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Religious theists who believe that everyone worships something and has some sort of religion will at times conclude that atheists' religion must be science. Science is not only secular and godless, but has also been responsible for overturning many of the myths, doctrines, and beliefs which have been fundamental to theistic religions. Science conflicts with religions not because it is a religion itself, but because religions typically conflict with reality. No one worships science, though.

 

Read Article: Myth: Atheists Worship Science, Evolution is Atheists' Creed, Darwin a Prophet

Comments
February 23, 2007 at 3:56 pm
(1) John Hanks says:

Atheists worship smarts.

January 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm
(2) BigBang says:

Unfortunately there are too many that can’t freely think for themselves. Only science can free them from the total ignorance of how what and why they are here.

January 22, 2010 at 5:29 pm
(3) Harvey says:

Difficult for me to believe that someone would devote so much time and energy into something they don’t believe. I can’t believe you’re so blind to not see that this world could not have just “happened”. I think you are very narrow-minded in your resistance to the truth of the Gospel. You really are shutting yourself out of any hope and peace and joy and love you could ever know.

Reason, intellect? It doesn’t make sense to me that these just happened either. Consider the fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, how did the natural earth know what to grow to feed organisms and creatures that you think sprung out of some primordial soup?

You are really wasting a lot of your time, and missing out on what life is all about. Jesus, He is risen!

January 22, 2010 at 6:17 pm
(4) Liz says:

@Harvey,
Your first sentence doesn’t make much sense to me, but I can tell you that the time and energy being devoted is for the right to believe what a person thinks is rational and reasonable. You may be convinced of your religion – which I take to be christianity given your send off – but that is just one religious belief system among many and not everyone is convinced that it is reasonable and rational.

As for your part about stuff “just happening” not “making sense to you”: there are lots of interesting true facts in the world that don’t make sense to people who do not actually do a little research into science. Apparently, the people of the Flat Earth Society also think that a round earth doesn’t make sense.

Why does it make more sense to you that there’s a creator? Where did that creator come from? Was there some sort of pre-creator? Where did that come from? Basically, how did your god get here and how does that make any sense?

btw, pretty judgmental to tell people here about wasting their lives. You presume to know more than you do.

January 22, 2010 at 7:07 pm
(5) Bob says:

It is hard to understand why people have those attitudes. I think psychologically they are afraid of change, afraid to question their long held beliefs. Scrutinising those beliefs logically and scientifically might leave them up the river without a paddle. That is what they are afraid of.

January 22, 2010 at 7:22 pm
(6) Ron says:

Harvey says: “truth of the Gospel.” From Popes Pius John Paul. “Truth cannot contradict truth”. Think about that. To learn more about that, you can go to here if you do not fear truth.
http://www.zpub.com/un/pope/nc-true.html
Ignorance in some cases is excusable, but what excuse is there for self-imposed ignorance? As for myself, I disagree with the Pope. Christianity and the evolution of life on earth cannot be reconciled. I believe he is correct when he admitted that the scientist’s kinda DO know what they are talking about. It seems to me that this admission blows the ship of Christianity completely out of the water.

January 22, 2010 at 7:33 pm
(7) Ndundu says:

I Refer: Davi Berlinski – The Devil’s Delusion.

The way you put it, it seems you equate science with an atheist position. As a scientist myself, I know that there there is no conflict, that has to be taken for granted, between faith and science.

January 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm
(8) Ron says:

Ndundu. I reference Christianity specifically. I refer to Genesis. Inheritance of original sin as opposed to the evolution of life on earth. They cannot both be true. but, what do I know? I am not a scientist, but just an eight grade graduate of a one room rural school.

January 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm
(9) Wurdulac says:

Given the reality of the world we live in, if there exists a god, it would have to be of the “fire and forget” variety, an impersonal, incidental, and, ultimately, irrelevant deity. This is in no way compatible with the Christian conception of god.

While true that science is not a de facto atheist position, it is incompatible with Christianity, as well as Judaism and Islam by extension. I do not know enough about any other religion to say one way or the other if they are compatible with science.

Yes, I know that there are scientists who are Christians, Jews and Muslims, but the only way I personally can conceive of such a thing working is if they’ve compartmentalized their minds into “Science Stuff” and “Religion Stuff”, and never the twain shall meet.

January 22, 2010 at 9:12 pm
(10) Ron says:

(9) Wurdulac says: but the only way I personally can conceive of such a thing working is if they’ve compartmentalized their minds into “Science Stuff” and “Religion Stuff”, and never the twain shall meet…………
I asked a fundamentalist friend about this. My question was; How can you have these conflicting ideas existing in your head at the same time? Doesn’t it bother you? His answer was: It doesn’t bother me one bit!…….. And there you have it.

January 23, 2010 at 4:03 am
(11) Eric (4tunate1) says:

Are there any Creationism advocates out there who actually understand the theories they are so opposed to (or understand basic logic, for that matter)? It seems as if every Creationist argues against a strawman and assumes a false dichotomy. They insist that non-creationist scientists believe everything just popped into existance by chance or just “happened”, and that this is the only alternative explanation to Goddidit.

Harvey’s question of “the fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, how did the natural earth know what to grow to feed organisms and creatures that you think sprung out of some primordial soup?” is simply laughable on several levels.

January 23, 2010 at 8:34 am
(12) Eupraxsophy says:

Darwin to me was no more of a prophet then Santa Claus, but he was a great scientist. It was his careful observation of how life works and being objective about that which he was naive to and weighing his findings with truth. And even though he might of had some favortism about the origins of life he let truth guild his way and did not demonstrate a rush to judgement.

Far too often people want an answer that agrees with them and what they favor, but the truth is not always convenient and does not always favor what we want. Truth may not be the greatest of all virtues, but it is the most important one. No other virtues could exist without it and it should be the foundation in which all the other virtues are base upon. And the greatest truth one can have about about one’s self is humility.

So Harvey before you deside to judge others, first judge yourself and weigh that with truth and humility. For admiration of the truth is in vain if it does not inspire us to be brave in facing the truths about ourselves. Humility is the valiant that stands with integrity against the coward known as pride. Face truth, accept truth and respect truth
for what it is, so that you can be able to move on with your life and no longer be the slave of your’s or anyone elses pride.

January 23, 2010 at 9:58 am
(13) tracieh says:

It certainly is frustrating to hear theists accuse atheists of worshipping science (which is only a method), or the self, or calling atheism a religion–or anything in the vein of ignorance that then has to be corrected through long and arduous debates about what “I” think about what “I’m” doing. It’s tedious to have someone who knows nothing about me come along and tell me what I believe–when the only thing they can assert about me is that I don’t believe one claim.

I have been of the view that theists misunderstand why some people “believe” scientific claims. They think that belief in scientific theories, such as evolution, is built using the same construct as theistic belief: That you believe or accept the claim on some level, and then go out looking for evidence to support it. They truly fail to grasp that scientific method works backwards: You observe evidence and try to discern from that what you’re seeing. You take what you hope is the best guess based on the observations, and then try to demolish your guess through experimentation–to demonstrate it’s false. This means coming up with some means of differentiating a world where what you guess “is” happening, from a world in which your guess “isn’t” happening, and seeing if you can demonstrate which world you’re in. In theism, the problem is that there is no world where the claim “isn’t” happening. Anything that happens = a world in which god “is” happening. So, it’s not falsifiable–and it’s a “veridically worthless” claim–to borrow from Sagan.

That being said, I want to address an issue I’m running into more than I’d like with other atheists. More than once in this past week, I have heard from atheists who have approached the AETV list with the claim that believing what a scientist tells you (let’s say Big Bang) is different than believing what a church teaches you, because scientific authorities are reliable authorities. For the record, most atheists who contact us would not assert this–I understand it’s a minority.

However, this is an honest representation of what they’re asserting. And they don’t take it further or expound. Their argument is that it’s OK to believe scientific claims–because scientists are asserting the claim, and scientists are authorities. I’ve dialogued at length to make sure this is their stance, and I’m certain it is. We get letters pretty much once or twice a week from atheists who have involved themselves in debates with theists, where they have asserted Big Bang is how the universe came to exist–and when the theist questions them about Big Bang, they can’t answer. Then they either write to us to ask us to tell them what to say (which disturbs me to no end), or they write to complain “some dumb theist” doesn’t believe Big Bang and is questioning it.

I hate to see an atheist trounced by a theist in a discussion; however, these atheists are, to use a colloquialism, “asking for it.”

This represents a fallacy of the argument from authority. I cannot claim to “believe” Big Bang without personal, sufficient understanding of what the Big Bang model is. To assert I believe ANY claim that I don’t understand sufficiently to support “my” belief, is a gross error and even an incoherency. If I can’t explain why I believe Big Bang better than “some scientists say this is right,” I should not assert it as “my belief.” And if I criticize theists for doing this with their claim “god exists”–I surely expect better from atheists.

If someone asks “Why do scientists think it’s so?” That’s not stupidity–that’s a fair question. And if I don’t know why scientists think it’s so, I’m simply taking their word, an I’m no better than the theist.

Atheists who do this, I’m sorry to have to admit, fuel the flame that “atheists worship science” or that “science is your god.”

I have actually received criticism for saying, “I cannot say I believe in Big Bang,” even where I have carefully explained my reason for the statement is personal ignorance. In other words, I have insufficient concern about how the universe came to be. I have what is commonly called, “a passing interest” in this issue. I know how the scientific method works, and I can defend that if it is consensus in science that BB is the best model, I can fairly say that as far as I know, there is no better method of determining fact from fiction than scientific testing and reasoning. So, I’m happy to assert that to the best of my knowledge, the best and most qualified minds in the field–who are best able to consider and interpret the best and most current data–assert the best model at this time is Big Bang. If someone has issues with the model–take it up with them. It’s _their_ model, not mine. I can, in ridiculously simplistic layman’s terms explain what that model is. But as I’m not schooled in the data or how to interpret it–I don’t make that theory my own. I don’t claim to “believe” Big Bang. I can’t–since I don’t understand the evidence supporting the theory sufficiently. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect the learning and capacity of anyone who does say “I understand the data, and I believe BB is how it went down.” If Steven Hawking says, “I believe Big Bang,” I can’t and don’t question _his_ capacity to make that claim, until I have the same level of knowledge of the data to reasonable I assert I believe he is wrong; and I can promise you that day will never come. He’s certainly qualified and informed enough to make that claim for himself–far beyond my own capacity to do so. Now, if I applied myself and looked at the data and really began to grasp the supporting evidence, I might also come to point where I can say, “I understand the reasons for asserting Big Bang is true–and I agree that it is,” or “I think it isn’t.” But I’m not at that point. So I can’t and don’t make any assertion of belief that BB did or did not happen. I have no belief on this issue.

As an atheist, I am often criticized for not caring and not learning enough on many fronts of knowledge. But my response is that there are loads of areas of learning I could apply myself to. Why should this or that one matter more–just because it matters to someone else?

The response is generally “to rebut claims of theistic origins”–that is, creationism.

My response is that the creationist needs to support its own claims in order to support belief. And I don’t see that it matters if there is any alternative theory of origins. Creationism stands or falls on its own merits or lack thereof. And I ask these people if they’ve taken the time to learn to read ancient Greek so that they can rebut claims about “original” manuscripts that theists put forward.

There is no end to what I’d have to learn to rebut the full range of theistic claims–but why assert I believe things I can’t support, in order to rebut claims that only need to be questioned in order to be sufficiently challenged and discredited? Why should I voluntarily adopt the burden of proof onto myself, and remove it from the one making the claim, by rebutting it with a different claim I can then be justifiably called upon to support? Why not simply demonstrate the original theistic claim fails? That’s far more efficient and realistic, as far as my capacity to become expert in every area of study required to rebut god claims.

In the end, these atheists are mad they got called on an error, and are looking to the AETV list for sympathy. From me, they get none. If they assert they believe a thing, they need to support it. If they can’t support it, then the theist is right to say they’ve got no grounds to assert belief. If they offer “because X is an authority and X said so,” they’re modeling the theist’s model of argument from authority–and they’re no better for it. They really have set up a model that mirrors the theist’s belief in god–and they are giving ammo to the claim “atheists worship science.” And I wish they’d stop.

January 23, 2010 at 11:05 am
(14) Austin Cline says:

Their argument is that it’s OK to believe scientific claims–because scientists are asserting the claim, and scientists are authorities. …This represents a fallacy of the argument from authority.

There are fallacious appeals to authority and legitimate appeals to authority. Not all appeals to authority are fallacious.

So, how is the above a fallacious appeal to authority rather than a legitimate appeal to authority? It’s probably not an appeal to an unqualified authority and presumably not an appeal to an anonymous authority. It’s certainly not an appeal to numbers or tradition.

To be fair, it’s possible for someone to accept the Big Bang theory on the basis of numbers, unqualified authority, anonymous authority, or even tradition (if defined broadly). Is any of this actually the case with the atheists you’ve talked to, though?

January 23, 2010 at 11:16 am
(15) Mark H says:

-Religious theists who believe that everyone worships something and has some sort of religion will at times conclude that atheists’ religion must be science.

Austin would like us to believe the Atheistic belief system is neutral and therefore the only reliable world view+++ False- Atheism requires an axiom of not believing in God as a starting point and therefore is not neutral.

-Science is not only secular and godless, but has also been responsible for overturning many of the myths, doctrines, and beliefs which have been fundamental to theistic religions.

+++Illogical & therefore false. Science is neither secular or godless. Evidence- 1- Science is a reflection of creation reality- it is based theory upon theory by the best and brightest of mankind 2- Each scientist builds their hypothesis based on their belief system- Isaac Newton in Principia stated, “The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Therefore- much of what is taught in one generation as fact or truth is disproved or improved upon in the next. Remember the best & brightest taught the earth was flat and Atheist and Christian alike believed it to be true… AND were wrong. What do we believe we know as scientific fact today that will be proved wrong tomorrow?

-Science conflicts with religions not because it is a religion itself, but because religions typically conflict with reality.

+++This sentence is not intellectually honest or accurate in that it sets up a misdirected conflict. Sure the Church has been slow to embrace “new” scientific explanations of our reality at times, but religion does not have a conflict with reality, science does. Science conflicts with reality when it miss defines reality (flat earth) and teaches it as fact. The best science of our day is only theory and likely to be proved false or improved upon- Einstein ‘apologized’ to Newton when he wrote his paper on Relativity. ***Reality- Finite man is discovering the scientific truths of reality. Finite man is limited in this process to 1- what we know & 2- what we know we don’t know. As Finite man- both Christian and Atheist- we do not know what we don’t know. The Big Bang Theory starts from a position something that was there and then banged together.

- No one worships science, though.
+++ This is the classic Post Modernity Dance- “I know everything & I know nothing.” When science defines your world view Austin, it is what your culture flows from. While you want to believe you don’t “worship” anything, it really looks like you are drawing your basis of explaining reality on science. If not science, what?

January 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm
(16) Wurdulac says:

@Mark H:

“While you want to believe you don’t ‘worship’ anything, it really looks like you are drawing your basis of explaining reality on science.”

With the implied assertion that “drawing your basis of explaining reality” and “worship” are synonymous.

You are a failure.

January 23, 2010 at 1:07 pm
(17) Austin Cline says:

Austin would like us to believe the Atheistic belief system is neutral and therefore the only reliable world view+++ False-

You’re right. There is no “the atheistic belief system.” Something nonexistent can’t be “netural.”

Science is neither secular or godless.

The scientific method is not religious, therefore it is secular. The scientific method does not include theism as a component, therefore it is godless. Since the scientific method is, more than anything, what effectively defines science, we must conclude that science is effectively secular and godless.

Science conflicts with reality when it miss defines reality (flat earth) and teaches it as fact.

Please point to where science has ever taught that the earth is flat.

While you want to believe you don’t “worship” anything,

If you want to claim that I “worship” something, then make the claim directly and support it.

First, though, you might want to respond to the numerous challenges and questions posed to you elsewhere. I’m not going to waste my time trying to point out all the errors and flaws in this, your latest comment, if you’re just going to ignore what’s inconvenient and start posting nonsense elsewhere in another month in the hope that no one will remembrer how you couldn’t engage anyone substantively the last time.

That’s simply not a game that will be tolerated here. If you can’t or won’t enaged in direct, substantive, and serious conversation after posting your comments, then don’t bother posting them at all because you’re just wasting everyone’s time. And, in case you don’t actually care about that, do know that such behavior makes Christians and Christianty look bad — ethically as well as intellectually.

January 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm
(18) Liz says:

I have an image in my head of atheists worshipping science: let us all sacrifice a virgin to the great black hole and hope he rewards us with his great gamma ray burst! If there is no gamma ray burst, it means that the great black hole is angry at his people and intends to punish us.

I would like to hear a definition of “worship” – I know in our culture we often talk about people “worshipping” money, but I think that is not intended to be taken literally.

By worship, I think of actions like praying, sacrificing, pouring out libations, holding up as infallible… Like Wurdulac, I am confused about the conflation of getting your explanation of reality and worship.

And contrary to what Mark H. says, I don’t see positing a belief that no god exists as a starting point to atheism. Maybe I’m wrong, but I see it as the conclusion. I have examined the “evidence” (i.e. explanations for god) and I have concluded that there is no explanation that holds up. Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t a god. No one has yet to give me an explanation that satisfies.

And like Austin says, there’s not an “atheistic belief system”. I don’t “build off” of my atheism as a means to construct a belief system. It’s not like a religion, say Xianity, where you say: “I believe in god, Jesus and the Bible” and from there you start to build your belief system. I see atheism as more a part or piece of a belief system – one element, not the basis. I don’t think “It’s wrong to kill people” because I’m an atheist. I think it’s wrong to kill people because I recognize that other people are beings like myself, because I respect human life, because we live in society where it’s important to others…

January 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm
(19) Larry Perrault says:

A defintion of wearisome may be reading and hearing joyless and constricted-minded who say that large-minded, full-lived, quite reational and often quite educated and literate people, are not smart or don’t know how to think. Sigh.

January 23, 2010 at 8:01 pm
(20) Larry Perrault says:

“…you presume to know more than you do.”

Isn’t it ironic for people who natter about the ignorance of others who believe they know an illuminating reality that the former is missing, that the latter “presumes to know more than they do?”

No. I know I know more than you do. That isn’t an insult. It’s an expression of pity. Don’t you pity those of cultures who have no exposure at all to more elaborate lessons of science or mathematics or other reasoning. How much more pathetic is one who has boarded off his/her mind to the most beautiful and gratifying aspects of reality? It can’t get sadder than that.

January 24, 2010 at 6:05 am
(21) jason says:

Austin I think you’re pouring gas on a misleading fire here. When people say Atheists “worship” science they are usually referring to those who don’t have the faintest interest in science, but still advocate certain scientific ideas. While scientific theory on the origins of the universe isn’t as flawed as most theists would have you believe, it is still debated among scientists and so it’s very dogmatic for an atheist to grab one theory and hold stronger belief in it than the scientists who devised it.

I don’t know of anyone who claims that atheists pray in laboratories and worship Darwin; I think they’re just referring to atheists who come to favourable conclusions about highly complicated science on the basis that a bunch of respectable people in lab coats believe in it.

January 24, 2010 at 8:04 am
(22) Austin Cline says:

Austin I think you’re pouring gas on a misleading fire here. When people say Atheists “worship” science they are usually referring to those who don’t have the faintest interest in science, but still advocate certain scientific ideas.

So if a person doesn’t have the faintest interest in machines, but still advocates that certain cars are more efficient than others, does this mean they worship cars?

While scientific theory on the origins of the universe isn’t as flawed as most theists would have you believe, it is still debated among scientists and so it’s very dogmatic for an atheist to grab one theory and hold stronger belief in it than the scientists who devised it.

Name one such atheist.

I don’t know of anyone who claims that atheists pray in laboratories and worship Darwin; I think they’re just referring to atheists who come to favourable conclusions about highly complicated science on the basis that a bunch of respectable people in lab coats believe in it.

So if a person comes to a favorable conclusion about highly complicated vehicles on the basis that a bunch of mechanics agree that it works best, does that mean they worship the car or worship mechanics?

No, that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. If anything, you’re make the theists who say “atheists worship science” appear more idiotic than anything I’ve written.

January 24, 2010 at 9:07 am
(23) tracieh says:

Thanks Austin. I may not have been clear enough. But there is, as an example, a point where Sagan tells a story in Demon Haunted World where he is asked if he “believes” extra terrestrial life exists. Sagan says there is no evidence to support that belief so far, so he can’t say he believes it. Although obviously he accepted the possibility sufficiently to support the search. But he qualifies his statement by saying “it really is OK to withhold belief until sufficient evidence is in.” (paraphrasing)

In regard to science, it puts forward what it considers to be the best models possible according to the best evidence available at the time–according to the best trained minds (i.e., those who have studied and understand the evidence’s attributes best).

I definitely agree that it’s always supportable to assert that any scientific theory is the best model possible if it’s scientific consensus. And this applies even if I also accept the model may be wrong or flawed–even due to personal ignorance. If I personally lack the capacity to understand the model or the evidence sufficiently to support my personal claim of belief, then I’m saying I believe in something I don’t even understand–or don’t really know why it’s put forward. To me, that’s like asserting I believe in god, and then being able to offer no explanation of what god is. It’s incoherent. And it cannot be, in my view, a valid assertion of personal belief.

If someone writes an assertion on a slip of paper and puts it in an envelope, I can say, based on my knowledge of the person, that whatever they asserted is true–but unless I know what’s on the paper, to say “I believe the claim inserted into the envelope” is not coherent. If someone then asks me to expound on what it is I believe, I can’t–because I don’t even know what I just said I believe. I’m fine with anyone saying “I accept whatever science is putting forward is the best model to explain the evidence.” But to say “I believe the model”–without understanding what it is or how it’s produced is not something I’m sure someone can coherently do…?

If I don’t understand the scientific method, it would be invalid to assert even a belief that the models are the best models–since I don’t even know how the models are come by. That would be like not knowing who wrote the assertion on the slip of paper, but asserting it’s true. Based on what? But most of us _do_ understand, to some degree, the process of investigation sufficiently to say that investigation and testing does yield better guesses than wild guessing. But that doesn’t mean the guesses are true, or that the people asserting those guesses are putting them forward as anything more than models. I have read essays from scientists themselves saying that using “true” in regard to theories is probably not the best idea. People involved in science research understand the models they put out are ever changing or subject to change, and potentially could be overturned by new evidence. It rarely happens that a model is totally overturned, but it has happened and isn’t impossible. Science, to its credit, is self-correcting. And scientists understand that. The atheists who can’t defend what they claim to believe with anything better than “because science says so,” I generally find seem to be discarding the reality that the process self-corrects–constantly. That’s why research is always ongoing–to improve, adjust, and sometimes do a 180 on our models. That doesn’t mean science is “wrong”–just that handling or asserting the findings as “solid truths that cannot be incorrect” is not a safe assumption–unless a person has a very solid grasp of what type of evidence is supporting this model or theory and really thinks that evidence is unlikely to ever yield a different model. The atheists I’m describing really do argue “because science says it, everyone should believe it,” (and I wish they would read about Einstein’s history with physics) and that an understanding of what they actually are promoting–the model of BB, isn’t necessary.

When a theist asks them to defend their belief, and all they can say is “I don’t question what science puts forward as _true_ (not merely as the best model currently)”–then the theist will see that as the atheist doing what they’re doing–just accepting an authority.

I do get that, for example, a plumber telling me my pipes are broken is more likely true than an artist telling me my pipes are broken. But I also know that the plumber, expert as he is, can be taking his best guess, and once he’s in my wall, the result might be something else than a broken pipe. And I also think it’s fine for the customer (the theist) to ask “How do you know it’s broken pipes?” The atheists I’m talking about put forward science in a way that is so solid, they seem to be saying, it’s wrong for this theist to ask me to defend a theory I just asserted I accept is true–science built that model (while they also assert I need a better understanding of it). If they had that sort of fuller understanding, however, they wouldn’t be in the bind they’re in–unable to defend their claims to a theist online.

Again, this represents probably less than 5% of the letters we receive. But it’s frustrating. I don’t like an atheist coming to me to say “What should I say to defend what I just asserted I believe?” My response is “If you believe it, I assume you can defend it. If not–why did you assert a personal position you can’t personally defend or explain (but most especially when it wasn’t even necessary in a discussion about god)?”

January 24, 2010 at 11:46 am
(24) Liz says:

Tracie,
It sounds like you have a two main problems: (1) with the use of the word “believe” in talking about these scientific theories, and especially, “believe” in combination with ideas the person in question has not fully studied and grasped; and (2) these people coming to you as an “authority” to tell them what to believe (like you describe the way things happened in your church).

With number 1, I wonder if the problem doesn’t start really with people using language in an informal way and not trying to state their position clearly. So, they mean “I think theory X (Big Bang theory, for example) is correct because I trust science to explain such phenomena through observation, testing, modeling, etc.” They themselves may not be able to grasp the concepts – I know there are aspects to these theories that I could not explain even though I’ve watch programs and read articles!

I think that in coming to you, the real question to be answered is, “how can I show/prove that scientific authority is more trustworthy than religious authority?” I don’t think the people you’re talking about have articulated it quite this way to themselves, but given what you’ve described, this is what I take away from these dialogues.

Part of the frustration for you is you would like for these people to reason through these concerns themselves, really grapple with issues.

But if I were to answer, first, I would say that I don’t think any explanation about science will truly convince a person who posits a literalist interpretation of the Bible (there are obviously plenty of Xians who have no problem with science, but there are also plenty that reject much of science). So, these people probably can’t say anything convincing really.

