Victor Think

Atheist activists and atheist fundamentalists have been bombarding us with assertions that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable.  One such activist and fundamentalist is Victor Stenger, who contributes yet another confused essay to the Huffington Post entitled, Science and Religion Cannot Be Reconciled. 

The first part of the essay contains the standard Gnu talking points.  Stenger defines faith as “belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in the light of contrary evidence.”   Since I do not agree with his definition, his argument has lost all credibility from the start.   He then adopts that simple-minded, black and white position that needs to portray science as the savior at war with the evil demon known as religion, even to the point of making arguments that sound like they came from a bumper sticker:

Science has earned our trust by its proven success. Religion has destroyed our trust by its repeated failure.

And

Using the empirical method, science has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA. If science did not work, we wouldn’t do it. Relying on faith, religion has brought us inquisitions, holy wars, and intolerance. Religion does not work, but we still do it.

Notice that Stenger doesn’t want to compare religion with atheism.  For he can’t say that atheism has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA.  And he would open the door to people pointing out that atheism has brought us gulags, killing fields, and an internet community that regularly makes rape threats.

What’s even more ironic is to hear a fundamentalist like Stenger blame religion for intolerance.  Is he blind to the fact that the title of his essay could just as easily have been “Why No One Should Tolerate Religion!”  and that intolerance is a defining trait of the Gnu movement?

 

Stenger then tries to come up with yet another fanciful way in which science supposedly can incorporate and build upon supernatural causation:

Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies — the separate assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world. Every human alive is aware of a world that seems to exist outside the body, the world of sensory experience we call the natural. Science is the systematic study of the observations made of the natural world with our senses and scientific instruments.

By contrast, all major religions teach that humans possess an additional “inner” sense that allows us to access a realm lying beyond the visible world — a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural. If it does not involve the transcendent, it is not religion.

[…]

Most of the scientific community in general goes along with the notion that science has nothing to say about the supernatural because the methods of science as they are currently practiced exclude supernatural causes. However, if we truly possess an inner sense telling us about an unobservable reality that matters to us and influences our lives, then we should be able to observe the effects of that reality by scientific means.

If someone’s inner sense were to warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, which then occurred on schedule, we would have evidence for this extrasensory source of knowledge. Claims of “divine prophecies” have been made throughout history, but not one has been conclusively confirmed.

I see.  So if God exists, we would predict that people could use their inner psychic powers to predict impending earthquakes.  Is Stenger even aware that there are many psychics out there who claim to have predicted the Japan earthquake from a couple of years back?  What if some of them did?  Stenger would accept this as evidence for extrasensory source of knowledge?  What kind of scientist would make that sort of leap?

Seriously.  Can Stenger, or any other Gnu, answer two simple questions that should be at the heart of any true scientific investigation?

1.  How does the existence of God entail the ability to predict earthquakes?  Unless a prediction is logically entailed by the proposed explanation/hypothesis, it is not a scientific prediction.

2. If someone could or did accurately warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, how does that translate as scientific evidence of supernatural reality?  All I see is a God of the Gaps argument.

It’s clear to me Stenger does not have a good understanding of the “inner sense” and his understanding of how science works has atrophied into incoherence.

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15 Responses to Victor Think

  1. ChazIng says:

    Strange, even science doesn’t operate in a “conclusively confirmed” basis.

  2. iblase says:

    I hope Victor will soon publish an essay on why science and football are incompatible. After all science got us to the moon and football often results in concussions. After that we’ll be treated to an essay on how a meter is greater than a kilogram.

    This guy is a complete joke – seems that every atheist is an opportunist publishing some rubbish reiterating the same worn-out arguments doing nothing more than showing off their obvious religious illiteracy.

    And have you read the HuffPo comments? Appears the tipping point has been reached; atheism has become popular and vogue enough to the point that it’s populated by more morons than intelligent folks.

  3. Michael says:

    Ah, you both raise excellent points.

  4. Jim Hutt says:

    So, where is the evidence that supports the existence of god? Attacking Stenger doesn’t quite make your case.

  5. ChazIng says:

    The point of the post is not about the existence of God but Stenger’s logic (or lack thereof).

  6. Jim Hutt says:

    You simply accuse Stenger of illogic, but give no examples of it, nor specific responses to it.
    You are using accusation in place of well structured apologetics or argument. That turns it in to a pissing contest, which, in my opinion, is worthless.

