Asher on Accommodationism

Over at HuffPo, paleontologist Robert Asher serves up the standard cliches about reconciling science and religion:

For many theists, even if they would phrase it differently, “religion” requires a deity who leaves behind evidence in a similar fashion as a human being might do, like Santa Claus not finishing his cookies or a toga-clad Charlton Heston dispensing rules on stone tablets, capriciously ignoring his own natural laws. Many anti-theists agree: if God exists, “he” has to leave behind evidence in a human-like fashion. Notably, such a perspective is at the core of the so-called “intelligent design” movement, which claims to find evidence for clever intervention in biology, relegating what its adherents call “natural” and “random” to the profane.

This, alas, is complete caricature.

From the atheist side, absolutely no one is saying that God has to do anything. We simply observe that a God who works entirely through natural forces is hard to distinguish from no God at all. We ask for the evidence that God exists, and since nature fails so completely to provide that evidence we begin to suspect that maybe there is no God.

But Asher has also badly misstated the ID position. There, too, there are no assumptions being made about what God must have done. I am not aware of any ID proponents who say that if God exists it simply must be the case that He has left behind, tangible, scientific evidence of His presence. Instead the claim is simply that, as it happens, there are, indeed, certain biological facts whose only plausible explanation involves the intentions of an intelligent designer. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I regard that claim as hopelessly misguided, but the fact remains that it differs in important ways from Asher’s caricature.

He is also unfair to those theists who, he asserts, require that God leave evidence behind. This, I believe, fundamentally misunderstands the emotional force of the design argument. At one level the design argument is about proving God exists. But at another level it is about emphasizing God’s nearness in our day-to-day lives. A God who set the universe in motion billions of years ago and then let everything unfold by natural causes can seem too remote to satisfy the emotional cravings God is said to satisfy.

Asher continues:

But why can’t a “designer” act through nature? In describing the natural mechanisms behind the evolution of the eye, Charles Darwin similarly asked “have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man?” (Origin 1st edition, p. 188). The idea that divine agency has to resemble human agency, and that it is somehow deviant from nature, has been challenged for many years. For recent examples, see publications by (among others) my HuffPost blog-neighbors Ken Miller, Karl Giberson, and John Shelby Spong. Here is where we can identify the overlap between the secular “numinous” and religion, and try to answer the question “what’s left” posed above, hopefully turning a shouting match into a discussion.

This paragraph opens with more caricature. No one has a problem with the general idea that God can act through nature. But things get more complicated when we take into consideration the specifics of evolution. Since God is commonly said to love His creatures, we are certainly entitled to wonder why He would create through a process as cruel and savage as Darwinian natural selection. It is not plausible to suggest evolution as God’s means of creation, since the mechanics of evolution are at odds with the attributes God is believed to possess. If Asher wants to have a discussion, he might begin by being forthright about the magnitude of the problem.

Skipping to the end:

I believe in an agency behind the laws of nature, one which pervades but does not replace the mechanisms expressed in those laws. I understand that skeptics are reluctant to give credence to apologists who use such arguments as a prelude to more specific demands for superstition. Anti-theists can choose to reject the whole thing, to regard accommodation as surrender, but in so doing they’re throwing the blastula out with the bathwater. There is too much at stake in our (still) civil society to insist on the same anthropomorphic “god” who can only act like a giant Charlton Heston, prized by anti-theists and fundamentalists alike. But you don’t have to “insist”. You can leave dogmatism to talk radio and intransigence to the 112th US Congress, and consider what motivates those with whom you disagree. Accommodate, and society will be better for it.

Earlier in the essay Asher specifically mocked everyone who might think that God leaves behind evidence of His activities. Upon what, then, does he base his own belief that there is an agency behind nature? If the belief is based on some rational inference from the particulars of the laws themselves then I fail to see how his view differs substantially from the views he previously criticized. And if it is not a rational inference from some sort of evidence then why should we take the belief seriously?

I’d also like to know more about the agency in which Asher believes. This agency, did it create the world through an act of its will or not? If it did, then I fail to see how it is importantly different from the anthropomorphic God he criticizes. If it did not, then whatever it is, it surely is not the God who lies at the heart of the world’s religions.

There is nothing dogmatic in the atheist’s insistence that theists provide evidence for their beliefs, at least to the extent that they want other people to take their beliefs seriously. And there is nothing intransigent about theists reflecting carefully on evolution and concluding that grave conflicts exist between science and religion. Conflicts, mind you, not just with silly literalist religion but also with far more moderate forms as well. And we are, indeed, united in our belief that reasoned conversation is not furthered by first caricaturing the beliefs of those with whom you disagree, and then presenting yourself pompously as some sort of reasoned middle ground between two dogmatic extremes.

Comments

  1. #1 JimR
    March 2, 2012

    I have been reading “Design in Nature” by Adrian Bejan which is about his discovery of Constructal Law as a primary law of physics. A fan of the law maintains http://www.constructal.org/ which must have every reference to it on the WWW. The law posits that flow systems will evolve naturally over time and become more efficient.

    I believe the law supplants all the arguments from the ID proponents. Dr. Bejan conceived the law in 1995 and there is a growing body of research supporting it. There is also an engineering textbook, “Design with Constructal Theory”, with much more depth on constructal law.

    I think that one of the dogmatic extremes has had their entire evidential basis demolished. I hope other commentators can weigh in on this.

  2. #2 Theo Tsourdalakis
    March 2, 2012

    One of the core problems in discussion this contraversy is definitions. “Evolution” is a vague word.
    Micro evolution is minor changes within a species, this is real and observable and uncontested.
    The conflict pertains to Darwinian/Macro evolution which asserts that:
    1) All living things had a common ancestor. This implies that your great….. great grandfather was a self replicating molecule.
    2) The observable world has come into existence by totally natural, unguided processes and specifically WITHOUT the involvement of an intelligent designer.
    The vague and changing definition is poor science and a thinly disguised strategy to make it easier to defend and propagate.

    People who try jam evolution and ID together, ie theistic evolutionists are really pushing manure uphil. It does not make any sense that an intelligent designer would use a mechanism of suffering and death to produce the prevailing world.

    Dr John Sanford (Geneticists and inventor of the GeneGun) said .
    “The bottom line is that the primary axiom [of Darwinian/Macro evolution] is categorically false, you can’t create information with misspellings, not even if you use natural selection.”

    Malcom Muggeridge, Pascal Lectures, Ontario Canada, University of Waterloo said:
    “I, myself, am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially to the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books of the future. Posterity will marvel that so flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the credulity that it has.”

    The current battle is often MISrepresented as science against religion – this is baloney.
    The real battle is between science and Darwinism.
    The scientific evidence supporting Darwinism is woeful, when it is scrutinised critically (as the scientific method demands) IT CRUMBLES!!!.

  3. #3 NJ
    March 2, 2012

    TT@2:

    The scientific evidence supporting Darwinism is woeful, when it is scrutinised critically (as the scientific method demands) IT CRUMBLES!!!.

    For all values of “CRUMBLES!!!” that include “being among the best supported scientific theories of all time”.

    If you think you have a case, make it. Then prepare to get hammered, sport.

  4. #4 Your Name's not Bruce?
    March 2, 2012

    Theo@2:

    So if it is such a poor theory, how has Darwinian evolution as an explanation of biological diversity lasted so long? What is it that keeps it going? Are biologists all in on some conspiracy to suppress the real explanation? How can you keep thousands and thousands of independent, intelligent individuals quiet about something like that? Or maybe these people aren’t in on any conspiracy, they’re all just too stupid and closed minded to see things that are patently obvious to everyone but themselves. How has Darwinian natural selection remained the foundational theory of biology for so long if it is such a shoddy piece of work? What is it; cunning or stupidity?

    Scientists are always looking for better explanations for things, explanations that account for more evidence, explanations that open up further avenues of questioning and research. Any scientist who could come up with a theory that would be better than Darwin’s would become instantly (and permanently) famous, remembered in the same way as Galileo, Newton, Einstein and, yes, Darwin. It’s one of the perks of the discipline, but a very high bar to clear.

    So Theo, give us your best shot. Shouldn’t be too hard, seeing as it’s CRUMBLING and all.

  5. #5 eric
    March 2, 2012

    You can leave dogmatism to talk radio and intransigence to the 112th US Congress, and consider what motivates those with whom you disagree. Accommodate, and society will be better for it.

    I had several quibbles but this really nails it for me: how will society be better if we allow Congress to be religiously dogmatic? They make our laws. I don’t want our laws to be religiously dogmatic, I want them to be secular. So, essentially, does the first amendment.

    I get the feeling that Asher and I have utterly different notions of accommodationism. To me, the most accommodating government is a secular one. Yeah, a secular government will occasionally be called upon to forcibly reject some religious dogma, but overall, its still more broadly accommodating than any realistic alternative.

    Asher seems instead to be espousing some sort of “let legislators legislate as dogmatically as they like” form of accommodationism. To my mind, that’s not accommodation, its unconditional surrender. He would have us let religious people make religious laws that the rest of us have to follow in the name of accommodation? I say absolutely not. I reject this as an Orwellian definition of “accommodation.” And I reject on an historical basis the argument that letting representatives pass religious laws would lead to a better society.

  6. #6 Wow
    March 2, 2012

    ““Evolution” is a vague word.”

    Nope, the dictionary is pretty darn clear.

    “1) All living things had a common ancestor.”

    All living things still alive must have had an ancestor. And, since we use the same chemistry to reproduce at the cell level, they must have all managed the same trick the same way. It would be HIGHLY unlikely for the same chemistry to start in several different organisms at the same time.

    You and all your brothers and sisters have a common ancestor.

    Yet you have two of them (in actual fact, probably only one in common for every three siblings). This doesn’t seem to be a problem that proves you are your parents child, however.

    Why are you so lackadaisical about a complex person such as yourself having a common ancestor with other complex organisms, but completely against very simple organisms having them?

    Then realise that the majority of your cells are not “you”, they’re separate organisms living within you. Bacteria in and on you, for example. Beneficial, parasitical and benign.

  7. #7 eric
    March 2, 2012

    Since God is commonly said to love His creatures, we are certainly entitled to wonder why He would create through a process as cruel and savage as Darwinian natural selection. It is not plausible to suggest evolution as God’s means of creation, since the mechanics of evolution are at odds with the attributes God is believed to possess.

    Trying to potentially head off a long discussion: note to blog readers that Jason is taking issue with a specific conception of God that includes loving his creations and the power to stop such bloodshed if he chooses. Other conceptions of God – Gods who might be perfectly content with bloodshed, suffering, or have no power to prevent it – are not being argued against here.

  8. #8 Davdt
    March 2, 2012

    What is logic? The religious and the irreligious both agree logic is an activity going on in there heads… Lol to bizarre and comical…

  9. #9 Rieux
    March 2, 2012

    Posts like these make it clear that Rosenhouse is one of the most perceptive, incisive, and eloquent critics of accommodationism on offer. (Though he’s not, alas, nearly prolific enough on this score.)

    Terrific as usual.

  10. #10 Another Matt
    March 2, 2012

    Theo #2:

    Dr John Sanford (Geneticists and inventor of the GeneGun) said .
    “The bottom line is that the primary axiom [of Darwinian/Macro evolution] is categorically false, you can’t create information with misspellings, not even if you use natural selection.”

    Then these should never work:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_algorithm

  11. #11 J. Peder Zane
    March 2, 2012

    As a previous poster noted, the constructal law, which its discoverer, Adrian Bejan, details in his new book, “Design in Nature,” sheds nw light on these issues. It tells us how design can emerge without an intelligent designer and it defines evolution as a physics phenomena with, and this is huge, a measureable direction in time.

    The constructal law is a first principle of physics that holds that all design – all shape and structure – in nature emerges to facilitate flow. Over long periods of time the raindrops that fell from the sky coalesced into the tree-shaped river basins that cover the globe; a similar tree-shaped pattern emerges in an instant when electricity generates the design we call lightning bolts. These predictable tree-shaped patterns also occur in biological designs, including our circulatory systems and the neural pathways of our brains. They also explain why our organs have characteristic sizes – not too heavy, not too light, not too big, not too small – to help us move efficiently across the landscape. We can also see the emergence of design to aid movement when a laminar flow transitions to turbulence (when, for example, the smoke rising from a candle changes from a straight column to whirling eddies).

    Bejan asks: why does design arise at all? Why doesn’t the rainwater, for instance, just seep in the ground? The answer is the natural tendency to generate design to move more easily. That is, design just happens. And it happens everywhere – in the animate and inanimate realms for the same predictable reason – to facilitate flow access.

    These designs evolve with a direction in time – they reconfigure and reconfigure themselves to move their currents (e.g. water, electricity, blood, mass) more easily, which Bejan defines as moving more current per unit of useful energy consumed.

    Thus the constructal law unites all design in nature and evolutionary phenomena, in both the animate and inanimate realms, under a single law of physics.

  12. #12 NickMatzke
    March 2, 2012

    Wow, some crazy comments.

    Anyway, in regard to this:

    “But Asher has also badly misstated the ID position. There, too, there are no assumptions being made about what God must have done. I am not aware of any ID proponents who say that if God exists it simply must be the case that He has left behind, tangible, scientific evidence of His presence.”

    Actually, IDists do make that argument pretty regularly, in response to theistic evolutionists and deist-like arguments against an interventionist God. IDists will say something like, well, if you believe the Bible, we have an interventionist God on our hands, one who likes to work miracles, so there is no reason we shouldn’t see this in biological history. FWIW…

  13. #13 eric
    March 2, 2012

    Bejan asks: why does design arise at all? Why doesn’t the rainwater, for instance, just seep in the ground?

    It does. We call it “groundwater.” If you are asking why more water doesn’t fit into the pores in dirt than the pores in dirt have room for, well, that should be obvious.

  14. #14 Rev.Enki
    March 2, 2012

    “to insist on the same anthropomorphic “god” who can only act like a giant Charlton Heston, prized by anti-theists and fundamentalists alike.”

    Cute rhetoric. Stupid, but cute. I don’t “prize” any such thing. It just so happens that this is exactly the sort of god that is believed in by the vast majority of believers in a god. Once again, we’re supposed to reserve all our arguments for some wisp of ineffable nothing that nobody actually believes in but for a contrarian few who can’t actually describe in any way more specific than it’s the “great existing thing what done it all.”

    And isn’t it interesting that the probability of god’s existence approaches worthwhile consideration as its interaction with the universe approaches zero? If the trend is real, and people like this would have me believe it is, the most probable of all gods is the one that has never done anything at all.

  15. #15 tomh
    March 2, 2012

    eric @4

    He would have us let religious people make religious laws that the rest of us have to follow…

    Instead, what we have in the US are secular laws that the religious don’t have to follow. Thousands of them. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between your formulation and mine.

  16. #16 eric
    March 2, 2012

    Tomh: Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between your formulation and mine.

    This is your first post on this article! So what formulation of yours are you using for comparison?

  17. #17 tomh
    March 2, 2012

    eric @16
    That we have secular laws that the religious often don’t have to follow.

  18. #18 eric
    March 2, 2012

    Ah, I see, yes. That is also egregious and only “accommodation” in an Orwellian, ‘thee not me’ sense.

  19. #19 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 2, 2012

    Nick –

    IDists will say something like, well, if you believe the Bible, we have an interventionist God on our hands, one who likes to work miracles, so there is no reason we shouldn’t see this in biological history.

    But that’s not the argument Asher put in the mouths of his hypothetical ID folks. There is a big difference between saying that if God exists then he must leave evidence behind, which was Asher’s formulation, and saying that there is no reason why we shouldn’t see evidence of God’s action in biological history, which was your formulation.

  20. #20 Herman Cummings
    March 2, 2012

    The evolution theory is an irrational falsehood, zealously embraced by atheists, that is a phony conclusion of the 600+ million year fossil record. There is no “valid supporting data” for evolution. In a court of law, or in a public forum, the same evidence that evolutionists would use to try to “prove” the validity of that theory, I would utilize to reveal the truth of Genesis. In order to believe in evolution, you have to purposely ignore certain facts of reality. For example, when you see illustrations of primates being pictured as evolving into humans, it can be shown in a court of law that such a premise is impossible, because certain human and primate traits are different, and could not have ever been shared. The only “common ancestor” that humans and primates share is God Himself.

    Current Creationism has refused to teach the truth of the Genesis text, and either teaches foolishness (young Earth), or false doctrines (non-literal reading of the text). Creationists thoughtlessly try to prove “Creationism”, rather than seeking and teaching the truth of Genesis. How can an untruth, ever prove another lie, to be in error? You can’t do it. That is why Creationism fails. It essentially is also a lie, and should be discarded, even by Bible believers.

    The correct opposing view to evolution is the “Observations of Moses”, which conveys the truth of Genesis chapter one. It is the ONLY true rendition of the Hebrew text. Everything else, unfortunately,
    are false and foolish interpretations of scripture.

    Those that imply that God used evolution are infidels at worse, or clowns at best, that refuse to learn the truth of Genesis. The truth has been available for more than 18 years. Such a discussion is currently silly, and shows stubbornness against learning the truth of God’s Word.

    There are no “creation stories” in Genesis. In fact, about all of theology and creationism have no idea what Moses was writing about. You can’t simply take an advanced book of math or science, and try to read from it on your own without personal instruction.

    For example, Genesis declares that mankind has been on this Earth, in his present likeness, for more than 60 million years. The “male and female” in Genesis chapter one was not “Adam & Eve”. Has modern science discovered that yet?

    Herman Cummings
    ephraim7@aol.com

  21. #21 NJ
    March 2, 2012

    Yay! Crazy Uncle Hermie, the self-proclaimed ‘leading expert’ on Genesis has showed up to share with us!

  22. #22 J. Peder Zane
    March 2, 2012

    Eric (comment 13),

    The rainwater doesn’t “just” seep in the ground. The raindrops also coalesce to form river basins whose design reflects predictable scaling laws (roughly 4 daughter channels for every mother channel) And the groundwater also forms underground rivers!

  23. #23 NJ
    March 2, 2012

    JPZ@22:

    And the groundwater also forms underground rivers!

    Rarely. Unless you are in a humid karst region, underground rivers are almost completely nonexistent. Absorption of water into the ground fills the available pore spaces; the point at which they are filled is called the water table.

    It tends to be more correct to think of an underground ocean than individual underground rivers.

  24. #24 Verbose Stoic
    March 3, 2012

    Jason,

    There is a big difference between saying that if God exists then he must leave evidence behind, which was Asher’s formulation, and saying that there is no reason why we shouldn’t see evidence of God’s action in biological history, which was your formulation.

    While normally I’m in favour of identifying these sorts of distinctions, here I’m not sure the distinction is that big or important. Both sides are saying essentially that if God exists we should see it in biological history, and Asher is saying that IDers see that at face value that doesn’t seem to be the case and so try to reinterpret the biological history to put God in, while some atheists on the other side see that at face value that doesn’t seem to be the case and so claim that God doesn’t exist. Even from your quotes, Asher’s reply might be summed up as “Are you sure you know what evidence you should be seeing in the natural biological history if God existed?”

  25. #25 eric
    March 3, 2012

    VS:

    Asher’s reply might be summed up as “Are you sure you know what evidence you should be seeing in the natural biological history if God existed?”

    We can only compare the world to the god-models believers give us. It seems Jason is pretty sure he is not seeing the evidence he should for the standard christian god who “is commonly said to love his creatures,” and who has the properties he is “believed to possess” by most believers.

  26. #26 Verbose Stoic
    March 3, 2012

    eric,

    So, then, tell me in detail what that world should look like, and why … and please don’t retreat when I point out all the philosophical objections and problems with your definition. Because the god-model of most believers does include this world, as is, at least in terms of the suffering in it, and so you can’t use that as an excuse to claim that you’ve shown that this world isn’t compatible with that view.

  27. #27 Kyle
    March 3, 2012

    Ok can I ask you a few questions? How did the world get here without a God? How did that particle get here then how did it turn into all this stuff there is no way. No offense but I know you don’t think God is real but he is and he loves you no matter what you believe but I hope you finally notice he is real man I don’t know you but I love you and hope you dont go to hell.

  28. #28 NJ
    March 3, 2012

    Kyle@27:

    How did the world get here without a God?

    How did God get here?

    That’s not just a snarky comeback; it’s a real question. If you posit a supernatural being that created everything, you are simply adding an extra step in the chain of causality.

  29. #29 eric
    March 3, 2012

    VS:

    So, then, tell me in detail what that world should look like, and why …

    3 billion years less bloodsport.

    and please don’t retreat when I point out all the philosophical objections and problems with your definition. Because the god-model of most believers does include this world

    It could not have; that god-model was created at least 1800 years before we knew the world was 4 billion years old.

    I don’t want to repeat last thread’s discussion with you, because at this point I think its fruitless. You think that the christian god-model must be consistent with suffering because the bible recognizes that suffering exists. I don’t think the fact that one section of one story mentioning suffering means that everything said by every author in the book must be read in a consistent manner; nor do I think that believers necessarily fashion their god-concept in a consistent manner even given what’s in the book.

  30. #30 MattiR
    March 3, 2012

    stoic,

    So, then, tell me in detail what that world should look like,

    No evil; or at least, less evil.

    and why …

    Because God is supposed to be all-loving and all-powerful.

    and please don’t retreat when I point out all the philosophical objections and problems with your definition. Because the god-model of most believers does include this world, as is, at least in terms of the suffering in it, and so you can’t use that as an excuse to claim that you’ve shown that this world isn’t compatible with that view.

    The orthodox Christian teaching is that God is omnipotent and benevolent.

  31. #31 ildi
    March 3, 2012

    Speaking of god-models, Jeff at Dean’s Corner had an interesting post on this and linked to:

    How Christians reconcile their personal political views and the teachings of their faith: Projection as a means of dissonance reduction

    Lee D. Rossa,1,Yphtach Lelkesb, and Alexandra G. Russella. Departments of Psychology and Communication, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

    Abstract

    The present study explores the dramatic projection of one’s own views onto those of Jesus among conservative and liberal American Christians. In a large-scale survey, the relevant views that each group attributed to a contemporary Jesus differed almost as much as their own views. Despite such dissonance-reducing projection, however, conservatives acknowledged the relevant discrepancy with regard to “fellowship” issues (e.g., taxation to reduce economic inequality and treatment of immigrants) and liberals acknowledged the relevant discrepancy with regard to “morality” issues (e.g., abortion and gay marriage). However, conservatives also claimed that a contemporary Jesus would be even more conservative than themselves on the former issues whereas liberals claimed that Jesus would be even more liberal than themselves on the latter issues. Further reducing potential dissonance, liberal and conservative Christians differed markedly in the types of issues they claimed to be more central to their faith. A concluding discussion considers the relationship between individual motivational processes and more social processes that may underlie the present findings, as well as implications for contemporary social and political conflict.

  32. #32 Carneades of Ga.
    March 4, 2012

    Jason, per Lamberth’s the teleonomic.atelic argument, science finds no divine intent behind natural phenomena, and to find such contradicts instead of complementing science. Thus, theistic evolution is just an oxymoronic obfuscation. To insist nevertheless that no, He rules makes for the new Omphalos argument that He deceives us per Hick’s epistemic distance argument with ambiguity about His existence so as not to overwhelm our free wills.
    No!
    Ernst Mayr [ whence the term teleonomy derives] in ” What Evolution Is ” and George Gaylord Simpson in “Life of the Past” give evidence to teleonomy instead of any teleology. Ti’s belies the NCESs viewpoint that science and the religious superstition are compatible.
    From the side of religion, it can be compatible with the paranormal or not and so forth; but from the side of science,never! The neutral manner would then be religious people can accommodate evolution.
    Lamberth’s argument from pareidolia maintains that just as people see the pareidolia of Marian apparitions so people see that of teleology and design instead of teleonomy-causalism-mechanism and patterns. Scientists are investigating how and why people see patterns and patterns as pareidolias.
    Also, Victor Stenger illustrates how science can infirm God in other ways.
    Jason, thus, you justly criticize Asher. To find that divine intent still nevertheless commits the argument from ignorance!
    Besides, per the argument from physical mind to to find disembodied minds depends on that argument from ignorance as science knows only about embodies ones. Thus, yes, does Asher then propose the magic of let it be?
    Our friend Coyne smashed teleology in ” Seeing and Believing” and Amiel Rossow noted the failure of Kenneth Miler’s yin and yang in that regard @Talk Reason.
    Thus,science out ways metaphysical claims!
    No mind for any intent!

  33. #33 Carneades of Ga.
    March 4, 2012

    Jason, I just have remembered Carneades’s argument updated that all teleological arguments beg the question of intent and design.
    Someone on the internet alleges that vitalism isn’t teleological,eh?

  34. #34 Militant Agnostic
    March 4, 2012

    NJ

    How did God get here?

    That’s easy, God was created by a higher God. It isn’t turtles all the way down, it is gods all the way up*. I am sure that my gut bacteria worship me as a god.**

    *In a sciece fiction story by Dean Ing the god explains to the priest that it will n longer be able to intervene in events on the planet because “Our gods tell us their gods are losing a war.”

    **My dogs on the other hand have decided that I was sent by Dog Almighty to prepare meals, scoop poop, throw balls and open doors.

  35. #35 Another Matt
    March 4, 2012

    That’s easy, God was created by a higher God. It isn’t turtles all the way down, it is gods all the way up*.

    And the amount of time it took for god n to create god n+1 was exactly half as much as it took god n+1 to create god n+2. Thus the number of gods is infinite but the amount of time it took to create them all was finite.

    Also:
    http://amberbaldet.com/uploads/little-harmonic-labrynth.html

  36. #36 JimR
    March 4, 2012

    When I read Taylor Carr’s review of “The Essence of Christianity” by Ludwig Feuerbach ( http://godlesshaven.com/books-dvds/essence-of-christianity.html ) this week, it was the first time I had seen the concept that “Man is a god to man… Rather than the supernatural manifestation that it claims to be, Christianity is an anthropocentrism – it is humankind having elevated and transformed itself into the divine through the vehicle of religion.”

    That seems to be where God comes from.

    There is a PDF of Feuerbach’s 1841 book at: http://www.lulu.com/items/volume_63/2850000/2850989/3/print/essence8.pdf

  37. #37 Kel
    March 4, 2012

    Of course we should expect some evidence – Christianity is an evidence-based belief system. So unless there is a completely naturalistic account of Jesus, the expectation of God intervening in an evidential way cannot be avoided. ‘God works through nature’ sounds poetic and insightful, but it doesn’t gel with the beliefs as they are presented – nor is such a statement distinguishable from bare assertion.

    Unless a completely naturalised account of religious doctrine is put forward, there’s going to inevitability be a question as to what extent one is justified in inferring a divine hand in nature. A fundamentalist, it seems, is someone who sees that hand all too readily. While the unenlightened atheist is one who thinks that the fundamentalists are wrong on this, and don’t think the line of inquiry has been adequately dissolved.

  38. #38 Kevin
    March 5, 2012

    “We ask for the evidence that God exists, and since nature fails so completely to provide that evidence we begin to suspect that maybe there is no God.”

    Ignoring the conspiratorial implications of the word “suspect”, the central proposition of traditional Catholic theology is, as I understand it, a deistic one: That which exists, exists. As a tautology, I consider this irrefutable. (The specific theistic claims of the Hebrew God – “I am Who am”, or I am that which exists – and of Christ – “Before Abraham was, I am” – are questions of belief in historical Revelation.)

    Materialist science, on the other hand, seems to rely on the following proposition having been true at some point: That which exists does not exist, or alternatively, Nothing exists. But this proposition can never have been true, because in such a world truth and logic would, by definition, not exist.

  39. #39 Wow
    March 5, 2012

    “That which exists, exist”

    And that which doesn’t exist, doesn’t. Since God doesn’t exist, he doesn’t.

    What? It’s as sound as your assertion he does exist therefore he does, AMC.

    “seems to rely on the following proposition having been true at some point: That which exists does not exist”

    Nope, it relies on the following proposition: don’t pretend things exist just because you’d like them to.

  40. #40 Wow
    March 5, 2012

    “Ok can I ask you a few questions?”

    Yup.

    “How did the world get here without a God?”

    The same way God would have to get here.

    “How did that particle get here then how did it turn into all this stuff there is no way.”

    That’s not a question, you’ve made a statement.

    “No offense but I know you don’t think God is real but he is”

    I thought you wanted to ask questions? That’s another statement.

    PS He doesn’t exist. He told me himself.

    “and he loves you no matter what you believe”

    So why whine and bitch about it? And if he loves me so much, why did he make me an atheist and then get you to badger me all the time?

    “but I hope you finally notice he is real man”

    Nobody has noticed anything about him. Exactly as would be the case if he didn’t exist. Which he doesn’t.

    “I don’t know you but I love you and hope you dont go to hell.”

    We won’t. And God wouldn’t want you to be frightened about hell, since he loves you, you say. Therefore Hell doesn’t exist if a God you say exists does.

  41. #41 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    3 billion years less bloodsport.

    You seem to have left out the “why” part …

    It could not have; that god-model was created at least 1800 years before we knew the world was 4 billion years old.

    So? We’ve learned more about how the world works, but the concept has always included creating the world we’re in. So, either you allow them to update their conception based on new evidence or you don’t. If you don’t, then you don’t even need to talk about suffering at all; the initial creation story is inconsistent as is. If you do, though, then you have to allow them the opportunity to clarify what that extra age means to their concept, which you steadfastly refuse to do.

    I don’t want to repeat last thread’s discussion with you, because at this point I think its fruitless.

    Then why did you drag that topic back into this thread? Nothing in what I said or even in what Asher said required getting into this again, and yet you insisted on dragging it back in again. If every time this sort of discussion comes up you’re going to leap back to this line of argumentation, then you had better be prepared to defend your position. Again, _I_ didn’t bring this up, YOU did.

    You think that the christian god-model must be consistent with suffering because the bible recognizes that suffering exists.

    See, the reason the discussion is fruitless is because you continually ignore what I’m saying. After my saying repeatedly that that “must” part is not part of my contention, why do you keep insisting that it is? My view has always been that because of that part of that critical story you can’t simply say “There’s suffering!” and expect to refute it. You need to say a lot more. Your response to that has been consistent: say less, read even less than that.

    I don’t think the fact that one section of one story mentioning suffering means that everything said by every author in the book must be read in a consistent manner; nor do I think that believers necessarily fashion their god-concept in a consistent manner even given what’s in the book.

    If you dismiss that story, then you dismiss any reason to think that evolution and that religion are incompatible, because the sections that are being talked about here are, in fact, in the same story. You, then, could only be relying on your interpretation of other passages to get to your specific point which is NOT the one being fought over between IDers and their opponents. So you’re drifting off-topic. And even in that, as I pointed out in the other thread your argument is based on a whole lot of philosophically controversial views (like Utilitarianism, which is really the only way to make your “3 million less years” point feasible). And, again, I’m trying to build the most consistent concept possible given the source, regardless of what most people have worked out.

    But, again, if you don’t want to defend your position, then stop bringing it up every time we talk about evolution and religion.

  42. #42 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    MattiR,

    No evil; or at least, less evil.

    If you concede that there can be some “evil”, then the question is over how much is too much. To paraphrase Churchill, we know how things are and now we’re just negotiating price, but there’s a lot involved in that that cannot be settled in a short sound byte.

    Because God is supposed to be all-loving and all-powerful.

    But then the question is if you can allow suffering if even you can prevent it and you love someone. Parenting suggests that this is indeed true, because suffering can allow for development. So we return, then, to asking how much is too much.

    The orthodox Christian teaching is that God is omnipotent and benevolent.

    And? What does that mean for evolution specifically?

  43. #43 Wow
    March 5, 2012

    “You seem to have left out the “why” part …”

    There needs to be 3 billion years less bloodsport because God isn’t supposed to be getting off on snuff movies.

  44. #44 Wow
    March 5, 2012

    “And? What does that mean for evolution specifically?”

    Nothing. It’s got a lot to do with religion as discussed in the USA, however. If you want to discuss a religion that doesn’t exist with anyone, go find people who will agree with your religion first.

  45. #45 afrika mangosu
    March 5, 2012

    The orthodox Christian teaching is that God is omnipotent and benevolent.

  46. #46 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS:

    We’ve learned more about how the world works, but the concept has always included creating the world we’re in. So, either you allow them to update their conception based on new evidence or you don’t.

    The concept included the world the authors believed they were in. But pointing out that the authors got it wrong is a perfectly legitimate counter-argument.

    What you’re arguing is a form of last-thursdayism. There must be some empirical evidence that would be inconsistent with the concept based on a mismatch between what the book says and what reality says, or you’re making an omphalos argument.

  47. #47 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    There must be some empirical evidence that would be inconsistent with the concept based on a mismatch between what the book says and what reality says, or you’re making an omphalos argument.

    But whether any specific empirical evidence is inconsistent, and how to resolve that inconsistency, is something that needs to be argued about, and in my mind that’s what you refuse to do when you declare inconsistency and refuse to consider conceptual responses.

    (That being said, I’m an agnostic theist in the strongest possible sense of agnostic, which means that I actually do deny that such a thing is possible. But then I can and feel it my obligation to argue for that as well).

  48. #48 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS:

    Parenting suggests that this is indeed true, because suffering can allow for development. So we return, then, to asking how much is too much.

    The analogy to evolutionary suffering is extremely poor.

    Evolution works on population but kills individuals. No sane or good parent would accept their kid dying so someone else’s ‘more fit’ kid improves the gene pool. Our society considers such eugenics to be evil, but you are essentially making a direct analogy between how God treats humans and a big eugenics experiment carried out on millions of children.

    Also, fitness is local. There is no global fitness. Analogizing God’s parenting to evolution is to make his “lesson” – morality and ethics – equally local, equally condititional.

  49. #49 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS:

    But whether any specific empirical evidence is inconsistent, and how to resolve that inconsistency, is something that needs to be argued about, and in my mind that’s what you refuse to do

    !!

    My argument is, and has been: three billion years of unnecessary bloodsport is inconsistent with a notion of God as a being who dislikes human suffering, desires it’s end, and has the power to end/prevent it.

  50. #50 Wow
    March 5, 2012

    “But whether any specific empirical evidence is inconsistent, and how to resolve that inconsistency, is something that needs to be argued about”

    OK, so what specific empirical evidence do you claim is inconsistent, how, and with what?

    If you claim nothing is inconsistent, then given 3 billion years of bloody failure and the idiocy of, for example, human adaption, I can see only two options that the evidence of life allows without inconsistency:

    1) No God.

    2) A sadistic God.

  51. #51 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    My argument is, and has been: three billion years of unnecessary bloodsport is inconsistent with a notion of God as a being who dislikes human suffering, desires it’s end, and has the power to end/prevent it.

    That’s not an argument. That’s a statement, and a statement that you keep making despite being well-aware that a number of people challenge your interpretations of what any of that means or if those cases really are the case in the world. Note, for example, the shift here from “three billion years of unnecessary bloodsport” to the trait of “disliking human suffering”. There weren’t humans for those 3 billion years, and only for a small part of it, so how then would that be inconsistent? Yes, that sounds like a “Gotcha!” and in a sense it is, but what I’m using it for is to get at the point that a lot more thought and argument has to go into these sorts of discussions, and you continually ignore those considerations and retreat to the precise claim you make here, without ever plumbing the depths, even when the depths are directly pointed out to you, and then you accuse your OPPONENTS of some sort of trickery. That’s not at all kosher.

  52. #52 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    The analogy to evolutionary suffering is extremely poor.

    Evolution works on population but kills individuals.

    Interesting shift here, from “suffering” to “kills”. And even the latter isn’t true; God doesn’t kill things, they just die in what we used to, at least, call perfectly natural situations. Take the peppered moth example; when the pollution level changed, more of them were simply eaten by birds, no different than any other case except for the ones that were eaten. If having a world where things are eaten by other things, or where some things starve to death, or where some things simply don’t find each other to reproduce or get ignored for reproduction because their plumage isn’t attractive enough too much “suffering” for you? If so, then the 3 billion extra years of it is irrelevant to the discussion; the real debate is over those things happening at all. But if it isn’t, what, then, underpins your claim that 3 billion extra years suddenly WILL make it too much? As I said before, it sounds like a Utilitarian idea — the total suffering is what matters — but of course the people you are arguing with are not Utilitarians, and so you cannot simply toss that out as if you expect us all to just nod our heads and agree with this obvious logic. What seems obviously true often ends up not being true at all.

    Also, fitness is local. There is no global fitness. Analogizing God’s parenting to evolution is to make his “lesson” – morality and ethics – equally local, equally condititional.

    Help me out here: why does this matter? I’m not sure what point this is aimed at, but will simply note that this is a claim that seems far beyond the folk theological conception that you at least used to insist we stick to. I have no problem going beyond it, but want to make sure that you’re okay with that before taking the time to consider it. I don’t want you to back away from philosophical considerations again.

  53. #53 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS:

    Note, for example, the shift here from “three billion years of unnecessary bloodsport” to the trait of “disliking human suffering”. There weren’t humans for those 3 billion years, and only for a small part of it, so how then would that be inconsistent?

    Okay, I revise my statement down to a mere hundred thousand years of human bloodsport.

    I am not sure what sort of “plumbing the depths” you want me to do. Chrisitans tell me God hates cookies, yet there are cookie crumbs all over God’s table. I admit its not a very complicated argument, but then again, I don’t think it has to be.

    Interesting shift here, from “suffering” to “kills”….[On my point that fitness is local] Help me out here: why does this matter?

    Both points illustrate that a parental ‘light touch’ is a very poor analogy to God using evolution. The fact that parents let their kids skin their knees provides no justification for God allowing entire populations to starve to death and be killed so that the survivors will, as you put it, develop.

  54. #54 Wow
    March 5, 2012

    “Both points illustrate that a parental ‘light touch’ is a very poor analogy to God using evolution.”

    And parents, unlike God, didn’t create the world, they just live there. They also don’t have magical superpowers.

  55. #55 Spartan
    March 5, 2012

    VS:

    Note, for example, the shift here from “three billion years of unnecessary bloodsport” to the trait of “disliking human suffering”.

    Fair enough. Checking the OP, the claim by Jason is that ‘God is commonly said to love His creatures’. Not sure where you delineate between an ‘argument’ and a ‘statement’, but the question then is, if God really loves his creatures is billions of years of suffering and death by his creatures consistent with that? Or do you instead dispute that God loves his creatures? If he hated or was indifferent to his creatures, what should we then expect instead of this demonstration of his ‘love’?

  56. #56 Rilke's Granddaughter
    March 5, 2012

    But then the question is if you can allow suffering if even you can prevent it and you love someone. Parenting suggests that this is indeed true, because suffering can allow for development. So we return, then, to asking how much is too much.

    Your analogy is invalid: God is not a parent as we understand the term. Given omnipotence, any amount of physical suffering is incompatible with an omnibenevolent God.

  57. #57 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    I am not sure what sort of “plumbing the depths” you want me to do. Chrisitans tell me God hates cookies, yet there are cookie crumbs all over God’s table. I admit its not a very complicated argument, but then again, I don’t think it has to be.

    You could start with the challenges I did toss out, like about where your justification for the claim that the length of time matters or about if you think that general deaths and the like are a problem in and of themselves. Basically, again, people are replying to either say that having cookie crumbs on God’s table isn’t inconsistent or that those aren’t really cookie crumbs and you are replying as if the argument is still self-evidentally obvious. By now, you should know that it isn’t, at least not to the people who are listening to you and taken you seriously and yet still disagree with you.

    Both points illustrate that a parental ‘light touch’ is a very poor analogy to God using evolution. The fact that parents let their kids skin their knees provides no justification for God allowing entire populations to starve to death and be killed so that the survivors will, as you put it, develop.

    So you say. But I was asking for your argument and how it linked to your specific challenge of fitness being local and that meaning something to this debate and this supposed lack of justification, which you didn’t provide. At all. So I STILL have no idea what that comment about local fitness is supposed to mean to the debate.

  58. #58 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS:

    You could start with the challenges I did toss out, like about where your justification for the claim that the length of time matters or about if you think that general deaths and the like are a problem in and of themselves.

    Evolutionary deep time matters because the Bible has humans created with sentience and language intact. (Agriculture and civilization aren’t far behind – they appear with the second generation, in Gen 4.) The idea that god used natural selection to produce those things is nowhere to be found in your theology. Nowhere. It cannot be inferred or analogized from the text. It can be post-dicted, but that is all. In this case, biblical revealed truth has been to natural history what Nostradamus’ prophesies has been to 9/11.

    It matters because God is portrayed as not needing any such bloody mechanism. He can poof humans into existence. So if he didn’t need to develop humans in this way, it is perfectly fair to ask why he did it this way.

    Evolutionary deep time matters because the story of Genesis is about collective punishment visited on the descendants of people who sinned. But evolution teaches we don’t have such a pair of antecedents. Collective punishment is already a moral problem for the bible, but collective punishment of wholly innocent bystanders is a qualitatively different problem brought on by 20th century biology. One of the standard defenses of later biblical genocides is that nobody is truly innocent; we all inherited our sinful nature from these first folks. But there were no such “first folks.” You and I may not share any mated pair of ancestors at all, ever.

    Finally, it matters because from BC to 1850 AD, Jews and Christians interpreted Genesis as meaning a young earth. The incorrectness of that interpretation calls the whole process of revelation and biblical interpretation into question – simply, if you were that wrong about the time scale before, what else are you that wrong about now? Why should I trust a creation story to get the nature of God right if it can’t even get the time scale right?

    Now, I expect that some Christians think of evolutionary suffering as a theologically trivial addition to the theodicy problem. If you’re okay with the flood, a few billion more human and nonhuman victims hardly matters, eh? But I think for many Christians (and Jews), the amount and intensity of suffering does call into question God’s existence. To those folk, evolution should definitely matter.

  59. #59 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    Evolutionary deep time matters because the Bible has humans created with sentience and language intact. (Agriculture and civilization aren’t far behind – they appear with the second generation, in Gen 4.) The idea that god used natural selection to produce those things is nowhere to be found in your theology. Nowhere. It cannot be inferred or analogized from the text. It can be post-dicted, but that is all. In this case, biblical revealed truth has been to natural history what Nostradamus’ prophesies has been to 9/11.

    See, but all Biblical literalists accept this. They argue that we made a mistake, and the common response — and the one I personally favour — is that we interpreted a moral parable for a scientific treatise. I would argue — along with others — that we were wrong in taking that as being intended to be a description of the process as opposed to being a quick story tossed together to get to the important thing, which is in fact the description of the world and our moral character. This is, of course, debatable, but I would point out that what seem to be the two main themes of the story remain even when this is taken as a parable, while as you note the actual description doesn’t. But this is indeed the sort of debate that needs to be, well, debated and not simply stated as being some sort of overwhelming problem.

    It matters because God is portrayed as not needing any such bloody mechanism. He can poof humans into existence. So if he didn’t need to develop humans in this way, it is perfectly fair to ask why he did it this way.

    I agree, but argue that you don’t “ask why”, but instead insist that there is no such reason and, often, ignore attempts to give one.

    Evolutionary deep time matters because the story of Genesis is about collective punishment visited on the descendants of people who sinned. But evolution teaches we don’t have such a pair of antecedents. Collective punishment is already a moral problem for the bible, but collective punishment of wholly innocent bystanders is a qualitatively different problem brought on by 20th century biology. One of the standard defenses of later biblical genocides is that nobody is truly innocent; we all inherited our sinful nature from these first folks. But there were no such “first folks.” You and I may not share any mated pair of ancestors at all, ever.

    I agree that the Adam and Eve component is challenged by it and that that is a problem worth considering. I do not use the supposedly standard defense of the genocides that you cite — and, seriously, haven’t really heard of anyone actually using that except perhaps William Lane Craig — and so can only answer the Adam and Eve point the same way I did above: this is a parable, and thus we don’t need any kind of actual Adam and Eve to make it work and to still make Jesus’ sacrifice work out to be meaningful, which I argued in more detail on my site. Again, it’s all debatable, if you are willing to debate instead of assert.

    Finally, it matters because from BC to 1850 AD, Jews and Christians interpreted Genesis as meaning a young earth. The incorrectness of that interpretation calls the whole process of revelation and biblical interpretation into question – simply, if you were that wrong about the time scale before, what else are you that wrong about now? Why should I trust a creation story to get the nature of God right if it can’t even get the time scale right?

    It’s fine for you to find it untrustworthy, doubt, or decide that you find it too uncredible to trust. I have never objected to that. My comments are aimed entirely at your seeming claim that these are absolute fatal flaws that cannot be reconciled, and in response to that I reply that there are far more issues here than you seem to grasp, and multiple ways out that you do not seem to acknowledge to take on.

    Now, I expect that some Christians think of evolutionary suffering as a theologically trivial addition to the theodicy problem. If you’re okay with the flood, a few billion more human and nonhuman victims hardly matters, eh? But I think for many Christians (and Jews), the amount and intensity of suffering does call into question God’s existence. To those folk, evolution should definitely matter.

    For many of them, it undoubtedly will. But I would argue that that doubt is not raised due to any intellectual consideration, but instead simply due to an emotional reaction to the extra suffering. And relying on emotional reactions to make decisions about what you should or shouldn’t believe is generally a bad thing, I think you’ll agree. Thus, I want to put the debate on intellectual grounds, not the rough and ready emotionally laden analyses that infect folk religion. In short, I want to decide what’s right, not what most people feel comfortable with … a principle that I carry on into every philosophical debate I enter (including that of morality in general).

  60. #60 eric
    March 5, 2012

    (cont…)

    Regarding regular death and suffering, I do think those matter, both socially and theologically.

    Socially, the very reason Christian apologists write about theodicy is because it matters to the people they’re writing for. Augustine explained natural evil via devils in the 300s AD. Why did he have to do that, if regular Christians had no problem with natural evil? Answer: they did and do have a problem with it. As I said above, I think the amount and intensity of suffering does in fact matter to most Christians. They seek an explanation for it in theology precisely because their ‘raw’ conception of God does not give one.

    Theologically, the standard Christian conceptions of both Eden and Heaven are as places without suffering. So it is very clear that the standard christian God-conception can create worlds in which humans can live happy and fulfilled without suffering. Which brings up the obvious question: why doesn’t he just make this world like that? Or just pick us up and deposit us in a new world, free of suffering?

  61. #61 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    Socially, the very reason Christian apologists write about theodicy is because it matters to the people they’re writing for. Augustine explained natural evil via devils in the 300s AD. Why did he have to do that, if regular Christians had no problem with natural evil? Answer: they did and do have a problem with it. As I said above, I think the amount and intensity of suffering does in fact matter to most Christians. They seek an explanation for it in theology precisely because their ‘raw’ conception of God does not give one.

    But I’ve never denied that it was a problem that needed to be addressed. Instead, I would argue here that Augustine chose the wrong solution, and that as we examine the concepts in more detail we can see that maybe there isn’t a problem at all and you don’t need an answer like that of devils. Take the example of Utilitarianism and the trolley cases. While people do find it problematic to say that pushing someone in front of the train to stop it, Utilitarians can indeed argue that they’re just plain wrong to think that … even if some had started with trying to justify that in a Utilitarian way. Again, that people find it a problem doesn’t mean that it actually is, and my whole contention is that we need to examine if it really is and not simply rely on people’s intuitions. That it violates intuitions simply means that we have to think about it, not that we have to consider the intuitions sacrosanct or determinate.

    Theologically, the standard Christian conceptions of both Eden and Heaven are as places without suffering. So it is very clear that the standard christian God-conception can create worlds in which humans can live happy and fulfilled without suffering. Which brings up the obvious question: why doesn’t he just make this world like that? Or just pick us up and deposit us in a new world, free of suffering?

    Again, not saying that it isn’t an issue, but would reply that maybe it’s better for us to be in a world where there is some suffering than in a world where there is none at this stage of our lives/development. Or maybe suffering has no impact on moral responsibility at all and, again, God has a purpose that makes this sort of world preferred to him, and considering suffering at all is our mistake. Or any number of other considerations, all of which have strong philosophical backing. Again, they aren’t going to be totally convincing, but they certainly should allow us to at least claim that this “Problem of Evolutionary Suffering” is not as clear-cut and defining an objection as it seems; it’s not, I would say, an obviously true counter or refutation or even demonstrated inconsistency for God or religion.

  62. #62 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS @59 – you’ve acknowledged several of my arguments but not actually given any answers to them, in one case saying I don’t even ask. So I’m asking:

    Why should I trust a book that got the stuff about nature so horriby, horribly, wrong to get the stuff about God right?

    Why did God use the evolutionary mechanism?

    And relying on emotional reactions to make decisions about what you should or shouldn’t believe is generally a bad thing, I think you’ll agree. Thus, I want to put the debate on intellectual grounds, not the rough and ready emotionally laden analyses that infect folk religion. In short, I want to decide what’s right, not what most people feel comfortable with … a principle that I carry on into every philosophical debate I enter (including that of morality in general).

    On intellectual grounds, there is no reason to believe the authors of the bible had any special access to knowledge we don’t. There is no reason to believe all the various authors from different times and civilizations agreed with one another on every particular – i.e., no reason to believe that the bible gives a single god-concept at all. On intellectual grounds, there is no reason to believe the book is any more truthful about miracles than any other stone- or bronze- age story involving miracles.

    IOW, if you really want to start “on intellectual grounds,” theodicy is the least of your problems. Theodicy is an argument about content, but intellectually, the first problem you have to resolve is the one on authority: why trust this book at all?

  63. #63 Verbose Stoic
    March 5, 2012

    eric,

    Why should I trust a book that got the stuff about nature so horriby, horribly, wrong to get the stuff about God right?

    I answered it by saying that there is no reason why you should, and that my entire reply was aimed at you, basically, saying that no one else should either, even if they think that they’ve come up with a reason why it was wrong. Again, you can decide that you find it too uncredible to trust in any way, but don’t insist that everyone else do so.

    Why did God use the evolutionary mechanism?

    Specifically? Don’t know, any more than I know why one of the designers on this code before me wrote that function that way. My argument is that it isn’t inconsistent, necessarily. More work needs to be done to get to a specific why. I can make suggestions — like how amenable evolution is to scientific investigation — but we’d need to examine this a lot more to get anywhere.

    IOW, if you really want to start “on intellectual grounds,” theodicy is the least of your problems. Theodicy is an argument about content, but intellectually, the first problem you have to resolve is the one on authority: why trust this book at all?

    Intellectually and philosophically, my reply is that I don’t care. This book is the source of the concept and that is what I have to examine, right or wrong. What we get at the end will decide what we trust it for, or if we can at all. As I have said repeatedly.

  64. #64 Raging Bee
    March 5, 2012

    There is no “valid supporting data” for evolution.

    Okay, where’s the valid supporting data for any part of Genesis?

  65. #65 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS: Don’t know, any more than I know why one of the designers on this code before me wrote that function that way. My argument is that it isn’t inconsistent, necessarily.

    It is not necessarily inconsistent with some conceptions of God. And we can always be wrong about some perceived inconsistency, out of either stupidity or lack of data.

    Can we agree, however, that evolution appears, based on our current data and understanding, to be inconsistent with a conception of a God that loves his creations, doesn’t want them to suffer, and has both the ability and desire to construct worlds in which suffering is not a necessary component of existence?

  66. #66 eric
    March 5, 2012

    VS:

    Intellectually and philosophically, my reply is that I don’t care. This book is the source of the concept and that is what I have to examine, right or wrong.

    A fine answer for philosophy. A lousy one for theology.

    What we get at the end will decide what we trust it for, or if we can at all. As I have said repeatedly.

    That seems bass-ackwards. Do you treat other theologies the same way? I.e. consider whether to trust them based on the end you get with their premises? Or is it only Christianity that gets this special dispensation from questioning its premises?

  67. #67 Anonymous
    March 5, 2012

    All god arguments ultimately end up being based on the first person perspective.
    ‘I just don’t see how this all could have arisen by chance’
    ‘I don’t understand how there could be an uncaused cause. God has to be the first cause.’
    ‘I feel like there is a god, therefore he exists…sensus divinitatus, testimonium spiritus sancti internum, blah, blah.
    ‘I feel like I have a self, therefore I do.’

    The sooner we demolish the first person perspective the better.

  68. #68 Wow, God
    March 6, 2012

    “There is no “valid supporting data” for evolution.”

    Three letters: D N A.

    One fact: One human chromosome is the same as two Chimp chromosomes merged together, even to the unique internal telomerase ends in the middle of that human chromosome.

    One physiological fact: Bird wings have five fingers, as do Whale flippers and ape hands.

  69. #69 SLC
    March 6, 2012

    Re Wow @ #68

    One might also mention that the 4 species of apes and humans all have a broken gene for producing vitamin C. In virtually all other mammals, the gene is unbroken and active in producing vitamin C.

    The creationist explanation, such as it is, is that it is an amazing coincidence; evidently, the creator did it on a whim. The evolutionary explanation is that the gene was broken in the common ancestor of these species, which thus inherited it. The creationist explanation explains nothing, the evolutionary explanation explains everything.

  70. #70 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2012

    eric,

    Can we agree, however, that evolution appears, based on our current data and understanding, to be inconsistent with a conception of a God that loves his creations, doesn’t want them to suffer, and has both the ability and desire to construct worlds in which suffering is not a necessary component of existence?

    No, because of all the philosophical objections and issues that I’ve raised in our past discussions. It’s not clear that that inconsistency is there.

    A fine answer for philosophy. A lousy one for theology.

    First, I do philosophy more than theology, so that should be okay. Second, I think that if theology is philosophically uninformed then it’s useless, so then the philosophical answers count for theology as well.

    That seems bass-ackwards. Do you treat other theologies the same way? I.e. consider whether to trust them based on the end you get with their premises? Or is it only Christianity that gets this special dispensation from questioning its premises?

    If the context is that someone is arguing that the concept of a theology is inconsistent either with itself or with some empirical result, then absolutely. That would be a conceptual argument and conceptual arguments don’t go about trying to guess about the reliability of the source of the concept, but instead just try to figure out what the concept actually is. You keep conflating my specific belief with how I’m replying to the argument, and they ain’t related.

  71. #71 Wow
    March 6, 2012

    There is also the “hoof” of the horse: it’s a hand and so developed that they’re walking on one toe with the vestige of the other toes still just about there, if migrated out of the way.

    Human have the last of a tailbone, but no tail.

    Evolution takes a long time to remove them, and they only get removed if there is some advantage to doing so.

    More evidence for evolution.

    Though VS only talks to eric because eric will put up with his crap and at least pretend VS isn’t an idiotic blowhard.

  72. #72 eric
    March 6, 2012

    VS today:

    [eric] Can we agree, however, that evolution appears, based on our current data and understanding, to be inconsistent with a conception of a God that loves his creations, doesn’t want them to suffer, and has both the ability and desire to construct worlds in which suffering is not a necessary component of existence?

    [VS] No, because of all the philosophical objections and issues that I’ve raised in our past discussions. It’s not clear that that inconsistency is there.

    VS on Feb 22nd:

    I will agree — and have not denied — that a God that wanted to eliminate suffering and was all-powerful could indeed do so and so would be inconsistent with this world. So if someone insisted on believing that, they’d be believing in a God that does not exist.

    I am having trouble understanding how you can agree the one god-conception is inconsistent with the world (a month ago), but then claim the other one (today) may not be. Both conceptions have the same desires and powers. Is there some critical difference between the earlier god concept description and the later one that I’m missing? Have you changed your mind? Is there some other explanation?

    If you’ve changed your mind, I believe we are at an impasse.

  73. #73 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2012

    eric,

    Note the difference in the statements (it’s subtle, but lamentably I’m trained to notice those sorts of subtleties):

    First quote:

    doesn’t want them to suffer,

    Second quote:

    a God that wanted to eliminate suffering

    I concede that God would rather we not suffer, but don’t concede that that is a God that necessarily wants to eliminate suffering, as we’ve discussed before (see the important part of the parent analogy, as they clearly do not want their children to suffer but do not want to prevent it either because they think it benefits the children to do some suffering). That again is a big part of my appeal back to the Garden of Eden story: it states that God doesn’t want to eliminate suffering because for some reason we humans can’t be in such a world until we die.

  74. #74 Wow
    March 6, 2012

    So the first God doesn’t want his creation to suffer, but the second one wants to eliminate suffering.

    What, precisely, is the difference?

    “as they clearly do not want their children to suffer but do not want to prevent it either because they think it benefits the children to do some suffering”

    WRONG.

    This sort of BS has fathers beat the sh*t out of their kids “‘cos my pappy did it to me, and it never done me no harm!”.

    These complete retards, however, are no longer even a small minority of parents.

  75. #75 ildi
    March 6, 2012

    VS: I’ve been following the ongoing discussion between you and eric and I have to admit, even reading your answers several times, your position remains opaque to me, whereas eric’s position seems fairly clear. Maybe it’s because I was raised in and am surrounded by various forms of Christian ‘folk religion’ and was trained as a scientist?

    For example, your answer to eric’s question:

    “That seems bass-ackwards. Do you treat other theologies the same way? I.e. consider whether to trust them based on the end you get with their premises? Or is it only Christianity that gets this special dispensation from questioning its premises?”

    is

    “If the context is that someone is arguing that the concept of a theology is inconsistent either with itself or with some empirical result, then absolutely. That would be a conceptual argument and conceptual arguments don’t go about trying to guess about the reliability of the source of the concept, but instead just try to figure out what the concept actually is. You keep conflating my specific belief with how I’m replying to the argument, and they ain’t related.”

    How can they not be related?. I’m assuming you have come to your specific belief using these philosophical tools. How did you eliminate, for example, the god-concepts as described by other creation stories and settle for the Garden of Eden version described in the Bible? Maybe describing how you went through this process with other religions would clarify your point.

  76. #76 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2012

    ildi,

    How can they not be related?. I’m assuming you have come to your specific belief using these philosophical tools. How did you eliminate, for example, the god-concepts as described by other creation stories and settle for the Garden of Eden version described in the Bible? Maybe describing how you went through this process with other religions would clarify your point.

    So, to start, no, I have not, in fact, used these specific philosophical tools to form my specific belief in God. I was, in fact, taught it as a child, and was taught a lot of things as a child. It’s only when we start asking if that belief is justified/acceptable or if we start talking about the details of the concept that the philosophical tools come in, and I try to keep my own personal beliefs — especially my religious ones — out of those sorts of discussions.

    As for other religions, because I did form the Christian belief first that’s the one I accept, and I find — influenced by my philosophical ruminations, I admit — that I reject those only because I can’t believe them all at the same time. I’m quite sympathetic to the idea that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic conceptions are all simply different interpretations of the same God, but religiously I’m nominally Catholic. It isn’t some kind of deep philosophical examination or deep empirical argument that makes me reject the others, but merely the fact that in general it seems to be the case that I can’t believe all of them without having contradictory beliefs, and so I stick with the one I have. I am fully willing to accept the consequences of so doing.

    I hope this is clearer. My views are, in fact, quite eccentric and odd on this, a fact that I’m well-aware of. And I probably compartmentalize more than almost anyone else. All of this can make my discussions confusing if you try to treat me as believing the way other people believe.

