Monday, February 08, 2010

A Substance Almost, But Not Quite, Entirely Unlike Tea

I've been following a troll by the name of Young Apologist who showed up at Skeptico, recently. Mostly, I've been quiet while the others dissect his nonsense line-by-line. He ended up repeating one tired old thing about how you can't use material description to talk about "immaterial" objects like souls and such. And that gets to the title of this post.

Like so many other dualists, he's essentially trying to describe something, not by what properties it has or what it does, but by what it's not. Of course, that leaves him with an infinite amount of room to move goalposts.

In science, you have to define what you're talking about in a meaningful manner. You do this so that you have testable predictions: What will you see when you examine the subject? What will happen when you do X to the subject? If those predictions are wrong, then you can admit you're wrong. Faith works the opposite way: "I am infallible" is the underlying basis of faith. Laying out definitions for the things they have faith in can only create opportunities for them to be demonstrated as wrong.

That's why they use nonsense words like "supernatural" to avoid defining their terms. Of course, this has a nasty habit of removing evidence from the process. If there's no evidence, no predictions, or anything like that, how do they know? The typical response I get boils down to reassertion of their superiority: They can know the unknowable because they said so.

It's really pathetic.


Dark Jaguar said...

It's not even the clear lack of trying to define what they are talking about in any meaningful way that bugs me the most. What annoys me is this insistence that something "supernatural" is inherantly untestable, and yet at the same time we are expected to assume it has a meaningful effect on the world. If something can affect the world, it can be tested by those effects.

As you once put it, science isn't just a tricorder with some "scan beam" that sometimes doesn't work. It tests via the effects of things. I think that's my biggest problem with Star Trek these days, "scanning beams". I think if they cut it down to explaining that it isn't pure "essence of scan" and that it scanned via very specific reactions to very specific beams it sends out, it would help get that point across better to the public.

Random said...

Funny, when I read "essence of scan" my brain translated as "essence of scam".

Has anyone else ever noticed that is always what YOU are doing that "god" doesn't like. Which just happens to coincide with what the person declaiming your doom doesn't like.


Prince of Montreal

Berlzebub said...

@ Random:
Yes they have, and she was even "born again":
"That's how you can tell you've created God in your own image is if he or she hates all the same people you do."

djfav said...

"...a something, I know not what." - John Locke.

But the title of this post is much better.

Random said...


To quote Dennis Miller "Born again?! No, I'm not. Excuse me for getting it right the first time."

Chumps, the bunch of them.

Prince of Montreal

Margaret said...

"He ended up repeating one tired old thing about how you can't use material description to talk about "immaterial" objects like souls and such."

Thomas Jefferson had a good response to that kind of "immaterial" nonsense:

"To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is."

Bronze Dog said...

I knew of the first part of that quote, but not about the end bit. Deliciously ironic that he can call substance dualism "masked atheism."

I suppose it is fitting, since if there are gods out there somewhere, they'd qualify as material in science, and we'd let them do the talking through their effects, while the faithful are keeping hold of their beliefs in gods by redefining them as more and more impotent.

Margaret said...

"I knew of the first part of that quote, but not about the end bit."

Me too. I googled it to put in my comment, and the site had more of the quote than I remembered seeing before.

And, yes, it is deliciously ironic.