Monday, November 12, 2012

Debuncking the Atheist Fortress of Facts part 1


This is part of a larger framework that includes the theories of Thomas Kuhn and argues that science is a social construct. That part of it will be saved for another time. This section, although long is answering an argument that I see atheist touting all the time. They always deny it but it's unmistakably there. Section one documents that there such an attitude among atheists and gives some preliminary arguments. Section 2 shows the truly unscientific nature of the attitude.
Nowhere is the arrogance of humanity more apparent than in the many tendencies to treat God as a big man in the sky and try to subject him to scientific analysis. This is a move that most thinkers of the previous century would have laughed themselves silly over. One cannot second guess the nature of the divine by insisting that God operates under rules like a biological organism? Richard Dawkins is a major purveyor of this view but Victor Stinger is even more so. Stinger, in his God the Failed Hypothesis[1] is the genius who stated the "who created God" thing, one of the hallmarks of atheist ignorance. The method is super simple. Stinger does mess not with trying to probe the heavens or reaching beyond our tiny little sample of reality on this dust mote, he does it the "obvious way" by creating a straw man argument for God then knocking it down. The straw man is based upon a selective understanding guaranteed to denude belief of a factual basis and to load a pile of facts in the unbelieving camp so as to create the impression that atheism is a choice based upon the full brunt of scientific fact, and religious belief has nothing going for it but ignorance and superstition. This tactic I call the “fortress of facts.” The fortress of facts is something atheists deny vehemently but it’s obvious in almost every argument they make. Most scientifically inclined observers know that science is not merely the accumulation of a pile of facts. Science is not about proving facts or manufacturing a pile of facts so much as it is about testing hypothesis in a systematic fashion. Science is more about disproving than about proving. There are aspects of reality that beyond the ability of science to disprove. God is one of these. Yet, even though atheists will deny the words “fortress of facts” if we observe the way they argument this is undeniable consequence of their logic and their approach.
Science and the “God Hypothesis.”
The whole idea of referring to God as an hypothesis in the first place is an attempt to classify the God concept under the rubric of scientific domain. If God is an hypothesis then he’s something science can dispute, because science is about testing hypothesis. Of course the notion weather or not God can be so classified is a theological question and must be answered theologians. Since atheist denuded theology of any valid content (through sheer mocking and ridicule) then there’s no one to respond who atheists wont mock and ridicule. Thus truth by stipulation is written into the atheist ideology. This overall move turns upon the fortress of facts idea because a hypothesis without fact can’t be maintained. Thus while denying up front that they think about science in this manner we can see the fortress of facts as the basic assumption in the over all atheist approach to belief. We see the fortress of facts at work in the writings of Singer:

says Victor Stenger in "God: The Failed Hypothesis." The book is subtitled, "How science shows that God does not exist." Chapter by chapter, the author shows that the existence of God would suggest certain realities in the world that would be verifiable by scientific inquiry. But the data don't support these would-be realities, thereby providing evidence that no God exists.
Stenger, retired professor of Philosophy at University of Colorado and of Physics and Astronomy at University of Hawaii, is successful in this line of reasoning because of his clearly stated definition that he is not just talking about any kind of god, but specifically the capital-g God of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.[2]
We can see the assumption of the fortress of facts in Skeptic Magazine article reviewing[3] Stinger’s book: “conspicuous by his Absence.” "Stinger lays out the evidence from cosmology, particle physics and quantum mechanics showing that the universe appears exactly as it should if there is no creator." This is a factual approach. The facts show God doesn’t exist because if he did things would be different. To show this we use our tremendous fact finding potential in science.
How does he reckon it should if there is no God? He constructs his own fundamentalist driven version of what God would be like. Of course he has no knowledge of that. It's really a disproof of the atheist big nightmare of the fundamentalist concept of God, in other words, a straw man argument not a real disproof of anything valid. Beyond that, which is a deal breaker--because how you set up the inquiry in the first place determines everything-- there are other criticisms. For example his take on the issue of prayer studies. This is also proof of the "fortress of facts" concept which I am always pointing out that atheist ideology teaches. No atheist has of yet accepted the notion when I point it but it's clear that they argue from it all the time. The idea science gives them a big pile of facts but we believers have no facts. The facts are going to tell us if we can believe in God or not, of course the facts are only facts if they are “scientific” (ie in this case that means if they work against belief in God).

