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God Did It

Entry 1797, on 2016-06-17 at 23:31:14 (Rating 4, Religion)

One of the most common tricks that religious people use to escape the fact that their beliefs have been refuted by scientific knowledge is to try to assimilate the new ideas into their own, but add the element of divine intervention.

Here's an example: Traditionally Christians have believed that life was created by God in a few days and that nothing much has changed since then. But since the Theory of Evolution was developed and since the extraordinary amount of evidence supporting it has been discovered that original myth is no longer viable. So now a common response (apart from just denying the facts as many fundamentalists do) is to say "Sure, evolution is true. That's how God works with life".

Another example might be the origin of the Universe. The Bible gives an account of this in Genesis and that's exactly what people believed until science uncovered the real facts regarding the Big Bang event about 13.7 billion years ago. So the Christians (again, those who don't simply deny the overwhelming evidence) now say "But who started the Big Bang? Of course, it was God".

In reality, this brand of believer (it's not just Christians) could summarise their ideas in three simple words: "God did it".

I recently heard an interesting analogy. When I walk into a room and turn on the light most people would accept that closing the light switch simply allows the electricity to flow to the bulb which then emits light. But using the "God did it" gambit I could say instead that the "Light Fairy" did it. Flicking the switch is simply a signal for the fairy to do her magical work and provide me with light.

What I'm saying is that God and the fairy aren't necessary. Adding that extra element provides no extra level of knowledge we didn't already have. It just makes things unnecessarily complex.

In addition to this it is entirely arbitrary. If we were going to add an extra layer of control to evolution (or any other phenomenon) why should it be God? Why not advanced aliens? Or psychic powers? And if it is a god, then which one? What's so special about the Christian God? Could it be Thor or Zeus instead?

Some people say there are particular aspects of these processes which indicate a supernatural power must be involved. After all, how could a "blind" process like the naturalistic form of evolution lead to advanced life? Wouldn't a "guided" form be more likely?

Well no. Let's look at how evolution has worked. Over 99% of species which have existed in the past have gone extinct. Does that sound like how a god would operate? It seems very inefficient to me. But let's just say that is a viable process for a god to use. What would have happened if we found the exact opposite: that every species was successful? That would have sounded even more like a god, wouldn't it? And, no doubt, the religious people would be pointing out how their god was responsible.

So it doesn't matter what the facts are, the "God did it" hypothesis can be invoked and it can never be proved wrong. It can't be wrong, because it isn't something that can be tested. But because of that, it can't be right either. It's actually worse than something that is wrong.

If we test evolution instead we can find many ways it might be wrong. If every species was successful evolution would immediately be disproved because elimination of some species while others survive is its main mechanism. If one type of life didn't lead to another through gradual change evolution would also be disproved because small mutations being selected and eventually dominating is an evolutionary mechanism.

And what about the Big Bang? Well for it to be true there has to be some precise observations which agree with theory. The universe has to be expanding, there has to be certain abundances of elements, there has to be background radiation left over from the initial expansion, and several other more minor points. So what do we find? Well all of those requirements are satisfied, including a cosmic microwave background exactly as expected if the Big Bang is true.

But God could still be involved, right? Maybe the cosmic microwave background is just a remnant of the process he used. Sure, maybe. And if there was none then God could still be involved. And if the temperature had been 1 or 5 or 100 or 500 instead of 2.72548 then maybe that was the sign of God. Again, anything is possible because "God did it" is just not a theory.

Not only is it not a theory, but it is nothing. It's a childish, meaningless inanity which isn't even worthy of discussion - yes, I understand the irony in the fact that I have just used a blog post to do just that!

If anyone wants to use this in a serious discussion then we need a few details. You know, the sort of details which science gives us, like when, how, or where God did it. Then we can do some serious testing and see whether there really is any merit in the idea. Until then, these religious types should just keep the silly fairy tales where they belong and let the adults get on with the real discussions of reality.


Comment 1 (4498) by Richard on 2016-06-19 at 21:41:38: (view recent only)

You are too hard on yourself Owen. It's not an irony that you have used a whole blog post to discuss this 'God did it' issue. It's clearly been discussed for thousands of years. If it was as simple as you suggest to dismiss it then of course one would wonder why there is any debate left. In fact there is (and will always be) debate left, because your discussion has missed some basic points of logic.

There are in fact quite a few specific themes in this post with logic problems, but your main complaint appears to be: Because the 'God did it' argument can never be fully tested, (and you are right, it can't, for quite rational reasons) it thus can't be proved wrong. You've then said 'But, because of that, it can't be right either. It's actually worse than something that's wrong'.

Sorry - this is obviously false. Just because something is not fully testable, does not make it wrong by definition. There are loads of ideas that cannot be tested, but could still be right. There are a number of ideas about the precise composition at the centre of the earth for example, and none can be conclusively tested (at least with current science). Does that mean that ALL ideas about it must be wrong, until science 'catches up'? Of course not - one of the possible theories must be right, whether we can 'test it' or not.

