Thursday, May 04, 2006


Brother Danny said:

“Isn't this really about Hume's PoI, which clearly divides believers, of all stripes, in a supernatural ontology from materialists/naturalists? The uniformity of nature (UN) and the openness to scientific examination of alleged violations is the crux of my position, but I can't speak for John.”

“I haven't read the other posts by fellow triabloguers, but let me systematically categorize "ancient superstitions" versus "modern superstitions". Do we agree that scientific knowledge usurps superstition?”

No, we don’t agree to that.

i) Not all scientific theorizing counts as scientific knowledge.

ii) It’s true that science can undermine superstition, and that’s a good thing.

iii) The uniformity of nature is a metaphysical axiom, not a scientific discovery.

iv) There is, in Danny’s discussion, a systematic equivocation over the definition of “superstition.”

Does “superstition” mean (a) irrational belief, or (b) religious belief?

v) Science is not opposed to religious belief, per se.

vi) Science can also swap out an ancient superstition with a modern superstition, viz. ufology.

vii) To take another example, it’s obvious that Darwinism is far more than a scientific theory for many unbelievers. They have a deep emotional investment in evolution. It has become their alternative to a Christian worldview. That’s why they brook no dissent. That’s why they blacklist anyone within the scientific community who expresses doubt over evolution.

It has become a modern superstition.

“Do we agree that someone who subscribes to the UN and does not believe any event cannot be explained via naturalism is antithetical to superstition?”

This is antithetical to “superstition” as religious belief (a tendentious definition), but it is not antithetical to “superstition” as irrational belief.

“Good. Now, I would simply argue that proposed ‘holes’ in the UN can either be patched via the natural worldview or via any of the various supernatural ontologies.”

If Danny is admitting that there are gaps in the uniformity of nature, then the dogma of UN is underdetermined by the evidence.

“We should make a line of demarcation there. If you agree, then we must agree that categorically speaking, the number of ancient peoples with a strictly natural worldview, who subscribed to the UN, was incomparably small relative to today. Therefore, the number of peoples across the line, who subscribed to one of the many pseudo-explanations of myth, lore, and miracles to plug in the holes of their knowledge, [qualified that we're talking about myth and lore that incorporate gods, supernatural entities and events, etc.] were hugely disproportionate to today. Simply put, then number of materialists/skeptics then, compared to now, is pitifully insignificant.”

“The schools of the Cynics and Skeptics made up what fraction of the world at the time? The disproportionate writings we have from them are representative not of their size, but of their historical place within the "ancient enlightenment" of Greece, and the abundant literature poured out at the time (relatively speaking) from all schools of thought there. As a proportion of the worlds' population, these schools were insignificant.”

“ Therefore, probabilistically speaking, John is justified in saying that the category of "ancient peoples" is not fallaciously equated with "superstitious" peoples.”

i) Danny is equating superstition with religiosity or belief in the supernatural.

That definition is invidious and prejudicial. All he’s done is to beg the question in his favor through the semantic ploy of truth by definition.

ii) We also need to distinguish between general belief in the supernatural, and the specific identification of the supernatural.

The specific identification of what constitutes the supernatural is often culture-bound. Cultural tradition supplies the interpretive categories.

But it doesn’t follow from this that belief in the supernatural is culture-bound. Historically, belief in the supernatural is a cultural universal.

iii) Secularism is also a consequence of social conditioning.

iv) At the same time, all that modernity is done is to replace one form of superstition or religiosity with another.

A postchristian culture isn’t any less religious or superstitious than a prechristian culture.

Rather, a postchristian culture will either substitute a secular superstition like ufology and metaphysical naturalism or else revert to an ancient superstition like the occult.

Belief in the supernatural either remains intact, but is merely relocated, or else it’s transvaluated into a secular surrogate.

“You proceed to examine ancient beliefs and disregard them on the basis that they are ancient. John disregards superstition, characterized by a supernatural ontology and disbelief in the UN. Obviously, the bedrock of the UN is the foundation for materialism, so I don't see how you can justify calling people who subscribe to it ‘superstitious’. By default, it would seem, people who disregard miracles and agree to the UN are non-superstitious.”

Because this trades on the equivocal usage of “superstition.”

