Elite Scholars Don’t Have Elite Reasons For Being Non-believers

Over at Salon.com, someone named John G. Messerly wrote an article entitled, Religion’s smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith.” Messerly writes:

Should you believe in a God? Not according to most academic philosophers. A comprehensive survey revealed that only about 14 percent of English speaking professional philosophers are theists. As for what little religious belief remains among their colleagues, most professional philosophers regard it as a strange aberration among otherwise intelligent people. Among scientists the situation is much the same. Surveys of the members of the National Academy of Sciences, composed of the most prestigious scientists in the world, show that religious belief among them is practically nonexistent, about 7 percent.

Sheesh. All I gotta do is dust off something from over a year ago.

One of the favorite arguments in the atheist movement is to point to leading scientists and note that a majority of them are atheists. The argument is, of course, pathetic and not much different from trying to score some point for male superiority because the same elite scientists are mostly white males. What matters are the arguments and evidence these elite scientists can come up with. If their atheism is linked to their expertise as scientists and scholars, surely this group of people must possess the most powerful and compelling arguments against the existence of God. So I have always said we need to hear these arguments.

Luckily for us, Dr. Jonathan Pararejasingham has been compiling video of elite scientists and scholars to make the connection between atheism and science. Unfortunately for Pararejasingham, once you get past the self-identification of these scholars as non-believers, there is simply very little there to justify the belief in atheism. See for yourself. Here is the video.

What I found was 50 elite scientists expressing their personal opinions, but none had some powerful argument or evidence to justify their opinions. In fact, most did not even cite a reason for thinking atheism was true. Several claimed to have been non-religious their entire life and several more lost their faith as children or young students. Clearly, the expertise of these scholars had no role in formulating their atheism. The few that did try to justify their atheism commonly appealed to God of the Gaps arguments (there is no need for God, therefore God does not exist) and the Argument from Evil (our bad world could not have come from an All Loving, All Powerful God). In other words, it is just as I thought it would be. Yes, most elite scientists and scholars are atheists. But their reasons for being atheists and agnostics are varied and often personal. And their typical arguments are rather common and shallow – god of the gaps and the existence of evil. It would seem clear that their expertise and elite status is simply not a causal factor for them being atheists. Finally, it is also clear the militant atheism of Dawkins and Coyne are distinct minority views among these scholars.
My summary of each scholar’s point is below the fold.

101. Sir Andrew Huxley, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
*Simply declares he is an agnostic and provides no justification. I guess agnostic is supposed to be the same as atheist according to the Gnus.

102. Steve Jones, UCL Professor of Genetics
*Declares science and religion are incompatible because religion relies on faith and science relies on evidence. It is a confused argument, but even if true, it does not establish the truth of atheism. Does not draw on his expertise in genetics.

103. Yujin Nagasawa, Professor of Philosophy, Birmingham University
*Argues that is no one will sin in heaven, God should have made it such that none of us could ever have sinned on Earth. At least it’s an argument.

104. Dame Alison Richard, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology
*Simply declares she is an agnostic and provides no justification. I guess agnostic is supposed to be the same as atheist.

105. Peter Millican, Oxford Professor of Philosophy
*Cites the argument from evil. No evil should exist if God created the world. So there.

106. Gareth Stedman Jones, Cambridge Professor of History
*Says he is an “Anglican atheist,” then mentions he is an agnostic toward the end. No argument or justification.

107. Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*There is no God because there are so many different religions. Does not draw on his expertise in chemistry.

108. Michael Mann, UCLA Professor of Sociology
*Says he became an atheist at 13, so clearly his expertise had no role in the decision. Gives no argument or justification.

109. Brian Greene, Professor of Physics, Columbia University
*Claims science provides more satisfying “nuts and bolts” answers and is better than “God did it.” Invokes God of the Gaps argument.

110. CJ van Rijsbergen, Cambridge Professor of Computer Science
*Claims he is a “non-believing Christian.” He likes Christian cultures, but does not believe. No argument for atheism or unbelief.

111. Louise Antony, Professor of Philosophy, UMass
*Declares that atheists can practice perfect piety because when they do good, it is not just to please God. No argument for the truth of atheism.

112. Leonard Mlodinow, Cal Tech Professor of Physics
*Considers himself a religious agnostic who sees religion and science as separate.

113. Lisa Jardine, UCL Professor of History
*She has never been religious in her life. No argument for atheism and clearly, her expertise has played no role.

114. Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*Simply declares he does not believe in anything beyond this world. No argument for atheism and does not draw on his expertise.

115. Herbert Huppert, Cambridge Professor of Geophysics
*Declares he is Jewish, but only in cultural fashion. No argument for atheism and does not draw on his expertise.

116. Geoff Harcourt, Australian Academic Economist, Cambridge
*Says he was brought up to be agnostic. No argument for atheism and clearly, his expertise has played no role.

117. Elizabeth Loftus, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, UC Irvine
*Argues that memories can be manipulated and religious people can reinforce each other in their beliefs. No argument for the truth of atheism.

118. Paul Rabinow, Berkeley Professor of Anthropology
*Declares he is neither a theist nor a militant atheist and expresses a disinterest of getting into those arguments. No argument for the truth of atheism.

119. Sir Brian Harrison, Oxford Professor of Modern History
*Declares he has never seen any evidence for the truth of religion.

120. Lisa Randall, Harvard Professor of Physics
*Says politicians need to be better at talking about science. No argument for atheism.

121. Gabriel Horn, Cambridge Professor of Zoology
*Simply points out he has never felt religious his entire life and has had no interest in it. No argument for atheism.

122. Jonathan Parry, Cambridge Professor of Anthropology
*Was an agnostic and became a hardened atheist because of what some priests were saying. No argument for the truth of atheism.

123. Masatoshi Koshiba, Nobel Laureate in Physics
*Notes that science only deals in things that can be confirmed by observation or experiment and God does not qualify. Not an argument for the truth of atheism.

124. Frank Drake, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, UCSC
*Understanding comes through observation and “why?” questions can be answered like this. Not an argument for the truth of atheism.

125. Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, UCLA
*Simply argues that “explanation” was one of the early functions of religion. No argument for the truth of atheism.

126. Sir John E. Walker, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
*Lost his faith as an undergrad student because science and his religious views were in conflict.

127. J.L. Schellenberg, Professor of Philosophy, MSVU
*Argues that if God exists, there should be no atheists.

128. Horace Barlow, Visual Neuroscientist, Cambridge
*Asked if science has disproven religion and does not answer. Instead, argues that science provides some hope of solving various social problems.

129. Baroness Susan Greenfield, Oxford Professor of Neuroscience
*Argues that everything is rooted in our brain and if someone wants to argue there is more to reality than this, who is she to argue otherwise.

130. Hermann Hauser, Science Entrepreneur (Cambridge)
*Liked Dawkin’s “God Delusion” because it was liberating to admit being an atheist, but doesn’t buy into Dawkin’s argument that religion is evil and must be fought against.

131. Stephen Gudeman, Professor of Anthropology, Minnesota
*Claims he is agnostic because he just does not know how the universe began.

132. Jim Al Khalili, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Surrey
*Atheists just simply don’t get around to adding religion to their life.

133. Mark Elvin, Professor of Chinese History, ANU/Oxford
*Apparently became a non-believer at age 11.

134. Stuart Kauffman, Professor of Biochemistry and Mathematics, UVM; accommodationism
*Simply declares he does not believe in God, but adds we need to create a spiritual and value space in our society.

135. Stefan Feuchtwang, Professor of Anthropology, LSE
*Says he always been an atheist, but deeply respectful of people’s religions.

136. Ken Edwards, Cambridge Professor of Genetics
*Darwinian evolution explains life and has had no personal religious experience. God of the gaps logic.

137. Raymond Tallis, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Manchester
*Argues that God is a logical contradiction and cites argument from evil as an example. Does not draw on his expertise.

138. Geoffrey Hawthorn, Cambridge Professor of Sociology and Political Theory
*Declares he is an atheist in intellectual sense, but socially curious about religion. No argument for the truth of atheism.

139. Sir Roger Penrose, Oxford Professor of Mathematics
*Declares he is an atheist and just doesn’t believe. No argument for the truth of atheism.

140. John Dunn, Cambridge Professor of Political Theory
*Declares he is an extremely robust agnostic. No argument for the truth of atheism.

141. Nicholas Humphrey, Professor of Psychology, LSE
*God concept is not useful; God of the gaps argument.

142. Craig Venter, Synthetic Life Pioneer; admits he’s an atheist on “60 Minutes”
*Believes universe is far more wonderful than assuming God made it. Personal opinion.

143. Paul Churchland, Professor of Philosophy, UC San Diego
*Believers believe in absolute truth and thus cannot learn and this is a tragedy. No argument for the truth of atheism.

144. Christian de Duve, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
*Science and religion approach truth differently and science is moving back the frontiers of mystery – explains things without God. God of the gaps reasoning.

145. Michael Bate, Cambridge Professor of Developmental Biology
*There is a deep mystery and feels that mystery is less apparent that once it was. Doesn’t subscribe to particular religion.

146. Melvin Konner, Professor of Anthropology, Emory University
*Lost his faith in first semester philosophy course.

147. Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard Professor of Zoology and Geology
*Does not know why consciousness should be seen as some higher existence/value. It’s just aspect of life.

148. Arif Ahmed, Senior Lecturer Philosophy, Cambridge
*Religious belief does not have evidence.

149. Christof Koch, Caltech Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Biology
*Science throws some cold water on the notion of free will.

150. Peter Higgs, Nobel Laureate in Physics; incompatibility of science and religion
*Admits his atheism could be more a matter of his family background than anything to do with science.

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74 Responses to Elite Scholars Don’t Have Elite Reasons For Being Non-believers

  1. Dhay says:

    > Surveys of the members of the National Academy of Sciences …

    The NAS website says, “Because membership is achieved by election, there is no membership application process. Although many names are suggested informally, only Academy members may submit formal nominations.”

    Looks like a club to me, of the type where your face has to fit in.

    Then there’s the question of how the academic philosophers (and scientists, too) got their jobs: to illustrate this from another field — but I do not see why I should suppose that philosophy and hard science are immune from the same hiring bias — this article on “How academia’s liberal bias is killing social science” says, “The authors also drop this bombshell: In one survey they conducted of academic social psychologists, “82 percent admitted that they would be at least a little bit prejudiced against a conservative [job] candidate.” Eighty-two percent! It’s often said discrimination works through unconscious bias, but here 82 percent even have conscious bias.” [Emphasis original.]
    http://theweek.com/article/index/273736/how-academias-liberal-bias-is-killing-social-science

  2. Billy Squibs says:

    It should be noted that amongst professional who specialize in the philosophy of religion the numbers who claim to be theists (of whatever flavour) is close to being the opposite to the figure you quoted above. (Admittedly this needs citation on may part. I don’t have the time right now to do a search.) The obvious response might be “of course faith heads and God bothers are going to be interested in studying the Philosophy of Religion” but I do hope that the implication here is that they should then be ignored. That would be a blatant display of bias, no?

  3. An interesting summary, but it seems to me that some at least of the above do seem to connect their specialties to rational reasons for rejecting religion in their work (Diamond, Loftus, Gould, Jardine perhaps, maybe Penrose, Greene, Venter — that’s a good percentage of those I know something about.) On the other hand, there seems to be a British bias here, plus a couple Japanese — not very religious societies.

  4. Pingback: mid-week apologetics booster (12/25/2014) « 1 Peter 4:12-16

  5. Crude says:

    An interesting summary, but it seems to me that some at least of the above do seem to connect their specialties to rational reasons for rejecting religion in their work

    Is that on target? Rejecting religion in their work would differ from justifying atheism.

