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No evidence, you say? A reply to Eric MacDonald.


Eric MacDonald, a former Church of England clergyman who is now an atheist, knows that prayer doesn’t make sick people better. Dr. John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, a former physics professor at Cambridge who is also an Anglican priest and theologian, who recently wrote Questions of Truth: Responses to Questions about God, Science and Belief (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), in collaboration with Nicholas Beale, FRSA, believes that at times, prayer “may” result in “remarkable physical recovery,” although often it does not (see the “Science of Prayer” video here). Whom should we believe?

In yesterday’s post, which was entitled, Is this the Dumbest Ever “Refutation” of the Fine-Tuning Argument?, I exposed the silly fallacies in atheist philosopher Anthony Grayling’s criticisms of the cosmological fine-tuning argument, which Dr. Polkinghorne defends in his book. Today, I’ll be focusing my sights on Eric MacDonald’s critical review of Polkinghorne’s book.

In a provocatively titled post, Polkinghorne: Religion, Lies and Digital Video (17 October 2011), MacDonald accuses Dr. Polkinghorne of lying to his audience:

Praying — as Polkinghorne must know — has no effect whatever on disease outcomes, and if it’s just a kind of psychological self-help program he should say so, instead of resorting to the mumbo-jumbo of religion….

… Polkinghorne must know, if anything can be called wish-fulfilment, religion is a prime candidate, since there isn’t a shred of evidence to show that religion is true….

… Polkinghorne is deliberately misleading his audience. In any other language this is called lying, and to my mind, it just shows how desperate religious believers are, that they can shamelessly tout their beliefs in this hucksterish way, like a carnie in the midway of a country fair.

“Lying.” That’s a pretty strong accusation to make against an Anglican priest who is also a knight and a Fellow of the Royal Society. In my language, that would be called slander. It might help MacDonald’s case, though, if his charges against Dr. Polkinghorne turned out to be true. But are they?

Watching the video, I was reminded of a statement made by the late Arthur C. Clarke:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
(Clarke’s first law, which he originally proposed in the essay, “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination”, in Profiles of the Future, 1962.)

Dr. Polkinghorne is 81. Should we believe him when he says that prayer may result in a remarkable physical recovery?

In order to answer that question, it might help to do something that MacDonald forgot to do: look at the evidence. The Wikipedia article, Efficacy of prayer turned out to contain a couple of surprising nuggets of information:

Determining the efficacy of prayer has been attempted in various studies since Francis Galton first addressed it in 1872. Some studies have reported benefit, some have reported harm, and some have found no benefit from the act of praying. Others suggest that the topic is outside the realm of science altogether…

In comparison to other fields that have been scientifically studied, carefully monitored studies of prayer are relatively few. The field remains tiny, with about $5 million spent worldwide on such research. If and when more studies of prayer are done, the issue of prayer’s efficacy may be further clarified.

In the absence of decisive results one way or the other, a prudent agnosticism would surely be the healthiest scientific attitude to adopt. When Eric MacDonald claims to “know” that praying “has no effect whatever on disease outcomes,” he is not speaking in the way that a scientist would talk.

Atheists who write on the subject of prayer commonly cite the 2006 Benson study as the last word on the subject of intercessory prayer. This study found that intercessory prayer had no effect on recovery from surgery without complications, and that patients who knew they were receiving
intercessory prayer actually fared worse. (Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, et al. (April 2006). “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer”. American Heart Journal 151 (4): 934–42. doi:10.1016/j.ahj.2005.05.028. Abstract. Lay summary.) One curious feature of this study, unlike previous studies, was that the intercessors were not allowed to pray their own prayers. The prayers were given to them by the study coordinators, in order to “standardize” the prayers. The discussion section of the study acknowledged that some of the intercessors were dissatisfied with the canned nature of the prayers.

In 2007, a systemic review of 17 studies (including Benson’s) stated that there are “small, but significant, effect sizes” for the use of intercessory prayer in the reviewed literature. (David R. Hodge, “A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature on Intercessory Prayer” in Research on Social Work Practice, March 2007, vol. 17 no. 2, 174-187 doi: 10.1177/1049731506296170.) For the benefit of readers, I’ll quote a few of the study’s highlights:

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Because the purpose of the review was to examine research capable of informing and guiding practice decisions, studies had to meet the following criteria to be included in the review: (a) use intercessory prayer as an intervention, (b) implement the intervention with a population of clients or patients, and (c) test the efficacy of the intervention, preferably using standardized measures and a double-blind randomized control trial (RCT) methodology. (p. 175)

Findings Supportive of Prayer

Individual assessment revealed that patients who received intercessory prayer demonstrated significant improvement compared to those who received standard treatment devoid of prayer in 7 of the 17 studies. Furthermore, in an additional 5 studies, the trend favored the prayer group. This raises the possibility that an increase in power would yield significant findings. (p. 182)

Findings Unsupportive of Prayer
Conversely, in 10 of the studies, prayer was unassociated with positive improvement in the condition of clients. In addition, in many of the studies in which significant results were obtained, the results were not uniformly positive across outcome variables. For instance, in the Byrd (1988) study, only six positive outcomes were recorded among 26 specific problem conditions. This type of inconsistent pattern raises the possibility of Type I errors. (p. 182)

The Use of Informed Consent for Private Intercessory Prayer

With the exception of one small pilot study (i.e., Mathai & Bourne, 2004), all six studies in which clients were completely unaware of the intervention yielded positive outcomes or exhibited a trend in favor of the group receiving intercessory prayer. This finding held irrespective of when the prayer was offered (prospective vs. retrospective) or the spiritual tradition of those providing the prayer (Quakers vs. Catholics). (p. 184)


Intercessory prayer offered on behalf of clients in clinical settings is a controversial practice, in spite of its apparent frequent occurrence. The topic is one that engenders both support and opposition, often passionately held. This study has attempted to shed some light on the controversy by examining the empirical literature on intercessory prayer.

Practitioners who adhere to Division 12 criteria have little basis for using intercessory prayer, in spite of a meta-analysis indicating small, but significant, effect sizes for the use of intercessory prayer. Most practitioners, however, are likely to affirm the broader understanding of evidence-based practice articulated in the APA’s Presidential Task Force on Evidence-based Practice (2006). Such practitioners may believe that the best available evidence currently supports the use of intercessory prayer as an intervention.

Thus, at this junction in time, the results might be considered inconclusive. Indeed, perhaps the most certain result stemming from this study is the following: The findings are unlikely to satisfy either proponents or opponents of intercessory prayer.

Faced with evidence of this nature, I submit that an honest scientist would withhold judgement regarding the efficacy of prayer. When Dr. Polkinghorne modestly asserts his belief that at times, prayer “may” result in “remarkable physical recovery,” he is perfectly within his rights as a scientist.

Before I conclude my discussion of prayer studies, I’d like to mention two complicating factors which make the interpretation of prayer studies difficult. The first is that even in a control group, family members will almost certainly be praying for the patients, if the study is being conducted in North America. Perhaps it would be better to conduct a study in China, whose government is officially atheist, if one wants better controls.

The second complicating factor underlying prayer studies is the questionable assumption that a Deity (supposing Him to be the One responsible for answering prayers) would be more inclined to help those who pray than those who do not. Even Holy Scripture is not clear about this: we are told that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV), but we are also told that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Prayers may indeed be powerful, but whom do they help? God alone knows.

The Power of Prayer – the Experience of C. S. Lewis

One person who had quite a lot to say on the power of prayer was C. S. Lewis, a former atheist who was highly doubtful of the worth of intercessory prayer studies, but who had personal experiences which led him to affirm that prayer actually works. Lewis’ description of his experiences in his essay, The Efficacy of Prayer, with prayer makes for intriguing reading:

Some years ago I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut.” In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you might come today.” And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.

It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident.

I have stood by the bedside of a woman whose thighbone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of the disease in many other bones, as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a few months of life; the nurses (who often know better), a few weeks. A good man laid his hands on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took the last X-ray photos was saying, “These bones are as solid as rock. It’s miraculous.”

But once again there is no rigorous proof. Medicine, as all true doctors admit, is not an exact science. We need not invoke the supernatural to explain the falsification of its prophecies. You need not, unless you choose, believe in a causal connection between the prayers and the recovery….

Cases like these are singular, but they certainly give one pause. Whatever one makes of them, they shatter the shrill dogmatism of ex-clergymen like MacDonald, who claim to know that prayer doesn’t affect disease outcomes.

