From: padraig@ut-emx.UUCP (Padraig Houlahan)
Subject: Re: There Is No Test
In article <16710@mimsy.UUCP> firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
~Padraig John Houlahan writes:
~>But your word does not constitute extraordinary evidence. All I can do is
~>put you in the same category as Son of Sam.
~So answer the question: how do you evaluate *personal* experiences of this
~kind? Can you come up with criteria which foreswear a priori denial of the
~"miraculous" (i.e., that don't assume that naturalistic explanations must
I note that you have yet again avoided showing why you should not be included
with the likes of Son of Sam.
How do I evaluate personal experiences of this kind? Very carefully. I cannot
say with absolute certainty that god doesn't exist, nor can I say with absolute
certainty that the little old lady that saw the sun dance was hallucinating.
I'm willing to allow for the possibility of non-naturalistic phenomena,
however I consider it extraordinary and expect extraordinary evidence
before I would consider it's existence reasonably well demonstrated.
So what would it take me to believe? Can I think of any concievable
experiment that Jesus could do to prove his existence and divinity? Yes.
A good test might be the claim by a group of believers that Jesus
was going to communicate with them at midnight simultaneously at different
locations every night for a month - a good miracle by any standards.
Then placing a skeptic with each believer, he could ask the believer
to ask Jesus to pass on a question or information to other believers
suitably monitored. Then, if the informaton recieved matched the information
submitted, I would be convinced that a non-naturalistic event was
occurring. Furthermore, if Jesus, when questioned by the skeptics,
gave the same answer as recorded by all believers participating in the
event, I think his identity could be reasonably well established with
appropriate questioning. Such an experiment if carried out under
suitably controlled conditions would to my mind constitute scientific proof
of the existence of non-naturalistic phenomena and of Jesus' existence.
~>~>I cannot disprove all claims of ufo encounters, but it is not unreasonable
~>~>to wait for good evidence before accepting their existence as being true.
~>~I don't think the two classes of claims are quite comparable. Pseudoscience
~>~claims not to be religion, although it often acts as if it were religion and
~>~therefore shows itself not to be science either.
Pseudoscience is not science because it makes claims that fail scientific
~>Special pleading. For the sake of this discussion on evidence both religion
~>and pseudoscience must be approached in a similar fashion since both
~>continue to make claims that are beyond objective evaluation.
~That's not true. Pseudoscience by definition is bad science-- it is bad
~because it pretends to be science without playing by the rules of science.
~(For that matter, there is bad religion which also pretends to be science,
~and it is similar to pseudoscience in a way that real religion is not.)
Pseudoscience and religion are identical in that both claim non-naturalistic
mechanisms. Both can be tested in principle by their results. As I indicated
previously, the mechanisms may be invisible, but the results may be
tangible and subject to evaluation.
~>I have repeatedly asked you to provide a better approach to sorting out the
~>wheat from the chaff and you have repeatedly failed to do so.
~Well, obviously that which claims to be science and is not can be discarded
No. Just showing that astrology isn't science doesn't mean that an
astrologer couldn't yield this point and continue what he's doing.
~Beyond that, I'm not sure that there is are good rules for
~evaluating *evidence*. I think there are some rules you can apply to
~I personally don't find UFO sightings compelling because most
~of it is obviously defective science,
What has science got to do with ufo's in this case? We are only interested
in evaluating extraordinary claims about their existence. You cannot
dismiss them on the grounds that they are unscientific. Yet you do.
What is your basis for doing this?
~and what little of the rest is not bad
~religion is uncompelling; the evidence leads to no important conclusions, so
~I don't offer an opinion.
And yet again you have failed to offer anything that can permit me to
distinguish between religion, santa claus, Son of Sam, ufo's, pseudoscience.
~>~>The problem with not demanding extraordinary evidence for extraordinary
~>~>claims is that unless you have some other criteria that allows you to
~>~>separate any wheat from the chaff you must also agree with every crackpot
~>~The problem *with* demanding extraordinary evidence is that, as you yourself
~>~and Jim Munro illustrate, it is easy to arrange your evidential standards so
~>~that the evidence effectively cannot be produced.
~>I don't think so.
~But you do arrange things that way. And clearly, abstractly, there is a
~tension between the two arguments. Too weak, and you jump to erroneous
~conclusions; too strong, and you discard evidence of truth, and thus also
~come to erroneous conclusions.
This is a double edged sword. Religion has been yielding ground continuously
throughout history where evidence is concerned. Now it relies on only those
claims it feels it can make with the knowledge that they cannot be tested.
And you accuse the skeptic of placing too stringent a set of constraints
~Now then: presumably, being a rational type, you prefer your personal bias
~on this scale for experimentally justifiable reasons. And clearly that is
~the way you have to go. However, the only meaningful experiments you can
~perform involve changing the standards. Now, how do you evaluate the
I gave you a good example at the beginning of this posting.