  77. #77 eric
    March 6, 2012

    VS:

    I concede that God would rather we not suffer, but don’t concede that that is a God that necessarily wants to eliminate suffering, as we’ve discussed before

    Yes; I think this is the impasse, where I say ‘that isn’t the god most christians believe in” and you respond “I disagree, but even if you’re right, philosophically you, eric, should be going after the big fish (the rational conceptions), not the small ones (irrational ones).’

    (see the important part of the parent analogy, as they clearly do not want their children to suffer but do not want to prevent it either because they think it benefits the children to do some suffering) [sic].

    Human parents tolerate suffering because they are not omnipotent and omniscent, and therefore know of no realistic way of imparting the positive lessons without the negative consequences. If we did (know how to do that), I can pretty much guarantee you we’d implement it.

    So your analogy does not solve anything, it merely restates the theodicy problem: either god can’t impart lessons without suffering, or he can but chooses not to.

    As for other religions, because I did form the Christian belief first that’s the one I accept, and I find — influenced by my philosophical ruminations, I admit — that I reject those only because I can’t believe them all at the same time.

    I think few philosophers would ever really agree with your approach, for exactly the reason you state: testing arguments for validity while completely ignoring whether they are sound would get you into the position of believing multiple contradictory things. So it cannot be, in itself, a sufficient, rational, reason to believe anything. In this respect, your argument has the same problem as Pascal’s wager (it also leads to a near-infinity of contradictory conclusions).

  78. #78 ildi
    March 6, 2012

    So, to start, no, I have not, in fact, used these specific philosophical tools to form my specific belief in God. I was, in fact, taught it as a child, and was taught a lot of things as a child. It’s only when we start asking if that belief is justified/acceptable or if we start talking about the details of the concept that the philosophical tools come in, and I try to keep my own personal beliefs — especially my religious ones — out of those sorts of discussions.

    Let me get this straight… you practice ‘folk’ religion; i.e., what you were taught as a child, and you fault eric for not using ‘sophisticated theology’ when you deliberately refuse to apply any of this to your own belief system? That comes across as the height of hypocrisy.

    What was the point of all your learning if you don’t apply it to yourself? You’ve just reinforced my perception that philosophy has minimal utility.

  79. #79 Owlmirror
    March 6, 2012

    One might also mention that the 4 species of apes and humans all have a broken gene for producing vitamin C. In virtually all other mammals, the gene is unbroken and active in producing vitamin C.

    All haplorhine primates — which includes some monkeys, but not all of them — have the broken gene. (Humans and the other apes are all haplorhine primates).

    Guinea pigs have a broken vitamin C synthesis system as well, but it’s broken differently.

    And I see that some bats, fish, and passerine birds also have a broken synthesis system.

      dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027114

    I once wondered how Eskimo managed to survive in the north without fresh greens to supply vitamin C, and then found out that they eat raw whale blubber, which is very rich in vitamin C. Whales, of course, are extremely derived artiodactyls, but never lost the vitamin C synthesis gene.

  80. #80 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2012

    eric,

    Yes; I think this is the impasse, where I say ‘that isn’t the god most christians believe in” and you respond “I disagree, but even if you’re right, philosophically you, eric, should be going after the big fish (the rational conceptions), not the small ones (irrational ones).’

    Slight quibble here: my point is about going after the well-thought out and examined ones instead of the vague ones, not the ones that are rational and the ones that are irrational. The vague ones might be rational and the examined ones irrational.

    Human parents tolerate suffering because they are not omnipotent and omniscent, and therefore know of no realistic way of imparting the positive lessons without the negative consequences. If we did (know how to do that), I can pretty much guarantee you we’d implement it.

    So your analogy does not solve anything, it merely restates the theodicy problem: either god can’t impart lessons without suffering, or he can but chooses not to.

    And this then depends on what omnipotence can actually do. My argument would be that what you’re asking is for God to give the benefits of us experiencing suffering without us actually experiencing suffering, which seems close to a logical impossibility if the benefits really do accrue from actually experiencing it. Since I do not hold that omnipotence gives the ability to do the logically impossible, I’d be arguing that you’re asking for the logically impossible and so there’s no reason to think that not being able to do it would, in fact, mean anything about God.

    And in more minor arguments we still have to deal with God simply deciding that allowing suffering was the best way for other reasons. Your “Problem of Suffering” tries to add in the contradiction with benevolence, but then we have to ask what the moral status of allowing suffering actually is. Which is a rather big topic.

    I think few philosophers would ever really agree with your approach, for exactly the reason you state: testing arguments for validity while completely ignoring whether they are sound would get you into the position of believing multiple contradictory things. So it cannot be, in itself, a sufficient, rational, reason to believe anything. In this respect, your argument has the same problem as Pascal’s wager (it also leads to a near-infinity of contradictory conclusions).

    Why do you keep interpreting my comments as testing for validity and not soundness? I do no such thing. Here, my philosophical underpinning is epistemological: I argue that it is rational to maintain a belief as long as you hold no contradictory beliefs in your Web of Belief and you don’t know it’s false. But that doesn’t get you to knowledge claims, but you will note that I make no knowledge claims. I also, you will note, don’t claim that anyone else in the debate is in fact holding an irrational belief; we don’t share the same belief, but I argue that even strong atheists are not, in fact, irrational for believing that God doesn’t exist. So, with all of that together, I think your objections here don’t in fact impact my beliefs at all, unless you claim that you have a valid and sound argument that would justify a claim that you know that God doesn’t exist. At which point, I’d want to see it, but would insist on being able to examine it in light of as much as I possibly can to see if it really works out. Which, you will note, is what I do to theistic arguments as well. That agnostic in my agnostic theism ain’t just for show [grin].

  81. #81 Verbose Stoic
    March 6, 2012

    ildi,

    I think I might have misinterpreted you here. I took your “come to your specific belief” to be asking me how it was formed, and that wasn’t philosophically, but you seem to be taking it stronger and so take my denial as saying that my specific God beliefs are totally uninfluenced by my philosophical examinations. That’s not the case. For example, I’m an agnostic theist because of my philosophical discussions, and I did give the example of why I reject others as being influenced by my philosophical thoughts. I also do hold a deeper view of omnipotence and benevolence because of other philosophical discussions. So my philosophy does influence my God beliefs, but I try very hard to never let it be the other way around.

  82. #82 Owlmirror
    March 6, 2012

    My argument would be that what you’re asking is for God to give the benefits of us experiencing suffering without us actually experiencing suffering, which seems close to a logical impossibility if the benefits really do accrue from actually experiencing it.

    You’re implicitly assuming that “experiencing suffering” is necessarily beneficial. Indeed, you seem to be arguing that “experiencing suffering” is necessary, for some imagined goal.

    Since I do not hold that omnipotence gives the ability to do the logically impossible, I’d be arguing that you’re asking for the logically impossible and so there’s no reason to think that not being able to do it would, in fact, mean anything about God.

    Would you argue that it’s logically impossible for the imagined goal to not include suffering?

    Would you argue that God has “experienced suffering”, or not?

  83. #83 Kel
    March 6, 2012

    Perhaps it’s an appropriate time to link this:
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/?db=comics&id=2292#comic

  84. #84 eric
    March 6, 2012

    VS:

    My argument would be that what you’re asking is for God to give the benefits of us experiencing suffering without us actually experiencing suffering, which seems close to a logical impossibility if the benefits really do accrue from actually experiencing it.

    I do not see any logical impossibility here. The lessons we are talking about are human experiential lessons, like ‘don’t jump off the roof’ or ‘don’t touch the hot stove’ or ‘smoking cigarettes is likely to give you lung cancer.’ There is nothing logically impossible about learning these things without doing them, and thousands or millions of humans do that. If you were right and there was a logical connection, then these lessons would be impossible to learn without suffering. Are you willing to say that these human life lessons are impossible to learn without suffering? If so, I would really, really like an example of one. Give me your best shot of an experiential lesson that nobody has ever learned without suffering – that nobody could learn without suffering.

  85. #85 eric
    March 6, 2012

    VS:

    Here, my philosophical underpinning is epistemological: I argue that it is rational to maintain a belief as long as you hold no contradictory beliefs in your Web of Belief and you don’t know it’s false.

    I am skeptical that you really apply this equally across the board. Do you think it is rational for someone to believe in faeries in their garden? Invisible dragons in their garage? Magical pink flying unicorns that we can’t see? FSM? The great green arkleseizure?

    God is in the same boat with these beliefs, but I seriously doubt you would say the non-standard ones are rational. But go ahead, surprise me, tell me you find a belief in faeries in one’s garden to be rational as long as it doesn’t contradict anything in one’s web of beliefs and one doesn’t know its false.

  86. #86 Owlmirror
    March 7, 2012

    Give me your best shot of an experiential lesson that nobody has ever learned without suffering – that nobody could learn without suffering.

    Does “nobody” also include God (as VS’s conceptual analysis posits)?

  87. #87 Owlmirror
    March 7, 2012

    Does “nobody” also include God (as VS’s conceptual analysis posits)?

    That is, the God that VS’s conceptual analysis posits.

    Inasmuch as VS’s God appears to be a Stoic God — or a God that has Stoic values — I suspect that VS’s answer to the question (of the experiential lesson) might be something like “learning that one is capable of coping with suffering”.

    But that still would leave questions. Not just about God, but about all those who could not or would not “learn” the lesson.

  88. #88 Havok
    March 7, 2012

    Verbose Stoic: This book is the source of the concept and that is what I have to examine, right or wrong.

    But why think the concept is anything more than a concept, or come up with ad-hoc rationalisation in order to try to change the original concept from the book into something compatible with reality as we now understand it?
    Why not simply accept that the concept was mistaken, and relegate that book to the same pile as those of other similarly failed concepts?

  89. #89 Art C
    March 7, 2012

    Asher says he is religious, but it’s not clear what that means. Is he just a deist of some sort? My impression of the article was that it simply said: “I’m a deist, so I’m OK.”

  90. #90 Kel
    March 7, 2012

    Intellectually and philosophically, my reply is that I don’t care. This book is the source of the concept and that is what I have to examine, right or wrong. What we get at the end will decide what we trust it for, or if we can at all. As I have said repeatedly.

    One could say the same thing for Lord Of The Rings, yet I think that if anyone took it seriously they would be rightfully laughed at for doing so. Surely you care enough to have reasons to dig through the bible in the first place; that there’s at least good reason to do so.

  91. #91 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    Moreover, LoTR was INTENDED to be a saga for the Aboriginal British, where our earlier culture had been subsumed by wave of Saxon or French, or Italian or pretty much everyone in Europe coming over and invading for centuries. It is meant to be the creation myth that those Aboriginal British would have had (hence the shire and all Good Peoples ™ come from England, uh, I mean, “The Shire”…).

    As such, it is PRECISELY the same as a Bible. Just that it’s recent enough that we could ask the author if they meant it was literally true.

  92. #92 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “Indeed, you seem to be arguing that “experiencing suffering” is necessary, for some imagined goal.”

    Of course, that imagined goal is precisely this:

    That VS’s God Can Be Real.

    That’s the goal. No more, no less. Whatever is necessary to refute any proofs that his god is nonexistent by self contradiction will be argued. Therefore, since suffering is experienced and is inconsistent with VS’s God (even though they insist it isn’t), the suffering MUST BE NECESSARY.

    For no other reason than VS’s God can then be forced to allow it.

  93. #93 Verbose Stoic
    March 7, 2012

    Owlmirror,

    You’re implicitly assuming that “experiencing suffering” is necessarily beneficial. Indeed, you seem to be arguing that “experiencing suffering” is necessary, for some imagined goal.

    You’re ignoring the context. The context is that people like Jason and eric are saying that suffering and God’s attributes are incompatible. I’m simply saying that there might be cases or goals where experiencing suffering is required in order to achieve those goals, and so God might be aiming after that. It’s all about reducing the certainty or even plausibility of the argument that there is a worrying inconsistency here. Now, if I was using the world to argue that it must include a God, that would be a different matter. But I’m not.

    Would you argue that God has “experienced suffering”, or not?

    I’m not taking any position, but note that my favoured reason — moral development — is not something that God requires but that we do.

  94. #94 Verbose Stoic
    March 7, 2012

    eric,

    The lessons we are talking about are human experiential lessons, like ‘don’t jump off the roof’ or ‘don’t touch the hot stove’ or ‘smoking cigarettes is likely to give you lung cancer.’

    Um, who says that’s what we’re talking about? Unless you’re taking the analogy WAY further that it can be reasonably interpreted as being intended, those aren’t the sort of things that you yourself consider problematic for God’s existence.

    I am skeptical that you really apply this equally across the board. Do you think it is rational for someone to believe in faeries in their garden? Invisible dragons in their garage? Magical pink flying unicorns that we can’t see? FSM? The great green arkleseizure?

    God is in the same boat with these beliefs, but I seriously doubt you would say the non-standard ones are rational. But go ahead, surprise me, tell me you find a belief in faeries in one’s garden to be rational as long as it doesn’t contradict anything in one’s web of beliefs and one doesn’t know its false.

    Well, you have to have something outside of your OWN mind to posit it. We have that for God; the Bible and cultural tradition. We don’t have that for most of the things you cite, so God ISN’T in the same boat as them in what I’d consider any relevant way. Perhaps you can go into more detail as to why you think them related.

    Note that this falls under the Web of Belief idea, because almost all of us agree that you can’t — except perhaps under really radical circumstances — simply invent something in your head and assert that it has reality in the same way as those things you cite have reality. Thus, you’d have a conflicting belief, and would need something else to overcome that.

  95. #95 Verbose Stoic
    March 7, 2012

    Owlmirror,

    Inasmuch as VS’s God appears to be a Stoic God — or a God that has Stoic values — I suspect that VS’s answer to the question (of the experiential lesson) might be something like “learning that one is capable of coping with suffering”.

    Considering that I did address this before when you accused me of that, I find this insistence on being a “Stoic God” tiresome. When we talk about things like benevolence, we talk about morality. Morality is a concept that is impacted by philosophical arguments outside of the actual theological debate. Eric seems to use a Utilitarian idea to raise the problem, and my bringing in the Stoics is just to point out that that philosophical underpinning is far more controversial than he thinks. Surely you will agree that what it means to be moral or benevolent is relevant to discussions of whether or not suffering is incompatible with those traits, no?

  96. #96 Verbose Stoic
    March 7, 2012

    Havok,

    But why think the concept is anything more than a concept, or come up with ad-hoc rationalisation in order to try to change the original concept from the book into something compatible with reality as we now understand it? Why not simply accept that the concept was mistaken, and relegate that book to the same pile as those of other similarly failed concepts?

    Because I’m not trying to change the original concept from the book, but clarify what the actual concept from the book really is. I might have to consign it there, but not until I make sure that I know what concept is actually being expressed in that book.

  97. #97 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “I’m not taking any position,”

    Please take one. You keep talking about “God” and what it is, but refuse to take any position on it. If you have no position on what God is, then you can’t say it exists, since you haven’t defined “it”.

  98. #98 Verbose Stoic
    March 7, 2012

    Kel,

    One could say the same thing for Lord Of The Rings, yet I think that if anyone took it seriously they would be rightfully laughed at for doing so. Surely you care enough to have reasons to dig through the bible in the first place; that there’s at least good reason to do so.

    Well, if someone was arguing, say, that the concept of elves in Tolkien was inconsistent between “The Fellowship of the Ring” and how it was depicted in “The Return of the King”, examining that to see if it did work would not be laughed at, since that’s what literary analysis does. If someone today tried to examine if it is consistent with this world that would be laughed because we know it’s fiction and so it isn’t talking about things in this world; we all know that Tolkien was not in any way trying to imply that elves lived in this world.

    Fast forward 2000 years, where all of that context is lost. Imagine that society has accepted that it might be a historical work. In that world, would the sort of things I suggest doing be laughed at?

  99. #99 eric
    March 7, 2012

    Owlmirror:

    Does “nobody” also include God (as VS’s conceptual analysis posits)?

    Yes. For VS to argue logical impossibility, it must be impossible for any agent to do it under any circumstances.

  100. #100 eric
    March 7, 2012

    VS (in reply to Owlmirror):

    I’m simply saying that there might be cases or goals where experiencing suffering is required in order to achieve those goals, and so God might be aiming after that.

    This would seem to contradict the eden story which you have very heavily cited over the past couple of months. Standard christian theology takes eden as suffering-free (or at least greatly reduced) and explains most if not all of our suffering as a result of the fall. One can’t claim that, and simultaneously argue that the amount of suffering we have in this world is necessary to achieve God’s goals…unless you are claiming God intended us to fall?

    Heaven also poses a problem. You must posit a view of heaven which is very nonstandard in that it includes suffering, or posit a different but equally nonstandard view in which nobody in heaven can make progress towards these goals God has. Nor can you say that suffering experienced on earth allows us to learn without suffering in heaven, since standard theology places baptized infants in heaven. Well, I suppose you could get out of this by saying a few milliseconds of suffering is all that’s needed, but then we are back to the question of why this world contains a lot more suffering than that.

    [On faerie and dragon beliefs, etc.]Well, you have to have something outside of your OWN mind to posit it. We have that for God; the Bible and cultural tradition. We don’t have that for most of the things you cite, so God ISN’T in the same boat as them in what I’d consider any relevant way.

    You can’t seriously be arguing that faeries do not have the cultural support that Yahweh does. They have more. Legends of them occur in vastly more cultures, likely over more time, and they were likely believed by vastly more people prior to, oh, let’s say about 300 AD.

    You claimed a belief is rational when it meets your criteria: non-contradiction, don’t know its false, and now your newly added criteria, an independent (cultural) reference source. Fairies certainly have all of that. As do unicorns, centaurs, giants, dwarves. How can you dismiss them as not being comparable? I think you are very close to making a No True Scotsman argument here: citing a need for some independent cultural source, and then dismissing any belief you don’t like by saying their cultural source isn’t comparable to yours.

  101. #101 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “Fast forward 2000 years, where all of that context is lost.”

    If that context is lost:

    a) How do you know it ever existed?

    b) Maybe the context was “We made it all up. Sorry for the inconvenience”

    And are you now saying that you believe in Literary Analysis, not God?

  102. #102 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “Standard christian theology takes eden as suffering-free (or at least greatly reduced)”

    I don’t see “greatly reduced” in the story of Eden AT ALL. I see suffering free. Even the meat-eaters didn’t eat meat until AFTER Eden was closed down.

    “an independent (cultural) reference source”

    The FSM has that too.

  103. #103 Verbose Stoic
    March 7, 2012

    eric,

    It contradicts neither, since the Eden story clearly states that there is some kind of different state or event that occurs that changes things, and heaven is for after you’ve done all you need to do. Which, BTW, I’ve gone over before. Why in the world do you think that those completely different situations that we’ve talked about before would matter?

    You can’t seriously be arguing that faeries do not have the cultural support that Yahweh does.

    I’m not. Recall what examples you used:

    Do you think it is rational for someone to believe in faeries in their garden? Invisible dragons in their garage? Magical pink flying unicorns that we can’t see? FSM? The great green arkleseizure?

    The last two are knwon to be fictional. The unicorn case doesn’t apply to any of the legends of unicorns. Ditto for dragons, and you also add in a specific case (in their garage). And the former is again a specific case. So counting backwards the first two’s cultrual context is that they are fictional, the third case doesn’t match the cultural context that would give rise to the context, the next one also doesn’t match the context and provides a specific detail that can’t be justified by it, and the last one also adds in that specific element and so can’t be justified by the cultural context.

    So, then, tell me precisely what spawning event you think generates the ideas that you think are similar to God. I don’t see it, at least not in reference to what I actually say, which is something that you have trouble with:

    You claimed a belief is rational when it meets your criteria: non-contradiction, don’t know its false, and now your newly added criteria, an independent (cultural) reference source.

    Interesting how you continue to ignore what I actually say in my comments and then criticize me based on your ideas and not mine. This is striking me as being incredibly disingenuous. Take that “newly added criteria”, about which I said:

    Note that this falls under the Web of Belief idea, because almost all of us agree that you can’t — except perhaps under really radical circumstances — simply invent something in your head and assert that it has reality in the same way as those things you cite have reality. Thus, you’d have a conflicting belief, and would need something else to overcome that.

    So, not a new criteria at all, is it? Or if you disagree, then disagree and argue against me. Kindly stop ignoring what I say to go on the offensive.

    I say that if you have a belief that contradicts none of your existing beliefs and that you do not have the justification to claim to know that it is false, then it is not irrational to believe it. Your examples do not in any way impact that, and you seem to have not bothered to address it other than to bring up things that you’re sure no one would ever claim it is rational to believe. So let’s talk about fairies and dragons in general. If you are going to claim that it is irrational to believe that they have or do exist, what basis do you have for that claim? Do you know that they are false? Do you know that everyone must have a competing belief? Do you know that they are just made up? If you know any of these things, then we would agree that to believe they exist would be irrational. Do you know any of those things about God? Recalling that knowledge does not require certainty, so you can’t accuse me of demanding certainty.

    For me, for those general things I reply that I merely lack belief, literally. I do not claim to know that they don’t exist. And that’s what atheism as a mere lack of belief is limited to. Do you hold a stronger atheism than that? And if you do, then what is your justification for that, one that should apply to people who are not you and don’t have the same beliefs as you?

    Maybe if you think about and answer these questions you might start to have a response that actually relates to what I’m actually claiming instead of you leaping on one word and riding that to a full argument that doesn’t relate to my claims at all.

  104. #104 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “The last two are knwon to be fictional”

    WRONG.

    All we know is that someone says they’re fictional.

  105. #105 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “since the Eden story clearly states that there is some kind of different state or event that occurs that changes things, and heaven is for after you’ve done all you need to do.”

    Do you think you could clearly state something there?

    There’s a good chap.

    PS “The unicorn case doesn’t apply to any of the legends of unicorns” Well, duh. THEY WERE INVISIBLE. Therefore, despite actually existing, that species of “cloaked” unicorn was never mentioned. It’s only now when we have studied the unicorn literature that we have discovered the gap that describes where a pink unicorn would exist if it weren’t invisible.

  106. #106 eric
    March 7, 2012

    VS:

    Why in the world do you think that those completely different situations [eden and heaven] that we’ve talked about before would matter?

    Because they refute the argument that suffering is required to achieve God’s goals. Which is an argument you’ve stated. I won’t say you stand behind it – maybe you were offering it as a hypothetical. But you did indeed propose that argument.

    [On fairies etc.] The last two are knwon to be fictional.

    We certainly have good, independent-of-the-text, empirical, reasons to believe the events and entities they describe are fictional. But nonbelievers say the same about the bible, yes?

    I say that if you have a belief that contradicts none of your existing beliefs and that you do not have the justification to claim to know that it is false, then it is not irrational to believe it. Your examples do not in any way impact that

    I think they do, and I think you are falling for a sort of No True Scotsman fallacy when you say they don’t.

    To get to Yahweh-but-not-fairies you have to (1) claim you have no justification to know the bible is false, while (2) claiming you do have justification to know stories about fairies are false.

    But the jutifications in both cases are the same. In both cases, one looks outside the book for evidence that will confirm or invalidate the claims of the book. You find no confirming evidence of fairies and evidence that people made sh*t up about them, so you don’t believe them. Well, guess what? There is no confirming evidence of God and people make sh*t up about God all the time.

    So, why is such evidence a justification for knocking out fairy belief but No True Justification for knocking out Yahweh belief?

  107. #107 Verbose Stoic
    March 7, 2012

    eric,

    I’m fed up with how you don’t bother to actually read my comments before replying to them. So tell me how in the world you get from my saying this about fairies:

    For me, for those general things [fairies and dragons] I reply that I merely lack belief, literally. I do not claim to know that they don’t exist.

    To this that you claim I said:

    To get to Yahweh-but-not-fairies you have to (1) claim you have no justification to know the bible is false, while (2) claiming you do have justification to know stories about fairies are false.

    FFS you’re claiming that I’m claiming to know when I explicitly stated that I didn’t. Seriously, WTF?

    And you didn’t even deign to answer any of my questions. Why in the world should I think that you’re actually interested in anything that looks like an honest discussion when you ignore the questions I asked you to answer and make such an egregious misstatement of my actual position?

  108. #108 eric
    March 7, 2012

    Prickly today, VS. I am reading your posts, but I do not think you understand the focus of my objection to your criteria, which is your rationality claim.

    Now, I read from your messages that you think a belief in God is rational in a way belief in these other things are not. But maybe that was an incorrect reading on my part. So, let’s stick with fairies and clarify your position on the relative rationality of fairies vs Yahweh. So I want to know whether you think:

    (1) God and fairies are both rational to believe in following your criteria

    (2) Both irrational to believe in following your criteria, or

    (3) One is irrational and the other is rational.

    As may be apparent, I will likely take issue with (3). (1) to me is a decidedly odd view of what counts as rational, but at worst its just a case of applying an odd definition consistently, which is not a major disagreement.

  109. #109 Kel
    March 7, 2012

    Well, if someone was arguing, say, that the concept of elves in Tolkien was inconsistent between “The Fellowship of the Ring” and how it was depicted in “The Return of the King”, examining that to see if it did work would not be laughed at, since that’s what literary analysis does. If someone today tried to examine if it is consistent with this world that would be laughed because we know it’s fiction and so it isn’t talking about things in this world; we all know that Tolkien was not in any way trying to imply that elves lived in this world.

    Fast forward 2000 years, where all of that context is lost. Imagine that society has accepted that it might be a historical work. In that world, would the sort of things I suggest doing be laughed at?

    I’m suggesting it ought to be, yes.

  110. #110 Owlmirror
    March 7, 2012

    You’re ignoring the context.

    I’m trying to understand the context. So far, your explanation of the context appears to be “maybe there’s a good reason for experiencing suffering”, without actually giving that good reason.

    Would you argue that God has “experienced suffering”, or not?

    I’m not taking any position, but note that my favoured reason — moral development — is not something that God requires but that we do.

    Would you agree that this is special pleading?

    Why would we need “moral development” that requires “experiencing suffering”, when God does not?

    How, exactly, does “moral development” require “experiencing suffering”? Is it logically impossible to have moral development without experiencing suffering? You imply that it is not logically impossible, because God presumably has “moral development” without needing to “experience suffering”. In that case, it is not logically impossible for us to have moral development without experiencing suffering, contra your earlier statements.

    If you really want that conceptual consistency, you need to address those questions.

    Considering that I did address this before when you accused me of that, I find this insistence on being a “Stoic God” tiresome.

    I didn’t “accuse” you of anything; I asked. I don’t “insist”; I offer the possibility, allowing you to correct me. And I find your verbose evasions and waffling and unclear verbiage to be tiresome.

    So would you now say that you are not offering Stoicism as any sort of philosophical guide to conceptions, and certainly neither confirm nor deny that Stoicism is for certain the proper philosophical school to use for these sorts of conceptions as they may or may not be conceived but rather merely hold out Stoic concepts as being counterexamples to conceptions of concepts as conceived by your interlocutors, without in any way insisting that these concepts are or need be the proper ones to conceive of in order to achieve the consistency of philosophical concepts that you might say that you are hoping might exist and be conceptually reconciled with some sort of currently undefined but conceptually consistent God?

    (OK, I was trying for your style and mode of writing, and I think it segued into Sir Humphrey Appleby’s, which I think is entirely understandable.)

    Surely you will agree that what it means to be moral or benevolent is relevant to discussions of whether or not suffering is incompatible with those traits, no?

    I suppose so. Yet your attempts to offer the possibility of the compatibility of suffering with benevolence and/or morality end up with the sort of ad-hoc special pleading I note above.

  111. #111 Havok
    March 7, 2012

    Verbose Stoic: Because I’m not trying to change the original concept from the book, but clarify what the actual concept from the book really is.

    Except that that is not what you are doing at all, at least, it does not appear to be the case.
    Firtsly, and as someone else has pointed out, there appear to different, conflicting “god concepts” within the pages of the bible.
    Secondly, you are assuming that behind all of this clutter, ambiguity and incoherence there is a coherent “concept” to be laid bare. But the actual history of the texts and of the adherents to them doesn’t appear to support this supposition of yours.

    So you are indeed changing the original concept or concepts. You are trying to find something that fits in with modern knowledge and sensibilities, but that you can still call the God of the bible.
    Any possible result you get from this would be unrecognisable to anyone who actually wrote the texts you’re referring to.

    Verbose Stoic: I might have to consign it there, but not until I make sure that I know what concept is actually being expressed in that book.

    And once you’ve consigned or accepted the “original concept” you’ve created, will you then go on to further examine the texts of the Zoroatrian’s, to see if their “original God concept” can also be retrieved? Or perhaps the Greeks?

    Basically I wonder why you bother to try, given the obvious constructing nature of your endeavour, and given the actual history of the texts in question (you’re analogue to the LOtR is actually apt, given the lack of historical support for the biblical story, and the lack of historical support that the LOtR would have).

  112. #112 Wow
    March 8, 2012

    “Because I’m not trying to change the original concept from the book, but clarify what the actual concept from the book really is.”

    Except you’re NOT clarifying.

    How is this:

    “since the Eden story clearly states that there is some kind of different state or event that occurs that changes things, and heaven is for after you’ve done all you need to do.”

    supposed to be clarifying ANYTHING?

    All it clearly states is that you can’t clearly state anything from the Eden story.

  113. #113 Wow
    March 8, 2012

    (OK, I was trying for your style and mode of writing, and I think it segued into Sir Humphrey Appleby’s, which I think is entirely understandable.)

    I LoL’d.

  114. #114 Verbose Stoic
    March 8, 2012

    Havok,

    Firtsly, and as someone else has pointed out, there appear to different, conflicting “god concepts” within the pages of the bible.

    And if that’s true, then the conceptual analysis will show that as we discover that we can’t form a coherent, non-conflicting concept out of it. Which, then, theology will have to deal with. So, for example, if we discover that you can’t keep a consistent God concept through the OT and NT, and so have to either have an OT God or an NT God, that will be of great interest to any theology that thinks you can do both. I’m just refusing to say that that is indeed the case based on only cursory examinations.

    Secondly, you are assuming that behind all of this clutter, ambiguity and incoherence there is a coherent “concept” to be laid bare. But the actual history of the texts and of the adherents to them doesn’t appear to support this supposition of yours.

    As with eric, you seem to be assuming that I have decided what the answer is. I haven’t. I’m just not as convinced as you are that there cannot be such a concept, and am basically saying that we need to do the work to figure out if one can be wrung out of it or not.

    And once you’ve consigned or accepted the “original concept” you’ve created, will you then go on to further examine the texts of the Zoroatrian’s, to see if their “original God concept” can also be retrieved? Or perhaps the Greeks?

    Look, philosophically philosophy of religion is something like 5th — after luge [grin] — on my list of philosophical interests. I engage it when I’m interested in it. I’m barely interested in discussions of the Christian God philosophically. I have a bit more interest in it because of my theism, which means that at times I get into arguments with people that have a philosophical component when discussiing it. Then I go do philosophy on it. If I was interested in or engaged in discussions about those other things, I would follow the very same procedure, and would do the same things. Thus, your comment here strikes me as asking someone trying to preserve Newtonian gravity model if they’d do the same for Rutherford’s atomic model. The answer is likely to be “Maybe, if I was interested in doing that”.

    I don’t understand what you’re trying to say in the LotR example …

  115. #115 Wow
    March 8, 2012

    “As with eric, you seem to be assuming that I have decided what the answer is”

    If you don’t know the answer to the question “What god or bible story are you talking about”, then what have you been doing the last five months?

  116. #116 Verbose Stoic
    March 8, 2012

    Owlmirror,

    I’m trying to understand the context. So far, your explanation of the context appears to be “maybe there’s a good reason for experiencing suffering”, without actually giving that good reason.

    Ignoring the part where I actually tell you the context is a great way to try to understand it:

    The context is that people like Jason and eric are saying that suffering and God’s attributes are incompatible. … Now, if I was using the world to argue that it must include a God, that would be a different matter. But I’m not.

    I don’t need a convincing reason that proves that there is a God with such a goal to cast doubt on whether their argument actually holds.

    Why would we need “moral development” that requires “experiencing suffering”, when God does not?

    Because God is already developed morally, and may have it intrinsically if we are to take those traits that are harped on seriously?

    Look, we could write entire books trying to shake this all out. How much of that do you want? Especially snce you decry my “unclear verbiage” without bothering to stop and ask if it might be unclear because you don’t have the grounding you need to really understand it.

    This is one of the main reasons why the “engage sophisticated theology” isn’t always a “Courtier’s Reply” … sometimes, in all fields, you really don’t know enough to really get what the other person is saying, but that’s hardly their fault.

    ou imply that it is not logically impossible, because God presumably has “moral development” without needing to “experience suffering”. In that case, it is not logically impossible for us to have moral development without experiencing suffering, contra your earlier statements.

    But we’re not God, and so other than making us gods it might not be logically possible for us given our nature. To argue that that still would be logically possible would be like arguing that because we can have square squares it’s not logically impossible to have square circles.

    I didn’t “accuse” you of anything; I asked. I don’t “insist”; I offer the possibility, allowing you to correct me. And I find your verbose evasions and waffling and unclear verbiage to be tiresome.

    No, you accused me of it since if I recall correctly you were claiming that I held a Stoic God instead of the God that most Christians actually held. That’s not question. And here you said that that was the sort of God I was talking about in spite of the fact that I had clarified it in a comment to you in that thread. That counts as insistence.

    As for your comment, I’ll just skip your attempt to mock and instead point out that all I’m doing is attempting to show eric that his philosophical underpinnings about things like morality are no where near as secure as he thinks they are, and the Stoics are a legitimate, respectable, and very good example of an alternative that does not imply what he needs implied and yet might be entirely right when it comes to morality, meaning that he may well be completely wrong about the inconsistency he claims is there. That’s it. That does not make it a Stoic God in any way.

  117. #117 Verbose Stoic
    March 8, 2012

    Kel,

    On what evidence or reasoning would it be laughable? You can try to tie it directly to it saying things they don’t think are true, but presuming — as we must — that they don’t know those things can’t happen, on what real and justified epistemic grounds would it be just laughable?

  118. #118 Verbose Stoic
    March 8, 2012

    eric,

    When I made a number of comment replies to you pointing out to you that you’ve missed the point, and even point out how you completely ignored what I considered critical questions for the debate, you can imagine why I might get a bit prickly. You certainly have interests, but you cannot simply ignore parts of what your opponent says just because you don’t find them interesting, if for no other reason than that they might actually be important.

    Also, to not even address where I pointed out how you explicitly argued that I said something when I explicitly said the opposite is really poor form. You didn’t even apologize or admit that you misinterpreted it.

    In any case, I can’t answer your questions until you address this so that I can know what you mean by “rational”, which is from WAY back and you completely ignored it:

    But that doesn’t get you to knowledge claims, but you will note that I make no knowledge claims. I also, you will note, don’t claim that anyone else in the debate is in fact holding an irrational belief; we don’t share the same belief, but I argue that even strong atheists are not, in fact, irrational for believing that God doesn’t exist.

    In summary, does your notion of “rational belief” include the ability to someone who holds the exact opposite belief might also be rational? Or would they have to be irrational?

  119. #119 eric
    March 8, 2012

    VS:

    You certainly have interests, but you cannot simply ignore parts of what your opponent says just because you don’t find them interesting, if for no other reason than that they might actually be important.

    Okay, let’s discuss that. You laid out a set of rules for rational belief in @80, @94, and @103. But then at the end of @103 you say “For me, for those general things I reply that I merely lack belief, literally. I do not claim to know that they don’t exist.”

    But this comment has nothing to do with whether those beliefs are rational or irrational. Your system has nothing to do with determining actual existence. Your comment is not relevant to the question of how you decided (if you did) that belief in God is more rational than belief in fairies.

    I ignored this comment, IOW, because it is a complete nonsequitur coming at the end of three posts that talk about criteria for rational belief. But if you think I missed something, if you think your comment is important for understanding your criteria for rational belief, then please, describe why.

    In any case, I can’t answer your questions until you address this so that I can know what you mean by “rational”

    For @108, I am asking which conclusion you draw based on your criteria of rationality. Specifically: “if you have a belief that contradicts none of your existing beliefs and that you do not have the justification to claim to know that it is false, then it is not irrational to believe it.”

    Under these – your own – criteria, do you see belief in God and fairies as both rational, both irrational, or do you think one is rational and the other isn’t? If the latter, please explain why, because I don’t see how your criteria could possibly put them in different categories.

    In summary, does your notion of “rational belief” include the ability to someone who holds the exact opposite belief might also be rational? Or would they have to be irrational

    I think if your criteria result in a near-infinite number of contradictory beliefs being considered “rational,” then there is something wrong with your criteria. As I noted before, your criteria share this exact same problem with Pascal’s wager: neither system can be used for any sort of decision-making or selection amongst beliefs, because it provides equal support for a near-infinite number of contradictory beliefs. It appears to me that you are doing something analogous to what Mike Behe did in his treatment of the term ‘science:’ you are broadening the definition of rational so that your pet belief will fit, even at the cost of making the term so broad that it begins to include ridiculous things that no common language user would consider ‘rational’ – like the belief that there are fairies in my garden.

    I think in order for a belief to be considered rational in the normal sense of the term, there must be some positive evidence supporting it, not just a lack-of-disproof. If no evidence of any of the known belief-options is available, use parsimony. But adding this criteria for rationality to yours, a belief in God is irrational: there is no positive evidence supporting it, and it is not a parsimonious as the no-entity belief. So I suspect you will have some objection to my criteria.

  120. #120 eric
    March 8, 2012

    Just a quick follow up. Re:

    In summary, does your notion of “rational belief” include the ability to someone who holds the exact opposite belief might also be rational? Or would they have to be irrational

    I accept that people differently situated in regards to evidence may hold opposite beliefs, yet both beliefs could be considered rational. My added criteria doesn’t change that.

    But your criteria would allow for a single individual, with one set of evidence and background knowledge, to reach mutually contradictory beliefs and call them all “rational.” That, to me, signals a problem with your criteria.

  121. #121 Verbose Stoic
    March 8, 2012

    eric,

    But your criteria would allow for a single individual, with one set of evidence and background knowledge, to reach mutually contradictory beliefs and call them all “rational.” That, to me, signals a problem with your criteria.

    Ah, here’s the problem: it wouldn’t, because that individual would have to hold two beliefs that contradict and that would violate the first condition, that you can’t contradict an existing belief.

    If a person encountered two mutually contradictory beliefs, neither of which contradicted their existing beliefs — and so wouldn’t result in them holding contradictory beleifs — and neither of which they had the evidence to know were true, then they could believe either or neither of them and be considered rational. But that person could never decide to accept both because that would result in their Web of Belief containing contradictory beliefs, which is a major no-no.

  122. #122 eric
    March 8, 2012

    VS:

    Ah, here’s the problem: it wouldn’t, because that individual would have to hold two beliefs that contradict and that would violate the first condition, that you can’t contradict an existing belief.

    Untrue. I don’t believe in Yahweh or Zeus at the moment, so adopting either would be rational for me, correct? Again, like Pascal’s Wager, you have a system that cannot make decisions between beliefs. I agree that your criteria can recognize when adopting two beliefs simultaneously may cause a contradiction, but it cannot be used to decide which of the two to adopt.

    In any event, there may be another problem here. Are you really telling me that if I already hold an irrational belief, a new belief can be deemed irrational because of it? There is good indpendent evidence that the FSMism is a human work of satire. Thus, I would probably agree with you if you claim its irrational. But according to you, if I already hold FSMism, then some otherwise-rational belief becomes irrational for me to adopt, merely because it may conflict with FSMism. Is that correct?

    It appears that your definition of ‘rationality’ is just consistency with preconeived beliefs. Your criteria prevent a person from ending up with a set of beliefs that are internall contradictory, but that is all. Your criteria would then lead to someone propagating their errors, as it were – not being able to correct an error in their belief system without behaving “irrationally,” because adopting any belief that contradicts a current one is defined by your criteria to be irrational.

  123. #123 eric
    March 8, 2012

    I suppose it may be irrational for me to expect to get an answer to the question of whether God belief and fairy belief are equally rational, eh?

  124. #124 eric
    March 8, 2012

    Ack, cut and paste error and now I truly did what you accused me of doing. Ignore my first sentence in @122, as you did indeed cover this. I started writing as I was reading and forgot to delete. My apologies.

    The rest of my post still stands; even while the whole first paragraph is partially covered, I think it is valuable to point out the similarities between this and pascal’s wager, since most people inherently understand that such logics must be flawed even if they can’t articulate why.

  125. #125 Kel
    March 8, 2012

    On what evidence or reasoning would it be laughable? You can try to tie it directly to it saying things they don’t think are true, but presuming — as we must — that they don’t know those things can’t happen, on what real and justified epistemic grounds would it be just laughable?

    Two reasons.

    Firstly, there’s no grounds to think it’s true. We wouldn’t do a multimillion dollar study on the cancer-fighting qualities of grass, not because we’re certain grass can’t cure cancer, but the lack of any reason to think that grass can. Without any grounds to do something, it seems futile. I can’t imagine you picked the bible arbitrarily…

    Secondly, there’s grounds to think it’s untrue. Magic rings? Dragons? Wizards? We have a good epistemic understanding of reality to think that these kinds of things aren’t part of the universe, and a good grasp of storytelling / mythmaking to understand what these things are. Do you think we’re somehow at an epistemological loss when Odysseus encounters the sirens? That Moses cast his rod to the ground and it became a serpent sends sends us into a state of epistemological confusion? That we cannot figure out whether Beowulf fought and was killed by a dragon? I can’t imagine that you can’t tell the difference between mythology / fiction and reality…

  126. #126 eric
    March 8, 2012

    Kel:

    We wouldn’t do a multimillion dollar study on the cancer-fighting qualities of grass, not because we’re certain grass can’t cure cancer, but the lack of any reason to think that grass can.

    This ties in nicely with my point about decision-making. Very often what we want is a method to decide between options due to limited resources or other factors. Many god-conceptions seem to get ticked off when you worship other god-conceptions, so a set of criteria that tells me a whole heaping bunch of them are epistemically equivalent (and equivalent to atheism) is useless to me, just like a set of criteria that tells us all the things we haven’t ruled out as cancer cures would be fairly useless to folk attempting to decide what cancer research to fund. In some areas where choices are limited and narrow it might be useful, but for deciding between gods? Not useful.

    VS’s criteria provide no good way to decide between beliefs. In @76, he sort of admits that he does not actually use his criteria to select his theology. But in the posts immediately following that one he says his choice is ‘influenced by’ his philosophical ruminations on epistemology. I do not see how that can rationally be the case.

    His ruminations rule out the gods that are inconsistent with some known bit of data, but not any hidden gods or entities at all. Which is still a near-infinite variety. Saying one believes in Yahweh but not fairies because of VS’ criteria is sort of like saying “I prefer the number 3 over 5, because my mathematical ruminations lead me to prefer odd numbers.” It doesn’t answer the question at all. Describing how you eliminated some subset of entities does not explain how you can rationally prefer one non-member (of that subset) over another non-member.

  127. #127 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    eric,

    Untrue. I don’t believe in Yahweh or Zeus at the moment, so adopting either would be rational for me, correct?

    I know you said to ignore it, but I think it’s important to understand this. For you, it almost certainly wouldn’t be rational to adopt either belief because you do seem to be a naturalist, and think that only natural things exist and that Yahweh and Zeus are supernatural. Thus, to adopt either would be irrational, since it would leave you with a set of beliefs that contain contradictions. For me, who is not a naturalist, that would not apply, but if it is a contradiction to believe in both then I could only believe one of them, but in theory I could believe either.

    So, your main objection is that the criteria I give for rational belief doesn’t really help you decide what to believe. The first answer to that is that it isn’t meant to; I’m talking about when it is rational to maintain an existing belief or to hold one, but am not directly talking about how to decide between the two beliefs. But note that even in that case these two simple criteria have a lot of power. Since you cannot believe something that you know is false, it seems an obvious implication that you must believe everything that you know. So, if you have justification to the level of knowledge for a belief, you must believe it and drop or abandon any belief that contradicts it. In addition, the sheer scope of the Web of Belief contains every possible thing that you might think true. This, then, would include any possible evidence you have as well as any beliefs about how to go about deciding between two beliefs. Thus, from there the implication is that when deciding between two beliefs where you do not know which is true, you select the one that best fits in with your Web of Belief, which includes your epistemic commitments as well as any fact or belief that might provide evidence for either one.

    So, then, the only case that isn’t covered is when both beliefs have equal support based on your own Web of Belief. There is no objective standard that we can apply in such cases, and if there was — and if you could know it — then it would have to be in the Web of Belief anyway.

    Now, note that from this people can have different epistemic criteria. So if you, say, want to insist that you have to have “positive evidence” (whatever that means), you can, and you will filter your beliefs based on that. But unless you can prove that to the level of knowledge, no one else need accept that. Also, you yourself can’t then violate when you want to, so you’ll have to make sure that all of your beliefs fit that criteria, which is a reason to not make those commitments overly stringent. A lot of my arguing with atheists on this is that they set too high a standard and so beliefs that they find perfectly reasonable are taken out in the epistemic wash.

  128. #128 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    eric,

    Are you really telling me that if I already hold an irrational belief, a new belief can be deemed irrational because of it? There is good indpendent evidence that the FSMism is a human work of satire. Thus, I would probably agree with you if you claim its irrational. But according to you, if I already hold FSMism, then some otherwise-rational belief becomes irrational for me to adopt, merely because it may conflict with FSMism. Is that correct?

    Well, I think there’s a risk here of you conflating “irrational” with “false”, and also with you forgetting to look at it from the perspective of what the specific person believes and knows as opposed to some general notion.

    So, recall that under my definition of rational belief, a belief is irrational if you know it is false or if it contradicts another belief you hold. Note, however, that beliefs are not static; you can indeed drop existing beliefs if you either run into a new contradiction or you come to know that they are false. So, taking my definition, in order for it to be irrational it would have to be the case that they know it false or have contradictions in their Web of Belief. Note that in your example you don’t, in fact, mention any such thing. Instead, you simply say that there is good evidence to think that the FSM is satire.

    Thus, you seem to be suggesting that someone holds a belief that is false, in this case in the FSM. Which is, of course, always a risk. Now, do we know that the FSM is just satire and not really real? I think so; the evidence seems pretty overwhelming. So anyone who had access to that evidence and that justification would be justified in knowing that the FSM is not real and so ought not believe it, and so it would be irrational for them to believe it. But someone who DIDN’T have access to that justification would not, in fact, know that the FSM is not real, and so would not be irrational to maintain that belief. They would unfortunately be holding a false belief, but it would not be irrational for them to do so. Based on the evidence they have access to, it may even be irrational for them to NOT hold that false belief. You can indeed rationally hold false beliefs, depending on the evidence and justifications you have access to.

    So you would say that in this case that false belief might well influence you into forming more false beliefs. This is, of course, a risk. But again, considering that your Web of Belief contains all possible evidence that you have access to and all possible epistemic commitments you have, there really isn’t anything else anyone can do. If you aren’t judging what beliefs you adopt based on the beliefs you have, what are you judging them on? What sort of evidence can you have beyond that?

    But note that the Web is not static. If you come to know that the FSM is just satire, then that belief must be dropped and the Web adjusted accordingly. If you keep forming beliefs and end up with a contradiction, then you might drop the FSM belief. Even finding a new belief that contradicts may well encourage you to drop the FSM belief and adopt the new one, based on your epistemic priniciples. For me, my main one is to adopt the belief that best fits my overall Web. So, for example, if all of the rest of my beliefs insisted on naturalism, then I’d be inclined to drop my theistic beliefs because of it. Fortunately, that has not happened yet [grin].

    Note that for me it is obvious that you should always adjust your Web based on doing the least damage to it, since those are the beliefs that you have tried and tested by living by them. But there are other alternatives, each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses. But none of them insist that you keep irrational beliefs or even false ones; they all have ways to get rid of both.

  129. #129 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    eric,

    I suppose it may be irrational for me to expect to get an answer to the question of whether God belief and fairy belief are equally rational, eh?

    You’re trying to run before you’ve learned to walk. Again, we have to settle what rational means — and whether the notion of “equally rational” makes any sense — before we can talk about that.

  130. #130 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    Kel,

    Firstly, there’s no grounds to think it’s true. We wouldn’t do a multimillion dollar study on the cancer-fighting qualities of grass, not because we’re certain grass can’t cure cancer, but the lack of any reason to think that grass can. Without any grounds to do something, it seems futile. I can’t imagine you picked the bible arbitrarily…

    You’re making the what I guess you can now call traditional atheist mistake: translating “no grounds to justify it to the level of knowledge” to “no grounds to think it true at all”. The reason I pushed the LotR example into the future was to remove the contradictory evidence, or rather the ability to know that it isn’t true, just like is the case for the Bible. The book itself talks in some sense as if it is a history, and as if it is relating what really happened. Now, it is possible for LotR that we can say that how history was recorded in this time period is not how LotR is written, and so it doesn’t look like a historical recording. This wouldn’t hold for the Bible, since it looks exactly like how historical events were recorded then: through word of mouth folk stories. Even the inaccuracies fit due to the corruption of time. Thus, the grounds to think it true is that it really looks like how you’d expect something that was true to have been passed down to this point. Does this mean it can’t be false? Of course not. We have works that mimic real historical accounts all the time and are not true. But that doesn’t change the fact that looking like something that was meant to be a history is indeed grounds for thinking it is one.

    To use another example, let’s talk about “The Blair Witch Project” or for a more recent example “Paranormal Activity”. Both of these were designed to look like a real documentary or home video, and deliberately made to look real. We don’t consider them real because we know it’s false. But if someone came across them without that context, would they have no grounds to think them true? Of course they would have grounds, which is in fact the works themselves. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily true, but surely enough to at least be able to consider believing that they are.

    Secondly, there’s grounds to think it’s untrue. Magic rings? Dragons? Wizards? We have a good epistemic understanding of reality to think that these kinds of things aren’t part of the universe, and a good grasp of storytelling / mythmaking to understand what these things are. Do you think we’re somehow at an epistemological loss when Odysseus encounters the sirens? That Moses cast his rod to the ground and it became a serpent sends sends us into a state of epistemological confusion? That we cannot figure out whether Beowulf fought and was killed by a dragon? I can’t imagine that you can’t tell the difference between mythology / fiction and reality…

    Well, the question is: Do you know that those things can’t or didn’t happen? If you do, then we wouldn’t believe it true, but if you don’t then you don’t have as strong a case as you are claiming here. So we move to the second criteria: do you believe that those things can’t happen? Well, if you do believe that, then it’s irrational for you, but it wouldn’t be the case for anyone else and so you couldn’t get to it just being laughable from that. So what you end up doing here is insisting that it is just ridiculous for someone to believe something based on beliefs that you have and they don’t, which you can see is not exactly reasonable. Unless you can know it, but I would say that for the things you cited while you claimed to know, you don’t really know … especially since science can’t justify any universal claim, let alone universal negative ones, and many atheists do claim that you cannot prove a negative, which is what you’re insisting on here.

    At which point, you are using societal beliefs and a notion of common beliefs just as much as theists are claimed to, but you simply end up insisting that you don’t and claim to have a higher rational standard … a standard that does not seem to be in evidence.

  131. #131 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    eric,

    In @76, he sort of admits that he does not actually use his criteria to select his theology. But in the posts immediately following that one he says his choice is ‘influenced by’ his philosophical ruminations on epistemology. I do not see how that can rationally be the case.

    Different criteria. In 76, I was not talking about epistemology, but simply about examining the concept in the Bible and doing full out philosophy on it. My belief, as I clarified, was not formed that way. However, all of that work does influence the specific beliefs I have and how tht all fits together. In short, the belief didn’t get in through philosophical examination but whether it stays in and what specific form it was will. Perhaps, no-god willing, one day it’ll have to go away completely, but today is not that day … at least, not yet [grin] . So you’re mixing things up far too much, as you might have guessed since you’re taking comments from two sub-threads and trying to mush them together, which never works out well.

    Describing how you eliminated some subset of entities does not explain how you can rationally prefer one non-member (of that subset) over another non-member.

    Did you forget that that elimination was based entirely on my comment that I already had one and so couldn’t accept another that contradicted it? I answered you, and so while you may disagree with it please stop pretending that I didn’t even answer the question.

  132. #132 Kel
    March 9, 2012

    You’re making the what I guess you can now call traditional atheist mistake: translating “no grounds to justify it to the level of knowledge” to “no grounds to think it true at all”. The reason I pushed the LotR example into the future was to remove the contradictory evidence, or rather the ability to know that it isn’t true, just like is the case for the Bible.

    If it’s lost to history, though, then what good is doing that conceptual analysis? You say it’s a mistake, but what I’m asking for is how you can think there’s any knowledge there worth getting to begin with. At this point, I’m not asking for a justification of knowledge, but a justification of the pursuit of knowledge in that respect. I think that’s what a lot of people would like to know, why it is you think there’s grounds to go through it in the first place. I don’t think that I’m making the mistake you’re accusing me of, but trying to get to the bottom of why you even consider it.

    Thus, the grounds to think it true is that it really looks like how you’d expect something that was true to have been passed down to this point. Does this mean it can’t be false? Of course not. We have works that mimic real historical accounts all the time and are not true. But that doesn’t change the fact that looking like something that was meant to be a history is indeed grounds for thinking it is one.

    By that same token, if it looks like mythic storytelling is that grounds for thinking it so?

    Well, the question is: Do you know that those things can’t or didn’t happen?

    In a cautious sense, I think we can say yes to that. My argument is that we base our analysis of their validity off how we know the world to work. The sun standing still in the sky in one place and one time, as far as our understanding of physics goes, is impossible. Just as turning a rod into a serpent is impossible. They could have happened as a theoretical possibility, but based on the way we know the world to work we have every reason to say otherwise.

    Unless you can know it, but I would say that for the things you cited while you claimed to know, you don’t really know … especially since science can’t justify any universal claim, let alone universal negative ones, and many atheists do claim that you cannot prove a negative, which is what you’re insisting on here.

    You’re not going to dissolve this criticism by skirting around what I could possibly mean when I say “know”. Note that I didn’t use the word proof, you did. I didn’t talk about proof, but that it goes against the way we know the world to work. By the standard that we know that we evolved, or that the earth orbits the sun, or that cigarettes cause cancer. That the beliefs prone to the possibility they are wrong isn’t really a concern, at least as far as the view I am advocating.

  133. #133 eric
    March 9, 2012

    VS, here you seem to be saying that you can’t use your criteria to decide between two new beliefs:

    your main objection is that the criteria I give for rational belief doesn’t really help you decide what to believe. The first answer to that is that it isn’t meant to; I’m talking about when it is rational to maintain an existing belief or to hold one, but am not directly talking about how to decide between the two
    beliefs.

    But here (same post!) you seem to be saying that one’s web of belief can be used to decide between two new beliefs:

    Thus, from there the implication is that when deciding between two beliefs where you do not know which is true, you select the one that best fits in with your Web of Belief, which includes your epistemic commitments as well as any fact or belief that might provide evidence for either one.

    So I wish to request clarification. Can I determine which of two new beliefs is more rationl according to your criteria, or not?

    @128: Let me address this post by simply saying, we appear to agree that people who are differently situated in terms of background knowledge and data can reach different rational conclusions. I still do not see how anyone using your criteria can rationally change their mind, as changing one’s mind seems to require accepting into one’s web of belief a fact or belief that is contradictory to what’s already in there – which your criteria define as irrational. But I think arguing this minor point will be more distracting than helpful.

  134. #134 eric
    March 9, 2012

    @129:

    You’re trying to run before you’ve learned to walk. Again, we have to settle what rational means — and whether the notion of “equally rational” makes any sense — before we can talk about that.

    That is extremely annoying. I have told you multiple times I am asking about whether under YOUR CRITERIA these beliefs are equally rational. If even you, the author, cannot tell me the conclusion YOUR CRITERIA reaches, what use is it to anyone else?

    I am one person, not two differently situated individuals. I have no evidence for either Yahweh or for fairies in my garden, but they don’t logically contradict anything in my web either. According to YOUR system, are they, for me, equally rational beliefs, equally irrational beliefs, or differently rational?

    @131:

    Different criteria. In 76, I was not talking about epistemology, but simply about examining the concept in the Bible and doing full out philosophy on it.

    But you don’t do ‘full out’ philosophy on it, because you refuse to question or examine the premises, such as the credibility of your source material. In this respect, you seem to treat god-conceptions apologetically rather than philosophically. Right from the start, in philosophy 101, students are taught through syllogism analysis that logic often goes wrong because of a flaw in one of the premises. No erics speak english. I am an eric. I don’t speak english. What’s the flaw there? Its in the major premise, right? So how can you claim to do full-out philosophy on the god-concept originating from the eden story, when you start off committed to the presumption that all of the story elements must be consistent with each other and the outside world, and reinterpret story elements as needed to fit that commitment? That is like committing to the presumption that the major and minor premise of a syllogism must be correct under some interpretation, rather than asessing if they are correct. Its apologetics.

  135. #135 eric
    March 9, 2012

    Back to @127 (not covered earlier because this is an unrelated aside):

    A lot of my arguing with atheists on this is that they set too high a standard and so beliefs that they find perfectly reasonable are taken out in the epistemic wash.

    I personally find the reverse to be true. I find it is most often believers who want to set formal standards for what constitutes justified belief, in order to prevent scientists from either making conclusions about the likely falseness of their religious belief, or to the likely truth of some scientific theory. In my personal experience, statements like “you can’t prove its not true” or “you can’t truly know [some scientific conclusion]” are invoked far, far more often as a religious defense than a scientific one. But, ymmv.

    The point nonbelievers often make (as I am trying to do with the Yahweh-fairy comparison) is that there is NO standard – either high or low, strong or weak – which yields the result of a single religious belief being more justified than a near-infinte host of other beliefs that the believer himself rejects. It is not that Yahweh belief fails some standard, but that it is granted an exception to whatever standard the believer holds. You have reasons for rejecting fairies, Vishnu, Zeus, Odin, etc. I simply apply those same reasons to Yahweh, too, while you don’t.

  136. #136 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    eric,

    The point nonbelievers often make (as I am trying to do with the Yahweh-fairy comparison) is that there is NO standard – either high or low, strong or weak – which yields the result of a single religious belief being more justified than a near-infinte host of other beliefs that the believer himself rejects.

    If this is your point, then I already answered it, with a resounding “So?”. It is NOT an interesting inconsistency to not believe everything that you could possibly believe given the evidence you have. Belief is only compelled when you KNOW something, and are justified in knowing. If you do not know, what criteria could you possibly use to determine what you MUST believe in all cases that isn’t itself simply a belief that you don’t know to be true?

    The counter I make is a more damning one, where I point out that by the standards of evidence they are trying to hold the belief in God to many non-believers ought not believe a great many beliefs that they do believe and would not give up. That’s an inconsistency worth worrying about.

    The difference: In the first case, you are talking about beliefs and criteria that will be, by necessity, subjective and perhaps even somewhat arbitrary. In the second case, the claim is being made for an objective criteria that is definitely being applied arbitrarily. I accept that there is some arbitrainess in my beliefs, but note that that’s only the case when you simply can’t settle it any other way, and so deciding to believe, believe false, or simply not believe will be an arbitrary decision.

  137. #137 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    eric,

    That is extremely annoying. I have told you multiple times I am asking about whether under YOUR CRITERIA these beliefs are equally rational. If even you, the author, cannot tell me the conclusion YOUR CRITERIA reaches, what use is it to anyone else?