No evidence for religion?

Eric MacDonald also asserts in his review that “there isn’t a shred of evidence to show that religion is true.” I have to say he’s flat wrong on this point. If MacDonald wants evidence, I can show him some: the evidence from miracles.

The philosophical arguments against the possibility and/or credibility of miracles, have been dealt with by Dr. Timothy McGrew in his article, Miracles in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, so I won’t waste time on them here.

Eric MacDonald will want to see good evidence of miracles, so I’ll confine myself to one case: the 17th century Italian saint, Joseph of Cupertino, who was seen levitating well above the ground and even flying for some distance through the air, on literally thousands of occasions, by believers and skeptics alike. The saint was the phenomenon of the 17th century. Those who are curious might like to have a look at his biography by D. Bernini (Vita Del Giuseppe da Copertino, 1752, Roma: Ludovico Tinassi and Girolamo Mainardi). The philosopher David Hume, who was notoriously skeptical of miracle claims, never even mentions St. Joseph of Cupertino in his writings. Funny, that.

The evidence for St. Joseph’s flights is handily summarized in an article, The flying saint (The Messenger of Saint Anthony, January 2003), by Renzo Allegri.

The earthly existence of Friar Joseph of Cupertino was rich in charismatic gifts. However, the phenomenon which attracted the most attention occurred during his disconcerting ecstasies. Chronicles recount, as we have already said, that he need only hear the name of Jesus, of the Virgin Mary, or of a saint before going into an ecstasy. He used to let out a wail and float in the air, remaining suspended between heaven and earth for hours. An inadmissible phenomenon for our modern mentality.

‘To doubt is understandable,’ Fr. Giulio Berettoni, rector of the Shrine of St. Joseph of Cupertino in Osimo tells me ‘but it isn’t justifiable. If we take a serious look at the saint’s life from a historical point of view, then we see that we cannot question his ecstasies. There are numerous witness accounts. They began to be documented in 1628, and this continued until Joseph’s death in 1663, i.e. for 35 years. In certain periods, the phenomenon is recorded to have taken place more than once a day. It has been calculated that Joseph’s ‘ecstatic flights’ took place at least 1,000 to 1,500 times in his lifetime, perhaps even more, and that they were witnessed by thousands of people. They were the phenomenon of the century. They were so sensational and so public that they attracted attention from curious people from all walks of life, Italians and foreigners, believers and unbelievers, simple folk, but also scholars, scientists, priests, bishops and cardinals. They continued to occur in every situation, in whatever church in which the saint prayed or celebrated Mass. It is impossible to doubt such a sensational and public phenomenon which repeated itself over time. It is also worth noting that these events occurred in the seventeenth century, the time of the Inquisition. Amazing events, miracles and healings were labelled magic and the protagonists ended up undergoing a trial by the civil and religious Inquisition. In fact, St. Joseph of Cupertino underwent this very fate because of his ecstasies. But he was subjected to various trials without ever being condemned; final proof that these are sensational events, but also real, extraordinary and concrete facts.’ (Emphases mine – VJT.)

In view of the fact that miracle claims can be found in many different religions, it would be imprudent to cite St. Joseph’s levitations and flights in support of any one particular religion. But miracles like this, which could be prompted by St. Joseph’s hearing “the name of Jesus, of the Virgin Mary, or of a saint,” certainly constitute evidence for religion. MacDonald may or may not be persuaded by such evidence, but evidence it certainly is. In the meantime, he might like to have a look at an article by Dr. Michael Grosso, entitled, Hume’s Syndrome: Irrational Resistance to the Paranormal (Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 549–556, 2008).

Investigating the Ridiculous

A true scientist is not constrained by metaphysical blinkers, such as “methodological naturalism” or “empiricism.” A true scientist is fearless, and prepared to investigate any claim, no matter how much it conflicts with our preconceptions. Discoveries in quantum physics in the 20th century have forced scientists to question our common-sense assumptions about reality and the nature of causation. That is all to the good, and we should welcome further investigations.

As an example of what I mean when I talk about open-mindedness, I’d like to mention the research of Dr. Daryl Bem, of Cornell University, whose article, “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011 Mar;100(3):407-25) claimed to find evidence of retroactive causation. In a nutshell, what Bem is claiming is that events that haven’t yet happened can influence our behavior.

Here is how Bem describes his findings, in his online Response to Alcock’s “Back from the Future: Comments on Bem (a reply to a critical review, which appeared in the March/April 2011 edition of The Skeptical Inquirer):

My article reports nine experiments, involving more than 1,000 participants, that test for precognition or retroactive influence by “time-reversing” well-established psychological effects so that the individual’s responses are obtained before rather than after the stimulus events occur. Each time-reversed experiment tests the straightforward hypothesis that we should observe the same effect that we normally observe in the standard (non-psi) version of the experiment. Five different effects are tested in this way; and, to bolster confidence in the results, four of the nine experiments are actually replications of Bem – the other experiments in the article. Across all nine experiments, the combined odds against the findings being due to chance are greater than 70 billion to 1.

70 billion to 1. That’s pretty impressive, if it holds up. The field of parapsychological research is littered with claims that haven’t held up, but the methodology of this study is nothing if not scientific. As one of Bem’s reviewers, Professor Joachim Krueger, put it:

“My personal view is that this is ridiculous and can’t be true. Going after the methodology and the experimental design is the first line of attack. But frankly, I didn’t see anything. Everything seemed to be in good order.” (Quoted by Peter Aldhous, Is this evidence that we can see the future? In NewScientist 16:29, November 11, 2010.)

Krueger’s online article, Why I don’t believe in precognition is a model of scientific impartiality. He writes:

In a paper published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP, 2011), Daryl Bem notes that 34% of psychologists in one studied sample believe that psi is impossible. I would be among those 34% if I were sampled. Yet, I remain intrigued by attempts to prove the existence of psi. Bem defines psi as “anomalous processes of information or energy transfer that are currently unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms.” …

I am not ready to trade my traditional view of how causal processes work themselves out through time for an “anything-goes” view. Bem knows that massive paradigm shifts require powerful evidence. The evidence he presents hardly clears that high threshold. On the plus side, there are 9 experiments conducted on different but related topics. On the minus side, the effect sizes are rather small; some of the null hypotheses are rejected only by way of the flat-footed one-tailed test, and finally, it took apparently 20 years and extensive pilot testing to put together this package of studies. Bem also knows that skeptics will clamor for independent replication studies. To his credit, he encourages such replications and provides the programs for running these studies.

[The] missing explanatory step is how we get retroactive causation at the macroscopic level from indeterminacy at the subatomic level.

Aldhous mentions in his article that one failed attamept at replication has already been posted online. In response, Bem has argued that online surveys are inconclusive, because one cannot know whether volunteers have paid sufficient attention to the task. Time will tell.

What I find impressive, however, is that the reviewers were fair-minded enough to urge the publication of an article which claimed to shatter our most deeply held beliefs about the nature of causality – and all in the name of scientific fairness. As Bem points out, “several of the reviewers expressed various degrees of skepticism about the reality of psi, while still urging the article’s acceptance.” Two reviewers, Chick Judd and Bertram Gawronski, were more sanguine: they wrote that Bem’s findings “turn out traditional understanding of causality on its head. A central assumption in lay and scientific conceptions of causality is that a cause precedes its effects, not the other way round [and] we openly admit that the reported findings conflict with our beliefs about causality and that we find them extremely puzzling.”

Fairness and fearless investigation. Those are two vital hallmarks of good science. Science withers on the vine when it is kept in check by metaphysical shibboleths and pundits who insist that something cannot be published because it is “impossible.”

Would it be too much to ask for the same spirit of openness in the field of biology? How long will it be, I wonder, until Intelligent Design researchers can freely publish their findings in journals like Nature?

A final quote for Eric MacDonald. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 166–167.)

