Monday, November 25, 2013

Category Errors?

[This is a reconstruction of a discussion which began on the morning of October 31, 2013, on the Facebook link-sharing platform. All spelling/grammar errors are from the original; we are strictly cut-and-pasting here, with a bit of font adjusting. I reconstruct it here so that I may involve more voices in that discussion, because I'm curious where it may lead...]

Tom Doud via Word On Fire Catholic Ministries
October 31 at 10:12am [shared only with Tom's Friends--hence my efforts here]

Great line from article '
"This is why the new atheists and their army of disciples are committing a category mistake when they confidently assert that scientific advances cause religion to retreat onto ever-shrinking intellectual turf or when they stridently challenge religious people to produce "evidence" for God."
Happy Hallows Eve



  • Jim Miles The next sentence after that quoted by Tom is the one which explains the real problem in the attempt at understanding between atheists and theists: 'No amount of scientific progress can even in principle pose a threat to authentic religion, and no amount of experimental evidence can tell for or against the true God.' This seems to confirm that theists (of the Catholic persuasion, at least) have given up trying to speak to atheists' demand for evidential proof of God's existence. 

    The article assumes, of course, that the Catholic (specifically Acquinas') view of God is unarguably the only correct view, among all possible religions. It's humorous to me that one tiny slice of the pie which we could name "all possible definitions of divinity" can be so self-evidently the 'only correct' view, such that it supposedly makes atheists silly and deluded, and those holding the view from that particular slice the only ones who grasp ultimate truth. One should remember that one man (Acquinas') opinions on God, no matter how many people later agreed with him, remain just that: one man's view of God. He is not God, neither is he evidence of God.

    The author constantly asserts that behind him stands the authority of some large group of 'serious' theists from some group of 'great' religious traditions. As if that's evidence, which of course it isn't. It's only evidence that what atheists assert about agency detection and confirmation bias still operate in the species to create the phenomena of faith and religion.

  • Tom Doud Jim you are missing the point of the article. The atheists have the wrong concept of god vs. God. The fact that one could even point to something in the material world and attempt to claim proof that God doesn't exist is to expose their philosophical error (category error). They are not arguing with Aquinas because they don't understand his God concept. He is not comparing Aquinas' intellect or taking a vote of theists or in some other way saying our experts are better than yours. He is pointing out the fundamental problem is they are like two ships passing in the night. The two groups are not discussing the same thing. This may not always be the case but when an atheist moves from materialist data to make claims regarding the existence of a spiritual God who created the universe it can be shown to be flawed with simple logic. One doesn't have to believe in a transcendent God to be able to see the atheists logic error.
  • William Woodman “Shepherd Book: What are we up to, sweetheart? 
    River: Fixing your Bible. 
    Book: I, um... What? 

