Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What Timothy Sandefur says ....

 
I very much admire Jerry Coyne's article on science vs religion in The New Republic [see: Jerry Coyne on Science vs. Religion]. There's been some discussion on The Edge where participants are asked to address the question Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith?.

Timothy Sandefur discusses Coyne's article and the various commnents on his blog Freespace [The future of science teetering on the Edge]. He does such a good job that you should all hop over there as soon as possible and read what he has to say.

Timothy points out that the debate is really about ways of knowing. Can we obtain valid information using the scientific way of knowing? Yes we can. This is rationalism, in my terminology.

Can we obtain valid information using faith as a way of knowing? No we can't. This is superstition and it is the opposite of rationalism.

Is it possible to simultaneously practice both ways of knowing? Here's part of the response by Timothy Sandefur.
Keep the issue in mind: the question is not whether it is possible for someone simultaneously to hold unproven, baseless beliefs about a supernatural dimension and scientific, reasoned conclusions with regard to observed phenomena. It is possible for all sorts of people to believe all sorts of things—just as Humpty Dumpty practiced every day believing six impossible things before breakfast. But it is not possible to do these things and still have intellectual integrity. It requires instead intellectual dis-integration: the skill (if it can be called a skill) of not thinking about the possible connections between the phenomena of the universe. That is, it requires precisely the opposite effort that science requires. It requires one not to think. Alas, as Coyne observes, this effort is officially endorsed by many organizations motivated by political expediency:
It is in [scientists’] personal and professional interest to proclaim that science and religion are perfectly harmonious. After all, we want our grants funded by the government, and our schoolchildren exposed to real science instead of creationism. Liberal religious people have been important allies in our struggle against creationism, and it is not pleasant to alienate them by declaring how we feel. This is why, as a tactical matter, groups such as the National Academy of Sciences claim that religion and science do not conflict. But their main evidence—the existence of religious scientists—is wearing thin as scientists grow ever more vociferous about their lack of faith.
But it’s not just that there aren’t as many religious scientists as some claim. It’s the fact that these two ways of knowing are and always have been, incompatible by their nature, and that those who pledge allegiance to both are either dishonest or simply wrong.
It's nice to see a lawyer making sense.


37 comments :

  1. Thanks for the heads up, Larry. It's a well-argued article.

    By the way, are there any Darwin Day activities planned at the University of Toronto?

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  2. Well-written. One criticism is that Sandefur does not allow comments on his own site.

    Sandefur repeats the point, already stated by Coyne, that people are able to hold multiple incompatible ideas in their brains, and that this does not prove that the ideas are compatible. Despite that point already having been made, Miller repeated his appeal to the existence of scientists who hold religious faith as proof that science and religion are compatible.

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  3. Can we obtain valid information using faith as a way of knowing?

    In other words, it is the philosophical subject of epistemology that you are discussing, not science.

    But it is not possible to do these things and still have intellectual integrity. It requires instead intellectual dis-integration: the skill (if it can be called a skill) of not thinking about the possible connections between the phenomena of the universe.

    So, will you now go home and tell your wife and children that you don't really love them, you are just under the influence of hormones and evolved instincts and maintain your "integrity"? Oh, and will you admit that JMW Turner isn't a great artist and that your thinking so was not reached rationally?

    It's nice to see a lawyer making sense.

    I'll let that one slide. ;-)

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  4. "So, will you now go home and tell your wife and children that you don't really love them, you are just under the influence of hormones and evolved instincts and maintain your "integrity"?

    False dichotomy. Who says love isn't real if it's "just" hormones and evolved instincts and other biological phenomena?

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  5. False dichotomy. Who says love isn't real if it's "just" hormones and evolved instincts and other biological phenomena?

    But aren't we finding out the same thing about religion?

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  6. P.S. (Too quick on the "publish" button):

    The issue here is whether you need to be fully rational about what you "know." If Larry "knows" he loves his wife and children, but also knows that "knowledge" is arational, has he lost his "integrity" the same way that someone who "knows" there is a god but still does good science (I.e. Ken Miller) has, according to Sandefur?

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  7. You can't start saying what love or god is or isn't until you've defined it for everyone. (And of course it is tactical to keep the terms you are discussing vague and nebulous so as to create rhetorical cover in which to hide.)

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  8. That's simple enough in this case, since it is determined by the person who is being exorted to have "integrity." "Love" is what Larry means by the term when he (I hope) "knows" that he loves his wife and children. And "God" is the concept that someone like Miller, who asserts he can "know" God exists and still do science, means by "God."

    Again, the point is that Sandefur is asserting that these sorts of "knowledge" (that no matter how you slice the definitional pie are arational "knowledge" as far as the individual holding them is concerned) cannot be "simultaneously practiced" with science. My question is how you distinquish one arational knowledge from the other?

