Monday, December 04, 2006

Mark this date on your calendar ....

... for it is the day the Failed Intellectuals Society was born: A Historic Moment: Birth of the FIS .
I have gratefully accepted Bryan's designation as vice president and, as I told him, will do all in my power to live up to the honor. As you can see, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud - outstandingly failed intellectuals - have already joined up. I'd like to say come one, come all - but it's not that easy. We have standards.


  1. There's a place for us,
    A time and place for us.
    Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
    Hold my hand and I'll take you there
    Some day,

  2. Anonymous12:46 PM

    I posted this in another thread but realize it fits better here:

    Why celebrate failure? Curiosity is a part of human nature and that's really what science is about - satisfying our curiosity, honestly.

    And just to throw a little fat on the fire, here's something you might be interested in.

  3. It's called, Noel, not taking yourself too seriously. Bless me, are the "rationalists" among us becoming humor-challenged?

  4. Anonymous3:39 PM

    Beats being cerebrally-challenged! I'm kidding, of course.

  5. But it doesn't. Loss of a sense of humor- especially about oneself - is severely crippling. At any rate, cerebrally challenged is what we Failed Intellectuals are all about.

  6. Anonymous5:00 AM

    I agree, but think you can laugh at yourself without considering yourself a failure. Believing you're a failure suggests giving up. Why celebrate that?

    The truth is that it is difficult to defend a closed-minded point of view. The reason I like science is that there are no limits. Everything is open to inquiry.

  7. I think you're being more than a tad literal-minded here, Noel. For one thing, in celebrating our "failure" Bryan and I have our tongues planted firmly in our cheeks. But one could also point out that failure is a part of life and some failures can be glorious. So why not celebrate it? Better to fail nobly that win ignobly. Thermopylae was in a sense a failure - but it is the defeat we honor, not the Persian victory. I think - if I may be so bold as to suggest it - that you like science because its "certainty" conveys a sense of security in a world that really doesn't offer much at all. Me, I much prefer the risk of uncertainty. And I think science's certainty is one that is actually rather limited. You seem to posit science against all other forms of knowledge and experience - which seems pretty limited and rather close-minded to me. Though I must be missing something.

  8. Anonymous1:30 PM

    So which is it - your tongues are planted firmly in your cheeks or you're genuinely celebrating your own failure? It sounds like you're trying to have it both ways.

    What is celebrated about the Battle of Thermopylae is the courage of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan soldiers (along with a few hundred volunteers) who made an heroic "last stand" against the mass of the advancing Persian army. We do not celebrate King Leonidas declaring himself a failure and giving up, in good humor or not. The Persians suffered very heavy losses at Thermopylae. I think it was far more of a success than a failure since had it not been for the courage of those men, the rest of the Greek army would not have managed to escape and ultimately defeat the Persians one year later at the Battle of Plataea.

    If you're going to try defending failure, you might want to pick a better example. ;)

    I like science for the reason I've given: there really are no limits to science; everything is open to inquiry. I'm not sure how that can be considered closed-minded. Saying you subscribe to some form of supernaturalism looks closed-minded to me because it involves believing whatever you want to believe, or were taught to believe, without being able to provide what could be reliably called evidence to support your beliefs. It's the easy way out, though when you say you "much prefer the risk of uncertainty," it suggests you are an agnostic. I agree it's impossible to prove the existence or non-existence of God, but this doesn't mean one view is as equal as the other. You cannot ignore the "shading of probability." It comes down to what you think is the truth and why you think it. If your knowledge and experience of the supernatural is genuine, please share it with us. I'm curious to know what your beliefs are based on.

  9. Why would being open to the possibility of the supernatural be close-minded? And why can you not grasp that "celebrating one's failure" is precisely what we have our tongues in our cheeks about - and that, as a corollary, one could could seriously celebrate noble failure? It seems to me that in all these instances, I have chosen a wider range of options than you have. As for experiences of the supernatural, I have certainly had a few experiences that were, shall I say, distinctly uncanny. But I don't like to talk about them. And I am not trying to convert you to anything. I have all along been suggesting that views other than yours may be broader than yours and certainly are not deserving of dismissal on the basis of a narrowly conceived rationalism. As for Themopylae I plan to writing about it in the next few weeks, so I'll save that.

  10. Anonymous4:08 PM

    I look forward to reading it.

    Being open to possibility of the supernatural is not closed-minded, but I think it suggests agnosticism which I notice you haven't denied. Believing in the supernatural without evidence to support your beliefs is closed-minded because it causes you to shut your mind off to the possibility of rational explanation. It’s a big world and an infinitely large universe. Why limit ourselves – there is no need.

    I'm wondering if you aren't partly serious about declaring yourself an intellectual failure as a way to justify your beliefs in supernatural powers. Because we don't currently understand everything, we declare defeat and celebrate giving up. The path is then clear to surrendering your mind to whatever concoction of supernaturalism you fancy.

    While I can grasp the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the FIS, I'm missing the noble aspect of your 'failure'. I think failure is failure and it doesn't make a blind bit of difference if it's noble or ignoble. They don't teach you that in Sunday school, but there it is. The example you put forward to support the idea of a noble failure, the Battle of Thermopylae, was in my view more of a success than a failure.

    Saying you have chosen "a wider range of options" than I have begs the question, how? I'm not asking you to convert me to anything. I'm only asking you to give us your reasons for your supernatural beliefs because I'm curious to know more. You decline. I've given you my reasons for 'believing' in science. I'm not dismissing anything at the moment since there's nothing to dismiss. You haven't told us anything, other than you don't like to talk about your experiences, whatever those experiences were. You're taking the easy way out, Frank.

  11. I have a review to write, but let's just take a look at one thing - the notion of a noble failure. I think most people understand perfectly well what I mean. Unless you are one of those persons for whom winning isn't everything - just the only thing. The boxer that loses the fight is just a loser. Makes no difference that he fought exceedingly well, nearly won, was simply edged out by points. He lost. That's that. Screw him.
    So much for all the failures scientists have faced day after day in their experiments, learning something from each, enabling them to achieve success at last. Good thing they didn't share your strictly either/or, failure is failure point of view, Noel.
    I didn't, by the way, say that you had asked me to convert you to anything. What I said was that I was not trying to convert you to anything. But what is the point of adducing evidence to you for anything that your heart is already set against? A rather brilliant scientist I met years ago, an Englishman and Oxford grad, I think, told me a most uncanny story. He was hunting with girlfriend's dog. She was in another city about 100 miles away. She and the dog were exceedingly close. An accident happened: The dog took a shotgun blast to his chest and was instantly killed. At the exact same moment it seems, Katherine, the girlfriend, suffered chest pains so severe that she had to be taken to the hospital. I asked if there was anything from what we know about the nature of the physical universe that would go to explain this. I remember Peter telling me it was a very good question and that he was uniquely qualified to answer it. He thought for a long moment. Then he said, "No." But it did happen. You, I am sure, will presume that some "natural" explanation will come along some day to explain it. And I believe that would be your response to any account I might give of some of the uncaany things I have observed in my not so short life. Must run.

  12. Anonymous6:04 AM

    Failure is failure. It's scant consolation that it was 'noble' and I speak from personal experience. I boxed a very little when I was a kid, long enough to overcome the terror of facing an opponent keyed up to bash your brains in while other people egg both of you on. It is all about winning, but this doesn't mean victory has to be achieved at the expense of everything you believe in or everyone around you. The best victories are accomplished with style and grace, but it's ultimately the victory that counts. At best failure invites pity and who wants that?

    Times I failed were extremely painful, and I'm not just talking about boxing. I tried to learn what I could from it. I think it's better to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, or congratulating yourself on how glorious your failure was. I certainly don't think you should use failure as a reason for giving up. Try again. When you give up, there's no hope whatsoever. The other side of it is that if you don't start out determined to win, you have no chance whatsoever. If there is something noble about failure, it is that you don't use it as a reason to give up. That deserves respect, but it's a respect that can only be fully realized when you try again and this time succeed.

    As an example of noble failure ... the other night I watched Every Which Way But Loose, a Clint Eastwood movie, and thought the end of it - his punch-up with 'Tank Murdoch' - captured the idea of noble failure pretty well, though even in that there's still the suggestion the possibility of holding onto better odds muddied the 'noble' aspect a bit.

    I've heard stories like the one you recounted and have had some strange personal experiences myself. Because I can't fully explain them doesn't automatically imply some supernatural force outside the known universe is responsible for them. It's honest to say, "I don't know for sure, but here's my reasons for what I think ..." That way we can have a conversation about it. It's not honest to say, "It was definitely God," in the absence of anything we could call evidence to support your assertion. It's also lazy. Science at least goes to work to investigate; supernaturalism sits on its backside and declares. Choosing between the two, I'll take the one that tries to work it out. There is no virtue in being satisfied with not understanding.

  13. Anonymous10:41 AM

    First, I wish to announce my candidacy for Grand Wazoo of the Failed Intellectuals. Needless to say, I believe and hope that my campaign for this office will fail.

    Second, as Nabokov wrote, "There are those whom parody upsets." Enough said.

    Third, concerning the idea that "there really are no limits to science," the very attempt to evaluate the truth-content of this statement gives the lie to it. Noel, do you think that "Are there limits to science?" is a scientific question? If so, how would you apply the scientific method in answering it?

