Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Can Has Hypothesis?

If you google image "evidence of god", this picture comes up on the first page. I have no explanation for this.

Somebody at the Huffington Post doesn't seem to understand what a hypothesis is. At all.

A complaint often voiced by scientific atheists is that there is simply no evidence for God and therefore belief in the old codger is thoroughly unjustified. Frightened witless by this snort, creationists (and I include intelligent design advocates here) scurry about frantically trying to provide just such evidence. But what would scientific evidence for God look like, and what implications would it hold?

"Scientific atheists"? What does that even mean? Given that every atheist is an atheist because they find there to be no proof for any gods, we're all scientific atheists, or simply atheists. I can answer the question of what implications scientific evidence for god would hold: there is a god. The end. That wouldn't prove any particular religion correct necessarily, but it would end atheism, scientific or whatever.

This little episode highlights the absurdity of treating God as a hypothesis. He's impossible to pin down -- as might be expected from someone whose job description includes being infinite and everywhere. But as a thought experiment, let's set aside this little problem and assume that the scientific atheists and creationists are right and God can be treated as a hypothesis. If so, there ought to be conditions under which the hypothesis receives support, possibly even strong support. The ramifications of this are just too intriguing not to consider.

Haha! Not being able to prove the existence of god(s) is a feature, not a bug, foolish atheist! I win! I'd be annoyed by this, but hey, I can play that game, too! It's absurd to treat the Flying Spaghetti Monster as a hypothesis, because he's impossible to pin down, just as (s)he* should be, which proves that the FSM exists! Red sauce and parmesan for everyone!

If the physical constants fail as convincing evidence of God, then what might succeed? In his bookUniverses, philosopher John Leslie conjures up a rather fanciful scenario for potential God-evidence (I'm taking a few liberties here in order to make Leslie's example a bit more fun). Imagine obviously intentionally engineered artifacts descending harmlessly from the sky (God doesn't want to hurt anyone!) each with an engraved label saying "made by God." Scientists are able to perform definitive tests on these artifacts and conclude beyond all doubt that they have been fashioned by an omniscient, all-powerful agent.


I can't find anything on the Leslie scenario, but my guess is your "few liberties" are causing him to cough up his skull right now. But okay, yes, if the stars in the sky all line up one night to say OH HAI, YOU HAS BELIEFS IN ME, KTHNXBAI, yeah, I'll believe.

Now this may seem too whimsical to be taken seriously, but the important point is this: however one envisions convincing scientific evidence of God, let's suppose we've got it. Let's further suppose that this god is pretty much the god we all expected to find -- not Aristotle's reclusive thought-contemplating-itself god or Plato's disappointingly limited Demiurge, but the "golden rule," Ten Commandments kind of god with whom we are all pretty familiar. This God is now on the same footing as gravity, evolution, and the germ theory of disease. He is an accepted scientific fact. Now what?

The god we all expected to find? Who's "we"? The Hindus? The Muslims? The Buddhists? I could assume he's referring to the Christian god, but not even the Christians can agree on what he's like. Some think he's all about the love, some think he's chomping at the bit to smite the wicked and anything in between. So I guess by "we all" the author means to say "me."

Well nothing major -- only the end of both atheism and Christianity. If scientific atheists are true to their convictions, then it seems that they have no choice but to become theists. Their worldview is based on evidence and the evidence says there's a god.

Thank you for that, at least. I'll give the author props that he doesn't fall into the trap of painting atheists as nonbelievers so determined to nonbelieve that we'd ignore actual evidence. The problem is that it gets really weird from here, the basic thesis being that evidence of god is bad, in that it would prove Christianity wrong. Therefore, evidence is not to be sought.

Think about that for a moment. You don't want to prove your beliefs, because proof would make you wrong, therefore . . . ineffable? That's just willful cognitive dissonance right there.

Luckily for everyone, scientific attempts to prove or disprove God are all doomed to failure. We live in exactly the world the thoughtful Christian would expect to find. For those who believe, hints of God are everywhere. But none are convincing. Faith remains a requirement and atheism remains an option. A God who values free will would set it up just that way.

So, the world conforming to ineffability is proof of god, not proof that proponents have created a nice little work around to the no proof problem. Imagine your partner said to you one day, "You're cheating on me." You're not cheating on them, and they say, "I found no proof of your cheating, therefore I know you are cheating on me." I imagine you'd be a little frustrated. Pretty much how I feel about this line of reasoning.

However, pondering the questions raised by the God hypothesis have potential value. If the scientific atheist is sincere in claiming that it is a lack of evidence that compels disbelief, then he or she ought to be able to specify the type of evidence necessary to reverse this situation.

No, actually. I don't have to tell you what evidence is necessary. You're the one asserting the claim that your particular god exists, it's up to you to provide me with evidence of your claim. That's how logic works. Ineffable is not evidence.


*Is the FSM gendered?

16 comments:

  1. *Is the FSM gendered?

