Dawkins Neuters Logic and Reason

Richard Dawkins defined himself and his fans with the following words:

even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory, the probable explanation is that it is a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield……a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything. A non-supernatural Second Coming could be aliens from outer space.

This, of course, is powerful evidence of Dawkins’ closed mind. Yet there is something far more interesting to this exchange that a demonstration of Richard’s closed mind. Dawkins is telling us that “even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory,” reason and logic would compel us to deny this as evidence for God and instead look to some other naturalistic explanation. As one of Dawkins’s fans said in the comment section of my previous blog entry, “Wouldn’t it be more logical to assume any contact with earth would be ET life?”

Now, rather than argue whether or not it would be more reasonable and logical to attribute the Second Coming of Christ to God or space aliens, let’s assume Dawkins is correct. That is, reason and logic would indeed compel us to attribute such miraculous displays to a naturalistic cause.

If Dawkins and his fans are correct, then it means that when it comes to issues of God, reason and logic are guaranteed to generate false negatives. That is, if Jesus did indeed return in the Second Coming, reason and logic would have us deny this. If there was indeed evidence for God, reason and logic would tell us there was no evidence for God. If God existed, reason and logic would tell us otherwise. If Dawkins and his fans are correct, then logic and reason break down when it comes to the existence of God. Reason and logic can only deliver a negative conclusion regardless of the nature of reality.

All of this means the New Atheist position continues to collapse into irrationality. First, when they demand evidence, they are demanding a Gap, even though they simultaneously insist God of the Gaps reasoning is inherently flawed. Then, it turns out, even if such a Gap did exist, and existed because of divine intervention, they still feel obligated to contradict their previous posturing and insist that reason and logic obligate us to always choose a natural explanation over God. At this point, it then becomes clear they have split reason and logic away from the question of God’s existence since reason/logic are no longer responsive to what would be part of reality if indeed God was part of that reality. Put simply, the New Atheist posture has rendered reason and logic both flabby and useless when trying to determine if God exists.

One can only imagine the intensity of the psychological investment for a New Atheist not only to destroy his credibility with his two-faced positioning on Gaps, but to also turn reason and logic into something that could never possibly detect the existence of God.

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55 Responses to Dawkins Neuters Logic and Reason

  1. stcordova says:

    “One can only imagine the intensity of the psychological investment for a New Atheist not only to destroy his credibility with his two-faced positioning on Gaps”

    They seem quietly frightened there is a remote chance they could be wrong. They need to constantly reassure themselves of their infallibility.

    Dawkins could say he would continue believing in naturalistic explanations during the 2nd coming, but it would be little consolation if the 2nd coming entailed a lake of fire. Could he disbelieve God then? Wouldn’t make a difference either way because he won’t be able to disbelieve his own pain.

    If he met god, he’d complain, “Why did you take such great pains to conceal yourself” (see about 3 minutes into the video):

    God: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, it is the glory of Kings to search out a matter” Proverbs 25:2

    I can’t answer for God, but just a speculation, the Designer might get a kick out of seeing Dawkins making a dupe of himself, just like we get a kick out of Coyne making a dupe of himself. Not very nice, but well, can’t say the Designer doesn’t have a twisted sense of humor, nor that hints weren’t dropped to Dawkins along the way.

    Additionally, Dawkins now admits if the evidence were handed to him overtly, he wouldn’t believe it.
    He’s being two-faced to himself. I suspect there is a deep seated fear that he knows he could be wrong, he has to work hard to reassure himself and close his mind so he can remain comfy.

  2. Ilíon says:

    It’s just as I have been pointing out for years: ‘atheists’ will *always* retreat into illogic and irrationality as the Final Redoubt to preserve the God-Denial against critical rational evaluation.

  3. Belobog says:

    “If God existed, reason and logic would tell us otherwise.” To be fair to atheists, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Consider a similar statement: “If a married bachelor existed, reason and logic would tell us otherwise.” This is trivially true, but it’s no indictment of reason and logic because a married bachelor is internally inconsistent and cannot exist. Though, of course, atheists still have the burden of showing that the idea of God is internally inconsistent. I’ve never seen such a demonstration that’s been anything like convincing.

  4. itsonlyphotos says:

    I guess they don’t have to accept a supernatural cause, but I find it a little weird that the booming voice of which the nasty professor speaks couldn’t be explained as such, when existence itself is radically insufficient to explain itself.

  5. Hopeful Curmudgeon says:

    [Jesus concluded his prayer saying,] “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard the voice said that it had thundered. Others said that an angel had spoken to him. John 12:28-29 NET

    How right the ancient preacher was when quoting the prophets, when he said, “‘Look, you scoffers; be amazed and perish! For I am doing a work in your days, a work you would never believe, even if someone tells you .’” Acts 13:41 NET

    http://bible.com/107/jhn.12.28-29.NET

    http://bible.com/107/act.13.41.NET

  6. TFBW says:

    Are no atheists going to comment on this one? Usually they at least turn up and try to change the subject. Come on, folks — do you subscribe to the Dawkins version of “reason and logic” which is incapable of recognising the existence of God, or is it an error on his part?

  7. GC says:

    The more fundamental problem is that of solipsism, isn’t it? We can’t even prove the existence of other minds, let alone a god or gods. How do you know you’re not hallucinating right now? There is also the brain-in-a-vat argument and other flights of fancy (computer simulation, etc). These kinds of hyper-hypotheticals have no clear answers. They might be fun to think about, but they are hardly useful beyond that.

    What seems largely missing here is the recognition of extreme contingency. It is even more contingent than arguing about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin: it is more like arguing about the proper counting method to employ IF such a situation arises.

    Rationality is about having belief or confidence in proportion to the evidence. In this case there’s no evidence that any of these hyper-hypotheticals are happening—we’re just talking about shit we made up, whether it’s an imagined Second Coming scenario or an Extraterrestrial Prankster or The Matrix. Because we don’t have any such evidence, there is no belief that needs to be proportioned.

    Maybe some people will be more likely to be suckered by an alien con artist, maybe others will be “too skeptical”, but really, who the fuck cares? None of it matters until there is actual evidence to discuss.

  8. Isaac says:

    The universe, with its orderly laws, points directly to a Creator. Cosmology at the moment requires a supernatural explanation for the origin of the universe. Humans appear hardwired to believe in and worship God. And biology suggests a large, powerful Creator who is nevertheless invested in detail. Even Aristotle arrived at the necessity of a supernatural God using the pure logic that a chain of causes cannot continue back infinitely. Atheists deny that any of this is admissible as evidence, so it’s not much of a leap for them to explain away a physical Second Coming. At this point they’ve proven themselves capable of explaining away almost everything else.

  9. TFBW says:

    GC said:

    None of it matters until there is actual evidence to discuss.

    On the contrary, GC, there can be no meaningful discussion on whether evidence exists unless we have first established what form that evidence would take. Why? For one thing, it may turn out, as with Dawkins, that the asserted lack of “actual evidence” is simply a consequence of the fact that there is nothing which he will accept as evidence. That is a very important thing to know, even if none of the hyper-hypotheticals he mentions ever happens, don’t you agree?

