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I Need a Better Science/Religion Venn Diagram

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's guest post is from popular atheist blogger Chana Messinger, who writes at The Merely Real, and it's in response to Jimmy Akin's article, Why We Should Be Cautious Using the Big Bang Argument. Jimmy has since written another piece in response.


 

Jimmy Akin’s piece warning Catholics not to put too much stock in any given scientific explanation of the Big Bang is very interesting. For most atheists, the first and perhaps only question about religious claims is, “How do you know?” It is a request for evidence only satisfiable within the epistemological framework of modern rationality, which in a case like this means scientific, empirical findings.

Empirical Religion?

 
Religious people have a number of philosophical responses to such a request. They may claim that they share standards of evidence with their atheist interlocutor, and that the science is simply on the religious side. This is frequently the purview of creationists, who are often very well informed about the intricacies of radioactive dating and the weaknesses of paleontology. That’s a dangerous business, though, since a rationalist epistemological framework demands that one is only as sure of a result as the evidence allows, and that one be willing to change one’s mind if the evidence doesn’t turn out as expected. As far as I have been led to believe, such a way of thinking is not particularly compatible with sincere religious faith.

In addition, this approach comes off to atheists as intellectually dishonest. There is something crass about claiming that there is a religious realm of knowledge entirely distinct from empiricism which truth can be found and yet that all empirical evidence lines up distinctly and without exception in your favor as well. It’s similar to political partisans whose interpretation of the Constitution just happens to line up extraordinarily well with their beliefs about ideal public policy. Mike Adams, in his recent piece on Mormonism, criticizes Mormonism both for its inconsistency with the Holy Bible and for its inconsistency with archeological fact (implying, of course, that his religious beliefs were perfectly consistent with both, and that both are legitimate avenues to truth). To claim both standards of truth at once is mildly suspicious.

Non-Overlapping Magisteria?

 
But only mildly, because in fact this difficulty is trivially simple to dispose of. Many, many people have thought of the solution before. If you have two standards of truth that you’d like to keep intact, never let them answer the same questions. From here we get Stephen Gould’s Nonoverlapping Magisteria and who knows how many religious folks’ conception of the same idea, and, all within the same intellectual tradition, Jimmy Akin.

If Akin successfully makes his point, and no one thinks that the Bible makes scientific claims, then there’s never any conflict, no double-truth. Science answers the what and religion answers the why, as a common saying goes.

But it can’t be that simple. It can’t be, because Christianity does answer certain empirical questions. For instance: Did Jesus really live? Did he really die and resurrect 3 days later? My understanding is, if the answer to these questions is no, then Christianity is a false religion.

A Hierarchy of Sureness

 
So what are we to make of Akin’s argument? When Leah Libresco converted from atheism to Catholicism, every atheist I knew seemed to be asking what evidence she had seen that had convinced her. What did she know that we didn’t?

But that was the wrong approach. The reason, as far as I remember, that Leah Libresco converted is that she was more sure of objective moral facts than she was of the empirical evidence against God. That’s the key. She was more sure of her morality than of her epistemology. So she backslid and changed her epistemology. This is rare, but within her system, it makes perfect sense.

Akin is not merely more sure of God and Catholicism than of science. He is infinitely more sure. As he says,
 

Losing scientific support from the Big Bang would not disprove the existence of God. It wouldn't even disprove the Kalaam cosmological argument. It would just mean that the premise in question would have to be supported some other way.
 
If it were to turn out that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the physical universe then this argument in apologetics would have to be revised.
 
That's nothing to be ashamed of, though. Apologetics, like the physical sciences, is subject to revision based on the evidence available at the time.”

 
There is simply no evidence that will change his mind about God.

Given this hierarchy of sureness, this theology, this epistemology, Akin’s piece is exactly right. In fact, what I find most interesting about it is that it resonates in part with the Less Wrong style of looking at the world. Everything adds up to normality, say the rationalists, and everything that is true is already the case, so we must let the evidence push us towards truth and keep ourselves unattached to beliefs we may not want. And so the theists say, everything adds up to God, and God is true, and God is the case. Any scientific truth will lead to God and no scientific finding can overturn God. Thus, theists may be light as a leaf regarding scientific truth, and let the evidence take them where it may. To imbue a model, whether the Big Bang Theory or Creationism, with religious truth, is to chain God’s truth status to that of a changeable fact. This is theologically unacceptable and argumentatively ill-advised.

Perhaps we are now saved from the horns of contradiction. To be that much more sure of religion than of empirical truth makes religion a trump card; any time there’s an overlap between religious epistemology and empirical epistemology, religion wins the trick. Apparent contradictions can be dissolved by a total faith in God and God’s truth.

What would that mean?

 
If this model is accurate, then I am tempted to say that we should throw our hands up and decide that Wittgenstein was right all along. The world consists perhaps less of people who have different predictions about what the world looks like, and more of people who have different orientations to the world, who take different axiomatic truths as obvious, who orient themselves to the world in different but individually unjustifiable ways. This takes us back, in some ways, to the general tradition that gave us non-overlapping magisteria. People just evaluate truth differently and there’s no objective way to decide which is best, at least from among the most reasonable options. There’s simply no discussion about the fundamental points to be had. The apparent contradiction disappears because the standards of truth are different.

But this just doesn’t hold up. Many religious people I know wouldn’t want the “out” that the first option provides; they are willing to make empirical claims and believe in them wholeheartedly. And Akin, as I argued above, does believe that the Bible requires making the empirical claim that Jesus lived as is recounted in the Gospels, died and was literally, empirically, resurrected. The intersection is inevitable. But no scientific fact will change his mind about the bible or God; his Bayesian priors for both are 1. This gives us the same contradiction and potential for intellectual dishonesty as above. If you agree on science as an epistemology, and you hold empirical facts to be true, you no longer get to retreat to Non-Overlapping Magisteria or anything similar.

Or...

 
The other option religious people and atheists and agnostics have is to agree on standards of truth so that they can engage within the same framework. After all, questions like who the Problem of Evil is more of a problem for, while fascinating, don’t answer the fundamental question; they are no one’s (or almost no one’s) True Rejection to either atheism or Catholicism.

But it is blatantly obvious that Catholics and atheists don’t have the same standards for truth, and to pretend to for the sake of dialogue would be a farce.

So we have a problem.

 
Atheist argumentation may have its flaws, but it is generally consistent on its epistemology: reason and empiricism. Perhaps the Catholic response is well documented in the literature, and I am simply insufficiently familiar with it. But as I currently see it, the onus is on Catholics to give a more thorough account of exactly how the epistemologies of faith, reason and empiricism interlock, what predictions they make, and which beliefs they feel are fundamental, versus which they would be willing, in the final analysis, to relinquish to the cleansing fire of truth.

I think Akin provides a useful and thought provoking model of how to deal with science and religion. But it is not enough.
 
 
(Image credit: Presentation Process)

Chana Messinger

Written by

Chana Messinger is a soon-to-be graduate of the University of Chicago with a BA in mathematics. She was the president of the University of Chicago Secular Alliance for two years, a Speaker at the 2011 Secular Student Alliance Conference, a panelist at the 2012 Skepticon Conference, a speaker at the 2013 Chicago Skepticamp and at Chicago Skeptics. She is an atheist, feminist, Jew and nerd, as well as a blogger and (soon!) high school mathematics teacher. She has spent a great deal of time in secular, Jewish and Christian communities, and loves learning from all of them. Follow Chana through her blog, The Merely Real, or on Twitter at @chanamessinger.

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  • Douglas Beaumont

    If I remember Jimmy Akin's article, he was pointing out that the Kalam version of the cosmological argument (which relies on the universe not being infinitely old) has scientific support (e.g., Big Bang cosmology), but that even if it didn't the argument would not fail. This is because the notion of the impossibility of an infinite regress of moments in the past is a properly philosophical notion. In this case, at least, the empirical data (which post-dates the origin of the argument by centuries) is just gravy.

    Further, there is the more Thomistic or Leibnizian version of the cosmological which rely not on science or transfinite math, but on notions of existence or causality. Neither of these are open to empirical verification/falsification either.

    So yes, there are truths of Christianity that cannot be verified or falsified by rationalistic or empirical means (e.g., the incarnation/Atonement/Trinity/etc.). But there are also truths of Christianity that *can be* supported by rationalistic or empirical means (e.g., Jesus' existence/death on cross/God's existence), but *need not be* (because they are also truths of faith believed on authority).

    Thus, when a Christian both claims to have faith in 'X' and uses available rationalistic or empirical means to support 'X', they are not really doing anything problematic.

    • primenumbers

      "So yes, there are truths of Christianity that cannot be verified or falsified by rationalistic or empirical means (e.g., the incarnation/Atonement/Trinity/etc.)" - whenever I've gone really deep into questions about the Trinity, the Catholic has ended up basically saying it's a mystery. Therefore I cannot really say the Trinity concept can even be put into a category of things that can be true or false because it's basically mysterious (their language) or unintelligible (my way of saying things). I guess I could say that before we can put something into the category of things that are true or false, we have to at least have a reasonable understanding of what they are or what they mean. We could even take a much harder line and say that for anything unintelligible or that we lack sufficient understanding of we must say (until they are understood or become intelligible) they are "not true" (not necessarily false). We could even take a harder line still and say that if something can neither be verified or falsified then it is not true.

      "but *need not be* (because they are also truths of faith believed on authority)." - exactly. The facts of case matter not here because the believer has their faith.

      I think that what the article is getting at is that it's not science vs religion, but the epistemology of science vs the epistemology of faith. Whereas science tries hard to remove cognitive biases from it's work (blind testing, repeatability of experiments, open access to 3rd party analysis of raw data), faith embraces the cognitive biases of expectation and confirmation.

      • Douglas Beaumont

        Couple corrections to help you think about these things:

        1. "Mystery" in Catholic theology means something like "cannot be discovered by human means, so must be revealed." Your 'meaning' is incorrect.

        2.When you say "The facts of case matter not here because the believer has their faith," you exhibit the same misunderstanding Chana makes. It is not that the facts do not matter, it is that empirical/rationalistic data are in addition to revelation. You cannot simultaneously affirm mystery (in the correct sense) and require empirical/rationalistic proof without confusing your categories. Only if empirical/rationalistic facts are considered worthy of proof is this a problem for revealed truths. But of course the idea that empirical/rationalistic facts are the only real facts is itself not a empirical/rationalistic provable fact.

        • primenumbers

          1) My meaning of mystery in context comes from the discussion I had and I categorize it thus - unintelligible, not-understandable.

          2) if the facts are enough, there's no need for faith. I have the very same facts available that you do, yet do not believe as the facts are not enough. I do not pad the epistemological gap between known facts and belief with faith.

          "But of course the idea that empirical/rationalistic facts are the only real facts is itself not a empirical/rationalistic provable fact" - no, but that's where practical concerns take over and the pragmatic approach wins because it works and has been demonstrated to work and produces useful working results.

    • Jimmy Akin

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Douglas.

      Actually, my point was that we should be careful using the Big Bang argument because science might one day show that the Big Bang was not the start of everything. This was a point made by Fr. Georges Lemaitre, who proposed the Big Bang.

      My point was not that there cannot be an infinite regress of time. This was the position of St. Bonaventure, but was it was not the view of St. Thomas.

      At this point, I favor the position of St. Thomas.

      • epeeist

        This was a point made by Fr. Georges Lemaitre, who proposed the Big Bang.

        Just to be a pedant, Lemaître did not propose the Big Bang but a "primeval atom", the term "Big Bang" was propounded by Fred Hoyle.

        And before anyone raises it, Lemaître was not the first to produce a solution to the Einstein field equations indicating a dynamic universe, the Soviet physicist Alexander Friedmann has precedence. Which is of course why we refer to the FLRW metric.

  • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

    I'm delighted to see this topic addressed. Thank you Chana. Since this is a comment box, I'll keep it short, but I praise you for saying that science is still a search for truth. There seems to be a hesitancy for people to say that now, and it's disconcerting. But because you acknowledge that science is a search for truth, then it gives atheists and Catholics a good way to make that diagram.

    A Catholic sees truth as a whole, everything spiritual and physical. An atheist may or may not include the spiritual, but to the extent that the atheist and Catholic are genuinely searching for truth together, they can do science together.

    • Andre Boillot

      Stacy,

      "I praise you for saying that science is still a search for truth. There seems to be a hesitancy for people to say that now, and it's disconcerting."

      I praise you for seemingly saying that atheists have grounds with which to *genuinely* search for the truth. There seems to be a hesitancy for people to grant that atheist can make truth claims, and it's disconcerting.

      • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

        I'm talking about this, see #3 http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/sci.not.html

        They actually teach students in college that science is not a search for truth. Can atheists know truth in science? Of course. If they keep the science to the science. Take evolution for example.

        • Andre Boillot

          "They actually teach students in college"

          /follows link, scrolls to the bottom, goes to main page titled: "Teaching the Nature of Science: A Sample Unit Plan For High School Biology
          by Larry Flammer"

          I have no idea who Mr. Flammer is, or what this ENSI group is, or if either have any sort of credibility. Most of the "What Science is Not" seems like an attempt to CYA while attempting to teach concepts like evolution in states like Indiana.

          "science is not a search for truth"

          I would agree that it's not an explicit search for the big-T "Truth" in the same way theology is, but it is the search for truths that help explain the reality of the world.

          "Can atheists know truth in science? Of course. If they keep the science to the science. Take evolution for example."

          I have no idea what you're trying to say here.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            You can't use evolution to prove that man has no soul. That's what.

          • Andre Boillot

            Are there any serious scientists bothering to use evolution to try to prove a negative?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Hopefully your fellow atheists will chime in.

          • severalspeciesof

            None that I know of...

          • ZenDruid

            How does one prove a negative?

          • Andre Boillot

            That's my point.

          • severalspeciesof

            Why would it?

            What would?

          • Max Driffill

            As a person who has done a lot of biology, I can safely say, that not once has any of my evo/eco work ever even mentioned souls.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Good. Saying evolution proves the brain evolved the mind is the same error as saying evolution proves intelligent design.

          • Max Driffill

            Uh,
            No it isn't.
            There is a great deal of evidence that brains (we think minds are simply brains at work) evolved under natural selection. The mind is not exempt from evolutionary pressures and seems totally dependent on the brain to exist.
            I'm not sure why think that minds are exempt from evolutionary processes or that they are somehow not tethered to brain processes. The sad history of traumatic brain injury seems to immediately damage this hypothesis, to say nothing of the subsequent recent work in neurology/neuroscience.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I agree, the mind is affected by the brain. But, as you said, science cannot prove the soul (the spiritual mind) does not exist. It can only study the physical brain.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            Your fundamental misunderstanding of science, and the assertiveness with which you make pronouncements about science are deeply problematic.

            One cannot prove a negative. You cannot use science to disprove unicorns, bigfoot, dragons, and numerous other fantastical things. All science can say is that there is no evidence for these things (souls included) and that our models of nature work fine without those assumptions.

            Should we take seriously everyone who wants to argue seriously for the existence of these entities simply because science cannot disprove them? Of course not. Science advances on positive evidence not the cry, "well you cannot prove it doesn't exist." Again all the scientist can say in the face of silence is "we cannot reject the null hypothesis, there is just no reason to accept {insert unsupported belief}.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I ain't talking about unicorns and dragons. I'm talking about you and me.

            On a shallow level you can pretend that what you put in the beakers and petri dishes never, ever, ever intersects with faith/religion/theology (whatever you want to call it), but at some point what's in those containers and what you do with them will require you to shed the pretense.

          • BenS

            Starting to think you're just trolling now. You've ignored every valid point in that previous post and set off on a tangential mini-rant about nothing in particular.

            Is there a announcement we can put on the tannoy for the mods?

            "We need a clean up in aisles 3 and 6; strawmanning and off topic."

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I've explained why the understanding of the Venn Diagram is related to the understanding of man, the soul, the brain, the mind, and our existence. That is precisely where these questions intersect. You may not like me, but you'd be hard pressed to say I'm trolling.

