Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I have to admit it

For the first time in the history of this blog, I'm going to admit you're right.

I didn't get upset by what you wrote because I know it's true. After putting that post together for a couple of days, I finally published it about a half-hour before I was done with work today. I spent no small amount of time going through and revising what I wrote, but I didn't concern myself with whether or not the form should in fact be revised. That's what I started thinking about roughly 15 minutes after I published, and ever since I've been regretting it more and more, because I'm pretty sure that I look exactly like the kind of pretentious jackass I often rail against. Moreso, I come off as disingenuous, because I state up front that I'm not intending to mock Seth and then proceed to use a device that can't help but come across as snarky and demeaning. It doesn't help when I leave in something like "You've got to be joking me, right?"

I considered, once I got home, taking down the post and re-working it, but what shred of journalistic ethics I have left in me compelled me to simply sit there and accept criticism as it came. If I was willing to publish in the first place, then taking it down makes me a coward.

So, sorry Seth. Your argument deserved better than that. I hope you'll understand that on issues I feel strongly about (this is clearly one of them) I have a tendency to resort to facile argumentation tactics even though I really don't need to. I hope I haven't discouraged you from bothering to participate, because what you wrote really did get me interested.

About the only thing I do disagree with you about, Justin, is the issue of citing sources. The process of linking is incredibly tedious, and I don't think I ventured too long into any particular subject that wasn't central to what I was saying. A notable example of an exception is the "god can be disproven" vs. the contrapositive, which was a statement that Seth made. Part of the problem with my statement is that the wording is awkward; it kinda sounds like god's existence has been disproven, which is not a statement I'm willing to make. What I am saying is that like any other concept, the veracity of the god hypothesis can theoretically be disproven, just like any other theory one cares to present. That is, provided we're willing to work on solid ground; the biggest issue with the god hypothesis is that it's loaded with unfalsifiable premises, and ultimately conclusions.

What I should have written, and could have if I hadn't decided to take the lazy route, was that the issue with positing that a belief in god — no matter whether they be the deistic terms set forth by Seth, or the more standard judeo-christian terms used by a large hunk of the population — is rational is that you must then provide evidence. I don't believe the difference between something being logical and rational is semantic; a logical argument must simply have a conclusion that correctly follows from its premises. A rational argument is one based on reason, which in this case means that the premises are up for verification as well. The premises that Seth used to arrive at his conclusion are, I believe, flawed because there is no compelling reason to attribute any phenomena in our universe to a supernatural being or occurrence. Conversely, the "physical" side of the aisle has consistently provided verifiable premises that have led to reasonable conclusions. I do not believe that, in examples of unexplainable phenomena, that there is an equal probability of the answer being supernatural vs. non-supernatural, because there hasn't yet been an instance in which the supernatural has explained anything. Bringing it back to the issue at hand — the creation of the universe — the point I was trying to make was that the theories that have been put forth from various areas of the scientific community can be verified, even if they haven't been yet. The converse explanation of a supernatural creator does not offer anything to be verified; it's presence in the argument is based solely on the fact that it hasn't been disproven. Ultimately, if we are to say that a belief in something is rational, one must be willing to substantiate it outside of stating — however correctly — that none of the other explanations offered can be proven.

Again, I wish I had just said that from the beginning, and left it there.

As for whether or not science has actually proven anything, I still don't quite see where you're coming from. Science, of course, has proven a lot. Even the vast majorities of "theories" have been verified to the point where they are accepted as fact, or a scientific law. Admittedly, the big ones — evolution, the big bang, etc. — are still considered theories because there some loose ends to be tied up. Likely, in the cases of both, those loose ends will never be tied up because they both deal with natural history, and we lack a complete record of everything that's happened since the inception of life and the universe. But those are exceptions; the vast majority of what we "know" has in fact been proven by observation. As for proof vs. disproof, I don't think it's a matter of value as much as it is approachability: The process of proving something is exponentially harder than the process of disproving. To use a practical example, the various theories offered up for why things fall toward the earth instead of floating were, at one time, all equally disprovable. As our ability to measure improved, all of those theories except one — the theory of gravity — were summarily discarded. Once the process of whittling down had taken place, it was then up to the interested parties to prove the theory. Once they did, it became a law. The distance traveled between it being the last acceptable theory for the observed phenomena and its acceptance as a law was, as far as I can tell, much longer than the distance traveled between the other theories and their being discarded.

In conclusion, I hope I've redeemed myself somewhat with this post. It does bother me that what I wrote earlier came off as insulting. While I'm usually comfortable creating friction, as Justin stated it's always just meant to be some fun between friends. It's obvious from the response thus far that whatever frivolity I intended to make the final cut, in fact, didn't.

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