  6. But what I said doesn’t.

  7. Anyway, I have just torn Messerly’s tawdry little argument into fine shreds, if one can be graphic at (Merry!) Christmas:

    http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2014/12/john-messerly-plays-blindmans-bluff.html

    One key quote is from Socrates’ Apology:

    “The good craftsmen seemed to me to have the same fault as the poets: each of them, because of success at his craft, thought himself very wise in other more important pursuits, and this error of theirs overshadowed the wisdom they had . . . “

  8. 9lives says:

    Merry Christmas, Michael. Just wanted to thank you for your blog!

  9. Crude says:

    But what I said doesn’t.

    I’m asking for clarification and examples, David.

  10. Crude: Well, Loftus may think he work shows that reports of miracles are unreliable, as many skeptics use her work (I don’t think it does, what little I have seen of it). Diamond certainly underscores the Problem of Pain in his historical reconstructions. Gould thought he had a solution to certain apparent design problems, and maybe Greene and Venter as well. I think one needs to read their work, to evaluate this question properly.

  11. Crude says:

    Alright David. Anyway, hope you had a Merry Christmas. Good article as well.

  12. Mitch Buck says:

    Michael, I’m curious why you see God of the Gaps as a “…common and shallow…” argument. I can see that it is common, yes, but shallow? How so?

    The God of the Gaps Argument is quite persuasive for me. Science strips nature of any purpose, any divine hand. Moreover, Evolutionary biology single handedly explains design in nature beautifully and Christians have been upset about it since–it’s the reason why Christian apologists like Greg Koukl and Frank Turek refuse to accept it. In fact, in our last discussion we spent a considerable amount of time detailing whether or not ID was a valid theory (please, I’m not here to debate that again!), and also an alternative to evolutionary theory, one that retains purpose in nature despite not having a lick of scientific merit. One theory can predict where to find tiktaalik, the other theory predicts… things are complicated (which is about as vague as the prophecies in the bible). And, still, despite its utter failure as a scientific model, Christians will defend it and demonize evolutionary theory. It’s sort of a freak show watching it happen.

    I have a hard time believing you and the readers of this blog see the God of the Gaps argument as a “shallow” argument. Otherwise, why the vehemency is my previous postings?

  13. Crude says:

    Science strips nature of any purpose, any divine hand.

    Ah, someone who’s ignorant of what science does and can do. Depressingly common – even some scientists can’t understand that basic thing.

    Moreover, Evolutionary biology single handedly explains design in nature beautifully and Christians have been upset about it since

    No, Christians tend to be far more upset about ignorant abusers of science presenting evolution as some kind of proof that nature is not designed. Of course, it’s no such thing, nor can it ever be – but a certain breed of atheist, emotionally desperate for support, have banged that drum so often that they’ve provoked a reaction from some theists.

    please, I’m not here to debate that again!

    Of course not, Mitch. Because when you debate it, you look silly. And I say that as a guy who doesn’t think ID is science.

    The sad fact is, ID is every bit as scientific as anti-ID, which is not to be confused with evolutionary theory. Much as it depresses and scares you, the declaration of ‘Evolution, therefore not design!’ is utterly invalid, unsupported by science, and completely unnecessary for any actual scientific ‘work’ the theory does. Just the psychological projections of a smaller breed of irreligious, frantic and worried that anyone may believe something they find threatening.

    Which is why we get this typical freak show, of evangelical atheists skidding to a halt and then deciding, “B-but maybe God of the gaps is good after all!” You embrace it, despite all the common criticisms of it in the past.

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder of how fragile the psyche of the CoG atheists tend to be. Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

  14. Kevin says:

    Science strips nature of any purpose, any divine hand.

    No more than knowing how a car engine works disproves the existence of GM and Ford.

  15. Michael says:

    Mitch,

    You must have me confused with another blog or another commenter on this site. You and I have had no discussion detailing whether or not ID was a valid theory. I am an evolutionist.

    As for the shallowness of the God of the Gaps atheism, it’s not that difficult.

    If the argument is that there is no Gap, therefore no evidence for God’s existence, in order for this argument to have any substance, you FIRST need to establish that God’s existence would entail the existence of that particular gap. Unfortunately, most atheists skip this essential first step or they think it is satisfied by arguing, “Pat Robertson says X is a gap, therefore God exists.”

    But it gets worse.

    The common argument among these scholars and so many atheists is this: there is no Gap, therefore there is no God. This argument assumes the validity of the God of the Gaps approach – if there WAS a Gap, THEN we would have evidence for God. But the same atheists would decry the use of the God of the Gaps argument IF it was used to support theistic belief. As Wiki explains:

    From a scientific viewpoint, God-of-the-gaps is viewed as the fallacy of claiming any gap in our scientific knowledge as evidence of God’s action, as opposed to admitting that we do not currently have an answer or anticipating that, should an answer come, it will be a scientific one that leaves no role for God.[23] In this vein, Richard Dawkins dedicates a chapter of his book, The God Delusion to criticism of the God-of-the-gaps fallacy.

    See how it works?

    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support atheism, it is a valid argument.
    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support theism, it is a fallacy.

  16. Luis says:

    Once again it is difficult to discern whether or not this is a parody of right-wing Christian blogging. First I see bold claims being made about the contents of a book the blogger has not even read (a book that has not even been released!), and now this.

    The article in question isn’t making the “argument” that this blog post answers. The very next words after the given quote addresses the very issue in question,

    Now nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think. But such facts might cause believers discomfort. There has been a dramatic change in the last few centuries in the proportion of believers among the highly educated in the Western world. In the European Middle Ages belief in a God was ubiquitous, while today it is rare among the intelligentsia…

    And so forth. The article is a comprehensive, though condensed, overview containing many of the fundamental issues at hand. The introduction of some youtube video is a weird non sequitur. The video was not made for the article, nor does it correspond to the points made in the article. Are you going to address any of those points? Please don’t answer with a youtube video about how marmalade is best enjoyed during summertime.

  17. Mitch Buck says:

    Crude,

    Psychoanalyze much? (fyi, that’s bad science too) Look up the fallacy of impugning motives, please.
    “No, Christians tend to be far more upset about ignorant abusers of science presenting evolution as some kind of proof that nature is not designed. ”

    That is evolution! Nowhere in the scientific literature is there an appeal to god or divinity to explain the wonderful diversity of the biosphere. Common ancestry, natural selection, and genetic mutation bring about the appearance of organisms uniquely designed for their environment. Hence, biology is not designed. Additionally, the vast majority of physicists also do not see any design in the laws of nature. So who am I to trust–the people who actually spend there days studying the Nature in its various aspects, or you? I’ll go with the scientists every time over the nonsense authoritarians spout.

    There is really no point in further arguing this–it’s settled science despite your empty assertion that it is somehow an abuse of science.

    Michael,

    I’m very sorry for misrepresenting your view. I haven’t had a chance to look up the dialogue we had, but I was under the (presumably) false idea that you were someone who supported ID. Again, my apologies.

    I’m going to reply to your post after I look up the previous discussion.

  18. Mitch Buck says:

    Michael,

    We skirted the issue, but didn’t get into it at length.

    I don’t think you framed this right:
    “If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support atheism, it is a valid argument.
    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support theism, it is a fallacy.”

    It’s not that the argument supports atheism (which I know that’s how some atheists argue), but that it supports a scientific explanation over a superstitious explanation for some phenomena. What was once explained by an appeal to some sort of divinity is now explained by some law of science. Science has been doing this successfully for over 400 years, so there is a historical precedence to the idea that superstitious explanations are going to continue to creep around the perimeter of our ignorance as science illuminates more and more.

    There is also no significant difference between religious and superstitious explanations–they’re one in the same, and they both yield to science. This undermined the credibility of superstition in general. It’s not a knock out argument for atheism. It simply gives one a degree of confidence that a natural explanation will always prevail over a superstitious one.

    That’s the whole reason why the god of the gaps is a fallacy if theism is invoked as an explanation. Theism used to explain natural events in the past as the result of something we did angering someone’s god, and it’s been wrong, demonstrably wrong. I wouldn’t call it a fallacy though, I would call it trusting a flawed model that’s been largely replaced by a much more successful one: science.

  19. Michael says:

    Once again it is difficult to discern whether or not this is a parody of right-wing Christian blogging. First I see bold claims being made about the contents of a book the blogger has not even read (a book that has not even been released!)

    Luis is confused. I did not make “bold claims about the contents of a book.” I responded to the book description as listed on Amazon.com:
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/jerry-coynes-book-faith-vs-fact-is-incompatible-with-science/

    I was, however, making the assumption that the book description accurately summarized the book. It is possible truth-in-advertising does not apply here, but then that would be a separate problem.

    The article in question isn’t making the “argument” that this blog post answers.

    Yeah, right. Messerly begins his article by claiming that according to most academic philosophers and the most prestigious scientists in the world, we should not believe in God. This blog entry demonstrates such a posture to be nothing more than bluster.

    Messerly tries to be slippery about it all:

    Now nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think.

    Indeed. Nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think. So why start off his article by telling us such people say we should not believe in God?

    But such facts might cause believers discomfort.

    Why would that be since nothing definitely follows about the truth of a belief from what the majority of philosophers or scientists think?

    This blog entry supports a simple point that Messerly ignores – the opinions of the majority of philosophers or scientists think are just that – opinions. And most of those opinions seem to be rooted in superficial analysis or consideration. Thus, the entire point about the philosophers and scientists is a is a weird non sequitur.

  20. Michael says:

    Mitch:

    It’s not that the argument supports atheism (which I know that’s how some atheists argue), but that it supports a scientific explanation over a superstitious explanation for some phenomena.

    Indeed. It’s an argument that supports a scientific explanation over a superstitious explanation for some phenomena and has nothing to do with the truth of atheism or theism. The non-existence of Gaps is not some form of evidence for atheism.

    What was once explained by an appeal to some sort of divinity is now explained by some law of science. Science has been doing this successfully for over 400 years, so there is a historical precedence to the idea that superstitious explanations are going to continue to creep around the perimeter of our ignorance as science illuminates more and more.

    There is also no significant difference between religious and superstitious explanations–they’re one in the same, and they both yield to science. This undermined the credibility of superstition in general. It’s not a knock out argument for atheism. It simply gives one a degree of confidence that a natural explanation will always prevail over a superstitious one.

    Huh? First, “It’s not that the argument supports atheism,” but then a few sentences later, “It’s not a knock out argument for atheism. It simply gives one a degree of confidence that a natural explanation will always prevail over a superstitious one.”

    The success of science is completely irrelevant to the truth of theism vs. atheism. Period.

    You asked me why I thought the God-of-the-gaps reasoning of these atheists was shallow. I explained it. You ignored my explanations and start speaking out both sides of your mouth.

  21. Mitch Buck says:

    Michael,

    There’s no contradiction in what I said. Science has NEVER invoked a supernatural phenomena to explain a natural one. Given its success, science may never will. Therefore, it gives one a degree of confidence in natural explanations vs superstitious explanations. This fact, by extension, undermines the credibility of theism since god takes credit for many natural events, like the plagues in Egypt.

    I cannot disagree more. Science does erode religious views of the world. Every major scientific achievement was met with religious backlash, ex, Galileo and the Church. It knocked down our conceit that the we are the reason for the cosmos.

    You keep convincing yourself this is not the case, that science’s success is independent of theism. Historical events contradict your belief. Someone’s theism is always threatened by science.

    Moreover, straw-manning an argument and calling it shallow is just lazy.

  22. Mitch: “Science” has never done anything, because it is not a person. Scientists have often done just that. But science, if defined as a discipline that explains things in terms of natural phenomena, of course it can’t do that by definition, so your comment is tautological and adds nothing.

    And your history is utter hogwash. Read Allan Chapman, Oxford historian of science, or numerous other non-cranks I could mention, and learn some real history not that drivel, for heaven’s sake.

  23. Luis says:

    Michael, don’t be ridiculous. Don’t make bold claims about a book that you haven’t read and that isn’t even out yet. Do you really need to be told why?

    If you wish to refute a paper or an article, the first step is to address the main points of the article directly. You took a point that the article didn’t make and then introduced a youtube video to say something about something. The whole approach is confused.

