The Age Of Embarrassment

Third in a series

As with the previous post in this series, this came up in a Facebook post that devolved into a discussion of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) controversy. I will begin by pasting pertinent parts of the dialogue so far:

Jim Medding shared History‘s post.

When ever I hear the term “settled science” I think of Galileo

On ‪#‎ThisDayInHistory 1633, Italian philosopher and astronomer Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy after he advocated the Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

GalileoInquisition

Galileo in Rome for Inquisition – Feb 13, 1633 – HISTORY.com

On this day in History, Galileo in Rome for Inquisition on Feb 13, 1633. Learn more about what happened today on History.

Luis De La Cruz a la “climate change” and the settled science

John Blanton “Settled science” is a term that gets thrown around, but in the final analysis it’s not what counts. What counts is what can be demonstrated. Right now what is being demonstrated is the case for AGW. I have some facts plus a bit of comedy for your reading enjoyment. Comments are welcome. I have more facts.
https://skeptic78240.wordpress.com/…/the-age-of…/

Jim Medding You, John, prove my point.

John Blanton Jim, I’m glad I prove your point. How? Please explain.

Jim Medding You couldn’t resist the temptation to jump all over this post. Shouldn’t there be some room for skepticism? You’re skeptical about the existence of God without having to prove your skepticism, which is OK. But if anyone says “I don’t know” about AGW, oh my let’s set ’em straight. Put your ego aside and coexist. You’re not going to convince anyone.

John Blanton Jim, thanks for responding on this. On a side note: The moment after I responded that I was glad to prove your point, I asked myself what was your point? You did not actually say. This would be a good time to state your position.

It was interesting that you brought up the existence of God, because I had no idea on how you stood on the matter. From the conversation you and I had with Don Hay 30 years ago I assumed you shared my rejection of Don’s views on creationism, the age of the Earth, and religion in general. If you have particular views on God, put them forward for discussion. My own position is that the God of Abraham (to distinguish from the number of other popular gods) is a made up story with no basis in fact. I say that in case there may be some confusion on the point.

You mention my ego, as though I had some emotional attachment to the science behind AGW. Putting that matter to rest, I have no such attachment. I do have a great fondness for the truth, and I do enjoy chiding people who sorely abuse the truth.

I am heading into a trip out of town, and I will be able to address your points in detail when I get back. In the mean time it will be helpful if you will state your position on the matters under discussion (God, AGW, creationism maybe). That way I will not have to bore you with some lengthy discussion when all the while we are in agreement on a point.

And that’s the extent of the conversation up to the present writing. I had hoped that after 48 hours I would have seen an additional response from Jim, but I will post this today rather than wait. If Jim responds later I will update this post. Here is a diagnosis of the exchange.

Jim posted a link to the History Channel concerning Galileo’s hearing before The Inquisition on 13 February 1633. Galileo had published that, contrary to prevailing doctrine, the Earth revolves around the sun. Jim’s comment was that use of the term “settled science” always reminded him of Galileo. Galileo was going against what had been “settled” by higher authority.

Of course, Galileo was not going against settled science, because the Ptolemaic conjecture, which was supported by the Church, did not involve any actual science. Ptolemy, and others, had observed that the sun appeared to go around and around the Earth on a daily basis. No scientific study had ever been invoked to refute the conjecture. It just became accepted and incorporated into church doctrine. But I was OK with Jim’s remark. Galileo did challenge a concept supported by authority and not by science.

Then Luis De La Cruz added a comment linking the science behind AGW to “settled science” supported only by authority. Since I know this to be incorrect, I added my comment to that effect and included a link to my previous post on the matter. Please note, my comment was not in response to Jim’s post, It was in response to Luis de la Cruz’s comment.

Jim commented that I had proved his point.

Without thorough preparation, I responded to Jim, telling him I was glad to be of assistance. Then I inquired as to how I had helped him prove his point, and I asked for additional details.

Jim’s response to this was more involved. To exhibit, I here repeat Jim’s response:

You couldn’t resist the temptation to jump all over this post. Shouldn’t there be some room for skepticism? You’re skeptical about the existence of God without having to prove your skepticism, which is OK. But if anyone says “I don’t know” about AGW, oh my let’s set ’em straight. Put your ego aside and coexist. You’re not going to convince anyone.

Jim’s comment that I could not resist is correct, but he may have missed the point that I was not responding to his post, but to the comment by Luis. Regardless, Jim inquired whether there should not be room for skepticism. That is a serious consideration and requires serious treatment. Since, by now, the subject matter had become too deep for Facebook, I am reverting to a blog post with more detail. First, the issue of room for skepticism.

