Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Emperor's New Clothes and the Courtier's Reply

I recently referred to the "Courtier's Reply", a term invented by PZ Myers to rebut the claims of believers who insist that their superstitious beliefs are ever so much more sophisticated than the simple version that Dawkins attacks.

PZ's response deserves much more publicity because it goes to the heart of the debate between rationalism and supersition. I'm going to post his original Courtier's Reply below (without permission, but I'm sure he'll understand) but before doing so I need to remind everyone about the original fairy tale [The Emperor's New Clothes].

THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES
by Hans Christian Anderson


Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to dress in elegant clothes. He changed clothes almost every hour and loved to show them off to his people.

Word of the Emperor's refined habits spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels who had heard of the Emperor's vanity decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.

"We are two very good tailors and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method to weave a cloth so light and fine that it looks invisible. As a matter of fact it is invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."

The chief of the guards heard the scoundrel's strange story and sent for the court chamberlain. The chamberlain notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the two scoundrels.

"Besides being invisible, your Highness, this cloth will be woven in colors and patterns created especially for you." The emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for their promise to begin working on the fabric immediately.

"Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you." The two scoundrels asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then pretended to begin working. The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he called the old and wise prime minister, who was considered by everyone as a man with common sense.

"Go and see how the work is proceeding," the Emperor told him, "and come back to let me know."

The prime minister was welcomed by the two scoundrels.

"We're almost finished, but we need a lot more gold thread. Here, Excellency! Admire the colors, feel the softness!" The old man bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric that was not there. He felt cold sweat on his forehead.

"I can't see anything," he thought. "If I see nothing, that means I'm stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!" If the prime minister admitted that he didn't see anything, he would be discharged from his office.

"What a marvelous fabric, he said then. "I'll certainly tell the Emperor." The two scoundrels rubbed their hands gleefully. They had almost made it. More thread was requested to finish the work.

Finally, the Emperor received the announcement that the two tailors had come to take all the measurements needed to sew his new suit.

"Come in," the Emperor ordered. Even as they bowed, the two scoundrels pretended to be holding large roll of fabric.

"Here it is your Highness, the result of our labour," the scoundrels said. "We have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colors and feel how fine it is." Of course the Emperor did not see any colors and could not feel any cloth between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. But when he realized that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, he felt better. Nobody could find out he was stupid and incompetent. And the Emperor didn't know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing.

The farce continued as the two scoundrels had foreseen it. Once they had taken the measurements, the two began cutting the air with scissors while sewing with their needles an invisible cloth.

"Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes to try on your new ones." The two scoundrels draped the new clothes on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed but since none of his bystanders were, he felt relieved.

"Yes, this is a beautiful suit and it looks very good on me," the Emperor said trying to look comfortable. "You've done a fine job."

"Your Majesty," the prime minister said, "we have a request for you. The people have found out about this extraordinary fabric and they are anxious to see you in your new suit." The Emperor was doubtful showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent.

"All right," he said. "I will grant the people this privilege." He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. A group of dignitaries walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. An applause welcomed the regal procession. Everyone wanted to know how stupid or incompetent his or her neighbor was but, as the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd.

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!"

"What a marvellous train!"

"And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!" They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

"The Emperor is naked," he said.

"Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:

"The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!"

The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He though it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.
Here's how PZ Myers describes those people who claim to have a much more intellectual version of religion; one that can not be as easily dismissed as the "simple" version that Richard Dawkins addresses. These people seem to think that by dressing up their superstitious beliefs in fancy language with philosophical references they can escape the simple fact the the Emperor has no clothes.

The Courtier's Reply
by PZ Myers


I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor's taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.

50 comments :

  1. Emperor with no clothes...
    I think the fact how bad the science of dawkins is (facile genetics and adaptationsim), yet still he pontificates about using reason and how good science is: there you are. The TRUE emperor with no clothes. It amazes me how you and PZ just gloss over this "detail". Juts remeber it when other people poitn out that Dawkins has poor scholarship; if you know this is true within his own filed, well, what did you expect ithe fields where hi is not so..."good" hahaha.

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  2. You should see the swarm of pseudoscience that is fostered by the simplistic view of selfish genes...
    And meme theory is to me the example itself of scientism.

