Thursday, January 6, 2011

Refuting a Pure Naturalist

The following is my reply in a recent online debate with a pure naturalist concerning the existence of the supernatural.
Matt, your recent comment bears scrutiny:
"I believe that we should not be convinced of anything at all without sufficient evidence, and that those propositions which we do not have evidence for we leave open while favouring the option that requires least assumptions. I believe that therefore in the absence of any evidence for anything supernatural we should proceed as if there is no supernatural."

Several interesting and indefensible positions have been taken in your statement(s):

(1) You said (loosely---with a tiny caveat) that no one should ever accept anything without "sufficient evidence." This is a magician's trap door, a backdoor that is often invoked to escape from (especially) logical arguments. It is the "alchemy of reasoning" to merely wave the magic wand of doubt and (unfounded) criticism when evidence is presented and then pronounce: "I personally do not find that evidence (here it comes--wait for it) SUFFICIENT." The fallacies inculcated here are myriad, not the least of which are:

(a) The inability to prove that one's conclusions are UNBIASED. Only a truly unbiased critic can even begin to deal with your first argument, which neither you nor I can claim to be.
(b) Our conclusions concerning the MERIT of evidence is predicated WHOLLY upon our experience with, and depth of knowledge concerning, a subject, and the influences that have trained our senses or our sense of validity. A simple discussion with a 12th century Englishman concerning the sphericity of the earth and the nature of gravity would be mocked as wholly inadequate at best, and reviled as lunacy at worst.
(c) One can never know for certain that one has been exposed to the BEST EVIDENCE, therefore to draw narrow-minded conclusions, such as that "the (super)natural (funny term) doesn't exist" is to claim a near-godlike knowledge, clearly unavailable to a mere carbon creature, sucking air on a infinitesimal orb, whirling magically on the far western spiral arm of a galaxy in many respects unremarkable, among billions of unique galaxies, contained within an expanding mystery logically-induced to be some 30 billion light years broad. Neither of us has traveled much beyond the biosphere of this orb, so let's be a little more humble regarding our handle on universal truths.
(d) As has been demonstrated and remonstrated in various earlier posts, the "acceptance of evidence" is a logical construct (involving arguments and conclusions) and logic apriori necessitates a Creator.

(2) You worship at the altar of Occam (anglicized, Ok, Ok, Ockham for you purists!), not surprising, many do, and often with good reason, though some see a self-contradiction within it's own position because in order for it to be true, it creates more complexity to truth. Occam indeed adds at least one, if not more, entities to the pantheon of logic and truth, thereby, perhaps eliminating itself as worthy of consideration, but I digress.

To apply Occam to the concept of origins fails for many reasons, not the least of which is the posit of regression of causes. If there is no ultimate uncaused cause (greater than the universe--I guess you would call it (super)natural, though that term is odd considering that nature is a product of the Uncaused Cause---maybe super in the sense of "above" would possibly work), let me restate, if there is no ultimate uncaused cause, then the pure "naturalist" violates Occam by necessitating an infinite regression of causes and events, multiplied entities beyond fathoming. Without an external cause, the naturalist is forced to "deify" nature with multiplied essential entities that are unjustified by Occam's mandate. I.E. the four fundamental laws (and dimensions) are entities caused by an earlier state of 10 dimensions (Hawking) which collapsed, and those 10 entities were emanations of an earlier unknown entity or entities, which were then caused by (do this math "(causes and effects) to the infinite power".

Another example of Occam's failure, Mt. Rushmore. The simplest explanation is an amazing coincidence of erosion and specific properties of rock = (apparent) sculpture.
The actual truth, it is the direct effect of the executed plan of an incredibly complex and intelligent designer utilizing many tools and techniques (similar to but faster than erosion) with assistance, based upon detailed images of past statesmen (pretty complex process).

(3) You then pack at least 4 or 5 tons of dynamite into the hole you have previously excavated and toss in this little spark: "I believe that therefore in the absence of any evidence for anything supernatural we should proceed as if there is no supernatural."