    My point, obviously, is that "bootstrapping" questions about any human discipline wind up as subjects of philosophical, not scientific, inquiry.

  14. As the late, legendary Al Neff said, while dismantling a harpsichord: "Brilliant, sir!" But that's no way to advance your candidancy as Grand Wazoo.

  15. Anonymous12:55 PM

    Hi John,

    Parody doesn't upset me. Nabokov was undoubtedly clever, but some say he had the mind of a paedophile. Call me a prude, but I think parody is preferable to paedophilia.

    To respond to your point, I am sure there are some questions science cannot answer, but as Richard Dawkins points out in The God Delusion: "The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice - or not yet - a decided one. So also is the truth or falsehood of every one of the miracle stories that religions rely upon to impress multitudes of the faithful.

    Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question with a definite answer in principle: yes or no. Did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? Did he himself come alive again, three days after being crucified? There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover it in practice, and it is strictly a scientific answer. The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods.

    To dramatize the point, imagine, by some remarkable set of circumstances, that forensic archaeologists unearthed DNA evidence to show that Jesus really did lack a biological father. Can you imagine religious apologists shrugging their shoulders and saying anything remotely like the following? 'Who cares? Scientific evidence is completely irrelevant to theological questions. Wrong magisterium! We're concerned only with ultimate questions and with moral values. Neither DNA nor any other scientific evidence could ever have any bearing on the matter, one way or the other.'

    The very idea is a joke. You can bet your boots that the scientific evidence, if any were to turn up, would be seized upon and trumpeted to the skies."

    Don't be so sure your candidacy for Grand Wazoo will fail. You've got my vote. ;)

  16. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Nabokov a pedophile? Goodness no. I suppose it's been a while since you've read Lolita. I can't imagine a more deeply moving indictment of the cruelty of adults to children.

    Interesting points about religion/science. I'm with you all the way on the miracles, virgin birth, resurrection, etc. Those are precisely the kinds of phenomena that science is equipped to investigate -- and many a charlatan has been exposed.

    Is "the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence unequivocally a scientific question"? Well, not unequivocally, since educated people disagree on whether a God outside of the physical world could be shown to exist (or not) from within that world. What do you suppose would scientfically falsify the statement, "There is a creative super-intelligence outside the physical universe"?
    Remember, no question-begging allowed about whether there could be anything outside the physical universe.

    I'm concerned about my Wazoo candidacy. It's hardly a day old and already the source of controversy bordering on schism. I so wished to be a uniter, not a divider! Ah well, it's a fallen world . . .

  17. Anonymous4:31 PM

    I didn't say I think Nobokov was a paedophile. It's just that he understood the subject so well, sometimes I wonder about him, in the same way I wonder about Bret Easton Ellis after having read American Psycho.

    Sorry about the Wazoo crack, couldn't resist.

    You've asked if the presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question and I think it is because if you postulate some sort of a super-being capable of designing the universe, you invite a couple of analytical questions, one being so who (or what) is this designer, and the other is, who designed the designer? Science cannot at the moment unequivocally answer either question, but I think they are unequivocally scientific questions, if your interest is in finding satisfying answers because science should it ever explain everything about life will be expected to offer evidence to support its claims while supernaturalism never offers any.

    If you make a claim and expect it to be accepted, I think the burden of proof rests with you, whether it is that burglars broke into your house and stole your computer or there are fairies at the end of your garden. I'm open to hearing about alternative forms of evidence to those commonly associated with science to support belief(s) in God(s), but everyone seems too shy, or perhaps too embarrassed, to provide any. It suggests you haven't got any. It's just what you want to believe, though what exactly that is is anyone's guess. It seems from what you've said that you don't believe in miracles, the virgin birth or the resurrection, but you do believe in an all-knowing super-designer that exists outside of the universe who set everything up in the beginning and pops in now and again to hear personal pleas. I'd like to ask what exactly are your beliefs and what are they based on?

    On educated people disagreeing on God's powers, I'd like to quote Dawkins quoting a blogger (though he doesn't name the blogger):

    "Why is God considered an explanation for anything? It's not - it's a failure to explain,a shrug of the shoulders, an 'I dunno' dressed up in spirituality and ritual. If someone credits something to God, generally what it means is that they haven't a clue, so they're attributing it to an unreachable, unknowable sky-fairy. Ask for an explanation of where that bloke came from, and odds are you'll get a vague, pseudo-philosophical reply about having always existed, or being outside nature. Which, of course, explains nothing."

    What do you suppose would scientfically falsify the statement, "There is a creative super-intelligence outside the physical universe."

    It's not at the moment disprovable (though it is definitely questionable). It's also not provable since there is no evidence to support it. I think it comes down to what you think is the truth and why you think it.

  18. Anonymous7:08 PM

    Perhaps rather than wondering about the existence or not of an entity we, by the nature of the question, have no access to, we should be more concerned with the reality of the human condition and waht it is to be fully aware. And in this area across all cultures we have what could be seen as common mystic threads whereby when one manages to discard one's illusory separateness from life, one experiences pure awarensess, enlightenment, Mind, God, whatever, and this experience is one that stresses the all-importance of one's unity to all, and to Love. This science people seem to have some curious faith in rather than their own experience of life tends to fail to take into account that all existence exists within consciousness, and so the idea of investigating facts separate to oneself is a pretty barren exercise leading to perhaps a little piece of information for the reason to look at, but the truth of being is something far far deeper than any bits of information can suggest. I have no interest nor should I, in whether science can prove I really do experience something profound while listening to Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. It would be a pathetic and ignorant betrayal of existence to require such proof. And similarly one's experience of consciousness as self-evidently divine through mystical experience, as one's consciousness dissolves like an Aspirin in water, does not need some external validation. If we were to live in this manner, we would end up questioning and doubting the reality of every moment of existence requiring proof of every experience. In short, total insanity. Which is not to say that science does not have a role to play in the ascent of consciousness- it's findings are showing life to be an infinitely deeper and more elusive entity than imagined by all but those mystics, who of course were all too aware that, "If the doors of perception were cleansed, Then everything will apeear to man as it is, infinte."
    And if we were to look for proof of the divine within human undertakings, we might be better off looking to music than any other field. " I must despise the world which does not know that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy." Beethoven.
    Though of course, the only real point in the existence of the mystical is to experience this "flight of the alone into the Alone"(Plotinus) at first-hand. And humility and surrender are key to this, and he who waits for external proofs of his own true substance is in a sorry state indeed.

  19. Anonymous7:41 AM

    I agree that since every atom in our bodies is stardust originating from the same source as every star in the sky it's not so strange to think that the answers lie within each of us, but I do not see what could possibly be wrong or barren about a search for facts. How can you be "fully aware" without factual knowledge? It's true that we have only bits of information at the moment, though what we do have now is a whole lot more than we have ever had in the past when the notion of God made its appearance as a way to explain aspects of life we have since come to better explain and understand, what causes disease for example, the wind to blow or storms to form. Continuing to search for more pieces to the puzzle while trying to piece them all together is to my mind a useful way of trying to build the whole picture, rather than being satisfied with what we feel we understand without being able to really explain what that is or offer evidence to support it, while closing our minds to knowledge that does help to explain and understand it simply because it isn't complete, as though the alternative is.

    I find these statements from one deeply, and shrewdly, religious person, Martin Luther, disturbing:

    "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God."

    "Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear out the eyes of his reason."

    "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians."

    If mysticism has an honored place in life, then reason certainly does too. Why the difficulty combining them? I think it is because faith in supernaturalism comes wired with a suspicion that it cannot stand up to reasonable inquiry and so seeks to create a 'special place' for itself, declaring by fiat this place to be beyond the reach of reason, despite the fact that it is a place that is experienced in and through our minds, a part of our minds that for no good reason some do not want investigated, perhaps from fear that it might be exposed as a sort of mental disorder. It's always possible that it won't be, that reasonable inquiry will teach us something we could use. Either way, we won't know without investigation and by investigation I mean using our reason. No other area of human activity is accorded the same hands-off status as mysticism or faith lays claim to. Abandon All Reason and No Skeptics Allowed seems to be the message writ large over the mystical gateway. What are mystics afraid of? Scorn? Truth?

  20. Anonymous10:37 AM

    Well, this thread has ventured far and wide, hasn't it! I'll just return to the point I was making originally: Noel, it isn't a matter of whether science can currently confirm or deny the existence of an intelligence outside the physical universe. My question was, What could count, under any circumstances, no matter when, as a falsification of the thesis?

    You see, it isn't a scientific question at all, because it's not a question about physical reality. And there's nothing dodgy about asserting the existence of "non-physical realities." All of Karl Popper's "third world" -- the world of concepts, art, mathematics, etc. -- falls in this category, and the questions raised within this world are not ones that scientists would ever try to answer. By the same token, no good scientist would ever assert that the questions are meaningless or that the third world does not exist.

    So too with God.

  21. Anonymous1:31 PM

    Now you're invoking Popper? Grand Wazoo my right eye!

    I know very little about Popper's Falsificationism. What I do know is that Pooper's idea that a hypothesis must be falsifiable to be considered 'true' science was hammered in a book I read by two physicists, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, that made mince meat out of modern intellectualism.

    In it they made a good case that Popper's understanding of how science works is wrong since it is the successes of science that are celebrated and accepted, not its failures. So I'm not sure all scientists would assert it ain't science unless it can be falsified.

