Evolving Thoughts

The world is divided, runs the old joke (which I heard when it wasn’t so old), into two kinds: those who divided the world into two kinds, and those who don’t. [There’s actually an interesting feature of the history of logic here that… never mind. Later.]

We all, or very nearly all, like to divide the world into those who are like-minded to us and those who are not. It is not just a matter of religion, but of sport, music, politics, ethnicity, and tastes in literature. And although we do not express it out loud, we think that we have chosen the best of all these alternatives. Of course we do, or else we wouldn’t believe/accept/adopt that choice, would we? As philosopher Hilary Putnam once said in another context, I should believe somebody else’s beliefs?

Except I don’t. I’m not much of a one for joining. I never was all that settled when I was religious, and I never followed (and still don’t) sports, or keep to a musical style, or literature. And as for ethnicity, I don’t know if “vanilla” counts. I have some Irish in me, for what it’s worth.

I am moved to comment on this from a comment made to a comment I made to a blog entry that commented on one of my blog entries [stops and counts on fingers…. OK… draws breath], when I laid out my agnostic view. The rather nice DarwinCatholic blogger wondered how, if I restrict knowledge claims to empirical claims, I could have any moral views. I responded, basically, that morality wasn’t a matter of empirical knowledge, or indeed of knowledge at all (another long story), but he said in the post:

Maybe I’m unduly narrow in what I tend to consider “empirical” (indeed, it seems to me essential to science to be pretty restrictive with the term) but I can certainly see why (for all of Wilkins’ rigor as a thinking) this is not an appealing worldview to most people. Indeed, I can’t help wondering if it’s even a livable worldview for life as a whole (as opposed for one’s specifically scientific activities).

And here is the nub of it. It is a fine balancing act, taking an agnostic position. Those who are religious want to claim you as a potential member of their agnostic theist faith (that’s not silly – Cusa was such a person), while, while those who claim atheism as their commitment want you in as well. But I just cannot accept either view, and so I find myself lacking a community of like-minded folk on just about everything.

And community is indeed why our beliefs matter, along with our external behaviours, accents, vocabulary, allegiance to a sporting team, and tastes in music. It’s how you get laid, spend time together with friends, and all the things that go along with shared experiences. And so this is why I sit here late on a Sunday night (well, early Monday morning) on my own, typing…

So Larry, PZ, and all the others who have a firm atheism – good luck to you. Same to you religious folk. I wish I could compromise my views enough to join one of you, but I can’t. So I’ll fall back on chocolate until only alcohol will suffice (hey, I’m a philosopher, OK? We drink) while you all have nice families, friends with common views, and attend events and parties. Don’t mind me here in the dark, and I won’t keep insisting you are in the dark as well as me. It’s not easy being an agnostic. Pass the whisky…

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    June 10, 2007

    You could always join the Church of England.

    Bob

  2. #2 John Pieret
    June 10, 2007

    Well, for various reasons I had to give up the whisky but the dark sounds comforting when all the light seems to come from torches in the street.

    Count me in.

  3. #3 Chris' Wills
    June 10, 2007

    Whisky? Yucky stuff, though I will drink it if there is nothing better :o)

    Gin is good; lots of different types and it is excellent at curing the common cold (drink five or six large shots a day for two days, after that either the cold will be gone or you won’t care). It has the same effect on pestiferous atheists/theists; friendly ones can help empty the bottles.

  4. #4 Magpie
    June 10, 2007

    Plus if you add tonic, you have (limited) protection against (some forms of) malaria.

    Resisting group pressure to confrom is never easy, even if that group is a minority voice. I respect your stand against the itch to conform, especially as it is without the usual smug opinion that those who do conform to some norm are all part of The Herd.

    I’d quote some Camus now, but that would be rather trite, and besides, I’m sure that you are more aware of the sacrifices and benefits of your position than I ever will be.

  5. #5 Matt Penfold
    June 10, 2007

    John,

    Unless you using either the term agnostic or the term atheist to mean something other than what I take them to mean I simply cannot understand your position.

    Agnosticism is the belief that is not possible to know if gods(s) exist or nor not (At least as I understand it). Given that then it follows (at least as far as I am concerned) that there can be no evidence to support or not support the existance of god(s). Therefore any position taken on the existance of such gods must be done absent any evidence.

    I suspect so far you will do be in disagreement with me. Where I suspect you and I (and PZ, and Larry, and Richard …) will depart from your position is that absent any evidence what possible reason is their for thinking god(s) do exist ? I doubt you think there are invisible pink unicorns in the room I am in at the moment, so why do think (or least seem to think, I could be wrong) that there are possibly there ? Surely reason would dictate that you only give credence to those things for which their is evidence ? You will accept the theory of gravity based (roughly anyway, to take Einstein out of it) on a function of distance and mass and not on the basis that there are dwarves that such very hard!

    I think what I am asking you is that given all the possible explanations for things, do you take an agnostic position on the existance of god but on the possible exisistance of pink unicorns, teapots orbiting mars etc.

  6. #6 Matt Penfold
    June 10, 2007

    John,

    To follow up on my last post, what I am really trying to say is that I suspect although you do not want to call yourself one you are in fact an atheist as least, at least functionaly. You do not act in anyway that would suggest you thinks god(s) exist (at least going on what you have said about yourself). And to me, atheism is a functional position to take, absent any reason to suppose a god exists why waste time and effort assuming they do ?

    Maybe what we have is a difference in what we consider atheism to be. Some consider atheism to be a firm belief that god(s) do not exist, whereas to me it is the position taken that absent evidence they do it is foolish to consider the possiblity that they do.

  7. #7 Matt Penfold
    June 10, 2007

    I would also like to correct John on how the world should be divided.

    The world can be divided into 10 groups: those can count in binary and those who can’t.

  8. #8 Crudely Wrott
    June 10, 2007

    Pardner, if I was in your neighborhood wondering what to do with a bottle of Old Philosopher, I think I would come rapping on your chamber door.

    I, too, had little luck as a member of any group since childhood. I seemed to find a greater reward in solitary pursuits or spontaneously joining some effort to attain a specific, limited goal. As an added benefit, I have long been happily aware of all the misery I avoid by not being a member of any group with a stated “platform”: the politics, the power games, the protocols and rules, the jargon, the posturing and posing. For reasons that even today, fifty-mumble years on, are not clear, though lack of clarity has long since ceased bothering me, I find the spontaneous, or opportunistic, approach to have sufficient reward in terms of defining myself and my place in a large and largely unknown universe.

    While I do consider myself an atheist, lacking belief in Invisible Supernatural Spooks, I am nonetheless curious about the whole notion. Experience has taught me that having certainty about something is not the same as that thing being certain. Life has a way of getting that message across. So I have learned to think in terms of probability rather than personal conviction.

    Careful attention to reality by uncounted observers shows that damn few things have a probability of 1. Also revealed is that the most improbable things, wildly unimaginable, occasionally do attain this unity and simply, or perversely, occur. Trouble is, without awareness of all evidence and all factors involved, prediction is, ahh, troublesome.

    What might be the odds that an inch thick, sixty inch long branch will break from a tree, fall twenty-some feet and hit the four inch square top opening of a downspout and thread four fifths of its length down the spout? I don’t know either, but I removed said branch from said downspout last Thursday. I must say, I was impressed. Helluva shot.

    I’d like to take this opportunity to pass on to you a toast that was taught me my an old cowboy from Wyoming. Tony died about 1987, so I call this The Dead Cowboy Toast:

    The fleecy clouds may kiss the sky.
    The rose may kiss the butterfly.
    The deep red wine may kiss the glass,
    And you, my friends, [pause. wait for it]
    Fare well. [delivered sincerely, with broad grin]

  9. #9 John Pieret
    June 10, 2007

    Where I suspect you and I (and PZ, and Larry, and Richard …) will depart from your position is that absent any evidence what possible reason is their for thinking god(s) do exist ?

    First of all, Dawkins claims the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis which is, at least in principle, investigable. I think he is dead wrong. The most we can do is that, on matters that are subject to empiric investigation, we can say, for example, that any god whose existence depends on the Earth and/or universe being only 6,000 years old contradicts our knowledge. The existence of gods with no such simple empiric consequences is not a question remotely answerable by science. And I think empiric knowledge is the only sort that humans can claim.

    There is “evidence” for the existence of god(s), however. We can quibble about the numbers but hundreds of millions or billions of people have reported the personal experience of god, along the lines of what Francis Collins recounted in his book. However, we cannot bring empiric methods to investigate that evidence, because there is no way to restrict such an investigation to naturalistic causes (given the very nature of the question: “does a supernatural being exist?”). In that case, there is evidence but not of the sort that brings human knowledge.

    Surely reason would dictate that you only give credence to those things for which their is evidence?

    Why would we substitute “credence” (whatever you mean by that) for reality? Until what? … 80 years ago? … there was no evidence for quarks. Our understanding of the atom was sufficiently explained by protons, neutrons and electrons. Did quarks suddenly appear once we gave them “credence”? The very nature of science is such that we can be confident that we have no present evidence for any number of things which are, nonetheless, real. There is no reason to think that human knowledge is, or will ever be, coextensive with reality.

    I think what I am asking you is that given all the possible explanations for things, do you take an agnostic position on the existance of god but on the possible exisistance of pink unicorns, teapots orbiting mars etc.

    Come back when a few billion people, including no small number personally known to me to be intelligent and honest, report personal experience of those things.

  10. #10 Matt Penfold
    June 10, 2007

    John Pieret,

    Dawkins does indeed claim that SOME of the claims for the existent of god(s) can be settled using science. He is correct, science tells us that despite what some tell us the earth, not the universe, are not a few thousand years old. Nor does science claim that all “kinds” (whatever they are) were created at the same time: In fact it tells us they were not.

    So we have established at least some claims made by religions are wrong. In the fast we could just say wrong, today we must say lies, totally and utter lies. Relgious people will lie about science in order that the religion is not subject to ridicule. Also it was science, not relgion, that found that the simple model of the atomic structure was wrong.

    You also claim that there is “”evidence” for the existence of god(s)”. What evidence ? Published when and where ? Later you say “he very nature of science is such that we can be confident that we have no present evidence for any number of things which are, nonetheless, real”. What things are real for which we have no evidence ? You make the claim but did not (could not) provide examples. Note that providing examples where our understanding is as yet imcomplete will no do, you must show that it can never be complete. History is littered with the bodies of gods who got crushed in the gaps.

    Further, what most people would consider to be a god would have supernatural powers. That is, divine intervention is a possiblilty. The idea that a god can intervene in the universe when he/she feels like it is antithetical to science. Science does not allow “godditit” as an explanation. And even if it did, god would require a hell of lot explaining. Those scienctists who are religious seem to take the view that while their god can perform miracles he cannot do so in their scientific field. Religious biologists will reject the idea that their god directed evolution, but seem to allow for god being involved in those studied by cosmologists!

    Also you seem to ignore the fact that Dawkins et al do not say god(s) do not exist. What they say is that there is evidence they do and until such time there is there no point is assuming they do. That is the rational position to take, and you also think so, otherwise you think EVERYTHING anyone has ever said could exist might exist. You cannot prove there is no teapot in orbit around the earth. That such a teapot exists is possible but neither you nor I give such a possibility any credence. It is just silly it think that the chances of teapot orbiting the earth is probable or even possible.

    With regards your second point, it is totally irrelvent. It does not matter how MANY people think something is true, there mere fact they do does NOT make it so. The fact that some 50% of Americans think that the earth is a few thousand years old does not tell us the earth is only a few thousand years old, just that an lot of Americans do not know much science and do not know much theology either. Ignorance, as the saying goes, is no defence. At one time most Americans thought that Iraq was involved in the Seot 11th attacks. They are wrong, what they think does not matter. The truth is that Iraq was not, and most Americans were wrong.

  11. #11 windy
    June 10, 2007

    There is “evidence” for the existence of god(s), however. We can quibble about the numbers but hundreds of millions or billions of people have reported the personal experience of god, along the lines of what Francis Collins recounted in his book.

    What happens in human brains is not exempt from empiricism. You can’t simultaneously claim that billions of humans have sensed “the supernatural”, and that “the supernatural” can’t be empirically investigated.

  12. #12 HP
    June 10, 2007

    You’re not a joiner? Wow, me too!

    So, help my non-philosophically trained mind: Am I correct in assuming that “belief” is more a matter of establishing and maintaining social and cultural identities than of developing a coherent personal worldview?

    It seems to me that saying “I believe it’s turtles all the way down” is a qualitatively different statement than “I believe that chair would support my weight.” But English doesn’t seem to distinguish between them. Is there a philosophical term of art that distinguishes the two kinds of belief?

    Often, when reading political posts and comments on the web, someone will pipe in with statements like “As a conservative, I believe X” or “As a libertarian, I believe Y.” (In fairness, you sometimes see, “As a liberal, I believe Z,” but not as often.) This strikes me personally as completely ass-backwards. Shouldn’t your beliefs determine your politics, and not the other way around? But if capital-B Belief is about establishing identity, then it makes perfect sense. And it also explains why I don’t feel that I have any Beliefs.

  13. #13 John Pieret
    June 10, 2007

    Dawkins does indeed claim that SOME of the claims for the existent of god(s) can be settled using science.

    Actually, he went well beyond that, claiming the “the God Hypothesis is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist.” He included in that the deist god and anything other than the notion that the sum of nature and its laws can be thought of as a small-case god. But the point is not worth arguing.

    What evidence ? Published when and where?

    Since this was all about the difference between agnostics and atheists, not about who is right, there is difference number one. While scientific conclusions are the closest thing to “knowledge” that humans can aspire to, one thing that agnostics don’t presume is that human knowledge exhausts “reality” or that empiric evidence is somehow the only possibly “real” evidence.

    People I personally know to be honorable and intelligent report the experience of god. And the mere fact that other people lie about their beliefs being scientific does not change that. (Good thing too, since by that measure science itself could not be trustworthy, since scientists sometimes lie about their work and its scientific content.)

    Remember that only one such report of the experience of god needs to be true in order to demonstrate he/she/it exists.

    Later you say “he very nature of science is such that we can be confident that we have no present evidence for any number of things which are, nonetheless, real”. What things are real for which we have no evidence.

    I gave you an example — quarks — of something that we had no evidence for the existence of until recently. I presume you accept that they were real before we had such evidence. Hence there was, historically, things that we know now are real that we once had no evidence for. I could give you many more examples (quasars, black holes, etc.), since the very nature of science is to be constantly discovering new things. Unless you think we suddenly, within the last few days or hours, finally acquired the sum total of all knowledge of everything, there will be some new discovery tomorrow or the next day or next week of something we presently have no evidence for. At least I most fervently hope so, or else it would be the end of science.

    History is littered with the bodies of gods who got crushed in the gaps.

    In other words, you like Dawkins claim that the totality of possible gods are scientifically testable (or otherwise that is a non sequitur). If they aren’t all scientifically testable, then the number of gods that can be disproved is irrelevant to the existence a god who is untestable.

    The idea that a god can intervene in the universe when he/she feels like it is antithetical to science. Science does not allow “godditit” as an explanation.

    Which is why both you and Dawkins are wrong to think that the “God Hypothesis” is scientifically testable. But why should what science “allows” have anything to do with what “is”? Science is a human construct, not a constraint on reality.

    Dawkins et al do not say god(s) do not exist. What they say is that there is evidence they do and until such time there is there no point is assuming they do.

    Actually, Dawkins says that gods, including deist ones “almost certainly” do not exist. But whatever

    In what way, however, is what you find to be, or not to be, to the “point,” any valid definition of “reality” either?

    That is the rational position to take, and you also think so, otherwise you think EVERYTHING anyone has ever said could exist might exist.

    There is another difference between atheists (of a certain sort, at least) and agnostics. Agnostics don’t think that there is one, and only one, “rational” way to think or that it is our mission in life to tell everyone else to get with the program.

    As to what might exist, there is an interesting consequence of positing an infinite number of multiverses …

    But never mind about that. We are surprised enough by what does exist to have no warrant to say that what we do not “know” (especially by the self-limited means of science) does not exist.

    You cannot prove there is no teapot in orbit around the earth. That such a teapot exists is possible but neither you nor I give such a possibility any credence.

    Well, I’ve already dealt with that bit of rhetoric but how many (even otherwise unsubstantiated) reports by astronauts of seeing a teapot in orbit would it take to give it “credence” (you still haven’t defined that, you know)? One … two … a billion? We’ve got that with god, in spades.

    It does not matter how MANY people think something is true, there mere fact they do does NOT make it so.

    But they are reporting their experiences, just as when doctors ask about where the pain is. We accept internal experience as “evidence” in many circumstances. Indeed, each of us is limited solely to our personal experiences, since we cannot directly share anyone else’s.

    But maybe that’s too far afield for these purposes.

  14. #14 John Pieret
    June 10, 2007

    What happens in human brains is not exempt from empiricism. You can’t simultaneously claim that billions of humans have sensed “the supernatural”, and that “the supernatural” can’t be empirically investigated.

