Science = 100%

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Science = 100%

Postby Lausten » Wed Jan 30, 2013 10:05 pm

I was arguing with an agnostic recently and realized we were having a communication problem that is probably quite common. He kept asking for a peer reviewed published paper that proved God did not exist. Without that, he said I was the same as someone who decided God did exist, based on faith. We discussed proving a negative which didn't go well. I tried to be nice and concede that God's non-existence could not be proven to 100%. He got real excited that and said ah-ha, you base your decision on faith.

The reason this has slipped by me for so long is that most theists will claim a very high certainty for their belief. They don't care much about evidence. They care more about their certainty, and they just base it on feelings, not evidence. So I always figured that it was a given that they understood that my atheism did not necessarily require 0% belief in god. Even when I explain that my estimation of the very low probability of God's existence is enough to live my life as if there is no God, as if I am certain.

But I don't think he gets that, and I think this is common. I think he believes that facts come from a single experiment. Maybe this comes from those old stories about how an apple dropped out of a tree and from that Newton created all his laws. The idea of degrees of certainty seems foreign to the theist. Either it is a solidly proven scientific fact, or we should assign it to God, not much in between.

What I really can't figure out is how to discuss this. Their proofs of the existence of God depend on our inability to explain everything in the universe. Any crack in the theory of everything leaves an opening for God. But science is all about unknowns. It concedes we don't know from the outset. It's whole purpose is it determine how to ask the next question, not to supply the ultimate answer. But as soon as I explain that, I'm accused of basing everything I know on faith.

I've even had people, relatively intelligent people, point out that the choice between believing in God and accepting the premise that the laws of nature are consistent throughout space and time since the Big Bang, is an equal choice, a flip of the coin. For me, it was a slow realization over a couple years that brought me to the understanding that using that premise leads to the ability to experiment and collect data, which leads to curing Polio. It required not only understanding how the method works, but studying how it has been applied throughout history. Believing, on the other hand, is a dead end. It leads to people being burned at the stake to try to stop a plague.

I hope someday that the difference can be taught in first grade, or on Sesame Street. Meanwhile, it's just frustrating.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby sepia » Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:20 pm

Lausten wrote:He kept asking for a peer reviewed published paper that proved God did not exist. Without that, he said I was the same as someone who decided God did exist, based on faith. We discussed proving a negative which didn't go well. I tried to be nice and concede that God's non-existence could not be proven to 100%. He got real excited that and said ah-ha, you base your decision on faith.

I would critizise his use of the word faith. He does as if opinions are only supported by peer review or faith. My view is, that even not every weak position would be faith. It also can be a mistake by an honest, rational person seeking truth. The stronger positions might be supported by peer review, but not all of them. We use logic all the time. To doupt everything for which we don't know a peer reviewed paper is like doupting logic itself.

I would also admit that I could be wrong about my position about the existence of a god. Not because there is no peer review supporting it but because it is my personal probability evaluation. We can discuss it. I'm willing to change it when the evidence is against it. And this is why I refuse to call this faith.

By the way my personal position seems to be different from yours: I see no way to deal with a merely deistic god, so at the I'm agnostic about this.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby Lausten » Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:49 pm

I would critizise his use of the word faith.

I thought I had him cornered when I explained "proving a negative" by pointing out how long it has been since Christ has NOT returned. I said, if you agree with me that he is not returning, then why is it that you do not require any further proof? i.e. The negative has been proven due to the lack of evidence. He responded by saying he was agnostic, he was not sure if Christ would return or not. He was already doubling down on the crazy, offering all sorts of bizarre explanations of what God is and reasons for evil. Basically, according to him, anything could be true and there is no way to prove otherwise. I'm not sure how the guy finds his way to work in the morning.

The conversation is continuing (ellen painter dollar, a message to the nones), but I've pretty much signed off.

FYI, I am agnostic too, and I told him that. But I use the Richard Dawkins type definition from The God Delusion. That is, the case can't be closed due to our limited knowledge of the universe, it's origins, and the origins of life and consciousness. But we are pretty damn close to knowing, and there is no reason to live your life as if there might be a god that is watching is you or will judge you.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby Nitz Walsh » Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:31 am

You could go into the definitions of theism, atheism, agnosticism and gnosticism... That theism and atheism address what you believe, and agnosticism and gnosticism address what you know, and that you can mix and match them a little bit.

