The "Show Me" State (of mind)

No, I’m not from Missouri! Over the years, I have had unbelievers, Atheists, or whatever, say to me,

“When you can produce physical evidence, which I can examine with my senses, of creation and the resurrection, then I will believe that there is a God.”

Of course, as everyone knows, or maybe not, “Faith is…the evidence of things not seen.” So, these unbelievers, Atheists, or whatever, and I always simply turned and walked away from each other, without uttering another word.

Today, I want to be that self-assured, as well as arrogant, prosecuting attorney, when it comes to this issue. I want to ask a similar question to the unbeliever, Atheist, or whatever, and my question comes from the same skepticism that was exhibited by these others, only, of course, from the exact opposite perspective.

“When you can produce physical evidence, which I can examine with my senses (by senses, I mean only my touch, taste and feel alone, since telescopes, as well as lectures, quips, qualms and queries, by mere mortals, mean less than nothing to me!), of the big-bang, dark energy and mass, and at least 1000 (I think that’s a fair number) complete, and I do mean complete, skeletal remains from every evolutionary stage of man, then I will be believe in evolution and all else you profess to believe!”

I believe my approach is fair here, and-perhaps-even scientific, since I’m following the prescribed method of interrogation by those, as you, who refuse to believe in creation and yet firmly believe in another, as equally unfalsifiable, doctrine. Besides, unlike me, you claim to have the physical evidence for your belief, so, unlike me, you need to produce it if you want to convert those, like me, who are more than doubting!

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28 Responses

  1. I like this. It’s a nice reductio ad absurdum argument against empiricism. It also might work as a reductio against evidentialism, but only if one is committed to a strict empiricism about what can count as evidence.

    In any event, I’m neither an empiricist nor an evidentialist, so you’ll get no argument from me! It seems you were spoiling for a fight; hope I haven’t disappointed you!

  2. It seems you were spoiling for a fight; hope I haven’t disappointed you!

    Actually, you haven’t disappointed me in any way, and I’m not being sarcastic. I guess, in reading my post again, this would appear to be the case, however.

    Carl, have you ever had something laying heavy on your heart and mind and you can’t figure out a way of explaining it to someone else? Well this was my way of trying to explain, in very layman terms, what has always troubled me about this issue. Thanks for not blowing me off!

    The funny thing is, I’m learning a great deal from reading these discussions, on both sides, and they have given me a great deal of info to chew on. These discussions have also been a boost for my faith, since the more I read here, and in other places, the more I am assured that God exists! Not that I doubted before;-)

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. You’re welcome, DB.

    My approach to these issues has been thoroughly informed by a 19th century debate between W. K. Clifford and William James. Clifford wrote an essay called “The Ethics of Belief”: James responded with a lecture, subsequently published, called “The Will to Believe.”

    Roughly, Clifford makes a case for evidentialism — he argues that we have an epistemic duty to proportion our belief to the evidence at hand, and to reject beliefs which are founded on insufficient evidence.

    In response, James argues, effectively, that while this is a wise maxim for a scientist, we cannot live as scientists — we have to live as human beings, and as such, there are circumstances under which we have no choice but to believe on the basis of insufficient evidence. This is when we are confronted with options that are “live,” “momentous,” and “forced.” In other words, when we have to choose one option or another (“forced”), when both options are plausible to us (“live”), and which we choose makes a difference as to how we live (“momentous”). So, James argues, the decision as to whether to have a life of faith or not, or which faith to have, is very different from the decision whether to accept or reject a scientific theory.

    I think that this is right, and as I’ve indicated previously in our conversations, I tend to think of my atheism along Jamesian lines rather than along Cliffordian lines. In that respect I’m quite different from the so-called “New Atheists” who are basically orthodox Cliffordians.

    By contrast, I’m not empiricist with respect to epistemology, but a pragmatist, and in fact something of a Kantian pragmatist. So I’m quite willing to accept that our capacity to conceptualize, to infer, and to posit the existence of unobserved entities, is indispensable both to science and to human life generally. Our best scientific theories are as much a matter of invention as of discovery. Some people might think that taking this approach diminishes the authority of science, but I don’t.

  4. “When you can produce physical evidence, which I can examine with my senses (by senses, I mean only my touch, taste and feel alone, since telescopes, as well as lectures, quips, qualms and queries, by mere mortals, mean less than nothing to me!), of the big-bang, dark energy and mass, and at least 1000 (I think that’s a fair number) complete, and I do mean complete, skeletal remains from every evolutionary stage of man, then I will be believe in evolution and all else you profess to believe!”

