Pharyngula

Got a few hours to spare? Here’s another recent debate, this time between Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens vs. Boteach, D’Souza, and Taleb in Mexico, with Robert Wright stuck in the middle. The sound quality is OK, but very low…so crank it up to hear it.

Don’t want to listen? Here’s a quick summary.

Shmuley Boteach: Yeesh. What an awful, screechy person. There is a god because evolution is impossible, and god is the only reason people are moral. Oh, and Hitler. Tiresome and cliched.

Sam Harris (about 9 minutes in): There are only 3 ways to defend god: 1) argue that your specific religion is true; 2) or you argue that religion is useful; or 3) you attack atheism. Only (1) is valid. He brings up a beautiful metaphor: what would you think of a friend who announced that he was so happy because he was destined to marry Angeline Jolie? The usefulness of this belief, or the idea that it makes him happy, is irrelevant against the falsity of the claim, yet this is the kind of argument defenders of religion always make.

Dinesh D’Souza (20 min): Claims to rise to Harris’s challenge to speak about the truth of religion in a 21st century way…so he chooses to talk about life after death. Tries to argue that believers in an afterlife and those who don’t believe are in exactly the same state of ignorance. Then he says there is empirical evidence for life after death, which I anxiously await.

Wait…he says that the Big Bang proves the existence of other realms, therefore there is a heaven? Dark matter and dark energy could be where are immortal post-death souls are stored? This guy is nuts. Oh, and Pascal’s Wager.

Christopher Hitchens (29 min): What matters is not what you think, but how you think, and discovery has come from non-religious thinking. Religious arguments are useless and unverifiable. Refutes the fine-tuning argument by pointing out the fate or our planet, our sun, and our galaxy is destruction. D’Souza’s argument of equivalence is false: we don’t claim absolute knowledge, we say that the theists have failed to provide any evidence.

Robert Wright (39 min): Doesn’t want to be on either side. Muddled as always.

Nassim Taleb (47 min): Can’t track reality with science and equations. Religion is not about belief. We were wiser before the Enlightenment, because we knew how to take knowledge from incomplete information, and now we live in a world of epistemic arrogance. Religious people have a way of dealing with ignorance, by saying “God knows”. At least he’s making a novel argument, but he’s still full of bullshit.

Daniel Dennett (54 min): This is familiar, from his talk at AAI. He discusses his study of priests who have become atheists, but remain in the pulpit. Theology evolved as a way to accommodate theologians’ personal integrity with what society told them they had to believe in their religion. The idea that you can’t be good without god is the biggest lie spread by religion.

Second round!

Shmuley Boteach (60 min): Hitler. Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. Evolution can’t have love. Evolution leads to racism. All morality comes from religion. Man, this guy is a scumbag.

Sam Harris (64 min): Points out that the other side hasn’t provided any evidence for their position — they’re using the arrogance of their iron age faith, only. The real issue is the veracity of the textual narrative of the Bible, which is clearly a clumsy pastiche.

Dinesh D’Souza (69 min): Why is there a universe? Why are we here? Where are we going? Science doesn’t have an answer to any of them. Has this fathead ever considered the possibility that they’re bad questions? See Harris’s first discussion: D’Souza is arguing his point 3. Finally resorts to misstating scientific claims about life on other planets. Total moron.

Christopher Hitchens (73 min): Call’s D’Souza’s argument “piffle”, and that he’s misleading people about science. Science can say what will make us stop accepting an idea; theists do not have anything equivalent to ‘rabbits in the precambrian’. Theists make positive and entirely implausible claims about what god is telling us to do. A wager: Name a moral action that a believer will take that he can’t.

Nassim Taleb (77 min): Until about 70 years ago, visiting a doctor would reduce your chance of living. From this, he leaps to the conclusion that science hasn’t been good at dealing with evidence. Even now, doctors kill us — fewer people die when hospitals go on strike. WTF? This guy is a real crank. If you remove religion, what will you replace it with?

Daniel Dennett (82 min): We are going to replace religion with secular morality, without the dogma of religion. How has religion proceeded? Not one person in this room would choose to live by old testament morality. We’ve worked together to adjust our morality, we make these adjustments.

Robert Wright (86 min): Argues with everyone. Accomplishes nothing. Oh, and the New Atheists are fundamentalists. FU too, Wright.

The rest of the event seems to be commentary in Spanish…I turned it off. I hung in there long enough, and should have bailed out the instant Boteach opened his mouth.

Comments

  1. #1 Robocop
    December 15, 2009

    382: OwlM — My apologies for the delay in getting back to you. If you still care and are interested….

    I think your thinking belies excessive evidence worship. Let me explain.

    1. You place too much faith in the empirical process. We all base many of our beliefs and commitments upon unevidenced assumptions and aren’t somehow in error for doing so. I assume the basic accuracy of my senses. I assume that love is better than hate. I assume that something like “the Matrix” is false.

    2. I see no obligation empirically to investigate every claim. Indeed, I don’t investigate most claims and see no reason to. If my 7th grade science text tells me the speed of light and I am given no reason to doubt it, I needn’t undertake tests myself. For more prosaic matters, even if I accept an alleged truth without investigation, if it “works” for me at some level I’m not wrong to leave it at that unless and until its “working status” is damaged or challenged.

    3. You accept a much too uncritical view of rationality and our ability to recognize it. Our view of rationality not only does not stand alone, it cannot stand alone. Our perceptions and deliberations are constantly and necessarily influenced by our values, our emotions, our choices, our preferences and our aesthetics. Think, for example, about research into behavioral economics — we simply aren’t capable of divorcing our reasoning abilities from everything else that makes us “us.” That’s why it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that (say) political position (A) is the rational choice for person A while political position (not A) is the rational choice for person B. There needn’t be a contradiction. This is not to say that I accept some post-modern view that objective truth doesn’t exist. I don’t. I simply recognize that our ability to perceive it is necessarily flawed. That’s why, for me, epistemic modesty is a moral as well as a practical position and why I so oppose the “you’re irrational” canard.

  2. #2 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 15, 2009

    Yawn, more boring sophistry, trying to justify a non-rational decision, without any physical evidence. You may convince yourself, but not us. Don’t expect us to think you are rational in your decision to believe in imaginary deities.

  3. #3 Robocop
    December 15, 2009

    393: Yawn, more boring sophistry, trying to justify a non-rational decision, without any physical evidence.

    So, Nerd, what’s your physical evidence supporting the need for physical evidence?

  4. #4 Mr T
    December 15, 2009

    I see no obligation empirically to investigate every claim.

    Perhaps this is not necessary for every single conceivable claim in every conceivable discipline. For example, the color of Frodo Baggins’ underwear is not subject to empirical investigation. If it’s an empirical claim, a claim about the world and things alleged to exist in it, then it needs to be supported with empirical evidence. If you can’t handle that, then forget your what you perceive to be your “obligations” and try to get a grip on reality.

    Indeed, I don’t investigate most claims and see no reason to. If my 7th grade science text tells me the speed of light and I am given no reason to doubt it, I needn’t undertake tests myself.

    If you’re comparing this to claims about a god’s existence, then it’s very obviously a false analogy. Others have done the work for you. There is ample evidence that: 1) light exists, 2) light has a finite speed, 3) light’s speed in a vacuum is a constant throughout the known universe, 3) we can know within a certain degree of accuracy what that speed is. Because we know the speed of light so accurately, we’ve redefined the meter itself. Light’s speed in a vacuum is exactly 299,792,458 m/s. If you wanted to, it is possible to verify this claim yourself.

    Now, what empirical evidence could anyone possibly provide for the existence of a god? As far as I know, you and everyone else who makes such a claim have absolutely nothing. This is not a case of you practicing “epistemic modesty”. This is a case of you making irrational claims without a single shred of evidence.

  5. #5 CJO
    December 15, 2009

    I assume the basic accuracy of my senses.

    Do you? Or are you fully aware that they may frequently be in error? Maybe you mean here basically the same thing as the third assumption, i.e. that you assume that a Matrix or Evil demon scenario is not in effect, such that all your sense perceptions are assumed to reflect an objective reality and not some solipsistic private unreality only you are privy to?

    I assume that love is better than hate.

    You may, but you don’t have to. Surely you have plenty of evidence from a life lived dependent on and in close proximity to your fellow human beings that group dynamics are more productive and more conducive to positive outcomes when love is in effect rather than hate?

    I assume that something like “the Matrix” is false.

    How would you behave differently if you abandoned this assumption?

    If my 7th grade science text tells me the speed of light and I am given no reason to doubt it, I needn’t undertake tests myself.

    Whether you feel the need to or not is rather beside the point. What is at issue is the fact that you could, in principle. The answer is available to all who wish to repeat the observation. Such measures are not available when assertions are made that appeal to revealed truths and private revalations, which was one of Owlmirror’s points.

  6. #6 Mr T
    December 15, 2009

    Sorry, I screwed up the numbering and wrote “3)” twice.

    So, Nerd, what’s your physical evidence supporting the need for physical evidence?

    It’s very simple. Unless someone demonstrates the existence of non-physical stuff, the only things we would expect would be something physical.

    If you have a problem with that, just point me in the direction of something non-physical. I’m not holding my breath. If you give an example like “love”, then I’ll remind you that we’re physical organisms with physical brains.

    Also, if you try to come up with a purely logical proof of a god’s existence, it would almost certainly be fallacious. You could still try. In fact, I would prefer that over this continued whining about not feeling obligated to support beliefs with evidence.

  7. #7 WowbaggerOM
    December 15, 2009

    Robocop wrote:

    The all-knowing, all-seeing, all-perceiving Wowbagger.

    Maybe you should try presenting some evidence or argument for why you make this sarcastic comment instead of just implying by assertion that I’m not those things. If I’ve been inaccurate about the evidence to support your religious beliefs, present that evdience and prove me wrong.

    Evidence and/or argument would change the minds of many (if not all) of the posters here; if you could present any your call of bigotry would actually be valid (unlike the category error it has been every time you’ve used it so far) if we continued to point out the irrationality of your particular superstition.

    Present the evidence. Demonstrate what I’m doing wrong by calling you out as irrational and intellectually dishonest. The evidence – not a laundry list of dead white people Christians see fit to claim and whose arguments for such belief – if they could be presented – would likely be as sadly lacking as your own.

    The zealot/bigot almost invariably sees it that way. I’m no bigot even though I’m utterly intolerent of them. I merely recognize them for what they really are.

    Any racist, sexist or homophobe can be demonstrated to be wrong by being shown examples contrary to the stereotypes he/she perceives to exist amongst the groups that are disliked. You can easily do that same to me – as soon as you produce evidence or a valid argument to show that your beliefs aren’t irrational.

    You can pull the rug out from under my feet at any time, Robocop. Just present the evidence to support your claim.

    What are you afraid of?

  8. #8 Owlmirror
    December 15, 2009

    382: OwlM — My apologies for the delay in getting back to you. If you still care and are interested….

    If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here.

    It occurs to me to pose a rhetorical riddle: If I weren’t here, would it be because I am not omniscient (and therefore was unaware of your posting), or because I am not omnipotent (and therefore did not have the time or energy to respond), or because I actually don’t care enough?

    I think your thinking belies excessive evidence worship

    Why do you misrepresent my attempt to provide a reasoned argument as worship?

    What do you think “worship” means, and what does it mean when you apply it to me?

    You place too much faith in the empirical process.

    I argued that the empirical world is the common ground in which demonstrations of things that pertain to that world can be made. Do you dispute that?

    We all base many of our beliefs and commitments upon unevidenced assumptions and aren’t somehow in error for doing so.

    Some beliefs and commitments are axiomatically true. There aren’t a whole lot — the very concepts of truth and falsity; non-contradiction and contradiction, the fundamentals of mathematics, maybe more.

    Some beliefs and commitments are reasonable inferences from axiomatic truths and the reasoning that arises from empirical experience. Do you agree that “2 + 3 = 5″ is correct, given the axiomatic definitions of correctness, quantity, addition, and equality? Do you agree that division by zero is meaningless?

    Some beliefs and commitments, however, are fallacies that are unexamined, or if examined, criticism of them is rejected due to psychological effects such as confirmation bias.

    I assume the basic accuracy of my senses.

    The basic and general accuracy may well exist, perhaps, but specific empirical counterexamples also exist in external illusions and internal hallucinations, and in the demonstration of forces and effects that are otherwise not available to our senses.

    Empirical evidence and reason provide filters and tools for the flaws in our sense.

    I assume that something like “the Matrix” is false.

    Whereas I reason that such a scenario is highly improbable. Inasmuch as it violates parsimony, it is reasonable to reject it as a hypothesis.

    But a reason and evidence-based argument for such a scenario would convince me of its being true just as a reason and evidence-based argument for God would convince me of God being real. The problem is that up until now, arguments for God have failed to be reasonably consistent and based on evidence, as have “brain-in-a-jar/simulated universe” arguments.

    I see no obligation empirically to investigate every claim.

    Sure. There’s not enough time for everyone to investigate everything; that’s why all knowledge is held as provisional — the “skepticism” part of empirical skepticism.

    But again, the point is the common ground. Those in the sciences who make empirical claims are making them to their peers first; to those who have investigated similar claims, and who have the base knowledge-set and an interest in investigating any new claims being made. If you did investigate an empirical scientific claim, the structure of scientific paper — with references chaining back to previous papers, which in turn chain back to earlier work — would enable you to follow the reason and evidence to the same conclusion. If you disagreed with the conclusion, there would be a specific step laid out for you to disagree with.

    For more prosaic matters, even if I accept an alleged truth without investigation, if it “works” for me at some level I’m not wrong to leave it at that unless and until its “working status” is damaged or challenged.

    OK, it looks like you do have the idea of provisional knowledge there.

    But note that arguments for Christianity are challenged, and damaged, on the basis of both failures of reason and absence of evidence.

    You accept a much too uncritical view of rationality and our ability to recognize it.

    Hm. I’ve been arguing with people, some of whom who are very irrational indeed, for quite a few years, now, and I think that I, at least, have a better idea from this experience of what good and rational arguments look like, and what bad and irrational arguments look like.

    Do you at least agree that there is such a thing as rationality by which arguments can be made and analyzed for consistency? Do you agree that there are fallacies like special pleading, begging the question, and arguing from ignorance and incredulity?

    If you do, then we have a common ground for at least discussing what is and is not rational.

    If you don’t, then I’m not sure that we can have any kind of productive discussion at all.

    Think, for example, about research into behavioral economics — we simply aren’t capable of divorcing our reasoning abilities from everything else that makes us “us.”

    Perhaps some people are better at analysis — and self-analysis — than others. I think you’re pushing a little too hard in the direction of humans having irrational and chaotic minds. Yes, we are not always rational, and may not always be aware of not being rational.

    But I think the fact that, by whatever means, we do have some rationality, means that at least some people, some of the time, will be rational and/or are able to understand rational arguments.

    This is not to say that I accept some post-modern view that objective truth doesn’t exist. I don’t. I simply recognize that our ability to perceive it is necessarily flawed. That’s why, for me, epistemic modesty is a moral as well as a practical position and why I so oppose the “you’re irrational” canard.

    The problem is that far too many theists don’t have any epistemic modesty whatsoever — and the accusation of being irrational is against those failures of such modesty.

    An while I acknowledge your assertion of epistemic modesty as a moral position, you might perhaps reconsider some of your own arguments about Jesus, God, and Christianity that you made earlier in this thread in light of such epistemic modesty.

  9. #9 Robocop
    December 16, 2009

    399: If I weren’t here, would it be because I am not omniscient (and therefore was unaware of your posting), or because I am not omnipotent (and therefore did not have the time or energy to respond), or because I actually don’t care enough?

    How could I know?

    What do you think “worship” means, and what does it mean when you apply it to me?

    Something like “adoring regard.”

    I argued that the empirical world is the common ground in which demonstrations of things that pertain to that world can be made. Do you dispute that?

    No, I agree. I simply think it’s much more elusive than you seem to.

    Some beliefs and commitments are axiomatically true.

    Yup.

    Some beliefs and commitments are reasonable inferences from axiomatic truths and the reasoning that arises from empirical experience.

    Agreed. But you jump straight from this statement to this one:

    Some beliefs and commitments, however, are fallacies that are unexamined, or if examined, criticism of them is rejected due to psychological effects such as confirmation bias.

    You neglect the necessarily unevidenced choices we all make, probably necessarily. Most of us, for example, value both freedom and equality. In what measure we value them goes a long ways toward getting at our political and economic preferences and viewpoints. Those preferences are unevidenced, as far as I can tell, and allow different people to come to quite different conclusions on given policy issues, each of which is perfectly rational given the starting points and assumptions (dare I say paradigms?) built in. Such paradigms are very difficult to overcome (which was Kuhn’s main point, and a good one).

    I would also suggest that the we all tend to see ourselves as rational and the other guy as the one suffering from “psychological effects such as confirmation bias.” I read Dawkins at the end of The God Delusion (when he talks about how he would react if he saw a statue of ther Madonna waving at him) as having offered a crucial admission that we all are far less than rational and, in large measure, see what we want to see. Nearly everyone at Pharyngula claims that evidence could and would change everything. But the paradigm they operate under (no less than the paradigm religious believers operate under) means that they almost surely won’t (and perhaps can’t) recognize opposing evidence even when it sits right in front of them. That’s why just show me the evidence, moron claims ring hollow to me.

    The basic and general accuracy may well exist, perhaps, but specific empirical counterexamples also exist in external illusions and internal hallucinations, and in the demonstration of forces and effects that are otherwise not available to our senses.

    Of course, That’s why I qualified the statement the way I did.

    Empirical evidence and reason provide filters and tools for the flaws in our sense.

    Sure, but none of us is ever objective in our analysis of that evidence and reason.

    Whereas I reason that such a scenario is highly improbable. Inasmuch as it violates parsimony, it is reasonable to reject it as a hypothesis.

    Okay. But the fact that the odds favor parsimony in general does not suggest that a specific simple solution is necessarily a better explanation than a specific complex solution.

