Some good news, some bad news, and some background

By Phil Plait | April 19, 2011 12:30 pm

With the seeming onslaught of attacks on reality coming from all over the country, I hate to add to the bad news… but I will because the bad news shows just how silly antiscience legislators can be, and there’s also some good news to go along with it. So that’s nice. And I’ll end with an article that shows us why those of us in the reality-based community have such a hard time pushing back against nonsense.


The Good:

A couple of years ago Louisiana passed a law designed to destroy good science, allowing teachers to use creationist materials in the classroom, despite this being a clear violation of the US Constitution. So why is this good news? Because a bill has been filed to repeal that awful law. Even cooler, this bill came about because of efforts by a high school student in Baton Rouge named Zack Kopplin, who has been working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science.

In high school I was busy goofing off with my friends. Zack Kopplin is busy taking on the entire Louisiana State legislature.

Good on him! And while it’s still in the early stages of this fight, it shows that grassroots efforts can get things done.


The Bad:

A Tennessee House legislator, in an effort to promote creationism, badly misattributes a religious quotation to Einstein. The fail in this one is strong. The quotation was not said by Einstein, for starters. Einstein was famously agnostic, and only talks of God as a substitute for natural laws, for another. And for a third (and fourth), the legislator tried to equate creationism and evolution as theories, and that neither could prove they are right. However, creationism is a not a theory — it’s dogma — and evolution is both a theory and a fact.

I wrote about this Tennessee nonsense earlier; let’s hope this antiscience bill doesn’t get passed by the state’s Senate.

Tip o’ the twin paradox to Henry Davis.


The Background:

Over at Mother Jones magazine, Chris Mooney wrote a great article about why science shows us that science isn’t trusted by so many people. He writes:

And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.

Sounds vaguely familiar. The facts, obviously, need to be out there and need to be conveyed, but how we convey them is just as important, and in some cases may actually be more important. All the facts in the world make no difference if the person to whom we’re talking isn’t hearing them.

Comments (91)

Links to this Post

  1. Einstein on Religion « Jermismo's Blog | April 19, 2011
  1. And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument.

    Not at all. Most people recognize that most people are not persuaded by evidence and argument.

    What matters is that persuading people isn’t the point. What benefit accrues from persuading an irrational person, through irrational means, to supporting your side in some political struggle? They’ll be picked up by the next person who can craft a more emotionally-compelling argument than you can.

    Evidence and argument are the keys to reaching valid conclusions. If you triumph by leveraging the power of people who don’t care about the validity of their beliefs, you’ve won the battle and lost the war.

  2. Wow that is an utterly horrible misquotation. I’ve heard some bad ones, but he first expresses the credibility of Einstein, then basically shoves words of stupidity posthumously down his throat. Being ignorant on your own is one thing, denying fact is another thing, but I don’t know how anyone can justify taking their own ignorance and use it to deny facts by essentially lying in a public political forum. It’s like… scientific blasphemy. It’s got so many layers of wrong and bad that it hurts to witness it.

    I think this guy should relieve thousands of letters and e-mails containing Einsteins actual quotes on religion – such as: “I believe in [Dutch philosopher Baruch de] Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings.”

  3. Oh, finally, a chance to pimp my evolution page on Facts, not Fantasy site. :)

    The main and easy one: http://factsnotfantasy.com/evolution.php

    Although, I am particularly fond of this one too: http://factsnotfantasy.com/creationists.php

    “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.” – A. Einstein

  4. Daniel J. Andrews

    If there was an afterlife, Einstein would probably come back and throttle that legislator for attributing such silliness to him. Although if Einstein was a pacifist maybe no throttling involved. He might be satisfied just to materialize out of the dark, sticking his tongue out, white air floating like a halo around his head.

    I also encourage people to look at Larian’s evolution pages, btw.

  5. Ed

    @#1 Caledonian

    “What matters is that persuading people isn’t the point. What benefit accrues from persuading an irrational person, through irrational means, to supporting your side in some political struggle? ”

    What good it does is that these people will not vote in the knuckleheads that keep writing laws that push non-science in our science classrooms. I think the fallacy is that there will ever be an end to this conversation. Selling this will be a continuous fact of life, there are always new people to whom the message is unheard.

    I find most science and technical people to be utterly horrible as people-person’s. There are a few of course, and they have their audience on TV, blogs, etc. I mean day to day, I live in a liberal part of California and drive home facing a truck parked by the side of the road, or on the overpass of a freeway, telling me about Jesus. Waiting for the Einstein one! ;-)

  6. Paul

    I’m just glad you didn’t mention anything about Texas…

  7. Red

    I’m not so sure that we shouldn’t be using evidence in our arguments with believers. While it’s not likely to have an immediate effect, very few of us were born with a functional understanding of the scientific method. Every skeptic I’ve met used to hold some irrational belief(s) but later changed his or her mind based on the validity and preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

    We’re certainly not going to ‘convert’ everyone, but who knows how many budding Phil Plaits are out there just waiting for a little nudge toward reality?

  8. Caleb

    Reminds me of the time when they redrew the school boundary lines my senior year in HS. I was enrolled in AP courses and attending them from another school would have been prohibitively difficult. Rather than appealing for me, my parents said, “If those things are important to you, then let’s go to the board meeting. But YOU are the one that must plead your case, not us.”

    I can still vividly remember walking to the podium at the board meeting in front of the district board, PTA, local newspaper reporters, and various public to make my case. One of the scariest moments of my teenage life, but it also taught me a valuable to lesson to stand up for what is important to me, that I can make a difference, and the importance of calmly and rationally organizing your thoughts to make an argument.

    I was able to appeal to stay in my HS, attended those AP courses (calculus and physics), got a 5 & a 4 respectively on the tests, and it ended up helping my college applications very much.

  9. Ed:

    I live in a liberal part of California and drive home facing a truck parked by the side of the road, or on the overpass of a freeway, telling me about Jesus. Waiting for the Einstein one! ;-)

    Perhaps you can get the local church to put up a “G-d does not play dice” sign on the road to Las Vegas? :-)

  10. Darren Evans

    This quote seems appropriate here, wish I could recall where I read it.

    “It’s difficult to reason a person out of a position they didn’t reason themself into.”

    It’s not impossible but it certainly does require that you get a grasp on the personality of the person you are trying to persuade and adjust your methods of presenting evidence so that you avoid alienating them so they ‘switch off’ to any further discussion.

  11. “If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.” – House
    :D

  12. Jack M.

    “Sounds vaguely familiar. The facts, obviously, need to be out there and need to be conveyed, but how we convey them is just as important, and in some cases may actually be more important. ”

    In other words, “don’t be a d*ck?” (that word isn’t duck…)

  13. Digital Atheist

    New bumper sticker: And on the first night, Man created god in His own image.

    (well it should be a bumper sticker or something) lol.

  14. Chelsea

    “When ignorance gets started, it knows no bounds.” – Will Rogers. Need we say more. Just try to stay vigilant and fight nonsense when we can. Gotta put the right spin on it. Study under the lawyers who know how to spin/twist and present a case.

  15. Darth Robo

    Why do these people hate kittens?
    :(

  16. David K

    One point to keep in mind is that we want to encourage rational thought, regardless of whether we “win” the current argument. Creationists are not all equally immune to reason. There is no point in arguing for evolution with anyone who insists that the Bible is literally true regardless of any outside evidence to the contrary, but a person who currently believes in creationism but who cannot accept the idea that God would fake the evidence may very well change his mind once he gets around to studying the subject thoroughly.

    Presenting irrational arguments that are momentarily persuasive is counterproductive in that it destroys your credibility for later arguments. I think that a large part of the current global warming denial has such a cause — all the denialists have to do is point to the numerous irrational statements put out by various non-scientist proponents of global warming in order to persuade people to disregard the real scientific evidence for it. Few people have the ability to sort out one from the other.

  17. Keith Bowden

    One thing that explains the opposition to science can be found in Genesis. Gaining knowledge was viewed as a sin, which is why Adam & Eve were kicked out of the garden. Resistence to knowledge is part of the core of religion for many people.

  18. Sam H

    Yet again popular atheist/agnostic arguments (some of which are almost cliché) are popping up, as well as talk subtly implying that those religious are “deluded”. Now, as many of you may know I am sympathetic toward intelligent design (which I know depends on sketchy epistemology and has some big problems, but something which I think deserves a very good look before we dismiss it as “pseudoscience”), and I’ll come clean that I am motivated because of my religious upbringing (which wasn’t even CLOSE to “child abuse” if you still believe that sanctimonious, rather-too-sure-of-himself Dawkins) which I’m trying to make peace toward in these tumultuous adolescent years. But I know logic, and even though we’re still working our way through Aristotle in Philosophy class I have noticed that, even though science is not “religion” in the popular definition of the word as it is based on empirical, testable observation, it depends on a framework to make sense of those facts. This framework is metaphysical naturalism, which is almost always very good because it is based off of reductionism, Occam’s razor and predicts results that can be tested and verified.
    But sometimes, I have noticed, it seems very hard to distinguish metaphysical naturalism from the a priori assumption of philosophical naturalism in some scientific discussion, which seems to rule out for any further consideration ANYTHING that is not naturalistic, not testable, not repeatable, and sometimes anything not published in a peer-reviewed journal. People seem to take Sagan’s baloney detection kit and attribute almost a religious significance to it – sure, it works almost all the time, but these people seem to assume that it will work ALL the time for every situation, and in some form is the ONLY reasonable way to know or discover anything. I would say that it is one of the best ways if not THE best ways, but it isn’t the only way. It is only applicable to finding things out that are in the natural world, and even then it can sometimes get too wrapped up in it’s own commitment to naturalism that fails to skeptically analyze this commitment. In fact, it cannot, as it is the framework on which it depends. This is science’s blind spot – yes, it does exist, and it is very likely that it can occasionally prevent any consideration of possible conclusions that simply cannot be verified by absolute observation alone.
    Sure, most modern science is dependent on logic, reason and deduction, but I believe that things like treating Occam’s razor as some unalienable law of the universe (which there isn’t much reason to think so philosophically, IMHO) will cause some to forget that things like pure reason, pure logic and philosophical deduction are other valid ways of knowing, contra Hawking. To many here I may of course look like the puny, overconfident and sadly “primitive” child who decided to take on science itself without knowing what he was in for, but I know how strong science is. I just feel we may be presenting it as too strong. Par exemple: While YEC is clearly BS, it is indeed true that many of the critiques that some ID advocates have had of the Neo-Darwinian hypothesis (that, based solely on observation natural selection + time alone statistically CANNOT fulfill the evolution links and leaps we see in genome and the fossil record) has been stated by increasing members of the “official” scientific community themselves, such as with that female biologist in that recent Discover/Scientific American interview (can’t remember which, but she admitted that while she does not agree with ID, most of Michael Behe’s critiques of the NDH are valid).
    I’m not going to advocate to anyone to teach the controversy (IMHO the whole American empire is falling faster by the day and will soon crash, perhaps dramatically), but I don’t think we should present evolution as totally ironclad – there are gaps in the hypothesis that must be stated, even if the rest of it works. But there is one thing we can do: NEVER even TRY to pretend that performing science and learning about the universe isn’t a spiritual experience, which it so obviously is – why else is NASA spending billions of dollars on telescopes hunting for alien earths that won’t benefit the population in any conceivable practical way for the foreseeable future? Why else are we doing the same on spacecraft that will tell us how our planet and the rest of the universe formed? Why else are we listening to the stars almost hopelessly in search of a few tell-all intelligible, tell all blips buried in the static?
    Every honest atheist/agnostic on this blog and elsewhere will know that the preceding paragraph is, in some way, true for them. And while not all are the “religious” type, nobody is free of a void that we’re looking to fill with something – some people are just better at hiding it and/or ignoring it. “People will learn to live without religion” – riiiight, Richard. It is truly sad that such a smart man could be nigh ignoring what is perhaps the core of all human nature.
    >end of rant. Hope you liked!! :) Now, as for that homework…