    What empiric test are you going to devise to demonstrate that any effect present is natural rather than divinely caused? Merely finding a naturalistic “cause” sufficient to explain something does not establish it was not divinely caused.

    Where the proposition is that any effect may be divine, merely showing a possible naturalistic cause is no more than a “just-so” story. That’s why science excludes “goddidit” as an explanation in the first place.

  15. #15 Matt Penfold
    June 10, 2007

    “the God Hypothesis is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist.”

    In otherwords Dawkins is NOT, despite your claims, saying god does not exists. Dawkins is saying that there is NO evidence to support claims god exist so there is no reason to suppose they do.

    “But they are reporting their experiences”

    Sorry, anecdotes to constitute evidence. A majority of Americans seem to think that either god created humans as they are, or at least guided the processes that led to humans. Does the mere fact that all those people say that make it somehow true ? Worthy of consideration ? Once maybe, not since Darwin, certainly not since the synthesis of Darwin and Mendel. There is simply no evidence to support those claims and there is no longer any need to pay any attention to those who make such claims. Just the same way we no longer need to pay attention to anyone who claims that space is not a vacuum but contains ether.

    So until such time as you are willing to provide evidence to support your contention gods exist you can be safely ignored. Saying a lot of people think gods do exist means nothing, other than how desperate you are.

    As for the personal experience business, that way lies solipcism, and I have a policy of punching solipcists. After all any damage done would be self-inflicted.

  16. #16 windy
    June 10, 2007

    Where the proposition is that any effect may be divine, merely showing a possible naturalistic cause is no more than a “just-so” story.

    That’s what they say about evolution.

    That’s why science excludes “goddidit” as an explanation in the first place.

    No, it is excluded since it has been found not to explain anything. Some form of last-thursdayism can never be excluded if we want to be strict about it. But yourself are willing to use empirical means to exclude supernatural creation 6000 years ago. You seem to be applying a double standard, in which some supernatural claims are evaluable.

  17. #17 John Pieret
    June 10, 2007

    In otherwords Dawkins is NOT, despite your claims, saying god does not exists.

    What I said was that Dawkins claims that “God is a scientific hypothesis which is, at least in principle, investigable,” which he does say on page 105 of The God Delusion. Of course he says “almost” because science is always tentative.

    Sorry, anecdotes [do not?] constitute evidence.

    There is a difference between agnostics and atheists. You are merely making a bare assertion (notably without evidence) about the nature of “evidence” as if you have knowledge of that as a “fact.” Agnostics (this is where the lack of gnosis comes in) don’t make such blanket claims.

    So until such time as you are willing to provide evidence to support your contention gods exist you can be safely ignored.

    Until such time as you are willing to provide evidence to support your contention that the notion that gods can be safely ignored, that contention itself can be safely ignored. We can keep this up forever you know.

    You do know that I am not contending that gods exist, don’t you?

    As for the personal experience business, that way lies solipcism …

    Tell that to the police if you are arrested and the question is whether you did something with a criminal intent.

    As to the issue of what we can know given our restriction to our own personal experience, it is an old and honorable question in philosophy that has nothing to do with solipsism.

    Windy:

    No, it is excluded since it has been found not to explain anything.

    It doesn’t “explain” anything because the claim of divine causation cannot be tested. The other side of that coin is that science can say nothing about the possibility of divine causation. You are free, of course, to take the additional philosophical step and say that the lack of evidence is, itself, somehow evidence, but science is not reaching that conclusion.

    But yourself are willing to use empirical means to exclude supernatural creation 6000 years ago. You seem to be applying a double standard, in which some supernatural claims are evaluable.

    Yes, I’m willing to make the distinction between investigation of the existence of a body with mass and physical presence like the Earth and the investigation of a phenomena that we can only secondarily associate with a physical cause. Thoughts and personal experiences are one step away from any physical phenomenon that can be directly studied empirically (though that claim has a ton of its own qualifications). Induction is shaky enough of a proposition without throwing in the inability to say which way causation runs (whether thoughts cause electrical patterns in brains or electrical patterns in brains cause thoughts).

    A god that, as I said, depends on the Earth and/or universe being only 6,000 years old contradicts our knowledge (such as it is). That a god may whisper to us by means we could not directly investigate is not in the same category to my [cough] mind.

  18. #18 tinyfrog
    June 11, 2007

    windy:

    What happens in human brains is not exempt from empiricism. You can’t simultaneously claim that billions of humans have sensed “the supernatural”, and that “the supernatural” can’t be empirically investigated.

    The problem with “sensing the supernatural” through feelings is that the mind tends to be pretty subjective, and perceptions are affected by one’s background, desires, fears, and the power of suggestion. I remember hearing a story by some circle-makers in England (and by “circle-makers”, I mean people who went out into farmers fields at night with ropes and wood and created intricate crop-circles). They recounted a story where they visited one of their own crop circles a few days later. Crowds of people were coming to visit the site by this time, and they overheard some new agey people talking about being able to *feel* the mystic energies in the crop-circles, and that they were absolutely certain UFOs had made them because this energy was present. Of course, they looked at each other and chuckled. That’s the same problem with “I feel the supernatural” – just because someone convinces themselves that they feel something, it doesn’t mean it’s actually true. Or do you think that new agey people who feel mystic energies inside man-made crop circles are actually detecting some mystic energy?

  19. #19 John Pieret
    June 11, 2007

    That’s the same problem with “I feel the supernatural” – just because someone convinces themselves that they feel something, it doesn’t mean it’s actually true.

    Quite true. But the fact that some new agey people falsely thought that there was something there when there wasn’t doesn’t mean that all such experiences are false. That would be the fallacy of hasty generalization. It is also a problem in the philosophy of science (see the Duhem-Quine thesis) to know when “contrary” cases are, in fact, refutations.

    The problem is that we have some evidence for a proposition that there is no way to successfully determine the truth or falsity of by the only means that come close to providing human “knowledge.” We are “without knowledge” with which to determine the issue.

    In any event, this discussion has been sufficient to show that there is a difference between agnostics and atheists.

  20. #20 windy
    June 11, 2007

    Yes, I’m willing to make the distinction between investigation of the existence of a body with mass and physical presence like the Earth and the investigation of a phenomena that we can only secondarily associate with a physical cause. Thoughts and personal experiences are one step away from any physical phenomenon that can be directly studied empirically (though that claim has a ton of its own qualifications).

    Your position smacks of dualism. If thoughts have a fully material basis, it shouldn’t matter that we can’t directly study them. Not being able to directly observe neutrinos does not give licence to attribute them to the supernatural!

    Proposition A: “Supernatural causation is involved in billions of thoughts every year” is just as anti-scientific a proposition as B: “supernatural causation is involved in billions of mutations each year”.

    Those can’t be formally excluded, but neither can C: “Earth was supernaturally created 6000 years ago to look millions of years old”. I don’t know why you think A deserves any more respect than B or C.

  21. #21 windy
    June 11, 2007

    Well, I’ve already dealt with that bit of rhetoric but how many (even otherwise unsubstantiated) reports by astronauts of seeing a teapot in orbit would it take to give it “credence” (you still haven’t defined that, you know)? One … two … a billion? We’ve got that with god, in spades.

    The point of the original teapot was that it’s “unknowable”. Once god/teapot sightings are reported, it becomes an empirical claim.

    And which “god” would that be? Let’s say that one astronaut (a Brit?) reports seeing a teapot. Russian cosmonauts report an orbiting samovar. Italian astronauts see an espresso cooker. Americans see a Starbucks cup. Let’s also say that tales of orbiting beverage holders are frequently told to astronauts in training. It would seem that credence should not be given based on the number of sightings.

  22. #22 Bob O'H
    June 11, 2007

    You’re not a joiner? Wow, me too!

    So am I. Hey, let’s form a club!

    Bob

  23. #23 John Pieret
    June 11, 2007

    Your position smacks of dualism.

    Oooh! Is that supposed to frighten me? Dualism is a position that has a long history arising out of the apparent (at least) difference between thought and ideas and other phenomena. It has not been particularly well addressed by science to date.

    The issue here, however, is what evidence can be brought to bear on claims based on dualism.

    Those can’t be formally excluded, but neither can C: “Earth was supernaturally created 6000 years ago to look millions of years old”. I don’t know why you think A deserves any more respect than B or C.

    You slide from an inability to formal exclude something to equal respect, which is not what I think is the proper approach. I agree that all of them, including Omphalos, are not formally excludable. But, then, neither is solipsism, and the notion that I am a brain in a tank and your messages are part of my dreams cannot be formally excluded.