    Whoa. We’ll have start a lot further back than dark energy. If you believe only immediate sensory data, then we’ll first have to convince you that the earth revolves around the sun. When you stand outside and watch it, the sun obviously starts in the east and moves across the sky to the west. You can see it with your own eyes, and you can’t feel the earth move under you at all.

    Besides, if the earth moved, centrifugal force would lift you up off the ground. No way. The senses say No! If the earth revolved, a 700-mph wind would blow us all away. (There is a prevailing westerly around the earth, but it blows in the opposite direction from what you would expect if the earth rotates. Further evidence of the senses that the sun goes around the earth.) Not only that: drop a ball off a tower. If the earth revolved, the ball would not fall straight down, but would move away from the tower as well. The senses say No again.

    So you see that we have a lot of work to do with your immediate sense impressions before we can begin to talk about concepts as high up the evidentiary ladder as evolution. I don’t think you’ll ever get there. Perhaps there might be hope for your grandchildren?

  5. Olorin, looks like you’ve resorted to the disdain route again. What’s got you stirred up? You and “Kitab” haven’t been talking have you? 😉

  6. Olorin,

    Evidently, while you’re watching the sun, earth, moon, or whatever your babbling was about, you have forgotten, or maybe never learned, how to comprehend what you have read by someone who disagrees with you, and then, with that comprehension, providing the answers or, in this case, evidence requested. I refer you back to my statement, which is quoted on your comment! In other words, “show me the money!!” and…..shhhhh

  7. A satire of issues involved in the original post:

    Once upon a time there was a group of twelve detectives who were called to a complicated crime scene. There were some different groups of witnesses to the crime, as well as some forensic evidence. There were also two suspects, one was guilty and one was innocent.

    Two detectives immediately went and began trying to assemble the basic story of what happened from the different groups of witnesses to interpret the scene.

    One of the other ten said, “We can’t go by eye-witness testimony at all. It’s notoriously unreliable. We should not even talk with the witnesses lest our forensic analysis be slanted by that. We’re detectives. Let’s just look at the facts!” Another said, “Detectives….yes, observation and facts. That’s science. Science is good, so science has to have the answers.” So one picked up a bit of dirt on the scene and studied it carefully. Then he tasted a little of it and said, “I detect…that this tastes like…..dirt!” Another detective scribbled down, “The dirt tastes like….dirt.” as one of the detectives peered over his shoulder as he wrote.

    The writer looked up at him and said, “What are you doing?”

    “I’m peering at what you are writing.”

    “Oh, we can call that peer review! I’ll go report on what we detectives have detected here now that you have peered at it.” So those two detectives left to go publish their findings.

    The first two detectives came back to the others and one said, “I think we have the general story down and the facts here seem consistent with it. In fact, they seem to support it. Look at those footprints, they are the first suspect’s size.”

    The other detectives replied, “What? You’re not real detecting detectives as we are. Just look at what we can detect!” One picked up a piece of grass and studied it carefully. Then he sniffed it and said, “This smells like….grass!” Another wrote that down as a detective peered over his shoulder. Then the group looked at the footprints in the grass and dirt that the other two detectives had pointed out to them. One said, “Well I detect…that’s just grass and dirt! That’s all we real detectives have detected and written about here, just check our peer reviewed writings. You two aren’t real detectives, like we are.”

    The crowd generally believed the two detectives who had made an effort to assemble the whole story, much to the chagrin of the other detectives who thought they need more education about what being a detective was. The two detectives who got to the truth never were called “real” detectives by the group but they got to the truth and told the people about it because the truth was all that mattered to them.

  8. Carl,

    “I think that this is right, and as I’ve indicated previously in our conversations, I tend to think of my atheism along Jamesian lines rather than along Cliffordian lines. In that respect I’m quite different from the so-called “New Atheists” who are basically orthodox Cliffordians.”

    I hear you! I can’t say that I comprehend fully or agree, but I understand what you’re saying and why you believe as you do. Again, a great deal of new stuff for me!

    Just a side note, and I can’t say this without using certain terminology, which will hack some off, I’m sure, but here I go. I, unlike many other believers I have known in the past, am not judging anyone on this site or in the world, it isn’t my purpose or right. I don’t believe in a literal hell, but I do believe at some point, in the distant, or not, future, God knows when;-), we will all be drawn together. This isn’t a proselytizing statement, it’s just what I believe.

