Naturalism vs Supernaturalism

Methodological naturalism assumes that there is a natural cause for all things, and is the basis of the scientific method. Supernaturalism assumes that there are entities, energies, forces and phenomena that will forever elude the scrutiny of scientists. The first problem with supernaturalism is this; if something is beyond the realm of scientific proof then it is completely indistinguishable from being non-existent, and if it is within the realm of proof then it is no longer a supernatural phenomena.

We cannot assume supernaturalism when it comes to science, because if we do then anything goes. We cannot prove that gravity is not actually undetectably minute entities pulling one object towards another, but why make this assumption? Just because we cannot prove it wrong doesn’t mean it has any credibility. Supernaturalism forever hides in the realm of ‘you can’t prove me wrong’ – but that’s no refuge for the rational. I can think of any number of ridiculous propositions that you cannot prove wrong; I have an invisible pet dragon that doesn’t interfere with matter in any way, I can play the piano excellently, but I can’t if anyone is watching or listening, and so on. You can’t prove these things wrong, does that give them any credibility whatsoever? Absolutely not.

In order for a proposition to have any worth it has to be falsifiable. ‘Tomorrow it will rain’ is a falsifiable claim because if it doesn’t rain then I stand proven wrong. Any claim made about the world is only of use if you can prove it wrong. Science is not what is proven to be right, it is what hasn’t yet been proven wrong. A strong scientific theory is one that can be proven wrong, but hasn’t been to date.

This is the main advantage of naturalism over supernaturalism – naturalistic ideas can be proven wrong, whereas supernatural ideas are ridiculous and have nothing that inherently distinguishes them from the non-existent. Naturalism has also been of demonstrable benefit to humanity. Methodological naturalism brings us scientific advances whether it’s technology or medicine and so on, these things would not have been possible had we clung to the supernatural explanations of our ancestors. How far would we have got if we never got past the belief that diseases were the result of God’s wrath, or some other kind of curse? Or that sacrificing a goat to a particular god was the key to a successful crop?

Naturalism works because it is within the realm of disproof. Supernaturalism is meaningless because it cannot be distinguished from other unfalsifiable claims and it cannot be distinguished from the non-existent. Naturalism is by far the more advantageous viewpoint to assume.

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56 Comments

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56 responses to “Naturalism vs Supernaturalism

  1. Of course you can’t talk about supernaturalism in a scientific sense if what is being called “science” excludes it from the outset. Your initial paragraph shows exactly what’s wrong with this false dichotomy. The notion here is that supernaturalism can add nothing to science; this is because what is being called science has already determined that supernaturalism is not at play. Yes, that is playing with a stacked deck.

    Falsifiability is not an infallible way to look at the world. History isn’t falsifiable, because you can’t observe, measure or repeat it. Heck, the fact that you were born isn’t even falsifiable; any evidence you give me can’t prove that you were actually born. Birth certificates, pictures and videotapes can be doctored, and even the fact that you’re here now doesn’t hold up to scrutiny if you use MN’s explanation of dark matter acting as virtual particles, so you could’ve just “popped” into existence.

    That’s why methodological naturalism is insufficient as a test case for singular events (like the birth of a child or the beginning of the universe), because MN is predicated on everything being falsifiable, when it is clear that some things are not. This is why an evidentiary method, such as the inference to the best explanation (a method used by historical scientists), is much more appropriate. It excludes neither MN nor supernaturalism, and allows the best hypothesis to stand.

    So what you’re setting up here is a false dichotomy, and until the playing field is leveled, it should be ignored.

    • Thousands of years of repeated observation that new organisms are produced via sexual reproduction and birth weigh strongly on the side that I was born. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to assume that I spontaneously created from nothing because we have never observed a human being appear in such a way. I don’t think that virtual particles allows for the spontaneous appearance of a complete functioning organism – I believe that you have misconstrued it. However if science could prove that a being could indeed appear spontaneously from nothing, then this would be based upon natural rather than supernatural causes thus making it a part of the framework of Naturalism. There is however no need for this notion of people popping into existence from nowhere because we have repeated observation of how human beings are formed, any extra assumptions on top of that (like springing into existence) are unnecessary and would demand proof. It would be perfectly reasonable to state that unless proven otherwise it is safe to assume that you and I were born in the same way that everyone else was. I could posit any number of ridiculous things, you weren’t born you were grown in a jar by aliens from alpha centuri, or sent from the 18th dimension by the galactic overlord Mong. These things demand proof, and it would be very reasonable not to believe them, just as with your ‘popping into existence’ notion.

      Could you be more specific about some things that are clearly not falsifiable? I’d agree that inference to the best explanation is a good idea, but it goes hand in hand with naturalism, the best explanations are those that do not require loads of unfounded assumptions, or supernatural occurrences. If something can be explained using what we already know about the laws of nature then it is much better than a unicorns and rainbows explanation. I’m not saying what we call ‘supernatural’ events cannot occur, just that if they do occur and we can measure them using science then they will cease to be supernatural, and they will fit into the category of naturalism.

      This is not how we do science:
      then a miracle occurs

  2. Your first paragraph re-affirms my argument completely. What you’ve done is shown evidence to support the likely idea that you were born, and used the method of inference to the best explanation to posit the likelihood of your birth. Doing that, however, doesn’t make it falsifiable, because the singular event (your birth) cannot be tested or repeated, and so it doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of MN. That is the point that I am trying to make here–that methodological naturalism is insufficient as a standard for determining something’s validity.

    I’m not sure what exactly you want more you want on unfalsifiability. Lots of things are unfalsifiable. History, language, emotions, etc. Anything that can’t be observed, measured or repeated like the constraints of MN keep out.

    When something is observable, measurable and repeatable, if we don’t have an answer yet, it is absolutely wrong to say, “We don’t know, but it must be God.” When something is singular and unmeasurable, it is also absolutely wrong to say, “We don’t know, but it must be nature.” God of the gaps has no business in operation science, and nature of the gaps has no business in origin science. Trying to do either is a complete fallacy.

    • I don’t understand what you’re trying to say by ‘nature of the gaps’ – if we have a gap in our scientific knowledge we can reasonably infer that we will one day uncover the causes behind it, and those causes will fit into the framework of what is natural. Its far more reasonable to fill a gap in knowledge with the assumption that something has a natural cause, than to assume it was God. Science is built upon the assumption that all things have a natural cause, and that assumption has got science to where it is today. That is all I mean by naturalism, that an event is more likely to have natural than supernatural causes. Natural causes have been observed time and time again, supernatural causes have never been observed. In light of this it is not unreasonable to posit that a gap in scientific knowledge is most likely to have a natural answer than a supernatural one.

      What is the supernatural anyway? And how can it be measured? Evoking a supernatural explanation is not an explanation. Imagine if we stuck with the assumption that supernatural beings and forces were behind all events, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere at all. Saying ‘it was magic’ (which is basically what evoking the supernatural is, no matter what fancy jargon you use) is worse than admitting you don’t know – it explains nothing. Supernaturalism has no use whatsoever in explaining anything.

  3. How can we reasonably infer that we will one day uncover the cause of gaps in scientific knowledge? The multiverse hypothesis, for instance, which is the strongest naturalistic hypothesis about the origin of our universe, can never be uncovered, because the theory of general relativity guarantees that we will never be aware of anything outside of our universe (there can be no overlapping universes). So the best possible naturalistic explanation for our origin (which coincidentally, fits into the origin science I referenced) is one we can’t falsify and have absolutely no evidence for. How is it then that we can infer nature as the best explanation? That is “nature of the gaps,” friend, and it’s fallacious to do so.

    Science is built on the assumption that everything has a natural cause because it has excluded supernatural causes from the outset. MN says, “It can’t be supernatural, so let’s rule that out initially and then see what we can find.” That’s like asking who will win the World Cup and someone saying, “Well it’s not going to be Mexico, so let’s exclude them off the top and explore other possibilities.” It makes no sense to stack the deck initially, because you’re not allowing for the opportunity to follow the evidence where it leads. And that is why naturalism is flawed as a worldview, because it is significantly more intolerant than any religion with regard to hypotheses.

