Wednesday, July 07, 2010

♫ How many times must a man be wrong, before you call him a Jerry? ♫

No matter how many times Jerry Coyne is wrong, he can always find more ways to be wrong. Today he has a post entitled:  What evidence would convince you that a god exists?

Claiming the high road, which is like Bernard Madoff staking out a position of "ethical businessman," Coyne writes:
In contrast, the faithful do not (and cannot) specify what observations would disprove their beliefs—or the whole basis of their religion. 

It’s your turn.  If you’re one of the faithful reading this, feel free to post those observations that would convince you that God doesn‘t exist.
Well Jerry I would, but in addition to Dembski’s Uncommon Descent and a far-right YEC forum, the only other blog on which I cannot post comments is your blog.

So what he really means is: If you are one of the faithful whose IP address I am not blocking, feel free to post your observations. And what he really really means is that the faithful will not provide such a list.

So here is a short list, just to, yet again, prove Jerry wrong:

1)      Archeological proof that the synoptic gospels were written after AD 70. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple within the timeframe of a generation is so specific that if it were shown to be written after the fact it would destroy the credibility of the bible.
2)      Archeological proof that the biblical writers conspired to fabricate the story of the resurrection.
3)      Except when the bible is referring to a miracle, a demonstrably false scientific statement in its text.
4)      The scientific demonstration of the String multiverse. That is, if it is demonstrated that there is a semi-infinite number of universes each with different fundamental constants, essentially randomly drawn constants, then my faith would be shattered.
5)      The scientific demonstration of Smolin’s Cosmic Evolution theory.
6)      Scientific proof of the claim of many atheists (and what should be the claim of all atheists)that free will does not exist.

I could go on and on.

I have done this before—addressed this challenge on other blogs such as Panda’s Thumb. The response is always the same: No, these things would not make you renounce your faith.


  1. It seems to me that asking people "feel free to post those observations that would convince you that God doesn‘t exist" is a sign that you are loosing the debate and/or you are out of new ideas for your ideology.

  2. Good work!

    How about explaining your last item -- why should consistent atheists not believe in free will?


  3. 1) I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘written.’ It’s important to me that the content of the gospels goes back before 70 AD, but I’m not sure if it would bother me if it were proven that they weren’t actually set down on paper (papyrus?) for the first time until later.

    2) I agree

    3) I’m not sure that this isn’t circular, i.e., anything that doesn’t match up with science is by definition a miracle. What do you mean?

    4 & 5) I’m not sure these would bother me, but maybe only because I don’t fully understand them. God has already withstood so many scientific challenges and it is hard to imagine any new theories that would be more surprising than evolution, quantum mechanics, etc.

    6) I agree.

    I might also say that the collective weight of many things might shake my faith, though any one of them alone wouldn’t do it.

  4. Dr. Heddle,

    Thank you so much for your opinions and perspectives.

    I wanted to post a comment because I'm a bit confused about item 4. It may be because I am not an astrophysicist and have little formal background in cosmological theories and how they affect our understanding of the natural world.

    It would seem to me that if there are indeed many universes, each with different physical constants, that God has certainly within His power and right to have created the multiverse with the intention of interacting with each one in a different way. That this would demonstrate His glory in an exceptional way.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding your comment or do not have an adequate grasp on the theory. I would very much appreciate it if you could comment on why this particular issue would "shatter" your faith.

    Thanks again,


  5. Martin,

    Because if we have only materialism free will must be an illusion. We will essentially have strict determinism, with perhaps a sprinkling of quantum randomness.


    You are correct--I mean evidence that the narrative of the synoptic gospels was created after AD 70--not necessarily when they were actually written down.

    Patrick--keep in mind that this is my list--it may not be you list. But if it were demonstrated that there were 10^1000 universes each with different constants then the Occam's razor answer, in my opinion, would be that we are naturally in one of the habitable universes. I don't mean to imply that it would shatter your faith; I am speaking just for myself.

  6. OK. I thought that was where you were coming from.


  7. Folks, here is IMHO the key problem with those who demand specific evidence that God exists: to some extent, they're "not even wrong." Finding new evidence for new things is good when you can, but it's not the only game. The demanders of evidence simplistically imply that for each existent or process, there is potentially some specific, obviously probative evidence we can just match up. IOW, that there's no debate over what proves what. They imagine it's just to find evidence A' for entity A, and so on down the line.

