Monday, 8 August 2016

Why Science Works - And Religion Doesn't

The news from CERN that I wrote about yesterday reminded me for some reason about a blog post from a few years ago that neatly illustrates the fundamental difference between the way good science is done and the way 'good' religious apologetics is done.

The news from CERN was, of course, the news that scientists there had called a press conference to announce that what they thought was tentative evidence of a new, unexpected and unexplained fundamental particle was actually nothing of the sort. It was almost certainly a statistical anomaly as shown by the fact that they had been unable to replicate it.

The blog post from a few years ago that illustrates this contrast between good science and 'good' religious apologetics, or perhaps more accurately between honest science and dishonest religious apologetics, was about the misuse of a statistical technique, Bayes Theorem, by Dr William Lane Craig (aka The Apologist For Genocide) to mislead his audience into believing that there was mathematical proof that the probability that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened as described in the Bible was virtually certain.

Watch again this video of Dr Freed showing how not only did Dr Lane Craig misuse Bayes Theorem in a way in which his audience would almost certainly not have noticed but how, had he used it correctly, he could have shown exactly the opposite - the the resurrection of Jesus almost certainly did not happen.

Now, perhaps we can forgive Dr Lane Craig and put his schoolboy error down to him not understanding how to use Bayes Theorem properly, though what we can't forgive is his posturing as an expert in it if indeed he wasn't. If he is an expert in Bayes Theorem then we are left in no doubt that he was deliberately misleading his audience, of course. But let's be charitable and assume he was merely posturing as an expert but making a genuine error.

And let's contrast his reaction to having that error pointed out to him with the reaction of the CERN scientists to discovering for themselves that they had made a mistake. Firstly, of course, this wasn't a mistake so much as alerting the world to the possibility of having discovered something new without making any claims of certainty and then finding out that the alert was premature.

The reaction of the CERN team was of course to immediately put their hands up, admit their 'mistake' and announce it to the world. There is no new particle! We got it wrong!

Dr William Lane Craig.
Trust me! I'm a Christian!
What was Dr Lane Craigs reaction to the fact that his method, had it been used correctly, actually showed the opposite to what he claimed it showed? Did he call a press conference and announce to the world that Bayes Theorem showed that the resurrection of Jesus was so unlikely that the possibility of it happening approaches zero?

Was the 'brilliant proof' that Jesus rose from the dead, which was so impressive and important, now given the same importance now it was shown to have proved exactly the opposite? Do pigs fly? Was it even put quietly aside and never mentioned again? Was it chuff! Dr William Lane Craig merely ignored Dr Freed and ignored the fact that he was misusing Bayes Theorem to mislead his audiences and continues to misuse it to fool audiences who pay to be mislead by this 'brilliant' Christian apologist.

Science is, of course, done by people who are genuinely interested in the truth and who base their opinions on facts. These people readily change their minds when the evidence changes. By contrast, religious apologists always reach the same conclusion no matter what the evidence shows and specialise in feeding an eager audience of biased people hungry to have their bias 'confirmed' no matter how illusory that confirmation might be. And of course they pay good money for the privilege of being mislead by people who mislead them for money.

I used the term 'good' apologetics above because it is 'good' in that it is effective, works on the audience and generates lots of money for those skilled at using it. When the bottom line on the balance sheet is all that matters and truth comes near the bottom of the list of priorities, 'good' has nothing to do with truth or morality. Dr Craig comes from a religious tradition which places making lots of money right at the top of the list for preachers. Any half-decent preacher is expected to be rich beyond the wildest imagination of those to whom he or she preaches. They stand as aspirational role models for those with little realistic hope of ever achieving anything approaching that level of wealth themselves. In Dr Lane Craig's world and the world of millionaire charismatic fundamentalist Christian evangelist preachers, 'good' and 'profitable' are synonyms.

Imagine how long Dr William Lane Craig would last in his profession if he announced that the resurrection of Jesus almost certainly never happened and he could show that mathematically! Imagine how long a CERN scientists would last in his or her profession if they made misleading claims, ignored the evidence that they were mistaken and continued to make the same refuted claim!

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  1. The video is not Richard Carrier/WLC but nonetheless an excellent explanation by a Dr Freed, who sounds like another Aussie to me, of the Bayes Theorem as used by Bart Erhman and WLC. Thank you.

    1. Thank you. I'll amend the text. Can't think why I thought it was Richard Carrier.


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