More Bad Science and Bad Theology from Sam Harris

Sam Harris, when recently interviewed by salon.com, raised his tired old “zero-sum contest” claims about religion and science:

But we shouldn’t lie about the zero-sum contest between reason and faith—and, therefore, between science and religion.

There first thing to note is how quickly Harris reaches for the word “lie.”  This language exposes Harris as an extremist and ideologue.  Y’see, it’s not that people are mistaken, nor is it that people see things differently.  Instead, there is a moral dimension to their “wrong” views – they are lying.  Sam Harris is so certain of his own views, and so closed-minded about differing views, that he naturally dismisses different viewpoints as “lies.”

Sorry Sam, but you are wrong in thinking there is a “zero-sum contest between reason and faith—and, therefore, between science and religion.”  I have debunked this before. That talking point is premised on bad science and bad theology.  Let’s have a look.

Religious people do make claims about the nature of reality on the basis of their faith, and these claims conflict with both the methods and conclusions of science.

Conflicting with the method of science (the need for controlled, objective, experimental testing) is irrelevant.  Being a good father, being a good husband, and being a good politician, all conflict with the methods of science.  But this does not mean being a father, husband, and politician means you are in a zero-sum game with science.

Conclusions are different and it would depend on the conclusion itself.  Harris thinks:

If you believe that the historical Jesus was born of a virgin, resurrected, and will be coming back to Earth, you are a Christian. Indeed, it would controversial is to call oneself a Christian without believing these things. But each of these claims rests on terrible evidence and stands in contradiction to most of what we now know about the world. The odds are overwhelming that Jesus was neither born of a virgin, nor resurrected.

Epic fail.

First, Christians have always believed, from the beginning, that virgin birth and resurrection were miracles.  Thus, if science is to test these religious claims, science must come up with experiments to determine a) was Jesus miraculously born of a virgin and b) did Jesus miraculously raise from the dead?  Have any such experiments been done?  Of course not.  A truly scientific claim must have at its basis an experimental result.  If the scientific claim is not rooted in experimental findings, it is bad science.

Now yes, someone can point to all kinds of experimental work helping us understand why the dead stay dead and why a man (sperm) and woman (egg) are needed to make a child (fertilization).  But here science is simply helping us understand what commonly occurs.  Science is not in any way testing whether a miracle did occur or even could occur.

Second, Harris’s “odds” argument is silly nonsense.  That argument would only apply if Christians believe, and have always believed, the virgin birth and resurrection were naturally occurring events.   Since such events have always been thought to be miracles, and such miraculous claims cannot be assessed through probability analysis, the “odds” argument is junk science.

Third, one might argue if only science had documented several other examples of virgin births and resurrections, then science would support these Christian claims.  But this would take us down the road of Bad Theology.  If virgin births and resurrections were common enough to be detected and studied by science, there would be nothing special about them.  They would just be rare, but detectable, events.  Christian theology has always been built around the very special nature of these one-time events, because they signified all sorts of theological insights.  So oddly enough, the only way science could support these Christian claims would at the same time rob them of their significance and meaning.

So yes, the Christian beliefs about Jesus’s birth and resurrection are not the output of science.  They are not part of science and not what science teaches.  But that does NOT mean such beliefs are part of some zero-sum contest with science.  That notion is founded on a misguided understanding of both science and Christianity.

One more excerpt from Harris:

Of course, we can pretend that none of this is happening and that science and religion represent “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould infamously said. But this is a lie. And it’s a lie that has many unhappy consequences.

Harris is back to his extremism, where those who don’t think like him are “pretending” and telling “lies.”  Sam doesn’t understand that Christian belief about Jesus does not overlap with science.  If he or his fans disagree, the burden is on them to come up with experiments to test the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus.  Of course, they would all fail to design and implement such experiments.  It’s because I am right; it’s because of the non-overlapping nature of these beliefs and science.  That Sam would label such logical thinking a “lie” speaks to his own anti-religious bigotry.

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100 Responses to More Bad Science and Bad Theology from Sam Harris

  1. Allallt says:

    You don’t seem to understand the language Harris is using.
    Your politician and father analogy fail because neither of those are at odds with science. Being a good father is either understandable through science (we have plenty of information on the formative years of children) else is a strictly moral question and outside the purview of science. The same is not true for the sun resting the sky for several days or the long-dead coming back to life.

    To argue that certain things are not in contradiction to science because they are miracles is also a strange and very poor defence. Miracles are contradictions to science. ‘Understanding’ miracles involves a circumvention in the methods and knowledge of science. No one considers miracles a viable option for explaining things and no one plans their day knowing a miracles could happen.

  2. Michael says:

    You don’t seem to understand the language Harris is using.

    Oh, but I do.

    Your politician and father analogy fail because neither of those are at odds with science. Being a good father is either understandable through science (we have plenty of information on the formative years of children) else is a strictly moral question and outside the purview of science. The same is not true for the sun resting the sky for several days or the long-dead coming back to life.

    Your criticism fails because you don’t understand we’re talking about methods at this point. For example, the methods of a good politician could include emotional manipulation and the effective use of propaganda. Do you understand that those methods conflict with the scientific method?

    To argue that certain things are not in contradiction to science because they are miracles is also a strange and very poor defence. Miracles are contradictions to science. ‘Understanding’ miracles involves a circumvention in the methods and knowledge of science. No one considers miracles a viable option for explaining things and no one plans their day knowing a miracles could happen.

    These are silly talking points premised on a misguided understanding of science. Miracles fall outside the domain of science. That is why science cannot tell us whether or not Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. If you disagree, then show us the scientific studies that determined Jesus did or did not rise from the dead. Explain the experimental design that resolves the dispute.

  3. Allallt says:

    That’s not all science is.

  4. Michael says:

    The experimental approach may not be all there is to science, but it is a necessary, core aspect of science.

    Harris, Coyne, and others like to list off the accomplishments of science when compared to religion. Pay attention. The list of advances all owe their existence to the experimental approach. DNA as genetic material? Experiments. DNA as double helix? Experiments. Genetic code? Experiments. H. pylori as a cause of ulcers? Experiments. Spirochaetes as a cause of joint inflammation? Experiments. On and on it goes. Now, Harris and Coyne confuse the public with their dumbed-down definition of science – something akin to “reason + empirical observation”. But that dumbed-down definition of science has a shitty track record of success. “Reason + empirical obsevervation” told us proteins were the genetic material and DNA was a simple organic molecule. It told us stress was the cause of ulcers. The success of science is found in the experiment. Take away the experiment, and you just have another form of philosophy with no impressive track record of success.

    Like I said, science cannot determine whether or not Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. Those who don’t agree don’t understand how science works.

  5. Allallt says:

    Okay. But conclusions from experiments have reach: they don’t apply to only where they were observed.
    I’ll use your ulcer example. Scientists discovered Helicobacter pylori in patients with stomach ulcers by biopsying ulcers and taking samples. It is, therefore, not reasonable for me to start saying stress causes ulcers in me, not H pylori. That plead to consider me a special case is not reasonable. If I get a stomach ulcer, it is not deemed necessary to examine me as a special or miraculous case to see if I have H pylori.
    Every death, then, has been an experiment into whether people come back after being dead for three days. From this extensive evidence we can say, with as much confidence as we can say just about anything in science, people do not come back from the dead after three days. (Just like H pylori causes ulcers.) It is therefore not reasonable to assert we have to treat the Jesus case like a special case; we have this rule–this law of biology–that works.
    Doubting that science has reach and that it creates rules and explanations to which we can apply to things is to doubt that you can know whether your wallet will drop if you let go of it, or if it will float away, until after you’ve let go. It is to doubt that history and previous experiments are relevant to knowledge at all. To turn this into Harris’ argument: it is in conflict with the methods and the knowledge of science.

    So, it’s not that science can’t determine whether Jesus rose from the dead, it’s that it’s already determined that he didn’t. Because: science.

    Reasonable enquiry also depends upon good explanations. There isn’t a good explanation as to why Jesus should be investigated as an exception to biology and physics. Saying “miracle” is not an explanation: it could ‘explain’ anything, it offers no details and no information. It is no greater explanation to call on “son of God” or “God can intervene”; these also are not explanations as they actually explain nothing.

  6. TFBW says:

    Harris’ choice of words, “we shouldn’t lie about the zero-sum contest between reason and faith—and, therefore, between science and religion,” is a masterful piece of rhetoric. He immediately poisons the well of his opponents views by insinuating that they are being intentionally deceptive for their cause without ever directly accusing them of lying (“we shouldn’t lie” insinuates, but is plausibly deniable as an accusation). He simultaneously frames the debate as having facts settled in his favour (to lie, one must already know the truth of the matter). Less subtly, and less masterfully, he tries to slip a false implication under our noses (the “therefore”), but I think his angle is to assert that implication early and often in the hopes that it will be taken for granted.

    That little statement is so jam-packed with sleight of mind that most people are bound to think that there’s some sort of valid point in there somewhere, even if they detect a bit of less-than-rigorous reasoning. Top notch propaganda, Sam.

  7. SteveK says:

    “Every death, then, has been an experiment into whether people come back after being dead for three days. From this extensive evidence we can say, with as much confidence as we can say just about anything in science, people do not come back from the dead after three days ”

    True. People don’t normally come back from the dead. All you’re doing here is telling us that miracle events, if they occur, are extremely rare. Your mistake is thinking that science has weighed in on the question of God and miracles. It hasn’t because science cannot perform the necessary experiments. You see, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions God does what God wants to do.

  8. Michael says:

    Okay. But conclusions from experiments have reach: they don’t apply to only where they were observed.

    Sure. If you are dealing with naturally occurring regularities. And the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus don’t count as such.

    What’s more, the reach is limited. We know this because science must proceed by doing experiments in series, over time. You do the experiment, make a small reach, which sets up a new experiment. Rinse and repeat. The history of science is loaded with examples where scientists have over-reached and ended up with egg on their face. For example, there was/is a ton of experimental data demonstrating the catalytic power of proteins. From these data, scientists reached to notion that ribosomal proteins created the peptide bonds. It wasn’t until new experimental data arrived that scientists became aware of the erroneous nature of this reach.

    Put simply, the greater the distance between the results and the results, the greater the likelihood you’ve transformed science into philosophy.

    I’ll use your ulcer example. Scientists discovered Helicobacter pylori in patients with stomach ulcers by biopsying ulcers and taking samples.

    And the first such studies were ignored and mocked. Why? Because of the reach of previous studies that showed a) the stomach was too hostile for microbial growth and b) the correlation studies between stress and ulcers. It wasn’t until one of the researchers infected himself to demonstrate an undeniable cause-effect relationship that other scientists began to take the claim seriously. Once again, showing how the reach can mislead and the crucial, vital importance of the experiment.

    It is, therefore, not reasonable for me to start saying stress causes ulcers in me, not H pylori. That plead to consider me a special case is not reasonable. If I get a stomach ulcer, it is not deemed necessary to examine me as a special or miraculous case to see if I have H pylori.

    Of course. Ulcers are regularly, naturally occurring events, where 1 out of 10 will suffer from them at some point in their life. What’s more, there would be no theological significance to your ulcer.