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  3. I think it's interesting; You are well aware of the dangers of adapatationism, PZ is aware of the limitations of genes... put together you two are devastating for an evolutionary psychologist.
    I commend you guys for that.
    I've always thought I don't agree with dawkin's philosophy of what science is, and I think this reflects on the nature itself of his hypothesis and speculations...

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  4. The Courtier's Reply is an analogy, and analogies are useful tools for communicating ideas, but they are useless for making logical arguments or rebutting them (otherwise, Jesus' parables would be strong arguments). That does not mean "sophisticated" religious ideas are correct, just that the Courtier's Reply is an ineffective rebuttal. It merely expresses a scornful viewpoint.

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  5. "That does not mean "sophisticated" religious ideas are correct, just that the Courtier's Reply is an ineffective rebuttal."

    That once again misses the point: there has been no argument to rebut. The adherents of so called "sophisticated" theologies love to whoop up the fact that their beliefs are more nuanced than the ones Dawkins attacks (also ignoring the fact that the beliefs he attacks are far more representative of the religious laity as a whole than academic theology). But when it comes to an argument for this or that god, or more or less even a definition of what is being talked about, we see nothing but evasion and obscuritanism.

    And idea that is such thorough nonsense that you can dismiss any criticism by saying your opponent simply "doesn't understand" is empty sophistry and illusion (in the immortal phraseology of Hume). I actually have more respect for the "simple" beliefs of the laity than the "sophisticated" beliefs of the theologians. At least the former retains some level of cognitive value, even if it's wrong.

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  6. "Sophisticated" theology is like dressing up a pig in a pretty dress and calling it a "beautiful lady."

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  7. I actually have more respect for the "simple" beliefs of the laity than the "sophisticated" beliefs of the theologians.

    Oh, good. That'll make it easy to decide whether evolution is true or not ... we'll just have the person-in-the-street decribe evolution see how it does. Who needs those "sophisticated" biologists?

    At least the former retains some level of cognitive value, even if it's wrong.

    Meaning it's easy to confirm your a priori beliefs? Is that how you usually go about making decisions?

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  8. anonymous,

    The Courtier's Reply is an analogy, and analogies are useful tools for communicating ideas, but they are useless for making logical arguments or rebutting them (otherwise, Jesus' parables would be strong arguments). That does not mean "sophisticated" religious ideas are correct, just that the Courtier's Reply is an ineffective rebuttal. It merely expresses a scornful viewpoint.

    I think it's called "framing."

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  9. I think it's called "framing."

    Then maybe you should have used that word instead of "rebut".

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  10. "Juts remeber it when other people poitn out that Dawkins has poor scholarship; if you know this is true within his own filed, well, what did you expect ithe fields where hi is not so..."good" hahaha."

    I admire your creative spelling and syntax.

    You must be a real scholar,
    alipio.

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  11. Oh, good. That'll make it easy to decide whether evolution is true or not ... we'll just have the person-in-the-street decribe evolution see how it does. Who needs those "sophisticated" biologists?

    Oh, come on. If sophisticated theologians were actually uncovering some important facts about God and forming a consensus about them, you might have a point.

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  12. If sophisticated theologians were actually uncovering some important facts about God and forming a consensus about them, you might have a point.

    If that is the argument you want to make -- that there must be such discovery and consensus before something can be true -- then make it. It's going to make the history of science a little difficult to comprehend, since, at any one time discovery and consensus is often stalled and/or lacking. Does that mean scientific ideas, before they reach consensus, are false and magically become true when they reach it?

    Be that as it may, clothing your argument in cheap rhetoric like "the Courtier's Reply," just makes you seem more like creationists and other denialists than honest advocates.

    Larry's right. It is "framing" ... as Larry defines that term.

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  13. It is a bit curcular, isn't it. 1) there is no god 2) therefore any religious sophistication is BS 3) BS cannot be used to argue the existence of god, no matter how sophisticated.

    As a fellow atheist I can understand the argument, but simply assuming there is no god and following up on the consequences as confirmation is not too impressive and not a new argument against god's existence.

    When is the courtiers reply supposed to be applicable? To confront creationists, or "neville chamberlain appeasers" like me, or what?.

    Personally, when I point out to sophisticated thinking in relgiion, I do not do it to argue in favor of against the existence of god, but precisely to show how knowledge CAN be attained independently of whether we assume there is no god or not.

