We New Atheist types are often lectured about the need for studying theology. The idea is that if we tuned out the distressingly popular and highly vocal forms of religious extremism and pondered instead “the best religion has to offer,” then we would not be so hostile to religion. Recently, Jerry Coyne called the bluff and started studying theology. He reported on his findings in this post. Short version: He’s underwhelmed. This led Edward Feser, a Roman Catholic philosopher at Pasadena City College, to throw a temper tantrum about how unserious he was in undertaking this project in the first place. Jerry has replied here.

Ordinarily I don’t like to insert myself into private disputes between other people, but this one touches on so many issues I care about that I just can’t resist.

I am far more hostile to religion today than I was ten to fifteen years ago. I have been an atheist for as long as I have been old enough to think about these issues, but until relatively recently I was inclined to give religion the benefit of the doubt for at least having some plausible intellectual foundation. I suspect that if the books by Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris had been available in the late nineties, I would not have enjoyed them as much as I do reading them today.

Just to prove that I am not romanticizing the past, or exaggerating for dramatic effect the change in my views, let me refer you to this essay I wrote for Skeptic Magazine in 2000. It was a review of Ken Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God, and it was my first published essay on the subject of evolution and creationism. I wrote:

Much of what Miller has to say is simply excellent. Like Miller, I deplore the rhetorical excesses of people like RIchard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett who would blur the line between methodological and philosophical naturalism. Though I would quibble with a few of his specific examples, the chapter Miller devotes to these excesses is one of the best in the book.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I no longer hold this view (though, overall, I still like Miller’s book quite a bit). I changed my view precisely because I began studying Christian theology in a serious way. In fact, I can point to the precise book that started me down the path to where I am today. It was Michael Ruse’s Can A Darwinian Be a Christian? which I read in 2004. Granted, he’s not a theologian. But the book certainly addresses theological questions. His book showed me that the conflicts between evolution and Christianity went far beyond questions of proper Biblical exegesis. It also showed me that the arguments made by theologians to reconcile evolution and Christianity were — how shall I put this gracefully? — not very good.

Since then I have read a fair amount of highbrow theology. I have read my share of Augustine and Aquinas, Barth and Tillich, Kierkegaard and Kuhn, just to pick a few names. I have read quite a lot of Haught and Ward and Swinburne. I did not go into this expecting to be disappointed. Conversion seemed unlikely, but I expected at least to find a lot of food for thought. Instead, with each book and essay I read I found myself ever more horrified by the sheer vacuity of what these folks were doing. I came to despise their endlessly vague and convoluted arguments, their relentless smugness towards nonbelievers, and, most seriously, the complete lack of any solid reason for thinking they weren’t just making it up as they went along. I thought perhaps I was just reading the wrong writers, and that I would eventually come to the really good theology. But I never did.

I came to see theology as a moat protecting the castle of religion. But it was not a moat filled with water. No. It was filled with sewage. And the reason religion’s defenders wanted us to spend so much time splashing around in the moat had nothing to do with actually learning anything valuable or being edified by the experience. It was so that when we emerged on the other side we would be so rank and fetid and generally disgusted with ourselves that we would be in no condition to argue with anyone.

Now, I happen to have at hand the book An Introduction to Christian Theology, by RIchard Plantinga, Thomas Thompson and Matthew Lundberg (Cambridge University Press, 2010). They write, “Theology is generally understood today as `reasoned discourse about God.’ (6)” A skeptic immediately wants to know why we should believe that God exists at all. If theology wants to be taken seriously as a way of knowing, I’d say it bears the burden of proof here. Of course, you’re welcome to say that God’s existence should be taken as axiomatic, but only if you’re also willing to demote theological discussion to the level of a debate over who would win a fight between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. After all, within the confines of the Star Trek universe, such a discussion is entirely meaningful.

Feser has some thoughts on that matter:

Traditionally, the central argument for God’s existence is the cosmological argument, and (also traditionally) the most important versions of that argument are the ones summed up in the first three of Aquinas’s Five Ways.

Well, I’m glad we got that clear. I’m surprised Feser doesn’t mention the design argument, which has rather a long history and is far stronger than the cosmological argument, if only in a twice nothing is still nothing sort of way. If the cosmological argument is the best theology has to offer then we atheists do not need to worry that we have overlooked a good argument for God’s existence. Feser seems rather taken with it, but there are many strong refutations to be found in the literature. Off the top of my head, I found Mackie’s discussion in The Miracle of Theism and Robin Le Poidevin’s discussion in Arguing for Atheism to be both cogent and accessible. There’s a reason most philosophers are atheists.

Even taken at face value the cosmological argument only gets you some sort of necessary being to set the whole chain of causes in motion. It certainly does not get you the Christian God specifically. That conception of God is strongly challenged by, among other things, the problem of evil and the problem of divine hiddenness. So it looks like the Christian theologian has more work to do. But, for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate not just the existence, but the character of God as well.

The next question is how we can presume to know anything at all about God, even having granted His existence and attributes. Any Christian answer to that question must, I would think, refer to the Bible. So this brings us to the next question: Why should we think that the Bible is anything more than an anthology of purely human documents serving a variety of purely human needs? Once more the theologian has some work to do, and I have never encountered a decent argument for presuming the Bible’s divine authorship. But without such an argument, it is unclear how Christian theology even gets off the ground.

But just for fun let’s also grant the Bible’s divine authorship. Still we have work to do. We must wonder how we can ever be certain that we know what the Bible means. Christians don’t even agree on proper hermeneutics, after all. Is the Bible the infallible Word of God, never affirming anything that’s false? Does infallibility only relate to the Bible’s spiritual teachings and not to its scientific assertions? For that matter, is infallibility itself really a required belief for a Christian? Perhaps the Bible is of entirely human authorship, but reporting on genuine encounters with God. Those are just a few possibilities. Of course, it is a commonplace to find intelligent and sincere people coming to diametrically opposed conclusions about what the Bible teaches. And given the track record of theologians dogmatically asserting that the Bible taught certain things (say, that Adam and Eve were real people and were the only people on Earth after their creation) only to have to recant later, how can we have any confidence that the theologians actually know what they are doing?

So for the skeptic there are four levels of difficulty before Christian theology even gets off the ground: Does God exist? If He exists, does He have the attributes Christianity says He has? If yes, does the Bible provide correct information regarding His desires and intentions? And if yes to that, how are we to understand the Bible? Theologians need strong, compelling answers to these questions if we are ever to be confident that they are not just reasoning idly within an implausible axiom system. They don’t have those answers. Worse, in each case there are strong reasons for thinking the correct answers to those questions are not what the theologians would like them to be.

The bulk of Feser’s post is an hypothesized dialogue between a scientist and someone who is skeptical of science. Alas, at several points the dialogue badly misses its mark, and at any rate bears little resemblance to what Jerry actually said. And since this post has already gotten a bit long, we’ll save that for part two. Stay tuned!

Comments

  1. #1 Matthew Platte
    July 14, 2011

    Thanks for “…[reading] Augustine and Aquinas, Barth and Tillich, Kierkegaard and Kuhn, just to pick a few names” as I have neither the eyes, the time nor the inclination. Like learning to speak Latin, I’m just never going to get around to it.

    Back in the day, I sort of assumed that if normal Christianity (those guys you mention) had anything useful to offer it would have been obvious so I wandered around in the New Agey netherworld. Nothing there either.

    Looking forward to part two.

  2. #2 AL
    July 14, 2011

    You would think armchair theologians would avoid the cosmological and teleological arguments altogether, as these are the ones most likely to clash with empirical science. The cosmological argument is no doubt going to invoke some notions that physicists have a say over (e.g. causality itself), as well the teleological argument is going to clash with what evolutionary biology has to say about how purported design can be produced naturally without appeal to teleological agency.

    In light of this, “sophisticated” theology should stick to a priori arguments like the ontological argument, arguments from moral consequence, or even the dreaded presuppositionalism:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositional_apologetics

  3. #3 AbnormalWrench
    July 14, 2011

    As always, when science and religion clash, and the reliability of the truth claims religion makes are questioned, we get this odd sideways slide that looks suspiciously like postmodernism in a frock. Truth is vague and subjective, it would seem, and it would be dogmatic to claim any one group or person holds the Truth. We all discover truth via different methods, etc.

    This coming from the theist, who often claim the eternal and absolute perfection of (their) God’s Laws. Not exactly a humble position that is inclusive to other opinions.

    Not that I expect any consistency whatsoever.

  4. #4 GAZZA
    July 14, 2011

    Hmm. TV Kirk would beat up TV Picard, I think, with one of those funky drop kicks. Movie Picard might well beat up Movie Kirk though, as the former has a lot more action scenes than the latter.

    Yes, that’s juvenile, but the interesting thing is that I think one can find more evidence for who would win this particular fight than you can for (to take just step one) the existence of a Sky Daddy.

    By the way, are you going to return to your cubic equations stuff? By my count you ended abruptly after demonstrating how it was possible to remove the squared term. Did I miss a follow up?

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 14, 2011

    GAZZA –

    By the way, are you going to return to your cubic equations stuff? By my count you ended abruptly after demonstrating how it was possible to remove the squared term. Did I miss a follow up?

    Not to worry! I’ll be getting back to that. Perhaps it was unwise to post part one just before leaving on my trip.

  6. #6 matt
    July 14, 2011

    “But it was not a moat filled with water. No. It was filled with sewage.” Totally loled at that.

    @GAZZA – I think your assessment of the fight outcome is concise and supported by the evidence. Making it far superior to any of the christian apologetics I’ve seen

  7. #7 johnm55
    July 14, 2011

    Theology is making stuff up about made up stuff, how can it be *good*?
    There has been some writing on the “Theology of Harry Potter”. It fits my definition of theology perfectly, but might at least be entertaining.

  8. #8 nice_marmot
    July 14, 2011

    A great post. Looking forward to Episode 2.
    One of the reasons I like this post is your acknowledgement of past views that have – what’s the word for something that changes and adapts through time? It’ll come to me.
    This, obviously, is one of the defining hallmarks of science and scientific thinking, and one of the principal characteristics of science that distinguishes it from religion. To use current theopolitics as an analogy, the probability that, say, Michele Bachmann or Rick “Frothy” Santorum would reevaluate the (in)famous and utterly repugnant “pledge” they recently signed and announce that they had been wrong is less than that of snow falling on the sun. The probability that they would actually think they were wrong is orders of magnitude smaller yet.
    So, kudos for not only acknowledging your changing views, but for including a snippet of your previous writing as an illustration.

    The other reason I really like this post: Sewage moat.

    I will be stealing that.

  9. #9 ben
    July 14, 2011

    Read the Mountain of Silence….the story of the Christian mysticism preserved in ancient Mt. Athos…. Orthodoxy preserved both the doctrinal and mystical depths of the early faith that was lost in the scholasticism of medieval catholicism and the nominalist protestant reaction.
    It has mysticism that out-mystics the Buddhists, and an internal coherance between doctrine and mysticism that makes reason a hand-maid, not irrelevant, to the mystical experience.

  10. #10 BaldApe
    July 14, 2011

    Sorry, but before I take a field of study seriously, I need to be shown that the subject matter of that field exists.

    Unicornology, anyone?

  11. #11 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    We have to recall some history of science here. Moving forward from the Middle Ages, Catholicism fractured. And then Protestantism fractured from Catholicism. Protestantism itself fractured into many sects. Which was the right view of the world? Some Christians chose to study Nature in order to better inform their view of the world from Scripture. They a priori decided not to appeal to anything but Nature itself, in explaining Nature. They were called Naturalists, and their approach was Natural Philosophy. This became Science. Naturalism (now science) has won the war against Scripturalism (thanks primarily to the contributions of Galileo, Newton, Lyell, Darwin). This has NOTHING to do with whether or not God exists. Just that any Scripturalist version can be discarded. One skeptic (atheist) is skeptical that God exists. Another skeptic (theist) is skeptical that God does not exist. Philosophers and/or theologians should be thinking about certain assumptions in our thinking…like the mathematical basis for logic (what if we used something else), ceteris paribus, is parsimony a valid assumption, etc.

  12. #12 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    I suspect part of what drives the notion that atheists should “read what serious believers write” is everything other than theology. The seminaries and religious scholars produce a lot of good work, some of it quite carefully and critically done, on comparative religion, the history of religion, the sociology of religion, etc.

    None of which gets to the difference between a believer and non-believer. I can read a paper on how different kinds of churches have different effects in their community, and think that is both interesting, and takes actual data into account, and makes some plausible explanations. And that it could have been written by a non-believer. The atheist challenge is precisely that believers should point to the starting point for good theology. When believers claim it is there and atheists just aren’t reading it, we should challenge them to point to where that is. What authors. What writings. What conclusions they think those authors establish.

  13. #13 J
    July 14, 2011

    Like

  14. #14 Randy Bradley
    July 14, 2011

    Hi, I think maybe what you should look into instead of Theology is Apologetics. It is the rational defense of why we believe what we believe.

    I would start with Unshakable Foundations by Norman Geisler.

    Also if you actually want to get anywhere with this and not just find something more to rail against you will need to do something more.

    You will need to drop your worldview that presupposes he impossibility of anything beyond the natural world.

    At this point what you are doing is akin to going on a duck hunt with the firm fact in your mind that ducks cannot in fact exist. So a duck could be looking you right in the face and you would miss it simply based on the fact that you know ducks do not exist.

    I am not saying believe in God so you can find God. I am just saying allow for the possibility of something beyond what we know before you bother to look for it.

  15. #15 FTFKDad
    July 14, 2011

    Excellent post. Can I suggest that there is one other area of study that one should undertake : History. In the case of christianity, if one reads the literature of what we know about the context and the reality of the who/when/why the books of the bible were written … of what was left out of the bible and so on, then the entire theological argument takes on a whole new light (and not a good one). Had history taken a different turn, the theology argued today would be totally different. The arguments are even more nonsensical.

  16. #16 Robert Day
    July 14, 2011

    “The idea is that if we tuned out the distressingly popular and highly vocal forms of religious extremism and pondered instead “the best religion has to offer,” then we would not be so hostile to religion. ”

    The best religion has to offer is a lot of the music and the architecture. Oh, and some – but by no means all – of the art. That’s it. I’d also take Picard over Kirk any time. I believe in neither universe. I’d like the Trek universe, or something like it, to exist at some point in the future. I’ll keep an open mind about the Christian one. If they’re wrong and it doesn’t exist, it won’t matter to me. If they’re right and it does, I’m big enough to admit I was wrong. If there is another plane of existence that does not conform to any of the major religions, I’ll laugh at the poor, confused religionists and then set out to explore that one the way I’ve explored this. Think about this: if there is such a plane of existence that conforms to none of our religions, that’d be worse for religionists, because they’d be proved wrong and they’d know it.

  17. #17 Vicki
    July 14, 2011

    Randy,

    It’s not a duck hunt. Ducks are well-defined, and if I catch one people will say “yes, that’s a duck,” maybe further identify it as a Muscovy duck or a pintail, and be happy to offer me recipes.

    Ducks are real and well-defined. They leave actual feathers lying on the water, and I can hear them quack now and then, and so on.

    What you’re doing is akin to telling me that the reason I haven’t caught a duck is that I insisted on going out to the woods and sitting near a lake, when I should have been climbing the stairs in the Empire State Building and interviewing tourists in Aymara. You need to allow for the possibility that there are no ducks on this particular stretch of river this morning. If you insist on defining ducks as omnipresent, it’s reasonable for me to say “I’ve been out there with my binoculars, and I can’t find any ducks.”

  18. #18 Jr
    July 14, 2011

    Here is another Catholic theologian making a fool of himself: http://www.thesacredpage.com/2011/07/origin-of-life-no-naturalistic.html

    The link shows that the acceptance of science by the Catholic Church is sometimes overstated.

  19. #19 James Sweet
    July 14, 2011

    GAZZA, you really need to work on your Star Trek apologetics. You could learn a thing or two from the theologians. Your argument is concise and straightforward — how pathetic! Try this on for size:

    The Ontological Argument in favor of Captain Kirk:

    1) Suppose Captain Kirk delivered the most perfect ass-kicking EVAR! to Captian Picard.
    2) If this ass-kicking did not actually happen, would it therefore not be less perfect than if it had?
    3) Therefore, it must be true that this most perfect ass-kicking did in fact occur (else it would not be so perfect), and logically it must be the case that Captain Kirk already kicked Captain Picard’s ass. QED.

    The Modal Logic version of the Ontological Argument in favor of Captain Kirk:

    ) .It is proposed that an ass-kicking has maximal awesomeness in a given possible world W if and only if it is brutal, humiliating, wholly roxorz, and where the winner is Captain Kirk in W; and

    2.It is proposed that an ass-kicking has maximal pwnage if it has maximal awesomeness in every possible world.

    3.Maximal pwnage is possibly exemplified. That is, it is possible that there be an ass-kicking that has maximal pwnage. (Premise)

    4.Therefore, possibly it is necessarily true that a brutal, humiliating, wholly roxorz ass-kicking exists where the winner is Captain Kirk.

    5.Therefore, it is necessarily true that a brutal, humiliating, wholly roxorz ass-kicking exists where the winner is Captain Kirk. (By S5)

    6.Therefore, Captain Kirk delivered a maximally awesome, brutal, humiliating, wholly roxorz ass-kicking to Captain Picard.

    You ignorant New Picardians really need to read some sophisticated Original Seriesology if you are going to engage in this conversation seriously. This simple-minded pro-Next Generation twaddle just makes you sound intolerant and dumb.

  20. #20 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    Randy Bradley:You will need to drop your worldview that presupposes he impossibility of anything beyond the natural world.

    I don’t presume that.

    In fact, until someone makes sense of what “natural” means in this context, I’m not even assuming it has much meaning.

  21. #21 James Sweet
    July 14, 2011

    @Randy Bradley: It’s more like asking to see documented evidence of leprechauns before you go on a leprechaun hunt. Leprechauns could exist… but I’m not going to be impressed by any logical arguments for their existence. I would need to see documentary evidence that they exist, otherwise I can reject any logical arguments out of hand, no matter how much sense they make — because they necessarily must contain some fallacy or hidden assumption, else the conclusion would not contradict the evidence.

    I’d invite you to read this, but first you will need to drop your worldview that presupposes the impossibility that the natural world is all there is.

  22. #22 Dunc
    July 14, 2011

    Philosophers and/or theologians should be thinking about certain assumptions in our thinking…like [...] is parsimony a valid assumption, etc.

    You do realise that this has already been thought about quite a bit, and that the general conclusion is that parsimony is a necessary assumption, because without it, reasoning of any kind becomes completely impossible? Without parsimony, there are an infinite number of possible explanations for any given phenomenon, and no basis for choosing between them.

    On the more sensible and important topic of the thread – Picard, with a fucking crossbow. ;)

  23. #23 James Sweet
    July 14, 2011

    One skeptic (atheist) is skeptical that God exists. Another skeptic (theist) is skeptical that God does not exist.

    Sorry, this redefinition renders the term “skeptic” useless. The “skeptic” is generally the one who is refusing to accept a positive proposition. For example, an “anthropogenic global warming skeptic” (though I prefer the term “denier” myself; more on this in a second) is not somebody who is skeptical of the claim that human actions are NOT causing global warming, it is someone who is skeptical that they ARE. We don’t call those who accept the reality of climate change “climate-not-changing skeptics”, because that would be stupid.

    As hinted at before, I prefer the term “denier” for someone who is skeptical of a claim for which there is overwhelming evidence. In the spirit of goose vs. gander, I suppose if somebody wanted to call me a “God-denier”, I wouldn’t disclaim the title — it’s clearly a pejorative, but it’s reasonably accurate, so fine.

    But the point is that you can’t use terms like “skeptic” and “denier” to refer to someone who disbelieves in a NEGATIVE claim, because that undermines the entire meaning of the word. You cannot have a “Bigfoot non-existence skeptic”. You cannot have a “No-Holocaust denier”. These terms just don’t even make sense.

    On the topic of parsimony, etc., I agree with you that there are extreme philosophical challenges in justifying some of the basic principles underpinning empiricism, but as Dunc points out, you are wrong to think philosophers aren’t aware of them and working on them. I happen to think the Problem of Induction is unsolvable, personally — but I don’t lose sleep over it, because nobody actually doubts the validity of inductive reasoning, and if they did, they just sabotaged the validity of any epistemology they might subscribe too as well. I’m willing to take that little leap — the same leap that everybody except the most extreme nihilist or solipsist is taking anyway — and then I think the rest follows cleanly from there.

  24. #24 James Sweet
    July 14, 2011

    Is healthyphysicist a skepticism skeptic, or a skepticism denier, a denialism skeptic, or a denialism denier?

  25. #25 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    If one makes the claim ” God does not exist”, one can be skeptical of that claim. One can also be skeptical of the claim “God does is exist”. It depends on your framing. If you only see it your way, then you are just closed-minded.

    Parimony is not necessary to arrive at the truth, and philosophers understand that. There is a shortest route between New York and Boston, but it’s not the only route.

    I know every argument the atheists make, and I’ve reframed each from a theist perspective. And vice versa. They are equal models. Try it as a challenge instead of arguing with me.

  26. #26 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    Apologies for typos above. And I’m not preaching theism here. Just that it is completely arbitrary.

    Let me also point out the parsimony (in relationship to God)is an a priori assumption of science. So, it forces the conclusion that God is unnecessary.

    We could have had an alternate reality, where we attributed everything to generic God, calling scientists “creationists” (those who study the Creation), calling Dark Energy God’s Will X, etc.

    And then we’d have skeptics (those who aren’t convinced God exists, and those who aren’t convinced God doesn’t).

    If you honestly try to frame it both ways, you find that Science is our best way of understanding the Universe. Atheism or theism is irrelevant.

  27. #27 James Sweet
    July 14, 2011

    I know every argument the leprechaun-disbelievers make, and I’ve reframed each from a leprechaun-believer perspective. And vice-versa. They are equal models. Try it as a challenge instead of arguing with me.

    Okay, I’m being snarky. Anyway, you have somewhat of a point, but I think it’s more of a philosophical point than a practical one. You can destroy any argument by refusing to grant certain base suppositions. But it seems fairly clear to me that the base suppositions that lead to theism are ultimately self-contradictory. (Of course whether self-contradictions are a problem for you I suppose is a base supposition itself, but… again, if you accept self-contradictions, your epistemology becomes untethered and I just don’t see that as useful)

  28. #28 James Sweet
    July 14, 2011

    If you honestly try to frame it both ways, you find that Science is our best way of understanding the Universe. Atheism or theism is irrelevant.

    Okay, but… it seems to me that science pretty much rules out all theistic claims of any substance. It leaves deism as possible-but-unnecessary.

    If your argument is that atheism vs. deism is irrelevant, I’ll actually grant that. I think deism is rather silly, but the silliness is of no practical import.

  29. #29 James Sweet
    July 14, 2011

    We could have had an alternate reality, where we attributed everything to generic God, calling scientists “creationists” (those who study the Creation), calling Dark Energy God’s Will X, etc

    I am not sure what you mean by this. It is not the word “God” that defines what atheism is. So if we referred to some physical phenomenon as “God’s Will #465″ and nothing else was different, that would not actually be theism, not in any meaningful way. If we added on, “And it’s only that way because God says so, and if He changed His mind it would no longer be that way,” then you’ve got a problem.

    I suppose since you are explicitly rejecting parsimony, you could argue that as long as you also add, “But God will never change His mind about that,” then it’s not a problem anymore. I guess. But as Dunc said, that renders all belief systems to be on equal footing: complete incoherency.

    Without parsimony, I am completely justified in hypothesizing that gravity will stop working ten minutes from now. And you wouldn’t be able to express the tiniest iota of skepticism for the next ten minutes, because without parsimony you have no evidence contradicting my belief. I just don’t see how ANY epistemology is workable without parsimony and inductive reasoning…

  30. #30 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    James:

    There’s no need to get into deism, theism, polytheism.

    The broad context is that theists (all of the above), see the Universe and think there is an underlying agent.

    Just like in a broad context athiests are a-polytheists and a-deists. They see the Universe and don’t think there is an underlying agent.

    An atheist is ultimately content with “that’s just the way it is”.

    A theist is ultimately content with “by God’s grace”.

    Each ultimate conclusion is non-explanatory and non-falsifiable.

    And for some reason, the ultimate conclusion of one sometimes really bothers the other, though it is completely arbitrary. The question is, how does the atheist/theist behave once she’s/he’s chosen an arbitrary position. Scriptualism is DEAD. If a theist wants to utilize certain scriptual stories the way an atheist might utilize Aesop’s fables….I don’t see any issue. As long as neither believes the stories are true.

  31. #31 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    I am only using “parsimony” in the narrow sense of including “God” or not. Not in the broadest sense.

    Words take on different meanings based on context. “A” means “without”, and “theism” is the belief in a God (broadest sense).

    I realize “theism” has a narrower meaning of a personal God that responds to miracles and is the arbiter of morality, etc.

    Those are claims that theists have to justify…and can’t.

    Fair enough…theists need to accept the evidence and figure out what to do. God may still exist.

    Atheists should embrace theists who are willing to confront evidence and change. And then both could work together on squelching those making false claims.

  32. #32 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    Healthphysicist writes:

    An atheist is ultimately content with “that’s just the way it is”.

    A theist is ultimately content with “by God’s grace”.

    Anyone who judges allegedly factual statements by what makes them content has already made a deep turn into irrationality.

    The curious are never content with “that’s just the way it is.” They continually poke for deeper explanations.

    If that poking ever turns up evidence for something like a god, then we skeptics will believe.

  33. #33 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    Ooops…meant to write “responds to prayer with miracles”

  34. #34 abb3w
    July 14, 2011

    healthphysicist: Par[s]imony is not necessary to arrive at the truth, and philosophers understand that.

    However, parsimony can be derived from more basic premises.

    healthphysicist: There is a shortest route between New York and Boston, but it’s not the only route.

    Skipping a pointless digression to topology quibbles, what it seems you’re trying to suggest is that there can be more than one explanation. Yes; there can. That’s analogous to falsification – that is, telling whether or not the route starts at New York and ends at Boston. There’s also the question of what choice of fundamental language is being used for the explanation – analogous to chosing whether you walk or drive. However, I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re getting at, and it’s not a functional difference anyway; science works the same if you’re speaking English or French, or whether you prefer your mathematics founded by Zermelo-Fraenkel or Von Neumann–Bernays–Gödel axioms.

    Parsimony, however, is about identifying which explanation is most probably correct. It relies (loosely translating math to English) on the validity of the underlying language and the assumption that there is any pattern to experience. (Philosophically, both may be taken as Refutation instead of Assertion; however, that leaves it apparently impossible for one to tell a hawk from a handsaw.) From these, it is derivable as a theorem.

  35. #35 --bill
    July 14, 2011

    “Of course, you’re welcome to say that God’s existence should be taken as axiomatic, but only if you’re also willing to demote theological discussion to the level of a debate over who would win a fight between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard.”

    Kind of an odd stance for a mathematician to take. ZFC is an arbitrarily chosen set of axioms, as are the rules of inference/deduction that we use. Is mathematics then on the level of “a fight between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard”?

  36. #36 healthphysicsst
    July 14, 2011

    Russell:

    The Universe is all the “evidence” an atheist and a theist have to work with.

    It is either evidence for God or not.

    If a Universe isn’t evidence for God, what else can a theist give you?

    If a Universe is evidence for God, what else can an atheist give a theist?

    How do you decide what is evidence for God? Please provide evidence to support your assertion.

  37. #37 abb3w
    July 14, 2011

    @29, James Sweet: I just don’t see how ANY epistemology is workable without parsimony and inductive reasoning…

    Depends what you mean by “without”. They don’t have to be taken as axioms themselves; you can also have epistomology where they’re deductively reasoned from other premises before using.

    @31, healthphysicist: I am only using “parsimony” in the narrow sense of including “God” or not. Not in the broadest sense.

    But the narrow and particular case is an instance of applying the broader and more general principle, that in turn may be deduced from more fundamental premises.

  38. #38 Deepak Shetty
    July 14, 2011

    +1.

    but only if you’re also willing to demote theological discussion to the level of a debate over who would win a fight between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard.
    Kirk ofcourse.

  39. #39 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    abb3w:

    I agree with your point on parsimony.

    But “premises” always are a source of bias….which is why I sort of wrote that though parsimony seems to work. We may be fooling ourselves. It does seem to work very well.

  40. #40 avvi
    July 14, 2011

    Jason,

    Short question: You criticize theology about the fact that they take the existance of god as an axiom and continue from there.

    How is that different from evolutionists, who take biogenesis as an axiom?

    Thanks

  41. #41 abb3w
    July 14, 2011

    @35, –bill: Is mathematics then on the level of “a fight between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard”?

    In so far as choosing between ZF and vNBG as the foundation? Utterly. (Mind you, my own personal inclination is that there’s likely more basic and “natural” systems than either. However, it’s not relevant here, it may just be that I’m a deluded kook, and I haven’t gotten the math even close to publication ready yet.) It makes even less difference than whether science is discussed in English or in German.

    In so far as choosing ZFC versus ZF¬C, it’s similarly moot when the only theorems you’re talking about are constructive, reliant only on ZF, and independent of the Axiom of Choice.

    @36, healthphysicsst: evidence for

    Well, for one thing, “evidence for” is imprecise. (A lump on the head at a baseball game is both evidence for not noticing a fly ball or for not noticing your ex-spouse sneaking up on you.) Closer to philosophically exact is “evidence most likely produced by the pattern description”.

    This then gets into the math of what it means to “describe”. Crude short form: a computer program and its input data. (The formalities involve as a general case Turing hypercomputation, though a simple Church-Turing machine an be used.) There’s also the question of the comparison being relative within a set of proposed descriptions. (Showing there is no solution “better” than X requires solving the halting problem for all n less than |X|, which is technically possible for particular finite n but which pretty much defines the idea of “intractible” in mathematics.)

    Getting back to the point, “God” is typically defined so as to be more meaningless than descriptive, or occasionally redundant to the description.

  42. #42 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    healthphysicist:

    If a Universe isn’t evidence for God, what else can a theist give you?

    I’m not sure how a universe is evidence of anything except itself.

    Traditionally, gods revealed themselves in all sorts of ways. They spoke from burning bushes. They sent angels who spoke, wrestled, and sometimes fornicated with men. They appeared as human avatars who turned water into wine, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead.

    There are all sorts of ways for the gods to reveal themselves. Theists wrestle with a lack of evidence only because such revelation occurs in myth, where in the modern world, there is a stunning lack of evidence. If, every night, Jesus arranged the stars to spell out a message for humankind, and then returned them to their usual course, his followers would not wrap themselves around the question of what evidence there is for him.

  43. #43 Robert Bradley
    July 14, 2011

    My point was that you are not actually in need of Theology… Theology is the Study of God. Being someone that does not believe in God there is no point whatsoever for you to read on the Study of God.

    Apologetics on the other hand is rational explanation of why we believe what we believe. If you wish to have a better understanding of why rational Christians (no that is not an oxymoron) believe what they believe that would be a place to start.

    Lets go back to the Ducks..

    If you were from a place that did not have any ducks, and you came to a place where there were ducks, and someone took you on a duck hunt, you would have to be agreeable to the concept of Ducks as existing before you would be able to be shown the feathers in the water.. and other evidence of the duck.. (before actually seeing the duck.

    What is hard to get across is that we (apologists) are not trying to prove God.. but to give evidence. There is a point where the rational evidence of God becomes sufficient to enable faith. Faith is not belief without evidence it is belief with sufficient evidence. That is a Biblical definition of Faith by the way.

    There are a large number of evidences for God’s existence. No proof. If you want proof of things stick with math and hard science. Everything else only has evidence.

  44. #44 abb3w
    July 14, 2011

    @39, healthphysicist: But “premises” always are a source of bias….

    Formally, the premises required for Parsimony are the three Robbins Axioms (or equivalent; to allow construction of a Boolean-equivalent but not necessarily binary truth algebra), the eight Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms (or equivalent, to allow construction of the mathematical ideas of probability, formal languages, and computation); and the premise that experience is produced with a pattern recognizable by an ordinal degree of Turing Hypercomputation.

    The bias involved is minimal, and the consequences of rejecting any of the premises rather extreme. Without pattern, you’re left with no prospect of induction, as all experience might be an isolated island in a Ramsey Theory sea of chaos. Without ZF or equivalent, you have no prospect for a language. I suppose you might try and get somewhere using a Heyting algebra instead of Boolean algebras, but since the Heyting sense of NOT is different from the Boolean, you need to explain what you mean when you so say you do not accept one of the Robbins axioms. Catch-22?

    (Obnoxiously, it seems the Robbins Axioms may be restated on a NOR basis; and the Wolfram Axiom is an equivalent self-sufficient NAND basis. Thus, rejecting them both probably requires the use of NOR or NAND which the axioms may be taken as defining….)

    @39, healthphysicist: which is why I sort of wrote that though parsimony seems to work. We may be fooling ourselves. It does seem to work very well.

    “Work well” suggests you’re confusing “work” and “be useful”. This involves an ordering relationship from “good” to “bad” on a set of choices, and thus is an “ought” question, and a more advanced topic.

  45. #45 Vicki
    July 14, 2011

    Robert–

    What we’re asking you to do is, first, define your terms, and then give us evidence that the entity you have defined exists. I don’t have to have previously known about ducks in order to see a feather, or to eat Peking duck. (Everyone in the world eats foods without knowing where they come from; an infant eats cereal or applesauce before knowing about rice plants or fruit trees.)

    If you want us to come unicorn hunting, tell us what your unicorn is. What does it do? What does it look like? If we’re looking for a quadruped, about the size of a horse, with hooves, and whose horn neutralizes poison, I’m not going to be satisfied by a three-inch-tall ceramic statue. I’m not even going to be satisfied by a narwhal: that’s an interesting animal, but it’s not a unicorn.

  46. #46 Paul Phoenix
    July 14, 2011

    The dealbreaker for me was the question:

    ‘is there anything in the Bible that couldn’t have been written by people of the time?’

    If it were divinely authored or inspired, why isn’t there an allusion to DNA, our solar system, atoms, the future etc?

    I think theology is a device employed, for social reasons, to allow smart people to believe silly things.

  47. #47 JimR
    July 14, 2011

    As the vacuity of religious arguments increase and the zealot’s bellicosity rise, they are succeeding in converting a number of atheists into anti-theists.

    OFF-Topic: I thot the Sudoku book was due out in Oct11, then Amazon had Jan12 now slipped to Feb12. COMMENT?

  48. #48 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    Robert Bradley:

    If you were from a place that did not have any ducks, and you came to a place where there were ducks, and someone took you on a duck hunt, you would have to be agreeable to the concept of Ducks as existing before you would be able to be shown the feathers in the water.. and other evidence of the duck.. (before actually seeing the duck.

    Nonsense.

    Biologists didn’t know of viruses. Until they were discovered. Europeans didn’t know of corn. Until the New World. Physicists didn’t dream of quantum phenomena. Until they ran head into it.

    You don’t need a pre-existing conception of something to start acquiring evidence of it. That is, in fact, exactly the opposite of how most discoveries proceed. If someone has never seen a blue heron, you don’t tell them that they first need to be “agreeable” to the notion of a bird that eats fish bigger than its neck diameter. You need only take them to where they can watch a blue heron feed.

  49. #49 Robert Bradley
    July 14, 2011

    Again we are getting caught up in the particulars of the duck discussion.. any analogy when pressed falls apart.

    The bottom line is if you are sure a thing does not exist there is no point in going looking for it.

    an outline for finding God. (I am sure this may come across as arrogant I do not mean it to.)

    I. Drop the presupposition that He does not exist.

    II.Acknowledge that proof is not required.
    A. You trust in things all day long that you do not
    Proof of. That your brakes work, that the medicine
    Dr. gave you is what he says it is, that the plane
    you are on is in good repair. You have evidence
    all these things but you do not require proof.
    B. Proof is the realm of Math and Hard science not
    Philosophy.
    III. Search out solid apologetic texts.
    See Norman Gielser, Ravi Zakris (sp)Francis Shaffer

    IV. Ask God to help you to see that He is there.
    ( I understand that this is very hard for someone that
    Does not believe to do, however, if He is who we are
    saying He is it would require His assistance to see He
    there.)
    V. Judge if the evidence for His existence is sufficient.
    From the evidence presented by good apologetics it is
    more likely that He exists or does not exist? If you
    Are truly looking for God proof is not what you are
    looking for. Just Sufficient evidence.

    From sufficient evidence you are required to make a leap of faith. Much in the same way you made a leap of faith to be an atheist. You have no proof that God does not exist. It is not possible to present proof of the lack of something. You looked at the evidence you had and choose to have faith that there is not a God. You did this based on the presupposition that there cannot be anything outside of the natural world.

  50. #50 senor
    July 14, 2011

    I’m sure by begging the question and changing definitions for ‘evidence’ and ‘sufficient’ we’ll begin to believe in all sorts of things.

  51. #51 Dan L.
    July 14, 2011

    @healthphysicist:

    How do you respond to the following position:

    “I do not know whether or not God exists, but I currently see no reason to believe God exists.”

    As you can see, I’m not assuming God doesn’t exist. I just don’t see what justification there is for the claim “God exists” (for now, let’s leave out the claim “God does not exist,” which I am explicitly NOT claiming).

  52. #52 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    Robert Bradley:

    Much in the same way you made a leap of faith to be an atheist.

    That’s not how I became an atheist. What makes you think any such leap of faith is required by atheism? It seems to me you’re trying to draw a parallel that doesn’t exist.

    You trust in things all day long that you do not
    Proof of. That your brakes work, that the medicine
    Dr. gave you is what he says it is, that the plane
    you are on is in good repair.

    The passage above is confused. I don’t know that my car’s brakes will work when next I drive it. Car brakes do in fact fail. I don’t know that I will get the right medicine when next I take a physician’s script to a pharmacy. There are a long list of errors that can and do happen there. (In fact, I was given a wrong script for a relative not long back.) I can take steps to lower the risk of those things. But that doesn’t give me knowledge of the future. What you’re describing isn’t “trust,” but acting in the face of uncertainty. You’re correct, that we all have to do that. There’s no escaping it. But that’s not an epistemic leap of faith. And those who confuse it with such are not going to think well about risk and uncertainty.

  53. #53 healthphysicist
    July 14, 2011

    Well said, Robert.

    Again, without getting into the “nits”…take it as a challenge to frame your arguments both ways. I did it. You can, too. I’m a recovered gnu atheist.

    I don’t really want to argue, because I get into the EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS with theists (but diammetrically opposed).

    The fact that to you God is left as meaningless, because he is arbitrary is your choice. But you’re probably not a theist. Let any theist take his/her own interpretation.

    Slam any false claims.

    Assess any acts…are they rational? That is tough, because I don’t know if acting out Civil War battles or commenting on a blog is rational. I’d say watching Dancing With The Stars is irrational, but I can’t prove it scientifically.

    Today is a first…I wasn’t called a (atheist/theist) troll by a bunch of (theists/atheists). Congratulations!!! Would it be rational to celebrate?????????????

  54. #54 Jeff
    July 14, 2011

    This was absolutely fantastic (as usual for this blog).

  55. #55 Dan L.
    July 14, 2011

    From sufficient evidence you are required to make a leap of faith. Much in the same way you made a leap of faith to be an atheist. You have no proof that God does not exist. It is not possible to present proof of the lack of something. You looked at the evidence you had and choose to have faith that there is not a God. You did this based on the presupposition that there cannot be anything outside of the natural world.

    If you’re not an atheist, please don’t lecture us on what it means to be atheist. Very few people have ever claimed to have proven that God doesn’t exist, and even Dawkins, arch atheist that he is, puts himself at 6/7 on a scale of 7 for the question “how certain are you there is no God?”

    Incidentally, your point about not being able to prove a universal existential negative is actually a point in favor of the atheist position. Since it’s impossible to provide positive proof for the nonexistence of God, we should assume the nonexistence of God until positive proof for the EXISTENCE of God is adduced. Also, I do NOT make the presupposition that there cannot be anything outside the natural world. I just demand that anyone claiming that there IS something outside of the natural world provide some reason to believe that it is so.

    II.Acknowledge that proof is not required.
    A. You trust in things all day long that you do not
    Proof of. That your brakes work, that the medicine
    Dr. gave you is what he says it is, that the plane
    you are on is in good repair. You have evidence
    all these things but you do not require proof.
    B. Proof is the realm of Math and Hard science not
    Philosophy.

    You don’t check your brakes before pulling out onto the road? Then you should probably take a driver safety class.

    You trust the medicine BECAUSE it was given to you by a doctor. Would you trust medicine from a man who came up to you on the street and handed you a bottle of pills, saying “Trust me, I’m a doctor”? I wouldn’t. I demand some evidence that the person claiming to be a doctor has the requisite expertise. Usually this is obvious because the doctor is employed by a medical practice that has presumably vetted his credentials.

    I trust that the plane is in good repair because of:
    a) the statistical evidence — infrequency of crashes and malfunctions — that airlines make sure their planes are in good repair
    b) the cost to the airline of letting a plane fall into disrepair is overwhelming: lawsuits by those who die in the crash, investigations by the FAA, complete audit of the rest of the fleet, more rigorous oversight of repair procedures
    c) a stitch in time saves nine — it’s much cheaper to catch small problems early and take care of them quickly than to let them slide and become bigger problems

    As for (B), there are several acceptable uses of the word “proof.” In the context of scientific research, proof invariably means “overwhelmingly strong evidence”. Also, many many philosophers disagree with you that proof is not the province of philosophy. See: Feser characterizing the cosmological argument as a proof of God’s existence.

  56. #56 Matt G
    July 14, 2011

    Theology and astrobiology – two subjects with no (known) subject.

  57. #57 Dan L.
    July 14, 2011

    Another way to think about the question of whether evidence (I prefer “evidence” to “proof” in this context) IS actually required in day-to-day life:

    -Would you trust your brakes if you found a new leak in your brake lines every day? Or would you stop to make sure they worked instead?

    -Would take medicine from a doctor if the last 5 times you had gone to see the doctor he had given you something that made you feel even sicker? Or would you prefer to get a second opinion or perhaps simply find another PHP?

    -Would you trust that the plane is in good repair if airlines averaged a major, deadly crash once every three weeks?

    In real life, we’re never certain of anything. But everyone makes educated guesses on the basis of the evidence available to them — otherwise people’s actions would be incomprehensible (real world manifestations of this are usually classified as some form of mental illness). It doesn’t seem to me that these day-to-day evidence-based decisions are of the same character as the decision to believe in God (if such a thing can even be characterized as a decision).

  58. #58 rob
    July 14, 2011

    i always thought religion was the smile on a dog.

  59. #59 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 14, 2011

    a debate over who would win a fight between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard.

    O Noez – Release the Kraken!

    healthphysicist: Parsimony is not necessary to arrive at the truth, and philosophers understand that. There is a shortest route between New York and Boston, but it’s not the only route.

    Sure, there are plenty of routes. Now, if you want me to take something other than the shortest route, you need to provide me with some solid evidence and convincing arguments. Religion doesn’t do that.

  60. #60 Vicki
    July 14, 2011

    “For his god was a Boojum, you see.”

  61. #61 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 14, 2011

    At this point what you are doing is akin to going on a duck hunt..

    I’d say it’s more like a snipe hunt. And whether you go out believing in snipe or not believing in snipe, you’ll still be holding an empty bag when the sun rises.

  62. #62 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 14, 2011

    Robert Bradley: II.Acknowledge that proof is not required.
    A. You trust in things all day long that you do not
    Proof of. That your brakes work, that the medicine
    Dr. gave you is what he says it is, that the plane
    you are on is in good repair. You have evidence
    all these things but you do not require proof.
    B. Proof is the realm of Math and Hard science not
    Philosophy.

    From sufficient evidence you are required to make a leap of faith. Much in the same way you made a leap of faith to be an atheist. You have no proof that God does not exist. It is not possible to present proof of the lack of something. You looked at the evidence you had and choose to have faith that there is not a God. You did this based on the presupposition that there cannot be anything outside of the natural world.

    Proof is NOT in the realm of the hard sciences. It is for math and logic. Hard science requires evidence, and deals in probabilities. You do not know how to use the words properly, which gives me little hope that you understand the concepts.
    If the evidence were sufficient, no faith would be required. That’s what the fuck faith means.
    If it is not possible to present proof of the lack of something (which by the way is not true), then you have to explain why there are things you do not believe in (Santa Claus, unicorns, etc.) without being able to disprove them. Why does God get a pass? Why can’t I dismiss God just the same as I dismiss Santa Claus?

    healthphysicist: Well said, Robert.

    It was not well said. Which means that you are simply impressed because he agrees with you. You have degraded your own status by showing your low standards.

  63. #63 Cubist
    July 14, 2011

    sez randy bradley: “…if you actually want to get anywhere with this and not just find something more to rail against you will need to do something more.
    You will need to drop your worldview that presupposes he impossibility of anything beyond the natural world.”
    Presuppositional argumentation is bullshit, randy. Whether you realize it or not, presuppositional argumentation can be summed up as Once you concede that Idea X is valid, I’ll be happy to discuss the validity of Idea X with you! Apart from that: I, at least, do not presuppose the nonexistence of anything beyond the natural world. Rather, I ask, “How can you tell if there’s anything beyond the natural world?” Now, I do happen to cleave unto the boring, staid, fuddy-duddy presupposition that if a something-beyond-the-natural-world actually does exist, nobody who lives in the natural would ever — can ever — know about that something-beyond-the-natural-world unless that something affects stuff in the natural world. So… you say there’s Something Beyond The Natural World? Great! What effects has that Something had on stuff in the natural world, and in the natural world?

    “At this point what you are doing is akin to going on a duck hunt with the firm fact in your mind that ducks cannot in fact exist. So a duck could be looking you right in the face and you would miss it simply based on the fact that you know ducks do not exist.”
    [nods] Yep; a fine, fine specimen of presuppositional argumentation.

    sez avvi: “You criticize theology about the fact that they take the existance of god as an axiom and continue from there.

    How is that different from evolutionists, who take biogenesis as an axiom?”
    I think you meant to say abiogenesis, avvi — i.e., life arising from non-life. If that is indeed what you meant to say, it’s not clear that anybody takes abiogenesis as an axiom; rather, it’s a deduction, something that we conclude on the basis of supportive evidence. We know that at the present day, there’s lots of life on Earth; everything we know about the planet’s history indicates that there was a time, very long ago in the past, when the Earth wasn’t capable of supporting life. Given the notions ‘no life then’ and ‘lotsa life now’, abiogenesis is a logical conclusion to draw from those two facts.
    And if you really did mean biogenesis, i.e. life arising from life… well, that, too, is a conclusion based on (far too much) evidence.

  64. #64 Dan L.
    July 14, 2011

    Back to important matters, Kirk would win because he’d employ some ballsy, MAD-style gambit (remember, he’s the only Starfleet student to beat the dreaded Kobayashi Maru) that would force Picard into an untenable moral position and Picard is too moral not to do the right thing.

    Or if it’s just a fist fight Picard will win because he probably knows jiujitsu or something and Kirk’s just a brawler.

  65. #65 Robert Bradley
    July 14, 2011

    I did not say presuppose the existence of God.. I said presuppose the possibility of Something beyond nature.

    Here is something to consider.

    Ask yourself if given the option you would choose a world in which an all powerful all knowing loving God existed and wanted to have a relationship with you.. or a world in which no god existed at all.

    If you answer you would prefer a God.. I have indicated how you can go about looking for Him.

    If you would prefer no god then don’t bother looking for a “good theology” don’t say you have made an attempt to find God. Simply say you have made the choice to not believe in God.. that is fine.

    By the way.. I find nothing wrong with a true agnostic. It makes perfect sense to say “I do not know if there is a god or not”

  66. #66 Dan L.
    July 14, 2011

    Robert Bradley:

    You seem to be ignoring us when we respond to your arguments. How else to account for this?

    I did not say presuppose the existence of God.. I said presuppose the possibility of Something beyond nature.

    when 3 or 4 people in the thread, including myself, said explicitly that they do NOT presuppose the impossibility of something beyond nature. We’re supposing it’s possible. What we’re saying is, “What POSITIVE reasons do we have to believe there is something beyond nature?” It’s certainly possible, and almost everyone on the thread agrees.

    Or this:

    By the way.. I find nothing wrong with a true agnostic. It makes perfect sense to say “I do not know if there is a god or not”

    when several of us have already stated we’re NOT certain that God doesn’t exist (in other words, we’re agnostic) but in the absence of any positive evidence for God’s existence, we contingently assume that God doesn’t exist (so we’re agnostic atheists).

    As for this:

    Ask yourself if given the option you would choose a world in which an all powerful all knowing loving God existed and wanted to have a relationship with you.. or a world in which no god existed at all.

    it’s not clear to me how these two worlds would be different. How would I feel differently? How would the world behave differently? Without knowing these things, I have no basis by which to choose which I’d prefer.

  67. #67 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    Dan L. made some good comments. If Robert wants to have a conversation, he should answer some of the prior responses to his arguments. Especially when those responses contradict his presuppositions about non-believers. I would add one point to Dan’s response on this:

    Ask yourself if given the option you would choose a world in which an all powerful all knowing loving God existed and wanted to have a relationship with you.. or a world in which no god existed at all.

    Why does it matter what I prefer? I prefer a world with seas. I would prefer a world without mosquitoes. As far as I can tell, my preferences on such matters have no effect whatsoever on whether seas and mosquitoes exist, or on my ability to evaluate that.

  68. #68 Stu
    July 14, 2011

    Oh look, it’s the homeopathic version of Pascal’s wager!

  69. #69 Robert Bradley
    July 14, 2011

    Dan what you might have considered is that I was not responding to the people that are agnostic.
    I may not even be talking to the people that are posting.

    Have a nice day..

  70. #70 ildi
    July 14, 2011

    According to a survey conducted at the 2010 SF Star Trek Convention on which would win a fight, trekkers voted for Kirk

    … even though some attributed their votes to Patrick Stewart’s admission during the Q&A that he had stopped eating red meat. “Kirk is just a baddass,” said one fan, explaining her vote.

    I personally think Picard has never been the same since his assimilation.

    Ask yourself if given the option you would choose a world in which an all powerful all knowing loving God existed and wanted to have a relationship with you…

    I’d choose the Borg. If our culture didn’t prize individuality so highly the Borg story line could be spun as a positive thing. To have the wisdom, technology and artistic creativity of all cultures at your fingertips, never a miscommunication… there’s no reason to presuppose that such a civilization would be as dreary and mechanistic as the Borg were depicted to be.

  71. #71 Dan L.
    July 14, 2011

    @Robert Bradley:

    Yes, I assumed in good faith that when you came here and said something like this:

    From sufficient evidence you are required to make a leap of faith. Much in the same way you made a leap of faith to be an atheist. You have no proof that God does not exist. It is not possible to present proof of the lack of something. You looked at the evidence you had and choose to have faith that there is not a God. You did this based on the presupposition that there cannot be anything outside of the natural world.

    that you’d be willing to have your misconceptions about atheists corrected — and these are misconceptions — in the interest of being more informed about what you’re arguing against. I thought you might be willing to engage with what self-identified atheists actually believe instead of what you assume they believe. I thought you might be willing to try to understand the arguments that atheists actually make to defend their beliefs instead of the straw men that get set up and knocked down endlessly on anti-atheist blogs.

    In short, I thought you weren’t a troll. I guess we all make mistakes.

  72. #72 386sx
    July 14, 2011

    I would start with Unshakable Foundations by Norman Geisler.

    Yeah, good choice. Lol. That pretty much sums up the whole apologetics business. “For starters, I recommend [some random goofball]. Highly recommended. Then to be followed with [more random goofballs].”

  73. #73 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    I like my Kindle. I downloaded a sample of Unshakable Foundations. Alas, 386sx has it right. The author starts with logic. And botches it. Misunderstands what logic is. Reifies logical axioms into physical law. More Platonic, or even Objectivist in style, than Aristotelian. And since the author carefully explains that the rest of his work is built on his view of logic, there’s not much point in reading beyond that.

  74. #74 Jim Harrison
    July 14, 2011

    It seems to me that there are two kinds of theological writings, those that remain relevant even if you have dismissed the god business and those that are of merely historical interest because they only make sense if you’re in the game. For example, there is a long tradition in theology of figuring out what’s going on when you read a book (hermeneutics) and a lot of this stuff remains interesting, at least to me, because I remain interested in how one should or does go about understanding a text of any kind. Compare that with the endless and very boring discussions of how to square god’s goodness with human suffering, a question that just doesn’t arise if you find that the notion of an omnipotent, omniscient deity is not just incredible, but simply no longer meaningful.

    If you look theology in my fashion, the last thing you’d do if you were recommending theological works to an atheist would be to point them to the zillionth version of the five proofs. You might suggest that they look at the ethical writings of Aquinas instead of the cosmological, for example, or even better, you might look at the psychological writings of Kierkegaard or Schleiermacher or Augustine or the 20th Century Jewish philosopher Levinas because they talk about real human problems, albeit in a theological key.

    I’m not a huge fan of theology, but it is a plain fact that a lot of the hard thinking about a huge range of real issue was undertaken by theologians or religious philosophers.

  75. I’ve been wading into a lot of James Randi lately. It’s really funny to see people who can drink that bilge and its like pretending they’re reading Barth and Tillich, Kierkegaard and Kuhn and finding it laughable while believing that Randi is some kind of sage.

    I’ve read Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, now that’s some double talk. Where do you stand on Dennett’s “substrate neutrality” of natural selection, Jason. I’m also continuing to try to find the godfather of the new atheism and “humanism”, Corliss Lamont’s condemnation of Lysenko as it was the official dogma in the atheist paradise of its day and Lamont was the foremost Stalinist in the U.S. You know, when conventional biologists were being killed and sent to the gulags, something they’ve never suffered in this religion ridden land.

  76. #76 Russell
    July 14, 2011

    Jim, I agree with you. Except for one thing. You’re recommending to an atheist what to read to see the work religious authors have done that has secular value. And yes, there is a lot of that. But when people object to atheists that their arguments are aimed at pedestrian believers and ignore the work of more serious theologians, that objection has relevance only if it refers precisely to the kind of work that you dismiss, the works that would justify “the god business.” It is a veiled hint that there is something more substantial that atheists need to tackle, than the traditional proofs, Pascal’s wager, the kind of apologetics C. S. Lewis practiced, etc.

  77. #77 Jim Harrison
    July 15, 2011

    Russel, the thing that gets me is the extremely narrow view of the range of human thought that one encounters among new atheists. Granted that the charge doesn’t hold against all of them, it does seem that a lot of the folks one encounters on skeptical/atheistic web sits are simply not very well educated. They really seem to think that the alternative to some sort of naive positivism is C.S. Lewis. I’ve got no problem with the natural sciences. It’s just that I’m aware that the writ of physics, chemistry, and biology doesn’t run all that far compared to the many things that people do with their minds, e.g. law, history, art, music, ethics, politics, philology, philosophy–not to mention our day to day appreciation of the world. When I have made this point, I have routinely been accused of favoring a religious interpretation of the world; but mostly I could care less about theology, though, as previously discussed, an awful lot of human thought took place under the aegis of religion and you can’t completely ignore that fact without dismissing our history. Of course dismissing the historical tradition is easy if you are pretty much completely ignorant of it. If knowing about euglenas or protons sufficed to create a meaningful human world that wouldn’t be a big objection, but the fact is, whether folks here abouts want to admit it or not, the sciences, important as they are, are not the master key to human civilization.

  78. #78 clamboy
    July 15, 2011

    To Jim Harrison, @post #77 – Specifically, to which New Atheists do you refer, and could you please define this “narrow view of the range of human thought”? You appear to be erecting yet another straw man argument, or at least a flowery non sequitor. The New Atheists, well, atheists in general, ask for arguments in favor of the existence of a god, and you answer with, “an awful lot of human thought took place under the aegis of religion.” Specifically, which New Atheists have “completely ignore[d] that fact”? Specifically, which New Atheists have sought to dilute “creat[ing] a meaningful world” into “knowing about euglenas or protons”?

  79. #79 llewelly
    July 15, 2011

    It is striking to me how well the bible is explained by the suggestion that it is of wholly human origin, that it consists of disparate works by distinct religious groups unable to agree on many theological points, both foundational and cosmetic, that its originally disparate parts were assembled together, to help create a blatantly political alliance between disparate sects who remained unable agree on fundamental points of theology, like whether God was tripartite, as well as the cosmetic, such as whether God could be pictorially depicted or not – indeed, Christianity continued to be riven with strife over theological differences, extending even unto the slaughter of millions, for thousands of years after the assemblage of the bible.

    By contrast, the suggestion that the bible is of divine inspiration founders horribly on the question of why God, whatever his nature, would allow such collection of documents, so filled with contradiction as to drive so much confusion, conflict, brutality, and bloodshed, to be paraded about in the name of God. The widespread and long standing perpetuation of the Bible – and other, similarly divisive religious texts – suggests that God is at best, wholly insensible to human concerns.

  80. #80 llewelly
    July 15, 2011

    (It is hilarious to me to see that Anthony McCarthy, The Persecuted And Terribly, Terribly Proud of it, after many long and humiliatingly awful performances on blog after blog after blog, continues to struggle under the delusion that his “But STALIN was an ATHEIST” whine ought to be taken seriously.)

  81. #81 bric
    July 15, 2011

    Stalin may have been some sort of atheist, but he certainly found his education in a Christian seminary useful when it came to constructing the state religion that kept him in power. Not my sort of atheist, on the whole.

  82. #82 AL
    July 15, 2011

    Theology and astrobiology – two subjects with no (known) subject.

    We don’t know exactly what other-worldly life will be like, but this doesn’t mean we are completely clueless about the subject. We can study biochemistry here on earth and make reasonable inferences about what we should expect alien biochemistry to be like (e.g. self-replicating, catalytic properties, the ability to polymerize simple monomers, some kind of metabolic cycle, etc.).

    Theology on the other hand, we are completely clueless. We unfortunately do not have any samples of gods to know what it is a god is like or what it is capable of.

  83. #83 Jim Harrison
    July 15, 2011

    Clamboy, It’s one thing to be an atheist–heck, I’m an atheist–it’s another thing to think that being an atheist is some kind of accomplishment in 2011. I don’t think it is worthwhile to talk about arguments for the existence of God at this point since for me at least they don’t have enough credibility to be worth demolishing, though, as I indicated before, there are issues raised by theologians that continue to matter. I’m just pointing out that in the past, theism was pretty much universal, at least in the West, so that unless you are going to discard most previous thought, you have to come to terms with its context, not in order to believe but in order to understand.

    As for “the narrow range of human thought” bit, I’m kind of at a disadvantage since the evidence that folks here or at PZ’s blog don’t have much awareness of the rest of the arts and human sciences is bound to be pretty hard to demonstrate to those who aren’t exactly familiar with the rest of the arts and human sciences. One specific thing I can point to is the remarkably one-dimensional view of history so frequently demonstrated hereabouts, the religion vs reason narrative that is about as credible among real historians as creationism is among biologists. Of course if everything is us vs them, any criticism of new atheistical ideas will be taken to be support for religion as if there weren’t a third or a fourth or an nth option besides that.

  84. #84 llewelly
    July 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy The Thought Criminal | July 14, 2011 11:04 PM:

    Where do you stand on Dennett’s “substrate neutrality” of natural selection …

    The electrical details of widely used transistors have changed substantially from one decade to the next, just during the lifespan of the internet. Core memories, SDRAM, SRAM, magnetic disks, and optical disks are all very different ways of storing data – yet all can be used to store data. And that’s just the data storge side of it. More, the basics of computing machinery have also been demonstrated in vacuum tubes, water pipes, and cogs and gears. If algorithms were not substrate neutral, you would not be able to post the comment you have just posted; we would have no internet. To argue otherwise is as silly as to argue that a new LCD based computer monitor cannot serve as well as an old CRT based computer monitor.

    The substrate neutrality of computing was proved mathematically by Alan Turing. Since then it has been extensively validated empirically.

    As for natural selection, it has been expressed as an algorithm, and extensively compared to biological natural selection. So far, the comparisons look to be holding up well – just as the mathematics predict.

  85. #85 SocraticGadfly
    July 15, 2011

    Jason, I’d add one mild corrective: I consider the problem of divine hiddenness a subset of the problem of evil. It’s god inflicting psychological evil on well meaning people asking questions of, “if that’s true then why…”

  86. #86 Setar
    July 15, 2011

    Clamboy, It’s one thing to be an atheist–heck, I’m an atheist–it’s another thing to think that being an atheist is some kind of accomplishment in 2011.

    So you just want us all to shut up about our atheism, then? That’s awesome. So, what happens when we encounter another Damon Fowler situation then? Should we just tell atheist students who rightfully object to sectarian prayer to just shut up and stop acting like being an atheist is some kind of accomplishment in 2011? Should we just ignore the fact that most people in the United States still wouldn’t vote for an atheist for President? That atheists are the least-trusted minority group in the United States?

    I don’t think it is worthwhile to talk about arguments for the existence of God at this point since for me at least they don’t have enough credibility to be worth demolishing, though, as I indicated before, there are issues raised by theologians that continue to matter.

    Like what? All you did was claim that there are some issues raised by theologians that matter and throw out a few names…nothing about what the issues are, or how those theologians are relevant to how we should deal with these issues that you say exist.

    I’m just pointing out that in the past, theism was pretty much universal, at least in the West, so that unless you are going to discard most previous thought, you have to come to terms with its context, not in order to believe but in order to understand.

    Useful information is useful regardless of context. Stop pointing us to stacks of books like an apologist and give us this damn useful information that you say exists, already.

    As for “the narrow range of human thought” bit, I’m kind of at a disadvantage since the evidence that folks here or at PZ’s blog don’t have much awareness of the rest of the arts and human sciences is bound to be pretty hard to demonstrate to those who aren’t exactly familiar with the rest of the arts and human sciences.

    And you can’t explain it to us? Well that’s pretty convenient. Almost as convenient as the argument that we don’t understand the evidence supporting god because we don’t understand theology…

    Oh, wait, that’s probably because you simply replaced “theology” with “the arts and human sciences”. Your emperor has no clothes.

    By the way, you’re dead wrong on both counts. There are many Pharyngulites who enjoy “the arts”, be it theatre, music, film, literature, visual art, et cetera. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “human sciences”, but if what you mean is social sciences then I’m sorry to inform you that there are also Pharyngulites with degrees in the social sciences, including one social worker. Nice try, but this town uses chromatography before drinking from the well.

    One specific thing I can point to is the remarkably one-dimensional view of history so frequently demonstrated hereabouts, the religion vs reason narrative that is about as credible among real historians as creationism is among biologists.

    Because, of course, you represent all real historians and anything that disagrees with your narrative is not credible among real historians.

    Or, alternatively, you’re the only real historian in the world and everything else is just tripe. Either one works out the same.

    Of course if everything is us vs them, any criticism of new atheistical ideas will be taken to be support for religion as if there weren’t a third or a fourth or an nth option besides that.

    And I love how you stop short of making an outright claim by saying this, preferring to passive-aggressively insinuate that this is what is being done just in case someone tries to call you on it.

    Oh wait, I just did that.

    Now, are you going to say anything of substance or are you going to keep wailing about how we gnu atheists just don’t understand and that we just need faith …erm, real history and knowledge of the arts and human sciences?

  87. llewelly, different systems operate differently and have different basic requirements. I asked specifically about natural selection as set forth by Darwin. You do understand that natural selection can only work with a substrate of discrete units of inheritance, don’t you? You do understand the synthesis of the 1930s, don’t you? Though Dennett doesn’t seem to quite understand that, as he made all kinds of irrational claims in that book. In the context of Dennett’s arguments he pretty much said that natural selection could work with any substrate when that’s absurd and as he absurdly attributed it to the entire physical universe. Not that his fans much cared if it made any sense at all. H. Allen Orr made the best observations about that in his essay cum review of Dennett’s book in the Boston Review.

