Half of Americans will not admit to evolution

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An AFP press release the other day noted that 1 in 4 Americans does not know that the earth revolves around the sun, according to a poll of 2200 people conducted by the National Science Foundation. Additionally, approximately half do not know “that human beings evolved from earlier species of animals” – or, perhaps more precisely, will not admit it. The average score on the 9-question quiz was 6.5. Americans nevertheless remain “enthusiastic” about science. The survey is part of a report that NSF will submit to the President. I could not immediately find any further information.

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Here’s my report on it: with a link to the original http://www.skepticink.com/smilodons[…]-of-science/

The questions are disturbingly easy, considering that the average response is pretty low. Of course, the questions, as written, might pose problems for really smart people too, because they are worded so poorly. I’m not sure that most scientists could agree with all of them.

And there is some concern (see the update) that other factors played a part (e.g. the difference between astrology and astronomy). A link to another blog suggests that many people don’t actually know the difference between astrology and astronomy… which, to me, is as much of a problem as people believing in astrology anyway.

Still, it seems to be problematic.

Unfortunately, survey questions about science are often written by science illiterates, resulting in great ambiguity.

Here’s my report on it: with a link to the original …

Many thanks for the link! I actually downloaded that chapter but evidently did not get far enough into it to realize that it was the right one. Sigh. Well anyway, from Ogremkv’s post, here are the results of the poll. Those that are not questions are true/false.

The center of the Earth is very hot. 84%

The continents have been moving to their location for millions of years and will continue to move. 83%

Does the Earth go around Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth? 74%

All radioactivity is man-made. 72%

Electrons are smaller than atoms. 53%

Lasers work by focusing sound waves. 47%

The universe began with a huge explosion. 39%

It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or girl. 63%

Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. 51%

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. 48%

I did not think the questions were ambiguous, but I can see where someone might read too much into some.

Matt Young said: The center of the Earth is very hot. 84%

The continents have been moving to their location for millions of years and will continue to move. 83%

Does the Earth go around Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth? 74%

All radioactivity is man-made. 72%

Electrons are smaller than atoms. 53%

Lasers work by focusing sound waves. 47%

The universe began with a huge explosion. 39%

It is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or girl. 63%

Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. 51%

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. 48%

How many would pass the creationists’ criteria of science, of things that we can we see and repeat? Not the core of Earth, no …

The two that seem to be bugging people is the does the Earth go around the sun and the Big Bang ones. Technically, the Earth/Sun system orbits a point that is distinct from the sun (if it where a point source) and nothing really exploded in the Big Bang.

I agree that is being really picky though.

ogremkv said:

The two that seem to be bugging people is the does the Earth go around the sun and the Big Bang ones. Technically, the Earth/Sun system orbits a point that is distinct from the sun (if it where a point source) and nothing really exploded in the Big Bang.

I agree that is being really picky though.

The earth/sun system may be is picky, but one the main creationists taunts against science found on the internet is “Atheists think nothing exploded and made everything! Ha!” Somehow it seems worthwhile not to play into that. It wouldn’t surprise me if Byers of FL had said it here.

What I find interesting are the two (or three) “deep time” questions. 83% think that the continents have been around for millions of years, yet only 48% agree with evolution. So it isn’t the “millions of years” part that troubles most people. They seem to be fine with that when it comes to an old Earth. What this spread tells me is that 35% could be loosely classified as OEC’s.

ogremkv said:

Technically, the Earth/Sun system orbits a point that is distinct from the sun

But that point is within the Sun, right? So the Earth orbits the Sun (just not its exact center), but in no sense does the Sun go around the Earth.

FWIW, I blame part of the abysmal ignorance of a major fraction of the American public on the creationists. Not that they explicitly teach geocentrism (although a few may), but they absolutely do teach disrespect for science in general. Want kids to conclude that all scientists are deluded fools and what they say is probably worthless, and thus not worth paying attention to?

Easy.

Teach them that astronomers are wrong about the age of the universe; that physicists are wrong about radiometric dating; that chemists are wrong about the SLOT; that geologists are wrong about the age of the Earth and the Flood; that paleontologists are wrong about the sequence of life on Earth; and that biologists are wrong about damn near everything.

After absorbing such lessons from trusted adults, why would kids be interested in anything scientists have to say?

So which answer was regarded as correct on the one about the universe beginning?

Taken literally, the answer is “no”. But what if the writer of the question thought “explosion” was close enough to the actual meaning, and based the official answer on that?

And of course the one about “father’s gene” should say “DNA” rather than “gene”, but there the intent is clear enough.

Henry

Henry says: “And of course the one about “father’s gene” should say “DNA” rather than “gene”, but there the intent is clear enough.” I would like to add that this is better than the usual statement that the father determines the sex of the child.

ogremkv said:

The questions are disturbingly easy, considering that the average response is pretty low. Of course, the questions, as written, might pose problems for really smart people too, because they are worded so poorly. I’m not sure that most scientists could agree with all of them.

