Tuesday, February 09, 2010

What is the Problem with ‘”God of the Gaps?”

Over at Ten Minas Ministries I had a discussion regarding the old complaint of naturalistic bias when skeptics look for solutions. I mentioned the historical incidents where supernatural explanations were given (lightning, season change, disease transmission) as no natural explanation was known at the time, only to have later discovery determine there were natural, non-supernatural explanations.

This generated a response of how theism is not “God-of-the-Gaps” and how naturalism is limiting itself by not looking at all solutions, etc., etc., etc.

It is interesting how the modern theistic apologist disdains “God-of-the-Gaps;” holding their nose with one hand, and holding the argument as far away from them as possible in the other. But in the very next breath, tells us if we have a “gap” in our knowledge, we should consider the possibility of God as a resolution to that gap.

Is it just me, or is that incongruous?

Look, we all draw from a limited number of possible solutions, based upon past study and experience. If I had a fender-bender this morning, and was looking for a solution, I would look first to certain possibilities. I would not consult my astrological chart or horoscope to see its input. I would not consider it a government plot to put location devices on my car at the repair shop. I would not consider it karma for having too rich a dinner the night before.


Isn’t the answer simple?

Because I am not persuaded by astrology. I am not convinced there is a government conspiracy. I do not believe in karma. I don’t look for solutions in things I am not persuaded exist. It seems perfectly understandable why a person who did believe in astrology would look to their horoscope later, searching for possible meaning regarding a traffic accident. It is one tool in their toolbox of solutions.

Likewise theists believe in a God. Many brands of Christianity believe in a God who is extremely and actively involved in worldly affairs. We know this because they pray to this God to provide healing, and safety (from such accidents) and jobs and family and love and….you get the point. We know this because they thank this God for getting the healing, the safety, the jobs, the family…

“God” is a tool in their toolbox of solutions. One only need a few Christian facebook friends who update their status to see just how much they think this God is part of the world. So why wouldn’t they employ a God-of-the-gaps?

Think about it—the Christian believes in this awesome creator, power, infinite, unique being that makes a universe with a blink of a thought. We don’t have a solution to how non-life developed into life. It seems perfectly reasonable for the theist to reach in their toolbox and find a ready-made tool to solve the immediate problem—God. (And yes, this sets the problem back one step, leaving us with other issues. But to a theist, this solves this issue at the moment.)

Why do bad things happen? To a Christian, they can readily use the tool—“God.” To an astrologist—stars out of sync. To a scientologist—bad thoughts. Each use means they believe exist.

What baffles me is when Christians do not understand why I fail to use such a tool for a solution. Hello….”atheist?” In order for me to look for a supernatural explanation, I must first be convinced there IS a supernatural! Imagine a co-worker telling me, “Oh, I know why you had a car accident—I looked at your horoscope.” Why is that not convincing to me? Why is that not convincing to the Christian? Because neither of us believe astrology!

Christians claim we are limiting our options by not looking for supernatural resolutions. Er…so what? Don’t we all do that? Don’t we all limit our options by removing solutions we do not think exist or think so unlikely as to not be worthy of consideration?

With me, many Christians limit their options by removing homeopathy from their toolbox. They go to an M.D. with me. They remove vaccine-deniers. They remove alien interventions and abductions. They remove ESP, new age candles, horoscopes, feng shui, bad karma, dowsing, magnetic bracelets, bag bomb, and hosts of other crazy possibilities from their solutions.

For the same reasons I remove the tool labeled “God.” Now the Christian gets excited: “Wait a minute—you are limiting possibilities.” Yep.

Why should this be a surprise? Remember—The Christian doesn’t like God-of-the-Gaps. The Christian doesn’t like inserting “supernatural” when a natural solution is not currently known. If they find such a solution repulsive…who am I to argue with ‘em?


  1. Considering the possibility that God may fill the gap is not the same as arbitrarily declaring that God fills the gap without any evidence. Even declaring that God is the cause should require some evidence. All the theist is pointing out is that evidence can come from places other than the scientific method.

    You say that you do not look for answers in things that you are not persuaded exist. But that is the point. The naturalistic bias comes into play in the initial decision as to whether or not God exists in the first place. If it did not come into play until afterwards, I would not have a problem. After all, that would give us room to talk. We could discuss whether or not God exists, and as long as you promised not to confine our methodology for that discussion to only the scientific method, then we could have a fruitful dialogue.

    The problem, though, is when skeptics limit themselves to the scientific method in the initial discussion of whether or not God exists. The scientific method was never intended to be used to evaluate supernatural phenomenon. In essense the skeptic is saying, "I am going to evaluate whether or not God exists by using a methodology that due to its functional limitations can never show that God exists." Is that really a fair evaluation? I suggest not. I suggest that it is defining the parameters of the debate so as to ensure a foregone conclusion.

    Since we've already been having this discussion over on my blog, I'll leave it there for now. Thank you.


  2. I don't read your blog, so if you want to have the conversation here as well, I'll participate.

    All the theist is pointing out is that evidence can come from places other than the scientific method.

    Strictly speaking, the scientific method is the method of drawing conclusions from evidence.

    The naturalistic bias comes into play in the initial decision as to whether or not God exists in the first place.

    Not so... or rather depends on what you mean by "god" and "exists". The "naturalistic bias" could possibly exist only if "god" were defined such that its existence could not be concluded from the evidence; if "god" were defined such that its existence could be concluded from the evidence, then there would be no a priori bias.

    There are other rules to the scientific method, but they exist exclusively to address the general problems of drawing conclusions from evidence.

    What do you mean by "god"? What do you think scientists mean by the "scientific method"?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Suppose that we had conflicting reports concerning when or where a particular officer met his death in the battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War. Why shouldn't we consider the possibility that God supernaturally caused that officer to be in two places at the same time? Why shouldn't we consider the possibility that God brought the officer back to life and that he was killed again? Isn't it just our naturalistic bias that leads us to assume that he was only at one place at a time and that he only died once?

    I have never heard any Christian suggest that we must be open to the possibility of the supernatural in any historical inquiry other than inquiries related to events in the Bible. When I do, I will give some serious thought to the possibility that I am letting my naturalistic bias cloud my consideration of the biblical accounts.