  10. GC says:

    “there can be no meaningful discussion on whether evidence exists unless we have first established what form that evidence would take”. Huh? Why must evidence be in a form that someone has imagined? There’s an infinitude of possibilities, most of them unimagined. I would even say there’s infinitely more unimagined than imagined.

  11. Kevin says:

    If Dawkins says nothing would count as evidence for him, then it is indeed worth noting for a guy who has made a career on the alleged lack of evidence for God. It means we can dismiss his ramblings as the idiocy that they are.

  12. GC says:

    Two points. First, my question wasn’t answered. Second, in this fantasy world where we get to make shit up and assign heroes and villains, one can just as well tell a story in which Dawkins is the hero. Stephen Hawking said, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Suppose aliens arrived and exploited our religious susceptibilities in order to achieve their secret purpose: the destruction of the human species! But Dawkins remains skeptical, and in Hollywood-like fashion he discovers the aliens’ true intentions and saves the world. Hip hip hooray! End scene. See how easy that was? In the land of make-believe, anything is possible.

    I don’t think I agree with Dawkins, but I can understand the point. He’s saying the idea of supernatural causation is incoherent. It seems similar to the position of theological noncognitivism (look it up). The critiques I’m seeing above assume that supernatural causation is coherent–and right, under the assumption that it is, Dawkins would be making a mistake. But that only avoids or misunderstands the argument being made. A proper attack would require addressing the reasons given for the incoherency, and ideally offer a positive case for coherency. Even then, it remains theoretical with no real-world evidence that can arbitrate.

  13. TFBW says:

    GC said:

    Why must evidence be in a form that someone has imagined?

    It doesn’t have to be, but if you have no prior idea as to what evidence looks like, then how will you recognise it when you see it? You can claim “I’d know it if I saw it,” if you like, but that’s not exactly compelling, is it? It’s (a) mired in subjectivity, and (b) gives a theist nothing to aim at in the case that he wants to present evidence. A cynic might accuse such a claim of being nothing more than weasel-words — a fig leaf of rational respectability covering naked denial.

    The critiques I’m seeing above assume that supernatural causation is coherent–and right, under the assumption that it is, Dawkins would be making a mistake. But that only avoids or misunderstands the argument being made. A proper attack would require addressing the reasons given for the incoherency, and ideally offer a positive case for coherency.

    If you think that Dawkins has such a nuanced a view of things, then you credit him with a great deal more philosophical comprehension than I do. That aside, I fail to see anything but a bald assertion of incoherence. Dawkins gives no reasons: he simply points his magic wand in the direction of the argument, and utters the magic word “incoherent”. If you think that you can find the incoherence in the premises (a) God exists, and (b) God can do things, then feel free to point it out. I suspect that it would necessarily come down to some sort of argument that the very concept of God is incoherent — or perhaps I should say “insinuation” or “assertion” rather than “argument”, given what we’ve seen from Dawkins so far.

    Even then, it remains theoretical with no real-world evidence that can arbitrate.

    In which case the appropriate response would be to say that empirical science can not possibly make a case for the existence or non-existence of God, and profess a strong agnosticism in the absence of other grounds. As it happens, this bears no resemblance to Dawkins’ actual position, so either he doesn’t understand the implications of his own argument, or you’ve misinterpreted it.

  14. Kevin says:

    Every Christian who comments frequently on this site is here because we have all dealt with the New Atheist movement, and this movement is largely centered upon the “no evidence for God” mantra. They haven’t converted us because we disagree. And we disagree because the idea of God is not even remotely incoherent. If Dawkins wishes to make the case that the idea of God is incoherent, he is welcome to try, but he has yet to scratch the surface of successfully completing this endeavor.

    If you don’t want to go to “land of make believe” and discuss Dawkins’ own hypothetical, that’s fine. But, you know, that’s the subject of this blog post, so…

    Theological noncognitivism sounds ridiculous to me. It takes the New Atheist tactic of sitting back, asserting nothing, and rejecting by default anything presented as evidence for God, combines it with the ignostic position of a poorly defined concept of God, and takes it to the next level of not even acknowledging the concept at all. New Atheists aren’t typically very good at arguing about God’s existence or even understanding what evidence actually is, so I’m not surprised that TN is gaining popularity among that demographic. To me, it sounds like nonsense.

  15. Kevin says:

    Loki’s Wager is what I was thinking of, couldn’t remember the term and had to go look it up. A logical fallacy being the increasingly common philosophical foundation of New Atheism is quite appropriate.

  16. GC says:

    Q: “Why must evidence be in a form that someone has imagined?” A: “It doesn’t have to be”. But didn’t you just say that it does have to be? “there can be no meaningful discussion on whether evidence exists unless we have first established what form that evidence would take.”

    The point Dawkins is making is precisely that he has, as you say, “no prior idea as to what evidence looks like”—he literally says, “I can’t think what that evidence would look like”. That’s his point, and it’s the opposite of “I’d know it if I saw it”. He’s saying that he wouldn’t know it if he saw it because the concept is incoherent. You claimed Dawkins made a “bald assertion of incoherence”, but in fact he credited the argument to a specific contributor to his website (Zarro?). If you are so sure that these make-believe scenarios are coherent, then you should have no trouble explaining the criteria that distinguish alien pranksters from divine intervention. That, too, would be some made-up shit. This is all made-up. And my point is: what reason is there to expect that shit we make up is going to materialize in the real world? And why should making some shit up be a prerequisite that someone must meet before any actual evidence is presented? But you also said that evidence doesn’t have to be in a form that someone has imagined, so perhaps there is no prerequisite after all.

    Please understand that I’m not one to “defend” Dawkins, rather I see myself as correcting some obvious misunderstandings, what one might call Dawkinsological noncognitivism. I’m all for criticizing New Atheism, but let’s be coherent about it.

  17. Kevin says:

    If he claims he wouldn’t know it if he saw it, then why does he say no such evidence exists? Can’t have it both ways. It’s fascinating to watch him continue to shoot himself down lol.

  18. GC says:

    Well Dawkins wrote a book or two addressing evidence that others brought forth for God or an “intelligent designer”, so obviously he takes such evidence seriously when there is something there to talk about. By contrast, the issue here is about make-believe evidence which, Dawkins says, is not really coherent or addressable. I don’t recall him saying that “no such evidence exists”, which already assumes a coherent definition. The question put to him was: what evidence would be sufficient to convince him? That lead to the question of how to distinguish between alien pranksters and divine intervention. That, as I understand it, is part of the incoherency.

    To bring judgment against Dawkins on this point doesn’t quite make sense unless you have a definitive answer to the aliens vs divinity question that has somehow eluded Dawkins and everyone else. What is it? As in the make-believe story I told earlier, Dawkins could become the savior of the world for exercising skepticism when confronted with evidence that, it would turn out, was from sneaky, nefarious aliens. Thus depending upon which make-believe story you embrace, Dawkins is either a hero or a gloomy curmudgeon.

    And this leads to my point of whether it makes any sense to argue about make-believe evidence and make-believe stories in the first place. That seems like a way to avoid talking about real-life evidence.

  19. Michael says:

    The point Dawkins is making is precisely that he has, as you say, “no prior idea as to what evidence looks like”—he literally says, “I can’t think what that evidence would look like”. That’s his point, and it’s the opposite of “I’d know it if I saw it”. He’s saying that he wouldn’t know it if he saw it because the concept is incoherent.

    he wouldn’t know it if he saw it

    Exactly. So he’s hardly qualified to tell anyone there is no evidence for God. After all, if there was, he’d still be claiming there is no evidence for God.