And there is some concern (see the update) that other factors played a part (e.g. the difference between astrology and astronomy). A link to another blog suggests that many people don’t actually know the difference between astrology and astronomy… which, to me, is as much of a problem as people believing in astrology anyway.

Still, it seems to be problematic.

I, for one, would vastly rather people confuse astrology and astronomy (they’re terribly similar words, after all) than think horoscopes are good science.

And technically it’s not the paternal gene that determines gender, but the paternal gamete. And even then, the paternal gamete only determines whether you have an X or a Y chromosome; sex expression is the result of a complex interaction between maternal hormones and fetal hormones, each of the latter of which are only loosely connected to gene expression from the Y or X chromosome.

Just Bob said:

ogremkv said:

Technically, the Earth/Sun system orbits a point that is distinct from the sun

But that point is within the Sun, right? So the Earth orbits the Sun (just not its exact center), but in no sense does the Sun go around the Earth.

Well, the barycentre of the solar system actually goes outside the Sun whenever Jupiter gets close to aphelion, but close enough.

All of these questions are really more “which of these is more correct” than “which of these is correct”. Then again, isn’t that standard in science?

This new poll, as it relates to the topic of human origins, appears to be consistent with Gallup Poll results of 2012…

http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/H[…]Origins.aspx

…which is good.

FL said:

This new poll, as it relates to the topic of human origins, appears to be consistent with Gallup Poll results of 2012…

http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/H[…]Origins.aspx

…which is good.

Right. 46% of Americans (including you) are apparently willfully ignorant. Naturally, you are a proud member of that category. Ok, understood. But, I think every intelligent and informed person here already knew that. Thank you for the reminder, though.

See, there was this:

http://pandasthumb.org/archives/201[…]t45yHib1jkRS

So, but we already knew – almost half of Americans (including you) are apparently willfully ignorant (note the date and time of the OP).

hi.i hear about this argument: what about the “self replicat watch” argument?. nature is more complex then any man-made watch. even a self replicat one with dna. so if such a watch need a designer why not nature?.

dcscccc said:

hi.i hear about this argument: what about the “self replicat watch” argument?. nature is more complex then any man-made watch. even a self replicat one with dna. so if such a watch need a designer why not nature?.

You’re right. A designer is needed. We’ll have to find one and hire her.

dcscccc said:

hi.i hear about this argument: what about the “self replicat watch” argument?. nature is more complex then any man-made watch. even a self replicat one with dna. so if such a watch need a designer why not nature?.

Nature is more complex than any thing that we are aware of which is designed.

This suggests that nature is not designed.

The watch does not “self replicat”. If it did, it could evolve just like every other living thing. That is the only reason why a designer is needed for the watch. now i know your hear about this argument.

Asking the questions this way will tend to prompt a positive answer. Ogre, do you know if they tried to control for this by switching the wording in half the surveys (i.e., half say “Are electrons smaller than atoms” while the other half say “are atoms are smaller than electrons?”

I had a little problem with “father’s gene” until I thought about it a bit. But it’s more or less presence or absence of a single gene, SRY, that determines sex in humans. And of course it’s on the Y chromosome. So yeah, father’s gene.

Does the Earth go around Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth? 74%

Er, that’s not a yes/no question, is it 74% saying yes the Earth goes around the Sun or 74% saying yes the Sun goes around the Earth?

eric said:

Asking the questions this way will tend to prompt a positive answer. Ogre, do you know if they tried to control for this by switching the wording in half the surveys (i.e., half say “Are electrons smaller than atoms” while the other half say “are atoms are smaller than electrons?”

My understanding is that this is something of a meta survey. There are four pages of references at the bottom and at least half a page of Pew surveys, which I haven’t read all of. So I don’t know if the originals made this attempt or not.

One potentially relevant points sticks out in my memory. That is the Americans were asked a question one way and the Chinese (IIRC) were asked another way.

I’ll also note, that the question about astrology seems to have specifically mentioned horoscopes at the same time as ‘astrology’.

Another interesting point is brought up in the notes

Survey items that test factual knowledge sometimes use easily comprehensible language at the cost of scientific precision. This may prompt some highly knowledgeable respondents to believe that the items blur or neglect important distinctions, and in a few cases may lead respondents to answer questions incorrectly. In addition, the items do not reflect the ways that established scientific knowledge evolves as scientists accumulate new evidence. Although the text of the factual knowledge questions may suggest a fixed body of knowledge, it is more accurate to see scientists as making continual, often subtle modifications in how they understand existing data in light of new evidence. When the answer to a factual knowledge question is categorized as “correct,” it means that the answer accords with the current consensus among knowledgeable scientists and that the weight of scientific evidence clearly supports the answer.

Page 7-48 of the report.

So, at least the surveyors and authors are aware of the issue. I wouldn’t ever do that, but I don’t write surveys either.

