Gnu Atheist Fail

Jerry Coyne has written a post entitled, Double Accomodationist Fail. In it, he mocks Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins for criticizing others who use God-of-the-gaps reasoning when they themselves use God-of-the-gaps reasoning.

Of course, Coyne is an expert at criticizing others who use God-of-the-gaps reasoning when he himself bases his atheism on God-of-the-gaps reasoning. Coyne tells us he would be a theist if only there was some scientific evidence. But alas, there is none. What’s that you say? What would he count as evidence for God? He told us:

There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature. And it explains why so many scientists, who have learned to disregard God as an explanation, have also discarded him as a possibility.

Yet it never occurs to the professor to explain WHY such things would count as evidence for God. Clearly, Coyne would count these as evidence simply because they would be gaps. He is a god-of-the-gaps atheist. After all, what if scientists came up with purely naturalistic explanations for these phenomena? Would Coyne still consider them to be evidence?

So not only is his atheism ultimately a subjective opinion, it is an opinion propped up by god-of-the-gaps logic. And neither he, nor any of his acolytes, have ever noticed their position is built on such a fatal flaw.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Jerry Coyne, New Atheism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Gnu Atheist Fail

  1. nvclark says:

    The faith healer is the one claiming some connection with God. He’s the one bringing God into it. That’s his claim — he is supplying the “WHY”. However the claim is not relevant because the actual faith healing has not been demonstrated. We may simply grant that there is a necessary connection between faith healing and God. So even granting that, this still does not give evidence for God.

    By not granting that connection, we place a higher burden on the faith healer. By granting the connection, we strengthen the faith healer’s case, yet it still fails.

    Granting points to the opposing argument is commonplace in philosophical discussions. An argument may be rebutted by granting all the necessary conditions and then showing that the argument still fails.

    Would angels appearing in the sky be evidence for God? Not necessarily, but let’s grant the point. Let’s assume angels appearing in the sky is evidence for God. Are there angels appearing in the sky? Nope. Thus this gives no evidence for God.

    You ask, “What if scientists came up with purely naturalistic explanations for these phenomena?” My response is, What phenomena? No such phenomena have been found. What if rocks fell upward? Nobody knows.

  2. Michael says:

    Would angels appearing in the sky be evidence for God? Not necessarily, but let’s grant the point. Let’s assume angels appearing in the sky is evidence for God. Are there angels appearing in the sky? Nope. Thus this gives no evidence for God.
    Atheist logic:
    Since no angels appeared in the sky, there is no evidence for God.
    If angels appeared in the sky, this would not be evidence for God.

  3. TFBW says:

    Michael has (in his usual no-nonsense style) pointed out the “heads I win, tails you lose” nature of the typical atheist demand for evidence, but allow me to elaborate. It’s important to have a clear and generally applicable policy on what does and does not constitute evidence for God, first to ensure that any demand for such evidence is not a “heads I win, tails you lose” farce of the sort seen here, but also so that we may recognise more general possibilities than the arbitrary specific cases typically offered as potential avenues of support. For example, if angels in the sky are acceptable as evidence, then we need to understand why they are acceptable, so that we might identify other possible avenues of evidence that meet the same criteria.

    If only specific things are allowed as evidence, then one can insincerely admit all sorts of things as possible evidence using the following process: (1) observe that X does not happen; (2) allow that if X happened it would be evidence for God (or against evolution, etc.); (3) smugly point out that X does not happen. If the specifics can be generalised, however, it opens up the possibility that a suitable substitute for X might be found which provides the same support. This is where the hypocrisy of New Atheist appeals to the lack of miracles becomes evident, because an appeal to miracle is a God-of-the-gaps argument. Thus, for the sake of consistency, we should be able to present such arguments in support of theism. But no, it’s “heads I win, tails you lose,” as the miracles which do happen are dismissed as natural events, and the miracles which don’t happen are flaunted as inductive counter-evidence.

  4. nvclark says:

    Michael, what? You were the one that pointed out that there is no necessary connection between angels appearing in the sky and God. And that’s correct — we generally gloss over the “WHY”, as you say. There could be other explanations: a hoax, hallucinogens in the water, aliens, and so forth.