  5. Why shouldn't we consider the possibility that God supernaturally caused that officer to be in two places at the same time?

    Remember that most definitions of god (at least the ones that are philosophically problematic) have three parts: god is personal, "outside" the (physical) universe and omnipotent.

    "God supernaturally caused" is problematic, because if God is "omnipotent" then supernatural causation is unfalsifiable: There's nothing logically possible we could observe that could falsify supernatural causation. It's a also possibility that god supernaturally caused the rock to fall to the ground when I dropped it.

    If we take out "God supernaturally caused," we're left with the possibility that the officer was (for some unspecified underlying reason) in two places at the same time. We do consider this possibility, we just don't consider it plausible, because this hypothesis in our ordinary theoretical framework is contradicted by all the other evidence we have. Any hypothesis has to fit all the experimental evidence; taking a subset of the evidence is nothing more than a matter of temporary convenience. To accept this hypothesis about a historical event, we'd have to eventually rewrite all of physics to explain not only how the officer could have been in two places at once, but also why we usually don't see things in two places at once. Invoking supernaturalism to explain the discrepancy doesn't help, because supernaturalism is unfalsifiable, and you cannot apply evidentiary reasoning to unfalsifiable propositions.

    Related to the latter issue is the more general issue of what theories and hypotheses we choose to test (raised by Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Even restricting ourselves to falsifiable theories, there are an infinite number (perhaps even an uncountably infinite number) of falsifiable theories we can test. AFAIK there no way of using transfinite arithmetic to relate the number of theories we do test directly or indirectly to this infinite set of potential theories. (This inability to create a rigorous transfinite relation underlies Carnap's correct critique of Popper's probabilism.)

    There isn't a deductive philosophical proof that the scientific method produces or even probably produces truth or true statements or establishes their truth. But the problem isn't with science, it's with deductive, philosophical proofs.

    The problem really is not that the existence of god is either ruled out a priori (not falsifiable) or ruled out a posteriori (as being incompatible with the evidence) when using the scientific method.

    The problem is that theists have offered no epistemic method whatsoever to agree on the truth of statements about god, at least no epistemic method that doesn't require arbitrarily accepting the existence of god as an premise. Of course by definition there's no way to methodologically come to agreement on the arbitrary acceptance of a premise.

  6. It seems to me that Christianity and Science both start off on the same foot: theory. The Bible 'informs' the beliefs of Christians, the text book the scientist. Both have similar methods available to demonstrate evidence that results in knowledge.

    As a 'scientist,' I read that mixing soda and vinegar will result in a volatile reaction. So I take some vinegar and mix it with soda and can demonstrate to myself and anyone else who is interested that the knowledge in the book is true.

    The book that informs Christianity is full of supposed experiments that were done that proved God. One can read things like "... so you will know there is a God in Israel...." as the premise for the experiment.

    Anyone who has read the Bible is familiar with this, but I'll give a quick example. In I Corinthians 14, Christians are instructed to "prophesy," because "...if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or and ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you."

    My point is, as written in the Bible, evidence that comes from employing the scientific method is time and again given as the reason for belief. If what is written in the Bible is knowledge, then the theist should be able to employ those same methods vs. coming up with "places other" to demonstrate evidence.

  7. A reminder for why I emphasize method—to remove bias impacting the results. We attempt a consistent method to obtain, as close as possible, what is as compared to what we want.

    If you watch the show Mythbusters you will often hear the hosts say, “I really want this myth to be true” or “I don’t think this will work” prior to implementing their tests. Despite their pre-conceived notion, they follow their method to determine results. Some times ending the show with, “I’m surprised because I didn’t think it would work” or “I thought this would pan out, but it didn’t.”

    This is why we state over and over, “What method? What method?”

    Ten Minas Ministries: The scientific method was never intended to be used to evaluate supernatural phenomenon.
    Why not? If a theist claims a God is interacting in this physical plane, causing physical effects—what prevents science from observing, analyzing and making determinations? One could visualize numerous experiments to test the supernatural-hypothesis. Blind tests for prayers to re-grow amputated limbs. Writing one’s name in the stars. In fact, it is claimed the Christian God has utilized such a method before! Judges 6:36-40

    Surely you aren’t saying your God can’t do such a thing; rather that you God won’t do such a thing. At least again.

    The problem is that the scientific method does not confirm the supernatural hypothesis. When we use this method to debunk horoscopes; the Christian nods their head in affirmation. Same method to expose psychics; the Christian agrees. Same method to shred scientology, or even other theistic claims like Mormonism, the classical Christian goes right along. No whines or complaints about skeptics being “biased against astrology, psychics and scientologists.”

    But when we use the same method toward the theists’ cherished belief, and come up with the same conclusion—the Christian cries “Foul!”

    They do this through two primary means:

    1) By placing God where science hasn’t gone—the unknown. This was the point of my blog entry. The Christian claims, “Science doesn’t know—so God is possible” yet contradicts themselves by claiming, “We don’t hold to a God-of-the-Gaps.”

    2) By claiming the scientific method is effectively removing Christian solutions by being “biased” against supernatural solutions. That was the point of your blog entry. This persecution complex is very effective with similarly situated; as they feel similarly oppressed. Not so much for others who see a method in place to remove bias.

    As The Barefoot Bum points out, and I asked on your blog—the Christian doesn’t offer an alternative methodology to make supernatural determinations. A methodology where, like Mythbuster, the Christian may have a preference, but adheres to the method’s results even when those results counter the preference.

  8. Remember too that "supernaturalism" is equivocal. It means "minded" (in some sense) and it means "unfalsifiable".

    There's a clear "hopping from one leg to another" going on.

    On the "left" foot, it's definitely true that science excludes unfalsifiable propositions a priori; it is logically impossible to even probabilistically justify any unfalsifiable proposition through any evidentiary method.

    Hopping to the right foot, since science excludes supernatural (unfalsifiable) propositions a priori, and science does indeed excluded minded (supernatural) propositions, it "therefore" excludes minded solutions a priori.

