Sam Harris’s Lame Argument

Let’s refute one of Sam Harris’s arguments.

After three hours of conversation, I turn off my tape recorder, which is around the time I can’t help myself: I push back. When I tell Harris I’m an agnostic, he tells me I’m just confused about the term. (Which according to the dictionary and/or my master’s degree in religious studies, I’m not—but whatever.)

“It’s a safe thing to say,” he tells me, his voice gentle yet cold, “but it’s usually ill considered. You aren’t agnostic about Zeus or Apollo or any of the thousands of dead gods who are no longer worshiped. The atheist says, ‘Bullshit.’ The agnostic says, ‘I don’t know. How could we possibly know about the validity of these claims?’ That is bullshit. If we’re talking specifically about Jesus being resurrected from death, or born of a virgin, or able to hear prayers, this entails a host of scientific claims—about biology, about telepathy, about human flight without the aid of technology. Are these claims that an agnostic wants to accept? Agnosticism is just a way of being polite in the face of people’s unjustified religious convictions. But if you maintained that attitude on other topics, you’d be considered an imbecile.”

– See more at: http://www.lamag.com/culturefiles/sam-harris-is-still-railing-against-religion/#sthash.UcU0AVvs.dpuf

1. Is Harris under the impression that all those 1000s of perceptions of God or the divine are all the same?  People are not agnostic about “Zeus or Apollo or any of the thousands of dead gods” who are no longer worshiped because their nonexistence is trivial. The nonexistence of Zeus or Apollo has no implication for the human condition. Now, contrast this with the denial of God’s existence. We all know the implications and can see them in the positions and writings of the New Atheists themselves – the sense of self is an illusion, the sense of moral responsibility is an illusion, and the sense of free will is an illusion. God’s nonexistence is tied to the non-existence of self, free will, and morality.

So it is easy to see how one can be an agnostic about God. They don’t see the evidence of God’s existence, but neither can they buy into the notion that our sense of free will, morality, and self are all illusions.

2. As for Jesus being resurrected from death or born of a virgin entailing a host of scientific claims, so what? Is Harris working from the ignorant position that assumes science could verify such events if they did happen? Or is he insisting that if God existed, He could not do any miraculous deed because that would violate the laws of nature?

Harris doesn’t seem to understand that science is irrelevant when it comes to the truth of those miracle claims. If they occurred, science would not be able to detect them. Any working scientist knows that “God did it!” is not a scientific explanation.

Boom.  Harris’s argument is silly and incoherent; it’s bad science and bad theology.

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54 Responses to Sam Harris’s Lame Argument

  1. Crude says:

    Actually, contra Harris, I’d say most people are agnostic about those 1000s of gods, practically by definition: they haven’t even heard of them, and thus are unaware about any of the claims being made with regards to them. Including any ‘host of scientific claims’. Being agnostic about Zeus is a lot like being agnostic about space aliens.

    Agreed on the science front. This guy is a joke, but man does he seem to have Coyne and crew by the short hairs.

  2. “Harris doesn’t seem to understand that science is irrelevant when it comes to the truth of those miracle claims.”

    Indeed. It reminds me of that bit in “God is Not Great” where Christopher Hitchens claims that the Virgin Birth is impossible because “parthenogenesis doesn’t occur in humans”. Really, I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that these clowns think they’re competent to hold forth on theology, or the fact that so many people agree with them.

  3. Ilíon says:

    Is Harris under the impression that all those 1000s of perceptions of God or the divine are all the same?

    Of course not; he’s not *stupid*, after all. It’s just that he, like most God-deniers, including those who call themselves ‘agnostic’, finds it generally convenient to pretend that “all those 1000s of perceptions of God or the divine are all the same”.

    People are not agnostic about “Zeus or Apollo or any of the thousands of dead gods” who are no longer worshiped because their nonexistence is trivial. The nonexistence of Zeus or Apollo has no implication for the human condition. Now, contrast this with the denial of God’s existence. We all know the implications and can see them in the positions and writings of the New Atheists themselves – the sense of self is an illusion, the sense of moral responsibility is an illusion, and the sense of free will is an illusion.

    The denial of God is at least as much about *us* as it is about God.

    God’s nonexistence is tied to the non-existence of self, free will, and morality.

    Exactly: the denial of the reality of God is inescapably tied to the denial of the reality of one’s own self. Thus, as we each know that we ourselves are, we know that God is.

    It is just as the apostle Paul asserts: men are without excuse in denying the reality of God

  4. Ilíon says:

    It reminds me of that bit in “God is Not Great” where Christopher Hitchens claims that the Virgin Birth is impossible because “parthenogenesis doesn’t occur in humans”.

    Moreover, no one *knows* that “parthenogenesis doesn’t [or cannot] occur in humans”. What we do know is that it is not typically observed in humans. We know — or at least *think* we know — that “genomic imprinting” makes parthenogenesis unlikely, because difficult, amongst mammals. But when did unlikely *ever* phase ‘atheists’ when they *needed* the unlikely to be actual?

    We know that parthenogenesis *can* occur in fish, and lizards, and snakes (and doubtless many ofther sorts of animals) … and in birds

    Also, induced parthenogenesis has resulted in mammalian embryos (though, as I understand, the embryos die before full development because of “genomic imprinting”) … including according to one claim I read, of human embryos.

  5. Arti San says:

    Almost always when I read about agnosticism versus atheism on the web, it revolves around whether an absolutist claim to knowledge is being made. The whole thing seems a bit of a red herring to me since very few atheists would say that they *know* there is not a god, and so in this regard such atheists are also agnostic. They are atheists because they don’t believe there is a god, and they are agnostics because they don’t claim absolute knowledge.

    During a walk outside I see a bird. But do I *know* it’s a bird? Someone says to me that the bird-like organism I see is really an Alpha-Centaurian alien in disguise! Though it looks and sounds exactly like a robin, it’s really an alien. While I don’t *know* and can’t *prove* that the alien explanation is wrong (even capturing the thing won’t help because it could be mimicking bird biology), I don’t believe that that situation is occurring.

    This is what comes to mind when I read “science is irrelevant when it comes to the truth of those miracle claims”. Technically it’s correct — science can’t *prove* the miracles didn’t happen — but it misses an issue of much greater relevance. Science can’t *prove* that the apparent-bird isn’t an alien. The question is not simply what is *possible*, but what we believe is happening and our reasons for believing so.

    I’ve seen thousands of birds, and I don’t have any reason to believe that any of them are from Alpha Centauri. It’s just not reasonable to go with the alien explanation. A philosophy buff might retort, “Ah, but induction can’t be proved!” OK agreed, but practically speaking do you really believe the alien explanation? That’s the general Hume-like approach I take with regard to miracles.

