Values and Evidence

In the last post I discussed a spectrum of genres of existence. They went from a physical reality to a conceptual reality unbounded by sense data. I finished talking about the need for evidence when one is talking about the physical reality and existence, and so the appropriate follow up, so far as I see, is when one requires evidence and that all discussions, even the rational ones, eventually rest on values.

The point was the religious claim that God exists in the traditional sense, not the conceptual, but not in this reality. In fact, it’s difficult to pin people down on whether God permeates this universe or exists in a separate one. A cynic might claim that people alternate between whichever claim suits their needs. But that’s okay because the game those people are playing is Apologetics, and that plays by a different set of rules to playing a game of Seeking Truth. Ultimately, players of those two games value different goals and so abide to different rules. (How good they are at following those rules is a different question again.)

When a claim of the existence of something is made, the discussion should be an empirical one and not an ethical or rhetorical one. Existence (or, more accurately, our knowledge of it) should be governed by evidence and observation and reason, not emotion or ethics or word games; these are the difference between trying to hold views that are credible, and trying to make your view appear credible. This “should” is not written into the fabric of the universe; I am making a truth claim, not one about existence. The “should” in that sentence, instead, is a reference to the types of discussion that generate and lead to reliable claims. It is simply a matter of experience that restricting a conversation about something’s existence to rules that approximate to rationality, logic and evidence and avoid fallacies ― these are better at describing a physical reality we agree on; this is the discussion with a success rate on identifying and describing a shared and justified conception of reality.

But, you have to value that. If someone is playing the Apologetics game or something similar ― if they do not value identifying a justifiable and shared conception of reality ― then they are not playing a game with rules bound by rationality and evidence. A car salesman, for example, is not tasked with giving you an honest appraisal of a car, but with getting you to buy the car. Such a person will not be motivated to tell you the car’s safety rating or 0 – 60 time, but to sell you a rhetorical whirlwind of contrived self-image. That is the game they are playing, and why they don’t ― in that moment, at least ― value conversations that track reality more reliably.

This is why Sam Harris challenges us to think of what rational argument we might use to convince a person who doesn’t value rationality or what evidence we might present to convince a person who doesn’t value evidence. Despite the fact the game of trying to intellectually track reality is an objective game, valuing the game is a subjective preference.

And in the same way we don’t try and enforce basketball rules to the game of bowling, we really are wasting our time trying to have a rational conversation with someone who has demonstrated their preference for constructing a reality out of their preferences and wishes ― which anyone who willfully and continually engages in rhetoric, sophistry and fallacies has done. As incensed as you might be by someone constructing reality in this way, they simply not playing the same game.

28 thoughts on “Values and Evidence”

  1. If I am asked “Do you believe in god?” one avenue I use is “Do you mean “does your god exist?” If they say, yes? I say “Let me ask you a few questions first.” “Do bananas exist?” of course. “Do kittens exist?” Of course? How about automobiles? … baseballs, lawnmowers?” Yes, yes, … Do unicorns exist? Why, no they are mythical?” How about Zeus? Does he exist? No.

    Clearly, I say, whether or not something exists has easily understood criteria. The fact that your god cannot satisfy those criteria strongly suggests that it does not exist. If the questioner persists and says something like his god is “outside of time and space,” I ask just how does anything get there? Is there anything else there? Just your god, eh? Interesting that you claim that I cannot find evidence for your god because not only is it somewhere I cannot go, but it is somewhere nothing else can go either.

    1. Hey superman:

      Prove the wind exists. Prove that the scent of a lily of the valley exists.

      Once more, godlessness loses. Every time. Every place. You cannot open your mouth without invoking the pleasure of God. And your gripes are embarrassing to anybody with an iq higher than a pea.

      1. Easily.

        But does your friend have crutches in his mouth and can’t answer for himself……….

        Appears so eh.

      2. Or he’s engaged you and your non sequiturs so many times he’s learned not to any more.

        Here’s the basic form of the argument you just presented:
        I have found an ambiguity or challenge to the position you just articulated.
        I have decided ahead of time that the challenge is insurmountable.
        Therefore, your position is not tenable.
        Therefore my position is right.

        It’s bollocks and not worthy of engagement. I engaged you to offer you the opportunity to improve the articulation of your position. You get one last chance before I also stop engaging.

      3. Here you go allalt, one last time before I cease to engage with people who pretend to be deaf, dumb, and blind.

        You are completely wrong about your friend superman. He has NEVER engaged when I pointed out his self imposed and so called intellectual ignorance. Never. Not once. In this small oversight of yours, you have also admitted your own lack of critical thinking.

        You have projected a false reality in something so simple to get wrong who and what is discussed.


