CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

We continue our examination of Greta Christina's list of the top ten reasons not to believe in God. In the first post we looked at her claim that history shows a pattern of natural explanations replacing supernatural ones in the explanation of events (spoiler alert: it doesn't). In the second post we looked at her claim that, because the world religions disagree about the nature of the divine, we are just making this religion stuff up.


The next reason Christina offers for not believing in God is that all the arguments offered for the existence of God are "ridiculously weak". 

A bold claim, and one Christina comes nowhere near substantiating. First of all, the comment I made about the fundamental flaw running through Christina's whole piece in the first post needs to be repeated: "her definition of God is so all-encompassing (at one point she says that by 'God' she includes "the soul, or metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being or substance") that her arguments, far from relentlessly picking apart one well-defined hypothesis, at best strike glancing blows at a dozen different and sometimes incompatible views." This flaw is nowhere more evident than in her presentation of this reason. She discusses a smattering of arguments, not all of which aim to establish the same conclusion and which come from many different religious contexts. 

Let's assume to be charitable, however, that in this part Christina is referring to arguments which aim to prove, or at least render probable, the existence of the monotheistic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, even though earlier she made no distinction between this highly specific understanding of the divine and things like 'the soul, metaphysical energy, or any sort of supernatural being or substance'. She makes the following claim:
I have seen a lot of arguments for the existence of God. And they all boil down to one or more of the following: The argument from authority. (Example: "God exists because the Bible says God exists.") The argument from personal experience. (Example: "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists.") The argument that religion shouldn't have to logically defend its claims. (Example: "God is an entity that cannot be proven by reason or evidence.") Or the redefining of God into an abstract principle... so abstract that it can't be argued against, but also so abstract that it scarcely deserves the name God. (Example: "God is love.")
Christina insists that arguments for the existence of God all fall under four categories-appeal to authority, personal experience, denial of the need for proof, or redefining God-even though in the very next paragraph she expands this list to include arguments from the nature of the Bible and the argument from design, thus immediately contradicting her first statement: apparently not all religious arguments fall under those first four categories, after all. And even though she alludes to the design argument, she makes no mention of the other three classical arguments for the existence of God: the ontological, cosmological and moral arguments. 

The truth is that the arguments that could be offered for the existence of the monotheistic God are legion (see, for example, Alvin Plantinga's famous paper, Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments). So Christina is just wrong that they can be reduced to her four initial categories. No doubt it was easier for Christina to convince herself (or at least try to convince her gullible 'skeptical' readers) that religious argumentation boils down to those categories, as it enables her to avoid the hard work of reading up on rigorous philosophy of religion and science. But extraordinary claims (that all theistic arguments are 'ridiculously weak') require extraordinary evidence, and Christina does not supply that evidence.

Let's start with the argument by appeal to authority: "God exists because the Bible says God exists." Well, if the Bible could be shown on other grounds to be a legitimate epistemic authority, then the above reason would be a very good reason to think that God exists! Like most skeptics, Christina seems ignorant of the fact that most of what we know, we know on the basis of the authority of other people, most of whose claims we are not in a position to directly verify (for example: parents, teachers, scientists, professors, etc.). Appeals to authority are entirely legitimate, so long as the authority in question is legitimate.

Christina argues that appeals to authority are illegitimate, because "Sacred books and authorities can be mistaken. I have yet to see a sacred book that doesn't have any mistakes." I have yet to encounter a scientist who never made any mistaken pronouncements. Does that mean I should not listen to what they have to say about nature? An authority does not have to be infallible in order to be legitimate, and in order for appeals to authority to have epistemic force. Of course, the possibility of error does mean that we should not believe things entirely based on authority. Christina comes close to making a valid point when she says that "Instinct and intuition play an important part in human understanding and experience... but they should never be treated as the final word on a subject." The same could be said for appeals to authority. For example, the fact that the Bible testifies to God's existence is an importance piece of corroborating evidence that God exists, assuming we have other reasons to think the Bible is a legitimate epistemic authority, but we should not believe that God exists just on that basis. 

Unfortunately Christina retracts her valid point in her hypothetical example of her claiming that the tree in front of her house is 500 feet tall and has hot pink leaves, offering as a defense 'I know this is true because my mother/preacher/sacred book tells me so'. She then asks if anyone would take her seriously. This is such a silly, contrived situation that I am having a hard time taking Christina's discussion seriously (that one would consult a sacred book to determine the stature and color of the leaves of a tree in one's front yard is simply asinine, and not even the most rabid reason-denying fundamentalist would do such a thing). First of all, this is not the kind of claim she would have to rely on authority to verify. It can be verified just by walking outside her front door. Why would she appeal to authority in the first place? Second, as we noted and Christina seemed to accept, one would never believe something entirely on the basis of authority, especially a single authority. Third, supposing she knew her mother or preacher to be decent, honest people with good eyesight, why would she not take their testimony seriously? Christina cautioned about letting instinct and intuition have the final word on a subject, and this (valid) point can be extended to appeals to authority, but her hypothetical example is all about whether her claim based on appeal to authority should even be taken seriously. Christina is just piling on the evidence that she is a sloppy, lazy thinker who herself should not be taken seriously.

A brief word about the appeal to personal experience: "God exists because I feel in my heart that God exists." Again, there are legitimate and illegitimate appeals to personal experience. On some level, since we encounter the world only through the filter of our personal experience, ALL claims to knowledge whatsoever boil down to appeals to personal experience! Christina (as usual) does not clarify exactly what she means by 'feel' in the above statement, but presumably she means something like a direct impression, an inner conviction of the reality of God. She would do well to consider that, ultimately, if someone asked her how she knew there was an external world, and that she wasn't just interacting with the contents of her own mind, her answer would boil down to something like a direct impression or inner conviction. As Cleanthes puts it in David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, in reference to the radical skeptic: "External objects press in upon him: Passions solicit him: His philosophical melancholy dissipates; and even the utmost violence upon his own temper will not be able, during any time, to preserve the poor appearance of skepticism." Of course, since we do have mistaken impressions about the objects of our perception, one should never base a belief entirely upon one's felt experience. A paranoid person may feel that they are being followed, but that in itself is not reason to believe it. But other evidences could be adduced to reinforce a felt impression (for an entertaining example of how that could work, see Mel Gibson's character in Conspiracy Theory), and it would be wrong to say that a felt impression has no epistemic weight. 

