Massimo Pigliucci <>: Re: Massimo Pigliucci

John W. Burgeson (
Tue, 7 Apr 1998 10:51:38 -0600


You wrote:

" much as this exchange has been extremely interesting (at least for
me), I think we have a bit too much of a bridge to cover. I get the
impression that we don't even speak the same language, sometime."

We do have that problem, friend!
Perhaps we will have to wind down. I see others in discourse
with you (via the ASA LISTSERV) and they may well be
able to articulate issues better than I can.

I'll hit a couple points here that don't seem to be addressed elsewhere.

We seem to have a different view of the "laws of physics."
You said that "Anything that clearly and unambiguously violates
fundamental laws of physics would do," in suggesting a phenomenon that
cause you to reject PN (philosophical naturalism) in favor
of a world view which included an external IA (intelligent agent)
which you would then assume was "God."

I then asked:

" But how do you know what those "fundamental laws" are? Only by
observations do we see data; we construct equations which describe the
data, and we construct theories to describe the equations."

To which you mysteriously answered:

"Oh no! You're referring to the old vision of science as a collection of
data from which laws are deduced. The scientific method is much richer
than that, and it entails a dialectic exchange between theory and
observation.... ."

Perhaps you were thinking I was espousing a baconian view of a scientific
methodology; I was not. I am well aware of the interplay between data
and theory -- the prediction of Germanium over 100 years ago being a good
example. No, I was simply making the point that whatever "laws" we
discover about this material world are simply descriptions of what's
going on in it; nothing more. So therefore if we encounter my "bar of
steel floating in mid air" all we would do is try as best we could to
discover how that particular phenomenon fit.

Therefore, you say that should the above happen, you would "see God in
it" and "go back to church." I however, a Christian, would see in it an
exciting new area of physics to investigate! Interesting! < G >

To probe further -- go back in time 100 years with me. Strip your mind of
scientific advances since that time, and lets have the very same
conversation. Would your answer be the same?

If "yes," let's visit Curie's lab -- would the new phenomena seen there
send you back to church?

If "no," what is it that gives you confidence now about the "laws of
physics" that you did not have 100 years ago?

I suspect your answer is a "no," and that you stand with Horgan in his
recent book "The End of Science." And that's OK -- and defendable. But
certainly debatable!

OK -- enough on that point!

Later on, you wrote:

"I don't see any confirmation, and see many disproofs, of the
existence of a creator."

Disproofs of certain KINDS of creators certainly abound; we may agree on
this. And philosophical arguments "against God" also are not at all hard
to find. But I would like very much for you to put forward just one
"disproof" of God which is based on reliable, accepted, scientific data.
I think you cannot do this. Can you disprove a 6000 year ago creation? I
think this is fairly easy to do (although I have several YEC friends who
think not). But YECers are not "Christianity.." They are just one (very
vocal, I admit) sect within Christianity, and are well under represented
among (elitist phrase here -- sorry) the educated.

You then wrote:

" Any modern miracle
that has ever been investigated (see the CSICOP's files: for some examples and an entry into the
literature) has been falsified. The old ones are supported only by
disciples and a priori believers, and very strangely didn't impress the
Romans a bit."

CSICOP has, indeed, done good work along this line. I commend them.
I don't much agree with your last sentence above, but you already know
that, so I'll pass on it.
You also wrote:

"BTW, another example of what would convince me is a careful analysis of
the chromosome complement of Jesus: I bet you dollar to doughnut that
you would find 46 regular chromosomes, half of which coming from a man
living in Palestine around that time. But if instead we would find only
23 chromosomes, or some genetic material that doesn't belong there,
well, keep that place in church for me the following Sunday... This is
the same kind of falsifiability that evolution offers to creationism:
finding a dinosaur and a human in the same geological strata, or a human
in the pre-cambrian, would not only nullify evolutionary theory, but
science as we know it."

Well -- the first "experiment" can't be done, so I'll not save you a
seat! < G >
As to the second nullifying science, darned if I can think why. True, it
would upset things a little bit! < G >

Finally, I tried to convey to you the elements of what many Protestants
call "conversion," which did happen to me. You suggested I was "dancing."
I tried a second time and you said:

"Hmm, John, may it's me, but I still see only a dance here. All you say
is that you changed your mind from one day to the other, and without
apparent motivation. Your prerogative, of course, but if that had
happened about your decision to get married, or even to go to a movie
instead of another one, you would hardly think of it as an encounter
with the divine."

1. I did NOT say I changed my mind. I said my mind was changed.
2. I did NOT wish it. But I did "submit to it if God were real."
3. My primary motivation then, as now, was to follow truth, however much
I liked or disliked it. In SURPRISED BY JOY, by CS Lewis, a somewhat
similar process is described. Motivations are complex, of course; all I
can attest to is that to the best of my capability the motivation above
was primary.
4. As I mentioned, conversion experiences vary by individual. This is
because each one of them (IMHO) is the result of an encounter between a
human being and God, and each encounter results in a different sort of
relationship. Protestants seem to understand this better than Catholics,
though this is not a universal rule of course. Catholics have other
strengths, which I will not go into here because it's off the subject. I
have many Christian friends, close friends, of both types; we discuss
these issues from time to time.
5. A recommendation to you. Read about some conversion experiences. There
are many books to choose from. Read about Blaise Pascal. John Wesley, or
some modern folks. Some of them are hooey. Some of them ring true. Taken
in whole, there is no way a position can be maintained that "there is
nothing to them."

Well -- that's my 2c worth, anyhow! < G >

You wrote:

"Again, I don't want to be offensive, but I believe in sense of humor. A
noted US psychologist (I can find the exact quote for you) once said
something along the lines of: "If you talk to god, you're praying; if
god answers back, you're schizophrenic". :-)"

Not bad. I like it. I like such humor; it is not offensive.

Finally, you wrote:

"Once more, I am not questioning the value of personal experiences. For
example, falling in love is a personal experience, which is hardly
subjectable to scientific inquiry (though tasteless people have
tried...). But I can describe to you in endless (and - I dare say -
quite convincing) detail how and why I fell in love a year ago with a
wonderful person whom I'm going to merry this coming May. I am quite
confident that you would understand almost exactly what I mean and how I
feel, even though obviously it is my personal experience which is not
repeatable by anybody and never will be."

My heartiest congratulations, my friend. I married my best friend, Carol,
40 years ago; I wish for you as much (or more) happiness as we have

I wrote earlier that:

" Should any person decide to study Christianity with the firm
commitment in mind to accept it if convinced of its truth, I think
that person will be successful." You replied:

"I am living proof that that sentence is falsifiable and falsified."

Notice I said "I think" in the above. I am not a very good theologian, so
I'm not really sure of its verity. Your answer says you have done this.
Are you 100% sure, in doing it, that you studied Christ, and not a
church? There is a difference, you know.

On Christianity, you wrote:

"Its world view is flawed, mostly
factually wrong, and in continuous retreat as long as we learn something
more about the world. Its morality is a patchwork of things that have
been with human beings since much earlier than Christ, and has itself
changed according to human customs during the ages."

Factually wrong? How?

The "Christianity" you describe above is "churchianity," and is in large
measure correct. Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP to a real Person.

Finally, you write:

"Best to you, and again thanks for the continued intellectual
stimulation. It is a precious and most rare gift."

I return the comment. Sorry for the slow response. This is a busy month.
Next month YOU will be busy with a whole new life. Best wishes...


John W. Burgeson
Durango, Colorado

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