For instance, he tackles the question of the efficacy of prayer, in which the followers of these faiths fervently believe. If God exists, he argues, prayers could be shown to have been answered, using verifiable, replicable studies. And indeed, such studies have been conducted, with universally negative results. (Some studies, which supposedly yielded positive results, used flawed methodology and thus the conclusion is dismissible.) "If prayer were as important as it is taken to be by Jews, Christians and Muslims, its positive effects should be obvious and measurable," Stenger concludes. "They are not. It does not appear - based on the scientific evidence - that a God exists who answers prayers in any significant, observable way."[4]
Here again we have the same idea at work, science gives us a fortress of facts that religion can’t match, never mind the fact that we have selected which facts are important to observe and what assumptions about God set up the facts we want to select. For example consider the flip flop that has happened in regard to these prayer studies. Back in the day when they were being done (late 80s, early 90s) they were big news the atheists were on defensive grasping at whatever straws they could to answer, since they had no counter studies and counter data. One of the major arguments they used to make on every message board, every blog, ever news group where this was debated was that you can’t control for outside prayer. The defenders of the studies, such as Dr. Byrd and Dr. Harris did their own straw-clutching to answer this argument about control. Since that time, however, thing have turned around. A study with the largest data base was done that showed very little or no difference in the two groups. The atheists have gone ape making the argument that “prayer is disproved.” The study detractors (now the theists) argue “you can’t control for outside prayer, the argument atheists used to make. The atheists say “O sure you can.” When I point out that they used to make this argument themselves many of them have said “no atheist ever argued that.” How quickly we forget. I remember. I have the article. Gary P Posner did argue it:
The most striking flaw in this study's methodology is one forthrightly acknowledged by Byrd. "It was assumed that some of the patients in both groups would be prayed for by people not associated with the study; this was not controlled for ... Therefore, 'pure' groups were not attained in this study." In other words, the focus of the study - prayer - was "not controlled for," except that three to seven intercessors were assigned to pray daily for each patient in the IP group, and none was assigned to the controls. Thus, although unlikely, it is nevertheless theoretically possible that the control group received as many prayers as did the IP group, if not more.
If "intercessory prayer" was not controlled, except that each IP patient was assumed to have received somewhere between X+3 and X+7 prayers daily, as opposed to X+0 for the control patients, what are we to conclude? That God is conditioned in a Pavlovian manner to automatically respond to the side with the greater number of troops, even though the assigned intercessors had no emotional ties to their patients, and even though the IP patients were otherwise no more worthy of healing as a group than were the controls? Does God not know that the side with fewer troops is in just as much need of assistance? Where is the evidence of his omniscience and compassion?
And what can be said about the evidence for God's omnipotence? It is true, assuming that Byrd's data are valid, that in the IP group, 5 percent fewer patients needed diuretics, 7 percent fewer needed antibiotics, 6 percent fewer needed respiratory intubation and/or ventilation, 6 percent fewer developed congestive heart failure, 5 percent fewer developed pneumonia, and 5 percent fewer suffered cardiopulmonary arrest. But no significant differences were found among the other twenty categories, including mortality, despite explicit prayers "for prevention of ... death." And, reports Byrd, "Even though for [the six seemingly significant] variables the P values were less than .05, they could not be considered statistically significant because of the large number of variables examined. I used two methods to overcome this statistical limitation ... [the] severity score, and multivariant [sic] analysis" (emphasis added).[5]
So what happens if we say Posner was right? These studies don’t measure the truth of prayer because you can’t control for outside prayer? The study that shows no difference is meaningless. Of course the atheists will say but the theist still has no facts to back prayer. Of course they are just selecting the facts that support there view. There are facts that back prayer but they are ignored because they counter the ideological assumptions of naturalism. That will be dealt with in subsequent chapters.
The assumptions that Stenger has to make to make his straw man work is that God is exactly as he wants him to be. The reviewer at Simply Einstein (ibid) defends him against the charge of straw man.