    The problem is that up until now, arguments for God have failed to be reasonably consistent and based on evidence, as have “brain-in-a-jar/simulated universe” arguments.

    Up until now (at least in my view), arguments for socialism have failed to be reasonably consistent and based on evidence. Would I be right to claim that socialists are irrational, delusional and perhaps mentally defective?

    But note that arguments for Christianity are challenged, and damaged, on the basis of both failures of reason and absence of evidence.

    When somebody sees things differently, how do you decide when it’s mere error and when it’s delusion?

    Do you at least agree that there is such a thing as rationality by which arguments can be made and analyzed for consistency? Do you agree that there are fallacies like special pleading, begging the question, and arguing from ignorance and incredulity?

    Absolutely.

    If you do, then we have a common ground for at least discussing what is and is not rational.

    Discuss? Sure. Conclude? Much less sure. Claim error? No problem. Bias? Sure. Mistake? Okay. But I don’t see a basis for sufficient certainty to claim a basic lack of rationality or delusion. I understand the rhetorical value of such a charge, but I don’t see it as fair or intellectually honest.

    Perhaps some people are better at analysis — and self-analysis — than others.

    “My side” is always better at it than “your side.” That’s necessarily how we see it — our conclusions demand it.

    But I think the fact that, by whatever means, we do have some rationality, means that at least some people, some of the time, will be rational and/or are able to understand rational arguments.

    I agree. But I’m less sanguine than you about when and how we’ll recognize it. In my view, the problem isn’t so much the conclusion as the certainty with which it’s held. That’s where things get really dangerous.

    The problem is that far too many theists don’t have any epistemic modesty whatsoever — and the accusation of being irrational is against those failures of such modesty.

    If your claim were merely that believers of whatever stripe are far too sure of themselves and that the consequences of that certainty are dangerous and sometimes evil, we’d be in complete accord. Of course, I think non-believers are far too sure of themselves as well. It’s a far too frequent (if unacknowledged) motto — often wrong but never in doubt.

    An while I acknowledge your assertion of epistemic modesty as a moral position, you might perhaps reconsider some of your own arguments about Jesus, God, and Christianity that you made earlier in this thread in light of such epistemic modesty.

    I reconsider them all the time and change them far more often than you might think. As an aside, it’s in this area that I think Taleb makes a great point. The consequences of one’s decision factor in to what the “right” conclusion is and should. To take an extreme example, I don’t need evidence that a gun is unloaded to avoid pointing it at someone and pulling the trigger and to implore others to follow my example.

  10. #10 Owlmirror
    December 17, 2009

    What do you think “worship” means, and what does it mean when you apply it to me?

    Something like “adoring regard.”

    If epistemic modesty is a moral position, then is your implication that you were able to read my mind not a violation of that very morality?

    You neglect the necessarily unevidenced choices we all make, probably necessarily.

    I don’t understand why the modifier “necessarily unevidenced” is necessary in there, or what it means in that context. I think I sort of understand what you mean from the rest of the context, but the adjective looks like a category error.

    Looking back at what you were responding to, I think I did leave out something, which might be what you were trying to say, so let me remedy that:

    In addition to beliefs and commitments that arise from basic axioms and inferences, and those that are fallacies, there are also beliefs and commitments that are harder to classify as definitely true or definitely false, for various reasons, including but not limited to genuine lack of knowledge, idiosyncratic personality traits, definitional fuzziness and uncertainty, and the incompleteness of logical systems.

    Is that something like what you were trying to articulate?

    Nearly everyone at Pharyngula claims that evidence could and would change everything. But the paradigm they operate under (no less than the paradigm religious believers operate under) means that they almost surely won’t (and perhaps can’t) recognize opposing evidence even when it sits right in front of them.

    There is no opposing evidence to recognize, because any claims of having evidence always turn out to be fallacious arguments presented as being evidence.

    Although — just to clarify — I am referring here to evidence of a personal God; a God that is a person. Occasionally someone stops by and argues for an impersonal pantheism; “God” is a label for the universe and everything in it, including all of the physical laws regarding the interaction of everything in the universe. I accept that there is certainly evidence for “God” as so defined, but I would protest that such a definition is deeply idiosyncratic, and that the vast majority of theists — including yourself as I have understood your arguments until now — do not use such a definition of God and would reject it. Similar definitional arguments for God or Gods could also be made, but have similar problems: A thing can be labeled as being God, but such labeling simply confuses the issue.

    What do you think that this purported “opposing evidence” looks like, and how can you be certain that it’s not confirmation bias; not just a fallacious argument?

    But the fact that the odds favor parsimony in general does not suggest that a specific simple solution is necessarily a better explanation than a specific complex solution.

    That’s not what parsimony means, though. It isn’t about specific simple versus specific complex, but necessary entities versus unnecessary entities. A nonparsimonious theory of gravity, for example, could involve positing swarms of angels pushing on everything, but doing so in such a way that their efforts all cancel out and are indistinguishable from G⋅m1⋅m2/r2.

    Of course, the above formula for Newtonian gravitation does not have all necessary entities. The actual formula is found from General Relativity, but at low speeds, low masses, and low precision, the two ways of considering gravity and other physical mechanics give results that are nearly the same — GR, though, will always be more accurate. And of course, General Relativity may be incomplete as well, with a better explanation arising from loop quantum gravity, or from a theory of everything — which of course will have to be demonstrated as being necessary empirically.

    That’s something else to consider about parsimony: Once the new theory is proposed, with its additional necessary entities, it still must account for everything that the old theory explained, without contradiction. It must be as good or better than the old theory in all situations, or it obviously fails.

    So in your case, you have to demonstrate that God is a necessary entity to explain anything — or else the parsimonious rejection of God is logically correct.

    Up until now (at least in my view), arguments for socialism have failed to be reasonably consistent and based on evidence.

    I think this is a false analogy; a category mistake. God (going by my above argument) is a person that either exists or doesn’t. The meta-universe containing the Matrix/brain-in-a-jar either exists or doesn’t.

    Many ideas about what socialism is have existed and do exist. Given that “socialism” is a concept for ways to organise societies, I don’t see how it cannot exist. I think it rightly falls under the category of things that are difficult to classify as definitely true or definitely false.

    When somebody sees things differently, how do you decide when it’s mere error and when it’s delusion?

    Is God a point of view, and not a person?

    Error and delusion can and do shade into each other, and drawing the line can be somewhat arbitrary.

    Do you at least agree that there is such a thing as rationality by which arguments can be made and analyzed for consistency? Do you agree that there are fallacies like special pleading, begging the question, and arguing from ignorance and incredulity?

    Absolutely.

    If you do, then we have a common ground for at least discussing what is and is not rational.

    Discuss? Sure. Conclude? Much less sure. Claim error? No problem. Bias? Sure. Mistake? Okay. But I don’t see a basis for sufficient certainty to claim a basic lack of rationality or delusion. I understand the rhetorical value of such a charge, but I don’t see it as fair or intellectually honest.

    I don’t see how you can answer “Absolutely” to the first paragraph above, and then respond with the final two sentences. They certainly look like contradictions to the essence of the concept of rationality.

    There may be issues of rationality are not actually decidable, but a discussion that is rational should be able to come to that conclusion, as well. Are you genuinely trying to claim that there is nothing that would convince otherwise rational people, who are aware of what fallacious arguments are, that they are basing their entire argument on fallacies? And if they persist in this after it has been pointed out and demonstrated to them, perhaps even multiple times, are they not being irrational?

    “My side” is always better at it than “your side.” That’s necessarily how we see it — our conclusions demand it.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily the case — otherwise, no-one would ever convert to another point of view. And I don’t see how it’s a function of “our conclusions” so much as the way that human psychology works; the egocentric bias.

    Self-estimation and self-analysis cannot always be relied on, yet if people were always wrong, there would be no progress whatsoever.

    In my view, the problem isn’t so much the conclusion as the certainty with which it’s held. That’s where things get really dangerous.

    Yet it is religions that generally hold things with certainty and dogma, that praises faith without evidence in the existence of God. Religion embraces epistemic arrogance, not epistemic modesty.

    I will concede that there are non-religions that are dogmatic, and religions that reduce the emphasis on dogma and faith to a bare, unstressed (and sometimes even optional) minimum — but it is empirical skepticism, a non-religious epistemic philosophy, that holds certainty as provisional.

    Of course, I think non-believers are far too sure of themselves as well.

    I think you’re far too sure of yourself as well — “excessive evidence worship”? You seem awfully sure about that…

    It’s a far too frequent (if unacknowledged) motto — often wrong but never in doubt

    Wrong about what? Never in doubt about what?

    As an aside, it’s in this area that I think Taleb makes a great point. The consequences of one’s decision factor in to what the “right” conclusion is and should. To take an extreme example, I don’t need evidence that a gun is unloaded to avoid pointing it at someone and pulling the trigger and to implore others to follow my example.

    I don’t understand what consequences you refer to here, in the context of religion. Are you making a Pascal’s wager argument, or are you making an analogy that there can be social consequences to disagreeing with people who are certain of their religious beliefs, and are certain that disagreement should be socially punished?

  11. #11 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 17, 2009

    I would also suggest that the we all tend to see ourselves as rational and the other guy as the one suffering from “psychological effects such as confirmation bias.”

    Yep, you are suffering from comformational bias. What else do you want to know?

    Of course, That’s why I qualified the statement the way I did.

    Who says you’re qualified to analyze shit. Scientists don’t.

    Sure, but none of us is ever objective in our analysis of that evidence and reason.

    Especially those who presuppose an imaginary and unneeded deities like yourself.

    Okay. But the fact that the odds favor parsimony in general does not suggest that a specific simple solution is necessarily a better explanation than a specific complex solution.

    If that simple complexation contains an unneeded imaginary deity, yes. What part of that are you having trouble with?

    When somebody sees things differently, how do you decide when it’s mere error and when it’s delusion?

    Pure unadulterated evidence. There is none for imaginary deities, lots for the lack thereof.

    I understand the rhetorical value of such a charge, but I don’t see it as fair or intellectually honest.

    Since you are a delusional godbot, you can’t can’t see the evidence and conclusions. What else do you need to know?

    If your claim were merely that believers of whatever stripe are far too sure of themselves and that the consequences of that certainty are dangerous and sometimes evil, we’d be in complete accord.

    Ah, a trueful statement.

    Of course, I think non-believers are far too sure of themselves as well. It’s a far too frequent (if unacknowledged) motto — often wrong but never in doubt.

    Then you don’t understand doubt. As a lawyer, you should understand the concept of guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt? We look at your imaginary deity in the same light. And he doesn’t even come up to the preponderance of evidence required for a civil case. What a delusional fool.

  12. #12 975robocop
    December 18, 2009

    402: Then you don’t understand doubt. As a lawyer, you should understand the concept of guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt?

    Once again, Nerd, as with your consistent misunderstanding of what “bigot” means, you struggle with understanding basic concepts. Indeed, you keep providing clear evidence that careful thinking, careful reasoning and careful distinctions simply elude you. If the criminal proof standard in the USA were truly proof “beyond a shadow of a doubt” as you allege, there would be far fewer convictions. Not many things in life can be established to that level of certainty. The actual standard is proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Yet again, when reason and reasonableness is involved, you are weighed and found wanting. But I sure appreciate your coming around.

  13. #13 975robocop
    December 18, 2009

    401: If epistemic modesty is a moral position, then is your implication that you were able to read my mind not a violation of that very morality?

    My use of “worship” was a rhetorical flourish designed to make a point and not to be taken literally. Strictly speaking, it is overstated. It isn’t nearly as egregious as the use of “delusional” with respect to believers generally (since that is a clinical term without clinical basis), but I’ll concede the point.

    In addition to beliefs and commitments that arise from basic axioms and inferences, and those that are fallacies, there are also beliefs and commitments that are harder to classify as definitely true or definitely false, for various reasons, including but not limited to genuine lack of knowledge, idiosyncratic personality traits, definitional fuzziness and uncertainty, and the incompleteness of logical systems.

    Is that something like what you were trying to articulate?

    That’s a wonderful statement of what you are articulating, but I think you’re still missing a crucial element. There are large numbers of beliefs and commitments — most of the really important ones, in fact — that are by their nature incapable of being shown to be conclusively true or false and which are always and in all ways unevidenced.

    There is no opposing evidence to recognize, because any claims of having evidence always turn out to be fallacious arguments presented as being evidence.

    Of course there is, but you reject it. Indeed, you implicitly recognize the existence of some of it by, sometimes at least, insisting upon a particular type of evidence — empirical evidence.

    What do you think that this purported “opposing evidence” looks like, and how can you be certain that it’s not confirmation bias; not just a fallacious argument?

    By any reasonable measure, personal testimony is evidence, even if you or I (or you and I) reject it. Historical evidence exists (best put forth, in my view, by N.T. Wright). I think the best evidence is volition. But I readily acknowledge that I can’t be sure that I don’t suffer from confirmation bias or that I’m not misreading the evidence.

    So in your case, you have to demonstrate that God is a necessary entity to explain anything — or else the parsimonious rejection of God is logically correct.

    This argument makes too much of parsimony. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and it’s much easier to destroy than to create.

    I think this is a false analogy; a category mistake. God (going by my above argument) is a person that either exists or doesn’t. The meta-universe containing the Matrix/brain-in-a-jar either exists or doesn’t.

    If traditional God-concepts are correct (and I hasten to add that I don’t claim to know if they are), God isn’t evidenced in the real world in the same way we are (the idea that “supernatural” — whatever that is and means — tries to get at). There might have been a time that empirical evidence was available (when and if Jesus walked on water, for example), but for Christians at least, the days of a material God are past. Sagan’s Contact posits a similar situation. Ellie has to communicate the existence of something she has experienced but which, to others, is unevidenced.

    Error and delusion can and do shade into each other, and drawing the line can be somewhat arbitrary.

    I understand what you’re getting at, but are you medically qualified to make a diagnosis of delusion? If not, the claim is unfair in the extreme.

    I don’t see how you can answer “Absolutely” to the first paragraph above, and then respond with the final two sentences. They certainly look like contradictions to the essence of the concept of rationality.

    I merely recognize how difficult our limited and error-prone analytical skills make it for us to be certain. Ironically, much of life demands that we act as if we are certain or remain paralyzed by inaction.

    Are you genuinely trying to claim that there is nothing that would convince otherwise rational people, who are aware of what fallacious arguments are, that they are basing their entire argument on fallacies? And if they persist in this after it has been pointed out and demonstrated to them, perhaps even multiple times, are they not being irrational?

    People can and do change their minds. I change my mind. I try to be rational as I’m sure you do. We may sometimes succeed, though I suspect much less than we think. History is replete with purported rational explanations that turned out to be anyting but. Kuhn (again) is relevant here.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily the case — otherwise, no-one would ever convert to another point of view.

    Sure it is. It’s simply the conception of “my side” that changes.

    Yet it is religions that generally hold things with certainty and dogma, that praises faith without evidence in the existence of God.

    While religion (generally) is far too certain of things, it has simply never been my experience that religion praises faith without evidence. The claim that faith is belief without evidence is an argument disguised as a definition (and a false definition at that since you won’t find it in the OED — the word described is credulity).

    I will concede that there are non-religions that are dogmatic, and religions that reduce the emphasis on dogma and faith to a bare, unstressed (and sometimes even optional) minimum — but it is empirical skepticism, a non-religious epistemic philosophy, that holds certainty as provisional.

    It is a commitment honored mainly in the breach. Take a look at the recent thread on the atheist kid in MA who wants to get out of reading Genesis in a literature class. Despite the testimony of many purported experts as to the quality of Genesis as ancient literature, and despite the apparent unanimity of experts in the field as to its quality, PZ (who I suspect is blinded by his hatred of all things Christian) insists that it’s doggerel (evidence be damned).

    I think you’re far too sure of yourself as well — “excessive evidence worship”? You seem awfully sure about that…

    Rhetorical excess conceded. General proclivity of all of us also conceded.

    I don’t understand what consequences you refer to here, in the context of religion.

    Despite the flaws of PW as an argument, one thing Pascal did get right was that how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof. Again, to take an extreme example, I don’t need evidence that a gun is unloaded to avoid pointing it at someone and pulling the trigger and to implore others to follow my example.

  14. #14 Owlmirror
    December 18, 2009

    There are large numbers of beliefs and commitments — most of the really important ones, in fact — that are by their nature incapable of being shown to be conclusively true or false and which are always and in all ways unevidenced.

    You’re repeating yourself without clarifying. What do you mean by “unevidenced”, here? Expand on your thesis.

    [concerning opposing evidence] Of course there is, but you reject it. Indeed, you implicitly recognize the existence of some of it by, sometimes at least, insisting upon a particular type of evidence — empirical evidence.

    I think you’re equivocating here on the word “evidence”….

    And isn’t the issue that a personal God is being claimed to exist as an empirical truth? If arguments for a personal God are not empirical claims, what are they? Wouldn’t you agree that an empirical claim for the existence of God requires empirical evidence?

    By any reasonable measure, personal testimony is evidence, even if you or I (or you and I) reject it.

    It’s evidence that someone claimed to have believed something. If we both reject the truth of what is claimed to be believed, is it because of mere perversity — or because of a lack of corroborating empirical evidence in support of the testifiers’ belief being true?

    Historical evidence exists

    Historical evidence exists … that a religious movement called Christianity was around in the first century CE. This is not evidence that the beliefs of those Christians are true — which is what I have been intending by the phrase “no evidence”.

    I think the best evidence is volition.

    How so? This looks like a complete non-sequitur.

    But I readily acknowledge that I can’t be sure that I don’t suffer from confirmation bias or that I’m not misreading the evidence.

    I don’t understand how it can even be called evidence in the first place.

    This argument makes too much of parsimony.

    I’m sorry that you dislike parsimony.

    The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

    Given the complete absence of evidence for a personal God, the absence of that personal God is a reasonable and parsimonious inference. Again, this is provisional knowledge, which could be changed by empirical evidence.

    and it’s much easier to destroy than to create.