    I’m still not convinced you aren’t doing a Stephen Colbert-style act here. Rather than making thoughtful and cogent arguments, you employ an extreme authoritarian style to demean and bully others while introducing tangential and sometimes unrelated points. Your worldview revolves around an “us vs. them” attitude, with one side being in the “shadow” and the other in the “light”. You see those who do not hold your ideology as being morally inferior and undeserving of respect. Real spirituality, real religion — for lack of better terms — is exactly the opposite of what you are doing.

  24. Dhay says:

    The way that New Atheists such as Jerry Coyne and Victor Stenger have argued that for them, acceptable evidence for God would be eg the appearance of a nine hundred foot tall Jesus, or YHWH spelled in Hebrew in the stars — or in other words, that something (or perhaps anything) inexplicable by science would count as evidence for God — has been attacked on Shadow to Light many times.

    The absurd argument that if there is a gap, that is evidence for God, is never defended in this blog. The absurd argument by some prominent New Atheists that if there is a gap, that is evidence for God is always attacked in this blog, as is the hypocrisy or poor thinking skills of said prominent New Atheists when proposing themselves, as a supposedly serious argument, an argument they ridicule when proposed by those they oppose.

    Could I suggest a little light reading: https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/?s=god+of+the+gaps

  25. Michael says:

    Mitch,

    Your history of science argument does not support atheism in anyway. The history of science only teaches us about the development of human thought, not the existence of God. The only way to make your history of science argument relevant to theism/atheism is to build on the God-of-the-gaps fallacy. When you insist “Science has NEVER invoked a supernatural phenomena to explain a natural one. Given its success, science may never will,” that is equivalent to saying that science has long been succesful at filling in the gaps of our knowledge. Fine. But how is this relevant to atheism? This can only be significant to atheism IF you are implying the lack of gaps is evidence for truth of atheism. And that argument assumes the validity of the god-of-the-gaps approach.

    It is not a straw man or lazy to note that your history of science argument is just another way to word the “there are no gaps, therefore there is no God” argument.

    But if the argument is that there is no Gap, therefore no evidence for God’s existence, in order for this argument to have any substance, you FIRST need to establish that God’s existence would entail the existence of that particular gap. Unfortunately, most atheists skip this essential first step or they think it is satisfied by arguing, “Pat Robertson says X is a gap, therefore God exists.”

  26. Physicist Sean Carroll presents some good reasons for being an atheist here:

    God is not a Good Theory (Sean Carroll)

    “”What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”- Christopher Hitchens

  27. Mitch Buck says:

    Again, Michael, you are not getting it. This is the second time you’ve incorrectly distilled my argument into a bumper sticker. I am talking about superstitious vs natural explanations, which you keep arm-barring into atheism.

    My central claim is thus: science DOES infringe on the claims theism makes about reality, and it refutes it harshly. The heliocentric model of the universe greatly disturbed many religious people, just like evolution is doing today. Science can show superstitious claims to be demonstrably false. In the case of genesis, there were no two first people–the genetic evidence doesn’t show any bottleneck that small roughly 10,000 years ago. Biblical literalism is in serious trouble here since the science directly contradicts the notion that the earth is created relatively recently.

    This, in turn, gives the atheist confidence, and allows us to make an inductive argument that the trend will continue. As an atheist, I expect superstitious claims to be ridiculous nonsense, and science is confirming that expectation of mine and many others atheists.

    But keep insisting that science is neutral, that it does not undermine religious/superstitious claims about the world. Many religious believers completely disagree, like apologists Greg Koukl and Frank Turek. Go listen to the Evidence for Faith Podcast and honestly tell me the hosts’ beliefs are not threatened by evolutionary theory. You, and the readers of the blog who hold this position, are wrong, plain and simple. Science comes with many uncomfortable implications for the superstitious.

    Carl Sagan sums up nicely: “Science is a way to call the bluff of those who only pretend to knowledge. It is a bulwark against mysticism, against superstition, against religion misapplied to where it has no business being.”

    Lastly, science erodes any credibility to the theistic model of reality, as well as the beliefs entailed by that theistic model, i.e. a god. If the model is malarky, everything that model entails is also malarky. Hence, I don’t need to establish what god’s existence entails what gaps. That’s for the believers to do. And when they do, that’s when their beliefs can be tested and later falsified, as is so often the case.

    But I feel as if my time will be better spent studying physics than continuing the conversation here. Cheers.

  28. Michael says:

    Mitch: Again, Michael, you are not getting it. This is the second time you’ve incorrectly distilled my argument into a bumper sticker.

    I get it. Your history of science argument does indeed boil down to “Science has discoverd no True Gaps, thus there is no evidence for God.” You make the argument using different words, but that it what it boils down to. And you have not come close to showing that I am wrong or how I am wrong.

    I am talking about superstitious vs natural explanations, which you keep arm-barring into atheism.

    I already pointed out that the superstitious vs natural explanations is not relevant to the truth of atheism/theism, but you didn’t like that. I am not “arm-barring into atheism.” You are the one who thinks the competing explanations are relevant to atheism/theism. Yet as I explained, you can only purchase its relevance through the currency of God-of-the-gaps.

    My central claim is thus: science DOES infringe on the claims theism makes about reality, and it refutes it harshly.

    Wrong. Theism does not make claims. Theists make claims. And yes, science has indeed infringed on various claims made by various theists. For this to be relevant, you would need first establish that if God existed, no theist would ever make an erroneous claim. Congratulations – your central claim shows that human beings are not infallible.

    This, in turn, gives the atheist confidence, and allows us to make an inductive argument that the trend will continue.

    Huh? WHY? The atheist gets his/her confidence from the notion that God-of-the-gaps arguments will fail. The gaps keep getting filled. Which is only relevant if the God-of-the-gaps approach is a valid way of uncovering God’s existence. You have to first establish that if God existed, gaps would exist and science would be a failure. IMO, your confidence rests on the God-of-the-gaps fallacy and shallow thinking.

  29. Michael says:

    Luis: Michael, don’t be ridiculous. Don’t make bold claims about a book that you haven’t read and that isn’t even out yet. Do you really need to be told why?

    Luis, don’t be ridiculous. Don’t make bold claims about a blog entry that you haven’t read. If you had bothered to read the blog entry, you would notice I was responding to the bold claims of the book description that is posted on Amazon (the very page that is selling the book).

    If you wish to refute a paper or an article, the first step is to address the main points of the article directly. You took a point that the article didn’t make and then introduced a youtube video to say something about something. The whole approach is confused.

    I did not set out to “refute a paper or an article.” I merely took aim at the introductory chapter of the article. As for the “main point,” it is supposed to be captured by the title of the article. The title? “Religion’s smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith.” I would think it clear, at least to smart people, that the points in my blog entry are quite relevant to the so-called “smart-people problem.” But if you think there is some “main point” that I am missing, by all means, point it out and I will take a look.

    I’m still not convinced you aren’t doing a Stephen Colbert-style act here. Rather than making thoughtful and cogent arguments, you employ an extreme authoritarian style to demean and bully others while introducing tangential and sometimes unrelated points. Your worldview revolves around an “us vs. them” attitude, with one side being in the “shadow” and the other in the “light”. You see those who do not hold your ideology as being morally inferior and undeserving of respect. Real spirituality, real religion — for lack of better terms — is exactly the opposite of what you are doing.

    LOL. This is classic projection. Shall we compare and contrast?

    Richard Dawkins compares religion to small pox.
    I do not compare atheism to small pox.

    Richard Dawkins thinks it is worse to raise a child as a Catholic than it is to sexually molest the child.
    I think it is worse to sexually molest a child than it is to raise a child as an atheist.

    If he had a choose between a world without rape and a world with religion, Sam Harris would choose a world without religion.
    If I had to choose between a world without rape and a world without atheism, I would choose a world without rape.

    Jerry Coyne thinks religion is one of the world’s greatest evils.
    I do not think atheism is one of the world’s greatest evils.

    Jerry Coyne would like to see a religious upbringing become illegal.
    I would not like to see an atheistic upbrinfing become illegal.

    Peter Boghossian thinks religion is a dangerous brain virus that is in need of containment by the government.
    I do not think atheism is a dangerous brain virus that is in need of containment by the government.

    You’ll have to excuse me as I chuckle at the notion of my “extreme authoritarian style” and “us vs. them” attitude. Me thinks Gnu atheists are in no position to judge.

  30. Michael says:

    Physicist Sean Carroll presents some good reasons for being an atheist here:

    The video is 58 minutes and I do not have 58 minutes to spare. If someone wants to summarize the “good reasons for being an atheist,” I’m all ears.

  31. Talon says:

    It’s a shame Mitch has decide to leave rather than establish the relevance of the God of the Gaps argument for Theism, perhaps if he’d stuck around he might have learned that Biblical literalism isn’t necessary for Theism to be true, that religious types aren’t so much threatened by evolution but annoyed by the Materialist philosophy atheist popularizers try smuggling into the theory and that Galileo’s heliocentric theory wasn’t actually troublesome to Christianity, but to science contemporary to his age. For a quick history lesson try TOFSPOT

  32. Mitch Buck says:

    “Huh? WHY? The atheist gets his/her confidence from the notion that God-of-the-gaps arguments will fail.”

    Are you deliberately trying to misunderstand my argument? This is precisely what I said. A mystery is attributed to some imaginary being, and scientists come along and show those beliefs to be wrong. The goddess hides in some mystery, and once that mystery is solved, she floats over to some other mystery.

    As an atheist, watching the claims of theists fail under the interrogation of scientists gives me confidence in naturalism/atheism. The fact that science assumes naturalism to get its work done is further confirmation in the fruitfulness of the idea that there is nothing else but matter and energy. This is a prediction of naturalism, that superstitious thinking is unfounded nonsense.

    “Theism does not make claims. Theists make claims.”

    Quibble, much? This is really what you choose to respond to? I know this–why on earth do you think I use an illustration or two of specific theistic claims each post–heaven forbid, I say theism instead of theist! My whole argument is falling apart now.

    (Oh, and I guess you missed it, but I spelled “there” earlier when it should have been “their”.)

    “Which is only relevant if the God-of-the-gaps approach is a valid way of uncovering God’s existence. You have to first establish that if God existed, gaps would exist and science would be a failure.”

    It is a valid way of uncovering god’s existence. A theist is claiming that god’s responsible for something! We test it and find out there’s a natural explanation for it, then that thing or event can no longer be used as evidence for god’s existence. There is one less piece of evidence for god’s existence.

    Moreover, I don’t have to establish anything. You’re making the claim that some infinitely powerful, all knowing being is real. You’re making the positive claim. If someone says they have a million dollar check in their pocket, and I don’t believe them, it will make no sense for he or she to then say, “Prove that I don’t. And if you can’t, I win.” You’re asking me to do essentially the same thing. No two theists gods are alike. Every one is as varied as the theist themselves (but their gods do tend to hold the same political beliefs and hate the things they hate). No matter how I construe this imaginary creature in theists’ heads, someone will always object: “Well, that’s not the God I believe in!” Your demand cannot be met, and I’m willing to wager is a tactic you employ to keep your god insulated from criticism and refutation.

    Lastly I want to address this:
    “The common argument among these scholars and so many atheists is this: there is no Gap, therefore there is no God. This argument assumes the validity of the God of the Gaps approach…”

    The argument does not assume anything. The validity is a response to the historical precedent of it ACTUALLY happening. Isaac Newton thought God kept the planetary orbits in check. We now know this not to be the case. There are many examples that demonstrate thinking this way is unreliable and can lead to false conclusions–THAT is where the validity comes from. Assumptions have nothing to do with it.

  33. Mitch Buck says:

    Talon, please go down to your local university and actually talk to a real biologist. There is no secretive materialist philosophy being smuggled in. This is science: natural mechanisms at work acting on genetic mutations to produce novel characteristics: it’s testable and it make predictions. These mechanisms explain biodiversity.