    I am one person, not two differently situated individuals. I have no evidence for either Yahweh or for fairies in my garden, but they don’t logically contradict anything in my web either. According to YOUR system, are they, for me, equally rational beliefs, equally irrational beliefs, or differently rational?

    I can answer for my criteria, but I don’t think you understand it enough or even the underlying issues to able to determine what that means, meaning that you will go off as if my answer proves something and we’ll have to hash out why it doesn’t mean what you think it means. As an example, here you again start from “no evidence”, but you ought to know by now that I don’t think that’s true about Yahweh. I pointed that out earlier, you’ll recall; you need something from outside of you to kick it off, because of another belief that we pretty much all have. So right here your question is not something that makes sense in my system, even though it makes sense with your presumptions.

    So, I could answer “Yes”, or “No”, or “I don’t know” and you, at this point, will have no idea what it means. What my last comments were trying to do was lay down that background, and you seem to have still misinterpreted that background.

    And you are still missing the scope of what’s in the Web of Belief, it seems, ignoring that the answer to “How do you determine what beliefs to accept?” is “That will be one of the beliefs in your Web. I have some suggestions that you may not like, but that I think follow from the criteria.” Which is the answer to this question:

    So I wish to request clarification. Can I determine which of two new beliefs is more rationl according to your criteria, or not?

    Yes and no. Not directly, but it isn’t aimed to do that, but it has implications that should lead one to certain principles that will help. But there is a distinction between “more rational to adopt” and “the one you should adopt”, and you seem to be conflating the two. It is quite possible that none of the options are more “rational”, and yet that you still should accept one option over another. Depending, of course, on what is meant by rational, and I say that when you ask me these questions you are not asking me using my criteria but are asking me using yours, which means that you are asking me questions about what is rational that are hard to answer because they don’t fit in my concept. And so far you haven’t exactly shown the ability to realize any of that or respond to those sorts of corrections.

  138. #138 Verbose Stoic
    March 9, 2012

    eric,

    But you don’t do ‘full out’ philosophy on it, because you refuse to question or examine the premises, such as the credibility of your source material. In this respect, you seem to treat god-conceptions apologetically rather than philosophically.

    As I have said umpteen million times, right here I am engaging in apologetics because you are attacking it. Which is exactly what I do philosophically in any other area. You might be shocked to know that in a recent course on Cognitive Science and Aesthetics I spent a ton of the class defending the use of Cognitive Science in figuring out details of aesthetics. I even remarked to the professor that I had never spent so much time in my life defending science’s role in philosophy (I’m usually on the other side, as you might have guessed). Bad arguments are bad arguments, and I find that your argument here is bad, and thus I am pointing out what I see are the flaws in it. That does not mean that I am going in any way beyond that or that I never consider any other arguments. I have been consistent in pointing out that I don’t think my counters prove that God exists.

    So, onto your specific charge here, where is your evidence that I do not consider the credibility at all? I do not, of course, consider it if it is the source text for a concept and I am trying to figure out what that concept actually must be. I DO consider it in other arguments and other places. That is, in fact, one reason that I am not and could never be a literalist; it definitely gets too many things wrong to be taken literally, and if you could ever prove that I had to take it literally I’d stop believing it. Again, you ain’t there yet. I examine the premises if and when they are relevant to the argument I’m making, but you seem to be demanding that for me to even point out that your argument doesn’t prove what you think it does or justify the claims you’re making I have to prove and address every single thing about God. That’s ludicrous.

    So if you think that the credibility of the Bible means something to the specific argument, bring it up, argue for it, and stick to that. Otherwise, you’re just turning your argument into a moving target and then accusing me of not, say, examining things philosophically when I refuse to follow the bouncing ball.

    So how can you claim to do full-out philosophy on the god-concept originating from the eden story, when you start off committed to the presumption that all of the story elements must be consistent with each other and the outside world, and reinterpret story elements as needed to fit that commitment?

    I do not make that presumption, as I have told you umpteen million times. However, I do not agree that I can’t reinterpret things as far as is reasonable to argue against your claim that there is an inconsistency here, as long as I argue for it. The sad thing is that while you claimed to have equal Biblical support for the “tri-omni” God, you’ve never presented, while I did present MY textual support. Where’s yours? You can’t simply dodge around my points by arguing that there may not be a consistent concept there so that you can hope that at the end your completely undefended analysis will remain standing.

  139. #139 eric
    March 9, 2012

    VS @136:

    The counter I make is a more damning one, where I point out that by the standards of evidence they are trying to hold the belief in God to many non-believers ought not believe a great many beliefs that they do believe and would not give up. That’s an inconsistency worth worrying about.

    Did you make a cut and paste error? That sentence is extremely unclear. At least to me. Can you rephrase?

    @137:

    I can answer for my criteria, but I don’t think you understand it enough or even the underlying issues to able to determine what that means,

    Please do so (answer for your criteria). Let me worry about my understanding of your criteria. If for no other reasons, answer me because (1) it is often easier for a student to figure out how to do a problem when they know the correct answer, and (2) others lurkers who understand your criteria better than I may be interested.

    Depending, of course, on what is meant by rational, and I say that when you ask me these questions you are not asking me using my criteria but are asking me using yours, which means that you are asking me questions about what is rational that are hard to answer because they don’t fit in my concept.

    I’m sorry you think that. I don’t know how to convince you of this, but I am really, truly, interested in whether Yahweh belief and fairy belief are both rational, both irrational, or one is rational and the other isn’t according to THIS: “I say that if you have a belief that contradicts none of your existing beliefs and that you do not have the justification to claim to know that it is false, then it is not irrational to believe it.”

    So, onto your specific charge here, where is your evidence that I do not consider the credibility at all? I do not, of course, consider it if it is the source text for a concept and I am trying to figure out what that concept actually must be.

    “A concept” and “that concept” is a presumption that there is a singular concept presented. Yes? You assume the various story elements fit together to form a consistent whole, yes?

    Why make that assumption?

  140. #140 eric
    March 9, 2012

    VS:

    The sad thing is that while you claimed to have equal Biblical support for the “tri-omni” God, you’ve never presented, while I did present MY textual support. Where’s yours?

    I claim that the standard christian god-concept is the tri-omni one. How christians arrive at that from the bible is an entirely different question. I would actually agree that the only way to get tri-omni from the bible is to cherry-pick verses and ignore, downplay, or reintepret large amounts of text – if that is what you are implying. After all, I have been telling you over multiple messages that there isn’t any singular, consistent, god-concept in the bible, so it wolud be silly of me to claim that the tri-omni concept is the singular one presented.

    I don’t think I ever said your concept and the tri-omni one had equal support. I frankly think your concept is quite gnostic and somewhat unusual.

    But, for the record, here are some examples of passages that standard christian believers in the tri-omni concept cite or use to justify that concept.

    God’s omnipotence: Matt 19:26. ‘with God all things are possible.’

    God’s omniscence: Psalm 147:5. ‘Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.’ Another example, Job 28:24. ‘For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.’

    God’s omnibenevolence: Matthrew 19:17. ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.’

    Slightly different take on omnibenevolenc: 1 Peter 1:16 and Leviticus 11:44. These are Euthyphro-like in that they discuss holiness/piety rather than goodness per se, but both say, essentially, that man should act holy but in contrast god IS holy.

    Is that enough?

  141. #141 JimV
    March 9, 2012

    This is an interesting discussion. As usual, although I do not think theism has any explanatory power in the universe as I understand it, I think VS makes a lot of good points. Perhaps including this one:

    “The counter I make is a more damning one, where I point out that by the standards of evidence they are trying to hold the belief in God to many non-believers ought not believe a great many beliefs that they do believe and would not give up. That’s an inconsistency worth worrying about.”

    The first sentence is a little complicated, but I parse it as saying atheists seem (to VS) to be demanding a higher standard of evidence for theism then for lots of other concepts which they do believe in. I’m not sure what evidence VS has in mind for this assertion, but I’m willing to admit that in the past I have had beliefs which turned out to be wrong (e.g., that John F. Kennedy and Mickey Mantle were perfect human beings who could do no wrong), and probably some of the beliefs I have now will turn out to be wrong. However, that just shows that some of us are, or have been, inconsistent in our standards, not that a higher standard is not better. (I now know that it is irrational, by my meaning of that term, to expect any human being to be incapable of doing wrong.)

    When I was a child, I was told that the moon was made out of green cheese. I had no reason to disbelieve my elders, so I took their word for it. I guess VS would consider that a rational belief. The reason I now consider that an irrational belief (for me, now) is that it contradicts a lot of other information I have gathered, and I have also learned that people like to tell tall tales to gullible audiences. I feel the same way about theism.

    Science can measure the charge of a single electron (I repeated this classic experiment in Physics Lab in college), and even smaller quantities, but it has discovered no force or field capable of generating or transmitting a “soul”. (Dr. Sean Carroll has made many interesting posts about this at “Cosmic Variance”.) Neuroscience is getting closer and closer to understanding the brain as a biological super-computer, and has discovered nothing which would contradict that premise. Evolution shows how such a biological organ could develop from self-replicating chemicals over billions of years. The gaps for a theistic god to hide in have gotten a lot smaller, since Og the caveman asked his shaman what causes rain and the shaman answered, “The Rain God makes it rain.”

  142. #142 Kel
    March 9, 2012

    The first sentence is a little complicated, but I parse it as saying atheists seem (to VS) to be demanding a higher standard of evidence for theism then for lots of other concepts which they do believe in.

    It really shouldn’t be unreasonable, concepts are not born equal. Believing that someone sighted a dolphin, for example, can be taken on a much weaker standard of evidence than someone sighting a mermaid. There’s a fairly simple rationale for this, dolphins, however rare a sighting, fit with how we know the world to work. Mermaids, on the other hand, don’t. Thus sightings are not born equal, and why we would accept a sighting of the former but not the latter is because of the differential worth of each concept being commented upon.

    Hoofbeats probably mean horses, they may mean zebras, but in what sense would it be reasonable to infer a unicorn?

  143. #143 Verbose Stoic
    March 10, 2012

    Kel,

    Hoofbeats probably mean horses, they may mean zebras, but in what sense would it be reasonable to infer a unicorn?

    When you live in an area that has neither horses nor zebras, you have never heard of those things, and yet you are aware of historical stories that talk about unicorns and claim they exist?

    Your reply here is a variation on “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” The two main problems here is that first judging whether a claim is extraordinary or not depends very much on the beliefs a particular individual has, and so is in some sense subjective. A dualist — which I lean to — will, for example, find ghosts far less extraordinary than someone who is a strict brain-materialist about mind. So unless you can claim to know, say, brain-materialism and so have an objective basis you can talk about what you believe but not about what anyone else ought to believe or consider extraordinary. So then calling theists irrational or delusional because they contain beliefs that you don’t is out of bounds.

    The second is that this would not justify a move to “You have no evidence”, which is the standard canard that’s been raised even here. The instant you rely on making claims about this claim being extraordinary, you immediately have to concede that there really is some evidence, but not convincing evidence by your standards for the “extraordinariness” of that claim. So the claim that there is no evidence — heavily relied upon — is the one that gets challenged by saying that that sort and reliability of evidence is considered evidence for any other claim, but not for this one. That it isn’t convincing to you doesn’t make it magically stop being evidence.

    And that’s where the shift always comes in. The arguments start from “There’s no evidence” or “The evidence is too weak to justify believing it” and when someone points out all the things that you believe on similar standards of evidence or that you consider to be evidence, there is the immediate retreat to “Well, this is an extraordinary claim and so it doesn’t count”, and then when that is challenged it retreats to “Well, it’s extraordinary because it’s supernatural and we have no evidence that those things exist” which I then counter with “But that’s fine for naturalists, but I’m not a naturalist. Oh, and BTW, naturalism cannot ever find evidence for things that are supernatural because anything that does seem to be supernatural will be rebranded as natural the instant you find that it exists”.

    It’s fine to use those subjective beliefs to guide your own belief formation, but insisting on using them to make claims that there is no evidence or that someone else’s beliefs are irrational or delusional is clearly not acceptable. If you are making an objective claim, then we can hold you to the same standards that you hold for other beliefs. And if you aren’t, then you don’t have any credible reason to judge other people as irrational for not sharing the same subjective standards you hold.

  144. #144 Verbose Stoic
    March 10, 2012

    JimV,

    The first sentence is a little complicated, but I parse it as saying atheists seem (to VS) to be demanding a higher standard of evidence for theism then for lots of other concepts which they do believe in.

    Bingo.

    However, that just shows that some of us are, or have been, inconsistent in our standards, not that a higher standard is not better. (I now know that it is irrational, by my meaning of that term, to expect any human being to be incapable of doing wrong.)

    The problem is not, of course, about being wrong. Even holding all your beliefs to the standards of justification required for knowledge won’t mean that you never have wrong beliefs. The objection here is that atheists often insist that types of evidence — testimony, ancient texts, personal experiences — aren’t acceptable to justify believing without realizing that a ton of their beliefs rely on that sort of evidence as well, without them batting an eye. And they almost always move to the “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” line without acknowledging that those types of things count as evidence. I tend to use Socrates as an example, since most of what we have of him and his philosophy are what others said about him and said in at least semi-fictional contexts and yet we not only think that it is acceptable to believe that he exists, not only that it is acceptable to believe that he held certain philosophical views, but that it is acceptable to claim that we know these things. As a theist who does not claim to know that God exists, I find it bemusing that very similar evidence in the case of Socrates produces knowledge but I’m not even able to use similar knowledge to produce beliefs.

    When I was a child, I was told that the moon was made out of green cheese. I had no reason to disbelieve my elders, so I took their word for it. I guess VS would consider that a rational belief. The reason I now consider that an irrational belief (for me, now) is that it contradicts a lot of other information I have gathered, and I have also learned that people like to tell tall tales to gullible audiences. I feel the same way about theism.

    (eric, you might want to pay attention to this part.)

    So what I’d say under my view is that you had a rational belief that happened to be wrong, and that as you got older you learned more, ended up with conflicting beliefs, and adjusted them so that that belief dropped out. In the case of the Moon, you ended up knowing that it was not made of green cheese, and were forced to drop it. For the case of God, I’d suspect that you do not know that God doesn’t exist, but that you hold something that you’d rather keep and that’s what drove you to abandon the God belief. And that’s perfectly fine. The only issue is that if you don’t know those things, you can’t expect anyone else to necessarily go along with you on that. So it would be rational from your perspective, but believing in God may well be rational from the perspective of others.

    I won’t go into detail on the neuroscience stuff, but will just say that I’ve had to look into it as part of working on Cognitive Science and it isn’t as set as you seem to be saying. They’re a LONG way from getting to the point you say they’re close to getting to.

  145. #145 Verbose Stoic
    March 10, 2012

    eric,

    I claim that the standard christian god-concept is the tri-omni one. How christians arrive at that from the bible is an entirely different question. I would actually agree that the only way to get tri-omni from the bible is to cherry-pick verses and ignore, downplay, or reintepret large amounts of text – if that is what you are implying. After all, I have been telling you over multiple messages that there isn’t any singular, consistent, god-concept in the bible, so it wolud be silly of me to claim that the tri-omni concept is the singular one presented.

    I don’t think I ever said your concept and the tri-omni one had equal support. I frankly think your concept is quite gnostic and somewhat unusual.

    Do I have to go back to the thread and point out the place where you replied to my claiming that I was appealing to the source text that the tri-omni God had equal textual support? I recall you doing that, but never backing it up. But even here it isn’t clear what your objection is. Are you saying that my view has less textual support, more, or the same as the tri-omni God? Remember, my claim is that you cannot in fact think of the God concept as sourced from the Bible without taking the “This world has suffering” part of it into account. We need to see how the concept shakes out, but if the tri-omni God is the main objection and it has less textual support then I see no reason to maintain it over the much stronger textual support for that claim, and so would — as I said — argue that the tri-omni God interpretation should be abandoned in that case. Which I think is perfectly fair.

    On to the textual support:

    God’s omnipotence: Matt 19:26. ‘with God all things are possible.’

    Adding in the context: Matt 19:23-26:

    23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

    25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

    26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

    So, it seems obvious that this is a local comment, and one that is aimed at the specific case of the rich man being saved and Jesus replying that with God even the rich man can be saved, which if we wanted to care about the context of the rest of the NT seems reasonable to translate to “If he puts his faith in God and truly believes in God, he can be saved”, which then implies nothing like what it would need to to make the tri-omni God. And if there are any believers who claim otherwise, send them to me and I’ll take them on. I’m an equal opportunity arguer [grin].

    I’ll address the rest in another comment. This one’s getting a bit long.

  146. #146 Verbose Stoic
    March 10, 2012

    eric,

    Continuing:

    God’s omniscence: Psalm 147:5. ‘Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.’ Another example, Job 28:24. ‘For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.’

    One line in the poetic Psalms ain’t exactly a ringing endorsement, and seeing everything under the heavens does not imply knowing everything either. Omniscience is the one I’m most inclined to keep, and these aren’t all that great lines for it.

    God’s omnibenevolence: Matthrew 19:17. ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good.’

    Adding in more context again Matthew 19:16-19:

    16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

    17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

    18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

    Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

    This is based on you taking that one statement exceptionally literally — as you are wont to do, as we’ll see when I get back to your other reply to me — and driving it to justify the stronger point. But you can’t simply do that.

    Note what’s important here, though, is that this clearly attaches “goodness” to “moral goodness”. Which means that thinking of omnibenevolence as meaning that God must acting ultra-kind and not allow anything nasty to happen to us is not reasonable. We have to, then, tie to moral action, and things that have moral value. Now you can see that when I bring in opposing philosophical views that deny that causing suffering is necessarily immoral, we’re getting down to the heart of your argument. If I can make an argument that suffering is not the determinant of morality or even more strongly — as I just did on my own blog — that suffering (pain and pleasure specifically) has no intrinsic moral value then we would say that God allowing suffering would not, in fact, mean that He had violated his moral goodness. And since this is independent philosophical argumentation it puts your argument in deep trouble, since it means that you are basing it on unstated philosophical premises that I can actually objectively argue against. Even your defenses of “God can do it” fall apart at this point because I can always reply that unless it is morally obligated God can do what He wants to further whatever goals He wants and not have anything that even looks like a contradiction. Thus, you’d need to engage the deeper philosophical arguments, and these are clearly not ones that folk religion ever delves into. So we can see, then, where the debate actually is … and it isn’t in the Bible or the theology, but in the philosophy.

  147. #147 Verbose Stoic
    March 10, 2012

    eric,

    Did you make a cut and paste error? That sentence is extremely unclear. At least to me. Can you rephrase?

    Atheists consider theists irrational for believing things on the basis of evidence or types of evidence that those atheists themselves use to justify their own beliefs that they claim to be rational.

    Please do so (answer for your criteria). Let me worry about my understanding of your criteria. If for no other reasons, answer me because (1) it is often easier for a student to figure out how to do a problem when they know the correct answer, and (2) others lurkers who understand your criteria better than I may be interested.

    Based on past experience, it will only derail the discussion based on where you are at this point. Note that you have two issues that I’ve raised with your example from my perspective that you’ve never addressed:

    1) That I don’t consider there to be no evidence for God, and so your example doesn’t fit AND is addressing it in a way that I already pointed out wasn’t kosher as part of my views, depending on what’s meant by “evidence”, which you have not clarified.

    2) I have already pointed out that “There are fairies in my garden” and “There exists a God” aren’t comparable propositions. As I said, you are trying to compare a specific case to a general proposition, and it doesn’t work. I think I’ve implied quite strongly an answer for general cases, which you, as usual, completely ignored. So, answer these questions about why you think it reasonable that those cases should be considered irrational:

    So let’s talk about fairies and dragons in general. If you are going to claim that it is irrational to believe that they have or do exist, what basis do you have for that claim? Do you know that they are false? Do you know that everyone must have a competing belief? Do you know that they are just made up? If you know any of these things, then we would agree that to believe they exist would be irrational. Do you know any of those things about God? Recalling that knowledge does not require certainty, so you can’t accuse me of demanding certainty.

    Without knowing that fairies never existed, I would not consider it irrational if someone believed that they had. Specific cases, such as the one you’re citing here, require more work.

    I’m sorry you think that. I don’t know how to convince you of this, but I am really, truly, interested in whether Yahweh belief and fairy belief are both rational, both irrational, or one is rational and the other isn’t according to THIS: “I say that if you have a belief that contradicts none of your existing beliefs and that you do not have the justification to claim to know that it is false, then it is not irrational to believe it.”

    We continually talk past each other. It’s not about interest, but about knowledge. You are subconsciously setting up the questions based on YOUR definition, and then expect me to answer them based on MINE, which you will then subconsciously translate to YOURS, and our lovely merry-go-round of “You said this! No I didn’t! Yes you did!” will start all over again.

    “A concept” and “that concept” is a presumption that there is a singular concept presented. Yes? You assume the various story elements fit together to form a consistent whole, yes?

    Why make that assumption?

    See, this is nitpicking to the point of sophistry. You jumped on a comment of “that” concept or “a” concept and rode it unerringly to the end that I must be insisting that there’s only one concept there and there must be a consistent whole. But the truth is:

    1) The claim is that this is about one existent thing, which would be about one concept.

    2) That claim might be totally wrong.

    If the claim is that this source supports one concept, I’m going to try to make it one concept. But I may indeed find that to be impossible. But I will not start the analysis by simply dismissing that claim and finding any minor disagreement, but by really taking that claim seriously and seeing if they can indeed all be talking about the same thing, and rejecting it — with the force of argument — when it becomes clear that they can’t. Otherwise, I’ll end up getting from others what you’re getting from me: they’ll call me out for shallowly interpreting the concept and only finding inconsistencies because of that.

  148. #148 Verbose Stoic
    March 10, 2012

    Kel,

    If it’s lost to history, though, then what good is doing that conceptual analysis? You say it’s a mistake, but what I’m asking for is how you can think there’s any knowledge there worth getting to begin with.

    Well, the initial presumption was that in my example people had come across it and were wondering if it was real or not. If they didn’t have it at all or had the context to know whether it was real or not, there’d be no question, but it also wouldn’t be similar to the Bible.

    So, out LotR in precisely the same social and epistemic position of the Bible, and then think about what it would be rational for us to do or not do.

    By that same token, if it looks like mythic storytelling is that grounds for thinking it so?

    I answered that with the “It doesn’t look like a history text from that time” counter. But that’s not the case for the Bible; history and myths from that time period really do look exactly the same.

    In a cautious sense, I think we can say yes to that. My argument is that we base our analysis of their validity off how we know the world to work. The sun standing still in the sky in one place and one time, as far as our understanding of physics goes, is impossible. Just as turning a rod into a serpent is impossible. They could have happened as a theoretical possibility, but based on the way we know the world to work we have every reason to say otherwise.

    Well, see, this is all based on one of two arguments. The one you state is “These things don’t happen regularly” — that’s what science deals in, regularities — to which the answer is “The claim is not that these things happen regularly, but in fact only on very special occasions facilitated by something that can indeed do those things.”. The second unstated one is “We have never seen this things happen”, which is countered by “Our claim is that this is indeed an example where we DID see these things happen”. You can’t, then, simply dismiss an example of something that was a one-time violation of a regularity on the basis that you haven’t seen it happen yet, since you would be demanding that something irregular by definition happen regularly or else you won’t believe it actually happened.

    You’re not going to dissolve this criticism by skirting around what I could possibly mean when I say “know”. Note that I didn’t use the word proof, you did. I didn’t talk about proof, but that it goes against the way we know the world to work.

    The concern over “proof” is nitpicking, especially when I talk about knowledge, but also note that it’s the word atheists use when I demand to know on what basis they know that God doesn’t exist and they want to dodge that.

    By the standard that we know that we evolved, or that the earth orbits the sun, or that cigarettes cause cancer. That the beliefs prone to the possibility they are wrong isn’t really a concern, at least as far as the view I am advocating.

    But the issue is that none of those regularities are damning against specific exceptional cases. The cancer one is the most clear: while we say that cigarettes cause cancer, we also know that they don’t in everyone, and so anyone who tried to dismiss the idea that someone who smoked for 50 years never got cancer would be shown to be making an invalid statement, because we know that in general that’s the case but also that there are exception cases. We also know that while the Earth orbits the Sun currently, it’s quite possible for that to not occur, and it might in theory occur at any time. We might, then, have specific exception cases with no loss of that rule. And we might well have traits that didn’t evolve as well; again, that’s a general statement but as long as most cases are not exceptions it will still hold.

    Science can only provide those sorts of general statements, which makes it quite awkward to try to use it to argue against specific exceptional cases, especially when dealing with entities that by definition can in fact generate those sorts of cases. And that’s not even getting into the claims that you actually DON’T know even in general.

  149. #149 Spartan
    March 10, 2012

    You are subconsciously setting up the questions based on YOUR definition, and then expect me to answer them based on MINE, which you will then subconsciously translate to YOURS, and our lovely merry-go-round of “You said this! No I didn’t! Yes you did!” will start all over again.

    VS, I don’t think that’s what eric is doing. I think he’d like you to answer the questions so he can understand better what exactly your definition is and entails. To me you’ve said a few things here that are inconsistent with some definitions of ‘irrational’ (“Without knowing that fairies never existed, I would not consider it irrational if someone believed that they had.”); it doesn’t mean you are wrong, but asking what conclusions your definition reaches seems a fair strategy to determine exactly what you do mean. And to your credit, I don’t think the exact meaning you are using is from lack of effort on your part; very interesting conversation.

    What term would you use to describe the difference between belief in fairies and belief in the existence of the sun, if the former is neither ‘irrational’ or ‘delusional’? I may and most likely am misinterpreting your definition of ‘irrational’, but I don’t think that there are many things that can absolutely be shown not to exist, and it then seems to me that you believe there are actually very few irrational beliefs that people hold, using your definition.

    atheists seem (to VS) to be demanding a higher standard of evidence for theism then for lots of other concepts which they do believe in.

    This I certainly don’t believe, at least beyond the observation that just like anyone, atheists can have beliefs that haven’t been examined extensively or that are based on incomplete evidence. I’ll be happy to reduce my certainty about anything I might believe based on a standard of evidence that is lower than that I demand of theism. I agree that there is evidence for Yahweh, but the vast majority of it supports an infinite number of god conceptions also, and the Yahweh-specific evidence is countered by equal evidence for the other gods.

  150. #150 Kel
    March 10, 2012

    When you live in an area that has neither horses nor zebras, you have never heard of those things, and yet you are aware of historical stories that talk about unicorns and claim they exist?

    Then the analogy falls over, because my claim depends on the knowledge we do have. I made this clear in point 2: the claims in the bible go against how we know the world to work. We are at a point now where our knowledge of biology, of cryptozoology, of the cultural transmission of fantastical accounts, makes such claims highly suspicious.

    If you don’t see the problem with a rod turning into a serpent, then you really need to go and study more biology. One could be forgiven 3000 years ago for not knowing this, but these days we do know better. Just as if one claims the sun stood in the sky for a full day, what that would entail physically is enough to rule it out. Humanity didn’t descend from one man and its rib, snakes don’t talk nor do they distribute magic fruit. The notion of a global flood is impossible. Casting our demons is an absurdity.

    Your reply here is a variation on “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” The two main problems here is that first judging whether a claim is extraordinary or not depends very much on the beliefs a particular individual has, and so is in some sense subjective. A dualist — which I lean to — will, for example, find ghosts far less extraordinary than someone who is a strict brain-materialist about mind. So unless you can claim to know, say, brain-materialism and so have an objective basis you can talk about what you believe but not about what anyone else ought to believe or consider extraordinary.

    But I’m not asking for a subjective account here, an astrologer doesn’t see their claim as extraordinary nor does a psychic see his that way. But but are extraordinary claims (as is dualism, for the record) given the success of modern science. They don’t easily fit into the models that have been so successful in describing reality. Again, they are extraordinary based on what we know, not anyone’s subjective account.

    If you are making an objective claim, then we can hold you to the same standards that you hold for other beliefs.

    But it is the same “standards”, it’s the implication of the standard that makes for the difference in how we see accounts. Would you accept a claim of seeing a mermaid the same as you would seeing a dolphin? I don’t think you would (at least I hope you wouldn’t), and it’s because it’s not about the rarity of an event (rarity doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen) but because one goes with how we know the world to work and the other against it. Mermaids are biological impossibilities, we know this in the same way that we know that Kirk Cameron is a moron for asking for a crocoduck. If our knowledge of biology is wrong, then we need more than testimony to establish that. It’s the same standard of evidence, but it leads to very different outcomes when applied properly.

  151. #151 Kel
    March 10, 2012

    The one you state is “These things don’t happen regularly” — that’s what science deals in, regularities — to which the answer is “The claim is not that these things happen regularly, but in fact only on very special occasions facilitated by something that can indeed do those things.”.

    Actually, my claim is that based on what we know, these things can’t happen. Not that they don’t happen regularly, but that there’s a violation of how we know the world to work. Rare and unusual things happen all the time, the law of large numbers means that we should by chance see unusual things. You’ve reframed my argument into something completely unrecognisable – perhaps it’s that I’m talking incoherent gibberish and you’re trying to turn it into something more clear, but what you’ve stated here is a straw-man of what I’m putting forward.

    The second unstated one is “We have never seen this things happen”, which is countered by “Our claim is that this is indeed an example where we DID see these things happen”. You can’t, then, simply dismiss an example of something that was a one-time violation of a regularity on the basis that you haven’t seen it happen yet, since you would be demanding that something irregular by definition happen regularly or else you won’t believe it actually happened.

    That wasn’t unstated, it’s the opposite of what I’m saying. I’m not basing this on induction, it’s not that something hasn’t yet been observed, but that we have scientific reasons to think that something cannot happen.

    The cancer one is the most clear: while we say that cigarettes cause cancer, we also know that they don’t in everyone, and so anyone who tried to dismiss the idea that someone who smoked for 50 years never got cancer would be shown to be making an invalid statement, because we know that in general that’s the case but also that there are exception cases.

    Cigarettes cause cancer in a probabilistic sense. It’s calculated that with all the conditions that smoking can cause, about 1 in 2 people will die from the habit (see: Merchents Of Doubt).

    We also know that while the Earth orbits the Sun currently, it’s quite possible for that to not occur, and it might in theory occur at any time. We might, then, have specific exception cases with no loss of that rule.

    Like what? Can you give examples of this that we should expect and how they could fit into our understanding of planetary orbits?

    Science can only provide those sorts of general statements, which makes it quite awkward to try to use it to argue against specific exceptional cases, especially when dealing with entities that by definition can in fact generate those sorts of cases. And that’s not even getting into the claims that you actually DON’T know even in general.

    Do you think that the sun standing still in the sky for a day cannot be commented on by astrophysics? I’m really not sure why you think that science is somehow limited in this respect. I’m doubly not sure how it is conceptual analysis could make it any clearer. If someone claims the sun stood still in the sky for a full day, would that mean the earth’s rotation had ceased or would it mean something else? I don’t think that you can give an account of that happening without modifying how we understand the world to work. If someone was able to turn a rod into a serpent, how would that work with our understanding of biology? We’d need to modify our understanding of biology so much that any misguided creationist objection about spontaneous formation would be wrong.

  152. #152 eric
    March 10, 2012

    VS @145:

    Do I have to go back to the thread and point out the place where you replied to my claiming that I was appealing to the source text that the tri-omni God had equal textual support? I recall you doing that, but never backing it up. But even here it isn’t clear what your objection is

    On this particular point, my complaint is that you are digressing. Jason’s comments, my comments, are about the irrationality of the common christian God conception. Whether it has more, less, or zero support from the bible is somewhat beside the point. You keep wanting to drive the conversation into a discussion of a different god concept, one for which human suffering is not seen as a morally bad thing (from quote below).

    If I can make an argument that suffering is not the determinant of morality or even more strongly — as I just did on my own blog — that suffering (pain and pleasure specifically) has no intrinsic moral value then we would say that God allowing suffering would not, in fact, mean that He had violated his moral goodness.

    Okay. But now you’re talking about the god-conception Yahweh prime, not Yahweh. I’m not interested in discussing Yahweh prime – its belief-community consists of approximately 1 person, who I don’t expect to try to legally push religion in science classes. Yahweh-prime believers neither pick my pocket nor break my leg, so I’m okay with them. Believe away!

    And since this is independent philosophical argumentation it puts your argument in deep trouble, since it means that you are basing it on unstated philosophical premises that I can actually objectively argue against.

    Look, I am not trying to defend the god-concept I’m discussing. If you think its in deep philosophical trouble, great, so do I. That’s one of the points of Jason’s multiple posts on this topic and my agreement with it: the common christian god-concept has severe conceptual problems.

    [eric] I am really, truly, interested in whether Yahweh belief and fairy belief are both rational, both irrational, or one is rational and the other isn’t according to THIS: “I say that if you have a belief that contradicts none of your existing beliefs and that you do not have the justification to claim to know that it is false, then it is not irrational to believe it.”

    [VS] We continually talk past each other. It’s not about interest, but about knowledge. You are subconsciously setting up the questions based on YOUR definition, and then expect me to answer them based on MINE, which you will then subconsciously translate to YOURS, and our lovely merry-go-round of “You said this! No I didn’t! Yes you did!” will start all over again.

    No, I’m really not. As spartan said, what I’m trying to do is understand your definition of rational belief. Is it a broad definition that includes beliefs in a wide range of unknown entities? Is it a strict definition that knocks belief in such entities out? And I’m also trying to understand if (you think) there is something about a god that puts it in a different category than a fairy – and if so, what that something is.

    I have even told you what I think your criteria imply, and you didn’t ever bother confirming or denying it. For the record, I think you’re broadening the definition of rationality to such an extent that most people would no longer agree with it. (Thus, the comparison between your ‘rationality’ and Mike Behe’s ‘science.’)

    This does not make your conception “wrong.” But it does mean that if I (or kel, or anyone else) agrees with you that god-belief is rational according to your criteria, that does not imply I think god-belief is rational in the standard sense of the word.

  153. #153 Verbose Stoic
    March 12, 2012

    Spartan,

    VS, I don’t think that’s what eric is doing. I think he’d like you to answer the questions so he can understand better what exactly your definition is and entails.

    And much of my response has been that I can’t actually just give him, say, a “Yes/No” answer because his question doesn’t make much sense using my definition. Note that doing this is not exactly unheard of in philosophy; I just finished a class where Bertrand Russell and John Dewey, seemingly, spent a lot of time doing precisely that to each other [grin].

    If he wants to understand, the first thing he could do is acknowledge my clarifications, especially when I say things like his comparables aren’t comparable to me, for example.

    What term would you use to describe the difference between belief in fairies and belief in the existence of the sun, if the former is neither ‘irrational’ or ‘delusional’?

    From those two? I’d probably say that the latter is knowledge and the former would be a weak belief, one that you couldn’t have much confidence in and so that you wouldn’t want to act on strongly.

    I may and most likely am misinterpreting your definition of ‘irrational’, but I don’t think that there are many things that can absolutely be shown not to exist, and it then seems to me that you believe there are actually very few irrational beliefs that people hold, using your definition.

    Well, a belief becomes irrational if it clashes with knowledge or other beliefs. Kel, in fact, is right on when he says that (my clash with him is that the things he thinks he knows he doesn’t). But if you can’t believe in multiply exclusive things, then you see that we have a limitation on what can be believed so that it doesn’t include everything. But I also wonder why it would be a problem or in any way questionnable to limit the amount of irrational beliefs that people hold? Especially if in most of the cases the actual move is to go from labelling them irrational to labelling them wrong?

    This I certainly don’t believe, at least beyond the observation that just like anyone, atheists can have beliefs that haven’t been examined extensively or that are based on incomplete evidence.

    As I believe I clarified later, it’s more about types of evidence than just about standards. Personal experiences underlie every single belief we have — including scientific ones, especially if you agree with Russell — and yet when the belief turns up something that the atheist doesn’t accept they’re immediately turfed from being evidence at all, for example.

  154. #154 Verbose Stoic
    March 12, 2012

    Kel,

    Then the analogy falls over, because my claim depends on the knowledge we do have.

    Thus, the argument is now over whether you do have the knowledge you think you have, and that many of your fellow atheists deny you have.

    If you don’t see the problem with a rod turning into a serpent, then you really need to go and study more biology.

    Why? No one is saying that that rod is turned into a snake using proven biological methods. We are all aware that rods do not, in fact, typically evolve or develop into snakes. What’s being proposed is transmutation, changing the structure of an inanimate object into an animate one. What, then, in biology rules that out? Again, no one’s claiming that it’s habitual, but are claiming that with a certain specific power — that may be beyond our current grasp — an entity could do it. Where would this contradict biology?

    Just as if one claims the sun stood in the sky for a full day, what that would entail physically is enough to rule it out.

    Why? Given access to any possible technology you can imagine, surely we could stop the world from rotating, and start it back up again, no? Yeah, it doesn’t happen often, and they couldn’t do it and we can’t do it now, but that can’t be what your argument is relying on. You have to be relying on it being something that we couldn’t do even with all the power we could possibly have. And I see no reason why that would hold.

    Humanity didn’t descend from one man and its rib, snakes don’t talk nor do they distribute magic fruit.

    Well, it’s not really fair to rely on the things that I think are clear allegory, but I argue that we do know the former — due to evolution — while the latter two are you, again, attempting to use a regularity to reject a specific. No one claims that snakes generally talk, but only that one — possibly a very special one — did there — if you take it literally.

    But but are extraordinary claims (as is dualism, for the record) given the success of modern science. They don’t easily fit into the models that have been so successful in describing reality. Again, they are extraordinary based on what we know, not anyone’s subjective account.

    But that they don’t fit neatly into scientific models only necessarily means that they are extraordinary to scientists. Philosophers — especially those with experience in philosophy of science — will note that scientific models are adjusted all the time, and so this may be one of those cases. And in every day reasoning most people trust their own perceptions over scientific models. If you start from “Scientific models define ordinary/extraordinary”, then you can get to your point, but that’s clearly not a common assumption.

    I don’t think you would (at least I hope you wouldn’t), and it’s because it’s not about the rarity of an event (rarity doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen) but because one goes with how we know the world to work and the other against it.

    Returning to scientific models, note that the main reason to trust dolphins over mermaids is indeed due to rarity because dolphins get into what we know about how the world works because they are, in fact, seen regularly and have been studied. If you could do the same for mermaids then they’d be part of how we know the world to work and the scientific models would be updated to include them.

    Mermaids are biological impossibilities, we know this …

    And how, pray tell, do you know this? In order for this to stick, you would have to accept, it seems to me, that even if I was given access to any DNA I wanted and had the ability to generate the genome completely from the ground up that there would be no possible way for me to generate anything that could possibly fit the definition of a mermaid. I find that rather difficult to imagine, so perhaps you could give some details on exactly why mermaids are, in fact, so biologically impossible.

  155. #155 Verbose Stoic
    March 12, 2012

    eric,

    Okay. But now you’re talking about the god-conception Yahweh prime, not Yahweh. I’m not interested in discussing Yahweh prime – its belief-community consists of approximately 1 person, who I don’t expect to try to legally push religion in science classes. Yahweh-prime believers neither pick my pocket nor break my leg, so I’m okay with them. Believe away!

    Two very important points here:

    1) I’m not, actually, talking about a different god-conception. I’m talking about a different conception of GOOD. As I already pointed out a number of times, your argument relies heavily on using a broadly Utilitarian idea of the Good. So, when you ask as if it should be obvious “Well, shoudn’t 100,000 years of extra suffering change your opinion?”, I can reply that if you are a Utilitarian it should, but that if you are a Kantian, Aristolean, Stoic, Virtue Theorist, Divine Law Theorist or any number of other views or systems dealing with morality it not only SHOULDN’T change your opinion but the question is actually one that makes no sense to them. You’re playing on the moral intuitions of people, not their religious intuitions. Not their folk religion, but their folk morality. And there is absolutely no reason to think that their folk morality is right, and many good reasons to think it wrong. So you rely on the “total amount of suffering” intuition, as well as the “It is not Good to not prevent suffering when you can” intuition. Neither of these are safe philosophically, and they aren’t even safe as intuitions. That’s what my parent analogy was aiming at, which is why your reply of “God could” was a weak counter; we’re asking if it would be moral or Good, not whether He could. The parents can as well, and choose not to. The Eden and heaven examples were weak as well because they were clearly not the cases we were talking about.

    Now, you can try to argue that the morality referenced in the concept of God you are talking about really is Utilitarian, but you won’t get there from folk religion. You’ll have to go back to the main source — the Bible — and demonstrate that. Which is exactly what I did with my appeal to the Garden of Eden story. And I’m not even sure you can get it, and also wonder why you think that folk religion doesn’t just say “If God says it’s moral, then it is”.

    That’s the main problem. You rely on things outside of the folk theology you claim to be limiting yourself to, and then refuse to address any attempts to go after those things outside of that folk theology. You can see why that would be frustrating to those arguing with you and seemingly revealing that it isn’t truth you are after, but something else.

    Which leads to the second point: if you just want religions to stop imposing themselves on you and on society, why are you taking the really hard step into trying so hard to prove it false and inconsistent? Why not welcome people like me who are trying to say that evolution and religion are in some way compatible? If I can convince people that I’m right, then they’ll stop, for example, trying to impose creationism in school since they’ll see that their belief is consistent with it. So it strikes me that you really want people to stop believing something that you think is false, and are trying to justify claiming that it is false by pointing out that it is inconsistent with what we know. At which point, surely I get the chance to show that you — and even those folk religionists that you aim at — are wrong about that inconsistency.

  156. #156 Verbose Stoic
    March 12, 2012

    eric,

    No, I’m really not. As spartan said, what I’m trying to do is understand your definition of rational belief. Is it a broad definition that includes beliefs in a wide range of unknown entities? Is it a strict definition that knocks belief in such entities out? And I’m also trying to understand if (you think) there is something about a god that puts it in a different category than a fairy – and if so, what that something is.

    I have even told you what I think your criteria imply, and you didn’t ever bother confirming or denying it. For the record, I think you’re broadening the definition of rationality to such an extent that most people would no longer agree with it. (Thus, the comparison between your ‘rationality’ and Mike Behe’s ‘science.’)

    This does not make your conception “wrong.” But it does mean that if I (or kel, or anyone else) agrees with you that god-belief is rational according to your criteria, that does not imply I think god-belief is rational in the standard sense of the word.

    These mighte be better questions. I don’t recall where didn’t bother to confirm or deny your consequences, but I suspect that I did address it by pointing out that you had my idea wrong. And in return you never bothered to answer my question about why you would think that a belief in fairies is something that can be called irrational. And, so, actually, you know what? Why don’t we start there? Tell me what you think it is about fairy and god beliefs that makes them irrational, putting aside any existing belief you have — even if you think you know it — or any epistemic principle that you do not know. How do YOU go about sorting beliefs into rational and irrational, into the cases that you can reasonably believe and the cases you can’t?

    My criteria is indeed a bit more open than I suspect yours is, but note that I continually point out that it is indeed so in those cases where you don’t and can’t know what to believe. To sum mine up, I would say that what you OUGHT to believe is what best fits into your Web of Belief, and I can’t see any other notion of rational that can work for beliefs themselves. But what’s yours?

  157. #157 Kel
    March 12, 2012

    Again, no one’s claiming that it’s habitual, but are claiming that with a certain specific power — that may be beyond our current grasp — an entity could do it.

    Right there you are putting in a qualification which only serves to illustrate my point. It can’t work by the forces of physics we know, so we are having to invoke something outside of what we know in order to explain it. It’s possible in the sense that we don’t know absolutely everything or that some great intelligence could have done it, but it doesn’t detract from my point at all.

    My original statement:
    In a cautious sense, I think we can say yes to that. My argument is that we base our analysis of their validity off how we know the world to work. The sun standing still in the sky in one place and one time, as far as our understanding of physics goes, is impossible. Just as turning a rod into a serpent is impossible. They could have happened as a theoretical possibility, but based on the way we know the world to work we have every reason to say otherwise.” [emphasis added]

    It comes down to two things: either we have our understanding of the laws of physics wrong, or we’re invoking something from the outside to explain it. Your examples only served to prove my point: “Given access to any possible technology you can imagine, surely we could stop the world from rotating, and start it back up again, no?” Given a possible technology, perhaps (maybe it is impossible), but my argument wasn’t about that possibility (see my above quote) but whether or not we have reason to think it happened.

    Well, it’s not really fair to rely on the things that I think are clear allegory

    There’s as much reason to think the woman coming from a rib is an allegory as there is for thinking that staves turn into snakes, that the sun stood still for a day, that a man survived in the belly of a fish, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that Jesus rose from the dead, etc.

    No one claims that snakes generally talk, but only that one — possibly a very special one — did there — if you take it literally.

    Seriously?

    But that they don’t fit neatly into scientific models only necessarily means that they are extraordinary to scientists. Philosophers — especially those with experience in philosophy of science — will note that scientific models are adjusted all the time, and so this may be one of those cases.

    What would that shift to dualism look like? How would it fit into the model? I’m not denying here that models shift, but invoking something like dualism isn’t how scientific models shift. What force would dualism be? How would it work? It’s not just that our models don’t fit dualism currently, dualism isn’t really amenable to the idea of fitting into a scientific model.

    Returning to scientific models, note that the main reason to trust dolphins over mermaids is indeed due to rarity because dolphins get into what we know about how the world works because they are, in fact, seen regularly and have been studied. If you could do the same for mermaids then they’d be part of how we know the world to work and the scientific models would be updated to include them.

    Exactly! But in trying to judge the claim of mermaids, we’re stuck using our current understanding of how the world works. And things like mermaids (and centaurs, and crocoducks) don’t fit into our understanding. So it’s not only that we know dolphins exist and don’t know about mermaids, but that if we discovered an unknown species of dolphin it would fit into our current ontology while mermaids (or centaurs or crocoducks) would require us to change our understanding of how the world works.

    And how, pray tell, do you know this? In order for this to stick, you would have to accept, it seems to me, that even if I was given access to any DNA I wanted and had the ability to generate the genome completely from the ground up that there would be no possible way for me to generate anything that could possibly fit the definition of a mermaid.

    Again, you’re invoking an outside force in order to explain it. It’s interesting that you keep not saying our models are wrong or inadequate (they could be), but that with our current models we’d need an outside force to make it so. Yet even if you could do it, how would that work for the time of mermaid legends? Even if you could do it, we’d still have every reason (note I’m not saying absolute certainty) to think the accounts are fictional in a way that we wouldn’t think accounts of dolphins are. Sure, there could have been a super-advanced civilisation on this planet that did what you say, or that there could have been an extra-terrestrial intelligence that did it, or it could have been some omnipotent deity who can do the miraculous – but in each case we’re just ad hoc invoking unknown agency to explain what quote clearly are fantastical accounts.

  158. #158 eric
    March 12, 2012

    VS:

    1) I’m not, actually, talking about a different god-conception. I’m talking about a different conception of GOOD.

    Your different conception of good results in a christian god-conception that has no moral issue with human suffering, correct?

    Don’t you recognize that most Christians would disagree with that conception of God? Disagree with a god-concept that has no moral issue with human suffering?

    If yes, then you recognize that you are talking about a Yahweh prime, not a Yahweh.

    Why don’t we start there? Tell me what you think it is about fairy and god beliefs that makes them irrational,

    One, there is no evidence for them. Nor, in most cases, do the concepts seems testable even in principle any more (see two, below). Like philosophy’s invisible gardner, there seems to be no objective difference between a fairy-containing world and a non-fairy-containing world.

    Two, past historical claims about what these entities have done seem to be disconfirmed to such an extent that the believers have largely stopped making testable claims. Such behavior is consistent with an irrational belief. It shows a desire to protect god-belief and not ditch it when contrary evidence appears. We don’t need angels to explain disease or the orbit of Mercury any more, so suddenly, God doesn’t do those things…but he still exists! You see similar patterns of change-test-but-keep-entity with alien abduction, bigfoot, end-of-the-world predictions etc. As evidence is collected which does not meet initial bold predictions, they give way to hazy predictions, which give way to no predictions or omphalosism and a claim that the belief is consistent with anything we might find.

    But – and this is important – I would also say that definitions of rationality are hazy things. A complete and ‘bright line’ definition of it is probably beyond me. Fairies (and bigfoot, abducting aliens, etc…) are intended to cut through definitional problems and understand how you apply your concept. “Is it rational in the way fairies are rational” is like “is it smaller than a breadbox.” Its not an attempt to define “small,” its an attempt to place your entity in relation to other entities. As I have said multiple times before, I am not going to claim your definition of rationality is “wrong” if you say both fairy belief and god belief are rational. The strongest comment I would make if that were the case is that its nonstandard to such an extent that “rational under VS definition” does not logically imply “rational the way most people consider rational.”

    So now you’ve claimed in two separate posts that I don’t answer your questions and I’ve answered both of those posts. Please now tell me whether, under your criteria, you think god-belief and fairy-belief are both rational, both irrational, or differently rational?

  159. #159 Kel
    March 12, 2012

    Science isn’t only coming up with generalisations, but it’s coming up with explanations. That the sun will rise in the east tomorrow isn’t that it has risen every day in the past, but that the explanation of the earth’s rotation combined with it orbiting the the sun. The explanation is what matters. As you rightly point out, Verbose Stoic, what at would take explanatory-speaking for the sun to stand still in the sky is something outside the system as we currently understand it. It’s what it would take given our model to be able to explain such a happening.

    There might be no scientific reason to think that such beings can’t exist (after all, we are a product of the universe), but what reason would we have to put such an occurance forward as a real possibility? It could have happened that way, but it would be speculation on top of speculation to entertain such a thought seriously. After all, we have good reason to think the observation wouldn’t be true to begin with. Humans embellish, they make stuff up, they use poetic devices to make nonliteral points. That combined with what it would take given our understanding of the system is enough to think that such an account is nonsense.

  160. #160 Spartan
    March 12, 2012

    VS,

    And much of my response has been that I can’t actually just give him, say, a “Yes/No” answer because his question doesn’t make much sense using my definition.

    Does it make sense using his definition then or are you unclear on his definition? Totally understandable as eric noted, ‘rationality’ is very fuzzy. I admit I haven’t read before the 100th comment so maybe this is ancient history, but I’m not clear on why we need to use your definition of the word in the first place. That’s not a swipe at you at all, but I’m assuming that your definition is more accurate or is more useful in this discussion which is why it is important to understand it, or that your point or answer to eric’ question can only be understood if this definition is understood. Which you’ve laid out pretty succinctly actually, a belief is irrational if it conflicts with knowledge or other beliefs. So to butt in, my answer to eric’s question is god-belief and fairy-belief are both rational using your definition, neither really conflicts with knowledge nor my ‘beliefs’ even though I’m an atheist and don’t believe in fairies currently. They are irrational under my definition because I include whether there is enough or any direct evidence for something to exist or be true before terming it ‘rational’. There are a lot of, yes ‘delusional’, people who believe they are being watched by the CIA. I think they fit your definition of rational however as the CIA exists and does in fact watch people, and this idea doesn’t really ‘clash’ with any knowledge or beliefs.

    There may be a reason for you to look at it from this angle and forgive if I’ve misinterpreted, but you seem to focus on ‘what reason should you not believe, what does it conflict with?’ while I approach it from ‘why should I believe?’. The reason I don’t approach it from what I see to be your perspective is that there are endless propositions that have been put forth by people that aren’t necessarily ‘clashing’ with knowledge that have either been disproved as much as they can be or we’re still waiting for some convincing evidence of.

    As I believe I clarified later, it’s more about types of evidence than just about standards. Personal experiences underlie every single belief we have — including scientific ones,

    Eric’s question is more important so please don’t let me distract you from that, but I’m very interested in your proposition that I may hold beliefs to be true personally based on lesser standards or based on some inconsistency in the ‘types of evidence’ I accept. Like I said, I haven’t read the whole thread but I thought that most of it concerns the evolution=bloodsport argument; if you’ve addressed this question or provided an earlier example, let me know and I’ll search for it. Or, tell me what would be the type of proposition that an average atheist would hold to be true based on ‘something less’ than they accept for theism.

  161. #161 eric
    March 12, 2012

    Kel:

    I’m not clear on why we need to use your definition of the word in the first place.

    Mainly I was doing so to stop yet another digression. Before we argue over what constitutes a reasonable definition of rational, let’s just see where VS’s definition takes us.

  162. #162 Kel
    March 13, 2012

    That was Spartan, not me. Don’t particularly care how Verbose Stoic tries to define rational, only the question of how we apply scientific understanding to fantastical claims.

  163. #163 Spartan
    March 13, 2012

    Don’t particularly care how Verbose Stoic tries to define rational, only the question of how we apply scientific understanding to fantastical claims.

    Nor do I particularly, just seemed like eric’s asked the same question several times and progress seems to have stalled a bit because of definitional disputes.

  164. #164 JimV
    March 13, 2012

    It seems to me that what we have here is a sophisticated version of the old apologist standby: “You can’t prove my God doesn’t exist.”

    The answer I like for that is the one Randi gave to the defender of horoscopes, something like this, “You’re absolutely right, I can’t. Nor can I prove that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. All I can do is demonstrate that everything astrology claims to produce by magic can be reproduced by natural means.”

    In the case of the Earth stopping in its rotation, the analogous natural means would be: a) time seems to move slowly in the heat of a battle; b) people exaggerate; and c) people like to tell tall tales.

    Plus the “natural means” offer something gods and magic don’t: some explanatory value as to how and why things occur, which in turn provides some hope of predicting what will occur in the future. “God did it” isn’t an explanation, to me, it’s an excuse for not looking for an explanation. It would be different if some theistic god actually did provide reproducible evidence, such as prayers being answered. So by “natural” I mean in accordance with the universe as I know it.

    By the way, if a god wanted to provide light so a battle could continue, there are much easier ways of doing it than to stop the Earth’s rotation. I would have used a giant space mirror. Funny how the Biblical miracles involved myths (the Sun as a chariot which would be stopped and started) or technologies of the time, such as commandments carved in stone. Again, that’s not disproof, just an example of the consistent explanations provided by natural means.

  165. #165 Kel
    March 13, 2012

    It seems to me that what we have here is a sophisticated version of the old apologist standby: “You can’t prove my God doesn’t exist.”

    “Christians demand that I must show their faith is impossible before they will see that it is improbable.” – John Loftus

  166. #166 eric
    March 13, 2012

    JimV and Kel – I said something similar back in February, that this was a ‘you can’t prove my God doesn’t exist’ argument.

    VS’ response was: “Why do you think that sort of argument isn’t one that could be used at the academic level and would at worst just be a bad argument? See why I’m getting a bit frustrated here?” See @292 on the previous “Trouble with Theistic Evolution” thread if you’re interested (dated Feb 21st).

    Perhaps the issue is that using VS’ criteria for rational belief is not enough to render a belief rational. Example: I am standing in front of a roulette wheel. I note that it has 38 spots, numbered 0, 00, and 1-36. I place all my money on #12 and declare that I believe, with all my heart, that that will be the next number to come up. You ask me why, and I say: well, first I rationally eliminated all real numbers except 0-36 and this odd 00 thing, because no other numbers appear on the wheel. Of the remaining numbers, I just picked #12. It is thus rational to believe #12 will come up next.

    Am I right that that’s a rational belief? It doesn’t seem like it. It feels like that’s a irrational belief. Because the selection process, while initially rational, was also somewhat arbitrary in its final stages. VS’ criteria are like that: they eliminate a lot of things via decent criteria. But then there comes this arbitrary decision to believe in one particular God over other Gods, and that causes the whole thing to depart from what we could consider ‘a rational decision.’

  167. #167 JimV
    March 13, 2012

    Once I see that is the basic argument, e.g., “you can’t prove the Earth didn’t stop rotating – you weren’t there” (although in that case, shouldn’t some other cultures with written histories such as China and Egypt also have noticed this event? – sorry for the digression), my better nature would tell me to acknowledge the truth of the statement and end the argument.

    My worse nature would persist with this example: You are on trial for murder and your defense lawyer argues as follows: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, the prosecution claims than because my client was found standing over the body of the deceased victim with a smoking gun, with gunpower residue on his hand and clothes, and a bullet from that gun was found to be the cause of the victim’s very recent death, that this proves my client is guilty. It proves nothing! We contend that aliens from outer space framed my client by teleporting him to the scene and teleporting the gun into his hand, and firing it by remotely-controlled nanobots. The prosecution cannot prove this did not happen!”

    Very little can be absolutely proved with no possibility of denial, so we have to use the best evidence we have – which is produced by scientists practicing science.

  168. #168 Kel
    March 14, 2012

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
    “Any sufficiently advanced ETI is indistinguishable from God.” – Michael Shermer

    That we can conceive of an advanced technological species that has the capacity to do what we would normally consider impossible doesn’t have any impact on the weight of argument. After all, if God is omnipotent and omniscient, then something’s scientific plausibility has little relevance. Sure we may be able to conceive of some genetic engineers making hybrids of two completely different lineages, but an omnipotent God could simply will mermaids into exists whether it be physically possible or not. You don’t need the earth to stop rotating for the sun to stand still either, God could have created the illusion that the sun was still staying in the sky only for that particular part of the region. Heck, he could have given it only to the individuals who were participating in the massacre so it would have appeared only to them.

    We can go on like this, coming up with ad hoc story after ad hoc story and all of them can be justified just so long as it doesn’t cause a paradox for God’s omnipotence. There’s no need for even trying to push it in the naturalistic framework, for that matter, as God isn’t bound to work inside that. If we’re going for ad hoc invocations of the miraculous, then there’s nothing beyond logical consistency to say that it couldn’t happen.

    Yet none of this counters the point I’ve made about science. Even if an omnipotent God can make a talking snake, it’s not to say that there’s any justification in believing the account of a talking snake. Our scientific reason suggests that talking snakes are a fantastical invention of mythic storytelling, not to be found in our current understanding of ontology, and thus sufficient to reject it (pending evidence to the contrary). It’s not to say that science rules out miracles, but defines what a miracle would constitute and what it would take to actually think that such an account is reasonable. That it could be doesn’t mean it’s anything other than absurd to think it is. The best anyone is ever going to gain from such blind speculation is logically consistent nonsense!

  169. #169 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    Sorry for not replying to the other comments yet, but I’ve been busy. It seems that my employers are actually requiring me to do work! I’m as shocked and appalled as you are [grin].

    Anyway, on the comment in 292 that eric references, here’s what I went on to clarify:

    Anyway, the thrust here is that if you say that the specific God you’re talking about is inconsistent with evolution, and I can show how your reasons for that do not in fact prove that at all, then your argument is muted. Jason here tries to dance around that with an appeal to implausbility, but that runs into the same problem: taking my four counter-arguments, I don’t consider it anywhere near as implausible as he does. However, note that I’m not saying that your not being able to prove that the concept is incompatible and that God doesn’t exist means that everyone should believe He does. I am merely saying that if you can’t prove to the standard of knowledge that God does not exist then you cannot argue that everyone really should abandon that belief. I have no need to give up a belief I have based on insufficient evidence and argumentation, any more than you need adopt one.

    In short, I don’t know if God exists, but neither do you.

    Note that eric, as far as I could see or recall, never actually addressed this.