    You are stuck on the issue of measurement as a basis for determining validity. I’ve already shown that to be completely insufficient, so asking supernaturalism to adhere to that qualification is again stacking the deck. What supernaturalism needs to demonstrate is evidence in favor of its position as the best possible explanation for some sequence of events. And there is plenty of that type of evidence available.

    Last point/question. You make the statement at the end of your first paragraph that “supernatural events have never been observed.” That’s what would be called a positive claim, so where’s your proof to substantiate it? Can you show me to a high degree of certainty that supernatural events have never been observed?

    • In science you need some kind of principles in order to guide progress. You need something to discern truth to the best degree possible. If we make the assumption of supernaturalism, then literally anything goes. Gravity could be explained as invisible fairies pulling objects together, life could be explained by instantaneous creation, and so on, the problem with these kinds of explanations is that they raise more questions than they answer. To posit the supernatural as an explanation, you have to explain what it is and how it works, otherwise it is no different from saying ‘it was magic’ or ‘it was a miracle’ – which explains nothing.

      The supernatural is a non-explanation and it cannot be used in science until it is defined and explained itself. Evoking the supernatural in science would be like writing a paper claiming to explain something, and as the conclusion writing ‘it was magic’ or ‘it just is that way’. If you’re going to use the supernatural you have to explain what the supernatural is. Science works to explain things, the reason it excludes supernatural explanations is because they don’t explain anything.

  4. So who gets to pick the principles to guide science? That seems sort of arbitrary. Couldn’t we just as easily disregard anything that requires more than the eyeball test from science? If we’re selecting principles, then it’s on people to decide that, and how is that anything but arbitrary?

    I’m not saying make the assumption of supernaturalism. I’m saying allow for the possibility. True scientific inquiry is best served when all hypotheses are considered, and naturalism fails to meet that standard.

    The supernatural IS defined and can be explained by such a definition. To ask for more than that now is to again set up arbitrary rules, like the annoying kid on the playground. Otherwise, naturalism fails to live up to the same standard, because it is not completely and thoroughly explained. There are some things we still don’t know, so by comparable definition either both must be allowed, or neither. And that’s all I’m suggesting here–allow for all hypotheses and follow the evidence where it leads.

    Science works to explain things, but when it can’t explain something, such as the cause of the universe (which it fully admits it never will), it stands to reason why that is. Perhaps it’s because science doesn’t use all hypotheses in its discovery. Tell me how that’s better and intellectually honest.

    • Science can only work by what we can observe, test, verify and repeat, its not so much about denying supernaturalism out of hand, it’s just that it cannot fit into that framework, and is thus useless when it comes to scientific enquiry. Even if supernatural events did occur they would be unverifiable scientifically (or indeed historically) because a naturalistic explanation would always be more likely. Say for example Jesus’ resurrection, the case may be that God did indeed raise him from the dead, but this would be an extremely unlikely event going by what we can observe in nature; you could observe thousands of people die all over the world and none of them would come back to life after 3 days. In light of this a naturalistic explanation, say, the story was a complete fabrication (after all we know people can make things up) is far more likely than the supernatural one even if it did occur.

      Naturalism works because we know things operate under observable natural laws, we can observe and repeat that. Supernatural events cannot be observed, repeated or tested and therefore have no scientific worth, science is all about those things. Even if such things can happen, they cannot fit into the framework of science. Science cannot use a supernatural cause as the first cause of the universe, it is far more honest to claim that one cannot know. If we want to place a supernatural cause there then anything goes; the universe was caused by a space chicken laying an egg, has as much validity as using God as an explanation, neither are testable or falsifiable, so we can not regard them as being true, even if they are! You can hypothesize anything you like, if there is no way of verifying it, or disproving it then it’s a worthless hypothesis. Hypotheses depend upon falisfiability.

  5. But see your explanation of the Jesus example is completely fallacious. Science’s job is not to determine whether or not something happened in that sense. Science’s job is to determine the why, so naturalism oversteps its bounds in this sense to call it a fabrication. Science is to look at events and discover the why, not the if. So science’s only responsibility in such an instance is to say if Jesus was resurrected, why did that happen? Anything else is science overstepping its bounds, and is best left to testimony and corroborating evidence.

    Besides, your very first statement demonstrates that naturalistic science operates on arbitrary principles. Why are the four things you state the principles, especially when they don’t apply to things like historical science? To say something has no scientific worth if it’s not observed, repeated or tested removes anything of historical value that only happened once, like Napoleon’s life or the Crusades. That is why it is insufficient as the stand-alone method by which something generates value.

    Why is it more intellectually honest to say you don’t know and rule out a hypothesis than to say you may not know but there’s a hypothesis with some evidence behind it? And note that your argument about which supernatural cause is irrelevant here because we’re only comparing supernaturalism to naturalism, so the “which one” argument makes no sense here.

    And again, I would stop using these terms testable and falsifiable as your standards, because I’ve shown several times now that things you place intrinsic value on are neither testable nor falsifiable, such as your own birth. They’re evidentiary, which is a completely different approach, and surprisingly, the approach I’m championing.

    You’re talking in circles now, friend. Falsifiability doesn’t work, testability doesn’t work, repeatability doesn’t work. What are you left with? EVIDENCE. Let’s go there together, and allow us to follow it where it leads, be it naturalistic or supernaturalistic. Otherwise you’re operating in a smaller box than your opponents, which doesn’t say much for free thinking.

    • The claim about Jesus’ resurrection is a historical claim, however the claim that a person can rise from being dead for 3 days is a scientific claim. Based upon years of scientific observation, it is fair to say that a human cannot get up and walk around after being dead for three days, when it comes to history there is no reason to assume that this was different in the past, or in one particular case.

      Science needs to be able to test things, if you cannot test a hypothesis then you can never come up with theories, testing is a way of falsifying or attempting to falsify a hypothesis – without this there is no way of knowing whether or not the hypothesis accounts for the facts. Repeatability is important so we can be sure that our results were not a fluke or a mistake. Observation is important because if we cannot observe it then there is no reason to assume it’s existence. Verifiability is important for the same reasons that repeatability is important. These are not arbitrary criteria, science cannot operate without these things.

      Science cannot prove that Napoleon existed or the Crusades happened, but acceptance of these things does not violate the principles of naturalism, because they could have happened according to natural laws and processes. It would be in violation of naturalism however if you claimed that Napoleon won a certain battle because God was on his side. This would require an explanation of God and how he intervenes to help people win battles – something which has not been observed. History cannot 100% prove anything, however I’d say that it does work within the bounds of naturalism, it is not out of the question that I was born, so there is no reason to deny it. If however a claim is made that I was born of a virgin, something which genetics tells us is impossible (at least not without artificial means) then you would have reason to doubt it, because everything we know about nature tells us this doesn’t happen very often.

      Evidential reasoning still relies upon naturalism, my being born can happen according to the laws of nature, it would break down however if I was claiming that the evidence supports my coming into existence spontaneously – something which naturalism tells us does not happen. I did not deny anything, I am saying that if supernatural forces or entities do exist they provide no explanations, because they by definition exist outside of what we can observe and measure. Claims of history and so on are not within the realms of 100% proof, but we can infer that the same laws of nature applied then as they do now, there’s no reason to assume that people could fly or turn invisible in the past, because we know that they can’t do so now – in that sense naturalism still applies to things like history.

  6. So then naturalism cannot be defined as what corresponds to the scientific method, if evidential reasoning can rely upon naturalism as well. Evidential reasoning and the scientific method aren’t the same thing, so naturalism can only be given as that which corresponds to natural processes. In that case, all you’re doing is defining and can make no inferences as to its superiority to supernaturalism, because you’re talking about it in definition and not comparable terms.

    So again your argument is rendered invalid, and thus the blog post has no reason for existence.

    If you want to talk about naturalism as the best method for the things we can observe, test and repeat, fine, I’m on board. But don’t say naturalism is the best method for everything, because I’ve shown that not to be the case.

    Sometimes, it’s just better to admit you’re wrong and move on.

    • Well you haven’t explained how supernaturalism is a better method, or even how it’s equally valid to naturalism.

      I have repeatedly given examples of how naturalism provides a far superior explanatory framework than supernaturalism, which you haven’t addressed.