    Put down the conspiracy theory nonsense and order a textbook on evolution.

  34. Michael says:

    I wrote: The atheist gets his/her confidence from the notion that God-of-the-gaps arguments will fail.

    Mitch replies: Are you deliberately trying to misunderstand my argument? This is precisely what I said.

    Exactly. You get your confidence in atheism from the failure to find True Gaps. Yet this atheistic confidence is purchased by assuming the validity of the God-of-the-Gaps approach. That is, from your atheistic perspective, if God exists, Gaps should exist. If God exists, science should be a failure. How you came to this knowledge, I am not sure. But that’s what you believe.

    You acknowledge this again. When I wrote, “Which is only relevant if the God-of-the-gaps approach is a valid way of uncovering God’s existence,” you replied:

    It is a valid way of uncovering god’s existence.

    Thar she blows! Your atheism is built upon God-of-the-gaps logic. That’s what I have been saying and it looks like I finally got you to admit it.

    So what’s the problem?

  35. Michael says:

    Luis: Your worldview revolves around an “us vs. them” attitude, with one side being in the “shadow” and the other in the “light”.

    LOL. The blog title doesn’t have some coded message, Luis. When I started the blog, I was really into this song:

  36. Mitch Buck says:

    “Your atheism is built upon God-of-the-gaps logic. That’s what I have been saying and IT LOOKS LIKE I FINALLY GOT YOU TO ADMIT IT.”

    At this point in our discussion, Michael, I should like to draw your attention back to my very first post, first sentence of the second paragraph :”THE GOD OF THE GAPS ARGUMENT IS QUITE PERSUASIVE FOR ME.”

    Lol, at least this is confirmation that I don’t have to take you all that seriously anymore since, clearly, the fruitfulness of this dialogue has grounded to a halt.

    My entire contention has been that there is more teeth in the argument than you give it credit. I find the argument not only persuasive for atheism, but devastating for theism in general, since the theistic model is a terrible model for explaining who the universe ACTUALLY operates.

    Again, you are hell bent on believing the god of the gaps reasoning as based merely on an assumption. I’ve claimed you’re dead wrong on this, which you are. Watch the Sean Carroll video posted above, at about 22:08 in, he states:
    “Given the empirical success of science in giving naturalistic explanations for features of the universe I see no obstacle to that happening in the case of consciousness.”

    The empirical success of science is WHY the god of the gaps approach is valid. Nonsensical religious explanations are replaced with scientific ones. It happens over and over and over. As an atheist, I see this as gutting any credibility to religious explanation and confirming my own atheism. If atheism is true, religious explanations will aways fail… and so far, THEY HAVE. We don’t need to assume ANYTHING. (I wish there were an italics feature, I’m sick of capitalizing for emphasis).

    But of course you’re going to ignore this, and come to some ridiculous conclusion and claim victory.

    I’d just concede already, Michael. Your last post really showed how preoccupied you were chasing nonsense in your head. But given that you’re religious, I guess that’s to be expected.

  37. Michael says:

    Lol, at least this is confirmation that I don’t have to take you all that seriously anymore since, clearly, the fruitfulness of this dialogue has grounded to a halt.

    I’ve been trying to pin you down because you keep talking out both sides of your mouth.

    Your position should be now clear to all.

    Gaps are not and cannot be evidence for God, but gaps that get filled in are evidence for atheism.

    Or, as I noted:

    See how it works?
    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support atheism, it is a valid argument.
    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support theism, it is a fallacy.

    Or, to put it another way – “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.”

    Yes, you cannot have fruitful dialog with someone who insulates his worldview with such shallow games.

    The empirical success of science is WHY the god of the gaps approach is valid. Nonsensical religious explanations are replaced with scientific ones. It happens over and over and over.

    You don’t seem capable of recognizing how irrelevant this is. One more time – If the argument is that there is no Gap, therefore no evidence for God’s existence, in order for this argument to have any substance, you FIRST need to establish that God’s existence would entail the existence of that particular gap.

  38. Mitch Buck says:

    “Your position should be now clear to all.”
    Once again, please refer back to the first sentence of the second paragraph IN MY FIRST COMMENT.

    “you FIRST need to establish that God’s existence would entail the existence of that particular gap.”

    I’m just going to copy and paste what I’ve already said since you keep repeating this like a broken record. I’ve already shown why this is a nonsensical request: Moreover, I don’t have to establish anything. You’re making the claim that some infinitely powerful, all knowing being is real. You’re making the positive claim. If someone says they have a million dollar check in their pocket, and I don’t believe them, it will make no sense for he or she to then say, “Prove that I don’t. And if you can’t, I win.” You’re asking me to do essentially the same thing. No two theists gods are alike. Every one is as varied as the theist themselves (but their gods do tend to hold the same political beliefs and hate the things they hate). No matter how I construe this imaginary creature in theists’ heads, someone will always object: “Well, that’s not the God I believe in!” Your demand cannot be met, and I’m willing to wager is a tactic you employ to keep your god insulated from criticism and refutation.

    I don’t know what kind of god you even believe in or what it entails. You claim to be an evolutionist (I bet some of your readers hate that), or even if it is an active god or a passive ground of being or whatever nonsense theologians spout. The irony is rather delicious that you should accuse me of insulating my worldview…

    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support atheism, it is a valid argument.
    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support theism, it is a fallacy.”

    For good historical reasons already outlined in earlier posts. The gaps keep shrinking, which undermines the veracity of different theisms. You can’t have it both ways if one side is completely clobbering the other.

    Moreover, enough rhetoric. Show me a gap that demonstrates god’s existence. Where is it?

    Lastly, this conversation has further confirmed my suspicion that christians and religious believers are the new postmodernists.

  39. Michael says:

    I’m just going to copy and paste what I’ve already said since you keep repeating this like a broken record. I’ve already shown why this is a nonsensical request:

    The request is not nonsensical; it is most rational.

    If the argument is that there is no Gap, therefore no evidence for God’s existence,

    in order for this argument to have any substance,

    you FIRST need to establish that God’s existence would entail the existence of that particular gap.

    Negative results are meaningless unless you have very powerful reasons to expect positive results.

    Moreover, I don’t have to establish anything.

    Yes, you do. If you are going to insist that a lack of gaps translates as the nonexistence of God, you must show that the existence of gaps is entailed by the existence of God. Otherwise, the lack of gaps is meaningless.

    You’re making the claim that some infinitely powerful, all knowing being is real.

    I never claimed that God existed because of some gap. You are the one claiming God does not exist because of a lack of gaps.

    You’re making the positive claim.

    No, you are. You are assigning great metaphysical implications to the lack of gaps. I simply see the lack of gaps as irrelevant.

    If someone says they have a million dollar check in their pocket, and I don’t believe them, it will make no sense for he or she to then say, “Prove that I don’t. And if you can’t, I win.” You’re asking me to do essentially the same thing.

    Wrong. I’m simply noting the lack of gaps have no relevance to the existence or non-existence of God. You insist they do, thus it is your burden to show how and why they do.

    No two theists gods are alike. Every one is as varied as the theist themselves (but their gods do tend to hold the same political beliefs and hate the things they hate). No matter how I construe this imaginary creature in theists’ heads, someone will always object: “Well, that’s not the God I believe in!” Your demand cannot be met, and I’m willing to wager is a tactic you employ to keep your god insulated from criticism and refutation.

    I am making no demands. I simply noted that Elite Scholars Don’t Have Elite Reasons For Being Non-believers. I find the god-of-the-gaps reasoning to be rather shallow and have explained why. I don’t see the deep thought behind this notion that if God existed, science would be a failure.

    I don’t know what kind of god you even believe in or what it entails. You claim to be an evolutionist (I bet some of your readers hate that), or even if it is an active god or a passive ground of being or whatever nonsense theologians spout. The irony is rather delicious that you should accuse me of insulating my worldview…

    It’s pretty clear you have insulated your worldview when:

    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support atheism, it is a valid argument.
    If the God of the Gaps argument is used to support theism, it is a fallacy.

    For good historical reasons already outlined in earlier posts. The gaps keep shrinking, which undermines the veracity of different theisms. You can’t have it both ways if one side is completely clobbering the other.

    Unless you can make the case that God’s existence would entail the failure of science, the history of science tells us nothing about the truth of atheism vs. theism. I’m sorry, but your arguments are both superficial and shallow.

    Moreover, enough rhetoric. Show me a gap that demonstrates god’s existence. Where is it?

    Huh? LOL! I’m not the one who thinks god-of-the-gaps reasoning is valid. You are.

    I have a better question. Since you are so sure God does not exist, what data would you count as evidence for the existence of God?

    Lastly, this conversation has further confirmed my suspicion that christians and religious believers are the new postmodernists.

    I see. First, we find your atheism to be built on god-of-the-gaps logic and now we see you resorting to anti-intellectualism. I thought we religious people had the “smart-people problem.” 😉

  40. Crude says:

    Michael,

    First, we find your atheism to be built on god-of-the-gaps logic and now we see you resorting to anti-intellectualism.

    I’ve noticed for a long time now that the Cultist of Gnu brand of atheist pays some lip service to science and reason, but in the end they only have respect for it the same way the Soviets did: it’s great when it’s politically convenient, but when it’s not, they’ll just abuse it and twist it until says whatever they want it to. Science isn’t something to be respected, or used – it’s just a word that’s supposed to cash out to some authority, and if that takes abusing or misrepresenting science, well, they’re more than happy to do so if they can get away with it.

    Endorsement of God of the Gaps reasoning is just the tip of the iceberg – but man, it’s easy to point out. And Mitch is turning out to be a great living example of the intellectual failings of the CoGs. Dumping on science, all because emotion and political attachment urges him to wage war against those scaaaaary Christians. 😉

  41. Mitch Buck says:

    I do not give much merit to the idea that truth is relative. If that makes me an anti-intellectual here, then so be it. It’s an absurd philosophy.

    Which is kind of strange. i meant that as a dig since most Christians deplore postmodernism. The fact that you find not subscribing to a patently false philosophy as anti-intellectual shows I’m arguing with some really strange version of Christianity.

    Crude,
    Enough with the psychoanalyzing. Jesus.

  42. Kevin says:

    This is in response to Mitch. By the way, Mitch, if you want to use italics, you can put a “” at the beginning of a word or paragraph, and a “” at the end. This will make everything in between italicized.

    That is evolution! Nowhere in the scientific literature is there an appeal to god or divinity to explain the wonderful diversity of the biosphere. Common ancestry, natural selection, and genetic mutation bring about the appearance of organisms uniquely designed for their environment. Hence, biology is not designed.

    Evolution indeed explains biodiversity. What isn’t as clear is that evolution is not designed. I’m not talking about individual mutations being designed, I’m talking about the existence of evolution itself. Being quite familiar with genetics, evolution, etc (for a layman), I find it far more likely that a process like evolution would exist in a created universe than some universe that just happened to poof into existence from a bunch of matter and energy that just happened to exist for no reason whatsoever.

    Additionally, the vast majority of physicists also do not see any design in the laws of nature.

    Same as above. Laws of physics explaining nature is one thing, but nature does not explain the existence of its own laws. Why do such laws exist? Matter and energy obey laws of nature that themselves are governed by the properties of said matter and energy, and it all just happened to be that way. For no reason. Far more likely is a creator deity.

    Science has NEVER invoked a supernatural phenomena to explain a natural one. Given its success, science may never will.

    It is by definition impossible for science to declare a phenomenon as supernatural. Science only deals with natural processes. If scientists find something they can’t explain, they would not declare it to have supernatural causes. They would keep searching for the actual cause. You seem to conflate science with truth, and it is anything but that. I just clapped my hands twice before typing this, but science sure can’t demonstrate that. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

    I cannot disagree more. Science does erode religious views of the world.

    It also enhances religious views of the world. The more I learn about genetics and physics, the more convinced I am that there must be a creator. It just gets more and more ridiculous to even entertain the idea that all of this just happened for no reason whatsoever.