Of course there are only two possible theories about the origin of the universe under discussion. One is that it was the result of purely natural processes (the atheist view) OR it was the result of 'some supernatural process'- i.e. 'God did it' (the view of theists). Of course you are quite right - it could be any God - that's a different discussion, using different evidence.

The problem that you fail to admit, is of course that BOTH views suffer from your 'untestable by science' issue, because of the very obvious and logical inability of science to observe things that are 'outside the current universe'. Anything science CAN observe is by definition a part of this universe, and thus a part of the 'created' universe, not a part of the creating 'whatever it is' - whether natural or supernatural).

Clearly, you aren't willing to suggest that the atheist view therefore must be wrong, because it too is actually an untestable and unprovable idea. So this whole line of argument is a red herring - and why philosophers have gotten past that for centuries.

You have also suggested that the Big Bang is somehow sciences answer to the creation of the universe. But again, that's a logic flaw. The Big Bang is obviously the scientifically observable EFFECT of the act of the creation of the universe, not its CAUSE. That creation effect MUST logically have a cause, that MUST logically by definition be unobservable (i.e. because it must be a cause that exists outside the universe that was created), and therefore it's only ones philosophy not science that forces the ruling out the notion of a supernatural intelligence being the cause, rather than forcing by philosophical fiat, that a natural cause as the only acceptable answer.

In fact all the science ever done in history, supports the theists idea that NOTHING is completely incapable of creating ANYTHING let alone a universe with such exquisite fine tuning and detail as the one we observe. It's actually the atheist that equally has to supply a serious discussion of how the universe came into existence out of absolutely nothing. Needless to say - this hasn't happened so far.


Comment 2 (4499) by OJB on 2016-06-20 at 16:37:37:

There is debate on many things where there shouldn't be debate. Global warming, the safety of vaccination, etc. Where there are deniers of facts there will be debate. It's just not honest, intellectual debate.

You said "Just because something is not fully testable, does not make it wrong by definition". Yes, that was my point. I specifically said "... it can never be proved wrong" and it's "...worse than something that is wrong".

You say "...BOTH views suffer from your 'untestable by science' issue..." Well, no. I provided a list of evidence for the Big Bang which is clearly testable.

You seem to be resorting to the old "god of the gaps" again. Science has explained the origin of the universe back to tiny fraction of a second but maybe a god was responsible for what happened before that. And once that's explained then there will be some other gap where god might fit. Not very convincing, is it?

Actually all the science ever done supports philosophical naturalism. There has never been a materialist scientific idea replaced with a theological one, but there have been plenty the other way! The gaps that your god can fit into get smaller every day.


Comment 3 (4500) by richard on 2016-06-20 at 20:30:53:

You missed the point - no one is denying facts here. I have no problem with the Big Bang evidence. In fact it was the scientific evidence that supports the notion that the Universe had a beginning, (as theists always said, and were long ridiculed by the scientists who thought the universe was always there) - until science eventually caught up. But you clearly have missed my point, that the Big bang is not the natural cause of the universe, it's the evidence of the effect.

It IS science that makes us understand that any big bang ALWAYS has a cause, and that cause is not the big bang itself. Same applies to even the smallest bang actually. If you hear a knock at the door, do you say, aaah I know every detail about the physics of that bang - and thus there was no cause outside of it? Of course not - you'd be ridiculed for not recognising that something outside the bang, caused the bang and not going to answer the door. Sure - It could have been a natural cause - a branch blown by the wind, or it could have been designed - someone knocked. But to suggest the bang is itself the cause of the bang is nonsense of the worst kind.

Yes - I am happy to agree that as our knowledge of natural causes has advanced, we can rightly attribute things to natural causes that were attributed to God. So...? No problem there. Remember I am not trying to make a case for the truth of theism in this discussion, I am simply making the case that for you to use that old chestnut to try to make a case against theism, is unfounded, and whats worse is that it's scientifically and logically unsupportable. There's a difference in the arguments you are not grasping I think.

Also - re all the 'science' supporting philosophical naturalism - it must be pointed out that actually, as much as I really do love 'science' - it does no such thing. In fact 'Science' doesn't actually 'say' anything, since it is just a (wonderful) methodology. It's only scientists who interpret the evidence gained from that methodology and 'say something'. Hopefully that something is not according to their philosophical presupposition ( a charge that yes can and will be applied both ways). There is lots of science out there that strongly challenges naturalism, which is my somewhat obvious point - in that if this were not the case, then the debate would indeed be over. And yet - it's not...

There may well never be a materialistic scientific idea replaced by a theological one, of course - but that's precisely because of the above definition (and philosophical naturalist prescribed limits) of science to 'natural' observations and conclusions. Science merely provides evidence as I tried to explain.

