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Truth and Evidence October 22, 2008

Posted by caseyww in Essays, Uncategorized.

This week I’d like to dwell just a little longer on this topic of skepticism and adequate evidence.  I know, nothing like beating a dead horse right?  Well, there are a couple of reasons I think it will be valuable to linger here just a little longer.

First, there were some great ideas and questions posed in the comments section of the last post that I would like to highlight/summarize.  Second, I realize I haven’t quite answered the question of what constitutes “adequate evidence” myself even though I was cracking the whip for everyone else to answer.  Mush skeptics, MUSH!

We ended the last post with my somewhat optimistic call for a consensus on what constitutes ‘adequate evidence’ for belief.

Like W. standing on the USS Abraham Lincoln I’d like to declare “Mission Accomplished!”  Okay, grant me a bit of sarcastic irony now and then.  While, we didn’t quite get to a unified consensus on the requirements for evidence I do think we made some great strides towards defining the issue better.

One issue that kept resurfacing was that people were very apprehensive about defining a ‘single standard’ for what constitutes adequate evidence for belief.  On this we seemed to agree: Truth just seems too slippery to nail down with one kind of evidence for all time.  One idea raised was that maybe there are different types of truth which each carry their own standard for what constitutes good evidence.

By my count there were 4 classes of truth posed.  I’ve taken the liberty to apply some titles:

  1. Objective Facts
  2. Subjective Experience
  3. Cultural Truth
  4. Untestable Truth

Each class of truth seems to require a somewhat unique approach to belief and evidence.  Let’s explore what makes them different in the context of a thought experiment yours truly shared: the color red.

Objective Facts

Objective facts are the kind of truth that most of us associate with scientific inquiry.  One commenter referred to this class as “concrete phenomena.”  I would expand that to include any claim that has physical effects and is falsifiable.*  In the context of red we can speak of a particular wavelength of light on the electromagnetic spectrum.

If I claimed objects that are red emit electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of about 650nm, what would adequate evidence for belief in this statement be?

Well, for most of us a quick visit to Wikipedia or a physics book would be enough evidence to satisfy us that this claim is true.  Pretty easy, huh?  We often rely on a specific type of evidence that I would call a consensus of scientific authority. This is important because not all of us can be experts on every topic that requires a verdict and it’s certainly appropriate to know when to trust those who are.

(A brief note here: blindly following authority can be dangerous which is why I included the operative word consensus.  Science operates on healthy debate which generally moves toward consensus.  Yes, rarely there is an Einstein or Galileo who comes along and revolutionizes scientific understanding but generally the fact that one PHD is willing to deny the effects of global warming is certainly is not adequate evidence to doubt its effects in the face of the rest of the scientific community.)

The critical characteristic of objective facts is that if anyone of us wanted to verify a truth before investing in belief we could personally test for evidence ourselves.  But how do we make sure the evidence we are getting from our test is good or adequate evidence?  We might institute simple rules like:

  1. Good evidence stays consistent even when we run the test over and over again.
  2. Good evidence stays consistent even when a different person altogether runs our test.
  3. Good evidence stays consistent even when the variables of our test are changed (A simple example of a variable would be whether we ran our test in San Diego or Moscow.)
  4. Good evidence would probably fit in the framework of already established science.  (Admittedly this isn’t always the case.  But if our test found evidence that overturns whole areas of expert understanding we had better be sure the evidence is ironclad.)
  5. Good evidence would be able to withstand others trying their hardest to disprove it.

Subjective Experience

The subjective experience of red is the human sensation of warmth, vibrancy or anger that each of us has in response to the color.  We turn a frequency of light into actual experience.  Admittedly, this type of truth is a bit harder to nail down than the objective fact of red photons.

Can we really prove that each of us is seeing the same color when looking at red objects?  Probably not.  However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t determine an adequate level of evidence that would allow us to infer an operational truth.

We may point to the evidence that the vast majority of humans think the color of oak leaves in fall is strikingly similar to the color of a stop sign.  We could also include the evidence that from human to human there is negligible difference in the way our eyes and brains are wired.  It is certainly reasonable to infer here that we all see red similarly.  Even for the colorblind man who may not be able to share this experience the evidence reported to him by the rest of us should be sufficient for belief in the color red.

Another quick note: A couple of commenters asked about the adequate evidence I would seek when trying to ‘prove’ the quality of my decision to marry my wife.  I would class marriage as a subjective experience type of truth (maybe even a cultural truth, see below) for which I cannot ‘prove’ truth.  However, the affection, commitment, interest and generosity Jess showed me is certainly still evidence which I observed and deemed adequate to invest in the belief that she in fact loved me and would make a great partner.

Just because truth as subjective experience may not be ultimately provable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking for adequate evidence from which we can infer an operational truth for a situation.

Cultural Truths

We could ask the question, “Do you believe it is good to paint your child’s nursery red?”  The answer to this question is a matter of belief in a cultural truth that is fairly fluid and open to a diversity of opinions.  In western cultures I think we would usually answer that no, blue and pastels are better for babies.  But we can’t necessarily say why and we would be hard pressed to ever prove this point.

Evidence for beliefs in cultural truths does exist but it’s extremely transitory and open for debate.  I would imagine evidence here could include studies of the effects of room color on child temperament or imagination or development, but still the moral question of what is ‘good’ temperament or ‘good’ development would still remain.

That being said there is an operational truth that cultures tend to agree on so evidence must exist which points in the direction of truth.  Even though it may not be conclusive, evidence can still be deemed adequate after the moral component of these types of questions have been vetted.

Untestable Truth

I would define untestable truths as those questions that we can conceive of but for which we currently do not have (or can never have) any evidence to help guide our belief.  Admittedly, it’s tough to stretch my red example this far but here is my best shot.  Examples of untestable truth would be something like:

Our entire universe is simply an elementary particle in an atom on a very large red apple. (Evidence can’t be gathered from outside our universe by definition.)


Flying red elves smart enough to evade all scientific detection control the weather and punish the Pacific Northeast with too much rain because they hate grunge music. (What sounds like an absurd statement, yes, but if the elves can avoid all detection then we can’t really disprove it, can we?)


There were exactly 34 species of red striped dinosaurs. (Not an absurd statement but effectively all the evidence has been destroyed.)

Many commenters asserted that belief was a matter of “personal desire”.  If there is a place for personal desire in determining truth and belief this is certainly it.  However, ideally I would argue we should remain agnostic (ie. indifferent) to propositions for which can have no evidence.  That is I think the appropriate response to mystery is, “I don’t know.”

However, probability and our ability to reason do play an important role here in that we can functionally rule out some untestable claims.  Example: There are simpler explanations for weather patterns which science uses to tackle observed phenomena naturally without invoking the existence of flying red elves.  Can I prove to you they don’t exist?  Nope.  However, is it probable and reasonable for me to assume flying red elves don’t exist?  I believe so.


*(text amended per comment #7 and #8 below)



1. jordan - October 22, 2008

you suck casey! It’s 3:…. something in the morning and my cell phone tells me I have an e-mail so I look real quick and it’s you saying there’s a new blog and I have to read it before I roll over back to sleep and so I press forward and here I am at 3:42 in the AM trying to chew on what you put here and I know that I’m tooooo tired to type more but there’s no way I can respond right now and have it makes sense. Worse than that, there’s not a chance in hell that I’ll be able to roll back over and doze off again. Nope this willl roll around in my head until I have to get up and be off to the routine of my life and none of it will be as fulfilling as it could be for the simple fact that I will have this holding my thought process captive. Your lucky we’re blood or I would be pissed.

2. Bill Whitsett - October 22, 2008

I was with you on this one all the way down to your last premise “untestable truths”. In the vein in which you approached this, I am not sure there are such things, and the concept seems almost “oxymoron” to me. Truth is “truth” is it not just black and white, remains the same…If there is nothing there, there is nothing there! Red elves do not exist, there should be no category given to them for their probable existance.
A little different notion, I hinted at in an earlier post of mine that could possibly fit in “untestable truths”, is that “things” can and do occur only “once”, the number “1” is scientifically and mathmatically correct… (this to me seems to allow for the term “miracle” to exist)…and would thereby remain…”untestable” and yet still “truth”.
I suppose you could then argue that “one time red elves did something”…and our arguments could become “absurd”. I can find no “truth” in “absurdity”.

3. Benjamin - October 22, 2008

Oh God. Here we go….

You know what, screw it. I tried to bring this crap up in Bible studies with Intervarsity, but nooo…. we had to talk about more important things than faith… like social justice. Jimmy just kept crackin’ corn. After working through this type of stuff for a good two years, I’m pretty confident about the skepticism here, possibly even too familiar with it. So, I’ll be frank, not Jimmy.

While I can sympathize with your questioning Casey, I’m pretty reserved about your approach. Frankly, you’re being a slightly silly idiot here. Your question(s), and its cute red rabbit trail children, are based on too many assumptions concerning ‘adequate’ answers. Despite elementary school teachers, there is such a thing as a stupid question. (“How is the moon made of swiss cheese?”) In fact, I’m confidently skeptical of your skepticism. Categorical constructs for knowledge? C’mon!! Using a construct to build a foundation for a construct? I call ‘bullshit’, or in your words, MUSH! Be a real skeptic and use some logical reasoning. (Isn’t that silly?)

For the sake of brevity, to understand why the ‘adequate evidence’ question needs a serious rewrite, see the links below for a summary (unless, of course, you don’t have enough ‘adequate evidence’ to believe in logic/reasoning, in which case you would NEVER click the link).

Perfect Solution fallacy
Burden of Proof fallacy
No True Scotsman
petitio principii
Fallacy of Necessity

I took a course on the philosophy of knowledge at UCSD, wherein we discussed “There’s Something About Mary” for a full quarter. Before it was a movie, it was a philosophical experiment. The red question(s) are pretty much answered, expanded, then answered again in this experiment.

The Knowledge Argument
The Knowledge Argument (from Stanford)

Enjoy! (I hope the links work…)

4. Sam - October 22, 2008

The existence of Red Elves may be Absurd–but are the Absurd and Truth mutually exclusive?