  7. ChazIng says:

    You are changing the subject arbitrarily Mr. Hull. The post contains an analysis of examples of Stenger’s logic and provides responses. You are free to question the logic of the post’s responses. It is simply untenable to expect “well structured apologetics or argument” in the comments and that the post provide “evidence that supports the existence of god” when that’s not the posts’ intent.

  8. Michael says:

    Jim Hutt, I asked two questions in that blog entry. You ignored them and continue to ignore them. Explain yourself.

  9. Jim Hutt says:

    I contend that you merely disagreed with his logic, but did not present your own well reasoned argument in rebuttal. You simply put forth derisive rhetoric with not a trace of logic of your own.

  10. Michael says:

    I contend that you merely disagreed with his logic, but did not present your own well reasoned argument in rebuttal. You simply put forth derisive rhetoric with not a trace of logic of your own.

    Contend away. Your personal opinion is noted. Why not try answering those questions?

  11. Jim Hutt says:

    I cannot answer your questions, because they are meaningless. The real question is whether or not you believe science can lend to this discussion, and has bearing on your belief in god. So, my friend, take Carl Sagan’s words, and consider them: “Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?”

  12. TFBW says:

    No, Jim, they’re not meaningless questions. I suspect that you’re just denying that they are meaningful in order to avoid looking like you don’t want to answer them. Here — I’ll answer them for you, just to show that they are meaningful questions to which meaningful answers can be provided.

    1. How does the existence of God entail the ability to predict earthquakes?

    It doesn’t. Given the usual properties attributed to God in philosophical discussions, it entails the ability of God to predict earthquakes, but that does not imply that anyone else can. At best, it implies the possibility that God might share the knowledge.

    2. If someone could or did accurately warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, how does that translate as scientific evidence of supernatural reality?

    I take it as implied that the person making the prediction claims a supernatural source for their knowledge. While many would find this persuasive (it might convince a jury), citing it as “scientific evidence of supernatural reality” is more problematic. First, we would need to reproduce the effect reliably enough to eliminate lucky guessing as an explanation. Then, having done that, all we have is an unknown but reliable mechanism for predicting earthquakes. We can’t take the prophet’s word for it that the source is a supernatural one: we need physical evidence, not personal testimony. Unfortunately, this leaves us with exactly the original, unsolved problem: how do we distinguish between a natural and supernatural mechanism using scientific analysis? This is the problem that a hypothetical earthquake prophet was meant to solve.

    Thus, to answer the question directly, such an earthquake prophet does not provide scientific evidence of supernatural reality, because there is no known scientific technique for distinguishing a natural mechanism from a supernatural one. At best, we would conclude that an unknown mechanism is at work: maybe God speaks to him, or maybe he’s a freak earthquake savant.

    So, Jim, they are meaningful questions with meaningful answers. Maybe you disagree with the answers I’ve given, in which case I invite you to supply your own. That would be far more productive than repeating marginally relevant Sagan quotes, don’t you think?

  13. Michael says:

    No, Jim, they’re not meaningless questions.

    Indeed. And very nice response. I would simply add to #2 by noting that if the atheists want to grant such predictions as scientific evidence, then they have also acknowledged that god-of-the-gaps reasoning is legitimate in science.

  14. cl says:

    It’s funny how you point out — clearly — the problems with Stenger’s “logic” or whatnot, and you still get these hecklers who can’t see straight. I say nice work, and here’s my contribution to this critique: http://www.thewarfareismental.net/b/2011/02/25/end-of-christianity-i/

    Stenger is flat-out, unequivocably WRONG when he makes his lame claims about prophecy.

  15. cl says:

    Sorry for flooding the thread but… Jim Hutt: your counseling blog is a great resource. Very lucid. Please interject some of that lucidity into your comments here. For example, you ask us to consider Sagan’s words: “Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?”

    I find this highly ironic: you’re attempting to buttress your position by invoking science, yet, you’re doing so in a highly unscientific manner. You’re hoping that people will just believe what you say on FAITH, and I know that you do so yourself. How? Because your question is meaningless: we cannot accurately judge whether or not there has ever been a religion with the accuracy of science, simply because it is impossible to know the accuracy of any science or religion. I know, for a fact, that you do not know this. Nobody does. So please address Michael’s rather meaningful questions instead of denouncing them as meaningless, especially when you yourself are asking truly meaningless questions for no other reason than that they sound scientific.

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