    This looks like another non-sequitur.

    There might have been a time that empirical evidence was available […], but for Christians at least, the days of a material God are past.

    If God is real now, God could provide empirical evidence now.

    While religion (generally) is far too certain of things, it has simply never been my experience that religion praises faith without evidence.

    You might want to re-read the Pauline letters a little more carefully.

    The claim that faith is belief without evidence is an argument disguised as a definition (and a false definition at that since you won’t find it in the OED — the word described is credulity).

    Oddly enough, I have access to the OED:

    3. Theol. in various specific applications. a. Belief in the truths of religion; belief in the authenticity of divine revelation (whether viewed as contained in Holy Scripture or in the teaching of the Church), and acceptance of the revealed doctrines. b. That kind of faith (distinctively called saving or justifying faith) by which, in the teaching of the N.T., a sinner is justified in the sight of God. This is very variously defined by theologians (see quots.), but there is general agreement in regarding it as a conviction practically operative on the character and will, and thus opposed to the mere intellectual assent to religious truth (sometimes called speculative faith). c. The spiritual apprehension of divine truths, or of realities beyond the reach of sensible experience or logical proof. By Christian writers often identified with the preceding; but not exclusively confined to Christian use. Often viewed as the exercise of a special faculty in the soul of man, or as the result of supernatural illumination.

    Note 3c in particular. No empirical evidence, no reason.

    Despite the testimony of many purported experts as to the quality of Genesis as ancient literature, and despite the apparent unanimity of experts in the field as to its quality, PZ (who I suspect is blinded by his hatred of all things Christian)

    Is this another rhetorical flourish, or are you claiming to be able to read minds again?

    insists that it’s doggerel (evidence be damned).

    This is a matter of personal taste.

    Despite the flaws of PW as an argument, one thing Pascal did get right was that how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof.

    You repeated your analogy, but did not elucidate it. Which argument? What consequences?

  15. #15 David Marjanovi?
    December 18, 2009

    So, Nerd, what’s your physical evidence supporting the need for physical evidence?

    QED.

    If people had disregarded reality, they’d never have discovered something as counterintuitive as quantum theory (or the theory of relativity for that matter). Yet they work ? and they work much better than the much more intuitive classical physics.

    it’s much easier to destroy than to create

    Only because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. It’s not some kind of independent truth.

  16. #16 Lynna, OM
    December 18, 2009

    Owlmirror @405

    I think you’re equivocating here on the word “evidence”….

    Exactly. Well said. The word “evidence” has been stretched to include “stuff about which a whole bunch of sophisticated theologians feel strongly” — which reminds me of Barbara Bradley Hagerty, and her “Fingerprints of God” book.

    She researched everything from the brain functions of Buddhist monks, to the effectiveness of prayer to heal the sick.
         She says that after talking countless scientists, she found that science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, but that science is “entirely consistent” with God.
         ”It all depends on how you define ‘God’,” she writes. “… If you see God in the breathtaking complexity of our brains, as the architect of our bodies and our minds who planted the question Is there more? ? well, science has room for that kind of God.”

  17. #17 Lynna, OM
    December 18, 2009

    Here is more evidence of Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s definition of “evidence”:

    My body responded before my mind, alerting me to some unseen change, a danger perhaps. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and my heart start beating a little faster ? as it is now, recalling the moment. Imperceptibly at first, the air around us thickened, and I wondered whether a clear, dense mist had rolled in from the ocean. The air grew warmer and heavier, as if someone had moved into the circle and was breathing on us. I glanced at Kathy. She had fallen silent in mid-sentence. Neither of us spoke. Gradually, and ever so gently, I was engulfed by a presence I could feel but not touch. I was paralyzed. I could manage only shallow breaths. After a minute, although it seemed longer, the presence melted away. We sat quietly, while I waited for the earth to steady itself. I was too spooked to speak, and yet I was exhilarated, as the first time I skied down an expert slope, terrified and oddly happy that I could not turn back. Those few moments, the time it takes to boil water for tea, reoriented my life. The episode left a mark on my psyche that I bear to this day.

    All this and she was not even in sight of a triune waterfall.

  18. #18 WowbaggerOM
    December 18, 2009

    Again, to take an extreme example, I don’t need evidence that a gun is unloaded to avoid pointing it at someone and pulling the trigger and to implore others to follow my example.

    Yet here you are repeatedly pulling the trigger on a demonstrably unloaded gun – and insisting that, simply because you assert it, we should fall down shot.

    Forgive us if we don’t play along.

  19. #19 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 18, 2009

    Yawn, still no physical evidence for his imaginary and delusional deity. Until that physical evidence is shown, our only logical conclusion is that Robocop is a delusional fool, and he will remain as such until that evidence is produced. As I previously said, conclusive beyond a shadow of a doubt. An eternally burning bush is a good start. Anything short of that, no. Robocop, do you have that level of evidence? Yes or No? If no, you have nothing but your presuppositions. Which means you aren’t that logical and rational.

  20. #20 CJO
    December 18, 2009

    Historical evidence exists (best put forth, in my view, by N.T. Wright).

    Bah. He’s an apologist first and a scholar second, and, as such, he does not put all the options on the table and analyze them dispassionately, the way a historian striving for objectivity would. Here’s a representitive sample of his work on the subject from this essay on his website:

    Several first-century Jews other than Jesus held and acted upon remarkable and subversive views. Why should Jesus be any more than one of the most remarkable of them? The answer must hinge upon the resurrection. If nothing happened to the body of Jesus, I cannot see why any of his implicit or explicit claims should be regarded as true. What is more, I cannot as a historian see why anyone would have continued to belong to his movement and regard him as its messiah. There were several other messianic or quasi-messianic movements within a hundred years on either side of Jesus. Routinely, they ended with the leader being killed by the authorities or by a rival group. If your messiah is killed, naturally you conclude that he was not the messiah. Some of those movements continued to exist; where they did, they took a new leader from the same family. (Note, however, that nobody ever said James, the brother of Jesus, was the messiah.) Such groups did not suffer from that blessed twentieth-century disease of cognitive dissonance. In particular, they did not go around saying that their messiah had been raised from the dead. I agree with Paula Fredriksen: the early Christians really did believe that Jesus had been raised bodily from the dead. What is more, I cannot make sense of the whole picture, historically or theologically, unless I say that they were right.

    Another clear option, not contradicted by the historical evidence, is that the Synoptic narrative did not recount actual events and no such person as the Jesus of that narrative ever lived. Wright won’t even plug that scenario into his conundrum to see if it “makes sense of the whole picture.” But it clears up the whole question while avoiding the awkwardness inherent in claiming that an action of God should be considered a fact of history.

    Indeed the earliest Christians did believe that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead. But conflating that belief with belief in a character from a narrative written later to express various faith communities’ understanding of that belief and what it meant in their lives is conjuring “historical evidence” from vapor.

    Have you ever read anything by Thomas L. Thompson? I highly recommend The Mythic Past. The professed belief by ancient persons in propositions like “Jesus rose from the dead” should not be equated to the professed belief by a modern person in a proposition about history like “George Washington commanded the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.”

  21. #21 Knockgoats
    December 18, 2009

    one thing Pascal did get right was that how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof – robocop

    No, that was another of the many things he got wrong. We should strive, individually and collectively, to evaluate arguments purely on their own merits. What action to take on the basis of an argument judged to be sound is another matter. There, we should of course take into account, alongside our evaluation of the argument itself, all the probable and plausible consequences of such actions, both if the conclusion of the argument is in fact correct, and if it is in fact incorrect.

  22. #22 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    December 18, 2009

    one thing Pascal did get right was that how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof

    Thanks for defining the appeal to consequences fallacy.

  23. #23 WowbaggerOM
    December 18, 2009

    When it can be shown that Pascal’s Wager is only applicable to Christianity, and the name ‘God’ cannot be crossed out and that of any other deity put in its place, then it will considered a valid argument.

    Until that time it’s only worth noting as an example of Christian rationalisation designed to impress shallow thinkers.

  24. #24 975robocop
    December 18, 2009

    405: What do you mean by “unevidenced”, here?

    I believe and am committed to the propositions that all persons are created equal, that love is better than hate, that might doesn’t make right and to any number of other ideas, none of which is supported by evidence. Every thought system, ideology or similar construct requires assumed starting points.

    I think you’re equivocating here on the word “evidence”….

    I don’t see how. From a legal standpoint, testimonial evidence is one of the four main types of evidence.

    Wouldn’t you agree that an empirical claim for the existence of God requires empirical evidence?

    Have you read Sagan’s Contact? If you’re right, Ellie’s claims should be rejected even though they are entirely true. How is that?

    If we both reject the truth of what is claimed to be believed, is it because of mere perversity — or because of a lack of corroborating empirical evidence in support of the testifiers’ belief being true?

    It needn’t be either. We may simply reject the evidence as mistaken or simply not credible.

    Historical evidence exists … that a religious movement called Christianity was around in the first century CE.

    Do you really think historical evidence exists as to more than that (even though the conclusions we draw from that evidence may conflict greatly)?

    How so? This looks like a complete non-sequitur.

    Cause and effect are relentless. Accordingly, Dawkins (for example and among many others) rightly recognizes that without something non-material, we can’t have volition — we’re merely meat machines (albeit amazing meat machines) doing what we’re programmed to do. That we have volition can be tested by a visit to an ice cream shop — vanilla or strawberry?

    I’m sorry that you dislike parsimony.

    I have no quarrel with parsimony. It does a good job with probabilities. It doesn’t determine truth.

    Given the complete absence of evidence for a personal God, the absence of that personal God is a reasonable and parsimonious inference. Again, this is provisional knowledge, which could be changed by empirical evidence.

    While I disagree about the evidence, I acknowledge that your position is a reasonable one.

    This looks like another non-sequitur.

    My point is simply that science, by its nature, is much better at finding error than at ascertaining and constructing positive truth.

    If God is real now, God could provide empirical evidence now.

    He surely could. But I don’t see that as a distinction that makes a difference.

    You might want to re-read the Pauline letters a little more carefully.

    Which passages do you have in mind?

    Note 3c in particular. No empirical evidence, no reason.

    A lack of proof is not the same as a lack of evidence. Moreover, evidence needn’t be empirical. Your claim remains unsupported here.

    Is this another rhetorical flourish, or are you claiming to be able to read minds again?

    It’s mere suspicion.

    This is a matter of personal taste.

    If it were entirely a matter of taste, there would be no reason to study great works of art and literature. It’s fair to say that a claim to Bach’s superiority over Beethoven (or vice versa) is a matter of taste; a claim that Milli Vanilli is superior to either is not.

    You repeated your analogy, but did not elucidate it. Which argument? What consequences?

    What part of “how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof” is unclear?

  25. #25 Knockgoats
    December 18, 2009

    I haven’t read Wright, but if CJO’s quote is a fair sample, he does indeed allow his religious beliefs to determine his scholarly conclusions.

    First, the earliest account of the resurrection dates from two or probably more decades after the alleged event – even if we accept that the 4th century complete gospel manuscripts that are the earliest we have are accurate copies of what was originally written. Psychological research shows that eyewitness testimony is unreliable; anthropological research shows that oral traditions change rapidly; studies of modern religious movements show on what an exiguous basis a successful religion can grow. The gospel accounts of ordinary events are in many cases inconsistent with each other, or with what is known from other sources and archaeology: it is therefore absurd to credit them when they report physically impossible events vouched for by no other source or evidence.

    Second, Mormonism provides a modern counterexample to the alleged uniqueness of Christianity: when Joseph Smith was lynched, the Mormons did not conclude that they had been mistaken; Brigham Young became “prophet”, but he never claimed equality of status with the founder. Another counterexample is provided by the Mandaeans, who particularly revere John the Baptist (Jesus being dismissed as a false Messiah).

  26. #26 WowbaggerOM
    December 18, 2009

    What part of “how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof” is unclear?

    How about the part where you demonstrate that what you claim are consequences are even possible? I could say that you shouldn’t turn around right now or the mumblefrump will eat you; will you continue to look straight ahead and believe in the mumblefrump simply because I say it exists? If not, why not?

  27. #27 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 18, 2009

    Yawn, still nothing. Robocop, you may have convinced yourself, but that takes very little for a delusional fool like you. But to convince us, scientific forensic evidence is required, not conflicting witness testimony, which is the weakest evidence. Still nothing but your self delusions…

  28. #28 SteveM
    December 18, 2009

    Have you read Sagan’s Contact? If you’re right, Ellie’s claims should be rejected even though they are entirely true. How is that?

    Yes, if we were other characters in the book, we should reject her claims. We only know that they are true because we are reading the book.

  29. #29 Kel, OM
    December 18, 2009

    one thing Pascal did get right was that how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof

    Which is an interesting proposition. So if a child is told that if he doesn’t eat his vegetables, aliens from the 5th dimension will open up a time portal in his room and devour him in such a way that will leaving him agonising pain for the rest of his prolonged existence, then it’s right to actually believe in such aliens because of the consequences thereof?

  30. #30 Mr T
    December 18, 2009

    I think you’re equivocating here on the word “evidence”….

    I don’t see how. From a legal standpoint, testimonial evidence is one of the four main types of evidence.

    Philosophy FAIL!

    You are equivocating on the meaning of “evidence”. Stop thinking and arguing like a lawyer, because you’re making claims that are completely irrelevant to whether any supernatural beings, gods, or specifically the Christian god that you personally believe exists. Considering the issue “from a legal standpoint” is utterly pointless. Either you don’t know better, or you’re dishonest. Since you’re a lawyer, I’m assuming dishonest.

    My point is simply that science, by its nature, is much better at finding error than at ascertaining and constructing positive truth.

    Are testimonies in court any better? No, they’re much, much, much worse. Any kind of testimony? No. They are merely the last leg to stand on.

    This business about Pascal’s Wager is … uh… interesting. You do realize that as a lawyer you’re headed for the ninth circle of hell, right?

  31. #31 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 18, 2009

    Kind of curious…
    What would constitute physical evidence for Robocop’s deity? NoR keeps demanding it, but I would be suprised if this concept of the almighty was meaningful enough to predict observations about the natural world while precluding others. Evidence can corroborate or a refute a scientific hypothesis, but not a metaphysical claim. I bet Robocops bionic Lawkeeper is metaphysical.

  32. #32 975robocop
    December 18, 2009

    419: Yes, if we were other characters in the book, we should reject her claims. We only know that they are true because we are reading the book.

    So we’re clear — if (say) your spouse were to tell you X (perhaps “Our daughter has been kidnapped; come home now!”), you would reject X unless and until you examined empirical evidence for X? I’m highly skeptical that anyone actually lives that way, so I want to be clear.

  33. #33 Kel, OM
    December 18, 2009

    So we’re clear — if (say) your spouse were to tell you X (perhaps “Our daughter has been kidnapped; come home now!”), you would reject X unless and until you examined empirical evidence for X?

    I think this a bit misleading, after all a wife should be a trusted source and would not joke over such matters. If a complete stranger were to ring up and say they’ve kidnapped your daughter, would you take it on face value? In that case, I’m sure you’d probably ask for at least a little bit of evidence to support such a statement.

  34. #34 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 18, 2009

    NoR keeps demanding it, but I would be suprised if this concept of the almighty was meaningful enough to predict observations about the natural world while precluding others.

    Simple, physical evidence that will convince scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not natural, origin. An eternally burning bush is a good example.

    I bet Robocops bionic Lawkeeper is metaphysical.

    Metaphysical=imaginary. That won’t do the job. Physical=concrete. That does the job.

    I’m highly skeptical that anyone actually lives that way, so I want to be clear.

    Your skepticism is irrelevant. You must convince us, no the other way around. So far, you are failing miserably.

  35. #35 Paul
    December 18, 2009

    ?So we’re clear — if (say) your spouse were to tell you X (perhaps “Our daughter has been kidnapped; come home now!”), you would reject X unless and until you examined empirical evidence for X?

    Your analogy would fit better if there was no evidence that you even had a daughter in the first place.

  36. #36 Mr T
    December 18, 2009

    No, let’s make it really clear:

    230. PASCAL’S ARGUMENT, a.k.a. PASCAL’S WAGER (I)
    (1) If God exists, it would be really cool. (And I would win big-time.)
    (2) If God didn’t exist, it would really suck. (But I wouldn’t lose much.)
    (3) Thus I should believe in God because it’s the best bet.
    (4) Therefore, God exists.

    298. ARGUMENT FROM GAME THEORY, a.k.a. PASCAL’S WAGER (II)
    (1) Theist: (after lengthy explanation) Hence, pursuant to game theory, belief in an afterlife is the most sensible option.
    (2) Atheist: Wait a minute. That’s just Pascal’s Wager dressed in different verbiage.
    (3) Theist: Nuh uh!
    (4) Therefore, God exists.

    590. MARILYN’S ARGUMENT FROM COVERED BUTT, a.k.a. PASCAL’S WAGER (III)
    (1) It’s not about proof.
    (2) It’s about covering your butt.
    (3) I’d rather have my butt covered than get caught with my pants down, if you get my drift.
    (4) Therefore, God exists.

    603. ARGUMENT FROM RISK AVERSION, a.k.a. PASCAL’S WAGER (IV)
    (1) Some people said I?d suffer for eternity if I don?t believe in God.
    (2) I don?t like risks, no matter how minute.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    Also, just for good measure:

    31. ARGUMENT FROM FALLIBILITY
    (1) Human reasoning is inherently flawed.
    (2) Therefore, there is no reasonable way to challenge a proposition.
    (3) I propose that God exists.
    (4) Therefore, God exists.

  37. #37 Kel, OM
    December 18, 2009

    What about if your wife rang you and said “there’s a Tyrannosaurus in our backyard”? Would you take that on face value?

  38. #38 WowbaggerOM
    December 18, 2009

    So we’re clear — if (say) your spouse were to tell you X (perhaps “Our daughter has been kidnapped; come home now!”), you would reject X unless and until you examined empirical evidence for X?