    My point was that this glossing over is not a problem because even granting the connection between these events and God does not advance the argument for God. There are no angels in the sky, so your concern about the “WHY” doesn’t matter.

    Also note there is an enormous difference between “not necessarily evidence” and “no evidence”. You last comment conflates the two. And you clipped the essential part where we grant that it is evidence for God.

  5. nvclark says:

    the miracles which do happen are dismissed as natural events

    What are these miracles that have happened, specifically? Unless there are concrete examples of what you are talking about, it’s hard to see the relevance.

  6. Michael says:

    My point was that this glossing over is not a problem because even granting the connection between these events and God does not advance the argument for God.

    Your point is irrelevant, in that I am not trying to “advance the argument for God.” I’m trying to make sense of the popular atheist talking point – “there is no evidence for God.” So try dealing with my point.
    FACT: Coyne lists several things that he would count as evidence for God.

    Unless he is lying, he would consider such things to be evidence for God.

    So my simple and logical question remains – WHY?

  7. nvclark says:

    I explained the “WHY” in my first comment.

    A faith healer is making a claim, unless he’s knowingly perpetrating a con.

    We can only consider testable, empirical claims. A claimant may make additional metaphysical claims or not. That’s his deal. A claimant can say The Force is responsible, for all I care. We can only look at the empirical aspect. If the test fails, we may say that the empirical and metaphysical claims are unsupported. The “WHY” is provided by the claimant, the ascribed metaphysics. Please read the first comment.

  8. TFBW says:

    What are these miracles that have happened, specifically?

    Life. Consciousness. Various other aspects of day-to-day existence that we take for granted.

  9. Michael says:

    I explained the “WHY” in my first comment.

    You did? This is what I am hearing from you:

    Atheist: If angels appeared in the sky, that would be evidence for God.

    Me: Why?

    Atheist: Since no angels have appeared in the sky, I don’t have to answer that question.

  10. TFBW says:

    To be clear, it looks to me as though nvclark is not advocating that “angels appearing in the sky” would be evidence for God, but is willing to grant that assertion for the sake of argument because we don’t observe that sort of thing actually happening, and so it’s effectively conceding nothing.

    Would angels appearing in the sky be evidence for God? Not necessarily, but let’s grant the point. Let’s assume angels appearing in the sky is evidence for God. Are there angels appearing in the sky? Nope. Thus this gives no evidence for God. [nvclark, source]

    Jerry Coyne, in contrast, is actually asserting that such a phenomenon would constitute evidence for God (or the supernatural), and is not merely granting someone else’s assertion for the sake of argument.

    There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. [Coyne, source, emphasis added]

    Coyne deliberately makes this concession as a defence against the charge that every possible piece of evidence would be interpreted as non-evidence for God. It is a direct response to the claim, “if the face of Jesus appeared on Mount Rushmore with God’s name signed underneath, geologists would still have to explain this curious phenomenon as an improbable byproduct of erosion and tectonics.”

    Coyne plays the “heads I win, tails you lose” game by only allowing particulars that are already known to be counter-factual (in our routine experience) as possible evidence. What he never does is provide the general covering rule whereby all these things are properly classified as evidence, and whereby an opponent might seek some equivalent evidence that actually does exist. That would be far too risky.

    Nvclark, on the other hand, has yet to assert that anything could actually be evidence for the existence of God. I invite nvclark to clarify whether such evidence is possible or not, and, if so, what evidence is possible, and why it qualifies as evidence.

  11. Michael says:

    Coyne plays the “heads I win, tails you lose” game by only allowing particulars that are already known to be counter-factual (in our routine experience) as possible evidence. What he never does is provide the general covering rule whereby all these things are properly classified as evidence, and whereby an opponent might seek some equivalent evidence that actually does exist. That would be far too risky.

    Indeed. What’s more is that the general covering rule that would apply to all his example is this: something that cannot be naturalistically explained by science is evidence for God or the supernatural. Coyne needs gaps.

    It’s not just far too risky to lay out his rule, the double standard and hypocrisy becomes far too obvious.

    Nvclark, on the other hand, has yet to assert that anything could actually be evidence for the existence of God. I invite nvclark to clarify whether such evidence is possible or not, and, if so, what evidence is possible, and why it qualifies as evidence.