    Every death, then, has been an experiment into whether people come back after being dead for three days.

    In science, common experience is not the same as an experiment. You are just trying to make your armchair philosophy sound sciencey here.

    From this extensive evidence we can say, with as much confidence as we can say just about anything in science, people do not come back from the dead after three days. (Just like H pylori causes ulcers.)

    Sure. And the first Christians would have agreed. People have known this long before science came along. And that’s precisely why Jesus’s resurrection was viewed as a miracle.

    It is therefore not reasonable to assert we have to treat the Jesus case like a special case; we have this rule–this law of biology–that works.

    Wow. So you insist on testing the central claim of Christianity by ignoring the central claim. The virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus are deeply connected to the Incarnation. You could not possibly have a more special case than that. What you want to do is argue that if Christianity is true, there should be nothing special about it. As I note above,

    Third, one might argue if only science had documented several other examples of virgin births and resurrections, then science would support these Christian claims. But this would take us down the road of Bad Theology. If virgin births and resurrections were common enough to be detected and studied by science, there would be nothing special about them. They would just be rare, but detectable, events. Christian theology has always been built around the very special nature of these one-time events, because they signified all sorts of theological insights. So oddly enough, the only way science could support these Christian claims would at the same time rob them of their significance and meaning.

    You also assert:

    Doubting that science has reach and that it creates rules and explanations to which we can apply to things is to doubt that you can know whether your wallet will drop if you let go of it, or if it will float away, until after you’ve let go. It is to doubt that history and previous experiments are relevant to knowledge at all. To turn this into Harris’ argument: it is in conflict with the methods and the knowledge of science.

    Like Harris, you argue against straw men. I don’t doubt that science has reach. I simply understand that the central claims of Christianity, even if true, would be beyond the reach of science that exists. I understand this because I understand a) how science works and b) the central claims of Christian faith.

    So, it’s not that science can’t determine whether Jesus rose from the dead, it’s that it’s already determined that he didn’t. Because: science.

    Nonsense. All you’ve done is used armchair philosophy to label common experience as science. I understand atheists have a need to enlist science as a weapon in their war against religion, but in doing so, they misrepresent and misuse science.

    Look, I don’t expect you to let go of the “science shows Jesus did not rise from the dead” But you ought, at some point, to consider three independent facts that all undercut your position.

    1. When you claim that science shows Jesus did not rise from the dead, you are unable to point to any experimental studies to support your claim. Instead, you rely on armchair philosophy. In science, this is not how it is done. If someone says science shows X, we expect that person to be able to produce the experimental results that show X. If a creationist tells you that science shows humans could not have evolved, yet cannot produce the studies that shows humans could not have evolved, and instead offers philosophical arguments, would you be impressed?

    2. Have you failed to notice that the only people who agree with you are other militant atheists? The position you advocate is considered a crackpot position in academia. It is explicitly denied by many mainstream scientific organizations. Why do you think Jerry Coyne’s book, which set out to mainstream this incompatibility argument, was a total flop? Have you noticed there have been no mainstream scholars or scientists, not part of the Gnu movement, to endorse and promote Coyne’s book/thesis?

    The great irony is that Coyne himself recognizes your science vs. religion argument is not science:

    But there’s one thing about his piece that bothers me: Barash’s article is about how he tells his animal behavior class that science and religion are incompatible. In other words, he’s making theological arguments at a public university.

    3. There is a caveat to point #2. You are not alone if we consider history. In the Soviet Union, your science vs. religion arguments were part of the propaganda used by militant atheist organizations. So there are two groups of “thinkers” who agree with you – modern day atheist activists and old school Soviet atheist activists. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in those of us who value critical thinking.

  9. Kevin says:

    Allalt, I doubt anyone here would take exception if you were to say something like “I do not see sufficient evidence to believe that someone rose from the dead.” That’s a subjective matter for each person to decide.

    But if, in reality, Jesus rose from the dead, then science will fail you as a means of perceiving truth, just like science will Gail you as to knowing whether or not I clapped my hands prior to writing this. There is nothing repeatable about either of them, there are no experiments that can be devised, so what exactly is science going to say about them?

  10. Kevin says:

    I love autocorrect. Science will not Gail you.

  11. Doug says:

    @Kevin,
    You didn’t clap your hands before writing this. Not that that’s science. I’m just psycho… I mean, psychic.

  12. Kevin says:

    You know what they say about genius and insanity…

  13. Allallt says:

    Are you trying to tell me that the applicability of science is not mainstream thinking in academia, and the subversion of science in inexplorable phenomena called ‘miracles’ is mainstream? Or are you making the conveniently ambiguous point that academics don’t talk about whether science actually explains things, because that conversation is settled? Or are you taking slightly dishonest advantage of the fact many academics decide not too engage in these topics, and certainly not publicly? Because I haven’t said anything crackpot at all.

  14. Michael says:

    Because I haven’t said anything crackpot at all.

    Really? You said:

    So, it’s not that science can’t determine whether Jesus rose from the dead, it’s that it’s already determined that he didn’t.

    Classic crackpot.

    Relying on dumbed-down definitions of science? Check.
    Unable to support claim with actual scientific studies and data? Check.
    Making scientific claims not supported by mainstream scientific community? Check.
    Claim accepted only by fringe, extremist groups? Check.

  15. TFBW says:

    Allallt said:

    Every death, then, has been an experiment into whether people come back after being dead for three days. From this extensive evidence we can say, with as much confidence as we can say just about anything in science, people do not come back from the dead after three days. … It is therefore not reasonable to assert we have to treat the Jesus case like a special case; we have this rule–this law of biology–that works.

    I really, really struggle to interpret this in a way which doesn’t involve the question of the resurrection being thoroughly begged. The part that I have quoted up to the ellipsis I can more or less agree with, except for the fact that it seriously cheapens science by equating “universal common experience” with “experiment”. It’s a side issue compared to my main beef, however, so I’ll let it slide.

    Beyond the ellipsis, I’m flabbergasted. If the sense of, “we have this rule–this law of biology–that works” were, “we should not abandon our belief in the Law of Permanent Death on the basis of isolated miracles, even if they are genuine,” then I could agree with it entirely. But context demands that this can’t be the sense in which it is being offered. Rather, I must interpret it as, “our observations show the existence of a Universal and Absolutely Inviolable Rule, such that any claims to the contrary must necessarily be false.”

    This amounts to the claim, “we observe that miracles are not possible because we do not observe any miracles.” Put that way, it sounds silly, but I don’t see how to salvage it. This is where the question-begging aspect comes in: the question springs to mind, “what if we did observe such a miracle?” That such an observation was made in the case of Jesus is, after all, the question being addressed here. If the “because: science” argument is to hold at all, however, it seems that we must know a fortiori that the thing itself is strictly impossible, and the only basis that we have for such an assertion is the fact that we have always observed the one outcome.

    Our universal common experience on the subject gives us ample cause to think that resurrection does not happen naturally. If we don’t have strong assurance that resurrection is strictly impossible even for God, however, then we are begging the questions of God’s existence and His ability to act in the material realm by asserting that these things are not possible because we have good cause to think that they cannot happen naturally.

    These problems seem rather severe to me. Perhaps, Allallt, you’d care to address them in a blog post on your own site (if you haven’t done so already) and link to it from here, because it’s arguably tangential to the Sam Harris sophistry which is actually being discussed here.

  16. Allallt says:

    That’s an interesting technique to not engage the content of my comment.

  17. Dhay says:

    Allallt > Are you trying to tell me that the applicability of science is not mainstream thinking in academia, and the subversion of science in inexplorable phenomena called ‘miracles’ is mainstream?

    Are you trying to use the “All swans are white — science has demonstrated this by countless observations over centuries — therefore there cannot be any black swans” argument. I seem to remember that this was one of those classic fallacies of scientific methodology which were addressed and dismissed by Karl Popper in his “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”.

  18. Michael says:

    That’s an interesting technique to not engage the content of my comment.

    I did. You mean you want the rest? Okay.

    Are you trying to tell me that the applicability of science is not mainstream thinking in academia, and the subversion of science in inexplorable phenomena called ‘miracles’ is mainstream?

    Nope. What I told you is the Christian beliefs about Jesus’s birth and resurrection are not the output of science. They are not part of science and not what science teaches. But that does NOT mean such beliefs are part of some zero-sum contest with science. What’s more, if science is to test these religious claims, science must come up with experiments to determine a) was Jesus miraculously born of a virgin and b) did Jesus miraculously raise from the dead? Have any such experiments been done? Of course not. A truly scientific claim must have at its basis an experimental result.

    The mainstream thinking in academia is to rejected scientism and recognize that science cannot determine whether or not God exists or whether Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead. Anyone is free to argue against the truth of Christianity, you just can’t dishonestly portray science as the one making the argument.

    Or are you making the conveniently ambiguous point that academics don’t talk about whether science actually explains things, because that conversation is settled?

    Nope. I am noting that just because science can explain cell division (for example) does not mean it can determine whether or not Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. We have tons is research studies on the former, none of the latter. As the AAAS explains in its official statement, ” Science is a process of seeking natural explanations for natural phenomena.”

    Or are you taking slightly dishonest advantage of the fact many academics decide not too engage in these topics, and certainly not publicly?

    That the fact makes you uncomfortable because it highlights the fringe status of your scientism does not mean I am taking “dishonest advantage” of the fact. What’s dishonest is the way New Atheists try to account for the lack of support for their position. New Atheist authors are on record accusing mainstream academia of secretly agreeing with them, but being afraid to speak out for fear of losing their funding. In other words, New Atheists portray academics as greedy, selfish cowards. Another sign of crackpot.

  19. Allallt says:

    @Dhay – no, I’m not only using induction.
    @TFBW – even if I do write it, I post on Wednesdays and I’m all scheduled up until the end of February. If I do write it, I’ll be sure to put a link in just in case.
    @Michael (but also everyone else) – It strikes me as an odd philosophical stance that I am begging the question here. I am applying science in a domain–physical events–where science is applicable. It’s not just induction, but also the power of the explanations and understanding that allows for reasonable extrapolations. That is within the purview of science. To claim that there just in an exception, and to know that without an experiment to validate or even begin to explain the reason why is at odds with both the methods and the results of science.
    The issue is this: Stephen Jay Gould is wrong about non-overlapping magisteria: there are times where there is overlap. This is one of those times. Science and religion (the magisteria) offer answers to the same question (the overlap) and get different answers by different methods (the conflict).
    I am not offering my input here as infallible. I am offering it as orders of magnitude better than the explanations being offered to pretend there really is some sort of non-overlapping magisteria, where the illusion of conflict should always give way to science.

  20. Kevin says:

    Science and religion (the magisteria) offer answers to the same question (the overlap) and get different answers by different methods (the conflict).

    “Religion” says that God raised Jesus from the dead. Utilizing the scientific method, what has science determined about God raising Jesus from the dead? Did they interview God and the disciples? Did they review photographic and video data? Did they kill Jesus again to see if he rose again? Or does science operate on premises such as “God, if he exists, does not raise people from the dead today, so God, if he exists, did not raise Jesus”?