    This, in turn, gives the atheist confidence, and allows us to make an inductive argument that the trend will continue. As an atheist, I expect superstitious claims to be ridiculous nonsense, and science is confirming that expectation of mine and many others atheists.

    Unfortunately, I and many other theists fully expect the universe to be able to function, obeying laws of nature that are discoverable and reliable, without constant supernatural interference. We expect scientific explanations for how the world and universe work just as much as you do. So if it emboldens atheists, it only emboldens those who think the only valid versions of Christianity – or other religions, for that matter – are those that depend on constant miraculous activity. These atheists are flat out wrong.

    Lastly, science erodes any credibility to the theistic model of reality, as well as the beliefs entailed by that theistic model, i.e. a god. If the model is malarky, everything that model entails is also malarky.

    Science strengthens my belief in a creator and, by extension, my theistic beliefs as well. I guess you’re just wrong again here.

    It is a valid way of uncovering god’s existence. A theist is claiming that god’s responsible for something! We test it and find out there’s a natural explanation for it, then that thing or event can no longer be used as evidence for god’s existence. There is one less piece of evidence for god’s existence.

    God is capitalized.

    Moreover, I don’t have to establish anything. You’re making the claim that some infinitely powerful, all knowing being is real. You’re making the positive claim.

    Atheism entails that existence, with all of its ridiculously complex features, is possible without any sort of creator. I say that both the idea of matter and energy just existing in of itself, with the properties to form all the features of the universe and life, and the idea of matter and energy poofing into existence from nothing (this includes quantum vacuum energy), are absolutely ludicrous. You as an atheist are making a positive claim that yes, one of these two explanations is entirely possible. Let’s see the evidence.

    My entire contention has been that there is more teeth in the argument than you give it credit. I find the argument not only persuasive for atheism, but devastating for theism in general

    I’m going to reword what Michael is trying to say here, or at least branch off of it. Atheists commonly say that God of the Gaps is crappy logic for theism. As in, the argument that since science can’t explain something, it must mean that God did it. Atheists say this is invalid, that since we have discovered natural explanations for so many things that people used to ascribe to supernatural entities, that it is likely that we will discover natural explanations for remaining mysteries.

    However, when we ask atheists what evidence they would count as demonstrating God’s existence, all they come up with are events or phenomena that science can’t explain.

    Do you see the problem here? Atheists call any gap in knowledge to be invalid as evidence for God, then turn around and ask for gaps to prove God’s existence. If a gap were offered, they would call it invalid. In other words, atheists have placed themselves into a close-minded corner and declared it impossible to present any evidence for God. What exactly is the type of gap that you would you consider to be evidence?

    And to re-present Michael’s question, why does the existence of God (any deity for that matter) entail gaps in scientific knowledge? How does a lack of supernatural explanations for natural phenomena support atheism more than theism?

  43. Kevin says:

    I botched quoting the symbols to italicize lol. Not sure how to quote them properly.

  44. Crude says:

    Enough with the psychoanalyzing. Jesus.

    It’s not psychoanalyzing to point out that, for all of the talk about claims of loving science and reason, you’re more than happy to not just dump it, but quite literally misrepresent and abuse science. The fact that you think science is even in the business of /potentially/ offering up “supernatural” explanations is evidence of that.

    Hell, you’re here quite literally /endorsing God of the gaps explanations/, and arguing that it would in principle be entirely legitimate for scientists to use supernatural explanations to explain gaps. The fact that you do so because you bizarrely think that doing this will somehow score points for your special little atheism-crusade doesn’t change the abuse of science or reason you’re engaging in.

    Like I said, this is nothing new. A certain brand of atheists have been more than happy to suppress and manipulate science, to say nothing of reason, when it was judged politically necessary. I’m simply pointing out the attack on science you’re engaging in.

    Now, I await the shaky reply that I’m a postmodernist or the like. You don’t have any arguments left standing on this one, but I’m sure you’ll be forced to pull SOMEthing out of your hat here. 😉

  45. Mitch Buck says:

    Crude,
    Give details, please. Stop waxing about my motives and the abuse of science. I’ve given specific examples of where science has offered up a better explanation than a religious/superstitious explanation. Where is the abuse of science in thinking that this successful trend will continue.

    If you’d bothered to read my earlier posts, you would find that Carl Sagan and Sean Carroll (both successful scientists) agree. I’m echoing their sentiment–the thought isn’t original to me, but I agree with it. Richard Feynman also wrote an essay about the fact that science replaces religious explanations with better ones. It boils down to what better explains the data–a religious/superstitious model or a scientific model. The success has been so successful that it is considered an informal fallacy to think otherwise.

    But do go on and tell me how I’m abusing science by echoing the sentiment of PROFESSIONAL scientists at the top of their fields (physics and astronomy). Moreover, I’m majoring in physics and I am developing a pretty good idea of how a good scientific theory ought to work. But yes, I must confess, I am only studying physics to push some political, atheist agenda. /sarcasm.

    “The fact that you think science is even in the business of /potentially/ offering up “supernatural” explanations is evidence of that.”

    For the love of Pete, READ my comments. I’ve said since the first post that science does not offer up supernatural explanations but REPLACES them with natural ones. That is the best science can do. There are two competing models, one theistic and one naturalistic, and the naturalistic one consistent wins out. As a naturalist, this is expected in my worldview. I expect supernatural explanations to fail, and they do, and they are thus replaced by natural laws. THis is strong evidence in favor of naturalism.

    Listen to me carefully: it is STRONG evidence, not ABSOLUTE PROOF. I’m suggesting that there may one day be something that science cannot account for, which may have some kind of supernatural explanation–which is why I stated earlier that this something would give theologians something to do.

    Crude, this is my last response to your comments. Any pretense of reason is jettisoned for fan fiction. You offer nothing to the conversation. It’s clear that you not only need more science classes, but you along with Michael, need to learn to read your opponents argument with a degree of charity. To do otherwise, is to expose your dogma. And the both of you are rife with dogma, an unwillingness to even entertain ideas that might be orthogonal to your own.

    Kevin,

    Thank you for the good response. I’m going to respond to you in a second post.

  46. Michael says:

    Mitch:

    but you along with Michael, need to learn to read your opponents argument with a degree of charity. To do otherwise, is to expose your dogma. And the both of you are rife with dogma, an unwillingness to even entertain ideas that might be orthogonal to your own.

    I am more than happy to entertain ideas that might be orthogonal to my own. The “science has replaced superstitious explanations” argument was one I too thought significant when I was a 14-year old atheist. Nothing new there.

    If you’ll remember, you’re complaint was that I found the god-of-the-gaps logic to be shallow (and that was a charitable description). What we established is that your atheism is built on the god-of-the-gaps approach. In your mind, if God exists, there should be gaps. If God exists, science should be a failure. I’m not sure why you believe that stuff, but such beliefs are necessary to purchase atheisms from lack-of-gaps.

    Mitch, I had a simple question for you:

    Since you are so sure God does not exist, what data would you count as evidence for the existence of God?

  47. Mitch Buck says:

    Kevin,

    I was under the idea that God is only capitalized if you believe in one. But since you were thoughtful, I’ll capitalize it anyway.

    I would imagine that the process of evolution sort of exists as a brute fact, a consequence given the fact that genomes do not replicate perfectly and mutate, and that environments, geologically speaking, are in constant flux. These two conditions are sufficient to bring about organisms that are well suited to their environment.

    As for the laws of physics needing an explanation, I think that is putting the cart before the horse. The laws of physics are a description of nature; subtract nature, and I don’t see where the laws of physics come from. I don’t know if it makes sense to say that the laws of nature preceded nature. Physicists tend to think, and for good reason, that there may be laws of physics that precede this universe via some multiverse. Despite theory predicting it, there is no experimental confirmation. An interesting topic, but one that is beyond my expertise at the moment–give me a couple more years and maybe I’ll have something more interesting to say!

    “Do you see the problem here? Atheists call any gap in knowledge to be invalid as evidence for God, then turn around and ask for gaps to prove God’s existence.”

    Yes, I do. I conceded this point in the last sentence of my third post. I said: “I wouldn’t call it a fallacy though, I would call it trusting a flawed model that’s been largely replaced by a much more successful one: science.”

    I like thinking in terms of which model best describe the data. We have two competing models here: a theistic one, or a naturalistic one. So far, the naturalistic one has been more successful at explaining the universe around us. Theistic models have purported to explain events, and they have been largely replaced by scientific models.

    The problem with the theistic model is that it is hamstrung with ambiguity. Newtons three laws of motion and his law of gravity beautifully explain almost everything in our experience with a disgusting degree of accuracy. Our modern civilization is a testament to these laws through their application with engineering. Every engineer uses the same model, but we find that is not the case with the theistic model. Theists, as I already pointed out, have many, many different conceptions of God, hence many, many different models.

    “What exactly is the type of gap that you would you consider to be evidence?”

    I’m not a theist, so I don’t look for any gaps. That’s the theist’s job since they’re making the case that some entity transcends matter and energy–I’m not going to do your homework for you, it would be like asking an astronomer to come up with a successful model of astrology–why would an astronomer do that when they already have a successful, scientific one? Thankfully, I don’t have to. You stuck your neck out and brought up two areas that pose potential gaps that science may never fill, the evolutionary problem and the origin of the laws of physics. If the scientific method cannot yield fruitful results in these areas, then perhaps theologians need to be brought in. BUT, given the successful history of the naturalistic explanations of science, I expect these current problems to be resolved, but there is NO guarantee that they will. It’s an inductive argument.

    “And to re-present Michael’s question, why does the existence of God (any deity for that matter) entail gaps in scientific knowledge? How does a lack of supernatural explanations for natural phenomena support atheism more than theism?”

    A deistic God doesn’t entail anything since it’s literally indistinguishable from not being there. A theistic God, however, is an active participant in the cosmos. If your God performs miracles, then science cannot be applied since the laws of physics were violated or suspended. If, however, God uses physics to perform the miracles, then God is no more than a pleasing gloss on the laws of physics, an unnecessary assumption. It is more simpler to do away with that unnecessary assumption since it literally adds nothing to the explanation. Therefore, in order for God to be relevant, He/She needs to do something more, i.e., a miracle. This argument is not my own. Christian philosopher Greg Koukl makes a similar argument using boiling water and a magic leprechaun that is the unnecessary assumption required for the water to boil. I agree with him.

    Given this theistic model, one would then expect to see miracles, i.e., gaps in scientific knowledge.

    Now, I have been clear from the beginning that a supernatural explanation vs a natural one does not DIRECTLY entail atheism. As a naturalist, I expect religious/superstitious gaps to be replaced by scientific ones. History shows this to be the case, not just with theistic claims but superstitious claims of every flavor. Superstition is on the retreat.

    This is strong evidence in favor of naturalism, which PREDICTS that religious/superstitious explanations will fail. Atheism is a subset of the tenets of naturalism, since naturalism is defined as the position that only matter and energy exist–nothing else. (Moreover, atheism is a single position or a single issue–hardly a worldview.) Therefore, science’s adoption of naturalism is direct evidence in favor of naturalism, which is in turn, indirect evidence of atheism. I made this clear in my third post: “I am talking about superstitious vs natural explanations, which you keep arm-barring into atheism.”

    Atheism does not follow DIRECTLY, but indirectly. This little bit of nuance really got Michael riled up, but this is the main thrust of my argument, which still stands unscathed from its assault by empty rhetoric and petulant dismissals. Outright denial doesn’t win an argument.

    THis line of reasoning precedes new atheism. Richard Feynman wrote about it, and so did Carl Sagan in the Demon Haunted World.

    So, long story short, Kevin, I agree that the “fallacy” is rhetoric on the atheists part. I don’t hold it to be a fallacy, but a comparison between different models of reality. The naturalistic model is measurably more fruitful than the other, which is why one should be cautious embracing the theistic model. However, that does NOT mean the theistic model won’t one day improve. It may, but that is a big IF given the successful history of science.

