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Nov 05 2012

Why my patience is sometimes rather short

You know there are many reasons I don’t do debates. The biggest one so far is that every time, the nobodies challenging me are complete idiots. It happened again today, on twitter.

Out of the blue, some guy I never heard of announces that his pal can crush me in a debate. Eh, I think, another clown.


But then there follows a few hours of chest-thumping. He used to be a hard atheist, but @taskawi made him rethink that. There is much protesting that I’m mean because I dismissed these guys as “raging loons”. Oh, yeah, he will challenge me to a debate and he will beat me. Bragging? Yeah, these guys were really strutting about like little popinjays.

And then they get serious.

You know, they haven’t yet said why I should debate them, they haven’t even said what the question is, or what side they’re taking, and this joker is setting the terms and telling me it’s for money. Does he even know the mathematician, the astronomer, and the physicist he has decided are the judges? Right: and I’m going to name Barack Obama, Satan, and the President of Mars to be judges now. This is getting ridiculous, and I tell them they’ve been nattering at me for hours and can’t even tell me what I’m supposed to be debating here.

So finally pretentious twit lays down the rules…not that I was asking for them, or even cared what perimeter he was trying to set up.

Heck, does he even know Robert Wright, the fellow he is so blithely proposing as referee?

But at last, finally, after 3 hours of taunting me (time I spent teaching a class and attending a committee meeting), they drop their grand question on me.

A belief in God is more scientific than atheism, using the best measures of science.

What a waste of time: a boring question that contains its own contradiction. How can you claim a supernatural being, by definition inaccessible to any natural means of detection, can be at all scientific?

I was done and told them so. And people wonder why I’m quick to give nagging nitwits the boot: because every time I give them a little slack they just demonstrate why they weren’t worth engaging in the first place.

I did look into this @taskawi’s stream to see if he’s always so terribly afflicted with grandiosity, and yes, he is: he’d jumped to me after howling at Glenn Beck.

Just a warning: ignore this guy. He’s a flaming full-on freaked out kook.

96 comments

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  1. 1
    seleukos

    “Dude, you are not my nemesis! My nemesis… is Captain Hammer.

    Captain Hammer, corporate tool!”

    Sorry but I just couldn’t get that scene from Dr. Horrible out of my mind as I read this post! :P

  2. 2
    screechymonkey

    “A belief in God is more scientific than atheism, using the best measures of science.”

    Let me guess. He’s going to define “atheism” as “the 100% certain belief that there absolutely, positively cannot be a deity of any kind.” Then he’ll joke about how he doesn’t have enough faith to be an atheist, grin moronically like he’s just come up with something clever and original, and declare victory.

    At that point, Robert Wright will use all of PZ’s allotted time to reminisce about the time when Wright totally got Dan Dennett to admit that there’s a higher power (he didn’t, by the way: Dennett accepted a hypothetical for purposes of discussion, but Wright hasn’t shut up about it since).

  3. 3
    Enopoletus Harding

    Megiddo isn’t a desert. This is modern Israel we’re talking about; Megiddo is a kibbutz.

  4. 4
    pipenta

    I saw that initial challenge on twitter and I did indeed audibly chortle.

  5. 5
    nomadiq

    Your patience can’t be that short if you bothered to write about these time wasters.

  6. 6
    Sili

    Harding,

    Even scarier.

    –o–

    What’s the response if you offer to do a presentation about evolution with a long q& a instead?

    Has anyone alternatively tried doing a Gish gallop with the evidence *for*evolution?

  7. 7
    Endorkened

    I don’t think anyone has the lung capacity.

  8. 8
    comfychair

    some guy I never heard of announces that his pal can crush me in a debate

    Hahahaha, yes, oh man. If you knew how many times I heard that same line in my former life dealing with fast cars and street racing (20 years ago, most of the time we had friendly cops shut down the road for us). Always somebody talking shit about somebody else’s car that never seems to materialize. LOL.

  9. 9
    dexitroboper

    Hey, wow. Someone with an idiosyncratic and self-serving ‘best measures’ of science that won’t, in fact, help you get published in Nature or Science. Who would have guessed?

  10. 10
    Enopoletus Harding

    @Sili
    -Sure. youtube.com/watch?v=wVgj3U1fEqc

  11. 11
    Argle Bargle

    I’m going to name Barack Obama, Satan, and the President of Mars to be judges now.

    I’m sorry to announce His Excellency the President of Mars was overthrown and executed last week. Her Sublime Majesty, Wearer of the Invisible Crown, the Tollamune Empress Teyud, will be otherwise occupied on any date this debate may take place.

  12. 12
    briane

    How can you claim a supernatural being, by definition inaccessible to any natural means of detection, can be at all scientific?