Based upon what you just wrote, the concept of God is Absurd (and may philosophers will agree with you). In today’s world, we cannot prove the existence of either God, or Casey’s Magical Red Elves. However, a great many of those philosophers do not believe that Absurdity makes God an impossibility.

All “moral truths” that we subscribe to are essentially are not based upon any testable truths. From a pure scientific (aka testable) approach, they are arbitrary. Read the Ten Commandments and find one that is based upon a testable truth.

Shall not commit murder: The physical world tells us survival of the fittest, Machiavelli lays down a very solid argument that actions, such as murder, can be executed when necessary by those who have power and that the moral question is not in play.

Honor your father and mother: I can’t think of any substantial evidence that would imply that this commandment is anything but an arbitrary rule (if we are going only by provable facts). In nature you would want to utilize the station of your mother and father, live in their home, etc. At it’s core this commandment can be seen to be based upon the concept of Slave Morality rather than any provable truth. It is a cultural construct, not a natural truth. If we start taking all socially acceptable cultural constructs as truths.. well.. we have a SERIOUS existential crisis on our hands..

Shall not steal: Why? I want it. I can take it. If I am more powerful and can take it without resulting in undo harm to myself, the physical laws of nature imply that I should do what I want.

The list goes on.

These core ‘moral truths’ that a very large portion of the world ascribe to are based upon the word of God. The idea of God (like Red Elves) is not physically testable (even He said not to put him to the test..) and is, by definition, Absurd. Does this mean that there is no Truth in God? If not–that means that, the moral “truths” that the majority of mankind cling to, are completely arbitrary–If God is an Absurdity, and we don’t believe the Absurd to hold any truth, then the moral laws set forth by said Absurd God are meaningless.

I apologize for the existential jaunt. But I think that Bill was hitting on a few aspects of Casey’s list that are problematic:

1. I have a personal beef with the use of the word “good” in the discussion of the 5 rules under Objective Fact. I would replace it with “useful.” Scientific reasoning, by nature, does not have a moral value. Scientific study/findings are either useful, or not useful, consistent, or inconsistent. But yeah, I know that’s just one of my own little ticks.

2. As a trained sociologist I feel inclined to say that Subjective Truth and Cultural truth are essentially the same thing. I submit that we try to find a person among us (or anywhere) who does not base their own concepts of “Subjective Truth” upon culturally defined or learned standards.I can’t think of anyone (aside from Nietzsche’s Ubermench) that defines truth and untruth from their own, self-identified point of view.

Our associative conclusions to the color red are tied in with cultural-learned norms, and I personally believe that our subjective experience is determined in response to culturally defined truths–either in agreement with or rejection of. (Anyway, I think I got the idea out I’ll stop carrying on.)

And back up to my original point: does the fact that something is Absurd (does not have an explainable cause, or a scientifically [AKA factually] provable existence) make them incapable of producing truth?

5. Eric - October 22, 2008

I personally subscribe to the notion that “God” and “little red elves” are exactly equivalent from the standpoint of provability — for any experience that someone has that they attribute to “God” one can substitute “little red elves” and there would be no way to prove one view right and the other wrong. This may mean that both “God” and “little red elves” fall under the category “absurd” for me, but I take issue with Sam’s reasoning that this means that the commandments (or any moral code) is “absurd”. The failure in the reasoning is in the equation of the commandments with “the word of God” — once you accept that the commandments are propositions devised by (well-intentioned) people for the purposes of promoting peaceful coexistence in the world, there is no need to think of their relation to God, little red elves, or any other imaginary being.

6. Sam - October 22, 2008


If the Absurd is Impossible, then I agree with you. It leaves us with the question of who invented societies moral codes, when and why (all are incredibly interesting to ponder).

What I was basing my comment on was the fact that the moral codes of every society I can think of are linked to either some system of divinity or some system of social control (or a combination of the two in theistic societies).

If humanity on our own invented the general moral ‘truths’ by which our societies are based upon (as I think you are implying) then, as far as I am concerned, there is no moral Truth, only human constructs for social control (no matter how well-meaning they may be).

Which leads me into a logical chain reaction that leaves me looking at a world that is driven by provable fact, and social control–a functional but dreary concept which would render this entire line of questioning nothing but chasing after the wind (as the wise man said).

Without the Absurd, how can any ‘truth’ exist?

7. Eric - October 22, 2008

Had to run off to teach after making that last comment, but I also wanted to add something to this part of Casey’s post:

Objective facts are the kind of truth that most of us associate with scientific inquiry [which includes] any claim that has physical effects and is falsifiable (science’s fancy way of saying “provable for now until better evidence comes up”).

On “falsifiable” — I think the definition-for-the-layperson you give is a bit circular (“falsifiable” = “provable”) and that the “for now until better evidence comes up” part is not quite right. The Wikipedia entry on falsifiability is quite good, and clarifies that it refers to “the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment”.

This is important, because falsifiability is exactly what distinguishes scientific claims from nonscientific ones — including claims about the (non)existence of God, as the Wikipedia entry also touches on.

8. caseyww - October 22, 2008

(RE: Comment #6)

Good point. One of my goals with this post was to make the scientific thought process a bit less intimidating to those of us who may not spend all of our time thinking about these topics (admittedly I can become obsessed) and break down the vocabulary into more digestible terms. I think you’re right that on this point that my effort has actually insinuated ‘falsify’ means something it doesn’t.

What I was trying to get at is that once a thorough effort has been made to falsify a claim and the claim has not been disproven science usually makes the logical jump to operating as if the claim is proven. That is proven until new evidence is presented which can falsify the claim. In the future we’ll probably need to have a more detailed evaluation of the scientific method and the idea of falsifiability. For now I was trying to make a point that the ‘objective fact’ class of truth is as close as we can get to truth that is provable.

I can see where the confusion comes in with my statement and I’ll amend it.

Thanks for the feedback.

9. bear - October 22, 2008

So much to say…but I would like to pose a question to Sam from comment #3, When you say,

“All “moral truths” that we subscribe to are essentially are not based upon any testable truths. From a pure scientific (aka testable) approach, they are arbitrary. Read the Ten Commandments and find one that is based upon a testable truth.”

Then you go on to describe some of them along with reasons….I was wondering what type of truth, based on the ones set out by the post, that moral truth is based on? It seems like you are saying they are cultural truths? Do you, as a trained sociologist, allow room for any kind of “natural morality” or “natural law” in other words, the idea that we–mankind–share any kind of “knowing” for lack of a better word, or a sense of we should or should not. In other words, we steal for all kinds of reasons, yet we know that we should not–and certianly the majority fo people do not steal. We know that we should not murder (yet we still do). Do you understand what I am asking? I can see how you find these untestable, but I am wondering if in some sense they are testable across cultural boundaries? Does our sense of “good” eminate from something more universal–not specifically someone–but from something we all share, and then the way it is lived out is then colored by culture, relative situations etc.

Thanks if you respond. Casey, thanks for the great post.


10. Paul - October 22, 2008

“If humanity on our own invented the general moral ‘truths’ by which our societies are based upon (as I think you are implying) then, as far as I am concerned, there is no moral Truth, only human constructs for social control (no matter how well-meaning they may be).”

This statement sets up a false if-then argument. It implies, if there is no god, then there is no moral truths. This concept is patently false on many levels. Just, for a minute, pretend there is no god… does that all of a sudden make rape, murder, child abuse or slavery OK?

Also, do we need there to be a god to realize that being concerned for another’s well being is the most important part of what it means to be moral? Think of it this way: What is a greater moral statement:
A) helping others just because you have a genuine concern for their well-being or
B) help others because god said so, or that you will be rewarded for doing it

11. bear - October 22, 2008

Paul, I can’t resist when you lay out an A) and a B) like that, 🙂 I would say that in a Judeo-Christian value system, your “B)” isn’t a relavant choice–or to be fair–God saying so is not some much about getting a reward. It is a love issue, and this is a new post by itself. I really like the question though, and the idea of a greater moral statement? Wow! Anyway…I stick with my previous post as my central direction and look forward to a reply.

12. Paul - October 22, 2008

Because god loves you you should be kind?

13. Sam - October 22, 2008

(Casey, what is the textual code to add in the quoted blocks in wordpress? I hate it not being pretty.)


The idea of natural laws versus social laws is the core of what I was talking about. In fact I think you hit the nail perfectly on the head with your question:

“Does our sense of “good” emanate from something more universal–not specifically someone–but from something we all share, and then the way it is lived out is then colored by culture, relative situations etc.”

I agree with you that evidence suggests that there are universal truths that, generally, people share the same general set of moral values. However, this supposition is falsifiable. (Alright, time to go on a little jaunt..)

In ancient societies, women were not considered to be equal to men. They were considered to be property and were not afforded the same level of dignity as a man. There was no such thing as rape. If I, a hulking barbarian, went over and had my way with my neighbor’s daughter, then I would be punished by the tribal laws because I messed with his PROPERTY. I damaged the ‘goods.’ But the ‘crime’ that was committed was because I devalued property–not rape as we know it. Ancient people did not consider “Rape” to be a crime of itself, it was a crime of property.

Slavery falls into the same category, those who were enslaved were viewed by the ruling caste as being sub-human, and thus the moral rules did not apply. The sheltered folk who grew up in the upper society thought that slaves LIKED being slaves. They had to LEARN that slavery was bad through witnessing abuses and getting to know the slaves through personal connections, etc. This does not imply an innate moral sense.

Child abuse? Again, historically that is a very NEW concept. In Rome rich families used to send their boys to nobleman to be groomed for manhood. While under the care of these noblemen, the boys were freely used for sex (since sex between men was not considered to be infidelity.) Today we are morally horrified by the idea of sending our sons over to be molested by some rich socialite. Imagine a society where we all sent our kids to live with Michael Jackson! Back then–it was ideal.

I suppose you could argue that most of my examples are based on the dehumanization of other people–thus exempting them from the moral laws. But moral laws are not moral truths. The fact is that these people (at least the majority of the society) were taught to look at these activities as being normal and therefore “good” and they accepted the moral laws of the land.