        I answered the premise. Not my fault if you do not like it. But Don’t accuse me of NOT answering.


        The point about the existence of the lily of the valley’s scent is devastating to your (and his) petty complaints.

        PROVE it exists apart from sight!!!!!!!!!! You cannot in a thousand years, and thus the existence of God is likewise proven by common sense, reality, facts, history, observation, and repeatable appeal to scripture. In this denial, you once more prove your intellectual dishonesty.


        Men like you and your friends have been asking for more ‘proof’ for the existence of God for ten thousand years.

        FACT IS:

        NO amount of proof will satisfy a stubborn heart, and in this you have cast your lot with the godless, not because there is not evidence to prove otherwise, but because you do not like the evidence.

        I suggest you look to the Florida coast for cough cough, the devastating effects of the power of nature, which ahem, sheds insight into the days of Noah.


        As I repeated many times, there is no lack of evidence, and God will still be God, long after you have died and some other self made intellectual takes your place.

        Now go smell the lily of the valley and bitch there is no God.


        God and His word have never lost an argument to ants. So stop engaging. So what. God’s word loses no lustre.

        ‘The entrance of thy word giveth light…………..’

  2. You fail to convince those who believe in something that they are wrong, because you can’t provide enough evidence to show them that they are wrong. So rather than leave them in their alleged incorrectness, you invent insults and generalities to convince yourself and your compatriots that you are right and they are not only wrong, but beyond help. That it is their fault they don’t agree with you, and in no way any insufficiency in yourselves.

    Note that I am not claiming that the evidence you need does not exist (I don’t think it does, but could be wrong). It’s just that as far as I have seen so far, all anyone can do is say the evidence exists but not actually produce it in argument or even upon request. Of course, the other side tends to suffers the same weakness.

    One area of evidence which nobody can produce yet can be very convincing is personal experience. Let us say you had a truffle in Belgium which was so wonderful (to you), it was better than sex and I’ve also had a truffle in Belgium which was pretty wonderful, but not better than sex (to me). There is no resolution of this dichotomy, just like me having experienced God in my life and you not having that experience (or having it and rejecting it). .

    So I hereby label you as an “a-Apologist” who uses word games, limitations and scorn in your game to present your beliefs as supportable. You should have the advantage, as anybody with reasonable comprehension realizes that God set things up so He could not be proven. Of course, He could have also set things up so He cannot be disproved. So either He does not exist, or He’s playing with you :-).

    1. If It can’t be proven, people who claim to have proof are clearly not playing the game of identifying a defensible and shared reality.

      Now, if people are talking about evidence (instead of ‘where what does one get meaning in their life?!’) then they are playing the save game with varying levels of skill.

      If they use the ‘meaning’ argument, then they are playing a different game following different rules.

      1. Certainly, if a person claims to have proof, but can’t or won’t provide it, then I can only conclude that either they don’t actually have it, or they do have it but are worried about exposing it to examination.

        “Reality” is a slippery concept. If you limit it to what you can perceive, that is an artificial and unreliable limitation. No matter what you tell me about North Korea, it is not reality to me because I can’t perceive it. If I could perceive it, then it would extend my reality. For me to reject it out of hand because it is not part of my reality would be dangerous for me and stupid. I accept the POSSIBILITY that it is part of reality because it is safer and more useful to have that information, with the label that it may not be complete or accurate.

        Sorry, I guess I’m not awake enough yet to figure out what the rest of your reply means.

      2. Take that person who claims to have strong evidence. They are playing the same game as me; the one of reason and rationality. If they refuse to show the evidence, they are either playing the game very badly, else playing a different game.
        The apologist like to play the game of looking like they are playing by the rules of reason, while actually playing by rules of ‘contrived reason’ — to look like their position is defensible regardless — or of sales — making their idea seem palatable regardless of truth.

        I’m not sure I limited the idea of reality to what one can perceive of. I’m pretty sure I said “shared and defensible reality”. You and I could share a conception of N Korea and be very wrong — because we can’t really defend our conceptions, having not been there and (if you’re anything like me) having read very little plausible-seeming literature on N Korea.

        I am also not defining reality as that which can be defended and shared. Instead, I am saying that is the limit to our conversation. I am not talking about ‘my reality’ or ‘your reality’, but our conversation about reality; we can’t make the game get deep than that.

        Interestingly, this is enough to morality into reality and conversations about it (but that’s a side issue).

      3. I guess I’m not familiar with Apologists (and have always thought that was a really bad name 🙂 ). My perception has been their purpose is point out the flaws in arguments against God or at least the Bible. Of course, I presume there are ones who “enhance” their job descriptions or are poorly trained.

        Can you give examples of where “Apologists” have used “contrived reason” so I can comprehend what you are objecting to?