Second, I would address the question of authority: you can accept scientific authority because of the nature of science: experts in the field, repeatability/testability of hypotheses, consensus in the field, etc. Where does the religious authority come from? In Xianity, usually people claim the Bible. But if you know that the Bible is not some literal word of god, what authority does that have?

But, third, you might want to broach the topic of language and suggest that these people hone their language so that they are expressing themselves in a more precise way.

January 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm
(25) Austin Cline says:

If I personally lack the capacity to understand the model or the evidence sufficiently to support my personal claim of belief, then I’m saying I believe in something I don’t even understand–or don’t really know why it’s put forward. To me, that’s like asserting I believe in god, and then being able to offer no explanation of what god is. It’s incoherent. And it cannot be, in my view, a valid assertion of personal belief.

If I don’t understand how a car works, but believe that it will start when I turn the key and take me to work, is that like saying I believe in a god?

If I don’t understand how a computer works, but believe that it will work and let me post messages on the internet, is that like saying I believe in a god?

A belief is the mental disposition that some statement of fact is true – that some state of the world exists. Having such a mental disposition does not require knowing why the world has such a state or how it came to such a state. Thus, having a belief that proposition P is true does not entail that one knows how or why P is true.

Granted, knowing how or why P is true should mean that one’s belief that P is true has a more secure foundation, but it’s not necessary for the belief to be “coherent.” This goes back to the fact that not all arguments to authority are fallacious: believing that something is true on the basis of the testimony of some authority is not always or necessary fallacious, wrong, or incoherent.

January 24, 2010 at 3:38 pm
(26) tracieh says:

>I think that in coming to you, the real question to be answered is, “how can I show/prove that scientific authority is more trustworthy than religious authority?” I don’t think the people you’re talking about have articulated it quite this way to themselves, but given what you’ve described, this is what I take away from these dialogues.

Thanks Liz. I would say that if they can’t articulate why scientific investigation is superior to other forms of learning about reality, then they shouldn’t be engaging in discussions about science. They need to stick to religion. How can they trust a method they don’t grasp? I suppose they could have faith in the results. But again, if that’s what they’re going on and why–then they need to defend that if they can. “Science seems to work, so I trust it.” But when I say “I believe” a thing–I should be able to articulate what I believe and why. If I can’t. the correct question is “Why do I believe it?”

>But if I were to answer, first, I would say that I don’t think any explanation about science will truly convince a person who posits a literalist interpretation of the Bible (there are obviously plenty of Xians who have no problem with science, but there are also plenty that reject much of science). So, these people probably can’t say anything convincing really.

However, they’re not writing to say “I’ve explained XYZ, and the person just isn’t reasonable.” We get those letters as well. And we tell them that it’s a waste of time to dialog with unreasonable people.

>I would address the question of authority: you can accept scientific authority because of the nature of science: experts in the field, repeatability/testability of hypotheses, consensus in the field, etc.

I agree this is defensible. For example, I understand many of the reasons the world is considered to be _basically_ spherical. I know we’ve flown around it in a shuttle. And I am happy to defend that, because I personally get how it can be defended–to the point that I can’t see how it can be doubted–even though some people still do. I can say “I believe in a spherical Earth.” But for BB, I have a very basic understanding of the model. I’m happy to defend the methods and the superiority of those methods in creating “the best” models we can create. But without better grasp of what is behind the model, even if it’s rock solid, I can’t say “I believe it” if I don’t really have that sort of grasp of the evidence.

Austin:

>If I don’t understand how a car works, but believe that it will start when I turn the key and take me to work, is that like saying I believe in a god?…If I don’t understand how a computer works, but believe that it will work and let me post messages on the internet, is that like saying I believe in a god?

This would be a statement of personal experience. “I know it works because I’ve done it.” You’re not making assertions about how these things work that you can’t support or don’t understand. You’re making assertions you can actually demonstrate to someone else. That’s not what I’m describing.

>A belief is the mental disposition that some statement of fact is true – that some state of the world exists. Having such a mental disposition does not require knowing why the world has such a state or how it came to such a state. Thus, having a belief that proposition P is true does not entail that one knows how or why P is true.

We have a physicist in ACA. He sometimes helps me understand concepts I have trouble with in science. Sometimes, he explains things, and I still don’t understand them. This has happened more than once. One such thing is a “virtual particle.” I understand these are particles that manifest within vacuums. How this happens, I can’t seem to understand. And the full implications I can’t seem to understand. I’ve read a lot on it, and talked to this person at length. But it’s just beyond my capacity since I don’t have sufficient background. I can assert that virtual particles exist and have been demonstrated. Surely there is something measurable in the vacuum. But I can’t assert that I believe any explanations put forward to explain them, because currently I can’t understand those explanations. For me to say “I accept what he just said…” is meaningless if I don’t know what he just said.

>Granted, knowing how or why P is true should mean that one’s belief that P is true has a more secure foundation, but it’s not necessary for the belief to be “coherent.” This goes back to the fact that not all arguments to authority are fallacious: believing that something is true on the basis of the testimony of some authority is not always or necessary fallacious, wrong, or incoherent.

I was hoping to hat tip to this with my statement about the plumber. I do think that there is good reason to have experts and to understand their views are more informed–whether correct or not. That is why I advocate that any atheist who doesn’t grasp a model put forward in science, should not express the model is “his belief.” It would be better for the person to understand that what he is saying is that “X is the consensus model that scientists in the relevant field put forward. They have devoted their lives to the study of X, and all the evidence, according to them, leads them to this model. If you think they have overlooked relevant information or aren’t doing their calculations correctly, you need to address it with them. Meanwhile, for myself, I can accept that all the people in this field are wrong, due to reasons you believe you have uncovered. Or I can believe a layman with no credentials to be interpreting this has discovered, from reading a book/looking it up on the Internet/listenting to X apologist, that they’ve missed something that ruins their whole model. I have to go with ‘you’re probably not as smart as you think you are.’ But I’m happy to hear how you think the universe was produced and examine your model.”

This would be a fair statement that expresses the supportable belief in the superiority of scientific method, demonstrates the scientific model has basis for validity, and keeps the theistic claim as the target of the debate. To take on “Big Bang is a fact,” is more than saying “I know the universe is here, because I see it” (which is like the car/computer statement). It’s saying “I believe the explanation for how it got here is true,” without understanding the explanation for how it got here.

I think they should take care to consider exactly what they can assert belief in, and what goes beyond what they can actually claim to believe. Some atheists I know are interested in BB, and assert belief in it; and they are happy to defend it. I don’t have any issue with that. But if an atheist really is going to shut down the moment the theist says, “red shift”–then they should not have allowed the discussion to go into BB, and they should have stopped the moment it was broached and said, “I don’t really reject creationism because of belief in BB. I don’t really understand BB all that well, myself. I reject creationism, because creationism seems silly to me. But you accept creationism, so convince me.”

January 24, 2010 at 5:51 pm
(27) Austin Cline says:

This would be a statement of personal experience. “I know it works because I’ve done it.”

I haven’t necessarily experienced this car working. Indeed, I may never have experienced this car working because when I bought it, it was a wreck. However, the mechanics who worked on it assure me that they have fixed it and that when I turn the key, it will work. If they are sufficiently reliable, then I will believe them — I will adopt the mental disposition that it is true that the car will work.

But I can’t assert that I believe any explanations put forward to explain them, because currently I can’t understand those explanations. For me to say “I accept what he just said…” is meaningless if I don’t know what he just said.

You are conflating the details of an explanation with what the explanation is about. If I don’t understand the details of an explanation of a machine, I can’t claim to believe the details of that explanation — but that doesn’t preclude believing that the machine will work and do what mechanics say it will do.

I do think that there is good reason to have experts and to understand their views are more informed–whether correct or not. That is why I advocate that any atheist who doesn’t grasp a model put forward in science, should not express the model is “his belief.”

If one has the mental disposition that the model is correct and accurate, then “belief” is the correct and accurate word.

Some atheists I know are interested in BB, and assert belief in it; and they are happy to defend it. I don’t have any issue with that. But if an atheist really is going to shut down the moment the theist says, “red shift”–then they should not have allowed the discussion to go into BB

It’s just generally a good idea to not get involved in discussions about things you don’t understand, whether it’s something you believe or not.

However, the fact remains that you do not have to understand how or why P is true in order to have the mental disposition that P is indeed true. Knowing how or why P is true may be among the best reasons for believing P is true, but they aren’t the only reasons; indeed, they are probably the least common reasons.

This is I think the heat of the discussion: you seem to want to condition belief on knowing how and why, but there are no such conditions on the definition of belief and they aren’t conditions I’ve ever seen anyone normally apply to beliefs. So I don’t think that they are valid conditions to insist upon.

January 24, 2010 at 7:52 pm
(28) tracieh says:

Hi Austin.

Thanks for your patience.

>I haven’t necessarily experienced this car working. Indeed, I may never have experienced this car working because when I bought it, it was a wreck. However, the mechanics who worked on it assure me that they have fixed it and that when I turn the key, it will work. If they are sufficiently reliable, then I will believe them — I will adopt the mental disposition that it is true that the car will work.

Still, you have experience with cars. The people asserting BB–the ones who are the layman atheists I’m describing–don’t have personal experience with any universe coming into existence. They have never experienced this BB or any other BB, and have no first-hand knowledge of it, and a very tenuous grasp of it.

>You are conflating the details of an explanation with what the explanation is about.

In the case of Big Bang, it _is_ the explanation, about how the universe began. It’s solely an explanation, not “what the explanation is about.” Theories in science aren’t what explanations are about–they are only explanations. Not understanding “the explanation” for the origin of the universe means _not understanding Big Bang_.

> If I don’t understand the details of an explanation of a machine, I can’t claim to believe the details of that explanation — but that doesn’t preclude believing that the machine will work and do what mechanics say it will do.

I may be misunderstanding your analogy. But my response would be that “the machine” is “the universe.” Big Bang is not the universe, it is the explanation of how the universe came to exist–the process, not the resulting universe. I’m saying (again if I get the analogy) that to assert Big Bang is true _is_ to assert an understanding of _the explanation_–because theories are explanations, not results.

>If one has the mental disposition that the model is correct and accurate, then “belief” is the correct and accurate word.

But I can’t claim to believe X if I don’t understand what X is even asserting. And incapacity to describe X demonstrates, to me, that the person doesn’t understand what they’re saying they believe.

>It’s just generally a good idea to not get involved in discussions about things you don’t understand, whether it’s something you believe or not.

Can I assert, reasonably, belief in X, if _X_, itself, is what I don’t understand?

>However, the fact remains that you do not have to understand how or why P is true in order to have the mental disposition that P is indeed true.

And with your car example, I understand and agree. But with regard to scientific theories–they actually _are_ “the explanations”–the “how” and “why.” So, I can’t claim to believe the theory, but not understand the explanation. They are one in the same. It would be the same as saying I don’t understand what I believe, and that sounds like nonsense to me. With BB, these people _aren’t saying_, “I believe in the universe and how it functions.” They’re saying “I believe Big Bang,” (how the universe came to exist) and when questioned, it’s apparent they don’t know enough about the theory to even explain what they’re saying they believe.

>you seem to want to condition belief on knowing how and why, but there are no such conditions on the definition of belief and they aren’t conditions I’ve ever seen anyone normally apply to beliefs. So I don’t think that they are valid conditions to insist upon.

If the belief expressed is a belief about “how,” something came to be, then I do think it’s required to understand “how” the thing came to be, in order to assert coherent belief. They’re not expressing belief in the universe. They’re expressing belief in a process of how the universe came to exist. And they don’t grasp that process, which is why they can’t defend it.

I apologize if I’m not being clear, or if I’m incorrect and not grasping something obvious. I think I do understand your points, because your analogies make sense–except that I don’t see them as analogous to assertion of belief in theories–which _are_ the explanations you say don’t need to be understood to assert belief in them.

It’s like asserting I believe “patp h0nin gn[oih[g[wgwij oiah hwoeh.” Whether I call that X or Big Bang or god, if I can’t explain what that even means–saying I believe it does not seem reasonable.

January 24, 2010 at 8:55 pm
(29) Austin Cline says:

Still, you have experience with cars. The people asserting BB–the ones who are the layman atheists I’m describing–don’t have personal experience with any universe coming into existence.

They do, however, have experience with science and scientists.

Your rejection of the analogy depends upon trust in the authority of mechanics being so justified that we can form beliefs on the basis of their say-so without understanding the hows or whys, but trust in the authority of scientists not be as justified. I don’t see it.

In the case of Big Bang, it _is_ the explanation, about how the universe began

But we also have an explanation of the explanation.

Your argument appears to be that unless we understand the details of the explanation of the explanation, it’s not legitimate to think the explanation is accurate or true on the basis of the testimony of any authority. I don’t see it.