To directly answer your question, yes, I do believe in natural laws and moral truths. But, as evidenced above, I do not believe that these natural laws are something innately human. Human laws are built on relativity and social control. Which leaves us with two options:

1. The laws are innate in the natural world (which, as I wrote earlier, I don’t think is founded); and

2. The laws are produced through a 3rd party. Christians would call the moral conscious the Holy Spirit. Call it whatever you want.

Paul said:

This concept is patently false on many levels. Just, for a minute, pretend there is no god… does that all of a sudden make rape, murder, child abuse or slavery OK?

My counter is:

Explain to me WHY they are wrong….

I can come up with numerous examples of why, on a logical level, they are wrong–all of them are based on social constructs of order and control. And likewise, I can give examples of societies that practiced all of these things in the past, and considered them to be ‘normal’ and ‘good.’ (Here is the falsifiablity again).

I think my principal issue is that I don’t see any way to qualify that human morality is based on a innate connection to or knowledge of a universal moral law (unless it is facilitated by a 3rd party). The power of acculturation is too powerful–at the very least we have no control group to use as a basis of analysis–hence we have to use historical/cultural scenarios like those above.

Anyhow: I submit that the morality is not innate UNLESS there is some 3rd party creating a reference point. If not, it’s all relative to the needs of the society/individual.

For a much better, and convoluted exposition of this concept I’d read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. The concept is central to how Christian Existentialists view the moral world. Just if you do, make sure you have a good bottle of bourbon or scotch on hand if you’re into that kinda thing.

14. Sam - October 22, 2008

Bah-I inserted the wrong quote there, this is Bear’s post I meant to quote at the beginning:

Do you, as a trained sociologist, allow room for any kind of “natural morality” or “natural law” in other words, the idea that we–mankind–share any kind of “knowing” for lack of a better word, or a sense of we should or should not. In other words, we steal for all kinds of reasons, yet we know that we should not–and certianly the majority fo people do not steal.

WTB edit post ability:)

15. Paul - October 22, 2008

To be honest, there is no solid answer as to where morality came from. There are some decent theories that our genes have something to do with the way we treat others around us and why we choose to do something good for humankind. Seems extremely plausible to me that for our species to have ever survived we have needed to work together. From there, you can easily see how this could be the building block for moral concern. In fact, there are accounts of chimpanzee’s (which share 99% of our DNA) dying to save another from drowning, they even get angry when the distribution of food is unfair.

At the end of the day, we do not have a definitive answer yet as to why most of our species are compelled in many instances to help others, but I do not see how a god becomes a sufficient answer to this dilemma. Because it then begs the question: Well, which god is it? There are 1,000s of gods throughout human history, so which one created it? Can we prove this anymore than morality is a direct result of natural selection/social creatures combined with the insane complexity of our minds?

No. And in fact, the evidence for a supernatural presence being responsible for morality is extremely suspect when you chart morality on a timeline.

Morality and what we view as good or bad has changed much throughout history as Sam stated before. If god created it, and god is all powerful and perfect, wouldn’t our moral intuitions have already been perfected the moment a human took a breath? What you actually see is a species that is struggling to understand right and wrong. We messed up bigtime thinking slavery could ever be acceptable. If god created morality why didn’t he create us to already have it? Why did we have 1,000s of years of barberism, rape, slavery, suppression of women and races before we could come to conclusions about morality? You see… this doesn’t follow logically for a god to have inserted it but it follows perfectly with the messy business of natural selection, combined with the struggles to understand.

To add to the problem of god… if you mean the Christian God then wouldn’t that mean the bible would be the best book on morality to ever exist? If you think it is, please explain how that is even remotely possible.

16. Paul - October 22, 2008

Sam, I’m interested in reading that… and the bourbon idea is spot on 😉

17. Karen DeArmond - October 22, 2008

You have peaked my interest, but alas it is late and I am exhausted. My comments will need to wait until Monday as I am off to spend 4 days in the hill country of Texas with 30 other women to get into the Presence of God who according to some does not exist. Would that fall under Untestable truth?

How would we test the existence of God? Something to think about while I am gone…who would like to participate with me? Someone who does not believe vs me who does. What would be the guidelines? What would be the evidence? Who would decide? How would we decide? What’s the point of truth if we can’t test it?

My brother-in-law, Casey’s dad thinks I need to be open to what everyone has to say. In truth I am. However enough for tonight.

Casey…time for mush….please give my love to Jess, enjoy your time with your parents next week. Loree and I enjoyed our birthday dinner. Noah, Justice and Riley had their first taste of Pasty.

18. Benjamin - October 23, 2008

Casey, a request: I posted a comment that included some html coded links, but the comment is nowhere to be found. When I tried posting it again, I received a message (possibly from a little red elf) that said “Double post detected. You already said that!” Still, it is not here. hm.

What’s the deal, yo? Can you enable html comments, or at least a preview thingy?


19. caseyww - October 23, 2008


Apparently I have a spam filter on wordpress that caught your comment for what reason I don’t know. Maybe it was the links?

Anyways, I’ve ‘despamed’ it and your comment is now shown above.

My response will be forthcoming.

20. Sam - October 23, 2008

Paul Said:

If god created morality why didn’t he create us to already have it? Why did we have 1,000s of years of barberism, rape, slavery, suppression of women and races before we could come to conclusions about morality? You see… this doesn’t follow logically for a god to have inserted it but it follows perfectly with the messy business of natural selection, combined with the struggles to understand.


First: my core contention is that Moral Truth cannot exist unless there is a 3rd party (AKA God) making the rules. If there is no god, all moral laws, rules, etc (as we have been discussing) are cultural constructs meant to control/increase social order, etc. And there is no evidence that any moral code is innate in human nature. It is acculturated. All moral rules and laws become relative to the societies that created it.

I also just had an interesting though. We think that all societies had some variation of our existing moral code. I think that that may just be because these basic moral laws (don’t murder, rape, steal, etc) are just prerequisites for social survival.

Anyhow-back on point. To answer (what I think) is the most important question you raised “You see… this doesn’t follow logically for a god to have inserted it but it follows perfectly with the messy business of natural selection, combined with the struggles to understand.”

For nearly every deity I have ever studied, this holds true–unless the God (Creator, whatever you want to call it) was intent on giving man free will to choose what to do on the Earth. I submit that no real, self-respecting, all-powerful God would create a world that simply knew his will and followed his will without question? Where is the meaning in that? Why would a God create such a thing?

Now this gets into another slew of questions that I have personally spent a lot of time on–looking at the world, science, human nature, and asking myself “what kind of God would do this?” and then comparing those traits with the different Gods that the world knows. This is, obviously, not the place for THAT discussion. I may have to wind up my own blog for that–though I believe that to require a level of self-discovery that may not translate into blog-talk very well.

And to close off this post I wanted to show you something that triggered in my memory when I read the last bit of your post:

“[I] applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.” (Ecclesiastes 1:13)

I believe the book of Ecclesiastes to be one of the most important moral/philosophical texts–secular or non–nearly every moral/philosophical debate has roots/is present in there. (One of my Agnostic literature professors taught me that in my Masters Program.) The verse expresses much of the same feeling of angst as your own.

I do, personally, believe that the Bible contains Moral Truth. That is not to say it is a guidebook of how to act–but the level of moral/self awareness that it presents, as an entire, organic unit, is unrivaled when studied.

21. paul - October 23, 2008


The bible is unrivaled in moral truths? This response is about the bible in its entirety, not about just the life of Jesus which many thoughtful christians can happily explain as one of extremely good moral values and I would find nothing to disagree with them on.

If we are to take the bible seriously, we are then to take its whole and not just the parts that we today all agree are extremely good moral intuitions (matthew 25 for example).

In the bible–and I suggest going back to books like leviticus, numbers, deutoronomy, even the works of Paul–you will see egregious laws that are beyond immoral. You will also read that (if you believe this as literal truth) god is ok with slaves, just make sure you don’t beat them too senslessly that you knock out their eyes or teeth. If they are of Jewish decent, you must let them go after 7 years of service. Wow… so God is ok with slavery, but is a bit more lenient on one race of people. This is only one of many examples.

To make the claim that it is unrivaled would mean that there isn’t a book or religion that has greater moral truths with less immoral truths being proposed in them. Unfortunately, the Bible as a whole, good and bad, is not a greater container of moral truths than say the works of Jainism. With only one statement of conduct, the Jains philosophy is codified as being much more moral indeed:
not to cause harm to any living beings

Now I’m not saying Jainism is true, or that Christianity is or isn’t true, what I’m trying to argue here is that the Bible is not the best book to pull all our moral intuitions out of. It does have some gems in it, but taken in its entirety it is not unrivaled, and in fact, the most interesting thing about the bible is how EVERY christian chooses with their own brains what to take with them as good moral intuitions and they choose to dissassociate or explain away some of the less than savory passages within.

Lets take the 10 commandments as an example:

The second most important moral truth for the the entirety of human kind is: Thou shalt not make graven images or idols to worship

Is this really that important in the grand scheme of morality? Could we not make the 10 commandments even greater by replacing this with: thou shalt not commit another human to slavery, or substitute in the first vow of Jainism? Clearly this is a greater moral issue because it deals directly with the well-being of humanity while decreasing suffering which is one of the most important aspects of morality to begin with. The graven images thing isn’t even a moral claim, it sounds more like God is a bit insecure, and needs to codify his dominance by forcing people to not make a “different god”.

Again, I’m not saying there isn’t anything worthy of our moral concern in the Bible, I’m just laying out the reality that in its entirety it is not the only book from which to derive good moral intuitions from, nor is it even the best.

22. Sam - October 23, 2008

I didn’t say that it was unrivaled as a moral guide or as an instructional document. I said it was unrivaled when studied. It doesn’t give us the answers, it helps give us an understanding of the character of God and the character of Man so that we can make our own conclusions.