    Of course he is. We're not touched by its noodly appendage, we're touched by his noodly appendage.

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  2. When can women finally have a noodly god of our own? When?!

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  3. But as a thought experiment, let's set aside this little problem and assume that the scientific atheists and creationists are right and God can be treated as a hypothesis. If so, there ought to be conditions under which the hypothesis receives support, possibly even strong support. The ramifications of this are just too intriguing not to consider.

    But let's set aside for a moment the problem that I am single and have never even met Kristen Bell and assume my theory that I'm married to her can be treated as a hypothesis. If so, there ought to be situations where the hypothesis receives support, even strong support.

    Oddly enough, the likelihood of me getting married to Kristen Bell is higher than god suddenly deciding, "You know what, I'm going to announce my existence to the world."

    Imagine obviously intentionally engineered artifacts descending harmlessly from the sky (God doesn't want to hurt anyone!) each with an engraved label saying "made by God." Scientists are able to perform definitive tests on these artifacts and conclude beyond all doubt that they have been fashioned by an omniscient, all-powerful agent.

    Dumbest. Scenario. Ever.

    What about aliens performing practical jokes or attempting to set the stage for an invasion? What about PEOPLE performing practical jokes or attempting to use this as "proof" of god?

    And scientists wouldn't be able to definitively prove that an all-powerful being created these bizarre artifacts. All they'd be able to do was determine whether they have a terrestrial origin or not. If they don't it doesn't take alien teenagers fucking with the rubes out of the equation.

    We live in exactly the world the thoughtful Christian would expect to find.

    We also live in exactly the world the scientific atheist would expect to find. In fact, our ability to explain every event through science and our general lack of talking donkeys, the sun standing still in the sky, and evidence for a global flood indicates we live in a world that's not actually all that much like the one even a thoughtful Christian would expect to find...

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  4. alien teenagers fucking with us explains so much.

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  5. I was going to say something but it all seems covered here.

    Idiotic columnist is idiotic.

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  6. Hunh. Another reason for me to hate the HP. *is not surprised* Since the main issues have already been covered, I will confine my criticism to a totally irrelevant grammatical nitpick: "However, pondering the questions raised by the God hypothesis have potential value."

    PONDERING the questions raised... HAS potential value. PONDERING HAS. Questions have, pondering has.

    >_<

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  7. Wasn't there an old Star Trek episode about an alien teenager/child causing problems with Captain Kirk, etal?

    On some planet? All I remember is a giant black cat...

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  8. I'm not a scientific atheist. My opinion on the divine is purely emotional. I don't feel like there are gods, it's as simple as that. I don't have any need for evidence of gods any more than I have or would need evidence to prove my love for my wife.

    Some facts are merely self-evident, like "Cogito ergo sum."

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  9. YES! Squire of Gothos. Though I think the giant cat may have been from another episode. (That sort of thing happened a lot on original Star Trek, due to a severe lack of special effects technology.)

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  10. What everybody else said. Also:

    "If the scientific atheist is sincere in claiming that it is a lack of evidence that compels disbelief, then he or she ought to be able to specify the type of evidence necessary to reverse this situation."

    No. Some propositions are simply untestable. Since the Christian God is consistently defined as omniscient and omnipotent (also, usually, omnibenevolent and omnipresent), His existence is one of them. How do you measure something limitless?

    I would refer the author to Froborr's Positivism 101, but I think it's a lost cause.

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  11. The Flying Spaghetti Monster can't really have a gender. I mean, does it have a penis? Does the Christian God have a penis underneath his flowing imaginary robes?

    It's weird that English is so gender neutral (compared to French for example) but we have to he/she so much.

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  12. @ Meg - I'm never going to hear the phrase "touched by His noodly appendage" in the same way again... and it's all your fault.

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  13. Perhaps a flying fettuccine alfredo monster could be the FSM's wife?

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  14. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm - flying fettuccine alfredo monster...........


    what? i'm allergic to tomatoes!



    that aside - why does this whole article [not PF, the original] remind me of something a jehovia's witness i knew when we were both 12 said after reading "Hitchiker's Guide"?!
    there *IS* that whole huge section, on how the BableFish "proved" the existence of God, but "Without faith, [God] is nothing", and a man presented the BableFish to God as PROOF that God exists, thus destroying faith, and thus destroying God.

    .......................................

    yeah

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  15. Wasn't there an old Star Trek episode about an alien teenager/child causing problems with Captain Kirk, etal?

    On some planet? All I remember is a giant black cat...


    You sure you're not thinking of Cat?

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  16. "Wasn't there an old Star Trek episode about an alien teenager/child causing problems with Captain Kirk, etal?"

    You're thinking of Trelane (http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Trelane) - the self-proclaimed "Squire of Gothos" (actually a semi-ominipotent cosmic being with a fascination of earth military history) who forced Kirk and company to play stupid wargames in the Napoleonic Era until his parents showed up and told him it was time for bed.

    Yeah... that was some stupid shit.

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