      I’m sure you apply this reasoning to miracle claims made by religions you are not part of. I doubt you believe that the Buddha really did see into his past lives, and performed various miracles, I doubt you believe that Muhammed descended from heaven on a winged horse, I doubt you believe that Yogis can live purely off the sun’s energy – in these cases you would rightly assume naturalism. The only reason you assume supernaturalism in one special case is because it is necessary for the faith you were brought up in/or adopted later in life. Am I really supposed to believe that the only supernatural events occurred in regard to the religion you happened to be born into/adopt later in life, and that all other miracles have a natural explanation?

      To someone who does not belong to your religion your claims look no different from how the claims of Islam or Buddhism look to you. There is no reason to believe that the laws of nature were temporarily suspended in one special case whilst all rival cases were mistaken, or invented. Much of what we know from archaeology and history is that ancient peoples all over the world were overly superstitious – there is no reason to give undue prevalence to any of their claims be it from Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, Hebrew or any other mythology.

      Naturalism works as the best explanation, and you agree with me on that in 99% of cases, except those that apply to your religion. My position is simple; no miracles occur they are all 100% fictional. Why is it that God never steps in to intervene these days? Supernaturalism has never been observed, and there is no reason to believe it at all, just as there is no reason to believe in God.

  7. Ok let’s just get science out of the way here. The area we disagree on is what is the best explanation for singular events. So can you show me an example of a singular (non-repeatable) event where the scientific method does a better job of explaining the event than does the evidentiary method?

  8. Well for singular, non repeatable events you would use the scientific method combined with the evidential method. I never said you couldn’t. What I am saying is you assume naturalism for both.

    Example, the big bang is inferred from evidence such as the red shift of distant galaxies, and the cosmic microwave background and it is also supported by repeatable scientific evidence such as data gathered from the large hadron collider. What we do not do, at any point however is claim supernaturalism.

    Evolution is another example, we cannot go back and see the transition between dinosaurs and birds. However, we can infer from fossil evidence, as well as by examining the morphology and DNA of birds and reptiles to see that they do indeed share a common ancestor. Again supernaturalism is not needed here.

  9. So all you’ve done here is used the evidentiary method, not the scientific method. How do I know? In each case you use the word “infer,” which is the basis for the inference to the best explanation, an evidentiary method. You might use natural events as part of your inference, but since the scientific sub-points of redshift and cosmic microwave are comparing to other events (and so irrelevant to a singular, non-repeatable event except in an evidentiary sense), all that’s left is an inference based on natural explanation.

    So again, it’s clear the scientific method is not the best possible method for determining causation of singular, non-repeatable events. The evidentiary method is again shown to be superior, for without it one cannot make a reasonable explanation for singular events.

    So by what basis do you exclude supernaturalism as a hypothesis as part of the evidentiary method, if science itself is insufficient as only one part of the evidentiary method? There must be a greater external reason that supersedes science to exclude supernaturalism as a hypothesis.

  10. What are you talking about? The scientific method incorporates such inferences, they are not apart from the scientific method. You have the data – light in objects moving away at great speeds is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum due to the Doppler effect, combined with the observation that galaxies are all shifted towards the red end of the spectrum – you can repeat this observation with a powerful enough telescope. From what we know about red shift we can infer reasonably that those galaxies are moving away from us. We can then infer that those galaxies were once closer together if you rewind time – why? Because if they are moving apart it is reasonable to assume that going backwards in time they get closer. Again supernaturalism doesn’t fit into this anywhere.

    Now one of the strongest things about science is the predictions it makes. From Edwin Hubble’s observations of the red shift of distant galaxies we could construct a hypothesis that the universe began at some point, with a ‘big bang’ – this hypothesis made a prediction, that we would find cosmic background radiation – which is exactly what we did find, confirming the big bang hypothesis.

    I don’t know where you get the idea that inferences are not part of the scientific method. But science uses them as a valuable tool. Those inferences of course have to be reasonable, ie fit into the framework of naturalism. Say you had your wallet in the shop, and you walk home to find that you no longer have your wallet with you. It is perfectly reasonable to infer that between your being in the shop and arrival at home you lost your wallet, either by dropping it or a pickpocket stealing it etc. It is not reasonable however to assume that somehow your wallet just ceased to exist or turned invisible. Inferences are based upon what we know can happen, otherwise they’re not really inferences… Naturalism still stands as the grounding assumption even in inferences.

  11. We don’t know that supernatural events can happen so its useless basing inferences upon them. That would be like assuming your wallet turned invisible – there’s just no reason to accept that…

  12. But what you’re referring to is inferences on effects. We’re not debating effect. The issue is naturalism vs. supernaturalism on the basis of causation. The explanation for an event is not its effects; it’s the cause of the event.

    So in bringing up something like the Big Bang, the naturalistic effects of the Big Bang are not in question. The naturalistic hypothesis as to its cause is in question, and when the scientific method is incapable of rendering a verdict on causation due to the un-repeatability of the event, then the evidentiary method must be applied. And there is no basis for excluding supernaturalism as an evidentiary hypothesis unless your standard is the insufficient scientific method.

    Finally, how is it that we don’t know supernatural events can happen? Do you have proof of such a claim?

  13. The cause of the Big Bang is not known, that does not give anyone carte blanche to put whatever cause in the gap that they wish. This is why supernaturalism doesn’t work, because I can make any number of supernatural claims about the cause of the Big Bang and none of them have any proof, so they’re all useless. Science may one day provide an answer for what caused the Big Bang, until then its not my business to speculate. What is the supernatural and how can it be measured? Without the answers to this then it is a useless concept.

    The basis for excluding the supernatural is; A. the supernatural is not defined and thus can just be made to slot into any gap in our knowledge B. the supernatural could just be natural causes that we don’t yet understand C. there is no reason to assume that anything exists beyond that which we can observe – if it is beyond those parameters then it is indistinguishable from being non-existent, and therefore useless as an explanation. D. Supernatural assumptions made in the past have been shown to be wrong. Example; the argument from design in living organisms, or the belief that diseases were the result of curses.

    We don’t know that they can happen because we have never empirically observed them. If we had then there would be no debate to be had here.

  14. Nice move going to God of the gaps, but if you’ll be intellectually honest with yourself you’ll see that your point is speculative at best.

    Just answer me this: supernaturalism aside for the moment, do you agree or disagree that the scientific method has proven sufficient in explaining causation for the Big Bang?

  15. Not yet, if you read what I wrote you would see that. Perhaps science will have the answer to that one day, perhaps not. Right now we don’t know and that is the most intellectually honest answer we can give.

    You still haven’t even defined supernaturalism, explained how we could measure it and thus infer it’s existence, or why it provides, or might provide a better explanation of certain events than naturalism. If you continually fail to define what exactly the supernatural is then its pointless to even have this discussion.

    My point is that supernaturalism is useless precisely because it is not defined in any way. First you need to define it, then explain how we could measure its existence, if not then it is a completely and utterly useless word to throw around.

  16. “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

    – Charles Darwin

  17. Now wait. Let’s leave supernaturalism aside for the time being. Let’s focus on the merits of naturalism first, and then go to supernaturalism later if necessary.

    So if science and the scientific method hasn’t proven sufficient in explaining causation for the Big Bang, by what method can we make any predictions, guesses or even remote thoughts about the Big Bang’s causation? Clearly something must supersede science in this sense, or we wouldn’t be able to talk at all about our origins. So what method can we use to do this, since the scientific method is insufficient?

  18. Science will discover the causation of the Big Bang if it is within the capabilities of the scientific method. If not then we can only settle for the answer ‘I don’t know’ (or rather ‘we’). It has proven insufficient so far, but it would be fallacious to assume that due to it’s current insufficiency it will never be sufficient. At one time science was insufficient to explain a lot of things that we now have explanations for.

  19. Right but what method do we use until then? Apathy? Ignorance? Or do we try making predictions and guesses using another method?

    • We use the scientific method to push forward and closer, or as close as we can get to the answer. There’s no other method other than to humbly admit one’s ignorance; we don’t know, it’s not that hard to say, and it’s not hard to accept.

      Lawrence Krauss has already come up with a plausible explanation for how a universe could arise from nothing, with some concrete supporting evidence under our belts (which is well within our bounds, he already presents some) this could well be proven correct. A lot of people would fight to the death not to accept it of course, but that isn’t relevant.

