but Boudry et al specify that the theistic hypothesis should surpass all competing naturalistic alternatives.

    Boudry et al think that this situation is not impossible but highly unlikely (and I agree with them). Boudry et al also think that a posteriori MN is justified given the systematic failure of supernaturalism (and I agree with them). Did you understand that? Were you able to grasp these points or shall I explain them in simpler terms?

  18. eveysolara says:

    lol @michael trying to reason with the child molester.

  19. Random says:

    Michael seems to have very poor reading comprehension skills. He’s just like you in that respect.

  20. chunkdz says:

    Lol! So if God would simply allow us to subject Him to a simple battery of scientific tests we’d be happy to allow Him into the scientific establishment.

    Funny stuff, random.

  21. Michael says:

    Clearly you didn’t read my response. Let’s try again. The only case where theism can be accepted as part of science is where a) it adheres to the scientific method and b) it surpasses naturalistic explanations.

    And as Boudry et al. clearly state, both a) and b) are purchased (in principle, wink) through the discovery of “extraordinary evidence.” They never tell us what “extraordinary evidence” is supposed to be or look like, but it becomes clear (as I show above) what they have in mind is a Gap. I then ask you twice if you agree or disagree with this gap approach, and you refuse to make your position clear.

    This is different from god of the gaps reasoning because a) gap explanations are characterised by vacuity (e.g. ‘God did it’ which cannot by itself be considered a scientific explanation) and b) gap reasoning is usually surpassed by naturalistic explanations but Boudry et al specify that the theistic hypothesis should surpass all competing naturalistic alternatives.

    Okay, since you refuse to be clear on this, I’ll interpret this to mean that you do not think the gaps approach belongs in science. Given that Gnus believe the extraordinary evidence is supposed to be gap, thank you for showing that Boudry et al. are demanding the very thing they are on record of rejecting. Heads I win, tails you lose. Like I showed, PMN is just smoke and mirrors.

    You keep babbling about “theistic hypotheses.” I’m not sure what you have in mind when you talk about “theistic explanation.” Are you under the impression that as I theist, I should not be satisfied in explaining mitosis by natural laws and contingency? That as a theist, I am supposed to be postulating supernatural forces when it comes to anaphase?

    Given that you reject the god of the gaps approach, your whole position is incoherent.

  22. Michael says:

    It is not inconceivable that a cure for AIDS which postulates God and meets the tests expected of good medicine be developed. If a situation arose where such a cure was able to rid the world of AIDS while scientists where failing miserably in their search for a naturalistic cause then we should admit theism as a part of science.

    Okay, then conceive it for me.

    Explain what the “God cured AIDs” scientific explanation would look like. What type of data would we be talking about?

  23. Random says:

    Chunkdz posted: ‘If a theistic explanation met the requirements of a scientific explanation scientists would accept it. I find this funny!!”

    You are clearly a confused man.

    Michael posted: “Okay, since you refuse to be clear on this,”

    This is the last time I will repeat myself. If a theistic explanation meets the requirements sketched out in my first post we should accept it as science. If it doesn’t we shouldn’t. It is not impossible for such an explanation to be given. Therefore PMN is true. I have no idea why you are unable to comprehend any of this but I won’t explain it again.

  24. Michael says:

    Random: This is the last time I will repeat myself. If a theistic explanation meets the requirements sketched out in my first post we should accept it as science. If it doesn’t we shouldn’t. It is not impossible for such an explanation to be given. Therefore PMN is true. I have no idea why you are unable to comprehend any of this but I won’t explain it again.

    Instead of repeating yourself, why not clarify your position by answering my questions? Do you think the god-of-the-gaps approach can be part of science? Are you under the impression that as I theist, I should not be satisfied in explaining mitosis by natural laws and contingency? That as a theist, I am supposed to be postulating supernatural forces when it comes to anaphase? Explain what the “God cured AIDs” scientific explanation would look like. What type of data would we be talking about?

    Since you can’t answer these questions, and can only repeat yourself, I suspect what you are repeating is something you read on another blog or in a book. You are unable to comprehend that your position is fuzzy and you need to clarify instead of repeating the same fuzzy talking points.

  25. chunkdz says:

    Random: Chunkdz posted: ‘If a theistic explanation met the requirements of a scientific explanation scientists would accept it. I find this funny!!”

    You are clearly a confused man.

    And if white ducks met the requirements of being black then they’d be accepted as black.

    Thank you, that’s much clearer.