    I’m noticing that no one here seems to want to take on the fact that the greatest damage to evolution in its history was the imposition of Lysenkoism on the Soviet Union, much of Eastern Europe and to some extent China, all atheist, anti-religious governments. During which a number of real scientists were killed, exiled in the gulag, prevented from working, etc. They also don’t want to take on that for that entire period the Godfather of organized atheism, “Humanist of the Year”, Corliss Lamont, continually promoted Stalinism here, even as he funded-took over “humanism” and much of what would turn into organized atheism. I’ve been looking and am finding in no place did Corliss Lamont condemned Lysenkoism as pseudo-science during the period it was the biological dogma of his idea of a state worth emulating.

    That’s a good part of the history of the impact of atheism, ideological materialism on biology in the past century. In the same period, in the United States, with its religious saturation, evolution progressed, scientists were able to work and live freely. Theodosius Dobzhansky, probably the foremost geneticist of his time freely practiced his science and his Russian Orthodox religion.

    I’ve been researching a quote I read recently attributed to Francis Galton about the priestly mind not being compatable with science, even as Fr. Gregor Mendel was conducting experiments to discover the basis of genetic inheritance, something that the anti-religious Galton couldn’t find as he was flattering himself and those of his class with his eugenics.

    Not that I’m really expecting that Jason or his fans really care about the facts. No more than I am in them understanding the difference between the nature of the literature of math and science and those areas of study that deal with more complex parts of life which math and science can’t deal with due to that complexity. In those persuasion and a preponderance of convincing argument have to take the place of abstract logic and experimentally generated evidence. Most people seem to be able to take that reality, though.

  88. #88 Stu
    July 15, 2011

    No more than I am in them understanding the difference between the nature of the literature of math and science and those areas of study that deal with more complex parts of life which math and science can’t deal with due to that complexity.

    Could you please stop waving your hands and name one? This exactly the kind of tripe under discussion.

  89. #89 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 15, 2011

    Jim Harrison: … though, as I indicated before, there are issues raised by theologians that continue to matter.

    So theologians have written on topics such as ethics. Fine. If they build their ethical systems on the presupposition of theism, then their ethical systems are in deep trouble, and can be easily dismissed. If they do not build their ethical systems on the presupposition of theism, then they are writing philosophy, not theology, and the substance of your complaint disappears.

    Anthony McCarthy: I’m noticing that no one here seems to want to take on the fact that the greatest damage to evolution in its history was the imposition of Lysenkoism on the Soviet Union, much of Eastern Europe and to some extent China, all atheist, anti-religious governments.

    Maybe because it has fuck-all to do with the topic under discussion. But I’ll address it anyway: Lysenkoism was bad. It was really really bad. It is an example of what happens when religion and politics overrides science. Now why would you characterize those governments as “atheist”? Are you going to characterize them by what they are not? Isn’t it true that all of those governments did not believe in Santa Claus as well? Why not describe them as aClausist governments? Or instead, you could fill in the positive description you oddly left out: those were all communist governments. Communism is a positive set of beliefs, and therefore appropriate for characterizing what those governments actually stood for. And communism has oft been described as a religion (see Bertrand Russell, for example).

  90. #90 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 15, 2011

    Robert Bradley: Ask yourself if given the option you would choose a world in which an all powerful all knowing loving God existed and wanted to have a relationship with you.. or a world in which no god existed at all.

    About presuppositions in science: In general, the fewer, the better. Occam’s razor and all. And, moreover, your presuppositions must also be open to question.
    Consider the Michelson-Morley experiment. This is widely regarded as the best evidence against the existence of the ether in the pre-relativity era. But did Michelson and Morley presuppose the non-existence of the ether? No they did not. They set out to measure its effects, not disprove its existence. Since this was pre-relativity, they didn’t even have a decent alternative to the ether to explain their results. But the strength and weight of the evidence spoke very clearly that their presupposition was wrong.

  91. #91 James
    July 15, 2011

    Without becoming combative or getting into a “tantrum” I would like, just once, to have an answer to the most logical question of all regarding the divergence between Hawking\Darwin type Atheism, and religion under any form. Where does it all begin? How did matter and energy spring from nothing? Is ex nihilo even possible in scientific foundation? If it is, what was the impetus, and if not where did it come from? Why is it so hard to concede that, even if you don’t agree, one logical argument could be that this energy or impetus is an eternal force we don’t understand, that some might call God?

  92. #92 Vicki
    July 15, 2011

    Just once, James, I would like an answer to the question of why, if you think the universe cannot exist ex nihilo, you think that a god can exist ex nihilo. If a hypothetical thing-called-god can be eternal, why can matter and energy not be?

  93. #93 james
    July 15, 2011

    Vicki,
    That is precisely my point. Saying that *anything* can exist eternally means that the argument for an eternal God is not completely ridiculous.

  94. #94 Stu
    July 15, 2011

    Why is it so hard to concede that, even if you don’t agree, one logical argument could be that this energy or impetus is an eternal force we don’t understand, that some might call God?

    Sure. Others might call it Harvey, or Ixnig. What’s your point?

  95. #95 Wow
    July 15, 2011

    We might as well call it Coleslaw, James.

    If for any reasonable definition of “Eternal” the atoms that make up my person are eternal, that doesn’t mean I’m a God.

    “I would like, just once, to have an answer to the most logical question of all…”

    “How did matter and energy spring from nothing?”

    Ah, problem.

    That question is not logical at all.

    You might as well say “What’s north of the north pole” or “Where does the ‘whisking an egg’ go when you stop whisking eggs”.

    Your final piece there reads like “The universe came into being, therefore God”.

    There’s a whole lot of connection missing between the start and end of that assertion.

  96. #96 james
    July 15, 2011

    I am not here to sway anyone, or, as I said, become combative. My argument is sound, and if you chose to ignore it because the belief in God makes me unscientific, that is your prerogative. If you cannot answer the question of how could any of this begin, you must conclude that we don’t know. If we don’t know, then one possible explanation is an eternal force.

  97. #97 Myron
    July 15, 2011

    “Even taken at face value the cosmological argument only gets you some sort of necessary being to set the whole chain of causes in motion.” (J. Rosenhouse)

    If it were sound, it wouldn’t get you a logically necessary being because logically necessary beings are logically impossible beings; and the only intelligible interpretation of the concept of a necessary being is “essentially eternal being”, i.e. “being that exists eternally in all possible worlds in which it exists“. But an essentially eternal being is only, as Richard Swinburne puts it, a factually necessary being that doesn’t exist in all possible worlds.

    “God is supposed to exist ‘necessarily’. Some have understood this to mean ‘of logical necessity’, i.e. it would be incoherent to suppose there to be no God. Atheism does, however, seem to be a coherent position, even if false; and so other theists have understood God’s being necessary as his being the ultimate brute fact on which all other things depend.”

    (“God,” by Richard Swinburne. In The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, edited by Ted Honderich, 2nd ed., 341-342. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. p. 342)

    “[I]t seems coherent to suppose that there exists a complex physical universe but no God, from which it follows that it is coherent to suppose that there exists no God, from which in turn it follows that God is not a logically necessary being.”

    (Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 148)

  98. #98 Wow
    July 15, 2011

    So why are you here? To see your words in print? To make up shit to stir the pot (which is trolling)?

    Your argument, if it rests on the idea that “matter and energy spring from nothing” then your argument is nowhere near sound and never has been.

    If your argument is that God is something that doesn’t do anything, then you’re not talking God, you’re talking “Coleslaw”: a tub of coleslaw has as much in common with the accepted definition of God as your definition. And therefore is nowhere near sound and never has been.

    “If you cannot answer the question of how could any of this begin”

    And if you can’t answer where the dark comes from when you turn out the lights, then sight doesn’t exist! And if you can’t explain what’s north of the north pole, then the earth doesn’t exist!

    Better tie yourself to something floating for when the earth disappears.

    “If we don’t know, then one possible explanation is an eternal force.”

    No. Even if your query was sound, this WOULD NEVER be right.

    Just because you don’t know how MASERS work doesn’t mean “God makes them work”.

    And I’ve answered your question anyway: your query has as little to do with a question as “what’s the difference between a duck’s legs?”. The mere adding of a question mark doesn’t make it a question?

  99. #99 Stu
    July 15, 2011

    My argument is sound

    So far, all you’ve said is “I’d like to think that something must have caused the Big Bang, I’d like to call that thing God, therefore, believing in God is not crazy”. If that is an “argument” in your world, you have bigger problems than being unscientific.

    If we don’t know, then one possible explanation is an eternal force.

    Another possible explanation is that it was all a dream of a small dog in the Andromeda system.

    It’s not an explanation, james. It’s a useless supposition you desperately cling to in order to justify your faith.

  100. #100 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 15, 2011

    james: If we don’t know, then one possible explanation is an eternal force.

    Several people have already attempted to explain to you that “an eternal force” is very far from “God” as most people define it (i.e. a person or persons who may intervene in the world and wish to impose moral standards on one species of primate on the planet Earth). When theologians say that God is “simple,” it doesn’t actually mean that they, or anyone else, believes that God is simple. It means that they are spewing rhetoric to dodge an attempted disproof. Likewise, when you fail to meet the challenge to link your allegedly possible “eternal force” to any recognizable definition of “God,” you are likewise using logic illegitimately. The word for this is “sophistry.”

  101. #101 abb3w
    July 15, 2011

    @65, Robert Bradley: Something beyond nature.

    You’re presupposing the dualistic distinction.

    Formally, science isn’t interested in “natural”, but the “experiential” – what we experience, and whatever it is that produces the experience (and what produces that, et cetera ad infinitum with arbitrary cardinal closure). Experiences that are commonly called “supernatural” or more exactly “paranormal” are included.

    Existence as a “real” entity involves being part of the cloture on the experiential. Abstract entities such as numbers “exist” in a different sense of the word. They may be instantiated in real things, such as the number two being instantiated by two apples; and all real things necessarily instantiate the abstractions of themselves; but not all abstract entities are instantiated in the “real” world.

    And in so far as the assorted abstractions variously referred to as “God” lack self-consistency, those abstractions may not even “exist” except in the nonsensical sense that elements of the empty set “exist”.

    (Which leads to a silly and trivial “disproof” of God’s existence via omnipresence: since God is everywhere, God must be in the empty set; since the empty set contains nothing that exists, God does not exist.)

    @65, Robert Bradley: Ask yourself if given the option you would choose a world in which an all powerful all knowing loving God existed and wanted to have a relationship with you.. or a world in which no god existed at all.

    That’s a question of preference, not as to which is True. This appears to reduce theism to hedonism.

    I’ll also note the starting position is not the presupposition that God does not exists, but “God exists OR God does not exist” (via the general rule of P∨¬P, whether that’s taken as premise or as inference from others). The non-existence is a probabilistic inference from other premises.

    @87, Anthony McCarthy The Thought Criminal: No more than I am in them understanding the difference between the nature of the literature of math and science and those areas of study that deal with more complex parts of life which math and science can’t deal with due to that complexity.

    Presupposes there are such areas that can’t be dealt with. I suspect you’re confusing dealing with efficiently and dealing with effectively. A visit to the Complexity Petting Zoo might help, or might not.

    I’ll also note recognizability is equivalent to recursive enumerability; which means, if you have any hope of recognizing it when you see it, constructing a mathematical description is algorithmically easy enough.

  102. #102 James
    July 15, 2011

    Obviously the combativeness has begun, so I will stand down. I was hear to ask a legitimate question and only Myron gave a satisfactory answer. I can understandably that the cosmological argument can cause a logic loop. But I can’t understand why it is anger inducing to conclude that a possible explanation for the answer to how it all began is a force we do not understand. Conceding that is the beginning of theology, not the *proof* of an all knowing god.

  103. #103 James
    July 15, 2011

    and yes, I realize the irony of trying to end a logic argument with bad grammar and misspellings… At work and typing fast. :)

  104. #104 Aaron Baker
    July 15, 2011

    A minor issue. You mention “Kuhn” in passing as a theologian. Are you talking about Thomas Kuhn (not a theologian as far as I know). If not Thomas, whom do you mean? Just curious.

  105. #105 Wow
    July 15, 2011

    “Obviously the combativeness has begun”

    yes YOU STARTED IT:

    “Without becoming combative or getting into a “tantrum” I would like, just once, to have an answer to the most logical question of all regarding the divergence between Hawking\Darwin type Atheism, and religion under any form”

    Accusations if superiority and projection of childishness into the people you want to answer you is passive aggressive.

    Your dismissal of all the answers given to that question in the past (long before this thread existed) shows that you are asserting either facts known to be false (lying) or facts you know to be unknown (lying).

    “But I can’t understand why it is anger inducing”

    Because you see ridicule to your ridiculous query as anger when in fact it’s ridicule.

    An attempt to take the victimisation card and play it.

    “conclude that a possible explanation for the answer to how it all began is a force we do not understand”

    And then you go an rewrite history.

    NO, this is what you said:

    “If we don’t know, then one possible explanation is an eternal force.”

    Your revisionism and stupidity causes frustration which looks a lot like anger unless we completely and utterly ignore you (in which case you’d then complain that nobody answered, therefore God).

    “Conceding that is the beginning of theology”

    It might be, but then theology is placed on the idea that it isn’t a small white terrier in the galaxy of andromeda.

  106. #106 Stu
    July 15, 2011

    Obviously the combativeness has begun, so I will stand down.

    Really? If anyone points out the vacuity of any of your arguments, your response is this?

    I was hear to ask a legitimate question and only Myron gave a satisfactory answer.

    Your question was answered: your supposition is useless. It has no explanative or predictive qualities. You demand people concede something, and when they do gladly since it is completely meaningless and useless, you call it unsatisfactory. That’s arguing in bad faith and extremely arrogant.

    But I can’t understand why it is anger inducing to conclude that a possible explanation for the answer to how it all began is a force we do not understand.

    Liar. What is anger inducing is your hubris. People have conceded that point repeatedly. The questions you have yet to answer is “So what?” and “What does that have to do with any of the current concepts of God?” and “If you’re talking about a God that quit halfway through Genesis 1:1, what good is such an entity?”

  107. Presupposes there are such areas that can’t be dealt with. I suspect you’re confusing dealing with efficiently and dealing with effectively. abb3w

    Both math and science have to work within their methods which require excluding things they can’t process. If they try to deal with things of sufficient complexity or which are too vaguely known or can’t be subjected to those methods they can’t deal with them. Mathematicians and scientists can pretend they are but not without exceeding the boundaries of their discipline.

    Maybe because it has fuck-all to do with the topic under discussion. B Bouffant

    You did read the post, didn’t you? Did you happen to miss this passage?

    It also showed me that the arguments made by theologians to reconcile evolution and Christianity were — how shall I put this gracefully? — not very good.

    Well, it’s a fact of history that the most serious damage done to evolutionary science in its history was Lysenkoism which was the product of atheism with political power, it wasn’t a force in any but officially atheist countries that I’m aware of and the money bags behind early organized atheism in the United States, Corliss Lamont, aka “The last Stalinist”, the great sciency “Humanist of the Year”, etc. never condemned Lysenkoism as it destroyed legitimate evolutionary science throughout said atheist countries for more than a decade. As mentioned leading to the murders and oppression of real scientists. Maybe Jason would like to address that point since he’s so worked up over evolution vs. “religion”.

    You could make a case that the second most serious damage to evolutionary science was eugenics, largely the product of atheists as well.

    You know, someone should say it. When you don’t have anything to say and you start saying “Santa Claus” and “unicorns” you are just advertising that you’ve got nothing.

  108. #108 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 15, 2011

    was Lysenkoism which was the product of atheism… it wasn’t a force in any but officially atheist countries

    Reiterating a falsehood does not make it true. Once again, atheism is a negative property – lack of belief in God. Why would you characterize a country by such a negative property, rather than by positive properties readily at hand. I.e. all countries which experienced problems with Lysenkoism were communist, and the rationale behind Lysenkoism was that biology (evolution & genetics) did not fit comfortably with communist doctrine. Please name one atheist-but-not-communist country which suffered from Lysenkoism.

  109. #109 Verbose Stoic
    July 15, 2011

    Okay, this might have been said already (I don’t really want to wade through 100+ comments to see) and I think I might address other points later in a blog post, but I do want to address this one point:

    “They write, “Theology is generally understood today as `reasoned discourse about God.’ (6)” A skeptic immediately wants to know why we should believe that God exists at all. ”

    The problem here is that since they’re essentially looking at it philosophically — like theology does — when they talk about “God” they don’t mean the instantiation of God but instead at the concept of God. While studying the concept can lead to insights about things that instantiate the concept, you can study the concepts of things that don’t exist at all and don’t instantiate. So the skeptic’s reply is asking them about the instance, which isn’t what theology is necessarily doing.

    And the best reply to the skeptic there — taking them on on their terms — is to reply that perhaps we should figure out what the concept entails and therefore what must be true of any instantiation of God BEFORE we go around trying to figure out if that concept is instantiated. It’s hard to look for things if you have no idea how to determine if you’ve found it.

  110. #110 Stu
    July 15, 2011

    Both math and science have to work within their methods which require excluding things they can’t process. If they try to deal with things of sufficient complexity or which are too vaguely known or can’t be subjected to those methods they can’t deal with them.

    Since you’re repeating this assertion, allow me to repeat #88: example, please? Until then, please stop bleating.

    Also, Anthony: if you think that

    It also showed me that the arguments made by theologians to reconcile evolution and Christianity were — how shall I put this gracefully? — not very good.

    has anything to do with

    Well, it’s a fact of history that the most serious damage done to evolutionary science in its history was Lysenkoism which was the product of atheism with political power

    I have to assume you’re trying really hard to pull a tu quoque here, but until you have anything whatsoever to back up your assertion that Lysenkoism was the product of atheism in any way*, we’ll just have to assume you’re not even capable of pulling off that fallacy.

    * As opposed to, say, “not being called Nigel”.

  111. #111 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 15, 2011

    Well, it’s a fact of history that the most serious damage done to evolutionary science in its history was Lysenkoism

    BTW, Lysenkoism was more a rejection of genetics than a rejection of evolutionary biology, but that is a small detail compared to your bigger challenge of trying to pin the blame on not believing in God.

    Wikipedia sez: “Czechoslovakia adopted Lysenkoism in 1949. Jaroslav Kříženecký (1896–1964) was one of the prominent Czechoslovak geneticists opposing Lysenkoism, and when he criticized Lysenkoism in his lectures, he was dismissed from the Agricultural University in 1949 for “serving the established capitalistic system, considering himself superior to the working class, and being hostile to the democratic order of the people”, and imprisoned in 1958” (just one example)

    Gosh, does that sound like an anti-theism diatribe, or like Communist dogma?

  112. #112 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    July 15, 2011

    Well, it’s a fact of history that the most serious damage done to evolutionary science in its history was Lysenkoism

    BTW, Lysenkoism was more a rejection of genetics than a rejection of evolutionary biology, but that is a small detail compared to your bigger challenge of trying to pin the blame on not believing in God.

    Wikipedia sez: “Czechoslovakia adopted Lysenkoism in 1949. Jaroslav Kříženecký (1896–1964) was one of the prominent Czechoslovak geneticists opposing Lysenkoism, and when he criticized Lysenkoism in his lectures, he was dismissed from the Agricultural University in 1949 for “serving the established capitalistic system, considering himself superior to the working class, and being hostile to the democratic order of the people”, and imprisoned in 1958” (just one example)

    Gosh, does that sound like an anti-theism diatribe, or like Communist dogma?

    (Repeated without the link because Jason has some spam filters turned on.)

  113. #113 Nekochi
    July 15, 2011

    “scienceblogs.com” is a misnomer. What the hell do posts like this have to do with science?

  114. #114 Stu
    July 15, 2011

    I know, Nekochi! There’s just nothing interesting about this topic whatsoever. And who would expect a post like this on a blog sub-titled “Commentary on the Endless Dispute Between Evolution and Creationism”! It’s madness! Also, this post is tagged “Religion”, which is really confusing.

    Man, I’m taking my ball and going home.

  115. #115 Dan L.
    July 15, 2011

    VS:

    And the best reply to the skeptic there — taking them on on their terms — is to reply that perhaps we should figure out what the concept entails and therefore what must be true of any instantiation of God BEFORE we go around trying to figure out if that concept is instantiated. It’s hard to look for things if you have no idea how to determine if you’ve found it.

    That is a reasonable position. Please let us know when you’ve figured out what concept is being signified by the term “God.” Until then can I assume that it’s reasonable for me to argue against the notion that this currently incoherent concept is actually a really important feature of the world?

  116. #116 Tulse
    July 15, 2011

    I’m taking my ball and going home.

    What, and let Jason get away with this? No way — I’m demanding a refund!

  117. #117 abb3w
    July 15, 2011

    @107, Anthony McCarthy The Thought Criminal: Both math and science have to work within their methods which require excluding things they can’t process.

    Except Godel’s gives a method for construction that can (at least indirectly) handle ordinal degree complexity.

    And indeterminancy does not increase the effective power at the RE level (or at hypercomputation ordinals above zero).

    @107, Anthony McCarthy The Thought Criminal: You could make a case that the second most serious damage to evolutionary science was eugenics, largely the product of atheists as well.

    Technically, that was an application, and thus engineering rather than science; but that’s a semantic quibble incidental to the current discussion. (I note it because that distinction is one of the core points I harp on constantly.)

    The eugenics movement certainly wasn’t exclusively atheist (see ISBN 019515679X); and the historically relative low level of atheism for the US (well below 1%, extrapolating back from current levels) makes it unlikely anything but the most minute of fringe movements could be even majority Atheist. This, however, leaves the possibility that eugenics was disproportionately more Atheist than the overall population at the time; or that the leadership (once a demarcation criterion is given) was disproportionately atheist. Do you have any sociological data to show either of those, or is this bare assertion based on the existence of some atheist eugenicists?

    Now, if you want to broaden from atheism to progressivism/liberalism, that might stand up more solidly — provided you’re willing to also admit that the racism that served as midwife to eugenics was first cast aside by those same liberals and progressives.

    @112, Nekochi: What the hell do posts like this have to do with science?

    It’s giving a contrast, illuminating what science is by showing the differences between it and a non-science branch of philosophy.

  118. #118 abb3w
    July 15, 2011

    @108, Bayesian Bouffant, FCD: . Once again, atheism is a negative property – lack of belief in God. Why would you characterize a country by such a negative property, rather than by positive properties readily at hand. I.e. all countries which experienced problems with Lysenkoism were communist, and the rationale behind Lysenkoism was that biology (evolution & genetics) did not fit comfortably with communist doctrine.

    …eh, kinda.

    Atheism refers to a negative property; however, it also refers to the class of philosophies that hold that property. Thus, Sino-Soviet Communism and Randite Capitalism are examples of philosophies with that are members of that class, and thus can be considered “strains” of atheism. The extreme divergence of this pair, however, serves nicely to illustrate how foolish it is to treat all members of the class as equivalent – particularly, equating Sino-Soviet Communism and the (roughly) Secular Humanism that currently seems the mainstream of what’s called “Atheism” in the west.

  119. #119 eric
    July 15, 2011

    James @102: I can’t understand why it is anger inducing to conclude that a possible explanation for the answer to how it all began is a force we do not understand. Conceding that is the beginning of theology, not the *proof* of an all knowing god.

    Why can’t the force be a physics force? Or something else non-theological? Why do you assume “force we do not understand” implies theology?

    You are simply making a god-of-the-gaps argument here. There is no reason to presume that a hole in our understanding is best filled with theology.

    And historically/empirically, there is a very good reason not to presume that. Every past time a god of the gaps has been invoked, the hypothesis has turned out to be wrong. It’s record is 0-for-countless. God of the gaps is batting 0.000 after thousands of years of at-bats.

    Conceding that there are things beyond our understanding is only the start of theology if you are biased in favor of theology to begin with. To anyone not biased, to anyone who would use the past success of various methods as a guide to the likey future success of those same methods, it ought to be the start of science.

  120. Normal atheism is a mere lack of belief, neo atheism such as is all the rage here is an intellectual fad complete with dogmas, doctrines, heresies and sects. It’s a shallow, bigoted intellectual fad mired in ignorance, self congratulations and an insistence on a double standard in favor of itself.

  121. #121 David Marjanović
    July 15, 2011

    Read the Mountain of Silence….the story of the Christian mysticism preserved in ancient Mt. Athos…. Orthodoxy preserved both the doctrinal and mystical depths of the early faith that was lost in the scholasticism of medieval catholicism and the nominalist protestant reaction.
    It has mysticism that out-mystics the Buddhists, and an internal coherance between doctrine and mysticism that makes reason a hand-maid, not irrelevant, to the mystical experience.

    And how does mysticism generate evidence about anything other than a mystic’s own brain?

    On the topic of parsimony, etc., I agree with you that there are extreme philosophical challenges in justifying some of the basic principles underpinning empiricism, but as Dunc points out, you are wrong to think philosophers aren’t aware of them and working on them. I happen to think the Problem of Induction is unsolvable, personally — but I don’t lose sleep over it, because nobody actually doubts the validity of inductive reasoning, and if they did, they just sabotaged the validity of any epistemology they might subscribe too as well. I’m willing to take that little leap — the same leap that everybody except the most extreme nihilist or solipsist is taking anyway — and then I think the rest follows cleanly from there.

    All of the science theory I’ve read — admittedly not much, but still including a book by Medawar — says induction does not work, and it says induction is unnecessary. Do you mean “parsimony” by “induction”?

    On why induction is unnecessary: why do you think the sun will rise tomorrow? From induction (it has risen before so often)? No. You deduce it from observations and the law of physics — gravity, the conservation of energy, momentum, angular momentum and so on; and then you wait for tomorrow to test the hypothesis you have deduced.

    Short question: You criticize theology about the fact that they take the existance of god as an axiom and continue from there.

    How is that different from evolutionists, who take biogenesis as an axiom?

    Biologists effectively take the origin of life as an axiom — but chemists don’t. So, the biologists can just ask the chemists.

    Whom could the theologists ask?

    Well, for one thing, “evidence for” is imprecise. (A lump on the head at a baseball game is both evidence for not noticing a fly ball or for not noticing your ex-spouse sneaking up on you.) Closer to philosophically exact is “evidence most likely produced by the pattern description”.

    …where “most likely” means “most parsimoniously”, right?

    There are a large number of evidences for God’s existence. No proof. If you want proof of things stick with math and hard science. Everything else only has evidence.

    No. Science, too, has only evidence and parsimony. Our esteemed host isn’t looking for proof of the existence of deities, he’s looking for evidence — and can’t find any.

    As for “the narrow range of human thought” bit, I’m kind of at a disadvantage since the evidence that folks here or at PZ’s blog don’t have much awareness of the rest of the arts and human sciences is bound to be pretty hard to demonstrate to those who aren’t exactly familiar with the rest of the arts and human sciences.

    As often happens in English, your definition of “science” includes the subject matter. That’s silly. Science is a method, not a list of subjects. In English, a distinction between “science” and “the humanities” if often made; in German, they’re called “natural sciences” (Naturwissenschaften) and “mind sciences” (Geisteswissenschaften), because the latter, too, use the scientific method*.

    And I don’t know about this blog, but Pharyngula is chock full of artists and social scientists.

    * At least when they’re done right. “The closer you get to humans, the worse the science gets” (biologist proverb).

    Consider the Michelson-Morley experiment. This is widely regarded as the best evidence against the existence of the ether in the pre-relativity era. But did Michelson and Morley presuppose the non-existence of the ether? No they did not. They set out to measure its effects, not disprove its existence. Since this was pre-relativity, they didn’t even have a decent alternative to the ether to explain their results. But the strength and weight of the evidence spoke very clearly that their presupposition was wrong.

    It gets yet better. Michelson and Morley did their experiments separately, several years apart. AFAIK, one of them simply couldn’t believe the results the other had got and therefore repeated the experiment.

    And historically/empirically, there is a very good reason not to presume that. Every past time a god of the gaps has been invoked, the hypothesis has turned out to be wrong. It’s record is 0-for-countless. God of the gaps is batting 0.000 after thousands of years of at-bats.

    Also, gods of gaps are unparsimonious. They are unnecessary assumptions.

  122. #122 David Marjanović
    July 15, 2011

    Normal atheism is a mere lack of belief, neo atheism such as is all the rage here is an intellectual fad complete with dogmas,

    [citation needed]

    doctrines,

    [citation needed]

    heresies

    [citation needed]

    and sects.

    [citation needed]

    It’s a shallow,

    [citation needed]

    bigoted

    [citation needed]

    intellectual fad

    [citation needed]

    mired in ignorance,

    [citation needed]

    self congratulations

    [citation needed]

    and an insistence on a double standard in favor of itself.

    [citation needed]

    Also, you need to show us that Lysenkoism was some kind of logical or likely outcome of atheism. So far, it looks to me like a logical outcome of Stalinism, and Stalinism looks to me like a religion, with holy texts, eternal truths, a dogma system that provides one correct answer to every question so you can fake being a true believer by simply learning all correct answers by heart, infallible messiahs, sins, salvation, paradise/heaven (on Earth and in the future, but still), heresies, oppression of rival religions, religious art, yadda, yadda, yadda, everything except an afterlife — only Kim Il-sung, who is still the president of North Korea, has got one so far.

  123. #123 josh
    July 15, 2011

    “Normal atheism is a mere lack of belief, neo atheism such as is all the rage here is an intellectual fad complete with dogmas, doctrines, heresies and sects. It’s a shallow, bigoted intellectual fad mired in ignorance, self congratulations and an insistence on a double standard in favor of itself.” – Anthony McCarthy

    Well you’ve sure got us pegged! We can only concede your compelling arguments and measured, cogent summation. Thanks for settling the discussion. Since we won’t have anything else to talk about, why don’t you go somewhere else? I’m sure your vast intellect and obvious capacity for introspection and self-awareness are needed in the highest echelons of academia and government.

  124. Josh, I’m going on what I’ve read here and other new atheist blogs. It is a shallow, bigoted fad, an exercise in derisive self-congratulatory frat level bonding.

    Why not deal with the points about Lysenkoism. I mean, even the fundamentalists here, the only serious problem evolution has had with religion, never killed scientists or sent them to prison camps or turned them into non-persons. You can’t say the same thing about the atheist, anti-religious governments in the Soviet Union or in the countries it occupied, setting up atheist, anti-religious governments. It lasted from the 1930s well into the 50s and perhaps beyond. I gave Corliss Lamont as the Godfather-money bags in organized atheism from the Stalinist period up until his death, a self-defined champion of science and reason who apparently never condemned Lysenkoism (if anyone has citations of where he did, I’d love to have them) and who was never called on it as he was honored by the big names of atheism (some of whom I very much suspect got a big boost with his financial backing).

    I’ve been working on some research in the real history of the new atheism, you see.

  125. #125 Wowbagger
    July 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Why not deal with the points about Lysenkoism.

    Why not read the responses people have already written? #108, #110, #111, #112, #117 and #122 all demonstrate that your nonsensical claim is, well, nonsense.

    ‘You can’t say the same thing about the atheist, anti-religious communist governments in the Soviet Union or in the countries it occupied, setting up atheist, anti-religious communist governments’.

    Fixed it for you.

  126. #126 Verbose Stoic
    July 16, 2011

    Dan L.,

    “That is a reasonable position. Please let us know when you’ve figured out what concept is being signified by the term “God.” ”

    Well, but see, in order to do that, I’d have to do that thing that’s just plain crap: theology. So do I have permission, then, to say that theology is a useful field of study to try to get at this concept and that people interested in the concept of God really do need to take it seriously?

    “Until then can I assume that it’s reasonable for me to argue against the notion that this currently incoherent concept is actually a really important feature of the world?”

    Not by using the idea that we don’t understand the concept yet — since concepts that we don’t understand may well be instantiated, like say the quantum stuff — but you’re free to propose what you think is true about the concept and then argue that that would mean it isn’t instantiated or a feature of the world.

  127. wowbagger, I read them, they aren’t refutation they’re just distraction. In every single instance when there has been an officially atheist, anti-religious government it has been a violent dictatorship, that’s true from the Reign of Terror up to North Korea and China today. You can’t honestly say that about either secular, neutral or even many countries with official state religions, which have a decidedly mixed though entirely better record than officially atheist governments. There has been no country more supportive of science than the United States, with its largely religious population – even as it also has a large and largely regional problem with biblical fundamentalism.

    The war between evolution and religion has been a two way street from the beginning with Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spenser and the X Club using it to attack Christianity and Judaism and liberal social policy in favor of brutality in many cases. Even Charles Darwin seems to have not welcomed much of that as he pointed out that it was quite possible for a person to accept both religion and evolution. This new atheist phase is just a continuation of that self-defeating stupidity. Unfortunately it is having the effect of helping the most benighted Republicans organize to win elections. If they get even two more seats in the Supreme Court I wouldn’t give you good odds on the Wall of Separation surviving it.

    You can add “a deluded, self-defeating, politically clueless…” to the list of descriptions of the new atheism. Atheists are as able to be ignorant and stupid and vicious as non-atheists, when they have attained power they would seem to have a worse record, more than merely holding their own with religious despots in terms of murders per year.

  128. #128 Wowbagger
    July 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    wowbagger, I read them, they aren’t refutation they’re just distraction.

    Translation:I can’t refute the points raised, and am too lacking in character to admit that.

    But I’ll give you another chance; here’s the pertinent section of #112:

    Wikipedia sez: “Czechoslovakia adopted Lysenkoism in 1949. Jaroslav Kříženecký (1896–1964) was one of the prominent Czechoslovak geneticists opposing Lysenkoism, and when he criticized Lysenkoism in his lectures, he was dismissed from the Agricultural University in 1949 for “serving the established capitalistic system, considering himself superior to the working class, and being hostile to the democratic order of the people”, and imprisoned in 1958″ (just one example)
    Gosh, does that sound like an anti-theism diatribe, or like Communist dogma?

    Any particular reason why you’re running scared from answering that question, brave Sir Anthony?

    In every single instance when there has been an officially atheist, anti-religious government it has been a violent dictatorship, that’s true from the Reign of Terror up to North Korea and China today.

    Quoting #108:

    Reiterating a falsehood does not make it true. Once again, atheism is a negative property – lack of belief in God. Why would you characterize a country by such a negative property, rather than by positive properties readily at hand. I.e. all countries which experienced problems with Lysenkoism were communist, and the rationale behind Lysenkoism was that biology (evolution & genetics) did not fit comfortably with communist doctrine. Please name one atheist-but-not-communist country which suffered from Lysenkoism.

    Why aren’t you able to respond to this?

  129. #129 Stu
    July 16, 2011

    Why not deal with the points about Lysenkoism.

    Because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of this post?

  130. #130 AL
    July 17, 2011

    And the best reply to the skeptic there — taking them on on their terms — is to reply that perhaps we should figure out what the concept entails and therefore what must be true of any instantiation of God BEFORE we go around trying to figure out if that concept is instantiated. It’s hard to look for things if you have no idea how to determine if you’ve found it.

    If a theist is having trouble or facing severe difficulty in conceptualizing god coherently, then it is justified for an atheist/skeptic to conclude that the theist’s conceptualization doesn’t refer to anything, i.e., does not exist. It’s not the atheist’s responsibility to work out a coherent version of theism for the theists.

  131. #131 Verbose Stoic
    July 17, 2011

    “If a theist is having trouble or facing severe difficulty in conceptualizing god coherently, then it is justified for an atheist/skeptic to conclude that the theist’s conceptualization doesn’t refer to anything, i.e., does not exist.”

    Why do you think this is justified? Whether we understand a concept or not does not in any way impact its instantiation; the concept may still be instantiated even if we are actually incapable of understanding it, let alone if we just don’t understand it right now.

    Also, you haven’t even bothered to look at any reasons why that difficulty may be occurring, and it’s only the reasons for that difficulty that could in any way impact on the instantiation of a concept.

    “It’s not the atheist’s responsibility to work out a coherent version of theism for the theists.”

    Unless, of course, that atheist wants to say things about their concept or the overall concept of God. At that point, they have just as much responsibility for knowing what they’re rejecting, denying or arguing against as the theists do.

    And that, then, requires doing theology. So can we thus accept that theology might have some purpose, just not the sort of purpose that a scientific theory has?

  132. #132 KG
    July 17, 2011

    In every single instance when there has been an officially atheist, anti-religious government it has been a violent dictatorship, that’s true from the Reign of Terror – Anthony McCarthy, Paranoid Poseur

    The claim that the perpetrators of the Reign of Terror were atheists is of course false.

    More fundamentally, I have seen no-one here advocate an “officially atheist, anti-religious government”. I am opposed to a government taking any stance in favour of or against religion, as I’m sure practically all those atheists who post here are.

  133. #133 KG
    July 17, 2011

    Whether we understand a concept or not does not in any way impact its instantiation; the concept may still be instantiated even if we are actually incapable of understanding it, let alone if we just don’t understand it right now. – Verbose Stoic

    What a bizarre claim. Until we have understood a concept (which requires that it has been defined coherently), the question of its instantiation cannot even arise.

  134. #134 Rosemary
    July 17, 2011

    @Rnady Bradley
    If you are skeptical about the existence of ducks, but the characteristics of ducks are clear, if one flew in your face you would see it and know that such a thing actually exists. This is a fair analogy of what skeptics do when looking for evidence of someone’s version of a god.

    If you are convinced of the existence of unicorns but the characteristics of unicorns are not set in stone then you will probably see unicorns wherever you see, or imagine you see, a four footed animal. That is one of the failings of the pattern sensing mechanisms of the healthy brain. This is a fair analogy of what convinced theists do when looking for their version of god.

    The mind blinkers are welded to your head, not to the head of the skeptic.

  135. #135 Rosemary
    July 17, 2011

    The problem with deciding whether a god exists is not in the least bit simple. Every theist presumes that the god that must exist is not only the god of their particular major religion but the one that conforms to their particular brand of that religion plus their own particular interpretation of this group version.

    It never seems to occur to them that their unique version of “god” is incompatible with just about everyone else’s version and therefore highly improbable. Neither does it occur to them that the “real” version of their particular religion’s god might be consistent with the very worst aspects of this god described in their sacred scriptures or the writings of their respected holy people. Would they be happy to discover that the god that actually exists is fearsome, vengeful, capricious, war-mongering, malicious, murderous, ignorant, arrogant, narcissistic, petty, immature and not at all interested in their welfare unless they behave like mindless sycophants?

  136. #136 Rosemary
    July 17, 2011

    @Anthony McCarthy

    God has a very poor track record as a leader of nations. Think of Cromwell, George W. Bush (God told me to invade Iraq), Hitler (God With Us), all of the Kings and Queens who ruled by “divine right” and the politicians who are “led by god” to cause all kinds of privations and suffering to others that somehow fail to adversely affect them.

  137. #137 Robert O'Brien
    July 17, 2011

    You can’t say the same thing about the atheist, anti-religious communist governments in the Soviet Union or in the countries it occupied, setting up atheist, anti-religious communist governments’.

    Fixed it for you.

    Utter Moron:

    That is not a fix, as the Soviet Union was atheistic and anti-religious as well as communist.

  138. #138 Verbose Stoic
    July 17, 2011

    KG,

    “What a bizarre claim. Until we have understood a concept (which requires that it has been defined coherently), the question of its instantiation cannot even arise. ”

    And yet, if that concept IS instantiated it will go on being instantiated regardless of our understanding of the concept. So, then, what’s bizarre about that claim? Surely you aren’t thinking along a philosophical line like “If no humans knew the moon existed, it wouldn’t exist, and so it didn’t exist before there were humans.”

  139. #139 AL
    July 17, 2011

    And yet, if that concept IS instantiated it will go on being instantiated regardless of our understanding of the concept. So, then, what’s bizarre about that claim? Surely you aren’t thinking along a philosophical line like “If no humans knew the moon existed, it wouldn’t exist, and so it didn’t exist before there were humans.

    No, that is not at all what we are saying. What we are saying is, if some people go around claiming there is this thing they call the “moon,” but either refuse to or do a poor job of defining it, then it is safe to conclude that their concept of a “moon” has no referent and ergo that it does not exist. There may or may not actually be a natural rocky satellite of our planet, but unless the moon proponents specifically define moon in this way, it is not the job of the moon skeptics to tell the moon proponents this is how they should define their concept. “Moon” is just a word first and foremost, before and until it is shown to be meaningful by those who use the word. Now, if the moon proponents do define moon as a rocky satellite or some similar way, then they have given a coherent definition of moon and we can reasonably begin discussing whether or not it refers to an existing thing. But in that case, your moon example would not be an example of what is being discussed, which is when proponents of a concept have not actually worked out a basic coherent working definition of said concept.

    Your very claim that the concept is instantiated regardless of our understanding of the concept is problematic. This makes no sense. If you have no understanding of your own concept, it’s a non-conceptualization. It ipso facto can’t be instantiated. There may be existing things out there, but a non-conceptualization has no referent and does not refer to any member of the set of existing things.

  140. #140 Mr. Roberto
    July 17, 2011

    C’mon, Rosie. Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. You’re supposedly open mind must’ve floated right out of your rapidly balding head if you expect anyone to believe you approached the topic wanting to learn anything other than the following:

    “I came to see theology as a moat protecting the castle of religion. But it was not a moat filled with water. No. It was filled with sewage. And the reason religion’s defenders wanted us to spend so much time splashing around in the moat had nothing to do with actually learning anything valuable or being edified by the experience. It was so that when we emerged on the other side we would be so rank and fetid and generally disgusted with ourselves that we would be in no condition to argue with anyone.”

    That kind of riff is usually indicative of someone who had contempt of the highest order already in place and was just looking for a good time to spew his own sewage.

    You also wrote: “I thought perhaps I was just reading the wrong writers, and that I would eventually come to the really good theology. But I never did.”

    Well, what qualifies as good theology to you? I’d bet a bucket of wig glue that in the end, well, nothing does.
    Nice try, though.

  141. #141 Verbose Stoic
    July 17, 2011

    Al,

    “Your very claim that the concept is instantiated regardless of our understanding of the concept is problematic. ”

    But I don’t claim that it IS instantiated. I claim that it might be, and that the fact that we don’t understand the concept doesn’t mean that there is no instantiation. Imagine, returning to the analogy, that people talked about a moon concept that was some kind of glowing ball in the sky. We’d say that they had a poorly understood concept, and that would make it difficult to test to see if a moon existed, especially if they said that it wasn’t the Sun. But that wouldn’t mean that a moon didn’t exist somewhere; moons would exist even if we couldn’t observe or understand them.

    My entire point here is to reject this sort of statement:

    ” …do a poor job of defining it, then it is safe to conclude that their concept of a “moon” has no referent and ergo that it does not exist.”

    This is categorically false. You can’t say ANYTHING about a poorly defined concept’s instantiations, since you don’t know what it would mean for it to refer or to exist. You can say that we don’t understand it enough to claim it exists, but you can’t then use that lack of understanding to declare it non-existent. The lack of understanding would work both ways.

  142. #142 Owlmirror
    July 17, 2011

    You can’t say ANYTHING about a poorly defined concept’s instantiations, since you don’t know what it would mean for it to refer or to exist. You can say that we don’t understand it enough to claim it exists, but you can’t then use that lack of understanding to declare it non-existent.

    That depends on what “poorly defined” means above, though. It might simply mean “imprecise”, in which case, I think your point stands.

    But if “poorly defined” means “logically contradictory” (whether explicitly or implicitly), or “contradictory to or inconsistent with some previous real-world observation”, I think “non-existent” is a reasonable conclusion.

    How would you give a definition — as good as you can think of — of the alleged topic under discussion, i.e., “God”?

  143. #143 Wowbagger
    July 17, 2011

    Robert O’Brien wrote:

    That is not a fix, as the Soviet Union was atheistic and anti-religious as well as communist.

    Great, we’ve got a particularly stupid child who’s wandered in at the end of film and asks a stupid question about what’s going on.

    Back to bed, little Bobby. This one is for adults.

  144. #144 Ian
    July 17, 2011

    ““Theology is generally understood today as `reasoned discourse about God.’”

    Theology is reasoned discourse that starts from a particular conception of God.

    I think it is quite possible to do atheist theology: starting from the concept of God that is mimetic, for example.

    “Of course, you’re welcome to say that God’s existence should be taken as axiomatic, but only if you’re also willing to demote theological discussion to the level of a debate over who would win a fight between Captain Kirk and Captain Picard”

    Or whether Hamlet was mad, or whether Macondo’s fate was pre-determined, or whether Ariadne was married to Dionysus before Theseus took her. Theological reasoning can be compelling and elegant (as much of Kierkegaard), clumsy and arrogant (c.f. Swinbourne), but all of it tells you more about human beings than a purported God. But none of that warrants it being blanket labelled as shit. Any more than all fiction is shit because it doesn’t tell the truth.

    “Even taken at face value the cosmological argument only gets you some sort of necessary being to set the whole chain of causes in motion.”

    Or many such beings. http://irrco.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/the-form-of-the-cosmological-argument/

  145. #145 AL
    July 17, 2011

    This is categorically false. You can’t say ANYTHING about a poorly defined concept’s instantiations, since you don’t know what it would mean for it to refer or to exist. You can say that we don’t understand it enough to claim it exists, but you can’t then use that lack of understanding to declare it non-existent. The lack of understanding would work both ways.

    Of course you can say something about whether or not a poorly defined concept can potentially have an instantiation. Owlmirror covered one counterexample above, the case of a logically contradictory conceptualization. I can define a “primevenite” to be an unmarried polygamist with number of spouses equal to the largest even prime number greater than two, and anyone can see clearly that this does not refer to anything existing. It is reasonable and safe to conclude that the concept has no referent, does not pertain to anything existing, and that anyone who wishes to argue for the existence of primevenites must start with a completely new re-conceptualization first.

    Logical self-contradiction isn’t the only case in which non-existence can be concluded. I define “cromulentness” to be a state of embodiment of “cromulence.” In turn, “cromulence” is defined as having the state of “cromulentness.” Nothing logically self-contradictory here. In fact, it’s very internally consistent. But again, any reasonable person can see plainly that this conceptualization is an empty, circular tautology. It is just a word or a set of words that ultimately refer back to itself and not to anything external. It is safe to conclude it has no reference or pertinence to anything existing externally to the tautology.

  146. #146 Verbose Stoic
    July 18, 2011

    Owlmirror,

    “Poorly defined” does mean the former, where you aren’t really sure what the concept entails or what’s really necessarily part of the concept. For the second part, the logically contradictory part, you really need to have a well-defined concept to make that determination. It really doesn’t work to say “Concept C has properties A and B, but properties A and B are contradictory, so C doesn’t exist” if the reply can be “Well, we don’t know that C has both A and B, or even one of A and B. We really aren’t sure”.

    Note that discovering this sort of contradiction might just be evidence that we’ve messed up the concept somewhere, and thus putting us right back into “poorly defined” as I use that term. Only if we stick with that definition of the concept can this really work.

    AL,

    I’ve addressed the first one, so let’s look at the second:

    ” define “cromulentness” to be a state of embodiment of “cromulence.” In turn, “cromulence” is defined as having the state of “cromulentness.” Nothing logically self-contradictory here. In fact, it’s very internally consistent. But again, any reasonable person can see plainly that this conceptualization is an empty, circular tautology. It is just a word or a set of words that ultimately refer back to itself and not to anything external. It is safe to conclude it has no reference or pertinence to anything existing externally to the tautology.”

    Well, this doesn’t work, because what you’d want to say is “Cromluence doesn’t exist”, and then anyone could quite reasonably ask you what you mean when you say “Cromulence”, so that you can say that it doesn’t exist. And you’d have to conclude that you have no idea what cromulence is. And then the reply would be then why you think you’re safe in concluding that this thing that you — and no one — really understands doesn’t exist. What precisely is it that you are saying doesn’t exist?

    Thus, you can’t say either that it exists or doesn’t exist. All you can say is that you don’t know what it is.

    Note that, to get back on topic, God isn’t quite in this case; we have better but still not fully worked out views of the various conceptions than you describe for cromulence, and the logical contradictions either can be argued to not really be ones or aren’t critical components of God (if you can’t have an all-good God, say, but keep everything else, would that still not count as a god?).

  147. #147 Owlmirror
    July 18, 2011

    Note that, to get back on topic, God isn’t quite in this case; we have better but still not fully worked out views of the various conceptions than you describe for cromulence, and the logical contradictions either can be argued to not really be ones or aren’t critical components of God .

    You can’t just stop at saying that the concept is not logically contradictory, though. You need to show empirical plausibility, if you’re making statements that imply the instantiation of a concept in empirical reality.

    I could define “God” as being a mass of pasta (spaghetti, say), that floats around in the air, is about 13 meters in diameter, and has two meatballs a meter in diameter for eyes, and can use the pasta as tentacular limbs or appendages.

    The above contains no logical contradictions, but I hope you would agree that it has no physical plausibility — given what we know about non-living things generally, and pasta in particular.

    And more seriously, if the definition of “God” includes “bodiless mind/intelligence/person”, well, I think it can reasonably be argued that we have no empirical reason to think that a mind/intelligence/person can exist without a body.

    (if you can’t have an all-good God, say, but keep everything else, would that still not count as a god?)

    What is “everything else”, in your definition? Try and be as comprehensive as possible.

  148. #148 josh
    July 18, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,
    The problem I think is that we, if I can speak collectively, say you should taylor your concepts to fit the world, not the other way around. You keep saying a concept might be “instantiated”, but this is a silly way to proceed. There are an infinite number of concepts you might come up with and it might be that none of them have any relevance to the world (outside of what they tell us about your brain.) It’s hopelessly confused to talk about concepts that are unclearly defined and yet are or are not instantiated.
    If you abstractly define a moon as “a big glowing ball in the sky”, that’s a coherent concept but irrelevant in the abstract. If we look up and see the Moon, we could say you got a lucky guess, but really let’s not talk about whether the Moon is an instantiation of your pre-existing concept of ‘moon’, let’s talk about that thing up in the sky that actually exists. Let’s learn more about it and modify our conceptions to better reflect what we learn.
    This is where theology falls on its face. There’s nothing there to attach concepts to or develop related ideas around. Everything we think we’ve learned shows a universe vastly different from a theologically conceived one, understood (to the best of our ability) in terms undreamt of by millenia of churchmen.
    Theology can chug along undeterred of course, building blurry castles in the sky, but don’t kid yourself. It falls hilariously short of the rigor of pure mathematics and there is, as noted above, no reason to take it more seriously than an argument about who would win in a fight between Kirk and Picard.

  149. #149 josh
    July 18, 2011

    Ugh, “tailor” above.

  150. #150 eric
    July 18, 2011

    Verbose stoic: You can’t say ANYTHING about a poorly defined concept’s instantiations, since you don’t know what it would mean for it to refer or to exist.

    I can say this: until the concept’s defenders come up with a definition which can be tested, etc… discussions of its instantiation is largely pointless navel-gazing unlikely to result in useful knowledge of the world.

    Whether some ill-defined concept of God exists may be presently indeterminable, but it is also largely irrelevant to practical matters. It is a useless concept. And in science, IMO, useless is worse than wrong.

  151. #151 KG
    July 18, 2011

    ‘And yet, if that concept IS instantiated it will go on being instantiated regardless of our understanding of the concept. So, then, what’s bizarre about that claim? Surely you aren’t thinking along a philosophical line like “If no humans knew the moon existed, it wouldn’t exist, and so it didn’t exist before there were humans.” – Verbose Stoic’

    Of course not. The point is a simple one: you refer in your first sentence to “that concept”, but without a coherent (although not necessarily precise or complete) definition, no such concept exists. If “God” could not be defined in a way that we can understand (in fact, I believe it can be so defined e.g. “Supernatural creator of the universe”), then no concept would be named by the word “God”, so the question of whether that concept is instantiated could not even arise, or to put it another way, “God exists” would not make any factual claim at all.

  152. #152 KG
    July 18, 2011

    “You can’t say ANYTHING about a poorly defined concept’s instantiations, since you don’t know what it would mean for it to refer or to exist. You can say that we don’t understand it enough to claim it exists, but you can’t then use that lack of understanding to declare it non-existent. The lack of understanding would work both ways. – Verbose Stoic”

    But this is pretty much the point I was making@133: until you have a coherently defined concept (and if whoever is attempting to define it cannot understand it, then they cannot define it coherently) no question of instantiation can arise, because no concept has been identified to ask that question about.

  153. #153 jpr
    July 18, 2011

    Well, I’m sympathetic to some of your arguments, but I’m not sure I want to be on the same team as someone who refers to one of the world’s major belief systems as “sewage.”

  154. #154 Owlmirror
    July 18, 2011

    Well, I’m sympathetic to some of your arguments, but I’m not sure I want to be on the same team as someone who refers to one of the world’s major belief systems as “sewage.”

    I’m sure that your offering of deep concern will be sorely missed.

    If you read carefully, he’s not calling the belief system sewage, but rather theology — the pseudointellectual defense of that belief system’s more nonsensical claims.

    And I agree with him on that point. Those who defend nonsense have nothing but bullshit.

  155. #155 Verbose Stoic
    July 19, 2011

    Sorry for not replying earlier, but I’ve been really busy lately.

    Anyway:

    Owlmirror,

    “You can’t just stop at saying that the concept is not logically contradictory, though. You need to show empirical plausibility, if you’re making statements that imply the instantiation of a concept in empirical reality.”

    So … what’s empirical reality, and how does it differ from other realities? I’m actually not trying to pick on you, but am actually asking this in all seriousness, because it seems to me that reality is reality, and so even if something couldn’t be studied empirically but could be proven to exist it’d be real, no matter how empirically implausible it might be. So I’m not sure why empirical plausibility — whatever that is — really matters, depending on how strict you are about empirical.

    This is really important because it seems to me that you want to use “empirical reality” to denote “the things that are really real” and that may well be going a bit far.

    Also, I never said you stopped at logical consistency either, so it’s even a bit off point.

    “I could define “God” as being a mass of pasta (spaghetti, say), that floats around in the air, is about 13 meters in diameter, and has two meatballs a meter in diameter for eyes, and can use the pasta as tentacular limbs or appendages.”

    And the question here is: what is it about that definition that makes that thing “God”? How can we say that that thing and the Christian God and Odin are all gods? What characteristics do they share in common? These questions are about the concept of God or god, not about any instantiation.

    “And more seriously, if the definition of “God” includes “bodiless mind/intelligence/person”, well, I think it can reasonably be argued that we have no empirical reason to think that a mind/intelligence/person can exist without a body.”

    So, introspection and ghost sightings don’t count as empirical? They aren’t scientific, but they might be empirical depending on the definition, and are more than simply no reason. I’m not going to say they’re correct, but there’s no more reason to think that you can’t have one either. The concept of mind doesn’t depend at all on being attached to a body, and it’s clear that it allows for disembodied consciousnesses. All you can do is try to argue that how humans are built denies this, but there’s a lot of work to do to really establish that enough to make the claim you’re claiming.

    “What is “everything else”, in your definition? Try and be as comprehensive as possible.”

    Sorry … but no. That’s a really long topic and is off-topic for this thread, so I’ll decline for now.

  156. #156 Verbose Stoic
    July 19, 2011

    josh,

    “The problem I think is that we, if I can speak collectively, say you should taylor your concepts to fit the world, not the other way around.”

    I think this is a really bad idea, since concepts don’t actually have to reflect things that really exist at all. My view is that you can — and philosophy and philosophical things like theology do — work primarily with concepts, and concepts have to work in all possible worlds, not just this one. When you’re talking about just this world, you’re talking about things, not concepts. All things participate in a concept, but not all concepts have instantiations in this world. But to me the concepts still exist and still have meaning, and when concepts do have instantiations you can learn a lot about the things by studying the concepts and vice versa. But there’s no notion of order here. Both are equally useful.

    For example, take the moon example. Imagine that someone sees the moon for the first time and claims it represents the concept “Moon”. We derive from that that a moon is a thing in the sky that lights up the night. And then we see, say, Venus. Is Venus a moon? No. Why isn’t it a moon? Well, because it’s not a satellite of the planet. And so we launch an artificial satellite. Is that a moon? No. Is it not a moon only because it doesn’t light up the night? Well, no. It’s not a natural satellite. So, what about asteroids? Are they moons? Etc, etc.

    The key is that a lot of conceptual work is going on here, and we’re tailoring a lot of the empirical classifications to the concept, and not the other way around. And it can be done without empirical examination, but reveal interesting things about what moons have to be.

    “This is where theology falls on its face. There’s nothing there to attach concepts to or develop related ideas around. Everything we think we’ve learned shows a universe vastly different from a theologically conceived one, understood (to the best of our ability) in terms undreamt of by millenia of churchmen. ”

    But why are you presuming that there’s nothing there, rather than that theologians — some of them, at least — have gotten the concepts and their consequences wrong?

    “Theology can chug along undeterred of course, building blurry castles in the sky, but don’t kid yourself. It falls hilariously short of the rigor of pure mathematics …”

    Theology is both philosophical itself and gets examined by philosophy of religion, and no field examines things more rigoruously than philosophy does. So at least intellectual theology as opposed to pop theology is more rigourous than mathematics, not less.

  157. #157 Verbose Stoic
    July 19, 2011

    I apologize for the multiple comments; I wanted to combine but the first two were getting long. I’ll combine the rest into this one.

    eric,

    “I can say this: until the concept’s defenders come up with a definition which can be tested, etc… discussions of its instantiation is largely pointless navel-gazing unlikely to result in useful knowledge of the world.

    This is kinda what I said: you can’t talk about the instantiation without understanding the concept, especially to say that you know it exists or know it doesn’t exist. However, knowing what the concept entails is what gives you that definition that can be tested. And a lot of the theological work that is derided was precisely giving a definition that could be tested and then finding out that the world didn’t seem to work that way. Why the concept didn’t just fall into “non-existent” is that those components weren’t critical ones for the concept.

    “Whether some ill-defined concept of God exists may be presently indeterminable, but it is also largely irrelevant to practical matters. It is a useless concept. And in science, IMO, useless is worse than wrong.”

    But we aren’t doing science; we’re doing philosophy. And philosophical work like that can do great things, such as create science in the first place.

    KG,

    I don’t think that concepts are “created” by understanding, but that concepts are things we essentially discover through thought and reason. That’s the difference here. Taking a concept like God, we may end up with a set of attributes that means that the concept can’t be actually understood well enough to look for an instantiation, but that would not justify saying that God doesn’t exist. It would just say that if God exists, we’ll never really know God does. This is the strong agnostic position, and is the position I hold.

    For me, that’s what belief is for.

  158. #158 eric
    July 19, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    knowing what the concept entails is what gives you that definition that can be tested. And a lot of the theological work that is derided was precisely giving a definition that could be tested and then finding out that the world didn’t seem to work that way.

    You consider this a defense of theology? Okay, moving on…

    Why the concept didn’t just fall into “non-existent” is that those components weren’t critical ones for the concept.

    You tell me that a lot of theological work has already been done on this topic. Two obvious questions spring to mind:
    (1) has all this past this work uncovered even one critical component of the definition?
    (2) if so, why did you test the non-critical components instead of testing those?

    Also, just for the record, I think what Coyne often derides is the very commonplace recurrence of what you consider to be already-tested-and-failed arguments. For example, Feser isn’t discussing some new theological argument that academia discovered in 2010; he’s talking about Aquinas’ arguments. IIRC, Coyne regularly takes issue with the exact defense your trying to mount, by pointing out that the vast majority of theological arguments real people use in real books and debate are exactly those failed arguments that academic theologians claim nobody believes any more.

    It’s like you’re standing in front of us skeptics claiming your club doesn’t follow baseball any more, while standing behind you there’s a thousand of your club members in full-on Red Sox paraphenalia; we don’t buy it.

  159. #159 KG
    July 19, 2011

    Theology is both philosophical itself and gets examined by philosophy of religion, and no field examines things more rigoruously than philosophy does. So at least intellectual theology as opposed to pop theology is more rigourous than mathematics, not less. – Verbose Stoic

    Unless you mean to claim that all philosophy is as rigorous as any other field (which would be absurd), you have put forward an invalid argument. You cannot deduce from the premises that theology is philosophy, that some philosophy examines theology, and that some philosophy has a specified degree of rigor, that theology has it, or that theology has been examined by philosophers with that degree of rigour. Even if you assume that all philosophy is as rigorous as any other field, you still cannot deduce that theology is more rigorous than mathematics, for two reasons: first, you have only claimed that “no field examines things more rigorously than philosophy does”, not that “no field examines things as rigorously as philosophy does”; second, mathematics is also examined by philosophy.

  160. #160 Owlmirror
    July 19, 2011

    So … what’s empirical reality, and how does it differ from other realities?

    Empirical reality is the common ground of what can be experienced. The “common ground” part is important; you may have a fine and vividly colourful experience after eating certain mushrooms, but it isn’t something that can be presented to anyone else. You could present the mushrooms to someone else, but their experience would not be the same as yours.

    “Other realities” are thus imaginary.

    even if something couldn’t be studied empirically but could be proven to exist it’d be real, no matter how empirically implausible it might be.

    “Proven to exist”, how?

    So, introspection and ghost sightings don’t count as empirical?

    How does “introspection” provide evidence of a bodiless mind? Your mind is entirely inside your body when you do it!

    Ghost sightings would count — if they could be demonstrated to be not imaginary.

    Until someone does so, the null hypothesis is that they are imaginary. They are completely inconsistent with anything we know about minds.

    The concept of mind doesn’t depend at all on being attached to a body, and it’s clear that it allows for disembodied consciousnesses.

    That may be more a problem with the concept of mind, though.

    I await, with interest, for you, or anyone else, to destroy their own body and brain, and demonstrate their mind magically continuing to exist. What’s stopping you?

    All you can do is try to argue that how humans are built denies this, but there’s a lot of work to do to really establish that enough to make the claim you’re claiming.

    Nonsense. The mind being the result of an functioning brain is the most parsimonious inference from the evidence of how minds work, based on all of the work already done in the neurosciences.

    The burden of proof is on you to kill yourself and haunt all of us naturalists with your ghostly moans of “I told you sooooooo!”

    “What is “everything else”, in your definition? Try and be as comprehensive as possible.”

    Sorry … but no. That’s a really long topic and is off-topic for this thread, so I’ll decline for now.

    Wait, what?

    The topic of this thread is theology. How can it be off-topic to provide a definition of the putative object of study???

  161. #161 Dan L.
    July 19, 2011

    Well, but see, in order to do that, I’d have to do that thing that’s just plain crap: theology. So do I have permission, then, to say that theology is a useful field of study to try to get at this concept and that people interested in the concept of God really do need to take it seriously?

    Go ahead and do theology. I can’t make a judgment on its utility until I see some results.

    Not by using the idea that we don’t understand the concept yet — since concepts that we don’t understand may well be instantiated, like say the quantum stuff — but you’re free to propose what you think is true about the concept and then argue that that would mean it isn’t instantiated or a feature of the world.

    It depends on what you mean by “understand.” I understand quantum mechanics — if I perform a particular calculation I get the probability of a particular outcome of a particular experiment. This is not a good example because the problem with “understanding” QM has nothing to do with precision: QM is very precise, it’s just counterintuitive.

    The notion of God, on the other hand, is apparently very intuitive (I’ve never felt this way about it, but other people seem to), but it’s hellishly imprecise. And since it’s imprecise it’s impossible to deduce the phenomenal consequences of its truth. And if I can’t do that I can’t determine the difference between a world in which the concept is instantiated and a world in which it is not. And of course, imprecision in formulating concepts can mask subtle internal contradictions, potentially hiding the fact that a superficially plausible concept is actually logically impossible.