      ‘A Universe From Nothing’ by Lawrence Krauss, AAI 2009 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ImvlS8PLIo

  20. I’ve watched this video, whilst jotting down the numerous holes in his argument, but that’s for a different time and different discussion.

    Note what you said in the first sentence of paragraph two. Plausible explanation with some supporting evidence. While some science may be used, the method of hypothesizing is evidentiary (i.e. based on evidence), is it not?

  21. Science uses evidential reasoning, I’ve already covered that.

    I’m starting to get dizzy…

  22. Ok so for the singular event The Big Bang, here’s what we’ve got so far:

    1) The scientific method is insufficient in explaining causation, and so is not applicable as a method of hypothesizing.
    2) Any hypotheses as to the causation of the Big Bang use evidential reasoning.

    So since the scientific method is insufficient, any basis for making claims as to the validity of a specific hypothesis about causation must be done on an evidential basis without using any standards set by the scientific method. Agree or disagree?

  23. No, the scientific method is not insufficient, it is not currently within our capabilities to explain it using the scientific method, but that does not for one second mean it is insufficient. Science was at one time insufficient to be able to see atoms or cells, now we can. With advances in technology we may know far more in future than we do now.

    Evidential reasoning is not distinct from the scientific method, the scientific method incorporates it (for the third time!) You keep asserting that evidential reasoning is distinct from the scientific method, when in actual fact it is a part of it. I explained this several posts earlier.

  24. So it’s your opinion that the scientific method can’t give an answer to causation, but it’s sufficient? How do you reconcile that? It seems logically invalid. How is “we don’t know” better than “here’s a possible explanation,” even supernaturalism aside?

    And how do you say evidential reasoning is not distinct from the scientific method when it is used in determining historical events, which science has no basis in?

    Or are you saying there is both scientific evidential reasoning and non-scientific evidential reasoning?

  25. Yes it’s entirely sufficient, it is the best method that we have for discerning truth. It’s not logically invalid at all, science advances with technology, technology is far from its peak, there is much that science doesn’t know now that will be uncovered in future of that I am certain. ‘We don’t know’ is more honest. ‘Here’s a possible explanation’ is all very well, but really it’s not something we can know at the moment, so it still most honest to admit that we don’t know.

    Evidential reasoning can be distinct from science, I never said it couldn’t. Eggs can be used in omelettes and in soufflés.

  26. But is complete ignorance better than supposed ignorance (and by supposed ignorance I mean saying we don’t know for sure but the evidence leads in a specific direction)?

    With regards to the Big Bang’s causation, how can science be the best method for discerning truth when science itself admits (as Krauss does in his video and the theory of general relativity demands) that we’ll never know the answer to that question? It seems like there’s no truth to be had based on science when it comes to singular events.

    And finally, if evidential reasoning can be distinct from science, how are we to know which instances evidential reasoning should be linked to science and which ones it’s OK not to? What is the standard there?

  27. It depends how strong the evidence is in the specific direction. If the claims are not made with certainty and accepted as speculation then its fine.

    The scientific method is undoubtedly the best method we have for discerning truth. It has got us where we are today. If science can’t answer a specific question that doesn’t mean theology or supernaturalism can. Science has made some very good predictions based upon singular events. For example predicting where and when (when as in from which date range) we would find specific fossils – this has happened on several occasions. We can use science to determine many things about the past. DNA evidence left at crime scenes, geology is often based on examining singular events. Past events leave traces, for example a flood, or a volcano will leave evidence behind in geological strata and so on. Science has a lot of truth to offer on singular events.

    Well evidential reasoning is often used in combination with results from other experiment when it comes to science. We perform experiments to confirm our evidential reasoning, or make predictions about what we will find via evidential reasoning (such as predicting where and in what age rocks we will find a predicted transitional fossil) basically the line drawn is one of discipline – evidential reasoning pertaining to biology is science, the same with chemistry and physics… History is not science because we cannot experiment to confirm or make predictions about evidential reasoning. History does however apply a strict methodology – which mirrors science in certain ways.

  28. While I appreciate the explanations, they don’t answer the question. What is the standard by which we determine when evidential reasoning must use science and when it doesn’t need to? All events can be considered biological, or chemical, or physical in some sense, so where is the greater standard by which we determine when not to apply science?

    Would you consider the multiverse hypothesis speculation, since it is not made with certainty?

    And again, what about when science can’t discern truth, like it says it never will with the cause of the Big Bang? Where do we look for the truth then?

  29. What is your point? Why are you asking relentless questions? Are you actually leading anywhere with this? I’ve been answering your questions for about a week now, and I feel like we are going around in circles, you haven’t actually substantially addressed any of the questions I’ve raised, so what are you trying to prove?

    My stance is simple: Naturalism is far superior to supernaturalism. Supernatural explanations by their very nature cannot be tested by science, therefore they have no use even if they occur. A supernatural claim such as all phenomena secretly being controlled by elves that are undetectable is meaningless because it will never be proven right or wrong, therefore there is absolutely no reason to assume it as truth. I’ve repeated this time and time again.

    Naturalism has provided us with advances in medicine and technology – what advances have supernaturalism provided us with?

    Name an example where a supernatural explanation trumps a natural explanation.

    It’s not my duty to explain what science is for you. Look it up, read a book, or google it if you’re feeling particularly lazy.

    By the way the multiverse hypothesis is a hypothesis – the clue is in the name. Of course it is not certain.

    Science is where we look for truth as to the nature of reality. If not there then nowhere else. Where do you suppose we should look?

    If you can’t answer my questions then this whole exchange is pointless, you haven’t disclosed your position at all, and you’ve ignored most of the questions I have asked you previously. I can guess your position from looking at your blog, but I want you to come out and bring it into the discussion, otherwise we will just keep going round and round.

  30. It will do us little good to be arguing both vantage points at the same time. We’ll get lost and rambly, and it will go nowhere. What I’m trying to do is get at the merits of naturalism first, to establish how much credibility it actually has. You have linked naturalism to the scientific method, so I’ve taken that conclusion and moved forward with that.

    What I have repeatedly tried to make clear to you is that science does not equate to truth or usefulness in every case, so making it the gold standard by which all things should be compared is ridiculous. As even you have admitted circumspectly the evidentiary method is far superior, because the evidentiary method can both use science and disregard science depending on which situation is appropriate.

    The problem your position is faced with is that in the evidentiary method, all hypotheses are equally valid until disproven. You therefore have no basis for ruling out supernaturalism as a hypothesis until you can prove it has no merit. In operation sciences where things are observable, testable, and repeatable, this is possible. In origin science, where things are not observable, not testable and not repeatable, you cannot do this. So you can’t use science in these cases; you must follow the evidence where it leads. And both naturalism and supernaturalism are valid hypotheses until one is disproven, so all we can do is weigh the evidence. That’s all I’m getting at here–both hypotheses are valid, and we can make guesses or assumptions based on which way the evidence leads.

    And fortunately for me, in many cases the evidence leads to a supernatural explanation.

    Once you are willing to concede the reality that is my third paragraph, then we can discuss the evidence.

  31. I expounded the benefits of naturalism in the initial blog post and repeatedly in the comments. Naturalism is linked to the scientific method, and the results established by the scientific method are linked to everything else. Art, literature, history etc etc are all confined to what can actually happen according to the laws of nature. Thus naturalism covers all phenomena that is known to man.

    I did not admit that the evidential method is superior, it is a part of the methodology used by science, and is not distinct from it. The evidential method can be applied to other things such as history, but it is still confined by what we know can happen – which is laid out in the laws of science. Therefore there is no situation in which the evidential method defeats science because the evidence can’t point to things that we know can’t happen (i.e: things that defy the laws of nature).

    All hypotheses are not equally valid, let’s go back to my wallet analogy. You lose your wallet somewhere between the shop and your house, the most valid explanation would be something that can happen according to the laws of physics, rather than something that can’t. To claim that your wallet magically disappearing is equally valid to your dropping it is ridiculous. We can discount certain hypotheses depending on what we know can happen, and/or is more likely. Again what can happen is defined by naturalism. It’s more likely that you dropped the wallet, than the laws of nature being temporarily suspended. You could sit there and come up with a beautiful hypothesis about how your wallet magically vanished, and it still doesn’t make it equal as an explanation. We don’t immediately know what exactly happened to the wallet, but we know what can happen to wallets and what can’t.