Though I don’t want to go too far in hijacking the thread from it’s original focus, I will say this:

I do not believe that the God I believe in intends to control the world.

Controlling a Man’s heart and soul through external means does not work. Man will rationalize, cheat, steal and stretch around the moral Laws (This is a moral truth I learned in the Old Testament.) In short, we will jump through hoops endlessly doing works–but that does not mean our heart is in it. Actions have no moral value if they are only executed in response to preset rules.

Though yes, I agree that the whole of the bible includes some pretty messed up “moral laws” and standards. But that is not what the entirety of the Bible is about. (Again, I said that if you look at it as an “entire, organic unit.”) Quite the opposite actually. It’s just that the Old Testament is requisite to understanding the New.

And yes, I know this one could go on forever really. I understand your point and it has validity. I just believe God gave us our intellect so that we could delve into things, like the Bible, see the good, see the bad, and then make our own judgments. It is a concept Jesus promoted often with statements like “taste and see…” and “knock and the door will open.”

Okay–that was freaky my front door just knocked. Pizza’s here.

23. bear - October 23, 2008

Dear Paul and Sam, I have to commend you both–and since I don’t know you, this is a big step for me. My greatest hope at the moment is that others will join in and not derail or rabbit trail (tetrameter sneaking in). Sam, did your door actually knock?

Seriously though–because I had a busy day I missed out on 13 comments, but I do want to reflect on thoughts of barbarism and slavery, and child abuse, and women as property. One) In all those cultures there was an equal or greater amount of exaltation for women and children (not slaves) with regard to woship and perceived gender roles. Two) Even though these things occurred, I tend to think that this is more cultural evidence than anything else. Is it possible that they (barabrians et. al.) knew that they were doing wrong, yet were culturally bound or something like that to still act that way? I have to go teach, and I have more to say about this, but I suppose you could apply any modern-day example of me or you doing something we don’t neccasarily think we should.

24. caseyww - October 23, 2008

(RE: Comment #2)

You’ve misunderstood the importance of the “Untestable Truth” category. This class is not things that are true they are instead opportunities for belief. They are claims one could make and possibly believe. Perhaps I should have relabeled this group “Untestable Propositions” to be more clear. My purpose for including this class is to show that there is a distinct difference between the kind of evidence that should be expected for objective facts vs the type truths for which evidence does not exist at all.

My examples were intentionally a mix of absurd and possible. It is certainly not absurd to claim and believe that there were 34 red striped dinosaurs. But this is a matter of belief not evidence.

On the other side. My example of flying red elves is absurd and I’m not saying they are true. But they can’t be refuted with direct evidence. We can’t prove they don’t exist because by definition their existence is not a falsifiable claim. My point is that it is reasonable to believe they don’t exist based on Occam’s Razor. And in the future I’d like to apply this method of reasoning to similarly absurd but more widely held beliefs.

25. caseyww - October 23, 2008

(RE: Comment #3)

You asserted:

Frankly, you’re being a slightly silly idiot here. Your question(s), and its cute red rabbit trail children, are based on too many assumptions concerning ‘adequate’ answers. Despite elementary school teachers, there is such a thing as a stupid question. (”How is the moon made of swiss cheese?”) In fact, I’m confidently skeptical of your skepticism. Categorical constructs for knowledge? C’mon!! Using a construct to build a foundation for a construct? I call ‘bullshit’, or in your words, MUSH! Be a real skeptic and use some logical reasoning. (Isn’t that silly?)

Well, that’s quite the challenge. Three ideas for you here:

First, the level of discourse at which I’m choosing to conduct this conversation is intentional. My hope for this blog is that it would be accessible to both those who have taken “college philosophy” and also those who are completely new to the concepts of logic, skepticism and evidence. We all have benefited from those who are willing popularize difficult ideas in their areas of expertise without alienating people (Carl Sagan comes to mind for example).

As such I think these concepts are best talked about as simply as possible. Often the trappings of vocabulary get in the way of honest ideas. I am well aware of logical fallacies (however, thanks for the links) and would love to jump directly into the fallacy of ad hoc ergo proper hoc with everyone here. However, I think this would do more to turn off those who are new to the idea than to simply find an example where “happening after doesn’t mean happening because of” and talk about the idea simply and directly.

Second, I certainly don’t want to sacrifice academic honesty by oversimplifying logic. So if you have a specific logical mistake you think I’ve made than let’s talk about that. I don’t think simply recognizing that the criteria for adequate evidence for a belief might change depending on the type of belief in question is to far fetched.

Third, I really enjoyed the links you sent. Especially the “Something about Mary” thought experiment. If you like my example or not, the red example I used was off the top of my head and this link is definitely relevant. I had never heard of this so thanks. I would certainly recommend everyone check it out.

26. caseyww - October 23, 2008

(RE: Comment #13)

I can’t write the html code for blockquotes here because then you’ll just see the blockquote and not the code. Here’s a link to a web site with some simple html code.

27. jordan - October 24, 2008

just a question, how many differeent classes of truth are going to be put out? Casey, you made a note that some commented on the validity of your decision to marry your wife. This was the shortest part of your post and I believe(scary word for this blog) that you summed up the question that you had originally asked about adequate evidence. “Belief” or “Faith” cannot be proven or repeated or scientifically disected. It’s based on your experiences that lead you to believe that something is true to you.

If I may throw a question of logical application out for all you Gurus. Lightning, does it exist? Simple answer, yes. I don’t think there is any arguement there. Although there is a scientific theory as to how or why it happens this is an act of nature that can be simulated but not replicated or repeated in exactness. What type of truth is lightning? Is it even a truth or is it simply up to an individual what actuallyl causes the lightning since science can only speculate and cannot prove how it works? This is interesting because I think that some people here on this blog are trying to sound smart and use their college degrees in ways they were never meant to be used. This is a discussion about what constitutes adequate evidence for a belief. A belief by it’s nature requires no evidence or proof. So why all the long winded debate about red and tiny elves? You are attempting to apply social and scientific rules to the heart. The heart is where belief takes place. It is impossibe to label the operation of the heart and what takes place when a belief is formed.

28. Sam - October 24, 2008


I will smile through the insult and respond with a few questions:

So is it your contention that our beliefs are generated completely independently of our conscious minds? [i]That[/i] is absurd. First, we [i]choose[/i] what we believe in. We all (in this blog) have reasons behind why we have chosen to have faith in whatever it is we have faith in, be it God, or Science, or Magical Red elves.

Our beliefs DO require a leap of faith–we choose to ignore a void of evidence, or an inexplicable step of logical processes to believe in something that is not readily apparent or provable.

But to suggest that social pressures and scientific reasoning have nothing to do with how someone arrives at, and chooses what to believe and why doesn’t sound right to me.

If scientific reasoning and cultural knowledge have nothing to do with beliefs, then I may simply generate a spontaneous belief that lightning is what happens when invisible Red Elves pass gas (I’m picturing the bean scene from Blazing Saddles…”I’d say you’ve had enough!.. So true Slim Pickins. So true. )

However, this is not how people generate their beliefs. I think anyone with a basic knowledge of what lightning is (based upon cultural and scientific thought) would suggest that lightning is a discharge of a large electrostatic charge that builds up
on clouds near the surface of the earth during atmospheric disturbances such a thunderstorms. Or something similar.

People’s belief of what lightning is, is based upon our general scientific understanding, we then take a leap of faith to make our final conclusion of what causes it, since the scientific knowledge is not absolute.

Similarly we base our moral and religious beliefs upon our culturally and scientifically driven understanding of the world. Evidence and truth are relevant.

29. Bill Whitsett - October 24, 2008

This place is addicting…Why? because it is hard to walk away from “intelligent conversation and thought provoking questions”?…couple that with the fact that it is forcing me to roter-rooter my own gut to face some of these belief’s (or lack of them) and consider the opinions of others.
Great Post #28 Sam! Not only in content but in tone.
Your reply back to me in Post #24 Casey…”untestable propositions” makes much more sense to me…A “proposition” is a far cry though away from a “truth”.
Some comments on “absurd” throughout the dialogue made me ponder for sure, and I found myself going back to my mental drawing board and wrestling again with it.
True….that the absurd can also be “truth”. Yes, a man can in fact stick 7 regulation ping-pong balls in his mouth. Absurd as it may be, it is also factual and true. However, an elephant cannot nor will it ever be able to dance on the tip of a needle, and to make that statement takes “absurdity” to a different level where “truth” cannot exist. One comment Post #6 by Sam said “without the Absurd how can any “truth” exist”…(?) In an earlier blog#2 statement somebody said “Truth is a Tree”, I found that simple statement quite profound…but now a question for Sam…”Why would the tree then become absurd?”
How I have fed on the postings surrounding the questions of “morality” and its beginnings…rather or not it takes a God to infuse such into us, or without the presence of a God at all, or perhaps one who just doesnt interplay with us, rather or not we would be prone to moral behavior. Loved the questioning of the 2nd Commandment of Moses being perhaps not as sensible as one in which slavery would have been addressed. Yea, it does make you wonder? man-made for the times, or God given for the ages?
I too find great wisom and comfort in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Going now to dig into Occams Razor…
This fence between my legs is causing a nasty rash though.

30. Paul - October 24, 2008


I’ll leave it at this for today. Though i disagree with your conclusions I totally respect your reasoning and can see how someone could hold the views you do.

If you are ever in Sacramento, we should grab a beer and talk haha.

31. Sam - October 24, 2008

Same here Paul (and actually, I grew up in Sacramento/Elk Grove. Right now I’m just an out of work writer stuck in Texas.. stupid economy…)

And I don’t ‘necessarily’ believe that what I argue is fact, I just thrive on the concept of constantly reevaluating our understanding of our world and ourselves. I don’t want to get too wordy here on someone else’s blog, but to quote my man T.S. Eliot from Four Quartets (another piece with deep roots in Ecclesiastes):

For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

32. Michelle Wilson - October 24, 2008

I suppose that my faith would fall under experiential truth here. But honestly, I don’t even think about adequate evidence when I think about my faith most of the time. To me it is a response of gratitude not so much a logical puzzle.