The more I think about this, the more I can accept the major conclusions of the study. I might not like a particular point, but the study as a general trend seems sound. Americans are interested in science and technology, but they don’t really know anything about science and technology.

I think my conclusion is appropriate, media outlets should emphasize correct science more and we should make efforts to present correct science to the media (letters to the editor for example) and various formats.

I’m guessing there are a lot of possible questions that people would quite easily get the wrong answer to.…

True or false?

1. The seasons are caused by the changing distance between the Earth and the Sun.

2. Humans inhale mainly oxygen and exhale mainly carbon dioxide.

3. No particle can move faster than light.

4. Human beings evolved from chimpanzees.

5. The Moon loops around the Earth while the Earth loops around the Sun.

6. Daily tides are caused by the position of the Moon, not the rotation of the Earth.

7. All the cells in the human body contain a complete copy of human DNA.

8. A spacecraft must achieve escape velocity in order to leave Earth’s orbit.

9. Gasoline is explosive.

10. You weigh less at the equator than you do at the poles.

11. The phases of the Moon are caused by the Moon’s rotation.

12. A Calorie is equal to 4.184 Joules.

13. The needle of a compass points to the North pole of Earth’s magnetic field.

14. The crack of a bullet points to where the shot was fired from.

15. Nothing can escape a black hole.

ogremk5 said:

When the answer to a factual knowledge question is categorized as “correct,” it means that the answer accords with the current consensus among knowledgeable scientists and that the weight of scientific evidence clearly supports the answer.

Again, I’m going to say the best way to do this is a “more correct/less correct” approach.

FL said:

This new poll, as it relates to the topic of human origins, appears to be consistent with Gallup Poll results of 2012…

http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/H[…]Origins.aspx

…which is good.

What is so good about the fact that people are ignorant about things that should not be all that hard to learn?

I have asked people some of these questions years ago, and some of them seemed uncertain. How do we know which percentage of people were simply guessing? I assume that a non-zero number of people, for example, simply guessed correctly that the Earth orbits the sun (common center of gravity).

FL, I know that having the approved beliefs about the nature of the world affirms one’s membership in good standing with the Tribe. I was raised Southern Baptist, and that’s the way all the adults around me behaved. But it has baffled me now for more than a half century. How can you believe things contrary to evidence, especially when it’s glaringly obvious that scientists want to understand how things work, and Fundamentalists like biblical literalists don’t want to hear about troublesome evidence?

ogremk5 said -

My understanding is that this is something of a meta survey. There are four pages of references at the bottom and at least half a page of Pew surveys, which I haven’t read all of. So I don’t know if the originals made this attempt or not.

That’s an incredibly important observation.

The data presented here are at odds with polling data recently discussed in this venue that showed about 60% of Americans willing to acknowledge human evolution.

That is a significant difference. There is no doubt that 60% and 48% are statistically significantly different.

My impression is that due to higher acceptance of human evolution among younger people, overall acceptance in the population is gradually increasing.

A summary of survey results, unless entirely recent surveys, will thus underestimate the true number.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/gDZbqvRso8h_[…]N.4vV4bA9qgw–#a702f said:

I have asked people some of these questions years ago, and some of them seemed uncertain. How do we know which percentage of people were simply guessing? I assume that a non-zero number of people, for example, simply guessed correctly that the Earth orbits the sun (common center of gravity).

There’s a field called psychometrics that deals specifically with these issues. I’m a user of psychometric data, not a researcher, but I will try to describe how you make this determination in a general sense.

What you have is two data points. How someone answer one question and how that person answered all the questions. If you have someone who did, overall, very poorly on a test, but did answer this item correctly, then you either happened to get the one fact that the person knows or they happened to guess correctly.

In an actual assessment, we would ask the same (or similar) questions a couple of different ways. So if a test had four questions about photosynthesis and a person only answered one correctly (assuming 4 multiple choice options on each question), then it is likely that they guessed on the correct one.

We also compare how the top third of testers did, how the middle third did and how the bottom third did on the test as a whole and on that question. Let’s say that most of the top third of testers got the answer right and most of the bottom third got it wrong. Then if we find someone in the bottom third who got the question right, we can imply that this is a guess, especially if about 25% of the bottom third got the question right. We can’t say that x person definitely guessed. They may have actually known the information. But we can get a clear picture that suggests the majority of respondents did guess.

I’d like to see the psychometric data for the original surveys, but these are all T/F or agree/disagree and that would be much harder to pick out a guess.

I hope that helps. Part of my job is to analyze these kinds of data, so I have some experience with it. Let me know if I wasn’t clear.

daoudmbo said:

Does the Earth go around Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth? 74%

Er, that’s not a yes/no question, is it 74% saying yes the Earth goes around the Sun or 74% saying yes the Sun goes around the Earth?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82p[…]7B9AC1D4AF0E

This might help shed some light onto the question, not that is is anyone who would not know this.