    He is entitled to his personal opinions, but his opinions mean nothing to me.

  20. GC says:

    Michael, that’s not valid. If you wish to rebut an argument that X is incoherent, you cannot start with “If X…” because that assumes X is coherent. It assumes what you wish to prove. You would need to present a positive case for coherency and/or disprove the negative case. This should include definitive criteria for separating alien pranksters from divine intervention, since that was the example used to show incoherency.

  21. Kevin says:

    I can’t tell the difference between evolution and the fossil record, and alien pranksters causing mutations and planting skeletons in the ground to fool us into believing in evolution and an old earth. Evolution is thus incoherent and I no longer will accept evidence as valid unless a coherent definition of evolution allows me to tell the difference between evolution and alien pranksters.

  22. Dhay says:

    GC > If you wish to rebut an argument that X is incoherent, you cannot start with “If X…” because that assumes X is coherent. It assumes what you wish to prove. You would need to present a positive case for coherency and/or disprove the negative case. This should include definitive criteria for separating alien pranksters from divine intervention, since that was the example used to show incoherency.

    Er, It is prominent New Atheists — eg Carl Sagan, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins in past years, Victor Stenger — who demand star-messages or nine-hundred-foot Jesus’, or a Second Coming *, not any Christians at this blog; it’s also New Atheists — eg Michael Shermer, and nowadays Richard Dawkins — who debunk star-messages, nine-hundred-foot Jesus’, or a Second Coming as possibly (and more probably) alien pranksters: the Christians here on Shadow To Light have been taking the piss out of both New Atheist camps; I certainly have.

    And you did read the OP, didn’t you, which includes:

    > Now, rather than argue whether or not it would be more reasonable and logical to attribute the Second Coming of Christ to God or space aliens, let’s assume Dawkins is correct.

    Whyever should Michael present definitive criteria for separating alien pranksters from divine intervention. He’s surely not arguing it’s more reasonable and logical to choose one over the other, or that it is sensible to determine criteria for elevating one New Atheist camp’s risible position over that of the other.

    If you have an interest in having such criteria, I suggest you provide them yourself. I don’t think you will find much interest in such criteria here.

  23. Dhay says:

    On pages 118-119 of Faith versus Fact, Jerry Coyne tells us that he too could be convinced of the Christian God. What could it take? Coyne requires what GC calls a ‘make-believe scenario’, and ‘make-believe evidence’; in GC’s terms, it’s Coyne’s ‘shit’, and the ‘shit’ of those like him, not that of those correcting GC:

    “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.”

    It’s that last bit which I have emboldened that really gets me: Coyne specifies in a certain amount of detail the form of the Second Coming — and even if he doesn’t mean the actual Second Coming, but an on-command (Coyne’s; who is he to command) drop-by, the following comments still apply — and makes a point of requiring that all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology.

    This is like asking for a married bachelor, which nobody can provide, and is every philosophy course’s standard example of an incoherent notion. Coyne is here a good example of a New Atheist espousing an idea which is incoherent.

  24. Michael says:

    First things first, GC. If Dawkins wants to argue “there is no evidence for God,” he is indeed assuming God is coherent. But coherency is not the argument of New Atheism. If God was incoherent, then it would mean God was completely untestable. Which would mean that science has absolutely nothing to say about God. Yet Dawkins told us in his book “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.” If Dawkins is willing to retract this claim, and acknowledge that science has nothing to say about the existence of God, then I can take his coherency claim as sincere.

  25. Dhay says:

    GC > Rationality is about having belief or confidence in proportion to the evidence.

    Funny you should say that: blogger ‘aRemonstrant’, commenting on Hebrews 11 (and repudiating the perverse tendency of certain New Atheists to read it as requiring ‘All True Christians™’ to be fideists), says, in a long and well-argued post:

    … In other words, most of the people on this list had empirical evidence and experiences of God in the past which inspired their faith (strong conviction / belief). It is in this sense that their faith was being commended.

    https://aremonstrantsramblings.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/a-manual-for-creating-atheists-part-3-2/

    Looks like faith, too, is about having belief or confidence in proportion to the evidence.

    I’ve recently pointed out here (https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/steven-pinker-reviews-coynes-book/#comment-9385) that Jerry Coyne’s definition of ‘”faith” in science’ is identical to aRemonstrant’s clarification of ‘”faith” in Christianity’; now I can point out that Christianity’s “faith” appears to be identical to GC’s “rationality”.

  26. Ilíon says:

    Kevin:I can’t tell the difference between evolution and the fossil record, and alien pranksters causing mutations and planting skeletons in the ground to fool us into believing in evolution and an old earth. Evolution is thus incoherent and I no longer will accept evidence as valid unless a coherent definition of evolution allows me to tell the difference between evolution and alien pranksters.

    Now, now! Don’t you know that selective hyper-skepticism is valid *only* when deployed against “religion” or God or actual morality?

  27. Kevin says:

    You’re right, Ilion. I feel really stupid now.

  28. FZM says:

    The critiques I’m seeing above assume that supernatural causation is coherent–and right, under the assumption that it is, Dawkins would be making a mistake. But that only avoids or misunderstands the argument being made. A proper attack would require addressing the reasons given for the incoherency, and ideally offer a positive case for coherency. Even then, it remains theoretical with no real-world evidence that can arbitrate.

    Looking at the excerpt quoted above in the original post:

    even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory, the probable explanation is that it is a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield……a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything. A non-supernatural Second Coming could be aliens from outer space.

    Here Dawkins doesn’t seem to present any reasons to support his argument that a supernatural explanation for a ‘booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory’ would necessarily be incoherent or why supernatural explanations can’t add up to explanations of anything. He just seems to assert these things. Unless he adds some further explanation of what he meant by saying that supernatural explanations are necessarily incoherent elsewhere mounting a proper attack on his position would be difficult and could well be futile.

    He’s saying that he wouldn’t know it if he saw it because the concept is incoherent. You claimed Dawkins made a “bald assertion of incoherence”, but in fact he credited the argument to a specific contributor to his website (Zarro?). If you are so sure that these make-believe scenarios are coherent, then you should have no trouble explaining the criteria that distinguish alien pranksters from divine intervention.

    I’m not clear as to how not being able to explain the criteria that would enable us to differentiate between a second coming phenomena with a theistic origin and one contrived by aliens makes either concept or idea necessarily incoherent. It just seems to indicate that possibly it would be hard/impossible for us to determine which is the correct explanation.

    If Dawkins is defining naturalism and the naturalistic in terms of coherence and logical consistency (i.e. any concept or explanation which is coherent is thereby ‘naturalistic’, classifying as ‘supernatural’ any concept that isn’t coherent or logically consistent) then his point seems correct but pretty trivial.

    And my point is: what reason is there to expect that shit we make up is going to materialize in the real world? And why should making some shit up be a prerequisite that someone must meet before any actual evidence is presented?

    As I read it Dawkins seems to be stating something along the lines of some kinds of ‘shit’ we might make up in principal *can’t* ever materialize in the real world because any kind of concept or proposition that could be categorised as ‘supernatural’ is necessarily incoherent and therefore could never be true.