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  9. I don't see where Sandefur is saying love and god belief are the same. That's an inference you are making.

    I suppose love is whatever Larry wants to assign to the chemical reaction he gets around his wife and children. It's not a-rrational because he can reproduce the results whenever they're around and they can reciprocate. How is that like believing in god?

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  10. Why is Larry's knowledge that he loves his wife necessarily arational? By definition, love is an internal state in a human, characterized (in part) by certain feelings toward the loved one. Surely Larry is empirically aware of his own feelings toward his wife. Larry knows he loves his wife because he has rationally determined that his feelings toward her are most consistent with the generally agreed definition of love.

    I submit that's what each of us does whenever we sincerely claim to love someone. We may not consciously reason it out quite so explicitly, but that doesn't negate the fundamental rational process involved.

    I suppose you could argue that Larry's knowledge of his own feelings is nonempirical, but I don't think that's a winning argument either.

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  11. I don't see where Sandefur is saying love and god belief are the same. That's an inference you are making.

    Sandefur is saying that religious belief consists of assertions about reality without reasons and without even the need for reasons. How is that different from assertions about love, art, music, literature, etc.? The fact that Sandefur is failing to make the connection to many other forms of non-scientific thinking that scientists engage in is not a point in his favor.

    It's not a-rrational because he can reproduce the results whenever they're around and they can reciprocate. How is that like believing in god?

    Miller can reproduce the feelings that lead him to believe in god by going to church, praying, meditating, etc. They're both based on "feelings" which, to the individual experiencing them, are equally empirical or non-empirical, depending on how you want to define that.

    ... love is an internal state in a human, characterized (in part) by certain feelings toward the loved one. ... Larry knows he loves his wife because he has rationally determined that his feelings toward her are most consistent with the generally agreed definition of love.

    Belief in god is an internal state in a human, characterized (in part) by certain feelings (usually called "faith") toward the nature of reality and whether it is encompassed within the philosophy of naturalism/materialism. Miller knows there is a god because he has rationally determined that his feelings as to what reality is are most consistent with the definition of god that he holds.

    I suppose you could argue that Larry's knowledge of his own feelings is nonempirical.

    If they are empirical, then so is Miller's "knowledge" about god. It's special pleading to accept that certain "feelings-based" forms of "knowledge" are okay to mix with science and other aren't, unless you can show a real difference between them.

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  12. "Belief in god is an internal state in a human, characterized (in part) by certain feelings (usually called "faith") toward the nature of reality and whether it is encompassed within the philosophy of naturalism/materialism. Miller knows there is a god because he has rationally determined that his feelings as to what reality is are most consistent with the definition of god that he holds."

    The first sentence is fine but the second is absurd.

    Miller's empirical knowledge of how he feels is only rational evidence that he believes in God. It's not rational evidence that God exists.

    Not unless Miller defines God as nothing more than the internal state associated with his belief.

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  13. Miller's empirical knowledge of how he feels is only rational evidence that he believes in God. It's not rational evidence that God exists.

    Just note that I wasn't saying that the feeling he started from was specifically the belief in god. In any event, if you start with the premise that feelings lead to "knowledge" (such as that you love someone), how exactly do you restrict it to only some forms of "knowledge" and not others? If you can reason from feelings to some result, why not other results? The fact that you (or I, for that matter) wouldn't reason in that manner is not, necessarily, proof that the premise is false or the reasoning faulty.

    More importantly, I still don't see how appealing to feelings to gain "knowledge" of love, art, the proper football team to root for and the myriad other things all people, including scientists, decide on arational grounds isn't as damaging to the so-called "intellectual integrity" Sandefur is peddling as belief in god is.

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  14. "In any event, if you start with the premise that feelings lead to "knowledge" (such as that you love someone), how exactly do you restrict it to only some forms of "knowledge" and not others?"

    Feelings can lead to relevant knowledge about internal states, beliefs, one's psychology, some of one's physiology (e.g. pain, hunger), etc. Feelings don't provide knowledge about the existence of external things like God or Sasquatch or Toronto. How you or I or anyone else feels about Toronto tells us nothing about whether it exists. At least, not if our feelings about Toronto are the only 'evidence' we have.

    Algebra can lead to knowledge, but I hope we can agree that it can lead to some kinds of knowledge, and not others.

    "More importantly, I still don't see how appealing to feelings to gain "knowledge" of love, art, the proper football team to root for and the myriad other things all people, including scientists, decide on arational grounds isn't as damaging to the so-called "intellectual integrity" Sandefur is peddling as belief in god is."