    Fundamentally, TMM commits the fallacy of four terms, hinging on the two distinct senses of "supernatural" as minded and unfalsifiable.

  9. Very good post, DagoodS.

    Really, why throw into the pool of possibilities an avenue that has proven, so many times, not to be there at all? That's akin to masochism.

    The problem is that if I "find" an easy solution, like "God did it," I may stop looking for the real answer.

    By experience, I know that that's what evangelicals do.

    God did it. I believe it. That settles it. Now, let's move on to find another problem so we can say God solved that one, too.

    That mindset is only good for perpetuating ignorance.

  10. I propose that we test a theory. I observed in the past that when Mr. X was exposed to phenomenon A, he responded with reaction 1. So I want to perform an experiment using the scientific method. I expose Mr. X to phenomenon A again, testing to see if yet again he will respond with reaction 1. But low and behold, this time he responds with reaction 2. When I do the experiment again I observe reaction 3.

    The scientific method cannot test intelligent agents because an intelligent agent can choose to react differently. That is why the scientific method is ill equipped to test claims of supernatural intelligence like the Christian God. That is why there are other disciplines like sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc. It isn't a cop out. It is a common sense limitation of the scientific method. It was never intended to measure intelligent reactions.

    Not a single one of you relies upon the scientific method for every bit of knowledge in your life. Contrary to what the Barefoot Bum said, the scientific method is not simply "the method of drawing conclusions from evidence." Yes, it is one method of drawing conclusions from evidence, but so is philosophy. So is sociology. So is historiography. The scientific method employs experimentation. Therefore, if the question you are investigating is not subject to experimentation the scientific method is useless.

    You do not conduct an experiment to decide whether or not it is probable that you will be struck by a car before you cross the street. Yet you certainly "know" that if you step into oncoming traffic you will end up in the hospital or in the grave.

    Dagoods says the theist does not propose a method. Yet I just proposed an alternative method in our discussion on my blog. I specifically mentioned utilizing the methodology of philosophy, which involves applying inductive or deductive reasoning to agreed premises.

    Sometimes the theist feels like we are banging our heads against the wall. We are told we are not providing a methodology, so we provide a methodology only to hear the atheist repeat the same accusation. We are told that we do not provide any reasons for inserting God but simply arbitrarily assign a "God of the gaps." So we provide our reasons only to have the same accusation repeated over again. We see the atheist repeatedly refusing to accept any methodology other than the scientific method all the while refusing to admit that for the vast majority of knowledge they have arrived at in their lives they did not use the scientific method. Then if we get frustrated by the virtual ignoring of everything we say, the atheist declares triumph by claiming that the theist has no answer for their arguments.

    Repeating the same thing over and over again does not make it true. There is little else I can say to respond to your points other than to say that theists have proposed alternative methodologies over and over again. Ignoring them does not make this any less true. The theist repeatedly provides reasons why they fill these gaps with God. Again, ignoring these reasons does not make your argument true.

  11. Barefoot Bum, theists argue that God's existence can be concluded from the evidence, but there are more ways to draw conclusions from evidence than the scientific method.

    Vinny, I and other theists are more than willing to entertain the possibility of the supernatural playing a role in other historical events if there is evidence to support that conclusion. Could God have resurrected your soldier so that he died twice? Of course he could. But I will need more evidence than merely conflicting reports of where he died in order to draw that conclusion. Unlike your soldier example, we believe that there is compelling evidence of Christ's resurrection.

    It all boils down to this. Do you exclusively rely upon the scientific method for all knowledge of truth in your life? If you examine yourself and answer this question "no", then ask yourself why you are applying a double standard and only examining the question of God's existence through that extremely narrow lens.

    Thank you all.


  12. Ken,

    Sometimes I reason by analogy in order to reach some plausible conclusion about what is true and what is not true.

    You say that you would consider the possibility that my hypothetical soldier was resurrected if there were evidence to support that conclusion, but this is where I think your methodology fails. In order to say that evidence supports a particular hypothesis, we need to have some knowledge of what kind of process might produce a particular kind of evidence. For example, if I were to come across the limbs of a tree scattered about the ground, I might hypothesize that a lightning strike caused the damage. I could look for evidence to support my conclusion based on my knowledge of the natural phenomenon of lightning and the characteristics of objects that have been struck by lightning.

    However, I have no knowledge of the processes that produce supernatural results because they are supernatural and, by definition, do not obey the natural laws that I can observe. I have no body of knowledge based on verifiable miracles that allows me to identify the characteristics of a supernatural event. I have no way to say that any particular piece of evidence is more likely to be the result of a supernatural event than a natural one. The only common characteristic of supernatural events is that they fall into some gap in our present knowledge.

  13. Ken,

    If I wanted to explain the conflicting reports about the death of my hypothetical officer, I can imagine lots of things I might look at. For example, I would want to look at the men who made the conflicting reports to see whether one of them might have some ulterior motive for putting that officer’s death at the particular time and place such as avoiding blame for a failure or taking credit for a success. I would look to see if one of them was in a better position to observe what he reported or whether one of them had a better reputation for reliability. I would look to see whether there was a particular breakthrough at one point or the other that might indicate that a unit lost that officer’s leadership. Everything I would look at would be based on some sort of analogy to other known situations in which there have been conflicting reports about events in a battle.

    On the other hand, I cannot think of any evidence to look for that would make the resurrection hypothesis more likely because I have no body of knowledge of anything remotely analogous to a battlefield resurrection.

    One argument I have heard for the reliability of canonical gospel accounts is the sobriety of the reports compared to the wild tales that appear in the later apocryphal works. However, such arguments assume that we know that sobriety is a characteristic of reliable reports of supernatural events. Unfortunately, without some sample of reliable reports of supernatural events, we have no way to verify that characteristic.

  14. Hi Ken, I'm Larry.

    I propose that we test a theory. ...

    I don't understand what the problem is: you have proposed a falsifiable theory, and it was falsified by observation. Your theory is thus false: Mr. X does not in fact always react as 1 under conditions A.

    The scientific method cannot test intelligent agents because an intelligent agent can choose to react differently.

