Thursday, October 21, 2010

Keep This Link Close

[White tatonka. It's a miracle]

I mean: keep this here link in your "review again and again" file.

Vincent Torley, according to the resume posted on-line, is a Philosophy Ph.D. and teacher living in Japan. I have read some of his work at the ID site, Uncommon Descent. Like many philosophers and humanities wonks, he is careful with his words, which means that if you read closely you'll see that nothing very controversial is ever being said.

Torley comments from a distance on a recent debate between two biologists and super-Atheists, Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers. The debate is very interesting and worth checking out; it actually began as the two scientists took different views on the Steve Zara article that I had discussed here.

Torley sees the debate, which is over whether we can find any evidence for a god (notice the italicized and boldfaced words), as an opportunity to present a list of apologetic and philosophical arguments for his god. Addressing Coyne (but not Myers, since Coyne thinks that there is at least a theoretical possibility for evidence of gods), Torley rhapsodizes:
Well, Professor, I'm something of a magpie. I collect good articles. The 200 or so articles I’ve listed below are the "creme-de-la-creme" so to speak, of what’s available on the Web. Taken together, they make a strong cumulative case, on philosophical and empirical grounds, that God does indeed exist, and that the benefits of religion vastly outweigh the multitude of harms inflicted in its name. (There’s even a case where an amputee gets healed! Curious? Thought you might be.) I’ve also included some good articles on God, morality and evil, which will interest you. The arguments for the immateriality of the mind are also significant: they serve to undermine the materialist argument that there can never be a good argument for the existence of an immaterial Intelligence, since all the minds we know of are embodied and complex. Interested? Please read on.
Torley's list is worth checking out but it also must be noted that it contains virtually no first-hand science. Some of the folks seem sciency or almost sciency, like Don Johnson, but I'm not sure if their works are works of science. Torley's list mainly consists of arguments and interpretations, which really misses the point. The problem with arguments and interpretations, as Myers aptly puts it, is that unless they are expressed in evidence and in resulting sets of data, they are really just stories:
We can have the logical possibility of finding phenomena in the natural world that have been traditionally hidden from explanation by sweeping them into the category of "the gods did it," but I say that gods have never been and never can be an adequate answer. Once you've got evidence for something, it's no longer a member of the set of mysteries under godly purview.

It's like the old joke, "What do you call alternative medicines that have been shown to work? Medicine." What I'm asking here is what should you call supernatural explanations that actually work and lead to deeper understanding of the universe…and the answer is science. All gods vanish in the first puff of understanding.
To see that Torley is probably talking past Coyne and Myers, have a look at Coyne's statements below, which try to put the focus on--da da-dah dah!--evidence!
Here are two sorts of evidence. In one, a man appears on earth (let’s say he claims to be Jesus returning) who is able to perform all sorts of “miracles.” Let’s say, for instance, that he heals amputees and all manner of illnesses and mutilations, claiming that he’s channeling God’s power. These healings are fully documented by physicians. And the being can also do other stuff that doesn’t seem to have a natural explanation, like turning water into wine at long distance (this, of course, would be supervised not just by chemists, but by magicians). You could of course impute these results to space aliens, but even aliens have to work through understandable natural mechanisms. If they don’t, then they’re equivalent to gods.

Here’s another: a rigorous double-blind experiment provides strong evidence that prayer works. (That is, the people prayed for are almost always healed, while those who are not recover at control rates.) But it works only when praying to God and Jesus, not Allah or Vishnu or anyone else. Is that not evidence for an omniscient and omnipotent being? Granted, we know that prayer doesn’t work, but it could have.
Interestingly, Torley does give us a Wikipedia reference to the Miracle of Calanda, a report of a 17th century Spanish farmer's leg being returned to him after it had been amputated two years earlier. It's a rather dodgy report, certainly not fully documented. I think we would all prefer to have more data and verification, and I think we'd all like to have similar events that are more recent than 370 years ago. Most importantly, we should remember and take to heart the advice of David Hume:
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....
But it's a neat story and I welcome anyone to hang their religious hat on it. Such folk may also want to consider the Hindu Milk Miracle, the psychic powers of the Buddha, Muhammad's splitting the Moon, or perhaps the miraculous white buffalo.

UPDATE: Jerry Coyne has made note of Torley's list. I think Coyne treats it properly.

UPDATE 2: Torley must be reading the comments over at Coyne's site. He's recently added the following note beneath the Miracle of Calanda link:
PLEASE NOTE: The miracle of Calanda is well-documented, but hardly compelling. I have included it as a counter-example to the commonly heard claim that God never heals amputees. There is good reason to believe that on at least one occasion, he did. However, the evidence for St. Joseph of Cupertino's miracles is absolutely compelling, making it reasonable for believers to take seriously accounts of miracles for which the evidence is strong, but not compelling. To suppose that thousands of people, including skeptics, who witnessed St. Joseph of Cupertino's flights on thousands of occasions, could have been mistaken about the saint's ability to fly, is absurd.
This is fantastic backtracking. Ah, but I wish Torley had thought it worthy to include the accounts of the cephalophoric saints.


  1. Rambam9:14 AM

    I thought intelligent design wasn't about God?

  2. Rambam3:10 PM

    David Blaine can levitate too.


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