How do we win so many Nobel Prizes when roughly half the U.S. population renders themselves ineligible to participate in the scientific process?

Carl Drews said:

How do we win so many Nobel Prizes when roughly half the U.S. population renders themselves ineligible to participate in the scientific process?

A small percentage (but higher in absolute numbers) survive public education with their curiosity and brain cells intact.

daoudmbo said:

Does the Earth go around Sun or does the Sun go around the Earth? 74%

Er, that’s not a yes/no question, is it 74% saying yes the Earth goes around the Sun or 74% saying yes the Sun goes around the Earth?

It’s 74% getting the correct answer to the question.

david.starling.macmillan said: Commenting on phhht and his atheism/agnosticism.…

I’ve often seen the four-way chart that uses gnostic/agnostic as a qualifier for theism/atheism: a gnostic theist claims to know God exists, an agnostic theist believes in God but does not claim knowledge, an agnostic atheist does not believe in God but does not claim there are no Gods, and a gnostic atheist claims to have knowledge that there are no gods…

[later]…The biggest distinction is between people who simply find theistic claims to be poorly-evidenced and thus not worthy of acceptance (soft atheism or agnosticism) and people who find theistic claims to be demonstrably and categorically false (hard atheism or antitheism).

IMO the issue is the presence of a severe double-standard when discussing knowledge claims on the theist side. At least for some theists.

To wit: do you count very strongly supported but empirical/inductive conclusions as knowing? To give two theologically neutral examples, do you think its legitimate to say that you know the sun will not be green when it rises tomorrow, and to say that you know that if you step out a third story window, you won’t float. Neither of those conclusions is deductive; our knowledge regarding such matters is not absolutely philosophically certain. So, do we know these things or not?

The vast, vast majority of time we all take “I know” statements like the ones above in stride. We accept them as legitimate. We do not require someone to have or demonstrate absolute philosophical certainty before we accept a “I know” statement from them. “I know” is interpreted has having very low uncertainty, but is not intepreted as requiring zero uncertainty.

But if all those sorts of knowledge claims are legit, then phhht saying he knows god doesn’t exist is legitimate too. True, his knowledge isn’t certain - but we don’t demand absolute certainty for any other knowledge claim, so why should we demand it in the case of knowledge claims about God?.

On what rational basis does one stick atheism with an extremely trucated, impossible-to-reach criteria of knowledge, when no other belief gets stuck with that definition of knowledge? Answer: there is none. It’s a double standard some believers use to protect their belief. Phhht wants to claim he knows there are no fairies in the garden? No problem, we let him use the standard criteria for what counts as knowledge. But he wants to claim the god Christians believe in doesn’t exist? Ahhh, that’s different! Now he must use their much much higher criteria for what counts as knowledge! Its a double-standard, and therefore a fallacious counterargument.

There are only a few objects which can be “directly” (parallax-type) measured to be more than 10,000 light years distant. SN 1987A is a famous case. This is soon to be “cured” by the spacecraft GAIA.

eric, I believe your analogy, and hence your argument, is flawed.

We know the sun will not rise green tomorrow, or that we will not float in air, because we have actual experience of both the sun and of falling. We have no such actual experience of God. The bottom of my garden can be closely observed for fairies, and seen to contain none. The Universe cannot be so closely observed for God.

Thus, you are saying that a situation of which we can and do have experiential knowledge is the same as one of which we cannot and do not; that the lack of knowledge we have of the second class can be treated as if it were the actual knowledge that we have of the first class. I don’t believe it can be.

Therefore, I hold that there is no double standard. The standard is the same. We can make reasonably certain statements of that which is reasonably certain from actual objective experience. We cannot make such statements of that which is not experienced.

Dave Luckett said: We know the sun will not rise green tomorrow, or that we will not float in air, because we have actual experience of both the sun and of falling. We have no such actual experience of God.

You have no experience of a green sun rising or of people floating out windows. And you have no experience of any God demonstrating its existence. Given the three cases, it is irrational to conclude “I know it never has happened and never will happen” in the first two cases but then claim that only agnosticism (and not a stronger conclusion) is justified for the last. Either “I know it never has and never will” is a justified knowledge claim in all three cases, or its not justified for any of them.

The bottom of my garden can be closely observed for fairies, and seen to contain none. The Universe cannot be so closely observed for God.

Neither can the universe be closely observed for magical fairies. Heck, you have not even observed the bottom of my garden, have you? Are you agnostic about magical fairy existence in other gardens or other solar systems?

You’re still showing (or at least defending) a double standard in how you view inductive reasoning and conclusions. You are perfectly okay extrapolating from known observations to unknown circumstances when it comes to fairies, to anti-gravity, and to solar physcics. You are not okay extrapolating from known observations to unknown circumstances when it comes to God.