    Seriously, what are you talking about? We scientifically test intelligent agents all the time: "sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc." are scientific disciplines, albeit relatively primitive because the object of study, the human mind, is considerably more complicated than even biology. (It's seems that too many people in these disciplines aren't very good scientists, which might be an additional reason they seem to progress slowly.)

    Furthermore, if you are going to assert that certain disciplines are indeed substantively different from science, it would be helpful if you described the actual differences. How do psychology, historiography, actually differ from "science"?

    I specifically mentioned utilizing the methodology of philosophy, which involves applying inductive or deductive reasoning to agreed premises.

    The problem, though, is a) this method is not evidentiary b) philosophers never universally agree on any premises, and c) the deductivist method is, if you'll excuse my bluntness, complete bullshit. I don't even have to contradict your premises to make this kind of argument fall apart, all I have to do is express doubt.

    Few philosophers (other than theists desperately searching for clever enough bullshit to "justify" their delusions) even think this particular philosophical "method" is actually epistemic.

    Let me ask again: what do you think the scientific method actually is? What do you think the alternative methodology or methodologies of the disciplines you name actually are, and how do they differ from what you think the scientific method actually is?

    Given that the philosophical method you describe is not evidentiary, what is your alternative evidentiary method?

  15. (Also note, Ken, that I don't read your blog. I'm not offended or irritated when you mention it, but keep in mind that all I personally have to go on is what you write here.)

  16. Merely showing a plurality of "epistemic endeavors" (physics, biology, psychology, historiography, etc.) and arbitrarily naming only a subset of items in that plurality as "science" doesn't help your case at all; it's irrelevant.

    One deeper philosophical point is that we can identify common elements in all the non-theistic epistemic endeavors you mention. It's irrelevant how we arbitrarily label those common elements (I personally prefer "science"); what's important is that theism does not share that commonality, however labeled.

    egardless of what anyone else does about anything, no theistic methodology even comes close to giving us a way to more-or-less objectively come to general agreement about controversial or mysterious propositions. All theism seems to do is move the controversy around. That's not an epistemology, it's a shell game.

  17. Vinny,

    “Sometimes I reason by analogy in order to reach some plausible conclusion about what is true and what is not true.”

    That is an alternative methodology and I applaud you for admitting that you use it. Everything else you have said, though, is a different argument. You are arguing whether or not we have sufficient evidence to input into this methodology to support the theistic conclusion. That is a fine discussion to have and we certainly can have it on another day. But it goes to the merits of whether or not I can support the existence of God using this methodology, not to the validity of the methodology to discover truth. The marketplace of ideas demands that differently minded people engage in discussions like that. What I am speaking about, however, are people who refuse to acknowledge that such methodologies are even appropriate methods to discover truth. You do not seem to be claiming that.

  18. Larry,

    “We scientifically test intelligent agents all the time: ‘sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.’ are scientific disciplines, albeit relatively primitive because the object of study, the human mind, is considerably more complicated than even biology.”

    Yes, they are “scientific disciplines” in the broad sense of that term. However, they generally do not rely upon the “scientific method” as their source for knowledge as do the physical sciences. We are talking about the over-reliance upon the scientific method, not the broad category of “science.” These are not the same thing.

    “[W]hat do you think the scientific method actually is?”

    The same as most science text books. Here are two examples:

    1. Ask a Question
    2. Do Background Research
    3. Construct a Hypothesis
    4. Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
    5. Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
    6. Communicate Your Results

    1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
    2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
    3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
    4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

    Notice that both of these definitions include experimentation. This presupposes natural phenomena because you cannot obtain consistent results from an intelligent agent, as the theistic God is claimed to be. That is precisely why the disciplines that study intelligent agents do not use this methodology. It is ill-suited to their goals.

    Take historiography, for example. We cannot conduct an experiment to determine whether or not Nero truly was emperor of Rome or that Shakespeare really wrote his sonnets. We take information from observation, analogy and logic and apply it to historical data in order to arrive at conclusions. For example, Vinny mentioned reasoning by analogy. He questioned whether or not sobriety is a characteristic of reliable reports of supernatural events. But speaking of Nero and Shakespeare, historians will take what we know about sobriety of reports in our modern day experience (i.e., they are indicators of reliability) and apply it by analogy to sobriety in reports about Nero or Shakespeare, unless they are provided with a good reason why something that applies today should not have applied equally long ago (as a side note I would say the same about Vinny’s argument against sobriety and supernatural events; unless I am shown a good reason why sobriety should not be an indicator of reliability of reports of supernatural events, I would assume it is an indicator just as it is in every other facet of reality; I see no reason to exclude supernatural events; but that is a discussion for another day as again that is getting into the merits of the argument utilizing the methodology).

    Historiography uses a different methodology than biology or physics. I am not talking here about what conclusions are properly drawn from that methodology. I am speaking of the unfortunate tendency of many skeptics to fail to acknowledge that there are more methodologies to be applied to the questions raised by theism than merely the scientific method. In fact, the scientific method is one of the least useful methodologies for these questions.

  19. “Given that the philosophical method you describe is not evidentiary, what is your alternative evidentiary method?”

    I am sure that people in courtrooms everywhere are disappointed to hear that you do not believe the deductive method of reasoning is evidentiary, considering lawyers ask juries every day to deduce conclusions based upon facts with which they are presented. Our entire justice system is based upon this type of methodology. We do not conduct experiments to determine guilt or innocence. We take certain alleged facts, decide which to believe, and make logical deductions from them.

    You are correct that people may not agree on the starting premises, but that again gets to the merits, not the methodology. We can and should discuss which premises are proper and which are not. That is step one in applying the methodology. But the fact that people will disagree about that does not invalidate the methodology. I, for one, believe there are certain presuppositions about life that we simply must accept in order to function in our every day lives, whether we have evidence for them or not (such as the fact that we are not in reality brains sitting in jars on some alien’s shelf). Also, certain premises may be established by the scientific method, but it can only take us so far. But again, that would be getting into the merits of the debate and I am trying to keep us focused on the question of methodology.

    In short, I disagree that deductive reasoning (or inductive reasoning as I already mentioned) is not evidentiary.

