The relevance of science to the debate on abortion

VJ Torley has linked to a National Review article criticising a You-tube video by Bill Nye. I don’t think Nye is right but he raises a good point which the article evades. Nye argues that “many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans” – the biggest failure rate is right at the beginning, a high percentage fail to be embedded in the uterine wall – so if you accord fertilized eggs the same rights as humans, then who should be sued/sent  to jail for this failure?

The NR review article is quite right to point out that there is a moral difference between an intentional intervention like abortion and natural unavoidable wastage. But it is  nevertheless relevant that many more fertilised eggs fail to embed than succeed.If you really think that a fertilised egg is morally equivalent to a human being then this process represents a loss of life far larger than abortion, malaria, war or pretty much anything else you can mention. It means many more “individuals” die from this process than are ever born. A truly staggering disaster. Sure It is no one’s fault, but why does no one seem to care very much?  Where are the appeals for research into avoiding this tragedy? Where is the mourning for all these dead individuals? Surely we should be diverting research from relatively minor natural killers like malaria to this worst of all natural tragedies?

This doesn’t happen because only crackpots really believe that a fertilised egg has the moral rights of a new born baby. But it only becomes obvious when the consequences are made clear. The abortion debate turns on whether a fertilised egg is morally equivalent to a new born baby. If someone believes they are morally equivalent then I can’t prove them wrong (I am a subjectivist after all) but they have to face up to the consequences of their belief and the science tells them they should be appalled by the tragedy of failure to embed in the uterus.

There is another twist to this.  Like many articles, the NR article argues that the fertilised egg is morally equivalent to a baby on the grounds that is a genetically distinct individual. This is a materialist argument. There is no mention of the soul. Surely most Christians think that the individual is not a bunch of chemicals, however special the bunch, but something spiritual? There are many theories about when the soul gets attached to the body but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to suppose it is attached when the process of creating the body gets started, especially as that process can lead to more than one body at that stage – each of which would presumably have its own soul.

Justifications for believing a historical narrative

A major bone of contention between us (TSZ) and our friends at Uncommon Descent is origins, how things came to be.
It is pretty clear from their recent writings that despite earlier protestations to the contrary, UD is a Christian apologetics website looking to boost and support the Christian story of origins.

Barry has claimed: “The documents constituting the New Testament are vouchsafed with the blood of the martyrs. Nothing else comes remotely close.”

Islam and the Heaven’s Gate cult also have had people willing to die for them. So, they come close. Also, not all of them can be true given their contradictory truth claims. We can therefore rule out wanting to die for something being a guarantee of truth.
KirosFocus looks to bolster the argument with “with 500 core witnesses, not one of whom could be turned by the threats or inducements of state agents determined to uproot what they saw as a potential source of uprisings”, but as far as I can tell this is poor thinking, he is citing the bible to support the biblical account (1 Cor 15:1) – So the number is irrelevant, we are still left with only the primary source.

KF also tells us, “we have four eyewitness lifespan biographies, one of which is volume 1 of the earliest history of the Christian movement, credibly initially complete c 62 AD. a two-volume work that has been abundantly vindicated as to habitual, detailed accuracy and capturing nuances of setting in ways not plausible for people projecting back from later times. This consciously historical work uses a second biography as a major source, reinforcing the conclusion”

This is closer to the truth; there are four accounts that were written at the earliest decades after the purported events all of which are part of the bible, not independent support for it. I image that people at that time would understand the nuances of biblical times far better than we do, so I’m not sure there’s any argument about ‘good context’ to be made.
See also (

So my question is, outside of the bible, what historical evidence do we have for the story of Jesus? Having been told by Barry “The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most reliably documented events in all of human history.” ( I’d like to see those documents, the non-biblical ones.

The scientific aim is obviously to have a consilient picture of events, multiple independent and reinforcing narratives, like this:

Was denial of the Laws of Thought a myth?

Discussion of A = A seems to have died down some here. As much as people find the topic a fun exercise in logic and philosophy, it might be worth reminding everyone how all this got started here, on a site largely devoted to critiquing creationist and ID arguments.

It started when the owner of the site Uncommon Descent declared that some basic Laws of Thought were being regularly violated by anti-ID commenters on that site.

In a post on February 16, 2012 Barry Arrington wrote, in justification of his policy,

The issue, then, is not whether persons who disagree with us on the facts and logic will be allowed to debate on this site. Anyone who disagrees about the facts and logic is free to come here at any time. But if you come on here and say, essentially, that facts and logic do not matter, then we have no use for you.

The formal announcement of Barry’s policy was four days earlier, in this UD post where Barry invoked the Law of Non-Contradiction and declared that

Arguing with a person who denies the basis for argument is self-defeating and can lead only to confusion. Only a fool or a charlatan denies the LNC, and this site will not be a platform from which fools and charlatans will be allowed to spew their noxious inanities.