            I study these questions. I had hoped to talk to some atheists who also study them, a mutual challenge to think. Do I ignore some things I think aren't worth pursuing? Yes. You can do the same. You ought to respect that freedom in discussion.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            Dragons and unicorns are equivalent to souls as far as the evidence is concerned.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Max, no they are not. I'm not one to toss out the glib "Scientists shouldn't do philosophy" phrase, but if you've not even studied the philosophy, you shouldn't toss it all aside as if you're an expert on it. That's like someone denying evolution when they've never cracked a biology book.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            Where have I tossed aside philosophy? I am explaining to you how scientific knowledge advances. It does not do this by hiding behind a negative that cannot be disproved but by positive evidence.

            Let me rephrase though and see if this fits with you better:
            As far as science is concerned, souls, bigfoot and dragons are all equal. There is no reason to believe they are real things even though we cannot absolutely disprove their existence.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            But what you believe about them will affect your decisions and interpretations in science.

            I gotta go...kids are playing with fire (we have a fire pit). It was nice talking to you. I enjoyed it.

          • Max Driffill

            Thanks,
            I think.

          • Corylus

            On a shallow level you can pretend that what you put in the beakers and petri dishes never, ever, ever intersects with faith/religion/theology (whatever you want to call it), but at some point what's in those containers and what you do with them will require you to shed the pretense.

            I could imagine someone saying this in response to observing this acid soaked drop. (Hope you enjoy the brief video). Trouble is, it does not have the apparatus for the type of reasoning that we are inclined to assign to it.

            Is it possible to look at scientific observations and gasp in wonder? Of course.

            Should we assume the presence of an organising intelligence behind them though? No.

            This is no evidence for one: and plenty of evidence that this type of thinking leads us astray.

            [Clarity edit]

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I would say that the fact that the closer relatives of human beings (chimps, bonobos, gorillas), who have mental capacities closer to humans than, say, birds, frogs, or goats is an indication that the brain is responsible for the mind. The fact that humans have extremely complex brains and highly developed minds is unlikely to be a coincidence.

            I am curious to know exactly what human capabilities the soul is supposed to be responsible for that the brain cannot handle. What, for example, were the soulless contemporaries of Adam and Eve like. How much is possible without a spiritual soul?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Intellect and free will are the powers of the soul. They are affected by the brain (we are not angels), but they are not completely dependent on the brain or the same as the brain. Science cannot prove it one way or the other, but it can point to it.

          • ZenDruid

            Until evidence comes in that souls exist independent of the brain, the null hypothesis is that souls do not exist.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            It's self-defeating though. How can you do science if you can't even trust yourself to know what's true or false? The ability to do science presupposes the existence of the intellect and will.

            What evidence do you accept to answer that question (that souls exist)?

          • ZenDruid

            Hypothetically, if you could trap something in some sort of magnetic field, add inputs and outputs to it, and if it communicates like a person, and if it passes the Turing test, then we might just have a soul.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Great, and when the battery dies we'll have funeral rites for it.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            Did you conclude that procedure is correct, scientifically of course, to determine if there is a soul on living things?

            Do you have the paper? May can I have a copy?

          • ZenDruid

            What part of 'Hypothetically' do you not understand?

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            Oh, so, those requirements are false and do not help on anything!

            But you wouldn't use it until they are proven scientifically as correct to prove the existence of soul, right?

            Because science works and give us answers, and what cannot be proven by science is simple false or don't exists, right, right?!

            Anyway, there is soul on living things because I have faith on that belief, and that is not something 'Hypothetically'!

          • ZenDruid

            The scientific method begins with hypotheses. Experiments are designed. In this particular scenario, equipment to contain 'soul' needs to be developed, using yet-unknown principles of the qualities and attributes of 'soul'. As it stands, the proponents of 'soul' are being singularly unhelpful [helpless?] in any effort to move the hypothesis forward.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            But Descartes and Aristotle cannot come back to life and reply you here, don't blame them for being helpless! :(.

            btw, equipment to contain souls (if such thing were possible) have to be build not just for Materialistic Monism theory, but for another two proposals on this matter: Descartesian Dualism and
            Aristotelian Animalism (as noted here http://www.strangenotions.com/what-is-the-soul/ )

            anyway...

          • ZenDruid

            Given time (and good data), clever experimenters could develop a meta-machine to distinguish between these three theories, and perhaps discover more in the process.

            Science!

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            hmm, Well, good luck, thought (I'm not sure how did you came to the conclusion that souls, if they exists, are subject of scientific study... that's important, otherwise you, or whoever start such enterprise will invert time for nothing... Wondering if know such thing by science alone is possible... anyway)

            That reminds me: Science, Philosophy, Religion and common sense!!

          • epeeist

            Because science works and give us answers, and what cannot be proven by science is simple false or don't exists, right, right?!

            Science doesn't prove things, what it provides are theories which are both tentative and provisional and give the best explanation for a set of phenomena that we can make.

            I think this covers it

            If an entity X is postulated to exist, and no substantive evidence capable of withstanding intense critical scrutiny is present to support the postulated existence of entity X the default position is to regard entity X as not existing, until said substantive evidence supporting the postulated existence of entity X becomes present.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            "It's self-defeating though. How can you do science if you can't even trust yourself to know what's true or false?"

            The scientific method allows us to distinguish between true and false, because get this, we cannot trust ourselves to know when something is true or false. That is the brilliance of the scientific method. Its good to remember the wise words of Richard Feynman here. "You must not fool yourself, and you must remember you are the easiest one to fool."

            "The ability to do science presupposes the existence of the intellect and will."
            It pre-supposes nothing. The ability to do science falls out from the fact that we can reason, that we have an intellect. What it says about will, I think, is nothing.

            "What evidence do you accept to answer that question (that souls exist)?"

            It would first have to be demonstrated that brains are not enough.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Why it's self-defeating. Determinism.

            If you aren't really thinking freely, Max, then why should I listen to you? I don't trust machines to know the truth, only to do what they are programmed to do. Materialism forces you to say "I think I can't think."

            That's enough evidence for me to go on down that path and explore the soul.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            "Materialism forces you to say "I think I can't think."

            Materialism does no such thing. Not even a little bit.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Yes it does, unless you define "thinking" as something akin to gravity, which is to say "I think I can't think."

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            This is mere assertion. Our ape cousins clearly think and you would not argue that they need a soul to do this. Chimps are as smart as my two year old. Indeed they are much smarter. Elephants and cetaceans think.

            There is no reason to assume that because minds the product of material processes that they can not think, are process input, and assess, and manipulate it.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Feynman also said this (I think it was him):

            "Everything is made of atoms. That is the key hypothesis. The most important hypothesis in all of biology, for example, is that everything that animals do, atoms do. In other words, there is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of at-oms acting according to the laws of physics. This was not known from the beginning, it took some experimenting and theorizing to suggest this hypothesis, but now it is accepted, and it is the most useful theory for producing new ideas in the field of biology."

          • BenS

            What evidence do you accept to answer that question (that souls exist)?

            Kind of a null question. There isn't any. You would need to produce something that can be measured, detected, quantified, replicated.

            If all that's available is word play to attempt to demonstrate the existence of something then chances are, it doesn't exist. You don't need word play to demonstrate the sun, gravity, the weak nuclear force or cheesecake.

            Anyway, put your evidence forward. This should be fun.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            If you think science gives all the answers, then I hereby accuse you of scientism.

          • BenS

            If you think I think science gives all the answers then I hereby accuse of you strawmanning. Again.

            If you're not going to respond to the actual content of my posts, you may profitably remain silent.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I ignored you, that's all. If you don't want me to ignore you, then reconsider how you are addressing me.

          • BenS

            You didn't ignore me, you commented directly to me starting with 'If you think', followed by something I don't think, followed by an accusation. A strawman. See rule 3 of the board.

            If you want me to reconsider how I address you, start following the rules of the board. Stop strawmanning and engage in productive discourse. If I can play by the rules, so can you.

            Now, address my points or truly ignore me and don't reply. At the moment, all you're doing is messing around and getting in the way of sensible discussion.

          • http://swt.encyclomundi.org/ shackra sislock

            indeed it is...

          • Andrew G.

            The same evidence that would answer any other hypothesis - a set of observations which are more probable given the existence of souls than not, with an odds ratio sufficient to overcome the prior probability against souls and any opposing evidence.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            And how many philosophy books have you read? They are fascinating, this question of brain-mind has a rich history, limpified somewhat in the 1800's in my opinion, but it involves some very interesting reasoning. But Andrew -- science cannot prove the existence of something immaterial.

          • Andrew G.

            ... because you said so?

            In any case, I didn't ask whether science could prove anything, I specifically stated the nature of the evidence required. Are you conceding that there would be no way to distinguish a world in which souls existed from one where they did not? If not, you must have some anticipated experience which is dependent on the existence of souls, so please tell us what it is.

          • Andre Boillot

            "And how many philosophy books have you read?"

            Aww snap. Philo-weiner-measuring contest!

            Edit: When do we get to whose dad can beat the other one up?

          • BenS

            I can't remember where I heard it but one that tickled me was:

            "My dad's six foot two. He'll batter your dad!"
            "Yeah, well, my dad's gay. He'll fuck your dad."

          • Andrew G.

            I'm still waiting for her answer on the "thirds" thing.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            "Intellect and free will are the powers of the soul."

            Intellect seems to be completely and utterly contingent on brain activity. If it were not, developmentally disabled people would not be adversely affected by inhibition of normal neurological development. This is one of the most easily dismissed of your many assertions. Again, I would urge you to examine traumatic brain injury, the effects of fatigue and sleep deprivation on mental processes and the way certain chemicals affect the brain, and its perceptions and ideas.

            Define free will, and demonstrate that it exists, and that is incompatible with being generated solely by the action of brains at work. Until you do this, there is simply no reason to take the free will is incompatible brain activity alone.

            Define soul, demonstrate that they exist.

            "They are affected by the brain (we are not angels), but they are not completely dependent on the brain or the same as the brain."

            Prove this.
            Demonstrate how souls affect brains and vice versa.
            Demonstrate souls exist.
            While you are at it, demonstrate angels exist.

            "Science cannot prove it one way or the other, but it can point to it."

            Science can note, as it does, that souls are not necessary for any model of human behavior, that there is precisely no evidence for them, and that until there is some evidence, they can be discarded as an explanatory device.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Is there a theoretical limit, then, on the intellect of living creatures who do not have souls? If the first humans ensouled by God were chosen from evolving almost-humans, could the ensouled humans converse with the almost-humans? Could almost-humans master simple arithmetic? Algebra? Assuming, purely for the sake of argument, that the world of Star Trek is real, do intelligent alien species like Klingons necessarily have spiritual souls? Someone writing on Strange Notions recently asserted that it was the soul that gave human beings the power of abstract thought. Is that correct?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            That's a good question, David. I don't know. Yes the power of abstract thought would be attributed to the soul, to my understanding.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Isn't this an absolutely critical question for believers in the soul to answer? If we must appeal to the concept of an immaterial soul to explain human capabilities, certainly we have to know which human capabilities cannot be accounted for without a soul. Saying intellect and will does not strike me as enough. Nonhuman primates have at least rudimentary versions of intellect and will. I think it is necessary to have some kind of clear answer to what almost-but-not-quite humans could be like if one is to maintain that pre-human bodies evolved up to a point, and the first humans came into existence those creatures being ensouled.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This is something I enjoy studying. I think it is cool that medieval men knew a lot more about animals than we do. They knew the higher animals had passions, emotions, memories, distinct personalities, maybe even vices and virtues. I'd guess what is missing are things like consciousness of consciousness, the ability to form concepts and see the "forms" in things, abstract reasoning, language, freedom to act against instinct, maybe others. Alistair McIntyre has a book called "Dependent Rational Animals" in part about animals and us.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Grade School Nun Story: A godless, communist, Russian surgeon said, "I have performed thousands of operations, and I have never seen a soul!"

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Exactly! :-)

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            all I am saying is that Stacy seems to think it is the mission of evolutionary biologists to disprove souls. It isn't. Its not even something biologists discuss except over beers.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I wouldn't say it's their mission, but it is (for some) an assumption, an unproven and unreasonable assumption.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Max, I wasn't criticizing you or anyone else. I was reminiscing about Catholic grade school. My sixth grade teacher, Sister Julietta, insisted that if we wore boots to school on rainy days, we had to take them off in the classroom. Why? For our eyes. If you wore boots indoors, your feet would sweat, and that would draw moisture from your eyes and cause them to dry up, which could permanently damage your vision.

            My sister, in high school, was taught by a very elderly nun whose mind was no longer what it once had been. She would ask the students to name the 12 Commandments and was not at all pleased when they could only come up with 10. We never found out what 11 and 12 were.

          • Max Driffill

            David,
            I wasn't sure, but mostly I just wanted to clarify what I meant.

        • epeeist

          They actually teach students in college that science is not a search for truth.

          Strictly it isn't, one might say that it is an attempt to improve our descriptions of the world, or make inferences to the best explanation, or to use Marc Lange's phrase, to eliminate unexplained explainers.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            You just said science is not a search for truth, but it is. :-)

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,
            Epeeist is correct, as he said, strictly speaking. Science is an attempt to get very close to the truth always understanding that our models may never reflect, with 100% accuracy, reality. I liked Carl Sagan's formulation a bit more, "Science is an asymptotic approach toward truth." (I think that was a pretty accurate quote).

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Which is a fancy way of saying science is a search for truth. Key word = search

            I honestly don't know why people argue about this. Science is not a search for untruth.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            Science is also about being comfortable with ambiguity and being amenable to changing our minds with new evidence.

            "I honestly don't know why people argue about this. Science is not a search for untruth."

            The fact is it is worth remembering that science values the method (which accepts the chance conclusions may be wrong) as much as, perhaps more than, the conclusions. Its worth a point worth remembering. I don't think theists are engaged in crafting better and better models of the world. Theist think they already have the perfect model of the world.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I'm a former working, publishing scientist and I'm Catholic. I know what science is and I know how "theists" view the world. You can ask me -- but you won't get too far by telling me. ;-)

          • epeeist

            I'm a former working, publishing scientist

            I did look on Google Scholar (I no longer have access to the Science Citation Index) but I couldn't see any papers by you. I am not accusing you of fabricating the above, for all I know you may not have published under this name. However I would be interested in a reference to one of your published papers so that we know what field you were in.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            S. A. Johnson
            http://research.chem.psu.edu/mallouk/pubs.html
            After that I worked for DuPont (Lycra) until 2003, publications were internal/confidential.

          • Sample1

            Science is a culture of doubt while faith is a culture of certainty. It's hard for me to envision more polarizing methods to understand the observable universe.

            Mike

          • epeeist

            You just said science is not a search for truth, but it is. :-)

            A bare assertion does not an argument make.

            I can back my claim up with many references in the philosophy of science, the question is whether you can do the same.

  • kuroisekai

    As both a Catholic and a scientist, this article is a breath of fresh air. I've been delving into Catholic Apologetics ever since one of my friends converted to atheism (or rather, anti-theism, as he calls it) and began attacking religion with great gusto a la Dawkins. I agree that chaining something something spiritual, which in my mind is something the sciences cannot measure into empirical data is intellectually honest. However, while the spiritual aspects of the Universe cannot be measured scientifically doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I still hold the view (as others before me - Galileo, Newton, Mendel, L'emaitre, et al) that Science and Religion do not contradict, but see the same truth through different lenses.

    • ChanaM

      I'm so glad you liked the piece! My question for you would just be to elaborate on what it means that they see the same truth through different lenses. What if an empirical inquiry came up with an answer different than that in the Bible? Where would you turn, and how would you decide?

      • kuroisekai

        I don't believe that the Bible answers any empirical inquiries. The Bible in a nutshell says that God created Heaven and Earth, and that through His Son, we are saved. It doesn't tell us how and why. That's where science comes in. I hope that makes sense.

        • ChanaM

          But the existence of Jesus is an empirical claim, is it not? He really existed, right?

          • kuroisekai

            It depends on what qualifies as an empirical claim. If an empirical claim is a claim that can be only seen through science, then no. Since we cannot scientifically prove or disprove the historicity of Jesus short of a working time machine. If an empirical claim can be tested via written accounts and deductions from what we know about history, then yes.

            At risk of derailing the conversation towards the historicity of Jesus (a conversation which I hope you indulge me we not go into since I feel I am not well-prepared to engage in it), should there be empirical evidence that absolutely refutes any of the sources we have on His historicity, then Christianity as we know it (emphasis on as we know it) is false, and the intellectually honest thing to do is to stop asserting His historicity as truth (emphasis on what is being asserted).

  • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

    "But it is blatantly obvious that Catholics and atheists don’t have the same standards for truth, and to pretend to for the sake of dialogue would be a farce."

    Brava.

  • cowalker

    The Catholic Church learned from the Galileo fiasco. The lesson was: Don't get caught making religious claims that are empirically falsifiable. So this is not ever going to happen--

    . . . the onus is on Catholics to give a more thorough account of exactly how the epistemologies of faith, reason and empiricism interlock, what predictions they make, and which beliefs they feel are fundamental, versus which they would be willing, in the final analysis, to relinquish to the cleansing fire of truth.

    The Catholic Church will never make a claim that can be tested in the way a scientific hypothesis can be tested. God created the universe(s) through the Big Bang--or not. Explain it to yourself in any way you please because the important point is that God did it.

    This approach is very smart and lends the Church an air of modernity compared to fundamentalist creeds. However the speed of change and communication in the world has trapped the Church in its 19th century moral teachings. Everyone is watching now, and recording all the pronouncements, so it is impossible to gracefully elide outmoded disciplines over many generations. The Vatican II changes to liturgy and the arbitrary Church rule requiring meatless Fridays caused immense consternation and confusion among Catholics, most of whom aren't nearly as knowledgeable about their faith as even the atheist commenters on this site.

    The whole point of requiring children to engage in religious ritual before they can think critically is to accomplish what the author describes as ". . . [people taking] different axiomatic truths as obvious." It's important in inculcating religious belief to make the existence of God the default position in the developing mind of a child. In my opinion, it is the reason that a growing number of Americans claim to be "spiritual but not religious." Religions do not appeal to them, but they can't make the final mental adjustment to a default perspective of "There may not be a God," beacuse the God-assumption is too deeply ingrained.

    The Church is very lucky that so many years have passed since the events of the founder's life. It is extremely unlikely that any empirical evidence will ever surface that either supports or undermines the New Testament accounts of Jesus' life. The Resurrection can be asserted with no fear of contradiction even if there is no proof either.

    • Christian Stillings

      I think you may be (very slightly) mis-perceiving something about Catholic theology here:

      The Catholic Church will never make a claim that can be tested in the way a scientific hypothesis can be tested.

      (emphasis mine)

      You seem to understand Catholic theology pretty well. Assuming that you're familiar with the concept of the Apostolic Deposit of Faith, you probably understand that nothing which is truly novel makes its way into Catholic doctrine. Previously-undefined doctrines may be defined and doctrines may be developed, but if done according to the proper principles of doctrinal development and definition, neither of these actually brings new content to the Catholic faith itself.

      What specific claims "will be made", perhaps through development or definition of doctrine, is largely a matter of what claims are already present in the faith. The Catholic Church has largely avoided egg on its face in matters of the age of the earth/evolution/etcetera because there is no requirement in the Tradition for Catholics to believe that the "days" of Genesis 1 are meant as literal 24-hour cycles, nor that the "creations" of species in the beginning of Genesis were literal ex nihilo creative acts of God.

      If the specifically required doctrines in the Tradition of the Catholic faith happen not to overlap with that data which is open to examination by the "empirical" physical sciences, so be it. (Perhaps we could even hypothesize the involvement of a Divine factor?) However, the idea that the future content of the faith will be essentially reactionary to contemporary circumstances isn't true- the Church's teaching is bound by Tradition, and relevant testimony to the content of said Tradition is perfectly accessible to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

      The whole point of requiring children to engage in religious ritual before they can think critically is to accomplish what the author describes as ". . . [people taking] different axiomatic truths as obvious."

      I'd consider it more much likely that a parent/parents could sincerely believe in the tenets of that religious tradition and he/she/they want(s) his/her/their child/children to hold those beliefs as well. I mean, I can't rule your idea out, but I doubt that many, if any, parents think "I'm going to involve my children in religious community and ritual because I want to corrupt their epistemology forever mwahaha." I'd certainly say that there are parents who don't think enough about their religious beliefs or about passing said beliefs on to their children, but I sincerely doubt that any parents think about their children's religious education and formation in the way that you suggest.

      In my opinion, it is the reason that a growing number of Americans claim to be "spiritual but not religious."

      Possibly. It could also just be a matter of cultural zeitgeist. Why not consult polling data on why Americans are becoming increasingly less involved in organized religion? I'm sure it's out there. My own non-scientific guess is that it simply carries less cultural currency to be "religious" now than it once did in America, especially among younger Americans, and that today's "spiritual but not religious folks" are just carrying forward the heritage of yesteryear's "Christmas-and-Easter Christians".

      Religions do not appeal to them...

      Interestingly, this concurs with both of our hypotheses, but we seem to disagree on why it doesn't appeal to them. Your idea (if I understand it correctly) is that they're skeptical about the supernatural doctrines of "traditional religious belief", but still believe that some supernatural truth is likely, even if they don't believe that any "traditional religion" gets it right.

      I personally that this gives the average American youth credit for more incisive thinking than is honestly fair. I'm twenty years old, and I've heard plenty of ex-religious "spiritual, but not religious" peers describe their reasons for becoming un-religious. Among the popular answers are things like "I got tired of religious intolerance" or "religion has caused so many bad things in history," and occasionally something like "I was raised into young-earth creationism... before becoming a geology major. Something had to give." Even the first two make logical sense- something valued conflicted with religious belief, and the latter gave. However, I've never heard someone say "I investigated the best arguments for and against the God hypothesis, and I've settled on the belief that there's a supernatural reason behind existence and that there are supernatural interactions with the present world, but no religious tradition accurately depicts past interactions of the supernatural with the natural world." If someone gave that as their rationale for being "spiritual, but not religious", I'd be duly impressed. :-)

      • Andrew G.

        Since this is a Catholic site...

        In response to the yes-or-no questions about why they left the Catholic Church, nearly six-in-ten former Catholics who are now unaffiliated say they left Catholicism due to dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality, about half cite concerns about Catholic teachings on birth control and roughly four-in-ten name unhappiness with Catholicism's treatment of women.

        Source: Pew Forum

        • Christian Stillings

          The study, which I assume is legit, gives us good insight as to why people leave the Catholic Church. However, it's not terribly helpful in learning about people who go from "religious" to "spiritual, but not religious", because ex-Catholics might become "conservative Protestant" (ie evangelical-ish), become "liberal Protestant" (ie some Episcopalians, UCC, etcetera), convert to a non-Christian religious tradition, become "spiritual but not religious", or become "agnostic/atheist". In any event, though, thanks for sharing the study!

          Edit: does "unaffiliated" mean "not religiously affiliated" or something else? I find it a little unclear in the context of the paragraph.

          • Mary Kay

            I think it means not a member of a religion or religious institution. So, an overarching category of "spiritual but not religious", agnostics, and atheists

  • primenumbers

    The fatal flaw of the epistemology of faith is that it relies heavily on cognitive biases and has produced a chaos of religious belief.

    Although faith is (as no doubt the theist will claim) the only epistemology that "works" for the supernatural, it's like the old story about the man looking for his keys under the light when he lost them elsewhere. Faith is the light looking in a place where there is no answers.

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

      I don't know what you mean by "epistemology of faith". The Church has urged science to return to an Aristotelian epistemology, as the scholastics had, for over a century. The differences in the materialist, Platonist and Aristotelian epistemology are explained here briefly. http://stacytrasancos.com/what-is-your-epistemology/

      • primenumbers

        Faith is a way of knowing, so it's an epistemology. It's a very poor one. What you describe as Aristotelian epistemology is merely a filling in the gaps of desired outcome from what you describe as materialist with enough faith (probably similar to what you're calling Platonistic) as necessary.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "Faith is a way of knowing, so it's an epistemology. It's a very poor one."

          According to what measure?

          • BenS

            Because it's not testable. It's not verifiable. It's practically the antithesis of reliable as it's belief without evidence. If there's no way of objectively testing its truth value than it's a poor way of acquiring knowledge.

            Say two people have faith. One has faith that the orange is blue. The other has faith that the orange is green.

            Who's right?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Believing that nothing exists but the material world is also an act of faith, belief without evidence (as you say).

          • stanz2reason

            ... what?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            I believe that material things are all that exists.
            I believe that both material and immaterial things exist.

            How do you prove those two statements with evidence?

          • stanz2reason

            You could of course provide evidence for immaterial things, which would go a long way to supporting your view. Until then it seems inappropriate to presuppose the existence of such things. Insert 'dragons' in place of 'immaterial things' and see what I mean.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            That sounds like you're saying, "I just haven't thought about it much." If you think it's a simple as the question of dragons, that is.

          • Andre Boillot

            Yes, one must consider demons and angles before one can be said to have thought much about these things.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            And souls.

          • BenS

            And leprechauns! And jabberwockies! And bogwhoppits! And the g-spot! And pixies! And.... this is going to take a while.

          • severalspeciesof

            What kind of angles? Obtuse or what? ;-)

          • stanz2reason

            It is as simple as dragons. Presupposing the existence of something without proper cause is poor reasoning, and nothing any reasonable person does in any facet of their lives. The presumption of an immaterial existence, without sufficient cause is poor reasoning. And the burden of proof for an immaterial existence does not somehow fall back on those maintaining a materialist view because we lack proof of non-existence.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy
            It seems that way to you because you don't understand how science works.
            I cannot say with 100% certainty that dragons do not exist. I cannot refute every ad hoc hypothesis that might rescue the dragon hypothesis. All I can say is there is no positive evidence, as yet of for the hypothesis that dragons exist. When we look at the evidence of nature we can say that we have failed to reject the null hypothesis (dragons do not exist). This may seem like splitting hairs. But it is important. It keeps us from chasing phantoms (which is great as grant money is finite).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Why can't you insert "love" or "justice" in place of "immaterial things"?

          • stanz2reason

            The former can be understood to be a product of known demonstrable biological processes, and the later is an intangible subjective concept that exists in your mind. Neither 'exist' in a manner similar to that described above.

          • primenumbers

            Immaterial things like abstract concepts, math, ideas? Of course they exist. It's not the same kind of existence as material things, which exist physically. We've got to be rather careful here as "exists" has many slippery meanings.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            There are people who question the existence of math. Yes, you do have to be careful if you are a materialist.

          • primenumbers

            Math exists, but it's not "exists" in the physical sense. When you say about some people, it all depends what definition of "exists" they're using.

          • stanz2reason

            Which really isn't what's being discussed here. We can use abstract concepts like numbers to form a cohesive descriptive model of things, but those concepts don't exist in the same sense that physical objects might.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            It's related though, in the discussion about science and religion.

          • stanz2reason

            See, but it's not. There's no relation. There's no sorta similar. There's no we establish X so that allows us to pivot to Y. The presumption of an immaterial world is just that, a presumption, and an unwarranted one at that. Making such a presumption doesn't somehow link the scientific study of the world and religious claims.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Do you follow neuroscience?

          • stanz2reason

            Is that like 'Game of Thrones'?

            And no, I don't follow it to be able to speak with any sort of authority on it, though I haven't heard anything that can't be explained as a materialistic function of neurons firing.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Neuroscientists are trying harder than ever to say that materialism is true, but they ... just can't. It's a good field to follow (by that I mean read the pop science stuff) to get a grasp of this issue of faith and science. Why? Because it involves the question of the soul.

          • stanz2reason

            Is this [http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Non-materialist_neuroscience] what you're referring to?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Maybe, I love Wikipedia, but for long articles like that, I just don't have the time or inclination to vet all the references. I'm referring to this: http://www.livescience.com/37056-scientists-and-philosophers-debate-consciousness.html

          • Phil Rimmer

            This article relates to souls in what way?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            That's what we call the mind that is spiritual as opposed to material -- a soul.

          • Phil Rimmer

            But what does the linked article tell us about a "spiritual" mind?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            That even science will hit limits about what it can answer about man's existence. i watched the video and it was almost funny how much they make references to things the Catholic Church has been talking about for centuries.

          • Phil Rimmer

            I suspect it will say nothing of the sort.

            I shall go view the program, though it looks unpromising. Colin McGinn is a philosopher and not a scientist. It is curious how their (philosophers) views on the workings of the mind say, have had to be perpetually rolled back by the enormous strides taken by scientists.

            Many philosophers who now choose to work actively at the forefront of new neuro-scientific research take rather a different view than his purely speculative mysterian stance.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Christof Koch of the orange pants and conscious mobile phone should entertain you then. Don't worry, they all agreed that the mind is completely determined by the brain, including McGinn. It's not that they prove it or anything, it's that they start with that assumption dogmatically. They are having a crazy time trying to support it though.

          • Phil Rimmer

            McGinn has rediscovered his childhood. No explanation can defeat the five year old's "But why?" for the fifth time. It is in the nature of explanations, made to the essentially metaphorical mind, that they can never hold forever, nor with physics, nor with gods. The eventually-spotted chink in the metaphor elicits the next round of butwhys.

            The chinks in the crass metaphors of gods fall foul of those wanting working, problem solving models. These people wanting working explanations to understand and to solve problems, take the more practical route pinned with some evidence at every stage. Their metaphors will often be less visceral, rather cooler and increasingly sprinkled with those coolest of all metaphors afforded by mathematics. They may have a good many chinks in their explanatory metaphors but the gaps close and the problem solving increases with time. Relentlessly.

            All that McGinn has discovered is that understanding and mastering are different concepts and that understanding may remain the junior partner until our store of emotionally engaging metaphors can catch up again.

            No hints of souls, of dualism. Not one scintilla.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            It was an interesting discussion wasn't it? My favorite was when Koch spoke of Integrated Information Theory, and said we have to “enlarge our notions of what exists” that anything with a certain complexity is conscious. I thought it was funny when he held up his mobile phone, as if he were a god, and said that “in the fullness of time” even that might be conscious and not reducible to the matter itself. I seriously LOL'd, as they say. Scientists are creating phone souls now that live on after the battery dies?

            Also, as a convert who has studied theology, I was almost laughing throughout because they are so close to saying what the Catholic Church has been saying for centuries. You said McGinn seemed childlike. If the Church is like a mother, I see her sitting there waiting patiently for those children to catch up. I hope they do, I hope they keep asking "why".

            Thank you for your thoughts on the talks.

          • Phil Rimmer

            And thank you for yours, but they appear to have sprung from nowhere.

            McGinn's butwhys, whilst a useful goad did not net him the insight of the transient nature of understanding and the progressive accumulation of "mastery".

            Phones will never have souls but they may have b!@ody minds of their own.

            Mother Church's antique answers to the butwhys of antitheist McGinn and his ilk never dare stray from the primary metaphor of "family" no matter how glaring her moral deficits become. There is no waiting for others to catch up.

          • Max Driffill

            No it doesn't. It involves questions of how brains generate minds. That is all.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            But do you see the problems that are coming? If your ability to reason has nothing to do with free will, you can't really think freely, you aren't intellectual, you are no more mental than rocks falling on hills. This begins to get at that the immense philosophical questions about what exists.

            Materialism will literally force you to say "I think that I can't think." And to do science, you must think. That's why science is only part of a greater truth.

          • stanz2reason

            Perhaps were we to view free will and consciousness as unique emergent natural phenomena in their own right we might be able to explain both in a materialistic frame work.

            Science isn't a truth or part of a greater truth. It is a tool used to learn about the world. It has proven time and time and time and again to be the most reliable tool we have for doing so.

          • Andre Boillot

            I'm not sure that the idea we don't have absolute free-will necessarily leads to "you are no more mental than rocks falling on hills", though I see how that's a convenient way for you to frame things.

          • stanz2reason

            Are abstract concepts like mathematics what we're referring to as 'immaterial' here?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            All of it. To get back on track, this is an important distinction in the Aristotelian epistemology, which has implications on the way science is done, which gets back to the author's question about overlap.

          • primenumbers

            The problem of "immaterial" is that it's defined in the negative - it's "not material" - so what actually is it? The theist can't tell us. But we know of a number of things that are things but are not material - abstract concepts for instance. So it then becomes the job of the theist to show that the immaterial thing that they can't actually tell us what it is, is not an abstract concept.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Here, I'm not trying to link drop, it's just that I'm being lazy. See the video, see my comments, see the actual mathematician/philosopher/Thomist Catholic deacon's comments below about math. http://stacytrasancos.com/what-if-they-denied-the-existence-of-math/

          • primenumbers

            You say "In other words, if faith guides our search for truth, we’ll get much further." - which is not the case. You can't get further by pretending to know what you don't know.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Strawman alert! :-)

          • primenumbers

            I'm going to absolutely assert that faith is "pretending to know what you don't know" until proven otherwise. Don't think of it as a straw man, but a challenge.... But I think such a discussion gets right to the heart of the the discussion on epistemology.

          • epeeist

            How do you prove those two statements with evidence?

            Proof is for mathematics, logic and whisky. This is epistemology, so we are looking for justification (still needed even in modern theories of knowledge, such as Nozicks's for example).

            Who makes the ontological claim that the physical (I prefer this to material) is all that exists? Do scientists, or do they take a methodological view rather than a metaphysical one?

            As for the claim that both the physical and non-physical exist, it is the proponent of that position who has to present the justification, as ever "he who avers must prove".

            Of course if you simply assume that unjustified entities exist then you are going to get an awfully bloated ontology. After all, if you allow one unjustified entity in, let's say "souls", then you can't disallow other unjustified entries, such as "dragons".

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            The point is: Either claim requires reasoning and a decision of faith. And you must pick one when interpreting the world and humanity. I would also say that materialism is the unreasonable assumption.

          • Max Driffill

            Stacy,

            "the point is: Either claim requires reasoning and a decision of faith."
            Materialism, again, is an inference based on observation. It is not a belief in something. It is not a statement of faith. It is holding that a position is congruent with the known evidence.

            " And you must pick one when interpreting the world and humanity. I would also say that materialism is the unreasonable assumption."

            Based on what? Materialism is all there is evidence for.

          • epeeist

            Either claim requires reasoning and a decision of faith.

            What has faith got to do with it?

            And you must pick one when interpreting the world and humanity.

            And you should pick the one that has the best justification.

            I would also say that materialism is the unreasonable assumption.

            Well, you might say that but since you have only offered a bare assertion why should I take any notice of what you say. After all "what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence".

          • Max Driffill

            The first is an inference based on massive amounts of replicated evidence. It would be perverse to reject it.

            The second may seem reasonable, but there is no evidence for the inference of immaterial things.

            There is no evidence for the fact of immaterial things, until there is, it is an assumption we can discard.

          • Ben

            "You have faith too" feels more like a word game than an accurate description of what's happening. I believe in the material world because I have substantial evidence for its existence. I don't believe in a non-material world because I'm not aware of any evidence for its existence I consider reliable. If someone brought me such evidence, I would then believe in a non-material world too.
            By any normal definition of faith, where's the faith in the above?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            "The fundamental premise of materialism...is not self-evident nor has it ever been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt by the marshalling of empirical evidence by cogent and irrefutable arguments." -Mortimer J. Adler, pagan philosopher

          • Ben

            Uh...ok. It's nice that he thinks that, I guess, though (to pick up part of his quote) I don't think I've claimed that materialism has been proved "irrefutably". But maybe you could just answer my question above?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            If you hold a belief that hasn't been proven, then it's faith. That was my point.

          • stanz2reason

            Blurring what might be an imaginary line between 'knowledge' and 'faith' doesn't really say much about anything. You could argue that anything we might otherwise consider certain concrete knowledge (ie. the sun coming up tomorrow morning) has an element of faith to it.

          • Ben

            As stanz2reason implies, that's really not a useful definition of faith. This feels like playing games with words on your part, to avoid acknowleding a very real distinction. None of my beliefs are "proven," but it's not "faith" to hold them and act on them while they are what's supported by evidence. "Faith" is the other thing, where one cleaves to a belief despite lacking what normally would be seen as sufficient supporting evidence.

            Are we on the same page with this, or are you arguing that there is no difference between the (technically provisional) beliefs people have on evidence and the beliefs they hold through faith? I hope so. It would strike me as odd to have a debate using a computer network where basic, material beliefs and knowledge are seen as equally faith-based as religious beliefs.

          • primenumbers

            "Believing that nothing exists but the material world " - no, that's not the case. What is believed in is whatever we have evidence to believe in without pretending to know what we don't.

            When something new comes along, it just gets subsumed by naturalism. So yes, things can exist beyond the natural world. We don't assume they do, we don't assume they don't. When we do find new things, they become part of the natural world and the process continues.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Naturalism is still materialism.

          • primenumbers

            Whatever....

            Fact is there is no assumption that "all we know that there is" is "all that there is", and indeed science relies on their being more things to know that we currently don't and has made exceptional progress in knowing these new things.

            But you turn that around to set up this straw man that you suggest we're arrogant in saying "this is all that there is", which is just not true at all. We only know what we can know, and we don't assume there's more out there and we don't assume we've reached limits of what there is to know either. What we absolutely don't do (and what I accuse the theist of doing) is pretending to know what they don't know.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Either immaterial things (beings and otherwise) exist or they don't. If you do science long enough you'll have to answer that question because science won't get you all truth. Do you follow neuroscience?

          • primenumbers

            There you are doing exactly what I was talking about with "exists". You're using the word "exist" to apply to two sets of immaterial things - beings and others (by which we can assume abstract concepts). Beings (by the normal usage of the word) are physics material things in time. If you're using "being" to mean something different then either they're not beings or they're not existing. Or they could be abstract concepts only, at which point we can use the "abstract concept" version of "exists" and say they exist, but only as abstract concepts.

            But to say something exists is to say we have knowledge of their existence. By what reliable method do you use to gain knowledge of the existence of your "immaterial beings"?

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            "By what reliable method do you use to gain knowledge of the existence of your 'immaterial beings'?"

            Reason.

            You don't have to believe me, but if you study philosophy and science even a little, you will see where these things merge. On an elementary level it's easy to say, "Put the chemicals in the beaker and do your science with your faith at the doorstep." But there comes a point when the things in the beaker will require the scientist to ask deeper questions.

          • primenumbers

            You use reason to show 'immaterial beings'? Like the cosmological arguments presented here that rely on the "reason" of word-play and equivocation?

          • Linda

            Is love an empirical, measurable, material thing? I believe in it but don't think I could find any proofs of it that wouldn't be shot down by these same arguments.

          • Vuyo

            Neither. We have evidence that orange is orange.

          • primenumbers

            Well, it doesn't work, and has lead to the vast variety of religious beliefs we see on this planet, most of which I think you'd agree are false. It's basically pretending to know what you don't really know.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            As an aside, the claim that all the religions of the world claim they alone have the truth and the others are false is a sweeping generalization which is not true. For example, the Catholic Faith claims that there are elements of truth in many or even every religion.

            A fundamental doctrine of Jainism is anekantavada, the idea that all points
            of view hold some truth and that absolute truth is unknowable, which thereby
            calls for religious tolerance for all faiths.

          • BenS

            As an aside, the claim that all the religions of the world claim they alone have the truth and the others are false is a sweeping generalization which is not true.

            That would be a good point... if only someone had made such a claim...

          • ZenDruid

            A fundamental doctrine of Jainism is anekantavada, the idea that all points of view hold some truth and that absolute truth is unknowable, which thereby calls for religious tolerance for all faiths.

            No, Anekantavada demonstrates that any single point of view is incomplete.

          • stanz2reason

            According to measures of making consistent predictions about the world and the way it works.

          • staircaseghost

            "According to what measure?"

            Believing true things and not believing not true things?

          • severalspeciesof

            If it were a good way of 'knowing' why are there thousands of different religions?

        • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

          No that's what it is, that's what the Aristotelian/scholastic approach to knowledge is. It's not my definition, it is the definition. These discussions turn to freewheeling when people make up new terms and meanings and try to argue them. It would be good to have a discussion about how Catholics and atheists can do science together (they can, I know people who do), but if all you want to do tell Catholics what they think, we just won't get very far.

          • primenumbers

            "No that's what it is, that's what the Aristotelian/scholastic approach to knowledge is." - so you're saying that are agreeing with my statement here "What you describe as Aristotelian epistemology is merely a filling in the gaps of desired outcome from what you describe as materialist with enough faith (probably similar to what you're calling Platonistic) as necessary."

            I understand about the issue of definitions. But such issues also come from the theistic side with a full range of equivocations and words changing meaning mid-argument.

            So from your definitions the Aristotelian approach takes materialism and adds onto it some Platonistic epistemology as materialism won't get you to where you want to go alone. That doesn't make the Aristotelian approach better though, it makes it worse as the Platonistic epistemology fills in the epistemological gap between the humility of saying "I don't know" with the certainty of belief via a totally unreliable method that has never actually been demonstrated to work, never mind work with any degree of reliability.

            Sure Catholics can do science - they just compartmentalize and use the working epistemology of materialism for when they're doing the science and use their Aristotelian one when they're doing religion. Of course, this is not consistent.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            You are missing the key point of the Aristotelian epistemology. It begins with what is sensed in the material world -- sensory knowledge -- and reasons based on that -- intellectual knowledge. Plato, to put it way too briefly, didn't think you needed to start with the senses, but be freed from them. The materialist think there is nothing but the senses.

            You cannot do science for long if you are a strict materialist.

          • primenumbers

            See comment below. You seem to be setting up a straw-man materialist position.

            Scientists routinely research non-material things (psychic phenomena for instance) in a scientific manner.

            What we're saying is that the Platonic aspect adds nothing useful to the materialist approach, and just sends you off down the garden path of pretending to know things that you don't really know.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            No it's no strawman. If you listen to any of the "isms" that grew out of materialism as people moved away from it, they all come down to "the material world is all that exists."

          • primenumbers

            "the material world is all that exists." - only because it's a tautology. We could say "the only things we know exist are the things we know exist". You can call the set of all things we know to exist "the material world" if you want....

            What this all comes back to is knowledge and how we know things, and not pretending to know things that you don't know.

          • DAVID

            Sure Catholics can do science - they just compartmentalize and use the working epistemology of materialism for when they're doing the science and use their Aristotelian one when they're doing religion. Of course, this is not consistent.

            This is not true because science and materialism are not the same thing. Materialism is a metaphysic which judges all of reality to be "matter in motion." Science studies matter in motion without making any metaphysical claims.

          • Corylus

            As we are talking about science and a return to Aristotle, I would say that it is important to note that he did come up with some howlers in terms of biology. See this excerpt from:

            The Generation of Animals.

            Heh! My favourite sentence is the last one :)

            Now some of these howlers are not due to him being anything other than a very smart man (he clearly was such) no: they are due to assumption of immaterial essences where none are needed in terms of explanation.

            So what is the problem with this? Why not let the 'bolt on' slide?

            Well, because when we make assumptions about the ethereal we tend to look into the mirror, as opposed to the aether. Aristotle was not immune from this. For example, his divert from ( what we would now talk of as methodological naturalism) led him to the "entertaining" conclusion that women contribute brute matter only in the business of reproduction.

            As we mentioned, we may safely set down as the chief principles of generation the male and the female; the male as possessing the principle of movement and of generation, the female as possessing that of matter.

            To carry this example further, if you look at our growth in understanding in terms of the the female reproductive system we can see that real advances - rather than schools of thinkers with differing assumptions - were made by those who took the time to physically investigate.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            These same questions came up in the Middle Ages. You need to distinguish between the method and the knowledge of the time. People have concluded false things with the Scientific Method too, but that doesn't mean the method is bad. It means we haven't discovered everything yet.

          • Corylus

            These same questions came up in the Middle Ages.

            These are still coming up - a common argument made by those attempting to convert people to Islam is that the Qu'ran is correct due to its impressive forward thinking on the question of embryology (whisper: seems to have been swiped from Galen).

            You need to distinguish between the method and the knowledge of the time.

            You do indeed. However, this sets aside the question of whether or not Aristotle actually used the scientific method.

            People have concluded false things with the Scientific Method too, but that doesn't mean the method is bad.

            Here we agree :)

            It means we haven't discovered everything yet.

            Yet? The assumption that we will one day discover everything is something that I very purposely put aside.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Glad we agree.

          • Corylus

            Not quite.

            I said. " Here we agree" in response to one limited part of your comment.

            I make a point of always saying when I note a moment of concord (or a good point) as I try to be both polite and honest.

        • BenS

          I've already answered this - but pointlessly as it was 9 minutes after you did! Damnit, Prime!

          Hmmm, that makes me sound like Megatron.

          Damnit Disqus!!!

          • primenumbers

            Disqus isn't too bad. I mean, it's not perfect, but it works better than some online forum stuff I've had to use. At least it shows some kind of hierarchy and sends me an email when there's a response.

          • BenS

            I've found myself several times responding to things that other people have already said and usually better than I do.

            Ah well, at least it exercises my own grey matter rather than relying on the genius of others and just nodding my head in agreement. :)

      • BenS

        I don't know what you mean by "epistemology of faith".

        Faith, like the scientific method, is a way of gathering knowledge. However, unlike the scientific method, it's a dreadful way of doing it. Without any way to test that your 'faith' is accurate or leading you towards the correct answer, you can literally follow it anyway - even to your death if you suddenly have faith you can fly.

      • epeeist

        The Church has urged science to return to an Aristotelian epistemology

        You are walking by the side of a field and look over the fence. "Ah", you say, "there is a sheep in the field".

        However what you think is a sheep is sculpture of a sheep. What you are unaware of though is there is a sheep behind a large tree in the field.

        Do you know whether there is sheep in the field?

  • 42Oolon

    No matter what, religion needs to claim facts that are impossible to accept without faith. It needs some "supernatural" element that is not testable. This is what distinguishes religion from other elements of human society. Otherwise it is just philosophy, history, social studies, charity, art, etc. I think this is why it clings to the ineffable, the invisible, and the unverifiable.

    • Dcn Harbey Santiago

      Not only religion, even the most basic elements of human interactions need to be taken on face value, no amount of empirical data would provide certainty, The example I always use is: How do I know my wife loves me? I assume everything she does is out of love. Although all the data I can collect about her actions towards me could also be used to show she does not love but only has her selfish interests at heart.

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      Deacon Harbey Santiago

      • 42Oolon

        I do not think anyone expects certainty. Science certainly does not, nor does religion, love, the courts or any other pursuit. However, knowing whether someone loves you is not something that you can or should take on faith or without objective evidence. We expect many dates up at least months of companionship before we are able to commit to labeling the feelings we have for someone else as "love" and to trust the other is also genuine. After going through this we accept the belief that the spouse loves us as justified. The standard is not certainty and the process is both objective and subjective.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      [R]eligion needs to claim facts that are impossible to accept without
      faith. It needs some "supernatural" element that is not testable.

      This is a whopper of a generalization. First of all, there is natural theology and ethics, which are built up purely on reason and experience. Second, some truths which Catholics (at least) claim are revealed supernaturally are also able to be know by reason. Third, some truths which Catholics (at least) claim to be mysteries, like God is a Trinity of persons or Christ is present in the Eucharist, are also testable in so far as they can be shown to be reasonable and not disprovable.

      • primenumbers

        "are also testable in so far as they can be shown to be reasonable and not disprovable" - dispute the "reasonable", unless you mean "reasonable for believing Christians to believe", and I'd say being not disprovable is NOT an advantage.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Reasonable for anyone. Anyone should be able to look at a reasonable claim made by someone they disagree with and admit it is not irrational.

          In school law, for example, when courts look at decisions schools make, they don't rule based on whether it was the best decision possible but simply was it reasonable.

          • BenS

            Science has much, MUCH stricter requirements for evidence and support than any court.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            This is simply not the case. Science has one excellent advantage, which also constitutes its fundamental limitation: science can experimentally falsify what it thinks it knows. If something cannot be the object of a proof-of-principle experiment, then it is not amenable to the application of the scientific method.

            Any interpretation of observational science is, in every case, the outcome of the metaphysical assumptions of the interpreter.

            Hence Newton's claim: "Hypothesis non fingo" was false, as Riemann showed.

            Newton's hypothesis was the existence of absolute space.

            This was observationally falsified, but the "court" of scientific opinion accepted it for nearly a century and a half.

            Experiments are experiments.

            Observations are observations.

            Interpretations are, always and in every case, the product of metaphysical assumption.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This gets confusing because often courts use scientific evidence and so must have a standard that is somehow above science.

          • primenumbers

            SO "God is a Trinity of persons or Christ is present in the Eucharist" is reasonable to a non believer? Are you sure?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They should be reasonable if properly explained and understood. Reasonable does not mean the non-believer will agree they are true.

          • primenumbers

            Well Catholics have tried to explain such things, but they don't make sense. I don't see how reason can work for you to explain such things if they only make sense to those that have already accepted their truth on religious grounds.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "If nothing exists except material things, your God cannot exist" is a statement I can accept as reasonable, if the premise is true.

            "If in his very nature God is love, and if love implies a communion of persons, I can see how God could be a Trinity of divine persons" is a statement you could accept as reasonable if the premises are true.

          • primenumbers

            Well you statement on the trinity side is not reasonable. Love is Love - God is a being. Being's are not concepts or actions like Love, a being can love. Love doesn't necessarily imply a communion of persons, and as far as I know, God is not a person. Also, the conclusion of your argument is three Gods, not one God, which to me is not the concept of the Trinity as nuanced in the Nicene Creed.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You probably shouldn't become a theologian.

          • primenumbers

            Very true. I can't pretend to understand the incomprehensible.

          • BenS

            "A hat at least 3m in diameter should comfortably fit on a dragon. As long as the hat is the height of fashion, our scaly friend should be more dapper than he was previously."

            This sounds reasonable. It does not, however, prove the existence of dragons, regardless of how reasonable the discussion of reptilian millinery sounds.

            As a way of determining the truth of things, 'Does it sound reasonable' is another poor method.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No because it assumes what needs to be established or at least shown to be likely.

          • 42Oolon

            Yes, and in the legal context, reasonable always means a decision based on credible evidence observed by human beings, tested by way of critical thinking.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. It means "is this a decision a reasonable man might make."

          • 42Oolon

            Yes, and I guarantee you that any decision made without evidence, subject to scrutiny, is not one the courts consider to be one the "reasonable person" would make.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No again. The judge looks at the school policy and how it has been applied. If the policy is one a reasonable man would adopt and if the action is one a reasonable man would take, they stand.

            That is, unless the judge arrogates to himself the power of the legislature and starts making law by his ruling.

      • 42Oolon

        What is supernatural about ethics? I do know what natural theology is. The existence of a god, whether it is a 3-in-1 or whatever, is a supernatural claim. Sounds to me like if you remove the supernatural, you have nothing left that requires faith and no need for a religion.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          There is nothing supernatural about ethics, but ethics are part of my religion.

          The existence of God is not a supernatural claim.

          The doctrine of the Trinity is a supernatural claim. By the way, referring to the Trinity as "3-in-1 or whatever" is really disrespectful and dismissive.

          • 42Oolon

            You need to think of it the other way around. What makes something "religious" as opposed to something that is done by religious people? There is nothing religious about ethics until you tie it into a supernatural claim.

            If the god you believe in has no supernatural properties, why call it a god?

            Doesn't the god you follow have the supernatural property of a "trinity"? Is this not a fundamental part of your religion?

            My point is, that the supernatural and untestable elements of religion are what distinguishes it from other human endeavour. These elements are not only important, they are crucial.

            While ethics, gatherings, architecture, charity are important to Catholicism, they are also not crucial. I can do all of these as a atheists. Accepting the resurrection and the afterlife are crucial. In fact the MORE you believe the truth of these ideas, the more "religious" you would be. The less you believe in these and the more you ascribe to what I can only call the secular elements, the less "religious" you would be.

            I'd also love to hear how you think the Trinity is testable.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The claim "God exists and he will judge human behavior" can be both a philosophical and a theological one.

            My statement that the existence of God is not a supernatural claim was probably ambiguous. It can be a purely naturally philosophical claim. It can also be a faith claim. In both cases it is a claim about a supernatural being.

          • 42Oolon

            So we are back where we began, when you claim "God exists" you are always making a claim that a supernatural element exists. All religions do this to some extent, and it is what makes them "religions".

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Another sweeping generalization about "all religions." Buddhism does not claim that that there is anything supernatural. I don't think Confucianism does either.

          • 42Oolon

            Well, I wouldn't be so sure of that. Certainly some versions of Buddhism are very contingent on the supernatural, as are Confucianism. But I would say that the versions of these that do not rely on anything supernatural, are best labelled philosophies and traditions and not religious. Certainly not theisms, if they lack a deity. Taosim, in some regards would be called a religion, but it is not really, it is more consistent with a philosophy, like stoicism.

  • BenS

    The only way a religious person can do science properly is to leave their religion at the door. They can keep it at the back of their minds, sure. They can be religious at home and stick god into the bits of science they're not involved in, fine.

    But they cannot put it into the science they actually do because it would be rejected. Not because their peers wouldn't want god in for any political or person reasons, but because it would be unsupported and would be bad science.

    You cannot put 'and then a miracle happens' as an explanation for an event or 'and then god changed the reading from 6 to 3' to explain an unexpected result. It would simply be rejected.

    Given that the scientific method is currently the best method we have to determine the truth of things (by eliminating, as far as possible, human error, bias, deceit etc) there is only one way for science and religion to overlap and that is to test religious claims using the scientific method - and whenever this has been done properly, the religious claims have fallen flat.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      It is also true that the only way an non-religious person can do science properly is to leave their non-religion at the door. Neither one has anything to do with the work of science.

      • BenS

        Well, sort of. Non-religion doesn't really have anything to do with anything, never mind the work of science - there's nothing to leave at the door. A lack of belief in gods doesn't tend to influence a scientific endeavour because one doesn't insert a lack of belief in anything.

        If you mean a belief in the lack of gods (note the subtle, but crucial difference) then yes, that should get left behind as well.

        Lack of belief is (or should be) also the default position for any scientist. That's what science is for, to provide evidence for beliefs. Belief without evidence is faith, not science.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          When a scientist is doing science neither claim "something supernatural exists" and "nothing supernatural exists" come into play. They are irrelevant.

          I think you are also setting up a false dichotomy between faith and science. My Catholic faith has plenty of evidence but it is just not evidence that is established from scientific experiments. There are also all kinds of faith outside religion, some warranted, some not.

          • BenS

            When a scientist is doing science neither claim "something supernatural exists" and "nothing supernatural exists" come into play. They are irrelevant.

            Unless you're testing them. With science.

            I think you are also setting up a false dichotomy between faith and science. My Catholic faith has plenty of evidence but it is just not evidence that is established from scientific experiments.

            When I refer to evidence, I am always referring to scientific evidence. Because all other 'evidence' is crap.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Are you saying that the only valid evidence for anything is that which can be established by experimental science?

          • BenS

            Humour me. Give me some examples of non-scientific evidence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The newly discovered manuscript titled "Twelve-String Guitar Concerto by J.S. Bach" cannot be authentic because the twelve-string guitar did not exist in Bach's day.

            I think you are arrogating to science every kind of reasoning.

          • BenS

            What's wrong with that? You can test that using the scientific method by examining all the evidence relating to Bach's day for references to a 12 string guitar. If no evidence is found (and all the other sciency tests like dating of the manuscript, comparison to previous works etc also provide no evidential support) then you can state to a high level of confidence that the hypothesis "The newly discovered manuscript titled "Twelve-String Guitar Concerto by
            J.S. Bach" cannot be authentic because the twelve-string guitar did not
            exist in Bach's day." is accurate.

            If it's a claim made in the real world about real things then you can apply the scientific method to determining whether it's likely to be true.

            Why? What method would you use to determine whether the statement you made was true or not?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You *are* arrogating to science all use of reason!

            All it takes to conclude that a twelve-string guitar concerto could not be by Bach is to to read the history of music and do some elementary reasoning.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,
            The problem is not that theology doesn't use reason. Lots of bright, clever thinkers can be found in theology tomes. The problem is that if you don't tether reason to evidence you can think yourself into ridiculous places.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I totally agree with you.

          • Max Driffill

            Excellent,
            Now you can say, most of the theology is deeply speculative and untethered to evidentiary correction.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholic theology applies reason to Divine Revelation.

          • Max Driffill

            Kevin,
            Catholic theology applies reason to old stories.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Bible contains many genres, not all of which are narratives, but they are undoubtedly old.

          • Max Driffill

            Finally something on which we agree, I will have a sip of coffee in your honor because of this.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ha! I'll go on a bike ride now in yours.

            Hey, I just realized you and ZenDruid are two different people. (Don't feel bad, I just realized Justin Beiber and Justin Timberlake are two different singers.)

          • Max Driffill

            Our avatars are strikingly similar!

          • ZenDruid

            Sorta like fanfiction.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Some theology is speculative. It's called speculative theology. There is also dogmatic theology, sacramental theology, and many others types. The "evidentiary correction" is provided by the data of Divine Revelation, philosophy, and logic (and, for Catholic theologians, the Magisterium of the Church).

          • Andrew G.

            Philosophy and logic do not constitute evidence. Logical truths are necessary truths, therefore they are true in every possible world, therefore you can't use them to distinguish which possible world you are in.

            So the only thing left to link your speculations to reality is revelation - which has a proven track record of being useless for evidential purposes.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. In theology the data is the contents of revelation (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). This data is "mined" and explored with concepts (like person, substance, analogy) and logical arguments. The three together, with the Magisterium (if you accept that), can correct the course a theologian takes.

            Your comments about "logical truths" I have no clue what you mean and how it applies.

          • ZenDruid

            A geologist's evidence largely consists of rocks. A biologist's evidence consists of lifeforms, both dead and alive.

            A theologian's evidence consists of... what?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Evidence or data? Rocks are subjected to tests that depend on concepts and conventions. The results of the tests are evidence. I think that is right.

            Theology is a deductive science. It's data is revelation. Revelation is explored with philosophical concepts and logic. The result is new theological insights.

          • ZenDruid

            Revelations are like subjective dreams, as I understand it. Dreams or hallucinations. Am I missing something?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            In Catholicism, such things as visions and apparitions are called private revelation, and Catholic theology does not concern itself with private revelation. Even if the Church "approves" private revelations (Lourdes, Fatima), no one is in any way required to believe in them, and they are considered not to tell anything new about Christianity.

            When Catholics talk about revelation, they usually are talking about scripture and Tradition (with a capital T). This is concerned with the Bible and the life of Jesus and the Apostles. Scripture is revelation that was written down. Tradition is what has been passed down. It is often said, and I believe it is accurate, that revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. So Christian revelation is not made up of dreams and visions of people currently living. It basically has to do with the preparation for the coming of Jesus (as found in the Old Testament) and the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament and passed down as Tradition.

            Tradition (capital T) and tradition (lowercase t) are not the same. Old stories and legends about Jesus and the Apostles may be tradition but not Tradition. Tradition perhaps can be thought of as "what the Church has always known or held to be true, from the beginning," although it may have been only implicit in the early Church and taken centuries to be teased out.

          • ZenDruid

            Thanks for taking the time to answer. That helps somewhat.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes, you are missing something:

            Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.

            That's the preface to Luke's Gospel.

          • BenS

            I see. So by reading the history of music you're doing what? Ascertaining that there was no evidence of a 12 string guitar used in that time. Your 'elementary reasoning' can only be used when you know, to a decent confidence level, there were no 12 string guitars at that time. If you don't know that, the 'elementary reasoning' has nothing to go on.

            Think about it.

          • Max Driffill

            Exactly,
            What Kevin is doing in his thought experiment is having his imaginary investigator appeal to evidence to vet his reasoning.

          • BenS

            I think that was what I was saying, you just said it better. Thanks. :)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No. You are claiming evidence=science. That ain't true.

          • Max Driffill

            No,
            I am not. I am saying though, that if you are appealing to real world evidence to vet your conclusions you are using a species of the scientific method. Theology cannot do this, because they cannot independently corroborate their conclusions with evidence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Could you give me an example, Max?

            The Church's moral theology in the area of marriage and family life I think can be corroborated by the finding of sociology.

            But if you mean the revealed doctrine of the Trinity, it's true that no scientific experiment could ever corroborate it, which does not mean that Christians do not have good reasons to believe it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm thinking about it.

            "Confidence level" is a concept which comes from deductive reasoning. It contributes to the validity of the scientific enterprise (and many others, like what is historical evidence).

            As such it is not science but just part of rationality. Science is a subset of rationality, not all rationality.

          • BenS

            Right, whatever. Back on track...

            So... what method would you use to determine the truth of the hypothesis you made? If not examining evidence in a scientific manner and drawing conclusions, what?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There you go again.

            I would use deductive reasoning, not inductive science. I would not be setting up an experiment, the numbers derived from which would give me my answer.

          • Joseph R.

            A few posts above this, 42Oolon wrote,

            I do not think anyone expects certainty. Science certainly does not, nor does religion, love, the courts or any other pursuit

            However, here BenS has written, "Your 'elementary reasoning' can only be used when you know, to a decent confidence level..."

            As I try to piece together the reasons to prefer the atheist worldview as described by the atheist interlocutors, these statements are a contradiction because "a decent confidence level" is a claim of how much certainty one has regarding particular knowledge. In other words, 42Oolon was certain that science does not expect certainty, yet BenS says science expects a particular confidence level (without which the knowledge of a thing will not be certain enough.)

            In this case, it would help to describe exactly what is "a decent confidence level," and how could one arrive at such a conclusion by way of scientific experiment (an experiment which presumably has results that are subject to yet another "decent" confidence level.) Do you agree that the challenge in performing such an experiment for a materialist is to keep from begging the question philosophically?

          • Christian Stillings

            Regarding your last bit, I think this is a pertinent question: what's your criteria for "scientific-ness" when it comes to considering potential pieces of "evidence"? Given your ensuing conversation with Kevin, it's clear that you accept historical evidences as well as lab-demonstrable findings of the natural sciences (such as physics). How, exactly, do you categorize?

          • BenS

            Because historical evidence is still assessed using all the forms of the scientific method that are applicable.

            If a history book, for example, says Genghis Khan sieged and captured Zhongdu in 1215 and another says that, in 1215, Genghis Khan strafed Zhongdu with water bombs with his elite force of flying camels, how does one determine which is true?

            Which method would you use?

          • Christian Stillings

            Because historical evidence is still assessed using all the forms of the scientific method that are applicable.

            I'm inclined to agree, but what exactly do you mean by "forms of the scientific method that are applicable"? I agree that one can make reasonable inferences from pertinent historical evidences (or lack thereof), but I'm not sure that you can actually go through any of the steps of the scientific method per se.

            Which method would you use?

            I'm still working on this, and I fear that I might still have a fair deal of intuition clogging up my system. My personal guideline at present, which I think is pretty good, is to "assess hypotheses according to pertinent data". Of course, you still have to define hypotheses carefully and parse through what data is and is not "pertinent", but I think it's a pretty good framework to plug things into.

          • BenS

            but I'm not sure that you can actually go through any of the steps of the scientific method per se.

            A very valid observation and one I made to myself after I reread my post. I mean that you would apply the method as best you can to the available historical evidence to determine whether it is, actually, evidence and that when making your inferences, you would seek to minimise personal biases.

            By 'applicable forms' I meant that you can't actually strafe Zhongdu with a flying camel and then leave it a few centuries to see if looks the same as the evidence we have now. So, things like 'repeatable' wouldn't be applicable here, but the experiments you did dating the flying camel bomb release catches you bought from the street trader that keep showing they're only 3 years old despite you wanting to believe they're centuries old would be repeatable.

            My personal guideline at present, which I think is pretty good, is to "assess hypotheses according to pertinent data".

            I think, when you start to expand on this to incorporate how to define your hypothesis so it's testable and how you determine which data is pertinent and can be trusted and finally how you can assess your hypothesis to remove personal bias etc you'll probably find you'll have something that looks remarkably similar to the scientific method as applicable to historical investigation.

            This is a good thing. :)

          • Christian Stillings

            Ben, I think we've finally agreed on some things! O happy day! Haha. :-)

          • BenS

            Christian, I would imagine that you and I agree on an incredible number of things; far, far more things than we disagree on.

            But we're not here to discuss the things we agree on - we're here to discuss the things we disagree on. That places us at loggerheads when chances are, absent those contentious issues, we'd probably get on quite well.

            That disagreement is generally good - it causes us to challenge ourselves and think about our positions - just as long as it doesn't turn into enmity.

            Next round's on me. :)

          • Christian Stillings

            I also agree with pretty much everything you said in this comment. We've got to stop this pronto. :-P

    • Randy Gritter

      You need to use the scientific method. That is not inherently religious. Just like if you are a Catholic accountant you must use accounting methods which are not religious. But you can find beauty in science. You can see the glory of God in that. I do think Catholics make the best scientists because they assume the world is both reasonable and God-revealing. Using your mind to get closer to God is something Catholics will be highly motivated to do. Atheists will always be tempted to ditch science and focus on wine, women and song because there is no inherent reason to want to understand the world. Unless of course deep down inside they are thinking like Catholics!

      • BenS

        You need to use the scientific method.

        Yes. This is a sensible thing and I full agree. Unfortunately, your post goes rapidly downhill from here.

        Atheists will always be tempted to ditch science and focus on wine, women and song because there is no inherent reason to want to understand the world.

        Actually, atheists are kind of stuck in the science room doing all the work. They can't out past all the god botherers kneeling in the halls, wailing at the walls and fiddling with rosaries whilst they get their thetans audited.

        • Randy Gritter

          Sure they are. But why? Because their atheist worldview gives them reason to be there? I don't see it. I think it is because they have a Christian world view when it comes to science. They see understanding the world as inherently good and worth great sacrifice. They have inherited this from Christendom without knowing it.

          • Andre Boillot

            "They see understanding the world as inherently good and worth great sacrifice. They have inherited this from Christendom without knowing it."

            This might beg the question of what aspects of the Christian worldview are inherited. A question that would normally be quite interesting, were it not for the habit of theists claiming every appearance of "inherent good" in pre-theistic history as just another example of God's spark in man. I guess you win. Which way to sign back up with the Jesus?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what your second paragraph means overall.

            But Christendom has given us are three presuppositions which are not necessary for doing science but without which science would not exist. They are (1) there is order in the universe; (2) we can know this order; (3) it is good to know this order. This is from Artigas' "The Mind of the Universe."

          • Andre Boillot

            Well, I just wrote the one paragraph...so I'll assume you mean that.

            Let me rephrase my points.

            1. Where did Christendom inherit it's views from?

            2. I've found that, even when demonstrated that people were "doin science" long before Christendom, the common response is to assert that these attempts were still evidence of God's influence on man.

            "But Christendom has given us are three presuppositions which are not necessary for doing science but without which science would not exist..."

            Seemingly quite late to the party: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_science

          • Kevin Aldrich

            My post is jumbled--my fault. I was addressing "what did modern science inherit from Christianity?"

          • Andre Boillot

            "what did modern science inherit from Christianity?"

            From Christianity alone? I'm not really qualified to say what that's unique about Christianity that has gone on to contribute to modern science. I won't deny that modern science owes a lot to individual Christians, and institutions established by Christianity. However, it's tiresome to keep hearing that Christendom was somehow necessary for science, and not just another contributor - which, while having played it's role in advancing science to where it is today, stands on the shoulders of those who preceded it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It might be tiresome but what if it is true? I tried to point out three presuppositions which came from Christianity (not independent of Judaism and Greek philosophy) which might partly account for the rise of modern empirical science. Another factor was the centuries of very careful academic work that the Scholastics did in the liberal arts. Another was the painstaking astronomical measurements which made the Ptolemaic geocentric view more and more untenable. Another important contributor was someone like the Jesuit whose name I can't recall but he redesigned the university math curriculum for Europe under which Galileo flourished.

          • Andre Boillot

            It might be tiresome but what if it is true? I tried to point out three presuppositions which came from Christianity (not independent of Judaism and Greek philosophy) which might partly account for the rise of modern empirical science.

            You've already qualified the above (emphases mine) far more than your initial assertion below. Maybe now you'll be able to spot the key differences:

            Christendom has given us are three presuppositions which are not necessary for doing science but without which science would not exist. They are (1) there is order in the universe; (2) we can know this order; (3) it is good to know this order.

          • Andre Boillot

            "It might be tiresome but what if it is true?"

            To address this point, you've already conceded that, even if we grant that without the three presuppositions you list science would not exist, we're dealing with something which is not independent of scientific efforts preceding it. You're guilty of at least leaving off many an *and* when you make the claim that: "Christendom has given us are three presuppositions which are not necessary for doing science but without which science would not exist."

            The rest of your comment seems to amount to listing various Christian contributions to science, all of which I will grant to an extent. However, I grant these along side all the other non-Christian traditions which have fed into the body of science.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ancient prehistoric men did incredible things with the material world before modern science arose. One example is taking a grass and somehow breeding it so it became ears of corn and then somehow figuring out if you processed it with ash you could create a nutritionally complete food.

            There are thousands of examples like this in the pre-scientific world. All these developments didn't just reach some tipping point in 1500 or so. Something else was going on and it didn't happen anywhere else.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Something else was going on and it didn't happen anywhere else."

            You keep seemingly implying that science owes a disproportionate debt to the university system established by Christianity in Europe at the time. Again, I totally grant their contribution. I'm just pointing out that they're part of a long line of contributors in scientific history - not the cause or bedrock of science itself as you initially implied.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So far as I can determine, modern science inherited NOTHING from Christianity. Modern science is a discipline primarily derived from the ancient Greek, Hindus, and Muslims, (as well as many other ancient cultures), which came to fruition in a Judeo-Christian culture.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            which came to fruition in a Judeo-Christian culture

            But why did the "scientific revolution" happen in a Judeo-Christian culture and not a Greek, Hindu, or Muslim one? And the industrial revolution, too. And even the sexual revolution! :)

            Actually, I think at least some of the answers are in Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel.

            Then of course there's Max Weber. Says Wikipedia:

            The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a book written by Max Weber, a German sociologist, economist, and politician. Begun as a series of essays, the original German text was composed in 1904 and 1905, and was translated into English for the first time by Talcott Parsons in 1930. It is considered a founding text in economic sociology and sociology in general.
            In the book, Weber wrote that capitalism in northern Europe evolved when the Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated mass action that influenced the development of capitalism. This idea is also known as the "Protestant Ethic thesis."

          • Kevin Aldrich
          • Randy Gritter

            God's spark in man is one way to explain it. I actually don't it is that hard to explain from an atheist of view. You would have to admit is at least possible that some very good things about society would disappear if Christianity would disappear. It would not prove Christianity true. It would just prove it useful.

          • BenS

            You're talking rubbish. You're projecting whatever you like onto other people without any rhyme or reason.

            What about all the scientists who came long before Christianity? Them funny greeks et al. The guy who first thought, you know what, I reckon this would go better if we knocked the corners off and made it rounder. Let's test it.

            To say that I get my natural curiosity to understand what I see from your particular religion just annoys me.

            You think scientists have inherited their desire to do science from Christianity? I'll give you my favourite phrase in return.

            Prove it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You raise an important question. Why did modern science arise when it did, when it did? It arose in Western Europe. Could this have had something to do with Christianity?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            No. Modern science appears to be a lucky amalgam. If anything, it really got it's start when ancient Greek texts and Arabic research came together in an atmosphere of folks challenging the church. The European arms race may have had something to do with it. And Christianity undoubtedly played it's part. Just like ancient Greek religion, Hinduism, and Islam.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, it's an historical question, so historians not scientists will have to answer it.

          • BenS

            And Christianity undoubtedly played it's part. Just like ancient Greek religion, Hinduism, and Islam.

            Could I suggest that would be better phrased as Christians, Greeks, Hindus, etc rather than Christianity, Hinduism etc?

            People who were Christians and Muslims contributed to the flowering of the scientific method and scientific understanding. The religions they followed, in my view, not so much.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Your correction is an excellent one. Thanks.

          • Randy Gritter

            The reality is that Christianity produces ore of these people Islam did. You can assume religion does not matter. You have to assume it. The data does not show it. Atheism will effect society in countless ways.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Indeed, I agree. It is one of the unfortunate aspects of Islam that it is even MORE anti-science than christianity. The rest of your post doesn't seem to be clear.

            There have been atheists quite probably since humans began speculating about gods; and do try to remember that ALL scientists are provisional atheists.

          • Christian Stillings

            I'd suggest (to both you and Kevin) that the enterprise at work in the Scientific Method requires a metaphysical perspective which is incidentally held by Christianity, among other religious/spiritual belief traditions. I don't think I'd say that it flowered specifically because of Christianity, but I think that Christianity provided a metaphysical basis for the Scientific Method in ways which some pre-Christian metaphysical perspectives wouldn't have. I'd also say that a religious motivation to know "the language of God" in the natural world has compelled a significant amount of scientific research in the last two milennia.

          • Randy Gritter

            Philosophy matters. Science takes hard work. You spend a lot of time and effort and don't that much. There is not a huge likelihood you will make a major discovery. It isn't going to impress the girls much. If your philosophy does not contain within it any reason to put out such an effort then you have to wonder if people are just going to stop. I do find it ironic that your reply is so lazy. Starting out by calling my argument rubbish is pretty lame. Then you end of by saying "prove it" which is equally lame. Declaring that this is your favorite tactic. So maybe the lack of motivation is already here.

          • BenS

            Starting out by calling my argument rubbish is pretty lame.

            But accurate.

            Then you end of by saying "prove it" which is equally lame. Declaring that this is your favorite tactic. So maybe the lack of motivation is already here.

            Or maybe I don't just accept whatever rubbish people spew onto the screen unless they prove it.

            Ok. Every time you're referring to a god, you're actually referring to me. Your worship of god is actually misplaced worship of me. Therefore all the scientists who work because you believe they're channelling Christianity without knowing it, are actually working for me.

            I trust you accept that declaration in full. It holds as much water as your baseless assertion.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with you that Randy may be projecting unwarranted vices on atheists (plus, I don't want you guys getting all the wine and song (I have all the "women" any man could ask for, my beautiful wife)), but I don't think here are many actual scientists before the middle ages. We certainly have amazing technologists from the dawn of prehistory, for which we should be grateful.

            Stanley Jaki argues here that modern science does arise from Christianity:

            http://catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0005.html

          • BenS

            We certainly didn't have any modern scientists in pre-history, obviously. The scientific method took years to hone to what we have now. I would still call them emerging scientists, even if their method was considered wrong by today's standards. They simply didn't know how to do it better.

            Claiming it for Christianity (or any religion) is just wishful thinking. It was people, not religions that honed the process. Nowhere, in any holy books or creeds is anything like the scientific method laid out as a means to determine truth. The closest, I would say, is references in Buddhism to 'not just believing everything you hear, look into it yourself'. The vast majority of religions just say 'Believe, believe, believe, faith is a virtue, faith is a virtue, faith is a virtue.

            Here's a potted history of the scientific method.

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

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You are right that the scientific method is not the creed of any religion.

            You vastly overgeneralize and parody "religions" in claiming they say "Believe, believe, believe, faith is a virtue, faith is a virtue, faith is a virtue."

            This is certainly a warped view of how the Catholic faith looks at the relationship between faith and reason, and faith and science.

          • BenS

            You vastly overgeneralize and parody "religions"

            I was parodying Randy's approach above - but the undertone was broadly right. There are certain things that Catholics are just expected to have faith (belief without evidence) in and other things that cannot and will not ever change. If something cannot ever change then it's technically outside of science as science always allows that something may be shown to be wrong, or change, or be different under certain conditions.

            Science doesn't state 'bang, this is right forever, will not change, cannot ever be proven wrong, that's it'. Ther are some things that are so overwhelming proven that it's virtually inconceivable they will be overturned... but that's not set in stone.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think your definition of faith is different than the Catholic definition of faith but I can't tell.

            Could you explain what you mean?

            > There are certain things that Catholics are just expected to have faith (belief without evidence) in and other things that cannot and will not ever change.

          • BenS

            I thought I included the explanation in the post. I use faith to mean belief without evidence / belief without proof.

            I wouldn't be surprised to find out that either a) Catholics define faith differently, b) Catholics define evidence differently or c) Catholics define proof differently.... or all three.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Catholics do not define faith as "belief without evidence." I think that is the parody.

            Also, you haven't made clear what you mean by "evidence" and "proof."

          • BenS

            Like I said, I wouldn't be surprised if you used different terms.

            'Belief without evidence' is not a parody, though; it's one of the most common definitions. Just type 'faith definition' into google. With so many definitions in support, it might be wrong according to you... but it's not a parody.

            As for evidence and proof, see the definititions that apply to the scientific method. If that differs from your definitions, again, I wouldn't be surprised.

          • Sample1

            the scientific method is not the creed of any religion.

            Do you think the scientific method is a creed?

            Mike

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > Do you think the scientific method is a creed?

            Nope.

          • BenS

            I think it's interesting about the origins of the word 'creed' as it comes from the Latin 'Credo' - who, as we all know, was a bounty hunter shot by Han Solo.

          • Michael Murray

            Such as Erastothenes who measured the circumference of the earth

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eratosthenes#Eratosthenes.27_measurement_of_the_Earth.27s_circumference

            Or the Egyptian mathematical papyrus

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhind_Mathematical_Papyrus

            Or some of the other non-Christian contributions to mathematics

            http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Indexes/HistoryTopics.html

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The fact that you cannot see something has very little to do with it's validity.

            Curiousity is a simian trait - quite possibly a mammalian trait. Scientists are folks with a well-developed curiousity and the discipline to put it to use.

            The fact that most scientific discoveries made in the past were made by theists is attributable to the fact that in the past most people were theists. The AAAS, the leading organization of scientists in America runs about 98% atheists, I believe.

            Times have changed.

          • Randy Gritter

            Times have changes but they have not changed completely. There is still a lot of Christian philosophy about. Much of it just seems obvious to people who don't realize it is Christian. But when atheism takes hold will it just disappear? I think we should expect it. We should see less and less motivation to study science or anything else. People will be content to live in their parents basement and watch porn and play video games.

          • Andre Boillot

            "when atheism takes hold will it just disappear? I think we should expect it. We should see less and less motivation to study science or anything else. People will be content to live in their parents basement and watch porn and play video games."

            That's some dissertation level stuff there Randy, don't hide it under a bushel-basket, get it out there for some peer-review.

          • Max Driffill

            Randy,
            That was an exquisitely ridiculous post. Why should atheism cause the massive, whole culture rejection of pursuing one's interest for the consolations of porn and video games, and the comforts of a basement?

            Seriously? You really need to back your assertions up with more.

          • Phil Rimmer

            One of the truly delicious things to see in the UK with the advance of the atheism and secularism movements is a lifting of some the cultural life as reflected on the UK's TV and radio.

            Robin Ince, a notable atheist comedian, co-hosts with Dr Brian Cox a science based entertainment radio show (BBC R4)

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Infinite_Monkey_Cage

            UKTV's latest show with Dara O'Brien, another notable atheist comedian has a newish TV show presented with Professor Marcus de Sautoy (the follow on from Richard Dawkins as Professor of the Public Understanding of Science).

            http://uktv.co.uk/dave/series/tvseries/257755

            The irresistible feeling I have here in the UK is that the IQ of the nation has nudged up a point or two as religious dogma and prescriptions are shrugged off and the need for brain usage goes up. And it is being led from the front by those seeking the changes.

          • Max Driffill

            Define the Christian world view you think we have.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Ha! I think Catholics embrace God, science, beauty, reason, wine, women (their wives), and song!