Long before I ever met you Casey, I was someone completely different than I am now. You know this already, but I will tell it again in a level of detail I would not share on a Sunday morning. I was so completely unable to relate to people that I spent my high school lunch periods hiding in the library alone. That was on the good days. On the bad days I hid in the bathroom so no one would see me crying. In my college years people who didn’t know me described me as ‘the girl with the haunted look.’ People who did know me were perpetually wary b/c I had spontaneous violent episodes of screaming, beating my head against the wall, hitting anyone who came near me and throwing and breaking glass objects against the wall over my bed. Other times, I disappeared inside my head and would answer no one but curl up in a ball and rock back and forth or cut myself repeatedly with razor blades and sit and stare at the blood as it ran out. Occasionally I burned or bruised myself as well. Numerous drugs were tried to treat what doctors described as chronic depression and post traumatic stress disorder – anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anxiolytics . . . Nothing worked. Eventually I quit eating or otherwise caring for myself and had to be put in a mental hospital. I went to Coast one night just after I was released for a trial period and heard that Jesus forgives people for their sins and gives them new lives. I did not believe it could be true but had nothing to lose so I asked him if he was real if he would do that for me. I felt as if someone had painted the colors into my universe for the first time or had let me out of a dark and isolated prison cell inside my brain that I had previously lived in. I never felt truly alone again. I never repeated those behaviors. Everything changed, and I found myself bewildered by this new presence in my life and in my mind. I did not ask myself “Do I have adequate reason to believe Jesus is real?” I just responded the only way I could to someone who had saved my life. I feel like the blind man who was asked about who Jesus was and said he knew only one thing – that he was blind and now he could see. He followed Jesus because Jesus had done such a wonderful thing for him and that was all. I have no choice but to give everything I can back to him.

In terms of actual evidence for God working, Jamie (my husband for those who don’t know him) had a terrible back injury with multiple damaged disks, one of which had ruptured such that the fluid had shot out into his spinal column. He was in so much pain that he was unable to lift our new baby son out of his crib or even to hold the baby unless the bady was asleep because it hurt him when the baby moved in his arms. He spent most of his day flat on his back in bed. He was scheduled for surgery to remove the damaged disks the next month. He was prayed for and instantly healed. The pain left completely and never came back. He regained all feeling and control and was able to do everything he was able to do before the accident. Bill may choose to believe that this did not happen ‘the way it was perceived to happen’ but I have the before and after x-rays to prove it. I think that is adequate evidence for a miracle. Though the source of the miracle is something a skeptic might still choose to debate.

33. Nancy O. - October 25, 2008

Re: Comment #32

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your amazing testimony, which is evidence of the powerful existence of our living God.

I wonder if anyone who might be skeptical will ask to see your husband’s back x-rays and corresponding medical reports and if this would be sufficient evidence to any that God does heal in modern day times, just as He did centuries ago.

Will you include the radiologist’s summaries (end of reports) of the before and after x-ray reports on this site? I think it would be incredible if you will share that evidence of truth!

34. Nancy O. - October 25, 2008

Bill gave reasons why he did not believe my testimonry that “Happy” was healed, such as lighting, etc.

I am interested in this question being explored:

What supports the reasoning that God could not and does not have the power to heal?

It is easy to say He just doesn’t but where is the proof that He doesn’t?

What is the truth and where to we find it?

35. bear - October 25, 2008

Since my questions were ignored–poor me…..actually I don’t care, I would like it if the bloggers in this thread would be willing to engage Michelle on her story. I relaize these are dangerous waters to swim in because it is a very personal story–but I see an oppurtunity here to answer Nancy’s question especially in comment # 33 asa guide to responding to what Michelle wrote and how it relates to levels of evidence as to what really happened in the story.

Just a suggestion because this is the heart of so many matters.

36. Nancy O. - October 25, 2008

Dear Bear,

I love your name!

37. bear - October 25, 2008

p.s. sorry for miss-pellings and such

38. Nancy O. - October 26, 2008


even tho yu miss-spelled we still undorstood

39. Sam - October 26, 2008

Sorry for skipping back a ways, I haven’t gotten to the new comments but I know how frustrating it is to have your comments ignored:

Bear, I apologize for skipping your question. I was thinking about it and answers to others popped into my head more readily

First: yes, my door did knock right then, supreme pizza.

Second: Regarding your question of of if it is possible that cultures in the past that committed what we would consider amoral acts knew that those acts were amoral, and did them because they were cultural bound to do so, etc.

That’s an interesting and unanswerable question (which is why I did not address it immediately). For certain, that is possible. We have no way of being able to know. However, my only thought counter to this is that cultural rules require at least some degree of social consent. In every instance some people were responsible for these amoral social norms, and every person in society is responsible for accepting them, or at least allowing them to proceed.

Regarding your modern day example: every example I can think of, where I would be placed in a position to do something that I consider amoral–I can think of WHY I believe that that act is immoral. If I can explain why something is amoral, then I cannot disprove that it is a learned/acculturated behavior. It isn’t falsifiable, though it isn’t strictly provable.

We’re stuck with a cycle where neither side can be disproved I think. But I tend to side with the cultural promotion of right and wrong, rather than an inward conscience–with the single exception of the urging of the Holy Spirit–which is not said to be innate–man has to accept it, so the idea doesn’t apply across the board.

40. Bill Whitsett - October 26, 2008

Well…quite an interesting place. We have people who will testify to the “miracles” of healings and life transformations, and attest to these as proof positive that God does exist. And, not only does He exist, he is interactive with us in our request and petitions. X-rays to prove it. Yes, quite an interesting place. Please do not overlay what I have just wrote with a tone of sarcasm, there is none to be found. I instead sit and ponder it all very seriously. Yes…I remain skeptical. Why, even with x-rays you might ask? Well..for every person who will come here and attest to a “miracle” of healing, of life transformation…there are people who believe in God/Christ by the thousands who remain crippled. There are God fearing children dying today in cancer wards across the world (and I have yet to see the Evangelical Healer enter such a ward). Rich Mullins died thrown from a jeep and hit by a truck (for those of you unfamiliar with R. Mullins famous songwriter responsible for “Our God is an Awesome God). Personal friend transformed by the power of God, swore he was saved and delivered from drugs and alcohol, we all testified to it for months…today years later, he sits in prison convicted of molesting his children. My point being…for every point, there is an equal counter-point. Today the mind is clear, can you tell me it will be years from now. Today the back is mended, can you tell me your ankles will not be broken in the future. You will say, easier to go through it with Him than without Him…
Today the sky was blue and a soft wind blew, even in my skeptisism.
Today my body whole, no afflctions or pains, even in my skeptisism.
Had bills to pay, and put on hold, will probably be the same next week…even in my skeptisism.
Was smiled over and loved today…even in my skeptisism.
Have faced the death of those I loved, ponder now where they went, and grinned over thoughts and hopes, memories…even in my skeptisism.
Truth and Evidence…People who believe in God die and are injured and hurt, and “most” are not healed “miraculously”. Healed by time, yes, healed by medicine, yes. (Your response, “all healing comes from God”?) People who do not believe in God die, and are hurt/injured and are not healed “miraculously”, healed by time, yes, healed by medicine, yes. What is wrong with that whole premise that makes it seem invalid…
The rebuttal to all of this will of course be the infusion of “evil” and “sin” into the world…and all bad things will then be invalidated as to allow God off of the proverbial hook? or…perhaps the most “open minded” might allow themselves to say…”I dont know why all God fearing people are not healed and delivered, I dont have the mind of God”….in the saying “I dont know?”, have you crossed over into skeptisism?
Post#35…bear asked one of us to engage Michelle on her testimony…(hmmm? why wouldnt bear do it?) I hope I have done so in a way that will tell you…I would rather have Michelle where she is today, than where she was. I am glad her husband walks healthy.

41. Nancy O. - October 26, 2008

Our pastor is a college Professor and his message today was awesome. He talked about how on his college campus, students try to intellectualize the existence or non-existence of God. One student teased the Professor about having faith and believing in God without evidence of His existence. He proudly proclaimed to be an Athiest who does not believe in or have faith in God. The Professor responded by telling him that the student is the same as he is but on the opposite side of the coin; the student does not have faith or believe in God but the student cannot prove that God does not exist. From my standpoint, the student believes in HIS truth, while the Professor believes in THE truth.

Bill – you “choose” not to believe that God heals because He isn’t healing everyone in the world, only some? Because a man disappointed you by claiming God changed his life and then that same man chose to sin by molesting a child later on in his life – does the failure of that man color your personal belief in God? God gave each of us a free Will and this man chose to commit terrible sin but that does not negate the fact of what God did for him earlier in his life does it?

Do you believe that God has the POWER to heal or not? If not, why not?

One other thing the pastor talked about today that was hilarious but true. The subject was evolution. He said, and I fully believe, that evolution is not truth. It is not fact. It is a philosophy. It has never been and never will be demonstrated as fact. Evolutionist tell us that everything we see today, including plant, animal, and human life came about by some organic virus that developed into a strange manner to bring about life.

He read this poem:

Once I was a tadpole
Beginning to begin
Then I became a frog
With my tail tucked in
Then I was a monkey
On a banyan tree
And now I am a Proffessor
With a Ph.D

A tadpole, a slimy toad, a
monkey, and then a man
All glory be to nothing
For the planless plan

42. Paul - October 26, 2008

Nancy O.,

A couple of questions;

1) do you believe that there is probably gravity?
2) Do you believe that there probably are atoms made of protons and electrons that are the building blocks of matter?

If you answered yes to these claims then you need to also answer yes to “evolution is most probably true” because there is MORE evidence, and just as many scientists from around the globe are in unison over this issue as those other two points I’ve raised.

Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to look objectively at the evidence of the physical world if it conflicts with a deeply held belief that we already have. None of us are immune to this type of cognitive dissonance, but I only ask yourself to pause on this issue and try and give evidence that the entire scientific community is wrong on the issue of evolution.