    If if I had a wife and/or a daughter, I’d know they existed and would consider the likelihood of that happening – i.e. if my hypothetical daughter was sitting on the hypothetical couch behind me I would know that my hypothetical wife was messing around. If said hypothetical daughter hadn’t come home then I’d be a bit more concerned – so yes, I’d be examining the empirical evidence to an extent.

    But we hear these kinds of thought experiments all the time, and the wooist involved always forget that there are fewer reasons to believe in a god than there are to believe one’s wife.

    A more accurate analogy of what you’re trying to do is to have a woman I’ve never met come to me, insist she’s my wife, claim that she and I have a daughter together, and try to convince me that that daughter has been kidnapped.

    Hardly the same thing.

  39. #39 Ben in Texas
    December 18, 2009

    Whether or not one would believe this fictional wife is irrelevant, isn’t it? Just because you might believe her, that doesn’t mean it’s true nor that her statement is good evidence.

  40. #40 Ben in Texas
    December 18, 2009

    What if the wife is sleeping with another man, and the statement about the kidnapping is a ruse to draw you to a certain place to be murdered?

    What if the wife is hallucinating from ingesting something she didn’t mean to?

    What if the wife just woke up and is still in the clutches of a bad dream?

    What if the wife suffered a blow to the head…

    etc.

  41. #41 David Marjanovi?
    December 18, 2009

    If your messiah is killed, naturally you conclude that he was not the messiah.

    Unless you’re a sufficiently religious nutjob.

    In a case that is fairly similar to the abovementioned Mormons, Kim Il-sung is still the president of North Korea. The newspaper headline “The Kim is dead, long live the Kim” is not quite accurate in its implications ? Kim Jong-il is not the president, and never will be.

    That we have volition can be tested by a visit to an ice cream shop — vanilla or strawberry?

    Ew. Strawberries stink, and so does everything made from them.

    I have no quarrel with parsimony. It does a good job with probabilities. It doesn’t determine truth.

    Nothing determines truth in science.

    Suppose we discover the truth. How can we find out whether what we’ve found is indeed the truth? By comparing it to the truth, which we don’t have?

    It’s fair to say that a claim to Bach’s superiority over Beethoven (or vice versa) is a matter of taste; a claim that Milli Vanilli is superior to either is not.

    What?!? Of course it is.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to point out that any such taste is a mind-bogglingly bad taste; but it’s still a taste, which makes the whole thing a question of taste. Like… strawberry.

    31. ARGUMENT FROM FALLIBILITY (1)
    Human reasoning is inherently flawed.
    (2) Therefore, there is no reasonable way to challenge a proposition.
    (3) I propose that God exists.
    (4) Therefore, God exists.

    Some people have known since at least the 12th century that if you use reason to argue against reason, you contradict yourself, while if you don’t use reason to argue against reason, you’re unreasonable.

  42. #42 Mr T
    December 18, 2009

    What if the wife is actually Cthulhu waking from his dream to eat your soul?

    What if the wife is actually a Cartesian demon who has tricked you into believing in a false reality, or that it is an angel, or Jesus, or God?

    What if the wife is actually a god who is jealous that you believe in a fictional god, or who will punish you for believing in absurd things without evidence?

    Etc.

  43. #43 Kel, OM
    December 18, 2009

    Given the analogy, surely it would be pertinent to put some supernatural happenings into it. “Your daughter has been taken into the 9th dimension”, “Your daughter is currently being held hostage by orcs”, “Your daughter has had her life force stolen by a rogue fairy”, “Your daughter has been abducted by aliens from Andromeda” – it really doesn’t matter what in the end. But the plausibility for a real world happenings is radically different from a paranormal or supernatural happenings.

    Trusted source A doesn’t follow to Extremely implausible X. Hume’s problem of miracles and whatnot.

  44. #44 SteveM
    December 18, 2009

    So we’re clear — if (say) your spouse were to tell you X (perhaps “Our daughter has been kidnapped; come home now!”), you would reject X unless and until you examined empirical evidence for X? I’m highly skeptical that anyone actually lives that way, so I want to be clear.

    This is hardly a good analogy to Ellie’s claims in Contact. An only slightly better one would be if my wife rang me up and said she had a vision of our daughter (who is, say, currently living way from home) being kidnapped. While I would believe she had the vision, I would be less inclined to believe that my daughter had been kidnapped until I saw some other evidence of it.

  45. #45 David Marjanovi?
    December 18, 2009

    Better wording: if you argue against reason without using reason in your argument, you’re being unreasonable.

    Also, vanilla is good. Strawberry is not, so I don’t need to exert any free will.

  46. #46 Mr T
    December 18, 2009

    David Marjanovi?:

    What?!? Of course it is. I wouldn’t hesitate to point out that any such taste is a mind-bogglingly bad taste; but it’s still a taste, which makes the whole thing a question of taste. Like… strawberry.

    Milli Vanilli were not singing on their records and were lip-synching in concerts. I assume that “superior” in the artistic sense requires that one actually perform the artform in question. Not all artists are complete frauds. Unless we’re talking about different things (e.g. the artists who actually sang Milli Vanilli’s songs, or perhaps talents other than their singing), the po-mo arguments about taste do not support the likes Milli Vanilli. Also, I like strawberries, even strawberry pie.

    Some people have known since at least the 12th century that if you use reason to argue against reason, you contradict yourself, while if you don’t use reason to argue against reason, you’re unreasonable.

    Would you provide that link again please?

  47. #47 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 18, 2009

    Simple, physical evidence that will convince scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers as being of divine, and not natural, origin. An eternally burning bush is a good example.

    I can’t think of anything that I could observe that would convince me that the “divine” exists, because to exist outside of the natural world begs the meaning of existence. Burning bush doesn’t work. I have hallucinated, which is a physical explanation. Would an eternally burning bush do it for you? How would you know that it would burn eternally in the future? What evidence are you expecting someone to produce?

    Not all metaphysical claims are bullshit (although, I think divine claims are). They just aren’t amenable to falsification. Example: “Stealing is wrong”…this is the basis of a law that people generally accept. There isn’t a lot of controversy surrounding such laws. You might not agree that stealing is wrong, but you would be hard put to assert exactly what evidence would falsify it.

  48. #48 Mr T
    December 18, 2009

    If it were entirely a matter of taste, there would be no reason to study great works of art and literature. It’s fair to say that a claim to Bach’s superiority over Beethoven (or vice versa) is a matter of taste; a claim that Milli Vanilli is superior to either is not.

    Issues regarding Milli Vanilli notwithstanding, I still find this argument idiotic.

    First of all, it is a fact of life that many things depend on personal taste. You can study how others made certain works of art, or even how someone cooked a steak, and if it meets your standards of taste, that study will help you to produce works of art of your own that will also meet your standards. Art is stuff that people make, and sometimes someone somewhere happens to like it. The whole category of stuff we call “art” does not depend on whether or not there are objective standards.

    Secondly, you’re here preaching us of the virtues of “testimonial evidence”, yet things that are a “matter of personal taste” aren’t worth studying? Is this a contradiction, or am I confused somehow?

  49. #49 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 18, 2009

    Would an eternally burning bush do it for you?

    I would be a physical object that could be tested to confirm that it isn’t obeying natural laws with the eternal flame. And it still flames in spite of attempts to put it out by vacuum, etc.

    Metaphysical=non-concrete=imaginary for the most part. Which is why metaphysical philosophical claims for a deity are bullshit. No substance to test. Sophists may claim otherwise, but that is the case.

  50. #50 Josh
    December 18, 2009

    Who is telling you that science promises TruthTM? I need to kick this person’s ass.

  51. #51 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 18, 2009

    one thing Pascal did get right was that how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof

    Since relativity provided the theoretical basis for nuclear weapons and since nuclear weapons killed about half a million people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then relativity should be discarded. The appeal to consequences is a logical fallacy.

  52. #52 aratina cage
    December 18, 2009

    Robocop,

    I would also suggest that the we all tend to see ourselves as rational and the other guy as the one suffering from “psychological effects such as confirmation bias.”…Nearly everyone at Pharyngula claims that evidence could and would change everything. But the paradigm they operate under (no less than the paradigm religious believers operate under) means that they almost surely won’t (and perhaps can’t) recognize opposing evidence even when it sits right in front of them. -#400

    And you would be wrong to claim that. I doubt anyone here is under a delusion that they have no biases, but that doesn’t make theism any more reasonable. You talk “evidence” but you have not presented anything convincing.

    By any reasonable measure, personal testimony is evidence, even if you or I (or you and I) reject it. Historical evidence exists (best put forth, in my view, by N.T. Wright). I think the best evidence is volition. But I readily acknowledge that I can’t be sure that I don’t suffer from confirmation bias or that I’m not misreading the evidence. -#404

    Not at all. Those are not reasonable means of evidence for anything existing outside of people’s memories. There has to be more than just the recall of memory from one person or a group of people to consider a such a recollection as evidence. Eyewitness testimony only gives us information on what a person believes happened or remembers happening, it does not tell us that something actually happened until it corroborates with independent lines of evidence. The ability of people to misremember and lie is a central reason for skepticism.

    I think what is confusing you is that our societies are built on a level of trust. We can usually trust people we encounter to not deceive us or to be at least cautiously honest in communications. We need that for society to work. So if someone says they read a book earlier or gives you directions, it is easy to accept what they say as true; it makes no difference when you have no reason to doubt them. We do have reasons, however, to doubt the claims of monotheists about their god, so it isn’t one of those things that we can accept unchallenged.

    The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and it’s much easier to destroy than to create. -#404

    Actually, absence of evidence is evidence of absence when you search diligently for evidence of one thing you think explains some phenomenon and instead find something else that explains that phenomenon or when you research the phenomenon itself and find out the claim that the phenomenon exists was unjustified to begin with.

  53. #53 aratina cage
    December 18, 2009

    From a legal standpoint, testimonial evidence is one of the four main types of evidence. -Robocop #415

    Only for social interactions where it is your word against theirs, and even in such a case a testimony ought to be supported by other lines of evidence, otherwise you get a James Bain case of locking a non-guilty person up for 35 years on a whim.

    Just look at the Dover trial that considered whether or not ID was scientific to see how well testimonial evidence stands up against real, demonstrative, and documentary evidence.

  54. #54 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 18, 2009

    We do have reasons, however, to doubt the claims of monotheists about their god, so it isn’t one of those things that we can accept unchallenged.

    One problem with personal testimony about religion is there’s so many conflicting testimonies. Pope Benedict and Fred Phelps and Bishop Spong have testimonies of completely different gods, yet all three consider themselves to be Christians.

  55. #55 WowbaggerOM
    December 18, 2009

    Pope Benedict and Fred Phelps and Bishop Spong have testimonies of completely different gods, yet all three consider themselves to be Christians.

    And, tellingly, of those three two of them (I’m not sure about Spong) would quite happily argue that the other two aren’t Christians at all.

  56. #56 Rutee, Shrieking Harpy of Dooooom
    December 19, 2009

    Just for the record, Testimony is something that a lot of legal professionals are trying to weaken specifically because it’s so often wrong. Thank the scientific community for that, I suppose.

    Too bad we’re not done doing it yet.

  57. #57 975robocop
    December 19, 2009

    424: I think this a bit misleading, after all a wife should be a trusted source and would not joke over such matters. If a complete stranger were to ring up and say they’ve kidnapped your daughter, would you take it on face value? In that case, I’m sure you’d probably ask for at least a little bit of evidence to support such a statement.

    You’re trying to move the goalposts. If you wish to claim that testimonial evidence is never acceptable or actionable, you’d have to tell your spouse (in my example) to take a hike unless and until s/he had some empirical evidence.

    428: What about if your wife rang you and said “there’s a Tyrannosaurus in our backyard”? Would you take that on face value?

    Now you’re questioning the nature and quality of the evidence and not its status as evidence.

    438: I can’t think of anything that I could observe that would convince me that the “divine” exists, because to exist outside of the natural world begs the meaning of existence.

    Like Dawkins at the end of TGD. Thus for those who think this way (admitted or not), any claim that “evidence could convince me otherwise” is a false one. The preconceived philosophical commitment (a Kuhn paradigm) will control and require the rejection of any real or apparent contradictory evidence.

    439: The whole category of stuff we call “art” does not depend on whether or not there are objective standards.

    So an artist is only great because either (a) lots of people like his/her work (Dan Brown in a great artist?), or (b) sufficient self-proclaimed experts with sufficient power proclaim “great” status (if undiscovered by the wider world Bach wouldn’t have been great?)?

    442: The appeal to consequences is a logical fallacy.

    Strictly as a measure of truth or falsity, sure. But you should notice that I didn’t raise the issue in those terms. In real life, decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Many beliefs, views and commitments demand action. If I act and what action I take depends in large measure on the cost of action or inaction and the consequences thereof. I’m looking out across my patio to my pool. If I were to think I saw that a toddler had fallen in and was struggling, I’d simply get up and pull the child out. The cost of my doing so would be low (it wouldn’t be dangerous and the pool is only a few steps away — and if I were wrong about what I thought I saw, it wouldn’t be a big deal), while the consequences of inaction would be catastrophic. On the other hand, if a similar situation took place at one of the nearby beaches, at night, with the wind howling, and the apparent victim far from shore, the calculation would be quite different because the cost of action would be very high (depending upon water temperature, the strength of my swimming, etc.). In that case, I would likely consider other options, especially if I wasn’t certain about what I’d seen.

    443: And you would be wrong to claim that.

    Yet #438 admits it. Imagine that.

    Eyewitness testimony only gives us information on what a person believes happened or remembers happening, it does not tell us that something actually happened until it corroborates with independent lines of evidence.

    So if you were faced with my posited example [423: if (say) your spouse were to tell you X (perhaps “Our daughter has been kidnapped; come home now!”), you would reject X unless and until you examined empirical evidence for X?], you’d tell your spouse to call back when s/he could provide some empirical evidence?

    Actually, absence of evidence is evidence of absence when you search diligently for evidence of one thing you think explains some phenomenon and instead find something else that explains that phenomenon or when you research the phenomenon itself and find out the claim that the phenomenon exists was unjustified to begin with.

    CDOs were created using precisely your reasoning. By doing so, Wall Street fell victim to Taleb’s “black swan problem,” with horrendous economic consequences.

    444: Just look at the Dover trial that considered whether or not ID was scientific to see how well testimonial evidence stands up against real, demonstrative, and documentary evidence.

    I’m well aware of the problems inherent in testimonial evidence (all forms of evidence have their limitations, in fact). Those problems are considerable. But (again) those problems relate to the nature and quality of the evidence and not to its status as evidence.

  58. #58 aratina cage
    December 19, 2009

    Robocop,

    I can’t think of anything that I could observe that would convince me that the “divine” exists, because to exist outside of the natural world begs the meaning of existence. -#438

    Like Dawkins at the end of TGD. Thus for those who think this way (admitted or not), any claim that “evidence could convince me otherwise” is a false one.

    No way. At this point in our history, we know that brains are not gateways to a supernatural realm but the products of Nature. The ability to create imaginative fictional universes does not instantiate those fictions into reality. You would have to show evidence for the divine that is external to brains, then it would convince us. Stories, testimonials, don’t count.

  59. #59 aratina cage
    December 19, 2009

    Robocop,

    Taleb regards almost all major scientific discoveries, historical events, and artistic accomplishments as “black swans”?undirected and unpredicted. -Wikipedia

    It looks like Taleb’s “black swan” is “anything that happens that we did not expect to happen“. It’s bullshit. Besides, follow through with your thought: you are proposing that one day we might discover a single brain with an uplink to a divine realm. Or perhaps a person named “Harry Potter” will turn out to be a real wizard.

  60. #60 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 19, 2009

    Yawn, Robocop still trying the impossible, to justify his belief in an imaginary deity so we think he is rational? Sorry Robocop, this one of those put up or shut up cases. Put up the conclusive physical evidence for your deity, or shut up. So far, you keep making the case you should have shut up weeks ago as you are evidenceless, but you haven’t. Doesn’t make you look that rational.

  61. #61 975robocop
    December 19, 2009

    449: You would have to show evidence for the divine that is external to brains, then it would convince us.

    You’re asserting that only a very specific type of evidence could convince you. Okay. But that’s quite different from what #438 alleged (“I can’t think of anything that I could observe that would convince me…”).

    450: It looks like Taleb’s “black swan” is “anything that happens that we did not expect to happen”. It’s bullshit.

    You might want to avoid jumping to a conclusion based solely upon a Wikipedia article. Just a thought.

    Taleb’s website is here.

  62. #62 975robocop
    December 19, 2009

    451: Doesn’t make you look that rational.

    Really, Nerd, you should give the egocentrism a rest. On what basis could you possibly think I care a whit about how I look to you (of all people)?

  63. #63 aratina cage
    December 19, 2009

    You might want to avoid jumping to a conclusion based solely upon a Wikipedia article. Just a thought.

    I did have that thought, you know, so it wasn’t a black swan event for you to say that. How about “blue spirals over Norway” or “two moose outside my front door at 9 a.m.”? Those are on the same level as finding a black swan. Finding a brain outfitted with a divine communicator in the future is about as probable as finding a Sasquatch in the goat shed during a solar eclipse.

    The black swan analogy for finding evidence of the divine has other problems. When we searched the animal kingdom, we found black swans. We also eventually learned that black swans could exist even if it would have turned out that they didn’t exist. With the divine, things have swung the other way in terms of probabilities, becoming only more improbable as we continue to study the matter.

  64. #64 Forbidden Snowflake
    December 19, 2009

    So if you were faced with my posited example [423: if (say) your spouse were to tell you X (perhaps “Our daughter has been kidnapped; come home now!”), you would reject X unless and until you examined empirical evidence for X?], you’d tell your spouse to call back when s/he could provide some empirical evidence?

    We’ll, to be frank, I might just say “OMG! Kidnapped? What happened exactly?”
    If the hypothetical spouse replied “The principal called and said she didn’t come to school, and I got a ransom note in the mail”, that would be a cause for concern (suggesting lines of evidence for kidnapping that can be easily confirmed).
    However, if the spouse said “I think she was kidnapped because I had a dream to that effect”, well, pardon me for not jumping out of my skin just yet.