    Once again, I don't agree such decisions are necessarily arational. I'm not even sure they're usually arational, even if we may not usually take time to think through our rationales.

    The difference with belief in God, IMO, is when people assert that God's objective, empirical existence can be known by non-empirical means. Especially when they attribute concrete properties to God (such as having created the universe, or being responsible for Collins's frozen waterfall.)

    On what basis can a scientist judge that he needs empirical evidence to 'know' with reasonable certainty that a given mutation causes a genetic disease, but he doesn't need any empirical evidence to 'know' with equal or greater certainty that God exists and watches over us all? Can you truly not see the intellectual discontinuity there? And do you truly think it's not qualitatively different than 'knowing' you love someone?

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  15. I love it when people argue that science is really just another form of faith, or that the superiority of scientific empiricism is somehow invalidated by the fact that we cannot prove that we "love" or "hate" something.

    I also love it when people who make these arguments take aspirin for a headache, get on an airplane, or use a computer.

    Empiricism when things need to get done; philosophical babble for everything else, I suppose.

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  16. Feelings can lead to relevant knowledge about internal states, beliefs, one's psychology, some of one's physiology (e.g. pain, hunger), etc. Feelings don't provide knowledge about the existence of external things like God or Sasquatch or Toronto.

    Um, everyone's "internal states" are external things to everyone else. Either they are real objective "things" or we can dismiss the notion that Larry, or anyone else for that matter, loves his or her family at all. That may in fact be true but is disbelieving that a betrayal of science?

    Once again, I don't agree such decisions are necessarily arational. I'm not even sure they're usually arational, even if we may not usually take time to think through our rationales.

    So you deny that arational things like the culture we grow up in and evolutionary instincts affect our feelings and "internal states"? I'd think that the empiric evidence was quite heavily to the contrary and that humans are largely, if not mostly, arational in their daily lives. You should go and tell the advertizing industry that they've been doing it all wrong. ;-)

    The difference with belief in God, IMO, is when people assert that God's objective, empirical existence can be known by non-empirical means.

    I think you may be smuggling in assumptions with your terminology. When people like Miller (as opposed to YECs or the like) assert faith in god they are not talking about a "reality" amenable to investigation by means of objective, empiric evidence (which, by the way, according to Hume, who is credited as the foremost advocate of the philosophy of empiricism, is an "internal state"). The assumption that "reality" is necessarily amenable to such means is a philosophical, not scientific, claim.

    On what basis can a scientist judge that he needs empirical evidence to 'know' with reasonable certainty that a given mutation causes a genetic disease, but he doesn't need any empirical evidence to 'know' with equal or greater certainty that God exists and watches over us all?

    Again, it is you (and Coyne) who are putting them on equal philosophical grounds, not Miller. He doesn't think they are equivalent forms of "knowledge," as he said in his reply to Coyne at Edge. Miller knows what he needs in order to do science the same way everyone else does ... by the process of selection done by the collective reaction of the scientific community.

    I love it when people argue that science is really just another form of faith, or that the superiority of scientific empiricism is somehow invalidated by the fact that we cannot prove that we "love" or "hate" something.

    How nice for you. Let us know when you find someone like that.

    Empiricism when things need to get done; philosophical babble for everything else, I suppose.

    The obvious question then is why you're interested at all in Coyne's article that was full of philosophy or Sandefur's arguements about epistemology? Knownothingism is not restricted to creationists and other anti-science types, I see.

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  17. We can agree that the heart is a pump and not the organ of affection and an improbable means of direct perception of God. We can agree that supernatural means are practically useless, can't we?

    As to whether the child whose head I cradled last night is actually more beautiful than the average for his cohort, I'll acknowledge that this opinion might not be universally held, but it hardly matters. It's a question of limited scope, like most political or esthetic issues.

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  18. We can agree that supernatural means are practically useless, can't we?

    I might have quibbles about "useless," especially if you take religion to be an evolved trait as Dennett does, but it is certainly far outstripped by science in terms of delivering valid knowledge.

    As to whether the child whose head I cradled last night is actually more beautiful than the average for his cohort, I'll acknowledge that this opinion might not be universally held ...

    But I think it would hardly be fair to impune your "intellectual integrity" for holding it.

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  19. John Pieret said:

    "The obvious question then is why you're interested at all in Coyne's article that was full of philosophy or Sandefur's arguements about epistemology? Knownothingism is not restricted to creationists and other anti-science types, I see."

    Aren't you cute? So many words...

    Nothing at all wrong with philosophy or epistemology. But you've been arguing that the notion that Larry's love for his wife and children being based on "hormones and evolved instincts" is somehow equivalent to Ken Miller's concept that god is real because he has faith. That's bullshit, through and through.