    In this way, I neatly sidestep your question. Truth is I haven't got a blinking idea of what would falsify the existence of a super-being. I'm more interested in the truth of the idea that she/he/it does exist than I am in trying to falsify it and if you ask me how we could establish that, a reasonable explanation of who (or what) she/he/it actually is along with a reasonable explanation of who (or what) is responsible for designing the she/he/it might go some way towards achieving it. Failing that, proof of the resurrection springs to mind. You haven't got any, have you?

  22. David Miller thinks he's corrected Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont in his essay 'Sokal and Bricmont: Back to the Frying Pan'.

    ". . . Sokal & Bricmont are not my principal target. I am gunning here [and in 'Being an absolute skeptic'] for all those traditional rationalists who manage unintentionally, or indeed, intentionally, to portray science as an irrational enterprise. The work of Sokal & Bricmont is just the most recent failure to defend the rationality of science properly, and taken in isolation it is by no means the most objectionable one. But its salience makes it one of the most significant, a failure that calls for the firmest and most concentrated correction."

  23. Anonymous4:15 PM

    To rescue science as a rational enterprise, perhaps the rational enterprise par excellence, there is accordingly no need to attribute to well-tested scientific hypotheses a security or reliability that they do not possess. Scientific hypotheses are not trustworthy or reliable, except in the sense of being, in some instances, true; and they are not in any interesting respect based on experience.

    - David Miller

    David Miller classes himself a philosopher. I'm with Richard Dawkins when he says: "I mean it as a compliment when I say that you could almost define a philosopher as someone who won't take common sense for an answer."

  24. "I mean it as a compliment when I say that you could almost define a [scientist] as someone who won't take common sense for an answer."

    The common sense view used to be that the Sun moves around the Earth. It was astronomers, not philosophers, who significantly challenged that common sense view. It is now, of course, common for people to accede to the Copernican view of things, though the common "sense" of things really hasn't changed: "A folk sense of intellectual history peddled by people like Richard Rorty says that counterintuitive scientific concepts gradually come to be assimilated into public discourse, ultimately becoming part of society’s knowledge base.  Yesterday’s nonsense becomes tomorrow’s common sense.11  As a matter of fact, intellectual history is not so obliging.  It would be seriously misleading to say that the Copernican worldview has become our common sense.  Rather we have learned to discount our intuitive views about physical reality, which still lead us to think that the sun moves around the earth, in favor of the Copernican view.  Most educated people now promptly assent to Copernicanism without claiming to possess any direct evidence for its truth."
    (Steve Fuller, "The Globalization of Rhetoric and Its Discontents", Poroi, 2, 2, November, 2003)

  25. Anonymous12:25 PM

    "The idea that nothing is true except what we comprehend is silly ... Some of my cousins who had the great advantage of University education used to tease me with arguments to prove that nothing has any existence except what we think of it. The whole creation is but a dream; all phenomena are imaginary. You create your own universe as you go along. The stronger your imagination, the more variegated your universe. When you leave off dreaming, the universe ceases to exist. These amusing mental acrobatics are all right to play with. They are perfectly harmless and perfectly useless. I warn my younger readers only to treat them as a game. The metaphysicians will have the last word and defy you to disprove their absurd propositions.

    I have always rested upon the following argument which I devised for myself many years ago. We look up in the sky and see the sun. Our eyes are dazzled and our senses record the fact. So here is this great sun standing apparently on no better foundation than our physical senses. But happily there is a method, apart altogether from our physical senses, of testing the reality of the sun. It is by mathematics. By means of prolonged processes of mathematics, entirely separate from the senses, astronomers are able to calculate when an eclipse will occur. They predict by pure reason that a black spot will pass the sun on a certain day. You go and look, and your sense of sight immediately tells you that their calculations are vindicated. So here you have the evidence of the senses reinforced by the entirely separate evidence of a vast independent process of mathematical reasoning. We have taken what is called in military map-making 'a cross bearing.' We have got independent testimony to the reality of the sun.

    When my metaphysical friends tell me that the data on which the astronomers made their calculations, were necessarily obtained originally through the evidence of the senses, I say 'No.' They might, in theory at any rate, be obtained by automatic calculating-machines set in motion by the light falling upon them without admixture of the human senses at any stage. When they persist that we should have to be told about the calculations and use our ears for that purpose, I reply that the mathematical process has a reality and virtue in itself, and that once discovered it constitutes a new and independent factor. I am also at this point accustomed to reaffirm with emphasis my conviction that the sun is real, and also that it is hot - in fact as hot as Hell, and that if the metaphysicians doubt it they should go there and see."

  26. Anonymous1:55 PM

    Well what do you know? Old Winston is still with us. Finally, proof of the resurrection ... best we're ever likely to get!

  27. ". . . in relation to the critically important concept of prediction, Popper makes a distinction between what he terms ‘conditional scientific predictions’, which have the form ‘If X takes place, then Y will take place’, and ‘unconditional scientific prophecies’, which have the form ‘Y will take place’. Contrary to popular belief, it is the former rather than the latter which are typical of the natural sciences, which means that typically prediction in natural science is conditional and limited in scope — it takes the form of hypothetical assertions stating that certain specified changes will come about if particular specified events antecedently take place. This is not to deny that ‘unconditional scientific prophecies’, such as the prediction of eclipses, for example, do take place in science, and that the theoretical natural sciences make them possible. However, Popper argues that . . . these unconditional prophecies are not characteristic of the natural sciences . . . ."

    ". . . long-term unconditional scientific prophecies can be derived from conditional predictions only if they apply to systems which are well-isolated, stationary, and recurrent (like our solar system). Such systems are quite rare in nature . . . ."

    ". . . it is a fundamental mistake . . . to take the unconditional scientific prophecies of eclipses as being typical and characteristic of the predictions of natural science — in fact such predictions are possible only because our solar system is a stationary and repetitive system which is isolated from other such systems by immense expanses of empty space. The solar system aside, there are very few such systems around for scientific investigation — most of the others are confined to the field of biology, where unconditional prophecies about the life-cycles of organisms are made possible by the existence of precisely the same factors."

    (From "Karl Popper," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy )

  28. Anonymous8:21 AM

    Thanks for posting that link. I thoroughly enjoyed reading a little more about Popper.

    It is true that scientific predictions begin in the imagination. One could say science is a marriage between the artistic and the practical. We would have none of the things we enjoy today were it not for the imagination of scientists. Edison, for example, imagined that electricity could be generated and harnessed to produce light. Einstein imagined that mass and energy were interchangeable and came up with the formula E=MC2 which has since been proven. Newton looked at something we take for granted - gravity - and worked it out mathematically. His calculations are still used when we send craft into space today. Pasteur wondered what he would see if he turned a telescope around. What he saw was the microscopic world, saving among other things countless billions of gallons of milk from going sour over the centuries. He could not prove initially that it was invisible bugs in the milk that were causing it to go sour and few people believed him when he claimed it was until he showed them what pasteurization could do, and of course, let them look through his microscope.

    The difference between science and faith is that science doesn't expect what it imagines to be accepted as truth, in contrast to faith which does, in the absence of anything we could call evidence to support its imaginings.

    The existence or non-existence of God is a scientific question because it concerns the origin and development of life, but unlike faith, science doesn't claim at the moment to know the answer, though scientific evidence supporting, for example, evolution and the age of the earth exposes the idea of God as a fabrication, certainly as it is portrayed in the Bible. I think the burden of proof lies with whoever claims to believe in the idea, whether the belief is based on biblical stories or not.

    So if you say you believe in a super-being residing outside of the universe, instead of expecting science to do all of the work for you according to principles laid down by a philosopher who spent his life denying the possibility that scientific theory could ever be confirmed despite whatever amount of reliable evidence was put forward to support it, I think you could help things along a little by doing some of the work yourself and at least try to produce some evidence to support what you say you believe. Otherwise it looks all too easy. At best it's believing what you want to believe just because you want to believe it. In this sense I can understand your desire to class yourself an intellectual failure and by implication, a religious one too since you can't support your religious beliefs, perhaps not you personally, Dave, since you haven't told us what your beliefs (or lack thereof) are. For all we know, you could be a closet atheist with a fondness for Popper.

  29. ". . . Pope [Benedict] asserted: 'Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought – to philosophy and theology.'"

    "The belief that the only route to genuine understanding is that provided by the physical sciences, and that they are potentially capable of explaining anything that goes on in the world, is merely a prejudice, backed neither by evidence – for after all, there are many things science has not been able to explain – nor by philosophical considerations. In fact, many notable philosophers, including Husserl, Oakeshott, Polanyi, and Nagel, have noted that the assertion that human understanding can be reduced to mechanical causes is self-defeating. It is nonsensical to label the outcome of any mechanical process as 'true' or 'false' – the outcome is simply what had to happen based on the physical laws relevant to the situation. Anyone arguing that human thinking can be reduced entirely to physical mechanisms must admit that his theory applies to his own thinking no less than it does to, say, moral reasoning or theology. Therefore, per his own theory, it is nonsensical to claim that the theory is true! No, even his scientific work is only the meaningless product of the jostling about of a bunch of particles within fields controlling their movements. When an evolutionary biologist suggests that all of mankind’s religious beliefs are attributable to our genes’ efforts to propagate themselves, honesty should force him to admit that his biological ideas also are just attempts by his genes to survive – the 'discovery' of DNA was really nothing more than Watson’s and Crick’s best chance to get laid!