  6. Ilíon says:

    That’s the general Hume-like approach I take with regard to miracles.

    I’m sure you do

  7. Kevin says:

    They are atheists because they don’t believe there is a god, and they are agnostics because they don’t claim absolute knowledge.

    Then why do atheists like Sam Harris cast derision toward self-proclaimed agnostics?

  8. Arti San says:

    Ilion, the point of my post was that few make absolute claims to knowledge — at least I don’t. When such claims are not being made, the old argument of “well you can’t prove it didn’t happen” is not relevant. Of course we can’t prove it — that’s not the issue. As I said, the question is not what is *possible* — almost anything is *possible* — but what we think is actually happening, and why.

    To expand on an example from the link you gave, suppose I have a teenage daughter who is known to borrow my car without my permission. I walk into the garage and my car is not there. While I readily admit that it is *possible* that my car quantum-tunneled through the wall of the garage, it’s not what I believe has happened.

  9. Michael says:

    I’ve seen thousands of birds, and I don’t have any reason to believe that any of them are from Alpha Centauri. It’s just not reasonable to go with the alien explanation. A philosophy buff might retort, “Ah, but induction can’t be proved!” OK agreed, but practically speaking do you really believe the alien explanation? That’s the general Hume-like approach I take with regard to miracles.

    That’s fine. Just keep in mind that if a miracle were to occur, you’d deny it.

  10. Ilíon says:

    “IIlion, the point of my post was that few make absolute claims to knowledge …”

    There is no such thing as “non-absolute” knowledge; and there is no such thing as a “non-absolute claim to knowledge”. However, there is such a thing as a claim to “knowledge-but-I-cannot-support-the-claim-that-it-is-knowledge-to-your-satisfaction”.

    To claim that one *knows* a thing is to claim that the thing is itrue; to claim that a thing is “absolutely true” is a needless-and-functionless intensifier; to claim that a thing is “non-absolutely true” is an oxymoron: there is ‘true’ and ‘non-true’, there is no ‘kind-of-true’.

  11. Ilíon says:

    Arti San:As I said, the question is not what is *possible* — almost anything is *possible* — but what we think is actually happening, and why. … While I readily admit that it is *possible* that my car quantum-tunneled through the wall of the garage, it’s not what I believe has happened.

    Oh, indeed, the “why” of it is what matters; that is, after all, the *point* of the post to which I had linked — self-denoted ‘skeptics’ and ‘free-thinkers’ (*) do not object to the “miraculous” nature of miracles, but rather to the fact that, definitionally, a miracle is intentionally caused to a purpose.

    (*) who, oddly enough, these days tend to deny that ‘thought’ is even possible

  12. Arti San says:

    Michael, it should be clear that to “deny” anything is contrary to the position I have described. There is no determination of 100% one way and 0% the other way. For any particular case, we evaluate the evidence and decide what we think is going on. No case is ever closed for good; for instance we may re-evaluate a case if there is new evidence to consider.

    In the examples already described, do you think it actually happened that aliens from Alpha Centauri disguised themselves as birds, or that the car quantum tunneled? We needn’t *deny* those possibilities, we just have to weight them and make our best determination of what we think is going on, with the understanding that our decision is always tentative.

  13. TFBW says:

    Michael, it should be clear that to “deny” anything is contrary to the position I have described.

    You deny that denial is descriptive of your position? 🙂

    I don’t see how your argument is relevant to the subject of miracles, actually. Your denial of absolute determination seems to be a bit irrelevant — it’s not clear that anyone is claiming that we know anything with deductive certainty here, or why it would matter if they did. Let’s assume we agree on that point, and let it be. The bit I don’t get is that you give some examples of things that are completely and utterly mundane (a bird is seen, a car is absent) and finish with the non sequitur, “that’s the general Hume-like approach I take with regard to miracles.”

    What do miracles have to do with any of the mundane examples that you gave? Surely a miracle must be an extraordinary thing in order to qualify as a miracle. So what’s your argument in a nutshell, then? “Mundane events are most likely explained by mundane causes, therefore miracles are most likely explained by mundane causes?” That doesn’t seem to be it. “Mundane events are most likely explained by mundane causes, therefore mundane causes are all that exist, and therefore miracles don’t happen?” That doesn’t sound right either.

    Call me dense if you will, but I need you to fill in some gaps here. How do you get from “mundane events are most likely explained by mundane causes” (my paraphrase, subject to your correction) to a Humean scepticism regarding miracles?

  14. Arti San says:

    Sorry but I don’t see how I could make it any clearer. Perhaps it would help if you explained whether you chose the teenager-took-the-car explanation or the quantum tunneling explanation, and why. And whether you chose the ordinary bird or the Alpha Centauri bird, and why. Then explain why this reasoning does or does not apply to other domains.

  15. Michael says:

    Michael, it should be clear that to “deny” anything is contrary to the position I have described.

    OKay, try it this way. According to the general Hume-like approach you take, if a miracle happened, you would not think that it happened.

  16. Arti San says:

    Michael, that’s not true. Evidence for miracle claims can be evaluated like any other evidence. It happens that I have found prosaic explanations to be more reasonable in the cases I’ve encountered. I am not proposing a rule to always pick the prosaic option. We evaluate the evidence and decide.

  17. TFBW says:

    Perhaps it would help if you explained whether you chose the teenager-took-the-car explanation or the quantum tunneling explanation, and why.

    I choose the mundane explanation in both cases. In our experience, teenagers sometimes take cars without permission, but nobody has ever observed the quantum tunneling thing. In other words, historically speaking, the former explanation is often correct, but the latter explanation never is, even if it could be in principle.

    Now, if what you’re saying is that we shouldn’t readily accept miraculous explanations for events which have known mundane causes, then we are in agreement. However, it seems that you want to discount miraculous explanations for things which don’t have known mundane causes. This is the “other domain” to which your reasoning does not (obviously) apply. Please fill in the gaps.

  18. Michael says:

    Michael, that’s not true. Evidence for miracle claims can be evaluated like any other evidence. It happens that I have found prosaic explanations to be more reasonable in the cases I’ve encountered. I am not proposing a rule to always pick the prosaic option. We evaluate the evidence and decide.

    I see. So when you go through this evaluation process, what data would you count as evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? In fact, what data would cause you to merely suspect that Jesus rose from the dead?