This is a small video part of the reluctant saint (saint joseph of cupertino). He was seen levitating and flying by many many people in his village and even did it for people outside his village. There is enough evidence to believe in God but not enough where you are forced to . If you want to deny something badly enough you can argue down into a spiral on almost anything. Can I be 100% scientifically sure that My dad loves me? Impossible. Do I trust that my Dad loves me purely and from all his heart. Absolutely. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rQZC7pGT-4 Its also funny that atheists want 100% proof of God. IF God gave us 100% proof of his existence would we need faith?, and when the topic of the shroud of Turin keeps coming up notice how most atheists abandon their belief in Science and then turn to loony conspiracy theories that have no scientific evidence backing them up. Some will say That you cant be sure that Jesus's resurrection caused that Image on the shroud, but I say who else could have caused it logically and reasonably as well as historically. wallstreeter43
I'm not going to concede it's a fair point. Casinos exclude people who count cards in games where skill at knowing what cards are left in the deck makes it possible to win. I'm not aware of anyone who has ever been excluded from a game of "pure chance." There are, of course, people offering to teach you (for a price) how to win at games that appear to be pure chance. I have no idea whether any of them have sound strategies. It is, of course, somewhat hypocritical to exclude players on the basis of skill. Something that needs to be considered in any test of psychic ability is the tested person's ability to apply non psychic skills. Call it the Monty Hall effect or Monty Hall paradox. It is very difficult to design a test that cannot be beaten. It took decades at Duke University to reach this conclusion. Petrushka
Fair point, Charles :) Elizabeth Liddle
This kind of testing went on at Duke University for decades, and the only result was that the effect diminished as controls became more rigorous. Petrushka
Elizabeth Liddle: And Wagenmaker’s casino point is a good one (as, actually is his Darwinian point): if psi were common enough that you can find a significant effect in only 100 volunteers, then why aren’t roulette tables losing hand over fist? Because gaming houses (e.g. Vegas casinos) are in business to keep their winings and their odds. They routinely as a matter of course identify and physically remove people who win more then the house figures they should have. If psi is in fact a genuine phenomena, it will not be tolerated by the gaming industry (and they won't be publicising how their odds were beaten either), just like they don't tolerate any but the occasional big winner (because that's good for business in the long run). Their business model is geared toward losers, excluding consistent winners, and they'll keep it that way. Charles
Surely that is true of most posters? For example: vj: Small book, well written and documented, but a bit weird news/denyse: gossip column gil: generic pronouncement on the irrationality of atheist/materialists - generally linked to his own experience cornelius: religious nature of science markf
I am wondering what to conclude if the correlation does prove to be robust. Correlation is not causation - particularly backwards causation! Something odd is going on - but an unknown causal relationship going the conventional way seems more plausible than an unknown causal relationship going backwards. markf
Yes, I'd bet against it too, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out. However, the fact that Bem made some actual statistical errors leads me to think it more likely (loads my priors) that the effect is due to a methodological glitch than psi. And Wagenmaker's casino point is a good one (as, actually is his Darwinian point): if psi were common enough that you can find a significant effect in only 100 volunteers, then why aren't roulette tables losing hand over fist? The task was, in effect, a roulette task, and the house effect on a roulette table is smaller than the psi effect in the study. To do psi research i.e. research in a field where there is no theoretical mechanism at al and where the field is rife with fakes and wishful thinking, your statistical techniques really need to be whiter than the driven snow, and Bem's weren't. I'd take issue with the allegation that Bayesian stats can be used to "mask deep-seated prejudices". On the contrary, they require you not only to unmask your deep-seated prejudices but to put a number on them (as Krueger agrees). Wagenmakers et al's BFs don't mean that psi is false. They do mean that Bem's p values need to be taken with a strong pinch of salt. A classical p value simply doesn't mean what it is tempting to think it means. Interestingly, I had bitter experience (well interesting, but bitter too!) of this in 2004, when Bush beat Kerry, and there was a lot of internet chatter about the exit polls which had shown Kerry beating Bush, polls with a p value of some infinitessimal probability of being "due to chance". Ergo, Bush stole the election. Of course the exit polls weren't "due to chance". But "Rove stole it for Bush with electronic voting machines" was not the only alternative hypothesis. In this case, it's not clear what the alternative hypothesis is. But the solution is easy enough, as I said, and you agree - independent replication, announced in advance, and powered to find a smaller effect with high probability. BTW, for what it's worth, I ran a Monte Carlo simulation of Bem's Experiment 1 and I agree that his effect is significant for "erotic" stimuli, even if we correct for two hypotheses. However, that doesn't mean that psi is real :) Elizabeth Liddle
Hi Elizabeth, I appreciate your concern for sound statistical methodology. I won't argue with you on whether a one- or a two-sided t-test would have been more appropriate here, except to note that Bem claims in his response to Wagenmakers et al. that even if a two-sided test were employed, the results still constitute evidence in favor of the psi alternative, with a posterior probability on the composite H0 of 7.3 × 10^-5. Incidentally, I came across an article by Dr. Joachim Krueger in Psychology Today (January 19, 2011) in response to the critiques of Bem's paper by Wagenmakers et al. and also by Rouder and Morey . Krueger thought that these authors were misusing Bayesian methodology, to mask their deep-seated prejudices. Commenting on one passage by Rouder and Morey, Krueger wrote:
This passage [by Rouder and Morey,expressing skepticism of Bem's claims - VJT] is littered with subjective terms. Evidence is "slight," "surprising," or "noteworthy." At the same time, there lurks the normative claim that there is some sort of "requirement" that must be met before "appropriate skepticism" can be overcome. This is unfortunate. To me, the appeal of Bayesianism is that is permits the expression of subjective belief and mathematical integration of belief and data. Raising normative demands undercuts principled subjectivism. I conclude that, sadly, the orthodox Fisherians and the revisionist Bayesians continue to talk at cross-purposes. Their shared delusion is that the math, if done right, will eventually tell us for sure if there's psi. In this case, Bradley Efron, a professor of statistics at Stanford and editor of the Journal of Applied Statistics, put it this way: "No general formula will free the scientist, or anyone, from having to use judgment in interpreting evidence" (NYT, January 17, 2011).
I also notice that Rouder and Morey , unlike Wagenmakers et al., used a one-sided prior weights (performance must be at or above chance), as they considered this to be consistent with Bem's analysis. I will agree with you about one thing, Elizabeth: future testing definitely needs to incorporate increased sample sizes. Why not test thousands of students at once? It could be done. Bem's study, while intriguing, is hardly conclusive. We need follow-up studies. Frankly, I'm doubtful about Bem's claimed effect, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet against it. Still, I might be wrong, and I'm prepared to consider the possibility of retroactive causation. It is a hypothesis which needs to be examined, and not ruled out of court. (By the way, the late philosopher Michael Dummett was a great defender of retrospective prayer, as you're probably aware. Recently, Kevin Timpe wrote a very interesting and highly readable paper on the subject, entitled, Prayers for the past, in which he considers Dummett's view.) vjtorley
You know what I've been noticing lately? I never need to look at the author of a vjtorley post to know it's vjtorley. Thanks for having such provocative and substantive contributions Dr. Torley. :D tragic mishap
'he’s so careful about covering his tracks that he might as well not exist'
Well He certainly did not 'hide' from these guys:
The best data we have [concerning the Big Bang] are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the bible as a whole. Dr. Arno Penzias, Nobel Laureate in Physics - co-discoverer of the Cosmic Background Radiation - as stated to the New York Times on March 12, 1978 “Certainly there was something that set it all off,,, I can’t think of a better theory of the origin of the universe to match Genesis” Robert Wilson – Nobel laureate – co-discover Cosmic Background Radiation http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/index.php?option=com_custom_content&task=view&id=3594 “There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing.” George Smoot – Nobel laureate in 2006 for his work on COBE “,,,the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world,,, the essential element in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis is the same.” Robert Jastrow – Founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute – Pg.15 ‘God and the Astronomers’ ,,, 'And if your curious about how Genesis 1, in particular, fairs. Hey, we look at the Days in Genesis as being long time periods, which is what they must be if you read the Bible consistently, and the Bible scores 4 for 4 in Initial Conditions and 10 for 10 on the Creation Events' Hugh Ross - Hugh Ross - Evidence For Intelligent Design Is Everywhere (10^-1054) - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4347236
as to, "It means the most important assumptions of the scientific enterprise-continuity and regularity — are fully justified.'
