Dialog with an Atheist #1

[Updated 3/15/10 @ 20:30 PM, updated 8/2/2019 to use styled blockquotes instead of colors]

Back in December, I wrote some
preparatory remarks toward a formal article on evidence for God. I haven't had time to work on it, but this discussion at Vox Popoli gives the sketch of one approach. One commenter remarked on the atheist's demand for scientific proof of God's existence. I wrote that science is self-limited on what it can know:

The scientific method is only applicable to a subset of things we know about. For example, it can tell us about what is, but it cannot say anything about what ought to be. It also cannot prove itself. So, their epistemological foundation can't support them.

To this, I should add that I suspect that Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem can be applied to the scientific method. What this means is that there are things which can be known to be true, but which cannot be proven true by science.

I then wrote:

Having said that, the scientific method can still be useful. How can one test for God? What science isn't good at, right now, is testing for intelligence. At best, the Turing test can be used. But intelligent beings are not things that respond in predictable ways. How does one test an intelligent computer that doesn't want to talk to you, but will talk to someone else? When scientists have an answer to that, they can then try to apply the scientific method to God.

The discussion picks up where "Victorian dad" uses Occam's Razor in an attempt to exclude God on philosophical grounds.

These are "Victorian dad's" words.

These are my words.

You posit an undetectable entity as agency.

Except, of course, that God isn't undetectable.

Post instructions and end this atheism debacle for ever!

[I referred VicD back to my previous discussion of testing for intelligence]

I can't find a test crouton in that word salad.

God is an intelligent non-physical being. In order to test for God, you have to be able to test for intelligence. That requires 1) a suitable test and 2) the cooperation of the test subject.

Computer scientists have dealt with these issues for years.

So you can't test for god.

So SETI isn't science? And a complete waste of time?

I do not think it is science because there is no reasonable bound on disconfirmation.

So, if SETI isn't science, is there a scientific test for intelligence? If so, what is it? How does it differ from what SETI does?

If there isn't a scientific test for intelligence, why do atheists insist on scientific evidence for God? What makes them think that they have any expectation that such a thing is possible?

Turing test possibly - not sure if that empirically falls as science though.

So do you now agree that science is only capable of dealing with a subset of true knowledge?

Knowledge is the intersection of belief and fact. So, no I don't agree. You're moving into belief territory.

Then what is the scientific test for intelligence?

I don't think there is one, nor is there a robust definition. Also, I would suggest it is a continuum and the break-point for having it arbitrary.

Are you intelligent?

It has been over 48 hours. Still waiting for an answer.

[Update: after some prodding, "Victorian dad" finally answered]

Yes, by my own very arbitrary definition that is meaningless in any sort of informed discourse that isn't limited to yes or no boolean by intellectually stunted moderators.

How do you know that you are intelligent, since you claim that there is no scientific test for intelligence and, furthermore, that science is necessary for true knowledge? Are you now saying that there is true knowledge apart from science, or are you saying that your claim to intelligence is based on, say, wishful thinking, or delusion?

My own arbitrary criteria can't really be expressed in words. If you want to go with a formal definition, that's up to you. we'll need units, also.

It obviously escapes you that it doesn't matter what the definition is. I could just as easily use the variable x. You have claimed that x is true. But you have also claimed that there is no scientific test for x. You have also claimed that science is necessary for true knowledge.

Are you intelligent enough to see the inherent contradiction in your statements?

Then perhaps 'true knowledge' doesn't deal in nebulous abstractions.

You just said that "I am intelligent" is a true statement. You also said that "My own arbitrary criteria can't really be expressed in words". That's a "nebulous abstraction". So you just made a truth claim for a nebulous abstraction.

What is your basis for this truth claim? Are you in error, and therefore not intelligent? Or are you basing your claim on wishful, or deluded, thinking?

I'm intelligent (this thing you can't empirically define) by my own arbitrary standards. So while I may "know" it, it's not shareable nor robust. So its probably isn't "knowledge".

So you "know" something to be true but it isn't "knowledge". Do you realize just how contradictory your position has become?

When an argument ends in contradiction, as yours clearly has done, normal people start backing up the chain of reasoning to see where they went wrong, instead of continuing to flounder in error.

The conversation ended here.

I note in passing that Christianity is consistent with detecting God through listening for God. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow Me." [John 10:27, NRSV].

The author of Hebrews wrote: "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years.'" [Hebrews 3:7-10, NRSV]
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