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More Hot Air

In Christianity & Atheism, Science & Religion on July 7, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged:

As so often happens, Jerry Coyne is full of hot air this morning.  In a post entitled What evidence would convince you that a god exists?, Coyne wonders what evidence might convince various non-believers that God exists.  That’s a reasonable and interesting question, and even more so since some in the comments essentially admit that since any such evidence could potentially be faked (by, say, sufficiently advanced technology), they can’t be so convinced.

But I was particularly struck by the specious claims Coyne makes along the way.  Let’s take a look.

“In contrast, the faithful do not (and cannot) specify what observations would disprove their beliefs—or the whole basis of their religion.”

Nonsense.  Good evidence that Jesus never existed would cause me to abandon my Christianity.  More generally, convincing evidence that we don’t have some measure of volitional freedom (as I think naturalism demands) would cause me to abandon my theism.  It’s amazing how cavalierly Coyne makes such obviously false claims.

“Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong. And without that, you don’t know if  you’re right.  This is why science makes progress in understanding the world while religion is still mired in medieval theology.”

More nonsense.  Most fundamentally, Coyne is stuck using the wrong measuring stick.  Matters of value are incapable of conclusive demonstration.  The claim — whether religiously based or not — that “torturing innocents is wrong” can’t be proven.  It must be argued for.  But unless Coyne is trying to jettison ethics, morals, and philosophy along with religion (is he?), his claim here is incoherent.  And if he is trying to jettison everything except science as a means of figuring out how to live, he’s just plain wrong.  I can’t prove with any degree of certainty that torturing innocents is wrong — I can’t establish that I’m right.  That fact doesn’t invalidate the effort or the attempt and doesn’t necessarily invalidate any conclusions I might draw.

In looking for comments, Coyne seems to seek out believers:

“If you’re one of the faithful reading this, feel free to post those observations that would convince you that God doesn‘t exist.”

I would have loved to have commented there, but Coyne hasn’t allowed me to post.  I have been advised of a number of people who are banned from Coyne’s site also.  Apparently, he doesn’t really want people to challenge his orthodoxy.

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7 Responses to “More Hot Air”

  1. The notion of proof in complex life is untenable. We probably owe it to the fascination of early theologians with Aristotle, that this notion of provable truth has been elevated so much.

    No we need no to proof for ethical concepts. We just need sense and sensibility. Equality and empathy is quite enough.

    But that doesn’t mean that morals are not measurable. We can ask people if they are free, feel threatened, feel harm, feel treated equally and with respect. An ethical world has basis for experimental verification. It’s not value free.

    And yes I agree with you that there are ways to have Religion disproven, but it does depend on the believer. Some believers have conceptions of religions that are intentionally designed to not be subject to validation. But I’d agree that from your quotes Coyne simplified that.

  2. “Good evidence that Jesus never existed would cause me to abandon my Christianity.”

    In other words, you would like someone to prove a negative. How could someone go about doing that? A time machine? Your strawman is silly nonsense.

    “convincing evidence that we don’t have some measure of volitional freedom”

    Another request for a proof of a negative. When the author of our “Matrix” admits that he controls everything, then you will be convinced? Hilarious strawman.

    “It’s amazing how cavalierly Coyne makes such obviously false claims.”

    It’s amazing how you came up with such a silly reply. It would seem that his claim is correct.

    “Matters of value are incapable of conclusive demonstration.”

    Irrelevant. Do you wish to validate your “wishful thinking” religion with this statement? Very silly.

    “unless Coyne is trying to jettison ethics, morals, and philosophy along with religion, his claim here is incoherent.”

    Of course he doesn’t. Your claim that he is incoherent is simply wrong.

    Coyne: “the faithful do not (and cannot) specify what observations would disprove their beliefs”

    And you have certainly failed. Define “observations”. There is a “natural world” where we can make “observations”. What “observations” would disprove your belief?

    “I would have loved to have commented there”

    You do not have meaningful comments to make.

    • “In other words, you would like someone to prove a negative.”

      It is, of course, an error to suggest that one can’t prove a negative. It’s a common error, but an error nonetheless.

      “How could someone go about doing that?”

      Efforts exist all over the internet to assert that Jesus didn’t exist and it’s a common theme at atheist discussion boards. Earl Doherty, Richard Carrier and Robert Price are probably the most prominent advocates of the idea. It hasn’t gotten much traction from academics, but many others make the case.