This points to another general flaw in Christina's discussion of religious arguments. She presents them as if a reflective believer would say that he or she believes God exists solely because the Bible says so, or solely because of a felt impression. In reality, people come to believe that God exists on the basis of multiple, converging lines of experience and evidence, each of which are of some weight taken on their own and of substantially more weight when considered in confluence. Consider how you might reasonably come to the conclusion that shadowy people are scoping out your house: a neighbor you trust might report seeing men in black coats moving stealthily around the bushes outside your house. Because you have come to know the neighbor as an honest, level-headed, clear-sighted person, you take their report seriously, even if that by itself does not convince you. But then on your way home from work one night you hear a rustling in the bushes and you just get the impression that you're not alone. Now it could be that the rustling was entirely innocuous and the impression that you're not alone resulted because the neighbor's comment has made you more suggestible, but you have to admit it does cohere with the neighbor's report, and if there is no reason to doubt the neighbor's report the impression now takes on added weight. Further events (finding a black coat discarded in the bushes, a news report that a gang of burglars has been terrorizing your neighborhood) might then even further reinforce your conviction and make it reasonable to conclude that you are indeed being scoped. 

Something similar happens to most people when they come to believe in God. It is not a single factor like a felt impression of God's existence or the Bible's testimony considered separately, but multiple factors considered together that lead to that conclusion. In such a context, appeals to the authority of the Bible and to personal experience are entirely legitimate as arguments for the existence of God.

Christina briefly discusses evidential arguments, but insists that they are "inevitably terrible". She dismisses the appeal to the perfection of the Bible as a historical and prophetic document with a single link to the Skeptics' Annotated Bible, a website which offers massive commentary on each book of the Bible, pointing to alleged inconsistencies and errors. Talk about appeals to authority! The perfection of the Bible as a historical and prophetic book is too vast a subject to get into here, but I will say that one need not establish the Bible's accuracy in every detail in order to accept its credibility. A very good case can be made for its accuracy in depicting key events in the life of Jesus, for example, treating it as a purely secular, potentially errant historical source, just like the works of Josephus. Another factor that encourages confidence in the Bible is its profound wisdom and insight into human nature. But again, these are all individual factors that combine with others to result in a confidence in the Bible. I personally do not argue on this basis, so I won't comment any further. Suffice it to say that merely pointing toS a skeptics' website does not debunk the argument from the Bible's perfection.

Christina also briefly mentions the design argument in at least two versions, fine-tuning and complexity. Here at least she seems to have produced more elaborate arguments of her own, and I will read the posts she links to and respond to them in more detail. I will just comment on an assertion she makes that "the conditions that allow for life on Earth have only existed for the tiniest fragment of the Universe's existence and are going to be boiled away by the Sun in about a billion years." This statement is at least partly false. Most of the conditions that allow for life on Earth have been in place since the beginning of the Universe, including the precise values of certain physical constants that were calibrated shortly after the Big Bang, if not at the Big Bang itself. Furthermore, those universal life-supporting conditions made the local, solar life-supporting conditions possible, and these local conditions have actually been in place for a substantial fraction of the age of the Universe (the current estimate of the Universe's age is about 13.75 billion years, while the solar system began to form approximately 4.6 billion years ago). And it doesn't really matter that those conditions are not going to last forever, since they have clearly lasted long enough to produce human beings that can question, wonder, praise, procreate and work, God's intention according to the Bible. 

Finally Christina discusses the objection that believers don't need to produce arguments or evidence in the first place. She summarily dismisses this objection as "conceding the game before you've even begun", implying that you know you don't have a good case to begin with. But again she is ignorant of the fact that the need for arguments and evidence in support of our beliefs is a much-discussed topic in epistemology (particularly in connection to Reformed epistemology, but also in other contexts such as the discussion of Michael Polanyi's 'tacit knowing'). This discussion arises, not because there are those who would rather avoid coming up with arguments for their beliefs, but because there are many situations in which we seem to 'know more than we can tell' (for example a football coach calling a play based on his intuitive 'read' of the game so far), and also situations in which certain claims could in principle be directly verified but which would be very impractical to do so (for example most of the claims which we accept from scientists and doctors). Although I would not say that religious believers are never under an obligation to produce evidence and argument for their beliefs (see above the problem of Christina taking arguments in isolation), there are definitely cases where a believer can simply and confidently say 'I believe', even if he or she is not up to date on the latest work in philosophy of religion. 

I won't say anything about proving God's existence by redefining God, because I agree on this point with Christina, that such a position is not very interesting.

So the pattern continues: Christina makes a bold claim about the quality of religious arguments without backing it up in the slightest. She does not understand how the arguments work, what their background is in ordinary experience and she does herself what she criticizes in others (see her appeal to authority in debunking the perfection of the Bible, for instance). 


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Karl Popper

Notice how in the comment section in part 1 and atheist asserts "it's a fact there are no Gods." If it is a fact it's not gleaned from science. So it must be made known through that old no good Philosophy that CARM atheists are always running down. If so I'd like to see their argument. Where do you suppose it is? I think it's with the rest of the imaginary fortress of facts, which is actually a house of cards.

footnote numbers taken over from part 1.

