Debunking the new atheism

For some strange reason, I subscribe to a few atheism blogs. Lately I’ve added Debunking Christianity to the list, although I’m not sure how long it will stay; I’ve been largely bored and unimpressed with level of writing and thinking there. But, just when I thought I’d never agree with John Loftus on anything, he surprises me by doing a thoughtful review of John Haught’s new book, God and the New Atheism.  Here’s an interesting excerpt from Loftus’ post, in which he agrees with some of Haught’s criticisms:

As a theologian and philosopher of science, Dr. Haught effectively dismantles what I consider to be a few naïve understandings of the new atheists regarding faith and the scientific method. It’s a common mistake that applied and theoretical scientists unaccustomed to understanding the philosophy of science make. Is faith a belief without evidence? No. Do scientists come to their conclusions based solely on the evidence? No.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the new atheists, since I truly appreciate the impact they have had in raising the level of awareness for skeptics, but Haught is correct here, if in fact that’s what they think. Anyone who has seriously looked into the philosophy of science and read Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, Ian Barbour, Frederick Suppe, Paul Feyerabend, and even Karl Popper knows that science is not completely objective, that facts are theory laden, and that certainty as a goal is impossible to achieve, which leaves room for faith. Popper, for instance, talked of science progressing by “conjectures and guesses.” Feyerabend even argued that there is no such thing as the scientific method! Scientists themselves are people with passions, prior commitments, and/or control beliefs. In fact, there are many beliefs we have for which we have no evidence, as Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued–such things as I’m not dreaming right now, that I’ve existed for longer than 24 hours, that I am not merely a brain in a mad scientist’s vat which is being caused to remember the events of today in the year 2030, or that we’re not all living in something depicted by the movie the Matrix.

Granted, he doesn’t agree with most of Haught’s thinking, and I’m the last person to try to imply that. However, I’m impressed with Loftus’ intellectual integrity here, something which does indeed distinguish him from the crowd.  At least in this post.

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    10 Responses to “Debunking the new atheism”

    • Samuel Skinner Says:

      Why does it mater? Even if the world doesn’t exist, WE feel it. We need to understand it if we wish to live our lives in it.

    • John W. Loftus Says:

      Samuel, I checked out the link you provided and read with interest the last section on “The Matrix: where it said:

      The people who promote this point-of-view point triumphantly to the fact that it cannot be absolutely, irrefutably disproven. However, this argument hinges upon the assumption that if something cannot be absolutely, irrefutably disproven, then it is actually a reasonable theory. It is an understatement to say that this is false, because nothing can be absolutely, irrefutably disproven. One might as well ask if we actually a bunch of talking fleas living in Santa Claus’ pants and deluding ourselves into thinking we’re human.

      This is partially true. The point of the analogy to the matrix is based on the assumption that it could possibly be true. If it’s possible then we can’t be absolutely sure. Take for example George Berkeley’s idealism, where he claimed there was no material world. A century of thinkers agreed with him. Is it possible there is no material world? Yes. Have you heard the arguments. Again, they persuaded a century of thinkers. Look it up.

      Cheers.

    • me Says:

      I simply hate that “weakness of logic” talk

      Yes, I expect that you do.

    • Samuel Skinner Says:

      “A couple of very quick points. You say “Your strawman is the assumption that since scientists are flawed, so are there results. I don’t believe that I’ve ever argued that, and certainly not here.”

      “and that certainty as a goal is impossible to achieve, which leaves room for faith.”

      You listed it as a statement you supported. The statement declares that science scienctists are flawed there results are flawed enough for faith to leak in. You ARE imlying that their results are flawed because they are flawed, otherwise, what would the point of saying all that be?

      Occam’s Razor is well described here
      http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Occam.html
      We are using the same definition, no? That when two explanations are equally predictive, the simpler one is prefered?

      “You also state, “The first sentence is false- that is the definition of faith,” responding to Loftus’ statement, “Is faith a belief without evidence? No.” All you’ve done is restate an incorrect definition of faith that is not being used by either me or by Loftus.”

      Sadly I am constrained by the dictionary and what people actually use in their lives. The only alternate version is “trust” which doesn’t apply in this case due to the fact that it has no bearing on something existing. If you have a redefinition, state it.

      As for conraryness… I simply hate that “weakness of logic” talk. Logic isn’t useful if the premises are false! That is what reason is all about! A huge number of people are logical, but few are reasonable. A good example woud be the Catholic Church, which tends towards the logical once you accept their initial premises. Rational? Not in a billion years.

    • me Says:

      Samuel, you appear to be quite the contrarian.

      A couple of very quick points. You say “Your strawman is the assumption that since scientists are flawed, so are there results. I don’t believe that I’ve ever argued that, and certainly not here.

      You don’t seem to understand Occam (or Okham, but not Occum).

