A Closer Look at an Atheist’s Evidential Needs

We’ve seen what Professor Coyne would count as evidence for the truth of Christianity/existence of God. So let’s have a look.

“The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.

If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.”

1. This entire example depends on the validity of God of the Gaps reasoning. We need only ask why such a sensational, miraculous “God demonstration” would count as “tentative” evidence of God? Answer – precisely because it is miraculous. Take away all the miraculous elements and Coyne would not count this as evidence for God. So it’s evidence only to the extent it represents a Gap. Coyne needs to stop playing these sneaky word games and come clean by answering a simple question – Is God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining whether or not God exists? Since Coyne has previously dismissed God of the Gaps reasoning in other contexts, his answer is clearly “no,” meaning that his example must likewise be dismissed (because it entails multiple gaps), meaning Coyne has failed to provide any examples of something that would count as evidence for God.

Given that this example has now been exposed as sophistry, we could stop here. But there is more information to be gleaned from Coyne’s writing.

2. Coyne’s example is actually evidence that the man is closed-minded about the truth of Christianity. The whole example can be summarized as follows: Coyne’s mind is so closed about the truth of Christianity that he needs something that is profoundly explosive just to pry it open so that he can “start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.” Since these intellectually explosive events have not occurred, he can take him at his word in that he has yet to “start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.” Meaning that he doesn’t think seriously about the truth of Christianity; he dismisses it without any serious thought. This is the very pattern of thinking we would expect from someone who is closed-minded.

3. The example also shows that when it comes to the topic of religion, Professor Coyne has lost the ability to think like a scientist. This can be seen from different angles.

a. The example that Coyne cites is not a prediction from a well-grounded hypothesis. In science, we first consider various observations in the light of previous knowledge and experience and use all this information to make a prediction about what should exist. The key is that the prediction must be entailed by the truth of the hypothesis. Coyne would first need to explain why the truth of Christianity would lead us to predict that Jesus should miraculously appear on his campus to perform such miracles. But he doesn’t. Instead, it’s just something that is supposed to pop into existence for the sole purpose of convincing Jerry Coyne. It’s his own personal, subjective litmus test. It’s what he personally demands to meet his own personal needs.
In science, we say that X is evidence for Y because Y predicts that X should exist. We don’t say X is evidence for Y because that’s what I would need to believe Y.

b. The non-scientific nature of this evidence can also be appreciated once we realize it would fail to convince other scientists. For example, both PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are atheistic scientists who have previously made it clear that they would not consider such a miraculous demonstration as evidence for God. Because of the personal nature of Coyne’s evidence, we can’t say who else would be convinced by such evidence. This is not how evidence is processed in science.

c. The non-scientific nature of this evidence can also be appreciated by considering there is no way to proceed from Coyne’s “tentative” conclusion. If Coyne is going to start taking the truth of Christianity seriously because of these miracles, and tentatively concludes God exists, how does he propose to test this tentative conclusion? How could the hypothesis “God caused those miracles on Jerry Coyne’s campus” be falsified? What’s more, what type of data would count as evidence that Coyne’s tentative hypothesis was in fact true? Since there is no way to falsify or strengthen the hypothesis, Coyne’s evidence and hypothesis is not scientific.

4. The example also shows that when it comes to the topic of religion, Professor Coyne relies on bad theology. I’m not sure what aspect of Christian theology that would allow us to predict such a sensational event should occur, that Professor Coyne is so special and so important that he deserves his own personal showing of “God Performs Miracles.”

5. Finally, because the evidence is so personal, and it not entailed by any scientific hypothesis/theory or any theology, why are we supposed to believe that Coyne would accept such events as “tentative evidence” for God? Because he said so? Seriously – there is no evidence Coyne would accept such events as evidence for God. We have only the word of a Gnu activist writing an activist book.

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45 Responses to A Closer Look at an Atheist’s Evidential Needs

  1. Hi Mike — I don’t buy your critique here. It’s not unreasonable to say that actual good evidence of Christian-themed miracles would be evidence of Christianity — evidence where the usual problems with miracle-claims are ruled out (thus amputees, multiple events, multiple witnesses, getting it on video, etc.).

    And you’ve jumped the shark on the God-of-the-Gaps thing. It’s one thing to claim that because we don’t fully understand the origin of the bacterial flagellum billions of years ago, this should be evidence of miracles and God, and it’s another thing to say that Jesus descending from Heaven in Chicago and healing all of the amputees in the hospital on camera should be evidence of God. It is perfectly reasonable to criticize the former argument and accept the latter.

    Gaps in our understanding of microscopic events billions of years ago are completely normal and expected products of the limitations of the available evidence and human ability to simulate complex ecological and evolutionary processes. Taking normal, expected, partial ignorance and trying to spin it into evidence of God/miracles is what the “But that’s just God of the Gaps!” objection criticizes.

    But gaps in our understanding of what’s going on in the hypothetical situation where Jesus descends from the sky and starts healing amputees on videotape right in front of us are a totally different thing. That’s a situation where we are pretty darn sure about how things are supposed to work, due to really really fundamental and well-supported principles like basic physics and conservation of mass/energy, and these are being violated left and right, right in front of our eyes, in ways that are totally unattributable to tricks, mental illness, wishful thinking, medical misdiagnoses, etc. Furthermore the events are a close match to the kinds of things that allegedly happened in the miracle stories in the Bible. This kind of evidence isn’t really “gaps”, it’s direct observations in flagrant violations of the laws of physics and in flagrant agreement with Christian miracle stories. This is a very long ways from attempting to infer miracles from the fragmentary nature of the Cambrian fossil record or whatever.

    All of this is obvious to basically everyone, Coyne included. Why is it not obvious to you? The New Atheist movement has all kinds of problems, but your obsession with it seems to be leading you into making sloppy arguments here.

  2. whiskeybucks says:

    Nicholas,
    I think the critique is validated by Jesus’ ominous warning “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen to one raised from the dead.”

    God-of-the-gaps reasoning is flawed from a theistic side because it relies on our imagination of how the universe works. I can’t “imagine” how DNA “just is,” but to assume “God did it” places the capacity of my imagination way above its pay grade. Coyne is making the same assumption, just from a different direction. His request is based on the fact that we know SOME THINGS about how the universe works, at least in an abstract way. In asking for this kind of miracle, he’s demanding that literally every single thing he thinks he knows be demolished, completely, before he even considers something like Christianity to be true. That’s because he’s convinced that the *some things* we know purchase way more epistemological weight than they actually do.

    The miracles in the New Testament at least were demonstrated before people who at least accepted the idea that God probably exists, and in performing miracles, Jesus was behaving close enough to what could theoretically expected from a prophet, hence people wondering if He was Elijah. I’m sure no one took healing blind people for granted as “just one of those things” but the fact that people would wait by pools that were rumored to be stirred up by angels and given healing powers, people were at least cognizant that sometimes the usual order of things is disrupted by virtue of a God of immense power over His creation.

    Coyne wants nothing like that. His request is basically for God to call his bluff, and the fact that some of his colleagues put forward alternate explanations that they would PREFER makes the whole thing feel a little dishonest, and more of a self-affirming “Look how rational I am.” It would seem very odd for God to indulge that kind of thing.

    I agree with Saint Paul that we can see God’s character in creation, but, I only have a notion of God’s character through revelation in scripture and tradition and doxology. Of course, I appreciate Christianity’s philosophical explorations and arguments about the person of God, but I don’t know for certain that Saint Anselm, for example, would specifically want me to believe in Jesus Christ based on the soundness of his argument. He would probably prefer me to start the process of belief with reading things Jesus said and deciding, carefully, if this odd man actually seems to know what He’s talking about.

  3. Crude says:

    But gaps in our understanding of what’s going on in the hypothetical situation where Jesus descends from the sky and starts healing amputees on videotape right in front of us are a totally different thing.

    They would be yet more gaps. No matter how you slice it, that’s the case. The entire example is predicated upon the idea that there would be no explanation that we know of for what we’d be seeing.

    You yourself say it: ‘Gaps in our understanding of what’s going on’.

    That’s a situation where we are pretty darn sure about how things are supposed to work, due to really really fundamental and well-supported principles like basic physics and conservation of mass/energy,

    At which point, we’d no longer be pretty darn sure about how things are supposed to work. We’d go ‘Oh, according to our models and understanding, this shouldn’t be happening. But clearly it -is- happening. So it turns out we’re wrong.’

    At what point does it become, as Coyne says, scientific proof that God exists? Does science now operate on the view that if something takes place and we can’t model or explain it, God turns out to be an acceptable theory?

    Make your move carefully here, Nick, because even in ‘fundamental’ physics, we have gaps. Not gaps about what takes place in distant history, but moment to moment.

    and these are being violated left and right, right in front of our eyes, in ways that are totally unattributable to tricks, mental illness, wishful thinking, medical misdiagnoses, etc.

    ‘Tricks’ and ‘mental illness’ are always possible attributions. In the latter case you can just assume you’ve started to go crazy. In the former case, you always have everything from ‘the reports are staged/fake’ to ‘we’re living in a simulated universe’ to ‘the laws of physics have shifted’ to otherwise.

    Furthermore the events are a close match to the kinds of things that allegedly happened in the miracle stories in the Bible. This kind of evidence isn’t really “gaps”, it’s direct observations in flagrant violations of the laws of physics and in flagrant agreement with Christian miracle stories.

    Actually, it really is a gap. And the Christian miracle stories were – get this – never scientific theories, nor even scientific claims.