,,,Only in Theism are they, continuity and regularity, fully justified! Theism alone presupposes, in its foundational beliefs, transcendent universe laws that are unchanging. Transcendent laws that were put in place by the rational mind of God that can be discovered by the rational human mind of man who was created in His image. In fact Atheism demands 'randomness' as a cornerstone premise in its foundational view of reality and thus atheism has no right to presuppose that the transcendent universal laws, that have been discovered, should be unchanging, much less did the atheistic worldview presuppose their existence in the first place!:
Random Chaos vs. Uniformity Of Nature - Presuppositional Apologetics - video http://www.metacafe.com/w/6853139
Moreover the atheistic worldview cannot even justify 'doing' science in the first place:
Philosopher Sticks Up for God Excerpt: Theism, with its vision of an orderly universe superintended by a God who created rational-minded creatures in his own image, “is vastly more hospitable to science than naturalism,” with its random process of natural selection, he (Plantinga) writes. “Indeed, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview.’” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/books/alvin-plantingas-new-book-on-god-and-science.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all Epistemology – Why Should The Human Mind Even Be Able To Comprehend Reality? – Stephen Meyer - video – (Notes in description) http://vimeo.com/32145998 BRUCE GORDON: Hawking's irrational arguments - October 2010 Excerpt: What is worse, multiplying without limit the opportunities for any event to happen in the context of a multiverse - where it is alleged that anything can spontaneously jump into existence without cause - produces a situation in which no absurdity is beyond the pale. For instance, we find multiverse cosmologists debating the "Boltzmann Brain" problem: In the most "reasonable" models for a multiverse, it is immeasurably more likely that our consciousness is associated with a brain that has spontaneously fluctuated into existence in the quantum vacuum than it is that we have parents and exist in an orderly universe with a 13.7 billion-year history. This is absurd. The multiverse hypothesis is therefore falsified because it renders false what we know to be true about ourselves. Clearly, embracing the multiverse idea entails a nihilistic irrationality that destroys the very possibility of science. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/oct/1/hawking-irrational-arguments/
This following site is a easy to use, and understand, interactive website that takes the user through what is termed 'Presuppositional apologetics'. The website clearly shows that our use of the laws of logic, mathematics, science and morality cannot be accounted for unless we believe in a God who guarantees our perceptions and reasoning are trustworthy in the first place.
Presuppositional Apologetics - easy to use interactive website http://www.proofthatgodexists.org/index.php THE GOD OF THE MATHEMATICIANS - DAVID P. GOLDMAN - August 2010 Excerpt: we cannot construct an ontology that makes God dispensable. Secularists can dismiss this as a mere exercise within predefined rules of the game of mathematical logic, but that is sour grapes, for it was the secular side that hoped to substitute logic for God in the first place. Gödel's critique of the continuum hypothesis has the same implication as his incompleteness theorems: Mathematics never will create the sort of closed system that sorts reality into neat boxes. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/07/the-god-of-the-mathematicians
This 'lack of a guarantee', for trusting our perceptions and reasoning in science to be trustworthy in the first place, even extends into evolutionary naturalism itself;
Should You Trust the Monkey Mind? - Joe Carter Excerpt: Evolutionary naturalism assumes that our noetic equipment developed as it did because it had some survival value or reproductive advantage. Unguided evolution does not select for belief except insofar as the belief improves the chances of survival. The truth of a belief is irrelevant, as long as it produces an evolutionary advantage. This equipment could have developed at least four different kinds of belief that are compatible with evolutionary naturalism, none of which necessarily produce true and trustworthy cognitive faculties. http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2010/09/should-you-trust-the-monkey-mind i.e. 'inconsistent identity' of cause leads to failure of absolute truth claims for materialists - per Alvin Plantinga
The following interview is sadly comical as a evolutionary psychologist realizes that neo-Darwinism can offer no guarantee that our faculties of reasoning will correspond to the truth, not even for the truth that he is purporting to give in the interview, (which begs the question of how was he able to come to that particular truthful realization, in the first place, if neo-Darwinian evolution were actually true?);
Evolutionary guru: Don't believe everything you think - October 2011 Interviewer: You could be deceiving yourself about that.(?) Evolutionary Psychologist: Absolutely. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128335.300-evolutionary-guru-dont-believe-everything-you-think.html
Atheism simply is bankrupt of any substantiating evidence from science itself, nor for 'why' we should even be able to do science in the first place. Moreover it is uniquely the Christian worldview, and none other, which brought science to maturity in the first place:
Christianity Is a Science-Starter, Not a Science-Stopper By Nancy Pearcey http://www.pearceyreport.com/archives/2005/09/post_4.php
Indeed, he's so careful about covering his tracks that he might as well not exist -- and probably doesn't. But if he does exist, he must be annoyed at the pesky ID proponents who keep trying to flush him out of hiding when he would obviously prefer to remain incognito. champignon
That's a common thought, but it means that science can proceed on its present course without worrying about interventions. It means the most important assumptions of the scientific enterprise -- continuity and regularity -- are fully justified. Petrushka
Of course, if God answers prayers, there is the burning question of what he’s got against amputees.
God wants his miracles to be indistinguishable from natural events, just as the Intelligent Designer (could they be one and the same?) wants his designs to appear as if they evolved. champignon
Timbo don't be bimbo. Bornagain, thank you very much for touching stories. Eugen
As to the question, Why doesn't God heal amputees? ,,, If you find a answer for that question, I would like for you to also ask God, since only God knows his entire purposes for when He allows divine miracles, why is the death rate still 100% for humans since He, as Jesus incarnate, defeated death on the cross?,,, But as to your primary premise in your argument that God NEVER has healed a amputee, we find: Well, there was the guy whose ear one of Jesus' followers cut off, and Jesus touched it and it was healed. (Luke 22:51) But Jesus answered, "No more of this!" And he touched the man's ear and healed him. I don't know if you call that an amputee, though I sure would! My main point with the 'death question' though is so what if there were documented cases of amputees being miraculously cured. Then you would say there were no cases of multi-drug-resistant TB being cured miraculously. Or no cases of autism cured miraculously. Or no cases of bird flu cured miraculously. Or no cases of mad cow disease cured miraculously. Seems like a weak argument to me. Indeed seems like a pathetic 'excuse' for not believing in God rather than acknowledging the overwhelming evidence for God's existence that modern science has revealed. The true reason you don't believe in God is because you don't want to believe in God period!!! i.e. The evidence for God's reality, from science itself, is overwhelming, whereas the 'excuses' for not believing are contrived rationalizations!!! bornagain77
Nothing. There are several incorrect assumptions you are making here. First, you assume that Christians can dictate what God should do. We serve him, not vice versa. Two, you assume that God simply answers all prayers. He does not. He pick and chooses what to allow and not allow based off all that infinite knowledge he has. Three, you assume that there is a person who "deserves" it. God is clear, there are no people who are inherently worthy. All have sinned. Four, I am going to go out on a limb and say you are atheist? Well, from your perspective this life is the one that matters most. To a Christian however after this life is a paradise where all wounds are healed. What is 60 or 70 years of being limbless compared to eternity? God has nothing against amputees. He is just the sovereign and may have a better idea of how to run things than you. NastraDark
erratum: "other errors too". Errors about errors! Elizabeth Liddle
1. Yes, Bem's paper was carefully reviewed, and published in a good journal. That doesn't mean it's immune to criticism. 2 &3. Wagenmaker's Bayesian Factor estimates do not depend on his priors about psi, but on a default distribution for Bem's effect sizes. Bem disputes that default, and he may be right. But he also may be wrong, and that is the point. His p value doesn't tell you that he is right, merely that his data are unlikely to be observed under his null. It's his null that is at issue. 4. Your concern is reasonable, but that's not a problem specific to Bayesian methods. Bayesian methods merely make the issue explicit. Classical statistics don't obviate the problem, it merely makes its conclusions unreliable. In both cases, the issue concerns the appropriate null. In Bayesian methods you cannot proceed until you have explicitly formulated it. In classical statistics it's all too easy to assume you have an appropriate null when you haven't. 5. Those are not Wagenmaker's only arguments; and they have force. Without a theoretical basis for a hypothesis it is very difficult to construct an appropriate null, and it still leaves open the issue that if a phenomenon is highly unlikely, even an unlikely result is more likely to be the result of experimental or analytical error than the phenomenon you have proposed. Which is exactly why Bayesian methods are so important in medicine - why, counter-intuitively, a rare positive test on a screen for an even rarer disease still doesn't mean you are likely to have that disease. 5 again :D) Too much statistical nerdery rots the brain :) vjtorley, I think Bem's paper is intriguing. But, as Wagenmakers et al, and indeed one of his reviewers, say it is completely atheoretical, and so the first question has to be: what more mundane explanation could there be for the data? And the writing of the paper does not fill me with confidence. His use of t tests, for a start. While he also backs these up with binomial tests, he completely fails to note the implications of his own findings of absent apparent psi effects in some individuals. That has direct implications for the distribution of hit rates in his sample (should make them strongly positively skewed). But he doesn't even mention the variance in hit rates and appears to show no interest in that distribution, except to say that the normality assumptions of the test might be violated. And yet he's quite happy to use a one-tailed test on the principle that a psi effect can only work positively. Why? In the absence of a theoretical basis you have to use a two-tailed test. The only justification for a one-tailed test is when you know that your negative tail must be noise. And he makes othe errors two (like that test of the difference in success-rate between erotic and non-erotic stimuli, ignoring the fact that there were, overall, more non-erotic trials, and therefore less chance, under the null, that the hit-rate would be much higher than 50%. Incidentally, for the heck of it, I ran a quick simulation, under the null hypothesis, and of course found that consistently, the "erotic" stimuli had more extreme mean scores than the "non-erotic". That error really shouldn't have got past the reviewers. I haven't yet been through the whole paper with a fine-toothed comb, but that's my haul so far :) But if he's right, all that is required is a replication, by a different team, with the same protocols, and appropriate increased sample sizes. Even a replication of Experiment 1, possibly with all erotic stimuli, would be very impressive. Elizabeth Liddle
He used Stouffer's Z. Elizabeth Liddle
Being a bit lazy here - but did Bem just multiply the p values together to get a total p value? markf
Hi bornagain77, Thanks for sharing your very moving story. vjtorley
Hi Elizabeth, Thank you for your posts. Just a few quick comments: (1) Bem's paper was carefully reviewed before it was published. As one reviewer, Professor Joachim Krueger, put it:
"My personal view is that this is ridiculous and can’t be true. Going after the methodology and the experimental design is the first line of attack. But frankly, I didn’t see anything. Everything seemed to be in good order."
(2) It seems to me that the methodological and statistical criticisms you raised in your comments were adequately answered by Bem in his response to Wagenmakers et al. at http://dbem.ws/ResponsetoWagenmakers.pdf (3) I'll just quote a few comments from Bem's response:
The most striking finding is that under the knowledge-based prior, the Bayesian analysis yields exactly the same conclusions as Bem’s (2011) original frequentist analysis. Using Jeffreys’ (1961) verbal labels for characterizing the size of a Bayes factor (BF), every experiment (except Experiment 7, as in Bem [2011]) shows either “strong” (BF > 10) or “substantial” (BF > 3) evidence in favor of H1. The combined Bayes factor of 5,184,907 easily exceeds his criterion for “extreme” evidence in favor of H_1 (BF > 100), with a posterior probability on the composite H0 of 1.9 × 10^-7. Even the two-sided version of that same prior H1 distribution yields “extreme” evidence in favor of the psi alternative, with a posterior probability on the composite H0 of 7.3 × 10-5. Finally, both the Skeptic’s prior and the one-sided Cauchy prior also yield “extreme” evidence in favor H1. Only the two-sided Cauchy prior used by Wagenmakers et al. (2011) fails to show strong support for the psi hypothesis. In an online appendix to their article, Wagenmakers et al. (2011) claim to show that their conclusions are robust across different priors for H1, but they restrict their discussion to twosided Cauchy priors that are still very diffuse, and they never consider the combined evidence across all of the experiments. For example, if they had simply considered a two-sided Cauchy prior that places 90% of the probability on effect sizes with absolute value less than 0.5—like our two-sided Knowledge-Based prior distribution—they, too, would have discovered “extreme” evidence in favor of H1, namely, a composite Bayes factor of 1,964 and a posterior probability on the composite H_0 of 0.0005. Critics of using Bayesian analyses for psi hypotheses frequently point out the reductio ad absurdum case of the extreme skeptic who believes psi to be impossible, that is, who holds the prior probability of 0 for the psi alternative. In this case, no finite amount of data can raise the posterior probability in favor of the alternative hypothesis above 0 or, alternatively, lower the posterior probability in favor of the null below 1. This extreme case does, however, raise the question of how close to 0 the prior probability for the alternative would need to be to maintain a posterior probability close to 0.95 for the null. For the Knowledge-based prior, one’s prior probability that the alternative is true would have to be 10^-8 (or 1 - 10^-8 that the null is true). Thus, when taking the combined data into account it would take a mighty strong prior belief in the null hypothesis to retain even a reasonably high posterior belief in it. Of course Wagenmakers et al. (2011) admit that they do indeed have more than a mighty strong belief in the null hypothesis (1 - 10^-20), so even the posterior probability of 1.9 × 10^-7 obtained with the Knowledge-based prior would not convince them, as it might convince a skeptic with a less extreme position.
In other words, as long as you're prepared to believe that the prior probability of psi existing is 0.00000001, then you'll be convinced by Wagenmaker's analysis, but if you're disposed to believe that the probability of psi existing is only 0.0000000000000000001, then of course, Wagenmaker's findings won't convince you. (4) This brings me to my central concern with Bayesian statistical testing: by setting your prior probability low enough, you can guarantee that nothing will convince you. For instance, the total number of events in the entire history of the observable universe has been estimated by Seth Lloyd at around 10^120. If you set your prior probabilities low enough, you can ensure that the total number of tests that would have to be performed in order to change your mind would be greater than the number of events in the history of the universe - and hence guarantee that nothing will. (5) Wagenmaker et al.'s arguments against psi at http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1018886/Bem6.pdf are fairly weak anyway: Darwinism (yes, but even if you're a theistic evolutionist like Professor Ken Miller you could still find room for a soul) and lack of success at casinos (which only proves that if we have psychic powers, they don't pick up anything and everything. Most people are pretty bad with numbers anyway, so I'm not surprised that they're bad at picking up numeric information. (5) Heck, I wouldn't even put the probability of my own non-existence at 10^-20, let alone the non-existence of psi :) Cheers. vjtorley
vj I played the part of an atheist sceptical friend and colleague of Lewis - a professor Riley - rather appropriate I think :-) I cannot find any reference to a real person of this description. You are right. Obviously Lewis also thought prayer could change things. I was struck while doing the play that the emphasis was on prayer as a sort of therapy - but the article shows that he really thought it might change things - although not the cancer which killed Joy Davidman. markf
Of course, if God answers prayers, there is the burning question of what he's got against amputees. Timbo
1- What mistake did Dention allegedly make? 2- Natural selection allegedly explains the earth's/ ecosystem's biodiversity. And guess what? It is linked to the genetic diversity. 3- Adaptation = whatever works "good enough" Now, back to what I said and your obvious misunderstanding:
In the same vein anyone claiming that there is clinical evidence for the efficacy of accumulations of random mutations has failed to grasp the nature of clinical evidence.
NOTE: accumulations of random mutations- Mutations accumulate in many ways and selection is just one of them meaning what I said INCLUDES selection and therefor, contra Elizabeth, I did not forget it as she claimed. OK Elizabeth- did you get that, too? Joe
No. That was the mistake Denton made. NS explains adaptation. Not genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is required for adaptation, not the other way round. Elizabeth Liddle
NS explains the genetic diversity between diverged lineages- as in why there are different species. Dawkins calls it cumulative selction. What is your degree in again? Joe
James 4: 2b You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. [NIV] (SGD: Someone who, absent some pretty powerful answers to prayer over decades, would not now be here.) kairosfocus
Also, there is nothing in our foundational understanding of reality that prevents miracles from happening, and in fact, there is much that argues forcefully for miracles to be expected: Leading quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger has followed in John Archibald Wheeler's footsteps (1911-2008) by insisting reality, at its most foundational level, is 'information', which corresponds to what was 'predicted' from John 1:1
"It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom - at a very deep bottom, in most instances - an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that things physical are information-theoretic in origin." John Archibald Wheeler Why the Quantum? It from Bit? A Participatory Universe? Excerpt: In conclusion, it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Thence the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: "In the beginning was the Word." Anton Zeilinger - a leading expert in quantum teleportation: Prof Anton Zeilinger speaks on quantum physics. at UCT - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3ZPWW5NOrw Zeilinger's principle The principle that any elementary system carries just one bit of information. This principle was put forward by the Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger in 1999 and subsequently developed by him to derive several aspects of quantum mechanics. http://science.jrank.org/pages/20784/Zeilinger%27s-principle.html#ixzz17a7f88PM
Moreover consciousness is found to be more foundational to reality than information is: The argument for God from consciousness can be framed like this:
1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality. 2. If consciousness is a 'epi-phenomena' of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality. 3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality. 4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.
