The godless are getting rambunctious

We’re getting rude, we dare to criticize the theistic evolutionists, and now Ophelia has done gone and poo-pooed the distinction between methodological and metaphysical materialism. I love it! Rise up, all ye fierce and firebreathing atheists!

Much as I’d enjoy the squeals of agony from the usual protesters, I’m going to suggest that you might be better off arguing over it at Ophelia’s. I’m doing a bit of traveling over the next two days, my access to the net might be spotty, and so I’ll probably be slow to approve any comments that our annoying spam filters might hold up.


  1. MYOB says

    What has really annoyed me about this concept that because ‘god’ is so powerful he doesn’t register to our senses or the material world, thus he cannot be detected, measured, and/or studied.
    But how then does he interract in our world? Supposedly Moses heard his voice, that would mean a signal or some kind that went from ‘god’ to Moses brain.
    This is physical interraction and can be measured.
    If we fail to do so now it’s because we lack the precision instruments with which to do so.
    The claim of those seeking to remove the existence of god from doubt is just a runaround of the rules they expect us to obey.
    It’s like saying ‘god’ can go swimming without getting wet. He still has to wade or paddle, and swing his arms around doesn’t he? How does he tread water?

    The more I hear this the more I realize that these people cannot be trusted(as if we thought they ever could be) when it comes to a fair argument. But if they intend to break the rules, play Calvin ball and move the goal posts, then we can break the rules as well. Expecting us to play fair when they’ve rigged the game makes no sense. Then again not making sense is what they do best.


  2. eric taylor says

    I agree with Ophelia. There’s no reason not to subject God to science. In fact, we do subject god to science, one of the latest studies being Benson’s heart disease and prayer study. Of course there was a null result, but science is filled with good science that prove what we already suspect. I see no reason not to continue to do experiments which assume that god exists, and subject god’s existence to experimental tests.

    Even Richard Feynman went and visited Uri Geller one day . . .

    “I, of course said yes, indeed, I would be interested. I told him, I think the laws of physics are supposed to describe all phenomena, and I don’t see how Geller can do those things, according to the laws I know. So if it’s demonstrable, then it means I don’t know all there is to know in the directions that I think; I know, and therefore it would be interesting to me.’ Of course I’ve lived a long time, and what I said was a little bit what you would call dissembling. I dissembled slightly. You see, I had been through a lot of experiences, and I knew that time and time again these things don’t work. I had read a lot of stuff about extrasensory perception, and studied what was known, because it was very interesting to me, but it always ended up in tawdry nothing. So I had every expectation that this was just some kind of a trick. But I’m still very interested; I mean, I’d like to see how he does it, for the fun of it. So I said, ‘Yes, I’d like very much to meet Uri Geller.'”

    I admit I don’t know the difference between methodological and metaphysical materialism, but to tell the truth those are philosophical terms and philosophers are some of the most unscientific people at the university, right up there with english majors.

  3. Scott Hatfield says

    I dropped this on the other blog, and I’ll leave this here as well with the same disclaimer…I’m going to take a stab at this. Feel free to (ahem) stab me back, I’m a big boy and I can take it.

    First of all, while it is certainly correct that claims about God are ‘truth claims’, it doesn’t follow that these are the sort of claims which science can examine. In fact, I would argue that here ‘truth’ is spelled with a capital ‘T’ by those who believe; it’s inherently an article of faith— “I am the Way, the Truth, the Light,” etc.

    Conversely, science does not really offer Truth in that sense, because its’ levels of generalization (hypothesis, theory, law) are always held provisionally—subject to modification. Our ‘truths’, it seems, are definitely of the ‘lower-case’ variety. (BTW, A good litmus test for when a scientist is straying into metaphysics is a curious tendency to capitalize words that otherwise might not be capitalized)

    In that context, ‘methodological naturalism’ proposes testable claims based upon the presumption of natural causes and the data accumulated via that strategy is held to be provisionally ‘true’, whereas an extreme version of ‘metaphysical naturalism’ would make dogmatic, entirely non-provisional claims along the lines of “Nature is Truth, and all that is True is Nature.” (note the capitals)

    Now, methodological naturalism excludes supernatural explanations; in that sense, theological claims ARE irrelevant to the business of DOING science. But, when (as will inevitably happen) the implications of our work are explored, the MEANING of science, then the theological claim becomes germane to discussion, even if its’ relevance is simply a case of “this supposed truth claim has been falsified”, as in geocentrism, spontaneous generation, etc.

    At any rate, if you can remember that methodological naturalism implies provisional acceptance while metaphysical naturalism implies dogmatism, you’ll be able to know when theology is relevant.

    And this isn’t the same thing, by the way, as saying that science can’t say anything about religion! Scientists can make scientific claims about religion all they want to. We are completely free to critique faith-based claims by appealing to natural causes and proposing (provisionally) alternate explanations based on those causes–and, as a rule, when we can, we should. But our method doesn’t permit us to make claims about the Supernatural itself, even negative claims, because then we are in the awkward position of speaking non-tentatively about what we will never be able to test–and that just isn’t science, in my estimation.

    For example, as a personal matter I think string theory is a dud, partly because it seems impossible to distinguish any version of the theory as being better than another, partly because even if you arbitrarily choose one version, it appears to be nigh impossible to test.

    But, if I dogmatically claim that ‘string theory will never be able to test any of its claims’, I’ve gone too far. In a very real sense I’m not giving the scientific method itself the benefit of the doubt, you might say.


  4. says

    einstein said something to this effect:
    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

    Wovoka (Pauite indian) said:
    “Grandfather says…you must not hurt anybody or do harm to anyone. You must not fight. Do right always. It will give you satisfaction in life.”

    an elder’s medition on wovoka is this:
    The question one should ask themselves is: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? If you want to be right, this is a request from your ego. If you want to be happy then this is of the Great Spirit. The only meaning anything has is the meaning we give it. Maybe we should develop a philosophy of: Today is the last day of the rest of my life. If this were true, how easy it would be to let things go – how easy it would be to forgive.

    i say:
    believe what you want…if it isn’t harming yourself or others then what the hell.

  5. G. Tingey says

    At the risk of repeating myself, and echoing “MYOB” ……

    If god has any influence at all in the real world, then he/she/it/they are subject to rational and scientific enquiry.

    So, here are:

    A set of testable Propositions

    1. No “god” can be detected – OR – God is not detectable
    2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    3. All religions have been made by men.
    4. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.

    What do those religions (including Marxism) actually DO?
    How are they structured?
    Never mind what they claim – what are their real, testable parameters?

  6. Corkscrew says

    believe what you want…if it isn’t harming yourself or others then what the hell.

    The problem, of course, is that the borderline between harmless and harmful religious beliefs is quite impressively fuzzy. Is it harming you to drop a few quid in the collection plate? What about when the church goes cultish and manages to convince you to invest in new silver candlesticks? Is it harming others to believe that salvation is yours if you live as God asks? What if your fundie friends manage to convince you that God asks us to hate fags?

    Most religion is, to use the old expression, potato chips for the mind. Not terribly damaging, right up to the point where you have a heart attack.

  7. Corkscrew says

    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.

    Counterexample: the Quakers. And I’m really not sure how testable the other propositions are – how do you test an historical event (other than by finding new historical records)?

    Also, it’s a bit off calling Marxism a religion. It’s a dogma. Dogma + spirituality = religion.

  8. ChrisM says

    > A set of testable Propositions

    These are NOT all testable.