“The same goes with skeptics. If they require evidence to believe that the UN is violated, doesn't that make them the opposite of gullible, naive, or superstitious? Isn't that where the term "enlightenment" and the phrase "the age of reason" come in: where superstition is abandoned?”

This is a classic example of a blinkered outlook. Notice where he places the burden of proof.

He takes the uniformity of nature as a given, so that the onus is on the Christian to proven an exception or “violation.”

But there is no evidence for the uniformity of nature. There is only evidence for the regularity of nature.

There could never be evidence for the uniformity of nature since that is a universal claim which is vastly underdetermined by our sampling base. Induction alone cannot possibly justify the uniformity of nature.

At most, there would only be evidence that things have always happened the same way as long as earthlings have been observers.

Unfortunately for Hume and his epigones, the same historical testimony to the ordinary course of nature also includes testimony to the miraculous.

Indeed, this is so pervasive that unbelievers must summarily dismiss their testimony by branding it as “superstition.”

But if those who lived before the glorious age of reason are unreliable witnesses to the miraculous, then pre-enlightenment observers are also unreliable witnesses to the “uniformity” of nature throughout the preceding millennia.

“And the average American scientific illiterate today, compared to 2000 years ago, is still extremely less superstitious, in that they at least almost universally acknowledge the UN, excepting only miracles done by their preferred god.”

Aside from Danny’s ubiquitous equivocation, why does he assert that we limit miracles to our own religion?

i) To begin with, Christians believe in the dark side. In the reality of witchcraft.

ii) Most religions never lay claim to miraculous attestation in the first place.

“The good news is that the number of gods has shrunk, leaving less "alternative explanations" for our gaps in knowledge and proposed violations of the UN. As silly as people are today, with 60% believing in ESP and 32% in lucky numbers, compare that to the ancient world's various superstitions, or even our modern-day third-world countries, and what would we see, percentage-wise?”

This assumes, without benefit of argument, that belief in the paranormal is inherently superstitious.

But the parapsychological literature cannot be disqualified with a wave of the hand. Not everyone involved in this line of research is a quack or dupe. And some case-studies are more impressive than others. Just consult some of the standard literature on the topic, viz.

Bartholomew, D. Uncertain Belief (Clarendon 1996)

Braude, S. Immortal Remains (Rowman & Littlefield 2003)

Montefiore, H. The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates (Upfront Publishing 2002).

John W. Loftus said:

“No, No, No. One main point from what I wrote is that since these Ephesians were totally convinced in Artemis WITHOUT evidence, then whether they believed Paul or not would not depend on evidence either. “

i) A nonsequitur. Given the force of social conditioning and the fear of being ostracized, they would need a reason to convert.

ii) And the fact that they had no evidence for their hereditary pagan faith does not imply that they were also given no reason to believe the Gospel.

“So the fact that the gospel spread in the Roman world among THE MASSES (or specifically the Ephesian area) doesn't show anything about the evidence there might have been for the gospel. Miller does not/cannot refute this point since I quote from the Bible itself. (Look also at Acts 17:22-23 where the KJV uses the word ‘superstitious’).”

i) The Christian faith has always been an apologetic faith. Just read F.F. Bruce, The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Eerdmans 1984).

ii) By “superstitious,” Luke means idolatrous.

“On the contrary, since we are all children of our times, it's hard to escape the conclusion that Paul himself was a child of his times and believed a wonderful story based upon a vision he saw.”

i) Yes, the Bible writers were children of their times. They were products of their social conditioning.

But God is responsible for their social conditioning. That is why the Jews were called upon to separate themselves from the idolatries and immoralities of their pagan neighbors.

ii) Loftus begs the question by assuming that there’s no such thing as revelation or providence.

iii) Paul revised his views on the basis of new information. That’s rational, not irrational. And besides the vision, he appeals to other supporting evidence, viz. prophetic fulfillment, eyewitnesses.

“Now I know that I can prove none of this”


“Just like you cannot prove the opposite.”

A tendentious claim.

“But it leaves room for doubt, such that if you were a juror judging the case it would be enough to cause "reasonable doubt" like it does with me.”

Whether the Christian faith is doubtful or not depends on one’s theology and epistemology.

For my part I regard saving faith as a mode of knowledge, not defeasible belief.


  1. Non-sequitor, eh? I have decided to post something soon on the truth about informal fallacies. Until then just keep on keeping on.