    The history of empiricism shows that it works; faith has produced nothing of value that could not otherwise have been had without faith. On the contrary, Koch's postulates of infectious disease, for instance, could not have been had without careful observation of repeatable events. Empiricism works; faith doesn't.

    Larry's love for his wife and kids is entirely neural and hormonal. Unfortunately for us, we've done a piss-poor job of understanding the biological nature of the brain, and, as such, we know comparatively little about the biology of love.

    You also wrote: "Love" is what Larry means by the term when he (I hope) "knows" that he loves his wife and children. And "God" is the concept that someone like Miller, who asserts he can "know" God exists and still do science, means by "God."

    Again, the comparison here is laughable. Both faith in god and love can be described in emotional terms (in the sense of how it makes one feel to experience either state of being), and both make knowledge claims about the universe ("God exists", "love exists"). But this is where the comparison ends.

    For Larry Moran, "Love exists" really means "the set of hormonal and neural signals that give rise to emotion that human beings call 'love' exists".

    For Ken Miller, "God exists" really means "a supernatural being exists who created the universe, had a human son who was born of a virgin, was crucified and rose from the dead on the third day, and currently sits at the right hand of god to judge the dead".

    Can you not see the fundamental difference between these statements? The former makes no untestable assertions about reality. The existence of hormones and neurochemical signaling is not incompatible with empiricism (in fact, it is directly in keeping with the enormous body of evidence). The existence of god, on the other hand, is almost completely the opposite.

    Larry knows he loves his wife and kids because he experiences the emotion called 'love'; he knows what 'love' is because it has been described by billions of people throughout the ages.

    Ken Miller knows that he has faith in god because he experiences this faith in some way. And, of course, billions of people have also experienced this feeling too.

    But all this does is equivocate between the feeling of love and the feeling of faith. It does not speak one iota about the real physical existence of love or the real physical existence of god.

    We can define the physical existence of love based on biochemical and neurophysiological grounds. We could, of course, do the same for faith. What we cannot do is define god in any particular physical way, because he is, cleverly, kept out of the physical realm by fiat designation.

    So please stop equivocating the existence of faith with the existence of god. Faith certainly exists, and can be defined in first-principles terms. The same cannot be said for god.

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  20. Ways of knowing based on emotion can't always be trusted; no one's arguing that. However, when you base that feeling on corporeal objects, (wife, art, literature) lines of reason and evidence are used to validate those feelings such as reciprocity in people and confluence of opinion over symmetry, tenor, and rhythm in music, for example. On the other hand, God belief is only as valid a way of knowing as believing in an hallucination. There is no reciprocity, and no confluence of opinion. You are simply making it up as you go. As a way of knowing, belief in things unseen is frivolous.

    In other words, I love lamp is more legitimate than I love god.

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  21. Gillt said:

    "On the other hand, God belief is only as valid a way of knowing as believing in an hallucination."

    Agreed. But given the right tools, we could describe the biochemical underpinnings of both beliefs. Importantly (and this should go without saying), neither the belief in god nor the hallucination tell us anything of value about the reality of the physical world, and they certainly don't provide evidence of the literal existence of god, or of 40-foot blue spiders.

    They are not ways of knowing for the simple reason, as you put it, that you make it up as you go.

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  22. Mike, I agree.

    The real mystery is why Pieret keeps equating brain states to epistemologies.

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  23. But you've been arguing that the notion that Larry's love for his wife and children being based on "hormones and evolved instincts" is somehow equivalent to Ken Miller's concept that god is real because he has faith.

    Here's what I said:

    The issue here is whether you need to be fully rational about what you "know." If Larry "knows" he loves his wife and children, but also knows that "knowledge" is arational, has he lost his "integrity" the same way that someone who "knows" there is a god but still does good science (I.e. Ken Miller) has, according to Sandefur?

    Larry decided he loves his wife by an arational, non-empiric process (unless he was testing his hormonal and neural signals while he was out on dates with her and made his decision that he loved her based only on the test results).

    For Larry Moran, "Love exists" really means "the set of hormonal and neural signals that give rise to emotion that human beings call 'love' exists".

    Exercising ESP? Steve Pinker famously said (paraphrasing) that he spent all day studying how consciousness is the result of the material structure of the brain but he still went home at night and believed he was in love with his wife. Again, he didn't make that decision on empiric evidence. The issue isn't whether love's the result of hormonal and neural signals, the issue is whether he can decide he's in love without those tests and still be a scientist of intellectual integrity.

    The existence of hormones and neurochemical signaling is not incompatible with empiricism (in fact, it is directly in keeping with the enormous body of evidence). The existence of god, on the other hand, is almost completely the opposite.

