Speaking at Darwin on the Palouse (WA)

Banner for the Palouse event. White background. Various nature greens in the lettering and logo. Logo is like a Picaso sleek stylized merger of an abstract finch and the Palouse hills. Text says Darwin on the Palouse, the date, the tagline Celebrating Science and Reason, the location and time and that it's free, the two speakers names and talk titles, and the sponsors.This year the annual Darwin on the Palouse event will be on February 6 (2016). I’ll be a featured speaker. The event begins at 6:30pm and is being held in the junior ballroom at Washington State University. Free to all. Details here. The event is sponsored by the Palouse Coalition of Reason and the American Humanist Association. My talk will be:

Ancient Roman Creationism: Scientific Pagans vs. Armchair Christians

Dr. Carrier will discuss the ancient debate between creationists and natural selectionists, how ancient “intelligent design” advocates were far more scientific than their counterparts today, and what this means for the actual origins of real science. In the process he will survey the achievements and methods of ancient science and how it laid the foundation for modern science, and then examine the rhetoric against it by early Christians and how it hasn’t changed in near 2,000 years.

I’ll be followed by Glenn Branch of the NCSE, speaking on “After Kitzmiller, What Is Next for Creationism?” Which I’m also looking forward to! Description:

Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching intelligent design creationism in the public schools, was a pivotal event in the history of the creationism/evolution controversy in the United States. Branch will discuss why Kitzmiller was the effective end of the second phase of anti-evolution strategy and what the third phase is going to be like.

Come one come all! I’ll be selling and signing books. And hanging out after. I’ll also be in the area for the day. I don’t know what plans have been made, so I may be busy, but anyone interested in the possibility of hanging out, feel free to let me know, by email or Facebook message.

Science Then: The Bible vs. The Greeks Edition

Did the Bible predict modern science better than ancient scientists did? Funny to ask. Because naive Muslims have been making the same embarrassing claim for the Koran. Over a decade ago I published an article showing how silly conservative Muslim apologists were for claiming the Koran miraculously predicted scientific facts, by demonstrating that the Epicureans (and I just used the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius at that, and thus left out many other items that could have been added), who were the least fully scientific of the philosophers of the era who produced scientific results, got right a hell of a lot more, and more precisely and clearly declared their results, than the Koran, and all explicitly through just armchair reasoning from basic observations. No miraculous communications from angels. No telecom with the gods.

That article was Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed. In that I show several logical flaws in these kinds of arguments: (1) they use a fake translation (they ignore the actual language of the text in its actual context) to “invent” a better fit with modern science post hoc (a common scam run by psychics called retrofitting); (2) they ignore the fact that mere armchair thinking often had already produced the same conclusion or comparable conclusions and often in fact more and better conclusions (thus negating any claim that such “hits” required miraculous powers or informants); (3) they get ancient science wrong (e.g. they claim that ancient scientists hadn’t discovered a thing, when in fact they had); (4) they cherry pick bizarre data so as to rely on luck giving them hits (in any vast enough tome of baloney, you will inevitably find random matches with the truth by mere chance), but miss the fact that if one actually had a miraculous line to prescient scientific knowledge, you’d be reporting way more useful shit than this (compare the relative utility of knowing that cosmic expansion or heliocentrism are true, and knowing the germ theory of disease or the basic principles of electricity—for a religion that supposedly prioritizes the welfare of humanity).

Now there is an image going around (evidently even favorably shared by actual scientists in some cases) making the same stupid claim for the Christian Bible. It’s so bad I was laughing out loud before I even finished the third line. It has been debunked before (e.g. here and here). But since ancient science is my field, I figured my own fisk would be of use to the world. So here goes… [Read more…]

Speaking at DragonCon. Need a Costumer!

Dragon Con logo, a yellow dragon outline on a blue ball, with the title arced across the front, photo of crowds behind.This is a call for someone to hire! I will be a featured guest speaker for Skeptrack at DragonCon in Atlanta, GA this September (4th-7th, 2015). I’ll give a new and fancier-than-ever talk on ancient technology (“Real Steam Punk”), possibly also be on a panel of some kind, have an hour table & signing slot somewhere on the schedule, and be in the parade dressed with other Famous Skeptics.  I’ll have fuller details in early August and blog then about all that. But it’s the parade I want to get a jump on now: I need a costume!

