One Time Magic Tricks and Science

Continuing the discussion from Making a Tree from Designed Objects?:

I agree with you @John_Harshman, but I also find this a very interesting comment. Let us say we can evidentially establish this one time magic trick, or another one like it. Let me agree, this does not really change our view of the regular order of the world. Still, I have a few questions…

  1. How would you make sense of this magic trick? Could this (at least in principle) be evidence, for example, of God?

  2. How would it even be possible to evidentially establish this in your mind? Without regularity, how could we be sure?

I have a feeling @vjtorley, @Philosurfer and @jongarvey might have some thoughts on this. To be clear, I agree that this would not be nearly enough to unsettle common descent. I’m not making an anti-evolution argument of any sort. I’m just curious how you’d make sense of a “one time magic trick.”

I can’t see any way to make sense of it. I certainly don’t see God as a way, unless your version of God is a capricious magician who enjoys messing with us. Note also that the original scenario wasn’t evolution in a single generation but a metamorphosis, turning a fish into a dog.

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John’s “caprice” argument has some weight in such a case: if God regularly operated by saltation we’d accept that as OK, but against a background of day-by-day regularity we don’t. Actually, we don’t know that saltations aren’t a regular way of doing certain stuff, but we dont see it, so the same thinking applies.

The most interesting thing is Joshua’s point about “evidentially establishing in your mind.” In fact, the world is full of entirely one off surprises, and if we can’t explain them it’s quite hard to maintain our belief in them.

One example I always give is that when I was at medical school in London, c 1975, I saw a hovercraft waiting in a traffic queue at traffic lights just by Vauxhall Bridge - a small one, about car size, but with the customary hovercraft, skirt, whine and moving by a fan/prop. I walked to the hospital and said to my fellow students, and said, “Tell me I’m awake guys - I’ve just seen a hovercraft in the traffic.”

Since the Internet became available I’ve been searching to see if anyone at that time was pulling stunts like that , but it’s just an anomalous experience which will either suddenly be explained by an old newspaper cutting, or remain something that it’s very tempting to dismiss as a dream.

I have enough experience of other anomalous events to know how easy it is to shrug, file them away, and either forget them or keep quiet about them. It’s easier than adjusting our worldview to admit them.


Depending on which “certain stuff”, you mean here, we do in fact know that they aren’t.

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