    What I find disturbing of the parable is it may work as a justification for ignorance. The "rationalist" is in no need of even glancing at religious thinking: no matter how sophisticated, it will be ultimately BS. Religion cannot contain true knowledge. Yet
    true, “alive” religion is a complex social-cultural phenomenon carried out by people, and holds sophistication and knowledge no matter how irrational may be the doctrine invented to hold everything together.

    This is not about winning a debate over the existence of god against some sophisticated theologians, but about confronting the influence of religion in society and the social-historical circumstances that allow it it expand, or diminish. You will find thattehse reasona are indeed sophisticated, and not just some mere outbreak of irrationality or stupidity (as continuously implied by simplistic scientism)

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  14. "Does that mean scientific ideas, before they reach consensus, are false and magically become true when they reach it?"

    This is a false dilemma, since "We don't know" is an acceptable state for both facts and theories. We can have a long discussion about the difference between philosophy, and specifically religious philosophy, and science. But most people recognize that there is a difference without having to learn science itself.

    "clothing your argument in cheap rhetoric like "the Courtier's Reply""

    We are talking around each other, which is what the Reply is about. As with Anonymous above you don't seem to recognize that the Courtier's Reply is raised to avoid engaging arguments like Dawkins.

    I haven't read Dawkins book, but it is said that he explained why "sophisticated theology" doesn't answer his arguments. Paradoxically, the Reply is what Anonymous calls "scornful" and what you call "cheap rhetoric". It is a dodge, and it is done in the face of Dawkins explanation why the dodge is merely rhetoric.

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  15. If that is the argument you want to make -- that there must be such discovery and consensus before something can be true -- then make it. It's going to make the history of science a little difficult to comprehend, since, at any one time discovery and consensus is often stalled and/or lacking. Does that mean scientific ideas, before they reach consensus, are false and magically become true when they reach it?

    You are the one who made the biologist vs theologian comparison, so you tell me. I didn't say anything about truth (but since you seem to be fixated on that word, perhaps you could point us to some theological truths?)

    I'm asking, when there is neither a consensus nor a body of evidence for the opponents to address (or when there might be some consensus but no one is able to state it) what is the basis of telling opponents that they are addressing the wrong version of the argument?

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  16. It's strange how some people consistently and obstinately misinterpret my little story. It isn't a disproof of god. It isn't an argument for the rightness of a particular position. It is merely a pointed rejoinder to a common and fallacious complaint: that one needs to be a master of the in-group rationalizations for a belief in order to criticize it. That's simply not true: it's not true for religion, it's not true for astrology, it's not true for evolution. It is possible to cut straight through to the bone by arguing against a clear and specific prediction of a discipline without bothering with the elaborations surrounding it.

    For instance, we can take a specific prediction of astrology -- that people born at the same place and time will have similar personalities and fates -- and test it. We don't need to know transits and retrogrades and voids of course and occultations, and all the protestations of the practitioners that we don't understand the details of astrology are pointless when the core premise is shown to be false.

    Similarly, all we have to deal with is the basic god concept to address that subject -- we do not need to read a thousand years of theology if we find the central premise is unsupported.

    And what about evolution? If it could be shown by physicists, for instance, that the earth really was only ten thousand years old, then we can throw out Fisher and Wright. You wouldn't need to master the terminology and concepts of population genetics or molecular systematics to dismiss the whole shebang.

    That's the message of the Courtier's Reply. Trotting out obscure theology is irrelevant to the argument. If you want to rebut the idea that god does not exist (or that the emperor has no clothes), you have to directly address the evidence, not chatter about some clever philosophical excuse (or the latest fashions in Milan).

    If you want to call it anything, call it a goad to the critics to focus on the central thesis, not the fripperies with which some people decorate it.

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  17. Oh, and alipio -- Larry does argue against Dawkins. I disagree with his universal adaptationism, too. We do not make the logical error of assuming that he was right in one thing -- the nonexistence of god -- that he must be right in all things.

    We also don't make the logical error that you do, that because we disagree with him on one (or a few) things, that he is incapable of reason.

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  18. Mr. DiPietro: I actually have more respect for the "simple" beliefs of the laity than the "sophisticated" beliefs of the theologians.

    Mr, Pieret: Oh, good. That'll make it easy to decide whether evolution is true or not ... we'll just have the person-in-the-street decribe evolution see how it does. Who needs those "sophisticated" biologists?