    > 1. No “god” can be detected – OR – God is not detectable
    There may be a god that is detectable, that merely has not been detected.
    >2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    This is a value judegment rather than a testable proposition
    >3. All religions have been made by men.
    This is not testable. We have no way of knowing. It is an assertion.
    >4. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    Tell that to anyone caught up in a religiously motivated bombing.
    >5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
    Religions do none of these things. Adherants do.

    This is not to say I disagree with the things you are saying. They are however either not testable, or not propositions.

  9. ChrisM says

    “>4. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    Tell that to anyone caught up in a religiously motivated bombing.”

    Ok I misread that, I thought it said Religion has no effect on third parties.
    Even so, it is still not really a testable proposition. People would disagree with whether a pray had in fact been answered. The religiously minded are adept at explaining why so many prayers go apparantly unamswered. (Eg god gives you want you need, not what you want. This excuse does for just about anything).

  10. G. Tingey says


    1.No “god” has been detected yet.
    It is testable, because the moment any god is detected, the proposition has been falsified.
    2. NOT blackmail?
    No fear of everklating hell at all, no judgement in the afterlife? No fear of the religious police, or the NKVD, or the inquisition?
    I suggest you have got your eyes shut.
    3. Possibly an assertion. OK – prove me wrong, and find one that wasn’t.
    In the meantime the proposition remains unfalsified….
    4. Learn to read, please. I said PRAYER.
    Bombing, motivated by religion is manifestly not prayer. It is in fact, a form of the abovementioned blackmail.
    And I believe tests sre being made again – and surprise (!) so far no effect has been observed – the proposition remains unfalsified.

    Oh, and Marxism is closely modelled on the RC (and to some extent the Orthodox) church.
    Complete with propaganda, the demonisation of deviant sects, the splits and schisms, the persecution of said deviants, and most importantly.
    The holy word – which differs as to whether you are a follower of MArx only, or Stalin, or Mao, or … (Kim Il-sung) and also killing the opposition to make a better world – a trick the catholic learnt first, since copied by eveyone else.

    BTW – I have since found out that Bertrand Russel, no less, classified Maexism as a religion, and therefore would have nothing to do with it.
    5. Perhaps thier adherents do this, but why should one not blame the religion, particularly if it says: “kill the ubliever/heretic” – and they do.

  11. Silmarillion says

    Even so, it is still not really a testable proposition. People would disagree with whether a pray had in fact been answered.

    There have been some studies done of the efficacies of prayer. This one in particular looks at praying to reduce complications after heart surgery:

  12. poke says

    But how then does he interract in our world? Supposedly Moses heard his voice, that would mean a signal or some kind that went from ‘god’ to Moses brain.

    Right. Now take this a step further. If we accept the results of science – that we’re biological creatures, that we evolved, etc – we’re led to an additional conclusion, that ideas, concepts, etc, are either about the physical world or they’re spontaneous psychology constructions. There can be no third category, of transcendent ideas, ideas that come from an external realm, or whatever; the results of science rule out those possibilities. That means that the statement “God exists” is either about the physical world (and is false) or is a spontaneous pyschology construction (and is false). It cannot refer to a “supernatural realm” without some sort of interaction taking place between that realm and ours. (Any theory of reference that allowed you to refer to a “supernatural realm” would have to presuppose that realm, since it would itself be extra-physical, so it’s difficult to see how you can escape this conclusion.) So methodological and metaphysical naturalism are equivalent.

  13. Xanthir says

    Woo crossposting!
    quote wamba:

    “The realm of theology which does not overlap science is the realm of unverifiable claims.”

    This is the big thing. Afaict, every claim of every religion falls into one of two camps:
    1) Scientifically verifiable (and thus falsifiable, by the same coin).
    2) Stuff that can be answered just as cogently (if a bit more ridiculously) by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Some statements fall into both camps, depending on which part you are looking at. For example, the claim that a natural disaster hit a city because of some god’s anger at some group (pick any disaster, city, god, and group – it’s fairly likely the claim will have been made about it) has a testable component and an FSM component.

    The testable component is this: Is this group/sin that caused the wrath more prevalent now than before? Is it more concentrated at that particular point than at another? Assuming the god is rational in its wrath, one must assume that it would strike where it would do the most damage and make the greatest impression.

    The FSM component is this: What group/sin is the god mad enough about that it would do this? One god may say infidels, another may say homosexuals, yet another may say lack of pirates. There is no testable way to determine which explanation is correct, and thus *any* explanation is as good as another.

    If someone could come up with a religious claim that didn’t fall into one of these two, I’d be very interested.

  14. George says

    If someone could come up with a religious claim that didn’t fall into one of these two, I’d be very interested.

    God exists.

  15. windy says

    How is “God exists” different from “The FSM exists”? That claim falls right into the second category.

    Any additional qualifiers will just bring your claim closer to the first category, as far as I can see.

  16. George says

    How is “God exists” different from “The FSM exists”? That claim falls right into the second category.

    My God does not fly.

  17. Dilireus says

    If god exists, then why is it that the only way people come to know about him is by having someone else who “knows” of god’s existence explain it them? People who aren’t indoctrinated into the way of god aren’t aware of his existence or have any clue that he might be lurking somewhere behind the scenes. If he is there, he sure is a sneaky bastard. I don’t know about anyone else, but if I were an omnipotent being, I’d make sure everyone knew the deal. We’re talking weekly press conferences. And you break one of my commandments? Zap! I’ll fry your punk ass.

    It is only by word of mouth that we find out about god. The only “proof” of god’s existence comes from a single book. Why this book is any more valid or truthful than Greek mythology is beyond me. This single book was written by people who not only spoke a language that isn’t used any longer, but who also had a vested interest in other people believing everything they claimed. Furthermore, this book was not written at the time of the events it describes; it was written long afterward. For example, look at the book of Genesis. Nobody was taking notes while all of this supposedly happened. So where did this information come from? How do we know about Adam and Eve? Was there a Fox News journalist hiding behind a fig tree documenting events?

    Look at how stories are passed by word of mouth: someone observes an event and passes the news onto someone else. Everyone telling the story takes poetic license when they retell it. After a short time, the resulting story doesn’t come close to matching the original event. Imagine this happening over hundreds or thousands of years. Even assuming that the stories are based on actual events, how close to the original do you suppose the written version is? Now factor in the numerous translations that have occurred. Christians love to talk about the virgin Mary, but in the original language the word used for “virgin” also meant “girl”. This is what the immaculate conception is based upon. Which is the correct translation? The virgin story makes for better press, so it was the translation selected.

    We can’t even all agree on events that happened ten minutes ago, never mind a thousand years. This gives me a headache. I need a large dose of science.

  18. windy says

    My God does not fly.

    And how do you know? :)

    If this is the Biblical God we are talking about, isn’t he supposed to be omnipotent? Can’t he fly? Or does he choose not to? Then why can’t the FSM be this God that chooses not to fly, since the FSM works in mysterious ways?

  19. T_U_T says

    I see, george is a true literalist :-). His next claims will most likely be “My God has no spaghetti” and “My God is not a monster”

  20. George says

    Then why can’t the FSM be this God that chooses not to fly, since the FSM works in mysterious ways?

    I was going to say my God invented spaghetti, and therefore invented the FSM, but that won’t work.

  21. Hal says

    Time to stop evading first principles. What, exactly, is a god– or gods? How can theology be taken seriously without defining coherently what it purports to analyse? Religion I can understand, largely as human enterprise. But try getting a definition of god on the table that doesn’t rapidly become absurd on its face.

  22. windy says

    I was going to say my God invented spaghetti, and therefore invented the FSM, but that won’t work.