  26. Michael says:

    chunkdz:

    Lol! So if God would simply allow us to subject Him to a simple battery of scientific tests we’d be happy to allow Him into the scientific establishment.

    Funny stuff, random.

    Yep. Either God would be a specimen we could study or He does not exist.

  27. Random says:

    chunkdz: “And if white ducks met the requirements of being black then they’d be accepted as black.”

    This comment suggests that you think the possibility of a scientific theism is either a priori impossible or exceedingly unlikely. The former should be self evidently false to anyone who is not mentally challenged. I have already expressed agreement with the latter. So I’ll say it again: you are clearly a deeply confused individual.

    Michael: “Yep. Either God would be a specimen we could study or He does not exist.”

    That is an obvious fallacy which I did not assert anywhere in my posts. This debate would be much more productive if you took the time to understand what I write instead of responding to what you imagine I write.

    “Are you under the impression that as I theist, I should not be satisfied in explaining mitosis by natural laws and contingency?” No.

    “That as a theist, I am supposed to be postulating supernatural forces when it comes to anaphase?”

    If theism explained anaphase we should postulate it. But it doesn’t so we shouldn’t. Boudry et al’s point is this: the fact that it doesn’t is a purely contingent one. It is possible that theism could explain anaphase but in the actual world it doesn’t. However scientific evidence is always open to revision. It is perfectly possible that a theistic explanation of anaphase be given in the future. If this is true (and unless you can prove it is incoherent I shall assume it is) then we have no reason for saying that science is intrinsically naturalistic. That science is naturalistic is a contingent a posteriori fact not a necessary a priori one. Therefore IMN is false. That you are not capable of grasping this simple point and resort to psychobabble about Boudry’s motivations and speculation about my reading habits is something I find genuinely disconcerting.

    ” Explain what the “God cured AIDs” scientific explanation would look like. What type of data would we be talking about?”

    It could take any number of forms. Here is one possible scenario. Suppose some people pray that God cures someone from AIDS. These people are introduced into an AIDS infected population and randomised controlled trials are carried out. Suppose that double blind medical tests on the efficacy of prayer for AIDS victims are then carried out cross culturally and it turns out that appeals to Zeus or shiva produce no effects but appeals to the Christian god do. Scientists start making predictions that prayer to Christ will produce such and such effect in AIDS victims at such and such time and these predictions are consistently fulfilled. Alternative explanations (e.g. fraud, placebo effect etc etc) are systematically dismissed. The specific mechanisms by which God cures AIDS is disclosed (e.g. when prayer occurs such and such effects occur in the victim’s body).

    In this scenario we have an empirically testable and falsifiable hypothesis (praying to Christ cures AIDS). It meets all known medical trails, is repeatable, makes accurate predictions, specifies the precise mechanisms by which the victim is cured and explains the data better than any competing alternative. What is the best explanation of these facts? I think the answer is extremely obvious and it takes a remarkable degree of irrationality not to see it. Only an idiot or a sophist could respond to data like that by screaming ‘god of the gaps!!!’.

    Now this is only one possible scenario-there are many others I haven’t considered. I should also clarify that I think people like Victor Stenger are wrong when they say that the failure of theism to meet these tests proves that it is false. But if it had met those tests only a dishonest person would say that it wouldn’t provide evidence for theism.

  28. Random says:

    Throughout this debate I have asserted that it is possible for theism to meet the standards of science and that this is all that is required to refute IMN. You have given no reason whatsoever to think that this is false or that the posdibilty is incoherent.

    My impression is that you are confused about what it means to say that something is possible and about what the scientific method is (e.g. between explaining something scientifically and between simply saying God did it). It is not a requirement of science that the only admissible explanations be in terms of non intentional causality. The only requirement for a scientific explanation is that it successfully meet certain criteria and it is perfectly possible for an intentional explanation to meet those criteria.

    God did it by itself does not meet those criteria. God did it plus testability, falsifiability, predictive power, repeatability etc etc does. I think this is a very simple point but I seem incapable of communicating it to you. I suggest you read Boudry’s PhD and Theism and Explanation by Gregory Dawes for a fuller and more lucid exposition of what I have been trying to say here.

  29. chunkdz says:

    This comment suggests that you think the possibility of a scientific theism is either a priori impossible or exceedingly unlikely. The former should be self evidently false to anyone who is not mentally challenged.