In fact, the Big Bang for example - is considered by a great many scientists to be the natural evidence that points to the universe (in all it's incredibly fine tuned complexity) having a beginning, which in turn quite logically demands a 'cause' that is (a) immaterial (before the universe there was nothing material), (b) very VERY powerful (the bigger the bang, the more power required - that's science), (c) Personal (i.e. a MIND - because again it's science that has proven that 'Nothing' has NO ability to 'decide' to change state - which science (the big bang again remember) has proven IS exactly what took place.

It is pure science alone that over the last 100 years or so, has proven time and time again that the statistical probability of the origin of life itself, is so remote as to be literally unsupportable without 'some agency involvement'. That science certainly suggests a theological conclusion, because although a natural idea like aliens might be a satisying theory, it begs the same questions of 'where did they originate'. Yet the obvious theoloigcal implication is conveniently ignored as too uncomfortable, with a vain hope that science will 'one day' find some natural answer, (talk about naturalism of the gaps)! All the while actually recognising that you won't get 'yet more' science to somehow reverse the odds - they won't change with more research - not when in fact the more research that's done, the more barriers are discovered.

So clearly, it is the interpretation of the same scientific evidence by scientists that is different, when you inexplicably still try to use it to say that it 'supports your naturalism'. So again, it appears that no matter what scientific evidence will arise to support theism, it will be denied by those with a naturalist bias.


Comment 4 (4501) by OJB on 2016-06-20 at 21:09:49:

The Big Bang is an explanation of the origin of the Universe. It is a specific and testable theory which has plenty of support. No religious idea (that I know of) is specific enough to be testable. That was my point. All the theistic ideas really say is "god did it". That would be like science saying "god didn't do it". Would you find that useful?

No, so instead science says "the Big Bang should have created a microwave background with these specific features" and guess what? That's what we find. Why do theistic theories not make any specific predictions like that? Because they aren't theories, they are silly fairy tales!

That was my key point in the blog post. All the rest of your comment is just a diversion, which I'm not going to refute here because these comments are starting to get big again!


Comment 5 (4504) by Richard on 2016-06-21 at 20:35:07:

Yeah - Short comment then. Repeating a clearly false assertion about the Big Bang doesn't make any righter then next time, sorry. Of course it's a testable theory, but it ain't a solution to your claim either.

So, science is able to detect microwave background - absolutely - proves the Big bang i.e. a smoking gun. Great (for theists). Doesn't answer the question whether the 'gun' fired itself or was fired 'on purpose'. Simple logic really.

You do realise I agreeing with you there is a 'problem' with finding evidence within the universe for something theorised to be outsode it. I am just pointing out for other readers that to use that problem as an argument that God therefore can't exist, is also faulty logic. That's all. Cheers.


Comment 6 (4505) by OJB on 2016-06-22 at 13:34:18:

Well unfortunately, yet again you miss the point. Whether we have a cause for the Big Bang or not is not they key issue here. We could debate whether it even needs a cause but let's not start that.

The problem is this: people who want a supernatural explanation look for gaps in the science (such as a cause of the Big Bang, assuming it needs one) and say "that's where God did it". That's just the old "god of the gaps" trick.

But even that would be OK if we had some detail, like how, where, or when God did it. But there's nothing because it isn't a theory. It's just a desperate attempt to justify an ancient superstition. With no detail it can never be proved wrong, but it can't be right either. That's why I said it's worse than something which is wrong.


Comment 7 (4506) by Richard on 2016-06-23 at 13:55:32:

No - I specifically addressed your point quite reasonably, pointing out why your original assertion in this post is logically flawed. Your assertion - repeated a number of times in this thread, is that Theism isn't a theory, just an attempt to justify an ancient superstition. OK - You are welcome to hold that opinion, but to assert to others that it can be derived from the really rather obvious fact that science can't (and never will by definition) be capable of detecting 'God' directly, is quite simply poor logic. It is precisely why science and philosophy are seperate disciplines, (with btw, science relying on philosophy for it's definitions and rules).

Look at it the other way - let's 'pretend' for a moment God did do it. The increasing level at which science has been able to detect the physical effects of that creation act (with the current level being the Big Bang - and who knows there may indeed be more still levels to be discovered) aren't logically going to answer that qn. What evidence (of the material only type that science is able to detect) would you expect would satisfy you that this evidence is the answer to the question 'God did it after all'. Clearly that is a tough one for you, seeing as the biggest piece of evidence there is, the scientific facts of the appearance of the entire Universe itself from absolutely nothing, in exquisite fine tuning and precision, isn't enough 'scientific evidence' for you.

There isn't anything in ALL the current evidence that destroys the notion 'God did it', and while I DO understand Owen that this is your complaint abut the 'God did it' argument - I am just here to say it's NOT a logical flaw in the argument, and certainly not justification in itself for dismissing the view. This is why I point out for readers that may not have caught the error in your post that it is (unfortunately for you, and indeed all of us) just the nature of the particular investigation. We just need to get over it, and have a closer look at the evidence we DO have available to us.


