Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Aug/09

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An atheist who favors Intelligent Design?

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Over the past few days I’ve followed a slight controversy involving Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe & John McWhorter (you can see the posts at ScienceBlogs, Michael Behe speaks on bloggingheads.tv affair, John McWhorter & Michael Behe bloggingheads.tv, 2 and John McWhorter & Michael Behe bloggingheads.tv). In the course of tracking down other weblogs with reactions, I stumbled onto a most interesting individual, speaking from an anthropological perspective, the atheist who speaks in favor of Intelligent Design. Consider the matrix:

  Pro-Intelligent Design Anti-Intelligent Design
Theist William Dembski Ken Miller
Atheist ? Richard Dawkins
     

I have given examples for three of the classes crossing the variables, but none for one of them. Steve Fuller arguably falls into this rare class of atheist apologists for Intelligent Design, but I judge him to be somewhat equivocal and frankly self-interested (Fuller raised his profile by appearing as a witness for the Dover school district).

Bradley Monton, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, fits the bill in a more straightforward manner. He’s written a book: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. Monton thinks Intelligent Design is false personally, but seems to believe that there is some fruit to be gained by engaging with the movement. Here is the abstract of a paper, Is Intelligent Design Science? Dissecting the Dover Decision:

In the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Judge Jones ruled that a pro-intelligent design disclaimer cannot be read to public school students. In his decision, he gave demarcation criteria for what counts as science, ruling that intelligent design fails these criteria. I argue that these criteria are flawed, with most of my focus on the criterion of methodological naturalism. The way to refute intelligent design is not by declaring it unscientific, but by showing that the empirical evidence for design is not there.

More of the same to be found at Monton’s weblog, which I offer mostly in the spirit of a guide who introduces his charges to the bizarre rites of a primitive tribe. My own attitude toward the demarcation problem is that it has an easy resolution: what scientists do is science. The opinions of lawyers and philosophers are so much window dressing. Intelligent Design theorists in the natural sciences might consider simply taking over departments at the numerous Christian universities, such as Wheaton, and generating their own original research, instead of battling it out in the public square.

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45 comments

  • Gotchaye · August 29, 2009 at 1:05 am

    “What scientists do is science” is fine in an everyday sense, among people who agree with us, and “what scientists do” is certainly used as a guide by philosophers of science when they try to come up with something a bit more rigorous, but it’s unsatisfying for several reasons. As a practical matter, anyone who disagrees with you about whether or not a particular thing is science is just going to disagree with you about who counts as a scientist. The debate just moves back to whether or not “creation scientists” are scientists, and then you need some standard for distinguishing the sorts of things that real scientists do. There’s also a problem in that we recognize that scientists aren’t always acting as scientists – we need to be able to say that, while much of what PZ Myers does is science, his destruction of crackers is not. Nor do we think that the destruction of crackers would suddenly become scientific if it were it to become a hobby of the majority of scientists. You pretty much have to fall back to “we know it when we see it”, which is functional but which isn’t useful in settling disputes and which provides no guidance for what to do when two people have different intuitions about a particular thing that a purported scientist is doing.

    I’ve always thought “methodological naturalism” somewhat dishonest, myself, and I think it’s quite right to say that ID, or even creationism, shouldn’t be dismissed as non-scientific. Clearly, many or even all of the supporters of these ideas aren’t making any effort to do science, but to say that the underlying hypothesis just isn’t the sort of thing that science does is to make a game of science. We can reassure a creationist parent by saying “don’t worry – we can’t teach creationism in science class, but that’s only because science class is only for naturalistic explanations and not because there’s anything wrong with your belief”, but no biologist believes that. We don’t want creationism taught in science classes because it’s -false-, and we have good scientific reasons for thinking it so. On the other hand, if new species appeared in the fossil record out of nowhere, if fatal accidents and horrible illnesses only struck non-Christians, and if the stars periodically realigned so as to spell out KJV Bible verses, it’d be downright unscientific to refuse to entertain the hypothesis that there are supernatural causes at work. If science is necessarily our only way of determining what’s going on with the world, then it needs to be able to cope with possible worlds which are intelligently designed. ID is pseudo-science – it’s not “not even wrong”, as some would have it. I think Dawkins has the right general approach here.