  29. GC says:

    People are conflating imaginary, extraordinary evidence invented for the purpose of compelling a reasonable person to believe in a deity (or aliens) with real, non-extraordinary evidence that does not compel such a conclusion. My comment @ September 14, 2015 at 9:24 pm addresses this issue.

    Everyone, could we please, always and everywhere, keep imaginary evidence separate in our minds from real evidence? Thanks. Much of the present flood of confusion stems from that.

    I just stepped in to correct what I saw as a few obvious mistakes; personally I don’t care about imaginary evidence or arguments surrounding imaginary evidence. As I’ve explained, Dawkins is either a savior or a villain according to whatever imaginary evidence and imaginary stories you want to invent. None of it matters except to fill comment pages.

  30. GC says:

    Hm, I looked at

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/a-closer-look-at-an-atheists-evidential-needs/

    which follows a similar script, and I have to agree with Matzke, this is shark-jumping material. There many avenues for criticizing New Atheism, but this repurposed (and weirdly capitalized) “Gap” stuff isn’t one of them. Matzke (assuming that’s not an impersonator) played a role in the Dover trial, so it’s nice to see I’m in good company.

  31. Squirrely says:

    GC,

    Just out of curiosity, how old are you?

  32. Kevin says:

    Here’s the deal, GC. How seriously should I be taken if I say “There could be a person named GC posting on Shadow to Light…or it could be an alien prankster posting, even going so far as to appear to be a human using a valid IP address. Until I have definitions of GC sufficient enough to distinguish from alien pranksters, then I do not know what I am dealing with here.” Is that ridiculous? Of course it is.

    Dawkins himself introduces the concept of your make-believe evidence (and thus introduces a valid topic of conversation for others to discuss). Dawkins himself talks about the hypothetical of a “Second Coming event” and dismisses it as possible evidence of a supernatural occurrence. Now, depending on what he means by a “Second Coming event”, one might be able to argue in his favor. If only he sees a bright light and only he hears a booming voice, and these clouds of glory and voice are the only things that happen, then yes it’s extremely likely he is hallucinating or being pranked (by a human), far more likely than a supernatural event or aliens.

    But, if he is referring to an event that precisely parallels the biblical description of the Second Coming, then it will be witnessed by millions, if not billions, and will result in God being present on Earth. Calling that a hallucination or David Copperfield is beyond stupid at that point. And if it does in fact precisely mirror the biblical description (preceded by tribulation as well), then Jesus Christ returning in the Second Coming is far, far more likely an explanation than aliens, simply because there is absolutely no evidence that there are any aliens at all, let alone advanced aliens with a sense of humor that don’t have anything better to do than cross thousands of light years to read religious texts and then prank us. Saying a literal Second Coming event “could be aliens” in order to get out of having to acknowledge the supernatural is just as asinine as saying dinosaur fossils could have been planted by aliens to fool us in order to avoid evolution.

    You also take issue with the “Gap” argument. Far as the capitalization goes, Google it and you’ll see some people write “God of the gaps”, some write “God of the Gaps”. Nick, whom you seem to really admire for whatever reason, used both that I saw. Michael may also be tongue-in-cheek saying “a Gap” with a little “tm” behind it, since people like Jerry Coyne demand 900 foot tall Jesus and other such stupid things when asked about what they would consider evidence for God. And you, like Nick, have completely missed the point about the gap argument, just like Nick did. New Atheists demand evidence for God and will reject anything that science has described (example: The universe existing is not evidence for God because of the Big Bang theory and the multiverse hypothesis, even though there is no real evidence for the latter and quite frankly neither contradict God as an ultimate explanation.) In other words, nothing from nature, nothing physical, will be accepted as evidence for God. They ask for things like amputees being healed. Why is this evidence? Because science can’t explain it – it’s a gap. They ask for prayer studies demonstrating effective prayer. Why is this evidence? Because science can’t explain it – it’s a gap.

    They ask for gaps, GC, or they do what lazy “intellectuals” like Dawkins do and just eliminate God as an explanation by calling it “incoherent”. We who frequent this blog find it extremely amusing due to their posturing about evidence and reason, when they suck at understanding evidence and using reason.

  33. Michael says:

    People are conflating imaginary, extraordinary evidence invented for the purpose of compelling a reasonable person to believe in a deity (or aliens) with real, non-extraordinary evidence that does not compel such a conclusion. My comment @ September 14, 2015 at 9:24 pm addresses this issue.

    In other words, GC doesn’t want to address the fact that Dawkins speaks out both sides of his both in claiming a) “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other” and b) nothing can count as evidence for God because God is incoherent. Why is he uncomfortable criticizing a Gnu leader?

  34. Michael says:

    GC:

    and I have to agree with Matzke,

    So now GC’s atheism is rooted in god of the gaps thinking (there are good gaps and then there are bad gaps). GC, your atheism seems to be of the “make shit up as I go along” variety. Hmmmmm.

  35. Doug says:

    People are conflating imaginary, extraordinary evidence invented for the purpose of compelling a reasonable person to believe in a deity (or aliens) with real, non-extraordinary evidence that does not compel such a conclusion.

    What makes evidence “imaginary” (according to GC)? That it points to a deity. If it points to a deity, then it is imaginary and must have been invented. What makes evidence “real” (according to GC)? That it does not point to a deity. If it does not “compel such a conclusion” then it is “real” evidence. How convenient! And how utterly question-begging! :-/

  36. TFBW says:

    Apologies for the delay. I’m away from home.

    GC: “None of it matters until there is actual evidence to discuss.”
    TFBW: “On the contrary, GC, there can be no meaningful discussion on whether evidence exists unless we have first established what form that evidence would take.”
    GC: “Why must evidence be in a form that someone has imagined?”
    TFBW: “It doesn’t have to be, but if you have no prior idea as to what evidence looks like, then how will you recognise it when you see it?”
    GC: “But didn’t you just say that it does have to be?”

    No, I didn’t say that it had to be — I said it was a requisite for having a meaningful discussion, by which I mean that it’s necessary for scientific purposes, among other things. That doesn’t rule out personal epiphanies. Dawkins postures as though he’s talking about something more objective and general than a personal epiphany, so I don’t really understand how your objection can relate to Dawkins.

    The point Dawkins is making is precisely that he has, as you say, “no prior idea as to what evidence looks like”—he literally says, “I can’t think what that evidence would look like”. That’s his point, and it’s the opposite of “I’d know it if I saw it”. He’s saying that he wouldn’t know it if he saw it because the concept is incoherent.

    If he literally says “I can’t think what that evidence would look like”, then please provide a citation, as I can’t see it anywhere. I think you’re paraphrasing and interpreting far too liberally for that to pass as a “literal” quote, even if you don’t mean “literal” literally. What he actually says, when asked what evidence would persuade him, is “I’m starting to think nothing would, which, in a way, goes against the grain, because I’ve always paid lip service to the view that a scientist should change his mind when evidence is forthcoming.” Note: he says nothing would persuade him, not that he can’t think what would persuade him.

    You claimed Dawkins made a “bald assertion of incoherence”, but in fact he credited the argument to a specific contributor to his website (Zarro?). If you are so sure that these make-believe scenarios are coherent, then you should have no trouble explaining the criteria that distinguish alien pranksters from divine intervention.