  19. Sam sez:

    It (Sagan’s “baloney detector”) is only applicable to finding things out that are in the natural world…

    Correct, sir.

    Which is to say, “the world.”

  20. An old, probably overused, but apt saying: You can lead a man to knowledge, but you can’t make him think.

  21. BJN

    @ Sam H

    “…which seems to rule out for any further consideration ANYTHING that is not naturalistic, not testable, not repeatable, and sometimes anything not published in a peer-reviewed journal. ”

    Precisely. To consider the untestable, unrepeatable, and unnatural as worthy of consideration as being relevant to the way the universe works is silly. Entertain yourself and others all you want with fantasy, but don’t suggest that the immeasurable can be part of scientific investigation.

    I don’t even know what “spiritual” means. I do have an emotional experience pondering deep time, fossils of long-dead creatures, the possibility of finding life beyond the bounds of this planet, and at the thought we might find another technological intelligence sometime in my lifetime. The tingle could likely be measured as a change in my brain chemistry. Our species has obviously evolved to get great pleasure out of discovery. And getting a buzz from expanding your perspective or making a discovery doesn’t diminish the value of the experience compared to calling it “spiritual”. Discoveries that seem to offer only intangible benefits to the species all end up as useful tools one way or the other.

    What’s truly sad is a smart man who can’t find joy in reality, and who instead seeks comfort in superstition.

  22. Nick Matzke

    “I’m not so sure that we shouldn’t be using evidence in our arguments with believers. While it’s not likely to have an immediate effect, very few of us were born with a functional understanding of the scientific method. Every skeptic I’ve met used to hold some irrational belief(s) but later changed his or her mind based on the validity and preponderance of evidence to the contrary.”

    No one says that we shouldn’t use evidence in such arguments. What Mooney et al. are saying is that calling people idiots, going after them for their religious views when the issue under discussion is global warming or evolution, exhibiting know-it-all arrogance, making everything into a liberal values purity test, etc., are going to strongly decrease the chance someone will listen to the facts when you do present them.

  23. Sam H. You have every right in the world to your beliefs, no matter what I may think of them. Just keep them away from schools and government, and we’ll be fine. You try to get your ideology (and frankly, wrong ideology) put into places where it doesn’t belong, then don’t go crying about getting a richly deserved beat down.

  24. @Sam H

    “Every honest atheist/agnostic on this blog and elsewhere will know that the preceding paragraph is, in some way, true for them.”

    Really? I’m an atheist and I value honesty above all else, yet I see nothing in that paragraph which rings true at all. Your description of evolution as a hypothesis rather than a fact and theory is either misinformed or deliberately antagonistic and the idea that we MUST view science as a spiritual quest is just so much hokum. Science is nothing more than an attempt to understand and the explain the world around us. Yes it may give us a warm, fuzzy feeling from time to time but it is a quest for knowledge and holds no necessary connection to vague, ill-defined concepts like ‘spirituality’. Why do we carry out all the experiments you allude to? Because knowledge for its own sake is a Good Thing, unlike what the Abrahamic religions would have us believe.

    Good luck with the homework, I get the feeling a lot of study time is needed.

  25. Messier Tidy Upper

    Off topic news – sadly not good :

    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/viralvacuum/glance/160045/russian-men-find-dead-alien.glance

    Looks to me like another alien hoax video – this time via Russia – which is apparently sweeping the intertoobs.

    Also more sad off-topic news :

    http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2011/04/elisabeth-sladen-doctor-whos-sarah-jane-smith-has-passed-away/

    &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Jane_Smith

    &

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gw_pYJY92Co

    Elizabeth Sladen who played companion Sarah Jane Smith in Dr Who has just passed away. :-(

  26. Nemo

    I’ve seen more fake quotes attributed to Einstein than anyone this side of Jesus. Usually it’s just an attempt to say “See, this popular icon of smartness agrees with me, therefore I’m right.” But the single most common one I see is some variant of the “hydrogen and stupidity” thing, which as best I can determine is actually due to Frank Zappa.

  27. Messier Tidy Upper

    Creationism~wise I can’t see the creationists winning – because to put it bluntly, their idea is just too stupid. ;-)

    I’m agnostic and have sympathy and respect for most religious individuals but the notion that the entire cosmos is younger than some ancient civilisations (Eg. Sumerians? Indus valley? Earliest Chinese?) and which is so totally & easily contradicted by all the scientific evidence is clearly just plain wrong. It just isn’t atenable idea ancd cannot be supported with anything – having less and less arguing points over time as its propositions continue to get shot down.

    I’m get the distinct impression – hopefully not mistakenly & admittedly from a distance – that the Creationist / “Intelligent Design” “movement” (for want of a better word) has been in decline and is slowly waning away towards its final death throes today. I suspect future historians in centuries to come will note the Dover trial as its high water mark. It was defeated in the courts then and has seen many more defates and very few victiories since then fromwhat I can gather.

  28. Messier Tidy Upper

    I get the distinct impression – hopefully not mistakenly & admittedly from a distance.

    Plus, admittedly, also mostly from science blogs like this one and Pharyngula plus science magazines rather than any personal experience – creationism is rare in Oz although there is a (very?) small presence. There’s a “creation ministry” up in the Adelaide hills, alas, which I know because I’ve delivered hay bales to it. At high school we did have some ‘religious ed’ classes – which I skipped one year at least as a (then) atheist who was allowed to avoid it- but science was taught properly with evolution making no concession to the religious myths.

    I suspect future historians in centuries to come will note the Dover trial as its high water mark.

    That being the 2005 ‘Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al’ case – see Wikipedia page :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dover_trial

    I think is worth noting here that ID -Creationism will go down in those history books as a politico-cultural movement rather than a scientific one. Scientifically, in the field of evidence and reason, the debate has been over for a very long time; whereas politics where the ID-Creationist battle is currently occurring is the realm of what the Aussie vernacular describes as bulldust. ;-)

    I also think the damage Creationism /ID does to children, education etc .. while real is probably overstated since I suspect that generally the only people who will fall for it are those who wouldn’t be equipped or motivated for careers in science anyhow. The smarter, more scientifically inclined kids are likely to be skeptical and not believe it thinking for themselves whatever gets taught at school. Which I think Creationism-ID mostly won’t be and ever less so over time.

    Which is not to say that Creationism-ID shouldn’t be opposed or that its defeats shouldn’t be celebrated. :-)

  29. Iggy

    Tim Minchin’s Storm the Animated Movie
    A doctor, a skeptic and a girl that believes in spirits, homeopathy, horoscope, alternative medicine etc. sit down to dinner…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U

  30. jess tauber

    Re 28, well, perhaps the entire earth hadn’t been made at the same time- didn’t the Europeans before Columbus fear they would fall over the edge of the world if they ventured out too far to sea? Maybe they were right. So your listed civilizations did exist, but Europe, the Garden, etc. did not. There must have been multiple creations anyway, to explain the layered geology, and the fact that there were people already around to couple with the children of Adam and Eve. A three dimensional creational patchwork quilt.

    Perhaps it ain’t even over. God and his Strata machine may be out there now, waiting in the wings to see if we are naughty or nice. Paving ‘The Way’ (and don’t even get me started on Thistledown…).

  31. Gark

    the last point brought to mind an article from last year by Ed Yong of the Discover blog “Not Exactly Rocket Science” regarding a study which pretty much says the same thing http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/10/19/when-in-doubt-shout-%E2%80%93-why-shaking-someone%E2%80%99s-beliefs-turns-them-into-stronger-advocates/

  32. Darth Robo

    O hai der, (19) Sam H. That’s an exceedingly long-winded appeal to ignorance, incredulity and god-of-the-gaps fallacy, and I thought you said you were learning logic. Obviously it appears the class has not yet been completed. Your sympathy for ID is irrelevant, as are their anti-science arguments and Behe has nothing valid to say. If he had, he would have demonstrated his points in a scientific paper rather than writing books on apologetics and getting paid lots of money from gullible fundies to hear him talk at church congregations. I was going to try a lengthy rebuttal, but since about the only relevant thing you said was “Science can’t explain everything yet, therefore appeal to incredulity to make me feel better about my fuzzy-wuzzy feelings for theology!”, I realised it was unnecessary.