        Because we can comprehend that each person’s reality has boundaries, it is fairly obvious that as we share realities, those boundaries are extended. What I object to is saying that when we share realities with “everybody”, we can say that THERE is where the absolute boundaries of reality are; that it is “impossible” that there is anything beyond those boundaries.

      4. Well, you’ll be happy to know I’m not talking about absolute boundaries to reality. I am talking about boundaries defined by evidence and reason — and that being the boundary to discussion about shared and defensible reality.

        SoM is a pretty bad apologist. So is ColourStorm.

        Apologia is not jsut about picking holes in attacks aimed at God, but also creating arguments in defence of God. So SoM’s ‘DNA is a language, therefore it was authored by God’ argument is an example of apologetics.
        My point is that he doesn’t care that it’s bad at seeking truth, because that’s not what he’s doing.

      5. Apologetics is defined as “the defense of the Christian faith” Those fellows tend to attack more than defend 🙂

        Useful Apologetics requires reason and logic (and in my opinion, politeness).. “DNA is a language, therefore it was authored by God” is invalid logic. There needs to be intermediate steps which validly transition from your premise to your conclusion. I can’t (validly) say that “The sky is blue, so Belgium Truffles are the best” because there is some question about the validity of my premise, and no valid link between it and my conclusion..

      6. Yes, a syllogism must be both sound and logic.

        My point is that if you have chosen the positions you are going to defend before the facts are in, you are following the facts. Apologetics, as a discipline, has chosen that it will defend a religious position — even if that position is not tenable by the rules of rational enquiry.

      7. I don’t know them all. I’m willing to learn them. They are arbitrated by their resulting impact on discussing shared and defensible reality.
        Avoiding known fallacies would be one…
        I suppose if something allowed another person to share in a reality — like the discussion of evidence — that would fall into the purview of the game of rationality.

      8. I”m not sure I’m seeing rules which apply to religious positions which should not also apply to other positions. It would seem to me that Apologists (or at least ones who focus on the points at hand) have an adequately tenable position.

      9. Only a few seconds in, and straight away his highlighted text misrepresents the passage. Seriously, watch the video and pause it at the highlighted sentence and read the whole paragraph.

      10. When I saw your first response, I feared you were just not going to accept anything, but your later responses are much more insightful and useful. So much for him. You may be right about “all” apologists; certainly about more than I thought.

        As to the highlighted passage a few seconds in, I don’t have a problem with it, or more accurately I do have the same problem with it that the apologist has. The paragraph is accurate, but the word “stress” is a problem, and having it on the other side of the idea from the word “thought” changes the implication from information to propaganda. If it had just said, “(Mention that) Since the earth is thought to be at least 4.5 B years old, it is necessary… ” I and hopefully he would not have had a problem with that. If anything needs to be “stressed” for the students, it is that 4.5B is our “best guess”

      11. So, this may be a project that just reflects badly on me as it is far too much effort invested into explaining why Kent Hovind (of all people) is a disingenuous apologist and not actually seeking a defensible reflection of reality.
        0:11 – I will put in capitals the bit Hovind highlights. Read it in its entirety tell me whether what he highlights is even an attempt at honestly reflecting the content of the paragraph:
        “Introduce the concept of one million of something, and then expand to one billion. (See “Motivating Your Students”) STRESS THAT THE EARTH IS THOUGHT TO BE AT LEAST 4.5 BILLION YEARS OLD, thus it is necessary to divide up time into manageable units called eras”.

        And that’s just what he highlights, what he says is “stress that the Earth is millions of years old”. That isn’t what the highlighted text says, the highlighted text is nuanced; it says “… thought to be…”

        0:26 – he is misrepresenting what science is. Sure, the quote is fine; but Hovind is suggesting you have to observe the phenomenon you’re drawing conclusions about. That is simply a false presentation of what science is. For one, that would entirely exclude forensics and cosmology.

        Science is about building robust models from your observations. So, we really do observe variation over populations and across time, skeletal similarities, genetics similarities, biogeographical communities, carbon or lithium dated fossils showing progress in anatomy over time. From that, you derive knowledge. And that knowledge belongs in the science classroom.

        That’s 2 for 2 on strikes so far.

        0:50 – false dichotomy and not relevant to evolution.
        The universe could be eternal. Something nonperson (and therefore not a “somebody”) could be eternal. There may never have been a “nothing”.

        1:15 – A 1933 quote from the Humanist manifesto…

        2:30 – He doesn’t let us know what subject the professor from Berkley taught. A literature professor could give the 5th grade answer Hovind says this professor gave. A cosmology lecturer probably wouldn’t have. This is not a story aiming at an understanding.