    You haven't, apparently, read Dennett or the other evolutionary psychologists on the origins of religion. Again, its not the source of the "knowledge" that is at issue here, it's whether individual scientists can hold arational beliefs and still do science.

    In any event, you have the wrong philosophy. Empiricism makes no claim about whether "reality" is amenable to empirical investigation -- it merely defines how to do it. And even Hume had to appeal to non-empirical "knowledge" to get there (but that's another whole kettle of fish). You have to go to philosophical naturalism or materialism to find that claim ... which means that appealing to epistemology is an error in the first place.

    The real mystery is why Pieret keeps equating brain states to epistemologies.

    I'm not (outside what Hume had to say about the subject which isn't directly relevant here). The point is that the epistemologies of scientists (or at least the vast majority of them) allow for arational "knowledge" without anyone impugning their "intellectual integrity" as scientists. qetzal and I were just wrangling over some of the examples.

    The attempt to rule out religious belief by otherwise good scientists is not, on this evidence, based on any epistemological necessity for doing science and, instead, has to be established, if at all, on other factors. If you are going to argue that scientists can't be religious, that's fine, but you'll have to find better arguments than epistemologogy.

    Bad arguments remain bad arguments even if they're in favor of right conclusions.

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  24. By Pieret's rationale, we'd keep apples on the nightstand so every morning we could drop them before climbing out of bed to make sure gravity works. I mean, how else would we know without first testing it? Ergo, getting out of bed in the morning for most scientists is clearly an arational, non-empiric process. See, I win!

    Pieret said: "The point is that the epistemologies of scientists (or at least the vast majority of them) allow for arational "knowledge" without anyone impugning their "intellectual integrity" as scientists."

    Sam Harris on a scientist's integrity:

    "If Francis Collins wants to believe that the historical Jesus was actually raised from the dead and still exists in an ethereal form which renders him both clairvoyant and mildly disapproving of masturbation, these beliefs do not even slightly detract from his stature as a scientist."

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  25. Larry decided he loves his wife by an arational, non-empiric process (unless he was testing his hormonal and neural signals while he was out on dates with her and made his decision that he loved her based only on the test results).

    Again, you're just wrong. Larry describes his feeling of love for his wife, and it so happens that his description of the emotion is concordant with the description offered by others; so we term it 'love', and agree on its definition.

    Does this mean that 'love' exists as a physical entity? Not at all. It so happens, however, that if we dig deeply enough, we can identify common biochemical phenomena which are associated with the emotion we call 'love', and we can identify brain lesions that eliminate the ability to feel 'love'.

    Of course, I'm sure that we could do the same with faith, which would imply that the physical cause of faith is, like love, biochemical.

    There's nothing intrinsically arational about describing an emotion, or concluding that one feels that emotion. There's nothing intrinsically arational about describing the feeling of religious faith.

    The difference comes when we try to use this description to "know" things about the universe.

    Steve Pinker famously said (paraphrasing) that he spent all day studying how consciousness is the result of the material structure of the brain but he still went home at night and believed he was in love with his wife. Again, he didn't make that decision on empiric evidence. The issue isn't whether love's the result of hormonal and neural signals, the issue is whether he can decide he's in love without those tests and still be a scientist of intellectual integrity.

    Certainly, he can. I believe that I love my wife, because I can describe the emotion, and that description is highly concordant with the description given by others. It doesn't cheapen love to know that its physical origin is biochemical.

    I can do science by day, and require evidence for my conclusions. And I can go home at night and know that I love my wife because I have evidence that I do.

    Belief in god is different. I can do science by day and have faith, and know that there is evidence that I have faith. I cannot, however, claim that god exists, because there is no evidence to support that.

    The existence of faith is not equal to the existence of god. Faith is real; I've seen it. God isn't.

    it's whether individual scientists can hold arational beliefs and still do science.

    That isn't the issue. Clearly, Francis Collins can sequence the human genome and still hold irrational beliefs about the existence of god.

    I don't think the existence of faith is irrational; faith clearly exists, and its existence is compatible with scientific thought. The tenets of faith, however, are not.

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  26. John Pieret said:

    "Again, it is you (and Coyne) who are putting them on equal philosophical grounds, not Miller. He doesn't think they are equivalent forms of "knowledge," as he said in his reply to Coyne at Edge."

    When it comes to the issue of scientific (epistemic?) integrity, I think the key is whether one is consistent in what ways of knowing are appropriate for what forms of knowledge. (Assuming for the moment that there really are different ways of knowing.)

    If Miller (or anyone else) presumes that God, His properties, or His actions have the same sort of objective existence as a mutation or a genetic disease, then consistency and scientific integrity would seem to require that the same empiric standards of knowing should appply to both.

