Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the testing of slippery supernatural suppositions.

I ran into an atheist on Facebook and criticized him for supposing that supernatural claims are not testable because supernaturalists are apt to change them.

14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

You're telling me that there's no tests for this? That somehow it's utterly impossible to make a coherent way of determining whether all prayers, in Jesus' name, are answered in the affirmative?

According to some billboards, Judgment day is in May of this year. I think May 21st. This is the return of Jesus and the whole flying around thing. This is a supernatural claim. Am I really suppose to accept that there's no conceivable way to check that? Not even on the 22nd?

I freely admit that one could change their claims indefinitely and never stake their belief on the latest nonsense they've pulled out of their hat. I cannot truly establish that disease isn't caused, as the Bible says, by sin or demons. But, I can establish that whatever these demons could do it's a moot point compared to germs. Just as I can show that invisible chariots would need to do no work because I can explain the motion of the stars with gravity (and I confess due to the nature of the analogy requiring an assist by dark matter). One could forever change their explanations, but that's not a requirement of supernaturalism. One could argue thusly that the moon is made of bananas with equally slippery supposition and layers of conspiracy. And nobody grants that that claim is supernatural. The fault lies not with the ability to test supernatural claims (after all, most every natural phenomenon from tides, to seasons, to healing, to weather, was supposed supernatural at one point), but with the ability to change ones claims as easily as clothing. Science can test reality, and if supernatural effects are part of reality then they can be established scientifically. It isn't a shortfall of science or the slippery nature of supernatural claimants but rather that reality shows nothing demonstratively supernatural about it. If fairies at the bottom of my garden were pushing up the daisies, we could well find evidence. We could also suppose magical reasons why the evidence didn't exist ad infinitum, but it doesn't really negate the original claim. It still becomes less likely to be true and more precarious to establish. And since we're talking about evidence and not absolute proof, it a serious problem. Testing supernatural claims, makes them less likely, even if they make up something new (and the fact that the way the do this is ad hoc confabulation rather than any sort of observation or perception of reality).

I'm not yoking the supernatural with scientific reason, I'm pointing out that if it matters with regard to reality, then science is the best and only real way of deciding the question. The only way the supernatural escapes science is by not being part of reality, that may well be the case, but it doesn't preclude science testing whether it is the case. You can argue a claim into such vagueness that it no longer matters, but it can't both matter and be scientifically untestable and undetectable. It must either be irrelevant or false, and if it's false it would necessarily be irrelevant.

I think you're giving supernaturalism far more credit that it deserves. It isn't something that's untestable and unfalsifiable, but rather something that we end up testing time after time and find it to be false. They make up something new, but it doesn't mean they weren't checked and found wanting previously. Supernatural claims have been tested and checked and phenomenon theorized, hypothesized, and understood for thousands of years (with a thousand year gap in there) and though religionists are always quick to open with "God did it" they have never ever been right in the entire history of the world. They always claim, initially, that it could only be the result of the supernatural and science has, thus far, always made them eat those words. Just because they backpedal, try to save face, regroup, and offer another steaming pile of shit at a later date, doesn't imply they weren't wrong each and every time they jumped to that same wrong conclusion by ignorance and faith. Given any reasonable scientific phenomenon, somebody somewhere claimed it was caused by supernatural forces; they were wrong. They've always been wrong. And claiming that it was because they weren't tested and found to be wrong is the utmost stupidity. You sacrifice the truth of scientific progress, naturalism, and empiricism in order to argue that they've never played some game properly because they play over and over and over and lose every time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bones is stupid sometimes. Yeti = Heliocentrism.

In Season 6 episode 18 of Bones, Bones and Booth have a discussion where Booth claims to have seen a Yeti and Bones scoffs at it. Then Booth says that she's just the same as those who were certain that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

Heliocenticity was never an entirely terrible claim. It was lost between Aristarchus and Copernicus but largely lost because, most science was lost and Ptolemy was a towering genius whose geocentric model was the go to method of calculation until after Newton. While theoretically simple, it wasn't an accurate way of predicting the future. And the Inquisition voted 11 to 0 to dogmatize geocentrism (because geocentrism was Biblical) during the time of Galileo. In a real sense, you really could see it either way and it just changes the math a lot. Generally due to universal gravitation it's clear that the Earth travels around the sun far more than the reverse is true, but from a standpoint of calculation it might be easier to go from the Earth because being on Earth this is where observations are made.

