Recent discussions between members of the studio audience brought forth this comment:
ENEASZ: I'm going to come out and say flatly that you are wrong. If you wish to base any moral judgement on christianity it is your duty to first demonstrate that your holy book is, in fact, supported by evidence. I've never seen anyone do so successfully, and people (many of them great people) have been trying for about 2000 years.
TOM GILSON: I could say the same about secularism/naturalism/atheism; not that you have a "holy book," but that you cannot show that your basic assumptions rise above the level of an undemonstrable faith.
What I am interested in . . . and people can classify this as they wish . . . is whether a proposition fits into a system that is capable of predicting the future.
Here is one of my favorites:
2002 NT7, a two-kilometre-wide (1.4 miles) chunk of rock, was discovered on 9 July. Initial estimates of its orbit suggested there was a small chance of it colliding with our planet in 17 years' time. However, the latest observations accumulated over the last few days have confirmed the asteroid will fly harmlessly by.
(See: BBC Asteroid to miss - this time around)
Another favorite example was Hurricane Wilma. For days, Wilma moved slowly northwest. Yet, scientists were warning people in the state of Florda to prepare for Wilma. And, as predicted, suddenly, Wilma took a sharp-angle right turn, and tore headed straight for Florida.
It has to do with tsunami warning systems, engineering buildings to withstand earthquakes, predicting the consequences of having certain chemicals in the environment, predicting the consequences of having more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, determining ways to test for diseases long before the person shows any symptoms and in time for treatment to be effective, the effective treatments that become avaialble, ways to grow more food to feed more people.
It is easy to assert that, your basic assumptions rise above the level of an undemonstrable faith.
However, somebody predicted the course of hurricane Wilma in time to save lives. And they did not do it by reading the entrails of chickens or praying for divine guidance. No holy book contains an account of the paths of all future hurricanes (or asteroid impacts - in sufficient detail to actually be useful).
Whatever system they used to do those things, that's the system that I am going for.
If their system is no better than faith, then why is it that they were able to accurately predict the course of Hurricane Wilma in time to save lives? Lucky guess?
Or maybe they are on to something. Maybe they have actually figured out a way of doing a better and better job over time of accurately predicting the future?
These are not just rare phenomenon. Every day, millions of people hear news that the evidence their doctor has collected predicts a particular course of events with respect to a patient's health - and predicts the consequences of various treatments. Those predictions are getting better and better over time. As such, lives are saved, health is restored, the blind have been given sight and the lame given the ability to walk.
These are demonstrable facts.
This blog is about human well-being. It is about avoiding future harms and harvesting future benefits. Towards that end, I am interested in the claims of those who have a demonstrable ability to predict the future - to tell me where hurricanes will go, the threat of asteroid impacts, the effects of CO2 in the atmosphere, that will provide food for the hungry and treat (or prevent) disease.
The list of propositions that could be true but that have no impact on our ability to predict the future is infinitely long. Because they have no impact on our ability to predict the future, we have no reason to choose which to believe and which to reject. However, because they have no impact on our ability to predict the future they just do not matter.
I may not be able to prove that any of them are false. But I can certainly prove that I have no good reason to care one way or the other.