Stenger at HuffPo!

August 16, 2010 • 11:16 am

As a palliative to all the nonsense about science and faith at HuffPo, you can now read Victor Stenger, who has already produced three nice columns there this month.  Curiously, although he’s writing for the “religion” section, Stenger’s posts don’t appear on that page (that’s why I missed them).  What gives?

In his last post, “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence,” Stenger describes four types of evidence that should have been found if the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God actually existed.  Of course there is none, and he concludes:

This absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It refutes the common assertion that science has nothing to say about God. In fact, science can say, beyond any reasonable doubt, that God — the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God — does not exist.

Stenger’s column from a week ago, “Science is not based on faith,” fortuitiously refutes yesterday’s bizarre piece by BioLogos’s Pete Enns, “Atheists are believers, too.” Besides taking some writing lessons to improve his dreadful prose, Enns might want to consult his scientist colleagues at BioLogos before publishing stuff like this:

Also, all people, atheists included, believe worthwhile things for which there is no compelling evidence whatsoever. For example, many people—scientists, philosophers—believe in the principle of uniformity: what we observe now of the laws of nature happens everywhere in the universe, always has and always will.

I happen to believe this is true, but what I believe isn’t the point here. The point is that there is no empirical evidence for this principle, nor can it be logically proven. In fact, there is no evidence for the principle at all unless we assume it to begin with.

44 thoughts on “Stenger at HuffPo!

  1. I have been saying much the same thing as Stenger for a while now.

    At this point, after 5000 years or so of organized religion of some sort and 500 years or so of the scientific method to test our assumptions, you would think there would be something to point to … even if only an avenue of inquiry.

    But no. Nothing. Not even an agreement on what it is we should be looking for.

    At what point do we give up? The whole enterprise reeks of milk that’s about 4 weeks past its “sell by” date.

    1. Not all of us live on the east coast of the United States, as an example, I’m still trying to finish my bowl of christian flakes with milk. Hopefully, in the future, I can count on your support.

  2. A lot of Stenger’s columns came from similar information from his books. Stenger produces philosophical arguments using science and extends his arguments in a rational way. His kind if philosophy is far superior to Gutting or Enns or numerous others talked about here in WEIT recently.

  3. The point is that there is no empirical evidence for this principle

    Crimony! Templeton surely has enough spare change to buy Enns a dictionary.

    1. I wonder what Massimo Pigliucci thinks of Stenger.

      Hmm, I don’t know. According to Wikipedia, and Stenger’s own site, his Master’s and Ph.D are both in physics, while he has a position as adjunct professor of philosophy at U. Colorado and is a member of the Society of Humanist Philosophers.

      Can’t say as I really care what Pigliucci thinks about anything, though.

  4. I hate that “I happen to believe this is true,” as if it were just random, as if there were no reason to believe in the principle of uniformity. That’s much the way accommodationists talk about their atheism – “I happen to be an atheist, but I’m not going to defend it or claim there’s any reason not to believe god exists or – good heavens no! – claim that atheism is more likely to be right than theism is.”

    1. Aside from being a tu quoque logical fallacy, I think that the whole “atheists have beliefs, too” meme is much over-rated.

      Theists and atheists both have beliefs…and both base those beliefs on evidence. (Really, you can’t believe in something in the complete absence of evidence – if you’re unaware that people propose the existence of gods, how would you “believe” in them?)

      Theists, however, base their beliefs on evidence that the rational people of the world do not find credible.

      Not to pick on Christianity, but it provides a perfect case study. The entire divinity of Jesus is based on his miracles — without miracles, you cannot distinguish Jesus from every other 1st C Messianic whacko. And each and every so-called “miracle” attributed to Jesus left behind absolutely no evidence.

      I call them “the dog ate my homework” miracles…
      * Where is the wine? – We drank it.
      * Loaves & fishes? – Eaten.
      * The healed sick? – Dead.
      * Lazarus? – Dead again.
      * The resurrected Jesus? – Invisible up in heaven.

      Nothing tangible left behind. This is the best an all-powerful god could do to demonstrate its existence?

      Theists don’t have faith. They have credulity.

      1. * The healed sick? – Dead.
        * Lazarus? – Dead again

        As usual with this sort of argument, Monty Python is apropos.