Not Facts but Verisimilitude:

Karl Popper (1902-1994) is one of the most renewed and highly respected figures in the philosophy of science. Popper was from Vienna, of Jewish origin, maintained a youthful flirtation with Marxism, and left his native land due to the rise of Nazism in the late thirties. He is considered to be among the ranks of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. Popper is highly respected by scientists in a way that most philosophers of science are not.[15]

He was also a social and political philosopher of considerable stature, a self-professed ‘critical-rationalist’, a dedicated opponent of all forms of scepticism, conventionalism, and relativism in science and in human affairs generally, a committed advocate and staunch defender of the ‘Open Society’, and an implacable critic of totalitarianism in all of its forms. One of the many remarkable features of Popper's thought is the scope of his intellectual influence. In the modern technological and highly-specialised world scientists are rarely aware of the work of philosophers; it is virtually unprecedented to find them queuing up, as they have done in Popper's case, to testify to the enormously practical beneficial impact which that philosophical work has had upon their own. But notwithstanding the fact that he wrote on even the most technical matters with consummate clarity, the scope of Popper's work is such that it is commonplace by now to find that commentators tend to deal with the epistemological, scientific and social elements of his thought as if they were quite disparate and unconnected, and thus the fundamental unity of his philosophical vision and method has to a large degree been dissipated.[16]

Unfortunately for our purposes we will only be able to skim the surface of Popper’s thoughts on the most crucial aspect of this theory of science, that science is not about proving things but about falsifying them.

Above we see that Dawkins, Stenger and company place their faith in the probability engineered by scientific facts. The problem is probability is not the basis upon which one chooses one theory over another, at least according to Popper. This insight forms the basis of this notion that science can give us verisimilitude not “facts.” Popper never uses the phrase “fortress of facts,” we could add that, science is not a fortress of facts. Science is not giving us “truth,” its’ giving something in place of truth, “verisimilitude.” The term verisimilar means “having the appearance of truth, or probable.” Or it can also mean “depicting realism” as in art or literature.”[17] According to Popper in choosing between two theories one more probable than the other, if one is interested I the informative content of the theory, one should choose the less probable. This is paradoxical but the reason is that probability and informative content very inversely. The higher informative content of a theory is more predictive since the more information contained in a statement the greater the number of ways the statement will turn out to fail or be proved wrong. At that rate mystical experience should be the most scientific view point. If this dictum were applied to a choice between Stenger’s atheism and belief in God mystical God belief would be more predictive and have less likelihood of being wrong because it’s based upon not speaking much about what one experiences as truth. We will see latter that this is actually the case in terms of certain kinds of religious experiences. I am not really suggesting that the two can be compared. They are two different kinds of knowledge. Even though mystical experience per se can be falsified (which will be seen in subsequent chapters) belief in God over all can’t be. The real point is that arguing that God is less probable is not a scientifically valid approach.

Thus the statements which are of special interest to the scientist are those with a high informative content and (consequentially) a low probability, which nevertheless come close to the truth. Informative content, which is in inverse proportion to probability, is in direct proportion to testability. Consequently the severity of the test to which a theory can be subjected, and by means of which it is falsified or corroborated, is all-important.[18]

Scientific criticism of theories must be piecemeal. We can’t question every aspect of a theory at once. For this reason one must accept a certain amount of background knowledge. We can’t have absolute certainty. Science is not about absolute certainty, thus rather than speak of “truth” we speak of “verisimilitude.” No single observation can be taken to falsify a theory. There is always the possibility that the observation is mistaken, or that the assumed background knowledge is faulty.[19] Uneasy with speaking of “true” theories or ideas, or that a corroborated theory is “true,” Popper asserted that a falsified theory is known to be false. He was impressed by Tarski’s 1963 reformulation of the corresponded theory of truth. That is when Popper reformulated his way of speaking to frame the concept of “truth-likeness” or “verisimilitude,” according to Thronton.[20] I wont go into all the ramifications of verisimilitude, but Popper has an extensive theory to cover the notion. Popper’s notions of verisimilitude were critixized by thinkers in the 70’s such as Miller, Tichy’(grave over the y) and Grunbaum (umlaut over the first u) brought out problems with the concept. In an attempt to repair the theory Popper backed off claims to being able to access the numerical levels of verisimilitude between two theories.[21] The resolution of this problem has not diminished the admiration for Popper or his acceptance in the world of philosophy of science. Nor is the solution settled in the direction of acceptance for the fortress of facts. Science is not closer to the fact making business just because there are problems with verisimilitude.

Science doesn’t prove but Falsifies

The aspect of Popper’s theory for which he is best known is probably the idea of falsification. In 1959 He published the Logic of Scientific Discovery in which he rigorously and painstakingly demonstrated why science can’t prove but can only disprove, or falsify. Popper begins by observing that science uses inductive methods and thus is thought to be marked and defined by this approach. By the use of the inductive approach science moves from “particular statements,” such as the result of an experiment, to universal statements such as an hypothesis or theories. Yet, Popper observes, the fallacy of this kind of reasoning has always been known. Regardless of how many times we observe white swans “this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.”[22] He points out this is the problem of universal statements, which can’t be grounded in experience because experience is not universal, at least not human experience. One might observe this is also a problem of empirical observation. Some argue that we can know universal statements to be true by experience; this is only true if the experiences are universal as well. Such experience can only be a singular statement. This puts it in the same category with the original problem so it can’t do any better.[23] The only way to resolve the problem of induction, Popper argues, is to establish a principle of induction. Such a principle would be a statement by which we could put inductive inferences into logically acceptable form. He tells us that upholders of the need for such a principle would say that without science can’t provide truth or falsehood of its theories.[24]

The principle can’t be a purely logical statement such as tautology or a prori reasoning, if it could there would be no problem of induction. This means it must be a synthetic statement, empirically derived. Then he asked “how can we justify statement on rational grounds?” [25] After all he’s just demonstrated that an empirical statement can’t be the basis of a universal principle. Then to conclude that there must be a universal principle of logic that justifies induction knowing that it ahs to be an empirical statement, just opens up the problem again. He points out that Reichenbach[26] would point that such the principle of induction is accepted by all of science.[27] Against Reinchenback he sties Hume.[28] Popper glosses over Kant’s attempt at a prori justification of syetnic a priori statements.[29] In the end Popper disparages finding a solution and determines that induction is not the hallmark of science. Popper argues that truth alludes science since it’s only real ability is to produce probability. Probability and not truth is what science can produce. “…but scientific statements can only attain continuous degrees of probability whose unattainable upper and lower limits are truth and falsity’.”[30] He goes on to argue against probability as a measure of inductive logic.[31] Then he’s going to argue for an approach he calls “deductive method of testing.. In this case he argues that an hypothesis can only be empirically tested and only after it has been advanced. [32]

What has been established so far is enough to destroy the fortress of facts of idea. The defeat of a principle of induction as a means of understanding truth is primary defeat for the idea that science is going about establishing a big pile of facts. What all of this is driving at of course is the idea that science is not so much the process of fact discovery as it is the process of elimination of bad idea taken as fact. Science doesn’t prove facts it disproves hypotheses.. Falsifying theories is the real business of science. It’s the comparison to theory in terms of what is left after falsification has been done that makes for a seeming ‘truth-likeness,’ or verisimilitude. Falsification is a branch of what Popper calls “Demarcation.” This issue refers to the domain or the territory of the scientists work. Induction does not mark out the proper demarcation. The criticism he is answering in discussing demarcation is that removing induction removes for science it’s most important distinction from metaphysical speculation. He states that this is precisely his reason for rejecting induction because “it does not provide a suitable distinguishing mark of the empirical non metaphysical character of a theoretical system,”[33] this is what he calls “demarcation.”

Popper writes with reference to positivistic philosophers as the sort of umpires of scientific mythology. He was a philosopher and the project of the positivists was to “clear away the clutter” (in the words of A.J. Ayer) for science so it could get on with it’s work. Positivistic philosophers were the janitors of science. Positivists had developed the credo that “meaningful statements” (statements of empirical science) must be statements that are “fully decided.” That is to say, they had to be both falsifiable and verifiable. The requirement for verifiable is really a requirement similar to the notion of proving facts, or truth. Verifiability is not the same thing as facticiy or proof it’s easy to see how psychologically it reinforces th sense that science is about proving things. He quotes several positivists in reinforcing this idea: Thus Schlick says: “. . . a genuine statement must be capable of conclusive verification” Waismann says, “If there is no possible way to determine whether a statement is true then that statement has no meaning whatsoever. For the meaning of a statement is the method of its verification.”[34] Yet Popper disagrees with them. He writes that there is no such thing as induction. He discusses particular statements which are verified by experience just opens up the same issues he launched in the beginning one cannot derive universal statements from experience. “Therefore, theories are never theories are never empirically verifiable. He argues that the only way to deal with the demarcation problem is to admit statements that are not empirically verified.[35]

But I shall certainly admit a system as empirical or scientific only if it

is capable of being tested by experience. These considerations suggest

that not the verifiability but the falsifiability of a system is to be taken as a

criterion of demarcation. In other words: I shall not require of a

Scientific system that it shall be capable of being singled out, once and

for all, in a positive sense; but I shall require that its logical form shall

be such that it can be singled out, by means of empirical tests, in a

negative sense: it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience.[36]

What this means in relation to the “fortress of facts” idea is that it transgresses upon the domain of science. Compiling a fortress of facts is beyond the scope of science and also denudes science of it’s domain.

He deals with the objection that science is supposed to give us positive knowledge and to reduce it to a system of falsification only negates its major purpose. He deals with this by saying this criticism carries little weight since the amount of positive information is greater the more likely it is to clash. The reason being laws of nature get more done the more they act as a limit on possibility, in other words, he puts it, “not for nothing do we call the laws of nature laws. They more they prohibit the more they say.”[37]

sources

[15] Steven Thornton, “Karl Popper,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Winter 2011 edition Edward N. Zalta Editor, URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2011/entries/popper/ vested 2/6/2012

[16] ibid

[17] Miriam-Webster. M-W.com On line version of Webster’s dictionary. URL: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/verisimilar?show=0&t=1328626983 visited 2/7/2012

[18] Thornton, ibid.

[19] ibid

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

[22] Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London, New York:Routledge Classics, original English publication 1959 by Hutchison and co. by Routldege 1992. On line copy URL: http://www.cosmopolitanuniversity.ac/library/LogicofScientificDiscoveryPopper1959.pdf digital copy by Cosmo oedu visited 2/6/2012, p4

[23] ibid

[24] ibid

[25] ibid, 5

[26] Hans Reinchenbach (1891-1953) German philosopher, attended Einstein’s lectures and contributed to work on Quantum Mechanics. He fled Germany to escape Hitler wound up teaching at UCLA.

[27] Popper, ibid, referece to , H. Reichenbach, Erkenntnis 1, 1930, p. 186 (cf. also pp. 64 f.). Cf. the penultimate paragraph of Russell’s chapter xii, on Hume, in his History of Western Philosophy, 1946,

p. 699.

[28] ibid, Popper, 5

[29] ibid, 6

[30] ibid 6

[31] ibid, 7

[32] ibid

[33] ibid 11

[34] ibid, 17, references to Schlick, Naturwissenschaften 19, 1931, p. 150. and Waismann, Erkenntnis 1, 1903, p. 229.

[35] Ibid 18

[36] ibid

[37] ibid, 19 the quotation about laws is found on p 19 but the over all argument is developed over sections 31-46 spanning pages 95-133.




In his most recent Q&A, Dr. William Lane Craig stresses the importance of distinguishing between moral ontology (the objective status of moral facts or properties) and moral epistemology (how we come to know moral facts) when deploying the moral argument for the existence of God:

I’m convinced that keeping the distinction between moral epistemology and moral ontology clear is the most important task in formulating and defending a moral argument for God’s existence of the type I defend. A proponent of that argument will agree quite readily (and even insist) that we do not need to know or even believe that God exists in order to discern objective moral values or to recognize our moral duties. Affirming the ontological foundations of objective moral values and duties in God similarly says nothing about how we come to know those values and duties. The theist can be genuinely open to whatever epistemological theories his secular counterpart proposes for how we come to know objective values and duties.
Apologists have been letting atheists get away with ignoring this distinction for too long, and sadly they themselves sometimes ignore it, when they imply that it is belief in God that is essential for people to act morally, when the heart of the issue is whether objective moral values or properties exist, and what is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values or properties. In fact, we need to keep the following questions separate when we talk about moral theory (this is a tripartite division I came up with for my ethics class):

1) What is the content of morality, i.e. which actions are right and wrong, and how do we know it?
2) Why should we be moral?
3) What is the ontological status of moral statements?

It is a big mistake when moral arguments center on question 2 or even question 1 rather than question 3. These are all important questions, and of course answers to any of them will have implications for the other two (how we come down on the status of moral statements will obviously have implications for our motivation to be moral), but the only relevant one when it comes to the moral argument is question 3.

Notice how many objections become irrelevant when we maintain a proper focus. As Craig notes, it is no objection to the argument that unbelievers can know their moral duty and act upon it. It is no objection to the argument that there is disagreement about the content of morality, because the moral argument only hinges on the acknowledgment THAT there are objective moral facts. It does not hinge on the acknowledgement of any specific moral facts, although getting people to admit that, yes, they know murdering innocent people is wrong, not just distasteful, can help build the case for the existence of objective moral facts in general.

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This is part of a larger framework that includes the theories of Thomas Kuhn and argues that science is a social construct. That part of it will be saved for another time. This section, although long is answering an argument that I see atheist touting all the time. They always deny it but it's unmistakably there. Section one documents that there such an attitude among atheists and gives some preliminary arguments. Section 2 shows the truly unscientific nature of the attitude.

Nowhere is the arrogance of humanity more apparent than in the many tendencies to treat God as a big man in the sky and try to subject him to scientific analysis. This is a move that most thinkers of the previous century would have laughed themselves silly over. One cannot second guess the nature of the divine by insisting that God operates under rules like a biological organism? Richard Dawkins is a major purveyor of this view but Victor Stinger is even more so. Stinger, in his God the Failed Hypothesis[1] is the genius who stated the "who created God" thing, one of the hallmarks of atheist ignorance. The method is super simple. Stinger does mess not with trying to probe the heavens or reaching beyond our tiny little sample of reality on this dust mote, he does it the "obvious way" by creating a straw man argument for God then knocking it down. The straw man is based upon a selective understanding guaranteed to denude belief of a factual basis and to load a pile of facts in the unbelieving camp so as to create the impression that atheism is a choice based upon the full brunt of scientific fact, and religious belief has nothing going for it but ignorance and superstition. This tactic I call the “fortress of facts.” The fortress of facts is something atheists deny vehemently but it’s obvious in almost every argument they make. Most scientifically inclined observers know that science is not merely the accumulation of a pile of facts. Science is not about proving facts or manufacturing a pile of facts so much as it is about testing hypothesis in a systematic fashion. Science is more about disproving than about proving. There are aspects of reality that beyond the ability of science to disprove. God is one of these. Yet, even though atheists will deny the words “fortress of facts” if we observe the way they argument this is undeniable consequence of their logic and their approach.

Science and the “God Hypothesis.”

The whole idea of referring to God as an hypothesis in the first place is an attempt to classify the God concept under the rubric of scientific domain. If God is an hypothesis then he’s something science can dispute, because science is about testing hypothesis. Of course the notion weather or not God can be so classified is a theological question and must be answered theologians. Since atheist denuded theology of any valid content (through sheer mocking and ridicule) then there’s no one to respond who atheists wont mock and ridicule. Thus truth by stipulation is written into the atheist ideology. This overall move turns upon the fortress of facts idea because a hypothesis without fact can’t be maintained. Thus while denying up front that they think about science in this manner we can see the fortress of facts as the basic assumption in the over all atheist approach to belief. We see the fortress of facts at work in the writings of Singer:



says Victor Stenger in "God: The Failed Hypothesis." The book is subtitled, "How science shows that God does not exist." Chapter by chapter, the author shows that the existence of God would suggest certain realities in the world that would be verifiable by scientific inquiry. But the data don't support these would-be realities, thereby providing evidence that no God exists.

Stenger, retired professor of Philosophy at University of Colorado and of Physics and Astronomy at University of Hawaii, is successful in this line of reasoning because of his clearly stated definition that he is not just talking about any kind of god, but specifically the capital-g God of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.[2]

We can see the assumption of the fortress of facts in Skeptic Magazine article reviewing[3] Stinger’s book: “conspicuous by his Absence.” "Stinger lays out the evidence from cosmology, particle physics and quantum mechanics showing that the universe appears exactly as it should if there is no creator." This is a factual approach. The facts show God doesn’t exist because if he did things would be different. To show this we use our tremendous fact finding potential in science.

How does he reckon it should if there is no God? He constructs his own fundamentalist driven version of what God would be like. Of course he has no knowledge of that. It's really a disproof of the atheist big nightmare of the fundamentalist concept of God, in other words, a straw man argument not a real disproof of anything valid. Beyond that, which is a deal breaker--because how you set up the inquiry in the first place determines everything-- there are other criticisms. For example his take on the issue of prayer studies. This is also proof of the "fortress of facts" concept which I am always pointing out that atheist ideology teaches. No atheist has of yet accepted the notion when I point it but it's clear that they argue from it all the time. The idea science gives them a big pile of facts but we believers have no facts. The facts are going to tell us if we can believe in God or not, of course the facts are only facts if they are “scientific” (ie in this case that means if they work against belief in God).