    Nor does saying ‘direct observations in flagrant violations of the laws of physics’ get the situation right. Instead it’s closer to this: ‘Observation that our models of the universe are incomplete or incorrect.’ If observing something that our best scientific theories can’t account for is ‘an observation of the violation of the laws of physics’, then bad news: the history of science is a history of discovering violations of the laws of physics. Our response each time has been to update our understanding of those laws.

    Look, Nick – this is a pretty straightforward point to anyone who thinks about the issue. I know that you’ve got a bone to pick with Christianity, hence your endorsement of things like the Jesus Myth Hypothesis as reasonable and so on, but it really doesn’t do your reputation any favors to endorse God of the Gaps thinking as legitimate, and backing up the view of a quack who says that encountering an inexplicable event would be scientific evidence that God did it.

  4. TFBW says:

    Nick,

    I second Crude’s response, with the following amendments. It seems that the crux of your argument is not over whether the data in question constitute a gap, but rather the size and shape of said gap. Some gaps are small enough to plug with special pleading, and some aren’t, it seems. I’m not particularly committed, one way or the other, as to whether gap-based reasoning is valid, and under what conditions, but I can see that your tentative acceptance of certain large gaps leaves us with some important questions of criteria. Are the criteria for valid gaps necessarily subjective, or do you think that there is a range of gap dimensions which qualify as objectively valid support for a God hypothesis? Please clarify where you think the goalposts are on this matter.

    This raises a related issue: as Mike pointed out in the OP, Myers and Dawkins are of the view that no amount of evidence could support the God hypothesis, since there would always be a more plausible naturalistic explanation, even if that explanation is, “I’ve gone mad”. Does your gap calculus accommodate this position, or does it classify it as unreasonable?

    I don’t particularly want to raise the question now, but I’ll mention it as fair warning of where I’m going with this line of questioning: what does your gap calculus do for lesser claims, such as the claim of ID that a generic “intelligence” (rather than a supernatural God of particular character) is responsible for particular aspects of nature. I note in passing that ID is not primarily based on a gap argument — it’s based on uniform experience of actual known causes — but some detractors like to characterise ID theory as primarily gap-based, regardless. I think you may fall into that camp, so whatever pronouncements you make about the validity of gaps here may bear on that.

    To reiterate, I’m not looking for a comment on ID in particular at this time: I just want to put the issue out there as a possible angle of criticism, because I don’t believe in argument by ambush. What I really want is clarity on gap dimensions versus the hypotheses they can reasonably support — what I call “gap calculus”.

  5. Crude says:

    TFBW,

    I second Crude’s response, with the following amendments. It seems that the crux of your argument is not over whether the data in question constitute a gap, but rather the size and shape of said gap.

    Exactly, though I’m not sure size is even the right way to put it. What matters is that it’s gap reasoning. And if plugging God into a gap is acceptable – if it’s said that you can tell some gaps are proper God-gaps because ‘it seems obvious to you’ or the like – then fine. Say as much. There’s a price to pay for that.

  6. Meh. Fine, double down if you guys want. If you can’t see that there is a reasonable distinction between postulating a miracle on the basis of incomplete knowledge of a complex event millions or billions of years ago, and postulating a miracle based on well-documented direct modern observation of Christian-themed events that contradict what we thought was extremely solid knowledge about conservation of mass/energy (which, remember, is the basis for things like the application of logic and math to nature), then there’s not much else I can say. I suspect that really you agree with me, you just don’t want to concede anything to the imagined enemy and so are engaging in gymnastics.

    Re: Carrier — gimme a break, I never endorsed his mythicism. I criticized a few of the more unhinged criticisms of him. Remember, at one point, people (here, I think – maybe TelicThoughts) were even claiming he made up a publication, until I went to the freakin’ library and photocopied it. You are imagining the rest. Or lying.

  7. Michael says:

    Nick,
    To successfully defend your God of the Gaps reasoning, you need to deal with the points raised by Crude and TFBW. The distinction you raise seems to be a difference in one’s level of confidence derived from God of the Gaps logic and that level of confidence appears to be determined by one’s personal spidey sense.

    I want to draw attention to another flaw in your reasoning. You insist:

    Furthermore the events are a close match to the kinds of things that allegedly happened in the miracle stories in the Bible.

    and that

    This kind of evidence isn’t really “gaps”, it’s direct observations in flagrant violations of the laws of physics and in flagrant agreement with Christian miracle stories.

    It is a glib, superficial understanding of Christianity that would allow someone to think the hypothetical story is a “close match” and “in flagrant agreement.” The story Coyne tells instead comes across as some gaudy imitation of biblical accounts. How so? Nick, can you list how many times Jesus appeared before a crowd of unbelievers to perform miracles just to convince the unbelievers of his authority?

    All of this gets us back to the subjective dimension.

    An entity appears from sky, claims to be Jesus, performs some events that violate our understanding of natural law, and then disappears into the sky. Coyne and you claim this would be evidence of God. PZ Myers and Dawkins don’t agree.

    Me? I’d probably end up abandoning Christianity. Because the events conflict so deeply with Christian understanding, I’d think it more likely some entities in one of the infinite number of multiverses figured out how to hack into our universe to play a trick on us. Myers and Dawkins would add that this explanation has the advantage of not invoking the supernatural, exposing there is nothing to your evidence other than a Big Gap. Give human science tens of thousands of years more experience and we too will able to play such tricks.

    Look, if something like that happened, deep down y’gotta know you and Coyne would side with people like Myers and Dawkins. Otherwise, you’d be siding with people like Ken Ham and Roy Comfort.

  8. TFBW says:

    I suspect that really you agree with me, you just don’t want to concede anything to the imagined enemy and so are engaging in gymnastics.

    How about you cut the armchair psychoanalysis and just engage some of the points we’ve actually raised as though we sincerely mean what we say? Or should I just do tit-for-tat and accuse you of hiding behind a hand-waving appeal to obviousness because you can’t actually address those points?

  9. Crude says:

    Nick,

    If you can’t see that there is a reasonable distinction between postulating a miracle on the basis of incomplete knowledge of a complex event millions or billions of years ago,

    ‘God of the Gaps’ arguments were never isolated, or even largely about, ‘complex events millions or billions of years ago’ – they’re rallied for events that happen today, even every moment – see consciousness, Quantum events, etc.

    and postulating a miracle based on well-documented direct modern observation of Christian-themed events

    Or Loki-themed events, or Krisha themed events, or prankster themed events, or…

    that contradict what we thought was extremely solid knowledge about conservation of mass/energy (which, remember, is the basis for things like the application of logic and math to nature)

    ‘The conservation of mass/energy’ is not the basis for the application of logic and math to nature.

    Nor would a contradiction about the conservation of mass/energy be established. At best we’d be left asking, ‘Where did this mass/energy come from?’ And we wouldn’t have an answer because, wait for it..

    We’d be dealing with a gap.

    Whatever distinctions there are, aren’t relevant distinctions. None of them make this into ‘not a gap’. In both cases, you’re dealing with a gap.

    ‘We have this event which took place, and we have no clue how to explain it. Science is helpless here, and it runs counter to how we think things work. God did it!’

    It’s not like you have scientific theory of God, or even a scientific explanation for what you’re seeing. You, at best, have a gap – a thing which took place, you know not how. And saying ‘Well, I think this lines up with the general mood of the Bible’ is just saying ‘Hey, we’ve had – as far as science can tell us – gap reports in the past too!’ Not exactly the stuff of science.

    I’m making multiple points here, Nick.

    First, Coyne’s not engaged in ‘science’. What he’s talking about is not ‘scientific evidence that God exists’. Even if you regard it as compelling for whatever reason, ‘science’ it ain’t. Will you and the NCSE be attacking Coyne for abusing science on this front? Yeah, I think I’ll be waiting a long time to see that.

    Second, it is a God of the gaps argument, explicitly. And Coyne is endorsing it, as are you. Which I actually believe is /fine/ for the purposes of this argument. But that means that the ‘God of the gaps’ complaint goes down the toilet – in fact, Gaps arguments are valid in your view. Where you differ with others is on a subjective appraisal of the gap in question. You prefer gaps that involve magic shows. Others may prefer gaps that involve consciousness, the existence of anything, the regularity of laws, etc. You can try to find some way to criticize them, but saying ‘That’s God of the gaps reasoning!’ is no longer available to you.

  10. Nick,
    To successfully defend your God of the Gaps reasoning, you need to deal with the points raised by Crude and TFBW. The distinction you raise seems to be a difference in one’s level of confidence derived from God of the Gaps logic and that level of confidence appears to be determined by one’s personal spidey sense.

    I want to draw attention to another flaw in your reasoning. You insist:

    “Furthermore the events are a close match to the kinds of things that allegedly happened in the miracle stories in the Bible.”

    and that

    “This kind of evidence isn’t really “gaps”, it’s direct observations in flagrant violations of the laws of physics and in flagrant agreement with Christian miracle stories.”

    It is a glib, superficial understanding of Christianity that would allow someone to think the hypothetical story is a “close match” and “in flagrant agreement.” The story Coyne tells instead comes across as some gaudy imitation of biblical accounts. How so? Nick, can you list how many times Jesus appeared before a crowd of unbelievers to perform miracles just to convince the unbelievers of his authority?

    It doesn’t matter if the miracles were “just to convince the unbelievers”, what matters is whether or not large, public miracles with many witnesses are something that the New Testament claims happened, and whether or not the New Testament, and later Christians, consider these evidence of the supernatural nature of Jesus. And the answer is, of course, yes. Obviously.