  9. …we cannot live as scientists — we have to live as human beings…

    A satire of the abuse of science to deny human nature, art and design in general:

    Once upon a time there was an artist who painted a picture for a scientist. She was going to give it to him to hang on his wall but noticed that he was looking at it too closely so she said, “Stand back here with me.” But he kept staring and replied, “It looks like it is a compound of pigments, some type of material.” The artist tried again, “I know, come back here with me and you will be able to see the big picture.” He said, “But I only look at things scientifically. Science assures safety and progress but people talking about ‘the big picture’ have done terrible things in the name of the big picture!” Then he got out a little magnifying glass and studied a corner of the picture intently. She said, “Look, just because other people have done that doesn’t mean anything about me and you’re still looking at it wrong. Now would you just come back here and look at the big picture with me?”

    “No, it’s not scientific to look at the big picture. I focus on what is tested, verifiable and safe.” Then, he got out a knife to take a scraping of the picture. The artist came forward, grabbed his hand and said, “Stop! What do you think you’re doing?” He replied, “I have to break up the material to make observations about it.”

    “No, you’re going to ruin it! You should have stood back to observe it with me if you wanted to make observations. I can see that you do not want to see the big picture. You know, that is really ashame because it is beautiful.” Then she took it off the wall and walked out. The scientist caught a glimpse of her picture as she walked out and it seemed beautiful. Then he thought, “But I have to be scientific.” So he turned away and went back to his test-tubes.

  10. Carl: “Roughly, Clifford makes a case for evidentialism — he argues that we have an epistemic duty to proportion our belief to the evidence at hand, and to reject beliefs which are founded on insufficient evidence.”

    Perhaps we have that duty. But how do people actually believe? Evolutionarily, humans have a “hyperactive pattern detector” that sees faces in clouds and Madonna in tree knots. Why? Because not seeing a pattern when one ois present will get you eaten by the tiger. Seeing a patrwern when there is none, like a face in a cloud or a madonna in a tree knot, is relatively harmless.

    The other effect is “confirmatory bias,” which patterns evidence into preexisting beliefs. Probably also an evolutionary effect.

    The question of evidence is always a difficult one. Who besides a logician would agree that spotting a white swan serves as evidence for the proposition that all crows are black (contrapositive).

  11. mynym wrote,

    “No, it’s not scientific to look at the big picture. I focus on what is tested, verifiable and safe.” Then, he got out a knife to take a scraping of the picture. The artist came forward, grabbed his hand and said, “Stop! What do you think you’re doing?” He replied, “I have to break up the material to make observations about it.”

    “No, you’re going to ruin it! You should have stood back to observe it with me if you wanted to make observations. I can see that you do not want to see the big picture. You know, that is really ashame because it is beautiful.”

    “Not able to see the forest for the trees!” I understand the curiosity of man, and I believe it is a gift, a good thing. But, when any gift becomes something that blinds, or at least color-blinds, and makes us less than we were intended to be, then we may want to refrain from using that particular gift, at least until we can understand why it was given to us in the first place.

    The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious…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.(Albert Einstein)

  12. Admin: “Olorin, looks like you’ve resorted to the disdain route again.”

    The original quotation was a parody. My reply was a parody also. If the original quotation was intended seriously, and I had wrongly invoked Poe’s Law, then you should sense disdain.

    Admin: “You and “Kitab” haven’t been talking have you?”

    Yes. I engage the Book of Science frequently. You should try it.

  13. “I believe my approach is fair here”

    I don’t. The most fundamental aspect of humanity is our ability to learn from each other and from the past when we read what others have written. If you require direct sensory knowledge, I think you are discarding that fundamental ability.

    Astronomers use “recording instruments” with their “telescopes” to record “data”. Then they try to make sense of this “data”. They call this “science”. It seems to me that you are completely rejecting “science”.

    So, it often comes down to “authority”. Do you accept what others say they have done to record “data” and do you accept their “explanation” of that “data” – their description of “natural reality”? Thousands of scientists have made a lot of progress over the last few centuries and it seems that you reject it all because they can’t directly “show you”.

    So, if scientific authorities accept the “Big Bang”, by what authority do you reject it?

  14. “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious…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.(Albert Einstein)”

    Doesn’t that quotation seem a little odd for a person whose life was devoted to demystifying the ultimate nature of the universe by scientific explanation? Perhaps the quotation should not be employed casually, before winkling out some subtleties. See Isaacson, “Einstein: His Life and Universe” (Simon & Schuster 2007). You might start with pages 384 and 550.