For instance, he tackles the question of the efficacy of prayer, in which the followers of these faiths fervently believe. If God exists, he argues, prayers could be shown to have been answered, using verifiable, replicable studies. And indeed, such studies have been conducted, with universally negative results. (Some studies, which supposedly yielded positive results, used flawed methodology and thus the conclusion is dismissible.) "If prayer were as important as it is taken to be by Jews, Christians and Muslims, its positive effects should be obvious and measurable," Stenger concludes. "They are not. It does not appear - based on the scientific evidence - that a God exists who answers prayers in any significant, observable way."[4]

Here again we have the same idea at work, science gives us a fortress of facts that religion can’t match, never mind the fact that we have selected which facts are important to observe and what assumptions about God set up the facts we want to select. For example consider the flip flop that has happened in regard to these prayer studies. Back in the day when they were being done (late 80s, early 90s) they were big news the atheists were on defensive grasping at whatever straws they could to answer, since they had no counter studies and counter data. One of the major arguments they used to make on every message board, every blog, ever news group where this was debated was that you can’t control for outside prayer. The defenders of the studies, such as Dr. Byrd and Dr. Harris did their own straw-clutching to answer this argument about control. Since that time, however, thing have turned around. A study with the largest data base was done that showed very little or no difference in the two groups. The atheists have gone ape making the argument that “prayer is disproved.” The study detractors (now the theists) argue “you can’t control for outside prayer, the argument atheists used to make. The atheists say “O sure you can.” When I point out that they used to make this argument themselves many of them have said “no atheist ever argued that.” How quickly we forget. I remember. I have the article. Gary P Posner did argue it:

The most striking flaw in this study's methodology is one forthrightly acknowledged by Byrd. "It was assumed that some of the patients in both groups would be prayed for by people not associated with the study; this was not controlled for ... Therefore, 'pure' groups were not attained in this study." In other words, the focus of the study - prayer - was "not controlled for," except that three to seven intercessors were assigned to pray daily for each patient in the IP group, and none was assigned to the controls. Thus, although unlikely, it is nevertheless theoretically possible that the control group received as many prayers as did the IP group, if not more.

If "intercessory prayer" was not controlled, except that each IP patient was assumed to have received somewhere between X+3 and X+7 prayers daily, as opposed to X+0 for the control patients, what are we to conclude? That God is conditioned in a Pavlovian manner to automatically respond to the side with the greater number of troops, even though the assigned intercessors had no emotional ties to their patients, and even though the IP patients were otherwise no more worthy of healing as a group than were the controls? Does God not know that the side with fewer troops is in just as much need of assistance? Where is the evidence of his omniscience and compassion?

And what can be said about the evidence for God's omnipotence? It is true, assuming that Byrd's data are valid, that in the IP group, 5 percent fewer patients needed diuretics, 7 percent fewer needed antibiotics, 6 percent fewer needed respiratory intubation and/or ventilation, 6 percent fewer developed congestive heart failure, 5 percent fewer developed pneumonia, and 5 percent fewer suffered cardiopulmonary arrest. But no significant differences were found among the other twenty categories, including mortality, despite explicit prayers "for prevention of ... death." And, reports Byrd, "Even though for [the six seemingly significant] variables the P values were less than .05, they could not be considered statistically significant because of the large number of variables examined. I used two methods to overcome this statistical limitation ... [the] severity score, and multivariant [sic] analysis" (emphasis added).[5]

So what happens if we say Posner was right? These studies don’t measure the truth of prayer because you can’t control for outside prayer? The study that shows no difference is meaningless. Of course the atheists will say but the theist still has no facts to back prayer. Of course they are just selecting the facts that support there view. There are facts that back prayer but they are ignored because they counter the ideological assumptions of naturalism. That will be dealt with in subsequent chapters.

The assumptions that Stenger has to make to make his straw man work is that God is exactly as he wants him to be. The reviewer at Simply Einstein (ibid) defends him against the charge of straw man.

The logical purist may object that one can't "prove a negative," that one can no more disprove God than disprove the existence of Santa Claus or an invisible unicorn in the backyard. But the fact that most people do believe in God while rejecting the latter two is part of the point. Given no real reason to believe in Santa Claus or invisible unicorns, people reject such beliefs. Yet they hold tenaciously not only to belief in their God, but specifically to the tenets that their religion teaches about him. It is really these tenets that Stinger is addressing. By showing that they are wrong, like the efficacy of prayer or the notion that God fine-tuned the universe specifically for the sake of existence of humanity, the author demonstrates that belief in God is equally unfounded.[6]

Yet this is not much of a defense. The so called "tenets" are self selected to be one's he picks out that he thinks he can beat. No religious creed or Bible passage commands us to believe on the basis of the fine tuning argument. No scientific argument can disprove the notion that God has fine tuned the universe to bear life. The only thing science can prove about fine tuning is that we can't prove it. On the other hand far greater scientists than Stinger say his arguments against fine tuning are not so good. The person answering mail for John Polkinghorne’s website (formerly physicist at Cambridge second only to Hawking, who retired to be a Christian minister) says:

Stenger did some marginally useful scientific work but his claims are far too dogmatic. As for his suggestion that Anthropic Fine tuning is a non-problem because of his simplistic program MonkeyGod that purports to simulate universes and “show” that anthropic universes are commonplace, I know of no serious cosmologist who takes this seriously. Martin Rees’s “Just Six Numbers” is a good guide to the real science.[7]