    There is no “license” to attribute thoughts, or neutrinos or point mutations for that matter, to supernatural causation but science doesn’t exclude the possibility either. Science merely assumes for its purposes that they have naturalistic causes. But the philosophy of scientism that would make that methodological position into a rule of “reality” is equally without justification. If you think you can present evidence for that proposition, however, I’d be interested in hearing it.

    The question then is to what extent empiricism, adopted tentatively as a theory of knowledge 1) encompasses the totality of “reality” and 2) if it does not, how we can best determine what it does apply to. In my judgment (and that’s all any of us have) empiricism is better suited to the age of physical objects than it is to determining whether gods whisper to us. In the end, however, as John said “I don’t hold much regard for tootfairyism. However, I won’t deny that it is possibly true.”

    The point of the original teapot was that it’s “unknowable”. Once god/teapot sightings are reported, it becomes an empirical claim.

    The point of the original teapot example was that it imported empiricism sub rosa into the example as a cheap rhetorical device.

    But apart from that, in what way does the mere existence of some evidence (not necessarily empiric) for a proposition instantly render the whole of the question automatically empirically determinable? That is a great leap that you are not addressing. Assume a genuine miracle happens in front of you. It is “evidence.” Do miracles render god’s existence empirically determinable? That would seem to be a contradictory result. Why then should any other evidence, even if it is empiric, render god’s existence a proper subject of science? Dawkins has made that mistake already, in my opinion.

    And which “god” would that be?

    Damned if I’d know. How is that relevant to the issue of whether at least one of those reports is true?

    It would seem that credence should not be given based on the number of sightings.

    Ah! You have evidence or some other reason to believe that a god cannot appear in different forms? What is it?

    And will someone please define what this “credence” is and why it is relevant to this question?

  24. #24 tinyfrog
    June 11, 2007

    That’s the same problem with “I feel the supernatural” – just because someone convinces themselves that they feel something, it doesn’t mean it’s actually true.

    Quite true. But the fact that some new agey people falsely thought that there was something there when there wasn’t doesn’t mean that all such experiences are false. That would be the fallacy of hasty generalization. It is also a problem in the philosophy of science (see the Duhem-Quine thesis) to know when “contrary” cases are, in fact, refutations.

    I never claimed it was a “refutation”. I claimed that feelings were an unreliable basis for evidence. Of course, there are plenty of events which could lead us towards supernatural explanations – for example, if people were warned about an impending tsunami or terrorist attack a day before it happened. Those better reasons for believing in the supernatural never seem to occur, and tend to be followed with constant excuses like, “God doesn’t work that way”. Which way? In a way that might actually provide evidence for the supernatural? There are plenty of ways we could verify the existence of invisible beings, some as simple as holding up a playing card and asking someone to ask their invisible friend what card it is.

  25. #25 John Pieret
    June 11, 2007

    I never claimed it was a “refutation”.

    Well, it is still a hasty generalization to say that a few examples make all internal experiences “an unreliable basis for evidence.” Still, as long as you don’t put too much emphasis on it, it is a fair point to raise.

    Agnostics have no problem with general arguments for or against theism as long as claims of “knowledge” aren’t invoked (at which time we want to see the basis for them). That goes for theists as well, such as with the tougher (but not insurmountable) cosmological argument. There are many arguments on each side of greater or lesser persuasion. We just don’t think they amount to “knowledge” either way.

    Oh, and Windy … I did a response to your posts that got caught up in John’s moderation program but will hopefully be untangled soon.

  26. #26 windy
    June 11, 2007

    Sorry, don’t have time to answer all the points now…

    But apart from that, in what way does the mere existence of some evidence (not necessarily empiric) for a proposition instantly render the whole of the question automatically empirically determinable? That is a great leap that you are not addressing.

    No, it doesn’t render the whole question open, but it opens up a crack to addressing the question.

    “There may be a teapot floating around somewhere in space” – irrelevant and unaddressable.

    “I saw a white china teapot in orbit around the moon!” – OK, now we know where to look.

    Assume a genuine miracle happens in front of you. It is “evidence.” Do miracles render god’s existence empirically determinable? That would seem to be a contradictory result.

    Why? I see no contradiction. Where is the rule written in stone that the supernatural is not empirically determinable? Dawkins and countless other atheists have said that they would change their minds about God given sufficient evidence. That’s just another way of saying “empirically determinable”.

    Ah! You have evidence or some other reason to believe that a god cannot appear in different forms? What is it?

    Why should I assume that it is “a” god rather than a bunch of them? Or demons, for instance. You don’t hear so much about demons these days. Why is that?

  27. #27 John Wilkins
    June 11, 2007

    Hey, let’s form a club!

    Sorry. I can’t be a member of any class that has me for a member. [Hey, wait a minute, that means I don’t ex… *phht!*]

    [Gathers existence again…]

    John P – I unblocked your response. Sorry. Man’s gotta sleep sometime.

  28. #28 Ian H Spedding FCD
    June 11, 2007

    As far as I can see, John W, John P and Bert R have elucidated the philosophical distinctions between agnosticism and atheism. Where the atheists and agnostics here really differ is not so much over epistomology as over political strategy. And, given the heat generated by the debate, if you want to form some sort of group, perhaps you could take your inspiration from The Other Club . Either way, I count myself as agnostic so you can include me in.

  29. #29 Chris' Wills
    June 12, 2007

    I found the discussion enlightening and food for thought, thank you.

    I suspect that I am a slighty different type of Agnostic, as my gut says (that is a figure of speach :o)) that the difference is more than just political strategy.
    Though it may just be the meaning ascribed to the words by various people.

  30. #30 John Pieret
    June 12, 2007

    No, it doesn’t render the whole question open, but it opens up a crack to addressing the question.

    As long as you remember that, as Dawkins said in The God Delusion (p. 126), it does not follow that if theory A fails in some particular, theory B must be right.

    Where is the rule written in stone that the supernatural is not empirically determinable?

    Since we are essentially talking about science at this point, it is undeterminable for the very reason you stated before: the supernatural does not scientifically explain anything, because it is not testable by scientific means. By the very terms of the concept of the supernatural, it is not restricted to the natural regularities that science relies on to justify induction. You can do a certain amount of debunking of specific empiric claims about gods — the age of the Earth, “healings,” bending spoons and the sort — but the core claims of the type of god John and I are talking about are immune because you cannot do any more in science than sample an infinitesimal number of the total “events” in this universe and induction does not work except on regularities that are consistent enough to be called “laws.” In short, god(s) don’t play by science’s rules.

    Why should I assume that it is “a” god rather than a bunch of them? Or demons, for instance.

    You need not. It’s just tiresome to put the “(s)” after “god” all the time. Though I think there are reasons to argue that anything that I, at least, would call a “god” would have to be the only one.

    You don’t hear so much about demons these days. Why is that?

    You mean that you do not heed the word of the sacred Buffy and her minion Angel?

  31. #31 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    All we’ve managed to demonstrate thus far is that self-described agnostics are likely to be extremely bad at logical argumentation.

  32. #32 John Pieret
    June 14, 2007

    All we’ve managed to demonstrate thus far is that self-described agnostics are likely to be extremely bad at logical argumentation.

    While that, of course, is a demonstration of logical argumentation at its finest.

  33. #33 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    Not at all. That’s merely an observation.

    A painfully accurate observation.

  34. #34 John Pieret
    June 14, 2007

    That’s merely an observation.

    No, its an assertion. A painfully empty assertion.

  35. #35 Caledonian
    June 14, 2007

    No, assertions are statements made without support. Observations are made about perceivable systems and phenomena – like these threads and especially your posts – and come with evidence already provided.

    The conflation of inclusive and exclusive or alone is enough to justify the observation, and you’ve gone so much further than that.

  36. #36 John Pieret
    June 14, 2007

    The conflation of inclusive and exclusive or alone is enough to justify the observation …

    This is tiresome. Simply saying that I have conflated something is also just an assertion. If you want to discuss it, I’ll be happy to. State where you find a conflation and leave out the braggadocio. It’s not impressive.

  37. #37 Caledonian
    June 15, 2007

    If you can’t perceive the basic logical error yourself, I fail to see what the benefit of telling you about it would be. This isn’t some obscure and complex glitch that you might easily overlook and will perceive once your attention is brought to it, it’s a fundamental, even elementary problem with your reasoning.

  38. #38 John Pieret
    June 15, 2007

    As I thought … all bluff and bullcrap … a vague reference to a “conflation,” a declaration of victory and a hasty retreat.

    The only person you’re fooling is you.

  39. #39 Caledonian
    June 16, 2007

    Dualism is a position that has a long history arising out of the apparent (at least) difference between thought and ideas and other phenomena. It has not been particularly well addressed by science to date.