  65. #65 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    robo:

    439: The whole category of stuff we call “art” does not depend on whether or not there are objective standards.
    So an artist is only great because either (a) lots of people like his/her work (Dan Brown in a great artist?), or (b) sufficient self-proclaimed experts with sufficient power proclaim “great” status (if undiscovered by the wider world Bach wouldn’t have been great?)?

    No. I’m saying that the fact that there are no objective standards for artistic value does not render all of art not worth studying. There are certainly objective components to the study of art, but at the same time the intentions and perceptions of the artist and audience are always partly subjective. “Great artists” are judged by individuals as great at accomplishing their artistic goals, whatever they may be. One can learn to make “great” art by studying the techniques developed by others; by informing their own work by understanding the history and philosophical background of other artists; by learning how to best use those techniques to achieve a particular goal or effect; by creating works that suit the interests or desires of the artist, a particular audience, the current society as a whole, etc. Those things require studying art, what it is one is making, how and why it is made, and what function if any it serves for individuals or for society. They do not depend on whether an artwork has a value in any objectively “true” sense. If you’re expecting that in art, that’s your problem.

    Getting back to the topic of religion…

    Strictly as a measure of truth or falsity, sure. But you should notice that I didn’t raise the issue in those terms. In real life, decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Many beliefs, views and commitments demand action. If I act and what action I take depends in large measure on the cost of action or inaction and the consequences thereof.

    Pascal’s wager is still fallacious. You should notice that you aren’t raising the issue in the correct terms.

    What consequences are there for a belief in a god that you do not know exists? How could you possibly know what those consequences could possibly be? At least with your ridiculous kidnapped-child analogy, then at least you can be reasonably sure those other beings exist, and so you should act accordingly because you can be reasonably sure what the set of possible consequences are for action or inaction. You’re not only assuming that god exists, but also that it has certain properties: namely, that it will reward believers or punish non-believers. What if there is a god, but it does not have those properties? More generally, what if there there are no otherworldly consequences if you do not believe in a god?

  66. #66 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    grrr… blockquote fail.

  67. #67 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    This variant of Pascal’s wager is probably the funniest:

    31. ARGUMENT FROM INTIMIDATION, a.k.a. TOMAS DE TORQUEMADA’S ARGUMENT

    (1) See this bonfire?

    (2) Therefore, God exists.

  68. #68 Janine, She Wolf Of Pharyngula, OM
    December 19, 2009

    Mr T, there is one difference. The pain from being torched by Torquemada will end at death. (Alas, the poor person will never feel pleasure again neither.) The god that Pascal wants you to accept will hurt you forever.

    I am grateful that the thought of eternal pain does not enter into my weighing of the facts. Perhaps because it is not a fact.

  69. #69 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 19, 2009

    robocop #448

    Those problems are considerable. But (again) those problems relate to the nature and quality of the evidence and not to its status as evidence.

    Okay, personal testimony is evidence. But, as I mentioned before, the available personal testimony is contradictory. So how do we know the personal testimony that you hold true is actually true when it’s easy to find someone who says something completely different. Note that I don’t even have to know what personal testimony you adhere to, I know that I can find someone saying the opposite.

    For us to accept personal testimony it has to be shown to be reliable. So far that isn’t happening.

  70. #70 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    That’s true, Janine.

    If we’re just talking about imaginary rewards and punishments, I assume it makes no difference who is doling them out. Perhaps Robo can enlighten us heathens.

    In the meantime, I will threaten everyone and their dog with an imaginary being who punishes everyone who believes in a god. It will be far more than fire and brimstone, I’m afraid, worse than anything Milton could’ve imagined. I would appreciate it if Robo can refute that, or he shall suffer severely. Better get crackin’.

  71. #71 WowbaggerOM
    December 19, 2009

    Shorter Robocop: ‘you’d probably believe someone if they told you something and some people have told you (indirectly) that my god exists; ergo, my god exists.’

    Even if – for the sake of argument – we let you assert this particular claim (with its implicit flaws), you’re still faced with the problem that it can apply to any and every god anyone chooses to use it for. Without a way to specify that it can only apply to one god (and only one god) then it, like Pascal’s wager, is only an example of a clever-sounding rationalisation designed to ease cognitive dissonance.

  72. #72 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 19, 2009

    A god who threatens non-believers is a terrorist. I don’t deal with terrorists.

  73. #73 Janine, She Wolf Of Pharyngula, OM
    December 19, 2009

    ‘Tis. I am tempted to steal that use use it for myself.

  74. #74 Kel, OM
    December 19, 2009

    You’re trying to move the goalposts. If you wish to claim that testimonial evidence is never acceptable or actionable, you’d have to tell your spouse (in my example) to take a hike unless and until s/he had some empirical evidence.

    How can I be shifting the goalposts when I didn’t set them, I’m merely commenting on the situation being one you can trust, i.e. it’s a real world situation and although unusual it is still plausible. Of course as many others have pointed out above, the situation may demand acting without question, what if your wife said she knew this because she had a vision and by the time you get home your daughter is walking in the door off the school bus?

    The problem with the example is that it’s using trusted sources for a real world event where time is of the essence. It’s not shifting the goalposts more than pointing out the problem of eyewitness testimony.

    Now you’re questioning the nature and quality of the evidence and not its status as evidence.

    Exactly. My wife tells me she rolled a die and it came up six – I could believe that. She rolled the die 50 times and it came up 6 every time? Somehow I’d be incredulous.

    Sagan didn’t say “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” because it flowed nicely off his tongue. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable at the best of times so when it comes to matters that are either unknown or unreal then there’s going to need to be something better than eyewitness testimony. It’s the difference between my wife seeing a spider in the house and seeing a ghost.

    Unlike post #438, I fully accept that there are particular observations that would convince me of the supernatural, and further observations that would convince me that there are interventionist deities. Empirical measurements of a violation of the natural order would be sufficient.

  75. #75 WowbaggerOM
    December 19, 2009

    Yet #438 admits it. Imagine that.

    I didn’t write post #438. Nor did anyone else but Antiochus Epiphanes; unless you can demonstrate that there’s some kind of atheist holy book that’s being cited when he/she said this, and/or point to the results of the poll where Antiochus Epiphanes was elected, unanimously, to speak for every atheist on the planet, then you can’t apply what was written to anyone else.

    There are any number of things which would convince me of your god’s existence. Ditto any of the many other gods. What about you? Can you honestly say that you’re amenable to becoming a Hindu if it could be demonstrated that Vishnu is real and your god isn’t?

  76. #76 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 19, 2009

    Janine, please use it with my blessing. ;-)

  77. #77 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 19, 2009

    The question I posed in #438 hasn’t really been answered except by NoR, who said that any phenomenon that violated a natural law would be taken as belief in God. Doesn’t make much sense to me (because laws are not universally verifiable) but never mind. I don’t speak for all atheists, but I’m sure some would agree with my position. I have made a metaphysical choice to reject belief in supernatural phenomena. This isn’t because evidence has been brought to bear against the supernatural. On the contrary, by being supernatural these phenomena are by definition inscrutable. So I say, fuck them. They aren’t interesting. Natural phenomena and explanations are scrutable. We can learn about them using the only tools that we have (reason and senses)…I will always prefer a natural explanation to a supernatural one. In the absence of a natural explanation, I will remain agnostic.

  78. #78 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    Antiochus Epiphanes:

    I think I can more or less agree with you. Considering the lack of evidence, and the lack of a coherent definition for what a “supernatural” being or phenomenon would be, I personally don’t believe it’s even possible for “supernatural” things to exist.

    (from here on, I will spare you an excessive number of scare quotes … insert generous portions as you see fit.)

    What is there to say about a supernatural being? What would constitute a supernatural person, a supernatural horse, a supernatural plant, a supernatural law or lawgiver, a supernatural process, a supernatural whatever-you-like?

    Perhaps you laugh at the idea (and you should), but is a supernatural horse or a supernatural plant any more or less likely than any of the other options? I say the likelihood of them all is zero, until it can be demonstrated otherwise.

    Short of introducing some arbitrary definitions for supernatural stuff; if such things do exist, there seems to be nothing that we as natural beings could possibly know about them. I suppose I wouldn’t say that I can be absolutely certain of that, but as you say, fuck ‘em. They’re useless as explanations of the world. Science works, bitches.

  79. #79 Kel, OM
    December 19, 2009

    The question I posed in #438 hasn’t really been answered except by NoR, who said that any phenomenon that violated a natural law would be taken as belief in God. Doesn’t make much sense to me (because laws are not universally verifiable) but never mind.

    This is what I find the problem to be with an interventionist deity. If there is such thing as the supernatural, an interventionist deity by definition has to be able to interact with the natural – otherwise how can it be interventionist? To take that definition of supernatural would be to reject the possibility of God as is understood in a theistic sense. So any theist positing supernatural in such a manner is in effect proving the point that atheists have – that there is no such thing as God.

    For me, it has to follow that if there’s an interventionist deity, then there has to be a means to see natural effects for supernatural causes. Thus my justification for rejecting #438 is that a deity needs to produce real-world results. And on that, then a violation of what we could consider the natural order would be evidence for supernatural causes. Say a bottle of pure water spontaneously turning into expensive French wine, or an amputee instantly regaining limbs.

    So for me it depends on what it means to be supernatural. But if the supernatural is going to be anything other than pure speculation, then there needs to be an interface between the natural and supernatural and we should be able to see natural effects from supernatural causes if such supernatural causes exist. And of course this hinges on the nature of what people define as God.

  80. #80 David Marjanovi?
    December 19, 2009

    Would you provide that link again please?

    Oops, must have made a typo in the HTML. It’s this Wikipedia article… which, strangely, doesn’t mention the apparently famous passage I paraphrased. I read about it in some book on the discoveries of the Islamic Middle Ages…

  81. #81 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    Kel:

    Thus my justification for rejecting #438 is that a deity needs to produce real-world results. And on that, then a violation of what we could consider the natural order would be evidence for supernatural causes. Say a bottle of pure water spontaneously turning into expensive French wine, or an amputee instantly regaining limbs.

    That’s just fine with me, but even that would not be conclusive evidence of anything “supernatural”. I’m sure you know history is full of cases where people have believed natural phenomena are “divine” or “supernatural”. To me it seems like a bunch of meaningless words. I could come up with an arbitrary definition which implies quantum mechanics is guided by “supernatural causes”, but that wouldn’t make it so.

  82. #82 Kel, OM
    December 19, 2009

    That’s just fine with me, but even that would not be conclusive evidence of anything “supernatural”.

    Conclusive, no. Indicative? Yes.

    If I had a staff turn into a snake, or water turn into wine, or the sky lit up with supernovae from across the galaxy to say “Jesus is lord”, or a voice that everyone heard in their own language gave the exact same message at exactly the same time, or an amputee instantaneously regrowing limbs – such events to me would be indicative of a supernatural force at work. Now it may be that there are undiscovered phenomena that can explain such things, but at that point I’d be willing to concede that a supernatural explanation is possible.

  83. #83 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    David Marjanovi?, thanks for the link.

    Kel:

    Now it may be that there are undiscovered phenomena that can explain such things, but at that point I’d be willing to concede that a supernatural explanation is possible.

    I think we’re on the same page, but isn’t that effectively defining supernatural as “anything that is not possible in nature” or “anything we cannot explain”?

    I will admit that something like that might show the supernatural is possible; but given what we know now, the idea of a “supernatural explanation” is an oxymoron.

    Even if we discovered that “God” exists, that by itself wouldn’t explain much. If we saw “Jesus is Lord” written in supernovae (and decided it wasn’t aliens playing a prank), we might conclude the phenomena is due to something “supernatural”, but what exactly would that explain? The wide variety of beliefs about Jesus would not all become reasonable. The Bible wouldn’t suddenly start making sense. We would have to broaden our concept of what is possible, but instead of explaining anything, I think it would make everything more absurd.

  84. #84 Mr T
    December 19, 2009

    phenomena is due

    Profound apologies to Sven DiMilo; those who taught me grammar, Latin, and typing; and everyone reading this thread.

  85. #85 Owlmirror
    December 19, 2009

    I believe and am committed to the propositions that all persons are created equal, that love is better than hate, that might doesn’t make right and to any number of other ideas, none of which is supported by evidence.

    I think your conclusion is arguable, inasmuch as you would not be able to hold such propositions without defining your terms as concepts that arise from personal experience. Furthermore, neuropsychology provides tools to examine how people’s brains hold such concepts, and allows demonstrations of how behaviors based on such concepts can be changed by the application of hormones or hormone blockers, or by using transcranial magnetic induction to affect those parts of the brain where behaviors based on those concepts arise. Finally, game theory provides ways to determine the outcome of group interactions based on iterated applications of rules based on various propositions.

    In short, you do not convince me that those propositions are completely unsupported by evidence. I will acknowledge that they do fall under concepts that are difficult to define and ascertain as being absolutely true or absolutely false, though.

    Every thought system, ideology or similar construct requires assumed starting points.

    Ah, but as I noted some minimal set of “starting points” are axiomatically true. Clearly, others arise from personal experience, and from personality. Personality may be hard to pin down and define exactly, but it arises from psychology, which arises from the mind and brain and body, which can be examined, to some extent, empirically.

    From a legal standpoint, testimonial evidence is one of the four main types of evidence.

    I, at least, am not arguing the law, but the actual determination of whether a proposition — “a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable exists” — is true or false, or can be determined to be true or false, and if indeterminate, can be safely rejected by logical parsimony. In determining the actual truth or falsity of such an empirical proposition, empirical evidence is the only evidence that I am referring to.

    In evaluating this proposition, the only testimony that would apply would be God’s own testimony, directly from itself, here and now, as an empirical reality. No other testimony is applicable precisely because the claim is being made for an entity that would have both the ability and motive to speak for itself here and now, yet does not do so.

    When testimonial evidence is evaluated in court, is an ancient and badly-copied written work accepted if it contradicts reality and itself? Is it given the same weight as a living person whose testimony can be cross-examined?

    Have you read Sagan’s Contact? If you’re right, Ellie’s claims should be rejected even though they are entirely true.

    I did read it, and re-read the last few chapters just now to refresh my memory.

    First of all, it was not just Ellie, but Ellie and four others. From Earth perspective, five humans (3 males, 2 females), all from different nations, entered the dodecahedron, and exited 20 minutes later. They claimed to have made of a journey that lasted more than a day, to another star system (Vega), and then to a place that looked like a huge interstellar transit station which, when they exited, opened on a beach in a place much like Earth. All records they made during this trip were gone, explained in the book as being because the records were all made on magnetic media, and they were exposed to magnetic flux from parts of the Machine in operation. Apparently, no records were made using chemical or mechanical processes. No materials were returned except for some grains of sand from a beach.

    Each person presumably recounted a story that was consistent with each of the others, and presumably retained that consistency under cross-examination/interrogation.

    Some points that I thought of:

    1) The magnetic media may have been randomized beyond the point where the electronics of the devices that read from them could distinguish them from noise, but those media should have been given to a data recovery specialist. It’s actually pretty hard to wipe magnetic media completely, and they should have retained something that could be recovered.

    2) The sand may have been conveyed from Earth, in which case it would yield little interesting information. But it might have been possible to analyze it more closely in order to determine that. If the sand was actually alien, it might have contained microbes that were similarly alien, or unusual trace elements or isotope ratios, thus providing corroborating empirical evidence.

    3) They were accused of setting their watches forward, but I wonder, did none of the devices sent along have internal clocks that were inaccessible to outside interference?

    4) There may well have been “clocks” which could not have been tampered with: The clocks of their bodies. Each of them ate food during the 24-hour period; a thorough medical exam afterward might well be able to determine how long before excretion the food was eaten. If they excreted at the beach, there may well have been a mass discrepancy when they returned. Additional temporal information would have been recorded in the length of head, body, and facial hair, fingernail growth, and possibly sunburn and/or tanning if the simulated beach included UV as part of the light from the simulated Sun.

    5) Observations were made of Vega which could be corroborated by observation from Earth: Two massive black holes in orbit, and a huge bank of radio telescopes.

    Except for the last, no-one in the book brought up or considered these points. Obviously, Carl Sagan was trying to tell a story, not account for every last detail. Yet it can be in the tiniest details that empirical evidence can be found.

    As such, the five scientists’ stories did at least potentially have supporting empirical evidence.

    If we both reject the truth of what is claimed to be believed, is it because of mere perversity — or because of a lack of corroborating empirical evidence in support of the testifiers’ belief being true?

    It needn’t be either. We may simply reject the evidence as mistaken or simply not credible.

    Why would we think is was mistaken? Why would we think it not credible?

    Do you really think historical evidence exists as to more than that (even though the conclusions we draw from that evidence may conflict greatly)?

    Obviously not.

    Cause and effect are relentless.

    Not so, else there would be no contingency and no quantum indeterminacy. We do not live in a clockwork universe.

    Accordingly, Dawkins (for example and among many others) rightly recognizes that without something non-material, we can’t have volition.

    I think you misinterpret Dawkins, there. Setting aside for one moment the question of the general existence of volition, do you deny that insanity exists, as a defect of the brain, and that this can affect behavior? Do you deny the existence of involuntary reflexes and involuntary actions?

    Secondly, your conclusion, is firstly based on a false premise, and also begs the question, and therefore cannot be concluded to be right.

    Furthermore, this does not address the fact that you are still asserting a non-sequitur. Even if substance dualism is true, it is not evidence for a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable.

    — we’re merely meat machines (albeit amazing meat machines) doing what we’re programmed to do.

    Why would sufficiently complex meat machines not have behaviors indistinguishable from the appearance from volition in general?

    That we have volition can be tested by a visit to an ice cream shop — vanilla or strawberry?

    Do you have volition over the fact that you find the aromatic chemicals that comprise both flavours pleasing?

    I have no quarrel with parsimony. It does a good job with probabilities. It doesn’t determine truth.

    What is truth? How would you determine it?

