Comments

  1. Monocle Smile says

    EnlightenmentLiberal’s call started okay, but dude, EL…you need to understand that most people are just plain ignorant. Matt uses the terms that he does for ease of communication, and excessive pedantry is typically counterproductive when discussing things with average people.

    I agree that “supernatural” is an incoherent concept, but I think Matt agrees as well. I think you have the workings of his “you can’t show supernatural causation” backwards. He’s talking about the fact that theists makes claims that they say are supernatural, and Matt’s merely using that phrase to communicate that they’re talking nonsense…not that they’ve got a get-out-of-jail free card. Theists will claim that prayer confirms their supernatural god, but even though they’re Not Even Wrong, most people don’t know what “Not Even Wrong” means. So Matt speaks in terms they’ll understand.

  2. Abraham Van Helsing says

    The term Supernatural is just a label we put on experiences that trigger a badly-calibrated agency detector to go off in a person who has not learned that “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer….

    But vampires are real, of course.

  3. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @ Monocle Smile
    I know, but I have to improvise, and I know I have less than 5 or 10 minutes to make my point. I did the best I could offhand. Some of it went the way I expected, some of it didn’t.

    I did not expect that Matt was unfamiliar with the term “mindless matter in motion”. “Matter in motion” is a common term to refer to the various philosophical naturalism sub-theories of Galileo, Baron d’Holbach, and so forth. Mind is an emergent property. Atoms don’t have minds, but collections of atoms can have minds. Still, the atoms in a brain with a mind are themselves individually mindless. Pretty standard stuff.

    Otherwise, I think it went about how I expected. I didn’t have the time to drill down, and Matt also didn’t want to talk about the pedantics, but that’s where the rub lies. The problem only becomes apparent when you rigorously stick to definitions of terms, and Matt was freewheeling w.r.t. the meaning of “natural” and “supernatural” which made the required rigor impossible. Sometimes Matt used “supernatural” to mean anything outside our shared observable reality, and sometimes he used “supernatural” to mean things that we haven’t discovered yet. /sigh

    What’s especially worrying to me is that even Russell doesn’t understand my points. (I talked with him in the IRC chatroom both times for a little bit.) I am really worried that I’m missing something important.

    I also think that a lot of it is because “methodological naturalism” is a gris-gris for Matt and Russell.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gris-gris_%28talisman%29
    By that, I meant that the idea that science is based on methodological naturalism is a feel good charm whch doesn’t actually do anything. This wrong-headed idea really is the result of the bullshit accommodationism like that of Gould’s NOMA.

    Let me try it like this in casse Russell reads. My argument in short:

    Some supernatural explanations are constructed to be untestable, ex: a wizard did it. Some natural explanations are also constructed to be untestable, ex: aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit did it. Supernaturalism does not have a monopoly on hypotheses which are constructed to be unfalsifiable.

    If you define “the natural world” to be the world described by Baron d’Holbach’s matter-in-motion, then there are supernatural hypotheses which very well can be tested, (tentatively) confirmed, and which (tentatively) show supernatural causation. Telepathy is an example. Manifesting ghosts is an example. We know enough about physics, such as quantum field theory, that if these were true, then they (probably) cannot be shoehorned into the “matter-in-motion” paradigm.

    It is trivially true, or profoundly false, to say that “science must use methodological naturalism”. If you define “natural” so that “supernatural” becomes “untestable”, “unfalsifiable”, “unobservable”, and so on, then it’s trivially true. If you define “natural” so that “supernatural” becomes “not discovered yet”, or “something other than matter-in-motion”, then it’s profoundly false. It’s a Daniel Dennett deepity.

    All deepities are devoid of useful content. They are tricks on the mind. They linger between both readings. The true-but-trivial reading lends credence and belief towards the profound-but-false reading, and that’s exactly what is going on here. Matt is defending the proposition by appealing to the trivially true reading. At best, that means he’s defending a proposition which is devoid of value, and which he should know that it will be taken to mean the profound-but-false reading to many people. There is no value in saying it, and it will confuse people, and thus like any other deepity, it should not be asserted.

    For example, it’s wrong to just throw out there “love is just a word”. It is true in exactly the same sense that “horse” is just a word. However, you should know that some of the audience is going to take away that there is no such thing as love, love is a fiction, and love doesn’t exist, which is ludicrous in the same sense as asserting that horses don’t exist, and horses are a fiction.

    All “methodological naturalism” does is lend support (and confusion) to the false notion that science is not equipped to (tentatively) confirm or (tentatively) falsify any religious claims whatsoever. It has no other purpose or use, at all, and for that reason it should not be used.

    If there is a god, or angels, or ghosts, or telepathy, then the only acceptable way to know about them is science. Perhaps science is ill-equipped for a particular supernatural hypothesis, but science is also ill-equipped to detect sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s natural or supernatural. Those terms are simply red herrings. The very recognition of a purported difference labeled “natural” and “supernatural” lends support (and confusion) to the false notion of Gould’s NOMA.

    PS: I wish Matt would have listened to another talk when he was at Skepticon 7. A person there makes the exact same points I do, but in another way. “God, Science and the Problem with Nature – Scott Clifton (Theoretical Bullshit) – Skepticon 7”.

  4. toska says

    I hope Hanzi’s situation improves, but I would point out to him that, at least in the US, more religious areas of the country have higher rates of diagnosed depression. Obviously correlation =/= causation (I’m more inclined to believe poverty impacts both of those figures, rather than religion causes depression), but the figures do suggest that religion is not a cure for depression. The truth is that theists are just as unhappy as atheists. Churches work very hard to convince their followers that their lives are better with religion than they would be without it, but the problems we all face are human problems. The theists I know well (at least the ones who are good people) struggle with their individual purposes in life and morality and truth and death and how to make the world a better place and all the other things atheists tend to struggle with. Human. Problems.
    .
    On the other hand, some people like me who are depressed atheists feel like they can’t be honest about their mental state to theist friends and family members because they will simply attribute it to my lack of belief in gods, even while they themselves feel unhappy in their own lives. I’d much rather try to break the stigma that atheists are unhappy people who just need Jesus in their hearts to make them happy again, or that all of my problems and struggles should be dismissed as being a result of my atheism. The truth is that feeling more free in my own mind without the guilt of Christian “thought crimes” has immensely improved my life. It just didn’t fix everything because, well, I’m a human.

  5. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: Ok, if you want to be rigorous and define “natural” as “mindless matter in motion paradigm”, and “supernatural” as “something other than a mindless matter in motion paradigm, or something in addition to that, etc.”, then it’s meaningful. But then it’s simply false to say “science is based on methodological naturalism”.

    PPS:
    Another related video.
    “Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality – Sean Carroll – Skepticon 5”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k
    Physicists are pretty sure that a “matter in motion” paradigm is a correction description of reality. It’s called quantum field theory. Obviously there’s some small bits still to be worked out, and perhaps it’s just an approximation of some deeper underlying model. However, the time is long since past to deny the obvious implication of the overwhelming evidence. Philosophical naturalism is true, and it is perverse to deny it (or ignorant).

    Sean Carroll defends this view in the above video.

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Also, <3 that skepticon 7 talk above. He didn't invoke it by name, but he definitely invoked one of my favorite theories.
    Sapir–Whorf hypothesis
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity

    Also, my favorite paper on this topic is still this one (not written by me):
    How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism
    Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, Johan Braeckman
    https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism

  7. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I also consider this a personal failure, and I consider that any further attempts to communicate with the show will be unsuccessful. I give up. When this comes up again, I’ll just provide a link to this thread (I think), plus a “WAAAGH!” or something.

  8. Matzo Ball Soup says

    I don’t know if I really understand this whole inherent vs. non-inherent methodological naturalism thing, but it’s at least potentially interesting. I’ve often wondered how someone who believes in virgin birth or the resurrection of Jesus and Lazarus can do scientific experiments and believe they’re even potentially accomplishing anything (if there’s a god that can REVERSE DEATH, surely turning off the Stroop effect for a couple hours would be small potatoes for him, right?). But presuppositionalist apologists say the exact opposite: according to them, the very fact that “nature is uniform” (making experiments possible) proves the existence of God. (So, like, did God make a gentlemen’s agreement not to meddle, or something?)

    Here’s my take on it: let’s say I wake up in an unfamiliar world, and I want to figure out how stuff works so that I can survive there. In principle, I can’t rule out the possibility that there’s a multitude of invisible trickster gods screwing with me at every step. But if I want to gain any knowledge about my surroundings, I’ll have to operate under the working assumption that the tricksters don’t exist (or, at least, aren’t meddling). So I perform all kinds of experiments. Maybe I discover that objects fall when dropped. Or maybe when I drop the same rock twice under what I think are the same conditions, once it falls to the ground and once it falls up for a while before sky-writing “CTHULHU FHTAGN”. In the second case, maybe I eventually discover that I’m on a planet with crazy wind patterns. Or maybe, if the behavior of the environment turns out to be totally capricious and illogical, I’ll be forced to give up. But I shouldn’t give up until that point; otherwise, I’d miss out on gaining any knowledge at all. (Maybe I should never give up: maybe, no matter how impossibly the world around me seems to be behaving, I should always assume that there’s a logical explanation I haven’t considered.)

    I also find it potentially interesting as a fan of the fantasy genre: from the perspective of the characters in these works, people being able to shoot fire from their fingertips (or whatever) is part of the natural world. But it’s not often that the worldbuilding and magic system are thought out carefully enough to make sense. If magic were real in some world, one would think that it would be the subject of scientific inquiry throughout the history of that world. But in so many fictional worlds, it seems not to have been. (I dislike Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality as a piece of writing, but the premise is pretty brilliant.)

  9. says

    It’s out there… somewhere…on the internet…
    Flying pigs, pork is power occults, super-alien space pigs, pork changed my life in 10 easy steps, why pork matters, the tao of pork, pork and the deadly 7, wish upon a pig tree, who stole my bacon if the dog was in the back yard ? So… all these pig mysteries must mean there is an unknown pig related supernatural force among us. You’d be a fool to think that you are immune from it’s piggy portent. Watch the skies people, by the time you hear the hum of their piggy wings IT’S TOO LATE !!!

  10. says

    Hey, and what about that poor purple picking purpose person, Hanzi ? Soften your heart to challenge brother… you don’t have to rush to react, the sting of depression is like a brain burp, a fall in the snow, suddenly you feel shame but you must turn your thoughts to love and support, make a snow angel… even through the tears there is a smile to be found, a jewel in the dirt…

  11. Monocle Smile says

    @EL
    That actually cleared a few things up.

    Some supernatural explanations are constructed to be untestable, ex: a wizard did it. Some natural explanations are also constructed to be untestable, ex: aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit did it. Supernaturalism does not have a monopoly on hypotheses which are constructed to be unfalsifiable

    Now I understand what you’re saying. It’s still not perfect, as aliens in a cloaked spaceship is technically testable in principle, but now your position makes sense to me. I think I agree a bit more than before.

    Telepathy is an example. Manifesting ghosts is an example. We know enough about physics, such as quantum field theory, that if these were true, then they (probably) cannot be shoehorned into the “matter-in-motion” paradigm

    I leer at statements like this. We continue to discover freaky things about our world, and ruling out things like telepathy completely doesn’t sit well with me. Manifesting ghosts? Sure.

    Perhaps science is ill-equipped for a particular supernatural hypothesis, but science is also ill-equipped to detect sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit

    And now I can’t possibly agree with this. It’s not science, but the current state of technology that’s ill-equipped to detect cloaked aliens in orbit. I mean, theists conflate currently unknown with unknowable all the time, and it’s one of my pet peeves. Maybe there’s a better example you could use.

  12. Monocle Smile says

    Also, I don’t find Matt’s train of thought to be accomodationalist at all. I think theists think that it is, but that’s a failure to understand what’s actually being said. Matt isn’t saying “there’s this realm called the supernatural that we can’t investigate with science.” He’s saying “you’re talking nonsense because that’s fundamentally unfalsifiable.” At least, that’s my take on it.

  13. says

    I think the clincher, at least for me, is the difficulty in defining what “the natural” is. I can’t remember the source of the quote, but could we tell the difference between “supernatural” (or magic) and a sufficiently advanced technology?

    In that sense, the dividing line between natural/supernatural is more our ignorance, a line that wouldn’t be respected by science.

    Maybe “supernatural” means the set of things that specifically a god, or ghost, does, but that’s sort of arbitrary. Saying “natural” is everything within this universe also would be arbitrarily deciding that science could not investigate parallel universes, for no particular reason.

    I’m inclined to agree with EL here, that when Matt continues talking about “proving the supernatural”, that it’s largely incoherent of a statement.

  14. corwyn says

    Telepathy is only considered impossible BECAUSE someone has labeled it supernatural.

    http://www.schlockmercenary.com/2002-04-13

    Any teenager could believably simulate telepathy to someone more than 200 years ago. Anyone from 200 years in the future will have telepathy (functionally).

    Ghosts are trickier, but I can easily imagine a natural phenomenon that matches peoples ideas about ghosts.

    But here is the question, should one of these occur, which is the more likely thing for dogmatic scientific types to do:
    1) Decide that supernatural things exist.
    2) Decide that it does in fact meet the criteria of matter in motion.
    3) Decide that ‘matter in motion’ was a bit of a naive test.
    I can’t imagine anyone is answering 1. There are currently things which ONLY scientists believe, that don’t pass the matter in motion test (like the idea that the magnetic moment of a particle doesn’t always follow the same path as the rest of the particle). The point I am trying to make here is that if your test for natural vs supernatural is likely to be thrown out in the first instance when it produces a ‘supernatural’ result, it really isn’t a viable test in the first place. Find a test for supernatural that scientists will be willing to accept and you might be on to something.

  15. Rick Pikul says

    While the law regarding only monotheists being allowed to hold office in Texas may have been struck down in the 1960s, it was being enforced and defended in court at least as recently as the 1990s.

    The game that was played against the guy who the CBC interviewed was to keep things as slow as possible in the courts that by the time it reached a court that would put the guy in office, his term had run out and the case was mooted.

  16. Monocle Smile says

    @Clay
    Yeah, I was pretty skeptical of that dude. Nothing about that call sounded sincere. The “aliens” questions produced rather odd responses.

  17. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I still think that it would be incredibly hard to shoehorn in a “soul” into modern physics. In physics speak, if there was a soul which did something, that would mean that there is a new fundamental force of nature which interacts only with the protons, electrons, and/or neutrons (and/or their constituent quarks), and only when they’re in the human brain. If the “mindless matter in motion” paradigm is not completely meaningless, it excludes this. It’s exactly stuff like this which it’s meant to exclude. The idea of a new fundamental force that only interacts with particles based on the macro-state configuration of the particles? There is no way you can shoehorn that into modern physics without a paradigm shift away from matter in motion, and especially not into quantum field theory.

  18. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Some supernatural explanations are constructed to be untestable, ex: a wizard did it. Some natural explanations are also constructed to be untestable, ex: aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit did it. Supernaturalism does not have a monopoly on hypotheses which are constructed to be unfalsifiable

    Now I understand what you’re saying. It’s still not perfect, as aliens in a cloaked spaceship is technically testable in principle, but now your position makes sense to me. I think I agree a bit more than before.

    Why do you think the supernatural explanation is unfalsifiable even in principle? How do you know that we do not have a window or access to supernatural powers? Perhaps there is some process that we have access to that gives us access to the supernatural realm. Tools and instruments if you will.

    Conversely, how do you know that “aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit” is falsifiable in principle? Perhaps they have sufficient power and inclination to hold us back technologically, and ensure that we never gain access to the tools and instruments which would allow detection of their spaceship.

  19. corwyn says

    that would mean that there is a new fundamental force of nature which interacts only with the protons, electrons, and/or neutrons (and/or their constituent quarks), and only when they’re in the human brain.

    Why do you think that people who believe in souls would agree that that is a good description of a soul? Of course souls can interact with more than just matter in the human brain. How do you think ghosts work? Or faith healing? etc.

    ***

    Conversely, how do you know that “aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit” is falsifiable in principle? Perhaps they have sufficient power and inclination to hold us back technologically, and ensure that we never gain access to the tools and instruments which would allow detection of their spaceship.

    Now we are having a huge gap on what the phrase ‘in principle’ means.

    [By the way, an exploding spaceship full of tiny ball bearings would render their ‘cloaking device’ moot. That can be done with current tech]

  20. Monocle Smile says

    Why do you think the supernatural explanation is unfalsifiable even in principle? How do you know that we do not have a window or access to supernatural powers?

    Because “supernatural” is nonsense, like you said. How does one falsify nonsense? If you’re talking about access to a realm outside of our currently observable universe…I would still consider that part of nature even if it operates with different rules. I sometimes think about that…what if we opened a wormhole into a universe “similar” to ours, but without the strong force? Or with an additional force?

    Perhaps they have sufficient power and inclination to hold us back technologically, and ensure that we never gain access to the tools and instruments which would allow detection of their spaceship

    That’s practice, not principle, and c’mon, this is a bit silly. I’m assuming that the aliens and their ship are physical, because they’re “cloaked” and not phantasmic. EL, I agree that there are plenty of unfalsifiable natural hypotheses; I just think the example wasn’t quite on point.

  21. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Monocle Smile
    I’m trying to show that the aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit is exactly as falsifiable as an invisible (not necessarily omnipotent) god.

  22. leeslonaker says

    If I am asked if I believe in the supernatural, I just say no. The next question is likely to be ” Why not?”. My response is you have to provide me with an example of a specific supernatural claim, or at least a clear definition of what you mean by supernatural. The same holds true if you ask ” Can science ever prove the supernatural?” The question is meaningless with out a better explanation of what it is we are trying to prove. So lets assume you are not asking something ” can science prove the unprovable?” because that is as stupid as ” Can god make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it?” . If you are not addressing a specific claim then what you are doing is more likely philosophy and not science. The example with the hypothetical scrolls was just silly, to me it amounted to nothing more than ” If I showed you scientific proof of the supernatural would you believe that the supernatural can be scientifically proven?”. That’s a really big IF.

  23. Robert, not Bob says

    A Jehovah’s Witness decided to engage with Matt Dillahunty? And ended up defending biblical slavery? Ooh, to have been in the audience for that!
    @Abraham van Helsing, that’s a good practical definition of supernatural, probably how most people really use the word. Of course, it’s a definition that allows any single person to logically deny it.

    That’s okay; it’s just like an argument for gnostic atheism I’ve been thinking about lately: since, in Christian/Muslim terms, “God” means “the person who has a natural right to total authority and whose actions are good no matter what they are”, any one person can say No-consent of the governed still applies. It depends on the definition you are using, and I think EL-and Matt and Jen-committed the serious error of not defining their terms first (not realizing, I suppose, that they had to). The only coherent logical definition of “supernatural” I’ve ever come across is “something that can never, even in principle, be understood scientifically”, which I say is a null concept, being one of those unprovable negatives. ‘Course I haven’t heard everything, and mustn’t fall into the pit of personal incredulity…

  24. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @corwyn

    that would mean that there is a new fundamental force of nature which interacts only with the protons, electrons, and/or neutrons (and/or their constituent quarks), and only when they’re in the human brain.

    Why do you think that people who believe in souls would agree that that is a good description of a soul? Of course souls can interact with more than just matter in the human brain. How do you think ghosts work? Or faith healing? etc.

    Ok… but it still cannot be made to fit into the model of “mindless matter in motion” (probably), and specially quantum field theory. Quantum field theory has very precise mathematics and implications. If there was such a force that interacted significantly with our everyday world, and if that force fit the model of quantum field theory, then we would have already discovered it. That was one of the big takeaways of Sean Carroll’s talk (link above). In the modern picture of physics, there is no room anymore for souls. Of course, quantum field theory might be wrong or incomplete.

    Again it is the consequence of quantum field theory that if there is a new kind of field (e.g. force or matter particle) which interacts significantly with the stuff that makes up the human body, we would have found it by creating it in a particle accelerator already. It’s a direct consequence of the math. It cannot hide inside quantum field theory. It can hide outside quantum field theory – in other words it can hide outside the best model of “mindless matter in motion” that we currently have. And such a thing would be a great start at overturning the “mindless matter in motion” paradigm. “Mindless matter in motion” paradigm is not empty. It is not so malleable that it can be made to fit all of the facts.

    [By the way, an exploding spaceship full of tiny ball bearings would render their ‘cloaking device’ moot. That can be done with current tech]

    Hmm, yes, unless it was the advanced cloaking technology developed by the Federation in that on TNG episode which also made it “out of phase” so that it did not interact with normal matter. The ball bearing would go right through without interacting.

  25. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @leeslonaker
    Sure. I have no problem with that. If you want to take the “supernatural is incoherent” approach, it necessarily follows that you ought to object to anyone claiming that science is founded on methodological naturalism.

    @Robert, not Bob

    The only coherent logical definition of “supernatural” I’ve ever come across is “something that can never, even in principle, be understood scientifically”, which I say is a null concept, being one of those unprovable negatives. ‘Course I haven’t heard everything, and mustn’t fall into the pit of personal incredulity…

    As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I think there’s another perfectly consistent and meaningful definition of “natural” and “supernatural”. The natural world is a mindless matter in motion paradigm. The supernatural is anything that cannot be made to fit the mindless matter in motion paradigm.

    I think that this is the most natural, most straightforward and sensible definition of terms in the context of the Christian religion. The standard Christian dogma is that we are not mere meat machines, and that we have a soul separate from the meat body (which somehow interacts with the meat body), which survives past the death and destruction of the meat body. The meat body is part of the mindless matter in motion world, but the soul somehow gets to poke its ugly hands in and mess with the particles in order to effect decisions of the soul.

    PS: Now obligatory.
    They’re made out of meat!

  26. HappyPerson says

    just heard the show. last guy was interesting. at one point it seemed like he was asking to be brainwashed just to be happy. i say brainwashed because he would have to lose his (pretty strong) sense of rationality for that to happen. as matt said, you can’t just choose to believe in X, you have to be convinced of it somehow. seems like a sad situation and I applaud him for calling if sincere (he should talk to a psychologist, though).

  27. Robert, not Bob says

    EL, the phrase you’re fond of, doesn’t it just mean a rejection of dualism-in the same way we reject theism, and for pretty much the same reasons?

  28. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Robert, not Bob says
    Basically, yea. I like “matter in motion” better because IMHO it’s more descriptive. Dualism is a little too fuzzy for my tastes. IMHO, dualism refers to the paradigm of the world being composed of two substances, and – wait for it – I find those two substances to be substantially similar to natural vs supernatural, and material vs idealism (mind), and “matter in motion” vs other.

  29. says

    @EL
    If we had two actual telepaths, we could then prove that their communication works.

    However, we cannot ever prove that telepathy is supernatural, because we would have to rule out every possible natural explanation. There is always a small chance left that humanity hasn’t yet found that particular part of nature.
    We could, however, prove that it is natural, by finding out the mechanism, by which it works. This is no different to practically everything that science was not able to explain in the past and now can.

    There are several possible definitions of supernatural, by which this is true; one is obviously “that which cannot be proven by science” but you could also have some sort of magic that is actually a natural thing, except that it doesn’t follow any rules. If it was built in to the universe, that “everything behaves according to the rules of physics EXCEPT those two telepaths” – there is no possible way to actually prove that this is the case.

    In other words, the confusion seems to be, that you talk about
    “You cannot prove something supernatural”
    which I agree, is wrong, if you use your definition, but there is a second statement
    “You cannot prove that something is supernatural”
    which I guess is what Matt talks about.

    (I still have to watch the show though, but this is my take on it 🙂 )

  30. danielduran says

    I think the problem here is that both sides (EL vs AxP) are discusing different things. As far as I understand, EL talks about if science could demostrate that _some_ supernatural phenomenon exist, Matt et al discuss about determine what the cause of that supernatural stuff is. Two completely different matters.

    I kind of like the definition of supernatural of EL. If we define “natural” as “mindless matter in motion”, or more precisely, something that is explained by “Quantum field theory” (QFT), then anything that cannot be explained by QFT would be, by definition, “supernatural”.

    Then, if it happens that some person shows that saying some funny phrase or “incantation” he is able to transform water into wine, everytime, and scientists all over the world could perform experiments, setting their detectors to trace every particle/forces described by QFT that could be think as a potential cause for the phenomenon, and it happens that no matter what scientist try, they finally conclude that no known force or particle predicted by QFT is involved, therefore… YES! then science would be able somehow to “confirm” that at least there is one phenomenon that fall outside of the (proposed) definition of “natural” described above, and therefore it is, by definition, supernatural…

    So far, so good: EL 1, AxP 0.

    But: even if scientists are able to determine that this phenomenon falls outside of the QFT (hence, it could be said it is not natural for our current understanding of reality), scientist would have no way to know or differentiate between the phenomenon been caused by any other “mindless matter in motion” theory not yet discoverd (like, some more global theory of reality that includes both dark and normal matter, where QFT is a simply subset) or a “supernatural mindful intervention of a divine being”.

    In simple words, scientists could confirm there is a phenomenon that cannot be explained by our current best understanding of physical world (QFT?), but they would have no clue about what the actual cause is anyway. So their lack of knowledge about what the real cause is does not work as a proof of supernatural, unless you want to jump to an argument from ignorance. And that is what I understood Matt was trying to explain.

    Therefore, EL 1, AxP 1.

    In fact, let say that the “incantation” used for the phenomenon requires to include the name “Yahweh” three times. If you don’t use that name, no wine transformation happens. Huge correlation! For sure believers would assume that is a proof that Yahweh exists, but how do you know? How could anyone distinguish the cause is a “supernatural agent called God/Yahweh” switching water into wine, instead of “aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit” that happens to be making a kind of interplanetary social experiment, so they work to detect the “incantation phrase” being issued in any point of the planet and then they use their advanced tecnology to transform water into wine wherever in the earth someone says the magic incantation? Could science discard the first “explanation” from the second (or any other ad-hoc idea) just looking at the water being transformed into wine again, again and again?

    I think science cannot.

    Unless EL is able to explain how scientist, once they determine something is “supernatural” by his own definition, could actually rule out all wrong causes (supernatural or not) and therefore demonstrate what the actual cause beyond QFT really is… but IFAIK I haven’t seen that part of his reasoning clearly explained yet here.

  31. Abraham Van Helsing says

    @EL and @Robert not Bob —

    Basically, yea. I like “matter in motion” better because IMHO it’s more descriptive. Dualism is a little too fuzzy for my tastes. IMHO, dualism refers to the paradigm of the world being composed of two substances, and – wait for it – I find those two substances to be substantially similar to natural vs supernatural, and material vs idealism (mind), and “matter in motion” vs other.

    Dualism, to me, definitely relates to both dichotomies. Mind and Matter…. Supernatural and Natural. A discussion of dualism leads you to the crux of the problem that the mind cannot sense the electrical activity that gives rise to it (for good reasons – it would drive us insane), so we can feel “disconnected” from our body. I suspect that is what encourages a belief in the supernatural, since some may project their idea of a disconnected mind onto “agents” that they perceive.

  32. corwyn says

    As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I think there’s another perfectly consistent and meaningful definition of “natural” and “supernatural”. The natural world is a mindless matter in motion paradigm.

    And I already showed you how it fails. Here is a simpler example. Space. Space(time) is not ,mindless matter in motion, I claim it is natural; done. Therefore, I don’t accept your definition of ‘supernatural’.

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran
    Lots of problems.

    You use some peculiar language w.r.t. “causes”, which makes me think you don’t understand science properly. My preferred definition of causation is Hume’s constant conjunction.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constant_conjunction
    Causation merely describes certain seemingly unalterable patterns about the universe around us. As followed by Bs. As are always followed by Bs. As always in constant conjunction with Bs. When we see this constant conjunction, in spite of good efforts to detect confounding variables, then we call that causation. This evidence creates a belief in us. It creates an expectation that the next time we see an A, it will be followed by a B. That’s all there is to causation. Anything else is metaphysical baggage which is non-scientific, and which I do not buy. Correlation, plus legitimate attempts to account for confounding variables, does show causation. There’s nothing more to a cliche controlled experiment in a lab.

    Specifically, you often show causation without showing a cause. In other words, you often show causation without showing a mechanism, or some deeper underlying model which explains your particular scenario and many others. Take a moment to wrap your head around that one.

    In a general sense depending on exact meanings, I don’t know what it means to say that “the cause is supernatural”. I don’t know what it means to say that “the cause is natural”. In the sense very similar to a logical positivist, I do not understand what you mean. How would you determine if the cause is natural or supernatural? Is it meaningful to even talk about natural vs supernatural? What’s the difference? By that, I mean what is the observable difference? As a kind of positivist, if there is no observable difference in this context, then you are not talking about anything meaningful – from my perspective you just seem to be attaching labels to things for no explicable reason.

    My other big problem is that you jump too quickly to sophistry and solipsism when talking about anything supernatural. IMHO, it’s the result of buying into the Christian notion of god as “mysterious” and beyond human comprehension, and conflating “supernatural” with “the mysterious Christian god”. That’s the association which needs to die. For example, if I claim to have discovered some new process to create some new drug in the lab, and you accuse me of not actually demonstrating it because there might be sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship fucking with me, would we consider that a legitimate complaint? Hell no! How is that sophistry any more legitimate in the context of any supernatural claim? Again, the problem is that you immediately conflate “supernatural” with “mysterious” and “sufficiently powerful to trick us all”.

    Have you ever read any fantasy novels? Fantasy movies or television? Pick some monster which violates physics. One kind of troll is a strong animal, but which also regenerates from any amount of damage except fire. A second kind of troll is just a strong animal, but which also turns to stone in sunlight (and reverts back at sundown). Here we have some legitimate candidates for supernatural. Perfectly well defined. If you try to invoke sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit as an alternative “explanation”, we should have every right to laugh that idea out of the discussion. It’s not an explanation at all because it doesn’t explain anything, for exactly the same reason that the usual god hypothesis doesn’t explain anything. However, as soon as you start nailing down the supernatural hypothesis into clear and concrete terms, such as a particular variety of troll, then it is an explanation. It’s a model of reality. When presented with a particular troll, a matching “troll model” will do a very good job of describing the reality which you find yourself in.

    Of course, at this point, I again have to ask if you would consider the existence of either kind of troll to be natural or supernatural? I ask how would you make that determination? Is the default position “natural”? Why? That seems mightily unjustified to just assume something without sufficient evidence and reason.

    Now, on the other hand, if you took my argument that “matter in motion” is not a paradigm which can be expanded to include every possible observation, e.g. that it actually (probabilistically) prohibits (in a predictive sense) certain observables, then we can talk about all of the overwhelming evidence we have for it right now, which supports our expectation that all future observables will also fit into the “matter in motion” paradigm. It is this sense that methodological naturalism is justified. Boudry et al refer to this concept and justification as “provisory methodological naturalism” (Or PMN).
    https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism

  34. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @corwyn
    I don’t know if you’re being dishonest, or if you have never read the work of anyone who has advocated materialism. Due to your IMHO excessive pedantry, I now believe that nothing short of linking to the work of Galileo, Baron d’Holbach, or similar, would suffice (and possibly not even that).

    As a start, here is an English translation of “System Of Nature” by Baron d’Holbach, chapter 3, which AFAIK deals with this particular concept. You may want to start at chapter 1 and continue reading past chapter 3.
    http://www.ftarchives.net/holbach/system/a03.htm

  35. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @corwyn
    Also bringing the discussion into one place.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2014/11/23/open-thread-for-aetv-893-russell-and-tracie/#comment-529591
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2014/11/23/open-thread-for-aetv-893-russell-and-tracie/#comment-531115

    I take ‘philosophical naturalism’ to mean the idea that all that is, has an explanation which is fully detailed in all particulars.

    I’m interested in practical knowledge, not esoteric claims that have no practical meaning ever.

    I think we both agreed it’s impossible for humans to ever determine if philosophical naturalism under that definition is true, due to the problem of infinite regresses of explanations.

    Your definition of philosophical naturalism is completely unusable in any practical way. There is no way to (weakly) verify it nor falsify it. It can only be taken by faith, and even if taken by faith, it has no impact on any practical discussion precisely because of the problem of infinite regress. In other words, even if taken on faith, there is no way to distinguish between competing ideas on the assumption that everything has an explanation, because our time here is finite, and every explanation demands another explanation.

    Of course, because of those reasons, your definition doesn’t match the usage of any reasonable proponent and user of the label.

    Finally, for those reasons, I do not believe that your definition of the term is a reasonable usage.

  36. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @jundurg

    However, we cannot ever prove that telepathy is supernatural, because we would have to rule out every possible natural explanation. There is always a small chance left that humanity hasn’t yet found that particular part of nature.
    We could, however, prove that it is natural, by finding out the mechanism, by which it works. This is no different to practically everything that science was not able to explain in the past and now can.

    This embodies a lot of the problems.

    Suppose a hammer falls to the ground when released at a height. Could you please walk me through the process which allows us to identify the mechanism, “how it works”, and how that leads to the conclusion that it’s natural. Equivalently, what sort of claims does “methodological naturalism” prohibit? Equivalently, suppose we find that “bit” (whatever it is and whatever that means) which is telepathy. By what process or method could you determine that it’s part of the natural world? Equivalently, I’m asking you to define “natural”, “natural explanation”, and “natural world”.

    Second, this seems very much like an unfair shifting of the burden of proof. We don’t demand absolute certainty in other areas of science. Why do you want absolute certainty that it cannot be natural before allowing the conclusion that it’s supernatural? For example, normally in modern physics a 5-sigma confidence level is quite all right (e.g. a confidence level of about 0.9999997% ). Oftentimes we claim knowledge and we act with far less confidence than that.

    Now, perhaps you might argue that we cannot meaningfully assign probabilities to the supernatural because we’ve never confirmed it before. Convenient catch-22. How would that sound to Einstein when he was developing relativity. “Nope. Can’t do it. We’ve never confirmed relativity before, and thus we cannot derive probabilities.” The answer to this quandry is honest practice of Bayesian reasoning, starting with reasonable priors (50% confidence either way before examining any evidence whatsoever).

    Of course, for this approach to work, you need to rigorously define terms (natural and supernatural) in order to have clear predictions in order to develop probabilities. And herein lies the rub: If you are able to define natural sufficiently rigorously that some observations would (probabilistically) clearly be not natural, then Bayesian reasoning works, and everyone is happy. However, if you are unable to specify even one observation (or set of observations, etc.) which are (probabilistically) more likely supernatural than natural, then your definition of natural is vacuous and meaningless. Thus, “methodological naturalism” in practice does not prohibit even a single thing. “Methodological naturalism” becomes an empty, meaningless statement. If we reach that point, why would you even try to assert that “science uses methodological naturalism”? Why? If it doesn’t prohibit even a single thing, then what does it mean to assert it? Why assert it at all? What does it mean to be true? What does it mean to be false? It’s not right, and it’s not even wrong.
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong

    There are several possible definitions of supernatural, by which this is true; one is obviously “that which cannot be proven by science” but you could also have some sort of magic that is actually a natural thing, except that it doesn’t follow any rules. If it was built in to the universe, that “everything behaves according to the rules of physics EXCEPT those two telepaths” – there is no possible way to actually prove that this is the case.

    Imagine we live in a world where there are two people who can telepathically communicate with each other, and I’m not talking about via technological implants. I’m talking about from the basic human condition. If we lived in that world, you think we could not convincingly demonstrate this fact with science? Really? Really!? I don’t know what to say to this. Of course we could demonstrate that they could communicate telepathically. It’s almost trivial to set up the proper experiments to (non-absolutely) confirm this.

    Am I missing something from what you are saying? Or are you just this wrong? I feel like I have to be missing something. I am tempted to believe that you have this confused conflation between “supernatural” and “does not follow any rules”.

    I want to borrow from the great skepticon 7 talk (linked above). Imagine that the Christian god exists, and he has the power to will anything he wants into existence – he can will any change to the world and it will happen. So, let’s imagine it from god’s perspective. God would find himself in a world where any time we will something to be, it becomes.

    Laws of Nature are statements of the uniformities or regularities in the world; they are mere descriptions of the way the world is. (From Intern Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/lawofnat/ )

    That would be a law of nature. God would find himself in a universe with but a single law of nature: whatever god wills to happen, change, or be, becomes true.

    If there was such a god, then the natural world is the world god finds himself in. It has that single law of nature. That means that we humans are not in the natural world – not directly at least. We would be in an unnatural world. We would be in a manufactured world. All of our purported laws of nature would be just the consequence of the single natural law that god can will things to happen.

    On a certain naive understanding, there is no above the natural or outside the natural. The naive understanding of the natural world is simply that which exists. In this scenario, the natural world is the empty slate which god finds himself in, and the single law of nature that god can will anything to happen. If such a god exists, it is part of the natural world. (And thus it’s still a mistake to assert that science operates on methodological naturalism.)

  37. says

    Imagine we live in a world where there are two people who can telepathically communicate with each other, and I’m not talking about via technological implants. I’m talking about from the basic human condition. If we lived in that world, you think we could not convincingly demonstrate this fact with science? Really? Really!? I don’t know what to say to this. Of course we could demonstrate that they could communicate telepathically. It’s almost trivial to set up the proper experiments to (non-absolutely) confirm this.

    Am I missing something from what you are saying?

    Yes you are. 🙂

    I’m not talking about proving that telepathy exists, I’m talking about proving that it has no natural cause that could ever be determined.
    I understand that it might not be meaningful to make a distinction between natural and supernatural – that is a matter of definition, apparently.

    However, if I define supernatural for this specific example as “magic, that follows no other rules except making telepathy between two individuals possible”, I don’t think that science can demonstrate that this is the case… at least, the default expectation would be that there is some underlying principle, that has not been found yet. (As things stood with biology before the discovery of the theory of evolution) “Magic” is no explanation simply because it has no explanatory power. So, if the supernatural is something that exists but works in ways that are illogical or incomprehensible, it is outside the bounds of science… it’s existence would, in science, only be an assumption, based on the absence of a better explanation (ie god of the gaps).

    I don’t know how much this whole discussion has to do with reality, since we currently don’t have the problem. (ie there is no strange violation of the laws of physics that we know of, like telepathy would seem to be)

  38. corwyn says

    @EL:

    Due to your IMHO excessive pedantry,

    This is amazingly rich coming from you. Have a nice day, I am done with you on this topic, learn the problems with your arguments some other way.

  39. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @corwyn
    I apply principle of charity in my arguments. I try to understand what the opponent is saying. You do not.

  40. davecampbell says

    OMG! This is really giving me a headache.

    I’ll make it easy for you. If you were to find someone who could turn water into wine and no scientific test could detect any natural cause, than yes, that could prove the existence of the supernatural.
    So, get someone who can turn water into wine just by incantation and test them.

    Otherwise, just shut up already!

  41. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    “Magic” is no explanation simply because it has no explanatory power.

    Yes it is. If there were D&D 3.5 sorcerers running around who would cast fireballs by force of will – when you ask “Why is that goblin burnt to a crisp”, a proper answer is “there was a sorcerer who used magic (to cast a fireball)”.

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @davecampbell
    You’re evading. What is a natural cause and not? How could you tell the difference? What is the difference?

  43. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @jundurg
    To continue. The Boudry paper (link above) addresses this very point. Some explanations that appeal to magic are not explanations at all. However, if the world was like D&D 3.5, then magic can be an explanation with as much explanatory power as any other explanation. “Why does that goblin have a hole through its chest?” “Our fighter put her sword through the goblin’s chest.” “Why is that other goblin burned over most of its body?” “Our sorcerer used magic and created a ball of fire through force of will and directed at the goblin.”

    Do not make the fundamental mistake overgeneralization. Just because some explanations of a certain type lack explanatory power does not mean all explanations of that type lack explanatory power. If magic ala D&D 3.5 was real, then “magic” has great explanatory power. Whether it reduces to natural explanations is beside the point. What matters is that many people will misunderstand “methodological naturalism” as meaning that science has nothing to say about the apparent ability of the D&D 3.5 sorcerer to create out of seemingly nothing balls of fire and direct them to unwary goblins. Whereas, if there were individuals with sorcerous power, science would be all over that. If science can inquire into sorcery – and it can – then what exactly is prohibited by “methodological naturalism”? What matter is “methodological naturalism” is too confused to be right or wrong – but most importantly many people hear professional scientists saying this, and they misunderstand it to mean something, like science cannot touch religion, as opposed to be an empty vacuous assertion that it is.

  44. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @corwyn
    Seriously now. I cannot take you seriously when you say this:

    And I already showed you how it fails. Here is a simpler example. Space. Space(time) is not ,mindless matter in motion, I claim it is natural; done. Therefore, I don’t accept your definition of ‘supernatural’.

    I already identified this paradigm as belonging to Galileo and Baron d’Holbach. Do you think that Galileo and Baron d’Holbach did not understood that there’s this “thing” called space, and matter is in motion in space? What you wrote is not a serious rebuttal. You have absolutely no sound footing to complain. You can take the conversion seriously, or you can go wander off as you’ve already threatened to do. If you’re not willing to take the conversation seriously anyway, and you wander off, then nothing of value was lost.

  45. davecampbell says

    You’re evading. What is a natural cause and not? How could you tell the difference? What is the difference?

    Cause of what? Show me an example.

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @davecampbell
    My apologies. I was … not taking enough time to vet my replies. Do we both agree that it is wrong-headed to claim that science is founded on methodological naturalism? If yes, we’re in agreement, and I’m done.

  47. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    As for quotes,
    {blockquote}quote goes here{/blockquote}
    except angled bracked instead of curly braces {}. (If I was smart enough, I would know the escape sequence for it. If I was motivated enough, I could google it.

    The preview button is your friend too.

  48. davecampbell says

    I don’t know what metho-whateveryousaid is.

    What do I know is this.
    We can argue ’till the cows come home about whether this or that thing may or may not exist, or which claims are wrong-headed or level-headed, or pin-headed even. But until you bring me something to examine, something I can see, or hear, or feel, or measure in some way, the only Supernatural that we can actually demonstrate is the one with Sam and Dean.

  49. danielduran says

    Hi @EL,

    You complained about my “understanding” of “cause”, and pointed me to the “constant conjuntion” concept. Sure, as it is actually explained in the wiki page that concept tries to “contradict a more common phrase: Correlation is not causation”. So, it explains that if B happens always after A, then we could consider A the cause. It actually offers the Pavlov’s law of conditioning as an example. Let’s work with that…

    Causation merely describes certain seemingly unalterable patterns about the universe around us. As followed by Bs. As are always followed by Bs. As always in constant conjunction with Bs. When we see this constant conjunction, in spite of good efforts to detect confounding variables, then we call that causation.

    Here I definitively do not agree with you. Causation is not simply saying “B happens always after A, therefore A is the cause of B”. That is not sufficient.

    What I understand as causation requires:

    (1) If A happens, then B should happen.
    (2) If A happens, then not-B should not happen.
    (3) If A does not happen, then B should not happen.

    That’s why we could say an “electrical current on a lightbulb filament” (A) causes “a lightbulb to emit light” (B). We now A causes B because:

    – when we have A (current), B happens (light), (1).
    – when we have A (current), we never observe no-B (no-light), (2).
    – when we have no-A (no current), we never observe B (light) (3).

    But your constant conjuntion concept lack that extra checks (2, 3), so I don’t buy it too much.

    In a general sense depending on exact meanings, I don’t know what it means to say that “the cause is supernatural”. I don’t know what it means to say that “the cause is natural”. In the sense very similar to a logical positivist, I do not understand what you mean. How would you determine if the cause is natural or supernatural?

    I don’t know how to determine if the cause is supernatural. But what I see is that you don’t know either.

    But I now what it means the to say “the cause is natural”. Electrons are part of the natural world. Also electrical current, and that is why we think that lightbulbs works by natural causes, and we don’t have to burn electricians like witches.

    Is it meaningful to even talk about natural vs supernatural?

    As an atheist, and as a skeptic, I haven’t seen any serious reasons to think that anything supernatural (in any meaningful definition of it) actually exist. But the supernatural is not something that rational atheist or skeptics actually believe or says that exists, so you are asking to the wrong people. You may need to ask that to the actual believers of *anything* supernatural…

    What’s the difference [of natural vs supernatural]? By that, I mean what is the observable difference?

    That is something that the people that postulate that something supernatural exist must explain.

    My other big problem is that you jump too quickly to sophistry and solipsism when talking about anything supernatural. IMHO, it’s the result of buying into the Christian notion of god as “mysterious” and beyond human comprehension, and conflating “supernatural” with “the mysterious Christian god”. That’s the association which needs to die.