    Gee, it’s evident how deeply you’ve researched this before giving us your analysis. The article is “There can be no evidence for God (revisited)” by Steve Zara. Nowhere does it include the words “incoherent” or “noncognitivism”, nor does it argue anything along those lines. The thrust of the article is that “God” must be considered an off-limits concept precisely because science can not tell us whether God exists or not. Some people might just choose to view that as a limitation of science, but if you start from a premise of scientism it yields such epistemic imperatives as that.

    Please understand that I’m not one to “defend” Dawkins, rather I see myself as correcting some obvious misunderstandings, what one might call Dawkinsological noncognitivism. I’m all for criticizing New Atheism, but let’s be coherent about it.

    Frankly, given how shabby your analysis of Dawkins looks (coupled with a good dose of unbecoming arrogance, I see), perhaps you’d be better off clearly stating and defending your own views, rather then presuming to interpret Dawkins. You haven’t demonstrated the competence to correct any misunderstandings.

  37. Dhay says:

    Richard Dawkins > even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory, the probable explanation is that it is a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield……a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything. A non-supernatural Second Coming could be aliens from outer space.

    GC September 14, 2015 at 9:24 pm > Well Dawkins wrote a book or two addressing evidence that others brought forth for God or an “intelligent designer”, so obviously he takes such evidence seriously when there is something there to talk about. By contrast, the issue here is about make-believe evidence which, Dawkins says, is not really coherent or addressable. I don’t recall him saying that “no such evidence exists”, which already assumes a coherent definition. The question put to him was: what evidence would be sufficient to convince him? That lead [sic] to the question of how to distinguish between alien pranksters and divine intervention. That, as I understand it, is part of the incoherency.

    To bring judgment against Dawkins on this point doesn’t quite make sense unless you have a definitive answer to the aliens vs divinity question that has somehow eluded Dawkins and everyone else. What is it? As in the make-believe story I told earlier, Dawkins could become the savior of the world for exercising skepticism when confronted with evidence that, it would turn out, was from sneaky, nefarious aliens. Thus depending upon which make-believe story you embrace, Dawkins is either a hero or a gloomy curmudgeon.

    And this leads to my point of whether it makes any sense to argue about make-believe evidence and make-believe stories in the first place. That seems like a way to avoid talking about real-life evidence.

    GC September 16, 2015 at 12:24 am > People are conflating imaginary, extraordinary evidence invented for the purpose of compelling a reasonable person to believe in a deity (or aliens) with real, non-extraordinary evidence that does not compel such a conclusion. My comment @ September 14, 2015 at 9:24 pm addresses this issue.

    Everyone, could we please, always and everywhere, keep imaginary evidence separate in our minds from real evidence? Thanks. Much of the present flood of confusion stems from that.

    I just stepped in to correct what I saw as a few obvious mistakes; personally I don’t care about imaginary evidence or arguments surrounding imaginary evidence. As I’ve explained, Dawkins is either a savior or a villain according to whatever imaginary evidence and imaginary stories you want to invent. None of it matters except to fill comment pages.

    “My comment @ September 14, 2015 at 9:24 pm addresses this issue.” Not that I can see.

    “To bring judgment against Dawkins on this point doesn’t quite make sense unless you have a definitive answer to the aliens vs divinity question …”: I’ll point out once again that the aliens vs divinity question is an internal spat between opposing New Atheist viewpoints; Jerry Coyne is persistently adamant that the question of God’s existence or otherwise is a scientific question, which can be settled by empirical evidences; the evidence he requires is what you disparagingly call “make-believe evidence”, but which Coyne requires must become real evidence if he is to ever change his mind; Victor Stenger and in past years Richard Dawkins likewise required “make-believe evidence” become real evidence; so it is some of the New Atheists, not us here, who are demanding “make-believe evidence”, and they are demanding it be real : the principal proponents of aliens (etc) are Michael Shermer and, nowadays, Dawkins, who again are New Atheists; the spat is New Atheist against New Atheist. The flood of confusion is your own; mistakes, likewise.

    “And this leads to my point of whether it makes any sense to argue about make-believe evidence and make-believe stories in the first place.” No, it is not we Christians who are arguing about the New Atheist make-believe evidence and make-believe stories: New Atheists are.

    Though as I recently pointed out, the current knowledge that the speed of light is the upper limit on the speed at which ordinary-matter aliens can travel means that aliens able to detect and interact with our only recently noisy humanity must necessarily be living more or less in the same broom cupboard as us, in cosmic terms; that’s possible, but absurdly implausible, especially when combined with the “make-believe” requirement that the aliens be Dawkins’ trickster type. The New Atheists have not just imagined make-believe evidence and make-believe stories, they have imagined absurd make-believe evidence and absurd make-believe stories.

    And Coyne requires the equivalent of a married bachelor as his “make-believe” evidence, which is equally risible. Go tell Coyne and Dawkins (etc) that it makes no sense to argue about their “make-believe evidence and make-believe stories”.

    GC September 16, 2015 at 2:03 am > … this repurposed (and weirdly capitalized) “Gap” stuff …

    Someone who comments adversely on others’ grammar (ie “… weirdly capitalized “Gap” …”), which capitalisation is readily justifiable according to the ordinary usages of English grammar as applied to particular instances and particular types – these are New Atheists’ “Gaps”, remember – should be careful to spell the past participle of “lead” (“led”) correctly.

  38. GC says:

    Folks, it will be hard to hold a conversation if it’s not understood what imaginary evidence is. Imaginary evidence is evidence that we made up. My point, again, is that arguments about imaginary evidence in this context are a waste of time. But at least I can recognize what the arguments are.

    The original post above quotes “even if there was this booming voice…” from this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNcC866sm7s

    Some other quotes are:

    “He [Steve Zara] made the point that a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent.” @ 13:22

    “I can’t think what that evidence would look like.” @ 15:24

    TFBW, there’s the quote you demanded; you owe me an apology for the “paraphrasing and interpreting far too liberally” tangent. I don’t care for these imaginary-evidence arguments, but it simply isn’t true that Dawkins made a “bald assertion of incoherence”. He briefly explains it in the video, and also references Zara. I understand the argument being made, but it doesn’t appear that you do. My point, again, is that none of this actually matters because it’s just making shit up—we’re not talking about evidence from the real world.

    Remember Dawkins has said that the evidence of design would have convinced him to be a theist were it not for the evidence and theory of evolution. (“I could not imagine being an atheist at any time before 1859, when Darwin’s Origin of Species was published.”) Unlike the argument from design, the imaginary scenarios being discussed here aren’t referencing evidence in the real world. The distinction between real and imaginary evidence is an important one.

    You guys are keen to condemn people based upon make-believe evidence and stories, but don’t you realize that it cuts both ways? One could say that, by not being skeptical of alien hoaxers, you show a careless disregard for the human race, potentially dooming us to extinction. Don’t you care about humanity? Don’t you have any sense of morals? See how easy it is to chastise people based upon made-up shit?

  39. Michael says:

    My point, again, is that none of this actually matters because it’s just making shit up—we’re not talking about evidence from the real world.