    I note that you proposed a hypothesis (“Praying to Christ cures AIDS”). Good. Now ask yourself why you did not hypothesize “Christ cures AIDS” and you will understand why you wrong about your supposed “scientific theism”.

    We already know that belief in God correlates with all sorts of health benefits and correlates negatively with suicide and delinquency etc. But this is not “scientific theism”. It’s just surveys and statistics.

    If you really think that the supernatural can be included in science then EVERYTHING can be included in science – and that’s not science, it’s scientism.

  30. Crude says:

    Only an idiot or a sophist could respond to data like that by screaming ‘god of the gaps!!!’.

    I guess PZ Myers is either a sophist or an idiot. Quite possibly both!

    Alternative explanations (e.g. fraud, placebo effect etc etc) are systematically dismissed.

    Ah, but you’re going too fast here.

    * To put my own point on what Chunkdz said: “Praying to Christ cures AIDS” is entirely different from “Christ cures AIDS”. Even in your own example, the correlation is always and forever with the act of prayer. At no point does God come down and cure AIDS in front of you. You have no mechanism, you have no explanation, you have nothing but a correlation.

    Now, you can conclude “God is curing AIDS” from that example. But you’re simply not doing science at that point. Just as saying, a la hypothetical PZ Myers, “God is not curing AIDS.” at that point isn’t science either.

    * You say ‘alternative explanations are dismissed’. But how? Remember: all you have, in your own example, is the correlation. You have no, zero, nada mechanistic explanation, not even a theory of a mechanism – not even the faintest sketch or outline. What you have… is a gap.

    And what would constitute “Fraud” in such a gap? The reply, “Well, whoever is doing this must be extremely powerful to pull off such a fraud!”? Sure – but you’re replying by positing not just someone powerful, but someone out and out omnipotent. So how did you rule out fraud?

    Likewise, the placebo effect. How, exactly, did you rule it out? Especially since in this case, there is no possible way to get the ‘effect’ without having a psychological investment, in this case, a sincere prayer. You can say, “Well, we have no idea what mechanisms could possibly account for a placebo effect of this sort”. But you have no mechanism at all.

    Speaking of that:

    The specific mechanisms by which God cures AIDS is disclosed (e.g. when prayer occurs such and such effects occur in the victim’s body).

    That, is not a “mechanism”. That’s a correlation. You haven’t said diddly about “the mechanism by which God cures AIDS”. That’s like saying we have a mechanism for the resurrection: “Well, you know, something happened, and Christ was alive again. God was involved. See? Scientific mechanism right there!”

  31. Michael says:

    Random:

    It could take any number of forms. Here is one possible scenario. Suppose some people pray that God cures someone from AIDS. These people are introduced into an AIDS infected population and randomised controlled trials are carried out. Suppose that double blind medical tests on the efficacy of prayer for AIDS victims are then carried out cross culturally and it turns out that appeals to Zeus or shiva produce no effects but appeals to the Christian god do. Scientists start making predictions that prayer to Christ will produce such and such effect in AIDS victims at such and such time and these predictions are consistently fulfilled. Alternative explanations (e.g. fraud, placebo effect etc etc) are systematically dismissed. The specific mechanisms by which God cures AIDS is disclosed (e.g. when prayer occurs such and such effects occur in the victim’s body).

    LOL. Of all the “number of forms” it could take, you offer up……a prayer study (why not give us a biological example?). Chunkdz and Crude have already done a nice job of highlighting your errors. Let me add some more.

    Above you write: “For example, the positive thesis of ID amounts to nothing more than saying ‘some designer somewhere at some time by some mystetious method made creatures for reasons we cannot know’. This is not science. It is vacuous nonsense.”

    But now we are supposed to believe that your healing thesis, which amounts to nothing more than saying ‘some healer somewhere at some time by some mystetious method healed AIDS patients for reasons we cannot know’ is science, not vacuous nonsense. So as we can see, the moment you try to clarify your vague position is the moment you end displaying your intellectual inconsistency.

    Second, your whole position is built upon what you vaguely imagine to be “possible.” But now we can see that your lead example assumes it is possible to make God subservient to human demands. Sorry, Random, but I don’t think it possible for God to be a Magic Genie who grants every wish. God will heal whom He wills to heal.

    I should also clarify that I think people like Victor Stenger are wrong when they say that the failure of theism to meet these tests proves that it is false.

    You need to clarify on this one. Would you also agree that people like Victor Stenger are wrong when they say that the failure of theism to meet these tests is evidence against theism?