  48. Mitch Buck says:

    “If God exists, science should be a failure.”

    I never said that science would be a failure. The gap would just not be amenable to science, and perhaps something else should try to explain it, like philosophy or theology. Newton’s laws would still get the Curiosity Rover to Mars.

  49. Mitch Buck says:

    “Mitch, I had a simple question for you:

    Since you are so sure God does not exist, what data would you count as evidence for the existence of God?”

    Easy. In Carl Sagan’s contact, the instructions for the machine that transported Ellie’s character to the center of the galaxy was not made by any alien species. The aliens told her to look in the infinite decimal expansion of pi–that’s where they found it. No one knew who put it there.

    That would seem to be strong evidence for a being existing beyond matter and energy, a being that coded the construction of a machine that travels with wormholes in the infinite decimal expansion of a constant of nature.

    That would be pretty damn cool.

  50. Crude says:

    Mitch,

    Give details, please. Stop waxing about my motives and the abuse of science.

    I’ve given details, Mitch – and I’m going to keep on pointing out your abuses of science as you make them. Sorry, I’m not really interested in getting your stamp of approval on my criticisms.

    I’ve given specific examples of where science has offered up a better explanation than a religious/superstitious explanation.

    Splendid, except for a few little problems.

    1: Theism isn’t a scientific theory at all, nor are actions of God, so the comparison doesn’t get off the ground to begin with.
    2: Science is incapable of discerning supernatural activity, or even sufficiently powerful natural activity. If we exist in God’s mind, God’s creation or a simulation, science offers us no insight into those facts. Science is nicely limited.
    3: Insisting otherwise, and talking about the possibility of ‘scientific supernatural theories’, just illustrates a tremendous ignorance of science, and an abuse of it. It doesn’t really matter if another scientist is along for the ride.

    If you’d bothered to read my earlier posts, you would find that Carl Sagan and Sean Carroll (both successful scientists) agree.

    Fantastic. Just provide their arguments and evidence and we’ll see how good they are. You realize that that’s precisely what you need, right? Not just the equivalent of ‘Dawkins is a scientist, and he agrees, therefore it’s right’?

    But do go on and tell me how I’m abusing science by echoing the sentiment of PROFESSIONAL scientists at the top of their fields

    Because scientists cannot possibly be incorrect or give bad arguments, particularly with regards to a topic that is outside of their professional field? And if you tell me that the existence and action of God, gods or designers is within their fields, just do me this favor: show me the peer-reviewed research experimenting with as much.

    Likewise, you seem to be under the impression that “studying physics in school” gives you some kind of authority on this topic. It does no such thing, and any authority would at best be an indicator that you have some good arguments for your position. Yet those arguments are either lacking, or confused.

    For the love of Pete, READ my comments. I’ve said since the first post that science does not offer up supernatural explanations but REPLACES them with natural ones. That is the best science can do. There are two competing models, one theistic and one naturalistic, and the naturalistic one consistent wins out.

    For Christ’s sake, Mitch – READ and UNDERSTAND what I am telling you, as well as your own past comments!

    Here’s a little refresher: Science has NEVER invoked a supernatural phenomena to explain a natural one. Given its success, science may never will.

    That’s you, talking about science as even POSSIBLY making use of an invocation of the supernatural to “explain” something. Christ almighty, you can’t even remain consistent with your own words.

    But more than that, what science offers up are theories and models… but whether God is at work in those models, science cannot say in one direction or the other.

    So now your tack is ‘science offers natural explanations’ – but when I ask you to show me how science even checks for the work or intention of any God or gods or sufficiently powerful beings, you’re going to come up dry. You’ll have no experiments, you’ll have no professional backing. Because, as I keep telling you: science is silent on this topic, and your abuse of science (‘It shows that this or that is totally natural, no God involved!’) is a complete load.

    Listen to me carefully: it is STRONG evidence, not ABSOLUTE PROOF.

    Mitch, pay attention: it is not STRONG evidence, precisely because it’s SILENT on the very topic in question. No, despite what you’ve convinced yourself, there is not a competition between ‘science’ and ‘religion’, and certainly not ‘science’ and ‘theism’, because the latter is entirely capable of subsuming the former. In other words, for every scientific concept and theory you have of the world, it’s trivial to view it as the intentional working out of the will of a creator.

    Or maybe it’s not! That’s the twist: science gives no ruling on this topic. Which is exactly why when I ask for the experiments and studies and peer-reviewed research testing for God’s action and will or existence in the world as far as science can discern, you’ll turn up nothing. The best you’ll get is, say, a book or some mumbling from a scientist expressing a vague opinion – and science, that ain’t.

    Crude, this is my last response to your comments. Any pretense of reason is jettisoned for fan fiction. You offer nothing to the conversation.

    What I’ve done, Mitch, is demonstrate that you’ve got a terrible grasp of science, and that you happily abuse and misrepresent it if you think it’ll score points against your political and social enemies. Now, maybe that can just be chalked up to ignorance – I mean, you literally fired back ‘Sagan and Carroll kinda agree with me!’ as if this was some major intellectual coup, utterly sans-argument.

    But by all means, feel free not to respond. I’m quite content to point out the flaws of your reasoning, because really – it’s very easy to see once it’s been highlighted. So thanks for that much at least.

  51. Crude says:

    I never said that science would be a failure. The gap would just not be amenable to science, and perhaps something else should try to explain it, like philosophy or theology.

    If the existence of gaps which are not amenable to scientific explanation (but are amenable to philosophical or theological explanation) suffice to give evidence for God’s existence, then evidence for God’s existence abounds: there’s all manner of acknowledged gaps that exist now, many of which in principle can’t be closed by science. So apparently by Mitch’s own standards, there are good (scientific!) reasons to believe in God.

    The problem is, Mitch’s reasoning on this point is pretty empty.

    Easy. In Carl Sagan’s contact, the instructions for the machine that transported Ellie’s character to the center of the galaxy was not made by any alien species. The aliens told her to look in the infinite decimal expansion of pi–that’s where they found it. No one knew who put it there.

    That would seem to be strong evidence for a being existing beyond matter and energy, a being that coded the construction of a machine that travels with wormholes in the infinite decimal expansion of a constant of nature.

    So, the only evidence for God that you can think to come up with amounts to ‘a direct and purposeful, inexplicable communication’? Seriously?

  52. Crude says:

    A few more comments.

    So far, the naturalistic one has been more successful at explaining the universe around us. Theistic models have purported to explain events, and they have been largely replaced by scientific models.

    No, what has happened is that some models have been successful or unsuccessful. Insofar as those models are scientific models (and there’s been no shortage of failing scientific models), they have been entirely compatible with either atheistic or theistic reasoning. Scientific models are neutral between the two, by necessity.

    The idea that ‘scientific explanation’ = ‘atheistic/metaphysically naturalistic explanation’ in any relevant sense simply doesn’t work here, and part of the reason for that is science doesn’t deal with metaphysical fundamentals… but that is precisely where questions of God lay. Science, at best, gets you to fundamental forces, basic concepts that themselves remain without explanation by science, but need to be taken up for the purposes of building said models – which is great and practical.

    But it’s not addressing the theistic question in either direction.

    Theists, as I already pointed out, have many, many different conceptions of God, hence many, many different models.

    Not as many as Mitch suggests. But here’s something else worth considering: there are as many, or more, conceptions of nature. If Mitch replies, ‘Yes, but we’ve ruled out various possible models of nature by investigation, so we’ve thinned the possible number down!’, that’s great – but the theist is entirely capable of using the same reply. If you predicted that God would have created an infinitely flat universe, well, you’re out of luck. Likewise if you think nature on its own would produce such a thing, you’re likewise out of luck.

    That’s key here: ‘I predict there should be no Gods’ still gives you an essentially infinite number of possible models for the universe, with no way in and of itself to choose from among them. Building models out of what we discover in the course of our investigation works every bit as much for theism as it does for naturalism.

    I’m not a theist, so I don’t look for any gaps.

    What you need, if you want to make the claim that God does not exist, is evidence to back up your view.

    It is more simpler to do away with that unnecessary assumption since it literally adds nothing to the explanation.

    “It’s a brute fact” also adds nothing to the explanation. That’s why both theistic and atheistic glosses are removed from science.

    This is strong evidence in favor of naturalism, which PREDICTS that religious/superstitious explanations will fail.

    No, it does not. Insofar as science is concerned, naturalism claims that religious/theistic explanations are wrong. Mormons claim that the universe is past-infinite – other Christians claim that the universe is past-finite. Naturalism does not therefore predict that the universe is both past-infinite and past-finite. It simply makes the claim whatever’s the case, there is no God (unless one believes naturalism can be squared with some forms of theism.)

    Naturalism is compatible with a near infinite arrangement of models of the universe, including universes where brute facts abound, where making reliable models of the world is practically and in principle impossible in way after way, or otherwise – gaps, in other words. Because naturalism, like theism, is so vague of a claim as to be easy to square with all manner of possible empirical situations.

    Which is why the argument of the track record of science doesn’t do a damn thing. It’s upended not just some religious and theistic models, but also plenty of irreligious and non-theistic models.

  53. TFBW says:

    Mitch Buck said:

    But do go on and tell me how I’m abusing science by echoing the sentiment of PROFESSIONAL scientists at the top of their fields (physics and astronomy).

    By quoting them as authorities on subjects other than physics and astronomy. You are citing them as philosophers, making metaphysical and epistemic assertions. This is exactly the kind of problem that this blog post is about: atheist scientists tend not to reach for science, per se, to support their atheism, but rather for materialistic scientism — the philosophical position that science has all the answers, and that science needs no gods.

    The irony in this is that scientism itself has no support from science: you need to construct a philosophical argument to support it, and so very few of the scientists in question have had any real contact with serious philosophy. As such, their philosophical arguments tend to be pretty shabby, but they don’t know that because they don’t know philosophy, and nothing inspires confidence like ignorance.

    There are two competing models, one theistic and one naturalistic, and the naturalistic one consistent wins out.

    This is a dichotomy promoted by certain atheists for their own rhetorical convenience. You shouldn’t take it for granted. You keep citing Newton’s laws, for example. Newton was a heavy-duty theist — not only a better physicist than all present here, but also a more prolific Bible scholar than all present here. Like many other pioneering scientists of the Christian faith, his belief in a comprehensible, law-driven universe was substantially guided by his belief in an unchanging, law-oriented Creator. Newton certainly did not see his contributions to science as undermining the theistic view, but rather supporting it.

    Let me put it simply, at the risk of making you defensive about it: I think that if you’ve bought into the “science and theism are mutually exclusive” model, you’ve been snared by a propaganda slogan. Please be wary of that.

    Again, you are hell bent on believing the god of the gaps reasoning as based merely on an assumption. I’ve claimed you’re dead wrong on this, which you are. Watch the Sean Carroll video posted above, at about 22:08 in, he states:
    “Given the empirical success of science in giving naturalistic explanations for features of the universe I see no obstacle to that happening in the case of consciousness.”

    Well, here’s a problem similar to the “I have a cheque in my pocket” thing that you cited. I happen to think that the experience of consciousness, which is first-hand data available to everyone, is a very strong argument against materialist metaphysics. As it stands, nobody has any idea how anything material could be conscious. There is nothing in all of physics that even seems to be related to consciousness. And yet you, along with Sean Carroll, are willing to back the (alleged — see above) inductive success of materialist philosophy over the problem of consciousness. That is, you have absolutely no answer to how consciousness can be a material phenomenon — not the vaguest hint of a concrete theory — but materialism wins anyhow on the basis of its (alleged) success elsewhere.

    The thing with inductive arguments, such as your argument for the sufficiency of materialism, is that they can be refuted by a single counter-example. What would it take to persuade you that the phenomenon of consciousness constitutes such a counter-example? I’m not saying that it needs to prove theism, mind you — I’m just wanting to take a small step in that direction by refuting materialism.