    Thank you all for the stimulating and respectfully conversation. You are to be commended for it.


  20. Ken,

    All the methodologies I use depend upon the existence of regular natural laws and processes in order to draw inferences from whatever evidence I have and to assess the probability and plausibility of the inferences I draw. None of them provide me with any tools with which to assess the probability or plausibility of a supernatural being or a supernatural event that is not constrained by any of those laws or processes.

  21. I am sure that people in courtrooms everywhere are disappointed to hear that you do not believe the deductive method of reasoning is evidentiary, considering lawyers ask juries every day to deduce conclusions based upon facts with which they are presented. Our entire justice system is based upon this type of methodology. We do not conduct experiments to determine guilt or innocence. We take certain alleged facts, decide which to believe, and make logical deductions from them.

    With all due respect, I'm unsure whether you're less well-informed about philosophy, logic or the legal system.

    Notwithstanding idiomatic and colloquial uses of the term, deductive reasoning is a well-defined (and narrowly-defined) process in philosophy and logic. We cannot ever formally deduce a defendant's guilt or innocence from the facts in evidence.

    If you are unclear on the fundamentals of what constitutes formal logic and deduction, or if you're unwilling to educate yourself on the subject, I cannot really see what value there is in continuing this conversation.

  22. Seriously, Ken: the legal system as a philosophically deductive process displays as much fundamental ignorance of logic as does, "If people came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys," exhibits fundamental ignorance of scientific evolution.

    (And if you want to assert that you have some philosophical education, my contempt and disdain for university education in the humanities has been on record a long time. I no longer consider even a Ph.D in philosophy to be adequate evidence of basic competence in logic.)

  23. My answer would be way too long for comment section, so I made a new blog entry


  24. Ten Minas Ministries,

    Get outside of your Evangelical bubble buddy, we use the scientific method to test intelligent agents all the time, it is called survey research and it is employed to estimate the economic potential of competing marketing messages against a random sample using historical category norms.

  25. Vinny,

    I thank you for continuing this discussion with respect.


    I wish I could say the same, but unfortunately I cannot. You have committed the ad hominem fallacy of attacking the messenger instead of the message. If you are really interested in debating truth, I would politely suggest that you interact with people who have differing opinions without allowing fire to flow from your fingertips on the keyboard. Otherwise you simply come across as someone who is not willing to entertain the possibility that you could be wrong and simply is looking for a target at which he can launch ridicule. You lose credibility. I know it is difficult in discussions on such sensitive topics as these, and I certainly do not claim to have been perfect in this regard myself. But it is a goal I believe we should all set for ourselves.

    As a practicing attorney of 12 years who has tried countless cases in front of judges and juries (including a relatively extended jury trial coming up on Monday), I can also tell you without one ounce of reservation that you are simply wrong about the legal system. Deductive reasoning is a form of logical reasoning that flows from the general to the specific. It is used every single day in courtrooms. Any one piece of evidence may be too general to point to one particular guilty party or to one particular conclusion, but we combine multiple pieces of evidence using deductive reasoning to arrive at a specific conclusion. If you really believe that deductive reasoning is somehow limited to the realm of philosophy then there is no point to continuing our conversation until you resolve those intellectual issues.

  26. DagoodS,

    I unfortunately do not have the time to devote to yet another line of comments, so I will leave it to you to say what you wish about my arguments. Frankly, with the possible exception of Vinny, it seems like the followers of your blog are largely "yes men" who would rather only interact with like minded folks rather than actually interact on the issues as you and I have done many times in the past, so I really don't see the point anyway.

    Mr. O'Connor,

    The examples you give deal with using the scientific method to draw conclusions about tendencies in large groups of people, not in an individual intelligent agent. That is an important distinction as an individual agent has unilateral power to control the results whereas any one person in a group would not. Also, I would encourage you to try to follow the advice I gave to Larry if you actually want anyone to interact with you. It is a lesson we all should have learned on the playground. If you are impolite to all the other children, you shouldn't be surprised when nobody wants to play with you. If you really want to "play", then treat your opponent with respect. If you are not interested in speaking with respect then you will never truly challenge yourself to determine if your beliefs have a solid foundation.

    In closing, I will point out to everyone one last fallacy in your position. You all seem to operate under the assumption that truth can only be found in what science can test and prove via the scientific method. But that assumption is itself a truth statement. You are arguing that it is "true" that truth can only be found through the scientific method. But that statement itself cannot be proven by the scientific method, so your assumption is self-refuting. This goes to my point that it is a willful decision on your part to narrow the field of possible truths you are willing to consider, not a truly reasonable approach to uncovering all possible truth.

    Thank you all for the discussion. If any of you would like to come visit the Ten Minas blog sometime (TenMinasMinistries.blogspot.com), you are welcome.


  27. Nice talking to you, Ken. Good luck in all your endeavors.

  28. Ten Minas Ministries,

    You said, "If you are impolite to all the other children, you shouldn't be surprised when nobody wants to play with you. If you really want to "play", then treat your opponent with respect. If you are not interested in speaking with respect then you will never truly challenge yourself to determine if your beliefs have a solid foundation."

    Yeah, I see your religion respecting individuals when they look to man the bully pulpit to stop equality under the law (gay marriage). You plead for civility when you align yourself with a theology that advances ignorance as honest scientific inquiry (Intelligent Design) blocks useful science (embryonic stem-cell research) and as a block voted for a man who said his personal relationship with Jesus justified a pre-emptive and endless war (Bush II and Iraq). Don't lecture me on morality son when your ideas show by their intention and consequence themselves to be evil. If we were on the playground I would kick the living shit out of you for being the bigoted dogmatist you are.

  29. Ten Minas Ministries,

    You said, "You are arguing that it is "true" that truth can only be found through the scientific method."

    This is the fallacy of equivocation, look it up.

    You are a dumb ass.