    Granted, I’m sure that some of the support for methodological naturalism as a necessary part of science is tactical, the thought being that if we can’t say that creationism isn’t science regardless of its truth or falsity, then there are church/state issues to deal with, but at some point we (as a society, not the people reading this) have to recognize that it’s possible for a religious belief to be provably wrong and that schools ought to teach that these beliefs are false.

  • john1 · August 29, 2009 at 2:01 am

    What about David Berlinski? I believe he is an agnostic and a vocal intelligent design proponent. Oh — and a charlatan!

  • Steel Phoenix · August 29, 2009 at 7:09 am

    How do we know we aren’t just part of a computer simulation? I’m not changing my life any over the possibility, but it seems plausible enough. Somehow I don’t think this is the kind of intelligent design that they are fighting to teach in school though.

  • OneSTDV · August 29, 2009 at 7:47 am

    “How do we know we aren’t just part of a computer simulation? I’m not changing my life any over the possibility, but it seems plausible enough.”

    I’ll stick with Occam’s Razor and reject that supposition.

  • John · August 29, 2009 at 8:05 am

    The way to refute intelligent design is not by declaring it unscientific, but by showing that the empirical evidence for design is not there.

    The problem with this is that some ideas are not falsifiable. There is no way to refute the theory that the universe was created 4 days ago, and all evidence of its being older was simply created 4 days ago. The proper response to this idea is, “There’s no reason for me to believe it. Get some positive evidence and get back to me.”

  • Caledonian · August 29, 2009 at 8:29 am

    My own attitude toward the demarcation problem is that it has an easy resolution: what scientists do is science.

    That’s neither a resolution, nor easy. How precisely do we define ‘scientists’, then, if not in terms of what they do? Merely pointing to the people that are commonly given that label begs the question and reduces the issue to a matter of social convention, which is arbitrary.

    I notice that you repeat this pattern of reasoning in dealing with the question of determining who are valid adherents of some religious faith and what the necessary tenets are. As you’ve never acknowledged the problems that creates when thinking about that topic, I have no particular expectation you’ll do so with this topic either – but you desperately need to.

  • Elf Sternberg · August 29, 2009 at 9:16 am

    @OneSTDV

    Occam’s Razor proposes that we are in such a simulation. If we can simulate one virtual reality, complete with virtualized conscious people (although beyond our current technology, this possibility is not beyond the realm of known science), then it makes sense that we would simulate not just one but hundreds of them.

    If that’s so, then there is no reason to believe that it has not already happened. Occam’s Razor points out that the most likely scenario is the one to accept as believable until evidence demonstrates otherwise; as Neil Bostrom’s thesis points out, the probability is high that we are in one of the simulations and not in the base reality.

    Not that this is actually meaningful, but it’s worth contemplating. One night. In a dorm. With your buds. Over beer.

  • Author comment by David Hume · August 29, 2009 at 9:46 am

    but you desperately need to

    no i don’t. chasing your tale gets your nowhere.

  • Steel Phoenix · August 29, 2009 at 9:53 am

    OneSTDV: I’m not sure that Occam’s Razor supports you here. Look at how much of our supercomputing we dedicate to complex simulations. I think we will continue to do so on ever more complex fashion. We have millions of simulations running within our single reality. Doesn’t that make it likely that we are actually in such a simulation ourselves? If it were a chaotic simulation rather than a directly manipulated one, then it wouldn’t require much more than some simple rules and a lot of computing power, less if you only render those things which are under observation and you consider time of calculation to be meaningless from within the simulation. I don’t see that it makes much functional difference to us whether we are or are not, but I find it an interesting thought.

  • Gotchaye · August 29, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Various forms of the skeptical hypothesis (“I’m dreaming”, “my memories are false”, “we’re all a computer simulation”, etc) are things that I think can sensibly be spoken of as “not even wrong”.