    ===================================
    “Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber
    boeshaft ist er nicht.” (Einstein)

  15. Doesn’t that quotation seem a little odd for a person whose life was devoted to demystifying the ultimate nature of the universe by scientific explanation?

    Not really! I’m not claiming Einstein was a believer, but I am claiming that he hadn’t died to his affective nature, like many others who he so distictly points out in this quote. Do you actually speak German or do you just quote from it? My mother was full blooded German and I know some really profane phrases, but decorum prohibits me! Olorin, you’re dodging again, where’s my physical evidence?

  16. Not really! I’m not claiming Einstein was a believer, but I am claiming that he hadn’t died to his affective nature, like many others who he so distictly points out in this quote. Do you actually speak German or do you just quote from it? My mother was full blooded German and I know some really profane phrases, but decorum prohibits me! Olorin, you’re dodging again, where’s my physical evidence?

    Olorin, we are all for demystifying the ultimate nature of the universe through science. Einstein’s views run counter to both the modern naturalist and fervent believers.

    My understanding of Einstein’s beliefs was that he did believe in an impersonal god…a god without love…a god without interest in humans…

    “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.”

    (1)

    “In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for the support of such views.”

    “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

    Olorin seems to believe in a loving god, but a god without power…or a god of energy or a god of pure love (correct me if I’m wrong?) If God has no love, but is powerful, I’m not interested. If He has love, but no power, that interesting, but of little significance (he’s a cosmic puppy dog–dyslexia?). If He has no goodness but interest in humans, he’s a powerful and cruel dictator. If He is not just, but has power and interest, there can be no Justice under his creation. If he has love, power, knowledge, justice, and interest in human beings, you would expect expect this to be revealed to those in whom he expresses interest. This is a foundational argument for pointing to the Christian God, who is described as having all these characteristics.

    I’m not trying to directly tie this into ID, creationism, or naturalistic evolution at this time, but I do think there could be implications for each perspective. I have a hard time with the orthogonality position relating to the realms of science and theology. And believe it or not, I actually think Dawkins is correct in his theological extensions of naturalism to atheism (although tied back in with my arguments above), and that furthermore, if you are a pure naturalist it follows that believers are delusional (as he is so fond of saying). I don’t think evolution entails atheism, but I do think naturalism does. Of course you could probably split hairs all day long on different definitions of naturalism.

    (1) Wikipedia. Einstein.

  17. Trying to pin Einstein down on his beliefs is a long quest, not answerable from any single quotation or in a single sentence or paragraph. From reading several bios, I think I sort of maybe understand what he thought at several periods of his life.

    DB: “Not really! I’m not claiming Einstein was a believer, but I am claiming that he hadn’t died to his affective nature, like many others who he so distictly points out in this quote.”

    Who is he pointing out? What is “his affective nature”? He seems to have had very little feeling for his family, or for others in general. He used people at times. He could engross himself in his work. What kind of feeling would you say that is? He had strong negative feelings about quantum mechanics.

    My reading of the instant quotation is that his attraction to the “mystery” was not simply awe at a mystery per se, but that the awe was in the process of unraveling it, because Der Alte drew him into the process and would not let him rest until he had tried to make sense of it. This is opposed to the unthinking awe that stops short at inexplicability and goes no further.

    DB, what physical evidence die you request? Did I succumb to a senior moment?

    Shrink said: “Einstein’s views run counter to both the modern naturalist and fervent believers.”

    What are “modern naturalists”? What are their views? Do they vote as a bloc?

  18. Olorin said,

    “Who is he pointing out? What is “his affective nature”? He seems to have had very little feeling for his family, or for others in general. He used people at times. He could engross himself in his work. What kind of feeling would you say that is?”

    1)”Those whose eyes are closed and are as good as dead,” “who can no longer stand rapt in awe of the mysterious.” Those who have lost sight of anything but their own cognitition!
    2)It is what really separates him and us from his and our supposed chimpanzee, second-cousins removed.
    3)A human feeling!

    DB, what physical evidence die you request? Did I succumb to a senior moment?

    4)Read the post again!

    I have senior moments all the time, don’t feel bad or alone!

  19. The acid test[1] for anyone who fancies himself an Einstein hermeneuticist is to explicate his remark at the 1941 Symposium on Science, Philosophy and Religion: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

    ====================
    [1] The scientific test is to explain
    what the “acid test” tests for.

