Monday, October 18, 2010

Myers' new dogma: Atheism as religion

P. Z. Myers, one of the more prominent atheists on the web, has recently announced his position that there is no evidence he could accept that would make him believe in God. This is a curious position for someone who fashions himself a scientist and who takes science to be the only method by which truth can be ascertained. Scientific positions, according to Myers and his fellow atheists, are only scientific if they are falsifiable. So Myers' position, since he will accept no evidence against it, is unfalsifiable--and therefore unscientific.

If this is true, then what status does his atheist position hold? It is not scientific, so what is it? And since I'm assuming he agrees with other atheists like Jerry Coyne that fields like history are broadly scientific (or that they are characterized by "secular rationality," in Coyne's terminology), I can think of only one kind of belief it could be.

Atheism (at least for Myers) is now formally indistinguishable from religious dogma. Only religious dogma has this one advantage--it admits to being dogmatic.

27 comments:

KyCobb said...

Martin,

Do you realize how many religions you just became a member of? AAllahism, ARamaism, AZeusism, AOdinism, AGaiaism, ad infinitum. Where will you find the time to attend all those services?

Martin Cothran said...

KyCobb,

You gotta do whut you gotta do.

Joe_Agnost said...

You're not even close to understanding PZ's position.

It's not that PZ wouldn't accept evidence for god if it was presented to him - it's that any ~verifiable~ evidence presented to him would by necessity be scientific and thus reduce god from ~super~natural to simply natural. This evidence would therefore NOT be for any theist version of god(s) because it wouldn't be supernatural.

In essence he's saying that any decent evidence couldn't (by definition) support a supernatural god - and hense there isn't any evidence that could sway his views.

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

I'm going to address some more specifics in P.Z.'s position tomorrow. But one of the problems with this position is that, if you have a religion which claims that God actually appears in human flesh, then this argument goes out the window.

The Incarnation and the Resurrection short-circuit this argument.

And even if they didn't, his position is no less unfalsifiable for the fact that he has a good reason for it being unfalsifiable. P. Z. is simply waving his hand and say that science is the only avenue to truth, claims of God's existence are not amenable to science, therefore, claims of God's existence cannot be said to be true.

Any discipline could play this game. I could say that the method of logical deduction is the only means to truth, claims of natural science are not amendable to logical deduction, therefore the claims of natural science cannot be said to be true.

Joe_Agnost said...

Martin wrote: "if you have a religion which claims that God actually appears in human flesh, then this argument goes out the window."

Very true. So when someone comes along with a religion that makes such a claim this point will be relevant.

When there exists a religion which does not rely on the supernatural then PZ will be happy to look at the evidence - but that obviously excludes most (all?) religions today.

Martin cont'd: "P.Z. is simply waving his hand and say that science is the only avenue to truth"

Not quite - I think he's saying that science is the only avenue ~he_will_accept~ as truth. I for one agree with him.

Martin Cothran said...

I guess P.Z. just didn't notice the religion that shaped and transmitted Western culture and that is still the majority religion in the country in which he lives.

If it was a snake, as we say here in Kentucky, it would've bit him.

Joe_Agnost said...

The religion you speak of, Martin, is only possible with a HUGE dose of magic at every turn.

It's all magic, all the time...

Martin Cothran said...

Oh, right. Thanks for reminding me. I'll have to remember to stick with more concrete, empirical beliefs from now on.

Like multiple universes.

Thomas said...

So Myers is adopting positivism? Even philosophical proponents of positivism gave it up.

So is this all the New Atheism amounts to? Warmed over "philosophy" that even its proponents realized was self-defeating?

Joe_Agnost said...

PZ has a new post which contains an excellent summary of his views on this subject:

"Once you've got evidence for something, it's no longer a member of the set of mysteries under godly purview."

Joe_Agnost said...

Oh, and here's how PZ finishes his thoughts on this:

"It's like the old joke:

'What do you call alternative medicines that have been shown to work? Medicine.'

What I'm asking here is what should you call supernatural explanations that actually work and lead to deeper understanding of the universe…and the answer is science. All gods vanish in the first puff of understanding."

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

So science isn't just limited to the empirically verifiable, but to all areas of knowledge?

Joe_Agnost said...

Martin asked: "So science isn't just limited to the empirically verifiable, but to all areas of knowledge?"

As far as I'm concerned science is the only reliable method for gaining knowledge.

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

That doesn't answer my question. I know you believe science is the only reliable method for gaining knowledge. I want to know what you mean by "science." Is it only a study of the empirically verifiable, or is it more than that?

Joe_Agnost said...

I would say that science is only the study of the empirically verifiable - yes.

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

Thanks. So any statement that is not empirically verifiable cannot be said to be a true statement--is that correct? Since the only method for gaining knowledge is science (which is the study of the empirically verifiable)?

Joe_Agnost said...

Martin wrote: "So any statement that is not empirically verifiable cannot be said to be a true statement--is that correct?"

Of course not. It just means that it's not ~reliably~ true. It might still be true though.

Martin cont'd: "Since the only method for gaining knowledge is science..."

I didn't say that. You do this to Singring all the time - I can understand why he gets so frustrated by you.

The only ~reliable~ method for gaining knowledge is science. There are other (flawed) methods, they just aren't as reliable.

Martin Cothran said...

Joe,

I don't think I'm the only one around here who jumps to conclusions, but I'll accept the correction. But I'm still trying to figure this out. You think that science is the only reliable method for gaining knowledge. So can I infer from this that all non-scientific statements are not reliable?

Joe_Agnost said...

Martin asked: "can I infer from this that all non-scientific statements are not reliable?"

Not quite, it would be more accurate to write 'not ~as~ reliable'.

And this expands the definition of 'science' to include anything empirically verifiable.

Martin Cothran said...

So they have gradations of reliability? Some more reliable than others?

Martin Cothran said...

Non-scientific statements, I mean.

Joe_Agnost said...

Martin asked: "So they have gradations of reliability?"

Sure... why not?

Martin Cothran said...

Okay.

I assume you would agree that scientific statements gain their reliability from their empirical reliability. From what do non-empirical statements gain their reliability? In other words, from the perspective of reliability, what distinguishes a more reliable non-scientific statement from a less reliable non-scientific statement?

KyCobb said...

Martin,

If I may make a comment about your original post, I would point out that the God concept is unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific. So the only scientific position that P.Z. can take is not to accept an assertion of the reality of God-he can't accept your God claim. That was the point of my first post: a lack of religious belief is not a religious belief, despite the strenuous efforts by you and other theists to categorize it as one.

Thomas said...

Kycobb,

Are you agreeing with Joe that the only statements one should accept are falsifiable by scientific methods?

KyCobb said...

Thomas,

No, I was merely refuting Martin's assertion that Myers had taken a religious position.

Joe_Agnost said...

Thomas lies: "Are you agreeing with Joe that the only statements one should accept are falsifiable by scientific methods?"

Considering that isn't my opinion I'd love to hear how you came up with this...