    "Attempts to proclaim science as the only real form of knowledge regularly point to its 'success' as plain evidence of its superiority. But such arguments suffer from a vicious circularity – the criteria by which they judge success are scientific criteria, and, therefore, first award the prize to science and then 'discover' that it holds it. It is as though I tried to prove my genius by taking an IQ test I devised myself, a test in which I included only questions that I was sure I could answer correctly. And, if later I realize I made a mistake, I allow myself to go back and amend it, boasting that this offered even further proof of my pre-eminence, since it demonstrated that I am not wedded to my errors, unlike the usual taker of an intelligence test.

    "Epistemology addresses questions like, 'Does science provide us with a reliable way of knowing things about the world, and, if so, is the sort of knowledge it offers universal or conditional?' Trying to reach answers to those queries through a scientific investigation is logically untenable – the researcher would first have to decide that science is a valid means for discovering truths about reality, but that is the very issue his research is supposed to be helping us to resolve! I cannot avoid concluding that the Pope was standing on the philosophical high ground when he declared that such matters are inherently outside the scope of scientific inquiry, a proposition that can be convincingly defended without any appeals to religious faith or divine revelations."
    (From "The Pope Is Right About Science", by Gene Callahan.)

  30. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Quoting the Pope and telling us what some people think he believes is not telling us what you believe, or think, though it does provide a good indication.

    I think everyone, including the Pope, is free to offer opinions on science, but seeking to frame the debate around what science might be capable of or not capable of is at best an obvious attempt to evade the point which is that if you lay claim to having beliefs in supernatural powers, the burden of proof rests with you since it is you who are claiming the belief. You haven't got any, have you?

  31. Each of us at any given moment, is considering our lives through a point of view. We may choose science with it's experimental method, and may even choose the focus of evolutionary theory that can work within the Labrynth and bounds of this science. In this way, we choose a tunnel to follow a thread through, to consider our lives through.

    We could as easily choose love, or any branch of study, such as economics, psychology, politics, mythology, art, even poetry. I was reading recently someone asking the question of how poetry will fit into the new economics. I thought to ask how the economics will fit into the new poetry. How will science fit into the new politics? How does evolution fit into our archetypes? Indeed, we may ask how will the superdeterminism of each of our subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, and hormones, fit into getting laid? How may archaelogy fit into the new sociology? And so forth.

    Each of these studies is contained somehow within each of the others, even if in a wisp. So I want to ask, how does evolutionary theory, as it attacks these so-called "myths", fit into the truths of mythology? One error in thinking, is to believe you have latched onto the ultimate of theories, when another way to look at it is that your way of thinking fits how you need to approach the world at the moment, maybe how to get laid even, as opposed to how all of humanity needs to approach living at the moment.

    And most of these tunnels of study that have lasted through time, each with its sundry branches and threads of thinking, have something to offer in dispelling fallacies. One error in thinking becomes obvious at this point, which is that one may believe that something has been dispelled, when it has not, when it merely is not evident in the trail of the Labrynth one has decided to follow.

    This error brings Noel forward as a candidate for FIS, because he believes that if there is no scientific proof of something, then it does not exist. If his thread has not led to something, then it does not exist. The fallacy is that his thread only needs a wisp of it, whether found or not, not a cavern full of it, whether it will ever be found on his chosen path or not.

    Of course, as many here are full aware, Noel still has not proven evolutionary theory, something he insists has been done, yet which proof he either keeps secret from us--or the secret is that he truly understands no such theory, but is accepting it on faith alone--a faith which is the cornerstone of the tunnel he has chosen to travel in, a tunnel he would like us to accompany him and his friend Dawkins in traveling our Labrynth as we follow their thread of thinking, on their faith in it.

    This is a different fallacy than Hawking's, in that Hawking needed light at the end of his tunnel, the light of a provable theory. That was what was hopeful in the thread he picked up. Dawkins, however, seems to need the light of himself being right about Darwin.

    Of course, all threads lead to the End of the Line, and "everything will work out fine."

  32. Anonymous5:21 PM

    Well, yes, I think evolution is proven. If you would prefer I said that the overwhelming publicly available evidence supporting evolution, some of which I have personally studied and seen, supports the truth of evolution, then fine, I will. Denying the evidence we do have because it doesn't agree with what you want to believe or have been taught to believe, or trying to dismiss it simply because it is possible that the evidence, like all scientific evidence, is subject to change and improvement, is to me silly.

    That's one of the things I admire about science - it doesn't proclaim final truths, though it does provide evidence to support what it claims unlike faith which can't be bothered. Science leaves open the possibility that its theories will be improved on while constantly subjecting its theories to challenge and criticism. If only faith had the same courage.

    We've been through this before, Rus, where you made clear that you didn't understand evolution. It's difficult to argue with someone who doesn't understand what they want to dismiss.

    Thanks for your very generous offer to join the FIS, but since I don't consider myself an intellectual, you'll have to soldier on without me. It's a major disappointment, I know, but hang in there, pal. I'm betting there're plenty of others only too willing to sign on.

    Enjoyed the song and by way of return here's one of my favorite songs of all time which I'm sure you will agree is as deep and meaningful as they come.

  33. Hi Noel,

    Oh, I understand evolution at least as well as you, Noel, as I have noted before via your failed attempts at intellectual argument. You have displayed no expertise or argument that allows you to say who understands and who does not. Indeed, losing these arguments with me, means you must remain silent on the matter, for now. UIt is time for you to look at your own shortcomings as they apply to evolutionary theory.

    Yes, again here, obvious, but (maybe) not to you: I have won the argument by your response to me. You have clearly backed off your contention that you can prove evolutionary theory to say:

    Well, yes, I think evolution is proven. If you would prefer I said that the overwhelming publicly available evidence supporting evolution, some of which I have personally studied and seen, supports the truth of evolution, then fine, I will.

    You have contradicted yourself, by saying that you "think" evolution is proven. Guess what? It's not. And this is why you never could bring proof.

    You are now saying that evolution is not necessarily proven, but that it may be thought of as "supported" instead. Big deal. Everybody knows that. You have here come around to thinking how I have approaching the subject matter as I have been reponding to you. Intellectually and/or emotionally, maybe you trully cannot see how you have come around.

    Let's go further, in case you don't see it yet. A contention being supported, even if that evidence has overwhelmed someone or many intellectually, is not proof at all. It never was proven, and you made the error of saying that it had been.

    You--not I, and not anyone else who has entered into this or that former discussion at Books Inq.--have been living under the intellectual fallacy that evolutionary theory has been proven.

    And here, now quickly in this new discussion thread, you back way down from proving anything, to say that you can support evolutionary theory. Jesus, Noel, anybody can support it. It will take minds greater than Dawkins and you, certainly greater than Hawking or any human ever alive, to prove it. It is beyond us.

    How dare you, then, say that I do not understand what I have caused you to back down from in your fallacious thought process. I win. Check and mate, Noel. You cannot prove what you said was proven, you only "think" it.

    By the way, that part which disqualifies you from FIS, has more to do with the fact of your insistence that you have not failed where you have failed: intellectually.

    Also, your failure to prove evolutionary theory, (something my intellectual friend Hawking predicted for you and us all, Dawkins included), was enough for you to have failed in that last discussion. Your admission here, that evolutionary theory can only be supported, is a blade through your failed intellectual heart.


  34. Rus succinctly points out several errors in logic.

    Let's all remind ourselves of a couple of important points, which we all might know, but which might need to be reviewed anyway:

    Evolutionary theory remains a theory because we as yet do not have enough experimental evidence. The scientific method requires repeatable experiment to determine proof: if a process can be repeated by independent experiment, then proof of a lemma, postulate, or theory is considered to be engaged, if not always finalized. Science is a process, not a set of established "facts." All facts, all data, are always subject to re-investigation. Data change, so do theories: it's a process.

    In terms of evolutionary theory, maybe if we were able to collect observable data for several hundred thousand years on current species, to see what they might develop into next, maybe THEN we could say that we have some solid proof of the theory. At the moment, we have strong inference, but not proof.

    Do not confuse inference and deduction from the paleontological record (which I have studied intensely, as I trained to be a geologist—sedimentology was my big area) as any kind of proof. There are still holes in the narrative, things that don't make sense, that as yet have not been fitted into the overall schema. Even plate tectonics, which seems to account for a great deal of geologic evidence, still has a few gaps in it; and there are regions, such as the Appalachian Mountains, that plate tectonics doesn't yet adequately explain. (Tectonicists often forget about geomorphology and glaciation, for example.)

    The fossil record narrative that has been painstakingly assembled over the past 150 years still has many gaps and mysteries in it. There are few fossils of "soft-tissue" invertebrates, for example, so there's still lots of speculation where there is no evidence. The fossil record largely supports and confirms the theory of evolution, but it still has gaps and the theory keeps changing. For example, 100 years ago there was an extensive search for transitional morphologies, the so-called missing links between observed species. Well, starting about 20 years ago, it was conceived that maybe the reason the missing links are not in the fossil record is because they were never there—and hence there was a major change in evolutionary theory, from the concept of continuous gradual change to the new theorized mechanism of punctuated equilibrium. (Stephen Jay Gould has written about this extensively, and clearly.)

