Thursday, November 03, 2005

On Scientific Naturalism

Let’s start with a quick experiment. You can grab three coins and actually do the experiment, or just do a thought experiment.

Drop one coin and watch it fall. Do this again. Hold out the third coin.

If you were to do this again, what do you think would happen? If you could get ten good Christians to pray that this next coin wouldn’t fall, would it still fall? How about one thousand faithful Muslims? How about one billion people of any faith? I think that it would still fall. Drop the third coin.

Our understanding of the world around us, and our abilities to predict what will happen are based on naturalism -- the basis of science. Naturalism is how all people live their lives most of the time. --Why Atheism, by Mark Thomas


"Why Atheism" is a good primer on scientific naturalism and atheism.

23 comments:

asher said...

Let's do this experiment. Go in your backyard and randomly dig around until you find something that looks like a bone. Look at the bone and imagine that it might have one day been part of a pre-historic animal that once roamed the area in your neighborhood. Imagine what it might have looked like, what it ate and it how lived and died. Now, based on this scientific evidence of prehistoric evidence, find 30 scientists to agree with you. If not, you can consider yourself an original thinker, a creative person and not subject to what other people tell you is the truth. Believe me, we'll visit you during visiting hours.

And that is how Darwin began.


After all the dicussion of how animals evolve, it jarred my memory of a play I must have seen when I was 10 based on the stories of Sholem Alechem. The story takes place in the town of Chelm which, for lack of a better description, is a town of fools. The townspeople always ask the wise rabbi all their difficult questions. One question was, "Why does a dog way his tail" and the rabbi, thoughtfully answer, "It is a matter of proportion. If the tail weighted more than the dog, the tail would wag the dog". There you have it....natural selection in a simple sentence.

Jewish Atheist said...

And that is how Darwin began.

Darwin based his theory while observing animals in the Galappagos during his famed voyage of the Beagle, not by studying fossils. If we had no fossils at all, we would still have evolution. Fossils merely provide one more independent source of evidence.

Shlomo said...

JA,

I think you're doing a good job here explaining some of the basics. I am a used-to-be science teacher and have worn my self out long ago trying to make them 'get it.'

I laud your 'savlanus'.

The real issues have nothing to with Evolution. There is so much scientific discovery and ongoing research in this regard that even someone well-versed in science couldn't keep up with all of it. The extent of what science does today and how the various disciplines work in tandem is unprecedented. Most cannot even fathom what science does, let alone how it operates.

We also must emphasize the fact that our sensory apparatus are a million times better than those of the authors of the great religious works. In giving them the benefit of the doubt, they perhaps did the best they could with what they had available. A few generations from now, the scientists of that era will look back to our science thinking the same thing, but at least we used the right method.

Kol Tuv

Sadie Lou said...

Pray for a coin to fall or not fall? Please. You couldn't get ten "good" Christians to agree to something so ridiculous. That's like those stupid chain emails that tell you to pray for something you really, really want and then forward the email to ten people--don't break the chain or nobody will get their prayer to come true!!
Lame.
...and define "good".
*wink*

Jewish Atheist said...

Pray for a coin to fall or not fall? Please. You couldn't get ten "good" Christians to agree to something so ridiculous.

The point is people wouldn't expect prayer to help for anything verifiable -- so why do they believe in it for fuzzier circumstances? Is it because one can't disprove the efficacy of prayer in fuzzy circumstances? Religious people keep retreating from their claims to less and less-testable ones. If prayer really worked, it should be simple to prove.

Is there anything you could get them to pray for which would obviously be a violation of the laws of nature if it worked?

(And don't tell me "cancer remissions" unless you can show me that the increase in probability of spontaneous remission over people who aren't prayed for is statistically significant. All the prayer "studies" I've seen are greviously flawed or outright fraudulant. Here's an exmaple: The much-hyped Columbia University prayer study was flawed and suspicious from the start but now has been fatally tainted with fraud. The first-named author doesn't respond to inquiries. The "lead" author said he didn't learn of the study until months after it was completed. And now the mysterious third author, indicted by a federal grand jury, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud. All his previous studies must now be questioned. --http://www.csicop.org/si/2004-09/miracle-study.html)

Sadie Lou said...

"If prayer really worked, it should be simple to prove."

That's the saddest thing I've seen you say to date. Seriously. I'll say the same thing I said to cyberkitten--do you love your family?
Prove it.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: That's the saddest thing I've seen you say to date. Seriously. I'll say the same thing I said to cyberkitten--do you love your family?
Prove it.

You DO like that question don't you? Though I'm still not sure what you mean to show/prove by it.

JA is right though. If prayer was so powerful - then we wouldn't be arguing over it. Plus didn't you say Sadie that God ignores prayers that don't go along with His plans for us? Aren't prayers a waste of time if God is just going to 'do His own thing' anyway?

Jewish Atheist said...

"If prayer really worked, it should be simple to prove."