On the contrary, I reject it unequivocally.

I’m saying (again if I get the analogy) that to assert Big Bang is true _is_ to assert an understanding of _the explanation_–because theories are explanations, not results.

Once again, you are asserting that to believe something, you must understand it — but there is no such requirement for belief.

Now, you might refuse to believe anything you can’t understand, but you are asserting a condition for “belief” that simply doesn’t exist outside yourself.

But I can’t claim to believe X if I don’t understand what X is even asserting.

That is true if I can’t comprehend you to an extreme degree — like if you’re speaking a language I don’t comprehend — but it’s manifestly false if I simply fail to fully “get” or “grasp” what you’r saying. Once again, there is no condition on “belief” that I fully understand all the hows and whys.

But with regard to scientific theories–they actually _are_ “the explanations”–the “how” and “why.” So, I can’t claim to believe the theory, but not understand the explanation. They are one in the same.

No.

A theory is an explanation of events and phenomena. But, there are also explanations for what this explanation says, what it means, what its implications are, how it’s supported by data, etc.

When I talked about not understanding an explanation of a theory, it’s all this latter stuff that I was talking about and that a person might have trouble comprehending it.

A person doesn’t need to understand all this to believe that a theory is true, valid, accurate, etc. This I assert as a fact on the simple basis that there is no condition on “belief” that a person must fully understand what they think is true in order to think it is true. Such a condition does not exist now and has never existed in the past. At most, it’s your own personal condition that you follow but it’s certainly not one you can or should demand from everyone else.

If the belief expressed is a belief about “how,” something came to be, then I do think it’s required to understand “how” the thing came to be, in order to assert coherent belief.

You may think it should be required, but it’s not. The reason is simple: there are lots of reasons for believing things. In this context, the most relevant is the testimony of authority. It’s legitimate to believe something is true based on the testimony of authority in the right circumstances. It doesn’t matter if you actually understand it all.

They’re expressing belief in a process of how the universe came to exist. And they don’t grasp that process, which is why they can’t defend it.

I would point most people can’t defend most beliefs past the most superficial attempts. So, this is nothing unusual.

It’s like asserting I believe “patp h0nin gn[oih[g[wgwij oiah hwoeh.” Whether I call that X or Big Bang or god, if I can’t explain what that even means–saying I believe it does not seem reasonable.

Here you are conflating an staggeringly huge range of “I don’t understand” possibilities. Here you are using the most extreme form, where one can’t even figure out what words are being used, to make claims about far more mild and restricted forms of “I don’t understand.” That’s really not legitimate.

To be more specific: your objection is fair if by “not understand the Big Bang” a person doesn’t have the slightest idea what the theory says or is about, or even worse doesn’t understand English but has never heard of the theory expect in English.” Your objection is not fair, though, if they don’t comprehend how a singularity can expand fast enough to become a universe, what a vacuum fluctuation is, etc. All of these details are legitimately left to the experts and accepted on the basis of expert testimony — especially when the person who believes it isn’t basing their entire life or afterlife on it (the importance you place on an idea matters a lot when it comes to how well you can defend accepting it).

I have really don’t know how exactly how HIV causes AIDS, but I accept that it does and believe that it does. According to your “theory” of belief I shouldn’t, though, because I cannot at this moment explain how and why it happens — but that’s wrong. The testimony and consensus of medical experts is more than enough to hold the mental attitude that HIV causes AIDS, regardless of how much I know about virology.

Once again, comprehnsion of the details of how some scientific theory works or why it’s accepted in the scientific community is not necessary to accept it as true. It helps, obviously, but it’s not necessary. None of us has the time or resources to double-check everything scientists to or indeed everything done by others — accepting propositions as true on the basis of expert testimony or advice is the norm and how we form most beliefs.

January 25, 2010 at 7:23 am
(30) Liz says:

Well, Austin’s answer is brain-blowingly good, and it’s hard to follow that, but I did have a couple of thoughts.

If you think about what Austin said, this underscores the importance of choosing your authority well. This is why I think that the real question these people are asking is how they can assert scientific authority is reliable and religious authority is not. Not everyone is practiced in logical thinking, and the fact that some people come to you to ask an explanation shows they consider you an authority in logic.

Of course, not all authorities agree, and this is painfully obvious in a field like economics. Not just in our economic climate, but pretty much all the time, you can hear economists predict a wide spectrum of forecasts. If you are interested in relying on economic authority, it is really in your interest to check the reliability of economists against outcomes. Some people of course align their belief against political belief.

And of course scientists don’t always believe the same exact things either. So, while scientists as a whole agree that we evolved, the specifics can be in dispute.

This is often a reason religious people attack scientific authority: it changes. Some assert that if you don’t understand every aspect of a theory, then you cannot assert that that theory is true. For them, their religious authority is eternal. They don’t notice or pay attention to the way their own religion developed over time. And in terms of interpreting the source (the Bible), there are so many denominations of Xians, that in itself demonstrates that there isn’t agreement about what their source means or how its authority is eternal.

Going into the details of say BB (since this is the topic that keeps coming up), by the way, I don’t think can convince anyone. Xians that I’ve talked to don’t think it “feels” right that the universe was created like that. It’s not “intuititive” to them. There are many theories of physics that I find really hard to grasp and when I do they don’t make “intuitive sense”. So, I think an atheist going head to head with a Xian about BB vs. god created the universe is unlikely to win by going into the details anyway.

This discussion is about why we can trust the scientific authority.

January 25, 2010 at 8:51 am
(31) tracieh says:

>Your rejection of the analogy depends upon trust in the authority of mechanics being so justified that we can form beliefs on the basis of their say-so without understanding the hows or whys, but trust in the authority of scientists not be as justified. I don’t see it.

I’m not saying we can’t trust the experts as much. I’m saying that if you don’t know how the car was fixed, you can assert belief it was fixed, but you can’t say that the explanation of how the car was fixed is your personal belief–if you don’t know how the car was fixed. And in the case of BB, we have a model supported by evidence that even the scientists understand is subject to change on some levels–since research is ongoing. So, you have mechanics who didn’t fix the car, but asserts an explanation of how that car was fixed that he tells you can only be tentative on some levels, and you aren’t able to understand his explanation of how he believes the car was fixed. Then you’re saying “the explanation of how the car was fixed is _my belief_.”

But if I ask you about “your belief”–about how the car was fixed, you don’t know. And the best you can do is refer me to the mechanic. How does it make sense that I should refer someone to another party to explain to them what _I_ believe?

I think scientists, when they find consensus, have the best possible models to fit the facts. But to say that any theory is “my belief,” I must understand what the theory asserts–and that includes the supporting evidence, since theories are the explanation tying the evidence together to explain the result.

>But we also have an explanation of the explanation.

No, we have the evidence the explanation is tying together–which is inherently part of the BB explanation.

>Your argument appears to be that unless we understand the details of the explanation of the explanation

To be honest, I don’t know what “the explanation of the explanation” would be. To assert “I believe BB” has to include that I understand the evidence supporting the theory, since that’s part of the theory. It can’t be separated.

>it’s not legitimate to think the explanation is accurate or true on the basis of the testimony of any authority.

If I don’t understand what that authority is asserting, then what he’s asserting is not “my belief.” I am the authority on “my beliefs.” Nobody else can offer explanation or apology for what “I believe.” I slam theists for this all the time. If they say they believe god is all powerful, and I ask them to explain, and they reply with a copy and paste of some apologists Web site, and they demonstrate via their own assessment they don’t even understand what they just posted–then I tell them they can’t honestly refer to this as what they believe. If an atheist copies and pastes a cosmologists explanation for BB to a theist, and the atheist can’t understand what he just posted–that’s not a legitimate of example of “his belief.”

>Once again, you are asserting that to believe something, you must understand it — but there is no such requirement for belief.

What I’m saying is this:

X = my belief.
I don’t know what X is.

I just asserted I don’t know what I believe. If X is not something I understand, then asserting belief in X is not coherent.

>That is true if I can’t comprehend you to an extreme degree — like if you’re speaking a language I don’t comprehend — but it’s manifestly false if I simply fail to fully “get” or “grasp” what you’r saying. Once again, there is no condition on “belief” that I fully understand all the hows and whys.

I agree here. But that’s why I gave the example of the physicist friend. If I can grasp something enough to understand it to a point to say “I agree with this,” then I can say, “I do understand it and agree with it.” That’s belief. But in that case, I should be able to offer some explanation of what I’m saying I believe. If someone asks me about it, I should be able to say, “Here is what I understand the claim X to mean.” And that explanation should be express-able in coherent terms. If someone says, “it all started with a singularity,” and they don’t know what a singularity represents–what have they actually said? A person should not require someone else to explain what they claim to hold as their belief.

With your car example, you can assert “the car didn’t start before, it starts after the mechanic fixed it, so the mechanic fixed it. It works now.” I totally agree. But if you ask him how he fixed it, and he offers an explanation that you have no grasp of and can’t explain to anyone else, without simply deferring to the mechanic–then the theory of how the car was actually fixes is _his_ belief, not yours. You can’t make a judgment about it, since you don’t even know what’s being said. As I stated earlier, you can assert that “I accept what’s in the envelope is true,” because the author if truthful. But you can’t claim to believe what is on the paper if you don’t know what’s on the paper.

>A theory is an explanation of events and phenomena. But, there are also explanations for what this explanation says, what it means, what its implications are, how it’s supported by data, etc.

The data is inherently part of the theory. To assert, as in evolution, that animals carry genetic material that passes on through reproduction means I have to understand and accept “reproduction,” “genetic material” (or what it represents to some degree). I can’t understand the theory without grasping the supporting evidence, since the theory includes the evidence.

>A person doesn’t need to understand all this to believe that a theory is true, valid, accurate, etc.

They have to have sufficient grasp of the evidence the theory accounts for. If I ask them what a singularity is, and they can’t explain it–how can they say they can judge BB to be true?

>This I assert as a fact on the simple basis that there is no condition on “belief” that a person must fully understand what they think is true in order to think it is true.

I would accept this. But to lack sufficient grasp to explain my beliefs or answer questions about my beliefs means I don’t understand my beliefs. Whatever parts I’m asserting as personal belief–I must understand and be able to demonstrate that understanding better than asking someone else to tell me about my beliefs.

>The reason is simple: there are lots of reasons for believing things.

I agree. In fact, I just ended a dialog with someone who asserted a belief in the existence of free will; however, he could not offer support of anything further than “free will is possible.” I do accept he believes free will exists, even though his support renders the belief unjustified. What I’m saying is that despite the fact it’s an unjustified belief (based on his support offered), his explanation of what free will “is” was understandable, and he could explain what the believed. He just couldn’t support it. The atheists I’m talking about fail in their capacity to even understand what they’re expressing they believe. I’m not complaining they can’t justify their belief–although I do have problems with that for other reasons. I’m claiming their particular failures also demonstrate a lack of understanding of what they’re claiming to believe. The free will guy wasn’t trying to find other sources to define and explain “free will”–he was going on what he believed. And justified belief or not–he could explain the belief. If I asked him questions about free will, and he was unable to provide answers–and the questions related directly to the model of free will he asserted belief in, then I begin to question if he even knows what he’s saying he believes in.

>I would point most people can’t defend most beliefs past the most superficial attempts. So, this is nothing unusual.

Agreed. People often lend belief to things they can’t justify. But I’m not being that strict.

>your objection is fair if by “not understand the Big Bang” a person doesn’t have the slightest idea what the theory says or is about, or even worse doesn’t understand English but has never heard of the theory expect in English.”

I would assert that astrophysics is as close to “another language” as most English speakers are going to get to other English speakers. When I tried to read explanations for virtual particles, it was required for me to “read” symbols. I lacked the background. Without a basic understanding of physics, the explanation wasn’t going to be understood by me. BB is not “simple” theory. It’s beyond most people’s grasp. And the layman’s model I have in my mind would be laughable to put forward as “my belief”–but the people writing to me are even LESS capable of understanding it. And it stuns me they’ve said they “believe” it to a theist.

>Your objection is not fair, though, if they don’t comprehend how a singularity can expand fast enough to become a universe, what a vacuum fluctuation is, etc. All of these details are legitimately left to the experts and accepted on the basis of expert testimony — especially when the person who believes it isn’t basing their entire life or afterlife on it (the importance you place on an idea matters a lot when it comes to how well you can defend accepting it).

I agree importance matters. I’m saying “can they define a singularity?” If not, what does it mean to say “there was a singularity…”?

>I have really don’t know how exactly how HIV causes AIDS, but I accept that it does and believe that it does.

This is demonstrable, however. So, to say, “I believe HIV causes AIDS,” makes sense when people exposed to HIV do come down with AIDS. Some don’t, but there is no other known cause of AIDS. Again, something we can observe is not on the same level. Most of us, as well, have a grasp of Germ Theory.

>According to your “theory” of belief I shouldn’t, though, because I cannot at this moment explain how and why it happens — but that’s wrong.