    So, even the theories themselves keep changing and evolving—so no working paleontologist would honestly claim that evolution has been "proven," except in very limited, very conditional ways.

    The reason faith and science are not in competition or in opposition is because they address different realms of human experience. Proving OR disproving the existence of God (or whatever name you care to use) is not obtainable via scientific practices of experimental investigation. The scientific method simply does not apply.

    In the other direction, rules of faith, trust, and surrender do not have a place in the research laboratory. The scientific method requires a skeptical observer willing to go back to beginning experiments in order to investigate a path of research. Nothing can be assumed to be true, nothign can be taken for granted, and everything but everything is subject to revision and question.

    All scientific theories are provisional—subject to emendation, revision, change, or being proved wrong during later experiments—because many can only be prove to a point. It all begins and ends with the data. New data, new theories, all the damn time.

    The argument against scientific rationalism is that some scientists have made a logical category error in their attempts to make claims for science as a matter of faith, which puts science into the category of faith-based belief-system, or religion, where science simply does not belong.

  35. Anonymous3:22 AM

    If you say so, Rus.

    Art, take a look at the meaning of the word 'proof'. I think you'll find it means evidence. There's tons of it supporting evolution; none supporting supernaturalism.

    The fossil record is not the only source of evidence supporting evolution, today there is molecular genetics too. On gaps in the fossil record, here's something our old friend Richard Dawkins said:

    "What, after all, is a gap in the fossil record? It is simply the absence of a fossil which would otherwise have documented a particular evolutionary transition. The gap means that we lack a complete cinematic record of every step in the evolutionary process. But how incredibly presumptuous to demand a complete record, given that only a minuscule proportion of deaths result in a fossil anyway.

    The equivalent evidential demand of creationism would be a complete cinematic record of God's behaviour on the day that he went to work on, say, the mammalian ear bones or the bacterial flagellum - the small, hair-like organ that propels mobile bacteria. Not even the most ardent advocate of intelligent design claims that any such divine videotape will ever become available.

    Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent "cinematic" sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus. And - far more telling - not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the "wrong" place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water.

    As the great biologist J B S Haldane growled, when asked what might disprove evolution: "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian." Evolution, like all good theories, makes itself vulnerable to disproof. Needless to say, it has always come through with flying colours."

    I notice that whenever the discussion veers in the direction of having to produce a little evidence to support your personal beliefs in supernaturalism, someone comes in and steers it away, but the point still stands: if you lay claim to believing in supernatural powers - sky fairies, celestial teapots, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, mystical connections holding the sun in place etc. - the burden of proof rests with you. When it's obvious you can't offer evidence to support your beliefs because you haven't got any, what else can we do but commend your honesty in declaring yourselves intellectual and religious failures. In case there is any confusion, 'we are failures' is not generally taken to mean 'we win!'

    By the way, science is not religion. Religion is having beliefs in supernatural powers that are "appropriate for us to worship." Science has no faith in supernatural powers.

  36. Hi Noel,

    You don't get it. No one here wants to prove "supernatruralism" to you. It is you who want to prove evolutionary theory, and you can't.

    You say, Dawkins says this:

    "What, after all, is a gap in the fossil record? It is simply the absence of a fossil which would otherwise have documented a particular evolutionary transition. The gap means that we lack a complete cinematic record of every step in the evolutionary process. But how incredibly presumptuous to demand a complete record, given that only a minuscule proportion of deaths result in a fossil anyway.

    The equivalent evidential demand of creationism would be a complete cinematic record of God's behaviour on the day that he went to work on, say, the mammalian ear bones or the bacterial flagellum - the small, hair-like organ that propels mobile bacteria.

    Do you have any idea how illogical he is being here?

    This type of irrational argument is meant to appeal to anyone who needs proof of something. So what? Someone has more evidence along a particular line than someone else? It's one silly 5-year-old "prove it" argument to another's--going nowhere.

    Again, no one here cares to prove anything to you. Your error has been your thinking that evolutionary theory has been proven. At times, you seems to infer that evolution precludes God, and entity not yet defined for our pruposes, btw.

    If someone comes into this discussion trying to prove "supernaturalism", Noel, watch how their arguments get torn to shreds like your have been. Same thing.


  37. Science is of course not a religion.

    However, there are those, including some scientists, who treat science as if it were a religion. As far as i can tell, that is the objection, here and elsewhere. The belief-system often referred to as "scientific rationalism" does in fact have all the earmarks of an established religious institution: assertions are taken on faith without question; doubters are castigated, dismissed or ignored; breaking the rules laid down by the tribe makes one subject to exile and rejection; etc.

    Liam Hudson wrote a marvelous short book called "The Cult of the Fact" that describes how this happens, in his field of psychology, as an example: students are inculcated in "railway lines" of fixed thought that limit their ability to perceive things anywhere "outside the box." This can lead to what Hudson calls "pious deceptions" in experimental work, which are ideas that become reified as if they were "facts" or "proofs" with their own innate existence outside human perception: as if they were handed down as Platonic Ideals by the philosopher-gods of old. Contradicting them is forbidden—not because contradicting them is factually wrong, but because it goes against received wisdom. Whenever science begins to be treated as received wisdom, unquestioned and no longer subject to revision, then it has become a matter of faith: and that is when science is treated as though it were a religion. Again, science is an ongoing process, and is always in a state of flux. When opinions get too lithified, that becomes a problem.

    Facts are like statistics: they require interpretation before they mean anything. The human being does science, and the human being cannot know every fact, every piece of data. We are limited. Our technologies and instrumentalities expand our perceptions (literally) by allowing us to perceive and investigate things we cannot with the unaided eye or ear. (When did you last see a hydrogen atom?) We look for patterns and cycles, which is something human consciousness is very good at, and build our narrative theories on that. Science, from one perspective, is evidentiary storytelling. But all interpretations remain subject to revision.

    You're conflating "proof" with "evidence." They're not the same things in mathematics, and they're not the same things in geology, either. Evidence is data that supports a hypothesis, but proof requires a level of definitive evidence that is hard to come by, in nature, in math, or in jurisprudence. Proofs exist in logic and in math, where that word has a specific meaning related to problem-solving. Proofs exist in legal jurisprudence, where that word also has a specific meaning; but even the legal system admits reasonable doubt.

    Thus, most actual scientists, who publish actual articles in actual peer-reviewed journals, tend to hedge their bets. They talk about, well we have evidence supporting this theory now, but few of the rank-and-file (as opposed to those who like to grandstand) will actually use the word "proof" outside of mathematical presentations.

    if you are so convinced you are correct, and everyone else is wrong, that is a religious attitude. It is the attitude of a zealot, an evangelist, and a prophet.

    Who knows, though? I could be wrong.

  38. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Zealot? Prophet? Evangelist? As the Brits say, steady on, old boy. I'm just a regular guy who likes testing out ideas, enjoys reading about science and loves seeing mysteries unravelled. While the mystic is happy to revel in mysteries he doesn't want explained and despises it when they are, the scientist sees no virtue in being satisfied with not understanding and goes in search of answers, leaving open the possibility that they can be improved on.

    William Blake is one of my (newly discovered) favorite poets. Though Blake hated science, I think these lines of his capture the wonder of science, even if Blake wouldn't have agreed:

    "To see a world in a grain of sand
    And a heaven in a wild flower
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
    And eternity in an hour."

    Auguries of Innocence 1803

    In the absence of any evidence supporting supernaturalism, let the poetry war begin, though I warn you, like all bad poets, I'm armed and dangerous!

  39. Hi Noel,

    You said:

    While the mystic is happy to revel in mysteries he doesn't want explained and despises it when they are . . .

    Explanations are fine. A mystic does not qualify to be a mystic by not wanting mysteries explained. you seem to have misunderstood this. Again, from here on in, consider mystics as varied people. Explanations are very fine indeed. Loved, even. Welcomed. Sought after. Yes.

    However, are you ready to explain everything?

    You have led yourself once again into the second question that I have asked of you repeatedly, but that you refuse to give a yes or no answer to:

    Noel, is there a vastness that humankind will never know, a vastness far far greater than what we will ever know?

    Yes, or no.


  40. Blake didn't "hate science." He hated the depredations of the early industrail Revolution on the people and land of England. He did dissent against that, and against the rational mind when held up over all other values. But he actually respected the scientific method as a method of thinking. He just hated what it had become used FOR.

    But anyway.

  41. Mysticism isn't a rejection of explanation, as you imply: that mystics "don't want to know" and would somehow go out of their way to remain ignorant.

    Mysticism in fact (and this is repeated in all the world's great spiritual traditions) is nothing more or less than the pursuit of direct contact with and direct experience of the Divine, by whatever name one wants to call it.

    Many great scientists have been admitted mystics and inner explorers. Wolfgang Pauli was a client of C.G. Jung's, and their correspondence is quiet interesting reading. It touches on the connection of inner reality and quantum reality.

    Einstein, Schrodinger, and several other great minds present at the founding of the quantum theory all addressed the issues of mysticism, and also discussed the relationship of spirituality and science. Many of these ur-texts are available online, with a little searching.

    BTW, let's also be clear about one other thing: spirituality and mysticism are not sub-categories of religion. It is quite possible to be devoutly religious and steer entirely clear of mysticism—many Protestant groups do exactly that. It is also possibly to be profoundly spiritual, and a practicing mystic, and not be affiliated with any established, institutional religion, sect, or faith.