Thus, you are saying that a situation of which we can and do have experiential knowledge is the same as one of which we cannot and do not;

We can and do extrapolate our experienctial knowledge to other times, places, and mechanisms. We extrapolate our non-observation of entities 1 through N to say we know they don’t exist. You simply stop the extrapolation when its about to apply to this one, single, pet entity. Extrapolating from what we know to what we don’t for entities 1 through N…okay! But using that process on entity N+1…not okay! Why?

False equivalence, eric. I know the sun isn’t green on rising, because I know what the sun looks like. I know I don’t float, because I’ve fallen down. I don’t know about God. I have no experience of God. I can’t say about God. The two cases are not the same, and they cannot be treated the same.

Dave Luckett said:

I know I don’t float, because I’ve fallen down. I don’t know about God. I have no experience of God. I can’t say about God.

But isn’t eric’s point that you have no experience of floating either? All Science is provisional, the Law of Gravity may be repealed tomorrow.

It’s not easy being green…

Dave Luckett said:

False equivalence, eric. I know the sun isn’t green on rising, because I know what the sun looks like. I know I don’t float, because I’ve fallen down. I don’t know about God. I have no experience of God. I can’t say about God. The two cases are not the same, and they cannot be treated the same.

“The bottom of my garden can be closely observed for Gods, and seen to contain none. The Universe cannot be so closely observed for Fairies” is a direct euqivalency to your case, and one you haven’t answered.

david.starling.macmillan said:

Lisle’s solution to the light travel problem (referenced in that article as item 7) is the only one which even comes close to working. It’s mathematically sound and theoretically viable. Of course, it can still be falsified without too much work, but at least it’s a decent effort.

I read Lisle’s “paper” when he first put it up on AiG. It’s pure junk.

He makes it look like he is using relativity, but the “relativity” he is using is nothing like the relativity in physics.

And making light travel an infinite speed in one direction and not another is a knotty issue. To which point in space are the infinite velocity vectors pointing? Suppose the Earth now moved to the other side of its orbit around the Sun; does the light now pick a different point in space to direct its infinite velocity arrows?

And what of the Michelson-Morley experiment which compares the velocity of light in directions perpendicular to each other – and, furthermore, does it at various points around the Earth’s orbit, and makes these measurements while rotating the entire apparatus to find the difference due to the Earth’s orbital velocity? Is the beam splitter always the center toward which infinite velocity vectors are directed – no matter where the beam splitter moves? Would two or more Michelson-Morley experiments in different labs, or operated by people with different sectarian dogmas, give different results?

How do different velocities for different directions affect the refractive index of a material such a glass? Does light coming in on side of a lens encounter a different refractive index than light coming in from the other side? If I walked around to the other side of a fish in a pool, would the fish appear at a different location and depth?

How are different sectarians able to get their eyeglasses prescriptions from the same vendor? Do their eyeglasses work only when facing a particular direction at a particular point in space-time?

What about rainbows? Are they different when observed when the Sun is in the east from those observed when the Sun is in the west? Are they different depending on where the Earth is in its orbit around the Sun?

Relativity isn’t about making up a reference frame that suits a particular sectarian interpretation of a book cobbled together from ancient hearsay by a highly political Nicean Council in which people killed each other over what doctrines were to be included in the book.

Which “relativity” goes with which sectarian dogma? Does relativity fragment in sectarian wars just as religion does? Are the laws of physics different for different sectarian dogmas? Is it all just relative in sectarian land?

Carl Drews said:

Every now and then the sun sets green: :-)

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/F[…]en_flash.jpg

Great pic! The green flash is very brief. I have seen it a few times, when I was standing lookout watches in the Navy. I could also see the large moons of Jupiter with the standard 7x50 binoculars. One thing I have seen, that most people don’t believe, is a rainbow at night. We were in the South Pacific, near the Phillipines. There was a bright full moon and the sky was clear, except for some scattered squalls. Near one of the rain clouds, I saw a thin silvery rainbow.

If fairies were, collectively, God, then the same applies to them. If God were only located in the bottom of my garden, ditto in reverse, as it were. (I find it interesting that God was said to be located in a garden, walking in the cool of the evening, and this isn’t subversive of His omnipresence, because.)

Dave Lovell, I have actual experience of gravity, and I am aware of Archimedes’ principle. I know that between them, I can’t float, because I am not lighter than the air I displace. That is, I know what the principle is, and I know my own properties. Knowing them necessarily means knowing what they are not. The one necessarily involves the other.

But I do not know God. I cannot provide a list of His actual properties of which I have experience. I don’t know what He is, or is not, nor anything about Him, including whether He exists, or not.

eric is saying that he does know, and that the last question is resolved in the negative, for all rational values of “know”. I don’t think that’s beyond dispute. But only “not beyond dispute”, not “disproven”. eric may be right, for all I know. Because - here it is again - I don’t know.