    Say you re-trace your steps back to the shop and the wallet is nowhere to be found, no matter how hard you look. You don’t have any positive evidence that you dropped it, but the supernatural explanation is still not equally valid, because someone could have picked it up and had it for themselves or handed it in to the police or whatever. A naturalistic explanation is always more likely even if the evidence is scarce.

    All things being equal, the simplest explanation that makes the fewest assumptions is the more likely to be correct. By their very nature (pun not intended) supernatural explanations make more assumptions than naturalistic explanations, because they require that the laws of nature be suspended by some force which is external to nature – a very big assumption indeed. This simple principle tells us that any natural explanation, even if it appears unlikely, is more likely than any supernatural explanation.

  32. Art, literature, history etc etc are all confined to what can actually happen according to the laws of nature.

    I’d love to see a proof of this. And saying “we don’t have record of supernatural events” is both incorrect and does not constitute proof.

    Your wallet example still follows the evidentiary method. There is no science being applied here–you’re following the evidence to its logical conclusion. The evidentiary method uses science, not the other way around. And all hypotheses are equally valid at the outset of your search–it is the discovery of evidence that eliminates them. You are making far too many assumptions logically.

    And Ockham’s Razor is incorrectly applied here. Consider the complex order that we see in our universe, which is properly laid out in the teleological argument. The probability that we got here by an order of random chances creates far more assumptions than a simple explanation that we were designed to be here. So your argument that supernaturalism always makes more assumptions is logically flawed.

    So again you leave yourself with ruling out supernaturalism from the outset, which is both logically flawed (as evidenced by your Ockham’s Razor fallacy) and evidentially invalid (you have not proven any good grounds for doing so–something you burdened yourself with by making positive claims). So until you can produce some proof to back up your positive claims, your argument is as useless as you claim supernaturalism to be.

  33. I don’t have to prove it, I’m not making the claim that the laws of nature can be suspended.

    The wallet isn’t discovered, you go back and cannot find it. You discover no evidence that you dropped it. Even in light of this its still far more reasonable to conclude something happened that didn’t require the suspension of the laws of nature. There is no reason to assume otherwise and the police would laugh at you if you phoned up saying your wallet vanished into thin air.

    There are no assumptions made in a universe without design, all you need is the laws of nature to be as they are. Hydrogen and Helium created by the big bang can form stars under gravity, heavier elements can form inside stars, stars can explode and eject these elements into space, gravity can condense these elements once again into stars and planetary systems, the building blocks of life are abundant and given appropriate conditions can form into self replicating molecules and eventually evolve into complex life. Nothing above what we know can happen is assumed here. None of these processes require design, they are just things that happen according to the laws of nature. It is not making any superfluous assumptions whatsoever. It is relying purely on the laws of nature which we know to exist. Whether you like it or not is irrelevant, all those things can happen without supernatural aid.

    To posit a supernatural designer is where the extraneous assumptions come into play. I described a universe where no assumptions were made, all I needed was the laws of nature as we know them to be. A designer is superfluous and unnecessary and requires the following assumptions, 1. That such a being – for whom we have no evidence can exist, 2. That such a being does exist and then you have a whole load more assumptions if you wish to posit that this being is the God of Christianity. You misunderstand Occam’s razor my friend.

    In a universe where the laws of nature were as they are in ours then it would be more unlikely if life did not arise given that it can.

  34. Yes you do have to prove it. You’re making the claim that the laws of nature can’t be suspended. Such a positive claims necessitates proof or retraction. Your choice.

    In the wallet argument, you still have no basis for excluding a supernatural explanation. You can conclude a natural explanation is more likely, but you can’t eliminate the supernatural altogether unless you make an inherently false assumption: supernatural events can’t happen. You can make your assumption true by providing proof of such, but that gets me back to paragraph one. Go for it.

    Your argument on lack of design is logically invalid! You’re saying that the way we make inferences as to how and why the laws of nature are the way they are is because they are the way they are. That makes zero sense, and it doesn’t even touch on the design argument. For instance, your element statement doesn’t reference how precise the conditions must be for such things to exist. Hugh Ross says this:

    “Protons and neutrons are held together in the nucleus of an atom by the strong nuclear force, which is the strongest of the four forces of physics. If the nuclear force is too strong, the protons and neutrons in the universe will find themselves stuck to other protons and neutrons, which means we have a universe devoid of Hydrogen. Hydrogen is the element composed of the bachelor proton. Without Hydrogen, there’s no life chemistry. It’s impossible to conceive of life chemistry without Hydrogen.

    On the other hand, if we make the nuclear force slightly weaker, none of the protons and neutrons will stick together. All of the protons and neutrons will be bachelors, in which case the only element that would exist in the universe would be Hydrogen, and it’s impossible to make life if all we’ve got is Hydrogen.

    How sensitive must this strong nuclear force be designed for life to exist? It’s so sensitive that if we were to make this force 3/10 of 1% stronger or 2% weaker, life would be impossible at any time in the universe.”

    And this doesn’t even touch on the specific mass of neutrons relative to protons, the number of electrons relative to protons necessary to sustain life, the relationship of gravity to the other physical forces, and a host of other forces. There is so much overwhelming evidence that points to the specific complexity of our universe that it’s hard to fathom not recognizing it. (Notice that I use science as part of the evidentiary method—that’s how it works.)

    To think of it this way, another atheist I spoke to said the odds of the universe happening by random chance have to be greater than the odds of winning a 6-in-49 lottery, something in the neighborhood of 1 in 14,000,000. But the odds don’t matter because we won the lottery by being here. However, the odds of winning the lottery based on design is 1-to-1, so you tell me which theory makes fewer assumptions based on the mathematical probabilities from our beloved science.

  35. Having not observed a single legitimate suspension of the laws of nature in centuries of scientific enquiry, with no legitimate evidence that they ever were suspended in the past, or any reason to assume that they ever were, I do not have to defend my claim.

    So you are presenting the fine tuning argument. 99.9999999% of the universe is inhospitable, deadly radiation filled vacuum. 99.9999999% of all matter in the universe goes into making black holes rather than life. From this we can logically conclude that if the universe is designed it is designed with black holes rather than life in mind.

    It just so happens that a universe that is an efficient black hole machine also happens to kick up a tiny proportion of life as well. To argue that it was designed specifically with life in mind is ludicrous. We are, speculation aside, the only planet in this vast universe that we can be certain that life arose upon, that makes us a tiny fraction of a percent of what is here in the universe. It is only through conceit and arrogance that we have developed notions that we are somehow the reason that the universe exists.

    Probability calculations made after an event are essentially meaningless. The likelihood that the events leading up to us being here happening is exactly 100% likely if it wasn’t then we wouldn’t be here and it wouldn’t have happened. It’s like trying to calculate the likelihood of the events in my life, the likelihood of them happening is exactly 100% likely because they did happen. You can’t go and make probability calculations about events that already happened – that’s just ridiculous, yet it is a common tactic among apologists. If any of the supposed constants were out we wouldn’t be here to have this discussion, simple! The fact that we are is because they aren’t out, it doesn’t mean to say then that they must have been put that way just for us, it means that they are that way so we arose because we can!

    None of your useless after-the-fact probabilities prove God, much less the God of the Bible.

  36. Simply because you have not observed a suspension of natural law does not constitute proof. Claims have been made as to supernatural events, and since they were not confirmed truthful or as hoaxes or fabrications, the logical assumption to make is that it is possible but not provable. That in no way diminishes the possibility of the supernatural, only the ability to substantiate it firmly. That is why we look at where the evidence leads. To say positively that the laws of nature can’t be suspended requires proof. Your failure to produce any is as much an admission of the failure of that claim as it is the failure of science to substantiate such a claim. I suggest you at least make an attempt to save face.

