Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the sixth of a seven-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

(R) You can argue until the cows come home that there could be life as we know it on the moon, but 99.9 percent of informed observers would not agree.
(MB) That is blatantly incorrect, as I have shown previously in the specific example of Archaea.

(R) However, if there is no evidence, either position is equally valid. Neither position is inherently superior to the other.
(MB) If there is no evidence on either side, then it is difficult to say that *either* position is valid on anything more than a purely emotional level.

Strong doubt in the positive position is the best that can be achieved, and that is realized by refuting everything offered in support of the positive position.
(R) Accepting a belief as a fact, or a hypothesis as a law, can only be justified by conclusive evidence which supports it. Nothing else matters. Casting doubt on its opposite proves nothing.
(MB) It does if that opposite side is proclaiming itself to be true or to be just as good as a competing idea. If there is only doubt about one side of the debate, then that side is as good as dead.

Sorry. Just because the rules of logic don't change to fit the needs of those who choose to believe in something doesn't mean that following them makes one closed-minded.
(R) To assert that your flawed maxims are rules of logic is laughable.
(MB) As shown previously, you call them "flawed" either because they dispute your ideas or because you haven't interpreted them correctly.
    Lest you think that my views are unique (or even original) to me, I present the following for your consideration and comment:

From Carl Sagan, "The Burden of Skepticism", Pasadena lecture, 1987:
"It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.)
    "On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all."

From David Hume, "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding", [1758] 1952:
"The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), 'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.'
    "When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable, that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact, which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority, which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion."

From Michael Shermer, "Why People Believe Weird Things", 1997:
"Who has to prove what to whom? The person making the extraordinary claim has the burden of proving to the experts and to the community at large that his or her belief has more validity than the one almost everyone else accepts. You have to lobby for your opinion to be heard. Then you have to marshal experts on your side so you can convince the majority to support your claim over the one that they have always supported. Finally, when you are in the majority, the burden of proof switches to the outsider who wants to challenge you with his or her unusual claim. Evolutionists had the burden of proof for half a century after Darwin, but now the burden of proof is on creationists. It is up to creationists to show why the theory of evolution is wrong and why creationism is right, and it is not up to evolutionsts to defend evolution. The burden of proof is on the Holocaust deniers to prove the Holocaust did not happen, not on Holocaust historians to prove that it did. The rationale for this is that mountains of evidence prove that both evolution and the Holocaust are facts. In other words, it is not enough to have evidence. You must convince others of the validity of your evidence. And when you are an outsider this is the price you pay, regardless of whether you are right or wrong."

(R) You have no conclusive evidence which shows your beliefs to be anything more than personal opinions.
(MB) I have stated and shown otherwise. You, on the other hand, have specifically said that yours in nothing more than a belief based solely upon "personal preference". If that is the case, you have absolutely no business challenging any other belief and this will not change until you are willing to have your beliefs play by the same rules as required for all others.

This example was lifted directly from the pages of the book "Scientific Creationism" by Henry M. Morris, the Director of the Institute for Creation Research.
(R) The basic concept is indeed borrowed from Morris, but you missed a couple of things. He says nothing about the parts of the aircraft being built by other technicians, or about the hurricane going through the junkyard a few billion times. These are my own additions, which make the example more applicable to our discussion. I'm not a terribly original thinker and most of my material is drawn from others. I modify it as necessary to form my own ideas.
(MB) As do most people. However, we must be careful that we draw from valid and logical arguments. Morris does not qualify in that regard. It doesn't matter what process builds the plane. Since it is neither an animate object nor composed of self-ordering molecular parts, its construction can not be compared to that of the building blocks of organic life.
    BTW, I find it interesting that you claim to give no credence to Creationists, but you have obviously read their leading book and seem to have no difficulty in using arguments lifted almost verbatim from its pages.

It is one of his numerous failed attempts to disprove evolution.
(R) A mistake. Evolution is a valid theory which can't be disproven. It does not preclude the existence of God, however.
(MB) This is correct. Evolution is what's called an "irreligious" theory in that it says nothing pro or con about the existence of God. It is a theory to describe and predict the development of life on planet Earth after it has first appeared.

There are two major flaws in this argument. One is in the failure to realize that atoms and molecules are not assembled at random. There is a finite and very limited set of basic rules that determine how atoms and molecules can combine. Also, many of these combinations are self-ordering and will always arise if all components are present.
(R) The rules apply equally to the random assembling of a 747 or a universe.
(MB) That is incorrect. Organic life is not a random assemblage of molecules -- it contains self-ordering parts. A 747 does not. Quantum theory actually predicts that a 747 *could* be assembled by random motions of its component molecules. But, since there is no self-ordering procedure to help the process along, it would require so many trials and so much time before it could be expected to happen that it is, for all practical purposes, properly described as being impossible.

The second flaw is in treating a macroscopic object as a single entity that is created all at once in a single step rather than as an assemblage of smaller components that may require many steps and lots of time to come to pass. Joe would understand this.
(R) Which is why my example doesn't require the 747 to be assembled in a single step. It is assembled gradually, during the billions of times the wind sweeps through the junkyard. Joe would recognize it is just as logical to believe the universe was created as it is to assume it arose on its own by chance.
(MB) First you invoke random events to create the 747 and then draw a conclusion that a creator must be involved. Which is it?
    It is logical to assume that a 747 had an intelligent creator since, as I stated above, it is practically impossible for it to self-assemble. There are no laws of physics that one can point to which would predict the spontaneous creation of something as complex as a 747.
    However, the universe is another story. Its creation and development is completely guided by the fundamental laws of physics. There are really a relatively small number of these fundamental laws. In fact, if superstring theory is correct, there is only *one* basic law of physics from which all others derive. Something that inherently simple requires no outside creator and is the way we see it because it couldn't be any other way. This should be fairly obvious to Joe.