    The reason we say it is question begging is because the “science” answer is based on the unproven philosophical assumption that there is no god, or at the very least that the Christian god does not exist. If we were going to actually scientifically investigate the Christian claim that Jesus rose from the dead, it is based almost entirely on whether or not an entity exists that could raise a man from the dead after three days. Until science is able to determine whether God exists or not, it is unable to determine whether Jesus rose from the dead.

  21. TFBW says:

    Allallt,

    I, for one, don’t subscribe to Gould’s NOMA. It’s largely true, but not entirely true, and it stands or falls on the basis of being entirely true. From time to time, both science and religion make claims about history. This is one of those times.

    I am applying science in a domain–physical events–where science is applicable.

    But you are exceeding its bounds by demanding that something is Absolutely Impossible, even for God. What possible basis can you have for the idea that God could not have possibly resurrected Jesus? What you have is uniform observation, and all that gets you is a good basis for a natural law. A natural law describes what happens in natural conditions, and the resurrection was anything but natural. To insist that natural conditions are All That Can Be is to stray outside of the bounds of science and into metaphysics.

    You cannot possibly justify this position on the basis of science alone. There are philosophical foundations underlying your position, and those foundations are what is in dispute.

    To claim that there just in an exception, and to know that without an experiment to validate or even begin to explain the reason why is at odds with both the methods and the results of science.

    There is no “experiment to validate” precisely because nobody is attempting to establish anything scientific here: nobody is claiming a Natural Law of Resurrection. The claim is that an exception was observed. To insist that no exception can be observed because of the natural law is to play a shell game with “observation producing law”, and “law dictating possible observations”. To doubt that an exception happened is one thing; to suggest that exceptions are strictly impossible is another.

    If your premises are (1) that natural law precludes resurrection, and (2) that no exceptions to natural law are possible (i.e. philosophical naturalism), then your conclusion that the resurrection is impossible is valid. I just happen to disagree with premise #2, of course. All I ask is that you make your reliance on premise #2 explicit, or re-frame the argument in a similarly clear and valid form which somehow manages to avoid the need for it.

  22. Doug says:

    I figure that folks who are unable to even start to explain the origin of life or (self-)consciousness are in no place to tell the One responsible for them what He can or cannot do with them…

  23. Allallt says:

    @TFBW I don’t have a reliance on premise two.
    Premise 1 I accept: natural law precludes resurrection
    Premise 2 is something more akin to: asserting, without evidence, a violation of natural law is to be in conflict with science
    Conclusion asserting, without evidence, resurrection is to be in conflict with science

  24. Michael says:

    I am applying science in a domain–physical events–where science is applicable. It’s not just induction, but also the power of the explanations and understanding that allows for reasonable extrapolations. That is within the purview of science.

    This is wrong. The notion that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead is outside the domain of science. Note how you try to slip in “physical events” as the domain of science. But that is not always the case. As I pointed out in my last comment, the mainstream American Association for the Advancement of Science has clearly laid out the domain of science (where science is applicable): Science is a process of seeking natural explanations for natural phenomena.

    We’re left with the situation of you a) claiming science has shown Jesus did not miraculously rise from the dead without b) being able to cite the studies and research that led to this conclusion. That tells us you are advocating a crackpot position.

    Try it this way. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. This would be a physical event, and thus, according to you, within the domain of science. Okay, then design the experiment that would detect and verify this happened. Can you do it?

  25. TFBW says:

    Allallt,

    asserting, without evidence, a violation of natural law is to be in conflict with science

    What does “in conflict with science” mean in this context? That it would constitute extremely poor scientific practice? No disagreement there. On that interpretation, however, your conclusion is still a very, very long way from “science disproves the resurrection.” There’s nothing in this argument which even mentions what is and isn’t possible: the subject matter is epistemological (assertions), not ontological (miracles).

  26. Jah Rah says:

    “the burden is on them to come up with experiments to test the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus.”
    – Nope. You’ve made the claim of the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus. The burden is on YOU to prove that.

    “Since such events have always been thought to be miracles, and such miraculous claims cannot be assessed through probability analysis, the “odds” argument is junk science.”
    – Incorrect. A miraculous claim can still be tested against the times such miracle did not occur. If there are 1 billion births and none are miracle births, that decreases the probability of miracle births. After another 1 billion births, that further decreases the probability. To give another example: If I were to claim there is a species of unicorns on a planet somewhere, each time we check a planet that decreases the probability of my claim. Once we’ve checked 90% of planets the probability of my claim being true is much lower.

    The problem is you’re giving a different standard to ideas in the bible (miracles) and ideas in science (objectively understood events). The foundation of science is all ideas – Godly or otherwise – are tested under the same method. So yes, they are incompatible. If you don’t apply the same scientific standards to miracle claims as other claims, then you are defying the most basic elements of science.

    You are not wrong about your claim of intellectual arrogance though. The guy is pretty much impossible to discuss things with because of his condescension towards opposing viewpoints, and his absurd assumption that everyone is intellectually dishonest. It’s very toxic, yes. He isn’t wrong about his claim in this case however.

  27. Michael says:

    – Nope. You’ve made the claim of the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus. The burden is on YOU to prove that.

    Wrong. I never claimed that science has shown the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus. Those who insist science can assess such claims have the burden of designing the experiment.

    – Incorrect. A miraculous claim can still be tested against the times such miracle did not occur. If there are 1 billion births and none are miracle births, that decreases the probability of miracle births. After another 1 billion births, that further decreases the probability. To give another example: If I were to claim there is a species of unicorns on a planet somewhere, each time we check a planet that decreases the probability of my claim. Once we’ve checked 90% of planets the probability of my claim being true is much lower.

    Bad science, bad theology. All you are doing here is testing for how common the miracle would be (and to do so, would have to admit god of the gaps reasoning as a legitimate scientific approach, something we would need to discuss first). Also, if you going to apply science, you must apply it to the actual Christian claim (such background information informs the development of the hypothesis). The Christian claim would be that a miraculous birth would occur once in all of human history, given the birth is tied to the Incarnation. So even if you test another 100 billion births, Christianity would predict you would find no more. Your anti-miracle conclusion would simply not follow from the data. What’s more, if you want to be serious, and hope to get such a study published, you need some type of miracle expectation to test against, given that miracles, by definition, would be very rare. We need to know how many we should be able to test to have a certain confidence level of finding the miracle. That is, you need to be able to first establish that a miracle, if it were to occur, would occur x.xx% of the time. If you don’t have this indpendent knowledge, its gigo.

    The problem is you’re giving a different standard to ideas in the bible (miracles) and ideas in science (objectively understood events). The foundation of science is all ideas – Godly or otherwise – are tested under the same method. So yes, they are incompatible. If you don’t apply the same scientific standards to miracle claims as other claims, then you are defying the most basic elements of science.

    Wrong. The most basic element of science is the scientific method – the ability to use empirical data and reason to formulate a testable hypothesis and then conducting the experiment. If a claim cannot be tested directly or indirectly by the experimental method, it is not part of science. The central claims of Christianity are beyond the reach of science for this simple reason. Can you design an experiment that will test to see whether or not Jesus miraculously rose from the dead?

    Look, you are free to dispute the resurrection using a philosophical or historical approach. But the moment you insist science itself has shown that Jesus did not rise from the dead, you defy the most basic of elements of science and come to us from a crackpot posture.

    You are not wrong about your claim of intellectual arrogance though. The guy is pretty much impossible to discuss things with because of his condescension towards opposing viewpoints, and his absurd assumption that everyone is intellectually dishonest. It’s very toxic, yes. He isn’t wrong about his claim in this case however.

    Hmmm. You say, “The foundation of science is all ideas – Godly or otherwise – are tested under the same method.” Let’s use science to address your claim. What’s the likihood of an activist, who is misguided on so many issues, of being right on the one issue that also happens to contradict the mainstream scientific position (for example, the AAAS)?

  28. tildeb says:

    The lie believers commit all the time that Harris talks about is obvious and indisputable: the claim by believers to ‘know’ something justified by an assertion of faith-based rather than evidence-adduced belief (that’s why the incompatible and conflicting methods between religion and science used to arrive at knowledge claims is offered as damning and fatal evidence in favour of Harris’ claim).

    It takes remarkable mental gymnastics and word games (nicely on display in this post) to pervert the truth of Harris’ statement of this fact as if, he and not the faith-based believer making a knowledge claim on that basis, is the ideologue. But that’s the way believers avoid taking responsibility of their duplicity (pretending to know something they do not and cannot know): insist that the person pointing out this problem or error made by believers all the time is the real problem.

    Good grief.

  29. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    Folks claim to ‘know’ things on the basis of something other than “evidence-adduced belief” all the time. I ‘know’, for example, that my wife loves me. However, for the life of me, I haven’t been able to get the government grant necessary to construct the experiment to determine this scientifically. Alas, this ‘result’ may never be published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. But now you’re telling me that claiming this ‘knowledge’ is somehow… a ‘lie’? What planet are you from?

  30. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    In fact, that claim that you call “obvious and indisputable”? — let’s dispute it, shall we? What actual evidence do you have for that claim, anyway? You know: experimentally-derived hard facts, preferably published. Or is it entirely faith-based? Wouldn’t that be ironic (not to mention “damning and fatal” against Harris’ claim)?

  31. Allallt says:

    @Doug

    Take a deep breath. Think carefully. Actually read Tildeb’s comment closely, and try again.

  32. Doug says:

    @Allallt,
    Believe it or not, I was strongly tempted to respond to tildeb’s comment:
    “Take a deep breath. Think carefully. Actually read the O/P closely, and try again”.
    …but I didn’t imagine it would be particularly helpful 😉

  33. tildeb says:

    Doug, the right question to ask yourself involving any knowledge claim is twofold: Is this claim the case and how do I know that?

    Seems simple enough. Let’s try it on your example.

    Is it the case that you know that your wife loves you and how do you know that?

    This is a knowledge claim about the state of your wide’s emotional bond to you here in reality. You claim it is the case not by pulling some answer out of thin air and wishing it into being but because you adduce it from a large body of evidence associated with emotional behaviours. This claim you make is evidence-adduced – evidence from her behaviour – and pretending it’s not is very silly of you. (If those behaviours changed over time, you might no longer ‘know’ she does, in fact, love you but has altered the bond. You would encounter this evidence and accumulate it over time to arrive at a different conclusion, n’est pas?)

    Overstepping your own position of equivalency between the evidence-adduced claim about your wife’s emotional bond with the reasonableness of a resurrection claim with absolutely no evidence in its favour and nothing but evidence contrary to it (dead cells don’t reanimate not because you can’t wish it into reality but because they can’t if the laws of physics in which we are immersed are in effect) and then claiming they are equivalent because you say neither can get a government research grant so and therefore my explanation is wrong is actually churlish with a heavy emphasis of snide.

    Look, it’s okay to misunderstand Harris or any other New Atheist writer. That can be fixed for those who actually desire an understanding. But it’s not okay to then misrepresent him and his words and not expect to be corrected. To use your misrepresentation as a springboard to attack the man’s character and intellectual integrity is compounding your error.