~>~You've as much as said
~>~here that if Jesus appeared to you, you wouldn't believe it. Once again,
~>~you've placed your self in the position of Designer of the Universe. THere
~>~come a point where skepticism is unreasonably egocentric, and you've reached
~>As opposed to being the sucker of the universe for every crackpot idea
~>whose biases agree with yours?
~Your skepticism doesn't protect you from that. If you were being as strict
~about your skepticism as you claim I should be, you wouldn't believe much of
~what passes for science these days. Certainly you should disbelieve
~economics and much of sociology.
I don't consider economics and sociology as being hard science, and am
very skeptical of them currently. However that is not to say that they
won't attain the status current hard sciences now enjoy some time in the
~>You accuse me of egocentricity? Let me remind you who's trying to defend
~>the use of personal claims of miraculous events.
~As far as your own experiences are concerned, you have no choice. As far as
~those of others are concerned, it is certainly egocentric to reject them
~simply because they didn't happen to you.
This is a misrepresentation on your part. I have never claimed that I reject
the experiences of others because I fail to have them myself.
~>~It did to her. WHo is her husband to gainsay what she saw?
~>I see. Why don't you publish this Charley? Proof of god's existence by a
~>little old lady's report of seeing the sun move when she stared at it long
~>enough, all the while the husband saw nothing.
~You seem to be assuming that there has to be some real object of her vision.
~Obviously, a miraculous vision needs no such object. Therefore, the
~husband's testimony signifies nothing other than that the earth didn't
~suddenly start moving to cause this effect.
And hence her testimony falls neatly beside that of Son of Sam, ufo sightings,
santa clause and the tooth fairy.
~If you were to bother making a real argument against it instead of just
~appealing to your prejudice against miracles, you would find that it is
~typical of human vision for an object, long stared at, to appear to move.
~Given that, I am unwilling to affirm the miraculous nature of her vision,
~although I have no need of denying it either. And funny thing: the RC
~church takes the same sort of care in its researches into the miraculous.
Yes, but the point is you are unable to distinguish between the two.
Whatever your criticisms of my approach, I at least can reject this
incident as being the figment of the lady's imagination.
~>~>There are non-concrete items like love, friendship, treating others with
~>~>respect etc. These I place at the top of my personal priorities. I don't
~>~>have to believe in god to accept these or to believe in them.
~>~But you would not accept them of God. That is your implication.
~>~See, Padraig, you really do refuse God. You won't accept what is shown to
~>~you; you won't accept what is intangible.
~>Garbage. I just wrote a list of intangibles that I accept.
~But you plainly said that you would not accept them of God. So then: what
~could God show you to make you believe?
Look, this is irritating in the extreme. You claimed I would not accept
intangibles. I showed that I did. Arguing back that I wouldn't accept
them of god is ridiculous since we are discussing how to evaluate evidence
to determine whether god exists or not. You are assuming what you are trying
to prove with this reply.
~>~You evaluation of the evidence is manifestly based upon your opinion of what
~>~evidence a God should present. I've pointed out several times now that it
~>~is not incumbent upon a God to make himself manifest to your satisfaction,
~>~and that therefore it is reasonable to question your standards for eviedence
~>~on the grounds of unreasonability. You have presented here plenty of
~>~evidence that your standards are in fact unreasonable and cannot be met.
~>Sez the guy with the little old lady championing his cause.
~That's not an argument. Argue the point and put the straw lady away;
~whether or not she is deluded or not, your standards are still prejudiced.
It is your assertion that my standards are prejudiced. You're assumung
what you are trying to prove again. Before you criticize my standards,
just remember your's can't even handle the "straw" lady case. You can't
even get off the starting block.
~>Again, what criteria do you use to evaluate evidence?
~There's no ironclad test you can apply. Any such test implies that you
~understand the situation well enough to firmly rule some things out. SOme
~of what is human (e.g., pseudoscience) can be firmly discarded; the rest
~doesn't present an easy decision unless you cheap it out and decide a priori
~that what is immediate is more important to you.
Kind of like what you do? In order to salvage your religious beliefs you
have to relax the rules of evidence to such an extent you are unable
to handle little old ladies getting dizzy from staring at the sun.
By the way, are you conceding here that you don't understand these situations
well? If so I'd be interested in whether you are absolutely certain
about god's existence. That would be a strange position to take if you
feel any doubt whatsoever about the situation.
~Your criteria are unreasonable. They are biased so strongly in favor of the
~material that, using them, nobody would ever believe in a God.
As opposed to your situation where you are unable to discriminate
against anything that claims to be non-naturalistic, regardless of whether
it is or not.