    My point is simply that science, by its nature, is much better at finding error than at ascertaining and constructing positive truth.

    What is “positive truth”? How does one go about ascertaining it? How does one go about constructing it? How do you know that what you have ascertained and/or constructed is actually truth?

    If God is real now, God could provide empirical evidence now.

    He surely could. But I don’t see that as a distinction that makes a difference.

    It could be argued that everything in the synoptics, even if the miracles described were conceded as being true as understood by their writers, would equally support an entity with sufficiently advanced science and technology rather than the magic of an O³ creator-entity, and therefore not be in support of a God that necessarily is present and alive and aware now.

    That’s a pretty huge difference.

    You might want to re-read the Pauline letters a little more carefully.

    Which passages do you have in mind?

    1 Corinthians 18-25, specifically verse 21 in context.

    There are probably others.

    [re definition of faith 3c in the OED] A lack of proof is not the same as a lack of evidence. Moreover, evidence needn’t be empirical.

    Are you conceding that faith is belief without empirical evidence or logical proof? Because that’s certainly what I meant.

    What part of “how one evaluates an argument should be based, in part, upon the consequences thereof” is unclear?

    The parts that I asked you to clarify: What the argument is, and what the consequences are.

    You made an argument about gun handling and gun safety. Guns and bullets are empirically real devices; the damage done by a bullet fired into human flesh is an empirically real consequence. How does this in any way relate to the topic under discussion, the empirical existence of a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable?

  86. #86 Kel, OM
    December 19, 2009

    I think we’re on the same page, but isn’t that effectively defining supernatural as “anything that is not possible in nature” or “anything we cannot explain”?
    I will admit that something like that might show the supernatural is possible; but given what we know now, the idea of a “supernatural explanation” is an oxymoron.

    I think not possible in nature is stronger grounds than anything we cannot explain. The latter is the worship of gaps, the former would give a strong indication of the type of force that is being posited.

    As you pointed out, it’s more indicative than conclusive. One can’t help but think of Shermer’s last law. What can we really infer about the interventionist force? We might be able to infer that it is personal in some way to humanity, but we couldn’t from those observations alone conclude that it is omnipotent / omniscient / omnibenevolent / omnipresent / etc. But that there is something there would be significant in itself, and not ignorable.

    Even if we discovered that “God” exists, that by itself wouldn’t explain much. If we saw “Jesus is Lord” written in supernovae (and decided it wasn’t aliens playing a prank), we might conclude the phenomena is due to something “supernatural”, but what exactly would that explain? The wide variety of beliefs about Jesus would not all become reasonable. The Bible wouldn’t suddenly start making sense.

    Agreed, it would reveal very little in the way of what we can infer. Indicative, not conclusive. And it would be much better than what they have now – which is an undetectable interventionist deity.

  87. #87 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 19, 2009

    Kel: I get what you are saying. But the theists can’t have it both ways…retreating to “mystery” whenever it is convenient while pointing to natural phenomena as the result of divine intervention. If one wants to posit an interventionist god, it is really up to them to deduce what observations of the natural world are entailed by the existence of the deity and which ones are precluded. I have never heard a concept of the deity that is meaningful enough to provide such a deduction. That’s why I think the challenge of evidence has to be moved back a step. We can’t demand theists to produce evidence until they provide the argument for why such evidence would corroborate or (or ballsy theists) refute their deity. The arguments can then be examined, critiqued, challenged and refined, in which case their concept enters the realm of a scientific hypothesis and is amenable to test.

  88. #88 Kel, OM
    December 19, 2009

    I get what you are saying. But the theists can’t have it both ways…retreating to “mystery” whenever it is convenient while pointing to natural phenomena as the result of divine intervention.

    I completely agree, and I find that one of the infuriating things about those who argue for theism. Not only in this sense of trying to have their interventionist god and protecting it too, but when they will retreat back to a mysterious abstract which we can’t say anything about. Then have the nerve to call anyone who dismisses such a notion as a “fundamentalist” or “closed minded”.

    It’s like a game of theistic whack-a-mole, any time you go to hit, they’ve come up in another place and proclaimed “missed me”. It’s infuriating, it shows the vacuity of the concept, but ultimately the question of gods should be external to the antics of those arguing it.

  89. #89 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 19, 2009

    theistic whack-a-mole! Like that.

  90. #90 Owlmirror
    December 20, 2009

    Actually, absence of evidence is evidence of absence when you search diligently for evidence of one thing you think explains some phenomenon and instead find something else that explains that phenomenon or when you research the phenomenon itself and find out the claim that the phenomenon exists was unjustified to begin with.

    CDOs were created using precisely your reasoning.

    Analogy failure. CDOs are not like a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable.

    Taleb’s “black swan problem,”

    I think it’s worth emphasizing that the problem of induction being referred to here is, in this case, an empirical claim: All swans are white. An empirical counter-example was found, thus empirically falsifying the claim.

    The problem with the simplistic example is that it confuses natural language with the language of logic. An empirical skeptic would emphasize that in the statement, “all” is short for “all known examples of”, and point out that “swans” is not well defined in its specifics (does it mean “swans everywhere” or “species of swans on the continent of the speaker”?), and further logical and definitional quibbles and clarifications could be made.

    A similar analysis could be made of the economic situations that Taleb is discussing: The participants in the economic fiasco had an empirically incorrect model of what they were doing with respect to the goal they presumably hoped to achieve (maximize profits), and this was demonstrated empirically.

    But problems with induction or conceptualizations of complex systems are certainly not in any way a logical or empirical-evidence based argument in favor of the existence of a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable. It simply does not follow at all.

    Is there any particular reason that you think it relevant?

    And a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable that actually existed, and whose knowledge included the fact that humans have epistemic problems with induction and conceptualizations of complex systems would have all the more reason to provide empirical demonstration of its existence.

    A God that hides bears the responsibility for the evils done in its name.

  91. #91 Owlmirror
    December 20, 2009

    To address the philosophical arguments being made: After reading up on metaphysical naturalism, I think that philosophy is in accord with my own thinking. It’s a monistic concept, because substance dualism is incoherent. Even if God and ghosts and angels exist, the very fact that they interact with things in our universe means that they are conceptually part of the same thing as our universe. Even if these things only interacted very rarely with our universe, the very fact that interaction can occur, causing effects in our universe, means only that it’s logically necessary to expand the concept of naturalism out to encompass the demonstrated phenomena, not insist that it is somehow separate when it manifestly is not.

    Of course, even if something “miraculous” occurs — which in the metaphysical naturalism paradigm just means something far beyond human science and knowledge — like a talking burning bush on every street corner, or the stars rearranging themselves to spell out words, such tricks would demonstrate power and knowledge, but not necessarily character.

    If the message from the bush and/or stars is “fundamentalist Christianity is true”, then God is basically an asshole.

    If the message from the bush and/or stars is “Pastafarianism is true”, then God is an asshole with a sense of humor.

    Which may be a bit scarier than just an asshole God.

  92. #92 Mr T
    December 20, 2009

    Kel, #477:

    I think not possible in nature is stronger grounds than anything we cannot explain. The latter is the worship of gaps, the former would give a strong indication of the type of force that is being posited.

    Yet the former is practically saying “something that will never happen.” I’ve been trying to think of some reasonable definition for “supernatural” which doesn’t imply that by necessity it is not real. Needless to say, I haven’t come up with anything. To define it as “that which must be impossible without some ‘supernatural’ cause or agency”, simply begs the question.

    I’m not sure … with just a few words exchanged, I think we agree, but I just want to say it’s not meaningful to me to talk about being open-minded about events which we can be fairly certain are never going to happen. That’s more of a problem for the theist than ourselves, but I don’t see the point in talking about it as a possibility when at the same time we talk about it being impossible in the natural world.

    Owlmirror, #481:

    A God that hides bears the responsibility for the evils done in its name.

    Those who believe in a God that hides bear the responsibility for the evils done in its name.

  93. #93 Kel, OM
    December 20, 2009

    Yet the former is practically saying “something that will never happen.”

    I don’t think so, rather it seems to be saying something that is recognisable. I mean, it could be that a supernatural power is able to get in and rig the dice so it rolls snake eyes. But such an event would be within the bounds of everyday life and really could just as easily be put down to everyday events. A significant violation of the natural order would be distinguishable as at least the kind of being being hypothesised, so one should be more willing to address such claims than events that however unlikely are well within the bounds of nature itself.

    I’m not sure … with just a few words exchanged, I think we agree, but I just want to say it’s not meaningful to me to talk about being open-minded about events which we can be fairly certain are never going to happen.

    I can’t be certain they are never going to happen though. That’s the problem, I can’t rule out the happenings, just that the happenings shouldn’t happen.

  94. #94 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 20, 2009

    S.P. LaPlace to Napoleon, on why he had not mentioned the creator in his treatise on the universe:

    “I had no need of that hypothesis”.

    LaPlace rocked hard*. One of my favorites. Also, no one was ever harmed by reading Hume, esp. on religion and induction. Taleb could benefit from re-examining that work in light of K. Popper, another metaphysical badass. A comic book that I would love (but would otherwise not sell very well) would have the superhero team of LaPlace, Hume, and Popper fighting against logical absurdities with the powers of their mind.

    *All night and all day.

  95. #95 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 20, 2009

    If the message from the bush and/or stars is “fundamentalist Christianity is true”, then God is basically an asshole.

    The story of Abraham and Isaac, Jesus cursing the fig tree, and the Book of Job tell us that the Christian god is an asshole.

  96. #96 975robocop
    December 21, 2009

    456: I’m saying that the fact that there are no objective standards for artistic value does not render all of art not worth studying.

    I hope that you have notified all the Art and Art History professors worldwide that there are no objective standards relating to their life’s work. I suspect that most of them (at least) will disagree.

    460: Okay, personal testimony is evidence.

    So we’ve established that the claims like “faith is belief without evidence or belief in spite of the evidence” and “there’s no evidence in support of Christianity” are false and deceptive. Somehow I don’t expect the claims to stop, but I appreciate the admission nonetheless.

    For us to accept personal testimony it has to be shown to be reliable. So far that isn’t happening.

    I concede the difficulty, though it is a much different question than those we have been considering to this point.

    476: In determining the actual truth or falsity of such an empirical proposition, empirical evidence is the only evidence that I am referring to.

    So when you say something like “Christianity is wholly unsupported by evidence” what you mean is “Christianity is wholly unsupported by empirical evidence”? If so, that’s a very different claim.

    When testimonial evidence is evaluated in court, is an ancient and badly-copied written work accepted if it contradicts reality and itself? Is it given the same weight as a living person whose testimony can be cross-examined?

    An “ancient document,” pursuant to the law of evidence generally, refers both to a means of authentication for a piece of documentary evidence and to an exception to the hearsay rule. With respect to authentication, it is one that may be deemed authentic without a witness to attest to the circumstances of its creation because its age suggests that it is unlikely to have been falsified in anticipation of the litigation in which it is introduced. Ancient documents also present an exception to the hearsay rule. For example, FRE 803(16) applies this exception to all documents over twenty years old. Because of their age, they may be presented as evidence of the truth of any statements contained therein.

    As such, the five scientists’ stories did at least potentially have supporting empirical evidence.

    But since the story offers no such evidence, there’s no basis to say it exists. Indeed, the technology may have been so advanced that there is no way mere humans could have detected any empirical evidence. Do you think Ellie was irrational for believing without empirical evidence? Delusional? Mentally ill?

    Why would we think is was mistaken? Why would we think it not credible?

    Testimonial evidence is littered with difficulties, which I fully acknowledge.

    Obviously not. [In response to: “Do you really think historical evidence exists as to more than that (even though the conclusions we draw from that evidence may conflict greatly)?”]

    Why then do you think that the best experts in the field think otherwise? I’m thinking particularly of the best non-Christian experts (e.g., Vermes, Ehrmann, Fredriksen, etc., to avoid the obvious bias charge, even though I think that charge is generally overstated).

    Not so, else there would be no contingency and no quantum indeterminacy. We do not live in a clockwork universe.

    Quantum indeterminacy has not been shown to have any impact at the non-quantum level (as PZ points out almost weekly).

    Setting aside for one moment the question of the general existence of volition, do you deny that insanity exists, as a defect of the brain, and that this can affect behavior? Do you deny the existence of involuntary reflexes and involuntary actions?

    No. I don’t believe in complete volitional freedom. Even in the best light, our choices are influenced in all kinds of ways, known and unknown.

    Even if substance dualism is true, it is not evidence for a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable.

    If we have volition, materialism is almost surely false. Getting from there to the Christian God still takes some doing, I grant.

    Why would sufficiently complex meat machines not have behaviors indistinguishable from the appearance from volition in general?

    If you really believe that our perception of volition is an illusion, do you live your life consistent with that belief or do you live as if you had real choices? For example, since your claim requires that our perceptions are essentially deceptive all the time (we think we are making decisions constantly), science itself, utterly dependent as it is on our perceptions to make observations and to test them, is necessarily incoherent.

    Do you have volition over the fact that you find the aromatic chemicals that comprise both flavours pleasing?

    No, but I can choose to override my “natural” proclivities and tastes in a variety of instances (the point of the Libet experiments in my view).

    What is truth? How would you determine it? Something like the actual state of things. It’s best determined by the scientific method (when it can be applied).

    1 Corinthians 18-25, specifically verse 21 in context.

    I assume you mean chapter one, and I simply don’t see it. Sorry.

    Are you conceding that faith is belief without empirical evidence or logical proof?

    No (although I concede there isn’t proof). Irrespective of your views of testimonial evidence, historical evidence is empirical evidence (of a sort).

    The parts that I asked you to clarify: What the argument is, and what the consequences are.

    See 448.

    442: The appeal to consequences is a logical fallacy.

    Strictly as a measure of truth or falsity, sure. But you should notice that I didn’t raise the issue in those terms. In real life, decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Many beliefs, views and commitments demand action. If I act and what action I take depends in large measure on the cost of action or inaction and the consequences thereof. I’m looking out across my patio to my pool. If I were to think I saw that a toddler had fallen in and was struggling, I’d simply get up and pull the child out. The cost of my doing so would be low (it wouldn’t be dangerous and the pool is only a few steps away — and if I were wrong about what I thought I saw, it wouldn’t be a big deal), while the consequences of inaction would be catastrophic. On the other hand, if a similar situation took place at one of the nearby beaches, at night, with the wind howling, and the apparent victim far from shore, the calculation would be quite different because the cost of action would be very high (depending upon water temperature, the strength of my swimming, etc.). In that case, I would likely consider other options, especially if I wasn’t certain about what I’d seen.

    485: Taleb could benefit from re-examining that work in light of K. Popper, another metaphysical badass.

    You didn’t look at any of this stuff or read his books, did you?

  97. #97 aratina cage
    December 21, 2009

    Kel, OM,

    I mean, it could be that a supernatural power is able to get in and rig the dice so it rolls snake eyes. But such an event would be within the bounds of everyday life and really could just as easily be put down to everyday events. A significant violation of the natural order would be distinguishable as at least the kind of being being hypothesised, so one should be more willing to address such claims than events that however unlikely are well within the bounds of nature itself.

    I think I see what you mean. If a god did exist and was capable of violating the natural order of the universe, then what would lose all meaning would be the natural world itself. That is the problem with saying that the supernatural cannot exist. If there were such a thing as the supernatural (evidence forthcoming from Robocop or another theist perhaps?), then nature would be a sub-state of the supernatural—one in which any meaning would be meaningless due to everything being arbitrary (including time so you couldn’t even say that nature is a temporal state of the supernatural). I think it goes to show that the True Nihilists™ are theists.

  98. #98 Mr T
    December 21, 2009

    I hope that you have notified all the Art and Art History professors worldwide that there are no objective standards relating to their life’s work. I suspect that most of them (at least) will disagree.

    You find a single Art or Art History professor worldwide who believes we can make objective judgments about artistic value. Then, when you find such a person, make sure he or she shows his or her work. When you’ve done that, come back and tell us all about it.

    The rest is the same old bullshit.

  99. #99 aratina cage
    December 21, 2009

    I think I should add that I was reading Kel #484 while thinking about what Owlmirror #482 wrote:

    Even if God and ghosts and angels exist, the very fact that they interact with things in our universe means that they are conceptually part of the same thing as our universe. Even if these things only interacted very rarely with our universe, the very fact that interaction can occur, causing effects in our universe, means only that it’s logically necessary to expand the concept of naturalism out to encompass the demonstrated phenomena

    If, like Kel says, the natural order of the universe were demonstrated to have been violated, then shouldn’t it go the other way? It would be more logical to reject the concept of naturalism altogether at that point because supernaturalism already encompasses naturalism as one of supernaturalism’s infinite possibilities.

  100. #100 975robocop
    December 21, 2009

    489: The rest is the same old bullshit.

    If aesthetic value is wholly subjective, why do we agree on so many great works of art? Have we been brainwashed by slick press agents? Are we merely acquiescing to what our culture tells us we should like? Or is Van Gogh actually good? If aesthetic value is wholly subjective, why do we so often try to convince others of the value of a work of art that we believe they are misevaluating or have overlooked?

    Don’t be afraid to show your work.

  101. #101 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 21, 2009

    You didn’t look at any of this stuff or read his books, did you?

    No. Never heard of him before I saw this clip. However, from what he says (assuming that he is not pretending to be an ignoramus), it would appear that he doesn’t actually understand very much of how science or logic operates. I shudder to think that such a person could ever be responsible for making important decisions . There’s a lot out there to read, and I try not to waste my time on authors who appear to be treading the line between disingenuous and retarded.

    At everyone else…if I came to believe that a supernatural agent could zip in to reality, intervene, and vanish again, this would cause me no small personal crisis. That is not a reason to believe (of course) that the supernatural is not worth considering (ample argument for that above), but is a non-rational bias I have against such beliefs. There are atheists who don’t believe but wish they could…like the universe would seem somehow better if there were a loving all-powerful noodly mass watching out for us. I on the other hand would lose my fucking mind–it would be like living in the Matrix.