    This is precisely the sort of thing I’m talking about. Dualism was discarded by thinkers because its distinction is meaningless – science has no particular need to have addressed a concept shown to be invalid centuries ago.

    The displays of ignorance and failures of logic just continue on down the line.

  40. #40 John Pieret
    June 16, 2007

    Dualism was shown to be “invalid” centuries ago? From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    … although dualism has been out of fashion in psychology since the advent of behaviourism (Watson (1913)) and in philosophy since Ryle (1949), the argument is by no means over. Some distinguished neurologists, such as Sherrington (1940) and Eccles (Popper and Eccles (1977)) have contined to defend dualism as the only theory that can preserve the data of consciousness. Amongst mainstream philosophers, discontent with physicalism led to a modest revival of property dualism in the last decade of the twentieth century.

    The irony of you calling anyone ignorant is exquisite.

    And, of course, there is no reason to suspect that you have the slightest clue either why I said what I did about dualism. Even PZ had to admit the impossibility of science disproving dualism (at least at the moment) which was my point.

    Anything else? I am really interested in hearing about the logical errors and the “conflation of inclusive and exclusive.” Adults, as opposed to poseurs, want to know what the best arguments against their positions are. Heck, I even want to know what someone like you thinks is the best arguement against it.

  41. #41 John Pieret
    June 16, 2007

    … John’s moderation program has snagged my response and he will doubtless proffer the lame excuse that he needs sleep … as if philosophers do any heavy work that would tire them out!

  42. #42 Caledonian
    June 16, 2007

    There are still people who insist the Earth is flat. There’s no concept so stupid, no idea so inane that you won’t find some fool to defend it.

    That said…

    Even PZ had to admit the impossibility of science disproving dualism (at least at the moment) which was my point

    Logic disproves it. Your point is incorrect. This is obvious.

  43. #43 John Wilkins
    June 16, 2007

    I usually stay out of commentator wars, but I have to comment here.

    I am a rigid physicalist, and I think that there is no dualism of any kind in the world. That said, I do not denigrate those who take dualist positions, because, precisely, their views are not obviously false. There is no “logical” disproof of their position. In fact, when people assert that “logic” proves that some view or other is wrong, they can either mean there is a literal contradiction in the views expressed,, or they do not know what they are talking about. “Logic” proves only logical theorems, empty of content. And dualist perspectives are not only full of content in ways that are not obviously false, they are formally coherent when done well – for instance, in David Chalmers’ work. Say what you like about dualism, he is one friggin’ smart guy.

    And nobody of any education states the earth is flat, nor have they since the 7th century,

  44. #44 John Pieret
    June 16, 2007

    There’s no concept so stupid, no idea so inane that you won’t find some fool to defend it.

    Including some who defend the notion that their own unsupported ideas, ignorance and prejudice constitute “logic.”

    Congratulations! You’re approaching the legendary Tony Pagano for the distinction of proclaiming victory the most times with the least cause.

  45. #45 Caledonian
    June 16, 2007

    “Logic” proves only logical theorems, empty of content.

    The first part of this statement is redundant (what else could logic prove, illogical theorems?), and the second is wrong. Content is only possible because of the logical relationships between concepts – statements that we can’t generate implications from have no meaning. The generation of implications and consequences is a logical process.

    Say what you like about dualism, he is one friggin’ smart guy.

    Smart is as smart does. He seriously believes that the concept of ‘philosophical zombies’ is a meaningful one. He may possess intellectual sophistication, but it’s not being utilized intelligently.

  46. #46 Thony C.
    June 17, 2007

    “Logic” proves only logical theorems, empty of content.

    The first part of this statement is redundant (what else could logic prove, illogical theorems?), and the second is wrong.

    Your statement proves catagorically that you have no idea what logic is.

  47. #47 Caledonian
    June 17, 2007

    It’s the study of valid inferences. It’s responsible for our ability to put meaning in language – without it, no conclusions can be drawn, no inferences possible, and no meaning expressible.

    Content is only possible because of logic.

  48. #48 Thony C.
    June 17, 2007

    Content is only possible because of logic.

    Either you are joking or you are a very confused person?!

  49. #49 John Pieret
    June 17, 2007

    The first part of this statement is redundant (what else could logic prove, illogical theorems?) and the second is wrong.

    Knowing that it is dangerous to meddle in the affairs of philosophers, for they are subtle and quick to anger, I’ll still venture that John was referring to the fact that all valid syllogisms are tautologies and therefore are themselves “contentless,” since internal consistency is irrelevant to a proposition’s “truth” (though it can be very relevant to its falsity). They are only consistent or inconsistent. Logic cannot, for example, prove or disprove empirical theorems. It is easy enough to construct a perfectly valid syllogism that is empirically false:

    All people who go by the name “Caledonian” are experts in logic;

    The person who posted here on June 16, 2007 at 10:32 PM goes by the name “Caledonian”;

    Therefore, the person who posted here on June 16, 2007 at 10:32 PM is an expert in logic.

    There, that is a perfectly valid syllogism that, nonetheless, is empirically false.

    Content is only possible because of the logical relationships between concepts – statements that we can’t generate implications from have no meaning. The generation of implications and consequences is a logical process.

    Well, we finally have an “argument” from you in favor of your position other than “it’s obvious.” It’s not much, but, in your case, I suppose we have to be grateful for anything other than Olympian pronouncements.

    Of course, that appears to be merely a philosophical statement made without any support and subject to being self-defeating.

    Setting that aside, however, you aren’t clear at all what you mean by “implications.” Given your understandable reticence to stick your neck out and actually make an argument subject to being shown false (such as your claim that dualism is dead), I’ll just provisionally proceed with the assumption that you mean “testable empirical consequences.”

    It is not at all clear that dualism has no testable empirical consequences. After all, at the very least, the absence of any minds that do (or at least appear to do) more than simple calculation would defeat the notion of dualism. (Of course, at that point there might be a problem of who would be contemplating the problem in the first place … )

    So let me be helpful again and assume that you mean that PZ’s admission that there are no (present) testable empirical consequences that demonstrate that that dualism is false and that monism (the name for your position, in case you didn’t know) is true, means that dualism cannot generate empiric statements and, therefore, has no meaning.

    You may (or may not) notice a little logical problem at this point. If it is true, as you seem to be alleging, that the fact that dualism cannot demonstrate “implications” that can be tested against monism, it is equally true that monism cannot demonstrate “implications” that can be tested against dualism. In short, by your standard, neither position has any meaning. I’ll await your attempts to show that monism is somehow a “default” position.

    Smart is as smart does. He seriously believes that the concept of ‘philosophical zombies’ is a meaningful one. He may possess intellectual sophistication, but it’s not being utilized intelligently.

    Please, oh please, do not commit the tragic mistake of believing that only people who think like you do are acting intelligently.

  50. #50 Caledonian
    June 17, 2007

    Logic cannot, for example, prove or disprove empirical theorems.

    Logic is what we use to prove or disprove statements about the world, Pieret. It’s how we move from observed facts to conclusions – by performing logical operations upon statements.

    How precisely did you go through so much education and fail to learn this basic truth?

  51. #51 John Pieret
    June 17, 2007

    Logic is what we use to prove or disprove statements about the world, Pieret.

    In short, you are incapable of any cogent argument in the face of what I presented above and can only resort to making vague assertions. You’ve lost what little interest you had for possibly contributing to the debate.

    It’s how we move from observed facts to conclusions – by performing logical operations upon statements.

    Unfortunately for your position, those “statements” cannot be determined to be true or false by logic (only consistent or inconsistent). Only evidence can do that (and with many caveats as to what “evidence is) … the very thing you are missing for your pronouncements.

    And in case you did not notice, simply calling something a “basic truth” does not qualify as either evidence or logic.

    That’s enough wasted time. Have a nice life.

  52. #52 Caledonian
    June 17, 2007

    Unfortunately for your position, those “statements” cannot be determined to be true or false by logic (only consistent or inconsistent).

    The truth value of conceptual statements can be determined through logic – the results of logical analysis ARE the evidence. We can only determine whether a logical system we construct matches the real world by observating that world, and THEN applying logic to the observations. But there is no case where logic can be dispensed with – only certain cases where it is necessary but insufficient on its own.

    For example, geometric statements do not depend on any further evidence than applied logic, and if you claim that the circle can be squared, logic suffices to show that you are incorrect.

    You’re just wrong.

  53. #53 John Wilkins
    June 17, 2007

    Caledonia

    Two things:

    1. Do not get into the habit of denigrating people on this blog. I will ban you if you do this. This is a civilised place of discourse even if you dispute others’ views.