    Your thinking is deeply confused. Of course it matters. Dawkins tells us that “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.” So we ask him what would count as evidence for God. Y’see, a scientific hypothesis makes testable predictions. Scientists envision what data should exist if the hypothesis is valid. They can also envision that data that would falsify the hypothesis. So they do the experiment to move beyond the hypothetical realm (the realm you ridicule as “making shit up.”). Well, it turns out that not only is Dawkins incapable of envisioning what data would confirm or falsify the god hypothesis, he paints himself into the corner of having to confess nothing could count as evidence for God. He then proceeds to make the Freudian slip of admitting he has only been paying “lip service” to the need for scientific evidence.

    How do we define “lip service?”

    an avowal of advocacy, adherence, or allegiance expressed in words but not backed by deeds

    Examples of LIP SERVICE

    1. She paid lip service to blue-collar workers, but she did nothing to help them.
    2. So far all we’ve gotten from him is lip service.

    The discussion of “imaginary evidence” matters because it illustrates there is no intellectual substance to Dawkins position. He is a closed-minded hyperskeptic pretending to be open minded and scientific about this issue as part of his culture wars agenda. He tries to deceive people into thinking the debate between theism and atheism is about “the evidence.” The sleight of hand has been exposed on this blog, which seems to explain why you seem to be so annoyed with “imaginary evidence.”

  40. TFBW says:

    GC said:

    Folks, it will be hard to hold a conversation if it’s not understood what imaginary evidence is.

    It’s proving hard to hold this conversation because you are obtusely resistant to understanding why such hypotheticals are being included in the discussion. The fact that you refer to it as “imaginary evidence” only emphasises that lack of understanding. Please acknowledge that you understand the following explanation, because I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’re sick to death of your “imaginary evidence” refrain.

    Factual evidence — that is, facts about the real world that we encounter in real life, such as the existence of biological life or our own conscious existence — serves a foundational role in any empirical argument, but the facts themselves are not the only contributor. In order to say that X is evidence for Y, there must be some kind of implied relationship between X and Y such that X has the status of being evidence for Y. For example, we might point to uniform experience: if, in every case where the cause is known, X is caused by Y, and we find an instance of X where the cause is not known, it’s reasonable to suppose that it was caused by Y.

    Purely hypothetical evidence is not useful for determining the state of reality (did you seriously think we believed otherwise? Really?), but it is useful for examining the relationship between empirical data and the thing allegedly implied by that empirical data. In other words, it is a tool of philosophical investigation, analysing the reasoning process rather than drawing conclusions about the nature of reality.

    This is exactly the role in which Dawkins (and Coyne, and others) use hypothetical situations such as a booming voice from heaven, or the second coming, or a 900 foot Jesus. They are asking “would X be evidence for Y?” where X is the hypothetical, and Y is the existence of God. It is exactly this reasoning process which is under criticism here: in the case of Dawkins, the OP alleges that his reasoning process undermines the ability of reason to reach true conclusions. To wit, “if Dawkins and his fans are correct, then it means that when it comes to issues of God, reason and logic are guaranteed to generate false negatives.” That is, Dawkins’ process of reasoning leads inevitably to the conclusion that God does not exist, whether He actually exists or not.

    Nobody is citing “imaginary evidence” for anything. We are looking at the role empirical evidence plays in the reasoning process by considering hypothetical examples. Are we clear? I hope so, because I don’t think I can make it any clearer.

    TFBW, there’s the quote you demanded; you owe me an apology for the “paraphrasing and interpreting far too liberally” tangent.

    I apologise for accusing you of paraphrasing and interpreting. That is, indeed, a real quotation. In future, it would help if you provided the reference with the quote (at least on the first occasion) so that I can easily verify your claims. Let’s view both your quote and mine in the full context.

    @15:08 PB: What would persuade you?
    @15:11 RD: Well, I’m starting to think nothing would, which, in a way, goes against the grain, because I’ve always paid lip service to the view that a scientist should change his mind when evidence is forthcoming. Trouble is, I can’t think what that evidence would look like.

    It looks to me like Dawkins is expressing a mild case of cognitive dissonance there, not an argument for any sort of incoherence (with the possible exception of his own). He knows that evidence is central to the scientific enterprise, yet the category of possible evidence regarding God seems to be empty. His position is that God almost certainly doesn’t exist, not that God is a meaningless concept. His “Ultimate Boeing 747” argument from The God Delusion is an argument that God is the most improbable thing imaginable, not that God is an incoherent concept. We can’t afford to interpret this as an argument for incoherence unless we accept the consequence that he’s completely changed his tune from “God very probably doesn’t exist” to “God isn’t even a coherent concept”. I don’t see enough surrounding change to make such a radical shift a plausible interpretation.

    Let’s put that quote in the context of our previous exchange.

    GC: “None of it matters until there is actual evidence to discuss.”
    TFBW: “On the contrary, GC, there can be no meaningful discussion on whether evidence exists unless we have first established what form that evidence would take.”
    GC: “Why must evidence be in a form that someone has imagined?”
    TFBW: “It doesn’t have to be, but if you have no prior idea as to what evidence looks like, then how will you recognise it when you see it?”

    Dawkins is in exactly the position I describe: he has no prior idea as to what the evidence would look like, so, unless one day he sees something which triggers a personal epiphany, there’s absolutely nothing we can point to which he will recognise as evidence for God even if it is the best possible evidence. Either Dawkins is right about the impossibility of scientific evidence for God, in which case science can’t tell us whether God exists, or he’s wrong about it, in which case he is not a competent scientist in that particular field because, by his own admission, he has no idea what the evidence would look like.

    … it simply isn’t true that Dawkins made a “bald assertion of incoherence”. He briefly explains it in the video, and also references Zara. I understand the argument being made, but it doesn’t appear that you do.

    As I already pointed out, Zara’s article never mentions the word “incoherent”, and is not an argument for noncognitivism: the first half of the article is an argument that there can be no scientific evidence for God (premised on a coherent definition of God); the second half is an assertion about the dangers of theism and why it must be opposed. Don’t conveniently ignore my responses and then assert that you understand the issues better than I do — it’s nothing but applied arrogance. Dawkins mentions “incoherent” in passing, does not construct an argument to support that claim, does not reference an argument which supports that claim, and does not do so in a context which even suggests that he’s using the term in the technical sense which would imply an argument from noncognitivism. It is just a bald assertion of incoherence, and it’s probably most charitable to assume he’s just using it as a synonym for “unacceptable”, or similar.

    Look, it’s possible that there’s some article by Zara which argues for noncognitivism. If anyone wants to do a comprehensive survey of articles by Zara on the old richarddawkins.net stite, then start here. Finding that link is as much effort as I’m prepared to invest right now. I have simply assumed that Dawkins is referring to the article which is most widely cited, seems highly relevant, and describes itself as a simplification of Zara’s past musings on the subject, so is presumably the most up-to-date. Point is, I’ve given way more evidence to back up my interpretation than you have given to back up yours. And, unlike you, I’m not willing to assume that you’re way smarter than me, so get specific with your citations and quotations if you want to make a case instead of just asserting that you understand the argument and I don’t. You don’t have the clout to mount an argument from your own authority. Sheesh.

  41. Squirrely says:

    I was curious about GC’s age because of a peculiar thing I’ve noticed about gnu atheists. Whenever I take part in or follow arguments with them online, the mental picture I always seem to form of them is that of a smug, petulant teenager. This is the case even for those I’ve later discovered had reached late middle age.