    I think that the answer to this question is important, because you can always cite something like the “secret message in the digits of pi” thing, which is in no immediate danger of threatening your model, as your potential falsifier. Let’s talk about the data that we have right here, right now, because if you play fast and loose with that, I’m inclined to dismiss the far-off threats as a bluff. After all, if the hypothetical threats become reality, you can easily revise your position and claim that the materialist model will also find an answer for those, given time.

  54. Mitch Buck says:

    “So, the only evidence for God that you can think to come up with amounts to ‘a direct and purposeful, inexplicable communication’? Seriously?”

    Why not? The old and new testaments have your god playing a much more active role than the silent, dare I say nonexistent, role that it plays now. I can’t tell you how many fanciful conversion stories from Christians I’ve heard that make my request seem modest.

  55. Crude says:

    Why not? The old and new testaments have your god playing a much more active role than the silent, dare I say nonexistent, role that it plays now.

    Because it’s got nothing to do with science, for one? That it only picks out a tremendously specific God? That it’s entirely open to non-theistic explanation? (‘We live in a simulation.’ / ‘Pi contains all possible infinite series of numbers, such that if you give the right decoding key you’ll find any message you like anywhere in it.’) That it’s utterly arbitrary?

    Which is -fine-, by the by. But if arbitrary ‘if this were the case, I’d believe’ standards are entirely rational to adhere to here, then bad news – anyone else (including those ‘fanciful conversion stories’) is rational for adhering to their belief in God. Say, ‘If science indicated that the universe began to exist / that our universe is finely tuned for life.’ or ‘If there was strong and persuasive written testimony of a resurrection.’ – or just about anything else.

  56. Mitch Buck says:

    TFBW, nice post. I’ll try to respond to your points as best I can.

    “Newton certainly did not see his contributions to science as undermining the theistic view, but rather supporting it.”
    Newton, make no doubt about it, was out of this world intelligent. However, he was wrong in some respects. As I already stated, he thought that god intervened to stabilize planetary orbits since his theory came up with so many errors. This is exactly the point I’m making. He offered up a supernatural explanation that was later replaced by a naturalistic one: perturbation theory. His theistic view was inadequate to describe these problems.

    “That is, you have absolutely no answer to how consciousness can be a material phenomenon — not the vaguest hint of a concrete theory — but materialism wins anyhow on the basis of its (alleged) success elsewhere.”

    You’re right. There is no sign of a theory immediately forthcoming. It is a big problem.

    “That is, you have absolutely no answer to how consciousness can be a material phenomenon…”

    I disagree. There are indirect lines of evidence suggesting consciousness is material. Psychotropic drugs improve mental illness, morphine reduces or eliminates the subjective experience of pain, hallucinogenic drugs alter ones mental perceptions of reality, severe head trauma wipes out whole memories and alters personalities, moral judgments can be altered, and the subjective experience of feeling ghosts or god nearby can be induced via trans-cranial magnetic stimulation. Alcohol and drugs can severely alter one’s mental landscape.

    In essence, chemicals can alter our conscious experience. This suggest that consciousness is physical. Were it not physical, then why and how would chemicals produce an effect? Neuroscience is a relatively new science. There are still outstanding problems in physics after 400 years. If neuroscience is given the same amount of time to catch up, it is conceivable that it may in fact solve consciousness.

    Again, I’m not saying the problem is solved. But there are legitimately good reasons to believe consciousness is physical in nature.

    What would it take to convince me that consciousness wasn’t physical? It’s not as cool as the Carl Sagan reason, but if there were such things as disembodied minds. To show that consciousness continues independently of a body would be pretty neat. It would’t prove definitively that consciousness was nonphysical, but I think the hard problem would be an even harder one.

    But the fact that consciousness seems to be incapable of existing outside of the vastly complicated neural network of the brain suggests, even more so, that it is physical in nature. Because all a neuroscientists has to do is alter that neural network in some way and there is a corresponding alteration in one’s conscious experience.

    How does a dualist account for this?

  57. Michael says:

    Mitch: I never said that science would be a failure. The gap would just not be amenable to science, and perhaps something else should try to explain it, like philosophy or theology. Newton’s laws would still get the Curiosity Rover to Mars.

    I’m not focused on your words; I’m focused on your logic. You insist that the success of science is evidence against the existence of God. That’s the same as saying that if God existed, science would be a failure. Unless you are willing to show that God’s existence entails the failure of science, all your talk about the success of science is irrelevant to the existence of God.

  58. Michael says:

    Mitch:

    Easy. In Carl Sagan’s contact, the instructions for the machine that transported Ellie’s character to the center of the galaxy was not made by any alien species. The aliens told her to look in the infinite decimal expansion of pi–that’s where they found it. No one knew who put it there.
    That would seem to be strong evidence for a being existing beyond matter and energy, a being that coded the construction of a machine that travels with wormholes in the infinite decimal expansion of a constant of nature.
    That would be pretty damn cool.

    Okay, can you explain why this would be evidence for God?

  59. Michael says:

    Mitch (talking about gaps): Yes, I do. I conceded this point in the last sentence of my third post. I said: “I wouldn’t call it a fallacy though, I would call it trusting a flawed model that’s been largely replaced by a much more successful one: science.”

    So Mitch’s position is that the god-of-the-gaps argument is NOT a fallacy. It is indeed a valid form of argument. He adds, “I would call it trusting a flawed model that’s been largely replaced by a much more successful one: science.” Okay, but that’s a subjective opinion. The question for Mitch – are Gaps evidence for the existence of God? They don’t need to be proof, they don’t need to be super-duper strong evidence, just plain ol’ evidence.

  60. Mitch Buck says:

    Michael, answering your questions in reverse order.

    3) In principal, yes. If there were gaps that weren’t amenable to the methods of science, then a theistic model could possibly fare better at explaining it.

    2) Maybe not God per se, but a really strange entity. As Crude incorrectly suggested, it could be a computer model made by programmers. The reason I don’t find this convincing is that the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is not arbitrary. It’s a necessary fact. The programmers could not have made it up any more than programmers making a video game simulation today could have made it up. Pi would still be pi regardless. Throw in a machine that travels with wormholes into the decimal expansion, and that is just plain bizarre. But, this is subjective–it may not convince anyone else. I would take pause if it happened.

    “You insist that the success of science is evidence against the existence of God. That’s the same as saying that if God existed, science would be a failure.”

    I’m saying the success of science is evidence for naturalism. Naturalism, in turn, contains the position that there is no supernatural dimension, which entails atheism. Erase the supernatural dimension, and you erase all the postulates that accompany it, like god and angels and fairies.

    It is not the same as saying that if god existed, science would be a failure. If god existed, there would be additional parameters set on science–that hardly constitutes a failure.

  61. TFBW says:

    He offered up a supernatural explanation that was later replaced by a naturalistic one: perturbation theory. His theistic view was inadequate to describe these problems.
    No, his mathematics was inadequate, and given how much he contributed to mathematics in order to make the rest of his physics possible, that’s entirely forgivable. You’re failing to recognise that what he did contribute, in terms of distilling the physical behaviour of the universe into mathematical equations, he saw as supportive of theism. If what you say is true, Newton did more to undermine theism than any single man who came before him, which is quite preposterous.

    Look, I’m trying to present you with a dichotomy here. Either Newton was profoundly mistaken that science and theism are productively compatible, or he wasn’t. You seem to be backing the former alternative, but then you have to explain why Newton was such a consummate scientist as well as being such a determined theist. His entire existence is a profound contradiction of the incompatibilist model. The simpler explanation is that science and theism are not at odds with each other in the way that you (and philosophically low-rent New Atheist popular writers) imagine.

    In essence, chemicals can alter our conscious experience. This suggest that consciousness is physical.

    No, it suggests that consciousness interacts with the physical. Given that the physical universe forms a substantial component of the subject of our consciousness, and that we obviously have a complex physical system which somehow conveys that information, it comes as no surprise at all that certain forms of physical interference can alter consciousness. But it’s a severely hasty generalisation to extrapolate physical interaction into metaphysical materialism.

    What would it take to convince me that consciousness wasn’t physical? It’s not as cool as the Carl Sagan reason, but if there were such things as disembodied minds. To show that consciousness continues independently of a body would be pretty neat. It would’t prove definitively that consciousness was nonphysical, but I think the hard problem would be an even harder one.

    Well, there are several problems with that. First, I suppose that you are willing to dismiss all testimony relating to “out of body experiences” as bogus. After all, they aren’t unheard of, and if you accepted any of them as valid, you wouldn’t be asking for evidence. So perhaps you don’t consider them “scientific” evidence? But how, pray tell, are you going to determine whether any report of disembodied consciousness is real or not? You can’t even tell whether my personal report of embodied consciousness is real — you just accept it because you share a similar experience. Even if someone had an out-of-body experience in which they learned something that they could otherwise not have known, you could always explain it with some quantum technobabble and exactly the same materialist promissory note of a better explanation in the future.

    So I’m not convinced that you would be persuaded by this example — and neither are you, because “it would’t prove definitively that consciousness was nonphysical”, as you say. It would just mean that your promissory note had more to live up to. What we really want to know, however, is what would persuade you that your materialist promissory note is worthless in the face of the contrary evidence provided by consciousness. Is there anything we could offer, or not? I’m thinking “not” — am I right?

    Lastly, your example may be requiring too much in any case. Materialism holds that consciousness is (along with everything else) entirely physical. As a counter-example, you are requesting a demonstration that consciousness can be entirely non-physical. While that would certainly disprove materialism, it may still be false even if this is not possible. It may be the case that both a physical and non-physical component are necessary.

    But the fact that consciousness seems to be incapable of existing outside of the vastly complicated neural network of the brain suggests, even more so, that it is physical in nature.

    No, it suggests that the brain is a necessary component. The insufficiency of physics as a whole to provide so much as a hint of the existence of consciousness (in all its many facets) tells us loud and clear that a physical brain is not the whole story.

    How does a dualist account for this?

    There are different schools of dualism, but none of them (that I know of) consider any of what you have said to be a problem, because they appreciate that human existence consists of both a physical and non-physical component. You’d only consider this kind of data to be a problem for dualism if you had learnt all that you know about dualism from materialists who are ignorant of philosophy, or who willingly present dualism as a straw-man.

  62. Michael says:

    Mitch:

    3) In principal, yes. If there were gaps that weren’t amenable to the methods of science, then a theistic model could possibly fare better at explaining it.

    So what do you mean by “amenable to the methods of science?” Are you say a gap is a gap if there is a phenomenon that science cannot explain or are you saying a gap is a gap if, and only if, science could never possibly come up with a possible natural explanation?

    2) Maybe not God per se, but a really strange entity.

    Okay, so you never answered the first question (we have no idea what you would count as evidence for God).
    And you still have not answered the second question – WHY would this phenomenon count as evidence for a “really strange entity?”

    I’m saying the success of science is evidence for naturalism. Naturalism, in turn, contains the position that there is no supernatural dimension, which entails atheism.

    Since the success of science is evidence for atheism (something entailed by naturalism), then it stands to reason theism is supposed to entail the failure of science.

    It is not the same as saying that if god existed, science would be a failure.

    Er,….yes it is. If, as you think, the success of science is evidence for atheism (because it is entailed by naturalism), then it stands to reason theism is supposed to entail the failure of science.

  63. Kevin says:

    Thank you for your response, Mitch. You’re being challenged by huge posts on multiple fronts here, so I will focus on one particular section of your response to me to shed light on why I think what I do about the necessity of God.

    A deistic God doesn’t entail anything since it’s literally indistinguishable from not being there. A theistic God, however, is an active participant in the cosmos. If your God performs miracles, then science cannot be applied since the laws of physics were violated or suspended. If, however, God uses physics to perform the miracles, then God is no more than a pleasing gloss on the laws of physics, an unnecessary assumption.