        4:20 – this attempt at a balancing act is also misleading. So, Hovind is saying the professor doesn’t know where the “dirt” came from, and Hovind basically retorts saying that’s no better than him not knowing where God came from. Can you see the difference? The “dirt” (used as a pejorative synonym for “matter”) actually exists (and so does the last scattering background and the cosmic background radiation and red shift etc). God ― which is Hovind’s point ― isn’t evidenced in anything like the same way.

        This question is not a wash. But Hovind presents it as one.

        6:55 – Conservation of momentum.
        Hovind’s point is that if the singularity span, then all planets should be spinning in the same direction. This is the conservation of angular momentum.
        You know, without me explaining it to you, that the singularity didn’t expand giving sudden rise to planets. There are gas cloud and accretion discs and uneven distributions of gravity at play as intermediate stages.
        In addition, the singularity didn’t explode and the planets didn’t get spun free of the singularity. The singularity expanded. The entire universe may still be spinning (for all I know).

        7:50 – the professor couldn’t answer the backwards spinning planet thing, so… God of the Gaps.

        8:01 – the assertion that the Big Bang implies evenly distributed matter is a stawman.
        If you Google “Map of the Universe” you get a heat map of the universe showing the uneven distribution of matter across the universe. This was predicted, as a result of quantum activity in the very early universe (where quantum particles get expanded during inflationary periods).

        Uneven distribution of matter is a prediction of the Big Bang model.

        [Then there’s a bit about the size of the sun that I do intend to research separately, because I’ve never heard this before.]

        11:27 – That population chart predictions he has are ridiculous. Populations don’t expand unless there’s some arresting catastrophe; most populations are about steady most of the time. Growth is not the norm. Human population growth is a direct result of human inventions (particularly agriculture). Food supply, and control of it, does a pretty good job of controlling populations and stunting growth.

        If he ever cared to look into it, he’s know that. But this is the point of the discussion we’re having: he doesn’t care what science says and he doesn’t care what claims are representative or defensible. He cares what he can critique, no matter how honest the representation is. That’s because he has picked the conclusion.

        I could watch the rest of this and continue this dissection of everywhere Hovind commits a fallacy or misrepresents the true or tries to make a wash between challenges to details of scientific models vs challenges to the very core of of his claim. (Imre Lakaos’ ‘Programmes of science’ is a good bit of philosophy of science to get into here.) But I’d rather look up why the sun wasn’t touching the Earth a few million years ago.

      12. So, I watched the rest of the video and I looked up the radiocardon dating claims made. The articles he cites are talking about problems with radio dating, I accept that. But the papers also give the explanation! The researchers knew which specimens would give the erroneous dates because the animals that have the deep sea as an immediate part of their nutrient cycle or carbon cycle (for the molluscs) have a reservoir effect, where you are basically dating a sample of both old carbon (from limestone in the deep sea) and modern carbon.

        Think about this: the explanations are in the papers he cites. Did he read them? Did he cherry pick the points he needed and ignore the explanations (which he really doesn’t need)? If so, he’s an apologist — he’s picked his conclusion cherry picking and directing the evidence accordingly.

        If he didn’t know, then he’s simply citing what some one else cited, and has himself been duped. But, I’m more on the side of Hovind being dishonest, based on the clear problems I highlighted in the other comment.

        As for the flood myths, it’s very hard to get any sense of a date for the various myths and although Hovind finds 3 that have a single family surviving, it’s difficult to find that as a common feature.
        That’s interesting in it’s own right, because it is basically an essential feature: survivors.

        8,000 years ago there was significant flooding all around the world (but the flood waters never receded): that’s the end of the last ice-age. Are the myths from then?

        Or, are they from the sealife fossils on mountain tops? That observation is interesting, because the marine fossils are exclusively in marine environments or on mountain tops. There is a good reason they are not on ground level: those mountains are made from oceanic crust that was uplifted by tectonic activity. But that’s not relevant, as all Hovind cites is the existence of the stories. Common oral tales is small evidence to build a global flood on.

        The claim of hundreds of polystrata fossils has an explanation that kind of relates to the radio dating point: you need a pristine sample to draw conclusions. Glaciers and mudslides and slumps and avanlanches all disrupt the column. This is something geology (and geography) textbooks say (at least at my college they did).

        Just a finishing note: these comments are not here to rebut Hovind. That is a discussion to be had by people trying to describe reality. These comments are designed to highlight that Hovind had information available to him, some times in the very sources he cites, to discredit what he’s trying to peddal. He’s being intentionally dishonest. He is an apologist.

  3. I would claim then that i am not a apologetic of a based religion despite practicing Buddhism. But i would give the opinion that i am an apologetic of life and love. Something i will defend but am open to whatever other opinions are given. No judgement or scrutiny. Just openness.

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