    Someone of little faith might say that spaghetti and meatballs are human inventions, and therefore could not have been present at the beginning of the universe. As opposed to… uhm… a bearded old man?

  23. George says

    My God does not fly.

    And how do you know? :)

    You have evidence, apparently, that FSM flies. Where is it?

    Until you can show me the evidence, I’m going with my abstract, non-flying, gluten-free God.

  24. says

    Scott Hatfield: How does metaphysical naturalism imply dogmatism?

    –re: the other parts
    And some all-powerful god, if she’s not maximally spaghetti-y.

  25. George says

    You have evidence that your god is gluten-free? :) Where is it?

    How about this?:

    My God has every attribute there is: glutinous, gluten-free, flying, non-flying, montrous, non-monstrous, etc., therefore, My God is not the FSM and is the FSM.

    So “stuff” can and cannot be answered just as cogently by the FSM.

  26. Dilireus says

    “My God has every attribute there is: glutinous, gluten-free, flying, non-flying, montrous, non-monstrous, etc., therefore, My God is not the FSM and is the FSM.”

    Ever notice how people defending their religion sound like kids who change the rules of the game they’re losing?

  27. eyelessgame says

    This is similar to what I posted there, with a bit more caffeine involved.

    I believe that language like “non-overlapping” is demonstrably and testably a more effective way to communicate with folks who are committed to their religion and who consider themselves reasonable, intelligent people.

    In other words, to a committed atheist, this language can be seen as strictly politics. It becomes a way to pretend there is common ground: there is the world out there, which we both agree on, and then there is the world inside your head, where you have God. I will call the world inside your head a ‘non-overlapping reality’ because otherwise you will shut me out and refuse to listen to me.

    To others, it’s in fact what they believe, because they are themselves committed to their religion, and consider themselves reasonable, intelligent people.

    It is how one maintains both religious faith and scientific understanding. It is admittedly nonrational.

    Now here’s the thing. If you look at the political Right and the religious Right, they’re very good at slowly moving the terms of debate. They try to get the listener to move one step: if you are a committed rationalist, they want you just to accept the possibility that a god is out there. If you’re agnostic, they want you to step towards christianity by understanding that their religion has traits X, Y, and Z that other religions don’t. If you’re a salad-bar Christian, they want you to start examining the inherent nonrationality of “sort of” believing. And so on.

    I really think “non-overlapping realities” can be used effectively, to move religious people (those same salad-bar Christians) toward a more secular and rationalist perspective. If you just tell them they’re idiots for being religious, that’s as ineffective as a fundie telling an atheist he’s going to Hell.

    IF we force religious-but-skeptical people to choose, there is grounds for pessimism that too many will choose religion over science, because they are one day going to die. It is hard to get over the fear of oblivion.

    (Counting on people to choose religion over science is precisely what ID does. Theistic evolutionists can believe they’re intelligent design advocates because of the way it’s presented to them.)

    I go back and forth over whether this political phraseology is good or bad, though, because ultimately it’s dishonest. In my personal life I don’t have a real choice, because I am married to someone who is committed to her religion, and considers herself a reasonable, intelligent person. But on balance I don’t think it’s worse than what evangelical proselytism does: they do whatever they can to bring people to the “truth” as they see it.

  28. George says

    Dilireus, I am not defending religion, I’m just trying to get to the botton of Xanthir’s claim above:

    …every claim of every religion falls into one of two camps:
    1) Scientifically verifiable (and thus falsifiable, by the same coin).
    2) Stuff that can be answered just as cogently (if a bit more ridiculously) by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  29. says

    corkscrew i think you answered your own questions. now look at the aspects that aren’t harmful. i refer in particular to ‘indigenous religion’, our beliefs having been categorized as such. yet we have no word for religion in our languages. the old saying is ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’. this may give a better understanding of the control and power religion exerts as one of the major pillars.

    as a general question to all, what about quantum physics here? and where are we drawing any lines between spiritualily and religion, if at all?

  30. says

    AIUI Buddhism is more about bribery than blackmail, if such terms must be applied. The suffering to be avoided is the everyday suffering of this life, and the promise is the cessation of suffering, attained through various practices — also in this life! Of course there are lots of varieties of Buddishm, and I think I’m talking more about the original form than some others, which brought in reincarnation and demons and ritual acquisition of merit (vs. a program of meditation and contemplation) and such.

    Hinduism has the ‘blackmail’ of karma, of reincarnation as a lower/higher lifeform based on your actions. No everlasting hell, though. No Inquisition, either.

    AFAIK most religions have their consequences play out in this life. You say blackmail, they’d say cause and effect. Superstition, flawed observation of reality, yes. Blackmail? Enh.

    Christianity is not a good model for all religions.

  31. Steve_C says

    This guys seems like a fairly fairminded person (if not a little inconsistent but what religious person isn’t?), yet…

    He thinks there’s scientific proof of god. And that the flaw with the big bang theory is get this… It doesn’t include god. Uhg.

  32. Steve_C says

    Nevermind. Demented Fuckwit.

    “This proof unifies the fields of science and theology. As a result of my book, major changes can be expected throughout the world. Since my book on ‘The First Scientific Proof of God’ is about an eternal God and His universe, I am expanding, clarifying, and teaching the idas in this proof of God with this blog. I expect these blogs and the related blogs of other people to be detected by Jesus Christ and those higher intelligent humans who already live on other planets.”

    Jesus is apparently reading blogs now. Wonder if he has a Dell or an Alienware. ;)

  33. Kagehi says

    Bah.. You’re all clueless. Reading the Godchecker site I came to a conclusion. See, in Japan their is a God/Goddess names Inari. He/She has an alternative spelling, Inara. In Middle Eastern religion there is a female Goddess names Inara. Therefor this “must” be a real god, since I figure she got fed up with all the stupid El/Yhwh BS, went to Japan, started cross dressing to prevent Hannahanna’s magic bee finding her and became a lesbian (supposedly having a wife in Japan, though I personally think that’s totally made up). But it does explain why Japanese legends are a bit vague as to if Inari is male or female…

    Unfortunately the Godchecker site is missing the info on Inari’s cross dressing and has failed to make the obvious connection. But she is real I tell you! How else do you explain white foxes!?!?

    See, I can make up BS too. And I can find justification for it, even in the same regions religions that produced the Xian religions. Big deal. lol

  34. windy says

    , in Japan their is a God/Goddess names Inari. He/She has an alternative spelling, Inara. In Middle Eastern religion there is a female Goddess names Inara.

    And in Northern Finland there’s a Lake Inari. Not to mention more white foxes. Coincidence? I think not!!1!!!!

  35. George says

    And if you take the “a” out of inari you get INRI, and we all know what that means: IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM.

    Coincidence? Not a chance!!!!

  36. Koray says

    It depends on what kind of God one is speaking of. You can mean a God that may logically exist, but cannot be perceived in the physical world. Of course, it’s quite difficult to talk about with such a God with others.

    The majority of this world (people of the book(s)) mean a God that did physically reveal Himself, though. The problem with that is that it is a historical event, i.e. one for which the evidence had a short window of time, and thus people like us depend on the accuracy of the reporting.

    Secondly, you can’t convince anyone that you actually created the universe and everything. You can bully him by demonstrating your supernatural powers, but so could a space alien with sufficient technology. The problem is not that the supernatural entity may not be as powerful as he claims to be; I am just not able to verify such a claim.

  37. says

    ‘what if god were one of us? just a stranger on a bus?’
    maybe joan osbourne has it right.

    or is that DOG?

  38. quork says

    i refer in particular to ‘indigenous religion’, our beliefs having been categorized as such. yet we have no word for religion in our languages.

    What you mean “we”, Kimosabe?

  39. quork says

    as a general question to all, what about quantum physics here? and where are we drawing any lines between spiritualily and religion, if at all?

    Well, my definition of “spirituality” is that its a misappropriated word for people who want to be religious without calling themselves “religious”.

    It’s sort of equivalent to those atheists who don’t like to call themselves that, so use the word “agnostic” instead. Or like E.O. Wilson, who calls himself a “provisional deist”.


  40. Steve_C says


    I have no evidence that God does exist.

    In most cases, the rejection of the Creator does not result from logical conclusions. The average atheist, if he or she is honest, will cite an emotional motivation for lack of faith in God.

    The late Isaac Asimov once wrote: “Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.” Now that Mr. Asimov is dead, I suspect he wishes he would have invested time into proving the existence of God.

    Most people who do not think God exists betray their stance by arguing with Him. If God is not real, there is no need to be hostile toward Him or toward anyone who believes in Him.

  41. Steve_C says

    Cracks me up every time!

    The Reason For My Concern

    Entangled in the greater debate over the origin of life is a separate debate over the age of the earth. Nearly all creationist groups believe our planet is somewhere around 6,000 years old. Most scientists see the earth’s age as ranging from hundreds of millions to billions of years old.

    The Bible is extremely brief in its explanation of the origin of the universe. Because we are provided with such a limited amount of information, it’s unwise to try to make the Word of God say something it never really addressed.

    I wouldn’t tackle this topic if I weren’t concerned about the credibility of the Christian faith. Untold numbers of people have already turned to evolution or a non-literal approach to Scripture based on the realization that the 6,000-year theory offers no logical explanation for an overabundance of fossil records. I want to reach out to people who are unable to accept Christianity because of the young earth view.


    Pssst. Some of us think the earth is old… so give Jesus a try… plus the Rapture is probably pretty soon so you wanna cover your bets.

    Funny stuff.

  42. Alex says

    Absolutely HILARIOUS!!!
    You are a KOOK!!! An irrational, dishonest, sadistic KOOK!!!
    Too funny.
    Pascals wager??!!! That’s so sad it’s funny. We’re hedging bets on the end of the world. If that’s not intellectual dishonesty I don’t know what is. Gee, that’s some strong conviction there. Maybe I’ll pray to Allah too just in case.
    Delusional moronic freak.

  43. Scott Hatfield says

    For Keith Douglas,who asked why ‘metaphysical naturalism’ implies dogmatism. I’ve got a short, smart-alecky answer and a nuts-and-bolts answer.

    First, the nuts and bolts. Methodological naturalism only permits natural causes, but it takes no position on whether the supernatural exists. It takes the position that supernatural claims are excluded from consideration in science. Whereas a metaphysical naturalist doesn’t exclude any particular supernatural claim from consideration; they consider them, and reject them, because (ahem) of the believer’s commitment to the non-falsifiable, metaphysical claim that ‘nature is all there is.’ If you reject the former because of a prior commitment, then that seems pretty dogmatic to me.

    Now the smart-alec comment: who ever heard of a provisional metaphysics? Did Leibniz speak of possible monads, or Plato of the ‘maybe-ness’ of the Perfect Forms? I think not. In general, metaphysicians don’t deal in the falsifiable, therefore they have very little incentive to frame their schemes tentatively.

  44. Steve_C says

    You do know I was posting the link and copy for laughs right?

    I wrote the last three lines. I was paraphrasing the DF.

    Just checkin.

  45. Alex says

    Apologies Steve,
    I pulled an Onion reply, or should I call it a Pete?! I officially redirect my hostilites to the original author of the copy you posted. I just get so worked up about the delusionists. IT’s been a long day. Peace.

  46. says

    >>>>>What you mean “we”, Kimosabe?<<<<<<<< as in US indigenous people...i'm of cree heritage. are you of native heritage, quork?

  47. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Since crossposting was used so much on this:

    Religion is based on speculation and authority. This is useless when facing reality, and religion has been forced to back off most of its claims. In this sense science has already affected the discourse on gods.

    The post and comments expose some weaknesses of in the core of remaining religion. Religion makes a number of special pleadings: religion makes claims on Truth, gods exist, gods are supernatural, supernaturals are inaccessible to observational theory. It proposes a number of pluralisms: supernaturals, souls, yin and yang.

    Those weaknesses are exposed by science in a number of ways. As a tool to explore the world, science is secular and makes no a priori assumptions. It doesn’t choose to make conflict with religions, those conflicts are problems of religions.

    The most obvious conflicts regards observational facts and theories. Both are well justified beyond reasonable doubt. For well established theories there are no realistic alternatives to explain the mass of observations and ties to other theories. Even if theories are known to be effective instead of basic and can be subsumed later, their phenomena and facts stands. Other claims of truth and existence aren’t well justified.

    Other conflicts regards the a posteriori findings of good methods. Methodological naturalism is amongst those. We know that supernaturalism and special pleading are bad methods to gain knowledge. Causality ties the natural world together and that tells us that pluralisms are bad ideas too.

    In fact, most pluralisms have been outright defeated by observation and theory. What is the reason to think the remaining, supernaturals, should stand indefinitely? Special pleading is not the way to argue.

    From the above one seems to find that metaphysical naturalism isn’t special pleading. But do we have to confine ourselves to accept this as a reasonable conclusion only?

    After all, what we know of nature constrain mightily what supernaturalism is allowed. If it doesn’t cause any observations we know we should deny its existence, otherwise special pleading again raises its ugly head. If it causes all observations to fool us into thinking natural theories are correct, it is superfluous – unless special pleading is used. Last thursdayism isn’t the answer, even less so the different types of creationism that pushes last thursdayism into the distant past of our universes beginning. And those have also definite answers by cosmology.

    What remains is partial nonnatural causation, confined causes from without the causal nature of our natural universe. Those should be both observable and constrained since they would mess around with the amount of natural massenergy. We now know acausal phenomena also messes with the local stability of our gauge theories. If we don’t see anything of that after the usual amount of observations to verify existence of natural causes only, the existence of the supernatural should be denied. It had its day in the empirical court. That wouldn’t be an exiting and useful result, but that is the nature of the supernatural. It’s a dead end.

  48. Torbjörn Larsson says

    “why ‘metaphysical naturalism’ implies dogmatism”

    Dogmatism – “Arrogant, stubborn assertion of opinion or belief.” I don’t see how that could be. A metaphysical position on facts could be overturned with new facts. Why couldn’t metaphysics be provisional? There are overlaps between science and philosophy – or how do you make a demarcation? In this case, see my previous comment here. What if nonnatural causes are observable, as they should be? Then it would be both a philosophical and science matter.

    Metaphysical naturalism isn’t arrogant either, it is both reasonable and not based on special pleading as is metaphysical supernaturalism. A metaphysical position on faith implies dogmatism, since in principle nothing can overturn it. The differences in position should be acknowledged.

  49. says

    what i find most interesting is that i have no arguement. i believe what i believe due to my experience. there is a Creator (non-native would call he/she god), or a higher power for those who can’t accept either word. what is called metaphysical, supernatural, or what have you, does exist to me because my senses and brain can feel, see , hear it.

    i do believe that if raised in traditional indigenous ways (like non-natives were before christianity, judaism, islam formed and took over as oligarchial tools) that science would be much different today. no matter how many claims of religion or poliltics not entering science, each individual is conditioned by culture, and in north american culture a large part of of that sum is religion and politics, whether one likes to admit it or not.

    the north american education system was founded on western beliefs…..politics and religion, politics meaning what is viewed as democracy. one can call themselves agnositc or aetheist and truly not have a belief in a higher power, yet to say science is seperate contradicts it’s very teachings within a culture based on the heirarchal structure of the oligarchy.

    see where i’m going with this?