For that reason, I am today announcing a new moderation policy at UD. At any time the moderator reserves the right to ask the following question to any person who would comment or continue to comment on this site: “Can the moon exist and not exist at the same time and in the same formal relation?” The answer to this question is either “yes” or “no.” If the person gives any answer other than the single word “no,” he or she will immediately be deemed not worth arguing with and therefore banned from this site.

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Evolution Is A Force For Good

Not really, of course, that’s just click-bait – it is merely science. But at least one person has been turned from a dodgy path by, in part, considering the dissonance between his faith and scientific evidence. Non-UK residents won’t be able to hear this, but the essence is contained here.

It’s an issue that cross-references many familiar themes – religion, morality, homosexuality, science – so I thought I’d toss it into the arena.

Dictionary halting problem makes A=A fallible

It would seem superficially this is correct

A=A, necessarily and infallibly true

but it is false for non-trivial A and where the EQUAL SIGN means equal in essence, not just equal in description. This is a consequence of the dictionary and halting problem that has been well demonstrated by first rate mathematical logicians and computer scientists (like Alonzo Church who was a devout Christian) who actually work with formal languages vs. people clinging to antiquated and non-rigorous theological notions.
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Reality and realism

Let’s have a new topic, preferably one that is not Christian apologetics.

This is mostly intended as a response to a comment by KN, but I think it deserves its own thread.

There’s a recent blog post elsewhere that is related:

Personally, I think of myself as a realist. But I agree with some of Dan Kaufman’s criticisms of traditional views of reality.

Now my response to KN. The quotes will all be from KN’s comment (linked above). Continue reading


and always = A and only a  TSZ “nihilist” .would deny it, says Barry Arrington.

A=A is infallibly, necessarily true

What does this claim even mean?  That something denoted by A is identical to something else also denoted by A?  Clearly not.

That if we devise a system of logic in which we declare that A always equals A , A must always equal A?  Well, duh.

That the only possible logic system is one in which A is always equal to A?  Well, no – fuzzy logic is a very useful logic system, and A is sometimes only approximately equal to A, or may equal A if it passes some threshold of probability of being A.

So what does he even mean?  Is his claim even coherent?

Coyne hoodwinked and duped

Jerry Coyne represents himself as the epitome of science, reason and critical thinking. But “Dr. Reason” or shall we say “Dr. EvolutionIsTrue” often ends up as the butt of jokes and sarcasm in the ID community.

He got hoodwinked recently. He was pranked into believing a particular internet account was real and then started quoting from it to support his arguments. Turned out his evidence was from a faked source. Finally someone intervened to stop Coyne from making anymore a joke of himself. Coyne was forced to make a retraction:
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Presuppositions of Science

Given recent posts here at TSZ challenging the validity of presuppositions and self-evident truths I thought the following list might be worthy of debate.

Presuppositions of Science

1. The existence of a theory-independent, external world
2. The orderly nature of the external world
3. The knowability of the external world
4. The existence of truth
5. The laws of logic
6. The reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified true beliefs in our intellectual environment
7. The adequacy of language to describe the world
8. The existence of values used in science
9. The uniformity of nature and induction
10. The existence of numbers

When critics object to the Logos as a presupposition and offer instead 10 other presuppositions, Ockham’s Razor flies out the window.

One if by Land, Woo if by Sea

This is the teaser for my crowdfunding campaign at I’d very much appreciate your support, whether that means a donation, advice, or sharing the link. Any or all of those would be appreciated! And great big thanks to TSZ and its gracious host for letting me share it here.

Do you believe in acupuncture, alien abductions, ancient aliens, chi, crop circles, entity possession, “forbidden archaeology” or “forbidden religion,” homeopathy, near-death experiences, occult Nazi super-weapons, planet x, poisoned vaccines, spiritual channeling, the new world order, or illegal immigrants from Zeta Reticuli? Do you go to bed worrying about the New World Order, the Vatican, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, NASA, the WHO, the CDC, the UN, space aliens and/or demons conspiring against you and all right-thinking people? And are you convinced that the world is ruled from the Bohemian Grove, a secret bunker under the Denver airport, Bilderberg meetings, the Council on Foreign Relations, Buckingham Palace, alien worlds or other dimensions?

Probably not. But thousands of people do believe those things, and other things stranger than you can imagine. This January, dozens of experts these fields will gather together on a cruise ship called the Ruby Princess. It’s called, honestly and cleverly enough, the Conspira-Sea Cruise. They’ll spend seven days explaining, discussing, and even demonstrating their beliefs. Some of them are fairly famous, like Andy Wakefield and Sherri Tenpenny, who will be sharing their theories on vaccines. Others are relatively obscure, like Laura Magdalene Eisenhower, great-granddaughter of the former president, who claims to have been recruited for a secret Mars colonization effort and that stargates began opening around the Earth in 2012. For a full week, conspiracy theorists, dreamers, and snake-oil salesmen of every stripe will be preaching and peddling their wares.
I want to be there.