    This could just be due to a subjective quirk of mine, but I think it may be deeper than that. For example, it’s not something that I’ve noticed when arguing with other groups that seem to be impervious to reason: political ideologues of left or right, extreme Christian fundamentalists, etc. In those cases I find myself imagining idiots and crazies of all ages.

    I feel like some substantial insights into the psychology of gnu atheism could be made here, but I don’t think I’m clever enough to make them. Or perhaps I just can’t convince myself it’s worth the effort. Actually, I’m sure someone else has already done it.

  42. Kevin says:

    You’re not alone. I think it’s the absolute arrogance and belief in their own infallibility, their inability to think rationally, and their complete lack of wisdom that always makes me think “teenager”.

  43. Dhay says:

    GC Folks, it will be hard to hold a conversation if it’s not understood what imaginary evidence is. Imaginary evidence is evidence that we made up.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
    Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

    You write confidently, as if it were strange that we should fail to understand how you use the term “imaginary evidence”, so I looked online (Google) to see how others used it. I tried:
    “Imaginary evidence”
    Define “imaginary evidence”
    Wiki “imaginary evidence”
    What I got was the excellent Ben Goldacre’s take-down of Andrew Rawnsley’s claim in Parliament that his NHS reforms were “based on the evidence”; and an interesting comment on how jumping from the film, The Matrix, or I, Robot, or Star Trek‘s The Borg, to a vision of the future based on them as starting point is using imaginary evidence for 98% of their conclusion; and a few book reviews which didn’t look relevant; and much else that is not relevant.

    Indeed, none of it seems at all relevant to how you, personally, have here used the term, “imaginary evidence”.

    I see you use “”imaginary scenario” as a synonymous term. I looked up “scenario”, and found it principally refers to the plot and scenes of books and plays, and of works of fiction generally. If you are dismissing the Coyne vs Dawkins spat as fantasy vs science fiction, welcome to the party.

  44. Kevin says:

    Maybe imaginary is synonymous with hypothetical?

  45. FZM says:

    Dawkins mentions “incoherent” in passing, does not construct an argument to support that claim, does not reference an argument which supports that claim, and does not do so in a context which even suggests that he’s using the term in the technical sense which would imply an argument from noncognitivism. It is just a bald assertion of incoherence, and it’s probably most charitable to assume he’s just using it as a synonym for “unacceptable”, or similar.

    From following the discussion with GC so far I think this is an important point. I got the impression that GC has also been using ‘incoherent’ to mean something like ‘unacceptable’ or ‘invalid’ as opposed to logically inconsistent/contradictory, self refuting etc. (I understand that the more specific kind of meaning which would link back to noncognitivism and logical positivism etc.).

    In the main the kind of problem with hypothetical second coming scenarios raised by GC didn’t seem to be that they were incoherent as concepts (and therefore necessarily impossible) but that they could be invalid or unacceptable as evidence for divine intervention. This seemed to be because alternate explanations would likely be available and it would prove difficult to obtain the extra evidence that would be necessary to decide between them.

    On the other hand I wrote ‘in the main’ because I wondered if GC was making another secondary point about hypothetical scenarios. This would be that we can’t know if they are actually possible in this world (even if they seem logically consistent and therefore metaphysically possible) until they happen or already have happened. (There’s already been some discussion of this point, which I guess could get quite complicated). So perhaps with these kind of hypothetical scenarios perhaps you could argue that it isn’t necessary to consider them until they actually arise, without going as far as to say (as I imagine noncognitivists would) that it is in principle impossible that such a scenario with divine activity as it’s cause could ever arise.

    It looks like one issue with what Dawkins has been quoted as saying in this thread is that it’s not totally clear which position he is adopting. Some of the things he says seem to indicate a noncognitivist approach, this is then contradicted a line or two later. Maybe Dawkins is trying to adopt some kind of ‘practical noncognitivist’ approach; while not denying that in principle divine intervention is a possibility he claims that in the context of his epistemology nothing could ever count as good evidence for divine activity so there could never be good grounds for believing it had occurred.

  46. Doug says:

    @Kevin,
    Thank you for interpreting GC for us. I am certain that you are correct: that GC intended “imaginary” to mean “hypothetical”. Now please explain to us what he could have against hypotheticals? Scientist engage in “thought experiments” all the time.

  47. Kevin says:

    I have no idea what his problem with hypotheticals is, unless he just feels the need to defend Dawkins no matter what.

    Since I am often unable to interpret tone correctly, in case you think I am defending GC, please read my posts above the one you referenced. I don’t agree with GC at all.

  48. Doug says:

    @Kevin,
    I understand — I was being totally honest in my thanks. I found GC to be barely coherent, and your insight made him intelligible.

  49. Dhay says:

    Richard Dawkins > even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory, the probable explanation is that it is a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield … a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything. A non-supernatural Second Coming could be aliens from outer space.

    A New Atheist Horseman has here declared that a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. Dawkins is just one of the Horsemen, and there are two more, so let’s have a look at what another Horsemen declares or denies to be incoherent.

    Fellow New Atheist Horsemen Jerry Coyne declares in his latest book that supernatural explanations are not incoherent, but are instead scientific hypotheses:

    The most novel aspect of “New Atheism” is the observation that most religions are grounded in claims that can be regarded as scientific. That is, God, and the tenets of many religions, are hypotheses that can, at least in principle, be examined by science and reason.
    [Emphases original.]
    http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Versus-Fact-Religion-Incompatible/dp/0670026530#reader_B00O4RHN64

    The example that Coyne proposes of a scientific test of the Christianity hypothesis is to wait for a scripted-by-Coyne “Second Coming”; this is to be largely just a pop-in visit to Coyne’s local hospital, which visit must both conform to the details of Coyne’s idiosyncratic demands, and conform in all details to Christian theology.

    It’s easy to poke fun at Coyne’s inanity, but the essential point I want to draw attention to is the conflict of ideas between Coyne and Dawkins.

    In the October 2013 video Dawkins dismissed Coyne’s idea that a “Second Coming” could be used as a scientific test – “a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything”, he said; now, in 2015, Coyne has made a point of disagreeing with and contradicting Dawkins’ declaration that a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent, writing in his book that his scripted “Second Coming” would be valid evidence for the supernatural.

  50. Dhay says:

    A New Atheist Horseman has here declared that a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. Dawkins is just one of the Horsemen, and there are two more, so let’s have a look at what another Horsemen declares or denies to be incoherent.

    To find out what ideas New Age Horseman and Buddhist spiritual leader, Sam Harris has found incoherent, we can look at his 2011 “The Mystery of Consciousness” blog post:

    Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness

    If I read this right (together with its extensive context), space, time and matter, indeed everything “in this universe” – everything except consciousness can be illusory; only consciousness cannot be illusory.

    This declaration shows that Harris shares the Absolute Idealism common to Yogacara Buddhist philosophy – no surprise, there – and to the British mainstream philosophy of a hundred years or so ago (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/its-just-so-obvious.html).