    By design these theories don’t make predictions or admit to falsification, largely by calling into question some of our most basic tools for gathering reliable information. We can come up with a principle (like Occam’s Razor) on the basis of which we reject them, but we can’t justify the principle in that context. It’s unfortunately true that we can’t Really and Truly Know that none of them obtain. The standard move is to say that capital-T Truth is inaccessible, and that what we really mean when we talk about knowledge and truth is something about predictiveness and useful modeling ability. You do have to be willing to bite a bullet and say that the Matrix was quite real for a whole bunch of people, but if you get away from needing to think about reality in terms of Truth, it’s not that unreasonable.

  • Argon · August 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

    I agree with notion that ‘science is’ what ‘scientists do’. Philosophers of science do a fairly decent job of describing most of what science is and we’ve come a long way from Boyle, but the demarcation problem will always remain.

    I also agree with Monton that ID isn’t necessarily unscientific. Some aspects certainly are unscientific and most seems to be really bad science, but that doesn’t mean some of the questions cannot be approached as scientific questions. While the ‘designer’ might have been able to make it easier to argue for intelligent design in some transitions of species (leaving stone tablets on the moon that depicted the changes wouldn’t have hurt), the ‘designer’ seems to have constructed like to make it hard for current ID theorists to formulate a positive series of hypotheses. Anti-evolutionary arguments do not a positive theory make, In any case, I think it’s crucial for those in the ID field to first reach a solid consensus about how the world appears to be: In other words, questions about the age of the earth, the timing of species’ emergence, the nested hierarchical pattern of life and whether organisms are linked by common descent, absolutely need to be settled. These are foundational issues. ID can’t be a ‘big tent’ and expect to make useful headway.

  • Author comment by David Hume · August 29, 2009 at 10:06 am

    What about David Berlinski? I believe he is an agnostic and a vocal intelligent design proponent. Oh — and a charlatan!

    see last point. yes, he sometimes claims to be a nonbeliever, but on the other hand he can be mighty squirrely about the specifics of this sort of thing.

  • Trent · August 29, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    While I agree with those that have identified it as a problem that ID proponents are not on the same page, atheism/pure evolutionism is at least as indefensible as ID.

    Yes, it is hard to grab empirical data to support ID. But there’s a huge issue that evolutionists can’t successfully address, and that is the fact that something cannot come from nothing. Everything that has order has an orderer. Everything that has design has a designer. If I walk into a room and see three cups stacked on top of one another, I know that someone did that. Similarly, when I see an incredibly complex world inhabited by incredibly complex beings I can be confident that someone put this into order/designed it. I’ll agree that this is more philosophical than scientific. But why can’t philosophy be taught in schools?

  • RickRussellTX · August 29, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    “The way to refute intelligent design is not by declaring it unscientific, but by showing that the empirical evidence for design is not there.”

    But naturalism *is* the problem — one of the basic criteria for scientific naturalism is falsifiability. Intelligent Design fails this basic criterion, and in the absence of a clear way to identify evidence that falsifies the claim, the debate over evidence becomes endless bickering. I say a human eye was evolved and present evidence; you say it’s “too complex” [an unfalsifiable claim, usually rendered moreso by poor definition of "too" and "complex"] and present “evidence”.

    Without a criterion to establish how your evidence supports or fails to support these unfalsifiable claims, there’s really no science at all.

    Trent: “Everything that has order has an orderer.”

    First, define “everything”, “order” and “orderer” in a rigorous way. Then collect evidence and show how it supports the claim that *everything* meets this requirement.

    I suspect that you will have a very hard time with this. If you truly want to understand these concepts, I suggest a class on thermodynamics.

  • Trent · August 29, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    @RickRussellTX

    Been there. Done that. The fact is that something cannot come from nothing. I understand how people try and refute this claim, but none have been even remotely successful. You can say “go and take a class”, but you are saying that because you cannot offer convincing evidence to falsify my claims.

  • Steel Phoenix · August 29, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Trent, if something can’t come from nothing, then where did the designer come from, was it designed by another designer? How could so complex a designer have come into being if it itself weren’t designed?

  • RickRussellTX · August 29, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    @Trent

    “You can say “go and take a class”, but you are saying that because you cannot offer convincing evidence to falsify my claims.”

    *I cannot offer convincing evidence to falsify your claims???*

    Fortunately, I am not required to do so, as objective reality is not dependent on what you are willing to study or not study.

    In any case, your objection points to two essential things about your epistemology:

    (1) You make a claim which is essentially unfalsifiable, because of weak definitions of “order” and “orderer”.

    (2) Since you’re not willing to study the subject, no one will be able to help you rigorously define your terms or present evidence that you understand.

    Let me present the clear argument to you in terms that are well-defined in physics:

    — Entropy of a closed system always increases.

    — Entropy of an un-closed system can decrease, resulting in the creation of localized order.

    — This effect is trivially producible in laboratory systems.

    — This effect is happening on Earth, as low-entropy solar radiation is being absorbed, while high-entropy infrared radiation is being emitted into space. The result is a localized reduction in entropy and the development of ordered systems.

    See Schroedinger’s original lecture on this subject:

    http://dieoff.org/page150.htm

    Here’s a more modern analysis:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.2038

    If you read these, and understand them, I would like to hear how you evaluate your claim that “order has an orderer” in light of this information.

    Of course, if you choose to remain intently ignorant of the huge body of scientific work on this subject — well, good luck to you. I’m sure that attitude will serve you well in the profession of your choice.

  • Ethan · August 29, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I’m surprised you haven’t noticed before that there are serious atheists who wholly believe the evidence for evolution who nevertheless fall into the fourth quadrant as you defined it. But surely that is committing the same fault as those who in the mid-20th century called anti-anti-communists simply communists. To someone trained in philosophy, much anti-ID argumentation is embarrassingly bad, all the more frustrating for there being many good arguments and of course all of the physical evidence. Moreover some popular applications of evolution-tinged thought (anything published about humans in Newsweek, for instance) are so grossly reductive as to provoke rejection of the “ism” in Darwinism.

    An example of the atheist wholly evolutionary philosopher who criticizes bad anti-ID philosophy is Steven Pinker’s partner, Rebecca Goldstein. See http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_9.html. Another example is the Australian philosopher, also an atheist, also an evolutionist, David Stove. See “The Jazz Age in the Philosophy of Science,” in “The Plato Cult.” An example of an atheist upset by the popularized “ism” version of evolution is Anthony Daniels.

    As Razib has often said, there is little intersection between interest in philosophy and scientists, which is clearly just a fact to accept, but it’s still ill-mannered to treat philosophers as lunatics just because they want to answer questions like “If science is what scientists do, just what is it that they are doing?” and “How is that we can tell in advance that some research programmes (psychic, ID) are doomed?” It’s not like you can answer those by just visiting a lab, since as Razib has said scientific subcultures differ very widely, yet it seems to me evident that they also have some essence in common. Looking for that is philosophy of science, properly. Anyway, sane and lucid atheists approaching science from the humanities should be encouraged, not mocked.

    Then again, I’m that sort of humanities wallah, so discount for personal involvement if you must.

  • John · August 29, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Yes, it is hard to grab empirical data to support ID. But there’s a huge issue that evolutionists can’t successfully address, and that is the fact that something cannot come from nothing.

    Evolution doesn’t claim to explain how life began. It only describes how life changes over time. To say that evolution is false because it doesn’t explain the origin of life is like saying that the theory of relativity is false because it doesn’t explain the origin of life.

  • Author comment by David Hume · August 29, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    To say that evolution is false because it doesn’t explain the origin of life is like saying that the theory of relativity is false because it doesn’t explain the origin of life.

    don’t feed dumb trolls ;-)

  • OneSTDV · August 29, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Wow guys I was just making an off-hand comment. Didn’t think it would garner such well thought responses. I dont have time to comment right now though.

  • Kevembuangga · August 29, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    Trent :
    Everything that has order has an orderer. Everything that has design has a designer. If I walk into a room and see three cups stacked on top of one another, I know that someone did that. Similarly, when I see an incredibly complex world inhabited by incredibly complex beings I can be confident that someone put this into order/designed it. I’ll agree that this is more philosophical than scientific. But why can’t philosophy be taught in schools?