    So give me a meaningful definition of “God” if you want me to take the idea seriously. I don’t think that’s a very controversial or unreasonable position.

    “The problem I think is that we, if I can speak collectively, say you should taylor your concepts to fit the world, not the other way around.”

    I think this is a really bad idea, since concepts don’t actually have to reflect things that really exist at all. My view is that you can — and philosophy and philosophical things like theology do — work primarily with concepts, and concepts have to work in all possible worlds, not just this one.

    Actually, it’s a really good idea if concepts don’t actually have to reflect things that exist. If you start with the real world and work towards concepts (choosing not to consider concepts that aren’t reflected somehow by the real world) you have a much smaller chance of winding up with concepts that don’t reflect the real world than if you start with concepts (which may or may not reflect anything in the real world) and work towards the real world (since you can probably shoehorn your concepts in somehow ex post facto).

    I can’t understand how you came to the opposite conclusion.

  162. #162 Dan L.
    July 19, 2011

    The concept of mind doesn’t depend at all on being attached to a body, and it’s clear that it allows for disembodied consciousnesses.

    I’d also like to see the justification for the above quote. I’ve never had any experience of a mind that doesn’t depend on being attached to a body. I don’t think disembodied consciousness is a coherent concept. What sort of thoughts does a disembodied consciousness have? Does it articulate those thoughts in a language? If so, how was that language learned? What does the mental imagery consist of, given that this disembodied consciousness presumably has no previous sensual experience to use as a model?

  163. #163 josh
    July 19, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    “I think this is a really bad idea, since concepts don’t actually have to reflect things that really exist at all…”

    That’s the problem being pointed out to you, c.f. the Star Trek example. It’s not that you can’t formulate random concepts\
    , it’s that this is no way to pursue truth about what “really” exists. You haven’t argued why I should care about your fanfic. You start slipping into modal rhetoric but I find this to be a pretty awful way to think about things. We don’t know
    of any other “possible worlds”, we only have the one actual world. (Even if it is in fact a multiverse.)

    When you talk about truths or concepts in all possible worlds, you’re really talking about your thoughts in this one. Concepts are things, or if you prefer, the notion of a “thing” is just a concept. Possible worlds are just little simulations you run in your mind in the real world, but your mind is pretty limited even for running simulations based on your best knowledge of the actual world. Why would you think it is reliable with counterfactuals?

    So you can study your concepts of course but you are mostly exploring the internal phase space of your brain. Granted, the ‘external world’ is also part of that internal space, but I’m looking for consistency between all my experiences, a coherence between all my sensations and concepts. That’s why I want to test and modify my concept of the Moon with my experiences and other concepts relating to it.

    That’s what your hypothetical moon-viewer is doing in your example. He sees the moon and formulates a concept of it. He sees other heavenly objects and wants to distinguish them, since his actual experiences differentiate them. So the moon concept becomes more than ‘that thing’ or ‘a shiny ball in the sky’, it comes to encompass ‘non-artificial’ or ‘orbiting a planet’ and so forth. But even then your concept is an arbitrary and artificial categorization, it’s only a heuristic because the universe doesn’t have a category moon and not-moon. Those are approximations of your thinking that will break down when examined closely. If your concept of ‘moon’ is untethered to any reality then it doesn’t “have to be” anything, it’s whatever your brain wants it to be.

    “But why are you presuming that there’s nothing there, rather than that theologians — some of them, at least — have gotten the concepts and their consequences wrong?”

    I’m not presuming anything. Whatever is there is there. What I find is that the theologians HAVE got their concepts wrong. They don’t reflect what is actually there. It makes no sense to talk of god as existing if what exists does not even approximately match the concepts associated with god.

    “Intellectual theology … is more rigorous than mathematics.”

    Are you kidding? Rigor is exacting coherence and strict adherence to unambiguous rules, rigor is the case where the status of an outcome with respect to those rules can be determined exactly. Pure mathematics, in the sense of symbol manipulation from a set of initial axioms according to axiomatic rules, is rigorous. Once you try to adduce meaning to those symbols or translate them to another set, you are doing interpretation and you lose rigor. Modern science is pretty good at striking a balance here, theology not so much.

    Anyhow, I do appreciate your replying to multiple commenters, so thanks for that.

  164. #164 Dan L.
    July 20, 2011

    Theology is both philosophical itself and gets examined by philosophy of religion, and no field examines things more rigoruously than philosophy does. So at least intellectual theology as opposed to pop theology is more rigourous than mathematics, not less.

    Didn’t notice this before but it’s very silly. Mathematics is the full limit of rigor. Mathematics even has a subdomain, metamathematics, that is essentially a critique of the very concepts of logic and rigor.

    VS, can we please stop playing the academic priority game? It’s really tiresome for those of us who think that the structure of academic subjects doesn’t necessarily reflect the ontological structure of the rest of the world.

  165. #165 Verbose Stoic
    July 21, 2011

    Back again. I’ll try to combine comments for the smaller stuff into as few as possible, so please bear with me.

    eric,

    “You tell me that a lot of theological work has already been done on this topic. Two obvious questions spring to mind:
    (1) has all this past this work uncovered even one critical component of the definition?
    (2) if so, why did you test the non-critical components instead of testing those?”

    1) Well, the standard “Gods are supernatural” would count if anyone could define what supernatural meant. For specific conceptions we can get some (for example, it would be hard to believe in a Christian God that wasn’t involved at all in creating us). Admittedly, concepts change as well, or at least the ones that are important to people do, which is, to me, part of the fun of philosophy; I’ve changed from naive concepts to much more in-depth ones over the course of my education.

    2) Because they thought they were critical until someone pointed out that they really weren’t. An example might be the clash over scientific facts in the Bible. While some people might have expected it to be scientifically accurate, later discussion revealed that there was no reason to think that. My reply to the common notion of “If it did work, you wouldn’t say that” was actually “You’re right … but I still should.”

    “Also, just for the record, I think what Coyne often derides is the very commonplace recurrence of what you consider to be already-tested-and-failed arguments. For example, Feser isn’t discussing some new theological argument that academia discovered in 2010; he’s talking about Aquinas’ arguments.”

    The problem is that Feser’s understanding of the argument is the refined version, with various concepts clarified and expanded. As he says in his post on understanding it, claims of “Everything must have a cause therefore there must be an uncaused thing” aren’t the sort of argument that he’s talking about there. There may well be or have been simple Cosmological Arguments that said that, but we’ve moved past that. So they aren’t the defeated/tested ones that are coming up again. Coyne’s criticism is identical to opposing Utilitarianism based on claiming that it simply maximizes pleasure and minimizes suffering. That’s a short-hand way to describe it, but it’s advanced far beyond that basic principle, with notions of quality added by Mill and Rule Utilitarianism and all sorts of other enhancements. You can’t judge a theory as just a restatement of a failed one until you observe how it has changed in response to that.

    KG,

    Huh?

    Philosophy, as a field, is more rigourous than any other. Are all instances necessarily rigourously examined at the point in time? No, but they will be, because that’s what philosophy does. Theology is examined in detail by philosophy of religion, in a way that is different from what philosophy of science and philosophy of mathematics do. Theological arguments are held to philosophical standards by philosophical religion, but scientific and mathematical theories generally are not. Thus, philosophy of religion will claim a theological theory wrong if it doesn’t conform to philosophical standards, but they won’t do that for science or mathematics. That’s where the difference in rigour comes in. I’ll address the question in more detail with the people arguing over who’s more rigourous. And that’s a good place to stop this already long comment.

  166. #166 Verbose Stoic
    July 21, 2011

    Owlmirror,

    “Empirical reality is the common ground of what can be experienced. The “common ground” part is important; you may have a fine and vividly colourful experience after eating certain mushrooms, but it isn’t something that can be presented to anyone else. You could present the mushrooms to someone else, but their experience would not be the same as yours.

    “Other realities” are thus imaginary.”

    So, what about things that exist that can’t be experienced? Let’s take multiverses. Imagine that we could prove that there had to exist other multiverses. Imagine that in so proving we could determine that a specific multiverse had to exist that had no causal impact on our universe, and so couldn’t be observed by us. Imagine also that just by following that same set of rules we could define qualities that had to be true in that multiverse. Would that multiverse and its qualities be imaginary? Hardly. But it’s not part of our shared experience. That also answers how you might go about proving the existence of something that you can’t experience; extrapolation from the rules like Hawking and others do to argue for multiverses in the first place. You can claim that this has an empirical basis in our experiences, but that’s going to be pushing it for details about another multiverse.

    “How does “introspection” provide evidence of a bodiless mind? Your mind is entirely inside your body when you do it!”

    We introspect on the properties of mind and note that they don’t seem to be properties of bodies, or of the various problems they create for materialist/brain theories of mind. Which then suggests that if mind is not like the body, it need not be so, and then it might be able to be separated from it. It’s not direct proof, but then the existence of theoretical entities suggests that you don’t need to be able to directly see something to have evidence of its existence; all theoretical entities in science are are entities posited to explain other effects. Which also answers your ghost example; that’s not the only way to get evidence of something and isn’t how any examination works.

    “Nonsense. The mind being the result of an functioning brain is the most parsimonious inference from the evidence of how minds work, based on all of the work already done in the neurosciences.”

    Parsimony only works when the two theories explain roughly the same phenomena. The materialist/dualist theories don’t. Dualist theories explain really well the properties of phenomenal experience and how phenomenal experience can actually have an impact; materialist theories — especially those about brains — tend to ignore qualia and run into the issue that if phenomenal experiences are the result of neural activations and neural activations are causally complete — required for the materialist theory — then there’s no room for them and their properties to do anything in and of themselves. Materialist theories, however, handle mental causation really well in the sense that there’s no mystery involved, and it allows us to explain behaviour really well. Which one you prefer, then, depends on what things you want explained. Parsimony isn’t relevant yet.

    “The topic of this thread is theology. How can it be off-topic to provide a definition of the putative object of study???”

    The topic of the thread — at least in my portion — is about what theology does and if it’s useful. My claim was that it’s job is to figure out the concept of God and that it hasn’t done it yet. Don’t you think that demanding that I give what I said was still in progress is a bit off-topic for that subthread?

    Dan L.,

    “It depends on what you mean by “understand.” I understand quantum mechanics — if I perform a particular calculation I get the probability of a particular outcome of a particular experiment.”

    That’s not understanding. We have equations, but have no idea why they work, which is what we need for understanding.

    “Actually, it’s a really good idea if concepts don’t actually have to reflect things that exist. If you start with the real world and work towards concepts (choosing not to consider concepts that aren’t reflected somehow by the real world) you have a much smaller chance of winding up with concepts that don’t reflect the real world than if you start with concepts (which may or may not reflect anything in the real world) and work towards the real world (since you can probably shoehorn your concepts in somehow ex post facto).

    I can’t understand how you came to the opposite conclusion.”

    There’s a page on my blog about “The Philosophical Method” that should help, but here’s the short form: things philosophical care about concepts more than about things. Literally, philosophy’s job is to DO conceptual analysis. This means that they care about concepts that are instantiated AND about those that aren’t. Concepts are, basically, cool to the philosopher whether they exist or not, just like mathematics is cool to the mathematician whether science can use it or not. By tying either of those fields to the real world, you limit what they’re actually interested in in an artificial manner simply to support your scientific endeavours. But what any field finds interesting cannot be dictated by other fields. Now, it is the case that all of these fields can do things that interest the other, but you can’t make a claim that the field is doing something wrong or is useless because it doesn’t do what your field does.

    Of all the fields, science is the worst for insisting that other fields be judged by its standards and philosophy and mathematics are better and about equally good at letting the other fields do what they want and simply offering advice and stealing ideas as appropriate.

  167. #167 Verbose Stoic
    July 21, 2011

    Dan L.,

    “I don’t think disembodied consciousness is a coherent concept. What sort of thoughts does a disembodied consciousness have? Does it articulate those thoughts in a language? If so, how was that language learned? What does the mental imagery consist of, given that this disembodied consciousness presumably has no previous sensual experience to use as a model?”

    These are all empirical complaints, not conceptual ones. If I could prove that a disembodied mind existed, all of these would be simply questions, not objections. We can clearly conceive of what a disembodied mind would generally be like, as we can conceive of mind switching — see “Freaky Friday” scenarios — and ghosts. Your questions are details.

    (Note on language, just for fun: Fodor proposed a Language of Thought to deal with other issues that would work well there [grin]).

    josh,

    “That’s the problem being pointed out to you, c.f. the Star Trek example. It’s not that you can’t formulate random concepts\
    , it’s that this is no way to pursue truth about what “really” exists.”

    Well, see, I agree with you that it’s not a great way to go looking at things. I think the scientific method works really well for looking at things, it being its job and all. But it’s a terrible way to go looking at concepts, and that’s what philosophical things do, and to me theology is using the Philosophical Method. Maybe we need a scientific theology to really get at God, but we’d have to know that we have a clear enough understanding of the concept and know that God is a thing in the sense that science studies. Both of these are highly debatable.

    Ultimately, my stance is that while conceptual analysis and “thing analysis” are different projects, both can inform the other. But you don’t do one by using the methods of the other.

    To follow up on the moon example, conceptual analysis can ask and answer some of those questions without your having to have found anything like that first, which is quite useful should you ever find one.

    “I’m not presuming anything. Whatever is there is there. What I find is that the theologians HAVE got their concepts wrong. They don’t reflect what is actually there. It makes no sense to talk of god as existing if what exists does not even approximately match the concepts associated with god.”

    Again, concepts apply whether or not the thing exists. What you’re doing it trying to claim the concept wrong based on what things exist, and that’s not allowed. The existence of an instantation of a concept is different than the definition of a concept. I argue that we don’t have a clear enough concept of God to judge the instantiation, and we might never be able to. You can’t look for the existence of something that you have no idea what it would be if it did exist.

    I’m also not sure what you mean by “rigour”. To me, it always meant careful and intense examination of all premises, assumptions, principles and conclusions. If that’s what it means, philosophy has it in spades, and philosophy of religion holds theology to it for intellectual theology, like Platinga’s or Aquinas’ or Augustine’s. I don’t really do mathematical theorizing, but I can’t see mathematics being MORE rigourous than philosophy, where every single premise and conclusion is analyzed to death.

    So what, then, is your example of theology not being rigourous?

    Dan L.,

    “VS, can we please stop playing the academic priority game? It’s really tiresome for those of us who think that the structure of academic subjects doesn’t necessarily reflect the ontological structure of the rest of the world.”

    I didn’t start the priority game, so why do you think it’s up to me to stop it? When people stop deriding theology and philosophy and claiming that mathematics is the most rigourous field, then I’ll stop defending my field — philosophy, mainly — from the charges of people outside that field.

  168. #168 Owlmirror
    July 21, 2011

    Imagine that we could prove that there had to exist other multiverses. Imagine that in so proving we could determine that a specific multiverse had to exist that had no causal impact on our universe, and so couldn’t be observed by us.

    You’re not making sense, here.

    First of all, what do you even mean by “prove”? All ideas about multiverses arise from theory; from mathematically consistent sets of equations. But those coming up with those equations acknowledge that they don’t count as proof. The equations might be wrong.

    The only thing that would count as proof — or rather, as confirmational support of the theory — would be finding something that does have causal impact on our universe.

    We introspect on the properties of mind and note that they don’t seem to be properties of bodies,

    I’m not getting what you intend by “introspect”, here. Do you mean “fantasize”? “Play make-believe”? “Make shit up”? I mean, I can “introspect” that way on the properties of elephants, and note that they can fly by flapping their ears, but that has nothing to do with the actual properties of elephants and their ears, any more than being detachable from bodies is an actual property of minds.

    or of the various problems they create for materialist/brain theories of mind.

    What various problems?

    Which then suggests that if mind is not like the body, it need not be so, and then it might be able to be separated from it.

    Only inasmuch as an elephant “might” be able to fly by flapping its ears.

    Which also answers your ghost example; that’s not the only way to get evidence of something and isn’t how any examination works.

    What could you possibly mean by this? That you’re allowed to make stuff up, and offer no evidence or logic in support of it, and then say that evidence and logic don’t count anyway?

    Dualist theories explain really well the properties of phenomenal experience and how phenomenal experience can actually have an impact;

    Only if by “explain” you mean the same thing as your “introspection” above. Hey! Let’s “explain” experience with an invisible intangible homunculus that watches the Cartesian theatre! Yeah, that “works” really well! Never mind that there’s no evidence for it.

    materialist theories — especially those about brains — tend to ignore qualia

    What do you mean by “ignore” qualia, when they explicitly try to explain it?

    and run into the issue that if phenomenal experiences are the result of neural activations and neural activations are causally complete — required for the materialist theory — then there’s no room for them and their properties to do anything in and of themselves.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about here.

    The topic of the thread — at least in my portion — is about what theology does and if it’s useful. My claim was that it’s job is to figure out the concept of God and that it hasn’t done it yet.

    I would argue that you are in a distinct, and possibly unique, minority, in that theistic theologians see theology as being “useful” to defend (apologize for) theistic belief and attack atheism, regardless of whether the concept of God exists, or is coherent.

    Don’t you think that demanding that I give what I said was still in progress is a bit off-topic for that subthread?

    I concede that I am so demanding, but not that it is off-topic at all.

    I mean, even an approximation of a definition, if you can’t be rigorous, would be on topic.

    ======

    We can clearly conceive of what a disembodied mind would generally be like, as we can conceive of mind switching — see “Freaky Friday” scenarios — and ghosts.

    We can also clearly conceive of what a flying elephant would be like, or a teleportation device, or FTL travel. Are you arguing that fiction is magically equivalent to fact?

    When people stop deriding theology and philosophy and claiming that mathematics is the most rigourous field, then I’ll stop defending my field — philosophy, mainly — from the charges of people outside that field.

    So… you’re basically offering apologetics, here, is what you’re saying?

  169. #169 eric
    July 21, 2011

    Verbose stoic: Coyne’s criticism is identical to opposing Utilitarianism based on claiming that it simply maximizes pleasure and minimizes suffering.

    If that’s the actual claim that actual utilitarians make, then it’s a legitimate criticism. Do you agree?

    This is analogous to the case of religion, as the more simple versions of the arguments for god – which you pooh pooh – are the actual arguments that actual believers make. They don’t make your argument(s).

    You can’t judge a theory as just a restatement of a failed one until you observe how it has changed in response to that.

    I sure can, when the vast majority of theory-defenders are defending the original version and only a few white-tower academics are defending the updated version. Which is pretty much the case with theology.

    Let’s say that all Americans but me believed that the sun orbits the earth. I believe the earth orbits the sun. Now you come along and say: Americans as a group are astronomical idiots. And I reply: not true! You are only considering the old belief held by some Americans, not the new, revised belief espoused by me. If you look at my belief, you’ll see that we Americans know our Astronomical stuff.

    Would you find such a reply convincing? Do you understand why we might not find your “Its not true that Christian arguments for God are terrible! If you look at Fesers argument for God…” argument?

  170. #170 josh
    July 22, 2011

    I had a long comment in reply to Verbose Stoic that seems to have vanished into the waiting for approval ether. Nothing personal or offensive in it. I don’t know that anyone but me is still checking this thread though so I’m not going to rewrite it.

  171. #171 Verbose Stoic
    July 22, 2011

    eric,

    See, the issue here is that we aren’t talking about RELIGION here, but THEOLOGY. There might be a case for saying that if you’re talking about religion you don’t care about what people in ivory towers say, but if you’re talking about theology then that really is JUST what the people in the ivory towers say. You can’t dismiss theology based on folk or pop theology anymore than you can dismiss physics based on folk physics or psychology based on pop psychology.

    To summarize, when you’re criticizing the academic field of theology, it isn’t a good argument to argue that BELIEVERS make those arguments; you really do have to address the arguments that theologians actually make.

    josh,

    I am still checking, but if you really want to continue this you can drop an E-mail to me. Address is on my blog.

    That’s why you need to care more about arguments like Feser’s and less about what the average person is saying on, say, blog posts. How I described Utilitarianism is a decent quick summary of the basic or naive position, but Utilitarians have moved far past that. I might use arguments that work against the naive version against naive conceptions, but I won’t declare that defeating that naive version will defeat all types, like people here have for the Cosmological Argument

  172. #172 Verbose Stoic
    July 22, 2011

    Owlmirror,

    “First of all, what do you even mean by “prove”? All ideas about multiverses arise from theory; from mathematically consistent sets of equations. But those coming up with those equations acknowledge that they don’t count as proof. The equations might be wrong.”

    So, is there no case where they could say that the theory must work out and so there must be multiverses? I’m going to say “Yes” since that could be done for theoretical entities and multiverses are, in fact, just that. Thus, there may well be a way to prove that multiverses exist and even some of their properties without being able to observe them ourselves, which is what I was arguing.

    “I’m not getting what you intend by “introspect”, here. Do you mean “fantasize”? “Play make-believe”? “Make shit up”? ”

    Wait … do you really not know what “introspection” means in relation to Philosophy of Mind? The quick version is: take any mental phenomena — like imagery or mental speech — hold it in your mind, and then examine its properties. For example, for me it’s easy for me to remember sounds I’ve heard — songs or speech — and then examine what the properties of it are, and this allows me to determine that there seems to be little missing and yet there’s a qualitative difference. Introspection has been used as an examining technique as far back as Descartes.

    So, no, it isn’t “making shit up”.

    “Only if by “explain” you mean the same thing as your “introspection” above. Hey! Let’s “explain” experience with an invisible intangible homunculus that watches the Cartesian theatre! Yeah, that “works” really well! Never mind that there’s no evidence for it.”

    You DO realize that dualist theories don’t have to invoke the Cartesian theatre, right? It seems right here that this is just another case where you’re dismissing a theory without having an inkling of what people who hold it are actually arguing, and arguing against it by ridicule instead of logic.

    “What do you mean by “ignore” qualia, when they explicitly try to explain it?”

    They don’t. Dennett basically tries to claim that qualia is not really there, or that if it is it isn’t important, others argue based entirely on a notion of “awareness” that doesn’t need to include qualia or phenomenal experiences at all, and Jaegwon Kim is explicitly epiphenomenal, arguing that phenomenal experiences have no causal power. No, they don’t explicitly try to explain it. They try to explain conscious behaviour, but end up leaving phenomenal experience out because it’s hard to do from their perspective.

    “I would argue that you are in a distinct, and possibly unique, minority, in that theistic theologians see theology as being “useful” to defend (apologize for) theistic belief and attack atheism, regardless of whether the concept of God exists, or is coherent.”

    Actually, I’d say these theologians are in the minority, as most theologians just do work on the concept of God. I’d claim that your view is biased because those are the ones you come across as you see theology that responds to atheists. Admittedly, though, mine is biased as well since I come from philosophy of religion, not theology.

    “I mean, even an approximation of a definition, if you can’t be rigorous, would be on topic.”

    It still would be since I argued that the definition is in great need of work.

    “We can also clearly conceive of what a flying elephant would be like, or a teleportation device, or FTL travel. Are you arguing that fiction is magically equivalent to fact?”

    No. His argument was that he didn’t think a disembodied mind was CONCEPTUALLY valid. I replied that it clearly was conceptually valid. I said nothing about the instantiation. You are confusing the two yet again.

  173. #173 eric
    July 22, 2011

    See, the issue here is that we aren’t talking about RELIGION here, but THEOLOGY.

    Well, okay, given the title of this post I guess I have to concede that point. But it still seems like you’re giving a version of the courtier’s reply. Your argument boils down to something like this: if we have found holes in every theological proof put forward so far, the obvious conclusion is…we must read Jingleheimerschmitt’s before we conclude the field is no good! That’s no good. Such reasoning is a neverending dodge. There is always another theologian whom we haven’t read.

    At some point, it is perfectly rational and justifiable to start assuming that the stuff we haven’t read will resemble the stuff we have. After many failed attempts (centuries of attempts!) at proving God, there’s no longer any good reason to remain neutral/withold judgement any more. Rather, it is reasonable to make a judgement (that theological proofs are bunk), and operate as if it were true until, at some future time, someone proves it wrong.

  174. #174 Verbose Stoic
    July 22, 2011

    eric,

    I don’t think it’s ever reasonable to declare a set of proofs or an academic field as “bunk” unless you are up-to-date in it and are well-versed in that field. That’s what the objection here is: that you’re dismissing arguments as bunk without understanding them.

    See, one of the main issues is that while you’ve found how the arguments don’t work (maybe) … theologians and philosophers of religion are, in fact, way ahead of you. They’ve found the holes and some of them have tried to patch them. The field is far further ahead than most of the naive replies give it credit for. But when this is pointed out replies of “That’s the Courtier’s Reply!” are given, when that makes no sense whatsoever. You can’t criticize someone’s argument if you don’t understand what it is.

    It may or may not surprise you that I have some of the same problems with the Cosmological Argument that the atheists attacking it have advanced. And yet even though I think it wrong I think it interestingly wrong. There’s more going on there than a lot of people realize. Why those atheists don’t see it is hard for me to explain, but I think the most likely answer — certainly from Coyne, and maybe from Jason Rosenhouse — is that they’re looking too much for a perfect proof and not enough for an interesting examination of the concept, and so end up judging the field entirely by the standards of their fields and not by the standards it actually has.

  175. #175 josh
    July 22, 2011

    Damn I really wish my comment had showed up, maybe I’ll get bored and write a new version of it tonight.

    On a different theme: Verbose Stoic, you ,ironically,have not understood the Courtier’s Reply. It is not simply “I can dismiss your position without understanding it.” It is more along the lines of, “I don’t have to fisk every version of your argument to understand that your conclusion is wrong. If you want to persuade me that your interminable treatise may be of interest, you have to show me evidence that you are on a valid track first.”

    I don’t have to plow through the back pages of Circle Squaring Quarterly to conclude that its proponents are wrong. If they don’t in fact mean that they believe quadrature is possible, the onus is on them to bring there language in line with contemporary mathematics. By contrast, although it may take years of study and hundreds of pages to become an expert in quantum physics, I can lay out the reasons for developing such a topic in a few non-controversial examples. I can point you to experiments that forced the development of the modern concepts at every step. I can point to the fact that the model makes predictions in agreement with experiment out to 10 decimal places. And yet, I don’t make claims that it is the ultimate or most fundamental fact of existence, nor do I claim moral authority from it.

    You think the Cosmological Argument is interestingly wrong. We think it is wrong. There may be interesting things to discuss; certainly, our ideas of cause and effect, infinite series, the nature of explanations are topics some of us will indulge in. But you’re not going to get from there to the God of Abraham, Incarnated in the Son of Man. And when we check, every time we find, lo and behold, that you don’t even get out the door, relying on sloppy medievalisms and non-sequiturs.

    It’s like that Far Side cartoon where an old couple are driving around a cramped car on the moon with a road map sprawled across the dash board. The caption (from memory) is: “Well for heaven sakes Henry, look where the Earth is now! Pull over and let me drive.”

  176. #176 eric
    July 22, 2011

    Verbose Stoic: See, one of the main issues is that while you’ve found how the arguments don’t work (maybe) … theologians and philosophers of religion are, in fact, way ahead of you.

    Well, I just put a comment in Jason’s latest thread which basically implies that they aren’t. I think what we are seeing with Feser’s cosmological argument (as an example) is a repeat of calculus and Zeno’s paradox(es). The solution to a philosophical problem is coming from outside philosophy, and so it’s not immediately apparent to theologians and philosophers. In this case: Feser seems to be starting with a premise disproven by quantum mechanics back in the 1950′s.

  177. #177 Aaron
    July 23, 2011

    Any theology that pretends to be speaking The Truth must be taken with a grain of salt. It is possible to have “good theology” that is mistaken about its metaphysical reality.

    As far as your theologians you chose, Tillich (and perhaps Kierkegaard) is the only one that could possibly taken seriously at face value. But theology need not be understood as an exploration into the really Real, but it is good inasmuch as it is inspiring poetics about the nature of human existence and the “ought” of life in light of the “is.” Many theologians are more or less atheists: Vattimo, Caputo, Zizek, Altizer, for instance. Even Paul Tillich would pass for an atheist in most circles. But theology is not limited to theists, and theistic theology need not be understood theistically to be profound.

    So if you’re looking for The Truth about reality, don’t turn to theology. And if you’re trying to evaluate theology, don’t evaluate on the degree to which it contains The Truth. Great theology knows it doesn’t contain it, and a good reader of theology knows that the value of a given theologian rests in a poetic reading of the texts. Aquinas was a monster metaphysician, but his value is not restricted to his metaphysics, which cannot be taken at face value in this day and age.

  178. #178 josh
    July 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic @167, etc.

    Okay, I’m trying to reproduce the screed that got eated by the internets. Apologies if the original suddenly appears and I look like an ass.

    First off, I encourage you to stop thinking of science, philosophy and mathematics as categorically separate disciplines. They are not arbitrary games played by different sets of rules. Who, after all, can set the rules? It’s not Physics intruding on Philosophy’s demesne, it’s two humans trying to come to a mutual understanding of the universe. Besides, if they can’t comment on each other’s methods, then philosophers like Feser couldn’t declaim that “science can’t disprove god” and would have to take up a more respectable hobby.

    Anyhow, as to your notions of concepts and instantiated things: They are both concepts. Harry Potter and Barack Obama are both ideas floating around in your mind. You think Barack Obama is instantiated, as in some sense do I, but “instantiated” itself is just a concept. Don’t be hasty to assign “different methods”. Are you doing philosophy or science when you consider the concept of an instantiated thing? And how do you decide what is instantiated if, perhaps, you have the wrong concept of instantiation.

    So what does it mean to say that a concept is wrong, or that it applies? It’s an issue of coherence. Belief in a flat earth is irrational, because the concept of a flat earth is incompatible with the concept that Magellan in fact circumnavigated the world. But, you say, the flat earth remains a concept, although not an instantiated one. How do we deal with this? We have a notion of internal consistency. Well, we say, if the world was flat Magellan couldn’t have sailed in a straight(taking liberties here for simplicity) line and come back to where he began, he would have fallen off the edge. Note that this conceptual analysis is exactly what is done in our sciency conclusion that the world isn’t flat.

    Sticking with our counterfactual, the ‘fact’ that Magellan falls off the edge seems coherent. But wait, does he fall? Gravity makes things fall in the real world but it also forms planets into spheroids and pulls towards the center. So perhaps in flat earth universe, gravity is a preferred direction such that the universe has a top and bottom. But then why doesn’t the earth fall to the bottom, why don’t the stars fall on the earth? And if they don’t then maybe Magellan doesn’t fall. Etc, etc. As we move away from reality, our concept becomes more and more ad hoc, it just becomes an agglomeration of words and phrases, not right or wrong except by reference to reality. Internal consistency is exceedingly limited because there is no way to consistently pick which ‘real’ concepts to include in the analysis, unless you pick all of them and then ‘internal’ consistency has become regular old ‘external’ consistency, i.e. science.

    It turns out, we aren’t actually very good at doing conceptual analysis in a vacuum. We import and abrogate concepts and truths borrowed from reality arbitrarily, mostly without our awareness, and coherence itself becomes arbitrary. Scientists deal with this by constantly checking against our experience of reality. We say, in effect, reality is the arbiter of consistency. It is what keeps track of all the details and your conception has gone too far afield when it can’t be successfully referenced to the real world. There’s a lot of leeway to develop new concepts and nothing is irreversible, but reality is the measure of a concepts correctness. Rigor here is the requirement to test against reality with predictions.

    You can also try to arbitrate consistency by setting up a rigid set of axiomatic, unambiguous rules, which include a completely delineated set of abstract objects the rules can act on. This is ‘pure’ math, just mechanical symbol manipulation. It is rigorous to the extent the rules decide all outcomes, but the rules are arbitrary. There is no meaning to the symbols or outcomes except that in our reality that is apparently the result of following that rule convention. And ‘following’ is itself a notion of consistency that can’t be distinguished from the ‘real’ world, so checking a pure symbol proof is an empirical act.

    I doubt there are many mathematicians who work in quite such a pure abstraction of course. Rather, we develop mathematics to try and model the world of experience. The natural numbers, e.g., come about as a way to model our concept of discrete objects. But our concept of discrete objects is a very limited model for most of reality. So we expand and modify the model but this leads to difficulty for many people. They thought they knew what a number was but then what are zeros or negative numbers or imaginary numbers or infinities or countable vs uncountable infinities? If these are just thought of as new or modified rules of symbol manipulation there can be no objections, nor reason to include of reject them. But when we try to interpret them, give them meaning as models of reality, we must be very careful.

    So turning back to theology after that windy discursion: You can try to see what a particular concept, which you call god, entails, but it’s a fool’s errand if you don’t start from reality to arrive at and refine that concept. There is no correct conception of god apart from one that matches up with reality. If the most consistent concept of the existing world available to us is one that bears negligible resemblance to theology, then it is irrational to believe in god and pointless to do theology (except I suppose as amusement, like the Kirk Picard fight.)

    Plantinga, Aquinas and Augustine are fine examples of non-rigor in my book. They talk endlessly and baroquely but not rigorously. They examine their concepts like a lawyer examines a friendly witness. Think of a group of learned rabbis, debating interpretation, and interpretation of interpretation of the Torah with many a ‘hmmm’ and ‘ahhh’. They are not rigorous because there is no standard to decide unambiguously who is correct, and none of them is right because they have no reference back to reality. It has been said that creationism is cargo cult science and I find that theology is cargo cult reasoning.

    Congratulations to anyone who made it through this whole comment, you’re a trooper.

  179. #179 josh
    July 23, 2011

    Son of a bitch! Double post! Maybe God is trying to even the score…

  180. #180 Owlmirror
    July 23, 2011

    So, is there no case where they could say that the theory must work out and so there must be multiverses?

    Not if they’re being scientists with a strict adherence to empirical demonstration.

    In the thread next door, Collin was complaining about tachyons, whose existence is conjectured from a consistent solution to the equations for the energy-momentum relation and total energy for particles which results in a mathematically valid solution when the speed of a putative particle is faster than light.

    But being a valid solution to an equation is not an empirical demonstration. We don’t know that tachyons actually exist.

    Thus, there may well be a way to prove that multiverses exist and even some of their properties without being able to observe them ourselves, which is what I was arguing.

    But your argument was invalid.

    The quick version is: take any mental phenomena — like imagery or mental speech — hold it in your mind, and then examine its properties. For example, for me it’s easy for me to remember sounds I’ve heard — songs or speech — and then examine what the properties of it are, and this allows me to determine that there seems to be little missing and yet there’s a qualitative difference. Introspection has been used as an examining technique as far back as Descartes.

    So far, you’re not providing even the barest hint of an argument for how “introspection” can possibly lead to empirical evidence for a bodiless mind.

    You DO realize that dualist theories don’t have to invoke the Cartesian theatre, right?

    I’ve heard that there is more than one definition for “dualist theory”. I haven’t seen a definition that made sense.

    “I mean, even an approximation of a definition, if you can’t be rigorous, would be on topic.”

    It still would be since I argued that the definition is in great need of work.

    But that implies that there is at least something vaguely approaching a definition to work on.

    What have theologians — or philosophers of religion — been doing with regards to this mysterious and elusive definition?

    His argument was that he didn’t think a disembodied mind was CONCEPTUALLY valid. I replied that it clearly was conceptually valid.

    Would you agree, then, that “an elephant that flies by flapping its ears” and “a disembodied mind” are about equally conceptually valid?

    (I actually think the flying elephant is more valid, since it’s a (granted very difficult, and perhaps intractable) problem of (bio)engineering; a disembodied mind has no demonstrated basis outside of the imagination)

  181. #181 Verbose Stoic
    July 24, 2011

    josh,

    I’ll get to your longer post later, but that deserves its own comment.

    “On a different theme: Verbose Stoic, you ,ironically,have not understood the Courtier’s Reply. It is not simply “I can dismiss your position without understanding it.” It is more along the lines of, “I don’t have to fisk every version of your argument to understand that your conclusion is wrong. If you want to persuade me that your interminable treatise may be of interest, you have to show me evidence that you are on a valid track first.” ”

    I think you need to re-read where I talked about that, since this is consistent with my argument that replying “That’s the Courtier’s Reply!” when someone says that you need to understand the field and arguments before dismissing them out of hand is an invalid argument. And people here are not criticizing conclusions as much as arguments, since you don’t know that God doesn’t exist, and you don’t know that the methods of theology can’t be of use in trying to determine that question.

    Again, you don’t get to dismiss a field that you don’t actually know anything about. Learn about the field FIRST, THEN dismiss it if you want.

    And your comments on what the Courtier’s Reply aims at belie its origin. P.Z. Myers tossed it out against people who were criticizing Dawkins for not understanding the theology he was criticizing and for attacking very narrow and stereotypical ideas of religion. The presumption, then, was that he was interested in religion and theology before starting, and so no one should have needed to prove that he should be interested in the advanced discussions on the topic. If you’re going to start from “I don’t believe your conclusion, so I don’t have to read your argument” that can’t be considered anything like reasonable, especially for a topic or field that you wandered into on your own uninvited.

    And that applies to QM as well. If QM has an impact on my arguments or positions and I want to criticize it, I really do have to learn something about it, and if someone says that I’m oversimplifying it or not up-to-date I do have an obligation to remedy that. I can decide that it isn’t important enough for me to do so … but then I have to give up the right to criticize QM, since I don’t know enough about it to do so and am not interested enough to get that knowledge. I can’t just keep sniping from the gallery and ignoring all the people telling me that I need to learn QM.

    “You think the Cosmological Argument is interestingly wrong. We think it is wrong. There may be interesting things to discuss; certainly, our ideas of cause and effect, infinite series, the nature of explanations are topics some of us will indulge in. But you’re not going to get from there to the God of Abraham, Incarnated in the Son of Man. And when we check, every time we find, lo and behold, that you don’t even get out the door, relying on sloppy medievalisms and non-sequiturs.”

    Well, see, as I said to eric theology is way ahead of you, as it’s always been a question whether you can get from the CA to an incarnated God. Where theology disagrees with you is on whether it’s just sloppy medievalisms and non-sequitors, and it’s not exactly convinced that you know enough about the arguments to make that judgement. (Note that I excluded myself here since I do philosophy of religion when I do that sort of thing, not theology. I’m not convinced you know enough either, but I can’t speak for theologians on this matter [grin]).

    eric,

    I think that QM is something that CA advocates need to address, absolutely. But I’m not convinced that it’s a killer argument. I did think it fairly good, but after thinking about it with some free cycles I think that you can raise the challenge that the definition of “cause” that’s used to say that QM events don’t have causes isn’t the same definition that’s being used in the CA, and if that’s true then QM is not uncaused in the right way to attack that argument.

    Part of this can be seen in Hawking’s equivocation over “nothing”. He says, I think, that if you have a law like gravity you’ll have to have something that comes from nothing. But that’s not nothing; either the law of gravity it a thing and so there’s something or it’s a description of how things with mass interact and so there are already lots of things. The same thing can be said for radioactive decay: what you have is a thing that undergoes a process, and so nothing is really created. Which is good, since the process according to wikipedia is a release of energy and energy by physical definition cannot be created or destroyed, but can only change form. Why, then, isn’t radioactive decay just a change in form? Why can’t a process cause something in the right way to maintain the “contingent things need a cause” argument? And are you sure that Aquinas’ argument doesn’t go further than those type of causes (Feser clearly thinks it does)?

    So, while QM needs to be addressed, that’s not enough to say that the CA is disproven. More work needs to be done to prove that, and that requires doing and reading theology.

  182. #182 KG
    July 24, 2011

    I actually think the flying elephant is more valid, since it’s a (granted very difficult, and perhaps intractable) problem of (bio)engineering – Owlmirror

    Not intractable, I’d say. A large, very-low gravity environment would surely be essential, however, so this project would serve to motivate and re-energise human space flight ;-)

  183. #183 KG
    July 24, 2011

    If that’s what it means, philosophy has it in spades, and philosophy of religion holds theology to it for intellectual theology, like Platinga’s or Aquinas’ or Augustine’s. – Verbose Stoic

    *snort*
    Plantinga, author of the “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” and the “Modal Ontological Argument”, rigorous?
    *guffaw*

  184. #184 Verbose Stoic
    July 24, 2011

    KG,

    Read all the philosophical and theological papers and books examining those ideas, and tell me the field didn’t rigourously examine them … and far more than your little snorts and guffaws.

  185. #185 KG
    July 24, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,
    Neither is worth more than a few minutes’ attention: to the degree that theology and philosophy take such dross seriously, they are themselves dross.

  186. #186 Verbose Stoic
    July 24, 2011

    josh,

    Now, onto the long and double-posted comment [grin].

    “First off, I encourage you to stop thinking of science, philosophy and mathematics as categorically separate disciplines. They are not arbitrary games played by different sets of rules. Who, after all, can set the rules? It’s not Physics intruding on Philosophy’s demesne, it’s two humans trying to come to a mutual understanding of the universe. Besides, if they can’t comment on each other’s methods, then philosophers like Feser couldn’t declaim that “science can’t disprove god” and would have to take up a more respectable hobby.”

    Well, see, I believe that science, philosophy and mathematics are, in fact, different fields, and this seems to be true; after all, they are indeed taught separately in universities, and far more separately than, say, psychology and science are. I will further argue that for philosophy and science they have completely different ends, that philosophy has always been mainly concerned with concepts and conceptual analysis and science with things and the analysis thereof. But I don’t hold that they are in opposition to each other, just that they follow different methods because they aim at different goals. I think that they can help each other. I agree with people like Andy Brook who argue that what philosophy brings to Cognitive Science IS conceptual analysis, and go further to argue that one of the main problems with psychology is that it doesn’t even have a theoretical component to do that sort of conceptual analysis like physics has.

    So I’m not sure what you’re encouraging me to do. It seems like you’re either asking me to deny the reality of the fields or stop considering them oppositionally, which I already don’t do.

    And this links back to concepts and how you “anchor” them. If you care about things primarily, like science does, you do indeed want to make sure that you limit your concepts to interpretations as close to reality as possible. You don’t want to waste time worrying about interpretations that just aren’t possible in this world. But you have to then own up to the fact that you are by necessity using a narrow concept, and that you aren’t — and can’t, really — fully capture the concept. Which is fine, since you don’t want it. But that doesn’t work if you really care about the concept, like philosophy does. You have to go for the broader view there.

    Now, these interact with each other. Any concern about concepts must maintain the obvious examples of it, and for most of the concepts that it gets that will include the obvious examples in real life. But it will also include obvious examples that simply cannot exist, and some of those will make better exemplars of the concepts than the real-world examples, not the least of which because real-world determinations can corrupt the idea of the concept and tie it too much to what you expect. But science can indeed provide not only good examples but reasons to care about the concepts. On the other hand, good conceptual analysis can reveal potential instances that we haven’t found yet but can test for, or interesting ways to test the concept to see how it works out in the instantiations.

    The same thing applies to your comment about philosophy not being able to criticize science for not being able to examine something. Again, philosophy looks at the concepts, including that of science, and it can note anything that is inherent to science or the scientific method that could leave it unable to examine certain things or prove certain theories. This is how we get the discipline of “philosophy of science”; examining the concept and methods of science philosophically, at the conceptual level.

    “There is no correct conception of god apart from one that matches up with reality. If the most consistent concept of the existing world available to us is one that bears negligible resemblance to theology, then it is irrational to believe in god and pointless to do theology (except I suppose as amusement, like the Kirk Picard fight.)”

    See, I disagree. I think there are two “correct conceptions” here:

    1) A correct conception of what people mean when they use the term “God”, at least in the essential properties.

    2) A correct conception of what a God would be so that we can see if that sort of thing can or cannot exist.

    We have to have, for example, a set of the conceptions that are logically reasonable before we can go looking for them, and know how to go looking for them. We also need to know if those conceptions match what people think of as God. A lot of the “sophisticated theology” of people like Armstrong gets bashed because it is argued that it doesn’t align with what people actually believe, and so that’s a question we need settled. But saying “Most people don’t believe in a God like X” is not sufficient to say “They SHOULDN’T believe in a God like X”, because that’s the God that might actually exist. If you care about whether or not a God exists, you care about whether or not they’ve got a reasonable concept there.

    And, to finish it off, I still don’t agree with your definition of rigour and don’t see how their views are less rigourous than scientific or mathematical theories, or how they haven’t been examined by theology and philosophy of religion rigourously enough for you to dismiss the entire field.

  187. #187 Verbose Stoic
    July 24, 2011

    KG,

    People have said the same thing about evolution, relativity, and quantum mechanics. Fortunately, other people took the time to investigate them before simply dismissing them.

    Owlmirror,

    I’ve lost faith that your intentions are for meaningful discussion, since you don’t bother to acknowledge what you’ve gotten horribly wrong. So a few final points:

    Introspection provides some support for dualism, and if dualism is true disembodied minds are quite possible. For more information, you can pick up any introductory text in philosophy of mind, but John Searle’s book “Mind: A Brief Introduction” is relatively recent and not bad, as he’s a materialist but spends a lot of time showing why dualism hasn’t quite died out yet. It won’t and shouldn’t make you a dualist, but it at least should make you understand the appeal of it better.

    There are multiple dualist theories, yes, and some are more reasonable than others.

    Finally, you still confuse concepts and things. Flying elephants would still be elephants; disembodied minds would still be minds. Thus, conceptually, they’re possible. This does not mean that they’re instantiated.

  188. #188 Owlmirror
    July 24, 2011

    I’ve lost faith that your intentions are for meaningful discussion, since you don’t bother to acknowledge what you’ve gotten horribly wrong.

    And my faith that you had any intention for meaningful discussion has been destroyed by your continual confusion and evasiveness.

    Oh, well.

    Introspection provides some support for dualism, and if dualism is true disembodied minds are quite possible. For more information, you can pick up any introductory text in philosophy of mind, but John Searle’s book “Mind: A Brief Introduction” is relatively recent and not bad, as he’s a materialist but spends a lot of time showing why dualism hasn’t quite died out yet.

    Thanks for the recommendation. Looking at the introduction to that work, though, I note that he writes:

    Almost all of the works that I have read accept the same set of historically inherited categories for describing mental phenomena, especially consciousness, and with these categories a certain set of assumptions about how consciousness and other mental phenomena relate to each other and to the rest of the world. It is this set of categories, and the assumptions that the categories carry like heavy baggage, that is completely unchallenged and that keeps the discussion going. The different positions then are all taken within a set of mistaken assumptions. The result is that the philosophy of mind is unique among contemporary philosophical subjects, in that all of the most famous and influential theories are false. By such theories I mean just about anything that has “ism” in its name. I am thinking of dualism, both property dualism and substance dualism, materialism, physicalism, computationalism, functionalism, behaviorism, epiphenomenalism, cognitivism, eliminativism, panpsychism, dual-aspect theory, and emergentism, as it is standardly conceived.

    Which is interesting, in that he seems to reject both dualism and materialism. I have no idea what he means by that, and I suppose I would have to read further in order to figure that out.

    It won’t and shouldn’t make you a dualist, but it at least should make you understand the appeal of it better.

    I don’t quite understand, though, why you offer this book, and not one that makes the best case for dualism being true. Or is this the best there is? If so, I’m not sure why you think that dualism might be true if the best discussion of it concludes that it is false.

    Finally, you still confuse concepts and things.

    I most certainly do not. I specifically wrote “conceptually valid” in the question that I asked at the end of #181.

    Flying elephants would still be elephants; disembodied minds would still be minds. Thus, conceptually, they’re possible. This does not mean that they’re instantiated.

    This certainly looks like a “yes” to the question.

    So any imaginary, fictional thing is conceptually possible, right?

    This does not mean that they’re instantiated.

    And “instantiated” simply means, what, “real”? “Existing”?

  189. #189 Kel
    July 25, 2011

    “but John Searle’s book “Mind: A Brief Introduction” is relatively recent and not bad, as he’s a materialist but spends a lot of time showing why dualism hasn’t quite died out yet.”
    I recently read that book, and I’m perplexed that you came away thinking Searle was anything other than contemptuous of dualism. There was one point where he said (paraphrasing) “Dualism goes against everything we know about how the world works, and thus is irrational to believe in”, and in another part said that the few philosophers of mind who were dualists were primarily so for religious reasons.

    What he did do in the book was spend a lot of time attacking various physicalist models. As he said on an episode of Closer To Truth (again, paraphrasing) “while physicalism is problematic, dualism isn’t even coherent”.

  190. #190 Verbose Stoic
    July 25, 2011

    Kel,

    I certainly agree that Searle is not a dualist and, as you note, thinks it horribly wrong. My whole point, though, is that one of his main thrusts is that philosophers keep being tempted into promoting dualist-like ideas because of certain issues with materialist accounts, and that’s what I wanted to get across. Searle thinks he has another solution, but I like to promote materialist or whatever philosophers who do identify the issues that make dualism tempting, since there’s no reason to claim that they’re inventing problems just to make dualism seem credible.

    Searle, to me, is wrong about people only being dualists for religious reasons and that it isn’t coherent, but he does show why people keep getting tempted down that road even if they don’t actually become full-on dualists.

  191. #191 Kel
    July 25, 2011

    Having problems with materialist accounts is no more evidence for dualism than having problems with evolutionary accounts being evidence for creationism. The difficulties Searle points out are huge problems to overcome; in the book he talked especially about the problem of overdetermination. Searle doesn’t leave the door open for dualism, not even a little. Whatever difficulties various physical accounts may face, at least to Searle that doesn’t make the case for dualism at all.

    As Thomas Nagel points out, saying that consciousness is brain activity is like the ancients Greeks saying matter is energy. That consciousness is a physical product of the brain is true, that we don’t fully understand it yet shouldn’t be taken as a sign that it’s anything other than a product of physical processes.

  192. #192 Verbose Stoic
    July 25, 2011

    Kel,

    “Having problems with materialist accounts is no more evidence for dualism than having problems with evolutionary accounts being evidence for creationism.”

    It’s been a while since I read it, but I seem to recall that Searle wasn’t just saying that there are problems with materialism, but that there are problem with materialism that even good materialists retreat back to dualist-type arguments to address, demonstrating — which I think he did do — that there are reasons to think that dualist explanations might solve those problems. That’s all I claimed: that some of the problems with materialism are ones that dualism handles easily. I was even explicit earlier that issues with phenomenal experience are, in fact, easily handled by dualism and not so well by materialism.

    I have never asserted that Searle himself argued that dualism was right or an acceptable theory. In fact, I explicitly stated that he wasn’t. That’s not what I want people to get from that book. I want all the good materialists here to just read the book and see that there are reasons for dualists to prefer a dualist theory, even as there are problems with dualism itself. Searle may not be the best for it, but he does seem to get that, or at least it seemed that way to me, and his book is relatively recent and problem fairly easy to find for that. Which was all I was after.

    And my original point was, basically, that if what you want explained is phenomenal experience, materialist theories aren’t there yet. I see no reason to adopt a theory that cannot explain the thing I want explained. However, I understand that for people who care more about the behaviours — like Dennett — the materialist theories are far better at directly explaining what they want explained. So I don’t begrudge them for preferring the theory that explains what they’re interested in. I just want people to stop begrudging me for doing the same and taking a different theory.

    Oh, and let me be specific, here, about one big issue about consciousness just being the product of the brain. Given:

    1) Phenomenal experience is just a product of neural firings (somehow).

    2) Neural chains are causally closed, meaning that they proceed from neuron to neuron directly in a predictable causal progression with no room for any external intervention.

    Q) How can the details of a phenomenal experience have any impact on our behaviour? It would have to be produced by the same neurons that are simply progressing down the line, and cannot in and of itself change that pattern. Thus, if the neural firings stayed the same but the phenomenal experience was different, the same behaviour would occur. So the details of phenomenal experience, then, only coincidentally line up with the actual behaviours. And that’s definitely an odd conclusion.

    Materialists can save this by, well, explaining precisely how the brain produces phenomenal experiences. They aren’t even close, and to me all consciousness is is phenomenal experiences; anything else is the result of it, but is not necessarily consciousness itself.

  193. #193 josh
    July 25, 2011

    Verbose @182:
    You can’t criticize the Courtier’s Reply when you continue to fail to understand it. I don’t have to read every treatise on Astrology to dismiss the practice. Theology isn’t some exciting new field, progressing to new heigths under the leading minds of our time. It’s the same old dog-and-pony show and some of us can see the grift before we offer up our nickel. Note that that doesn’t mean some of us aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the game. We’re just tired of the old runaround that the really good theology, like the true communism, is on its way. And look, no one “wandered” in “uninvited”, no invitation is required and you make yourself look like exactly the sort of supercilious poseur that the Courtier’s Reply mocks. For the record, I know that god doesn’t exist (to at least the extent that I know anything doesn’t exist) and I know that the “methods” of theology are a joke.

    “… the Courtier’s Reply aims at belie its origin. P.Z. Myers tossed it out against people who were criticizing Dawkins for not understanding the theology he was criticizing and for attacking very narrow and stereotypical ideas of religion.”

    No. Try again, this does not belie my summation. Myers was pointing out that responses to Dawkins followed a very familiar pattern, viz. the disingenous dismissal of his criticisms that you are parroting. Dawkins wrote a book for a popular audience, focused on popular religion. He gave brief summaries and and dismissals of the classical formal arguments for god. He did not write a lengthy, technical point by point takedown of said arguments, nonetheless there is no evidence that he doesn’t understand the theology or that his criticisms don’t capture their underlying flaws. I think there are various ways in which The God Delusion could have been a better book, but apologists are generally incapable of offering legitimate criticism.

    If theology was way ahead of me, it would have closed up shop long ago with, perhaps, a few muttered apologies. More to the point, Feser and the like wouldn’t still be offering up the CA as one of their primary arguments. You can’t get from the existence of your shoes to god, much less anything you would want to worship. It’s not an open question, it’s a bad argument and has been for centuries. I don’t think I’m offering brand new rebuttals here, (another common and lazy slur against atheists) I’m just trying to help you recognize some things that non-theists have understood for millenia.

    Here’s the heart of the Courtier’s Reply: Put up or shut up. What, exactly, do you think I don’t know that would change my arguments?

  194. #194 josh
    July 26, 2011

    Verbose @ 187:

    You can’t seriously think that the existence of separate departments is germane to my point. Physics and Chemistry are separate departments, but the scientific method applies in both. You can’t argue that philosophy has distinct methods without us agreeing on the ‘meta’-methods that would legitimate the distinction, and I explained to you at some length why they don’t. Science also does conceptual analysis, that’s why we have ideas like multiverses (see the other thread) taken seriously and why we debate what they would imply and what could be taken as sufficient reason to think the idea was true. If you want a ‘philosophical’ hero, you could do much worse than Einstein, whose conceptual analysis was so good that it was borne out by experiment. But that’s a rarity and he still had to be checked by rigorous math and experiment because, again, humans aren’t good at raw introspection and ratiocination.

    Yes, in anchoring our concepts to the real world, we are looking for a narrow path, it is the path of actually being correct. Philosophy of science is not, ultimately, a distinct thing from science. Scientists do philosophy of science. I’m objecting to the naive attempt to compartmentalize them when you want to exempt your ideas from critical examination. The things science can’t in principal examine, are things you don’t in principal have a rational right to believe in.

    Look at your two “correct” conceptions. One is an empirical question, what do people actually believe. Note that a quite likely answer is that they don’t believe anything particularly coherent or concrete. When we say “most people don’t believe in God X” we mean “most people believe in God Y, which is what we are arguing against at the moment because it is unreasonable to believe in God Y. God X, so far as any of you have defined it, is also unreasonable, and not really that different from Y, but you’ll have to wait your turn.”

    Two is a concept “so that we can see if that sort of thing can or cannot exist.” But you don’t know what can and cannot exist, that’s why we check what does and does not exist. But if it doesn’t exist then there can be no correct conception. We’ve checked. The proffered descriptions of god are not in evidence, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start from something other than an authoritarian death cult. I’d suggest catching up with modern science first and learning the concept of rigor.

    I realize this may come off as a bit acerbic to you, but I don’t know how else to move you off of your learned complacency.

  195. #195 eric
    July 26, 2011

    Verose stoic: I think that you can raise the challenge that the definition of “cause” that’s used to say that QM events don’t have causes isn’t the same definition that’s being used in the CA, and if that’s true then QM is not uncaused in the right way to attack that argument.

    If that’s true, then what reason do I have to accept the CA definition of “cause?” I, too, could make up a definition of the word “cause” that nothing except God fulfills. My ability to create such a definition does not prove God. It just proves I can invent tautologies.

    At a bare minimum, any such definition of ’cause’ is going to have to be derived independently from our preconceived notion(s) of God and God’s attributes. But it certainly appears that many theologians derived the CA definition of ’cause’ with their beliefs in God in mind. After all, there’s no empirical support for the notion of necessity. It didn’t come from real life. You can’t measure it with a necessitometer. What would lead anyone to believe that causes must have this academic and metaphysical property that only God has? I mean, hey, what a coincidence!!! Or not.

  196. #196 Kel
    July 27, 2011

    “That’s all I claimed: that some of the problems with materialism are ones that dualism handles easily.”
    What I was addressing was that the source material you cited for this didn’t make that case at all. “but spends a lot of time showing why dualism hasn’t quite died out yet.” That’s not what the book showed at all – that was what I was addressing.

    On the topic of whether dualism handles them easily – how does it do so? I’d be really interested to see just how you think those physicalist problems that Searle highlights are handled in dualism. I’d be willing to bet that by “handles” you don’t have an explanation any more than a physicalist would – it’s just that unlike the physicalist you don’t have to reconcile them with how we know the world to work. But I’m more than happy to be shown otherwise; it’s just frustrating from my point of view that my interactions with dualists have been “dualism via impossibility of the contrary” rather than creating a dualism that actually helps to understand how it is the mind works.

  197. #197 Kel
    July 27, 2011

    “I want all the good materialists here to just read the book and see that there are reasons for dualists to prefer a dualist theory, even as there are problems with dualism itself.”
    Like I said, I have read the book. I’m not sure if I count as a “good materialist”, but I disagree that the book makes the case for dualism at all. If you walked away from that book thinking that there are reasons to prefer a dualist theory, I think you misread it. Again, Searle in that book said (paraphrasing) “dualism goes against everything we know about how the world works, and thus is irrational to believe in.” That really does seem incompatible with your take that it was a book with reasons for dualists to prefer dualism. Again, problems with physicalist models doesn’t mean that there’s anything other than the physical going on.

    “And my original point was, basically, that if what you want explained is phenomenal experience, materialist theories aren’t there yet.”
    I don’t think there will be many who disagree with this statement, but again I’m not sure how dualism explains anything either. Combine that with much in the way of research to show that certain regions of the brain and certain brain activities correlate with certain experience (e.g. changing someone’s moral judgement or inducing an out-of-body experience with targeted electromagnetic stimulation, brain chemistry affecting behaviour such as the role of dopamine in pattern recognition or oxytocin in pair bonding, brain injury destroying mental function, etc.) and the underlying physical problem of conservation of energy – dualism doesn’t just have problems, it has overwhelming challenges to the notion that there’s anything other than brain activity. You’re left explaining how a physical system has a non-physical component (whatever a non-physical component is… it’s not like dualists are explaining what dualism actually entails) where we see the way the physical system works and see no outside intervention.

    What were those reasons for dualism again?

    “Oh, and let me be specific, here, about one big issue about consciousness just being the product of the brain.”
    It’s an appeal to consequences. Whether or not phenomenal experience can have an impact on behaviour doesn’t change the fact that it’s all brain activity. The more difficult question from that line of reasoning is, if there’s phenomenal experience outside the brain, then how could it possibly have any impact on the organism? We’d be left with an epiphenomenalist account of consciousness where what we experience has nothing to do with anything other than neurons firing. At least in the physicalist accounts those our phenomenal experience is neurons firing – that to talk about a decision as distinct from the neural patterns and the consciousness as distinct from the neural patterns would be an absurdity. There’s no separate phenomenal self – the phenomenal self is the relevant brain activity.

    What would a dualist propose? Take decisions, for example. In a hypothetical physicalist account decisions are made by neural networks firing in patterns, taking in input from the senses and being fed through structures that work out an appropriate response. How does the non-physical make a decision? Magic?

  198. #198 KG
    July 27, 2011

    People have said the same thing about evolution, relativity, and quantum mechanics. Fortunately, other people took the time to investigate them before simply dismissing them. – Verbose Sceptic

    So they have, but they have also said it about Scientology and homeopathy. What has been said about established fields of science has no relevance whatever to the quality of Plantinga’s arguments, which is risible. His “modal ontological argument” depends on a transparent switch of the meaning of “Possibly P” during the course of the argument: from “There is a logically possible world in which P is true”, to “It has not been proved that ~P”. His so-called evolutionary argument against naturalism is so gobsmackingly moronic it is almost impossible to believe it is intended seriously. Plantinga claims that if our senses and thought processes are shaped by unguided natural selection, there is no reason to expect them to be at all reliable. As an example, he says that natural selection would be just as likely to produce people who thought that a tiger running at them wanted to play tag and ran away in the spirit of the game, as people who concluded the tiger wanted to kill them and ran in terror, because both would produce the correct behaviour. Is it really necessary to point out how ludicrously stupid this is? I’ll do it, since you appear to take this halfwitted apologist seriously. Someone who thought the tiger wanted to play would not keep running even if they felt their lungs would burst, would they? They would not seek a weapon with which to fend off the ravening predator. Or, in a wider context, keep a wary eye out for tigers when leaving the cave, and warn their children never to hide immediately if they saw one. Having correct beliefs about the intentions of other natural agents, human and otherwise, will in general aid survival and reproduction more than having false ones – hence, there is selection pressure for senses and reasoning abilities that will usually produce correct results.

    Incidentally, Plantinga also seems to have failed to notice that in fact our senses and thinking are not by any means perfectly reliable. This is readily explained in the naturalistic, evolutionary account: reliable senses and reasoning are costly in terms of the food resources needed to grow, maintain and use the necessary organs, so our senses and reasoning powers are imperfect because above a certain point, putting more resources into them would not increase the chances of surviving and reproducing; and in addition “short-cuts” in reasoning that reduce decision-time at some expense in reliability can pay off in terms of survival. (By contrast, our sensory and cognitive limitations appear to have no explanation within a “God gave us our wonderful senses and reasoning powers” model – after all, God’s supposed to be omnipotent and benevolent, so clearly would have given us perfect senses and reasoning powers.)

  199. #199 Verbose Stoic
    July 29, 2011

    I’m back. I’ll try to combine comments again, and will likely work in backwards order. So that means starting with KG and Plantinga.

    I’m not as familiar with the modal ontological argument as I am with the naturalistic argument, so I’ll focus on the latter. What I will say here, though, is that one of the reasons to consider the modal ontological argument interesting even if that equivocation is true is that it’s an attempt to use modal logic to establish the ontological argument and get around the problems with it. That would represent an advance in theology and philosophy of religion even if it doesn’t work out. In fact, it not working out at least eliminates one line of argumentation if we can determine that it’s because modal arguments of that type can’t get to the conclusion (which has not yet been demonstrated, as far as I know).

    So, onto the naturalist argument. Let me state it as I understand it:

    There is a presumption that our senses are validated to some extent by evolution because there seems to be evolutionary benefit to having accurate senses, meaning senses that correctly represent the world. But Plantinga points out that evolution doesn’t select for correctness, but instead selects for survival and usefulness. Useful false sensory impressions can be selected for just as easily as correct ones, and far more easily than not useful correct sensory impressions. So, there’s a reason to think that if you have to rely on evolution alone to produce accurate sense impressions it may not be able to do the job. And if this is the case, then naturalists have an issue because science is empirical and relies on correct sensory impressions, at least at some level (yes, it can detect illusions, I’ll get into that later) and so naturalism would undercut its own base and its own reason to think evolution true, and then would be in big trouble.