That's the saddest thing I've seen you say to date. Seriously. I'll say the same thing I said to cyberkitten--do you love your family?
Prove it.


Huh? If prayer works, it makes measureable changes in the world. E.g. if I pray for the health of 1000 people and nobody prays for another 1000 people, and if prayer works, then, other things being equal, those 10 people should be measurably healthier. Unless you want to define prayer as "working" if it makes you into a better person or something, which is completely unrelated to supernatural causes.

It's not at all similar to "proving" that I feel an emotion, although one could probably do that (if not now, then in the near future) with some sort of fMRI or other brain-scan equipment and pictures of "loved" ones if pressed.

Jewish Atheist said...

("those 1000")

Sadie Lou said...

Plus didn't you say Sadie that God ignores prayers that don't go along with His plans for us?

What? Show me where I said that. God doesn't ignore prayers, period. You're putting words in my mouth. I think you're talking about when I said God isn't some Giant, Magical, Wishingwell...
You are suggesting that we "test" God aren't you? If Christians were to set about trying to prove the power of prayer by getting a bunch of sick people and praying for one half while ignoring the other half. Don't you find that kind of sick?
The proof of prayer is in the results of answered prayer. We have this guy going to our church that we've been praying for fervently for a liver transplant. He kept getting sicker and sicker and this meant that he wouldn't survive a transplant.
If he got better, this meant he might be too healthy to be on a list for a transplant. We didn't know how to pray. Stay sick to get on a list or get better to survive a transplant?
However, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit growns in prayer with us--even when we don't know how to pray, The Lord knows that the situation is weighing heavy on our hearts.
Just today I got this email:

"Danny just got out of surgery. Everything went really well. He is in ICU but
doing great.
The nurse said all his vitals are excellent.
Ross is doing good too. He has already got up and walked. The Dr's are in
shock... They could not believe it.

We are all full of joyful tears and praises to our amazing Father.

I pray that we can all embrace this miracle and give the glory to Him. What
more could anyone need? We have been so Blessed.

Love
Kathi


Ross is the donor. An old friend of the patient--Danny.

Jewish Atheist said...

The proof of prayer is in the results of answered prayer.

Sadie Lou, I'm very happy for you and your friend, but how can you distinguish between answered prayer and coincidence? It seems to me like Danny's friend Ross did a lot more than God did.

Jewish Atheist said...

Not to mention medicine and all the science behind it.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: Plus didn't you say Sadie that God ignores prayers that don't go along with His plans for us?

What? Show me where I said that. God doesn't ignore prayers, period. You're putting words in my mouth. I think you're talking about when I said God isn't some Giant, Magical, Wishingwell...

..and said on my Blog recently...

Most Christians I know are not deluded enough to think that God hears our "wishes" and makes them come true. That would be demeaning to such a powerful God--to reduce him to some sort of Magic Wishingwell.
The God I know and believe in, hears our prayers and then He does His will. We may or may not receive what we perceive to be our needs.

This is the bit I picked up on: "The God I know and believe in, hears our prayers and then He does His will".

So.. If prayers are contrary to God's Will/Plan... then the prayers (though heard) will not be acted upon - or, in effect, ignored.

That's what I meant.

Sadie Lou said...

JA--
Can you prove the theory of coincidence?

from wikipedia:
Coincidence literally describes two or more events or entities occupying the same point in space or time, but colloquially means two or more events or entities possessing unexpected parallels, such as thinking about someone and then receiving an unexpected phone call from that person, when it is clear that there is no ordinary causal connection.
The index of coincidence can be used to analyze whether two events are related. A coincidence does not prove a relationship, but related events may be expected to have a higher index of coincidence. From a statistical perspective, coincidences are inevitable and often less remarkable than they may appear intuitively.


Nothing about the situation I described with my friend Danny, sounds like coincidence to me--whatever "coincidence" may be.

Cyberkitten--
What you meant and what I actually said, are not related. What I said--in other words--was that God hears our prayers and then His will is done.
What about THAT sounds like God ignores our prayers?

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: Cyberkitten--
What you meant and what I actually said, are not related. What I said--in other words--was that God hears our prayers and then His will is done.
What about THAT sounds like God ignores our prayers?

What I was trying to get at was the difference between God's Will/Plan and our needs or desires that give rise to prayer. What happens when they conflict? When God's plan is different from what people pray for.. From my understanding of what you said you seemed to be saying that God's Plan is paramount and that people cannot pertition Him to change His plans with their prayers. He is not, for example, going to save a life (if people pray for that outcome) if it is part of the Plan that the person dies. Therefore, though He does 'hear' the prayers He choses to not act on them because He has other Plans. Therefore he is ignoring the prayer.

I don't think I can make it any plainer than that.

Sadie Lou said...

*frustrated*
Let's say my daughter asks me every day for a puppy and every day I tell her no. Am I ignoring my daughter's request? Obviously not. Her request was noted and then denied, not ignored.