Mind, we are elucidating about how high on the atheist scale we stand. eric seems pretty high on it. I vary, because, once again, I don’t know - but on average, I’m a little north of agnostic deism. On a scale of 1-7, where 1 is certain theism and 7 is absolute antitheism, I’m about a 4 or 5, most days.

But I think that scale is not, er, scalar. Any movement at all off 1 is a big shift, but the difference between, say, 2 and 6 is not that great, and there’s again quite a difference between 6 and 7.

Dave Luckett said:

If fairies were, collectively, God, then the same applies to them.

This is equivalent to carving out an exception for one specific entity. You’re basically saying that the entity you term “God” gets special treatment in your reasoning.

What do you say about Odin, or Zeus? Are you agnostic about them, or does extrapolation from nonobservation to nonexistence apply because you don’t believe in them?

If God were only located in the bottom of my garden, ditto in reverse, as it were. (I find it interesting that God was said to be located in a garden, walking in the cool of the evening, and this isn’t subversive of His omnipresence, because.)

Um, you just said he’s omnipresent. Thus he’s in my garden. Thus not seeing him there when he’s supposed to be there is exactly like not seeing fairies there when they are supposed to be there.

But I do not know God. I cannot provide a list of His actual properties of which I have experience.

Well it seems that when it’s necessary that he not be in my garden to refute my argument, you know he’s not there. And then when you want him to be omnipresent, you know he’s omnipresent.

eric is saying that he does know, and that the last question is resolved in the negative, for all rational values of “know”. I don’t think that’s beyond dispute. But only “not beyond dispute”, not “disproven”.

My point has never been to prove nonexistence. As I said at the start of this discussion, I think there’s a double standard in that theists demand much higher certainty for atheist “know” statements than they do regular “know” statements. I know there is no invisible dragon sitting beside me. I don’t need absolute certainty to say that. I don’t need to rule out Matrix realities or complete insanity or any other such thing to make that claim, and for you to accept it. But when I say I there is no God sitting beside me, you seem to object and want to say that I don’t know that. And I don’t see how you can reach those conflicting conclusions without a double standard explicitly favoring God-belief.

But I think that scale is not, er, scalar. Any movement at all off 1 is a big shift, but the difference between, say, 2 and 6 is not that great, and there’s again quite a difference between 6 and 7.

I don’t know any 7s, and arguing against 7s seems to be a very common theist straw man (I’m not accusing you of it, but folk like FL bring it up all the time). Pretty much every atheist who discusses this with a theist puts themselves in the “higher than 6 but less than 7” range. So yeah, it’s a big difference, but its irrelevant for real theist-atheist discussions because no atheist (AFAIK) claims atheism with absolute philosophical certainty.

No, eric, I was merely pointing out an interesting kludge in the literalist discourse. They are theists who aver that God is omnipresent, but they also say that He was walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, because the text says so. I think that’s obviously silly, but they don’t, for reasons that elude me - and apparently, them too.

Me, I say I don’t know He’s there, and I don’t know He’s not there. I have no data. I know I don’t perceive Him, but I am aware that my perceptions are limited and flawed.

I am also agnostic as to the names or titles of God. I’m actually a little bit - but only a little bit - attracted to polytheism, because it avoids the necessity for a theodicy, but the Universe seems a bit too consistent within itself to be the creation of a squabbling committee. I’ve already said that I know nothing about His attributes, if He has any. But I still can’t elude the certainty I have that I don’t know everything.

As to not claiming atheism with absolute philosophical certainty, I think it behooves us philosophical atheists to use our terms precisely. “I know there is no God” is not a precise statement, for mine, if what you mean is “I’m pretty sure there is no God”.

And that’s all I’m saying.

Dave Luckett said:

No, eric, I was merely pointing out an interesting kludge in the literalist discourse. They are theists who aver that God is omnipresent, but they also say that He was walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, because the text says so. I think that’s obviously silly, but they don’t, for reasons that elude me - and apparently, them too.

Me, I say I don’t know He’s there, and I don’t know He’s not there. I have no data. I know I don’t perceive Him, but I am aware that my perceptions are limited and flawed.

I am also agnostic as to the names or titles of God. I’m actually a little bit - but only a little bit - attracted to polytheism, because it avoids the necessity for a theodicy, but the Universe seems a bit too consistent within itself to be the creation of a squabbling committee. I’ve already said that I know nothing about His attributes, if He has any. But I still can’t elude the certainty I have that I don’t know everything.

As to not claiming atheism with absolute philosophical certainty, I think it behooves us philosophical atheists to use our terms precisely. “I know there is no God” is not a precise statement, for mine, if what you mean is “I’m pretty sure there is no God”.

And that’s all I’m saying.

My situation is that I have no evidence that there is a god, intuitively feel that there is no god, and by default behave as if I have to do things on my own and can’t count on gods to help me.

When I was younger and communism was more powerful, some people did ideologically declare that there can be no god.

