Science and Other Drugs

….maybe a little less wrong….

Tag Archives: reasoning

The atheist’s other crutch: Breaking the laws of physics

In my last post, I addressed a common excuse atheists use to avoid dealing with testimony of God’s interactions with history: misuse of prior probability. Just because a particular event does not have precedent doesn’t mean it can be handwaved; a prior probability that is undefined cannot be treated as a prior probability of zero. Before July 16, 1945, there had never been such thing as a nuclear bomb, but that didn’t stop Trinity from going off.

As an example, I suggested a botched alien landing, evidenced for archeologists in the testimonies of a prehistoric people and a handful of complex mathematical engravings. Now, whether that is sufficient evidence doesn’t matter; the point is that we’d theoretically be willing to evaluate this evidence despite having no prior experience with alien landings and no reasonable way to estimate the prior probability of an alien landing.

However, several commenters responded by arguing that the analogy of an alien landing was improper, that these hypothetical aliens would necessarily be part of nature. An alien landing, while unprecedented, wouldn’t break any of the laws of physics, and so it’s not on the same level with a miracle. Read more of this post

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The atheist’s crutch: Misusing probability

When it becomes apparent that Christians like myself are depending primarily on history for empirical evidence of God’s involvement in history (imagine that!), atheists quite often appeal to probabilities….specifically, Bayesian probability.

Now, Bayesian probability is a complicated subject, but the relevant point here is that the probability of a particular event (or of a particular explanation being true) depends on its prior probability: the base rate of that particular event within the general population of events. Simply put, if a particular event is already known to be extremely rare, this “rareness” needs to be included in evaluating evidence for that event.

Bayes’ Theorem (image by mattbuck)

This becomes particularly important when we’re comparing competing explanations. Even if the evidence seems to point more toward one explanation, that explanation might not be the most probable if it was already very unlikely. For example, hearing a loud thunderous roar outside is good evidence that there’s a thunderstorm….unless, of course, you live in the desert outside Baghdad, where thunderstorms are vanishingly rare and roadside bombs are much more frequent. Read more of this post

Faith and falsifiability

“Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Mark Twain.

We see this and similar quotes thrown around quite often, usually in attempts to vilify religious belief. As such, it’s rather laughable; pretending that Christians secretly disbelieve in God is as ridiculous as pretending that atheists secretly know God exists. It’s not an argument or assertion that has any place in rational discourse.

But blind faith does exist; we see it all the time. When confronted with difficult evidence, certain small-minded people like to handwave it by declaring “Well, I have faith!” This sort of idiocy deserves all the ridicule it can get.

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Logical Fallacies: The argument from silence

One of the principal reasons I moved away from fundamentalism was the overwhelming presence of fallacies. As a good Fundamentalist Homeschooler, I was taught to hunt down and identify fallacies as efficiently and ruthlessly as the heat-seeking missile shown below.

The AIM-9 Sidewinder missile uses an infrared heat-seeking module and a warhead that expands into a jagged spinning ring of metal death on impact. Image courtesy USAF.

Unfortunately, fundamentalism is home to some pretty egregious fallacies in its own right, ones that became rapidly apparent as I turned my abilities back on my own indoctrinated beliefs. Wait, why do we believe such-and-such? No good reason at all? Interesting.

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