    I’ll give it a shot. Let’s posit a supernatural being, we’ll call it Neville. Now, Neville being immaterial itself can’t be measured by science. But Neville, being magic, can affect the material world. (If you don’t like magic, then you might not be a Nevillian type. And Nevillian’s like their special pleading.)

    So, now Neville is a regular supernatural being. He regularly causes weird arse, but observable phenomena near chez PZ. PZ can record the phenomena with ordinary equipment and run experiments on it, because Neville being regular, will repeat the phenomena on schedule. PZ can eliminate all alternate explanations any person can think of, leaving only the explanation that the Nevillians were on the money. Using reasoning that all other known hypotheses are wrong, PZ concludes that this is a supernatural phenomena. It’s a tentative conclusion, and can be revised when new theories better explain the phenomena, but it’s no less scientific for that.

    Obviously people will say that you can’t tell the difference between sufficiently advanced technology and supernatural behaviour. So what? If there’s no theory of advanced technology that is consistent with the evidence, for the time being, the supernatural explanation is the most scientific.

    Well, that’s how I imagine they’d argue it. Substituting Neville for Jesus and phenomena local to PZ, for crap written a hundred years after the supposed acts of an anti pharisee rabbi who may have existed in the middle east 2000 years ago.

  13. 13
    trucreep

    I think these guys TROLLeD you man!!!!!

  14. 14
    bcmystery

    But … Barack Obama, Satan, and the President of Mars are all the same person. I call shenanigans.

  15. 15
    John Morales

    trucreep:

    I think these guys TROLLeD you man!!!!!

    Why yes, “they” trolled PZ into sneering “He’s a flaming full-on freaked out kook”.

    (Impressive — almost as impressive as how you’ve trolled me into calling you an oblivious dipshit)

  16. 16
    robro

    Gee golly, Native American pagan loons. I’m sure that’ll put you on the defensive, Mr. PZ Myers, while they prove by science that the Great White Buffalo god exists, who is the spirit of Jesus. Also, the world is ending soon…isn’t it always.

    Tatanka is Lakota for male American bison. Tatanka Iyotake was Sitting Bull. Tatanka Ska Witko describes himself as “Warrior for the Pte Oyate of the Oceti Sakowin”. “Pte Oyate” is Buffalo Nation while Oceti Sakowin is the “Seven Council Fires” of the southern Dakota plains Indians.

    Clearly invoking Native American tribal folklore and mythology, with a smattering of Christianity, at least a bit of Jesus. Sounds similar to Ghost Dance.

  17. 17
    robro

    bcmystery

    But … Barack Obama, Satan, and the President of Mars are all the same person. I call shenanigans.

    Yes, PZ has invoked the name of the new Trinity. Like the old one they are one and yet separate. Let’s have lengthy debates for the next thousand years or so over the exact nature of their relationship to one another.

  18. 18
    Sastra

    screechymonkey #2 wrote:

    Let me guess. He’s going to define “atheism” as “the 100% certain belief that there absolutely, positively cannot be a deity of any kind.

    A good guess, but don’t forget the strong possibility of a presupp like “science presupposes a rational universe and reason cannot exist in the world view of a consistent atheist” or some such variation of excreta. Those are getting more popular among the folks who used to emphasize empirical arguments like creationism and miracles.

    Likely, he’d trot out both.

  19. 19
    ibelieveindog

    In other words:

    My dad can beat you up. So there.

  20. 20
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Does he even know the mathematician, the astronomer, and the physicist he has decided are the judges?

    At least it makes more sense than it did when I read it as Joan Baez.

  21. 21
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    At least it makes more sense than it did when I read it as Joan Baez.

    Listening to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” right now. By Joan Baez. And I read it the same way.

  22. 22
    Sastra

    Heh, I initially read it as ‘Joan Baez,’ too… and accidentally gave him credit for music appreciation and points for creativity.

    The timeword Dawkins phrase about “this debate would look great on your cv but not so much on mine” also occurred to me.

  23. 23
    consciousness razor

    PZ should debate me. I would crush him.

  24. 24
    consciousness razor

    Whoops, I forgot.

    It’s going to be about which cephalopod is the best and why I am better than any of them.

  25. 25
    Ichthyic

    Let’s posit a supernatural being, we’ll call it Neville. Now, Neville being immaterial itself can’t be measured by science. But Neville, being magic, can affect the material world.

    sorry, fail.

    by your own definition, all you will ever have is INDIRECT evidence of the existence of Neville, hence, no, there can never be a way to address Neville itself scientifically, only the effects thereof. I could just as easily construct a hypothesis to explain the observed effects that is based on my pet unicorn.

  26. 26
    Ichthyic

    PZ can eliminate all alternate explanations any person can think of

    that’s actually impossible, you know.

  27. 27
    Ichthyic

    I think these guys TROLLeD you man!!!!!

    hey, moron.

    setting a hook is not the same as catching a fish, m’kay?