    So, let’s not get into refuting this by attacking an example that is fairly poor, so let me give another example: it’s accepted that a lot of things that are poisonous in the world are red. There’s a reason that almost all man-made indicators of danger are red: we seem to have at least a somewhat instinctive reaction to red as a danger sign. It could be argued that the reason this is is because a lot of dangerous things are red, and those things evolved the red colour because red stands out and there’s no point in defending yourself with poison if nothing knows that you’re poisonous until they already eat you. So, the argument would be that we have this instinctive reaction to red because dangerous things tend to be red, and so we use the colour to identify the danger. But Plantinga’s argument would ask us to consider the converse: that perhaps things appear red to us because we INDEPENDENTLY identify them as dangerous, and our internal sensory apparatus then colours it red in order to flag danger.

    That our senses can indeed change our impressions based on beliefs is, in fact, not at all controversial. The blind spot is just one example where our sense perceptions are filled in by mental processes and not by data, and there are numerous cognitive illusions that do this as well. So, we know that this can indeed happen.

    Now, the answer to this is: “But look, surely with additional investigation we’d detect these. For example, with the redness we could measure the wavelength and detect the difference”. But this presumes that your other cognitive processes don’t, in fact, ALSO adjust to report the wrong information, to preserve consistency. For simple, off-the-cuff examples you can always push it so that the patch-ups become more and more implausible and so it would seem that we would detect it — like your tag example — but the point stands: a consistent illusion would be undetectable and could be just as successful as a consistently correct sense impression, and more so than inconsistently correct sense impressions. We may be able to detect small illusions, but are we then just picking out inconsistencies in an overall illusion?

    So Plantinga’s argument, then, is to point out that you can rely on your sense impressions if there’s an overarching, all-good creator God who created your impressions, since then those impressions would be accurate. And thus, you can save science and save at least a portion of evolution.

    Now, one big objection to the initial argument is precisely what you said: but if we’re relying on God to give us accurate sense impressions, wouldn’t our sense impressions be perfect, then? Note that this doesn’t save naturalism in any way; all it does is cast doubt on his move to God as a way out. My reply to that is that if we have a purposeful designer that is in some real way responsible for our sense impressions, then at the very least we can say that we perceive things THE WAY WE’RE SUPPOSED TO SEE THEM. Our illusions are, then, the illusions we should have (for some reason) and our accuracies are the ones we should have. You can at least appeal to purpose to ground science and empirical examination. That’s not an option open to naturalists.

    Now, this shouldn’t be convincing, because there are avenues the naturalist can use:

    1) Accept that our sense impressions may be inaccurate but argue that it doesn’t matter (see replies to Martix examples).

    2) Demonstrate that naturalism can escape the issue of inaccurate senses, and using the scientific method and intersubjective verification is a good way to start.

    You can also object to my reply that it just posits that there’s a reason for it (like has been done in other theistic arguments) but my reply is that this is a different case, in that I’m not appealing to a hidden purpose to patch up specific problems, but simply pointing out that if things are purposeful the illusions would have purposes even if we don’t understand them, and the basis for the purposeful is to recover from the issue that Plantinga raises for science and the accuracy of our sense perceptions.

    So, no, Plantinga’s argument doesn’t quite work, at least in its basic formulation. But it does raise an interesting issue, and Plantinga and others have looked at and criticized and rebuilt it. It’s worth reading, even if you don’t agree with it. And note that my first exposure to it was in the anthology “Naturalism Defeated?” edited by James Beilby, where many good philosophers took it on arguing that he was wrong. It’s a good book to read since it has a foreward and a reply section from Plantinga as well.

  200. #200 Verbose Stoic
    July 29, 2011

    Kel,

    So let me briefly outline my selection criteria for a book on this:

    1) An intro text.
    2) Relatively recent.
    3) Written by someone who is not a dualist (to avoid charges of “inventing issues to make dualism look good).
    4) Where dualism is presented with at least a modicum of fairness even if the author didn’t quite do it directly.

    So, I could have suggested better books for 1), but I haven’t needed an intro to mind text for 10+ years (since I was an undergrad) and so those ones are a bit older. Searle’s however, was used in a course that did introduce it (for Cognitive Science students that I took) and so is more recent. He’s also not a dualist. 4) might be a little off, but I’m not trying to avoid people learning about the problems with dualism. There are problems. But I don’t expect people to just blindly be convinced that dualism is wrong by reading him anymore than I expect people to be blindly convinced that functionalism or emergentism are just plain wrong (which, if I recall correctly, are both views he attacks).

    What’s key here is that Searle comes out so strongly against dualism because a lot of his arguments against the other forms of materialism are that they smuggle in dualist concepts to handle some of those problems, if I recall correctly (it’s been a couple of years). If Searle can pound dualism into the ground, then he can just say “That’s dualist” and attack them, but no one should be convinced that easily. Especially since one of his main thrusts, I believe, is that he has an explanation that doesn’t require the move to dualism, but his explanation isn’t particularly good itself. So if we take his explanation out, we’re left with materialist views borrowing dualist explanations to deal with their problems. And from there, you should be able to see what dualism doesn’t have a problem with that materialist theories do.

    At this point, you should recall that that was my only claim: that there are issues with materialist views that dualism can explain well. I also made the opposite claim, that there are some issues with dualist views that are not problems for materialist views.

    So, onto some of the specific issues. Interactionist dualism has no issues with the idea that changes in brain states cause changes in mental states, because that’s what interaction means. So that’s easily consistent with both views.

    The big one is over mental causation. While the MECHANISM of mental causation is a problem for dualism, the causal power of mental states is not. It’s part of the definition. Materialism, on the other hand, has absolutely no issue with the mechanism of mental causation — since it’s all physical — but has massive issues with explaining how mental states can have causal power. That’s why Kim is explicitly epiphenomenal and denies that they do have causal powers. But this doesn’t seem to make sense, and materialist views haven’t proven themselves enough yet to get this massively counter-intuitive and counter-experiential claim accepted. To put it in other terms, that mental states have no causal power is an extraordinary claim, and materialists don’t have the extraordinary evidence to settle that.

    And finally, specifically on decisions: do you think that computers can make decisions? If you don’t, then so much for AI. But if you do, then you accept that things that do not have neurons make decisions (or at least could) and so there’s no real issue for a dualistic mind. We don’t know precisely how, but that’s not an issue that would make one dismiss dualism out of hand.

    eric,

    The problem is that that notion of cause has been around since the Pre-Socratics. You’re presuming that he invented a notion of cause when actual philosophical analysis would probably conclude that he was simply using notions of cause and necessity that have been philosophical standards for thousands of years, and have also been chewed over for just as long.

    And there are arguments for it, but you presume your conclusion if you argue that there’s no empirical basis for that notion of cause. Take a different example: I once argued with a physicist who argued that the Big Bang didn’t have a cause because there was no time before the Big Bang and so there can’t be causes. I pointed out that philosophy has talked about the concepts of simultaneous and backwards causation that would deny that causes are required to precede their effects. Your reply to that might be that there’s nothing we’ve observed that would lead to that sort of causation. To which I can reply “Except the Big Bang”, demonstrating that your argument is assuming your conclusion (you exclude the example from your definition). Mine, however, is independent of that debate and so doesn’t do that.

  201. #201 Verbose Stoic
    July 29, 2011

    josh,

    First, on the Courtier’s Reply: I won’t deny that some people might have been making that, but a lot of people that the argument it is leveled against are not, in fact, making it as you describe it. They are simply saying “Dawkins does not understand the arguments he’s criticizing, and so his arguments fail”. I think that’s the same thing that Feser is saying.

    So let me give some examples:

    Dawkins’ treatment of the ontological argument is just bad. The worst part is where he says that he used the logic to prove that pigs could fly, gave it at a discussion, and the philosophers there had to resort to modal logic to refute it. The problem is that he seems to have been going for a “perfect island” type of argument, and missed the entire point of those arguments. The point of those sorts of arguments is to posit something ridiculous using the precise same logic, and force the defender of the ontological argument into a dilemma: Either accept the absurdity or disprove the argument, and thus disprove the ontological argument as well. That’s what Gasking’s argument right after tries to do. The fact that the philosophers COULD use modal logic to refute Dawkins’ version and Dawkins didn’t simply say that the ontological argument is therefore false implies that either Dawkins’ argument wasn’t really just like the OA and/or Dawkins didn’t understand that really simple and basic type of rebuttal to the argument … meaning that he doesn’t understand something that a basic philosophy of religion course or text proves.

    He also reveals that he’s philosophically naive — despite both claiming and denying to be one at different points in the book — by his treatments of dualism and epistemology. His description of dualism is laughably wrong and doesn’t apply to either Cartesian or soul versions, since he attaches it to at least a quote about trees having minds and souls and since both Descartes and most theologians question whether animals really have minds or souls it’s unlikely that they just think that inanimate objects have them. As for knowledge, his list if 7 insists that only absolute certainty counts as knowledge … which was the Cartesian view which was ditched by epistemology a long time ago.

    So there’s much room to criticize Dawkins for not understanding the basics.

    That’s the difference between that and astrology. The presumption is that people have looked in detail at astrology and addressed the more “sophisticated” version and tested those. If someone, however, went through the newspaper horoscopes and tested them and declared that astrology was false, and then when it was pointed out that they were relying on sources that weren’t actually knowledgeable picked up a book recommended by someone who simply considered it bunk and refused to look at books or systems recommended by people — Feser is indeed recommending specific books (his) — then I think astrologers would have reason to call foul.

    Now, I can see your concern. Your concern is that you’ll get into an infinite chain of people continually saying that you’ve missed the good arguments and pushing you to more and more obscure texts, leaving it as a never-ending struggle. Now, in most of those cases I’d say that if there is an actual field you can tell the field to come up with a consensus and THEN you’ll care about examining the arguments. In this case, you not only have a field, but you have another field — philosophy of religion — that will examine it FOR you and outline which arguments are worth considering. You don’t really have an excuse to simply dismiss the field because of that.

    And note that dismissing an argument for the existence of something because you think that the existence of that thing ridiculous without addressing the specific argument or arguments is not only non-scientific, it’s downright ANTI-scientific.

    I can’t believe that you made the argument that Chemistry and Physics are different departments and both use the scientific method so somehow my argument that philosophy and science do not both use the scientific method is somehow unsupported. First, the trivial contention is that Chemistry and Physics both generally come under the Faculty of SCIENCE, and Philosophy, of course, does not. But we can move from that to the fact that of COURSE both Chemistry and Physics use the scientific method, because they’re both SCIENCES. EXPLICITLY. Philosophy is not. Philosophy does not accept that the only interesting propositions have to be empirically based, while the scientific method insists on that. They are provably different. I can’t imagine how anyone could legitimately argue that they aren’t different fields and don’t do things differently. The mind boggles at the suggestion.

    Yes, science does conceptual analysis, but since I explicitly said that it did it as well — in my reply to how I think it was your suggested method for analyzing concepts works for science but not for philosophy — and even used that as part of an argument for how science and philosophy can help each other out — science does things really well, philosophy does concepts really well, and both need both of those — I fail to see why you think this is something I have not explicitly noted. But philosophy’s GOAL is to understand concepts, regardless of instantiations, and science’s goal is to get instantiations, and they aren’t worried about concepts beyond that. That’s how they’re different, and that mandates the differences in their methods.

    I also have no idea why you seem so upset about my saying this. I’m not saying that they’re hostile to one another, and explicitly said the opposite.

    Now, note that sometimes both of them can indeed encroach on the other, such as with some philosophical insistences on how things work based on pure thought experiments and science taking things into the normative or conceptual based only on their narrow conceptions. But they aren’t inherently in conflict.

    Scientists, yes, do philosophy of science. But then they’re doing that are they doing science? No, BY DEFINITION. They’re doing philosophy. So what in the world was the point of that? Especially since philosophy DOES critical examination! It’s a paragon and the definer of critical thinking! How is treating concepts philosophically hiding from critical examination? Why are you insisting that science is the only right way to do thing?

    So, onto the two correct conceptions:

    1) It’s debatable whether “What do people mean by concept X?” is indeed an empirical question. However, it is clearly a question that does not rely on the concept actually being instantiated for its answer. And that’s what I was opposing.

    2) You can’t tell if a concept is instantiated or if it really exists if you don’t know what it is. Science can indeed start from the bottom up and create concepts from instantiations, but that does not mean that the top down approach — starting from concepts and then going looking for the instantiations — is a bad idea, and in some cases it might be required.

    BTW, you have no idea what complacency I have or what I’ve learned, and that’s ascerbic tone in that regard is bordering on an ad hominem argument, which does not one any good.

  202. #202 Wow
    July 29, 2011

    “I pointed out that philosophy has talked about the concepts of simultaneous and backwards causation that would deny that causes are required to precede their effects.”

    Philosophy isn’t science.

    Now, verbose steak, please tell me what’s north of the North Pole.

  203. #203 Kel
    July 29, 2011

    “The big one is over mental causation. While the MECHANISM of mental causation is a problem for dualism, the causal power of mental states is not. It’s part of the definition”
    But that’s the problem, defining something isn’t the same as having a coherent understanding of it. Let’s say there’s this irreducible mental stuff – how does it work? The dualist doesn’t know any better than the physicalist, but the dualist can point to the problems of physicalism because at least the physicalist is attempting to explain it. This is a clear demonstration of Searle’s point – that physicalism has its problems but dualism isn’t even coherent. Meanwhile all the reasons to be physicalist still remain without even so much as an empirical oddity to suggest that it’s anything other than brain activity. Introspection cannot show causation for that introspection, an experiment showing how stimulating brain regions causes conscious experience or that altering biochemistry alters experience does more for the argument that it’s all physical than any introspection could cast doubt on.

    There’s a reason, after all, that most philosophers of mind are physicalists – and every time I hear one give a reason for being a physicalist, it’s what I’ve highlighted above.

  204. #204 josh
    July 29, 2011

    Verbose @204,

    I judge your complacency and depth of thought based on what you write. For instance, you don’t seem to know what an ad hominem argument is. I have spent thousands of words trying to explain why I think your various conceptualizations are inadequate and you have essentially replied by repeating your initial position. If I thereby judge you complacent, it’s not an argument that you are wrong, it’s a suggestion that perhaps you are so certain of the soundness of your positions or the inferiority of your opponents that you aren’t considering the criticisms in detail.

    On the Courtier’s Reply: I can’t of course vouch for every instance of the phrase’s use in the history of the internet. I’m explaining its, in my understanding, correct usage. If Dawkins or anybody gets an argument wrong, explain what you think is a correct argument and why the criticism doesn’t apply, don’t argue that Dawkins is wrong because he hasn’t read enough of your favorite authors.

    There is also a bit of charity expected in reading a polemical/popular work as TGD is agreed to be. That Dawkins doesn’t state his critique in the mode you prefer or as carefully as could be done doesn’t imply that he is wildly ignorant about the argument or its flaws. This is a trap you apparently fall into above. I don’t own TGD so I can’t review in detail what Dawkins says about the ontological argument. Glancing around the web, it looks like after giving a brief summary of historical objections to it, with which he agrees, he recounts a vague anecdote a bout offering a ‘pigs with wings’ variation, probably on the model of Guanillo’s Island. (Although really, this type of reductio variation occurs to anyone who reads the ontological argument I think.) This is poorly sourced, for which I apologize, but I think he was basically relating that the philosophers in the room wanted the ‘god’ version to work but couldn’t directly reject his ‘pig’ version and so fell to mumbling about the modal version as a sort of hail mary pass. He’s either being dismissive of modal logic in general or of their ability to adapt it in a cogent fashion to exclude his ‘pig’ variation. I freely admit this is sloppy and vague, as anecdotes usually are and not by itself a thorough deconstruction of the argument, although I at least can clearly see the lines along which he is working and they apply to all versions of the argument. Again though, a fair criticism of one passage in his book is different from Dawkins is ignorant/naive/wrong and he can be dismissed because he didn’t mention by book [/Feser].

    Ditto your reading of dualism and his seven point scale. Dualism doesn’t entail non-animism and I’m guessing he was making a general criticism since dualism is compatible with silly beliefs, whether or not Descartes carves out exceptions for his preferred dogma. Remember that Dawkins chief motivator is empiricism and skepticism, the point he repeatedly makes is “Why should I respect your silly idea when we all agree that this equally unevidenced idea is silly.” His seven point scale was explicitly making the point that absolute certainty is not the defining characteristic of his atheism. He ‘knows’ there is no god in the sense that he ‘knows’ that elves don’t rearrange his sock drawer every night, but not in the sense that he ‘Knows’ 2+2=4 perhaps. He’s not offering a technical definition of knowledge (as though philosophers agree on this anyways), he’s illustrating his position with common English. So sneering that Dawkins is just too ignorant to have a valid point because he didn’t quote Abstrusus Obscurus’s four-volume tome on the Recondity of Ineffability is both not in evidence, nor is it relevant. That’s what deserves the Courtier’s Reply objection.

    Read with some charity. Argue with Dawkins, not with his qualifications or that he wouldn’t make that argument if only he knew your deep, deep thoughts on the subject. That kind of BS is all over every theistic critique of him that I’ve read.

    Astrology is at root the belief that astronomical observations can be used to predict detailed events and personality traits on earth. “Sophisticated” astrology must first demonstrate that it has solid premises upon which to extrapolate its methods and models, however complicated. If you have good evidence that there is something worth studying there, put it up. But the flaws in astrological thinking are evident without my having read up on every system ever proposed. I don’t have to read your whole proof when you divide by zero on the first line.

    More later.

  205. #205 Verbose Stoic
    July 29, 2011

    Kel,

    I think you jumped a bit too much on “definition”, because room for mental causation is as much definition for dualism as causal power is definition for materialism. Because dualism starts from the mental and mental properties and the first person view and tries to map that out onto the world, it starts by presuming the appearances of mental properties as being basic data that “defines” what it means to be a mind, data that you can’t give up. Taking that seriously, then, requires that mental states are causal because they really do appear to be (although some dualisms do exist that are epiphenomenal, but they aren’t popular). That also means that you take the introspective appearance of mental states seriously it doesn’t seem to have physical properties. Note that substance dualism is just one sort of dualism. It implies mind/body dualism, but you can be a mind/body dualist without accepting that mind and body are distinct substances (this is pretty much what Chalmers does, I think, and is a view I’m leaning towards because the definition of “physical” is incoherent). You can also be a property dualist, which Hume is.

    So, you’ve supposedly given the reason that materialist/physicalist philosophers are so. I have a different explanation, and it ties into my explanation for why dualists are dualists. Dualists are dualists precisely because they think that mental properties and phenomenal experiences are, in fact, the defining properties of the mental. So, they start there and don’t care much about the specifics of mind/body interaction or how it produces behaviour. What they want is to understand how the phenomenal works and why it is what it is. And materialist theories fail miserably to do this, for one good reason: they start from the third person view and the neural view and work things out that way … and then their theories leave no room for the phenomenal.

    But they don’t care. Explaining conscious behaviour from the third person view and dealing with the physical correlates is what they care about. So many of them are representationalists and say that it’s just a matter of having the right representations.

    But if you look at the philosophers most friendly to dualism — Chalmers, Nagel, Jackson at least at one point, etc — you’ll see that there’s a lack of interest in the behavioural correlates, and a staunch insistence that looking at the behaviour doesn’t indicate consciousness because it doesn’t indicate that there’s anything going on at the phenomenal level … and that’s what it means to be conscious.

    So, as I said earlier, it’s different priorities and different things that people care about. That in and of itself doesn’t prove either side right or wrong.

    (BTW, Chalmers’ “The Conscious Mind” was the book that finally broke through my dogmatic slumber and made me realize what it was about materialist theories that I didn’t like.)

  206. #206 Verbose Stoic
    July 29, 2011

    josh,

    I accused that justification of ascerbicness of bordering on it, for this reason: it implies that my arguments are based only on learned complacency, which can then be used to imply that my arguments are themselves simply unjustified and so are to be dismissed. I never said you were there. And I fail to see why you can’t actually argue against someone’s arguments AND attempt a final ad hominem shot at them by trying to dismiss them on the basis of an impression of someone’s character. But I do appreciate you arguing against my points … although I really wish you’d pay more attention to them.

    The reason is that I’m not sure if you’re accusing me of making a Courtier’s Reply or not. On a number of occasions you seem to be addressing me with comments that suggest that, like:

    “Read with some charity. Argue with Dawkins, not with his qualifications or that he wouldn’t make that argument if only he knew your deep, deep thoughts on the subject. That kind of BS is all over every theistic critique of him that I’ve read.”

    Of course, I’ve never argued with his qualifications, except tangentially (mostly on a basis of “Why should we think he has to know what he’s talking about (ie give him the benefit of the doubt)? He’s not actually trained in that field. It’s a bonus if he knows something about it, not an expectation”). I took on his arguments directly, and did so in the comment you replied to. So it seems ridiculous to claim that I’m using the Courtier’s Reply, especially since my own view is that I dislike statements of “Just read this book”, preferring to argue for it directly without sources and retreating to sources only as required.

    However, my point is also that I don’t think that some of the people who are charged with the Courtier’s Reply are doing that either. Feser says that he doesn’t understand it and then gives his book as a source, but that’s far from forcing him to read something obscure or multiple sources that are more and more obscure. And most of the replies started with “You really don’t get this argument” or that he’s attacking a strawman position, which while more detail would have been nice is not only far from a Courtier’s Reply but also seems to be somewhat fair.

    I find it quite bemusing that you have not read TGD and yet are admonishing me for not interpreting it properly, when I have read it repeatedly. Why do you not think that Dawkins could have gotten it completely wrong?

    So, onto the specific interpretations. Even accepting that he was trying to give the impression that modal logic was invalid, that doesn’t help him since modal logic is a valid and actually quite exciting area of philosophy; he’d simply add “not knowing modal logic” to “not knowing that any defeat would also defeat the ontological argument if his argument really worked”. But there’s no indication that that was his point anyway, and I fail to see why I should, again, presume that he knew what he was talking about. I might give that sort of benefit of the doubt to Dennet — who should know what he was talking about — or maybe even to Harris, but that’s just far more charity than I feel I need to grant to Dawkins.

    On dualism, he didn’t actually use dualism or that conception for any actual point, so your explanation doesn’t wash. He simply egregiously misrepresents it. He gets it right first on pg 209 of the paperback edition, but then when he goes on to explain what that means: “Dualists readily interpret mental illness as ‘possession by devils’ … Dualists personify inanimate objects at the slightest opportunity, seeing spirits and demons even in waterfalls and clouds.” [pg 209]. They don’t do that. Religious dualists might do the former but don’t do the latter, and philosophical dualists don’t do either. There’s no link between a dualist view and either of those, and even more importantly there isn’t that link even in the religious cases that he’s attacking. He just plain gets it wrong.

    On knowledge, Dawkins uses that 7 step to claim that he can’t really say that he knows that God doesn’t exist, because that would require certainty, which leads him to his “probably” argument and his attack on agnosticism. None of your replies addresses that knowledge has not required certainty for at least 10 – 20 years now, and quite likely longer. I would indeed say that Dawkins is claiming to know that God doesn’t exist, by the standards of knowledge, but his evidence does rise to those standards. But, again, he doesn’t know what the state of epistemology is and yet still talks a lot about knowledge. That’s only the most obvious problem.

    I’m also quite puzzled that you seem to think that I was defending astrology, but that might just be you’re using “you” there to not refer to me, but to them. However, I stand by my contention that you cannot reject astrology out of hand because of a presumption that heavenly bodies cannot influence those events. I agree with you that it is the job of the field to produce the consistent and agreed on methods of doing it. Astrology doesn’t really have a specific field, and so has no consistent methodology, and so there’s really no way to evaluate it. But I don’t go around claiming that it’s just bunk, either. I would make that claim about specific systems, not the field itself (if it existed). And so you also should not dismiss the field based on your analysis of a few arguments. And, in fact, in all seriousness you should be letting the field that’s checking all this stuff out — philosophy of religion — be your filter instead of just dismissing it out of hand. And right now the state of philosophy of religion is, in my opinion, that there are no good proofs or disproofs but there are some interesting arguments. Knowing that, you should be able to make your own determination of how interested you are in them.

  207. #207 josh
    July 29, 2011

    Verbose,

    “Bordering on” is a weasel word. I didn’t dismiss your arguments because I think anything in particular about your general character, end of story. I tried to give you an outside perspective on why you can’t see the problems with your own positions. Rarely fruitful, I know, but I can try.

    For the most part I don’t think you specifically, are employing the Courtier’s Reply with respect to Dawkins generally. Earlier in the thread you appeared to be defending those who do or misrepresenting the nature of the Reply. Certainly Feser is much worse, as are his commenters, as are the swath of would be takedowns of TGD at whom the Reply was initially directed. (Ugh, sometimes I’m referring to the Reply as what PZ wrote and sometimes to the rhetorical strategy which PZ’s post criticized. I hope it’s clear enough in context.)

    Page after page of “Dawkins is woefully ignorant” and “I provide a really good argument in my book”, while ignoring the substance of the criticism. Feser says he doesn’t understand it and Feser is wrong. Dawkins is summarizing the numerous versions of the argument passed around by theists. Possibly he could have done so better for the sake of clarity. Nothing in what he wrote implied to me that he misunderstood the argument or that his primary objection was that the conclusion explicity contradicts the first premise, as Feser repeatedly asserts. In his post on “So you think you understand the cosmological argument”, the bulk of Feser’s other points amount to admitting that atheists have correctly pointed out various conclusions and assumptions that the cosmological argument doesn’t support, but that these aren’t ‘serious’ objections because he totally justifies them in his books. Never mind that atheists have also refuted these and that it certaily lends credence to the claim that the cosmological argument per se is not a good argument for god. And yes, Feser’s book is obscure and not requisite reading to criticize the cosmological argument.

    I think you flirt with this a few times above. Quit telling me Dawkins is naive or out of his depth based on dubious readings of his point. Stick with actual criticism. As I said, I have my own complaints about TGD, but I don’t conclude that Dawkins is some blithering ignoramus who’s so clueless he’s not worth debating. I think he’s a smart man who’s central points are substantially correct, although some tangents are dubious and a more thorough book would have been nice for what I wanted . (If you haven’t surmised by now, I have read the book, I just don’t own it. There’s this concept called ‘libraries’ which you may not have formulated yet. : ) ) When you say “he’d simply add “not knowing modal logic” to “not knowing that any defeat would also defeat the ontological argument if his argument really worked”, I think you’re being stupidly uncharitable. I don’t want to start a debate on modal logic right now, and I cannot speak for Dawkins’s own views or familiarity with it. The anecdote is about the general absurdity of the ontological argument. Dawkins isn’t so stupid that he didn’t realize a thorough refutation of the OA when it was offered, I don’t see any basis for this claim. If he didn’t write it out explicitly enough for you, fine, that’s a critique of the book, not an indication that Dawkins doesn’t know the first thing about reason.

    On dualism: Animists don’t count as religious dualists? I take his point to be that dualism allows for animism and possession and disembodied spirits, while materialism does not because it is based on evidence. I doubt he was asserting that all dualists are animists, etc.

    On knowledge: My replies address the fact that ‘knowledge’ is an English word in common usage and Dawkins can use it as he likes within the parameters of normal usage. If he asserted that all epistemologists define knowledge as absolute certainty, I would say he was wrong. That you personally would have labelled his categories differently is irrelevant. Did you or did you not understand Dawkins point in bringing the scale up?

    I apologize if I wasn’t clear above. I don’t think you are defending astrology explicitly. I sometimes use “you” above in the general fashion, i.e., one who would make such an argument, but my concerns apply to your explicitly defending theology. I don’t reject the premise on presumption, but on conclusion: The evidence is lacking. The methods are obviously flawed. The assumptions are unwarranted. We have a much better understanding of the world which does not lead to those conclusions. Etc.

    A field with nothing but bunk systems is bunk. My filter is, are the methods of this field useful? Are they applied consistently enough to make the field as practiced respectable? Is there good reason to think that the ‘experts’ of the field should be trusted over and above my own judgement? That’s where astrology and theology fail for me. The proofs don’t work, they don’t come close and I can see that no variation of them will work.

  208. #208 josh
    July 29, 2011

    Okay, on to part 2 in response to Verbose at 203:

    “I can’t believe that you made the argument that Chemistry and Physics are different departments…”

    As with your conclusion that I was defending The God Delusion without having read it, when you can’t believe I did something you are probably misunderstanding me or watching the point sail by overhead. It was an analogy to demonstrate a principle: the fact that Phys. and Chem. are housed in different buildings is not an argument that they use different methods or can’t be judged by the same standards. The fact that Science and Philosophy are different majors is a historical and societal contingency, not a justification of different methods or standards. So your trivial contention is just that, trivial. You are trying to argue from definitions and categories and I am questioning the basis of those assumptions.

    You argued that science studies ‘things’ while philosophy studies ‘concepts’. I raised the point that ‘things’ are concepts so there’s no clear division. You say they have different ends, I ask what motivates these ends and how am I to judge if they have been achieved? You keep talking in terms of “philosophy does” and “science’s goal” and “theology’s position is”, but those are just things we do. There are my goals and your goals, my judgments and your judgments; abstract academic fields do not have a preference.

    So for instance, when you say the philosophy of science is BY DEFINITION not science, I say I see no reason why I should accept that definition. I say it’s both philosophy and science because they are both ultimately just thinking. Okay, so I think we agree that there are concepts that aren’t good models for the ‘real’ world as far as we can tell. If you happen to be interested in those thoughts and it doesn’t motivate you to do anything in the real world, that’s your business. If, however, you want me to agree that you are doing it well, or rigorously, or whatever, you have to make a case for methods of evaluation we can agree on. I tried to illustrate some of the problems that arise with ‘pure’ conceptual analysis in the sense you intend.

    In my judgment, philosophy (understood here as the department separate from science and math) is not a paragon of critical examination because philosophers in general aren’t. Critical objections and provisos are raised and then ignored or papered over. Basically, there are plenty of smart people and clever ideas within philosophy, but there is no cutting the wheat from the chaff. If Feser and Plantinga and Aquinas are still contenders then I can’t respect it as an institution. Would love to see a working version but not holding my breath because humans aren’t good at it.

    On concepts 1 and 2:

    1) does indeed rely on instantiation. What beliefs do people hold/what do they mean has a correct answer only if people actually hold beliefs and mean things.

    2)There is no correct “what it is” if it isn’t instantiated, except in the sense of (1), which is a correct description of an instantiated mental state. There’s no top to start from. You start from the current level, go up a bit, come back down, check your agreement with reality, make that the new (provisional) level if it works, repeat. Don’t go for the high lob and hope it comes down on something real.

    If you want to argue that there are good real world motivations for working out a god-concept, that’s fine, it’s a different discussion. But you would be then be proposing the same kind of inferences as science.

  209. #209 Kel
    July 30, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,
    That I jumped on “definition” was symptomatic of the underlying problem that I have with dualists – they don’t tell us anything about the mind works, except that there’s mental stuff that’s separate to physical stuff. I don’t think I’m getting through to you my problem so I’ll give you a parallel.

    Imagine someone picked up Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is and said that the book is full of good reasons to think there’s a designer. When questioned, it turns out that Mayr, while denying any such designer and talking solely about evolutionary mechanisms, has nonetheless criticised evolutionary explanations like gene-centred evolution. Furthermore he talked about the role of chance in nature, and empathised just how much chance can play a role, especially when it comes to speciation.

    Meanwhile I’m also told that intelligent design is able to handle problems that the current evolutionary model can’t. When pressed as to how it handles it, I’m told that a designer can account for structure and specified complex information. That the purposeful arrangement of parts is something a designer is capable of doing. So while Mayr’s book comes at the problem from a position dismissive of design, he nonetheless by describing the complexities of nature and the structured order is giving a good account for the designer.

    So I press on and discuss why I don’t think intelligent design is an intelligible idea – that saying “designer did it” doesn’t actually explain anything, but of course the design advocate is unphased. After all, he’s not arguing how the “designer did it” but that the “designer did it”. Then the design advocate is adamant of the problems of evolutionary theory, and that these problems are better explained by a designer. Yet I contend that the problems only exist because evolution is an attempt at explanation, that it’s fleshed out enough to be able to make predictions – intelligent design has those same problems too, then there are the added problems that come with positing a designer that we just can’t detect.

    So the argument continues on like this, the design advocate not actually advancing anything substantial, but adamant that “a designer did it” is a valid inference, and even preferable given the problems of evolutionary theory, and me arguing that “a designer did it” doesn’t actually explain anything, meanwhile evolutionary explanations are accumulating more and more evidence into an overwhelming body of evidence. The design advocate, to my mind, isn’t interested in anything other than getting to say “a designer exists” as they haven’t even made an attempt to explain the evidence – just asserted that a designer exists despite all evidence to the contrary, and backing it up by the difficulties in evolutionary explanations, and despite all the new problems that causes.

  210. #210 KG
    July 31, 2011

    But Plantinga’s argument would ask us to consider the converse: that perhaps things appear red to us because we INDEPENDENTLY identify them as dangerous, and our internal sensory apparatus then colours it red in order to flag danger.

    But this would be obvious nonsense, if only because there are many things we know are dangerous and do not see as red (and of course many things we see as red but do not regard as dangerous), so our internal sensory apparatus clearly does nothing of the kind. You see, you’ve discarded Plantinga’s skullbustingly stupid example, only to come up with one every bit as cretinous.

    Now, the answer to this is: “But look, surely with additional investigation we’d detect these. For example, with the redness we could measure the wavelength and detect the difference”. But this presumes that your other cognitive processes don’t, in fact, ALSO adjust to report the wrong information, to preserve consistency. For simple, off-the-cuff examples you can always push it so that the patch-ups become more and more implausible and so it would seem that we would detect it — like your tag example — but the point stands: a consistent illusion would be undetectable and could be just as successful as a consistently correct sense impression, and more so than inconsistently correct sense impressions. We may be able to detect small illusions, but are we then just picking out inconsistencies in an overall illusion?

    I’ve already given another perfectly adequate refutation of this stupid garbage above, but this is simply an appeal to magic. Why and how would your cognitive processes have acquired all the knowledge necessary to maintain a consistent illusion? Why would consistency be selectively advantageous (and remember, we’re supposed to be arguing about what would be advantageous) in an illusion?
    We have repeated examples of human beings, individually and collectively, discovering that our senses are not accurate, our intuitions can mislead us, and our beliefs are wrong – something that should be impossible if the cognitive system works to preserve consistent illusions.

    Of course, you can always fall back on “Well, maybe it’s all a big illusion.”, without fear of refutation, but so what? A parallel point applies to positions and arguments of every sort, by everyone – how does Plantinga know that he’s not mistaken at every step in every argument, deceived by an evil demon that causes him to mistake obvious nonsense for valid chains of reasoning? (Come to think of it, that has a certain plausibility!) It’s no good saying God wouldn’t let that happen – the demon could have deceived him about God as well. If we adopt a radical scepticism about the senses, there are no grounds to exempt reasoning – including that of philosophers and theologians – from the same.

  211. #211 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    This comment keeps getting held up in moderation. I’m assuming it contains some keyward that triggers moderation, but I can’t find it, so I’m cutting my comment up into chunks, to find the place.

    Verbose Stoic | July 25, 2011 9:01 AM:

    Q) How can the details of a phenomenal experience have any impact on our behavior? It would have to be produced by the same neurons that are simply progressing down the line, and cannot in and of itself change that pattern.

    It is completely wrong-headed to think of the pattern of neural firings which result from an experience to be anything so simple as a “line” or a “chain”.

    For example, when light hits a typical vertebrate retina, even for a very small amount of light, thousands of neurons, and possibly up to millions of neurons will fire in parallel, not in a “line”, or a “chain”. Each neuron will perform a calculation, which is an interaction between its internal state (which is the result of its prior experience, developmental biology, and genetics) and the new information it has received from the outside environment, initially through other cells, such as cones and rods.

    [to be continued ...]

  212. #212 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    [... continuing ...]

    The firing of the neuron – the timing of the firing, which of its axons it fires, and the other characteristics of the firing – will be conditional upon the results of the calculation. The neuron will also change its internal state, conditional on the results of said calculation. The neurons to which it is further connected will take inputs from multiple other neurons (perhaps up to a 100 or so), and in turn perform their calculations, which are also interactions between each neuron’s internal state, and the inputs that neuron has received.

    The result is a large, complex web, in which each neuron takes multiple inputs, each neuron makes a calculation, and then, conditional upon the results, changes its internal state (which will affect future calculations), and then fires (or doesn’t fire) some or all of its axons in a manner conditional on the results of said calculation, sending processed information along to other cells (usually, but not always, neurons).

    [to be continued ... ]

  213. #213 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    [... continuing ...]

    The network of neurons will bring together the calculations of many neurons so that they compose a much larger conditional calculation. And the results of that calculation may in turn cause other cells to respond, resulting in the organism’s response to the environmental conditions which caused the firing of the neurons.

    [to be continued ...]

  214. #214 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    [... continuing ...]

    The idea that a network of neurons “cannot change the pattern” is nonsense. Neurons contain internal state, they perform conditional calculations based on an interaction of their state, their inputs, and their environment, then they change their internal state, and potentially fire one or more axons, transmitting the results of their calculations to other cells.

    [to be continued ...]

  215. #215 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    [... continuing ...]

    The information a neuron passes on to other cells will not in general be the same …

    [to be continued ...]

  216. #216 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    [... continuing ...]

    … as the information input into it; the behavior of a neuron is to change the pattern.

    And the change the neuron makes will be conditional on the inputs it receives, its internal state, and its environment. The fact that a neuron is deterministic is not mean it is a row of dominoes.

    [to be continued ...]

  217. #217 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    [... continuing ...]

    Thus, if the neural firings stayed the same but the phenomenal experience was different, the same behavior would occur.

    If two different sets of environmental conditions result in identical firings of neurons, the organism in question is unable to distinguish between those two conditions. This should not be surprising at all; every organism will live in an environment containing many features undetectable to it; particles too small to see or feel, to astronomical bodies too far away, or in the wrong direction. No organism can ever have total comprehension of its environment, and thus many environmental conditions will be indistinguishable to it. Perhaps that blindness will result its inability to pass on its genes – or, more likely, the greater efficiency of its brain over the brain of a competing organism which can perceive said differences will advantage it. (I say more likely, because relatively simple brains are far more common than complex brains.)

    [to be continued ...]

  218. #218 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    [... continuing ...]

    So the details of phenomenal experience, then, only coincidentally line up with the actual behaviors. And that’s definitely an odd conclusion.

    It’s a conclusion based on a completely unrealistic model of neurons. A neuron may have dozens or even hundreds of inputs, it will have complex internal state, it will make calculations conditional on its inputs and internal state, and it will may have dozens or even hundreds of outputs, which may fire as a result of said calculations. It is not anything like “chain”.

    If there is a fossil, embedded in the rock beneath your feet, and you cannot tell it is there, because you are curiously unable to see through rock, that does not therefor imply that your “phenomenal experience” “only coincidentally line[s] up with” your “actual behaviors”.

  219. #219 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    My apologies for the many fragments. The problem word was “general”.

  220. #220 llewelly
    August 1, 2011

    On second thought, the problem was more likely combinations of words rather than any single word. But there was one particular chunk that did not pass until I put in the middle of “general”.

  221. #221 Wow
    August 1, 2011

    “and of course many things we see as red but do not regard as dangerous”

    Like Apples. Or Cherries.

    And poisonous salamanders are often yellow. Just like bananas.

    The design of a colour coding in life to warn us of bad things seems to be lacking any sort of proven design.

  222. #222 David Marjanović
    August 1, 2011

    “First of all, what do you even mean by “prove”? All ideas about multiverses arise from theory; from mathematically consistent sets of equations. But those coming up with those equations acknowledge that they don’t count as proof. The equations might be wrong.”

    So, is there no case where they could say that the theory must work out and so there must be multiverses? I’m going to say “Yes” since that could be done for theoretical entities and multiverses are, in fact, just that. Thus, there may well be a way to prove that multiverses exist and even some of their properties without being able to observe them ourselves

    No. This is not how science works.

    Any equation can be a concept that is not instantiated; any theory can be an oversimplification of reality that gives wrong predictions under some conditions.

    If we had a Theory Of Everything that predicted the existence of a multiverse but also predicted that there’d be no way to test this empirically, we would consider the existence of other universes probable but by no means certain — unknown, unknowable. The scientific method does not allow leaps of faith.

    No theory must work out.

    We cannot make the assumption that the world is limited to what we can imagine. We can and must apply the principle of parsimony, but arguments from parsimony are not proof.

    Dennett basically tries to claim that qualia is [sic] not really there, or that if it [sic] is it isn’t important, others argue based entirely on a notion of “awareness” that doesn’t need to include qualia or phenomenal experiences at all, and Jaegwon Kim is explicitly epiphenomenal, arguing that phenomenal experiences have no causal power. No, they don’t explicitly try to explain it. They try to explain conscious behaviour, but end up leaving phenomenal experience out because it’s hard to do from their perspective.

    So… why do you think Dennett is wrong when he writes there probably is no such thing as a quale in the first place?

    If there are no qualia, there is nothing to explain there!

    (If any refresher is needed, here is a link to Dennett’s article.)

    So turning back to theology after that windy discursion: You can try to see what a particular concept, which you call god, entails, but it’s a fool’s errand if you don’t start from reality to arrive at and refine that concept. There is no correct conception of god apart from one that matches up with reality. If the most consistent concept of the existing world available to us is one that bears negligible resemblance to theology, then it is irrational to believe in god and pointless to do theology (except I suppose as amusement, like the Kirk Picard fight.)

    Plantinga, Aquinas and Augustine are fine examples of non-rigor in my book. They talk endlessly and baroquely but not rigorously. They examine their concepts like a lawyer examines a friendly witness. Think of a group of learned rabbis, debating interpretation, and interpretation of interpretation of the Torah with many a ‘hmmm’ and ‘ahhh’. They are not rigorous because there is no standard to decide unambiguously who is correct, and none of them is right because they have no reference back to reality. It has been said that creationism is cargo cult science and I find that theology is cargo cult reasoning.

    QFT!

    Congratulations to anyone who made it through this whole comment, you’re a trooper.

    LOL. That wasn’t even a three-screener. :-)

    Part of this can be seen in Hawking’s equivocation over “nothing”. He says, I think, that if you have a law like gravity you’ll have to have something that comes from nothing. But that’s not nothing; either the law of gravity it a thing and so there’s something or it’s a description of how things with mass interact and so there are already lots of things. The same thing can be said for radioactive decay: what you have is a thing that undergoes a process, and so nothing is really created. Which is good, since the process according to wikipedia is a release of energy and energy by physical definition cannot be created or destroyed, but can only change form. Why, then, isn’t radioactive decay just a change in form? Why can’t a process cause something in the right way to maintain the “contingent things need a cause” argument? And are you sure that Aquinas’ argument doesn’t go further than those type of causes (Feser clearly thinks it does)?

    *sigh*

    Radioactive decay is not caused.

    There is no way to predict when any given radioactive atom will decay, and there is no way to make it decay or not decay.

    This is one effect of Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation, published in 1927. Another is the Casimir effect, first observed in 1948.

    Uncaused causes happen all the fucking time, everywhere. A premise of the cosmological argument is wrong, and that makes its conclusion wrong.

    Do philosophers like Plantinga and you have no shame for having been asleep through so many decades!?!

    and far more separately than, say, psychology and science are

    *facepalm* Psychology is a science. It uses the scientific method.

    Flying elephants would still be elephants; disembodied minds would still be minds. Thus, conceptually, they’re possible.

    This is a word game. “Conceptually possible” just means “imaginable to a human brain” — why should we care about that?

    2) Neural chains are causally closed, meaning that they proceed from neuron to neuron directly in a predictable causal progression with no room for any external intervention.

    Q) How can the details of a phenomenal experience have any impact on our behaviour? It would have to be produced by the same neurons that are simply progressing down the line, and cannot in and of itself change that pattern. Thus, if the neural firings stayed the same but the phenomenal experience was different, the same behaviour would occur. So the details of phenomenal experience, then, only coincidentally line up with the actual behaviours. And that’s definitely an odd conclusion.

    *facepalm*

    Nerve cells are branched. They can accept input from more than one other nerve cell (and, for that matter, pass on output to more than one other nerve or muscle or gland cell).

    Sense organs contain cells that generate a nerve impulse and pass it on to a nerve cell.

    There are AND, OR, NOT etc. nerve cells.

    That’s electrical wiring we’re talking about! The way you describe it it almost sounds like metaphysics!

    Yes, in anchoring our concepts to the real world, we are looking for a narrow path, it is the path of actually being correct. Philosophy of science is not, ultimately, a distinct thing from science. Scientists do philosophy of science. I’m objecting to the naive attempt to compartmentalize them when you want to exempt your ideas from critical examination. The things science can’t in princip[le] examine, are things you don’t in princip[le] have a rational right to believe in.

    QFT!

    His so-called evolutionary argument against naturalism is so gobsmackingly moronic it is almost impossible to believe it is intended seriously.

    It’s also an argument from ignorance of evolutionary epistemology, which you go on to explain. Evolutionary epistemology was developed several decades ago by a biologist, which may explain how it managed to escape Plantinga’s tunnel-vision-like attention for so long.

    So, no, Plantinga’s argument doesn’t quite work, at least in its basic formulation. But it does raise an interesting issue, and Plantinga and others have looked at and criticized and rebuilt it. It’s worth reading, even if you don’t agree with it.

    Nope.

    The theory of evolution by mutation, selection and drift explains why our senses are as reliable as they are, why they aren’t any more reliable than that, and why their inadequacies lie where they do and don’t lie elsewhere.

    For instance, it explains why our pattern recognition is overactive — we often interpret patterns into what we see, even when there are no patterns there. Well, those who didn’t see a leopard in the nearest bush when there was one in there have all already been eaten; those who did see one when there wasn’t one have gone through life a bit more scared than necessary, but haven’t suffered any lasting damage that would have impacted their reproductive success (“fitness”).

    Why add a god to this explanation? Sire, je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse.

    So Plantinga’s argument, then, is to point out that you can rely on your sense impressions if there’s an overarching, all-good creator God who created your impressions, since then those impressions would be accurate. And thus, you can save science and save at least a portion of evolution.

    Strikes me as an argument from consequences.

    Materialism [...] has massive issues with explaining how mental states can have causal power.

    Please explain.

    And finally, specifically on decisions: do you think that computers can make decisions? If you don’t, then so much for AI. But if you do, then you accept that things that do not have neurons make decisions (or at least could) and so there’s no real issue for a dualistic mind.

    *headdesk*

    Computers are still matter. They still aren’t ghosts. If computers make decisions, how in the fuck does that support dualism!?!

    I once argued with a physicist who argued that the Big Bang didn’t have a cause because there was no time before the Big Bang and so there can’t be causes.

    I agree that that’s a spurious argument. However, if the Big Bang was a quantum fluctuation, it really didn’t have a cause.

    The hypothesis that it was a quantum fluctuation predicts that the total energy of the universe (counting potential energy as negative) is zero*. At present, this is only testable to crude approximations, but it hasn’t been disproved so far. It is therefore possible that millennia of philosophy have been making an argument from ignorance in assuming that the universe has a cause.

    * That’s because the more energy a quantum fluctuation creates, the more quickly does that energy need to be repaid — in quantum physics, you can cheat the first law of thermodynamics (by using the uncertainty relation), but you still can’t violate it. Conversely, a quantum fluctuation with zero energy should be stable forever.

    Dawkins’ treatment of the ontological argument is just bad. The worst part is where he says that he used the logic to prove that pigs could fly, gave it at a discussion, and the philosophers there had to resort to modal logic to refute it. The problem is that he seems to have been going for a “perfect island” type of argument, and missed the entire point of those arguments. The point of those sorts of arguments is to posit something ridiculous using the precise same logic, and force the defender of the ontological argument into a dilemma: Either accept the absurdity or disprove the argument, and thus disprove the ontological argument as well. That’s what Gasking’s argument right after tries to do. The fact that the philosophers COULD use modal logic to refute Dawkins’ version and Dawkins didn’t simply say that the ontological argument is therefore false implies that either Dawkins’ argument wasn’t really just like the OA and/or Dawkins didn’t understand that really simple and basic type of rebuttal to the argument … meaning that he doesn’t understand something that a basic philosophy of religion course or text proves.

    Waffle, waffle, waffle. Does Gaunilo’s Island disprove Anselm’s astonishingly silly word game that reifies various meanings of “great” and fallaciously equates them, or does it not?

    If it does, and unsurprisingly I agree with Dawkins that it does, nobody needs to waffle about modal logic or the exquisite leathers of the emperor’s boots. Before talking about those, you need to establish that Gaunilo made a mistake.

    (The reply Anselm gave amounts to “God is special, so this doesn’t apply”. Boooo.)

    His description of dualism is laughably wrong and doesn’t apply to either Cartesian or soul versions, since he attaches it to at least a quote about trees having minds and souls and since both Descartes and most theologians question whether animals really have minds or souls it’s unlikely that they just think that inanimate objects have them.

    Sorry for straying off topic. Did you just seriously call a tree an inanimate object?

    First, the trivial contention is that Chemistry and Physics both generally come under the Faculty of SCIENCE, and Philosophy, of course, does not.

    Really, stop that. At the University of Vienna, chemistry and physics used to belong to the Faculty of Formal and Natural Sciences, the “formal sciences” being mathematics and logic. Then logic was moved to philosophy, leaving the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. All the while, philosophy belonged to the Faculty of Basic and Integrative Sciences. Since the reform of 2002, physics forms the Faculty of Physics, chemistry forms the Faculty of Chemistry, and philosophy is in the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences together with fields like Africanistics or “Tibetology and Buddhism Studies”.

    Different universities have very different organizations, and some of these organizations are stupid. Stop using them as arguments.

    science does things really well, philosophy does concepts really well

    Off topic again: science isn’t about things, it’s about facts, about relationships between things. Science is about the world as defined by Wittgenstein: “all that is the case”.

    I don’t have to read your whole proof when you divide by zero on the first line.

    Bingo.

    Astrology doesn’t really have a specific field, and so has no consistent methodology, and so there’s really no way to evaluate it.

    WTF? Of course there is: treat it as a black box, let an astrologer make predictions for you, and test those predictions!

    Did you forget that astrology makes empirically ( = scientifically) testable predictions?

    Of course, you can always fall back on “Well, maybe it’s all a big illusion.”, without fear of refutation, but so what? A parallel point applies to positions and arguments of every sort, by everyone – how does Plantinga know that he’s not mistaken at every step in every argument, deceived by an evil demon that causes him to mistake obvious nonsense for valid chains of reasoning? (Come to think of it, that has a certain plausibility!) It’s no good saying God wouldn’t let that happen – the demon could have deceived him about God as well. If we adopt a radical scepticism about the senses, there are no grounds to exempt reasoning – including that of philosophers and theologians – from the same.

    Indeed, if we ignore parsimony like this, “we” may as well go all the way and declare me the solipsist. Was nice imagining talking to you, figments of my imagination.

  223. #223 KG
    August 1, 2011

    So Plantinga’s argument, then, is to point out that you can rely on your sense impressions if there’s an overarching, all-good creator God who created your impressions, since then those impressions would be accurate. And thus, you can save science and save at least a portion of evolution.

    Even supposing Plantinga’s “argument” had the slightest merit (which it does not), this would be absurd, for two reasons. First, as already noted, our senses are not perfectly reliable. Second, it is the purest of wishful thinking. Suppose there to be a creator responsible for our senses, what reason is there to suppose it well-disposed towards us? Seriously, Plantinga wants to refound science on the equivalent of “I do believe in fairies, I do!”?

    So, no, Plantinga’s argument doesn’t quite work, at least in its basic formulation. But it does raise an interesting issue – Verbose Stoic

    No, it doesn’t. It’s utter bilge from beginning to end, founded on Plantinga’s boundless ignorance about evolution.

  224. #224 Robert O'Brien
    August 1, 2011

    *sigh*

    Radioactive decay is not caused.

    There is no way to predict when any given radioactive atom will decay, and there is no way to make it decay or not decay.

    This is one effect of Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation, published in 1927. Another is the Casimir effect, first observed in 1948.

    Uncaused causes happen all the fucking time, everywhere. A premise of the cosmological argument is wrong, and that makes its conclusion wrong.

    Do philosophers like Plantinga and you have no shame for having been asleep through so many decades!?!

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I always get my quantum physics from paleontologists. Say, David, why don’t you tutor us all in stochastic differential equations? You can borrow my Oksendal. (Wait, what am I thinking?! You are too hardcore for that book. You’d probably want to use Protter or Karatzas and Shreve instead.)

    The fact of the matter is that despite the assertions of this paleontologist to the contrary, causality and quantum mechanics (as well as the ontology of virtual particles) is (are) subject to debate.

    Does Gaunilo’s Island disprove Anselm’s astonishingly silly word game that reifies various meanings of “great” and fallaciously equates them [Ontological Argument], or does it not?

    No, it does not.

    If it does, and unsurprisingly I agree with Dawkins that it does, nobody needs to waffle about modal logic or the exquisite leathers of the emperor’s boots. Before talking about those, you need to establish that Gaunilo made a mistake.

    (The reply Anselm gave amounts to “God is special, so this doesn’t apply”. Boooo.)

    ‘No matter how great an island is, no matter how
    many Nubian maidens and dancing girls adorn it, there could
    always be a greater-one with twice as many, for example. The
    qualities that make for greatness in islands-number of palm trees,
    amount and quality of coconuts, for example-most of these
    qualities have no intrinsic maximum. That is, there is no degree [of
    them] … such that it is impossible that an island display more of
    that quality. So the idea of a greatest possible island is an
    inconsistent or incoherent idea.’
    (Alvin Plantinga, as quoted by R. Kane, “The Modal Ontological Argument”)

    David,

    I’d write, “Don’t quit your day job,” but your day job is not particularly useful, so maybe you should consider it. Still, I’d suggest staying away from physics, philosophy, and logic.

  225. #225 Sili
    August 1, 2011

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I always get my quantum physics from paleontologists. Say, David, why don’t you tutor us all in stochastic differential equations? You can borrow my Oksendal. (Wait, what am I thinking?! You are too hardcore for that book. You’d probably want to use Protter or Karatzas and Shreve instead.)

    It’s Øksendal.

    Anyway, care to enlighten us proles as to how StoDEs ensures causation?

    Isn’t the whole point of stochastics that we can only determine averages and likelihoods? You may in principle be able to tell if a coin will come up heads, but you can never tell me if this potassium atom in my pocket will decompose in the next week or not.

  226. #226 PhysicistDave
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote:
    >I’m also quite puzzled that you seem to think that I was defending astrology, but that might just be you’re using “you” there to not refer to me, but to them. However, I stand by my contention that you cannot reject astrology out of hand because of a presumption that heavenly bodies cannot influence those events. I agree with you that it is the job of the field to produce the consistent and agreed on methods of doing it. Astrology doesn’t really have a specific field, and so has no consistent methodology, and so there’s really no way to evaluate it. But I don’t go around claiming that it’s just bunk, either. I would make that claim about specific systems, not the field itself (if it existed).

    You *really* are unwilling to go around saying that astrology is “just bunk”??

    Why on earth won’t you acknowledge that obvious fact?

    Look… physics and astronomy provide us with very good reasons that indicate the planets and stars cannot affect matters here on earth as astrology claims – we can calculate the gravitational or magnetic effects of the planets, for example, and they are insignificant.

    And, astrologers have not and can not provide evidence that their nonsense really works – there is no serious attempt to give supporting evidence.

    And, finally, there is no secret as to where astrology comes from: they just made it up.

    All of history and all of ordinary human experience indicates that humans have an impressive ability to make up nonsense: the overwhelming majority of thought systems that humans have just spun off the top of their heads have turned out to be false.

    If all that is not enough to justify saying that astrology is “just bunk,” what on earth could justify that conclusion???

    There is no amount of studying of astrology that would convince the astrologers that you had studied enough. As one of the Christians above nicely demonstrated, no matter how much you study their silly beliefs, if you do not agree with them, or have the right attitude, or whatever, it is all your fault that you do not believe.

    If they actually had some evidence for their beliefs, some credible way of explaining how they legitimately arrived at their beliefs, etc., that response on their part might make sense.

    For example if someone tells me she has read several books on quantum theory and concluded that it is all just bunk, I, as a physicist, really am entitled to tell her that she just has not read enough, just has not tried to understand it enough, etc. In a sense, I am justified in giving her the “Courtiers’ Reply,” but only because I do have enormous evidence that quantum theory is largely true and because I can explain, in enormous detail, how and why observational data forced us into quantum mechanics – we physicists did not just make it up as a whimsical fantasy.

    (Frankly, an awful lot of us physicists (including Einstein) really have not much liked quantum mechanics – but nature does not care. For better or worse, nature behaves as if quantum mechanics is true.)

    But, astrologers (and theologians) are not in that position in the slightest. They have obviously just made up their stuff: it is in fact quite easy historically to trace how theologians have done this, since we have the historical record of the development of Christian theology. Furthermore, they have no serious supporting evidence; on the contrary, there is a great deal of evidence against their claims.

    The publicly known facts about science, known even to not-very-bright non-scientists, such as the fact that science was successfully used to create nuclear bombs, lasers, cell phones, etc., is sufficient to create a strong presumption that scientists largely know what they are talking about. That does not mean that the scientific consensus is automatically correct, whether on quantum theory, global warming, the mind-body problem, the superstring “landscape,” Hawking’s views on the origins of the universe, or whatever. But the known successes of science should create a presumption that scientific claims deserve very serious consideration, especially if there is empirical evidence for those claims, and if those claims have become a consensus within the scientific community. And for the same reasons, any challenges to scientific claims should be expected to play by the rules of science – appeal to empirical evidence, etc.

    But, again, none of that applies to astrology or theology, precisely because all of the things that create a presumption in favor of science create an overwhelming presumption against theology and astrology – the refusal to test their theories by empirical evidence, the fact that there is strong evidence from science against their views, and the fact that we know, historically, that astrology and theology were just spun out as fantasies from the brains of astrologers and theologians.

    There is an enormous difference here.

    I know that some people (perhaps most Americans) know so little about science that they honestly have trouble understanding this difference.

    I don’t think that applies to you.

    So, why do you have trouble denouncing astrology (or theology) as quite obviously “bunk”?

    Dave Miller in Sacramento

  227. #227 PhysicistDave
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose Stoic write:
    >What I will say here, though, is that one of the reasons to consider the modal ontological argument interesting even if that equivocation is true is that it’s an attempt to use modal logic to establish the ontological argument and get around the problems with it. That would represent an advance in theology and philosophy of religion even if it doesn’t work out.

    I think you have just shown why I am generally opposed to “an advance in theology and philosophy of religion,” just as I am opposed to an advance in homeopathy, astrology, Scientology, etc.

    In some fields of human endeavor, an “advance” is necessarily a regression.

  228. #228 Fixed That For You
    August 2, 2011

    ‘No matter how great an island a God is, no matter how many Nubian maidens and dancing girls adorn it He provides to all, there could always be a greater-one with that provides twice as many, for example. The qualities that make for greatness in islands Gods-number of palm trees provided to all, amount and quality of coconuts provided to all, for example-most of these qualities have no intrinsic maximum. That is, there is no degree [of them] … such that it is impossible that an island display a God provide more of that quality. So the idea of a greatest possible island God is an inconsistent or incoherent idea.’ (Alvin Plantinga is still full of shit, as demonstrated by “The Modal Ontological Argument Cuts its Own Throat“)

  229. #229 Wow
    August 2, 2011

    “but nature does not care. For better or worse, nature behaves as if quantum mechanics is true.”

    I think for the purposes of this thread “true” in this sense must have to mean “the explanation that most appropriately describes the reality we exist in”.

    It’s not that the theories have been true or that they cannot be refined or replaced (as GR did with gravity, for example), but that the explanations QM gives most accurately describe reality.

    “The earth is flat” is good enough for playing cricket, but not good enough to explain the shape of the earth’s shadow on the moon (as the Mayans knew 3000 years ago).

    But astrology doesn’t explain reality in any way, shape or form. But at least it doesn’t stop investigation unlike religion which neither explains reality in any shape or form, but ALSO demands that you stop asking.

    Astrology is non-science. Religion is anti-science. And theology the tortured defence of the realities that show religion up as inapplicable.

  230. #230 Wow
    August 2, 2011

    “First, the trivial contention is that Chemistry and Physics both generally come under the Faculty of SCIENCE, and Philosophy, of course, does not.”

    Additionally, we have SPORTS SCIENCE degrees.

    The name of a faculty has little to do with what is considered a science outside that definition of academia faculty names.

  231. #231 Verbose Stoic
    August 2, 2011

    Kel,

    Noticing that you had made a post on dualism on your blog, I’m moving over there to continue our discussion.

    Everyone else,

    One general point that people have been harping on is supposedly my argument that philosophy and science are in different departments or faculties and therefore use different methods. I never, in fact, only made that argument or even used it as my main argument. That was JOSH’s misrepresentation of my position. The first time this comes up in a reply to josh is in a reply to 187, where I said this:

    “Well, see, I believe that science, philosophy and mathematics are, in fact, different fields, and this seems to be true; after all, they are indeed taught separately in universities, and far more separately than, say, psychology and science are. I will further argue that for philosophy and science they have completely different ends, that philosophy has always been mainly concerned with concepts and conceptual analysis and science with things and the analysis thereof. But I don’t hold that they are in opposition to each other, just that they follow different methods because they aim at different goals”

    The notion that they are “taught separately” is a very, very minor point, and I carried that forward in my response to josh’s misrepresentation as my argument being that they were “in different buildings” (comment 203):

    “First, the trivial contention is that Chemistry and Physics both generally come under the Faculty of SCIENCE, and Philosophy, of course, does not. But we can move from that to the fact that of COURSE both Chemistry and Physics use the scientific method, because they’re both SCIENCES. EXPLICITLY. Philosophy is not. Philosophy does not accept that the only interesting propositions have to be empirically based, while the scientific method insists on that. They are provably different. I can’t imagine how anyone could legitimately argue that they aren’t different fields and don’t do things differently. The mind boggles at the suggestion.”

    The trivial, uninteresting contention was the one about faculties. The interesting contention was that philosophy does not claim to be scientific, while chemistry, physics and, yes, psychology claim to be so. Philosophy explicitly rejects the idea that you need an empirical basis for any interesting claim about reality, even while it concedes that sometimes you do. The naturalistic movement in recent philosophy was an attempt to CONVINCE philosophy that it SHOULD use the scientific method, and that was argued against and seems to have been quietly dropped (naturalistic ethics seems to have been renamed to empirically-informed moral philosophy, and even THAT is controversial). Philosophy is not HOSTILE to science and the scientific method, but it clearly does not and never has limited itself to it either.

    So, if someone has some sort of argument against that beyond a contention that philosophy SHOULD be scientific, I’m all ears. But other than that, I think it’s clear that philosophy does not, in fact, follow the scientific method, and the whole focus on minor points and ignoring the major arguments has got to stop.

  232. #232 Verbose Stoic
    August 2, 2011

    Going backwards again, PhysicistDave:

    The problem is when you declare it “bunk” based on your preconceptions of what it says as opposed to what it actually says. For example, you argue that we’ve measured magnetic and gravitational effects and they’re too weak to have that effect, but no astrologer has ever argued seriously that it is gravitation or magnetism that’s involved with astrology. And imagine that you found an astrologer who had a method that really did work out empirically, and demonstrated a statistical correlation sufficiently stronger than chance that meant that you would believe that there really was an influence there (and there has to be such a level or else you aren’t being scientific). Would that objection stop you in any way from accepting that, or would you go and look for some other mechanism that might explain the influence? Good science, I think, has to do the latter.

    Now, the issue with astrology is that we really have no idea how to test it, because we have no idea which, if any, astrologers have anything like a method that could work. They don’t agree on what is the right method to use, so there’s nothing to test.

    Now, recall my contention, which was actually that you can’t dismiss a field as bunk based on your preconception about whether what it claims is true or not. I stand by that. If astrology gave its best method for determining if it worked and we tested it and found that it didn’t actually work, then we could proclaim it bunk, just as we can for homeopathy. But we couldn’t do that without understand what their claim is, and while for homeopathy I think it is fairly clear I don’t see it as being as clear for astrology. And so as far as I’ll go is say that I don’t think it’s true, but I won’t out-and-out dismiss it as bunk. And I see no reason why I should, or what benefit I get from “The Bunk Hypothesis”.

    Now, onto making it all up: I think that science is not immune from the same charge. What science does, generally, is take an empirical observation, make up an explanation, and go and test it. Hopefully, at the end of the testing we discover whether that was right or wrong. But sometimes we discover that we didn’t have any idea how to test the explanation in the first place, or even how to do that. That requires going back and doing more thinking and maybe even more making stuff up. Astrology and homeopathy, best case, are theories that didn’t work out that people are clinging to. At worst they don’t even understand their own made up explanation.

    This gets especially bad when we delve into some ideas where we aren’t sure IF you can empirically test them, and where most of the work really is over the concept itself. And that’s the state that theology and God are in. And if it turns out that you can’t test them empirically, then science’s railing against it is futile.

    To be clear, I think that astrology DOES have to be proven empirically, and am not sure about theology (although theology shouldn’t contradict science either).

  233. #233 Verbose Stoic
    August 2, 2011

    KG,

    You’re still thinking that you can defeat the argument by defeating the examples. The examples are meant to be illustrative, not proofs, and your reply to mine simply proves that you don’t really get the argument, despite my actually laying it out in some detail. So let me outline the argument for you directly:

    Plantinga notes that we need a reason to think that our faculties are reliable, includes those of science and reason and even down to our senses. Naturalists take evolution as their method, and use it to argue that our faculties are reliable — even, note, if not perfect — because evolution selects them based on utility and reliable — meaning producing accurate, non-illusory truths — faculties provide utility, by evolution.

    So what Plantinga does is takes naturalists straight, works ENTIRELY INSIDE THEIR PARADIGM, and asks “By this evolutionary paradigm, do we actually have sufficient reason to think that our faculties are reliable?”

    One of the reasons this is important is that one of the recent and best definitions of knowledge was reliablism, which meant that to know you had to have your belief justified by a reliable — in the sense described above — truth-forming faculty. If naturalists are right that evolution should produce reliable truth-forming faculties, then we can have knowledge (or, at least, have reason to believe so). If they aren’t, then we can’t, and have to ask what reason we have, then, for believing any proposition produced by them.

    So, again, sticking entirely inside evolution, Plantinga argues that there’s no reason to think that our faculties are reliable. This is because, he argues, that you can have useful illusions, and these will be selected for just as easily as useful truths, and more easily than impractical truths. Thus, if we’re relying on evolution to select our faculties for reliability, reliability and utility come apart and so we cannot rely on utility to give us reliability. And thus, we have no reason to believe that we have any ability to know at all. And, again, all of this is entirely inside the naturalist’s paradigm and strictly relying on what evolution says or implies.

    And it’s that reliance that shows how your reply doesn’t really address my illustrative example, because the question we’d have to ask is to get beyond nitpicking a quick example to a general argument against Plantinga is: Is such a case one that cannot happen based on evolution? This means that you’d have to argue that if evolution is true, in order to have even some illusory experiences of that sort you’d have to have all dangerous things coloured red or all red things considered dangerous. But, clearly, that’s not the case; by definition, for evolution it is the details and history of the organism that would determine what comes under what mechanism, and there’s no reason to think that classification couldn’t sort things that should fall under mechanism A logically into mechanism B. Remember, there’s no purpose there, and so no way to predict the sorting a priori. Thus, my example is, in fact, still consistent with evolution, and as long as it is it still illustrates the big problem: evolution will select just as happily for that sort of illusion as it would for an accurate sense perception. From the perspective of the organism, they’re both equally useful.

    This also shows why charges of radical skepticism or introducing demons doesn’t work. Plantinga demonstrates that evolution being our only guarantee of reliability LEADS TO radical skepticism, and he neither brings it in himself nor does he bring in anything outside of the naturalists’ view to prove it. He simply takes on the naturalist using his own definitions. To do the same to Plantinga’s view would require accepting an omniscient, omnipotent, and all-good God … and then trying to argue that He’d deceive us. It doesn’t work, and you can’t deny Plantinga’s traits or introduce a demon without cheating, and doing what he was careful not to do.

    Now, as you’ve said repeatedly — and I’ve already agreed, recall — you CAN go after Plantinga, by arguing that our senses and faculties don’t, in fact, work out the way we’d expect them if his argument was right, by arguing that they’d have to be flawless and they clearly aren’t. And I agree that this is a very good reply to Plantinga. It doesn’t, however, save naturalism.

    And that’s why I added what you ignored: the appeal to purpose. Denying that they’d have to be perfect, but arguing that they are what they are because they were DESIGNED to be so, and so even when they give us illusions they give us the illusions we’re supposed to have. This does not, of course, quite give us the strong epistemic warrant we wanted, but it’s better than what we have if naturalism really is defeated and it at least maps onto reality which is not true of Plantinga’s alternative.

    Now, how convinced am I of this? Well, I’ll answer it this way: I’m still an agnostic theist even considering this.

    That’s the heart of the argument. It’s not ridiculous, not wishful thinking, but not convincing either.

  234. #234 Verbose Stoic
    August 2, 2011

    David Marjanović,

    You seem to have missed my point about multiverses. I’m arguing that IF the theory works out, there will likely be theoretical entities — ie other universes or multiverses — that we will not be able to directly test but that we’ll know exist and have certain properties because the working theory says they do. You seem to be arguing against a perception that I was arguing the other way around.

    “So… why do you think Dennett is wrong when he writes there probably is no such thing as a quale in the first place?”

    Yes … but note that there is an equivocation there. Even Dennett, I think, won’t actually deny that we have phenomenal experiences and that there are properties — like what a colour looks like or what something tastes like — there. That’s obviously wrong. What Dennett is after is that there are such properties that aren’t also instantiated or the result of things that are third-person observable, and the paper you linked goes after that rather heavily. I think he’s wrong about that, too, but that’s at least moderately defensible (I nail the third person view in a page on my blog arguing that it wouldn’t be able to detect phenomenal experience in cases where it really should, and then argue that if we leave qualia out of consciousness he can have his science of consciousness and I’ll happily pay attention to phenomenal experience, since that’s what I’m interested in anyway and he clearly isn’t).

    “Radioactive decay is not caused.

    There is no way to predict when any given radioactive atom will decay, and there is no way to make it decay or not decay.”

    Why do you say that it has to be predictable to be caused in the right way for the philosophical definition of cause?

    Take this example: imagine that we could make a perfect random number generator, that was actually random, but that which is activated by my pushing a button. I couldn’t predict the number, but I could certainly say that I caused that number to be generated as a result of that process. Thus, a cause. Why can’t processes be considered causes in the right way?

    “Nerve cells are branched. They can accept input from more than one other nerve cell (and, for that matter, pass on output to more than one other nerve or muscle or gland cell).

    Sense organs contain cells that generate a nerve impulse and pass it on to a nerve cell.

    There are AND, OR, NOT etc. nerve cells.

    That’s electrical wiring we’re talking about! The way you describe it it almost sounds like metaphysics!”

    I don’t see how this addressed the point. I ignored none of that. But ultimately, at the end of the day, the claim about consciousness has to be that the same neural firings are causing the experiences as well as the behaviour. We have no idea how neurons produce experiences, but assuming that the same neural pattern — no matter how complex — will produce the same behaviour (nothing else changing, like the weights) then if that mechanism produced a different experience for some reason the behaviour would be the same, ergo no room for the details of the experience to produce the behaviour, ergo epiphenomenal.

    Small intercession here: llwelly, that’s the same answer to your many comments; no matter how complex, it must be the case that it’s all the neuron firings that are doing the work, and if it is then if they’re producing the experiences at the same time then it’s always possible to have the same neural firings and different experiences, and it’s only coincidental that they align, and that’s epiphenomenalism.

    Back to David:

    “Computers are still matter. They still aren’t ghosts. If computers make decisions, how in the fuck does that support dualism!?!”

    Read his claim again. He claimed that because we could see how neurons made decisions it was hard to see how something without neurons — ie our dualist mind — could do so. And I gave examples of other things that seem to be able to make decisions. If you or he want to argue that only physical things can make decisions, then you should in fact actually argue that, don’tcha think?

    “Does Gaunilo’s Island disprove Anselm’s astonishingly silly word game that reifies various meanings of “great” and fallaciously equates them, or does it not?”

    It does not … because it’s not that sort of argument. It’s an attempt to force the OA advocate to accept something they don’t want to accept or accept that there’s a flaw in the logic. But since it doesn’t address the logic itself it can’t disprove the argument unless it can show an actual contradiction. The OA advocate can bite the bullet on islands and pizzas. They couldn’t on pigs flying and Gasking’s “God doesn’t exist argument”, and so that would work better … as long as the OA advocate can’t show that their argument doesn’t actually use the same logic as the OA. And I’m going to presume it doesn’t for Dawkins and know that it doesn’t for Gasking.

    So … no, it doesn’t.

    “Off topic again: science isn’t about things, it’s about facts, about relationships between things. Science is about the world as defined by Wittgenstein: “all that is the case”.”

    Why are you so convinced that the actual specific scientific method can indeed study “all that is the case”? Philosophy disagrees with you. And it would disagree about facts as well. And relationships between things are also about things, so that’s a really weak counter.

    “WTF? Of course there is: treat it as a black box, let an astrologer make predictions for you, and test those predictions!”

    And which astrologer do you choose? The one who writes for the newspapers? Or some expert? How do you choose the expert to test?

  235. #235 Verbose Stoic
    August 2, 2011

    And it looks like I’ve finally returned to josh:

    I’m going to ditch a lot of the “Courtier’s Reply” discussion, although I will point out that you seem to have an odd idea of charity. You seem to be asking me to consider any possible explanation that would support that Dawkins knew what he was talking about, and I find your explanations both specious and still problematic. As with the claim of “Haven’t read the book”, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to take what was said and interpret it in the manner that most resembles normal English speech, and I claim that’s all I’m doing.

    But I’ve noted what seems to me to be a shift in the discussions of the Courtier’s Reply, which is more a matter of “You’re nitpicking on specific points and not addressing what I actually say”. That’s not how I see people like Myers really using it, but okay, let’s go with that. It’s not a fair characterization of Feser because he thinks that a proper understanding of the CA works, and he thinks he has that in his book. So it’s relevant, even if obscure. As for me, I’m generally explicit on why it matters. The dualism one matters less because he doesn’t use it for a substantive point, although it could be seen as a drive-by smearing of both religion and dualism. But we can let that one slide a bit. But the other two are more important:

    1) The only person you could level the substantive charge against is me, who thinks that the OA doesn’t work but that Dawkins got it wrong. However, my reply is that Dawkins clearly wrote that paragraph for a reason, and that that is supposedly at least somewhat important to his point — since it’s a major point in discussing the OA — and so relates to a substantive point about why the OA doesn’t work. But the anecdote CAN’T work, or else he would have said that applying modal logic refuted the OA as well. Thus, it highlights a problem with the entire section: that it’s an inadequate refuation of the OA because it spends more time mocking it than actually outlining to the reader what’s wrong with it. And that’s really bad, and especially bad if someone says that Dawkins DID show what was wrong with the OA. He didn’t, and it looks like that’s because he didn’t really get the OA in the first place.

    2) On knowledge, Dawkins uses that definition — if I recall correctly — to support his contention that agnosticism is wrong-headed, and it can also be used to get him out of “You can’t prove a negative” retorts. But that’s not what knowledge means, and so not what agnostics — or, I daresay, anyone — means when they talk about knowledge. His expansion into the probabilistic notions maps to the notion of knowledge that few advocate and it seems no one uses. Starting from his misconception, his substantive points about knowledge pretty much falter. And they matter, at least to him.

    So, yeah, getting those things wrong has an impact. Yes, people should say that more and more directly, I agree.

    Quickly:

    On dualism: Animism is closer to idealism than dualism, and both materialist and dualist conceptions can be such. The religious view he is actually criticizing is explicitly not animistic.

    On method: We disagree that the methods of theology are obviously flawed.

    “So for instance, when you say the philosophy of science is BY DEFINITION not science, I say I see no reason why I should accept that definition. I say it’s both philosophy and science because they are both ultimately just thinking. ”

    You’re free to invent definitions all you like that disagree with what the actual fields say, as long as you don’t equivocate. And you’re doing that here. While philosophy and science are “ultimately just thinking”, they do claim to follow specific methods. Science uses the scientific method, and philosophy, well, at least doesn’t hold itself to that. So there’s the distinction, defined and well demonstrated. You can argue that both should, but you can’t argue that both, right now, do.

    “If, however, you want me to agree that you are doing it well, or rigorously, or whatever, you have to make a case for methods of evaluation we can agree on. ”

    Why? Why should, say, philosophy convince science that it’s doing philosophy well by science’s standards? As for rigour, we’d define rigour and argue if the methods rise to it, and I certainly think that philosophy would, probably more so than science and possibly more so than mathematics. Unless one builds in the idea that philosophy is not rigourous, I can’t see any reason to think it isn’t.

    “In my judgment, philosophy (understood here as the department separate from science and math) is not a paragon of critical examination because philosophers in general aren’t. Critical objections and provisos are raised and then ignored or papered over.”

    Except they aren’t. They are discussed to death and become basically standard replies that if any philosopher raised the position without addressing those replies they’d be immediately sent packing to address them. That, in fact, is one of the major complaints about Harris’ morality: that he doesn’t bother to address the known problems with scientific morality OR utilitarianism. The theories, though, just don’t die outright, but they only survive to the extent that someone thinks that they can, eventually, fix those problems, or they get revived with attempts to fix those problems because they have some qualities that make them work really well. Or they get mentioned as a basis for the history of a field. But they are never ignored and cannot be papered over because the philosophers who raised the problems in the first place will always go look under the paper.

    Philosophy is, in fact, so confrontational that even things considered obvious are argued to death.

    Finally, on the concepts:

    1) is not an instantiation in the right way. We were talking about the concept being instantiated itself, not just as it being an idea in someone’s head. ALL concepts are ideas in someone’s head, but that’s not instantiation as we’ve been talking about it all through this thread.

    2) My point that you can even essentially invent a concept and ask if it exists … but you can’t do that until you know what the concept is meant to be. It’s not a good way to get instantiations, but it falls out of doing conceptual analysis. For example, positing an objective morality and then asking if such a thing could actually exist in the world.

    And we disagree on the inferences as well.

  236. #236 KG
    August 2, 2011

    My point that you can even essentially invent a concept and ask if it exists … but you can’t do that until you know what the concept is meant to be. – Verbose Stoic

    This is just blithering nonsense. What is it supposed to mean? If you invent a concept, then you have chosen “what the concept is meant to be”.

  237. #237 Verbose Stoic
    August 2, 2011

    KG,

    At which point, you should able to see that I was referring to the “ask if it exists” part, which you couldn’t do until you hammered it out in some consistent form.

  238. #238 KG
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    1) But “what the concept is meant to be” does not mean the same as “some consistent form of the concept”, because the former, but not the latter, implies uniqueness: that there is a single correct way to refine an informal concept like “God”, which there is not. Natural language words or phrases generally have a cluster of related meanings, with no specified definition or clear boundaries (what we might call an informal concept). There will in general be multiple ways to define more specific versions of the concept, so the latter phrase is acceptable, but the former is misleading.
    2) A concept does not need to be given an explicit definition in order for us to ask whether it is instantiated. For example, “predator” names an informal concept that is instantiated in lions; “banshee” names one that is not instantiated – at least on Earth.
    3) If a concept is actually inconsistent (e.g. “round square”, or “true God and true man”), then we know it is not instantiated – but such inconsistencies can’t, I think, be discovered in completely informal concepts: unless we have some kind of definition, we have nothing to start from. Now, one might then say that it is the business of conceptual analysis, in theology and philosophy of religion, to sort consistent from inconsistent definitions of “God”, (and among the consistent, the testable from the untestable). But there is not one correct definition of God these fields of activity could arrive at, one version of the concept that is the right one to have its instantiation investigated.
    4) Investigating the consistency or otherwise of definitions of “God” is in itself probably a harmless hobby, but why should anyone outside the hobby be any more interested than in a parallel investigation into definitions of “leprechaun”, or “werewolf”, given that there is equally good evidence* for these beings as for anything that might fall under the informal concept “God”?

    * That is to say, none of any value whatever.

  239. #239 josh
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose,

    “As with the claim of “Haven’t read the book”, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to take what was said and interpret it in the manner that most resembles normal English speech, and I claim that’s all I’m doing.”
    Except that you’re not actually doing it. No such thing was ever said and you are reading lazily and interpreting according to your desire to dismiss your opponents. It’s okay in my case; you made a mistake and we can correct it and move on. It just kind of piques me that you would proceed on such a dubious reading and try to call me out based on it. Same with Dawkins. I agree of course that Feser thinks he has a good case and that it is made in detail in his book. But he spends so much of his time crowing about what ignoramuses atheists must be for disagreeing with him rather than actually trying to persuade us he has a real case. And every time we go and get into the “detailed” versions we find the theist is just more elaborately wrong.

    Anyhow, on dualism, I agree Dawkins is sloppy if you try to read his book as a detailed dissection and classification of historical positions, but it’s not that kind of book. He’s arguing for the view that the mind is a product of the brain and that other ideas like possession, immortal souls, etc. are based on small-”d” dualist
    conceptions that we have no reason to accept.

    I’m not clear on what you think Dawkins got wrong about the OA. My memory of his brief treatment is rather hazy, but do you think he has some gross misunderstanding or just that you have some “good” version that his objections don’t cover? I seem to recall him saying, roughly, that the OA was an argument most everyone agreed was wrong but no one could say exactly why. I disagree with that characterization, but the flying-pigs anecdote seems to fall in the vein of “this is a silly argument, as we can all see, even if it’s a lot of work to write up a technical refutation.” You may not find that persuasive, but the book isn’t aimed at you particularly. TGD is conversational, scattershot, and rhetorical, which may be a criticism if you really need pages on pages of lemmas and footnotes to convince yourself that god can’t be defined into existence. De gustibus

    On knowledge: Dawkins is explaining why he calls himself an atheist, rather than an agnostic. He is clarifying for the average reader that he doesn’t assert absolute certainty, as various theists (and self-labelled agnostics) think atheists do, but that he is comfortable saying “there is (almost certainly) no God”, just as we would talk of any other ridiculous concept with no evidence behind it. That seems to map reasonably well to your conception of knowledge, even if Dawkins doesn’t use the terms you prefer. I think he gives some agnostics slightly short shrift here. Some would argue that they are not 50-50 between god and no-god, because they assert they don’t even understand the question or that probabilities don’t apply because the question can’t have an answer. That’s a quibble they can take up with Dawkins but it doesn’t really detract from his main point, which is why he calls himself an atheist and roughly what that entails about his beliefs.

  240. #240 josh
    August 2, 2011

    @David Marjanovic

    Thanks for the approving quotes and the careful eye on “principal” -> “principle”. Spell check remains a third rate editor. :)

  241. #241 PhysicistDave
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote:
    >Philosophy explicitly rejects the idea that you need an empirical basis for any interesting claim about reality…

    And that, I suppose, is what is wrong with you guys.

    Yes, yes, I know that, by your standards, no one can argue convincingly that this is the source of your failures.

    But, you guys have had over two thousand years to show that you can make a true “interesting claim about reality” without “an empirical basis.”

    You have failed. Philosophers cannot even agree among themselves on almost anything (see the recent PhilPapers poll).

    A start-up company with that record would pull the plug after five years. You have had two millennia. It is time to admit the truth and pull the plug.

  242. #242 PhysicistDave
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote:
    >> [Josh]“In my judgment, philosophy (understood here as the department separate from science and math) is not a paragon of critical examination because philosophers in general aren’t. Critical objections and provisos are raised and then ignored or papered over.”
    >[Verbose Stoic]Except they aren’t. They are discussed to death and become basically standard replies that if any philosopher raised the position without addressing those replies they’d be immediately sent packing to address them.

    Except of course that that is obviously untrue on the most important question of all: is philosophy an obvious pile of nonsense and should everyone immediately cease and desist from such nonsense?

    The evidence of the failure of philosophy is overwhelming. I have raised that point again and again with philosophers. Very, very few are willing to confront that evidence seriously at all.

    Frankly, philosophers are worse, much, much worse, in this respect than most fundamentalists. Fundamentalists twist and turn and gyrate, but they at least admit they have serious critics. Philosophers? They tend to just flounce off in a huff or never reply to the critics at all.

    Over two thousand years of failure! What could be more conclusive?

  243. #243 PhysicistDave
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote:
    > This is because, he [Plantinga] argues, that you can have useful illusions, and these will be selected for just as easily as useful truths, and more easily than impractical truths. Thus, if we’re relying on evolution to select our faculties for reliability, reliability and utility come apart and so we cannot rely on utility to give us reliability.

    But, of course, everyone knows that the first hypothesis is true: we *do* have perceptual illusions – e.g., the “bent” stick in the glass of water due to refraction.

    The problem is that your and Plantinga’s “thus” does not follow.

    Yes, our senses and our brain automatically process incoming data in a way that works pretty well pragmatically in normal (i.e., Paleolithic) situations. And, yes, it is easy to come up with situations where that processing produces illusions.

    But, that does not mean we have to be deceived by those illusions or that we are being fed false data. We just need to think more carefully about the data.

    And, of course, we can and do, as the “bent” stick example (and many, many others) shows.

    Of course, many, many empiricists have made this point over the last four centuries. After all, how could we possibly see the “thing in itself” without actually sticking it into our brain? All that is possible is for the object to somehow affect our brain. Those effects simply are what they are: to talk about them being “deceptive” is really unjustified anthropomorphism. We ourselves, then, have to take the effects produced on us and reason backwards to the cause as best we can. Sometime, our evolved neural hardware pretty much does the job for us. In some unusual situations, we have to work harder. In very unusual situations, such as studying subatomic particles, we have to work a lot harder.

    None of which leads to Plantinga’s conclusion.

    Unless, of course, you are just plain too lazy to actually work hard: i.e., you’re a philosopher.

  244. #244 josh
    August 2, 2011

    Verbose,

    “You’re free to invent definitions all you like that disagree with what the actual fields say, as long as you don’t equivocate…”

    I’m not inventing definitions, I’m just not letting you do it and declare that that’s just how things are. No equivocation here. Science and Philosophy don’t claim anything, they don’t have opinions. People make claims about what we should think and how we should make judgements, what we should call science, what constitutes good or bad philosophy, etc. etc. The mere fact that some loosely defined group of self-identified philosophers doesn’t hold itself to the standards of science and critical analysis isn’t an argument that I can’t criticize them, but that’s the style of argument you’ve been using.

    Historically, science is descended from the rather general practice of philosophy and it evolved to actually settle questions, to actually be reliable, to actually correct for our biases and blinders and to actually be able to decide what is reasonable/meaningful/truthful so far as it is possible. In doing so we haven’t abandoned examination of ideas to philosophy, we have augmented it with parsimony and falsifiability to weed out the drek. So it’s not that I object to someone sitting in a reclining chair trying to puzzle out the world; scientists do that too, we just then get up and look for tests that might actually disconfirm our preconceptions. I object to the ‘philosopher’ who thinks s/he is immune to criticism because s/he doesn’t identify as a scientist. I object to the notion that I should believe in, or withold judgment on, a fatuous idea like god, while I wait for you to work out the bugs.

    Why should you care what I or any of the other commenters think? That’s ultimately up to you. You are the one who came to this thread, apparently upset that theology wasn’t getting the respect you think it deserves. Presumably you want me to think that you are a rational person, conducting a reasonable discourse of some sort of merit. You’ll have to show me that, you can’t assert it by arguing that the abstract ‘Philosophy’ gave you a stamp of approval.

    It is not news to me that any particular objection to a theological argument I raise has probably been anticipated by earlier philosophers. The papering over is where objections are met with lame special pleading, unsupported hypotheticals, needless and unclear definitions of arbitrary categories, appeals to ‘obvious’ and ‘probable’ and ‘intuitive’ ‘facts’ with no basis in reality, etc. Cf. your defense of Plantinga’s argument against naturalism/evolution above. Why so much effort to reanimate the corpses of dead ideas?

    And on the concepts, the original point I think was how to determine a ‘correct’ concept. So 1) is correct, e.g., in that your concept of the ideas I hold matches the ‘instantiation’ of my mental state. My actual mental state is some specific thing, rather than whatever host of apparently possible states you might imagine me having in the abstract, and that ‘actuality’ is the standard of correctness. This is no different than any other notion of correctness with respect to instantiated things.

    For 2), as KG noted, the problem is “meant to be”. You can try to develop a consistent concept to fit the real world. Objective morality didn’t pop out of the conceptual vacuum, it builds on ideas people already have about how the real world works, and one could try to show that it is a good explanation for our behaviour or feelings or fates. But if it doesn’t fit the real world well, how long must we tinker with the ‘correct’ conception of an incorrect idea? Suppose you think there is an objective morality derived from god via divine command, and I think there is an objective morality derived from the logical structure of the universe a la Kantian categorical imperatives, but in reality we’re both wrong because there is no objective morality. Who has the ‘correct’ conception that turns out to be wrong?

    Now this is tricky, because I need a correct idea of predictions to test a model. If I think evolution predicts no modern monkeys, I have a mistaken notion of evolution as it is held by most proponents. That’s case 1. But we would also like to say that I have incorrectly derived my prediction from a putatively correct understanding of the basics of the model. That is, we would like to say that there are correct and incorrect derivations, but I think this can only be true insofar as our mechanisms of derivation reflect the real, existing world. That’s why we want to cleave to our best understanding of that existing world, rather than wander into the morass of unanswerable non-realities. “How many epicycles are inscribed on the crystalline orbit of the fifth, outermost planet?” isn’t really a question with a correct answer. “How many would Ptolemy have said?” is better, but still might not have an answer if he never had an opinion on it.

  245. #245 PhysicistDave
    August 3, 2011

    josh wrote:
    >Historically, science is descended from the rather general practice of philosophy and it evolved to actually settle questions, to actually be reliable, to actually correct for our biases and blinders and to actually be able to decide what is reasonable/meaningful/truthful so far as it is possible. In doing so we haven’t abandoned examination of ideas to philosophy, we have augmented it with parsimony and falsifiability to weed out the drek. So it’s not that I object to someone sitting in a reclining chair trying to puzzle out the world; scientists do that too, we just then get up and look for tests that might actually disconfirm our preconceptions.

    Well-stated, josh.

    I’m a theoretical physicist: I like just sitting back on the couch and trying to figure out the way reality works. I can understand where the philosophers are coming from.

    But, alas, it hasn’t worked, not unless the couch-potato theorizing is checked by hard, solid empirical testing.

    I also like your observation that “science is descended from the rather general practice of philosophy and it evolved to actually settle questions…” If I had lived in 1600, I think I would have bet against the scientific method working: the idea of discovering profound facts about reality by obsessing over tiny little details – the slight misfit in the orbit of Mars, the details of sedimentary rock layers, the careful measuring of the weight of chemical reactants – all that stuff sounds like something people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder would do.

    But it has worked. And nothing else ever has worked.

    And, until guys like Verbose Stoic can face up to that and deal with it, well, he’ll be trapped in a loop of defending Alvin Plantinga and refusing to admit that astrology is “bunk.”

    All the best,

    Dave

  246. #246 Kel
    August 3, 2011

    “Kel,

    Noticing that you had made a post on dualism on your blog, I’m moving over there to continue our discussion.”
    I have made many posts about dualism on my blog. For example, linked in my name is why I reject a 1st-person approach to the the problem.

  247. #247 Verbose Stoic
    August 4, 2011

    josh,

    I’m a little busy at the moment, and so don’t have time to respond in detail to most of the comments here (I hope to get some time tomorrow). But, for now, I’m taking a page from Kel’s book and linking my actual criticism of those points in my name. I’d ask that you read that to understand at least some of my objections to the treatment and before you judge whether I just want to dismiss Dawkins.

    Dualism doesn’t appear in that one; that’s in Part 1, also on my blog.

    And people interested in consciousness might want to check out the two pages on it, namely “Phenomenal Experience and Cognitive Function” and “Nailing the Third-Person Science of Consciousness to the Wall. ”

    Anyone who wants to get examples of what I think are decent philosophy can also read “Fearlessly Amoral: Psychopaths, Autistics and Learning with Emotion” and “Is Art Necessarily Aesthetic?”. If you can tell me — either here or there — what’s wrong with them and why they indicate some kind of problem with the field of philosophy or its work ethic, I’m all ears.

  248. #248 The MadPanda, FCD
    August 4, 2011

    Methinks, Doctor Rosenhouse, that your main problem here lies in the connection of the word ‘good’ in conjunction with ‘theology’.
    :)

    Mighty thin on the ground, I should think. More scarce than brass cockatrice teeth, in fact.

    The MadPanda, FCD

  249. #249 PhysicistDave
    August 5, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote:
    > And people interested in consciousness might want to check out…

    VS, one of the recent ploys among woo-woo-mongers is to suggest that anyone who does not accept their particular form of woo must be a naïve dogmatic materialist.

    That’s not so: I think Dave Chalmers makes some good points (and some not-so-good points!) against naïve materialism in The Conscious Mind, and I highly recommend Colin McGinn’s The Mysterious Flame, with which I largely (not completely) agree. McGinn is an atheist, and, I believe, so is Chalmers.

    I’m a theoretical physicist (and an atheist), and I agree with Chalmers that it is hard to see how what he calls the “hard problem” of consciousness can be reduced to physics as we now know it. Many physicists more prominent than I share that concern: e.g., Schrödinger seemed to feel that way, and Penrose seems inclined in this direction.

    But the fact that consciousness is indeed a hard problem does not justify the sort of nonsense that Plantinga spouts, nor does it justify ignoring the fact that the typical philosophical method of arguing interminably over the “true” meaning of concepts has proven an unsuccessful way to understand the real world.

    If the problem of consciousness is ever solved – and I am more optimistic than McGinn on that – it is going to be by the methods of science.

    Armchair philosophy does not work.

    Dave

  250. #250 KG
    August 7, 2011

    “Many physicists more prominent than I share that concern: e.g., Schrödinger seemed to feel that way, and Penrose seems inclined in this direction.” – PhysicistDave

    I’m not clear why we should take physicists’ musings in an area where they have no particular expertise seriously – certainly The Emperor’s New Mind is poor stuff, brilliant though he is as a physicist. Philosophers who pay careful attention to relevant scientific work in psychology and neurophysiology (rather than simply quibbling over concepts) have far more relevant expertise (Chalmers, of course, is a philosopher). I’m largely convinced by Dennett’s argument, in Consciousness Explained, that the so-called “hard problem” is a pseudo-problem, and that our intuitive beliefs about our own minds (from which the pseudo-problem stems) are systematically in error. Perhaps the best point to start re-educating our intuitions is with Dennett’s notion of a “zimbo”: a being that behaves exactly like a person – including insisting that it is conscious and discussing the topic philosophically and scientifically, and “monitors its own activities, including even its own internal activities, in an indefinite upward spiral of reflexivity”(p.310) but actually is unconscious – it has no experiences at all (and is not a robot being manipulated by something that is conscious). Is such a thing possible?

  251. #251 Verbose Stoic
    August 9, 2011

    KG,

    If I’m right that neural theories end up being epiphenomenal, then zimboes are, in fact, absolutely possible if Dennett’s right about consciousness. And some materialists — again, Jaegwon Kim is the usual example — agree that neural theories are epiphenomenal.

    Also, if we can build an AI that does all of those things it certainly seems plausible to think that they’d essentially be zimboes. It seems like it would be miraculous for you to, say, simply add more data and gauges and monitors to a computer and get an actual, full, phenomenal first-person view out of it, with real colour experiences and everything.

    In the essay I referenced I introduced the notion of a phenomenal knave, someone who always lies about their phenomenal experiences. We know that we can indeed lie about our phenomenal experiences. How much more do we need to get something that consistently lies that it has phenomenal experiences when it doesn’t?

    (Although I still do want to address Dennett’s “Sweet Dreams” bookon my blog, where he talks about things like this.)

  252. #252 Verbose Stoic
    August 9, 2011

    PhysicistDave,

    At this point, I’m completely puzzled by your position. You seem to, in fact, like a lot of philosophy and rely on it. You cite Chalmers and McGinn here, and Mackie and others elsewhere. And I can’t help but note that in Coyne’s take on morality he relies on the Euthyphro Dilemma, which is pure philosophy stretching back to Plato. So it seems that there is indeed use and purpose for philosophy, even according to you. So, then, what’s your beef with it?

    It could be, as you say, the argument that armchair philosophy doesn’t work. But I have to ask “Work for what?”. Yeah, thinking hard about how empirical things ought to be — like whether or not women should have less teeth than men — and deciding that that’s how it is without checking isn’t good. But philosophers don’t do that anymore; that’s what science does. Philosophers talk more about things like morality and basically things that are more conceptual, not about the details of things in the world. Things that it seems unlikely science could actually settle, for a number of really good reasons that philosophy itself has challenged.

    I also think you have an outdated view of what “armchair philosophy” actually is. The standard stereotype is one person sitting in an armchair thinking about things and building a system, and that might have been somewhat accurate a long time ago. Now, however, what you have is a bunch of people all sitting in their armchairs debating with each other, and also noting what other fields are doing and bringing things in as appropriate. There are a number of philosophers who work closely with science and are informed by it in their work, and offload to it if they think it will help them. Cognitive Science, for example, is full of these people, and often you’ll have people in that field who have both a philosophical and a scientific background. There’s really no hostility there except what you might bring in.

    Post-modern philosophy can be more disconnected and can also be seen as quite popular, but it’s a small part of most philosophical programs. Again, the two pages I cited are examples of what I, at least, think is good philosophy. What’s wrong with them or, if you think them good, why do you think that those would be exceptions rather than the rule?

  253. #253 Verbose Stoic
    August 9, 2011

    josh,

    If I was dismissing him or you, I wouldn’t spend so much time actually arguing the points.

    So, on the OA, there’s really nothing good in Dawkins’ treatment of it. He claims that it shows the issue is too big for “dialectical prestidigitations” (so much for making it accessible [grin]), likens it to a paradox when there’s no such paradox in evidence, spends time mocking it, gives short-shrift to the best arguments against it, talks about his example where he gets what everyone who makes one of those examples wants but doesn’t take it and run with it. The only thing good there is Gasking’s argument, which doesn’t work but is at least worth addressing. And this is in a book where he says — in the paperback version — that he wants people who are theists when they pick it up to be atheists when they put it down. I think that at that point demanding things that look like fair, rational arguments is expected, and that you should address arguments in ways that really defeat them.

    If Dawkins uses his view of dualism to buttress any kind of argument, then it would be really bad because he badly misrepresents it. I only forgave him because in my opinion he didn’t use it for anything.

    On knowledge, Dawkins uses that against agnosticism, but if agnostics aren’t holding that view of knowledge his arguments would, at best, be attacking a strawman. Even if he just wanted to explain why he was an atheist and not an agnostic, he definitely needs to find out what agnostics REALLY mean by knowledge or else that’s totally meaningless, and he might turn out to be an agnostic atheist.

    I pointed out that by definition philosophy of science was philosophy, not science. Your reply was essentially that that wasn’t true with some sort of half-hearted argument that they were the same thing due to them both being about thinking. That’s not how anyone uses the terms, and so doesn’t address my point. I gave you the benefit of the doubt on equivocation, but you keep leaning that way. So, you simply assert that philosophy and science are somehow the same when they clearly aren’t and somehow manage to rant that you aren’t going to accept the words of some philosophers that philosophy doesn’t use the scientific method despite it being clear that philosophy allows for methods other than it to be valid. You aren’t addressing my comments, but dismissing them with rants about how you think things OUGHT to be, with no evidence as to why you think that things ARE the way you say they are. I can provide many examples of how philosophy does things that don’t follow the scientific method — say, the debate over whether philosophy SHOULD do that aka the naturalist debates? — but you haven’t provided anything but your own unvarnished opinion.

    “The mere fact that some loosely defined group of self-identified philosophers doesn’t hold itself to the standards of science and critical analysis ”

    It’s a false assertion that I or anyone else has ever claimed that philosophy doesn’t hold itself to the standards of critical analysis This is an unevidenced strawman that you’ve been flogging the whole time. I claim that philosophy doesn’t hold itself to the standards of science and it doesn’t. This doesn’t mean that it, say, ignores scientific fact but that it doesn’t insist that all of its discussions take place on terms acceptable to science. But science and critical analysis are not the same thing, and you can reject the scientific method without rejecting critical analysis (again, see the naturalism debates in ethics and epistemology).

    “I object to the ‘philosopher’ who thinks s/he is immune to criticism because s/he doesn’t identify as a scientist. I object to the notion that I should believe in, or withold judgment on, a fatuous idea like god, while I wait for you to work out the bugs.”

    And who’s asking you to do either? I’m not. I’m asking you to not judge a SEPARATE FIELD because it doesn’t rise to the standards of a field you prefer, and to not criticize someone’s idea in, again, another field just because they don’t do things the way you think they should be done. Learn what they’re trying to do and why before dismissing them.

    “You are the one who came to this thread, apparently upset that theology wasn’t getting the respect you think it deserves. Presumably you want me to think that you are a rational person, conducting a reasonable discourse of some sort of merit. You’ll have to show me that, you can’t assert it by arguing that the abstract ‘Philosophy’ gave you a stamp of approval.”

    Except that I only came into this thread to stop people from insisting that philosophy and theology were worthless garbage when they didn’t understand it or its methods. I have never appealed to that stamp of approval. Ever. So what strawman are you inventing here? All I did was say that philosophy does things a certain way. If you want to claim that philosophy is crap, you need to address why that way isn’t rational beyond insistences of “papering over” with no actual instances to discuss, and no understanding that all fields could be accused of that at times.

    “The papering over is where objections are met with lame special pleading, unsupported hypotheticals, needless and unclear definitions of arbitrary categories, appeals to ‘obvious’ and ‘probable’ and ‘intuitive’ ‘facts’ with no basis in reality, etc. Cf. your defense of Plantinga’s argument against naturalism/evolution above. Why so much effort to reanimate the corpses of dead ideas?”

    What’s wrong with my defense? I merely commented that:

    a) Plantinga does seem to have introduced a problem for naturalism (unreliable faculties).
    b) However, the objection against Plantinga’s view — they should be more reliable than they are — is valid.
    c) But we can adapt it to get a reasonable sort of reliability that gets around the issues.

    Where am I “papering over” anything? I even admit that this might not be the reliability we’d want, explicitly.

    So, onto “correct” concepts:

    1) is not about what it is in your head, and to get at that concept we may have to reject what people think it is. The examinations of free will is a good example, where we might have to say that what people want free will for — meaningful choices — might be one that doesn’t require a “free will” that’s incompatible with determinism; they might just be getting that part wrong. So it’s more than a simple empirical question of asking people what they think and writing it down.

    Presumably, doing 2) would get you to a concept of what an objective morality would HAVE to be so that we can say that nothing in the world could possibly map to it, and so it’s impossible. Your examples confuse, again, instances with the overarching concept itself.

  254. #254 cambalkon
    August 10, 2011

    Traditionally, the central argument for God’s existence is the cosmological argument, and (also traditionally) the most important versions of that argument are the ones summed up in the first three of Aquinas’s Five Ways.

  255. #255 David Marjanović
    August 10, 2011

    as the Mayans knew 3000 years ago

    1000, but never mind. 3000 years ago there weren’t any Mayans yet (or at least their culture wasn’t).

    Plantinga notes that we need a reason to think that our faculties are reliable, includes those of science and reason and even down to our senses.

    Plantinga claims we need a reason to think that our faculties are not merely generally reliable, but perfect. That’s where he goes wrong.

    Neither science nor Plantinga can disprove solipsism. Fortunately, science doesn’t need to. Solipsism and similar ideas can simply be ignored as uninteresting and unparsimonious.

    So, again, sticking entirely inside evolution, Plantinga argues that there’s no reason to think that our faculties are reliable. This is because, he argues, that you can have useful illusions, and these will be selected for just as easily as useful truths, and more easily than impractical truths.

    This is correct for some examples and wholly wrong for others. And yes, we do need to talk about this example for example; we cannot generalize.

    For instance, Plantinga doesn’t even consider that our pattern detection and agency detection are overactive. They’re much more likely to produce false positives than false negatives. They make systematic errors, not random ones.

    What Plantinga needs to show are examples of useful illusions that impede science — not the finding of absolute truth, but mere science. Like this:
    – To overcome our overactive pattern detection, we have developed statistics which tells us the probability that a distribution is random independently of our pattern detection. Where is the illusion at the heart of statistics? Where could it be? How could it have evolved?
    – Quantum physics overcomes our illusion of the continuity of matter, light and heat. Where is the illusion at the heart of quantum physics? Where could it be? How could it have evolved?

    Obviously, I could go on for hours. But that’s Plantinga’s homework, not mine.

    So, again, sticking entirely inside evolution, Plantinga argues that there’s no reason to think that our faculties are reliable.

    Sticking entirely inside evolution, it is very easy to show the reasons for thinking that certain of our faculties are biased in particular ways. Plantinga seems to believe it’s all wholly unpredictable and random. That’s where he goes wrong; that’s where his deep, wide ignorance shows.

    And thus, we have no reason to believe that we have any ability to know at all. And, again, all of this is entirely inside the naturalist’s paradigm and strictly relying on a very superficial glance at what evolution says or implies.

    Fixed that for you.

    Thus, my example is, in fact, still consistent with evolution, and as long as it is it still illustrates the big problem: evolution will select just as happily for that sort of illusion as it would for an accurate sense perception. From the perspective of the organism, they’re both equally useful.

    But how would a cone with the opsin that has its absorption maximum in the red part of the spectrum fire when light from dangerous objects strike it? An opsin with an absorption maximum in the red part of the spectrum is physically possible; how would one that reacts preferentially to light from dangerous objects work???

    Selection doesn’t operate on the replicator from Star Wars. It operates on the mutations that have really happened and under the constraints of the real world.

    You’re assuming spherical cows here that are made of pixie dust rather than of proteins or other actual matter.

    Now, as you’ve said repeatedly — and I’ve already agreed, recall — you CAN go after Plantinga, by arguing that our senses and faculties don’t, in fact, work out the way we’d expect them if his argument was right, by arguing that they’d have to be flawless and they clearly aren’t. And I agree that this is a very good reply to Plantinga. It doesn’t, however, save naturalism.

    This sounds like scientists assume science can prove ideas true.

    It can’t. It can’t, and it doesn’t need to. Plantinga seems to believe it does need to, and shouts “heureka” at his discovery that it can’t. He has reinvented the square wheel…

    You seem to have missed my point about multiverses. I’m arguing that IF the theory works out, there will likely be theoretical entities — ie other universes or multiverses — that we will not be able to directly test but that we’ll know exist and have certain properties because the working theory says they do. You seem to be arguing against a perception that I was arguing the other way around.

    No, I understood this and disagree. If the theory works out, we’ll know empirically that it’s good enough for our universe, and we’ll know by means of mathematical proof that it predicts other universes/multiverses/whatever. We will not, however, know that those other entities actually exist. Only empirical evidence can help here (…and it still can’t prove, but at least it could “prove” beyond reasonable doubt), and this goes both ways: it could fit the prediction, or it could contradict it and thus disprove the theory.

    Again: a theory is a mathematical construct that may fit reality more or less well. If a theory fits observed reality well enough, we can use it to extrapolate beyond observed reality — but that doesn’t prove anything. The extrapolation remains a theory, and it remains falsifiable.

    You have smuggled verificationism into what you wrote: “if a theory fits observed reality well enough, it is true”. That’s a logical fallacy.

    Radioactive decay is not caused.

    There is no way to predict when any given radioactive atom will decay, and there is no way to make it decay or not decay.

    Why do you say that it has to be predictable to be caused in the right way for the philosophical definition of cause?

    I don’t. I say it has to violate Bell’s theorem in order to count as a cause…

    Take this example: imagine that we could make a perfect random number generator, that was actually random, but that which is activated by my pushing a button. I couldn’t predict the number, but I could certainly say that I caused that number to be generated as a result of that process. Thus, a cause. Why can’t processes be considered causes in the right way?

    See, that’s what I mean. You are positing hidden variables (that’s the technical term) behind quantum physics. (In your metaphor, you and the button are the hidden variables.) You are postulating that Bell’s theorem is wrong.

    Well, good luck then. Many attempts at disproving it have been made, and none has succeeded so far.

    Bell’s theorem is not something a philosopher would imagine. It isn’t something I would ever have imagined on my own either. And yet, it follows from quantum physics and observations. Science is full of surprises like that, of problems that cannot be solved by thinking alone but have been solved.

    But ultimately, at the end of the day, the claim about consciousness has to be that the same neural firings are causing the experiences as well as the behaviour. We have no idea how neurons produce experiences, but assuming that the same neural pattern — no matter how complex — will produce the same behaviour (nothing else changing, like the weights) then if that mechanism produced a different experience for some reason the behaviour would be the same, ergo no room for the details of the experience to produce the behaviour, ergo epiphenomenal.

    And indeed, there are optical illusions, acoustic illusions, tactile illusions and so on and so forth, where experience and behaviour differ.

    Besides… experience is itself a pattern of neural firing, and behaviour is a pattern of firing of neurons some of which are attached to muscle cells. Don’t go back into abstractions! :-)

    Computers are still matter. They still aren’t ghosts. If computers make decisions, how in the fuck does that support dualism!?!

    Read his claim again. He claimed that because we could see how neurons made decisions it was hard to see how something without neurons — ie our dualist mind — could do so. And I gave examples of other things that seem to be able to make decisions. If you or he want to argue that only physical things can make decisions, then you should in fact actually argue that, don’tcha think?

    Point taken.

    Does Gaunilo’s Island disprove Anselm’s astonishingly silly word game that reifies various meanings of “great” and fallaciously equates them, or does it not?

    It does not … because it’s not that sort of argument. It’s an attempt to force the OA advocate to accept something they don’t want to accept or accept that there’s a flaw in the logic. But since it doesn’t address the logic itself it can’t disprove the argument unless it can show an actual contradiction. The OA advocate can bite the bullet on islands and pizzas. They couldn’t on pigs flying and Gasking’s “God doesn’t exist argument”, and so that would work better … as long as the OA advocate can’t show that their argument doesn’t actually use the same logic as the OA. And I’m going to presume it doesn’t for Dawkins and know that it doesn’t for Gasking.

    So … no, it doesn’t.

    Doesn’t it disprove it by showing a hidden premise, the meaning of “great”, is bunk?

    Off topic again: science isn’t about things, it’s about facts, about relationships between things. Science is about the world as defined by Wittgenstein: “all that is the case”.

    Why are you so convinced that the actual specific scientific method can indeed study “all that is the case”?

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. By saying science is about the world as defined by Wittgenstein, I didn’t mean to say it can necessarily say something about all of the world.

    WTF? Of course there is: treat it as a black box, let an astrologer make predictions for you, and test those predictions!

    And which astrologer do you choose? The one who writes for the newspapers? Or some expert? How do you choose the expert to test?

    That’s their problem, not mine.

    While I am at it, the fact that there’s no trace of consensus among astrologers makes it highly parsimonious to assume there simply isn’t any right way to do astrology, it’s all just making shit up. But that’s beside the point. If you have unlimited time and money, disprove each astrologer’s astrology separately, one by one. Once you have tested all living astrologers, you’ll know with high certainty that nobody today can derive predictions from the constellations of celestial bodies, and that’s as close to a disproof of astrology as anybody could ever need to come.

    Of course, many, many empiricists have made this point over the last four centuries. After all, how could we possibly see the “thing in itself” without actually sticking it into our brain? All that is possible is for the object to somehow affect our brain. Those effects simply are what they are: to talk about them being “deceptive” is really unjustified anthropomorphism. We ourselves, then, have to take the effects produced on us and reason backwards to the cause as best we can. Sometime, our evolved neural hardware pretty much does the job for us. In some unusual situations, we have to work harder. In very unusual situations, such as studying subatomic particles, we have to work a lot harder.

    None of which leads to Plantinga’s conclusion.

    Unless, of course, you are just plain too lazy to actually work hard: i.e., you’re a philosopher.

    That’s the impression I’m getting: plenty industrious when the topic are abstract generalizations, but too lazy to actually work hard on the details of the empirically real world.

    I also like your observation that “science is descended from the rather general practice of philosophy and it evolved to actually settle questions…” If I had lived in 1600, I think I would have bet against the scientific method working: the idea of discovering profound facts about reality by obsessing over tiny little details – the slight misfit in the orbit of Mars, the details of sedimentary rock layers, the careful measuring of the weight of chemical reactants – all that stuff sounds like something people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder would do.

    But it has worked. And nothing else ever has worked.

    QFT!

    Anyone who wants to get examples of what I think are decent philosophy can also read “Fearlessly Amoral: Psychopaths, Autistics and Learning with Emotion”

    This is either psychology and thus science, or it is not “decent”.

    Isn’t that obvious?

    On knowledge, Dawkins uses that against agnosticism, but if agnostics aren’t holding that view of knowledge his arguments would, at best, be attacking a strawman. Even if he just wanted to explain why he was an atheist and not an agnostic, he definitely needs to find out what agnostics REALLY mean by knowledge or else that’s totally meaningless, and he might turn out to be an agnostic atheist.

    Dawkins is being descriptivist here. Most self-described agnostics in the world at large do use the word as he does there, and not the way philosophers use it. By the definition philosophers use, Dawkins is of course an agnostic atheist, and I can’t imagine he’d ever try to deny that.

    ==============================

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I always get my quantum physics from paleontologists.

    Wow. That’s a textbook example of an argumentum ad hominem.

    If you don’t trust what I say about quantum mechanics, why don’t you crack open a textbook or at the very least go to Wikipedia?

    Say, David, why don’t you tutor us all in stochastic differential equations?

    No such equations will make Bell’s theorem or things like the Casimir effect go away.

    The fact of the matter is that despite the assertions of this paleontologist to the contrary, causality and quantum mechanics (as well as the ontology of virtual particles) is (are) subject to debate.

    Your link goes to a forum where lots of pseudonymous people discuss these things in ways that show they are anything but experts. Why don’t you cite the actual scientific literature or at least a textbook?

    Not even Wikipedia…?

    *crickets chirping*

    Does Gaunilo’s Island disprove Anselm’s astonishingly silly word game that reifies various meanings of “great” and fallaciously equates them [Ontological Argument], or does it not?

    No, it does not.

    Why?

    David,

    I’d write, “Don’t quit your day job,” but your day job is not particularly useful, so maybe you should consider it. Still, I’d suggest staying away from physics, philosophy, and logic.

    My day job actually is to coach highschool students so they don’t flunk… :-)

    It’s really rich that you of all people tell me to stay “away from physics, philosophy, and logic”. You started your comment with an argumentum ad hominem and quickly proceeded to displaying ignorance about the random in quantum physics…

  256. #256 Kel
    August 11, 2011

    Evolution can build an eye that can see. Evolution can build wings that fly. Evolution can build teeth that cut or gnaw. Evolution can build complex immune systems that protect from a range of parasites. Yet when it comes to building a brain, suddenly evolution cannot produce something reliable? Plantinga’s argument is nonsense, and I’m surprised that anyone who has even glanced at life can take it seriously.

  257. #257 Kel
    August 11, 2011

    It’s funny, using the best of our senses and the best data we can see that we are products of the evolutionary process – which if evolution really happened we shouldn’t be able to determine between whether we evolved or not, yet if it was designed by an intelligent agent it begs the question of why the best evidence and reasoning is overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that we evolved unguided. I can’t tell if Plantinga’s argument is an argument against naturalism or an argument for the non-existence of God. ;)

  258. #258 Wow
    August 11, 2011

    ” “as the Mayans knew 3000 years ago”

    1000, but never mind. 3000 years ago there weren’t any Mayans yet (or at least their culture wasn’t).”

    OK, sorry, Babylonians, not Mayans. The Mayans also found out about it independently.

  259. #259 josh
    August 12, 2011

    Testing.

  260. #260 PhysicistDave
    August 14, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote to me:
    >At this point, I’m completely puzzled by your position. You seem to, in fact, like a lot of philosophy and rely on it. You cite Chalmers and McGinn here, and Mackie and others elsewhere.

    Well… look, there have been thousands of writers who could reasonably be called philosophers. It would be quite amazing if all of those guys were *always* wrong! So, sure, occasionally I think a philosopher says something that is right – most commonly, when pointing out that some other philosopher is spouting nonsense.

    In the same way, among the thousands of guys who could reasonably be called astrologers, it would be amazing if all of them were always wrong. And, indeed, occasionally some astrologer got something right (e.g., Kepler).

    But, that does not mean that the usual method of astrologers (casting horoscopes) is of any value.

    And, the fact that some human beings who are philosophers sometimes get something right does not mean that the general method of philosophers is valid.

    VS also wrote:
    > Philosophers talk more about things like morality and basically things that are more conceptual, not about the details of things in the world.

    Well… I do not agree that “things like morality” are “more conceptual.” Indeed, almost all of philosopher’s attempts to analyze “concepts” strike me as intellectual bullying aimed at inducing their opponents to concede point that are not merely conceptual by tendentious redefining of concepts.

    VS also wrote:
    > Again, the two pages I cited are examples of what I, at least, think is good philosophy.

    VS, you take seriously Plantinga’s argument. If you insisted on taking nonsense of that magnitude seriously in a science class, you would flunk.

    And, the fact that you cannot see this is my point.

  261. #261 Verbose Stoic
    August 17, 2011

    I apologize for not being back earlier, but I’ve been a little busy and distracted.

    Starting at the end again, Physicist Dave:

    The problem is that in the case of Kepler, he managed to do good astronomy while doing astrology, and say the alchemists also managed to do good chemistry while doing alchemy. However, that isn’t the case for the philosophers you cite. You cite philosophers who didn’t end up doing, say, good SCIENCE while trying to do philosophy, but ended up doing good philosophy whiel doing philosophy. You find them interesting and useful because of their actual philosophical work.

    So it’s not just a matter of them not always being wrong, but about you finding some philosophy useful, despite your denigrations of the field. But that would indeed seem to either follow from the method of the field or you could argue that their method is different and useful. But it’s hard to see how you can like what the field does when it suits you but denigrate the method that the field uses to produce that, especially without offering any alternative way to get to those useful products.

    “Well… I do not agree that “things like morality” are “more conceptual.” Indeed, almost all of philosopher’s attempts to analyze “concepts” strike me as intellectual bullying aimed at inducing their opponents to concede point that are not merely conceptual by tendentious redefining of concepts.”

    And this has not been my experience, and I’m pretty sure I’ve done more of it than you. If you would deign to read my indepedent examples of philosophy and tell me how its bullying, we might be able to make progress. Instead, you give me this when I ask:

    “VS, you take seriously Plantinga’s argument.”

    Which is an argument ad hominem in the classic style: “We disagree on argument X, therefore you are not to be trusted to produce any so-called good philosophy and I can dismiss any suggestions on other arguments without consideration”.

    Prove me wrong. Consider them and tell me what’s wrong with them.

    “If you insisted on taking nonsense of that magnitude seriously in a science class, you would flunk.

    And, the fact that you cannot see this is my point. ”

    How is it that I cannot see that when I’ve been arguing that science and philosophy have different concerns and methods? It would have little place in a science course because it would be IRRELEVANT to that science course. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

    As for taking it seriously, all I say is “You cannot dismiss his argument a priori on the basis that you find the conclusion unacceptable”. If he’s right, intellectual honesty would require you to change your view of the conclusion, and I do think that the “Utility != truth/accuracy” is actually a very valid argument. Whether the rest of his conclusions fall out of that is indeed the interesting question.

  262. #262 Verbose Stoic
    August 17, 2011

    Kel,

    And evolution builds cognitive systems that keep us alive (for the most part). The problem is that it isn’t clear that you can go from “Keep us alive” to “Give us true/accurate beliefs”, but that’s what needed for knowledge in ALL forms.

    As for the other part, you continually seem to assert that all the evidence supports your contention when the evidence can support at least some theories of the other side. We all have to accept that we evolved, but there is limited evidence that it is unguided. For example, there is no way for us in tracing the evolutionary history of any species to determine if mutation is random or a deliberate tweak. You may be able to the difference in principle, but in practice we simply can’t. But if even some significant mutations turned out to be deliberate tweaks, evolution would be guided … which is what you’re claiming the data says isn’t true.

    You could appeal to principles of Occam’s Razor and parsimony, but these only come into play when the evidence or data cannot in and of itself settle the question. So, if you go there, you concede my point: the data does not, in fact, settle that question in any interesting way.

  263. #263 Kel
    August 17, 2011

    “And evolution builds cognitive systems that keep us alive (for the most part). The problem is that it isn’t clear that you can go from “Keep us alive” to “Give us true/accurate beliefs”, but that’s what needed for knowledge in ALL forms.”
    I thought the whole point of the Plantinga paper was if you took the naturalist view about evolution being unguided, then you couldn’t get to a place of reliable beliefs. That said, if evolution as a process can build structures with functions such as eyes, then why should we suddenly be stumped when it came to the brain?

    “We all have to accept that we evolved, but there is limited evidence that it is unguided.”
    There’s no evidence that it was anything other than unguided. In any case, evolutionary algorithms (unguided) are used in various fields of engineering and computer science.

    “But if even some significant mutations turned out to be deliberate tweaks, evolution would be guided … which is what you’re claiming the data says isn’t true.”
    What I’m claiming is that we have no evidence that’s the case, and no reason to suspect it’s the case.

    “So, if you go there, you concede my point: the data does not, in fact, settle that question in any interesting way.”
    It’s interesting that you didn’t dispute my point – only that my point wasn’t empirically “proven”. Yet what I provided was sufficient to counter Plantinga’s argument, as he wasn’t interested in the problem of whether evolution happened unguided, but if it did whether that would lead to the capacity for reliable beliefs.

  264. #264 Verbose Stoic
    August 18, 2011

    Kel,

    Plantinga isn’t questionning evolution producing the brain. He’s questionning whether it could produce a brain that we can say produces reliably true statements about the world. His argument for that is that utility does not necessarily produce accuracy. This concern does not apply to the functions of the eye.

    To put it another way, unguided evolution produces brains that have a function of producing useful beliefs. But for knowledge, we want reliable ones, not necessarily useful ones.

    “There’s no evidence that it was anything other than unguided. In any case, evolutionary algorithms (unguided) are used in various fields of engineering and computer science.”

    Which proves … what, exactly? It’s not evidence of anything other than it could be unguided, but we already knew that. And those algorithms are far more “guided” than you’d like, I think.

    See, the problem is that you’re starting from what you think is a clean slate and arguing then that the evidence can only support your position. But to someone who did start with what seemed obvious — ie design — they can clearly see that your statement that the evidence only supports your contention and doesn’t support theirs at all is a con game, relying on parsimony and Occam’s Razor to make its point. Looking purely at the evidence, both theories are supported by it; the evidence itself cannot decide between them.

    “It’s interesting that you didn’t dispute my point – only that my point wasn’t empirically “proven”. Yet what I provided was sufficient to counter Plantinga’s argument, as he wasn’t interested in the problem of whether evolution happened unguided, but if it did whether that would lead to the capacity for reliable beliefs. ”

    Let me remind you of your point there:

    “…yet if it was designed by an intelligent agent it begs the question of why the best evidence and reasoning is overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that we evolved unguided.”

    My answer is … it isn’t overwhelmingly pointing there. Thus, I did address your point by pointing out that if you want to claim that the evidence and reasoning is supporting the “fact” that we evolved unguided you don’t actually have that evidence and reasoning to appeal to. My whole notion is that you can’t appeal to the evidence, and if you use parsimony/Occam’s Razor you would have in fact conceded that you can’t appeal to the evidence, and yet your point is based on being able to appeal to the evidence to make your case.

  265. #265 Kel
    August 18, 2011

    “His argument for that is that utility does not necessarily produce accuracy. This concern does not apply to the functions of the eye.”
    Why not? Why is the brain somehow a special organ?

    “To put it another way, unguided evolution produces brains that have a function of producing useful beliefs. But for knowledge, we want reliable ones, not necessarily useful ones.”
    But useful isn’t mutually exclusive to reliable. It’s useful, but not reliable, for example that we perceive height as greater when we’re on top of something looking down but not from the ground looking up. Meanwhile it’s both useful and reliable to be able to recognise your baby’s cry.

    “Which proves … what, exactly? It’s not evidence of anything other than it could be unguided, but we already knew that.”
    I’m invoking Flew’s parable of the gardener. I’m not trying to “prove” anything, I’m pointing out that nature time and time again has come up with really elegant solutions to design problems, and that natural selection has the capacity to work. I’m not looking for proof

    “And those algorithms are far more “guided” than you’d like, I think.”
    They are?

    “My answer is … it isn’t overwhelmingly pointing there. Thus, I did address your point by pointing out that if you want to claim that the evidence and reasoning is supporting the “fact” that we evolved unguided you don’t actually have that evidence and reasoning to appeal to.”
    By whose reckoning? Just what would you accept as showing overwhelmingly? Is this going to be the same as your dualism-of-the-gaps, that we haven’t yet shown the brain is closed causally? I’ll rephrase. The best evidence and reasoning has not shown any intelligent hand in the process. Better?

    “My whole notion is that you can’t appeal to the evidence, and if you use parsimony/Occam’s Razor you would have in fact conceded that you can’t appeal to the evidence, and yet your point is based on being able to appeal to the evidence to make your case.”
    This is tedious sophistry. As I explained in my last post – if we accept that evolution is unguided (the premise of Plantinga’s argument), then we should see that natural selection as a designing force from which the brain is as much a product as the eye or bacterial flagellum or immune system. My case doesn’t rely on me showing that a designer wasn’t involved, only that if we follow the argument then we shouldn’t have a problem.

    That evolution happened is overwhelmingly supported, several lines of converging evidence, from fossils to genes and morphology. That evolution is unguided is overwhelmingly supported, from patterns seen in organisms and their DNA to observations about the nature of mutation. But those don’t matter to my argument. If evolution can make an eye that’s reliable, then why not something reliable with the information it garners from the eye? That question requires not that I prove there wasn’t an intelligent guiding cause behind it (which I can do no more than prove that demons don’t cause mental illness), but that if we take evolution as a given (again, as the argument requires) then natural selection is sufficient.

  266. #266 Verbose Stoic
    August 18, 2011

    Kel,

    “Why not? Why is the brain somehow a special organ?”

    Because evolution does not select for organs, but for functionality. And the functionality we need here is “reliably produces truths”. And the argument is that that functionality cannot be guaranteed or even expected if you just appeal to utility. Useful beliefs can be false; true beliefs can be not only not useful, but even downright detrimental.

    “But useful isn’t mutually exclusive to reliable. It’s useful, but not reliable, for example that we perceive height as greater when we’re on top of something looking down but not from the ground looking up. Meanwhile it’s both useful and reliable to be able to recognise your baby’s cry.”