However the comparison between such "close-mindedness" and the failure to accept Cryptozoological crap by hearsay is rather unfair. The proper position is always to go where the evidence leads you, and really there was a lot of evidence on both sides of the solar system debate (it wasn't until after Newton that people dropped Ptolemy all together, even when he lost the theory debate he was still better at calculating the planets position.) Whereas there's no good evidence for bigfoot, chupacabra, or yetis.

Aw, another good example gone away.

Sathya Sai Baba died. He was a great example of what trivia parlor tricks would end up looking like in somewhat backward cultures. Take that guy and move him to 1st century Judea, and you could well have a Jesus figure. Underwhelming magic tricks, and the guy got a million followers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I should think more.

There's an old moral question about two different situations. One you can pull a lever and change the tracks of the train and therefore redirect a train away from killing five children and into killing one hobo. And comparing this to a situation where you can push a button, which will abduct a hobo harvest his organs and use his death to save five children. And the question is why does the first one feel okay but the second one feel completely unacceptable, when they are really the same situation? You are exchanging one life for five lives.

I just thought this was rather interesting and didn't bother to think about it. But, in reality the two situations are completely different. I just hadn't posed the questions correctly enough to consciously understand what I so clearly unconsciously understood so well. The difference is the type of society you live in. We're fine living in a world where people are hit by trains. Trains are pretty cool and they move stuff from one place to another. We're not fine living in a world where somebody can be abducted off the street and murdered for the greater good. The situations really are different, so different answers are required.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Truth as a wedge issue.

I was in Riverside earlier today listening to Richard Carrier speak, and one of the questions was concerning whether theists cared about the truth because some argued they did and others argued they don't really. And Dr. Carrier made the point that that is what makes it a fantastic wedge issue. It wasn't elaborated on, but certainly it's accurate, and has always been the rather core issue with religion.

If you care whether your beliefs are true, then there are a set set of things you should do. You should find a way to determine if something is true or false. You should find methods and a methodology by which you can determine what is true and what is false. And when you care about truth, your beliefs must always live and die by the evidence. Following closely from the desire to believe what is true is the requirement that we rely on evidence and reasonable argument. And that's a rather stunning trap. Because if one limits themselves to reasonable arguments and evidenced facts, you've cut off all paths that could get you to theism.

The want for truth isn't very hard to illicit from believers, so they really do care whether their beliefs are true or not. But, if you dig a bit with regard to their religious beliefs, this nice metric developed ad hoc suddenly becomes a heresy when you ask it to be applied to religion. On one hand theists want to accept what is true and not accept what is false, but on the other they don't care about the evidence at all or anything you say because they want to believe. And if they do that, they are accepting something less likely to be true over something more likely to be true, while they are allowed to do that, it's a rather serious problem. And if they are stuck there confronting their own cognitive dissonance it's not too much harder to ask them to admit that your position (not accepting any gods) is a perfectly valid one to hold because, after all it's more reasonable than theirs. They can try to weasel out at any point but they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they abandon the epistemological metric developed then they don't care whether what they beliefs are true or not. If they insist that there evidence matters, then the lack of evidence for theism in general or Christianity in particular is a serious problem, and the absence of evidence makes reasonable an absence of belief.

Treating "caring about truth" as a wedge issue forces theists to either abandon faith as an argument, or accepting that accepting faith as an argument means abandoning truth as a desire. They accept God as true on faith, and admit using faith as grounds means they don't care about believing true things. Or they can accept reasonable evidence alone which means they need should have a reason to believe resting on sound evidence and argument.

Finally, what does it say about the state of intellectual discourse in religion if "caring whether you believe true things" is a plausible wedge issue?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tim Minchin animated Storm

Give me awesome and I'll show it to dozens (who likely have already seen it).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Creationism is bad science AND bad theology...

The problem with such statements is that there's such a thing as good science. While we can all agree that creationism/intelligent design etc. is bad theology, we have no examples of good theology. So somewhere near the core of the statement is a tacit lie that the emperor has clothing.

That's a lot of work for April Fools.


XKCD is in 3d. It's weird and annoying and seems like it would take a lot of rather pointless effort.