  30. One last thing Ten Minas,

    You equivocate when you try to refute my argument. Communications studies take into consideration discrete specifications to approximate a "target audience". There is a selection process to the sample to better evaluate the stimulus' probable effect on an individual so, you once again show your ignorance (rooted in the group-think of your Christian superstition). I once identified as a conservative Christian Calvinist son so, I know all of your arguments and tricks. I also know that you truly think you are being abused. You are not. You have the First Amendment to protect you but, that isn't enough for your faith and your ilk. You want to extend your reach to all aspects of society and will only feel secure when individual liberty is eliminated for the sake of theocracy. It is why you lie about science and how science works and, why you have yet to offer a competitng methodology equal to the scientific method in reducing epistemic risk.

  31. Ten Minas Ministries,

    After three weeks, five blog entries over four blogs, and a cumulative comment count approaching 50, I am disappointed we were never provided with a simple answer to the first question I asked.

    How does one differentiate when to seek out a supernatural explanation as compared to a natural explanation?

    We discussed scientific method, and you appeared in general agreement as to:

    1) Its terms;
    2) Its lack of substantiating supernatural.

    But when confronted with what alternative method you propose…we never heard anything beyond a broad heading of “philosophical”—which really doesn’t say any method at all.

    I recognize how difficult it can be, discussing in an internet forum where one is outnumbered by those who believe differently. I often pitied Christians who wandered into iidb and each post was answered by 10 skeptics. Tangents grew exponentially. It is easy to speak to a Sunday School where people believe 98% the same as you. Tough when each proposition is questioned.

    Yet here we didn’t wander off—we all focused on one thing: What is this alternate method you propose we use to determine supernatural? It may look as if we are all “yes people”—did you ever think we all asked the same thing because the problem may be in your camp? That because you didn’t provide such a method, we all began to sound the same requesting it?

    I had a small epiphany when reading your comments. It has always puzzled me how a lawyer could remain an Evangelical Christian. I figured they (like me) would apply the same method to their Christian belief and discover they (like me) would realize it could not stand up under the American evidence system. I like discussing with you, in part, because it keeps that wonderment alive. I keep thinking you will turn on the lawyer switch and get it.

    I realize it is not enough. There is more than just applying the same method. I’m like you—I would have thought our legal system uses deduction; thinking in terms of Sherlock Holmes deducing from a series of small clues. The Barefoot Bum made a distinction between “deductive reasoning” and “evidentiary reasoning.” Did you read Larry’s blog entry on evidentiary and deductive reasoning? I read it to understand why he was making the distinction.*

    *to be perfectly honest, I read and re-read it, contemplated on it, and still not 100% certain I could articulate the difference succinctly.

    There is our difference. There is where the similarity of legal training ends and we part ways. I wanted to understand why The Barefoot Bum was insistent. Why did he spend the time to write this much to explain the difference? I don’t care if he labeled it “deductive” or “evidentiary” or “giraffes vs elephants.” (Albeit “deductive” and “evidentiary” have their uses as labels.)

    Yes, I could have stuck my heels in and say, “Dammit, I’ve been a lawyer for ___ years, and have done countless trials and I know what deduction means.” Instead, I was far more interested in what he meant, and learned in the process.

    My epiphany is that being a lawyer is not enough; one must be an empathetic lawyer.

  32. to be perfectly honest, I read and re-read it, contemplated on it, and still not 100% certain I could articulate the difference succinctly.

    In deductive reasoning, you take the axioms/premises and inference rules for granted and deduce theorems. In evidentiary reasoning, you take the theorems for granted, and try to determine the best axioms and/or inference rules.

  33. Whoops. That "Bruce" is me logging in under a different account.

  34. I would have thought our legal system uses deduction; thinking in terms of Sherlock Holmes deducing from a series of small clues.

    This is a case of the... flexibility... of natural language. Remember: Holmes is always correct — he appears to have deductive "certainty" — because Doyle is writing him to be correct.

    Holmes (and Doyle) is a more explicitly accurate when explaining the method in more detail: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

    Drawing on my Law & Order JD (and Night Court Bar Exam), it seems pretty clear that each side of any legal dispute is trying to tell — and sell — a story: how the world was at some previous point in time (when the tort occurred, the crime was committed, the contract occurred), and how that state of affairs "created" or caused to be the evidence presented at trial.

    We can't formally deduce the past from the future, because even given well-known natural laws, the evidence strongly under-determines the past: There are an infinite number of possible pasts that could give rise to a single present. This under-determination is well understood in philosophy and is why naive empiricism fundamentally failed to establish the deductive certainty of scientific inquiry.

    But if we add the criteria of simplicity and falsifiability, we can usually come up with a best explanation. Yes, it's "possible" that the KGB killed the victim and framed the defendant and made it look like a robbery; it's "possible" that the victim was actually a undetected spy. However, we have no reason to exclude the simpler explanation: that the defendant did indeed kill an ordinary person for his money.

    It's even worse when you try to investigate the "supernatural"; in one sense, supernaturalism means we don't know at all the inference rules: Any sort of magic is within the power of an omnipotent being.

    One important evidentiary technique is eliminating the impossible.

    The defendant couldn't have been been at the scene of the crime; had he been there, he couldn't have been seen by a witness a hundred miles away at the time the crime was committed. But why was the victim's blood found on the defendant's shoes? He couldn't have been a hundred miles away.

    But we're completely at sea once we say that we fundamentally don't know the "inference rules", i.e. "natural" laws, i.e. how things in general transform from past to future. We lose not only what is possible and impossible, but even what is probable or even plausible. For all we know, every instant is itself a special, unique creation of an omnipotent deity; the apparent causal connections between past and future entirely illusory, an artifact of our limited and "sinful" human nature. Since all things are possible to a deity, every possible scenario, no matter how far-fetched, is equally probable, equally plausible.

  35. Are you trying to impersonate me? :)


    PS. I enjoyed reading through some of this. Interesting to watch lawyers work.

  36. Mr. O'Connor:

    Thank you for your interest. I will have to keep my comments brief. I have not committed the fallacy of equivocation. To support this argument you would have to claim that propositions can be "true" in different ways under different definitions. It seems ad hoc to me to change the definition of "truth" based upon a desired conclusion. I personally prefer the correspondence theory of truth. I find that the coherence theory is a good test for falsehood, but it cannot be a test for truth because a set of propositions may cohere and yet still be false. In order to advance that I am committing the fallacy of equivocation, you will have to advance two different definitions of "truth" and justify why we should be shifting our definitions. I applaud you, however, for attempting to answer this objection that I raised. I find that often times people simply skip over it and try to shift the direction of the conversation.