    Of course, if Miller's God has no objective existence that's amenable to empiric investigation, then obviously He can't be known by empiric means. That would seem to eliminate the alleged inconsistency, although it leaves open the question of how such a God can interact non-empirically with empiric beings such as ourselves. Perhaps this position also requires belief in dualism?

    I suppose a third option is if God has empiric existence, but also has some special property that allows Him to be "known" by faith, whereas most empiric things cannot be known by faith. God's empiric existence should still be empirically knowable as well, but Miller might argue that any current inability to know God empirically is simply due to practical limitations, not intrinsic ones. E.g., God might be empirically knowable through high-energy physics experiments, but only at energies well above our current limits.

    So, I guess I agree that Miller's belief in God doesn't necessarily compromise his scientific integrity. As long as he doesn't claim to know things through faith that contradict empirical knowledge. (If he believed in Virgin births, world-wide floods, and miracles, then we'd still have a problem.)

    That still leaves a big open question, though: how does Miller determine which things can be known through faith, and which can't? I presume he would agree that the existence of coelocanths and the non-existence of the Loch Ness Monster can only be known through empiric means. How does Miller "know" that God can be known by faith, but the Loch Ness Monster can't?

    Perhaps that requires yet another way of knowing?

    ;-)

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  27. That still leaves a big open question, though: how does Miller determine which things can be known through faith, and which can't? I presume he would agree that the existence of coelocanths and the non-existence of the Loch Ness Monster can only be known through empiric means. How does Miller "know" that God can be known by faith, but the Loch Ness Monster can't?

    Precisely!

    How does one decide that the nature of god is unknowable but the effects of gene mutations is knowable, by empirical means? You just say it is so, and it is so, I suppose.

    Miller's faith does not take away from his scientific merit one little bit. He could be the next Pope, for all I care, and still be a great scientist too.

    It's the claim that both his faith and his science are valid ways of knowing certain thing that gets me. The validity of science has the full weight of empiricism on its side. Faith has nothing.

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  28. So, I guess I agree that Miller's belief in God doesn't necessarily compromise his scientific integrity. As long as he doesn't claim to know things through faith that contradict empirical knowledge.

    Now you're getting it.

    (If he believed in Virgin births, world-wide floods, and miracles, then we'd still have a problem.)

    Empiricism does not rule out miracles. It says that the only reliable knowledge we can have of miracles is through empiric evidence. A different philosophical proposition has to be appealed to (materialism, naturalism, etc.) in order to claim that the universe is so consistent that evidence of "normal" events rules out any deviation from them. This leaves you, on an empiric account only, in the position of evaluating what empirical evidence would be left by a global flood as opposed to a single virgin birth or a single vat of water turned into wine. On the reasoning that a global flood must leave massive amounts of empiric evidence behind, any answer to the question "does that contradict empiric evidence?" has to be contrasted with the question "do we have, or reasonably expect to have, any empiric evidence of the nature of Jesus' birth?"

    That still leaves a big open question, though: how does Miller determine which things can be known through faith, and which can't? I presume he would agree that the existence of coelocanths and the non-existence of the Loch Ness Monster can only be known through empiric means. How does Miller "know" that God can be known by faith, but the Loch Ness Monster can't?

    Now we get to the deepest part of the philosophical conundrum. After all, how do we know induction works at all? As Hume pointed out, we can't induce from experience that induction works without arguing circularly. No fully consistent (which is what you're asking for), universally accepted answer has been proposed. Science's answer is to simply shrug its collective shoulders and carry on as if it always works, without making the philosophical commitment to the proposition. That's the famous methodological naturalism. We don't know it works, we don't know that science is delivering "truth," we just carry on with it and see what we get.

    The answer to your question as to how Miller "knows" that his version of God can't be investigated empirically (presuming to answer for him, based on having grown up among such believers) has to do with the same sorts of differences we have to evaluate between a global flood and a singleton birth. He "knows" that his God can't be empirically investigated because of the nature of his God as he conceives him/her/it. I'm not defending his theology, by the way. It has a lot of the god-in-the-gaps to it. But as long as he follows along with science and accepts that science can investigate the things it does investigate, he is consistent with the epistemology of science.

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  29. We don't know it works, we don't know that science is delivering "truth," we just carry on with it and see what we get.

    But once again, the proof is in the results, no? Whether air pressure really exists is neither here nor there, but planes still fly. DNA may or may not be the genetic material, but the assumption that it is seems to be working out fairly well for us, wouldn't you agree?

    But again, one cannot say the same about gods existence; god may exist, or god may not exist, but it makes no functional difference, does it? We learn nothing about the putative characteristics of the universe by assuming god exists; by contrast, we learn a great deal by assuming that DNA is the genetic material.