    Complex robotic systems perform a variety of tasks in a fully automated environment. They consist of the usual electrical and hydraulic/pneumatic setups, but also complicated programming to ensure the robots do what they are intended to do. Discounting something breaking – the possibility of which is the flaw in my analogy – the robots will continue to do what they will according to the “laws” of electricity, pressure, and programming. In this case, however, we know that such a system would not exist independent of a creator to design and program the robots.

    The universe is far more complex than a robotic system. Its workings can be described in intricate mathematical terms, which simply blows my mind. Quantum mechanics, genetics, etc, these systems are absurd in their complexity. I personally believe all common phenomena in the universe are “governed” by natural mechanisms, so I have no problem with consciousness being tied to the brain, even if neuroscience is nowhere close to figuring out exactly how. But just think – the physical properties of this universe are as such that if you take certain molecules, arrange them in a certain pattern, and fuel them with other types of molecules – oxygen, nutrients – then it becomes a self-aware matrix capable of observation, communication, imagination. And the development of this matrix is due to the fact that if you take amino acids and arrange them into the proper configuration, they spell out genetic information that dictates how those molecules are to be arranged to form the matrix. It’s beyond belief, yet it’s true.

    Here’s where I directly address the quote – all of these natural systems function “naturally”, but their very existence only makes sense to me in light of a creator. Even invoking a multiverse – which doesn’t solve the problem, but actually compounds it – it is far past where my credulity can stretch to say that matter and energy just happened to exist in of themselves, and just happened to form into this universe and just happened to have properties that enabled a human brain to form. At the very least, a deistic type of creator is absolutely logically required in order for any of this to make any sort of sense, which of course means that even if this deity did not have any further interaction within the universe, he/she/it was still completely necessary for explaining the nature of reality, just like humans are necessary to ultimately explain the functioning of robots – there’s no reason to expect them to exist otherwise.

    This isn’t a scientific argument, mind you. This is just me explaining to you the implications of science in my mind, and why I maintain that science actually strengthens my theistic leanings rather than weakens them.

  64. Dhay says:

    Has anybody else noticed how very odd John Messerly’s article is. I’ll start with the sub-title, “Religious belief the world over has a strenuous relationship with intellectualism …”; how odd, that word, “strenuous” – inappropriate and misapplied, surely – looks like he meant “strained”, but neither Messerly when writing(?) the article, nor the Salon sub-editor when reading it, noticed the obvious error. Why did they not spot it?
    http://www.salon.com/2014/12/21/religions_smart_people_problem_the_shaky_intellectual_foundations_of_absolute_faith/

    Nor did they spot and correct the typos: “nonexistent”, “byproducts”, “fortunetelling” and “reelected”; “effected” for “affected”; “the best predictor of people’s religious beliefs in individuals is the religiosity of their parents”, which contains both the garbled, “people’s religious beliefs in individuals” and the mistake of using “religiosity” for “religion”; “science” for “sciences”; “ascribe” for “subscribe”; “suggest” for “suggests”. Why did they not spot these?

    Then there’s the omission of “certain” from “It is self-evident from the fact that [certain] religions are predominant in certain geographical areas but not others that birthplace strongly influences religious belief.”, which omission rather scrambles the meaning — and no, the reader should not be required to second-guess what an author really means. Then, “people do things because they are genomes in environments” makes the erroneous and scientifically illiterate claim that people are genomes, whereas genomes are in cells. Why did he not pick up and correct this blunder?

    There’s a lot more, if you go looking for it, such as the inconsistencies or shifts: for example, in paragraph 2 there’s, “religious beliefs have a universal appeal”, which changes in the next paragraph to “near universal appeal”. The argument changes even as it is being stated – which is odd for a professional philosopher, someone used to using precision and clarity in his own work, and to insisting on the same precision and clarity from his students.

    Surely these errors – especially the most glaring – should have been spotted by Messerly; or if not, spotted and corrected by a Salon sub-editor, or e-mailed back for correction by Messerly.

    I don’t think this article was – as it certainly should have been – composed carefully and thoughtfully and checked before sending to ensure it expressed its author’s arguments clearly, or was then read through by Salon staff before publishing.

    I ask myself, was this article perhaps requested by Salon at urgent short notice, and dictated down a telephone connection, off-the-cuff, without proper thought and published without any proof-reading by author or staff.

  65. Dhay says:

    “Mitch, I had a simple question for you: Since you are so sure God does not exist, what data would you count as evidence for the existence of God?”

    Mitch Buck > Easy. In Carl Sagan’s contact, the instructions for the machine that transported Ellie’s character to the center of the galaxy was not made by any alien species. The aliens told her to look in the infinite decimal expansion of pi–that’s where they found it. No one knew who put it there.

    That would seem to be strong evidence for a being existing beyond matter and energy, a being that coded the construction of a machine that travels with wormholes in the infinite decimal expansion of a constant of nature.

    I’m not at all sure that pi is a constant of nature; pi is surely a constant of mathematics. We measure constants of nature (when we do not define them, as in the SI system), whereas pi – as is indicated by your referring to the “infinite decimal expansion of pi” – is calculated, and indeed can be calculated in a variety of ways, by eg the summation of the terms of a number of different regular series. I see no way to manipulate and set or reset any digit of pi in any way, even in principle.

    Even if it could be done, if Lee Smolin’s idea of a multiverse evolving via fecund black holes is a correct model – it’s not been ruled out yet, that I know of – then perhaps an alien species in the mother universe engineered the message – so in principle it might have been aliens rather than God, hence rather ambiguous evidence for the existence of God.

    This is a variation of an idea of Michael Shermer’s, that no matter how impressive any miracle, it might always conceivably have been the work of sufficiently technologically advanced aliens, hence not necessarily a proof of the existence of God.

  66. Dhay says:

    The title of John Messerly’s article is, “Religion’s smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith.”

    Not faith, but absolute faith; sure enough, the article goes on to attack Fideism; his target is Fideism, though he attempts to frame all Christians as Fideists and Christian faith as absolute faith. But we are not Fideists: there are very few Fideists.

    By drawing Christians as Fideists, Messerly has drawn a cartoon caricature, and should be treated as a cartoonist rather than as a philosopher.

  67. Thank you tor taking the time to respond to these academics. I have tried to do that too and I have been pleasantly surprised that several of these academics have taken the time to write me back. My series is called RESPONDING TO HARRY KROTO’S BRILLIANT RENOWNED ACADEMICS since Dr. Harry Kroto first directed me to this series on You Tube. Here is the link to the last one I did which was about Horace Barlow (who is Charles Darwin’s great grandson) http://thedailyhatch.org/2015/02/10/responding-to-harry-krotos-brilliant-renowned-academics-part-12-dr-horace-barlow-neuroscience-cambridge-quoting-charles-darwins-own-words-to-his-own-great-grandson/

  68. Pingback: RESPONDING TO HARRY KROTO’S BRILLIANT RENOWNED ACADEMICS!! Part 23 (Dr. Roald Hoffmann, Cornell University, American theoretical chemist who won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, WHY DO PEOPLE HAVE A DESIRE FOR GOD?) | The Daily Hatch

  69. Dhay says:

    In Jerry Coyne’s blog post dated February 13, 2013, entitled, “A specious argument for the comity of evolution and faith”, Coyne criticises an article by elite physicist Max Tegmark:

    Besides his activities as a cosmologist, Tegmark is also the founder of the MIT Survey on Science, Origins, and Religion. And it’s this project, claims Tegmark, that shows how Americans grossly overestimate the conflict between science and faith. Tegmark notes:

    … We found that only 11 percent of Americans belong to religions openly rejecting evolution or our Big Bang. So if someone you know has the same stressful predicament as my student [who thought there was a conflict], chances are that they can relax as well. To find out for sure, check out this infographic.

    So is there a conflict between science and religion? The religious organizations representing most Americans clearly don’t think so. Interestingly, the science organizations representing most American scientists don’t think so either: For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that science and religion “live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.” This shows that the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn’t between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.

    Well, right off the bat you see the problem here: Tegmark is taking as his criterion of conflict the official positions of scientific bodies and churches rather than that of scientists or believers themselves. …

    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/a-specious-argument-for-the-comity-of-evolution-and-faith/

    And Coyne goes on to quote the 93% atheists figure for NAS members, and the 64% atheists figure for scientists at “elite” American universities.

    Hmm. “Tegmark is taking as his criterion of conflict the official positions of scientific bodies …”: the official positions of the NAS are presented by its Officers and Councilors, who are responsible to, and reflect the views, of its members; to change an official position to a new official position requires but the election of Officers and Councilors promoting that change of official position. That wouldn’t take long — looking at the expiry dates of their terms of office, it would evidently take a maximum of three years to turn around any of the NAS’ official positions.

    Since when has 7% dominated 93% in a vote! It doesn’t!

    So what conclusions can we draw from this? What can we learn about the 93% atheists who apparently do not want a change of official position? We can conclude they are not Gnu Atheists like Coyne, who would not hesitate to reverse the official position; we can conclude — at least until Coyne provides evidence, instead of merely insinuating his ‘just-so’ story — that they are not timorously cowering below the parapet lest their funding be cut off; we can conclude that the 93% are mostly — and appallingly, so far as Coyne is concerned, he rages against them — what Coyne calls accomodatheists™.

    *

    For interest, wondering why Coyne hasn’t put himself up for election as a NAS Councilor, I looked him up on the National Academy of Sciences membership database. (I note in passing the amusing feature that one can search for members who are living, members who are deceased and those — presumably they are Quantum Physicists — who are “Both”.)

    Conspicuously absent from the NAS database are:

    Jerry Coyne
    Victor Stenger
    Sam Harris
    Steven Pinker
    Richard Dawkins

  70. Dhay says:

    Dhay > … we can conclude that the 93% are mostly — and appallingly, so far as Coyne is concerned, he rages against them — what Coyne calls accomodatheists™.

    Jerry Coyne’s blog post dated August 3, 2015 and entitled “Steve Pinker reviews Faith versus Fact” reminds us that Coyne (and Pinker likewise) also uses the term faitheists

    … faitheists — scientists and religionists alike — who advocate a make-nice accommodation between science and religion.

    … as a blanket term for those who are what Coyne calls accomodatheists™ plus those who Coyne calls accomodationists™.

    So I think we can re-phrase the above to say, we can conclude that 100% are mostly — and appallingly, so far as Coyne is concerned, he rages against them — what Coyne calls faitheists™.

    *

    > Conspicuously absent from the NAS database are:

    Add in:

    Lawrence Krauss

  71. Michael says:

    > Conspicuously absent from the NAS database are:

    Add in:

    Lawrence Krauss

    Makes ya wonder if any of the NAS folk are New Atheists.

    Anyway Dhay, while I don’t comment on them much, I always read and enjoy your comments. Thanks.

  72. Dhay says:

    An update, in view of TFBW’s later response and link regarding mere “science popularisers” vs research scientists.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/09/04/richard-dawkins-volume-2/#comment-9512

    Conspicuously absent from the NAS database are:

    Jerry Coyne
    Victor Stenger
    Sam Harris
    Steven Pinker
    Richard Dawkins
    Lawrence Krauss
    Susan Blackmore
    Neil deGrasse Tyson
    Carl Sagan

    And while their respective fields of history of science (which immediately became “science populariser”) and philosophy of science do not entitle them to NAS membership, I think we can include as fellow non-travellers:

    Michael Shermer
    Dan Dennett

  73. Dhay says:

    From the figures produced from a recent survey, it looks like — in England at any rate — if you pluck five people from a pew (ie practising Christians), you should find that four (81%) were educated to university degree or equivalent, and only one of the five (19%) to a lesser standard.

    https://www.churchofengland.org/media/2392609/talking-jesus_booklet.pdf — Page 7

    That is English practising Christians are on average much better educated than the general population, where only 45% were educated to university degree or equivalent, and 55% to a lesser standard.

  74. Dhay says:

    Sorry, 44% and 56%.

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