    Do I told you I am an atheist? I do not buy any notion of god(s) because I don’t believe anyone of them exist. I simply use it as a example.

    For example, if I claim to have discovered some new process to create some new drug in the lab, and you accuse me of not actually demonstrating it because there might be sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship fucking with me, would we consider that a legitimate complaint?

    If you describe your new process (A) and you could show that every time you do “the process” A, it follows you obtain the “new drug” (B), that if you change A in any meaningful way (let say that is “no A”), you never get the drug (B), and if you follow A carefully, it never happen that we get no drug (no-B), then, yeah, it would be not valid to acuse you of being deceived by aliens…

    We could actually study what the chain of chemical reactions triggered process A leads to produce B, therefore there may be no doubt that your claim that A produces B is legit.

    But if you claim your process is to recite some incantation in latin, even if you prove “causation” perfectly well, the aliens hypothesis is as good as any other (also non demonstrated) hypothetical but unproven cause to explain why latin words produces drugs.

    If you try to invoke sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit as an alternative “explanation”, we should have every right to laugh that idea out of the discussion. It’s not an explanation at all because it doesn’t explain anything, for exactly the same reason that the usual god hypothesis doesn’t explain anything.

    I fully agree with you on that, so…

    However, as soon as you start nailing down the supernatural hypothesis into clear and concrete terms, such as a particular variety of troll, then it is an explanation. It’s a model of reality. When presented with a particular troll, a matching “troll model” will do a very good job of describing the reality which you find yourself in.

    Sure, if you nail down the “supernatural hypothesis into clear and concrete terms”, you could use it as a model of reality. But your own flagship example, the latin incantation that turns water into wine, there is no clear or concrete terms of why the latin incantation works that could be examine by science, nor any underlying model of reality that explains why it works, so, sorry, from your own standars your example fails doing so.

    Of course, at this point, I again have to ask if you would consider the existence of either kind of troll to be natural or supernatural?

    Does the troll follow known “natural” laws (like QFT)? then it is safe to call it natural. Does the troll violate the known “natural” laws? Then, it maybe the case it is actually supernatural, but also it may be the case that that troll simply is under some “new” natural laws we are not still aware of. As we cannot use science to determine which case it is (real supernatural or unknown natural), the answer is: we don’t know, and science cannot say it either.

    I ask how would you make that determination? Is the default position “natural”? Why? That seems mightily unjustified to just assume something without sufficient evidence and reason.

    The fact that some phenomena violates the known physics only says that we don’t know what the cause/model is. Therefore, we should say “we currently don’t know” and then we should work to figure out if there is an unknown natural reason for it.

    Science could say as first case: “yes, the phenomenon follows the known natural rules “. Or as a second case: “no, it does not, so we don’t know what is going on by now”. Do you see a third option?

    Now, in the first case, inductively we could assume then the phenomenon is actually natural, backed up by all known natural phenomena that also behaves like that.

    In the second case, as we don’t know, we cannot say (for certainty) if the phenomenon is natural or supernatural. But as we also have a lot of cases where in some moment science observed a phenomenon “unexplained” by natural processes, but after investigating it, 100% of those dubious cases happened to be natural, inductively we could safely default to “some natural explanation may exist” hypothesis justified by all those cases.

    In the other hand: How many cases we have of demonstrated supernatural phenomenon? I bet it is ZERO. How may times a unexplained phenomenon has being being demonstrated as supernatural, so far? AFAIK, zero. You may correct me if I am wrong.

    So I see no reasons to assume that anything is actually supernatural (by any definition) or it has supernatural causes (by any definition of causation you want to assume) until at least SOMETHING supernatural is actually shown to exist. Before that, assuming supernatural (in any meaning of the word) as explanation or even as an hypothesis is actually the unjustified assumption. And I have no idea why science should asume it either. Maybe you could explain why.

  50. danielduran says

    Hi @EL,

    [Sorry, second (duplicated) post: I used the tag “quote” instead of “blockquote”, so it was not clear what your actual quotes were. I am not sure how to edit or delete my comment #54]

    You complained about my “understanding” of “cause”, and pointed me to the “constant conjuntion” concept. Sure, as it is actually explained in the wiki page that concept tries to “contradict a more common phrase: Correlation is not causation”. So, it explains that if B happens always after A, then we could consider A the cause. It actually offers the Pavlov’s law of conditioning as an example. Let’s work with that…

    Causation merely describes certain seemingly unalterable patterns about the universe around us. As followed by Bs. As are always followed by Bs. As always in constant conjunction with Bs. When we see this constant conjunction, in spite of good efforts to detect confounding variables, then we call that causation.”

    Here I definitively do not agree with you. Causation is not simply saying “B happens always after A, therefore A is the cause of B”. That is not sufficient.

    What I understand as causation requires:

    (1) If A happens, then B should happen.
    (2) If A happens, then not-B should not happen.
    (3) If A does not happen, then B should not happen.

    That’s why we could say an “electrical current on a lightbulb filament” (A) causes “a lightbulb to emit light” (B). We now A causes B because:

    – when we have A (current), B happens (light), (1).
    – when we have A (current), we never observe no-B (no-light), (2).
    – when we have no-A (no current), we never observe B (light) (3).

    But your constant conjuntion concept lack that extra checks (2, 3), so I don’t buy it too much.

    In a general sense depending on exact meanings, I don’t know what it means to say that “the cause is supernatural”. I don’t know what it means to say that “the cause is natural”. In the sense very similar to a logical positivist, I do not understand what you mean. How would you determine if the cause is natural or supernatural?

    I don’t know how to determine if the cause is supernatural. But what I see is that you don’t know either.

    But I now what it means the to say “the cause is natural”. Electrons are part of the natural world. Also electrical current, and that is why we think that lightbulbs works by natural causes, and we don’t have to burn electricians like witches.

    Is it meaningful to even talk about natural vs supernatural?

    As an atheist, and as a skeptic, I haven’t seen any serious reasons to think that anything supernatural (in any meaningful definition of it) actually exist. But the supernatural is not something that rational atheist or skeptics actually believe or says that exists, so you are asking to the wrong people. You may need to ask that to the actual believers of *anything* supernatural…

    What’s the difference [of natural vs supernatural]? By that, I mean what is the observable difference?

    That is something that the people that postulate that something supernatural exist must explain.

    My other big problem is that you jump too quickly to sophistry and solipsism when talking about anything supernatural. IMHO, it’s the result of buying into the Christian notion of god as “mysterious” and beyond human comprehension, and conflating “supernatural” with “the mysterious Christian god”. That’s the association which needs to die.

    Do I told you I am an atheist? I do not buy any notion of god(s) because I don’t believe anyone of them exist. I simply use it as a example.

    For example, if I claim to have discovered some new process to create some new drug in the lab, and you accuse me of not actually demonstrating it because there might be sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship fucking with me, would we consider that a legitimate complaint?

    If you describe your new process (A) and you could show that every time you do “the process” A, it follows you obtain the “new drug” (B), that if you change A in any meaningful way (let say that is “no A”), you never get the drug (B), and if you follow A carefully, it never happen that we get no drug (no-B), then, yeah, it would be not valid to acuse you of being deceived by aliens…

    We could actually study what the chain of chemical reactions triggered process A leads to produce B, therefore there may be no doubt that your claim that A produces B is legit.

    But if you claim your process is to reblockquote some incantation in latin, even if you prove “causation” perfectly well, the aliens hypothesis is as good as any other (also non demonstrated) hypothetical but unproven cause to explain why latin words produces drugs.

    If you try to invoke sufficiently advanced aliens in a cloaked spaceship in orbit as an alternative “explanation”, we should have every right to laugh that idea out of the discussion. It’s not an explanation at all because it doesn’t explain anything, for exactly the same reason that the usual god hypothesis doesn’t explain anything.

    I fully agree with you on that, so…

    However, as soon as you start nailing down the supernatural hypothesis into clear and concrete terms, such as a particular variety of troll, then it is an explanation. It’s a model of reality. When presented with a particular troll, a matching “troll model” will do a very good job of describing the reality which you find yourself in.

    Sure, if you nail down the “supernatural hypothesis into clear and concrete terms”, you could use it as a model of reality. But your own flagship example, the latin incantation that turns water into wine, there is no clear or concrete terms of why the latin incantation works that could be examine by science, nor any underlying model of reality that explains why it works, so, sorry, from your own standars your example fails doing so.

    Of course, at this point, I again have to ask if you would consider the existence of either kind of troll to be natural or supernatural?

    Does the troll follow known “natural” laws (like QFT)? then it is safe to call it natural. Does the troll violate the known “natural” laws? Then, it maybe the case it is actually supernatural, but also it may be the case that that troll simply is under some “new” natural laws we are not still aware of. As we cannot use science to determine which case it is (real supernatural or unknown natural), the answer is: we don’t know, and science cannot say it either.

    I ask how would you make that determination? Is the default position “natural”? Why? That seems mightily unjustified to just assume something without sufficient evidence and reason.

    The fact that some phenomena violates the known physics only says that we don’t know what the cause/model is. Therefore, we should say “we currently don’t know” and then we should work to figure out if there is an unknown natural reason for it.

    Science could say as first case: “yes, the phenomenon follows the known natural rules “. Or as a second case: “no, it does not, so we don’t know what is going on by now”. Do you see a third option?

    Now, in the first case, inductively we could assume then the phenomenon is actually natural, backed up by all known natural phenomena that also behaves like that.

    In the second case, as we don’t know, we cannot say (for certainty) if the phenomenon is natural or supernatural. But as we also have a lot of cases where in some moment science observed a phenomenon “unexplained” by natural processes, but after investigating it, 100% of those dubious cases happened to be natural, inductively we could safely default to “some natural explanation may exist” hypothesis justified by all those cases.

    In the other hand: How many cases we have of demonstrated supernatural phenomenon? I bet it is ZERO. How may times a unexplained phenomenon has being being demonstrated as supernatural, so far? AFAIK, zero. You may correct me if I am wrong.

    So I see no reasons to assume that anything is actually supernatural (by any definition) or it has supernatural causes (by any definition of causation you want to assume) until at least SOMETHING supernatural is actually shown to exist. Before that, assuming supernatural (in any meaning of the word) as explanation or even as an hypothesis is actually the unjustified assumption. And I have no idea why science should asume it either. Maybe you could explain why.

  51. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    [Sorry, second (duplicated) post: I used the tag “quote” instead of “blockquote”, so it was not clear what your actual quotes were. I am not sure how to edit or delete my comment #54]

    You can’t. Welcome to the reality of the blog! I fail all the time on that too. The preview button is your friend!

    (3) If A does not happen, then B should not happen.

    Quick point – simply wrong. There can be multiple independent, entirely separate causes of the same effect. This is a common fallacy. For example, one particular illness can cause a symptom X, and an entirely separate and unrelated illness can also cause identical symptom X. Or (morbidly), I can kill you by stabbing, by shooting, by electrocution, etc. All have the end result that your brain processes stop.

    I also think you missed a crucial point I noted earlier, that correlation does show causation when you also have good, honest attempts at detecting and accounting for confounding factors.

    I have to ask – how much do you know about science? Do you know about the cliche controlled clinical experiments for ascertaining the toxicity of possible toxins in humans? Double blind studies and such? Often such studies do not initially ascertain the mechanism by which the substance is toxic, merely that the substance causes certain negative symptoms (e.g. is toxic). Surely you will agree that such studies do show causation without showing mechanism. Again, what more do those studies do except show correlation and attempt to account for confounding factors?

    “As then Bs, always in constant conjunction.”

    – when we have A (current), we never observe no-B (no-light), (2).

    So, you’re saying that you have a intact light bulb with a sufficient electric current passing through it, but it doesn’t produce a light? I’m going to need additional information. What are you talking about?

    Electrons are part of the natural world.

    Why? What makes them part of the natural world and not part of the “supernatural world”? When we recently discovered the Higgs Boson and the Higgs field – first is the Higgs Boson part of the natural world? How did you make that determination? You’re the one making a positive assertion here. I’m asking you to explain and justify your assertion.

    But if you claim your process is to recite some incantation in latin, even if you prove “causation” perfectly well, the aliens hypothesis is as good as any other (also non demonstrated) hypothetical but unproven cause to explain why latin words produces drugs.

    Yes, but…

    there is no clear or concrete terms of why the latin incantation works that could be examine by science, nor any underlying model of reality that explains why it works, so, sorry, from your own standars your example fails doing so.

    You are missing the point: In this hypothetical, I can be be on entirely solid ground to claim that I have shown causation regarding my Latin incantation beyond all reasonable doubt without having shown any mechanism or explanation. I don’t need to have an explanation, nor mechanism, nor underlying cause, etc., in order to show causation. Again, we all live our lives off causation. No one knows what causes gravity, electromagnetism, etc. We simply take them as given, as some of the parts of our shared reality, which we then use to explain many other things which look like they’re unrelated.

    I’m just paraphrasing Feynman badly now.
    Richard Feynman.
    From the BBC TV series ‘Fun to Imagine'(1983).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM

    Finally, regarding the regenerating trolls or turn-to-stone trolls – you don’t want to say whether such things are natural or supernatural, or whether we could detect whether they are natural or supernatural. Ok. Can we agree that we can study this with science? Can we agree that we can use science to determine that fire stops the regeneration of the one kind of trolls, and can we use science to determine that sunlight turns the second kind of trolls to stone? Can we call this a “cause-and -effect”? My D&D character very much understands that using fire on a troll stops its regeneration, and he (non-absolutely) verifies this fact every time he faces a troll. (He learned that acid is also effective too.)

    Perhaps we would integrate these trolls into society. The police would need to know how to handle violent trolls of the regenerating type. The police would be trained to know that bullets are ineffective and that they have to use fire to prevent regeneration. Surely we can say that these conclusions are reasonable, rational, based on the evidence, and are the result of a scientifically minded approach to the world.

    Which leads to this:

    Before that, assuming supernatural (in any meaning of the word) as explanation or even as an hypothesis is actually the unjustified assumption. And I have no idea why science should asume it either. Maybe you could explain why.

    My goal here is not to defend the proposition that science could detect the supernatural if it existed. My goal here is to defend the position that someone is wrong-headed when they say that science cannot be used to study and learn about the supernatural if it existed.

    Thus my most important question, again: What does it mean to say that science must use methodological naturalism? I hope we agree that we would use science to learn how to interact with trolls with regeneration negated by fire, and how to interact with trolls which temporarily transform into stone when exposed to sunlight. Again, I fail to see what paths of inquiry are prohibited by methodological naturalism. If it can study these two kinds of trolls, what is it prohibited from studying? The principle of “methodological naturalism” appears to be a do-nothing principle. Agreed? If it’s a do-nothing principle, and if we know that quoting this principle often leads to confusion and wrong ideas, shouldn’t we not assert it?

  52. says

    “Magic” is no explanation simply because it has no explanatory power.

    Yes it is. If there were D&D 3.5 sorcerers running around who would cast fireballs by force of will – when you ask “Why is that goblin burnt to a crisp”, a proper answer is “there was a sorcerer who used magic (to cast a fireball)”.

    Now you just changed the meaning of the word magic. I meant, very specifically, something that only enables telepathy between exactly two people, and has no observable effect whatsoever besides that.
    D&D-magic is different, since it encompasses a variance of different observable effects, which are understood to belong together (and which follow similar rules)

    Having only ONE example of magic, that is, telepathy of two individuals (which I agree is easy to confirm!), it is not possible to deduce any rules of magic; therefore it is not possible to further investigate it other than saying “yes, it’s there”.
    But there still is no mechanism to find out if this telepathy observation CANNOT be explained by natural effects that are still undiscovered. I think we do basically agree on that, we only make different assumptions what it means:
    From what I understand, you say that there is no meaningful definition of “supernatural”/”natural”, therefore it doesn’t make sense to say that science is based on methodological naturalism.

    My goal here is not to defend the proposition that science could detect the supernatural if it existed. My goal here is to defend the position that someone is wrong-headed when they say that science cannot be used to study and learn about the supernatural if it existed.

    And I wanted to say that it is also wrong to assume that science can be used to study and learn about the supernatural. It could be used for some “supernaturals”, like D&D-magic, but not other, like my example above.

    So, on the question, whether science can be used to learn about something supernatural, we have to be agnostic, since we currently don’t know what kind of supernatural there might be.

    When I hear the sentence “science is based on methological naturalism” I don’t hear “Science cannot be used to learn about supernatural stuff”, instead I hear “science MIGHT NOT be able to be used to learn about supernatural stuff”.

    I hope that clears things up – if not, I’d be interested where we disagree, but let’s not continue the game of jumping to another example of supernatural (like D&D magic) – or … well:

    Do you agree that there COULD be a supernatural that cannot be explained by science? (Not that there IS, only that there COULD be)

  53. danielduran says

    “If A does not happen, then B should not happen” Quick point – simply wrong. There can be multiple independent, entirely separate causes of the same effect

    If you are actually testing that A is a real cause for something B, and B happens anyway without needing A, sure, there may be other potencial causes C, D, and E that could also cause B. Because it would be FULLY WRONG to assume that even if A causes B then A is the _only_ possible cause that could produce B. I haven’t state that nor I think causation works like that, so even assuming it is a straw man I will not follow…

    For example, one particular illness can cause a symptom X, and an entirely separate and unrelated illness can also cause identical symptom X. Or (morbidly), I can kill you by stabbing, by shooting, by electrocution, etc. All have the end result that your brain processes stop.

    Yes, there may be multiple illness that causes symptom X. Let’s say we talk about fever. If you want to confirm that some illness causes fever, surely you’ll take a lot of people with that illness and examine them to confirm if they actually suffer fever. BUT: you have to take into account the ceteris paribus principle. To confirm causation, you need to contrast them to an equivalent group of people where as much as it could be possible “all thinks are equal” (age group, overal health, nutritional status, etc.), where the single difference from the first group is that they do not have the illness, nor any other illness known to also produce the effect (fever). If that caution measure is performed and the control group also suffer fever in the same rate than the “experimental group”, clearly we could disconnect the fever as an effect caused by the illness; only if the “control group” suffer significant less fever, we could start drawing an actual causal conection between the illness an fever.

    And the fact you don’t see this seem to me crucial about the whole noise on this thread. Because…

    I also think you missed a crucial point I noted earlier, that correlation does show causation when you also have good, honest attempts at detecting and accounting for confounding factors.

    The fact that you have a done a “good and honest attemp at detecting and accounting for confounding factors” does not proves that you really succeeded taking into account those confounding factors.

    Do you know about Séralini’s study? He concluded a “causal” relation between consuming GMO corn (the “cause”) and several health issues in rats (the effect), therefore it concluded GMO corn “causes” toxic health risks.

    How he proved that? He “found” a correlation: he feed the rats with the GMO corn, and then he observed health damage in the rats. Therefore, he fully fullfilled _your_ definition for determining causality…

    But scientific comunity rejected the study! Why, if it happened to show a “clear” correlation between GMO corn comsumption and health problems? Well, because showing correlation, no matter how strong would be is not _sufficient_ to demonstrate a causal relationship, like saying and showing that B always happen after A as Séralini did, because you ALSO have to show that the rats you are using has not those health problems (not B) if they do not consume GMO corn (not A)!

    The key problem was that Séralini chose a type of experimental rats (Sprague-Dawley) that are normally having a lot of health issues (including a high tendency to show cancer!) even if feed with healthy food! He failed to realize that he also need to check that “if A does not happen (we don’t feed the rats with GMO food), then B should not happen (the rats should not get sick as the study group does)”.

    So, this is why I reject _your_ way of assuming causation, because is incomplete, and if you ignore the point you call “fallacious”, you could easily mislead yourself like Séralini did… and fall outside from what I think is a good science understanding…

    I have to ask – how much do you know about science?

    I think much more than what you think, from what I see.

    Do you know about the cliche controlled clinical experiments for ascertaining the toxicity of possible toxins in humans? Double blind studies and such? Often such studies do not initially ascertain the mechanism by which the substance is toxic, merely that the substance causes certain negative symptoms (e.g. is toxic). Surely you will agree that such studies do show causation without showing mechanism. Again, what more do those studies do except show correlation and attempt to account for confounding factors?

    Sure, but to assert toxicity, the control group should be different from the experimental group mainly only because it does not receive the (supposedly) toxic substance. Because it may be the case that the toxic symptoms could be produced by reasons different from the toxic substance too. Therefore, you need to be sure that in the control group you test and confirm that “if A does not happen” (i.e., the control group does not receives the toxic substance) “then B should not happen” (i.e., the control group do not show the toxicity symptomps).

    But just above you said that was fallacious… so arising RCT as a “good” example but calling the check that “not A produce not-B” fallacious contradicts your own position and shows me that… maybe I am not the one with problems understanding those scientific method concepts…

    “when we have A (current), we never observe no-B (no-light), (2)” So, you’re saying that you have a intact light bulb with a sufficient electric current passing through it, but it doesn’t produce a light? I’m going to need additional information. What are you talking about?

    I am talking about this: if you assert that electric current is the cause why the lightbulb brights, then you have to see the lightbulb turn on if in fact the cause (“the sufficient electric current passing through it”) actually occurs. If it happens that you have a clear measure of the sufficient current passing through the lightbulb but there is no light, then it means that when there should be ANOTHER cause for the light, and the electric current itself cannot be the cause (or the single cause) for the effect, because you just demostrated that it is not sufficient to produce the effect.

    “Electrons are part of the natural world.” Why? What makes them part of the natural world and not part of the “supernatural world”? When we recently discovered the Higgs Boson and the Higgs field – first is the Higgs Boson part of the natural world? How did you make that determination? You’re the one making a positive assertion here. I’m asking you to explain and justify your assertion.

    Aren’t electrons part of the “mindless matter in motion” you defined above, and isn’t “mindless matter in motion” what you define as “natural”? Now cuestioning if electrons are part or not of the natural world makes me doubt if you really believe your own assertions and definitions….

    […] Again, we all live our lives off causation. No one knows what causes gravity, electromagnetism, etc. We simply take them as given, as some of the parts of our shared reality, which we then use to explain many other things which look like they’re unrelated.

    Yes, and the fact we could not answer the infinite regress of “whys” does not justify to call gravity, electromagnetism or its potential “under the hood” causes as supernatural anyway…

    […] Ok. Can we agree that we can study [trolls] with science? Can we agree that we can use science to determine that fire stops the regeneration of the one kind of trolls, and can we use science to determine that sunlight turns the second kind of trolls to stone? Can we call this a “cause-and -effect”? […]

    Sure, if you actually happen to present a troll in a lab for testing. Before that, asserting that trolls exist, or that trolls (and their potential “supernatural features”, no matter how define what supernatural is) are the cause of anything, is unreasonable, irrational, unfounded and not based on evidence…

    My goal here is not to defend the proposition that science could detect the supernatural if it existed. My goal here is to defend the position that someone is wrong-headed when they say that science cannot be used to study and learn about the supernatural if it existed.

    Surely that science could study and learn about every observable phenomenon (or effect) no matter if the cause is natural or supernatural. But even if science proofs that your incantation always produce “water into wine” as result, if that existed, that fact itself doesn’t count as a proof that any supernatural explanation does exist or if the actual cause of that phenomenon.

    What leads me to quote my FIRST phrase in this comment thread: “I think the problem here is that both sides (EL vs AxP) are discusing different things. As far as I understand, EL talks about if science could demostrate that _some_ supernatural phenomenon exist, Matt et al discuss about determine what the cause of that supernatural stuff is. Two completely different matters.”

    So, you have just confirmed my conclusion. You are discussing some OTHER thing, one that I bet even most people in the thread does not disagree with you. I think very few people think that science couldn’t study observable phenomena, no matter what the cause is…; but you are not even trying to grasp or even to acknowledge the point that several people had already stated (including me) that observing the phenomenom or effect does not count as a demonstration that the cause _is_ supernatural, and therefore this discussion is useless.

  54. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Having only ONE example of magic, that is, telepathy of two individuals (which I agree is easy to confirm!), it is not possible to deduce any rules of magic; therefore it is not possible to further investigate it other than saying “yes, it’s there”.

    And I wanted to say that it is also wrong to assume that science can be used to study and learn about the supernatural. It could be used for some “supernaturals”, like D&D-magic, but not other, like my example above.

    Maybe you meant “deduce any further rules of magic”. The fact that two people can telepathically communicate is law of nature, e.g. a rule of magic.

    we can even go further. We can probably devise some more rules through careful study of the psychology, like whether it’s just plaintext which is transmitted, pictures, etc. We could set up tests to deduce this. We can test for range limits. We can do tests to see if we can set up interference. Forgetting some ethics, we could start doing some cloning experiments, and start cutting up the bodies of the test subjects to see if they lose their telepathy after losing a specific organ.

    You’re not using your imagination. Again, probably as a result of being trained by culture to immediately shut down as soon as you hear “supernatural”. That’s what I’m fighting against.

    Do you agree that there COULD be a supernatural that cannot be explained by science? (Not that there IS, only that there COULD be)

    Of course. That’s also true of natural stuff, like gravity, electromagnetism, the weak and strong nuclear forces, etc. Basically all of the fundamental rules of particle physics. Also the general rules of relativity. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get an explanation for those, but then this new explanation will itself have no explanation. That’s the nature of scientific inquiry. You never get ultimate explanations, and you always have explanations which themselves are unexplained.

    @danielduran
    I’ll answer in a bit.

  55. says

    You’re not using your imagination. Again, probably as a result of being trained by culture to immediately shut down as soon as you hear “supernatural”.

    You’re making assumptions about me. 🙁 I didn’t think of further investigation because a) telepathy has not been shown to be real and b) it’s besides the point I was trying to make. I feel kinda insulted. 😉

    Of course. That’s also true of natural stuff, like gravity, electromagnetism, the weak and strong nuclear forces, etc. Basically all of the fundamental rules of particle physics. Also the general rules of relativity.

    Good point. So do you propose abondoning the term “supernatural” completely, or do you have anything in mind that would make a distinction necessary? Maybe “observable” vs. “unobservable” would do the trick…

    It’s funny, I actually agreed with your first posting, but then some unclear things came up, and I felt the need to clarify some things. ;-P

    Also, would your position theoretically change if we somehow could explain everything? If some future scientist actually discovers a consistent reason & theory for everything? Just wondering.

  56. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @jundurg

    You’re making assumptions about me. 🙁 I didn’t think of further investigation because a) telepathy has not been shown to be real and b) it’s besides the point I was trying to make. I feel kinda insulted. 😉

    You are the one who said that we could not deduce any rules at all concerning magic and telepathy in that scenario [full stop]. You had no hedging, no clarification, no weasel words. What you wrote is both wrong and looks like a failure of imagination. I stand by what I said.

    Good point. So do you propose abondoning the term “supernatural” completely, or do you have anything in mind that would make a distinction necessary? Maybe “observable” vs. “unobservable” would do the trick…

    There are some coherent well-defined concepts which might map to the words. I think that the word “supernatural” has much too vague of usage to be terribly useful without prefacing the conversation with the definition that you want to use. Exactly like the word “spiritual”.

    I do think that there are some well-defined concepts which we can talk about, such as materialism e.g. “matter in motion” e.g. “not idealism”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idealism

    The particular problem is not with “supernatural”. The particular problem is with the cultural notion, the cultural meme, of science and methodological naturalism. Under any modern usage of “natural” and “supernatural”, it is wrong-headed to say that science necessarily uses methodological naturalism. At best, what a speaker means is “science uses methodological test-ism or observe-ism”, but then the speaker should use the better words instead of using a word which has so much ambiguity and confusion around it.

    Also, would your position theoretically change if we somehow could explain everything? If some future scientist actually discovers a consistent reason & theory for everything? Just wondering.

    Impossible. It is impossible to explain everything. It’s a deductive inference that follows immediately from basic math and logic.
    Münchhausen trilemma
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma
    You might be able to discover a “theory of everything” – a physics term of an accurate model of all of reality. However, it would be an open question of why that theory of everything instead a different theory of everything. The best we could do is say that the evidence supports this theory of everything, and with that theory we can explain a great many other things. Again, what Feynman said in the video (link above).

  57. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran
    I apologize to some degree – it appears we’re talking past each other concerning some of the requirements of showing causation. I now understand what you mean. You are absolutely right on many points. Generally to show causation, you need the experimental group and the control group, and you need to show a (statistically significant) difference in outcomes between the experimental group and the control group. I completely agree. As you noted, the key is that the experimenter should do his best to ensure that there are absolutely zero differences between the two groups except for the variable which is suspected to be the causative agent. (Of course, you don’t need a strict experimental procedure in a lab to do this. You can look at “experiments” that have been done in the past. For example, geology and astronomy are still science and we can still show the causation of sedimentary rock formation, continental drift, stellar accretion, galaxy formation, etc.)

    I think we’re also agreeing that for a particular outcome, there are many ways to get there. There are many ways to kill a person, so showing that decapitating someone causes braindeath is in no way a refutation of the claim that boiling someone causes braindeath.

    Now, we still have some philosophical differences. I don’t like the language of necessary and sufficient causes. I think it adds confusion. I also don’t like the metaphysical baggage it carries. What Hume teaches us is that we can never know if we’ve reached the “ultimate explanation” or the “true cause”. At every step of the way, all we have access to is the observation that when the situation looks like A, which contains whatever qualifiers you need, then B always follows. If we know A causes B, then we plan our lives based on this. Learning about causation is all about being effective future predictors. It doesn’t matter if it’s not “real causation”. It doesn’t matter if it’s just co-causation if we cannot detect any difference or detect any confounding variables. Perhaps reality is limited to us in some way as to make it appear to be causation but it’s merely co-causation. No matter until someone observes a difference. (In that sense, I am a kind of positivist.)

    As for specifics – from what you related about the rat experiment, I disagree with your conclusions. I’m not sure which it was based on what you said. Option 1- It sounds like his sample size wasn’t big enough and statistical noise made him reach a bad conclusion. This is a problem of bad statistics, which can screw with any attempt to show causation. I don’t see how that supports your particular points. Option 2- This particular strain of rats does react negatively to corn, but this is not generalizable to all rats. In this case, we have a confounding variable which was not identified. Again, this is a problem which can screw with any attempt to show causation, and I don’t see how that supports your particular points.

    Skipping a bit.

    Surely that science could study and learn about every observable phenomenon (or effect) no matter if the cause is natural or supernatural. But even if science proofs that your incantation always produce “water into wine” as result, if that existed, that fact itself doesn’t count as a proof that any supernatural explanation does exist or if the actual cause of that phenomenon.

    So, you agree with me when I say that it’s wrong-headed to assert that science necessarily uses methodological naturalism? Do you agree that science works just as well on natural substances and causes as it does on supernatural substances and causes?

    You are discussing some OTHER thing,

    PS: I’ve been rather clear the whole time that my objection is to the phrase and meme “methodological naturalism”, and that I’ve been talking about “supernatural” examples just to drive this point home. I don’t care if you walk away with the position that “science cannot ever show that something is supernatural” per se. I care if you walk away with the related but wrong-headed position that “science is ill-equipped with deal with claims of supernatural substance or supernatural causation”. The two positions look superficially similar, but there’s a world of difference.

  58. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    As an example of this wrong-headedness, just to drive it home. From the American Academy of Sciences:
    http://www.nas.edu/evolution/Compatibility.html

    Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

    As the Skepticon speaker said in his talk (link above), I am not here to argue that this position is not useful – politically. It is however wrong. Gods are totally in the purview of science to the exact same extent as dragons. And in both cases, you can ad hoc your hypothesis to extremes to make it unfalsifiable, exactly like garage dragons and exactly like the evolution of the god concept of many modern believers compared to earlier believers.
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/The_Dragon_in_My_Garage

    Of course, there are also plenty of dragon hypotheses and god hypotheses that have testable predictions. For example, I could predict that there is a dragon in my garage, and that I will see it when I go look. It’s made of flesh and blood, and the tales about fire-breathing are exaggerated. Perfectly testable. Similarly, I could predict that on Mount Olympus, we should expect to find this creature which looks like a human being, who goes by the name of Zeus, who will throw a lightning bolt at you if you piss him off. Another perfectly testable prediction.

    When a hypotheses is purposefully ad hoc-ed to unfalsifiability in order to avoid falsification, such as the sophisticated garage dragon hypothesis vs the naive garage dragon hypothesis, this is an indicator that it’s just wrong. We can also put this in Bayesian terms – every additional ad hoc explanation to avoid falsification changes its reference class to something even more extraordinary, which often amounts to just changing our priors to to be even less likely with the same probability outcome. I suggest the work of Dr. Richard Carrier for more on this.

  59. danielduran says

    HI @EL,

    Well, I am happy you understood what I was trying to mean, and that you now agree with some of the points I made.

    Regarding Séralini study, for sure there were much more problems than the one I mentioned. But I point only to that with regard to the use of control as its backup logic for testing causation, something I think you already grasped.

    Now, regarding your question:

    So, you agree with me when I say that it’s wrong-headed to assert that science necessarily uses methodological naturalism?

    I don’t think so.

    Do you agree that science works just as well on natural substances and causes as it does on supernatural substances and causes?

    Absolutely not. For sure that science works fairly well with natural substances and causes. I assume we don’t have to discuss that.

    But, how well does science works with supernatural substances and causes? AFAIK it does not work with them at all! Not even bad.

    If you want to prove me wrong, please provide ONE clear example of science working with ONE “supernatural substance” of “supernatural cause” (including the evidence and reasoning that science used to determine that those things were actually of supernatural nature, and not simply stating that they simply were so by fiat); if you suceed on that, I would be willing to change my mind about this.

    Now, while you travel around the world looking for that example, and as a way of letting the “water into wine” example go, I would like to take the idea you now presented:

    [… T]here are also plenty of […] god hypotheses that have testable predictions. […] I could predict that on Mount Olympus, we should expect to find this creature which looks like a human being, who goes by the name of Zeus, who will throw a lightning bolt at you if you piss him off. Another perfectly testable prediction.

    Sure, that is a testable prediction, until someone start providing ad-hoc explanations like Zeus, as a very powerful God, is powerful enought to hide itself so well that he could be side by side with you at Olimpus but you would be unable to notice it… Unfalsifiable? Yes. But that would satisfy pretty well to Zeus believers… we could call that “Theology”(TM).

    But, you also claimed a second very testable prediction: Zeus throws lightning bolts.

    For sure science has studied lightning bolts. We know the atmosfere could go electrically charged, and during storms or other atmospheric phenomena those charges could violently discharge as the lightning bolt. Actually we could even create some (smaller but real) lightnings too. But nothing stops a God to create lightnings and throwing them as well, like Zeus could do, so, here is my challenge to you, @EL:

    If we both agree that lightning bolts are part of the natural world and they could be studied by science; I also assert that science could study both natural lightnings and also “supernatural created lightnings” (i.e., one throw by a God), because we are here talking about a natural effect (the lightning is an effect, not a cause). but I assert that science while it could study the actual lightning, it would be unable to differentiate a natural lightning versus a lightning triggered by a supernatural force. Therefore, my point is that science, being perfectly capable of studying the effects that are part of the observable natural world (like lightnings), it cannot catch if the actual cause _is_ supernatural (by any meaningful definition of supernatural you want to choose). Actually, even if you study a lightning bolt that happen in an “impossible” condition for a natural one, science simply would have to say “we don’t know what the cause is in this particular instance”.

    But you prove me wrong, @EL; if the effect in study are lightnings, please explain how science could actually demonstrate that the cause is not natural (at least in some specific case), but actually caused by an supernatural agent like Zeus. And as a bonus, please explain how science could demonstrate that was actually Zeus, and it was not Thor trying to blame Zeus of reducing to ash someone with a lightning bolt, because Zeus was not actually pissed of at that moment with the victim…

    I will be eager to know your answers. Hopefully they are different than “science haven’t yet” and “science cannot”, because those would be my actual answers.

  60. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran
    I fear I am just repeating myself.

    I cannot honestly show you a real example of something supernatural in our real world because I believe that materialism is true. (I used to think that “matter in motion” was clearer than “materialism”, but the call to the show and this thread changed my mind on that position.)

    However, I am not dogmatically aligned with materialism. My materialism is a conclusion of the available evidence. Tomorrow someone may discover something which overturns materialism, and I will be the first to admit it (when presented with sufficiently compelling evidence and argument).

    My entire goal in the argument is this: You danielduran are defending the proposition that science is ill-equipped to deal with supernatural claims. To many Christians, that sounds like you are a dogmatic materialist. You seem to go out of your way to not even entertain the notion that some of the non-materialist claims of religion are true, and that for some of the claims there would be ways to scientifically verify (non-absolutely) or falsify (again non-absolutely).

    Again, my goal is not to defend supernaturalism. I am here to attack this dogmatic naturalism.

    The difference between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism is a sham. People like you danielduran and Matt Dillahunty will say that science is ill-equipped to handle the supernatural (methodological naturalism) but also deny being a philosophical naturalist. However, mere moments later people like you will demand scientific evidence and reasoning from the Christian in defense of their religious claims. You cannot have it both ways. Either 1- the Christians claims are supernatural and you shouldn’t be asking for evidence, which makes you effectively a philosophical naturalist because no amount of evidence could change your mind, or 2- the Christian claims are natural, and this whole methodological naturalism thing is a red herring, an assertion with is empty, vacuous, content-less, meaningless. (I guess there’s a third option, 3- that you think that there are other ways of knowing about the supernatural which are not science, and I’d love to know what you think those are.)

  61. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Correction: Either 1- the Christian’s claims are supernatural and you shouldn’t be asking for evidence, which makes you effectively a dogmatic philosophical naturalist because no amount of evidence could change your mind, or 2- the Christian claims are natural, and this whole methodological naturalism thing is a red herring, an assertion with is empty, vacuous, content-less, meaningless.

  62. says

    Well, I kinda agree with EL now…

    You had no hedging, no clarification, no weasel words. What you wrote is both wrong and looks like a failure of imagination. I stand by what I said.

    Welp, fine. When I try to make my arguments short, I sometimes skip to much.

    I was talking about causation, so the information about *how* telepathy works would not necessarily equate being able to find a cause. I should have clarified that.

    The point that made it clear, however, was, that there is really no way of deciding if gravity is natural or supernatural.
    If “natural” just means “it exists”, then it’s really not much saying that we cannot do science on the supernatural, because you cannot observe the non-existent.

    (I guess there’s a third option, 3- that you think that there are other ways of knowing about the supernatural which are not science, and I’d love to know what you think those are.

    There are some, who call me Tim claim that (mystic?) experience is another option. That really depends on how one defines knowledge – because ultimately, I believe there is no way that one could make an objective study about qualia. I have banged my head against that wall so often, the hard problem of conciousness. 🙂

    I could say that I have knowledge of how red feels like to me, and that this knowledge is “outside of science” because it is observable only to one person… well, okay, that is another discussion. I marked this in my head as “the one thing I absolutely disagree with Matt Dillahunty” 😉 and this methodological naturalism thing might be the second thing on that list.

  63. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @jundurg
    Awesome.

    Also, I don’t mean to be mean. Sorry. I really do think that there is a lot, lot more that we might be able to learn in that limited telepathy scenario, and I really do think that calling it “magic” or “supernatural” causes a lot of people to stop thinking scientifically, which is after all my main complaint in this thread. I felt it really important to give examples to show we could think scientifically in that scenario, and how we might learn more by thinking scientifically.

  64. Vaal says

    EnlightenmentLiberal,

    (I would like to write a longer post than this, but my work-load wont’ let me for the moment so I have to be brief)

    I just want to add a note of support for your call in the show.

    I’m an atheist and I usually enjoy listening to the Atheist Experience. I think Matt and the rest of the crew do a great job, and I really admire Matt’s ability in particular to articulate and debate his viewpoint. However, I found myself as frustrated with Matt’s replies to your position as you were, and for the same reasons.

    From my position, whether science can confirm supernatural causation will depend on the concept of “causation” and especially on what we are referencing by the term “supernatural.” That term is used in various ways, associated with a vast number of different claims, so you really have to start with “if we mean X by “supernatural,” then no it could not be confirmed, but if we mean “Y” then perhaps yes it could be confirmed.” Sometimes the term “supernatural” is applied in ways that could IMO in principle allow us to confirm it. Other times, not.

    One issue that often arises is that you have some people – both theists and atheists – who have decided that “supernatural” is virtually by definition “indemonstrable” and so you get into a sort of “No True Scotsman” area where any example of a supernatural cause you bring forth as demonstrable is rejected as not an example of the supernatural because, you see, “real supernatural causes aren’t demonstrable.” I know that this was a sort of possible problem you were trying to unearth in Matt’s responses, and like you I didn’t find his position ever got distinct enough to tell either way. Certainly Matt doesn’t want to engage in that fallacy, but it wasn’t clear in his responses that he was actually avoiding it. Further, as you were trying to get him to see – I found that Matt never got clear enough about his view of causation to show he wasn’t special pleading in rejecting supernatural causes while accepting natural causes. He may not in the end be special pleading, but he didn’t actually show me that he wasn’t.

    Given Matt’s philosophical background, this really surprised me. That’s not to say that Matt *doesn’t* have a well thought out, coherent stance on the issue, and perhaps he could jump right into this conversation and say “this is what I mean” and I’d be entirely in agreement. But at least *during the show* his position as described left so many question marks, missing pieces, that I sympathized with your frustration.

    (It’s not the first time the show, excellent as it is, has caused some hair-pulling on my part. But that doesn’t mean much. We all get that arm-chair quarter-back syndrome when listening to debates. Even though I myself go decades back in the atheist/theist on-line discussions and debates, the Atheist Experience hosts are fantastic and do a FAR better job than I could ever do under the same circumstances. It’s another skill entirely that Matt and others have for speaking extemporaneously and debating in real time, and I much admire them for it).

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know someone noticed you were raising valid issues and making good points. 🙂

    Vaal

    (BTW, I noticed in “previewing” this post that the formatting changes quite a bit, removing paragraphing etc and making it harder to read. But I couldn’t figure out how to get it to post as I was actually writing. Ah well…)

  65. danielduran says

    Hi @EL,

    Well, from your first question:

    Do you agree that science works just as well on natural substances and causes as it does on supernatural substances and causes?

    And your later assertion:

    I cannot honestly show you a real example of something supernatural in our real world because I believe that materialism is true

    Then, as you recognize there is not a single instance (so far) where science has shown to be “good” working with “supernatural substances and causes”, that match with what I think: assuming so is fully unfounded, therefore I can’t agree with that assertion.

    Now, regarding this:

    However, I am not dogmatically aligned with materialism. My materialism is a conclusion of the available evidence. Tomorrow someone may discover something which overturns materialism, and I will be the first to admit it (when presented with sufficiently compelling evidence and argument).

    And do you think you are the only “enllightened naturalist” thinker that have that disposition to change their mind if good and SUFFICIENT evidence appears, but other people that disagree with you simply won’t, just because so!?

    Fail.

    A lot of methodological naturalist would agree also with you with that if “sufficient compelling evidence and argument” appears, they would have (and I would have) to change their position if they are intellectually honest. But what you may not realize is that the same assertion is TRUE for philosophical naturalist too..; just because someone accepted as true that _nothing supernatural could exist_, especially in the face of NO supernatural evidence at all until today (as you also assert), does not means it would be unable to change its position if “sufficient compelling evidence and argument” appears.

    In other words, asumming that any position of naturalism is “dogmatic” is, in my opinion, a conclusion I cannot draw for anyone.

    My entire goal in the argument is this: You danielduran are defending the proposition that science is ill-equipped to deal with supernatural claims. To many Christians, that sounds like you are a dogmatic materialist.

    I don’t care if sounds good or bad, or if any group misrepresent that idea. What I care is about truth, and if the truth of the actual facts and the reasoning that goes together show me that science cannot demonstrate the kind of supernatural causes we are discussing about… SO BE IT!

    Trying to conceal that because is somewhat inconvenient, is in my opinion, something I don’t want to support. Intelectual honesty is an important value to me… so, sorry, I cannot agree with you on that.

    You seem to go out of your way to not even entertain the notion that some of the non-materialist claims of religion are true, and that for some of the claims there would be ways to scientifically verify (non-absolutely) or falsify (again non-absolutely).

    Well, I fully agree with you that some non-matrialistic claims of religion could _posibly_ be true. But it is not _my_ job to try to prove them, because I don’t have the burden of proof over those claims. But now, “there would be ways to scientifically verify or falsify them” is something that the ones claiming them SHOULD demonstrate, not me, and as you have already recognized, science HAVEN’T done so yet, and you don’t have a clue about how could actually do it either.

    You are simply assuming that it might be, but that is (yet) another unfounded assumption. Therefore, acting like that unfounded assumption is TRUE without ANY evidence, is irrational, in my opinion, and sure you could take that path if you want, but we will also disagree on that too.

    I am here to attack this dogmatic naturalism.

    The problem I see is that the “dogmatic naturalism” you are attacking is a kind of mental strawman you created in your head, where you assume that other (styles) of naturalism different from the one you are trying to defend are actually dogmatic, i.e., they will not change their mind even if actual evidence of the contrary do exist.

    But, as I already told you above, I don’t see a rational connection between adopting any variant of naturalism and automatically be dogmatic about it, and the fact that someone “thinks” or “believes” that it is like that is a misconception from that person, not my problem…

    However, mere moments later people like you will demand scientific evidence and reasoning from the Christian in defense of their religious claims. You cannot have it both ways. […] Either 1- the Christian’s claims are supernatural and you shouldn’t be asking for evidence, which makes you a dogmatic philosophical naturalist because no amount of evidence could change your mind, or […]

    If anyone is convinced that something _is_ supernatural, then they have the burden of proof to explain WHY it is the case.

    Obviously, I will demand evidence (scientific or whatever source that could be confirmed) and solid arguments to see if they claim is actually true. I would be dogmatic if I DON’T ask for any evidence or argument because I assert they don’t exist. As I am open minded, I would be open to evaluate other ideas and reasoning, and IF it happens that THEY discover a way to demonstrate (scientifically!) a supernatural cause or substance, and if they are able to explain and show why NOW science in fact could do so (because as you said it might be the case and as I said that assumption needs to be DEMONSTRATED), then the one who succeeds on that will be able to change my mind for sure: demonstrating the mechanism how science could actually demonstrate supernatural causes, showing the evidence that support that case using this new tool added to the scientific tool box, and then proving that what they show is therefore supernatural.

    BTW you haven’t done that at all, and you have not a grasp how that ‘improved toolbox’ actually is, anyway…

    Therefore, the only way to be non-dogmatic is always ASK for that evidence, and expect that if the supernatural is actually TRUE, someone someday will show that, and that day I hope to be there to see it, while…

    which makes you a dogmatic philosophical naturalist because no amount of evidence could change your mind

    That is yet another assumption you makes from other people, like me, that honestly I found insulting, because you truly don’t know how I already think, and it is totally unfounded.

    […] or 2- the Christian claims are natural, and this whole methodological naturalism thing is a red herring, an assertion with is empty, vacuous, content-less, meaningless.

    And that is yet another assumption you are simply making, and that is something the one assert it should prove, because, again, it has the burden of proof.

    So, what I see is that your whole position is based on a fear about what “others may think” wrongly, something I honestly don’t care too much, and the reamining of your arguments rest on a pile of unfounded assumptions including things like “no evidence could change your mind” that is absurd.

    Sorry, I don’t think you have a solid case to defend.

  66. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran

    I don’t want to reply to the rest of that until we get this one bit sorted out. If you really want to press other angles concurrently, I will respond, but I think the contention is in this following bit.

    A lot of methodological naturalist would agree also with you with that if “sufficient compelling evidence and argument” appears, they would have (and I would have) to change their position if they are intellectually honest.

    I do not understand. That appears to be internally contradictory. I have been talking about attacking the dogmatic assertion that science is ill-equipped to deal with the supernatural. This dogmatic assumption is often called “methodological naturalism”. I’m pretty sure you have defended this dogmatic assertion several times. Now, it seems that you would be willing to change your mind and admit … something … if someone provided evidence … of something.

    Evidence of what? And what would you change your mind about?

    Evidence of the supernatural? What would that even look like? You do defend the assertion that science is ill-equipped to handle the supernatural, so isn’t that kind of scientific evidence impossible? (Which means that you could never overturn methodological naturalism, which means it’s held dogmatically, which entails dogmatic philosophical naturalism.)

    Evidence that science is well-equipped to handle the supernatural? What would that even look like? I cannot provide evidence that the method of “using evidence to inform our beliefs about our reality” is useful, nor can I provide evidence that it results in truth, nor can I provide evidence that one should employ it, etc. The basic proposition of science is one of the basic presuppositions you need to have as a rational human being.

  67. says

    I think you two have different definitions of “methodological naturalism” – danielduran makes his point that the burden of proof is on the person who makes a supernatural claim. His “methodological naturalism” seems to focus on a default position: “There is a natural explanation, even if we do not know it (yet)”

    This imho only gets confusing because it is unclear, what kind of claims actually are supernatural. What does it mean to assume that gravity is natural vs. not assuming that – what difference does it make?

  68. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @jundurg
    Indeed. I’ve said it many times and in many ways. For the moment, I’m ok if you want to put the burden of proof on the person who claims that they found something supernatural. I’m much more concerned with the stronger position that it is impossible for the person who claims the supernatural to produce evidence in his favor. danielduran wants it both ways. I’m trying to get him to clarify his position and defend it.

    For example, danielduran stating that producing scientific evidence in favor of the supernatural is impossible:

    EL: So, you agree with me when I say that it’s wrong-headed to assert that science necessarily uses methodological naturalism?

    danielduran: I don’t think so.

    For example, danielduran stating that producing scientific evidence in favor of the supernatural is (epistemically) possible:

    danielduran: A lot of methodological naturalist would agree also with you with that if “sufficient compelling evidence and argument” appears, they would have (and I would have) to change their position if they are intellectually honest.

    Sorry danielduran, you cannot have it both ways. Pick one.

    (I think I was clearer in this second post. I’m still learning how best to express this. I also had to wait this long until danielduran dug himself into this hole.)

  69. danielduran says

    Hi @jundurg

    “There is a natural explanation, even if we do not know it (yet)”

    My position is that science use to discover causes that happen to be (or are discovered to be) natural. Most of the time. But sometimes the cause _cannot_ be discovered (yet). So the right answer is “we/science don’t know the cause”.

    A wonderful example of that is the current status of dark matter/energy. We see the acceleration of the universe and other measurements, and no natural (currently observed) cause seems to be responsible. We could assume that something is causing that phenomena, because the effect is clearly measurable, but we don’t know what is the cause. Actually, we also don’t know if that cause is natural… or supernatural.

    I think that science cannot (today) differentiate between a supernatural cause (not seen) and a natural cause (not seen). The “don’t know” is all we could say. And that is not the same that saying “we for sure know that THERE IS a natural cause even if we don’t know it yet”.

    If someone in future devises a clear and reliable scientific methodology to make that distintion, well, then from that moment science will be able to discern and determine when something is supernatural (or produced by supernatural causes). But that method does not exist today, and I have no reasons to believe that it is actually possible either. That’s my main reason to accept “methodological naturalism”, not as a “dogmatic starting point” as @EL wants to paint it, but as a conclusion for the current state of affairs of the scientific knowledge.

  70. danielduran says

    @EL,

    What I have said several times is that, paraphrasing you, is that “science is ill-equiped to deal with the supernatural”. But I would add just one word to that phrase: “[…] TODAY”.

    Today, science has no way to deal with truly supernatural causes and distinguish it from a natural but unknown cause. I had said that several times before, review the thread.

    So, the MN position I embrace and defend is not a “dogmatic assumption” but a conclusion about the things scientific method could do TODAY.

    Remember, I asked YOU to explain how science could make that distinction, and you didn’t know either. Nor anyone else could AFAIK.

    So, when I said “A lot of methodological naturalist would agree also with you with that if “sufficient compelling evidence and argument” appears, they would have (and I would have) to change their position if they are intellectually honest.”, I mean that if someone devices a scientific methodology that allows to distinguish between the “supernatural cause” vs “unknown natural cause”, then MN dies that same day. And that really “requires sufficient compelling evidence and argument” that demonstrates that the methodology proposed actually works and it is reliable.

    But until that day, MN is alive and well, for good or bad, you like it or not.

  71. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran
    Adding just that little word “today” radically changes your apparent position. Adding “today” changes your position from “intrinsic methodological naturalism” into “provisory methodological naturalism”, to borrow terms from Boudry.
    https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism

    Matt Dillahunty is not defending mere provisory methodological naturalism. He is defending intrinsic methodological naturalism. I am attacking intrinsic methodological naturalism as philosophically indefensible. I am not attacking provisory methodological naturalism. Like you, I also advocate provisory methodological naturalism.

    To make sure we’re on the same page, do you agree with the following positions?

    Current evidence and science shows that a great many religious claims are wrong, such as: 6,000 year old Earth, a person living for days inside a fish (or whale), roughly 2000 years ago there was a 3 hour eclipse of the Sun at, roughly 200 years ago a particular person rose from the dead after being clinically braindead for over 3 days, and so on.

    We can conceive of evidence which would convince us that this is a pocket universe inside of a much larger universe with fundamentally different laws of physics, and that some “creatures” in the outer universe created this picket universe with a specific purpose.

    Regardless of whether a proponent wants to label it “natural” or “supernatural”, if the claim entails observable predictions, then science applies.

    The following from the American National Academy of Sciences is completely wrong-headed.
    http://www.nas.edu/evolution/Compatibility.html

    Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.

  72. Vaal says

    EnlightenmentLiberal wrote: “Matt Dillahunty is not defending mere provisory methodological naturalism. He is defending intrinsic methodological naturalism. I am attacking intrinsic methodological naturalism as philosophically indefensible. I am not attacking provisory methodological naturalism. Like you, I also advocate provisory methodological naturalism. “

    That doesn’t seem correct from what I heard on the show. I heard Matt defending something more akin to provisory methodological naturalism. He clarified this right off the top, saying: “My position…(is that)…there has been no demonstration of anything other than the natural world, and no demonstrated way to confirm supernatural causation.”

    Which clearly suggests he’s not dogmatic about MN, but open to new methods of supernatural confirmation should they arise.
    Matt re-stated it again later in your conversation, saying:

    “My position is not that science can not ever demonstrate supernatural causation, it’s that there is currently no demonstrated mechanism by which to demonstrate supernatural causation. “

    That seems to me about as explicit a statement of “provisory” MN as one could ask for, so I’m a bit puzzled at how you’ve drawn the opposite conclusion about Matt’s position.

    Cheers,

    Vaal

  73. Monocle Smile says

    @EL

    Matt Dillahunty is not defending mere provisory methodological naturalism. He is defending intrinsic methodological naturalism. I am attacking intrinsic methodological naturalism as philosophically indefensible. I am not attacking provisory methodological naturalism. Like you, I also advocate provisory methodological naturalism

    NOW I get it! And I agree with your second part. I think Matt has misspoken in the past and may actually agree with you as well, as I’ve heard him both say “we can never prove supernatural causation” and “it may be impossible (or is currently impossible) to prove supernatural causation,” which seem to correlate to each of the categories you identified.

    That blurb from NAS reeks of NOMA. What an embarrassment.

  74. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Vaal
    @Monocle Smile
    Politely disagreed w.r.t Matt. During my call, I heard Matt say several times that we have no “mechanism”, by which I understand to mean “process” or “method”, which can show supernatural causation. I did not hear hedge similar to danielduran’s “today”. Plus the knowledge of many past shows, debates, and lectures of Matt. Matt is defending intrinsic methodological naturalism, and that’s NOMA, and even if he doesn’t mean to, Matt is still being an incredibly poor communicator.

    IMHO danielduran and Matt still have much to learn, although danielduran is making progress. There are concepts related to “natural” vs “supernatural” which are coherent and meaningful, but in the sense of the terms being defended by Matt and danielduran still – the words are meaningless and amount to nothing more than a defense of NOMA.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria

  75. Vaak says

    EnlightenmentLiberal,

    “Politely disagreed w.r.t Matt. During my call, I heard Matt say several times that we have no “mechanism”, by which I understand to mean “process” or “method”, which can show supernatural causation. I did not hear hedge similar to danielduran’s “today”.

    But I provided exact quotes for you, from the actual show which shows such a hedge…very directly. You had asked Matt if he agreed with the position of “many Christians” who “think that science can never show their God exists.”
    Matt then clarified for you with the quote I reproduced, saying is position is NOT that science “can not ever demonstrate supernatural causation” it’s just that currently no demonstrated mechanism to show it. That just explicitly denies the position you seem to be attributing to him, so I’m confused as to why you seem to be ignoring it.

    As I said in my first post, I believe you were generally finding real problems or ambiguities in Matt’s replies during the show.
    I’ve felt that way for quite a while, as the mantra of the guests has often been that even if something occurred that is normally associated with the supernatural, e.g. fulfilled prayer, someone resurrecting or whatever, that does not demonstrate a supernatural cause. I think this is obviously correct in *one* sense, insofar as the subject tends to be sort of “one-off” examples, single data points brought up be theist guests. But that doesn’t show that *in principle* a supernatural cause couldn’t be demonstrated, given enough examples and investigative rigor. All depending of course on the particular conception of “supernatural” -e.g. so long as it isn’t defined as “that which can not be empirically demonstrated.”
    I’ve often been left with the feeling there was some special pleading underneath this position of the guests in the show, and I’m not yet convinced this isn’t the case.

    And I guess, while I’m on the subject, another little pet peeve of mine is how often the hosts charge theists with: “you are just using the argument from ignorance.” It’s almost become a reflex. Sometimes – often – I can agree. But other times I think they are just wrong, and I wonder if they’ve actually re-checked what the argument from ignorance fallacy actually is.
    As Wikipedia puts it: “Arguments that appeal to ignorance rely merely on the fact that the veracity of the proposition is not disproven to arrive at a definite conclusion.” Yet I’ve seen the hosts declare their theist caller is engaging in that fallacy, when the theists argument clearly is not along those lines. For instance, I’ve seen some of the hosts declare “argument from ignorance” to various theists bringing in Argument From Design type arguments/Cosmological Arguments etc, when they theist is actually attempting to make a *positive case* that X is EVIDENCE for design. Not just that “it couldn’t have happened naturally, therefore God” but that X displays characteristics that is best explained by a God, and why that is so.

    The claims are unsustainable, certainly, but if they are not actually in the form of that fallacy they shouldn’t be dismissed as such using that label. IMO. Minor gripe finished. 🙂

    But, back to the current show….

  76. Vaak says

    Correction to typo in my last post:

    I’ve often been left with the feeling there was some special pleading underneath this position of the HOSST in the show, and I’m not yet convinced this isn’t the case.

  77. Monocle Smile says

    @EL
    Actually, that’s not typically what “mechanism” means. For example, the proposed “mechanism” of gravity is that mass bends space-time and that’s how mass appears to attract mass. It’s not perfect and there’s a bit of a regress there (because we don’t know what property of mass causes the bending), but that’s a mechanism. “Mechanism” is a way to bridge the cause and the effect. While a mechanism is not needed, proposing mechanisms is a big part of science today.

    For example, in your water to wine thing, we’d try to find a chain from the incantation to the chemical change. We could hypothesize that the exact sound wave pattern in the incantation triggers some crazy molecular rearrangement, which would sound a bit silly, but that would be the “mechanism.” Now, that’s a natural mechanism, but thus far, no “supernatural” mechanisms have ever been tested or even proposed, as far as I know. We’d probably have to invent words to describe how they work (the incantation makes glurkons sutubtrafy the pozznit fafnar, and the hecksnip shifts the water molecules to alcohol, fructose, etc.) because the things involved would be so alien to us (as they wouldn’t be “matter in motion,” after all).

    Vaal quoted Matt from this show. Matt is allowed to soften his position, you know. Furthermore, look at the post lengths during this discussion. Cramming all of this into a phone call isn’t possible. Also, as much as you think Matt’s “enabling” NOMA, I’ve never once heard him let a theist get away with hiding behind the stupid shield of “science can’t address my religious claims.” He’s always been clear that if something interacts with reality, it leaves evidence.

  78. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Monocle Smile

    Actually, that’s not typically what “mechanism” means.

    I agree that’s typically not what “mechanism” means, but Matt seems to be using the word “mechanism” to refer to ways of knowing, such as the scientific method. At least Matt uses “mechanism” at least with this meaning, possibly more. IMHO this is very clear during my call.

    He’s always been clear that if something interacts with reality, it leaves evidence.

    And Matt also says that we do not have a method, process, or “mechanism” to detect, handle, and deal with supernatural claims. I think that’s very far from clear. That’s contradictory IMHO.

  79. Monocle Smile says

    @EL
    Actually, he’s said that their claims are only what we can investigate. People say that the dead talk to them, and while we can’t currently figure out how that could even happen, we can test their claims about information they say they receive from the dead. Now, confirming these claims alone doesn’t get you to a god or anything supernatural, which is what Matt’s also said; it would take a monumental amount of evidence along these lines to make any progress. Now, I do agree that this is a very incomplete analysis of “supernatural” and Matt should probably communicate this better, but I still don’t see this as NOMA.

    Have you ever watched the tv show Psych? That’s kind of what I’m talking about. Shawn’s not psychic, just incredibly observant, but the continued reliability of his claims fool everyone into thinking he has a magical power. Oddly enough, this is how I typically feel about supernatural claims.

  80. Monocle Smile says

    @EL
    If you call in again, ask Matt what he would think if we were able to use science to investigate, detect, and confirm a phenomenon that landed outside the “matter in motion” paradigm. Ask him if he would change how he communicates re: “supernatural causation.” I think this might get to the point.

  81. Vaal says

    I’m just wondering: my posts seem to be taking a day or so to end up on the site (for instance, I commented yesterday and still don’t see the post today). Which is not terribly convenient for carrying on a conversation.

    Is this a typical pace for the moderation of comments on this site? Thanks.

  82. Vaal says

    (Since my last post immediately appeared, I’m re-posting the one that didn’t appear yesterday, thanks).

    EnlightenmentLiberal,

    “Politely disagreed w.r.t Matt. During my call, I heard Matt say several times that we have no “mechanism”, by which I understand to mean “process” or “method”, which can show supernatural causation. I did not hear hedge similar to danielduran’s “today”.

    But I provided exact quotes for you, from the actual show which shows such a hedge…very directly. You had asked Matt if he agreed with the position of “many Christians” who “think that science can never show their God exists.”
    Matt then clarified for you with the quote I reproduced, saying is position is NOT that science “can not ever demonstrate supernatural causation” it’s just that currently no demonstrated mechanism to show it. That just explicitly denies the position you seem to be attributing to him, so I’m confused as to why you seem to be ignoring it.

    As I said in my first post, I believe you were generally finding real problems or ambiguities in Matt’s replies during the show.
    I’ve felt that way for quite a while, as the mantra of the guests has often been that even if something occurred that is normally associated with the supernatural, e.g. fulfilled prayer, someone resurrecting or whatever, that does not demonstrate a supernatural cause. I think this is obviously correct in *one* sense, insofar as the subject tends to be sort of “one-off” examples, single data points brought up be theist guests. But that doesn’t show that *in principle* a supernatural cause couldn’t be demonstrated, given enough examples and investigative rigor. All depending of course on the particular conception of “supernatural” -e.g. so long as it isn’t defined as “that which can not be empirically demonstrated.”
    I’ve often been left with the feeling there was some special pleading underneath this position of the hosts of the show, and I’m not yet convinced this isn’t the case.

    And I guess, while I’m on the subject, another little pet peeve of mine is how often the hosts charge theists with: “you are just using the argument from ignorance.” It’s almost become a reflex. Sometimes – often – I can agree. But other times I think they are just wrong, and I wonder if they’ve actually re-checked what the argument from ignorance fallacy actually is.
    As Wikipedia puts it: “Arguments that appeal to ignorance rely merely on the fact that the veracity of the proposition is not disproven to arrive at a definite conclusion.” Yet I’ve seen the hosts declare their theist caller is engaging in that fallacy, when the theists argument clearly is not along those lines. For instance, I’ve seen some of the hosts declare “argument from ignorance” to various theists bringing in Argument From Design type arguments/Cosmological Arguments etc, when they theist is actually attempting to make a *positive case* that X is EVIDENCE for design. Not just that “it couldn’t have happened naturally, therefore God” but that X displays characteristics that is best explained by a God, and why that is so.

    The claims are unsustainable, certainly, but if they are not actually in the form of that fallacy they shouldn’t be dismissed as such using that label. IMO. Minor gripe finished. 🙂

    But, back to the current show….

  83. metalasfork says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    Think about the way people thought about the world 1,000 years ago. The sun rising, weather patterns, diseases, crop yields, etc. were ALL viewed in a supernatural context: “We don’t know, therefore god.” They thought their world was being mysteriously manipulated by some unseen ant-farm caretaker. Since then, we have gradually gained certainty about our surroundings and events, and discarded many obsolete behaviours because of this.

    My definition of natural vs. supernatural is akin to a Libra scale: The body of things we understand vs. that which we cannot yet explain. The supernatural also encompasses subjective cerebral experiences like “visions of demons” as the first caller had. Even if I completely believe that he thinks he saw a demon, it doesn’t prove demons are real.

    With the scientific method having such a consistent track record of explaining observable events, why wouldn’t you think that it would continue to do so? Almost everything that we once thought was supernatural can now be explained naturally, and I can’t see a reason to change our approach to learning through science.

    Is there some supernatural assertion you’d like to make, or do we need to stay muddled in the hypothetical “abra-cadabra water/wine” context?

  84. Monocle Smile says

    @Vaal

    I agree with almost all of that post. Except:

    For instance, I’ve seen some of the hosts declare “argument from ignorance” to various theists bringing in Argument From Design type arguments/Cosmological Arguments etc, when they theist is actually attempting to make a *positive case* that X is EVIDENCE for design. Not just that “it couldn’t have happened naturally, therefore God” but that X displays characteristics that is best explained by a God, and why that is so

    I still think this is an argument from ignorance by proxy, and it’s because whenever more digging is done and the theist is asked why what they present is best explained by a god, they say they have no other explanation. Also, they haven’t even attempted to rule out other explanations, which to me reeks of an underlying argument from ignorance.

  85. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Vaal
    First post sits in moderation until the guys from the show get around to ensuring that you’re not a bot. Generally afterward, you’re put on a “whitelist” which lets you post immediately. Note that even on the whitelist, if you have a post with 3 or more links, that post automatically goes to moderation.

    Matt then clarified for you with the quote I reproduced, saying is position is NOT that science “can not ever demonstrate supernatural causation” it’s just that currently no demonstrated mechanism to show it. That just explicitly denies the position you seem to be attributing to him, so I’m confused as to why you seem to be ignoring it.

    Again, politely disagreed. At best, Matt has reached a position near danielduran, but he and danielduran still have a long way to go. Matt is still effectively defending the NOMA view of science. I won’t be happy until 1- Matt clearly defines “supernatural” as “non-existent” or “unobservable”, or until 2- Matt clearly states that science works on observable claims, and science doesn’t care if someone attaches the label “natural” or the label “supernatural”. Until then, Matt is providing way too much cover and support to NOMA.

    Now, I would also accept the following: Scientists today in practice do rule out supernatural (non-materialist) explanations, but that’s only because we have mounds of evidence that supernatural (non-materialist) explanations have very often failed in the past and have never been confirmed in the past. This necessarily implies that it could have been otherwise. It could have been that the “mechanism” of today’s science could have shown otherwise, and could have affirmed the supernatural (non-materialist).

    For instance, I’ve seen some of the hosts declare “argument from ignorance” to various theists bringing in Argument From Design type arguments/Cosmological Arguments etc, when they theist is actually attempting to make a *positive case* that X is EVIDENCE for design. Not just that “it couldn’t have happened naturally, therefore God” but that X displays characteristics that is best explained by a God, and why that is so.

    I’ve never seen another universe, and so I don’t know what a designed universe vs an undesigned universe really looks like. I don’t know what parameters can be tweaked by a designer.

    Further, let me borrow this wonderful argument from Dr Richard Carrier. Let’s ask the question of a scientist in the 1850s, having just learned of Darwin, but before any of the modern advances in cosmology. Ask him what the universe would look like if it was undesigned and life arose without an explicit designer. The scientist would answer that abiogenesis must be an extremely unlikely event, and so if it happened, we should expect that there are many, many places where the “experiment” of abiogenesis is being tried. For something that unlikely to happen, we should expect the universe to be extremely big and extremely old. That’s exactly what we see today. We see a trillion trillion stars, in a universe that’s existed for 13 something billion years. It fits the undesigned model perfectly.

    Now, take the counter position. 99.9999% (approx) of the whole universe is extremely lethal to life. Imagine you entered a house where only a small part of it was hospitable, about the size of an atom IIRC, and the rest was extremely lethal to life. Would you conclude that the house was designed for life to inhabit? No!

    The argument is simply a very, very bad argument.

    @Monocle Smile
    I don’t plan on calling in again. It would be a waste of time IMHO. I cannot do the subtleties necessary when Matt does not want to talk semantics, because this entire conversation hinges on semantics. The root problem is a trick of language which confuses Matt and others into thinking that science is somehow ill-equipped to handle claims that have the label “supernatural” attached to them.

    Perhaps in another context. Perhaps if Matt is willing to discuss semantics on the show. I understand why Matt would not want to discuss semantics on the show; it’s boring for the audience, and I am a nobody (unlike Matt Slick). I just have no avenue to pursue the discussion. They don’t respond to my email. Matt hasn’t responded on facebook. I give up.

  86. Hanzi says

    Hi, this is Hanzi from the show. I sent an e-mail to Matt hoping he could further persuade me why it’s wrong to adopt false beliefs in exchange for happiness. He responded to me, but I’m still struggling to see his point of view, and I think he may have given up on getting through to me. I decided to post here to see if maybe one of you can help me work this out, because I am pretty sure I am wrong I just can’t see why I am wrong as of yet.

    My question is: Is it ever better to adopt beliefs that may not be true? Is truth the most important or only valuable virtue? If so, is this an objective truth statement or subjective to the individual and why is this so and can you demonstrate it?

    Here is a hypothetical situation I’d like to use to demonstrate when I believe a false belief might serve someone better. If I were in a situation like Cypher’s in the matrix I would have chosen to do the same thing (minus the immoral part of betraying his friends). The more important part is this; I cannot see why if you were able to deceive your senses into believing you were in an ideal reality you have created for yourself why that would not be preferable to living in a dystopian reality. I suppose an argument that could be used against the Matrix analogy is that the knowledge of their true reality allowed them to break the bonds of their robot overlords. But suppose there was no escape and knowledge of the true nature of reality just led to a life of torture and desolation. Would you still choose truth over deception?

    While I completely understand this example isn’t really of any practical use in the real world. But if you can agree with me in that scenario that it is possible that adopting a false belief could be better than facing reality then maybe we don’t disagree as much as I thought.

  87. danielduran says

    @EL,

    I think this is awful. I think that phrases like:

    IMHO danielduran and Matt still have much to learn, although danielduran is making progress

    (#78).

    Or,

    […] At best, Matt has reached a position near danielduran, but he and danielduran still have a long way to go

    (#87).

    Those are extremely condescending assertions.

    I have explained Ad Nauseam why I do not agree with several of your ideas or positions, EL. So, hardly I want to “go” to your “camp”. Also, you are asserted that I have kind of changed my position, something that I haven’t done because I think exactly the same about this topic even before starting commenting on this thread. So, I don’t have a commitment to go anywhere. Specially, not to your position, EL.

    The only thing that has changed so far, is that you seem to understand (better?) what I though from the beginning. Labeling my ideas as nearer to your own thoughts doesn’t make them more “correct”, it simply shows that you hadn’t grasped what I think from the beginning.

    Now, what is baffles me is that you have a kind of fixation with Matt’s ideas. Actually, a fixation with what you _think_ Matt thinks. When you stated that “Matt Dillahunty is not defending mere provisory methodological naturalism. He is defending intrinsic methodological naturalism. I am attacking intrinsic methodological naturalism as philosophically indefensible. I am […]”… I feel compelled to hear again the show to understand what you meant, but @Vaal (#77) quoted Matt, and IMHO Vaal clearly showed that Matt does not think what you think he thinks…

    IMHO you are trying to refute a kind of straw-man version of Matt’s ideas…

    And I have no interest in performing an exercise of “Matt Dillahunty’s hermeneutics”. I already showed what I think, I already explained why I don’t think you are right or why I directly disagree with you in very specific points, and I don’t want to go to other rabit holes like NOMA…

    So, ok, thanks for the conversation, but I will left the train here; continuing the discussion means for me just repeating myself again and again about things I already explained above, so I don’t see more value on this conversation, at least for me.

  88. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Those are extremely condescending assertions.

    That’s nice.jpg? I am going to be extremely condescending towards ideas which I know are wrong. I am doing my best to attack the beliefs are not the person, and I apologize to the extent that my condescension can reasonably be viewed as an attack on everything that is you instead of an attack on the ideas and beliefs. However, I make no apologies for saying clearly that on this particular position, you and Matt have an block in your mind based on a trick of language which is preventing both of you from seeing the error of your ways, and I will be supremely confident and arrogant in making that assertion, and I make no apologies for having confidence in my beliefs, and for speaking straightforwardly and honestly.

    I have no respect for ideas. I have no respect for your beliefs just because you hold them. I expect the same courtesy in return. I find it insulting if you pull your punches in your discussions with me because you want to avoid appearing condescending. Rather, holding your punching is the true condescension. That would mean you think I am but a child who is incapable of having my feelings hurt. It is condescending that you are trying to shut down the conversation because your feelings are hurt because I stated plainly that you are wrong on this particular topic.

    IMHO Vaal clearly showed that Matt does not think what you think he thinks…

    You are wrong. You are wrong in your defense of methodological naturalism. Matt is wrong in his defense of methodological naturalism. You cannot see why you are wrong, which also makes you unable to see how Matt is similarly wrong.

    I do agree that we are going round in circles. You are wrong, and I am right. I’m sorry that you have a mental block which is preventing you from seeing this is merely a trick of language.

    My last try. I leave you with these questions: Again imagine my scientific hypothesis that there is a creature who looks like a man on top of Mount Olympus, who responds to the name “Zeus”, and who has the power to conjure lightning bolts and “throw” them at people and things. What changes if I add “and Zeus does so naturally” to the hypothesis? What changes if I add “and Zeus does so supernaturally” to the hypothesis? How does the addition of those labels change how a reasonable scientist approaches those claims? I answer that adding either label to the hypothesis should result in zero changes as to how a scientist approaches the claims. Saying science is ill-equipped to handle supernatural claims is equivalent to defending Gould’s NOMA, an idea for which I have nothing but contempt.

    Get your own fucking blog.

    I am very on topic – I called into the show of this post! I am sticking to the topic, and I engage only to the extant that others engage me. If you don’t like it, you are welcome to not read my posts, and you can even avoid this particular page.

    tl;dr <3 you too.

  89. Monocle Smile says

    @EL

    Saying science is ill-equipped to handle supernatural claims is equivalent to defending Gould’s NOMA

    I can’t possibly accept that. You’re ignoring that NOMA has two branches. Matt has never and will likely never say that religion IS well-equipped to handle supernatural claims…or any claims, for that matter, and that’s the key part of NOMA, in my opinion. In fact, when some theist goes “science can’t answer these questions, so that’s where [religion/faith/god] comes in,” Matt has always torn into them, because that’s the real crux of the matter.

    Furthermore, I would like an actual, cited example of where Matt’s particular wording (let’s ignore his actual position for now, since we clearly disagree on it) has ever allowed any theist to “get away” with pretending that religion answers certain questions because science can’t address them. Because honestly…I don’t see how the semantics involved have any impact on religious discussions.

  90. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Monocle Smile

    I can’t possibly accept that. You’re ignoring that NOMA has two branches. Matt has never and will likely never say that religion IS well-equipped to handle supernatural claims…or any claims, for that matter, and that’s the key part of NOMA, in my opinion. In fact, when some theist goes “science can’t answer these questions, so that’s where [religion/faith/god] comes in,” Matt has always torn into them, because that’s the real crux of the matter.

    Granted. So, it’s defending half of NOMA, and that half is still wrong.

    Furthermore, I would like an actual, cited example of where Matt’s particular wording (let’s ignore his actual position for now, since we clearly disagree on it) has ever allowed any theist to “get away” with pretending that religion answers certain questions because science can’t address them. Because honestly…I don’t see how the semantics involved have any impact on religious discussions.

    Note that Matt adopts both positions simultaneously IMHO. Sometimes Matt demands evidence when someone makes a claim and labels it “supernatural”. Other times Matt will say that science cannot handle supernatural claims. What is a Christian to think? It’s confusing, and contradictory.

  91. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    MS, you ask Matt making the argument I’m claiming. Here’s one example. (I stumbled across it while watching some videos for fun. Yes, I still thoroughly enjoy Matt’s work. He’s just horribly wrong on this one little but IMHO important point.)

    > Atheist Debates – Debate review: Sye Ten Bruggencate, Part 2, Matt’s Opening & Sye’s rebuttal
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2QUj3HoLxk&feature=player_detailpage#t=433
    At 7 min, 13 sec, it replays some of the debate Sye Ten Bruggencate.

    At 7 min, 37 sec, Matt gives some commentary on this particular point, where he very explicitly digs this hole even deeper. I’m not just imagining this. It’s Matt’s actual explicitly stated position.

    Around 8 minutes in, again Matt uses the word “mechanism” to refer to “ways of knowing” such as science, and again clearly states that he doesn’t yet have a mechanism to tie something causally to a god. Quoting Matt: “Essential they’re claiming to be god detectors …” Yea, and? Dowsers claim to be (magic) water detectors.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowsing
    However, we don’t assert by naive philosophical fiat that science cannot has nothing to say about dowsing – quite the opposite! Science has lots of things to say about dowsing. Of course every dowser ever tested has failed, but it might have been otherwise – dowsing might have been confirmed. Is dowsing “supernatural”? Don’t know; don’t care. We should adopt the same attitude when people claim to be god detectors, when they have personal experiences of god, etc. etc.

    Quoting Matt:
    “Essential they’re claiming to be god detectors even though they can offer no sound foundation to support this.”
    That’s ambiguous. “Can” is the ambiguity.

    Does he mean to say that they currently offer no sound foundation? Sure.

    Does he mean to say that it’s epistemically impossible that a sound foundation could ever be offered? That would be wrong! That’s an important point that Boudry made in the paper. Just because some supernatural claims have the structure of bullshit (such as untestable, no explanatory power, etc.) does not make all supernatural claims bullshit. Some natural claims can also suffer from the same problems (such as unfalsifiable, no explanatory power, etc.), but we don’t say science has nothing to say about natural claims.

  92. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PPS: Figures. Right after that in the video (around 11 min 20 sec), Matt does hedge, but not far enough IMHO.

    Quoting Matt:
    “But none of them offer any testable mechanism by which we can verify this.”
    Again, there’s an ambiguity in play. Sure many Christians offer no way to confirm / falsify their claims, and for that reason the claims should be thrown out.

    Then Matt gives examples of possible evidence which would support the Christian position (but notes that we don’t have that in reality).

    I don’t know what to do. In the space of a few minutes, Matt clearly states that we have no mechanism to confirm supernatural causation, but then gives many examples which he says would support supernatural causation. You cannot have it both ways. It’s infuriating. I really do think Matt himself is very confused on this topic, and he’s confused because of the trick of language that is the word “supernatural”, exactly as explained in the Skepticon 7 talk by Scott Clifton (link above).

  93. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I thought of it this way in the shower.

    I don’t mean to strawman Matt or others, so I’ll use Simplicio as the name of my hypothetical conversation subject. This is how I imagine the conversation would go with a conventional defender of the position I’m attacking. I think it likely of Matt, but I do want to not put words in his mouth too much, even though I suspect I will be accused of Strawmanning Matt and others despite this huge disclaimer. I mean this to further dialog, not to strawman.

    EL: Let’s suppose you met this apparent man named Yahweh who argued that perpetual motion machines are quite possible. To demonstrate this point, he snaps his finger and a burning bush appears. He claims this bush will burn forever without consuming the bush or other fuel, until he stops it. Suppose he makes many of them, and invites your best scientists to investigate his claims.

    Simplicio: You still haven’t demonstrated supernatural causation. You haven’t demonstrated that perpetual motion machines are possible either. Perhaps it’s just sufficiently advanced aliens who are playing a trick on you. Perhaps there’s some new kind of physics which we don’t yet know which explains how the Bush seemingly burns without exhausting fuel, but under this new physics it burns some fuel we cannot see, and so it’s not actually a perpetual motion machine.

    EL: Ok, what if we imagine a scenario where aliens visit Earth, and they give us a small cube which can emit water. There’s an on/off switch. The aliens claim that the cube can create water without end. They give us several of these cubes for our best scientists to test. Our scientists confirm that it creates water, violating conservation of mass, and it violates thermodynamics in a very similar way as the everburning bush of Yahweh. The scientists take apart several of the boxes, but cannot figure out how the internals produce the effect. Our best scientists (working with our best magicians) confirm that the boxes violate thermodynamics. How much would it take you to accept that the cubes violate thermodynamics?

    I claim that Simplicio will far more quickly accept that the boxes violate thermodynamics compared to how much effort it will take to convince Simplicio that the everburning bush violates thermodynamics. The reason for this discrepancy is that the everburning bush has the “supernatural” label attached, which immediately causes Simplicio’s fraud detection system to go into overdrive, well out of proportion. This may even go to the extremes that Simplicio would say that we lack the tools to confirm that the bush does burn without consuming fuel.

    We see that Simplicio has a reasonable burden of proof to overturn thermodynamics when the “supernatural” word is not present. However, introduce that word, and suddenly Simplicio becomes a hyperskeptic who demands an unreasonable standard of evidence to overturn any part of his dogmatic materialism.

    We also see another nasty part in play. Perhaps Simplicio thinks that he is in the Matrix when aliens come to visit and give these thermodynamics-violating boxes. However, Simplicio recognizes that he is stuck dealing with the (observable) reality which he finds himself in, and it doesn’t matter if this is ultimate reality. However, with the burning bush scenario, Simplicio violates that principle by denying evident reality by positing all sorts of explanations why the reality he finds himself in is not the ultimate reality.

  94. danielduran says

    I already stated that I don’t have much to add to this conversation. But also I think that Simplicio, the favorite character of pope Urban VIII, deserves a better treatment.

    As @EL did not actually make any question to Simplicio in his first example, Simplicio simple states the obvious, regarding the fact that both nothing supernatural nor an actual perpetual motion machine been demonstrated, because the imaginary character Yahweh haven’t explained nor demonstrated how his burning bushes actually work.

    But in the second “example”, @EL asked an explicit question: ” How much would it take you to accept that the cubes violate thermodynamics?”. And EL doesn’t allow Simplicio even to answer… bad, bad.

    Why don’t you allow Simplicio to speak, EL? Let him speak!

    Simplicio: Both Yahweh or the aliens still haven’t demonstrated supernatural causation or that perpetual motion machines are possible; perhaps these Xenu-like advanced aliens are playing a trick on us. Perhaps there’s some new kind of physics which we don’t yet know which explains how the cube creates water without an obvious source, but under this new physics it bring the matter/energy from elsewhere, and that may also require energy so it’s not actually a perpetual motion machine. So it is required extra evidence to demonstrate any of those claims, not only observing the effect and assuming the conclusion. But the burden of proof is on the hands of Yahweh or the aliens to show that whatever they assert is actually true, as far as they are the part who know how their phenomena supposedly work.

    Else, it would be a strawmanning situation to poor Simplicio.

  95. Vaal says

    EnlightenmentLiberal,

    Thanks for the explanation regarding moderation of the posts.

    I wish I had time at the moment to discuss many of the issues brought up in this thread in detail. (Hanzi’s question is a good one to bat around as well).

    So just quickly…

    In regards to Matt’s position about establishing supernatural causation, in a choice between your characterization of Matt’s viewpoint, and what Matt himself said in the show, I’m more inclined to go with Matt’s own words which seem quite firm on keeping his view provisional. And it doesn’t seem worth much more time to spend on, as someone else said, hermeneutical dissection of Matt’s words. I’ll keep my ears open for what he might say in the future on the topic.

    As for the Argument(s) from design, you don’t have to convince me they suck 😉 I’ve been making those points against it (like many others) for decades to theists. It takes the most absurd cherry-picking to look at the universe and infer “This Was Made With Us In Mind!”

    The issue I raised was whether arguments from design etc (and others not mentioned) were of the form “argument from ignorance” as they are so often labelled in the show. The Argument From Ignorance is formally stated:

    http://skepdic.com/ignorance.html

    “The argument to ignorance is a logical fallacy of irrelevance occurring when one claims that something is true only because it hasn’t been proved false, or that something is false only because it has not been proved true.”

    And that is not the form taken by many intelligent design or teleological arguments take. They tend to invoke analogy between living organisms and human-made artifacts as “positive” evidence for inferring design. That’s the point of Paley’s argument about how we discern a watch from that which we accept occurs simply via the processes of nature.

    It’s bad evidence. It’s ultimately fallacious in most of the ways critics have been pointing out for centuries. But strictly speaking, it is not in the form of the Argument From Ignorance. And since it appears, at least sometimes to me, that some of the hosts have concluded certain arguments, e.g. teleological, are “Arguments From Ignorance” they seem to slap that label on when a teleological comes up whether it’s accurate or not. (However, I’m not suggesting people agree with me, as I haven’t provided any evidence for it. It’s just a gripe based on my noting it happening sometimes watching the show, but I didn’t take note of the shows and so don’t have any examples to supply).

    Merry Christmas everyone! 😉

  96. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran
    Wait, so you wouldn’t even accept that the alien’s cube violates thermodynamics?
    !?
    I don’t even. Are you putting me on here? Is the truth of thermodynamics presuppositional to you?

    perhaps these Xenu-like advanced aliens are playing a trick on us.

    How is this not solipsism? Why do you only use this to defend the status quo? There’s a principle which at least Matt understands which you don’t yet. Matt doesn’t care about ultimate reality. He just cares about (observable) reality. Perhaps aliens are out there right now, tricking us right now into thinking that general relativity is true. All they would have to do is mess with astronomy observations and GPS data. Pretty simple. It doesn’t matter if they are – in exactly the same way that it doesn’t matter if I’m in The Matrix. I am stuck in this reality where the aliens are messing with my astronomy observations and GPS data to make it seem as though general relativity is true, and as long as I am stuck in this reality, I am going to learn its rules because I am bound by them.

    If I lived in the world where aliens brought cubes that produced endless water, after enough time this would just become another aspect of reality. Absolute thermodynamics simply would not be true according to Matt’s IMHO very reasonable definition of truth, “that which comports with (observable) reality”.

    Whereas, you are advancing solipsistic arguments. You are talking about ultimate reality. I don’t care about ultimate reality. Matt doesn’t care about ultimate reality. You shouldn’t care about ultimate reality either.

  97. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Vaal
    I am here to argue a specific reasonable meaning (or meanings) to Matt’s words. That’s the only reason for my complaints. I complain because Matt is spreading a wrong-headed view of science and epistemology. If you don’t Matt is communicating that in this particular episode – if you don’t find it clear enough – I invite you to look at the sources in the following posts in detail which makes it abundantly clear IMHO.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2014/12/14/open-thread-for-aetv-896-matt-and-jen/#comment-546103
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/axp/2014/12/14/open-thread-for-aetv-896-matt-and-jen/#comment-546127

    About the argument from design technically not being an argument from ignorance, you might have a point.

  98. says

    Presuppositional thermodynamics 😀

    If you have one principle (thermodynamics) that work for everything except water-making cubes, you would still have to explain why they work in one case and not work in another.

    It seems like danielduran uses the label “supernatural” for things that are not explained well enough, rather than for things outside of reality. So the question is not whether those water-cubes exist, it’s more like whether they are sufficiently understood.

    I do still agree that you cannot demonstrate supernatural causation. However, the same is true for natural causation. Do you disagree with that, danielduran?

  99. danielduran says

    Jaja, Yeah, my solipcistic imagination also allows presuppositional thermodymics! How I didn’t think about that joke before 😛

    Actually, one of the key problems of this all conversation is what the label “supernatural” means. I do not hold or maintain any definition in particular, because I am not the one asserting something supernatural actually exist. But things that are not explained well enough (or not explained at all!) may or may not be “supernatural”, but being unexplained is not what I understood as supernatural, so I do not assume that “not explained” implies “supernatural”.

    Also, “outside of reality” as definition of supernatural has its own complications… But, that is why I do not pretend to define the term.