    At the very least, the latter allows us to make falsifiable statements about the universe that god belief does not. Science always has that ace in the hole; falsification.

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  30. "Now you're getting it."

    Well, we seem to be in agreement that Miller and others don't necessarily compromise their scientific integrity by believing in God. They might do so, depending on exactly what they believe, but it's not a given.

    That said, I still maintain that your argument comparing belief in God to belief in love fails. ;-) I think the correct argument is that we can't use an empirical approach to prove that that non-empiric things don't exist, or that it's impossible to know non-empiric things. If Miller's philosophy assumes faith is a way of knowing that's completely out of reach of empiric investigation, and if he's careful to be consistent about what things can and can't be known by faith, then I think his integrity can remain intact.

    "Empiricism does not rule out miracles."

    Ah, but now we start to cross the line, insofar as scientific integrity is concerned. I agree that we can't formally induce that induction works. I wasn't asking for an answer to this problem at all; it's not the point.

    The point is that science assumes that induction works, and the empiricism is the only appropriate way to "know" empirical facts. That assumption may be no more provable than Miller's assumption that faith is a valid way of knowing, but that's irrelevant. It's a fundamental methodological assumption of science, and IMO, scientific integrity requires adhering to this assumption.

    If Miller asserts he can "know" God exists through faith, and that God is beyond the reach of empirical investigation, then he hasn't violated that assumption. But, if Miller asserts he can know empiric facts that are within reach of empirical investigation, and especially if he asserts he can know empiric facts that are substantially contradicted by available empiric evidence, then he has definitely violated one of science's key assumptions.

    If Miller made such assertions, then his faith would be in clear conflict with science, and it would be a violation of intellecual integrity to claim otherwise.

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  31. "Empiricism does not rule out miracles."

    That is hogwash, and I question whether Pieret has read or understood Coyne's article.

    Miracles by definition are necessarily impossible events because they violate natural law. If something occurs that appears to violate a natural law, we adjust our models accordingly and rethink the law. What we don't do is throw our hands up and call it a miracle.

    Also, in principle, supernatural events are not beyond the realm of empiricism. If Vishnu comes down and violates the supposed supernatural/natural barrier and diddles with a single quantum event, (much less faith healing) then it can be measured, poked and prodded by science.

    The fact that nothing of this sort has ever been documented means that extreme skepticism not apologetics rules the day.

    Additionally, claiming that something happened in the past, and therefore not amenable to scientific testing is such a transparently convenient ruse that the only proper response is to point and laugh.

    I guess if you don't want your religious beliefs tested then go the way of Spinoza.

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  32. Mike:

    But once again, the proof is in the results, no?

    The claim that we can know that a particular "virgin birth," that we have no empiric evidence, one way or the other, about, didn't happen because it violates "natural law" is an induction from our experience. To say that it can't have happened because scientific induction always works is itself an induction from experience. Hume's point is that it is circular reasoning -- a logical error -- to justify the efficacy of induction through an induction. We observe only the tiniest fraction of "events" in the universe and we are unaware of so much, that the most we can say is that it seems to work, but the induction that it always works is not valid evidence against the possibility of miracles. That's the only point I was making.

    qetzal:

    ... your argument comparing belief in God to belief in love fails

    Look, that was not a comparison -- I don't think they are the same things -- my point was in response to a specific claim that "intellectual integrity" requires scientists to always apply scientific reasoning to everything in their lives. I think you have now stated my position exactly.

    gillt:

    That is hogwash, and I question whether Pieret has read or understood Coyne's article.

    No, it's just that I've read Hume and prefer not to make logical errors.

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  33. Name dropping Hume in every comment doesn't impress anyone and it doesn't help your argument.

    Why do you keep dragging the dead guy around in a debate involving miracles when you know full well Hume had a strong critique of miraculous claims?

    Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

    "The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), 'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish....' When anyone tells me, that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself, whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous, than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.

    In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an entire proof, and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a real prodigy: But it is easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concession, and that there never was a miraculous event established on so full an evidence."

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  34. "Look, that was not a comparison -- I don't think they are the same things -- my point was in response to a specific claim that "intellectual integrity" requires scientists to always apply scientific reasoning to everything in their lives."

    In that case, your point was both wrong and irrelevant. Neither Sandefur nor Larry made that claim.

    "I think you have now stated my position exactly."

    Suppose someone claims they can know things through faith that are clearly contradicted by empirical evidence (e.g. a 6000 yo Earth or a global flood), yet also asserts that science and faith are equally valid ways of knowing. Do you agree that's intellectually inconsistent?

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  35. I'm not a philosopher, but my goodness there seems to be some remarkably sloppy argument here.

    ****

    First there is the conflation of two very different senses of a single word:

    The issue here is whether you need to be fully rational about what you "know."