The logical purist may object that one can't "prove a negative," that one can no more disprove God than disprove the existence of Santa Claus or an invisible unicorn in the backyard. But the fact that most people do believe in God while rejecting the latter two is part of the point. Given no real reason to believe in Santa Claus or invisible unicorns, people reject such beliefs. Yet they hold tenaciously not only to belief in their God, but specifically to the tenets that their religion teaches about him. It is really these tenets that Stinger is addressing. By showing that they are wrong, like the efficacy of prayer or the notion that God fine-tuned the universe specifically for the sake of existence of humanity, the author demonstrates that belief in God is equally unfounded.[6]
Yet this is not much of a defense. The so called "tenets" are self selected to be one's he picks out that he thinks he can beat. No religious creed or Bible passage commands us to believe on the basis of the fine tuning argument. No scientific argument can disprove the notion that God has fine tuned the universe to bear life. The only thing science can prove about fine tuning is that we can't prove it. On the other hand far greater scientists than Stinger say his arguments against fine tuning are not so good. The person answering mail for John Polkinghorne’s website (formerly physicist at Cambridge second only to Hawking, who retired to be a Christian minister) says:
Stenger did some marginally useful scientific work but his claims are far too dogmatic. As for his suggestion that Anthropic Fine tuning is a non-problem because of his simplistic program MonkeyGod that purports to simulate universes and “show” that anthropic universes are commonplace, I know of no serious cosmologist who takes this seriously. Martin Rees’s “Just Six Numbers” is a good guide to the real science.[7]
Polkinghorne himself says: “I have read several of the books expressing the current outburst of militant atheism, but not the two you mention. My impression is that they are polemical rather than presenting reasoned arguments of a truth-seeking kind, and that they largely depend upon attacking caricature distortions of religious belief.”[8]
Others find the straw man to be Stenger's usual method:
Stinger—a retired physicist who is leveraging his scientific background to try to discredit anything and everything that smacks of spirituality—doesn’t respect his intellectual opponents enough to get their positions right; in some instances he appears to deliberately misrepresent their views; and, most important, his own reasoning is characterized by unremitting carelessness. Moreover, there is a method to his carelessness—it enables him to systematically avoid addressing the tough arguments of his opponents. Hence we find him frequently setting up a straw man by misrepresenting the debate as a simple matter of science and reason versus superstition. Once having defined this as the issue, all he needs to do is assume the attitude of an outraged scientist and heap on the ridicule. But if he had done his homework and taken the trouble to really understand the science and logic supporting quantum spirituality, he would have discovered that it is harder to dismiss than he had imagined. Indeed, the more carefully—and yes, critically—one considers the issues, the more one finds quantum spirituality to
be eminently worthy of serious consideration, as a plausible and measured approach to the most long-standing and intractable questions at the basis of science.[9]
Stenger doesn't deal with what I consider to be the major God arguments, the ground of being stuff of Tillich and Schleiermacher. Like most of the cult of atheism he's in thrall to his own version of science which is laced with metaphysics. Like most of them they think they are being scientific and philosophical when they denounce philosophy and theology and talk about how science is the only form of knowledge, and then they are bringing ontology in through the back door to put fiber into their world view. Stenger's straw man making is standard procedure for the new atheist. They are always spitting out some line with a dashing air of how theology is stupid so they don't have to read it. They know it's stupid even though they haven't read any. The whole point of showing they haven't read is usually because they are getting the ideas wrong but they never seem to care.
The fortress of facts concept is seen in the works of the high priest of New Atheism, Richard Dawkins.
An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: "I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one." I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.[10]
Intellectually “fulfilled atheist” is code for “we have the facts.” What he’s clearly saying is that it was unsatisfying when we didn’t have the facts, God is still be rejected even though he has no real reason for it, but it’s not satisfying. The only thing that makes it satisfying is when we get a pile of facts. That’s because of the explanatory value. He makes it quite clear this is his motive reason for saying these things that he’s after is expletory power and what constitutes an explanation is a scientifically verifiable fact that can’t be disputed.
An even clearer example:

-Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion. And who, looking at Northern Ireland or the Middle East, can be confident that the brain virus of faith is not exceedingly dangerous? One of the stories told to the young Muslim suicide bombers is that martyrdom is the quickest way to heaven — and not just heaven but a special part of heaven where they will receive their special reward of 72 virgin brides. It occurs to me that our best hope may be to provide a kind of "spiritual arms control": send in specially trained theologians to deescalate the going rate in virgins.[11]
As juxtaposed to the next paragraph:
Well, science is not religion and it doesn't just come down to faith. Although it has many of religion's virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops. Why else would Christians wax critical of doubting Thomas? The other apostles are held up to us as exemplars of virtue because faith was enough for them. Doubting Thomas, on the other hand, required evidence. Perhaps he should be the patron saint of scientists.[12]
The implication is we have the facts, that are why we understand the world. Further implication is that the world is only the surface level of physical workings. The first paragraph is clearly arguing from guilt by association. It’s asserting that if there are some brutal dangerous religious people they must be that way because of religion; therefore all religious people are potentially that way. If a Christian apologist for example were to talk about the Nazis and how their scientifically engaged members conducted inhumane experiments on Jews in concentrating camps, and tried to drawn conclusions about the dangerous nature of science based upon that association, the atheists would set up a howl. It would not take the atheist long to see the fallacy of guilt by association in that case. Never mind that, and let’s also skim over the fact that he’s using a straw man version of faith tailored to make it seem more stupid. While faith per se is not based upon facts there’s nothing in the nature of faith that causes one to ignore facts. He tried to incriminate the joy of discovery which is he hardly in a position to critique since he’s never experienced and can’t understand it. That sense of joy has nothing to do with ignoring facts. For me part of that joy came form the realization that my faith is backed by facts. The more important point is that he’s placing the tailored example of no facts along side the self selected example of fact finding to create the sense of the skeptic haing a huge pile of pile of fact that confirms his world view while in fac the believe purposely rejects having facts. That is a perfect example of the fortress of facts mentality.
While it is anecdotal, evidence from the popular level shows, to some extent, the effects of this kid of thinking upon the rank and file of the atheist movement. There’s a popular website by one of the troops called “God is Imaginary.” It’s far from special, just run of the mill message board sloganeering and propaganda. It does express the fortress of facts mentality clearly.
“God is imaginary: Proof no 11, notice that there is no scientific evidence.”
"There is no scientific evidence indicating that God exists. We all know that. For example:
• God has never left any physical evidence of his existence on earth.
• None of Jesus' "miracles" left any physical evidence either. (see this page)
• God has never spoken to modern man, for example by taking over all the television stations and broadcasting a rational message to everyone.
• The resurrected Jesus has never appeared to anyone. (see this page)
• The Bible we have is provably incorrect and is obviously the work of primitive men rather than God. (see this page)
• When we analyze prayer with statistics, we find no evidence that God is "answering prayers." (see this page)
• Huge, amazing atrocities like the Holocaust and AIDS occur without any response from God.
• And so on…
Let's agree that there is no empirical evidence showing that God exists.
If you think about it as a rational person, this lack of evidence is startling. There is not one bit of empirical evidence indicating that today's "God", nor any other contemporary god, nor any god of the past, exists. In addition we know that:
1. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, we would talk about the "science of God" rather than "faith in God".
2. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, the study of God would be a scientific endeavor rather than a theological one.
3. If we had scientific proof of God's existence, all religious people would be aligning on the God that had been scientifically proven to exist. Instead there are thousands of gods and religions.
The reason for this lack of evidence is easy for any unbiased observer to see. The reason why there is no empirical evidence for God is because God is imaginary."[13]
The major thrust of that bit of flim flam is that “we” (our side) we have all the facts in a great big pile and they don’t have a single one. Most thinking atheists and most scientifically minded atheists put it in terms of “explanatory power.” Appeal to God doesn’t explain the world as well as does science. That’s a more sophisticated version of the fortress of facts. Dawkins has a variation on this argument.
Unfortunately, Dawkins pushes envelope too far. He tries to turn the simple desire to know into a moral virtue in order to make it seem that science is more moral than religion:
Humans have a great hunger for explanation. It may be one of the main reasons why humanity so universally has religion, since religions do aspire to provide explanations. We come to our individual consciousness in a mysterious universe and long to understand it. Most religions offer a cosmology and a biology, a theory of life, a theory of origins, and reasons for existence. In doing so, they demonstrate that religion is, in a sense, science; it's just bad science. Don't fall for the argument that religion and science operate on separate dimensions and are concerned with quite separate sorts of questions. Religions have historically always attempted to answer the questions that properly belong to science. Thus religions should not be allowed now to retreat away from the ground upon which they have traditionally attempted to fight. They do offer both a cosmology and a biology; however, in both cases it is false.[14]
He’s saying that religion is trespassing upon questions of science, yet he doesn’t even bother to point out that religion was there first. Just because people in the prehistoric and ancient worlds mixed religious and scientific explanations—not having developed science religion was all they had to fall back on—doesn’t mean that’s the reason religion came to exist. As science has developed there is no reason why religious people can use it to understand questions that fall into he overlap between the two domains. The questions he’s discussing are overlap questions and modern thinking religious people have used to science to help answer them. In making this point he asserts that science is the fact giving endeavor while religion is content to have faith and do without facts. Of course that’s not a good description of most modern thinking religious people.
Dawkins wants us to think in terms of the fortress of facts, nothing provides scientific facts like science does. Of course he’s not mentioning the fact that it’s only one kind of explanation. There are facets to the question about the origin of life than just the physical workings of evolution. There are questions people have asked for thousands of years that science is not prepared to answer. There are questions that science is not allowed to answer because they are out of its domain. These are questions about the meaning of the life, the reason why life is, and the ultimate “destiny” (for want of a better word) of humans. These are things science can’t tell us they are the reasons religion exits. So the kinds of facts that religion provides the uses for faith are in a different area than those provided by science. The nature of the atheist view point is self selected to focus only upon the kinds of facts that science provides and it offers a biased, fallacious and inaccurate view of religious thinking. It also provides a distorted understanding of what science is. Science is not a pile of facts. Science is not even about fact making. Science is about hypothesis testing; it’s not about proving facts but testing for verification and falsifying premises. The overall “big picture” painted by science is a lot more dependent upon they a particular culture views life than it is the demonstration f a pile of facts.
Not only is this notion of science as a big pile of facts that guarantees an accurate understanding of reality a view that most scientists don’t take to the understanding of science, it’s specifically contradicted by the vast majority of historians and philosophers of science. While there is a great of contradiction between philosophers of science, the one thing they all agree on is that this fortress of facts idea is nonsense. First let’s turn to two major philosophers of science, Karl Popper and Thomas S. Kuhn. These two are destined to be linked since they had a major showdown to so speak over Kuhn’s theory, in the early to mid 60s. In that day Kuhn was thought to have won, his views went on to define philosophy of science for about three decades. I suspect that in this day popper is more popular and is probably now thought to have won. In reality, however, I think talk of who won is foolish because no only is the field still evolving but it’s diversifying and moving away form both, so neither of them won really. There is coming to be a plurality of models. Before going into that I’m going to examine Popper first, then Kuhn. What all of this evolving plurality agrees upon is that science is too complex and problematic to be regarded as anything like a fortress of facts!

