Evidence is in the Eye of the Beholder

(Version 1.1)

Been having a lively discussion (when actual discussion is able to be had) with some atheist Tweeples and I realized I made a pretty significant error: I didn’t clearly define “evidence” or rather how I see it. (This is why it is always sage advice to define terms clearly before debating with people. You can easily end up talking past each other.) I believe (know?) that when we humans apprehend reality, we ultimately perceive only a limited sliver of it in our waking conscious state. First, our sensory organs detect only so much. Next, our evolved brains organize that raw input into an intelligible perception of the world. Finally, our conscious thinking minds take those perceptions and makes decisions upon them.

The last part is key because that is where philosophy comes in. Materialism and empiricism, for example, make important truth claims on our perceptions of the world and the world itself. So someone with a different worldview, e.g. myself who adheres to the Jesuit worldview, will necessarily have some points of departure when perceiving the same “evidence.” A worldview is just that: a view of the world not some unmediated apprehension of the world or specifically, “evidence.” What’s worrisome for me is when people fail to see this distinction for whatever reason. If a person feels strongly their worldview is True, capital ‘t’, then they can even be hostile to this relativizing fact. And that’s sad because it opens one up to self-delusion and error needlessly. Truth is hard enough to find in this world.

St. Augustine 1500 1600 years ago had choice words Christians, esp. those anti-science Christians of today, who make this error.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these [scientific] topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

And just in case you atheists out there think you’re off the hook, check this out from atheist cosmologist Chris Impey.

Rebutting the third proposition [that we are all living within a simulation] is surprisingly difficult. Any simulation constructed by a far superior race wouldn’t be glitchy, as it was in the movie The Matrix. There’s no reason we’d know we’re simulated unless the creators wanted us to. Your conviction that you’re made of flesh and blood and free will is part of the simulation. Since it’s easier and cheaper to create computational life-forms than biological organisms, by the Copernican Principle there are many more simulated than real creatures. OK, this argument is more of a provocation than a serious suggestion, but it’s no more unfounded or illogical than the multiverse or hidden space-time dimensions.

Impey, Chris (2012-03-19). How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe (Kindle Locations 5601-5606). Norton. Kindle Edition.

So folks, slow down when crying “Evidence!” A little humility goes a long way to understanding.

Why I’m Not Necessarily a Materialist

What materialists take on faith is too reductive.  The abuse of Occam’s Razor is problematic on a philosophical and practical level.  And if it doesn’t work out in the mundane why should I assume it does in matters of “ultimate concern?”

Andy Newberg lays out the scientific philosophical issues:

Occam’s Razor tells us not to assume more than what is needed to explain something. But this of course is an assumption and one that places substantial importance upon the word, “necessity.” After all, there is a grand assumption as to what actually constitutes necessity in the context of trying to explain something. This is particularly the case when considering the existence of God. For example, many religious individuals cannot conceive of a universe without God. For them, God is absolutely necessary. A scientist might argue that physical laws explain the phenomena that make up the universe, and, therefore, God is not necessary. For one person, what constitutes necessity is completely different than for another person.

There are even broader problems with the notion of necessity when one considers the “why questions” that may be outside the purview of science. Take the law of gravity mentioned above. Science can explain how gravity works between two objects, but why should it be based on the exact equations we find rather than others? In fact, why should gravity exist at all? Answering the “why” questions sometimes stretches necessity to its limits. For example, many cosmologists are now entertaining the hypothesis that the universe is actually a multiverse with an infinite number of possible universes, some of which have gravity while others do not. These cosmologists have argued that there is an absolute necessity to have an infinite number of possible universes in order to explain why our universe is the way that it is. They argue that if there is an infinite number of universes, then one of them, by pure chance, would have gravity and all of the other laws of nature exactly as they are. But if we apply Occam’s Razor, is it more likely that there is an infinite multitude of universes that we can never measure, or is it more likely that there is a God that we can never measure? Which answer satisfies necessity?

Andrew B. Newberg. Principles of Neurotheology (Ashgate Science and Religion Series) (Kindle Locations 1195-1205). Kindle Edition.

Is It Real Son, Is It Really Real Son

Is it real son, is it really real son
Let me know it’s real son, if it’s really real
Something I could feel son, load it up and kill one
Want it raw deal son, if it’s really real.