If the belief you assert is that you accept the explanation–but you don’t understand the explanation and can’t explain it–then I have issues with you saying you “believe” something you can’t describe, yes. Claiming HIV causes AIDS is not the same as claiming the explanation for how that occurs is your belief.

>None of us has the time or resources to double-check everything scientists to or indeed everything done by others — accepting propositions as true on the basis of expert testimony or advice is the norm and how we form most beliefs.

I agree. However, if I know I would need to ask another person to explain it, that’s a clue it’s not “my belief” I am asserting any longer.

Liz:

>This is why I think that the real question these people are asking is how they can assert scientific authority is reliable and religious authority is not.

No, they’re asking me to explain to them what they have asserted to someone else they believe.

Anyway, I won’t bog this blog down with this any more. If it’s a case where I can’t have a meeting of the minds, I will let this die and move on. I will consider when people are asking me to explain to them why they believe BB means, that maybe I don’t have a solid grasp of what can solidly be called “my beliefs.” But I’m unable to really understand–at least at this point–how a person can tell me they believe X, and then ask me to explain it to someone else on their behalf…?

Again, Austin, I appreciate your patience, and I will read whatever reply you post, and seriously consider. But I won’t likely keep posting on this thread. As always, your site is a great service to this community. And I appreciate your contributions.

January 25, 2010 at 9:06 am
(32) tracieh says:

I will add one more example just to make sure it’s clear. I mentioned “red shift” previously; but I have literally had atheists contact the list asking how to respond to theists who ask “how did something come from nothing” or “god existed before BB, and therefore is outside of time, since there was no time before BB.”

In my view, not being able to reply to these two questions means a person lacks the basic grasp of the most basic model of BB. This person, in my view, should not be making claims about BB to anyone. They don’t know what it even means.

January 25, 2010 at 9:25 am
(33) Austin Cline says:

I’m saying that if you don’t know how the car was fixed, you can assert belief it was fixed, but you can’t say that the explanation of how the car was fixed is your personal belief–if you don’t know how the car was fixed.

Now you appear to be conflating knowledge with belief: if I don’t know how it was fixed, I can’t say that I believe what I was told about how it was fixed. Honestly, I find that bizarre. Knowledge and belief are separate things: I don’t need to know something in order to believe it is true.

But if I ask you about “your belief”–about how the car was fixed, you don’t know.

I know what I was told, and while I don’t comprehend all the details, the reliability of the mechanic is such that I trust what I am told and thus hold the mental attitude that the car is indeed fixed and was indeed fixed in a particular way. You seem to want to claim that unless I understand the details of how it was fixed, I cannot hold the mental attitude that it was fixed in the way I have been told.

But we also have an explanation of the explanation.

No, we have the evidence the explanation is tying together–which is inherently part of the BB explanation.

So, you’re asserting that an explanation cannot be explained? I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around that and am inclined to label it completely incoherent.

To be honest, I don’t know what “the explanation of the explanation” would be.

I gave some general examples of just that: there are also explanations for what this explanation says, what it means, what its implications are, how it’s supported by data, etc.

Evolution is a theory; as such it is an explanation. I can explain the data which supports evolution (genetics, fossils) how the explanation was developed (Darwin, etc.) how the explanation is tested, how the explanation has been improved, how the explanation “works”, etc. Every class lesson on evolution and evolutionary biology is, necessarily, attempts to explain evolution.

To assert “I believe BB” has to include that I understand the evidence supporting the theory, since that’s part of the theory. It can’t be separated.

OK, prove it. Demonstrate that the definition of “belief” is somehow violated or not met in the phrase “I believe BB” when I don’t fully comprehend all the details of BB.

Since this appears to cut to the heart of what your position is, and what I unequivocally reject as incoherent, I’m not going to respond in detail to everything else you write.

If I don’t understand what that authority is asserting, then what he’s asserting is not “my belief.”

Of course he’s not asserting your belief; but if you adopt the mental attitude that what he asserts is true, then it becomes your belief. The fact that you don’t fully comprehend why it’s true doesn’t prevent you from having the mental attitude that it is true.

They have to have sufficient grasp of the evidence the theory accounts for. If I ask them what a singularity is, and they can’t explain it–how can they say they can judge BB to be true?

AH!

Stop right there!

Did you not notice how radically you changed the question at issue?

We’re not talking bout how a person can “claim to judge the BB to be true.” I can agree that if a person wants to render a judgement about the truth/validity of the BB, then they should understand it and the evidence enough to form a credible, reasoned, informed judgment.

But we haven’t been talking about that. We’ve been talking about something far, far simpler: adopting the mental attitude that some alleged statement of fact is “true” (and I’m using “true” rather broadly, since in science we should be talking about: reasonable, accurate, likely true, fits all the evidence, etc.).

Can a person merely adopt the mental attitude that the BB is “true” without fully comprehending what a singularity is? Sure. There is absolutely nothing about the concept “belief” which precludes it. A person might adopt this mental attitude for bad reasons (their idiot neighbor told them) or for good reasons (they read an article in Scientific American that explains how strong the scientific consensus is).

In such cases the person is not judging the BB. They are not evaluating it, comparing its claims against evidence, scientific standards, etc. Or, they aren’t necessarily doing very much of it — they might be going a little to the extent that they can, based on what they comprehend of the evidence, science, math, etc. They are, instead, accepting the testimony of experts as sufficient justification for adopting the mental attitude that the BB is true.

And thus we come back to what Liz and I have been saying: key is picking the right experts and treating them in the right manner.

January 25, 2010 at 11:15 am
(34) Paul B says:

Interesting discussion. Forgive me for only skimming parts of it, but I didn’t notice anyone pointing out the following important difference between believing a religious claim and a scientific claim.

In the case of the scientific claim, at any
time, anyone who needs more convincing of the justification for a scientific claim is free to examine the evidence for themselves. To me, that is the real authority in science. It’s not the scientist, it’s the data and the method used to gather the data. You can even gather that data for yourself. For example, I recall doing a science experiment in University where we were able to determined for ourselves the earth’s gravitational force. So, whether I perform the experiment myself or not, I am inclined to believe what the scientists say simply because I don’t have to take their word for it.

I feel more comfortable believing the explanation put forth by the Big Bang model because I can examine the evidence myself (and I do understand some of it) whether I actually choose to examine it or not. I can’t examine the evidence behind the claim a god created the universe. (A book of questionable origin is not evidence)

While I generally agree that claiming to believe something simply because a scientist says it’s true may seem like a weak justification, and it’s better
if the person claiming the belief can offer some explanation of exactly what it is they are believing and why, it is still stronger than any religious claim simply because science has a track record of demonstrating it’s validity and is always prepared to offer the evidence to be examined by
anyone who wants to see it. I think that addresses both what Tracie and Austin have been saying.

January 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm
(35) ChuckA says:

If confronted by any believer RE the question of the actual origin of the Universe…BB or otherwise…I’d probably avoid a whole lot of wasted time in argument by saying something like:
At this point, given all the evidence, Science doesn’t really know for sure about the ultimate origin of the Universe.
In other words, following my limited understanding of Science…
I simply don’t know; I have no particular “belief” RE any of the many theories. Which, IMO, is ‘perfectly’ OK to admit.
[What!...ala Al Franken?...
"Cause I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it...yada, yada."]

HOWEVER…as corollary(?)…given that there is absolutely no objective evidence of the existence of ANY god…the believer, likewise, cannot claim to actually KNOW, either.
Belief, without any objective evidence, is certainly NOT knowledge.
A reminder to this atheist, that no matter what I might gravitate towards in being attracted to any particular Scientific theory about the origin of the Universe; my atheism is still simply the NON-belief in any notion of deity; nothing more.
Anything else…like any related Cosmological quasi-conclusions…is engaging in pure speculation; which is “OK” too, as long as that’s made clear in any related discourse.

January 25, 2010 at 3:06 pm
(36) tracieh says:

Austin:

Just one more post, because I think you helped me out a bit here.

> Now you appear to be conflating knowledge with belief: if I don’t know how it was fixed, I can’t say that I believe what I was told about how it was fixed.

Correction noted. I should have said “how can I assert the explanation of how the car was fixed is true, if I don’t understand the explanation of how the car was fixed.” If I assert a value judgment of “true”—I can’t do that without an understanding what I’m evaluating. But this is not me arguing further, because below you said something that made this moot for me.

> You seem to want to claim that unless I understand the details of how it was fixed, I cannot hold the mental attitude that it was fixed in the way I have been told.

I’m saying that labeling the explanation “true” requires the capacity to evaluate the explanation. And again, you nailed the issue further below.

>We’re not talking bout how a person can “claim to judge the BB to be true.” I can agree that if a person wants to render a judgement about the truth/validity of the BB, then they should understand it and the evidence enough to form a credible, reasoned, informed judgment.

This was extremely helpful. And I now realize I have been extremely sloppy and unclear in what I’ve been describing. I am, most definitely, talking about people who cannot answer questions that a person asserting belief in this model should be capable of responding to.

They don’t understand the model sufficiently to make any informed evaluation of the model as true–in my opinion once I’ve heard their dilemmas. I’m not claiming any atheist should be able to defend BB to a panel of cosmologists before he can assert belief—but to be able to simply answer questions put to them by other laymen who have no superior ability to grasp this model. If I assert I believe BB, and I can’t respond to “how does something come from nothing?”—I’m not at a point where I should be even claiming to evaluate this theory on any level. But they’re still asserting BB is true because “science says so.” They treat science exactly as the theist asserts “atheists” _do_—as an infallible source of truth that can be parroted, and doesn’t need to be understood. And when they write to our list, they clearly expect me to chastise the theist for asking them to support what they claimed they believe. However, in my estimation, if they deem themselves able to evaluate it and assert it as “true”–they should be at least able to recognize when a layman theist is misrepresenting that model. I don’t personally assert belief in the model–but I can correct most misconceptions I’m confronted with about the model from most theists. That’s just having a _very_ basic grasp of it.

And I am sincerely sorry to have taken so much of your time due to my inability to express this with the necessary clarity, and potentially with personal confusion over some of these thoughts, myself.

Paul:

> In the case of the scientific claim, at any time, anyone who needs more convincing of the justification for a scientific claim is free to examine the evidence for themselves.

Obviously this is huge. I usually use this in response to things like “How do you know Australia exists?” The claim, whether I’ve tried to demonstrate it or not, is falsifiable. I _could_ try to travel to Australia and see if it works. And it definitely is a superiority of science. I didn’t expound, but I think we did discuss at length that we were all in agreement that the method can be argued and demonstrated as a superior mode of discovering fact from fiction. And falsifiabilty would be one of those reasons.

Chuck:

> In other words, following my limited understanding of Science…I simply don’t know; I have no particular “belief” RE any of the many theories.

This is as well my position. If I assert something is true, I want to be able to support it. When it comes to science, I simply defer to science as the source of defense for their own claims.

Austin–thanks again.

January 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm
(37) Austin Cline says:

I’m not claiming any atheist should be able to defend BB to a panel of cosmologists before he can assert belief—but to be able to simply answer questions put to them by other laymen who have no superior ability to grasp this model.

There is nothing about the concept “belief” which requires this. It may be a personal requirement that you impose on yourself, but it’s not something that follows from the idea of “belief” and thus can be expected from others.

If I assert I believe BB, and I can’t respond to “how does something come from nothing?”—I’m not at a point where I should be even claiming to evaluate this theory on any level. But they’re still asserting BB is true because “science says so.” They treat science exactly as the theist asserts “atheists” _do_—as an infallible source of truth that can be parroted, and doesn’t need to be understood.

This I still disagree with.

Merely having the mental attitude that something is true on the basis of expert testimony does not entail that you regard that expert as “an infallible source of truth” — at least, not if you are treating experts and authorities as they should be treated. It’s not impossible that an atheist thinks/behaves this way, but it by no means follows automatically that they are. A person may accept this an nothing else. A person may provisionally believe it is true unless and until they see contrary evidence. A person may provisionally believe it is true until they get a second opinion. And so on.

It’s true that if you can’t explain the BB in any way, then you you should not claim to have personally evaluated the BB model, compared it to evidence, compared it to competing models, and judged it acceptable. But then again, that’s not necessary to simply believe it. I would go so far as to say that we believe most things without personally evaluating them to any degree — instead, we accept what we are told or what our early impressions are because, most of the time, that’s sufficient.

We are equipped with sophisticated problem-solving and evaluation capabilities, but they require a lot of training as well as resources (time, effort, thought) that can be invested in more important things — job, family, food, etc. So instead, we use quick rules of thumb, our gut, the testimony of others, etc. The fact that these methods of belief formation don’t always work gets us into trouble; the fact that they are usually “good enough” is why they persist despite their flaws and failures. What we need is the ability to tell when to accept them and when to look past them.

If you have the right sort of authority/expert source and they are telling you things which do not violate a legitimate use of authority, then you are justified in believing what you are told.