Comment 8 (4507) by OJB on 2016-06-23 at 14:42:50:

I have blogged in the past about this idea that "god" cannot be studied by science. I think it's untrue, unless you define god as something that science cannot study, and if you do that then you really do beg the question.

But all of these philosophical points you are attempting to use to obfuscate my original claim are irrelevant. I was really making a point regarding the practical use of the "god" theory. Science has found that any theory without the backup of empirical evidence is generally pointless.

So for any theory involving god there should be a way to confirm or deny it. My point was that theistic "theories" (they aren't theories in the scientific sense) don't have sufficient detail to be testable, and that they are sufficiently imprecise so that they can be twisted to fit new facts as they arise.

They may be interesting little theological conjectures, but they are nothing more.


Comment 9 (4555) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-22 at 13:14:00:

1) “And what about the Big Bang? Well for it to be true…”

2) “…there has to be some precise observations which agree with theory. The universe has to be expanding, there has to be certain abundances of elements, there has to be background radiation left over from the initial expansion, and several other more minor points.

3) “Well all of those requirements are satisfied, including a cosmic microwave background”

4) “exactly as expected if the Big Bang is true.”

Your argument is circular reasoning.


Comment 10 (4556) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-22 at 13:14:25:

When the light switch is flipped, Zeus, the God of Electricity, causes the light to turn on (or the laws of electricity). Zeus and various other gods, elementals, spirits, and so forth are all of the type “god of the gap”. Their very origin and purpose is an explanation for or interaction with natural phenomena. This is a fundamental property. These types of gods have been replaced by science.

The laws of electricity explain why the light turns on, but it is not the only type of explanation available. It is just as valid to say the light turned on when the switch was thrown because the electrician built it that way. This is forever independent of any scientific law.

Had you instead claimed “The fairy installed the circuit”, I would have asked “show me the fairy’s work order and building permit”, *not* “science has disproven the existence of fairies” or “science has disproven the need for rooms to be built to exist”. It’s just as falacious to respond to “God created the universe” with “science has disproven the existence of God”. It’s begging the question. If you want to know if the fairy is real, you have to examine the evidence.* Unlike Zeus, the installer ‘fairy’ is required and provides an extra level of knowledge.

You have equivocated two types (or classes) of gods. The creator God (of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is not a “god of the gaps”. The creator God is completely compatible with scientific breakthroughs. Pushing the electrician analogy to its logical conclusion, science can say nothing about God, but God can say something about science. A Christian is justified in saying “God created the universe and life” without contradicting science. But science is not justified in saying that “God did not create the universe”.

“God did it” provides additional information over “science did it”. Might I suggest that the “additional information” is of the type you are unwilling to accept? If “God did it” that would be revolutionary, wouldn’t it?

That you’ve found non-intellectual fundamentalists who make stupid statements about God and science is not a terribly interesting rebuttal of God’s existence.

* If you want to make the metaphysical assumption that science is the only path to knowledge and that God, by circular definition, cannot exist, then at least be honest about this. Richard Dawkins, for example, is not willing to do this.


Comment 11 (4557) by OJB on 2016-10-22 at 13:14:47:

The reasoning isn’t circular. Let me put it this way…

1. We formulate an hypothesis on how the universe might have originated. Let’s call it the Big Bang hypothesis.

2. If it is true then we should see some particular phenomena in the real world. We look for those and find them, at the exact level the hypothesis predicts. In fact, it is even better than that because at least one of the phenomena was observed before the hypothesis was created, completely independently and without the knowledge of the creators.

3. This supports the idea so it becomes a theory. Further support occurs because alternative theories do not agree with new observations.

4. Some observations don’t quite fit with the simplistic original hypothesis so a few modifications are required. These go through further testing and fit, so they are assimilated into the theory.

5. We keep looking for alternatives and none have any credibility at this point. The theory is at least a good model of reality although there might be more precise models which replace it in future.


Comment 12 (4558) by OJB on 2016-10-22 at 13:15:01:

Regarding your second comment… I think most people’s idea of god is *not* compatible with science because scientific concepts require falsifiability. Either the creator god created the universe but that can never be detected, or it can be detected and we don’t see any sign of it. So either the god is some abstract concept which is unscientific, or he/she/it just doesn’t exist. I guess a third option is that here is evidence but we haven’t seen it yet. In that case we are justified in saying the god don’t exist as an interim conclusion (and all conclusions are interim, I guess).


Comment 13 (4559) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-22 at 17:28:47:

I’ve expanded your original argument to include the next paragraph:
1) If ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ are true, then ‘A’ is true
2) ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ are true. ‘Z’ is extra importantly true.
3) Assuming ‘A’ is true, then ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ would be true.
4) Therefore, because ‘X’,’Y’, and ‘Z’ are true, ‘A’ is true.
5) Because ‘A’ is true, God is not required.