    Believe me, when the ID/Creationists come up with a good point we’ll let you know…

  33. vrk

    @22: I had an emotional experience the other day when I realised the connection between the time average of macroscopic observables and the average of the same observable over a canonical ensemble…

  34. Jim

    As a recovered creationist, I would like to express gratitude to those who calmly and politely explained the process of critical thinking as it applies to the origin and development of life. And I’d like to poke a thumb in the eye of the people beforehand who accused me of child abuse and threatened to call the police on me for saying I’d planned on teaching creationism to my children.

  35. Of course! If we are just quieter about our opinions, then more people will hear them! That makes even more sense than Mooney’s book…

  36. Rorgg

    “nobody is free of a void that we’re looking to fill with something – some people are just better at hiding it and/or ignoring it.”

    I’ve seen this before from religious types, who claim to know how everyone thinks.

    Really? Or are you extrapolating from a sample size of “you”?

  37. jaranath

    Jim: Seriously? Police? DANG, dude, I’m glad I don’t live in your neighborhood.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment about critical thinking. I don’t think the strategy is to back off presenting and defending the facts. I think it’s to ramp up education about critical thinking, analysis of evidence, and otherwise explaining “how you can know what you know.”

    …AND acknowledging that while we can never be absolutely sure about any given individual, there are broadly a significant number of people we’ll never reach.

  38. Messier Tidy Upper

    @33. Darth Robo : Believe me, when the ID/Creationists come up with a good point we’ll let you know…

    Will we? Really? Do we have to? ;-)

  39. Jim

    jaranath, it was online, so you kinda sorta live there. ;) There’s bad apples in every bunch.

    And, yeah, it really was the critical thinking thing that got me. What turned the tide completely was when a physics student posted up a ridiculously complicated formula and asked me if he thought man had the answer to it or if only God could. In that moment, I realized that it didn’t have to be one or the other – the universe could be a completely rational place, with still a place for God.

  40. jaranath

    Sam H:

    I second what BJN said. I honestly recommend you sit down someday soon, when you’ve got the time, and try to think of a unnatural, untestable, unrepeatable thing that, at least in the context of belief systems, is also relevant. I think you’ll find that it’s pretty much impossible. Any real, genuine, significant supernatural influence ought to be detectable and testable in some way. The only way to hide it is, indeed, to HIDE it; to squirrel it away in the margins of error, below the thresholds of statistical significance, behind the veil of “personal revelation” (which in the context of most belief systems is sufficiently common that it actually still ends up testable).

    Look at the way PSI research always walks the line of statistical insignificance, barely peeking over it. That’s not by chance. It’s because that’s the only way to generate results that individually seem positive when there’s nothing there. Proponents of the supernatural don’t want it to be “real, but only able to let you predict the temperature of one day per year a bit more accurately”. They want psychic weatherpeople who beat the professionals by a wide margin (yes, that’s just a made-up example, I’m sure psychic weatherpeople aren’t a major force in that community). But there’s no way to achieve that significance without also being testable, for the simple and obvious reason that the psychics would be doing better.

    The only way for the supernatural to be real but untestable is for it to be irrelevant. Now I agree with Jim that there’s a place for gods in a rational universe, especially if that “works for you”, but the reality is that the universe seems to work the same as if they aren’t there. I think the essence of faith is acknowledging that fact while still being willing to assume they are there. It’s a double standard, but who says you can’t choose to have one if you’re honest about it? Though I lack it, I’ve never defined faith as a thing that needs evidence.

  41. oldebabe

    Punchline heard on TV during an advertisement: “It makes sense, if you don’t think about it.”

  42. Sam H

    @41 jaranath: now THAT is what I call a good response!! It is to the point, it is free of the not-so-subtle sanctimony and ad hominems that plague other responses, it’s humble and it is very respectable.
    I of course disagree with what you say as being the final word on the matter, but I certainly get what you’re saying. We cannot objectively prove or disprove the existence of any God/Gods, or anything supernatural for that matter. However, I believe that when looking for a natural, scientific explanation gives no satisfactory results consistently for a long period of time, we should be open to the possibility of other explanations (when was just saying “we don’t know” ever a truly satisfactory answer for us relentlessly curious humans?) I don’t think that ID would ever work as a truly scientific model or framework, but as an idea and a possibility it should be carefully considered if necessitated. And this may indeed happen – if it’s determined to be mathematically or statistically improbable that random processes formed some cellular object, then we should carefully consider the possibility that some intelligence formed it that way. Assuming that an intelligence would always form something perfectly is a valid objection, but shouldn’t be considered absolute, and while we may not known the designer’s origin or whereabouts, we can at least tell it was designed. It isn’t meant to be a truly scientific explanation and should be avoided, but not at EVERY COST. As for your comment on faith, I can agree with that, however the evidence of faith is meant to be personal experience – even though she had no good evidence at all Ellie simply knew she went through the wormhole and saw her dad. She’s human and she could not deny the evidence of her senses and the enormous impact it made on her life.

    as for #25 & 34: For what sake will this knowledge be for? What will gain from investigating our origin, or our possible neighbors? The idea of spinoffs is usually just advertising, and we won’t be able to actually visit any Pandoras we’ll see in our telescopes to perform the science that would reap benefits in the forseeable future. Sure, you said we seek it for it’s own sake, somewhat like how Aristotle defined the human as seeking happiness as an end in itself. But by spiritual I mean the hope that investigating our origins will give us meaning (which it does), just as the discovery of alien life will as well. This search for meaning in certain areas of science does exist – Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens and others all affirm this fact. And I don’t define “spiritual” as appealing to the supernatural, but more as the essence of the human psyche. Even though not everyone actually believes in the physical existence of the soul, in a modern sense when we speak of our souls we speak of our essence, our psyche, and our person. It’s a little sad that some skeptics have come to see “spiritual” as a dirty word, even if it has supernatural connotations.

    And Kuhnigget: You seem to have missed my piece about the Discover/Scientific American article about the non-ID biologist that is affirming Behe’s conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the Neo Darwinian Synthesis. But thanks for correcting me on my wording – I know the difference between theory and hypothesis, and accept the fact of evolution and speciation even though I’m reserved on how effective natural selection and the like are to accomplish what we see recorded in genes and the fossil record. So I should have called it NDS. As for Behe writing a paper, I’ll just say that while he should it does not mean that we can decide whether not a hypothesis is totally true or false based on how closely one follows the rules of science journal publishing. And I’m ignoring the rest of your clichéd ad hominems and those of everyone else who decided to use them.

  43. Sam H

    Dangit, I meant Darth Robo @33, not kunigget :roll: . Now THAT’s what I call an ad hominem…using lolspeak to not-so-subtly suggest I’m stupid.

    Let’s just hope most people here don’t think that way…

  44. Jim

    Sam H – “I don’t think that ID would ever work as a truly scientific model or framework, but as an idea and a possibility it should be carefully considered if necessitated. And this may indeed happen – if it’s determined to be mathematically or statistically improbable that random processes formed some cellular object, then we should carefully consider the possibility that some intelligence formed it that way.”

    Based on what you’ve said here, it sounds as though you allow that ID is currently unnecessary. If so, shouldn’t it be disregarded? The theory of spontaneous generation of matter may at some time be necessary to explain a natural phenomena, but until such time, I don’t think an entire industry of investigation need be created around it, as has happened with ID.

  45. Sigh. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

  46. mike burkhart

    SamH as a religous person who accepts the theroy of evloution and thinks ID is !@#$ (you fill in the words) I say that kids are in science class to learn science NOT FAITH if you want to teach the Bible and the book of Genesis,and God creation of humans DO IT IN SUNDAY SCHOOL NOT SCIENCE CLASS. The problem is not with religous people who accept evloution and love science or with atheists the problem is with extremists whos faith is challenged when the hear the word evloution so insted of accommodate it like most religous pepole like me have you go out on a serch and destory mission that is doomed to failure.

  47. jaranath

    Sam H:

    I agree, but for some not-entirely-minor quibbles. Ellie (at least in the film, haven’t yet read the novel) lacked evidence for her experience. But she also accepted that fact.  Galling as it was, she knew she couldn’t press it too far. It’s the inability to recognize that one’s personal experience or feelings aren’t enough to be evidence for a phenomenon that defines many science cranks. They mean well, but can’t get past a fluke lab result or a (sometimes) beautifully compelling, logical idea that isn’t panning out when tested.

    And Ellie’s experience was at least somewhat different:  So many of the personal testimonies can be boiled down to vague (if strong) emotional experiences, felt presences, etc, things that have some pretty plausible and common psychological explanations. Ellie had a crystal-clear, detailed experience.  That leaves her with the rarer “hallucination” explanation.  If she’s honest with herself then she HAS to give that serious consideration, especially given her father’s image and the apparent lack of any special information (why didn’t they tell her something she couldn’t have guessed)?  But at least it narrows her options down. Also, she’s a sample size of one. If thousands of people had taken the ride and reported extremely similar experiences, that would be very interesting…probably not conclusive, but worth digging much deeper into. Perhaps the machine did let you visit aliens, or perhaps it was a mind-reading virtual-reality device.

    The nits I have to pick with ID as a possible avenue of exploration are twofold.

    First, ID is a solution looking for a problem. ID frames it’s argument with the initial assumption that it’s needed; that what we currently know about biology and evolution is inadequate, and that therefore we need ID.  But that’s almost certainly false. While we don’t know every detail of evolutionary biology, we know enough to be petty sure the mechanisms we understand, as well as some as-yet undiscovered ones, are capable of explaining it. Historically they always have, there’s nothing about the existing gaps that would seem to indicate anything extremely odd, and supernatural explanations have failed to provide anything to date.

     ID’s claims to the contrary have been built on, frankly, childish logic and math, on the order of claiming individual poker hands are impossible due to their extreme improbability.  Of course, it’s even worse in ID’s case in that they don’t have all the variables necessary to make their calculations yet pretend they do, and use obviously flawed values and methodologies.

    Second, ID HAS been explored.  And it’s failed badly. Various claims are made, tested and rejected. Of course, most cdesignproponentsists (look it up if you don’t recognize it…) never actually get to the point of testing their claims, and many of their ideas die in the cradle from flawed logic, such as the notion that there is any such thing as an identifiable, inherent quality of “designedness”.  But if you spend much time looking, you’ll find that that ID hasn’t JUST been dismissed out of hand. When it hasn’t failed to try, it’s consistently tried and failed. And while failure to find an explanation for a phenomenon can take a long time, that doesn’t necessarily indicate no explanation can be found, or that the explanation must be supernatural.