  28. 28
    Ichthyic

    hell, not even setting, just baiting.

    with stinky cheese bait that was long past due date.

  29. 29
    briane

    by your own definition, all you will ever have is INDIRECT evidence of the existence of Neville, hence, no, there can never be a way to address Neville itself scientifically, only the effects thereof.

    We only have indirect evidence of quarks, bosons and so on. But we still think that they are the stuff of science. They are consistent with theory and data.

    PZ can eliminate all alternate explanations any person can think of

    Better phrasing: eliminate all proposed alternate explanations that are at least possible.

  30. 30
    briane

    I don’t think that a supernatual explanation is the likely, or probable, that’s why I’m an atheist. But I don’t quite see why supernatural phenomena that have material effects couldn’t be measured using science. Or a video recorder, or whatever. Where I think this type of explanation fails is how the immaterial affects the material. It seems to me an unbridgeable divide, even if there was a supernatural, we’d never know about it, because how would it interact with material, unless it were material? But obviously people who believe in the supernatural don’t see that as an issue and whether you call it magic or a mystery, they just take it as a given.

  31. 31
    lawmom

    As for ignoring this guy, you’re doing it wrong.

  32. 32
    trucreep

    lawmom
    5 November 2012 at 8:17 pm
    As for ignoring this guy, you’re doing it wrong.

    This guy gets it ;]

  33. 33
    Holms

    It’s not my blog and thus not really my place to criticise, but for my part I wouldn’t have bothered giving these small fry the compliment of a reply at all. In doing so, they’ve been given the biggest platform they’ve ever had for promoting their claptrap.

  34. 34
    oblivionnow

    “Retweeted by Apocalypse Now”
    And one of his followers stole my name.

  35. 35
    Cuttlefish

    I’ll gladly debate these daunting challengers, so long as they meet me on my home turf… Under water. Can’t possibly be a hostile environment for them–god made it, after all.

  36. 36
    Matrim

    @11> This aggression will not stand! The Prince of Space will surely hear of this and avenge the fallen President of Mars.

  37. 37
    briane

    I think this is pretty much what I was getting at regarding science and testing supernatural phenomena.

    In Harry Potter’s world, a wizard speaks a word and something happens. A single word causes a wand to generate light, another word causes objects to move wherever the wand points, and so on. Suppose this really happened. There is no doubt we could document the hell out of it scientifically and thus confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that the effect exists…But in the Harry Potter world,… [t]he universe itself simply responds to spoken words…Therefore, magic in the Harry Potter…universe is genuinely supernatural. It relies on irreducibly mental powers and properties of the universe. Words directly cause what they request, without any mindless mechanism connecting the spoken word to the realized effect.

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com.au/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

  38. 38
    consciousness razor

    PZ can eliminate all alternate explanations any person can think of

    that’s actually impossible, you know.

    It wouldn’t be sufficient to stick to the ones people can think of anyway, but I don’t see why you couldn’t rule out all naturalistic explanations for something as a group. If you wanted people to believe in “Neville” or some specific supernatural claim, you’d have to explain how the “magic” works. There’s no reason to think that’s impossible; it just never happens.

    The unicorn (to borrow your idea) wouldn’t need to be superfluous. Aren’t you assuming it would be, because that’s how this goddist bullshit always plays out? That’s understandable, but to be fair, if it does work in the theory and there’s no way to get rid of it, I don’t see what the problem would be.

  39. 39
    briane

    It wouldn’t be sufficient to stick to the ones people can think of anyway, but I don’t see why you couldn’t rule out all naturalistic explanations for something as a group.

    I was thinking along the lines of some form of Bayesian reasoning. You’d have all the explanations anyone could think of, and if they were shown to be wrong except for the supernatural explanation(s), then you’d conclude that although the prior-probability was bloody low, it was still the best explanation, given it was the only one not ruled out and still a possibility. But my understanding of Bayesian reasoning is pretty crap, so that might not make sense.

  40. 40
    Ichthyic

    We only have indirect evidence of quarks, bosons and so on. But we still think that they are the stuff of science. They are consistent with theory and data.

    ok, if you want this analogy to be valid…

    were quarks imagined first, and then indirect evidence for their existence looked for?

    otherwise, I can just make up anything.

    just like you did.

  41. 41
    Ichthyic

    It wouldn’t be sufficient to stick to the ones people can think of anyway, but I don’t see why you couldn’t rule out all naturalistic explanations for something as a group

    you’re not getting it.

    here’s a hint:

    post hoc hypotheses can always be made non-rejectable.

  42. 42
    Ichthyic

    ut my understanding of Bayesian reasoning is pretty crap, so that might not make sense.

    no, it doesn’t.

    Is this a fun game? I can’t see what the point of bothering is.