  20. “1)”Those whose eyes are closed and are as good as dead,” “who can no longer stand rapt in awe of the mysterious.” Those who have lost sight of anything but their own cognitition!”

    Your fervor seemed to indicate that you had some specific candidates in mind. Did you?

    “2)It is what really separates him and us from his and our supposed chimpanzee, second-cousins removed.”

    If you think chimps have no affective feelings, you don’t know many chimps. I visit a bunch of them every couple weeks. What separates humans from chimps is the ability to think recursively: our mind has a model of itself. (Cf. Douglas Hofstadter, “I Am a Strange Loop.”)

    “3)A human feeling!”

    Do you believe that animals cannot engross themselves in their work?

    “4)Read the post again!”

    I did, and I still can’t believe you were not parodying naive observational empiricism. If you were serious, then read my first comment as being serious also. And excuse yourself from any jury where there were no eyewitnesses to the crime. And don’t bother to wash your hands; you can’t see germs. And don’t believe in God; He is not palaable to any of the five senses. (Actually , we have about ten senses, fewer than sharks or geese, but the precise number doesn’t matter.)

    ===.=.=…=……===.===…=.=…===.=.===…=……===.=.=========

  21. Olorin said, in his usual smug and condescending tone,

    “I did, and I still can’t believe you were not parodying naive observational empiricism. If you were serious, then read my first comment as being serious also. And excuse yourself from any jury where there were no eyewitnesses to the crime.”

    Question #4) I can’t believe that this cynical, tongue-in-cheek post is still drawing this much “intellectual?” attention! I can’t believe that a simple, as you just stated, parody could have launched this much blathering! BTW, like most of these comments, our justice system is a joke, and thus, I couldn’t care less.

    Question 1)What the _____ do you think?!

    Question 2)I could care less what chimps are or have. I am a human being and therefore concerned with human beings!

    Question 3)Check out question #2!

  22. I said, on a comment a month ago, or so it seems,

    “Olorin, you’re dodging again, where’s my physical evidence?”

    This is my fault, I had forgotten that the staunch intellectual very rarely has a REAL sense of humor. After all, with all the reading and talking and commenting there’s not much room left for something as inane as humor or a, “gotcha!” So I will cease from this kind of activity. Oh, and I will never quote Einstein again, the heathen! Ooops, he’s not a heathen, that was a joke. Sorry, old habits are hard to break!

  23. Oddly enough, upon reading your post the English teacher in me thought of abstract nouns. One cannot use the senses to prove them, but they exist.

    Not that this necessarily adds much to the discussion – just a thought.

  24. Oddly enough, upon reading your post the English teacher in me thought of abstract nouns. One cannot use the senses to prove them, but they exist.

    This does add to the conversation, which, as you can probably tell, has deteriorated and slowed to a crawl. There are many things, in my estimation, that exist but cannot be proved with our senses or our limited ability to discern what we cannot reach out and touch and examine. Your statement points out, in a succinct way, what I was trying to say in this post: some issues will always come down to the unscientific nature of faith!

    Thanks for commenting.

  25. It seems to me that it’s a terrible mistake to assume that we have to choose between a naive empiricism (if you can’t sense it, it doesn’t exist) and naive fideism.

    Catherine’s point is well-taken — what about the objects referred to by abstract nouns? For example, what about numbers? Or moral or aesthetic ideals?

    Any empiricism which is too narrow to accommodate our thoughts about justice, beauty, or number theory is clearly not going to be of any use to us. But that doesn’t mean that naive fideism about those things is the only alternative, does it?

  26. Catherine, it’s always fascinating to me how each individual brings a new and interesting piece to any discussion. I think your point adds to the discussion.

    DB, yes, I think faith is inescapable. The question is, where do you feel drawn to place it.

    Carl, you are always teaching me. Thank you. I had to look up fideism. For those who are interested.

    Fideism is the view that religious belief relies primarily on faith or special revelation, rather than rational inference or observation (see natural theology). The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means faith-ism. (1)

    (1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fideism

  27. But that doesn’t mean that naive fideism about those things is the only alternative, does it?

    No! Nor was I implying that! I was implying, however, that I believe (note: my belief, not fact or theory) there are many things in life and beyond, which will probably always have to be accepted without man’s need and desire for physical evidence.

  28. Shrink,

    I feel drawn to place my faith in God, the only person I can truly put my full faith in, since this has been my experience in life: “Never will I leave you nor forsake you…”

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