  32. Random says:

    chunkdz: “If you really think that the supernatural can be included in science then EVERYTHING can be included in science – and that’s not science, it’s scientism.”

    Is it now. So you’re seriously telling me that you cannot see the difference between the statement ‘IF God wanted to he could reveal Himself through the methods of science’ (which I think is true) and the (false) statement ‘Science is the only way to the truth’. Do you genuinely believe that the former entails the latter? Really?

    Crude: “I guess PZ Myers is either a sophist or an idiot. Quite possibly both!”

    Of course he is.

    “Even in your own example, the correlation is always and forever with the act of prayer. At no point does God come down and cure AIDS in front of you.”

    In my example the correlation is not just with prayer but specifically with prayer to Christ. I specified that other hypotheses explaining the events be refuted and that the scientists come up with a theory specifying exactly how prayer works (e.g. what happens in the victims body, what are the mechanisms by which prayer heals etc). These are requirements of good medicine. Any proposed cure for a disease will have to pass tests like these.

    Now it’s true that we don’t actually see God with our eyes doing the curing but scientists postulate unobservable entities to explain new phenomena all the time so I don’t see that as much of a problem. Of course, if you’re like chunkdz you can always play the ‘correlation does not imply causation’ game. Then you would find yourself in the awkward position of claiming that we can never infer a causal relationship between medical drugs and human health since the only way we have of testing such a relationship is by conducting the sorts of tests outlined above.

    As for the details of how a theory of prayer would look like I don’t think this is an insuperable difficulty. I can’t give you the details of what a theory of quantum gravity would like and if I tried my conception would probably be horribly wrong. This does not mean that my lack of imagination is proof that such a theory cannot exist. Similarly the fact that I can’t give a detailed account of a theory of prayer does not entail that it is impossible for God to reveal himself to humans through the methods of science if He wished. And this is really what your objection boils down to. You’re claiming to know that God could never reveal himself through the scientific method under any circumstances even if He wanted to and that it is impossible for Him to want such a thing. I’ll ask once again: How do you know this?

    “So how did you rule out fraud? Likewise, the placebo effect. How, exactly, did you rule it out?”

    Placebo effects can be eliminated through placebo controlled studies (e.g. giving sham treatments to certain members of the population). I don’t see any problems with placebo effects arising here that would not arise in any other medical trial. Fraud would be eliminated by ensuring that the people actually suffered from AIDS and were actually cured and checking that cures only occured when prayer was directed at the Christian god and not at some other diety.

    Of course you could still say that it’s possible that Christ isn’t curing these people-maybe it’s the devil! But this problem could be applied to any other medical trial. Why is there such a remarkable correlation between the vaccine and their health? Because a clever demon was curing them and causing scientists to form false beliefs about biological mechanisms. This kind of scepticism doesn’t just apply to my example-it’s global.

    Michael: ” Sorry, Random, but I don’t think it possible for God to be a Magic Genie who grants every wish. God will heal whom He wills to heal.”

    God will heal whom he will. Indeed. Now can you explain why it would be impossible for God to cure the diseases of sick people who pray to him for help if He so willed? Why it would be impossible (not exceedingly unlikely but impossible) for God to make himself known through the scientific method if He so wished?

    “You need to clarify on this one. Would you also agree that people like Victor Stenger are wrong when they say that the failure of theism to meet these tests is evidence against theism?”

    Yes I don’t think that these results constitute evidence against theism. Was I not clear enough the first time?

  33. Michael says:

    God will heal whom he will. Indeed. Now can you explain why it would be impossible for God to cure the diseases of sick people who pray to him for help if He so willed?

    I already told you – God will heal whom he will.

    Why it would be impossible (not exceedingly unlikely but impossible) for God to make himself known through the scientific method if He so wished?

    Yes, it is possible that God could make scientists embrace the God-of-the-gaps approach in science. If He so wished.

    You are not dealing with the failure of your only example. You don’t seem to realize that the only example you provide a) depends on the assumption that God can be made subservient to human demands; b) is every bit as vague as an ID explanation, which you acknowledge as non-science; and c) ultimately invokes the god-of-the-gaps approach.

    Me: You need to clarify on this one. Would you also agree that people like Victor Stenger are wrong when they say that the failure of theism to meet these tests is evidence against theism?”

    Random: Yes I don’t think that these results constitute evidence against theism.

    Exactly. And that’s because I have been correct in noting science cannot process these issues and thus has no authority over these matters.

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