  102. #102 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    December 21, 2009

    Yawn, still nothing cogent from Robocop. He just can’t accept he made a non-rational decision and must live with the consequences. Like any responsible adult is aware of. And like any lawyer who doesn’t have the law or facts, the BS is coming fast and thick. And is full of sound and fury, and is totally dismissible.

  103. #103 975robocop
    December 21, 2009

    492: However, from what he says (assuming that he is not pretending to be an ignoramus), it would appear that he doesn’t actually understand very much of how science or logic operates.

    Then your momumental ignorance is amply and aptly demonstrated. For example, you claim that he should deal with Popper. The index to The Black Swan (hard cover) shows Popper referred to and dealt with by name on pages 57-58, 171, 173, 179, 192-193, 200, 281, 291 and 296. In Fooled by Randomness (soft cover) it’s pages 71, 74, 119, 121-122, 124, 125, 126-128, 129, 177, 222, 231, 236, 237, 242, 276, and 280. But you’re sure from one video clip that his problem is that he needs to deal with with Popper.

    What a dope.

  104. #104 Antiochus Epiphanes
    December 21, 2009

    If aesthetic value is wholly subjective, why do we agree on so many great works of art?

    Subjective does not mean random. One person’s interpretation of artistic merit is certainly not random. If you want to argue that the interpretation of art is objective, what objective criteria do we judge it by? Shouldn’t everyone agree on the criteria if they are objective?

  105. #105 Sven DiMilo
    December 21, 2009

    I don’t know much about what I like, but I know art!

  106. #106 CJO
    December 21, 2009
    When testimonial evidence is evaluated in court, is an ancient and badly-copied written work accepted if it contradicts reality and itself? Is it given the same weight as a living person whose testimony can be cross-examined?

    An “ancient document,” pursuant to the law of evidence generally, refers both to a means of authentication for a piece of documentary evidence and to an exception to the hearsay rule. With respect to authentication, it is one that may be deemed authentic without a witness to attest to the circumstances of its creation because its age suggests that it is unlikely to have been falsified in anticipation of the litigation in which it is introduced. Ancient documents also present an exception to the hearsay rule. For example, FRE 803(16) applies this exception to all documents over twenty years old. Because of their age, they may be presented as evidence of the truth of any statements contained therein.

    You can’t seriously expect any court to consider documents containing literary texts, however ancient, as reliable documentary evidence. Indeed, even in historical research methods, literary texts are at best secondary sources, not primary ones. “Documents” in the above should be taken to mean what a historian would consider primary sources: letters, official records, bookkeeping documents, and correspondence of other types, basically documents containing texts not intended for wide dissemination and lacking literary character.

    In short, and removing the specifics of litigation from the context, no literary text can be judged prima facie to be “unlikely to have been falsified* in anticipation of the [challenge to its factuality] in which it is introduced,” because a given challenge would have been as salient to the ancient author and his audience as it is to us. You’re weaseling on the definition of “document” and you’re begging the question as to the character of the gospel accounts.

    *Note that I think it’s clumsy and inaccurate to say the gospels were “falsified” anyway. They’re stories, no more “falsified” than Treasure Island.

  107. #107 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 21, 2009

    So we’ve established that the claims like “faith is belief without evidence or belief in spite of the evidence” and “there’s no evidence in support of Christianity” are false and deceptive. Somehow I don’t expect the claims to stop, but I appreciate the admission nonetheless.

    We’ve also established that the evidence is unreliable. So you’re grasping at straws when you claim that “there’s evidence in support of Christianity.” I can show evidence in support of Hinduism, Islam and the need to offer human hearts to Huitzilopochtli so the Sun will rise tomorrow. This evidence is as reliable as that supporting Christianity. So why should we be worshiping Jesus instead of ripping out hearts for Huitzilopochtli? Don’t you want the Sun to rise tomorrow?

  108. #108 WowbaggerOM
    December 21, 2009

    If aesthetic value is wholly subjective, why do we agree on so many great works of art?

    Robocop’s new argument: aesthetic value is subjective; ergo, my specific god (and only my god, not anyone else’s) exists and all Christianity’s claims (and only Christianity’s, not anyone else’s) are valid.

    Well, I can’t argue with that kind of logic. Praise Jesus!

  109. #109 Owlmirror
    December 21, 2009

    So we’ve established that the claims like “faith is belief without evidence or belief in spite of the evidence” and “there’s no evidence in support of Christianity” are false and deceptive.

    Only inasmuch as claims like “there’s no evidence in support of {the Loch Ness Monster, Zeus, Osiris, Ra, Hera, Thor, Odin, Apollo, Aphrodite, Anubis, Set, Baldur, Athena, Loki, Isis, Hathor, Horus, Dionysus, Bigfoot, Yeti, selkies, leprechauns, pixies, nixies, dryads, centaurs, Scientology, etc, etc}” are equally false and deceptive.

    So when you say something like “Christianity is wholly unsupported by evidence” what you mean is “Christianity is wholly unsupported by empirical evidence”? If so, that’s a very different claim.

    What other types of evidence would convince you that something was empirically true?

    With respect to authentication, it is one that may be deemed authentic without a witness to attest to the circumstances of its creation because its age suggests that it is unlikely to have been falsified in anticipation of the litigation in which it is introduced. Ancient documents also present an exception to the hearsay rule. For example, FRE 803(16) applies this exception to all documents over twenty years old. Because of their age, they may be presented as evidence of the truth of any statements contained therein.

    I repeat my unanswered question: What if the document contradicts reality and/or itself?

    As such, the five scientists’ stories did at least potentially have supporting empirical evidence.

    But since the story offers no such evidence, there’s no basis to say it exists.

    Because magnetic storage devices work the way that the story says, and not the way that they actually do work?

    Because the scientists were not human and therefore did not have normal human metabolism?

    At least some of the points that I raised were based on scientific universals, which would be true whether the story offered them or not.

    Indeed, the technology may have been so advanced that there is no way mere humans could have detected any empirical evidence.

    Actually, they did indeed detect changes to the dodecahedron.

    Do you think Ellie was irrational for believing without empirical evidence?

    She had the empirical evidence of her own experience, corroborated by the experiences of her four companions. In the context of the story, there is no reason given for her or for the reader to infer that her experiences and those of her fellow scientists, as depicted in the story, were entirely false.

    Testimonial evidence is littered with difficulties, which I fully acknowledge.

    Doesn’t really answer the questions; I was hoping for some sort of example.

    Why then do you think that the best experts in the field think otherwise? I’m thinking particularly of the best non-Christian experts (e.g., Vermes, Ehrmann, Fredriksen, etc., to avoid the obvious bias charge, even though I think that charge is generally overstated).

    What do you mean by “think otherwise”? What is it that you think that the “best non-Christian experts in the field” think, given the sparse historical evidence, that you think I ought to think?

    Quantum indeterminacy has not been shown to have any impact at the non-quantum level

    This is a misunderstanding of quantum theory. If quantum indeterminacy had no impact at non-quantum levels, your computer would not exist. Transistors work by quantum effects. And QM also affects all chemistry, to a greater or lesser degree, and of course chemistry is how biology works.

    The impact of QM at higher levels is not well understood, but I am pretty sure that it cannot be said to be nonexistent.

    (as PZ points out almost weekly)

    I think you misunderstand PZ.

    Also, consider this. See also the book review he links to for Middle World, by Mark Haw.

    No. I don’t believe in complete volitional freedom. Even in the best light, our choices are influenced in all kinds of ways, known and unknown.

    Then volition is more of a “hunch” than being actual evidence.

    If we have volition, materialism is almost surely false.

    How so? You just agreed that there is no such thing as complete volitional freedom. So what is volition?

    For that matter, what do you think “materialism” means, and how does “volition” falsify it?

    Getting from there to the Christian God still takes some doing, I grant.

    Or indeed to any personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable.

    For example, since your claim requires that our perceptions are essentially deceptive all the time (we think we are making decisions constantly), science itself, utterly dependent as it is on our perceptions to make observations and to test them, is necessarily incoherent.

    Nonsense. First of all, I made no claim, but rather asked for a counter-argument. Secondly, your response is a strawman and non-sequitur; the postulate that we are “sufficiently complex meat machines” requires no such thing. You’re conflating perceptions of decisions with perceptions of the empirical world; if the latter were completely meaningless, we would not be able to survive.

    See also evolutionary epistemology.

    No, but I can choose to override my “natural” proclivities and tastes in a variety of instances

    Which could also be in support of demonstrating that you are a highly complex meat machine with multiple, sometimes conflicting modules, not necessarily having real (as opposed to imagined) volition.

    (the point of the Libet experiments in my view).

    I’m don’t see how those experiments support real volition. Indeed, rather the opposite!

    What is truth? How would you determine it?

    Something like the actual state of things. It’s best determined by the scientific method (when it can be applied).

    ?

    But the scientific method includes parsimony — which your railing against was what started this particular exchange.

    I take it that you can think of no additional or other method or system for “ascertaining and constructing positive truth”?

    1 Corinthians [1:]18-25, specifically verse 21 in context.

    I simply don’t see it. Sorry.

    [Yes, I meant the 1st chapter]

    Paul is basically arguing that belief in “Christ crucified” is held without the logic or evidence of the Greeks and against the “testimonial evidence” of the Jews.

    Irrespective of your views of testimonial evidence, historical evidence is empirical evidence (of a sort).

    Then by your redefinition of empirical, there is “empirical” evidence for {the Loch Ness Monster, Zeus, Osiris, Ra, Hera, Thor, Odin, Apollo, Aphrodite, Anubis, Set, Baldur, Athena, Loki, Isis, Hathor, Horus, Dionysus, Bigfoot, Yeti, selkies, leprechauns, pixies, nixies, dryads, centaurs, Scientology, etc, etc}. Or do you want to maybe reconsider your special pleading?

    [Arguments and consequences]
    The parts that I asked you to clarify: What the argument is, and what the consequences are.

    See 448.

    None of which addresses the question of relevance to an argument for a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable, or what the empirical consequences of this argument are or might be.

    You’ve been dancing around this for quite a few comments, now. Can you stop jitterbugging and state something substantive and relevant? And if not (as I strongly suspect you cannot without you asserting some fundamental presuppositions which you seem to be going out of your way to avoid doing), can you drop the subject and cease your vague mumblings inasmuch as they are completely incoherent?

    You didn’t look at any of [Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness”] or read his books, did you?

    I think it could well be argued that religion results from people being fooled by randomness…

  110. #110 Owlmirror
    December 21, 2009

    If, like Kel says, the natural order of the universe were demonstrated to have been violated, then shouldn’t it go the other way? It would be more logical to reject the concept of naturalism altogether at that point because supernaturalism already encompasses naturalism as one of supernaturalism’s infinite possibilities.

    No… or at least, that’s not how I understand Metaphysical naturalism.

    I’ve been trying to think of ways to express this. One way that occurred to me is that “naturalism” is a constantly expanding paradigm: as new falsifiable but not yet falsified knowledge accrues, the concept of what is natural expands to include that new knowledge.

    In this way of thinking, the supernatural is not so much false as incoherent; an easy label for all those concepts that arise from confused thinking and psychological mistakes and biases, like apophenia and confirmation bias. Anything real which violated or appeared to violate currently understood natural laws might well be the result of a meta-law not yet understood, but nevertheless at least potentially understandable, and therefore potentially a new natural law. However, parsimony demands that we try to understand such phenomena in the light of known laws first.

    I think this ultimately comes down to problems of definition. If “nature” means “the way that our universe and everything in it works and has always worked”, and there is meta-universe that our universe is embedded in, with meta-laws about how universes can work, and something in that meta-universe using those meta-laws can violate or appear to violate the laws of our own universe, I can see labeling that sort of potential phenomenon “supernatural”.

    But I’m suggesting that “nature” can at least potentially mean “the way that all of reality works, inside our universe and any potential outside or higher metaverse or meta-meta-verse or even metaℵ?-verse”.

    Another way of thinking about it that occurred to me is something like : “metaphysical naturalism is the thesis that for empirical reality at any level to be self-contradictory is meaningless and logically impossible.”

    I think that’s the best I can do at this point in time. I’m not 100% sure I quite nailed it.

  111. #111 aratina cage
    December 21, 2009

    Owlmirror,

    I think it could well be argued that religion results from people being fooled by randomness…

    I like that idea. Let’s see how Robocop wiggles out of that corner.

    “metaphysical naturalism is the thesis that for empirical reality at any level to be self-contradictory is meaningless and logically impossible.”

    I really do agree with how you put it in #501. The problem with saying that something violates the natural order is the age old question, “How do you know?” You could never know for sure if the perceived violation was really a violation of the natural order or if you were missing some important knowledge about the natural order (or, like you said, a metaverse controlling our universe).

    Or let me put it this way: if there was a god, how long in the eyes of humankind would it be until that god shook things up (changing the natural order), and would we ever know if it did (given that it could affect things at any time including our past, present, and future)? And to me that is a completely insane kind of world to hope for, one where anything goes.

    If “nature” means “the way that our universe and everything in it works and has always worked”, [and things start to] violate or appear to violate the laws of our own universe, I can see labeling that sort of potential phenomenon “supernatural”

    And I think that is really how the concept of “supernatural” came about, at a much earlier time when the natural world was not well known. People jumped the gun by creating the word “supernatural”. We really should have had more confidence in our reasoning abilities, but our knowledge of reality was limited. [Insert some line about black swans here.]

  112. #112 975robocop
    December 22, 2009

    498: We’ve also established that the evidence is unreliable.

    In the sense of “it’s 100% accurate” or that it makes an interpretation certain, sure. Just a little experience with people relating what they saw and heard is enough to establish that there are big problems with testimonial evidence, even when people are well-intentioned and trying to relate what they saw and heard honestly. But that’s not to say it’s unreliable in some overall sense. Indeed, people like Vermes, Ehrmann and Fredriksen spend a great deal of time sifting through the evidence trying to ascertain what really happened. I simply wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    500: Only inasmuch as claims like “there’s no evidence in support of {the Loch Ness Monster, Zeus, Osiris, Ra, Hera, Thor, Odin, Apollo, Aphrodite, Anubis, Set, Baldur, Athena, Loki, Isis, Hathor, Horus, Dionysus, Bigfoot, Yeti, selkies, leprechauns, pixies, nixies, dryads, centaurs, Scientology, etc, etc}” are equally false and deceptive.

    All evidence needs to evaluated to ascertain its nature and quality and then interpreted. If you think the evidence is equivilent in all of these cases, I’d acknowledge your right to make that determination while noting that the vast majority of objective experts would disagree with you. Obviously, numbers needn’t correspond with truth, but I merely wish to point out that many talented and well-interntioned experts view the historical evidence, such as it is, much more positively than you do. Of course, they often disagree with me and with each other too. History, by its nature, is typically much harder to pin down than repeatable events are.

    What other types of evidence would convince you that something was empirically true?

    Logical and historical evidence.

    I repeat my unanswered question: What if the document contradicts reality and/or itself?

    The evidence always needs to be evaluated and interpreted. I would note that the U.S. Constitution has contradicted itself at various points. That has caused difficulty, but does not necessarily demand rejection.

    She had the empirical evidence of her own experience, corroborated by the experiences of her four companions.

    Well it’s empirical in that it is based upon observation and experience but it is incapable of being verified or disproven by observation or experiment. If we assume that no attempts at independent verification of those experiences would succeed, was Ellie irrational, delusional and/or mentally ill for believing that her experience corresponded to reality?

    In the context of the story, there is no reason given for her or for the reader to infer that her experiences and those of her fellow scientists, as depicted in the story, were entirely false.

    In the context of the overall work, it appears to me that the story was true but unlikely to be subject to verification.

    What do you mean by “think otherwise”?

    The vast majority of objective experts think Jesus was a real person whose life can be evaluated based upon the historical record.

    [W]hat is volition?

    The ability to do otherwise. Dennett and Calvin are odd bedfellows here. Each thinks that we have “choice” in that our actions are uncoerced, but that we will only ever “choose” in one particular way (even if we can never know for sure what that way is going to be). I, on the other hand, think that when I choose strawberry ice cream, I really could have chosen otherwise.

    I’m don’t see how those experiments support real volition. Indeed, rather the opposite!

    The delay between the apparent decision firing in the brain and our acting upon that impulse give us the opportunity to override our “natural” reactions.

    But the scientific method includes parsimony — which your railing against was what started this particular exchange.

    Parsimony is a helpful tool — a sorting mechanism and a tool for checking our work. But the simpler solution needn’t be the correct one.

    I take it that you can think of no additional or other method or system for “ascertaining and constructing positive truth”?

    No, we construct models using other methods (reason, logic, experience) all the time, and need to. The advantage to the SM is that it’s the best mechanism for checking our work.

    Paul is basically arguing that belief in “Christ crucified” is held without the logic or evidence of the Greeks and against the “testimonial evidence” of the Jews.

    I think Paul is basically arguing that God turns conventional wisdom on its head, such that God reveals himself not through the rich and the powerful, but through the weak and the lowly. The Greeks wanted philosophy; the Jews wanted miraculous demonstrations of God’s power. Instead, God used the cross, which conventional wisdom says is shameful and a symbol of weakness, to demonstrate His plan and power.

    Then by your redefinition of empirical….

    I wrote that historical evidence is empirical evidence “of a sort” because it’s empirical in a similar way to how Ellie’s evidence is empirical. It’s based upon observation and experience but it is generally incapable of being verified or disproven by observation or experiment.

    None of which addresses the question of relevance to an argument for a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable….

    It does not, I agree.

    I think it could well be argued that religion results from people being fooled by randomness…

    It could be. I’m convinced that we always know much less than we think we do and are wrong far more often than we suspect.

  113. #113 aratina cage
    December 22, 2009

    Robocop, how do you tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction?