        She turned me into a newt!…

        I got better.

      2. Hey, Lazarus still walks among us. He apparently acquired mucho health points and is still kicking, probably much to his regret.

        I’ve heard this advanced as a argument for why:

        Mat 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

        is still operative.

            1. & @ Ichthyic

              Finally, familiar ground. I could put that right next to my euphorb ‘crown of thorns’ (which reference even I get…)

              I have trouble keeping Wandering Jews alive, though–ironic, what? 😀

            2. I have trouble keeping Wandering Jews alive, though–ironic, what?

              well, who am i to judge you for failing your deity examination?

              …oh, wait, you meant the plant.


          1. I first encountered the Wandering Jew myth in “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr.

            An excellent sci-fi novel even though I do not agree with the authors premise of the Catholic Church being a force for good pulling a post apocalyptic civilization out of yet another dark ages.

            I would not recommend the sequel “Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman”. It was published posthumously and should have been buried with the author.

            1. I do not agree with the authors premise of the Catholic Church being a force for good pulling a post apocalyptic civilization out of yet another dark ages.

              the central myth of the Western enlightenment, still supported by the CC and adherents.

              It’s much easier, and supportable, to make the case the enlightenment happened in spite of organized religion than because of it.

              now damnit, I’m sure there are a couple of well-known texts discussing that, but now I can’t recall the titles.

              …my memory is going and I’m only 46.


      3. Christians have no problem not believing in these miricals…:

        On the first day Buddha held his toothpick, put it on the ground and it turned to the wish fulfilling tree. It was decorated with jewels, like a Christmas tree.

        On the second day Buddha manifested two wish fulfilling jewels.

        The third day the king offered to wash Buddha’s feet. When Buddha washed his feet, he threw the water and it became a pool with the eight special qualities of water. Whoever drank or touched it were healed. Today there is a well there where small amounts of water are offered for sale. It is useful for treating disease.

        On the fourth day it rained and the rain filled the eight canals.

        The fifth day Buddha emitted golden light from his mouth and people could see beings of the six realms being liberated.

        On the sixth day Buddha transformed some energy and everyone became clairvoyant and knew each others minds.

        On the seventh day Buddha manifested as the wheel turning king and many people converted to Buddhism. Up to that time the Hindu teachers had not shown miracles.

        On the eighth day the gods from Indra’s palace sponsored the meals. They served Buddha and made offerings to him. Buddha’s hand pressed the side of his seat and a thundering sound was emitted. Five frightening giant cannibals came out of the ground and they went for the seats of the Hindu teachers. Vajrapani also threatened the Hindu teachers. The Hindu teachers ran away. Vajrapani manifested a great storm. It became a tornado which picked up the Hindu teachers and their retinues and tossed them in the water. 60,000 Hindus converted that day and many monks attained the arhat’s state and understanding. The gods showered flowers.

        Yet they are every bit as valid and documented. Which is to say they’re fables.

      4. But fundamentalist Christians don’t just have Jesus’ miracles. They sustain their faith today, as they have done for the past two thousand years, on direct observations of miracles by their priests.

        e.g. Look at all those miracle healing services that are such a regular feature of Christian worship.

  5. The point is that there is no empirical evidence for this principle,
    Other than in the past, the principle has always held, and it wor nor can it be logically proven. In fact, there is no evidence for the principle at all unless we assume it to begin with.

    Hume’s ghost! Oh well, I guess the little matter that science works and religion doesn’t is irrelevant then?

      1. No, the problem is you can’t use previous evidence as proof of the uniformity of nature, because then you’re appealing to the uniformity of nature to justify the uniformity of nature.

          1. All studies that rely on the fact that what was observed is a guide to what will be observed. That’s the uniformity of nature. So you can’t use studies to back up the uniformity of nature.

            1. question:

              do you use the fact that the earth spun yesterday to give us a day/night cycle as evidence it will again tomorrow?

              if not, how in the fuck do you manage to get through your day constantly rejudging previously accepted facts from the previous minute!

              must be hell.

  6. Vic Stenger is terrific. The Religion section editors at HuffPo might be trying to bury his pieces. Every time ol’ Deepak has a new piece up, it’s right in my face, prominently displayed on the homepage. Vic’s pieces are harder to find. What gives?

