Time and Singularity

Facilis writes:

The Big Bang theory says that time, space, and matter/energy all originate in the same singularity, not that they all originate in “nothing.”
And I’ve seen several philosopher make the case that such a singularity is ontologically equivalent to nothing. You are just question begging.

Because time and the material universe had the same origin, it can truthfully be said that the universe has no “beginning,” since there was never a time when it did not exist.
“Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the Big Bang.” (Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time,)
I think I’ll go with what the expert physicists say.

I’ll go with what the expert physicists say too. The catch is that sometimes, when writing for a non-technical audience, you have to sacrifice strict technical accuracy in favor of readability. That’s why meteorologists, despite being heliocentrists, will say, “The sun will rise at 6:52 am” instead of saying “At 6:42 am the earth will have rotated to a position relative to the sun such that a line between the sun and the eye of an observer of average height will no longer intersect the body of the earth.” Though the latter version is more technically correct, it is so needlessly complex that it actually obscures the information we’re most interested in knowing.

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Posted in Comment Rescue, Science. 8 Comments »

Science and rationalization

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Jayman raises a very good question.

DD, I don’t see why additional information about ghosts is necessary to test my hypothesis. If we identified a ghost as a deceased person my hypothesis would be confirmed. It doesn’t matter whether you would still have additional questions about ghosts or souls or spirits.

Ok, so it’s not exactly phrased as a question, but the implication is there. Why isn’t the test, taken in isolation and without regard to other factors, sufficient to establish the hypothesis? It’s a good question and it points up an important principle that I neglected to cover in yesterday’s post.

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Posted in Science. 55 Comments »

More than a theory

Jayman writes:

I get the sense that skeptics want even more than a theory and predictions. Perhaps you can tell me why the following theory and prediction does not cut it?

One may theorize that ghosts are the spirits of deceased humans that generally inhabit a location known to them when they were alive. Such a theory allows one to predict that at certain locations ghosts will be observed and that one may be able to identify the ghost as a deceased person who lived at that location.

Have at it.

Technically, of course, Jayman is describing a hypothesis rather than a theory, but that’s a quibble. Let’s look at the larger question(s). What do skeptics really want? Why isn’t it necessarily scientific to have just a theory and some predictions? And how can we tell when someone’s theory (or hypothesis) is just superstition in disguise?

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Posted in Science, Superstition, Unapologetics. 27 Comments »

Nazis in Kentucky?

The Associated Press is reporting that the creationist museum is at least partially admitting that Darwin was right:

A new exhibit at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum argues that natural selection — Darwin’s explanation for how species develop new traits over time — can coexist with the creationist assertion that all living things were created by God just a few thousand years ago.

“We wanted to show people that creationists believe in natural selection,” said Ken Ham, founder of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis and frequent Darwin critic.

What makes this story particularly interesting is the fact that natural selection, popularly known as “survival of the fittest,” was featured as the centerpiece of Ben Stein’s argument blaming Darwin for the Holocaust. According to Stein, Hitler’s justification for trying to wipe out the Jews was that nature itself allegedly teaches us that weaker kinds don’t deserve to survive. Evolutionists (aka “Darwinists”) obviously disagree with this particular interpretation of natural selection, but Stein sided with Hitler. According to Stein, natural selection implies a justification for genocide, and therefore anyone who says natural selection is true is supporting genocide.

And now the Creation Museum is saying natural selection is compatible with creationism. Fun times, eh?

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Posted in Science, Society. 2 Comments »

Wrestling with superstition

Happy Darwin Day, everybody! Continuing with Jayman’s comments on the “healing” of Bernadette McKenzie, we come to his second point.

(2) The term “superstition” does not help move the discussion forward because it is subjective and pejorative. You believe Bernadette’s belief in a miraculous cure is an example of superstition because she explains her cure by ascribing it to a purported cause that cannot be connected to the cure, even in theory. But a theoretical connection between God and the cure can be made. For example, she could posit that God disconnected some tissue attachments that had been stretching her spinal cord. Moreover, even scientists will ascribe a purported cause to an event when they can’t show an actual connection between the two. One need only think of dark matter. The fact is that if one waited for proof that X existed before considering evidence pointing to X’s existence one could never acquire any knowledge. It is a double standard on your part to call Bernadette superstitious while not holding others, including yourself, to the same standard.

