Irony Meter Broken. Again.

Posted in Blogosphere on  | 3 minutes | 9 Comments →

I was commenting at CSA the other day, when Tige Gibson responded to commenters who mentioned the problem of induction:

Shady thinkers who pat themselves and each other on the back drive away people who would be interested in more interesting contributions. Some of us might faintly hope that these people actually learn something, but when even a pointed statement (I mean how can I be the first one to point out solipsism) doesn’t wake them up to their own error, there is little hope of this conversation becoming elevated. Solipsism is a concept that is not merely absurd because of its own definition, but because it justifies inserting absolutely anything in place of reality, since you have purposely sabotaged your ability to know anything with any certainty.

How do insecure fundamentalists reply when their dogmas are questioned? Why, I think it’s safe to say they often respond exactly like Tige Gibson and John W. Loftus: some combination of misconstruing the argument, insulting their interlocutor, and acting as if they’ve been attacked. This is beside my point.

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Huge, Flying Rocks In Space vs. Carl Sagan’s Dragon In The Garage

Posted in Astronomy, Logic, Philosophy, Science on  | 7 minutes | 27 Comments →

So, seasoned readers and veterans in philosophical, scientific, or religious debate are surely familiar with the astronomer Carl Sagan's famous and hypothetical dragon in the garage argument:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage."

Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me", you say, and I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle – but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon", you ask.

"Oh, she's right here", I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon".

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints. "Good idea", I say, "but this dragon floats in the air". Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire. "Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless", I say. You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible. "Good idea, except she's an incorporeal (bodyless) dragon and the paint won't stick!"

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now what is the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? You're inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

With all due respect to the late Mr. Sagan, although it contains an eminent truth, this argument is also eminently bunk. Now I agree that the inability to invalidate a hypothesis does not prove a competing hypothesis true. However, the following line is correct only in the extremely limited scope
of validating a scientific hypothesis (and even then can break down):

Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless..

I hear too many skeptics and atheists cite this passage
foolishly thinking it somehow counters religious claims or the
existence of God. There are several reasons this is incorrect, but first let me counter with my own little story, custom-tailored to address Mr. Sagan's area of expertise: Astronomy.

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Is A Screwdriver Better Than A Ratchet? or, My Response To Evidence-Based Faith vs. Evidence-Free Faith

Posted in Atheism, Blogosphere, Logic, Religion, Responses, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 6 minutes | 5 Comments →

So I stumbled across this article in the blogosphere yesterday, which argued for the superiority of reason in formulating our worldviews. More specifically, the author was responding to claims that the validity of logic and reason have to be taken on faith. Apologists often criticize atheism as a faith-based worldview, which may be true in a trivial sense. However, such does not necessarily level the playing field and what the author of EBFVEFF correctly notes is that even in the restricted sense that atheism is a faith-based worldview, it's based on a different type of faith; faith that proceeds from empirical, observable evidence. 

Even so, does this make evidence-based faith inherently superior to evidence-free faith?

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