    For what sense of "know"? In the sense that one "knows" 1 + 1 = 2? Or in the sense one "knows" one is in love with one's spouse?

    In the latter sentence, the word "feels" can be substituted for "knows" without doing violence to the meaning, and the fact that one has such feelings or emotions can indeed be externally validated. In the former sentence, it matters not at all how one feels.

    To put it another way, the strength of one's belief in powers of levitation is immaterial to what happens when one steps off a cliff. As such an experiment would demonstrate quite forcefully, love is mercifully a-rational, while belief in something non-existent, like levitation, is mercilessly ir-rational.

    ****

    Then there is an attempt to make a statement stand for its logical reverse:

    Empiricism does not rule out miracles.

    This is said to try to argue that empiricism and miracles can coexist. In fact they cannot, as is demonstrated by the reverse of the statement above: Miracles do rule out empiricism.

    Why? Because miracles violate causality, the "glue" that binds otherwise isolated events into a way of knowing called empiricism. In a universe of miracles, 5 + 2 != 7, but 5,000, see http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Mark+6:30-44 . No logic, no laws of nature, no empiricism, no science worthy of these names are possible in such a universe.

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  36. qetzal:

    In that case, your point was both wrong and irrelevant. Neither Sandefur nor Larry made that claim.

    What I was trying to say was that we are quibbling about one example, love, which you want to put down to "unconscious reasoning." Whatever that may be and however that may differ from faith, which also, if you believe the evolutionary psychologists, involves reasoning other than the "conscious" sort, there are many more examples that could be adduced. The empiric evidence is that H. sap. is not a completely rational being (I'd lean to them being arational the majority of the time) and scientists are people. The fact that love (or gambling, or sexual attraction, or reactions to advertising, or art appreciation, etc., etc.) are not the same "thing" as religion does not change the fact that much of what scientists do in their lives is arational and trying to build a distinction between scientists who are religious and those who aren't on epistemological grounds (outside of their work) is not consistent.

    Suppose someone claims they can know things through faith that are clearly contradicted by empirical evidence (e.g. a 6000 yo Earth or a global flood), yet also asserts that science and faith are equally valid ways of knowing. Do you agree that's intellectually inconsistent?

    Absolutely. There the person is both affirming the efficacy of science to deliver knowledge about the natural world and denying it at the same time.

    Jud:

    Why? Because miracles violate causality, the "glue" that binds otherwise isolated events into a way of knowing called empiricism.

    gillt asks why I keep dragging the dead guy around and the answer is that Hume is the guy who pretty much invented empiricism and it was him that pointed out the problem with induction that no one has been able to satisfactorily solve in the 200+ years since. Empiricism is the proposition that experience is the surest form of "knowledge" available to humans but does not assert that it is certain knowledge or the only knowledge. And the reason I keep putting the word in quotes is because what it is and how we get it is the single most difficult issue in philosophy and that includes significant issues over how we "know" 1+1=2 (but, lordy, I'm not getting into that here). But empiricism does not guarantee that there will be any consistent causality.

    Hume thought that humans were somehow psychologically (i.e. nonrationally) attuned to recognize whatever causality there is in the world but, in fact, we identify causality by only two traits: correlation (not sufficient in itself, as noted in the famous saying) and temporal precedence (i.e. causes precede effects).

    None of that, however, gives us "knowledge" that there is an absolutely consistent causality. That is an assumption that science makes when it proceeds, as I said, as if scientific induction always works. It is often argued that science "works" and, therefore, the assumption must be a good one. But science would "work" (be highly useful) as long as causality is consistent most of the time. The remaining times (i.e. "miracles") would be put down (as gillt's quote nicely demonstrates), even in those cases where there was some empiric evidence for them in the first place, to anomalies that science would just ignore. The assertion that causality is always consistent is not empiricism. It has to come, if at all, from another philosophical proposition, such as materialism/philosophical naturalism, which Coyne, at least, admits is not part of science.

    gillt:

    Nice quote. Now explain why the impossibility of empirically establishing that a miracle has happened helps to establish that miracles can't happen.

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  37. This is nothing more than obvious special pleading on Pieret's part. Unlike Empiricism, Pieret has offered no consistent logic for determining the likelihood of one miraculous event over another all the while demanding an absurd level of disproof.

    The Flood, Puff the Magic Dragon and virgin births, to him it must all be the same. In accepting the possibility of one, he accepts them all and comes off as ridiculous.

    What good is any scientific experiment if you allow for a god to come down and skew your data? If you dismiss present-day miracles, but accept past Biblical miracles from a document you acknowledge in other respects to be unreliable, then you open yourself up to criticism on epistemological grounds.

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