Agnostic Atheism... You don't know but you believe there are no gods.
Gnostic Atheism... You know there are no gods so you don't believe in any.
Agnostic Theism... You don't know if there are any gods but you believe there are.
Gnostic Theism... You know there are gods and you believe in one or more.

Of course not everyone buys that the terms are not mutually exclusive.

Belief in something should be given when the evidence is there to support that belief. Your friend is believing in something without the evidence. You could tell him you have an invisible magic pixie living in your pocket and since he can't prove it's not there you can name it Bob and take it out for a walk. Also, remind him that the burden of proof is on the one making a claim, so you're fully justified in not knowing and not believing in any gods, Sasquatches, invisible pixies, etc. Right now your friend is in a position to believe in any stupid thing you tell him. Ask him if he wants to buy into your timeshare in Mordor, maybe you can make some money.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby sepia » Sat Feb 02, 2013 12:55 pm

Lausten wrote:I thought I had him cornered when I explained "proving a negative" by pointing out how long it has been since Christ has NOT returned.

If you call yourself an atheist you should argue angainst any god, not just agains the christian one. So an argument against Christianity is useless. The argument that science could hardly or impossibly debunk god doesn't change the fact that you have no scientific proof against god. I guess your opponent tries to say, that therefor you should be agnostic.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby lucas11 » Sun Feb 03, 2013 8:22 pm

If you call yourself an atheist you should argue angainst any god, not just agains the christian one


Depends on context. There is no point in argueing against the existance of Zeus to a christian who doesn't believe in him. You don't need to debate people over the truth of something which you both agree is true. Proving evolution to a creationist is useful, proving it to someone who thinks god guided evolution is not.

Also, making points against an undefined generic higher power is harder than against the christian god who has lots of specific failures and inconsistencies that can be pointed out.

We can have scientific proof against gods like the christian god which would in no way disprove a generic higher power. For example, there is plenty of scientific evidence against a worldwide flood, showing that the christian god did not do some things attributed to him and making other things attributed to him less likely.

He kept asking for a peer reviewed published paper that proved God did not exist.


There is no peer reviewed scientific paper showing that Zeus or the tooth fairy do not exist. They can also not be "proven" to not exist, but this does not make unbelief in them a faith based decision. Is your friend agnostic about the tooth fairy?

Throughout history many things attributed to gods (e.g. the sun moving through the sky) have been proven to have a natural scientific explanation. Nothing has ever been proven to be the result of any god's action. The chances something having a natural explanation or happening by gods are demonstrably not 50-50.

Although I don't claim absolute knowledge that there are no gods, since I'm not going to live as if I've won the lottery (having not even bought a ticket), I'm not going to live as if some sort of god exists either.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby Lausten » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:25 pm

Thanks for the input.

Here’s what I was working from:
Premise 1: Natural laws are consistent throughout time and space.
Premise 2: We can test that consistent time and space and collect data and develop theories.
Implication: All knowledge is contingent on future data. We can only increase the probability that we are correct.
Application to the question of God: We can experiment on all testable claims of any god. As each of those tests fail, the probability of any new claim being true gets lower.

Where did I lose him: Pretty much every level.
On the application to god, he didn’t accept that previous data had any impact on his version of god, which was agnostic and consisted of wild speculation about God’s powers and reasons for his actions. I tried an argument similar to the “pixie in my pocket” argument but it failed because he just agreed that he can’t prove it, and then claimed that as permission to make up his own improvable story. I tried to discuss how he chooses to live his life, with all these possible realities possibly affecting him but he just dismissed that with a “you don’t know me” type answer.

He did not seem to understand the connection of experiment and data to probability, only that there is such a thing as a peer reviewed paper, and if you have a question, you should be able find a paper that gives you a complete and final answer. If you claim to base your opinion on science, but you can’t find such a paper, then you have no right to claim something is true or false. I think this is a common misunderstanding, even for intelligent sane people. This particular guy was wacko, so it just made it worse.

He brought up creation as proof of God, but did not much care for having that being labeled I.D. He felt that something had to be behind the laws of nature. He implied it was a conscious being of some kind, but I didn’t pursue that. I’m sure he would have shifted to “energy” or something mysterious or aliens from another dimension. Not much point.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby sepia » Mon Feb 04, 2013 5:59 pm

Lol. Laws of nature are descritions. Of course there is something behind them: Science!
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby dobbie » Mon Feb 04, 2013 7:34 pm

Lausten wrote: He brought up creation as proof of God, but did not much care for having that being labeled I.D. He felt that something had to be behind the laws of nature. He implied it was a conscious being of some kind, but I didn’t pursue that.


