Friday, August 9, 2013

Responding to "The Dragon In My Garage" by...not actually responding.

I was just Googling Carl Sagan's The Dragon In My Garage and found a post with a Christian response on the topic. The response was requested by an atheist who apparently has read some of this apologist's other work. We'll go through it piece by piece in a bit. First, the low-down on Sagan's Dragon:
"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage"

Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

Now for the response:
From a naturalist perspective this argument makes a lot of sense. If someone is to make a scientific claim, this argument is perfectly valid. If you know the history of science well, you will recognize that this argument could have been used to create skepticism about the existence of "anima" of "phlogiston" of "ether" of "calor" and other substances created in the history of science to explain otherwise difficult to understant phenomena. Of course, none of these substances turned out to be real. I believe that "strings" of string theory and multiverse theory also ought to be challenged on the dragon in my garage argument as well. Scientific claims need to hold up to the dragon in my garage argument.
This looks like posturing. I can generally agree with him, but a few points stick out:
  1. Aether originates in mythology, not science. In fact, the only element from that list that I could confirm originated from science is "phlogiston." He's unfairly blaming science for things for which it is not responsible.
  2. He ignores how it was discovered that these substances were not real. Likely answer: Science, testing for these elements in much the same way Sagan expects us to test for his dragon. He's leaving the impression that scientists don't apply this argument, but that's just bogus.
  3. I strongly doubt scientists believe in string theory or multiverses nearly as fervently as our apologist here believes in his god. He's trying to equate beliefs that aren't actually held equally.
  4. Overall, this seems to be the classic attempt to knock down to your opponent to make yourself appear taller. It's ultimately not relevant to the actual question but is instead a rhetorical device.
However, as an argument against the existence of God, I believe it is NOT a valid argument. I know of no one who believes that God can be detected by any science experiment. what? Sagan does not say, but perhaps the person who believes there is a dragon in their garage likewise does not believe their dragon can be detected by any science experiment. (And even if they did, they apparently are not willing to provide the experiment themselves.) What I'm trying to get at is that the argument is not at all dependent on what the person believes about their god and/or dragon, so such belief has no impact on the validity of the argument. Thus, he has yet to give us a legitimate reason for why this is not a valid argument.

Actually, as I was composing this post, I notice that Sagan does not even demand a "science experiment" (and what, exactly, does this even mean?) to detect this dragon. The first thing Sagan suggests asking is to merely see the dragon with your own eyes. This apologist appears to be raising the bar for validation higher than Sagan has implied. Does he think this god can be detected at all? Sagan is just looking for some sort of method of detection that can be used for verification. This really shouldn't be much to ask.

(I think our apologist is mixing points as the person writing him asked for "scientific evidence." If he's going to properly address Sagan's argument, he needs to stay focused on only this argument and address these other points separately.)
If we apply the dragon on my garage argument, then let me list a number of things which certainly do not exist.
1. love
2. honor
3. human consciousness
4. truth
5. freedom
6. morality
7. evil
8. beauty
9. God
I am guessing that you believe that some of these things exist as real things, yet that they are not physically detectable things.
What??? Is love not physically detectable???

Above is a picture from the Wikipedia article on love. Is this not a physical detection of love? What does this apologist think it means to be physically detectable? "Beauty" can't really be anything but some sort of physical detection!

Again, I suspect he's raising the bar higher than what is required. This is a rather common apologetic maneuver, as I've essentially addressed this before in my break downs of the book, "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist," such as in this post on love. The idea is that we can't identify some specific materialistic thing that is love, therefore love does not exist. It's a confusion that is based on miscategorizing things like love. "Love" is a phenomena likely caused by material objects; "love," being a phenomena is an abstract.

Let me try to provide some sort of analogy that may help explain this. Earlier the apologist mentioned phlogiston, which was believed to be an element released during combustion. Combustion itself, however, is not a material object; it is a phenomena (or process) that involves material objects. Love is likely very similar, in which the material object that is involved is a brain (or brains). Can we be certain about this? No. But at least we know a brain exists and we have at least some ideas about how it works. In other words, the best evidence we have points to a brain. There is no evidence that leads anywhere else.

We can go through the next seven items on the list and see that all of them are likewise abstract terms. None of these attempts to describe any sort of specific object. Again, this seems to be the common apologist tactic:
  1. Produce a list of abstract terms.
  2. Declare that these can't exist per the scientific method, ignoring that this method is not intended to apply to abstracts.
  3. Argue that since these abstracts exist while being untouchable by science, so too can a god.
Honestly, I can't argue with that logic. As long as they are treating this god as an abstract as well. This is where the flaw exits; I'm quite sure these apologists don't believe in an abstract god. They aren't pantheists! Go ahead and look that list over again. One of these things is not like the others.