Yes, there should be room for skepticism. Whenever anybody puts up a scientific conjecture, hypothesis, even theory, there rightly should be skepticism. Science does not work well without ideas being challenged. In all this the Galileo connection has become lost. Galileo was skeptical of the church sanctioned explanation of orbital mechanics, but he was not merely suspicious. He proposed a better explanation, one that did away with a vast body of specious explanation required to make the Ptolemaic system work. He proposed an alternative, and along with that alternative he proposed a better explanation. This is scientific skepticism, not just idle doubt.

Next, Jim brought God into the matter. He mentioned I am skeptical of God. Moreover, I’m skeptical of God without having to prove my skepticism. To this I take exception. Not only am I skeptical of the existence of God, but I am prepared to present detailed arguments supporting that position. This is not idle doubt. More on that later.

Jim advises me to put my ego aside and coexist. As I mentioned in my follow-up to Jim’s last comment, there is no amount of ego involved in my position. By this I mean, there is no emotional involvement on my part regarding the science behind AGW. What does catch my interest, however, is an abiding respect for the truth. Let’s put this more directly. For example, somebody tells me he believes scientists are all wrong, and the Earth is flat. At the very least I am going to respond, “Excuse me?” I may go so far as to give a big belly laugh. In some cases I might go to the extreme to point out evidence that the Earth is, in fact, not flat. It more closely resembles a ball of matter about 8000 miles in diameter. Yes, I do get emotional when confronted with idle objections to what should be common knowledge.

To wit, the science that backs up the truth about AGW is comprehensive and well exposed for all to see. A 21st century citizen who dismisses all the evidence with a shrug and a comment expressing doubt is going to meet with a challenge from anybody knowing the background. And, the facts be known, that is a job I have given myself, and a task I have been involved with for nearly 30 years. Some history.

Thirty years ago I hooked up with the North Texas Skeptics, a Dallas-based group concerned with the promulgation of astrology, psychic powers, faith healing, creationism, and any number of other factually baseless concepts. It was about this time Jim and I had the conversation with Don Hay, mentioned in my Facebook comment.

Jim and I were working on a missile project for a defense contractor, and Don Hay was recruited from another company. Don was college-educated, a requirement for the job, so it was with surprise that Don advised us he believed in creationism. He announced that he was a devout Christian, and creationism was an integral part of his belief. Part of Don’s belief was that the Earth and the universe were created in six days, as described in the Bible. I inquired of Don whether he had ever visited the Grand Canyon and seen for himself the multitude of exposed layers of the Earth’s crust, giving evidence to an age of millions, if not billions, of years. Don was proud to claim he had never done so, and he never intended to do so. His faith told him all he needed to know, and the matter was settled. It was shortly after that I joined up with the North Texas Skeptics.

Anyhow, at the time, Jim seemed equally as embarrassed by Don’s position as I was. I never then nor have I since heard anything directly from Jim expressing agreement with Don, including a belief in God. I was hoping that a follow-up comment from Jim would clear up that matter. I can discuss my objections to the concept of God better if I know what that concept is supposed to include. Anybody discussing this with me may want to stake out one or more of the following claims:

  • There is an omnipotent being as described in the Bible (Jewish, Christian plus the Quran), said being to be hereafter called God. This God takes a particular interest in the human race.
  • God created the universe as described in Genesis in the Bible.
  • Man (the human race) was created in God’s image.
  • Jesus of Nazareth was the human embodiment of God.
  • God contrived to have Jesus be persecuted and tortured to death in order to absolve the human race of all its past sins.
  • After being killed, Jesus returned from the dead and lived for 40 days before ascending into the sky, never to be seen again.
  • All that is necessary to be a true Christian is to accept that Jesus was the son of God and died for our sins. Those who believe will have everlasting life after death and will dwell in a special place called Heaven. All who do not accept Jesus will be tormented in Hell for eternity after death.

There could be much more, but this will do. Anybody wanting to discuss God at a serious level needs to sign up for one or more of these conjectures. On the other hand, it is not OK for me express my skepticism about God without stating at least some basis for my skepticism. I am willing and will now state my objections to the concept of God.

First allow me to state that I will be unable to prove conclusively that God does not exist. Hopefully I can convince readers that I do not need to prove conclusively that God does not exist. With some effort I can put forth good arguments against the existence of God.

First, regarding lack of conclusive proof that God does not exist. There are any number of untrue things I cannot disprove. Here is one:

Orbiting the sun along the same path as the Earth but on the other side of the sun, is a jade teapot. No, there is not, but I cannot prove there is not. I could prove its nonexistence in principle. I could convince the government to go investigate, and millions of tax dollars could be appropriated, and we could launch a mission to the far side of the sun to have a look-see. Nah, that’s not going to fly. The guy who stands at the gate protecting the national treasure from foolish enterprises is going to say, “You have got to kidding. The United States government has spent money on foolish adventures before, but this one is way off the chart. Not only is there not likely to be a jade teapot on the other side of the sun, in which case this one expensive venture will gain nothing. Besides that, if there is a jade pot on the other side of the sun, we don’t give a fat rat’s ass. Get on out of here.”