I take it this "agnostic" doesn't believe in the God of the Bible. If that is the case, where's the problem? He simply believes in something of a creator God without any natural proof for it. I myself don't see where that is a problem--unless he's trying to convince others of the same thing--his reasons are a bit on the solipicist side, and so I can't see how he expects others to just go along with them.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby Lausten » Mon Feb 04, 2013 8:47 pm

The “problem” in the broadest sense is that we live in a world full of people who believe in the supernatural. That world also has weapons of mass destruction. That combination is dangerous. The original blog post was a “message to the nones”, saying we shouldn’t base our decisions about God on fundamentalist BS. At first glance, this is an intelligent statement, however, it offered a just-as-horrible alternative for decision making. The commenter I engaged was somewhat on a tangent, but made things worse by claiming that if you agree with science you must base your decisions strictly on published papers, or you’re no better than someone making a faith decision.

The blogger normally does not engage in apologetics and I hope that the responses she got to this attempt scare her off it forever. As for the commenter, he seems to have some basis in the “God of the Bible”, but what is that really? The blog post is by a believer, telling you not to believe other believers. Those other believers have a lot more historical basis for their claims than she does, but she says they aren’t getting the “God of the Bible” right. That’s a problem.

As for convincing others, why do people post on the internet at all?
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby dobbie » Mon Feb 04, 2013 9:19 pm

Lausten wrote: As for the commenter, he seems to have some basis in the “God of the Bible”, but what is that really?


Did I read the foregoing posts wrong? It's an agnostic who has some belief in the "God of the Bible?"
Uh ...
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby Lausten » Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:44 pm

Uh ...

He used the word agnostic, so I'm taking him at his word. I felt he was using it as an excuse to not really look at the evidence, but that's my judgment. He also seemed to be referring to "God" as if he meant the Christian God, but he refused to make specific statements about what he really thought. So, I'd say he's like many Americans, he is completely atheist with regards to Zeus, but he doesn't get the implications of that, he isn't applying the same criteria to the Christian God as he is to Zeus. My guess is he doesn't want to really examine his beliefs because it would be too uncomfortable to do so. Perhaps he has social reasons for it. It is easier for him to just challenge the atheist using his misunderstandings of science and refuse to consider mine and others arguments, thus feeling more confident that he is right.
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby Rubens azevedo » Thu Feb 07, 2013 2:08 pm

I don't know if it's just me, but I understand that in this world every theist describes a different god from another. Billions of gods created by minds that permeate between faith and logic and no matter how logical attempt to "stick" in reasoning, is sure that they will talk a lot of nonsense.
So it is only possible to debate without disappointments, if the theist has the ability to recognize the fallacies in their arguments (there's no explanation for a god without fallacies).
An interesting debate develops the power of argumentation, that somewhere serves to raise reasonable doubts about someone's faith and who knows someday it could understand the absurdity of it.
"There is no logical explanation for any god."
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Re: Science = 100%

Postby Lausten » Fri Feb 08, 2013 10:21 pm

I haven't engaged the original commenter, but I did some nice responses from the blog writer. She hasn't changed her mind, but she enjoyed the discussion. That's the nice news.

The bad news is, I saw this comment about the laws of physics "existing" in a debate between Dawkins and Lennox. This guy is no dummy or crazy, like the commenter most likely is. Lennox was completely incredulous that someone who could not see that saying the laws of physics lead to a universe being "created from nothing" or "creating itself" made any sense. He was stuck on the idea of cause and affect and treated a law as if it was some sort of material. He understood that there must be a reason for the universe coming into existence and he equated the choice of believing it was God or believing it was a law of physics as if it was a 50/50 choice, except for the law of physics, he couldn't understand that IT could exist without a cause. God of course could exist without a cause.

So another aspect of this problem is understanding just what a law of science is. The idea that we could look at something and figure out how it works, without resorting to the supernatural is considered nonsense by Lennox. What's weird is he goes on to claim that it was the idea of God's laws that led to the scientific method. In other words, God inspired us to observe the universe and determine how it came to be. We did that and determined God is not necessary. For Lennox, this proves that there is something wrong with our observations or our reasoning which he can't explain. For me, it shows that his initial premise was wrong. I would gladly abandon my initial premise if you showed me it was wrong.
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