    All of this gets us back to the subjective dimension.

    An entity appears from sky, claims to be Jesus, performs some events that violate our understanding of natural law, and then disappears into the sky. Coyne and you claim this would be evidence of God. PZ Myers and Dawkins don’t agree.

    Me? I’d probably end up abandoning Christianity. Because the events conflict so deeply with Christian understanding, I’d think it more likely some entities in one of the infinite number of multiverses figured out how to hack into our universe to play a trick on us.

    It’s funny that you’re a Christian at all then, since the postulated miraculous events are very much like those in the New Testament. But the exact Coyne scenario isn’t obligatory anyway, pick whatever return-of-Jesus-end-times scenario you think is within the realm of Christian orthodoxy, get the miracles on camera and otherwise well-documented, and, there, yay, actual objective evidence of Christianity.

    Myers and Dawkins would add that this explanation has the advantage of not invoking the supernatural, exposing there is nothing to your evidence other than a Big Gap. Give human science tens of thousands of years more experience and we too will able to play such tricks.

    Look, if something like that happened, deep down y’gotta know you and Coyne would side with people like Myers and Dawkins. Otherwise, you’d be siding with people like Ken Ham and Roy Comfort.

    Heck, if new evidence came in that was as good as the Coyne scenario, any scientist would be a fool not to side with the Christian fundamentalists.

    I can see that part of the problem here is your postmodern, subjectivist view on evidence. Unfortunately the relativist move has been tried before and sinks itself because it is self-refuting. Why have you given up on objectivity, Mike?

  11. TFBW says:

    How about you cut the armchair psychoanalysis and just engage some of the points we’ve actually raised as though we sincerely mean what we say? Or should I just do tit-for-tat and accuse you of hiding behind a hand-waving appeal to obviousness because you can’t actually address those points?

    How about you stop dancing around the point and admit that inferring divine intervention on the basis of not being able to completely figure out the evolutionary origin of the bacterial flagellum billions of years ago is a pretty different thing than inferring divine intervention on the basis of directly observing Jesus fly down from Heaven, pray over someone and have their amputated limbs instantaneously poof back into existence?

    I know why you won’t — once you admit that, the whole premise of Mike Gene’s line of argument in this thread has been exploded.

  12. Oops, trying again:

    TFBW says:

    How about you cut the armchair psychoanalysis and just engage some of the points we’ve actually raised as though we sincerely mean what we say? Or should I just do tit-for-tat and accuse you of hiding behind a hand-waving appeal to obviousness because you can’t actually address those points?

    How about you stop dancing around the point and admit that inferring divine intervention on the basis of not being able to completely figure out the evolutionary origin of the bacterial flagellum billions of years ago is pretty different thing than inferring divine intervention on the basis of directly observing Jesus fly down from Heaven, pray over someone and have their amputated limbs instantaneously poof back into existence?

    I know why you won’t — once you admit that, the whole premise of Mike Gene’s line of argument in this thread has been exploded.

  13. Crude says:
    July 4, 2015 at 12:20 pm
    Nick,

    “If you can’t see that there is a reasonable distinction between postulating a miracle on the basis of incomplete knowledge of a complex event millions or billions of years ago,”

    ‘God of the Gaps’ arguments were never isolated, or even largely about, ‘complex events millions or billions of years ago’ – they’re rallied for events that happen today, even every moment – see consciousness, Quantum events, etc.

    You are just historically wrong here. God-of-the-gaps critiques emerged directly from the post-Darwin debates of the 1800s. See the opening paragraph of the wikipedia article on “God of the Gaps”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps#Origins_of_the_term

    ‘The concept, although not the exact wording, goes back to Henry Drummond, a 19th-century evangelist lecturer, from his Lowell Lectures on The Ascent of Man. He chastises those Christians who point to the things that science can not yet explain—”gaps which they will fill up with God”—and urges them to embrace all nature as God’s, as the work of “… an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology.”‘

    “and postulating a miracle based on well-documented direct modern observation of Christian-themed events”

    Or Loki-themed events, or Krisha themed events, or prankster themed events, or…

    Those would be evidence for their respective supernatural postulates. So?

    “that contradict what we thought was extremely solid knowledge about conservation of mass/energy (which, remember, is the basis for things like the application of logic and math to nature)”

    ‘The conservation of mass/energy’ is not the basis for the application of logic and math to nature.

    Your raw assertion makes no argument, and so is not convincing. And, conservation of mass/energy darn well *is* the basis of applying math and logic to nature. When an engineer measures the flow of water down a river during a flood, and then predicts how full a dam will get, this whole mathematical operation relies entirely on the assumption that the matter is conserved and that what flows into the system equals what will come out downstream.

    Nor would a contradiction about the conservation of mass/energy be established. At best we’d be left asking, ‘Where did this mass/energy come from?’ And we wouldn’t have an answer because, wait for it..

    We’d be dealing with a gap.

    No, we’d have a straight-up observed falsification of mass/energy conservation. The miracles in the Coyne scenario are as well-documented as anything could be. Directly observed falsification of mass/energy conservation is a different thing than inferring a miraculous violation of mass/energy conservation on the basis of the incomplete Cambrian fossil record (or whatever).

    The latter is what creationists/IDist arguments often try to do, and that’s what is highly problematic and subject to the God-of-the-Gaps objection. (Amongst many other problems, very often with creationists/IDists, the gap is in *their personal knowledge*, rather than a gap in the actual primary scientific literature. In such cases the problem becomes particularly obvious, because they have postulated a miracle to explain something, when instead they should have gone to the library and found the answer.)

    It would be more interesting to talk about other weirdness in Coyne’s argument — for example, it was actually Christian theistic evolutionists who formulated the God-of-the-Gaps objection to creationist arguments, and Coyne seems to have lost track of that. But it seems like you guys are trying to revive gaps-based reasoning or something. Good luck with that.

  14. John says:

    ”No, we’d have a straight-up observed falsification of mass/energy conservation. ”

    What’s interesting here is the fact that there are documented cases of certain unexplainable sudden ”cures” or disappearences of diseases,from the 40s and 50s,which were deemed unexplainable in that time’s medicine.

    However,many decades later,those unsolved cases were given an actual natural explanation.

    By your logic it seems,if you lived in the 40s,these would be cases of manipulation of matter and energy beyond the laws of physics or would at least be unexplainable,but since you live in the present day period,you wouldn’t exactly believe that.

    Why can’t we say that for the same reasons science would eventually find out how the miracle Coyne wants to happen can be explained in purely natural terms?

    We would be ignorant of the mechanisms of Coyne’s miracle now as we would be ignorant of the mechanisms of the unexplained ”reverses” of certain diseases in the 40s.

  15. Kevin says:

    I’d also point out that God-of-the-Gaps reasoning far pre-dates Darwin. The entire history of theism, I’d imagine, invokes some form of it. “Poseidon is angry with us, hence the sea’s fury” is in essence God-of-the-Gaps. And we both know the Greeks didn’t invent it either.

    If atheistic physicists claim that infinite universes can arise from nothing without violating conservation laws, all without ever being caught on camera, as an alternative to God, then the problem with a limb is…? 🙂

  16. TFBW says:

    How about you stop dancing around the point and admit that inferring divine intervention on the basis of not being able to completely figure out the evolutionary origin of the bacterial flagellum billions of years ago is pretty different thing than inferring divine intervention on the basis of directly observing Jesus fly down from Heaven, pray over someone and have their amputated limbs instantaneously poof back into existence?

    Yes, they are different in their details, and they also differ from the problem of consciousness, the problem of abiogenesis, and the problem of why there is something rather than nothing, all of which might also be presented as arguments for the existence of God.

    Now, can you admit in return that what unites these disparate scenarios is that they (a) all contain some fact for which we must give a causal account, (b) that thing has never been observed to occur naturally, (c) nor can we reproduce the outcome experimentally, and (d) Divine intervention can account for it in principle? This is my attempt to spell out what constitutes a “gap” (in our ability to account for facts by appeal to natural causes), you see, which is what all of these things are.

    The primary difference between your preferred scenario and the others is that your part “a” is a hypothetical situation which has not occurred, whereas the bacterial flagellum, consciousness, abiogenesis, and the existence of something rather than nothing are all actualities. It may be coincidental, but your particular demand requires God to manufacture evidence, whereas the others work from reality as it stands.

    That’s not the only difference, of course. There is also the question of how willing you are to believe that naturalistic causes are possible in each case, despite the lack of observational data to prove it. With regards to the flagellum, for example, you are fully prepared to believe that some naturalistic scenario accounts for its existence, and it’s just a matter of time before we work out the details. Some folks feel the same way about the problem of consciousness for one reason or another. You promise to abandon scepticism in the face of a sufficiently large, sufficiently public, sufficiently Jesus-themed miracle; Dawkins and Myers would maintain their scepticism on the grounds that some natural cause (prankster aliens, perhaps) is, in their view, more plausible than God.

    So I’ve admitted to the differences; can you reciprocate by admitting to the similarities? Also, I think another clarification is in order: is your approach here meant to be “scientific” in some sense, or is it just an expression of what it would take to overcome your personal scepticism threshold? In the latter case, there is no need to account for differences with Dawkins and Myers.

  17. Michael says:

    No, we’d have a straight-up observed falsification of mass/energy conservation. The miracles in the Coyne scenario are as well-documented as anything could be.