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What is obvious to Granville Sewell

Granville Sewell, who needs no introduction here, is at it again. In a post at Uncommon Descent he imagines a case where a mathematician finds that looking at his problem from a different angle shows that his theorem must be wrong. Then he imagines talking to a biologist who thinks that an Intelligent Design argument is wrong. He then says to the biologist:

“So you believe that four fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone can rearrange the fundamental particles of physics into Apple iPhones and nuclear power plants?” I asked. “Well, I guess so, what’s your point?” he replied. “When you look at things from that point of view, it’s pretty obvious there must be an error somewhere in your theory, don’t you think?” I said.

As he usually does, Sewell seems to have forgotten to turn comments on for his post at UD. Is it “obvious” that life cannot originate? That it cannot evolve descendants, some of which are intelligent? That these descendants cannot then build Apple iPhones and nuclear power plants?

As long as we’re talking about whether some things are self-evident, we can also discuss whether this is “pretty obvious”. Discuss it here, if not at UD. Sewell is of course welcome to join in.

Can one infallibly detect self-evident truths?

There’s been an interesting conversation at UD over self-evident truths lately. I think I’ve run up against the Uncommon Descent policy on dissent (don’t dissent), and the whole thing has devolved into “we are right” and “they are liars and also dumb.” But the underlying conversation was interesting, and I’d like to get some outside opinions on it. Especially KN, or anyone else with actual training in philosophy. I’m going to number positions for the sake of convenience, so that people with an opinion can react to any that interest them without feeling the need to engage them all. I’d love to hear where I’m wrong.

So as to my position:

  1. I make mistakes. I know this as certainly as I know anything—certainly enough not to doubt it in practice. This shows that I do not have the ability to perfectly perceive error in my own thinking.
  2. I cannot therefore be logically, absolutely certain of anything—not even that A=A. Because the faculties I would use to be perfectly, logically certain of that are the same ones that are not perfect.
  3. I think the trickiest question here is whether I can be certain that “I think, therefore I am.” But even there, is the fact that I cannot imagine any counter-example because it’s perfectly true, or because I have an imperfect and limited mind? I can’t know without a perfect, limitless mind, so I have to say even here, it’s not logically absolutely certain. (But obviously practically certain, and I don’t doubt it in practice.)

Does that make sense?


Now as to StephenB and Barry Arrington’s position.

  1. I think one major motivator of the “you’re a liar!” style of debate they’ve adopted is community identification. I’ve been thinking of this as building a wall. The point of the conversation is largely, not entirely, to show that “we think like this:” and “they think like that:”, or more pointedly, “look how stupid and ugly they are.” It makes it very easy to avoid questioning beliefs, because we cling particularly to those notions that separate us from them. It identifies and strengthens the community of us by redefining it in opposition to the ugliness and stupidity of them. And once that wall is built, it’s extremely hard to dismantle. Why on earth would you stop and seriously consider something a stupid and dishonest person says? And what would it say about you if you agreed with them? The wall exists to separate.
    1. This is not to say their positions are dishonest—I think they’re very upfront with their beliefs, and mean what they say.
    2. I think this is demonstrated particularly by BA’s habit of bailing out of a conversation and posting a new thread that very explicitly says look at how stupid and ugly those people are!
    3. I think I’m doing the same thing right now. I think that wall-building is wrong, but I don’t know how not to do it—especially as observing that someone else is building a wall is as good as laying a brick in your own.
    4. I can try to fight back against that by observing that walls exist to keep people in as well as out; the point is largely to have a bulwark against having to reconsider one’s beliefs and identity. So it’s important to ask, “Am I wrong?” Which I’m doing here, and attempting with some success to do in my own head.

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Miracles are a Glaring Problem for Evolution, and Here’s Why

The movement against miracles was, not surprisingly, influential in the natural sciences. Simply put, if we’re not to appeal to miracles, then the world must have arisen naturalistically. This had a profound effect on the critical thinking, or lack thereof, of the time. Speculative hypotheses, with little basis in fact, enjoyed serious consideration and triumphant acceptance.

The bar was placed exceedingly low for such theories as pure conjecture became acceptable and celebrated science. Monumental scientific problems with the notion of spontaneous origins went ignored and evolutionary theories (from cosmological to biological) soon became “fact.”

Today strictly naturalistic, evolutionary, theories are a given. They simply are accepted as true, or as true as anything in science can be. And it also is a given that miracles are false. But what evolutionists prefer to overlook is that there is a causal relationship here. The latter made way for, and mandated, the former.

I don’t want to mischaracterize Intelligent Design, but…

The Varieties of Religious Language

Kantian Naturalist and I have been hopscotching from thread to thread, discussing the nature of religious language. The main point of contention is the assertoric/disclosive distinction:  When is religious language assertoric — that is, when does it make claims about reality — and when is it merely disclosive, revealing attitude and affect without making actual claims?

I’ve created this thread as a permanent home for this otherwise nomadic discussion.

It may also be a good place for an ongoing discussion of another form of religious language — scripture.  For believers who take scripture to be divinely inspired, the question is when it should be taken literally, when it should be taken figuratively or metaphorically, and whether there are consistent and justifiable criteria for drawing that distinction.