  19. Crude says:

    To throw my own two cents in here…

    The whole thing seems a bit of a red herring to me since very few atheists would say that they *know* there is not a god, and so in this regard such atheists are also agnostic.

    Many atheists say they know with 99.9~% certainty that there is no God. Said certainty is not justified. In the case of atheists like PZ Myers, contra Arti, yes – they treat the subject as closed for good, explicitly.

    Likewise, many atheists also say they know (often with similar or greater certainty) that evolution is unguided, etc.

    Regarding ‘Humean’ approaches to miracles, there’s an unspoken problem – if a miraculous act is simply an act of God, Humean approaches are utterly incapable of telling you whether even mundane explanations are ultimately explained by God or not. They can get you to regularity, but regularity itself is one more thing God can be (and purportedly is) behind.

    Finally, some notes. Arti’s saying that he has personally evaluated the evidence for miracle claims, and has found them wanting. That’s fine – but, contra Harris, Arti’s is not some scientific investigation of miracle claims. Likewise, Arti has not argued that his view should be preferred above all others, complete with his metaphysical views, his philosophical views, his presuppositions.

    The problem is, atheists don’t take that tack. They argue not only for the overwhelming certainty (and, as Harris shows, even scientific certainty) of the truth of atheism, but that everyone else must believe that, or else they’re standing in opposition to science, reason, etc. And as Mike has showed, that’s a complete laugh. Harris bungles science and reason, and frankly, he’s not the only prominent atheist to do so.

  20. Arti San says:

    Now, if what you’re saying is that we shouldn’t readily accept miraculous explanations for events which have known mundane causes, then we are in agreement.

    Yes that is what I’m saying, and I am glad we agree. As I said in my subsequent comment I am not proposing a rule to always pick the prosaic option, so there is no discounting of miraculous explanations as you suggested.

    Could you give an example of a miracle that you believe, and explain the evidence of it for which mundane explanations are insufficient?

  21. Vy says:

    **** testing ****

  22. Vy says:

    “Evidence for miracle claims can be evaluated like any
    other evidence.”

    Nope.

    “Could you give an example of a miracle that you believe, and explain the evidence of it for which mundane explanations are insufficient?”

    If something has a mundane explanation, it ceases to be a miracle.


    From Oxford Dictionary:

    miracle

    Line breaks: mir|acle
    Pronunciation: /ˈmɪrək(ə)l  /

    noun
    1. An extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is
    therefore attributed to a divine agency:

    ‘the miracle of rising from the grave’
    —-

    Looking for a (weird) miracle?
    * She rose from the dead at her own funeral.

    * She died again.

  23. TFBW says:

    @Arti San:

    As I said in my subsequent comment I am not proposing a rule to always pick the prosaic option, so there is no discounting of miraculous explanations as you suggested.

    Then (a) contrary to the conclusion of your first comment, your approach to miracles is decidedly un-Hume-like, and (b) I’m puzzled as to why you brought the subject up in the first place, because I don’t see anyone advocating the opposite alternative here.

    Could you give an example of a miracle that you believe, and explain the evidence of it for which mundane explanations are insufficient?

    That life originated is miraculous. In our mundane experience, life never arises except from prior life, although this is not obvious except under well-controlled conditions. The spontaneous generation of life was a widely accepted idea until Louis Pasteur put the final nail in its coffin with some exemplary scientific experiments. As such, there is no mundane explanation for the origin of life. Yet life exists, and there is compelling reason to think that the universe had an origin at some point, so life must have begun to exist at some point.

    I appreciate that there is widespread belief that this origin is not miraculous, but rather a more-or-less inevitable property of matter and energy under conditions which are likely to occur as a matter of course in a universe as large as ours. This belief is not grounded in any empirical evidence, however; rather, it is a logical consequence of a prior philosophical commitment to naturalism. As far as empirical evidence is concerned, we currently lack the ability to produce a single living organism from scratch by any means whatsoever, and I consider it unreasonable to believe that an engineering task which is beyond the scope of our best current technological efforts could happen naturally, even in the course of billions of years. If we really knew how non-life could become life through natural processes, we could simulate the process in the lab over a much shorter period of time by artificially inducing the improbable conditions which would otherwise require great spans of time to occur at random. The fact is that we can not simulate the process because we know of no such process; some merely speculate that such a process is possible.

    I conclude that the existence of life demonstrates the occurrence of a miracle: namely, the origin of life. All attempts at mundane explanations for this event resort to processes which are never observed to happen in practice, and thus fail at being appropriately mundane explanations.

  24. Kevin says:

    That’s good, TFBW. And I would still like to hear from Arti as to what would constitute evidence for him/her that Jesus rose from the dead.

  25. Vy says:

    And in the 150+ years they’ve had to explain how spontaneously generated molecules (over the mythical billions of years) spontaneously arranged itself and automagically developed life, they’re still dogmatically grasping at straws.

  26. Arti San says:

    TFBW, it seems your argument would apply to anything we don’t fully understand. Accordingly, wouldn’t magnets have been miraculous at one time? There was no mundane explanation for them; the suggestion that we may one day understand magnets was a belief not grounded in any empirical evidence, a logical consequence of a prior philosophical commitment to naturalism.

    What do you mean by “miracle” in this case? Divine intervention or just very improbable? I assume you recognize the “allotment of improbability” that we are afforded, given the vast number of planets in the universe. Scientists could conceivably say the origin of life was a miracle, in the improbable sense of the word. Blind Watchmaker has a chapter called “Origins and Miracles” covering this topic.

    Unless we assume that we were somehow destined to be here, there’s no reason to characterize the OOL as “inevitable”. We can easily imagine the universe getting along without life being a part of it, and who knows, there may be universes similar to our own but devoid of life.

    As far as empirical evidence is concerned, we currently lack the ability to produce a single living organism from scratch by any means whatsoever, and I consider it unreasonable to believe that an engineering task which is beyond the scope of our best current technological efforts could happen naturally, even in the course of billions of years.

    This sentence looks contradictory to me. The first part remarks about how our technology is relatively poor compared to what billions of years of evolution have produced, then it turns around to suggest that our technology should be superior.

    Have you read the talk.origins pages on abiogenesis, http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/originoflife.html , http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/abioprob/ ? It is strange when someone makes pronouncements about a field that he or she knows little about. When Deepak Chopra talks about quantum mechanics physicists recognize it as nonsense, yet that doesn’t seem to deter him. Is it your opinion that the Origin of Life Initiative at Harvard might as well pack it up because you solved the entire field of research for them? Are you on board with science being rooted in methodological naturalism, or do you want to expand the definition of science to include supernatural explanations as intelligent design creationists do?