    I would also point out that all your attacks on me and Christianity as far as what we allegedly stand for continue to commit the ad hominen fallacy.


  37. DagoodS,

    Again, thank you for your comments. I have answered your question. I will reprint here part of my answer to you from my blog:

    "Who says you have to differentiate? Overall, we don't look for a solely 'natural' explanation any more than we look for solely a 'supernatural' explanation. To do either one would be limiting our possible options for discovering truth like I've discussed. We simply look for an 'explanation' and leave ourselves open to where the evidence may lead."

    You may not agree with my answer. I contend that you have inserted an unjustified assumption into your question; i.e., that we must only look for one or the other. It is similar to the question "Does anybody know that you beat your wife?" To answer "no" is to say you beat your wife but nobody knows. To say "yes" is to again admit that you beat your wife but people do know. What is the person who does not beat his wife at all to do with this question?

    Perhaps you feel that we must somehow decide in advance of our investigation that we will only look for one or the other. I disagree. However, you cannot claim that I have not answered your question simply because I refused to accept your hidden assumption. I will not rehash everything I have already said, but merely refer people to our previous discussion on my blog here.

  38. As for methodology, there is a methodology used by philosophers to arrive at truth and I have defined it at great length (both here and in our conversation on my blog). I also mentioned the methodology used in historiography and even explained how part of it uses reasoning by analogy.

    You may not agree that these are valid methodologies for discovering truth, and that is a good and proper discussion to have (although even the scientist assumes the validity of the historiographical method; scientific progress demands that he or she not repeat all the experiments of past scientists but rather accepts that they in fact showed whay history claims they showed and then attempt to build on them). However, you cannot claim that I have not even proposed alternative methodologies.

    "It has always puzzled me how a lawyer could remain an Evangelical Christian. I figured they (like me) would apply the same method to their Christian belief and discover they (like me) would realize it could not stand up under the American evidence system. ... My epiphany is that being a lawyer is not enough; one must be an empathetic lawyer."

    I have struggled with how best to reply to this without sounding offensive. If I fail, I can only ask your forgiveness in advance. Please know that it is not my intention to offend.

    This comment appears to me to illustrate that ego and pride are a serious obstacle for you. You believed that other lawyers should have the light bulb turn on over their heads because that is what happened to you. You use yourself as the measuring stick for what conclusions a proper legal training should derive. You personally are the measure of truth. When pride and ego enter into the equation, we rarely are truly open to discovering truth.

  39. As for my comment about being a lawyer, my intention was not to come across as saying out of frustration, "I’ve been a lawyer for ___ years, and have done countless trials and I know what deduction means." When personal experience shows the falsehood of a proposition sometimes appealing to that personal experience is the best response that comes to mind. After all, I could not practically bring Larry into a courtroom and show him.

    You ask if I read Larry's blog entry. Of course not. How was I to even know that it existed? Larry did not link to it. He certainly did not explain this fine distinction in great detail in this chain of comments. Somehow because I did not read a blog post that I did not even know existed, or somehow psychically understand the fine nuances that were made in that post even though they were not made here, that means I am not "empathetic"? I am currently preparing some notes for a class in which I cover some of these same methodological issues. Am I to label you as non-empathetic because you do not know the additional material that is in those notes even though I have not posted it here?

    Besides which, whether or not deduction is really used in the courtroom or not is a side issue. The point here is whether we should confine ourselves to the scientific method as a means for discovering truth. I believe such a stance to be self-refuting. Apparently the rest of you do not (although it still seems to me that Mr. O'Connor is the only person to really attempt to refute this argument; all the other posts continue to run down tangents).

    So I simply ask, "Why is it not self-refuting to claim that it is 'true' that the only method to discover truth is through the scientific method"? If that is your belief, how do you know that statement to be true?

    Because of my upcoming trial, I may or may not be able to respond. But if nothing else I leave you all with that food for thought.

    God bless.


  40. How was I to even know that it existed? Larry did not link to it.

    I did link to it in this comment here on TfaS.

    I think too that Dagood was just asking, not chiding you for not having read it. I could be wrong. <shrugs>

  41. Ten Minas Ministries,

    I’m just not seeing the method. Perhaps I am blind, overwrought with sin, or some other malady (joking!). Maybe if I put it in example form, it will help clarify.

    Person A claims a God intervened into our natural world to generate a writing. This claim entails at least two (2) different types of writing in the world; 1) natural and 2) natural + supernatural.

    What method do you propose we utilize to determine either the falsity or verification of this claim with some degree of probability (which will be less than 100%)?

  42. Why is it not self-refuting to claim that it is 'true' that the only method to discover truth is through the scientific method?

    No one actually makes that claim, as evidenced by Dagood's repeated requests for an alternative method.

    Most of us got past the sophomoric problems of self-reference posed by Logical Positivism when we were, well, sophomores.

  43. Larry,

    Thank you for the reference to where you linked to your blog entry. As your link was not in this chain of comments, I had not seen it.

    In regard to your comment that nobody claims it is true that the scientific method is the only method to discover truth, I ask what other methodology you use? If as a practical matter you do not use any other method, then you are in practice at least asserting this statement of truth. So allow me to turn the question around...If you do not only use the scientific method, what other method do you use?

    Your specific example of the divine inspiration of the Bible would be way down the chain of arguments, so let me start somewhere closer to the beginning.

    Take the Kalam Cosmological argument:
    P1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
    P2: The Universe began to exist.
    C: The universe has a cause.

    We can then use this conclusion as a premise in a succeeding argument. For example:

    P1: Any cause ontologically precedes its effect
    P2: The universe has a cause
    C: The cause of the universe ontologically precedes the universe

    P1: Matter did not ontologically precede the universe
    P2: The cause of the universe did ontologically precede the universe
    C: The cause of the universe is immaterial

    Proceeding in this manner you could eventually get to the intelligence of the cause, the infinity of the cause, and even the divine inspiration of the Bible much further down the line. But I think this at least clarifies my point.