43. Nancy O. - October 26, 2008


The “entire” scientific community is not in unison regarding the theory of evolution. There are brilliant scientists who have studied evolution and conclude otherwise, in fact, there are brilliant scientist who studied evolution and conclude that God must be the Creator of life. There are, of course, as many brilliant people who believe “evolution is most probably true” but the key word is “probably”, which differs from “factual”.

Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to look objectively at the evidence of the spiritual world if it conflicts with a deeply held belief that we already have based on our decision to believe intellect of some and not others.

My belief in God is based on personal experience with Him. There isn’t anything I can do or say so that you or anyone else would believe me but I do wonder if you’ve paused and thought about the possiblity that what I have shared can possibly be truth and there truly is a God who created us.

When I look at the entirity of the universe; not only human, plant, and animal life – but beyond – at the galaxy and the timing and unison of how everything works together so perfectly – I cannot believe it all came into existence on its own somehow.

44. Bill Whitsett - October 26, 2008

Nancy O.
The “entire” realm of theology and Church denominations are not in unison on the issue of rather God still manifest Himself in miracles today such as “healings?” In fact some very, very mainline denominations would say “bah humbug!”….that would be my answer to your 1st sentence in Post#43.

I believe you aimed a question directly at me in Post #41…”Do I believe that God has the POWER to heal?”. I will answer to the best of my skeptical ability. Once we have established that there is a God…one God. And that He is as portrayed in the Bible in the Western Christian mind-set. (And I think I am a very long way from arriving at that as “factual”)…then, “yes”…if He created the Heavens and the Earth and all that is within, then it would only follow suit that He could of course have the “POWER” to mend and heal. But…Nancy, a very slippery slope then must be thought of…”Why would He pick and choose, and dole out those healings so in-frequently to those whom He loves so abundantly”?
Last sentence in your 1st para..Post #41. From my standpoint, the student believes in HIS truth, while the Professor believes in THE truth. Nancy…couldnt from anybody elses standpoint that thought be turned around. The student believes in THE truth, while the Professor believes in HIS truth?
On the issue of Evolution….some thoughts. Richard Dawkins has a great book out called “The Blind Watchmaker” it has been reffered to here in this blog by others. It can be gotten at any public library. Just the “preface” of the book alone is worth the read. Its cover has this statement “Why the evidence of Evolution reveals a Universe without Design”! It does not say…”Why the theory, or probability or philosophy of Evolution…it says “evidence”! How can you argue your point if you dont know where the other side is coming from. If you are going to argue for the Prosecution side in any court of law, you better know what the Defense side will throw at you. I have read the story of Creation in Genesis…I know of what I speak. Your last paragraph in Post #43 is thoroughly examined in just the preface of the Dawkins book.
Here then a thought that occurs to me…why cant God and Evolution co-exist? Not looking for an answer from anybody, it was asked as I pondered.

45. Michelle Wilson - October 26, 2008

Wanted to add a clarification just to make sure I’m understood. My two stories were not meant to be proof that God exists. My story was simply an explanation of my faith being driven primarily by relationship rather than primarily by evaluation of collected evidence. (Sort of like when Casey talked about his marriage. He wasn’t asking, “Do I have adequate evidence to believe Jess exists?” He was choosing to commit to a relationship with someone who had shown love to him.)

Jamie’s story I intended to present as adequate evidence for the occurrence of a miracle. I believe that the images I have in my possession prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jamie’s disks were ruptured and now are not. (In response to the request for doctors’ notes, Jamie was told in my hearing that he would never run or participate in sports again. He had regularly lost feeling in and sometimes control of his legs for brief periods of time since his accident and was given an MRI which showed the damaged disks. The doctor’s notes are unexciting, simply listing the disks damaged. When he was healed, he did not return for further treatment at that time. A few years later, he sustained a minor neck injury from a car accident and had his whole back x-rayed. The doctor’s note reads simply, “All disks intact.”)

It is true that I have prayed for many more people who did not get healed than people who did. But the question of why everyone is not healed is not the same as the question of whether God heals at all. Even knowing how many people are not healed, we still have the healings that have happened to explain. We are still left with the question of what did happen to Jamie and must wonder if there is a better explanation than that God answered those prayers.

Some notes on evolution. It’s important to remember that when Darwin came up with that theory, his stated purpose was to come up with a way all this could have happened without God. He was not entertaining the question of God or no God. He was looking for a no God possibility. This doesn’t make him wrong. It’s just worth noting that certain aspects of evolutionary theory are also based on pre-existing assumptions. In a sense, evolution is just as faith based as creation.

Also, just because a model seems to be mostly working doesn’t mean it is based on a true understanding of facts. When I was in high school I did not pay attention in class (almost ever). When adding vectors appeared on a test, I just made up a system which made sense to me. My answers were often so close that my TA did not catch on for some time to my faulty formula. What I was doing was working reasonably well some of the time but was still wrong. With evolutionary theory (I assume we’re all on the same page in that we’re only talking about macro-evolution on a grand scale here. We can actually watch micro-evolution happen.) we’re making up an explanation for things which occurred long long ago. We then judge that theory upon whether evidence continues to align with it. We can never prove it is true. We gain confidence in it instead as we continue to see evidence which does not disprove it.

So far much of evolutionary theory still doesn’t add up. No matter how old the earth is, there still doesn’t end up being enough time for mutations to happen, be viable, not produce sterility, and be beneficial enough to produce enough more offspring to change the population at large. By the way, I am not trying to refute evolution here. Just noting that it has its own set of complications. People often talk about science as proving evolution when we would be better to talk about evolution as a fascinating theory with much to commend it.

46. Nancy O. - October 26, 2008


I cannot explain with words how God’s presence in my being left no doubt or question of His existence but I know that even the greatest skeptic would fall at His feet and without question proclaim that Jesus Christ is real if they were blessed with His touch as I was.

I want God to reveal Himself to you in this way and I hope He does for your sake and for the sake of the generations that you you might influence in relation to what you believe and/or doubt about Him.

Once a person knows that God is real and they experience His power, there leaves no doubt whatsoever that in fact He is God and He is a God of mercy, and grace, and there leaves no doubt about the fact that we are His creation.

What it comes down to regarding evolution vs creatism is who we put our trust in to believe because none of us are smart enough to figure these things out on our own. For the most part – it seems like people are trying to figure out who in this world to believe.

I believe in God because He has given me proof of His existence. He made it simple for me.

47. Paul - October 26, 2008

Michelle Wilson,

Your statement about Darwin is actually wrong. He actually was not intending on disproving the existence of god, nor the idea of an intelligent designer. In fact, in his earlier writings you can actually see the influence William Paley had on him and many other scientists and great thinkers–they all thought there was some intelligence at hand in this. It was after his discoveries on the galapegos islands that he posited the theories of natural selection and evolution.

In regards to Nancy’s statement,
There is no scientific theory that has full consensus over all people who study science… but the theory of gravity, atoms and evolution have such an overwhelming amount of support from the majority of the scientific body (well over 90% of all scientists). Also, these other scientists that try to “disprove” evolution never seem to publish their works in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The reason? Because their evidence, or lack thereof, always gets decimated by the mountains of evidence for evolution.

I ask you, name one scientist that has published a rebuttal to evolution that has been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal such as Nature, or other life science journals. You won’t find any, but you will find a few people that are scientists not acting like scientists writing papers/editorials in newspapers or other publications.

Also, what do you say to those people around the globe that have had similar transcendant experiences… be it someone getting healed or some other experience they felt as spiritual but they were praying to Allah, or Vishnu, or the Buddha.

48. Nancy O. - October 26, 2008


Your thoughts and questions certainly are compelling and thought-provoking and I must be honest with you and admit I do not readily have answers to your questions; however, I will try to find them and get back with you 🙂

49. bear - October 26, 2008

Sometimes I have to wonder why exactly we look at evolution and we pit it against God. I don’t think it is meant to be, nor do I think it is neccasarily God’s method so to speak. We should all read Origin of the Species to perhaps get a flavor of this concept. Evolution is an awesome (in the large and awe-filled definition) and it often works its way into helping understand who god might be. Maybe if we looked at it for what it is, and not for what it seems to symbolize…


50. Michelle Wilson - October 27, 2008


I did not say Darwin was trying to disprove creation. I said he was looking for an alternate explanation. I’m not sure which of us is right since we both seem to think we know what we’re talking about. I’ll have to do some homework and get back to you with either evidence or a retraction.

Theory however is still theory and it is important to distinguish it from science which can tested. To be incredibly trite, remember how little respect there was once was for the idea that the world was round. Respect of a certain community is one of the things we take into consideration when we decide if we think something is true. But it is not definitive.

This is not a narrow minded slam on evolution, simply a skeptic’s reminder that not all things are known. I am not criticizing the theory. I’m just reminding us that it is an incomplete attempt to connect the dots in a reasonable way by people with their own set of biases like everyone else.

I would have to agree with Bear that we don’t need to pit these things against each other as if all aspects are mutually exclusive. However, if we take evolutionary theory as definitive and bend our beliefs about God around until they fit, we have a lot more faith in people than in God.

Ack. I have to go and still haven’t come up with right words to explain my respect and skepticism for evolutionary theory and how it relates to faith. Oh well, if I botched this, someone will surely point it out and I can explain better next time.

One last thing, the one difference I think is genuinely important between evolution and creation is intentionality . . .

51. casey - October 27, 2008

(RE: Comment #…well a lot of the recent comments)

I want to jump in here with a small point of moderation. I apologize that I’ve been absent for the past couple of days simmering over the next blog post.

First, I’m really excited to see that the conversation has gravitated towards evolution. This is certainly one of my favorite subjects and one that I plan to revisit soon with some extended posts. That being said, there are a few misconceptions being thrown out here that I have to correct even though I don’t want to get into a full blown discussion at this time.

Number 1 is the word theory. Without delving to far into the topic (mostly because I plan to in the future) the word theory in its scientific usage does not denote a lack of confidence nor does it refer to whether something is factual or not. Scientific Theory refers to any overarching theme that best explains evidence. Other theories include the Germ Theory of Disease or as Paul has pointed out the Theory of Gravity. Just because theory is included in the title doesn’t mean that there is any doubt whatsoever that germs cause disease.