January 25, 2010 at 6:01 pm
(38) Paul B says:

My take on this debate is as follows:

Using the Big Bang theory as an example, to say “the Big Bang is true”, requires some ability to explain why it is true (what I think Tracie is saying), whereas to say “I believe the Big Bang is true”, can be based on “the experts say so” given the track record of the experts (what I think Austin is saying).

I would encourage people not to settle for what the experts say just because they say it, but rather to have some understanding of why the experts say what they do and be certain that an expert really is an expert, not just someone claiming to be an expert.

I would encourage everyone, theist and atheist, to investigate the evidence for whatever claims you believe. It may strengthen your belief, or weaken it but the result is you will be more knowledgeable and isn’t more knowledge better than less knowledge?

January 26, 2010 at 7:47 am
(39) tracieh says:

Austin:

I’m having trouble understanding how saying “X is true,” can make sense if I don’t know what X means. And on a lesser level, I also have trouble grasping how saying “X is true” can be valid based on expert testimony where the expert does not assert it’s true, but only that it’s the best model at this time based on the evidence, but subject to revision later if the evidence demands.

In my view the people I’m referencing don’t know what they’re claiming is true, and don’t know how science operates.

If a person can’t recognize a misrepresentation of the basic model of BB, then whatever they think it is, can only be a false representation of the model. When they say, “I believe BB”–they’re not talking about any form of BB science is asserting.

>Merely having the mental attitude that something is true on the basis of expert testimony does not entail that you regard that expert as “an infallible source of truth”

I agree, however, I have met atheists who hold this as their view–that science puts forward absolute truths, not contingent models. I provide a link below (in the reply to Paul) to an essay I use with both theists and, unfortunately, also to atheist who write to us to claim science asserts truths.

>A person may provisionally believe it is true until they get a second opinion. And so on.

Do you see any difference between provisionally believing a thing is true, and holding that it’s a contingent model that could be incorrect? I do, but I’m wondering if you do.

>It’s true that if you can’t explain the BB in any way, then you you should not claim to have personally evaluated the BB model, compared it to evidence, compared it to competing models, and judged it acceptable.

I’m additionally saying that if your view of BB doesn’t actually correlate to BB, and that this can be demonstrated by asking you about the model, then what you’re claiming you believe can’t even be really called BB.

>I would go so far as to say that we believe most things without personally evaluating them to any degree

I agree, but would describe this as most people being willing to not care if things are true or not if the implications don’t matter to them. However, they normally don’t go around asserting these things as “What I believe” to other people they’re arguing with. Whether I like it or not, I will be prejudicialy judged by theists based on what they encounter in other atheists, due, in part, to the small size of our community. And when they say “atheists worship science,” I have to admit I’ve met a few that actually do give that impression. They are the minority, absolutely–but I happen upon them because they are active–out there debating things they can’t support and models they don’t understand and can’t represent and claiming that it’s “true” because science asserts it, even though science isn’t in the business of even asserting truths in the way these people assert. I don’t like getting their letters asking me to defend what _they’ve_ asserted as truths–and then realizing they don’t know what BB even is–and I’m wondering what made them assert this as “their belief” in a heated debate. I’m loathe to “help” them without a lashing, because I don’t agree with what they just did on any level.

>If you have the right sort of authority/expert source and they are telling you things which do not violate a legitimate use of authority, then you are justified in believing what you are told.

And I’m still straining to understand how I can say _what_ the expert says is true if I don’t really know _what_ he’s saying. And although I only slightly mentioned it previously, I do think it’s somewhat relevant whether the expert has asserted this is “true” to you or not. If he hasn’t, then “my belief X is true” is not put forward by experts. However, any scientist or individual may assert the model as true if they feel bold enough to do so. And I understand this is a different issue, but if they do–I expect them to support “their belief” better than–”this guy over here can explain my belief.” I get that 10x a day from theists pasting someone else’s apologetic essays.

Hi Paul:

>Using the Big Bang theory as an example, to say “the Big Bang is true”, requires some ability to explain why it is true (what I think Tracie is saying)

Actually Liz and Austin rightly pointed out that I was mixing multiple ideas that should be sorted. I have several issues with what I’m trying to describe. But my primary issue is that if someone doesn’t understand what X is, then saying they believe X can’t have meaning.

Less primary point 1 is that “science” doesn’t assert “X is true,” so the atheist who asserts “X is true” is making his own judgment, not simply repeating what the expert asserted.

Less primary point 2 is that if I’m asserting “X is _my_ belief,” and I have a very tenuous understanding of X, and can’t actually defend my own belief. I can say, “this guy over here says he can defend what I believe, but I don’t know how he does it,” but that’s unwise.

I have only mentioned slightly LPP1, and it’s not my most relevant point; although I do wish people had a better grasp of what science is and what science isn’t when they’re arguing with theists. I’ve shared this essay more than I wish I needed to with other atheists:

http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/1122science3.html

But to be fair, sharing it with one atheist is too many in my view. I wish it was only needed in response to theists.

With regard to LPP2, I do agree with Austin. I don’t think it’s necessarily most wise to adopt beliefs I’m going to argue about that I can’t support, but I can say I believe them. However, I hold I can only do so meaningfully if I understand the bare bones of what I’m asserting as the model.

When a theist asks me “how does something come from nothing?” And I can’t answer, that demonstrates I don’t even get the basic model of BB. If I did, the error in that question would be immediately obvious–as it violates the basic model. So what can “I believe BB is true” even mean in that case?

At this point that’s where I’m not connecting.

January 26, 2010 at 8:42 am
(40) Austin Cline says:

I’m having trouble understanding how saying “X is true,” can make sense if I don’t know what X means.

This is addressed above: you’re conflating a broad array of senses of “don’t understand,” from not even comprehending the language being spoken to simply not comprehending all the details. Your lack of precision here undermines your argument.

And on a lesser level, I also have trouble grasping how saying “X is true” can be valid based on expert testimony where the expert does not assert it’s true, but only that it’s the best model at this time based on the evidence, but subject to revision later if the evidence demands.

Because the latter is the more technical and nuanced position which scientists must technically adopt, but the former is the natural language which most people — including most scientists speak in everyday contexts. Technically, a dropped ball might not fall and so technically scientists shouldn’t assert that it’s true that it definitely will. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a scientist — never mind a regular person — who upheld that standard in every context. Or even scientific contexts.

Do you see any difference between provisionally believing a thing is true, and holding that it’s a contingent model that could be incorrect? I do, but I’m wondering if you do.

Provisionally believing that something is true necessarily means holding that it could be incorrect.

I agree, but would describe this as most people being willing to not care if things are true or not if the implications don’t matter to them.

That’s one reason and it happens to be a reason that probably applies to most people’s view of the BB — theists and atheists. They have the mental attitude that it’s true, but wouldn’t be personally impacted it if weren’t, and also don’t make a point of asserting that they believe it. Do you go around asserting every single thing you believe? I don’t.

I don’t like getting their letters asking me to defend what _they’ve_ asserted as truths–and then realizing they don’t know what BB even is

Maybe they thought they understood it better than they really did but didn’t realize this until they were hip-deep in the debate. Atheists arguing about the BB would probably be one of the smallest examples of this phenomenon. Regardless, finding out that you don’t comprehend something quite as well as you thought you did doesn’t mean that you didn’t believe it yesterday. At most, it means that you belief may not have been as well founded as you thought. But, as long as you had the mental attitude that it was true, you believed it.

I’m still straining to understand how I can say _what_ the expert says is true if I don’t really know _what_ he’s saying.

Because you trust them. If you understood the subject well, you wouldn’t be relying on them in the first place. It’s precisely because you don’t grasp it all that you’re using their testimony as a basis for belief formation at all.

You don’t need to know how an MRI machine produces accurate information about your insides to trust doctors’ explanation that you are indeed looking at a tumor on your liver. You don’t need to comprehend the details of how statistical models are created to believe a scientist’s explanation about your odds of dying from this vs. that event.

I have to point out that you objections here consistently take the form of “I’m having trouble understanding how X.” You should recognize that this is basically an argument from personal ignorance: just because you don’t understand how something might be true doesn’t mean it’s not true. This requires stepping back and looking at the nature of belief, which I urged above: Demonstrate that the definition of “belief” is somehow violated or not met in the phrase “I believe BB” when I don’t fully comprehend all the details of BB.

If you have trouble seeing how A and B are compatible, then go back to the basic definitions of A and B to see where and how they might conflict. Maybe they are logically contradictory. Maybe they only conflict in certain senses of their definitions (and thus in the real world, conflict in just some contexts). Maybe there is no contradiction, so any conflict is created entirely by separate, outside factors. That’s where I think you have to look: outside factors you don’t realize you are incorporating (like, for example, “judging/evaluating vs. merely believing).

January 26, 2010 at 4:58 pm
(41) tracieh says:

> This is addressed above: you’re conflating a broad array of senses of “don’t understand,” from not even comprehending the language being spoken to simply not comprehending all the details. Your lack of precision here undermines your argument.

I accept your prior point that there is a broad range of data involved with BB, and people can have different levels of understanding. However, there is a level at which it’s simply not possible for the person to assert comprehension. And granted it’s a minority, but I am contacted by atheists who demonstrate this, who are actively engaging theists online for debate and using BB in those dialogs. And while “where that level is” can be debated, comprehension generally means at least some very basic level of understanding of the claim.

If I understand you right so far, you’re saying that a person doesn’t need to grasp the full range of data and implications in order to say “I accept BB as true.” That’s reasonable.

However, the only way I know how to assess if someone has sufficient grasp of the model, is to pay attention to how they respond to questions about their model. So, they come to the list and say some theist has asked them “how did something come from nothing?” and they express they were unable to respond.

In trying to conceive of what I would accept as the simplest possible grasp of BB, I could potentially go so far as “something exploded, resulting in this universe.” If I accept that as the simplest breakdown of the model I accept as sufficient “understanding,” the question “how did something come from nothing?” immediately does not correspond to even that extremely limited model.

The person who holds “something exploded, resulting in this universe,” is immediately presented with a question that misrepresents that model. And if I model BB as X, and someone asks how I can assert Y, there’s no need to ask anyone for help, the only thing needed is to say, “That’s not what I said I believe when I said I believe BB.”

When I’m confronted with someone who doesn’t understand that’s not what he’s asserting he believes when he says “I believe BB,” it appears either (1) he doesn’t know what BB claims, or (2) he has a very incorrect model in his head of what BB claims. In either case, the statement “I believe BB” is either incorrect or not meaningful.

>Because the latter is the more technical and nuanced position which scientists must technically adopt, but the former is the natural language which most people — including most scientists speak in everyday contexts.

But when the scientist speaks in terms of what his research supports, he doesn’t put it forward (if he’s accurate) as a demonstrated truth, regardless of his personally assessment. I agree that any scientist or individual or group can make a personal assertion of “X is true”—even “BB is true”—and base that judgment on what science has demonstrated.

>> Do you see any difference between provisionally believing a thing is true, and holding that it’s a contingent model that could be incorrect? I do, but I’m wondering if you do.

>Provisionally believing that something is true necessarily means holding that it could be incorrect.

But a person can also use the model as contingent model and never assert or assume it’s true. Do you also see that as possible?

> Do you go around asserting every single thing you believe? I don’t.

I don’t, either. That’s one reason I’m bewildered at even the small number of atheists who lack understanding of this model, but end up asserting they hold it to be true in debates with theists, who demonstrably will take every opportunity to happily hand them the burden of proof. Again, the “number” is slight in the correspondence. Probably less than 5% of the monthly mail on average. But I’m stunned I can even say I get these letters as a regular thing—even infrequently.

> Maybe they thought they understood it better than they really did but didn’t realize this until they were hip-deep in the debate. Atheists arguing about the BB would probably be one of the smallest examples of this phenomenon. Regardless, finding out that you don’t comprehend something quite as well as you thought you did doesn’t mean that you didn’t believe it yesterday. At most, it means that you belief may not have been as well founded as you thought. But, as long as you had the mental attitude that it was true, you believed it.

I mentioned BB specifically because of the admittedly few letters we get on “what do I say now?” this is the theory that seems to be the one confusing most of them. I offered to provide some links on BB to a caller during a recent program, and got pretty good mail response right away from atheists asking if I would give the links to them as well. I don’t know how many atheists are actually out there asserting BB, with or without a solid grasp.

I agree it’s possible to think I understand something and realize later I didn’t. However, there is a level where I would have to admit my mental model was so flawed that I really had no clue about what I was asserting I believed.

Alternately, I agree it’s possible that maybe I had just a slight misconception, and it would be fair to say I had a reasonable grasp, just not perfect. I think you’re correct to point that out. But if I can’t recognize an affront to the very few and most basic core concepts involved in the model I’m asserting as my personally held truth, I either don’t know what I’m asserting, or I’m asserting something that is so different it’s not what I’m claiming it to be. Yes, it’s a minority. But it’s an active minority I can conceive of feeding into this theistic misconception about science as god.

