Request, As Distinct From Compulsion

Posted in Quickies, Religion, Science on  | 2 minutes | 2 Comments →

C.S. Lewis concisely and eloquently explains the folly of drawing conclusions from so-called “scientific” prayer studies:

The question then arises, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical Proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained. Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic — a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

So brilliant, so timeless.

Why Is That? Proof Of God’s Existence, 3

Posted in Atheism, Epistemology, Responses, RVA Dialog, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 4 minutes | No Comments →

Happy MLK Day, all. I encourage you to read jim's third installment of his series Proof of God's Existence for yourself before reading mine.

After setting up an odd series of events between Mary the neighborhood realtor and Carol the neighborhood skeptic, jim closes with the following set of questions:

Are Carol's [suspicion and uneasiness] justified at this point, slight though they be, or can they be summarily dismissed? Is this early foreboding of suspicion rational? Irrational? Pre-rational?

As far as justification goes, my first thoughts were that suspicion and uneasiness are ontologically distinct from beliefs. I'd say what we call uneasiness is pure feeling that may or may not be rooted in some observation or experience. On the other hand, suspicion seems to be a little bit of both feeling and belief. To me, a suspicion is basically a provisional hypothesis cast in response to some (often anomalous) observation or experience. As such we should evaluate each according to their own merits.

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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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On Falsifiability: What Exactly Is Pseudoscience Anyways?

Posted in Logic, Philosophy, Science on  | 5 minutes | No Comments →

It's pretty simple to assume what pseudoscience means, right? "Pseudo" means fake, and "science" means, well…science. I didn't need to consult a dictionary for that. I decided to obtain a working definition of the word pseudoscience because upon going to use it, I realized I had only my personal interpretation of the word to draw upon, which I wanted to assure was correct and not skewed.

I will say that in the argument over pseudoscience, all roads lead to falsifiability. In general, any statement can fall into three categories:    

1. A statement which is falsifiable, but has not yet been falsified;    
2. A statement which is falsifiable, and has been shown to be false;    
3. A statement which is not falsifiable.

Put simply, unfalsifiable statements or falsifiable statements that have been proven false are not scientific statements. For this reason, I currently don't think that creationism or intelligent design qualify as scientific ideas. There might be an isolated component in any form of either idea that is falsifiable, however. For example, the various forms of the moon-dust argument.

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