    2. I strongly recommend you get yourself any copy of any introduction to logic text. You will find that you are talking nonsense according to the introductory texts that every philosophy undergraduate must learn from. If you have already studied these texts, then I put it to you that you didn’t learn.

  54. #54 Caledonian
    June 17, 2007

    1) You forgot the ‘n’.

    2) At no point have I denigrated any person present or absent, although I have certainly spoken ill of their arguments. Do not confuse attacks on a position and attacks on the people holding it.

    3) I am fortunate to have received a better education than a philosophy undergraduate, it would seem. Empirical theorems that are self-contradictory are necessarily false, which shows Pieret to be wrong in one sense, and they cannot be demonstrated to be correct without the application of logic, so he’s wrong in a broader sense.

    Ultimately a statement which cannot be used to affirm or refute further statements has no meaning, and the process by which we determine what the statement affirms or refutes is logic. It’s not possible to construct a valid argument without it, and you cannot demonstrate the truth or falsehood of anything without a valid argument.

    I’d love to see a citation from one of these introductory texts that conflicts with any of these points. Care to provide one?

  55. #55 John Wilkins
    June 17, 2007

    I wrote:

    In fact, when people assert that “logic” proves that some view or other is wrong, they can either mean there is a literal contradiction in the views expressed,, or they do not know what they are talking about. “Logic” proves only logical theorems, empty of content.

    Caledonian wrote:

    I am fortunate to have received a better education than a philosophy undergraduate, it would seem. Empirical theorems that are self-contradictory are necessarily false, which shows Pieret to be wrong in one sense, and they cannot be demonstrated to be correct without the application of logic, so he’s wrong in a broader sense.

    Ultimately a statement which cannot be used to affirm or refute further statements has no meaning, and the process by which we determine what the statement affirms or refutes is logic. It’s not possible to construct a valid argument without it, and you cannot demonstrate the truth or falsehood of anything without a valid argument.

    I’d love to see a citation from one of these introductory texts that conflicts with any of these points. Care to provide one?

    There is a shift in your argument from my first claim to now. I said that logic on its own is contentless and can prove only logical theorems. You now claim that this is about meaning, and empirical meaning at that.

    So I will ignore your goalpost shift, and instead back up my claim about the emptiness of logic.

    Archbishop Richard Whatley, Elements of Logic, 1829, pviii

    On the utility of Logic many writers have said much in which I cannot coincide, and which has tended to bring the study into unmerited disrepute. By representing Logic as furnishing the sole instrument for the discovery of truth in all subjects, and as teaching the use of the intellectual faculties in general, they raised expectations which could not be realised, and which naturally led to a re-action.

    From John Stuart Mill, A System of Logic 1843, p5

    The province of logic must be restricted to that portion of our knowledge which consists of truths previously known…

    From W. S. Jevons, Elementary Lessons in Logic, 1889, p4

    Logic … is “the science of the necessary forms of thought”… A form is something which may remain uniform and unaltered, while the matter thrown into that form may be varied.

    From H. W. B. Joseph’s An Introduction to Logic, 1906, 2nd edn 1916, p3f

    Logic … is the science which studies the general principles in accordance with which we think about things, whatever things they may be; and so it presupposes that we have thought about things. Now our thought about them is expressed partly in the daily conversation or musings of our minds; partly and most systematically in the various science. Those sciences are the best examples of human thinking about things, the most careful, clear, and coherent, that exist. In them, therefore, the logician can best study the laws of men’s thinking… He has to ask what knowledge is as knowledge, apart — so far as is possible — from the question, what it is about; and he must therefore examine divers ‘knowledges’, and see in what they are alike … But he is not concerned with the detail of any particular science; only with those kinds (or forms) of thinking which are exemplified in all our thinkings — though not necessarily the same in all — but best exemplified in the sciences.

    It is important to understand that what is meant by saying that Logic is concerned with forms of thinking… the logician studies the forms of thinking such as that involved in referring a quality to a substance possessing it; but once he has grasped the nature of this act of thought, he is quite uninterested in the thousand different acts which he performs during the day; they differ only materially as to what quality is referred to what substance; formally, aso far as the notion of a quality existing in a substance is concerned, they are the same; and the forms that run through all our thinking about different atters are what he studies.

    From Susan Stebbings’ A Modern Elementary Logic, 1943, rev 1952, p27

    Unless at least one possibility represented by the five diagrams [set diagrams of possible relations between S and P] is excluded no information has been given; to know that trepangs are wholly or partially included in, of excluded from, the class of echinoderms is to know nothing more about trepangs than can be known by logic alone. We might just as well replace trepangs by T, and echinoderms by E.

    From Benson Mates, Elementary Logic, rev edn 1972, p7

    All of this shows that soundness in an argument does not depend simply upon the truth-values of premises and conclusion. It guarantees only that if the premises are true, then the conclusion is also true; it does not guarantee that any of the premises are in fact true, nor does it give us any information about the truth-value of the conclusion in case one or more of the premises is false.

    In case you are not convinced and want online sources, go see Wikipedia’s article on Logic, or here, or here.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    June 18, 2007

    I rather thought as much.

    What happens when an irresistible force meets and immovable object? Does anyone actually think that we need to locate an irresistible force and an immovable object and perform the experiment to know?

  57. #57 John Pieret
    June 18, 2007

    I rather thought as much.

    You’re kidding right?

    Have you got a date for the prom yet?

  58. #58 John Wilkins
    June 18, 2007

    My post above got caught by my own moderation software.

  59. #59 John Pieret
    June 18, 2007

    My post above got caught by my own moderation software.

    That might be taking equality with your commentators a tad too far! 😉

  60. #60 Caledonian
    June 18, 2007

    My argument was that content was only possible because of logic. Are you intentionally shifting the goalposts, or did you just fail to comprehend the point of the previous discussion?

  61. #61 Caledonian
    June 18, 2007

    Language routinely deals with concepts that are composed of many, many logical assertions. If the only thing we can say about trepangs and echinoderms is that they are categories that may or may not share members, that’s fine, and we could indeed replace the words with the symbols T and E without lossing of meaning – but the actual concepts are far more complex, and we could NOT replace them in that way.

    When dealing with complex associations of assertions, we find that some associations are invalid. Logic reveals that there are self-contradictions in the associations, so that we cannot say “if X is true, Y follows” because X cannot be true.

    What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Can an omnipotent being bring into existence a thing that it cannot do?

  62. #62 John Pieret
    June 19, 2007

    My argument was that content was only possible because of logic.

    Actually, what you originally contended was that I had committed some “conflation of inclusive and exclusive,” whatever that might mean (Comment #35). When you dropped that, you then went about making a series of unsupported and unexplained claims. The next was (#39):

    Dualism was discarded by thinkers because its distinction is meaningless – science has no particular need to have addressed a concept shown to be invalid centuries ago.

    When it was demonstrated that your contention that dualism had been discarded was false and, furthermore, that scientists like PZ know that it cannot be empirically shown to be false, you switched again to claiming:

    Logic disproves [dualism] (#42).

    That was a bare statement unexplained in any way. At that point John (correctly) pointed out (#43) that:

    “Logic” proves only logical theorems, empty of content. And dualist perspectives are not only full of content in ways that are not obviously false, they are formally coherent when done well …

    You then switched to yet another claim (#45):

    Content is only possible because of the logical relationships between concepts – statements that we can’t generate implications from have no meaning.

    Which is not itself a logical claim (or, at the very least, you’ve not made the slightest attempt to justify it with logic) but is, instead, at most, a naked premise that is not at all obvious. Indeed, as I showed (#49), depending what meanings you are pouring into your terms, your argument demonstrates that monism is as “meaningless” (and, presumably, as “disproved” by your argument) as dualism is. Also, quite apart from your failure to make clear what you mean by “implications,” you also equivocate about the term “meaning,” which you sometimes seem to be using as denoting “truth” and sometimes as “within human knowledge.”

    Next you went to admitting that:

    But there is no case where logic can be dispensed with – only certain cases where it is necessary but insufficient on its own.

    The first part of that was a non sequitur, since neither John nor I ever said it could be dispensed with. But, in any case, it just brings us full circle back to my original point about dualism and the fact that a whole lot of smart people in addition to John and I think, contrary to your claim, that logic is insufficient on its own to disprove dualism and, further, the empiric evidence to “disprove” it, as PZ said, is missing too. Add to that your utter failure to demonstrate a logical argument against dualism …

    So it was in that context of wildly changing claims that John produced ample evidence, above and beyond your vacillations, that you have no understanding of the subject. To whatever extent John mistook your then present claim, since you cannot seem to keep your own claims straight, you can hardly blame the rest of us for failing to do so.

