I've been arguing with Joe Hinman on the topic of my previous post. The issue at hand was the accusation that atheists employ "God of the Gaps" reasoning, as espoused by Mikey at Shadow to Light. I concluded that Mikey's assertion is just a case of "I know you are but what am I?" My major point is that if a naturalist becomes convinced that God is real, it would be because of undeniable evidence that can't be explained by naturalism. God of the Gaps belief, on the other hand, relies on a lack of evidence. It simply assumes that God is the default explanation for anything where a full scientific explanation is lacking. There doesn't have to be any evidence of supernatural phenomena (and in fact there isn't) to support God of the Gaps belief.
Hinman has taken issue with much of what I had to say about this topic. To respond in detail to what I said, he has made a post of his own in one of his many blogs, called Atheistwatch. I would like to answer all of the points he raises, but his posts are so long and rambling, lacking in cogency, and filled with fallacies and misunderstandings, that it is impractical for me to address them all. I could spend all week trying, but I have a life. So I'll limit myself to some of the most salient points that he makes.
The central theme of Hinman's response is that atheists have a gross misunderstanding of what science is. This is what he calls the "Fortress of Facts", and in fact Hinman has written about this previously, here (part 1) and here (part 2). It is the notion that atheists don't understand science. They think of science as simple a pile of facts, and don't realize that it involves testing hypotheses.
Most scientifically inclined observers know that science is not merely the accumulation of a pile of facts. Science is not about proving facts or manufacturing a pile of facts so much as it is about testing hypothesis in a systematic fashion. Science is more about disproving than about proving. There are aspects of reality that beyond the ability of science to disprove. God is one of these. Yet, even though atheists will deny the words “fortress of facts” if we observe the way they argument this is undeniable consequence of their logic and their approach.I honestly don't know where he gets this notion. He fancies himself as being much more scientifically literate than the average atheist. He even thinks real scientists like Richard Dawkins and Victor Stinger [sic] are less scientifically literate than himself, apparently for no other reason than they are outspoken atheists. As a prime example of his thesis, Hinman cites Stenger's book God: The Failed Hypothesis, in which Stenger proposes testing the existence of the Judeo-Christian God as a scientific hypothesis. But this is the exact opposite of what Hinman claims is the "Fortress of Facts". It is fully in keeping with the concept of science, as opposed to theistic belief, which relies upon many unsubstantiated and completely unverifiable assertions about God and his supposed properties, that they treat as a pile of facts. Hinman contradicts himself at every turn. He has done nothing to substantiate his assertions about atheists' supposed misunderstanding about science. But he himself relies heavily on myth, unverifiable hearsay, and emotional experiences as a source of "facts" in support of his own theistic beliefs. This is what I call the "Fortress of Belief". It is indeed a fortress, because it can't be penetrated by science or logic.
About me, Hinman says:
It ought to be embarrassing to him because it shows that he really doesn't understand science. Carl Popper said science is not about proving things it;s about disproving things this guy is talking about an actual pile of facts growing in the atheist column.I have to ask, what makes him think that I subscribe to his straw man "Fortress of Facts"? I have previously argued against the notion that science must prove things. And where on earth does Hinman get the idea that he understands science better than I do? Is it because he read some Popper somewhere in the course of his education in theistic mumbo jumbo? I'll tell you one thing that Hinman has never read: a real science book. He loves to tout his Almost PhD (the degree that he doesn't have), and he seems to assume that the atheists he interacts with are less educated than he is, so he can get away with claiming that they don't understand science. I don't like to tout my own degrees, but let me just say to Joe that I'll put my knowledge of science, based on real science education (with degrees), up against his lack of scientific education, based on whatever it took to earn his his bible college degrees, any day. Joe, unless you have spent years studying real science (not just reading some Popper), you'd best keep quiet about who knows it better. The only one you reveal as being ignorant is yourself.
The other issue Hinman raises in his response that I'd like to address is his notion that naturalists rule out any possibility of the supernatural, a priori. I have gone to considerable lengths to explain that this is simply not true. We believe naturalism is true, because that's what the evidence tells us. And if the evidence indicated something different, we would need to conclude that naturalism is not true. This is something that most theists, including Hinman, refuse to accept. They want to paint themselves as being the open-minded ones, and atheists as being stubbornly dogmatic.
Of course ruling out the supernatural from ever having happened depends entirely upon how you define supernatural, He wants to make rules and what happened the distinguishing features and that;s begging the question. He is saying that we know its natural because it happens and we know that nothing else happens. But if happening is really the issue then nothing else could happen but that it would be called natural, He's just begging the question. He wants to rule out a prirori anything that standse agakisnt his ideology.Once again, what I said is "everything in our experience so far has been amenable to a naturalistic explanation." That doesn't rule out the supernatural. It simply recognizes that we have yet to see anything that can't be explained by naturalism. This is what he calls begging the question. Joe even accuses atheists of re-defining supernatural to mean something different from his own understanding of it. Excuse me, but when I talk about supernatural phenomena, I mean it in a sense that is fully consistent with standard dictionary definitions. Hinman, on the other hand, has his own peculiar definition for supernatural:
Nothing theistic says things happen without rules, There is no way to prove one way or the other that things happen because of some higher cause. There are only warrants for belief. No proof either way. It's a total misconception to set up the distinction between naturalism = rules and supernatural = no rules. Supernatural is not anti-natural. It's not opposed to laws of nature.In his mind, things that follow the laws of nature are in fact supernatural phenomena. In other words, he thinks that God makes everything in nature happen, and for that reason, everything is supernatural, but there is no way to distinguish it from natural. What Hinman is doing is precluding the possibility of any natural explanation, a priori. At the same time, he still claims that there things like miracles (Lourdes), and phenomena that can't be reduced to a naturalistic explanation (consciousness). He seems to be walking down both sides of the street. If there are in fact things that have no natural explanation, then we should all be able to agree on that. Did the miracles at Lourdes really happen? There's no documented proof. Just unsubstantiated stories. Sorry, Joe, but we need better evidence than that. Does consciousness really have no natural explanation? Not according to scientists who study it, but only by the account of people who believe in the supernatural. One thing they have yet to show is any convincing evidence that something is going on that doesn't follow natural laws.
And this brings us back to my discussion on God of the Gaps. Why do theists continue to insist that consciousness is supernatural? Because it's one of the remaining gaps in scientific understanding. There isn't a comprehensive, widely accepted natural theory that fully explains consciousness - yet. And lo and behold, this is the greatest remaining bastion of theistic belief. A gap in scientific knowledge. There is plenty of evidence to think that it is a purely physical phenomenon. There are various naturalistic theories that provide at least partial explanations of consciousness. And more importantly, there is not a shred of evidence that something supernatural is involved. It is only supernatural belief without empirical evidence that keeps the theistic theory of a supernatural soul alive. And this is precisely what we mean by the God of the Gaps. A god on his deathbed, under intensive care - clinging to life within the Fortress of Belief.