    Now, natural is cleartly more real for us, I assume. I hope we could agree we experience a world around us that looks like it follows some rules, and it has observable and knowable properties. I understand that things that belong to the natural world could be demonstrated to be the cause of other natural phenomena, so I think we could demonstrate natural causation, at least in most of the cases (but I am not sure if in _all_ cases).

    So, if I put ice in a pot, I could measure its temperature (a natural property). If I later observe that the ice melted and the water it is actually boiling (I could also measure its temperature), I know that in the natural world that could happen if some heat from some energy source could do so (background knowledge). If I look carefully and I discover that the pot is actually an electric heater and it is actually turned on, I could draw a direct causal relationship with the boiling water and the electric energy a as a cause for the boiling water, and I would conclude that the water is boiling… for natural reasons (electricity, electric heater and similar are not _supernatural_, I assume).

    So, I think natural causation could be demonstrated. And science has done that too many times to doubt it. IMHO.

  100. Monocle Smile says

    @EL

    Quoting Matt:
    “Essential they’re claiming to be god detectors even though they can offer no sound foundation to support this.”
    That’s ambiguous. “Can” is the ambiguity.
    Does he mean to say that they currently offer no sound foundation? Sure.
    Does he mean to say that it’s epistemically impossible that a sound foundation could ever be offered? That would be wrong!

    Given Vaal’s quotes of Matt in this very show, I don’t think you’re being charitable here, which is odd for you. Again, I don’t recall Matt ever letting a theist getting away with a flat “science can’t address this topic, but my religion/woo can,” and I think that’s the important part.

  101. says

    Actually, one of the key problems of this all conversation is what the label “supernatural” means. I do not hold or maintain any definition in particular, because I am not the one asserting something supernatural actually exist.

    I understood “supernatural” to be simple a negation of “natural”. So, if you define “natural”, you have autmatically also defined “supernatural”.

    (Of course, you could define supernatural differently… but thats my usage here)

    Now, natural is cleartly more real for us, I assume.

    Perhaps not…

    I understand that things that belong to the natural world could be demonstrated to be the cause of other natural phenomena, so I think we could demonstrate natural causation, at least in most of the cases

    So you define “natural” as observable phenomena?

    Then “natural causation” means: caused by other observed phenomena. Yes, we can do that.
    By this definition, non-natural (supernatural) causation would mean: caused by something that has not been observed. (Then it’s a matter of knowledge)
    or maybe: caused by something unobservable (which is then impossible to show)

    With that definition, the sentence “science is based on methodological naturalism” would mean “science is based on the assumption, that you can only prove things to be caused by other things which can be observed”

    – does it also mean “science is based on the assumption, that you cannot prove things to be caused by things which have not been observed“?
    – does it also mean “science is based on the assumption, that you cannot prove things to be caused by unobservable things”?

  102. danielduran says

    No, I don’t think “observable phenomena” is what I would define as “natural”.

    But so far, (most of?) the natural things happen to be observable (or detectable, directly or indirectly), at least in principle.

    So, I would say that if something is natural then (it implies) it must be somehow observable/detectable. But something being observable/detectable does not imply it is natural.

    A second property of natural things I think it’s important, is that they “follow” (blindly?) some natural regularities or natural patterns, that science could model and predict, and those properties seems to be intrinsic to the reality of natural stuff. That way, gravity is a regular property of the natural world that attract mass object each other. So if I have a mass object, and happens to be attracted in the exact (now expected) intensity (force) by other mass object, that phenomena I would attach the word “natural” to it.

    So, I think something “supernatural” must in principle be not (fully?) constrained by those “natural” regularities. That’s why walking over water could be, in principle, be kind of “supernatural” because normally you would sink. And surely, walking over water is something pretty observable.

    And that is my main contention in this (already long) conversation: if we could really observe, and test, and measure, something walking over water, then that phenomena is “supernatural” (because seems to be not bounded by the natural “laws” we know), or it is actually natural because it is following an also natural regularity that we are (currently) unaware of. And I think science has no way to make a sound conclusion about what of those two alternatives is the “explanation” for a new unexplained phenomena like that, so it cannot be proven that the “water walking phenomena” _is_ actually supernatural with the _current_ scientific methodologies. Unless someone has some brilliant idea on how ruling out between those two alternatives…, but then it has to demonstrate the reliability of his proposed new methodology first (and not simply state there is one, there would be one, or ther may be one…).

  103. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @MS
    Maybe Matt has mostly the right idea in his head, but he’s doing a poor job communicating that, which is how I think I first described my complaint. Charity applies when trying to understand his position and argument to see if he’s right. The principle of charity applies far less so when making the determination if he is being a clear communicator, and I still hold that he’s wrong or that he’s communicating very unclearly.

    @danielduran
    No, the problem isn’t the word “supernatural” anymore. The aliens scenario I presented has absolutely nothing to do with the “supernatural”. The problem is that when I present to you wholly natural evidence that thermodynamics is wrong, you will immediately go to the solipsistic argument rather than the much more straightforward conclusion that thermodynamics is wrong (or incomplete) based on the overwhelming evidence.

    You are playing the person 100 years ago who was denying quantum theory because it just doesn’t jive with your understanding of classical physics, even though it explains the photoelectric effect perfectly. Of course, perhaps you should withhold judgment until a little more evidence comes in, but that’s why I stated plainly that we were given many cubes, lots of time to experiment, permission to take them apart, etc.

  104. says

    @danielduran

    Okay, so what I understand, your definition of “natural” is:

    1) observable phenomena
    2) following (natural) regularities or (natural) patterns

    (I shall leave out the word natural, since that would make the definition go in circles)

    Does science have to presuppose that everything is natural? (I think we both disagree on that) Does science currently only have methods to deal with the natural? Well, it can only work with observable phenomena – but those could also be non-natural ones, if they don’t follow criterion #2. To say that science is based on methodological naturalism seems to imply that it only works with things that are both #1 and #2, since that is the definition of “natural” we are currently talking about.

    And I think science has no way to make a sound conclusion about what of those two alternatives is the “explanation” for a new unexplained phenomena like that, so it cannot be proven that the “water walking phenomena” _is_ actually supernatural with the _current_ scientific methodologies.

    Science can neither show that a thing is supernatural, nor that it is natural. That was the point I was trying to make.

    ot: This discussion is long and goes in circles, but it IS interesting and I enjoy it. If I do not reply, it is probably because I won’t have internet.

    Happy late-december days, everyone! 🙂

  105. Ulrira says

    I think that a clear definition of “supernatural” at the beginning would have helped a lot. Actually, who was “right” depends entirely on that definition…

    Apart from the actual discussion (which I found interesting and would have liked to hear more of), I think that Matt was extremely rude towards Josh.
    Josh was neither impolite nor being stupid, in my opinion there was zero reason to get mad at him. Rather they were having an intelligent discussion.
    Why on earth yell at him like that at 38:08? Why hang up on him like that?

    I totally get that sometimes real idiots call in and there is no way to have a friendly discussion with them. But this was very unnecessary and makes Matt look like an “if I can’t convince you with arguments I’ll talk louder and louder till you agree” -ass.

    Dear Matt, I really love the way you think clearly and are able to present your extensive knowledge about reason and religions but it would really help the way atheists are perceived if you didn’t lose your temper so damn quickly. I know you’ve said before that it doesn’t matter to you but I disagree.
    No matter how good your arguments, if you come across as an ass, people will not listen…
    (You’ve said the exact same thing about debates but a call-in show isn’t that different… There are still people watching deciding who has the better arguments)

    After all, in every show you say you’re doing this to promote positive atheism. It would come across a lot more positive if you’ve made a bit more effort to talk calmly…

    Merry christmas everyone 🙂

  106. danielduran says

    Uhm…

    Science can neither show that a thing is supernatural, nor that it is natural. That was the point I was trying to make.

    I see that your state that, but I don’t understand your reasoning (sorry if you already spell it above, you could point me to it if you want).

    If you could explain what you understand by natural, by supernatural, and why science cannot show if something belongs to any of those categories, it would be welcome.

    Well, if you want it after the holidays. Enjoy!

  107. danielduran says

    The problem is that when I present to you wholly natural evidence that thermodynamics is wrong, you will immediately go to…

    O_o

    You… presented… what?

    Sorry, @EL, but bold assertions about hypotheticals made on an Internet forum and offered without any real backup data , is not what I understand as “evidence”, nor I am aware science uses that as a mean for reaching any _cientific conclusion_, so I am not interested in falling down that particular rabbit hole either.

  108. Monocle Smile says

    @Ulrira
    Matt was frustrated because he thought he and Josh agreed on everything except semantics that Matt didn’t consider important. He hung up because he didn’t see the sense in wasting time arguing with someone about an issue on which they agreed. I’m not necessarily in sync with Matt’s perception, but I can understand the frustration.

    No matter how good your arguments, if you come across as an ass, people will not listen

    I can’t disagree more. If you come across as an ass, people who wouldn’t listen anyway will use it as an excuse to not listen. But this isn’t actually relevant. Don’t be “That Guy” who thinks getting frustrated and raising your voice is the same as being a dick. That’s kid-glove shit. That’s tone-trolling. Learn the difference. Josh (EnlightenmentLiberal in this thread) would be the first to agree with me on this.

  109. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Ulrira
    I am Josh who called in. Matt was (mostly) fine IMHO. I would have preferred to try to handle it off-air because it was semantics and esoteric, but that was my only available option.

    @danielduran
    I gave you a scenario where you are presented with overwhelming evidence that thermodynamics is wrong (or incomplete). Rather than go for that obvious straightforward conclusion, you argue that intellectual equivalent of “The Matrix” or “a brain in a vat” is a more plausible explanation.

    This is what you plainly state here: (emphasis added)

    Simplicio: Both Yahweh or the aliens still haven’t demonstrated supernatural causation or that perpetual motion machines are possible; perhaps these Xenu-like advanced aliens are playing a trick on us. Perhaps there’s some new kind of physics which we don’t yet know which explains how the cube creates water without an obvious source, but under this new physics it bring the matter/energy from elsewhere, and that may also require energy so it’s not actually a perpetual motion machine. So it is required extra evidence to demonstrate any of those claims, not only observing the effect and assuming the conclusion. But the burden of proof is on the hands of Yahweh or the aliens to show that whatever they assert is actually true, as far as they are the part who know how their phenomena supposedly work.

    I find it hard to imagine a scenario where more evidence is available.

    You’re assuming a lot. You’re assuming the aliens know how the boxes “work”. If you want, throw on that the aliens (purport to) give us access to their entire computer databases, and we discover that the aliens (purportedly) also “have no idea” how the boxes “work”, except to tell us that they do (quoting Feynmen from the link above).

    We could make the boxes ourselves. We can tear them apart and investigate them as much as we want. Perhaps there is no further explanation. Perhaps this is just a new law of nature, a new law of physics. In that case, there is no way to add additional evidence to the scenario without changing what I have already presented. There are no possible additions.

    Without meaning offense but simply stating facts, your standards are ridiculous, your arguments are solipsistic, you are a dogmatic philosophical materialist / philosophical naturalist, and you do not understand science.

  110. Hanzi says

    114 posts related to Josh’s (EnlightenedLiberal) call and not one person felt like responding to my post. I am a void on this world that is of no importance or significance. I will never be of value, or worth anyone’s time. I am not sure why I bother anymore trying to connect with other people. Even Matt Dillahunty hates me to the point he won’t deign me a response via email.

  111. Hanzi says

    Martin: He responded quickly to my first email I sent him shortly after last week’s show. But my response must have been so idiotic he didn’t want to waste any further time on me. I know I am a stupid person so I wouldn’t want to converse with me either, so it is okay. He has much more important things to do with his time than waste time on me.

  112. says

    Come on, don’t be dramatic with the self-directed put-downs. You can post your opinions on whatever subject is under discussion here, just like anyone else, and get a fair reply if you argue your points well.

  113. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    There’s 100 posts on my topic because I encouraged / participated / made most of those comments.

  114. Hanzi says

    Martin: I did post a question relating to my call, but unlike other people I did not get any replies. Every single other post was related to Josh’s call. This is actually a great representative example of my life where I am essentially a pariah to all members of the human race, not worthy of being a participating member.

    Question follows:
    *Hi, this is Hanzi from the show. I sent an e-mail to Matt hoping he could further persuade me why it’s wrong to adopt false beliefs in exchange for happiness. He responded to me, but I’m still struggling to see his point of view, and I think he may have given up on getting through to me. I decided to post here to see if maybe one of you can help me work this out, because

    I am pretty sure I am wrong I just can’t see why I am wrong as of yet.
    My question is: Is it ever better to adopt beliefs that may not be true? Is truth the most important or only valuable virtue? If so, is this an objective truth statement or subjective to the individual and why is this so and can you demonstrate it?
    Here is a hypothetical situation I’d like to use to demonstrate when I believe a false belief might serve someone better. If I were in a situation like Cypher’s in the matrix I would have chosen to do the same thing (minus the immoral part of betraying his friends). The more important part is this; I cannot see why if you were able to deceive your senses into believing you were in an ideal reality you have created for yourself why that would not be preferable to living in a dystopian reality. I suppose an argument that could be used against the Matrix analogy is that the knowledge of their true reality allowed them to break the bonds of their robot overlords. But suppose there was no escape and knowledge of the true nature of reality just led to a life of torture and desolation. Would you still choose truth over deception?
    While I completely understand this example isn’t really of any practical use in the real world. But if you can agree with me in that scenario that it is possible that adopting a false belief could be better than facing reality then maybe we don’t disagree as much as I thought.

  115. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You cannot know if it’s better to adopt a false belief without first determining that the claim is false. How do you forget that? I can’t just forget that the claim is false.

    You cannot know if it’s better to adopt a belief regardless of its truthiness without first determining the consequences of holding the belief and not holding the belief. That investigation almost certainly will reveal whether the claim is true. How would you forget that? I can’t just forget that the claim is false.

    Often holding a belief without good justification means that it will bleed over to other beliefs you hold, and it will normalize this practice in society, which is definitely dangerous.

    Such scenarios seem highly contrived, unrealistic, and rare.

  116. Monocle Smile says

    @Hanzi
    No one likes a pity party. Trust me, if you stop acting like a pariah, people will stop treating you like a pariah. Maybe not immediately, but it will happen. Also, this is what happens when you come late to the party. You have to wait in line for a drink.

    EnlightenmentLiberal answered well. I don’t accept that we can simply blind ourselves to our own awareness. At some level, you understand that the claim is false.

  117. Hanzi says

    He didn’t answer it at all. And I don’t think either of you even read my line of questioning. Firstly, I gave a hypothetical situation to get past your face value objection which I knew would be made. Also, I am sorry you dislike the “pity party”, you don’t live in my mind or know what I face, it’s part of my mental disorder and I wish I could just act happy like you but unfortunately I don’t have that option.

  118. Hanzi says

    Also, past my hypothetical situation people blind themselves all the time and convince themselves of false things, its not an impossibility. But I’d rather not get bogged down in trivial minutiae as far as logistical details go, the primary argument is what is more important happiness or truth. If I were happier convincing myself their are things such as a transcendental purpose or other things that I would like to be part of my ideal reality I don’t see why that wouldn’t be an optimal choice. And as of yet no one has come even close to being able to make a good argument against it.

  119. Monocle Smile says

    @Hanzi
    I don’t live in your mind, but I do suffer from a variant of depression, although different from yours. Don’t assume you live in our minds, either.

    Your questions were already addressed in the show. Then addressed by EL. You’re just choosing to ignore what everyone’s said thus far. “Happiness vs. truth” isn’t a valid dichotomy. It’s much more involved than that. I would first argue that they’re inextricably linked. I would then argue that our ability to control our happiness is different than our inability to affect our beliefs about what is true once we’ve established understanding. Once you understand something to be true or false, altering that belief sans further evidence appears to be nigh impossible. Meanwhile, although we have plenty of obstacles in our path to happiness (some more than others), there’s much more recourse when it comes to becoming happy, and no small part of that is that happiness is largely self-defined.

    As a final note…happiness is important. Honesty and integrity are more important. One man’s opinion.

  120. Monocle Smile says

    One more thing:

    Also, past my hypothetical situation people blind themselves all the time and convince themselves of false things, its not an impossibility

    People lie to themselves and others about their beliefs, but I don’t accept that they actually convince themselves of these things, with a few rare exceptions.

  121. Hanzi says

    I don’t understand why you think that it is impossible for people to change beliefs without evidence; maybe this is true for you, but certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. Are you saying there has never been an Atheist who has become Theist? That seems to be the point I can’t get past to really get to any good debate on my proposition. You threw in an argument that Happiness and Truth are necessarily linked, but you didn’t provide anything to support your proposition.

    I am more than willing to listen to well thought out and constructed arguments, but considering you haven’t even addressed my baseline hypothetical in my first question I don’t think you have paid my argument enough attention to even have a chance of reasonably addressing it.

  122. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    But I’d rather not get bogged down in trivial minutiae as far as logistical details go, the primary argument is what is more important happiness or truth.

    I don’t think you can separate them in practice except for contrived examples. Thus I don’t think it’s a valid question.

    don’t understand why you think that it is impossible for people to change beliefs without evidence; maybe this is true for you, but certainly doesn’t apply to everyone. Are you saying there has never been an Atheist who has become Theist?

    I do value honesty more than most people. I find it near inconceivable to be able to change my mind without what I consider to go be good reason. Then again, I’ve also trained myself to some degree to do this.

    If you are different, I have no useful input because I simply cannot think like that.

  123. says

    @danielduran

    Science can neither show that a thing is supernatural, nor that it is natural. That was the point I was trying to make.

    I see that your state that, but I don’t understand your reasoning (sorry if you already spell it above, you could point me to it if you want).

    Here is what I use as our current working definition:

    Okay, so what I understand, your definition of “natural” is:

    1) observable phenomena
    2) following (natural) regularities or (natural) patterns

    If you have something, that is observable, but the pattern it follows is contrary to what it should do, based on our current knowledge, we can only show 1 (observable) but not 2.
    Like the water-box example EL gave. To say that it is a magic trick and does not actually violate thermodynamics (when every experiment shows it appears to do exactly that) is an assumption, based on the belief that everything is natural.

    I think it would be reasonable, if you encounter such a box (and you have confirmed that it does, what it is supposed to do) to say: “I don’t know if it is natural. I don’t know if it follows the laws of nature that we currently know of. Maybe it follows different laws.”

    That doesn’t mean it is supernatural (ie “not criteria 2”) but neither does it clearly show it is natural, by the definition above.

    (If you want to use a different definition, please say so. I tried to extract this one from what you said earlier, but I could have missed something)

    bold assertions about hypotheticals made on an Internet forum and offered without any real backup data , is not what I understand as “evidence”

    Currently there are no observed phenomena that violate thermodynamics. No one disputed that.

    This is about what we would do when we find something that does. Of course we have to use a hypothetical situation to model that. I think you miss the point when you dismiss it like that.

    It’s like if someone asked you “what would you do if someone tried to murder you with a knife?” and you respond: “that has never happened to me, it is absurd to assume that it ever will.”
    (which in this case kind of makes sense, if you don’t want to think about it (thinking about violence being unpleasant) – but then, why debate in the first place?)

  124. says

    @Hanzi

    I wanted to adress your post, but forgot. Sorry.

    Is it ever better to adopt beliefs that may not be true? Is truth the most important or only valuable virtue?

    You cannot prove that it is better to believe a false thing. It is a rather dangerous assumption, because you do not know in advance about all the ways this could harm you.

    There was actually a study done about reported happiness from atheists and theists. I think it was in this skepticon talk:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB7Dlwaufyk&index=8&list=PLDyZC8lflYBujgWWiw5rAVUEOlbrIEe-h

    What it showed is that when you actually include atheists (and not merely strong believers vs. weak believers) they are just as happy as strong believers. The most unhappy people are those in the middle, the people who are uncertain. Which is actually what you expect: Being uncertain doesn’t make you happy.

    Now, if you just try to believe something you don’t actually believe, I really doubt you will get to the “strong believer” area. Very probably you will struggle with your belief, and end up in the gray area in-between – which is exactly where you will be the most unhappy, according to this study.

    Here is a hypothetical situation I’d like to use to demonstrate when I believe a false belief might serve someone better.

    Yes, there are hypothetical situations where you would be more happy with a false belief. However, you don’t have the mechanism to determine if you are in such a situation, so assuming you are is not a good idea. (Since you will hopefully agree there are more harmful false beliefs out there)

    Now, all this does not solve depression. I know, I’ve been there (although a different type, I suppose). But I personally found that sticking to the truth, and only to the things I really know, has made me a more stable person, and may have helped me in bad situations. So, just from my subjective experience, I would recommend honesty.
    There is a trap there, however: Depression can make you think that you are honest, when you are actually completely wrong: “I am worthless. No one likes me.” Those are depressive thoughts, and they are NOT honest – you only think you are honest, when you engage in them. It is important to know this, and be very careful not to take them as “realistic view of the world”.

    If I were happier convincing myself their are things such as a transcendental purpose or other things that I would like to be part of my ideal reality I don’t see why that wouldn’t be an optimal choice.

    Transcendental purpose is not connected to gods, or even religion. I think you will be happier, if your “transcendental purpose thingy” is based on reality – like promoting ideas that you think are worth being spread. Politics, Morals, Ethics, all that stuff can fill that hole. And I would argue it does a better job at giving you purpose than religion can.
    With religion, you always have in-built problems: “What if I don’t like the plan god has given me? What if I am just lying to myself? What if I am doing the wrong thing without knowing, and god/allay/cthulhu will punish me?”

    Ethical goals will give you communities that don’t have to deal with most of these failure-modes.

    One final thing: Don’t overdo ethics. Don’t assume you are personally responsible for everything bad in the world. That way lies madness. 😀 If you are depressed, accept that you have this problem and deal with that first and foremost. If you get over it, you will be much better able to help other people (or whatever your goal is then).

  125. danielduran says

    Hi @jundurg

    If you have something, that is observable, but the pattern it follows is contrary to what it should do, based on our current knowledge, we can only show 1 (observable) but not 2.
    Like the water-box example EL gave […]

    Yes, I fully agree with that.

    […] To say that it is a magic trick and does not actually violate thermodynamics (when every experiment shows it appears to do exactly that) is an assumption, based on the belief that everything is natural

    Saying that it is magic means you conclude that. I haven’t, but surely it is a posibility. Now, the fact that “every experiment” show something DOES NOT MEANS that that is actuallyt the full set of possible experiments, or that there is no possible new experiment that could be devised that shows a different behavior. Assuming so means ignoring the provisional nature of science knowledge…

    My points are that when facing a new phenomena that is unknown (hence, violates rule 2), there are several posibilities, including: (a) there is a real magic/supernatural cause, or (b) it is a new but yet undiscover natural rule or reality. My point is that you cannot assume any of those two (as conclusion) scientifically speaking. You can’t say for sure it is magic or supernatural by simply assume it nor you haven’t ruled out that a new natural phenomenom is behind. Science cannot decide, nor any methodology known so far…. so the only conclusion is that “we don’t know”.

    And saying we don’t know, nobody is making the “assumption” that everything is natural. Nor I am doing it.

    I think it would be reasonable, if you encounter such a box (and you have confirmed that it does, what it is supposed to do) to say: “I don’t know if it is natural. I don’t know if it follows the laws of nature that we currently know of. Maybe it follows different laws.”

    That doesn’t mean it is supernatural (ie “not criteria 2?) but neither does it clearly show it is natural, by the definition above.

    YES! That is also my point. Not knowing the cause of something is not proof for supernatural neither proof for unknown natural. You (and science) CAN’T distinguish which of those two posibilities is the actual reason behind the unknown.

    BUT: the best we could expect is that in future science will find the rule, and therefore we discover the phenomena happens to follow a new extended 2′ set of rules, so if that is the case the phenomena was natural after all. Science could do that, and it has done that with planetary motions, lightning and a pletora of phenomena thatpreviously had unknown causes and “supernatural” was assume for them (god, angels, demons, etc.). So science COULD find rules and add them to the “2” set and finally assume “natural” for them.

    But while that rule is not discover (and it may never do it), we cannot say for sure it was supernatural either. That is why I counclude that science CANNOT conclude “supernatural” as the cause of any unknown caused but perfectly observable phenomena.

    Of course we have to use a hypothetical situation to model [situation never seen before]. I think you miss the point when you dismiss it like that.

    The point is that I would not dare to call “EVIDENCE” to any set of hypothetical propossitions. How do you “explore impartially” or “review by third party” an hyphotetical?

    Therefore saying “what would you do if someone tried to murder you with a knife?”, no matter how many rich details you add to your hyphotetical situation, does not count as “evidence” of anything, because I could also add up hypothetical to the hypotheticals, with the same basis for postulating the original hyphoteticals: “What if I am a black belt and expert on knife defense? What if I am superman and inmune to knifes?”. I could also say (hyphotetically) that I could beat anyone in this planet trying to attack me with a knife. Is that evidence that I really could do so? No, it isn’t too.

    Presenting hyphoteticals as evidence leads to nowhere near what I found reasonable… and that’s why discussing that (inexisting) evidence is something I do not want to expend more time on.

  126. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    The point is that I would not dare to call “EVIDENCE” to any set of hypothetical propossitions. How do you “explore impartially” or “review by third party” an hyphotetical?

    Presenting hyphoteticals as evidence leads to nowhere near what I found reasonable… and that’s why discussing that (inexisting) evidence is something I do not want to expend more time on.

    As Scott Clifton said in the talk (link above), if you don’t like philosophy, well I have news for you: science is a philosophy. You cannot do science without doing philosophy. There is no rigorous objective procedure to determine what observations you should expect from a particular idea (such as “the Earth is round”). It’s necessarily some combination of prior information, logic, math, reason, intuition. That’s philosophy.

    You cannot do science without doing this kind of philosophy on hypotheticals. When you do a double blind study in the lab to test if a substance is toxic to humans, you have no specific prior evidence that this drug is toxic to humans, but you have to form predictions based on the hypothetical that the drug is toxic to humans, and you have to form predictions based on the hypothetical that the drug is not toxic to humans. You have to create those predictions in order to create a proper double blind study. For example, you have to say “if the substance is toxic, then I expect the experimental group to exhibit vomiting”, so you can record that, so you can perform the proper statistical analysis on it.

    Bayesian reasoning 101.

    If you disagree, could you point me towards the book that big biochem companies use when developing new drugs which maps new hypothetical drugs to their expected effects? Could you point me towards the book that cosmologists and particle physists use to map new hypothetical physics to their expected effects?

    This is the exact kind of hypothetical reasoning to which you object in the above two quotes. I suspect this is because of some deep-seeded dogma that you have concerning the natural. You are totally fine exploring the hypothetical implications of some particular substance being toxic to humans, but your ability to reason honestly about the world breaks down as soon as you get outside your comfort zone. This bears a striking resemblance to religious indoctrination.

    PS: If you don’t want to talk about hypotheticals (“(inexisting) evidence is something I do not want to expend more time on”), what are you even doing in this conversation at all?

  127. Monocle Smile says

    @Hanzi

    If I were happier convincing myself their are things such as a transcendental purpose or other things that I would like to be part of my ideal reality I don’t see why that wouldn’t be an optimal choice

    Both Matt and Jen tried to explain that this doesn’t make people happier and Matt went through an exercise demonstrating that you don’t actually think this will make you happier, either. Again, you’re just ignoring what people have said thus far.
    As to your other objection…can you convince yourself that you can fly? Could you actually believe this so strongly that you would jump out the window thinking you could soar across the river if I dared you to do so? I doubt it. I don’t see much plasticity in modes of thinking unless the very foundations of your epistemology are felled…and this wouldn’t actually make you happier.

    Keep going to therapy. Don’t listen to the lies of theists; the feel-good conversion stories are nonsense. There’s nothing you could get at a church that you can’t get elsewhere.

  128. says

    @danielduran
    So apparently we agree on practically everything… huh.

    BUT: the best we could expect is that in future science will find the rule, and therefore we discover the phenomena happens to follow a new extended 2′ set of rules, so if that is the case the phenomena was natural after all. Science could do that, and it has done that with planetary motions, lightning and a pletora of phenomena thatpreviously had unknown causes and “supernatural” was assume for them (god, angels, demons, etc.). So science COULD find rules and add them to the “2” set and finally assume “natural” for them.

    Fine. The one point that remains a little bit unclear to me is how those rules must be in order for them to be called natural. I apologize if this gets needlessly complicated.

    Say we have a set of rules X. This set of rules we call natural. Any new rule that can be shown to be causally related to X can be called natural .. or something?

    I know very little of physics. From what I understand, quantum theory explains both newtonian physics and non-newtonian physics. So the discovery of “something that violates teh rulez” lead to the discovery of a new “meta-rule”, which then explains significantly more.
    I understand that we can assume (though not be sure) that this will always happen, whenever we find something that violates a rule.

    So if something violates thermodynamics, it’s not that the laws are completely wrong, just that there is a bigger law, thermo2, that explains why there are some situations where the usual law doesn’t work.
    The assumption, that there is a bigger law, thermo2… well, actually, I don’t know if we can call that a belief. Is it a belief in naturalism that leads us to the idea? (I agree that this belief is probably well justified, since there have been multiple times when it WAS just what happened)

    The sentence “science is based on methodological naturalism” seems true to me, now, if I define natural als “observable” and “following a predictable pattern” – but only, because science is basically about finding patterns. You can only find rules when there are rules.

    The distinction between natural and supernatural becomes a little bit needless. Instead, I would propose something between: “things that are observable, but we don’t know which pattern they follow”. But then, isn’t that true about practically everything?

    So while the distinction between supernatural and natural is clear, the distinction between not-known-to-be-natural and natural is a problem. I think this is where EL’s argument comes in. Claiming that science is based on methodological naturalism is technically true (in relation natural – supernatural) but doesn’t do anything for the second problem.

    In a universe that follows thermodynamics everywhere except in one little farm hut, where magic stuff happens, wouldn’t the observation of that hut make it eventually necessary to say either “okay, there may be something wrong with our law of thermodynamics, we better make a better descriptive law thermo2 that can explain that hut!” or “this hut is supernatural!”?
    Does methodological naturalism ever allow to come to the second conclusion, even if the hut is actually the only violation of thermodynamics in the entire universe, and the best descriptive law would just state: “Thermodynamics work everywhere except in this hut.” Note that this “best descriptive law” is, as far as the universe is concerned, reality.

    So the objection to methodological naturalism is, that it would not come to the right conclusion, if our universe was actually completely weird. It therefore assumes it is not weird. Which would probably mean that you cannot use science to prove it is not weird.

    Presenting hyphoteticals as evidence leads to nowhere near what I found reasonable… and that’s why discussing that (inexisting) evidence is something I do not want to expend more time on.

    Yeah, I only use hypothethicals to explain what I was talking about in easier terms. But apparently we agree on “science may not always be able to show that something is natural, but it is a good assumption”.


    WOOOH. I’ve never changed my opinion so many times during the writing of one post. :-0
    Halfway to this post I agreed completely with danielduran, then I decided to bring up hypotheticals again (see above)… and as this post was not written chronologically, it may contain jumps.

  129. danielduran says

    Hi @jundurg

    […] The one point that remains a little bit unclear to me is how those rules must be in order for them to be called natural. I apologize if this gets needlessly complicated.

    Well, usually in science a “rule” is a quantitative relationship between known and measurable things that allows to make “predictions” about how some phenomena behaves or “must” behave. The rule must match previous known observations, and the predictions for not yet observed situations could be confirmed by later experiments, or falsify the rule if they do not match.

    For example, before Galileo nobody knew exactly how things fall. Some hypothesis like heavier things fall down faster than light ones (Aristotle) happened to be false, but nobody really devised or “discovered” what the rule was. Galileo started with known observations and phenomena (things fall down, things in a inclined plane could roll down), started measuring _how_ they actually fall down, and he realized that no matter how small or how big the actual object was, they accelerate on a fixed ratio related to the inclination of the inclined plane. From that observations, he proposed that the actual acceleration is fixed, so if an object of mass X rolls down with an acceleration A, an object with mass 2X will also roll down with same acceleration A if the inclined plane has the same angle.

    Having a “natural” rule like that, we could test it and check if the phenomena of “things that fall down” behave like that or not. If everyone that tries the experiment checks that the proposed regularity actually works, and the prediction of the new proposed model match new non seen before experiments (like predicting the position of a ball in time in an inclined plane never measured or observed before), then science could claim there is a NATURAL explanation for the way things fall: they do it with an acceleration that depends on… but do not depends on their mass… and yada-yada.

    A good explanation should have that: It should explain exactly how it happens, what we should see, and what we should not, depending on specific measurable factors, and resulting on measurable outcomes that we could contrast and makes us confirm (or reject) the proposed explanation.

    Say we have a set of rules X. This set of rules we call natural. Any new rule that can be shown to be causally related to X can be called natural .. or something?

    At least I don’t see why something natural could be the “cause” for something non-natural, nor I know of any example of that happening, so I would inductively bet for the “natural causes produce natural effects”.

    […] the discovery of “something that violates teh rulez” lead to the discovery of a new “meta-rule”, which then explains significantly more.
    I understand that we can assume (though not be sure) that this will always happen, whenever we find something that violates a rule.

    I don’t think that assuming because something has “always” happened before, we could conclude it will always continue happening in future, simply because of that. We may inductively assume that is very probable, but cannot assume it that it necessarily will be always true.

    So if something violates thermodynamics, it’s not that the laws are completely wrong, just that there is a bigger law, thermo2, that explains why there are some situations where the usual law doesn’t work. The assumption, that there is a bigger law, thermo2… well, actually, I don’t know if we can call that a belief. Is it a belief in naturalism that leads us to the idea?

    Actually, the “we don’t know” answer is all you have when you discover the violation. You cannot assume that there is a bigger law simple because, nor that the cause is supernatural, because… we-don’t-know….

    You can only find rules when there are rules.

    Well, at least you could find REAL rules only if they exist and are real. Remember that humans are wonderful pattern detectors (or at least for believing they detected them), and even better to assume that patters are produced by some agent. IMHO that’s why people assume that some rituals, objects or actions leads to desired results, like having “luck”, recovering from illness or achieving a desired outcome, and that is the start for unfounded believes like gods, demons and all the zoo of supernatural (but probably non-existing) beings.

    So the trick is not only detect “rules”, but also be sure that the rule you found is real and not only a glitch, a random statistic anomaly, or simple wishful thinking…

    I would propose [for supernatural] something between: “things that are observable, but we don’t know which pattern they follow”

    I think it is better to call unknown things like that: “unknown things”, but not “supernatural things”, because your definition is like a “supernatural-of-the-gasp” argument.

    In a universe that follows thermodynamics everywhere except in one little farm hut, where magic stuff happens […] the best descriptive law would just state: “Thermodynamics work everywhere except in this hut.” Note that this “best descriptive law” is, as far as the universe is concerned, reality.

    Uhm, but simply stating your observation (“in this farm hut thermodynamics doesn’t works”) is a rewording of the actual observation, but not a descriptive law. The same than saying “things fall down” is an observation but not a scientific rule that allows you to make any useful and measurable description of reality. You need much more information about how thermodynamic-2 works in the magical hut before stating some “law” about what happens there.

  130. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    The same than saying “things fall down” is an observation but not a scientific rule that allows you to make any useful and measurable description of reality.

    Before Newton, people didn’t know that apples fall downward and don’t fall upward? Before Newton, people couldn’t meaningfully predict that when you release a hammer in normal household conditions, it falls to the ground and never falls up? What?

    Your notion of “scientific law” is hyperspecific. It is dogmatically aligned to the currently understood physics and it rules out plenty of ways that science could have gone if the world was different.

  131. says

    I would propose [for supernatural] something between: “things that are observable, but we don’t know which pattern they follow”

    I think it is better to call unknown things like that: “unknown things”, but not “supernatural things”, because your definition is like a “supernatural-of-the-gasp” argument.

    Ah, no. I did not want to redefine supernatural. I wanted to focus our attention to this category of things. I’m fine with “unknown things”. More acurrately, “things we haven’t discovered rules about” – which does not put them into the category “supernatural”, but doesn’t allow us to place them firmly into the “natural” box yet.

    IMHO that’s why people assume that some rituals, objects or actions leads to desired results, like having “luck”, recovering from illness or achieving a desired outcome, and that is the start for unfounded believes like gods, demons and all the zoo of supernatural (but probably non-existing) beings.

    Yes, I agree with you. Yay for skepticism.

    But if we would live in a universe were such things were real, they would not fall into your category of supernatural. They would fall into the category of “things we haven’t discovered rules about” (at least if we don’t have a way to predict what a god chooses to do).

    That’s the problem: How can we find out, if we live in a weird universe (in which some things don’t follow measurable rules) or in a sane universe?
    You are right that there is no evidence for weirdness. But there isn’t even a way to bring evidence for weirdness – at best, we can get to “this thing currently has no explanation”, but this doesn’t make it supernatural.
    Every evidence we have for a sane universe would also exist in a weird universe (like the one with the hut – we would never know, if that hut would be on a different planet).

    I know this sounds like an argument from ignorance – however, I don’t actually make a claim, that we do live in a weird universe. We just don’t know.

    Uhm, but simply stating your observation (“in this farm hut thermodynamics doesn’t works”) is a rewording of the actual observation, but not a descriptive law. The same than saying “things fall down” is an observation but not a scientific rule that allows you to make any useful and measurable description of reality. You need much more information about how thermodynamic-2 works in the magical hut before stating some “law” about what happens there.

    The point is that this is the best possible description in a weird universe. Things inside the hut don’t appear to make sense. The only rules you could describe about them would be false rules (superstition).

    I don’t really know if it is important, whether it is a scientific law or not. If not, we have another thing that is “not known to be natural”.
    There is no point, where you can finally say “Okay, fine. This universe is weird” even if literally every law get’s broken simultaniously and you find yourself in a completely surreal weirdoscape. The definition of supernatural doesn’t allow for it.
    So, I would say, that under this definition, science does only assume naturalism, but has no method of demonstrating it.
    It is therefore nonsense to say “You claim something supernatural? Prove it!”

    You can lean back, because by your definition, showing something is supernatural is impossible. If you lived in a weird universe, where there are gods doing all kinds of strange stuff, this would still apply. This methodological naturalism thus has no benefit for the discussion of whether we live in a weird universe.

  132. danielduran says

    Hi @jundurg,

    […] if we would live in a universe were [supernatural beings] were real, they would not fall into your category of supernatural. They would fall into the category of “things we haven’t discovered rules about” (at least if we don’t have a way to predict what a god chooses to do).

    If that universe exist, then they will fall in the category: we don’t know if they (mis)behave like that because they are supernatural or because we don’t know their natural rule yet.

    And in a universe were gods or supernatural beings exist and “break” the natural rules at will, determining what is the rule and what is an exception would be pretty funny, for sure.

    That’s the problem: How can we find out, if we live in a weird universe (in which some things don’t follow measurable rules) or in a sane universe?

    I think that we could make some statistics: we could take note for every time reality comports with some (kind of fixed) rules, and if the rules are already predictable & known, we could label them “natural” and put it in a jar. We could also take note for every exception to the known rules or behaviors with no known cause (the supernatural vs unknown rule dilemma), and put it in another jar. One of those jars would be probably almost empty.

    Does that rings a bell to you about which kind of universe are we (probably) living in? Surely, the conclusion would be highly inductive and prone to refutation (suddenly the empty jar could be set quickly full if new fresh and unexpected evidence arises), but hey, that is how science works.

    […] at best, we can get to “this thing currently has no explanation”, but this doesn’t make it supernatural

    Nor it makes it natural either.

    Every evidence we have for a sane universe would also exist in a weird universe

    Yes, but every evidence we would have from a weird universe would not necessarily exist in a sane universe.

    And IMHO that is how our universe looks like. Pretty scarse on “weird” evidence. So, the “absense of evidence”, specially when we have as humanity looked to tons of evidence through numerous scientific branches that study reality, could start giving to the “evidence of absense” conclusion a very interesting weight.

    […] however, I don’t actually make a claim, that we do live in a weird universe. We just don’t know.

    Yes, and in theory we would never know, specially if your hut is beyond our observable universe; but while the hut remains hidden, we could happily live with a good (inductive) certainty that the universe we know looks like a sane universe, even acknowleging we cannot have full certainty about that.

    […] The point is that this is the best possible description in a weird universe.

    Yes, but “best description” is not a synonym of “best explanation”.

    There is no point, where you can finally say “Okay, fine. This universe is weird” even if literally every law get’s broken simultaniously and you find yourself in a completely surreal weirdoscape.

    Well, if reality were surreal, and the single rule we could manage to confirm is that “there are no rules”, I would not think about a reason for not recognizing the weirness of that (hyphotetical) reality.

    So, I would say, that under this definition, science does only assume naturalism, but has no method of demonstrating it.

    YES! I think that is a good point. Currently nobody has devised a method about how to solve the supernatural vs not-known-natural dilemma. Is there some method? Maybe, but…

    It is therefore nonsense to say “You claim something supernatural? Prove it!”

    No, it is not.

    Because as there may be a method how science could demonstrate supernatural stuff, it is possible that someday someone actually realizes what that method is, and present it with impossible to deny evidence. And that person surely will be able to claim strong arguments for some supernatural stuff; if that day comes and you don’t ask for the “why”, the “proof” behind those claims, How will you realize that guy is right? How will you learn something new if you don’t ask others about their reasons and evaluate them if they are strong or not?

    So, the question of asking for the whys, the proof and/or the reasons behind anyone claiming to know about the “supernatural” is not a nonsense, but a must-do for anyone that claims to learn from rational methods, IMHO.

    You can lean back, because by your definition, showing something is supernatural is impossible

    Not impossible. Simply not possible to demonstrate as being so, at least by (current) science understanding.

    If you lived in a weird universe, where there are gods doing all kinds of strange stuff, this would still apply

    In a universe where the only rule is that there is no rules, the “condition 2” I suggested for determinining something natural, that condition would be _IMPOSSIBLE_ to achieve (because in a no-rules universe there are, by definition, no regularities), so in that weird universe what it would be impossible to confirm would be that _anything_ observable is actually natural, so this discussion would be exactly the opossite.

    But as that is not our universe as far as we could know, I don’t know why we could get even nervous about that, specially when we are talking about a big what-if… 🙂

  133. jkoberg says

    EL,

    Pray tell, how might science distinguish the Subnatural from the Hypernatural? We could go on for 200 posts, or we could agree that these words are abstract and the things they represent exist only in the mind of the speaker.

    Meanwhile, there is reality to experience. I cannot tell you how to distinguish an abstract concept of a world we can’t experience, from the reality I wake up in everyday. Ask the person who posited the “other world”.

  134. says

    @danielduran

    Not impossible. Simply not possible to demonstrate as being so, at least by (current) science understanding.

    And that’s what I wanted to say.
    The rest I totally agree.

    In a universe where the only rule is that there is no rules, the “condition 2″ I suggested for determinining something natural, that condition would be _IMPOSSIBLE_ to achieve (because in a no-rules universe there are, by definition, no regularities), so in that weird universe what it would be impossible to confirm would be that _anything_ observable is actually natural, so this discussion would be exactly the opossite.

    Haha, a world where scientiests have the burden of proof to show that a thing is not magic.^^ I have to write some fiction about this. 😀

    If science is flexible enough to deal with this (I hope so), then the “methodological naturalism” means that science just deals with the natural, right? It doesn’t necessarily assume that everything is natural, it just tries to find as much natural laws as possible.

    It’s a very small distinction. But this allows science to not be stubborn, if applied in a weird universe – and it effectively allows science to say that we VERY probably live in a sane universe.
    If there was nothing that would convince a scientist, that a world was weird, the hypothesis “we live in a sane world” would be unfalsifiable.

    Of course, it would still be a tentative statement: The more weird evidence shows up, the higher the probability of a weird universe.

  135. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    And in a universe were gods or supernatural beings exist and “break” the natural rules at will, determining what is the rule and what is an exception would be pretty funny, for sure.

    Do you think psychology is not science?

    Again paraphrasing Scott Clifton:

    Imagine you took the idea of the Christian omnipotent god seriously. That means “initially” god found itself in a universe where nothing else existed. God would just exist, naturally. There is no cause nor explanation for its existence, because nothing else exists to be the cause nor explanation. The natural state of the universe would be “empty space” and this god.

    Further, god would find himself in a universe where whatever he willed to happen, happened. This is a relationship between god and the outside (empty) world. Whenever god wills something to happen, it happens. That’s a law of nature. A law of nature is just a description about reality, and god would find that he exists in a universe with that law of nature. Omnipotence cannot be just a property of god. It must be a natural law. God cannot will his will to be effective – that results in an infinite regress – willing the willing of the will to be effective, willing the willing of the will to be effective to be effective, etc.

    If that were the case, the natural world would be god and “empty space”. This world, Earth, the cosmos, etc., would be unnatural. We would be manufactured.

    In this meaning of the terms, there is no “above the natural” or “beyond the natural”. There is no supernatural. It’s just a trick of language. That is why “methodological naturalism” is at best needlessly ambiguous. It’s a bullshit term.

    (A similar but separate question is whether materialism is true.)

    So, I ask again – do you think that psychology is not a science? Why do you think the motives and actions of a god would be beyond scientific scrutiny? There’s a million ways to be irrational. There’s only one way to be perfectly rational. There’s a million ways to be ignorant. There’s only one way to be all-knowing. You would think that the psychology of the omnipotent Christian god would be easier than the psychology of humans.

  136. Adrian Hutchinson says

    Regarding the position that an atheist can run for public office, it may be equally valid to consider whether an atheist can actually be elected to a public office, if they make their atheistic views known. I mean it is probably fair to say for the most part that anyone who does not have the support of the Democrat or Republican parties has little chance of being elected to any office, and that anyone who is openly atheist has little chance of being supported by the Democrat or Republican parties. I suppose this is the downside of a republic. If 51% of the population is convinced to you reject you out of hand, for whatever reason, then even if you would be the most effective representative in the history of the country, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to prove it.

  137. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Unless someone from the show yells at me otherwise, I’m just going to compile a list as I find it of various debates where this topic comes up, in order to show the problem for what it is.

    Here’s one that bugged me tremendously while watching it.

    > Is Christianity Anti-Science?
    > SocraticClub OSU
    > The speakers are Andrew Karplus and Victor Stenger.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7PUtHUulUI

    Victor Stenger (mostly) took the correct approach of denying methodological naturalism. The Christian Andrew Karplus took seriously methodological naturalism, which led him to a very interesting catch-22 position which I hadn’t noticed before. Let me explain.

    Victor asked for evidence for Andrew’s Christian beliefs. Andrew said that he could not do that. He noted the following problem which manifests if one takes methodological naturalism seriously. If Andrew did not provide evidence, he would be derided for “having faith”. On the other hand, if Andrew tried to provide evidence for supernatural claims, it would end up looking like a fallacious “god of the gaps” arguments. Andrew gave the following example. Suppose there was a properly done efficacy of Catholic prayer study which came back positive. Suppose further the results were replicated independently dozens of times, to very high statistical significance, and similarly strong but negative results came back for all other prayer. Andrew said that if he tried to use this to argue for the existence of the Catholic god, his argument would be characterized in the following way “Catholic prayer works, but we have no natural explanation for how it works, and thus the Catholic god did it”, and his argument would be derided as a fallacious god of the gaps argument.

    I have a great deal of sympathy for Andrew’s reasoning and position here. I agree that if you start with methodological naturalism, then it seems you’re stuck in exactly the position he described. The new insight for me was putting the name “god of the gaps” argument to it.

    I addressed a very similar problem above: Every time Matt asks a caller for evidence, he’s putting the caller into exactly this position where the caller has no good way out. Either the caller is (rightly) mocked for holding the belief that his god exist without good evidence, or the caller is mocked for making a seeming god of the gaps argument.

    I encountered this myself when I called in with my hypothetical scenario of supernatural causation (what if there was a certain Latin incantation which reliably turned water into wine): Matt effectively characterized my argument as “We don’t have a natural explanation for how the Latin incantation turns water into wine, thus it’s supernatural”, and Matt effectively called it a fallacious argument from ignorance, a fallacious god of the gaps argument. Matt is reinforcing the corner which Andrew finds himself in. This is what I’m attacking of Matt. Andrew should not find himself in that corner. It should be coherent for Andrew to provide evidence of his god.

    I want to rephrase what Feynman said in the video above (link above). Fallacious god of the gaps arguments are fallacious, but not all arguments similar to it are fallacious, such as Andrew’s example of efficacy of prayer studies. Let me explain.

    Now, it clearly is a fallacious god of the gaps argument to argue “We don’t know how the big bang happened, thus a wizard did it god did it”.
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AWizardDidIt

    What about the the hypothetical where Catholic prayer has been demonstrated to work. Is it fallacious to argue “We don’t how Catholic prayer works, thus the Catholic god exists and did it” ?

    Is is a fallacious god of the gaps argument to say that gravity is the cause of apples falling from trees?

    There are certain effects in our actual shared reality, such as apples falling. Just like the Catholic prayer hypothetical where there are real effects – Catholic prayer working. In the real world, we applied an arbitrary label to the effect relating to falling things, “gravity”. Just like the Catholic prayer hypothetical where we applied the arbitrary label “Catholic”. In the real world, adding the label “gravity” doesn’t explain anything. Just like the Catholic prayer example where adding the label “Catholic” doesn’t explain anything, and where saying “The Catholic god did it” doesn’t (immediately) explain anything. In the real world, we can precisely model and describe gravity. Just like the Catholic prayer hypothetical where we could precisely model and describe the efficacy of Catholic prayers.

    What’s the difference? None. In both cases, we have demonstrated causation according to the usual Humean standards. We developed accurate and precise predictive models. We attached arbitrary labels. In neither case did we explain it, in the sense of offering an explanation of its behavior in terms of something we’re more familiar with.

    Does the mere fact that apples fall from trees alone provide sufficient justification for the correctness of Newtonian gravity? Hell no. You need a lot more to justify such a broad, general, and far-reaching claim. You would need to test on small scales, large scales, with all of the different kinds and configurations of masses that you can.

    In the hypothetical where Catholic prayer works, and no other prayer works – in that hypothetical, would those facts alone provide sufficient justification for existence of the Catholic god? Hell no. The existence of the Catholic god entails many, many things beyond the mere efficacy of prayer, just like Newtonian gravity entails many, many things beyond “apples fall from trees”. Just like the above Newtonian gravity example, a single fact like the efficacy of Catholic prayer alone would not be sufficient justification for the Catholic god claim. You would need a wide variety of facts which provide a reasonably comprehensive sample of all of the entailed predictions before the claim is justified.

    In other words, you need to apply honest Bayesian reasoning.

    If your claim entails many observables, no matter how well verified one of the observables is, if the rest come back negative, then your claim is falsified.

    The difference between a fallacious god of the gaps argument “We don’t know how the big bang happened, thus the Catholic god did it” and this argument “We don’t know how only Catholic prayers are effective, and thus the Catholic god exists and did it” is both the specificity of the model and prediction, and the lack of plausible competing alternatives. There are a bazillion equally plausible alternative hypotheses for the universe creation beyond the Catholic god hypothesis. Whereas, there are a much smaller number of plausible alternative hypotheses which could explain the hypothetical efficacy of Catholic prayer. (Again, as already mentioned, the Catholic prayer evidence alone would not be sufficient evidence for the Catholic god, but it would be a good start. Unlike the “evidence” that the big bang happened, which is basically not evidence of the Catholic god at all because so many alternative hypotheses also could explain the big bang.)

  138. Ray Butler says

    Knowledge is only as good as what we use it for; we have fears, desires, rage, all these impulsive psychological states that influence how we apply knowledge, compelling us to perceived preferences. The point is to be able to push all those psychological conditions aside long enough to be able to apply knowledge fairly. If you need faith to help create that state who am I to judge? As long as it is attained, the ends justify the means as far as I’m concerned, you just don’t want that faith becoming yet another obstacle to the application…

    People look for a range of psychological comforts to help them come to terms with life, that means naturally life isn’t very psychologically comforting (if that isn’t obvious) and as a result we are inclined to act out subject to that state, disciplining it is more important than how you discipline it, personally I do it by being a raging egomaniac who refuses to be controlled by anything that doesn’t make sense, fortunately I see being considerate as important as being strong, so they keep each other in check most of the time.

  139. danielduran says

    Hi @jundurg

    Haha, a world where scientiests have the burden of proof to show that a thing is not magic.^^ I have to write some fiction about this. 😀

    Surely that will be an interesting work of fiction to read. If you write it, let me know :-).

    Have a good 2015.

  140. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I might try calling in again on this topic – I assert that saying “science necessarily uses methodological naturalism” is wrong-headed.

    I think I identified an avenue of attack that might work. I need some time to play through it in my head and see what interesting rebuttals and cop-outs Matt might take, in order to nail him to the wall.

    I think I want to focus on the question “When an apple falls from a tree (in normal Earth conditions), how did you determine that this is natural?” My eventual goal is to hopefully show that the definition of the word “natural” is sterile and useless in this context, and serves only to support NOMA.

    My plan of getting from there to there is to focus on the problem of determining whether something observable is natural vs supernatural. To assert that gravity is natural is a roundabout begging the question. In effect, it appears to me that Matt is neatly defining the word “natural” to include all of conventional physics and science, and to exclude other kinds of testable claims like intelligent design creationism, and especially young Earth creationism. In other words, it seems to me that Matt is defining the word “natural” to be “that which exists”, which means it’s trivially true that science cannot help us learn about the supernatural. However, we have to use science on something to determine if it exists or not. You cannot throw out the supernatural from the domain of science until you’ve shown that it’s supernatural, e.g. “does not exist” under these definitions.

    Anyone see any major problems or objections that might come up? I’m still working through it now.

    I did spend a little bit of time on this avenue of attack in the last call. It didn’t go so well. IIRC, when I asked a similar question, Matt misunderstood me as questioning whether we exist in a shared reality. I was questioning whether our shared reality is natural or supernatural, and it appears to me that Matt confused my position because he conflated the idea of “supernatural shared reality” with “nonexistent shared reality”.

  141. Grif says

    I know I’m way late to this discussion but maybe it will be seen anyways. The best definition I’ve seen for “supernatural” is the set of “ontologically basic mental entities.” “Ontologically basic” means that their existence is not dependent on the existence of anything else, and “mental entities” means that they are not instantiated in the physical world (e.g. numbers, laws). Another way to look at it is that an ontologically basic mental entity cannot be reduced, whether to other mental entities or to nonmental entities.

    This squares with a lot of the theistic intuitions about ghosts, souls, morality, God, and angels. You cannot “explain” souls and morality and God, because “explaining” in the sense naturalists demand entails making a predictive model of the thing, which entails reducing it. If the physical conditions A and B are met, then the supernatural effect C occurs; no, this is a nonsensical statement. Do souls generate moral actions? By what mechanism? This is generally held to be unexplainable, because it cannot be reduced to something else. Theists will also like this distinction because they generally feel that personalities are irreducible, which is an attribute shared by a nonphysical soul.

    The trap, of course, is that if a supernatural thing cannot be explained in terms of nonmental entities, the same way wet sidewalks are explained by rainfall or lawn sprinklers, then a causal link between the supernatural thing and a nonmental physical event cannot be established, safely placing the supernatural thing in the category of “undiscoverable facts” of which nothing at all may be said.

  142. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    I try to keep track of this thread. It’s a pet peeve of mine and all.
    Quoting Grif:

    You cannot “explain” souls and morality and God, because “explaining” in the sense naturalists demand entails making a predictive model of the thing, which entails reducing it.

    Wrong. Making a predictive model does not entail reducing it.

    Quoting Grif:

    If the physical conditions A and B are met, then the supernatural effect C occurs; no, this is a nonsensical statement.

    I do not understand. Why is it nonsensical? Looks perfectly fine to me.

    You are making a fundamental mistake. You can have predictions without reductive explanations. Please see post 56 of this thread.

    Context:
    In the actual Atheist Experience show, I called in and I described the coherent epistemological possibility that there is a certain Latin incantation which, when spoken aloud, which transform a held glass of water into wine, and that anyone could reproduce this on demand.

    The following is from post 56, in a hypothetical scenario where I have discovered this Latin incantation.

    You are missing the point: In this hypothetical, I can be be on entirely solid ground to claim that I have shown causation regarding my Latin incantation beyond all reasonable doubt without having shown any mechanism or explanation. I don’t need to have an explanation, nor mechanism, nor underlying cause, etc., in order to show causation. Again, we all live our lives off causation. No one knows what causes gravity, electromagnetism, etc. We simply take them as given, as some of the parts of our shared reality, which we then use to explain many other things which look like they’re unrelated.

    I’m just paraphrasing Feynman badly now.
    Richard Feynman.
    From the BBC TV series ‘Fun to Imagine'(1983).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM

    Also post 34 of this thread:

    My preferred definition of causation is Hume’s constant conjunction.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constant_conjunction
    Causation merely describes certain seemingly unalterable patterns about the universe around us. As followed by Bs. As are always followed by Bs. As always in constant conjunction with Bs. When we see this constant conjunction, in spite of good efforts to detect confounding variables, then we call that causation. This evidence creates a belief in us. It creates an expectation that the next time we see an A, it will be followed by a B. That’s all there is to causation. Anything else is metaphysical baggage which is non-scientific, and which I do not buy. Correlation, plus legitimate attempts to account for confounding variables, does show causation. There’s nothing more to a cliche controlled experiment in a lab.

    Specifically, you often show causation without showing a cause. In other words, you often show causation without showing a mechanism, or some deeper underlying model which explains your particular scenario and many others. Take a moment to wrap your head around that one.

    To Grif, I am very willing to engage and discuss this, and I’m curious where this will go. Currently, you’ve added nothing which I haven’t already addressed at length up-thread. Ball’s in your court.

  143. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    And crap. Too many links. Meh – no rush. My post should appear soon.

  144. Grif says

    The basic problem with your concept of causality is that it supposes that if X occurs prior to Y every single time, this implies that X causes Y; this ignores the possibility that event W, prior to X, causes both X and Y. For example, environmental patterns cause the weatherman to report high chance of rain, and then it rains, which would seem like evidence that the weather report (X) causes rain (Y). You can call this “not accounting for confounding variables” (W) and you would be right, but there is no known way to account for confounding variables in causers generally called “supernatural” (e.g. souls, God). This is because souls are considered irreducible, whereas weather patterns, weather reports, and rain are considered reducible. If weather reports and rain were irreducible, then importing the environmental patterns is rejected as evidence for or against rain; the weather reports and rain are in a causal relationship that fundamentally cannot be described by anything else, because they are irreducible.

    I understand that you feel that both terms (supernatural and natural) are either meaningless or hopelessly confused, and in colloquial speech they probably are. Wittgenstein’s whole project was to distinguish senses of words (e.g. their definitions) from the words’ referents (e.g. the objects or concepts referred to), and if many people with one definition talk to many people with another definition there will be confusion. To gain the most value out of a word, you have to examine the largest groups of people using the word and tease out what common ground they have concerning that word. I think my approach is viable in saving the words “natural” and “supernatural.”

    To recap: A mental entity is one which corresponds to a thought or concept, and may or may not correspond to nonmental entities, whether physical (e.g. a rock) or nonphysical (e.g. platonic objects). A natural entity is one which is in theory reducible to nonmental entities. A supernatural entity is one which is not in theory reducible to nonmental entities.

    I believe that the persisting confusion surrounding the terms “supernatural” and “mental entities” and “reducible” is outweighed by the utility of being able to use these terms to communicate our intuitions and concepts to each other.

  145. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif

    You didn’t engage with two important arguments. I present them again.

    1- If you think that correlation plus legitimate attempts at finding and controlling for confounding variables can never show causation, then what do you think about the cliche control-group experimental-group lab experiment? A cliche lab experiment is nothing more than using correlation to show causation – thus demonstrating that you are wrong. Or what else do you think it is which allows it to show causation?

    2- You again assert that if something is irreducible, then we cannot create predictive models. What about gravity? Can you explain gravity in terms of something else? Can you reduce gravity to something else? Can you reduce the problem of bent space time to something else? I’m pretty sure you would agree that we can predict the orbits of planets quite nicely, and we can predict that when I release this hammer at a height in normal household conditions that it will fall. However, these predictions are the result of a scientific predictive model which is currently irreducible to any other sort of more basic phenomena or substance – thus demonstrating that you are wrong.

  146. Grif says

    It’s worth noting that I did not assert anything you suggest I did. I did not say “correlation plus legitimate attempts at finding and controlling for confounding variables can never show causation;” I will say that it can’t prove causation, which we likely agree on. What I said was that attempts to explain the mechanisms behind “supernatural causes” meet resistance by supernaturalists because they believe that supernatural causes are not reducible: a soul is the explanation behind moral actions, for example, no more and no less.

    I did not say that irreducible entities cannot be used in predictive models. You are confusing epistemology for ontology. Is it actually the case an electron radiates a photon in a fundamentally unpredictable manner? Maybe yes, maybe no. A reductionist holds on to the hope that the mechanism behind a previously not-understood phenomenon will be discovered eventually, while a non-reductionist throws up his hands and says “yes, this is really the bedrock, quantum indeterminacy is a fact of the universe.”

  147. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    You are still not engaging with the critiques. Again. As simple as I can this time.

    I will say that it can’t prove causation, which we likely agree on.

    In the sense that “prove” means “absolute confidence”, then I agree. It cannot prove causation. Under that strict definition, one cannot prove anything (except maybe some esoteric claims). Absolute confidence is a red herring. We always deal in probabilities. We always deal with varying degrees of non-absolute confidence. Basically every single particular scientific fact is non-absolute, and subject to revision and even complete overthrow. Do you agree?

    1- What matters is that showing correlation plus attempts to find possible confounding variables can and does show causation. Do you agree?

    2- Is gravity “reducible”? Do we know what gravity is “reducible to”? (The answer is “currently no”.) Is gravity predictable? (The answer is “yes”.) Why should any irreducible “supernatural” entity be any different? (The answer is “irreducible supernatural things can be predictable just like gravity is predictable.)

  148. Grif says

    To clarify, there is a difference between assuming that the “best explanation” is “true for our purposes” and asserting that it is “actually true.” In Richard Feynman’s Fun to Imagine interview, he explains that it is extraordinarily difficult to explain magnetism in laymen’s terms because there is no good analogy that the layman will understand. For Feynman, the layman must simply accept that magnetism is “true for our purposes,” while a theoretical physicist has a richer understanding of Maxwell’s Equations and Lorentz force.

    But then, are Maxwell’s Equations and the Lorentz force irreducible? Maybe yes, maybe no. If strange electromagnetic phenomena occur that aren’t accounted for by both, there will be a pragmatic impetus to examine them in finer detail and find what they reduce to. If they cannot be reduced, it will have been a wasted effort, but science has a pretty good track record of success so far.

  149. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Let me put it like this. Surely you believe that we have useful accurate predictive models of gravity. By your own arguments as best as I can tell, that entails that gravity is reducible to something, and we know what it reduces to. But that’s simply false. We don’t know if gravity is reducible to something, and if it is, we definitely don’t know what it reduces to. Yet, we can still create accurate predictive models of it.

    As I said way up-thread, a materialistic reductionist approach has been incredibly useful in the advances of modern science, but you can do science without this kind of reductionism. You are making a fundamental mistake.

    PS: I really suggest you watch the Feynman video (link above).

    In essence, the argument is that human knowledge is finite. We can explain the behavior of a great many phenomena by using a materialistic reductionist approach. However, this approach cannot go on forever. While in reality it might be turtles all the way down, human knowledge is finite, and in any human’s knowledge, there will be a turtle like gravity for which we don’t know if there’s another hidden turtle, and what that turtle might be. I can predict in great detail what gravity does. However, I cannot explain gravity to you in terms of something you’re more familiar with, because I do not understand it in terms of something you’re more familiar with – to borrow from Feynman.

  150. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Let me be explicitly clear – is your position that gravity is reducible to some deeper more fundamental physics?

    Or do you allow for the possibility that there is nothing behind gravity to be discovered? If yes, then your position w.r.t. irreducible supernatural entities is simply wrong. If yes, it means that irreducible supernatural entities might be predictable just like gravity is predictable.

  151. Grif says

  152. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    For any supernatural definition of “souls”, if it is true that souls (and only souls) generate moral actions, what have we learned?

    If it’s true that gravity only causes matter to attract matter, what have we learned?

    Potentially, a great deal. We might learn details about how fast matter attracts matter, how that attractive force changes with distance, composition, presence of intervening matter, etc. We might be able to better predict the future.

    Similarly, if souls do nothing but just nudge electrons in the brain occasionally, what have we learned? Well, we might learn predictive models about souls just like we’ve learned predictive models of gravity. We might be able to better predict the future.

  153. Grif says

    You cannot make a predictive model of an ontologically basic mental entity. It is itself, with no dependence on any other facts. If you wish to suggest that souls generate physical effects such as nudging electrons in the brain, and also are predictable, then souls are reducible to non-mental entities and therefore natural. Try again.

  154. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    I’m having a conversation about observable stuff in our observable shared reality. If souls exist, they presumably have visible effects. If souls make decisions, and those decisions are enacted by the visible body, then there must be some mechanism or process or something by which the physical body carries out the decisions of the soul.

    You seem to be using the implicit premise “If it has an effect on the material world, then it is reducible to the material”. I do not accept that premise. Further, many people’s conception of god is that god is supernatural, and that god can evoke miracles, which are manifestations and effects in our material reality. Thus that premise directly contradicts the common notion of supernatural.

    I don’t know what “dependence on any facts” means. Can you rephrase your assertion in terms of a falsifiable prediction please?

  155. Grif says

    Look, if you begin with an empiricist worldview, where the only things presumed to exist are observable things in shared reality, then you have ruled out non-mental non-physical entities, such as platonic objects (e.g. the number 7). While the great majority of mathematicians are fictionalists, a non-trivial number of them are platonists. I am also an empiricist, but I am somewhat dismayed at your inability to see outside of your own metaphysics. In other words, while on any other day I would agree with you that platonism is obsolete and absurd, I need you to understand that other worldviews might be viable if you would only consider them honestly. It is only through reaching a contradiction through honest attempts to make it work that you can be justified in rejecting the conclusion; if you have not done this, you can only suspend belief: “well I’m not convinced, but I can’t quite articulate my objection.” (And like any good skeptic, you ought to revisit the question if you encounter a good defense of it. This much I applaud you for.)

    At what point did I say anything at all about the “material world?” You might protest that it is synonymous with the “natural world,” but only in a certain sense as proposed by Rudolf Carnap. Other senses of “materialism” include the idea that everything that exists is made of mindless, inert matter, but if you include forces such as electromagnetism and gravity, which are physical but not material, you may find yourself in an absurd position. You must be very, very careful with your terms, as I am.

    I agree that many people’s conception of God is that God is supernatural (though there is disagreement on whether miracles currently occur, or if the “age of miracles” is past). God is, after all, a mental entity (i.e. a mind) that is ontologically basic (i.e. irreducible; 1 Corinthians 2:11 “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”).

    God can be used as the explanation for a phenomenon, for example that God causes rain when He is sad. You may assert that God can be acted upon, for example that sodomy makes God sad. But you cannot do both, because it would imply that through sodomy you can cause rain. Now God is no longer a purely mental entity; He is now reduced into non-mental components: sodomy will make God cause rainfall. If this were a reliable correlation, we could water the Sahara Desert.

    If you understand a “supernatural entity” in terms of non-mental objects, it is no longer supernatural.

    Another example of an edge case regarding reducible mental entities is the sympathetic response. When a person believes they are in danger, their breathing quickens and their pupils shrink. Science does not reject the causal link between the mental (i.e. belief regarding danger) and the non-mental (i.e. quickened breathing), because the mental event can be reduced into non-mental components: everything happens in the physical brain, beginning with the sensory input, and then proceeding to the amygdala, hypothalamus, pituitary gland, ACTH production, cortisol and adrenaline production, and then quickened breathing. Everything that occurs in this example occurs in the natural world.

    If our behaviors change the nature of our souls and determine where we go after we die, that is a one-way causal effect from the natural to the supernatural, where the results of that causal link are not apparent in the natural world. If the nature of our souls determine our behaviors, that is a one-way causal effect from the supernatural to the natural, where we cannot make predictions of future behaviors because we cannot observe the mechanism of the soul; it will be fundamentally random, like libertarian free will is considered to be. If we can change the nature of our souls and our souls determine our behaviors, then we can observe the mechanism of the soul via testing the conditions by which it can be changed. Only in this last case has the soul has been dragged into the natural world.

    At the end of the day, what people actually do when they define a supernatural thing is bundle a bunch of intuitions together into a word and refuse to test it. If you are allowed to analyze a person’s concept of a soul in fine enough detail, it will either (1) reduce to neuroscience and/or moral philosophy, or (2) vanish entirely.

  156. Grif says

    Oh, and you’ve also ruled out physical things that are no longer observable, e.g. galaxies beyond the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, which, owing to the expansion of space, are moving away from us faster than the speed of light.

  157. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    Neither one of us is a Platonicist, so can we please avoid arguing about that? Let’s focus on something substantive and interesting.

    God can be used as the explanation for a phenomenon, for example that God causes rain when He is sad. You may assert that God can be acted upon, for example that sodomy makes God sad. But you cannot do both, because it would imply that through sodomy you can cause rain. Now God is no longer a purely mental entity; He is now reduced into non-mental components: sodomy will make God cause rainfall. If this were a reliable correlation, we could water the Sahara Desert.

    You lost me at “but you cannot do both”. Why not? Why does doing both make god no longer a purely mental entity? What do you mean by “reduce”? Are you talking substance reductionism?

    I see nothing wrong with the notion that god exists and is composed of a purely mental substance, but god can also have causal effects on material substances, and material substances can effects on god. I’m sorry. According to how I understand the words, I just don’t see a contradiction.

    Regarding paragraph:

    Another example of an edge case […]

    Sure. That sounds right.

    Regarding paragraph:

    If our behaviors change the nature of our souls and determine where we go after we die, […]

    You lost me again.

    I agree that a coherent epistemic possibility is that the material world has effects on the immaterial soul, but not the other way around – it is a one-way causal effect. Totally possible.

    I agree that a coherent epistemic possibility is that the immaterial soul has effects on the material body. However, that is a testable claim. You seem to disagree. I don’t understand. You say this:

    where we cannot make predictions of future behaviors because we cannot observe the mechanism of the soul; it will be fundamentally random, like libertarian free will is considered to be.

    That’s just fundamentally wrong.

    Perhaps the soul has some predictable properties. I don’t see why “immaterial”, “mental”, and “supernatural” imply “random”. Why do you dismiss the possibility that the soul have predictable, regular properties?

    Or perhaps the soul is fundamentally random and unpredictable, like quantum mechanical events may be. However, even then, there may be patterns in the chaos that can be discovered, such as the patterns of quantum mechanics. Even if any particular quantum mechanics event is pure random, a collection of quantum mechanical events is not random. There is a reliable statistical distribution to the events. Even here, we can find a pattern. Why do you dismiss this possibility?

    If you want to remove all discoverable patterns, I think that’s borderline incoherent. To go that far, you really need something like a malicious Cartesian demon who does nothing except constantly read your mind and constantly alter all of reality in order to subvert any expectation that you might form. Anything less than that, and IMHO there will be patterns that you can find.

    If we can change the nature of our souls and our souls determine our behaviors, then we can observe the mechanism of the soul via testing the conditions by which it can be changed. Only in this last case has the soul has been dragged into the natural world.

    Again, I just don’t understand. What do you mean “dragged into the natural world”? Do you mean it’s impossible for a supernatural entity to have effects on the material world, and for the material world to have effects on the supernatural entity? Why? I do not understand.

    Earlier, you use this example:

    He is now reduced into non-mental components: sodomy will make God cause rainfall. If this were a reliable correlation, we could water the Sahara Desert.

    What about it? This might be an accurate description of reality. It’s epistemically possible that having a lot of gay sex attracts hurricanes and rainstorms. We could do the experiment right now. It’s a coherent possibility that the test will come back positive. I think you put this forward as some sort of knock-down argument. I think you intended this example as sromething so absurd that no one could embrace it. However, I’ll counter you head-on, and I will embrace it. I see absolutely nothing wrong with your proposed scenario. It is epistemically possible.

    Of course, the scenario is absurd in the sense that all of our known evidence is against it. However, we didn’t rule it out a priori, which is what you seemingly want to do.

    At the end of the day, what people actually do when they define a supernatural thing is bundle a bunch of intuitions together into a word and refuse to test it. If you are allowed to analyze a person’s concept of a soul in fine enough detail, it will either (1) reduce to neuroscience and/or moral philosophy, or (2) vanish entirely.

    I agree that all of the known evidence strongly points in this direction. I disagree that this is a good a priori position. I think you are trying to advocate this position a priori, and that is why you are wrong. The evidence indicates that it is wrong, which means that it could have been otherwise. The evidence could have supported the existence of an immaterial soul which directs our brains and bodies, and receives input from our neurons and senses, which means that it cannot be an a priori position.

    Oh, and you’ve also ruled out physical things that are no longer observable, e.g. galaxies beyond the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, which, owing to the expansion of space, are moving away from us faster than the speed of light.

    What? Where did I do any such thing? A much more reasonable interpretation of what I’ve said is that I might ask “what do you mean?” if you start making claims about such things, but at no point did I make the positive assertion that they do not exist. (In the specific case of things merely outside of our spacetime horizon, I’m much more partial to talking about their existence. They may not be visible to me, but they are at least visible to some hypothetical human-like observer, and so I know what you’re talking about.)

    I have been engaging. You have not been answering my questions. Please, I would like you to give direct answers to my questions.

    Is gravity natural or supernatural? How did you come to that conclusion? Might you be wrong? What sort of evidence could convince you that you are wrong? If not evidence, could anything else convince you that you are wrong? If you did not come to your conclusion with evidence, then how did you come to your conclusion?

    Can you agree that we do not know if gravity is substance-reducible to something? Can you agree that regardless of whether gravity is substance-reducible to something, we have already learned a great deal about gravity, including the ability to predict it to a high degree of accuracy and precision? Can you agree that we can form highly useful, highly accurate predictive models without using reductions at all? Can you agree that we can form highly useful, highly accurate predictive models completely without any explanation of how it works or why it works whatsoever (such as all current models of gravity)?

    Hopefully you agreed to the above paragraph. Now why should any supernatural entity be any different? Why do you think that we can learn about gravity which might be substance-irreducible, but we are for some reason barred from similarly learning about supernatural entities? I don’t understand. It seems to me that your arguments why we cannot learn about the supernatural seem to apply to gravity.

  158. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry, one last thing.

    Regarding souls. If souls existed, you really think there’s no prediction we could make? That sounds like a complete dismissal of the entire fields of sociology and psychology. If souls are real and exert control on the material body, then sociology and psychology are the study of souls, and thus there are a great many things we’ve learned about souls.

  159. Grif says

    You outright dismiss Platonism because you think it is not substantive and interesting. News flash, there are people who think that souls are fundamentally irreducible, that the complexity of life is fundamentally irreducible, and that God is fundamentally irreducible. If you think their position is not interesting enough for consideration, then you are simply attempting to convince me of a factual assessment (e.g. is gravity natural or supernatural?) rather than what your call was actually about, which is whether the terms “natural” or “supernatural” have any cognitive meaning (e.g. do our intuitions regarding gravity better fit “natural” or “supernatural” models?) and if they can be used in science without prejudice (e.g. given these definitions, does “naturalism” refuse to consider phenomena which actually occur?)

    I have given you more than enough meat to understand my position. A person who believes in supernatural entities is claiming that there are minds/thoughts/abstractions that exist without a body, and that attempts to embody such minds/thoughts/abstractions will be fruitless. The motivation behind this belief is often a preference for “libertarian free will” to be true. If someone were to say that the soul is the “inner voice” of a personality, we wouldn’t rule out the existence of such a thing as so stated, but historically, when we have found more and more material/physical causation regarding the brain, the definition of a soul has changed to become smaller, nimbler, more difficult to pin down. The same has occurred for every so-called “supernatural” phenomenon.

    What they all have in common is not necessarily that they are untestable (like galaxies beyond the CMBR). It is that they are labels given to entities based on a mental entity that are fundamentally irreducible. If you make it based on non-mental entities, or attempt to understand the mechanism behind it, you have made it natural.

    I am offering definitions that might help to lower confusion. I am not making factual claims.

  160. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif

    I am offering definitions that might help to lower confusion. I am not making factual claims.

    I’m still lost. Are you here to argue against me? Are you here to argue against me by devil’s advocate? Do you agree with my positions?

    Several times you made assertions to the effect that “if it’s irreducible, then science does not work on it”. Including here:

    You cannot “explain” souls and morality and God, because “explaining” in the sense naturalists demand entails making a predictive model of the thing, which entails reducing it.

    And here:

    Do souls generate moral actions? By what mechanism? This is generally held to be unexplainable, because it cannot be reduced to something else.

    And here:

    The trap, of course, is that if a supernatural thing cannot be explained in terms of nonmental entities, the same way wet sidewalks are explained by rainfall or lawn sprinklers, then a causal link between the supernatural thing and a nonmental physical event cannot be established, safely placing the supernatural thing in the category of “undiscoverable facts” of which nothing at all may be said.

    And here:

    but there is no known way to account for confounding variables in causers generally called “supernatural” (e.g. souls, God). This is because souls are considered irreducible, whereas weather patterns, weather reports, and rain are considered reducible.

    And probably here:

    What I said was that attempts to explain the mechanisms behind “supernatural causes” meet resistance by supernaturalists because they believe that supernatural causes are not reducible: a soul is the explanation behind moral actions, for example, no more and no less.

    And possibly here:

    A reductionist holds on to the hope that the mechanism behind a previously not-understood phenomenon will be discovered eventually, while a non-reductionist throws up his hands and says “yes, this is really the bedrock, quantum indeterminacy is a fact of the universe.”

    And a bunch more. That is not putting forward a mere definition. That is making a factual assertion.

    I have given you more than enough meat to understand my position.

    No you have not.

    Direct answers please.

    What kind of reduction are you talking about? Are you talking about substance-reductionism?

    Consider some thing X which in actuality is substance-irreducible. Many things in quantum mechanics may be substance-irreducible. Can we create useful predictive models of substance-irreducible things? Is it possible that some things in quantum mechanics are substance-irreducible, and yet we also have useful predictive models of them?

    Is gravity natural or supernatural? Is gravity material, or the result of a purely-substance-mental entity? How did you come to that conclusion? Does it matter whether we have an answer to that question when we start doing science to discover the useful predictive models of gravity?

    Why is it the possibility absurd where material objects have a causal effect on a purely mental entity, and the purely mental entity has a causal effect on material objects? Why is it absurd to consider the possibility that lots of gay sex may indeed attract hurricanes and cause rain?

    If many theists are right, and souls exist, and souls make moral decisions, doesn’t that necessarily mean that souls have a causal effect on the material body? For souls to make moral decisions, doesn’t that also necessarily mean that they receive input from the material body, e.g. the material body has a causal effect on the immaterial soul? Is this not the exceedingly common and near universal position of theists who believe in immaterial soul?

  161. Grif says

    I am not playing Devil’s Advocate, I am proposing a set of definitions for the terms “supernatural” and “natural” that address your complaint that atheists’ tendency to define “supernatural” as “untestable” is arbitrary and inappropriate, a complaint I somewhat agree with. Although I agree with some of your positions, others appear misguided or false. I will only highlight one, and then sign off, because this conversation is getting tedious.

    You seem to have a different model of the theistic mentality than I do. You suggest that a definition for “soul” that is agreeable to theists includes (1) the soul affecting the body, and (2) the body affecting the soul. The problem with having the causal link go both ways is that you can manipulate the soul through careful manipulation of the body, which theists find extremely creepy. (Accepting the fact that your decisions can be manipulated by outside forces changes your intuitions regarding responsibility, moral accountability, self-determination, intention, and so on.) I suggest that the only definitions for “soul” agreeable to theists will involve at best a one-way relationship regarding the body (e.g. to preserve libertarian free will). They will only accept a definition that makes the soul unique and non-manipulable, an entity that exists without appeal to anything physical.

    You can read more on Richard Carrier’s definition of “supernatural entities” as “ontologically basic mental entities” on his blog post, “Defining the Supernatural”; he also invites readers to see his more-rigorous articles, “Defending Naturalism as a Worldview” and “Carrier-Wanchick Debate”.

    If you read the articles and post a satisfying rebuttal, I will read it, but it is not likely I will respond. Stay curious!

  162. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    Ok, let’s talk about souls. You keep talking about “making moral decisions coming from the soul” and “free will coming from the soul”.

    How can a soul make decisions (moral or otherwise) without having information about the material world of the body? It cannot. Thus the soul must receive communication from the body and its surroundings (directly or indirectly from the body – it does not matter). Transferring of information in this sense is a causal relationship.

    How can a physical body enact the decisions of the soul without receiving information from the soul? It cannot. Thus the body must receive communication from the soul. Transferring information in this sense is a causal relationship.

    It’s a causal relationship both ways. I don’t know what to say. Your position is quite clearly wrong. Applying just a modicum of thought reveals this to be the case.

    The problem with having the causal link go both ways is that you can manipulate the soul through careful manipulation of the body, which theists find extremely creepy.

    This might be your only legitimate point. You might be right that the ideas concerning souls of common theists is too confused and logically inconsistent to examine. However, it’s an inescapable conclusion that information must flow both ways if the soul has any decision-making power.

    PS:
    I notice that you still did not engage; you did not answer my direct questions with specific and direct answers. I am saddened.

  163. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I just had a realization. There’s another way I could approach this issue with Matt and others.

    Matt often states very strongly this assertion: (paraphrase) When we examine a claim, we examine that claim in isolation from its negative. For example, when we examine the claim that the Catholic god exists, we can examine that claim without also considering the claim that the Catholic god does not exist.

    That’s wrong.

    All proper empirical and scientific reasoning is Bayesian. (For a citation, see Proving History by Richard Carrier.) In Bayesian reasoning, it is impossible to determine the (epistemic) probability that X is true without also determining the probability that X is false. It is a simple, undeniable consequence of using Bayesian reasoning.

    Take a simple example – Noah’s flood, and specifically the version which was global, was 4000 years ago, and for which only a single human family survived on a boat. I think all of us are quite well prepared to say that Noah’s flood did not happen, to a very high degree of epistemic confidence. Noah’s flood is a perfectly well-defined, specific, well-specified, concrete, falsifiable hypothesis. That’s what allows us to so easily confirm that it did not happen.

    In order to conclude that the flood did not happen in a Bayesian way, you need to determine several things: the (epistemic) probability of worldwide floods (prior probability); the probability that we should have the available evidence if the flood happened; the probability that we should have the available evidence if the flood did not happen. When we take these numbers and plug them in, and do our simple 6th grade math, we arrive at a very high number for the probability that the flood did not happen, and that necessarily also determines the probability that the flood did happen: P(flood happened) = 1 – P(flood didn’t happen).

    In this case, it should be quite clear that this specific Noah’s flood hypothesis is quite well-specified and very falsifiable. The evidence that we should expect to see if it’s true is specific and concrete, and the evidence that we should expect to see if it’s false is specific and concrete. That means it could have been different. It could have been that the available evidence strongly matched the flood hypothesis. In that alternate world, the rational conclusion would be to conclude that the flood did happen. It would constitute evidence for the flood. It would constitute a good reason to believe that the flood happened. Colloquially, it would constitute scientific proof. (This is a reminder that all scientific conclusions are tentative, and subject to being overturned with sufficient evidence.)

    All that is left to do is to wrangle over whether this specific Noah’s flood hypothesis deserves the label “supernatural”. I personally think that adding the label “supernatural” buys us basically nothing when we remove our unjustified prejudices and biases, but many people buy into the usefulness of that word. I presume that for the people who buy into the usefulness of that word, such as Matt Dillahunty, surely this flood should qualify as supernatural. That means I have given a thorough demonstration that science can show a supernatural event happened which had supernatural causation.

    I don’t know if this would work if I call in next Sunday. I might try.

  164. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    I think this is just another facet of the argument that “If you can show something is natural, then it necessarily follows that the evidence could have been otherwise, and the same procedure could have shown that something was supernatural”. Again, it’s just a normal consequence of Bayesian reasoning – assuming that natural and supernatural are mutually exclusive and cover the entire space of (epistemic) possibilities.

  165. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Narf, Monocle, and anyone else. I want to run the argument by someone and get feedback before I try to call in.


    I presume that you believe that it is natural causation when you release a pen above the table and it falls to the table. That means you must have some criteria, scientific falsifiable criteria, which you use to determine whether something is natural. Assuming that I can use the word “supernatural” to mean “anything which is not natural”, your criteria for natural is also equally good criteria for determining whether something is supernatural. If your criteria for natural is nontrivial, it necessarily follows that it is conceivable that world could have been different, and that the available evidence would be wholly consistent with the “not natural” criteria. In other words, any nontrivial and intellectually honest method that allows one to conclude that anything is natural is necessarily also a method which would allow one to conclude that something is supernatural.

    This fact is a basic consequence of Bayesian reasoning. It is impossible to evaluate a claim without considering all of the alternatives. For example, if one believes that claim X is probably true, it necessarily follows that you believe all competing claims Y are probably false.

    Does that make sense? I might even try to read this as a script if I get on the show again, or part of it. Of course, I hope they’ll get me off script very quickly, and I’m pretty sure they will. That’s where the fun will begin.

    Meh. 45 seconds for me to read the first paragraph. I should try to cut it down.

  166. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    Of course, if they deny that they have criteria for determining whether something is natural, it necessarily follows that it is vacuous and lacks impact to say “science cannot work on supernatural causation”, because they just admitted that they don’t even have criteria for determining what “supernatural” is.

  167. danielduran says

    Hi @EL,

    You started all your reasoning with:

    I just had a realization. There’s another way I could approach this issue with Matt and others.
    Matt often states very strongly this assertion: (paraphrase) When we examine a claim, we examine that claim in isolation from its negative. For example, when we examine the claim that the Catholic god exists, we can examine that claim without also considering the claim that the Catholic god does not exist.
    That’s wrong.

    Yes, it is wrong. Your paraphrase is a full straw man.

    I read your assertion about supposed Matt’s claims, and I had to scratch your head about what were you talking about. Then I got it. You seem to be referring to Matt’s explaining his “court case analogy”. And that analogy IS NOT what you say or think it is.

    What I recall is Matt saying: someone may be innocent or guilty.When you analyze the issue, you focus on the innocence prong or in the culpability prong, but not both… simultaneously, because you actually DO HAVE to work with the real negative. The negative of being “Guilty” is “NOT Guilty”; the negative of “Innocent” is “NOT Innocent”. But the negative of “Guilty” is NOT “Innocent”. That is what I understand as Matt’s point.

    So, if you focus on the guilty prong, you could conclude a probability of the defendant being guilty, P(G), or NOT guilty, P(not G), that those two probabilities are directly connected by “P(G) = 1 – P(not G)”. Those are the real negative and opposites and they are NOT isolated. And that is true no matter of how you calculated that probability (with Bayes or not).

    What Matt claims is that even if you properly calculated the probabilities, knowing or having a high P(not G) that does not translate automatically as equal the probability of the defendant being innocent, P(I).

    For “your” case, you could analyze and event being natural or supernatural. But analyzing the data, you may calculate the probability of the event being natural P(N), or not natural P(not N), but having a high value for P(not N) doesn’t translate automatically to a high probability of the event being supernatural P(S). Because you already should know that a high value for P(not N) still could be due to SEVERAL factors: it may be because the phenomena is actually supernatural, this means, a real P(S), but also it may be maybe that you haven’t being able to determine the event being natural, and that would be because you lack knowledge about an actual natural process behind the phenomena (like the ancient not knowing anything about electricity to explain a lightning), and that would be…¡P(not S)!. Therefore, a high value for P(not N) doesn’t give you information about what is the case. So, P(not N) =/= P(S). At all.

    Therefore, if you want to call again, I recommend you to avoid starting with an straw man of anyone position, or you will start going nowhere…

  168. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran
    I’m genuinely confused. You are expressing precisely the position which I also attribute to Matt, and which I claim is wrong. There is evidently some confusion over the specifics of my language which make you think ti’s a strawman. Let me get back to this at the end.

    Ok, let me now discuss the disagreement itself. I disagree with the position you just described. It is wrong.

    Let me add this disclaimer and clarification. Of course I agree that failure to show something is natural is not necessarily evidence that it is supernatural. I agree the logical negation of the position “I believe it is natural” is not “I believe it is supernatural”. I can describe this in Bayesian terms in the following way: I might have a 99% confidence that X is natural. The “logical negation” of that position is not a 1% confidence that X is natural. Rather, there’s the whole confidence space from 0% to 98%.