    There would be no “falsification.” For such miracles to falsify our extremely solid knowledge about conservation of mass/energy, you’d have to argue that our knowledge about conservation of mass/energy would have to be tossed out because of those miracles. We’d have to start over and come up with new laws of physics that account for the miracles. Yet if we admit our extremely solid knowledge about conservation of mass/energy has been falsified, and was thus wrong, what basis do you have for even thinking a miracle occurred?

    The problem is that conservation of mass/energy still applies everywhere and the knowledge remains extremely solid….except for one place – the events that happened on a certain day at a certain time on Jerry Coyne’s campus. In other words, that happening represents a gap – one place where our knowledge fails.

    From here, Nick and Jerry want to fill the gap by declaring, “God did it!” And perhaps they would have the personal conviction that they are right. And maybe they would even be right. The problem comes when Nick and Jerry try to sell their God of the Gaps reasoning as science. For at most, their “God did it!” explanation would amount to a hypothesis. But where do they go from there? How would they test their hypothesis? How would they falsify their hypothesis? What data could confirm it?

    It doesn’t matter if the miracles were “just to convince the unbelievers”, what matters is whether or not large, public miracles with many witnesses are something that the New Testament claims happened, and whether or not the New Testament, and later Christians, consider these evidence of the supernatural nature of Jesus. And the answer is, of course, yes. Obviously.

    Oh, but it does matter why Jesus performed his miracles. Unless you are expecting miracles to behave as natural laws. Or worse, if you are relying on child logic, arguing “Jesus performed miracles for them, but what about ME(!)” “Close-match” assertions about teleological causes need to account for intent.

  18. John says:

    ”Oh, but it does matter why Jesus performed his miracles.”

    Not only that,but one of the reasons Jesus did perform miracles outside of the regular reasons he did them was to authenticate either for the present at that time or the future that he was doing things that would be considered ”Messiah-like”.

    Jesus performed miracles so they could almost be parallels to some miracles found in the Old Testament.

    And at that time,a Messiah might be considered if he also parallels OT miracles as well.

    A miracle Coyne would want to happen has nothing to do with Messiahship as viewed by the people of the past.

  19. Dhay says:

    It astonishes me that Jerry Coyne should require such prolific and certain evidence in order to convert: at age seventeen, in his “instant conversion to atheism”, Coyne reached absolute atheist certainty by merely listening to the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album — which album he has referred to as the “probable cause” “responsible” for the conversion; nowadays, Coyne requires extraordinary evidence instead of, so far as I can tell, the zero evidence which originally satisfied him.

  20. Michael says:

    It’s funny that you’re a Christian at all then, since the postulated miraculous events are very much like those in the New Testament.

    I told you Coyne’s hypothetical is NOT “very much like those in the New Testament” and you ignore me. Jesus’s miracles were not raw displays of power designed to convince unbelievers God exists. Up above, whiskey addressed that in the first reply to you and you ignored that too. The NT miracles were all part of Jesus’s ministry and were tied to his teachings that culminated in the Resurrection.

    Today, the issue is not whether you or Coyne need to witness miracles for yourselves in order to have your “tentative evidence” for God’s existence. The Universe does not revolve around you two. The issue is whether Coyne’s scenario would have you fall on your knees, confess you are a sinner, and plead for mercy/salvation. And I notice that neither you nor Coyne have said you would do that.

  21. Mr. Green says:

    Actually, the basis for applying maths and logic to nature is Mediaeval Christians’ understanding that the world is governed not by a committee of differing gods, or of antithetical forces of order and chaos, but of a single transcendent God who governs all aspects of creation with reason and wisdom. Mediaeval philosophers saw that because the world was intelligible, we could study it scientifically, and this order was expressed mathematically. Modern science — such as principles of conservation — are the result of that, not the cause. But perhaps you meant not the basis for applying mathematics, but rather that conversation is the necessary requirement for the universe to be the kind of regular thing that physicists can study. Except of course, there’s no particular reason why we need conservation: if it so happened that, say, the total energy in the universe was not conserved, that wouldn’t stop us from doing math. In fact, it would through mathematics that we would find it out in the first place.

  22. Crude says:

    Nick,

    You are just historically wrong here. God-of-the-gaps critiques emerged directly from the post-Darwin debates of the 1800s.

    Thank you for providing a quote which simply backs up the points being made here: God of the gaps is reference to “things that science can not yet explain—”gaps which they will fill up with God””.

    In other words – it’s precisely what’s being brought up right here.

    Those would be evidence for their respective supernatural postulates. So?

    So? You were trying to draw a comparison between ‘Christian-themed events’ and miracles. Did you think the list I gave was exhaustive?

    I can add on: Simulated universes, brute natural facts, and otherwise.

    Your raw assertion makes no argument, and so is not convincing.

    Considering your own claim was a raw assertion with no argument, that’s quite the concession. But let’s see what your act II is.

    And, conservation of mass/energy darn well *is* the basis of applying math and logic to nature. When an engineer measures the flow of water down a river during a flood, and then predicts how full a dam will get, this whole mathematical operation relies entirely on the assumption that the matter is conserved and that what flows into the system equals what will come out downstream.

    Nick, engineers were making estimates about such things and building dams before the first law of thermodynamics was even formulated. What’s of concern to him is whether his model is accurate, ‘conservation’ be damned. If he’s attempting to build a dam to hold back X amount of water, and in the process some inscrutable force adds water to the dam, the fact that there was some apparent violation of the first law doesn’t matter to him so long as his structure deals with it.

    If a table can withstand 200 pounds of force and for some reason – science can’t explain why – a 10 pound weight pops into existence on top of the table, I assure you, the table will not collapse.

    No, we’d have a straight-up observed falsification of mass/energy conservation.

    No, Nick. What we would have is a gap. Scientifically, we’d be stumped – and we would have no explanation of what we were seeing. We wouldn’t even be able to point to how the first law was violated, or that it in fact was. At best we’d be able to say, ‘Okay, well, we can’t account for that. Here’s some hypothetical explanations as to how we saw what we saw, without some violation taking place. And if there is in fact a violation taking place, here’s the spread of possibilities to explain it.’

    And you know what? That’s fine. No one here is denying that we’d have a gap. You and Coyne both seem to want to elevate this to ‘scientific evidence that there is a God’. Which is great – I’m sure the ID proponents will be thrilled to know ‘Nick Matzke thinks science can show God’s existence. All you need is an impressive gap.’

    The latter is what creationists/IDist arguments often try to do, and that’s what is highly problematic and subject to the God-of-the-Gaps objection.

    Considering the major ID proponents make sure – for all their faults – to insist that their arguments and observations don’t infer ‘God’ but, at best, ‘A designing intelligence’, they can’t really be guilty of God-of-the-Gaps objections.

    Now, they do make reference to current scientific gaps, along with what we know about designing intelligences, and argue that their inferences are therefore scientific. The thing is – you apparently just agreed with them. According to you, an apparent gap in nature – the existence of something that is inexplicable according to science – is actually a fine launching point upon which to not just infer God’s existence, but argue that this inference is scientific. Once again, the ID proponents will be thrilled to hear of your late-stage defense of their views.

    But it seems like you guys are trying to revive gaps-based reasoning or something.

    No, Nick – that would be you. Have you noticed yet that you’re the one saying, along with Coyne, “Look, all it takes to show God scientifically exists is for an event to take place which gives us a big mysterious gap that we have to fill”, yet everyone else is arguing that no, actually, that’s not scientific, and it is in fact God of the gaps reasoning?

    Coyne is reviving “gaps-based reasoning”. You are reviving “gaps-based reasoning”. We’re just pointing out what you’re doing, even though you seem characteristically oblivious.

  23. Crude says:

    Since Nick’s apparently looking to cut and run ASAP, let’s go over his central claims here.

    How about you stop dancing around the point and admit that inferring divine intervention on the basis of not being able to completely figure out the evolutionary origin of the bacterial flagellum billions of years ago is pretty different thing than inferring divine intervention on the basis of directly observing Jesus fly down from Heaven, pray over someone and have their amputated limbs instantaneously poof back into existence?

    First, let’s look at what Nick’s saying.

    1) ‘Directly observing Jesus fly down from heaven’? Hell of a trick, since we’d have to know how Jesus looks (‘Oh he looks like the pictures!’?), that He came from heaven (And we’d know that how?), etc. So right away, Nick’s not even thinking through his example. This is smaller stuff, but it’s worth pointing out.

    2) Nick says it’s a ‘pretty different thing’, but he’s utterly vague on what those differences are and why they matter, beyond ‘Well one took place long ago and the other in theory would be happening right now!’ But A) why that should make a difference is completely opaque, and B) we don’t need to go far back in history to find scientific gaps. We can get those right now: various quantum physics issues, the problem of consciousness, the problem of intentionality, etc.

    The reason Nick’s staying vague is this: because there’s no real relevant difference.

    Thinks about what Nick could say here to see what I mean.

    ‘Well, we’re still trying to figure out what happened with (God of the gaps event) X! Sure, right now it’s mysterious, but we’ve solved a lot of other mysteries!’ Okay, but… that same line of reasoning is available for the Coyne/Matzke gap too.

    ‘Well, this gap would violate the law of conservation! We’d witness it!’ But this isn’t right either. At the absolute most, we’d be left with a gap – we’d have matter and energy performing in ways we couldn’t understand. Where was it coming from? We’d have no idea. In fact, having no idea is essential to Matzke’s reply here. It’s not like we’d ‘witness it coming from literal nothing’ – that’s not happening, because there’s no ‘witnessing’ that sort of thing. As far as science goes, we’d simply be stumped – and we wouldn’t know if we’d end up staying stumped.