    Bollocks, pure bollocks!
    The concept of order is “all in your head”, you fancy weird ideas all on your own and then are mired in their wondrousness.
    Complexity does NOT need any “orderer” or “designer” to build up, I’ve argued about iterated function systems at other places.
    It’s really tiresome to argue with morons who have pretenses to “philosophy” but are unable to follow the simplest line of reasonning.

  • Alan Kellogg · August 30, 2009 at 5:53 am

    @Gotchaye

    Why do some people take so many words to say, “I think science and the scientific method are cruel to my beliefs.”

  • Alan Kellogg · August 30, 2009 at 5:58 am

    All I’ve got to say on this notion that reality is our creation is; it can’t be, my imagination aint that good.

  • Randall Parker · August 30, 2009 at 10:17 am

    We have no way to know how the universe came into being. Agnosticism makes more sense than atheism or theism. If we are in a simulation we probably have no way to figure that out. Though maybe atom smashing might lead us to some wall that looks like the result of computation.

  • Secular Right » We are all special (some more so) · August 30, 2009 at 11:05 am

    [...] was thinking about this in reference to John McWhorters strange conversation with Michael Behe. It was strange because McWhorter, an avowed atheist, admitted that for him evolutionary theory [...]

  • anonyme · August 30, 2009 at 11:45 am

    If we’re to define “God” the way that anyone who actually gives a shit about him defines the word rather than how modern mealy-mouthed highfalutin pseudo-intellectuals define it (imagining themselves heirs to the heroic Spinoza rather than vapid, milquetoast, limp-wristed ivory-tower muddlers) then I find myself as possibly being one of these atheists who is partial to the theory of intelligent design.

    As of the present, the limited amount of evidence available to me suggests that there is no personal deity who is likely to pull off some awesome tricks on my behalf if only I act in accordance with his instructions or accept particular beliefs. I further see small reason to believe that any meaningful aspect of my identity will continue to “live” after my corporeal being ceases to function in a manner similar to how it currently does.

    Sadly however, I also find myself in the no-man’s land of wondering whether there may in fact be some inherent “design” in the evolution of sentient beings on this planet and their history that transcends the design of natural selection as most modern men currently understand it.

    Being terrifically ignorant of the critical details and vital vocabulary of modern chemistry and biology, it would take me far too many paragraphs to successfully get across any meaningful message regarding why I have yet to disregard intelligent design from an early evolutionary perspective. I’ll jump therefore to the most recent phase of human existence and sound like an outright nut when I take as some evidence for the possibility of some sort of intelligent design hitherto ignored by the scientific community… The Jews.

    The story of the community of people known as “Jews” over the past three thousand years suffices to give me pause from fully rejecting any form of intelligent design in this world.

    This isn’t to say…well, anything that I didn’t say. ALL that I’m saying is that the story of the Jewish people appears to me to be so unique and astounding in so many times and places and for so many separate reasons that I can’t help but consider the possibility that it is another tiny bit of “evidence” in the case for some kind of design to world history that has yet to be brought into the laboratory and fairly analyzed.

    It annoys me to know that to anyone not plagued by similar concerns, this comment will come across as close to insane (as my deity-denying comments do in religious blogs) but being as this is but a comment at the tail-end of a dormant post on a lesser-read blog it would hardly seem to be worth my while to spend the many pages required to explain in full my thoughts on the subject just so as to convince my three readers that my concern was worthy of some consideration. I would however be TREMENDOUSLY interested in hearing from any other readers who have similar thoughts, particularly if they’re in any way history based.

    I would love to be able to rid myself of this useless “designer” and so be accepted in good company among fellow atheists (or alternatively, be convinced of the tenets of some kind of religion, but realistically that isn’t likely to happen).

  • Gotchaye · August 30, 2009 at 11:47 am

    Alan, I honestly have no idea what you’re getting at. Are you sure you’re reading me right?