Where ‘A’ is ‘Big Bang Theory’, ‘X’ is ‘expanding universe’, ‘Y’ is ‘abundance of elements’, and ‘Z’ is ‘CMB’

#3 is circular with #1. However, #3 isn’t even required in the argument. You can go straight from #2 to #4 and the rest of the argument is deductively valid.

Your reply to me exposes an additional problem.

You’ve described basic hypothesis and theory formation, something every young student learns in science class. The theory is derived from observations and observations are predicted by the theory. They are not independent, but circular: a feedback loop. #1 is not a deductively valid statement.

No set of observations proves a theory. A set of observations can potentially be explained by any number of competing theories. We use a theory to predict additional observations to lend increased *weight* to our theory. But it can never completely rule out competing theories that explain the observations.

You’ve attempted to mix inductive reasoning with deductive reasoning.

Instead you must say “If ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’ are true, then ‘A’ is probably true”, and change your conclusion to “Because ‘A’ is probably true, God is probably not required”.

I agree with you that there is no reason for a “god of the gaps” in the Big Bang Theory (with the exception of the initial singularity). But you overstate the strength of your argument and use it to derive fallacious conclusions. The only reason I’m wasting so much time arguing over something I agree with you on is because it does nobody any good to use bad arguments. The bad arguments distract from the real points I was trying to make.

If you had instead said, “God could intervene in creation whenever he wanted, but the evidence shows that the vast majority of the time he keeps his hands out of it”, then I would agree that this is a logically and scientifically valid stance. It would be a more nuanced explanation that would get you farther with fundamentalists (among others). But for you to claim that it is impossible? Then I would ask you to show me what the measured uncertainty is for the Big Bang Theory.


Comment 14 (4560) by OJB on 2016-10-22 at 17:30:09:

OK, let’s forget the general theoretical approach and the X, Y, and Z, and I will describe the actual facts of what happened…

At the time the Big Bang theory was being formulated some engineers were doing completely independent radio research and found an unusual signal they couldn’t explain. The people working on the Big Bang theorised that a signal should be visible which was a remnant of the original expansion.
News of the signal reached the Big Bang theorists and the spectrum matched very closely what they expected through theory. Plus there was no other theory which predicted that signal.

This is very strong support for the theory (just one of many forms of support) and I really cannot see any way you can call this circular!


Comment 15 (4565) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-23 at 11:06:33:

To which scientific philosophical school do you subscribe? Inductivism (David Hume), Falsificationism (Karl Popper), or Bayesianism?

You described theory formation as (1) Observe (2) Hypothesize/Theorize (3) Predict (4) Repeat. This is a circular *process*, not circular reasoning. The formation of the Big Bang Theory (as you stated it) follows this. It requires the use of inductive reasoning.

Your anecdote just shows that the theory was formed from other observations which were used to predict the radio observations. These were then used to refine and expand the theory. The lack of independence is obvious: If there is undetected flaw (either in observation or induction) at any stage of the process, it potentially affects every step in every later iteration.

It becomes circular reasoning when you use deduction to show that the observation proves the theory or the theory proves the observation. Instead you can say that the two agree (Unsurprisingly! That’s the point of the process and it hasn’t be falsified yet) and we have a certain level of confidence in its value. That’s all you are justified in saying.

It becomes circular reasoning if you use the scientific method to prove the scientific method. This is what happens when you claim God is not required because the scientific method is adequate to explain everything. See Hume’s problem of induction.

You want badly to use science to make God obsolete, but you are not logically justified. This post is an elaborate way of using science to state an opinion.


Comment 16 (4566) by OJB on 2016-10-23 at 11:06:52:

I don’t ascribe to any particular school although I admire the work of philosophers such as Hume and Russell. My entire philosophical perspective is one of practicality. I know we can never know any absolute truth, but we need to believe reality exists and that we can get arbitrarily close to certainty based on repeated and carefully controlled experimentation and observation.

The fact that the completely independent observation supported the theoretical prediction gives strong support to the theory. Does it prove it? No. Can we prove anything? Outside of logic and maths, no. I’m sure you are aware that science is primarily based on inductive reasoning so this should be no surprise.

Sorry if I misinterpreted your idea as circular logic. I’m not totally sure what the circularity you refer to actually is then, except that all the threads of evidence are based on the same basic philosophy of empiricism.


Comment 17 (4567) by OJB on 2016-10-23 at 11:07:33:

I just read your comment again and it seems to be the scientific method itself which you object to. You seem to think the scientific method is used to justify itself. I’m not sure if that is entirely accurate. I would say that the scientific method can be justified on two counts: 1, unlike every other method humanity has used it gets consistent results; and 2, it makes logical sense in a deeper way.

If I was asked to create a technique to establish the truth I would come up with something like: hypothesise, test, confirm, repeat, modify, etc. I would recommend double-blinding and independent testing. In other words, the scientific method.