    Bad example. Biology can be tested, but religion can be whatever it freaking wants to be. Remember? Anyway, Mr. DiPietro did frame the "simple" and "sophisticated" in scare quotes. :-)

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  19. a simple question, PZ.
    So if some one tells you cannot scientifically prove that god does not exist, would you lump that into the universe of tricky sophistacted thoughts that we must suppose have been swept away forever by your superb parable?

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  20. Lets take what PZ says,

    Now, PZ says

    "It is possible to cut straight through to the bone by arguing against a clear and specific prediction of a discipline without bothering with the elaborations surrounding it"

    The argument implies that the refutation of an elaboration is a waste of time.

    "If you want to rebut the idea that god does not exist (or that the emperor has no clothes), you have to directly address the evidence, not chatter about some clever philosophical excuse (or the latest fashions in Milan)."

    But then PZ never gets around to telling the clear and specific prediction of the core premise " there is a god", nor what is his evidence refuting it (that astrology is false? haha)

    All that PZ can do is refute the elaborations on the belief of god god, like bible stories about noah's arc and such. Bbut he never gets around to twhat woudl be the evidence surrounding any clear and specific prediction of the core premise " there is a god".

    Suddenly all evidence PZ can talk pertains to the details exquisite and exotic leathers, the feathered hat, the raiment or silk stockings, or the "latest fashion trends from milan" (how charmingly proletarian, PZ haha)

    But PZ cannot bring out any evidence pertinent as to whether the emperor was actually naked or not.

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  21. alipio syas,

    But then PZ never gets around to telling the clear and specific prediction of the core premise " there is a god", nor what is his evidence refuting it

    I'm going to change the meaning of your challenge slightly because I think you're really talking about arguments for the existence of God.

    It's not up to atheists to prove the non-existence of god. We all know that it's impossible to prove a negative. That's why we can never "prove" that the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist. (Another example of a simple metaphor constructed in order to teach believers about logic.)

    It's up to believers to make the case for God. I'm aware of many arguments for God's existence that purport to be rational. These arguments can all be refuted and Dawkins did so in The God Delusion.

    If anyone has a secret sophisticated proof that they've kept hidden all these years then this would be a good time to reveal it.

    Instead, what I hear from many believers is that the outspoken atheists have only demolished the simple arguments for the existence of God and not the ones accepted by intellectuals. This is the Courtier's Reply. The problem is, they don't let us in on their sophisticated arguments for the existence of God.

    Perhaps you can tell us, alipio?

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  22. And what about evolution? If it could be shown by physicists, for instance, that the earth really was only ten thousand years old, then we can throw out Fisher and Wright. You wouldn't need to master the terminology and concepts of population genetics or molecular systematics to dismiss the whole shebang.

    So, if I can show that Darwin was wrong, I don't have to bother with Fisher and Wright in order to disprove evolutionary theory? Just how do you determine what the "central thesis" is when you are (metaphorically speaking) admittedly ignorant of the difference between Darwin, Fisher and Wright?

    But if that is what you want to argue, argue it, and leave out the cheap rhetoric. Trust me, it doesn't make you sound clever, even to people who have some sympathy for your larger point.

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  23. Torbjörn:

    This is a false dilemma, since "We don't know" is an acceptable state for both facts and theories.

    [Cough] I agree that it is okay to say "we don't know."

    The question here is why taking the popular version of some proposition and asserting that a refutation of that (assuming that is what you really have) is enough to say "we do know" about all possible versions.

    Windy:

    I didn't say anything about truth (but since you seem to be fixated on that word,

    Then I don't understand your point. Tyler, who I was originally responding to, was definitely interested in truth, stating that he knew the "simplistic" version of religion is wrong. I was pointing out that the understanding of the person-in-the-street is not a fair test of other things we are interested in, such as science. I'm still waiting for anyone to address that point.

    ... perhaps you could point us to some theological truths?)

    God exists. God is infinite. God is greater than human understanding can comprehend. These are theories of God which have wide consensus. Dismissing those while simultaneously refusing to engage in any "sophisticated" arguments (apparently defined as anything more intellectual than young-earth creationism) is simply dismissing the existence of God and his/her/its nature out of hand. That's fine of course. Anyone is free to do that. All I'm saying is that it would be more honest to do so in a straightforward manner without the cheap rhetoric.