      • Andre Boillot

        "Atheists will always be tempted to ditch science and focus on wine, women and song because there is no inherent reason to want to understand the world."

        He's got a point, the boozing and carousing interfered with studying, which is why I quickly switched majors from Physics to Political Science.

  • Joe

    I think the problem here is that the author doesn't realize that the same logical presuppositions that make emperisism possible also prove the existence of God. This is why Jimmy cannot ever abandon belief in God. For instance you can't explain why the sky appears blue without presupposing the metaphysical principle of causality. How can there be any truth to be found in biology with out presupposing teleology?

    • cowalker

      There's no need to presuppose a God as a First Cause when doing science. Science is working with empirical data. Scientists presuppose that natural laws will continue to work as they've always worked. If they appear not to, they revise their understanding of the natural law or locate the flaw in their observations.
      Why do scientists presuppose that natural laws (including causality) will continue to work as they've always worked? Not because of metaphysical principles, but due to the accumulated evidence of millions of years of phenomena occurring in the universe, such as light arriving on earth from distant galaxies and paleontological discoveries.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I don't think anyone here is arguing that God is necessary to do science. Concepts are though.

        • cowalker

          http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14474a.htm
          "Teleology is seldom used according to its etymological meaning to denote the branch of philosophy which deals with ends or final causes. It means the doctrine that there is design, purpose, or finality in the world, that effects are in some manner intentional, and that no complete account of the universe is possible without reference to final causes . . . . "

          Joe: "How can there be any truth to be found in biology with out presupposing teleology?"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't follow. That is philosophy of science.

          • cowalker

            So you disagree with the quoted definition of teleology?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree that is a definition of teleology but I don't understand what you are trying to show.

      • Joe

        Thanks for the response. I would just point ou that if you reject the principle of causality your assumption that the universe will continue the way it has in the past is illogical. With out the principle of causality there is no empirical fact just a good guess based on past experience.

        • cowalker

          Yes, and it's a pretty good guess. When it stops working we will have to reassess.

        • cowalker

          I'm wondering now how presupposing the existence of a First Cause makes it more logical to assume that the universe will continue the way it has in the past. If a First Cause originated and maintains material existence, presumably it could change these characteristics.

          • Joe

            I'm not even arguing for First Cause just causality in general. Why do you assume change in natural laws can occur without any previous experience but deny causality when you witness it all the time? If I throw a baseball through a window does the ball break the glass? If you deny causality how are you any more rational then the young earth people?

          • primenumbers

            You argue for causality in general, yet exempt God. How is that "in general"?

          • Joe

            My point was that even if you haven't come to the obvious conclusion that God exists it is anti-emperical to deny the existence of causality witch is what coworker and atheist due to avoid the God conclusion.

          • Max Driffill

            Joe,

            "My point was that even if you haven't come to the obvious conclusion that God exists "
            Obvious? Please demonstrate to me why it is so obvious.

            "it is anti-emperical to deny the existence of causality witch is what coworker and atheist due to avoid the God conclusion."

            No one is denying causation, except Christian theists who want to have their cake and eat it too. Its theists who are inconsistent here. They want an uncaused cause, but cant accept the sensible riposte, that if god doesn't need a cause (your argument) then perhaps the universe itself doesn't need a cause. Saying gods are off limits from causes is special pleading.

          • primenumbers

            Where causality has been demonstrated empirically we have no problems with causality. It has not been demonstrated empirically in the cases where theists need it to have been to show their God is needed, nor has causation always been shown to occur with the examination of the very small quantum scale effects and random radioactive decay being a-causal.

            But what we know of general causation is that it's always a physical thing in time that is the source of the cause, and it's that physical and temporal aspects that the theist deny. In other words, when it comes to causality we are always empirical and theists use special pleading and word-play in an attempt (that fails) to exempt their God from the absolute rules of causality they set up (effectively straw man rules as they ignore the situations we know of when our general concepts of causality break down).

          • hiernonymous

            Could you be a bit more explicit in your argument? How does the breaking glass "prove" the existence of God?

          • cowalker

            Why do you assume change in natural laws can occur without any previous experience but deny causality when you witness it all the time?

            I don't assume natural laws will change. I assume the universe will continue to be as it has been for millions of years. Based on experience I expect to observe causality in the universe, and would design any experiment on that presupposition. I don't believe that this presupposition proves the existence of a First Cause. I was also wondering how the presupposition of a First Cause would make it more logical to assume the universe will continue to be as it has been for millions of years, since a First Cause with agency could presumably change the natural laws of the universe.
            .
            So I guess "teleology" doesn't mean what I thought it meant based on the definition here:
            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14474a.htm
            "Teleology is seldom used according to its etymological meaning to denote the branch of philosophy which deals with ends or final causes. It means the doctrine that there is design, purpose, or finality in the world, that effects are in some manner intentional, and that no complete account of the universe is possible without reference to final causes . . . ."
            So the teleology necessary for biological knowledge does not presuppose a First Cause? It merely states that causality is reliably observed in the material universe?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I'm not even arguing for First Cause just causality in general.

            Good.

            Why do you assume change in natural laws can occur without any previous experience but deny causality when you witness it all the time?

            We don't. We presume causality on the macro scale because we observe it constantly. We have found that QM implies a lack of causality on the quantum scale, so we don't have to presume it.

            If I throw a baseball through a window does the ball break the glass?

            Yes. So what?

            If you deny causality how are you any more rational then the young earth people?

            But no scientist denies causality. We simply note that empirical observation (and QM) has established that causality is not universal. And in fact, there has never been a good reason not to consider causality a provisional assumption.

          • DAVID

            We simply note that empirical observation (and QM) has established that causality is not universal.

            I've seen this claim (causality is not universal) come up a couple times before at this blog. Is this a cold, hard fact or is this an interpretation of the data? I'm not sure how you could "empirically observe" something *not* causing another thing. So I presume its an interpretation of the facts, but not the facts themselves. In which case, it seems a little early in the game to say that causality is not universal.

          • Joe

            Have Scientists given up finding a cause in QM? It seems strange to make a dogmatic statement about QM especially sense its really only been studied for a little over a hundred years. It took us thousands of years to discover flight!

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Gosh I wish I had a Ph.D. in every field but . . .

    For most atheists, the first and perhaps only question . . . is a request for evidence only
    satisfiable within the epistemological framework of modern rationality,
    which in a case like this means scientific, empirical findings.

    I think this is a strange statement coming from somebody about to get a BA in math. The reason I say this is that mathematics is not an empirical science. While it has many practical applications in the physical world and is necessary for natural science, it is deductive, beginning with self-evident axioms that are then drawn out logically.

    If I am correct, then the demand that religious truth be tested solely on empirical grounds seems arbitrary, since we don't demand that mathematics be justified solely on empirical grounds.

    • primenumbers

      "since we don't demand that mathematics be justified solely on empirical grounds." - when math is used on real-world problems it is tested empirically. When math is done in the abstract it is tested by the abstract process of math to see if it's correct or not.

      • DAVID

        I noticed from other posts that you doubt the reliability of Aristotelian philosophy. But Aristotle's arguments work in much the same way as math works. They are grounded in "real-world" observations that can be "tested in empirically" (like mathematics). All consequent steps in the argument follow the rules of logic, and are therefore subjected to an "abstract process" (like mathematics). In principle, Aristotle's work should be easy for you to accept.

        • primenumbers

          In math we don't take the abstract and say the real world must follow it though. What we can test empirically to work in the real world when math is used for real world applications is fine, but just because the abstract math can handle complex numbers doesn't mean I'm going to find any square roots of -ve numbers in the real world.

          • DAVID

            What we can test empirically to work in the real world when math is used for real world applications is fine, but just because the abstract math can handle complex numbers doesn't mean I'm going to find any square roots of -ve numbers in the real world.

            Aristotle, himself, argues that abstractions are not entities that you can find in the real world. Neither does he side with Plato who thought you could find abstractions living in a "third realm." Aristotle works on the straight-forward assumption that abstractions can help us to study real entities.

            In math we don't take the abstract and say the real world must follow it though.

            I think Aristotle's position would be: if our abstractions conform to the realities which they describe, then there are consequences which follow. We do this all the time in science, "if the math is correct, then we must suppose 'x'."

          • primenumbers

            " We do this all the time in science, "if the math is correct, then we must suppose 'x'."" - yes that generates a hypothesis which is tested.

          • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com/ Rick DeLano

            To the contrary.

            The math might involve "x" (dark matter/energy) and the math might be correct.

            This does not in any slight way speak to whether the hypothesis of dark matter/energy is correct.

            Not in any way at all.

          • DAVID

            yes that generates a hypothesis which is tested.

            Yes, and that is why much of Aristotle's physics has been disproved. But Aristotelian metaphysics cannot be disproven in the same way. There is no definitive scientific experiment which can prove that Aristotle was wrong and materialism is correct. To do that, you would have to show that Aristotle's premises, based on empirical observation, are wrong; or that his conclusions do not logically follow from his premises.

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        Prime,
        That is no the case. The whole field of public key cryptography is based on the assumption that the Discrete Log Problem is "hard" to solve. Nobody has ever proved this empirically. (There are other examples I can provide, but with a nameelik Prime numbers I would assume you know what I'm talking about).

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        Deacon Harbey Santiago

        • primenumbers

          But the problem is hard to solve, so empirically it's hard to solve, although strict mathematical proof is lacking. That's not lacking empirical evidence is it?

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Prime, Ashley,

            I would consed that based on experience it appears that the DLP is a difficult problem to solve. But this is not the same as saying that observation "proves" it is difficult. Please keep in mind that when I said "Nobody has ever proved this empirically" I meant proof in the mathematical sense. In fact this is an open problem in Number Theory and proving it, will imply a proof of the P!=NP problem, which is considered Computer Science's most difficult problem to prove, today. So, speaking as a mathematician (and a computer scientist). I could assure you that the intractability of the DLP has not been proven.

            And then there is this...

            Short has shown that solving the DLP and the Integer factorization problems is trivial by using a Quantum Computer.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"

            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • primenumbers

            You're conflating mathematical proof with empirical evidence.

          • Andrew G.

            Discrete log is not known to be NP-complete, so a proof that it is in P would not imply that P=NP, while a proof that it was not in P would imply that P!=NP (and also that BQP!=P).

        • AshleyWB

          I apologize for mostly just repeating primenumbers here, but I'd lack to hammer on this point. The computational difficulty of DLP and similar cases like simple factorization have _only_ been "proven" - I would say demonstrated - empirically. No one has yet mathematically proven an complexity bound. So you've got it exactly backwards.

          This is not a trivial point. The distinction is one of the central advantages of modernism as compared the naive philosophy of antiquity.

    • Andrew G.

      We don't demand an empirical basis for (pure) mathematics because it doesn't tell us anything about the real world (only about the structure and relationships between abstracts).

      When we start applying it to the real world, that's where the empirical justification is needed (to ensure that we've picked the correct abstraction to represent the real world, before applying the mathematics).

  • Kevin Aldrich

    <blockquote.Jimmy Akin’s piece warning Catholics not to put too much stock in any given scientific explanation of the Big Bang is very interesting.

    I just read Akin's OP. I think Chana has built her essay on a misunderstanding. Akin is not warning Catholics to distrust scientific explanations of the Big Bang. He is saying not to be that confident that the Big Bang can be conclusive evidence in an argument for the existence of God.

    If science could establish beyond any doubt that everything which has ever existed can trace its origin to the singularity, before which absolutely nothing existed, that would be a very strong fact which could be the basis of a metaphysical argument for the existence of God.

    However, Akin is saying science doesn't tell us that. He isn't saying don't trust science or empirical reasoning.

  • Alan Wostenberg

    In _How to think about God_ philosopher Mortimer Adler points out big bang is the beginning, at best, of measurable time. It would confirm the worst in philosophical idealism to say time the physicist cannot measure does not exist. So it is not clear how, even in principle, modern physics could settle the question: did time begin? In fact Aquinas famously argued the question "did time begin" is an article of faith, not a conclusion of reason. It is an interesting reversal that modern physicists think it is a question of reason, not faith.

  • ZenDruid

    I read recently that the Vatican is training exorcists. If this factoid doesn't illustrate a major disconnect between superstitious dogma and modern behavioral research, then nothing will.

    Demon theory of disease? Puh-leeeeze.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      Demon theory of disease? Puh-leeeeze.

      While I am quite skeptical about exorcisms, training exorcists does not in any way imply a "demon theory of disease." Everything we know about modern medicine, psychology, and psychiatry could be perfectly true, and there could still be demonic possession.

      I think things happen that cannot, at present, be explained by purely natural phenomena. If could very well be that such things are coincidences or have naturalistic explanations that simply haven't been figured out yet.

      • ZenDruid

        Thorazine kills demons. Good enough for me.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          First of all, you seem to be implying that all cases of demonic possession are psychoses. Second, you seem to think that all medical approaches are not exhausted before an exorcism is done. Neither of those are true.

          As I said, I am quite skeptical of alleged demonic possession. But you seem to know nothing whatsoever about exorcism, when it is used, what is routine before an exorcism, and just about anything at all having to do with the topic. If thorazine cured someone believed to be the victim of possession, thorazine would be used and the idea of an exorcism would be dropped. The Catholic Church does not believe it can empty mental hospitals and put psychopharmacologists and psychiatrists out of business by performing exorcisms. You basically just don't know what you are talking about.

          • ZenDruid

            That's rich. You're 'skeptical' about demonic possession, and I don't know what I'm talking about.

          • Jon Fermin

            why not have both of these statements be true? David may be skeptical about exorcism, but it appears he's actually taken the time to do some rudimentary research to determine what and exorcism is and is not and how it is and is not used. you, on the other hand insist on propping up a straw man argument.

          • ZenDruid

            Demons, bogeymen and monsters under the bed do not exist. Superstitious fear of these does, on the other hand, and can be a problem.

            Why propagate the fear of imaginary things? That, in a nutshell, is my argument against dogmatic superstitions.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            That's right. It seems to me you make dismissive statements about things that you have only the most rudimentary knowledge of. Those who believe in possession (in the Catholic Church, at least) do not believe in the "demon theory of disease." You are among those on this site who don't criticize Catholic ideas themselves, but rather criticize (or in your case make brief dismissive statements about) their own crudely dumbed-down caricatures of those ideas.

          • ZenDruid

            Fair enough. Please explain to me why demons and exorcism are pertinent to reality.

          • Jon Fermin

            define your term "reality" first.

          • ZenDruid

            Whatever is not imaginary is real. The problem as I see it is that people are prone to use their imaginations as crutches.

            As Saint Feynman said, we are experts at fooling ourselves. If I'm fooling myself by basically claiming that demons are nonsense, some reliable data on the matter would go a long way.

          • Jon Fermin

            Define what is imaginary and what is not. are abstracts real? are metaphysicals? is what is real restricted only to that which is empirically knowable?

          • ZenDruid

            For the (limited) purpose of this argument, anything that is either tangible or abstract and can be tested is real.

            All else is imaginary.

          • Jon Fermin

            So let me make sure that is correct. if it is testable then it is also falsifiable. but the statement "anything that is either tangible or abstract and can be tested is real" is a non falsifiable statement according to your own logic. and is thus makes your definition self refuting. or if one is to make the weak argument of this claim that it is very likely this hypothesis is true, they must also accept that it may be false and that there may not be in fact a test which will prove it false. that being said there are non falsifiable metaphysicals that are true, for example my mind and will in relation to your mind and will. neither can be proved empirically, but they exist nonetheless. I agree your definition is limited but I fear it it is too limited even for the purposes of this discussion.

          • Sample1

            I think that's one of the most readily definable characteristics of our species. I'm glad you brought it up. Instead of sex, intelligence or even empathy our exquisite cleverness for self deception seem to be uniquely human. And this begs the rhetorical question for all believers, which tool in our skill set is better for rooting out error, faith or reason?

            In reply to:

            we are experts at fooling ourselves

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            It seems to me the discussion going on here is philosophical, not scientific or religious. It also seems to me that religion and philosophy have more in common than science and philosophy. I am reading a book at the moment on the philosophy of science (Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction) in which some of the most fundamental questions seem to have no answers. For example, deduction can yield answers that are necessarily true (if the premises are true), but what about induction? There is no certainty that induction "works." One of the hallmarks of science is that experiments must be repeatable, but there is no way to logically prove that an experiment done over and over, exactly the same, under the exact same conditions, will yield the same results.