  43. 43
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    I didn’t know PZ knew the President of Mars.

  44. 44
    kazzaqld

    I’m so glad others saw Joan Baez, I don’t feel quite so ignorant now. But it would be awesome if she were a judge too!

  45. 45
    betelgeux

    @SC #20:

    At least it makes more sense than it did when I read it as Joan Baez.

    Interestingly enough, Mathematical physicist John Baez is Joan Baez’s first cousin, according to the Pffft of all Knowledge. Physicist Albert Baez was Joan’s father and John’s uncle.

    @Ogvorbis #21:

    Listening to “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” right now. By Joan Baez. And I read it the same way.

    The original version by The Band is sooo much better than Joan’s cover. I love Joan Baez, but The Band rules.

    Back on topic:

    John Baez is the author of the famous “Crackpot Index”. It’s pretty ironic that this obvious crank and his sycophant want him to judge their moronic arguments.

  46. 46
    briane

    ok, if you want this analogy to be valid…

    were quarks imagined first, and then indirect evidence for their existence looked for?

    Yes, the Nevillians said that Neville would appear beforehand, and said there would be phenomena. Just as scientists proposed the Higgs-Boson, but had no idea of it’s mass. :)

    post hoc hypotheses can always be made non-rejectable.

    So, we can never use Bayesian reasoning? It is post-hoc. I was given to understand that a lot of scientific reasoning was Bayesian.

  47. 47
    consciousness razor

    You’d have all the explanations anyone could think of, and if they were shown to be wrong except for the supernatural explanation(s), then you’d conclude that although the prior-probability was bloody low, it was still the best explanation [that we know about], given it was the only one not ruled out and still a possibility [that we know about].

    I’m not saying that wouldn’t be very strong evidence and good enough to believe it’s probably right. But technically it wouldn’t say anything about any unknown possibilities, if there could be any (we’re being really vague, so I assume there could be). It wouldn’t rule them out, unless you could show their probability is 0 or they’re logically impossible.

    That’s a great Carrier article, by the way.

  48. 48
    briane

    Just to be clear, my point is, that given all other natural explanations proposed have been shown to be false, and the supernatural explanation is still a logical possibility, and the phenomena has been scientifically studied and used to reject all known and proposed natural explanations, then it is not a contradiction to say that there is a supernatural explanation (pace PZ). And futher, though my point is mostly about it not being a contradiction, it would be rational to believe the phenomena were supernatural until a natural explanation was later proposed that was more probable.

    Of course, if it can be demonstrated that the supernatural is logically impossible, or that interaction between the supernatural and the natural is logically impossible, then of course, a fortiori, scientific measurement of supernatural phenomena is impossible and contradictory. But if that could be shown, then there’d be no believers in the supernatural except for a few insane people.

  49. 49
    consciousness razor

    post hoc hypotheses can always be made non-rejectable.

    That’s why the supernatural is impossible? Don’t you need a reason for saying something is impossible?

  50. 50
    briane

    I’m not saying that wouldn’t be very strong evidence and good enough to believe it’s probably right.

    And if it’s probably right, i.e. you grant there is a probability, then you grant there is a possibility, and if you grant a possibility, then it cannot be a contradiction because a contradiction can never be possible. Which is I understand PZ’s point that the wingbats challenging him had a contradiction in there own thesis.

  51. 51
    briane

    And if it’s probably right, i.e. you grant there is a probability, then you grant there is a possibility, and if you grant a possibility, then it cannot be a contradiction because a contradiction can never be possible.

    Actually, I might have mixed up epistemic possibility and logical possibility. Is it possible for something to be epistemically possible, whilst it being logical impossible?

    We’re having an electrical storm here, so I’m logging off so as not to fry my computer. Ciao.

  52. 52
    consciousness razor

    And if it’s probably right, i.e. you grant there is a probability, then you grant there is a possibility,

    Sure, but I’m not the one saying supernatural stuff must be impossible. Ichthyic is. I agree with you on that. :)

    Which is I understand PZ’s point that the wingbats challenging him had a contradiction in there own thesis.

    Sure, but they didn’t. I think PZ’s doing the thing Carrier said you shouldn’t do. “Natural” doesn’t mean “knowable.” It’s a kind of thing, not a state of knowledge about a thing. Same goes for “supernatural.”

  53. 53
    Argle Bargle

    Just as a bit of trivia, John Baez and Joan Baez are first cousins.

  54. 54
    Marcus Ranum

    Has anyone alternatively tried doing a Gish gallop with the evidence *for*evolution?

    It’d sound suspiciously like Aronra when he’s got his steam and RPMs up.

  55. 55
    Marcus Ranum

    supernatural stuff must be impossible

    Whether it’s possible or not is an open question, but since all the means by which we humans can claim to “know” about something involve it existing, there’s a serious epistemological problem. Unless the supernatural is a concept (like “four”) in which case it doesn’t exist except in our minds.