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  24. I was pointing out that the understanding of the person-in-the-street is not a fair test of other things we are interested in, such as science. I'm still waiting for anyone to address that point.

    I am addressing that point. (Your comparison is rather insulting to evolutionary biologists, btw, but let's forget that for the moment) Consider the statement:

    "You should ask biologists about evolution because they have the evidence."

    What's the equivalent?

    "You should ask theologians about God because they have _____?"

    "Spent lots of time thinking about it" is not a very good answer. Have they gotten anywhere?

    God exists. God is infinite. God is greater than human understanding can comprehend. These are theories of God which have wide consensus.

    OK, how was that consensus reached? Isn't that about the same thing as the man on the street would say, so why do you need theologians? What additional information has theology uncovered that the man on the street does not have? And how? (Not all theologians agree that God exists, btw)

    That goes for the Darwin-Fisher-Wright example too. The latter two had access to evidence that Darwin didn't.

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  25. Dawkins answers his critic directly:

    How dare you call me a fundamentalist
    Richard Dawkins

    The hardback God Delusion was hailed as the surprise bestseller of 2006. While it was warmly received by most of the 1,000-plus individuals who volunteered personal reviews to Amazon, paid print reviewers gave less uniform approval. Cynics might invoke unimaginative literary editors: it has “God” in the title, so send it to a known faith-head. That would be too cynical, however. Several critics began with the ominous phrase, “I’m an atheist, BUT . . .” So here is my brief rebuttal to criticisms originating from this “belief in belief” school.
    ...

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  26. Of course you CAN prove a negative, if your object of enquiry is scientific, that is referring to concrete conditions and natural concepts.
    But when the concept dealt with is non-scientific, such as the supernatural god, "there is no god" is no more a scientific hypothesis than saying there IS a god.

    This"can't prove a negative" is no uncontroversial statement (as any good philosopher knows). If Larry says it us up to religion to prove scientifically that god exists, as if god could be proven to him by means of evidence, then it is up to him to be very clear about what would that evidence be.
    And according to PZ's argument, that evidence should pertain to a clear specific core prediction, and not about the elaborations.
    Alas, he failed to give us that evidence.

    "Empiricism" without theoretical rootings is meaningless. WHAT is evidence is an inescapable question. "Can't prove a negative" is not only debatable, but it does not provide free pass not to declare anything about WHAT the evidence must be; specially if you want any connection to the real world, where every now and then someone DOES churn out "scientific evidence" that god exists.

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  27. PZ said: That's the message of the Courtier's Reply. Trotting out obscure theology is irrelevant to the argument.

    Or perhaps you're just too lazy to sift through it all? (I must confess, I am too). You're equating theology with astrology, and for the most part, I think you're right. However, it's the gray area on the border of theology and philosophy that concerns me. The deep existential questions. None of them are direct arguments for God, but they do challenge the supremacy of science.

    Dawkins dodges existential questions by suggesting that they are improper to ask - (they may be grammatically correct, but are meaningless and do not deserve a response). Whether or not he sincerely believes that, or just wants to avoid discussing them, I don't know. Perhaps it's just intellectual laziness. Or perhaps Dawkins may be somewhat of a philosophical zombie (not fully conscious), and such questions are truly meaningless to him. But to bury your head in the sand and simply ignore them, will not make them go away. They will continue to be asked by atheists and theists alike, as they have been through the ages, precisely because they are indeed profoundly meaningful and mysterious to those who ask them. Asking them does not make you a theist or an idiot. It just makes you curious, and is proof that you're a sentient being.

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  28. Anonymous: "The deep existential questions. None of them are direct arguments for God, but they do challenge the supremacy of science."

    Well, has any fruit been born by their challenges? Have they ever proven science wrong? Talk is cheap, what challenges with science have they won to deserve such attention and consideration?

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  29. Well, has any fruit been born by their challenges?

    If you're a pragmatist, probably not. But scientists are also truth seekers, are they not? Not everything they research has a practical use.

    Have they ever proven science wrong?

    No. And that's not really the issue for me. The issue is whether or not they define a domain in reality that is (at least currently) inaccessible to science.

    Talk is cheap, what challenges with science have they won to deserve such attention and consideration?

    Again, that's pragmatist viewpoint. And it's also true that you don't know what can be done (pragmatically) with knowledge that you don't have.