    Then nvclark should not be defending Coyne’s position with his own different position. Nvclark should have acknowledged my critique of Coyne was valid, but added that he had a different approach. As I mentioned to him, I am interested in one thing here – what do atheists mean when they insist there is no evidence for God. So your questions to him are good.

  12. nvclark says:

    Someone says to me, “I will now reach out with The Force and levitate that cup on the other side of the room.”

    “OK,” I respond, “go for it.”

    He makes a motion with his hand. The cup doesn’t move.

    “Well it looks like your claim about The Force is unsupported,” I say.

    You jump in, “It never occurred to you WHY levitating the cup is evidence of The Force!”

    I respond, “He’s claiming The Force has this effect, not me. That’s his deal. He is telling me the WHY. I don’t actually care what his explanation is. I just look to see if the cup levitates.”

    This is the third time I’ve explained this. I don’t get involved with someone else’s metaphysical claims about The Force or God or anything else. How can I? That’s their deal. We can only make empirical tests of empirical claims. A faith healer, for example, is making an empirical claim. Given his failure to actually heal, we can say that his claim about God also failed.

  13. TFBW says:

    Nvclark, there seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding here. You’ll note that the article that you have been commenting on is about a guy named Jerry Coyne. You may not have heard of him, but he’s actually an atheist, not a faith healer, or would-be Jedi, or anything of that sort. He does not claim that he can give evidence for the existence of God: on the contrary, he says that there could be evidence of that sort, but there isn’t. In short, he’s nothing like the hypothetical people you keep introducing in your comments. Indeed, it’s not at all clear who those imaginary people are supposed to be like, or how they are relevant to the discussion. This lack of relevance is creating confusion: I for one am not sure which discussion you think you are having, but it’s clearly not the same one as the rest of us.

    I hope that helps clear things up. I’ll be happy to engage you in discussion if you post something relevant to the topic at hand.

  14. nvclark says:

    Evidently the point was too subtle. If someone demands that I state what would be evidence for The Force and WHY, my response would be: The Force is your idea, your term, your claim. I don’t even know what you mean by The Force. I cannot define it for you, or describe what it does, or how it works, or why it works. If you want to make a case for The Force, you’ll have to do it yourself. It’s completely inappropriate of you to demand that I tell you how The Force, which as far I can tell is only an idea in your head, could create measurable effects in the world. You cannot pawn that responsibility onto me.

    Now substitute “The Force” with “EHROIEHF”. It’s not my responsibility to describe the possible evidence for EHROIEHF, much less WHY it would be evidence for EHROIEHF. That’s the job of the person making the case for EHROIEHF. And likewise when we replace “The Force” with “God”.

  15. Michael says:

    Someone says to me, “There is no evidence for God. God is a delusion!”

    “OK,” I respond, “everyone is entitled to their opinion.”

    He then insists, “Oh, but it’s not just my opinion. The objective truth about our world is that there is no evidence for God and thus you are deluded.”

    “Well, then, what would you count as evidence for the existence of God?”, I ask.

    Coyne jumps in, “Angels appearing in the sky!”

    “But why would that count as evidence for God?,” I ask.

    You jump in, “Jerry doesn’t have to answer that question because there are no angels in the sky!”

    All of this leads to the same place it always seems to lead. That is, when atheists insist “There is no evidence for God,” it is just as meaningful as if they had said, “There is no EHROIEHF for God.”

  16. nvclark says:

    The “WHY” issue in the OP is clearly answered in my responses, particularly the last one (4th time repeating is the charm), August 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm. So far there haven’t been any serious rebuttals.

  17. TFBW says:

    There’s no way to rebut a non sequitur.

  18. nvclark says:

    Nvclark, on the other hand, has yet to assert that anything could actually be evidence for the existence of God. I invite nvclark to clarify whether such evidence is possible or not, and, if so, what evidence is possible, and why it qualifies as evidence.

    This is directly addressed in my comment above, August 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm. Your response is to label the comment a non sequitur, without explanation. Well, it’s clearly not a non sequitur, so you are obliged to explain that odd remark.

  19. Michael says:

    Evidently the point was too subtle. If someone demands that I state what would be evidence for The Force and WHY, my response would be: The Force is your idea, your term, your claim. I don’t even know what you mean by The Force. I cannot define it for you, or describe what it does, or how it works, or why it works.