    I am not here to argue the merits of each premise in the above arguments. My point is simply that this is the point where we should be discussing, the acceptability of the premises, not the validity of the methodology. You can dispute whether this methodology DOES lead to the conclusion of the supernatural. However, you cannot deny (in my opinion) that it CAN lead to the conclusion of the supernatural. The methodology itself at least allows for that.

    As I said before, we may even use the scientific method to establish some of the premises. But whereas the scientific method can only take us so far, this deductive method can take us further.

    Historiography uses a different method to discover historical truth. To decide whether or not an event truly is historical, historians will look at the various pieces of evidence, be they documentary, archeological, etc. They then apply certain tests to that data, such as looking for multiple independent attestation, enemy attestation, embarassing admissions, time lapse between the alleged event and its recordation, etc. The more of these tests that an alleged event meets, the higher the probability that it is in fact a historical event.

    It is through this method that we decide whether to accept an event as historical. And it is possible using this method that we will find an event that should be considered "historical" that testing through the scientific method tells us should be naturalistically impossible. If you refuse to use anything other than the scientific method to discover truth, you will discard this historical conclusion automatically. You will write it off as impossible because it is not permitted under the scientific method. But if you don't presuppose a naturalistic bias, you will at least entertain the possibility that the historiographical method may have just pointed you to a supernaturally caused event.

    The supernatural is not some mysterious reality that is by definition unascertainable (although I concede that some aspects of it may be unascertainable in practice, but this is due to our limitations, not inherent in the definition). Keep in mind that in Newton's days, many quantum events would have been considered as violations of the "natural" law. If we blinded ourselves to possibilities, we would not accept quantum mechanics, the wave/particle duality of light, etc. An open mind leads to greater discoveries.

    God bless.


  44. There are a lot of things wrong with your statement, but I've already indicated my lack of interest in continuing the conversation, and you seem to lack interest as well. I apologize for getting sucked back in.

    Like I said, it was nice talking to you and I wish you well.

  45. Ten Minas Ministries: Your specific example of the divine inspiration of the Bible would be way down the chain of arguments,… [emphasis added]
    Er…so what? Are you saying this alternate method only works “so far”? What does it matter whether this supernatural claim as compared to that supernatural claim is “way down” or “up top” or “sideways” or…anything. Isn’t the point OF a methodology to consistently broadly address claims?

    Remember, the original concern was skeptic’s bias of using only natural explanation for phenomena. Why isn’t sacred writing part of the phenomena? Why is it the only phenomena Christians want to discuss are those areas outside our current knowledge?

    This is why I keep pointing out God claims are “God-of-the-Gaps.”

    I used the claim of divine writing purposefully. I wanted something tangible. Real writing, made by real people we can actually hold, touch, feel, study, and handle. We skeptics claim these are solely writing by humans. Nothing supernatural about ‘em. Your original concern was that we were limiting “truth” by failing to consider their “supernatural potential explanation.”

    Why is it, Ten Minas Ministries, this alternate method of yours cannot equally be applied to sacred writing as compared to universe origins?

    Curious you only considered my statement to be a claim about your chosen divine writing. It wasn’t. I was considering ALL the competing claims. The Jewish claim regarding their scripture. The Mormon claim regarding the Book of Mormon. Islam’s regarding the Qur’an. Christian Science regarding Science and Health with Key to Scriptures. Hindu regarding the Bhagavad-Gita.

    Even within the Christian claim, there are competing opinions. In the 2nd Century, the Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, and Shepherd of Hermas were considered inspired. Apocalypse of John—maybe yes; maybe no. Which one does your methodology indicate is correct? In the 15th Century, the pericope de adultra and Mark’s ending were considered divine. Alas, they got the axe. In the 17th Century, the Johannine Comma. Now lost.

    What “alternate method” are you proposing we should be using to rid our skeptical bias regarding a natural explanation for divine inspiration? Why is it, instead, you immediately turn to the God-of-the-Gaps with the cosmological argument (more on that in a minute)? Are you saying this alternate method of yours is only good when discussing something unknown? Isn’t that the inherent problem with God-of-the-Gaps?

    Can you show an alternate method regarding sacred writing?

  46. Now to consider what you do want to talk about—Kalam. If I understand what you are saying, you take what science knows now, and since it cannot see before the 1 Planck second, you then use what you term is an “alternate method” of creating arguments to make claims what happened within that second and at the Big Bang.

    The problem here is that Kalam begs the question (assumes God in the first premise), commits the equivocation fallacy (the term “begins” between P1 and P2) and is inconsistent.

    We see the fallacy in your second set of premises when you state, “Any cause ontologically precedes the effect.” You can’t say, “any cause precedes the effect” because this requires time (the word “precedes”) and time initiated at the Big Bang. Therefore the word “ontologically” (state of being) is thrown in, as if this avoids the problem. It does not.

    When the first premise of Kalam states, “Everything that begins to exist, has a cause” the word “begins” is utilized in a chronological sequence. It is used within time. However, in the second premise, “The Universe began to exist” the word “began” is much different, because it is NOT within a chronological sequence. There was not time for the universe to begin.

    It is inconsistent in its application as it claims what we have in our universe, the supernatural must not (time, material. Seriously, how can we claim something that is immaterial exists and acts?) But then claims what we have—logic—it must.

    But to some extent, Ten Minas Ministries, you are correct. This IS, after all, an alternative methodology. Illogical, inconsistent and unpersuasive…but a methodology at that.

    I was hoping for a bit more. I was hoping for a method that WAS consistent, logical and pragmatic. You could have as easily stated, “My method is: ‘Whatever I say is true.’” It is a method. It is an alternative method. It just is not very compelling.

    Finally, your reference to Sir Isaac Newton. exemplifies my original question to your premise. Newton couldn’t figure out why, under his theory, the planets orbited the sun in a flat pattern (like circles on a plate) rather than around the sun like the classic picture of an atom. So Newton figured it must be God holding them in pattern.

    Turns out there was a natural explanation. Not God. Newton just didn’t know it yet. Demonstrating, once again, the God-of-the-Gaps as a failure for a method.