Staggering statement. The air is still congested from the geyser of dust and dirt that has been ejected from the pit being dug here. Are you sure you really want to go there? OK.
"In the absence of any evidence"... This statement is so below you, for I have perceived a person of greater logic than this previously in your writings. I think you may have copied this from somewhere else (I'm not accusing you of plagiarism, merely hyperbole). Please re-read (1) and (a-d) above again. Absence of evidence, oh yes, the sweet and invigorating vacuum of pure naturalism, a wonderful place to retreat when unable to debate in the logical realm. Tactic: Merely dismiss the possibility that evidence can be brought forward to support something. It is an a priori tenet of naturalism, allowing no divine foot in the door, to quote another. In the words of Sagan (Peace blessings upon him) the "cosmos: all there ever was, or is, or ever will be." (roughly) Really? Define Cosmos then. Go ahead, try. It will have to be reduced to some combination of that which we have "perceived" or "deduced" based upon previous discoveries. Therefore, as soon as you define, literally meaning to "create boundaries" you have excluded further possibilities of new discoveries by virtue of the meaning of the word DEFINE (to mark out boundaries).

Your statement, while containing the glint of the gold of open-mindedness (...we should proceed as if...), is nothing more than unsatisfying fools gold of sarcastic rejection of the notion of satisfying evidence. It's not unlike the King in Princess Bride, who attempts to satisfy the inquiry of Buttercup by claiming that he is being fair by sending out her letter upon "his four fastest ships" but has, in reality, done nothing of the sort. It is a statement rife with contempt and a shallow veneer of fairness.

Though this type of sabre rattling does not equivocate a serious response, one can easily present the jury with a formidable panoply of evidence to "convince sufficiently." I will list out a portion of the evidence that I typically use (though not exhaustively), The Law of Cause and Effect, the existence of Logic/Order, The First and Second Law of Thermodynamics (universe cannot be eternal since usable energy has not been exhausted), the impossibility of an infinite regression of causes, specific resonance of Carbon-12, specific rate of early hyper-inflation (big bang), the Self-Explanation paradox (no physical entity can completely explain itself) (moving more locally), DNA (being both a language and an encoded message--impossible without intelligence, and considering that DNA is so complex it has taken us over two decades with supercomputers and thousands of scientists to "crack"(case closed)), RNA, Mitosis, Chirality and protein synthesis, human exceptionalism (overkill in terms of pure naturalistic assumptions--i.e. art, poetry, language, discovery, creativity, etc), human mind (not brain), consciousness, self-awareness, intelligence, morality (there's a fun one--read C.S. Lewis, former atheist), guilt, history, fulfilled prophecy, the resurrection, the Jewish nation, eyewitness testimony (whether accepted or not does not invalidate their claims), etc, and finally, the Universe (this one is so often overlooked, that whole forest-tree thing).

One would look at a painting in the Louvre, and no sane person would argue that it was only the product of unintelligent forces, yet the ENTIRE UNIVERSE (that contains, among other things, all the painters that ever lived) itself does not invoke a designer(!) is an assault on sensibility that could be labeled and prosecuted as criminal in most respects.To point to an infinitesimal effect (the painting) and KNOW that it is the product of intelligence, but then to look wholistically at the entirety of the physical universe and then discount intelligence is absurdity of a level beneath anyone capable of thought.

If any statement has smirked of any personal attack, I do sincerely apologize, that is not my intent, I am dismantling the arguments. I take it you are a fair and intelligent person, and I do hold you in respect. Your knowledge of certain aspects of this discussion has left me in awe of your level of study. I wish you the best in your future investigations, but unfortunately the mere accumulation of facts does nothing to overcome assumptions and biases that are foundational to a person's sense of security. That applies to people on both sides of this debate. Overcoming bias is the one necessary thing, yet, alas, it is, perhaps, the most difficult, because one can never trace back the real sources of their own pre-disposition toward the validity or invalidity of evidence. If one has a strong predilection for a belief in the divine, little can dissuade, and if one has deeply held assumptions making the divine superfluous and primitive, then the bailiff should lock the doors to the courtroom.

In effect, court may be in session, but the jury has passed the verdict before entering the chamber, sadly, (and unbeknownst to them) they sit in deceitful open-mindedness, listening to the arguments, dismissing them upon completion, and eager to pass judgment because they already know the answer.

May God bless your journey of investigation. He is not afraid of questions and inquiry. In fact, by virtue of the human mind He created, He necessitates it in His sensient creations.

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