  170. #170 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “Note that eric, as far as I could see or recall, never actually addressed this.”

    Because

    a) you’re lying. Again.

    b) it’s irrelevant.

    You’ve spent ages and ages trying to argue that god DOES exist, special pleading all over the place and reversing and hiding your arguments as necessary to continue to believe YOUR god exists.

    Hence: lying.

    And it’s irrelevant, since there’s absolutely no need for any God at all and including one just makes things harder to explain.

    We don’t know *an unspecified* god DOESN’T exist, but we DO know that any biblical god written down doesn’t exist as they are written down.

  171. #171 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    Kel,

    Right there you are putting in a qualification which only serves to illustrate my point. It can’t work by the forces of physics we know, so we are having to invoke something outside of what we know in order to explain it. It’s possible in the sense that we don’t know absolutely everything or that some great intelligence could have done it, but it doesn’t detract from my point at all.

    However, it clearly limits your argument’s relevance to the debate over God, because no one there is claiming that it just happened according to the regular laws of physics, but instead the claim is that some entity directly intervened and made it happen. Just like no one claims that automobiles of their own accord naturally move from place to place, but that that has to be achieved by an entity with the power to move from one place to another. Again, if you want to argue that it is not the case that the Earth stops rotating on a regular basis, no one will deny that, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the cases cited where an external force WAS purported to have been involved.

    Given a possible technology, perhaps (maybe it is impossible), but my argument wasn’t about that possibility (see my above quote) but whether or not we have reason to think it happened.

    But the reason we have for thinking it happened is, in fact, the claims that someone saw it happen. So the reasons — and the reliability of those reasons and the confidence we should have in thinking that it did happen — all flow from that. What you’re bringing in from science really has nothing to do with that, unless you want to take the dramatic view Hume does and insist that “supernatural” things so violate the ways you know things to be that even if you had as secure evidence as you possibly could and would even say that that evidence would justify knowledge in any other case it should be dismissed. I don’t think the laws of science you’re bringing in state anything strong enough to justify that. Thus, we’re back to “How reliable are the accounts?”, and I’ll admit that they aren’t close to what we’d need for knowledge or, in my opinion, even strong belief. But that doesn’t mean that they are in any way ruled out either.

    There’s as much reason to think the woman coming from a rib is an allegory as there is for thinking that staves turn into snakes, that the sun stood still for a day, that a man survived in the belly of a fish, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that Jesus rose from the dead, etc.

    You always like to list these things, but never seem to give the reasons or standards you’re using to validate them. Yes, to you it may seem that way, but it doesn’t seem that way to me. And I did point out differences and have talked about why the Garden of Eden story clearly works as allegory when some other cases might not. I can do it again if you like, but you do need more justification than just a list if you want to claim that these are all equivalent. As a quick example, note that being born of a virgin is not, in fact, even scientifically impossible for us today.

    No one claims that snakes generally talk, but only that one — possibly a very special one — did there — if you take it literally.

    Seriously?

    What part of that do you find incredible: that no Judeo-Christian is claiming that snakes generally talk or that it’s only a problem if you take the story literally?

    I’ll continue the rest in the next comment …

  172. #172 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    Kel,

    What would that shift to dualism look like? How would it fit into the model? I’m not denying here that models shift, but invoking something like dualism isn’t how scientific models shift. What force would dualism be? How would it work? It’s not just that our models don’t fit dualism currently, dualism isn’t really amenable to the idea of fitting into a scientific model.

    You seem to be focusing on dualism here although as far as I can recall dualism wasn’t the specific comment there, so that’s a little awkward. But note that someone like Chalmers is indeed trying to find a way to fit a more dualistic view of consciousness into science, and I can’t imagine that fitting dualism into science would be that much harder than fitting relativity into it. Ultimately, if I could prove that we need to have a consciousness separate from brain, science would adapt their models to it fairly easily, likely by simply changing what they meant by “physical” to include it, or start looking at things that are not physical. We’ve certainly had just as if not more radical shifts in science in the past.

    Exactly! But in trying to judge the claim of mermaids, we’re stuck using our current understanding of how the world works. And things like mermaids (and centaurs, and crocoducks) don’t fit into our understanding. So it’s not only that we know dolphins exist and don’t know about mermaids, but that if we discovered an unknown species of dolphin it would fit into our current ontology while mermaids (or centaurs or crocoducks) would require us to change our understanding of how the world works.

    The main issue here is that you were indeed claiming that mermaids were “biological impossibilities”, and I can’t see in what way you meant it. Using biology as we know it, would it be possible — assuming no limits on technology — to produce mermaids without overturning any of the existing biological laws and theories? Yep. Could we imagine a hypothetical world were mermaids were in fact produced by evolution as we know it? Yep. So all we really have here is that we don’t think that they WERE produced in this world … a presumption that we’d have to drop if we ever got sufficiently reliable evidence that they in fact were. So, again, this all comes down to the reliability of the source evidence, and that would hold for that new species of dolphin, too. If someone reported a vague sighting of a dolphin-like creature that didn’t fit into any existing species, it’d be as doubtful scientifically as mermaids, despite the fact that the way we know the world to be suggests that it could happen.

    Again, you’re invoking an outside force in order to explain it. It’s interesting that you keep not saying our models are wrong or inadequate (they could be), but that with our current models we’d need an outside force to make it so. Yet even if you could do it, how would that work for the time of mermaid legends? Even if you could do it, we’d still have every reason (note I’m not saying absolute certainty) to think the accounts are fictional in a way that we wouldn’t think accounts of dolphins are. Sure, there could have been a super-advanced civilisation on this planet that did what you say, or that there could have been an extra-terrestrial intelligence that did it, or it could have been some omnipotent deity who can do the miraculous – but in each case we’re just ad hoc invoking unknown agency to explain what quote clearly are fantastical accounts.

    We have to be talking past each other. I was assuming that when you said that it was a biological impossibility that you meant, well, that it was at least an inherent violation of the laws and theories of biology. Here, however, you seem to be denying that and relying on the argument I already called out about you saying that you don’t think it happened. But what if it had, in the case of mermaids? What if we clearly found mermaid fossils or mermaid DNA or an indisputable account that mermaids had been sighted? None of that “biological impossibility” stuff could be used against that reliable of evidence, surely, and so you cannot use that sort of biological impossibility to cast doubt ON a source; to even use the argument you’re using implies that the source is already doubtful. Otherwise, you retreat to “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, in this case meaning extraordinarily reliable, and my counter is that that still depends on what you consider extraordinary, since you would consider those “biological impossibilities” and I wouldn’t care, since I know that any biological impossibilities aren’t problems if the evidence is reliable enough and so in my opinion simply don’t count.

  173. #173 eric
    March 14, 2012

    VS @169:

    if you say that the specific God you’re talking about is inconsistent with evolution, and I can show how your reasons for that do not in fact prove that at all, then your argument is muted.

    I addressed this. Your ‘reasons’ consist of positing a different nature for God, one which is hunky dory with human suffering. Thus, your refutation is nothing more than changing the subject of the conversation. I say ‘A-belief is irrational,’ and your response is ‘well B-belief isn’t.’ Okay…but I’m not talking about B. The specific God I’m talking sees human suffering as a bad thing, would like to alleviate it, and has the power to do so. That is the standard conception of God, not yours.

    I am merely saying that if you can’t prove to the standard of knowledge that God does not exist then you cannot argue that everyone really should abandon that belief. I have no need to give up a belief I have based on insufficient evidence and argumentation, any more than you need adopt one.

    I also addressed this, albeit I did not clearly tell you I was doing so. Your “I have no need to give up a belief…” puts God-belief in the same catgory as unicorns, fairies, bigfoot, anal-probing aliens, the loch ness monster, and so on. Religious faith becomes arguably less rational than a stalker believing some actor or actress loves them, or a paranoid who believes the CIA is watching them, since in those cases the object of their belief is empirically supported to exist.

    Now, if you are fine with your god-belief being in that category, so am I. The argument over whether that category deserves the label ‘rational’ is a different argument; right now, I just seek your response on the point that all these beliefs share the same justification you just gave for God.

    (Personally and somewhat OT, I would say that without a good reason to believe in any of those things, belief in them is irrational. I would also say that your arbitrary selection of one amongst them renders your belief irrational, even if that arbitrary selection comes on top of some rational down-selection; on this point, see the roulette example in my last post.)

  174. #174 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    eric,

    Your different conception of good results in a christian god-conception that has no moral issue with human suffering, correct?

    Don’t you recognize that most Christians would disagree with that conception of God? Disagree with a god-concept that has no moral issue with human suffering?

    If yes, then you recognize that you are talking about a Yahweh prime, not a Yahweh.

    But you can only make this argument by completely side-stepping my entire point, which is that your ARGUMENT depends on appealing to moral intuitions that are not themselves safe. It isn’t clear that most Christians WOULD accept that God MUST have moral issues with human suffering — at least the human suffering that we have in this world — without relying on that moral intuition. That moral intuition that is both a) not actually their moral intuition (studies have shown that humans are inconsistent Utilitarians) and b) is quite possibly and quite likely wrong.

    Take my parent analogy. Tell me that you think that if I explain that to most Christians, they won’t nod their heads and accept that maybe it is okay and that there is therefore no problem with this world containing some suffering if it’s for a goal that ends up being better for us. I don’t think you can, since analogies like that and the appeals to a greater purpose have been mainstays of folk theological reasoning for what has to be at least centuries if not millenia. The only way, then, to maintain your argument is to argue against the moral intuitions of most Christians and most people, which then, if you were right, would mean that you are the one, in fact, who is arguing a different conception of God and by not acknowledging the underpinnings of your counters you are doing it rather sneakily; relying on the unexamined notions while ignoring and not reminding them of the notions of their own folk theology that have actually addressed the simple argument.

    One, there is no evidence for them. Nor, in most cases, do the concepts seems testable even in principle any more (see two, below). Like philosophy’s invisible gardner, there seems to be no objective difference between a fairy-containing world and a non-fairy-containing world.

    So, if I’m understanding you right, your definition of “no evidence” means “no evidence that also cannot support other explanations”. Because, after all, while you can indeed explain fairy sightings, say, by other explanations being able to actually see fairies is indeed different, and different in an important and probably objective way. The problem with your last argument is that it is the precise argument that solipsists use; if there is no objective difference between a realist and solipsistic world, why be a realist? And while we may not be able to defeat that argument, we do think we can appeal to “But it looks realistic or, at least, that’s the natural belief we draw from it”. So the same thing applies here, and that’s the real problem with the “invisible gardner” argument: the argument is not that they look the same, but one side is saying that it really looks tended and the other side is saying that you can get a tended appearance without being tended. From that, we can see that it isn’t clear a priori which side has the better claim or needs to provide more evidence. Thus, it comes down to a specific analysis. If you can get to knowledge, then you can say that the other side is wrong … but I’ve been saying that all along.

    Two, past historical claims about what these entities have done seem to be disconfirmed to such an extent that the believers have largely stopped making testable claims. Such behavior is consistent with an irrational belief. It shows a desire to protect god-belief and not ditch it when contrary evidence appears. We don’t need angels to explain disease or the orbit of Mercury any more, so suddenly, God doesn’t do those things…but he still exists! You see similar patterns of change-test-but-keep-entity with alien abduction, bigfoot, end-of-the-world predictions etc. As evidence is collected which does not meet initial bold predictions, they give way to hazy predictions, which give way to no predictions or omphalosism and a claim that the belief is consistent with anything we might find.

    The problem with this is that it is indeed pretty much how we go about doing anything, including science, and I argue that it is in some way rational to do so. We don’t just toss out existing beliefs when some bold prediction goes awry and turn to a completely new theory, but instead go back and see if it still could be mostly true based on what we know, and adjust from there. Yes, we can indeed go overboard, but it isn’t a clear line. I don’t think that most of the current patch-ups go too far, at least the ones I use. Most people outside of those who are actually doing philosophy/theology are really thinking about the question. You might well argue that it has gone too far, but that’s something that we’d have to settle by argument, not by stipulation. Again, if you know that this has indeed gone too far, then you’d certainly be able to claim irrationality, but beyond that it doesn’t seem that you could reasonably call it irrational.

    The strongest comment I would make if that were the case is that its nonstandard to such an extent that “rational under VS definition” does not logically imply “rational the way most people consider rational.”

    And to that my answer would be: philosophically, why should I care, if I’m right and the common view is wrong or problematic? I never claimed to be saying that my view was the COMMON view, just that the other view was wrong.

  175. #175 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    eric,

    So now you’ve claimed in two separate posts that I don’t answer your questions and I’ve answered both of those posts. Please now tell me whether, under your criteria, you think god-belief and fairy-belief are both rational, both irrational, or differently rational?

    So, let me start by, in fact, shifting it slightly, because claims to rationality are a little stronger than I’d like to make. Ultimately, my claim is that under the criteria, neither belief is irrational. But for me, determining what to believe is fairly subjective, and depends a lot on the context. So, in a culture like, say, North America, I’d be a lot more skeptical of someone who claimed to believe in fairies than who claimed to believe in God, because in this culture in general most people are taught to believe in God and not in fairies. So I’d suspect that they in fact did not actually believe fairies existed and so had an inconsistent belief, while in the case of God I’d simply suspect that it was a belief they were taught and maintained due to the fact that they don’t know it was false. I’d be suspicious of someone who claimed to believe in a strongly creationist version of God who also claimed to believe in evolution, because it does seem that they’d have contradictory beliefs without a really good story. But unless I could prove that story wrong, it would be hard for me to claim them irrational; they have built a consistent set of beliefs. They may be wrong, but being wrong and being irrational are not the same thing.

    But there’s another way to consider beliefs in my model, and that is in terms of confidence. Now I, personally, don’t have great confidence in my belief in God, and so as I have said before that’s why the actions I take based on it are limited to attending services incredibly occasionally and arguing about it on the Internet [grin]. Confidence is based on evidence and justification, but on sets of evidence and justification generally short of knowledge; knowledge gives you the highest confidence possible. I would argue that we have more justification for God than we do for fairies, since I argue that the belief being culturally accepted does indeed count as justification. I’m not saying that it can’t be wrong — of course it can — and note that it is not sufficient justification for knowledge (I think; some philosophers might disagree with me on that). But if most of my culture believes it I am more justified in accepting it — barring contradictory beliefs or knowledge — than if most of my culture rejects it. And note that that isn’t just a matter of numbers, but a matter of culture itself, and what it holds, because culture encourages people to act, and beliefs are tested — rightly or wrongly — by acting on them and seeing if they work. If a culture has acted on this belief and it has not been contradicted, then it either is likely at least somewhat true or there’s no actual way to test it; either way giving it up is not demanded and is at least as arbitrary as keeping it.

    So, fairy examples seem to us to be less rational or reasonable because most people stop believing in them. The same can be said for Santa Claus, and yet surely children are not irrational for believing in Santa Claus, but are just wrong. So, ultimately, our culture denies their existence, and so not only do we not have the cultural justification we have strong cultural forces pushing us to reject it. It’s hard, then, to see what would make someone maintain it, and certainly they should have limited confidence in it. But for God, the situation is precisely reversed, and so it is far less reasonable to say that one ought not believe in God. Thus, they don’t have the same level of justification and so we have an easier time, I think, understanding why one would simply maintain their belief in God but not in fairies, and so comparisons of the two tend to clutter and confuse the discussion instead of clarify it.

    But none of this fits into the traditional atheistic “rational” mindset, and so these sorts of justifications and reasonings are lost to the debate, but it seems to me to be an impoverished and unworkable epistemology that tries to limit beliefs to the sort of strongly deductive justifications that is commonly argued in these sorts of debates.

  176. #176 eric
    March 14, 2012

    VS:

    It isn’t clear that most Christians WOULD accept that God MUST have moral issues with human suffering

    The only response I can give to this is, you must talk to different Christians than I do. The parent analogy does nothing to undermine or undercut the moral nature of suffering. I accept in some cases stealing may be the justifed or acceptable. Dose this make it non-moral? No, of course not. Likewise with suffering; even if one believes it may sometimes be necessary, that does not make it a non-moral issue.

    So, if I’m understanding you right, your definition of “no evidence” means “no evidence that also cannot support other explanations”.

    Possibly. I’d phrase it as: no evidence that would be differnt for fairies vs. non-fairies. A rational selection of fairy belief would likely require (as one component) some bit of evidence that supports fairies over non-fairy belief. That fits better with fairy belief than non-fairy belief.

    We don’t just toss out existing beliefs when some bold prediction goes awry and turn to a completely new theory, but instead go back and see if it still could be mostly true based on what we know, and adjust from there.

    I agree that this is a reasonable approach for empirical methods of belief. It is less clear to me that beliefs based on authority or revelation can use it. Nobody claims that an empirical model must be right in some sense – it could be wholly and utterly wrong, and empiricism as a method of understanding the world would not be undermined. But the methodology of revealed or authoritative truth relies on the premise that a revelation must, in some sense, be right. Every time you modify or abandon a revealed truth you undermine revelation as a method. You render the method less reliable, less credible.

    So in a practical way, sure, I can reinterpret a biblical story that I used to think was literal to be allegorical, based on new evidence. And change my concept of God accordingly. But every time I do that, the method of “go to the bible to understand God” gets less and less credible. In contrast, “go to the world to understand how it works” does not get less credible if I am forced to change my concept of physics.

    Ultimately, my claim is that under the criteria, neither belief is irrational.

    Finally! I am perfectly happy to agree with you that they fit in the same category. I wouldn’t label it rational, but I’ll let Kel argue with you about that.

    But none of this fits into the traditional atheistic “rational” mindset, and so these sorts of justifications and reasonings are lost to the debate, but it seems to me to be an impoverished and unworkable epistemology that tries to limit beliefs to the sort of strongly deductive justifications that is commonly argued in these sorts of debates.

    I hear you; you are advocating a type of rationality that uses cultural acceptance as one of its criteria, and this tends to be broader than what many atheists prefer. It makes, for example, South Korean belief in “fan death” rational.

    Accepting your criteria for sake of argument, I still think you have a problem. Let me pose it as a hypothetical: hypothetically, if I am correct that your conception of God differs from the standard western christian cultural conception of God, then your belief in that god-conception is irrational, yes?

  177. #177 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “It isn’t clear that most Christians WOULD accept that God MUST have moral issues with human suffering”

    It’s perfectly clear that their “teachings” preclude it. Especially those, in their desperate search to paint themselves as “nice” by avoiding the bloodshed in the Old Testament by saying that “Christians believe in the Book of Christ, not the Old Testament”. Ask heddle.

    It’s clear by the removal of many passages and their avoidance in bible class that show the vicious side of their sky fairy that even those happy with the OT would disagree with a god having no issues with human suffering.

    It’s clear by your winding windy bashing on the keyboard here that you too have a problem with it.

  178. #178 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    Spartan,

    Does it make sense using his definition then or are you unclear on his definition?

    I think I’m pretty clear on his definition — though not necessarily the justification he uses for it — and it might make sense to talk about it that way with that definition.

    That’s not a swipe at you at all, but I’m assuming that your definition is more accurate or is more useful in this discussion which is why it is important to understand it, or that your point or answer to eric’ question can only be understood if this definition is understood.

    Well, eric is demanding that I answer according to mine, so it had better be understood and answerable in my definition or else, well, I can’t answer him [grin].

    As for why mine is preferable, there are a number of reasons why I think so, mostly because I came to mine with a lot of philosophical and epistemological study. One of the reasons I came up with this was to preserve the rationality of everyday normal beliefs; it did not seem to make sense to claim that it was irrational for me, say, to believe that the Zellers opened at 9 am right up until the point where I got there and discovered it opened at 10 am. I was wrong, but not irrational surely, despite having no more evidence than that most stores opened around then on Saturdays. And surely I believed it, or else I wouldn’t have gone there at that time. So, then, what criteria can we use for rationality? This leads to the other important consideration that there must be a difference between holding a false belief and holding an irrational one, especially in cases where A knows that p is false due to information that B does not have. While B is wrong, surely B is not irrational for believing p based on the evidence that they in fact have access to. All of this put together suggests that we weaken the standards for maintaining and even accepting beliefs, and that we judge the rationality with respect to the beliefs and information the agent has and not according to third-person idealized standards. And that leads me, then, to my two criteria for when a belief is rational.

    There are a lot of, yes ‘delusional’, people who believe they are being watched by the CIA. I think they fit your definition of rational however as the CIA exists and does in fact watch people, and this idea doesn’t really ‘clash’ with any knowledge or beliefs.

    Well, as I did say earlier you can indeed ask “Why do you believe that?”, to see if they already have information that would contradict that or an epistemic belief that means they shouldn’t accept it. Again, believing that the CIA watches people is different than believing that they are watching any specific person; you do need more evidence in that case and can test for it to see what is missing that would then disprove that to the level of knowledge.

    There may be a reason for you to look at it from this angle and forgive if I’ve misinterpreted, but you seem to focus on ‘what reason should you not believe, what does it conflict with?’ while I approach it from ‘why should I believe?’.

    For existing beliefs, you really do need to ask for reasons to stop believing; for new ones, you can ask “Why shouldn’t I believe?” as well as “Why should I believe?”. You can decide to not believe, and I don’t call that irrational, but simply argue that taking any side in the absence of knowledge is equally arbitrary, so we should just embrace the arbitrariness and end up with a Web of Belief that will help us test things without having to test them.

    The reason I don’t approach it from what I see to be your perspective is that there are endless propositions that have been put forth by people that aren’t necessarily ‘clashing’ with knowledge that have either been disproved as much as they can be or we’re still waiting for some convincing evidence of.

    But nothing in what I said forces you to believe them. You can dismiss them as uninteresting. You can say that the evidence isn’t convincing to you for that proposition. You can believe them false. As long as you don’t insist that everyone else is irrational if they don’t choose to go the same way as you, eventually we should all find out who was right (ideally).

    I’m very interested in your proposition that I may hold beliefs to be true personally based on lesser standards or based on some inconsistency in the ‘types of evidence’ I accept.

    I don’t really know for you personally, because I don’t know your standards. But the personal experience one was an example, as well as the Socrates one, where we accepted on the basis of very similar evidence and even came to exceptionally strong confidences in it. My belief is much more modest, and yet somehow is irrational based on a claim that the type of evidence I’m using makes it so.

  179. #179 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    JimV,

    It seems to me that what we have here is a sophisticated version of the old apologist standby: “You can’t prove my God doesn’t exist.”

    The answer I like for that is the one Randi gave to the defender of horoscopes, something like this, “You’re absolutely right, I can’t. Nor can I prove that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. All I can do is demonstrate that everything astrology claims to produce by magic can be reproduced by natural means.”

    Well, my answer to that is “Well, do you know it? If you do, then you can provide proof to the standards I require. And if you don’t, suggesting that there are other explanations doesn’t in any way commit me to accept that those are the right explanations.”

    In the case of the Earth stopping in its rotation, the analogous natural means would be: a) time seems to move slowly in the heat of a battle; b) people exaggerate; and c) people like to tell tall tales.

    Well, this is in fact me really showing my eccentricity, but since I treat God beliefs like all of my other beliefs I’m actually willing to concede that this may be exactly what happened, since these sorts of things can slip into historical texts and do all the time (see legends around real historical figures, for example). So, that might be the case. I admit that I am not a Biblical scholar, and so don’t know if there are any other reasons to think that that particular story must be true as read or if it could be considered an error. I am not the sort of Biblical literalist that insists that it all must be taken and that mistakes cannot have been made, and so this doesn’t impact my belief. Returning to eric’s arguments, I also suspect that most people don’t really care about that incident either. But, regardless, it isn’t the “Physics says the world doesn’t stop” argument that’s establishing anything interesting here.

  180. #180 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    Kel,

    “Christians demand that I must show their faith is impossible before they will see that it is improbable.” – John Loftus

    If you’re going to insist that I drop the belief or be called irrational, you had better be doing more than saying that it is “improbable”. We don’t decide on our beliefs on the basis of current probability, which in my mind is a very good thing.

  181. #181 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “One of the reasons I came up with this was to preserve the rationality of everyday normal beliefs”

    WHY???

    And why those beliefs?

    You see, philosophically, those beliefs can be just plain WRONG. Therefore, to attempt to preserve their rationality is like trying to preserve the dryness of water.

    And why haven’t you tried very much more easily to preserve the Ancient Hellenistic beliefs of Zeus et al? After all, that WOULD be a lot easier:

    1) They’re all written down as a bunch of vindictive yet powerful clowns

    2) They’re still gods

    3) Despite that, there are things they can’t do, and they admit it

    4) Lots of people believed in them just as strongly (nay, more so) than christians do theirs

    5) They didn’t create the world, they took it

    6) The ones creating the world have not been able to create a better world since they’ve been incarcerated

    So why did you want to preserve the “rationality” of beliefs that could be just plain irrational, and why did you pick one that was so out of tune with the entire known history of earth?

  182. #182 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “I am not the sort of Biblical literalist that insists that it all must be taken and that mistakes cannot have been made”

    However you ARE the sort of Biblical literalist who thinks that because the Bible talks about God creating the world and loving humans especially, that this proves he exists and feels that way.

    “If you’re going to insist that I drop the belief or be called irrational, you had better be doing more than saying that it is “improbable””

    Nope, we don’t. There is no rational explanation of your beliefs and your demand to hold on to it despite all evidence to the contrary shows it’s irrational.

    Not your belief, your demand to retain that belief in the face of contrary evidence. THAT is irrational.

  183. #183 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    JimV,

    My worse nature would persist with this example: You are on trial for murder and your defense lawyer argues as follows: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, the prosecution claims than because my client was found standing over the body of the deceased victim with a smoking gun, with gunpower residue on his hand and clothes, and a bullet from that gun was found to be the cause of the victim’s very recent death, that this proves my client is guilty. It proves nothing! We contend that aliens from outer space framed my client by teleporting him to the scene and teleporting the gun into his hand, and firing it by remotely-controlled nanobots. The prosecution cannot prove this did not happen!”

    My answer as the prosecutor: “Your honour, according to the standards of proof for knowledge, we are justified in saying that we know that he is guilty of murder. If the defense can muster an explanation that also meets the standards for knowledge, then we will consider that the jury must find him not-guilty. However, they have not done so.”

    _I_ ask for evidence to the level of knowledge. If you can’t muster that, then you could not claim to know that you’re right and I fail to see why I should abandon my beliefs based on what you believe to be true — or false — but do not know.

    Very little can be absolutely proved with no possibility of denial, so we have to use the best evidence we have – which is produced by scientists practicing science.

    Shame that most of us in our everyday lives do not, in fact, practice science as per formal science. Are you overextending the reach of science here?

    Anyway, like Russell I am not entertaining radical skeptical doubts. I’m just asking for knowledge, which does not require certainty and so no possibility of denial. You either have it, or you don’t.

  184. #184 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    eric,

    I also addressed this, albeit I did not clearly tell you I was doing so. Your “I have no need to give up a belief…” puts God-belief in the same catgory as unicorns, fairies, bigfoot, anal-probing aliens, the loch ness monster, and so on. Religious faith becomes arguably less rational than a stalker believing some actor or actress loves them, or a paranoid who believes the CIA is watching them, since in those cases the object of their belief is empirically supported to exist.

    Now, if you are fine with your god-belief being in that category, so am I. The argument over whether that category deserves the label ‘rational’ is a different argument; right now, I just seek your response on the point that all these beliefs share the same justification you just gave for God.

    The problem is that these categories don’t mean the same thing to us and we don’t even have the same categories. Thus, here you pre-emptively do pretty much what I thought you’d do: run ahead as if my admission meant something when it actually doesn’t.

    (Personally and somewhat OT, I would say that without a good reason to believe in any of those things, belief in them is irrational. I would also say that your arbitrary selection of one amongst them renders your belief irrational, even if that arbitrary selection comes on top of some rational down-selection; on this point, see the roulette example in my last post.)

    My reply to this in general is that when the evidence cannot settle what to believe, all you can do is decide what to believe on the basis of your pre-existing beliefs. Thus, the person clearly believes that the wheel will come up with the number they place their bet on, else they wouldn’t place the bet there but would place it somewhere else. But they don’t know it, and need no real justification beyond a hunch unless they are acting as if they have great confidence in their belief that it will land there, such as betting it all on that number.

  185. #185 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “_I_ ask for evidence to the level of knowledge.”

    Not when it comes to your God:

    “In short, I don’t know if God exists, but neither do you.”

    Those were your words, VS.

  186. #186 JimV
    March 14, 2012

    Well of course the prosecutor would probably win the case, or at least I hope so. But this “standard of knowledge” seems a very slippery thing, which rationally prevents you from ruling out a lot of things, leading me to think that if the jury came back with an acquittal, you might well defend that as a rational decision.

    I agree it all hinges on knowledge, and my point about the best evidence coming from scientists is not to say we all can aspire to that level at every moment, but that we ought to make use of that resource, rather them letting cultural biases and anecdotal data rush us to judgment.

    I give usually my (mostly “conservative Christian”) nephews and nieces a high-school graduation gift consisting of a science book with some $100 bills taped to the back of the last page. My favorite book to give is “Big Bang” by Simon Singh. It starts with the earliest known astronomers, Brahe and Kepler, and gives the history of all the data and thinking which led to the Big Bang Theory – an excellent book, I think. One nephew belatedly read it as a senior in college and wrote to tell me that if he had read it when he received it, he would have majored in Physics instead of Biology. (He also thanked me for the money which he had just found.) Another nephew wrote immediately to thank me for the book but tell me that he would not read it, because, “Science can’t be true because it always changes, but Religion never changes, so it must be true.”

    I was tempted to write back that in fact religion does change, or else he would be a Catholic, albeit very slowly because it ignores new evidence as long as possible, to extent of applying excommunication, banning, or worse to dissenting views, but I restrained myself.

    My own knowledge base includes enough science and history to “know” (although not to prove) that the Christian God does not exist. Now how do I transfer that knowledge standard to my nephew, or in fact to you? Will you read “Big Bang” and check the recent literature on neuroscience? (The last I knew, several years ago now, one column of neurons of a rat brain had been successfully simulated on a powerful super computer.)

  187. #187 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    eric,

    The only response I can give to this is, you must talk to different Christians than I do. The parent analogy does nothing to undermine or undercut the moral nature of suffering. I accept in some cases stealing may be the justifed or acceptable. Dose this make it non-moral? No, of course not. Likewise with suffering; even if one believes it may sometimes be necessary, that does not make it a non-moral issue.

    Let’s take the stealing example. If someone believes that in some cases stealing is morally justified or morally acceptable, then they believe that in that case it is not immoral. And if it is not immoral, then it doesn’t in any way impact a claim that the person who did steal there is Good; in that case, they are still consistent with a claim of goodness because stealing in that case is not immoral. Fine. So if in the case of allowing or even causing suffering the believer believes that God has a greater goal that morally justifies it, then the suffering, again, is not inconsistent with the claim that God is good. Therefore, your argument fails because it relies on claiming that allowing suffering is inconsistent with a God who is benevolent.

    Is that clear enough for you?

    Possibly. I’d phrase it as: no evidence that would be differnt for fairies vs. non-fairies. A rational selection of fairy belief would likely require (as one component) some bit of evidence that supports fairies over non-fairy belief. That fits better with fairy belief than non-fairy belief.

    What sort of analysis do you use to determine if it fits better with fairy than non-fairy belief, and do you allow for pre-existing beliefs to weigh in?

    I agree that this is a reasonable approach for empirical methods of belief. It is less clear to me that beliefs based on authority or revelation can use it. Nobody claims that an empirical model must be right in some sense – it could be wholly and utterly wrong, and empiricism as a method of understanding the world would not be undermined. But the methodology of revealed or authoritative truth relies on the premise that a revelation must, in some sense, be right. Every time you modify or abandon a revealed truth you undermine revelation as a method. You render the method less reliable, less credible.

    Revelation is indeed difficult; I’d have to do a lot of work to see how revelation fits, but it isn’t that much of an interest for me. Authority in the sense of the Bible isn’t that hard, since we do know that sometimes we have to interpret statements like the Bible to get at what is really being said. Take Kant, for example; we have burgeoning philosophical programs dedicated to trying to figure out what he really meant. So that we might interpret things incorrectly isn’t unexpected in the Bible either unless you buy the fundamentalist line that every word must be accurate and taken as is, which an awful lot of religious people don’t buy.

    I hear you; you are advocating a type of rationality that uses cultural acceptance as one of its criteria, and this tends to be broader than what many atheists prefer. It makes, for example, South Korean belief in “fan death” rational.

    No, you don’t hear me, because I did no such thing. I pointed out in terms of rationality that if someone is in a culture that believes it true, they are likely to have formed the belief that it is true, and if they are in a culture that believes it false they are likely to believe it false, and so it is more likely, then, that a belief counter to the culture is clashing with one of their existing beliefs. I also talked about culture in terms of justification, in that if your culture holds it to be true you have more justification than if it holds it to be false. I did NOT, in fact, ever say that cultural acceptance was one of the criteria for rationality. So in the South Korea case, you’d have to go back to “Do they know it to be false? Do they have a contradictory belief?” to settle rationality.

    The problem here is that you got what you claimed was my “admission”, and then didn’t read anything else I said clarifying it, and so you got it completely wrong. I cop to the “verbose” description, but I don’t write those things just ’cause, but because I think they’re important clarifications that you need to understand to understand and debate my position.

    Accepting your criteria for sake of argument, I still think you have a problem. Let me pose it as a hypothetical: hypothetically, if I am correct that your conception of God differs from the standard western christian cultural conception of God, then your belief in that god-conception is irrational, yes?

    No. Cultural acceptance can provide justification, but it isn’t the only thing that can do so, and in my case I’d argue that it is the philosophical/theological considerations that justify my claiming that that is the God that is the one the cultural conception actually points at. Again, you’ve just missed the point entirely.

  188. #188 eric
    March 14, 2012

    VS @178:

    believing that the CIA watches people is different than believing that they are watching any specific person; you do need more evidence in that case and can test for it to see what is missing that would then disprove that to the level of knowledge.

    Doesn’t the same apply to concepts of God? Believing he loves people is different from believing he loves you. The second, according to you, requires more evidence and a test for it. So, for the case of God, what is that test? How did you arrive at the conclusion that he cares about you, specifically?

    To JimV @183:

    _I_ ask for evidence to the level of knowledge. If you can’t muster that, then you could not claim to know that you’re right and I fail to see why I should abandon my beliefs based on what you believe to be true — or false — but do not know.

    You should abandon your belief because your justification of it simultaneously justifies an infinite number of contradictory conclusions. This makes your methodology extremely suspect and your conclusion, at best, an arbitrary selection of one belief out of the remaining set based on personal preference rather than anything else.

    IOW, you have here something like a Pascal’s Wager justification. Most people recognize that it’s ability to eliminate some Gods from contention is used incorrectly by believers to claim their belief in a particular God is justified, when it isn’t. Same goes for your system.

  189. #189 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “I was tempted to write back that in fact religion does change, or else he would be a Catholic”

    Nope, he’d still be a Druid (if European descent). Or at least some other “pagan”.

    Druidism didn’t change. Therefore it MUST be true!

  190. #190 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    JimV,

    Well of course the prosecutor would probably win the case, or at least I hope so. But this “standard of knowledge” seems a very slippery thing, which rationally prevents you from ruling out a lot of things, leading me to think that if the jury came back with an acquittal, you might well defend that as a rational decision.

    If there was evidence and justification that rose to the level of knowledge, and the jury had access to it, then it would be irrational for them to come back with another decision. Where it might be rational is if WE knew information that they didn’t have access to. Knowledge is, in my mind, objective; we can determine from the evidence if that would be enough to justify knowledge. But if a person does not have access to that evidence, then you cannot reasonably call them irrational based on information you have that they do not and cannot have access to.

    I agree it all hinges on knowledge, and my point about the best evidence coming from scientists is not to say we all can aspire to that level at every moment, but that we ought to make use of that resource, rather them letting cultural biases and anecdotal data rush us to judgment.

    I think we ought to use all resources we have, and be careful about which ones we privilege in which cases. For example, I think that we should privilege philosophical evidence and reasoning in looking at morality than science, due both to a longer history and to the fact that scientific evidence may not be appropriate to the question. One of the great things about philosophy is that it not only tries to answer questions, but it questions whether the evidence being given in support of the answers is even the right sort of evidence to answer that question; you have to justify that the justification is appropriate.

    My own knowledge base includes enough science and history to “know” (although not to prove) that the Christian God does not exist. Now how do I transfer that knowledge standard to my nephew, or in fact to you? Will you read “Big Bang” and check the recent literature on neuroscience? (The last I knew, several years ago now, one column of neurons of a rat brain had been successfully simulated on a powerful super computer.)

    Well, since I have been doing a Cognitive Science undergraduate degree off and on for a few years, I am pretty well aware of recent neuroscience. I’m not sure what point “Big Bang” will do for me, either; I’m not really opposed to that in any way. What I find odd, though, is your continual distinction between “knowledge” and “proof”. I’m asking for proof to the level of knowledge, which is not certainty. So, do you have that or not? And is that knowledge subjective — ie only belonging to you — or objective? I have yet to see any convincing argument that rises to the level of knowledge for or against the existence of God. I am actually convinced that such arguments cannot be made, which leaves me an agnostic theist. I don’t think it is because I am unaware of science or history, but I could be wrong.

    The standard for knowledge is, to my mind, objective. If you can convey objective evidence that rises to that standard, I might change my mind. So far, I have not seen evidence that convincing.

  191. #191 eric
    March 14, 2012

    Let’s take the stealing example. If someone believes that in some cases stealing is morally justified or morally acceptable, then they believe that in that case it is not immoral.

    I disagree. It may simply be the least immoral of a set of immoral options.

    You can get around this problem by saying morality is relative – i.e., that a “least immoral” = not immoral. But remember we are talking about the morality of suffering to God here. If you defend your claim that God doesn’t see a moral problem with suffering by saying all morality is relative, you are saying that God’s morality is relative. This would take you yet even further away from the standard christian (cultural!) conception of God.

    [eric] you are advocating a type of rationality that uses cultural acceptance as one of its criteria,

    [VS]No, you don’t hear me, because I did no such thing…it is more likely, then, that a belief counter to the culture is clashing with one of their existing beliefs. I also talked about culture in terms of justification, in that if your culture holds it to be true you have more justification than if it holds it to be false

    I think you’re picking nits here; I think what I said was a reasonably concise summary of what you said, above. If a belief is part of someone’s culture, then they are likely to have it in their web. And so culture is often one of the criteria determining whether accepting a new belief is rational or not, because if it goes against their culture, then it likely goes against their web, making it – according to your criteria – irrational. Yes? Clearly there will be exceptions where some belief of one’s culture is not in one’s web. But you seem to agree that in many cases, what is in one’s web does corresopnd to cultural beliefs, making ce

    Cultural acceptance can provide justification, but it isn’t the only thing that can do so,

    I didn’t say it was. I said a criteria. Meaning one of many.

  192. #192 Verbose Stoic
    March 14, 2012

    eric,

    Doesn’t the same apply to concepts of God? Believing he loves people is different from believing he loves you. The second, according to you, requires more evidence and a test for it. So, for the case of God, what is that test? How did you arrive at the conclusion that he cares about you, specifically?

    But it’s part of the concept that God loves everyone, and thus that belief that I hold already includes that. If he can claim that the CIA watches everyone with something outside if his own imagination, then it would be the same case. You are falling into another of the common atheist traps, by assuming that we are all starting from a lack of belief and trying to justify adding one. We aren’t. We have it already. This will be even more important in the next section:

    You should abandon your belief because your justification of it simultaneously justifies an infinite number of contradictory conclusions. This makes your methodology extremely suspect and your conclusion, at best, an arbitrary selection of one belief out of the remaining set based on personal preference rather than anything else.

    You are conflating the philosophical examination with the formation of the belief again. I was taught it as a child and got it from my culture. That means that, at this point, I have that belief and only that belief there. You are asking me to drop that belief essentially because other people belief things that they got from their culture that conflict. So? I don’t care. If I was insisting that I couldn’t be wrong and that all of the evidence pointed to my conception alone, then that would give me pause. But since I already accept that I might be wrong and they might be right, or that I might be right and they might be wrong, or that we all might be wrong, all you’re doing here is pointing out that I might be wrong. To which my reply is: Duh! I already knew that. But I see no reason why I have to give up any of my beliefs just because some other people believe but do not know them to be false. It’s ridiculous of me to abandon beliefs that I have lived by for so long successfully just because someone else calls it false but cannot prove it false to the level of knowledge.

    So, again, if you know that God doesn’t exist, present the evidence and we’ll see if it works. Otherwise, there seems to me to be no reason for me or anyone to think that MY rationality can be judged by YOUR beliefs.

    IOW, you have here something like a Pascal’s Wager justification. Most people recognize that it’s ability to eliminate some Gods from contention is used incorrectly by believers to claim their belief in a particular God is justified, when it isn’t. Same goes for your system.

    Here, though, that means “rationally justified objectively over other claims”. Since I don’t claim that, my system does not share that vulnerability.

  193. #193 eric
    March 14, 2012

    Lost a line. “…making cultural acceptance something which plays a role in determining whether many (albeit not all) people’s beliefs are considered irrational or not.”

  194. #194 eric
    March 14, 2012

    I was taught it as a child and got it from my culture. That means that, at this point, I have that belief and only that belief there. You are asking me to drop that belief essentially because other people belief things that they got from their culture that conflict.

    No, I am telling you that the methodology you claim justifies that belief does not actually justify it. YOUR criteria for rational belief are insufficient to justify the particular belief you hold. Your criteria eliminate gods that conflict with your web. Then you pick one of the remaining gods that doesn’t. How? Personal preference? Draw a name out of a hat?

    [eric]IOW, you have here something like a Pascal’s Wager justification. Most people recognize that it’s ability to eliminate some Gods from contention is used incorrectly by believers to claim their belief in a particular God is justified, when it isn’t. Same goes for your system.

    [VS] Here, though, that means “rationally justified objectively over other claims”. Since I don’t claim that, my system does not share that vulnerability.

    Objectivity has nothing to do with it. Pascal’s wager is insufficient to justify a particular belief even according to its own definition of what counts as a good justification. The wager bases justification for a belief on its consequences. But using the wager’s own structure, consequences for a belief are insufficient to justify any particular belief.

    Same thing with yours. You cannot rationally justify your particular belief even using your own criteria. It is, at best, as justified as an infinite number of other, contradictory beliefs. But then you must take some non-method step to get from that set to your specific belief. Which means your method is insufficient to justify that belief.

    ***

    I also think you really do have a Mike Behe redefinition issue here. Which is to say, in order to call your belief rational, you have broadened the term to such an extent that it no longer passes most people’s giggle tests. As a philosopher, I suspect other philosophers will treat your criteria the way other scientists treated Behe’s definition: give it a simple case test (like fairies in my garden), and when it fails to give the answer the community generally agrees is the right one, dismiss it.

    IOW, to get a bit meta here, your criteria are inconsistent with the web of beliefs most people hold about rationality. So for most of us, accepting your criteria for rational belief would itself be irrational according to your criteria.

  195. #195 eric
    March 14, 2012

    Errr, that ‘as a philosopher’ bit came out wrong. IANA philosopher. What I meant was something like this: since you are a philosopher, you may want to consider whether other philosophers think your criteria for rational belief are overbroad. If they do, consider the possibility that they may have a legitimate point.

  196. #196 Kel
    March 14, 2012

    We have to be talking past each other.

    That we are. My claim isn’t that science rules what God can’t do, but science gives us good reason to think that such claims are made-up. When I say things like biological impossibilities (keep in mind the caution I initially expressed) it’s to say that such fantastic accounts have to be judged in the context of our understanding of the way the world works. How else can we judge it?

    As I argued a few comments later, if you have a being capable of anything interacting with the system, then whether it’s scientifically impossible isn’t going to hinder on that being. However, the scientific impossibility of something is good reason to think that an account of something is nonsense. If you’re just going to invoke a miracle, then we run into the problem of miracles. That science cannot explain how Uri Geller uses his mind could mean that Uri Geller has some power unknown to science (God could have granted Uri Geller those powers), but it’s a damn good reason to think that Uri Geller is a fraud. My claim has always been that our understanding of the world gives us every reason to see accounts as fantastical, and that claim isn’t nullified by you coming up with magic entities doing magic as a possibility. I’m not suggesting that Christians think a talking snake is going to be a natural occurrence – of course it’s going to be a magic entity – but that claim of a magic entity doing magic is nothing more than ad hoc speculation in the face of every reason to think that such a thing isn’t true.

    As a quick example, note that being born of a virgin is not, in fact, even scientifically impossible for us today.

    It would be interesting to follow this line, because the scientific possibility of asexual reproduction in mammals leads to exclusively female offspring. But this doesn’t really matter, because if you think God is behind it then God is capable of anything so any question of what science would say is not going to stand in the way. My point has always been that because they violate how we know the world to work, then we have good reason to think such accounts false. Not that they can’t happen with a sufficiently-advanced ETI (or God), but that we have good reason for thinking such accounts as works of embellishment or fiction.

  197. #197 Kel
    March 14, 2012

    If you’re going to insist that I drop the belief or be called irrational, you had better be doing more than saying that it is “improbable”. We don’t decide on our beliefs on the basis of current probability, which in my mind is a very good thing.

    Actually, there’s good scientific reason to think that our brains a form of Bayesian reasoning when forming beliefs. But that aside, I don’t think that you’re beliefs are improbable – I think they are absurd. I think there’s no good reason (that you’ve presented anyway) to have any reason to think they are true, yet we have very good reason to think that they are the product of a time and place where people didn’t understand how the world works. It’s not a matter of being improbable, it’s a matter of it being nonsense. It’s not impossibly nonsense, just that we have every reason to think it is nonsense…

  198. #198 JimV
    March 14, 2012

    I don’t know what “evidence to the level of knowledge means”, but I suspect it is an asymmetrical standard which allows you to balance a barrel of peer-reviewed, reproducible data with a teaspoon of philosophy. You may well have exactly the reverse opinion, since I suspect my view of philosophy mirrors yours of science.

    Humans are not anywhere close to perfect, so our science can’t be; but it sure beats the heck out of whatever is in second place, and it amazes me that people can’t see that. Assuming you don’t live in a cave and eat raw meat as your remote ancestors did, is that mainly the result of: a) religion; b) philosophy; or c) science? (The correct answer is c.)

    Not where I live, but in Arizona, on a dark night you can look up, raise a hand, and have it cover dozens of visible stars (some of which are actually galaxies). Knowing that alone, makes it seem to me incredibly arrogant than humans can assume a theistic god created it all for their benefit, or cares a smidgen about what they do with their brief existences, or thinks any part of them is worth preserving in some alternate universe by uploading their memories and personalities into some cosmic server. At this moment, odds are that a super-nova in some galaxy is destroying all traces of far more intelligent species.

    It’s because we aren’t all that intelligent (many of us voted for GW Bush – twice!) that we need science, which tells us not to fool ourselves but continually look for new evidence and check old evidence to be sure we haven’t missed something – because we probably have. If philosophy, without observational data, without experiments, were sufficient to understand the universe maybe we would deserve a theistic god – but it isn’t. Reading “Big Bang” should convince you of that. If there was any philosophical contribution to that effort, among the thousands of people who contributed by observations, calculations, and experiments, over hundreds of years, I can’t recall it.

    You can’t open your eyes without seeing evidence that science works (especially not while using a computer to access the Internet); religion and philosophy – not so much. It may be rational, in some sense, to cling to “old-time” religion rather than accepting what science tells us about the universe (bearing it mind that it may change, but at any point it is the best information our best minds have produced), but if so rationality is a very low bar.

  199. #199 Verbose Stoic
    March 15, 2012

    eric,

    I disagree. It may simply be the least immoral of a set of immoral options.

    You can get around this problem by saying morality is relative – i.e., that a “least immoral” = not immoral. But remember we are talking about the morality of suffering to God here. If you defend your claim that God doesn’t see a moral problem with suffering by saying all morality is relative, you are saying that God’s morality is relative. This would take you yet even further away from the standard christian (cultural!) conception of God.

    Unfortunately for your argument, most people actually do think that stealing in those cases is morally justified and morally acceptable, therefore not immoral at least. Most people are broadly Humean about that. Autistics are broadly Kantian, and so tend to say that it’s still morally wrong … but then they don’t make them exception cases either. There’s more on this and some sources in the essay on my blog “Fearlessly Amoral”, in the pages section. So I don’t need to go to relativity at all to make this point; the claim is that in those cases stealing is not immoral and may even be morally obligated, just as killing in some cases — like self-defense — is considered at least not immoral and possibly morally obligated.

    I think you’re picking nits here; I think what I said was a reasonably concise summary of what you said, above. If a belief is part of someone’s culture, then they are likely to have it in their web. And so culture is often one of the criteria determining whether accepting a new belief is rational or not, because if it goes against their culture, then it likely goes against their web, making it – according to your criteria – irrational. Yes? Clearly there will be exceptions where some belief of one’s culture is not in one’s web. But you seem to agree that in many cases, what is in one’s web does corresopnd to cultural beliefs,

    Please recall your comment that you derived from that claim that it was part of my criteria:

    Accepting your criteria for sake of argument, I still think you have a problem. Let me pose it as a hypothetical: hypothetically, if I am correct that your conception of God differs from the standard western christian cultural conception of God, then your belief in that god-conception is irrational, yes?

    This is saying far more than that one of the mechanisms that forms beliefs in me is cultural. This is saying that when I go to evaluate whether or not my beliefs are rational, one of the things I explicitly consider is whether or not it was formed culturally. As I pointed out, I do no such thing. To call it a criteria as you seemed to implies that I am judging rationality by the link to culture, even if I use other criteria. I do not. I judge it always by if I know it false or if I believe something contradictory. Thus, in this example, it is clear that it would not make that belief irrational by my actual criteria because what you would be saying is that somehow the actual belief I have would be irrational because it isn’t the cultural belief that I … don’t believe in, since my belief is NOT that one. So you get it completely and totally wrong, and you really seem to be retreating here to a weaker claim about belief formation to avoid that consequence.

    Culture is one thing that can form beliefs, among many others. None of them, in and of themselves, determine rationality. To put it “in the lingo”, we have various belief-forming mechanisms that have various reliabilities, but all they do is form beliefs. Other epistemic principles judge them.

  200. #200 Verbose Stoic
    March 15, 2012

    eric,

    No, I am telling you that the methodology you claim justifies that belief does not actually justify it. YOUR criteria for rational belief are insufficient to justify the particular belief you hold. Your criteria eliminate gods that conflict with your web. Then you pick one of the remaining gods that doesn’t. How? Personal preference? Draw a name out of a hat?

    Eric, eric, eric. You really aren’t getting it. Here’s what you’re missing:

    1) You are talking about justification and rationality as if they were the same thing, ignoring that I explicitly separated them in the long explanatory comment that you seem to have not bothered to read.

    2) My criteria for rationality hasn’t picked ANY gods out yet. Or, rather, it picks out all of them except for the Christian God that I happen to believe in. This is because …

    3) My criteria says that without giving up an existing belief, I can’t accept a new one that conflicts with what I have. Since, as I said, I started with the Christian God since that was what I was taught as a child, I’m not picking anything out of a hat. I’m just not switching beliefs. Again, you make the typical atheist mistake of assuming that I’m starting from a blank slate. I’m not and we don’t.

    So, it does boil down to that: you are asking me to drop a belief that was already formed because other people believe something that contradicts with it, and I fail to see why I should.

    Same thing with yours. You cannot rationally justify your particular belief even using your own criteria. It is, at best, as justified as an infinite number of other, contradictory beliefs. But then you must take some non-method step to get from that set to your specific belief. Which means your method is insufficient to justify that belief.

    I won’t deny that my criteria for rationality doesn’t settle it down to one belief. I also won’t deny that my criteria for justification doesn’t settle it either. I find myself utterly unconcerned, though, because I note that in everyday life we have these sort of situations all the time. If we get to the stage where various beliefs all have roughly the same evidence/justification, then all we can do is decide what to believe and what not to believe somewhat arbitrarily, even if that decision is to believe none. Now, I haven’t talked about it much, but the Web of Belief justification at least gives a reasonable way to settle this, by at least saying that you pick the one that best fits your current Web. And since that includes all possible evidence and epistemic principles that you have, all other methods will have to collapse to it as well. But note that that doesn’t immediately come into play when you are considering whether or not to drop a belief, but if the new belief fits better with your Web of Belief than the old I’d say that you normatively ought to replace the belief. So I have the ability to change my beliefs, maintain ones and justify with all the information at my disposal. What do you have?

    IOW, to get a bit meta here, your criteria are inconsistent with the web of beliefs most people hold about rationality. So for most of us, accepting your criteria for rational belief would itself be irrational according to your criteria.

    Unless, of course, I can convince them otherwise. Especially if I get to the level of knowledge with it.

    What I meant was something like this: since you are a philosopher, you may want to consider whether other philosophers think your criteria for rational belief are overbroad. If they do, consider the possibility that they may have a legitimate point.

    Well, duh. I’ve been doing philosophy on and off for about 12 – 13 years now, and I’m more than willing to listen to valid philosophical objections. So, if you have any, I’m all ears [grin].

    Note that my definition, though, is epistemic not theological; it exists to solve problems around belief and knowledge, not around God, which makes it a different matter.

  201. #201 Verbose Stoic
    March 15, 2012

    eric,

    So, to carry on the philosophizing for a bit, if a philosopher wants to claim that I don’t pass the “fairies” example and so it’s overly broad, I invite them (or even you, if you want to take a stab at it) to answer this question:

    Show me a way to demonstrate that you can reasonably dismiss a fairy belief as irrational without:

    1) Claiming that we know something that makes it so.
    2) Claiming that the person believes something contradictory.
    3) Using a belief that’s apparent from the third-person omniscient viewpoint but not from the viewpoint or information available to that specific person.

    If anyone can do that, I might have to add something to my criteria.

  202. #202 Verbose Stoic
    March 15, 2012

    Kel,

    If you’re just going to invoke a miracle, then we run into the problem of miracles. That science cannot explain how Uri Geller uses his mind could mean that Uri Geller has some power unknown to science (God could have granted Uri Geller those powers), but it’s a damn good reason to think that Uri Geller is a fraud.

    See, this really bothers me, because it seems to suggest that you should do more than be skeptical of these, but actively take the side that it isn’t true and accept incredibly strong propositions against that phenomena on the sole basis that your current understanding of the world doesn’t include it. That seems to me to be as closed-minded as people accuse religious people to be. How are you ever going to discover something new if your first reaction is to reject it and take any other explanation? How convincing does anyone have to be to get you to accept anything that you might consider “supernatural”? And why would you be justified in saying that in cases where the supposed external agency has been part and parcel of the claim from the beginning, so that appeals to “You need to insert an external agent!” are answered with “Well, duh!”?

    My claim has always been that our understanding of the world gives us every reason to see accounts as fantastical, and that claim isn’t nullified by you coming up with magic entities doing magic as a possibility.

    My actual claims were two-fold:

    1) Magic was claimed from the start, so it’s a little late to complain about it now unless you want to use naturalism — a position I do not hold — as an argument.

    2) These things can actually be done under the natural laws we have, so they aren’t as fantastical as you claim them to be.

    It would be interesting to follow this line, because the scientific possibility of asexual reproduction in mammals leads to exclusively female offspring.

    I was actually thinking about artificial insemination, myself. Artificially inseminate a woman who has never had sex and voila, virgin birth.

    My point has always been that because they violate how we know the world to work, then we have good reason to think such accounts false. Not that they can’t happen with a sufficiently-advanced ETI (or God), but that we have good reason for thinking such accounts as works of embellishment or fiction.

    To which my reply is that you might, but unless you’re going to claim knowledge you can’t expect anyone else to go along with you on that, just as I say religious people can’t expect you to go along with them on God belief.

  203. #203 eric
    March 15, 2012

    VS:

    So I don’t need to go to relativity at all to make this point; the claim is that in those cases stealing is not immoral and may even be morally obligated, just as killing in some cases — like self-defense — is considered at least not immoral and possibly morally obligated.

    Look, this whole thread started with you saying that suffering has no moral value to God. So, God views all the human suffering that occurs as not immoral because…why? What is our “case” that requires it?

    I think you have the burden of proof here to show why suffering is necessary. You can’t just say “you can’t prove its not necessary.” We would not give human-imposed suffering that bye. If *I* started a smallpox epidemic that killed people and told you ‘don’t worry, its necesssary’ you’d demand a deeper explanation before believing that it was necessary. So, likewise, I think the burden of proof rightly rests with you to provide a deeper explanation as to why human suffering is necessary. Not doing so is to give your faith special treatment.

    3) My criteria says that without giving up an existing belief, I can’t accept a new one that conflicts with what I have. Since, as I said, I started with the Christian God since that was what I was taught as a child, I’m not picking anything out of a hat. I’m just not switching beliefs.

    You were also taught as a child about the easter bunny. About the tooth fairy. About santa claus. Clearly, at some point, you accepted into your web a belief contrary to what was already in your web. I don’t see any explanation on your part for how changing your mind about christianity would be any different from changing your mind about santa.

    I think you are trying to claim christian belief is rational for you because it got into your web first. But there are many beliefs you likely started with that you changed. So getting there first does not necessarily make it justified or rational.

    If we get to the stage where various beliefs all have roughly the same evidence/justification, then all we can do is decide what to believe and what not to believe somewhat arbitrarily, even if that decision is to believe none.

    Baloney. What you should do, at that point, is withhold judgement. Not commit to any of them.* And you should examine your thinking process, because any logic that leads a single person to an infinite number of contradictory conclusions is probably a flawed thinking process.

    You act like discovering you have a pascal’s wager-type logic is cause for celebration. Yay! I can pick any god I want and my decision’s rational! I think its the opposite. Realizing your logic can lead to an infinite number of contradictory entities should cause you to go ‘oh crap, I need to reexamine my whole definition of rational.’

    *Now sure, if you have 15 seconds to live I’m perfectly okay with you just choosing a god and going with it. But you are not *in* a sudden-death or deer-in-headlights situation. You CAN remain agnostic about all the equally valid beliefs. So why don’t you?

  204. #204 eric
    March 15, 2012

    VS:

    the Web of Belief justification at least gives a reasonable way to settle this, by at least saying that you pick the one that best fits your current Web. And since that includes all possible evidence and epistemic principles that you have, all other methods will have to collapse to it as well. But note that that doesn’t immediately come into play when you are considering whether or not to drop a belief, but if the new belief fits better with your Web of Belief than the old I’d say that you normatively ought to replace the belief.

    So, let’s say I start off Islamic. And in the course of many years, I learn about all the errors that have crept into the Koran. I learn about the very human politics used to decide what went in there and what didn’t. I learn that other cultures have written stories of miracle-workers. And it occurs to me that since my web also includes general beliefs like ‘all miracle stories (except Islamic ones) should be considered false unless there is strong corroborative evidence independent of the story,’ I am making an exception when I don’t apply that general belief to Islamic texts. I am, in essence, isolating the religious-belief part of my web from all the other parts, treating it as special, and not comparing it to other parts the way I should.

    So, in such a case, what should I do? Is it rational for me to keep those beliefs isolated? Keep them protected from the other general beliefs in my web? Or is it rational to let my other general beliefs – about the veracity of miracles and old texts – apply to the Islamic stories I learned as a kid?