  27. TFBW says:

    TFBW, it seems your argument would apply to anything we don’t fully understand.

    How so? The argument does not rest on what we don’t know about biology: it rests on what we do know. I’m expecting the advancement of knowledge in that area to reinforce my case, not undermine it. Spontaneous generation was a perfectly respectable theory for a couple of thousand years of human history, but it has been progressively banished, starting with the macro, and working its way down to the micro. We are at a stage now where the only remnant of the theory is the idea that the simplest form of life might generate spontaneously, albeit over an extraordinarily long time frame.

    Accordingly, wouldn’t magnets have been miraculous at one time?

    No, because there is no miraculous event to explain. Magnets do what magnets do, and there’s no particular reason to think that they have ever done differently. With life, on the other hand, once you reach the somewhat advanced understandings that (a) life does not generate spontaneously, and (b) the universe had a beginning at some point, you find yourself faced with the inescapable conclusion that life must have originated at some point, and this origin qualifies as a miracle because (a) life does not generate spontaneously.

    In contrast to your analogy with magnets, it takes a fairly advanced understanding of the universe to even recognise that the existence of life is a miracle. If you believe that life arises spontaneously (because you misinterpret maggots arising from meat in that way, or similar), then you have a perfectly mundane explanation for the existence of life. Similarly, if you believe that the universe is infinitely old, then you can just say that life has always existed, and there is no origin to explain. Only when one has studied the universe enough to realise the truth of (a) and (b), above, does one realise that a miracle has occurred: an explanation is required, and there are no mundane explanations.

    What you’re doing is holding out for a future in which we discover a mundane explanation — a law of spontaneous generation — despite the stark lack of support for it at the present time. Well, good luck to you, but right now the most informed and evidence-based position is that spontaneous generation does not occur. It’s only philosophical naturalism which gets you, “but here we are, so it must occur.”

    What do you mean by “miracle” in this case?

    Statistical improbability will do as a first approximation.

    I assume you recognize the “allotment of improbability” that we are afforded, given the vast number of planets in the universe.

    Sure, but the generally accepted age and size of the universe pale into insignificance next to some fairly modest combinatorial problems. I’m happy to cite specifics if you require me to do so: probability is one of my pet subjects.

    Blind Watchmaker has a chapter called “Origins and Miracles” covering this topic.

    Dawkins is wrong on this subject — sometimes laughably so. Don’t trust a biologist for mathematical analysis. I’m happy to refute his probability-related work in its specifics if you require me to do so. I wouldn’t be the first.

    Unless we assume that we were somehow destined to be here, there’s no reason to characterize the OOL as “inevitable”.

    My argument in no way rests on any sort of “destiny” or “inevitability”. I therefore consider this observation to be quite irrelevant unless you can demonstrate otherwise.

    … who knows, there may be universes similar to our own but devoid of life.

    Pure speculation, and it wouldn’t make the existence of life in our own universe any less miraculous even if it were true.

    The first part remarks about how our technology is relatively poor compared to what billions of years of evolution have produced, then it turns around to suggest that our technology should be superior.

    What? No, I’m suggesting that we are in the habit of manufacturing complex devices, the likes of which could not appear spontaneously in nature except by miracle. We immediately recognise them as human artefacts rather than products of natural processes for this very reason: “a person made it” is the mundane explanation, and “it happened naturally” entails a miracle (like your missing car example). It’s not a very high bar to clear: we dig up sharpened stones and infer past human activity, and the more intricate the artefact, the stronger the inference.

    The curious thing is that when the artefact becomes so advanced and intricate that it’s well beyond our capabilities to reproduce it, all of a sudden some folks want to consider the “it happened naturally” explanation to be appropriate again. I consider that to be wildly unreasonable: as the level of complexity and functionality of the artefact goes up, the reasonableness of the “it happened naturally” explanation goes down. But no, there’s a persistent modern myth that self-manufacturing nanotech happens all by itself, given the right chemicals, energy input, and billions of years.

    It is strange when someone makes pronouncements about a field that he or she knows little about.

    Strange? From my perspective you’re doing it too — or are you a PhD in something relevant and being coy about it? Let me be candid: my PhD is in computer science, so I don’t have any special knowledge of biology, but I do know a thing or two about information, complex systems, and probability. This is a cross-disciplinary problem in the end: the origin of life isn’t strictly a biology problem. You can feel free to rely on the authorities who tell you what you want to hear, if that suits you, but put that “you’re not qualified to talk about this” trump card away, or this discussion is dead.

    Are you on board with science being rooted in methodological naturalism, or do you want to expand the definition of science to include supernatural explanations as intelligent design creationists do?

    I’m not at all on board with this “methodological naturalism” junk. In fact, I’m well over it. It’s become a propaganda tool of philosophical naturalism and anti-theism, and your false dichotomy of “this, or supernatural explanations” demonstrates what I mean by that.

    “Methodological naturalism” has never contributed anything of value to science itself: the bulk of modern science happened before it was even a thing. Newton wasn’t on board with it — he was a freakin’ six-day God-done-it creationist — and nor were any of those other folks after whom our scientific units are named. Seriously, fuck methodological naturalism, and the horse it rode in on.

    If I’m on board with anything, it’s “mathematicism”, which is my one-word summary for Kelvin’s famous quote about the nature of science: “… when you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it …” — that should give you enough to find the whole thing if you aren’t already familiar. It’s not a perfect description of science, but it’s infinitely better than “methodological naturalism”, which seems to permit any old junk that excludes God.

    Lastly, I’d like to know if you are going somewhere with this line of questioning. Is there a particular reason why you asked me to give an example of a miracle for which mundane explanations are insufficient? I can answer questions all day, but what’s the point of the question?

  28. Kevin says:

    And still waiting for what would constitute evidence for Jesus raising from the dead 2000 years ago

  29. Vy says:

    “Blind Watchmaker has …”

    If only you knew how inadequate a “Blind” watchmaker is compared to evolution.

  30. Vy says:

    From the Blind Watchmaker:
    “If it [natural selection] can be said to play the role of the watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker”

    A rather basic exaggerated statement.

    From Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900–1975):
    “Dr Schramm’s introduction gives me an opening for making a few remarks on my own. Natural selection is sometimes described as a mechanism capable of realizing the highest degree of improbability, as Dr Schramm has quite correctly pointed out. I would like, however, to express the belief that the words ‘natural selection’ must be used carefully. Dr Schramm has so used them. In reading some other literature on the origin of life, I am afraid that not all authors have used the term carefully. Natural selection is differential reproduction, organism perpetuation. In order to have natural selection, you have to have self-reproduction or self-replication and at least two distinct self-replicating units or entities. Now, I realize that when you speak of origin of life, you wish to discuss the probable embryonic stages, so to speak, of natural selection. What these embryonic stages will be is for you to decide. I would like to plead with you, simply, please realize you cannot use the words ‘natural selection’ loosely. Prebiological natural selection is a contradiction of terms.