Polkinghorne himself says: “I have read several of the books expressing the current outburst of militant atheism, but not the two you mention. My impression is that they are polemical rather than presenting reasoned arguments of a truth-seeking kind, and that they largely depend upon attacking caricature distortions of religious belief.”[8]

Others find the straw man to be Stenger's usual method:

Stinger—a retired physicist who is leveraging his scientific background to try to discredit anything and everything that smacks of spirituality—doesn’t respect his intellectual opponents enough to get their positions right; in some instances he appears to deliberately misrepresent their views; and, most important, his own reasoning is characterized by unremitting carelessness. Moreover, there is a method to his carelessness—it enables him to systematically avoid addressing the tough arguments of his opponents. Hence we find him frequently setting up a straw man by misrepresenting the debate as a simple matter of science and reason versus superstition. Once having defined this as the issue, all he needs to do is assume the attitude of an outraged scientist and heap on the ridicule. But if he had done his homework and taken the trouble to really understand the science and logic supporting quantum spirituality, he would have discovered that it is harder to dismiss than he had imagined. Indeed, the more carefully—and yes, critically—one considers the issues, the more one finds quantum spirituality to
be eminently worthy of serious consideration, as a plausible and measured approach to the most long-standing and intractable questions at the basis of science.[9]

Stenger doesn't deal with what I consider to be the major God arguments, the ground of being stuff of Tillich and Schleiermacher. Like most of the cult of atheism he's in thrall to his own version of science which is laced with metaphysics. Like most of them they think they are being scientific and philosophical when they denounce philosophy and theology and talk about how science is the only form of knowledge, and then they are bringing ontology in through the back door to put fiber into their world view. Stenger's straw man making is standard procedure for the new atheist. They are always spitting out some line with a dashing air of how theology is stupid so they don't have to read it. They know it's stupid even though they haven't read any. The whole point of showing they haven't read is usually because they are getting the ideas wrong but they never seem to care.

The fortress of facts concept is seen in the works of the high priest of New Atheism, Richard Dawkins.

An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.[10]

Intellectually “fulfilled atheist” is code for “we have the facts.” What he’s clearly saying is that it was unsatisfying when we didn’t have the facts, God is still be rejected even though he has no real reason for it, but it’s not satisfying. The only thing that makes it satisfying is when we get a pile of facts. That’s because of the explanatory value. He makes it quite clear this is his motive reason for saying these things that he’s after is expletory power and what constitutes an explanation is a scientifically verifiable fact that can’t be disputed.

An even clearer example:


-Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion. And who, looking at Northern Ireland or the Middle East, can be confident that the brain virus of faith is not exceedingly dangerous? One of the stories told to the young Muslim suicide bombers is that martyrdom is the quickest way to heaven — and not just heaven but a special part of heaven where they will receive their special reward of 72 virgin brides. It occurs to me that our best hope may be to provide a kind of "spiritual arms control": send in specially trained theologians to deescalate the going rate in virgins.[11]

As juxtaposed to the next paragraph:

Well, science is not religion and it doesn't just come down to faith. Although it has many of religion's virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops. Why else would Christians wax critical of doubting Thomas? The other apostles are held up to us as exemplars of virtue because faith was enough for them. Doubting Thomas, on the other hand, required evidence. Perhaps he should be the patron saint of scientists.[12]

The implication is we have the facts, that are why we understand the world. Further implication is that the world is only the surface level of physical workings. The first paragraph is clearly arguing from guilt by association. It’s asserting that if there are some brutal dangerous religious people they must be that way because of religion; therefore all religious people are potentially that way. If a Christian apologist for example were to talk about the Nazis and how their scientifically engaged members conducted inhumane experiments on Jews in concentrating camps, and tried to drawn conclusions about the dangerous nature of science based upon that association, the atheists would set up a howl. It would not take the atheist long to see the fallacy of guilt by association in that case. Never mind that, and let’s also skim over the fact that he’s using a straw man version of faith tailored to make it seem more stupid. While faith per se is not based upon facts there’s nothing in the nature of faith that causes one to ignore facts. He tried to incriminate the joy of discovery which is he hardly in a position to critique since he’s never experienced and can’t understand it. That sense of joy has nothing to do with ignoring facts. For me part of that joy came form the realization that my faith is backed by facts. The more important point is that he’s placing the tailored example of no facts along side the self selected example of fact finding to create the sense of the skeptic haing a huge pile of pile of fact that confirms his world view while in fac the believe purposely rejects having facts. That is a perfect example of the fortress of facts mentality.

While it is anecdotal, evidence from the popular level shows, to some extent, the effects of this kid of thinking upon the rank and file of the atheist movement. There’s a popular website by one of the troops called “God is Imaginary.” It’s far from special, just run of the mill message board sloganeering and propaganda. It does express the fortress of facts mentality clearly.

“God is imaginary: Proof no 11, notice that there is no scientific evidence.”

"There is no scientific evidence indicating that God exists. We all know that. For example:

• God has never left any physical evidence of his existence on earth.

• None of Jesus' "miracles" left any physical evidence either. (see this page)

• God has never spoken to modern man, for example by taking over all the television stations and broadcasting a rational message to everyone.

• The resurrected Jesus has never appeared to anyone. (see this page)

• The Bible we have is provably incorrect and is obviously the work of primitive men rather than God. (see this page)

• When we analyze prayer with statistics, we find no evidence that God is "answering prayers." (see this page)

• Huge, amazing atrocities like the Holocaust and AIDS occur without any response from God.

• And so on…

Let's agree that there is no empirical evidence showing that God exists.

If you think about it as a rational person, this lack of evidence is startling. There is not one bit of empirical evidence indicating that today's "God", nor any other contemporary god, nor any god of the past, exists. In addition we know that:

1. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, we would talk about the "science of God" rather than "faith in God".

2. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, the study of God would be a scientific endeavor rather than a theological one.

3. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, all religious people would be aligning on the God that had been scientifically proven to exist. Instead there are thousands of gods and religions.

The reason for this lack of evidence is easy for any unbiased observer to see. The reason why there is no empirical evidence for God is because God is imaginary."[13]

The major thrust of that bit of flim flam is that “we” (our side) we have all the facts in a great big pile and they don’t have a single one. Most thinking atheists and most scientifically minded atheists put it in terms of “explanatory power.” Appeal to God doesn’t explain the world as well as does science. That’s a more sophisticated version of the fortress of facts. Dawkins has a variation on this argument.

Unfortunately, Dawkins pushes envelope too far. He tries to turn the simple desire to know into a moral virtue in order to make it seem that science is more moral than religion:

Humans have a great hunger for explanation. It may be one of the main reasons why humanity so universally has religion, since religions do aspire to provide explanations. We come to our individual consciousness in a mysterious universe and long to understand it. Most religions offer a cosmology and a biology, a theory of life, a theory of origins, and reasons for existence. In doing so, they demonstrate that religion is, in a sense, science; it's just bad science. Don't fall for the argument that religion and science operate on separate dimensions and are concerned with quite separate sorts of questions. Religions have historically always attempted to answer the questions that properly belong to science. Thus religions should not be allowed now to retreat away from the ground upon which they have traditionally attempted to fight. They do offer both a cosmology and a biology; however, in both cases it is false.[14]

He’s saying that religion is trespassing upon questions of science, yet he doesn’t even bother to point out that religion was there first. Just because people in the prehistoric and ancient worlds mixed religious and scientific explanations—not having developed science religion was all they had to fall back on—doesn’t mean that’s the reason religion came to exist. As science has developed there is no reason why religious people can use it to understand questions that fall into he overlap between the two domains. The questions he’s discussing are overlap questions and modern thinking religious people have used to science to help answer them. In making this point he asserts that science is the fact giving endeavor while religion is content to have faith and do without facts. Of course that’s not a good description of most modern thinking religious people.

Dawkins wants us to think in terms of the fortress of facts, nothing provides scientific facts like science does. Of course he’s not mentioning the fact that it’s only one kind of explanation. There are facets to the question about the origin of life than just the physical workings of evolution. There are questions people have asked for thousands of years that science is not prepared to answer. There are questions that science is not allowed to answer because they are out of its domain. These are questions about the meaning of the life, the reason why life is, and the ultimate “destiny” (for want of a better word) of humans. These are things science can’t tell us they are the reasons religion exits. So the kinds of facts that religion provides the uses for faith are in a different area than those provided by science. The nature of the atheist view point is self selected to focus only upon the kinds of facts that science provides and it offers a biased, fallacious and inaccurate view of religious thinking. It also provides a distorted understanding of what science is. Science is not a pile of facts. Science is not even about fact making. Science is about hypothesis testing; it’s not about proving facts but testing for verification and falsifying premises. The overall “big picture” painted by science is a lot more dependent upon they a particular culture views life than it is the demonstration f a pile of facts.

Not only is this notion of science as a big pile of facts that guarantees an accurate understanding of reality a view that most scientists don’t take to the understanding of science, it’s specifically contradicted by the vast majority of historians and philosophers of science. While there is a great of contradiction between philosophers of science, the one thing they all agree on is that this fortress of facts idea is nonsense. First let’s turn to two major philosophers of science, Karl Popper and Thomas S. Kuhn. These two are destined to be linked since they had a major showdown to so speak over Kuhn’s theory, in the early to mid 60s. In that day Kuhn was thought to have won, his views went on to define philosophy of science for about three decades. I suspect that in this day popper is more popular and is probably now thought to have won. In reality, however, I think talk of who won is foolish because no only is the field still evolving but it’s diversifying and moving away form both, so neither of them won really. There is coming to be a plurality of models. Before going into that I’m going to examine Popper first, then Kuhn. What all of this evolving plurality agrees upon is that science is too complex and problematic to be regarded as anything like a fortress of facts!



[1] Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis:How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007.

[2] Jerry Petersen, Simply Einstein, Review “Victor J. Stinger, God the Failed Hypothesis.” Online web page:

URL http://simplycharly.com/einstein/victor_stenger_god_the_failed_hypothesis_review.html visited Jan 31, 2012.

[4] Petersen, ibid.

[5] Secular web

Gary P. Posner, “God in the ICU? A Criticique of San Franscisco Hospital Study of Intercessory prayer and Healing.” Originally published in Free Inquiry spring 1990, Secular Web URLhttp://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gary_posner/godccu.html

[6] Petersen,ibid

[7] John Polikinghorne’s staff, formerly on Polikinghorne’s official website, now Star Course, “Polikinghorne Q and A, Stenger and Hitchens. On line reseruce: URL http://www.starcourse.org/jcp/qanda.html#Stenger_and_Hitchens visited Summer 2011.last visited Jan 2 2012.

[8] Polkinghorne,ibid

[9] David Sharf, “Pseudo Science and Stenger’s Quantum gods: Mistaken, Misinformed, and Misleading.” NeuroQuantology, Vol 8, No 1 (2010), online copy URL: http://www.neuroquantology.com/index.php/journal/article/viewArticle/272 visited Jan 2 2012 Sharf received his Ph.D. in 1986 from Johns Hopkins University, in the philosophy of physics. The title of his dissertation was: Quantum Mechanics and the Program for the Unity of Science

[10] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker. Why The Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,inc. 2004, 6.

[11] Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion,” The Humanist: A Magazine of Critical inquiry and Social Concern, Jan-feb 1997, on line copy URL: http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles/dawkins.html

visited Feb 2, 2012

[12] ibid

[13] “God is Imaginary” Example no 11 no scientific evidence URL: http://godisimaginary.com/i11.htm

visited 1/30/2012

[14] Dawkins, ibid.


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