    So, again, to make a sweeping comment that mystics defy explanations shows only ignorance of what mysticism is about, and also that many great scientists were themselves mystics.

  42. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Again, from here on in, consider mystics as varied people.

    Yessir, captain sir!

    Rus, by any chance, did you spend time in the military? I ask only because of your tendency to bark orders. Most mystics I know are not in the least bit militant, even when you disagree with them. They are gentle souls, more like Art.

    is there a vastness that humankind will never know, a vastness far far greater than what we will ever know?

    Yes or no.

    We've been through this before: while I agree there is a vastness, who can say what humankind will never (or ever) come to know about it? When you take a "flight of the alone into the alone", as Andrew termed it, are you always expecting to have the same experience in your mind? No possibility that you might go farther, cover more 'ground', or experience and 'understand' more than you did before?

    are you ready to explain everything?

    Yes, for only $5.85 a minute, billed in six second increments. Of course the answer is no and I have never said I or science could at the minute, but who's to say that will always be the case? I think there's an explanation for everything, a physical explanation, even if there's a hell of a long way to go to discover all of it. Calling it magic or 'God' explains nothing. It invites explanations for who or what 'God' is and who or what is responsible for 'God'. It's raises more questions than it answers.

    Explanations are very fine indeed. Loved, even. Welcomed. Sought after. Yes.

    Well, what are your explanations for mystical experiences, explanation being a "statement or account that makes something clear"?

    And please, no more barking. Disagree me with me all you like, but try to resist the urge to give me orders or try to tell me the ways in which I am allowed to answer. If this request seems unreasonable, you're free to pay me no attention.

  43. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Mysticism in fact ...

    Art, isn't that an oxymoron? I ask because my understanding of 'fact' is "a thing that is indisputably the case." If you claim "mysticism in fact" isn't an oxymoron, then I think it's fair to ask for some evidence to support it. At the risk of beating a dead horse, you haven't got any, have you?

    You go on to say mysticism "is nothing more or less than the pursuit of direct contact with and direct experience of the Divine, by whatever name one wants to call it."

    I understand what the word Divine means - of, from or like God or gods - and I also understand that there are lots of names for the Divine, but beyond what the dictionary tells me, I don't know who or what the Divine is or who or what is responsible for designing the Divine. You don't know, do you?

    It's not so surprising that many great scientists, like lots of people everywhere, express personal opinions, but show me a scientist who has put forward some evidence to justify mystical beliefs. Are there any?

    You've referenced Einstein as having "addressed the issues of mysticism." Einstein said:

    "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

    He also wrote:

    "I have never inputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism."

    I think you might be missing the point I was making in my previous post which is that "the best science is inspired by a poetic sense of wonder." What do you think of that?

  44. I think you like to argue simply for the sake of argument. :)

    In the spirit of everyone who selectively quotes scripture to bolster their own argument, I would simply point out that Einstein also said:

    "All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree."

    "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."

    "Before God we are all equally wise - and equally foolish."

    "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."

    "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."

    "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

    Gee, sounds a lot like some of the mystical literature to me.

    Einstein also used the term "God" frequently, and not always to deny his belief in some "superior spirit," as stated above. His most famous use of the word is in his reply to Niels Bohr, "God does not play dice."

    "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."

    "God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically."

    One could go on, throwing paint-splatters at the wall, but I trust the point has been made.

    Also, perhaps you are aware that "in fact" is a figure of speech roughly equivalent to "actually." There's no contradiction; it's just rhetoric.

  45. Hi Noel,

    Well, what are your explanations for mystical experiences, explanation being a "statement or account that makes something clear"?

    This is a problem, that you would ask this question. Let's say there are most likely, like with everything else we experience in this life, several.

    Dickens had Scrooge ask if the ghosts he saw were from an underdone bit of potato. Let's agree that there is such an explanation for mystical experiences, something physical like an epileptic episode, or a reaction to food, some odd misfiring of neurons, a gland not working quite right.

    We need to be careful, though, that we don't get too grounded in the physical. Why, for instance, am I responding to you. One explanation is that electrons and such are entering my neural system, causing a chain reaction resulting in my fingers typing on a keyboard, the pressure which, through the internet, is causing neural patterns to develop in your own system.

    But, that explanation does not answer the question. Another explanation might have something to do with depth psychology, that I am still trying to resolve issues from my childhood, or maybe behavioral psychology, that I have received reinforcement from social groups important to me for entering into such discussions in the past.

    How many explanations can you come up with for your own mystical experiences, Noel? There must be many. What we select to explain such matters is personal to us, having either to do with our backgrounds, our personalities, our physical capacities, and so forth.

    By the way, you had not answered that vastness question before.

    Also, it is not a military stance to insist that you treat me for who I am. You seem to have wanted to lump me in with people, or imaginary people, who think much differently than I do. For instance, you have been insistent that I do not know about evolutionary theory. As this discussion has furthered between us, and you have lost ground on not being able to prove the evolutionary theory that you said could be proved, and now you back down and admit there is a vastness humankind will never know of, your challenges to me have all weakened.

    Therefore, I will say two things to you again, because you have insulted me:

    1. Do not assert any limits on my knowledge of evolution or anything. This is an assumption that has not served you, and has insulted me. In fact, at one point you asked me for credentials, and after I gave you mine, I asked for yours, and you said they did not matter. Get straight, Noel.

    2. Do not assume you know what my beliefs are concerning spirituality. You have been repeated wrong about them.

    And guess what? I get to call you to task for these prejudicial errors.


  46. Anonymous6:13 PM

    How many explanations can you come up with for your own mystical experiences?

    Rus, I ask for your explanations for your mystical experiences after you'd given us an indication that you might have some and you respond by saying that you don't really have any and then ask me for mine, as though I had somewhere indicated having mystical experiences I could explain. Telling us what categories your explanations could potentially fit into is not telling us what your explanations are.

    By the way, you had not answered that vastness question before.

    I answered it here when you asked if there was "a vastness that we as human beings will never know?" I responded:

    No one can say what "cannot be known." Whether it is vast, small or somewhere in between is irrelevant if it "cannot be known." Think about it, Rus. To claim something unknowable, one must first know not only that it exists but have enough knowledge of it to justify the assertion. The assertion and the justification are then in contradiction. At best, your argument is a logical fallacy.

    You insisted that I "prove there is no vastness or admit there is." Here's my response:

    You ask me to "Prove there is no vastness, or admit there is," as though I had suggested somewhere that there was no vastness. How will gaining my agreement that there is a vastness support your assertion that it "cannot be known"?

    I think it is obvious that I accepted there is a vastness, but I objected to you terming it "cannot be known".

    you have been insistent that I do not know about evolutionary theory.

    Yes, and it is based on what you said about how you loved the "Oh God" movie and how George Burns, to prove his Godship in court, "pulled out a deck of cards, and fanned some before the judge in a card trick. Every mystic gets it. That's all there is. That's all I can give you, or you me. We're insane if we think otherwise."

    I replied by saying that "evolution isn't a game of chance. Evolution works according to Darwinian principles of Natural Selection which is not the same thing at all as chance. You would know the difference between a game of chance and evolution, if you understood evolution."

    This war between us is becoming tiresome. I don't think anyone else is interested in it except us, and I lost interest some time ago. The truth is that I think you are a clever bloke and a decent person. A man has his pride and I've trampled all over yours so in a spirit of goodwill l would like to make an attempt to bury the hatchet. I admit I was wrong to claim evolution was proven since the purpose of science is not really to 'prove' anything, but to explain and help us understand and it does this by providing evidence for what it claims which I think is worth a hell of a lot. I am impressed by your tenaciousness in keeping after me, even if at times I found it maddening, as I'm sure you've found me to be too.

    I'm sorry if you feel I have insulted you. My mother-in-law, a canny Sicilian, once told me that there is no such thing as an insult. Something is either true or it isn't and if it isn't true, it isn't an insult. It's false. Her logic has saved me from taking offense more than once and for this (among many other things), I am grateful to her. It was very hard work being offended.

  47. Anonymous6:20 PM

    perhaps you are aware that "in fact" is a figure of speech roughly equivalent to "actually." There's no contradiction; it's just rhetoric.

    Art, fair enough, but since you offer no evidence to support mysticism, I think it's also fair to say that mysticism itself is "just rhetoric".

    You were invited to tell us what you think about the best science being inspired by "a poetic sense of wonder" and in response you tell me you think I like to argue for the sake of arguing. Not much of a response, at least not to the question you were asked. Accusing someone of arguing for the sake of arguing while then proceeding to continue the argument with them reads to me like a cheap technique employed by argumentative people who are having difficulty arguing. I think it's what the psychologists call Personality Projection. I call it floundering. ;)

    You've offered several interesting quotations from Einstein to support your view that Einstein had religious or mystical beliefs. I appreciate Richard Dawkins is not exactly flavor of the month here, but in the first chapter of his book, The God Delusion, most of which which can be read online here, he writes,

    "Much unfortunate confusion is caused by failure to distinguish what can be called Einsteinian religion from supernatural religion. Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so), inviting misunderstanding by supernaturalists eager to misunderstand and claim so illustrious a thinker as their own. The dramatic (or was it mischievous?) ending of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, 'For then we should know the mind of God', is notoriously misconstrued. It has led people to believe, mistakenly of course, that Hawking is a religious man.