    Here are few examples of such questions that I can write down off the top of my head. I'm sure there are many more. I'd be most grateful if Dawkins could answer them for me. I structured them as a quiz. You have 20 minutes. No cheating, or praying to any dieties is permitted :)

    Physics-related:

    1. What is the nature of time? (fundamental to everything, including evolution and consciousness). Time is divided into the past and future, via "now" (a very common word). If reality is objective, define the meaning of "now" without referencing your own consciousness.

    2. Is the universe completely consistent? If so, why is it consistent? (science may not work well in an inconsistent universe).

    3. If reductionism works, what does everything ultimately depend on? QM? What does that depend on? How far down the rabbithole does physics go?


    Philosophical:

    4. What is Being? Existence? Reality? Does it require consciousness? (can anything exist if you don't?)

    5. What is the ultimate nature of reality? Does it even have an ultimate nature, and is it possible to know it? Is this a dream or a simulation? (In a dream, there is also an objective reality but it disintegrates upon waking, and you realize that it was all part of yourself - and your consciousness survives the transition).

    6. Why should there be consciousness, this peculiar personal awareness we have? Why aren't we philosophical zombies? (to me, this is nearly the same question as: Why is there something rather than nothing).

    7. Is reality subjective or objective? Or both to varying degrees? How do you know?

    8. Assuming that solipsism is false, why are you you, and not someone or something else? (an old childhood question).

    9. What is consciousness? Is it strictly physical? Or Logical? (information) Or Both? Or neither? How do you know? Can consciousness understand itself?

    10. Is reality completely deterministic? Is consciousness deterministic? (i.e, is there free will?)

    11. What happens after you die? Is death really an escape? You were dead before you were born, but that didn't stop you from coming into existence. Non-existence was apparently not an option. Will it happen again?

    12. Scientists are truth-seekers. What is truth? (Pilot's quantum question).

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  30. Those are your examples of questions that are inaccessible to science? I guess neurobiologists and cosmologists just twiddle their thumbs all day long, then?

    If and when any of your questions are answered, do you think the answer is likely to come from:
    a) science,
    b) philosophy,
    c) religion?

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  31. anonymous,

    What makes you think that any of your questions are "innacessable to science?" More specifically, what test did you apply to conclude that any of them are "innacessable to science?"

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  32. Science can certainly approach several of those topics, if it is creative aware of its philosophical foundations and the general importance of philosophy.
    NEVER through people of a scientism that scorns philosophy, that sees science as skepticism and denial, not creativity.

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  33. Another thing: if tomorrow the entire community of physics shifted to saying the earth is 10000 years old, what we would have is two communities in disagreement, not the meek capitulation of biology crushed under the foot of physics. And fortunately so, since physics aready screwed up once exactly that way with Lord Kelvin himself, yet evolutionists stuck to their position.

    This pertaines to the problem of identifying the central concept as Pieret has pointed ut. To someone who believes in scientism, the truths delivered by physics are the starting point and biology the elaboration. Where physics has spoken biology has no voice.
    In scientism, bIology is the "lesser" compared to chemistry and physics. An of course the humanities just don't exist, much less philosophy.
    All explanations are fulfilled when they ultimately arrive to the port of physics.

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  34. Those are your examples of questions that are inaccessible to science? I guess neurobiologists and cosmologists just twiddle their thumbs all day long, then?

    Not at all. I applaud their efforts.

    If and when any of your questions are answered, do you think the answer is likely to come from:
    a) science,
    b) philosophy,
    c) religion?


    I think at least of few of them may be unanswerable, and yet are still meaningful - that's my point. If any of them are answerable, science will certainly do it. Philosophy is better at defining questions than answering them. Religion (IMO) doesn't answer any questions.

    What makes you think that any of your questions are "innacessable to science?"

    I don't know if they are all inaccessible to science or not. They certainly aren't yet. Some of them may be partially answerable eventually (consciousness).

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  35. In scientism, bIology is the "lesser" compared to chemistry and physics. An of course the humanities just don't exist, much less philosophy.
    All explanations are fulfilled when they ultimately arrive to the port of physics.


    Please explain, I find your assertion interesting. I for one do not understand how biology can be ported into physics. Maybe I'm not knowledgeable enough, I humbly add.