    In Philosophical Idealism you start from the notion that the existence of consciousness is certain (and certainly not illusory) then try to work from that to justify the notion of the existence of an external universe of space, time and matter (including fields and forces, vacuum fluctuations, and the other gossamer spawn of modern physics); in the Materialism which replaced it in the modern West (and especially in the Philosophical Materialism so beloved of Dawkins and of Jerry Coyne) you start from the notion that the existence of an external universe of space, time and matter is certain and try – and fail, says Harris – to justify the notion of the existence of consciousness.

    Harris takes a passing nod towards the influence of Idealism on some the early 20th Century’s greatest physicists, then says:

    … once physicists got down to the serious business of building bombs, we were apparently returned to a universe of objects—and to a style of discourse, across all branches of science and philosophy, that made the mind seem ripe for reduction to the “physical” world. The problem, however, is that no evidence for consciousness exists in the physical world.

    Absolutely nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, suggests that it is a locus of experience.

    As a retired qualified neuroscientist, one with the keen Buddhist’s particular interest in studying and understanding consciousness, Harris is qualified to make that comment. He then dismisses as incomprehensible the idea that consciousness did “emerge” from unconscious biological processes, or could “emerge” in future from unconscious computing processes:

    Most scientists are confident that consciousness emerges from unconscious complexity … this notion of emergence strikes me as nothing more than a restatement of a miracle. To say that consciousness emerged at some point in the evolution of life doesn’t give us an inkling of how it could emerge from unconscious processes, even in principle. I believe that this notion of emergence is incomprehensible.

    And from the following passage, it seems that Harris is using “incomprehensible” and “incoherent” as ‘elegant variation’ (ie the skilled author’s preference for using synonyms instead of repeating the same word or phrase):

    Likewise, the idea that consciousness is identical to (or emerged from) unconscious physical events is, I would argue, impossible to properly conceive—which is to say that we can think we are thinking it, but we are mistaken. We can say the right words, of course—“consciousness emerges from unconscious information processing.” We can also say “Some squares are as round as circles” and “2 plus 2 equals 7.” But are we really thinking these things all the way through? I don’t think so.

    Harris hammers home his convictions that consciousness cannot be found within unconsciouss processes (though with the obligatory nod to say he is only at 6.9 on a seven-point scale of certainty and could in theory be persuaded otherwise) and that the idea that it can is incoherent:

    … an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness. However, this is not to say that some other thesis about consciousness must be true. Consciousness may very well be the lawful product of unconscious information processing. But I don’t know what that sentence means—and I don’t think anyone else does either.

    Interestingly, in emphasising how incoherent the idea of the “emergence” of consciousness from unconscious processes is, Harris draws a parallel with another something-emerging-from-nothing absurdity: Harris says that the New Atheist Shetland Pony Rider Lawrence Krauss “has written a wonderful book arguing that the universe does indeed emerge from nothing”; but Harris comes not to praise Krauss, but to ‘bury’ him; he ‘buries’ Krauss as the proponent of an idea which is incomprehensible and incoherent:

    I believe that this notion of emergence is incomprehensible—rather like a naive conception of the big bang. The idea that everything (matter, space-time, their antecedent causes, and the very laws that govern their emergence) simply sprang into being out of nothing seems worse than a paradox. “Nothing,” after all, is precisely that which cannot give rise to “anything,” let alone “everything.”

    … this is not an explanation of how the universe came into being. To say “Everything came out of nothing” is to assert a brute fact that defies our most basic intuitions of cause and effect—a miracle, in other words. Likewise, [the idea that consciousness …] … impossible to properly conceive—which is to say that we can think we are thinking it, but we are mistaken. We can say … “Some squares are as round as circles” and “2 plus 2 equals 7.” But are we really thinking these things all the way through? I don’t think so.

    To sum up: Harris, the joker in the New Atheist pack, is probably not just a Buddhist (and possibly, even probably, a vows-taken Bodhisattva); to me, he looks like he is a de facto Philosophical Idealist playing inconspicuous among Philosophical Materialists.

    Harris derides the usual Materialist idea that consciousness can be reduced to the meat (or the computing) in a meat-computer (or that consciousness can be denied completely) as an idea that is incomprehensible and incoherent.

    And Harris derides the idea that this universe appeared out of nothing – a properly understood nothing, not Krauss’ quantum vacuum – as an idea that is incomprehensible and incoherent.

    It is in various directions that science and reason take the Horsemen. Methinks that when the Horsemen ride – or are they already supposed to be riding, I never worked it out – they will ride out, not together but in different directions, and with their backs to each other.

  51. Dhay says:

    Found it: yes, as discussed above, there’s definitely a head-on clash between the views of Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris.

    Coyne:

    People like to think they can make choices. They like to think that consciousness is something other than an illusion that comes from molecular interactions.

    http://www.fivebooks.com/interviews/jerry-coyne-on-incompatibility-religion-and-science

    Harris:

    Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.

  52. Kevin says:

    But boy oh boy, we can sure trust their reasoning when it comes to God. I’m sorry, god.

  53. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne > People like to think they can make choices.

    This part of my Coyne quote refers to an area where Coyne and Sam Harris seem superficially to be in agreement, namely their common idea of no free will.

    (There’s also what they both regard as the desirable consequences of accepting the idea of no free will, especially that we will never, ever find someone guilty of a crime — it was their genes and environment what done it, m’lud.)

    There are, however, major differences. Coyne believes that free will is impossible because our brains are nothing but meat-computers, and if you examine the brain you find nothing but matter, each and every part of which behaves deterministically — or if it doesn’t, Coyne is eager to accept that in principle it must — therefore no free will.

    Harris, on the other hand, works on the basis that when you examine experience, you find nothing but experience — no self that experiences, no self that causes experience, therefore no free will.

    A common conclusion, yes, but reached from very different or even opposing starting points: Coyne thinks of consciousness as the famous Ghost in the Machine of a material universe, whereas Harris’ conclusion that there can be no such thing as a self if he can’t find one in conscious experience applies just as well as a conclusion denying a material external world or universe of space, time and matter (including fields and forces, vacuum fluctuations, and the other gossamer spawn of modern physics).

    Coyne’s and Harris’ conclusion-in-common that there is no free will masks opposite starting points, and masks conflicting approaches to how to reach that conclusion.

    *

    These two Horsemen are in conflict not only with each other, but also with New Atheist Shetland Pony Rider Dan Dennett, who accepts and argues strongly for a form of free will, a free will unacceptable to both in any form.

    Dennett has in common with Coyne that he is an eliminative materialist, so it is with the Idealism of Harris that Dennett disagrees most fundamentally; Wiki says: “Searle said further: “To put it as clearly as I can: in his book, Consciousness Explained, Dennett denies the existence of consciousness””.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness_Explained

    Harris: “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.”

    When the Horsemen ride they will ride out, not together but in different directions, and with their backs to each other. The Pony riders will scatter in separate different directions.

  54. Larry Olson says:

    “This, of course, is powerful evidence of Dawkins’ closed mind. ”

    Yes, certainly, Dawkins has such a closed mind that it is open to the simulation argument by Nick Bostrom (intelligent design) and he has even made videos on youtube about such theories, relating to Second Life simulation game. Oh he’s so closed minded, certainly. If you had done any research… so open minded, but not so much that his brain fell out.

  55. If you had done any research… so open minded, but not so much that his brain fell out.

    …You’re new here, aren’t you?

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