    Your misunderstanding does not give you licence to do so without earning much needed corrective criticism… which I have done. You’r welcome. But to then continue to misrepresent the issue while hiding behind false equivalencies to avoid the criticism does nothing but reveal you to be willing to be just another liar for Jesus… busily smearing those who happen to exercise the very intellectual integrity you claim damns Harris. Well, hypothetical Harris pot, meet Doug the Kettle. You have some work to do.

  34. Doug says:

    @tilde,
    You’ve gone wide astray from what I’ve written.
    Let’s slow down, please.
    You’re willing to grant that there is “evidence” for an “emotional bond”. That’s nice. But you can’t measure “emotional bonds”. On the other hand, my “position of equivalency” is one that you have absolutely zero evidence for. Where did you dream it up from, after all?

  35. tildeb says:

    Dispute it? Name one piece of knowledge ever produced by any faith-based religious belief. One. One bit of knowledge that empowers a single technology, a single application, a single therapy that is efficacious.

    If you can, be prepared to get the call from the Nobel committee because it hasn’t happened yet. Never has produce knowledge. Does not produce knowledge, and I think never shall. And yet believers keep going back to this well and pretending that they know stuff they do not know. They make knowledge claims that are not knowledge-based. They are assertions, assumptions, attributions without linking evidence. They believe knowledge claims even when those claims are contrary to how we understand reality operates, a knowledge we apply successfully to all kinds of applications, therapies, and technologies that by the strangest of coincidences just so happen to work for everyone everywhere all the time.

    The equivalency is that evidence-adduced beliefs reliably and consistently produce knowledge but that faith-based beliefs reliably and consistently produce none.

    If you really want to dispute this adduced conclusion, then produce contrary knowledge evidence from faith-based methodology.

  36. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    What in the world has your bizarre response (viz: “Name one piece of knowledge ever produced by any faith-based religious belief.”) to do with your original claim (viz. “the claim by believers to ‘know’ something justified by an assertion of faith-based rather than evidence-adduced belief”)?
    In case you aren’t following, I am not suggesting that the alleged claim (“by believers”) is correct (as you seem to imagine). I am suggesting that there is no substance in the allegation that such a claim is frequently made!

  37. Kevin says:

    Tildeb,

    I would respond, but we agent even speaking the same language. You are using Peter Boghossian’s abysmally stupid definition of faith as a “way of knowing”, of “pretending to know what you don’t know” (general “you”).

    Faith is trust, more or less. No one is dumb enough to claim that trust is a way of knowing or pretending to know what you don’t know. No one claims that trust is supposed to “produce knowledge”. Both faith and trust are emotional investments based upon what is ALREADY known.

    Using this far more accurate definition of faith, please try again.

  38. tildeb says:

    No one is dumb enough to claim that trust is a way of knowing or pretending to know what you don’t know

    Then you’re saying that religious believers don’t trust their belief claims that form the central tenets of their faith?!

    Riiiiiiight….

    Want to try again?

  39. Doug says:

    @Kevin,
    “aren’t even speaking the same language”… apparently. :-/

  40. Kevin says:

    So you’re claiming that trust is a way of knowing, or that trust is pretending to know what you don’t know? That’s…interesting, I suppose.

  41. tildeb says:

    So you’re claiming that trust is a way of knowing, or that trust is pretending to know what you don’t know? That’s…interesting, I suppose.

    I’m claiming that the trust synonymous with faith of the religious kind is a means to pretending to know what one doesn’t know.

    Here’s why.

    Unless one links the trust/confidence/hope between evidence claimed as effect and the proposed cause, one doesn’t have any evidence (for example, I dance, it rains, I claim my dancing causes the rain but without a connection linking the dancing with the rain, all I’ve got is more belief… belief I am a powerful rain wizard with magical properties based not on evidence adduced from reality but on more belief claims, namely, assumption, assertion, and attribution which, without any linking evidence remains empty of knowledge value. No amount of pointing out rain will improve my supernatural claims). Without evidence, one has no basis to adduce anything from reality and so one has no means to infuse that confidence/trust/hope with anything other than faith. The source of that confidence/trust/hope remains belief alone. This is faith in action and it doesn’t produce knowledge. Ever.

    The trust/confidence/hope (that defines why a claim is faith-based and not evidence-adduced belief ) stated as claims of faith is a means of pretending that the trust/confidence/hope one places in a claim is adduced when, in fact, it is completely self-applied. This is what Harris et el call ‘belief in belief’.

  42. Kevin says:

    Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

    If you danced and it began raining, and you were to link the two, you would call that apparent causality your evidence. It may be the most awful evidence that has ever been utilized, but it isn’t fideism by any stretch of the imagination. You didn’t wake up one morning and decide you were a rain wizard for no reason whatsoever. In your mind, it certainly seemed that your actions resulted in rain.

    I have no true interest in engaging in the “evidence for God” discussion for the seventeen billionth time, but suffice it to say that I believe there is a ton of evidence for God’s existence. I believe there is sufficient evidence backing up key elements within Christianity to certainly place it well within the realm of possibility, particularly given that it is far more likely that there is a creator deity than not. (My analysis, of course, per the atheist-recommended process of using reason to evaluate evidence.) Couple those things with my life experiences – not evidence to you of course, but certainly to me – and I have more than enough reason to place my faith in God and Jesus.

    Now then, assuming you were to reject every single piece of evidence that I might possibly present in favor of God and Christianity, the worst you could accuse me of is having very bad evidence, or not knowing how to properly reason when presented with facts. Two things you absolutely can’t accuse me of, however, is of having belief without evidence, or pretending to know what I don’t know. My faith is not “a way of knowing”. It is a decision based upon what I do know and based upon what seems true.

    This is why I find the New Atheist definition of faith to be so absurd. It has no bearing on reality except in a very tiny number of cases.

  43. Doug says:

    @Kevin,
    But tildeb needs his pet definition of “faith”, or his whole pathetic house of cards collapses. There isn’t any evidence for it at all, but that won’t stop him from espousing it!

  44. FZM says:

    Doug,

    Folks claim to ‘know’ things on the basis of something other than “evidence-adduced belief” all the time. I ‘know’, for example, that my wife loves me. However, for the life of me, I haven’t been able to get the government grant necessary to construct the experiment to determine this scientifically. Alas, this ‘result’ may never be published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. But now you’re telling me that claiming this ‘knowledge’ is somehow… a ‘lie’? What planet are you from?

    I think it depends on how tildeb is defining ‘evidence’ when talking about ‘evidence-adduced belief’. I’m not sure what definition is being used but from what I can see in tildeb’s reply to the example you raise here it seems to include more than empirical scientific evidence strictly understood.

    This is probably important because besides the point you make above, if ‘evidence’ in ‘evidence-adduced belief’ is defined in purely empirical terms it looks like you would end up with some variant of the old logical positivism which is incoherent/self refuting.

  45. FZM says:

    A clarification: I maybe should have written ‘one’ in place of the ‘you’ at the end of the second line in the last paragraph of my post above, because I meant ‘you’ in the general sense.

  46. Doug says:

    @FZM,
    You are quite right. But I wanted to give him the chance to demonstrate the depth of equivocation in his use of the word. If he sticks with “empirical scientific evidence strictly understood”, then he steps into the positivistic trap you mention. If he opens the pandora’s box a crack to release “more than [that]”, his entire position evaporates in a cloud of special pleading (i.e., when exactly does something count as evidence?)

  47. Michael says:

    The lie believers commit all the time that Harris talks about is obvious and indisputable: the claim by believers to ‘know’ something justified by an assertion of faith-based rather than evidence-adduced belief (that’s why the incompatible and conflicting methods between religion and science used to arrive at knowledge claims is offered as damning and fatal evidence in favour of Harris’ claim).

    It takes remarkable mental gymnastics and word games (nicely on display in this post) to pervert the truth of Harris’ statement of this fact as if, he and not the faith-based believer making a knowledge claim on that basis, is the ideologue. But that’s the way believers avoid taking responsibility of their duplicity (pretending to know something they do not and cannot know): insist that the person pointing out this problem or error made by believers all the time is the real problem.
    Good grief.

    Tildeb traffics in stereotype. I have never claimed to know anything on the basis of faith. On the contrary, when I do rely in faith, it is an admission that I don’t know something. That is precisely why faith is involved. But, of course, this does not stop the New Atheist from lashing out at me as one who claims to know things on the basis of faith. The irony is he is implicitly claiming to know things about me when he simply does not. His attack on me is not merely faith-based, but also false.

    Tildeb also thinks he knows I am a “believer” who “lies” and “perverts truth” with “duplicity” and “remarkable mental gymnastics and word games.” Such strong accusations from a position of ignorance.

    The problem for Tildeb is that he has not refuted any part of my blog entry or position. In fact, there is no evidence that Tildeb actually read the blog entry. Tildeb does not quote me or take issue with any specific claim, so the arguments outlined in the blog entry remain untouched. Instead, Tildeb comes across as someone who has been indoctrinated by Peter Boghossian’s muddled thinking and is try to impose this confused perspective on reality.

    What’s more, there is evidence that indicates Tildeb did not read my blog entry. Note that Tildeb begins the mini-rant by accusing me of a “lie”: “The lie believers commit all the time……..”

    He must have skipped over the first paragraph of this blog entry, where I discuss such exact rhetoric directly:

    There first thing to note is how quickly Harris reaches for the word “lie.” This language exposes Harris as an extremist and ideologue. Y’see, it’s not that people are mistaken, nor is it that people see things differently. Instead, there is a moral dimension to their “wrong” views – they are lying. Sam Harris is so certain of his own views, and so closed-minded about differing views, that he naturally dismisses different viewpoints as “lies.”

    How does someone so quickly and flippantly pass this over to go on and lead their comment with: “The lie believers commit all the time……..”? Good grief.

  48. Michael says:

    The closest Tildeb comes to the topic of this thread:

    a resurrection claim with absolutely no evidence in its favour and nothing but evidence contrary to it (dead cells don’t reanimate not because you can’t wish it into reality but because they can’t if the laws of physics in which we are immersed are in effect)

    1. a resurrection claim with absolutely no evidence in its favour

    This is a subjective opinion. Of course Tildeb believes there is “absolutely no evidence” for the resurrection – he is a Gnu atheist. Good grief. Tildeb seems to be under the impression because he personally sees “absolutely no evidence” (whatever that means) for the resurrection that we are all supposed to agree.

    2. evidence contrary to it (dead cells don’t reanimate not because you can’t wish it into reality but because they can’t if the laws of physics in which we are immersed are in effect)

    Christian belief does not credit the laws of physics for the resurrection. He is simply noting that if the resurrection did indeed happen, it would have to violate the laws of physics. No kidding. Basically, his “evidence contrary to it” is that it would be a miracle. That argument resonates only from within the confines of an atheistic worldview.

  49. Allallt says:

    To take a definition of “evidence” so broad as ‘it made sense it me’ is to miss the conversation entirely. To say ‘I danced, it rained, therefore these are causally related’ is faith-based because you have no evidence. Even bigger correlations are not evidence, unless one can actually think of an explanatory reason for the relationship.
    In dismissing certain arguments what you are doing is arguing that point A is not evidence.
    Else, the simple fact that you have faith could be deemed evidence — to which you (hopefully) can see the absurdity yourself.