    At this point, ID has failed so badly that we CAN dismiss it out of hand, barring some astonishing new discoveries which we have no reason to expect.

    One other thing: ID doesn’t necessarily have to create perfect designs. I agree that’s a problem for most theologies, but a few theologians and ID proponents genuinely think God/The Designer is flawed and/or an alien.

  48. @ Sam h:

    For what sake will this knowledge be for?

    Why must it be for something? Why can’t it just be? Why can’t we track down knowledge about the world we live in simply because we can? As someone mentioned above, you seem to have a bias toward the Judeo-Christian view that knowledge in an of itself is somehow bad, or that something that has been learned rather than revealed is of lesser importance. Say it ain’t so, Sam.

    As to adding meaning to our lives, that’s entirely subjective, isn’t it? Some people, including Carl Sagan, whom you invoke like the IDs invoke (improperly) Einstein, did indeed find meaning in their work. But they didn’t need to cloak that work with terms such as “spirituality” or “essence” or “psyche” or anything else. The work itself was good enough.

    Even though not everyone actually believes in the physical existence of the soul, in a modern sense when we speak of our souls we speak of our essence, our psyche, and our person. It’s a little sad that some skeptics have come to see “spiritual” as a dirty word, even if it has supernatural connotations.

    No, no, no! This is a classic case of redefining a very specific concept in order to make it acceptable to modern tastes. The idea of a “soul” is NOT the same as our psyche or our person (by which, I presume you mean our consciousness). A soul very definitely is a non-mundane object, clearly defined throughout religious history as something that exists apart from flesh and blood and which survives death. I challenge you to survey a representative group of modern Christians, particularly American fundamentalists, and see if they equate this spiritual soul with their “psyche.” They won’t, I’m pretty darn sure.

    As for “spiritual” being a dirty word, I’m not sure that’s true. What is more likely a truism is that skeptics would not equate spiritual matters with anything having to do with the real world outside our human imaginations. Those who do, tend to find this “dirty,” but to the skeptics it’s just a statement of fact, nothing dirty implied.

  49. MartinM

    But the single most common one I see is some variant of the “hydrogen and stupidity” thing, which as best I can determine is actually due to Frank Zappa.

    Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe. – Frank Zappa

    Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. – Albert Einstein

    Similar but distinct, and both entirely real, AFAIK.

  50. MartinM

    natural selection + time alone statistically CANNOT fulfill the evolution links and leaps we see in genome and the fossil record

    Massive strawman alert. Who the hell said otherwise? Natural selection is nothing more than a filter, and is incapable of producing novelty.

    Also, the non-ID biologist to whom you refer is Lynn Margulis, who sadly went off the deep end quite some time ago. She also denies the existence of HIV, in fact.

  51. Anchor

    “The facts, obviously, need to be out there and need to be conveyed, but how we convey them is just as important, and in some cases may actually be more important. All the facts in the world make no difference if the person to whom we’re talking isn’t hearing them.”

    I humbly submit that “the person to whom we’re talking” won’t hear “how we convey” the facts either. They don’t WANT to listen to any argument, rationale or body of evidence that doesn’t coincide with their pre-established, preciously cultivated and guarded beliefs or opinions. Period.

    I’m in agreement with Caledonian #1: “What matters is that persuading people isn’t the point. What benefit accrues from persuading an irrational person, through irrational means, to supporting your side in some political struggle?”

    That’s spot on, and THAT is what accomodationists repeatedly fail to appreciate. Sound vaguely familiar? It shouldn’t. It really isn’t that vague.

  52. jaranath

    “natural selection + time alone statistically CANNOT fulfill the evolution links and leaps we see in genome and the fossil record”

    Oooh, I missed that. Yeah, as MartinM says, that’s a favorite of cdesignproponentsists, in the specific connotation of “those who speak ID but are just as likely YEC.” It’s not even wrong.

    As stated, it fails to account for genetic novelty via mutation, but it’s not exactly true as-is. A non-mutating population (which is almost certainly impossible) would still evolve. Selection would still play around with it’s gene frequencies and favor some. It might reach an indefinite equilibrium, but evolution is not inherently or necessarily progressive.

    If we assume they forgot to mention mutation, the statement’s still quite false because other mechanisms besides natural selection are known and play significant roles…they just don’t get as much attention because selection is, I think, more interesting to most people. Genetic drift is one example.

    Accounting for all known mechanisms STILL wouldn’t be enough, because we expect a few unknown ones, and probably can even roughly predict what some of those will be from existing models. But even then, you won’t cover everything. Science doesn’t deal in absolute certainty. Our knowledge will asymptotically approach certainty but never officially get there, and I guarantee you some IDers will always try to hide in that ever-shrinking gap.

    Still, when you see (most of) them make that claim, they won’t be basing it on the philosophical limits of absolute certainty. They’ll be basing it on calculations of the creation of a specific enzyme (no analogues allowed) from the de-novo spontaneous mutation of it’s gene. As if that meant something. And typically there will be some sloppy math errors and poor assumptions or omissions, because ultimately, they don’t give a frak what the actual probabilities of mutations are. They just want to generate a really large number so they can declare goddidit. The really galling thing is that some of them are doing so innocently, although time has reduced my estimate of how many.

  53. noen

    @ 52 Anchor
    “I humbly submit that “the person to whom we’re talking” won’t hear “how we convey” the facts either. They don’t WANT to listen to any argument, rationale or body of evidence that doesn’t coincide with their pre-established, preciously cultivated and guarded beliefs or opinions. Period.”

    Strawman. No, your opponents are not like the false image you have constructed for them. You have committed two fallacies here. One is “Sweeping Generalization”. That is, you believe from your own limited experience that *everyone* who disagrees with you will actively refuse to listen to you. Your second fallacy is that of Mindreading. You do not and in fact cannot know that those who do not accept your brilliant and exquisitely logical arguments have no desire to listen to *any* rational argument at all.

    Just yours.

    Which suggests a third possibility, it’s you who are the problem, not the facts.

    “That’s spot on, and THAT is what accomodationists repeatedly fail to appreciate.”

    If persuading people isn’t your objective then you are not engaged in rational intellectual debate. Because rational debate has as it’s object to persuade one’s opponent on the basis of reason alone. And if your objective in your debate is not rational then you are, by definition, behaving irrationally.

    Again it would seem that you are the problem. Being the highly rational person you claim to be I expect you will promptly make the requisite changes in your approach.

  54. Todd Boughn

    The hydrogen quote is actually Harlan Ellison, not Frank Zappa: “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” Great quote.

  55. Tony Colalillo

    “Jesus saves, and brings down ERA.” No, I’m not a missionary – just quoting a baseball headline.

  56. @ Todd Boughn, et al:

    I think that quote, or variations, can be attributed to many people. I’ve seen Robert Heinlein’s name attached to it, as well. Here’s another variation credited to Zappa: “There is more stupidity then hydrogen in the universe and it has a longer shelf life.”

  57. noen

    Oh don’t be so silly.

    People who are not of your tribe are not stupid.

    Stupidity is not a feature of the universe, intelligence is.

    Labeling people as stupid is a subjective value judgment and not an objective measure of a person’s worth.

    Engaging in angry emotional arguments is ineffective in convincing others of the rightness of your cause. The whole purpose of being aggressive, dismissive, condescending and confrontational is to push others away from you.

    Anger and aggression are reactions based in fear and ignorance. If you are domineering and aggressive towards others and then you wonder why they reject what you are trying to force on them one has to wonder just who is the one acting stupid.

  58. It might help to label whom your comments are directed at, Noen.

  59. jaranath

    noen:

    At the risk stepping into a crossfire and speaking for Anchor, I doubt he didn’t know that was a generalization. Either that or he was narrowing it to those who really won’t listen. In which case you’d be misrepresenting his point.

    Of course, maybe he did mean it that way, but I read it as more or less what I was saying: Though I caution against ever completely writing off any individual, some people really can’t be reached, and there’s a point where you should move on. We shouldn’t weaken our presentation and defense of science in an effort to convince those hardcore holdouts, but rather try to educate people on “how to know things”. And yes, if we manage to convince a lot of irrational holdouts to support evolution through some means that doesn’t deal with their irrationality, they would be unreliable allies.

    And maybe it’s a nitpick, but I’d suggest the purpose of most public (and maybe even private) debate is NOT to change the mind of one’s debating partner.

  60. mike burkhart

    #17 youre only partilly right the only knowlege that was forbiden was of good and evil .This refers to the fact that humans have a good side and a bad side (ever read Dr Jekyell and Mr Hyde) In fact the Bible has several books of knowlege. One thing creationists say is that science can’t explain certian things with evloution.Well of course we don’t have the full answers thats why reserch is done.I once desribed the universe as a big rubicks cube a rubicks cube has six sides astronomers have only solved one side and are still working on the other five.

  61. Messier Tidy Upper

    Kinda offtopic again but thinking of good news, bad news, or plain ole news generally here’s a news headline FAIL :

    http://failblog.org/2011/04/12/epic-fail-photos-news-banner-placement-fail/#comments

    That I reckon some folks here (incl., I suspect, the BA?) may get a laugh out of. ;-)

  62. Nigel Depledge

    OK, I’m late to the party.

    I got distracted by the thread on homeopathy.

    Apologies if my points have already been raised. I have not yet read all the comments.

    SamH (19) said:

    Now, as many of you may know I am sympathetic toward intelligent design (which I know depends on sketchy epistemology and has some big problems,

    No, it has no big problems. It has no theory, so there is nothing with which to have a problem.

    ID really is nothing more than a set of deeply-flawed attacks on evolutionary theory.

    I seem to recall pointing this out to you before. How have you got on with your reading since then?

    but something which I think deserves a very good look before we dismiss it as “pseudoscience”

    And some very smart scientists have looked at it (and so have I). Some very smart non-scientists have looked at it too. It is dismissed as nonsense because that is what it is.