The problem for many younger agnostic/atheist people is that they desperately wish to aggressively declare that there can be no god. But then someone says “how can you really be sure?”. So then they explode that they had never said they were sure. And then as soon as the smoke clears they state that they are sure there is no god again. Ad infinitum.

Dave Luckett said: As to not claiming atheism with absolute philosophical certainty, I think it behooves us philosophical atheists to use our terms precisely. “I know there is no God” is not a precise statement, for mine, if what you mean is “I’m pretty sure there is no God”.

And that’s all I’m saying.

Should I use my terms precisely for everything I am not 100% philosophically certain about, or just God? Should I say I’m pretty sure (but not say I know) there is no dragon sitting beside me? How about the ghost of my grandmother? Should I say pretty sure or know? Tinkerbell? Xenu? I’ve never been to Nepal. Should I say I’m just pretty sure of it’s existence?

Look, you still seem to be doing a lot of mental gymnastics simply to avoid the very reasonable usage of the word “know” to mean “pretty certain but not absolutely philosophically certain” when it comes to God. But this is in fact how we use the word “know” in the vast, vast majority of cases when we use it, so I see no reason why we should concede a theistic double standard and not use it when the subject is God.

You might, might be able to sell me on the idea of not using it for clarity of communication purposes - i.e. it’s bad to say know if the other person will interpret that to mean absolute philosophical certainty - but you have yet to offer any argument that convinces me that I shouldn’t use it because it’s not reflective of level of empirical certainty we have about any number of invisible, hidden entities. Saying we ‘know’ they don’t exist is very reflective of how we use the word ‘know,’ very appropriate.

eric, I’m now aware that I’m not going to sell you on the idea that what you don’t know, you don’t actually know. It seems that the most that I can hope to sell you is the idea that when debating a philosophical position, one should use words accurately, and with as little room for misunderstanding as possible.

Consider that a wrap.

Dave Luckett said:

Consider that a wrap.

I wish you’d talk more about these issues.

Dave Luckett said:

eric, I’m now aware that I’m not going to sell you on the idea that what you don’t know, you don’t actually know.

I know there is no dragon sitting beside me. I know there is no unicorn out in my yard right now. But according to you, I don’t actually know these things.

And it’s all because you’re uncomfortable with atheists saying they know there is no god. You’d rather make the word “know” apply only to absolute philosophical certainty - something nobody can achieve, ever, for anything, rendering the word useless - than let it apply to God.

Sigh. Again: you know there is no dragon sitting beside you or unicorns in your backyard, because you know what dragons and unicorns are, and you know that, even if there are no such things as dragons or unicorns. You do not know what God is - and nor do I - but His qualities are said to include being immaterial, invisible, and ineffable, and also that He is not to be put to the test.

But there is another reason to exempt God from your rule: dragons and unicorns are not an explanation for the Universe. God is. Perhaps you don’t like that explanation - I’m not fond of it, myself - but the other explanations run from “There is no explanation, and none is needed” to “Something that we don’t know” to “There is an infinite chain of causations, and no original cause” (or “turtles all the way down”, as it were). Perhaps you might use Occam’s razor to separate them. But Occam’s razor is not a rule about what to believe, it’s a tool for selecting which of the competing explanations should be investigated first. I would be happy to have them investigated, but I can’t propose a method.

And there is a third: it is of course the error of the marketplace to believe what is popular. Nevertheless, a substantial majority of human beings have been and are theists, and that datum has some weight, with me. Substantial numbers aver that they have personal experience of contact with the divine. Yes, yes, I know the objections: a substantial majority of all the human beings who have lived have been racists; all theist statements are nothing more than anecdote. Nevertheless, being deeply aware as I am that I could be wrong, that I don’t know everything, and that my senses are not infallible, I am willing to leave the door open. Maybe someone will knock on it.

eric said:

Dave Luckett said:

eric, I’m now aware that I’m not going to sell you on the idea that what you don’t know, you don’t actually know.

I know there is no dragon sitting beside me. I know there is no unicorn out in my yard right now. But according to you, I don’t actually know these things.

And it’s all because you’re uncomfortable with atheists saying they know there is no god. You’d rather make the word “know” apply only to absolute philosophical certainty - something nobody can achieve, ever, for anything, rendering the word useless - than let it apply to God.

I have been reading this back and forth with some interest, because Eric’s comments do seem logical to me. However, since the issue is with the colloquial usage of “to know”, I think you have to consider popular consensus when speaking of colloquial usage. For instance, there is very, very few people who actually contend that there are fairies in your garden, or a dragon sitting next to you, or that they will float away after stepping off a building, or that the sun will not rise the next day etc. There are, however, large amounts of people who do contend that there is a God. Now I’m not claiming that majority rules in questions of science or logic, but we are not talking about science or logic, we are talking about colloquial usage of the phrase “to know”. And though there are people who would claim to “know there is no God”, there are many more who would claim to “know there is a God”. That’s why I would say it gets an “exception” (and I think you could apply this type of “exception” to many things, particularly political or artistic opinions). Using the phrase, colloquially, that you know there are no dragons IS different than using it so say you know there is no God, because many many people would contradict you on the latter, but not the former. It’s using the phrase, colloquially, to say you know things which are widely held to be true (or likely to be true).