  205. #205 eric
    March 15, 2012

    Show me a way to demonstrate that you can reasonably dismiss a fairy belief as irrational without:

    1) Claiming that we know something that makes it so.
    2) Claiming that the person believes something contradictory.
    3) Using a belief that’s apparent from the third-person omniscient viewpoint but not from the viewpoint or information available to that specific person.

    I think the fairy-believer and god-believer have the burden of proof, not me. I do not have to “know” fairy belief is irrational or contradictory to claim its irrational; they have to give proof that such exists before it should be considered rational.

    And the reason I say that is because putting the burden of proof on entity-disbelievers leads to an infinite number of mutually contradictory entities being rational for someone to believe in. Most people consider that an indication that your line of reasoning might contain a problem.

    Seriously man, 12-13 years of philosophy and your contribution is a line of reasoning that leads to the same result as Pascal’s wager? Do you really think wager-like logic is good enough to justify your belief?

  206. #206 Kel
    March 15, 2012

    See, this really bothers me, because it seems to suggest that you should do more than be skeptical of these, but actively take the side that it isn’t true and accept incredibly strong propositions against that phenomena on the sole basis that your current understanding of the world doesn’t include it. That seems to me to be as closed-minded as people accuse religious people to be.

    An open-mind for the sake of an open-mind is silly, it’s something I’ve been told time and time again by those who believe in woo. I’m close-minded, I’m not open-minded enough, I need to be more open-minded. But what it amounts to is that they want their anecdotal evidence to trump any form of trying to substantiate it.

    Which is why I call bullshit that it’s just as bad as the accusations against religious. Because the calls for open-mindedness aren’t really about giving a fair assessment of the proposition, it’s just a nonsense accusation one can throw at sceptical voices about being irrational. I used to believe that people could bend spoons with their mind, but as I got older how such a thing could happen seemed more and more implausible. Yet when I asked people about it, all I got was anecdotal accounts and accusations that I was not open-minded enough!

    How convincing does anyone have to be to get you to accept anything that you might consider “supernatural”?

    Supernatural really isn’t a coherent proposition. So how could we know what would constitute a supernatural observation when we don’t really know what supernatural is? It’s like asking what would it take me to believe in magic.

    But there is at least some meaningful sense in defining natural as being something happening that’s beyond natural forces. And on that, it should be at least in principle observable provided we knew how the system should behave. So if we had a good measurement of a closed system that didn’t behave according to our understanding of the models of which we already had a good understanding then that’s good grounds to consider something from the outside. Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker gave a good example of a marble statute waving its arm – we can calculate its improbability given the laws of physics.

    As to what that is, exactly, is really unknown. And unfortunately, such mystery-mongering is usually accompanied by the narrow narratives of pre-existing belief. In accounts of alien abductions, those who think aliens are actually involved will go through the events and say why earthly explanations are inadequate. Yet all that says is we don’t know. Some alien biology or an artefact would be positive evidence for aliens – and until that it’s little more than interpreting the mystery in the framework of a speculative narrative.

    Note that I’m not completely dismissing aliens existing or visiting earth, even if I do think there’s good reason to take the accounts as being heavily interpretative on the part of those who had the experiences. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so if the best evidence is indistinguishable from “I don’t know” then that’s reason to reject it. That’s not being close-minded, it’s being reasonable. If alien artefacts were discovered, I’d change my mind about aliens visiting earth. That’s not being close-minded! The wishful thinking and paranoia that currently makes the case does not make for a compelling case, and unfortunately trying to keep a cool head in the face of credulity comes with all sorts of accusations of close-mindedness. It can be really frustrating to be a sceptical voice!

    1) Magic was claimed from the start, so it’s a little late to complain about it now unless you want to use naturalism — a position I do not hold — as an argument.

    Claiming magic is still making a claim about the way the world works, so you don’t escape from the natural world by making the claim. And in that, any claim has to go up against the epistemological juggernaut that is naturalism. And since magic violates how we know the world to work, we have good reason to reject it. I’m not saying that magic has to be natural, but that our natural understanding of the world is reason to reject claims that don’t fit it.

    2) These things can actually be done under the natural laws we have, so they aren’t as fantastical as you claim them to be.

    Can be done in almost all cases was some advanced hypothetical technology that is as yet unknown how it would work or how it could possibly work.

    I was actually thinking about artificial insemination, myself. Artificially inseminate a woman who has never had sex and voila, virgin birth.

    Then that’s only being a virgin in a technical sense – not in the way that matters for the purposes of the example.

    To which my reply is that you might, but unless you’re going to claim knowledge you can’t expect anyone else to go along with you on that, just as I say religious people can’t expect you to go along with them on God belief.

    And we are going around in circles. I did claim knowledge, and I laid out exactly what I mean by this. No-one complains about the epistemic validity of naturalism online without using the fruits of its labour. Scientific inquiry an epistemology that’s had huge success in understanding how the world works. This conversation now is only possible because of science. By contrast, what reasons do we have to believe in God?

    I do find it funny that if I show any forcefulness in applying scientific naturalism, you call me close-minded, and if I don’t, you say I don’t have real knowledge. Science works, and the fact that we’re having this conversation over computers is testament to that fact. Why aren’t we having this conversation through carrier angel or psychic powers or through God? All of these could be true, it could be that there’s magic in the world, yet why are we relegated to the fruits of science instead? Why is it that a scientific understanding of the world can make real progress, while the best you can do is mess around with the definition of knowledge so as to give your sacred cow a free pass?

  207. #207 Kel
    March 15, 2012

    Fucking magnets, how do they work?

  208. #208 Wow
    March 16, 2012

    “Fucking magnets, how do they work?”

    God likes to see iron 69 themselves..?

  209. #209 Verbose Stoic
    March 16, 2012

    Kel,

    Actually, there’s good scientific reason to think that our brains a form of Bayesian reasoning when forming beliefs.

    That’s unlikely, since we have absolute proof that when we consider the likelihood of something occurring and are faced with the Bayesian analysis of that we find it highly counter-intuitive. Without having more information, this immediately strikes me as someone over-interpreting either our mechanisms or Bayesian reasoning to fulfill a pet theory, sort of like people who insist that our everyday reasoning counts as “science”.

    But that aside, I don’t think that you’re beliefs are improbable – I think they are absurd.

    Bully for you! I don’t think they are. So either you a) know they are absurd, and so are able to prove that to the level of knowledge or b) you only believe that, at which point I don’t have to care about what you think of my beliefs, at least epistemically.

    I think there’s no good reason (that you’ve presented anyway) to have any reason to think they are true, yet we have very good reason to think that they are the product of a time and place where people didn’t understand how the world works. It’s not a matter of being improbable, it’s a matter of it being nonsense. It’s not impossibly nonsense, just that we have every reason to think it is nonsense…

    So, I don’t disagree that they are the product of that time and place. That doesn’t make it wrong. Whether you believe it or consider it absurd or nonsense or withhold judgement depends an awful lot on what you believe and what epistemic principles you hold. Unless you can claim to know that it is nonsense, then it’s just down to what individuals believe, and if you do know it’s nonsense you have to show that you have the justification for that. So far, I haven’t seen any such justification that rises to that level. I’ll likely address this more when I pick up the “Science says!” thread …

  210. #210 Verbose Stoic
    March 16, 2012

    JimV,

    I don’t know what “evidence to the level of knowledge means”, but I suspect it is an asymmetrical standard which allows you to balance a barrel of peer-reviewed, reproducible data with a teaspoon of philosophy. You may well have exactly the reverse opinion, since I suspect my view of philosophy mirrors yours of science.

    I prefer reliabilism myself, which is likely the most popular one in epistemology right now, which basically claims justification is being produced by a reliable truth-forming faculty, to which I always add “under the conditions where it is reliable”. Science, of course, counts as that, but is not, in fact, alone in counting as that, it seems to me.

    Humans are not anywhere close to perfect, so our science can’t be; but it sure beats the heck out of whatever is in second place, and it amazes me that people can’t see that. Assuming you don’t live in a cave and eat raw meat as your remote ancestors did, is that mainly the result of: a) religion; b) philosophy; or c) science? (The correct answer is c.)

    Ah, scientism raises its ugly head again. You should do yourself a favour and read the “Scientism 101″ posts on my blog to get an idea of what I mean by that and why this is a really bad statement. As a preview, the correct answer is just as reasonably b), since without philosophy you wouldn’t have science, since science relies heavily on empiricism/rationalism and the details worked out about that, and science itself started as natural philosophy.

    Note that I don’t denigrate science. It’s a lovely system/method that’s worked really well. But it’s not the only thing that worked out well, and it can’t answer all questions, at least as far as I can see. There’s room for science, philosophy and a host of other methods depending on what you’re doing at the time. I don’t set-up this competition between science and philosophy that you seem to be, and don’t consider it to be anything that one side can “win”. We use all available methods to the extent that it makes sense to, end of story.

    (Note as well that I don’t even consider religion a way of knowing, so including it to me seems to be a conceptual error).

  211. #211 eric
    March 16, 2012

    VS @209:

    Unless you can claim to know that it is nonsense, then it’s just down to what individuals believe, and if you do know it’s nonsense you have to show that you have the justification for that. So far, I haven’t seen any such justification that rises to that level.

    You put God-belief in the same category as fairy-belief. Which is in the same category as bigfoot, abducting aliens, the belief that Elvis is alive, the CIA is watching me, and Halle Berry is secretly in love with me. All not-disproven, not-contradictory-to-ones-web beliefs are in this category.

    It seems to me that you and kel are merely arguing over whether to call this category ‘rational’ or not. Since your grouping doesn’t group many many classic beliefs the same way the word’s common usage does, perhaps the solution is for you to use a different term for your group. Avoid creating a confusing homonym of a pre-existing term. That way nobody will confuse rationalVS for rationalcommon.

    After all, we wouldn’t want people thinking that rationalVS implies rationalcommon, would we? Because clearly it doesn’t. Right?

  212. #212 Kel
    March 16, 2012

    Bully for you! I don’t think they are. So either you a) know they are absurd, and so are able to prove that to the level of knowledge or b) you only believe that, at which point I don’t have to care about what you think of my beliefs, at least epistemically.

    This is just wordplay around the definition of knowledge. I’ve given reasons to think they are absurd, you’re just trying to impose a lame apologetic filter on the criticism in order to nullify it. Given this conversation, you haven’t showed me anything that is giving me pause, nor anything that shows any sense of reasonableness to a theistic belief. Instead, all you’re doing is trying to spin what I’m saying through words that would nullify any sense of criticism. It’s absurd, and we have every reason to think it’s absurd. I’ve given some of those reasons, you’ve just played around with the definition of knowledge enough to try to nullify that. Meanwhile we are sitting on computers having this conversation halfway around the world…

    I find it very interesting that you’re not doing anything to show that God is anything other than to try to dissolve the rhetoric against. You haven’t given me any reason to think that God isn’t absurd, you haven’t given me any reason to think that God isn’t there. The only thing I could say in the best case scenario is that you’ve given a case for the lack of any capacity to criticise anything that says anything about the world on anything other than its logical consistency.

  213. #213 JimV
    March 16, 2012

    “… without philosophy you wouldn’t have science, since science relies heavily on empiricism/rationalism and the details worked out about that, and science itself started as natural philosophy.”

    Ah, Philosophism. Chemistry started out as alchemy and astronomy as astrology, and that means we owe our civilization to them? No, they were simply mistakes we had to get past before we could make real progress. Similarly, people had to get past Aristotlian physics to learn real physics. Feynman never studied any philosopy and managed to do lots of good science. Science is what happens after philopsphers finally figure out that staring at one’s navel and thinking deep thoughts will never suffice to determine how the universe works. You have to get data, generate hypotheses which might explain the data, and find some way of testing the hypotheses. Those are all the details you need, and you can learn them in a Junior High science class. I’ve done (engineering) science in a small way, determining what caused certain turbine problems, and consulted no books on philosphy. I’ve also found that the method works great when debugging computer programs.

    Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Feynman, … are any of them considered great philosophers who must be read in Philosophy class? When they are, maybe I’ll consider philosphy important to science. I’ll admit it is great training for theologians and apologists (but I don’t consider that a point in its favor). Also it is one way of exercising one’s mental capacities, but so is playing chess. Mathematics is very important to science, and probably some people I call mathematicians, such as Euclid, you might call philophers, but it was their math, not their philosophy which was useful. And math, as I explained once before by example, also uses the scientific method, since numbers are an empirical part of the world which can be studied empirically. (If you have that number of cattle which we call “5″ and sell that number which we call “2″, you will always have that number we call “3″ left. See, empirical.)

  214. #214 JimV
    March 16, 2012

    “… without philosophy you wouldn’t have science, since science relies heavily on empiricism/rationalism and the details worked out about that, and science itself started as natural philosophy.”

    Ah, Philosophism. Chemistry started out as alchemy and astronomy as astrology, and that means we owe our civilization to them? No, they were simply mistakes we had to get past before we could make real progress. Similarly, people had to get past Aristotlian physics to learn real physics. Feynman never studied any philosopy and managed to do lots of good science. Science is what happens after philopsphers finally figure out that staring at one’s navel and thinking deep thoughts will never suffice to determine how the universe works. You have to get data, generate hypotheses which might explain the data, and find some way of testing the hypotheses. Those are all the details you need, and you can learn them in a Junior High science class. I’ve done (engineering) science in a small way, determining what caused certain turbine problems, and consulted no books on philosphy. I’ve also found that the method works great when debugging computer programs.

    Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Feynman, … are any of them considered great philosophers who must be read in Philosophy class? When they are, maybe I’ll consider philosphy important to science. I’ll admit it is great training for theologians and apologists (but I don’t consider that a point in its favor). Also it is one way of exercising one’s mental capacities, but so is playing chess. Mathematics is very important to science, and probably some people I call mathematicians, such as Euclid, you might call philophers, but it was their math, not their philosophy which was useful. And math, as I explained once before by example, also uses the scientific method, since numbers are an empirical part of the world which can be studied empirically. (If you have that number of cattle which we call “5″ and sell that number which we call “2″, you will always have that number we call “3″ left. See, empirical.)

  215. #215 Kel
    March 18, 2012

    One interesting thing to note is that we are having this conversation now thanks to the epistemological advances of science. While science might not be how most of us form beliefs, it is what is facilitating this conversation right now. No matter how much conceptual analysis one does, the insight into how the world works to the extent that it can build a global telecommunications system shifting and storing vast quantities of information is a gargantuan achievement. And it’s an achievement we couldn’t have done any other way – this very alien way of thinking has shown disproportionate success to anything we had before. Even if we take empiricism on its own, most of us wouldn’t have the vantage point to be able to assess the things that can be done on a scientific scale.

    The even more interesting thing about science is that it’s able to frame questions properly. It’s not only a means to determine whether or not something is true, but what it would mean for something outside of our current scientific ontology to be congruent with what we know. To take the extended day example, we know that the earth rotates such that it’s approximately 24 hours around a giant plasma ball that bombards the earth with photons produced in nuclear reactions. The relationship of the earth to the sun matters in our understanding of any claims to the contrary. Because we’re either in a position of trying to explain how the system has been violated, or that we’ve got the system wrong.

    In a very real sense, we have a system of thought that has not only shown success in both theoretical and practical outcome, we have a system of thought through which we can make sense of things. It works, and it cannot be stressed enough that it works. Yet the explanations of how it works are what’s important. That washing one’s hands reduces rates of infection after surgery can be empirically established, but how it works is all important. The germ theory of disease explains the all-important how – it’s an explanation that fits with our understanding of how our bodies work.

    It’s so obvious how badly ad hoc invocations of imaginary entities and forces seem once you try to place them within that bounds of understanding. The invocation of imaginary forces, at times, is little more than putting a name and bestowing a power onto our ignorance. Homoeopathy is a prime example, with no biochemical plausibility proponents will readily try to highlight what it is science cannot know and chastise “materialists” for their dogmatic adherence to science, but ultimately if homoeopathy is going to work it’s going to have to fit with our models of biochemistry. Saying “like cures like” and “water has memory” (a crude assessment of homoeopathy, but not an unfair one) doesn’t really say anything in terms of how that translates into our scientific model of the body. Indeed, that it needs to is lost on proponents of homoeopathy. But to say homoeopathy works, it’s eventually going to need to have some biochemical effect – otherwise, what the hell is it doing? (Of course, when it comes to homoeopathy, tightly controlled double-blind trials show that homoeopathy is indistinguishable from a placebo. There’s no effect to even comment on!)

    My experience in talking with proponents of the paranormal / supernatural could be best summed up in the following way: an empirically-derived conceptually-sound model is equivalent to saying that magic happened. Because there’s no real attempt to actually explain the paranormal / supernatural, they are just taken as given without any thought as to how it could work. It just does.

    Making such ad hoc invocations of magic is useless, because it offers us nothing beyond giving our ignorance a label. It would be interesting to see something to the contrary; too see a reliable method put forward that wouldn’t be indistinguishable from just saying “a wizard did it”. Because, at least as far as I’ve been able to discern, proponents of the paranormal / supernatural offer nothing beyond invoking magic. And if one rejects their assertion that magic happened, it’s being close-minded and an act of faith – because how can we possibly say that magic didn’t happen?

    kelosophy.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/sock-goblin-cometh.html
    kelosophy.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/naturalism-defeated.html

  216. #216 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    eric,

    Look, this whole thread started with you saying that suffering has no moral value to God. So, God views all the human suffering that occurs as not immoral because…why? What is our “case” that requires it?

    No. This whole thread started with you and Jason — from way back, even — arguing that the existence of suffering meant that it was implausible that we would have a tri-omni God, and with me giving all sorts of arguments as to why it wasn’t as implausible as you thought it was, including that the concept starts with a world that contains suffering — thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to find it in this world –, that your — specifically, yours, eric — were based on a Utilitarian ideal that isn’t safe, that most people did think that you could morally allow sufffering for a greater goal (that one was a bit later), as well as one argument about mid-range where I pointed out that according to quite good theories of morality suffering doesn’t have moral value. So even your last point is completely wrong because it isn’t about it being the case for God in this case, but about it being the case in general. And remember, that’s one of the things you kept harping on me about, those general philosophical claims. Really, can you really not keep arguments straight this long?

    I think you have the burden of proof here to show why suffering is necessary. You can’t just say “you can’t prove its not necessary.” We would not give human-imposed suffering that bye.

    Sorry, but if you’re making the claim that the suffering is unnecessary and so contradicts a benevolent God, then the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that it is to a sufficient level of plausibility. All I have to do is cast enough doubt on it to make your argument implausible, and I think I’ve done that sufficiently. The difference, see, is that I am conceding that you might be right, but that your arguments don’t establish it. That’s not the claim you’re making, as far as I can see.

    So, likewise, I think the burden of proof rightly rests with you to provide a deeper explanation as to why human suffering is necessary.

    Who says I can’t come up with deeper possible explanations? But that’s what what you want. You want me to prove that, say, God has a greater goal in mind, with the specific goal even, or else you’ll say that you’re right. What that means is that you are asking me to prove you wrong or else you — and everyone else — should think you right. That’s shifting the burden of proof, and I’m not going to fall for that.

    You were also taught as a child about the easter bunny. About the tooth fairy. About santa claus. Clearly, at some point, you accepted into your web a belief contrary to what was already in your web. I don’t see any explanation on your part for how changing your mind about christianity would be any different from changing your mind about santa.

    Absolutely. Nothing in my criteria says that you can’t drop existing beliefs to accept a new one, but only that it’s irrational to maintain both. Indeed, if you come to know a new belief that contradicts old ones you will be mandated by my criteria to drop the beliefs that conflict with it. As I said, I just don’t see sufficient reason to compel me to drop my Christian beliefs and adopt the ones of a different religion or none at all. Are you going to argue that you have such compelling reasons?

    I think you are trying to claim christian belief is rational for you because it got into your web first. But there are many beliefs you likely started with that you changed. So getting there first does not necessarily make it justified or rational.

    You conflate justification and rationality, which I explicitly separate. So much for using my criteria. Getting into my web first means that it’s there, and so adding a new belief would contradict it. But it has never meant that it must stay there, and it can be changed. You just don’t have the evidence to say that it must be changed, at least as far as I can see.

    Baloney. What you should do, at that point, is withhold judgement. Not commit to any of them.

    Why? What epistemic argument do you have to justify that? I disagree strongly, because it is only reasonable for beliefs that I do not care about answers to, or don’t care about acting on. What is your defense of that statement?

    And you should examine your thinking process, because any logic that leads a single person to an infinite number of contradictory conclusions is probably a flawed thinking process.

    Which mine specifically does not do, since it only allows you to maintain one of those contradictory conclusions at any one time. Have you not been paying attention? At most, I may be forced to claim that any of a number of propositions are equally justified by all the existing evidence, but since that’s a fact of life that’s hardly an indication of being the result of a flawed thought process.

    You act like discovering you have a pascal’s wager-type logic is cause for celebration. Yay! I can pick any god I want and my decision’s rational!

    Again, this has little to do wtih gods. I’m preserving every day beliefs, where we might have multiple possibilities all roughly equally evidenced. I want to be able to adopt them, act on them, and let reality determine if that choice was right. You want … something else. I’m not sure what.

  217. #217 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    eric,

    So, in such a case, what should I do? Is it rational for me to keep those beliefs isolated? Keep them protected from the other general beliefs in my web? Or is it rational to let my other general beliefs – about the veracity of miracles and old texts – apply to the Islamic stories I learned as a kid?

    My whole criteria is based on maintaining a complete set of consistent beliefs, and so if you discover that your beliefs are not consistent then you would be holding at least some beliefs irrationally, and you’d have to discard beliefs to get to a web that is consistent. I’ve been saying that all along.

  218. #218 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    eric,

    I think the fairy-believer and god-believer have the burden of proof, not me. I do not have to “know” fairy belief is irrational or contradictory to claim its irrational; they have to give proof that such exists before it should be considered rational.

    Thus, you argue that you can claim reasonably that their belief is irrational and unless they can prove that it isn’t irrational then it should not be considered rational, presumably by everyone. I can’t imagine a clearer example of shifting the burden of proof.

    Also note that this started from you saying that I should listen to philosophers who claimed that my criteria would allow for the rationality of clearly irrational beliefs, to which this was my criteria for doing so, which is the quite reasonable one of “If you can prove that some belief that would be considered rational by my criteria is clearly irrational without appealing to my criteria, I’ll consider it”. What, then, is wrong with asking people who think that I allow irrational beliefs to be called rational to prove them irrational without ultimately appealing to the same criteria I’m using?

    Seriously man, 12-13 years of philosophy and your contribution is a line of reasoning that leads to the same result as Pascal’s wager? Do you really think wager-like logic is good enough to justify your belief?

    The first thing I learned is not to argue by appealing to arguments that I think don’t work despite the differences in goal, purpose and even argument and to instead deal specifically with the argument raised and the goal of it, which is something that you would do well to learn.

  219. #219 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    Kel,

    An open-mind for the sake of an open-mind is silly, it’s something I’ve been told time and time again by those who believe in woo. I’m close-minded, I’m not open-minded enough, I need to be more open-minded. But what it amounts to is that they want their anecdotal evidence to trump any form of trying to substantiate it.

    The problem here is that my objection is entirely to your line that started with “Maybe it means that he has some odd power” and ended with “but it’s damn good reason to think he’s a fraud!”. There might be other reasons to think that Geller is indeed a fraud, but just that he’s doing something that science can’t yet explain is not one of them. You jumped to an extreme conclusion about him based from what you say on just the idea that science couldn’t explain it. Would you go along with Hume and say that no matter how trustworthy you considered a person to be that you’d rather believe that they were lying than that they had actually experienced the “supernatural” occurrence they are claiming to have experienced? If you would, then you are being closed-minded to the point of obstinance, exactly the way those who are too attached to their religions are.

    I am not demanding that you believe it, but that you do not simply rule it out based on what you already think is true and take very strong and very improbable positions and claim that they are more rational just because of a current set of beliefs you hold that others don’t.

    Because the calls for open-mindedness aren’t really about giving a fair assessment of the proposition, it’s just a nonsense accusation one can throw at sceptical voices about being irrational.

    I didn’t throw it out at you because you were being a sceptical voice, but because it seemed that you were willing to be sceptical about what you didn’t believe to be true and not so sceptical about the things you do believe to be true.

    Supernatural really isn’t a coherent proposition. So how could we know what would constitute a supernatural observation when we don’t really know what supernatural is? It’s like asking what would it take me to believe in magic.

    So, then, how can you be a naturalist? If you don’t know what it would mean for something to not be natural, how can you claim that the position “There are no supernatural entities” or even “There are only natural entities” is expressing any kind of interesting content?

    To be a naturalist or naturalistic implies that there is a distinction that can be made between the natural and the things that aren’t. If you don’t think that such a distinction can be made, then there’s nothing to talk about when you say that you are a naturalist.

    But there is at least some meaningful sense in defining natural as being something happening that’s beyond natural forces. And on that, it should be at least in principle observable provided we knew how the system should behave. So if we had a good measurement of a closed system that didn’t behave according to our understanding of the models of which we already had a good understanding then that’s good grounds to consider something from the outside.

    Relativity completely tossed out the Newtonian model, if for no other reason that the Newtonian model insisted that mass remained constant and relativity said it doesn’t. And yet relativity isn’t considerded supernatural in any way, and has instead become perfectly natural. Dawkins’ statue would, it seems to me, be explained the same way if you could explain it, even if it was done by someone doing it using telekinesis. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t consider this definition one that naturalists will actually honestly stick to.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so if the best evidence is indistinguishable from “I don’t know” then that’s reason to reject it. That’s not being close-minded, it’s being reasonable.

    You are being closed-minded because a) your view of extraordinary is not the same as everyone else’s and b) you are insisting that your view is reasonable in a way that implies, to me, that you think it the ONLY reasonable view. Both of these should give you pause.

  220. #220 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    Kel,

    Claiming magic is still making a claim about the way the world works, so you don’t escape from the natural world by making the claim. And in that, any claim has to go up against the epistemological juggernaut that is naturalism. And since magic violates how we know the world to work, we have good reason to reject it. I’m not saying that magic has to be natural, but that our natural understanding of the world is reason to reject claims that don’t fit it.

    See, but your initial comment was that I had to introduce outside forces to make my examples work, and my point was that that was directly comparable to the situations we were talking about, so that wasn’t an objection. As for naturalism, I already said that others are not naturalists and that I don’t think you know that naturalism is true, and so it is very weak argument to say that _I_ must consider my beliefs absurd or irrational because YOU’RE a naturalist. I insist that you judge my rationality and irrationality based on beliefs that I have, not on the beliefs that you have that I strongly disagree with, and that I might even think we know are false. To avoid cluttering up the thread more, I’ll put aside questions of whether naturalism is an epistemic anything let alone a juggernaut, but will point out that epistemic naturalism — more directly a form of methodological naturalism — and naturalism of the “There are no supernatural entities” form are completely different arguments. The former might have some merit epistemologically, but the latter does not.

    Can be done in almost all cases was some advanced hypothetical technology that is as yet unknown how it would work or how it could possibly work.

    False. We knew precisely how it would work in those cases, but we didn’t know how to actually build one. That was, in fact, the thrust of my point.

    Then that’s only being a virgin in a technical sense – not in the way that matters for the purposes of the example.

    Since the example was, I believe, Mary’s, I fail to see why that sort of insemination wouldn’t fit the way that matters. The idea was that Jesus was created by God and not fathered by a human, either by Joseph and Mary experimenting before they were married or from her cheating on him. That seems to be what matters, and if you are worried about it being “miraculous” if it was done by God then it counts pretty much by definition, one would imagine.

    You went on about your frustrations about being a sceptic, and here I’d like to point out that this is what frustrates me: tossing out “That doesn’t make theological sense!” without actually caring what the theology says, often followed by dismissing the theology when it’s pointed out.

    And we are going around in circles. I did claim knowledge, and I laid out exactly what I mean by this.

    Are you going to claim that you know that God doesn’t exist and that those things didn’t happen, yes or no?

  221. #221 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    eric,

    After all, we wouldn’t want people thinking that rationalVS implies rationalcommon, would we? Because clearly it doesn’t. Right?

    What we have here — and you’re involved, too — is a philosophical disagreement over what it means for a belief to be considered irrational. I contend that your ascription of irrational is under-developed and problematic when dealing with every day beliefs. You contend that mine allows obviously irrational beliefs to be considered rational. That the common usage seems to be against me is not, in fact, any sort of reason to think that I’m wrong, and changing terms would mean that I’m not arguing what I am arguing, and so is out as well.

  222. #222 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    Kel,

    This is just wordplay around the definition of knowledge.

    Hardly. We can agree on a definition of knowledge and then you can insist that you have the evidence to support that. You won’t get around this by flip-flopping on definitions and claims. Either you know or you don’t. Do you think you know? By what definition of knowledge do you claim to know? I have already mentioned that mine is reliablism, and can defend my claim that you are not there when you mention scientific laws. What are you using and why do you think it works?

    I’ve given reasons to think they are absurd, you’re just trying to impose a lame apologetic filter on the criticism in order to nullify it. Given this conversation, you haven’t showed me anything that is giving me pause, nor anything that shows any sense of reasonableness to a theistic belief. Instead, all you’re doing is trying to spin what I’m saying through words that would nullify any sense of criticism. It’s absurd, and we have every reason to think it’s absurd. I’ve given some of those reasons, you’ve just played around with the definition of knowledge enough to try to nullify that.

    Kel, you think it absurd. You claim to have reasons for that, and don’t find my counters compelling. Fine. But I don’t find your reasons to find it absurd compelling either. Now, if you actually have knowledge, then I would have to rationally find it compelling. But you can’t just assert that you know, or that my responses are simply apologetics or playing with definitions. You have to support that contention. So, outline your definition of knowledge and defend your claim to know, or claim that you do not know at which point I can indeed simply say that we have competing beliefs. It’s up to you.

    I find it very interesting that you’re not doing anything to show that God is anything other than to try to dissolve the rhetoric against. You haven’t given me any reason to think that God isn’t absurd, you haven’t given me any reason to think that God isn’t there. The only thing I could say in the best case scenario is that you’ve given a case for the lack of any capacity to criticise anything that says anything about the world on anything other than its logical consistency.

    Since I’m an agnostic theist and say that I can’t expect you to believe in God without my being able to know that God exists, what you find interesting is simply me actually being consistent in my philosophy. I know that’s pretty rare on the Internet, but I do indeed strive for that standard. As for the last part, note that I did distinguish rational belief and justification. I think that many theists believe in God too strongly for the available evidence and so ACT irrationally, but think that many atheists — especially strong atheists — do the same thing.

  223. #223 Verbose Stoic
    March 19, 2012

    JimV,

    Chemistry started out as alchemy and astronomy as astrology, and that means we owe our civilization to them?

    No, but does it mean, perhaps, that those fields were created by them? In this case, probably not, since in both cases the chemistry and astronomy were secondary to the other goals, and people came along and started the other fields to study those interesting things. Philosophy, on the other hand, was always interested in the things that science did, but left the mechanical work of doing it to the new field and looked at broader issues, while still guiding it along and helping it to adjust its methods as it went along. So, not a good comparison at all, because while it would be hard to say that chemistry and astronomy were the PRODUCTS of alchemy and astrology, it is quite reasonable to say that science is the product of philosophy.

    Similarly, people had to get past Aristotlian physics to learn real physics.

    So, was Aristotle’s work there philosophy or science? If the former, then could there be a philosophical component to “real physics” as well? If the latter, then isn’t this just a clash of science versus science instead of a clash between philosophy and science?

    Feynman never studied any philosopy and managed to do lots of good science.

    And people who don’t study science can still use all of the technology and medicines that are the fruits of science. As that doesn’t diminish science’s key role in producing that, it also doesn’t diminish the contribution philosophy made to science as a methodology.

    Science is what happens after philopsphers finally figure out that staring at one’s navel and thinking deep thoughts will never suffice to determine how the universe works. You have to get data, generate hypotheses which might explain the data, and find some way of testing the hypotheses.

    So are you conceding, then, that this was a philosophical determination that led the way for the scientific method? Since that was my point …

    Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Feynman, … are any of them considered great philosophers who must be read in Philosophy class? When they are, maybe I’ll consider philosphy important to science.

    So … until science is considered important to philosophy, you won’t accept that philosophy was crucial in developing science as we know it (my actual claim)? Isn’t that bass-ackwards?

    And, BTW, depending on the branch of philosophy a great number of them ARE considered important and would have to be read, or at least read as filtered through more recent arguments.

  224. #224 eric
    March 19, 2012

    VS @216:

    if you’re making the claim that the suffering is unnecessary and so contradicts a benevolent God, then the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that it is to a sufficient level of plausibility…You want me to prove that, say, God has a greater goal in mind, with the specific goal even, or else you’ll say that you’re right.

    But I’d be happy for the moment if you could just come up with a reasonable, defensible reason for, say smallpox epidemics. As I said in the bit you didn’t quote, I think placing the burden of proof on the smallpox-is-good believers is reasonable because we would do that if we were discussing any other agent. Placing the burden of proof on the smallpox-is-not-good believers in this case is to give God an exemption from explaining his actions we wouldn’t give anyone else.

    [eric]And you should examine your thinking process, because any logic that leads a single person to an infinite number of contradictory conclusions is probably a flawed thinking process.

    [VS] Which mine specifically does not do, since it only allows you to maintain one of those contradictory conclusions at any one time. Have you not been paying attention?

    Yes, but any of those contradicotory conclusions can be arrived at by your system, by the same person. This is not a benefit, its a flaw. When your premises and your logic lead to several conclusions which are contradictory, that is a sign there is something wrong with your logic. I don’t know any clearer way to put it.

    VS @217, in response to my Islamic example:

    My whole criteria is based on maintaining a complete set of consistent beliefs, and so if you discover that your beliefs are not consistent then you would be holding at least some beliefs irrationally, and you’d have to discard beliefs to get to a web that is consistent. I’ve been saying that all along.

    This does not help me at all. WHICH decision does your system tell me is the right one? Is it right to keep my general belief that miracles require corroborative evidence, and reject my belief in Islamic miracles? Is it right to keep my belief in Islamic miracles and reject my general belief that miracles require corroboration? Or, is it right to keep my belief that “miracles (other than Islamic ones) require corroboration,” and reject the meta-belief (which is also part of my web) that my general beliefs ought not have exceptions?

    Or are all three rational according to your system?

    [eric]I think the fairy-believer and god-believer have the burden of proof, not me.

    [VS] I can’t imagine a clearer example of shifting the burden of proof.

    I disagree with the ‘shifting’ label because I don’t think I ever agreed with you that the burden rested on me in the first place. But you have my position correct; I think the burden of proof should rest with entity-believers to show a reason to believe in that entity, not entity-deniers. I note your reply didn’t actually respond to the substance of that – i.e. telling me why you think this is a bad idea, or why you might think god-believers have adequately met the burden. You merely accused me of shifting the burden of proof.

    What we have here — and you’re involved, too — is a philosophical disagreement over what it means for a belief to be considered irrational. I contend that your ascription of irrational is under-developed and problematic when dealing with every day beliefs. You contend that mine allows obviously irrational beliefs to be considered rational. That the common usage seems to be against me is not, in fact, any sort of reason to think that I’m wrong

    So what would be a reason for you to think that your ascription is wrong? Testing your definition against case studies is admittedly somewhat subjective. But it has three big advantages: its an external test. It doesn’t circularly rely on your own definition of rationality. And it does correspond reasonably well to the way the vast, vast majority of people (including philosophers) use the term ‘irrational’ to describe things like belief in Harvey the rabbit. Do you have a better method for assessing your criteria for rationality?

  225. #225 Kel
    March 19, 2012

    The problem here is that my objection is entirely to your line that started with “Maybe it means that he has some odd power” and ended with “but it’s damn good reason to think he’s a fraud!”. There might be other reasons to think that Geller is indeed a fraud, but just that he’s doing something that science can’t yet explain is not one of them. You jumped to an extreme conclusion about him based from what you say on just the idea that science couldn’t explain it.

    But that’s the point, science could explain it. It could explain how we know our minds can be fooled, that people can create illusions. It can explain that people lie and people deceive. We have a profession that is dedicated to just that – magicians. If you take the narrative “science cannot explain how Geller bent spoons with his mind”, it would only be looking at part of the story. There’s very good reasons to think that Geller wasn’t using his mind. And that’s the point, we’re not just looking at an unusual account that science cannot yet explain, or even as I’m contending an unusual account that goes against our scientific understanding, but the claim makers and parties involved.

    “but it’s a damn good reason to think that Uri Geller is a fraud” isn’t saying that Uri Geller couldn’t possibly be doing it, I’m leaving open the possibility. But at this stage, we have no good reason to think it’s true while every reason to think it’s false. I’m not saying with 100% certainty that Uri Geller is a fraud, just that what would show to the contrary is completely unsubstantiated. Our current ontology can deal with magicians and magicians using their abilities to pretend they have extraordinary abilities, what it cannot deal with is claims outside it that are meant to be believed on no other basis than someone has imposed a narrative onto it saying it’s magic.

    I am not demanding that you believe it, but that you do not simply rule it out based on what you already think is true and take very strong and very improbable positions and claim that they are more rational just because of a current set of beliefs you hold that others don’t.

    But I’m not ruling it out. I said we have good reason to think a certain way; it’s leaving open the possibility on the basis of that case being weakened and the case to the contrary strengthened.

    I didn’t throw it out at you because you were being a sceptical voice, but because it seemed that you were willing to be sceptical about what you didn’t believe to be true and not so sceptical about the things you do believe to be true.

    What am I not being sceptical about, exactly? What things do I believe that are true that are being given a free pass?

    So, then, how can you be a naturalist? If you don’t know what it would mean for something to not be natural, how can you claim that the position “There are no supernatural entities” or even “There are only natural entities” is expressing any kind of interesting content?

    Naturalism wasn’t meant to be as distinguished from the supernatural, because there’s no real coherent definition of the supernatural to distinguish it by. In the context I’ve been using it, it’s largely been an explication of methodological naturalism – or that which scientific inquiry has been able to discern about the universe. More specifically, I’d say I’m a non-reductive physicalist, but it really doesn’t matter what description I use. Naturalist was a convenient shorthand for our modern scientific understanding of the world.

    Relativity completely tossed out the Newtonian model, if for no other reason that the Newtonian model insisted that mass remained constant and relativity said it doesn’t. And yet relativity isn’t considerded supernatural in any way, and has instead become perfectly natural. Dawkins’ statue would, it seems to me, be explained the same way if you could explain it, even if it was done by someone doing it using telekinesis. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t consider this definition one that naturalists will actually honestly stick to.

    There’s always that limit. How do we know that something is the basis of having an inadequate or incorrect model, or that the model is correct and violates it? Telekenesis is just another fancy word for magic, while the precession of Mercury is not. The interesting thing about the shift to relativity is that while the explanations behind it are quite different, the mathematics is not. It would not be unreasonable to say that Newtonian mechanics is a special case of general relativity. A statue waving, on the other hand, would take quite a lot of work to come under a quantum mechanics explanation.

    You are being closed-minded because a) your view of extraordinary is not the same as everyone else’s and b) you are insisting that your view is reasonable in a way that implies, to me, that you think it the ONLY reasonable view. Both of these should give you pause.

    a) What does it matter what anyone else believes? My view of extraordinary was not a personal view, it’s not what I think of as extraordinary, but what would be extraordinary given the scientific understanding of how the world works. b) Whether or not my view is reasonable or the ONLY reasonable view doesn’t factor into this. In my view, I’ve given a way to change my mind. Heck, even the underlying principles by which the framework I’ve given are able to be analysed, and there’s always the problem of human fallibility. I don’t know how I am able to say in any other way that I’m open to possibilities, but it’s got to be more than just ad hoc invocations of magic at the first sign of the unusual. Unfortunately, as Hume pointed out, the human mind is geared towards credulousness.

  226. #226 Kel
    March 20, 2012

    As for naturalism, I already said that others are not naturalists and that I don’t think you know that naturalism is true, and so it is very weak argument to say that _I_ must consider my beliefs absurd or irrational because YOU’RE a naturalist.

    That’s not my argument at all, my ontological position has little to do with the epistemological argument I’m making.

    To avoid cluttering up the thread more, I’ll put aside questions of whether naturalism is an epistemic anything let alone a juggernaut, but will point out that epistemic naturalism — more directly a form of methodological naturalism — and naturalism of the “There are no supernatural entities” form are completely different arguments.

    Our epistemology informs our ontology – how can it not? The question then becomes what epistemology are we using besides science for our understanding of the universe?

    stephenlaw.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/believing-bullshit-chpt-2.html

    False. We knew precisely how it would work in those cases, but we didn’t know how to actually build one.

    Okay, explain for me precisely how a device that would stop the spin of a planet so that it could have an extra 12 hours daylight then spin back up would work. Be precise. Likewise, explain for me, precisely, how you could get the cells of a dead tree branch to rearrange themselves into the cells of a living serpent. Again, be precise.

    You went on about your frustrations about being a sceptic, and here I’d like to point out that this is what frustrates me: tossing out “That doesn’t make theological sense!” without actually caring what the theology says, often followed by dismissing the theology when it’s pointed out.

    Two things. Firstly, it’s not me who is making the claim of it being miraculous, I wouldn’t bring it up unless people actually took it to literally be a miracle. Secondly, if it’s not a miracle, then what relevance would it be to mention it?

    Are you going to claim that you know that God doesn’t exist and that those things didn’t happen, yes or no?

    In a cautious sense, yes. Note the use of the word cautious.

  227. #227 Kel
    March 20, 2012

    Since I’m an agnostic theist and say that I can’t expect you to believe in God without my being able to know that God exists, what you find interesting is simply me actually being consistent in my philosophy.

    Actually, I’m asking for reasons why you would consider God in the first place. If you don’t have any reasons to think God exists, then why believe? If you do have reasons, then share them! It doesn’t help you fiddling with what someone really means by know when what I’m asking for is considerations. I’d like to know the positive case for theism – even if you don’t think you can know, or whether you can mess with what I mean by know enough to dissolve all criticism – but what reasons one has to consider God is anything other than a overly-anthropomorphic primitive attempt to understand the world which has more and more fallen by the wayside as scientific and philosophical inquiry has progressed. Because whether or not this counts as whatever standard you use for the word know, in the end messing around with definitions is going to do little to actually show anything real about the world around us. Whether it’s reasonable for you to believe by your own standard and whether it’s reasonable for me not to believe by my own standard, both of us are trying to say something about the nature of nature and that’s what matters. Either God exists or God doesn’t, so “but I’m consistent” isn’t really going to cut it.

    I know that’s pretty rare on the Internet, but I do indeed strive for that standard.

    Was that self-aggrandising really necessary?

  228. #228 Wow
    March 20, 2012

    In other words, why do you believe in Xtian God but don’t believe in Shiva?

  229. #229 Wow
    March 20, 2012

    “”but I’m consistent” isn’t really going to cut it. ”

    Indeed. You can be consistently saying that there are four sides to a triangle, but that doesn’t make it correct.

    Though this does seem to be a common thread for the anti-science crowd: refusing to change your mind is PROOF you’re right. And, since science is always willing to change its mind, that MUST be proof it’s wrong!

  230. #230 Wow, God
    March 20, 2012

    VS, you admit you don’t know that God exists.

    Why, then, do you believe in him despite no proof of his existence?

  231. #232 eric
    March 20, 2012

    Kel @227:

    It doesn’t help you [VS] fiddling with what someone really means by know when what I’m asking for is considerations. I’d like to know the positive case for theism…Because whether or not this counts as whatever standard you use for the word know, in the end messing around with definitions is going to do little to actually show anything real about the world around us.

    I agree, and add that VS has the same issue with ‘God’ and ‘rational’ that he has with ‘know.’ He argues that belief in God is rational given some specific definitions of ‘God’ and ‘rational.’ But that’s more of a linguistic exercise than a statement about the world.

    To VS – because this seems to me an overriding issue, I’d rather see a response to kel’s comment above than a response to any of my comments in @224. Tell us what your positive case for theism is before you worry about whether it meets some dictionary or philosophy definition of knowledge or rationality.

    [Incidentally, this is the way science often approaches difficult problems: researchers just tell the community how they arrived at their conclusions, what their confidence is, and lets the community decide for itself how to respond to that. Thus, no physicist is going around claiming that we will "know" the higgs boson exists when a five sigma measurement confidence is achieved. They just tell the world five sigma is what they will require to believe it themselves. If you believe after two sigma or demand ten sigma, that's up to you; the researcher's stated goal is five, and you can take that or leave it.]

  232. #233 Verbose Stoic
    March 20, 2012

    eric,

    But I’d be happy for the moment if you could just come up with a reasonable, defensible reason for, say smallpox epidemics. As I said in the bit you didn’t quote, I think placing the burden of proof on the smallpox-is-good believers is reasonable because we would do that if we were discussing any other agent. Placing the burden of proof on the smallpox-is-not-good believers in this case is to give God an exemption from explaining his actions we wouldn’t give anyone else.

    I’m not going to say that I can’t — I’ve done some thinking and discussing along those lines in the past — but I’m not going to becasue I don’t see why I should have to, since you both keep moving the target AND seem to be getting your now stated assumption wrong, notwithstanding the unstated assumptions you make.

    1) Remember that this started from specifically how evolution conflicts with the tri-omni God. Here, you’ve backed into a traditional argument that gets no additional support from evolution. I’m not that interested in debating that traditional argument.

    2) You argue that we wouldn’t give that sort of exemption to any other agent, but I deny that is the case. We would do so if we thought the agent trustworthy or moral. If, for example, the most moral person you knew suddenly shot someone, I think your — and most people’s — reactions would be that he had to have a good reason for that action. So as long as the action COULD have a reasonable justification, we’d tend to accept that it did for a trustworthy agent. For religious people, God is trustworthy, and so we will default to the trustworthy opinion until either you prove that an action cannot have a justification or until you prove that it didn’t have that justification in that case. So the burden of proof is still on you, unless you assert that God cannot be trustworthy. But that would be a claim as well, and one you’d need to justify.

    3) To ask for me to address a specific example presumes that talking about the specific example is particularly illuminating. But why talk about smallpox epidemics and not disease in general? Is smallpox that much worse than epidemics of other diseases that kill people? Someone once claimed that God could at least have eliminated childhood leukemia, and I asked on what grounds they could claim that childhood leukemia was worse than adult leukemia. If you allow that some diseases would be allowed without violating benevolence, then you need to justify the claim that a specific one is sufficiently worse to get special attention. And if you don’t, then this reduces to the traditional, general argument of why there is suffering at all, and you will recall, I hope, that I have spent much time talking about the general problem of suffering and demonstrating that the assumptions you are basing that objection on are not as secure as you seem to think.

    Ultimately, at some level, you are claiming that the amount of suffering in the world is incompatible with a tri-omni God. Since you are the one making the claim, the burden of proof is on you. All I need to do is demonstrate that your proof is not as good as you think it is and has flaws. It would indeed be shifting the burden of proof to claim that I must prove you wrong in even any one specific case or else you’re right. That’s pretty much the definition of that fallacy …

  233. #234 Verbose Stoic
    March 20, 2012

    eric,

    Yes, but any of those contradicotory conclusions can be arrived at by your system, by the same person. This is not a benefit, its a flaw. When your premises and your logic lead to several conclusions which are contradictory, that is a sign there is something wrong with your logic. I don’t know any clearer way to put it.

    The real distinction, though, is that I refuse to let rationality/irrationality be determined by whether or not there’s another belief that’s similarly evidence, or by whether we know or don’t know that the proposition is true. This is a benefit in my opinion because it addresses the real-life case — and quite common one — where we have evidence that at least loosely supports more than one belief equally. I want people to be able to choose one and act on it because it is my contention that in every day life the easiest way to test propositions is to stick them into your web of belief and act on them, letting reality correct them as you go along. While waiting for explicit test works for science since it can generally wait until it knows before it must act, in every day life we simply can’t do that. Demanding that we only believe that which we have explicitly tested, then, would eliminate a lot of our beliefs, and so demanding that we only believe that which the at least current evidence strongly supports means leaving us with no consistent way to decide how we are going to act in the world wrt those propositions. If it matters to how I’ll live my life, this seems unacceptable and problematic. So you see it as a flaw because it doesn’t tell you in all cases what to believe, and I see it as a benefit because it allows you to believe when the evidence is inconclusive.

    This does not help me at all. WHICH decision does your system tell me is the right one? Is it right to keep my general belief that miracles require corroborative evidence, and reject my belief in Islamic miracles? Is it right to keep my belief in Islamic miracles and reject my general belief that miracles require corroboration? Or, is it right to keep my belief that “miracles (other than Islamic ones) require corroboration,” and reject the meta-belief (which is also part of my web) that my general beliefs ought not have exceptions?

    Or are all three rational according to your system?

    I do believe I have mentioned before that my definition of rational doesn’t tell you that but that’s okay since it isn’t trying to. If there is a flaw in my definition/system, it is that it doesn’t give you a method for deciding which to accept. Which I see as a benefit, for the reasons given above. But while that part of the system doesn’t do that, that doesn’t mean that I’m helpless. There are a lot of ways to address this, which I haven’t been focusing on for the sake of not further complicating the debate. However, briefly, my suggestion would be to be conservative in your changes, and to always try to preserve the belief that underpins more of your other beliefs, so that you are destroying and adjusting as little of your beliefs as possible. An objection that this might have you maintain false beliefs that simply cannot be changed because they are too fundamental in your web is addressed by my insistence that you must, in fact, accept into your web things you know to be true no matter what adjustment it would require. But I’m not sure that I can justify that to the level of knowledge, which is why I haven’t mentioned it up to now.

    (BTW, if you aren’t clear on Webs of Belief, you can read Quine, who I’m at least loosely borrowing this from.)

  234. #235 Verbose Stoic
    March 20, 2012

    eric,

    I disagree with the ‘shifting’ label because I don’t think I ever agreed with you that the burden rested on me in the first place

    Whether you agree that you have the burden of proof doesn’t, of course, mean you don’t nor that I can’t raise that objection.

    But you have my position correct; I think the burden of proof should rest with entity-believers to show a reason to believe in that entity, not entity-deniers. I note your reply didn’t actually respond to the substance of that – i.e. telling me why you think this is a bad idea, or why you might think god-believers have adequately met the burden. You merely accused me of shifting the burden of proof.

    Well, let’s go back to the tapes and show what claim I was saying that you were making that I was accusing you of shifting the burden of proof on:

    I think the fairy-believer and god-believer have the burden of proof, not me. I do not have to “know” fairy belief is irrational or contradictory to claim its irrational …

    No, you don’t need to know that it is irrational to claim that it is irrational, but you do if you expect anyone else to agree with you. You are making the claim that it is irrational, and so the burden of proof is on you. I do not need to prove you wrong or else you get to claim that you’re right.

    Now, note that you shifted here from “It’s irrational” to “The entity exists”. I’m going to be charitable and translate your argument to “They are claiming that an entity exists; they have insufficient evidence to support that claim; therefore their claim is irrational.” Now, in my case I make the claim, but only as a belief; I do not claim to know nor do I claim to be able to provide a compelling argument. So, then, I accept that I do not know that the entity exists, but ask if it is really irrational to believe that an entity exists if I don’t know it is. Where do we draw the line on how much reason or evidence one must have to believe? We know that there is some reason and evidence, we know that there is some evidence that at least looks contradictory, but we also know that the evidence on either side is not in any way compelling. So, where are and how do you justify your standards for deciding what point that is? Remember, my system is deliberately set up to avoid trying to decide this because of all the complications involved. So in mine, this isn’t a problem but it is in yours.

    So what would be a reason for you to think that your ascription is wrong? Testing your definition against case studies is admittedly somewhat subjective. But it has three big advantages: its an external test. It doesn’t circularly rely on your own definition of rationality. And it does correspond reasonably well to the way the vast, vast majority of people (including philosophers) use the term ‘irrational’ to describe things like belief in Harvey the rabbit. Do you have a better method for assessing your criteria for rationality?

    But we settled how to argue about whether my ascription is wrong: find something that I would accept is irrational that relies on something that isn’t covered in my system. You had a decent idea with appealing to things like fairies but since you didn’t understand the underlying issues you did it badly, because you couldn’t provide anything more than “Most people think it is” when I asked why that should be considered irrational. Well, my reply to that is “Well, most people are wrong”. So you need more, and you need something that doesn’t end up appealing to one or more of my criteria. And if you have that, we can talk. But when I did give that criteria, you started screaming about burden of proof, but this is the way to attack my system: show that it can’t handle something that it ought to be able to handle.

  235. #236 Verbose Stoic
    March 20, 2012

    Kel,

    It’s not likely that I;ll get around to most of your comments today, but I want to ask this question again about the “closed-minded” part of it:

    If someone that you thought would not lie to you and was trustworthy in their observations and actions bent spoons with their mind, would you consider that they are bending spoons with their mind reason to think that they are a fraud?

  236. #237 Wow, God
    March 20, 2012

    “2) You argue that we wouldn’t give that sort of exemption to any other agent, but I deny that is the case.”

    I deny your denial.

    “If, for example, the most moral person you knew suddenly shot someone, I think your — and most people’s — reactions would be that he had to have a good reason for that action.”

    OK, this is one way to make sure you’re always right: pretend what the other person thinks and then use that to rebut them. Gosh.

    “The real distinction, though, is that I refuse to let rationality/irrationality be determined by whether or not there’s another belief that’s similarly evidence”

    OK, what evidence exists for your god that doesn’t exist for the Greek pantheon?

  237. #238 Wow, God
    March 20, 2012

    “would you consider that they are bending spoons with their mind reason to think that they are a fraud?”

    Odd.

    Has naff all to do with your stated aim: ask about the “closed-minded” part of it.

    Also if they’re bending spoons with their mind, this isn’t fraud. It’s bending spoons with your mind. It may be vandalism if they haven’t been given permission to bend the spoons belonging to someone else, but it isn’t fraud.

    PS I’m actually God.

  238. #239 eric
    March 20, 2012

    VS:

    You argue that we wouldn’t give that sort of exemption to any other agent, but I deny that is the case. We would do so if we thought the agent trustworthy or moral.

    Isn’t that circular? You are essentially saying that one of the foundational properties of your god-conception is that god is so trustworthy that you don’t require an explanation of suffering. If this is the case you are not arguing for or demonstrating consistency, you are simply asserting it as a premise.

    A second problem with your position is that it presumes we have a decent reason to treat god as trustworthy. That thinking this particular agent is trustworthy is a reasonable starting position. But why? I don’t and wouldn’t trust that some agent killed in self defense or released a smallpox virus for ultimately good reasons based on an unsubstantiated book ghost-written by that agent. Such a source is transparently self-serving. I would have to have some independent evidence of their trustworthiness. You don’t have that for god.

    I do believe I have mentioned before that my definition of rational doesn’t tell you that but that’s okay since it isn’t trying to. If there is a flaw in my definition/system, it is that it doesn’t give you a method for deciding which to accept.

    It gives you no reason to be christian or a theist at all! As I have pointed out multiple times – with my roulette example and with pascal’s wager – what you have here is a criteria that eliminates a small number of beliefs from the set of all possible beliefs. But you have no method for selecting one from the remaining beliefs. What’s more, believing any of the remaining choices appears unwarranted based on your criteria.

    Have you also considered that, because of Hume’s problem of induction, your criteria make just about any claim about the future “rational,” not matter how ridiculous it is? Your criteria make beliefs like “tomorrow I will flap my arms and fly” rational beliefs. To see that, just think about how our webs of belief understand induction. We recognize that past observations cannot logically rule out the possibility that the future will behave differently. So differently-behaving futures are not philosophically inconsistent with our webs. And so, someone’s belief that they will flap their arms and fly tomorrow must be considered rational according to your criteria. This is another example of why I think your criteria for rationality are incredibly overbroad. Behe-definition-of-science overbroad.

    I do not claim to know nor do I claim to be able to provide a compelling argument. So, then, I accept that I do not know that the entity exists, but ask if it is really irrational to believe that an entity exists if I don’t know it is. Where do we draw the line on how much reason or evidence one must have to believe?

    As kel and I referred to in @227 and @232, stop trying to draw a line for the moment. Start by telling us your reasons for theistic belief, without worrying about whether they jump your bar, my bar, kel’s bar, or anyone else’s bar for knowledge.

  239. #240 eric
    March 20, 2012

    So you need more, and you need something that doesn’t end up appealing to one or more of my criteria. And if you have that, we can talk. But when I did give that criteria, you started screaming about burden of proof, but this is the way to attack my system: show that it can’t handle something that it ought to be able to handle.

    Screaming? Hey, you asked me how I support my claim that fairy belief is irrational, and I told you – its irrational because it lacks evidence (i.e., entity-believers have the burden of proof). If you’re going to insult me when I answer your questions, I won’t answer them any more.

    I believe we have a disagreement on what your system ‘ought to’ handle. I see criteria for rationality as deeply connected to decision making. If we care about rationality as a concept at all, its because (IMO) we care about whether we ought to believe something or not. You obviously don’t see such a deep connection, since you’ve designed criteria (for rationality) that you admit can’t be used to decide between a near-infinite number of contradictory beliefs.

    So I would say your criteria’s failure to be more than marginally useful for belief-choice is a valid criticism, because it ought to be able to do much more significant work in narrowing belief choice. But I also understand that you very likely don’t see that as a valid criticism.

  240. #241 eric
    March 20, 2012

    VS (to kel):

    If someone that you thought would not lie to you and was trustworthy in their observations and actions bent spoons with their mind, would you consider that they are bending spoons with their mind reason to think that they are a fraud?

    I’m not kel, but my first belief would be: they are pulling my leg (i.e. non-malicious but intentional trick).

    Second belief would be: they are misguided/fooling themselves, or there is some nontelekinetic explanation they are unaware of for what they are doing. Lots of psychic claims fall into this category – people who honestly believe they are doing one thing when they are doing another.

    Third on the list would be fraud.

    Last on the list would be actual telekenesis.

    So for me, no: not even a great trust in someone would make spoon-bending more credible than fraud. This is one of the things your criteria currently lacks: an ability to prioritize/rank/weigh the comparative rationality of beliefs that all pass your ‘rational’ test.

  241. #242 Kel
    March 20, 2012

    If someone that you thought would not lie to you and was trustworthy in their observations and actions bent spoons with their mind, would you consider that they are bending spoons with their mind reason to think that they are a fraud?

    I wouldn’t know what to think. Perhaps if someone I thought was trustworthy was claiming they were bending spoons with their mind, perhaps I was mistaken in considering them trustworthy to begin with. Or perhaps they are the victims of their own credulity and have deceived themselves, or they are victims of a prank – that they have had spoons that were “primed” by others onto to give the illusion of it. In any case, I wouldn’t think demonstration is sufficient because if it’s a trick and I don’t know how it’s done then I’m not going to be able to detect it’s a trick. In that specific example, I’d point my trustworthy friend towards the million dollar challenge.

