Conversation with an Atheist Friend (04)

22 04 2009
UFO
UFO (via last.fm)

Friend: Sorry, which god have I expressed a disbelief in? People have proposed a lot of different gods. If you mean Yahweh from the bible, then it is meaningless to say whether you believe in him or not — some people have proposed that he exists but haven’t demonstrated it in any way that can be verified. (Equally, people have proposed that UFOs have secretly abducted them in the night but have failed to back it up with any evidence.). The UFO claims have actually got more veracity because they are made by people who are still alive. As I said at the beginning, the claims that the bible does make that can be tested have all been shown to be wrong, or simply obvious even to the jewish goat herders who wrote them. The onus is on the proposer to back up their claims with honest, open debate and with clear instructions on how anyone can reproduce the effect or experiment. If you just want to state something, especially something as extraordinary as what is claimed by Christians, then don’t expect people to take you seriously unless you can back it up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

[break… and other “chit chat”]

Me:… Well anyway here is my response to our ongoing discussion… “Enlightenment optimism” means you are overly optimistic about what scientific method can achieve. Science cannot prove non-repeatable events. Thus science cannot prove history. Science can help in the establishment of history by creating analytical methods (my own PhD specialty) for testing the validity of historical evidence or by refining information about it, but it cannot actually prove a non-repeated event. You have to be able to repeat an experiment enough times statistically to show it must definitely be the case.If the UFO guy has burn marks on the soles of his feet and his car had the top ripped off, this is evidence but what you do with that evidence has nothing to do with science. Science has no comment to make (except probably to say that it could have naturally been caused by, x y or z). It has everything to do with how skeptical or otherwise you decide to be with the evidence. Add to this 100 different things and science still cannot prove whether he was abducted or not. Now let’s say you were the guy. How do you know you weren’t just tripping out somehow? In fact you may know of David Hume the philosopher, who essentially said that if you experienced a miracle you’d be safer going for any other explanation than to accept that it was a miracle. Can science prove that Jesus didn’t walk on water? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t do miracles? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t rise from the dead? Of course not. If God is Jesus how else is he going to give evidence to humans except to become a person so we can identify with him, and then do things that show he’s not bound by the laws of nature? Actually now I think about it, Jesus did give scientific evidence that he is God – he did miracles on repeated occasions under varying experimental conditions (there’s a thought)! But of course this is crap, and you’re 100% sure god can’t exist. Why? Because you are operating on a pre-disposition (due to a marriage with science) that the supernatural doesn’t exist. You’ve made a prior decision, and through this you interpret everything. But don’t pretend this is scientific. It is a paradigm, as Kuhn would put it. Check out Alistair McGrath (a not so unintelligent) microbiologist and theologian who teaches at Oxford and has had a few things to say to Richard D about his enlightenment optimism.

Friend: But despite what you say, science does work, and scientific truth is nothing more than common sense and places no demands on you than following instructions. On the other hand, Christianity requires you, to paraphrase Saint Doug, “to believe 10 impossible things before breakfast.” And your ‘critique’ of science that says that, because science can’t prove a negative — i.e. that something DOES NOT exist — belies a lack of understanding of how science works. For example, you can’t prove that Zeus or Thor don’t exist. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper. But if you really want to have an argument about proving or disproving the existence of supernatural stuff then science actually does have something to say. It says, “show me any effect, however slight, on anything, anywhere, that cannot be explained by known science,”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Coversation with an Athiest Friend 02

26 03 2009
Karl Marx 1882 (edited)
Image via Wikipedia

Here is a continuation of the answer I wrote to my friend addressing some things about the nature of science…

“Enlightenment optimism” means you are overly optimistic about what scientific method can achieve. Science cannot prove non-repeatable events. Thus science cannot prove history. Science can help in the establishment of history by creating analytical methods (my own PhD specialty) for testing the validity of historical evidence or by refining information about it, but it cannot actually prove a non-repeated event. You have to be able to repeat an experiment enough times statistically to show it must definitely be the case.

Science is firstly about establishing positive truth. In the process it debunks other false ideas when the establishing alternative contradicts previously held notions. Many scientists (Christian or not) don’t see any contradiction in anything yet found and that’s because they are biased by their upbringing, lingering primitive thought patters and/or a need to affirm themselves (poor Tim Keller). I.e. they have bias, which is exactly what Descartes was about eliminating (more power to him!). But reading Descartes, the first principle in his method is equally applicable to hard-core atheists as to hard-core deists – assume nothing you cannot be absolutely certain about. You cannot be certain there is no God, and you kid no one to suggest otherwise. What you can be certain about is that you are no more objective than the next Joe (plumber or not). You also think in paradigms which like to accept what fits with them and affirms them, and reject what doesn’t. So I will look for things, in science, the world, and my own experience that fit with existence of God and try to dismiss things that don’t. You will look for things that fit with disbelief in God and seek to dismiss things which don’t – which is exactly how your responses so far have read. E.g. an honest reading of history doesn’t show that individual belief (note carefully) in God leads to any more immorality, bigotry, hatred etc. than a belief that Manchester United is better than Liverpool, or Marxist humanism is the solution to all political woes. Your accusations about Keller misrepresenting science is equally applicable to what you’ve done with social history. Let’s discuss this thing sensibly like two well educated blokes who both hope Australia might win the return leg in South Africa – but have their doubts. [but of course Australia did win 2-1!]

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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