    As for:

    What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Can an omnipotent being bring into existence a thing that it cannot do?

    I don’t know. What happens when you try to number infinity? And yet, an “infinite number” is a quite useful concept despite being an oxymoron. Does usefulness count as “meaning” in the special world of Caledonian “logic”?

    “Irresistible force,” “immovable object” and “omnipotent being” are just terms for concepts that finite humans are incapable of fully comprehending just like we cannot fully comprehend what “infinity” is. Nor can they be compared to those concepts that are fully within our understanding, which means you are just playing word games that, by your very own standard, have no meaning.

    But despite your flailing about, the real issue here is your claim that “a statement which cannot be used to affirm or refute further statements has no meaning.”

    When are you ever going to justify that?

  63. #63 Caledonian
    June 19, 2007

    Actually, what you originally contended was that I had committed some “conflation of inclusive and exclusive,” whatever that might mean (Comment #35).

    Yep – you got the ‘or’ wrong.

    But that has nothing to do with the argument that developed. And it has nothing to do with the argument that Wilkins was attacking. So what exactly is your point?

    When it was demonstrated that your contention that dualism had been discarded was false and, furthermore, that scientists like PZ know that it cannot be empirically shown to be false,

    It’s logically false, which precludes an empirical demonstration of its falsity. It’s been discarded by competent thinkers for centuries. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still advocates for the position. I understand there are Flat-Earthers, too. Doesn’t make their thesis any less incorrect.

  64. #64 Caledonian
    June 19, 2007

    But despite your flailing about, the real issue here is your claim that “a statement which cannot be used to affirm or refute further statements has no meaning.”

    When are you ever going to justify that?

    You’ve really got to be kidding me. You want me to justify that?

    1) what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import: the three meanings of a word.
    2) the end, purpose, or significance of something: What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of this intrusion?

    If a statement doesn’t narrow down possibilities, doesn’t exclude meanings or implications, it has no import. It has no significance. And it has no purpose. That’s what ‘meaning’ indicates – possessing those things. It’s part of the most basic usage of the words.

  65. #65 Thony C.
    June 19, 2007

    It’s logically false

    What’s this statement supposed to mean? This is a serious question to which I would like a serious answer.

  66. #66 Caledonian
    June 19, 2007

    What’s this statement supposed to mean?

    Before a thing can be empirically true or false, it has to be possible. An impossible thing, that is necessarily false because of the logical structure of the concept, never has a chance to rise to the level of empiricism. Science doesn’t attempt to negate it because science doesn’t need to negate it.

    The question of what happens when an i.force meets an i.object is invalid, because the two things cannot coexist in the same reality, and that’s because of the logical implications of their assigned properties. The assignment is in error. The unspoken assertion that it’s possible for the two to exist in the same reality and meet is, logically, false.

  67. #67 John Pieret
    June 19, 2007

    So what exactly is your point?

    That, like most intellectual bluffers, you are just randomly throwing bullcrap up against the wall (still without explaining it) to avoid exposing your positions to real discussion.

    It’s logically false, which precludes an empirical demonstration of its falsity. It’s been discarded by competent thinkers for centuries.

    Which we are supposed to take on the “authority” of some anonymous person whose only known intellectual credentials consist of his trolling other people’s blog comments? And we are to take such bare assertions over what professional philosophers like John and the people at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy say? That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad that you think that constitutes an actual “argument.”

    If a statement doesn’t narrow down possibilities, doesn’t exclude meanings or implications, it has no import. It has no significance. And it has no purpose.

    That is not a “justification” for your claim, it is, at best, a definition of “meaning,” though mostly it is a simple restatement of the claim you’ve been asked to justify. I did ask you define what you mean by “meaning,” since you have treated it as if you meant “reality” or “truth.” The definition you gave, however, is limited to human understanding of what is “meaningful.” (Notably, you still haven’t defined “implications” or how they are arrived at, which leaves your claim unacceptably vague for any honest intellectual discourse. Still …)

    What humans find to have “import,” “significance” or “purpose” is not the same as what is “true or “real” or “possible” (or, if your position is that they are the same, you have failed to justify that claim). Thus, your statement that logic disproves dualism is itself false. By your own terms, you are claiming, at most, that dualism has no meaning to human beings. That is a far cry from logically “disproven,” much less a demonstration of it being “impossible.” So far you are just equivocating with your terms and making bare assertions.

    To “justify” that claim you’ll have to, as Thony C. has asked for, provide a demonstration that dualism is, in fact, impossible, instead of merely saying it. Based on the evidence to date, we will have a long wait.

  68. #68 Caledonian
    June 19, 2007

    This is a very simple idea: if an act of communication doesn’t carry enough content to affirm one possibility and negate another, to change the associations in a mental model of the world or just the conversation itself, it has no meaning. I find it remarkable that you would choose to dispute this rudimentary and quite obvious statement.

    As for dualism – the two aspects of the dualism must interact in some fashion, or there’s no need for one of the pair and we have a monism. An accurate description of the nature of the interaction must exist. A model that emulates the described interaction and the initial states of the supposedly distinct aspects must also exist. This model unifies the ‘dualistic’ system into a single entity. Again, we have a monism.

    Just because we have a monistic system doesn’t mean we can’t have all kinds of distinct and unrelated conversation laws.

  69. #69 Thony C.
    June 20, 2007

    To “justify” that claim you’ll have to, as Thony C. has asked for, provide a demonstration that dualism is, in fact, impossible, instead of merely saying it.

    Exactly!

  70. #70 John Pieret
    June 20, 2007

    … if an act of communication doesn’t carry enough content to affirm one possibility and negate another, to change the associations in a mental model of the world or just the conversation itself, it has no meaning.

    But the only “act of communication” we are aware of is human communication. At best, you are asserting, without justification, that human understanding is coexistent with “reality.” (I’ll leave aside whether your simple dialectic of affirming one possibility and negating another is itself justified.) You have ignored the very real possiblity that things that humans cannot understand (either structurally or under present human abilities) may exist. Thus, you have failed to demonstrate that dualism is logically impossible.

    I find it remarkable that you would choose to dispute this rudimentary and quite obvious statement.

    Any intelligent skeptic questions assertions that are made with a show of great confidence but without justification.

    A model that emulates the described interaction and the initial states of the supposedly distinct aspects must also exist. This model unifies the ‘dualistic’ system into a single entity. Again, we have a monism.

    Well, as close as I can tell from that word-salad, you are merely saying that whatever phenomenon exists that people call “dualism” can be redefined to be included in what you want to call “monism.” Any “mind” that is associated with a physical body is, by dint of that association alone, automatically to be defined as “one” with the physical body, no matter how differently they may function otherwise. So, instead of dualism being “impossible,” you just want to call it “monism.”

    May I be the first to say how underwhelming that is?

  71. #71 Thony C.
    June 20, 2007

    At least you have now produced an argument to back up your claim even if it does not do so. A logically impossible statement is indeed one that is self-contradictory i.e. one that contains a concept and its negation and claims that both are true. Most examples of such statements that are usually presented are in fact not self-contradictory but simple incorrectly formed but that doesn’t need to be discussed here.

    You claim that the dualism hypothesis is self-contradictory (you say logical false but as stated above they are the same). You offer no statement of the dualism hypothesis so I shall do so; dualism claims that the mind and the body are two separate and fully independent entities. Although a somewhat naive formulation I think it is adequate for our purposes, even if it does not actually explain what mind and body are. This statement contains as far as I can see no self-contradiction and is therefore not logically impossible. In your answer to my post you offer a sort of reductio ad absurdum argument that is meant to show that the assumption of dualism leads automatically to monism and therefore to a contradiction, I will now examine that argument.
    You write:

    As for dualism – the two aspects of the dualism must interact in some fashion, or there’s no need for one of the pair and we have a monism. An accurate description of the nature of the interaction must exist. A model that emulates the described interaction and the initial states of the supposedly distinct aspects must also exist. This model unifies the ‘dualistic’ system into a single entity. Again, we have a monism.

    Your first statement is an assumption that you add, without explanation or justification, to the dualism hypothesis and is also a material assumption and not a logical one, so no logical inconsistency here. If we accept this assumption and move on to your next statement we meet yet another material assumption without justification or explanation! The same thing happens again with your third statement and we are still a long way away from any form of logical inconsistency. Your final statement and the conclusion that you draw from it now form the crux of your argument and here it falls flat on its face. Even if we grant everything that you have claimed up till now, and you have given us absolutely no reason(s) to do so, your conclusion does not follow from your previous claims.