  50. Kevin says:

    No, it is not faith-based. It is just really poor evidence. That person would only have no evidence if he became convinced that his attempt to casually link the two was unsound, in which case even he would agree he had no evidence.

  51. Allallt says:

    “Being a good father, being a good husband, and being a good politician, all conflict with the methods of science. But this does not mean being a father, husband, and politician means you are in a zero-sum game with science.”

    There’s no conflict here, at all. All these positions are based upon observation and evidence. Fatherhood and being a politician, in particular, can be based on broader studies about how to engender trust or how policies work towards or against goals.
    Being a good husband will be a lot more personal, and involve the specific case study of one’s wife. But it would still be evidence based. Acting without evidence would likely entail behaviours that cause considerable conflict.
    These are all behaviour-based ideas that can be informed by science.

    Religions are truth claims which are not informed by evidence.

  52. Dhay says:

    Tildeb > I’m claiming that the trust synonymous with faith of the religious kind is a means to pretending to know what one doesn’t know.

    Congratulations on being one of the very few New Atheists to provide your own attempt to justify this claim, instead of relying on the usual eisegesis — reading the text to read what you want it to read, or for them, I am sure, deliberate misinterpretation — of Hebrews 11; this is what the prominent New Atheists Sam Harris, Peter Boghossian and Jerry Coyne have led in doing, cherry-picking one line, and only ever one line, from the whole of the Bible.

    I find it astonishing that the claim they make (and which you also make, albeit to your credit without claiming support from Hebrews 11:1), if valid, is not supported by many more lines, sections, even whole chapters of the Bible; and more astonished yet that the lack of support there does not ring alarm bells for them (and for you) — they seem to be pretending to know what they don’t know.

    The Hebrews 11:1 gambit has been examined and dismissed by blogger aRemonstrant; if you would like to support the claims of Harris etc by offering that reasoned counter-exegesis of Hebrews 11 which they themselves have failed to do, please do so:

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/steven-pinker-reviews-coynes-book/#comment-9385

    Another gambit used by New Atheists is to claim support from some existentialist philosopher: Coyne and JeffreyTayler (a hack Coyne quotes approvingly) have selectively quoted Kierkegaard, who is at least someone the educated layperson might well have heard of; John Messerly paraphrases the utterly obscure Spanish Existentialist Miguel de Unamuno; neither of them were theologians, or qualified to speak on behalf of theologians or Christians in general. The very idiosyncratic views of one or two individuals hardly constitute good evidence.

    Well done for avoiding those two pratfalls. Let’s see what you do say:

    Tildeb > Here’s why. Unless one links the trust/confidence/hope between evidence claimed as effect and the proposed cause, one doesn’t have any evidence (for example, I dance, it rains, I claim my dancing causes the rain but without a connection linking the dancing with the rain, all I’ve got is more belief… belief I am a powerful rain wizard with magical properties based not on evidence adduced from reality but on more belief claims, namely, assumption, assertion, and attribution which, without any linking evidence remains empty of knowledge value. No amount of pointing out rain will improve my supernatural claims). Without evidence, one has no basis to adduce anything from reality and so one has no means to infuse that confidence/trust/hope with anything other than faith. The source of that confidence/trust/hope remains belief alone. This is faith in action and it doesn’t produce knowledge. Ever.

    An interesting short discussion of magic, but hardly relevant to Christian faith. No doubt the rain wizard thinks correct performance of a dance will force (cause) the rain to fall; yeah, and …

    Tildeb > The trust/confidence/hope (that defines why a claim is faith-based and not evidence-adduced belief ) stated as claims of faith is a means of pretending that the trust/confidence/hope one places in a claim is adduced when, in fact, it is completely self-applied.

    This is more convoluted than I can readily cope with. I’m not sure it adds more than a repetition of the opening assertion.

    Tildeb > This is what Harris et el call ‘belief in belief’.

    It was Daniel Dennett’s idea, as originally asserted in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. David Bentley Hart said of it, in a section dealing with the evolution of religion:

    Dennett also ponders the development of those rituals by which religious memes scaffold themselves in more-enduring social structures, and he reflects on the phenomena of mass hypnosis and mass hysteria, which help to explain how the contagion of religion spreads and sustains itself. He considers the transformation of folk religion into organized religion, especially as agriculture and urban society developed, as well as the kleptocratic alliances struck between organized religion and political power. Along the way, he contemplates how religions deepen their complexity and mystery, and how believers begin to take responsibilities for the memes that shape them, by producing ever more sophisticated rationales for their beliefs and forming allegiances to those rationales. And he describes the way in which “belief in belief”—a desire to believe, or a sense that belief is good, rather than actual conviction—becomes one of the most effective techniques for religious memes to render themselves immune to the antibodies of doubt.

    Near the end of these reflections, Dennett feels confident enough to assert that he has just successfully led his readers on a “nonmiraculous and matter-of-fact stroll” from the blind machinery of nature up to humanity’s passionate fidelity to its most exalted ideas. He has not, obviously. His story is a matter not of facts but of conjectures and intuitions, strung together on tenuous strands of memetic theory. Still, it is as good a story as any.

    Unfortunately, all evolutionary stories about culture suffer from certain inherent problems. …

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/003-daniel-dennett-hunts-the-snark

    It’s a long and often hilarious article, as the title, Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark might indicate. I do recommend you read it in full.

  53. tildeb says:

    If you had evidence, your claims would not be religious but empirical (utilizing the term ‘faith’ to describe the kind of confidence you have that is not supported by such empirical evidence).

    My criticism is that you do not have any such evidence. You obviously <i.believe you do, in which case your claims would be empirical. This is the essential fact you want to avoid by pretending the problem lies with those who don;t define the term ‘faith’ properly (according to you). That’s not the problem. The problem is you pretending you have evidence adduced from reality when you actually have nothing but your belief (utilizing confirmation bias) that you impose on reality. The confusion here lies entirely with you… and your understanding of what constitutes evidence. To be clear, I’m saying your belief in god (and all the claims you make about this divine agency and its effects in the universe) is not based on anything called ‘evidence’ that clearly and without a great deal of mental gymnastics links to connect these selected effects to this hypothetical critter you call god. Without those independently verifiable links, you do not have any evidence. None. Not one jot or tittle. All you have is your beliefs and this is the source of your ‘faith’… however else you wish to define that term. One thing is clear, however: these beliefs are not adduced from reality and your claim that they are is a gross misrepresentation. And that’s why I call such beliefs ‘faith-based’.

    Now, you obviously don’t appreciate why your method itself – a method that allows you to misidentify what is and is not evidence – is so important to examine. You see, your method – your epistemology – really does determine your conclusions – your ontology. Said another way, how you think about god and evidence determines what you think about god and evidence to support it. The problem here really isn’t your conclusions (although I certainly disagree with them); it’s your method. It’s a method all of us can and do utilize from time to time that reliably lead us to poor conclusions… conclusions that end up allowing us to fool ourselves. If there were a better method, why wouldn’t we want to use it?

    Well, because it’s harder and stricter and requires more discipline of mind.

    Really? Why would any of this matter?

    Let me give a personal but typical example why criticizing atheists is so beside the point! Consider:

    I want my sports team to win the championship, I will utilize the method that allows me to believe I have good reasons for thinking my team will do this. How I approach this willingness to instill hope and confidence and trust matters.

    Compelling evidence comes along that I am misguided, that I am utilizing confirmation bias, that my conclusions are in fact wrong, that my team will not win the championship. But I believe, you see. I believe my team is better than it is, that its prospects are better than they are, that the talent level is at least as good as if not better than others in spite of compelling statistical evidence to the contrary. Even when the season unfolds and my team does not win many games and they continue to fall in the rankings, I still will use this poor method to reaffirm my hope and confidence and trust to support my wishes for obtaining the prize, that championship. Only when mathematically eliminated for the umpteenth time from post season play will I admit my hopes and dreams were not so much misplaced as the team itself let me down. You see, it’s not my fault… I was a good fan. I hoped. I trusted. I wore the right socks. I did everything I could to ensure my team would win. It was the team’s fault, the coaching, poor officiating, bad breaks, something beyond my control, and so I don’t feel fooled so much as I feel let down. What I don’t consider is how I need to reexamine my foolishness believing and instilling confidence where it clearly didn’t belong.

    Innocuous, right?

    Maybe.

    But perhaps I shouldn’t have borrowed to the hilt, sold the family farm, taught my children to hope for my team only, to take their savings and indenture their future (and our relationship) to bet it all on my beliefs.

    But that’s what religious folk do… all the time. And we’re supposed to think this granting of hope, confidence, and trust in a less compelling belief is now a virtue? We’re not to question the method used to ‘arrive’ at such a belief?

    I always think of Feynman’s advice here: The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

    Yes, I am. And so are you.

  54. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    You seem to be responding to the constructions in your head rather than actually responding to anything that anyone has actually written. And then to be so self-congratulatory about it. It is really quite odd.

  55. tildeb says:

    Not true, Doug. It’s not my house of cards I’m criticizing! If I may offer some unsolicited advice, digging is not a good strategy to get yourself out of a hole. Criticizing New Atheists is not a good strategy to make your religious beliefs a virtue.

  56. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    Your imputations are amusing. And, indeed, that is why I criticize New Atheists: it is so entertaining. They are oblivious of their inability to think their way out of a wet paper bag, while simultaneously only ever addressing strawmen (and strawgods, for that matter) — as you have so aptly demonstrated on this thread.

  57. tildeb says:

    FZM,You say

    I think it depends on how tildeb is defining ‘evidence’ when talking about ‘evidence-adduced belief’. I’m not sure what definition is being used but from what I can see in tildeb’s reply to the example you raise here it seems to include more than empirical scientific evidence strictly understood.

    Doug believes his religious claims are the case to describe the reality we share. These are empirical claims and so they are subject to (and fair game for) empirical verification.

    For example, do dead cells reanimate? Doug believes they do. They have. They allowed Jesus to come back from the dead… a central empirical tenet of the Christian faith!

    No matter how you wish to quibble over the definition of the term ‘evidence’, the fact of the matter is that this claim is not adduced from reality.

    This is a central point I am making.

    Nowhere in reality can evidence be offered to support this likelihood, this possibility, this claim that dead cells can reanimate, that the resurrection might be the case.

    This is the point that you are trying to obscure. My point is that such any confidence, trust, hope for the truth of this claim that is presented as if coming from reality is an intentional misrepresentation. This is what Harris calls a ‘lie’ and it is indisputably true…there is no evidence in its favour from reality. None.

    Now, religious believers present these kinds of empirical claims all the time as if they were legitimate knowledge-based conclusions. They’re not. Furthermore, religious believers then compound the problem by misrepresenting them as some kind of adduced avenue of special knowledge (typically called another kind of knowledge) providing special insight into this reality we share. It’s all bogus.

    What are called conclusions in this faith-based method are really nothing more and nothing less than more belief claims disconnected from the reality we share… and completely evidence free!

  58. tildeb says:

    Michael, you miss the point: I use this example to show that the belief does not come from evidence adduced from reality; it is imposed on it as a possibility because you believe it is possible. Reality itself disagrees with you and , strange as it may sound, I happen to respect reality’s arbitration of claims made about it. I see most religious believers do not share my respect and think the problem lies with me!