    I recommend reading the judgement of Judge Jones, who presided at the Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District trial in Pennsylvania in 2005. Yes, 6 years ago, ID was proven in a court of law to be a bunch of religious ideas masquerading as science under some new terminology.

    and I’ll come clean that I am motivated because of my religious upbringing (which wasn’t even CLOSE to “child abuse” if you still believe that sanctimonious, rather-too-sure-of-himself Dawkins)

    Perhaps it were better if you go and find out exactly what Dawkins said, rather than believing what has been attributed to him by quote-miners.

    BTW, would you consider it acceptable to raise a child in the belief that zombies are real?

  63. Scottynuke

    @Tony Colalillo –

    C’mon, it’s hockey playoff time, so the better reference is:

    “Jesus saves, Orr gets the rebound and SCORES!!!” (credit an old hand-lettered sign on a telephone pole along I-93 just north of Boston)
    :-)

  64. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (19) said:

    This framework is metaphysical naturalism,

    Actually, that’s not necessarily so.

    Methodological naturalism is a more appropriate term for how scientific data are interpreted.

    What it boils down to (this is a bit of an oversimplification, but not excessively so, I feel) is the assumption that what we observe bears a direct relationship to a reality that is external to the self. I’ve yet to encounter any circumstance in which this assumptin is not a perfectly reasonable one to make.

    which is almost always very good because it is based off of reductionism,

    Not exclusively, now, but for a large part of its history, yes.

    Occam’s razor and predicts results that can be tested and verified.

    Agreed.

    But sometimes, I have noticed, it seems very hard to distinguish metaphysical naturalism from the a priori assumption of philosophical naturalism in some scientific discussion, which seems to rule out for any further consideration ANYTHING that is not naturalistic, not testable, not repeatable,

    OK, what do you suggest we do instead?

    If someone has a proposal that says “modern science is wrong about phenomenon X, which actually happens because of magic pixie dust” (just run with it, for the sake of argument), how can we distinguish whether modern science is correct after all, or that magic pixie dust is really responsible for phenomenon X?

    For the life of me, I cannot think of any way of doing this without reference to reality as an arbiter of truth.

    and sometimes anything not published in a peer-reviewed journal.

    Yes. Most scientists will know about their own field of expertise, but will know little detail of other areas of science. Thus, the “bar” of peer-reviewed publication is used as a measure of the validity of a proposition in an area of science that is outside a particular person’s area of expertise.

    The peer-review process is not perfect, but no-one has yet suggested anything better.

  65. Nigel Depledge

    SamH (19) said:

    It is only applicable to finding things out that are in the natural world, and even then it can sometimes get too wrapped up in it’s own commitment to naturalism that fails to skeptically analyze this commitment. In fact, it cannot, as it is the framework on which it depends. This is science’s blind spot – yes, it does exist, and it is very likely that it can occasionally prevent any consideration of possible conclusions that simply cannot be verified by absolute observation alone.

    Erm … well, then, what do you suggest as an alternative?

    In order to make any kind of progress in understanding the world and the universe, we need some means of distinguishing good ideas from bad ones (in terms of explanations of phenomena in the world). If it is not always by reference to observation etc., what else should it involve?

  66. Anchor

    noen#54: Oh my. A genuine hot-under-the-collar conclusion-jumper with a tendency to take general remarks as personally insulting. Do you know how to read, or are you just into interpretation fetish?

    I construct no strawman, entertain no falacy, engaged in no ‘mind-reading’ and I made no “sweeping generalizations”. YOU put all of that junk there and I resent it, sir.

    I said, “I humbly submit that “the person to whom we’re talking” won’t hear “how we convey” the facts either.” Get it? I wasn’t talking about ‘everyone’ (nice strawman there). I was talking about people who won’t listen to arguments that contain facts or evidence – the ones that Phil was refering to. We’re talking about people who don’t listen, not talking about ‘everybody’ or even ‘all those who harbor a particular opinion or belief’.

    Based on my 4+decades of experience of conversing with countless people (which you judge to be “limited experience”, demonstrating at once your own penchant for “Mindreading”) I’ve noted that people who do not listen to arguments based on evidence do not, in fact, listen, no matter “HOW” those arguments are conveyed. No gimmick or fancy dressing works. They don’t want to listen to anything that contradicts their cherished beliefs. Anybody is perfectly free to consult their own personal “limited experience” (not as unlimited as yours I’m sure) to judge whether or not what I’ve said coincides with their experience. They are also free to note how your interpretation of my remarks constitues a “Sweeping Generalization” in spades.

    You say, “If persuading people isn’t your objective then you are not engaged in rational intellectual debate.” Oh dear. Nobody suggests that persuasion by rational arguments in debate IN GENERAL isn’t a perfectly legitimate or worthy objective. What’s the matter with you? I simply echoed Caledonian’s point that since such persuasion doesn’t work with those who simply will not consider any argument they consider contrary to their views, no matter how rational, how well they are substantiated by evidence or how well they may be presented, there can be no point to the FUTILE exercise of attempting to persuade THEM. Yet it remains perfectly commendable to persuade undecided members of an audience, especially young people who have not yet been irretrievably infected by the inflexible tyrrany of absolute conviction.

    Understand now? Or are those subtleties a little hard to digest? If so, try reading that again. It might come to you eventually.

    You say, “Because rational debate has as it’s object to persuade one’s opponent on the basis of reason alone.”

    Hmmm, I certainly hope you can cite at least SOME evidence for the ‘reasoning’ you employ.

    You say, “And if your objective in your debate is not rational then you are, by definition, behaving irrationally.”

    No kidding? Another strawman. Why, I feel like breaking out with a round of “We’re off to see the Wizard!”.

    You say, “Again it would seem that you are the problem.”

    Fascinating. Yes, I suppose it would indeed “seem” I’m a “problem”…specifically just for you. (Bows deeply).

    You say, “Being the highly rational person you claim to be I expect you will promptly make the requisite changes in your approach.”

    Oh, I do not think my remarks carried any such graceless personal ad hominem and innuendo, least of all toward you, buster. Chalk those up along with your other finely-honed debating skills, together with your faulty powers of reasoning and reading comprehension. With all those and the talent of spinning them as accusations to the unwary as a camouflage technique, you, sir, win hands down. I am genuinely impressed.

    [@jaranath #60: I appreciate for the vote of confidence. It's a dangerous world out thar: one moment one is peacefully strolling down the street, and the next moment one is shot down like a dog...]

  67. Sam H

    NIGEL!!! Your well-reasoned, respectful comments are always so appreciated :)

    But to clear up a few things: yes I have read The God Delusion, and in retrospect I must say that while many parts of the book were very well argued and beautifully written, others really seemed to be borderline polemical childishness. As well, even if theology is very complex and subjective it is still applicable to the debate, so his “courtier’s reply” is really not much more than a sorry, not-so-subtle excuse for ignorance.

    Thanks for correcting me on methodological naturalism. When I get on the roll with an idea I usually run with it without much error correcting, and I didn’t really have the time anyway, but methodological naturalism is what I meant.

    Anyway, I’m getting a little tired of this thread so I’ll just say that I know how well the system works, and I know that we don’t really have anything better. But we have to remember that the system is dependent on and committed to a naturalistic framework that, while necessary, can occasionally get wrapped up in this commitment and may ignore possibilities that step outside this framework. These possibilities are not meant to be scientifically investigated, but philosophically and rationally considered as possibilities and nothing more. ID is not science and should not be taught as such, but science MAY be able to detect the POSSIBILITY of design. It’s sketchy, yes, but it is possible and should not be dismissed as a distinct possibility. And while I may seem ignorant in saying it, I don’t think it’s impossible to find positive (non-GotG) evidence that suggests purpose – hard to suggest and impossible to absolutely confirm, but NOT impossible.

  68. noen

    @ 59. kuhnigget —– I thought I did.

    @ 60. jaranath said
    “At the risk stepping into a crossfire”

    It is interesting how across the internet peo0ple equate disagreement with personal attack. Odd. I usually try to make simple declarative statements organized into what I hope is a rational argument.

    “Though I caution against ever completely writing off any individual, some people really can’t be reached, and there’s a point where you should move on.”

    And it is my contention that no one is really beyond reach. Second, that if you are unsuccessful in achieving your goal of convincing others it is most likely there is something wrong with your approach rather than with the other person. There are African Americans who have befriended Klansmen and have had some, albeit limited success in changing hearts and minds. They did not achieve that result through aggressive confrontation.

    “We shouldn’t weaken our presentation and defense of science in an effort to convince those hardcore holdouts, but rather try to educate people on “how to know things””

    I am not suggesting you should present a weak defense. I am suggesting that an aggressive confrontational debate, which is typical of many atheist/theist debates I have seen, IS a weak defense. Aggression is not strength. It is a form of weakness.

    “And maybe it’s a nitpick, but I’d suggest the purpose of most public (and maybe even private) debate is NOT to change the mind of one’s debating partner.”

    Sure, the goal of most debate is to convince the passive onlooker. By that measure most atheists loose their debates. Watch some William Lane Craig videos. By this measure he easily wins most of his debates. The reason why should be obvious. I have never seen Craig be the kind of smug, self absorbed prick that Dawkins et all can be. Since the most prominent atheists continue being self absorbed pricks even though it hurts their cause I conclude that being a self absorbed prick is the whole point of their being atheists.

  69. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (19) said:

    I don’t think we should present evolution as totally ironclad – there are gaps in the hypothesis that must be stated, even if the rest of it works.

    Such as what?

    Every criticism I have read that is levelled at evolutionary theory is one or more of the following:
    1. Vague (as in the comment of SamH);
    2. A logical fallacy (such as an argument from ignorance or an argument from personal incredulity);
    3. Just plain wrong.

    To make my position as clear as I can:

    a. Gaps in the fossil record are not evidence against evolutionary theory (absence of evidence is not evidence for something else).
    b. Biology’s failure – thus far – to understand the origin of any one specific feature is not evidence against evolutionary theory.
    c. Evolutionary theory is readily testable.
    d. Even if special creation has occurred in Earth’s past, evolution of those created forms would occur unless something prevents evolution from occurring.
    e. No creationist has ever proposed any mechanism to prevent small changes from accruing into larger changes.
    f. The construction of a detailed evolutionary history of any specific lineage is a possible outcome of the theory, not a part of the theory.
    g. Any criticism of evolutionary theory should – to be a part of an intellectually honest debate – also include a detailed proposal of what should replace the criticised component of the theory, including how to test the new proposal.
    h. It is overwhelmingly likely that any theory that supplants evolutionary theory will show that evolutionary theory is a special case of a more general theory.
    i. The origin of life has no direct bearing on the validity or otherwise of evolution. Darwin himself would quite readily have accepted that life on Earth began with one or a few creation events. Indeed, if you had read On the Origin of Species you would know that this is what he assumed.

  70. Nigel Depledge

    SamH (19) said:

    But there is one thing we can do: NEVER even TRY to pretend that performing science and learning about the universe isn’t a spiritual experience,

    I suppose this depends on what you mean by “spiritual”. If you mean “emotionally uplifting”, then I agree.

    If you mean that those emotions imply the existence of some realm beyond what we can readily perceive or measure, no matter how good the instruments, then I most emphatically do not.

    which it so obviously is – why else is NASA spending billions of dollars on telescopes hunting for alien earths that won’t benefit the population in any conceivable practical way for the foreseeable future? Why else are we doing the same on spacecraft that will tell us how our planet and the rest of the universe formed? Why else are we listening to the stars almost hopelessly in search of a few tell-all intelligible, tell all blips buried in the static?

    Why must knowledge have a definite and immediate application?

    Every honest atheist/agnostic on this blog and elsewhere will know that the preceding paragraph is, in some way, true for them.

    As I said, the validity of this depends on exactly how you meant your use of the word “spiritual”.

    If I am wrong about the existence of a spirit realm, then may Thor strike me down with a thunderbolt.

    Oh. I’m still here.

    And while not all are the “religious” type, nobody is free of a void that we’re looking to fill with something – some people are just better at hiding it and/or ignoring it. “People will learn to live without religion” – riiiight, Richard. It is truly sad that such a smart man could be nigh ignoring what is perhaps the core of all human nature.

    The core of human nature is the desire to belong to a tribe.

    This is what religions – all of them – tap into. So this void to which you refer is nothing intrinsically to do with religion. It can equally well be applied to followers of a football team as to followers of a religion.

    And you seem to ignore the truth that many people do quite happily live without religion.

  71. Nigel Depledge

    Jess Tauber (31) said:

    Re 28, well, perhaps the entire earth hadn’t been made at the same time- didn’t the Europeans before Columbus fear they would fall over the edge of the world if they ventured out too far to sea? Maybe they were right

    No, that’s a common myth.

    Columbus thought the world was much smaller than did everyone else. It has been known since about 300 BC that the world is round (IIRC, a fellow named Eratosthenes measured the diameter of the world, and came within 10% of what we now consider to be the right answer).

  72. TheBlackCat

    As well, even if theology is very complex and subjective it is still applicable to the debate, so his “courtier’s reply” is really not much more than a sorry, not-so-subtle excuse for ignorance.

    You apparently didn’t read too closely if you think “the courtier’s reply” is from Dawkins. It isn’t, it is from PZ Myers.

    You also completely missed the point of the courtier’s reply. The point is this: it doesn’t matter how complex the subject is if it is based on a flawed or unsupported premise. Theologians have done massive work debating the intricacies and opinions of God, but it is all based on the premise that God exists in the first place. All those quibbles are irrelevant if God doesn’t exist.

    So rather than endlessly debating whether God has this trait or that trait, or what God thinks of this action or that action, we should focus on the core issue: does God exist? That is the point of the courtier’s reply, that all the talk about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or whether Adam and Eve had navels (those are real, long-standing theological debates) are irrelevant to the question of whether God actually exists or not.

    It also doesn’t directly address, but alludes to the asymmetry in the debate. All the people who accepted the emperor’s clothes (the believers) don’t need to know any theology or be up on the latest theological debates. But anyone who questions the clothes (Dawkins) are required to be experts in theology before they are allowed to have an opinion.

  73. TheBlackCat

    Columbus thought the world was much smaller than did everyone else. It has been known since about 300 BC that the world is round (IIRC, a fellow named Eratosthenes measured the diameter of the world, and came within 10% of what we now consider to be the right answer).

    I should add that he was wrong, and everyone else was right. That is why no one wanted to fund him, they knew that there wasn’t enough food to make the trip. He got lucky with an unknown continent in the way.

  74. Anchor

    noen#54:”It is interesting how across the internet peo0ple equate disagreement with personal attack. Odd. I usually try to make simple declarative statements organized into what I hope is a rational argument.”

    Your contortionist skills are stunning.

    noen#54:”Since the most prominent atheists continue being self absorbed pricks even though it hurts their cause I conclude that being a self absorbed prick is the whole point of their being atheists.”

    Wow, you really DO have a problem, don’t you? Let nobody DARE take your commentary to task and Pass Judgement, since those priviledges are obviously reserved exclusively for you. We must keep silent to ponder the mystery: YOUR cause ISN’T hurt for being a monumentally champion-grade [that word you use], because?

    Allow me to guess the answer: because you are “right” – God thinks just like you do, doesn’t He? That proves it, doesn’t it?

  75. Tony Colalillo

    #64, @Scottynuke: Being Canadian, I’m embarassed to admit that I should have gone in that direction…LOL. And I’m glad you guys still love Bobby in Mass. He was awesome…but it would have been Orr who was, um, ‘saved’ – Espo would be the one who banged in the rebound!

  76. noen

    @ 67. Anchor said
    “noen#54: Oh my. A genuine hot-under-the-collar conclusion-jumper with a tendency to take general remarks as personally insulting. Do you know how to read, or are you just into interpretation fetish?”

    Exhibit A

    “I construct no strawman, entertain no falacy, engaged in no ‘mind-reading’ and I made no “sweeping generalizations”. YOU put all of that junk there and I resent it, sir. “

    It’s ma’am and I fail to see any attempt at rational debate here. Rational debate does not consist in making claims not backed by evidence. What is your evidence for your claim that those who do not agree with you have no desire for rational argument?

    “I said, “I humbly submit that “the person to whom we’re talking” won’t hear “how we convey” the facts either.” Get it? I wasn’t talking about ‘everyone’ (nice strawman there). I was talking about people who won’t listen to arguments that contain facts or evidence – the ones that Phil was refering to.”

    What is your evidence that people who don’t listen to your arguments are turned off by the facts and not the presentation of those facts?

    “Based on my 4+decades of experience of conversing with countless people (which you judge to be “limited experience”, demonstrating at once your own penchant for “Mindreading”) I’ve noted that people who do not listen to arguments based on evidence do not, in fact, listen, no matter “HOW” those arguments are conveyed.”

    Yes, your personal anecdotes, even four decades of them, do not amount to evidence. The plural of anecdote is not evidence. You do not in fact know that it would not matter how your arguments were conveyed. You have not performed the experiment. Real clinical studies have in fact shown that the manner in which information is presented strongly effects how it is received.

    I will even accept as a stipulation that some people are not interested in hearing things that conflict with their received views. Still, you have not shown and do not know that those you have failed to convince remained unconvinced because they refused to accept the facts. It is most likely they did not listen to you because you were being aggressive and brow beating as you are here.

    “They don’t want to listen to anything that contradicts their cherished beliefs.”

    You do not know this. Your claim to posses such knowledge counts as mindreading because neither you nor I can read minds. The only way to know the motives a person has for why they don’t accept a proposition is to ask them. You have not asked them. Therefore you cannot know their subjective motivation.

    “Anybody is perfectly free to consult their own personal “limited experience” (not as unlimited as yours I’m sure) to judge whether or not what I’ve said coincides with their experience.”

    Again, anecdote is not evidence.

    “I simply echoed Caledonian’s point that since such persuasion doesn’t work with those who simply will not consider any argument they consider contrary to their views, no matter how rational, how well they are substantiated by evidence or how well they may be presented, there can be no point to the FUTILE exercise of attempting to persuade THEM.”

    Sorry but your conclusion does not follow from your premise.

    Your premise — “such persuasion doesn’t work”
    2nd premise — They “will not consider any argument they consider contrary to their views”
    Your conclusion — “there can be no point to the FUTILE exercise of attempting to persuade THEM”

    Or in other words: “I keep doing the same thing and getting the same undesirable results therefore it is not my fault.”

    The argument is not valid because the premises are false. You do not in fact know that ANY form of argument would necessarily fail and you do not know the private motives that people have for not listening to you. I suspect the reason is because they find the messenger unpalatable, not the message.

    “Understand now? Or are those subtleties a little hard to digest? If so, try reading that again. It might come to you eventually.”

    Exhibit B

    “You say, “Because rational debate has as it’s object to persuade one’s opponent on the basis of reason alone.”

    Hmmm, I certainly hope you can cite at least SOME evidence for the ‘reasoning’ you employ.”

    None is needed. The statement is analytic. I know that rational debate is debate through reason the same way that I know all unmarried men are bachelors.

    “You say, “And if your objective in your debate is not rational then you are, by definition, behaving irrationally.”

    No kidding? Another strawman.”

    You seem confused on the meaning of the word strawman. My claim that behavior that is not rational is irrational is not a strawman argument. It is in fact a deductively logical conclusion. The prefix ir means ‘not’. Therefore my claim that if you are not arguing rationally you are being irrational is a logically necessary conclusion.

    “You say, “Being the highly rational person you claim to be I expect you will promptly make the requisite changes in your approach.”

    Oh, I do not think my remarks carried any such graceless personal ad hominem and innuendo, least of all toward you”

    The quote of me is not an ad hominem argument. An ad hominem would be if I claimed that because you are a disagreeable person therefore your argument is false. I made no such claim. My claim is that many do not accept your arguments because you (third person, the atheist side in such debates) are being disagreeable.

    ‘Chalk those up along with your other finely-honed debating skills, together with your faulty powers of reasoning and reading comprehension.”

    I do not believe it is I whose powers of reasoning are deficient here.