    Note:
    – Without a self-reproducing unit/entity,or at least two self-replicating units/entities, no natural selection.
    – Without natural selection, no “first cell”, ergo no chemical evolution.
    – Without chemical evolution (aka abiogenesis), no biological evolution.

    Now, Arti San, I have a question.

    How did natural selection come into existence?

  31. Vy says:

    Oh, Arti San, in case you didn’t know, the Miller-Urey experiment is as dead as the theory on the evolution of planets.

    I’m still waiting for an answer to my question:

    How did natural selection come into existence?

  32. TFBW says:

    I wonder if that’s the last we’ll see of the “Arti San” identity. I can’t find it participating in conversations anywhere else — it seems to be specific to this page.

  33. Dhay says:

    The most devastating attacks are often “friendly fire”; here is the start of a critique of “Waking Up”, in the ‘The Short Version’ blog, by Norm Bearrentine. Looking at other pages in that blog, Bearrentine seems to be very aware of the messages and issues which “Waking Up” presents, and has a viewpoint very close to Sam Harris. But here’s a little of the friendly fire:

    Like all of us, he is a product of his personal history, and in his case, time spent with Eastern gurus and teachings has erupted in a spewing of woo-laden deepities.

    Take for example, “Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.” (Kindle Locations 51-52). It’s true that without a mind, or consciousness, we can’t be aware of anything we have, and if others are mindless, they can’t be aware of being given anything, but does that mean that if I give someone five bucks, I have given them my mind? Giving them five bucks will affect their minds, but is it possible to affect their minds in the same way without giving them five bucks? Stuff exists outside of minds, and minds would be in serious trouble if it didn’t. He makes some less hyperbolic statements in the paragraph that follows, but why start with such overblown nonsense. It alerts the careful reader that this is not a carefully written book.
    http://www.rentine.com/theshortversion/

    Looks like “Waking Up” is ‘Eckhart Tolle for atheists’, rather than ‘Eckhart Tolle for smart people’; smart people read carefully.

    His contention [is] that the self is an illusion is based on “scrutiny”: “What doesn’t survive scrutiny cannot be real.” (Kindle Location 1610). The scrutiny he relies on is introspection, and introspection alone is a very dull tool. Consider that by using introspection as his sole guide, not only does the self disappear, but the body as well. “There were periods during which all thought subsided, and any sense of having a body disappeared.” (Kindle Locations 1734-1735).

    Sam Harris’ introspection tells him, and us, that there is no self, and also no body; both are illusions; therefore that part of the body which is the brain, it too presumably cannot be real, and there can be no valid neuroscience.

    If Harris denies the reality of the body, doesn’t he also deny the reality of evolution? Has he thought this through? Has he discussed this with his friend, Jerry Coyne?

  34. “Sam Harris’ introspection tells him, and us, that there is no self, and also no body;”

    Does it tell us who’s doing the introspecting then?

  35. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” contains the following statement in its first chapter:

    … Buddhism offers a truly sophisticated, empirical approach to understanding the human mind, whereas Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding.
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/chapter-one

    Two counter-examples come to mind: ex-pastor (but now writing the ‘Year Without God’ blog) Ryan Bell tells us:

    I feel like Harris’ antipathy for monotheistic religion blinds him to its awareness of the problems of dualism. Christianity also has its non-dual moments—or at least moments when it seems aware of the problem of dualism that is inherent in Christianity. The Christian mystics are perpetually challenging the mainstream church on these matters. I first learned to meditate—to be mindful of my thinking and pay attention—from Benedictine monks in the California desert. Through spending several days, twice a year, in silent, solitary retreat at St. Andrews Abbey I experienced the truth that Harris is intent on sharing with us.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/2014/09/09/waking-up-a-review/

    So Ryan Bell disagrees with Harris’ “Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding” claim.

    The other counter-example I found when, being intrigued by Harris’ …

    … impressive defense of Douglas Harding’s “On Having No Head“ …
    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119397/sam-harriss-waking-review

    … , I looked to see what else Harding had written; over many decades he’s written quite a few short books on the experience of headlessness, says Amazon, and the very first, “The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth”, with a foreword by no less than CS Lewis drew my eye; the foreword is readable, by clicking to preview the book, at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hierarchy-Heaven-Earth-Douglas-Harding-ebook/dp/B005LKMTW6/ref=pd_cp_kinc_1.

    After pointing out how the progress of our thought over millennia has been from – I paraphrase – a world rich in meaning to today’s (1952) philosophical materialism and nihilism, and how difficult it would be to go back and find the right turning instead of whatever turning led us here, he says that he doesn’t know whether Douglas Harding’s attempt to do so will work, it is after all a first attempt at the task, but if it or a successor book can give us “a credible universe inhabited by credible agents”, it will “have been a very important book indeed.” Lewis concludes by saying he read the book with the delight you get from reading the best exponents of a view, agreeable or disagreeable.

    Harding didn’t identify himself as a Buddhist in that book; but I met him in 1974, when he definitely did identify himself as a Buddhist – he lectured at my Student Union – and can confirm that his views on headlessness and consciousness at that time remained essentially the same as in his first book, to which book and views CS Lewis wrote the glowing foreword.

    So no less influential and prominent a Christian than CS Lewis disagrees with Harris’ “Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding” claim.

  36. Arti San says:

    Until my last response, my comments were getting through without moderation. Thus when the last one didn’t show up I figured I became blacklisted. Also, the creationist websites and 9/11 conspiracy bullshit on the side panel seemed correlative with a blacklisting policy. Anyway I’m glad my comment eventually showed up.

    Some background may be needed with regard to evolutionary algorithms, selection, and improbability. Evolutionary algorithms arrive at vanishingly improbable states via a series of mundane, unremarkable steps. The sudden appearance of an eye in one generation would be a miracle, but the long process of evolution resulting in an eye is not. This idea is illustrated in the “methinks it is like a weasel” section in Blind Watchmaker. When you say “…pale into insignificance next to some fairly modest combinatorial problems”, it suggests to me that you are missing this important principle. It’s the old story of the junkyard and the Boeing 747. Of course we don’t expect a tornado to assemble a 747. That’s exactly the wrong way to think about it.