    Probability calculations are assigned after an event all the time. It doesn’t eliminate their value in the slightest. It shows the distinct implausibility of a universe derived by chance. Now just because the ratio always reverts to 1-to-1 doesn’t mean anything other than what happened is that we’re here. How we got to the 1-to-1 does mean something, particularly because you attempted to use Ockham’s Razor to denote the value of new assumptions. The probabilities allow us to assign value to the possibilities prior to the event, and they show that a universe by chance creates far more new assumptions than a universe by design. Without even touching on the other half of your argument, I’ve already rendered it useless.

    I suggest you try a different approach. The odds are against you in this one, friend.

  37. The laws of nature could be tested and tested over and over again, say throwing a ball up into the air, no matter how many times you did this it would always fall back down according to the laws of gravity – we can therefore conclude that the laws of gravity are constant. Someone claiming the opposite of this would have to provide proof with an experiment showing a ball not falling back down, and thus concluding that the laws of gravity could be suspended and the same could be said of every natural law. There is no reason to assume violation of natural laws can occur and all the experiments ever conducted support this – that is an awful lot of proof in support of my claim. To claim that those experiments are somehow flawed requires proof.

    As I mentioned most of the universe is deadly to life – is this really the best an omnipotent designer could do when creating a universe supposedly with the express purpose for harbouring life?

    ‘If things were different then they would be different’ isn’t really a good argument either – we have no ability to simulate a universe that is totally different from ours on all counts (or even the ability to imagine one) to see if they could harbour their own forms of life. We have a sample size of 1 which isn’t really much to work with. However, Victor Stenger has conducted simulations of various configurations of this universe and has shown that changing the constants does not necessarily preclude the existence of life.

    Even our planet is not magnificently well designed for life. In the history of our planet there have been numerous mass extinctions, the largest being the Permian extinction that wiped out a whopping 95% of all life. A lot of the planet (an increasing amount of it in fact) is inhospitable for us. We hardly have ideal conditions, life has been a veritable uphill struggle and that is just on the face of this tiny little rock. It’s hardly tuned to perfection.

    For most of our very short existence on this planet we have had to face disease, famine, drout, pestilence, death during childbirth and so on – and that is all thanks to the way things were supposedly designed for us, the only reason we aren’t all dying of toothache in our thirties is because we had the ingenuity to sort things out for ourselves.

    Then we have the ultimate fate of our solar system, one day in about 5 billion years or so, our sun will explode melting our little planet wiping out all trace of life. One day the Andromeda galaxy will collide with our own. And even further into the future the universe will experience heat death at which time any possible life will no longer be able to function. You really think this was designed with the express purpose of us in mind? Wow, what a design!

    Essentially the fine tuning argument is just marvelling at the fact that we live on a planet at the right distance from our sun, in a universe capable of life. Well if those two things were different we wouldn’t be here to marvel at anything.

    Douglas Adams sums it up well here:

    “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in – an interesting hole I find myself in – fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.”

    The universe has all the hallmarks of indifference, it was not designed for us. We are merely too arrogant to concede otherwise. You can call design all you want, but really there is no evidence for this whatsoever. Even if there were, how do you get from that to the Christian God?

  38. Correction on your first paragraph: that’s an awful lot of evidence in support of your claim. There is no proof. What you can say based on your evidence is that it is highly unlikely that the laws of nature will be suspended. You did not state this. You said positively that the laws of nature can’t be suspended, which requires a greater burden of proof than what you’ve presented. If you would like to amend your statement to the former, fine with me. Otherwise, you must do better than this.

    The whole “best an omnipotent designer can do” argument is really a bad choice here–how can you possibly know that this is not the best possible world? Sounds like you’re making the claim of omnisapience for yourself if you really believe that you know with certainty what the best possible universe would look like. Are you making such a claim? Or are you willing to shed this argument for the absurdity that it is?

    In regards to your critiques of the teleological argument, I would encourage you to read “The Privileged Planet” or listen to some of Hugh Ross’ material online (for your reference, go here to start–> http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/audio/newevidence.htm). To make the argument that since most of the universe isn’t inhabitable design is impossible is silly–the argument for design is meant to show that without specific complexity, even the uninhabitable pieces wouldn’t exist! You’re missing the forest for the trees here, friend. Think bigger.

    It would be silly for me to try to push to the Christian God if you don’t accept supernaturalism, so once we get to that point maybe we can re-visit it. But that’s putting the cart before the horse (and so creating a red herring), and really seems appropriate for a different conversation.

    • Borrowing some quotes from a few sources I thought I’d provide some refutations to the design argument.

      Something from nothing doesn’t pose a challenge to most physicists. Frank Wilczek states that the reason why something exists is because “nothing is unstable” [1]. Victor J. Stenger agrees “Since nothing is as simple as it gets, we cannot expect it to be very stable […] the probability for there being something rather than nothing can actually be calculated; it is over 60 percent” [2] As such; “only by the constant action of an agent outside the universe, such as a God, could a state of nothingness be maintained. The fact that we have something is just what we’d expect if there is no God” [3]. Along with the Lawrence Krauss lecture I posted earlier, there is apparently no problem among the physics community with the notion of a universe arising from nothing. The only complaints come from philosophers and religious people. Why? Because they are unwilling to accept that the universe can arise from nothing.

      On the fine tuning argument Stenger notes “[the fine tuning argument] has at least one fatal flaw, it makes the wholly unwarranted assumption that only one type of life is possible – the particular form of carbon-based life we have on Earth. Even if this is an unlikely result of chance , some form of life could still be a likely result. It is like arguing that a particular card hand is so improbable that it must have been preordained.” [4]

      The design argument employs the anthropic principle – which Richard Dawkins sums up in The God Delusion: “For some reason that makes no sense at all, they think it supports their case. Precisely the opposite is true. The anthropic principle is the better alternative to the design hypothesis. It provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence. What the religious mind fails to grasp is that two candidate solutions are offered to the problem. God is one. The anthropic principle is the other. They are alternatives….. It has been estimated that there are between 1 billion and 30 billion planets in our galaxy, and about 100 billion galaxies in the universe […] a billion billion is a conservative estimate of the number of available planets in the universe […] Even with such absurdly long odds, life will still have arisen on a billion planets – of which Earth of course is one” [5]

      Richard Carrier wrote: “Who rolled the dice that gave us our god, rather than some other god, or no god at all? Basically theism posits an extremely ordered being that just ‘exists’ for no reason at all […] [when we roll the dice enough times] the odds become very good that you will roll the exact orderly sequence of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The odds against such a sequence are something like on in fifty thousand” So he argues “It follows that from chaos we can predict order, even incredibly complex order. But we have no comparable explanation for where an orderly god would come from, or why such an innate order would exist at all in a god, rather than a different order, or a chaos instead.” [6]

      Stenger poses that the existence of multiple universes “is consistent with all we know about physics and cosmology… In fact, it takes an added hypothesis to rule them out – a super law of nature that says only one universe can exist. But we know of no such law.” He continues “That hundred billion galaxies of our visible universe, each with a hundred billion stars, is but a grain of sand on the Sahara that exists beyond our horizon, grown out of that single, original bubble of a false vacuum. An endless number of such bubbles can very well exist, each itself nothing but a grain of sand on the Sahara of existence. On such a Sahara, nothing is too improbable to have happened by chance” [7] If this is indeed the case then God isn’t needed because there are an infinite number of universes and ours happened to be one in which we could exist and wonder why we exist.

      The design argument raises the obvious question ‘who created God?’

      1. Frank Wilczek “The Cosmic Asymmetry between Matter and Antimatter” – Scientific American 243, no 6 p. 82 – 90
      2. Victor Stenger “God: The Failed Hypothesis” p. 132-33
      3. Ibid.
      4. Victor J. Stenger “Anthropic Design” from “Science and Religion: Are they Compatible?” p.43
      5. Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion” p. 134-41
      6. Richard Carrier “Sense and Goodness without God” p. 86-87
      7. Victor Stenger “Anthropic Design” p. 45

  39. I’m assuming your dropping both your “proof supernatural events can’t happen” and you’re “I know the best world, and this isn’t it” argument, because you reference neither one in your last response. Good call for you on both parts. Let me respond to each of your numbered parts in turn:

    1) Stability is a property that requires existence in order to be present. So nothing is neither stable nor unstable–it is just nothing. If by nothing you mean a vacuum of space, well the nothing there is then something, and so can no longer be called nothing. Either way this statement is absurd.