> I have to point out that you objections here consistently take the form of “I’m having trouble understanding how X.” You should recognize that this is basically an argument from personal ignorance: just because you don’t understand how something might be true doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I’m using this language because we’re in a discussion where I’m explaining to you that I’m actually having trouble understanding the ideas we’re discussing or what I think I hear you saying—and how it would work; some things I’m “getting,” others, not so much. I agree that not understanding something doesn’t make it wrong. But if I don’t understand how it can be right, I can only say, “I don’t understand how this can work or be right.” And I’ve tried to express I am willing to accept that maybe I’m missing something—maybe I’m overlooking something that should be clearer to me. If that’s the case, then I’m wrong, but I can’t recognize that until I can “understand” the criticism I’m having trouble understanding. Criticisms I do understand and assess as good, I accept and acknowledge. I’m at a point now where most of what I’m typing is “I get what you’re saying, I agree…” But even then, I seem to still be misinterpreting you in areas. So, I’m trying to consider I am potentially, actually not understanding. What you’re seeing is an acknowledgement that I regard you as someone whose criticism would make me reconsider my position.

> Demonstrate that the definition of “belief” is somehow violated or not met in the phrase “I believe BB” when I don’t fully comprehend all the details of BB.

Here, I hope I have clearly conceded/clarified. If you don’t _fully_ grasp it, I think your point has been well made. The person can believe what limited understanding he has. But he has to have some small, generally accurate grasp of the model for the statement “I believe X” to be a meaningful or correct statement of belief.

> That’s where I think you have to look: outside factors you don’t realize you are incorporating (like, for example, “judging/evaluating vs. merely believing).

I agree with your point that a full blown evaluation of all evidence of BB is not required to assert “I believe BB.” And I _think_ we are in agreement that at least a basic/simple/mostly correct grasp of core concepts would be necessary to make belief in X meaningful.

My understanding of “true” is that it is assigned as a value. I have to personally decide to assign that value. And that requires judgment. If I’m grasping the points in the situation being described here, it would be, to you, at least a person who has a basic understanding of the model and who asserts that the authorities submitting the model are good enough for him to render an personal value of “true” on this claim.

I can agree to all of that. But I still question that if this person cannot recognize that his model is not an assertion of “something comes from nothing,” he either has no grasp of BB or a model sufficiently flawed that it doesn’t represent BB’s basic, core concepts. “Red shift” problems, perhaps I should excuse. “Something from nothing”—and the believer’s basic grasp fails to inform him that’s not what BB puts forward? I have to question whether he understands BB sufficiently to have made a meaningful statement of belief.

And I don’t know if this is winnowing down to something more clear and accurate or if I’m still simply clinging to some irrationality and not recognizing it.

January 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm
(42) Austin Cline says:

And while “where that level is” can be debated, comprehension generally means at least some very basic level of understanding of the claim.

Sure, but this means that there is a whole range of “I don’t understand” which remains compatible with belief — and once that’s recognized, you can no longer say “I don’t understand” is incompatible with “I believe.”

And what’s more, there is still the case the even if you don’t understand it at all, you can nevertheless believe simply because you trust the source. It helps to comprehend enough to recognize the basic nouns and verbs: space, expand, fast, etc. After that, belief based on trust can be a legitimate and reasonable form of belief — and that’s ultimately the key here because you seem to want to deny this.

But a person can also use the model as contingent model and never assert or assume it’s true. Do you also see that as possible?

Depends on what they mean by “true.” A contingent model may not be “true” in the sense of “exact,” but it may be true in the sense of “in accordance with fact or reality.” The latter is usually the first definition, by the way. The BB model is “true” in the sense that it is in accordance with reality — as far as we know (and just about every assertion of truth includes the unspoken qualification “as far as I/we know”). We might stumble upon evidence that it’s not in accordance with and so it will have to be modified, but thus far it’s OK.

I’m bewildered at even the small number of atheists who lack understanding of this model, but end up asserting they hold it to be true in debates with theists, who demonstrably will take every opportunity to happily hand them the burden of proof.

In my experience, most people aren’t very skilled at explaining or supporting most of their beliefs.

But he has to have some small, generally accurate grasp of the model for the statement “I believe X” to be a meaningful or correct statement of belief.

OK, prove it. Demonstrate, on the basis of the definition of “belief,” that it isn’t possible for a person to “believe” unless this condition is met.

Note: you can’t argue that it’s a poorly reasoned belief, a poorly held belief, or just a bad idea. You are asserting something much more specific: “belief” is either “not meaningful” or “not true” in cases where “generally accurate grasp of the concept, model, etc.” is an unfulfilled condition. This completely precludes believing something you don’t understand on the sole basis of trusting the source, to cite the most relevant issue here.

I suspect that the key here is “meaningful.” A lot of rather vague concepts can be brought in under such a term, like that the belief isn’t “serious” — but what could that mean? Or one could intend to say that the belief isn’t very “important” in a person’s overall world view — that would be a more useful statement and perhaps very true. I believe we discussed above that people can have far lower standards for accepting beliefs that aren’t very important in their lives and where the falsehood of those beliefs would have no impact.

But in such a case, it’s hardly any sort of real criticism to say that “well, this just shows that the belief wasn’t very important to them before.” Well, yeah… so? I’m sure it wasn’t and that’s a far, far cry from saying that they couldn’t have really “believed” in the first place.

To return to what you said originally: “…it cannot be, in my view, a valid assertion of personal belief.”

Do you recognize that there’s a vast difference between “that belief must not be very important to him, if he doesn’t understand the BB” and “that isn’t a valid assertion of personal belief, if he doesn’t understand the BB”? I wouldn’t have argued against the first; I unequivocally reject the latter.

My understanding of “true” is that it is assigned as a value. I have to personally decide to assign that value. And that requires judgment.

Mabye your judgement is about the reliability and trustworthiness of the source. Let’s go back to your original position:

Their argument is that it’s OK to believe scientific claims–because scientists are asserting the claim, and scientists are authorities. …This represents a fallacy of the argument from authority.

You made a very specific accusation about committing a logical fallacy. I denied this, pointing out that accepting the testimony of a scientist is not necessarily fallacious. Do you continue to stand by your original assertion as written?

January 27, 2010 at 2:23 pm
(43) tracieh says:

>It helps to comprehend enough to recognize the basic nouns and verbs: space, expand, fast, etc. After that, belief based on trust can be a legitimate and reasonable form of belief — and that’s ultimately the key here because you seem to want to deny this.

Does “it help” or is it necessary? If it’s necessary, I would say “after that” isn’t necessary, because the person can believe even without a clue about what they’re asserting they believe in that case. I still don’t accept that.

>Depends on what they mean by “true.” A contingent model may not be “true” in the sense of “exact,” but it may be true in the sense of “in accordance with fact or reality.” The latter is usually the first definition, by the way. The BB model is “true” in the sense that it is in accordance with reality — as far as we know (and just about every assertion of truth includes the unspoken qualification “as far as I/we know”). We might stumble upon evidence that it’s not in accordance with and so it will have to be modified, but thus far it’s OK.

I don’t know that this answers my question. Can a person say, “I accept that BB is the best model offered to explain the current state of the data, but I don’t assign it a value of true or false”? Is that impossible?

>>But he has to have some small, generally accurate grasp of the model for the statement “I believe X” to be a meaningful or correct statement of belief.

>OK, prove it. Demonstrate, on the basis of the definition of “belief,” that it isn’t possible for a person to “believe” unless this condition is met.

“I believe X. But X means nothing to me, because I honestly don’t know what X means.” How is that different than asserting “I don’t know what I believe”?

>>Their argument is that it’s OK to believe scientific claims–because scientists are asserting the claim, and scientists are authorities. …This represents a fallacy of the argument from authority.

>You made a very specific accusation about committing a logical fallacy. I denied this, pointing out that accepting the testimony of a scientist is not necessarily fallacious. Do you continue to stand by your original assertion as written?

I think I have qualified this quite a lot in the following exchanges. I attempted to qualify it by using a link that I often send to the particular people who contact our list who make the error I’m trying to describe, where the geologist who wrote it talks about people who seem to have this idea that science is infallible truth. I encounter these people as well, and I share this link with them because they need it.

I did provide that I get why a person would assert that their water leak was the result of a broken pipe if the plumber told them, after fixing it, it was a broken pipe. But I also pointed out that when the plumber initially gives his estimate, before he’s done the work, he will say that he thinks it is a broken pipe, but that could change once he gets into the wall. If the person signing the estimate then relays to his wife they have a broken pipe—he’s asserting more than the plumber. And he can do that—but he can’t blame the plumber for his conviction it was a broken pipe.

January 27, 2010 at 5:00 pm
(44) Austin Cline says:

Does “it help” or is it necessary?

A basic understanding of most basic nouns seems like it should be necessary; otherwise, it’s hard to say that you even comprehend that you were told something is true in the first place.

Can a person say, “I accept that BB is the best model offered to explain the current state of the data, but I don’t assign it a value of true or false”? Is that impossible?

Depends on whether “best model given the data” is the effectively the same as “in accordance with reality, as far as we know.” I’d say it is, in which case what you describe is self-contradictory. If I’m missing a reason why they are or should be treated as fully distinct, then the above assertions may not contradict.

“I believe X. But X means nothing to me, because I honestly don’t know what X means.” How is that different than asserting “I don’t know what I believe”?

I really have to challenge this. My request for proof involved a person who lacks a “generally accurate grasp of the model,” not a person who “doesn’t know what X even means.” The two aren’t equivalent and substituting one for the other isn’t right.

But, hey, I’ll run with it anyway: the person clearly knows that they believe X is true because they know the contents of their own mind. After a few seconds of rooting around, they find that they possess the mental attitude that “X is true.” The problem is, they don’t know how or why X is true — their mental acceptance of the idea “X is true” is based solely on expert testimony, not any personal knowledge, research, etc. It’s a potentially weak foundation.

So the problem I’m seeing here is that there is a distinction between “I don’t know what I believe” and “I don’t comprehend why or how what I believe to be true really is true.” There is no contradiction between “I believe X is true and I know that I believe X is true; unfortunately, I don’t know how or why it’s true because I can’t comprehend the science/math behind it.”

What’s more, asking me the above question does not address my challenge: Demonstrate, on the basis of the definition of “belief,” that it isn’t possible for a person to “believe” unless this condition (“have some small, generally accurate grasp of the model “) is met. You don’t show in any way how it’s impossible. If you can’t identify a contradiction here, maybe you should consider that no contradiction exists?

I think I have qualified this quite a lot in the following exchanges.

I’m not sure you have; on the contrary, I fear that you continue to think your original assertion is true.

An appeal to authority is not fallacious given certain conditions. None of those conditions include understanding. Since you want to make “understand X” a necessary condition for “believe X,” you are necessarily making it a condition for “believe X because the authority says X.” Ergo, you appear to be flat-out rejecting the basic standards for a legitimate, non-fallacious appeal to authority.

January 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm
(45) tracieh says:

Thanks Austin:

>A basic understanding of most basic nouns seems like it should be necessary’

OK, then I think I can be on the same page with this. There is a _basic_–even very basic–grasp of X needed for “I believe X” to be meaningful. Otherwise, the person is asserting belief in what they do not understand, and not sending out a meaningful message to the receiver in the dialog.

My other point was one of having some semblance of _accuracy_. You rightly qualified that some level of error can still leave a person with a less-than-perfect, but still recognizable model of X. Agreed. So, if a person asserted “I believe Big Bang,” and under questioning described Big Bang as something that sincerely sounded more like Steady State Theory, it would be fair to say they are wrong in what they’re asserting they believe—it’s not BB, it’s Steady State. That’s extreme, but just to say that there is some basic level of accuracy needed for the claim “I believe BB” to be correct.

At this point, I’m not saying what the basic, accurate model would need to be. I’m just establishing there has to be a model that demonstrates some basic understanding and a recognizable description (accurate to some degree) of the model someone is asserting belief in. Otherwise they aren’t communicating something the other person would understand or consider accurate.

>Depends on whether “best model given the data” is the effectively the same as “in accordance with reality, as far as we know.” I’d say it is, in which case what you describe is self-contradictory. If I’m missing a reason why they are or should be treated as fully distinct, then the above assertions may not contradict.

And I actually thought more about this later. I don’t think it would be wrong to say that asserting “I believe X is probable” is not the same as asserting “I believe X.” If I were talking to someone who identified himself as a theist, for example, and he asserted that, to him, theism is being able to say “I believe it’s probable god exists,” but that he would not be able to assert “I believe god exists,” I would have difficulty with his self-identifying as a theist.