    By the way, here’s something important: Coyne recognizes this too, which is precisely why Coyne says his belief in God would be provisional. He admits, ‘Sure, okay, in theory all of these things may end up being explained without God’. Which means, yeah – in principle, it’s possible none of these things were due to God. In fact, it’s possible there was no law of conservation violation at all (perhaps we’re in a larger system than we thought – considering how popular multiverse talk was until recently, that’s not exactly alien thinking.)

    So what’s Nick got left?

    Pretty much nothing but – as Mike says – the subjective appeal. ‘Me and Coyne say we’d be convinced if this took place. We’re not convinced by other gaps, but this on would do it, therefore this one is acceptable.’

    That’s really and truly it. There’s no science at work here. It’s nothing more than personal credulity, a judgment call, a hunch.

    Which Nick knows is true, but holy hell, he can’t say that. The cost of doing so is way, way too high.

    So instead, we get this game of make-believe, where Nick just furiously insists that some gaps-to-God reasoning is bad, other gaps-to-God reasoning is totally valid and everyone should believe in God then, but it has to be the specific gaps he and Coyne picks out.

    But why in the world should anyone listen to Nick or Coyne? Once they’ve admitted gaps-reasoning is valid, then that’s that. It’s up to everyone else to decide what gap would do the trick for them.

    Me? I prefer metaphysics and philosophy, but I always did. Nick and Coyne can have their gaps. But what they can’t do is endorse God of the Gaps reasoning, and then deny they’re doing so. Bad science, and bad philosophy, that.

  24. Michael says:

    Nick’s trying to make a distinction without much of a difference. Whether or not it’s an arm that poofs into existence yesterday or a flagellum that poofs into existence a billion years ago, the whole issue about conservation of energy/mass applies. Both examples are supposed to be miracles that present themselves as gaps. Nick and Coyne clearly think the God of the Gaps reasoning is a valid, scientific way of detecting God. The problem for them is not the logic of god of the gaps reasoning, but in determining whether a gap actually exists. Thus comes the “differences” that Nick is worked up about. With Coyne’s example, he gets to see the miracles with his own eyes (and even gets video tapes and forensic evidence with it!). So he can’t deny the gaps, and thus feels compelled to make god of the gaps leap. And in making the leap, he is endorsing and relying on the logic of the God of the Gaps argument. Nick and Jerry really should stop complaining about God of the Gaps arguments given they embrace the logic and instead complain that no one has found a real gap.

    None of this surprises me given that modern day atheism itself is built on god of the gaps logic.

  25. Crude says:

    Mike,

    So he can’t deny the gaps, and thus feels compelled to make god of the gaps leap.

    I think the twist is, the only thing that gets them to ‘they can’t deny the gaps’ is their personal whim. It’s entirely possible to deny the gaps in principle – that’s why Coyne stamps ‘provisional’ in front of ‘God belief’ for his own examples. If he’s not impressed with what he sees, he can simply deny there’s a gap – or be agnostic, or hold out for a scientific explanation, or, etc.

    But regardless, they do embrace the God of the Gaps, that much is obvious. And I like your point about ‘Would fall to their knees and repent their sins’ – apparently they’d believe God exists, even the Christian God, but they’re a bit quiet about that part.

  26. Nick’s trying to make a distinction without much of a difference. Whether or not it’s an arm that poofs into existence yesterday or a flagellum that poofs into existence a billion years ago, the whole issue about conservation of energy/mass applies. Both examples are supposed to be miracles that present themselves as gaps. Nick and Coyne clearly think the God of the Gaps reasoning is a valid, scientific way of detecting God. The problem for them is not the logic of god of the gaps reasoning, but in determining whether a gap actually exists. Thus comes the “differences” that Nick is worked up about. With Coyne’s example, he gets to see the miracles with his own eyes (and even gets video tapes and forensic evidence with it!). So he can’t deny the gaps, and thus feels compelled to make god of the gaps leap. And in making the leap, he is endorsing and relying on the logic of the God of the Gaps argument. Nick and Jerry really should stop complaining about God of the Gaps arguments given they embrace the logic and instead complain that no one has found a real gap.

    The above, like so much of the rest of the thread, is just tendentious wordplay with different meanings of “gap”. There are gaps in our knowledge (or, so often with creationists, gaps in particular creationist’s knowledge) and there are (conceivably) “gaps” in the otherwise uniform chain of natural cause-and-effect that normally operates. The latter we usually call miracles. The former are the gaps to which the But-that’s-just-God-of-the-Gaps objection applies.

    The problem with using these knowledge gaps in an argument for miracles is that it attempts to turn run-of-the-mill, expected, totally prosaic ignorance of events remote from everyday observation into positive knowledge of divine intervention. Prominent problems with this approach include the continual-recession-of-miracle-claims as science advances, and the particularly embarrassing case when the supernaturalist claims a knowledge gap as evidence for a miracle, when in fact some scientist has already figured out the explanation and the supernaturalist was just too lazy to do their research. There are many other problems with the approach, but those are big ones.

    But if one were to straight-up-directly-observe huge obvious miraculous events, you are not dealing with events remote from everyday observation, instead, everyday observation would be demonstrating the occurrence of events that are impossible based on fundamental physical laws — just the kind of thing that the Bible claims people observed in the time of Jesus. It is not special pleading or lawyering to think that there is a big difference here. What takes special pleading is to argue that direct observation of miracles is effectively the same thing as inferring a miracle based on lack of some transitional fossil in the fossil record.

    Brief comments on other attempted evasions:

    1. “But you didn’t say if you’d fall on your knees and pray.” So? We were discussing the logic of inference, not every possible downstream reaction, under every possible hypothetical extension of the already hypothetical Coyne scenario. Maybe Jesus appears, does the healings, and then congratulates the now-converted skeptics for honoring their God-given minds by withholding belief until actual convincing evidence became available. I might as well demand that you guys tell me how you would vote in new One World Theocratic Government Elections if you observed the Coyne scenario.

    2. Mike Gene seems resolute in his opinion that, according to the Bible, the miracles surrounding Jesus were not flashy, not widely seen, and were not intended in part as evidence of his divine stature. This position is just so silly all we need to do is review a few claimed New Testament miracles to refute it. Does or does not the New Testament contain angelic hosts appearing to humans and singing, booming voices from the sky declaring the divinity of Jesus, the dead saints walking, Jesus flying up into heaven, and the resurrected Jesus appearing to Thomas and the other disciples complete with physical “testing”, thus making Thomas the “favorite apostle” of every apologist on the planet?

    Even one of the people apparently on Mike’s side disagrees with Mike, although apparently not realizing it:

    John says:
    July 6, 2015 at 7:12 am
    ”Oh, but it does matter why Jesus performed his miracles.”

    Not only that,but one of the reasons Jesus did perform miracles outside of the regular reasons he did them was to authenticate either for the present at that time or the future that he was doing things that would be considered ”Messiah-like”.

    The miracles authenticate Jesus as Messiah! That’s part of the point of them! Yet, you get annoyed when Coyne says that direct modern observation of similarly spectacular miracles would constitute good enough evidence for him.

  27. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Nick Matzke:

    “There are gaps in our knowledge (or, so often with creationists, gaps in particular creationist’s knowledge) and there are (conceivably) “gaps” in the otherwise uniform chain of natural cause-and-effect that normally operates. The latter we usually call miracles. The former are the gaps to which the But-that’s-just-God-of-the-Gaps objection applies.”

    What, in the context of this specific conversation, can “otherwise uniform chain of natural cause-and-effect” even mean apart from our “knowledge” of it?

    The answer is self-evident except maybe to Jerry Coyne, Nick Matzke and their ilk.

  28. Crude says:

    Nick,

    There are gaps in our knowledge (or, so often with creationists, gaps in particular creationist’s knowledge) and there are (conceivably) “gaps” in the otherwise uniform chain of natural cause-and-effect that normally operates. The latter we usually call miracles. The former are the gaps to which the But-that’s-just-God-of-the-Gaps objection applies.

    See, Nick, there’s your problem. You say that the ‘God of the gaps’ objection only applies to gaps in our knowledge, not ‘actual’ gaps in nature. But apparent ‘Gaps in nature’ are only inferred precisely because they appear to us as gaps in our knowledge.

    Do you notice that Coyne’s God-belief is labeled by him specifically as ‘provisional’? Why is that? Go ahead and ask him, and you’ll get the reply: well, because it may turn out that the gaps can ultimately be explained, which is always possible. Because all he has to work with is a gap in knowledge, which he takes to be a gap in nature. This is the same whether the gap is ‘consciousness in a supposedly materialistic world’, ‘how in the world this limb grew back’ or ‘how did life begin’.

    The problem with using these knowledge gaps in an argument for miracles is that it attempts to turn run-of-the-mill, expected, totally prosaic ignorance of events remote from everyday observation into positive knowledge of divine intervention.

    And I keep pointing out to you that this is flatly untrue. We have gaps right now. I’ve even named a few – the problem of consciousness, of intentionality, of various quantum day-to-day effects, and more. These are not ‘remote from everyday observation’, and one of them pretty well *is* ‘everyday observation’.

    But it gets worse for you.

    But if one were to straight-up-directly-observe huge obvious miraculous events, you are not dealing with events remote from everyday observation, instead, everyday observation would be demonstrating the occurrence of events that are impossible based on fundamental physical laws

    No, you’re just assuming the truth of the gap straightaway. Once again, you keep talking about how this is so obviously a miracle, you guys, science says so like Coyne, but all that you have is a gap. You don’t even have ‘impossible based on fundamental physical law’ – you have, at absolute best, in theory, ‘it turns out that our models of physical law are wrong or have exceptions’. Which, you know, has popped up repeatedly in the course of history.