Number 2 is the idea of scientific consensus. I addressed this topic in my post. Evolution (mini-, micro-, macro-, whatever) is not a disputed occurrence in reputable scientific circles. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that validates the truth of evolution. If anyone here would like to challenge them you are more than welcome. However, we had better have iron-clad evidence instead of cute pastoral poems and vague beliefs. Let me say, like any healthy scientific debate there is ongoing discussion about the specific details of evolution, however, there is zero debate over whether evolution is the soul cause for the diversity of life we observe around us today.

Number 3. Darwin’s genius was in recognizing that natural selection alone was a powerful enough force to modify physical characteristics of species. So powerful, in fact, that if two groups of the same species were separated long enough that they would diverge into separate species. While Darwin’s character and spiritual journey is certainly interesting it in no way influences whether his premise of natural selection was correct or not. 150 years of evidence has supported time and again that he was in fact correct. I would advise against getting into an argument that seeks to either validate or refute evolution on the terms of Darwin’s character. At the end of the day Darwin himself just doesn’t matter that much. If he hadn’t written on natural selection than there were other scientist right on his heels that would have.

52. casey - October 27, 2008

(RE: Comment #…well a lot of the recent comments)

Second point of moderation: I would like to react to Bear’s call for us to comment on Michelle’s testimony post.

Fist, Michelle, thanks for sharing. You’re epitomizing the kind of vulnerability that I had hoped for from this blog so thanks for putting yourself out there.

Personal testimony and experience is just that, it’s personal. In my experience with open doubt the conversation almost always ends up here which is tenuous because there is so much room to offend each other by questioning some of the most important moments in someone’s life. I want to invite us to be skeptical while still treading lightly. Whether I agree that Michelle’s experience (or Nancy’s, or anyone else who would like to share a testimony) is sufficient evidence for belief in the supernatural or not I certainly don’t discount that these moments were impactful, important and even transformational.

That being said, I do think testimonies are great opportunities to stretch our skeptical legs. In the post I proposed in my humble estimation that there are 4 classes of Truth (or Propositions):
1. Objective Facts
2. Subjective Experience
3. Cultural Truths
4. Untestable Propostions

The testimonies shared have lots of different claims that fit separately in the classes I’ve proposed. They each present us with unique opportunities to adopt the person’s claim into our concept of truth.

For example, I would class Michelle’s claim that she experienced a personality transformation by attending a church service in Class #2. We can’t prove it but there is probably adequate evidence (reports of her friends and family or even physical scars left from her previous bouts with depression) to affirm that this claim is true. However, I would class her claim that this transformation was caused of an all powerful loving God in Class #4.

Similarly, Michelle’s claim that her husband was healed of a serious back injury would span two classes. First, there is a specific testable physical claim being made that falls securely in Class #1. However, the claim that this healing was a miracle caused by the same all powerful loving God fits in Class #4.

These are just examples. What do you guy’s think? Am I classing the claims correctly? If so then what evidence should we expect to deem these claims true? I think I may need to put this on the list of topics to return to in a future post so don’t feel like we need to close the door on the issue here in the comments section.

Before I finish, I’d like to hearken back to the On Skepticism post. I think it is vital that we do not lower the standard for what constitutes adequate evidence just because a belief is already accepted. That is, those of us primed to believe in miracles are naturally going to require less evidence than those who are not. This is really why I wanted to explore what “is” adequate evidence before we started questioning specific beliefs. Thoroughly vetting this issue and agreeing on the evidence needed to validate specific classes of truth is necessary to having a productive conversation where we are not just talking at each other.

53. Paul - October 27, 2008

I would add casey, that an untestible proposition is not a truth… it is just an untestible statement or phenomenon. What makes one choose to believe these falls mostly in the subjective experience category. I guess I feel that the #4 column is sorta redundant, and therefore unnecessary for the discussion because #2 really does encompass #4.

54. Michelle Wilson - October 27, 2008

I’m going to have to continue to disagree with you Casey on evolution. It is different from gravity in that we cannot watch it in action. We can watch small physical characteristics change in some small capacity like size, but we cannot watch something new appear on the scene (or at least have not yet). Gravity is something we see occurring. The fossil record is like the effects of gravity that we observe. It is observable fact. Our interpretation of the history that caused that record can never be proven fact even if the host of this blog says it is.

Here is an interesting thought on evolution. It is curious to me that as people who for the most part believe in evolution we readily accept that people have all sorts of distinctive physical characteristics but most of us are vehemently committed to the idea that one group of people is in no way mentally superior to any other group. This makes no sense. If evolution is true and no God is involved why would some groups of people not be smarter than others? As a matter of fact, this would be exactly what we should expect. And yet would be a great offense to our society to forward the idea of a mentally superior race. We all (or almost all and have not always) recognize this as a violation of some core aspect of justice and yet science gives us no basis for this dogma. Our belief that all people are created equal can only be based on the existence of a just creator God.

55. caseyww - October 27, 2008


I agree on one point here and disagree on the other.

You’re right that an untestable proposition is not necessarily a truth. It’s an opportunity for truth. But then again all the classes of ‘truth’ I’m proposing are really just different types of propositions which require different kinds of evidence. I know some of the vocabulary I used in the post may make this distinction a bit muddy, but that’s part of the learning process for me (that is, clarity in writing). I think the muddy part here is mistaking subjective experience as a proposition vs. subjective experience as evidence.

I labeled Subjective Experience as a class of propositions (or chances for truth) in which case I disagree that Class #2 and Class #4 are really the same.

Class #2 – For “Subjective Experience Propostions” there is a required level evidence for belief even if the truth of the situation is not concrete. The existence of the color red as a human experience is a certain type of proposition for which evidence is necessary but for which we should not expect ultimate proof. That is, even though it is a subjective experience we should still be requiring evidence before investing in belief. I think marriage is another prime example. I can’t “prove” that my wife loves me but there is still reasonable evidence to support my belief that she does. Without this evidence I certainly should not be investing in the belief that she loves me.

Class #4 – Untestable Propositions are defined as propositions for which there is no (or can be no) evidence. This, however, does not discount the possibility of truth.

For a “non-absurd” example, the question: “What was the mass of the largest asteroid to impact the moon in the year 1656?” has a true answer. The problem is that there is no evidence to pin down the exact truth. The best we can do is make an educated guess based on asteroid sizes we do know and possibly put an upper and lower bound on the answer (ie. the asteroid was not bigger than the moon itself), but the most honest tack here is probably calling this a mystery.

At the end of the day I don’t think the personal experience as evidence really serves us well for determining any class of truth. However, I do have to concede that if it belongs as viable evidence for any of the classes above than Class #4 is it.


56. Paul - October 27, 2008

Michelle you said these statements:

“…vehemently committed to the idea that one group of people is in no way mentally superior to any other group”

“why would some groups of people not be smarter than others? As a matter of fact, this would be exactly what we should expect. ”

1) we are all a part of the SAME species… ergo, there are people who are black, white, yellow or green who have the capacity for extreme intelligence… no one race has an edge on this. Try to think of a race of dolphins swimming faster than other dolphins. There is no such thing, because those dolphins do not exist because dolphins already have a set capacity inherit in their genes for their species to swim within a certain type of speed (some faster than others), but not an entire race of the same species. You see, our genes are way too spread out for this to ever be true… and if one day there is some “race” that is infinitely smarter than another, it will probably be a breaking point where a “race” now becomes an entirely new “species”.

This statement about intelligence versus race was the handy-work of the pseudo-scientists studying eugenics during the era of Nazi Germany. Though I am no expert at all in science, there is enough out there to show that eugenics and these ideas are absolutely falsifable. the main gist of their findings show that the difference in “race” is
1) way too small to contribute to an overall increase in one races intelligence and
2) Too many of our genes are all shared already throughout the species… no matter what your skin looks like. This is also why scientists can prove that people of the ancient world were actually just as smart as us overall… the difference between us and say, the people of the bible? Knowledge through passed down experiences and technology, that is all.

57. Paul - October 27, 2008

I would like to add a question to those with more knowledge on this subject:

Isn’t race totally arbitrary to genes anyways? In other words, is race just a man made classification for people that look different and are from different cultures?

I personally don’t know. But I don’t think our overall genetic makeup is in any way noticably different from each other regardless of “race”. For example, chimpanzee’s share over 99% of our genetic makeup but we would consider them to be different from us. I think that only underscores the point that if we are just barely different genetically from chimpanzees, imagine how infintesimally different we are from each other in terms of race.

58. caseyww - October 27, 2008

Paul and Michelle-

Paul- Well said. You beat me to the post. I would like to add that while most evolution occurs on timescales that makes it very difficult to ‘observe’ first hand that this doesn’t make it less factual than gravity. Plate tectonics also occurs over millions of years but we aren’t disputing that here in this post. Further, there are cases of evolution that have been directly observed in the lab on e-coli and Drosophilia Melanogaster (fruit flys).

On your question, Paul, all physical characteristics are a product of differences in genes. From that standpoint skin color is determined by your genes and the fact that you have a darker complexion than me (I know Paul and he is certainly more bronzed than yours truly) is a result of differences in our DNA code. While we are overwhelmingly similar we are not identical at the DNA level. Since you and I share a common ancestor, once upon a time our DNA codes were identical. Then your intermediate ancestors moved to a sun rich environment where darker skin repelled harmful rays from the sun (ie. selective pressure) and my intermediate ancestors moved to far north where the sun was scarce and we needed to absorb as much as possible. Today we have different skin colors.

From this standpoint, race is not completely arbitrary. It is significant in tracing our lineage. What is arbitrary is assigning a ‘better or worse’ to different races. Even on the topic of smarts…all of the evidence points towards the fact that most of our species’ intelligence evolved before we spread and factionalized into races. That’s why there is such uniformity when it comes to smarts and it’s probably not helpful to talk about intelligence in terms of race but instead in terms of species. But some characteristics like skin color did evolve in reaction to their environment after we factionalized.