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  36. Biology cannot be ported into physics, but you would be surprised at the amount of people thinking that it must break down biological phenomena to terms of basically chemo-physical explanations. This is why the record of simplistically false reductionist hypotheses in biology seems endless.
    Scientism has always been physicalist, and if you want an example, it's precisely the reductionist aspects of Darwins philosophy I discussed above. Because science seems closer to chemistry and physics at the molecular level, dawkins wants all the action to be about these self-replicating molecules, the selfish genes. Sounds very sciencey, huh?

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  37. darwins? I meant dawkins

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  38. "The question here is why taking the popular version of some proposition and asserting that a refutation of that (assuming that is what you really have) is enough to say "we do know" about all possible versions."

    I haven't read Dawkins, but I assume he doesn't debunk philosophical gods, but interventionist ones. Why would theologists otherwise wish for him to discuss their more safe-guarded concepts?

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  39. Just to illustrate Pz's floppy logics:

    "We also don't make the logical error that you do, that because we disagree with him on one (or a few) things, that he is incapable of reason"

    I never made that logical error. I know dawkins can use reason; but it happens I know perfectly well he can fail to use it, too. The fact he can say smart things does not take away that he can say perfectly silly things, too.

    My real point is that if you are going to make it you occupation to go out there and tell others to "use reason", make sure that the claims you make about your own scientific field are reasonable.

    I never tell anyone to "use reason", nor do I stop now and then between my research or aguments to shout "HEY, lookit me, I'm using reason!!!" Reason, you just use it. You can proclaim reason and not be using reason at all. This is why "rationalism" is essentially useless and frivolous.

    If you take "rationalims" to be a fundamental truth (not just an ideology), you have converged with a crow that includes atheists, but also fascists, creationists; even raelians and scientology can praise reason and science. But the content of "rational" conclusions is very different indeed, becuase saying we must use reason does not say HOW we must use reason. It is as vacuos as talking about evidence without saying what evidence: no thought process is involved.

    I think this is the reason why larry and PZ can agree on dawkisn on "rationalism", yet disagree in how that reason is applied to understanding evolution.

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  40. To alipio:
    I was more interested in why biology was the "lesser" in scientism, but I'll bite on the physics. Couldn't everything be explained by physics given enough information and computing power? Practically, I understand it's not doable, but the principle is sound, no?

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  41. Reality is not contained or carbon-copied in a smaller domain of itself labeled "physics".
    Physics is limited by its predominantly reductionist framework which works beautifully in terms of particles, space, waves, energy... but physics does not seem to predict any such thing as the occurrence of life or the evolution of a lineage. All we can say is that the laws of physics are complied with in these processes, but the organisms are not predicted by them.

    Physics for example has only recently begun to talk about emergent properties. They are currently incapable of predicting-explaining on their own most of chemistry. I remember about a decade ago, this physicist friend of mine is all happy, because physicists had published a paper proving that hidrogen is allowed by physics, that it can exist. Of course chemists were laughing their heads off, but he was happy. That gets you an idea of how far away is physics from achieving an adequate framework for studying complex historical phenomena, like the evolution of life on earth.
    I understand there has been some more discussion lately, from the nanothechnological side? about emergent porperties and such. Hopefully this may lead to better, non-reductionist physics that may merge with greater ease into the independent fields of chemistry and biology. Things still would not be "a matter of physics" though. We would just overlap physical explanations on phenomena whose comprehension is handled best in other fields.

    For example, for those of us who think the universe is not on a predetermined pathway, chance events make the history of life unique, and thus not replicable according to a physicalist model.
    You HAVE to study fosssils, you have to look to how the actual thing went on...

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  42. You still haven't convinced me. Like I said, if one had enough information and computing power, could not one predict the occurrence of life and its corollary laws as arising from physical interactions of matter and energy? That is, the science of biology arises very very fundamentally from the science of physics?

    I'll accept it's a silly premise, but I think I'm still right.

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  43. It is the gleam of that physicalist premise that has spawned so much bad scientism.

    Systems theory is perhaps the best reason why physics alone is insufficient. Systems theory is fundamentally different from physics and you will get NOWHERE without it.

    Physics is like the bricks of the house: thanks to them there is a house in the first place, but the organization, the architecture of that house is not contained in the bricks. arrangement of parts is not a part of physics... at least not our physics, to this day.