  59. Kevin says:

    Interesting, usually at this stage the false demands for evidence have come into play. This time, no such demands are forthcoming since evidence is defined in such a manner than nothing religious in nature can have evidence, otherwise it wouldn’t be religious.

    Seeing as how there is no reasoning involved in such a biased usage of evidence, I will leave that conversation to those with more patience than I.

  60. Doug says:

    @tildeb,

    Doug believes his religious claims are the case to describe the reality we share.
    &
    Doug believes they do.

    Since I’ve never expressed a religious claim (on this thread), where in the world did you derive this claim, tildeb? Or are you just “making stuff up” again? And you accuse others of operating without evidence! Your hypocrisy is remarkable…

  61. tildeb says:

    nothing religious in nature can have evidence, otherwise it wouldn’t be religious.

    No. Let’s be a little more precise: an empirical claim (religious or otherwise) exempt from empirical support will not produce a reasonable evidence-adduced conclusion.

    Religious claims that make empirical claims free from the burden of evidence are not adduced from it. The source of belief is not out there but entirely sourced from the person willing to believe. Why believers seem to have such difficulty grasping this point is a mystery to me… even though this is the essential component of Harris’ point being maligned in the OP..

  62. Doug says:

    @tildeb,

    Why believers seem to have such difficulty grasping this point is a mystery to me…

    Ever consider the possibility that your “point” is a complete fabrication, and has no basis in reality (that you so recently expressed such respect for)? That might have something to do with it.

  63. Kevin says:

    For all that, theism makes far more sense than atheism. So if I have to violate the tenents of empiricism in order for my beliefs to conform to what seems to be the best explanation (until a superior explanation is offered), then I will wipe my behind with empiricism and flush it down the toilet. In the case of God in particular, since it’s sort of difficult to locate empirical evidence of a being who isnt part of the physical universe.

    Since you obviously dislike the concept of people finding evidence that supports God, rather than being mystical objective agnostics who come to God belief based on conclusions derived from evidence with zero prior biases, you are more than welcome to offer a superior explanation for existence other than a creator. And I’m assuming you will do so by staying true to empiricism.

  64. tildeb says:

    Because Harris referred to belief in belief, I reflected this. Yes, Dennett has written quite a bit (and investigated much further) on belief in belief and I think it succinctly and accurately identifies many of the central underpinnings of religious belief.

  65. tildeb says:

    You’d be a strange Christian if you didn’t believe its central tenets so, yes, I assume….

  66. tildeb says:

    No, my point is not a fabrication but a direct response to your OP’s assertion that Harris ‘reaches’ for the term ‘lie’. There’s no reaching whatsoever… simply a statement of fact you deny because you believe it isn’t so. There is no end to reality-denying by those committed to a faith community, as you so aptly demonstrate.

  67. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    Did I say your hypocrisy is “remarkable”? I should have said “astonishing”.

  68. tildeb says:

    Kevin, I don’t dislike the concept of people ‘finding’ evidence they themselves create. I just point out that the term ‘finding’ is not true. You’re the one who wants to take exception to this fact, but hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?

    For all that, theism makes far more sense than atheism. So if I have to violate the tenents of empiricism in order for my beliefs to conform to what seems to be the best explanation (until a superior explanation is offered), then I will wipe my behind with empiricism and flush it down the toilet.

    Because you believe the religious model is an explanation found from reality rather than a pseudo-explanation that explains nothing and impose on reality by your wishful thinking, it’s not a mystery how you could come to such a ridiculous conclusion… right up until you try to function in this world. It is at this point we find out how intellectually honest you are and I suspect not much. I suspect you in fact bet your life and the lives of those you love on the bum-wiping empiricism you pretend to disdain. I understand that your disdain is built on fear and misunderstanding and ignorance and superstitious nonsense – not to mention social sanction for daring to respect reality and say as much. I sincerely hope you can get past this religiously inspired self-applied condition and admit that you do, in fact and deed, respect reality a great deal more than you’re willing to admit to the likes of me and extend that into your previously privileged religious thinking as well. Sure, you’ll be angry at being so gullible and lied to for so long, for trying to get others to along with this religious and pious charade, but the freedom and honesty and maturity that comes from accepting your own intellectual autonomy is well worth the price of admission.

  69. tildeb says:

    Doug, if I have made a mistake and presumed your faitheist apologetics indicates a Christian belief, then my bad. I stand corrected.

    But my points about your misrepresenting Harris stands. My point about central religious tenets not adducing evidence from reality but imposed on it stands. My criticism about your understanding of what constitutes evidence stands. My criticism of your misrepresentation of New Atheists here and this movement’s reason to be stands ( a reason loosely defined to be one to stop privileging religious belief in the public domain and start publicly criticizing it). You are a faitheist at the very least and so your apologetics on offer here are richly deserving of more criticism because they are prime examples of poorly formed and muddled thinking. That can be fixed.

  70. Doug says:

    @tildeb,

    My criticism about your understanding of what constitutes evidence stands.

    You haven’t the slightest idea what my understanding of what constitutes evidence is. You’re making stuff up again. And congratulating yourself for it. The lack of intellectual integrity that you demonstrate (while simultaneously talking about “muddled thinking”) is quite a feat.

  71. tildeb says:

    I suspect I have confused you with the author of the post, who seems to be both Martin and Michael (maybe Doug? Don’t think so). My confusion is my own here and not with you. My comment was directed at the blog author… whomever that may be… and this has led into some misdirected comments. I shall try to do better. My apologies.

  72. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    Ah. That explains much. For reference, Michael is the author of the O/P. And if you are willing, the convention to begin one’s comment with “@addressee” can help reduce confusion.

  73. Kevin says:

    Well, tildeb, all I can say is that you have written the single biggest paragraph without a single accurate sentence that I believe I’ve ever seen, so that is noteworthy.

    But you did reference one thing that bears mentioning. I certainly do live my day to day life based on what I perceive with the five senses, and experience. I also will note that science does depend on particular modes of thought to function. All fine and good, except that empiricism, like any mode of thought, is limited and not universally applicable. I’ll bet with a little thought, you can think of some aspects of your life, reality, etc in which empirical evidence isn’t the best method to discover an answer. If you can’t, I really do feel bad for you. But if you can, then you’ll understand why I feel no need to be shoehorned into empiricism regarding God.

  74. tildeb says:

    @ Doug,

    An excellent habit to get into. I will implement your advice.

  75. FZM says:

    Tildeb,

    For example, do dead cells reanimate? Doug believes they do. They have. They allowed Jesus to come back from the dead… a central empirical tenet of the Christian faith!

    If Doug is a Christian I guess he will believe that the dead cells of God incarnate as a man can reanimate when God wills it.

    This would be indeed be partly an empirical claim; what I don’t get is how you could make observations to determine whether there is sufficient empirical evidence to verify it if God doesn’t chose to become incarnate as a man, die as a man then come back to life as a man on a reasonably regular, well publicised basis.

    If God did choose to do it once, in the past, as Christians believe, we would expect that at the present time there is no longer any evidence around for us to empirically verify the fact, but that wouldn’t stop it being true.

    Nowhere in reality can evidence be offered to support this likelihood, this possibility, this claim that dead cells can reanimate, that the resurrection might be the case.

    I think someone has already pointed it out but this depends on what ‘reality’ is thought to include. If it includes something like the Christian God, (or even aliens we haven’t identified yet in possession of advanced technology unknown to us) this kind of extrapolation from the fact that we aren’t yet familiar with any documented cases of dead cells reanimating to it being impossible would be wrong.

    This is the point that you are trying to obscure. My point is that such any confidence, trust, hope for the truth of this claim that is presented as if coming from reality is an intentional misrepresentation

    I wasn’t trying to obscure any point, I was wondering what your definition of evidence was and following on from that how you might work out whether something could be considered part of ‘reality’ or not.

    I guess that because Christians think that a God of a certain kind is part of reality, they are more willing to place trust in accounts of stuff God is said to have done in the past, even if these things can’t be empirically verified by them in the present. I don’t think there is intentional misrepresentation in this.

    This is what Harris calls a ‘lie’ and it is indisputably true…there is no evidence in its favour from reality. None.

    I’m still wondering about the evidential criteria you are using to decide what does and doesn’t constitute part of reality and whether it’s some form of verificationism/logical positivism or not.

    Now, religious believers present these kinds of empirical claims all the time as if they were legitimate knowledge-based conclusions.

    It’s also already been pointed out that Christians (for example) arguably don’t do this because they do not conceal the fact that their belief in Jesus’ resurrection and that Jesus was God incarnate are beliefs based partly on faith, not pieces of scientific knowledge.

  76. tildeb says:

    @ Kevin

    I’ll bet with a little thought, you can think of some aspects of your life, reality, etc in which empirical evidence isn’t the best method to discover an answer.

    Well, an empirical answer is rather an essential ‘aspect’ if the question itself is an empirical one. Anything else and I’m not answering the question.

    For example, answering the question, Where are my keys? with I like fish demonstrates the problem of switching modes, so to speak, in mid explanatory claim. An empirical claim requires empirical evidence. It’s just that simple.

  77. tildeb says:

    @FZM

    Faith-based beliefs are imposed on reality. Evidence-adduced believes are derived from reality (and then usually modeled so that they can then be arbitrated by reality for determining likelihood and probability). The point here is direction. If I say I am claiming, say, Carolina won the latest Superbowl, and someone points out the evidence that in fact Denver won it, then claiming my belief is equivalent because I believe Carolina won demonstrates the knowledge value paucity of imposing belief on reality. Believing dead cells reanimate in spite of overwhelming evidence from reality to the contrary does not in any way, shape, or form, alter the direction of where that belief came from… not in the form of evidence adduced FROM reality but a faith-based belief imposed ON it.

  78. FZM says:

    Kevin,

    I’ll bet with a little thought, you can think of some aspects of your life, reality, etc in which empirical evidence isn’t the best method to discover an answer.

    If an individual asserted that there is no aspect of their lives in which empirical evidence (evidence from sense experience) wasn’t the best method of discovering an answer, it looks like they would need empirical evidence to show that there is indeed no aspect of their lives in which empirical evidence isn’t the best method to discover an answer. I’d be interested to see how this might be done.

  79. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    You keep asserting the same thing again and again. But your assertions really aren’t sufficient to ground your claims. Please permit a hypothetical. Suppose, like an estimated one hundred million people currently alive, you encountered an event that appeared miraculous. Granted, we both would be skeptical of the vast majority of those, but some… let’s permit an event for which you really (really, now) could not construct a “scientific” explanation. Whether or not the reality of the event is a miracle, as far as humankind is able with existing technology, is certainly appears to be a miracle. How do you respond:
    1. You jettison empiricism, knowing reality does not permit miracles.
    2. You embrace empiricism, and conclude that reality can indeed permit miracles
    3. You conclude that reality is bigger/more interesting than existing technology can observe, without granting miracles or changing your view of reality.
    4. Something else (please specify)

  80. Kevin says:

    FZM, I suppose they might say the assertion that all questions require empirical verification was not an empirical claim and, thus, would be exempt from requiring empirical verification. About as self-refuting as it could get.

