The Nature of Evidence: Science vs. Religion

Lawrence Krauss has a new op-ed in the LA Times criticizing the Catholic Church’s loose definition of what constitutes evidence. As you probably know, being named a saint requires the sufficient demonstration of at least two miracles, and the late Pope John Paul II recently met this requirement by “curing” a woman in Costa Rica in 2011 (of what, the article does not say). A panel of doctors ruled that her recovery was otherwise inexplicable.

The problem, as Krauss notes, is that inexplicable remissions happen in medicine somewhat frequently. Are all of these miracles, or is it more likely there is still some aspect of these diseases we still do not adequately understand (remember that medicine, despite the authoritative white lab coats worn by its practitioners, is a relatively recent discipline just now finding its footing as a science)? The Catholic Church is all too ready to declare instances like this “miraculous” without ever considering the more likely alternatives. This stands in direct contrast to the scientific ethos, which gives as much attention to trying to prove ideas wrong as it does to trying to prove them right.

In the mid 1800s, a miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary was reported in Lourdes, France. Millions have since visited that site in hopes of being cured of their ailments, physical or otherwise. The Catholic Church has kept records of any claimed cures in Lourdes, and more than 60 have been ruled “miraculous”. Of course, it’s not difficult to compare this figure to the number of visitors to the site, year in and year out, and to compare that figure to the average spontaneous remission rate in most cancers and popular diseases. Unfortunately for the church, the latter number is actually higher – meaning, essentially, people who don’t visit Lourdes actually have a higher chance of spontaneous cure than those who do.

Between standards of evidence, there is probably no wider gap than that between the Vatican and science. Claims of miracles are not trivial – if true, they would indeed point to a higher power, and of something beyond our everyday experience. Therein lies the importance of being skeptical, of not settling for substandard evidence in the form of personal testimony or “God of the gaps” arguments (ie. we can’t explain it – therefore, God). As Carl Sagan summarized so well, we have to be careful not to yield to personal preferences in our search for truth, and acknowledge that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Krauss’ Full Article Available Here: Pope John Paul II and the trouble with miracles – July 7, 2013 – LA Times


One comment

  1. The Scientific Method vs. William Lane Craig’s Baseless Assertions
    by Lil Joe

    William Lane Craig: Now at one level it seems to me indisputable that there’s evidence for God. To say that there’s evidence for some hypothesis is just to say that that hypothesis is more probable given certain facts than it would have been without them. That is to say, there is evidence for some hypothesis H if the probability of H is greater on the evidence and background information than on the background information alone. That is to say

    Pr (H | E & B) > Pr (H | B).
    H = hypothesis
    E = evidence
    B = background information

    L’il Joe’s comment: Where’s the beef? Where is the empirical data? Where is the evidence!? Pr (H | E & B) > Pr (H | B) isn’t a presentation of empirical data. H is just asserted. It lacks physical data upon which to predicate an evidenced based hypothesis. An hypothesis is evolved from empirical procedures and must be empirically demonstrated. To say that there’s evidence for some hypothesis presupposes empirical evidence for any hypothesis has been presented in support of it.

    Isaac Newton distinguished a scientific method for arriving at the truth of an empirical theory by rejecting speculative guess work. Concerning gravity he wrote: “I have not as yet been able to discover the reason for these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I do not feign hypotheses. For whatever is not deduced from the phenomena must be called a hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, or based on occult qualities, or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy particular propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction.” — Isaac Newton

    An articulation of a scientific proposition means along with it is presented material facts to support it. Only upon public examination of the data can it be concluded that that hypothesis is more probable given certain facts. Given that no data [facts] have been presented by Craig it is more probable that there is no evidence for god. Craig hasn’t demonstrated evidence to support his assertion that a material object — the empirical universe — was created from an immaterial mind of an incorporeal god. Saying ‘there is evidence’ doesn’t constitute evidence.