You are saying that because God doesn't give us our way, He is ignoring us. It just isn't so.

Of course we always pray for the best possible outcome according to how we see things but the Lord knows how to answer our prayers in the way HE sees things--which is better.

EXAMPLE: John prays every day to get the firefighting job he wants so desperately. According to John's perspective, it will pay good and support his family well as well as being challenging for John--which he likes.
John does not get the job.
If John could see into the future--he would see that had he gotten the job, he would have died in a freak accident on the job, leaving his young family behind. It was the Lord's will for John not to die this way.

it would be nice if once in awhile, you could read what I say and try to understand it instead of looking for ways to pick it apart. We'd all do well with a little relenting once in awhile if the comment requires it.
I'd do it for you guys. If you ever make a valid point (which JA has before) I will recognize it as such.
Just wanted to say that.

Jewish Atheist said...

JA--
Can you prove the theory of coincidence?


WTF? Whenever two things happen at the same time, it's a coincidence by the definition you provided from wikipedia. You don't disagree that it's a coincidence, you just think that it's a miraculous coincidence. You made an extraordinary claims -- that prayer caused your friend's recovery -- and I pointed out that you have no reason to suspect causation.

Somehow you give God the credit instead of Ross, the doctors, and all the scientists who made the medicines, the medical procedures, and the medical devices possible.

Religious people prayed to cure disease for millenia with no success and scientists discovered antibiotics and cured hundreds of millions of people within a generation. Jehovah's Witnesses die without blood transfusions even though they pray to live. Medicine works; prayer doesn't. Those are the facts.

Sadie Lou said...

Somehow you give God the credit instead of Ross, the doctors, and all the scientists who made the medicines, the medical procedures, and the medical devices possible.

See, being a believer, I think God orchastrated these events--not Ross or the docs or the scientists. God gives us the ability to invent all this stuff. Do you think there aren't any doctors that credit their abilities to the Lord? Do you think there are not any scientists that believe in God? Do you think Ross isn't a believer? Cause he gives the glory to God, not himself.

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou, you can believe whatever you want, but there's proof that scientists, doctors, nurses, and Ross helped David get better. There's no proof that God or prayer did -- in fact, I gave you an example where people (JWs) use prayer without science and IT DOESN'T WORK.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: *frustrated*
Let's say my daughter asks me every day for a puppy and every day I tell her no. Am I ignoring my daughter's request? Obviously not. Her request was noted and then denied, not ignored.

..and if your daughter was unaware that her request was being deined? If you where unable for one reason or another to adequately respond to her request..? She might certainly feel that she was being ignored..

Sadie also said: it would be nice if once in awhile, you could read what I say and try to understand it instead of looking for ways to pick it apart.

That's what I AM trying to do - understand what you mean. As you can probably tell.. I'm having some difficulty...

Sadie Lou said...

Jehovah's Witnesses die without blood transfusions even though they pray to live. Medicine works; prayer doesn't. Those are the facts.

How do we know that God doesn't think the JWs are silly for not taking advantage of the God-given talent these doctors and scientists have at their disposal? Perhaps He's waiting for them to take advantage of modern medicine? Perhaps He has shown the JWs that they are misinterprting the Bible with their drinking another man's blood confusion? and yet they refuse to change their ways? I don't know what God is doing there.
I'm reminded of that joke with the Christian stranded on an island. A helicoptor stops to save her and she says, no--God will provide
a ship comes by and tries to save her--she says no--God will provide.
a man in a raft floats by and tries to save her
no--God will provide.
Finally she dies and when she's before God she asks why He didn't save her. He says,
I sent you a helicoptor, a ship and a raft...

That's what I AM trying to do - understand what you mean. As you can probably tell.. I'm having some difficulty...
Sorry. At least you're trying.

Random said...

Can I turn this one around, with another thought experiment?

Assume this starts the same way as the first, but this time after the devout believers finish praying the coin stays put, hovering in mid air. At this point, do you -

A) Renounce your atheism and declare yourself a believer in the risen Christ (or the Holy Koran if the Muslims were praying, or Vishnu the Preserver if it was Hindus...), or

B) Denounce the experiment as rigged or a magic trick and start looking for ways it could have been faked, Randi-style?

If, as I strongly suspect, the answer is (b), then how are you behaving any differently to those believers whose faith is not shaken by the original thought experiment?

In other words, just as you would not accept the second experiment as proof of the existence of a deity and of the power of prayer, then why should we accept the first as proof of the absence of same?

Isitmoraltopostanonymously said...

According to Jewish philosophy, materialism and randomness are necessary aspects of our perception of reality, because if God's presence were explicit or measureable it would adversely affect many people's free will. The previous sentence is a simplification. I recommend Maimonides's "Guide of the Perplexed" or the modern, "World Mask" by Rabbi Akiva Tatz. http://tinyurl.com/csxmb