      “Another request for a proof of a negative.”

      And another glaring error from you.

      “When the author of our ‘Matrix’ admits that he controls everything, then you will be convinced?”

      Why do you suggest that determinism is somehow a nonsensical concept? It is a commonly held position among a variety of kinds of experts, from philosophers (e.g., Owen Chadwick of Duke) to biologists (e.g., Anthony Cashmore of Penn). Richard Dawkins holds the view too and has expressed it more popularly here.

      “Hilarious strawman.”

      Even if we put aside your obvious misunderstanding about what a straw man fallacy is, only someone woefully ignorant about the state of the free will question would make that claim. Indeed, since my view is that compatilbilism (think Dennett) is simply determinism in a nicer suit, determinism is pretty clearly the majority academic position.

  3. I don’t know when the “cut-and-paste-snippets-of-post-and-respond-by-waving-them-off” style of argument became such a popular internet meme, I find it really annoying. It always appears arrogant to wave aside arguments without properly addressing them. I know you are parroting Sock Puppet, but I wish you wouldn’t. If you want to Poe an atheist troll, this is as good a way as any.

    That said, I agree with some of what Sock Puppet says. The essay you point to about proving negatives makes some glaring errors in logic. I’m not saying you can’t prove a negative, but rather that the degree to which you can prove it will never satisfy a skeptic. For the author of that paper to conflate the existence of Unicorns to the rising of the sun every day is disingenuous at best.
    In fact I will take the next logical step.

    1. If unicorns had existed, then there is evidence in the fossil record.
    2. There is no evidence of unicorns in the fossil record.
    3. Therefore, unicorns never existed.

    By this logic:

    1. If Homo habilis had existed, then there is evidence in the fossil record.
    2. There was no evidence of H. habilis in the fossil record until 1960
    3.Therefore, H. habilis never existed before 1960.

    The problem here isn’t that inductive arguments won’t give us certainty about negative claims (like the nonexistence of Bigfoot), but that inductive arguments won’t give us certainty about anything at all, positive or negative.

    If there is another way of proving a negative other than induction, I’d like to hear it.
    He then goes on to conflate my belief that the sun will rise tomorrow as a similar inductive process.
    It is by degrees not the case. The inductive process of proving a negative always requires one faulty step in induction. In the case of our unicorn analogy, it is that there does not appear to be evidence for unicorns in an incomplete fossil record. I don’t deduce the sun will rise tomorrow just because it has always done so. I deduce the sun will rise tomorrow because the earth completes a full revolution once per day and the sun rises and sets over my horizon as a result. If the sun does not rise tomorrow, that should be the least of my worries; I would hazard a guess none of us would be capable of worry at all.
    What the author should be claiming is that you can trust a conclusion derived from the process of induction if the premises that you use are practical.
    That seems far too cautious to be called a truth.

    If Signal, you believe the arguments that Hale makes are correct; it should follow that we have enough evidence to say Jesus didn’t exist:
    1. If Jesus had existed, then there is evidence in the records of the Romans.
    2. There is no evidence of Jesus in the record of the Romans.
    3. Therefore, Jesus never existed.
    Are you an Atheist yet?

  4. […] of them.  Jerry Coyne has a post about what proof you would require to question your atheism.  Signal In The Noise took this post and ran with a rebuttal.  Greta Christina has a couple posts on whether you care […]

  5. “Efforts exist all over the internet to assert that Jesus didn’t exist”

    And apparently you find those efforts to be insufficiently convincing. So the unanswered question remains – what would you find convincing? I assume the answer is “nothing” and that therefore your response to Coyne was silly.

    “the state of the free will question”

    Philosophers have argued about it for centuries and it remains undecided. Is it a “scientific question”? If not, your request for “convincing evidence” seems quite silly.

    “as I think naturalism demands”

    Your opinion on what naturalism demands is irrelevant.

  6. “[W]hat would you find convincing?”

    A good argument based upon good evidence.

    “Is it a ‘scientific question’?”

    Quite obviously, it is. That’s why so much scientific research is being done in this area.

    “Your opinion on what naturalism demands is irrelevant.”

    Great comeback.

    Just a hint…but if you think I’m wrong, you might want to demonstrate why….

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