    I think you are a little confused about the terminology of the discussion. For a start, I really must insist that in the Bayesian framework of confidence levels / (epistemic) probabilities, P(X) + P(not X) = 1. Always. With normal English, I can describe this as: “If I have a certain amount of confidence that X is true, it necessarily means that I have a corresponding amount of confidence that not-X is false”. I really must argue for the obvious truth of this position. To bring it out of the abstract, assuming that { natural, supernatural } cover all actual possibilities, then it necessarily follows that: “If I have a certain amount of confidence that X is natural, it necessarily means that I have a corresponding amount of confidence that X is not supernatural”.

    Again, let me emphasize that I might not have particularly high confidence that it is natural. My confidence might only be 60%. Or maybe I don’t know if it’s natural or supernatural – in which case my confidence would be 50%. That’s what confidence levels mean in Bayesian reasoning. A 50% confidence means that “I don’t know”. A 1% confidence actually means “I’m pretty sure it’s false”.

    So, going back to what I said earlier. If you have honest and nontrivial criteria by which you can make a positive claim that some thing is natural to a high degree of confidence, it necessarily follows that the same criteria also allow you to make a positive claim that some thing is not-natural, e.g. supernatural, to a high degree of confidence. Again, this does not mean that failure to show something is natural is automatically evidence for it being supernatural. That’s not how Bayesian reasoning works, and that’s not how proper reasoning works. Failure to show something is natural might result in a confidence level of 50%, e.g. the “I don’t know” confidence level.

    About the strawman. Is it possible the following happened? You agree with Matt when he says that taking a position that someone is not-guilty means absolutely nothing regarding their position on whether that person is innocent. You assumed that I wouldn’t attack something so “obviously right”, and thus you interpreted my paraphrase of Matt in some other way, and then called it a strawman. Whereas, I really did mean to attack some particulars of Matt’s innocent, guilty, not-guilty example.

    For example, if a jury finds someone “not guilty”, that means that they have a confidence that the person is innocent of say at least 10%. That means the jury has a confidence that the person is innocent somewhere in between 10% and 100%. To find someone “not guilty”, it necessarily means that you have particular odds on the claim that the person is guilty, which is necessarily the probability compliment, the 100% – X, of the confidence that the person is innocent.

    Overall though, let me emphasize thank you very much for the help. I do see I need to somehow be clearer. It might be better to start off attacking the specifics of the courtroom analogy.

  169. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Actually, I see I probably need to get more specific for this to make sense.

    Let’s suppose that we have some reasonably objective metric M. Let’s suppose that a high score on metric M is indicative that some thing is natural. Let’s say that’s part of our definition of the word “natural”.

    Now, suppose there is some phenomenon. We might ask “How high does it score on the metric M?”. Suppose we obtain evidence that it scores high on metric M. That means it’s evidence that it is natural, which means our confidence level that it is natural must go up. Bayesian reasoning 101.

    Now suppose we found another phenomenon. We might ask “How high does it score on the metric M?”. However, in this case, evidence for metric M is elusive. Suppose we don’t currently have any evidence regarding metric M. In this case, one might say that we have failed to demonstrate that the phenomenon is natural. However, we have also failed to demonstrate that the phenomenon is supernatural. We simply lack the evidence.

    Now suppose we found a third phenomenon, and for this phenomenon, we have really good evidence on metric M that it scores really low on metric M. Here, we have failed to demonstrate that it’s natural, and also we have further demonstrated that it is supernatural – or at least our confidence level has started to shift in the direction of the supernatural.

    The point I’m trying to make is that any definition of criteria for “natural” can be reversed in order to create criteria for supernatural. In other words, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, but sometimes absence of evidence is evidence of absence. If you have a hypothesis which predicts that you should have some evidence if it were true, and you looked and the evidence is not there, then that is evidence against your hypothesis. Taking it back – if you have some criteria by which you determine whether things are natural, if you have some phenomenon where you are missing expected evidence, that is evidence against the proposition that it is natural, and it is evidence for the proposition that is is supernatural.

  170. danielduran says

    @EL

    I’m genuinely confused. You are expressing precisely the position which I also attribute to Matt

    I am fully in agreement about your first assertion. And I’ll take the second as a compliment ;-).

    […] if you have some criteria by which you determine whether things are natural, if you have some phenomenon where you are missing expected evidence, that is evidence against the proposition that it is natural, and it is evidence for the proposition that is is supernatural.

    Therefore you failed to demonstrate the thing is “natural”, and it may be the case that your metric/criteria fails because your EXPECTATIONS are flawed (incomplete by missing some yet unknown-to-you facts about the natural realm, or directly wrong). THEREFORE you may need to enhance your criteria/underlying natural theory. You cannot know by fiat that what you see is really evidence of something supernatural simply because it failed to match you current “natural” knowledge/framework. It may be the case that it is an observation for some yet unknown natural phenomena, something I told you in my first comment in this thread (#31), eons ago, back to December 2014. Something that you have permanently failed or rejected to grasp….

    So I have nothing else to say about that, because everything I would say was already said above… #31 and ahead.

    In fact, look what you say in your previous comment:

    Let me add this disclaimer and clarification. Of course I agree that failure to show something is natural is not necessarily evidence that it is supernatural.

    So, in less than 15 minutes, you starting with one comment with one position, and then switched to the opposite. That is fully confusing. That’s why I fully agree with the first assertion of your comments. IMHO you are genuinely confused.

    Now, all what I said lays here, so you may want to read it as many times as you need, and if you want public clarifications, you may want to try calling Matt on-air, while it is something I have no bearing on because I am a simple AxP fan, and ACA is who decides which calls comes in or not.

    But, as I also said sometime in past, I have (again) nothing else to say here; I simply break my silence and went back to this thread because your new comments on probabilities and alleged “bayesian reasoning” was kind of new in this thread, and not even right, for example when you explain that:

    “For a start, I really must insist that in the Bayesian framework of confidence levels / (epistemic) probabilities, P(X) + P(not X) = 1. Always”.

    Really? While that “formula” is right, always, that is a basic principle of probabilities theory that has nothing intrinsically “bayesian” on it. It really looks to me like you read something about bayesian reasoning (maybe Carrier’s book?) and you are now trying to hammer those concepts into your own conclusions without too much clarity about the topic… so that’s why I don’t bother at all to go on discussing Bayes here because it is still irrelevant for the case you are asserting.

    In other words: saying that whatever rambling with probabilities is correct because is “bayesian” doesn’t look much different than saying that an oil snake product works because is “quantum”…

    Daniel, out.

  171. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Look. If you want to dismiss Bayesian reasoning, that’s one thing. It you want to say that Bayesian reasoning isn’t completely right, then I’m ok with that. But it’s just incredibly silly to deny the fact that P(X) + P(not X) = 1 in a Bayesian framework. I’m not sure which you’re doing.

    It may be the case that it is an observation for some yet unknown natural phenomena, something I told you in my first comment in this thread (#31), eons ago, back to December 2014. Something that you have permanently failed or rejected to grasp….

    Ok… I didn’t fully appreciate your position until now. Now I would say: What the hell does the word “natural” even mean to you then? It sounds like you’re will to allow it to be ad-hoc’d as necessary to forever avoid falsification. You’re not understanding and applying the parable of the garage dragon, which is that it’s a sign of bad reasoning if you have to repeatedly ad-hoc your claim whenever someone brings falsifying evidence, which is exactly what you’re doing w.r.t. the claim “X is natural”.

  172. danielduran says

    But it’s just incredibly silly to deny the fact that P(X) + P(not X) = 1 in a Bayesian framework

    I challenge you to demonstrate where I did so…

    Ok… I didn’t fully appreciate your position until now. Now I would say: What the hell does the word “natural” even mean to you then?

    It is pitiful to find someone that comes back asking the same questions again, when those things were already discussed and answered…

    I did answered that explicitly on #105 and #108, and now you come back again with the same silly question. If discussing those things at full length was not enough, it would be silly from me doing it again, because clearly those are things that are falling into deaf ears, and therefore it will be a warranted waste of time to revisit them.

  173. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran

    I challenge you to demonstrate where I did so…

    I challenge you to read what I actually wrote. In the very next sentence, I said I didn’t know what your position actually was, and that I just laid out two possible interpretations of what you’ve just said.

    As for the other point, my question was half serious and half rhetorical question. You didn’t engage with my main point of that paragraph, and so I’ll bring it up again.

    I reread 105 and 108, and mos of the content of those posts demonstrate the same faulty reasoning which I just addressed, and which I will address again. Seemingly, you are quite willing to ad-hoc your definition of “natural” to avoid all falsifying evidence in exactly the same way that a garage dragon proponent will ad-hoc their hypothesis to avoid all falsifying evidence. When you need to ad-hoc your claim to the point of untestability, that’s very often a sign that your claim is a bad claim. Your claims that “X is natural” are bad claims, just like the invisible, flying, heatless, intangible garage dragon is a bad claim. It will stop being a bad claim as soon as you submit your claim to actual possible falsification. Until then, when you say that that something is natural, for example “I could measure its temperature (a natural property).”, you’re just peddling in pseudoscience and bad thinking, exactly like a garage dragon proponent.

    Again, still thanks for helping me out here.

  174. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To continue, what I see from you is that you have an entirely arbitrary understanding of what phenomenon go in the “supernatural” bucket and which go in the “natural” bucket. You will use “methodological naturalism” as a weapon against people making religious claims, while being unable to clearly articulate a standard by which we might determine whether their claim is natural or supernatural – besides the completely arbitrary cultural convention where certain phenomenon go in one bucket and other phenomenon go in the other bucket with almost absolutely no rhyme or reason to support that classification scheme.

    Again, the problem seems to be a particular equivocation on the meanings of the words “natural” and “supernatural”. On one hand, you are using “natural” to refer to phenomena with regularities that can be discovered – and thus supernatural phenomena lack regularities which can be discovered and are thus immune to science. On the other hand, you are also using the word “supernatural” to refer to an arbitrary cultural collection of claims which includes common religious claims. You have to demonstrate that walking on water lacks discoverable regularities before asserting that science cannot work learn about it. You have to assert that most religious miracle claims lack discoverable regularities before asserting that science cannot learn about it.

    The problem is that many people – including yourself – also have a different meaning to the word “supernatural”, which is something like idealism or non-materialism. This alternate meaning allows you to assert that “religious miracles like walking on water are (probably) supernatural” and use the equivocation to assert that science has nothing to say about people who can walk on water.

    You’re almost there – you almost see the problem – because in the very next sentence from post 105 or 108, you admit that there might be discoverable regularities in the phenomenon that is walking on water. As soon as you see that, you should see that there is no value in promoting intrinsic methodological naturalism in public discourse because it will communicate the wrong idea that science cannot show religious miracle claims are true or false – and especially not show that they are true. The problem is that is seems to be common practice for science to demonstrate that religious miracle claims are false – such as the extreme forms of Noah’s flood, but the common practice is also to say that science could never show that Noah’s flood actually happened. As the bad reasoning goes “at best, science could show that there was a flood, but never that a god caused it”. An accurate summary of my position is that it is intellectually dishonest to use science to show that Noah’s flood did not happen, but refuse to acknowledge the (epistemic) possibility that the methodological of science could have shown that Noah’s flood did happen.

  175. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry – I think this is probably the best summary:

    I know many of us have a strong positive belief that certain versions of the Christian god hypothesis are wrong, and we hold this belief because of scientific reasons. It is intellectually dishonest to use science to conclude that some versions of the Christian god hypothesis are false and simultaneously deny the (epistemic) possibility that the methodology might have returned the result that some version of the Christian god probably do exist. It’s intellectually dishonest to use science to support a claim (god does not exist) and refuse to allow the possibility that the same methodology might have concluded the negation of the claim (god does exist). Again, you can never examine a claim in isolation. To use the other example: You can never determine your confidence that someone is guilty without also examining your confidence that someone is innocent, and for a rational person these confidences should be compliments of each other.

  176. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I got it!

    New example conversion to Matt:

    Me: I have a script, but it’s only 1 minute long. Can you humor me please?

    Matt: (hopefully yes)

    Me: This is the trick question. In some other universe with different available evidence, could the methodology of science show that there is a supernatural god which made the Earth about 6000 years ago?

    Matt: (presumably no)

    Me: Do you have a positive belief that the Earth is about four and a half billion years old, and is this belief supported by evidence, science, and reason?

    Matt: (presumably yes)

    Me: Do you have a positive belief that the Earth did not come into existence about six thousand years ago, and is that belief supported by evidence, science, and reason?

    Matt: (presumably yes)

    Me: Do you have a positive belief that there is no supernatural god who created the Earth about six thousand years ago, and is that belief supported by evidence, science, and reason?

    Matt: (I expect that Matt will see what’s coming at this point.)

    For a “yes” answer:

    Me: So, according to you, the methodology of science can show that there is no supernatural god who made the Earth about 6000 years ago, but it cannot show that there is a supernatural god who made the Earth about 6000 years ago. Doesn’t that violate several of the principles of science, such as falsifiability? I would think it violates several of the principles of science to allow for a “yes” outcome and not allow for a “no” outcome. I expect that to many religious people, that sounds like “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.”

    For a “no” answer:

    Me: Wait a tick. You have a positive belief that the Earth did not come into existence about 6000 years ago, but you don’t have a positive belief that there is no god who made the Earth about 6000 years ago? Could you consider it for a moment? It seems logically inconsistent – especially when you’ve had a moment to consider the claims.

  177. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Yep. I just watched ep 907. This is IMHO the basic underlying problem from which everything rests.

    In 907, Matt more or less says near verbatim that we can use science to explain how many near death experiences of heaven are natural phenomena (ex: malfunctioning brains with a lack of oxygen which create false memories based on cultural cues of heaven), and in the next breath also states that we don’t know how to calculate the probability that the person’s soul actually went to heaven, and thus the methods of science can never support the conclusion that the person went to heaven.

    There’s two distinction problems with Matt’s position.

    1-
    I think it is intellectually dishonest to say that you can use the methods of science to support the conclusion that X is natural and simultaneously categorical deny in advance that the methods of science could ever support the conclusion that X is not natural, e.g. supernatural.

    2-
    Matt’s position is that we’ve never seen a heaven before, and thus we don’t know the odds that a near death experience is someone actually going to heaven, and we don’t know how to calculate the odds that the person near death experience actually went to heaven. This is fallacious reasoning. Imagine any new scientific discovery of some unknown phenomena. For example, take the photoelectric effect. Before that, we never saw quantum theory before. By Matt’s argument, we couldn’t calculate the odds that quantum theory is true, and thus the methods of science could never support quantum theory. Of course, that is a completely bogus argument. It’s bogus when applied to discovering quantum mechanics, and it’s just as bogus when applied to discovering heaven.

    I cannot help but invoke Scott Clifton in his Skepticon 7 talk – he addresses this clearly. Every time we do an experiment, we have to make a prediction of what we should expect to see if the hypothesis is true, and we have to make a prediction of what we should expect to see if the hypothesis is false. There is no mechanical process that can do this, and it must be some combination of non-scientific methods, of methods of philosophy, including prior information, logic, math, reason, intuition. You can do this if you’ve never seen it before. Having seen it before doesn’t matter – you’re defining the hypothesis and testing it against the real world – not the other way around.

    Of course, you might just do observation, and then apply intuition and induction to discover a pattern, and then form a hypothesis “If A, then B”, but that’s the “take a guess” part of some descriptions of the formal scientific method.

    In other words, Matt is not applying proper Bayesian reasoning. When I invoked Scott Clifton, he is actually describing proper Bayesian reasoning, perhaps without knowing it. For example, suppose you do an experiment involving flipping coins, and suppose you say that your particular hypothesis if true predicts that the sun will rise tomorrow, and you observe tomorrow that the sun rises, and thus you conclude that your hypothesis is probably true. That’s not good reasoning. The best way to describe that it’s not good reasoning is to explain it in a Bayesian context. It’s not good reasoning because proper Bayesian reasoning involves the relative sizes of two probabilities – how likely is the available evidence (the sun rose on the next day) if the hypothesis is true, and how likely is the available evidence (the sun rose on the next day) if the hypothesis is false? In this case, our hypothesis involves flipping coins, and thus the proper application of prior information, reason, math, logic, intuition, and the other philosophical tools should arrive at the conclusion that the fact that the sun rose on the next day is equally likely on the hypothesis being true and the hypothesis being false, and thus it’s not evidence for either.

    That’s the error in Matt’s reasoning. If Matt wants to use the explanation about the brain lacking oxygen and creating false memories based on cultural cues as evidence that it’s natural, that only works if Matt has a sufficiently clear conception of the supernatural where this evidence is less likely if the other explanations – the non-natural e.g. supernatural explanations – are true. That right there is the start of a basis by which one could construct an argument in favor of the supernatural, – assuming one found different evidence than what is actually true in this world.

    What we have here is Matt performing the exact same fallacy of garage dragon proponents. Matt will adamantly endorse the natural explanation, no matter what falsifying evidence might appear, by ad-hocing his natural explanation to avoid all falsifying evidence. At least, that’s the position which Matt has near explicitly stated, although I expect in practice that Matt would change his tune if there actually was good evidence for the supernatural.

  178. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I think it is intellectually dishonest to say that you can use the methods of science to support the conclusion that X is natural and simultaneously categorical deny in advance that the methods of science could ever support the conclusion that X is not natural, e.g. supernatural.

    Sorry for spamming – last comment. To be clear, this is fallacious because it violates the principle of falsifiability and several other good principles of reasoning – what I covered at length in my description above. It is wrong-headed to argue that specific evidence E favors proposition X and simultaneously deny the absence of the same evidence E favors proposition not-X. If the absence of the evidence wouldn’t favor proposition not-X, then how the hell can the presence of the evidence favor proposition X? The math of Bayesian reasoning makes this abundantly clear, and even if you don’t buy into Bayesian reasoning or understand Bayesian reasoning, the fault in basic reasoning should be evident.

  179. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Ok, I lie. One more comment.

    Take the murder trial example. Victim was stabbed. Of course if the police found the defendant in bloody clothes and the blood matched the victim, then this evidence would favor the conclusion that the defendant is guilty. However, that also necessarily means that if the defendant was not covered in blood when the police found him, then this particular fact favors the conclusion that the defendant is innocent. Either the defendant is guilty or innocent – there is no in between. It might be that you are not convinced either way, but your position has to fall on a single continuum between guilty and innocent, and “not guilty” is simply the segment from 10% to 100% on a scale of 0% to 100%. If the defendant was found in bloody clothes, that tips you towards the “guilty” end, and if the defendant was found in not-bloody clothes, that tips you towards the “innocent” end.

    It’s simply not logically consistent to have a degree of confidence regarding the truth of the proposition that the defendant is guilty without having a corresponding degree of confidence regarding the truth of the proposition that the defendant is innocent. A high degree of confidence that it is true that defendant is guilty implies an equally strong degree of confidence that it is false that the defendant is innocent, and vice-versa. A low degree of confidence that it is true that the defendant is guilty implies an equally low degree of confidence that it false that the defendant is innocent, and vice-versa.

    If Matt ever wants to claim confidence that any one thing is natural, that means he has an equally strong confidence in a positive belief that it is not non-natural e.g. supernatural. In exactly the same way that bloody clothes favors the guilty position and non-bloody clothes favors the innocent position, any evidence that Matt gives to defend a claim that something is natural necessarily entails conceivable evidence which is equally specific and which would favor the claim that it is non-natural e.g. supernatural.

    Of course, it might be that this one bit of evidence might be enough to conclude that it’s natural, but the observed absence of that one bit of evidence is not enough to conclude that it’s supernatural. We have to take our background knowledge into account. However, if we’re intellectually honest and not dogmatic, accumulating enough evidence should be able to convince us that it’s non-natural e.g. supernatural. I could explain away Catholic prayers working. I could explain away the stars changing to spell out “I am here”. I could explain away a dozen other similar amazingly but merely purported signs from god. These signs are pretty weak IMHO – the atheist isn’t thinking hard enough. What if god took up residence in a certain house in New Jersey and set up a national weekly lottery, and granted the wish of one person per week according to the lottery. What if we had dozens of evidence just as strong as that. At some point, if we start accumulating enough evidence, it is going to become irrational to not believe in god, just like it would be irrational in our world to not believe that the sun will rise tomorrow.

  180. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Goddamnit. Matt made my job even easier as I continued to listen to ep 907. Matt said that “I don’t know how lightning happens, thus Thor” is an example of an argument from ignorance fallacy.

    I agree as presented that it’s an argument from ignorance fallacy. However, what if you met Thor, and watched him throw thunderbolts, and he was able and willing to reproduce throwing thunderbolts on command, repeatedly, under the supervision of the best scientists and magicians we can muster? Would you be ready to accept that “Thor is the source of some lightning bolts” yet? What would it take to accept that claim? Surely you would agree that this would constitute great scientific evidence that Thor can throw lightning bolts. At this point, if you do not accept the claim that Thor can throw lightning bolts as probably true, then you’re simply being unreasonable and irrational.

    Would you be ready to accept that Thor is a supernatural creature? Are you going to provide an ad-hoc excuse about how Thor’s lightning bolts could be natural? If you cannot even use “methodological naturalism” to exclude “Thor is the source of some lightning bolts”, then what the hell good is “methodological naturalism”? If you cannot exclude the Thor hypothesis, then you cannot exclude anything, and the very idea of “methodological naturalism” is vacuous and empty – serving only to prop up the bullshit idea that is Gouald’s NOMA.

    I now feel this is my best approach. I’ll try call in next week with this. I feel good about my chances now with this line of argument.

  181. Grif says

    That sure is a lot of words.

    Expect Matt to interrupt you several times. Expect not to be able to use your script. Anticipate his rebuttals–several are available–and structure your responses accordingly. Bear in mind that he may accept your points but only after restarting them to be more in line with what he already believes, because attempting to prove he’s wrong will make him defensive; he may well flee to some other point, like how your definition of supernatural has no resemblance with how theists use the word, or somesuch. Just be ready for that, because as a show host he’ll want to maintain some credibility.

  182. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif.
    Oh of course. Thanks for the advice.

    Note that I now think my Thor-lightning script is both smaller, and closer to the actual point I want to make.

    I’m now realizing that the Thor-lightning example is very close to my original example of a Latin incantation which changes water into wine. However, here I have the benefit of using Matt’s own example in Matt’s own words from a month ago against him. Matt expressly gave the Thor-lightning example as something which science could never demonstrate to be true, and that’s just wrong. Hopefully I can make Matt see that he is wrong on Thor-lightning, and hopefully Matt will be able to see that he is wrong on the general concept of intrinsic methodological naturalism.

    I need to go rewatch my earlier call, and see how I got sidetracked. IIRC, I’m pretty sure I made this argument at some point during the call, but we go sidetracked.

    For the next time, I’m pretty sure I need to stick to this point: “If your methodological naturalism cannot even rule out the Thor-lightning explanation, then what can it rule out? If it cannot rule that out, then it cannot rule out anything. It applies to nothing. It’s an empty concept.”

  183. danielduran says

    Sadly your Thor-lightning example is not close but actually a rewording of your original “unnamed guy converting water in to wine” into a “guy named Thor throwing lightning”.

    And your new “prime” defeater doesn’t solve the problems of alternative non-supernatural explanations, like the obvious “Thor is a alien that uses unknown-to-us but natural physics to create the lightning bolts” (you didn’t see the movies, right?), a problem already shown… at comment #31!!! I actually could reword my comment #31 for your supposedly better idea:

    In fact, let say that the [power] used for the lightnings requires to include [to be Thor]. If [you are not Thor, there is no lightnings]. Huge correlation! For sure believers would assume that is a proof that [Thor is supernatural], but how do you know? How could anyone distinguish the cause is a “supernatural agent called [Thor]” [throwing lightnings], instead of “[an] alien [called Thor]” that happens to be making a kind of interplanetary social experiment, so [whenever he receives the order to throw a lightning], [he] use[s his] advanced [but natural realm] technology to [throw a lightning] wherever [a scientist ask for]? Could science discard the first “explanation” from the second (or any other ad-hoc idea) just looking at [Thor throwing lightnings], again and again?

    I think science cannot.

    And you never grasped that nor showed how science actually could…

    See? It may be the case that it is an observation for some yet unknown natural phenomena, something I told you in my first comment in this thread (#31), eons ago, back to December 2014. Something that you have permanently failed or rejected to grasp….

    So when you said: “Ok… I didn’t fully appreciate your position until now.”. I see you haven’t got it yet, nor I see you would, because you seem to be blinded with your aim to “prove Matt wrong” no matter what…

  184. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @daniel
    Again, not reading what I’m writing, not engaging with my actual arguments. I already noted that it’s basically the example I already used.

    This is what I want you to respond to:

    If your methodological naturalism cannot even rule out the Thor-lightning explanation, then what can it rule out? If it cannot rule that out, then it cannot rule out anything. It applies to nothing. It’s an empty concept.

    What difference does it make what label you attach to the Thor-lightning hypothesis? Your daniel’s definition of “natural” is so wide and so ad-hoc’d that it will encompass all possible observations, and thus your methodological naturalism is a moot point because you can never actually apply it to any actual observation.

  185. danielduran says

    LOL

    Your daniel’s definition of “natural” is so wide and so ad-hoc’d that it will encompass all possible observations, and thus your methodological naturalism is a moot point because you can never actually apply it to any actual observation

    You really master to contradict yourself in a single phrase.

    Next time you go to the store and find “one-size-fit-all” piece of whatever thing that supposedly work for _all possible cases_, you could philosophize with the clerk to dead that it must be a scam because that means it fits none. Bravo!

  186. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @daniel
    Are you going to engage with the argument rather than just make fun of it? Give me a single purported supernatural hypothesis which entails observables and I will show that science can totally show that if you remove the “supernatural” word from the hypothesis but keep the rest the same, then you can totally use science and evidence to support the model. Case in point: Thor. You just admitted that Thor might be a sufficiently advanced alien, and that we could support the proposition that Thor can throw lightning bolts with evidence and science.

  187. danielduran says

    As my position “apply it to any actual observation”, I don’t see any value to discuss anything with you anymore, because you already concluded it is worthless.

    Except to booster someone else ego’s, so if it makes you happy, yeah, EL, you rule! See ya.

  188. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @daniel
    Yes. I have already concluded that you’re wrong, many posts ago. This is the normal process of a debate, especially a formal debate, but also very often in an informal debate such as this. Generally both sides will give an opening statement which includes assertions that the other side is wrong. Then both sides have a chance to rebut the other person’s claims. I have made the assertion that you are wrong on this particular issue. This is now the part where you get to rebut the assertion. For example, you could give some purportedly supernatural hypothesis which you think could not be supported by science after we remove the “supernatural” label. Or you can ague in a more generic way about the definitions and show that methodological naturalism isn’t vacuous. Or you could take some other approach.

    Instead, you’re just running away when I say you’re wrong, accusing me of dogmatic certainty when rather you seem to display that trait. How childish.

  189. danielduran says

    If you do not realize (or remember) that already happened on DECEMBER, going back to try to discuss the SAME points you already did is a WASTE of time. Seriously.

  190. danielduran says

    Let me tell you a secret: people are not obliged to continue a conversation with you, nor with anyone else, when they already lost interest on a topic; I already lost all interest on your points, new or old. So, just learn to live with that fact. Good luck.

  191. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Ok. That’s your prerogative. That’s also a fundamentally different point than you were making before. Classic moving the goalposts.

  192. Grif says

    The thing that left me gobsmacked was reading a few of the earlier posts and realizing the EL was basically cribbing off of Richard Carrier to begin with. I happen to think Richard Carrier’s definitions are pretty useful, and neatly encapsulate the intuitions we want to address. And yet, EL and I seem to have wildly different interpretations. Why is this?

    EL, are you simply committed to the stance that, since large groups of people (e.g. atheists, apologists, laymen) use the words “natural” and “supernatural” in different and often confused ways, it is a word that has no cognitive meaning? Do you intend to show that any given person’s definitions have no use?

    If no, what are your definitions? Try to limit yourself to one paragraph.

  193. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif.
    I’m not here to provide definitions of natural and supernatural. I am here to argue that asserting “methodological naturalism is an intrinsic limitation of the scientific method” is wrong-headed under any of the common meanings of the words “natural” and “supernatural”.

    It’s a Daniel Dennett deepity. It is a trick of language and nothing more – as Scott Clifton says in his Skepticon 7 talk.

    One can define “natural” and “supernatural” in many ways.

    One can define “natural” and “supernatural” so that supernatural things do not have discoverable regularities, (as daniel above seems wont to do). Thus almost by definition science does not work on such things. This is one of the true-but-trivial readings of the deepity. Even if there were observable phenomena without discoverable regularities, you could never confirm beyond all doubt that it lacks discoverable regularities, and thus you would forever try to use reason, evidence, science, etc. to learn about it. In other words, it would be impossible to absolutely confirm that something is truly supernatural, and thus you would always try to use science. The rule would never tell you to throw away the hypothesis or to stop using science.

    One can say that “natural” is simply defined as the modern notion of materialism. For further details on this definition, please see the work of Victor Stenger, and other sources cited in the above paper by Boudry. This is one of the profound-but-false readings of the deepity. There are plenty of things outside the usual bounds of materialism which if true, science would be all over. For example, if there were D&D sorcerers running around and casting fireballs by force of will, science would be all over that.

    One can define “supernatural” as Richard Carrier does, which more or less amounts to the claim that there are some minds which are not dependent-on material substances. IMHO, this is more or less identical to some forms of idealism. This is another profound-but-false reading of the deepity. We already accept psychology and sociology as sciences, and so there’s every reason to believe that we can do science on minds which are not dependent-on material substances.

    I’m sure there’s plenty of other ways that you can define the words. Again, I am arguing that under all of the plausible usages of the words, the claim that “methodological naturalism is an intrinsic limitation of the scientific method” is either false, or empty. Either there are supernatural things which I can show exist by the scientific method, or the rule never applies to any real-world hypothesis.

  194. Grif says

    One can define “supernatural” as Richard Carrier does, which more or less amounts to the claim that there are some minds which are not dependent-on material substances. IMHO, this is more or less identical to some forms of idealism.

    Quibble: he defines a “supernatural” entity as such an immaterial mind or mental power; “supernaturalism” is the claim that at least one supernatural entity exists.

    It’s a bit strange that you think his definition entails idealism, since there is a large difference between the stance that at least one fundamentally mental entity exists and the stance that everything that exists is mental. Regardless, he asserts that “naturalism is most probably true, and therefore no gods or spirits exist in any traditional or supernatural sense.” Ergo, he is attempting to refute the weaker claim, and by extension refuting the stronger claim also.

    We already accept psychology and sociology as sciences, and so there’s every reason to believe that we can do science on minds which are not dependent-on material substances.

    Yes indeed, if such disembodied minds exist and we had evidence of such, we could do science on them. On his blog, in the section titled “Is the Supernatural Knowable?”, he very clearly states his opinion on the matter:

    “All of the examples I have given are clearly capable of scientific test and empirical demonstration. The claim that supernatural hypotheses can never be verified or falsified, are untestable, and therefore unknowable, is therefore not tenable. … Hence I reject radical methodological naturalism, which holds that science can only investigate natural phenomena. Nonsense. Science would have no special problem investigating the supernatural. If there were any. But I do embrace pragmatic methodological naturalism, which holds that supernatural phenomena have been shown to be so scarce (in fact, as far as we can tell, non-existent), and therefore so improbable, that it is a waste of time and money to investigate supernatural hypotheses, or any uncorroborated paranormal claims.”

    In other words, if fundamentally immaterial minds or other mental entities exist, and are discoverable insofar as anything material is discoverable, then scientific hypotheses certainly can apply to the supernatural. It’s too bad that, thus far, none have emerged.

    What is it you find so objectionable with this stance?

  195. Grif says

    and are discoverable insofar as anything material is discoverable

    * and are discoverable in the same way as anything material can be said to be discoverable

  196. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    There’s been some confusion. I’ll use the terms of the Boudry paper above. I completely agree to a provisional form of methodological naturalism. It’s the only reasonable course of action. Richard Carrier referred to the same concept with the term “pragmatic methodological naturalism”. I disagree with the common position that methodological naturalism is an absolute or intrinsic limitation of science. I am again in agreement with Richard Carrier w.r.t. methodological naturalism. I am in disagreement with Matt Dillahunty who holds the position of intrinsic methodological naturalism. Sorry – I thought I was sufficiently clear with you earlier. I don’t know how I could have been clearer.

  197. Grif says

    It’s because you think that all confusion in these discussions is solely the fault of the other person. When you asked me if gravity was natural or supernatural, it was clear you were attempting to prove me wrong about something, which is what you intend to do with Matt. Sometimes what’s needed is not an example or a supporting argument, but merely a rephrasing of your position or a not-stupid analogy.

    Now, normally I would bet you that Matt would agree with your final assessment of the argument as stated. I do vaguely recall him saying he disagreed with Carrier on this point, so it’s possible he will have something to say about intrinsic vs pragmatic methodological naturalism. Just please, for the sanity of everyone in the audience, don’t attempt to trap him, because it will end poorly for you and he will miss the point.

  198. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif

    It’s because you think that all confusion in these discussions is solely the fault of the other person.

    I left room for me to admit that I am wrong, or that I could have done better. If you frequent here enough, you will see that I admit when I make mistakes (and am convinced of that). I do not think this is one such time. Sorry.

    When you asked me if gravity was natural or supernatural, it was clear you were attempting to prove me wrong about something, which is what you intend to do with Matt.

    I’m not very good on subtlety. When I mean to say something, I say it. Please don’t read too much into any possible subtle meanings when I say something, and instead please try to take it at face value.

    I was aiming to engage in Socratic reasoning to do two things.

    1- To determine how you use the words “natural” and “supernatural”.

    2- To show you that the natural / supernatural dichotomy is almost entirely a cultural construct with no sound basis in reality – except maybe for a carefully defined materialism – as one might find in the work of Victor Stenger.

    I have a strong suspicion that Carrier’s definition of “supernatural” is actually pretty bad, but it’s only a hunch at the moment. I haven’t been able to engage with anyone who actually holds that position yet which would greatly help me explore my own thoughts on the subject. My strong suspicion is that Carrier’s definition of “supernatural” is untestable in principle. I have a strong suspicion that the definition is the result of the assumptions of a materialistic reductionist mindset.

    Let me try to explain. A hundred years ago, we thought that the atom was indivisible and eternal. Then we learned that the atom was made of electrons and the positive nucleus, and then we thought that the electron and the positively charged nucleus were individually indivisible and eternal. Then we learned that the positively charged nucleus is made up of neutrons and protons, and we thought that neutrons and protons were indivisible. And so forth.

    I think the very idea of ever claiming that some thing, some substance, is not composed of some other unknown substance, is a claim that one can never justifiably make. We can make the claim that we know how to split some thing into smaller constituent pieces. We can even make the claim that there (probably) isn’t a way to split some things into smaller constituent pieces. Those are all testable claims.

    However, Carrier’s definition isn’t talking about that. It’s talking about ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is not the reality I live in. I live in the observable reality. Ultimate reality is forever outside our access. On this point, I believe that Matt has it exactly right and Carrier has it exactly wrong. Carrier’s definition of “supernatural” is bad because it’s completely unusable because it’s completely untestable and unfalsifiable. It makes absolutely no predictions about observables. In the language of positivists, it is meaningless, cognitively meaningless. (Note that I do not endorse all tenants of positivism either.)

    Unless of course I completely missed something, and as I tried to disclaim, I very well may have.

    Just please, for the sanity of everyone in the audience, don’t attempt to trap him, because it will end poorly for you and he will miss the point.

    There’s some ambiguity in the phrase “to draw a trap”.

    I do intend to highlight problems in his position, and to draw attention to a clear inconsistency. Part of that is very similar to “drawing a trap”, and I intend to do that. I don’t intend to be sneaky about it, and I don’t intend to hold him at his word. I won’t try to “draw a trap” in that sense. I do intend to pin him to the wall – First by asking about the Thor-lightning hypothesis in particular and whether my hypothetical evidence would be enough. Second by making the assertion that Matt cannot name a single hypothesis / model of hypothetical supernatural observable phenomena which science cannot say anything about. I intend to draw that trap.

    PS: Are you a creationist? You never answered that line of questioning. Do you agree that entropy and information theory are quite well defined in the absence of minds? Do you agree that the common idea of a soul which makes decisions necessarily entails that there is a causal link from the material space to the soul and a causal link from the soul to the material body?

  199. Grif says

    The “ultimate reality” objection is a complete straw man. In no way does Carrier’s claims only apply to only the ultimate reality. As I said long ago, a reductionist is open to the idea that even the most fundamental discovered substance is composed of something yet more fundamental, but does not accept the existence of such unless it is useful in explaining phenomena (which actually occur) that were previously unexplainable using the current theories.

    I am under no obligation to talk about my personal religious perspective, but I am once again astounded that you believe I am a creationist. In the context we are currently speaking in, information is an interpretation of the representation of the world as made available to a mind, which makes it an entirely mental event, though likely reducable to a nonmental event if we assume solipsism is false and realism if true. Information does not exist physically, and does not act on rocks, computers, or other mindless stuff.

    I am not a creationist. Do you have Asperger’s? That’s how relevant that question is.

  200. Grif says

    We also agreed long ago that the common idea of a soul is confused. A theist will insist that the soul is fundamentally supernatural and sacred and whatever flowery language, but it’s not my fault they are attaching faith in an absurd concept. You have no obligation to save the concept for them, and attempting to do so may make them reject your rational idea entirely. Just address the ideas they actually present.

  201. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif

    The “ultimate reality” objection is a complete straw man. In no way does Carrier’s claims only apply to only the ultimate reality.

    I think you need to read Carrier again. Here are some relevant bits

    (Bolding added)

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

    There is a trend in science and law to define the word “supernatural” as “the untestable,” which is perhaps understandable for its practicality, but deeply flawed as both philosophy and social policy. Flawed as philosophy, because testability is not even a metaphysical distinction, but an epistemological one, and yet in the real world everyone uses the word “supernatural” to make metaphysical distinctions.

    The underlying mechanics of quantum phenomena might be physically beyond all observation and therefore untestable, but no one would then conclude that quantum mechanics is supernatural. Just because I can’t look inside a box does not make its contents supernatural.

    http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/carrier-wanchick/jointstatement.html

    Carrier intends to defend is this: given the information available up to now, more likely than not naturalism is true, where “naturalism” means that everything everyone has observed or claimed to observe is the product of fundamentally mindless arrangements and interactions of matter-energy in space-time, leaving no sufficient reason to believe that anything else exists.

    By “fundamentally mindless” Carrier means that any mental properties, powers, or entities that exist are causally derived from, and ontologically dependent on, systems of nonmental properties, powers, or entities. In technical terms, that means naturalism is false if any distinctly mental property, power, or entity exists that is not ontologically dependent on some arrangement of nonmental things, or that is not causally derived from some arrangement of nonmental things, or that has causal effects without the involvement of any arrangement of nonmental things which are otherwise causally sufficient to produce that effect.

    In somewhat plainer English, what this means is this: if Carrier Naturalism (or CN) is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by natural phenomena. But if naturalism is false, then some minds, or some of the contents or powers or effects of minds, are causally independent of nature. In other words, such things would then be partly or wholly caused by themselves, or exist or operate directly or fundamentally on their own. This summarizes more precisely and concisely what Carrier has argued elsewhere.[1]

    IMHO, it’s pretty clear. Carrier is making a metaphysical point, e.g. a ontological point, e.g. a point about fundamental reality, e.g. a point about ultimate reality. Again, I have to say that Matt has it exactly right on this point and Carrier has it exactly wrong on this point. In the words of positivist, any discussion about ultimate reality is completely useless and cannot be applied to any real world problem because it’s completely divorced from observable and discoverable reality. Carrier may be right that this is how the word “supernatural” is used, but then it means it’s a completely useless word, and I don’t think Carrier quite gets this positivist implication. This makes me suspect that Carrier probably isn’t a kind-of-positivist. Or I’m confusing and missing something.

    To use example from Carrier (from first link):

    Conversely, if I suddenly acquired the Force of the Jedi and could predict the future, control minds, move objects and defy the laws of physics, all merely by an act of will, ordinary people everywhere would call this a supernatural power, yet it would be entirely testable. Scientists could record and measure the nature and extent of my powers and confirm them well within the requirements of peer review.

    Let me compare to Matt and Matt’s Thor-lightning example. I’m pretty sure I could get Matt to agree that we could name specific hypothetical evidence which would convince both of us that Thor is real, and can throw lightning bolts seemingly through force of will. Similarly, I’m pretty sure I could get Matt to agree that could name specific hypothetical evidence which would convince both of us that someone has powers and abilities as if they had the force from Star Wars.

    Part of the disagreement is going to come regarding the point whether this evidence is sufficient to conclude that it is supernatural. Matt and I can probably agree right now that that the methodological of science could show that there is a guy who goes by the name of Thor who can conjure lightning bolts, but maybe Thor does it through sufficiently advanced technology, or maybe Thor does it through some as-of-yet other unknown natural process. Matt and I don’t have a disagreement on the epistemological aspects – we both agree that we can use the methodology of science to learn about Thor and his ability to conjure and throw lightning bolts. Where Matt and I disagree is on the topic of whether it should count as supernatural or not.

    The problem is very probably that Matt supports intrinsic methodological naturalism on ontological grounds, rather than epistemological grounds. Matt probably doesn’t realize this. This is the Dan Dennett deepity. It’s true in the ontological sense, but trivial, because it’s completely inapplicable. The ontological reading of intrinsic methodological naturalism prohibits absolutely zero real-world hypotheses. Whereas, intrinsic methodological naturalism would be profound if true in the epistemological sense, but it’s simple false in this sense. If Thor was real, or if the force from Star Wars was real, then science would be all over that. In almost all other circumstances, Matt is very good at emphasizing epistemology (concerns about observable reality) and minimizing ontology (concerns about ultimate reality). I think Matt just has a blind-spot here, and it really annoys the piss out of me because he makes really bad epistemological arguments on this topic like every other show.

  202. Grif says

    Or I’m confusing and missing something.

    Yes. You are obviously misreading Carrier’s use of the words “fundamental” and “ontological” and “metaphysical” etc., thinking he is talking about some meta-reality or some reality other than our own, or that he is referring to an “ultimate reality” which may or may not refer to our “reality.” My interpretation was that he is obviously talking about what is actually real in our reality, because fuck solipsism. If we are in the Matrix, then ontology is concerned with the nature of the Matrix, not the nature of Ultimate Reality.

  203. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    IMHO, you are clearly wrong. Carrier could not have been more clear that he is talking about ultimate reality when he said the following – I’ll copy-paste it again for your benefit.
    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html

    The underlying mechanics of quantum phenomena might be physically beyond all observation and therefore untestable, but no one would then conclude that quantum mechanics is supernatural. Just because I can’t look inside a box does not make its contents supernatural.

    It is very clear that he is having a discussion about ultimate reality, about the Matrix, “about solipsism” to use your wording.

    As a separate matter, I agree: fuck solipsism. That’s why I often don’t give two shits about ontology or metaphysics. That’s why I call myself a kind-of-positivist. That’s why Matt is wrong to support intrinsic methodological naturalism, and that is why Carrier is wrong when he claims that it’s justifiable to assert – no matter how strongly or confidently – that the supernatural does not exist under his metaphysical definition of “supernatural”.

  204. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: Similarly, I would say that it’s always wrong to assert that the natural exists under Carrier’s metaphysical definitions of “natural” and “supernatural”. Those kind of claims about ultimate reality are never justifiable. They’re not even meaningful.

    PPS: Again, I do not subscribe to everything that is logical positivism. Strong verificationism is obviously wrong. (Weak verificationism in the form of foundherentism on the other hand…)

  205. Grif says

    So let’s see, first you say that statements about ultimate reality are meaningless because they do not have a one-to-one correspondence with statements about observable and discoverable reality. Okay, so you’re a big fan of epistemology, and you hate ontology. Good to know.

    Carrier says that of the many mental events that science has observed, all of them have explicable nonmental mechanisms. So far so good.

    Carrier then says that some existent yet unobservable event is not necessarily supernatural.

    He then says that the supernatural doesn’t exist–wait, no, he’s never said that.

    Supernatural phenomena have been shown to be so scarce (in fact, as far as we can tell, non-existent), and therefore so improbable, that it is a waste of time and money to investigate supernatural hypotheses, or any uncorroborated paranormal claims.