  81. tildeb says:

    @ Doug

    You’ll probably be disappointed in my answer, but I would presume the lack of understanding was my own and attempt to learn more before jumping to conclusions that I know are contrary to the way we understand reality to operate. The likelihood of me being ignorant is far greater than reality being variable and susceptible to divine intervention.

    Here’s why I would presume my understanding is the problem: as soon as I grant to some version of Oogity Boogity the possibility of being the causal factor for some unknown effect, I have given up rationality altogether because it’s no longer needed. Any and all phenomena can be ‘explained’ this way and yet such an ‘explanation’ produces no change to my state of ignorance. That’s why I would presume the lack of understanding lies with me.

  82. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    not disappointed: that would be #3, then.
    but you can happily proceed with all rationality intact by acknowledging that there is an unknown causal factor without any need for its identification, right?

  83. tildeb says:

    @ Kevin

    All questions?

    Come on. Why do you keep misrepresenting me? Change the ‘all’ to what I actually have been hammering away at (inconvenient to you, I know) and replace it accurately with the term ’empirical’.

    EMPIRICAL claims require EMPIRICAL evidence. And that means providing a testable model of explanation HOW the two are connected. Without that demonstrable link, whatever is asserted, attributed, or presumed to be evidence isn’t evidence; it’s merely more faith-based claims. A claim is not evidence (the two terms ‘claim’ and ‘evidence’ are not synonyms, you see. They mean different things.) and evidence is not a claim.

    You’ll get your head around this eventually… I trust/hope/have confidence.

  84. Michael says:

    Allallt: There’s no conflict here, at all.

    You are wrong. I explained this to you back on Dec. 14th (above):

    Your criticism fails because you don’t understand we’re talking about methodsat this point. For example, the methods of a good politician could include emotional manipulation and the effective use of propaganda. Do you understand that those methods conflict with the scientific method?

    Allallt: All these positions are based upon observation and evidence. Fatherhood and being a politician, in particular, can be based on broader studies about how to engender trust or how policies work towards or against goals.

    I doubt there are very few good fathers and politicians out there who do literature searches. In fact, there are many good fathers and politicians who would likely credit their intuition for their success. But all of that is irrelevant, as you seem to be assuming there can be one, and only one, way to conflict with the scientific method. This is untrue. Just because propaganda and emotional manipulation may be informed by observation and evidence does NOT mean the political method is compatible with the scientific method.

  85. Michael says:

    Tildeb:Michael, you miss the point:

    Not true.

    I use this example to show that the belief does not come from evidence adduced from reality;

    You have shown no such thing. You have simply asserted/assumed this to be true.

    it is imposed on it as a possibility because you believe it is possible.

    So now you need to prop up your position by invoking psychic powers? No, I do not think the resurrection occurred because it was possible for it to occur. But that does raise an issue – are you trying to say that the resurrection is impossible?

    Reality itself disagrees with you and , strange as it may sound,

    Why is it that New Atheists always feel the need to artificially inflate their personal opinions as if they are not personal opinions. Sorry Tildeb, you are not the Spokesperson for Reality. You are not Mr. Reality. Reality did not talk to you and tell you what to say to us. You come to the table with opinions about reality. Your opinions. You disagree and, for some reason, want to make it look like it’s “Reality itself” talking and not you.

    I happen to respect reality’s arbitration of claims made about it.

    LOL. This from the guy who traffics in stereotypes. This from the guy who comments on a blog entry he never read.

    I see most religious believers do not share my respect and think the problem lies with me!

    There is no evidence you have more respect for reality than anyone else around here. Do you expect us all to accept this chest-thumping on faith?

  86. Michael says:

    tildeb: I suspect I have confused you with the author of the post, who seems to be both Martin and Michael (maybe Doug? Don’t think so).

    So the guy you “refutes” a blog entry that he did not read sees a “Martin” who does not exist. You can’t make this stuff up.

  87. Dhay says:

    tildeb > Look, it’s okay to misunderstand Harris or any other New Atheist writer. That can be fixed for those who actually desire an understanding. But it’s not okay to then misrepresent him and his words and not expect to be corrected. To use your misrepresentation as a springboard to attack the man’s character and intellectual integrity is compounding your error.

    You are probably in the wrong thread. If you wish to convince me that I have misunderstood Sam Harris, misrepresented him, and would like to put your “That can be fixed” into practice, I would love to know the detail of how I have misunderstood and misrepresented Harris’ position on psychedelic drugs in the response linked below — a response which is severely critical of Sam Harris’ character and integrity, so a perfect opportunity, surely, to give me the correction you say I should expect.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/new-atheists-fading/#comment-10766

    Please give your refutation in that thread, rather than derail this one.

  88. Dhay says:

    tildeb > Criticizing New Atheists is not a good strategy to make your religious beliefs a virtue.

    I recognise the zero-sum thinking of honour-shame culture here — your own thinking, projected onto Christians.

    Criticising New Atheists is quite legitimate — their ideas can hardly validly be granted exemption from the examination which everybody else’s ideas get, and which, indeed, is healthy and desirable when applied to ideas in science.

    Even New Atheists criticise New Atheists, it’s hardly a ‘make our religious views a virtue’ matter; here’s PZ Myers strongly criticising Sam Harris for being “full of paranoid, racist shit”; I rather think the Christian criticisms here are quite mild, by comparison:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/11/26/i-get-email-sam-harris-edition/

  89. Arkenaten says:

    Miracles fall outside the domain of science. That is why science cannot tell us whether or not Jesus miraculously rose from the dead.

    Absolutely 100% correct.

    Can you please explain what a miracle is and how we can be assured of the veracity of the Resurrection account in the bible?

    Thanks.

    Ark

  90. tildeb says:

    I’m not going to refute what you’ve written. This is how you comprehend and you’re poorer for it. That’s why your understanding of Harris’ many theses (putting you squarely in the company of his most vociferous critics) has derailed your comprehension of his theses. Everything you’ve written referencing what Harris has said is accurate in itself but it has failed to yield an accurate comprehension of the thesis Harris has put forward here. I know that may sound rather wonky but let me give a mathematical analogy.

    Let’s say you’re trying to explain why imposing the the circle shape as the apex of human achievement in mathematical application to reality is a problem (let’s say square shapes are under attack, both literally and figuratively throughout the world and the conflict is as old as people have been around). You stand in for Harris at this point and try to explain why the circle shape is an important aspect to understanding geometry but not something to elevate into defining reality. You write about the circle shape’s properties, about how they are are used and abused, about the mathematical premises derived to create an axiomatic understanding of geometry as whole and of which circles are applicable and then later how these axioms can be applied in different ways to produce insights into how non-axiomatic reality is shaped. You then write about why you find the subject important, interesting, as well as enlightening in other areas but dangerous and even pernicious if misunderstood and incorrectly applied.

    In a nutshell, this is how Harris writes about consciousness (geometry) and the brain (the circle) as well as other important aspects to the brain’s perception (the other shapes) and representation of reality (the axiomatic system we use to interpret reality). What he criticizes are those who mistake the axioms we supply for actual properties in reality. Religion in this understanding is the imposition of axioms to be properties of reality while specific faith communities are those who think curves are the right axioms versus those who think angles are the path to the One True Understanding.

    I know that sound confusing, but the way to read Harris is to understand that his opening few paragraphs describe the topic he’s tackling to which he shall tangentially address from many approaches and differing perspectives (like dimensions in geometry). What you’ve done (and it’s not at all uncommon) is take the approaches separately and then compared and contrasted them directly without returning first to how they each apply to the thesis. The thesis is our reference point and, like any measurement that has no reference point, appears to be nonsense. Comparing different aspects to each other directly does reveal what you point out, the written versions of contradictions because using the method of reading comprehension you do does produce just these kinds of contradictions in his writings (like claiming a contradiction when a circle is also described as a sphere. Well, which is it? That depends not on quoted differences of descriptions – because they ARE different – but on which dimension one is using, the one used in that paragraph to link back to the thesis itself.

    This is like comparing and contrasting different axioms about geometry, say angles, that when applied to a circle shape appear contradictory. Well, they are when read this way, when we try to apply them in the ‘wrong’ dimensional representations, so to speak. But they’re not when properly understood to be referencing back to the thesis (in my analogy with geometry itself). What you’ve done is is used the descriptive paragraphs without that reference point but against each other directly (axioms of angles contradicted when applied to curves).

  91. Dhay says:

    tildeb > Everything you’ve written referencing what Harris has said is accurate in itself but it has failed to yield an accurate comprehension of the thesis Harris has put forward here. I know that may sound rather wonky… etc etc.

    It does, but your distinctly ‘wonky’ explanation speaks to me through its ‘wonky’ ellipticalness. I retain my severe misgivings about Sam Harris, but will give your response some thought, and thank you for it.

  92. Michael says:

    tildeb > Look, it’s okay to misunderstand Harris or any other New Atheist writer. That can be fixed for those who actually desire an understanding. But it’s not okay to then misrepresent him and his words and not expect to be corrected. To use your misrepresentation as a springboard to attack the man’s character and intellectual integrity is compounding your error.

    Was he arguing with Martin here?

  93. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris > But we shouldn’t lie about the zero-sum contest between reason and faith—and, therefore, between science and religion.

    It’s interesting to look at how Sam Harris has used the term “zero-sum” before — my emboldening, throughout:

    In his 2005 book, The End of Faith, page 225, Harris claims:

    The contest between our religions is zero-sum. Religious violence is still with us because our religions are intrinsically hostile to one another. Where they appear otherwise, it is because secular knowledge and secular interests are restraining the most lethal improprieties of faith. It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity.”

    This is interesting because Harris here includes Buddhism as a “zero-sum” faith, whereas on page 242, note 18, Harris clearly indicated he was then himself a Buddhist believing in paranormal phenomena and in reincarnation — arguably, Harris still is a Buddhist, despite his now denying it.

    *

    In his 2005 “Selling Out Science” blog aimed at slagging off Francis Collins, Harris claims:

    There is a conflict between science and religion, and it is zero-sum. Surely it is time that scientists and other intellectuals stopped disguising this fact. Indeed, the incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Either one has good reasons for what one strongly believes, or one does not. People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they can. When rational inquiry supports the creed, it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided. It is only when the evidence for a religious doctrine is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, that its adherents invoke “faith.”

    So, the primacy of reasons, reasoning and evidence, and rational enquiry can, according to Harris, support religion; it’s not zero-sum after all; here’s a man who can shoot his mouth off and then contradict himself, and in the same paragraph.

    *

    In his his 2011 “On Matters Zero-Sum” blog, Harris defends his The Moral Landscape with the example of a slice of pie:

    There is one slice of pie left, and you and I both want it. There are at least 4 possible states of the world that might follow from this: (1) you get it; (2) I get it; (3) we split it; or (4) we give it to some needy person.