  50. Harold says

    “The starry heavens above and the moral law within”
    The crowning vision of Dante’s De Monarchia is not his last word on the subject of human happiness, nor on the possibility of achieving happiness by natural means [i.e, through the study of philosophy (including science) and the active political life]. The “earthly paradise” which we attain for ourselves through philosophy is certainly not the paradise Dante the pilgrim will discover at the summit of Purgatory. To the philosopher the Commedia promises only the cold light and enamelled greenery of Limbo, the somber Elysium where Dante encounters Aristotle and the ‘philosophic family’ who look to him as their master, living out an eternity, not of happiness, but of desire without hope .. . The Commedia is concerned always with the ultimate, eternal destiny of human life, with the transcendence, rather than the fulfillment of human understanding. When Beatrice at the summit of Purgatory utters prophetic words which “soar” far beyond Dante’s power to envision her meaning, she explains that his limitations are those of “that school which you have followed.” . .. It is his training in this school that makes possible the luminous precision of the great doctrinal passages in the Purgatorio and Paradiso [Purg. 17.90-139; 25.37-87; Par. 2.112-48; 7.64-77; 13.52-78; 29.13-45; 30; 97-108], but it is a training that harbors the danger of rationalism and intellectual pride. In the Convivio God is the highest good, but remains the distant, unchanging focus of the aspiring mind. In the Commedia God assumes an active, transformative role as the dispenser of that grace without which the intellectual quest is futile: ‘I see well that our intellect is never satisfied, unless that truth illumines it beyond which no truth may soar.'”[exerpt from Dante page at]

  51. Scott Hatfield says

    Mr. Larsson:

    At the risk of inviting abuse, I can’t acknowledge a distinction that I don’t understand, and I don’t understand how we can objectively observe anything other than the natural. If we can’t objectively observe anything but the natural, then we can’t confirm or verify the supernatural. We can only attempt to falsify the predicted effects of the supernatural on the natural order.

    Now, any effect on the natural order that we don’t understand is notoriously attributed by the believer to the supernatural, and that is obnoxious, a ‘science stopper.’ But, to paraphrase Sagan, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’ I find the idea of a SCIENTIFIC research program based solely upon negative effects to be cheerless, and I regard it as unlikely to bear much fruit. Perhaps you feel differently, and I would be keen to understand why. I have been much impressed with the erudition and seriousness of your posts, and I wonder if you could comment on the epistemological status of string theory, which seems to be in the unenviable position of lacking any positive evidence, yet it remains the fierce hope of many physicists. I would be interested in your analysis as it bears on this discussion.

    I also have a hard time understanding what is meant by a metaphysical position on facts. Plato had no facts about the Ideal Forms, nor Leibniz any facts about the world of monads. What they had were different conceptions of pattern, and they arranged and reinterpreted such facts as they had to fit their systems. Some metaphysical positions are more congenial to doing science than others, but at the end of the day, they aren’t science. And metaphysical naturalism is a metaphysical position—a negative position, yes, but a position nonetheless. It isn’t science, and one can do very good science without it.

    One cannot, however, do very good science without methodological naturalism, and that is because it has no metaphysical content. It is not even a philosophy so much as it is a convention of doing science. It’s not the “Truth”….but it is our way.


  52. says

    found on

    Consider the following history per the Birth of Modern Science by Lomas:
    ‘Revolutionary Ideas:

    Science grew out of superstition and magic but as it gave birth to technologies, it assumed a much greater political importance. The strength of the Tudor monarchs was based on the technology of artillery and the use of gunpowder. From that time onwards the main interest that most rulers have shown in science is how it could be used to increase the power of their weapons of war, or improve the strength of their military forces.

    The year the Royal Society was born (which brought the world out of the Dark Ages and into the Age of Reason), religion was still an important issue in England. One of the main causes of the bitterness of the Civil War was the differences in doctrine between the two sides. Indeed, it was the disarray of the various religious factions that enabled General Monck to bring about the Restoration.

    Any form of fanaticism can lead to an intolerant society. If you are an intense believer in any religious idea you will be prepared to face martyrdom, you can live a happy life of great hardship and even enjoy a happy death if it comes quickly. You may inspire converts, create armies, promote hatred of any dogma that your cause does not accept and be immensely effective in promoting your beliefs, as well as suppressing any other viewpoints.

  53. wamba says

    First, the nuts and bolts. Methodological naturalism only permits natural causes, but it takes no position on whether the supernatural exists. It takes the position that supernatural claims are excluded from consideration in science. Whereas a metaphysical naturalist doesn’t exclude any particular supernatural claim from consideration; they consider them, and reject them, because (ahem) of the believer’s commitment to the non-falsifiable, metaphysical claim that ‘nature is all there is.’ If you reject the former because of a prior commitment, then that seems pretty dogmatic to me.

    All due respect, Scott, you’re not making sense. You are using your nonstandard definitions to justify your nonstandard definitions. There’s a certain roundness to your arguments.

    Now the smart-alec comment: who ever heard of a provisional metaphysics? Did Leibniz speak of possible monads, or Plato of the ‘maybe-ness’ of the Perfect Forms? I think not. In general, metaphysicians don’t deal in the falsifiable, therefore they have very little incentive to frame their schemes tentatively.

    You need to get away from your saviour mentality. Perhaps your religious views are bound by what Jesus Christ or someone else said, but my metaphysics is not bound by what men said or believed hundreds or thousands of years ago. Plato’s era was not marked by a substantial regard for evidence.

  54. Scott Hatfield says


    No offense taken. If I’m not making sense, I need to know, or at least I need to consider the possibility.

    In what sense do you regard my formulation of mN and MN, and the distinction I make between them, as ‘non-standard’? If you think there’s a standard, aren’t you essentially appealing to authority, and if so, whose formulation do you regard as authoritative? In other words, please don’t leave me with the observation that my arguments are “round”. Find a nice little pointy argument of your own and explain why you find my reasoning circular. (I once wrote a paper where I suggested that you would be hard pressed to actually apply Popper’s falsifiability criteria to the scientific method itself, so I’m sympathetic)

    As for your last comment, I’m puzzled. I see no evidence that my position requires a Savior. As far as I can see, my position is consistent with that held by both Michael Ruse and Eugenie Scott, and I don’t think either of these folk have felt the need for a Savior, personal or otherwise, for many decades. Appealing to the historical record as to how metaphysicians actually characterize their work is not the same as Bible-thumping. I could’ve used 20th century examples (Whitehead, for example). In fact, the observation could’ve been extended to other branches of philosophy than metaphysics: to take but one example, do you really believe that Daniel Dennett’s views as presented are meant to be considered provisionally?

    As for me, I’m not pushing a particular metaphysics here. I’m proposing a distinction that happily cleaves metaphysical associations from the business of DOING science, and I think defending that distinction is really a belief-neutral enterprise.


  55. wamba says

    In what sense do you regard my formulation of mN and MN, and the distinction I make between them, as ‘non-standard’?

    You were saying that metaphysical naturalism is dogmatic because metaphysical naturalism is dogmatic.

    Whereas a metaphysical naturalist doesn’t exclude any particular supernatural claim from consideration; they consider them, and reject them, because (ahem) of the believer’s commitment to the non-falsifiable, metaphysical claim that ‘nature is all there is.’