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The Lame That Would Not Die!

What is The Lame? Unfortunately no one can be told what The Lame is. You have to see it for yourself. No, just kidding. It’s the claim that “Science Requires a Christian Worldview.” JT just blogged that, responding reasonably enough to a repeat of a standard Christian apologetic shibboleth (and, as he callously and shamelessly threatened therein, did indeed email me the link in question as if to annoy me, like the gangster cad that we all know he is; for shame). I realized I should probably collect a resource list of all I’ve written in refutation of it. This is that list.

First, I pretty much kick the legs out from under it with the extensive historical argument (since non-Christians invented science, and that centuries before Christianity even existed, obviously science does not require a Christian worldview) in “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” The Christian Delusion (2010), pp. 396-420. You really don’t have to read anything else on the subject, frankly.

Second, I refute one component of the philosophical case, the claim that the universe must have been designed to be understood or the human brain designed to understand it, in “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed,” The End of Christianity (2011), pp. 279-304 (key pages: pp. 298-302). That’s a short but compact and effective refutation, with references.

Third, I take on the entire Argument from Reason (which is a kind of umbrella argument that includes the claim that science only makes sense if Christianity is true, by arguing that reason would not exist but for God) in an extensive philosophical critique of Victor Reppert’s Argument from Reason. But the most pertinent sections of that are my refutation of the original version of the “Science Needs Christianity” argument from (Surprise!) C.S. Lewis. Those are the sections on where the “Five Axioms of Science” came from, and preceding that, on why “Our Mind Is Reliable Enough for Inductive Logic to Work.” And following both, I refute the more general claim that “Only Theists Can Invent Science” (although I give an even clearer answer to that in the Christian Delusion chapter, item 1 above).

Fourth, I have refuted the claim that the mathematical nature of the universe entails it was intelligently designed, in my critiques of Steiner and Howell. But of those, my refutation of Steiner (Fundamental Flaws) is less fun to read than my refutation of Howell (Our Mathematical Universe), in which I refute Howell’s attempt to rehabilitate Steiner; and really, if you’ve read the latter, you don’t need so much to read the former (unless you are really geeking out on the ontology of scientific theories, which is totally cool if you are).

Now you can add to all that JT’s response, which covers a lot of the most common sense rebuttals. The only weakness of which is that he doesn’t give the best response to the claim that “the atheist worldview cannot account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process.” He rightly points out that an argument from ignorance is a fallacy, and that Christians don’t really believe in the uniformity of nature (remember those miracles they keep going on about?), and if anyone is going to suss this, it’s going to be actual cosmological scientists, not hack armchair theologians.

But there is one argument one can make that kind of dodges those otherwise obvious points: the evidence e is “the uniformity of nature,” and the explanation h “God made it that way” makes e highly probable whereas one might suppose ~h “a god did not make it that way” does not make e highly probable, therefore e is an argument for god. Not that this must be a conclusive argument; having evidence for something is not the same as that something being true. For example, you can have evidence for someone committing a crime that in fact they didn’t commit–like fingerprints on a murder weapon, which could have gotten there in other ways besides having used it to kill the vic. But still.

The real problem is that ~h is a stand-in for all other theories of the evidence. Because h and ~h together must include all logically possible explanations of the evidence. And since h is only one of them (“God did it”); then necessarily ~h contains all other explanations. Many of which do make e highly probable. We don’t have to pick one, either. We can say “I can think up ten different explanations, other than God, which all guarantee that e will obtain” (for ten such examples see below). And if those all have a higher prior probability than “God did it,” then God is no longer the better explanation. In fact, it then becomes one of the worst. Note that we don’t have to know or even claim that any of those explanations is true. It’s still the case that more probably one of them is true, than that h is true, regardless.

I outline several of these possible explanations in Sense and Goodness without God (especially in section III.3 on “The Nature and Origin of the Universe,” pp.  71-96, and most especially, pp. 86-88), and all of them are more plausible than “God did it,” which means, all have a higher prior probability, because all of them are based on established precedents or simpler assumptions (on this point in general see my End of Christianity chapter again, item 2 above, pp. 282-84). Accordingly, I’ll count this as my fifth listed resource.

So there you have it. A complete kit for battling The Lame.