    I never claimed them to be mutually exclusive, nor did Plantinga. All he needs to claim is that utility does not entail reliability. It may well be the case that recognizing your baby’s cry is both … unless, of course, there actually isn’t a really discernable difference. Or if that is just a subset of an existing ability to determine differences in voices.

    Ultimately, though, that some things are reliable is undeniable, but the question is whether we can base our knowledge on assuming that evolution made it so. If we can’t, we are in trouble since it would mean that we don’t have knowledge. Plantinga’s move, then, is to accept that it is ludicrous to suggest that our abilities are not reliable … but then says we have to move away from evolution and utility being the only factor and main factor in that. There are ways to get around this, but we aren’t at that level yet.

    “I’m invoking Flew’s parable of the gardener. I’m not trying to “prove” anything, I’m pointing out that nature time and time again has come up with really elegant solutions to design problems, and that natural selection has the capacity to work. I’m not looking for proof.”

    Invoking unguided computer algorithms as some kind of evidence for your claim is what I was talking about, and again I fail to see why that hints at anything other than “It could be”. And I actually addressed Flew’s parable when Coyne mentioned it, and the problem in a nutshell is that if what they’re seeing is a garden, there must be a gardener, and no amount of insisting that the gardener has improbable will change that fact. Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth, and if what they’re looking at is a garden then it is impossible for there not to be a gardener. So, you can go after this by saying that maybe this isn’t a garden after all, but if you can’t get any further than “It might not be a garden” there isn’t any reason to think that you have any sort of overwhelming evidence.

    “Just what would you accept as showing overwhelmingly? ”

    For a start, something that isn’t actually compatible with the theory you’re arguing the evidence is overwhelmingly against.

    “The best evidence and reasoning has not shown any intelligent hand in the process. ”

    It has the benefit of actually being true … but is hardly overwhelming evidence against the claim.

    “This is tedious sophistry. As I explained in my last post – if we accept that evolution is unguided (the premise of Plantinga’s argument), then we should see that natural selection as a designing force from which the brain is as much a product as the eye or bacterial flagellum or immune system. My case doesn’t rely on me showing that a designer wasn’t involved, only that if we follow the argument then we shouldn’t have a problem. ”

    Must I remind you AGAIN of what you actually argued and what I was replying to with my “tedious sophistry”?

    “…yet if it was designed by an intelligent agent it begs the question of why the best evidence and reasoning is overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that we evolved unguided.”

    I’m getting tired of doing this. THIS was the point I replied to with that comment. I addressed the product argument separately and as a separate point. Please stop conflating the two points as if I intended them to be rebuttals to the same point. I didn’t. End of story.

    “That evolution is unguided is overwhelmingly supported, from patterns seen in organisms and their DNA to observations about the nature of mutation.”

    So, can you give details of why you think that these observations provide overwhelming evidence that evolution is unguided? Recalling that my standard is that this evidence must be incompatible with guided evolution.

    “If evolution can make an eye that’s reliable, then why not something reliable with the information it garners from the eye? ”

    Who says that the eye provides reliable information? It actually doesn’t, like issues with the blind spot and issues where I do believe it projects things what we’d call “upside down”. There is, in fact, a lot of processing involved in getting even coherent information from our eyes, let alone reliable or accurate information. On top of that, it seems that things like colours aren’t actually out there in the world to provide “reliable” information about. We have an eye that gives us data that “works”, and so eyes “work”, for the most part. But if you want to offload some of the reliability to eyes, you hit the exact same problem that Plantinga is mentioning. So, no, you have not proven that if we take evolution as a given natural selection is sufficient to get reliability. All it gets is that it works.

  267. #267 eric
    August 18, 2011

    Ultimately, though, that some things are reliable is undeniable, but the question is whether we can base our knowledge on assuming that evolution made it so. If we can’t, we are in trouble since it would mean that we don’t have knowledge.

    I don’t see anyone assuming that. Scientific acceptance of evolution is based on empirical data and testing, not assumption. That a philosopher thinks evolution poses a philosophical paradox for the theory of knowledge doesn’t make the evidence for evolution any less. You seem to be arguing bass ackwards – you’ve got a theory of knowledge that says X can’t be. There is strong empirical data that X is. And your response is…reject X! It should be to question Plantinga’s theory of knowledge. If his theory doesn’t fit the facts, its probably wrong.

    But let’s assume your logic is right and we don’t have knowledge. I fail to see what sort of trouble we’re in. Perhaps you can spell it out for me. If we don’t have knowledge according to some philosophical definition of the term…what happens? Do airplanes start falling from the sky? Do computers stop working? I don’t think so. Whatever we label this stuff that science is giving us, it allows us to very successfully (but not 100% successfully) manipulate and understand the world around us. If it doesn’t fulfill Plantinga’s criterion for what counts as knowledge, who cares? Why should scientists or the public care if what we have doesn’t fulfill some philosophical criterion for what counts as knowledge?

    it seems that things like colours aren’t actually out there in the world to provide “reliable” information about

    What are you talking about? Photons of different wavelengths are certainly out there in the world. Wavelength is the basis of color.

  268. #268 Kel
    August 18, 2011

    “Because evolution does not select for organs, but for functionality. And the functionality we need here is “reliably produces truths”. And the argument is that that functionality cannot be guaranteed or even expected if you just appeal to utility. Useful beliefs can be false; true beliefs can be not only not useful, but even downright detrimental.”
    It can’t be guaranteed – so what? Our immune system has no guarantee that it can fight off any infection, but in general it is able to do a pretty good job. Of course, when it comes to the brain it’s impossible to talk about beliefs without talking about experience and culture – beliefs don’t get inherited after all. Why is it that

    “I never claimed them to be mutually exclusive, nor did Plantinga. All he needs to claim is that utility does not entail reliability. It may well be the case that recognizing your baby’s cry is both … unless, of course, there actually isn’t a really discernable difference. Or if that is just a subset of an existing ability to determine differences in voices.”
    But utility can entail reliability. That’s my point. It doesn’t guarantee reliability, but there are points it can. Have you noticed that while we can tell the difference between ripe and rotten fruit, people believe in astrology or the healing power of homoeopathy?

    “Ultimately, though, that some things are reliable is undeniable, but the question is whether we can base our knowledge on assuming that evolution made it so.”
    And there are studies for this, Michael Shermer’s new book details one such study that looked at precisely this question. Are you suggesting that a chimpanzees ability to make simple tools is indicative of a designer? Those Capuchin Monkeys that spend years learning to crack nuts are also proof of an intelligent hand in nature? Those crows that are able to come up with novel solutions are again proof of an intelligence in their evolutionary history?

    “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth, and if what they’re looking at is a garden then it is impossible for there not to be a gardener.”
    That heuristic is only good if we know all the possibilities – yet we don’t! But if you don’t make specific predictions about a gardener, then how can you know there was one? All that does is make an argument from ignorance, we don’t know there’s not a gardener, and although we can’t see a gardener in action it just boggles my mind to think of how it could have come about without a gardener… I can understand why PhysicistDave complained about a priori philosophy; your denial of what PhysicistDave claimed to observed is like WLC describing the Gospel Of Mark as “unvarnished history ” with no sign of “theological Tendenz”. Sorry, but until you actually make predictions about what we should see in the genome, then what good is it to say that our intelligence had an intelligent guiding force? It’s an empty statement, so while you might say that I can’t “prove” that all those proto-intelligent behaviours of various species isn’t the result of intelligence, you’ve gone no way to showing that’s impossible. If you think it’s impossible, then perhaps that’s a sign to do the science.

    “For a start, something that isn’t actually compatible with the theory you’re arguing the evidence is overwhelmingly against.”
    What do you mean, not compatible?

    “It has the benefit of actually being true … but is hardly overwhelming evidence against the claim.”
    It’s interesting that you keep saying “overwhelming evidence” – I looked back and I didn’t say that. What I said was: “the best evidence and reasoning is overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that we evolved unguided.” This is a very different statement. I’m not making a claim saying that we’ve proven evolution happened and is unguided beyond a shadow of the doubt, but overwhelmingly the evidence collected points to this.

    “I’m getting tired of doing this. THIS was the point I replied to with that comment. I addressed the product argument separately and as a separate point. Please stop conflating the two points as if I intended them to be rebuttals to the same point. I didn’t. End of story.”
    Okay. Though why you chose to dispute the post with a ;) at the end is odd. My main argument against the EAAN was in my first post.

    “My whole notion is that you can’t appeal to the evidence”
    Of course we can appeal to the evidence, and we ought to be as evidential as possible. Observations of “intelligence” in other animals is relevant evidence, observations of pseudogenes is relevant evidence, studies showing how natural selection works is relevant evidence – if we’re not appealing to evidence for a matter that’s overwhelmingly empirical in nature, then what the hell are we doing?

  269. #269 Owlmirror
    August 18, 2011
    it seems that things like colours aren’t actually out there in the world to provide “reliable” information about

    What are you talking about? Photons of different wavelengths are certainly out there in the world. Wavelength is the basis of color.

    He’s talking about qualia; the experience of colour; the “redness” of red, blah blah blah.

    Have fun storming the philolsophy of mind textbooks.

  270. #270 Kel
    August 18, 2011

    In terms of the evolution of vision, there’s so much in the way of interesting discoveries. One involves pseudogenes in old-world and new-world monkeys, where trichromatic vision is associated with an increase in pseudogenes that would have contributed to the olfactory sense. It’s an interesting empirical fact, and from which could come much discussion about the nature of natural selection and what implications it has for our understanding of perception – as could countless other experiments and observations. But why bother when philosophers can sit there and a priori dismiss any such work without even so much as formulating a testable hypothesis?

    Why it is a crow can problem solve, or a chimpanzee can create tools are certainly interesting problems. Just as it’s an interesting problem how it is macaques learn from other macaques a novel behaviour, or that a certain monkey has sounds to communicate about specific predators, or that dogs can recognise the association between human language and specific objects or commands. I’m glad the scientists who look into the how and why of such observations aren’t taking Plantinga’s argument to heart. It’s almost as if Plantinga has no interest in furthering our understanding of biology at all, just in trying to defend God…

  271. #271 eric
    August 19, 2011

    He’s talking about qualia; the experience of colour; the “redness” of red, blah blah blah.

    If one says ‘by X, I am talking about an experience/perception of a thing rather than the thing itself,’ then the claim ‘X doesn’t really exist’ might be true in some sense, but its largely tautological/circular.

    Moreover, making a bald statement like ‘color doesn’t exist’ when you’re really trying to make a statement like the one above seems like an intentional attempt to sow confusion about the claim, i.e., make it appear important or revolutionary when it isn’t. So okay, perceptions are different from their objects (of perception). I’ll buy that. What has that got to do with the price of fish, or to come back to the point, the ability of evolution to produce functional senses?

  272. #272 PhysicistDave
    August 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote to me:
    >You find them interesting and useful because of their actual philosophical work.

    Putting words in my mouth. I said nothing of the sort.

    I find them interesting and useful because they broke away from philosophy, because of their anti-philosophical work. I love Dave Stove’s attacks on philosophy, for example, but when he tried to philosophize, as in his analysis of Darwinism, he just made a fool of himself, just as Popper did when he philosophized about quantum mechanics or Mackie about relativity.

    VS wrote:
    > Which is an argument ad hominem in the classic style

    Nope, it is the converse: learn some logic.

    The ad hominem fallacy is that because you are a Nazi, your physics is wrong: it would be a fallacy for example to apply this to Heisenberg.

    My point is that because your reasoning is self-evidently wrong (you take Plantinga seriously!), therefore, there is something wrong with you. The converse.

    VS also wrote:
    >And this has not been my experience, and I’m pretty sure I’ve done more of it than you.

    Maybe, maybe not. I suspect I am older than you – you seem awfully young and naïve; maybe the situation is the reverse of what you suppose.

    But it is moot anyway. The fact that an astrologer has put enormously more effort studying astrology than you or I does not suggest that he might be right in thinking astrology is valid.

    The “elephant in the living room” is the obvious fact that there is nothing of substance on which philosophers can agree after two millennia of wasted effort.

    Philosophers and their defenders just will not face up to that.

    If they did, they would have trouble stopping laughing when they hear the word “philosophy.”

    Yes, I am not taking you or your “arguments” (or Plantinga’s “arguments”) seriously at all for the same reason that I do not take the “arguments” of an astrologer about astrology seriously at all. What you and Plantinga see as “arguments” are not at all the same sort of thing as valid arguments in math or science. Superficially the same word, but very, very different meanings.

    The case against astrology and philosophy is closed. Intelligent people do not argue about those subjects; they merely laugh.

  273. #273 PhysicistDave
    August 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote:
    > Who says that the eye provides reliable information? It actually doesn’t, like issues with the blind spot and issues where I do believe it projects things what we’d call “upside down”.

    That you can write this proves what Kel and I are trying to say.

    If you knew anything about information processing, you’d know that the fact that the image is inverted in the retina is irrelevant. That is like thinking that if you rotate a coax cable into your TV, the picture will go upside down!

    It is no more difficult to process the data that neurons carry away from the retina if the image is upside down than if it right side up.

    Irrelevant.

    Now, of course, I know the typical philosopher’s reply: “It was just an example.” Etc.

    But, when all of the “examples” end up being wrong… well, if all the experimental “examples” used in science ended up being wrong, we would accept that our science was badly wrong.

    I don’t know if you are a philosopher, a philosophy student, or a mere philosophy wannabee. But, you show the characteristic syndrome: a stunning immunity to facts.

  274. #274 PhysicistDave
    August 23, 2011

    Verbose Stoic wrote:
    > Because evolution does not select for organs, but for functionality. And the functionality we need here is “reliably produces truths”.

    But the brain does not “reliably produce truth”! That is Plantinga’s key error (not the only one, of course).

    Everyone knows this.

    People are remarkably bad to logical reasoning: see, e.g., the Wason selection task.

    The bizarre spread of mutually contradictory religious and philosophical systems shows how messed up the thinking of even literate and studious humans normally is.

    And, then, of course there is Exhibit A: you and Plantinga.

    No, of course, evolution has not produced a brain that “reliably produces truths.”

    It has produced a brain that has a fair amount of processing power. But, it took tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of years before humans stumbled upon a way of using that processing power that does, fairly reliably but with great effort, produce truth: the scientific method.

    Anyone who cannot face up to that fact is living a fantasy.

    Before science, pretty much all human thought about reality that went beyond mere “common sense” was simply nonsense, often not even meaningful.

    No, evolution most assuredly did not produce brains that reliably produce truth. It produced brains that churn out utter nonsense, like most philosophers’.

    But, we do now how to use our brains to produce truth. More accurately, some of us do, but not you and Plantinga.

  275. #275 Verbose Stoic
    August 27, 2011

    Kel,

    “It can’t be guaranteed – so what? Our immune system has no guarantee that it can fight off any infection, but in general it is able to do a pretty good job.”

    Why did you leave out the “or even expected”? We expect the immune system to generally work. Can we say the same for our mental faculties? Plantinga says not if we rely on evolution for it.

    “But utility can entail reliability. ”

    No, it can’t. They can co-exist, but you cannot say that if X is a useful faculty then it is a reliable one when talking about producing accurate beliefs. That’s the point. To be reliable, you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to have reason to think that it can produce reliable beliefs. Take this example: imagine that for every belief you have you flip a coin to determine if it is true or false. It turns out that 80% of the time, the coin flip happens to work. Would you think that that’s a reliable trut-forming faculty? Wouldn’t your doubt be because there’s no actual link between the reliability and the method, even if up to now it happened to work?

    “Are you suggesting that a chimpanzees ability to make simple tools is indicative of a designer? Those Capuchin Monkeys that spend years learning to crack nuts are also proof of an intelligent hand in nature? Those crows that are able to come up with novel solutions are again proof of an intelligence in their evolutionary history? ”

    Why do you seem to think that examples of utility are, in fact, relevant to the question of reliability? That’s precisely the premise that’s in question.

    “That heuristic is only good if we know all the possibilities – yet we don’t! But if you don’t make specific predictions about a gardener, then how can you know there was one? ”

    Because, in that example, it’s a garden. Gardens have gardeners. That’s really all I’d need there. You’d have to challenge its being a garden, not simply point out what your expectations of what a gardener should be are.

    The same thing applies here: if there was an intelligent force, then it intervened in some way. I’m not denying that some work is to be done, but the sort of work you’re demanding just isn’t relevant to the strong point you want to make.

    “What do you mean, not compatible? ”

    It can’t be the case that under the other theory that situation could also arise.

    “It’s interesting that you keep saying “overwhelming evidence” – I looked back and I didn’t say that. What I said was: “the best evidence and reasoning is overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that we evolved unguided.” This is a very different statement. I’m not making a claim saying that we’ve proven evolution happened and is unguided beyond a shadow of the doubt, but overwhelmingly the evidence collected points to this.”

    Please describe “evdence is overwhemingly point to” without using the word “overwhelming”. I don’t see the difference in the terms and so must conclude that I have no idea what you mean here.

    “Of course we can appeal to the evidence, and we ought to be as evidential as possible. ”

    Your reply here seems to suggest that I’m arguing against an evidence-based approach. I’m not. I’m arguing that the evidence we have can’t settle the question.

  276. #276 Verbose Stoic
    August 27, 2011

    eric,

    “I don’t see anyone assuming that. Scientific acceptance of evolution is based on empirical data and testing, not assumption. That a philosopher thinks evolution poses a philosophical paradox for the theory of knowledge doesn’t make the evidence for evolution any less. You seem to be arguing bass ackwards – you’ve got a theory of knowledge that says X can’t be. There is strong empirical data that X is. And your response is…reject X! It should be to question Plantinga’s theory of knowledge. If his theory doesn’t fit the facts, its probably wrong.”

    I think there’s some conflation of two notions of evolution here, and it’s at least partly if not entirely my fault here. There is one use which means “unguided” and one use that talks about the strict mechanisms of natural selection and the like. No one’s disagreeing with the latter. The challenge is to the former. One can, I think, challenge the “unguided” notion without contradicting any actual empirical facts about evolution, and Plantinga is trying to give a reason why we might want to.

    “Why should scientists or the public care if what we have doesn’t fulfill some philosophical criterion for what counts as knowledge?”

    You can take that tack, but what it means is that you then have to abandon claims that you’re searching for or have access to truth. You’ve sacrificed truth for utility. And that might be fine, but then when you go to philosophers and theologians — who’ll still be after truth since they won’t take that tack — and say “Science says God doesn’t exist” they’ll rightly translate that to “Science hasn’t found a God proposition useful”, shrug, and go back to looking for truth. So, even then, Plantinga wins by, in fact, getting science out of the discussion here since it wouldn’t ever have the truth about, well, anything, but certainly not about God.

    Alternatively, you can argue that truth and utility are the same thing. But that would mean engaging in philosophy and doing the work. And some naturalists have, in fact, done so.

    As for colour … recall that Kel’s point was that the eye is reliable and so we have an example of a reliable thing that was formed by evolution. Colour was one of the examples I tossed out to ask how we can say the eye is reliable. A lot of our visual experience is, in fact, colour. For it to be reliable in the way Kel seems to want, it would have to be the case that it can be linked and tested so that it gives an accurate representation of the colour things in the world have. But things in the world, it seems, don’t have colour at all. They absorb certain wavelengths of light, which gets translated into colour, but does that mean that those things really have a colour? Probably not. But then if I see an apple as red and you have red-green inversion and see it as green, which of us is seeing the right colour, as per the colour the object actually has? Well, we have no way to tell, and so for a very large number of propositions given to us by the eye reliability isn’t determinable. So, then, doesn’t that make us wonder about whether we could even say the eye is “reliable”?

    Now, this is not a problem for me because I don’t consider the eye ITSELF to be an organ for which reliability is a consideration. It’s the processing of that data that needs reliability. But it seemed to me that Kel’s argument required the eye to be reliable in the right way … only it probably, in and of itself, isn’t.

  277. #277 Kel
    August 27, 2011

    “We expect the immune system to generally work. Can we say the same for our mental faculties?”
    Yes, we can. How do you think other animals can avoid being eaten, find food, find shelter, fine a mate, raise offspring, etc. if there’s no way for mental faculties to work? One must be able to distinguish between food and non-food, between food that is safe and food that will be harmful, between a predator and a mate, etc. Is any example of animal interaction with an environment proof of a divine hand?

    “Plantinga says not if we rely on evolution for it.”
    And Plantinga has verified this experimentally, how? What experiments does he cite from ethologists? What observations from zoologists factor into what he’s saying?

    “No, it can’t. They can co-exist, but you cannot say that if X is a useful faculty then it is a reliable one when talking about producing accurate beliefs. That’s the point. To be reliable, you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to have reason to think that it can produce reliable beliefs. Take this example: imagine that for every belief you have you flip a coin to determine if it is true or false. It turns out that 80% of the time, the coin flip happens to work. Would you think that that’s a reliable trut-forming faculty? Wouldn’t your doubt be because there’s no actual link between the reliability and the method, even if up to now it happened to work?”
    But there is reliability in the method. If you can’t distinguish between ripe and unripe fruit, you get sick and possibly die. Thus you don’t pass your genes on, and the genes that do get passed on are the ones that can make the distinction. Unreliable faculties have the annoying habit of getting culled by the cruel hand of natural selection. There is a link between the reliability and the method, and any glance at a book on evolution would make that apparent. I’ll say it again, there’s selective pressure for reliable cognitive faculties. To again highlight using empirical data (I know, all the facts in the world shouldn’t get in the way of a good philosophical argument), humans are incredibly good at reading another’s emotion by looking at their eyes. Yet why should that be at all? Does it matter for one social species to be able to read the cues of another? Why do mothers become attune to the sound of an infant crying? Is there no evolutionary advantage in being able to detect when one’s offspring is in need of something? What would happen, evolutionary speaking, if parents couldn’t be there to help their helpless infant?

    “Why do you seem to think that examples of utility are, in fact, relevant to the question of reliability? That’s precisely the premise that’s in question.”
    Because in many of these examples, if there wasn’t a reliability of interaction with the environment, then there wouldn’t be any propagating of the genes. Chimpanzees, for example, have been shown to have an awareness of what trees in its “domain” have ripe fruit on them. If it weren’t reliable, then the chimpanzee would have a problem.

  278. #278 Kel
    August 27, 2011

    “Because, in that example, it’s a garden. Gardens have gardeners. That’s really all I’d need there. You’d have to challenge its being a garden, not simply point out what your expectations of what a gardener should be are.”
    Yet, when you move away from the gardener as we know it, then you’re creating a wider and wider disanalogy. At some point, to say “the garden has a gardener” becomes a meaningless statement. But more to the point, if you’re identifying that there must be a gardener, yet cannot point out anything that would show that a gardener was involved, then it’s a hollow assertion to say there was a gardener. Sure, a gardener could be tending to the garden, but without having anything to point to that the gardener is then you haven’t really explained anything at all.

    “The same thing applies here: if there was an intelligent force, then it intervened in some way. I’m not denying that some work is to be done, but the sort of work you’re demanding just isn’t relevant to the strong point you want to make.”
    It’s a hollow assertion to make otherwise. To say that there was an intelligent force doesn’t make much sense unless we have something that we can point to as demonstrating that fact. Only some work to be done? Hah!

    “Please describe “evdence is overwhemingly point to” without using the word “overwhelming”. I don’t see the difference in the terms and so must conclude that I have no idea what you mean here.”
    I’ll just quote the biologist Jerry Coyne on this:

    “Every day, hundreds of observations and experiments pour into the hopper of the scientific literature. [...] And every fact that has something to do with evolution confirms its truth. Every fossil that we find, every DNA molecule that we sequence, every organ system that we dissect, supports the idea that species evolved from common ancestors. Despite innumerable possible observations that could prove evolution untrue, we don’t have a single one. [Why Evolution Is True p242-p243]

    “Your reply here seems to suggest that I’m arguing against an evidence-based approach. I’m not. I’m arguing that the evidence we have can’t settle the question.”
    Then why aren’t you reserving judgement until such time as it can be settled by evidence? If it’s an evidential matter, then all Plantinga has is an interesting conjecture – something that should be studied by ethologists and evolutionary biologists. By the way, what’s lacking from the evidence now? Can you make say what kinds of evidence would be able to settle the question? Would these be to your satisfaction, or a reasonable explication of evolutionary theory? Because there are studies about how about how evolution has shaped cognitive faculties, and there’s much work done on animal (including human) cognition.

  279. #279 Kel
    August 27, 2011

    I see my name used quite often in response to eric, especially regarding what I meant.

    “For it to be reliable in the way Kel seems to want, it would have to be the case that it can be linked and tested so that it gives an accurate representation of the colour things in the world have.”
    No they don’t. In the way I want, the eye needs to be able to distinguish between different wavelengths, and to be able to focus on particular objects. The eye is a sensory device, and at that it does a reliable (albeit limited) job. The claim I was making that natural selection as an engineering mechanism can and does work.

    “So, then, doesn’t that make us wonder about whether we could even say the eye is “reliable”?”
    That the eye can pick up light reflecting off the apple, and send information to the brain is what makes it reliable. It’s not the eye that sees…

  280. #280 David Marjanović
    August 30, 2011

    And evolution builds cognitive systems that keep us alive (for the most part). The problem is that it isn’t clear that you can go from “Keep us alive” to “Give us true/accurate beliefs”, but that’s what needed for knowledge in ALL forms.

    This is a very silly false dichotomy between “absolutely certain knowledge of absolute truth” and “complete and utter chaotic uncertainty”.

    No, our beliefs are not automatically absolutely accurate. But no, they’re not complete waste either; they are sufficiently reliable for most purposes.

    Better yet, the theory of evolution actually tells us which purposes those are!

    How many more times do I need to explain evolutionary epistemology?

    As for the other part, you continually seem to assert that all the evidence supports your contention when the evidence can support at least some theories of the other side. We all have to accept that we evolved, but there is limited evidence that it is unguided. For example, there is no way for us in tracing the evolutionary history of any species to determine if mutation is random or a deliberate tweak. You may be able to the difference in principle, but in practice we simply can’t. But if even some significant mutations turned out to be deliberate tweaks, evolution would be guided … which is what you’re claiming the data says isn’t true.

    You could appeal to principles of Occam’s Razor and parsimony, but these only come into play when the evidence or data cannot in and of itself settle the question. So, if you go there, you concede my point: the data does not, in fact, settle that question in any interesting way.

    It is really stunning how much you underrate parsimony. No, we cannot prove that this or that mutation wasn’t actually caused by mutagenic pixie dust. We can’t prove shit. We can’t even prove I’m not the fucking solipsist. What we can say is Sire, je n’ai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse!!!

    Science is the application of Ockham’s Razor to the evidence.

    And the argument is that that functionality cannot be guaranteed or even expected if you just appeal to utility. Useful beliefs can be false; true beliefs can be not only not useful, but even downright detrimental.

    You, and Plantinga, assume they’re completely orthogonal to each other. That’s where you go wrong. They do have a correlation. The R² isn’t 1.00, but it’s not 0.00 either.

    That’s because if your beliefs about whether there’s a leopard in the nearest bush give false negatives too often, you’re dead, and your belief-forming faculties are removed from the gene pool.

    “That heuristic is only good if we know all the possibilities – yet we don’t! But if you don’t make specific predictions about a gardener, then how can you know there was one? ”

    Because, in that example, it’s a garden. Gardens have gardeners. That’s really all I’d need there. You’d have to challenge its being a garden, not simply point out what your expectations of what a gardener should be are.

    Of course we challenge its being a garden. It looks, after all, like a perfectly ordinary tropical rainforest. If it is a garden, it is a very cunningly, unfalsifiably even, disguised garden; and that’s an unparsimonious, completely unnecessary assumption. Nous n’avons pas besoin de cette hypothèse.

    “Of course we can appeal to the evidence, and we ought to be as evidential as possible. ”

    Your reply here seems to suggest that I’m arguing against an evidence-based approach. I’m not. I’m arguing that the evidence we have can’t settle the question.

    The application of parsimony to the evidence can settle the question beyond reasonable doubt. That’s what scientists mean by “appeal to the evidence”.

    It cannot settle the question beyond all doubt. It cannot prove I’m not the solipsist. And frankly, I don’t think it needs to.

    I think there’s some conflation of two notions of evolution here, and it’s at least partly if not entirely my fault here. There is one use which means “unguided” and one use that talks about the strict mechanisms of natural selection and the like. No one’s disagreeing with the latter. The challenge is to the former. One can, I think, challenge the “unguided” notion without contradicting any actual empirical facts about evolution,

    Yes, but only by making unparsimonious, unnecessary assumptions.

    and Plantinga is trying to give a reason why we might want to.

    Yes, but he fails most embarrassingly.

    “Why should scientists or the public care if what we have doesn’t fulfill some philosophical criterion for what counts as knowledge?”

    You can take that tack, but what it means is that you then have to abandon claims that you’re searching for or have access to truth.

    *blink*

    Of course science has long abandoned any claims to have guaranteed access to absolute truth. That’s what Popper’s entire fucking career was all about, to pick just the most prominent example.

    Science doesn’t use verification, because there is no such thing. It uses falsification and parsimony; and actually, falsification is itself just parsimony, because it depends on me not being the solipsist (among other things), if falsification is supposed to generate statements about truth itself and not merely about my solipsistic imagination.

    Science simply isn’t as arrogant as philosophy, let alone theology. :-)

    “So, then, doesn’t that make us wonder about whether we could even say the eye is “reliable”?”
    That the eye can pick up light reflecting off the apple, and send information to the brain is what makes it reliable. It’s not the eye that sees…

    Well, there are ways in which the eye itself is unreliable. For instance, purple appears to us as intermediate between red and blue. That’s because of the shapes of the absorption spectra of our opsins. If all you consider is the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, purple being intermediate between red and blue is total nonsense; blue is intermediate between red and purple, which are at opposite ends of the visible spectrum.

  281. #281 Verbose Stoic
    August 31, 2011

    I’ve lost two comments to the moderator bin due to length, I think, so hopefully this one will fit, although I think things are petering out a bit on all sides.

    David,

    “This is a very silly false dichotomy between “absolutely certain knowledge of absolute truth” and “complete and utter chaotic uncertainty”.”

    I’m not arguing that dichotomy. I want knowledge, but not certainty, and don’t know what you mean by “absolute truth”. My argument is that you need reliable faculties that produce propositions that actually reflect the world, where there is reason to think that the faculty is using methods that can do that. Plantinga’s argument is that selection for utility doesn’t provide that. I will say that in the course of this discussion I am convinced that the better argument is that even if evolution did provide such faculties, it would be only by coincidence, which is not what we want.

    “It is really stunning how much you underrate parsimony.”

    Parsimony and Occam’s Razor are only invoked when the evidence itself cannot determine which theory or proposition to prefer. And I actually personally deny that that is always useful. If you get down to parsimony, then I can immediately say that you concede that the data itself can’t settle the question. Which is what I wanted.

    Also note that Occam’s Razor defines simplicity as “number of entities”. By that, you should accept solipsism, all evidence being equal, if you were actually interested in applying it.

    “You, and Plantinga, assume they’re completely orthogonal to each other. That’s where you go wrong. They do have a correlation. The R² isn’t 1.00, but it’s not 0.00 either.”

    Is it higher that 0.50? I don’t need completely orthogonal. I just need unreliably correlated. Or, better, I need them to be correlated by coincidence and not by nature.

    “Of course science has long abandoned any claims to have guaranteed access to absolute truth. ”

    You’ve translated “truth” to “absolute truth”. I just mean “truth”. I’m sure we can have a long debate over what truth means, but it isn’t absolute truth that I’m after.

  282. #282 Kel
    August 31, 2011

    “I will say that in the course of this discussion I am convinced that the better argument is that even if evolution did provide such faculties, it would be only by coincidence”
    You got that from this discussion?

  283. #283 Verbose Stoic
    September 2, 2011

    Kel,

    Are you under the impression that I’m claiming that the argument is necessarily true, as opposed to being worth considering? Because when I reminded myself of the “flipping coin” argument — which it seems I got from discussions of reliabilism in epistemology and not from this discussion — this seems to me to be the best way to look at Plantinga’s argument, because it avoids on major hangup, which is over whether our faculties are reliable. Plantinga thinks they are, but that you couldn’t at least trust in that without adding something other than utility, just like you can’t trust in your coin without adding something else to make the link reasonable.

    Now, none of this saves Plantinga’s option, because he still has to answer why it isn’t perfect with the way he adds God into it. And my solution wouldn’t, then, look much better than the “Well, it’s useful” reply that’s been tossed out here before (although I can still appeal to design intent, which makes things a little better, but probably not all the way). And that utility doesn’t get accuracy in a real, linked sense is also debatable, since it’s been talked about since the big rationalist/empiricist debates with the suggestion that in at least some sense it does get you accuracy due to simply being able to act successfully on it. But there still are some questions.

    At which point, I argue that my main point is proven: the argument is not obviously stupid, even if it is not obviously correct and may, in fact, be totally wrong.

    Oh, and your blog seems to be having trouble. I keep getting redirected to blogrolling when I try to access it.

  284. #284 Kel
    September 2, 2011

    Are you under the impression that I’m claiming that the argument is necessarily true, as opposed to being worth considering?

    I’m not under the impression that you’re claiming it’s necessarily true, what I am confused about is to why you’re putting any credence into it at all. At best, it’s an untested speculation about the nature of selection. But really, there’s much work done, both conceptually and experimentally, about the nature of cognition in humans and other animals as well as its relation to evolutionary theory.

    It’s worth considering in what sense? That it might be useful to consider just how the evolutionary process might have led cognition? If so, that’s been studied for decades. There’s a lot of interesting work done in the field of ethology, and where the differences between human and other animal cognition lies.

    Now, none of this saves Plantinga’s option, because he still has to answer why it isn’t perfect with the way he adds God into it.

    Agreed, but how is that relevant to the evolutionary question? Is it going to avoid the same problems that Descartes had 400 years ago proposing God as a foundation for his epistemology?

    And that utility doesn’t get accuracy in a real, linked sense is also debatable, since it’s been talked about since the big rationalist/empiricist debates with the suggestion that in at least some sense it does get you accuracy due to simply being able to act successfully on it.

    The evolutionary conjecture is that, for some things, being inaccurate comes at a very high evolutionary cost. Not being able to find food, not being able to determine whether the food is edible, not being able to sense danger, not being able to detect predators, etc.

    At which point, I argue that my main point is proven: the argument is not obviously stupid, even if it is not obviously correct and may, in fact, be totally wrong.

    It depends how you look at the argument. In one sense, it’s not obviously stupid because of the disagreements we can have over the reliability of the senses, there are times when they are downright unreliable. On the other hand, it’s only when common sense breaks down that disagreements take place. It’s not like anyone mistakes a rock for a piece of food. At that point, we’re moving into the realm of culture – something that has a huge impact on our beliefs. There it makes no sense to talk about evolution and beliefs. A belief in the reliability of a building structure, for example, makes sense only in the academic realm.

    Oh, and your blog seems to be having trouble. I keep getting redirected to blogrolling when I try to access it.

    Same – it should be fixed now, one of the links on the sidebar somehow screwed up the whole thing. It’s been a busy week for me, so I haven’t had a chance to reply to you yet. Will try to get to it today or tomorrow.

  285. #285 Anton Mates
    September 3, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    I know this is late in the conversation, but I thought I’d jump in anyway–and as Plantinga’s official explicator-on-this-thread, you get it aimed at you. :) I won’t be offended if you haven’t time or energy to respond, though!

    Ultimately, though, that some things are reliable is undeniable, but the question is whether we can base our knowledge on assuming that evolution made it so. If we can’t, we are in trouble since it would mean that we don’t have knowledge. Plantinga’s move, then, is to accept that it is ludicrous to suggest that our abilities are not reliable … but then says we have to move away from evolution and utility being the only factor and main factor in that.

    But who thinks that evolution/utility is “the only factor and main factor” in the reliability of our cognitive faculties in the first place? Very few of us actually think that way, so far as I can see. The average evolution-accepting naturalist thinks our cognitive faculties are generally pretty reliable, sure. But s/he thinks that for pretty much the same reasons everyone else does: because

    a) we have an intuitive bias toward thinking that our cognitive abilities are reliable, and

    b) upon observation, they appear to be reliable. (Mostly, kind of, within limits, etc.) People don’t usually seem to be horribly mistaken about the everyday facts of life. This appearance could be of course be consistently false–you can’t kill global skepticism that easy, maybe we’re wrong about everything all the time and just never notice it–but it’s still compelling on empirical and parsimony grounds.

    The above reasoning doesn’t have much to do with accepting evolution or being a philosophical naturalist. Evolutionary theory can certainly inform our understanding of how and when our faculties are likely to work reliably or go haywire–and it does, unless you think that evolutionary theory has no implications whatsoever for cognitive psychology. But people (non-theists included) have accepted that our cognitive faculties look pretty reliable since long before evolutionary theory was developed.

    That’s a problem for Plantinga, because the weaker and (I think slightly) more defensible version of his argument says merely that we have no reason to believe that evolution would produce reliable faculties. But we don’t need to believe that, if we have other and independent beliefs which imply that our faculties are reliable. So even if Plantinga’s correct there (and I don’t think he is), evolutionary naturalism would not be a defeater to our belief in cognitive reliability. To use his language, we have “defeater-deflector” beliefs.

    To rephrase this with the immune system analogy: We do expect the immune system to, generally, work. And evolutionary theory provides an explanation for why it generally works, as well as some general predictions about where and when it’s more likely to work or to fail. But evolutionary theory is not the primary reason why we expect it to work. The primary reason is that we’ve seen it working–the history of medicine provides lots of evidence that people do successfully fight off infections. Even if evolutionary theory + naturalism did not predict that the immune system would work, E+N would not therefore be a defeater for the belief that it works. It would only be a defeater (by Plantinga’s definition) if it positively predicted, with a high degree of certainty, that the immune system shouldn’t work.

    Now, Plantinga admits the possibility of defeater-deflectors. To my knowledge, he deals with them in two ways, neither satisfactory. First, he lists a few possible deflectors and tries to show that they shouldn’t be admissible, or don’t actually support cognitive reliability. But he doesn’t even consider empirically-based deflector beliefs like the one I mention, which I suspect is the most common deflector that people actually hold. Second, he moves (here, for example) to a stronger position on the evolution of mind, where he says that evolutionary naturalism actually predicts distinctly unreliable cognitive faculties. But he doesn’t produce any halfway plausible argument to support that.

  286. #286 Anton Mates
    September 3, 2011

    Continued:

    But Plantinga points out that evolution doesn’t select for correctness, but instead selects for survival and usefulness. Useful false sensory impressions can be selected for just as easily as correct ones, and far more easily than not useful correct sensory impressions. So, there’s a reason to think that if you have to rely on evolution alone to produce accurate sense impressions it may not be able to do the job.

    (Nitpick: Plantinga doesn’t usually talk about true or false sensory impressions, but about true or false beliefs. don’t really see how sensory impressions could be true or false sans beliefs. To use your example, suppose we we saw all likely-to-be-dangerous objects as red. There would be nothing false about that impression, unless we also believed that their redness was really due to some other factor.)

    The possibility that evolution may not be able to do the job isn’t good enough. In order to overcome independent deflector beliefs, Plantinga has to show that evolution probably will not be able to do the job–that naturally evolved brains are significantly more likely to produce false beliefs than true ones. And when he’s tried to do this, the examples that he comes up with are, as you say, poor. Objecting that they’re merely “illustrative” doesn’t mitigate this problem, because the burden’s on him to produce a positive argument for evolution’s deficiency in this area. Doubt alone isn’t a defeater.

    Moreover, most naturalists (so far as I’m aware) don’t think it is the case that useful illusions can be selected for just as easily as useful truths, at least within the sphere of ordinary human life. For that reason, picking apart why his and others’ proposed examples fail is very helpful.

    There are, I think, two consistent problems with them. The first, which a number of people have already pointed out on this thread, is that useful false beliefs are generally useful over a narrower range of situations than useful truths. The person playing keepaway with a tiger he thinks is friendly will not behave adaptively if the tiger is sleeping, or in a cage, or if weapons are available, and so on.

    The second is that useful false beliefs are often complicated, especially if they’re designed to beat the previous drawback. As you said with the dangerous-objects-look-red example, if you want to preserve that illusion across various measurement techniques and whatnot, you need more and more patchups. Likewise, the person playing with a tiger could believe in a really complex game where, e.g., if he sees a spear he ought to shove it at the tiger because it will just tickle the beast and make it really happy or something. But unnecessary complexity in a belief is maladaptive. If you’re a philosophical naturalist who holds that beliefs are instantiated in the brain, then beliefs take time and calories to form, hold and process. The person trying to remember 500 rules from his “How to Play With Friendly Tigers” game is not going to react as quickly as the person who thinks “Tiger–>Dangerous–>Run, hide or kill!”, and is more likely to get eaten.

    Excessive complexity is found in most of the “consistent false belief” examples I’ve seen proposed, and I don’t think that’s an accident. After all, in science, parsimony is one of the principles by which we define (provisional) truth. Simple beliefs which produce useful behavior across a wide range of situations aren’t just adaptive; I think they’re pretty likely to be true in a scientific sense. At least approximately true, within that range.

    Counterexamples exist, of course. But it’s on Plantinga to show that they’re the norm.

  287. #287 Verbose Stoic
    September 6, 2011

    Anton Mates,

    Well, my answer to your first comment is to appeal to my “coin-flipping” example again to show that that isn’t deflecting defeat. Imagine that we’re making these considerations about a person who is, in fact, flipping a coin to decide what belief to hold and is getting 70-80% accuracy everytime. The argument, I think, would go like this:

    1) Flipping a coin to determine whether to believe a proposition true or false should, in principle, be right at most 1/2 the time.
    2) But we’re consistently getting a higher rate than that.
    3) We’re convinced that despite the fact that in general the method should not be so reliable, it actually is reliable to flip a coin and get true beliefs.
    C) This isn’t simply flipping a coin; there’s something else involved there that makes flipping the coin reliable.

    And that’s all Plantinga needs. Remember, it’s the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. He’s not trying to overturn evolution, but just show that by evolution one should belief that there is an influence beyond simple nature in at least our faculties. So that particularly defeater-deflector isn’t one because all it establishes is something that the defeater WANTS accepted anyway: that despite all of this, it would be absurd to think that our faculties aren’t, in fact, reliable. If we accept that, and we accept that utility should not provide reliability, then we have to accept that something other than evolution is the cause of their reliability.

    Ultimately, that’s why I think that Plantinga only needs a defeater of “no reason to think there’s any link between utility and reliability”, since he’s only trying to defeat naturalism, not evolution or even that our faculties are reliable.

    I also don’t find the “complication” or “range” replies all that convincing, mostly because as I said they attack the examples instead of the point. The reason that the examples of the false beliefs seem more complicated is not because they are so, but because they are dealing with individual beliefs which is never the case. Our actions are based on a web of beliefs that are all interconnected, and changing one often does mean that we have to change a lot more. They look complicated because we’re changing one belief in a worldview, but if we had really gone through that the whole worldview would be different, and if we really went through and updated that worldview in the right way what we’d see is that under that worldview the supposed “accurate” belief would seem complicated and of narrower scope than the supposed “inaccurate” one. So to attack the example on that point really does miss it; our entire worldview will support false and true beliefs since having CONSISTENT beliefs, it seems, is useful.

  288. #288 Verbose Stoic
    September 6, 2011

    Kel,

    “The evolutionary conjecture is that, for some things, being inaccurate comes at a very high evolutionary cost. Not being able to find food, not being able to determine whether the food is edible, not being able to sense danger, not being able to detect predators, etc. ”

    And it’s that conjecture that’s being challenged, and it’s that challenge that makes it worth considering. You are presuming that a) those beliefs make up most of our beliefs (since we need most to be accurate to get reliability) AND b) that those beliefs themselves being false really does have that cost. If they’re wrong in a detrimental way, you’re right, but the challenge is that if they were wrong in a useful way you’d be able to do exactly what you need to do to survive even with false beliefs, and so relying on utility alone you’d never know the difference. That’s why he wants to introduce something else to give us reason to think that they’re accurate, since he thinks utility doesn’t do the job. And to be honest it is not unreasonable to wonder if utility can do the job.

    “It depends how you look at the argument. In one sense, it’s not obviously stupid because of the disagreements we can have over the reliability of the senses, there are times when they are downright unreliable. On the other hand, it’s only when common sense breaks down that disagreements take place. It’s not like anyone mistakes a rock for a piece of food. ”

    But the question is: what warrant do you have for thinking that they’re reliable at all? As I said to Anton, Plantinga does not want to claim that our faculties aren’t reliable. He really does want people to accept that they are. His argument is that if you rely on utility alone you’re pretty much just flipping a coin, and if you’re just flipping a coin no one should actually think that it is reliable no matter how often it turns out to be right. So if you want to think it right, you need something other than the coin flip. And he suggests God.

  289. #289 Owlmirror
    September 6, 2011

    Excessive complexity is found in most of the “consistent false belief” examples

    Actually, it might be argued that they are not merely excessively complex, but are indeed irreducibly excessively complex.

    Therefore, they cannot arise naturally by evolution, but must be the result of intelligent design. A malevolent and dishonest intelligence, but intelligent nonetheless.

    QED.

  290. #290 Owlmirror
    September 6, 2011

    His argument is that if you rely on utility alone you’re pretty much just flipping a coin, and if you’re just flipping a coin no one should actually think that it is reliable no matter how often it turns out to be right.

    Which is a false equivalence, since “randomness” is not the same thing as utility.

    So if you want to think it right, you need something other than the coin flip. And he suggests God.

    Which is incoherent, since he provides no way to determine what God is or how God provides this reliability.

    God is worse than a coin flip. God isn’t even a meaningful concept.

  291. #291 eric
    September 6, 2011

    Verbose stoic @278:

    One can, I think, challenge the “unguided” notion without contradicting any actual empirical facts about evolution, and Plantinga is trying to give a reason why we might want to.

    No, one can’t. Not unless you want to call the actions of a hunting cheetah or cosmic rays hitting your DNA “guided.” We have a pretty good idea about the mechanisms of evolution, and none of the material, proximate causes are guided by intelligence. To suppose the process itself is guided you have to add a wholly unnecessary, non-proximate additional layer to the explanation.

    Or perhaps I should say, one can challenge the unguided notion the same way I could, say, challenge your contention that you are choosing what you write. I think secret magical faeries are actually dancing on your brain, making you type what you do. But that dosen’t seem like a very cogent challenge, does it? For the same reason Plantinga’s challenge to evolution isn’t cogent – the extra layer of claimed explanation doesn’t really explain anything, does it?

    “Why should scientists or the public care if what we have doesn’t fulfill some philosophical criterion for what counts as knowledge?”

    You can take that tack, but what it means is that you then have to abandon claims that you’re searching for or have access to truth.

    I don’t think scientists or science has ever claimed to reach metaphysical truth. But I think science can legitimately claim to have a better understanding of the universe than the alternatives.

    Its that relative failure that theology has yet to address. It’s not the case that there is one methodology for discovering utility (science) and one for truth (theology). It’s the case that both methodologies try to gain truthful understanding of the world, but we don’t know how to measure that. So we humans have decided to use utility as a reasonable proxy for truth. And science does spectacularly well at that proxy while theology fails miserably.

    So, even then, Plantinga wins by, in fact, getting science out of the discussion here since it wouldn’t ever have the truth about, well, anything, but certainly not about God.

    So, since the science-theology comparison isn’t pretty, claim the comparison is not valid? How is that a win?

    But things in the world, it seems, don’t have colour at all. They absorb certain wavelengths of light, which gets translated into colour, but does that mean that those things really have a colour? Probably not.

    That is a pointless distinction to make if your claim is that evolution is insufficient to produce reliable senses (which it was – see @268). Every physical system takes in energy in one form and translates/converts it into another; human senses included. The mere fact that some translational act is taking place has nothing to do with reliability, or the sufficiency of evolution. It’s merely a distraction or digression. But maybe I’m missing your point, so I’ll give you another chance: a photon of a certain wavelength hits receptors at the back of the eye, and the brain sees “red.” How does this show that evolution is insufficient to produce reliable senses?

  292. #292 Kel
    September 6, 2011

    Verbose Stoic, I’m not sure what I can say anymore. I’ve made my case for why evolution can warrant reliable beliefs to a limited extent, and why we should not only think that we can have reliable belies but why it is we do. Again, certain faculties, if they fail, mean disadvantage or even death. But for a complete story, you need culture as well. We form our beliefs in a variety of ways, and evolution is only part of that story.

    To the question of how it is that evolution can reject for accuracy over utility, the answer is that there’s utility in accuracy and at times a heavy cost for inaccuracy. That should be sufficient to account for the conceptual problem. As for the evidential problem, there’s countless examples in the literature that demonstrate the power of evolution. Honestly, I don’t know why you’re persisting defending the argument; you’re validating PhysicistDave’s critique of the role of philosophy.

    Seriously, I don’t get why you’re defending it when you could be designing an experiment to test it instead… Surely the success of the scientific method should warrant empirical verification. I find it telling that my referencing empirical findings is conjecture while you’re not even trying to put Plantinga’s claim to the test!

  293. #293 Kel
    September 7, 2011

    The interesting thing about Plantinga’s argument is that the goal of the argument has nothing to do with the science involved. The target is naturalism, yet the argument rests entirely on the science. At the core, there’s the empirical problem which the entire argument rests on. It doesn’t really matter what Plantinga proposes as his solution if the premise is wrong – and as you can see my entire dismissal of the argument has been concerning the premise. Not interested to whether Plantinga’s solution works, as it’s a non-existent problem as far as I’m concerned. It’s of note that our beliefs can be quite unreliable at times, and that evolution explains that while it undermines God – though I’m sure some ‘sophisticated theologian’ would find a talking snake and magic fruit to blame…

    Yet in the empirical case, what work has Plantinga done? Seems the rest of the argument is irrelevant until the premise is established. And as a scientific question it is an interesting one, and one that’s been studied for decades now by various disciplines – from psychologists to philosophers. So what’s Plantinga’s contribution to the advancement of understanding? More ‘just-so’ accounts to account for the same behaviour. No experiments proposed to test such accounts, no simulations to check for evolutionary stable strategies, no proposals for patterns observed by psychologists or ethologists – nothing at all to put his conjecture to the empirical test.

    I highlight this because there’s an important point to be made. Plantinga’s argument isn’t so much wrong as it is vacuous. We’re at a time now when entire genomes are being sequenced and searched, where there’s a rapidly increasing body of work done on animal and human behaviour in how they interact with the external world, where there’s a strong development in the processes that shape life, and in ways to reconstruct aspects of the past. Meanwhile, what does Plantinga’s argument add? What predictions does it make? How can it be validated or discarded? There’s nothing there for biologists to work with – but since Plantinga’s target is epistemology it’s hardly surprising.

    Interestingly enough, a survey of religious belief among sceptics had arguments to design and beauty as the main reason believing sceptics gave. Such arguments that directly concern our biology. It’s often argued that evolution can’t account for this or that, yet those arguments don’t really put forward a way to test uhdo. Take one classic: that evolution can’t explain morality. There’s a fairly good account now, but it came about through investigation, not through throwing our hands up and invoking a deity. ID proponents do the same with particular structures, liberal theists with motions like love an beauty. Yet none propose models or do the maths – they just state outright what evolution cannot account for even to the point of defending astrology as science in a courtroom. The point being that defeater arguments are a dime a dozen, yet insight into the process has been from scientific investigation. Yet another argument as to why evolution doesn’t work doesn’t begin to help up see whether it’s the case. It rings as hollow as a creationist yet again saying evolution violates thermodynamics.

  294. #294 eric
    September 7, 2011

    Verbose stoic: But the question is: what warrant do you have for thinking that they’re reliable at all?

    I pick up something that looks and feels like a sandwich, eat it, and my body treats it as a sandwich instead of a rock. Prima facie evidence that my senses are at least mostly reliable.

    His argument is that if you rely on utility alone you’re pretty much just flipping a coin, and if you’re just flipping a coin no one should actually think that it is reliable no matter how often it turns out to be right.

    That’s baloney. No real person would act that way. If I flip a coin and it keeps consistently coming up heads, the natural thing to do is question the ‘its random’ premise. Randomness is Plantinga’s argument. So if my senses are reliable yet Plantinga’s randomness premise claims they shouldn’t be, the smart thing to do is to revise/reexamine Plantinga’s premise.

    So if you want to think it right, you need something other than the coin flip. And he suggests God.

    The way you’ve described Plantinga’s argument, he seems to be constructing a whole theoretical framework on a very shifty set of premises. IF Plantinga is right about the way senses work and IF something else is needed and IF no other material explanation could do, and IF no non-God, non-Christian, non-material explanation fits either, THEN Jesus. As Kel and Owlmirror have pointed out, he hasn’t even tested his first premise. So it seems at best premature to think his conclusion is sound.

  295. #295 Anton Mates
    September 8, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    Imagine that we’re making these considerations about a person who is, in fact, flipping a coin to decide what belief to hold and is getting 70-80% accuracy everytime. The argument, I think, would go like this:

    1) Flipping a coin to determine whether to believe a proposition true or false should, in principle, be right at most 1/2 the time.

    2) But we’re consistently getting a higher rate than that.

    3) We’re convinced that despite the fact that in general the method should not be so reliable, it actually is reliable to flip a coin and get true beliefs.
    
C) This isn’t simply flipping a coin; there’s something else involved there that makes flipping the coin reliable.

    And that’s a perfectly valid argument, given the premises. The problem is with premise 1).

    Again, Plantinga has advanced stronger and weaker claims about naturally evolved cognitive reliability at different times. Your 1) is analogous to the stronger version: “The probability of naturally evolved cognitive faculties being reliable is low.” It is indeed less vulnerable to deflectors, but it’s also much less likely to be accepted by your opponents. Most of them simply don’t agree that our hypothetical coin should be right at most 1/2 the time. They may have reason to think that the coin is weighted, or that it’s flipped in a repeatable way you aren’t accounting for, or that the math you’re using to calculate the outcome of flips is wrong or incomplete.

    They may even believe that the success rate of the coin flip is inscrutable, because the concept of “simply flipping a coin” isn’t sufficiently well-defined to allow for any predictions. After all, if you don’t know whether the coin is weighted or flipped weirdly, or whether we have a good predictive model for its motion or not, then it makes little sense to say that the success rate should be 1/2, or even somewhere on the interval [0, 1/2]. It could be anything (This is certainly a reasonable position to take on a hellaciously complex evo-psych question about cognitive reliability!)

    Any of the above positions on the coin-flip question means that 1) cannot be accepted, and the argument fails.

    Now, the weaker version (“The probability of naturally evolved cognitive faculties being reliable is low or inscrutable“) would be analogous to a claim like:
    1w) “There is, in principle, no reason to think that flipping a coin should be right more than 1/2 the time.”

    That’s easier for some naturalists to accept, because it allows for the “inscrutable” option. But this version is the one that’s super-vulnerable to deflectors, because naturalists can propose all sorts of reasons to think that this particular coin happens to be right most of the time–including the simple empirical test of observing a lot of flips and their outcome. In that case, 1w) may be true, but it’s also irrelevant…whatever our principles say for coins in general, they don’t rule out this particular special coin being awesome. And it could be awesome thanks to an infinite number of potential cause–there is no reason to decide that it’s a God-given coin in particular.

    So the stronger 1) will simply be rejected by most naturalists, and the weaker 1w) doesn’t actually get you to C).

    So that particularly defeater-deflector isn’t one because all it establishes is something that the defeater WANTS accepted anyway: that despite all of this, it would be absurd to think that our faculties aren’t, in fact, reliable.

    I don’t think this really makes sense in Plantinga’s terminology. A defeater qua Plantinga is not a person; it’s a belief (or set of beliefs). Specifically, a belief that implies that some other belief is false or at least unreasonable. A deflector is a third belief that, if accepted, alters the defeater so that it no longer has that implication.

    The weak form of the defeater Plantinga proposes is, “Naturalistic evolution is true, and the likelihood of our faculties being reliable, given naturalistic evolution, is low or unknowable.” The belief this defeats is, “Our faculties are reliable.” But since we strongly accept the latter belief, we should reject the defeater–and, Plantinga thinks, we should reject the “Naturalistic evolution is true” part in particular.

    But the deflector I’m pointing out allows us to alter the second part instead. If we have independent evidence that our faculties are reliable, then we can instead believe, “The likelihood of our faculties being reliable, given naturalistic evolution and this evidence, is high.” And notice that we can believe this even if we also believe that the likelihood would be unknowable without the additional evidence.

    In that case the defeater is no longer a defeater; it has been deflected.

    If we accept that, and we accept that utility should not provide reliability, then we have to accept that something other than evolution is the cause of their reliability.

    But that’s not good enough. This is an Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, not an Evolutionary Argument Against Nothing-But-Evolution-Exists-Ism. We all, pretty much, accept that our faculties are reliable. Some of us naturalists (most, I think), accept evolution as the cause of their reliability; others do not. But in order to reach Plantinga’s conclusion, we have to reject not just evolution as the cause of their reliability, but all conceivable mechanisms that could exist in a godless cosmos, down to sheer dumb luck. We have to accept that naturally evolved cognitive faculties are so certainly unreliable that nothing short of a miracle could correct them.

    Because if we don’t accept that, we are free to say, “Well, our faculties look naturally evolved, and they look reliable. So apparently they’re both. We may not know yet exactly how that happened–get to work, scientists!–but apparently it did.”

    The reason that the examples of the false beliefs seem more complicated is not because they are so, but because they are dealing with individual beliefs which is never the case. Our actions are based on a web of beliefs that are all interconnected, and changing one often does mean that we have to change a lot more. They look complicated because we’re changing one belief in a worldview, but if we had really gone through that the whole worldview would be different, and if we really went through and updated that worldview in the right way what we’d see is that under that worldview the supposed “accurate” belief would seem complicated and of narrower scope than the supposed “inaccurate” one.

    That’s…a claim. It needs support. One way to support it would be to come up with at least a few examples that actually illustrate it. A much better way to support it would be to come up with an evidential or logical argument that demonstrates its general truth, sure. But examples would be a nice first step.

    I keep harping on the examples because Plantinga given us anything else. Why would a web of consistent false beliefs be just as simple, just as easy for our brains to process, and produce just as adaptive behavior, as a web of true beliefs? What argument is there to support this claim?

  296. #296 Anton Mates
    September 8, 2011

    eric,

    That’s baloney. No real person would act that way. If I flip a coin and it keeps consistently coming up heads, the natural thing to do is question the ‘its random’ premise.

    Precisely. If someone flips a coin and gets a giant long string of heads, we might draw various possible conclusions from that, but we’re probably not going to exclaim, “Why, no natural coin could possibly do this! It must be God!”

  297. #297 Anton Mates
    September 8, 2011

    My #297:

    I keep harping on the examples because Plantinga given us anything else.

    er, hasn’t given us anything else.

  298. #298 Iain Walker
    September 9, 2011

    OK, I’ve now had two comments on this thread held for moderation, but not on other threads. The only thing I can think of it that they were too long, in which case what’s the word limit on comments?

    Or is it something specific to this thread?

    Thanks.

  299. #299 Kel
    September 9, 2011

    I had a comment that was long and held in moderation, I split it over several posts and it was fine. So not sure what’s going on.

  300. #300 Iain Walker
    September 10, 2011

    OK, let’s try chopping things up:

    Verbose Stoic (#235):

    And that’s why I added what you ignored: the appeal to purpose. Denying that they’d have to be perfect, but arguing that they are what they are because they were DESIGNED to be so, and so even when they give us illusions they give us the illusions we’re supposed to have.

    But on its own, the appeal to purpose is completely vacuous: “Our cognitive faculties are as reliable as they are because they were designed to be as reliable as they are.” It’s no better than saying “Our cognitive faculties are as reliable as they are because they evolved to be as reliable as they are” and just leaving it at that. In each case you have to show how the designing/evolution is to be expected to bring about the state of reliability of our cognitive faculties.

    In which case, one needs to say something specific about the designer. However, simply positing that the designer is omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent doesn’t cut it. Firstly, to say that the designer is omnipotent is simply to say that it has the power to design our cognitive faculties to be as reliable as they are. Secondly, to say that the designer is omniscient is simply to say that it knows how to design our cognitive faculties to be as reliable as they are. In neither case has anything been added to the explanation, since both of these assumptions are already implicit. And thirdly, to say that the designer is omni-benevolent does not guarantee that it will want to design our cognitive faculties to be as reliable as they are, because “omni-benevolence” is too vague a concept to make any detailed predictions from. One would need to posit a lot more detail about the designer’s goals and motives and any self-imposed design constraints it may be working under.

    So the basic theistic solution to the problem of cognitive reliability is a combination of the trivial and uninformative and the unhelpfully vague. In contrast, Evolution+Naturalism can give a non-trivial and informative explanation of how fairly reliable but specifically flawed cognitive faculties such as our own are a predictable outcome of the process invoked (you may personally doubt the viability of the explanation, but it is nevertheless non-trivial and informative).

  301. #301 Iain Walker
    September 10, 2011

    Hurrah! Continuing on from #302, then:

    There’s an additional problem with positing a designer as an explanation for the reliability of our cognitive faculties, which is that one is positing something that itself has cognitive faculties, faculties which themselves must be reliable enough to ensure that our faculties are as reliable as they are. But if it is reasonable to ask “How did our cognitive faculties get as reliable as they are?”, then it is also reasonable to ask “How did the designer’s cognitive faculties get as reliable as they are?” (Note that appealing to omniscience does no more than restate the fact to be explained.)

    Thus it seems that our confidence in the reliability of our own cognitive faculties must also depend on our confidence in the reliability of the designer’s cognitive faculties, in which case the “designer” explanation must include some justification for this confidence (i.e., an account of the designer such that the reliability of its cognitive faculties is non-trivially explicable). Now if we want to avoid an infinite regress of designers, then at some stage we have to have a designer the reliability of whose cognitive faculties is explicable in terms of some phenomenon or state of affairs that is not itself required to have cognitive faculties.

    In other words, the alternative to an infinite regress is that there is some explanation for cognitive reliability that does not depend on a designer. Which raises the possibility that such an explanation might exist for the reliability of our own cognitive faculties, in which case there would be no need to posit a designer in the first place.

    So not only is the appeal to purpose and agency vacuous (without a lot of additional detail), it ends up explaining the thing that need explaining in terms of more of the very thing that needs explaining – with all the usual problems that this entails.

  302. #302 Kel
    September 10, 2011

    In other words, the alternative to an infinite regress is that there is some explanation for cognitive reliability that does not depend on a designer. Which raises the possibility that such an explanation might exist for the reliability of our own cognitive faculties, in which case there would be no need to posit a designer in the first place.

    Yeah, but, Iain, the whole point of God is that God doesn’t require an explanation in itself. God just is

    It really shows how unsophisticated your view of God is that you could make such an elementary mistake like that. ;)

  303. #303 Iain Walker
    September 11, 2011

    It really shows how unsophisticated your view of God is that you could make such an elementary mistake like that. ;)

    Please, Kel. It’s “unsophisti-mah-cated” …

  304. #304 Kel
    September 11, 2011

    Unsophistimahcated – of course! Apologies for the linguistic oversight. I keep forgetting there’s a special word for those of us who don’t see how saying that God is an undesigned designer stops the infinite regress of design arguments, or that defining morality in God doesn’t make any sense – let alone resolve the euthyphro dilemma, or that calling mental states as foundational is a sufficient account of the mind.

    Yes, unsophistimahcated, the perfect word for up who feel that if philosophy is what William Lane Craig and Greg Ganssle do, then bring on the death of philosophy – or at least the death of philosophy of religion. For it contains nothing but sophistry and illusion, and should be committed to the flames…

  305. #305 Anton Mates
    September 12, 2011

    So not only is the appeal to purpose and agency vacuous (without a lot of additional detail), it ends up explaining the thing that need explaining in terms of more of the very thing that needs explaining – with all the usual problems that this entails.