  242. #243 Kel
    March 21, 2012

    I was going to elaborate a little bit, but first I want to point out that the scenario is only a hypothetical for me when considering the particular belief of spoon bending. The situation is all too real for me when it comes to psychic powers, therapeutic touch, astral projection, efficacy of homoeopathy, power of astrology, etc. Not only do I have family and friends who are sincere trustworthy people who believe these things, but I have also seen a number of these things in action. I don’t think in these cases fraud is going to be accurate, it would be more likely that someone has simply made a connection that wasn’t really there. People can be mistaken, they can be prone to self-deception, they can even impose cultural narratives into their perceptions! In that context, it’s hard to take the claims alone – no matter how compelling the testimony – as sufficient to establish the narrative they bring with it.

    The fraud case is more specific to Uri Geller than any claim of spoon bending, but I do find it interesting that we have to work on these hypothetical cases (“what if X claimed Y?”) instead of pointing to any real world example where the paranormal claim actually trumped our scientific understanding of the world. I’d contend that the sceptical position as being the default is evidenced by the relationship being the other way around. There wouldn’t be any need to make it about how open-minded a sceptic is if sceptics could be shown where their stubbornness has caused a type-2 error in thinking (rejecting a truth)…

  243. #244 Wow
    March 21, 2012

    “And so, someone’s belief that they will flap their arms and fly tomorrow must be considered rational according to your criteria”

    Similarly for the “End of The World is Nigh” cults. OK, the world hasn’t ended YET, but it will this time.

    Go on, prove that it’s impossible that the end will come sometime in the future!

    This sort of “rational” is not rational thinking, it’s rationalisation pretending to be rational thinking.

  244. #245 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    “but I do find it interesting that we have to work on these hypothetical cases (“what if X claimed Y?”)”

    Kel, you’re reading what you would expect from a rational debater acting in good faith.

    VS isn’t one of them.

    He DIDN’T say “what if someone claimed to bend spoons”, he said “what if someone DID bend spoons”. Here, again, is an exact quote:

    “would you consider that they are bending spoons with their mind reason to think that they are a fraud?”

    NOTE: It is NOT “would you consider that they say they can bend spoons with their mind reason to think that they are a fraud?”. No, it presupposes someone who IS bending spoons with their mind, would you consider them a fraud.

    PS I really am God. Prove it’s not possible for me to be God, anyone.

  245. #246 Kel
    March 21, 2012

    I see your point, and I raise you that someone bending spoons with their mind is a hypothetical irrespective of whether or not Verbose Stoic framed his question to me in the form of an irrelevant language puzzle. Can someone doing his stated abilities in the manner by which he states be considered a fraud? No – but what does that have to do with being close-minded?

    In other words, I do hope I’ve captured the intent of Verbose Stoic’s post #236 in my reply.

  246. #247 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    You captured what VS OUGHT to have said in your reply.

    But VS didn’t say that and I propose that this was deliberate.

    I.e. he was setting up “If Jesus came down and did a miracle, you’d say he was a fraud!”.

    PS From his silence on the subject, VS seems to agree I may be, in actual fact, his God.

  247. #248 Verbose Stoic
    March 21, 2012

    Kel,

    Naturalism wasn’t meant to be as distinguished from the supernatural, because there’s no real coherent definition of the supernatural to distinguish it by. In the context I’ve been using it, it’s largely been an explication of methodological naturalism – or that which scientific inquiry has been able to discern about the universe. More specifically, I’d say I’m a non-reductive physicalist, but it really doesn’t matter what description I use. Naturalist was a convenient shorthand for our modern scientific understanding of the world.

    Telekenesis is just another fancy word for magic …

    Well, if you want to focus entirely on that sort of methodological approach, you might want to stop confusing matters by talking about “magic”, which implies the latter. Again, relativity once would have been “magic” if by “magic” you mean “Contradicts our modern scientific understanding of the world”, but now it isn’t. Philosophically, it would be quite easy then for me to point out that the best that methodological naturalism, in and of itself, allows you do say is that you don’t know if it happened or not, and also that it doesn’t allow you to classify any telekinesis explanation as “supernatural” or even “not a natural explanation”.

    Especially since your comment here is wrong. Telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, ghosts, etc are all things that people have tried to study scientifically. There was no presumption that these things have to be “magical” in any way, and we can note some many good sources of science fiction that conceiving them as perfectly understood natural phenomena is totally within the bounds of the concept. What I’d agree with you on is that we don’t have a confirmed case of them yet, but that doesn’t make them magical or something that you can thus sort into some kind of objective and semi-permanent category of “magical, thus not scientific/natural”, or else I’d say that a lot of things like relativity had to start there as well, thus giving you some of those examples you’ve been looking for.

    a) What does it matter what anyone else believes? My view of extraordinary was not a personal view, it’s not what I think of as extraordinary, but what would be extraordinary given the scientific understanding of how the world works.

    But some people find that too limiting, and don’t accept that you should judge extraordinary by those standards, for multiple reasons that are even philosophically and rationally argued. The problem is that you both have an interpretation of what counts as extraordinary and what would count as being in line with our scientific understanding, and you are judging other people’s rationality based on your standards. Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me. I refuse to do that to anyone, even atheists [grin]. I’m perfectly willing to accept that because you are a naturalist these claims are extraordinary to you and that it would be irrational for you to believe them. I also argue that by my criteria you really shouldn’t even believe them until you know that they are true because your naturalism is a really strongly held belief. And I have no problem with that. The problem is that you are arguing with people who are not, in fact, naturalists of your stripe, which includes both myself and the others you are arguing with, and you seem to be demanding that we judge the rationality of our beliefs by your standards. Unless you can prove that to the level of knowledge, I have no reason to just accept that if I think you wrong.

    b) Whether or not my view is reasonable or the ONLY reasonable view doesn’t factor into this. In my view, I’ve given a way to change my mind. Heck, even the underlying principles by which the framework I’ve given are able to be analysed, and there’s always the problem of human fallibility. I don’t know how I am able to say in any other way that I’m open to possibilities, but it’s got to be more than just ad hoc invocations of magic at the first sign of the unusual. Unfortunately, as Hume pointed out, the human mind is geared towards credulousness.

    The worry is that you might be professing to be open-minded while closing your mind by the back door (although I will concede at this point that I don’t really know one way or the other, and so will not talk about “closed-mindedness” anymore specifically with you). The fear was that you’d pull what Dawkins did in “The God Delusion” wrt irreducible complexity, saying on the one hand that if irreducible complexity was ever proven he’d change his mind — so not closed-minded! — while also saying though that if an example was given he’d think that there must be a way that he just hasn’t figured out yet, which rather conveniently lets him off the hook in terms of having to ever change his mind. How much evidence or proof are you going to need? Remember, you said that just violating the modern understanding of science was in and of itself reason to think of fraud. Now, you did back off on that later, but at what point in the examination do you decide that the “magical” explanation is the better one? When do you decide that, say, Randi’s test really did prove that it wasn’t a fraud as opposed to simply that it was a very clever and not obvious fraud?

  248. #249 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    “Well, if you want to focus entirely on that sort of methodological approach”

    What other approach is there?

    Random waffling??? It does, however, seem to be your preferred method of induction.

    “while also saying though that if an example was given he’d think that there must be a way that he just hasn’t figured out yet”

    So he’s not closed minded to the fact that changing his mind is the right thing.

    If you saw a woman get sawn in half and couldn’t explain it, would you REFUSE to watch Penn and Teller show how that “trick” was done, because you’d rather keep open to the idea that the woman really WAS sawn in half?

    Your brain fell out, fella. Your brain fell out.

    PS I am God.

  249. #250 Verbose Stoic
    March 21, 2012

    Kel,

    That’s not my argument at all, my ontological position has little to do with the epistemological argument I’m making.

    Our epistemology informs our ontology – how can it not? The question then becomes what epistemology are we using besides science for our understanding of the universe?

    So, this seems to be a contradiction. It isn’t that important because whether you’re talking about ontological or epistemological naturalism, we disagree [grin]. But you do need to get it straight because there are different implications to “There are no supernatural entities” and “Science works really well in some areas”.

    As for your last comment, I argue that we have a lot of different ways of knowing than science, depending on how you define science, and I think a number of things don’t work well under a formal scientific methodology. I will suggest you read “Scientism 101″ on my blog to get an idea of what I mean and why I think we need things other than science in our considerations.

    Okay, explain for me precisely how a device that would stop the spin of a planet so that it could have an extra 12 hours daylight then spin back up would work. Be precise.

    I don’t have the background to give you a full description in detail. But we know due to science what the mechanism is that causes the Earth to rotate, so we know what it would take to stop it, what consequences that would have, what it would take to stop them, and what it would take to restart the mechanism. Are you going to deny that we know what it would take in theory, but that we don’t have the details of how to do it in practice?

    Likewise, explain for me, precisely, how you could get the cells of a dead tree branch to rearrange themselves into the cells of a living serpent. Again, be precise.

    Replace every single cell outright with a living serpent cell, complete with DNA. Hard to do, but theoretically perfectly natural.

    Two things. Firstly, it’s not me who is making the claim of it being miraculous, I wouldn’t bring it up unless people actually took it to literally be a miracle. Secondly, if it’s not a miracle, then what relevance would it be to mention it?

    It would be a miracle by definition if God did it, which I do believe I said there. You are the one claiming that it would have to be done in a very specific way incompatible with any notion of artificial insemination or else it wouldn’t be “miraculous” enough. I say that that would be more than miraculous enough. To decide that, we have to engage in theology, not science.

    Actually, I’m asking for reasons why you would consider God in the first place. If you don’t have any reasons to think God exists, then why believe? If you do have reasons, then share them!

    My initial response to this was that this was dodging the question, but I realized that that was more my reacting to other discussions instead of this one. But, at any rate, it ought not surprise you that I am not positing any new evidence, nor am I arguing any sort of revelation. We’re pretty much agreed, as far as I can tell, on the source of the belief and the evidence and lack thereof. So what we are disagreeing on is if it is rational to believe in God based on the evidence that we have. You and eric seem to be saying “No”. I’m saying “Yes”. We have differing beliefs that are getting in the way here, but I don’t expect you to believe the way I believe because I know that I don’t know that God exists, and the only absolute compelling standard of evidence is that which justifies knowledge. You and eric, on the other hand, seem to be expecting everyone to just accept your view and standards or else they are irrational. Thus, then, do you know them? If not, why should I change my beliefs based on things you believe and I don’t?

    Whether it’s reasonable for you to believe by your own standard and whether it’s reasonable for me not to believe by my own standard, both of us are trying to say something about the nature of nature and that’s what matters. Either God exists or God doesn’t, so “but I’m consistent” isn’t really going to cut it.

    But we have to filter all of our beliefs through what it is reasonable for US to believe, unless we know. That’s the whole point of the knowledge argument. I claim you don’t know. You call that fiddling with definitions, but I offered both the standard epistemological one and whatever one you were using, and you refused to say that you actually know, but instead talked about “nature or nature” and showing how the world really is. But if you don’t know in this case how the world really is or what the nature of nature is in this case, why is it that your mere beliefs trump mine from my perspective? How can you call me irrational on the basis of what you believe but cannot justify?

  250. #251 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    “But we have to filter all of our beliefs through what it is reasonable for US to believe”

    So why is your god a reasonable thing to believe?

  251. #252 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    “That’s the whole point of the knowledge argument. I claim you don’t know.”

    And you don’t know that I’m not God. Just passing the time. Eternity lasted AGES before I let someone invent the internet.

    “why is it that your mere beliefs trump mine from my perspective?”

    What belief and what perspective?

    The only belief Kel has is the belief that you are able to say why you believe in your version of God rather than any other thing that is as solidly proven (e.g. Zeus, that upstart pretender). And the only perspective you’ve shown is one that boils down to “I’m right”.

  252. #253 Verbose Stoic
    March 21, 2012

    Kel,

    Relevant:
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1911#comic

    Well, not really, because while I do concede the consistency of the beliefs, I also think that the other person can prove to the level of justification required for knowledge that that isn’t how you get fried chicken. So, assuming that the “fox hunting is cruel” person is not aware of that already and simply denying it, at this stage they have a mistaken belief about how fried chicken is made but based on their beliefs the belief is not irrational, but the instant she is shown the evidence she at least ought to know that that isn’t how fried chicken is made and then, presumably, will have to a) remove the “This is how fried chicken is made” belief and then b) conclude that her presumably additional belief of “Eating fried chicken is not cruel” is inconsistent with her other beliefs on the topic and will have to resolve that somehow.

  253. #254 Verbose Stoic
    March 21, 2012

    eric,

    I agree, and add that VS has the same issue with ‘God’ and ‘rational’ that he has with ‘know.’ He argues that belief in God is rational given some specific definitions of ‘God’ and ‘rational.’ But that’s more of a linguistic exercise than a statement about the world.

    Forgive me for thinking that the definition and concept of the thing we think might exist in the world is important for determining if the thing is in it or not. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, how can you say that it doesn’t exist?

    As for all of those, I deny that they are “specific” definitions in the sense that they are mine specifically. For “know”, I offered to use both the standard epistemological one — reliabilism — or Kel’s if he could explain it, to show that he doesn’t have justification to the level of knowledge using his own terms. He declined. I argued for “God” that I stuck to the actual definition of the term, clarified and sourced, and you denied that based on no actual argumentation. As for rational, since you have declined to actually define what rational means we have no idea if mine is the actual definition or not beyond you saying that some things that everyone thinks are irrational are rational under mine. And in any case where I deviated, I argued for it philosophically, with examples of what problems you run into, that you again declined to consider. So this is not so much a problem with me as it is a problem with you.

    Isn’t that circular? You are essentially saying that one of the foundational properties of your god-conception is that god is so trustworthy that you don’t require an explanation of suffering. If this is the case you are not arguing for or demonstrating consistency, you are simply asserting it as a premise.

    It’s part of the definition that your argument relies on, since you need the concept to contain the definition “God is benevolent” to use it against the existence of God. But if God is benevolent, then He is trustworthy, and that means that we’d give the benefit of the doubt to God if there could be a reason why He’d allow or do something we thought would be immoral. That’s not circular; it’s a consequence of the definition you are using and so we’re perfectly able to use that implication to defeat your argument.

    Note that you could, in fact, prove that allowing it was immoral and if you got that to the level of justification for knowledge then your argument would be carried.

  254. #255 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    “also think that the other person can prove to the level of justification required for knowledge that that isn’t how you get fried chicken”

    Go on, then.

    Do so.

    (Anyone got some fried chicken to munch on while VS tries and fails..?)

  255. #256 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    “For “know”, I offered to use both the standard epistemological one — reliabilism”

    Then as eric points out, your knowledge of god fails your test of knowledge.

    It cannot reliably discern a belief in garden fairies and a belief in your god.

  256. #257 Verbose Stoic
    March 21, 2012

    eric,

    It gives you no reason to be christian or a theist at all! As I have pointed out multiple times – with my roulette example and with pascal’s wager – what you have here is a criteria that eliminates a small number of beliefs from the set of all possible beliefs. But you have no method for selecting one from the remaining beliefs. What’s more, believing any of the remaining choices appears unwarranted based on your criteria.

    The problem is that this criteria is designed for analyzing the rationality OF a belief that is held, not to analyze how one should form their beliefs. That’s a different method, and I think it’s a big mistake to try to use one criteria of rational to judge everything we care about the rationality of. In this case, I’m using it to evaluate a charge made by someone that a belief X I hold is irrational, and I’m saying that if it does not contradict what I know or what I believe it isn’t irrational even if it may be wrong. I fail to see how, in that case, you could do anything else, considering that my beliefs contain all possible evidence that I’ve seen as well as all possible epistemic principles that tell me what I ought to believe and when I ought to drop a belief and replace it with a new one.

    Have you also considered that, because of Hume’s problem of induction, your criteria make just about any claim about the future “rational,” not matter how ridiculous it is? Your criteria make beliefs like “tomorrow I will flap my arms and fly” rational beliefs. To see that, just think about how our webs of belief understand induction. We recognize that past observations cannot logically rule out the possibility that the future will behave differently. So differently-behaving futures are not philosophically inconsistent with our webs. And so, someone’s belief that they will flap their arms and fly tomorrow must be considered rational according to your criteria. This is another example of why I think your criteria for rationality are incredibly overbroad. Behe-definition-of-science overbroad.

    Well, you’d have a point except for one teeny-tiny problem: the person almost certainly BELIEVES that in general how things worked in the past will continue into the future. In fact, they probably know it. Thus, it IS philosophically inconsistent, with that belief. And if they don’t hold that, then they couldn’t function in the world. Your argument here is based on assuming that you have to have absolute certainty, but I’ve not only never demanded that, but explicitly denied that on multiple occasions. So they believe that the past predicts the future, and note that the past says that you can’t fly by flapping your arms, and so note that they at least need a reason to think that it might be different now — ie some condition has changed — before forming that belief, or else they’d have a contradiction and would be believing irrationally.

    Screaming? Hey, you asked me how I support my claim that fairy belief is irrational, and I told you – its irrational because it lacks evidence (i.e., entity-believers have the burden of proof). If you’re going to insult me when I answer your questions, I won’t answer them any more.

    I’ll slightly backtrack a bit here; re-reading it this one wasn’t the “screaming” burden of proof case, but in the context of two comments up where you really did push it aggressively I interpreted it that way. So, fine, you say that it is irrational because it has not passed a certain standard of evidence to make it so. What is that standard? Is it short of knowledge? Is that standard objectively proven and thus known by us to be the right standard?

    I believe we have a disagreement on what your system ‘ought to’ handle. I see criteria for rationality as deeply connected to decision making. If we care about rationality as a concept at all, its because (IMO) we care about whether we ought to believe something or not. You obviously don’t see such a deep connection, since you’ve designed criteria (for rationality) that you admit can’t be used to decide between a near-infinite number of contradictory beliefs.

    Actually, I agree with you, but split it into different operations. The one I’m talking about is A: you have a belief and want to know if it is rational. You talk about B: I am considering what to believe and want to decide which belief it is most rational to adopt. There is also C: How do I decide what is a rational action to take? But all of these have differing criteria. For the first two, appealing to your desires — ie what you want to be the case or to be true — is completely verbotten. But in C you NEED to consider your desires because that’s a big part of determining what action is rational for you. For me, in A, balancing against other competing beliefs isn’t a factor, while it is in B. So, for me, in A considering that there are competing beliefs says nothing other than that you can be wrong, which is only a problem if you think you know that it is true. Otherwise, it’s assumed. For B, it is more of a consideration, and I did give some suggestions that I have in my overall epistemic system for doing that.

  257. #258 Wow, God
    March 21, 2012

    “The problem is that this criteria is designed for analyzing the rationality OF a belief that is held, not to analyze how one should form their beliefs.”

    This is a problem HOW?

    Eric, Kel, Jason and every rational being on this thread has said that your faith is irrational.

    You have kept pretending that it isn’t irrational, and even insisting that it is irrational.

    Now, eric would accept that you have an irrational faith AS YOUR DECISION, but you then turn around and call Pastafarianism, LotRianism and believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden are irrational, BUT YOUR FAITH ISN’T.

    And now, after all that whining about how your faith is not like the others, and avoiding any substantive response to their queries, now concede that what will happen if you answer fully and honestly will let us discover whether your faith is irrational or not.

    Nobody is saying you can’t have an irrational belief.

    We’re just saying your belief is irrational.

  258. #259 Verbose Stoic
    March 21, 2012

    eric,

    So for me, no: not even a great trust in someone would make spoon-bending more credible than fraud.

    So, stop and think a second about what you’re saying here: that even though you consider that person completely honest and under any other circumstance would not even consider that they might be being dishonest, here just because they are claiming to be able to do something that you think is not possible you prefer the claim that they are dishonest over that it really happened. If you are willing to give up your belief in their honesty that in the context of the hypothetical is an exceptionally strongly held belief that you almost certainly think you know, at what point could you ever accept that telekinesis, in this case, actually happened? Note that your progression eliminates all of the obvious cases of it being accidental or even that there is a non-telekinetic explanation; at this point, you are being confronted with it at least not being obviously mistaken, and you still for some reason and, it seems, no real evidence insisting that it is more plausible that this person that you consider scrupulously honest is actually lying to you than that something outside of your existing beliefs is actually occurring.

    You don’t see that as being problematic?

    Kel,

    I wouldn’t know what to think. Perhaps if someone I thought was trustworthy was claiming they were bending spoons with their mind, perhaps I was mistaken in considering them trustworthy to begin with. Or perhaps they are the victims of their own credulity and have deceived themselves, or they are victims of a prank – that they have had spoons that were “primed” by others onto to give the illusion of it. In any case, I wouldn’t think demonstration is sufficient because if it’s a trick and I don’t know how it’s done then I’m not going to be able to detect it’s a trick. In that specific example, I’d point my trustworthy friend towards the million dollar challenge.

    Just to carry on from above, at what point do you think that enough work has beendone to eliminate it as a trick? Recall that in this case we can presume that the person is indeed saying that they aren’t, in fact, playing a trick to the level where you could know that they weren’t if they are reliable and honest, which you do believe. At what point in the million dollar challenge would you accept that they aren’t accidentally deceiving themselves?

    …but I do find it interesting that we have to work on these hypothetical cases (“what if X claimed Y?”) instead of pointing to any real world example where the paranormal claim actually trumped our scientific understanding of the world. I’d contend that the sceptical position as being the default is evidenced by the relationship being the other way around.

    Certainly, in a lot of cases science has proven fraud or error. But the problem with arguing that these all have to be hypotheticals is that science adopts anything that exists, as I pointed out with my discussion of relativity. Or, let’s take alternative medicine. If we have a folk remedy, only evidenced by anecdote, that is taken by science and studied and it is discovered to work, that gets called “medicine” and not “alternative medicine”, and then when someone makes a claim about a new alternative medicine people often jump on the same line of argumentation that alternative medicine has never trumped science … ignoring that the instant it does science takes it over as if science had proposed it all along. It’s an unfair situation to submit every case, then, to a supposed test against scientific understanding and claiming that it hasn’t ever won those tests when if they passed the tests they’d be part of scientific understanding and so wouldn’t count as examples that trumped it anymore, but instead as triumphs for the scientific method.

  259. #260 eric
    March 21, 2012

    VS:

    So, stop and think a second about what you’re saying here: that even though you consider that person completely honest and under any other circumstance would not even consider that they might be being dishonest, here just because they are claiming to be able to do something that you think is not possible you prefer the claim that they are dishonest over that it really happened.

    I think both kel and I have made the point that we would consider they might be fooling themselves or pulling a prank before accusing our honest friend of fraud. This is really important – you are setting up a false duality. The situation is not ‘fraud or telekinesis.’ Its ‘joke, or self-deception, or fraud, or telekinesis.’

    Many honest people may believe they are doing something extroadinary when they are not. Clever hans, dousing, these sort of phenomena are typically neither fraud nor superpowers, they are the ideometer effect at work.

    at what point could you ever accept that telekinesis, in this case, actually happened?

    If it passed repeated confirmed tests under well-controlled conditions. If its not expensive (and for telekinesis, it won’t be), there should be several independent test methodologies used in order to better rule out systemic (methodological) errors.

    IOW – something like scientific examination would convince me to accept it.

    at this point, you are being confronted with it at least not being obviously mistaken, and you still for some reason and, it seems, no real evidence insisting that it is more plausible that this person that you consider scrupulously honest is actually lying to you than that something outside of your existing beliefs is actually occurring.

    You don’t see that as being problematic?

    No, it seems perfectly acceptable to me to believe an otherwise very honest person is committing fraud is more rational than the belief that a very honest person is bending spoons with their mind. One of those things is an every day occurrence, the other has never been confirmed to happen, even once, in modern observational history of humankind.

  260. #261 eric
    March 21, 2012

    VS:

    The problem is that you both have an interpretation of what counts as extraordinary and what would count as being in line with our scientific understanding, and you are judging other people’s rationality based on your standards. Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me. I refuse to do that to anyone,

    Doesn’t that make your rationality criteria extremely subjective? You seem to be defending a fairly strong relativism, where ‘rational’ is considered a purely personal criteria rather than a collective one.

  261. #262 Kel
    March 21, 2012

    Just to carry on from above, at what point do you think that enough work has beendone to eliminate it as a trick?

    When there’s at least some understanding of the mechanism at play. Because even if it is happening, all we

    But the problem with arguing that these all have to be hypotheticals is that science adopts anything that exists, as I pointed out with my discussion of relativity.

    Yes, science takes what works and discards what doesn’t. But I wanted a specific paranormal phenomenon – the kind that sceptics are challenged with “what if?” In other words, when testimony and experience has formed a vital part of these beliefs that go beyond science – when has the sceptical approach shown to have been in error? Given we’re trying to establish something by the reliability of our experience, surely having a real world example of this would go a long way to making the case. As it stands, I think the prevalence of unsubstantiated and nonsense paranormal claims throughout history and even today is good reason to doubt such testimony.

  262. #263 Kel
    March 21, 2012

    Whoops, cut myself off.

    Just to carry on from above, at what point do you think that enough work has beendone to eliminate it as a trick?

    When there’s at least some understanding of the mechanism at play. Because even if it is happening, all we are doing is giving our ignorance a label.

  263. #264 Verbose Stoic
    March 22, 2012

    eric,

    I think both kel and I have made the point that we would consider they might be fooling themselves or pulling a prank before accusing our honest friend of fraud. This is really important – you are setting up a false duality. The situation is not ‘fraud or telekinesis.’ Its ‘joke, or self-deception, or fraud, or telekinesis.’

    Given the context, this is absolutely unimportant. First, Kel was the one who originally started with “This gives us good reason to think that it’s fraud”, and so I was just following along with that. Second, you and he would both consider fraud ahead of it being really as reported, and thus all the example needs to take into consideration is what you and Kel both allowed in your progression and point out that if the other cases are eliminated, you are at precisely the duality that you are claiming is “false”. At some point, you do end up at that point, and that’s the point I’m examining.

    If it passed repeated confirmed tests under well-controlled conditions. If its not expensive (and for telekinesis, it won’t be), there should be several independent test methodologies used in order to better rule out systemic (methodological) errors.

    IOW – something like scientific examination would convince me to accept it.

    So, only if science says it happened will you accept that the most reasonable explanation is that it really happened? I can’t really critcize those standards, but will ask if you think that everyone should make the same choice and hold the same standards as you do. Can I trust that trustworthy person or even myself before science pronounces on its accuracy, even to the point of just believing it? Especially if testing it under controlled conditions might be difficult since for many of these things no one knows exactly how they work and so under what controlled conditions it would work?

    No, it seems perfectly acceptable to me to believe an otherwise very honest person is committing fraud is more rational than the belief that a very honest person is bending spoons with their mind. One of those things is an every day occurrence, the other has never been confirmed to happen, even once, in modern observational history of humankind.

    Any new phenomena is one that has never happened, and yet most people using every day reasoning won’t feel the need to wait for science if we have enough eye witnesses. Recall that the point here is that because it doesn’t fit into your existing beliefs you are willing to drop something that you likely are justified in knowing just to preserve your existing beliefs. That should worry anyone, I think, since it seems to be placing your existing beliefs on this matter so high that you will abandon any other belief than adjust that one. The only exception is that the underpinning belief — in science, presumably — is the only one that can trump those beliefs. Why is that not risking dogmatism? Imagine that these things can’t be scientifically studied … could there be anything that could then convince you that it was at least the more plausible theory?

  264. #265 Verbose Stoic
    March 22, 2012

    eric,

    Doesn’t that make your rationality criteria extremely subjective? You seem to be defending a fairly strong relativism, where ‘rational’ is considered a purely personal criteria rather than a collective one.

    It would be, except for that one really important thing that I keep going on about: knowledge. Knowledge is objective and isn’t relativistic in any way, as if I have what would be considered a reasonable justification for knowledge if I can impart that justification to you, then you have that justification and ought to know it as well. My criteria, you’ll recall, starts from knowledge. Where the subjectivity comes in is in the fact that you cannot judge the rationality of an agent by things that the agent doesn’t have access to. You can’t go from the third-person omniscient view and say that because you know it’s false, their actions or beliefs are irrational if that’s based on information they don’t have. So, if someone’s doesn’t know that their girlfriend is about to break up with them and spends a load of time and money on a romantic evening for the two of them, that couldn’t be called irrational even if we knew that that was going to happen. However, if he did know that and planned it anyway sticking to a delusion that everything was going to be fine, then it would be. So we have to consider things at the level of the agent, which is why I am so opposed to judging other people by my standards instead of theirs … unless I can both a) claim to know that my standards are the right ones and b) have given those people the justifications so that they can also know that my standards are the right ones.

    Which, then, is why I harped so much on knowledge; everything depends on it.

  265. #266 Verbose Stoic
    March 22, 2012

    Kel,

    When there’s at least some understanding of the mechanism at play. Because even if it is happening, all we are doing is giving our ignorance a label.

    But why is that so bad? In our every day lives, it is quite common for us to know that something works and not really know or understand how. I don’t need to know how they get the soft, flowing caramel inside a Caramilk bar to know that it happens, and it’s great. Even in science, almost every force starts out simply with “We know that this sort of thing happens, and we’re calling it gravity” without knowing anything about the mechanism of how that happens. You might be worried that we’ll stop looking once we give it a name, but that simply doesn’t happen. If we found, for example, that telepathy occurred we’d immediately be spending much time trying to figure out how it works … but we’d accept that it happens long before we knew anything about how it does work.

    In other words, when testimony and experience has formed a vital part of these beliefs that go beyond science – when has the sceptical approach shown to have been in error? Given we’re trying to establish something by the reliability of our experience, surely having a real world example of this would go a long way to making the case. As it stands, I think the prevalence of unsubstantiated and nonsense paranormal claims throughout history and even today is good reason to doubt such testimony.

    But the issue here is that the example was set-up so that the reliability of the testimony was not in doubt, or at least that you’re only doubting it because it doesn’t fit with how you see the world to be. The comments about the failure of the sceptical approach don’t seem all that relevant to me, because I’m sure I could find cases where the common scientific view was overturned by people saying “You say there are none of these, but I’ve seen one!” which science then adopted, and for the specific paranormal type things we haven’t either proven or disproven them yet. For a lot of ghost sightings, for example, all science has been able to say is “I don’t know”. For some of the others, all they really have is “Over time, it reduces to being no better than guessing”, without knowing if the tests themselves could contribute to that (for example, if there are fatigue issues with someone predicting lights over and over).

    Have you ever read the Psi Corps trilogy of Babylon 5 novels? In the first one, they talk about detecting and running a study that demonstrated telepathy, which was published, and the author outlines an interview with a scientist who insists that telepathy isn’t real and that they did something wrong, despite the results being sound and the methodology seeming correct. Of course, in that trilogy we know that telepathy is indeed real and natural (genetically engineered, in fact). But I fear that too many scientists and people talk like that scientist, dismissing the evidence because it doesn’t fit into their preconceptions. In short, like Kuhn claimed scientists act. I don’t see that as being ideal.

  266. #267 eric
    March 22, 2012

    VS:

    [do] you think that everyone should make the same choice and hold the same standards as you do. Can I trust that trustworthy person or even myself before science pronounces on its accuracy, even to the point of just believing it?

    For stuff like spoonbending? Absolutely. Nobody with a pretty standard 1st world education should be believing their ‘most trustworthy’ friend’s claims to be able to bend spoons with their minds before believing they are mistaken, misguided, joking, or maliciously lying.

    The mere possibility that the claim might be true should not be given even weight to the immense record of evidence that such claims have always turned out to be false so far. You can, if you like, say that fraud is tentatively more likely given the evidence to date, if those caveats make you feel better. But I think that in general people should agree that fraud is more likely.

    Especially if testing it under controlled conditions might be difficult since for many of these things no one knows exactly how they work and so under what controlled conditions it would work?

    Telekinesis is a pretty simple claim to test. Admittedly “I have a form of telekinesis that only works when knowledgeable skeptics aren’t around or didn’t design the test conditions” would not be so simple. But honestly VS, if someone made such a claim, wouldn’t those conditions ring some alarm bells in your head? When someone posits a science-busting power that only works when science isn’t looking, doesn’t the very nature of the claim give you reason to doubt its veracity?

    Now, to reiterate because I think its important, when a trusted friend or family member comes to me and says ‘[woo type X] works,’ my first response is pretty much always ‘I believe you believe that’ and not ‘you’re trying to con me.’ An incredible claim from a trusted source does not cause me to immediately question their trustworthiness, only their understanding. There are explanations for “magic” events that are consistent with them being trustworthy and wrong…and those explanations are more likely than either them being frauds or them being right.

    If you want an example ofthat sort of response, consider the scientific community’s response to the CERN claims of detecting FTL neutrinos. No scientists accused them of being frauds. But AFAIK, no scientists (including the co-authors!) simply accepted that their claim was right, either. The overwhelming initial belief was: its probably an honest mistake.

  267. #268 eric
    March 22, 2012

    the author outlines an interview with a scientist who insists that telepathy isn’t real and that they did something wrong, despite the results being sound and the methodology seeming correct….But I fear that too many scientists and people talk like that scientist, dismissing the evidence because it doesn’t fit into their preconceptions. In short, like Kuhn claimed scientists act. I don’t see that as being ideal.

    So, there’s three problems here. The first is believing that the entire scientific community would continue to oppose some well-corroborated phenomena simply because some individual scientists would. The latter does happen (Einstein famously opposed QM). It doesn’t mean the former will.

    The second is a problem of time scale. Historical examples such as science’s opposition to meteorites, plate tectonics, and the big bang theory indicate that it takes a generation (or less) for the community to accept some well-corroborated yet not-currently-believed phenomena. This makes sense: new, young scientists actually get rewarded for discovering stuff their elders didn’t know. But telekinesis, telepathy, levitation, faith healing, ghosts…these concepts are thousands of years old. It is hard to see how they would’ve been ignored by each successive generation of young-turk scientists for such a long time, if there was anything to them.

    Lastly, if they worked, the business and government communities wouldn’t give a rats butt what scientists thought, they’d use them. Vegas would black list telepaths and the CIA would recruit them. Some private rocket firm would advertise the ability to put satellites in orbit for a tenth of the lift cost. I don’t know if you’ve thought this through, but science as a discipline doesn’t have a lot of direct control over government choices or venture capitalism. Oil companies listen to geologists rather than dowsers because the oil companies think its a smart move, not because scientists think its a smart move. Scientific resistance to an idea is highly unlikely to result in all of human civilization ignoring it…if it works. Scientists simply don’t have that level of control over societies (nor, IMO, do we want it).

  268. #269 Kel
    March 23, 2012

    I’m falling behind in responses (life and all that) so I’ll try to respond to as much as I can – if I miss anything important let me know.

    Well, if you want to focus entirely on that sort of methodological approach, you might want to stop confusing matters by talking about “magic”, which implies the latter.

    I’m not focusing entirely on the methodological approach (I’ve stated that epistemology informs ontology – how could it not?), but magic isn’t an ontologically-coherent proposition – it’s a placeholder word for a phenomenon by which we do not understand.

    Especially since your comment here is wrong. Telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition, ghosts, etc are all things that people have tried to study scientifically. There was no presumption that these things have to be “magical” in any way, and we can note some many good sources of science fiction that conceiving them as perfectly understood natural phenomena is totally within the bounds of the concept.

    Whether or not telekinesis is real, without an explanation it’s not really saying anything other than “magical force acting magically”. My calling it magic wasn’t about whether it was true or not (I personally like Kurt Vonnegut’s characterisation of science in Cat’s Cradle when he put into the dictator’s mouth “science is magic that works”), but whether or not we have an understanding of what is going on. Which goes back to my point I was making earlier about the use of scientific reason. When we have an understanding of a phenomenon then it’s not just a matter of making a general rule from past data, but an understanding of how the pieces work. It could be that telekinesis can be demonstrated in the laboratory, but if it was then it would only be the beginning of understanding the phenomenon.

    To show I’m not just picking on the paranormal, dark matter is currently a magic explanation. There’s major anomalies that can’t be explained in current models, but as far as what dark matter is, it’s only really understood in terms of the phenomenon it explains. It’s not to say that dark matter doesn’t exist, just that we don’t understand what it is. Dark matter, even though it’s defining something real, is very much a placeholder until there’s more conceptual and empirical advances.

    But some people find that too limiting, and don’t accept that you should judge extraordinary by those standards, for multiple reasons that are even philosophically and rationally argued.

    That some people find it too limiting doesn’t mean that it’s too limiting.

    The problem is that you both have an interpretation of what counts as extraordinary and what would count as being in line with our scientific understanding, and you are judging other people’s rationality based on your standards. Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me.

    This whole “your standards” part is really what’s throwing me. Reality isn’t anyone’s standard, each of us is trying to say something about the world when we make claims about its contents. Indeed, I’ve tried to say very little about my personal standards and instead tried to focus on tools that work. Whether or not I’m being personally reasonable in that acceptance isn’t really the issue for me, it’s whether or not we have tools that can say something about reality and to what extent they can say them. The claims are not extraordinary by my standard, they are extraordinary by our understanding of reality through the scientific method. Whether or not people accept that doesn’t really matter, reality is not contingent on how people accept it. If someone believes that they can fly, it’s not just that science says otherwise – they can see that it’s not possible by trying to do so off a tall building. Reality is a harsh mistress irrespective of epistemological trickery one uses to justify beliefs in.

    I’m perfectly willing to accept that because you are a naturalist these claims are extraordinary to you and that it would be irrational for you to believe them.

    But naturalism isn’t a starting point, nor a framework that all other beliefs reside in. It’s a conclusion I’ve come to based on reading about the success of scientific inquiry.

    I also argue that by my criteria you really shouldn’t even believe them until you know that they are true because your naturalism is a really strongly held belief.

    I think you have it backwards. I didn’t start off as a (philosophical) naturalist, I started off as a child learning about the world. Naturalism is the conclusion I came to based on the kinds of inquiry that had success. But again, this has little to do with what I personally believe, and more to do with what tools there are in order to understand the natural world. What I personally believe doesn’t really matter – I’m sure that I’m quite inconsistent on a number of matters, and have poor concepts of things that I hold as true – but whether or not a particular belief is an accurate reflection of reality as best we can know it.

    The problem is that you are arguing with people who are not, in fact, naturalists of your stripe, which includes both myself and the others you are arguing with, and you seem to be demanding that we judge the rationality of our beliefs by your standards.

    Again, they aren’t my personal standards. I’m well aware that most people try to say how limited science is the moment science starts to intrude on a personal belief, I’m aware that most people aren’t naturalists. My point is that reality isn’t a personal thing, whether or not the belief has a reasonable grasp on reality is what makes a belief rational. If they don’t put forward a reasonable way to measure and justify their beliefs against reality, then they are being irrational. If rationality merely reduces to consistency in belief, then what good is it to be rational?

    How much evidence or proof are you going to need?

    I’ve explained that – to start to understand the mechanism that’s going on.

    With the example of irreducible complexity, Dawkins has it right. I went and reread that section of The God Delusion; he wasn’t trying to appear open-minded while at the same time as dismissing it, rather his examples were structures that would be nearly impossible to evolve rather than just not yet having an explanation. A macroscopic wheel wouldn’t be able to have intermediates, a molecular structure on the other hand isn’t really troubled by that requirement. His point is one about the dangers of labelling gaps in our knowledge “God’s hand” instead of taking that ignorance as a starting point for investigation. That it’s been understood how IC systems could evolve since 1918 is besides the point.

    Remember, you said that just violating the modern understanding of science was in and of itself reason to think of fraud.

    I didn’t say that. I gave several reasons to think it’s fraud, with it’s violation of our scientific understanding of the world as one of those reasons. I also talked about magicians, remember? In the case of Uri Geller, I could talk about how scientific testing didn’t demonstrate the story as he described it (he talked about melting spoons, while investigating the material showed stressed associated with bending the spoon back and forth). Or there’s how easily Randi replicated what Geller could do sans claims of magical powers, or how Randi was able to thwart Geller on a Tonight show appearance by getting the host to use props that Geller couldn’t have tampered with. Again, every reason to think that Geller is a fraud – not simply that his claims goes against our understanding of how the world works but all those other factors too.

  269. #270 Kel
    March 23, 2012

    But you do need to get it straight because there are different implications to “There are no supernatural entities” and “Science works really well in some areas”.

    I’ll be blunt, science works really well in areas that rubbish supernatural claims (understanding the natural world, understanding the mind, understanding the sociology of belief). That science doesn’t work in all areas doesn’t really concern me, I’m not proclaiming that science is the only way to any truth.

    As for your last comment, I argue that we have a lot of different ways of knowing than science, depending on how you define science, and I think a number of things don’t work well under a formal scientific methodology.

    Agreed. I’m not claiming that science is the only way to any truth, but that science is the best tool for particular areas of knowing.

    I don’t have the background to give you a full description in detail. But we know due to science what the mechanism is that causes the Earth to rotate, so we know what it would take to stop it, what consequences that would have, what it would take to stop them, and what it would take to restart the mechanism. Are you going to deny that we know what it would take in theory, but that we don’t have the details of how to do it in practice?

    That’s suitably vague enough not to be able to say we could in theory. From Wikipedia:
    “The current rotation period of the Earth is the result of this initial rotation and other factors, including tidal friction and the hypothetical impact of Theia.”
    In other words, why it rotates is mainly due to the formation of the planet. What mechanism are we meant to stop and restart? How would it work? And that’s the point, there may be a solution to this, but all you’ve done is say hypothetical future technology that stops the rotation and starts it back up again – it’s not at all the same as saying we know how it would work. A clever scientist may be able to propose a solution (there’s been proposed solutions to the possibility of time travel, but I’m sure you’d agree that time travel would still be an extraordinary claim. [Theological note: maybe Jesus didn't rise from the dead but travelled in time to the future and his second coming is his new location in spacetime. ;) ]), but it’s not at all apparent that it could be practically possible even with an advanced technological species.

    Replace every single cell outright with a living serpent cell, complete with DNA. Hard to do, but theoretically perfectly natural.

    Hard to do being the understatement of the year. But again, suitably vague enough that it doesn’t offer any real explanation. How does one go about replacing the cells? Are the cells pre-made and are just being replaced in and out? If so, is that really a transmutation or just a substitution?

    But, at any rate, it ought not surprise you that I am not positing any new evidence, nor am I arguing any sort of revelation.

    It’s not a surprise that you’re not giving any new evidence, though it is a relief – the usual response is to call me ignorant then give the same lame apologetic I’ve heard a dozen times before. What I’m looking for is more to understand why you consider God in the first place. That’s what I don’t get. Fair enough that you say you can’t know, but why even consider?

    You and eric, on the other hand, seem to be expecting everyone to just accept your view and standards or else they are irrational.

    I don’t think I’m suggesting that, rather I’m suggesting that claims about reality really do need justification beyond “well, you can’t prove it isn’t the case.” I’m asking what justifications there are for a particular claim, irrespective of whether those justifications are reasonable. To go back to what I said earlier, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not I could prove but what reasons I had to believe and what reasons I had not to. If I don’t have any reasons to believe and lots of reasons to think otherwise, then I would conclude that a belief is irrational. But if there wasn’t really good reasons on either side – or good reasons to believe and good reasons not to then I’d be at a point of agnosticism.

    If not, why should I change my beliefs based on things you believe and I don’t?

    It doesn’t matter if I claim knowledge or not, but whether or not your beliefs have claim to reasonableness. If your beliefs have at least some justification to them, and that justification is reasonable, then isn’t that enough to keep your beliefs? If you don’t have that justification, then irrespective of my knowledge then it’s probably unreasonable to hold it as true.

    I claim you don’t know. You call that fiddling with definitions, but I offered both the standard epistemological one and whatever one you were using, and you refused to say that you actually know, but instead talked about “nature or nature” and showing how the world really is.

    My objection was that you reduced the very real knowledge we have about the world to mere belief contingent on whether I could prove it to your standard. That is what I objected to, that while we are having this conversation based on the scientific method that it seemed you were reducing any actual knowledge science has gained about the natural world to mere consistency in my personal belief. I think, to a very reasonable standard, we can claim knowledge about how the world works. But you reducing the hard-won knowledge of the sciences to merely whether or not I could prove it or that it’s an act of faith on my part was incredibly objectionable. Still, even with these responses, you are making it more about what I personally believe than about any real assessment of the world. I’m objecting to you turning this into a “he said, she said” situation.

    How can you call me irrational on the basis of what you believe but cannot justify?

    But I did justify them, just not it seems to your standards. As for whether or not you’re being irrational, that you haven’t presented a case means that there’s no possible way for me to know whether or not your belief is irrational. So far my inquiries into why you believe have been met with evasion.

    I did a search through this thread of the use of the word irrational. It occurs 190 times. Of those 190 times the only time I used the word was to relay how as a sceptic I’m called irrational because. I did not call you irrational. Not once! I said the belief is absurd, and gave justifications why I think the belief is absurd, but not irrational.

  270. #271 Kel
    March 24, 2012

    But why is that so bad? In our every day lives, it is quite common for us to know that something works and not really know or understand how. I don’t need to know how they get the soft, flowing caramel inside a Caramilk bar to know that it happens, and it’s great.

    The problem isn’t that we personally don’t know everything – after all, someone’s needs to know (or at least needed to design the machine) how to make a caramilk bar in order to make them – but what we do with that absence of knowledge. My problem with giving ignorance a label is that often labels will come with their own cultural baggage that people impose onto it. There’s plenty of storytelling in the context of unknown phenomena; psychics, astrologers, fortune tellers, paranormal investigators, cryptozoologists, etc. All of which have elaborate tales that currently don’t have any meaningful evidence to support it.

    To take one example, claims of satanic cults were quite popular in evangelical circles especially in the 1980s. There were even self-styled experts who studied them. Yet of all the claims about satanic cults, and even jail in some cases, not a single case has ever been found to actually involve satan worship. If you’re at all familiar with the West Memphis 3, then you’ll understand how elaborate this belief got. Now there may be actual worshippers of Satan out there, but to what extent would a single actual case of satanic worship validate all the stories and beliefs that people have culturally taken with it? Could an actual Satan worshipper validate all the phenomenon and accounts that the evangelicals attributed to Satan worship? I’d contend not. There’s far too much cultural baggage got without having any real justification of any of it.

    If we found, for example, that telepathy occurred we’d immediately be spending much time trying to figure out how it works … but we’d accept that it happens long before we knew anything about how it does work.

    Agreed. But at the same time surely you recognise that people have plenty of their own ideas about what telekinesis is and isn’t capable of, and that people are going to extrapolate from those.

    You might be worried that we’ll stop looking once we give it a name, but that simply doesn’t happen.

    It doesn’t?

    But the issue here is that the example was set-up so that the reliability of the testimony was not in doubt, or at least that you’re only doubting it because it doesn’t fit with how you see the world to be.

    But the reliability of the testimony is in doubt so far as how the mind is able to come to that knowledge to begin with. Can an individual’s testimony be held irrespective of how we know the mind to work? Richard Feynman put it well when he said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    For a lot of ghost sightings, for example, all science has been able to say is “I don’t know”.

    I’d disagree with that, because scientific inquiry has explained a number of relevant factors. Pareidolia, for example, is a well-known phenomenon. Our brains being wired for seeing people and faces, too. Then there’s the problem of ghosts themselves, given that our vision is made by the stimulation of photons of specific wavelengths that are given off by matter, so what would ghosts be composed of? If matter, then how do they get seen? If immaterial, how do we see them – or how do they stay with us while our earth is constantly shifting through spacetime? And evidences for ghosts are often found to be little more than finding anomalies in photographs, or in some cases hoaxes. Scientifically speaking, ghosts if they were anything other than an interpretation of the human mind raise far more questions than they answer. Scientifically speaking, there are very good reasons to reject ghosts.

    Have you ever read the Psi Corps trilogy of Babylon 5 novels?

    I have not, only seen the TV series.

    But I fear that too many scientists and people talk like that scientist, dismissing the evidence because it doesn’t fit into their preconceptions.

    But what would you have the scientist do? To me, it seems like a strength of science that ideas that don’t fit so easily into the current models are rejected and they are made to be fought for. You don’t really need to go to fiction to see an example of where the scientific community rejected something that seemed quite obvious – one only needs to look at the saga of washing one’s hands with disinfectant before medical procedures. It showed a lot of promise early on, but was only really accepted by the scientific community once the germ theory of disease was confirmed. In hindsight it’s easy to say “well, the evidence was clear” and talk about the stubbornness of scientists, but how much evidence should be evidence to shift to a new paradigm? It’s not an easy question to answer, and science still has a means to shift into paradigms even if it’s not as quick as we’d like it to be. In the real world study of psychic powers, the early research showed a lot of promise – but that quickly disappeared once the methodologies were tightened and events like project alpha brought the grand claims down to earth.

    That something doesn’t fit with scientific preconceptions may be an indication that scientific preconceptions are wrong, but it also may be that the measurement is wrong.

  271. #272 ildi
    March 26, 2012

    In short, like Kuhn claimed scientists act.

    I thought I had bookmarked it (but I can’t find it right now); I read an interesting critique of Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shift that states it only looks to be a radical shift in retrospect, similar to what Kel is saying about physicians seeming to be so stubborn in retrospect about using disinfection techniques. The example the article gave was Newtonian physics; that actually what physicists refer to now as Newtonian physics is the current understanding of it, not Newton’s own writings at the time.

  272. #273 Kel
    March 29, 2012

    Speaking of talking past each other.

    I don’t think they are. So either you a) know they are absurd, and so are able to prove that to the level of knowledge or b) you only believe that, at which point I don’t have to care about what you think of my beliefs, at least epistemically.

    I was reading the blog Rationally Speaking today, and philosopher of biology Leonard Finkleman had this to say:

    This is our inheritance in epistemology: a choice between knowledge and the sort of thing your thirteen-year-old cousin posts in a Facebook status update. If one isn’t talking out of her brain, so to speak, then she must be talking out of her butt. [...] [T]he brain/butt dichotomy is deeply ingrained in the way we regard knowledge claims. I hear it from my students all the time: anything that isn’t demonstrably true is liable to be dismissed as “just an opinion.” You can test this at home by answering the following question: if I hold a belief that hasn’t been proved true, then what is that belief? Quod erat demonstrandum.

    Of course, there’s a mistake in this way of thinking. Plato’s dilemma is a false one. I’ve actually gone so far as to ban use of the word “opinion” in my classes in order to guard against this error. There is a third way, and we need to recognize that some beliefs can’t be known, but are more justifiable than mere opinion.

    The third way, between knowledge and opinion, is science.

    If we remain beholden to Plato’s false dichotomy, all scientific theories are just opinions. Luckily, scientists don’t see the world in the binary brain/butt way.

    rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/here-we-go-again.html

  273. #274 Wow, God
    March 29, 2012

    “I argue that we have a lot of different ways of knowing than science”

    A phrase AMC uses often.

    Maybe, however, this windy pomposity can answer: WHAT different way of knowing is there?

  274. #275 Verbose Stoic
    March 29, 2012

    Kel,

    Apologies for not replying earlier, but I’ve been both tired and busy, which are bad times for me to make comments or, in fact, blog posts [grin].

    So. on the latest:

    Of course, there’s a mistake in this way of thinking. Plato’s dilemma is a false one. I’ve actually gone so far as to ban use of the word “opinion” in my classes in order to guard against this error. There is a third way, and we need to recognize that some beliefs can’t be known, but are more justifiable than mere opinion.

    The third way, between knowledge and opinion, is science.

    If we remain beholden to Plato’s false dichotomy, all scientific theories are just opinions. Luckily, scientists don’t see the world in the binary brain/butt way.

    The big problem with this is that he, to me, falls into the same dichotomy, and one that epistemology has long rejected: you either have proof to the level of certainty or else you don’t know. My reply to him here is that that is mistaken, and so that when he claims that science — whatever he means by that — is a “third way” between knowledge and opinion I scoff and say that science can be no such thing since it provides knowledge. Science produces justified true beliefs. Since it does so, it provides knowledge. End of story. He can deny that, of course, but I fail to see why he’d want to.

    I also reject Plato’s dichotomy, but in a different way. I accept that you can indeed have beliefs that are more justified than others, and would also claim that beliefs and opinions just aren’t the same thing at all, although opinions can form beliefs or be the result of them. When we call something opinion, though, what we are saying — to me — is that the truth of the matter really does depend only on what you think; you cannot have a wrong opinion. But as you like to point out, beliefs about how the world is are not that sort of thing; their truth does not depend on what anyone thinks it is. For me, belief — epistemically — is there to fill the gap when we don’t have the justification for knowledge but are making claims about something that there is indeed an answer to, which is why I insist that if you want to say that my belief is wrong or absurd you had better have knowledge; otherwise, you would be judging my beliefs by yours and, really, whose beliefs do you think I’m going to give more weight to [grin]?

  275. #276 Verbose Stoic
    March 29, 2012

    ildi,

    Well, Kuhn was looking at what science had classified as radical shifts, if I recall correctly, and the whole point of his analysis is that when you went and looked at how these revolutions happened it wasn’t that the evidence was produced and scientists all looked at it and said “You’re absolutely right!” but that it ended up being accepted by the mainstream part of science and so was the one that was taught and so that all new scientists accepted as part of their education, while some (many?) scientists simply refused to accept it and continued patching up their old theories until those scientists retired and were replaced by those who had just always been taught the new theory.

    My comment is aimed at pointing out that depending on how much patching up they’re willing to do eric and Kel might play the role of those scientists that insisted on holding the old theory despite the fact that based on the evidence the new theory is more plausible. If you can’t think of what would absolutely convince you, that’s when you start falling into that sort of thinking, although to be fair Kel and eric both think that if science could prove it they’d accept it, which is good. The only caveat is what would happen if, say, philosophers proved that science COULDN’T prove it …

  276. #277 Kel
    March 29, 2012

    I’m not Verbose Stoic, but I will try to answer the “other ways of knowing” question.

    There are plenty of different ways of knowing than science. For example, none of us would use science to know whether or not we are in love, we just feel it. Sometimes this is mistaken, sometimes people are lying when they say they feel it, but generally speaking it’s something we can come to know (about ourselves) that isn’t a scientific belief. Through scientific inquiry one could measure it, for instance it’s found that love changes over time, and this is reflected in the neurochemistry of couples, though there are some couples who don’t go through that change and will stay in a state that most couples will only experience for a couple of years.

    Likewise 2+2=4 is true, but it’s not a scientific statement of truth. Likewise all bachelors are unmarried and all triangles have three sides are also beliefs that are true but are in no way scientific. Someone claiming a four-sided triangle is wrong by definition, not by science.

    Indeed, for most of how we live our lives we do not use science to form beliefs about the world. There’s much in the way of empiricism, like how we learn about our environment and how to use things. And then there’s times when our intuitions play a role – our ability to recognise emotions in facial expressions isn’t something we need to figure out on our own. We can just feel things at times, that we can have perceptions about the world and about others that we cannot really explain how it is we know.

    Learning a first language is an automatic thing; there are innate rules and structures to language that children pick up and can apply to even unfamiliar words. We can tell whether or not something is a proper sentence in our language without being able to give the rules for what makes a good sentence. It just sounds right, or sounds wrong.

    Science isn’t how we as individuals come to know things, even scientists don’t spend much time coming to familiarise much about their experience through the lens of science. Even when we do, it’s very rare that we can actually think through processes using that knowledge.

    The question, I think, is to what extent the other ways of knowing have any relevance on certain questions. Our intuitive sense may be good for language, but that doesn’t mean that our intuitive sense is good for understanding what something or nothing could possibly mean. Our ability to say 2+2=4 could extend through mathematics, but what good will it do on questions of a non-mathematical nature? We might be able to trust one’s testimony on seeing a squirrel, but could that same reliability be extended to little green men?

    The question is, are there other relevant ways of knowing on the questions where “other ways of knowing” is brought up? For the question of the origin of the universe, for example, turning to science (and here I’ll hasten to point out Dan Dennett’s remark about there being no such thing as philosophy-free science) seems not only the best way to think about the question, but what other possible way of knowing could be used? The “other ways of knowing” can really lead people astray at times, just look at the prevalence of quack healing techniques and belief in all sorts of magical thinking when it comes to remedies.

  277. #278 Verbose Stoic
    March 29, 2012

    Kel,

    My problem with giving ignorance a label is that often labels will come with their own cultural baggage that people impose onto it. There’s plenty of storytelling in the context of unknown phenomena; psychics, astrologers, fortune tellers, paranormal investigators, cryptozoologists, etc. All of which have elaborate tales that currently don’t have any meaningful evidence to support it.

    Well, fair enough, I suppose, but this is a problem even when you aren’t giving ignorance a label, but are just labelling something. But I’m also not sure what the alternative is. You seemed to be resisting claiming anything about the phenomena because it looked like something that we were labelling, but surely we want to label the phenomena and then see what all fits into it. After all, that’s what epistemic naturalism actually does, at least according to those who claim to follow it: gather up all the claimed instances of a thing, toss out the ones that don’t fit in, and thus have a definition of what that thing is and what it is in the world at the end of it all.

    Agreed. But at the same time surely you recognise that people have plenty of their own ideas about what telekinesis is and isn’t capable of, and that people are going to extrapolate from those.

    True, but I don’t have a big problem with that. Hopefully, eventually everyone will come to agree on what is really there — if anything — and what it all means.

    But the reliability of the testimony is in doubt so far as how the mind is able to come to that knowledge to begin with. Can an individual’s testimony be held irrespective of how we know the mind to work? Richard Feynman put it well when he said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    But if the only reason you are questioning the reliability of the testimony is because if it is true it implies something that you don’t believe, then surely we can ask if you are fooling yourself in this case. Every single flaw that you bring up to doubt them may indeed also apply to you in this very case.

    Scientifically speaking, ghosts if they were anything other than an interpretation of the human mind raise far more questions than they answer. Scientifically speaking, there are very good reasons to reject ghosts.

    I’m really not sure why — or when — the number of new questions that are being raised is a factor in determining how doubtful science considers a phenomena. Surely science’s success is in finding all sorts of new questions and not just being satisfied with a status quo answer? And all of those questions are, in fact, only issues if this being some kind of ghost isn’t the most plausible explanation; if it is, then surely all we’d say is that these are things that we need to investigate and answer.

    But what would you have the scientist do? To me, it seems like a strength of science that ideas that don’t fit so easily into the current models are rejected and they are made to be fought for.

    There’s a difference between skepticism and rejection. The cases I’m talking about are where, say, the evidence looks at least initialy sound and like it might be interesting, and instead of simply saying “We should look into it more and make sure” or “Here might be a specific flaw in the methodology” the person insists that based solely on the nature of the claim it should be rejected outright as ridiculous. It’s that sort of attitude that I’m reacting to, which is that it’s ridiculous because of what it is and not based on any evidence, and that it’s ridiculous a priori without looking at the situation itself. Doubt is justifiable, but outright a priori rejection is not.

  278. #279 Wow
    March 29, 2012

    “For example, none of us would use science to know whether or not we are in love, we just feel it.”

    However, there’s no “way of knowing” you’re in love.

    And I would suggest, more basically, that “am I in love” is not a “thing you learn”.

    “Likewise 2+2=4 is true, but it’s not a scientific statement of truth”

    Except in as much as the axioms of set theory and logic when applied to the mathematical domain will show that it is true.

    For most people, that’s a definition, not something you have to have “a way of knowing” for.

    “Indeed, for most of how we live our lives we do not use science to form beliefs about the world.”