    Material evidence is related to material problems and hypothesis is the result of empirical analysis of physical facts to solve physical problems. “God” is stated to be an immaterial, incorporeal individual that exists outside the material universe and is therefore outside empirical facts and evidence. But, even as speculative or abstract logic Pr (H | E & B) > Pr (H | B) does not present necessity. Rather, as logic is rules of consistency of reason it would be logical to say “Pr( A or B ) = Pr( A ) + Pr( B ) – Pr( A and B )” , This is obvious.

    Physical problems require physical solutions. Imaginary invisible, non-material anthropomorphic gods have no connection to empirical existence. There is no way one can collect immaterial data regarding an incorporeal god — e.g. Yahweh. The only place Yahweh exists is in the pages of the Bible and related writings.

    Craig does not present verifiable empirical data as the basis for his ‘Hypothesis’ [Pr(H/P)’]. Nor is there any verifiable empirical data in his Evidence i.e. E. I’m not sure what he means by ‘background information’. If Craig is talking about the history of the material cosmos the “backround” of the material universe the background information embedded in it is empirical microwave background radiation and data of the early cosmos is shown by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) imaging.

    Yahweh isn’t present in any of this physical evidence of the physical cosmos and its origin. Craig quotes “Bible scholars” and ‘historians’, using their statements about God as evidence for God’s existence. The Bible is not a history book. Besides — As far is history is concerned its a flawed ‘discipline’. Voltaire said of its texts and ‘scholars’: “History is the lie commonly agreed upon.” Orwell was right: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” More crudely put by Henry Ford: “History is more or less bunk.” Ambrose Bierce wrote of it: “History: An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.” In other words historical writings are ideologically driven ‘account of events’. Thucydides: “History is Philosophy teaching by examples.”

    Marx and Engels correctly observed: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”

    Accounts concerning Gallic wars are not given by the defeated Gauls, but by Caesar. The accounts given of the Spartacus slave Revolt against the Roman slave holders and the State was not written by Spartacus or any other slave, but by the Roman State and its intellectual peons. This is true also of Tacitus. Tacitus was a Roman historian writing early in the 2nd century A.D. Christian apologists maintain the Tacitus writings (Annals) are a reliable reference to Jesus. Perhaps. But what did he write and in what context? Jesus and Christians are mentioned in Tacitus’ account of how the Emperor Nero went after Christians in order to draw attention away from himself after Rome’s fire of 64 AD. He was writing about Nero. Not Jesus.

    To return to Craig’s assertion:
    Pr (H | E & B) > Pr (H | B).
    H = hypothesis
    E = evidence
    B = background information

    Scientific hypothesis are not opinion. Individuals participating in scientific projects do not start out with an ‘assumption’ as a guess from which to proceed looking for proof. Formulation of hypothesis proceeds first from the recognition of a problem to its determination of relevant data. The collection, synthesis and categorizing of the relevant data is determined by the nature of the problem. Analysis of the data is the basis for its solution. The formulation of an hypothesis and its presentation is a proposed solution to the problem.

    Evidence of empirical data is the basis upon which hypothesis is advanced. Theory is not an opinion. Theory is a result of an antecedent procedure of empirical ratiocination. Relativity, Hubble Constant, Planck time/space, Black holes, the event horizon, the cosmological constant, thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmological model, Inflation, Higgs field/ Higgs boson and gravity waves &c., were empirically based mathematically derived hypotheses and all were verified that are now accepted as facts.
    Craig hasn’t presented any data supporting his word hypothesis: none whatsoever. He doesn’t even present empirical premises for logical procedure from which he derived ‘arguments’. Just demogogic rhetoric arguments. He does present syllogisms. He reverts back to pre-Renaissance cases of syllogism. Syllogism is based on speculative procedure and not empirical ratiocination based on data/evidence.

    William Lane Craig: Now, in the case of God, if we let G stand for the hypothesis that God exists, it seems to me indisputable that God’s existence is more probable given certain facts ”like the origin of the universe, the complex order of the universe, the existence of objective moral values, and so forth than it would have been without them. That is,

    Pr (G | E & B) > Pr (G | B).
    G = God exists
    E = existence of contingent beings, origin of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, etc.
    B = background information And I suspect that even most atheists would agree with that statement.