    ... One of Einstein's most eagerly quoted remarks is 'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.' But Einstein also said,

    'It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.'

    Does it seem that Einstein contradicted himself? That his words can be cherry-picked for quotes to support both sides of an argument? No. By 'religion' Einstein meant something entirely different from what is conventionally meant. As I continue to clarify the distinction between supernatural religion on the one hand and Einsteinian religion on the other, bear in mind that I am calling only supernatural gods delusional.

    Here are some more quotations from Einstein, to give a flavor of Einsteinian religion.

    'I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion.'

    'I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.'

    'The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.'

    In greater numbers since his death, religious apologists understandably try to claim Einstein as one of their own. Some of his religious contemporaries saw him very differently. In 1940 Einstein wrote a famous paper justifying his statement 'I do not believe in a personal God.' This and similar statements provoked a storm of letters from the religiously orthodox, many of them alluding to Einstein's Jewish origins. The extracts that follow are taken from Max Jammer's book Einstein and Religion (which is also my main source of quotations from Einstein himself on religious matters). The Roman Catholic Bishop of Kansas City said: 'It is sad to see a man, who comes from the race of the Old Testament and its teaching, deny the great tradition of that race.' Other Catholic clergymen chimed in: 'There is no other God but a personal God ... Einstein does not know what he is talking about. He is all wrong. Some men think that because they have achieved a high degree of learning in some field, they are qualified to express opinions in all.' The notion that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise, is one that should not go unquestioned. That clergyman presumably would not have deferred to the expertise of a claimed 'fairyologist' on the exact shape and colour of fairy wings. Both he and the bishop thought that Einstein, being theologically untrained, had misunderstood the nature of God. On the contrary, Einstein understood very well exactly what he was denying.

    An American Roman Catholic lawyer, working on behalf of an ecumenical coalition, wrote to Einstein:

    'We deeply regret that you made your statement ... in which you ridicule the idea of a personal God. In the past ten years nothing has been so calculated to make people think that Hitler had some reason to expel the Jews from Germany as your statement. Conceding your right to free speech, I still say that your statement constitutes you as one of the greatest sources of discord in America.'

    A New York rabbi said: 'Einstein is unquestionably a great scientist, but his religious views are diametrically opposed to Judaism.'

    'But'? 'But'? Why not 'and'?

    The president of a historical society in New Jersey wrote a letter that so damningly exposes the weakness of the religious mind, it is worth reading twice:

    'We respect your learning, Dr Einstein; but there is one thing you do not seem to have learned: that God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain. As everyone knows, religion is based on Faith, not knowledge. Every thinking person, perhaps, is assailed at times with religious doubt. My own faith has wavered many a time. But I never told anyone of my spiritual aberrations for two reasons: (1) I feared that I might, by mere suggestion, disturb and damage the life and hopes of some fellow being; (2) because I agree with the writer who said, 'There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another's faith.' ... I hope, Dr Einstein, that you were misquoted and that you will yet say something more pleasing to the vast number of the American people who delight to do you honor.'

    What a devastatingly revealing letter! Every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice.

    ... The one thing all his theistic critics got right was that Einstein was not one of them. He was repeatedly indignant at the suggestion that he was a theist. So, was he a deist, like Voltaire and Diderot? Or a pantheist, like Spinoza, whose philosophy he admired: 'I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings'?

    Let's remind ourselves of the terminology. A theist believes in a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation. In many theistic belief systems, the deity is intimately involved in human affairs. He answers prayers; forgives or punishes sins; intervenes in the world by performing miracles; frets about good and bad deeds, and knows when we do them (or even think of doing them). A deist, too, believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined to setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. The deist God never intervenes thereafter, and certainly has no specific interest in human affairs. Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings. Deists differ from theists in that their God does not answer prayers, is not interested in sins or confessions, does not read our thoughts and does not intervene with capricious miracles. Deists differ from pantheists in that the deist God is some kind of cosmic intelligence, rather than the pantheist's metaphoric or poetic synonym for the laws of the universe. Pantheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down theism.

    There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like 'God is subtle but he is not malicious' or 'He does not play dice' or 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic. 'God does not play dice' should be translated as 'Randomness does not lie at the heart of all things.' 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' means 'Could the universe have begun in any other way?' Einstein was using 'God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking, and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metaphor.

    ...Let me sum up Einsteinian religion in one more quotation from Einstein himself: 'To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind canot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.' In this sense I too am religious, with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever ungraspable'. But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because, for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural'. Carl Sagan put it well: "... if by "God" one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying ... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity."

    ... The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason."

    So I don't think your point about Einstein being religious, that is, believing in and worshiping a superhuman controlling power or powers, has been as well made as you might think. In fact, I think Dawkins demolishes it.

  48. Hi Noel,

    Nice sidestepping, or you truly do not understand? The vastness that you would agree to, would be a vastness that cannot be known.

    Do you agree that there is a vastness that will never be known by humankind? Simple question.

    And now that you answer it, you say how could you know that there is something that cannot be known.

    This philosophy, then, comes under a solipsist belief, that the only thing that exists is what you know anyway. Okay, that's possible. That's a model.

    Rus, I ask for your explanations for your mystical experiences after you'd given us an indication that you might have some and you respond by saying that you don't really have any and then ask me for mine, as though I had somewhere indicated having mystical experiences I could explain. Telling us what categories your explanations could potentially fit into is not telling us what your explanations are.

    I can give all sorts of explanations. They were God-given, God being of the same nature as the presences that seemt to be in the experiences. This would be very possible.

    It could be that I have a neaural allergic reaction to nuts, and don't know it. Whenever I eat cashews ro something, a "religious" experience occurs. There's an explanation as well.

    In fact, something like the God explanation and the cashew explanation could be true together.

    Thing is, I don't need an explanation. This is why I quoted Williams James. He has the best. most comprehensive study that I know of, and it's a hundred years old. His descriptions of the mystical coincide with my own experiences. Each will vary to a degree, because each is personal, but based on my experiences, what he brings forth makes sense to me.

    My belief is that these experiences will not be fully explained in all their aspects for some time. On the other hand, let's say that someone looks into them, and realizes that they have a complex of survival aspects to them. Let's say on one hand, they give, not only the experiencer of them, but the community she shares the experiences with, hope. Let's also say it is found that during mystical experiences of mosts kinds, healing hormones are released that lessen heart attacks, and decrease susceptibility to diabetes, say. And a bunch of other benefits, making mystics that much more fit to survive. Great!

    But, I don't need any explanation--even though I may find them interesting. That's a difference between us.

    When I ask about vastness that we will never know, I mean that I don't need to know. I already died, flatlined, twice, and was gone for a good period of time. I'm all set with explanations. I'm more loving life, back in, and taking care of what I see I can take care of.


  49. Two guys are on a park bench arguing about whether God exists. Harry says there's no God, that when you die, you get zilched. Freddy says when you die, you go to God in heaven.

    A lightning bolt strikes and takes them both, one at a time, in what can be described as an upwards luge of white, like snow only more fun. It's a blast, in fact.

    They get to the landing laughing, and are ushered into a line, waiting to get to a desk. Harry admits he was wrong. Freddy gloats.

    They get to the desk, and sure enough, the guy's name there is Peter. Peter's sending Harry back with a message of peace and love to the world.

    Freddy asks Peter, "So, when do I meet God?" Peter explains that, there in heaven, there are far more and better philodophers and scientists than there are on Earth, the greatest who ever lived, in fact, and they're pretty much in agreement that the possibility of their being a God is zero.

  50. Anonymous5:57 AM

    Rus, you say you can offer all sorts of explanations, but you're still essentially offering none. It could be this and it could be that is not really explaining anything. The truth is that you have no evidence to support your beliefs and apparently no explanations either, at least nothing we could call an explanation.

    The vastness that you would agree to, would be a vastness that cannot be known.

    No. That something is currently unknown does not mean it cannot be known. Terming it "cannot be known" is a logical fallacy because to claim that something cannot be known, one must first know not only that it exists but have enough knowledge of it to justify the assertion. The assertion and the justification are then in contradiction.

    Aside from it beng a fallacy, terming something "cannot be known" is also in my opinion giving up.

    That's the difference between science and faith. Science holds out hope and encourages us to keep trying; faith holds out no hope and encourages us to give up, publicly declare failure and surrender our mind to mysteries we are not 'meant' to understand.

    Take your pick. I know which I prefer.

  51. Anonymous6:16 AM

    By the way, I enjoyed the story of Freddy and Harry, and find it curious that you used so many physical terms to describe heaven - "landing", "laughing", "ushered into a line" "waiting at a desk", talking to "Peter."

    Most curious of all is that they've got mathematics in heaven!

  52. Hi Noel,

    You are incorrect. It is not a logical fallacy to assume that there are things that will never be known.


  53. Hi Noel,

    Because I think you are arguing in earnest, and not purposely dealing in tautology and such, I will go a step further to say that I have told you of some of my evidence of mystical experience. I have had them, as many others have.

    Can you prove belief exists? Where is your evidence that love exists, or faith? Or consciousness?