I am not using the term “superstition” subjectively, and have taken care to specify the exact, objective criteria by which I declare that this or that proposed explanation can be shown to be merely superstitious. As for the term itself being pejorative, I’ve tried to avoid that, but to a certain degree it’s inescapable. Experience has shown that appealing to magical causes is unhelpful, contributes nothing to our actual understanding, and never proves correct once the actual causes are known. If someone feels embarrassed when they’re caught making superstitious appeals, it’s not because I’m insulting them, it’s because reality has made it too obvious that superstition is silly.

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Posted in Science, Superstition, Unapologetics. 24 Comments »

Proof… (sorta)

Via Answer the Skeptic comes this gem. It’s a long, rambling, and breathtakingly ignorant “proof of God” by David Pack, the intellectual heir (if not legal successor) to Herbert W. Armstrong. Armstrong, as you may know, was the founder of the Worldwide Church of God, a group regarded by many mainstream Christians as a heretical cult. After Armstrong’s death, the organization cleaned up its act quite a bit to become more orthodox, which led to a number of splinter groups, like Pack’s, splitting off to continue the Armstrong legacy. Apparently, though, either the folks at Answer the Skeptic don’t know about David Pack’s theological heritage, or else don’t care that they’re turning to cults for help in buttressing their apologetics.

Pack begins by promising everything an apologist could ask for.

This booklet presents numerous absolute, immutable proofs that God does exist. After reading it, you will never again doubt the answer to this greatest of questions! Some proofs will amaze you. Others will inspire you. Still others will surprise or even excite you. All of them will fascinate you with their simplicity. We will first examine some traditional proofs and then consider material that rests on the cutting edge of scientific understanding, before returning to established proofs. You will learn from biology, astronomy, chemistry and mathematics.

Conspicuously absent from this list is anything that would involve, you know, God actually showing up in real life. In fact, Pack’s “proofs” are so vague and superstitious that they could serve equally well as proof of Norse gods, Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Spontaneous Magical Entropy Reversal Fields (SMERFs). Pack could have greatly abridged this piece simply by stating, “I do not know squat about science—therefore GOD EXISTS.”

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Posted in Amusements, Science, Unapologetics. 4 Comments »

An obligation to the facts

Let’s see, where were we? Oh yes, cleaning up some loose ends in Anthony Horvath’s attempted rebuttal.

The important thing for now is that we recognize that our chief obligation is to the facts of our existence, and sometimes reality appears inconsistent and contradictory- and yet there it is.  What does one do in this situation?  Do you throw out your data?  The point being is that you must deal with your data and if you are reasonably confident that your data is legitimate it does not cease to be so just because you perceive it to be ‘inconsistent’ or contradictory.

I say all this because it is absolutely wrong headed to apply Herr Professor’s technique and attitude to supernatural claims and deeply ironic.  Herr Professor, like so many other atheists, deeply imbibes on scientism.  But science itself- meaning, the natural framework alone- provides us with contradictory notions, and yet the data compels us to consider them.  And that’s just within our natural framework!  Never mind revelatory claims!  Nature itself confounds us.

My approach is to verify the facts and to interpret them in the light of the principle that truth is consistent with itself, so it’s hard to see why it would be “wrong-headed” to apply that approach to claims about the supernatural. But I don’t think he really meant to imply that the supernatural is somehow resistant to attempts to discover the truth about it. I think he just wanted to insinuate that scientists have some kind of systematic filter that causes them to reject otherwise-valid evidence just because it happens to be “supernatural.”

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Posted in CAMWatch, Realism, Science, Unapologetics. 4 Comments »

Flatland: the rest of the story

I’m pleased to see that Anthony Horvath wants to discuss my analysis of his attempt to excuse the contradictions in the Gospel story. Alas, in true Gypsy Curse fashion, he seems to have misunderstood my arguments, and consequently accuses me of having misunderstood him. For instance, I remarked early on that, while Horvath’s announced topic concerned transcendence and immanence, the bulk of his discussion concerned what God can and cannot do, i.e. how transcendence applies to the question of what God can and cannot do. Horvath apparently understood that to mean that I thought transcendence was an entirely separate and unrelated topic, which gives him a license to dismiss my entire argument as the irrelevant consequences of an incorrect analysis.

