Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Case of the Missing (Causal) Link and the Evidentiary Silver Bullet

Two chipmunks
I have to admit that my mind can go fairly OCD about various topics. For instance, I keep re-hashing and re-evaluating my stance on how one identifies design. That's okay, though. I think that's how one polishes a good argument - one that is concise and potent.

The reason why I bring this up is because I'm still evaluating what could be called a "Taxonomy of Apologetic Arguments". I've noted consistent patterns across the board. On a meta-level, I've discussed the concept of "logic-ing God into existence". Here, I will address two more observations - The missing causal link, and the evidentiary silver bullet.

Missing (Causal) Link

First, let me describe to you how science works, in a nutshell. I'll use some pseudocode notation to describe the procedure.

10. Observe phenomenon and analyze observed data.
20. Deduce explanatory model based on observed data.
30. Produce hypotheses that can falsify and confirm model.
40. Test hypotheses.
50. If hypotheses falsify or fail to confirm the model Then..
60.   Add results to observed data
70.   GOTO 10.
80. Else, finish.

Science is a slow, iterative process of eventually converging on the correct answer. It rarely successfully unravels a new phenomenon in the first attempt. Some topics can take centuries of research (although, with the science equipment and sheer quantity of scientists these days, that's no longer the case).

When it comes to apologetics, this isn't the procedure they follow. Let's modify the above "program" to match how the vast majority of apologetic arguments for the existence of God operate:

10. Observe phenomenon and analysed observed data.
20. Deduce explanatory model based observed data.
30. Finish.

For example, let's look at a condensed version of a generic "fine tuning" argument:
  • The Earth is perfect for life.
  • This is incredibly unlikely to happen on its own without intelligent intervention.
  • I deduce that God is responsible.
  • Therefore, God exists.
A lot of apologetic thinking operates like this. There's something missing. Something absolutely vital.

Empirical confirmation.

They're missing Steps 30 through 80 from the "science program". Many of these people believe that the mere act of deducing a conclusion is sufficient for demonstration. One such caller on the Atheist Experience (you can listen to that to the right) stated that science works in this way. Well, yes, however, that's only one part of it.

Deduction is an investigative tool that guides us, but it has an inherent problem - it can be wrong. More precisely, our application can be wrong. All sorts of issues can derail our capacity to correctly deduce an answer:
  • We may be making unfounded assumptions.
  • Our data can be wrong (badly measured, corrupted, etc)
  • Our premises can be wrong.
  • Our subconscious biases may be interfering.
  • There may be additional factors that we aren't aware of yet.
All these issues can make it extraordinarily difficult to correctly deduce the answer. The "science program", however, is designed specifically to overcome that problem.

If the deduction is right or wrong, testing will be able to confirm or falsify it. The results of those empirical confirmations inform our next steps. This is what turns science from a guessing-game into an astonishingly successful tool. Most of the mechanisms within the scientific method are present to combat our human error - and it works.

Going back to the "finely tuned" argument, the apologist never bothers to empirically confirm the deduction. He or she merely stops with the deduction, throws in the towel, and goes out to the bar to celebrate another successful proof of God.

The rest of us remain behind to wonder when they'll finish "proving" the assertion. This is how most apologetic arguments for the existence of God end - as incomplete failures.

The Evidentiary Silver Bullet

This particular trend is a fairly straight forward issue. I find a lot of apologetics purport to be able to prove that a God exists with a single argument, or a single piece of evidence.

Science doesn't often work this way. Instead, through much effort, a case is built with a large quantity of supporting evidence, and when a preponderance of evidence supports the theory/model, it will be more widely accepted.

It's arrogant for an apologist to believe that with a single argument (one which has no empirical confirmation, even) can demonstrate the existence of an entity that violates all known laws of physics and everything we know about reality. 

We're confident about the Theory of Evolution, for example, because we have all the data from the fossil record, genetics, taxonomy, etc, all independently cross-corroborating one another. We're not talking about a single data point. We're talking about an entire continent of data points.

To a good degree, it's a question of sample size. The apologists think they can successfully make a case with a single data point, instead of say, tens of thousands.

This isn't an accurate approach to understanding reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment