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About Me

A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Proof of God from the Gaps, Sherlock Holmes, and Absence of Evidence

Updated thru 4/4/2106

Many proofs of god suffer from these related logical fallacies. Fallacy of incredulity or argument from ignorance or god of the gaps, false dilemma and the Sherlock Holmes argument.

I will briefly discuss the fact that absence of evidence is sometimes evidence of likely absence. 

Argument from Ignorance - arguing a claim is true because it has not been shown to be false. Example -  God made a covenant with the Jews at Mount Sinai. Or God created the Universe as described in Genesis. You were not there so you can not disprove either one. (For now lets ignore the very unlikely 600000 plus witnesses figure and other evidence the Torah got the creation story wrong.) However, the onus is not on me to disprove the stories. The onus on the person making the claims to support them. 

God of the Gaps Fallacy - plugging a gap in knowledge with God being responsible. Example - Science can not explain how life arose from matter, hence God did it. (For now lets ignore scientific research into this.) 

Fallacy of Incredulity - XYZ is so incredible. I cant imagine XYZ being true. Therefore XYZ is false. 
Example - The suggestion that small mammals eventually evolved into humans cant be true because it sounds so unbelievable. (For now lets ignore all the evidence in favor of evolution.)

False Dilemma -  Reducing the number options usually to just two. Example - Since the Universe could not have come from ‘nothing’, God must have created it. Here  just two options are provided. But there are other possibilities. Maybe the universe or it’s building blocks always existed.  Besides Physicists have offered cosmological models of a Universe coming from nothing and models requiring no supernatural intervention.  Another example is found in one version of the Kuzari argument. It begins either a revelation by God actually took place at Sinai in front of a mass of people or the Sinai story is false. But there are many other options. Something could have happened and it was mistakenly interpreted as a supernatural event. My Kuzari posts discuss a number of plausible scenarios. 

Sherlock Holmes Argument  “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Suppose John Doe is found stabbed to death in his home.  The detective creates his list of suspects

a) The Butler
b) The Maid
c) The Wife
d) A supernatural being

Suppose the detective has eliminated a) thru c) as being the murderer, then choice d) must be the culprit.

Lets examine the fallacious conclusion.

First, we can not eliminate all possibilities, since we don’t know them and sometimes can not even imagine them.  There are thousands of other potential suspects unlisted or reasons why Jon Doe is dead. Did he fall on the knife or stab himself ?

Second,  we often can not claim certain things are impossible because our knowledge is often insufficient for doing so. Also, maybe the reason we think the Butler innocent is only because he fooled us somehow.

Third, after eliminating a) thru  c) is the  remaining possibility viable ? Are supernatural beings even a valid option ?  In other words simply eliminating choice a), b), c)  does not mean d)  is guilty. We know people kill other people based on past experience, so options a) thru c) are plausible possibilities.  But should d) be seriously considered to be on the list ? We have no empirical evidence or reason to believe supernatural beings stab people nor do we have any reason to believe they even exist.  In other words, if the list was expanded and ranked according to likelihood, d) would be at towards the very bottom of the list with arguably a zero or near zero probability. 

{ETA 4/4/2016 In the 2016 Sherlock movie The Abominable Bride we find support for my interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. I am only about halfway thru the movie as I write this. 

There have been several murders committed by the a ghost or zombie. Watson and Sherlock are casing out a home. Outside a ghostly apparition is seen. The home is sealed close. Nevertheless  a man is stabbed to death in the home ! Moreover, Watson claims to have seen the  ghost/zombie inside the house and claims the ghost is the culprit. Sherlock responds to Watson -  eliminate the impossible i.e the ghost,  and observe what remains.  So Sherlock would not consider a ghost or living dead as a possible explanation for being the murderer.  

I bring this movie to your attention as humorous refute for using Sherlock to prove supernatural. Sherlock himself rejects supernatural even when there is eyewitness testimony and other reasons to support supernatural as the murderer.}

Lets suppose there is some phenomena for which we can not conceive an explanation for. We  then claim God is responsible for the phenomena. Even if God did exist it would be  faulty logic. God may exist, but maybe he was not responsible for the phenomena. For example, God may say I threw the dice but let chance determine the outcome. Or perhaps God would say I am not responsible for that particular phenomena which emerged on its own or was caused by some other supernatural entity or natural force.

To return to the idea of absence of evidence. 

Suppose I call you after you return home from work and  tell you an Elephant was in your garage the whole day.  Should you believe me ?  You may ask me the color and if I said pink you may smile. But suppose I said grey ? You may call in experts looking for odor, hair, dander, urine, excrement remnants etc: and after doing a diligent investigation no evidence of the Elephant is found. You ask many neighbors, the children who played in the street, the police, the fire department etc: and nothing at all suggests an Elephant was in your garage. I think most rational people would agree absence of evidence is evidence of likely absence of the Elephant being in your garage today.  

Some religious people claim absence of evidence for 600000 plus people at Sinai is not evidence of absence of 600000 plus at Sinai. But is this reasonable ? Such a large mass of people would most likely have left some traces in their wanderings. They likely would have left an  imprint on the Egyptian country and a significant  large  imprint on entry into Canaan. Some surrounding cultures would surely note such a large Exodus perhaps recording it or acting on it. Then there are enormous logistical issues which I will not delve into. Virtually every, if not every  expert who has studied the issue rejects 600000 plus. Not a single expert advocates 600000 plus. We can safely claim absence of evidence for 600000 plus people at Sinai is evidence of likely absence of 600000 plus at Sinai.

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