I realise the theory and practice of science don’t always match but I challenge anyone to come up with something better.


Comment 18 (4570) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-23 at 11:59:58:

OJB said: “it seems to be the scientific method itself which you object to”.

I’m a cross between an Inductivist and a Bayesian. I have a fair level of hostility towards frequentistism because of how horribly it is misapplied. It is probably most accurate to say I object to how some people define the scientific method or the philosophy behind it.

OJB said: “I realise the theory and practice of science don’t always match but I challenge anyone to come up with something better.”

I’m going to try! In all seriousness though, I think it’s more a problem of being incomplete than being wrong.


Comment 19 (4571) by OJB on 2016-10-23 at 12:00:16:

No one really seems to know what the scientific method is. Popper emphasised falsifiability and that is important, but as you said, induction is key obviously, and Bayesian analysis (prior probabilities, etc) is important, amongst other things. I love philosophy but I don't let it get on the way of reality or practicality.

Yes, science is often accused of being incomplete. There is good reason for this. It is dangerous to pursue ideas with poor support or you can be easily lead into fantasy. So science doesn't study the supernatural world because first, there is no reason to think it even exits; and second, there are no tools to reliably test it if it did exist.


Comment 20 (4572) by OJB on 2016-10-23 at 12:06:39:

Let me modify that comment slightly. Science *can* study the supernatural world where it overlaps the "real" world. For example, science has studied prayer, and tested creation stories. Again, all that is required is that the claim is sufficient precise that it can be tested and falsified or confirmed.


Comment 21 (4575) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 08:56:04:

“I think most people’s idea of god is *not* compatible with science”

Most scientists and religious people have framed the debate as an ‘either-or’. The highest percentage of fundamentalism in my experience is with the scientists, but it is frustratingly high with the religious. I broadly agree with your statement.

“…we need a few details…like when, how, or where God did it.”

First, a creator God is not constrained by his creation.

Second, if God used natural processes, this is way more impressive than magic hand-waving.

Third, the creator God has the *ability* to intervene, but we would not expect large-scale violations (See the second point). Certainly none that would violate free-will. We’d expect any scientific evidence of God to be at the level of events, rather than the level of natural laws.

Fourth, the Big Bang Theory is the first real ‘scientific evidence’ of God that I’ve seen. That science could postulate a non-scientific event (the beginning) is a facinating discovery in light of the Bible always saying that the universe had a beginning, even when the steady state theory was commonly held.

“It can be detected and we don’t see any sign of it.”

Let’s get back to my original post where I lay out a difference in types of gods. A god of the gaps can only, by definition, contradict science. I reject these as much as you do. But a creator God is not constrained by his creation. Why can’t he choose to interact with his creation? How would one see signs of this kind of God? I can think of quite a few, each will require a lot of discussion to enunciate:
1) Meaning
2) Miracles (non-scientific events)
3) Instances where highly improbable, but still scientific events turn out to be true.
4) Absolute/Objective/Universal morality and intuition (and its cousin revelation)
5) Messengers and messages from God
6) Sentience
7) Supernatural

Let me ask the question that gets asked every atheist everywhere: what would it take to convince you that God exists?


Comment 22 (4576) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 08:56:29:

I think you’re letting your religious bias interfere with a logical analysis of this question. I haven’t mentioned your religious background before (I have tried to treat your points on merit instead) but it’s becoming increasingly obvious, and to the detriment of a fair an unbiased appraisal of science.

You still haven’t provided any details (which could be tested) about any creation theory you might be supporting. Many religious people make such vague statements that was soon as I disprove one aspect they just say something like “no, that’s not what I meant” and move the goal posts. Scientific theories make specific predictions, what about religious theories?

You use a “G” for god, so I assume you mean a specific god. Which one? Which interpretation of which one? (see my comments above). Do you mean what would I need to believe in the supernatural in general?


Comment 23 (4577) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 08:57:38:

“I think you’re letting your religious bias interfere with a logical analysis of this question.”

No I don’t think so (although it depends what “this question” is). I’m separating what science can say about God from what you are saying about God. Again, it’s a methodological problem: your conclusion that God is a childish notion is simply not supported by your scientific arguments. Whenever I talk with atheists I attempt to get them to admit that this is ultimately their best highly-educated *opinion*. Gives a good foundation to discuss other topics. I think you’ve stated a fair and appropriately nuanced viewpoint. It’s not a terrible starting point.

I am trying to lead the discussion into a “proof” that God is compatible with science. That is my thesis (bias) and I don’t mind stating that up front. But I have yet to give any meaningful defense. I’ve only introduced the primary points.

“god” = “god of the gaps”, “God” = “creator God”. Any of the the Abrahamic religions’ “God” will do for now. I am a heretical Christian, but unless you find it interesting, I won’t focus on it. You will not get traditional religious arguments out of me.