H. Professor’s failure to see how these two fundamental claims about the nature of the thing under discussion connect to the rest of the argumentation I made is the underlying mistake of both of his posts.  That we are talking about an entity that is both transcendent and immanent is absolutely critical to the rest of the argumentation.  In fact, H. Professor makes complaints that I already answered- but because he fails to see the relation between these attributes and the rest I said, he fails to recognize them.

The last sentence reveals the second prong of Horvath’s attempt to make my arguments irrelevant: because I considered each of his arguments step by step, pointing out the problems that require further defense, he accuses me of raising objections that he had already answered (in subsequent parts of his post). He apparently did not understand that I was following the flow of his own logic: that there must be a reason why the “God can’t do nonsense” argument does not suffice to end the discussion, and why Horvath feels compelled to seek other solutions. I simply laid out what those unresolved problems are, at the beginning of the discussion, so that we could approach the rest of the discussion with an appropriate background.

There is a lot more I could have said, of course, and I’m grateful to Mr. Horvath for having given me the opportunity to explore this topic further. He raises some interesting points, and clarifies some others, and, if you can bear with me through a longish post, I think we’ll see why his defense of the Gospel actually constitutes a full-fledged concession of defeat, and a retreat into universal agnosticism.

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Posted in CAMWatch, Realism, Science, The Gypsy Curse, Unapologetics. 6 Comments »

Framed!

A while back there was a bit of a brouhaha over how best to present science and/or atheism to the world. Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens were said to be too “harsh” and “shrill” in their bold and confident assertions that religion was wrong. Advocates for atheism and/or science, it was said, needed to “frame” their arguments, to make them more appealing and less offensive for the average, religiously-minded layperson.

Well, some atheists took that advice to heart, and Dinesh D’Souza would like to give them the “thanks” they deserve.

The central argument of these scientific atheists is that modern science has refuted traditional religious conceptions of a divine creator.

But of late atheism seems to be losing its scientific confidence. One sign of this is the public advertisements that are appearing in billboards from London to Washington DC. Dawkins helped pay for a London campaign to put signs on city buses saying, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Humanist groups in America have launched a similar campaign in the nation’s capital. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” And in Colorado atheists are sporting billboards apparently inspired by John Lennon: “Imagine…no religion…”

There is no claim here that God fails to satisfy some criterion of scientific validation. We hear nothing about how evolution has undermined the traditional “argument from design.” There’s not even a whisper about how science is based on reason while Christianity is based on faith…

[A]theists seem to have given up the scientific card.

Congratulations, framers. You’ve made Christians much happier, now that they can claim you’ve conceded defeat in the scientific realm.

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Posted in Science, Society, Unapologetics, Woodworking 101. 24 Comments »

The greatest agnostics of all

Continuing to look at Chuck Colson’s reply to Russell Glasser, as we did yesterday, we find another contradiction in Colson’s article, this time about postmodernism and the existence of knowable truth.

You write that one of the main things motivating your atheism is the fact that you cannot see any compelling reason to believe in God, and you cannot regard faith as reliably as you can empirical evidence in discerning truth.  I suspect you’ve come under the influence of the fact-value distinction, which modernity introduced, largely influenced by the teachings of Immanuel Kant.  I would strongly recommend that you read Pope Benedict’s lecture at Regensburg…  In a relatively short speech, he summarized the great shift that has taken place in western thinking as a result of the Enlightenment and now postmodernism.  Benedict’s case is the same one I would make, and that is that reason always has to rest on faith.  That’s what gives it the objective standards to appeal to.  What happened in the Enlightenment and what we call modernity was the abandonment of the faith presuppositions, leaving reason naked, cold, and ultimately without a foundation.  It was this rejection of sterile reason that has led us to the postmodern era, which rejects both faith and reason.

But the fact-value distinction is false.  All thought begins with faith.  All intellectual inquiry begins with certain presuppositions.  These by necessity are made without evidence and have to be taken on faith.  The idea that evidence is superior to faith as a root to knowledge is one of those presuppositions: it is unproven and non-provable.  So it must be taken as a priori; that is, prior to experience, or in other words, on faith.

In his book, The Faith, Colson expands on this current evangelical fad of bashing postmodernism. Which is not, in itself, a bad thing. Postmodernism claims to have discovered the truth that there is no truth to discover. All that matters is what you believe about something. There is no right or wrong, there is only faith. But is Colson really saying that postmodernism is wrong, or is he advocating the postmodern idea that faith is all that matters?

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Posted in Science, Society, Unapologetics. 33 Comments »