And in the context of this discussion, if a theory fits the facts that I’m aware of—I think I can say I’m sufficiently unschooled in the comprehensive facts involved to make any _personal_ (speaking for myself only), informed judgment about how valid the theory is or is not. And I can leave that assessment to more informed/interested minds. I can even add that I feel confident scientists would do all that is humanly possible to ensure the theory accounts for facts I’m not aware of; however, I have seen examples where science knows a current model has flaws, and is working with the best model possible until they can iron out the kinks. And if I’m ignorant of the full state of any scientific theory, my ignorance on the totality of the matter can leave me—personally—unable to feel qualified to assess the validity of the matter—so I don’t.

I accept science is the best method of determining what’s really going on in the world. I accept the facts I’m aware of fit the model. But I judge that I am sufficiently, personally too ignorant to assert a judgment about whether this model is true or not. And I see that as reasonable.

I also see that other people can take a different tack. I’m only saying this is possible.

>>“I believe X. But X means nothing to me, because I honestly don’t know what X means.” How is that different than asserting “I don’t know what I believe”?

>My request for proof involved a person who lacks a “generally accurate grasp of the model,” not a person who “doesn’t know what X even means.” The two aren’t equivalent and substituting one for the other isn’t right.

Yes, and perhaps I’m assuming some things I’ve said are expressed as connected thoughts, but aren’t actually expressed sufficiently well for someone else to connect them. I said this, yes:

>But he has to have some small, generally accurate grasp

But I had tried to explain in the last few replies in more detail, that I could agree with you that this could be whittled down to something as bare bones as: “something exploded, resulting in this universe.”

If a person asserts they understand BB enough to make a claim of belief, and I’m dialoging with them, at some point I have to judge whether or not I agree they understand what BB means and that their understanding is accurate. It must represent BB sufficiently for me to agree that what the person making the claim is calling BB is a reasonable representation of the model—even if it’s _that_ bare bones. Once components begin to fail at the minimal level I’ve described above, I’m at a point where I’m no longer able to agree the person “understands” BB in a form that I could honestly recognize conforms to what BB actually is. At that point, they may assert they believe BB, but if they’re not at the level of that simplistic grasp, I would not agree they believe BB.

> But, hey, I’ll run with it anyway: the person clearly knows that they believe X is true because they know the contents of their own mind.

Yes, but _I_ also know what X is, and what they’re calling X has to conform to that on a recognizable level. It’s like using a word with a definition. You can stretch it—but you can also reach a point where the other party can honestly say, “that word doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

> So the problem I’m seeing here is that there is a distinction between “I don’t know what I believe” and “I don’t comprehend why or how what I believe to be true really is true.”

Yes, you have been clear about this, and I don’t dispute this with you. And I did not mean to dispute it in my last message. I honestly think I was simply not as clear as I needed to be.

> Demonstrate, on the basis of the definition of “belief,” that it isn’t possible for a person to “believe” unless this condition (”have some small, generally accurate grasp of the model “) is met.

I’m not questioning their feeling of commitment to the idea—the belief. I’m questioning what that belief means in a context where they model is not understood or accurately representative of the label they’re using: Big Bang.

But this isn’t really my main complaint that I wanted to address when I first posted. However, your points are well made. And your qualifications fair and applicable. And based on how I expressed myself at the start–I think your replies are appropriate.

We get a load of mail at AETV. It’s certainly not unusual for people to write to us and ask us about responses to particular apologetics or criticisms of science. For a person to write in and say, “Someone asked me how something came from nothing when I brought up Big Bang, and I didn’t know what to say. Can you explain that?”

I have no problem with this line of questioning or the person asking. I’m happy to reply and to send them appropriate links from physicists writing specifically to lay audiences. BB is complex. And not everyone grasps it. I get that.

I also don’t mind someone writing in and saying, “I asserted the Bible supports slavery, and someone called me on it and said it doesn’t. Do you know the verses where it does so?” I happily give them the verses. Even moreso in this case, because I expect the theist to know his own holy book better than to deny what’s in there.

I don’t expect anyone to know everything about everything. I certainly don’t. And I even argue under the assumption that a person doesn’t have to know or defend much at all to bring down an apologist. I wouldn’t advise personally advise arguing from Bible content. I wouldn’t personally advise arguing from science. But people _can_ if they wish to. That’s their method. I don’t tell them what to do if they aren’t asking me. But I, speaking for myself, think just questioning the theist most often will prove sufficient to get to a point where they are spouting nonsense and contradicting themselves demonstrably pretty easily and in short order. So, I don’t hold it against anyone to not be fully informed. And I am sorry if that’s the impression I gave.

The point to your blog post here was to describe a mischaracterization that theists often put forward. And I agree, they do. They claim atheists worship science—that they treat science like they treat their god—as an infallible authority. And I’m saying, rare though they may be, some atheists have approached me who don’t understand these are models subject to alteration or change. These are not the people who understand what you’re defending—that are saying “I believe BB” (or any other scientific model) in the vein of some level of potential flexibility.

In the first type of person I see, the reason I brought up “something from nothing” is that inability to respond to _that_ criticism demonstrates that the person asserting belief in BB does not hold what I can defining as the _least possible_ basic/accurate model of BB that can be argued as making the claim “I believe BB,” honest. When they write to me asking how to reply, they tell me they have asserted “this is true” in the vein of being able to support it. If they weren’t interested in having to support the claim themselves, they would do as you suggest and simply say, “I trust this model because I understand science works very well, and so I trust their model is the best.” And that would be the end of it. As it is, though, they are gearing up to “defend” their claim that BB is true—and asking me to give them the ammo. And I don’t think they need to be arguing in defense of something they lack any actual grasp of. And as I see how they’re putting it forward and why—I can also see how the theist interprets this as “you just believe whatever your told, even if you don’t understand it. How is that different than what you’re accusing me of?” And whether you or I see the authorities as different—the atheist and theist in this dialogue are both acting as though it’s the same. The atheist wants to defend it himself, but wants someone else to hand him the defense so he doesn’t’ have to actually learn what he’s pretending he understands. This is how it comes across. And again—a minority of people. But a minority that is picking fights on line to argue these things—and they can’t defend them. As examples, I have had people send me the next reply from the theist and ask me to answer that for them as well! I tell them that if they’re not prepared to argue with apologists, they need to stop doing it–since I am dealing with my own debates, and did not pick the fight they got themselves into. And also before I had one person take my comments back to him, change “him” (in reference to the theist) to “you”–and just send it off to the theist as if it were his own reply. This shocked me so badly that I now have to always second guess how any reply I provide will be mis/used. Not all atheists are out there arguing with what I consider “honor.” These are exactly the sorts of things I lambast theists for. And when I see an atheist doing this, I know they are abetting the slanders against the community.

The second type, and again, a minority, but a regular, is the atheist who asserts belief in BB, and when the theist asks him how he supports the belief—a belief he asserted during an argument where he is demanding defenses from the theist—he has a very demeaning attitude toward the theist for even asking him how or why he believes what he’s asserting. This person is literally expressing “how dare this ignorant theist even expect me to back this up. Science says so—nobody in their right mind would be questioning anything science asserts.” He doesn’t write in to describe how valid BB is, and how people don’t grasp the mountain of evidence behind it; and he’s not saying that theists don’t get how hard scientists work to make sure their models are as valid as possible. He’s just writing in to mock a theist who asked him why he said he believes BB. He’s affronted he’s been questioned, since he’s the self-appointed voice of science, which is clearly beyond questioning. And this galls me because I have told many atheists to always remember “nothing is beyond question.” Science is based on the idea that no matter how good the theory is, you keep looking for more data. You keep trying to falsify. And the person who uses “science” as his belief, would do well to grasp that some models are based on a load of evidence, and some, not as much. The models are based on the level of evidence that is available. Some are extremely well substantiated; some are more speculative at this time. But if the person asserting doesn’t care how much or what sort of evidence supports the model, then he’s just as inclined to accept them all as equally valid. And I’ve had this as well, where someone thinks that a very abstract, highly speculative (and sometimes not yet falsifiable) model in particle physics is just as solid as evolution—because science “says so.” I have met nonbelievers who think that one study being published means a solid verdict has been rendered in science—they don’t get that it has to be repeated to see if the conclusions will hold up. And I know researchers who say that they wish people were more informed about what research isn’t claiming. The essay link I provided is just one who put it down on paper in an easy-to-understand way. But he’s not the only person in the natural sciences I’ve met who sees this problem.

You are right. Anyone can believe evolution as much as string theory, without knowing _how_ or _why_ the models are put forward. It’s not an impossibility—I absolutely concede. But how an atheist addresses this with theists can influence the misrepresentation of atheists as people who blindly follow whatever science says and don’t question whatever is put forward in science. While I’m aggravated by a slander I know to be untrue about skeptic atheists in general. I know that a lot of theists rarely get an opportunity to talk to skeptical atheists. So, one conversation like the two above, and that theist walks away with _that_, plus his pastor’s claim that atheists “worship science.” I can’t say that I honestly don’t believe that some _active_ atheists aren’t feeding into this particular misconception.

And I might still be doing a poor job of communicating what I encounter. But I hope I’ve done better as the exchange has progressed and you have required better clarification.

January 28, 2010 at 5:39 pm
(46) Austin Cline says:

There is a _basic_–even very basic–grasp of X needed for “I believe X” to be meaningful.

No. Understanding the nouns and verbs isn’t the same as understanding the concept those nouns and verbs are expressing.

I’m not questioning their feeling of commitment to the idea—the belief.

This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with “feeling” or “commitment.” This is solely and entirely about whether a person can have the mental attitude that some proposition X is true without understanding X. You have disputed this in various ways without ever showing that there is any contradiction between “believe X” and “not understand X.”

I’m questioning what that belief means in a context where they model is not understood or accurately representative of the label they’re using: Big Bang.

It “means” the same as any belief. However, it’s not a very important belief to this person and it’s not one they can or should presume to defend because they won’t succeed. Unimportant beliefs which you cannot substantively defend remain, however, actual beliefs.

But how an atheist addresses this with theists can influence the misrepresentation of atheists as people who blindly follow whatever science says and don’t question whatever is put forward in science.

It’s absolutely true that starting out to try to defend something that you don’t understand is a bad idea and definitely looks bad. However, simply believing something based on the testimony of a legitimate authority, even though you don’t understand it, isn’t “worship” or “religion.” The behavior you describe is, without question, deserving of criticism — but it does not really justify saying that atheists “worship” science, anymore than I “worship” my mechanic because I believe him without understanding what he’s talking about.

January 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm
(47) tracieh says:

Since I’m having obvious difficulty grasping the dilemma here, I don’t belabor this any longer. I think you’ve worked long and hard enough to try and get me to understand what I’m not understanding. And although I believe you would continue working at it as long as I’d allow, I can’t really feel OK about asking you to do so when I’m not making very good progress.

Yes, “worship” and “religion” would be bad descriptions. Still, the theist goes away with the idea that they’re being criticized for expressing beliefs they can’t justify–and the atheists I’m describing don’t show them any superiority. As you note, potentially they _could_ demonstrate the superiority of the authority–but they don’t, because they don’t understand really why it’s superior themselves; things like self-correcting, repeatability, fasifiability, totally escape them as much as the theist. And as many of the theists online who are asking things like “how does something come from nothing?” and “Why can’t evolution can’t explain how life began?”–lack a sufficient grasp themselves of how science functions and the bare grasp of scientific models–someone presuming to take them to school ought to actually show some superior grasp themselves. Otherwise, the theist goes away thinking, “they don’t understand any better than I do…” and they really haven’t seen any demonstration of the superiority of the scientific authority from what the atheist offered them. Whether their labels are badly formed or not–the atheist leaves them with an impression they’re not any better justified in what they believe–and the theist (who already has a misunderstanding of science to begin with) is fairly predictably going to get that impression based on what has been offered in these situations.

February 2, 2010 at 9:24 pm
(48) Zack says:

My brain hurts.

February 2, 2010 at 11:31 pm
(49) Eric says:

Jesus. This is what happened when two active atheists disagree about something. It is long and drawn out… but nowhere near as painful as many of the arguments ive had or seen with theists…

February 3, 2010 at 9:15 am
(50) Todd says:

i’m with Zack. My head asplode. Tracie and Liz must be fast typists or have tons of spare time!

Joking aside, props++ for your writing. Very interesting stuff.

Believe – v. To act as if something were true.

That’s my favorite definition for believe. It’s a verb, it requires action, and doesn’t require actual truth. What you believe is revealed only through actions.

When it comes to science, we don’t have belief, we have acceptance. i accept evolution as the theory that best matches the evidence. That acceptance may be revoked when contrary evidence arises.

Any other definition of believe becomes tricky. Someone might say “I don’t believe in aspirin”. That could mean “I believe it doesn’t work” or “I believe aspirin does not exists (eg I don’t believe in ghosts)” or “I believe that I shouldn’t take aspirin”. Most likely they mean the last. It also fits my definition best… it relates to action. One can say they believe that wearing fur is wrong, but if they are wearing a mink stole… they are lying.

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