    Anyone making knowledge-claims about the supernatural is, by definition, making stuff up.

  56. 56
    Anri

    Just so I’m up to speed here, what’s the rough definition of ‘supernatural’ we’re using in this discussion?
    In other words, what differentiates a natural phenomena from a supernatural one?

    Or is this a Platonic thing, where, regardless of identical characteristics, their essences are different?

    For example, in a Harry Potter universe in which spoken spells cast by wizards actually work, how are those not natural phenomena?

  57. 57
    Marcus Ranum

    I don’t quite see why supernatural phenomena that have material effects couldn’t be measured using science

    Then, it wouldn’t be “supernatural” at all. If it’s interacting with the natural world enough to have material effects, it’s “natural.” A supernatural phenomenon that had material effects would, among those effects, violate all kinds of conservation laws; I can’t see how it could happen without being what amounts to a causality violation.

    For example, for a ghost to be visible by humans, it’s got to interact with photons because that’s how human vision works. For a ghostly ectoplasmic phenomenon to lower the temperature you’ve got energy being expended moving more energy around. My favorite ghost problem, though, is that for a ghost to actually remain with planet Earth as it whips through space at insane speeds, the ghost has to have inertia, which means mass, which – uh-oh – means it’s made of stuff, i.e.: it’s “real” It’s either subject to physical law (in which case it’s material and not at all supernatural) or it doesn’t get a free ride on all the things that come with being real like being detectable and working according to physical law.

  58. 58
    consciousness razor

    Just so I’m up to speed here, what’s the rough definition of ‘supernatural’ we’re using in this discussion?

    Roughly, the line the Carrier article takes is something mental which does not reduce to non-mental stuff.

    If there’s a sentient being you can never know anything about, and it has some kind of brain which makes it sentient and otherwise acts according to physical laws, it’s natural. You just can’t observe it. Maybe it’s in another universe, which maybe even has different “physical laws.” There wouldn’t be any point in talking about it, since we’ll never know (or have any reason to care) about it; but none of that’s relevant to whether or not it exists. If it does, it’s natural. If it doesn’t, it’s nonexistent and would be natural.

    If it’s an otherwise normal person you can observe, who can only do one magic trick which relies on actual psychic powers which can be experimentally verified (somehow), they can do one supernatural thing. Everything else about them (presumably) is natural.

  59. 59
    scorpy1

    briane brained hurd at #48

    it would be rational to believe the phenomena were supernatural until a natural explanation was later proposed that was more probable.

    That is incredibly idiotic.
    It is NOT rational to presume that a thing has supernatural cause without evidence, or before you no more about that thing. You’re basically saying “dunno what this thing is, I’ll just fucking say its supernatural and avoid further inquiry”

    Bullshit.

    To answer what your follow-up will be, natural explanations always take precedence over supernatural ones as we are both dealing with a reality and natural processes are so far the only th, so far, that have reliably map that space.
    The weight of probability is always on natural processes’ side as a result.
    Only if your supernatural cause had more reliability in occurrence and demonstration, we’d take your bullshit more seriously.

  60. 60
    Ragutis

    I won’t admit that I read it as Joan Baez, but I will say that this is the first thing that came to mind.

  61. 61
    rapiddominance

    Quoting the story:

    This is getting ridiculous, and I tell them they’ve been nattering at me for hours and can’t even tell me what I’m supposed to be debating here.

    But at last, finally, after 3 hours of taunting me (time I spent teaching a class and attending a committee meeting), they drop their grand question on me.

    I was done and told them so.

    So you were tweeting them during scheduled work blocks?

    Not only did these twits manage to distract you from your duties as an employee–they were also able to get you to publicly admit to the unprofessional nature of your participation in the dialogue.

    Do your supervisors read your blog?

  62. 62
    Ichthyic

    Not only did these twits manage to distract you from your duties as an employee–they were also able to get you to publicly admit to the unprofessional nature of your participation in the dialogue.

    please tell me this is sarcasm.

    it is, right?

  63. 63
    Goomba

    @36= I could get you in touch with the Space Vampires. They have been on the lookout for some turmoil between the Martian factions. I could help, but we have to be careful because if the Mercurian Fire Devils hear of our plans, they will turn on their mind control devices and after that all you’ll see is gibkdjd) pjebds sinhat oe ht shfhvcg@ujsbs)uii) ie uhss drhns iescf dh jahs!

  64. 64
    Travis

    Ichthyic, I hope it is sarcasm but I would not be surprised if some people think they have punch clocks, work 9-5 with a couple of scheduled breaks and lunch in between. I think it is hard for some people to wrap their brain around a job where you generally have a mix of administrative, teaching and research duties but are not required to work every minute of the day, or work a fixed number of hours.

