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How do Lds Truth Claims Stand up to Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit?


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Carl Sagan was an unabashed, unapologetic atheist.  In his book Demon Haunted World he offers his Baloney Detection Kit... a means whereby a person can cut through fanciful claims and get on a path to finding truth.  While I have never read his book, a link to his balcony detection kit did pop up on my internet browser today and as I read through this list it gave me pause and made me wonder how LDS Truth Claims would fair if subjected to this list of tests.  I didn't get to far into the thought experiment before I realized that I had to admit that the foundational claims of our religion would not pass this level of scrutiny. 

As someone who has already had to make major compromises to my faith and have had to gravitate to a more nuanced, non traditional faith in order to maintain any belief, I would appreciate the thoughts of those of you who have already navigated these treacherous waters and been able to reach a safe harbor with their faith intact.  I would also like to hear why believers should apply one standard of examination for non religious claims and hold religious claims to a completely different standard.

The Baloney Detection Kit

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.” AKA Peer Review
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
carlsagan1.jpg
Edited by Fair Dinkum
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It is also baked into our theology that the truth claims of the Church should not so undeniable via reason as to render inability to doubt them. So, I think you are essentially asking the wrong question. We can also turn his criteria around. Suppose that the Church's truth claims are true and there are a bunch of claims that those claims are not true. Do those same claims meet Sagan's baloney detection kit?

Sagan was also famous for criticizing the "god of the gaps". If we understand A and B but don't know anything about what goes between, we humans insert God as an explanation. As science progresses, that gap gets smaller and smaller and eventually, he predicts, it will vanish. But, let's similarly turn that idea on its head. Suppose we understand theological/historical/textual position A and position B in our theology/history/texts. But we don't quite know how to get from A to B. Insert the "skeptic of the gaps" who, unable to explain everything, denies everything. Yet, with the inexorable march of apologetics/science/scholarship/history the gaps between A and B keep getting smaller. The skeptics are finding it harder and harder to offer substantive criticism. Hence, we see a lot more of the criticism today being from a social construction (e.g. the morality of Mormonism is wrong) and less on technical grounds (e.g. metal plates in antiquity, hogwash! ... oops, never mind). But, never fear. If our theology is right... the critics will always have something to nitpick at until the end of days.

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I’ve struggled with the church’s truth claims for some time now.   The part of Occam’s Razor is very helpful to me.  If there are multiple hypothesis, it is most likely the most simple one that is the answer.

With Mormonism, the Mormon choice is rarely the simple solution. For example, the question of who wrote the Book of Mormon is asked.  Simple answer: Joseph Smith, et al took ideas and framework from View of the Hebrews and other contemporary works of literature from the time period to write it.

Mormon answer:  A man named Moroni (originally was Nephi) buries gold plates in a stone box in 600 AD. This mormoni visited JS in a dream. Told him where to find it.  He finds it with breastplate and magic glasses to translate the gold plates....centuries later the story changes to JS using a magic rock in a white top hat that never worked for him to find hidden treasure, but somehow worked to translate the Book of Mormon. And then the same angel carries the heavy gold plates back into heaven. 
It is much easier to believe the more simple story.
 

 

 

Edited by 2BizE
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37 minutes ago, 2BizE said:

 If there are multiple hypothesis, it is most likely the most simple one that is the answer.

This doesn’t really apply all that well to human behaviour though, which is highly complex with tons of different influences impacting a single behaviour...and even defining behaviours as separate events is inaccurate as say eating involved thinking behaviours, emotional behaviours, taste and touch sensations, social behaviours, memory, etc. 

Plus what is viewed as simple depends on how much info we have. For example, the simplest answer to a student failing in math suddenly getting 95% on a test is that they cheated. Add the info that the test has safeguards in place to prevent cheating and that is no longer the simplest answer. Do we assume they suddenly changed habitual behaviour (not that common) if we don’t have any way to know if their study habits changed or not?  What if we know they still spend the same amount of time studying?  What is the simplest answer then? Still cheating.  What if we then find out they have the same teacher, no tutors, and their parents still have math blocks for anything over adding 10 plus 10?  Cheating still seems like simplest explanation even if we don’t know how they did it. But then what happens if we find out they have a new best friend who happens to be a math whiz and who now studies with them and is really good at making math fun and accessible with immediate feedback on what they are doing right and wrong. Now we have another option to cheating and maybe we consider this is the simplest solution after all. But without knowing this one variable, we would likely have never considered anything but cheating as the simplest answer.  Otoh, maybe we should consider that the math wiz is smart enough or maybe rich enough to bypass the cheat prevention protocols.  Maybe we need to start looking at the two students’ behaviour in other areas to make a reasonable evaluation.

Or if that is too wordy, try medicine.  Someone comes in with flulike symptoms.  Occam’s Razor says they have the flu.  But there are many diseases and disorders that share symptoms, so automatically assuming simplest without further investigation may lead to misdiagnosis and even dangerous treatment or lack of such.

Occam’s Razor works better in a simple, physical system without too many variables needing to be considered. 

Edited by Calm
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1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:

The Baloney Detection Kit:

1.  Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.” AKA Peer Review

With God as my peer, okay.  Or just find anyone else who agrees with me and consider that person to be one of my peers, okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view. 

In other words find people who claim to know something about a topic and encourage them to talk about what they claim to know.  Okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.

In other words people who claim to know something about a topic should not be considered to be and should not claim to be authorities on what they claim to know, because they could be wrong.  Okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.

In other words find different ways to guess what may be involved in explaining an issue and then try to determine which explanation seems the most likely and which explanations seem less likely to be true. Okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.

In other words try to determine why you like a particular explanation for something while trying to find the best explanation, the explanation that makes the most sense to you.  Okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.