    “one moment one is peacefully strolling down the street, and the next moment one is shot down like a dog”

    You are not a victim, as much as you might wish others to believe you are. This is a public blog and comments are open to all. That you perceive disagreement as somehow like being violently gunned down goes to my point that anger and aggression are signals of a weak character and not strength. One wonders how you manage to leave your home with skin as thin as yours.

  77. jaranath

    Sam H:

    Glad to have spoken with you.  If I’d emphasize anything for you to ponder, it’d be the point Nigel articulated much better than I:  That “possibilities that step outside this framework” are inherently very problematic, and in fact I suspect impossible, at least for a coherent, consistent universe.  If you spend time trying to think of those possibilities, I think you’ll find they inherently cannot simultaneously be untestable and exert significant influence upon reality.  The latter necessitates the former.

    noen:

    I agree that any given individual cannot be considered an absolute write-off. I said as much. Perhaps you should read it again.  

    I can’t agree with your stance that if B fails to listen to reason, it’s necessarily and exclusively A’s fault. That’s a very strange position.  In the context of poor argumentation on A’s part, certainly that’s a factor, and I know that you’re including “aggression” and “prickishness” in that category. But even when that’s the case, that doesn’t absolve B.

    Now, that aside:  For someone ostensibly concerned with civility, emotion, tone and smugness, you do seem to have your fair share.  You also have a tendency to apply your own questionable interpretations to people’s statements.

    I don’t care how obsessed you are with tone; don’t put words in my mouth. If I thought you were engaging in personal attack, I’d have said so.  If you can’t interpret figures of speech, go brush up on them.  You’re a little too one-note in your comments, to the point of making everyone into a nail you can hammer.  Trust me, I’m perfectly capable of being an emotional, aggressive, confrontational smug prick. I don’t need your help.   :)

  78. noen

    @ 78. jaranath said:
    “I can’t agree with your stance that if B fails to listen to reason, it’s necessarily and exclusively A’s fault. That’s a very strange position.”

    Fortunately I never made such a claim.

    ” In the context of poor argumentation on A’s part, certainly that’s a factor, and I know that you’re including “aggression” and “prickishness” in that category. But even when that’s the case, that doesn’t absolve B.”

    That is not how things work in the real world. In the real world it is not incumbent on B to accept A’s argument regardless of how much of a dick A is. People don’t work like that.

    “Now, that aside: For someone ostensibly concerned with civility, emotion, tone and smugness, you do seem to have your fair share.”

    My tone here has been very flat and I have consciously removed as much ‘tone’ as I can. I have made flat statements ordered into what I hope is a rational defense of my position.

    “You’re a little too one-note in your comments, to the point of making everyone into a nail you can hammer.”

    When atheists complain that they are being ill received and that people are not listening to them it is true that I do typically point out that it is the manner in which they engage their opponents that is most likely to blame and not their opponents. I don’t see the problem with that.

  79. Anchor

    @noen#77: I talked about people who don’t pay attention to their ears. You are one who doesn’t pay attention to her eyes.

    Read my original post (#52) again, with the quoted items from Phil’s posting and from Caledonian (#1), then read the response you offered (#54) chock full of faulty interpretations and blatant mischaracterizations and a fusilade of personal attacks. My original post contained nothing anywhere that could in the slightest be construed as a personal attack, except by you, who apparently seems to think that there is no such thing as people who don’t want to hear arguments opposed to their beliefs…but if there WERE, why then, by golly, I must be insulting ALL people who hold a conviction. It is also a blatant lie, and I still resent it, MA’AM.

    Even after I explained that YOU were the sole source of that utterly false inference, you continue to rant and rave and fling personal attacks while in the same sentence accusing others who had not done any such thing of doing so. THEN you have the temerity to get snippy in your superiority act when you get called out on your numerous mistaken inferences posing as ‘rational thinking’ and can’t take what you dish out. You act as if you have a monopoly on rational argumentation in debate; too bad you don’t practice it. Instead you do precisely what you accuse others of.

    I feel rather sorry for you…but you do splendidly make my case for me, even without the conclusion I have drawn from my ‘anecdotal’ experience. You can’t deny I merely invited other readers to compare that conclusion with their own experiences. How can anybody possibly have a problem with that?

    You have a problem with it. You don’t like something. Fine. Most people don’t like lots of things. You don’t like anything you encounter which you decide doesn’t support your convictions, right? But extending the same liberty to others who do not share your convictions is something different, isn’t it? So whenever anybody makes an innocent general statement that in fact CAN be justified on the basis of evidence (and make no mistake, experience IS ALSO OBSERVATIONAL EVIDENCE, however ‘anecdotal it may be) you fly off the handle and inflict people with ad hominem attacks in a way that very much resembles a deep-seated hatred reserved not only for certain individuals but for entire groups of people who do not see it your way.

    My conclusion – based on the ‘anecdotal’ reading of your posts which I again remind others they can judge for themselves – is that your lack of integrity precludes any chance of rational debate. You see, what Caledonian and I and Jaranath have said is more than sufficiently demonstrated based only on your own behavior. Now I’m done with this pointless exercise.

  80. jaranath

    “Fortunately I never made such a claim.”

    Really?  What is this, then, if NOT an absolution of B because A’s being a dick:

    “if you are unsuccessful in achieving your goal of convincing others it is most likely there is something wrong with your approach rather than with the other person.”

    “it is not incumbent on B to accept A’s argument regardless of how much of a dick A is.”

    Seriously, how else do I interpret that?

    If you’re trying to assert that A can make mistakes, sure!  I’m not on board with your general opinions on aggression and tone, but sure, those absolutely CAN be problems.  Or something else entirely. A could be arguing that B should accept global warming is science because Big Oil is evil. I don’t really care. My point isn’t that when B is wrong, everything is B’s fault. My point is that B shares a certain amount of responsibility in any effort to seek the truth.  You cannot seriously be suggesting that if B is wrong about something, A is to blame because A didn’t explain the facts to B the right way…right?  If I refuse to believe I have cancer because my doctor was a jerk, is my painful death entirely his fault?

    Maybe that isn’t what you meant. Maybe you agree with me.  But that’s the implication of both your statements and your attitude toward other commenters.  And I’m sorry, but your tone’s been anything but flat in that regard, sarcasm being the most obvious example.  I don’t MIND snark, depending on implementation, but then I’ve already explained I disagree with your general position on tone.  What I do mind is hypocritical tone-trolling.

  81. Hey Caledonian, that is an excellent point! Getting people to agree with you is one thing, persuading them through sound reasoning is another. Blindly held beliefs are inherently unstable (either because they constantly jump around based on emotional, temporary conditions, or are unchangeable, making them unstable like a rock atop a moving pole. The rock can’t make the changes that allow it to remain balanced).

    I find that it is often impossible to persuade someone in a public forum precisely because it is a public forum. Being in the limelight leads some people to the conclusion that they must prove themselves right, as opposed to finding out what is right.* But, being public, a lot of people can watch the conversation unfold, and not being in the limelight, can find it’s easier to change their mind about a topic. For them, sound logic and reasoning will be the most persuasive.

    But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for stentorian rhetoric. In times of crisis, or a lack of time, or, in unfortunate cases, in the face of obstinate obstruction by those with a vested interest in disagreeing with the findings of science (The owner of a coal mine creating a PAC against global warming maybe), you may need to use other tactics. I would like for us to be able to take the time to discuss things rationally with irrational people (and stop caring so much about the tone of a persons words and more about their content), but that may not always be a viable option. Add to that, some people pay more attention when you insult them. The thing to do is to get them angry enough to reply, but not so angry that they don’t think about what they say.

    The way we engage people in these discussions certainly does influence the outcome. But we can’t assume, a priori, that sweet reason is the best option. I try and make it my favored option, but not everything is idle conversation with another. Sometimes it’s not about convincing someone of your point, but about managing the society we all live in. Some of the debates about science in congress are ridiculous, and in order to get anything done you have play the game by their rules, even if that particular congress person doesn’t view it as a game. There should some balance, some mix of approaches, not just one single one. I don’t know which mix is best, but I think it’s best to have a mix.

    *Which leads to an interesting contradiction between scientific debate and general public discussion. For a scientist, being proven wrong can be more exciting then being proven right.

  82. noen

    @ 81. jaranath said:
    “Really? What is this, then, if NOT an absolution of B because A’s being a dick:

    “if you are unsuccessful in achieving your goal of convincing others it is most likely there is something wrong with your approach rather than with the other person.””

    This, your quotation of me immediately above, is not the same as this following quote which I objected to:

    “I can’t agree with your stance that if B fails to listen to reason, it’s necessarily and exclusively A’s fault. That’s a very strange position.”

    There are host of problems with this, not the least of which is that you seem to be equating yourself with the voice of reason. I strongly suspect you are not. But primarily, I did not attach necessity or exclusivity to my proposition “If A fails to convince B it is most likely due to A’s tone”. I most certainly did not say that if A fails to convince B it is “necessarily and exclusively A’s fault”.

    There are indeed people who cannot be dissuaded from their beliefs. I think that is a small number but the point is that you cannot know in any particular case that B rejected A’s argument for the reasons you have given because you cannot know someone’s private motives. Ever. (unless you ask)

    “I’m not on board with your general opinions on aggression and tone”

    I have noticed this.

    “A could be arguing that B should accept global warming is science because Big Oil is evil. “

    If you like I will stipulate that A’s arguments are flawless. It is still the case that how A goes about making them determines to a large extent how B will receive them. A flawed delivery (being a dick) will negate a good argument every time. I would think this obvious but… there you go.

    “You cannot seriously be suggesting that if B is wrong about something, A is to blame because A didn’t explain the facts to B the right way…right?”

    Not at all. Yes, you are right, it is B’s responsibility to seek the truth. It is also A’s responsibility “not to be a dick”. Both and not either or. Your example of the doctor is a good one because bedside manner is a serious issue. A physician with a poor bedside manner can lose patients and yes his review board would lay the responsibility at his feet. The character “House” would not last long or do very well in today’s clinical environment. At the same time it is also the patients responsibility to understand their illness and be a partner in their treatment program. Both and, not either or.