  65. 65
    Rutee Katreya

    I think these guys TROLLeD you man!!!!!

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v339/Zecro/trolling.png

    Do your supervisors read your blog?

    Even if PZ were a corporate peon, there’d be nothing wrong with a few tweets on company time unless you were such a devoted bootlicking wage slave you seriously thought every last second needed to be absolutely filled with busywork, while at work.

  66. 66
    Anders

    I talked to Satan and Obama, and they are both ready to judge a debate between a science blogger and a random kook on twitter. However, the president of Mars is busy all next week. Bummer.

  67. 67
    nms

    So you were tweeting them during scheduled work blocks?

    PZ is an associate professor, not a grad student. His “supervisors” don’t actually keep him chained to an oar.

  68. 68
    Nick Gotts

    The timeword Dawkins phrase about “this debate would look great on your cv but not so much on mine” also occurred to me. – Sastra

    Dawkins pinched it from Bob May (with an acknowledgement that it wasn’t his, and without naming May – at least on the occasion I read it, in TGD – but with sufficient information for anyone who knew much about May).

    Is it possible for something to be epistemically possible, whilst it being logical impossible? – briane

    Yes: “ Goldbach’s conjecture is true” and “Goldbach’s conjecture is false” are currently both epistemically possible, but one or the other must be logically impossible. Equivocation between epistemic and logical possibility is at the core of Plantinga’s so-called modal ontological argument.

  69. 69
    birgerjohansson

    Neville only has powers in a universe that contains narrativium.

    “Megiddo” is the same place as Armageddon, I think.
    If I was to write a scince fiction novel about Neville, I would have a hard time explaining how he can just observe our material universe without being at least partially immersed in it. Multi-dimensional periscope?.

  70. 70
    Alex

    @briane

    We only have indirect evidence of quarks, bosons and so on. But we still think that they are the stuff of science.

    You only have indirect evidence for the cup of coffee standing in front of you on the table as well. Heck, you only have indirect evidence for the table. All the interactions between you, the table and the cup are mediated by the elusive electromagnetic force, a strange entity that was only thoroughly understood by the middle of the 20th century.

    @Ichthyic

    were quarks imagined first, and then indirect evidence for their existence looked for?

    Well, they were first invented as a mathematical trick to describe the observed zoo of particles. The hypothesis made some nontrivial predictions (Bjorken scaling), they checked and – hey – there indeed seem to be point particles with the right properties in the proton.
    You could call that looking for indirect evidence after the fact, but it’s just standard scientific theory testing.

  71. 71
    briane

    It is NOT rational to presume that a thing has supernatural cause without evidence, or before you no more about that thing. You’re basically saying “dunno what this thing is, I’ll just fucking say its supernatural and avoid further inquiry”

    But we have evidence. That’s the point. There’s a phenomena. It has no natural explanation at this point. But it does have a supernatural explanation. It is entirely rational to tentatively conclude that the probability of the supernatural explanation given the evidence is tentatively correct because there is no other known explanation. You can jump up and down and say, but wait, I hate the supernatural and all it’s network of theism (which I do), but what we hate is no guide to rationality.
    Simply, we will never know the absolute truth, that’s a theistic load of crap. We can only judge cases on what explanations *or theories) are firstly consistent with evidence, that is, those that haven’t been ruled out, (and in this example we’ve ruled out the naturalistic explanations proposed,) and then of the remaining ones, those that are more likely, given criteria like logical possibility (i.e. an explanation that is equivalent to square circles never is possible), parsimony (1 god better than 2 I guess) and so on.
    To claim that there never can be a supernatural explanation is to useless, unless you can show that there can never be a supernatural explanation. Just as useless as theists claiming their god can do X,Y, or Z without showing it. The point is, if it’s possible, then it could possibly be an explanation or part of a theory that explains the measurements we’re making of this phenomena that some argue are supernatural…..And given it’s possible and the best explanation, it’s entirely rational to believe it.

  72. 72
    Alex

    And given it’s possible and the best explanation

    The supernatural is not the best explanation since it is not an explanation. It is a barely consistent and definable placeholder for ignorance. A lazy construct.
    Your way of thinking has failed miserably historically – if you had lived in renaissance times and applied your reasoning, you would not have learned a single thing by now. Even 100 years ago, inheritance was not understood. You would have claimed that there is no known natural explanation, and would have evoked some nicely worded magic nonsense every single time, until someone came along and did some understanding for you. Time to move on to the next big question and celebrate my ignorance about it, you would have proclaimed. It’s magic!

    There is no known phenomenon that requires to go supernatural with the explanation. Supernatural “explanations” are the least parsimonious explanations there are.

  73. 73
    John Morales

    [OT + meta]

    briane :

    There’s a phenomena

    Phenomenon is the singular.