    River: Bible's broken. Contradictions, false logistics - doesn't make sense. 
    Shepherd Book: No, no. You-you-you can't... 
    River: So we'll integrate non-progressional evolution theory with God's creation of Eden. Eleven inherent metaphoric parallels already there. Eleven. Important number. Prime number. One goes into the house of eleven eleven times, but always comes out one. Noah's ark is a problem. 
    Shepherd Book: Really? 
    River: We'll have to call it early quantum state phenomenon. Only way to fit 5000 species of mammal on the same boat. 
    Shepherd Book: River, you don't fix the Bible. 
    River: It's broken. It doesn't make sense. 
    Book: It's not about making sense. It's about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about faith. You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you.” Ben Edlund
  • Jim Miles Tom, it still sounds like a kind of accession or abandonment of the argument. To say the equivalent of 'well you don't understand our idea of god/God, thus you can never make an accurate assessment of or claim about Him' seems like avoiding the argument by making yet another baseless claim. There is no logical error in demanding evidence as a prerequisite for believing someone's claims. The more extraordinary the claims, the more extraordinary should be the evidence. And when the answer is a further claim that this demand is just somehow illogical, it seems that the discussion is over, but not because of flaws in atheist logic.
  • Jim Miles Besides, if faith is to be depended upon as a kind of evidence, then you have no good reason for accepting Aquinas but not Mohammed or Buddha or Joseph Smith or any of the many other mutually exclusive faith claims out there. And they cannot all be true. They can all be false. But to claim only one of all of them is true without any stronger reason than culture, upbringing, or preference undermines any use of logic or rational reasoning within that system of epistemology.
  • Tom Doud Jim you are missing the sense of the category error being discussed. If you give me a grant to look for life on Mars and I spend all my time studying the ocean floor I have chose the wrong category. I may have great discoveries but not in the right category. If the atheist starts with the principle that God cannot be discerned by material means alone the the discussion can begin.
  • Tom Doud As regards Aquinas vs. others the Christian claim is different than all other religions in that it is the only one that professes that God himself became man and revealed information. To tell a Buddhist or Muslim that their founder was God would be to insult them. They don't make that claim and we should not either. All faith in science or religion is based on authority. It is the realization that I do not know but will trust an authority and their claim. Putting aside who is telling the truth it is easy to see that if God himself told us something directly it would be better than less direct methods. So Christianity has no choice but to make claims that will come off as superior to other religions because they don't claim to have walked with God and shared meals with him. As far as modes of credibility for the authority of Christian claims they are broad and extensive so will not get into that. The key category questions is discussing how some atheists with some arguments are missing the category. If all that exists is the material world than of course I don't have the language or category to even contemplate a reality outside of that.
  • Tom Lecoq Missionaries and evangelists for atheism. True believers in not believing. Hum...
  • William Woodman But, what if, millions of years ago ET's visited our planet, found a very primitive indigenous hominid (early man) struggling to survive and decided to inter-breed with our ancestors mixing in their own DNA and thereby jump starting man's evolutionary process. We could very well be hybrids from more advanced life elsewhere in the Universe. There is that school of thought, ya know. If true, it makes this discussion moot . . . unless we find some additional ancient scripture hidden in a cave somewhere that accounts for all this.
  • Tom Lecoq Well, William, there is a so called religion that believes that, its called $cientology.
  • William Woodman Don't know nothin' 'bout no "$cientology" and definitely not a fan of Tom Cruise . . . just reporting what I've heard in some quasi theological circles.
  • Tom Lecoq I understand. I do find it very interesting that when you follow physics into the realm of the origin of the universe, you wind up in the realm of creation--everything out of nothing. Nifty.
  • William Woodman I try not to listen to Stephen Hawking too much when trying to buttress my own faith in a Supreme Being and reaffirm the fundamental Christian doctrines and beliefs I grew up with.
  • Tom Doud Tom if you like physics you would love this one: http://www.amazon.com/Modern-Physics.../dp/0268021988

    www.amazon.com
    A considerable amount of public debate and media print has been devoted to the “war between science and religion.” In his accessible and eminently readable new book, Stephen M. Barr demonstrates that what is really at war with religion is not science itself, but a philosophy called sc...
  • Tom Lecoq Thanks for the recommendation.
  • Jim Miles Faith is unreliable as epistemology. Faith is unreliable as a way of knowing things. No evidence is required, just your feelings and opinions and preferences. Science, logic, and reason demands a higher standard than faith. Atheists reject faith as a way of knowing because it is too arbitrary to be accurate. Atheists don't want to just assume that some ancient authority is correct in the extraordinary claims it makes. They want to actually know the things they know! That makes it difficult for believers and atheists to communicate. When either side of the discussion says "I know XYZ...", they both mean very different things, because their epistemologies are radically incompatible.
  • Tom Doud Jim you need to ponder how infrequently humans have certainty even in the category of science. I have done calculus based physics, worked with brilliant people at Dow Chemical and worked with the best eye doctors
    In the world at Bascom Palmer so I am f
    amiliar with science at its best. It is rare in the strictest of scientific endeavors to know something with such certainty that you know it for certain. Even then the greatest thinkers keep an open mind that certainty can change with better info. There was a time when science denied Einsteins relativity as an atheist denies God.
  • Tom Doud Scientists to be good need faith in the authority of the science that came before them. Atheists who reject faith simply do not understand how the human brain works. They use it all the time.
  • Jim Miles To compare the faith that religious believers put in various incompatible ancient writings to the unwillingness of scientists to make claims with certainty unfairly elevates faith claims to the high standard of evidence required for scientific progress

    Faith is a failed epistemology. Faith is believing even when evidence is lacking or contradictory. “'Faith' is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief, but ...just goes ahead and believes anyway, " (Peter Boghossian). Faith must militate against the progress of knowledge in order to remain viable to the individual attempting to believe the unbelievable. Faith is "pretending to know things you don’t know," (ibid), for example when the faithful just 'know', despite overwhelming contradictory evidence, that Earth is the center of the Universe, or that witches cast evil spells and fly about at night, or that natural disasters are really acts of God, or that abstinence is the best national policy to control disease and overpopulation. 