    L’il Joe’s comment: Craig’s statement “it seems to me indisputable that God’s existence is more probable given certain facts like the origin of the universe, the complex order of the universe, the existence of objective moral values” is in conflict with the nature of science itself. Scientific inquiry is based on skepticism and proof. It does not regard any scientific statement as “indisputable”.

    Such asenine assertion that what seem to an individual to be “indisputable” is subjective solipsism and not objective knowledge of the external empirical universe. Scientists do not arrogate infallibility. Facts exist. Scientific theory concerning facts are refutable, falsiable if they fail to explain facts based on facts. The statement “it seem to me” has no place in scientific discourse. “It seems to me” is sujective. Facts are objective.

    The fact that the universe exists proves only that the universe exists. It’s existence does not prove the existence of God — i.e. of Yahweh, or any of the superstitious and ideological assertions in the Bible.

    Biblical myths say nothing about microwave backround radiation and its gravitational waves. No empirical recording of Yahweh saying: “let there be the Higgs boson from the Higgs field”. Moreover, there’s nothing in the Biblical myths where Yahweh or ‘the Word’ declaring ‘let there be fine tuning’. Yahweh left no tape recording of his voice. Authors of the books of the Bible wrote nothing concerning space-time expansion, gravity, strong and weak nuclear forces, inflation, Higgs field, thermodynamics … Nothing. There is no Biblical data about Yahweh “fine tuning” the universe.

    Moses, or whoever it was that wrote the Books of Genesis and Exodus, didn’t observe ‘creation’. In the god of the burning bush the “I am that I am” doesn’t identify the subject “I am” with any empirical predicate but is identical with itself: “I am that I am”. The god of the burning bush didn’t claim “I am the Prime Mover”; nor “I am the Intelligent Designer”.

    Posited with one or more of these predicates is Yahweh is restricted to and defined by the material predicates as Subject — based upon and inseparable from empirical predicates –and thereupon dependent and contingent. Cause is defined by what’s caused. Mover is defined by what’s moved. Designer is defined by what’s designed. Supernatural presupposes Natural. Aristotle was okay with this because the assumption for his ontology was preexisting matter whereas for Craig and his ilk the premise they want to ‘prove’ is creatio ex nihlo. Craig has presented no empirical evidence to support his creatio ex nihlo ‘hypothesis’.

    The empirical method however need no god hypothesis: That the universe exists only proves the existence of the universe: given certain facts ”like the origin of the universe, the complex order of the universe” — proves that the universe is an empirical phenomena and is knowable by collection and analysis of empirical data. The origin of the universe, the complex order of the universe is being discovered and explained exclusively by empirical ratiocination. There’s no need for a god hypothesis.

    Evidence — i.e. real, empirical evidence, objective, observable, measurable, testable data — has proved the natural origin of the material universe that originated some 13 billion years ago. It’s been proven the origin of the physical cosmos was natural. Natural background radiation is empirical data, gravitational wave data together with inflation data, infrared data, photographic data, radioscopic data, spectrographical data, microscopic data, satellite data, WMAP data, geological data, atmospheric and climatic data, paleontological data, palaeoanthropological data, experimental data &c. has been discovered and analysed resulting in material hypothesis suggested by the data and predictions validated by repeatable observation and experiment.

    Advances in modern sciences by scientific methods of empirical ratiocination has surpassed and displaced stagnant Medieval philosophical speculation and its methods of deductive and dialectical ratiocinations.

    Cosmology and astrophysics has debunked and displaced theological-metaphysical speculation.
    Astronomy has surpassed and displaced astrology.
    Chemistry has surpassed and displaced alchemy.
    Geology has surpassed and displaced ontological speculation.
    Paleoanthropology and archeology has displaced historiography the same as historiography debunked and displaced mythology.
    Neurology and cultural materialism has displaced epistemological speculation.


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