    2) Oh? And how do we arrive at this 60%? It’s interesting that this would be considered a D grade on God’s scale, because with God the likelihood of something rather than nothing is, well, 100%. So science gets it 40% worse!

    3) The physics community has no problem with something arising out of nothing because (a) the total energy in the universe is zero, proving that the universe comes from nothing, and (b) because the universe actually DID come from physically nothing. Wow, this is a theory that has been around for at least, say, 6,000 years? Glad science came to it finally.

    4) Stenger’s “flaw” is a fallacy, because we’re not arguing fine-tuning of life; we’re arguing the fine-tuning of the universe that explains our existence. And even if other life were possible, it does nothing to diminish the fine-tuning of the universe such that it promotes OUR existence. He’s swinging at a pitch that hasn’t even been thrown. It’s a straw man argument.

    5) Oh again? And where is the proof of this? Classic Dawkins–wild statement with no proof behind it.

    6) Carrier again is a small thinker. Take the same idea of his dice sequence. Now say on top of rolling them in order, once you get to six you must start over and do the exact same sequence a trillion times with no mistakes. That is the standard by which the universe is fine-tuned according to the arrangement of the four forces alone. And it’s easy to see that when such a demand is met, the only way it’s going to happen is by design.

    7) Again, I’d love to see proof of this. The theory of general relativity clearly states that we will never see anything outside of our own universe even if it were to exist. So this is a hypothesis that can never be falsified. How is that any better than the God hypothesis? It’s not, and anyone who believes that to be the case isn’t really weighing the two sides evenly.

    Finally, in response to your last question–a video link that provides the easy answer to such a silly question (I’m not knocking you; you’re just parroting Dawkins): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcHp_LWGgGw&feature=BFa&list=FLoNEDpvDEDzM&index=4

  40. How do you know it’s possible for there to be absolute nothingness? In a vacuum – which is as close as you can get to nothing we find that ‘virtual particles’ arise spontaneously without cause – it is hypothesized that even event such as this could have led to the Big Bang. Absolute nothingness is a philosophical concept that we don’t even know could ever exist. We know however that absence of matter is possible and can spontaneously give rise to virtual particles – which in turn may give rise to universes.

    Also claiming that something coming from nothing rules out a designer-less universe is a fallacy. Just because something cannot come from nothing within our universe (although this is proven inaccurate by the said virtual particles) does not mean the universe itself cannot come from nothing. That’s like saying because all the bricks in the wall weigh 3kg the wall itself must weigh 3kg.

    The likelihood of something from nothing is not a comparison with God, it’s merely making the point that it can, and is quite likely to happen. Therefore God is not as necessary as you claim.

    Stenger is stating that we don’t know what kind of life could arise in a universe with different constants to our own. That our perceptions of what life is or could be are very limited. Therefore we cannot make the claim ‘if the constants of the universe were different life could not exist’.

    The proof of what in Dawkins statement? The anthropic principle is the alternative to the design hypothesis. His estimates for the number of planets with life on are actually extremely conservative compared to some calculations, and even if you are more conservative and claim that there is only six planets in the entire universe that can support life, his argument still stands.

    Carrier’s point is that chaos can give rise to order, but there is no comparable explanation for God. We are supposed to accept that God just exists, where there is no explanation for how an ordered complex God could exist.

    The whole problem with the argument is thus; you will claim that something complex like the universe cannot arise from nothing, or have always existed without a beginning, then you posit something (God) that can have arisen from nothing or always have existed to explain it. This is special pleading. You are invoking the very thing that you say cannot happen to explain how the thing that you say cannot happen happened. That’s just ridiculous logic.

  41. Oh so now you’re making my arguments for me, eh? Should I just stop now and let you speak both sides of the conversation? You obviously don’t understand me or my position. But let’s talk yours first.

    Krauss doesn’t explain virtual particles at all in his discussion. For one, they’re not measurable, yet we can determine their mass? Second, he doesn’t explain how this is any different than transfer of energy, because the virtual particles exist in dark matter, which is still “something.” Thirdly, the largest virtual particle exchanges (according to Krauss) are miniscule–like inside-of-a-proton miniscule. The Big Bang is at its essence the antithesis of miniscule, so jumping from tiny virtual particle exchanges to the biggest explosion in the history of the universe is a HUGE assumption to make, and one that would require a much larger explanation as well. So virtual particles mean “virtually” nothing to the naturalistic argument in this sense.

    The universe may not come from nothing, but there is no evidence of such a cause that exists out there by which the universe came, except for a cause that is physically “nothing.” Any proof or evidence you can give outside of the multiverse hypothesis (which you have regarded as pure speculation) would be appreciated.

    The proof you need to provide is for Dawkins’ estimates. You have given no proof or support for more life-bearing planets other than “there must be some.” Evidence is needed to support such a claim, even though the claim itself, if true, would still be either irrelevant or counter to your own argument. Still, I would like the proof.

    Carrier has only shown that chaos gives rise to order on a very limited basis, for one. But it also doesn’t show how that is superior to order giving rise to order. As to the evidence for an ordered complex being, I think that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing, isn’t it? Did I miss something? Or did you not watch the video of Craig’s response to Dawkins?

  42. Firstly the thing that virtual particles demonstrate is something that theists have denied to the death for centuries, that events can happen without a cause. The spontaneous decay of atoms is also thought to be uncaused. This is a huge dent in the theists argument, and it destroys the Kalam cosmological argument on its first premise. It is explained at the beginning of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVwirDNFQnI how virtual particles could have caused the big bang. Notice how he mentions the distinction between absolute nothing and a vacuum – well again perhaps it’s not possible for there to be absolute nothingness, it’s a concept we can talk about and try to comprehend, but is it real? Can absolute nothingness ever have existed? Perhaps prior to the Big Bang it was just a beginningless vacuum. By the way I’d recommend watching that whole documentary if you have the time.

    Take a look at this image http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SqhhJb_P3Kk/SzaCGXAhM9I/AAAAAAAAKZA/iEhssWoA_ro/s400/Hubble+Ultra+Deep+Field.jpg every point of light you see is a galaxy made up of billions of stars, there is estimated to be around 10,000 galaxies in this image and it is an image of only a tiny fraction of the sky. We have already found many planets outside our own solar system, and the likelihood is that there are many many planets in our galaxy, and all other galaxies, of which there are an incomprehensibly vast number. The universe is so large that even the most unlikely event such as a planet that can harbour life would be commonplace. He have no exact data, but it is not unreasonable to estimate that there are many other worlds that have the right conditions for life. It would be far far more unlikely that there is only one planet in such a vast universe that happens to harbour life.

    You haven’t given any evidence for an ordered complex being all you have done is asserted that the first cause of the universe must necessarily have been one – an assertion which I see absolutely no reason to make. Firstly there is no explanation for how God got there, and I know Craig says that you do not have to explain the explanation, but as I said any explanation for God could also apply to the universe. If you say God always existed, why not conclude that the universe always existed? If you say God arose from nothing, why not conclude that the universe arose from nothing?

    Even if I granted your argument, where does that get you? Weak deism is where it gets you, and you’d have a long way to go to get to the personal God of the Christian faith from there. So lets say I grant your design argument, how do you go from there to Christianity?

  43. I forgot that I had bookmarked this awesome post on the topic of “nothing.” This explains it far better than I ever could, and comes from a guy who is an atheist and yet still disagrees with you. Check this blog post out. I particularly like the quote from Guth and Vulenkin, but it all goes to show that your perspective of a universe coming “from nothing” is really a faulty use of the English language, as “nothing” in this case is actually still “something”. And that’s where Vulenkin’s quote makes perfect sense, because you still have yet to arrive at first cause.

    Your argument about the reasonability of believing life on other planets sounds nice, but because it has not been tested nor confirmed, it is still pure speculation, and therefore has no basis as evidence in an argument for or against design. I would like to believe there is life elsewhere, but for now, we can only explain what we do know, and only guess at what we don’t. And that makes Dawkins’ argument no better than the theistic explanation, if not worse.

    The reason different standards must apply to the universe is because there is strong evidence to support the belief that the universe has a beginning. See my blog post here for some of that evidence. There is strong evidence to support that the universe came from “literally nothing,” but that would only support a supernatural argument, not a natural one, as the initial blog I linked to demonstrates.