    Remarkably (or, well, not remarkably) similar to the standard ID arguments, yes. Assert, without much support, that godless evolution Cannot Possibly Accomplish X. Assert that God could accomplish X, cuz he’s God. Ignore the possibility of any other explanations for X. Also ignore all questions as to how God could accomplish X, why he would want to, and why we should think there’s such a God in the first place. Done!

  306. #306 Verbose Stoic
    September 12, 2011

    Iain,

    You missed the point of my alternative, actually. I was not claiming that our cognitive faculties would, in light of that alternative, be strictly reliable. I would, instead, be arguing that they are precisely as reliable as they are supposed to be … or, rather, they give propositions exactly how they are supposed to. That’s because I can appeal in that case to a designer with a purpose who made them according to that purpose. I need not know precisely what that purpose is — although I may be able to discover it — in order to claim this; there being a designer implies a purpose and therefore it can be said that the faculties are designed for the purpose they want. Evolution, of course, cannot claim this, and Plantinga’s alternative can’t allow for error. However, it is quite possible to argue that I still wouldn’t get what we wanted reliability for, and so it wouldn’t be any better a solution or avoid all of the problems.

    Note that I have no need to accept an argument of “By that, then, you should never correct the results of your faculties” because my counter would be that since those corrections are ALSO done by cognitive faculties I can again appeal to those corrections as being things that our faculties are supposed to do.

    So I don’t actually need “reliable” at all, nor does my argument hang on that at all.

    As for God’s faculties … no one is saying that God evolved, and it is specifically evolution — and, more specifically, its reliance on utility to judge faculties — that is the problem here. So, no, you DON’T run into the same problem at all. Plantinga’s argument and counter only affects strictly evolved faculties, and my counter doesn’t even need the designer to have reliable faculties. This seems to me to be an argument tossed out because it normally works without understanding how the actual arguments given have no vulnerability to that counter.

  307. #307 eric
    September 12, 2011

    Verbose stoic: I would, instead, be arguing that they are precisely as reliable as they are supposed to be … or, rather, they give propositions exactly how they are supposed to. That’s because I can appeal in that case to a designer with a purpose who made them according to that purpose. I need not know precisely what that purpose is…

    This is circular. You are looking at the facts as we know them, diving God’s purpose from them, and then claiming the match between purpose and observation is meaningful. It isn’t. The only thing the match is evidence of is that you are using post hoc reasoning. I claim God wanted F=ma. F does equal ma. Wow, isn’t it remarkable that reality matches my claim? There must be something to it! Answer: no, not at all.

    If you want to claim God purposefully gave us a blind spot in our vision, you can’t merely cite the blind spot as evidence for that, otherwise your claim means nothing.

    there being a designer implies a purpose and therefore it can be said that the faculties are designed for the purpose they want. Evolution, of course, cannot claim this, and Plantinga’s alternative can’t allow for error.

    As far as I can tell, (your description of) Plantinga’s alternative is merely the false dichotomy. I.e. evolution doesn’t give what you consider to be a sufficient explanation, therefore God. This is poor reasoning. If you want to hypothesize that some deity gave us senses, you need to come up with independent evidence that that deity gave us senses.

    *****

    As for evolution not being able to claim purpose, I think this is a form of linguistic sleight of hand where you shift between different meanings of the word ‘purpose.’

    Specifically, these types of arguments tend to start with pointing out that evolution needs feedback between the environment and the organism to work – which is true, it does. This feedback is often called ‘purpose’ in the vernacular sense (example: the purpose of better eyes in a hawk is to help it find mice from hundreds of yards away). But then once everyone’s agreed that evolution has this sort of vernacular purpose, you ask ‘how can evolution have a goal?,’ asking a question about teleolgy. But this is to use a different, more philosophical definition of the word purpose.

    Ultimately, whether you call the results of the environment working on the organism via selection and genetic drift ‘purpose’ or not is up to you. But the bottom line is, if you don’t call it purpose, then evolution doesn’t need a purpose. If you call it a purpose, then evolution has what it needs, and it doesn’t need to fulfill any other meaning of the word ‘purpose.’ Either way, IMO, there is not much to the issue of purpose in evolution except linguistic confusion.

  308. #308 Iain Walker
    September 12, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#308):

    I would, instead, be arguing that they are precisely as reliable as they are supposed to be … or, rather, they give propositions exactly how they are supposed to.

    Which is still completely vacuous, and tells us absolutely nothing of interest. I mean, if one has the mentality of a rather dull and incurious four year old who’s just happy to believe that Mummy and Daddy have made everything the way it ought to be, then the assumption may bring some superficial emotional comfort. But apart from that childish sense of reassurance, one has gained nothing by the assumption, and certainly nothing in the way of epistemic warrant for … well, anything, really.

    Evolution, of course, cannot claim this

    But why on earth should it need to? Mind you, one can still come up with an evolutionary equivalent: Our cognitive faculties are as reliable as they need to be in order to ensure our reproductive survival. But even this is better than your teleological formulation, since it at least presupposes an theoretical and investigative framework which would allow us to estimate how good is “good enough”. Your formulation can’t even offer that.

    As for God’s faculties … no one is saying that God evolved, and it is specifically evolution — and, more specifically, its reliance on utility to judge faculties — that is the problem here.

    Yet Plantinga’s position is that theism can provide a warrant for our belief in the reliability of our cognitive faculties that evolution+naturalism allegedly lacks – the whole point of his argument is buttress the supposed rationality of theistic belief. So if there are reasons for doubting that theism fares any better in comparison with evolution+naturalism, then this goes straight to the heart of the argument.

    my counter doesn’t even need the designer to have reliable faculties.

    Doesn’t it? It seems to me that if one doesn’t assume that the designer’s cognitive faculties are reliable, then one has no reason to suppose that it has successfully realised its purpose in making our faculties as reliable as it wants them to be. If its faculties are unreliable, then there is no reason to suppose that it has not accidentally designed our faculties to be less reliable than it intended (or more reliable than intended). So if you want to suppose that our faculties are as reliable as they are intended to be, you have to assume a designer with the cognitive wherewithal to realise its own intentions with a fair degree of accuracy.

  309. #309 Verbose Stoic
    September 12, 2011

    I was aiming to spread responses out, but that’s not going to work so well, so …

    Iain,

    “But apart from that childish sense of reassurance, one has gained nothing by the assumption, and certainly nothing in the way of epistemic warrant for … well, anything, really.”

    Your dismissive commentary aside, it does give epistemic warrant in one important way: it means that I ought to use my cognitive faculties because they at least broadly work the way they’re supposed to. I don’t need any particularly strong sense of reliability in the cognitive faculties because, again, there is a clear defined purpose that can be tested against. Evolution does not have that; all it has is utility. You can try to argue that “usefulness” is sufficient to justify relying on your cognitive faculties, but then you are open to charges that you are abandoning truth and should aim for that. My counter is less impacted than that because it can say that if we can’t get truth we aren’t, in fact, actually supposed to.

    “Our cognitive faculties are as reliable as they need to be in order to ensure our reproductive survival. But even this is better than your teleological formulation, since it at least presupposes an theoretical and investigative framework which would allow us to estimate how good is “good enough”. Your formulation can’t even offer that.”

    And why should “ensuring reproductive survival” be the criteria by which our cognitive faculties are judged? My teleological formulation can appeal to what we were explicitly designed to do. Yours can’t. As for “estimating good enough”, I didn’t offer it to get that and really don’t see why that should be an overwhelming factor in this. Your presuming an interesting question and insisting that my view is both a) wrong for not providing it directly and b) unable to fit in at all with that sort of information and examination. Neither are supported.

    “So if there are reasons for doubting that theism fares any better in comparison with evolution+naturalism, then this goes straight to the heart of the argument.”

    Your example, however, is not such a reason; no one has given any reason to think that God would be impacted by the challenge that evolution has, or anything like it.

  310. #310 Verbose Stoic
    September 12, 2011

    eric,

    “This is circular. You are looking at the facts as we know them, diving God’s purpose from them, and then claiming the match between purpose and observation is meaningful. It isn’t. The only thing the match is evidence of is that you are using post hoc reasoning. I claim God wanted F=ma. F does equal ma. Wow, isn’t it remarkable that reality matches my claim? There must be something to it! Answer: no, not at all.”

    This is also unrelated to my actual argument. I am taking on Plantinga’s challenge on the basis of evolution. I think it not unreasonable to think that utility is not the right sort of thing to link properly to reliable cognitive faculties (let’s drop senses out, as I used that term loosely but it’s cognitive faculties that we’re really talking about). But Plantinga’s alternative should guarantee perfection, and our cognitive faculties contradict each other (which leads us to posit that one or the other is in error). My alternative is between those two, by taking God — or some sort of designer — and saying that they produce what they are supposed to produce BECAUSE they were designed to do that. I don’t say anything about what that purpose is supposed to be, and at best I’d say that it might be something that we can figure out later. But I make no claim that in any way appeals to “reality works out that way”.

    You are, in fact, making the same mistake Iain did by presuming that my argument is meant to apply to claims beyond this discussion. It isn’t.

    “As for evolution not being able to claim purpose, I think this is a form of linguistic sleight of hand where you shift between different meanings of the word ‘purpose.’”

    Please show me where I actually shift between meanings of “purpose”. As far as I’m concerned, I never use the first definition in my arguments, nor is that in any way the argument against evolution producing reliable cognitive faculties.

  311. #311 eric
    September 12, 2011

    Verbose stoic: [theism] does give epistemic warrant in one important way: it means that I ought to use my cognitive faculties because they at least broadly work the way they’re supposed to.

    That warrant is utterly unnecessary. You use your cognitive faculties because the alternative (not using them) is practically impossible, and would likely result in death or severe discomfort. Are you honestly claiming that nobody has a reason to use their eyes unless they believe in God first?

    I don’t need any particularly strong sense of reliability in the cognitive faculties because, again, there is a clear defined purpose that can be tested against.

    Hold on, in your last post you told us you didn’t know the purpose and didn’t need to. Now the purpose is so clearly defined that it can be tested? What, pray tell, is God’s purpose, how did you come to know it, and what test do you suggest?

    why should “ensuring reproductive survival” be the criteria by which our cognitive faculties are judged?

    Becuase your cognitive faculties are hereditary. Like it or hate it, the extent to which your particular unique faculties will be adopted by others in the future depends mostly on how many kids you have (that survive to have kids, and so on).

    My teleological formulation can appeal to what we were explicitly designed to do. Yours can’t.

    You haven’t told us what we or our senses are explicitly designed to do. Or why we would believe whatever answer you give to that question. As I noted before, your whole logic appears to be post hoc: (1) observe how (well) the senses work. (2) Assert God meant for them to work this well. (3) Claim the fit between observation and assertion means something, when it clearly doesn’t. Except possibly meaning that post hoc reasoning is a very weak argument for God.

  312. #312 Verbose Stoic
    September 12, 2011

    Anton,

    You are making the mistake of attacking the example rather than the argument. My 1) formulation is specific to the “flip a coin to determine what to believe” case, but my argument applies to both low and inscrutable by relying on there being no sufficient link between the method and the truth of a proposition to make it seem reasonable to believe that somehow the method, unaided, produces reliable cognitive faculties. I think it reasonable to argue that selecting on the basis of utility does not have a strong enough link to truth — based on our own experiences, yet — to justify a belief that it unaided produced reliable cognitive faculties. That, then, is a problem, and it only gets worse if you prove independently that our cognitive faculties are reliable, since then what we should do is think that something else is involved.

    Your deflector, then, is a weak one. It seems to me that it relies on a premise of “Naturalized evolution might produce cognitive faculties or it might not.”, which is basically taking only the “inscrutable” part and taking it very strongly/literally. Then, your argument is that since we know that our faculties are reliable naturalized evolution — by coincidence — just happened to produce reliable faculties. But if Plantiga’s “evolution+God” alternative was the right one, we’d ALSO have reliable faculties. So we expect it if he’s right, and happened to luck out and get reliable faculties if you’re right. Sure, it might deflect it enough so that you cannot claim that Plantinga’s argument doesn’t actually PROVE naturalism false, but I’d still fail to see any reason why someone would consider the “we just lucked into it” option reasonable who didn’t simply want to preserve naturalism or deny any place for God.

    Now, you did talk about a real issue: that Plantinga jumps from “unaided evolution can’t do it” to “you need something supernatural”. I’m sure that Plantinga does think that you need something supernatural, and the naturalists he’s arguing with do tend to use “unguided evolution” as strong evidence against the supernatural. But you might be able to find a naturalistic help to evolution that would leave him out. And in a minute, I’ll outline an attempt at it, but I’m a bit leery of the post limit [grin].

    But I will say that simply promising an answer later is not exactly a winning strategy. Why should anyone who is skeptical that naturalism can provide an answer put aside any argument on the basis that you might have an answer later? Why is it reasonable or rational for you to maintain a naturalistic belief when you have no idea how you’ll solve this problem that you are at this point presumably taking seriously?

  313. #313 Verbose Stoic
    September 12, 2011

    Anton,

    Let me finish off here with your complicated argument and how things seem complicated when we try to change one belief in our web and not the others. To make a case for it, we start with Quine and end with Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, both of which note that what we have are an interconnected web of beliefs that support each other. Changing one belief, then, rarely just involves that belief, but impacts many beliefs above and even potentially below it (where lower beliefs support higher beliefs) if the higher belief is derived logically from the set of beliefs that support it. How this impacts Plantinga is that if you look at examples like his tiger example, the opponents always counter with a different situation where that specific belief wouldn’t work due to other beliefs it implies, but with a coherent web of belief those other beliefs would be adjusted as well, and so it wouldn’t happen.

    Note that it isn’t just any false worldview that will work, but any false worldview with the same behaviour. Given the ability to define a complete worldview, I guarantee that I can create one with the same behaviour towards tigers, say, as the supposedly true worldview. But natural selection and utility have no way to select between two worldviews that produce the same behaviour.

    Kel,

    You need more than a minor link, and your link isn’t strong enough to get to reliability and is, in fact, the problem. The key premise is “Utility does not have a strong enough link to reliability because useful things can be false and true things can be detrimental”. This seems a not unreasonable contention, and I fail to see any way to test it that hasn’t already been tested and demonstrated that, yep, that’s actually the case. I also resist arguments of “You should design an experiment”. I don’t think all questions can be settled by experiment, and if you can’t suggest a specific test that does impact the issue I see no reason why I should make any effort to finding one just to satisfy your desire to have everything settled by experiment when I do not share that desire.

  314. #314 Verbose Stoic
    September 12, 2011

    eric,

    You did indeed miss the point of my colour discussion. Recall that it started from Kel insisting that evolution had produced reliable things and that we have no reason to think that the brain is different. I, of course, denied that we had the right sort of reliable — ie produces true propositions, especially about the external world — for anything except for brains, and that question didn’t make sense for anything other than brains. Kel suggested eyes, so I set out to ask how reliable the eye really was. The upside-down and blind spot strike directly at its reliability, and then I turned to a source of massive amount of our “beliefs” from eyesight: colour. So, in order for colour to be reliable, we’d have to be able to map it to an appropriate property in the world that we can test its reliability against. And what, then, is that? Wavelength? If we saw green for that length of light as opposed to red, we surely could not properly say that that was wrong because the object really WAS red? It seems that in terms of reality it makes little sense to say that an object is “really” red, at least as per how we view colour. So we can’t test colour against the world because there’s nothing there for it to be right or wrong about. And that covers a lot of things that eyes give us. So, how reliable are eyes? It turns out, we can’t really call them reliable at all, since they get a lot of things wrong and what we think they give us don’t seem to be things about the world at all. So it’s not an example of something that we should consider reliable that we all accept evolution gave us. And if you include processing, that’s in the brain and so not a separate example.

    As for the unguided/guided part, my contention is that there can be guided forces involved. That wouldn’t need to be all cases, and there is no empirical evidence that I would be contradicting. You might ask me to have a reason for positing “fairies” … but that’s what this discussion is supposed to be about.

  315. #315 Verbose Stoic
    September 12, 2011

    Last comment for a while to avoid ticking off the owner:

    I promised to provide a potential way out, and here it is. It seems to me — and I could be wrong about this — that most of the counter-arguments are walking right into the trap Plantinga has laid, by trying to insist that selecting for utility would, in and of itself, weed out unreliability and get us reliable faculties. But that’s not exactly safe; we could get unreliable utility. But few would deny the opposite, that if our faculties were reliable that they then WOULD be useful. So if we can get a naturalistic story about how our faculties aim at reliability itself, then we can sidestep the objection completely. And this isn’t going to be simply on the basis of them working out that way — as Anton suggests — but a reason to think that their method itself is reliable, and one that should deliver reliability. Can we do that?

    Recall my comments that I’m sympathetic to the empiricist argument that we can test our senses by going out and acting on what they suggest. Also note Dennett’s comment that one of the great things about us is that we evolved the ability to have our beliefs die in our stead. And then we can see that our faculties are not selected for on the basis of producing good or bad consequences, but instead use a method of adjustment on the basis of fulfilling expectations. If we believed something that turned out to be false, but where that falsehood had produced a really good result that we didn’t expect would be the case if that belief were true, we would not maintain that belief. We’d change it and all other related beliefs to get the same result with more reasonable beliefs.

    Thus, our cognitive faculties — and this could be by accident — developed a method to test themselves against what we’d expect to see if the beliefs produced were true. And that, then, gives us reliability since it doesn’t use utility, but uses instead logical consequences and reasoning. But reliability is itself useful. So now, we know why our faculties are reliable AND why evolution would have selected for them. And there’s nothing supernatural involved.

  316. #316 eric
    September 12, 2011

    Verbose Stoic: So, how reliable are eyes? It turns out, we can’t really call them reliable at all,

    For humans, they are an improvement over not having eyes. The possibility of providing incremental advantage is what selection needs to work, and in real life ecosystems, this possibility exists.

    You seem really hung up on the concept that senses must meet some level of reliability set by philosophers or there could be no value in having them. This is nonsense. For evolution to cause a sense – or any other trait – to propagate, it simply has to be better than the alternative(s).

    since they get a lot of things wrong and what we think they give us don’t seem to be things about the world at all.

    As I said in @293, practically every physical process is one of converting/translating one type of energy into another. The fact that the senses take wavelength and convert it into a perception of color does not make it unreliable. Photon-to-brain-activity is no more of a metaphysical problem than is the operation of a solar cell or photosynthesis, both of which are also photon-to-other processes.

    As for the unguided/guided part, my contention is that there can be guided forces involved.

    No, you and Plantinga aren’t arguing “can be.” You are arguing “evolution is insufficient without.” Or at least you were earlier. Maybe you’ve backed off that strong claim.

    If so, I doubt anyone will disagree with this new, weaker claim. Guided breeding, domestication, and genetic modification clearly happen because humans do them, so obviously intelligent action can theoretically be part of evolution…because it is. I really hope you aren’t arguing ‘can be,’ as mere philosophical possibility is a big whopping can of ‘who cares?’ We care about what is. What did happen to produce humans. Not whether some sci-fi scenario should be considered plausible or implausible under our current understanding of science.

    So tell us what makes evolution insufficient to produce eyes. Tell us why selection operating on variation among sense organs is insufficient to produce improved and generally reliable sense organs.

  317. #317 eric
    September 12, 2011

    A couple of asides…

    Verbose Stoic: Now, you did talk about a real issue: that Plantinga jumps from “unaided evolution can’t do it” to “you need something supernatural”.

    I am glad you admit this is a problem. The leap to the general surpernatural is uncalled for; the leap to Plantinga’s particular God seems completely unfounded. The whole thing stinks of creationism’s false dichotomy. If you have an alternative to evolutionary development, you must give evidence for your alternative, not merely evidence of insufficiency of evolution.

    I also resist arguments of “You should design an experiment”. I don’t think all questions can be settled by experiment,

    But empirical ones can, and you are claiming that utility of a more reliable sense provides no or insufficient selective advantage to be acted on in the real world. That is eminently testable. I would partially agree with you and say that there is no need to run such an experiment – but only because I believe they have probably already been run, and shown you wrong.

  318. #318 Kel
    September 12, 2011

    Verbose Stoic

    You need more than a minor link, and your link isn’t strong enough to get to reliability and is, in fact, the problem.

    You’ve just asserted it’s a minor link, not demonstrated that evolutionary speaking it’s only a minor link. Got data?

    The key premise is “Utility does not have a strong enough link to reliability because useful things can be false and true things can be detrimental”. This seems a not unreasonable contention, and I fail to see any way to test it that hasn’t already been tested and demonstrated that, yep, that’s actually the case.

    Really? Got data?

    I don’t think all questions can be settled by experiment, and if you can’t suggest a specific test that does impact the issue I see no reason why I should make any effort to finding one just to satisfy your desire to have everything settled by experiment when I do not share that desire.

    Yes, not all questions can be settled by experiment, but here you’re talking about a biological process. How else can you settle it except experiment?

    But my point wasn’t so much that you didn’t have experimental data, but that you haven’t got anything really to test to begin with. You’ve said above: “Utility does not have a strong enough link to reliability because useful things can be false and true things can be detrimental” yet how true is this when it comes to the evolutionary process? Can you quantify it in any way? Have you? If not, how do you know it’s not a strong enough link? You’re just asserting it! You don’t have data, you don’t have a way to test it against data, you’ve got nothing. Get in and do some science. If you don’t, then all you have is a bare assertion.

  319. #319 Kel
    September 12, 2011

    Kel suggested eyes, so I set out to ask how reliable the eye really was. The upside-down and blind spot strike directly at its reliability, and then I turned to a source of massive amount of our “beliefs” from eyesight: colour.

    None of those affect the reliability of an eye. The eye is an information gathering device, it’s not what we see colour with. Colour is information processing, the inversion of the image is information processing, and the blind spot is a case for limited utility.

  320. #320 Kel
    September 12, 2011

    The reason I gave the eye as an example is that the eye is often held up by creationists of a design that warrants God. If it’s too confusing for you, Verbose Stoic, to separate the eye from the greater system, then feel free to substitute eye for hand, or heart, or liver, or whatever organ shows you that evolution is a powerful design algorithm.

  321. #321 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2011

    Kel,

    You and I are not using the same definition of reliable here, but I’ve talked about mine enough that I’m not going to accept blame for not stating it. When you talk about “reliability”, you use it in the same sense that you call a car reliable, meaning that it performs its function most of the time. That’s not what I’m talking about; we agree on that, for the most part. When I talk about “reliable” with respect to cognitive faculties, I’m claiming that that IS their function: they have to be reliable at being reliable or, rather, EPISTEMICALLY reliable. Which means that our cognitive faculties have to have the function of producing true beliefs the vast majority of the time. It is THIS that I and Plantinga argue that utility cannot give, and if unguided evolution selects on the basis of utility it also cannot give that … and that unguided evolution uses utility seems pretty certain.

    Why is that the function of our cognitive faculties? Because our cognitive faculties are supposed to produce knowledge, and reliablism as I described it seems to be the weakest sense of justification that can possibly support something like knowledge. Which, eric, is why we care; the field that makes it a point to figure out what knowledge is currently says that this is what we at least need to have to get a justified true belief. You can’t ditch that without reducing your knowledge to beliefs, and then questions of, say, faith get dicey since it certainly produces beliefs.

    So, from this, livers, hearts, hands, the immune system and all other things are not relevant because they do not aim at that sort of reliability. I was willing to entertain for the moment that the eye has that aim — even though I think it ludicrous to evaluate the eye on that basis — to point out that if it WAS selected on the basis of that aim it is the case that that functional reliability is low. That was all that was about.

    Now, onto your demand for an experiment. I’m at a loss to see what it is that you want tested. In terms of everyday utility, we know and have proven through experiment that everyday utility does not align with truth. I don’t think you deny that. But now you seem to be insisting that I treat evolution differently, despite the fact that its utility is nothing more than an aggregate of everday utility. I see no reason to have to prove it for evolution specifically since you have given no reason to think that evolution overcomes its use of utility directly. I am not going to accept a special pleading argument here that somehow evolution might be different. If it is, you need to prove that; if you think there are experiments to run to undermine the contention please provide examples of them. But as it stands right now I see no reason to think either that utiltiy has a strong enough link to reliability or that evolution is an exception to that. In truth, if that’s an issue we need to do more than small comments in a blog thread.

  322. #322 Verbose Stoic
    September 13, 2011

    eric,

    It boggles my mind that you and Kel are still using utility as if that’s an argument against my position. I agree that eyes are useful. I deny that they reliably produce true beliefs, at least unaided. I have said this repeatedly, so what is the point of harping on “Having eyes is better than not having them”?

    “For evolution to cause a sense – or any other trait – to propagate, it simply has to be better than the alternative(s).”

    And it is precisely this that causes the problems for cognitive faculties, since they can be better than available alternatives without actually BEING RIGHT. And we want them to be right, no?

    “No, you and Plantinga aren’t arguing “can be.” You are arguing “evolution is insufficient without.” Or at least you were earlier. Maybe you’ve backed off that strong claim.”

    Or maybe that discussion was about a completely different claim, such as perhaps my arguing against an expressed idea that guided evolution contradicted the empirical evidence? Maybe I was really just talking about that and nothing else when I made that statement? Did that thought ever occur to you?

    I’m tired of people applying my arguments far more broadly than ever intended or using what other people think against me. This is getting into strawman territory and I’m getting tired of addressing strawmen.

    “We care about what is. What did happen to produce humans. ”

    And my whole reply is that right now, based on the evidence, you cannot rule out guided evolution. The evidence does not — and I’d say likely cannot — settle that, despite the people who insisted — as you did — that the evidence DOES rule it out.

    “I am glad you admit this is a problem. The leap to the general surpernatural is uncalled for; the leap to Plantinga’s particular God seems completely unfounded.”

    The leap to the supernatural may be called for depending on how strongly naturalists rely on evolution for their naturalism; the leap to Plantinga’s God is quick but is a valid contender if we need a supernatural entity.

    “But empirical ones can, and you are claiming that utility of a more reliable sense provides no or insufficient selective advantage to be acted on in the real world. That is eminently testable. I would partially agree with you and say that there is no need to run such an experiment – but only because I believe they have probably already been run, and shown you wrong.”

    Um, actually, if you’re making any sense at all here my claim — as demonstrated by my suggested natural solution — is that reliable cognitive faculties (and thanks, BTW, for switching to that term after I asked. I really appreciate it [sarcasm]) have utility that can be selected for, which is the only sensible way to interpret what you said above. What I denied is that utility itself is sufficient to produce epistemic reliability. Those attacking Plantinga’s argument seemed to me, at least, to always rely on utility producing reliability, and not on reliability being useful and THEN establishing that the methods we use to hone our cognitive faculties produce reliability.

    Seriously, paying attention to the solution I offered that was naturalistic would be a pretty good way to try to figure out what problem I thought needed to be solved …

  323. #323 Iain Walker
    September 13, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#311):

    it does give epistemic warrant in one important way: it means that I ought to use my cognitive faculties because they at least broadly work the way they’re supposed to.

    Quite apart from the fact that you’re deducing an “ought” from an “is”, this doesn’t follow even if the former were a legitimate move. The assumption that some unknown agent of unknown competence designed one’s cognitive faculties for some unknown purpose could just as easily (and in my view far more reasonably) be seen to entail that we should be very cautious indeed about using them. *

    Again, your “solution” is only confidence-inspiring if you’re a very small child or a particularly unreflective authoritarian. And that confidence is emotional, not epistemic, in nature – what “warrant” it gives is for an emotional attitude (and even then only when coupled with certain psychological traits), and not for any propositional beliefs.

    * Although eric makes a very good point in #313 – we use our cognitive faculties because we have no other choice. However, any adult without a strong authoritarian bias is liable, and quite legitimately so, to find the notion that their cognitive faculties are designed by a completely unknown agency more than a little disturbing.

    I don’t need any particularly strong sense of reliability in the cognitive faculties because, again, there is a clear defined purpose that can be tested against.

    But you’ve explicitly avoided defining any purpose – all you’ve postulated is that our cognitive faculties are designed the way they are in order to fulfill some purpose or other.

    why should “ensuring reproductive survival” be the criteria by which our cognitive faculties are judged? My teleological formulation can appeal to what we were explicitly designed to do.

    Why should “being designed for some unknown purpose” be the criteria by which our cognitive faculties are judged? Oh, and you’re still implicitly assuming the reliability of the designer’s own cognitive faculties here (an issue that you don’t seem to have addressed yet).

    As for “estimating good enough”, I didn’t offer it to get that and really don’t see why that should be an overwhelming factor in this.

    Well, from a methodological standpoint, an explanation that offers the means of answering additional questions is generally to be preferred to one that doesn’t. The fact that your “solution” doesn’t offer that isn’t necessarily an overwhelming flaw – just another black mark against it.

    Your example, however, is not such a reason; no one has given any reason to think that God would be impacted by the challenge that evolution has, or anything like it.

    But note that Plantinga’s argument is in fact two separate arguments – a negative one attacking evolution+naturalism, and a positive one puffing up theism. My point was that the latter has its own challenges, and I wasn’t suggesting that those challenges necessarily parallel the issues raised by the former.

  324. #324 Iain Walker
    September 13, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#312):

    I don’t say anything about what that purpose is supposed to be, and at best I’d say that it might be something that we can figure out later.

    and (#314):

    Why should anyone who is skeptical that naturalism can provide an answer put aside any argument on the basis that you might have an answer later?

    What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander here. Why should someone who is skeptical of your teleological “solution” put aside any argument on the basis that you might have an answer later?

  325. #325 eric
    September 13, 2011

    Verbose Stoic: When I talk about “reliable” with respect to cognitive faculties, I’m claiming that that IS their function: they have to be reliable at being reliable or, rather, EPISTEMICALLY reliable.

    Why do they have to be? What happens if they aren’t? Does your computer suddenly stop working if the principles on which it is built are suddenly found to not be “knowledge” by your definition?

    the field that makes it a point to figure out what knowledge is currently says that this is what we at least need to have to get a justified true belief. You can’t ditch that without reducing your knowledge to beliefs, and then questions of, say, faith get dicey since it certainly produces beliefs.

    Its not dicey at all. We simply acknowledge that some beliefs are more reliable than others. There is no need for some minimum criteria, if we want to know which beliefs to act on, we simply compare them with the available evidence and act on the one which has more support. I do not need the theory of relativity to meet your minimum criteria to accept that it is more strongly supported than the belief that I can walk on water.

    I agree that eyes are useful. I deny that they reliably produce true beliefs, at least unaided.

    This is mere assertion. You have no evidence that material mechanisms can’t be or aren’t reliable. You have no evidence of supernatural aid. And you merely assert that this aid would provide the missing component, without any known mechanism for doing so. Your argument is nothing more than an overly-complex version of the argument from incredulity. You can’t envision how lightning could be produced, so you say Zeus.

    You are still making the false dichotomy creationist argument. You don’t think evolution is a sufficient explanation, and somehow you think this is evidence for your alternate idea. It isn’t. If you propose that we are getting a divine assist to our faculties, provide evidence of divine assistance. “Evolution doesn’t explain how it happens” is not it, because not-X (evolution) does not logically imply Y (God).

  326. #326 Kel
    September 13, 2011

    So, from this, livers, hearts, hands, the immune system and all other things are not relevant because they do not aim at that sort of reliability.

    I’m really not sure how you’re not getting it. I’m not saying that any of them aim at that sort of reliability, but that they are complex structures designed for a task by evolution. The analogy is meant to be about the power of natural selection as a design algorithm, not meant to say that hands produce epistemically reliable beliefs.

    Which means that our cognitive faculties have to have the function of producing true beliefs the vast majority of the time.

    I’ve given my argument as to why this is the case. Unreliability (not being able to find or consume water, for example) means a cessation of the gene line. That evolution can accomplish this is because sometimes getting it right is the difference between survival/reproduction and death. But again, if you want a full story of why we can rely on our beliefs, then you can’t just take natural selection into account – but experience and culture as well.

    It boggles my mind that you and Kel are still using utility as if that’s an argument against my position.

    Again, Verbose Stoic, utility can equal reliability. You’ve even agreed to this, just to the magnitude of how much this is the case. To which I say (and you can probably guess): show me the data!

  327. #327 Iain Walker
    September 14, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#315):

    Note that it isn’t just any false worldview that will work, but any false worldview with the same behaviour. Given the ability to define a complete worldview, I guarantee that I can create one with the same behaviour towards tigers, say, as the supposedly true worldview.

    Sure you can, but the fact that you can deliberately create such a worldview says nothing about the likelihood of evolution arriving at a set of cognitive faculties that will generate that worldview.

    Notice what you’re doing here – you’re engaging in an abstract exercise in second order or meta-cognition, which allows you to explore “belief-space” (a) with search criteria which specifically include the parameter “is false”, and (b) without having to live by any of the beliefs you pick out.

    A set of evolved cognitive faculties engaged in first order cognition, on the other hand, is not actively seeking out false beliefs, nor does it have the luxury of not living by any of the beliefs generated.

    So the fact that you can generate false but adaptive worldviews simply tells us that such worldviews are possible. But it does not tell us that they are at all likely, given evolution+naturalism.

    But natural selection and utility have no way to select between two worldviews that produce the same behaviour.

    True in and of itself, but possibly not as relevant as you think. An evolutionary explanation of an organism’s worldview isn’t a simple matter of pointing at the resultant behaviour and saying “This is adaptive”. It’s a matter of saying “The cognitive mechanisms that produce this worldview, and hence this behaviour, are adaptive” and also saying “This is how those mechanisms arose through incremental changes from simpler systems”. The historical “how” matters when it comes to evaluating the likelihood of evolution alighting upon one worldview (or range of worldviews) rather than another.

    In fact, I think you may be making the same mistake as Plantinga here – of assuming that given evolution+naturalism, all belief-desire combinations (or in this case worldviews) are equally likely as output of our cognitive processes. But given the way evolution works, this is highly implausible. (Supporting arguments on request, since they’ll take at least two posts to outline.)

  328. #328 Anton Mates
    September 14, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    I’ll follow your lead and two-part this.

    You are making the mistake of attacking the example rather than the argument.

    I have yet to understand why you think this is a mistake. If examples based on the argument fail, then–assuming they weren’t terrible examples, and I don’t think yours was–there’s something wrong with the argument. I did my best to show how your coin argument and Plantinga’s original are not just weak, but weak in analogous ways.

    I think it reasonable to argue that selecting on the basis of utility does not have a strong enough link to truth — based on our own experiences, yet — to justify a belief that it unaided produced reliable cognitive faculties.

    And I’m unconvinced by your argument–but beyond that, no such link is required to justify that belief. A random process may have many possible outcomes, with no particularly strong link to any one of them. Yet we may be perfectly justified in believing that it unaided produced whatever outcome did occur. (Unless you think it’s never kosher to believe in randomness, at least, in which case your rules for justification and mine are quite different.)

    Your deflector, then, is a weak one. It seems to me that it relies on a premise of “Naturalized evolution might produce cognitive faculties or it might not.”, which is basically taking only the “inscrutable” part and taking it very strongly/literally.

    Not precisely. It covers both the “inscrutable” option (and yes, I take that literally, I don’t think Plantinga’s trying to write poetry here), and the “evolution is actually reasonably likely to produce reliable cognition” option, which is what I happen to believe. As such, it is a weak claim in the logical sense–it doesn’t actually claim very much.

    Then, your argument is that since we know that our faculties are reliable naturalized evolution — by coincidence — just happened to produce reliable faculties. But if Plantiga’s “evolution+God” alternative was the right one, we’d ALSO have reliable faculties. So we expect it if he’s right, and happened to luck out and get reliable faculties if you’re right. Sure, it might deflect it enough so that you cannot claim that Plantinga’s argument doesn’t actually PROVE naturalism false, but I’d still fail to see any reason why someone would consider the “we just lucked into it” option reasonable who didn’t simply want to preserve naturalism or deny any place for God.

    Well, two points. First, if Plantinga’s argument doesn’t actually prove naturalism false, then it fails. The explicit conclusion of his argument is that it’s irrational and inconsistent to accept both evolution and naturalism, not just that he personally finds it kind of weird and prefers theistic evolution. He’s attempting to make a very strong case against naturalism–if he can’t pull that off, that’s his problem.

    Second, you’re falling into what’s commonly called the Prosecutor’s Fallacy here. That is, you’re favoring explanation A for an event over explanation B, on the grounds that the event’s conditional probability given A is higher than its conditional probability given B. But this isn’t justified unless you know that the prior probabilities of A and B were equal. Basically, you’re trying to apply Bayes’ Theorem in a situation where at least two of its terms have unknown values.

    To see why this is a fallacy, here’s a classic illustration: Joe wins the lottery. If Joe successfully rigged the lottery, then we’d expect him to win. If Joe didn’t rig the lottery, then he just “lucked out,” which seems unlikely. Therefore Joe cheated, and by the same argument every lottery winner ever is a fraud. And by the same argument nothing improbable ever happens–all events must have been preordained with 100% certainty, because that’s always preferable to believing they occurred by chance!

    This fallacy is at the heart of quite a few iffy theistic arguments. Intelligent Design: “What’s more likely, that God designed the eye, or that eyes just happened to evolve into exactly this form?” Cosmological fine-tuning: “What’s more likely, that God designed the universe, or that it just happened to come into existence with the parameters and properties that it possesses?”

    I’m sure that Plantinga does think that you need something supernatural, and the naturalists he’s arguing with do tend to use “unguided evolution” as strong evidence against the supernatural. But you might be able to find a naturalistic help to evolution that would leave him out. And in a minute, I’ll outline an attempt at it, but I’m a bit leery of the post limit [grin].

    Fair enough! But there’s no “might” about it. Of course you can find a naturalistic claim which would explain cognitive reliability without recourse to odds. You can find a naturalistic claim which would explain just about anything, just as you can find a theistic one. Given any observable state of affairs, the theist can suggest a god with the desire and the power and the knowledge to have brought it about. And the naturalist can suggest either a natural being with the same qualifications, or a law of nature which necessarily brought it about, or a quirk of chance which happened to bring it about.

    Of course, finding an explanation that’s actually useful from a scientific perspective is a lot trickier. But I have yet to see a scientific explanation for any phenomenon which isn’t equally compatible with generalized theism and with naturalism.

    But I will say that simply promising an answer later is not exactly a winning strategy. Why should anyone who is skeptical that naturalism can provide an answer put aside any argument on the basis that you might have an answer later? Why is it reasonable or rational for you to maintain a naturalistic belief when you have no idea how you’ll solve this problem that you are at this point presumably taking seriously?

    Again, it’s rather absurd to be skeptical that naturalism can provide an answer; it can provide tons of logically possible answers for any conceivable observation. The more important question is which of those answers you or I would find to be justified, empirically, philosophically or however else. But that’s true of theistic answers as well, and it’s not something Plantinga addresses at all in this argument. As Iain says, if Plantinga’s not going to try to justify the claim that there exists a God with the right powers and personality to make our minds reliable, I don’t have to justify the claim that there exists natural mechanisms which did the same thing.

    Moreover, by your reasoning above, we should discard naturalism in the face of any mystery. I have no answer to the question of why there’s more matter than antimatter in the universe, or how seals made it to Lake Baikal, or who killed Jimmy Hoffa. I’m not sure anyone will ever answer the third question. But “Goddidit” would answer all these questions instantly!

  329. #329 Anton Mates
    September 14, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    I’ve got to three-part this to beat the filter, I think. Sorry!

    You are making the mistake of attacking the example rather than the argument.

    I have yet to understand why you think this is a mistake. If examples based on the argument fail, then–assuming they weren’t terrible examples, and I don’t think yours was–there’s something wrong with the argument. I did my best to show how your coin argument and Plantinga’s original are not just weak, but weak in analogous ways.

    I think it reasonable to argue that selecting on the basis of utility does not have a strong enough link to truth — based on our own experiences, yet — to justify a belief that it unaided produced reliable cognitive faculties.

    And I’m unconvinced by your argument–but beyond that, no such link is required to justify that belief. A random process may have many possible outcomes, with no particularly strong link to any one of them. Yet we may be perfectly justified in believing that it unaided produced whatever outcome did occur. (Unless you think it’s never kosher to believe in randomness, at least, in which case your rules for justification and mine are quite different.)

    Your deflector, then, is a weak one. It seems to me that it relies on a premise of “Naturalized evolution might produce cognitive faculties or it might not.”, which is basically taking only the “inscrutable” part and taking it very strongly/literally.

    Not precisely. It covers both the “inscrutable” option (and yes, I take that literally, I don’t think Plantinga’s trying to write poetry here), and the “evolution is actually reasonably likely to produce reliable cognition” option, which is what I happen to believe. As such, it is a weak claim in the logical sense–it doesn’t actually claim very much.

    Then, your argument is that since we know that our faculties are reliable naturalized evolution — by coincidence — just happened to produce reliable faculties. But if Plantiga’s “evolution+God” alternative was the right one, we’d ALSO have reliable faculties. So we expect it if he’s right, and happened to luck out and get reliable faculties if you’re right. Sure, it might deflect it enough so that you cannot claim that Plantinga’s argument doesn’t actually PROVE naturalism false, but I’d still fail to see any reason why someone would consider the “we just lucked into it” option reasonable who didn’t simply want to preserve naturalism or deny any place for God.

    Well, two points. First, if Plantinga’s argument doesn’t actually prove naturalism false, then it fails. The explicit conclusion of his argument is that it’s irrational and inconsistent to accept both evolution and naturalism, not just that he personally finds it kind of weird and prefers theistic evolution. He’s attempting to make a very strong case against naturalism–if he can’t pull that off, that’s his problem.

    Second, you’re falling into what’s commonly called the Prosecutor’s Fallacy here. That is, you’re favoring explanation A for an event over explanation B, on the grounds that the event’s conditional probability given A is higher than its conditional probability given B. But this isn’t justified unless you know that the prior probabilities of A and B were equal. Basically, you’re trying to apply Bayes’ Theorem in a situation where at least two of its terms have unknown values.

    To see why this is a fallacy, here’s a classic illustration: Joe wins the lottery. If Joe successfully rigged the lottery, then we’d expect him to win. If Joe didn’t rig the lottery, then he just “lucked out,” which seems unlikely. Therefore Joe cheated, and by the same argument every lottery winner ever is a fraud. And by the same argument nothing improbable ever happens–all events must have been preordained with 100% certainty, because that’s always preferable to believing they occurred by chance!

    This fallacy is at the heart of quite a few iffy theistic arguments. Intelligent Design: “What’s more likely, that God designed the eye, or that eyes just happened to evolve into exactly this form?” Cosmological fine-tuning: “What’s more likely, that God designed the universe, or that it just happened to come into existence with the parameters and properties that it possesses?”

  330. #330 Anton Mates
    September 14, 2011

    Hmm. Lots of stuff falling into the moderation filter, so let me try the shortest section now.

    Verbose Stoic,

    How this impacts Plantinga is that if you look at examples like his tiger example, the opponents always counter with a different situation where that specific belief wouldn’t work due to other beliefs it implies, but with a coherent web of belief those other beliefs would be adjusted as well, and so it wouldn’t happen.

    Oh, I don’t disagree that you can always adjust the web so that it, overall, leads to the same behavioral advice. I simply think that the process of adjustment will tend to make the beliefs in the web more complicated. I’m not sure how Quine’s work or CBT argue against this.

    Note that it isn’t just any false worldview that will work, but any false worldview with the same behaviour. Given the ability to define a complete worldview, I guarantee that I can create one with the same behaviour towards tigers, say, as the supposedly true worldview.

    And I don’t believe your guarantee. Sorry. I think that your complete false worldview, even if it produces the same conscious behavioral choices and the same emotions* towards tigers as the true worldview, will probably be more complicated. It will take more time and energy to process mentally, and therefore will lead to somewhat different actual behavior. A person holding the false worldview will react more slowly, for instance, and will have (slightly) less energy left over for running away or wielding a spear or whatever.

    I think this largely because parsimony is a major factor in how we decide that beliefs are true or false in the first place. If the false worldview was simpler than the true one but had all the same consequences, we would not (from a scientific perspective) judge it to be false at all! If it was equally useful and simpler to believe that tigers are friendly creatures who play games, it would be true that tigers are friendly creatures who play games. For all practical purposes, at least.

    Now, if you wish to persuade me differently, you can do one of two things. You can either construct such a false-but-behaviorally-equivalent worldview–an example!–or you can make some sort of existence proof. The latter option sounds a hell of a lot harder to me, personally.

    *Emotions, of course, are part of behavior. Our deluded person who thinks he’s playing a game with the tiger will need to be just as terrified as a non-deluded person who thinks he’s running for his life, since fear is physiologically adaptive. Again, I’m sure that’s possible given the correct adjustments to his other beliefs and his personality, but it’s going to make things yet more complex.

  331. #331 Anton Mates
    September 14, 2011

    Okay, that worked. I’ll see if the earlier bit makes it through moderation before I try to repost it in smaller chunks.

    Iain,

    So the fact that you can generate false but adaptive worldviews simply tells us that such worldviews are possible. But it does not tell us that they are at all likely, given evolution+naturalism.

    You make a good point. But I remain skeptical that you can generate such worldviews, at least in general, for the reason I mention above. When assessing the adaptiveness of a worldview, how it “tells” us to behave is only one factor.

  332. #332 Anton Mates
    September 14, 2011

    Now that everything’s through moderation, my #331 is redundant. Kindly ignore!

  333. #333 Iain Walker
    September 15, 2011

    Anton Mates (#330):

    As Iain says, if Plantinga’s not going to try to justify the claim that there exists a God with the right powers and personality to make our minds reliable

    The interesting thing is, that when push comes to shove, Plantinga eventually does try to expand theism from the three basic “omni”s to try and get something which would guarantee the reliability of our cognitive faculties, but he does so in a way that weakens his argument against naturalism.

    Basically, he decides to assume pretty much all of Christian doctrine (or Christian doctrine as he understands it). In other words, in order to bolster his confidence in the reliability of his faculties, Plantinga gets to make a whole bunch of additional (and, one might say, suspiciously ad hoc) assumptions about the desires, goals and motivations of his deity that will get him the result he wants. But if this is a legitimate move, why can’t the evolutionary naturalist do something similar, and make additional assumptions which in combination with evolution+naturalism make the reliability of our faculties more likely than not? But once that’s allowed, Plantinga’s argument against naturalism collapses.

    Special pleading – don’t you just love it?

  334. #334 eric
    September 15, 2011

    Special pleading – don’t you just love it?

    Yep. It’s Dembski’s explanatory filter all over again: any specific natural explanation requires heavy warrant and justification. God does not. He just sits at the bottom of the filter by default.

  335. #335 Kel
    September 16, 2011

    The justification for naturalism is not found in our evolutionary epistemology, it’s found in our probing and exploration of the world; most specifically in the empirical success of the natural sciences in being able to explain phenomena. We’re using the same “belief engine” when it comes to explanations, it’s about how we interpret the existing beliefs. And the difference between scientific and non-scientific explanations is that science works. We’re sitting on computers right now – something our species is capable of (we’ve been honing our tool-making skills for at least 2.5 million years), and shows the power of the kind of inquiry. That it’s able to provide answer after answer and explain more and more phenomena is the reason to suppose that the natural is all there is; especially when thoughts of the supernatural can be explained in the naturalistic framework as part of our mind design.

  336. #336 Verbose Stoic
    September 19, 2011

    Iain,

    “Quite apart from the fact that you’re deducing an “ought” from an “is”,”

    I’m not, actually, but I should have known better than to phrase it like that. I’m not making a normative claim, but simply a pragmatic one: we should use our faculties because they give us what they were designed to give us, and thus what they are supposed to give us. Unless someone wants to posit a Cartesian Demon designer or a Matrix world and ACTUALLY give in to extreme skepticism, that’s pretty good.

    I also, I think, was a little lax in my phrasing with the “testing”. I did not suggest that we have a purpose that we test against, but that there is a purpose for it and that it is that purpose that the designer, at least, can test against. Knowing that there is a purpose that our faculties could be directly tweaked to is far better than where naturalists are left, even if it isn’t quite what we need, as I’ve said before.

    “Again, your “solution” is only confidence-inspiring if you’re a very small child or a particularly unreflective authoritarian. And that confidence is emotional, not epistemic, in nature – what “warrant” it gives is for an emotional attitude (and even then only when coupled with certain psychological traits), and not for any propositional beliefs.”

    You keep asserting this, but it’s clear that you don’t understand the argument. How is “I use the things for the purpose they were designed for” only of comfort to children or authoritarians? THAT’S what I’m claiming gives warrant, so perhaps you could argue for this notion instead of simply asserting it.

    “Why should “being designed for some unknown purpose” be the criteria by which our cognitive faculties are judged? ”

    Why shouldn’t they be judged on the basis of their purported purpose, even if we don’t know it yet? And I don’t really need to get into exceptionally skeptical arguments of “Maybe the designer has no clue about what the designer is doing and can’t test on the basis of outcome over the several million years these things were being formed over”. You don’t have any argument to make that of any importance other than your not liking the fact that a designer might avoid problems your naturalistic approach can’t handle.

    “Well, from a methodological standpoint, an explanation that offers the means of answering additional questions is generally to be preferred to one that doesn’t. ”

    All other things being equal, but I suggest that they are not equal. If you want to claim all other things being equal, you’ll need to support that — or take the solution I provided a while ago.

    “My point was that the latter has its own challenges, and I wasn’t suggesting that those challenges necessarily parallel the issues raised by the former.”

    I have agreed long ago that Plantinga’s and even my theistic defenses have issues.

    “Why should someone who is skeptical of your teleological “solution” put aside any argument on the basis that you might have an answer later? ”

    In this case, because while the argument from the naturalist is basically that they see there is a problem but they hope to solve it later, my argument is that it isn’t relevant to my position but is something that is actually examinable in the future.

  337. #337 Verbose Stoic
    September 19, 2011

    eric,

    “Why do they have to be? What happens if they aren’t? Does your computer suddenly stop working if the principles on which it is built are suddenly found to not be “knowledge” by your definition?”

    Are you really going to argue that if we found out that we couldn’t know anything by the weakest form of knowledge we have that can still be called knowledge — reliabilism — that that would be utterly unimportant to anyone? That our cognitive faculties, therefore, are not reliable truth-forming faculties wouldn’t concern you in any way?

    At any rate, if you really don’t care, that’s fine. But the argumetn is about that and it is important philosophically, and so to return to the origin of this debate no one should declare Plantinga’s argument ridiculous or meaningless if their only justification for that is that they, personally, don’t care about the philosophical issues. Great, but there are a heck of a lot of times — even when using a computer — where I don’t care about the scientific debates either (like in QM), but that doesn’t make them objectively meaningless, unimportant, or ridiculous.

    If you don’t like my field, don’t do it. But since naturalism is a philosophy, it will be held to philosophical standards, and thus does indeed have to answer how it can preserve knowledge relying only on naturalistic evolution.

    “Its not dicey at all. We simply acknowledge that some beliefs are more reliable than others. ”

    On what grounds? That you tried it and it worked (or didn’t)? That might be fine for some beliefs, but it doesn’t work for, say, universals. I don’t know that no one can walk on water. I don’t know that no one can be raised from the dead. So on what grounds — if you reject knowledge — can you ever demand that someone sacrifice beliefs that are not contradicted by other beliefs they hold?

    “This is mere assertion. You have no evidence that material mechanisms can’t be or aren’t reliable. ”

    Considering all the examples I went through with the eye, I think it is not mere assertion that eyes do not, on their own, produce true beliefs. But that’s okay, since they aren’t supposed to. It is the processing of the brain that is what produces beliefs, and it is THOSE faculties that need to be reliable. And the argument is not that material mechanisms aren’t reliable per se, but that if they are selecting on utility there is little reason to think that there is a strong enough link to “true” there to get reliability. And if you keep relying on that, you will continue to fail to make a reasonable counter to Plantinga.

    “You are still making the false dichotomy creationist argument. You don’t think evolution is a sufficient explanation, and somehow you think this is evidence for your alternate idea.”

    No. I think my alternate idea a) is compatible with all the evidence and b) solves the problem that evolution and selecting on utility cannot. Again, I also gave another perfectly natural solution that I think works better; shame you didn’t read it.

  338. #338 Verbose Stoic
    September 19, 2011

    Kel,

    “I’m really not sure how you’re not getting it. I’m not saying that any of them aim at that sort of reliability, but that they are complex structures designed for a task by evolution. The analogy is meant to be about the power of natural selection as a design algorithm, not meant to say that hands produce epistemically reliable beliefs. ”

    Which means that you don’t get the actual argument, since epistemically reliable beliefs are being explicitly singled out as being special cases. You cannot refute that by simply denying that they are indeed a special case and insisting that evolution has done what Plantinga and myself both agree is not the same thing as is required for cognitive faculties. Thus, to continue on this line is to continue to argue for a claim that is not, in fact, the issue under discussion. You cannot argue reasonably that just because something has produced X in the past that it is reasonable to think that it can produce significantly different thing Y as well. You need to show that Y is not different enough to merit the distinction, and you have not done that.

    “I’ve given my argument as to why this is the case. Unreliability (not being able to find or consume water, for example) means a cessation of the gene line. That evolution can accomplish this is because sometimes getting it right is the difference between survival/reproduction and death.”

    But this is just your assertion, and we know that this is not the case for the vast majority of our beliefs (their consequences are no where near as dire). And even in this case, it is dubious. Imagine that a person lived in an area where all bodies of water — completely by coincidence — happened to have oak trees around them. They could quite reasonably form a belief that if you see oak trees you will find water. Now, imagine that they move to a new area where this is not the case. Would their false belief about water, perfectly functional in the old area, still work? Possibly, as long as oak trees were still close to water enough of the time for them to still find water. And they might learn that other trees grow near water as well, and change to the weaker false belief that while oak trees always mean water, other trees can as well. And if they find cases where there were oak trees and no water, they can amend it to “oak trees likely mean water” instead of the absolute. But the belief is still, of course, false. And yet they will not, in fact, die of thirst believing it in those environmental conditions. And that is why utility != relaibility.

    As for my supposedly accepting that utility == reliability, I don’t see where I did. At best, I accepted that calling it 50-50 is a bit overdone, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a strong enough link to get to the reliability we need for knowledge. And my naturalistic solution places it the other way around, arguing that reliability is always useful but it is not the case that reliability is the ONLY thing that’s useful.

  339. #339 eric
    September 19, 2011

    Verbose Stoic: Knowing that there is a purpose that our faculties could be directly tweaked to is far better than where naturalists are left, even if it isn’t quite what we need, as I’ve said before.

    But you don’t know. You merely assert. “If I am right, we are in a good position” is not an argument for being right. It is, in fact, a variation on the is/ought fallacy. Exactly as Iain said.

    Why shouldn’t they be judged on the basis of their purported purpose, even if we don’t know it yet?

    They shouldn’t be judged on their purported (designed) purpose because you haven’t given any evidence that they have one. You are arguing circularly, making a premise out of what you are supposed to be arguing for.

    To get out of the circularity you need to propose some testable claim about designed faculties, where the test could distinguish designed from evolved faculties (i.e. the two hypotheses would be expected to give different answers). And that probably means that you need to get specific about the purpose of the designed faculty. When you stay as vague as you are (i.e., we know they have a purpose but we don’t know what it is), your hypothesis could fit any future data. Any at all. And that makes it both bad science and bad philosophy.

  340. #340 Verbose Stoic
    September 19, 2011

    Iain,

    “Sure you can, but the fact that you can deliberately create such a worldview says nothing about the likelihood of evolution arriving at a set of cognitive faculties that will generate that worldview.”

    You miss the point, which is that if I can create a false worldview that is just as useful as a true one then we have little reason to think that evolution — working only on utility — could filter out a false worldview based on criteria that are no different for each worldview. Since we know that we can indeed form false beliefs, you’d need some strong reason in light of that to claim that evolution would necessarily produce a true one, and would still run afoul of the idea that it would be like the coin toss: completely by accident and blind luck.

    “A set of evolved cognitive faculties engaged in first order cognition, on the other hand, is not actively seeking out false beliefs, nor does it have the luxury of not living by any of the beliefs generated.”

    But if the worldviews are behaviourally the same, living by the beliefs generated won’t make any difference. And if our cognitive faculties ARE selected for on the basis of utility, they are not actively seeking out true beliefs either, but merely beliefs that work out. And that, in a nutshell, is the whole problem: False beliefs that work out as well as true ones will be selected for as easily as true ones are.

    “It’s a matter of saying “The cognitive mechanisms that produce this worldview, and hence this behaviour, are adaptive” and also saying “This is how those mechanisms arose through incremental changes from simpler systems”. ”

    So, where’s your analysis of the incremental changes that get us reliability and not just utility? I’ve given you mine, so I’d like to see yours, since it would indeed solve the problem if you can break free of simple utility calculation.

    “In fact, I think you may be making the same mistake as Plantinga here – of assuming that given evolution+naturalism, all belief-desire combinations (or in this case worldviews) are equally likely as output of our cognitive processes. ”

    Neither of us really assume that — although he is close — but instead simply assume that all behaviourally identical belief-desire combinations are equally likely as output and that the false beliefs won’t be filtered out by utility, which is what Plantinga, at least, assumes is the relevant factor here … safely, it seems, since that’s what most of the defenders of naturalism try to rely on in refuting him.

    Anton, I’ll have to get to yours later …

  341. #341 eric
    September 19, 2011

    Verbose Stoic: Are you really going to argue that if we found out that we couldn’t know anything by the weakest form of knowledge we have that can still be called knowledge — reliabilism — that that would be utterly unimportant to anyone?

    Didn’t Hume say essentially that? Are you just reiterating the problem of induction? And yet, people still use induction.

    Same thing here. It doesn’t matter whether you call F=ma or PV=nRT “knowledge” or not. You are imputing some sort of metaphysical property to the label where it has none. Its just a label. Science is not in any trouble if F=ma does not fulfill the Vienna circle definition of true justified belief, or any other definition of knowledge. Scientists will continue to use it until some more reliable hypothesis replaces it.

    Scientists select and use the most valuable available theory in an area of study. It is relative value compared to other ideas that is important, not absolute value or truth. We do not set some arbitrary bar and insist a hypothesis or theory must get over it before it will be acted upon by the community.

    On what grounds? That you tried it and it worked (or didn’t)? That might be fine for some beliefs, but it doesn’t work for, say, universals. I don’t know that no one can walk on water.

    But observations say they don’t. So you tentatively conclude that based on the evidence and induction that “they can’t” is a more warranted conclusion than “one or more can.”

    So on what grounds — if you reject knowledge — can you ever demand that someone sacrifice beliefs that are not contradicted by other beliefs they hold?

    Induction and empiricism. Based on past usage, it appears to be more useful and less capricious and arbitrary than the other available belief-selection systems (like revelation). This is not to say it is perfect – it isn’t, by a far cry – but it is to say that it’s the best of the available alternatives.

    Now to say something positive about your agenda: I think it’s great that philosophers are attempting to come up with solid, well-grounded criteria for what constitutes knowledge. Maybe in the future this effort will yield conclusions that can help scientists plan better experiments. But nobody is going to sit around and wait for the results. We will continue to make decisions under uncertainty with the flawed and imperfect methodologies available to us. When you come up with a better system than the one we are using, call us. But don’t expect us to sit on our hands while you come up with one.

    And the argument is not that material mechanisms aren’t reliable per se, but that if they are selecting on utility there is little reason to think that there is a strong enough link to “true” there to get reliability….I think my alternate idea a) is compatible with all the evidence and b) solves the problem that evolution and selecting on utility cannot.

    You are merely assuming what you are trying to prove. There is ‘little reason to think natural mechanisms can produce reliability’ because you assume it can’t. You assume evolution cannot solve this problem. You have yet to offer any evidence that it cannot.

    The evidence that it can is all around you. Photochemical reactions reliably convert photons to electrochemical signals in everything from plants to skin to solar cells. Just like the eye. Nature is reliable. There is no need to invoke a spirit guide or god to design the eye when physics and chemistry tell us that every time a photon of a certain wavelength hits a certain molecule, it’s going to react in the same basic manner. That is reliability.

  342. #342 Kel
    September 19, 2011

    Which means that you don’t get the actual argument

    I get the argument, what I’m trying to do is highlight the power of natural selection as a design tool. It’s an analogy.

    But this is just your assertion

    Not just mine, and hardly just. I’ve spent time highlighting empirical facts around cognition in other animals, and given examples of where we do have reliability.

    Wait a minute, why is what I’m saying an assertion, while you and Plantinga not? I’ve given evidence to support my position, the best I’ve seen from Plantinga is a couple of “just so” accounts that could account for the same behaviour. No simulations of how those beliefs could survive or propagate, no evidence given that they’re evolutionary viable strategies; yet you have the veracity to accuse me of making an assertion? Hah!

    and we know that this is not the case for the vast majority of our beliefs (their consequences are no where near as dire).

    Again, if you want to look at the vast majority of our beliefs, you need to move away from evolution and into development and culture. The success of naturalism is not found in our evolution, but in our invention and practice of science.

  343. #343 Anton Mates
    September 19, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    I’m not making a normative claim, but simply a pragmatic one: we should use our faculties because they give us what they were designed to give us, and thus what they are supposed to give us.

    Pragmatism itself is a normative position, and I would say that any claims about what our faculties are “supposed” to give us are inherently normative. Unless by “supposed” you mean simply mean “what God intends for them to give us,” but in that case all the same objections occur. Even assuming that there is a God and that he has the power to achieve his intent in this case, why does his intent give us warrant to trust our faculties? Clearly he did not intend our faculties to be infallible, cuz they’re not, so how do we know that the level of reliability he did intend is good enough to make them trustworthy at all?

    Anton, I’ll have to get to yours later …

    No problem. By the way, I replied to your post #317 which proposes a solution to Plantinga’s dilemma, but it seems to have died in moderation. To briefly recap, I don’t think most naturalists would disagree with your characterization of how our brains test and refine our beliefs. But I also don’t understand why you think that characterization is particularly helpful for addressing Plantinga’s criticisms–given, I mean, that you find his criticisms valid in the first place!

    Specifics: :

    But that’s not exactly safe; we could get unreliable utility. But few would deny the opposite, that if our faculties were reliable that they then WOULD be useful.

    Few would deny that, but I’m not sure why you don’t. We’ve been arguing throughout this thread that reliable faculties are exceptionally useful, and you’ve been disagreeing with that, no?

    Remember that the main question as far as natural selection’s concerned is not whether reliable faculties are useful per se, but whether they’re more useful (on average) than unreliable ones. If they are, we can appeal to selection as an explanation; if they’re not, we have to look elsewhere–and according to you, God’s our best bet in the latter case. Coming up with an additional explanation for why reliable faculties are useful doesn’t change any of that.

    So if we can get a naturalistic story about how our faculties aim at reliability itself, then we can sidestep the objection completely.

    No, we can’t. Plantinga can simply retarget the objection at whatever reliability-seeking method our faculties (are suggested to) use. “Okay, so we adjust our beliefs based on fulfilling empirical expectations. How did we evolve to do that? Natural selection can’t explain it, therefore God.”

    And then we can see that our faculties are not selected for on the basis of producing good or bad consequences, but instead use a method of adjustment on the basis of fulfilling expectations.

    This is a false dichotomy, I think. Our faculties (I would argue) use that method of adjustment precisely because, on average, it produced good consequences.

    Thus, our cognitive faculties — and this could be by accident — developed a method to test themselves against what we’d expect to see if the beliefs produced were true.