    Notice how he makes exactly zero positive assertions about the supernatural not existing?

    if Carrier Naturalism (or CN) is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by natural phenomena.

    Now here, he is making the assertion, but tying it into an explicit statement about the world, defining it very clearly, with a very simple falsifiable world-state: if a nonphysical mind is ever discovered, we can point and say “Ha! Richard Carrier, you, sir, have egg on your face!”

  206. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Quoting Grif:

    because they do not have a one-to-one correspondence with statements about observable and discoverable reality.

    I want to make a slightly different and stronger claim. You inserted the phrase “one to one correspondence”, which adds nuance and changes the meaning. I want to make a much stronger claim, like “absolutely no relation whatsoever”. I’m sure I’m missing corner cases and such, and I’m probably wrong with that phrasing, so I want to focus on two examples: Thor-lightning and Carrier’s quantum physics quote. In both cases, we have genuinely observable, discoverable phenomena susceptible to scientific analysis. Is Thor-lightning supernatural or merely the result of some natural “mana field”? I don’t know. Is quantum mechanics – and the rest of the universe – the result of a sleeper’s dream, the result of a programmed simulation ala The Matrix, or is it fundamentally irreducible? Again, I don’t know. These kinds of questions are just not useful, and they are not interesting (to me).

    Quoting Grif:

    if a nonphysical mind is ever discovered,

    My point is that discovery is completely and absolutely impossible, in exactly the same way that the hypothetical discovery “quantum mechanics is irreducible” is impossible. I’m not even talking about absolute confidence vs non-absolute confidence. In the Bayesian framework, I cannot imagine a single bit of evidence that would even change the probabilities, the epistemic confidences, one iota in favor of either proposition, precisely because they are propositions about ultimate reality and not observable reality.

    It sounds very much like I might be trying to have my cake and eat it too, but I think that’s only because of sloppy reasoning and confusion between epistemological claims and metaphysics claims.

    I can imagine evidence which would support the proposition that a particular mind is the causal result of a material brain. We have plenty of evidence like that right now. However, I cannot imagine any evidence whatsoever that might even in the slightest favor the hypothesis that the mind is not the causal result of some other known or as-of-yet unknown substance, process, etc. That would be an argument from ignorance fallacy. The best that one could do is make the claim that it’s probably impossible to access any underlying substance with the tools of our accessible reality. However, this leads into a point which Carrier made all too well: “just because I can’t look inside a box does not make its contents supernatural.” Just because I cannot look inside the processes of a mind does not make a sound basis for concluding that the mind is substance-irreducible or causally irreducible.

    I’m actually a little surprised Carrier apparently does not realize this. I’m actually a little surprised that Carrier is not a kind-of-positivist.

  207. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    Let me be clear. I can imagine discoveries of non-materialism minds, like the conventional notion of a disembodied spirit or ghost, where “materialism” is defined carefully such as in the work of Victor Stenger, but that is a far cry from a discovery of a fundamentally irreducible mind. Perhaps the non-materialism ghost is actually reducible to some other substance, or is causally reducible to some other substance. Perhaps ghosts exist, and they are reducible to some kind of “mana field” or something. Or perhaps there’s some otherwise unaccessible material-like reality which causally gives rise to ghosts, loosely comparable to the “ethereal plane” of D&D 3.5. (Yes yes, ghosts in 3.5 are technically not dependent on the ethereal plane, but this is a good metaphor.) The mere discovery of a mind which breaks conventional notions of materialism is not enough to conclude that the mind is fundamentally irreducible, which is Carrier’s definition of “supernatural”.

  208. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS: I keep quoting Victor Stenger, but I actually haven’t read his work firsthand. It’s going to the top of my reading list.

  209. Grif says

    And yet, since you are in love with Hume’s Constant Causation, it should be very easy to demonstrate to arbitrary confidence that, because an (actual) act of telekinesis occurs prior to the coffee mug moving every time, the telekinesis causes the mug to move without a natural cause mediating the interaction. You could attain a justified belief in telekinesis with such a demonstration, under your framework. Even Carrier states that “at some point the evidence could accumulate so high that you will have to admit a supernatural explanation is the best explanation there is.”

    If Matt placed Thor in an experimental chamber and placed lightning rods all around him, and Thor was still able to accurately send a bolt to the bullseye at the far end of the room, Matt would be convinced that Thor was able to do a fairly amazing feat of electrokinesis. If we then took his Mjollnir and analyzed it at a molecular level, and found no mechanisms or batteries or anything not resembling a hunk of star-core, he should be convinced that something supernatural was at work. Just so happens that, to our knowledge, Thor, Mjollnir, and electrokinesis do not exist.

    Just because I cannot look inside the processes of a mind does not make a sound basis for concluding that the mind is substance-irreducible or causally irreducible. I’m actually a little surprised Carrier apparently does not realize this.

    I have long since stopped being surprised at your constant self-congratulating in response to defeating straw men of out-of-context excerpts of summaries of technical debates.

  210. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif

    I have long since stopped being surprised at your constant self-congratulating in response to defeating straw men of out-of-context excerpts of summaries of technical debates.

    Dude. We’ve been over this already. Carrier’s definition is talking about the fundamental nature of things, about ontology and metaphysics, which has absolutely nothing to do with the observable nature of things or epistemology. I thought we resolved this point already. Do you still think this is a strawman of Carrier’s position? We need to resolve this before going farther, because we’re just talking past each other.

  211. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I really need to stop multi-posting.

    @Grif
    Just as some examples:

    the telekinesis causes the mug to move without a natural cause mediating the interaction

    Even Carrier states that “at some point the evidence could accumulate so high that you will have to admit a supernatural explanation is the best explanation there is.”

    How could you show that? Specific hypothetical evidence please.

    About your quote of Carrier:

    at some point the evidence could accumulate so high that you will have to admit a supernatural explanation is the best explanation there is.

    The larger context is from here:
    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html
    In context, it’s comparing the specific hypothesis of heliocentrism to a generic hypothesis of supernaturalism (that there is one or more supernatural things). The hypothesis of heliocentrism entails observable, testable claims about observable reality. The claim “X is supernatural” under Carrier’s definition entails absolutely zero observable, testable claims about observable reality. Again, I ask you Grif for example hypothetical evidence of any kind which would favor a supernatural hypothesis under Carrier’s definition, keeping in mind his example of quantum mechanics where he plainly states that inability to access the internals of quantum mechanics is not a good basis for determining that quantum mechanics is supernatural.

  212. Grif says

    Hogwarts-style magic. From chapter 22 of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a fanfic by rationalist Eliezer Yudkowsky:

    You couldn’t really need to say ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ in exactly the right way in order to levitate something, because, come on, ‘Wingardium Leviosa’? The universe was going to check that you said ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ in exactly the right way and otherwise it wouldn’t make the quill float?

    No. Obviously no, once you thought about it seriously. Someone, quite possibly an actual preschool child, but at any rate some English-speaking magic user, who thought that ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ sounded all flyish and floaty, had originally spoken those words while casting the spell for the first time. And then told everyone else it was necessary.

    But (Harry had reasoned) it didn’t have to be that way, it wasn’t built into the universe, it was built into you.

    Thud. Thud. Thud.

    It seemed the universe actually did want you to say ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ and it wanted you to say it in a certain exact way and it didn’t care what you thought the pronunciation should be any more than it cared how you felt about gravity.

    WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

    Your very very first example was perfectly fine. Suppose that chanting certain latin words would literally change water into wine, that the water molecules invariably transformed into ethanol at the precise moment you finished speaking the words, and that you could confound James Randi himself and claim his million dollar prize. Changing the accent, timing, volume or intonation seems to make no difference, but changing a single syllable fails to produce wine. The simplest explanation is that the actual string of syllables is necessary.

    Strings of syllables, by the way, have no particular physical importance. They only have importance regarding minds that, once upon a time, understood the latin words used; however, now with this discovery, it is found that those latin words also have importance to water molecules. It is a case of a clearly mental event (the words present in a sentence) having a clearly nonmental effect (water into wine).

    I have very little confidence such phenomena occur, but my confidence is not zero, and I don’t think Carrier’s confidence is zero, and I don’t think Matt’s confidence is zero. The a priori probability is very tiny, which only means that we will assume trickery is involved unless there is a giant heap of scientific controls that the phenomenon successfully subverts.

    If you want to claim that philosophical (or methodological) naturalism implies that supernatural events are impossible (or unobservable), that’s fine, but note that Matt often abbreviates his opinions for brevity (he runs a 60-minute talk show with many callers!), clarifies his opinions when pressed, and sometimes changes his mind. He’s as committed to naturalism as Richard Dawkins is committed to gnostic atheism. (FYI on his “7-point scale” going from impossibility to certainty, he places himself at 6.9 or so, explicitly not at 7, reflecting a natural openness to being wrong.)

  213. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    Again, I’m taking this context according to Carrier’s definitions. My conclusion is not “supernatural things do not exist”. My conclusion is “it’s completely and utterly impossible to differentiate between the natural and the supernatural”.

    Concerning my Latin incantation example. In the hypothetical, how did you determine that we are not brains in vats, and the Latin incantation works because the programmers of the Matrix wrote a simple rule to do it? I can frame this hypothesis to be coherent, plausible, and also be completely and utterly untestable. If the hypothesis is true, then the Latin incantation is not supernatural at all. How did you come to the conclusion that 1- our observable physical reality is irreducible – is more likely true than 2- our observable physical reality is a computer simulation and we are all brains in vats?

    I don’t see how any one can make that conclusion, and as a kind-of-positivist, I also don’t really know what that would even mean. For you to be able to assert that the Latin incantation is probably natural under Carrier’s definition, you have to argue that the Matrix is less likely than the hypothesis that our physical reality is fundamentally irreducible. I have no idea how you might accomplish that except asserting it by fiat.

  214. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Typo. Fixing:
    For you to be able to assert that the Latin incantation is probably supernatural under Carrier’s definition, you have to argue that the Matrix is less likely than the hypothesis that our physical reality is fundamentally irreducible. I have no idea how you might accomplish that except asserting it by fiat.

  215. Grif says

    I did not address this earlier, but you misread the point I’d made, distinguishing a potential “ultimate reality” that may or may not be our own, from our own “objective observable reality”. I mean, a phenomenologist will disagree with the idea of realism being necessary, but we’ve already agreed that at least one reality exists and we currently only have access to the one. In this way, ontology concerns what is actually the case in this reality. If we (magically) had privileged knowledge that there is a programmer of the Matrix we are in, then ontology would then relate its questions to the Real World. Since we currently have no philosophical or empirical method by which to confirm that more than one reality is instantiated, or upon which strata ours sits, or that additional realities are logically or factually necessary, skepticism requires that we tentatively assume no others exist, and therefore ontology concerns our reality and no others, and epistemology concerns our ability to discover ontological facts.

    With this in mind, I can claim that if the latin incantation is necessary to transform water into wine, regardless of how we come to discover this, and regardless of whether this is how the world is or if this was simply programmed into the Matrix as an easter egg, the fact remains that at our level of reality, “latin words -> water to wine” is an ontological fact about the universe. An intellectually honest person will concede that a supernatural event likely occurred here, whereas a dogmatic naturalist will dig in his heels and tear apart the quantum field desperately searching for a mechanism that does not exist.

  216. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    Sorry for length.

    I mean, a phenomenologist will disagree with the idea of realism being necessary, but we’ve already agreed that at least one reality exists and we currently only have access to the one. In this way, ontology concerns what is actually the case in this reality.

    Ok. I don’t read Richard Carrier that way, but I might be wrong as to the reasonable reading, and I might be wrong about his intent. Regardless, I can use this new definition of terms.

    Under this definition of terms, I am partial to Matt Dillahunty’s response that any such argument would necessarily be an argument from ignorance.

    Arguing for the supernatural would be like arguing that the electron is indivisible. In order to argue that some thing is the supernatural with some hypothetical evidence, you would have to argue that some thing is irreducible. I know enough about the history of particle physics to know how many times physicists thought they had an indivisible particle, only to later learn that they were wrong. First atoms, then the nucleus, then protons and neutrons – wrong each time. Are we wrong this time with up-quarks and down-quarks? Maybe. I would feel a lot more comfortable if we had an actual theory that could explain everything we see – something that could marry quantum mechanics and general relativity, but we don’t even have that.

    Bringing this back, let’s suppose we found a ghost, a classic ghost as commonly described in many fictions. It’s mostly intangible: It can fly through walls and people, but sometimes it can exert force. It’s partially transparent. It has a human-like mind and it is able and willing to engage in intelligent conversion. We study the ghost for a long, long time. As I sit and think about this, how would we determine if this ghost qualifies as a “purely-mental and irreducible substance”? It’s a hard question. Perhaps the ghost’s mind is the result of processes in the ectoplasm that make up its body, exactly how the human mind is the result of processes in the flesh that make up its body. Or perhaps the ghost’s mind is not a result of the body and it exerts force on the body, just like the common notion of a human soul is that the human soul is not a result of the body and the soul exerts force on the body. I think once you realize that, then bringing up ghosts actually confuses the issue, and we’re better off dealing with humans.

    How would we go about determining if the human mind was fully or partially constituted by some purely mental substance? How would we go about determining if the human mind was something other than a mere result of physical processes going on in the brain? I’ve actually thought about this for a while. What does this even mean? I’ve actually thought about this for a while. I think what we are asking is: Is the externally visible behavior of a human brain consistent with physics? In other words, is a human body a mere physical machine obeying physical laws? In other words, is the same physics at work in rocks and stars the same physics that is in work in the human brain?

    I think that’s good enough for beginners on most questions, but I still think it’s ambiguous. What do I mean by “consistent with physics” – and what do I mean by “physics”? What do I mean by “the same physics at work in rocks and stars”? These are not trivial questions.

    I think the answer to these questions is found in materialism (which brings me back to my original assertion that the only particularly useful and meaningful definitions of these terms is “naturalism = materialism” and “supernatural = not materialism”). To make this claim, I need to carefully define materialism in a way that is close to common usage of naturalism, and which is specific enough to be falsifiable. This is a very hard task, and I am not currently satisfied with what I have currently, but I think I’m making progress.

    One of the early proponents of materialism was Baron d’Holbach. He described the whole universe as simply particles in motion, obeying simple mindless rules, like balls on a billiards table. The “matter in motion” paradigm. Obviously at one level this is incorrect – modern physics is a lot more complicated than mere elastic collisions of unbreakable particles – and that’s even before we get to quantum mechanics. However, there are certain elements of Baron d’Holbach’s description which are just as true now, and which I think underlie the one useful dichotomy between natural and supernatural. In Baron d’Holbach’s scheme, IIRC many of the indivisible particles flying around were completely equivalent and indistinguishable, except for their position and velocity. Today, even with quantum mechanics, that has not changed – an electron is the same as any other electron. It might not be a classical particle, and it might not have classical position and velocity, but even in quantum mechanics one electron is indistinguishable from the rest except according to its position and velocity (and spin, etc.(?)). IMHO another important element of Baron d’Holbach’s description is this idea of simple mindless forces. At one point, I wrongly described it as mathematically-simple pairwise forces. Unfortunately modern physics again showed a naive understanding wrong when it discovered 3-body and general n-body forces. However again, I think that there is still a truth here, that in materialism the description of the forces should be general, and the model of the active forces should not depend on the macro-state of the object. In other words, the same rules for rocks, stars, and brains. I am distinctly not satisfied with this formulation, but hopefully it makes some sense to you.

    In order to answer the question of whether the human brain is a mere physical machine, or whether there is some outside influence of some perhaps purely mental substance, we need to find violations of what I am calling materialism. We would need to construct a model for the behavior of particles in the human brain which is well-supported by evidence in the usual scientific sense. This model would then need one of two things. 1- This model would have to involve complex forces which uniquely manifest in brains and never rocks nor stars. In other words, there would have to be rules that could only be described with massively complicated math which could not be described as 2-body forces or general n-body forces. Alternatively, the observations could simply defy all of our computational power to devise a model. 2- We find that one electron is not interchangeable with another electron. We find that there are some particles in the brain which do not belong to a large reference class of equivalent particles.

    I think that either of those two observations, when rigorously supported, would be enough to convince me that materialism is false and that the human mind is not the result of material processes in the human brain. And under your new phenomenological definition of the “supernatural”: “a mental substance which is causally irreducible to any discoverable phenomena”, I will grant that this would constitute compelling evidence for the supernatural.

    But then you said this:

    If we (magically) had privileged knowledge that there is a programmer of the Matrix we are in, then ontology would then relate its questions to the Real World. Since we currently have no philosophical or empirical method by which to confirm that more than one reality is instantiated, or upon which strata ours sits, or that additional realities are logically or factually necessary, skepticism requires that we tentatively assume no others exist,

    I do not accept this claim that skepticism requires that we tentatively assume no others exist. Rather, to the contrary, that seems to be the polar opposite of skepticism. Skepticism loosely is holding the value that one should not hold a belief without supporting evidence, and what you have done is hold a belief with zero supporting evidence.

    On a purely phenomenological ground, I am very, very hesitant to adopt that position because I know how many times we’ve been mistaken about that in the past. Many times in the past, we as a society thought that we had found an indivisible particle. First it was the atom. Then the nucleus. Then the proton and neutron. Maybe tomorrow it will be the up-quark.

    In terms of just “simple common sense” approach, we just learned that all of reality is not composed of concrete matter, but instead this weird statistical wave-particle stuff that can take two paths at once. It’s completely and utterly mysterious, and at a certain intuitive level I don’t find The Matrix or “we are all apart of a sleeper’s dream” to be so far-fetched as to be in a different ballpark than the weirdness that is quantum physics.

    Now, perhaps you meant to appeal to Occam’s razor, parsimony, information theory complexity, or similar. I think this is where the real conversation lies. You might be able to take a Bayesian approach like Richard Carrier, or equivalently a Kolmogorov complexity parsimony approach, and rightly argue that the sound conclusion is to reject The Matrix hypothesis and the sleeper’s dream hypothesis on these grounds alone (information theory complexity, parsimony, Occam’s razor, etc.). I am actually unsure of my position here. Again, I remember the failures in the history of failures in particle physics concerning discovery of indivisible particles, and those failures look very much like what you’re asking me to assume here, and that is why I am very hesitant to assume that.

  217. Grif says

    If you fancy yourself a philosopher, go ahead and get your ideas published. Until then, I am treating you as a layman, like myself, and I am not interested in whether or not you personally are unconvinced. You finally seem to understand where I am coming from, after all of this difficulty, so that is enough for me. Most of the first section just seemed like sophisticated blather, not really doing any more than saying “here’s an account of metaphysics, do you like it or not? I don’t.”

    The three paragraphs regarding the phrase “skepticism requires” could have been entirely omitted since you basically gave an account for it in the form of parsimony in the fourth paragraph. Until that point, it was unnecessary pedantry because you already understood my assertion clearly.

    So in the end, I’ve got no more to say because I am now convinced you have understood my points even if you do not agree with them. I will leave you to your meditations.

  218. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    Well, I think we’re much closer now. Let me do a quick recap.

    We both agree that Matt asserts intrinsic methodological naturalism, and Matt is wrong for asserting intrinsic methodological naturalism. We both agree that pragmatic methodological naturalism is the proper approach.

    We got off on a tangent regarding “What does Richard Carrier actually believe?”. I still think you’re wrong on that topic, but no matter. The truth of these philosophical topics should stand no matter what Richard Carrier happens to believe.

    We had one last point unrelated to the earlier points. We got into a very specific but interesting technical question: “Is it possible to gather sufficient evidence to reasonably (and tentatively) conclude that some observable phenomenon X is not causally reducible to some other discoverable or observable phenomena?”. That’s your working definition of “supernatural” at the moment – right? Is such hypothetical evidence specific and well-defined – e.g. is it epistemically possible to gather such evidence? I’m not sure. You may be right when you answer in the affirmative.

    PS:

    If you fancy yourself a philosopher, go ahead and get your ideas published. Until then, I am treating you as a layman, like myself, and I am not interested in whether or not you personally are unconvinced.

    Harsh. Also smells of a fallacious appeal to authority – but no matter.

  219. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    Let me update my understanding of your definition. I missed some necessary qualifiers. Let me also clean it up a bit.
    * Supernaturalism: There is some observable mind which has no discoverable causal-reduction to some observable non-mental substance.
    Does that sound about right?

    It’s getting better. However, I still don’t like it because I don’t know what a “mental substance” is. Could we change it to the following?
    * Supernaturalism: There is some observable mind which has no discoverable causal-reduction to some observable material substance.
    I definitely like this definition better. I feel like I have a much firmer grip on what constitutes a material substance compared to what constitutes a non-mental substance (see my lengthy discussion above). Also, I can see some interesting and potentially compelling arguments that there is specific and well-defined hypothetical evidence which should convince a rational person that a particular observable mind is supernatural under this definition. I think you’re right. I’m only willing to give a weak and highly tentative agreement at this point.

  220. Grif says

    I have no evidence that you have cohered your thoughts on this issue to a degree sufficient for my standards of “this guy is interesting.” It’s not that I make a fallacious appeal to authority, again I do not take Carrier at his word that naturalism is true. I just think that his definitions are elegant and useful. When you say “I am personally unconvinced” I couldn’t give a rat’s ass.

    As an example, Massimo Pigliucci is highly interesting to listen to, but his belief in ontological anti-reductionism makes his whole project arguably absurd. And yet, because many people listen to him and respect his ideas, familiarity with his ideas becomes useful to me. The same way with preachers expounding on souls.

    Nobody follows you. You have to cohere your thoughts better if you want to hold my interest. If you don’t, that’s fine too.

  221. Grif says

    Have I directly insulted you by talking about my feelings on the matter? We had a good discussion for a short time, but my patience wore thin (again) by your failing to understand what I was actually asserting, or your asserting that the entailment of (straw men of) my assertions leads to absurdity. You eventually came to understand my points, so I’ll call it a success. I’m not going to waste any more time providing evidence that will likely not change your mind, and you shouldn’t be too concerned with changing mine.

  222. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    New video from Matt. He even references me obliquely.

    Matt Dillahunty
    Atheist Debates – Supernatural Causation
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwG7LJTTZFc

    Around 4:00 in video.

    If your view of science simply holds that it’s a body of demonstrable, reliable mechanisms that lead to correct results, then every reliable method would then be rolled into science, whether it is currently part of science or not.

    Completely agreed.

    Around 5:10

    Essentially, if it could be demonstrated that a ouija board gave consistently reliable accurate information, even if we didn’t understand exactly how or why, that would still just get rolled into the scientific method.

    Again, completely agreed.

    Around 5:35

    … but if anything could be demonstrated to consistently and reliable provide accurate and good information, it would probably get rolled as a [stutter] just another tool in the science handbag.

    Again, completely agreed.

    From around 2??

    What science makes use of is not philosophical naturalism. It’s methodological naturalism. This is why skepticism adheres to it too because skepticism is tied to science and the scientific method of inquiry. Methodological naturalism is not in any way an assertion that the supernatural does not in fact exist. It’s merely a recognition of the limits that we have when it comes to investigating the natural world and investigating something supernatural. It is a recognition that we are currently blocked from properly investigating and being able to confirm anything supernatural. It’s not an assertion that we are forever blocked.

    Bolding added.

    Here, Matt seems to hedge. However, I don’t know what that means. What is blocking us now? How are we blocked? Are we blocked like the scientists of long ago were blocked from determining the composition of faraway stars?

    There is a weird terminology issue going on, and perhaps that’s the entire cause of this (one-sided) dispute between me and Matt. I think it hinges on the specifics of the definition of the word “science”. Sometimes, Matt will define “science” as the particular methods of science which have been demonstrated to work, and sometimes Matt will define “science” as the collection of all methods which have been demonstrated to work.

    I suppose my question to Matt is: Before the discovery of spectroscopy, would be reasonable or wrong-headed to say the following? A slight rewrite of what Matt said in the quote above: “Methodological star-composition-ignorance-ism. It is not in any way an assertion that stars do not have chemical compositions. It’s merely a recognition of the limits that we have when it comes to investigating the composition of faraway stars. It is a recognition that we are currently blocked from properly investigating and being able to confirm the composition of faraway stars. It’s not an assertion that we are forever blocked.”

    That would be a very curious – and obtuse – way of putting it.

    I think the language is confusing, but if it were left at this, I don’t think I have any room for disagreement. However, Matt gives me cause for disagreement here:

    Around 5:45

    When it comes to the existence of the supernatural, we don’t have any way of investigating beyond the natural world, and I’ve often talked about the idea that if a god exists – there’s two possibilities. Either some god exists or no gods exist. Mutually exclusive positions there. And if some god exists, either it interacts with reality in some detectable way or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t interact with reality in any detectable way then it is indistinguishable from not existing. Its existence and non-existence are from our perspective identical. If in fact we’re talking about a god which interacts with reality in some way, now we’re talking about a supernatural being that causes some effect or phenomenon in the natural world.

    That’s kind of what we’re talking when we talk to many believers because while there is no demonstrated mechanism for identifying that the supernatural exists or that it is in fact the cause of something, believers are running around claiming to be little god detectors. They seem to see and think that they’re reasonably reaching a conclusion that god has acted here, god helped them find their car keys, god helped them get off the booze, god helped them win the lottery, or whatever else they want to attribute to this.

    Matt is making a classic fallacy of overgeneralization (a hasty generalization) and a category error.

    To be clear, I completely agree that the common believer who purports to be a god detector is full of shit, and his epistemological standards are bullshit.

    However, that is no more or less true than any other kind of crackpot theory, including ghosts, dousing, ouija boards, alien abductions, etc. This is the category error. Matt is confusing the category “supernatural claims” with “unsubstantiated crackpot claims”. Perhaps they’re identical a posteriori, but they’re not identical a priori contrary to how Matt argues. For example, Matt’s examples would be about as ludicrous if we replaced “god” with “aliens”, see: “Aliens helped me find my car keys. Aliens helped me get off the booze. Aliens helped me win the lottery.”, and thus it’s not specific to supernatura claims, and thus it’s a category error.

    Similarly, it’s a fallacy of overgeneralization in this instance to argue “because every bit of methodology and evidence I’ve been shown concerning the supernatural is insufficient for its conclusions, thus all methodological and evidence for the supernatural is insufficient for its conclusions”.

    At this point, the contradiction in Matt’s position is unavoidable. Let me call it out. Earlier, Matt explicitly states that if something “could be demonstrated to consistently and reliable provide accurate and good information, it would probably get rolled as a [stutter] just another tool in the science handbag”. Here, Matt explicitly states it’s epistemically possible that supernatural gods could exist, intervene in the natural world, and cause observable and detectable effects or phenomena. If so, that means some category of the epistemically possible intervening supernatural gods could produce observable and detectable effects in a regular way, susceptible to analysis, modeling, and prediction.

    Again, let me use the Thor example. Suppose we found a creature who called himself Thor, and who had the apparent ability to conjure lightning bolts from nothing by sheer force of will, and to throw lightning bolts by sheer force of will. Further suppose that he was examined with the full array of scientific instruments that we have, in the best labs that we have, performing this ability, with the best scientists from around the world and the best magicians from around the world. Suppose these observations happened once a week, and this state of affairs continued for years. Considering the model: “if I ask Thor to throw a lightning bolt, he will be able to conjure and throw a lightning bolt seemingly completely completely unaided by any tool or technology”. That model would pass Matt’s test, and it would become part of the scientific toolkit.

    Thus, here we have an example of demonstrated causation of a supernatural creature and supernatural causation. (Now, perhaps Matt would argue that we have only shown “causation” and not “supernatural causation” – more on that later.)

    This Thor example was done with conventional tools and equipment. We didn’t need to develop any new methods or tools. Thus, when Matt says that we are currently blocked from investigating the supernatural, it is not like a hypothetical scientist of a few hundred years ago who said “we are currently blocked from investigating the composition of faraway stars”. Which means Matt is wrong when he said the following quote, repeated from above.

    What science makes use of is not philosophical naturalism. It’s methodological naturalism. This is why skepticism adheres to it too because skepticism is tied to science and the scientific method of inquiry. Methodological naturalism is not in any way an assertion that the supernatural does not in fact exist. It’s merely a recognition of the limits that we have when it comes to investigating the natural world and investigating something supernatural. It is a recognition that we are currently blocked from properly investigating and being able to confirm anything supernatural. It’s not an assertion that we are forever blocked.

    In fact, we are not blocked on investigating supernatural claims. As soon as a supernatural phenomenon presents itself, such as Thor throwing lightning bolts, we have plenty of applicable tools in the scientific toolkit to be all over that.

    We are not currently blocked by limitations in our methodology or tools. Instead, we are currently blocked by a lack of supernatural things to study. Our tools are perfectly adequate for wide variety of specific testable supernatural claims, such as the “Thor the thunderbolter” claim.

    I mentioned before that one potential escape for Matt is to argue that we didn’t actually show that Thor was supernatural in my Thor example. My first counter is: Under that standard, your methodological naturalism is vacuous. It applies to nothing. Yet, I know you also gave Thor as an example where methodological naturalism should prohibit investigation into Thor, but now you (hopefully) admit that science could totally be all over the Thor hypothesis as soon as you drop the word “supernatural” from the hypothesis. You Matt are confusing yourself with methodological naturalism. There is not a single specific hypothesis which on which methodological naturalism prohibits investigation, but you think it does, and that’s why your brand of methodological naturalism is intellectually dangerous. And wrong.

    One last escape for Matt might be to argue that Thor is using technology, but he hides it well, and we are not technologically advanced enough to detect his technology. I would argue that this is solipsistic and no better than young Earth creationists who argue that fossils were put there by the devil to trick us. Second, as Matt should know well enough already, solipsistic arguments like this are irrelevant. According to our shared brand of positivism, if there is no detectable difference between a supernatural Thor the thunderbolter and a Thor the thunderbolter who does it with advanced technology, then who cares? Not me, and Matt shouldn’t care either.

    There was some bits in there where he gave some rules for demonstrating causation which are bullshit, but thankfully I think I can avoid that problem for now. In short, around 9:35 Matt argues that you need to have a reductionistic explanation to show causation, and that is simply wrong, and also contradicted by other things he’s said in this very video! I don’t know what else Matt might mean with the following bit in bold (bolding added).

    Around 9:00

    But in order to say that something is possibly the cause of something else, you need to first of all confirm that the cause that you’re going to attribute it to actually exists, and in the case of the supernatural, we don’t have a way to do that yet. The next thing you need to do is be able to confirm that the event that you want to assign as the cause can in fact be the cause of that, so you would have to demonstrate that it’s possible to flap your wings and fly; the cause of me levitating off the ground is flapping my arms. You would have to demonstrate that this is possible for one event to cause another. Then you would have to actually demonstrate some evidence to support a causal connection between the two, to show that you have the right – out of the potential causes – you’ve actually come up with the correct cause or the probable cause.

    The section in bold is simply and completely wrong. Matt needs to brush up on his Hume and constant conjunction. This is precisely what you do not need to show causation. It’s a problem of bootstrapping which is endemic to all reductionist methods. This kind of reductionist thinking eventually has to hit bottom, such as modern particle physics, where we do show causation but there is absolutely no way we can show “it’s possible one thing causes another”. That’s a complete misunderstanding of the whole philosophy of science and inductive epistemologies in general. Matt should know better.

    Matt immediately continues with:

    But having some way of calculating how likely it is that one event causes another means that you have to have a kind of past history of those events causing effects, so you could say 5 times out of 10 or 7 times out of 10 or 8 times out of 10 this is the cause of that, but we can’t confirm supernatural existence, we cannot confirm that it can in fact interact with the natural world to cause anything, and we would need to do both and then determine how often a supernatural cause is a cause of a particular event.

    Here is some more completely miserable fails in fundamental epistemology. It’s a gigantic and obvious fallacious catch-22. “You cannot show something is supernaturally caused without first starting with the odds that an event is supernaturally caused, and you cannot calculate the odds that an event is supernaturally caused without first showing some events in the past are supernaturally caused.”

    Matt needs to learn some proper Bayesian reasoning to overcome this fallacious catch-22. Again, I would suggest Dr Richard Carrier’s book “Proving History”. In short, you should start with 50-50 confidence or odds for any particular explanation being true, and as you start to accumulate evidence, then you adjust the odds in the appropriate direction. Matt immediately continues with an example of what causes a fire. Without knowing anything about the world, I should start with equal odds for 1- the fire triangle (fuel oxygen spark) and 2- fire gremlins. However, as I accumulate evidence about the world, my confidence in the fire triangle causal explanation goes up, and my confidence of the fire gremlin causal explanation goes down. That’s the proper way you solve this catch-22.

    Again, consider the ridiculousness of this position when applied to theoretical particle physics. How could we ever demonstrate some new model of particle physics to be true under this ridiculous standard? We would be faced with the same catch-22 of needing to show that the cause “is possible” which requires knowing the odds, and needing to have demonstrated prior cases to calculate the odds. I have to keep going back to particle physics because our reductionist approach to science has worked out very, very well, and the things left unexplained in today’s world is the bottom of the reductionist stack, e.g. particle physics.

    Several times Matt adamantly argues that methodological naturalism is not philosophical naturalism. Matt, you are wrong. For your brand of methodological naturalism and you brand of positivist, yes it is Matt. Yes it is. naturalism is that detectable and observable supernatural things do not exist – see my Thor the thunderbolter example – and you are the first to point out that no one should care about the difference between something undetectable and unobservable and something which doesn’t exist. The end result is that you hold that supernatural stuff does not exist or its existence is functionally indistinguishable from its non-existence. That’s philosophical naturalism.

    I really want to help Matt out, one because it’s bothering me whenever I see it (a terminaly case of xkcd duty calls), and because I know Matt would really want to know he’s fucking up majorly on epistemology and philosophy of science.

    And I cannot watch any more of this video. It’s too painful. I’d rather watch Sye.

  223. danielduran says

    One last escape for Matt might be to argue that Thor is using technology, but he hides it well, and we are not technologically advanced enough to detect his technology. I would argue that this is solipsistic and no better than young Earth creationists who argue that fossils were put there by the devil to trick us. Second, as Matt should know well enough already, solipsistic arguments like this are irrelevant. According to our shared brand of positivism, if there is no detectable difference between a supernatural Thor the thunderbolter and a Thor the thunderbolter who does it with advanced technology, then who cares? Not me, and Matt shouldn’t care either.

    Good question. Who cares? Well, I assume people who cares about truth will do it. Because if you could not distinguish between those two alternatives, nor have devised a reliable method to do so, the right answer is to say “I don’t know”, but not to assume any of both as “true” without enough evidence. Because assuming (for any philosophical but unsound reason) that ONE of those alternatives are true (and maybe not taking into account a possible third alternative not foreseen, because both may be FALSE), could lead you to accept a false belief.

    Unless you really don’t care about truth, in which case the “who cares!” says a lot.

  224. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @danielduran
    This is where positivism comes up. The Thor the thunderbolter example conclusively shows that “supernatural” is a meaningless term in the sense of positivism. I’m not claiming that Thor the thunderbolter is supernatural. I’m claiming that “methodological naturalism” has absolutely nothing to say about what kind of claims we can make and investigate regarding Thor the thunderbolter.

    IMO, it is apparent that Matt holds to more or less the same views of positivism, and so if I ever get enough of a conversation to press him on it, ideally he should adopt the same position as me on this point.

  225. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Correction:
    I’m claiming that “methodological naturalism” has absolutely nothing to say about what kinds of testable claims we can make and investigate regarding Thor the thunderbolter.

    But of course, I think we have some more basic problems, in that it seems that no amount of evidence could ever convince you that thermodynamics is wrong, which means you have a dogmatic faith belief about the purely natural world. I think we should start there rather than the harder problem of supernaturalism and methodological naturalism.

  226. danielduran says

    it seems that no amount of evidence could ever convince you that thermodynamics is wrong

    It seems you have no idea about what I and other people really have in their minds, so you start assuming funny things about what other people think or should think…

    But, don’t worry, I will not expand on what evidence would convince me, because it is pointless: I am not interested in refuting the straw man idea you have about what I think; and even if you demonstrate that what I actually think is really wrong, that is not a proof that your assertions are right.

    If you really want to demonstrate your assertion are correct, prove your points right, and just don’t waste time proving others wrong…

  227. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @daniel
    See your post 100 in this thread. Have you changed your position since then? Because your position in post 100 amounts to: no amount of evidence could ever convince you that thermodynamics is wrong.

  228. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I am not mind-reading. I am taking you at your word that you would dismiss overwhelming evidence against thermodynamics. Thus your belief in thermodynamics is not rooted in evidence, and thus it is a faith belief.

    Perhaps you mispoke. In which case it would be simple for you to clear this up. However, rather than engage honesty, you decide to be purposefully evasive, and mocking all the while. Just like Grif. Was that a sockpuppet? Or was I lucky enough just to have two evasive assholes argue with me?

    I at least have strived for complete honesty, and I have been more than willing to explain my positions, my reasoning, and to clear up any confusions.

  229. danielduran says

    Sorry, but that trick may have worked with Marty McFly… but not with me.

    Congratulations: you have striven for complete honesty, and you have been more than willing to explain your positions, your reasoning, and to clear up any confusions…

    But when you also have a proof for what you assert, then maybe it would be interesting to discuss YOUR proof, not my ideas…

    See you then.

  230. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    A proof of what? The claim that “methodological naturalism” is wrong-headed and that it prohibits investigation of absolutely zero testable claims of any kind? I presented an IMHO convincing argument to that conclusion, again, for the umpteenth time, most recently in post 237, with the Thor the thunderbolter example. Again, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I believe that I have already provided what you seemingly ask for.

  231. danielduran says

    #237 is a long tirade that tries to rebut someone else being wrong. But proving someone else wrong does not prove you right. And it lacks the form of a formal argument, so that makes that not a clear argument, less it makes it convincing.

    If you really want to make an argument, you at least already stated your conclusion clearly:

    ““methodological naturalism” is wrong-headed and that it prohibits investigation of absolutely zero testable claims of any kind”

    Great! Now, what you need is to build a clear (deductive?) formal argument that proofs you conclusion being true. For that you need to:

    1) State explicitly what your premises actually are. But not with big WoT for each one, but clear and concise ideas about what they are, so your argument would look like this:

    PREMISE 1) Naturalism is …
    PREMISE 2) If naturalism …. then ….
    PREMISE…
    PREMISE N) Etc.

    CONCLUSION: “methodological naturalism” is wrong-headed and that it prohibits investigation of absolutely zero testable claims of any kind

    Then that would really help understanding your ideas. And note your premises should be ideally true facts, not what Matt or anyone else think or is wrong about…

    2) Once you have your argument explicitly stated, you need to show that your argument is actually valid. Thus mean: why if all premises were true, the conclusion is guaranteed true. Or, in other words, if all premises were true, the conclusion CANNOT be false, because if for any other reason your premises could be all true but the conclusion still false, then your argument is simply invalid and does not fly.

    3) Once you have shown your argument is valid, then you must show each of your premises factually true. Not that you supposed something, or most of the time it may be true, but they are in fact true. If required, evidence should be provided to demonstrate so. Not only saying they are.

    4) If you have provided a formal argument, you have shown beyond doubt it is valid, and you have show all your premises are true (with evidence for that if necessary), then, you have a proof your conclusion is in fact TRUE.

    But remember, demonstrating Matt, me, or anyone else wrong is not a premise useful here…

    If you do that, even if Matt or I or anyone else is stubborn enough to _deny_ you are right about your conclusion, at least you have exposes to every other rational and thinking person the reasons to agree with you…

    If you do that.

  232. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Ok.

    The formal argument is going to make heavy references to my Thor the thunderbolter example, so let me reproduce it here.

    Imagine tomorrow where Thor the thunderbolter comes down to New York Times Square, and proceeds to seemingly conjure lightning bolts from nothing into his hand, seemingly without the aid of any technology, and to throw them, all seemingly by force of will alone. Suppose Thor the thunderbolter volunteers to undergo any and all testing that the world can throw at him, and the best scientists from around the world get as many tries as they want to investigate it. The best magicians of the world are also on hand. Thor the thunderbolter completely cooperates with these tests and conjures and throws lightning bolts on demand, again under the best scientific analysis and whatever scientific tools the scientists and magicians want to use. Full access. Suppose this state of affairs has continued for 100 years (Thor the thunderbolter seemingly doesn’t grow old either). The scientists and magicians have these conclusions:

    Thor can create localized longlasting lightning bolt in his hand, and ‘throw’ them at targets. Thus far, no test we have devised has been able to detect any sort of technology. Our tests have shown that there is some sort of causal connection between the brain state of Thor and the creation of the localized longlasting lightning bolt. Specifically, certain brain states seem to always foretell the creation of one of these lightning bolts, in a very analogous way that certain brain states in the human brain always foretell a particular movement of the human’s arm. Thus far, other humans have been able to replicate this brain state to a high degree of fidelity, but it has never conjured a lightning bolt. This ability appears to be particular to Thor.

    In conclusion, the evidence strongly indicates the conclusion that Thor has an innate ability to create localized longlasting lightning bolts and throw them by simple force of will without technology of any kind, with the same ease that anyone else can use force of will to move their arm. We currently know that there are physical processes behind a human moving their arm through force of will, signals moving along nerves. We currently cannot detect any similar physical process connecting the particular brain states of Thor and the creation of his lightning bolts.

    First attempt at a more-formal argument:

    Premise 1- The Thor the thunderbolter scenario is epistemically possible.

    Premise 2- All recurrent observable phenomena are testable, and all testable phenomena are observable. In other words, I am throwing out various forms of Last Thursdayism, Cartesian Demons, brains in a vat, and so forth.

    Premise 3- The conclusions drawn by the hypothetical scientists in the hypothetical scenario are proper scientific conclusions, based on proper scientific evidence, done by properly using the modern conventional methods of science. (Partially supported by premises 1 and 2.)

    Definition 4- “Intrinsic methodological naturalism” is the assertion that the current, modern methods of science do not work on a certain class of (sometimes) observable phenomena and causation. This class of phenomena and causation is called “supernatural”.

    Lemma 5- “Intrinsic methodological naturalism” does not apply to the Thor the thunderbolter example. This is a formal conclusion of premise 3 and definition 4.

    Premise 6- If “intrinsic methodological naturalism” does not apply to the Thor the thunderbolter example, then “intrinsic methodological naturalism” applies to absolutely zero testable claims. In other words, any honest reading of “intrinsic methodological naturalism” is that it is meant to definitely include the assertion that science cannot investigate Thor the thunderbolter. If science could investigate Thor the thunderbolter (if such a thing existed), then nothing is out of bounds according to “intrinsic methodological naturalism”.

    Lemma 7- “Intrinsic methodological naturalism” applies to absolutely zero testable claims. This is a formal conclusion of lemma 5 and premise 6.

    Premise 8- If “intrinsic methodological naturalism” applies to absolutely zero testable claims, then it is wrong-headed.

    Conclusion 9- “Intrinsic methodological naturalism” is wrong-headed. This is a formal conclusion of lemma 7 and premise 8.

    I could put in a couple more lines to “prove” how it’s also confusing and thus worse than wrong-headed (my original point). But I think this should suffice for now. I hope.

  233. danielduran says

    Well, I have to recognize that is a good effort to make the argument formal.

    But it still has several flaws to be convincing. let alone to be a proof.

    First: You haven’t shown your argument is valid.

    Second: you stated several premises, great, but simple saying things doesn’t make them facts, neither true by fiat. Therefore your argument, even if anyone simply concedes it is valid, it cannot be sound.

    For example, just asserting Premise 1 doesn’t make the scenario really “epistemically possible”; premise two simply “throws out” things, but: why? Why anyone should assume that is true?… etc.

    You have to back your premises up with something more solid than simply saying so.

    Third: there are some assertions that IMHO are not even right. For example premise 3 asserts your hypothetical scientist conclusions are “proper scientific conclusions”, but: Where are the scientific HYPHOTESIS those scientist actually tested and confirmed by scientific method? By what facts or measurements were they confirmed? Nowhere is that said, even hypothetically. What you show is some hypothetical scientist simply “reciting” some “hypothetical facts” that sound like they are still describing the hypothetical scenario. Is that scientific because “a scientist says so”, even hypothetically? No.