Let’s take this a step further. Suppose I postulate there is something else on the other side of the sun besides a jade teapot. Suppose we need to investigate whether there is a compact source of energy that can be brought back to the United States and will supply the entire country’s energy needs for the next hundred years. Now the treasury gate keeper will give a fat rat’s ass. And the answer will still be no. The evidence there is a jade teapot or even a hundred years’ supply of energy is still based on my conjecture and nothing more.

And therein is the tie between the jade teapot and God. The evidence for each is exactly the same—none. Somebody will tell me now that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Well taken. Then why not go after the 100 years’ energy supply? Also, why not make any material investment in belief in God?

At a personal level there is almost no reason not to believe in God, absent any evidence. You can just shake your head and say that you believe in God and then go about your business. The problem comes when belief in God calls for something material. At the entry level this might be taking a day each week out of your life and going to a church to reassert your belief—plus paying to support the church. Beyond that can lie trouble.

What kind of trouble you ask. Here are some examples.

  • William Miller in the 19th century convinced his followers, in excess of 50,000, that Jesus was about to return to Earth, and they should get rid of all their personal wealth and join him to journey into the afterlife with Jesus. This happened a couple of times, and of course Jesus never came, and the people lost all their worldly possessions. An offshoot of Millerism was the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
  • Nineteen, otherwise intelligent, young men believed that killing people in the name of God would result in their obtaining glory in the afterlife. They killed approximately 3000 people, including themselves, in the United States on 11 September 2001.
  • Marshall Applewhite convinced his followers (38) that Jesus was coming for them in a space ship that was following the Hale-Bopp comet. They all packed their bags for the journey and took poison.
  • Vernon Howell took the name David Koresh and convinced his followers the end times were coming. At the conclusion of a standoff with police and federal authorities, his followers killed themselves and their children, a total of 80.
  • It was much the same with Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. This time over 900 died.

There are more. The Blanton family name originated in Normandy in France. They all had to leave on threat of death, because French Catholics were killing all the Protestants. The short story is that there can be bad consequences from believing untrue things. The lesson that should be taken away is when believing in something not well substantiated, invest small.

My previous statement that the evidence for God is nil needs to be backed up. Here is my case, in its briefest form:

The entire case for the existence of God resides in some ancient texts, written at an undetermined time by people not well verified. Nobody has ever seen God, nobody has held a conversation with God, God has never been on television, nor has God testified in court nor served in the armed services. God does not pay taxes. This is the perfect description for a person who does not exist.

Everything said to be attributable to God can be more reasonably explained by natural processes. A ship sinks. Thousands drown. Three survive. This has happened. Was this a miracle attributable to God. No. Each of the survivors told the story of his survival, and each of the stories explain the survivor’s escape in natural terms.

Creationists point to the magnificent universe and the wonder of life. Surely God had a hand in this. People who support creationism claim all this wonder is the work of God. Specifically, it is the work of the God of Abraham. If I were to spot a creationist the point that a supernatural being created all these works, the creationist would still be left with the unsurmountable task of tying this to the God of Abraham and not some other God.

In addition to all of this, the only thing of substance relating to God, the Bible, is demonstrably incorrect at almost every point. The universe was not created in six days. There was no world-wide flood as described in the story of Noah. The story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt is false, since the Hebrews never were in Egypt. This and numerous other points the Bible gets wrong. And somebody is supposed to believe the unbelievable based on the word of the Bible?

I have run on at length (Jim was right on this point) in response to Jim’s most recent comment. Hopefully this dispels the notion of my skepticism about God without the need to back up my skepticism. If doubt remains I am able to run on at ten times this length.

Regarding AGW and “You’re not going to convince anyone,” I am definitely not going to convince anybody who rejects the science out of hand and will not provide evidence for their position nor accept evidence of AGW. A substantive discussion will involve all parties involved providing evidence to support their position. I invite Jim, Luis, and all others willing to discuss the matter to join in. I offer my blog site as a medium for exchanging ideas. This post has a provision for appending lengthy comments. Please use that space and get the conversation going.

Best to all reading this.

Update

It’s been three days since I posted this, and Jim has not gotten back with additional responses. I will presume there are not going to be any. Continuations on this theme will resume with a new post.

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5 thoughts on “The Age Of Embarrassment

  1. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence when the mountain of evidence that *should* be there were god to exist is nowhere to be found. The god of abraham, were he to exist, would require an absolute mountain of works that could be easily traced back to him, if not letters written across the sky in fire. The absence of all of this renders this whole concept of god moot.

  2. Pingback: The Age Of Embarrassment | Skeptical Analysis

  3. Pingback: The Comical Conservative | Skeptical Analysis

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