[1] Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis:How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007.
[2] Jerry Petersen, Simply Einstein, Review “Victor J. Stinger, God the Failed Hypothesis.” Online web page:
[4] Petersen, ibid.
[5] Secular web
Gary P. Posner, “God in the ICU? A Criticique of San Franscisco Hospital Study of Intercessory prayer and Healing.” Originally published in Free Inquiry spring 1990, Secular Web URL
[6] Petersen,ibid
[7] John Polikinghorne’s staff, formerly on Polikinghorne’s official website, now Star Course, “Polikinghorne Q and A, Stenger and Hitchens. On line reseruce: URL visited Summer 2011.last visited Jan 2 2012.
[8] Polkinghorne,ibid

[9] David Sharf, “Pseudo Science and Stenger’s Quantum gods: Mistaken, Misinformed, and Misleading.” NeuroQuantology, Vol 8, No 1 (2010), online copy URL: visited Jan 2 2012 Sharf received his Ph.D. in 1986 from Johns Hopkins University, in the philosophy of physics. The title of his dissertation was: Quantum Mechanics and the Program for the Unity of Science

[10] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker. Why The Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,inc. 2004, 6.
[11] Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion,” The Humanist: A Magazine of Critical inquiry and Social Concern, Jan-feb 1997, on line copy URL:
visited Feb 2, 2012
[12] ibid
[13] “God is Imaginary” Example no 11 no scientific evidence URL:
visited 1/30/2012
[14] Dawkins, ibid.

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