    Randall, there’s a sense in which that’s true – we have no way of knowing that we don’t live in the Matrix – but it’s an odd kind of agnosticism, isn’t it? We don’t live our lives as if we assign these scenarios any possibility of being true – very few people live as if solipsism might be true. I’ve always thought of agnosticism as involving meaningful uncertainty, so that a person who is agnostic on an issue is actively uncertain about what he ought to do (someone agnostic as to the existence of God might be conflicted about whether or not to pray, for example). If we define agnosticism down to “well, I can’t guarantee that it’s not true, but I’m just going to ignore that possibility and I won’t be bothered by it”, then whither atheism? You’d be hard-pressed to find an atheist who mirrored a typical evangelical’s utter certainty of God’s existence. Most people who call themselves atheists will cheerfully grant that they can’t guarantee God’s nonexistence. Most scientifically-minded atheists, in my experience, tend towards something like Laplace’s “I have no need for that hypothesis”. We make the distinction you’re looking for between strong and weak atheism. Agnosticism is generally taken as being either far more wishy-washy or as far more socially acceptable (it’s not uncommon for atheists to identify as agnostics among groups of strangers, precisely because of the association of atheism with strong atheism).

  • Kevembuangga · August 30, 2009 at 11:54 am


    Randall Parker
    :

    We have no way to know how the universe came into being.

    What do you mean?
    More precisely why do you think the universe had to “came into being”?
    Why do you need to ask such a question?

    Agnosticism makes more sense than atheism or theism.

    There is no such thing as an agnostic, if you are unsure it means you’ve already fell to the “paranoid side” (space lizards are out to get you, may be… could be…)

  • Steel Phoenix · August 30, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Gotchaye: “You’d be hard-pressed to find an atheist who mirrored a typical evangelical’s utter certainty of God’s existence.”

    Wouldn’t be hard at all, you’ve already found one. I don’t feel on the fence in the slightest about God’s nonexistence, any more than the Pope wonders if the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real.

  • anonyme · August 30, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    The only thing worse than having your comment appear at the tail end of a thread is having it sneakily materialize smack-dab in middle of a thread when it finally passes through a moderator. :-) Razib! come on! I’m suffering here and need enlightenment!

    Also, where do you live? I’m travelling the country shortly and would enjoy the pleasure of taking you out for some Starbucks.

  • Author comment by David Hume · August 30, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Also, where do you live? I’m travelling the country shortly and would enjoy the pleasure of taking you out for some Starbucks.

    email me privately. use the contact box at razib.com. also, once your comment is approved once it doesn’t need moderation.

  • Kevembuangga · August 30, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Steel Phoenix
    :

    I don’t feel on the fence in the slightest about God’s nonexistence, any more than the Pope wonders if the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real.

    Ditto.

  • Gotchaye · August 31, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I think there’s a distinction between not considering God a live possibility and being utterly certain of God’s nonexistence. I was trying to say that most atheists would say that they couldn’t know with absolute certainty that God doesn’t exist – I was contrasting this with fairly common claims of absolute certainty from many evangelicals. Likewise, I’m not “on the fence” about the universe being a computer simulation, but neither would I claim to be certain that it’s not.

  • RickRussellTX · August 31, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Back in the days of USENET, the group alt.atheism coined two phrases, “strong atheism” and “weak atheism”, to approximately describe “people whose deny God” and “people who see no scientific evidence for God”, respectively.

    over time, I’ve migrated from weak to strong. As a child, I was content to say that I didn’t see any evidence for God. As I grew up, I realized there was a deeper philosophical problem: the description of God (or the many description(s) of God(s)) fail to meet the basic criteria for “an objectively real thing that can be tested and known”. The root problem is epistemological.

    That’s why I keep going back to scientific naturalism. If you hold to the “there’s no evidence for God”, then in the minds of believers you’re basically nitpicking the evidence and giving credence to the idea that reasonable people could agree (or disagree) about the evidence.

    Instead, I hold to the position that, “God, as described by most, is not a phenomenon that can be known or falsified by evidence, and consequently falls in the same class of similar subjective inventions, such as ‘justice’, ‘love’, ‘equity’, ‘good’, ‘ideal’, ‘morals’, etc.”