    I am writing this post on a dual processor computer i.e. a computer with two separate and fully independent processors. In order for this computer to function the two processors must in someway interact. They do so through software that operates on a meta-level directing both processors from outside, so to speak. The software is naturally ‘monist’ but this does not in any way effect the fact that my computer has a dualist core. In any dual system with a control or co-ordination unit or mechanism that unit or mechanism is almost always on a different (‘higher’) level than the dual elements of the system, which means that the system is monist when viewed from the one level or aspect but dualist when viewed from the other level or aspect. When viewed in its entirety it if then a dualist ‘monist/dualist system’. 😉

  72. #72 Caledonian
    June 20, 2007

    You offer no statement of the dualism hypothesis so I shall do so; dualism claims that the mind and the body are two separate and fully independent entities.

    Wrong. That’s the mind-body dualism. My argument applies to ALL dualisms.

    Your first statement is an assumption that you add, without explanation or justification,

    And here are the roots of your failure. I suggest you think more deeply about what it means when we say something exists, and further about the supposed properties of ‘mind’ and ‘body’, before responding further.

  73. #73 John Pieret
    June 20, 2007

    That’s the mind-body dualism. My argument applies to ALL dualisms.

    So what? First of all, this whole series stated because of your claim that mind-body dualism was “logically disproved.” In any case, if your argument applies to all dualism, it can accomodate examples from mind-body dualism. You’re just evading answering Thony.

    I suggest you think more deeply about what it means when we say something exists, and further about the supposed properties of ‘mind’ and ‘body’, before responding further.

    That’s just more bluff. Whatever effect those concepts have on your contentions or support they lend to your position are part of your argument and it’s up to you to justify those claims or we can assume you can’t. Furious handwaving is just another way to admit defeat.

  74. #74 Caledonian
    June 20, 2007

    First of all, this whole series stated because of your claim that mind-body dualism was “logically disproved.”

    Actually, it started when I pointed out that you’ve made a basic category error in your defense of agnosticism. It continued when I claimed that dualism – not mind-body dualism, but dualism has been discarded. At least, by thinking, well-informed individuals. I don’t think there’s any idea so obviously wrong that everyone has discarded it.

    I can present arguments, but I cannot force you to perform the hard work of thinking about them, and without that effort, no argument can be evaluated. Whether you bother to evaluate them or not, they remain valid or invalid.

    I can’t do your work for you. I certainly can’t stop you from offering silly objections – see Thony’s reluctance to assert that the two aspects of a dualism must interact – but I can at least mock the objections.

  75. #75 John Pieret
    June 20, 2007

    Actually, it started when I pointed out that you’ve made a basic category error in your defense of agnosticism.

    Actually, you started out with the blanket statement (Comment #31) that “self-described agnostics are likely to be extremely bad at logical argumentation.” Then you waived at a supposed “conflation” (that you’ve resolutely refused to point out).

    It continued when I claimed that dualism – not mind-body dualism, but dualism has been discarded.

    Bullcrap. You reacted to my statement that “Dualism is a position that has a long history arising out of the apparent (at least) difference between thought and ideas and other phenomena” by saying (#39):

    This is precisely the sort of thing I’m talking about. Dualism was discarded by thinkers because its distinction is meaningless …

    It is only since Comment #72 that you’ve been trying to draw some sort of distinction between mind-body dualism and dualism in general. And it still doesn’t matter because if, as you claim, all dualism is logically impossible, then you can show that as well for mind-body dualism. This is just more smoke to go along with the mirrors of your bare assertions.

    At least, by thinking, well-informed individuals.

    Which is an empiric claim that has already been falsified. But if all dualism has been “logically disproven,” what need is there to appeal to these supposed “well-informed individuals”? Just get on with it and demonstrate the impossibility!

    I don’t think there’s any idea so obviously wrong that everyone has discarded it.

    Which is the one thing in this whole dreary exercise that you have actually provided evidence for … though perhaps not as you intended.

    I can present arguments,

    Thank goodness! When do you plan to start?

    I can’t do your work for you. I certainly can’t stop you from offering silly objections – see Thony’s reluctance to assert that the two aspects of a dualism must interact

    I’ll let Thony defend his own argument but I’ll note he actually made one. I thought his example of the computer neatly highlighted your equivocations during your latest retreat from actually trying to show that dualism, mind-body or otherwise, is “impossible.”

    – but I can at least mock the objections.

    “Mock” is the best description of your arguments I’ve heard yet.

  76. #76 Thony C.
    June 20, 2007

    I can’t do your work for you. I certainly can’t stop you from offering silly objections – see Thony’s reluctance to assert that the two aspects of a dualism must interact – but I can at least mock the objections.

    I’m not asking you to do my work for me. You’re the one who consistently makes unsubstantiated claims and then refuses to substantiate them. Whether your argument is about dualism in general or about mind-body dualism I am still waiting for you to show how the statement of any dualist hypothesis is logically false, your original totally unsubstantiated claim to which I objected and still object. I also object even more strongly to your, likewise totally unsubstantiated and one hundred percent incorrect, claim that logic produces content. As has been very clearly stated by Mr Wilkins, logic only transmits truth-values in a correctly formulated argument from a given group of premises to the thereby generated group of conclusions. It does not and cannot create or transmit content. It can also not generate truth values in a material argument, such truth-value are supplied by empirical testing, which can and does use the rules of logic in its own argumentation but is itself not logic.

  77. #77 Thony C.
    June 20, 2007

    My argument applies to ALL dualisms.

    As somebody who has never accepted Cartesian Dualism your, by me assumed, rejection of the same was quite congenial to me even if I thought your arguments against it were a heap of crap, if you will please excuse the outburst of vulgarity. However now that I realise that you reject all dualisms we have some very serious problems.

    Firstly we loose the logic that you so fervently espouse, but so singularly fail to understand as this is, being based on a two value truth/falsity system naturally dualist and so according to you logically impossible. Logic is logically impossible! Shall we call this Caledonian’s Paradox? However our problems do not end here as the computers that we use in our failures to communicate are both in their hardware and their software based on Boolean Algebra another, Lex Caledonian, logically impossible dualist system. Sadly I now have to relate that you and I and all the other participants in this debate don’t exist either, as we are all the product of that logically impossible male/female, sperm/ovary dualist sexual reproduction system. So I must wave a virtual farewell as you the ghost of a departed quantity slowly sink into the extremely large heap of bovine manure that you refer to as meaningful thought.

  78. #78 John Pieret
    June 20, 2007

    So I must wave a virtual farewell as you the ghost of a departed quantity slowly sink into the extremely large heap of bovine manure that you refer to as meaningful thought.

    [Chuckle]

  79. #79 John Wilkins
    June 20, 2007

    Well if you are all self-contradictions, I declare Hegel the winner. Off for beers, now folks, and a new synthesis.

  80. #80 Caledonian
    June 20, 2007

    but so singularly fail to understand as this is, being based on a two value truth/falsity system naturally dualist and so according to you logically impossible.

    Um… no. That has nothing whatsoever to do with dualism.

    How remarkable that no one here, even the person looking for a tenured position in the philosophy of biology, called you on this terrible and grossly-inaccurate argument.

  81. #81 John Pieret
    June 20, 2007

    How remarkable that no one here, even the person looking for a tenured position in the philosophy of biology, called you on this terrible and grossly-inaccurate argument.

    What? I seem to remember a supposed expert say “I can’t do your work for you.”

    I understood Thony to be arguing that you have set up “a two value truth/falsity system” whereby anything that doesn’t meet the qualification of having human “meaning” is automatically “impossible.” Why should I think that contradicts the definition of dualism you cite to:

    Dualism is the view that two fundamental concepts exist, such as good and evil, light and dark, or male and female. Often, they oppose each other.

    Your contrasts between “meaningful” and “impossible” or “meaningful” and “disproved” seems to fit that version of dualism quite well.

    Perhaps I mistook Thony and his argument but the onus is on you in the first instance to seek clarification if you think he’s misrepresented your position. As I said before, given your record of intentional vagueness and deliberate evasions, you can’t blame anyone for not keeping track of what particular evasion you are pursuing at the moment.

  82. #82 John Pieret
    June 20, 2007

    Off for beers, now folks, and a new synthesis.

    Will the beer be cold or hot?

  83. #83 John Wilkins
    June 21, 2007

    Will the beer be cold or hot?

    Yes. [You can’t trick me. I’m awake to your sneakiness, you know.]

  84. #84 Caledonian
    June 21, 2007

    I understood Thony to be arguing that you have set up “a two value truth/falsity system” whereby anything that doesn’t meet the qualification of having human “meaning” is automatically “impossible.”

    Then I would say Thony’s arguments have little to nothing to do with my own.

    Have fun with your discussion, fellas, ’cause I’m bowing out.

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