      You also state, “The first sentence is false- that is the definition of faith,” responding to Loftus’ statement, “Is faith a belief without evidence? No.” All you’ve done is restate an incorrect definition of faith that is not being used by either me or by Loftus.

    • Samuel Skinner Says:

      Hi. I’ll hit the comments first.

      ” I also get a bit tired of atheists who think they can be perfectly rational when you know as well as I that nobody can be perfectly rational. I think that in the characters of Spock and Data, the atheist Gene Roddenberry was trying to remind us that there is no such thing as perfect rationality.”

      Those were the worst examples of “rational individuals” I have ever seen. Lets be honest- alot of their behavior? Not rational. For example, Spock insists on exact units when orbiting planets… except that the distance will be constantly changing. Or Data assumes that Vulcans cannot lie… because they say they don’t. Or… honestly, they are more IRRATIONAL than the other characters- Galileo 7 is an excellent example.

      As for people being entirely rational… the autism spectrum comes to mind. More relevantly, people can be not wholy rational AND only have rational beliefs. It just requires thought.

      Gene is also not exactly a shining example of reason- he dumped the American jingoism with TNG… and replaced it with the most obnoxious communist state imaginable. Here- I’ll let so one else do the rant.
      http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Trek-Marxism.html

      “Yes, scientists have faith, but it is not the type of faith that you and Loftus characterize. It is a faith that no matter how many digits a computer will take the calculation of pi to, it will always prove to be an irrational number. It is a faith that the Sun is not shrinking so fast that the time-frame needed for evolution is impossible. It is a faith that someday experiment will replicate the conditions of the Big Bang. It is a faith in human ingenuity. It is a faith that even the tightest theory may someday be completely disproven. Even evolution. Darwin’s original theory is now nearly useless to science except as a historical artifact and a lesson how years of observation and the testing of data sheds new light on how things work.”

      Uh no. Pi has been proven to be an irrational number (in math it is possibleto prove things with 100% certainity), the Sun is expanding and we can observe it, we CAN’T replicate the big bang (we can model it, but replication is impossible- unless you have a universe stashed on you), scientists know that there are certain things that are impossible (perpetual motion machine) and have confidence in well done theories (Newton’s wasn’t disproven- it was incomplete!) and Darwins theory is STILL the foundation. It isn’t used much because they use the math that was built of it.

      “You also write, “You continue to setup this straw-man version of science…” What straw man is that? If I mischaracterize science, it’s unintentional. ”

      Your strawman is the assumption that since scientists are flawed, so are there results. It is worth noting that science isn’t based on the individual- it is cumulative. It seeks to try to strain out the errors of individuals through repetition and skepticism.

      An example would be history, a subset of science. Although it is filled with problems, agendas and a host of problems and the like it has improved in the accuracy and depth of its knowledge. Trust me- I read a 1890s history book.

      “When I say that “God is not an explanation,” the simple point I am making is that when you say that “God is no longer necessary to explain the way the universe,” that says absolutely nothing about the existence of God. If “God” was just a competing theory, that’s one thing; however, that’s not the case. You can not “rule out” God simply by presenting material explanations for things.”

      Occum.

      “For some strange reason, I subscribe to a few atheism blogs.”

      I recomend Daylight Atheism (to see sophistication), Arizona Atheist (to see how atheism and irrationality aren’t exclusive) and Stardestroyer.net (which has some of the blackest humor you will ever see
      http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?t=127020).

      “Is faith a belief without evidence? No. Do scientists come to their conclusions based solely on the evidence? No.”

      The first sentance is false- that is the definition of faith. The second is true- not all scientists are rational. Outside of the CCCP they have to use rational reasons to advance their theories, although they are occasionally picked up for aesthetic reasons (helocenticism).

      “knows that science is not completely objective, that facts are theory laden, and that certainty as a goal is impossible to achieve, which leaves room for faith. ”

      So is the criminal justice system, only more so. Amazingly enough, we don’t use faith in their. Or, to be blunt- just because we don’t have all the puzzle pieces doesn’t mean we can claim to know what the remaining pieces are because we want it to be so.

      “Popper, for instance, talked of science progressing by “conjectures and guesses.” Feyerabend even argued that there is no such thing as the scientific method!”

      Well, given they don’t know the answers in advance, that is how you would HAVE to advance. As for there being no scientific method… every single science textbook disagrees with that. There may not be a standard version, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

      “Scientists themselves are people with passions, prior commitments, and/or control beliefs.”

      And yet, amazingly, science advances.

      “In fact, there are many beliefs we have for which we have no evidence, as Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued–such things as I’m not dreaming right now, that I’ve existed for longer than 24 hours, that I am not merely a brain in a mad scientist’s vat which is being caused to remember the events of today in the year 2030, or that we’re not all living in something depicted by the movie the Matrix.”