Quantum mind–body problem Excerpt:Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind%E2%80%93body_problem Dr. Quantum - Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4096579 The Mental Universe - Richard Conn Henry - Professor of Physics John Hopkins University Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke "decoherence" - the notion that "the physical environment" is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in "Renninger-type" experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy. http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/The.mental.universe.pdf Wheeler's Classic Delayed Choice Experiment: Excerpt: Now, for many billions of years the photon is in transit in region 3. Yet we can choose (many billions of years later) which experimental set up to employ – the single wide-focus, or the two narrowly focused instruments. We have chosen whether to know which side of the galaxy the photon passed by (by choosing whether to use the two-telescope set up or not, which are the instruments that would give us the information about which side of the galaxy the photon passed). We have delayed this choice until a time long after the particles "have passed by one side of the galaxy, or the other side of the galaxy, or both sides of the galaxy," so to speak. Yet, it seems paradoxically that our later choice of whether to obtain this information determines which side of the galaxy the light passed, so to speak, billions of years ago. So it seems that time has nothing to do with effects of quantum mechanics. And, indeed, the original thought experiment was not based on any analysis of how particles evolve and behave over time – it was based on the mathematics. This is what the mathematics predicted for a result, and this is exactly the result obtained in the laboratory. http://www.bottomlayer.com/bottom/basic_delayed_choice.htm "It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness." Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) from his collection of essays "Symmetries and Reflections – Scientific Essays"; Eugene Wigner laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.
Here is the key experiment that led Wigner to his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum symmetries:
Eugene Wigner Excerpt: To express this basic experience in a more direct way: the world does not have a privileged center, there is no absolute rest, preferred direction, unique origin of calendar time, even left and right seem to be rather symmetric. The interference of electrons, photons, neutrons has indicated that the state of a particle can be described by a vector possessing a certain number of components. As the observer is replaced by another observer (working elsewhere, looking at a different direction, using another clock, perhaps being left-handed), the state of the very same particle is described by another vector, obtained from the previous vector by multiplying it with a matrix. This matrix transfers from one observer to another. http://www.reak.bme.hu/Wigner_Course/WignerBio/wb1.htm
i.e. In the experiment the 'world' (i.e. the universe) does not have a ‘privileged center’. Yet strangely, the conscious observer does exhibit a 'privileged center'. This is since the 'matrix', which determines which vector will be used to describe the particle in the experiment, is 'observer-centric' in its origination! Thus explaining Wigner’s dramatic statement, “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”
What drives materialists crazy is that consciousness cannot be seen, tasted, smelled, touched, heard, or studied in a laboratory. But how could it be otherwise? Consciousness is the very thing that is DOING the seeing, the tasting, the smelling, etc… We define material objects by their effect upon our senses – how they feel in our hands, how they appear to our eyes. But we know consciousness simply by BEING it! https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/neuroscience/another-atheist-checks-out-of-no-consciousnessno-free-will/comment-page-1/#comment-411601 Psalm 33:13-15 The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works. Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics https://docs.google.com/document/d/17SDgYPHPcrl1XX39EXhaQzk7M0zmANKdYIetpZ-WB5Y/edit?hl=en_US
NS doesn't explain genetic diversity, it explains adaptation It reducesgenetic diversity. Perhaps you should take a refresher course in biology. Elizabeth Liddle
Response from Bem to Wagenmakers et al here: http://dbem.ws/ResponsetoWagenmakers.pdf He clears up at least some concerns. Elizabeth Liddle
You forgot that "selection" isn't selection but is just a result of three processes-> it is differential reproduction due to heritable random variation. You people think that natural selection does something and everyone else finds that hilarious. Mutations accumulate for a number of reasons and it appears the neutral theory explains more genetic diversity than NS ever can. Perhaps you should take a refresher course in biology. Joe
corrected link:
Medical Miracles Really Do Happen Excerpt: No one knows exactly how often such cases occur. Approximately 3,500 medically documented cases of seeming miracles -- based on reports from doctors in America and around the world dating to 1967 -- have appeared in 800 peer-reviewed medical journals and cover all major illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.* http://www.esotericonline.net/profiles/blogs/premonition-and-medical-miracles-dr-larry-dossey
Then again we can attribute everything in the universe, even the universe itself, to the final cause of a 'random miracle' as atheists insist we do:
The End Of Materialism? - Dr. Bruce Gordon * In the multiverse, anything can happen for no reason at all. * In other words, the materialist is forced to believe in random miracles as a explanatory principle. * In a Theistic universe, nothing happens without a reason. Miracles are therefore intelligently directed deviations from divinely maintained regularities, and are thus expressions of rational purpose. * Scientific materialism is (therefore) epistemically self defeating: it makes scientific rationality impossible. The Absurdity of Inflation, String Theory & The Multiverse - Dr. Bruce Gordon - video http://vimeo.com/34468027
Further notes:
Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness - Talbott - Fall 2011 Excerpt: The situation calls to mind a widely circulated cartoon by Sidney Harris, which shows two scientists in front of a blackboard on which a body of theory has been traced out with the usual tangle of symbols, arrows, equations, and so on. But there’s a gap in the reasoning at one point, filled by the words, “Then a miracle occurs.” And the one scientist is saying to the other, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.” In the case of evolution, I picture Dennett and Dawkins filling the blackboard with their vivid descriptions of living, highly regulated, coordinated, integrated, and intensely meaningful biological processes, and then inserting a small, mysterious gap in the middle, along with the words, “Here something random occurs.” This “something random” looks every bit as wishful as the appeal to a miracle. It is the central miracle in a gospel of meaninglessness, a “Randomness of the gaps,” demanding an extraordinarily blind faith. At the very least, we have a right to ask, “Can you be a little more explicit here?” http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/evolution-and-the-illusion-of-randomness
Actually, he does say how he computed that p value: a one-sample t test (he tells us during Experiment 2). The binomial test (which he also uses) would be better though. And we really need to know those distributions. Elizabeth Liddle
Here is another 'small miracle':
Strange But True - Miracle Testimony It was in the summer of 1993, I was down and out in Ft. Myers, Florida. This was about the second year that I was homeless. I was staying at the Salvation Army in Ft. Myers working temporary day labor and paying 8 bucks a night to stay at the homeless shelter. Once again I had come up with yet another grand plan to defeat the destructive desires for drinking and using that had kept me bound to the street. I was going to read the Bible cover to cover. Surely, this would cure me once and for all. Every night before I would go to sleep I made sure that I would read though at least 30 minutes worth of the Bible. This was done in my bunk in the open dormitory of the salvation army. Well, after a month or 6 weeks of this, I was getting pretty far into the Bible and had pretty much established myself, among the guys staying there, as some sort of Jesus Freak. One evening a man, who like me wasn't fairing to well in this world, comes up to my bunk, as I was reading the Bible, and angrily says this to me," Where Is God? Just where is God ? If I knew where God was my life would be alright." So I told him the truth "Well I know that it may sound strange, but sometimes when I really need it, God speaks directly to me from the Bible. I believe that He may speak directly to you since you seem to be in a bad spot." Then I closed the Bible and handed it to him. Then he asks me “Do you mean like this?” and he just randomly opens the Bible up, but instead of gently reading the first words his eyes landed on, as I thought he would do, he went and stabbed his finger down onto the page that the Bible had fell open to. Then, he looks over to me and asks "Like That?" I nervously said, in spite of my reservations of the brazenness of his act, "I guess that will work". Well his brazenness paid off for his finger landed right on top of Job 23:3 which says "Oh, that I knew where I might find God, that I might come to His seat!" Well, needless to say, we both were in awe about God revealing Himself to him in the Living Word that clearly, so we went to the chaplain of the Salvation Army and got him his very own Bible. Let me end this by saying that I believe God speaks to all people in many different ways. Don't be upset if God doesn't speak in this certain way to you. He very well could be speaking to you in ways that He doesn't speak to other people in. He could speak through your dreams, or visions, or He could speak to you through people. He could be in that still small, intuitive, voice in your mind that speaks warnings to you every so often, or T.V., or radio, or the clouds, or even a lightning bolt could express His feelings and guidance to you, or etc... etc... . The point I'm trying to make clear is this. I'm firmly convinced that God does indeed desire to speak to each and every one of us, His children! BUT, we have to open our minds up enough to allow the possibility that God, the Father of all creation, might actually care enough for us, His children ,to actually want to speak intimately to each of us. Think about it. What parent doesn't talk personally to each one of their very own children every once in a while? I truly believe it is a very powerful thing to have the Lord speak into our lives, more powerful than we can possibly understand right now. My reasoning for this is this: He who speaks living words into the voids of our life, Is the very same One who spoke living words into the void of the night and brought the entire universe into existence out of the infinity of the glory of his Being. John 3:3-8 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the spirit.” Casting Crowns - The Word Is Alive - music video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5197438/ Evanescence - "Bring Me To Life" - music Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YxaaGgTQYM Wake Me O Lord Wake me O Lord from this sleep of mine To the living wonders of creation that are so fine With a "Oh, that’s nice" I shall not content NO, only when You speak shall my heart be spent Others may suffice their cravings of Awe With an "Oh Well" shrug of the wonders they saw But I know You are in each piece of reality Yes, in the wind, the stars, and even the sea So this vow to You I make No rest in me my heart will take Till Your face and hands again I see In the many waters of reality For the truth be known to You indeed That if I see You not with my heart and head I’m not really born again, but instead am dead DC Talk - Jesus Freak- song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jDnVpCNlyY https://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AYmaSrBPNEmGZGM4ejY3d3pfNTNocmRjZGtkdg&hl=en