    Organisms are made possible by physics and comply with physics but it is their dynamic organization, as a molecular network of interactions, that makes them what they are. An d this can be tackled by systems theory, not by physics.

    If this fails to convince you I will not insist, but I don't blame you. There is not much awareness about the true importance of systems theory.

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  44. you are promoting the work of anti-intellectual Nazis. why don't you just burn some books? That stupid gimmick is nothing but a refusal to grant digintiyt to people who see things differntly than you do.

    religion is not superstition. you are a fool. you don't know anything about it. if you want to make up a little label that sys "I will not grant your knowledge any importance" find. I don't grant your knowledge importance.

    I can make up a little fancy label for your fascist move of anti-freedom clap trap. I'll call it the brown shirt move. that's an informal fallacy where you erfuse to accept that people who see things differently than you do can know anything.

    you are making the brown shirt move got it! You lose.

    you are an anti-intellectual book burner you refuses to accord me the validity my knowledge base deserves. how can you criticism something you know nothing about? that's just plain stupid. you don't deserve to be in the academy. you are a lousy scholar and an anti-scholar. you are anti-knowledge.

    burn some bibles and toast morshellows and burn a few Methodosts at the stake too.

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  45. Courtier's reply is nothing more than ipsie dixit. you are just stipulating "Your knowledge shall be negated. you know thing because I say what you know is not worth crap."

    It's obvious why you have to know about something to criticize it. Here's an example. this happened the other day. An atheist says "religions is tupid because it's worshpping a big daddy in the sky." I say "process theology doesn't see a big sky daddy, it sees God as impersonal." he says "No it doesn't." I quote about 20 articles showing it does posit an impersonal God and he says "that's the courtiers reply." He's treating it like a law of logic or something.

    It's no a law a of logic. It's not an informal fallacy, it's a gimmick. Its not something a logician will agree to it's actually anti-logic because logic tell us we should know about the things we criticize.

    This is the Jews and Nazis. They are demanding that the knowledge I have worked a lifetime to achieve is just dung in my head and they don't even wnat to work for the privilege of saying it. they want to stipulate it without even knowing what it is they are comdeming to the ash heap.

    I paid a dear price for the knowledge worked to earn. I have sacrificed and worked hard to learn what I have from theology. I will be mother fucking damned to hell if I let some know nothing anti-intellectual fart head take it away by just merely refusing acknowledge that it's worth anything!

    All my life I have fought the nay sayers! those who would not allow me to know, those who would not allow the intellectuals to exist. those who would burn the books, I have been fighting since I was a small child. at church, at school, growing up in Texas I will not allow a bunch of fascists to make my knowledge away form me just because they have little scientific bull shit gimmick along with their fascism!

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  46. Larry. This post at Unscrewing the Unscrutable may help provide context for J.L. Hinman's little outburst. If it is any consolation, he posted in PZ's original thread too... :-)

    http://www.unscrewingtheinscrutable.com/node/2009

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  47. I just stumbled into this very lively debate, but I find myself very confused. Consider me that little kid with no knowledge beyond what my senses tell me. My first response: why does it matter? I am not entirely sure what arguing the existence of God does for science. The existence (or non-existence) of God doesn't really hamper science does it? As a believer, I have never seen the problem in believing in God and in science. So when I saw an article based on the fable the Emperor's Clothes, I thought it very ironic. The fable is about perception and what people will pretend to make others perceive them a certain way. And frankly, I feel that most debaters on the subject are debating a matter of perception, and are debating so that they will not be perceived wrong. I think the argument about God has jumped the gun. Perhaps science should, if it can, argue first about perception which is very close to belief, before it argues about what people perceive.

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  48. anonymous asks,

    I just stumbled into this very lively debate, but I find myself very confused. Consider me that little kid with no knowledge beyond what my senses tell me. My first response: why does it matter? I am not entirely sure what arguing the existence of God does for science.

    The debate is over the conflict between rationalism and superstition. Is is better to be rational or is it better to believe in superstitions that have no evidence to support them?

    I'm sure that in the vast majority of cases you opt for rationalism and reject superstitions as nonsense. I'm sure that when asked you think that being rational is better that believing in a bunch of nonsense, Right?

    Why do you make an exception for religion—more specifically for the particular religion that you believe in? (You probably think that all the others are just superstitious nonsense.)

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