    The point is, if it’s possible, then it could possibly be an explanation or part of a theory that explains the measurements we’re making of this phenomena that some argue are supernatural…..And given it’s possible and the best explanation, it’s entirely rational to believe it.

    Of all inferential methods, abduction is the weakest.

    To claim that there never can be a supernatural explanation is to useless, unless you can show that there can never be a supernatural explanation. Just as useless as theists claiming their god can do X,Y, or Z without showing it.

    You have it backwards.

    Anything can have a supernatural explanation, but only real things can have natural explanations.

  74. 74
    vaiyt

    Positing something has a supernatural explanation doesn’t explain anything, just raises more questions.

    What is that supernatural agent?
    How does it interact with the natural world?
    How can we discern its properties?
    What else could we expect to encounter if such an agent exists?

  75. 75
    Matt Penfold

    But we have evidence. That’s the point. There’s a phenomena. It has no natural explanation at this point. But it does have a supernatural explanation. It is entirely rational to tentatively conclude that the probability of the supernatural explanation given the evidence is tentatively correct because there is no other known explanation. You can jump up and down and say, but wait, I hate the supernatural and all it’s network of theism (which I do), but what we hate is no guide to rationality.

    Never has the explanation of an unexplained phenomenon been supernatural.

  76. 76
    Alex

    What else could we expect to encounter if such an agent exists?

    Unicorns.

  77. 77
    PZ Myers

    So you were tweeting them during scheduled work blocks?
    Not only did these twits manage to distract you from your duties as an employee–they were also able to get you to publicly admit to the unprofessional nature of your participation in the dialogue.
    Do your supervisors read your blog?

    Supervisors? Work blocks? What are those?

    I don’t have any supervisors. I answer to my colleagues in yearly evaluations. I keep my students hopping.

    I wish I had “work blocks”. This term I’m putting in 12-15 hour days, and when I’m not traveling, I put in those hours on weekends, too (and even when traveling, I’m bringing grading with me.)

    I love it when people who don’t have the slightest idea of the nature of my job lecture me sternly on how I’m supposed to do my job.

  78. 78
    stanton

    Megiddo isn’t a desert. This is modern Israel we’re talking about; Megiddo is a kibbutz.

    Which lead to Bette Middler saying:

    “Don’t bet the kibbutz, booby

  79. 79
    Anri

    Roughly, the line the Carrier article takes is something mental which does not reduce to non-mental stuff.

    It is my understanding that ‘mental stuff’, that is to say thoughts and emotions and suchlike, are just patterns of and interactions between objects and substances. So, this definition of supernatural boils down to “patterns and interactions of nothing”, am I right?

    - – -

    But we have evidence. That’s the point. There’s a phenomena. It has no natural explanation at this point. But it does have a supernatural explanation. It is entirely rational to tentatively conclude that the probability of the supernatural explanation given the evidence is tentatively correct because there is no other known explanation.

    Here’s where you and I disagree.
    I don’t think ‘Rain is just god crying/peeing/your choice of bodily fluid’ is a good explanation even prior to someone’s understanding of weather cycles.

    Anyone wanting to propose an explanation that utterly overturns pretty much all of our understanding of the universe and how basically everything in it operates had better bring some damn good evidence to the table. Just because an explanation is that sweeping doesn’t automatically make it wrong, but it sure a hell doesn’t make it a good default position.
    To just touch on a single problem, how do you pick between equally unevidenced supernatural explanations? How would you argue the positions that it’s not god crying, it’s the angels crying?
    Likewise, would you be content with the follow-up conclusion: ‘Since we have determined that rain is god crying, we can safely conclude that god is at times overcome with emotion.’ Is that a good scientific argument, even in the short-term?

    It’s more honest, and far more productive to simply say “We don’t know yet.”

  80. 80
    CX316

    Why the heck did the guy want Phil Plait to judge on his side? Phil would violate the rules of the debate by being unable to “be silent” while snickering and bursting into fits of laughter listening to the guy’s argument…

  81. 81
    Nick Gotts

    It is my understanding that ‘mental stuff’, that is to say thoughts and emotions and suchlike, are just patterns of and interactions between objects and substances. So, this definition of supernatural boils down to “patterns and interactions of nothing”, am I right?

    No. Your understanding (which I share), is the outcome of scientific investigation, not a necessary truth. It could be wrong, and evidence could turn up that it is wrong.

  82. 82
    consciousness razor

    So, this definition of supernatural boils down to “patterns and interactions of nothing”, am I right?

    If that’s supposed to be another way of saying nothing supernatural exists, you’re right, in my experience. I doubt that’s what you’re saying though, and I haven’t experienced everything anyway. Like Nick Gotts said, this is not a matter of necessary truth. You get that kind of information from experience (or better yet, “investigation”) of the relevant evidence.