    I think this description offers two important characteristics for atheists:

    (1) We can accept that emotions involving God may be strong, deeply held, honest on the part of the believer, and involve ideals and morals and social organization, but

    (2) We can also adopt the strong atheist position that God does not exist (as Gotchaye phrases it, “I am certain of God’s nonexistence”), in the sense of an objectively real phenomenon.

    It’s easy to say, “God does not exist” — I think God does not exist in the same sense that “justice does not exist” and “morals do not exist”. We don’t confuse these mental models with real physical objects, but at the same time we can recognize that they have conceptual value in the way we organize ourselves, form our laws and social order, etc.

  • RickRussellTX · August 31, 2009 at 11:30 am

    “people whose deny God” => “people who deny God”

  • Steel Phoenix · August 31, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    And then there are those people who can’t even believe in certainty. I feel no need to distinguish between things that are so unlikely that you would need a new kind of math to describe it, and things that are definitely nonexistent.

    I’m at least as certain that God doesn’t exist as I am that I do exist, which is certain enough for me not to feel the need for qualifiers every time I speak of it.

  • RickRussellTX · August 31, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    @Steel Phoenix

    …things that are so unlikely that you would need a new kind of math to describe it, and things that are definitely nonexistent

    So, your opinion on string theory must not be positive, I’ll reckon.

  • Gotchaye · August 31, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Fair enough. I suppose most of my experience of other vocal atheists prior to this blog was with people in philosophy departments, with most atheists in the sciences that I’ve personally known simply not caring enough to express much of an opinion.

    This does make me wonder how the atheisms of various atheist subcultures differ. Seems to me that there are basically groups of atheist-libertarians, atheist-intellectuals, and atheist-scientists. Not that there isn’t overlap, but my feeling is that Ayn Rand and PZ Myers generally draw different crowds, and both are very far from the people populating most humanities departments.

  • Caledonian · September 1, 2009 at 7:32 am

    @Ethan

    To someone trained in philosophy, much anti-ID argumentation is embarrassingly bad,

    To someone trained in the sciences, most philosophy is embarrassingly bad. The reality-matching standards of the humanities are extremely poor.

  • Caledonian · September 1, 2009 at 7:37 am

    @Gotchaye

    Randall, there’s a sense in which that’s true – we have no way of knowing that we don’t live in the Matrix – but it’s an odd kind of agnosticism, isn’t it? We don’t live our lives as if we assign these scenarios any possibility of being true – very few people live as if solipsism might be true.

    You’re making a category error, Gotchaye. You’re assuming that there is some difference between labeling those possibilities ‘true’ or ‘untrue’.

    There is no logical consequence of asserting that idea that does not also follow from rejecting it. Any claim about the ultimate nature of reality is equivalent to every other, given the restrictions that they must be fully compatible with all known facts.

    Using ‘true’ slightly differently, we can say that we DO live in the Matrix, just as our entire reality exists in the imagination of some incomprehensible and eternal Hindu deity, or that it’s a computation performed by a particular type of cellular automata.

    You’re making a distinction without a difference.

  • Caledonian · September 1, 2009 at 7:40 am

    @David Hume

    no i don’t. chasing your tale gets your nowhere.

    Defining terms is the necessary first step in logical analysis. I’m sorry to say that your refusal will prevent you from making progress on any kind on that matter.

    But that’s probably the result that you want, so…

  • Trent · September 1, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    @Steel Phoenix

    Very simple explanation. God is the inventor of science, and He claims to be eternal in the Bible. He is the one being that trancends all scientific understanding and as the Bible says, “He mocks the wisdom of men”. In other words, science is a great gift from God but it has its limits. It will never be able to explain the character of God.

  • Kevembuangga · September 2, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Trent :
    God is the inventor of science

    HOW DO YOU KNOW?
    Because He tells so many schizophreniacs on his direct phone line?

  • bobxxxx · September 2, 2009 at 6:49 am

    “Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design”

    “Intelligent design” are just fancy words that mean “the magic man did it”. An atheist defending supernatural magic is full of shit and deserves ridicule.

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