    Fourth: your definition 4 asserts that “intrinsic methodological naturalism” (BTW, a very narrow kind of MN posture that not all people that embraces MN even accept, a fact that even Boudry’s paper show…) simply does not work on “certain class of …”. But what that class of observable phenomena is, and which attributes makes them a failure for IMN is _never_ stated. Therefore, when your lemma 5 asserts that your IMN definition does not apply on _your_ particular scenario, there is no rational basis in the argument to know _why_ it doesn’t apply, less to confirm the truth value of your conclusion-lemma 5. Again, simply asserting “it doesn’t work” or “does not apply” without demonstrating it is a true assertion or having a concrete way to do so cannot help your argument to be correct…

    And so on…

    So, congratulations, your first attempt looks very serious from your part, but until you have a clear solid argument (a valid argument with premises known and demonstrated true), now you may understand why it is not convincing… yet.

  234. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Zero, I don’t know what your problem is.

    One, the format of the argument is “premise A, premise if A then B, lemma B, premise if B then C, lemma C, premise if C then D, lemma D, ” etc. That makes it obviously logically valid. I could put this into symbolic form and use symbolic boolean logic, the existential and universal quantifiers, etc. That’s the only next step I could possibly imagine, and you and I both don’t want to do that. If you really do want me to do that, I can. It’s going to be borderline unreadable probably, because you’re asking me to do a completely formal symbolic proof.

    PS: Have you ever taken any real college math classes? Grad classes? I have. I have a college degree in math. In most of them, the professor is annoyed if you do a completely formal symbolic proof. Generally they prefer a little bit of ambiguity in the form of some English prose in order to greatly decrease the length and greatly increase the readability. If you’re asking for that, you’re asking for something that even most college math professors would be annoyed with.

    Two, the premises of a formal logical argument are unsupported in the argument. That’s part and parcel of a formal logical argument. You asked for it, and know you’re complaining? What the hell? Generally part of the point of making a formal logical argument is to identify what premises are being relied upon, in order that one can identify disagreements regarding the premises, in order that one might construct additional arguments for those premises. That’s part and parcel of honest argument.

    Three: I thought I stated the scientific conclusion and methods used sufficiently. In order to make my point clear, let me use another analogy.

    My hypothesis is that there is no live adult elephant in my car. I look in my car, and I see no elephant. That’s evidence for the hypothesis. I weigh my car, and compare the weight to the known weight of an adult elephant and the published weight of the car by the car manufacturer. The measured weight matches almost exactly the published weight by the car manufacturer. That’s evidence for the hypothesis. I put the car in an airtight container, and I measure oxygen levels. Oxygen levels do not significantly change over time, contrary to known amounts of oxygen requirements of a live adult elephant. That is evidence for the hypothesis. Eventually, this evidence of absence becomes overwhelming, and we rightly conclude that there is no live adult elephant in my car.

    In the hypothetical Thor the thunderbolter example, the scientists are testing the hypothesis “Thor can create localized longlasting lightning bolts and throw them by force of will, without knowingly using any technology, and without actually using any technology, where technology means a tool or device constructed for a purpose.”

    They start with the first part of the hypothesis “Thor can create localized longlasting lightning bolts and throw them …”. This is easily enough to test and confirm. They ask Thor to create his localized longlasting lightning bolts. He creates them. He throws them. This is easy enough to confirm with the modern conventional methods of science. Note that we are not yet determining if he does so with technology, e.g. tools, yet. If you ask me to further explain how the conventional modern methods of science can conclude this, then you’re an asshat (which you are anyway), but there would be no further point of conversation. Quite easily, the evidence would accumulate to the point where his ability to throw lightning bolts would be as well evidenced as any other piece of modern scientific knowledge. Again, we have not yet addressed whether he is using tools to do it.

    They continue to the second part of the hypothesis “by force of will, without knowingly using any technology, and without actually using any technology, where technology means a tool or device constructed for a purpose”.

    The scientists perform all of the following tests while he is creating and throwing his localized longlasting lightning bolts. They scan him with a metal detector, an X-ray scanner, a CAT scanner, a MRI, and every other kind of scanner they can use. In every case, the results come back that he’s just a normal human being without any foreign objects implanted in him. That’s evidence for the hypothesis.

    The scientists use a massive security apparatus, far more ridiculous than conventional presidential security, to ensure that no one outside is screwing with the results. They do these experiments in many places, including in deep underground caverns currently being used for dark matter detectors, just to minimize the possibility that other agents are interfering with the results. That’s evidence for the hypothesis.

    The scientists start doing exploratory surgery and multiple biopsies, again while Thor is creating and throwing his localized longlasting lightning bolts (Thor is a nice guy, and volunteers to withstand the pain, FOR SCIENCE!). Again, the results indicate that Thor is just a normal human with no implanted foreign objects that might be tools. That’s evidence for the hypothesis.

    Eventually, with these experiments and the resulting evidence, and other experiments like these, the evidence becomes overwhelming that this one apparently human being has the real ability to create and throw localized longlasting lightning bolts, and he does so by force of will, and he does so without any technology or tools of any kind. That is the conclusion supported by the evidence. It would be a proper scientific conclusion, according to the modern conventional methods of science.

    Four: I think that the words “supernatural” and “natural” are bullshit, and they only seek to confuse us (and thus “methodological naturalism” is bullshit). The only point of this entire thread is to make that point. I cannot define the words, because I think they are undefinable, because I think the modern usage of these terms is bullshit.

    What I have done is I have taken a gold-standard example of a so-called supernatural claim: Thor the thunderbolter. Ideally, we could reach agreement that current usage of the word “supernatural” includes Thor the thunderbolter. Further, hopefully we could reach agreement that every reasonable usage of the word “supernatural” includes Thor the thunderbolter. My premise 6 is merely a statement of these assertions. As I mentioned above, the purpose of a formal logical argument is to find common premises and then attain agreement on the unambiguous results, or to find that there is disagreement w.r.t. the premises.

    If you disagree with my premise 6, then we can talk about that. To defend that assertion, my plan would be to develop an inductive proof that every single possible testable example of the supernatural is in fact susceptible to modern conventional scientific analysis. I would use the example of magic genies in bottles, the powers of gods new and old, the power of flight of pixies, the power of natural invisibility of pixies, the power of flight of will o wisps, and so forth. In every case, it’s a simple enough demonstration that they actually have their claimed powers (in the hypothetical where they exist), and it’s a simple enough demonstration that they have those powers without the benefit of technology nor tools – Although I expect you to immediately go to sophistry and solipsism to deny that point, especially because you have done so already. Any attempt to say “Oh, they’re fooling everyone on the planet for many years despite every possible test available to humanity to the contrary” is no different than saying “evolution is false and Satan put those fossils there to trick us”.

  235. danielduran says

    One, the format of the argument is “premise A, premise if A then B, lemma B, premise if B then C, lemma C, premise if C then D, lemma D, ” etc. That makes it obviously logically valid.

    Really?

    The affirmation that your argument is valid because if follows that particular formal structure is simply FALSE, because your argument DOES NOT follow that structure. Go and read it!

    The formal “format” you are asserting your argument has is a chain of MPP arguments… but in the actual argument you did, the FIRST “if A then B” just appear in the… PREMISE 6! Where are the “if A then B” structures before premise 6? Nowhere in sight. So, sorry, your real argument does NOT have the formal format you are saying, therefore you cannot simply assert it is valid by its own structure.

    Also, a conclusion is not “logical” because you (or the argument) says it is. Then when you check lemma 5, it asserts a “B” clause not mentioned before, because that clause is not the consequent of any previous premise/lemma. Then when it is simply stated “This is a formal conclusion of premise 3 and definition 4”: Where is the formal syllogism that lead to that “conclusion”? Nowhere in sight again. Therefore given the fact there is NO MPP arguments until premise 6, and no other clear syllogism at sight, simply stating “this is a logical conclusion” doesn’t prove so.

    Maybe it is a good idea you actually make the exercise of creating the symbolic argument representation for yourself, just to confirm what I showed you above…

    So, if the argument is not even valid, then discussing the actual truth value of the premises is useless.

  236. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    So symbolic form it is. Will get to it in a little. I also have no idea what you think it will help. You’re just being difficult.

  237. danielduran says

    I also have no idea what you think it will help

    Maybe if you actually read what I said, and check that against your own argument, you may realize it…

  238. danielduran says

    Also it may be interesting you consider this:

    Two, the premises of a formal logical argument are unsupported in the argument. That’s part and parcel of a formal logical argument. You asked for it, and know you’re complaining? What the hell? Generally part of the point of making a formal logical argument is to identify what premises are being relied upon, in order that one can identify disagreements regarding the premises, in order that one might construct additional arguments for those premises. That’s part and parcel of honest argument.

    If I assert that I cannot die and nothing can kill me, surely you may be skeptical about that extraordinary assertion. I could say that can proof you that what I say is true, because I could make a logical argument for it:

    (P1) If I am immortal then I cannot die and nothing can kill me. (P2) I am immortal. (C) Therefore I cannot die and nothing can kill me

    See? I created a completely valid argument (MPP). Does that now convinces you? I guess it shouldn’t because I am still far from proving that argument actually being sound. Specially premise 2, where I simply assert it, but I have provided ZERO evidence for it, right?

    So, yeah, an argument helps proving why what you posit as reasons for your conclusion actually can prove your conclusion as true. That is actually validity, but that is not all it is needed.

    That why it is not just that we have to “agree” on the premises or you could cover your unsupported premises ad infinitum for with new unsupported premises. Sooner than later you HAVE to show actual evidence or reasons to prove your premises are factually true. If you simply add more and more unsupported premises, while they remain unproven, your argument is not formally sound, and therefore your valid argument doesn’t formally prove your conclusion being true, and therefore that argument is not a proof of any kind… Period.

    Therefore, creating unsupported premises for arguments may be an intellectually challenging sport, but if you really care that the conclusion you posit is actually true, you really need something far better than simply summing up unsupported premises upon request.

  239. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Consider this fact about mathematics:
    (∀x∈ℕ)(x^2 + 2x + 1 = (x + 1)(x + 1))

    I could “prove” this from simpler premises, including the associativity of natural number addition:
    (∀x,y,z∈ℕ)((x+y)+z=x+(y+z))

    It would be foolish to ask for evidence for this premise, because the premise is not an empirical premise. In this case, it is a pure analytic statement (of second order logic). It is not empirical, e.g. synthetic.

    Definition of “testable” and “confirmable”

    Definition: (∀hypothesis)(Testable(hypothesis) ↔ (ConfirmableTrue(hypothesis) ∨ ConfirmableFalse(hypothesis)))

    In English: If a hypothesis is testable according to the modern conventional methods of science, then the method methods of science can (non-absolutely) confirm it is true, or (non-absolutely) confirm it is false.

    This is not an empirical claim, and thus asking for evidence is wrong-headed. It is a mere definition. This is what I mean by the term “testable” and “confirmable” for the purpose of this argument. In particular, I mean “confirmable” in a non-absolute, tentative sense.

    Definition of intrinsic methodological naturalism

    Definition: IMN → (∀hypothesis)(Su(hypothesis) → ¬ Testable(hypothesis))

    In English: If intrinsic methodological naturalism is true, and if a hypothesis is supernatural, then the hypothesis is not testable according to the modern conventional methods of science.

    This is not an empirical claim, and thus asking for evidence is wrong-headed. It is a mere definition. This is what I mean by the term “intrinsic methodological naturalism” for the purpose of this argument.

    Lemma: IMN → (∀hypothesis)(Testable(hypothesis) → ¬ Su(hypothesis))

    This lemma is merely replacing part of the definition with its contrapositive.

    Thor the thunderbolter

    Premise: ConfirmableTrue(Thor)

    I presented a massive amount of (hypothetical) evidence in a specific hypothetical example to demonstrate this premise.

    Lemma: Testable(Thor)

    This is a logical derivation from the definitions given above for “testable” and “confirmable”. Skipping the work. You can construct the truth table yourself. Protip: Use universal instantiation.

    IMN implies Thor is not supernatural

    Lemma: IMN → ¬ Su(Thor)

    In English: If intrinsic methodological naturalism is true, then Thor the thunderbolter is not supernatural.

    This is a direct logical derivation from “Thor the thunderbolter” and “definition of intrinsic methodological naturalism”. Skipping the work. You can construct the truth table yourself. Protip: Use universal instantiation.

    Thor is supernatural

    Premise: Su(Thor)

    In English: Thor the thunderbolter is supernatural.

    I am appealing to the actual usage of the term “supernatural”. In that actual usage, there would be a near universal consensus that the Thor the thunderbolder described in my hypothetical scenario is supernatural, and especially for our purposes here concerning intrinsic methodological naturalism.

    Intrinsic methodological naturalism is false

    Conclusion: ¬ IMN

    This is a direct logical derivation from “IMN implies Thor is not supernatural” and “Thor is supernatural”. Skipping the work. You can construct the truth table yourself.

    This rests on the potentially controversial premise that Thor the thunderbolter as described in my hypothetical scenario is supernatural. If pressed on that premise, I would have to construct a different argument. The argument would be inductive in form. I would use many examples of purported supernatural claims, such as Thor creating and throwing lightning bolts, Jesus walking on water, Jesus raising people from the dead, spirit communication, telepathy, and so forth. For each purported example of the supernatural, I would show a similar specific hypothetical scenario with specific hypothetical evidence which would conclusively (but non-absolutely) show that the phenomenon in question is real, and the causation is real, but without showing it’s supernatural one way or the other. I would then inductively generalize the argument to all members of the set of purported testable supernatural hypotheses and show that the modern conventional methods of science can test all of those hypotheses, but again without showing any are supernatural or not.

    I would need to introduce one more premise:
    (∀hypothesis)(Recurrent(hypothesis) ∧ Observable(hypothesis) → Testable(hypothesis))

    This would lead to the logical derivation:
    1- The set of actual observable supernatural hypothesis is empty, and thus IMN is wrong-headed, or
    2- IMH is false, and thus IMN is wrong-headed.

    Thus IMN is wrong-headed. Which was my original claim.

  240. danielduran says

    Wow. You may not believe it… but your symbolic argument is shorter and clearer than anything else you have said before 😀

    Now, you miss some key “definitions” that are key to understand your position, in particular:

    Definition: (∀hypothesis)(Su(hypothesis) ↔ ???

    Because you later simply say that IMN → .., Su(X) without having actually defined what do you formally MEAN by something being supernatural. And that is misleading because if everyone could think whatever they prefer about what something supernatural is… how do you think someone could evaluate your argument objectively?

    Specially when you later simply state:

    Thor is supernatural
    Premise: Su(Thor)
    In English: Thor the thunderbolter is supernatural.
    I am appealing to the actual usage of the term “supernatural”. In that actual usage, there would be a near universal consensus that the Thor the thunderbolder described in my hypothetical scenario is supernatural, and especially for our purposes here concerning intrinsic methodological naturalism.

    But, without a specific and concrete definition of what supernatural means, badly could create any consensus… when the argument allows Su(x) to be undefined…

    So, the formal definition of supernatural you are using is…?

  241. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Let’s get some things out of the way.

    Dictionaries, like dictionaries of English, are not collections of definitions. They are collections of usages. Usage is what gives meaning to words, not dictionaries.

    Further, the reductionistic nature of dictionary definitions is that the given definitions will necessarily be circular. For example, Merriam Webster online defines the word “premise” in terms of “statement”, which it defines in terms of “opinion”, which it defines in terms of “belief”, which it defines in terms of “feeling”, which it defines in terms of “thought”, which it defines in terms of “idea”, which it defines in terms of “thought”.

    The above example demonstrates another point of dictionaries – they tend to define most words in terms of qualia, or human first person experience. If you do not already know what “hot sensation” means, I cannot explain it to you in terms of anything else, because I do not understand it in terms of anything else. As a kind of positivist, the root meaning of most words is in the shared first person experience. I cannot explain to you what “hot sensation” means in terms of other words unless I get lucky and you know the thing by another name. If you do not know any word for the thing “hot sensation”, then the only way I can teach you is by finding some shared experience and giving a word to that shared experience. For example, to teach you what “hot sensation” is, I could heat some water and pour that hot water on you (burning not necessary). That would be the start of building enough shared experience to come to an understanding and agreement about what “hot sensation” means.

    My goal here is to show that “supernatural” and “natural” are confused concepts, devoid of most value, and their primary effect is to confuse us, and in particular IMN (intrinsic methodological naturalism) is a confused and wrong-headed position. I am not going to give a definition for “supernatural” and stand behind it because my very position is that there is no such definition.

    The meaning of “supernatural” and “natural” in practice appears to be a mishmash of confused intuitions. What I am willing to do is appeal to any and all of these confused intuitions, and show how every reasonable and plausible intuitions leads to a contradiction. If I can do that for every reasonable and plausible meaning of “supernatural”, then I should have completed my goal.

    Off the cuff, I think that most people would agree that Thor the thunderbolter is supernatural, whatever that means. Whatever it means is largely immaterial to my purpose, which is to show that it it leads to a confused – and wrong – understanding of philosophy of science, namely intrinsic methodological naturalism.

    I am the one making the claim: under every single meaning of “supernatural” which I’ve been presented with, IMN is confused and wrong-headed. If you want, I can detail every meaning of “supernatural” which I have encountered in the real world, and show how IMN is confused and wrong-headed under every one of those definitions of “supernatural”. Further, if you think I missed a reasonable and plausible meaning, you can bring it up, and I can repeat the exercise.

    In particular, IMHO, it appears that the common usage of “supernatural” is a completely arbitrary label which has been attached to a completely arbitrary list of things, including gods, angels, miracles, and sometimes ghosts, but not gravity, electrotism, spontaneous decay of unstable atomic nuclei, nor pigs. There appears to be little rhyme or reason why society attaches the label “supernatural” to some things and not to other things – that’s what I mean when I say that it’s a mere cultural construct with little to no relation to how real things are in the real world. It would be like inventing a word like foo, and saying that dogs and mice are foo, cats are not foo, and the moon is foo, without offering any sort of reason for the classification, and doing the classification in such a way as to defeat attempts at finding a commonality.

    IMHO, there is perhaps some commonality of things that society labels “supernatural”: The commonality is that they do not exist, but there are large segments of society which think that they do exist. Thus, “supernatural” in effect is a label for commonly held false beliefs and pseudo-science beliefs. However, it is wrong-headed to define “supernatural” in this way, and to assert IMN as true, because that’s getting the order backward. We know that ghosts, angels, and goblins do not exist because we used science – and we could not make these proper scientific conclusions if they were supernatural and if IMN were true.

  242. danielduran says

    Well, my request for your symbolic and clear cut definition for supernatural, as you boldly used it in your argument, didn’t returned from you a clear cut symbolic definition, but a big WoT… that says a lot.

    In your argument you asserted a “Su(hypothesis)” as an antecedent to “define” what “Intrinsic Methodological Naturalism” is; as a negated consequent if IMN is true; and as a premise asserting that your cherished “Thor” tale is supposedly an “Su(Thor)”. A premise. Something that have to be TRUE if your argument would have even a possibility to be convincing…

    But when you said that:

    I am not going to give a definition for “supernatural” and stand behind it because my very position is that there is no such definition

    Then all your “Su(x)” notation simple become B.S.

    If you cannot define it, you are not going to define it, and directly assert that there is no such definition for it, _ALL_ your explanation, discussions, premises and whatever _you_ could say about “supernatural” become meaningless, because undefined and undefinable things cannot be said to true or false; by your own recognition whatever you conclude from that point is therefore unsupported,.

    Now, this is really funny:

    I am the one making the claim: under every single meaning of “supernatural” which I’ve been presented with, IMN is confused and wrong-headed. If you want, I can detail every meaning of “supernatural” which I have encountered in the real world, and show how IMN is confused and wrong-headed under every one of those definitions of “supernatural”. Further, if you think I missed a reasonable and plausible meaning, you can bring it up, and I can repeat the exercise.

    So, now it happens there is not a _single_ definition of supernatural, but a lot of them?… what a funny situation for a concept that has no definition at all!

    Until you build a sound argument that address at least a single “reasonable and plausible meaning [for supernatural]” that you could explicitly plug into it then your conclusion is unsupported.

    And until you show you have completed that exercise at least ONCE successfully, simply asserting you can “repeat” the exercise is pure fiction…

    Please bring back your “symbolic” argument when you do have an argument, including a real definition for your Su(X) to work with; what you did was promising, but until that happen, there is nothing else for me to argue of discuss about undefinable concepts… bye.

  243. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    So, if I define “supernatural’ as merely “not material”, does that help anything? Are you going to ask me to define material?

    Again, do you realize the irony of asking me to define the word “supernatural” when I say that all modern usage of the word is confused and bullshit? Isn’t that a lot of like asking me to make an argument against my own position?

    Any chance you’ll pony up a definition which I could use? Sorry if you already have, but I’m feeling lazy and I don’t want to look over the thread again.

  244. danielduran says

    The irony is thinking that a concept is confused and bullshit to the point you don’t even want to defined it or even believe it has a definition… and then using it as a basis to to prove your point…

    Why should I care what definition _you_ choose? You own the burden of proof of your own argument and ideas.

  245. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Ok, I think this is a good formalism for my intended argument. I don’t need to reference Thor at all.

    I am using the acronym “IMN” for intrinsic methodological naturalism.

    1. Definition of IMN

    Definition: IMN → ¬(∃p∈phenomena)(Supernatural(p) ∧ AnalyzableByModernScience(p))

    In English: If IMN is true, then there is no supernatural phenomena which is analyzable by the modern conventional methods of science.

    Should be pretty uncontroversial.

    Lemmas:

    IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(Supernatural(p) → ¬ AnalyzableByModernScience(p))

    In English: If IMH is true, then all supernatural phenomena are not analyzable by the modern conventional methods of science.

    IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) → ¬ Supernatural(p))

    In English: If IMH is true, then all phenomenon which are analyable by the modern conventional methods of science, are not supernatural.

    2. Definition of “IMN is vacuous”

    The intent of IMN is to identify certain kinds of phenomena for which science is of no use, for which science brings nothing to the table, for which science is of no help. If this identified class of things is empty for which science is no help, then IMN is vacuous. In particular, if the set of all phenomena contains zero phenomena which are recurrently observable and not analyzable by the modern conventional methods of science, then IMN applies to no phenomena, and IMN is vacuous and wrong-headed.

    Symbolic Form: ¬(∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous

    Lemma:

    (∀p∈phenomena)( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∨ AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous

    In English: If every phenomenon is analyzable by science or not recurrently observable, then IMN is vacuous and wrong-headed.

    3. Scientism(?)

    Premise: (∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p))

    In English: Al recurrently observable phenomena are analyzable by the modern conventional methods of science.

    Seriously. If it’s recurrently observable in any way, then in principle you can make a hypothesis that you can test. This is near definitional. This is what it means to believe in the scientific method, to believe in using evidence, etc.

    4. Ugly proof by cases:

    TRUE

    X ∨ ¬X

    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    Focusing on left part of the outermost disjunction:

    Apply “scientism(?)”:

    (∃p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    Apply “definition of IMN”:

    (IMN → (∃p∈phenomena)( ¬ Supernatural(p) ∧ Supernatural(p)))
    ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    Simplify:

    (IMN → (∃p∈phenomena)(FALSE))
    ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    (IMN → FALSE)
    ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    (¬IMN)
    ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    (¬IMN) ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    Focusing on right part of the outermost disjunction:

    (¬IMN) ∨ ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    Manipulate:

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)( ¬ (RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p)))

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∨ ¬ Supernatural(p))

    Transform to an equivalent boolean expression. One can use a simple truth table approach to verify correctness:

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)[
    ( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ Supernatural(p))
    ∨ ( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    ∨ (RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ Supernatural(p))
    ]

    Conjunctions over disjunctions:

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)[
    ( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ( ¬ Supernatural(p) ∨ Supernatural(p)))
    ∨ (RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ Supernatural(p))
    ]

    Simplify:

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)[
    ( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ (TRUE))
    ∨ (RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ Supernatural(p))
    ]

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)[
    ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p)
    ∨ (RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ Supernatural(p))
    ]

    Apply “scientism(?)”:

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)[
    ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p)
    ∨ (AnalyzableByModernScience(p) ∧ ¬ Supernatural(p))
    ]

    Drop conjunction (e.g. “A and B” implies “A”):

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)[
    ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p)
    ∨ (AnalyzableByModernScience(p))
    ]

    Rewrite formatting:

    (¬IMN) ∨ (∀p∈phenomena)( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∨ AnalyzableByModernScience(p))

    Substitute IMNIsVacuous for its definition:

    (¬IMN) ∨ IMNIsVacuous

    Conclusion in English: IMN (intrinsic methodological natuaralism) is false, or IMN is vaucous and wrong-headed.

  246. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:
    If you ask me “What definition of ‘supernatural’ are you using? ” – this is my response:

    My formal boolean symbolic argument proof works for every conceivable (independent) definition of “supernatural”. It literally does not matter what definition you pick, as long as the definition does not conflict with my premises / premise definitions. In that sense, my formal boolean symbolic logic argument is the strongest it can be because it works for every reasonable definition of “supernatural” all at once. Forcing me to choose a particular definition of “supernatural” would weaken the argument considerably.

  247. danielduran says

    Sigh… now you postulate 6 expressions as premises/lemas:

    1. IMN → ¬(∃p∈phenomena)(Supernatural(p) ∧ AnalyzableByModernScience(p))
    2. IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(Supernatural(p) → ¬ AnalyzableByModernScience(p))
    3. IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) → ¬ Supernatural(p))
    4. ¬(∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous
    5. (∀p∈phenomena)( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∨ AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous
    6. (∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p))

    And the conclusion you claimed you proved is:

    (¬IMN) ∨ IMNIsVacuous

    Performing a proof by case means you have to take one expression X that is part of the argument (i.e., it is one of the 6 premises or lemmas, or at least part of it), and then assume all its possible “cases” and test if from each of those cases the conclusion follows.

    (See http://www.millersville.edu/~bikenaga/math-proof/cases/cases.html ).

    If you succeeded, you have demonstrated your conclusion follows for all possible cases of the chosen premise, and therefore your conclusion cannot be anything but correct! Congratulations!!!.

    But wait, which expression did you choose for testing its cases?

    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    And it is EVIDENT that the expression you “chose” is nowhere in all your premises and lemmas of your argument. You simply made that up.

    I think that is the ugly part of your supposed “demonstration”: you are NOT making a proof by case; you simply picked some extra expression that does not belong to the actual argument and made a funny math exercise with it.

    If you really want to proof anything, first you have to plug that magic expression you’d want to test as “proof by case” into your actual argument. Before that, you are proving nothing.

    After that, you could pick your expression X and perform a real proof by case… but if you really want to check that X, you have to test every possible value. In particular for your chosen X you have to test these EIGHT cases:

    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))
    (∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))

    Something that is COMPLETELY different to your alleged “proof”.

    I just get bored of proof reading supposedly “proof” that goes nowhere. I have enough work to do to, so I will not continue playing with each variant of your funny ideas…; sure you could post as many new proofs you want while ACA allows you, but don’t count on me to review it…

    I think you need to write a damn paper and get it publish in a math, logic of philosophy journal, and get it peer reviewed. If it passes professional peer review, your ideas may have merit…; let us know when you have something not only that you say it works as a comment in a blog, but when valid peers have confirmed so. Good luck with that, though…

  248. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    It seems that you’re not the best mathematician. Let me explain.

    A proof by cases is where you identify an exhaustive listing of casing (generally you also need to prove that the list of cases are exhaustive too), and then you temporarily assume each of the cases one by one, and derive some conclusion. If you can derive the same conclusion from all of the cases, then you have derived the conclusion.

    It’s a consequence of an even simpler form of argument. In a formal logical argument, it is common to temporarily assume a premise, and derive conclusions. The section of the proof in which you assume that assumption is called the scope of that assumption. After you have derived some conclusions, you can then end the scope. Suppose you have assumption X, and in the scope of assumption X, you derive conclusion Y. Outside of the scope of assumption X, a proper logical deduction is X -> Y.

    Anyway, back to proof by cases. One way to look at proof by cases is is that you are assuming each of the cases one by one, and deriving the same conclusion in the scope of the single assumption. Outside of the scope of your case assumptions, this means you can logically derive the following statements:
    C1 -> X
    C2 -> x
    C3 -> x

    Cn -> X
    Now, if you can also prove that
    C! and C2 and C3 and … and Cn
    then you can use simple modus ponens and derive:
    X

    This is all quite elementary.

    If you look at my proof in 261, in the “proof by cases” section, you see I merely took a different formalism. Rather than assume several case assumptions one at a time and derive X -> C and Y -> C, I did it all in one step. I started with “TRUE”, replaced that with the placeholder “X and not X” which is always true (I skipped a universal quantifier because I was lazy), and the did universal instantiation, e.g. I can replace “X” in “X and not X” with well-formed boolean expression, and I will get a true statement. That’s all I did. Then, I merely worked on the two separate parts of the disjunction (that’s an “or statement”) one at a time, which is equivalent to working in the scope of a case assumption. Again, the logic is really straightforward and quite simple. I don’t know why you’re complaining. It’s formally valid. I took the expression “TRUE”, and transformed it step by step with simple straightforward rules, until I reached the conclusion. I even annotated the “hard” steps with what rule I was using. Again, this is so verbose that a lot of my math profs would be annoyed because I showed too much work.

    Do you want me to put this into Isabelle for you and link to a save-file or something? I admit I don’t have a copy lying around offhand, so that would be annoying.

  249. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PS:

    In particular for your chosen X you have to test these EIGHT cases:

    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))
    (∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    (¬∃p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬Supernatural(p))

    You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? Do you even know what the “∃” symbol means? Do you even know the rules for moving negations over existential and universal quantifiers?

    This is laughably wrong.

    It’s a simple truth, an axiom, of basic boolean logic that: (∀x)(X ∧ ¬ X)

    Then, in a process called universal instantiation, I can drop the quantifier, and replace “X” with any well-formed boolean expression I want, and the truth of the statement remains unchanged. In particular, I can replace “X” with:
    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    That makes the following statement obviously true:
    [
    (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))

    ¬ (∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))
    ]

    If I wanted to do a proof by cases, the two subparts of the disjunction are two cases which are exhaustive.

    In English: Either there is such a “p”, or there isn’t.

    Are you even trying?

  250. danielduran says

    Truly, now I am not even trying. I have a lot of really paid work to do now, so you may publish a paper and get peer review confirm you are right, and get the credit for it.

    I’d love to see that, but by now, I am moving forward. Bye.

  251. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Hell, the only predicates are 3 unary predicates, which means a truth table approach to the entire proof would be simple enough.

    I also noticed some more of your incompetence:

    1. IMN → ¬(∃p∈phenomena)(Supernatural(p) ∧ AnalyzableByModernScience(p))
    2. IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(Supernatural(p) → ¬ AnalyzableByModernScience(p))
    3. IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) → ¬ Supernatural(p))
    4. ¬(∃p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∧ ¬ AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous
    5. (∀p∈phenomena)( ¬ RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∨ AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous
    6. (∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p))

    You do realize that 1, 2, and 3 are logically equivalent, right? Seemingly not. Similarly, 4 and 5 are logically equivalent, and you don’t realize that either. It’s kind of sad, really. I suggest you take a basic math class, specifically discrete math and some other set theory and boolean logic 101.

    peer review

    Peer review only publishes novel work, not literally what I would expect from homework from the intro course for discrete math. Replace the names of the predicates and variables with X, Y, Z, etc., and this is something straight from a 100 level college course. (200 in my particular university.)

  252. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Arguably, the Boudry paper was novel. It did a lot of novel philosophy work. Or the editors and reviewers didn’t know of a duplicate paper.

    You proposed a paper of my work, and that paper would amount to solving one problem that one would find on 200 undergrad level discrete math homework. It’s completely and fundamentally different, and it’s far more trivial. I don’t have a citation listing that is itself a page long (IIRC), and I don’t engage the substance of several peer reviewed papers on the other side.

    To the extent that my paper is novel, the Boudry paper already covers it all, and so there is no reason to publish my work. Boudry also wrote it better than I did.

    I do not understand your question or point. What is your question or point?

  253. danielduran says

    Well, simple: I am now too busy to really dedicate to this; also as I said just at the beginning of your formal argument, it looks interesting. But sure, I am not an expert mathematician, so even if I could not follow you, well, you might be right, but… as I told you, other people could take a look and find you right.

    Whatever I could say will not prove you right. You saying Q.E.D doesn’t necessarily either. But also this blog thread in a buried comment thread is probably not taking much attention (I bet people already died reading the thread…), so if you think you have a silver bullet to definitively demonstrate that IMN (your hated idea) is wrong, and you have a formal argument that proves it wrong for _every possible_ definition of supernatural, well , that sounds interesting… and not sure if even Boudry demonstrated that!

    So, if you put your idea formally and real experts could really give thumbs up to your “argument”, and experts agree that doing the tricks you did is not only clever but factually correct… well, that is much better than you saying Q.E.D, right?

    Now, I really have to do real work. Really. Good luck…

  254. Grif says

    I’d take Daniel’s advice frankly. You seem very obsessed with this argument in particular. Your efforts are being wasted ranting on a long-forgotten comment thread. Find a community of analytic philosophers and present your case to them, not us laymen, and get your conclusions published.

  255. Daniel Duran says

    Good grief! The Google OpenId disconnection makes difficult to reach here 🙁

    Well, yesterday I got some spare time. Compiling, you know

    I did study Boolean logic years and years ago, but my knowledge about predicate logic was not only outdated and rusted, but also incomplete. So I did the obvious: I read about it in some spare time I got yesterday, to refresh and replenish my mind about the topic…

    So, I realized about several things I got wrong. Thank you for pointing that out, EL; after reading about predicate logic I was able to “understand” the demonstration you did and…

    I have to recognize it. You did it, EL: you DO demonstrated with symbolic predicate logic that IMH is FALSE and IMN is vacuous. I followed your analysis, and it is mathematically perfect. Congratulation, you really master that kind of logic and math gymnastics.

    Except for some _small_ details that spoil everything.

    First: it is a fact that lemmas proposed are simply conversions from one form of the predicate to another, so your argument really has apparently only these three parts:

    P1. IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) → ¬ Supernatural(p))
    P2. “IMN is vacuous”: (∀p∈phenomena)( ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∨ AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous
    P3. “Scientism”: (∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p))

    But I realized about something funny. given the tautology:

    “¬P ∨ Q ⇔ P → Q”

    I realized that the antecedent of the conditional for “IMN is vacuous”:

    [ ¬RecurrentlyObservable(p) ∨ AnalyzableByModernScience(p) ]

    Is equivalent to

    [ RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p) ].

    And… that is exactly the “definition” of Scientism found in predicate 3, therefore predicate 2 and 3 could be joined into a SINGLE predicate:

    “(∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous”

    Therefore, the real argument has in principle only two explicitly state premises, not three:

    P1. IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) → ¬ Supernatural(p))
    P2. (∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous

    So, as the proof supposedly demonstrated two things: ¬IMN and IMNIsVacuous, the argument in practice could be split into two independent “proofs”:

    P1. IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) → ¬ Supernatural(p))
    PX: ???
    __________
    C: ¬IMN

    And…

    P2. (∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous
    PY: ???
    __________
    C: IMNIsVacuous

    So first argument could be “proof” by Modus Tollens (negating the consequence), and second could be “proof” by Modus Ponens (affirming the antecedent).

    What is the secret sauce for PX and PY that makes that magic?

    Let’s start for the first argument. The ‘demonstration” assumed this premise as TRUE by fiat:

    PX: “(∃p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) ∧ Supernatural(p))”

    Ergo, this assumption or implicit premise PX makes both “AnalyzeByModernScience(p)” and Supernatural(p)” TRUE by fiat for some phenomena “p”. Necessarily follows that ¬Supernatural(p) is FALSE.

    Replace both values in the in P1, and you simply get

    IMN → (∀p∈phenomena)(AnalyzableByModernScience(p) → ¬ Supernatural(p))
    → (T → F) — Replacing PY “premise”
    → F — Implication definition
    ¬IMN — Modus tollens

    The argument becomes simply this: IMN implies that if it is analyzable, is not supernatural; there are things analyzable and supernatural (contradiction). Therefore IMN is false.

    Q.E.D? Well, what is funny is that the “demonstration” not only doesn’t depend on any supernatural definition at all… But also the “proof” is shallow; it is mathematically correct, because simply contradicts IMN “definition” because it says so. Does that prove something? Not in my opinion.

    What about demonstrating “IMNIsVacuous”? As I mentioned the condition antecedent _is_ the definition of “Scientism”, so the argument goes from:

    P2. (∀p∈phenomena)(RecurrentlyObservable(p) → AnalyzableByModernScience(p)) → IMNIsVacuous
    PY: ???
    __________
    C: INMIsVacuous

    To

    P2.”Scientism” → IMNIsVacuous
    PY: ???
    __________
    C: INMIsVacuous

    So, just assert PY as “Scientism” is undeniable true, and by Modus Ponens, IMN is “vacuous”. Without using any definition of supernatural, without defining anything. Simply asserting it…

    Mathematically correct, for sure. Convincing? No.

    The original “demonstration” could be mathematically perfect. But now I see the proofs are totally unconvincing.

    Thank you, EL. You helped me to correct a lot of misconceptions and to learn (and remember) a lot of things. But I now agree with you that your “demonstration” has not too much merit to be an actual publication.

  256. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Grif
    So… What is your point, exactly? That I’m “taking it too seriously” … for my health? For my well-being? Will a raptor leap out of nowhere and eat me if I pursue this further?

    @Daniel Duran
    Sure. You can always combine premises into a single boolean expression. I kept them separate in order to match IMHO common precepts in philosophy, such as that particular variant of scientism. I don’t like the word “scientism” because it means different things to different people. I do like the idea that if some phenomenon happens repeatedly, e.g. is recurrent, then you can do science on it, no matter what that phenomena might me. That’s just what science is. That’s what it means to be a rational.

    In loose English, my argument simply is:
    1- Science works on all recurrently observable phenomena.
    2- Either there is a recurrently observable supernatural phenomenon, or there isn’t.
    3- If there is a recurrently observable phenomenon, then science can work on it, and IMN is false.
    4- If there is no recurrently observable supernatural phenomena, then IMN is never applicable, and IMN is useless and vacuous. “Supernatural” and IMN become merely placeholders for testable and the testability criterion.
    5- Thus, IMN is false, or IMN is useless and vacuous.

    PS:
    @Grif
    @Daniel Duran
    Fuck both of you guys for saying that I need to get my stuff published before you’ll take it seriously. You both here are arguing without having stuff published yourself. Fucking hypocrites. Also, who has been posting links to academically-published peer-reviewed articles? You guys fucking haven’t been. I have, i.e. the Boudry papers up-thread, which have citations to many, many other relevant papers. So seriously, fuck you both and your pomposity.

    I have no idea why I’ve engaged even this far when both of you have been flagrantly dishonest for large portions of the discussion, i.e. Daniel saying I’m wrong but often explicitly stating that he will refuse to explain his own position. I’ve had to school Daniel on basic math (boolean predicates and expressions), on basic epistemology and science (the need to do hypothetical reasoning in order to do science, see my comments in post 133), and yet Daniel still acts that he’s in the same league as me. Again, fuck your shit.

    You can expect civility as often you give it to me. And no, civility is not hiding behind nice words. If you are going to pretend to know shit when you most obviously don’t (200 level math for example), and going to be raging hypocrites (demand I get peer reviewed when you don’t apply the same standard to yourself), and going to willfully ignorant in your hypothetical to the point of dishonesty (pretending I didn’t cite peer reviewed material, even though I have many times in this thread to back up all of my points), then you don’t deserve shit from me, nor anyone else.

  257. Daniel Duran says

    Well, after so elocuent closing, and to make a kind of remedy to my lack of “academically” blessed links… I could at least cite some savvy words from Arthur Schopenhauer, from his “Last Stratagem”, as he wrote it in his work “The Art of Controversy” (1830):

    Last Stratagem
    A last trick is to become personal, insulting, rude, as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand, and that you are going to come off worst. It consists in passing from the subject of dispute, as from a lost game, to the disputant himself, and in some way attacking his person. It may be called the argumentum ad personam, to distinguish it from the argumentum ad hominem, which passes from the objective discussion of the subject pure and simple to the statements or admissions which your opponent has made in regard to it. But in becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack to his person, by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. It is an appeal from the virtues of the intellect to the virtues of the body, or to mere animalism. This is a very popular trick, because every one is able to carry it into effect; and so it is of frequent application. Now the question is, What counter-trick avails for the other party? for if he has recourse to the same rule, there will be blows, or a duel, or an action for slander. It would be a great mistake to suppose that it is sufficient not to become personal yourself. For by showing a man quite quietly that he is wrong, and that what he says and thinks is incorrect — a process which occurs in every dialectical victory — you embitter him more than if you used some rude or insulting expression. Why is this? Because, as Hobbes (Elementa philosophica de Cive., chap. 1, Omnis animi voluptas, omnisque alacritas in eo sita est, quod quis habeat, quibuscum conferens se, possit magnifice sentire de seipso) observes, all mental pleasure consists in being able to compare oneself with others to one’s own advantage. — Nothing is of greater moment to a man than the gratification of his vanity, and no wound is more painful than that which is inflicted on it. Hence such phrases as “Death before dishonour,” and so on. The gratification of vanity arises mainly by comparison of oneself with others, in every respect, but chiefly in respect of one’s intellectual powers; and so the most effective and the strongest gratification of it is to be found in controversy. Hence the embitterment of defeat, apart from any question of injustice; and hence recourse to that last weapon, that last trick, which you cannot evade by mere politeness. A cool demeanour may, however, help you here, if, as soon as your opponent becomes personal, you quietly reply, “That has no bearing on the point in dispute,” and immediately bring the conversation back to it, and continue to show him that he is wrong, without taking any notice of his insults. Say, as Themistocles said to Eurybiades — παταξον μεν, ακουσον δε (Strike, but hear me). But such demeanour is not given to every one. As a sharpening of wits, controversy is often, indeed, of mutual advantage, in order to correct one’s thoughts and awaken new views. But in learning and in mental power both disputants must be tolerably equal. If one of them lacks learning, he will fail to understand the other, as he is not on the same level with his antagonist. If he lacks mental power, he will be embittered, and led into dishonest tricks, and end by being rude.

    The only safe rule, therefore, is that which Aristotle mentions in the last chapter of his Topica: not to dispute with the first person you meet, but only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to cherish truth, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong, should truth lie with him. From this it follows that scarcely one man in a hundred is worth your disputing with him. You may let the remainder say what they please, for every one is at liberty to be a fool — desipere est jus gentium. Remember what Voltaire says: La paix vaut encore mieux que la vérité. Remember also an Arabian proverb which tells us that on the tree of silence there hangs its fruit, which is peace.

  258. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    So yes, you are going to pretend that you’re being civil, and I’m not. Pull your head out of your ass. There are other ways to be rude rather than using dirty words or name-calling. You’re like William Lane Craig – a dishonest shit in a suit who hides behind niceties while being blatantly dishonest.

    Again, you are welcome to become a reasonable person by agreeing to the following and sticking to it:

    – You will agree that I gave links to proper, respectable, academically published, peer reviewed papers in support of my position.

    – You will agree that that it is grossly unreasonable to demand that I get my ideas academically published before you take them seriously, when I have already provided an academically published paper which makes the same points which I do. Admittance of error is expected, and an apology too.

    – You will agree that you will not pretend to know things that you do not. For example, 200 level boolean logic, boolean math, and basic discrete math. Again, an admittance of error is expected, and an apology too.

    – You will agree that if another honest person in the conversation asks you to clarify your position, the onus is on you to explain and clarify your position with a reasonable amount of effort and in such a way that the other person will understand. There is no onus on you to continue the conversation if you do not want to, but as long as you choose to continue the conversation, the onus is on you to explain your positions clearly.

    With that in mind, I again ask you to clarify your position w.r.t. some of my remarks in post 133 – Are you dogmatically wed to thermodynamics? Would the hypothetical evidence I gave be convincing that thermodynamics is wrong – or at least incomplete? (Reminder: a box that produces seemingly endless amounts of water, examined by every scientist and magician on the planet, in every lab on the planet, etc., and this state of affairs continued for a century.) I find it hard to fathom stronger hypothetical evidence. Can you imagine stronger hypothetical evidence? If you cannot, can you honestly state that your belief in thermodynamics is falsifiable? Is your belief in thermodynamics falsifiable? If your belief in thermodynamics is not falsifiable, is not “dogmatic” the proper word to describe that kind of belief?

    PS:
    Again, fuck you.