    But note that most of philosophy is about interpreting the significance and implications of what we already know. So regarding God, the question more is: is there anything about the way things are, that lends credibly to the idea it was created? And so on.

  8. Something about this whole exchange seems foul. Mostly Coyne's end of it, but there's something wrong with Prof. Heddle's take too, to me.

    Darwin's list of "things that would convince him" strike me as radically strange. If he saw what he thought was an angel that would "teach us good" and everyone around him agreed it was an angel, he'd believe? If he was convinced life and mind was somehow mysterious he'd be convinced? (What about promissory materialism? And note the redundancy.) If he was *made of metal*?

    This is the praiseworthy list that illustrates rational thought in action? How is this any better than the (and what I think was once Coyne's) example of a 900 foot tall Jesus walking around?

    Coyne's list is almost more pathetic. He gives a list of "if I were brass" examples - Basically, not things that could convince him if they came to pass, but things he's certain are not the case, but if those were different he'd believe. It's like saying you'd change you could believe in God if the holocaust never happened. And again, 'DNA sequences that could only have been placed by an intelligent agent' is back to that promissory materialism issue.

    What really strikes me as odd is that Coyne's and Darwin's list rely entirely on ignorance. Every example - Darwin's apparent angel and metal man, Coyne's strange DNA sequences and the remission of good people's cancer (Wait, why would they get cancer to begin with) - is a gap example. A demand for some thing, some situation, that science cannot explain. Isn't this the exact sort of evidence atheists constantly fume at theists for accepting as supporting their beliefs? But if it's qualified to "something science can't currently explain", we're back to, once again, the promissory materialism/atheism schtick.

    Again, something just seems foul here in this kind of thinking.

  9. Random1:45 AM

    re 3: How about the "First Rainbow"?

    We are expected to believe (and apparently have no excuse for not believing) that rainbows did not exist until after the flood.

    Considering how you (David) are fond of the fine-tuning argument it would appear that pre-flood a substantial percentage of these carefully honed physical laws were quite un-necessary for life to prosper.

  10. So David, does this mean there are possible discoveries of naturalistic science that could overwhelm the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain your faith? Isn't such an admission tantamount to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

  11. Shaggy,

    So David, does this mean there are possible discoveries of naturalistic science that could overwhelm the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain your faith.

    No. But it is a weird feedback-loop question--kinda like asking a former Christian: were you saved? They want to answer: well yes, I believed with all my heart but they also want to answer no, there is no such thing as being saved.

    So if I lose my faith because of a scientific discovery then either:

    1) I was never really saved in the first place or

    2) There is no such thing as being saved

    but what is not possible is that I was saved (it's real) and I drifted (forever) away.

    Does that make sense?

  12. Heddle,

    Why would your faith be shattered by the discovery of multiple universes? Theists have learned to live with universal common descent, the multiverse and "cosmic evolution" are a piece of cake in comparison.

    As to free will, that's a philosophical concept. You have no better chance of disproving it than you have of disproving the aether. Lorentz's theory relies on the aether and makes the same predictions as special relativity. Einstein made it superfluous, but he did not exactly disprove it.

  13. Oleg,

    Perhaps because I am so vested in idea that our universe is fine tuned. The multi-verse is really the only viable game in town, in my opinion, that could negate the fine tuning argument.

  14. David, I have an argument for why our being in a world like this can't be well explained by a multiverse. It's a Bayesian expectation argument (given the background assumptions and given our specific circumstances, the combination of the two don't add up.) Find a summary version at Marcelo Gleiser Has a Point. I wrote that from a modest standpoint of wearing a physics hat, but my own personal intuition is that "God" is behind it being like is - indeed behind it being, period, instead of just Platonic models. Without God, Max Tegmark would be right (well, whatever math model/s takes his place!) and that's all we'd have.

    See some intriguing ruminations on such subjects at Crude Ideas, albeit gotten a bit testy lately.

  15. Neil,

    Thanks for the links. I'll check them out.

  16. Just checked back in with you. Congrats on the transfer to a new template. I'll check out the rest of your new posts.

    I posted your answers on Jerry's post. It's still active.