    Supernatural claims are not excluded due to dogmatic precommitment, but because they fail to meet the standards of evidence. If you have evidence for the supernatural that meets modern standards of evidence, but has been unfairly and dogmatically rejected, please do divulge it.

    As for the saviour comment: I was referring to the practice of challenging an idea or concept based on other things that originators or proponents might have believed. This reminds me of those Creationists who try to take on Darwin personally (deathbed confession, LaMarckism, bad hair, whatever) rather than take on evolution through natural selection. In your example, why should the thoughts of Lebnitz or Plato matter to a modern proponent of Metaphysical Naturalism?

  56. Chris says

    Now that Mr. Asimov is dead, I suspect he wishes he would have invested time into proving the existence of God.

    Now that Mr. Asimov is dead, I’m pretty darn sure he doesn’t wish anything whatsoever, because he doesn’t have the capacity to wish, because he’s DEAD and his brain no longer functions (or even exists, by now). Do you even understand what “dead” means?

    “I so strongly suspect that [god] doesn’t [exist] that I don’t want to waste my time” is the position of substantially all atheists. “I don’t need any evidence to be completely sure that there is no god” is a strawman.

    If God is not real, there is no need to be hostile toward Him or toward anyone who believes in Him.

    The former is true. If you believe the god of the bible is real, there’s plenty of reasons to be hostile to him (he’s a genocidal torturing tyrant who rules by intimidation, for starters; if “we are all his children”, he’s the biggest child abuser in history, even worse than Abraham), but if not, why bother.

    The latter is idiotic. People who believe in gods have caused tremendous amounts of death, suffering and misery throughout the history of the world. Have you seen the news from Lebanon lately? One gang of god-followers is busily murdering another gang of god-followers and anyone who lives near them, and vice versa. Or perhaps you have heard of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, carried out by god-followers in the faith-based belief that it was the will of their god to smite the evil god-denying (well, denying THEIR god, anyway) Americans? The idea that there’s no reason to be hostile to the ideologies that routinely create this kind of division and conflict is asinine.

    Demented fuckwit.

  57. Scott Hatfield says

    Ah. I have more. Here are some links to papers that discuss the difference between mN and MN. I don’t see any difference between the views propounded there and what I was saying.

    First, Robert Pennock (who uses the term ‘dogmatic’ to explicitly characterize some version of MN):

    Second, Michael Martin discusses several possible ‘methodological rules’ that might be derived from mN. I’m partial to the fourth, as is he:

  58. Scott Hatfield says

    But wait, a comment that deserves a reply. Wamba imputes circular reasoning to my claim that, unlike mN (methodological naturalism), MN (metaphysical naturalism) does not ‘exclude’ supernatural explanations, but rather considers them, but rejects it. In a nutshell:

    mN takes no position on whether the supernatural exists, but excludes it from science. MN excludes the supernatural as well, but also presumes it does not exist.

    Hmmphf. I’m proposing a distinction. How is that necessarily circular? I suppose if we conflate those who hold MN with MN itself, but I don’t think I did that. If I gave another impression, I regret it. After all, one hopes readers of this blog would never conflate atheism as a position with individual atheists.

    Wamba also suggests that I am trying to build a case for the supernatural. Sorry, not my bag here. The use of the term ‘evidences’ is revealing; you know, the creationists are very fond of that term, as well. It’s their preferred way of couching their apologetics to one another, and they use it to clutter up scientific discussion with individual claims along the lines of ‘Ha! Let’s see your science explain that!”, all the while imputing to their claim explicitly or otherwise some supernatural act.

    The very benefit of mN, and why we should avoid conflating it with MN, is that it removes us from the fruitless obligation of considering in detail the individual ‘nuisance cases’ presented by the pseudoscientist; we can simply look for the supernatural claim, and if we find it, we reply, “Our science doesn’t need to consider your supernatural claim by definition. We’re not in the Truth business; we’re in the model-making and testing business. Come back with a claim that we can test.”

    And, while we’re on the subject of evidence, it seems to me that the ‘non-falsifiable, metaphysical claim that nature is all there is’ is not going to garner any gold at the Evidence Olympics. It’s non-falsifiable, just like supernaturalism. We are well justified in individual cases to impute natural causes and reject the supernatural, but with respect to the universal case, their ontological status seems all-but-indistinguishable to me. You may disagree if you like.

    Finally, regarding the possible irrelevance of Plato to metaphysics today: what can I say? You seem to subscribe to a progressive view of science, wherein ‘a modern proponent’ of a particular contemporary metaphysics is privileged. Well. I’m sorry to tell you this, but philosophy is not progressive in that sense. Philosophy majors are still required to read Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”, but it will be a rare biology student who even opens “On The Generation of Animals”. In fact, it’s a rare biology student who bothers to read Darwin’s original works.

  59. wamba says

    Scott Hatfield claims evidence is being dogmatically dismissed. Scott Hatfield is unable to provide any evidence which is being dogmatically dismissed. Conversation over.

  60. says

    Scott Hatfield: Your argument seems to be: all metaphysicists were dogmatic; metaphysical naturalism is a metaphysical position, therefore MN is held dogmatically. I’ll grant the validity of the argument and the truth of the second premiss. The first is false. In particular, there has been a great attempt in the past 50 years or so to make metaphysics at least consistent with scientific research. Some go further and run an inference to the best explanation from the success of science to what metaphysics would make that success possible. Some names to research in this area: Bunge, Armstrong, the Churchlands, Dennett (though I think he might repudiate the term), Smart, etc. I note also that I was assuming that you meant the technical sense and not the loose sense of metaphysics; if that’s what you meant, ignore the rest of this comment. Finally, it is important to realize that this recent development only continues the metaphysics of certain other important philosophers. Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz and Peirce all developed metaphysics with some connection (never completely correct) to the science of their day. Kant attempted to do so as, but IMO failed more spectacularly than the others. (For example, his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science presupposes the falsity of the law of inertia.)

  61. Paul W. says

    There’s something wrong with some of the arguments here, due to ambiguity in the word “supernatural.”

    The “supernatural” isn’t the complement of the “natural,” and most definitely is not the complement of the “natural” in the sense that science studies “natural” phenomena.

    “Supernatural” concepts are also not unfalsifiable in general, or in themselves. Most are falsifiable, and many are just false. (And the ones that aren’t are typically not unfalsifiable for any deep reason except that people don’t want them falsified.)

    For example, we know that Thor does not exist, and never has existed, in the sense of being the god who makes thunder. He can’t have ever existed, because thunder is caused by something else. (There might have been some actual guy from whom the Thor myth grew, but that’s different.)

    Likewise, there is no elan vital. We have figured out what animates living things, and that’s not it.

    Real, seriously-meant theories of the “supernatural” are not idle speculations about unobservable things with no observable consequences. They are explanations of things—like weather, human history, thought, morality, etc.

    All of those things are within the scope of science, and science is therefore systematically in conflict with supernaturalistic religion.

    Attempts to make the “supernatural” off-limits, by saying that science “can only study the natural” are utterly wrongheaded and backwards.

    The “natural” isn’t the complement of the “supernatural” any more than it’s the complement of the “artificial.” “Artifical” things are natural in the sense relevant to whether science can study them.

    And so are alleged supernatural things, like Thor or the Life Force or the Bible. The only supernatural concepts that are not “natural” in the relevant sense for science are those designed or evolved precisely to evade falsifiability.

    This is one reason that people like Dennett are so anti-religion and anti-NOMA. Dennett is a philosopher of psychology, and that’s the other big area in which most religions are still committed to supernatural explanations that are indeed falsifiable—and near as we can tell now, pretty obviously false.