    Maybe Jesus appears, does the healings, and then congratulates the now-converted skeptics for

    Cute, but that’s nowhere in the previous examples, for an obvious reason. You just got done telling us how if these gaps went on display, it would totally vindicate God’s existence, and indeed it would drastically support the veracity of the Bible… but suddenly when it comes to actually taking the Bible at face value when it comes to the talk about sin, etc, we’re right back into skeptic land after all.

    Mike hit on something pretty important there.

    Mike Gene seems resolute in his opinion that, according to the Bible, the miracles surrounding Jesus were not flashy, not widely seen, and were not intended in part as evidence of his divine stature.

    No, here’s what Mike actually said: Nick, can you list how many times Jesus appeared before a crowd of unbelievers to perform miracles just to convince the unbelievers of his authority?

    Please, Nick – point out where in the New Testament Christ did any miracle for the purposes of convincing an atheist that God exists. ‘Evidence of his divine stature’ is absurdly vague, and not what Mike’s zeroing in on.

    Even one of the people apparently on Mike’s side disagrees with Mike, although apparently not realizing it:

    Actually, Nick – what’s been shown here is that Mike was correct about how skepticism would remain even after these miracles, by your own view. You went from talking about how these miracles would totally indicate that the New Testament was true and Jesus is God, but suddenly you’ve got a healthy dose of skepticism back when it comes to actually validating the Bible’s teachings.

    In fact, it’s even worse for you. You made the terrible argument that logic and reason regarding nature is undergirded by the law of conservation of mass/energy, and then argued that any miracle would be a violation of it. Shall you therefore be dropping the claim of compatibility between science and religion with the understanding that, if one accepts God’s existence and miracles of any sort, that therefore one has a good reason (all else being equal) to be skeptical of evolutionary theory and more?

  29. Dhay says:

    Nicholas J. Matzke > Heck, if new evidence came in that was as good as the Coyne scenario, any scientist would be a fool not to side with the Christian fundamentalists.

    That’s intriguing – why fundamentalists? There’s a whole spectrum of Christian positions which this hypothetical new evidence would be compatible with. Why flop to the extremity, instead of considering and rationally choosing from the various alternatives, for example those which Jerry Coyne labels accommodationism?

    Jerry Coyne > —then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity.

    Looks like Coyne is similarly blinkered: for him, I judge, Christianity is a single position, and that position the extreme position which he and Sam Harris consider the only one that Christians can legitimately take, based on what Christianity ‘truly’ is, the single position of Biblical literal fundamentalism – it’s Adam and Eve and Noah’s flood or nothing.

    This should not be news: Coyne has spent years trying to paint a polar dichotomy between fundamentalism and his own philosophical materialism (or scientism), and painting out anything that lies between; moderate Christians allegedly don’t understand their Bible, so moderate Christianity is illegitimate; accommodationism is illegitimate; accommodatheism is also illegitimate.

    Given Coyne’s repeated vehement attacks upon accommodationism and accommodatheism, his utter, visceral antipathy towards them, I don’t think Coyne even can “start thinking seriously about the truth of” accommodatheism or of accommodationism: his choice is a binary choice – either scientism, or Adam and Eve and Noah’s flood.

  30. Michael says:

    The above, like so much of the rest of the thread, is just tendentious wordplay with different meanings of “gap”. There are gaps in our knowledge (or, so often with creationists, gaps in particular creationist’s knowledge) and there are (conceivably) “gaps” in the otherwise uniform chain of natural cause-and-effect that normally operates. The latter we usually call miracles. The former are the gaps to which the But-that’s-just-God-of-the-Gaps objection applies.

    Nick, you are the one engaged in a tendentious wordplay to make distinctions without differences to distract from the fact that you have embraced god of the gaps logic. It is your position that a flashy gap in the otherwise uniform chain of natural cause-and-effect that normally operates mandates a “God did it” explanation. Your problem with creationists is simply that they don’t have the right gaps. Their problem is not that they are using god of the gaps logic, but that they don’t really have a gap. This is news, because Coyne and you have long created the impression that you have a problem with the logic of God of the Gaps reasoning. You should be more intellectually honest by arguing that creationists have a valid argument when it comes to their god of the gaps reasoning, they just don’t have a gap that is good enough.

    What’s interesting is how it turns out you and Coyne are so quick to abandon science to declare “God did it!” (so you say) simply because you saw the videotape of an arm poof into existence. How can you be so sure God did it? I’m reminded of Clarke’s third law – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. How did you go about ruling out such a naturalistic explanation?

    Now that you have made it clear that you embrace the logic of god of the gaps reasoning, can you also clarify whether you agree with Coyne that such logic can be part of science. If Coyne’s story happened, would you say, “Science discovered the existence of God!!”

    Brief comments on other attempted evasions:

    It is not evasion to note how your “close-match” assertions fail.

    “But you didn’t say if you’d fall on your knees and pray.” So? We were discussing the logic of inference, not every possible downstream reaction, under every possible hypothetical extension of the already hypothetical Coyne scenario.

    Wrong. We’re trying to address WHY these miracles are supposed to happen in the first place. I told you that is does matter WHY Jesus performed his miracles. When you are dealing with teleological causes, intent matters.

    Maybe Jesus appears, does the healings, and then congratulates the now-converted skeptics for honoring their God-given minds by withholding belief until actual convincing evidence became available.

    With this ad hoc point, your “close-match” assertion completely falls apart. Jesus did not go before crowds of unbelievers in order to convince them with miracles just so he could pat them on the head for being good skeptics. Can your argument get any more self-obsessed, Nick? The problem, Nick, is not atheism. The problem is sin.

    Mike Gene seems resolute in his opinion that, according to the Bible, the miracles surrounding Jesus were not flashy, not widely seen, and were not intended in part as evidence of his divine stature.

    What I pointed out, Nick, was that Jesus’s miracles are deeply connected to his ministry (which occurred during three of Jesus’s thirty three years). It is the person and teachings of Jesus that drew us to Christ. When you understand the teachings, as a whole, you see how the miracles, as a whole, connect to each other, culminating in the resurrection. You see the close-match. But then along comes activist Coyne, demanding his own personal Miracle Demonstration, where entities claiming to be Jesus and his disciples appear on Coyne’s campus, perform a few healings, and then leave, all so Jerry Coyne can begin to take Christianity seriously, we see no “close-match.” We see a glib, gaudy imitation that would be better explained by alien pranksters inadvertently demonstrating Clarke’s third law.

  31. Michael says:

    Crude: See, Nick, there’s your problem. You say that the ‘God of the gaps’ objection only applies to gaps in our knowledge, not ‘actual’ gaps in nature. But apparent ‘Gaps in nature’ are only inferred precisely because they appear to us as gaps in our knowledge.

    Do you notice that Coyne’s God-belief is labeled by him specifically as ‘provisional’? Why is that? Go ahead and ask him, and you’ll get the reply: well, because it may turn out that the gaps can ultimately be explained, which is always possible. Because all he has to work with is a gap in knowledge, which he takes to be a gap in nature. This is the same whether the gap is ‘consciousness in a supposedly materialistic world’, ‘how in the world this limb grew back’ or ‘how did life begin’.

    This is such an excellent point. It turns out that Nick’s arguments here actually mean Coyne’s reasoning is flawed. That is, Coyne’s “God did it” explanation is only provisional when it should be certain.

  32. Michael says:

    Crude: I think the twist is, the only thing that gets them to ‘they can’t deny the gaps’ is their personal whim. It’s entirely possible to deny the gaps in principle – that’s why Coyne stamps ‘provisional’ in front of ‘God belief’ for his own examples. If he’s not impressed with what he sees, he can simply deny there’s a gap – or be agnostic, or hold out for a scientific explanation, or, etc.

    Indeed. According to Nick, scientists would have to be fools for not believing in God because of such gaudy miracles. But according to Coyne, he’ll accept it only tentatively and only agree to start taking Christianity seriously. It turns out the whole example is saturated with subjectivity.

  33. “In fact, it’s even worse for you. You made the terrible argument that logic and reason regarding nature is undergirded by the law of conservation of mass/energy, and then argued that any miracle would be a violation of it.”

    Oh yeah, I forgot about this. The counterargument was…tables still work if the prediction is slightly off and conservation of mass is slightly off. But the point is that the math gives the engineer the wrong prediction if conservation of mass is violated. No one has even attempted a counterargument. Predicting nature using math requires assuming conservation of mass/energy.

  34. Dhay says:
    July 7, 2015 at 8:11 am
    Nicholas J. Matzke – Heck, if new evidence came in that was as good as the Coyne scenario, any scientist would be a fool not to side with the Christian fundamentalists.

    That’s intriguing – why fundamentalists? There’s a whole spectrum of Christian positions which this hypothetical new evidence would be compatible with. Why flop to the extremity, instead of considering and rationally choosing from the various alternatives, for example those which Jerry Coyne labels accommodationism?

    Mike Gene is the one who raised the fundamentalists Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, I was replying to that. I guess AFAIK the Coyne scenario could be compatible with a variety of Christian views, it seemed, though, that Mike Gene was assuming it lined up best with fundamentalist views. It’s true that the scenario is closer to the sort of stuff that happens in Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series than the kind of stuff you hear predicted by Catholics or liberal protestants for the End Times (on the rare occasions those groups even address the topic with specificity). But whatever floats your boat…

  35. Indeed. According to Nick, scientists would have to be fools for not believing in God because of such gaudy miracles. But according to Coyne, he’ll accept it only tentatively and only agree to start taking Christianity seriously. It turns out the whole example is saturated with subjectivity.