    Science and atheistic materialism have been very successful in driving the advances of knowledge responsible for the progress being made in many endeavors beneficial to the health and prosperity of humanity. By restricting itself to measurable sensory data in the material world, science has found a method for utilizing the work and talent of multiple languages, generations, and disciplines. 

    Pretending to know what you don't know or ignoring evidence (i.e. exercising faith) has nothing to do with scientific endeavors. A believer who participates in or comments about scientific research might prefer to force their faith into some semblance of compatibility with science. But the science itself remains a purely empirical enterprise. 

    While it can be granted that a particular scientist might begin study of a certain topic relying on the authority of previous scientists' work in that field, they do not have "faith" in their predecessors' data, theories, or conclusions. They have examined the many forms of evidence documented by those predecessors for themselves, and decided to pursue it further. 

    In fact, a critical task of later generations of scientists is attempting to expose the weaknesses in the research of colleagues. Peer review is one application of this obligation to remain skeptical about the claims of other scientists, especially when their claims are extraordinary or supposedly "ground-breaking." As soon as the scientist makes what they perceive as a "great discovery," their first, best instinct is to turn to their peers and sincerely beg them to prove them wrong. If, after rigorous review their discovery stands up to scrutiny, they can enter it into the books as one more building block of "what we know about the world." 

    That is a stark difference between religion and science: to make credible claims about the world, science requires observable evidence, and theories must be falsifiable, and survive rigorous review by skeptical peers. If "faith" were ever to creep into the process, it would be rightly treated as the toxic contaminant that it is. However, if the faithful prefer to believe unscientific claims such as young Earth creationism, intelligent design, or the efficacy of prayer, they only need to select their preferred ancient 'spiritual' writings, cobble together a homily's worth of vaguely related statements, and a group of fellow believers who will say "Amen!" And that is good enough for them. 

    Can you imagine any progress if science really did make any use of faith? In the reality-based, observable, measurable world, faith is more like pretending, or fantasizing, or wishful thinking. In other words, it is useless as a lens through which to accurately discover what the world really is like.
  • Tom Doud Jim here are my responses in the following posts:“To compare the faith that religious believers put in various incompatible ancient writings to the unwillingness of scientists to make claims with certainty unfairly elevates faith claims to the high standard of evidence required for scientific progress. 
    Faith is a failed epistemology. Faith is believing even when evidence is lacking or contradictory. “'Faith' is the word one uses when one does not have enough evidence to justify holding a belief, but ...just goes ahead and believes anyway, " (Peter Boghossian). Faith must militate against the progress of knowledge in order to remain viable to the individual attempting to believe the unbelievable. Faith is "pretending to know things you don’t know," (ibid), for example when the faithful just 'know', despite overwhelming contradictory evidence, that Earth is the center of the Universe, or that witches cast evil spells and fly about at night, or that natural disasters are really acts of God, or that abstinence is the best national policy to control disease and overpopulation.”
    Jim here you are pretending there are two species of humans (the religious and the atheist) and their brains work different. We are all the same. What one claims to know falls on a continuum from opinion (no evidence) to faith (trust in authority) to rock solid proof (as in I can show you the lab reports to verify I have done the actual scientific testing and it is repeatable). This is true for all humans. No group has a monopoly on illogical assumptions. You throw out supposed examples of ignorant Christian beliefs that shows are full of hatred to Christians or just don’t know history well. (We don’t know for sure if Copernicus ever joined the priesthood but we know he was a deeply religious man, the other comments just strike me as nonsense.)
    “Science and atheistic materialism have been very successful in driving the advances of knowledge responsible for the progress being made in many endeavors beneficial to the health and prosperity of humanity. By restricting itself to measurable sensory data in the material world, science has found a method for utilizing the work and talent of multiple languages, generations, and disciplines.”
    Science produces nothing by itself, it is a tool that humans use. That would be like saying screwdrivers built western civilization. Atheistic materialism has brought some of the worst ideas. An example here is Hitler following the Eugenic principles (well accepted for a short time by the best and brightest scientists) and promoted by Kellogg and other crazy people. The scientific method came out of the west because they believed in a universe rationally created and looked for universal laws of nature. The Chinese, Greek and many other cultures believed in a cyclical nature and did not look for universals. The church created the modern university and hospital and gave birth to the scientific method.
  • Tom Doud “Pretending to know what you don't know or ignoring evidence (i.e. exercising faith) has nothing to do with scientific endeavors. A believer who participates in or comments about scientific research might prefer to force their faith into some semblance of compatibility with science. But the science itself remains a purely empirical enterprise.”
    Faith has nothing to do with ignoring evidence. Just the opposite, the Christian is to expect eternal death of guilty of bearing false witness without repentance. Truth is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No serious Christian can ignore evidence or pretend. As St. Paul says if there is no resurrection we are all fools. 