    Suppose we hopped into a time machine, traveled back several million years, and managed to capture some ancestral cheetahs. After bringing them back to the present, would we be able to evolve them into cheetahs? Of course not. Not even a single step in the evolutionary chain would be expected. We need the whole environment — plants, animals, geography, climate, everything — creating selection pressures over great periods of time.

    The prebiotic ecosystem would likewise be extremely complex, not simple. It’s preposterous to suggest that it could be boiled down to certain chemical interactions. We don’t expect a lab to produce a cheetah from an ancestral cheetah, and we don’t expect life to appear from mixing some chemicals together.

    What you require from an OOL laboratory is not even possible with a totally known system like a computer program. Given an evolutionary algorithm and its final result, without the initial conditions there is no way to reconstruct the evolutionary pathways, in whole or in part.

    The point of genetic algorithms is that they can create surprising results, things we did not expect. Even relatively simple computer algorithms can exhibit genuine, unexpected novelty. The meatspace DNA algorithm has been running for millions of years, producing things that exceed our wildest imaginations, things we are still figuring out. In this sense it is exceedingly more advanced than our recent technology. We should nowise expect “the ability to produce a single living organism from scratch”.

    Obviously OOL research is in its infancy, but it’s not the case that we know nothing. Did you read the talkorigins links I gave? (In general, suggestions to read talkorigins are usually ignored by those who need it most.)

    Back to Hume, the principle is to reject the greater miracle. We know about evolutionary algorithms, and we have examples of them in action. An evolutionary algorithm running on a prebiotic substrate is certainly plausible. Even if we call it a miracle, what is the alternative? Magic, poof, divine intervention to create a clump of cells? That’s a greater miracle. Moreover, it’s completely worthless from a practical standpoint, as it doesn’t help us understand anything.

  37. Dhay says:

    > We all know the implications and can see them in the positions and writings of the New Atheists themselves – the sense of self is an illusion, the sense of moral responsibility is an illusion, and the sense of free will is an illusion. God’s nonexistence is tied to the non-existence of self, free will, and morality.

    Naughty Sam, for telling us there is no self: did not the great Buddhist sage, Nagarjuna, tell us that:

    Although (the term) “self” is caused to be known (of, about), and although (a doctrine or teaching of) “no self” is taught,
    No “self” or any “nonself” whatsoever has been taught by the Buddhas.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C5%ABlamadhyamakak%C4%81rik%C4%81#18:6-12

  38. TFBW says:

    @Arti San:

    This idea is illustrated in the “methinks it is like a weasel” section in Blind Watchmaker.

    The weasel program converges rapidly on a pre-determined message. If evolution were anything like it, you’d have no difficulty reproducing it in the lab, repeatedly. I can only conclude that the weasel program is nothing like real-world evolution. Please explain its relevance.

    We don’t expect a lab to produce a cheetah from an ancestral cheetah, and we don’t expect life to appear from mixing some chemicals together.

    We would also expect the same non-results if goo-to-you evolution is impossible. So how do we determine through appropriate scientific means, such as reproducible experiments, whether this grand narrative of evolution is junk or not? Sounds like you’re asking me to take it as given because it’s such a nice theory.

    Magic, poof, divine intervention to create a clump of cells? That’s a greater miracle.

    In what sense is it a greater miracle when a super-intelligent being creates living organisms as a deliberate act, as opposed to the necessary steps happening all by themselves? At least the former case involves an agent which is actually capable of producing the desired result.

  39. Arti San says:

    Please explain its relevance.

    I already explained the relevance: the weasel program illustrates why calculating the improbability of a single step is a mistake. That’s not how evolution or evolutionary algorithms work. Mundane, unmiraculous steps are strung together, with the output of each being fed into the input of the next. There is variation and selection. The end result is something of extreme improbability, miraculous even, but each intermediate step is just ordinary. It’s a mistake to take the end result and compute its probability, as if a single-step miracle occurred. The sole purpose of the weasel program is to demonstrate in concrete fashion why that is a mistake. Your comment regarding “insignificance next to some fairly modest combinatorial problems” suggests the same mistake.

    Cheetahs are not created, single-stepwise, from ancestral cheetahs. We don’t take an ancestral cheetah and calculate the probability that a cheetah will suddenly appear. The same goes for anything else in the entire history of life.

    Had I seen the creationist and 9/11 conspiracy links on the side earlier, I probably would not have commented here in the first place. It doesn’t seem that you accept evolution in the mainstream-science sense, else you just happen to champion the same stuff coming from ID creationists. Discussing abiogenesis is pointless if we aren’t on the same page about evolution.

  40. Kevin says:

    There is a wide range of views about evolution expressed on this blog. I personally have no problem with evolution, but I find evolution within the context of naturalism (atheism) to be fundamentally absurd. I do not have a single reason to expect such a robust system to happen to arise within a physical reality that just happens to exist and that just happens to have properties that allow for something as amazing as adaptable biological systems driven by molecules arranged to form information, not to mention the inherent ability to produce new information. That is far beyond my capacity for the mental gymnastics required to accept an unlikely premise as truth.

  41. Dhay says:

    Arti San > The sudden appearance of an eye in one generation would be a miracle, but the long process of evolution resulting in an eye is not. This idea is illustrated in the “methinks it is like a weasel” section in Blind Watchmaker.

    Er, the “weasel” algorithm is not a good example of evolution by natural selection, because it doesn’t involve natural selection. Each successive generation was selected for an increased similarity to a predetermined (Shakespearean) phrase, “”Methinks it is like a weasel.” according to rules selected by the programmer. That is, it is a good example not of the speed at which natural selection progresses, but of the speed at which intelligently guided evolution progresses.

    “Dawkins recognizes that in this case the selection is guided by a distant ideal form, and is thus unlike natural selection.”
    http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=52

  42. Arti San says:

    Dhay, you have disastrously misunderstood if you think the weasel program is intended to be “a good example of evolution by natural selection”. The only reason I mentioned it was to correct the one-step-improbability misunderstanding, and indeed that is the only purpose of the weasel program in Blind Watchmaker.

    The weasel program tends to elicit a creationist talking point which has little to do with the purpose of it here or in the book. Two people on this thread mistakenly jumped onto the talking point without understanding either my explanation here or the book’s explanation. Such is the peril of creationist-oriented blogs, it seems.

  43. Dhay says:

    I’m pleased to hear I’ve misunderstood.