    With a definition, you shouldn’t be committing yourself to claiming it exists or doesn’t exist. Definitions only work that way for theologians (if you call that “work”). You should just be describing what the word is supposed to mean, not making a fucking ontological argument.

    It would be consistent to be completely certain the supernatural doesn’t exist and to think its existence is possible. Reality doesn’t care how certain you are; it just exists or doesn’t, and things are possible or not. The point is, I don’t see any contradiction in saying “some mental stuff may not reduce to non-mental stuff,” so if there’s no contradiction, it’s not impossible.

    It’s not conceding ground to religious bullshitters, if that’s the concern. It’s really not a big deal at all to say something is possible. Lot’s of shit is possible, including nonexistent shit. A possibility and five bucks will buy you a coffee at Starbucks (but maybe bring some change too). In any case, I just don’t get why some people have a problem with this.

  83. 83
    carbonbasedlifeform

    What I’d like to see in one of these debates is for the creationist to show evidence to support creationism. The creationists say that they believe in a scientific theory; and any scientific theory is supported by scientific evidence. So it is up to them to show actual evidence for their theory.

    Let’s start with an easy one: They say the universe was created about 6000 years ago, while cosmologists say it’s about 14 billion years. So let’s see some actual evidence for six thousand years.

  84. 84
    consciousness razor

    Lot’s of shit

    WTF? How did I do that? I need more coffee.

  85. 85
    carbonbasedlifeform

    How about some Kopi Luwak, made from coffee beans that have been eaten and excreted by Asian Palm Civets. That would give you both coffee and loads of shit.

  86. 86
    Alex

    Actually, to get Lot’s of shit, you would probably have to travel back in time, drive down to Sodom, give him a sample beacher and hope that he’s compliant.

  87. 87
    Ing

    Phenomenon is the singular.

    Do doooo do do do

  88. 88
    Alex

    argh beaker

  89. 89
    demonax

    Guy seems like an everyday wanker. why are you bothering? He needs a walk and a lamppost.

  90. 90
    Rutee Katreya

    Did that bit with phenomenon come from The Muppet Show, or did it come from something else and they borrowed it?

  91. 91
  92. 92
    Marcus Ranum

    If that’s supposed to be another way of saying nothing supernatural exists

    “Existence” implies existing in the natural world. “Supernatural” starts with “nonexistent” and works down from there. By definition, I’d say “supernatural” equates to imaginary. Because, since it’s not measurable or observable in the natural world (not being of the natural world) then it can only exist in our imagination; i.e.: it’s fictional.

    When most people talk about “supernatural” they seem to be thinking of “something that doesn’t actually exist but selectively has some of the properties of things that do exist.” Which is a contradiction in terms and violates physical laws all over the place.

    Usually when I make the mistake of talking about the supernatural with woo-woos the discussion goes something like this:
    Woo-woo: “Our souls are real! They are an invisible undetectable energy field!”
    mjr: “If they’re invisible and undetectable, how can you know they’re there at all?”

    I’m just horribly closed-minded.

  93. 93
    Marcus Ranum

    It is entirely rational to tentatively conclude that the probability of the supernatural explanation given the evidence is tentatively correct because there is no other known explanation.

    Not really. An explanation of something is a description of cause/effect on known things. If half of that cause/effect relationship is “unknown” then what you have is a mystery, not an explanation.

    Suppose a book flies across the room and hits me in the face and I can’t see what propelled it. I can start with one of two possibilities: some physical process that I haven’t figured out yet (but which is not contradicting physical law) operated on the book, or everything we understand about physical law is wrong. Because Newton didn’t exactly cover apparently causeless book-flight, but it contradicts the old action/reaction and conservation of momentum. When someone says that the cause for the book flying is “supenatural” they are saying that all of physics as we understand it has a gigantic great big smoking hole through the middle of it, which physicists somehow overlooked, and that that’s more likely than that you threw the book at me when my back was turned and are lying about it. Granted, it’s possible that everything we understand about the physics of book-flight is completely wrong, but considering all the massive support for our current understanding of physics and many predictions it makes that are confirmed every day, it’s so unlikely that it starts off at infinitely close to zero and stays there.

  94. 94
    johnm55

    Doing some work for a local High School yesterday a poster caught my eye. It said,
    “Join the Debating Society. Learn how to win the argument even when your position is completely wrong”
    Debates aren’t about facts and the truth, they are about who has the best rhetoric.

  95. 95
    CX316

    #90

    The redone muppet show in the… I’m gonna say late 90′s… did a sketch where they brought in the Mahna mahna backing singers whenever Sandra Bullock said the word “Phenomenon” (the title of one of her movies for those not paying attention to bad movies of the 90′s)

  96. 96
    GrudgeDK

    Put me down for $100.

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