    Then in one of his notorious flights of fancy he postulates that:

    But, as it turns out, you and I are not the sort of people who can contemplate doing (3) or (4). We are too selfish, and we crave pie too much. And, worse still, we each take pleasure in denying others what they want. (In other words, we both have brain damage.)
    [My emboldening]

    That last astonishes me, for even supposing it is tongue-in-cheek dry humour it is absurd: everybody knows the malicious pleasure which children get from playing tricks upon each other; teenagers will all too often vandalise bus stops and park benches; adults are often maliciously nasty – Nietzsche says somewhere that three-quarters of polite conversation is the exercise of the speaker’s power to belittle others, and that’s just one example; German has the word and concept, “schadenfreude”, or delight in the misfortunes of others; and we all know some cussed sod or spouse who is sheer bloody-mindedly deliberately awkward; it is a rare child or adult who doesn’t from time to time take pleasure in denying others what they want; it is so very, very common, and utterly normal, that the idea that it indicates brain damage is absurd.

    Indeed, the person who can refrain entirely from anger, violence or lesser other-punishing retribution is a saint. Or on drugs, particularly the ‘benevolent feelings towards neighbour’ drug, MDMA; which makes me wonder whether the strong effect MDMA temporarily had on Harris wasn’t due to a strong contrast with a highly non-benevolent habitual state; and whether Harris’ pursuit of Buddhism wasn’t due to a wish to gradually regain that MDMA-like state of benevolence – which, so far as I can piece together from what he says about his enlightenment experiences, he can after decades of dedicated practice now attain for periods of seconds or minutes.

    Harris resolves the problem of this zero-sum situation – and, since this is an example of a zero-sum situation, thereby resolves the problem of zero-sum situations in general, by:

    … given the vastness of possible experience, there will usually be better solutions that are not zero-sum.

    So there we are: according to Harris, zero-sum situations can usually be resolved by looking for the “better solutions” which are “usually” there in supposedly zero-sum situations; presumably this applies not only to the slice of pie which Harris here uses as a fanciful example to illustrate zero-sum problems in general, but also to “the zero-sum contest between reason and faith – and, therefore, between science and religion”.

    Odd that zero-sum is a total block to compromise or to finding a middle way (eg to what Jerry Coyne calls “accomodationism™” – except when Harris wants it otherwise: when it suits Harris’ arguments (or claims, rather), zero-sum means a fork where you have a choice of one way, or the other, but not both; except that when it suits Harris’ arguments or claims, the two forks are a false dichotomy and we can wander the landscape at will, unfettered by ‘zero-sum’, looking for a better way.

    *

    The upshot of it all is that Harris uses “zero-sum” in a range of contexts. (There’s a few more, but let’s get something posted.)

    *

    Finally, I note that “zero-sum” is not originally or primarily an Enlightenment concept but instead underpins the mind-sets of what to modern Western ears sounds like primitive or backward societies: it is at the core of Honour-Shame thinking such as was universal in the ANE of Jesus’ time; and which manifests today in eg the honour-killings of others, or perhaps especially the honour-killings of family members; and which underpins those aspects of Islam which Harris rails loudest against.

    It is amusing to appreciate that Harris has invested in the same Zero-Sum/Honour-Shame ideas which in others he would denounce as Iron-Age ideas.

  94. FZM says:

    Dhay,

    Thanks for posting some more of Sam Harris’ wise words.

    “The contest between our religions is zero-sum. Religious violence is still with us because our religions are intrinsically hostile to one another. Where they appear otherwise, it is because secular knowledge and secular interests are restraining the most lethal improprieties of faith. It is time we acknowledged that no real foundation exists within the canons of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any of our other faiths for religious tolerance and religious diversity.”

    Proving conclusively that anything in any religious faith tradition which promotes any kind of tolerance or doesn’t inspire hostility is down to secular knowledge and secular interests is not difficult. Use a definition of religion/religious that is something like ‘any belief or idea that promotes hostility and intolerance’ and a definition of ‘secular’ that runs along the lines of ‘any belief or idea that fosters tolerance and acceptance of diversity’ and the argument is complete.

  95. Dhay says:

    Looks like (Abrahamic) religion vs recreational drugs (Ecstasy, LSD, Marijuana etc) is yet another zero-sum game, at least in Sam Harris’ mind. He seems to think that the only — only — objections to drug use are religious in origin:

    Of course, pleasure is precisely the problem with these substances, since pleasure and piety have always had an uneasy relationship. When one looks at our drug laws—indeed, at our vice laws altogether—the only organizing principle that appears to make sense of them is that anything which might radically eclipse prayer or procreative sexuality as a source of pleasure has been outlawed.
    The End of Faith P.160

    Piety, prayer, procreative sex — this is clearly meant to refer to religious practices and allegedly religious attitudes. I’ll skip the question of their relationship to vice laws in general and focus — as Harris does — on drugs.

    The elephant in that living room is: is Harris seriously suggesting that religious people will outlaw “anything which might radically eclipse prayer” — or possibly, but even more improbably, seriously suggesting that religious people will outlaw “anything which might radically eclipse prayer as a source of pleasure”? — What universe does Harris inhabit? — What fantasies does he spin! — Is Harris sane? — Do his readers ever reflect on what they read? — And this crap survived even after “My copy editor at Norton performed a veritable exorcism upon the text” (P.333), so what did the exorcised material look like! And it is only the wish to prevent pleasures greater than prayer and procreative sex that can explain the opposition to drugs! Only!

    I note that in the religiously uptight Victorian era, British imperialists were not only exporting opium to China (and they enforced their “right” to do so by wars) but were also busily and openly taking opium themselves. So much for the supposed zero-sum.

    There’s also:

    Under our current laws, it is safe to say, if a drug were invented that posed no risk of physical harm or addiction to its users but produced a brief feeling of spiritual bliss and epiphany in 100 percent of those who tried it, this drug would be illegal, and people would be punished mercilessly for its use. Only anxiety about the biblical crime of idolatry would appear to make sense of this retributive impulse.
    The End of Faith P.162

    Which is another of Harris’ famous flights of fancy, another “imagine if …” story.

    Firstly, that “If” — what is this wonder drug: not ecstasy, which in his Drugs and the Meaning of Life blog/podcast Harris accepts is neurotoxic, a verdict which he tells us is based on many scientific studies; nor LSD, which in that same blog Harris goes on and on about the horrors and nightmares thereof, and how he himself stopped after a short honeymoon period, after which he experienced the horrors every time, and how he doesn’t take them at all now, hasn’t for decades; marijuana is problem-free, Harris alleges, but Harris was writing before the modern stronger variants such as “skunk” came to dominate the market (in the UK, at any rate), use of which carries a real risk of psychosis — and even before Harris wrote I was acutely aware of a mother in my extended family who spent all her money on marijuana and, stoned, neglected the baby, hardly a “victimless” usage, that; Harris doesn’t defend or recommend mescalin and the remaining psychedelics in his blog — with one exception, DMT, which Harris mentions in passing and doesn’t push as a meditation super-drug, but claims it is free of injurious side-effects, though if afterwards you are walking around convinced you have been given wisdom by elves or aliens, it is probably only clinically that you can be considered sane. No, that “if” is an “if”, not a reality.

    Secondly, according to Harris the opposition to the actual drugs being used — there’s no actual harmless “if” drug that matches Harris’ fantasy — can only (again, that emphatic only) be based upon “anxiety about the biblical crime of idolatry”. Ah, not metaphorical idolatry, such as excessive love of money is commonly supposed to be, but explicitly biblical idolatry, the worship of wooden or stone statues or of other forms of graven image.

    Even metaphorically, who idolises psychedelic drugs? And I have yet to meet or hear of the person who thinks that using recreational drugs is idolatry — except Harris himself thinks that, weird man.

  96. Kevin says:

    The problem, Dhay, is that you are either incapable of understanding, or intentionally misrepresenting, Sam’s thesis. You’re just vilifying him and trying to suppress all the good he’s trying to do.

  97. TFBW says:

    I see what you did there, Kevin.

  98. Dhay says:

    In a later thread, Talon gives a very nice summary of one of Jerry Coyne’s zero-sum (or either/or, or binary, or black-and-white) contest arguments; and then summarises nicely how — in the eyes of myself and Talon, and probably of many, many others — that argument is readily undercut:

    It’s in Coyne’s best interest to promote the false dichotomy of atheistic evolution/Theistic YEC, creating an either/or situation allows him to position science in opposition to God to shroud the rational weaknesses of arguments for Naturalism and atheism and offer the usefulness of science and engineering as bolstering evidence. That science, and by extension “sciencey” things like evolution, should be expected to work just as well in an orderly Theistic universe is an inconvenient conclusion which weakens the Heroic narrative New Atheists have created for themselves as the sole champions of both reason and a superior morality.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/theistic-evolution-makes-sense/#comment-11836

    *

    Sam Harris often takes a different approach: he spins fantasy stories. Starting at 1:23 into this excerpt from a much longer public talk — it’s the “Death and the Present Moment” talk, delivered at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention, where he goes on to get his audience to try meditation mid-talk — Harris says:

    It seems to me that the only reason any religious person cares about evolution is because if their holy books are wrong abut our origins, they are very likely wrong about our destiny after death. So when you say to someone that, “You’re a fool for not believing in evolution”, or “a fool for thinking the universe is only 6,000 years old”, I think that gets translated as, “You’re a fool to think that your daughter who died in a car accident is not really in Heaven with God”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z4hhE9eThQ

    This fantasy is, as a responder above would put it:

    belief … based not on evidence adduced from reality but on more belief claims, namely, assumption, assertion, and attribution which, without any linking evidence remains empty of knowledge value. … Without evidence, one has no basis to adduce anything from reality and so one has no means to infuse that confidence/trust/hope with anything other than faith. The source of that confidence/trust/hope remains belief alone. This is faith in action and it doesn’t produce knowledge. Ever.

    Yep, they nailed Harris with that one.

    Note that “the only reason” and that only, which rules out every other possible reason without stating what the other possibilities are, and why only this possibility is reasonable. And where’s the evidence for the accuracy of Harris’ ”translation”. No, it isn’t at all reasonable, it’s empty rhetoric.

    In that connection, you might enjoy http://existentialcomics.com/comic/other/2

  99. Dhay says:

    Another zero-sum contest (for Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne, both of them holding ‘incompatibilist’ views) is free will.

    Coyne as philosophical materialist seems to take the view that it’s just a meat-computer version of a mechanical clock in there, everything is rigidly determined, so there is no room for free will. At all. Don’t get confused by Coyne saying that free will is an illusion, or even that the illusion can be useful in daily life: for Coyne, free will and science-as-Coyne-understands-it are in a zero-sum game, and mutually exclusive.

    Harris as Buddhist mystic, who has famously claimed that “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion” — presumably the universe and his own head and brain can be illusions, illusions presumably akin to his ‘disappearing white square’ illusion — for Harris there is no free will because in meditation he finds that the contents of consciousness simply appear and disappear without visible cause. So ‘obviously’ there is none; and he doesn’t allow himself (or us) to deduce rationally that there is. On this view — and view it is, though sounds, tastes, touch, smells, thoughts and sounds also make their appearance — there is no free will because I cannot bother (or disallow) to use my intelligence to deduce that these things of consciousness have causes.

    Babies presumably have such a naive view — but not for long, because it looks like babies are programmed to look for causes from an early age, possibly from or before birth — but it seems quite inappropriate, and profoundly irrational, in an adult.

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