    Finally, your issue with my argument getting only to deism makes me assume you have not read my blog, which is completely fine. However, I would urge you to look here for the initial explanation of a necessary (or in your words, personal) being responsible for moral law, then look here for a 3:00 explanation by someone much smarter than myself of all three arguments I’ve used thus far.

    I think the evidence weighs far more heavily in my favor at this point, because I’ve taken you not only to supernaturalism, but also theism. If you will commit to theism, then we can go to Christianity from there. But let’s take it in turn.

  44. There is strong evidence that the universe as we know it had a beginning with the Big Bang, however a lot of theoretical physicists are talking about a ‘before the Big Bang’ as illustrated in the BBC documentary ‘What Happened Before The Big Bang’ (http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/what-happened-before-the-big-bang/) – although there is no consensus as to what it was that happened before the Big Bang, there is growing consensus that there was a before (as opposed to the standard view that a before the Big Bang was not considered valid). So perhaps your view that the universe had a definite beginning is undermined by this?

    Surely if God was there then there was not ‘literally nothing’ because God is something. The truth of the matter is, we don’t know exactly what happened before the Big Bang, to cause the universe as we know it to exist. I simply do not see that a deity is necessary here, the truth is likely to be far more counter intuitive. Sure there is an appearance of design in the universe, but as Charles Darwin famously expounded appearances of design do not necessarily need a designer, indeed appearances can be deceptive. It would appear to us, and it was quite reasonable to assume at one time that the Earth was still and that the Sun revolved around it. At one time, until we knew better it was reasonable to assume that the Earth was flat, that the stars were somehow holes in the firmament that encased the universe, with the Earth at it’s centre. This reasoning was all common sense at one time. Well common sense failed us on all of those fronts, and although it might seem like common sense to propose a grand designer for the cosmos as a whole, I do not believe that such a designer is necessary. Science has shown time and time again that complexity arises from simplicity, and this can create a strong illusion of design.

    The reason I say that your argument only leads to weak deism is because I did see your blog and notice you aren’t in fact a weak deist, and I was simply saying that if I did grant your argument weak deism is the only conclusion I could take from it, rather than the personal God of Christianity.

    I have to say you haven’t taken me to supernaturalism or theism. You sound a lot like William Lane Craig when you say that, but really I think it’s safe to say you haven’t taken me anywhere, I wouldn’t claim I’ve taken you to atheism. I have merely expounded my position in the hope that you might understand my reasoning. Debates aren’t about leading anyone to a specific conclusion, or ‘winning’ in any sense, just about gaining understanding of other viewpoints. Whether or not you agree, I hope you have gained at least some understanding as to the reasoning behind my atheism (which might be different to the reasoning behind other people’s). I certainly have gained some understanding of your reasoning, although I do not agree with it.

  45. But the Big Bang explains the initial conditions for the universe we have as we know it. Any before would contribute nothing naturalistically to the explanation we have to the universe. Couple that with the notion that it’s still pure speculation for the reason that a cosmological horizon can’t push into the dimension of time, and this theory runs into the same problem that Dawkins’ anti-design argument does–it’s only as good as, if not worse than, any supernatural hypothesis.

    When I’m talking about “literally nothing,” perhaps the terminology I should use is “naturally nothing.” There is evidence that the universe came from something non-physical (as the Zacharias video I shared points out) because there is no evidence that something physical existed prior to the universe.

    The flat earth and geocentric arguments say NOTHING to the design argument. When you see information somewhere (again, as Zacharias states), you assume an intelligent mind prior to it in every other case. Yet you choose to ignore it in the case of the universe because it doesn’t fit your tidy box of what you think is available.

    The funny part about complexity arising from simplicity is that the most simple entity available is God. As the Craig video stated, God has no parts as a non-physical entity, so He is the antithesis of complex in this state, and so perfectly fits with science already knows. Note also that making the “simple to complex” argument completely destroys Dawkins’ main argument in God Delusion, so thank you for helping me put that one to rest.

    You might take deism from my argument based on origin and design, but when you add in morality, the evidence supporting Christ’s resurrection from the dead, etc., it’s easy to get to Christianity as the most likely form of supernaturalism. I’m not saying that you are a theist; what I’m saying is that I have shown you the evidence that weighs the argument in the favor of supernaturalism, and then taken it a step further and shown you the evidence that weighs supernaturalism in the direction of theism.

    With that, I will say that it’s unfortunate I haven’t taken you anywhere yet. I’ve countered each of your arguments (many of which you’ve dropped) and shown strong evidence with good support for each of my arguments. Your rebuttals are to throw out speculative hypotheses from scientists who will never be able to falsify their claims, something you hold in the highest regard in your initial posting and comments as a necessity for naturalism.

    What will it take for you to let your guard down and think, “Maybe, just maybe, this guy knows what he’s talking about. What if he actually is right? I’m not talking Pascal’s Wager here, I’m talking about what it means for you individually as it pertains to your existence and how you live your life. Science is safe, but it is not the answer. I encourage you to step out a little bit and see for yourself if there really is something to what I’m saying. Most important decision of your life. And I’ll be continuing to pray about it, friend. Despite our different views on the issue, we have developed a tinge of a relationship through our debates, and so to me you and your opinions have intrinsic value, and I want the best for you regardless.

  46. Your notion of a “simple” God completely refutes the God of Christianity. The Christian God is said to be omniscient; – now the most complex thing that we know of is the human brain – and even this in all its complexity cannot know everything. It would take a greatly complex mind to know everything, far more complex than anything we know of. Just because God is immaterial does not relinquish him of complexity, indeed it makes him more complex if anything. How can a disembodied mind that knows everything exist? Surely such a thing would be complex beyond our understanding. Our minds work via electrical impulses between neurons, how does a mind work without neurons, or a brain of any kind? How can an immaterial disembodied mind create a universe, and interfere in it whist still retaining simplicity? Saying that God is simple is just a cop out, if there really was such a being as described by the Christian faith it would be more complex than anything we know of. Either God is simple like you say and is not the complex being of the Christian religion, or God is complex and thus my argument still stands.

    There is no evidence supporting Christ’s rising from the dead. To get to that claim you have to look at the evidence with a Christian bias, if you don’t start from that standpoint then none of it seems like evidencesitting whatsoever. David Hume’s argument against miracles applies here (which even Craig admits is irrefutable [1]). There is no reason whatsoever to accept that Jesus rose from the dead, any more than there is a reason to accept that Mohammed descended from heaven on a winged horse. The only way you can arrive at that conclusion is through a biased interpretation of the evidence.

    Morality does not provide evidence for a Christian God either. Although I would like to see you expand on this point a little.

    1. From the book Why I Became an Atheist by John W. Loftus: “I remember sitting down and talking with Bill Craig at a banquet during an apologetical series of lectures he was giving. While we were talking, he said to me, “Hume has been refuted years ago.” To which I replied, “I didn’t know Hume could be refuted because he merely said that the wise man proportions his belief based upon what is most likely to be the case.” To which Bill admitted, on second thought, that I was right, “You’re right Hume cannot be refuted.”” p. 203

  47. Don’t mistake how the word “simple” is being used here. God is simple in essence, not in understanding. A non-physical entity is considered simple from the fact that it has no essential parts. That does not diminish the ability of God to be omniscient. Thinking of God as a disembodied mind also does not derail “existence,” because existence you are speaking of here is in a physical, natural sense, which God is not bound to as I’ve shown above.

    So a theistic God is simple in essence and complex in understanding. Either position fits neatly into your argument, which makes the theistic position much more tenable than Dawkins’, as you’ve already shown by basically shooting down the God Delusion argument yourself.

    What if I could show you evidence that points to Christ’s resurrection that even a skeptical historian would agree with? Would you be willing to suspend your bias to hear me out? And I’ve expanded on the Moral Argument in my own blog post I linked to, demonstrating the need for a personal God. Re-read the end of that post for some expansion, or we can talk about it later.

    Isn’t it interesting that it’s turned into me defending my position? Why is that? Is it because I’ve poked all the holes in your argument that it’s now your turn? Or is there some sliver of a notion in your mind that I may actually be right?

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