    We do use the scientific method, though. And we don’t “use science”. Science is the object but, unlike a “spade”, doesn’t have any existence in and of itself, therefore you don’t “use science”, you “use the scientific method”.

    “It just sounds right, or sounds wrong.”

    Homotapic (I believe that’s the right word) things are not things you need to know, since what you like isn’t what I like. But you’d use the same method to find them out.

    I.e. try a sniff. Listen to someone else’s comments, get a consensus and then decide that the dog poop sandwich is not something to try.

    That would be a scientific method.

    But if I can sum up. For the examples you give, what “other way of knowing” gets you to know these facts?

    Remember, the statement was “I argue that we have a lot of different ways of knowing than science”. If these things you say that science doesn’t let you know can’t be known by anything else, then these “different ways” constitute the empty set.

  279. #280 Verbose Stoic
    March 29, 2012

    Kel,

    A clever scientist may be able to propose a solution (there’s been proposed solutions to the possibility of time travel, but I’m sure you’d agree that time travel would still be an extraordinary claim. [Theological note: maybe Jesus didn't rise from the dead but travelled in time to the future and his second coming is his new location in spacetime. ;) ]), but it’s not at all apparent that it could be practically possible even with an advanced technological species.

    You seem to ride that “extraordinary claim” a lot, but again there are deeper issues with it. For one thing, we actually aren’t sure that time travel is, in fact, physically possible. That something might not be practically possible for us currently may indeed lead to “extraordinary claim”, but that might not imply that that should count in any case. So a scientist that claimed to have a device to travel back in time or to stop the Earth’s rotation right now would likely raise some skeptical doubts, but only because we don’t think it would be that easy with what we have. But if we asked, hypothetically, if we were dealing with a highly advanced race and THEY said they could do it, then we would be, I presume, less skeptical. Putting aside your own feelings about God, how extraordinary should we consider a claim that an omnipotent being stopped and restarted the Earth’s rotation or, in fact, travelled in time?

    Hard to do being the understatement of the year. But again, suitably vague enough that it doesn’t offer any real explanation. How does one go about replacing the cells? Are the cells pre-made and are just being replaced in and out? If so, is that really a transmutation or just a substitution?

    Would that matter for the original claims? Remember, the Biblical claim that I think you’re referencing simply said “We started with a stick and ended with a snake”, which counts as a transmutation by most definitions of the concept. So, it’s do-able, and we can understand how it might be done even if we can’t do it ourselves yet.

    It’s not a surprise that you’re not giving any new evidence, though it is a relief – the usual response is to call me ignorant then give the same lame apologetic I’ve heard a dozen times before. What I’m looking for is more to understand why you consider God in the first place. That’s what I don’t get. Fair enough that you say you can’t know, but why even consider?

    Again, you start from a presumption of lack of belief and ask me to justify why I’m thinking about adding this belief. As already stated, this is a common societal belief that I already hold. That would be enough to consider adding it — even if I didn’t — and is certainly enough to resist dropping it simply because you say that I shouldn’t believe it.

    I don’t think I’m suggesting that, rather I’m suggesting that claims about reality really do need justification beyond “well, you can’t prove it isn’t the case.” I’m asking what justifications there are for a particular claim, irrespective of whether those justifications are reasonable. To go back to what I said earlier, it wasn’t a matter of whether or not I could prove but what reasons I had to believe and what reasons I had not to. If I don’t have any reasons to believe and lots of reasons to think otherwise, then I would conclude that a belief is irrational. But if there wasn’t really good reasons on either side – or good reasons to believe and good reasons not to then I’d be at a point of agnosticism.

    And yet … I am an agnostic. That word … I do not think it means what you think it means [grin]. Look, if I was claiming to know that this was true then, yeah, your response would be justified. But from my side, the shoe is on the other foot. You are making as much as claim about reality as I am, and yet neither of us know or even claim to know how reality actually is (I think, anyway). So while I accept that you should not accept my view of reality without evidence that is acceptable to you, it seems to me that you don’t allow me the same courtesy. You are, in some sense, telling me that my belief is in some way unjustified without ever settling or even trying to settle what would count. In some sense, your position is all about you and your beliefs and what you require, which is fine right up until you say anything about ME or MY BELIEFS.

    It doesn’t matter if I claim knowledge or not, but whether or not your beliefs have claim to reasonableness. If your beliefs have at least some justification to them, and that justification is reasonable, then isn’t that enough to keep your beliefs? If you don’t have that justification, then irrespective of my knowledge then it’s probably unreasonable to hold it as true.

    And what standard of “reasonableness” do you think we should use? Remember, you and I disagree on that, and what it would mean to have at least some justification.

    My objection was that you reduced the very real knowledge we have about the world to mere belief contingent on whether I could prove it to your standard. That is what I objected to, that while we are having this conversation based on the scientific method that it seemed you were reducing any actual knowledge science has gained about the natural world to mere consistency in my personal belief.

    No. I in fact claimed that some of the things you THINK you know you actually don’t if we applied the standards we actually use to claim knowledge to them. There are things you claimed to know about the world, in short, that you don’t. In order to settle that, we need to agree on a standard for knowledge and then work out if I’m right or you’re right. You skipped the first step, but it all depends on it.

    But I did justify them, just not it seems to your standards.

    The standards for knowledge are objective, and so there would be no debate on whose standards if you used that one. You declined to discuss it. Beyond that, then if we disagree on standards for justification again why in the world should _I_ change MY standards or beliefs because of YOUR standards. Either you have objective and objectively demonstrable standards or you don’t. If you do, then we need to discuss them. If you don’t, then why should I care?

    I did not call you irrational. Not once! I said the belief is absurd, and gave justifications why I think the belief is absurd, but not irrational.

    This sounds a lot like sophistry to me, unless you really want me to accept that you think it’s perfectly rational for me to hold absurd beliefs, which would seem to walk you at best into my definition of rational which you did not seem supportive of earlier in the thread.

  280. #281 eric
    March 29, 2012

    VS:

    that science can be no such thing since it provides knowledge. Science produces justified true beliefs.

    AFAIK, when scientists claim ‘I know X,’ they are not talking in some formal philosphical sense of justified true belief. They mean something more informal like ‘I have high confidence in X based on reported methods and data.’

    So I think you are mischaracterizing what scientists claim they are producing. We do not generally set some absolute bar and say, ‘above that knowledge, below that non-knowledge.’ What we do try to do is present why we conclude things (methods sections) and boundary conditions/limits on our conclusions (statistical measures of confidence and other caveats), and we try and improve on prior measurements (i.e. by extending the boundary conditions or increasing the confidence). At that point, it is really up to members of the community to decide for themselves whether they count that as knowledge or not.

    The current experiments looking for the Higgs Boson serve as a good example. The experimenters are trying to achieve 5 sigma statistical confidence in the result. They’ve already achieved 2. Is 5 “justified true belief?” Is 2 “just opinion?” No, and no. These goals simply to don’t fit any philosophical dichotomy model of knowledge. Its not binary, its a continuum of increasing confidence in results.

    No scientist is claiming there’s a hard bar here. What the scientists involved in the higgs boson work do claim is that this is such an important question for physics that we’d better be pretty darn confident in the results before basing future textbooks, future experiments, future theorizing on the results.

    That, in fact, may be a good way to think about how scientists really see confidence and knowledge (vs how you philosophers think we see it). People are going to expend money and labor based on our results. For technology development, lives may be at stake. So the level of confidence we try and achieve for some result had better be commensurate with how much money, labor, and lives are going to depend on that result. Beyond that, the community largely doesn’t care whether it fulfills some philosophical definition of “knowledge” (though individual scientists might care about that question).

  281. #282 eric
    March 29, 2012

    VS:

    depending on how much patching up they’re willing to do eric and Kel might play the role of those scientists that insisted on holding the old theory despite the fact that based on the evidence the new theory is more plausible.

    What new independently reproducible evidence do you have for telepathy, telekinesis, ghosts, etc.?

    We already have decades, centuries of experimental results attempting to reproduce these effects, with no success. And at least with telepathy, there are ongoing attempts to reproduce it and they don’t find anything either. This is an active (albeit very small) area of research that – when it comes to independent reproduction – has nothing but negative results. So I think science and scientists are correct to say that the best supported current conclusion is that these powers don’t exist. As with all scientific conclusions, this one is tentative and subject to revision based on future evidence. But absent that future evidence, it is no more scientific to believe in these things than it is to believe in N-rays.

  282. #283 Wow, God
    March 29, 2012

    Compare the complexity and length of the statement:

    ‘I know X,’

    to the complexity and length of the statement:

    ‘I have high confidence in X based on reported methods and data. $include_data_and_methods’

    Then work out which one will get printed in a newspaper.

    And to have this moron whining about “that science can be no such thing since it provides knowledge. Science produces justified true beliefs” when this rump-product haughtily demands that THEIR god is the ONE AND ONLY true faith, whereas all the others are just false is both intensely amusing and highly annoying.

  283. #284 Kel
    March 30, 2012

    But as you like to point out, beliefs about how the world is are not that sort of thing; their truth does not depend on what anyone thinks it is. For me, belief — epistemically — is there to fill the gap when we don’t have the justification for knowledge but are making claims about something that there is indeed an answer to, which is why I insist that if you want to say that my belief is wrong or absurd you had better have knowledge; otherwise, you would be judging my beliefs by yours and, really, whose beliefs do you think I’m going to give more weight to [grin]?

    But it did seem like you were pushing me into that dichotomy with what I could say is knowledge. I thought I was doing just that – yet it didn’t seem to your satisfaction – and instead of taken them as relevant considerations even if they couldn’t get to what you would call knowledge, just brushed them aside as if they were nothing.

    The fact of the matter is I’m not very interested whether you change your mind or not, only in what is reasonable to hold as true. And on that, I don’t see how gods could be reasonable held to be true, and I see good reasons to hold gods as false. Perhaps I’m mistaken on both counts, which is one reason I try to discuss the issues with intelligent theists, as well as why I read and listen to philosophers / theologians on the issue. Because I tend to think along the lines of AC Grayling with this sentiment: “I do not believe that there are any such things as gods and goddesses, for exactly the same reasons as I do not believe there are fairies, goblins or sprites, and these reasons should be obvious to anyone over the age of ten.”

    I’m not asking you to judge your beliefs on my criteria, and I don’t know why you persist in saying that. My personal position doesn’t really matter so much as the reasoning behind it.

  284. #285 Spartan
    March 31, 2012

    VS

    For me, belief — epistemically — is there to fill the gap when we don’t have the justification for knowledge but are making claims about something that there is indeed an answer to, which is why I insist that if you want to say that my belief is wrong or absurd you had better have knowledge

    Fill what gap exactly, and why are you filling it at all? It is entirely permissable for the reasonable, logical conclusion to be, ‘I don’t know’. You seem to admit that you don’t know if your god exists, but using your criteria you are justified from a rationality standpoint in believing he does since there is not enough knowledge that he doesn’t. I’m a little confused by your phrase above ‘claims about something there is indeed an answer to’; there is indeed an answer to every claim, correct?

    The reason your criteria seems untenable is that nearly every claim becomes reasonable if we put the bar that low, especially claims of divine beings existing in spite of the fact that they can’t all be true. I think you mentioned above that you don’t have a ‘compelling argument’ for your theism, and it seems you’ve discussed more thoroughly here the epistemic foundation of fairies then your particular conception of God existing so I’m not sure what it’s based on. There is no ‘knowledge’ that Zeus or Thor or any god does not exist; the fact that no one believes in them doesn’t mean much, “since their truth does not depend on what anyone thinks it is”, and apparently the lack of a compelling argument for their existence doesn’t impact the rationality of the claim.

    I don’t see how this criteria is preferable or superior in any way, and has the distinct disadvantage that it throws the floodgates wide open; nearly every paranormal, extraterrestrial, and supernatural claim is reasonable to believe to be true, outside of proven hoaxes; what knowledge do you have that they are not? How much serious consideration should we continue to give ghost sightings? If they are truly reasonable it’s unjustified to just dismiss these claims, and knowledge that a ghost has actually appeared would be one of the greatest discoveries in history. Unless you know of something that is at the level of knowledge that they don’t exist? For that matter, what knowledge do we have that vaccines don’t cause autism, is it reasonable to believe they do? The notion certainly fits in to far too many people’s ‘Web of Belief’. No studies have shown any connection and at this point the only people supporting the idea are pretty much quacks, but we have no knowledge that comes close to ruling it out; no one has shown scientifically that vaccines cannot cause autism. I’m not sure how to avoid concluding that all these things are reasonable using your criteria, and is why weighing the reasonability of claims should be dependent on the evidence for the proposition, not just whether we have knowledge that it can’t be true.

    What knowledge do I have that makes it unreasonable to believe in God? The knowledge that after several millenia no one has yet provided any good direct evidence or a compelling argument for his existence.

  285. #286 eric
    April 2, 2012

    The reason your criteria seems untenable is that nearly every claim becomes reasonable if we put the bar that low, especially claims of divine beings existing in spite of the fact that they can’t all be true.

    I believe VS would reply that his criteria for rationality do not ‘try to’ be decision-making criteria between beliefs. See the second part of @234, and first and last paragraphs of @257. As far as I can tell, he thinks that when multiple beliefs conflict and all are rational under his criteria, we must use other criteria like prior acceptance or personal preference to decide between them… and, importantly, that the resulting belief is still rational.

    Also as far as I can tell, he sees the haziness/squishyness of ‘rational’ as the term is commonly used to be a much more serious flaw in the concept than potential overinclusiveness. Becase of that, (I think he would say that) his criteria for rationality are an improvement over common usage, because his criteria are clear and well-grounded, even if one considers their inclusiveness to be a disadvantage.

    I disagree on both counts, but I have already written multiple posts on why, so I won’t repeat my arguments here.

  286. #287 Wow, God
    April 3, 2012

    Or in other words, VS is rational up to the point of not being rational.

    I.e. if he can’t rationally choose between several options, then there is no rational reason to use rationality to choose between them. Ergo any choice so made by irrational means must be rational.

  287. #288 Wow
    April 3, 2012

    Spartan, there’s also no proof that Tolkien didn’t get visited by Illuvatar who told him about how the world was REALLY created and wrote down what was revealed to him in a form that would inspire without being written off as ravings of a kook (c.f. Church of Scientology et al).

  288. #289 Verbose Stoic
    April 7, 2012

    eric,

    AFAIK, when scientists claim ‘I know X,’ they are not talking in some formal philosphical sense of justified true belief. They mean something more informal like ‘I have high confidence in X based on reported methods and data.’

    So, they use the term “knowledge” but don’t use it as per the definition of the field that is in fact dedicated to figuring out what the concept of knowledge really is and thus defines it? Well, fair enough, but note that if you get into discussions over whether religion is a way of knowing or if science is the only way of knowing the argument can then be made that science isn’t a way of knowing either, since it doesn’t provide knowledge in the sense defined by the field that studies and defines what it means to know something. It, then, is a bit like claiming you have an atomic theory that doesn’t talk about atoms.

    And the really sad thing is that you make this move as a reaction to someone who flat-out accepted and stated that science provides knowledge in that philosophical sense. All I was doing was challenging you to provide your knowledge about the specific cases. It is quite interesting that your reaction was not, in fact, to try to demonstrate that in those specific cases you really do have knowledge, but to deny that science provided knowledge at all … or, at least, to reject that the definition provided by the field that decides what it means to know is the one that should be used, even though you are again reacting to me who says that knowledge is required for you to challenge my belief in the strong manner that you seemed to. Either the definition you think science is using fits with the epistemological definition or it doesn’t. If it does, then your comment is simply a red herring; if it doesn’t, then you would not have provided me with what I asked for.

    The current experiments looking for the Higgs Boson serve as a good example. The experimenters are trying to achieve 5 sigma statistical confidence in the result. They’ve already achieved 2. Is 5 “justified true belief?” Is 2 “just opinion?” No, and no. These goals simply to don’t fit any philosophical dichotomy model of knowledge. Its not binary, its a continuum of increasing confidence in results.

    I suspect that you have no idea what the philosophical dichotomy model of knowledge is, or even if it is one. The most popular definition of knowledge right now in terms of justification basically says “Was produced by a reliable truth forming faculty under the conditions where it is reliable”. Is 2 sigma enough to reliably form beliefs? If so, then you have knowledge, even if you want to increase your confidence in it since as I have repeatedly said knowledge does not require certainty. Is 5 sigma required to reliably form true beliefs? Then you need 5. This isn’t as binary as you think it is, but certainly one has to have some objective measure of what it means to actually know, right? So returning to this comment:

    At that point, it is really up to members of the community to decide for themselves whether they count that as knowledge or not.

    What do you mean by this? In what way do people get to decide if something should count as knowledge? What actions depend on this determination? And how do you escape a subjectivity even more profound than mine by allowing this?

    That, in fact, may be a good way to think about how scientists really see confidence and knowledge (vs how you philosophers think we see it). People are going to expend money and labor based on our results. For technology development, lives may be at stake. So the level of confidence we try and achieve for some result had better be commensurate with how much money, labor, and lives are going to depend on that result. Beyond that, the community largely doesn’t care whether it fulfills some philosophical definition of “knowledge” (though individual scientists might care about that question).

    Which is precisely why I separate knowledge from confidence, and argue that knowledge isn’t simply a reflection of a certain level of confidence in the result. I will say, philosophically, that if you do know you should be able to justify an awful lot of effort, and if you can’t then maybe you don’t know, and maybe you just believe. Knowledge, again, should reflect your reliable mechanism for producing truths; if you aren’t confident enough, then, to actually act on the truths it produces then maybe it’s not as reliable as you think.

    Again, since knowledge does not require certainty there is always some room for doubt, and some room to reduce doubt, and some reason not to act “Just in case”. But that does not mean that you aren’t making knowledge claims in the philosophical sense, nor that my insistence that if I come to know that X I must believe it is in any way problematic.

  289. #290 Verbose Stoic
    April 7, 2012

    eric,

    We already have decades, centuries of experimental results attempting to reproduce these effects, with no success. And at least with telepathy, there are ongoing attempts to reproduce it and they don’t find anything either. This is an active (albeit very small) area of research that – when it comes to independent reproduction – has nothing but negative results. So I think science and scientists are correct to say that the best supported current conclusion is that these powers don’t exist. As with all scientific conclusions, this one is tentative and subject to revision based on future evidence. But absent that future evidence, it is no more scientific to believe in these things than it is to believe in N-rays.

    But is it thus irrational? Are my beliefs to be scrutinized against a field who can at best say “We haven’t seen it in the lab yet”? Science can decide that if it can’t be detected in the lab that it will consider it to not exist, but both everyday reasoning and philosophy can turn around and say “That’s fine for you, but not for us.”

  290. #291 Verbose Stoic
    April 7, 2012

    Kel,

    But it did seem like you were pushing me into that dichotomy with what I could say is knowledge. I thought I was doing just that – yet it didn’t seem to your satisfaction – and instead of taken them as relevant considerations even if they couldn’t get to what you would call knowledge, just brushed them aside as if they were nothing.

    Well, first, the real key was that you were claiming to know things that I thought you didn’t know. So we were, thus, disagreeing about what you knew, and since your argument was based on what you claimed to know that had to be hashed out. And I gave you multiple opportunities to prove that you knew or that my definition of knowledge was too stringent, none of which you took. I also pointed out that, for me, knowledge was at least absolutely required. So, from my perspective, you simply asserted that you knew that my beliefs were false and then refused to defend that assertion when I pointed out that I disagreed that you knew that.

    As for those specific comments … did you really think that I was unaware of those considerations? I already knew about them. I found them insufficient, and still do. That’s what needs to be addressed; you could not reasonably expect to simply toss those things out and have me say “Oh, yeah, right, I didn’t think of those incredibly standard things that have been discussed to death. I’m going to rethink all of my beliefs now.” If I was a touchy person, I be wondering if you really thought that I was simply an ignorant, uneducated lout [grin].

    The fact of the matter is I’m not very interested whether you change your mind or not, only in what is reasonable to hold as true.

    The key here is: reasonable personally, or reasonable objectively? If you mean the latter, then you need knowledge or at least some objective criteria that we can all agree on and defend objectively. I have not, in fact, seen that from you. Which, then, may lead us to default to the former, which would, in fact, be you using what is reasonable for you to judge what is reasonable for me. If you have an objective criteria I must accept it and change my beliefs; if you do not, then what you consider reasonable subjectively has no bearing on what is reasonable subjectively for me. So, if you do not provide that proven objective criteria, my charges that it boils down to you judging my beliefs by yours seem at least valid, if not entirely correct.

    As for your reasoning, I find it uncompelling. I see nothing wrong with this, and note that you find mine equally uncompelling. But I’m not the one who is trying to claim anything about whether your beliefs are unreasonable; it seems to me that, however, you are indeed trying to make such claims about mine.

  291. #292 Verbose Stoic
    April 7, 2012

    Spartan,

    Fill what gap exactly, and why are you filling it at all? It is entirely permissable for the reasonable, logical conclusion to be, ‘I don’t know’.

    Well, see, the issue here is that I totally agree with you on this … but deny that it has to therefore stop there. You’re taking another step, moving from “Sometimes you have to say you don’t know” — which I agree with — to “And in those cases you shouldn’t even believe”, which is where the problem is. If you’re going to ever have such a stringent definition of knowledge that saying “I don’t know” isn’t just exceedingly rare, you’re going to end up faced with cases where you need to make decisions that are impacted by propositions that you don’t know are true or false. How do you plan to deal with these cases? I deal with them by appealing to belief itself to fill the gap.

    So, when you answer “I don’t know if this is true” my next question is “But do you believe it’s true?”.

    The reason your criteria seems untenable is that nearly every claim becomes reasonable if we put the bar that low, especially claims of divine beings existing in spite of the fact that they can’t all be true.

    Which is where both the “Don’t believe anything contradictory to other things you believe” and the “You must believe what you know” criteria come in; not every claim is reasonable for all people, and there are some claims that are unreasonable for all people who have the justification that leads to knowledge.

    There is no ‘knowledge’ that Zeus or Thor or any god does not exist; the fact that no one believes in them doesn’t mean much, “since their truth does not depend on what anyone thinks it is”, and apparently the lack of a compelling argument for their existence doesn’t impact the rationality of the claim.

    I don’t use the fact that no one believes in them, except perhaps to point out that there really isn’t any reason for me to believe them if no one else does (again, long-standing cultural beliefs get some justification from being that to me). For Zeus, I claim that it is has been disproven; they aren’t on the top of Mount Olympus. For Thor, I might have to concede that I just don’t know if he exists or not, but do know that I don’t believe he does. All of this is fine for me, and the lack of a compelling argument demonstrating presumably to the level of knowledge that they exist is, as I have already said, insufficient to dislodge a belief; belief’s sole purpose, in fact, is to fill the gap in precisely those sorts of cases.

    If they are truly reasonable it’s unjustified to just dismiss these claims, and knowledge that a ghost has actually appeared would be one of the greatest discoveries in history. Unless you know of something that is at the level of knowledge that they don’t exist?

    Well, see, my comment would be that it is indeed unjustified to just dismiss those claims out of hand, but apply the caveat that that doesn’t mean you have to believe them either. Knowledge compels belief, but anything short of knowledge doesn’t. I claim to not know either way, but what I believe, then is neither compulsory for me or especially for you.

    For that matter, what knowledge do we have that vaccines don’t cause autism, is it reasonable to believe they do?

    Before the scientific tests and studies that showed that there seems to be no correlation, even, between vaccine use and autism, then we didn’t have knowledge. Now, it seems, we do, unless you’re going to claim that those studies that aimed to test the precise thing that was in question didn’t produce that knowledge, and if that’s the case then I’d say that calling those who think there might be a link irrational is going far too far. If science has not in fact proven them false even to the normal standards of science, why should they simply accept that there is no link? Fortunately, I think science has done that, but this might be getting us far deeper into notions of what it actually means to have knowledge.

    No studies have shown any connection and at this point the only people supporting the idea are pretty much quacks, but we have no knowledge that comes close to ruling it out; no one has shown scientifically that vaccines cannot cause autism.

    Well, how this differs from the other cases is that the scientists here have a pretty good deductive claim in their hypothetico-deducto theory:

    If vaccines caused autism, we would see a correlation between vaccine use and autism rates.
    We do not see that correlation.

    Therefore, vaccines do not cause autism.

    For ghosts, say, what we have is:

    If ghosts exist, we should be able to see them in this particular claim or lab test.
    We don’t seem them in this specific test.

    Therefore, ghosts don’t exist.

    The latter is an inductive fallacy. The former is a valid argument.

    What knowledge do I have that makes it unreasonable to believe in God? The knowledge that after several millenia no one has yet provided any good direct evidence or a compelling argument for his existence.

    And I argue that that isn’t sufficient to make that belief unreasonable for anyone except you, with your specific epistemology and Web of Belief. We’d have to hash that out if you think otherwise.

  292. #293 Kel
    April 7, 2012

    Well, first, the real key was that you were claiming to know things that I thought you didn’t know. So we were, thus, disagreeing about what you knew, and since your argument was based on what you claimed to know that had to be hashed out.

    But that’s the problem I’m having, my consideration isn’t whether you classify it as knowledge or not. What annoyed me is that it was either knowledge or opinion, not that a series of well-justified options – each flawed in their own way, but more than opinion – cannot be put together to say something meaningful about the world.

    And I gave you multiple opportunities to prove that you knew or that my definition of knowledge was too stringent, none of which you took.

    Honestly, we’re sitting on computers, so I took it that scientific reasoning about the world being knowledge as a given. Science, as an epistemology, works. The question doesn’t really concern me about whether or not definitionally you will accept scientific knowledge as knowledge, but whether or not there are reasons to believe or not to believe on the basis of the best understanding we have about the world.

    If I was a touchy person, I be wondering if you really thought that I was simply an ignorant, uneducated lout [grin].

    Not at all, on the contrary I find you to be the opposite. It’s not that I think I’m revealing something to you that you haven’t considered – I’d be very surprised if I’ve said anything new to you. My problem with that specific statement above was that it felt like what I was proposing (a cumulative case best on the best understanding we have of the world from the sciences and humanities) was being filtered through an apologetic that would either push it to an impossible standard or be mere opinion. In other words, what I thought was that you’re using apologetics to dissolve any meaningful claims about the world that might infringe on your belief – a tactic that I’m sadly all too familiar with (what Stephen Law in his latest book called “going nuclear”). It felt like you were misrepresenting the nature of the considerations by passing them through an unreasonable filter.

    The key here is: reasonable personally, or reasonable objectively? If you mean the latter, then you need knowledge or at least some objective criteria that we can all agree on and defend objectively. I have not, in fact, seen that from you.

    Reasonable objectively – well, objectively as is humanly possible anyway. First, to nitpick. If we can all agree on it, that doesn’t give us objectivity – just consensus. Young Earth Creationists don’t agree on the science that shows the world to be old, but it would be fair to say they are objectively wrong. By multiple dating techniques, the earth is measured to be very old, and that would be the case irrespective of how much creationists think otherwise. That creationists will often talk about how scientists can’t really know what they say they know, and that it’s God’s infallible Word versus flawed sinful human reasoning, doesn’t really help their case at all. They might think that scientists haven’t proved it to their standard, but at this point who cares what creationists think? They’re wrong, end of story.

    So, if you do not provide that proven objective criteria, my charges that it boils down to you judging my beliefs by yours seem at least valid, if not entirely correct.

    But you could always reduce it down to my personal beliefs versus yours by whether or not it’s “proven”. Even if I say it’s proven, how is it going to be other than my personal belief that it’s proven or yours that it isn’t? This criteria could be applied ad infinitum and we’d still never get anywhere. If I laid out objective criteria, by what standard would they be objective? My standard? Your standard? Would it be more objective than before if we could both agree, or would that merely mean an intersubjective criteria? Forgive me if I don’t have much faith in the entire line of thought that you’re presenting, but I don’t see what fruits this line of thought could possibly bring other than to dissolve any claims about the world to the meaningless.

    As for your reasoning, I find it uncompelling. I see nothing wrong with this, and note that you find mine equally uncompelling. But I’m not the one who is trying to claim anything about whether your beliefs are unreasonable; it seems to me that, however, you are indeed trying to make such claims about mine.

    I’m claiming the belief in God is unreasonable, the question is whether or not this case is unreasonable objectively. If a creationist finds the case for evolution uncompelling, it doesn’t make the case for evolution uncompelling – it could just as well mean the creationist is being unreasonable. Not that you’re necessarily being a creationist in this case, or that the case against God is as solid as the case for evolution. This is why I find the focus on personal belief really unhelpful, what good is it going to do to say that the case for evolution is compelling for me but not compelling for the hypothetical creationist? Better to focus on the scientific case for evolution, for the reasons and the expectations that come from the concept, and see whether or not those are born out through scientific investigation – and it has, that’s irrespective of whether or not I find evolution compelling and the creationist not. Creationists may object to that, highlighting all sorts of reasons why the science shouldn’t be trusted, and that science doesn’t have the sort of knowledge that could compel them to abandon God’s infallible word, but none of that is helpful at all to assessing the merits of evolution.

    It could be that my assessment of God is unreasonable (indeed I’ve been told that the fact that I see the case for God as unreasonable is proof of my ignorance on the matter), that I’m making unjustified leaps or that I’m mistaken are things that I’m concerned about. What’s helpful is to go through the arguments and the reasons and see what’s justified; what’s not helpful in the slightest is playing what constitutes knowledge and what constitutes opinion. I don’t particularly care if you see your belief as justified or not, I don’t particularly care whether or not you see my belief as justified or not, only whether or not there’s reason in how those beliefs are justified.

  293. #294 eric
    April 7, 2012

    VS:

    the argument can then be made that science isn’t a way of knowing either, since it doesn’t provide knowledge in the sense defined by the field that studies and defines what it means to know something.

    I find it amusing that you repeat the whole “field that defines it” thing three times, then go on and say this:

    In what way do people get to decide if something should count as knowledge? What actions depend on this determination? And how do you escape a subjectivity even more profound than mine by allowing this?

    You seem to demand that philosophers be acknowledged as the people who get to define knowledge, then reject the idea that people get to decide what counts as knowledge as profoundly subjective.

    But is it [belief in telepathy] thus irrational? Are my beliefs to be scrutinized against a field who can at best say “We haven’t seen it in the lab yet”?

    According to your definition of rational, no. According to most people’s standard – albeit hazy – understanding of the term ‘rational,’ yes.

    But rather than go through all that again, let’s focus on the point on which we agree. We seem to both agree that God, telepathy, and fairies have all never been seen in the lab, and belief in all three is equally rational, yes?

    This, I think, is a much more valuable statement for you to make as you go about talking to people about God and rationality. By comparing your belief in God to belief in things like telepathy and fairies, laypeople and philosophers unfamiliar with your definition can quickly and intuitively grasp that you mean something different from normal when you say ‘rational,’ and they can even get a general feel for what your definition is like.

    If you are sincerely interested in communicating to people your concept of rationality, you really should try and include examples like this. Folks may miss its inclusiveness if you don’t. They may think you are claiming to have shown that belief in Godregular is rationalregular, when you are actually claiming to have shown that belief in GodVS is rationalVS. You will agree with me that you don’t want any of your readers to confuse the two claims, right?

  294. #295 Verbose Stoic
    April 18, 2012

    Kel,

    Yeesh, I left this a long time. Time really flies when you’re insanely busy. Hopefully you’re still paying attention …

    But that’s the problem I’m having, my consideration isn’t whether you classify it as knowledge or not. What annoyed me is that it was either knowledge or opinion, not that a series of well-justified options – each flawed in their own way, but more than opinion – cannot be put together to say something meaningful about the world.

    You have to recall the context, which was about, essentially, determining the one truly “rational” or “right” thing to believe, where people — you and I, specifically — disagreed on what that was. I took your comments as attempting to declare that what I believed was irrational and that I should instead believe what you believe. And my whole comment was that you only get to say that I must do that if you know that it is false and can convey that justification/evidence to me. I claimed that you don’t have that, and that therefore it really seemed like you were using your beliefs to tell me what mine should be, despite the fact that I don’t believe what you believe. That, to me, isn’t acceptable. I didn’t in fact make it all “opinion”, but simply argued that you can’t judge the rationality of my beliefs by what YOU believe; it must refer to what I actually believe.

    Honestly, we’re sitting on computers, so I took it that scientific reasoning about the world being knowledge as a given. Science, as an epistemology, works. The question doesn’t really concern me about whether or not definitionally you will accept scientific knowledge as knowledge, but whether or not there are reasons to believe or not to believe on the basis of the best understanding we have about the world.

    The argument was never over whether science produces knowledge. As I said to eric, I’ve been unequivocable in claiming that it is a way of knowing and so produces knowledge. What I denied was that the things you said were scientific knowledge were, in fact, actual scientific knowledge; in short, I argued that science simply cannot claim to know the things you claimed it knows, even if it accepts them. Not everything that science uses or holds is, in fact, knowledge.

    My problem with that specific statement above was that it felt like what I was proposing (a cumulative case best on the best understanding we have of the world from the sciences and humanities) was being filtered through an apologetic that would either push it to an impossible standard or be mere opinion. In other words, what I thought was that you’re using apologetics to dissolve any meaningful claims about the world that might infringe on your belief – a tactic that I’m sadly all too familiar with (what Stephen Law in his latest book called “going nuclear”). It felt like you were misrepresenting the nature of the considerations by passing them through an unreasonable filter.

    Well, my opposition was to that supposed cumulative case, and only to the extent that I claimed that your case was fine for you but that I didn’t find it as convincing as you did, and at least in part that was because I felt that you were being inconsistent in some sense where you were, for example, ruling things out based on evidence or the lack thereof that you wouldn’t use to rule other things out, and in short passing the beliefs you were criticizing through an unreasonable filter. That’s the clash here, except that I’m saying that it’s perfectly acceptable for you to, say, believe that God does not exists while simply maintaining that you don’t have enough evidence to make that the only rational option and thus insist that it isn’t acceptable for ME to believe it … and I don’t think that’s true. Thus, if we are to make progress, we have to argue for it on that level … but your reaction was simply to talk about standards for knowledge and not address the underlying epistemologies and beliefs.

    First, to nitpick. If we can all agree on it, that doesn’t give us objectivity – just consensus.

    Which is why that “objectively” on the end of that sentence is really, really important …

    But you could always reduce it down to my personal beliefs versus yours by whether or not it’s “proven”. Even if I say it’s proven, how is it going to be other than my personal belief that it’s proven or yours that it isn’t?

    Well, this where philosophy comes in: determining what it means to prove something. Now, we’re actually pretty good at this and knowing when to use science and when to use deductive logic and when to use math, etc, etc. We do generally know what it means to know, and what counts as proof, to the extent that we can, say, call out creationists of some stripes and say “No, we’ve proven that wrong”. It may spawn different levels, so if the creationist reply is “God faked the evidence” that’s not something that science can disprove but that theology can. So this isn’t an impossibility, and note that if someone says “That isn’t proof” they then have the burden to argue why it isn’t.

    Ultimately, you seem to be denying that objectivity is in any way possible. I deny that. But if you deny that objectivity is possible, then the subjectivity is the consequence of your arguments, not mine; I divide up the two, whereas you collapse it all into subjectivity.

    I won’t quote it, but I argue that I escape all of those problems with one simple statement: Anything that rises to the level of knowledge must always be rationally compelling. I make at least one thing objectively compelling, and then ask us to provide that standard. So whether or not it is psychologically compelling for me, if you had knowledge and could impart that to me it would be rationally compelling, and I would be wrong. THAT’S why knowledge is so important, since it is to my mind the only thing that is rationally compelling. And I agree about focusing on the arguments, but a big part of my frustration is my impression that a line is being drawn around what arguments are acceptable a priori and then anything — no matter how relevant — that is outside of, say, scientific argumentation is dismissed out of hand. For a lot of this, you are going to need to consider philosophical, moral, epistemic and even theological arguments and evidence. Just because science says something does not mean that it’s right or should be taken simply at face value.

    Which was my entire objection: you were, to my mind, using claims like “Science has tested these things and not found it” as compelling knowledge that it doesn’t exist, and philosophically I replied that science can’t do that because it can’t claim knowledge of the lack of existence of something just because it hasn’t found it in the lab yet.

  295. #296 Wow
    April 18, 2012

    “You have to recall the context, which was about, essentially, determining the one truly “rational” or “right” thing to believe”

    No, that wasn’t what anyone ELSE was talking about.

    Nobody seems to have a handle on what you’re talking about, mind, so maybe you were talking of yourself.

    The context is how can you determine whether a belief is rational or not, not whether the belief you have is the one truly rational thing to believe in.

    That you still want to think of “One True Thing To Believe” shows why you are now, have been, and always will be, unable to reach rational thought. You want One Way and ONLY One Way. You don’t want to have to change, you want to be right, full stop. For you, it’s not and never has been about FINDING the truth, but about what you have BEING the truth.

    And then, having The One True Thing, you think you’ll never have to change.

    Will never happen.

    The rational person knows that The Truth is a goal to strive for, not an achievement to receive.

    “”you were, to my mind, using claims like “Science has tested these things and not found it” as compelling knowledge that it doesn’t exist”

    YES. There has been no need of that hypothesis.

    There was no need for God to design the finches’ beak, nor the human eye.

    Every single attempt to find a reason for God has found that there has been no need of that entity.

  296. #297 Verbose Stoic
    April 18, 2012

    eric,

    And here, at the end, you remind me of precisely why I get so frustrated trying to discuss anything with you.

    First, you drop without any acknowledgement things you made a big deal out of when I take the time to reply to it. Here, you made a really big deal about science not producing knowledge in the philosophical sense, and I pointed out that that was what I had personally conceded, so it was very odd that you were retreating to that position when I had granted you that science produced knowledge. And in the reply, you didn’t mention it. At all. And you’ve been doing that as long as we’ve been discussing.

    Second, you seem to look more for “gotchas” than to actually understand what I’m saying. Here, you talk about how amusing “the field defines it” is while I say that people shouldn’t get to define it, except that that part was in reply to your comment that science doesn’t produce knowledge but that people — presumably as individuals — would decide if it was knowledge or not. So, comparing my saying “The field that studies knowledge gets to determine what counts as knowledge” to “People get to define for themselves whether it is knowledge or not” is disingenuous if you understand my position, since I’m denying only that what it means to know is something that each person themself decides. So, they’re even completely different statements — ie about different things — and are not saying the same thing.

    And finally, you leap right back to the “personal definition” line, without remembering that I deny that I have personal definitions. For God, I say that this is indeed the God of the Bible, properly fleshed out and understood. For fairies, I denied that fairies were in the same position as God from the beginning, and always qualify any eccentric definitions I’m using from the beginning anyway, and argue for my definition on the basis that it does capture better what most people think of as rational anyway.

    If you are unwilling to address the deeper issues — such as “What does it mean to be rational” — then at least kindly refrain from simplifying my position and then claiming that that is what I mean.

  297. #298 Wow, God
    April 18, 2012

    “Second, you seem to look more for “gotchas” than to actually understand what I’m saying.”

    Not even you understands what you’re saying.

    You definitely don’t know what anyone else is saying.

    “And finally, you leap right back to the “personal definition” line, without remembering that I deny that I have personal definitions.”

    Then you can’t say your belief and your god are rational, since you don’t have a definition for it.

  298. #299 Wow, God
    April 18, 2012

    “For God, I say that this is indeed the God of the Bible, properly fleshed out and understood. For fairies, I denied that fairies were in the same position as God ”

    So what definition of “fully-fleshed” do you have that covers God but not Fairies?

  299. #300 eric
    April 18, 2012

    And finally, you leap right back to the “personal definition” line, without remembering that I deny that I have personal definitions. For God, I say that this is indeed the God of the Bible, properly fleshed out and understood.

    Your conception is of a God completely morally okay with human suffering. He sees nothing morally wrong with it. This is not the conception most people hold. Now, I don’t frankly care whether your conception is the biblical one and everyone else is wrong, or vice versa. I’m pointing out that when you say the word “God,” you mean something different from what most of your listeners mean. And you have an obligation to make the differences clear as part of your argument.

    Forget about theological rightness or wrongness for the moment. On a purely communicative basis, if you think your listener is interpreting the word “God” differently than the way you’re using it, and you don’t explain that difference, you’re deceiving them about what your conclusion means. You don’t mean that belief in a God that has a moral problem with human suffering is rational. But most Christians would take your claim that way. Its a form of deception through ommission: you’re not telling them something very critical to understanding the meaning of your claim.

    VS today:

    For fairies, I denied that fairies were in the same position as God from the beginning,

    VS on March 14 (@175):

    Ultimately, my claim is that under the criteria, neither belief is irrational.

    It seems to me that we are mostly rehashing the conversation we had back in 173-175. So I’ll leave off with three questions and a short comment:
    1. Neither fairy belief nor God belief are irrational under your criteria, correct?
    2. Do you think your criteria are what other people are thinking of when they hear the word ‘rational?’
    3. If the answer to #2 is no, don’t you think that you have an obligation to your listeners to accompany a claim like “belief in God is rational” with a description of the differences between what you think is rational and what they may think of as rational?

    As with the word God, I’m not trying to make a philosophical point here about rationality, I’m making a communication point about the word ‘rational.’ If you use the word ‘rational’ differently from the way your listeners use them, you have an obligation to point out those differences…even if you think your usage is correct and theirs is wrong.

  300. #301 Verbose Stoic
    April 23, 2012

    eric,

    Your conception is of a God completely morally okay with human suffering. He sees nothing morally wrong with it. This is not the conception most people hold.

    Let me try this one more time to see if you can get it, by looking at what most people hold and what I hold to see if they are indeed different.

    Most people hold that human suffering raises a potential challenge to the Judeo-Christian God. I hold that human suffering raises a potential challenge to the Judeo-Christian God.

    Most people (at least those who are believers in the J-C God) hold that there is at least a potential solution to this challenge. I hold that there is at least a potential solution to this challenge.

    Most folk responses are “This is God’s plan for us; it is better for us for there to be suffering than for there not to be”. Surprise, surprise, I hold this as well in at least some sense.

    Most folk responses don’t delve into the morality aspect of it, arguing over what it means to be moral and if you can really apply a “There is suffering, therefore God cannot be all-good/moral” benchmark to that. I do delve into this, and note that this is indeed the philosophical underpinning to YOUR argument that therefore can indeed be challenged philosophically, which I then do by pointing out both a) the moral code I favour that challenges that and then taking that to b) the fact that the moral code you’re using is not only not proven correct, not only massively problematic, but is also not the one that most people seem to use (hence the parent example).

    Your attempted replies are generally always to retreat from discussing the philosophical claims that underpin your own argument to thus appealing to my not having the same concept as most people. I have now, I hope, clearly shown that in general that’s false and that the only time there may be deviation is when you are going beyond that yourself into deeper philosophical issues, the kind of thing that you just don’t want to discuss, seemingly.

    1. Neither fairy belief nor God belief are irrational under your criteria, correct?
    2. Do you think your criteria are what other people are thinking of when they hear the word ‘rational?’
    3. If the answer to #2 is no, don’t you think that you have an obligation to your listeners to accompany a claim like “belief in God is rational” with a description of the differences between what you think is rational and what they may think of as rational?

    1) NECESSARILY irrational. Which also takes us a long way from my considering them equivalent, as I stated in 94:

    Well, you have to have something outside of your OWN mind to posit it. We have that for God; the Bible and cultural tradition. We don’t have that for most of the things you cite, so God ISN’T in the same boat as them in what I’d consider any relevant way. Perhaps you can go into more detail as to why you think them related.

    Thus, your demands for me to start with that example are clearly out of line, as it would be misleading without all the other discussions we’ve had.

    2) My total criteria? No. But then I think that the folk definition of rational is vague and inconsistent, and that my criteria actually DOES reflect better how people define rational through their classifications than their statements do. Bluntly, most people have no idea what it means to be rational, and that especially includes the new rationalists.

    3) And I do. Show where I just used the term rational as if it expressed my criteria without making it clear what I was using to classify things. You lept to considering it different and now, at the end, are arguing that somehow I was being dishonest, despite the fact that right from the beginning you were quite aware that I was using rationality differently than the standard definition. So I do point it out.

    Now, you claimed that I was doing that for God, except that I never accepted that I didn’t use the term the same way everyone else did. If appealing to details of the Garden of Eden story that everyone loosely accepts is inventing a different God, then we are in deep trouble.

  301. #302 Verbose Stoic
    April 23, 2012

    Oops. Messed up the blockquoting. It’s been that kind of week …

  302. #303 eric
    April 23, 2012

    VS:

    Most folk responses are “This is God’s plan for us; it is better for us for there to be suffering than for there not to be”. Surprise, surprise, I hold this as well in at least some sense.

    But, IMO, you come to a radically different conclusion than most Christians. Most sects and individuals I’m aware of respond with ‘this is the best possible world’ or ‘God’s decisions are inscrutable.’ Neither of these solutions claim human suffering is perfectly okay with God. They are, in fact, solutions that only make sense if you assume God is not okay with human suffering.

    Put bluntly, if Christians were actually solving the theodicy problem your way, they wouldn’t offer either the best world or inscrutability defense. But they regularly offer both.

    On top of that, practically all standard Christian theology envisions eden and heaven as places where there is no human suffering and and hell as a place of continuous human suffering. It is, frankly, incredible to me that you would claim most Christians really agree with you (that suffering is not a moral problem) considering this theology.

    And to reiterate, I’m not claiming that other Chrisitian conclusions about God and suffering are precise, or rationally based, or biblically based. I’m claiming that your conception of God is not the standard one, however irrational or inconsistent the standard view may be.

    Most folk responses don’t delve into the morality aspect of it, arguing over what it means to be moral and if you can really apply a “There is suffering, therefore God cannot be all-good/moral” benchmark to that. I do delve into this, and note that this is indeed the philosophical underpinning to YOUR argument that therefore can indeed be challenged philosophically, which I then do by pointing out both a) the moral code I favour that challenges that and then taking that to b) the fact that the moral code you’re using is not only not proven correct, not only massively problematic, but is also not the one that most people seem to use (hence the parent example).

    I am not sure what that means. You may need to clarify/reword that section, if you want me to respond to it.

    Now, you claimed that I was doing that for God, except that I never accepted that I didn’t use the term the same way everyone else did. If appealing to details of the Garden of Eden story that everyone loosely accepts is inventing a different God, then we are in deep trouble.

    Everyone loosely accepts that part of the Eden story’s meaning is: God’s intended world contained no human suffering. That makes no sense with your conception of God. There is no rational reason for your God-conception to design the world that way.

    Look, I am okay with your conclusion. I’d characterize it as this: ‘belief in a god who has no problem with suffering, is not prima facie logically inconsistent with what most of us believe about the world.’ Where I have a problem, VS, is that I think this statement is sufficiently different from ‘belief in God is rational’ that to describe your argument as an argument for the latter would be a complete misrepresentation.

  303. #304 Verbose Stoic
    April 23, 2012

    eric,

    The “best world” argument is, in fact, a subset of my actual argument (as opposed to the simplified version that you are relying on). That argument basically says that in order to produce Good A — whatever that is — some human suffering is required. My full argument simply takes that a step further and basically asks “Why is it that we think that the morality of an action is to be judged by the suffering it causes?” The reasons why I ask that are:

    1) We know of very respectable moral codes that deny that and may be correct.
    2) Simple Utilitarian or “Reduce suffering” moralities have major problems.
    3) Most people accept — as in the “best world” argument — that sometimes some suffering is indeed required for a greater good.

    Now, the Problem of Suffering itself relies on the morality of an action being determined at least in very large part by the suffering the action creates. But that’s a deep claim about moral philosophy. My discussions of that are aimed precisely at that claim. Will that align identically with the folk notions? No, but it is in fact the philosophical underpinning of your argument, so it’s entirely fair for me to challenge that, and note that most people do, in fact, challenge that underlying presumption of yours, with arguments like the “best world” argument.

    So, let me address what you think makes no sense:

    Everyone loosely accepts that part of the Eden story’s meaning is: God’s intended world contained no human suffering. That makes no sense with your conception of God. There is no rational reason for your God-conception to design the world that way.

    Why not? All I’m talking about is the moral value of the action itself, and nothing else. It may still indeed be the case — and usually is for most of the moralities I’ve been talking about — that all things considered it is better to avoid causing suffering when you can, and so God might certainly rather avoid causing suffering and so wish to create a world without it if He could. The Garden of Eden case suggests that He can’t. Moreover, the moralities themselves may in and of themselves demand that in some cases suffering must be reduced or avoided. Again, nothing in what I’ve said precludes that. All my argument says is that you cannot simply point to suffering or the amount thereof to demonstrate immorality, because first you’d have to establish that that really is what one should use to determine the morality of an action. At best, I get to the point of arguing that suffering, in and of itself, has no moral value. And that’s different than the common view, obviously, but not so that it conflicts with the concept of God, AND it’s driven by the actual philosophical underpinnings.

    Thus, my conception of God is NOT, as you assert:

    Your conception is of a God completely morally okay with human suffering. He sees nothing morally wrong with it.

    It is, instead, an argument that we have not determined that human suffering is, in fact, the be-all-and-end-all, main determining factor in whether an action is to be considered moral. Without that, and in the face of many really good moral codes that deny that that is the determining factor, you do not have reason to assert that there being suffering or that the amount of suffering in and of itself creates a moral problem here. In short, until you know what it means to be moral, the Problem of Suffering is a weak moral challenge.

    And please recall that the “Garden of Eden” argument was my saying that the concept of God HAD to be consistent with there being some suffering because that story insists that this world will have some. THAT was the point where you started accusing me of having a different concept of God and you keep forgetting about that to push on this angle that you clearly do not understand.

  304. #305 Kel
    April 25, 2012

    Verbose Stoic, I have been checking the sidebar for activity, but it seems with all the other activity going on I missed that you had replied.

    For a lot of this, you are going to need to consider philosophical, moral, epistemic and even theological arguments and evidence. Just because science says something does not mean that it’s right or should be taken simply at face value.

    This is what I don’t get. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic or unreasonable to say that the practice of science has been the greatest advance of knowledge in human history. As I keep saying, and it seems you agree, science works and the fact that we are having this conversation now is due to scientific advancement. By contrast, what meaningful contribution has theology made on the world? And for that matter, what’s morality got to do with our understanding of how the world works? Yes, we shouldn’t take science at face value, but it has a proven track record on the topic at hand – trying to discern how the world works.

    i.e. why theology over astrology? And with either over nothing?

  305. #306 Kel
    April 26, 2012

    I’ll try to continue to respond as I get time, it may be in bits and pieces and disjointed in terms of flow, and for that I apologise.

    Well, my opposition was to that supposed cumulative case, and only to the extent that I claimed that your case was fine for you but that I didn’t find it as convincing as you did, and at least in part that was because I felt that you were being inconsistent in some sense where you were, for example, ruling things out based on evidence or the lack thereof that you wouldn’t use to rule other things out, and in short passing the beliefs you were criticizing through an unreasonable filter.

    If I could explain myself, the focus on the cumulative case was because that if I couldn’t prove it to your or to your standard, it’s simply not merely my preference. It felt like you’re putting an unfair dichotomy on it, and one that I’ve often seen applied by creationists when it comes to addressing evolution. That I’m reticent in making grand claims doesn’t mean that my claims are merely subjectively useful, and it’s why I’ve spent time trying to take the self out and try to approach it in an objective manner as possible.

    And I think on this we’re stuck in a loop.

    Ultimately, you seem to be denying that objectivity is in any way possible.

    I don’t think it’s impossible, on the contrary I think that we’re living in a world that’s built on what could reasonably called an objective view. The computer in front of me now, and I’ll keep going on about this, doesn’t work on anything other than the theories and applications of different scientists and engineers working together towards something external to their subjective realities. It’s not anyone’s subjective belief that facilitates this exchange, it’s that people have put claims about the external world to the test and come up with something that works.

    That said, I’m sceptical of any individual claiming they have an objective view of reality. At the risk of hyperbole, I’d sum up my position as “there’s objectivity but no objective view”. In short, we know too much about how the mind works (and the biases it has) to think that any person can be purely objective in their assessment and judgement. We all have biases, and I agree with you that we have tools like philosophy (though I’d push science as the most important tool we have) by which claims about reality can be measured. My point about creationists was that if you simply claim that I cannot convince you, it doesn’t really say much as to whether my assessment of the relevant arguments and evidence of God is or isn’t objective. It would be much more helpful to talk about the merits and flaws of the case itself and discuss what it can show than simply to say that you’re not convinced by it. You may be a much better judge of the case than I, but I can’t tell that from you simply saying that I have failed to convince you.

    I won’t quote it, but I argue that I escape all of those problems with one simple statement: Anything that rises to the level of knowledge must always be rationally compelling.

    I think, again, we run into what it would mean to be rationally compelling. I would find it rationally compelling, for example, to think that Joseph Smith was a fraud, though I can easily envisage a Mormon apologist pushing me on me to prove that then dismiss my mere opinion on the matter when I fail to meet whatever standard they’re setting for the burden of proof. I worry that any reasonable attempt at a discussion will be cut short by having a cut-off that’s very subjective.

    And it’s on that why I think an approach that seeks to build a cumulative case – to look at reasons for and against, and to discuss to the extent at which factors are relevant and to what extent they show something – is a much better way of having a discussion.

    Which was my entire objection: you were, to my mind, using claims like “Science has tested these things and not found it” as compelling knowledge that it doesn’t exist, and philosophically I replied that science can’t do that because it can’t claim knowledge of the lack of existence of something just because it hasn’t found it in the lab yet.

    I disagree with this. If one is looking and can’t find something, then that surely is evidence of absence. If an effect should be there but isn’t observed, then that’s as compelling reason as any to conclude it isn’t there. The Michelson-Morley experiment comes to mind as one of many illustrations of this in action. We’re not suddenly going to find the aether tomorrow, any more than we’re going to discover that the earth really is the centre of the universe. If an idea is able to make meaningful predictions and can be put to the test, if it disagrees with experiment then the idea is either in need of revision, it’s wrong, or the experiment is wrong. Further analysis on methodology, more predictions / experiments, and conceptual development should be able to illuminate the predicament.

    What, precisely, do you have in mind when you say that science hasn’t found something it’s looking for yet hasn’t disproved yet?

  306. #307 Verbose Stoic
    April 26, 2012

    Kel,

    The problem here seems to be that you are trying to declare what methods and considerations are relevant or useful for answering a question without actually thinking about what the question itself is or demands. So let’s look at the specific example that’s been battered about across multiple threads now: The Problem of Suffering.

    The Problem of Suffering can be summed up as follows: This world contains suffering. The God posited could reduce that suffering and their nature is such that they ought (normatively) to do so by their own properties. Therefore, it is at least unlikely that that sort of God exists.

    Now, the first thing to note about this is that this is not, in fact, a scientific argument. It is a philosophical one. So, right from the start, we can see that more than science will be involved here. It turns out that, in general, science’s role here — at least directly — is only to show that yes, there is suffering in the world and what amount there is, and only that after philosophy tells it what suffering means in this argument (note, not in general, but for the purposes of this argument). So, science is involved, but it’s a rather small role.

    To settle this, we need to settle that the posited God really does have the qualities that might clash with the amount of suffering in the world. That, of course, is a theological argument; you need to study that God and, gee, look, theology is the field that does that. From the Judeo-Christian God, that gets us to properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence. But again here we need philosophy to tell us what those terms actually mean, as well as theology, so that we can find the inconsistency.

    From there, usually benevolence gets mapped in some way to discussions of morality; it would be immoral for God to not prevent that suffering and God cannot be immoral in that way. But then this requires us to know what it means to be moral, and if it really is immoral to not prevent that sort of suffering. If moral philosophy demonstrates that God allowing that sort of suffering would not be immoral, the Problem of Suffering seems, in general, to be defeated.

    But none of these considerations are things that science weighs in on directly. These are all considerations of the other fields that I mentioned. Other discussions, like when it is reasonable to believe something or claim knowledge, rely on epistemology. So it is the nature of the question itself that determines what fields are used and when, and not some notion of “Look, science is really good and I don’t see what the other fields have done that are that great!”. All of the fields that are legitimate have some subject matter that they study, and they should get preference in their own subject matter, meaning that you have to ARGUE that in that case science trumps them.

  307. #308 Wow, God
    April 26, 2012

    “Now, the first thing to note about this is that this is not, in fact, a scientific argument.”

    Well, yes. Who said we were talking science here? We’re talking rational. Well, you weren’t but natch.

    It also has a God in it.

    It also doesn’t make the argument wrong.

    Several levels of fail there, old bean.

    “To settle this, we need to settle that the posited God really does have the qualities that might clash with the amount of suffering in the world. That, of course, is a theological argument”

    Since this is a question ABOUT god, this is tautologically true. Any question that posits a god under a given theology has to be a theological argument.

    “But then this requires us to know what it means to be moral, and if it really is immoral to not prevent that sort of suffering”

    He’s not merely “not preventing”, he’s actually engineered this planet to do so.

    And, yes, it IS immoral to watch some wrong be committed that you helped bring about and do nothing.

    Then you end, not with some argument that says that your God can exist because of X reasoning, but with a “neener! Science cannot answer this!”.

    Since this wasn’t about science but about whether your insane faith beliefs are rational, this is hardly science’s fault.

  308. #309 Kel
    April 26, 2012

    The problem here seems to be that you are trying to declare what methods and considerations are relevant or useful for answering a question without actually thinking about what the question itself is or demands.

    In the example you gave, you didn’t really get away from saying “this is largely a philosophical question than scientific” without really showing what utility theology is. For instance, you claim: “That, of course, is a theological argument; you need to study that God and, gee, look, theology is the field that does that.” But this is just tautological. Theology studies God so theology is needed to answer the question about God. It would be like saying that astrology studies the relationship between people and stars, thus astrology is needed to study the relationship between people and stars. At best, I could understand saying something like “theology takes the notion that God exists seriously, so any questions about whether or not God is subject to the pain and suffering of this world would have been addressed in the writings of those who have taken that notion seriously.” But even then, how are we breaking free from just doing a philosophical analysis of the concepts?

    All of the fields that are legitimate have some subject matter that they study, and they should get preference in their own subject matter, meaning that you have to ARGUE that in that case science trumps them.

    “that are legitimate” being the key words. I did ask how theology could be shown to be better than astrology, and how either is better than nothing. I don’t see how either field is legitimate, other than to redefine the fields as being essentially philosophy applied to a particular domain.

    I could agree with you that the problem of suffering is largely a philosophical problem, but I’m really not sure why anything more than philosophy would be useful in seeing through its implications. Especially if, as you say, I’m trying to declare what methods are relevant or useful. I’ve already agreed that philosophy can play a role, especially in this case. But what would theology add other than to simply be philosophy applied in a particular? I’m sure revelation, intuition, and looking for God’s word in scripture aren’t exactly useful – even if the philosophy side is.

  309. #310 Dov Henis
    April 27, 2012

    Natural Selection Is Ubiquitous

    Higgs Particle? Dark Energy/Matter? Epigenetics?
    These Are YOK!
    Update Concepts-Comprehension…
    http://universe-life.com/2011/12/13/21st-century-science-whence-and-whither/

    Evolution Is The Quantum Mechanics Of Natural Selection.
    The quantum mechanics of every process is its evolution.
    Quantum mechanics are mechanisms, possible or probable or actual mechanisms of natural selection.