    And if you want to stop there, fine. But once you begin to insist that others agree “There is no evidence for God!” your position collapses, in that you would be trying to magically change a subjective perception into some objective truth by the mere act of declaration. For you can hardly make such a pronouncement if God is such a meaningless concept to you.

    Look, you are not dealing with the OP. Coyne did not choose the “I don’t know what God means” line of argument. He chooses to argue that God’s existence can be determined by science, arguing that angels appearing in the sky would be such evidence (this was only the core disagreement he had with Myers and other Gnus). My question “why?” is just basic science. It is quite obvious that Coyne would consider such events to be evidence for God because his atheism is built on god-of-the-gaps reasoning. There doesn’t seem to be any other answer.

    You? You are off on a different tangent that clearly does not answer the OP.

  20. TFBW says:

    @nvclark: This isn’t getting any clearer. You say, “the ‘WHY’ issue in the OP is clearly answered in my responses,” and you say that the exact same response answers my question as to whether evidence is possible. I can see how it might be an answer to my questions, but it’s a non sequitur as relates to the OP.

    The ‘WHY’ issue in the OP is, and I quote, “it never occurs to the professor to explain WHY such things would count as evidence for God.” Your latest angle on the matter is that “God” means nothing to you in terms of empirical consequences, so you don’t have to comment on the evidence. That’s very A. J. Ayer of you, and I can respect that (if you’re consistent about it), but it’s not a valid defence as relates to Coyne. Clearly he professes to know enough about what “God” means to say that such-and-such would be evidence in support of his existence — or if he doesn’t, then he’s bluffing us that he does.

    If he is claiming that X is evidence for God, then it’s also his responsibility to explain why X is evidence for God, yes? Not your responsibility, not our responsibility, but his responsibility. And if he can’t or won’t say why it counts as evidence, then it would be fair for us to dismiss his claim as a steaming pile of self-serving rhetoric, yes?

  21. nvclark says:

    The OP says the atheist position as described “is built on such a fatal flaw”, and TFBW challenges me to “clarify whether such evidence [for God] is possible or not, and, if so, what evidence is possible, and why it qualifies as evidence.”

    I have well explained that there is no such flaw and have well answered TFBW’s challenge, especially in my comment at August 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm. The reaction has been an equivocal combination of grudging acknowledgment mixed with contemptuous characterization of my answer as a “non sequitur” and a “tangent”. This is irregular; I rebutted a sweeping statement in the OP along with TFBW’s challenge, and my success in doing so should not cause scorn or goalpost moving.

    Regarding the Coyne quote in particular, let us start with the first example he gives, faith healers. As I have mentioned, a faith healer is making a claim. He is claiming what should happen and why. If a faith healer really could restore sight — reliably and repeatedly and under disparate conditions, times, and places (controlling for trickery, e.g. illusions using twins) — then this would definitely “raise the specter of God” in the most skeptical skeptics. WHY, you ask. Because the faith healer is telling us why. As I explained in my first comment, we grant the WHY.

    Granting the “WHY” here is not a flaw, much less a fatal flaw. In fact, as I have stated, it gives leeway to the faith healer, strengthening his case by accepting his proposition as given. I find it bizarre, this attempt to somehow turn the failure of faith healers to heal into points against atheists.

  22. TFBW says:

    As I explained in my first comment, we grant the WHY.

    As I explained in my first comment, granting the validity of an implication, when the precedent is already known not to obtain, risks nothing. In other words, you are willing to grant that X is evidence for God, so long as X is known not to happen in our everyday experience. If, on the other hand, I were to say that the existence of life is evidence for the existence of God, you would not grant it, precisely because life does exist.

    That’s not science. That’s blatant post hoc rationalisation. If you acknowledge that, then we have resolved our disagreement. If not, then there is an additional question of, “why do you allow A as evidence, but not B, if not simply because that choice of evidence supports your preferred set of beliefs?”

  23. Michael says:

    Nvclark,

    In your latest comment, you write “The OP says the atheist position as described “is built on such a fatal flaw”” and “I rebutted a sweeping statement in the OP.”