What we see these days is that different races are so mixed up and scattered across the globe that we really have a global interbreeding population (or gene pool). This means that there is increasing chance for my children to have genes which evolved for survival all over the world even though they may only live in Southern California. If we cloistered Southern California into an isolated gene pool and gave evolution 10,000 years we’d end up with a distinct race that is well adapted to the climate here. Does this make this new race better or worse than the rest of humans? Niether, just specifically adapted.

59. Paul - October 27, 2008

Nice post casey, I think your examples are a better specific explanation of “race” and what that means for intelligence via evolution.

60. Antony - October 27, 2008

Chiming in on race, evolution, intelligence, and justice.

A few things that I want to point out in this on-going conversation:

(1) You’re all talking as if ‘race’ is a scientific category. It’s not. It’s political. There are numerous examples where genetic similarity crosses so-called ‘racial’ boundaries. For example, a group of Ethiopian Jews, who are very, very dark-skinned, are most closely related to the families that trace their lineage to the Jewish high priests (not so very dark-skinned). So, to speak of evolution and race is non-sense, as Paul pointed out.

(2) Michelle is right though, in our culture, we are deeply committed to the idea that all people are equal. But this claim should not be applied to qualitative characteristics. It’s obvious that some individuals are smarter, and some are faster, etc. Observing this on the individual level does not challenge our claim that all humans are equal, so why would it challenge it even if it were true on the group level? (Which for intelligence, it is not, though it may be for other traits).

What I mean to say is that to base the ‘equality of all’ on our capacities or qualities is misleading. We are equal on an existential level. In philosophical terms, it’s a matter of being, not of qualities. I think in modern political terms, I would say that we are all equal because we are all human beings. This fact cannot be denied, and things follow from the recognition of that fact.

In the end, Michelle, I’m not sure why the equality of humans requires a just Creator. There are many who have denied such a vision of a just Creator and still found a way to articulate basic human equality. And while I think it’s too much to demand of science to provide the basis for justice, I think one can use scientific facts to articulate a justification for human equality. For example, the fact that we have a shared history, that we trace back to a common ancestor might be the grounds for recognizing our inherent equality.


61. Antony - October 27, 2008

Addendum – I didn’t mean to suggest in #1 that everyone had been saying that race IS a scientific category. All I wanted to point out was that to speak of race in terms of science is a strange thing to do. One cannot understand race through science because it’s a political concept, not a natural one. Sorry for the harsh sounding language above 🙂

62. caseyww - October 27, 2008

(RE: Comment #60)

Good correction. Your right that race is not a scientific category. However, the evolution of physical features is certainly in the realm of science. One way humans construct the idea of race is by delineating these features, but you are right that this is only one amongst many ways which includes culture and language.

Race is probably a loaded term here that I should be more careful with. Thanks-

63. Paul - October 28, 2008

Antony said,

“What I mean to say is that to base the ‘equality of all’ on our capacities or qualities is misleading. We are equal on an existential level. In philosophical terms, it’s a matter of being, not of qualities. I think in modern political terms, I would say that we are all equal because we are all human beings. This fact cannot be denied, and things follow from the recognition of that fact.

In the end, Michelle, I’m not sure why the equality of humans requires a just Creator. There are many who have denied such a vision of a just Creator and still found a way to articulate basic human equality.”

I’m hijacking your blogz Casey!
I totally agree with you on this, but i think we should all argue the merits of where we think this idea of equality comes from. Those who believe it requires a creator god should also chime in on this, I think this would be a great focused discussion. I also think we will see what people deem as adequate evidence for their beliefs on these subjects.

I personally don’t have a strong set belief on this topic because I think there are many factors that make up the human experience to begin with. I’ll break it down from the standpoint of someone who believes that we move towards equality, or good moral judgement without the need of a creator god from:
1) Nature: We are social creatures by design, we need each other to increase the happiness and overall well-being of each of us. As Thomas Paine put it (and I’m paraphrasing horribly), “there is nary a man who can fell a tree for his house, hunt and gather his own food, mend his wounds and be able to rest to survive on his own”.

2) Our minds allow us alternate perceptions: Because we can imagine what it could be like to be living in poverty, absolute squalor or oppressed we can then take the right actions to stop or suppress this from happening to each other, and thus, lessen the chance that it will happen to each of us (a combination of altruism and self-interest). John Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance is a perfect example of why someone would choose to be moral or fight for equality rather than just pure self-interest.

The Veil of Ignorance is the original position of people first forming a society. They have no idea if they will be oppressed by their race, ethnicity, religion or if they might one day be poor or starving. Thus, the laws and rules that will follow would offer a good basic set of human rights that would minimize these forms of suffering for all the people they represent. It is our ability to perceive suffering in others as a victim of circumstance, and that we too could be prone to it that is a motivating factor for laws and governance that leans towards equality, or at the very least, a set structure of basic human rights.

There are a ton of holes in my argument so have at it 😉

64. Eric - October 28, 2008

Nancy O. wrote way back in comment #43: “When I look at the entirity of the universe; not only human, plant, and animal life – but beyond – at the galaxy and the timing and unison of how everything works together so perfectly – I cannot believe it all came into existence on its own somehow.”

And yet you can believe that a god (that is surely, in your mind, much more awesome and perfect than all that we see in the universe) came into existence on its own somehow, or somehow always existed (whatever that means)? We can debate the existence of a god in different ways, but this is not a valid argument, as you’re simply substituting one ‘unexplainable’ thing (the universe) with another (a god).

My own view is that, at least with the universe, it’s actually out there to “see” and we have a chance to inspect it and find things out about it, even if its origins forever remain a mystery. I put “see” in scare-quotes here because I’d also like to comment on something Michelle Wilson said in comment #54: “Gravity [as opposed to evolution] is something we see occurring.” I beg to differ: all we can “see” are the effects of gravity, we can’t see gravity itself. The apocryphal apple falling on Newton’s head is no more “real” than the DNA studies showing that humans and chimpanzees share 99% of their genes; one effect is more obvious or readily accessible than the other, no doubt, but they’re both equivalent sorts of evidence for the otherwise invisible forces responsible for them.

As others have eloquently pointed out in different ways, gravity and evolution are really on fairly equal footing as far as the evidence for their respective scientific theories goes, and thus as far as consensus among members of the scientific community goes (and thank you, Casey, for clarifying the term ‘theory’ in comment #51). At the same time, it’s not a mystery why evolution is the subject of popular debate while gravity is not: ‘believing in gravity’ does not pit you against any significant social group that says that gravity somehow contradicts their religious beliefs.

Bear and others have made the point that belief in a god and acceptance of the evidence for evolution are not incompatible, and I agree. But I’m reasonably sure tht the reason why evolution is the main scientific theory that gets brought up in discussions like these is because there are those who believe that evolution is incompatible with their particular god, and this has ruined it for those more reasonable types like Bear who are willing to entertain the possiblity that there is no incompatibility.

65. bear - October 28, 2008

Paul, you say, “we move towards equality, or good moral judgement without the need of a creator god” This is the hole. While you articulate excellent points, we move into a totally different realm of thinking because this(the creator god) remains the base premise simply by its presence. If we don’t deal with the first question then we cannot get to the ideas that follow your comment. This doesn’t take away the validity of the points being made it just frustrates the ability or neccesity to answer them. So at some point, after class, I hope to look at the points without this statement–hopefully leading back to it from the other direction.


66. Eric - October 28, 2008

I also wanted to make a brief remark about Michelle Wilson’s point about race and equality, also in comment #54 and discussed in several comments that followed. I agree with Antony (#60, #61; see also Paul’s #57, #59, #63) that our conception of ‘race’ is a political construct, and I also agree with Casey (#58, #62) that there are superficial, genetically-determined traits that probably facilitate certain aspects of the political construct to take hold. That said, whether such difficult-to-quantify, non-superficial traits such as ‘intelligence’ correlate with ‘race’ (either as a political construct or as a collection of more superficial traits) is an empirical question — and one that has in fact been addressed in recent behavioral research. The scientific consensus on this matter, I think you’ll all be happy to know, is that differences among individuals are far, far more significant than differences among groups: that is, the difference in ‘intelligence’ (however that’s measured) between two random people selected from ‘the same racial group’ (whatever that means) is likely to be greater than the overall, average difference between two ‘racial groups’.

67. Nancy O. - October 28, 2008

Re: Question to me in #64


Sureley whatever our viewpoints are, religious or scientific, something has to come from nothing at some point, or something has to have always existed, be it the universe or the Creator. I personally believe that God is the “Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end. I believe He is an infinite being and I do not believe he is scientifically quantifiable like thing that we “see”.

68. Nancy O. - October 28, 2008

Darwin’s book was mentioned as a good read, as well as a few others; has anyone read, “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel? During Strobel’s academic years, he became convinced God was outmoded, as science points in a different direction and research supports the conclusion that the universe was intelligently designed.

So does that mean science has discovered God?

At the very least, it’s giving faith an incredible boost as new findings emerge about the incredible complexity of our universe. In this book, Strobel examines the theories that once lead him away from God. He talks about mind boggling discoveries from cosmology, cellular biology, DNA research, astronomy, physics, and human consciousness that present incredible evidence in the case for a Creator.

It, as well as the other books recommended, is a good read.

69. casey - October 28, 2008


Thanks for the recommendation but I’m afraid Strobel falls a bit short of academic honesty in his “The Case for…” series. Please see this link for a well thought out critique if you’re interested.

70. Nancy O. - October 28, 2008

Casey – I will check it out.

71. Michelle Wilson - October 28, 2008

I thought of a good book rec for evidence of Jesus. Casey, have you read Jesus and the eyewitnesses? It is pretty think and academic and I haven’t read it yet. It’s been on my to read right away list for some time. But, it cites references in exra-Biblical literature to many of the various people mentioned in the new testament.

72. caseyww - October 28, 2008


Thanks. I’m actually making my way through this one as we speak. But you’re right it is thick and taking me a while to digest.

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