    (Humans didn’t get “free will” from god on purpose, evil spirits are not what make them people do evil, and intercessory prayer or accepting Jesus into your heart is not likely to make you psychologically or morally a better person—certainly not by magic.)

    Typical supernaturalistic theories are not only falsifiable, but evidently false because they are not the right explanations of what they were originally meant to explain. (As has already been pointed out, this is th general version of God of the Gaps—it’s the magic of the gaps.)

    When people talk about “the supernatural” in any conversation that is not an exercise in evading falsifiability, they’re talking about theories and explanations of stuff that is allegedly observable in the natural world. Nobody’s really interested in idle speculations about unobservable things with no observable consequences. That’s not what the “supernatural” is about, except in the domain of liberal apologetics.

    The fundies are right about that, at least. They’re right not to accept the gutting of “the supernatural” by limiting it to unfalsifiable theories without observable consequences, and tiptoeing around the 800-pound gorilla of science.

    They’re right to think that if their theology is even very roughly right in the most basic respects, it should have demonstrable consequences and great scientific significance.

    The problem is that it doesn’t; they’re just wrong, and they have to work really hard to evade being shown wrong.

    The typical supernatural theory is only “unfalsifiable” in a weak, short-term sense. (E.g., the ancient Norse couldn’t easily disprove Thor to everyone’s satisfaction, then, but we can pretty well disprove him now that we understand thunder.)

    As a theory, Thor was not designed primarily to evade falsification, but to explain thunder and a few other observable things. Evading falsification is just a practial constraint on (surviving) supernaturalist theories; it isn’t their reason for being, or central to the basic ideas, or a necessary consequence of any realistic definition of the supernatural. It’s an add-on, or a careful carving-away of the most awkward bits.

    (Falsifiablity is not generally a property of particular, specific hypotheses; it’s a property of larger theories, i.e., ensembles of hypotheses. What makes a particular specific hypothesis unfalsifiable is not generally a local property of the hypothesis itself, but the lengths to which its adherents are willing to go, changing assumptions and auxiliary hypotheses in order to salvage that hypothesis in spite of apparent refutation.)

    Profoundly and generally unfalsifiable theories—things that are not subject to disproof in principle, given reasonable attempts to salvage it—are not typical of supernaturalism. In fact, they’re so atypical that I think they’re missing the whole point of the supernatural. Supernatural theories are designed to explain real stuff, and especially important stuff.

    Many people on “both sides” are going around in apologetical circles based on a basic mis-definition of what’s really under discussion.

    If we wrongly take “supernatural” to be the complement of the “natural” in the scientific sense, the supernatural either doesn’t exist at all, or is eviscerated to the point that religious people wouldn’t claim it anymore. (Except maybe when making bogus arguments in certain political situations, or to minimize their own cognitive dissonance.)

    And if we define “supernatural” correctly, i.e., to be about things like ghosts, we can show that the supernatural evidently doesn’t exist, and most of it can’t exist without being fatally “naturalized.”

    I don’t just mean that particular supernatural things like Thor or the Life Force don’t exist, but that (1) the supernatural isn’t a good explanation for anything it was meant to explain and (2) supernatural explanations of those things have deep theoretical problems that threaten their “supernatural”ness. Solving those problems makes the neat blue “supernatural” glow right off of them.

    Now that we understand what minds are, for example, we realize that the idea of a spirit as a disembodied mind is incoherent. A mind is mostly an information- processing system, and that requires a computer of a very sophisticated sort. (That computer might be made out of a special different kind of “supernatural” stuff, but it wouldn’t be very supernatural—it’d still be processing information pretty much like a computer made out of sand or meat, and we’d view it as a previously-unknown aspect of the “natural.”) Anything that isn’t embodied in some sort of sophisticated computer can’t be a person like the Biblical god, or even have the person-like attributes of The Force; it can’t know or want anything—or discriminate between good and evil, much less define good and evil, and it can’t guide you to the target with your eyes closed, because it can’t understand what you’re trying to do. It can’t do what gods (even “impersonal” ones) were always meant to do.

    Likewise, now that we understand what morality is in a general way (in terms of cognition, social information processing, game theory and whatnot) we realize that it’s not something that can simply be willed into existence by a ghost and imposed by fiat, or emanate from the necessary essence of that ghost, or be “tuned in to” using a special “light” or “energy” or “vibration”, or anything remotely like any of those things. Just as thunder turns out not to be about Thor, morality just isn’t about demons or ghosts, or about an invisible blue glow that pervades the universe and somehow loves you or judges you or enlightens you.

    Gods in general are unemployed, not just specific gods like Thor. Other things are doing their main jobs, and there is no place for them in reality.

    Gods, even impersonal ones, have too many attributes of people. Now that we understand the universe and people better, we can realize that the “supernatural” was always a category mistake. Not because there couldn’t be some very different realm of weird energies and persons, but because they’d be too much like us if they did exist and had the attributes we demand of “supernatural” entities. (As opposed to simply bizarre ones like quantum mechanics.) They wouldn’t be gods, on close inspection, but alien beings, or just impersonal alien phenomena.

    Science can’t “disprove God” because when it does disprove particular god theories, people move the goalposts. Not only that, but they hide the goalposts, even from themselves; they typically don’t even have a coherent idea of what would or wouldn’t count as a god. (As opposed to, say, an alien.) If they did, and knew what science knows pretty well by now, they wouldn’t find gods credible.)

    This isn’t a limitation of what science can study; it’s an artifact of what supernaturalists are unable to understand or unwilling to admit.

  62. Scott Hatfield says

    Well, again, I feel that something I never said is being used against me as a counter-example. My focus was not on whether or not in individual cases evidence was being considered, but rather or not there is a tendency for the holder of a metaphysical position to hold it dogmatically.

    Keith Douglas condenses my argument in an unfortunate way, characterizing my first premise to be that “all metaphysicists were dogmatic.” I surely didn’t say that. If someone else had said that, I would have asked for correction or explanation. My first premise would be something along the lines of ‘metaphysicians tend to speak non-tentatively about that which they can not possible demonstrate, leading to dogmatism’. That’s awkward, but I don’t claim to be a logician. I agree with Keith that there are both metaphysics and epistemologies that have provisional aspects; I happen to hold one personally, and I never explicitly ruled them out. I’m just making the general observation that tentativeness is not especially observed in philosophy, right?

    Besides, Keith, you haven’t addressed my nuts-and-bolts formulation, just my smart-alec aside. The former ends with a tentative clause: “IF you reject the former because of a prior commitment, then that seems pretty dogmatic to me.”

    Wamba also attempts to reformulate my views, again in reference to an evidentiary standard, which appears to be his/her preferred means of demarcating scientific activity. In contrast, I have stated my preference for a standard based upon mN (methodological naturalism). It cuts a little bit closer to the Gordian knot, allowing us to neatly exclude anything that appeals to the supernatural. I’ve written that, as a practical matter, mN saves us a lot of time and that an insistence upon evidence alone gets us into trouble, because then we are obliged to consider every claim on its evidentiary grounds. Let me digress to explain why I prefer mN for demarcation, which then leads me to defend the status of mN versus MN (metaphysical naturalism).

    Polonium halos are a good example. There’s a well-known analysis of halos, but suppose I don’t want to spend time I don’t have reviewing an arcane literature on artifacts produced within rock by decay? I’d rather let somebody else who knows something about it sweat the details, but if pressed by a creationist, I would be at a temporary disadvantage until such time as I could review the data. If I’m bound by an evidentiary standard, then the creationist wins a victory of sorts, albeit temporary: but then, that’s all they aim for, isn’t it? A temporary victory, not to impress me, but the intended audience they are really addressing!