In other words try to count as many good reasons for believing the explanation that makes the most sense to you.  Okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.

In other words if there is something you can't explain in your explanation then youir explanation is not good enough and you need to keep looking until you come up with a total explanation.  Okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.

In other words the simplest explanation that makes the most sense is the best explanation.  Okay.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
  1. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

In other words the best explanation you can figure out to explain something must at least possibly be wrong even though it is the best explanation you can figure out that makes the most sense to you.  Okay.

Like how I consider the best way to explain how everything in the universe got to be the way it is is by the universe always existing and working in the same way.  What is has always been.

1 hour ago, Fair Dinkum said:
carlsagan1.jpg

 

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4 minutes ago, rodheadlee said:

I'm willing to bet that Carl is no longer an atheist.

I think that still depends on what Carl believes God is.  Carl died and then he saw more people like us.  Do you think that was enough for Carl to realize that we are God? 

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21 minutes ago, pogi said:

When Sagan talks about getting on a path to finding truth, I’d like him to define truth.

Likewise, when Carl said he didn't believe in God I would have liked him to define God.

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4 minutes ago, rodheadlee said:

I'm willing to bet that Carl is no longer an atheist.

I know what you're getting at here..... But, despite the people on this thread describing him as an unapologetic atheist, he did not self-identify as an atheist.  His position was that there was no compelling evidence that God does or does not exist. 

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I have studied a lot of Carl Sagan's views.  I don't think much of them when it comes to religious truth.  

Who is to say the Occam's Razor is axiomatic?  Would that explain the Heisenberg uncertainty principle?  Would that arrive at a unified theory of relativity?  I don't think so.  

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22 minutes ago, rodheadlee said:

I'm willing to bet that Carl is no longer an atheist.

In 1981 he said:

"An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists."  (Head, Tom, ed. (2006). Conversations with Carl Sagan (1st ed.)

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3 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

I would also like to hear why believers should apply one standard of examination for non religious claims and hold religious claims to a completely different standard.

The alternatives have been attempts to force science to conform to religious doctrine.  It is much better to let them coexist peacefully, IMHO.

I am content to realign my views as new info presents itself.

More importantly, I am content to live with conflicting viewpoints, while I wait for more comprehensive understanding that can reconcile them.

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3 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

As someone who has already had to make major compromises to my faith and have had to gravitate to a more nuanced, non traditional faith in order to maintain any belief, I would appreciate the thoughts of those of you who have already navigated these treacherous waters and been able to reach a safe harbor with their faith intact.  I would also like to hear why believers should apply one standard of examination for non religious claims and hold religious claims to a completely different standard.

I'm not sure I understand what kind of compromises you are referring to but I believe we can understand everything properly with faith from God to guide us.  We just need to be willing to reflect and examine the thoughts we have and appeal to God for wisdom to understand whatever we want to understand.  Of course not everyone will agree with God, our Father in heaven, but we can all at least understand why he does the things he does and wants us to do too.

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4 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

Carl Sagan was an unabashed, unapologetic atheist.  In his book Demon Haunted World he offers his Baloney Detection Kit... a means whereby a person can cut through fanciful claims and get on a path to finding truth.  While I have never read his book, a link to his balcony detection kit did pop up on my internet browser today and as I read through this list it gave me pause and made me wonder how LDS Truth Claims would fair if subjected to this list of tests.  I didn't get to far into the thought experiment before I realized that I had to admit that the foundational claims of our religion would not pass this level of scrutiny. 

As someone who has already had to make major compromises to my faith and have had to gravitate to a more nuanced, non traditional faith in order to maintain any belief, I would appreciate the thoughts of those of you who have already navigated these treacherous waters and been able to reach a safe harbor with their faith intact.  I would also like to hear why believers should apply one standard of examination for non religious claims and hold religious claims to a completely different standard.

The Baloney Detection Kit

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.” AKA Peer Review
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
carlsagan1.jpg

Without bothering to read this post or the replies, I can respond to it by saying that since “LDS truth claims” are a matter of religious and spiritual conviction that can neither be verified nor falsified by the scientific method, this post quoting Sagan bears no greater relevance to the subject than do attacks by any other atheist, popular or otherwise. 
 

Here’s the thing: We make no claims that our religious convictions can be proved through science. We do assert, however, that they cannot be disproven; ergo the insurmountable obstacle is that faced by the unbeliever who purports to be able to demolish our beliefs by arguments based on science. 

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4 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

I would also like to hear why believers should apply one standard of examination for non religious claims and hold religious claims to a completely different standard.

Because it is the unbeliever who is making the attack and who thus bears the burden of proof. 
 

We need only rebut or highlight the unsoundness of their arguments to be able to hold our ground. 
 

And we don’t even have to do that, because an assertion not substantiated ultimately collapses from its own vacuity, whether or not it is rebutted. 

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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Science, and the methods to prove assumptions, cannot be applied to matters of Faith, such is the is the nature of Faith. My Faith is overwhelming. I belief beyond any doubt, a gift, given to me by God. But I can’t provide any imperial data to prove it. I just know it to be true.

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8 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

 

  1. Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.” AKA Peer Review
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.

1. Okay.
2. I find debate rarely enlightens.
3. Okay.
4. Already done.
5. I tend to pick hypotheses I don't like. There is probably something wrong with me.
6. Not really relevant to religious searching.
7. True.
8. While a nice rule of thumb it is not always right. I am not even sure it is usually write. Aristotelian physics is simpler than quantum physics and both would adequately explain the observable data in the ancient world but the simpler explanation was wrong.
9. Not really applicable outside hard sciences.

8 hours ago, Fair Dinkum said:

 

carlsagan1.jpg

That is one of the most punchable faces I have ever seen.

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