Well I’ve already stated most of my beliefs in the last post. I do believe God created the universe. I don’t require any particular divine intervention in science. I’m quite satisfied letting “nature run its course”. I find it way more impressive and likely that God created the scientific laws than that he had to violate them in some way. But this is not his only valid way of interacting with his creation. Is there something more specific you want to know?

I don’t move goal posts unless you convince me I’m wrong.

Yes, what would you need to believe in the supernatural? I’d like to focus my responses on that. Too many bullet points otherwise.


Comment 24 (4578) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 08:58:33:

Well, as I said above, there should be areas where the supernatural world intersects with the “real” world. Those areas should be able to be studied using conventional scientific techniques. Yet when this is done the conclusions in general reject the need for a supernatural interpretation. For example, efficacy of prayer studies vary a bit, but in general the results of the best studies are negative. This is a similar result for other highly unlikely phenomena like ESP, etc.


Comment 25 (4579) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 08:59:21:

Let’s try a case study and examine Ravi Zacharias. I’ve included a link to the mp3 on “Chariots of Fire, Part 3 of 3” where he discusses a miracle. You can hear it from 2:15 to 6:08.

There is a message from God and a healing miracle. The supernatural event was separate from the miracle itself. While the healing could be attributed to a natural cause, this is unlikely due the high improbability (after 27 years) and the supernatural cause (the delivered message). It is true that even if the healing can be medically (scientifically) verified and explained, there is no scientific way to confirm that the message was genuine.

If you hang out with Christians enough, you’ll run into these stories often. It either indicates mass fraud by persons you wouldn’t normally consider fraudulent, evidence of the supernatural, or coincidence.
Regardless, it’s not fair to say that there is *no* evidence of the supernatural. Naturalistic explanations are insufficient to disprove the supernatural in these cases. If you make up your mind that *any* highly improbable event is coincidence by definition, then you can’t believe in the supernatural. But that’s only because you’ve decided ahead of time that this is your belief.
Reference: http://rzimmedia.rzim.org/LMPT/LMP20130803.mp3.


Comment 26 (4580) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 08:59:44:

Oh, come on! I expected better from you. Some Christian nut job thinks he has been cured so that’s evidence? Really? I mean, people think they have been cured because they appealed to any god you care to name, or used any ridiculous remedy on offer, including placebos. You need to do better than this. If prayer works we should see that through systematic studies, not anecdotes for people who already believe that particular form of superstition. Sorry to be so direct but I’m actually quite horrified you would even offer such nonsense!


Comment 27 (4581) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 09:00:10:

I’m not asking you to believe it. I have no need to believe it. Belief in it is completely irrelevant.

I’m just asking for your explanation. If your answer is “it didn’t happen, he made it up, the two people in the story colluded to debunk gullible followers for money”, then fine. But I want to know your opinion. There is no reason to get upset because I chose this as a hypothetical.

I picked something that you would find outrageous and be sure to reject. I’ve obviously accomplished that goal. Almost every time I discuss the scientific possibility of miracles, I get a naturalistic explanation. This one does not have a naturalistic explanation (as far as I can tell), so it should avoid that leg of the discussion. It’s supposed to save us time.


Comment 28 (4582) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 09:00:33:

There’s nothing to explain. People get these things wrong all the time. If someone investigated the claim more thoroughly an explanation might be found. I wonder, for example, how often during those 27 years this person asked for help and didn’t get it. How often do people get better spontaneously? How much is imagination? We don’t know any of this, which is why we use proper experimental design to investigate these claims instead of taking anecdotes seriously.


Comment 29 (4583) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 09:00:56:

“If prayer works we should see that through systematic studies, not anecdotes for people who already believe that particular form of superstition.”

I’ll admit I’m trying to challenge assumptions. But on what basis do you make this claim? Why should God be a vending machine? I don’t see any metaphysical necessity for this claim. In fact, the case study I cited actually notes that faith healings and the things you mention don’t work.


Comment 30 (4584) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 09:01:07:

Every other topic we study doesn’t magically stop working just because it is being studied. If this does happen regarding the investigation of faith-based phenomena then that is just special pleading.


Comment 31 (4585) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 09:01:26:

As an aside, I think you’ve overreacted significantly here. I’ll admit I was taken aback by your emotional outburst, so I wrote my other responses quickly. I usually don’t like to bang out quick responses. But if we are going to have an intellectual discussion about the supernatural, we should be able to examine some claims, whether they are dubious or not, and discuss them. You seem under the false impression that I didn’t think you would find it to be nonsense. I counted on that!


Comment 32 (4586) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 09:01:41:

Yeah fair enough. For a religious person you had been quite rational up until then. Then that nonsense! I should have known it was a trap! :)


Comment 33 (4587) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 09:02:08:

We don’t know each other’s standards of evidence. Anecdotal evidence is a part of science. I ‘conclude’ that there is insufficient evidence to reject the supernatural. Anecdotal evidence is part of that. There are too many factors you just gloss over. Things like fraud, misinterpretation, and coincidence are not enough to explain them. You obviously disagree strongly, so we can just move on. It’s a complex topic I’ve not spent enough time looking at because for me the supernatural is not important for belief in God. That’s clearly not the case for everyone.

I’m not saying that supernatural effects would stop simply because they are studied. I’m saying the negative results of the things studied are unsurprising. Is anyone surprised that mass faith healings are not effective? The anecdotal evidence supports this. I would expect a creator God to be driving the show, not the other way around. Prayers are going in the wrong direction.

What I want to see is studies (either formal or informal) that focus on sudden unexplained healings and see if there is a correlation to various kinds of religious belief: are some religions better than others or is the effect general? Does the specific set of beliefs or practices matter? Is there any reason to believe that instances of miracles are frequent enough to rise above the noise?

How would one distinguish a real faith healing from the placebo effect? Requiring it to be blind would eliminate a lot of potential legitimate healings from consideration. Any effect that might be discovered could plausibly be denied as supernatural. So it’s probably a research dead-end, but I hope they keep studying it.


Comment 34 (4588) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 09:02:28:

You make it seem like my dismissal of the paranormal is just a whim, a matter of opinion, a situation where one opinion is as good as any other. Yet it’s not really like that at all. The vast majority of scientists agree with me that there is no good reason to believe that paranormal events exist, whether they are religious or something else.

If your standard of evidence is so low for faith-based phenomena can I ask whether you extend that generosity to ESP, homeopathy, alien visitors, bigfoot? Because I think there is just as good evidence (maybe better) for all of those, plus they have greater prior probability – well, maybe not homeopathy! :)

I agree that studying sudden, unexplained healing is a reasonable thing to do, but until there is good evidence supporting a supernatural cause our interim conclusion should be that supernatural healing isn’t real.


Comment 35 (4589) by Derek Ramsey on 2016-10-25 at 16:02:02:

Not a whim. Yes, a matter of opinion. Yes, I believe that you are biased in your evaluation. Scientists agree that science is better to explain miracles than the supernatural? Next you’ll tell me that the choir agrees with the preacher!

Many modern medical miracles have the following in common:
1) An illness documented by medical examinations.
2) A subsequent religious act.
3) Multiple attestation of unexpected healing (including medical examinations).
4) The healing is highly improbable.

Denying that this ever happens is dishonest. Claiming only natural forces requires that natural laws are prescriptive rather than descriptive. This is an issue with Hume’s argument against miracles. Taking a hard, ahem, dogmatic position leads to problems. There is no reason anecdotal evidence has to be weak. All we need it to do is confirm the above events, not conclude that a miracle happened.

Even if we could distinguish between the probability of a healing and the probability of a miracle, both are very small. We should be able to measure the number of healings that do and don’t involve #2, but let’s be honest, neither a postive or negative result would be conclusive. Miracles are unlikely to directly affect your life anyway, so it’s dumb to attempt to convince a skeptic to believe in miracles. It is logical deadlock: both belief and non-belief are rational. The biggest problem with rejection of the supernatural is overconfidence (Dunning-Kruger Effect?).

“our interim conclusion should be that supernatural healing isn’t real.”

Skeptics set the threshold for belief so high as to be impossible to attain, then use this lack of evidence as a reason for not believing. It’s self-fulfilling. We all hold beliefs that are not based on scientific reality. This is especially true in politics, homeopathy, and marriage. I’ve seen enough in my life to conclude that rejecting supernatural healings is premature, and I’ve not found extreme skepticism satisfying. Miracles wouldn’t be a major factor in my belief unless I experienced a major miracle firsthand. Perhaps that makes my faith weak. I even accept that our skepticism, rationality, and lack of spiritual sensitivity might exclude us from being the recipients of miracles.

“…can I ask whether you extend that generosity to ESP, homeopathy, alien visitors, bigfoot?”

The more I research the paranormal, the more it appears to have some level of merit. This was a surprising result for me, because, like you, I always thought it was complete nonsense. But I’ve never rejected viewpoints I didn’t like just out of pure skepticism. I continually search for compatibility between rationality and intuition, something very few people attempt.

Anecdotal evidence comes in significantly varying quality, and I have yet to see anything suggesting alien visitations and bigfoot are real. Also I’m willing to use pure opinion on things that don’t have serious scientific or religious significance.


Comment 36 (4590) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 16:02:32:

Can you give me a source for some of the more compelling cases of miracles. Those I have seen have been very unconvincing, but maybe I’m just looking at the worst examples.


Comment 37 (4591) by OJB on 2016-10-25 at 21:23:31:

And here's another thing to think about. Google "why doesnt god cure amputees", including the incredibly lame excuses here. It's a good question, isn't it? Why can all these miracles you claim to exist be explained by poor diagnosis, spontaneous remission, etc. If God cures people why not re-grow a lost limb or do something else which couldn't possibly be misinterpreted?


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