    So I don't require what you require for belief: physical evidence. There are those who take what I know of on faith. I certainly can no longer argue with them, as I did when I was an atheist. I told you before, that I am not an evangelist, so I will not accept a role of trying to prove anything to you, or convince you.

    I have been showing places when you have been fallacious, such as your saying that evolutionary theory had been proven. It has not, and cannot. Indeed, the proof of evolutionary theory is itself under the category of what humankind is incapable of knowing.

    And now, for instance, you're seeming to say that what cannot be known, cannot exist.

    This is an error you made before, and I mentioned how it is like you are a room, saying that no other rooms could possibly exist--and now, apparewntly, that they cannot exist because they cannot be known?

    No, most things cannot be known. We have enough to discover year after year, of what can be known. Ultimately, the earth will come to its end, and we will not have discovered nearly a fraction of even that that was right in front of us all the time.


  54. Anonymous4:33 PM

    Rus, the truth is that you don't know that "the earth will come to its end, and we will not have discovered nearly a fraction of even that that was right in front of us all the time", just like you don't know what to make of your mystical experiences. If you are honest with yourself, I think that is the conclusion that has to be drawn at this moment in time.

    Proven means to "demonstrate the truth or existence of somethng by evidence or argument." I did not concede that evolution wasn't proven. I conceded only that the purpose of science is not to prove but to explain and help us understand, therefore to have claimed science has proven something is wrong. My personal opinion is that the evidence supporting evolution proves it occurs, and please note that this personal opinion of mine is based on the evidence supporting evolution that I have personally seen and studied. To deny it is in my opinion to deny life itself.

    And I am not saying that what "cannot be known cannot exist." I think you are misunderstanding what I am saying which is simply that no one knows what cannot be known. Please think about it. There are things we don't know, but this doesn't have to mean we will never know them. It seems impossible that we will ever come to explain and understand everything about life. One thing is guaranteed: we never will if we give up trying.

  55. Hi Noel,

    You must mean that you don't know what to make of your evolutionary evidence, not that I don't know what to make of mystical experiences, after I have explained it very clearly and from many different angles. This is a projection on your part. You cannot prove evolutionary theory, because no one ever will.

    This takes the cake:

    There are things we don't know, but this doesn't have to mean we will never know them.

    What did I just say above, that we are each year discovering new things. So, you are catching up with me here, not making an argument that I have to think about.

    Now, here:

    I think you are misunderstanding what I am saying which is simply that no one knows what cannot be known.

    Would you like to take that statement back? Are you now agreeing with me that there are things that cannot be known?

    Should I now give you a lecture on thinking positive and not giving up? Or do you now see, how puny humankind is in intellect in relation to the vastness that is not only encountered each moment, but that will never be encountered or surmised? Yes, surmised, Noel, in and of itself, not as being in a set of things that will never be surmised.

    If I say there are people I will never meet, I am not thinking negatively. I meet new people most every day. Even though there are many people in the world who I cannot know, I know that they are there.

    "Proven" does not mean to "demonstrate the truth or existence of somethng by evidence or argument."

    To bring evidence and/or argument, is to bring "some proof". It does not "prove it" in the sense that a theory (as you erroneously assert with evolution) becomes "proven." What you're talking about is not "proving" something, but "supporting" it with evidence and argument.


  56. I am going to insert here an extended quote from the "models" section in a good reference article on "Theory" out of Wikipedia, that quickly addresses the problem you are having with theories and proving them:

    Humans construct theories in order to explain, predict and master phenomena (e.g. inanimate things, events, or the behaviour of animals). In many instances we are constructing models of reality. A theory makes generalizations about observations and consists of an interrelated, coherent set of ideas and models.

    According to Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time, "a theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations." He goes on to state, "any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single repeatable observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory."

    This is a view shared by Isaac Asimov. In Understanding Physics, Asimov spoke of theories as "arguments" where one deduces a "scheme" or model. Arguments or theories always begin with some premises - "arbitrary elements" as Hawking calls them (see above), which are here described as "assumptions". An assumption according to Asimov is "something accepted without proof, and it is incorrect to speak of an assumption as either true or false, since there is no way of proving it to be either. (If there were, it would no longer be an assumption.) It is better to consider assumptions as either useful or useless, depending on whether deductions made from them corresponded to reality.... On the other hand, it seems obvious that assumptions are the weak points in any argument, as they have to be accepted on faith in a philosophy of science that prides itself on its rationalism. Since we must start somewhere, we must have assumptions, but at least let us have as few assumptions as possible." (See Ockham's razor)
    . . . .

  57. Anonymous3:48 AM

    Rus, you haven't really explained anything.

    I agree there are things that are unknown. I do not agree that because something is currently unknown means it "cannot be known" for the reasons I've given (more than once).

    Here's something Richard Dawkins said that you might find interesting:

    "In the history of ideas, there are examples of questions being answered that had earlier been judged forever out of science's reach. In 1835 the celebrated French philosopher Auguste Comte wrote, of the stars: 'We shall never be able to study, by any method, their chemical composition or ther mineralogical structure.' Yet even before Comte had set down these words, Fraunhofer had began using his spectroscope to analyze the chemical composition of the sun. Now spectroscopists daily confound Comte's agnosticism with their long-distance analyses of the precise chemical composition of even distant stars."

    I've given you the dictionary definition of proven. Reject it if you like, but that's what it is. I've already agreed that the aim of science with its hypotheses, models and theories is to explain and understand, not prove.

    In my opinion it's fair to take evidence, particularly when it's massive, as proof, even if that's not what scientists do. It is what all of us do in our daily lives when we're not wearing our amateur philosophical hats. It's a waste of time to try writing the evidence off just because it is subject to change or philosophically 'unproven'. See how far a philosopher accused of a crime gets when he tries to dispute he was at the scene of the crime with the evasion: "well, it all depends on what sense you mean 'there.'"

    The idea that God exists or does not exist are not equal questions. You cannot ignore probability, well you can, but I call that willful ignorance.

    There is no evidence to support mystical beliefs. There is plenty supporting evolution.

    I've said a couple of times that it comes down to what you think is true and why you think it.

    And now I'm off on Christmas holiday. In case I don't speak with you before you know who mysteriously makes His annual appearance ... Merry Christmas!

  58. Hi Noel,

    It is so difficult to respond to you, because you misunderstand most everything, but yet you seem to be trying to think things through. I suspect a little devil's advocacy going on when you don't admit you have been wrong, or pull back from where you have.

    You say:

    I do not agree that because something is currently unknown means it "cannot be known" for the reasons I've given (more than once).

    I don't know who you would be agreeing with, if you agreed with such a thing. Nobody I have spoken with in my life thinks "that because something is currently unknown means it 'cannot be known.'"

    You say:

    Rus, you haven't really explained anything.

    Oh, yes, I have explained far far more than you have. You just refuse to accept explanations for what they are: explanations. I already told you I would not give "proof," something you cannot provide for evolution either.

    Do you see how you are having difficulty with disussion? You cannot accept what I am saying for what it is.

    You say:

    There is no evidence to support mystical beliefs.

    "Eyewitness" accounts throughout history. I have mentioned William James's article, but I can also mention many holy books. You can go to church on Sunday and talk to the believers as well. Keep in mind too, that if such a believer goes beyond personal experience to cite scripture, that just as you make many errors on your judgment while interpreting what scientists mean to prove something, many people of faith will also misinterpret these mystically inspired writings.

    You quote Dawkins:

    "In the history of ideas, there are examples of questions being answered that had earlier been judged forever out of science's reach. In 1835 the celebrated French philosopher Auguste Comte wrote, of the stars: 'We shall never be able to study, by any method, their chemical composition or ther mineralogical structure.'

    Yes, of course, and I have not made such an error.

    And then you say:

    The idea that God exists or does not exist are not equal questions. You cannot ignore probability, well you can, but I call that willful ignorance.

    You have probability statistics? Show them.

    Okay here, we get to what is at least part of the problem you are having with the proof of evolution, something I addressed in my last post above:

    I've given you the dictionary definition of proven. Reject it if you like, but that's what it is. I've already agreed that the aim of science with its hypotheses, models and theories is to explain and understand, not prove.

    You are trying to refute what it means to have proven the theory of evolution, by citing a dictionary definition of what it means to bring "some proof". You don't see the difference.

    All I can think to do for you here, is now show you that you are misusing the term "proof". Before you had said:

    Proven means to "demonstrate the truth or existence of somethng by evidence or argument." I did not concede that evolution wasn't proven.

    This is incorrect. I'm not sure how else to explain it to you. If you bring supportive proof, DNA evidence for instance, that a crime had been committed in a certain way, you will probably not have proven it in total. The defense would then come up with their supporting evidence that the crime was not committed, by alibi, for instance.

    To have proven a theory, such as the theory of evolution, means to have proven it so totally, that it is obvious within the proof that it will never be, and no aspect of it will ever be refuted.

    In my opinion it's fair to take evidence, particularly when it's massive, as proof, even if that's not what scientists do.

    The problem with your use of the term is that here you use the term "proof" to mean "supporting evidence." Your sentence then becomes:

    In my opinion it's fair to take evidence, particularly when it's massive, as supporting evidence, even if that's not what scientists do.

    So your sentence becomes either a near-meaningless statement, that now the word "evidence" can be exchanged for anything, such as "cement":

    In my opinion it's fair to take cement, particularly when it's massive, as supporting cement, even if that's not what scientists do.