further notes:
Medical Miracles Really Do Happen Excerpt: No one knows exactly how often such cases occur. Approximately 3,500 medically documented cases of seeming miracles -- based on reports from doctors in America and around the world dating to 1967 -- have appeared in 800 peer-reviewed medical journals and cover all major illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.* http://www.bottomlinesecrets.com/article.html?article_id=42254
Here is one:
Scientifically Documented Miracles (10 detailed cases) Excerpt: "For five days, says Lennie Jernigan, an attorney, "we prayed for our daughter with a passion uncommon to both of us. And we waited for the diagnosis." The parents agreed to exploratory surgery, which carried a 1-in-5 chance of leaving Elizabeth permanently brain damaged. Surgeons removed part of the tumor from the nerve that controls the movement of the right eye. Trying to get at the rest of it was too dangerous. But when they were finished and the pathology reports came back, the news could not possibly have been worse. Their baby was suffering from an extremely rare malignant meningioma, which has killed everyone who ever had it. Her prognosis: continued growth of the aggressive tumor, grievous paralysis and certain death." [Fluid began to build up in the child's brain and she had to have an immediate operation.] "The night before the scheduled shunt surgery, a doctor arrived in Elizabeth's hospital room and removed so much thick, infected fluid from her brain that he asked to postpone the operation for a few days. But 12 hours later, when he returned to do another tap, he could barely find any fluid, and it was totally clear. The doctor was baffled. Elizabeth was back home two days later. "We now know it was one of those lesser miracles that presage a greater miracle," her grandfather says." "A month after the first operation, the same surgeons made a last-ditch effort to remove the rest of the tumor. But when they went into Elizabeth's brain, they couldn't find the lesion. As planned, they removed a section of the nerve that the cancer had invaded, knowing that it would leave her blind in her right eye but agreeing that it represented her best hope of surviving. When the tissue was examined, the pathologist could not find any cancer. Regular cat scans since then have revealed no evidence of a tumor. The medical community calls what happened "spontaneous resolution." The family call it a miracle. Even a resurrection." http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2009/05/scientifically-documented-miracles.html
Hi markf, Thank you for your post, and Happy New Year, by the way. It must have been quite exciting taking part in a play on C. S. Lewis. (How exactly were you involved, if you don't mind my asking?) I have to respectfully disagree with your interpretation of C. S. Lewis' thoughts on prayer. You quote him as saying:
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time - waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God - it changes me.
from which you proceed to draw the inference:
i.e. prayer does not change what will happen – it changes the person who is praying.
But that's not what Lewis said. What he said was that prayer does not change God. He did not say that prayer does not change outcomes. Actually "change" is not quite the right word, as God's supernatural causation (in response to our prayers) is timeless. It would be better to say that our prayers affect outcomes, and that this happens because if we pray, God will (timelessly) decide to do something (e.g. help someone in a special way) which He would not have done if we had not prayed. I can produce some evidence from C. S. Lewis' own writings that shows that he really did believe that prayer changes outcomes, although of course, it cannot change God, because He is timeless. As for God's "intervening": this is a loaded term, because it properly applies to a time-bound being, which God is not. We can however, meaningfully speak of God as doing something because an individual prayed, which He would not otherwise have done. Or as Lewis puts it in his essay, "The Efficacy of Prayer" :
Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. “God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God's mind — that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures. For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect what He would have us do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdication. We are not mere recipients or spectators. We are either privileged to share in the game or compelled to collabo­rate in the work, “to wield our little tridents.” Is this amazing process simply Creation going on before our eyes? This is how (no light matter) God makes something — indeed, makes gods — out of nothing. (Bold emphases mine - VJT.)
That's an interesting way of looking at it, don't you think? vjtorley
You forgot selection. Again. Elizabeth Liddle
[heh, just noticed another error: "The difference between erotic and nonerotic trials was itself significant, tdiff(99) = 1.85, p = .031, d = 0.19". This isn't valid because there are more nonerotic trials overall, so, under the null, you'd expect the mean hit rate to be closer to .5.] Well, meta-analysis can be perfectly valid, but one big problem is that, like all statistical analysis, it assumes a random sample from some larger (in some cases theoretical) population. So if the data going into the meta-analysis are exploratory, rather than confirmatory, data, you start off with a biased sample. What would be valid would be to take the results of a series of confirmatory studies, each perhaps of small effect, and determine the chance of all those studies producing a net result in favour of psi. Alternatively, one well-conducted confirmatory study showing a statistically significant effect. Meta-analyses often weight the studies by the quality of the study. Perhaps counter-intuitively, smaller, less statistically powerful, studies tend to yield larger effects. So while meta-analyses can be useful for establishing real, but small, effects, not all meta-analyses are created equal. What is needed are good, truly confirmatory, studies. Elizabeth Liddle
Elizabeth Liddle And this raises yet another problem: you can’t do a meta-analysis on a series of exploratory studies, all of which report significant but different effects (although all supposed to support psi effects) and then claim that you have a hugely significant support for psi. You could only do that if you had a series of confirmatory experiments, all with clearly stated a priori hypotheses regarding the direction of the effect that was supposed to indicate psi. A follow-up question on what is deemed accepted methodology? Bem reported on multiple tests, ostensibly to preempt understandable criticism that a single test and result might be biased, whereas multiple tests and results show a convergence. Yet you are flagging that same effort to use multiple, different tests as statistically incorrect. So, what would be the statistically valid methodology to show convergence of multiple tests (assuming the underlying reality is convergent)? Charles
One interesting thing I've just thought of: Bem proposes that there will be inter-subject differences in psi. This means that if his hypothesis is true, low psi subjects will score around 50% for a 50% probability correct task, whereas high psi subjects will score more. So one test of his hypothesis would be to see whether a) variance in scores is greater than would be expected under the null (no psi in anyone0 and b) whether the scores skew positive (a few high scores). tbh even if psi was a very rare ability, one person who consistently scored a lot better than chance would be more convincing than 100 people with a mean slightly higher than chance score. So much depends on your null! Elizabeth Liddle
In the same vein anyone claiming that there is clinical evidence for the efficacy of accumulations of random mutations has failed to grasp the nature of clinical evidence. Random Mutations may well work in ways that are invisible to scientific data analysis. But in that case you cannot claim that there is scientific evidence for "their" work. It can only ever be anecdotal. Joe
Thank you. My understanding of statistical techniques is shallow. It will take me days to crawl thru this, but thanks for the pointer. Charles
No, you have it backwards. Anyone claiming that that there is clinical evidence for the efficacy of prayer has failed to grasp the nature of clinical evidence. God may well work in ways that are invisible to scientific data analysis. But in that case you cannot claim that there is scientific evidence for His work. It can only ever be anecdotal. Elizabeth Liddle
I like how one wag reported the results of the Benson study: SCIENTISTS FAIL TO MANIPULATE GOD Anyone conducting a clinical study on the efficacy of prayer has failed to grasp the concept of God. EvilSnack