    Oh please. Everything in science is nominally tentative, that’s all he’s saying there. And moving from his current resolute skepticism to taking Christianity seriously would be a huge friggin’ move. Your guys’ demand — that Coyne’s hypothetical scenario also include a complete hypothetical emotional profile of Coyne’s religious reaction, when the only point of the scenario in the first place was to give enough details to explain what would constitute evidence-of-miracles for Coyne (also the reason the “ministry” stuff is irrelevant – rewrite your own perfect ministry scenario, Coyne would react the same way as long as the miracles are NT-like, that is, flashy, repeated, many witnesses, and recorded on multiple devices) — is just distraction to avoid dealing with the real issue, which is the inferential question of what would be really good evidence.

    And that, I suspect, is really the heart of all of the sturm and drang here, which could have all been avoided if you just took the high road and admitted that inferring a miracle in the remote past based on prosaic limitations in available scientific detail is a different thing than directly observing a bunch of flashy miracles in the here-and-now. You guys, I think, have made strong commitments to traditional Christian viewpoints, yet the objective evidence you can provide for this viewpoint(s) is shoddy at best, not really substantially better than the shoddy evidence that other religions have. This makes you nervous, and this makes you obsessively nitpick and split hairs with people with higher evidential standards. And in Mike Gene’s case, you try to advance the case that everything is subjective, running roughshod over the obvious point that subjectivity and evidential quality are related — when the evidence is really weak, the conclusion about the best option might be quite subjective, but when the evidence is overwhelmingly strong, the best options are correspondingly strongly limited, and the best option(s) are objectively distinguishable from the wrong or unsupported options.

    Coyne’s views have all kinds of problems, but this thread ain’t one.

  36. TFBW says:

    Michael said:

    According to Nick, scientists would have to be fools for not believing in God because of such gaudy miracles. But according to Coyne, he’ll accept it only tentatively and only agree to start taking Christianity seriously.

    And according to Dawkins, Myers, et al, the idea that “God did it” is still less likely than some other naturalistic explanation. Nick has been reticent to say that Dawkins is just plain wrong on this issue for some reason.

    Nicholas J. Matzke said:

    Everything in science is nominally tentative, that’s all he’s saying there.

    nominal: existing as something in name only : not actual or real : very small in amount. So basically, you say that it’s tentative, but in practice it isn’t, or is only a tiny bit tentative. Kind of an “I reserve the right to change my mind if I feel like it” clause.

    I’m going to chalk that one up as a Freudian slip.

  37. Crude says:

    Nick,

    The counterargument was…tables still work if the prediction is slightly off and conservation of mass is slightly off. But the point is that the math gives the engineer the wrong prediction if conservation of mass is violated.

    No, Nick. The counterargument was that ‘the conservation of mass/energy was formulated way AFTER people were using math and engineering to construct things and make predictions’, and your statement that ‘the math gives the engineer the wrong predictions if conservation of mass is violated’ is flat out incorrect. What would give the engineer wrong predictions is if his math is incorrect. If his math includes events which violate mass/energy, yet are nevertheless predictable, he’s fine. And if his math doesn’t includes events or properties which don’t violate mass/energy, he’s screwed.

    Have whatever apparent violations of mass/energy you like. What matters is keeping the data in your calculations.

    So, another one of your claims goes down.

    Oh please. Everything in science is nominally tentative, that’s all he’s saying there.

    Uh, ‘nominally tentative’? No, actually tentative, because of the limitations of the discipline.

    Sayeth Coyne: In the end, the difference between Shermer and I comes down to this: if evidence were really pervasive for an immensely knowledgeable and powerful being, I would tentatively accept God, while Shermer would tentatively accept an ETI that that works in unknown (but natural) ways. He is unwilling to say that there can be anything other than the natural world; I claim that this is a good working hypothesis but one that can never be verified with absolute certainty.

    Science can never prove anything. If you accept that, then we can never absolutely prove the absence of a “supernatural” god—or the presence of one. We can only find evidence that supports or weakens a given hypothesis. There is not an iota of evidence for The God Hypothesis, but I claim that there could be.

    So yes – for Coyne, his acceptance of God’s existence would always be provisional, precisely because science is limited. For all he knows, Shermer would be right, or some other explanation would be right.

    Because all he has is a gap, which makes sense, because he’s dealing in God of the gaps reasoning.

    And so are you, Nick. In fact? Coyne also says this:

    I don’t see science as committed to methodological naturalism—at least in terms of accepting only natural explanations for natural phenomena. Science is committed to a) finding out what phenomena are real, and b) coming up with the best explanations for those real, natural phenomena. Methodological naturalism is not an a priori commitment, but a strategy that has repeatedly worked in science, and so has been adopted by all working scientists.

    *flush* You hear that? That’s the sound of Coyne flushing the foundational anti-ID argument down the toilet. And you’re endorsing him.

    And that, I suspect, is really the heart of all of the sturm and drang here, which could have all been avoided if you just took the high road and admitted that inferring a miracle in the remote past based on prosaic limitations in available scientific detail is a different thing than directly observing a bunch of flashy miracles in the here-and-now.

    And as we keep saying – whatever the differences are between ‘a flashy miracle here and now’ and ‘a flashy miracle inferred in history’, they’re still identical in the key respect: what’s going on is that a gap is being taken as a demonstration (scientific, even!) that God exists. It’s God of the Gaps reasoning in both cases: ‘We’ve got this event before us that we have no explanation for. We can’t explain how it was done. So, it must be God.’

    But, since you keep falling back to psychoanalysis, Nick, I’ll gladly throw some back in turn.

    The problem is that you and Coyne have something in common here: you hold Christianity in disdain because you find it aligned with political and social attitudes you dislike. But you want to pretend that the question is about pure reason, rather than having anything to do with your motivating factors, so you cook up this game: ‘If only there were the right kind of evidence, I’d believe! I don’t believe just because there’s no proper evidence!’

    The problem is, you’ve endorsed various past criticisms of ‘evidence for God’ before. God of the gaps reasoning – ‘I can’t explain this, therefore it’s God!’ – is supposed to fail. But that’s the only kind of evidence you can conceive of. Which puts you in the unfortunate situation of having to both endorse yet deride God of the gaps arguments. When people point this out, you have no response other than to huff and puff, whine that they’re being unfair, psychoanalyze them – anything to throw attention off the obvious: you’re being inconsistent, and neither ‘reason’ your ‘evidence’ is the fundamental motivating factor for why you say one gap is good, yet another gap is not. It’s, as Mike says, far more subjective than that.

    Now, I know you’re not going to take the high road here and admit, ‘Yeah, okay. It’s plainly another gap argument. I guess that means I accept God of the gaps reasoning, and at best I prefer some different gaps.’ Instead we have to go through this game where you pretend that Coyne didn’t REALLY mean he’d provisionally believe in God, and it’s not REALLY a gap if we see something we can’t explain but ‘a miracle we see with our own eyes, we just have no idea how it happened’ and so on.

    That’s actually okay though. Because you can deny and bluff all you like – and we can just expose you and hold you up as an example. Granted, taking the high road would be the better course for you, but enough of us know your tendency to just double down whenever your arguments have been disproved, and eventually head for the hills.

  38. Dhay says:

    Nicholas J. Matzke > Mike Gene is the one who raised the fundamentalists Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, I was replying to that. I guess AFAIK the Coyne scenario could be compatible with a variety of Christian views, it seemed, though, that Mike Gene was assuming it lined up best with fundamentalist views. It’s true that the scenario is closer to the sort of stuff that happens in Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series than the kind of stuff you hear predicted by Catholics or liberal protestants for the End Times (on the rare occasions those groups even address the topic with specificity). But whatever floats your boat…

    I’ll leave Michael to speak for himself on whether he thinks the Coyne scenario lines up best with fundamentalist views, or for any fundamentalists who might be here to speak for themselves. For myself, I rather doubt that a quick pop-in visit by Jesus, however well evidenced and documented, could possibly count as the second coming. Coyne’s theology doesn’t float my boat.

    I note that, above, Michael has already said of the Coyne scenario, “Me? I’d probably end up abandoning Christianity. Because the events conflict so deeply with Christian understanding…” Me too; mine, too.

    I have not read any of the Left Behind Christian fiction books myself; I note, however, that Wiki’s ‘Left Behind’ page comments that the author’s Dispensationalism remains a minority view among theologians; I guess AFAIK the Coyne scenario could be compatible with (or perhaps incompatible with – I’d have to know rather more about Dispensationalism than I do before I could judge) a minority Christian theological view.

    If Coyne has adopted the Dispensationalist theology underlying the Left Behind series, he has adopted a minority view.

  39. Michael says:

    Oh please. Everything in science is nominally tentative, that’s all he’s saying there.

    But we’re not in science, Nick. Nothing about Coyne’s example is scientific. So don’t blame science for Coyne’s tentativeness. What he’s saying is that he would consider such a dazzling, flashy, documented display of miracles to be very, very weak evidence. As Crude noted, Coyne seems to recognize his gap could be easily filled by a naturalistic explanation.

    And moving from his current resolute skepticism to taking Christianity seriously would be a huge friggin’ move.