    Also, I'm not sure how to do it, but you can put a trackback in this post and it will appear in the listing on Jerry's post.

  17. Okay, give Jerry a couple of demerits from me. He didn't post my comment for you. And he didn't post a really minor tease on another post from someone he disagreed with as well as my comment highlighting this (the comment actually came through the wordpress comments email). I'm not willing to condemn him, but it's not cool.

  18. George K2:18 AM

    "1. Archeological proof that the synoptic gospels were written after AD 70. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple within the timeframe of a generation is so specific that if it were shown to be written after the fact it would destroy the credibility of the bible."

    But you've already said that you are committed to this belief:

    "The Bible is the inerrant and sufficient inspired word of God."

    It would seem that the first order of business is to apply the tools of critical thinking to that claim. Otherwise when people actually offer the evidence you seek for (1), your belief in inerrancy will cause you to dismiss the evidence. In fact this has already happened.

    Suppose someone approaches you claiming to have found a new physical phenomenon, for example Blondlot's N-rays. You would try to disprove it (assuming you would bother in the first place). If it's real then it will survive the harshest critical scrutiny. If it's not real then such scrutiny will demolish it. (N-rays failed the test, of course.)

    Now, have you applied such critical scrutiny to the claim that "The Bible is the inerrant and sufficient inspired word of God"? What books have you read which aim to refute that notion? In other words what have you done to try to disprove it, like you would for the N-rays claim?

    This is getting at what some people (like Coyne) mean regarding philosophical consistency. I assume you would be harsh on N-rays. Have you been harsh on the Bible?

  19. Barry7:42 PM

    1. But you don't have any archaeological proof at all on the synoptic gospels but this doesn't stop you believing them to be true. Believing them on the absence of archaeological evidence, whilst requiring archaeological evidence to verify they were written post AD70 is not a fair test. Coyne would likely accuse you of a double standard. But I'll let him speak for himself and I'll accuse you of it instead.

    But then, in response to a post from Andy you said, "I mean evidence that the narrative of the synoptic gospels was created after AD 70--not necessarily when they were actually written down."

    This looks very much like shifting the goalposts to me. Tell me, what would "...evidence that the narrative...was created..." look like if it is not "written down"?

    2. I feel compelled to ask what form you might expect this evidence to take...if it exists? Clearly you believe the ressurection to be true based on documents of questionable date and authorship. This is a choice you make. The evidence doesn't establish the ressurection, it describes it imperfectly. Something that your science background tells you is impossible you accept on poor evidence. Now you demand a highly unlikely higher order of evidence to persuade you otherwise.

    3. Why exclude miracles? Is it because you don't think they are true, or you have no way of explaining them? Are they just too uncomfortable for you to have to deal with? Ignoring miracles, how about these?
    Lev. 11:19, Deut. 14:11, 18
    Lev. 11:20-21
    Lev. 11:22-23
    Lev. 11:6
    Lev. 11:5
    Lev. 11:4
    2 Peter 3:5 RSV
    1 Sam. 2:8
    1Chron. 16:30
    Deut. 14:7
    Gen. 9:13
    Matt. 13:31-32 RSV
    Song of Sol. 2:12
    Job 37:3
    Isa. 11:12, Rev. 7:1
    Lev. 11:21
    Gen. 11:6-9
    Luke 1:44
    Gen 1:16
    Isaiah 11:12
    Are these all demonstrably true scientific statements?

    4. Your stated belief that the fundamental constants of the universe were created by god is an assertion on no evidence. Even if other universes were discovered with different constants, wouldn't your explanation be "well, god just did it this way"?

    5. Ditto.

    6. There are many issues here. The first is, what is free will as you describe it? Second, other than the bible telling you that this was a "gift" from god, what evidence supports this claim? What would be an appropriate standard of proof? Would it be sufficient, for example, to provide evidence of animals demonstrating deferred gratification? Or choosing not to attack one potential prey in favor of another?

    It is really insightful to note the dual standard you operate. I think this is what Coyne refers to as "philosophically inconsistent". You would never accept such poor and shoddy research and reasoning in your scientific work (well, I hope not). It would seem that religious belief requires you to suspend reality, and I guess that's why it is called 'faith'.

    You do say at the end of this list "I could go on and on". Well, why don't you? Maybe in the next list you'll come up with something a little closer to the mark.