            I am certainly not arguing for faith over science, but as I say, this is a philosophical argument going on here, and yet little or nothing has been said about the philosophy of science. In fact, very little has been said about epistemology.

            I wonder if there is a good book we can all read to have a better idea of what we are actually talking about. I am on the pro-science side, but I know there are deep philosophical questions about what science really is and what it can do that I am only vaguely aware of. For example, does science describe reality "out there," or is it only a way of creating a model that works well with our sense impressions?

          • Sample1

            but there is no way to logically prove that an experiment done over and over, exactly the same, under the exact same conditions, will yield the same results

            And yet, what you have demonstrated with this observation is that it is still derived from a scientific approach to understanding reality.

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            And yet, what you have just written is an observation that is still
            derived from a scientific approach to understanding reality. I don't
            think that's trivial.

            Well, I myself am a firm believer that if you repeat something in exactly the same way under exactly the same conditions, the results will always be the same. But I am pointing out here that we are having a philosophical discussion here, and there are difficult philosophical questions about science that we're not addressing. But I certainly am barely able to raise the questions, let alone answer them.

            Of course, if I pontificate on quantum mechanics, I suppose I shouldn't hesitate to pontificate on the philosophy of science. I'm on page 58 of my book, after all.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            There is a book called "Knowing Things for Sure: Science and truth" by Mariano Artigas on the philosophy of science (with a mini-history of science thrown in).

          • Corylus

            I wonder if there is a good book we can all read to have a better idea of what we are actually talking about.

            The first book you tend to be hit with when looking at the philosophy of science is What Is This Thing Called Science. It tends to be updated from time to time so be sure to get a recent edition.

            You can move onto "The Philosophy of Science - Ed. Boyd et al. but that is harder to get cheap and is a bit of a tome.

          • Andrew G.

            I've read "What Is This Thing Called Science" and was completely unimpressed.

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            My objection to your posts was not that you disbelieve in demons or possession. It was that you implied that people who did subscribed to the "demon theory of disease" and said "thorazine kills demons." I have read interviews with exorcists, and not a one of them believed in the demon theory of diseases. No sane Catholic would even consider an exorcism without having the person evaluated by the appropriate medical authorities. Exorcisms are rare, and they are never done without ruling out medical or psychiatric explanations for the problems the alleged victims report.

            It is not my intent here to argue that demons or exorcisms are real. I have serious doubts that they are. My point is that it is necessary to know something about Catholic beliefs and practice before dismissing them derisively.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks for going to the trouble of pointing this out.

    • Jon Fermin

      This is a red herring and a distraction from the article what you should know however is that these exorcists are trained to not even consider a candidate for exorcism until all reasonable medical and psychological options have been exhausted. they are not trying to replace medical or psychological care with it. if you are going to be snarky, go somewhere else.

      • ZenDruid

        Not so, it is quite pertinent to the science/religion Venn diagram.

      • severalspeciesof

        What you should know however is that these exorcists are trained to not
        even consider a candidate for exorcism until all reasonable medical and
        psychological options have been exhausted. they are not trying to
        replace medical or psychological care with it.

        Just curious, was this always the case? Was schizophrenia (or other psychological disorders) always regarded as a disease and never 'demon possession' ?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          That is a historical question which according to some atheists cannot be answered because they claim only scientific evidence is valid and historical evidence is not derived from a science experiment.

          • severalspeciesof

            That is a historical question which according to some atheists cannot be
            answered because they claim only scientific evidence is valid and
            historical evidence is not derived from a science experiment.

            I know of no atheist who would say that...

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Unless I'm misunderstanding him, BenS is claiming that only scientific evidence is valid (see below).

          • severalspeciesof

            I think, but cannot speak for BenS directly, that he is of the mindset that the scientific method is valid... not that "only scientific evidence is valid"... I could be wrong...

            Glen

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          I am no expert on the history of belief in demons. Reading the Gospels, one gets the impression that demons were very common in a way that seems difficult to accept now, even if one believes possession is real. I think a great many people would suggest that the exorcisms in the New Testament were not all casting out of demons but rather charismatic healings of people with various mental or physical problems such as epilepsy. There were all kinds of theories about what caused diseases before the germ theory of disease was developed, and there were all kinds of theories about mental illness before modern psychiatry came along.

          As I said, I am no expert here, but I don't believe the Catholic Church ever hand any official teaching that physical or mental diseases were attributable to demons.

          • severalspeciesof

            I don't think it really matters whether there was an 'official teaching', the fact remains that the 'throwing out of the demons' is a belief that demons caused the behavior of mental illnesses if mental illness was not a considered thought...

            OK, somehow that didn't quite come out right, but i hope you can understand...

            Glen

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I would not assume, although I haven't researched it, that the Catholic Church ever taught that demons were the cause of mental illness, or illness in general. There may have been periods when this was widely believed, but I don't think that can be attributed to the Catholic Church.

            I don't think it would be fair or accurate to consider every idea that was prevalent during periods when, and locations where, the Church was dominant to be a Catholic idea.

          • severalspeciesof

            I think we're talking past each other. I'm not saying that the church taught that demons caused mental illness, but that the belief (taught or not) was that the illness was demon possesion... I think there's a difference...

            Glen

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I'd just note that, going all the way back to the Gospels, the healings and the exorcisms performed by Jesus appear to be two quite different kinds of actions. When Jesus cures a blind man, or a paralytic, or a leper, he doesn't cast out a blindness demon, a paralysis demon, or a leprosy demon.

            In Matthew 10:8 Jesus commands the apostles, "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give." Once again, curing the sick and driving out demons appear to be two separate things.

            This does not, of course, imply that those believed to be possessed at the time weren't actually mentally ill. But it does imply that sickness and possession were seen as two different things.

  • severalspeciesof

    BTW, decent OP... This sums it up quite nicely for the most part: "But it is blatantly obvious that Catholics and atheists don’t have the same standards for truth, and to pretend to for the sake of dialogue would be a farce."

    Glen

  • The Ubiquitous

    >>> "But it can’t be that simple. It can’t be, because Christianity does answer certain empirical questions. For instance: Did Jesus really live? Did he really die and resurrect 3 days later? My understanding is, if the answer to these questions is no, then Christianity is a false religion."

    Define empirical.

  • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

    Congratulations on publishing the second atheist post on this site! Only about 58 to go to ensure that Catholics and atheists have equal representation in terms of post numbers.

    • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

      Why in the world should there be equal representation? This blog is run by Catholics. If a group of Catholics and atheists co-create a blog, then they can agree to have an equal number of atheist and Catholic contributions.

      Besides, the more Catholic the post, the more the atheists enjoy ripping it apart. Why don't atheists start their own blog in response to Strange Notions?

      • ZenDruid

        I'm sure the FSTDT folks are scrutinizing this site. No need to reinvent the wheel.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        It is more fun to attack than defend, so the Catholics are being charitable to the atheists by letting them do 98% of the attacking.

      • http://twitter.com/amuchmoreexotic Ben

        It's just a bit weird to call this blog the "central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists" when it clearly isn't. There are plenty of atheist or reason-based blogs on the Internet; that's not the problem.

      • primenumbers

        Interesting that Catholics would invite atheists to de-bunk their arguments? Are they wanting to convert?

        • Sample1

          Are they wanting to convert?

          It wouldn't surprise me if this is primarily a Catholic ministry to try to keep fence-sitting Catholics from recognizing they've already left the faith.
          Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            That would make it one of the strangest and most misguided ministries ever invented! Do you really think it makes sense to hang on to fence-sitting Catholics by having them participate in a forum where attacks on Catholicism are invited?

          • Sample1

            If there can be sandwich ministries, why can't there be what I described?

            But seriously, I think your point lends credence to my hypothesis. A brother may despise his own sister, but call her a slut and just watch the tribal-like blood flow into the biceps of that brother to defend her honor.

            Consider those who reclaimed their faith because of the attention the the sexual crime coverups generated. Why not the same thing for, as you say, a so-called attack against Catholicism?

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Why not the same thing for, as you say, a so-called attack against Catholicism?

            First, let me point out that all of us discussing the motives of those who created this site are off topic. Strange Notions was not created to debate why Strange Notions was created.

            Suppose your theory is correct. What are you doing here, then? Playing into the hands of Catholics who are lying about their real motives and trying to trick atheists into strengthening the faith of fence-sitting Catholics? Should you not be criticizing Chana Messinger for playing along with people who are trying to promote Catholicism?

            If we are going to discuss the motives of those who run the site, then lets discuss the motives of those like yourself who comment here. What are you doing here?

          • Sample1

            I was invited here, thank you very much. But David, I would like you to keep in mind what IOS's Siri is so fond of saying: this isn't about me, Dave.

            Mike

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            I was invited here, thank you very much.

            And I think it is important to remember that those of us who are commenters are invited guests and should behave like invited guests. We don't own this space.

            this isn't about me, Dave.

            Good point. I have been in many discussions over the years where people tried to make me the issue. It's illegitimate, digressive, and I object. (Of course, often it's rather flattering, too.) But it seems to me it's not about you, or about me, or about the people who run the site. In this case, it's about what Chana Messinger says in I Need a Better Science/Religion Venn Diagram. It is no service to her to use the comments after her post to discuss something other than her post. If we want to discuss the motives of the people who run Strange Notions (and by implication, call them disingenuous), there ought to be a thread devoted to the real purpose of the site.

          • Sample1

            Thanks for airing your concerns. I don't know how active the official site moderation is, but your reminder to keep comments at least somewhat related to the article at hand is probably appreciated by them.
            Mike

          • primenumbers

            Maybe it's a trick to get rid of "Cafeteria Catholics" from the Church, a sort of survival of the fittest selection approach?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Well, Benedict XVI was known to talk about the idea of a "smaller, purer" Church.

            Someone once said that every cafeteria has more than one door. It is not just Catholics on the left who have their own take on Catholicism. There are Catholics on this site who are "more Catholic than the pope." (I'm not going to name names, though.)

          • primenumbers

            Thanks for the interesting meta-discussion and insights, David.

        • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

          Don't you think it' much more likely that they are trying to convert atheists to Catholicism? That is, after all, the mission of Christians—to bring the Good News (Gospel) to the world.

          • gwen saul

            so the Biblical verse/ motto around here "Come, let us reason together" should be more along the lines of "come, let us convert you to Catholicism by smothering you with our vast quantities of well executed articles for your voices are small and not worth hearing"?

          • gwen saul

            Or maybe "Come, let us reason for you"?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            First, if you are correct, why would you participate in such a forum? Why would it be permitted for four of the five top commenters to be doing their best to convince people that theism and Catholicism are bunk?

            I am always mystified when commenters appear in a forum to criticize it for not being a different forum. It's like accepting an invitation to a free meal and then complaining to the host about the food.

            I can understand almost any criticism by commenters in forums like this, but why would people comment in a forum whose existence they object to? Why not find a place to comment where they at least feel the forum is worthwhile?

          • gwen saul

            "First, if you are correct" Thanks for the patronizing reply.

            Second, you clearly don't understand the argument.

            Third, why are YOU having a conversation with someone whose lack of belief you object to? Why are you even here in the comment section arguing with atheists when you could be commenting only where other Catholic bloggers comment?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            "First, if you are correct" Thanks for the patronizing reply.

            I did not realize it was patronizing in a forum like this to imply that the person you are addressing might or might not be correct!

            Why are you even here in the comment section arguing with atheists . . . .

            I think Sample1 is correct. It's not about you, or him, or me. This will be my last comment about the site, the motives of the people who run the site, and the motives of the people who comment here. I would note, though, that you haven't said why you are here.

            . . . . when you could be commenting only where other Catholic bloggers comment?

            I disagree with Catholics about as much as I disagree with atheists. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I am skeptical about the position of Catholics to about the same degree I am skeptical about the position of atheists. I started posting here fully expecting to agree with the atheists and disagree with the Catholics.

          • Sample1

            Though I'm not in the top 5, I'd challenge you to find any comment from those that are that tries to convince a Catholic interlocutor here to abandon his or her faith.

            I certainly don't do that, and in my experience, neither do the Brights I enjoy spending time with.

            Look, it might be punishable by prison or worse in theocracies around the world, but calling religious claims bunk is not a crime where I'm from. And when they can be shown to be unreasonable, all the better, eh?

            Mike

          • primenumbers

            I don't know really - I'm not inside their heads. On one hand if you're trying to avoid confirmation bias it's a good thing to get those who disagree with you to poke holes in your arguments, but the end result of that is usually to agree that your arguments have holes in them. Here tried old holey arguments are brought out, the standard and new responses are given, but the theistic position doesn't change. So perhaps it's confirmation bias working the other way, "the more atheists disagree with us, the more we're right?"

            I'm told their mission is indeed to bring the good news, but it's hard to actually say it's either new or good. They've been doing the evangelizing for what, nearly 2000yrs now?

          • http://twitter.com/david_nickol David Nickol

            Here tried old holey arguments are brought out, the standard and new
            responses are given, but the theistic position doesn't change.

            I rather agree with this. Even if I were to commit as a Catholic, I would not put much stock in Catholic apologetics. If you read apologetics sites, you see people writing in and saying, "People are attacking my faith and saying Catholic teaching X is false. Can you give me some good arguments I can answer with?" I would say, "If you don't have good arguments to defend your faith, why in the world do you believe in it?" The canned arguments of apologetics have little chance of impressing anyone who does not already agree with them.

          • primenumbers

            I think you're right enough there. What gets me especially with apologetics is that when even plain factual errors are found and pointed out, they just don't get corrected and the next time you hear that apologetic it hasn't adapted to account for the known factual mistake. There's the rare exception like here http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/mike-licona-acknowledges-mistakes-in-the-1042-apologetic/ but I don't know of any others off hand.

  • severalspeciesof

    Within a Venn Diagram, how would this be drawn? "Knowledge overturned by theology regarding a scientific theory vs. knowledge overturned by science regarding a theological theory." (If there's even such a thing as theological theories, any takers?)

    Glen

  • Kevin Aldrich

    When I refer to evidence, I am always referring to scientific evidence. Because all other 'evidence' is crap.

    Thus spake an atheist here.

    This view is scientism.

    Scientism, as Gerard Radntizky puts it, "is the dogmatic belief that the way of knowing called "science" is the only one that merits the title of knowledge."

    However, according to philosopher of science Mariano Artigas, "Scientism is intrinsically incoherent, since one cannot affirm that experimental science is the paradigm of valid knowledge if one cannot prove the truth of the statements of science,"which science itself cannot do ("Knowing Things for Sure" 197-198). In other words,

  • Joe Ser

    Consider this......arrows show information flow.

    • Max Driffill

      Um, your assumptions seem to be showing.

  • Joseph R.

    Thanks for the article. I've tried to piece together the atheist epistemology (reason and empiricism) from some of the comments and discussions that followed your article. Will you provide some comments/criticism to the reasoning below? Thank you.

    1) Reality consists of the material world and its various interactions.
    2) The material world and its various interactions are observable and knowable.
    3) Therefore reality is observable and knowable.
    4) Scientific experiments are conducted to observe and know the interactions of the material world.
    5) To know an interaction of the material world is to have knowledge of reality.
    6) Therefore knowledge of reality is determined via scientific experimentation.
    7) In scientific experimentation, an observed interaction is modeled by some relationship of parameters thought to be influential.
    8) The confidence level quantifies how well the model predicts future interactions.
    9) Therefore the relationship (and quantity) of the parameters affects the confidence level.
    10) A 100% confidence level must be achieved for knowledge of reality to be indisputable.
    11) Experimental models do not achieve a 100% confidence level.
    12) Therefore knowledge of reality is necessarily disputable.
    13) If knowledge of reality is necessarily disputable,
    14) then reality can never be known with absolute certainty.
    15) Therefore one does not have absolute knowledge of reality, rather one has knowledge of how well an experimental model represents reality.