–Method Man, Bring the Pain

“The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once.”

–Rene Descartes

I get a lot of crap on Twitter from atheists who like to assume that they know reality and of course I as a Christian do not. “Trust your senses.” “You have belief and I have reality.” “Reality doesn’t require faith.” (That one’s my favorite!) And so on and so on, etc., etc. ad nauseum. It’s deeply ironic because they cover up for a distinct and clear lack of evidence for their claims. (I ignore specious “burden of proof” gambits designed to relieve themselves of their burden because opinions stated as fact require evidence. Period.) To illustrate why such a believe is a step out in faith, I quote from Chris Impey, atheist and cosmologist, writing in his wonderful book How It Began.

[Nick] Bostrom [futurist and philosopher] frames a logical argument based on three propositions, at least one of which must be correct. One: Almost all civilizations go extinct or destroy themselves before gaining the capability to create simulated creatures like us. That’s a gloomy option because we’re approaching that stage. Two: Almost all civilizations choose not to create simulated creatures, even though they could. That’s possible, but the $50 billion a year gaming market on this planet indicates a strong desire of humans to create and manipulate artificial entities. Three: Nothing is real, everything is an illusion, and we actually live inside a simulation.

Rebutting the third proposition is surprisingly difficult. Any simulation constructed by a far superior race wouldn’t be glitchy, as it was in the movie The Matrix. There’s no reason we’d know we’re simulated unless the creators wanted us to. Your conviction that you’re made of flesh and blood and free will is part of the simulation. Since it’s easier and cheaper to create computational life-forms than biological organisms, by the Copernican Principle there are many more simulated than real creatures. OK, this argument is more of a provocation than a serious suggestion, but it’s no more unfounded or illogical than the multiverse or hidden space-time dimensions [from theoretical physics and quantum mechanics].

Impey, Chris (2012-03-19). How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe (Kindle Locations 5596-5606). Norton. Kindle Edition.

I came to the same extremely disturbing conclusion after watching The Matrix. There would be no way to prove I wasn’t in one myself. Any “evidence” I employed to rebut the possibility could also be used to support the proposition that I am in fact in a power plant somewhere!  It didn’t matter whether we are or aren’t actually in some power plant. What matters is that the standard rules of scientific evidence are powerless to get us out of this quandary. Repeated “physical” demonstrations within a simulation simply reveal the simulation performs as expected.

Materialist atheists make an ironic choice in faith to believe no simulation or Matrix or Dream exists, and God bless ’em for it! Ironic because they have absolutely no evidence with which to support that belief. And that’s what many such fideisitc atheists can’t admit to: their faith.  And why I always have an impish little smile on my face when I read their quips on Twitter!

Let he who has ears to hear, let him hear…

Fareed Zakaria: How Conservatism Lost Touch with Reality

Party Politics: How Conservatism Lost Touch with Reality – TIME:

“In fact, right now any discussion of government involvement in the economy — even to build vital infrastructure — is impossible because it is a cardinal tenet of the new conservatism that such involvement is always and forever bad. Meanwhile, across the globe, the world’s fastest-growing economy, China, has managed to use government involvement to create growth and jobs for three decades. From Singapore to South Korea to Germany to Canada, evidence abounds that some strategic actions by the government can act as catalysts for free-market growth.”

This is why I don’t have respect for “the new conservatism.”

Why Michael Steele Must Stay

Why Michael Steele Must Stay:

“So Michael Steele becomes the saving grace for the mainstream moderates and libertarians in the party (like me) and for those conservatives who ‘get it.’ GOP insiders like to say that Michael Steele works well for Republicans because he is a fresh conservative GOP face who ‘happens to be black.’ They have it wrong. The GOP needs Michael Steele because he is black and because he understands that he must speak for more than 30 percent of the party’s political base.
For the record, there are pro-choice Republicans.  There are Republicans who support gay marriage. There are Republicans like me who support affirmative action policies.  We are in the minority in the GOP, for sure, but if the party is going to survive and eventually thrive, it needs a leadership that acknowledges us. Republicans need Michael Steele. And, protests or not, they know it.”

(Via The Root.)

I’ve long thought that libertarianism is the path of success for the GOP. I’m just not sure the Christian Right will let that happen. They are just not into freedom they don’t define.