    Do not seek to attach blame. There is no hook on which it can be fixed. Events occur. They occur by reason of their antecedent causes. There are no uncaused events. Therefore, if you keep getting the same results the universe is operating as it should be! B is a part of the universe (as are you) so why would you blame the universe (B) for doing what it is supposed to do?

  83. noen

    @ 80 Anchor
    “read the response you offered (#54) chock full of faulty interpretations and blatant mischaracterizations and a fusilade of personal attacks”

    [citation needed]

    “you, who apparently seems to think that there is no such thing as people who don’t want to hear arguments opposed to their beliefs”

    I never made that claim. Cf. above.

    “I must be insulting ALL people who hold a conviction. It is also a blatant lie, and I still resent it, MA’AM.”

    I never said you were. I would guess there are some people whom you do not insult. Given your behavior here I suspect that number is vanishingly low.

    “you continue to rant and rave and fling personal attacks while in the same sentence accusing others who had not done any such thing of doing so.”

    [citation needed]

    “you have the temerity to get snippy in your superiority act when you get called out on your numerous mistaken inferences posing as ‘rational thinking’ and can’t take what you dish out.”

    That you think argument is about “dishing it out” explains why no one listens to you.

    “You act as if you have a monopoly on rational argumentation in debate”

    I have no such monopoly and I was unaware that it was possible to corner that market. If you are experiencing a shortage of rational debate I suggest that you examine your own behavior for the cause.

    “You can’t deny I merely invited other readers to compare that conclusion with their own experiences. How can anybody possibly have a problem with that?”

    Because anecdote is not evidence. It does not follow from your own personal experience that your claim, that the cause of your failure is due to the other’s intransigence, must be true. It might be, but you cannot know it is. Since you cannot know it is the case it is best to assume that a different delivery, or tone, would effect different results. This seems highly reasonable to me.

    “You don’t like anything you encounter which you decide doesn’t support your convictions, right?”

    Nope, what I like or don’t like doesn’t matter. Personal preference simply does not enter into the question of what is the best way to go about convincing others of the rightness of one’s cause. It would seem to me that if the creation/evolution issue is really of such importance then one would do whatever it takes to achieve one’s goals. If you find that reaching your goals is being frustrated blaming others is unlikely to change that outcome.

    “experience IS ALSO OBSERVATIONAL EVIDENCE, however ‘anecdotal it may be”

    That is true. Anecdotal evidence is evidence. It’s just not good evidence and does not justify the conclusion you have attempted to make.

    “you fly off the handle and inflict people with ad hominem attacks”

    [citation needed]

    “in a way that very much resembles a deep-seated hatred reserved not only for certain individuals but for entire groups of people who do not see it your way.”

    Mindreading fallacy.

    “You see, what Caledonian and I and Jaranath have said is more than sufficiently demonstrated based only on your own behavior”

    All that you have done is to make unsupported claims. You have not advanced a single reason to support them or given a rational justification for your beliefs about me or anyone else. In short, you have yet to even attempt rational discourse. If this is how you behave in science/religion debates then it is little wonder no one pays much attention to you and your arguments, such as they are, have been utter failures. Good luck with that.

  84. jaranath

    …and I’ve been making most of those points this whole time. So great. We agree. Not on degrees; I think you’re way off base on how serious a problem you think presentation is, but still, my bigger “buwah?” moment was on how you seemed to be blaming the As of the world for the errors of the Bs. Yes, I know, you don’t think you were even seeming to do so. Just at least consider that “most likely something wrong with your approach and not with the other person” sounds an awful lot like that to some of us. I do think you ought to re-read a lot of what you say with a critical eye.

    And I have to ask:

    ‘“I’m not on board with your general opinions on aggression and tone”’
    “I have noticed this.”

    Aside from me telling you, how did you notice this?

  85. Nigel Depledge

    SamH (43) said:

    @41 jaranath: now THAT is what I call a good response!! It is to the point, it is free of the not-so-subtle sanctimony and ad hominems that plague other responses, it’s humble and it is very respectable.

    I have several issues with this.

    First, having now read all the comments up to 43, I have not seen any ad hominem attacks. An argumentum ad hominem is the logical fallacy whereby a person claims that one can ignore every argument made by their opponent because of one particular failing that opponent has. It is a logical fallacy because, of course, an argument stands or falls on its own merits, irrespective of who makes it.

    Perhaps what you meant was a personal attack or some form of name-calling?

    If so, your denunciation of such behaviour would be far more effective if you cite specific examples. To be frank, a limited amount of name-calling is fair play in my book, if the person being called unpleasant things has shown themselves to deserve a certain amount of ridicule or derision. Ridicule and derision are evolved social tools, and they survive for a reason.

    Having said that, of course, I also note that if someone criticises you in an unpleasant way for making an egregious argument or statement, is your resultant feeling their fault for not being gentle, or your fault for making the statement in the first place? Here, I should point out, I refer to those arguments that either contain a blatant absence of logic or have been disproved many times in the past. Regarding evolution, I sometimes tire of having to refute the same tired objections time after time, despite those objections still having zero merit.

    In other words, did you mistake a derisory comment about your argument for a personal attack on your self?

    Additionally, why should a comment be presented humbly for you to pay attention to it?

  86. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (43) said:

    We cannot objectively prove or disprove the existence of any God/Gods, or anything supernatural for that matter.

    This is wrong. In a way.

    We can disprove the existence of telekinesis, for example, because it is easy to test. No-one who claims to have that power has ever been able to actually move anything by the power of their mind. Telekinesis is a parlour trick.

    Other claims of similar such “psychic” tricks have also been shown to be fraudulent.

    Therefore, psychic “powers” do not exist, despite my sincerest wish to the contrary.

    I agree, however, that – to take another example – the Christian god has been given carefully-selected attributes that render disproof impossible. Thus, we have a need for some logical tools such as the principle of parsimony.

    However, I believe that when looking for a natural, scientific explanation gives no satisfactory results consistently for a long period of time, we should be open to the possibility of other explanations

    Well, yes, but any proposed explanation should meet two criteria before we give it serious consideration. First, it must not violate known facts. Second, it must make predictions that can be tested. Even if a god did influence the evolutionary history of life on Earth (for instance), assuming this to be so will yield no further knowledge. In fact, the invocation of the supernatural as an explanation for a phenomenon demands a cessation of investigation.

    (when was just saying “we don’t know” ever a truly satisfactory answer for us relentlessly curious humans?)

    Ever since we first realised that leaping to unsupported conclusions was a surefire way of deluding ourselves. In fact, the commonest answer to cutting-edge questions in modern science is “we don’t know yet,”.

    You seem to be assuming that accepting we do not have an answer implies an expectation that we will never have an answer. In my understanding of science, the opposite is true, i.e. “we don’t know” prompts a lot more research, and fires up a lot more young people to go into science than “hey, we know nearly everything”.

  87. Bob Strause

    Wow! Frank Nicely really needs to rethink what brand of mushrooms he buys and/or change produce markets.

  88. Nigel Depledge

    Sam H (43) said:

    I don’t think that ID would ever work as a truly scientific model or framework, but as an idea and a possibility it should be carefully considered if necessitated.

    It has been considered. When Behe first came up with his concept of Irreducible Complexity, many biologists looked into it.

    First, they found that something identical (but by a different name that I forget) had been predicted about 70 years ago.

    Second, they found that the detection of IC depended on how one defined one’s “system” and “parts”.

    Third, they found that all of Behe’s examples were not irreducible.

    Fourth, they noticed that the use of IC (even if it were real) to conclude ID was both naive and illogical.

    And this may indeed happen – if it’s determined to be mathematically or statistically improbable that random processes formed some cellular object,

    Fortunate for us, then, that evolution is not a random process.

    At the molecular scale, evolution depends on the laws of chemistry, with just a little bit of randomness thrown in.

    then we should carefully consider the possibility that some intelligence formed it that way.

    Actually, this is Paley’s argument all over again. People pointed out the logical flaws in this argument even before anyone had conceived evolutionary theory. The appearance of complexity in biology arises through the action of simple laws, so no intelligent intervening agent is needed to explain how life came to its present diversity.

    In my mind, one of the weakest parts of ID is that complexity implies design. In real life, simplicity is something we find in things that we know to have been designed. If you found a perfectly spherical pebble on a beach, would you conclude that, because of its simplicity, it was a natural object, or would you wonder if it had been shaped thus by a person?

    It is true that we humans build complicated assemblies of parts, but we build them from simple parts.

    Assuming that an intelligence would always form something perfectly is a valid objection, but shouldn’t be considered absolute, and while we may not known the designer’s origin or whereabouts, we can at least tell it was designed.

    How can we tell something is designed?

    Billy Dembski has filled books with his ideas, and he has got us no closer to being able to detect design. What he detects is manufacture, or the aplpication of knowledge outside the object being evaluated. In other words, not one of his analogies leads us to a mechanism for detecting design in something of which we genuinely do not know the origin.

    . . . even though she had no good evidence at all Ellie simply knew she went through the wormhole and saw her dad. She’s human and she could not deny the evidence of her senses and the enormous impact it made on her life.

    But how could she ever know – for sure – that it was not an hallucination? This is where “personal religious experience” arguments fall short of convincing. How can one ever distinguish a genuine religious experience from an hallucination?

  89. PayasYouStargaze

    @89 Nigel

    Well done for bringing up the design complexity/simplicity aspect. One thing that the creationists always fail to do is speak to the people most qualified to talk about design. i.e. engineers.

    Engineers are not scientists, but they are trained in design using scientific principles. A competent engineer will know that the best design is the simplest that can still perform all the required tasks. KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

    So while we have no means of determining whether something is designed or not, we can easily evaluate how good a design is. The human body is a terrible design for what it does. You don’t even have to think about the more philosophical questions such as what our purpose on Earth is. Just compared to other animals we have some deficiencies that need not be there. This is even worse if you suppose an omnipotent god who wouldn’t have to compromise due to lack of resources.

    While we can’t use this to determine whether we were designed or not, we can say that the supposed designer was an inferior intelligence to humans. That brings me back to why creationists probably don’t talk to engineers. We end up telling them that their god was a fool.

  90. I don’t waste my time with Creationists.

    I dismiss each and every one as ignorant and inferior, and carry on with my life.

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