      I don’t hold those beliefs. I actually don’t care. Why should my life be any differant if none of this is real? It is worth noting this can’t be the Matrix- robots would simply kill humans instead of using them as batteries. That is what actual batteries are for. And no person would make such a world- it is like Red Mage’s observation (it can’t be natural, a good God wouldn’t do that and an evil one would simply make the air out of acid… WHY?).

      Such questions are unprovable and lead to soplism… which is rather unhealthy because it leads to other people thinking (with justification) you are nuts. Trust me- the world does NOT revolve around you. That distinction belongs to Donald Trump. Or Hugh Hefiner.

    • me Says:

      John, You’re welcome. I haven’t read your book, but will add it to my list.

      Mike: I, too, would like to hear you develop the above statement. How do you distinguish between scientific faith and, say, the Christian faith? And, what about faith in the scientific method itself?

      You also write, “You continue to setup this straw-man version of science…” What straw man is that? If I mischaracterize science, it’s unintentional.

      When I say that “God is not an explanation,” the simple point I am making is that when you say that “God is no longer necessary to explain the way the universe,” that says absolutely nothing about the existence of God. If “God” was just a competing theory, that’s one thing; however, that’s not the case. You can not “rule out” God simply by presenting material explanations for things.

    • John W. Loftus Says:

      Mike said…Yes, scientists have faith, but it is not the type of faith that you and Loftus characterize.

      Why do you say this? Did you read my whole post on the matter?

    • Mike Haubrich, FCD Says:

      It’s probably his intellectual integrity which turned him from a preacher to being an atheist in the first place. I read his biography, and while it is not all that well-written he does reveal the weakness inherent on trying to decipher the Bible and use it as an effective tool or guide for life. Everyone can take from it what they want.

      If you have read it, he talks about a church board meeting following his admission of guilt in an extra-marital affair. He had his champions and his opponents at that meeting, and they looked to the New Testament for guidance before they voted to remove him as pastor. Both camps used the same passage of scripture to make directly opposite points, and he says that both camps were able to make persuasive arguments without changing the language (which, in fact, has been changed many times due to political expediency or carelessness.)

      And yet, we continue to hear claims that the scriptures are whole and inviolate. Scientists have all the weaknesses and frailties that anyone else does, and so they work to find objective means to peel back the layers of how nature works. They use guesses and conjecture to find possible solutions to their questions and then they test them, not to prove them but to disprove them.

      Yes, we all tire of overblown rhetoric and claims that something has been “proven beyond the shadow of a doubt by science,” especially because the people who make those declarations should know better. I also get a bit tired of atheists who think they can be perfectly rational when you know as well as I that nobody can be perfectly rational. I think that in the characters of Spock and Data, the atheist Gene Roddenberry was trying to remind us that there is no such thing as perfect rationality.

      But that is why science is so useful, because in the long run it doesn’t depend on the opinions of any individuals; it is always subject to change based on new information and new interpretations of data. It is a process, and not a God. It has been invented by humans, and is always in a process of being fine-tuned. It has been far more useful in explaining how nature and the universe work than religion ever was or has been.

      Does Dawkins overstate his case on occasion? Yes. Does that mean that everything he says is invalid? Of course not. The same goes for PZ, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett. The key point in all of their writings is that God is no longer necessary to explain the way the universe is, and that was a key hold that religion used on doubters up until Darwin and Wallace unlocked the mystery of natural selection.

      From there the walls continued to crumble on God being the explanation, at least the manner of God as taught by religion. You quibble and say “God is not the explanation, God is the CAUSE,” which distinction I must be too thick to grasp. Even long before Darwin, clever observers knew that the species were not immutable, and yet there are still those who deny this obvious observation. Because it conflicts with their religion. Kurt Wise, who should know better chooses to ignore his observations in favor of his belief.

      Yes, scientists have faith, but it is not the type of faith that you and Loftus characterize. It is a faith that no matter how many digits a computer will take the calculation of pi to, it will always prove to be an irrational number. It is a faith that the Sun is not shrinking so fast that the time-frame needed for evolution is impossible. It is a faith that someday experiment will replicate the conditions of the Big Bang. It is a faith in human ingenuity. It is a faith that even the tightest theory may someday be completely disproven. Even evolution. Darwin’s original theory is now nearly useless to science except as a historical artifact and a lesson how years of observation and the testing of data sheds new light on how things work.

      You continue to setup this straw-man version of science, aided and abetted by some of the excesses of the New Atheists (including a certain New Atheist from your hometown) and then knock it down as if that proves something. I hope that you listen to Atheists Talk next Sunday, October 5th. My guest will be a theistic evolutionist who does real science, and I will be challenging him as a friend to defend his position.

    • John W. Loftus Says:

      Thank you! This means a lot to me. I want to be fair and level-headed with the arguments.

      You ought to get and read my book then, because I repeatedly do the same things in it. I do not misrepresent the arguments I deal with in it. That best explains why Norman Geisler, James F. Sennett, and Mark Linville–all evangelical apologists and philosophers–recommend it.

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