    The delay in your earlier response appearing will have been because you provided two links. Responses containing one link show immediately and automatically, but anything containing two or more links gets held in a queue until Michael gets back from holiday, visiting family, or wherever, and then finds time to view and release them. The delay won’t be pointed or personal; similar delays have happened to me a few times now, and while it is disconcerting, it signifies nothing beyond Michael being otherwise occupied. For myself, I try very hard to avoid using more than one link per response.

    The links panel channels you to websites with various flavours; if there is a creationist bias in those links, and especially if there is a YEC bias, I’ve missed it. Shadow to Light blog posts are typically anti- New Atheist oriented, and I observe that where Michael promotes what might be called creationism, it is certainly not the 4004 BC variety. If you want a debate over evolution and its mechanisms, you would do better to participate in some other blog or discussion board, somewhere where you will find people with the interest and motivation to engage with you. Would you please desist from derailing this particular response thread from its original topic of discussion, which I remind you is the New Atheist and neo-Buddhist, Sam Harris.
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/refuting-sam-harris-is-easy

  44. TFBW says:

    Arti, I think you’ll find that I’m not making the mistake you assume that I’m making. You’re reading too much into my questions instead of answering them at face value. I’ll write a lengthier response when I’m back at my real computer, and not struggling with connectivity, hopefully in two days time.

  45. Dhay says:

    Arti San: Reading through the responses, I realise I have disastrously misunderstood their progression to date, that the discussion here follows on from the reference to miracle claims, that you have not derailed the response thread, and that I need to apologise to you; which I do.

  46. TFBW says:

    @Arti San:
    Here is the more detailed response that I promised. I’m still wondering what point you’re trying to get at with all this questioning, however. As I said back on September 12:

    I’d like to know if you are going somewhere with this line of questioning. Is there a particular reason why you asked me to give an example of a miracle for which mundane explanations are insufficient? I can answer questions all day, but what’s the point of the question?

    I’m still no clearer as to what point you’re trying to establish by asking me all these questions. I have answered them frankly and in good faith: please return the favour by disclosing in advance the point that you are trying to establish, otherwise it simply looks like you are engaged in a protracted effort to trip me up and declare victory at that point.

    In the meantime, however, I will continue to respond in good faith, trusting that there is some point toward which you are actually arguing — some concrete, specific disagreement with something someone here has actually said.

    … the weasel program illustrates why calculating the improbability of a single step is a mistake. That’s not how evolution or evolutionary algorithms work. Mundane, unmiraculous steps are strung together, with the output of each being fed into the input of the next.

    The weasel program is, I would argue, not a very good example of that. It’s not even an evolutionary algorithm, except in a very superficial sense. Its end result is not “something of extreme improbability,” as you say, but rather its output converges towards the single phrase for which it is pre-programmed with a probability which rapidly approaches one with each iteration of the algorithm. What would be extremely improbable is if it produced any other phrase from Shakespeare’s plays, ever.

    There is variation and selection.

    And reproduction. Don’t forget reproduction. There is reproduction with variation, and culling through selection. But in order to have reproduction, proper, you must first have an organism capable of reproduction — but the existence of such a thing is what we are trying to explain. You can’t explain the existence of life using a process which requires life to exist already in order to work.

    Now, there is a great deal of enthusiastic speculation as to how we could go from non-life to life through intermediate stages which are capable of some kind of reproductive activity (e.g. self-catalysing), but this proliferation of theories is a consequence of a lack of hard data. If anyone had ever actually demonstrated a feasible, natural path from non-life to life, everyone would eagerly jump on that bandwagon, and my claim of “miracle” would be invalidated. But we don’t have that: what we have is a bunch of highly theoretical models, where advocates of one model are all too willing to point out the serious flaws in all the other models (especially the ones which are more popular than theirs), and nobody is capable of producing anything more than the tiniest step in their alleged process, if that.

    It’s a mistake to take the end result and compute its probability, as if a single-step miracle occurred. The sole purpose of the weasel program is to demonstrate in concrete fashion why that is a mistake. Your comment regarding “insignificance next to some fairly modest combinatorial problems” suggests the same mistake.

    This is basically irrelevant because the weasel program is irrelevant, as discussed above, but I’ll attempt to clear the air on the subject in any case, since you more or less impugn my competence here.

    You’ve offered two alternatives: a path of many small probability steps, or one gigantic one. This is the dichotomy presented in Dawkins’ Climing Mount Improbable, basically, right? But it’s a false dichotomy: it’s not the case that the only two alternatives are a smooth slope and a monumental jump. That’s the difference between all the necessary change happening in a single step, and however many steps it takes to accomplish the change bit by bit. There are other degrees of granularity between these two extremes.

    My point relates to the in-between possibilities, and the fact that they lie on an exponential curve. In order for evolution by natural selection to occur, you need to step from one viable position to an even more viable position in the fitness terrain. If the next step is reachable through a single point mutation, then well and good: that sort of thing happens routinely, and is how we get most of the organisms which are resistant to some kind of poison. That kind of evolution can be reproduced experimentally.

    If no such advantageous position exists within a single point-mutation range, however, then perhaps one exists at a two-point range, or a three-point range. The probability of such mutations actually happening is not merely one half or one third of the single point-mutation: it is exponentially less likely. Without selective pressure to bias the process, these mutations are effectively independent events, and their combined improbability is the product of the individual improbabilities — assuming that the individual mutations are completely neutral, not disadvantageous (which would be worse).

    It’s this exponential problem that I’m referring to when I say that “the generally accepted age and size of the universe pale into insignificance next to some fairly modest combinatorial problems.” If your next advantageous mutation happens to be, say, a hundred neutral point-mutations away, you’re effectively in an evolutionary dead end, because the universe won’t have enough time and space to produce such a specific outcome by chance. And one hundred isn’t a big number.

    Now, so that this isn’t totally off-topic, let’s relate it back to abiogenesis. Assuming that there exist non-living chemical systems which exhibit reproduction and might be useful intermediates between non-life and life, how many such intermediates do we need between basic compounds (like water and carbon dioxide) and the simplest known living cell, so as to keep the demands on randomness reasonably low? I’ve looked into that a little, but I’ll leave the question open rather than offer an answer.

    Discussing abiogenesis is pointless if we aren’t on the same page about evolution.

    Why? We’re only discussing abiogenesis because you asked me for an example of a miracle that I believe in, and the existence of life was my selection. My argument is that there is no mundane explanation for the existence of life (at least, not one that still holds up under current scientific scrutiny), so the existence of life is a miracle that I believe in, as requested. You still haven’t explained why you asked. You have sort of tried to deny it the status of a miracle, though I’ve rejected that proposal for the reasons given above. What’s your angle here?