    Probably every jury that has decided a verdict did so based upon what others would claim are non-sequitors. Now what? And they do so with non-supernatural events.

  2. Superstition, ala Webster's:
    1 a : a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation b : an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition
    2 : a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary

    "science", ala Webster's:
    1 : the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
    2 a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study (the science of theology) b : something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge (have it down to a science)
    3 a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : NATURAL SCIENCE
    4 : a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws (culinary science)
    5 capitalized : CHRISTIAN SCIENCE

    I submit that superstition, in the way that I used it for "proposed 'holes' in the UN" and as what naturally follows from ignorance, and is usurped by science, was consistent with definitions 1 and 2. Superstition is looking at EITHER holes in our knowledge, OR supposed/proposed inconsistencies in what we "think we know" about the universe (eg UN), in such a way as to inject a false belief or conclusion in the "blank" or "hole" left there.

    The uniformity of nature is a metaphysical axiom, not a scientific discovery.
    Every unfalsified prediction of science is evidence that supports the uniformity of natural law. Every mathematical model ever derived in the physical sciences to predict phenomena which were later empirically verified substantiates it [eg Einstein's GR equations substantiated by the bending of light during an eclipse]. What "substantiates" the view of nature as "interruptible" rather than your faith and dogmatic attachment to dusty scrolls of uncertain origins by unknown authors?

    What axiomatic stance do you have? Nature is uniform...except when God intervenes...which I know by...the Bible?

    If Danny is admitting that there are gaps in the uniformity of nature, then the dogma of UN is underdetermined by the evidence.
    No, as I pointed out above...and used the word PROPOSED to describe "holes" or "irregularities".

    As I said in the beginning, much of this post seems to revolve around Hume vs. religious believers. Those who agree with Hume are going to stack up on one side, and side with science and UN and naturalism, etc., and those who disagree are going to stack up on the other side. I am not a philosopher, but I've done enough science to know "superstition" and "miracles" are non-answers to the reality of our cosmos. They are faith objects. They connote no more secure knowledge than leaving a blank or gap and admitting, "I don't know, but I believe..."

    We *know* that every human being in recorded history has died a physical death, excepting those recorded in "Scriptures" which also record lots of other goodies, like that the earth was created before the stars, that the plants were created before the sun, that the "days" were present before the sun, that 10 plagues were poured out on Egypt (though there is no evidence for it, and evidence to the contrary), that a Exodus occurred where 600,000 men (not counting women and children) left Egypt and wandered for 40 years...(ditto on the evidence)... guys stick with your religious faith, I'll call it superstition, and I'll stick with a universe in which flippant magical Beings don't do miracles every couple of thousand years and let the "well-oiled machine" run the rest of the time. I'll stick with naturalism, because it works, and I have evidence, and not faith, that it does.

    PS: It's non sequitur, everybody, I'm nitpicky on spelling, but make typos like everyone else, but this word was repeatedly misspelled

  3. Ah, so superstition like an unobserved oort cloud, unobserved dark matter, and unobserved antimatter region? Maybe a superstition like self-generating matter and energy(quantum fluctiation won't get it, both matter and energy must exist for a quantum anything). A superstition like self generating information such as DNA? Science is riddled with just so stories and mythology. A system which practices the very things you call superstitions hardly helps your argument.

  4. I think the big problem with a definition of superstitious is that it relies on an idea of "ignorance." Thus, the distinction between "knowledge" and "superstition" is an epistemological question.

    From a purely skeptical point of view, there is very little that is known. We cannot prove that the world is not "The Matrix" and thus we cannot prove that what we see is actually real. If we assume it is real, is that "superstitious"? We don't know beyond all doubt, so how can it be said we "know" at all?

    Or look at it another way. Suppose one "knows" the Earth is a sphere because a baseball is a sphere and everything is a function of baseball. Thus, the information may be technically correct but for the wrong reasons. Is this person's belief in the shape of the Earth superstitious or true knowledge?

    Note this post is not an attempt on my part to actually advance skepticism or anything like that. It's just pointing out that knowledge is a very relative term, and thus superstition is likewise going to be extremely relative.

  5. an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition

    Hmm, guess you just blew by the part of the definition which says resulting from superstition, which of course you would have to establish. This is of course the matter in dispute. Back to reading comprehension.