    On the other hand, if I use a mN standard, I ignore the details of the claim and focus on what it is supposed to demonstrate, the young Earth of the Biblical literalist. That’s rather easy to do, and it would be an unbelievably sophisticated (which is to say vanishingly rare) YEC who would be able to parse the first (the young Earth) without the second (the literal understanding of Genesis). Once that is accomplished, I can distinguish between the halo data (permissible under mN) and its clandestine inspiration. The YEC no longer has a clear temporary victory, because mN has chopped off his or her evidentiary feet from under them and left them with the dubious (and disallowed) hypothesis that motivated them in the first place.

    Besides, in addition to all that, there is another reason to reject an evidentiary standard for the demarcation of science, and that is that not all scientific activity is evidentiary in nature. When I think of Darwin, Wegener, Einstein, the first image that comes to mind isn’t ‘evidence’, as if these fellows were scientific detectives, pursuing ‘clues’ in order to ‘deduce’ the truth. I meditate, rather, on their creativity. Darwin did not ‘deduce’ common descent, coming to some specific conclusion from a series of general facts. Rather, he inferred a general pattern from a series of specific observations. The observations were ‘evidence’, doubtless, but what good is ‘evidence’ without an argument? So it seems that science requires more than evidence, and thus evidence alone is not a good criteria for the demarcation of science.

    Further, science does not have a patent or copyright on the use (or misuse) of evidence. Consider the legal profession, or (more obtusely) canon law in the Catholic church, or (double-ugh) “Evidence that Demands A Verdict” and other clumsy efforts at apologetics. Clearly, science can not be defined exclusively through its employment and reliance upon evidence.

    Something else is required. That something is mN.


  63. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Mr Hatfield:

    Thank you for your kind words. I enjoy your wellformed comments too. I’m afraid my erudition is skin deep since my expertice in solid state physics is narrow – theoretical physics, biology and philosophy are mere interests of mine.

    My claim is that we have now learned so much about basic properties of our natural world that it’s as hard to replace those theories as it would be to replace say evolution. We know that it is conserving massenergy, is causally consistent, our gauge theories are destabilised by acausal events, et cetera. Another claim is that science is able to learn about good methods and ideas a posteriori – indeed I believe that is what mainly happened historically – so other causation isn’t explicitly forbidden, merely learned to be a bad idea. If there is any dualistic causation imposed on the observed nature the nonnatural effects should stand out.

    Is that a theory of negative effects, are such theories allowed and is it a barren theory? The conclusion would likely be a universal negative. But it is not the situation Sagan describes that is based on induction with no accompanying theory. There are several differences. Here we look at established positive properties of phenomena to come to a conclusion. Theories aren’t justified by induction, they are justified by a finite amount of observations to be verified beyond reasonable doubt. And universal no-go theorems aren’t unheard of earlier. Though I haven’t studied those – I suspect they are quite constructive. And that and the look at the earlier mentioned properties would perhaps gain some new knowledge beyond the almost (but not quite) foregone conclusion.

    Regarding string theory I have been influenced by mainly the Cosmic Variance blog. The theory has exciting properties and has described some old and proposed new physics such as the landscape (evidently having analogs of sorts in older field theory) and the holographic principle with dual or new descriptions.

    It seems to me that a probably minor part of string physicists think it has passed enough theoretical tests vs other physics that the unfalsifiable sector of an eventual anthropic landscape is eventually allowed. Personally I would feel more certain with an observational test too, but I will defer to their consensus as it evolves. Due to the connections with older physics (methods and results) I do think it has a firm status above the completely untested. It is at the very least a dual description of some old physics.

    Keith wrote essentially the same as I think on metaphysics. (Not totally surprisingly perhaps since I’m influenced by him.) Philosophy can orient itself on science. That is what I perhaps erroneusly call metaphysics on facts. I think that since the metaphysics of science doesn’t involve the special pleading dualism is in metaphysics oriented towards faith, it is more belieavable as philosophy too.

  64. Scott Hatfield says

    Mr. Larsson:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking reply. I agree with much you say, as follows:

    1) First, as I understand you, you are claiming that certain aspects of our models are so well-established by all sorts of observations that as a practical matter we need not offer them with any caveats. We need not hold them provisionally. I agree, in the sense that we might modify universal gravitation, but we will never throw it out entirely.

    2) Second, as I understand you, scientists haven’t adopted certain strategies (such as mN) because of any a priori commitments, but rather they do so because they have been shown to be fruitful. I agree in principle, though I am reminded from reading Ronald Numbers that the mN/MN distinction was first proposed by believers to safeguard their beliefs, as here:

    3) While I prefer falsification to verification in evaluating whether a claim is scientific, I agree that theories are not justified by induction, even those inductions used to conceptualize the theory in the first place. Some combination of observation and experimental test is also required to justify raising a hypothesis to the status of a theory.

    4) I, too, would like to see an observational test of string theory. Supposedly some predictions of some versions of the theory will be put to the test in the next few years, but my question to these folk is, what happens if you don’t see what you expect to see? I know enough to know that there are so many versions of string theory that there is no agreed-upon criteria for winnowing the field. It seems to me that if one version dies, another will be propped up phoenix-like to take its’ place, because the emotional appeal of a framework that can unify the forces trumps its essential failure to do more than describe phenomena with new mathematical objects. I don’t think string theorists think their field as a whole is in any way provisional; they’ve staked their careers on it, after all. Talk about special pleading: “falsify all the ‘string theory’ models you want, we’ll just make more!” And thus I wonder how this supposed ‘theory’ could ever be falsified and, if never, why I should regard it as science?

    5) Finally, I agree that a metaphysics that accomodates existing scientific accounts is more credible than one which engages in special pleading. I agree that attempts to revive metaphysics in the 20th century have made a special attempt to do just that in response to the challenge of logical positivism, etc. That’s fine. But all it takes to dissuade us of the notion that these moves are held provisionally by all their practicioners is a few paragraphs from Daniel Dennett. As a philosophy professor once remarked to me, critically dismissive and absolutist language in defense of one’s position is regarded by many as a sign that one has reached the height of the profession.

    Thanks again for thought-provoking correspondence.


  65. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Keeping up with blogs during vacation is obviously too much for me – I have a life to keep up with too. But I’m really sorry I missed reading this earlier.

    Thank you too.

    I agree with the problem of versions of string theory. My understanding is that the landscape is containing all these versions of the basic string theory. But what happens if the basic theory has general choices? I don’t know enough about these matters.

    The last point is important. My position is to try to justify with theories as much as possible. But when going astray that is sometimes not feasible at least for now. Then it is important to abstain from dogmatism.

  66. Torbjörn Larsson says

    “The “supernatural” isn’t the complement of the “natural,” and most definitely is not the complement of the “natural” in the sense that science studies “natural” phenomena.”

    This makes no sense from the science view, which is that is used here. As I claim above, any theory that claim that supernatural gods (causing agents) exist is encapsulated within nonnatural causation and is probably disproved by experiment in a sufficiently powerful theory on naturals. This is also the natural meaning of such a dualism. It includes supernaturals that hasn’t any causation, as a normal consequence of theories behaviour – no effect means no mechanism. Other supernatural dualisms isn’t included here – souls et cetera have to be excluded by other means.

    The mode of doing this is no different from disproving specific hypotheses on supernaturals. They include natural causation, at least at the finishing end. They can’t include supernatural theory before having observed phenomena to verify mechanisms with. So they too test natural mechanisms to conclude absence of phenomena.