  47. TFBW says:

    One of these days I hope to have a discussion like this that actually makes some progress, rather than going nowhere for a while and then petering out.

  48. Ilíon says:

    It’ll never happen, not if you’re thinking to “make progress” with most any ‘atheist’: they have too much at stake in hiding from the truth to ever let it sneak up on them.

  49. TFBW says:

    I would consider the act of coming to an understanding (without necessarily coming to an agreement) to be great progress.

  50. GARRISON says:

    Theism: I believe there is a God
    Agnosticism: I do not believe there is a God or that there is not a God
    Atheism: I believe there is not a God

    The word “KNOW” is nowhere to be found in the definitions of these ideologies.

    Guys, those of you who believe in the Christian God have got it all wrong from what I can see. I had a revelation a few months ago that led me to the truth. A purple dinosaur spoke to me and said, “Young non-believer, you have been misled by science. I am the one true divine being that can’t be denied without consequence.” Do I have any evidence to help stray any of you away from your beliefs and to Dinosaurism? No. You can’t prove that what I believe is not true either, though. Does it seem reasonable to anyone to respond to this by saying, “Well he’s right. I can’t disprove what he’s saying, so I must be agnostic to it.”, or do your instincts and intuition tell you to respond with something along the lines of, “You’re an idiot and you have not a shred of evidence to support that, so I believe that not to be the case.”?

    To be intellectual honest, you could only reasonably choose the latter response and deny my claim. NEWSFLASH: There is just as much evidence for my divine experience with the purple dinosaur as there is for the validity of the core beliefs of not just Christianity but any faith-based religion. Therefore, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me to believe in it any more than I would believe in any religion I could come up with in five minutes. It seems overwhelmingly likely that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. are complete bogus, and I don’t think it’s intellectually responsible to treat these ideologies any different than you would treat a claim that Elvis is still alive. You should believe both of these things are not accurate, rather than say that you don’t have an opinion about it.

    Isn’t it funny that the religion you end up subscribing to strongly correlates with where you are born and in what culture? Isn’t this a great indication that people are brainwashed at birth by what their culture believes as a whole, or more specifically, their parents? Isn’t this a great indication that belief in these religions are manufactured by humans? Couldn’t one reasonably argue that this in an indicator of religion as a human construct?

    Food for thought. Replies are welcome. Thank you.

  51. Michael says:

    Food for thought. Replies are welcome. Thank you.

    In other words, you ignore what I wrote and want people to reply to what you wrote. Why not first deal with what I wrote?

  52. Kevin says:

    Christianity being false does not suddenly make atheism a reasonable position. You not personally recognizing the evidence foe God does not in any way mean there is no evidence for God.

    After responding to Michael, please either give the evidence for your atheism (which does not include attacking any religion) or attack the statements of those atheists who are a 6.9 on the Dawkins scale. After all, an honest agnostic would be equally troubled by such certainty from either side.

  53. FZM says:

    Theism: I believe there is a God
    Agnosticism: I do not believe there is a God or that there is not a God
    Atheism: I believe there is not a God
    The word “KNOW” is nowhere to be found in the definitions of these ideologies.

    What you claim does follow from the definitions of Theism, Agnosticism etc. that your present. However, why should someone accept your definitions of Theism, Atheism etc. as accurate?

    Guys, those of you who believe in the Christian God have got it all wrong from what I can see. I had a revelation a few months ago that led me to the truth. A purple dinosaur spoke to me and said, “Young non-believer, you have been misled by science. I am the one true divine being that can’t be denied without consequence.” Do I have any evidence to help stray any of you away from your beliefs and to Dinosaurism?

    I came across another similar argument to this recently, there are some potential problems with this kind of argument and claiming it is an accurate analogy to some kinds of religious claim:

    You don’t actually believe your own purple dinosaur claim and aren’t sincere about it.

    No one else witnessed the appearence of the dinosaur, there is no other evidence of its appearence, you probably haven’t been able to convince anyone else of it.

    The ‘revelation’ the dinosaur conveyed (I am the one true divine being that can’t be denied without consequence; that’s apparently all) is empty and irrelevant.

    So there is little, even on a basic level, to suggest that your claim about the purple dinosaur might be true and even if it was it seems to be irrelevant and uniformative. These things would suggest to me that being agnostic about it is a safe enough response.

    To be intellectual honest, you could only reasonably choose the latter response and deny my claim.

    No; being intellectually honest you could say that your claim has nothing that counts in its favour and is without importance anyway. I don’t think you could claim that it was outright impossible. Just because talking purple dinosaurs appearing is something we haven’t observed up until now, and therefore if it happened is something new or vastly rare, doesn’t mean it is flat out impossible that it could happen.

    NEWSFLASH: There is just as much evidence for my divine experience with the purple dinosaur as there is for the validity of the core beliefs of not just Christianity but any faith-based religion.

    As noted above, your ‘divine experience’ seems to lack even the basic evidence and relevance that Christianity, or other sets of beliefs that have actually become a religion, have.

    Therefore, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me to believe in it any more than I would believe in any religion I could come up with in five minutes.

    I don’t think you’ve presented any evidence that you can come up with a religion in five minutes.

    Isn’t it funny that the religion you end up subscribing to strongly correlates with where you are born and in what culture? Isn’t this a great indication that people are brainwashed at birth by what their culture believes as a whole, or more specifically, their parents? Isn’t this a great indication that belief in these religions are manufactured by humans? Couldn’t one reasonably argue that this in an indicator of religion as a human construct?

    Your argument seems to imply that religious change aught to be impossible; ‘brainwashing’ (if their is such a thing) and children reproducing the beliefs of their parents and wider culture should make it impossible and we shouldn’t be able to observe any religious change . However, religious change is something that is widespread.

    The fact that people adopt the religion of their parents or wider culture isn’t surprising if it is the
    main religion they can become informed about and see practiced; I think it’s ambiguous what significance this has as regards its truth.

    If there are religious beliefs that are shared across religions does this imply that these beliefs are not manufactured by humans and are not human constructs?

  54. If someone is rambling on about the existence, or non-existence, of Yoda, while waving about a copy of Star Wars, they are still not addressing a rational discussion about the existence, or non-existence, of “aliens”.

    Agnosticism, as described by Thomas Huxley, is a form of demarcation. No objective/testable evidence = a subjective/unfalsifiable claim. Results: unscientific and inconclusive. No belief as to the truth, or falsehood, of the claim.

    Sam Harris has a PhD in not knowing the definition of “objective”. He’s not someone that needs to be taken seriously.

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