    By accident? But you argued that an accidental hypothesis is inferior to a theistic one which predicts our observations with certainty. By your reasoning, shouldn’t we conclude that God designed our faculties to use this method?

  344. #344 Anton Mates
    September 19, 2011

    Oh, and concerning the latest proposed example of a false belief that works just as well as a true one:

    Imagine that a person lived in an area where all bodies of water — completely by coincidence — happened to have oak trees around them. They could quite reasonably form a belief that if you see oak trees you will find water. Now, imagine that they move to a new area where this is not the case. Would their false belief about water, perfectly functional in the old area, still work? Possibly, as long as oak trees were still close to water enough of the time for them to still find water.

    But fitness is statistical, and fitness is relative. The question is not whether their false belief would still work, but whether it would work better than the true belief that oak trees don’t always mean water. And the question is not whether the false belief might possibly work better than the true, but whether it would probably do so, on average.

    In this case, it seems pretty obvious that the false belief wouldn’t work quite as well. Even if they still do find enough water to survive, they’ll sometimes waste time and energy doggedly hunting for water in arid spots which just happen to have oak trees. And of course there’s a chance that they won’t find enough water to survive.

    And they might learn that other trees grow near water as well, and change to the weaker false belief that while oak trees always mean water, other trees can as well. And if they find cases where there were oak trees and no water, they can amend it to “oak trees likely mean water” instead of the absolute. But the belief is still, of course, false.

    Huh? No, it’s not. They now live, according to your hypothesis, in an area where oak trees are near water a reasonable amount of the time, and so are some other trees. The belief that “oak trees likely mean water, and so can some other trees” is true. It’s empirically justified.

    Granted, it’s probably only approximately true; perhaps they’re a little more hopeful about the oak tree thing than is warranted, because successes are more helpful than failures are harmful. A Type I vs. Type II error sort of thing. In that case, their views on oak tree ecology will remain a little off unless they decide to do some empirical research–which they may do, since a general inclination toward empirical research is itself pretty useful.

    Now you will probably say that I’m spending too much time on examples instead of general arguments again. But my point remains the same–false beliefs generally turn out to be less useful than true ones when you apply them widely enough, and there’s a reason for that.

    Oh, and feel free to amend the “oak trees are always near water” belief so that it remains false, but produces the same behavior as the true belief. I’m willing to bet you’ll end up making it more complex. :-)

  345. #345 Kel
    September 20, 2011

    I’ve given my argument as to why this is the case. Unreliability (not being able to find or consume water, for example) means a cessation of the gene line. That evolution can accomplish this is because sometimes getting it right is the difference between survival/reproduction and death

    Just wanted to add a little to this, because it’s neglecting selection pressures in the opposite direction.

    To take the example of the hand, we have a dexterity in there way more advanced than other apes. That dexterity makes perfect sense in light of our capacity to make and use tools. Now we aren’t the only creature to use tools, and we’re not the only creature to make tools, but we are by far the most adept at it. And that’s something really big, because one really cannot make complex tools without a good grasp of the nature of things. For starters, to make a stone with a blade on it, you need the right kind of rock and to hit it in the right kind of way. Failure to do this means no tool. The utility of such a tool is like that of a sharper tooth or claw for a predator, yet wouldn’t be possible at all without having a sufficient reliability of mental cognition.

    So, Verbose Stoic, while you scoffed at me using the hand as an example that could be used to support our reliability of cognition in the same way that you were trying to use the eye (which, again, wasn’t the point I was trying to make), really it’s a fine indicator of just how important being able to understand the environment is. The hand represents tool dexterity, tool dexterity represents tool making, tool making requires an understanding of the environment, therefore we have a sufficient evolutionary account of how it is we have reliability. QED, or something.

  346. #346 Wow
    September 20, 2011

    “as long as oak trees were still close to water enough of the time for them to still find water.”

    There are no oaks in the Mediterranean countries. Therefore such a person would die of thirst, surrounded by ponds hidden by Cypresses.

    Hence would not survive to produce a new generation.

  347. #347 Iain Walker
    September 20, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (338):

    I’m not making a normative claim, but simply a pragmatic one: we should use our faculties because they give us what they were designed to give us, and thus what they are supposed to give us.

    And one could just as easily make the pragmatic claim that we should use our faculties because they give us what they evolved to give us. Or even just that we should use our faculties because they are all we have. If it’s just a pragmatic justification for using our cognitive faculties that we’re after, then in itself introducing a designer adds nothing.

    Knowing that there is a purpose that our faculties could be directly tweaked to is far better than where naturalists are left

    Says you. In what way is it better? You don’t get any non-trivial epistemic warrant for anything, and you don’t get any pragmatic warrant that can’t be obtained by other means. You might get some kind of emotional comfort if you’re that way inclined, but who cares? That’s not a philosophically interesting outcome.

    You keep asserting this, but it’s clear that you don’t understand the argument.

    So it may seem to you, although it’s equally clear to me that you don’t understand my objections.

    How is “I use the things for the purpose they were designed for” only of comfort to children or authoritarians?

    That’s a little disingenuous, since that’s not the position you’ve been pushing, which is “I can use with confidence a very particular thing (i.e., the very faculties I use to navigate the world of experience) for the purpose they were designed for, even though I make no additional assumptions about the competence of the designer or the actual intended purpose”.

    Without the assumption that the designer’s cognitive faculties are themselves reliable, you cannot guarantee that our faculties do indeed meet the intended design specs, or that the designer can be relied upon to further tweak them in the right direction. And without additional assumptions about the designer’s actual intentions, you cannot guarantee that our faculties are designed in our best interests.

    You need the first assumption to inspire confidence that our faculties do indeed work the way they are supposed to, and you need the second to inspire confidence that it is safe to use them. Without these assumptions, you don’t even get the pragmatic warrant that you want. Without these assumptions, the only conceivable confidence your appeal to purpose can inspire is a purely emotional one, and only then for people with certain specific psychological traits. It sure as hell wouldn’t inspire any confidence in me.

    THAT’S what I’m claiming gives warrant, so perhaps you could argue for this notion instead of simply asserting it.

    I have argued for it, and I’ve repeated those arguments above. Please feel free to pay attention to them this time.

    You don’t have any argument to make that of any importance other than your not liking the fact that a designer might avoid problems your naturalistic approach can’t handle.

    A swing and a miss. I think that appeals to a designer have flaws on many levels, but my argument against your particular appeal to purpose is very clear. To whit, an unadorned appeal to purpose on its own, without additional assumptions, gives neither epistemic nor pragmatic warrant for anything.

  348. #348 eric
    September 20, 2011

    Hmm…splitting my original post in two…

    Interestingly, philosopher John Grey just made VS’s argument, and Jerry Coyne responded to it on his website. Excerpt from Coyne:

    More important, humans have evolved to be generally reliable detectors of truth—at least those truths that enabled us to survive on the savanna: our eyes tell us what is real, our ears tell us real sounds, and so on. Our brains evolved to enable us to reliably calculate what others might be thinking and to communicate our feelings and desires to others. That’s all it takes for our evolved brains to be coopted into a reliable device for seeking truth in other realms, i.e., science. And if we weren’t evolved to find truth, how come science has found out so many things that work well (e.g., medicines) and can make predictions that are verified?

    I think perhaps it’s time take a slightly different tack with VS. Stoic, consider the following.

    1. You aren’t really arguing about reliability so much as accuracy. I have a “blue” shirt. Yesterday my eyes saw it as blue. The day before, blue. Every day before that, blue. Today, blue. Tomorrow, barring excessive use of bleach in the wash, my eyes will still see it as blue. My eyes are very (but not 100%) reliable in returning the same message based on the same stimuli, second after second, day after day. What you really question is not whether my eyes will continue to see my shirt as blue, but whether “blue” has any connection to deeper reality. This is to question my eyes’ accuracy, not their reliability. You are really concerned with the difference between “what my eyes see” and “what is really there,” not “whether my eyes see the same thing the same way on different days.”

    2. To assess accuracy requires one have some independent means of determining what the truth is. To assess the accuracy of a scale, I need a reference mass of known weight. To assess the accuracy of a spectroscope, I need to independently know the wavelength of the light it viewed. This is why calibration is so important in science; using the instrument on a known sample with independently verified properties is a way of determining the current accuracy of the instrument.

    3. It seems to me that when you question the accuracy of our senses to give information on true, deep reality, you do so without having any independent means of determining what true, deep reality is. You have no reference mass.

    4. What’s more, your argument sort of assumes that Pantinga’s religion can supply that reference mass – i.e. you assume revelation does provide an accurate, independent means of determinnig what true, deep reality is. This is a completely unwaranted and unproven assumption, and it is circular in that it takes as a premise (revelation about design is reliable) something you are trying to prove (design).

  349. #349 eric
    September 20, 2011

    Part two…

    5. So how, one may ask, may evolution produce accurate senses? Well, the same way science does; by utilizing multiple independent methods to provide feedback between them. We use sight AND touch to assess object properties; sight AND hearing to assess range. Smell AND taste to determine food properties. We also use other people’s senses to help us assess our accuracy. Recently in human history, we have added other instruments. With one detection method only and no reference, there is no way to even guess at accuracy. But the more independent detector methdologies you use to look at a thing, more more unlikely it becomes that they will all simultaneously give the same wrong answer.

    7. Now we can ask a deeper question, which is whether such faculties (and the scientific method) can reveal metaphysical truth. This is the ‘Matrix’ question: if we live in the Matrix and there is some deeper reality than what we normally sense, can science get to it? Or does science only tell us the rules within the Matrix? Here, I have to say that science probably only tells us the rules within the Matrix. The exception would be if there is some flaw which we can detect. But if you hypothesize a perfect Matrix, science can’t look beyond it.

    Of course, this is piddingly small comfort to religion and supernaturalists in general. Because you have yet to show any evidence that we live in a Matrix and you have yet to give any credible rationale as to why your preferred methodology could detect beyond-Matrix-reality better than science could. Most such attempts merely assert that such exists, assert that some (revelatory) methodology accesses it. But any attempt to show that it exists or that some other methodology accesses a truth science cannot, fails.

  350. #350 Iain Walker
    September 20, 2011

    Oh, and:

    Verbose Stoic (338):

    Why shouldn’t they be judged on the basis of their purported purpose, even if we don’t know it yet?

    Ahem. You’re the one trying to make a positive case for an appeal to purpose, so you don’t get to shift the burden of proof so easily. So I repeat: Why should “being designed for some unknown purpose” be the criteria by which our cognitive faculties are judged?

  351. #351 Iain Walker
    September 20, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (340):

    Imagine that a person lived in an area where all bodies of water — completely by coincidence — happened to have oak trees around them. They could quite reasonably form a belief that if you see oak trees you will find water. Now, imagine that they move to a new area where this is not the case. Would their false belief about water, perfectly functional in the old area, still work?

    Just to add to Anton Mates’ observations about this example, and why it is totally wrongheaded.

    You seem to assume that this person is capable of basic inductive reasoning, so that they have successfully and accurately established that oak trees correlate with water. Not only is this belief not false at all, in the context of their environment, but it seems likely that they will also have the cognitive wherewithal to make correlations regarding water and other environmental features, in which case they are not going to be stuck exclusively with a simple oaks -> water belief. Although they might use oak trees as their primary criterion, it seems implausible that they will be particularly limited by it.

    And given that you allow that they can learn from experience in a reliable fashion to modify their belief to expand their range of water-locating criteria, there is no barrier to their expanding the range so that oak trees drop out of consideration altogether.

    What you actually have is an example of reliable belief forming mechanisms at work, modelling the environment to a first-approximation degree of accuracy, and then updating and revising the model to greater degrees of accuracy in the light of experience.

    And you’re also repeating Plantinga’s mistake of treating beliefs as if they form in isolation, rather than through general mechanisms with much wider application than the narrowly defined situation within the example.

  352. #352 Iain Walker
    September 21, 2011

    Verbose Stoic:

    Further to my #349, the following may help explicate some of my objections to your appeal to purpose as a pragmatic reason for utilising our cognitive faculties with confidence.

    As noted previously, it’s just as easy to claim that we should use our faculties because they give us what they evolved to give us. However, this actually gives us more than your basic appeal to purpose does. Firstly, it guarantees a significant degree of fitness for function – evolution may not guarantee functional perfection, but it does guarantee “good enough with respect to the environment”. Secondly, it gives us some insight into what that function is – to maximise our opportunities for reproductive survival. And given the kind of animals we are, reproductive survival and personal survival largely overlap. So from an evolutionary point of view, we can be confident that relying on our cognitive faculties will tend to serve our most basic interests.

    Your appeal to purpose, on its own, provides neither reassurance – it does not guarantee any significant degree of fitness for function (because the designer’s competence is unspecified) and it does not guarantee that said function is in our interests (because the designer’s disposition is unspecified).

    However, as I pointed out, you can fix this by adding additional assumptions: (a) that the designer has sufficient cognitive comptence to ensure that it successfully realises its purpose in designing our faculties the way they are, and (b) that its purpose in designing our faculties the way they are is actually in our interests.

    Of course, evolution still comes out ahead here, because its guarantees derive directly from our understanding of how the process works, while the additional assumptions that the appeal to purpose requires in order to get similar guarantees are entirely ad hoc. But setting that aside …

    (continued in next post due to length)

  353. #353 Iain Walker
    September 21, 2011

    (continued from #354)

    One thing that you don’t seem to appreciate fully is that the pragmatic confidence in our cognitive faculties that you seem to be after has a large subjective component – its appeal will depend on an individual person’s attitutes and values. Suppose we assume that our cognitive faculties are designed by a designer with the cognitive competence to ensure that they do fulfill their intended purpose, and that its intentions towards us in designing our faculties at least coincide with our interests. Is that enough to provide a pragmatic justification for using those faculties with confidence? For many people, the answer will be no.

    The key problem is that even this expanded appeal to purpose does not guarantee that the designer’s purpose in designing our cognitive faculties coincides with our purposes in using them. The idea that the functioning of the very faculties we use to make sense of the world is determined by some other agent whose purposes are not necessarily our own is liable to be confidence-undermining for a lot of people, rather than confidence-inspiring. You might not share those concerns, but you can’t simply dismiss them for that reason.

    Evolution, being an impersonal process, doesn’t have quite the same problem – it may not guarantee that our cognitive faculties will fulfill our own purposes in using them, but at least this is not a matter of some other will opposing our own. Again, that may not matter to you. But it will matter to others.

    So if it’s a minimal pragmatic warrant for using our cognitive faculties that we’re after, then I find the appeal to evolutionary fitness for function quite adequate, and the appeal to purpose (even the expanded version) quite inadequate. The first inspires confidence, that latter undermines it. For you, it appears to be the other way round. But this reflects a difference in outlook more than it reflects any error in reasoning on either of our parts.

    My objection then is that the appeal of your argument depends to a large extent on subjective biases which not everybody shares (and I would further characterise those subjective biases as being best described as “paternalistic”). So even if the appeal to purpose has force for you, you cannot automatically generalise to it having force for us.

  354. #354 Verbose Stoic
    September 23, 2011

    Things have been busy lately so I haven’t gotten back to individuals, but I’ll give you something to chew on by taking up two issues that have been raised by multiple people (I think) and addressing them.

    First, and I think the most critical, the truth or falsehood of the belief in the oak trees and water example. I find it, well, puzzling that anyone would say that the belief of the person in that example is, in fact, true instead of false. That’s utterly mindboggling to me. But I think it’s because I’m talking about a different belief than you are, and if you don’t get my sense nothing I say about Plantinga will make sense.

    When I talk about the relevant belief, I mean this one: There is a meaningful at least probabilistic link between the presence of oak trees and the presence of water. There’s something that links oak trees and water sources other than simple coincidence, and moreover in the case I described it was a special relationship; oak trees had it and other things didn’t. And that belief, clearly, is false in the example; there is no such link and it was just accidental. And that belief is what I think underpins all other beliefs about it and is the one that happens to work out even though false.

    But the replies seemed to suggest that you were considering a belief of the sort (and correct me if I’m wrong): It is beneficial to me as an organism and to my survival to associate oak trees and water sources. In the first environment, that’s true; in the second environment, it isn’t really true but it happens to work out well enough for rock and roll. So, yeah, maybe that belief — or beliefs like it — do indeed happen to be true.

    But what I want from cognitive faculties is what science gives me: reason to think that there is a relation and it isn’t just coincidence. And that’s why I consider the relevant belief to be false in the example, and why I think that Plantinga’s argument that cognitive faculties only have an accidental or coincidental relationship to truths problematic, and that’s why I argue that you can’t get to the sort of reliability we need from utility, but that you can go the other way around (as in my alternative), and think it a different argument.

    (Note that I think this sort of misunderstanding is indeed what caused most of the problems between pragmatists like Dewey and intellectualists like Russell).

  355. #355 Verbose Stoic
    September 23, 2011

    And the second is my counter that positing a designer and appealing, then, to the purpose for which they were designed leaves me in a better place — although perhaps not where we need to be — than the naturalist is. And again, the objections here seem to be turning on a different perspective of “design” than the one I’m using. When I talk about design and a designer, I don’t really mean it in any kind of authoritarian sense. Instead, I use a computer science perspective, and link it to this kind of case: I’m looking at using an existing function in the code. It doesn’t do things the way I’d like them to and, at first blush, I think it does things wrong. Should I use this function and adapt my code to how it works or change that function to work the way I’d prefer it to?

    Now, one consideration then is always this: is there any reason why the function works the way it does? Well, there might be. If the designer was in any way good, there was. But I might not be able to figure out what that purpose was; the designer is gone and the documents don’t say. So it might be reasonable for me to simply say “There was likely a purpose for this function being written that way, and I don’t know what it is but I presume for the time being that it does at least roughly conform to that purpose. So what I should do is adapt my code to that function, because if I change the function or don’t use it I walk myself into problems; the former because I might break it for the purpose it was meant to do, the latter because I really do need to use that sort of function.

    Now, one can ask as Iain does about what happens if the designer of that function was either incompetent or malicious. Should I trust it then? The answer, of course, is that I shouldn’t, but my reply is that at that point I have no reason to think that true. Yes, it’s possible, but from where I am that’s no more likely than that it was done for a purpose by at least a moderately competent designer. Now, I may trace back the function and discover that either the designer was incompetent or malicious (and I may not be able to tell which at that point) but at this point in time I have no reason to think that as being any more than a hypothesis.

  356. #356 Verbose Stoic
    September 23, 2011

    And, to finish it off, I argue that this, however, is NOT the case for the naturalist relying on utility. We have indeed been given a reason to think that that is not going to work the way we want it to, and not give us what we need. We have reasons to not use the naturalist function, and if I can find another function that does the work without giving me that reason to think it shady, then I should use it until I discover that that function won’t work either.

    So this arrives at the notion of “How do we know that the purpose is in our best interests?” First, if we have a purpose as an organism and, again, the designer designed all of that and is competent, this seems like a meaningless question. If we don’t think that acting according to our purpose isn’t in our best interests, then we probably need to adjust our notion of what our interests are (assuming, of course, that the designer is not malicious, which again I have been given no reason to believe). But returning to the function example I can still use it for other interests as long as I am aware of its faults and adjust to them accordingly. I can’t, then, decide to not use it because its purpose doesn’t meet my own view of my own needs properly, nor is it a good idea to frustrate the intended purpose, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be co-opted either.

  357. #357 Anton Mates
    September 24, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    When I talk about the relevant belief, I mean this one: There is a meaningful at least probabilistic link between the presence of oak trees and the presence of water. There’s something that links oak trees and water sources other than simple coincidence, and moreover in the case I described it was a special relationship; oak trees had it and other things didn’t.

    Thanks for clarifying this. You’re quite right; this definitely wasn’t the belief I was considering!

    But the replies seemed to suggest that you were considering a belief of the sort (and correct me if I’m wrong): It is beneficial to me as an organism and to my survival to associate oak trees and water sources.

    Not really, at least in my case.  I was considering a belief of the sort: “In my environment, oak trees tend to be near water sources.” This belief need not be accompanied by any additional beliefs about why this is true–whether it’s due to a locally consistent coincidence, or to some “meaningful” underlying mechanism.  Nor need it be accompanied by any higher-order opinions about whether this belief is beneficial to the believer.

    To return to the belief you proposed:

    And that belief is what I think underpins all other beliefs about it and is the one that happens to work out even though false.

    I agree that it’s false, given the premises of your scenario. But I don’t think it’s a good example of the unreliability of evolved cognition, for two reasons.

    First, and most importantly, this belief is non-empirical. After all, there is no observable difference between a world where 90% of oak trees are near water by coincidence, and a world where 90% of oak trees are constrained to be near water due to some unknown and unspecified cause.

    But I, at least–and I suspect most other people on my side of this discussion–have never claimed that evolution should produce reliable cognitive mechanisms in the realm of non-empirical beliefs. I have no reason to think that our minds are reliable in that realm, nor can I think of any particular method of reasoning which ought to be. So a Plantinga-style argument has no force there.

    Second, just as a comment on characterizing fitness benefit, this belief is (slightly) adaptively inferior to the one I was considering. The problem is, yet again, complexity. Yes, the belief that there’s a meaningful link between oak trees and water can be used to underpin the belief that oak trees are found near water. But the former belief doesn’t really do anything else, so the time and energy needed to form and remember it and to infer the latter belief from it is wasted. From an adaptive point of view, it would be slightly more efficient to just hold the latter belief and not bother speculating on whether the whole thing is due to law or chance.

    But what I want from cognitive faculties is what science gives me: reason to think that there is a relation and it isn’t just coincidence.

    Personally, I don’t think science gives you that at all. Science helps us identify patterns in the observed behavior of the world, but it doesn’t tell us whether they’re due to cosmic order or cosmic coincidence. The question of determinism vs. indeterminism is a metaphysical one, not a scientific one. (Quantum theory notwithstanding. Bell’s theorem allows us to rule out a particular class of deterministic theories, but not to rule out determinism in general.)

    So, given what you want, it’s probably true that evolutionary theory can’t give it to you. You seem to be looking for warrant for a particular metaphysical position, and you’ll need a metaphysical assumption to get you there. (Theism would work, but there are naturalistic alternatives as well.)

  358. #358 Anton Mates
    September 24, 2011

    On to design!

    So it might be reasonable for me to simply say “There was likely a purpose for this function being written that way, and I don’t know what it is but I presume for the time being that it does at least roughly conform to that purpose. So what I should do is adapt my code to that function, because if I change the function or don’t use it I walk myself into problems; the former because I might break it for the purpose it was meant to do, the latter because I really do need to use that sort of function.

    Breaking it for the purpose it was meant to do is hardly a problem for you, unless you assume that its original purpose was beneficial to your interests, and that it effectively achieves that purpose. What reason do you have to think that?

    Now, one can ask as Iain does about what happens if the designer of that function was either incompetent or malicious. Should I trust it then? The answer, of course, is that I shouldn’t, but my reply is that at that point I have no reason to think that true.

    You also have no reason (that I can see) to think it false–no reason to hold any opinion on the matter, in fact. So why factor assumptions about the designer into your decision at all?

    We have reasons to not use the naturalist function, and if I can find another function that does the work without giving me that reason to think it shady, then I should use it until I discover that that function won’t work either.

    Utility is, of course, not the only possible “naturalist function.” You can posit any number of naturalistic forces and mechanisms driving us to cognitive reliability, if you like. They’ll be arbitrary and ad hoc, so far as I can see, but no more than the assumption that there exists a competent designer whose purpose mirrors our own interests.

    So this arrives at the notion of “How do we know that the purpose is in our best interests?” First, if we have a purpose as an organism and, again, the designer designed all of that and is competent, this seems like a meaningless question. If we don’t think that acting according to our purpose isn’t in our best interests, then we probably need to adjust our notion of what our interests are (assuming, of course, that the designer is not malicious, which again I have been given no reason to believe).

    Isn’t this textbook question-begging? Yes, if the designer exists and is competent and benevolent, then it’s acting in our best interest by definition. Likewise, if the designer intended for a teapot to orbit Jupiter and is competent, then there’s a teapot orbiting Jupiter. But how do you know the designer exists and is competent and is benevolent? Replying that you have no reason to believe it’s not hardly addresses this. You have no reason to believe any claim about the designer, it seems to me.

  359. #359 Iain Walker
    September 26, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#356):

    When I talk about the relevant belief, I mean this one: There is a meaningful at least probabilistic link between the presence of oak trees and the presence of water. There’s something that links oak trees and water sources other than simple coincidence, and moreover in the case I described it was a special relationship; oak trees had it and other things didn’t.

    OK, that clears things up a bit. But in that case, the belief actually breaks down into two beliefs:

    A. That there is a strong if not universal correlation between the presence of oak trees and the presence of surface water; and
    B. That there is an explanation E in terms of law-like regularities for A.

    In the subject’s original environment, A is true (or is at least epistemically justified), while B is indeed false – whatever explanation E might be, the correlation between oaks and water is in fact a matter of chance. However, note that B logically presupposes A. It is at least plausible that they should believe B given that they believe A. However, once they move into a new area where A no longer holds, and they modify their beliefs concerning what correlates with the presence of water, why would they hold onto B? It seems far more likely that B would end up being modified as well, so that you’d get something like:

    A’. That there is a strong but not universal correlation between the presence of vegetation and the presence of surface water; and
    B’. That there is an explanation E in terms of law-like regularities for A’.

    In which case, A’ is true (and epistemically justified as an inductive inference from experience), and B’ is also true (if E is unspecified) or may be true (if E is specified and is something like “plants need water to grow”).

    Again I emphasise that it matters how the person’s beliefs are being generated, since natural selection doesn’t select for individual beliefs but for belief-generating mechanisms. The person in the example seems to be able to reason inductively, is capable of learning from experience so that inadequate correlations are replaced by better ones, and also seems to have a grasp of cause and effect and of abductive inference. If that’s the case, then it seems bizarre that they would continue to hang onto false belief B, unless those belief-forming mechanisms are themselves faulty. In which case it is very likely that they are going to get themselves into trouble survival-wise, because they will end up making inaccurate predictions about other aspects of their environment.

    You can’t treat beliefs in isolation from the general mechanisms that give rise to them. That’s where Plantinga’s Paul the hominid example goes wrong, and I think this is where your example goes wrong as well.

  360. #360 eric
    September 26, 2011

    Verbose Stoic @256:

    But what I want from cognitive faculties is what science gives me…and [that's]why I think that Plantinga’s argument that cognitive faculties only have an accidental or coincidental relationship to truths problematic

    It’s only problematic in the naturalistic fallacy sense: you want the senses to have some connection to deep truth. You think they ought to. But this is not evidence they do have such a connection, any more than a belief that the world ought to be just is evidence that a judgemental God exists.

    And the second is my counter that positing a designer and appealing, then, to the purpose for which they were designed leaves me in a better place — although perhaps not where we need to be — than the naturalist is.

    I am not sure what ‘better place’ means. In terms of explanatory power (to use your example – the ability to figure out the purpose of the code), all of manstream science finds the evolutionary hypothesis more useful than the ID hypothesis. IOW, the people whose day jobs it is to do exactly the sort of activity you think design would help with, dont’t find it helpful at all. Evolution leaves science in a better place in terms of research effectiveness, probability of an experiment yielding results, etc…

    Did you mean it leaves you in a psychologically better place? I’m willing to accept that, for some folk, that may be true. But that isn’t a good philosophical argument in favor of it being true.

    We have indeed been given a reason to think that that is not going to work the way we want it to, and not give us what we need.

    You kept repeating that assertion through multiple posts, but I didn’t ever see any support for it. I.e. you have given no argument why evolved senses could not give us what we need.

    You have also offered no positive proof for any alternative. In that sense you keep making the same false dichotomy argument; you seem to take for granted that if evolution cannot explain something, the God hypothesis gains credibility. It doesn’t. The two are not each other’s logical negations, so you cannot deduce anything about the latter from gaps in the former.

  361. #361 Iain Walker
    October 1, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#357):

    When I talk about design and a designer, I don’t really mean it in any kind of authoritarian sense.

    I have no idea what this kind of sense of “design” would be. When I used the term “authoritarian”, it was entirely in the context of the kind of personality to whom the idea of some other agent being in control of an important aspect of their lives is in principle confidence-inspiring. It had nothing to do with the notion of a designer itself.

    Now, one can ask as Iain does about what happens if the designer of that function was either incompetent or malicious. [...] Yes, it’s possible, but from where I am that’s no more likely than that it was done for a purpose by at least a moderately competent designer.

    So in other words, you are assuming competence on the part of the designer. Thank you for conceding this point at least.

    (#358):

    And, to finish it off, I argue that this, however, is NOT the case for the naturalist relying on utility. We have indeed been given a reason to think that that is not going to work the way we want it to, and not give us what we need.

    Hmm. So what you’re getting at is something more like this: Even if both evolution and the design assumption can give us a pragmatic justification for using them, the design assumption goes one better, because on the design assumption the probability of our faculties also working the way we want (by which I assume you mean being reliable) is inscrutable, and on the assumption of evolution the probability of their also working the way we want is low. And an inscrutable probability is better than a low one. Is that correct?

    (continued in next post)

  362. #362 Iain Walker
    October 1, 2011

    (continued from #363)

    Verbose Stoic (#358):

    “How do we know that the purpose is in our best interests?” First, if we have a purpose as an organism and, again, the designer designed all of that and is competent, this seems like a meaningless question.

    Not in the slightest. It depends on whether this purpose is, in fact, in our best interests. It’s not hard to come up with scenarios in which we are designed, even competently, as a means to some end which does not wholly coincide with the latter. Also, don’t we get a say in what our best interests actually are?

    If we don’t think that acting according to our purpose isn’t [is?] in our best interests, then we probably need to adjust our notion of what our interests are

    “Our” purpose? You mean the designer’s purpose in designing us, not any purpose we have determined for ourselves. Careful with the language here. Any agent is a purpose-generator in its own right, and if some other agent has designed us for a purpose of its own, then we are not bound to conform to it. It’s something to be worked with or worked around (as you seem to be suggesting) – but only if we happen to know what it is. If we don’t know what the purpose is, then the question of adjusting our understanding of our interests doesn’t arise, because we won’t know what to adjust and how to adjust it.

    But returning to the function example I can still use it for other interests as long as I am aware of its faults and adjust to them accordingly. I can’t, then, decide to not use it because its purpose doesn’t meet my own view of my own needs properly, nor is it a good idea to frustrate the intended purpose, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be co-opted either.

    And again, if you substitute “evolved function” for “intended purpose”, you can reach this point just as easily from an evolutionary naturalist standpoint – which again has the advantage of giving us a clearer insight into the likely faults and function of our faculties than does the design assumption (which gives us no such insight at all). This is one significant advantage that the evolutionary naturalist has over the design proponent – an account of cognitive error and a theoretical framework for investigating further the ways in which our faculties might, can or do go wrong. Even if the probability of our faculties being reliable is low given E+N, at least we have an understanding of how and why they are likely to go wrong such that we can at least try and compensate for their unreliability, which is not something that the design assumption allows us.

    So even if we allow that the design assumption gives us something that the evolutionary account does not (an inscrutable rather than low probability of reliability), the evolutionary account gives us something just as important that the design assumption lacks. In other words, it is not clear that the design proponent is in fact in a better place overall than the evolutionary naturalist.

  363. #363 Verbose Stoic
    October 3, 2011

    I’ve been busy lately, so I’ll try to dribble out some replies in dribs and drabs over the days instead of trying to do them all at once, since I can’t keep up. So, first, Anton:

    I don’t think that the relevant belief is “In my environment, oak trees tend to be near water”, mostly because most people don’t ever hold that belief. Even science doesn’t restrict itself in that way. The relevant belief in terms of action, it seems to me, is something like “If I want water, I will find it near oak trees”. Now, you can have a simple habitual belief of “Oak trees are near water”, but it’s hard to apply this beyond specific cases, meaning the cases that you’ve seen. To start to get into really useful cognizing, we have to start positing causal relationships, and causal relationships are expressed in the terms as I described in mine, which is there is a reason why you find oak trees near water.

    Note that I fail to see how this could possibly be non-empirical. It seems to me that this is just what science actually does: looks for causal reasons why two things happen to be associated, and try to discern real causal cases from simple associations. Doing that successfully provides a massive advantage since it allows reasonable generalization. Your “In my environment … ” case does not, since you have to decide what the limits of your environment are. Both simple blind generalizing and my belief allow for generalization until you find out differently, but your proposed belief does not.

  364. #364 Verbose Stoic
    October 3, 2011

    Continuing on with Anton …

    I might be pushing the computing analogy too much, because in that case thinking that it’s okay to stop the code from achieving its previous purpose to achieve mine is a really bad idea, since that purpose may not benefit me in any way and my purpose, but it is something that that code is indeed supposed to do. Even in the case where I am dealing with my own interests in a non-code situation, it seems reasonable to me to prefer to preserve all purposes — even my own — if I can than simply run roughshod over something that was not designed for the purpose, even to the extent of inventing or creating another faculty rather than rely on the one I have, just in case it’s useful for someone or something that I can’t foresee. If I know it’s wrong for ANY purpose, I can change it, but otherwise that’s risky. But this will get into questions about purpose, which I’ll try to address when I get to Iain’s comment …

    But as to why include a designer, it’s because a) it’s already been proposed that there is one and b) it, in my opinion, does avoid some of the problems with the naturalistic position, mainly that unless I consider the designer — as I said — malicious or incompetent I have no reason to doubt that my cognitive faculties are at least roughly doing what they’re supposed to. So unlike in a naturalistic response that relies on utility — and note that my naturalistic response did not do that, so I am aware of alternatives — I can only question this by being extremely skeptical, whereas for utility it seems that one really has no reason to think that there is a link there that can provide reliability. Again, I already said that this might not get us all the way to reliability, but I still see it as being further ahead simply because it’s only radical skepticism that gets people asking “What if the designer is malicious or incompetent?’. If we find that the designer would have to be either based on reasonable analysis, then my designer-solution would be in exactly the same sort of spot. But you’ll forgive me if I wait for evidence that I should be skeptical before engaging in radical skepticism.

  365. #365 Iain Walker
    October 4, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#366):

    it’s only radical skepticism that gets people asking “What if the designer is malicious or incompetent?’

    Hardly. Rather, it’s experience of actual designers …

  366. #366 Wow
    October 4, 2011

    “it’s only radical skepticism that gets people asking ‘What if the designer is malicious or incompetent?’”

    Nope, that isn’t skepticism of whether there is a designer or not, since the question only makes sense if there is assumed to be a designer.

    Therefore it is not any form of skepticism.

    “Radical skepticism” would be some xtian fundie stating that since science can’t prove there isn’t a god, that there must be one. I.e. abuse or extension of skepticism beyond that the term was intended to cover to its detriment.

  367. #367 Wow
    October 4, 2011

    “avoid some of the problems with the naturalistic position, mainly that unless I consider the designer — as I said — malicious or incompetent I have no reason to doubt that my cognitive faculties are at least roughly doing what they’re supposed to”

    The naturalistic position wouldn’t lead you to doubt that the cognitive faculties of any cognitive entity are at least roughly doing what they’re supposed to do.

    It’s only the religious position that requires a malicious or incompetent designer to have your cognitive faculties not doing EXACTLY what they’re supposed to do.

  368. #368 eric
    October 4, 2011

    Verbose stoic: it’s only radical skepticism that gets people asking “What if the designer is malicious or incompetent?’

    Iain Walker: Hardly. Rather, it’s experience of actual designers …

    Don’t forget experience with our senses. While generally reliable, they aren’t as good as even what an average intelligence human would choose to design. Our visual-neural system results in ~40% of human watchers missing a gorilla walking through a basketball game (look it up). Its hard to imagine a benevolent, omnipotent, intelligent designer putting that “feature” in. That’s a flaw which seems much more consistent with the actions of an incompetent, malicious, or at least capricious designer.

    Stoic again: …whereas for utility it seems that one really has no reason to think that there is a link there that can provide reliability.

    You keep asserting this over, and over, and over again without any attempt to justify it.

    ***

    Apologies if this results in a double-post, this is a much shorter version of a post I made last night (which seems to be hung up because it had a link).

  369. #369 Wow
    October 5, 2011

    It’s not as if the blind spot on the human retina is a design that God didn’t know how to make. The octopus eye has no blind spot because the optic nerves are behind the cells, not over them.

    So this designer would have to get the perfect design for a retina right several hundred million years ago for the octopus then, when designing the human (even the bible knows that the animals came first), forgot how to make an eyeball and screwed it up.

  370. #370 Verbose Stoic
    October 5, 2011

    Iain,

    I think your A belief should be something more like “Oak trees are reliably associated with water sources”, because that’s the belief that would actually foster action in the sense that Kel needed to claim that false beliefs would lead to you — for example — not finding water and thus dying. B, then, JUSTIFIES that belief. You can indeed operate on a simple relational mechanism that simply associates things you’ve seen with such beliefs — and we clearly do that — but that simply doesn’t work when it’s merely coincidental; eventually, it will go completely wrong. So you need something more than that to justify the action, and that’s positing a cause and working things out on the basis of what we’d expect to find if that’s the case, and adjusting when we do. But that’s not merely utility, and certainly not strong enough to foster death in most cases. The example was meant to show that thinking that there is a reason why oak trees are found near water and therefore that looking for oak trees when you’re looking for water is a good idea and provides benefit can be useful even when false, and certainly won’t be detrimental to the extent that Kel needed it to be to get that it would be disastrous.

    What you need to do is test against expectations, not results. But utility in the manner Kel and others described evolutioni tests againsts results (good/bad) not expectations.

    And I am considering beliefs in general. But as I have already said, when we’re dealing with examples we need to simplify it or we’ll be here all day. But since additional beliefs can both make useful false beliefs or correct false beliefs, expanding the scope will not improve things as much as you might hope (again, see CBT cases of perfectly functioning systems based on one or more false beliefs where to fix one problem you have to tear down and rebuild parts of an entire web; the false beliefs are incorporated so well into the system that you are more likely to readjust almost anything else than reject those beliefs).

  371. #371 Verbose Stoic
    October 5, 2011

    eric,

    I want true beliefs to the best I can get. To that extent, I had better be able to get truth from sense impressions — even suitably massaged through cognitive mechanisms — since that’s about all I have to work with for the external world. Again, if you don’t care about having true beliefs even in a weak sense then this debate will not interest you but then you have little of interest to say about this debate.

    Your discussion of “better place” is a prime example of shifting the debate paramaters. I and Platinga are not saying that using evolutionary theory in that case is wrong; in fact, one of the outcomes of solving Platinga’s problem is to justify the cognitive faculties that produce the theory that produce that working mindset. Only if you think that that process really rules out any notion of God does this become an issue for evolution itself, and I have already argued that that does not seem to be the case.

    Also, this whole thread has been about discussions over whether utility can indeed provide reliability and I have for quite some time now pointed out — without any really suitable refutation from you or anyone else — that false (meaning unreliable in the sense I’m using the term) beliefs can be useful, and true beliefs may not give advantage. I don’t really see why this is in any way doubtable, and all that you have done is basically doubt that. At least Kel tried to argue that that was wrong at at least some level, but that level was a) far too high for most beliefs and b) didn’t even work then (see the oak tree and water example). So are you really going to claim that if it’s useful it’s true? You’ve argued this briefly in the past, but only to the point where you either redefined or rejected “truth”. As for the alternatives, I am not assuming “If not evolution, then God”. Recall that I did reject Platinga’s God explanation since our faculties should be better than they are. My argument is indeed predicated on an idea that a designer has a purpose and then even with seeming errors we can at least presume that it fulfills the purpose of the designer, if we don’t assume that the designer is totally incompetent or malicious. It, as I said, avoids the problems of both solutions.

  372. #372 Wow
    October 5, 2011

    “I want true beliefs to the best I can get.”

    If they’re not the best, but merely the best you can get, then they’re not actually true, are they.

    “that false (meaning unreliable in the sense I’m using the term) beliefs can be useful, and true beliefs may not give advantage”

    OK, there’s been plenty of refutations of it. You’re just not reading.

    False belief: Oak Trees Cause Waterholes. Move to a land without oak trees, you die of dehydration. Not very useful.

    True belief: Plants grow better near water. Move to a land with different plants, you find water. Much more useful than death.

    But here in the real world, we call such “true beliefs” scientifically observed phenomena leading to models.

    Nowhere does “God makes it rain” help.

    “I am not assuming “If not evolution, then God”. Recall that I did reject Platinga’s God explanation since our faculties should be better than they are.”

    So your argument is ” if incompetence, then god”?

    Nope, a designer would, having found a good design, would continue to use that design. Therefore the human eye compared to the cephalopod eye proves there is no designer.

    “My argument is indeed predicated on an idea that a designer has a purpose and then even with seeming errors we can at least presume that it fulfills the purpose of the designer,”

    That isn’t an argument, since the designer is presumed to give a “purpose” but that purpose only exists because of a presumed designer.

    Tautological reasoning is not an argument, but a logical fallacy.

  373. #373 Wow
    October 5, 2011

    “if we don’t assume that the designer is totally incompetent or malicious. It, as I said, avoids the problems of both solutions.”

    What “both solutions”? Another fallacy: the excluded possibilities.

    If there is no designer, then there’s neither malice nor incompetence, avoiding the problems of “both solutions”. With the added advantage of not requiring special pleading for a designer to exist.

  374. #374 Wow
    October 5, 2011

    “I think your A belief should be something more like “Oak trees are reliably associated with water sources””

    That would be an observation. Not a belief. We don’t believe in doors: we can see them.

    A belief would be “Oak trees cause water”. The inference beyond mere observation.

  375. #375 Anton Mates
    October 5, 2011

    Verbose Stoic @365,

    I don’t think that the relevant belief is “In my environment, oak trees tend to be near water”, mostly because most people don’t ever hold that belief. Even science doesn’t restrict itself in that way.

    What do you mean? That seems like a perfectly ordinary belief to me.

    “In North America, marmots tend to live near golden eagles.”

    “In my house, wastebaskets tend to be near filing cabinets.”

    Do you find such claims unbelievable?

    The relevant belief in terms of action, it seems to me, is something like “If I want water, I will find it near oak trees”.

    That’s another possibility, sure. It’s not behaviorally equivalent to the “oak trees tend to be near water” belief, though, because it applies in fewer situations and makes fewer predictions. (For instance, it doesn’t tell you anything if you don’t want water right now, or if you’re wondering whether someone else will find water.)

    Now, you can have a simple habitual belief of “Oak trees are near water”, but it’s hard to apply this beyond specific cases, meaning the cases that you’ve seen.

    Why not? It applies anytime you see an oak tree in the future, too.

    To start to get into really useful cognizing, we have to start positing causal relationships, and causal relationships are expressed in the terms as I described in mine, which is there is a reason why you find oak trees near water.
    Note that I fail to see how this could possibly be non-empirical.

    Actually, causal relationships are not expressed that way. They’re expressed in ways like, “The reason why you find oak trees near water is that [oak trees need water to grow/oak trees cause more rain to fall/the gods like oak trees to be near water].”

    A causal relationship is a relationship between at least two things: cause and effect. Simply claiming that some phenomenon has a cause isn’t enough to posit a causal relationship; you have to make a claim about what the cause is.

    As for why “there is a reason” is non-empirical, the problem is simple: Until you specify the reason, you can’t make any predictions about its observable consequences. If it’s because oak trees need water to grow, you’ll see one set of observations. If oak trees cause more rain to fall, you’ll see another. If the gods like oak trees to be near water, well, who knows? All of these possible causes, and billions of other ones, fall under the “there is a reason” umbrella, so just about any set of observations could fit in there.

    And if there’s no way to verify or falsify a claim using observable data, it’s non-empirical.

    It seems to me that this is just what science actually does: looks for causal reasons why two things happen to be associated, and try to discern real causal cases from simple associations.

    But, again, science limits its causal speculation to specific causes with testable consequences. You’ll never find a scientific hypothesis which simply states, “There’s a reason for this data.”

    Note, too, that science doesn’t actually need to hypothesize causes. It can be purely correlative, as most of statistics is; and it can even reject the notion of causation as imparsimonious, as many interpretations of quantum mechanics do. Any causal hypothesis will be tested, ultimately, by testing the correlations that it predicts–but those correlations do not logically require the causal part. So it’s never actually possible to “discern real causal cases” from non-causal associations. Questions of fundamental causation remain in the realm of philosophy, not science.

    Doing that successfully provides a massive advantage since it allows reasonable generalization. Your “In my environment … ” case does not, since you have to decide what the limits of your environment are.

    Eh, I just figured “my environment” was synonymous with the area or region the person lives in, which you introduced earlier. You can delete it if you like, or replace it with “the area over which I travel on a weekly basis,” or “the universe”, or anything, really.

  376. #376 Anton Mates
    October 5, 2011

    Continuing,

    I might be pushing the computing analogy too much, because in that case thinking that it’s okay to stop the code from achieving its previous purpose to achieve mine is a really bad idea, since that purpose may not benefit me in any way and my purpose, but it is something that that code is indeed supposed to do.

    Well, that doesn’t really make sense even within the computing analogy. If the original coder’s purpose doesn’t benefit you or your purpose in any way, then it simply doesn’t matter what their code is supposed to do. If I borrow some guy’s code for maintaining the temperature of automated refrigerators, and tweak it to maintain the humidity of greenhouses instead, I couldn’t care less whether it would still run a refrigerator properly.

    Now, it certainly makes more sense to assume that a fellow programmer probably has some goals in mind that you’d agree with. But that’s precisely because your fellow programmers aren’t God! They’re humans, from the same 20th-21st-century Westernized culture that you’re from. They work on roughly the same hardware you do, they’ve been educated in comparable math classes, they’re trying to satisfy comparable needs in their customers, and they may well speak the same language and have the same taste in mouse pads. Of course their interests and your interests are usually going to be fairly similar.

    Trying to apply that same reasoning to an inscrutable, immaterial, ancient superbeing whose very existence is under debate is a non-starter, it seems to me.

    Even in the case where I am dealing with my own interests in a non-code situation, it seems reasonable to me to prefer to preserve all purposes — even my own — if I can than simply run roughshod over something that was not designed for the purpose, even to the extent of inventing or creating another faculty rather than rely on the one I have, just in case it’s useful for someone or something that I can’t foresee.

    Really. So if termites build tunnels in the walls of your house, or wasps build nests on your balcony, or staph bacteria build biofilms in your throat, you won’t do anything about it? Because those artifacts might be (and in fact are) useful for someone or something?

    How can you take any actions at all under that mindset? Don’t pick up that pebble over there–its location might have been carefully planned by a Pebble-Placing Entity for some incredibly useful purpose!

    But as to why include a designer, it’s because a) it’s already been proposed that there is one

    It’s also already been proposed that there isn’t one. If both of those alternatives hadn’t been proposed, Plantinga wouldn’t have a reason to write.

    So unlike in a naturalistic response that relies on utility — and note that my naturalistic response did not do that, so I am aware of alternatives

    I noted that, and I noted that I pretty much agree with your response-although I think that it, itself, can in turn be explained by utility. Regardless, the existence of at least one non-utility-based naturalistic response–and there are, of course, many such–torpedoes Plantinga’s argument.

    Again, I already said that this might not get us all the way to reliability, but I still see it as being further ahead simply because it’s only radical skepticism that gets people asking “What if the designer is malicious or incompetent?’.

    That has nothing to do with radical skepticism, which is the position that knowledge on most or all topics is impossible. To doubt the claim of a perfect and benevolent Designer is mere skepticism, akin to doubting any other unevidenced claim.

    And people are asking that question largely because 100% of the designers we have actual experience with–humans, animals, what have you–are sometimes malicious or incompetent. Hell, most supernatural designers that people have believed in are sometimes malicious or incompetent. The perfect omni-God of Western theology is fairly unusual as creator gods go.

  377. #377 Iain Walker
    October 6, 2011

    Verbose Stoic (#372):

    I think your A belief should be something more like “Oak trees are reliably associated with water sources”, because that’s the belief that would actually foster action

    Call this belief A2, then.

    B, then, JUSTIFIES that belief.

    Well, yes, in that B entails A2. However, A2 can also be justified from experience – every time I find oak trees and water alongside each other and only alongside each other, I confirm A2 inductively. Now in order for my beliefs to guide my actions in my search for water, maybe I do also need B, or something like it. But note that if B justifies A2 (because entailing it), then Not A2 falsifies B. When I move into an area where oak trees are no longer associated with water, and A2 thus turns out to be false, I am not going to hang onto B. B is useful to me only if A2 is useful to me, and A2 has now ceased to be useful. If my cognitive faculties are geared towards modelling my environment such that I can make reliable predictions about it, then continuing to hang onto B makes no sense.

    Either my hanging onto B is an unrepresentative glitch in my otherwise reliable cognitive faculties (in which case hanging onto B does not argue against the general reliability of those faculties), or it is a symptom of a general fault in my faculties. I.e., I have a general tendency to hang onto explanations for regularities in my environment after they have been falsified by my own experience. But in that case, I am going to end up failing to make reliable predictions about other aspects of my environment, failures which sooner or later have a good chance of putting my survival at risk.

    So again, why would I hang on to a particular belief about some causal relationship that is uniquely and specifically between oak trees and surface water, when the correlation that provides the only grounding for this belief is contradicted by experience? If my association of oak trees with water is correctable via experience (as your example allows), why not my belief in the relevant causal relations at work in my environment?

    (continued – inevitably – in next post)

  378. #378 Iain Walker
    October 6, 2011

    (continued from #379)

    Verbose Stoic (#372):

    The example was meant to show that thinking that there is a reason why oak trees are found near water and therefore that looking for oak trees when you’re looking for water is a good idea and provides benefit can be useful even when false

    If that’s all it was meant to show, then that’s consistent with it being a correctable false belief generated by otherwise reliable cognitive faculties – reliable (at least in part) because self-correcting. But if it’s not a correctable belief, then it is only beneficial under a highly restricted set of circumstances – and your example specifically posits that those circumstances eventually cease to hold. In which case, you need to show that it will continue to beneficial under the altered circumstances. Or more to the point, that a cognitive faculty that generically and consistently produces false beliefs of this kind (i.e., predictive explanations that persist even after the conditions that warrant them no longer hold) is beneficial. Only then will you have presented a genuine problem for a utility-emphasising evolutionary account.

    And I am considering beliefs in general.

    But still not belief-forming mechanisms. How often do I have to point out that this is the key issue here?

    But since additional beliefs can both make useful false beliefs or correct false beliefs, expanding the scope will not improve things as much as you might hope (again, see CBT cases of perfectly functioning systems based on one or more false beliefs where to fix one problem you have to tear down and rebuild parts of an entire web; the false beliefs are incorporated so well into the system that you are more likely to readjust almost anything else than reject those beliefs).

    But you have presented no case that suggests that evolution is likely to produce cognitive mechanisms that will consistently work this way.

    Evolution may well produce cognitive mechanisms that eventually become sufficiently sophisticated to allow this under certain conditions (and note that this is only possible with sufficiently sophisticated cognitive mechanisms). But that’s not the same thing as cognitive mechanisms that evolved to work this way as a rule – i.e., systemically producing false yet adaptive beliefs and systemically tending to modify the belief set such that the false beliefs tend to be preserved. If you can show that this is likely given evolution, then you might have a case. But as long as you persist in focusing on beliefs in isolation from the general mechanisms that give rise to them, then you won’t.

  379. #379 eric
    October 6, 2011

    Verbose Stoic: Also, this whole thread has been about discussions over whether utility can indeed provide reliability and I have for quite some time now pointed out — without any really suitable refutation from you or anyone else — that false (meaning unreliable in the sense I’m using the term) beliefs can be useful, and true beliefs may not give advantage.

    I don’t think anyone disagrees with that. But you have made the stronger statement that we have no reason to believe evolution would produce reliable senses. THAT statement does not follow from the one above.

    And I think your strong conclusion has been refuted by Iain or others, but I’ll repeat it. In order for evolution to produce reliable senses, there would have to be some mechanism which results in the critters with more reliable senses passing along more of their genes than the critters with less reliable senses. That mechanism does in fact exist: it is natural selection. The fact that such a mechanism exists and operates on real critters is a reason to believe evolution has produced fairly reliable senses. “No reason to believe” is, IMO, simply and factually wrong at this point.

  380. #380 Anton Mates
    October 7, 2011

    Verbose Stoic, a couple more comments on your last response to Ian:

    You can indeed operate on a simple relational mechanism that simply associates things you’ve seen with such beliefs — and we clearly do that — but that simply doesn’t work when it’s merely coincidental; eventually, it will go completely wrong.

    Good gravy, no. Coincidences don’t have to have a time limit. If oak trees do just happen to be near water, then they could just happen to be near water for the entire lifetime of the planet. You can’t even judge that to be unlikely unless the statistical distributions of oak tree and water locations are known to have certain contingent properties.

    But that’s not merely utility, and certainly not strong enough to foster death in most cases. The example was meant to show that thinking that there is a reason why oak trees are found near water and therefore that looking for oak trees when you’re looking for water is a good idea and provides benefit can be useful even when false, and certainly won’t be detrimental to the extent that Kel needed it to be to get that it would be disastrous.

    Costs don’t need to be disastrous, or to lead to death most of the time, to be evolutionarily relevant. Natural selection works perfectly well on small costs, as long as they’re fairly consistent.

    (again, see CBT cases of perfectly functioning systems based on one or more false beliefs where to fix one problem you have to tear down and rebuild parts of an entire web; the false beliefs are incorporated so well into the system that you are more likely to readjust almost anything else than reject those beliefs).

    Actually, CBT is premised on the notion that those systems are not perfectly functioning, and lead to undesirable behavior, which is why the person needs therapy in the first place! (And, moreover, that altering the person’s behavioral patterns will cause them to perceive that their false beliefs are not empirically justified.)

  381. #381 Kel
    October 7, 2011

    This is still going? Bloody hell, you’d think by now Verbose Stoic could have designed and coded a computer simulation to test his conjecture about the fleeting link between utility and reliability.

  382. #382 Verbose Stoic
    October 8, 2011

    Kel,

    Why should _I_ write a simulation to prove YOUR argument false? Shouldn’t YOU have to prove your argument even reasonably true? Especially since, as you know, my opinion is that my argument is proven sufficiently?

    Here’s the summary: My argument — and Platinga’s — is that utility and reliability are not sufficiently linked to trust that evolution produced reliable mechanisms because we know that useful beliefs can be false and true beliefs in certain circumstances may be detrimental or at least not useful. And I hope that no one disagrees with that. Your reply to that has basically been — and this covers Iain’s “belief mechanisms” and eric’s “natural selection” replies as well — that essentially that may be true but that when we get into a full world with the full force of evolution behind it evolution’s mechanisms will solve this problem and it’ll all work out, at least most of the time.

    All I am being is being skeptical of that argument. I see no reason why evolution or natural selection or talking about belief forming mechanisms will automatically solve that problem, and as far as I am concerned none of you have, in fact, provided such. You, Kel, talked about drastic and dramatic impacts, and my example shows that those may not occur for some at least fundamentally false beliefs. Anton, you talk continually about “efficiency” while failing to recall that that would have to be strong enough to be selected on and not covered by other benefits, as well as my skeptical challenge that there’s no reason to think that there would be that difference assuming that the belief systems are consistent. Eric, your “natural selection” reply does nothing because Platinga’s and my argument is that that uses utility which is not reliability, from the arguments above.

    Note that I do not argue that you CANNOT produce reliable belief-forming mechanisms by evolution. I don’t. But in my opinion to reply to the argument — at least the way it seems to me that you are all replying to it — you have to show that natural selection and selecting on utility will produce reliable mechanisms at least most of the time. That is what I doubt; there is no reason, in my opinion, to think it will work out given the evidence we have, and adding more and more attempts and more and more data only allows for more patch-ups that allow false beliefs to survive.

    So, please, create the simulation and show that with evolution you can get it most of the time. I see no need to do any such work to prove your contention, and it is not the case that if I cannot explicitly refute you then you’re right and I’m wrong, and I must drop my skepticism and believe what you believe.

  383. #383 Kel
    October 8, 2011

    Why should _I_ write a simulation to prove YOUR argument false?

    You mean, why should you back up YOUR conjecture with data? Maybe because sitting in an armchair thinking up defeater arguments for naturalism is not way to do science!

    Shouldn’t YOU have to prove your argument even reasonably true?

    In my opinion, I have. I’ll give my deductive argument:
    1. Humans have evolved unguided
    2. Humans have, in certain aspects, reliable cognitive faculties
    3. Therefore there is no incompatibility between reliable faculties and evolution.

    If you disagree with (1) or (2), then show the data to the contrary. There’s a good fossil record, countless studies done in psychology, the complete sequence of human and chimpanzee DNA, ethology, neuroscience, etc. Take your pick which premise is unreasonable. Because (1) is backed up by everything we see in the biological sciences, and (2) has decades of psychology supporting it. So where should we see God’s hand in the data?

    Especially since, as you know, my opinion is that my argument is proven sufficiently?

    In my opinion, your opinion isn’t worth anything. But what do I care about your opinion? It’s not like your opinion is going to grace the pages of Nature, your opinion is going to be confined to Christian theists looking for a defeater argument. It’s untested conjecture backed only by the ability to make “just so” accounts without having to put any of those accounts into a biological framework, and if you think that passes for “sufficient proof” then you’re opinion is not only wrong – but stupid as well.

    So, please, create the simulation and show that with evolution you can get it most of the time. I see no need to do any such work to prove your contention, and it is not the case that if I cannot explicitly refute you then you’re right and I’m wrong, and I must drop my skepticism and believe what you believe.

    Much work has been done on this already. From work with evolutionary stable strategies, to studies looking at the role natural selection plays in forming beliefs. My point with the model is that you don’t know just how reliable evolution is when it comes to beliefs. Is it sufficiently low? How can you possibly know it’s low without having some form of model by which to test it? My whole point going on about models is that it’s useless to make such defeater arguments for what is largely an empirical matter. Without sufficient investigation, the best you have is an interesting conjecture. Are you honestly suggesting that if I wrote a model that showed running away from a tiger for a game of tag was inferior to running away from a predator in terms of evolution (What parameters should I use – energy expelled? likelihood of success? likelihood of such a belief arising naturally? etc.) would you agree that yes, evolutionary speaking the environment has sufficient selection qualities? Just tell me what it is you wish me to model and I’d be happy to do so. Because with all the factors that come into play with evolution, it strikes me as odd that “playing tag with a tiger” and “running away from a predator” really are equivalent beliefs even if the behavioural outcome is the same. And then the model has the problem of being as good as the assumptions put into it; but at least it’s a start. Much better than “just so” storytelling, that’s two steps down from evolutionary psychology who at least have the good sense to try to put mathematics onto their conjectures about human nature.

  384. #384 Kel
    October 8, 2011

    Why should _I_ write a simulation to prove YOUR argument false?

    Let’s look at this another way. You are making a claim about the near mutual exclusivity between utility and reliability – if you don’t have any evidence to back it up, why should anyone believe that there’s little reason to suppose a link between the two? It’s not a simulation to prove my argument false, the point of me bringing up the model is that you need something more than just your opinion that there’s a sufficiently small link between the two. And that’s what I’m highlighting – that if you’re going to make claims about the nature of evolutionary theory then you need to be doing science. Otherwise the best you have is a conjecture; something yet to be tested for its validity.

    Taking the attitude as if the conjecture is self-evident is not the way to advance knowledge. How can you possibly think that it has been “proven sufficiently” without any attempt to even try to match it to the data? Can you even use the conjecture to make predictions? Is the “tag-playing-tiger” belief really on equal footing, evolutionary speaking, with the “tiger wants to eat me” belief?

    Without having something in the way of empirical grounds, how can you possibly be confident that it has been “proven sufficently”?

  385. #385 Anton Mates
    October 10, 2011

    Verbose Stoic,

    My argument — and Platinga’s — is that utility and reliability are not sufficiently linked to trust that evolution produced reliable mechanisms because we know that useful beliefs can be false and true beliefs in certain circumstances may be detrimental or at least not useful. And I hope that no one disagrees with that.

    Nope, that’s certainly true. The question is whether “certain circumstances” cover the majority of real-world situations.

    Anton, you talk continually about “efficiency” while failing to recall that that would have to be strong enough to be selected on and not covered by other benefits,

    Actually, I used the word “efficiency” exactly once in this thread. Mostly I’ve been talking in terms of parsimony.
    The criterion “strong enough to be selected on” is barely meaningful; even very weak fitness benefits can significantly drive selection on an evolutionary timescale. Do you disagree that tiny increments in efficiency can add up to a big effect in, for instance, predator/prey arms races

    As for being outweighed by other benefits…what are they? I enumerated the benefits I see a belief as potentially providing: appropriate conscious actions, appropriate emotional reactions, and reduced calorie expenditure and reaction time. And we were specifically discussing the case where a set of false beliefs and a set of true ones yield exactly the same benefits in terms of conscious action (and I spotted you emotion as well for the sake of argument). In that case, what’s left to consider besides efficiency?

    as well as my skeptical challenge that there’s no reason to think that there would be that difference assuming that the belief systems are consistent.

    No reason? We see precisely that difference in science all the time. It’s common to have competing theories which are each perfectly self-consistent, yet which are not equally parsimonious. Consistency is no guarantee of efficiency.

    But in my opinion to reply to the argument — at least the way it seems to me that you are all replying to it — you have to show that natural selection and selecting on utility will produce reliable mechanisms at least most of the time.

    For the nth time, this is simply not true. Plantinga’s argument requires either that natural selection does not produce reliable mechanisms most of the time, or that its probability of producing reliable mechanisms is inscrutable and there exists no other naturalism-compatible reason to trust our cognition. We do not have to show that natural selection will usually produce reliable mechanisms, in order to reasonably doubt Plantinga on this point. He is making a positive claim about the outcome of naturalistic evolution, and the burden of proof’s on him.

    I see no need to do any such work to prove your contention, and it is not the case that if I cannot explicitly refute you then you’re right and I’m wrong, and I must drop my skepticism and believe what you believe.

    Hey, believe what you want. My concern’s with the soundness of Plantinga’s argument; I’m not trying to convert you to cognitive adaptationism.

  386. #386 Wow
    October 11, 2011

    As for the design aspect, what about the repeated cycle of predator/prey strategies between creodont and titanothere? Time and again, the predator gets bigger teeth to kill their pray quicker, the prey get thicker armour to resist and the predator gets even bigger teeth. Repeat until the teeth are so big that the animal can barely hold their head up and the prey can hardly walk, both die out.

    Repeat.

    And, as said before, the design of the human eye compared to the much better Octopus eye design either means the Octopus was the pinnacle of design or there’s no design to it.

  387. #387 Verbose Stoic
    October 24, 2011

    As will probably surprise no one, I haven’t gotten around to commenting on this again and likely won’t, due to the time and length constraints (and not because I don’t think I can deal with the objections [grin]). If anyone is still interested in this, I could put a post up on it at my blog and move it there, to avoid digging this one further. Other than that, it was actually nice debating with (most of) you, even if I still think you’re wrong [grin].

  388. #388 eric
    October 25, 2011

    (and not because I don’t think I can deal with the objections [grin])

    Objection, singular, really. Iain, Kel, and I have all pointed out that you have no evidence to back up your assumption that utility can’t or won’t lead to reliability. This assumption is needed to make your whole argument work.

    And it is no good for you to try and turn it around and demand we provide evidence that it can. The null hypothesis (what both sides should accept in absence of any evidnece) is that the two traits are independent. And that works just fine for evolution because it allows that some useful traits can be reliable. “Can in some cases, can’t in other” is perfectly consistent with evolution. OTOH, the null hypothesis is not consistent with your argument. It is YOUR assumption which requires a dependency (one cannot lead to the other), YOUR assumption which makes an explicit (negative) link between the two. And so it is YOUR assumption which requires validation.

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