    =================
    Universe-Energy-Mass-Life Compilation
    http://universe-life.com/2012/02/03/universe-energy-mass-life-compilation/

    A. The Universe

    From the Big-Bang it is a rationally commonsensical conjecture that the gravitons, the smallest base primal particles of the universe, must be both mass and energy, i.e. inert mass yet in motion even at the briefest fraction of a second of the pre Big Bang singularity. This is rationally commonsensical since otherwise the Big would not have Banged, the superposition of mass and energy would not have been resolved.
    The universe originates, derives and evolves from this energy-mass dualism which is possible and probable due to the small size of the gravitons.
    Since gravitation Is the propensity of energy reconversion to mass and energy is mass in motion, gravity is the force exerted between mass formats.
    All the matter of the universe is a progeny of the gravitons evolutions, of the natural selection of mass, of some of the mass formats attaining temporary augmented energy constraint in their successive generations, with energy drained from other mass formats, to temporarily postpone, survive, the reversion of their own constitutional mass to the pool of cosmic energy fueling the galactic clusters expansion set in motion by the Big Bang.

    B. Earth Life

    Earth Life is just another mass format. A self-replicating mass format. Self-replication is its mode of evolution, natural selection. Its smallest base primal units are the RNAs genes.
    The genesis of RNAs genes, life’s primal organisms, is rationally commonsensical thus highly probable, the “naturally-selected” RNA nucleotides. Life began/evolved on Earth with the natural selection of inanimate RNA, then of some RNA nucleotides, then arriving at the ultimate mode of natural selection, self-replication.

    C. Know Thyself. Life Is Simpler Than We Are Told

    The origin-reason and the purpose-fate of life are mechanistic, ethically and practically valueless. Life is the cheapest commodity on Earth.
    As Life is just another mass format, due to the oneness of the universe it is commonsensical that natural selection is ubiquitous for ALL mass formats and that life, self-replication, is its extension. And it is commonsensical, too, that evolutions, broken symmetry scenarios, are ubiquitous in all processes in all disciplines and that these evolutions are the “quantum mechanics” of the processes.

    Human life is just one of many nature’s routes for the natural survival of RNAs, the base primal Earth organisms.

    Life’s evolution, self-replication:

    Genes (organisms) to genomes (organisms) to mono-cellular to multicellular organisms:

    Individual mono-cells to cooperative mono-cells communities, “cultures”.
    Mono-cells cultures to neural systems, then to nerved multicellular organisms.

    Human life is just one of many nature’s routes for the natural survival of RNAs, the base Earth organism.
    It is up to humans themselves to elect the purpose and format of their life as individuals and as group-members.

    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
    An Embarrassingly Obvious Theory Of Everything
    http://universe-life.com/2011/12/10/eotoe-embarrassingly-obvious-theory-of-everything/

  310. #311 Verbose Stoic
    April 30, 2012

    Kel,

    Well, now that things have settled down again, I can get back to this:

    For instance, you claim: “That, of course, is a theological argument; you need to study that God and, gee, look, theology is the field that does that.” But this is just tautological. Theology studies God so theology is needed to answer the question about God.

    Seriously, I can’t believe you made this comment. This is, in fact, just as tautological as saying that if someone is talking about a scientific question then science has to be involved. Both are absolutely true, if trivial, one would hope. But then I would say that if you consider theology such an invalid discipline, you should just stop doing theology, in the same way as someone who thinks that science is an invalid field should just stop doing science. But atheists in general — and Gnu Atheists in particular — base a lot of their worldviews on theological presumptions and arguments. At which point, they have to take theology seriously, since it is indeed the basis for their own beliefs. So to try to dismiss the whole field as being invalid isn’t appropriate here.

    To take on your astrology example, it would be like someone arguing that astrology requires some force that can apply influence, and the only one we know of is gravity, and gravity would be too weak to have the purported effects, and so since astrology needs gravity and gravity can’t do it astrology must be false, and then getting upset when astrologers deny that they use gravity and demanding that before they criticize that argument they must show that astrology works. If someone is going to try to use astrological presumptions to attack astrology, then they do have to get into the trenches and show that those presumptions are there and lead to those consequences.

    Now, you can show that astrology is an “invalid field” by taking empirical studies and showing that astrology at the very least doesn’t have the success rate that their claims would have us expect. Even the prayer studies don’t, in fact, demonstrate that about gods, and most atheists admit that they do not know whether or not God exists.

    But what would theology add other than to simply be philosophy applied in a particular? I’m sure revelation, intuition, and looking for God’s word in scripture aren’t exactly useful – even if the philosophy side is.

    What does science add beyond being a specialization of philosophy, specifically natural philosophy? There was no real need to split science from natural philosophy, but in my opinion that happened because it was an interesting sideline that had more work in it than philosophy in general wanted to do, and also that it had very specialized methods where philosophy, in general, tries to avoid being tied down to one method. For theology, I would say that right now philosophy is front and centre in it because most of the big theological problems are conceptual; we don’t know enough about gods to actually do full and proper empirical tests on them. Should that change, I predict that theology would be more scientific and less philosophical. But all of this seems to be mostly irrelevant to the discussion, and my main point against you: that you want to judge what fields and examinations are relevant before you’ve figured out what question you’re trying to answer, which is not a good way to do things.

    So, if we dropped theology and rolled it into philosophy, what difference do you think it would make to the debate? The same issues and considerations would arise, and you’d still have people focusing on the same areas and issues that they are now, as far as I can tell.

  311. #312 Wow
    April 30, 2012

    “This is, in fact, just as tautological as saying that if someone is talking about a scientific question then science has to be involved.”

    Your use suggest you think this is a problem.

    There is none.

    However, we’re talking about a rational argument, not a scientific inquiry. We’re talking about how to investigate the universe, if not science.

    “So, if we dropped theology and rolled it into philosophy, what difference do you think it would make to the debate?”

    What is the philosophical point of God? As far as philosophy goes, it’s a fairly standard coping tactic and wish fulfillment, with a dash of “your dad’s face high above you” added in.

    Philosophically, in what sense is your god of any use whatsoever?

  312. #313 eric
    April 30, 2012

    VS:

    It [VS' argument] is, instead, an argument that we have not determined that human suffering is, in fact, the be-all-and-end-all, main determining factor in whether an action is to be considered moral. Without that, and in the face of many really good moral codes that deny that that is the determining factor, you do not have reason to assert that there being suffering or that the amount of suffering in and of itself creates a moral problem here.

    You may see theodicy as a non-problem, but that is a very odd view. That is my point; your conception of God is different enough that when you make a claim about the rationality of god-belief, you should identify the differences between your conception and other people’s, because if you don’t, miscommunication and misinterpretation are entirely predictable outcomes.

    Every time I try and tell you that your conception is different, you give me theological and philosophical reasons why your conception is better. What I’m arguing is that since YOU are using the word “God” in a way that is different from common use, the onus is on you to tell people up front what your use is. And the same with the word ‘rational.’

    And please recall that the “Garden of Eden” argument was my saying that the concept of God HAD to be consistent with there being some suffering because that story insists that this world will have some. THAT was the point where you started accusing me of having a different concept of God and you keep forgetting about that to push on this angle that you clearly do not understand.

    I’m perfectly aware that you were the one to originally cite the Eden story as evidence for your position. But I find your citing of it that way to be so myopic it approaches quote-mining or cherry picking. You cite the existence of suffering in the story to say that suffering is consistent with Christianity’s god, yet completely ignore the fact that the god of the Eden story is one described as having both the power and desire to create a world without suffering – because that’s exactly what he does.

  313. #314 Verbose Stoic
    May 1, 2012

    eric,

    You may see theodicy as a non-problem, but that is a very odd view.

    Let me remind you of what I said not long ago:

    Let me try this one more time to see if you can get it, by looking at what most people hold and what I hold to see if they are indeed different.

    Most people hold that human suffering raises a potential challenge to the Judeo-Christian God. I hold that human suffering raises a potential challenge to the Judeo-Christian God.

    Most people (at least those who are believers in the J-C God) hold that there is at least a potential solution to this challenge. I hold that there is at least a potential solution to this challenge.

    Most folk responses are “This is God’s plan for us; it is better for us for there to be suffering than for there not to be”. Surprise, surprise, I hold this as well in at least some sense.

    Most folk responses don’t delve into the morality aspect of it, arguing over what it means to be moral and if you can really apply a “There is suffering, therefore God cannot be all-good/moral” benchmark to that. I do delve into this, and note that this is indeed the philosophical underpinning to YOUR argument that therefore can indeed be challenged philosophically, which I then do by pointing out both a) the moral code I favour that challenges that and then taking that to b) the fact that the moral code you’re using is not only not proven correct, not only massively problematic, but is also not the one that most people seem to use (hence the parent example).

    That you keep avoiding any discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of your argument and still keep trying to reduce my stance to that simplistic and inaccurate statement seems to reflect you trying to dodge the argument more than you making any real point about my purported “conception”.

    Every time I try and tell you that your conception is different, you give me theological and philosophical reasons why your conception is better. What I’m arguing is that since YOU are using the word “God” in a way that is different from common use, the onus is on you to tell people up front what your use is. And the same with the word ‘rational.’

    First, I actually spent much time telling you why it ISN’T different, as my requote proves.

    Second, you have never, in fact, been confused about my use as you always replied to it directly. This is because I have always, in fact, made it clear what my arguments are. It is only now, at the end, that you are harping about it being confusing, and you only started that with rational … which is long after you accused me of using a different conception of God, and your argument over that was that you didn’t care about other conceptions, not that I was confusing you.

    All in all, at this point it seems to me that you’re bringing this up in an attempt to dodge and avoid addressing the actual points, not because I’ve been in any way unclear. Leading to the last point:

    I’m perfectly aware that you were the one to originally cite the Eden story as evidence for your position. But I find your citing of it that way to be so myopic it approaches quote-mining or cherry picking. You cite the existence of suffering in the story to say that suffering is consistent with Christianity’s god, yet completely ignore the fact that the god of the Eden story is one described as having both the power and desire to create a world without suffering – because that’s exactly what he does.

    Um, what I cited was the fact that this world — the one outside of the Garden of Eden — is explicitly stated to include suffering, and thus my argument is that pointing to suffering in this world in and of itself is insufficient to demonstrate an inconsistency. That God could have created a perfect world is irrelevant because the story — and I — admit that He could have but that for various reasons — depending on how one takes the story itself — didn’t. Now, let’s recall your charge to me on that, shall we:

    Everyone loosely accepts that part of the Eden story’s meaning is: God’s intended world contained no human suffering. That makes no sense with your conception of God. There is no rational reason for your God-conception to design the world that way.

    Which is, of course, very much subject to theological analysis and has no bearing on any of my arguments.

  314. #315 Wow
    May 1, 2012

    “and still keep trying to reduce my stance to that simplistic and inaccurate statement”

    Because you’ve never done anything to clarify what your stance is.

    Philosophically, what is the point of your god?

  315. #316 Kel
    May 1, 2012

    Seriously, I can’t believe you made this comment.

    Be as incredulous as you want, but there’s a serious point to be made. If someone wanted to study Bigfoot, cryptozoologists might say “see, cryptozoology is a valid discipline!” Meanwhile the approaches taken are what would be part of regular zoology. Many aspects of what is practised as cryptozoology, as well as its conclusions, are downright unscientific, so to say that the study of bigfoot is engaging in cryptozoology would be misleading.

    Theology, similarly isn’t just the study of God from a philosophical perspective. It’s a number of practices and assumptions, and separating out the valid techniques and methodologies from the broader practice is of paramount importance. I can agree with you that philosophy is an important tool in looking at the merits of a case for God, but I don’t think that revelation is going to do any good at all for addressing that question. What I’m objecting to is that much of the talk in theology, from what people say God has privately revealed to either them or to an authority, to looking to any supposedly holy scripture for knowledge and insight into the world – that’s what I’m objecting to.

    But atheists in general — and Gnu Atheists in particular — base a lot of their worldviews on theological presumptions and arguments. At which point, they have to take theology seriously, since it is indeed the basis for their own beliefs. So to try to dismiss the whole field as being invalid isn’t appropriate here.

    But, again, I’m not dismissing the whole field as being invalid. Rather I was trying to be quite specific in what I meant when I said it. In the astrology comparison, I am, like the astrologers, looking at the relationship between people and the stars. Yet I wouldn’t call that validating astrology, I would call it looking at it under a scientific lens.

    What I’m arguing is that claims made under astrology don’t get critiqued as astrology, they get critiqued as attempts to explain the world. People who think they are gleaming some divine insight by looking into the bible are deluding themselves just as much as the people who think they’re getting an insight into their future by looking to the stars.

    That’s why I pointed out that tautology of defending theology this way. I’m trying to highlight that the claims made about God and God’s relation to nature aren’t necessarily going to need anything other than the same thinking tools that apply to any other situation. If you call that engaging in theology, then so be it. But my point remains irrespective of what we call it. If one wants to claim private revelation, divine insight, or use their intuition as the main guides to the universe, then I think it’s fair to dismiss that as nonsense in the same way that we would when talking about the medicinal qualities of unicorn blood.

    Even the prayer studies don’t, in fact, demonstrate that about gods, and most atheists admit that they do not know whether or not God exists.

    There are plenty of empirical ways to address the God question that would show that particular reasoning on it (if true) would be undermined. For example, one recent study showed that believers tend to reason with the same parts of their brain for making their own moral choices as when they think of God’s morality, while using different parts of their brain to reason about the morality of others. And this is just one line of many into morality and moral psychology that would undermine any claim to knowing God’s morality.

    And so on for many of the positive claims surrounding God. From hyperactive agency detection to developmental promiscuous teleology that can be exacerbated by culture, the claims about God have been very much undercut. Negative prayer studies are the least of God’s worries…

    What does science add beyond being a specialization of philosophy, specifically natural philosophy?

    Any number of empirical methodologies for analysis of data. Placebo-controlled double-blind trials, for example, are a great way at getting at medical truth. If you want to call all science merely natural philosophy, then fine, but the point remains. You don’t see philosophers finding out the nuances of beetle reproduction, and nor should they because it’s not their job to.

    For theology, I would say that right now philosophy is front and centre in it because most of the big theological problems are conceptual; we don’t know enough about gods to actually do full and proper empirical tests on them.

    This is where I’d disagree. The big problems that theology imposes onto the world are not conceptual, they follow from nonsensical notions like divine knowledge in holy texts. If only believers would stick to the philosophical issues about belief, then I wouldn’t really have much of a problem. I’d still think they were wrong, but the wrongness of astrology serves only as a measure of wrong for other things and the occasional groan that occurs when someone asks me what star sign I am. It’s the way in which God is used in society that is very much the driving force behind the “new atheists”.

    Though one thing I notice is that belief in gods of various forms have been around for thousands of years, with people making many claims about the kinds of things that are considered the actions of supernatural agency. Two things seem to follow from this. First, if we don’t have a good enough conception of God to make such statements, then does that pretty much invalidate everyone’s musings on the nature of God? Second, why is it that after thousands of years of philosophical and theological, combined with the rapid advance of the sciences, do we not yet have a clear conception of God? Don’t get me wrong, I actually agree with you on that point; to quote philosopher Tamas Pataki: “The chief problem is not the absence of proof, or even probability, though that is bad enough; it concerns their lack of coherence or intelligibility: the conceptions don’t really make sense.”

    So, if we dropped theology and rolled it into philosophy, what difference do you think it would make to the debate?

    For one thing, I think it would get rid of those pseudoclaims to knowledge of the divine (private revelation, scriptural authority, gut feeling) and treat the claims in the same manner by which we treat all other claims. One thing I’ve noticed from my discussion with theists is that so often the philosophical arguments are merely used as a foil for existing theological commitments. In terms of the theological assumptions beyond philosophy, they’re implicit irrespective of how untenable they would be to hold if they came from any other source. In short, I think removing the theology from the discussion will be a better way of focusing on just what the arguments can actually show, instead of merely trying to present an existing conclusion in a more flattering light than it warrants.

  316. #317 eric
    May 1, 2012

    VS:

    That God could have created a perfect world is irrelevant because the story — and I — admit that He could have but that for various reasons — depending on how one takes the story itself — didn’t.

    !!! This is craziness. He did create such a world. Its right there in the story! How can you ignore it?

    You seriously don’t think a story about how God creates a world free of suffering for us, which then gets corrupted by human action, is relevant to your claim (that God chose to make a world with suffering)? I think that’s a pretty amazing amount of confirmation bias, VS. You seem to be completely ignoring the single most important plot point of the entire story – the evil resulting from the fall was not part of God’s original plan – because it doesn’t agree with you.

    [eric] Everyone loosely accepts that part of the Eden story’s meaning is: God’s intended world contained no human suffering. That makes no sense with your conception of God. There is no rational reason for your God-conception to design the world that way.

    [VS] Which is, of course, very much subject to theological analysis and has no bearing on any of my arguments.

    I beg to differ: it story’s meaning bears directly on your conception of God – it undermines it. The only way you can square your claim with the story’s perfection-then-fall plot is to claim that God intentionally planned the fall from the get-go. Is that what you are claiming?

  317. #318 Verbose Stoic
    May 1, 2012

    eric,

    You seriously don’t think a story about how God creates a world free of suffering for us, which then gets corrupted by human action, is relevant to your claim (that God chose to make a world with suffering)?

    Um, are you assuming that the Garden of Eden and this world are, in fact, the same world? Only a strongly literalist interpretation would hold that. Ultimately, it seems a very radical theological argument to argue, as you seem to here, that the Garden of Eden was transformed into this world by human action, as opposed to it being at least a separate area. Heck, the whole story is that we are kicked out of the Garden of Eden and have to live in this world. Thus, my saying that this world or area or whatever you want to call it that we live in right now contains suffering is right spot on with the whole story, and that Eden was itself perfect is, in fact, utterly irrelevant.

    You seem to be completely ignoring the single most important plot point of the entire story – the evil resulting from the fall was not part of God’s original plan – because it doesn’t agree with you.

    My argument has nothing to do with that. That point is irrelevant to my argument. And, again, only a very strongly literalist view requires that to be taken so, well, literally. We can indeed talk, instead, about human nature being the issue, and all sorts of other considerations.

    Ultimately, the only consistent message is that God could create a perfect world but due to some reason we cannot have that, and so we have to live in this one. Anything else requires theological interpretation.

    The only way you can square your claim with the story’s perfection-then-fall plot is to claim that God intentionally planned the fall from the get-go. Is that what you are claiming?

    What precise claim do you think i’m making here that needs to be squared? Again, recall that your original comment was about suffering being immoral so God having no problem morally with it, and I denied that necessary link … but then replied that that doesn’t mean in any way that God wouldn’t rather there be no suffering, but due to the current conditions — whatever their cause — that’s just not possible. So, again, what claim do you think I’m making that requires the fall to be planned?

  318. #319 Wow
    May 1, 2012

    “What precise claim do you think i’m making here that needs to be squared?”

    Eden. Perfect creation. God made it. Your God. The one you allude to. Therefore for this, the imperfect world that was the best one that God could make (your claim about suffering in the world being consistent with your benevolent god), to be true, what happened in the fall?

  319. #320 Spartan
    May 1, 2012

    but then replied that that doesn’t mean in any way that God wouldn’t rather there be no suffering, but due to the current conditions — whatever their cause — that’s just not possible.

    Well of course it is possible: “With God all things are possible”. You seem to be putting some limitations on God’s omnipotence that is, at the least, unconventional. It’s almost like you are implying that God himself dwells within some kind of realm that has ‘laws’ that he must obey and abide, but I’m sure that’s not what you mean.

    God defines the effect for every cause, so if God would rather there be no suffering, there wouldn’t be any. Yes, lots of theology puts this square in the ‘it’s a mystery’ box, but that doesn’t get around the problem. The response I usually hear is that this suffering serves some purpose to achieve some end, helps us grow as people, is what we deserve because of Adam’s rebellion, etc. But whatever the purpose or goal if there is one, he of course could instead achieve in an infinite number of ways that do not involve suffering, but he chooses not to. Why, it’s almost like he doesn’t exist at all; there is no ‘problem of evil’ or questioning why suffering exists for atheists.

  320. #321 eric
    May 1, 2012

    VS @317:

    Um, are you assuming that the Garden of Eden and this world are, in fact, the same world?

    Its entirely irrelevant whether we were kicked out or the world was transformed. The point is, you are ignoring the part of the story where God shows both the desire and capability to create a world for humans without suffering.

    What precise claim do you think i’m making here that needs to be squared?

    The claim @313: “That God could have created a perfect world is irrelevant because the story — and I — admit that He could have but that for various reasons — depending on how one takes the story itself — didn’t.”

    He DID create such a world. Two, if you count heaven. Its entirely relevant to your conception of God because your conception of God as one who chose to make a world that includes suffering is not consistent with the Genesis story of the bible – even in an allegorical reading. He did not so choose; Adam and Eve’s disobedience corrupted his original choice. Your conception is not consistent with what most christians believe about God or his initial creative choice.

    In the bigger picture, these differences make your argument about belief in God being rational irrelevant to the average believer since you are not talking about the conception of God they believe in.

    ***

    Two more comments, which I move to the bottom (out of chronological order) because I think they are more quibbles than main arguments:

    Ultimately, the only consistent message is that God could create a perfect world but due to some reason we cannot have that, and so we have to live in this one.

    “due to some reason?” Really? The reason is right there: Adam and Eve disobey God. I cannot believe how much of the story YOU cite as the basis for YOUR conception of God you’re willing to throw out.

    And we can have that perfect world – in heaven, according to Christian theology. That is not part of the eden story, but heaven poses the same problem to your conception that eden does: the theology supports the claim that there is a different, non-suffering world that God would ideally like us to live in. He can put us in it any time he wants. So, why doesn’t he?

  321. #322 Verbose Stoic
    May 2, 2012

    Kel,

    When I talk about theology I’m talking about the formal study of theology, not folk theology. So, something like what Plantinga does and less like what you’d hear on comment threads on blogs or on the street or even from the pulpit. If we’re going to talk about theology as a field, we have to talk about it that way, just as if we’re going to talk about astrology we aren’t going to talk about the astrology sections of newspapers. Fun though it may be, we need to talk to the people who study it seriously, and not those who take off-hand versions of it, just like we do for philosophy and physics and biology. So …

    Theology, similarly isn’t just the study of God from a philosophical perspective. It’s a number of practices and assumptions, and separating out the valid techniques and methodologies from the broader practice is of paramount importance.

    … yes, it is absolutely the case isn’t just the study of God from a philosophical perspective. It is, in fact, the study of God. Period. Which means that it will use whatever practices, assumptions, techniques and methodologies that it needs to or finds useful in that study. Some of them will be philosophical. Some will be scientific. Some will be neither. But to argue that a certain methodology should be used and that another one should not is, in fact, a theological question, or at the very least a philosophical one about theology as a field of study. None of that can simply be assumed without argument. So when you say:

    If one wants to claim private revelation, divine insight, or use their intuition as the main guides to the universe, then I think it’s fair to dismiss that as nonsense in the same way that we would when talking about the medicinal qualities of unicorn blood.

    Then we can see that an issue here is that revelation, insight and intuition might certainly be valid methodologies in theology, and so dismissing it as nonsense for theology is making a claim that you need to support. Maybe revelation really is the best way to get at knowledge of God. Or maybe it isn’t.

    Now, to be fair, your argument here seems to be less about theology and about what it does and more about it encroaching on science. Which, of course, is a problem and all fields have to be careful when they encroach on other fields. But taking this whole line of comments into consideration you seem to apply science directly to the existence of God itself, because it’s about the universe, and then criticize theology for not doing or being science. The problem is that we cannot a priori determine what methodology can be used to examine things; we have to ask what’s appropriate for them. That, then, is an important consideration for theology to settle.

    For example, one recent study showed that believers tend to reason with the same parts of their brain for making their own moral choices as when they think of God’s morality,

    ?

    This has never impressed me, because if they think that they get their morality from God then when they act they would be asking, one suspects, “What would God do?”. What do you think this actually means for the discussion? It clearly doesn’t say anything about whether or not God exists, and we need far more data to find out what this means about their own views.

    Any number of empirical methodologies for analysis of data. Placebo-controlled double-blind trials, for example, are a great way at getting at medical truth. If you want to call all science merely natural philosophy, then fine, but the point remains. You don’t see philosophers finding out the nuances of beetle reproduction, and nor should they because it’s not their job to.

    The problem here is that this dodges the inital point that made me raise this example. These specific things that science adds could very well have been done by philosophy as well, just as the specific examinations of theology could be done by philosophy. But you used that fact to claim something about theology’s legitimacy as a specific and separate field, and since you clearly don’t think that about science I really wanted to know why you thought this meant anything about theology.

    (to be continued).

  322. #323 Verbose Stoic
    May 2, 2012

    Kel (cont),

    This is where I’d disagree. The big problems that theology imposes onto the world are not conceptual, they follow from nonsensical notions like divine knowledge in holy texts.

    See, this is a big part of the problem: you declare these things “nonsensical” and then deny that you are talking about concepts. You later split things into “wrong” and “nonsensical” but if you were just talking about instances — ie the things in the world — you would be calling them just wrong and not nonsensical. So quite often it seems to me that you — and others — are declaring things simply nonsensical without taking the time and effort to argue against them and understand the relevant issues. You might be right, but I generally don’t see much actual argument for that other than that you don’t find it credible. Well, so what? You could be wrong as well, and others have different views on the credibility of some claims. Are you open to settling this objectively? Then you have to be willing to sit down and do the work and not just declare “nonsensical”.

    If only believers would stick to the philosophical issues about belief, then I wouldn’t really have much of a problem.

    And what do you think those are? And who are you considering the theologicans to be that aren’t generally doing that?

    It’s the way in which God is used in society that is very much the driving force behind the “new atheists”.

    The problem is that the counter can be made over science in some ways, where people overextend science to make claims that cause similar reactions, particularly against scientism. This is a completely different debate than most theology is aiming at and the conflation of these sorts of issues is one of the more annoying traits of the “new atheists”. You can’t say that people use religion to do bad things and so theology and any discussion of God is immoral and irrational and be considered rational yourself.

    First, if we don’t have a good enough conception of God to make such statements, then does that pretty much invalidate everyone’s musings on the nature of God? Second, why is it that after thousands of years of philosophical and theological, combined with the rapid advance of the sciences, do we not yet have a clear conception of God?

    To the first: No, because those musings are indeed part of figuring that nature out, and we all — even scientists — often believe and act on concepts that aren’t fully fleshed out and understood yet. To the second: Because it’s a really hard concept to figure out, considering the sources we have and the myriad issues involved in it that are also tough questions, like causation, morality, epistemology, and so on and so forth.

    For one thing, I think it would get rid of those pseudoclaims to knowledge of the divine (private revelation, scriptural authority, gut feeling) and treat the claims in the same manner by which we treat all other claims.

    Why? After all, philosophy would still ask whether those things ARE valid ways of looking at God, and would worry about getting rid of them to force God into a model that is completely inappropriate for it.

    One thing I’ve noticed from my discussion with theists is that so often the philosophical arguments are merely used as a foil for existing theological commitments. In terms of the theological assumptions beyond philosophy, they’re implicit irrespective of how untenable they would be to hold if they came from any other source. In short, I think removing the theology from the discussion will be a better way of focusing on just what the arguments can actually show, instead of merely trying to present an existing conclusion in a more flattering light than it warrants.

    I think you’re confusing folk theology with theology, because the same sorts of things can be said about the relation between folk physics and physics, and folk psychology and psychology. As a formal field, theology is no more vulnerable to that sort of thing than anything else, and you still run a great risk of trying to treat theology just like everything else when it shouldn’t be … or maybe even can’t be.

  323. #324 Spartan
    May 2, 2012

    VS,

    You can’t say that people use religion to do bad things and so theology and any discussion of God is immoral and irrational and be considered rational yourself.

    Using your definition, of course you can be considered rational! It just needs to fit in my Web of Belief without conflicting with any of my other beliefs, correct?

  324. #325 Wow
    May 2, 2012

    “you declare these things “nonsensical” and then deny that you are talking about concepts”

    Nope, he doesn’t.

    Look, if you’re going to pretend the conversation you’re having in your head is what’s going on in real life, please do us all the favour of only posting in your head.

    Thanking you in advance,

    The World.

  325. #326 Wow, God
    May 2, 2012

    I take it everyone has noticed that VS has now used a lot of words to avoid talking about Eden.

    Verbose and full of hot air.

  326. #327 Verbose Stoic
    May 2, 2012

    eric,

    Its entirely irrelevant whether we were kicked out or the world was transformed. The point is, you are ignoring the part of the story where God shows both the desire and capability to create a world for humans without suffering.

    No, actually, I’m not. YOU’RE ignoring the part where God shows that despite his wanting that, after Adam and Eve gain the knowledge of Good and Evil they can’t be in that world anymore, and have to live in a world that contains suffering.

    The claim @313: “That God could have created a perfect world is irrelevant because the story — and I — admit that He could have but that for various reasons — depending on how one takes the story itself — didn’t.”

    Noooo, that’s NOT my claim. That’s my reply to your claim that I have some sort of major inconsistency that requires me to hold a different concept of God and abandon the Garden of Eden story. My ACTUAL claims are:

    1) The Garden of Eden explicitly states that this world, the world we live in after the Fall and so are living in now, will contain suffering.

    2) The moral status of an action is not determined by whether it causes suffering or the amount of suffering it causes.

    From this, you pushed to an argument that I was saying that “God has no problem with human suffering”, to which I made the measured reply that God may indeed prefer there to be no suffering but is not immoral for allowing it. He may, then, desire to reduce human suffering but desire other things more, even things that are better for us overall than us not having suffering (see the parent analogy for that). And then you jumped right back into the “different concept” and “ignoring the story” without having, really, any clue what I was talking about.

    “due to some reason?” Really? The reason is right there: Adam and Eve disobey God. I cannot believe how much of the story YOU cite as the basis for YOUR conception of God you’re willing to throw out.

    Who says I’m “throwing it out”? I’m merely not getting into the details of the reason, for two reasons:

    1) It’s not relevant to the discussion here.
    2) Some figurative interpretations won’t, in fact, use the disobedience angle, and so I’m trying to argue in the broadest possible way to ensure that it applies to the broadest possible set of beliefs, just as I did from the beginning by sticking to “Whether you take it literally or figuratively, this must be taken from the story”.

    None of this, then, relates directly to any specific conception of God, mine included.

    And we can have that perfect world – in heaven, according to Christian theology. That is not part of the eden story, but heaven poses the same problem to your conception that eden does: the theology supports the claim that there is a different, non-suffering world that God would ideally like us to live in. He can put us in it any time he wants. So, why doesn’t he?

    Because we have to go through this one first. I’d get into more details, but you have proven yourself unwilling to move past vague, folk theological discussions into the deep theological and philosophical examinations that could actually result in us getting an answer to that question, and I really don’t want you trying to argue for another “Your conception doesn’t match” instance …

  327. #328 Verbose Stoic
    May 2, 2012

    Spartan,

    Well of course it is possible: “With God all things are possible”.

    Yes, let’s take loose talk on a comment thread profoundly literally and jump to a conclusion based on it. That’s surely going to make great progress in this.

    Look, the basic idea is that for some main desire God has — which might even be our own benefit — the best way to achieve that desire is to allow us to be in a world where there is suffering. Could God make a world that achieved that desire without suffering? Maybe; it depends on what it is. But note that we have two major issues that might cause problems here:

    1) If making moral choices means choosing means — either moral or immoral — that causes suffering, then it is at least difficult to allow us to make moral choices that do not cause suffering.

    2) If the goal does require that we experience suffering to, say, progress towards it, then it is still difficult to achieve that goal without us experiencing suffering.

    Now, is this the case? Don’t know. We need much philosophical and theological work to figure that out.

    Using your definition, of course you can be considered rational! It just needs to fit in my Web of Belief without conflicting with any of my other beliefs, correct?

    Do you believe the claim that if something is used irrationally then the thing itself must be irrational? I suspect not. I suspect you think it false, or else you’d have to believe — to be consistent — that science is irrational because it can indeed be done irrationally. Thus, since you don’t hold the general claim and in fact consider it false, basing the religious claim on that would be introducing a conflict into your Web of Belief. Remember, the Web of Belief contains ALL beliefs: everything you know, everything you believe, all of your epistemic principles. Which also means that for KEL making that claim would likely violate his own standards, and so would introduce a conflict. Now, if either of you wanted to hold that you can single out one specific case for no other reason than you want to even though the general principle doesn’t hold would be rational in that sense, then go for it … but then we’ll have some interesting discussions of epistemology [grin].

  328. #329 Wow
    May 2, 2012

    “the best way to achieve that desire is to allow us to be in a world where there is suffering.”

    Nope.

    This is like saying the best way to bring up a child is liberal beatings every morning.

  329. #330 eric
    May 2, 2012

    VS @326: I’m pretty much done with you if you are going to deny saying something you posted yesterday. I may not reply any more on this thread, so you can go ahead and have the last word in our conversation here.

    For the record, below is your full quote. It is clearly you stating *your* position, not trying to characterize some position of mine.

    Um, what I cited was the fact that this world — the one outside of the Garden of Eden — is explicitly stated to include suffering, and thus my argument is that pointing to suffering in this world in and of itself is insufficient to demonstrate an inconsistency. That God could have created a perfect world is irrelevant because the story — and I — admit that He could have but that for various reasons — depending on how one takes the story itself — didn’t.

    You’re saying he didn’t create such a world. Yet he did. In the story you cite for your conception of God.

    Lastly,

    [eric] the theology supports the claim that there is a different, non-suffering world that God would ideally like us to live in. He can put us in it any time he wants. So, why doesn’t he?
    [VS] Because we have to go through this one first.

    Children die. Infants die, or are stillborn. If you want to go with the RCC’s life-begins-at-conception, then blastocysts also count as humans who will go on to heaven (or hell). If these folks make it to heaven, then obviously any additional pain and anguish suffered by adults is theologically superfluous; it is not needed for salvation or entry into the next world.

    We can put a theological lower limit on the amount of worldly existence and suffering that is necessary by simply asking what is the least amount of world/suffering experienced by someone who then still goes on to heaven. And if you’re willing to say miscarried blastocycsts go to heaven, the answer is: practically none.

  330. #331 Verbose Stoic
    May 2, 2012

    eric,

    For the record, below is your full quote. It is clearly you stating *your* position, not trying to characterize some position of mine.

    Sigh. And now, look at what I said and READ IT THIS TIME!

    Noooo, that’s NOT my claim. [b]That’s my reply to your claim[/b] that I have some sort of major inconsistency that requires me to hold a different concept of God and abandon the Garden of Eden story.

    [emphasis added].

    You started ranting about my having a different concept and ignoring the story of the Garden of Eden LONG before that. And here you have the gall to imply inconsistency and/or dishonesty when I was abundantly clear about why that wasn’t the claim that you were going on about and what was causing the problem.

    And while we’re at it, let’s look at that full context, shall we?

    Um, what I cited was the fact that this world — the one outside of the Garden of Eden — is explicitly stated to include suffering, and thus my argument is that pointing to suffering in this world in and of itself is insufficient to demonstrate an inconsistency.

    Now, you interpret that as this:

    You’re saying he didn’t create such a world. Yet he did. In the story you cite for your conception of God.

    Except that first sentence makes it ABUNDANTLY clear that it is THIS world that isn’t perfect, and so that last sentence should, one would think, be reasonably interpreted as my claiming that God could have made this world a perfect world but didn’t. NOT “God has never made a perfect world at all” as you INSIST on claiming, but this world. This world. [b]This world[/b]. I’ve been talking about THIS world the whole time AS HAVE YOU. So, then, why in the world are you insisting on interpreting my claim as applying to OTHER worlds than THIS one?!? Ye gods, if this is a simple misunderstanding I cannot see how it could possibly come about.

    Children die. Infants die, or are stillborn. If you want to go with the RCC’s life-begins-at-conception, then blastocysts also count as humans who will go on to heaven (or hell). If these folks make it to heaven, then obviously any additional pain and anguish suffered by adults is theologically superfluous; it is not needed for salvation or entry into the next world.

    So, are you willing to go beyond simple folk theology and so are really willing to examine potential answers here? Well, let me toss one out just in case:

    It isn’t clear if unborn children go to heaven or not, depending on the religious view. I, personally, haven’t settled that yet. The same holds true for the other cases; many like to think they do, but we aren’t sure. For Christianity, the forgiveness of sins may allow God to “pardon” those sins and allow them in those special cases to enter heaven anyway, depending on how the theology works out. But what you’re missing is that you’ve leaped to this answer without thinking seriously about what purpose that suffering might have, and that it might be something that applies to the majority instead of the minority of cases. If real moral development requires living in a world where there is suffering and where suffering occurs to people who both deserve it and don’t deserve it, and where death occurs to people who have lived fulfilling lives and people who have not, then these cases would be required cases to prove that. Thus, if these cases end up in heaven that would be nothing more than God’s repayment to them for being that unfortunate sacrifice before they could fully develop. Or, maybe they get sent back in another form to actually develop. Or they end up in a Purgatory, as Catholics once thought.

    Now, this is just something tossed off from the top of my head. We’d need to do a lot of theology and philosophy to figure this out, and you are certainly going beyond folk theology here, and so by your standards you are no longer talking about the same concept as most people are. Is this a challenge? Perhaps, but it is no where near as strong or definitive as you think it is.

    To answer the last part, you assumed that experiencing suffering is required in order to make it to heaven, but that was never my claim. My claim is that living in a world where there is suffering is required, and experiencing it and reacting to it both directly and indirectly is. Unborn children, then, might still be a challenge, as might infants, but children become far less a problem than you think they are. You also, again, assume a notion of total suffering being the determining factor, but you should have realized that I would not agree with that from our previous discussions.

  331. #332 Kel
    May 2, 2012

    I’ll get to the long response later (I appreciate taking the time to explain)

    Which also means that for KEL making that claim would likely violate his own standards, and so would introduce a conflict.

    My whole argument comes down to that we should treat claims of God no different that we should treat claims of unicorns and fairies. Unicornology is not a real discipline no matter how much we define unicornology as the study of unicorns, and if someone claims that unicorns exist by private revelation it should be dismissed just as much as it should when it comes to any other private revelation. I don’t see the inconsistency in that, rather I think it would be inconsistent to pretend that revelation from God is a reasonable proposition because God’s had a larger cheer squad historically than unicorns. There’s a huge literature out there on astrology, on aliens, on paranormal phenomena, on quantum healing, etc. So my dismissing God for the same reasons is nothing if not consistent. Indeed, I could sum up my entire experience with arguments for God by theists by seeing no difference to the arguments for the paranormal I heard growing up around a lot of new-agers.

    “How is it even possible to become an expert in nonsense?” – Massimo Pigliucci

  332. #333 Spartan
    May 2, 2012

    VS @327,

    Ha, fair enough, I admit there was a tad of snark in my ‘with God all things are possible’. But my overall point still stands, you seem to be implying that God is not as omni as most conceptions claim he is. Here’s a quote that I have an issue with:

    the best way to achieve that desire is to allow us to be in a world where there is suffering. Could God make a world that achieved that desire without suffering? Maybe; it depends on what it is.

    The invocation of the word ‘best’ and especially ‘maybe’ imply that God has limitations or that he dwells in some other ‘world’ that has it’s own laws that God does not have the power to violate, in other words, he’s not omnipotent. Let’s go with it: the best way to achieve God’s desire is to allow suffering. If we ask why this might be, we can indeed make a reasonable connection to this world, where suffering is not always a wrong or immoral thing and can have benefits to the people who must endure it, I don’t argue with that. But why does some suffering have benefits? Because God has created this reality that way, where suffering can have benefits. Who or what else has defined this effect from that cause? You seem to imply that the answer is, “that’s the way it is and there’s nothing God can do about it to achieve his desires”. But he defines how everything works, there’s probably an infinite number of ways he could have set up reality that would achieve his desires.

    Your reply of ‘Maybe’ to your hypothetical question also baffles me. The answer is ‘of course, he’s God he has set up everything‘. Talking about the ‘best’ way to do something implies that if he does it another way he won’t get the desired result, yet he defines what the result is of every ‘way’ to do something, how they interact or whether they intersect or interfere with other things he has set up, etc. Doesn’t that imply there are things that are outside of God’s control? If not, what do you mean?

  333. #334 Wow
    May 3, 2012

    “But my overall point still stands, you seem to be implying that God is not as omni as most conceptions claim he is.”

    And if he’s NOT omnipotent, then there must be a reason for it.

    A law of nature that trumps God.

    But the laws of nature we have already seem to trump the necessity for God. There is no room for him in there.

    And, as always, windy miller here misses another point: his version of God is not the God that almost everyone else considers to be God, yet refuses to delineate what HIS version of God is to see if it’s rational or irrational.

  334. #335 Kel
    May 3, 2012

    Verbose Stoic,

    When I talk about theology I’m talking about the formal study of theology, not folk theology. So, something like what Plantinga does and less like what you’d hear on comment threads on blogs or on the street or even from the pulpit. If we’re going to talk about theology as a field, we have to talk about it that way, just as if we’re going to talk about astrology we aren’t going to talk about the astrology sections of newspapers.

    I think you’re already going to know my reply to this. Astrology, no matter if it’s someone reading horoscopes in a newspaper or making birth charts are both engaging in nonsense. The appeal to intellectualism in the discipline is irrelevant if the discipline itself is bunk. In fact, I’ve heard astrologers make that very argument – chastising sceptics for going after the pop astrology, which is a bit of fun, but not the serious astrology. My question is, what can serious astrology give to a meaningful description of the world that pop astrology does not?

    I don’t think there’s any more plausibility to “real” astrology than there is to “folk” astrology, any pretence of expertise is an expertise in nonsense. And one can do that without even so much as lifting an astrology book or consulting with the real arguments. If there were real arguments to be made, they would be made instead of complaining that the disbelievers aren’t going after the real stuff. Ask a biologist about mutation and reference what many people think mutation means, and biologists are quick to point out not only that such conceptions are wrong but will strive to install what is really meant by mutation.

    Fun though it may be, we need to talk to the people who study it seriously, and not those who take off-hand versions of it, just like we do for philosophy and physics and biology. So …

    When we talk about folk physics or folk psychology, we’re usually talking about intuitive reasoning or misconceptions that people have in the various disciplines. Yet physicists and psychologists will distinguish their claims from their folk counterparts by reference to what investigation has really shown. To be blunt, physics can easily distinguish itself in methodology and in outcome from the popular misconceptions that are said to happen in the world, so too psychology.

    What would distinguish folk theology from real theology? People with Ph.Ds like William Lane Craig will claim, just as much as those folk theologians, that they have had a personal revelation from the holy spirit. Is it only bunk when Orel Roberts says it, or is it just as bunk when William Lane Craig does? When theologians like N. T. Wright or Rowan Williams proclaim to speak of God’s morality such as on issues like homosexuality and euthanasia, are their views validated by their many years of study that Fred Phelps lacks with his pronoucements? When Peter Kreeft writes on the afterlife, what makes his views worth listening to than Jerry Falwell’s? And for that matter, what makes any of them better than just making stuff up?

    Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the logical arguments of someone like Richard Swinburne or Alvin Plantinga. But that small subset of theology, be it sophisticated or folk, isn’t what I’m talking about when I’m dismissing theology as a valid means to truth.

    Then we can see that an issue here is that revelation, insight and intuition might certainly be valid methodologies in theology, and so dismissing it as nonsense for theology is making a claim that you need to support. Maybe revelation really is the best way to get at knowledge of God. Or maybe it isn’t.

    If it is, then that’s subject to all the pitfalls of accepting that kind of evidence.

    The problem is that we cannot a priori determine what methodology can be used to examine things; we have to ask what’s appropriate for them. That, then, is an important consideration for theology to settle.

    So how does theology settle them? What insight does theology give to this question that applying philosophy and our arsenal of accumulated tools of measuring the universe could not? Or is theology simply that – applying critical thinking and successful empirical methodologies to an ancient superstition?

    This has never impressed me, because if they think that they get their morality from God then when they act they would be asking, one suspects, “What would God do?”. What do you think this actually means for the discussion? It clearly doesn’t say anything about whether or not God exists, and we need far more data to find out what this means about their own views.

    I agree that it doesn’t say anything about whether or not God exists, and I will point out that I didn’t say that it did. What I said was that it was something that undermines speaking on God’s morality; that we have good reason to think that they are simply projecting.

    The problem here is that this dodges the inital point that made me raise this example.

    That science is a series of methodologies that are separate and distinct from philosophy is not under question. What is meant by science and what is meant by philosophy, at least as far as I have been taking the disciplines, is very much in terms of the methodologies that practitioners get at for truth. If you want to call it all philosophy, then you’re again just applying a label and one that’s going to confuse more than clarify.

    It seems to me now that we’re fighting over what are appropriate labels rather than what are appropriate thinking tools for the job. And on that, I’d very much like to see whether or not “theology” beyond philosophical argument has had anything substantial to contribute to the world. Even with philosophical argument, it would be nice to see what those arguments have helped to show what would have never come about sans the discipline of theology. Because like the hypotheticals of potential paranormal phenomena that I discussed above, the lack of concrete examples really leaves any potential insight that theology can bring to the world as a mere assertion. The proof of the pudding’s in the eating, as the proverb goes, so what insights has the thousands of years of formal inquiry into the study of God by very intelligent and learned people got to show for it?

  335. #336 Wow
    May 3, 2012

    “I don’t think there’s any more plausibility to “real” astrology than there is to “folk” astrology, any pretence of expertise is an expertise in nonsense.”

    You’re getting it wrong, Kel

    Windy Miller here defines “real” disciplines as “ones I agree with” and “folk” disciplines as “ones I don’t wish to defend”.

    Since Windy only cares about being right, this self-affirming definition is rational.

    Its only problem is that it is sourced from an irrational aim.

  336. #337 Kel
    May 4, 2012

    Continuing

    So quite often it seems to me that you — and others — are declaring things simply nonsensical without taking the time and effort to argue against them and understand the relevant issues.

    To be fair, it’s really hard to show that I’ve taken the time to develop an understanding of the issues, or to take the time to give a deeper case for the nonsensical nature of God. Looking back throughout this thread, I’ve made a number of arguments as to why I think it’s the case, so it’s hardly just a declaration on my part.

    You could be wrong as well, and others have different views on the credibility of some claims. Are you open to settling this objectively? Then you have to be willing to sit down and do the work and not just declare “nonsensical”.

    I am trying to look at it objectively, it’s why I’m more interested in seeing what the arguments and interpretations of evidence can amount to over whether or not you should be necessarily compelled in cutting out large portions of your web of belief. To be honest, I’d be much more interested in discussing the arguments and evidence over this exchange of whether theology is valid or not.

    And who says I haven’t sat down and done the work? From my perspective, I’ve wasted far too much time on the God question, when other equally important questions like the validity of tarot reading has barely crossed my mind. I’ve barely given a thought to the ontological status of mermaids, while psychic surgery hasn’t even had a fair hearing. Surely some of the blame has got to be on the “folk” theology peddling theists who seem to be the loudest and most willing to engage in the God talk. I’ve been able to find plenty of people who can teach me about evolution that’s been in line with what I’ve read from experts on the matter, where are all the learned theists and why aren’t they the ones making the reasonable case? Though the problem could always lie with me, too, which gets back to actually talking about what relevant factors there are and how much they can show.

    And what do you think those are? And who are you considering the theologicans to be that aren’t generally doing that?

    Any theologians who seeks to make any moral pronouncements or justification. But, again, part of the problem is that anyone I’m going to bring up as having a real impact on society is going to be considered as “folk” theologians, like the Pope. That particular theologians are anti-homosexual, or anti-abortion, doesn’t really compare to what people pronounce and carry out in God’s name. Whether or not they are academic theologians is not an issue.

    You can’t say that people use religion to do bad things and so theology and any discussion of God is immoral and irrational and be considered rational yourself.

    I am not saying that; I’m not even thinking that. I was commenting on why more people are speaking out against religion, not that they base their position on religion on the need to speak out. Perhaps some do – Alister McGrath has claimed that his rejection of religion as a teenager was based on what people did in God’s name, though that didn’t seem to last much into adulthood – but of course the case for God’s rationality/irrationality lies irrespective of how people invoke it. With the case of astrology, as I argued above, I would still think astrology is a falsehood irrespective of how people use it, but the reason to speak out is how that nonsense gets used.

    Why? After all, philosophy would still ask whether those things ARE valid ways of looking at God, and would worry about getting rid of them to force God into a model that is completely inappropriate for it.

    One might ask about those as valid ways to address God, but that doesn’t really say much for such capabilities to meaningfully reflect ways for genuine insight into the world.

    I think you’re confusing folk theology with theology, because the same sorts of things can be said about the relation between folk physics and physics, and folk psychology and psychology. As a formal field, theology is no more vulnerable to that sort of thing than anything else, and you still run a great risk of trying to treat theology just like everything else when it shouldn’t be … or maybe even can’t be.

    As I argued in my previous post, real physics and real psychology can be easily distinguished from their folk counterparts, complete with methodologies and fruits of the discipline that show their folk counterparts as being wrong. What fruits does real theology give that separate it from its folk counterparts, and why aren’t real theologians doing more to stop the spread of folk nonsense like revelation, scriptural authority, and intuition masquerading as God’s will? Or is it that real theology has more elaborate constructions for pushing those same nonsense beliefs?

  337. #338 Kel
    May 4, 2012

    What fruits does real theology give that separate it from its folk counterparts, and why aren’t real theologians doing more to stop the spread of folk nonsense like revelation, scriptural authority, and intuition masquerading as God’s will?

    William Lane Craig on the experience of God:
    “Of course, ever since my conversion, I believed in the resurrection of Jesus on the basis of my personal experience, and I still think this experiential approach to the resurrection is a perfectly valid way to knowing that Christ has risen.” (debate with Bart Ehrman)

    The immediate experience of God. This isn’t really an argument for God’s existence; rather it’s the claim that you can know God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him. If you’re sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”” (debate with Massimo Pigliucci)

    “We’ve already said that it’s the Holy Spirit who gives us the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role.” (Reasonable Faith, p.36)

    Contrast this with what he thinks it shows:
    “When it comes to engaging in a conversation in the public square, in letters to the editor, or in conversations with co-workers, then I think it’s critical that Christians be able to present objective evidence in support of our beliefs. Otherwise our claims hold no more credibility than the assertions of anyone else who claims to have a private religious experience.” [emphasis added] (speech at Southampton, 2011)

    So when I call it nonsense, I don’t do it as some mere declaration that has its roots in conflating folk theology with real theology. That this supposed valid way of knowing God admittedly has no more credibility than any other similar claim speaks volumes about the vacuity of that line of evidence. So I don’t think it’s a mere declaration that private revelation is nonsense, it’s a recognition of how problematic such a line of evidence is.

    Self-authenticating private evidence is useless, because it is indistinguishable from the illusion of it.

  338. #339 Verbose Stoic
    May 7, 2012

    Kel,

    There’s a lot to talk about here (obviously) but let me clear out some of the underbrush first.

    First, as I’ve said to someone in these threads (maybe you, but more likely eric) when I talk about folk forms I don’t use that as any kind of synonym for “wrong”. Folk psychology is still, in fact, far better at predicting human behaviour than psychology is, in general. And recent AI courses taught me that trying to get robots to understand basic, everyday things like predicting the path of a ball when it bounces are computationally intensive, and yet we can all do it using folk physics. Thus, folk forms aren’t wrong or disproven in an interesting sense. So perhaps I should clean up the terminology a bit and distinguish between “everyday” forms and “academic” forms. And so we can see that everyday forms are very, very good at running our everyday lives and getting us through the day, but they aren’t good at — and aren’t designed to — doing in-depth and detailed analysis to get at deep understanding. So, what we expect in everyday forms are inconsistencies, incorrect empirical predictions, and even logical contradictions. Thus, it doesn’t do much good to claim to find these things in the everyday versions; we expect them there. Thus, when trying to resolve these things we need to look to the academic versions, and this is where, it seems to me, the push to “sophisticated” theology and so on comes in.

    Also, on the “invalid field”, when I say that you’d have to look at “academic” theology or astrology or whatever, I don’t mean to say that the things those fields describe are right, or really exist. What I mean is that if you are going to try to claim that these things are incorrect or don’t exist or don’t work, you have to engage in the academic versions and test against the best formed and best examined forms. As I said above, it does no good to say that you can find empirical disconfirmation of the everyday claims, because the everyday claims don’t generalize that way. You need to take on the detailed, examined claims of the academic forms. Now, we can say that astrology, for example, doesn’t work because we think, at least, that we HAVE taken on academic astrology; we’ve taken it on in its most considered forms and shown that it doesn’t have the results that it claims to have. But if academic astrology was pointing out that it worked really well in some cases but that work had to be done in others, we’d have to look at that as well and take that into account when determining how to test it and if our tests really show anything.

    Now, the trick with theology is that a lot of the discussions and issues are philosophical, not empirical. Take, again, the Problem of Suffering. While there is an empirical aspect to it — is there suffering — most people agree that there is indeed suffering in this world. The question is over whether that in and of itself trumps omnibenevolence or if there is too much suffering or any number of other considerations. You can’t really settle these things by looking really hard at the world or running experiments. You need to do the detailed philosophical work that theology is trying to do in this area.

    So, the best representatives of sophisticated theology are indeed people like Plantinga over people like Craig, the people who are taking on the arguments in detail and making arguments for them. None of this means that they’re right or that God exists, but it does mean that they do have to be looked at if you are going to claim that God does not exist or even that we should think that God does not exist.

    Also note that just reading it doesn’t mean that you get it. I’m not actually accusing you of this, but you can get this from reading Jerry Coyne’s stuff on Plantinga specifically. I commented on a couple of his attempts, and heaven help him he really does seem to try, but it’s clear from even a quick reading that he’s reading Plantinga and pretty much all of the theologians he reads entirely from his perspective and not from theirs, which means that he — and in his case it seems inadvertent — ends up not actually understanding what they’re saying. It’s important to try to understand views without, I’d say, worrying about whether you agree with them or what they try to prove, and one of the things that most interests me in philosophy is indeed understanding these views and finding them more interesting or meaningful than I would have thought even if I, overall, disagree with them. Coyne, specifically, spends too much time trying to find the arguments that aren’t there and then getting disappointed when he doesn’t find them, even though the author wasn’t actually trying to argue them at all.

    As another example, it would do no good to criticize me, say, for not defending faith or claiming that faith or religion is a way of knowing, since I don’t hold those views. Thus, to understand my views you would need to put aside any notions of criticizing it on that level, or interpreting it as if that was what I was trying to defend.

  339. #340 Kel
    May 8, 2012

    Thus, folk forms aren’t wrong or disproven in an interesting sense. So perhaps I should clean up the terminology a bit and distinguish between “everyday” forms and “academic” forms.

    Fair enough. I think, though, if we’re making this distinction, then the next distinction to make is what claims are valid and what are not. There’s plenty of everyday psychology that is known to be wrong, likewise everyday notions of physics can be very quick to fail if applied. I agree that our intuitive, and sometimes culturally-received notions, can be reliable heuristics for certain things – but where they are valuable to any academic discussion is how and why they fail.

    What I’m trying to get at is that if we’re to distinguish between folk and academic theology, making the distinction has to be meaningful in terms of what it means for the arguments at hand. When you say I’m conflating real theology with pseudotheology, what difference does that make? Theology will still be an argument about nonsense for me because theological points have nothing to do with me thinking God is nonsense.

    What I mean is that if you are going to try to claim that these things are incorrect or don’t exist or don’t work, you have to engage in the academic versions and test against the best formed and best examined forms.

    On that, I have no disagreements with you. If you’re going to go after the beliefs on their own terms, then there’s no point in caricaturing. My contention is that going after them on their own terms is a waste precisely because we have reasons outside of the disciplines to think them a waste.

    Now, the trick with theology is that a lot of the discussions and issues are philosophical, not empirical.

    I’d strongly disagree with this statement; not because they’re aren’t philosophical issues to deal with, but many of the central claims in any religious belief are irreducibly empirical claims. If anyone is claiming any intervention in the world, they are making an empirical claim. If they are claiming revelation for themselves or others, they are making an empirical claim. If they are claiming some sort of divine insight into scripture, they are making an empirical claim. If they are claiming anything about a historical Jesus, they are making an empirical claim. That one might be able to conceptually analyse and look to argument as the main verification of private religious experience doesn’t change that private religious experience is still a claim about the world.

    Take, again, the Problem of Suffering. While there is an empirical aspect to it — is there suffering — most people agree that there is indeed suffering in this world. The question is over whether that in and of itself trumps omnibenevolence or if there is too much suffering or any number of other considerations. You can’t really settle these things by looking really hard at the world or running experiments. You need to do the detailed philosophical work that theology is trying to do in this area.

    I’m not disputing the philosophical work, nor the philosophical insights that theologians can provide.

    So, the best representatives of sophisticated theology are indeed people like Plantinga over people like Craig, the people who are taking on the arguments in detail and making arguments for them.

    I really don’t mean to sound rude with this, but what would distinguish a Plantinga from a Craig? When I listen to Craig, I’m fairly certain his entire shtick is to rhetorically dissolve any criticism by making the contrary view seem absurd without really doing much beyond blatant sophistry of a view he took on faith as a teenager. But as far as qualifications and formal training goes, I don’t think that there’s anything on face value that would mean one should consider what Plantinga has to say over the likes of Craig.

    None of this means that they’re right or that God exists, but it does mean that they do have to be looked at if you are going to claim that God does not exist or even that we should think that God does not exist.

    This is where my problem lies. The case, as far as I can see, against God doesn’t really have anything to do with the kinds of things that Plantinga would have a say on. Perhaps that is a personal failing, but while I could see why Plantinga and his intellect should be taken seriously on philosophical problems like the problem of evil, I’m not sure how far Plantinga could go to making God’s existence soluble with the kind of analysis he does. Even if we took the ontological argument at face value, even if we took God as being properly basic, that his free will defence solved the logical problem of evil – there seems to me a huge gap between what those arguments show and what is claimed about God. I can’t see what good arguments are going to do to show that there’s an afterlife, for example, or whether God has any psychological qualities.

    Also note that just reading it doesn’t mean that you get it. I’m not actually accusing you of this

    If you did, it probably would be justified. “Not getting it” is my natural state of things, which means I’m going to push others with my misunderstandings until I can be shown another way to think about stuff. And spend more time learning.

    It’s important to try to understand views without, I’d say, worrying about whether you agree with them or what they try to prove

    Agreed.

    As another example, it would do no good to criticize me, say, for not defending faith or claiming that faith or religion is a way of knowing, since I don’t hold those views.

    Noted.

    Thus, to understand my views you would need to put aside any notions of criticizing it on that level, or interpreting it as if that was what I was trying to defend.

    I’m not really trying to argue against you in particular, you haven’t really made a case for God so there’s not much exploration I can do on your personal case until you do. All I can do is call the case as I see it, and try to be as reasonable as possible in doing so. If I’m missing some consideration, or misinterpreting something, then I really need to be set right (or at the very least, pointed in the right direction) otherwise I’m going to remain ignorant.

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