    The OP does not say “the atheist position” is built on such a fatal flaw. It clearly specifies and makes no “sweeping statement”:

    And neither he, nor any of his acolytes, have ever noticed their position is built on such a fatal flaw.

    Clearly, you have built your “rebuttal” on the foundation of misrepresentation. So let’s look at your “rebuttal”:

    Regarding the Coyne quote in particular, let us start with the first example he gives, faith healers. As I have mentioned, a faith healer is making a claim.

    You started with that one days ago and have yet to move on to the other ones. Take the next one. Can you please cite the person who is claiming that only good people should be cured of cancer? Given that your excuse for evading the question “why?” depends on someone else making a claim, you’ll need to find such a person to carry on with the excuse.

    He is claiming what should happen and why. If a faith healer really could restore sight — reliably and repeatedly and under disparate conditions, times, and places (controlling for trickery, e.g. illusions using twins) — then this would definitely “raise the specter of God” in the most skeptical skeptics.

    Reliably and repeatedly? What does that mean? Say the faith healer restores sight in 1 out of 100 people. Is that reliable and repeatable enough to be evidence for God?

    WHY, you ask. Because the faith healer is telling us why. As I explained in my first comment, we grant the WHY.

    I see. So if a faith healer restores sight “reliably and repeatedly “(whatever that means), that is evidence for God because……the faith healer said so. Because he said so? You don’t seem to understand that “because he said so” does not answer the “why” question.

    You also mention that “we grant the WHY.” Well, if you grant the WHY, you must know what the WHY is. So why not spell it out – tell us how the faith healer answers the question WHY so we can see the answer you are more than willing to grant. Since I expect you to tap dance around this, I’ll spell it out for you. Faith healers would claim the miracles are evidence of God because they are miracles and no science could explain them. So you are granting the validity of the god-of-the-gaps argument.

    Granting the “WHY” here is not a flaw, much less a fatal flaw.

    The fatal flaw comes into play when someone denounces god-of-the-gaps reasoning as invalid and then proceeds to build on such reasoning.

    In fact, as I have stated, it gives leeway to the faith healer, strengthening his case by accepting his proposition as given.

    We’re not scoring in some high school debate meet. We’re trying to make sense of the atheist claim that “there is no evidence for God.” In giving leeway to the faith healer, you are acknowledging the validity of god-of-the-gaps arguments. So your attempt to sidestep the question “why?” ends up embracing the god-of-the-gaps argument as follows: If there was a real gap, that would be evidence for God.

    I find it bizarre, this attempt to somehow turn the failure of faith healers to heal into points against atheists.

    I don’t find it bizarre that you would end with yet another misrepresentation. But we’re simply trying to figure out why atheists would accept healings from a faith healer as scientific evidence for God. And as we can see, it is because of God-of-the-gaps reasoning.

    Your “rebuttal” has been defeated. It was nothing more than an excuse to evade the question “why?” that depended on you cherry picking one of Coyne’s examples. Yet even with the cherry picked example, you end up embracing the god-of-the-gaps argument by “granting” it. Y’see, Coyne-like atheists don’t have a problem with God-of-the-gaps reasoning. They just don’t think there are any real gaps.

  24. nvclark says:

    TFBW, I have explained more than once that we can only make empirical tests of empirical claims. If you are proposing such a test then let’s hear it.

    Michael,

    The OP does not say “the atheist position”

    I said, “the atheist position as described”. By “acolytes” you are in a derogatory way referring to those who agree the argument Coyne makes in the New Republic. The position of those people, according to you, is built upon “a fatal flaw”. That is a sweeping statement.

    And focusing on “reliably and repeatedly”? Don’t be ridiculous. Those qualifiers were merely there to emphasize that, in the hypothetical case of the faith healer, great care was taken to rule out trickery.

    I could continue, presumably indefinitely, addressing these niggling issues you raise on the semantics of words and phrases, but it hardly seems relevant. You have failed to address the central problem embodied in the given example: faith healers are ineffective. If faith healers really succeeded in curing blindness (with trickery being ruled out) then this would without question be trumpeted by the religious and hailed as evidence for God. It is therefore disingenuous to plead that the failure of faith healers to heal should not count as evidence against their claims.

  25. TFBW says:

    I’m seeing a distinct lack of progress here, so I have no further questions or comments for nvclark.

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