At this point, he's essentially done addressing Sagan's argument. I do want to continue through the rest of the post, but, to wrap up on this topic, I find that he actually demonstrates his god to be analogous to the dragon. Sagan says, "I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work." Our apologist actually headed us off at the pass by implying that no physical test will work, so we need not bother. (I suppose we could thank him for saving us the time of trying to list possible tests.) He tries to justify this by implying there are a number of things that Sagan's argument would incorrectly debunk, but this is a failure since everything else he lists is an abstract where it should be safe to assume he does not believe the same about his god. In short, he has provided us with no difference between his god and no god at all.

And now, for the rest of the post.
Naturalists want the existence of God to be a scientific proposal. It is not and no amount of yelling and screaming on the part of naturalists will change this fact. They cannot have it both ways.
Both ways? "Both" implies "two." What other way is he talking about? He's only listed one. (Or is he referring back to what he believes are inconsistent beliefs about items on his list?) The problem is that it is apologists that imply that their god is a scientific proposal. Ever heard of "intelligent design?" There are many apologists that want this taught in science classes. Why should it be in science classes if it is not a scientific proposal? And this is just one example relating to biology. Many Christian apologists also claim their god to be the creator of the universe, yet another scientific proposal.

I also took a look at his "about" page. There, it states, talking about a book he wrote, "it covers...the evidence for God from science." OK, so he thinks there is evidence for this god, and scientific evidence at that! So why aren't we in agreement? My suspicions are twofold: One, at some level of consciousness, he knows he doesn't actually have sufficient evidence. Two, he would probably claim that "evidence for God from science" is not the same as being a scientific proposal. If this were the case, the only proper response to that is, "Bullshit!" I did more digging around his website (it didn't take much) and I found a recording for sale in his store that is about "an argument for special creation." This includes "creation of the universe, of life and quite likely even of Adam and Eve. In other words, he's proposing his god as the explanation behind these events which can be explored by science. If it walks like a duck (or looks like a scientific proposal)...well, hopefully you the reader knows the rest.
If we exclude God on a-priori grounds, then we must not try to use this as a basis for "proving" God does not exist. Such circular reasoning will not fly.
As with the last part of his statement, I have little idea what he is talking about. Who's excluding his god on a priori grounds? Perhaps, to be as generous as I can, our apologist is responding to some other question that he did not include in the post. In which case, he is correct, which is why presuppositional apologetics are annoying (a topic I hope to never cover in any detail). (I should also clarify for those who do not know such things that our apologist here is not a presuppositional apologist.)
If you take as a presupposition that God cannot exist if he cannot be detected by a scientific experiment, then you are building your belief system, not on the evidence, but on a presuppositional position, and I will guarantee that with this philosophical (not scientific, but philisophical) perspective, you certainly will not find God.
Oh. OK. Things are making a bit more sense now. He appears to be assuming that the person who wrote him has a presuppositional position. There doesn't appear to be any good basis for this. And then it gets weird again.
I believe your position is a reasonable one, but I believe it is worthwhile pointing out the presupposition and the limitations imposed by this presupposition.
I'm having a hard time understanding what exactly he means by "reasonable." More than this I fail to see how not believing in something until there is evidence is a presuppositional position. Unless...

I may have figured it out. The person writing in to our apologist said they were an atheist. My guess is our apologist doesn't understand what an atheist is. He probably believes that an atheist is someone who believes a god does not exist, as opposed to what the term actually means, which is someone who does not believe a god exists. (I know, those two statements look rather similar. That, I think, is a huge part of the confusion. The placement of the word "not" is actually critical. The former involves the existence of a belief whereas the later is a lack of belief.) Such a misunderstanding of atheists would explain the otherwise bizarre talk about presuppositional beliefs. The way our apologist could perhaps view the term is as defining someone who does not believe in a god nor has presuppositional limitations.
"let me make up my own xxxx mind" I detect some anger here. Hopefully you will be able to transcend this anger so as to reach conclusions based on reason rather than emotion.
Well...that was rather condescending. That quote comes from the person writing in, but what makes him think this person is reaching conclusions based on emotion? Oddly, it wasn't that long ago that our apologist said, "I believe your position is a reasonable one." So which one is it? Is it reasonable or was it reached by unreasonable emotion?
Good luck with your search for truth.
Thank you for your help with that search by demonstrating that you likely don't have the truth!

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