A few billion times would be nowhere near enough trials to produce a significant probability of the watch being produced by the method you describe. However, it is not impossible.
(R) The chance of rolling ten "ones" in a row with a single die is very small. However, if the die is rolled a million times, the probability of getting ten "ones" in a row at least once is about 2 percent. At 100 millions rolls, it rises to nearly 80 percent, and at a billion rolls, it is virtually guaranteed.
(MB) It's not really a very small probability in the great scheme of things. The odds of success in a single trial are 1 in 60,466,176. To reach a 50% probability of success would require only 41,911,959 trials. We can reach a 98.81% probability of success in just over 268 million trials. If we used a fast computer to simulate the process, we could expect to attain success in barely over a minute.
    The point here is that there are only 10 component elements which can each be arranged in only 6 ways. This is trivial problem in random event probability as compared to the billions upon billions (with respect to Carl Sagan) of component molecules of even a simple watch and the even vaster number of possible arrangements of those molecules -- only one of which would produce success.

(R) But this is only because it is possible to roll ten "ones" in a row. If I hold a pencil at shoulder height and drop it, it will always fall to the floor. It will never rise to the ceiling, at least not on Earth. It doesn't matter how many billions of times you do it, the pencil will always fall to the floor, because it is impossible for it not to. I don't believe it would ever be possible to create a watch by chance, in the method described, no matter how many times it was attempted.
(MB) If you understood quantum mechanics, you would not make such a statement. While the expected result may occur for any arbitrarily large number of consecutive trials, that does not mean that one more trial might not produce a completely different result. For example, it would be theoretically possible for all particles in the pencil to quantum leap to the ceiling at the exact moment that you released it. In fact, in today's (11 Dec 97) paper is a story describing an experiment that successfully demonstrated such a thing using photons of light. In reality, "impossibility" is only an expression of extreme improbability. Given enough time and trials, if anything is even theoretically possible, then the probability that it will eventually occur at some point is 1.

Joe would certainly realize that the watchmaker is merely the agent by which the near-infinite number of possible arrangements of watch components are reduced to a workable one. He would also understand the difference between improbable and impossible.
(R) Absolutely. Just as he would recognize that God might be the agent by which the universe is created.
(MB) Just as he would recognize that a creator for something as relatively simple and self-ordering as the universe is unnecessary. When faced with two potentially plausible theories of creation -- one of which has mountains of evidence in support and the other of which is nothing more than an unsupported and unnecessary "personal preference" -- Joe would certainly choose the one which is supported.

That's too easy. He'd believe Person B. Joe would understand that, without any support, no positive position can be valid.
(R) Joe would recognize the entire concept of "positive" and "negative" positions as intellectual legerdemain, and agree neither Person A and Person B have any inherent superiority in their beliefs.
(MB) Joe would recognize the concepts as the basics of logic and reason and would make his choice according to which side better presents its case and which successfully shoulders the burden of proof.

(R) No they are your words, from your Essay on Religion and in every answer to each reply posted. Your anti-religious bias is so noticeable as to make your statements in the first paragraph of the essay a travesty.
(MB) I'm not "anti-religious". I am "anti-nonsense". If religion (or anything else) wishes to justify itself through nonsensical methods, then it is open to justifiable criticism. That makes me neither biased nor bigoted.

(R) And I've only called you a bigot at one point, where you made an openly bigoted statement--and I notice you did not answer to the charge.
(MB) A bigot makes baseless charges and statements that contravene all available evidence, logic, and common wisdom and also fails to support his own opinions with anything more than rhetoric. That does not apply to me. Most often in these types of debates, the charge of "bigot" is leveled when a given statement is unpalatable but the complainant has nothing with which to dispute it. That places the charge in the "sticks and stones" category.

In other words, if an idea can't be supported, then, for all practical purposes, the idea could just as well not even exist. One might as well be trying to defend "Harvey".
(R) Untrue. The basic premise of nearly any system of beliefs is usually insupportable, but this doesn't mean these ideas are meaningless or unimportant (ref. "All men are created equal.")
(MB) Again, you are confusing pure philosophy with science. Philosophy asks "Why?" while science asks "How?". The two may well be parallel disciplines, but that means that their paths do not cross. Ideas of philosophy hold only for the society that espouses them. Theories of science hold for the whole of the universe.

(R) As for Harvey, he has nothing to do with a belief in God.
(MB) Again, you evade the point. Each has nothing in support of its existence. The God theory, however, predicts all sorts of phenomena which would be testable, observable, and definable. Yet, its adherents back away from the consequences of their beliefs. For the God theory to be any better than the Harvey theory (or the Great Green Arkleseizure or the creation myths of any of Man's other religions), it must address those predictions. If it can't, it must be withdrawn as anything more than an unsupportable belief and must not be invoked either as being equal to or better than scientific theories. It must be treated as nothing more than another superstition -- no better, no worse.

Either support the position or have no more to say about it. "Shit or get off the pot".
(R) Chinese proverb say he who uses profanity first is running out of intelligent things to say.
(MB) Chinese proverb say that when somebody doesn't understand something the first time, explain to him in simpler terms. You didn't understand the meaning of the original metaphor "Preach or get off the pulpit", so I just simplified it to common usage. I also notice that you didn't bother to take the suggestion and start presenting evidence in favor of your beliefs.

Oh, please! Is that the best you can do? Just poo-poo everything I say with no rebuttal and keep on holding to your own beliefs?
(R) So, you're begging for mercy, eh? Well, no quarter.
(MB) I would never surrender from a position of strength. I'm asking a serious question to which I expect a serious and non-evasive answer. Is there one forthcoming?

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