    Indeed. If you had read my entire blog post, you would have seen me cover this in point #2. The only thing we can clearly derive from Coyne’s example is information about Jerry Coyne himself. Coyne is a closed-minded, antireligious activist and his example illustrates how deeply closed minded he is. It turns out he is so closed-minded that he needs some sensational, mind-blowing event just to begin taking Christianity seriously.

    Your guys’ demand — that Coyne’s hypothetical scenario also include a complete hypothetical emotional profile of Coyne’s religious reaction,

    No one said anything about a complete hypothetical emotional profile of Coyne’s religious reaction. We simply want to know if such miracles would cause Coyne to repent and become a Christian. It’s an extremely relevant question when it comes to your assertion that Coyne’s story is a “close-match” to the NT miracles. For some odd reason, skeptics seem to think that if God existed, He would think it was really, really,really important that skeptics believe He exists.

    when the only point of the scenario in the first place was to give enough details to explain what would constitute evidence-of-miracles for Coyne

    We grant that point. For Coyne, he personally needs to witness such gaps with his own eyes in order to begin taking Christianity seriously. Yet we learn several things from the point of the scenario – a) Coyne’s atheism is built on the foundation of god of the gaps reasoning and b) the subjective dimension of evidence is on full display.

    (also the reason the “ministry” stuff is irrelevant – rewrite your own perfect ministry scenario, Coyne would react the same way as long as the miracles are NT-like, that is, flashy, repeated, many witnesses, and recorded on multiple devices) — is just distraction to avoid dealing with the real issue, which is the inferential question of what would be really good evidence.

    The “ministry” stuff is relevant to YOUR point, Nick. You are the only asserting some “close-match” between Coyne’s story and the miracles of the Jesus. Yet it turns out your “close-match” assertion is rooted in some core ignorance about Christianity. As for what would be really good evidence for the truth of Christianity, we still don’t know. The story Coyne cites is only tentative and good enough only for getting him to open his mind long enough to seriously consider Christianity (or so he claims). Where we go from there is something no atheist seems to know.

    And that, I suspect, is really the heart of all of the sturm and drang here, which could have all been avoided if you just took the high road and admitted that inferring a miracle in the remote past based on prosaic limitations in available scientific detail is a different thing than directly observing a bunch of flashy miracles in the here-and-now.

    They are not different in the sense that one example invokes gaps and the other one does not. As we have shown, both examples are gaps and the gaps are supposed to deliver a conclusion that God exists. Two different examples of God of Gaps reasoning at work. The difference comes into play when it comes to one’s subjective level of confidence about the existence of a gap.

    You guys, I think, have made strong commitments to traditional Christian viewpoints, yet the objective evidence you can provide for this viewpoint(s) is shoddy at best, not really substantially better than the shoddy evidence that other religions have. This makes you nervous, and this makes you obsessively nitpick and split hairs with people with higher evidential standards.

    No one is made nervous by Coyne’s god of the gaps atheism, Nick. No one is nervous because Jesus did not show up at the University of Chicago to have some miracles videotaped just so Jerry Coyne might open his mind a bit. And no one is nervous because atheists consider anything less than a personal showing of Miracle Demonstrations as “shoddy evidence.”

    And in Mike Gene’s case, you try to advance the case that everything is subjective, running roughshod over the obvious point that subjectivity and evidential quality are related — when the evidence is really weak, the conclusion about the best option might be quite subjective, but when the evidence is overwhelmingly strong, the best options are correspondingly strongly limited, and the best option(s) are objectively distinguishable from the wrong or unsupported options.

    Wrong. I have never tried to advance the case that “everything is subjective.” I have merely noted there is a subjective dimension to evidence given the simple fact that it is the mind that perceives evidence. You can tell that I am correct with Jerry Coyne’s example. According to you, the miracles are such powerful evidence that scientists would be fools not to join hands with Ken Ham and Roy Comfort in preaching that “Jesus lives!” According to Coyne himself, the evidence is only good enough to rise to tentative status and only to get Coyne to begin seriously considering the truth of Christianity. What data Coyne would further need to move beyond his hesitant state is never even considered. And as for PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, they would not even consider the miracle demonstration to be evidence.

    So y’see, three sets of scientists – experts at handling evidence – look at the same data and come up with three interpretations: Strong evidence (Matzke), weak evidence (Coyne), and no evidence (Myers). All bases covered. This complete failure to arrive at consensus is nicely explained by my thesis – the subjective dimension of evidence. You have no explanation, which is probably why you keep ignoring such evidence-generated diversity of opinion.

    Coyne’s views have all kinds of problems, but this thread ain’t one.

    His views represent bad philosophy, bad theology, and bad science. As the good cop, you want us to think the real problem is with his tone, right? 😉

  40. Nick Matzke says:

    Meh. Well I guess I’ll just assume a miracle happened the next time I see a bird in my yard, because, after all, I didn’t see the bird physically transport itself into the yard, and I’ve learned here that knowledge gaps are basically the same as directly observed violations of the fundamental laws of nature, and that making any distinction between these is just a matter of subjectivity arbitrarily exercised by nasty atheists.

  41. TFBW says:

    … thus demonstrating a clear failure to understand the problem.

  42. TFBW says:

    To be fair, though, I think I have an increased understanding of Nick’s position on this. He is embracing gap-based evidence, but he wants the evidence to be as immediate as possible. Historical miracles are too far removed to determine whether there was, indeed, a gap (a miracle). If God were to simply perform conspicuous miracles for us now, under close scrutiny, then that would be an acceptable gap. This is what Nick means by “directly observed violations of the fundamental laws of nature” — it has to be a miracle that in some way violates something that we think we know about physics, and performed in such a way that we are quite sure of the facts of the matter. That discrepancy between what we think we know (inappropriately termed “the fundamental laws of nature”) and what actually happens (the facts) is the “gap”, which is why it’s valid to call this gap-based evidence (albeit with additional qualifiers).

    It’s an open question as to whether this constitutes good science or not, and we have anything but consensus on the matter, even within the ranks of New Atheism. I’m inclined to describe Nick’s approach as “naive”, “common sense”, or “folk science” (take your pick of the term which has the most neutral tone — I don’t want to express approval or disdain). Contrast that with Dawkins, who is closer to the “radical scepticism” end of the scale.

  43. Michael says:

    Meh. Well I guess I’ll just assume a miracle happened the next time I see a bird in my yard, because, after all, I didn’t see the bird physically transport itself into the yard, and I’ve learned here that knowledge gaps are basically the same as directly observed violations of the fundamental laws of nature, and that making any distinction between these is just a matter of subjectivity arbitrarily exercised by nasty atheists.

    Don’t despair. You should feel free to make the distinction between good gaps and bad gaps to your heart’s content (as long as you don’t try to pass it off as science). We’re simply pointing out that you have embraced the logic of god of the gaps reasoning and that your atheism is built on this logic. I’m personally enjoying the irony of being the one who rejects the logic of god of the gaps reasoning while Nick Matzke defends and needs the logic of god of the gaps reasoning.

    In both cases you have knowledge gaps. The difference is one is a strong knowledge gap (Jerry’s story) and the other is a very weak knowledge gap (bird story). You can’t imagine how the strong knowledge gap could ever be filled, so God must have done it. You can easily fill the weak knowledge gap, so your bird example won’t cut it. We understand how your thinking is guided by god of the gaps logic.

    As for subjectivity, not sure it is arbitrary, but it clearly exists. How else do you explain the diversity of opinion about Coyne’s example? You think it would be very strong evidence for God, Coyne thinks it would be very weak evidence for God, and Dawkins/Myers don’t think it would be evidence for God.

    Nick, you have ignored a lot a points and many questions in this thread. Can you at least answer the question that was posed by TFBW:

    Also, I think another clarification is in order: is your approach here meant to be “scientific” in some sense, or is it just an expression of what it would take to overcome your personal scepticism threshold?

  44. Crude says:

    Nick,

    Well I guess I’ll just assume a miracle happened the next time I see a bird in my yard, because, after all, I didn’t see the bird physically transport itself into the yard, and I’ve learned here that knowledge gaps are basically the same as directly observed violations of the fundamental laws of nature, and that making any distinction between these is just a matter of subjectivity arbitrarily exercised by nasty atheists.

    What’s been said is that Coyne is using God of the Gaps knowledge. You want to argue that some gaps are better than other gaps? Go right ahead. But what you consider a better gap doesn’t turn into ‘not a gap’ just because you think it’s better.

    And there’s no ‘directly observed violation of fundamental laws of nature’ in place in the examples. At best, we have observed violations of current models of nature, and big ol’ gaps when it comes to filling in the blanks with a new model. For you and Coyne, God is an acceptable (scientific!) model with gaps you judge to be appropriately large. Alright, but know what you’re getting into when you play that game. As Coyne recognizes, filling in those gaps with a non-God explanation remains a possibility, and in fact that’s precisely what other atheists would do (see Shermer, Myers, etc.)

    We have gaps right now. Big ones, directly observable, that even fly in the face of our current and best models of nature. (Subjective experience itself, intentionality, some quantum phenomena, etc.) And those aren’t the only ones. When you talk about ‘evidence that would provisionally convince you God exists’ and it turns out to be a gap, it’s not mean theists being mean and anti-science to point out your ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning. You should be thanking them for helping you figure out something important about how you’re thinking about these things, and which Coyne glosses over entirely.

  45. TFBW says:

    It looks like Nick isn’t going to take up the “is it science, or is it subjective” dilemma challenge. Not surprising, of course: if it’s science, he has to explain why other atheist scientists have different standards, incompatible with his; if it’s subjective, then there’s no reason to expect general agreement.

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