    “While it can be granted that a particular scientist might begin study of a certain topic relying on the authority of previous scientists' work in that field, they do not have "faith" in their predecessors' data, theories, or conclusions. They have examined the many forms of evidence documented by those predecessors for themselves, and decided to pursue it further. “
    This would mean that they would have to repeat all previous experiments and have firsthand data showing they have proved the old science true. Rarely happens in the real world.
    “In fact, a critical task of later generations of scientists is attempting to expose the weaknesses in the research of colleagues. Peer review is one application of this obligation to remain skeptical about the claims of other scientists, especially when their claims are extraordinary or supposedly "ground-breaking." As soon as the scientist makes what they perceive as a "great discovery," their first, best instinct is to turn to their peers and sincerely beg them to prove them wrong. If, after rigorous review their discovery stands up to scrutiny, they can enter it into the books as one more building block of "what we know about the world." “
    This was exactly the method employed by Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. In addition, there have been many good reviews of peer reviewed literature showing much of it is junk. There is a lot of junk science like AGW and the notion that saturated fat causes heart disease. What is good in science and religion is anything that moves knowledge to a more comprehensive truth. In religion when you have many groups changing the teaching over the years it is easy for outsiders to question its value. If you have a body that is full of sinners yet has taught the same thing for over 2000 years there is no room for that criticism. The beauty of the Catholic church is that it only gets stronger when attacked. St. Augustine taught to be thankful for heretics because it requires the church to more precisely explain the faith. 
    “That is a stark difference between religion and science: to make credible claims about the world, science requires observable evidence, and theories must be falsifiable, and survive rigorous review by skeptical peers. If "faith" were ever to creep into the process, it would be rightly treated as the toxic contaminant that it is. However, if the faithful prefer to believe unscientific claims such as young Earth creationism, intelligent design, or the efficacy of prayer, they only need to select their preferred ancient 'spiritual' writings, cobble together a homily's worth of vaguely related statements, and a group of fellow believers who will say "Amen!" And that is good enough for them.”
    Nice straw man argument and would apply to fundamentalist knuckle heads. It does not pertain to serious men of the Christian faith who hold up all the values of good science as great and helpful to the common good. I am a strong supporter of science and only have issues with those who would use it to kill innocent people. 

    “Can you imagine any progress if science really did make any use of faith? In the reality-based, observable, measurable world, faith is more like pretending, or fantasizing, or wishful thinking. In other words, it is useless as a lens through which to accurately discover what the world really is like.”
    Science uses faith all the time. You need to think about how silly the world would look if this were not the truth. It would look like the movie Ground Hog Day. Men do not go around questioning everything in their life until they can get a multicenter double blind study done. Nobody would be able to do anything. We would spend all our lives trying to “prove” things that have been figured out by other men. Instead we trust their proofs based on their authority. As far as fantasy and pretending that is just as much the case for the atheist. If one finds it easier to reject the Gospel so they can believe what they want and live their life however they wish that will allow them more comfort and fantasy if you will. What is required is to truly answer the question honestly who was Jesus Christ and not hide behind the straw man of some stupid story of a medieval cleric gone mad. Jesus was a liar and a lunatic or he was God who revealed deeper truths than science can ever reach. You can fantasize or pretend regardless of how you answer that question.

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