Dave Luckett said: You do not know what God is - and nor do I - but His qualities are said to include being immaterial, invisible, and ineffable, and also that He is not to be put to the test.

I do not know what Sagan’s dragon is, but his qualities are said (by Sagan) to include being immaterial, invisible, and ineffable. This is very clear from The Demon-Haunted World. So if you claim I know there’s no dragon beside me (which you do), but I can’t know there’s no God beside me (which you do), and they are said to have the same properties as it relates to detection (they are), then you’re invoking a double standard.

I also find it a bit disconcerting that you are claiming we are all ignorant of god’s properties while you use a set of properties as the premises for your argument. Certainly you can pose this as a conditional argument (i.e., “a god with properties x, y, and z would be undetectable and thus could never be ruled out inductively”), but you cannot get from that condititional to any sort of claim that god has properties x, y, and z without, essentially, doing apologetics - i.e., starting with the presumption that God exists and then fashioning properties for him that would be consistent with current observation.

But there is another reason to exempt God from your rule: dragons and unicorns are not an explanation for the Universe. God is.

“God did it” is not really any sort of explanation at all. I am surprised you would accept it as such. In fact, I feel another argument over double-standards coming on, because I expect you would not consider “God did it” in the category “explanations” for anything but the origin of the universe. We don’t know how gravity arises; does God do it?

IMO “God” is used as a placeholder for ignorance when it comes to the origin of the universe in the same way that he was used as a placeholder for ignorance when it came to everything else before - lighting, stars, etc… You are basically supporting the god of the gaps argument here, my friend.

but the other explanations run from “There is no explanation, and none is needed” to “Something that we don’t know” to “There is an infinite chain of causations, and no original cause” (or “turtles all the way down”, as it were).

You forgot the simplest and most obvious one: we have no explanation now, and will reserve judgement while we keep looking.

being deeply aware as I am that I could be wrong, that I don’t know everything, and that my senses are not infallible, I am willing to leave the door open. Maybe someone will knock on it.

I think this statement shows that some part of you is still equating atheism with “only 7 and must be 7 on the Dawkins scale.” Atheists leave the door open. Should new evidence arise that bears upon our currently held inductive conclusion, we will consider it and possibly revise our conclusion. But until that happens, we look at the evidence we have in front of us now, and tentatively conclude that the best theological statement to fit the data is that there is no god. The difference between your agnosticism and my atheism is NOT that you leave the door open but I don’t. Both our doors are open. The difference is that I am willing to make a tentative conclusion based on the current data we have, and you are not. And the double standard coming in to play here is that you are perfectly willing to make tentative conclusions based on the current data we have about every other non-monotheistic god entity people posit. Just not this one.

daoudmbo said: since the issue is with the colloquial usage of “to know”, I think you have to consider popular consensus when speaking of colloquial usage.

I agree with this statement though maybe not with the rest of your reply. Certainly, if I know (heh) that the person I’m speaking to will interpret “I know there is no god” as an absolute philosophical claim, and I don’t actually intend to make an absolute philosophical claim, I should communicate what I mean when I say “I know.” It behooves me as a speaker to try and make my meaning clear.

But I think where I disagree with you is that I think we should also be trying to get rid of this double-standard in colloquial use, not just saying “oh, everyone has it, so let’s just roll with it.” I think its valuable to point out to theists if/when they hold atheist knowledge claims to a much higher criteria or standard than they hold their own claims. Stephen Roberts said: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” I think that’s a great statement. And if you take it one step further and ask why theists are atheistic about all but one theology, I think part of the fundamental reason is because they create a double-standard for disbelief; they insist on higher criteria for disbelief in the case of their own god. Pointing that out is, IMO, worthwhile.

Remember where I said that I was an atheist, eric? That means that I, too have come to the tentative conclusion that there is no God. But I don’t know that, and I won’t say that I do.

The 2nd in an editorial series in the NYTimes could have been interviewing Eric: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.co[…]against-god/

Louise Antony: “I claim to know that God doesn’t exist,”

further explained:

“O.K. So the question is, why do I say that theism is false, rather than just unproven? Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.”

Daoudmbo, you scooped me. I just came back over here to post a link to that article. :)

Here’s another relevant quote from that article:

Knowledge in the real world does not entail either certainty or infallibility. When I claim to know that there is no God, I mean that the question is settled to my satisfaction. I don’t have any doubts. I don’t say that I’m agnostic, because I disagree with those who say it’s not possible to know whether or not God exists. I think it’s possible to know. And I think the balance of evidence and argument has a definite tilt.

We will have to differ.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on February 17, 2014 3:04 PM.

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