    1. Stenger is one of the Gnu Atheists, that’s why. You can’t have someone so shrill, strident, and militant on the front page. But of course preachers of bullshit are welcome.

      1. Except, like Dawkins, PZ Myers, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Jerry Coyne, Stenger is neither shrill or strident or militant.

        1. Yes, yes, that’s what I figured: They want to be able to say they published people like Vic “alongside” the apologists and sophists, but they’re not about to display an atheist’s work as prominently as a woo-peddler’s.

        2. Oh no. PZ is most definitely shrill, strident, and militant.

          Those are his defining characteristics.

          It’s also why he has the following he does.

  7. Pete Enns sounds like one of those ex-atheists. You know the type: I used to be an atheist and my life was empty, then I met Jesus, and he filled me … with the holy spirit. (But if they were prepubescent my guess would be that it was the parish priest stuffing them with something else.)

    Enns also gets his science all ass-backwards. For years now, astronomers have been looking at stars and galaxies so far away that humans can’t even see them. Those astronomical entities behave the same as our own star and nearby stars, so there is indeed evidence for this “uniformity” that Enns talks about. On top of that, scientists currently accept the uniform behavior of the universe because there is *no evidence* to the contrary – this is vastly different from religious belief which disregards all evidence to the contrary in favor of something for which there is absolutely no evidence. Enns also conveniently leaves out the fact that scientists genuinely want to know the limits of the current models and thus have an interest in testing the idea of uniformity. If there are flaws in the model those will be fairly minor and will not invalidate the existing model – for example, anti-gravity paint will not be invented tomorrow because someone discovered that the rules governing the behavior of the universe do change slightly with time. Einstein’s work proved superior to Newton’s mechanics in calculating the motion of the planet Mercury and Einstein makes reliable predictions for particles which move at extremely high speeds while Newton’s laws become very inaccurate, but gravity continues to exist and in fact for the most part we still use Newton’s models for many calculations because it is “good enough” (that is, it is in such good agreement with observations and with Einstein’s predictions that only a fool would use Einstein’s more complex formulation for the job).

    Now for the mandatory challenge to the religiotards: show us a “revealed truth” which is constant through the ages, common to all Abrahamic religions, absent in other religions and cultures, and verifiable. There is no such thing because religions make shit up and pass it on by abusing people who don’t believe.

    1. Exactly. The uniformity of physical law is provisionally accepted, just like any successful scientific theory that has not been falsified despite there being ample opportunity, in principle, to find it to be false. Feynman has a brief run-down of the evidence for the universality of physical law in a lecture of his titled “The Character of Natural Law” (or something similar)–it might be floating around the ‘tubes.

      One current avenue of inquiry that I am aware of is trying to find changes in the fine-structure constant over time through astronomical observations, and I believe that the evidence so far isn’t sufficient for us to abandon our notion of its constancy. (I fully suspect, though, that sufficiently close to the Big Bang, the story will be different, but no matter.)

      1. “The Character of Physical Law”, 5 parts. I couldn’t find it anywhere close to me – where the servers are close. But here’s what I did find. Probably best to use some kind of video downloader to get these, rather than trying to watch them in real time.

        1 of 5:
        2 of 5:
        3 of 5:
        4 of 5:
        5 of 5:

        I also highly recommend Stenger’s “Comprehensible Cosmos” AND “Timeless Reality” for an accessible review of physical and philosophical thought from ancient to modern.

  8. Although I am proudly atheist, I can’t accept Stenger’s statement that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. I’ll resist the temptation to quote Popper or Russell and will simply make an easy example:
    – I say I have a baseball
    – You who are reading this can’t see me, so you haven’t got the evidence I have a baseball
    – … Therefore I haven’t a baseball? That’s just wrong!
    (Of course that’s only the title of the article. I probably should read it all before commenting on it, but I have neither the time nor the will and more importantly I don’t want to help Huffington Post getting even more accesses)

    1. But, in that example we aren’t even looking for evidence! We just know of you in some place far away, and that’s it. The example should be that you say you have one, then we go look for it, find nothing, and then correctly infer that you don’t have a baseball.

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