Well, one small problem is that Bem doesn't actually give the details of how he computes the p value, but that's not really my issue. What he does is misinterpret what that p value is a probability of The p value you get from a t test, rather counter-intuitively, is not the probability that your study hypothesis is false, but the probability that you would have observed the data you did observe had your null hypothesis been true, which is not the same thing. But (and I've now looked further at his paper)he makes a number of further errors, also pointed out by Wagenmakers et al. The most egregious (and I remember noting this when the paper first came out, and made a bit of a stir) is that he doesn't give good a priori justifications for his hypotheses, and he should make a p value correction for multiple possible hypotheses. One is the "two-tailed" test, which is absolutely standard, yet Bem says: "Unless otherwise indicated, all significance levels reported in this article are based on one-tailed tests." But even a two-tailed test would be inadequate here, because for many of his experiments, several hypotheses could be, and were, tested (e.g. effects of gender; effects of stimulus type; effects of extroversion), and no correctionto the p value is made for these multiple hypotheses. The point being that the probability of finding some effect is much higher than the probability of finding one effect. In other words these are exploratory experiments, not confirmatory experiments. And this raises yet another problem: you can't do a meta-analysis on a series of exploratory studies, all of which report significant but different effects (although all supposed to support psi effects) and then claim that you have a hugely significant support for psi. You could only do that if you had a series of confirmatory experiments, all with clearly stated a priori hypotheses regarding the direction of the effect that was supposed to indicate psi. There's a classic article by Cohen here that you might be interested in. So, to address your specific questions:
- how did Bem compute p for probability of his hypothesis given his data?
He didn't. He computed p for the probability of his data given his null hypothesis, for which he used a standard t test (although he does not always make his method clear: he does not, for example, give the variance of hit-rates among his participants in experiment 1, only the mean hit-rate).
- how should Bem have computed p for probability of his data given his null hypothesis?
That's what he did calculate. I still haven't quite figured out how he did it, as he doesn't give (as I say above) the between-subject variance in hit-rates. Sorry I mangled the grammar there!
- how do or should the computations of p differ for: a) probability of Bem’s data, vs. b) probability of Bem’s hypothesis, vs. c) probability of Bem’s null hypothesis
Null hypothesis testing tells you the probability of your data given the null. Bayesian tests can tell you the probability of your hypothesis versus some other hypothesis, but the results will depend on your priors (see the Wagenmaker et al paper). This leads some people to question the validity of Bayesian statistics, but in my view it merely makes explicit assumptions that are implicit, but not adequately considered, in classical hypothesis testing. Classical hypothesis testing depends crucially for its validity on the quality of your null model. If you get that wrong, your results are essentially meaningless, because all you will have done is to reject something that was never likely to be true in the first place. It certainly doesn't tell you that your hypothesis is true. Elizabeth Liddle
Elizabeth Liddle:
The fact that the author has mistaken his p value for the probability of his hypothesis given his data, rather than for the probability of his data given his null hypothesis is a red flag.
I (and likely others here) am genuinely interested in understanding better the basis for your 'red flag'. I'm not arguing or criticising, but given past disagreements arising from semantics, I'm asking: - how did Bem compute p for probability of his hypothesis given his data? - how should Bem have computed p for probability of his data given his null hypothesis? - how do or should the computations of p differ for: a) probability of Bem's data, vs. b) probability of Bem's hypothesis, vs. c) probability of Bem's null hypothesis Charles
I've seen a few 'small' answered prayers, if there is truly anything as a 'small' answered prayer. One answered prayer was this: This is one of my favorite miracles that I've seen so far in this life.
In 1989 I was in Lancaster, California, right after I had gotten out of the military, right after the Lord had revealed the fact that He is real to me. I was staying in a house, renting a room. One night, one of my housemates, who happened to be a Christian also, told me that he was depressed. He had been depressed for a long time, and did not know if he would ever get better. Well, since I was a brand new, indeed ‘naive’, Christian, I got excited; I saw an opportunity for God to move. I told him, "Hey man! This is something we can pray about". So we bowed our heads and prayed for his depression. Shoot, we prayed for all the people who are depressed in the whole world. We prayed that God would touch them that instance. We prayed as we thought the Bible would have us pray. "Well", he said to me, after we finished praying, "I don't feel any different". After that, on television, on the Christian Station, there was a group of people talking. One of the ladies in the group said "Excuse me, if you don't mind, I really feel that we need to pray for depression at this moment"; they joined their hands, began praying for depression, asking Jesus to touch and heal everyone. Then my friend told me he STILL felt depressed and felt no different after the prayer. Well sensing that God was up to something with the ‘coincidental’ prayer for depression, I tried to cheer my friend up. I started to clown around, trying to cheer up my friend. I was singing, dancing and clowning around to the song "What makes that little old ant think he can move that rubber tree plant ..." "Well", my friend said, after I was done, "I STILL don't feel any different". Then I said, “Well, maybe a comedy on television will cheer you up". I switched the channel to one of the major networks, and ALF was on. On this particular episode, ALF had an ant farm and he grows to love that ant farm in the episode. BUT sadly, ALF accidentally killed his ants in the ant farm by leaving them in the sun. ALF was stunned by what he had carelessly done to his ants. Then the father figure on ALF came in and sees ALF lamenting the loss of his beloved ants. He said " ALF I know that it’s hard to believe right now, BUT, tomorrow you’re going to feel better; then the next day you’ll feel even better, until one day you’ll actually feel...BETTER! Well, both my friend and I were completely amazed at the synchronicity of it all... I even ended up going down the street that evening, stopping complete strangers, trying to tell them I had just seen a miracle on ALF...One of the strangers tried to assure me that he believed me, but I still wonder if he was just placating the ‘mad man’ going down the street talking about a miracle with ALF and ants. I even testified about the ‘ALF miracle’ at Bible study the following day, which led to another ‘small’ miracle in a married couple’s life, in the bible study, which they testified to the next week. But the neatest thing about the whole thing was three days later, when my friend came up to me and said, "I feel good, I REALLY do ‘feel good’", which is what we had prayed for in the first place. And that is the end of My Alf Miracle story. God does indeed move in mysterious ways. Alf: Funeral for a Friend (12:30 minute mark) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlxZQwMnqV4
And many other excellent points! Elizabeth Liddle
Ah, looks like someone has spent considerable effort on this: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1018886/Bem6.pdf and essentially makes the same point as I have just done :) Elizabeth Liddle
Oops, last para should read: "The fact that the author has mistaken his p value for the probability of his hypothesis given his data, rather than for the probability of his data given his null hypothesis is a red flag." Elizabeth Liddle
Across all nine experiments, the combined odds against the findings being due to chance are greater than 70 billion to 1.
Of course the findings aren't "due to chance". Chance doesn't cause anything. What such statements usually mean is that, assuming a random sample, the results are unlikely to be observed under the null hypothesis. But that doesn't mean they aren't likely to be observed under some other alternative hypothesis than the study hypothesis. So the issue here is not the very low "p value" but whether there is an alternative explanation for the observed results. You say:
...but the methodology of this study is nothing if not scientific.
The methodology is certainly "scientific" but whether it is sound, methodologically or statistically, is another question. The fact that the author has mistaken his p value for the probability of his hypothesis given his data, for the probability of his data given his null hypothesis is a red flag. Elizabeth Liddle
Bravo VJ, great article, especially the mention of Saint Joseph of Cupertino.funny how he was also born in a manger to very poor parents. Nicknamed the flying Saint, his miracles of flight and levitation were so well known that it was considered a miracle only when he didn't perform a miracle. He was was always made fun of when he was younger because he was so clumsy and slow mentally, but he had such a love for the lord that he would be in complete exctacy just when thinking of him or hearing his name mentioned out loud. He also had this incredible mastery over animals, that he commanded a pack of wild dogs to stop from attacking him. When he first entered the monastery he was thrown out by the other monks because he kept breaking everything there. He was the least important men to the world at that time, the least significant and yet the lord worked amazing miracles. I get so excited just thinking about his miracles. I will post some good links about him when I get to my pc tomorrow as I'm on my iPod now. Funny how David humes never checked him out, but I guess that seeing the flying saint would have given his worldview a nightmare of a problem since humes didn't believe in miracles. This reminds me of the verse in the bible which talks about how God will make the smart men of this world look foolish wallstreeter43
I have just been in Shadowlands - the play about CS Lewis romance and marriage with Joy Davidson who then died of cancer. It taught me a lot about him. One was that he didn't see prayer as asking God to intervene. That would happen whether he asked or not. It was therapeutic for him. "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me." i.e. prayer does not change what will happen - it changes the person who is praying. markf
"How long will it be, I wonder, until Intelligent Design researchers can freely publish their findings in journals like Nature?" Precisely as long as it takes them to come up with some actual evidence. Grunty

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