  114. #114 Mr T
    December 22, 2009

    robo:

    But that’s not to say it’s unreliable in some overall sense. Indeed, people like Vermes, Ehrmann and Fredriksen spend a great deal of time sifting through the evidence trying to ascertain what really happened. I simply wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I would assume that “the baby” includes such things as the divinity of Jesus. Géza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, and also presumably Paula Fredriksen do not believe the resurrection occurred. I also assume none of them believe Jesus was/is divine. You should either change your beliefs or find “objective” sources which actually support your arguments.

    Let’s see where this line of thought takes us anyway. I’m not very familiar with Fredriksen’s work, but here’s a quote from her I found very easily, referring to a request for more expansive answers that may have been edited from a debate:

    Second, on the resurrection: Wright referred to the Gospel Resurrection accounts. My remark was scissored out of context where I was speaking about the Resurrection witnesses Paul lists in 1 Cor 15: “He [the risen Christ] appeared first to Peter, then to the 12, and then to 500 brethren, some of whom have died, then to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all to me.” The verb ‘orao’ means “to see.” Here it’s passive; he was seen. That’s why I said “they saw something”–to be more precise, I should have said “they thought they saw something.” But that’s the referrent: the first-generation followers to whose report Paul, also first-generation, relates. And, of course, a report of something is not itself evidence that something happened as the report says–in this case as in any other. [my emphasis]

    She doesn’t agree with you. Vermes and Ehrman hold much the same standard. You must be ignorant of this or simply dishonest.

    The vast majority of objective experts think Jesus was a real person whose life can be evaluated based upon the historical record.

    I only ever hear of “a vast majority” or “a consensus” or similar claims, but never about the purportedly “objective” process of “reasoning” which leads to this conclusion.

    It’s much like your claim that most art professors believe (all?) judgments of artistic value are (can be?) objective (and not subjective?). You make this vague assertion, and it may even be true, even though as it stand it would be argumentum ad populum. Without explicitly providing a line of reasoning, or empirical evidence to that effect, all you have is an assertion.

  115. #115 Kel, OM
    December 22, 2009

    I, on the other hand, think that when I choose strawberry ice cream, I really could have chosen otherwise.

    How is this possible? Are you saying that if you rewound the universe to that particular moment, you somehow had the ability to choose otherwise? Or do you mean in the general sense that next time you might get chocolate?

  116. #116 Mr T
    December 22, 2009

    The delay between the apparent decision firing in the brain and our acting upon that impulse give us the opportunity to override our “natural” reactions.

    Nope. Libet’s experiments show unconscious choices are necessary for many actions, because conscious choices (whether by a “you” outside of your brain or simply by your brain) take longer than 200 milliseconds. The fact that our brains require any time to process data at all indicates that it isn’t necessary to assume there is an external soul or consciousness, which presumably should not require any amount of time. This is not even a god-of-the-gaps argument, because the time-related gap in question argues against the idea.

    For a long time I’ve wondered this: If a non-physical god exists and if we are in any way non-physical beings, then what would be the point of the physical world and our physical brains? What would be the point of an afterlife? What would be the point of anything being imperfect or incomplete?

  117. #117 CJO
    December 22, 2009

    I only ever hear of “a vast majority” or “a consensus” or similar claims, but never about the purportedly “objective” process of “reasoning” which leads to this conclusion.

    Exactly. The consensus that Jesus was a real person with a Galilean ministry who was crucified under Pilate appears to be entirely self-sustaining. That is, a great many scriptural and historical scholars will go on at great length about early christian mythmaking and the general character of the gospels as theological fictions and then simply assert that, despite all this creative literary activity there had to be earlier sources based on the life of a real person who was crucified at around the time indicated by the gospels. They will often refer to the apparently doubt-banishing consensus at this point and leave it at that. Never have I seen a serious effort to argue for this minimal conclusion. It’s a starting assumption for most of these scholars and it goes unquestioned in otherwise erudite and rigorously argued presentations.

    The kicker is, though, that even if I were to grant the minimalist consensus on the historicity of the crucifixion, we’re still a far cry from any of the Christian articles of faith.

  118. #118 WowbaggerOM
    December 22, 2009

    The kicker is, though, that even if I were to grant the minimalist consensus on the historicity of the crucifixion, we’re still a far cry from any of the Christian articles of faith.

    Exactly. You could put in my hand the nail that without any doubt had pierced the hand of a man named Jeshua when he was executed somewhere around 2,000 years ago and you know what difference that would make to whether or not I believed he was in some way the agent of the interventionist god* of Judaism?

    None whatsoever.

    *Well, one of the gods. The numbers do kind of fluctuate at the start.

  119. #119 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 22, 2009
    We’ve also established that the evidence is unreliable.

    In the sense of “it’s 100% accurate” or that it makes an interpretation certain, sure. Just a little experience with people relating what they saw and heard is enough to establish that there are big problems with testimonial evidence, even when people are well-intentioned and trying to relate what they saw and heard honestly. But that’s not to say it’s unreliable in some overall sense.

    If evidence is not reliable then it’s not reliable as in not to be relied upon.

    Obviously, numbers needn’t correspond with truth, but I merely wish to point out that many talented and well-interntioned experts view the historical evidence, such as it is, much more positively than you do.

    As I said, I can show evidence that supports Hinduism. Are you saying that thousands of years of teaching by talented and well-intentioned gurus and swamis don’t equal your experts?

    You have two tasks. You have to show that there’s reasonable and reliable evidence for religion. Then you have to show how your particular cult is to be preferred over all the other ones.

  120. #120 WowbaggerOM
    December 22, 2009

    You have two tasks. You have to show that there’s reasonable and reliable evidence for religion. Then you have to show how your particular cult is to be preferred over all the other ones.

    That’s pretty much my bottom line. If you can present an argument for a religion that can’t have the one particular deity crossed out and the word ‘Wotan’, ‘Vishnu’ or ‘The FSM’ written in and be just as effective then you might have something – but it hasn’t happened yet.

    Of course, that generally leads to nonsensical claims that ‘all gods are really the one god’ drivel (a la the execrable Silver Fox) – despite the fact that the vast majority of believers would never agree to the concept. And as long as one disagrees, it can be thrown out.

  121. #121 Owlmirror
    December 22, 2009

    If you think the evidence is equivilent in all of these cases, I’d acknowledge your right to make that determination while noting that the vast majority of objective experts would disagree with you.

    I would have to see what their disagreements are and on what basis they are making them. So far, you’ve been very general about things that really need specifics.

    History, by its nature, is typically much harder to pin down than repeatable events are.

    The claim for the existence of a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable and aware and alive now is not just a historical claim.

    What other types of evidence would convince you that something was empirically true?

    Logical and historical evidence.

    What exactly do you mean by “historical evidence”, here, specifically? And what empirical truth are you convinced of by this evidence, specifically? What is the logical reasoning?

    I repeat my unanswered question: What if the document contradicts reality and/or itself?

    The evidence always needs to be evaluated and interpreted. I would note that the U.S. Constitution has contradicted itself at various points. That has caused difficulty, but does not necessarily demand rejection.

    This is a false analogy. The constitution is not a record of events.

    (Although now you’ve reminded me of the anecdote about Kurt Gödel claiming that he had discovered that the U.S. Constitution could allow the USA to become a dictatorship)

    I repeat my unanswered question with additional qualification: What if the document that is claimed to be a record of true events contradicts reality and/or itself?

    If we assume that no attempts at independent verification of those experiences would succeed,

    Why are you assuming that every single one would fail, forever and always? Remember, some of what they learned was that there was a wormhole transit network, which could be discovered with sufficiently advanced knowledge of physics. Assuming that it was as real as it was depicted as real in the story, they would be able to return to Vega and to the transit nexus, faster than light could travel.

    was Ellie irrational, delusional and/or mentally ill for believing that her experience corresponded to reality?

    Even though she found the circle within πbase 11 ?

    In the context of the overall work, it appears to me that the story was true but unlikely to be subject to verification.

    It was also implied that she would find the black holes orbiting Vega and that humanity would be monitored by and eventually be permitted to join the Galactic Union.

    The vast majority of objective experts think Jesus was a real person whose life can be evaluated based upon the historical record.

    Mm. A real person who died and stayed dead?

    [W]hat is volition?

    The ability to do otherwise.

    This appears to be a subtle self-contradiction: How can you do that which you explicitly did not do at the given point in time of making the choice?

    Dennett and Calvin are odd bedfellows here. Each thinks that we have “choice” in that our actions are uncoerced, but that we will only ever “choose” in one particular way (even if we can never know for sure what that way is going to be).

    This depends on the nature of the universe (in terms of causality), and what choice really means.

    I, on the other hand, think that when I choose strawberry ice cream, I really could have chosen otherwise.

    I’m sure that you feel that way. But is that not like feeling that the straight lines in an illusion are actually bent, or that the gray dots in the intersection of the white lines between the black squares are really there when you don’t look straight at them?

    I’m not arguing that choice is always and forever an illusion, although I suspect that it is, but if choice is not an illusion, your example as articulated does not argue for it.

    [Libet] The delay between the apparent decision firing in the brain and our acting upon that impulse give us the opportunity to override our “natural” reactions.

    No, because the override itself would not be something that you would be conscious of doing until after you had already chosen to do it. The override would be the “natural” reaction.

    Parsimony is a helpful tool — a sorting mechanism and a tool for checking our work. But the simpler solution needn’t be the correct one.

    Did you not read what I wrote @#401 about parsimony? Please do. Remember, if a theory that posits more entities is correct, it has to be better than all simpler theories at explaining empirical reality. That’s why parsimony is part of the scientific method.

    I take it that you can think of no additional or other method or system for “ascertaining and constructing positive truth”?

    No, we construct models using other methods (reason, logic, experience) all the time, and need to. The advantage to the SM is that it’s the best mechanism for checking our work.

    But if “your work” fails the checking, then obviously what you think you “ascertained and constructed” was not truth at all!

    I think Paul is basically arguing that God turns conventional wisdom on its head

    Or in other words, rejects both logic and real-world evidence.

    The Greeks wanted philosophy

    Or logic and evidence.

    the Jews wanted miraculous demonstrations of God’s power

    The Jews wanted something that did not contradict the Torah.

    Instead, God used the cross

    Which contradicts logic, evidence, and the Torah.

    I wrote that historical evidence is empirical evidence “of a sort” because it’s empirical in a similar way to how Ellie’s evidence is empirical.

    This is a terrible false analogy. First of all, Ellie’s evidence is in a work of fiction. Within that work of fiction, there was a real Message, and a real Machine that could be built using that Message. It’s strongly implied that in that fictional universe, numerical constants could also contain additional messages that could be found, and that the physical structure of the universe contains wormholes that could be detected and used by sufficiently advanced physics, and that the Machine underwent stresses consistent with traveling these wormholes, and that entities that used these wormholes to travel were watching Earth and would, at some point, interact with Earth in the future.

    Your so-called “historical evidence” has no parallels whatsoever with what is contained within the work of fiction that you appeal to.

    It’s based upon observation and experience but it is generally incapable of being verified or disproven by observation or experiment.

    Ellie and her four companions whom you keep ignoring were, in the story, real people, and additional empirical evidence of their experience could have been detected from close medical examination, which you also keep ignoring, and from scientific investigation along the lines of what had been disclosed to them.

    Your “historical evidence”, on the other hand, is not empirical evidence for a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable, and is indistinguishable from a complete fiction.

    I’m convinced that we always know much less than we think we do and are wrong far more often than we suspect.

    Which is why parsimony — as in rejecting unnecessary entities, not the commonly misunderstood “simplicity” — is a necessary part of the scientific method, along with falsifiability.

  122. #122 975robocop
    December 23, 2009

    This necessarily brief entry will likely be my last post in this thread since (a) one of my boys plays in a bowl game later today and I need to get to work on the tailgate party before heading off to the stadium, and (b) Christmas festivities start in earnest tomorrow (the whole family will be at the game and family fun starts immediately thereafter). I have appreciated most of the posts and learned some stuff too. Thank you all.

    505: You must be ignorant of this or simply dishonest.

    T — You might want to read a little more carefully before making a fool of yourself. I specifically listed Vermes, Ehrmann and Fredriksen as non-Christian scholars (and even noted that I had disagreements with them) simply to demonstrate that, in general, scholars make a lot more of the Jesus story than Pharyngula regulars, many of whom are Jesus denialists, are ready to. Since I’ve read multiple books they have written, I’m well aware of their views and where they disagree with mine.

    508: The kicker is, though, that even if I were to grant the minimalist consensus on the historicity of the crucifixion, we’re still a far cry from any of the Christian articles of faith.

    Yup.

    510: If evidence is not reliable then it’s not reliable as in not to be relied upon.

    This absolutism is just plain silly. We all make mistakes in observation and interpretation. If your view were correct, there could be no history since we are all unreliable to some extent.

    Are you saying that thousands of years of teaching by talented and well-intentioned gurus and swamis don’t equal your experts?

    The further we move from the hard sciences, the more likely it is that we will see evidence supporting multiple models and conceptions of reality.

    512: The claim for the existence of a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable and aware and alive now is not just a historical claim.

    A God who chooses not to make a direct revelation of Himself (or Herself) needn’t provide current empirical evidence. You may criticize that alleged choice, on moral or other grounds, of course.

    What if the document that is claimed to be a record of true events contradicts reality and/or itself?

    We examine and evaluate it. Since essentially all alleged records of true events contradict reality to varying degrees (having been constructed by imperfect humans), doing so is, in effect, a cost of doing business.

    My best friend at Duke was a regular on a Final Four basketball team. He was quoted in the press a lot. The press was friendly and supportive (it was college sports and a much earlier time). Yet it was a constant source of amusement to us that he was almost never quoted accurately. What was printed was typically something he might have said or could have said or wanted to say or sort of said, but not what he actually said. Sometimes the reporter was mistaken; sometimes the error was a matter of spin; sometimes it was an agenda. And this was essentially contemporaneous reporting.

    These records are going to be imperfect, perhaps wildly so.

    Why are you assuming that every single one would fail, forever and always?

    Were I in the story, would I be irrational for believing Ellie (and the others) before any empirical data was or could be produced? Delusional? Mentally ill?

    But is that not like feeling that the straight lines in an illusion are actually bent, or that the gray dots in the intersection of the white lines between the black squares are really there when you don’t look straight at them?

    If you really believe that choice is an illusion, do you advocate (for example) that our legal system needs total overhaul since it is predicated upon our abilty to make and the necessity that we be held accountable for our choices? You might also work at being less frustrated with dopes like I who don’t “get it” — we can’t help ourselves after all. We’re like Fawlty’s car.

    But if “your work” fails the checking, then obviously what you think you “ascertained and constructed” was not truth at all!

    Yup, but I don’t see the process as being nearly as linear as you seem to.

    Or in other words, rejects both logic and real-world evidence.

    Not at all. Conventional wisdom needn’t be right and needn’t be supported by logic and evidence. You are acquainted with the political process, are you not?

    Or logic and evidence.

    The Greeks often weren’t much interested in evidence that contradicted their theories. For example, it was many centuries before medicine was able to get past the largely Greek theories that controlled and use actual evidence to construct new theories with respect to health and healing.

    The Jews wanted something that did not contradict the Torah.

    Or at least their conception of the Torah.

    Which contradicts logic, evidence, and the Torah.

    That’s your unevidenced conclusion.

    Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.

  123. #123 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    December 23, 2009

    one of my boys plays in a bowl game later today and I need to get to work on the tailgate party before heading off to the stadium

    Team?

  124. #124 aratina cage
    December 23, 2009

    T — You might want to read a little more carefully before making a fool of yourself.

    LOL Robocop, the only fool here is you.

    A God who chooses not to make a direct revelation of Himself (or Herself) needn’t provide current empirical evidence. You may criticize that alleged choice, on moral or other grounds, of course.

    Which tells us that you too have an inkling of how withholding evidence of one’s existence when such evidence would stop people from undergoing an eternity of torture is wicked.

    I’m a little disappointed that you did not tell us how you would distinguish fiction from nonfiction, and I suspect there is a reason you did not, and that that reason might have something to do with the possibility that it would prove your holy text to be fictional. But alas, Merry Squidmas.

  125. #125 975robocop
    December 23, 2009

    514: Team?

    Cal (Berkeley). He wanted to go to a place with high level football and high level academics. There aren’t a lot of choices.

    515: I’m a little disappointed that you did not tell us how you would distinguish fiction from nonfiction….

    If it’s in doubt, I’d start by looking to the experts.

    …that reason might have something to do with the possibility that it would prove your holy text to be fictional….

    You’re aware that the Bible consists of multiple genres, and that some of the stories are myths, which you might label “fictional,” right? Is In Cold Blood fiction?

    Oh, and I don’t expect God to punish people with eternal torture.

    Off to the Q….

  126. #126 aratina cage
    December 23, 2009

    Robocop,

    how you would distinguish fiction from nonfiction….

    If it’s in doubt, I’d start by looking to the experts.

    Let’s say you know nothing about the book before you read it. How do you tell if it is fiction or nonfiction after (or while) reading it? I’m not sure what you mean by “looking to the experts”. Look to which experts for what?

    You’re aware that the Bible consists of multiple genres, and that some of the stories are myths, which you might label “fictional,” right?

    OK, then. How do you know which parts are fiction and which parts are nonfiction?

    Is In Cold Blood fiction?

    Nonfiction novels are like Oliver Stone’s W. They are fictionalized accounts of real events: sloppy histories retold with heaping amounts of embellishment and rife with dishonesty. Do you think that In Cold Blood would stand up in court as evidence?

    Oh, and I don’t expect God to punish people with eternal torture.

    But other people, who it would be safe to say have greater faith in their god than you do in yours, expect their god to do so. Would you say that their god is wicked and that it is not the same god as yours?

  127. #127 Owlmirror
    December 24, 2009

    This absolutism is just plain silly. We all make mistakes in observation and interpretation. If your view were correct, there could be no history since we are all unreliable to some extent.

    This is why extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence — empirical evidence.

    Your “testimonial evidence” is a claim; is observation and interpretation.

    The further we move from the hard sciences, the more likely it is that we will see evidence supporting multiple models and conceptions of reality.

    Wait, what?

    The claim for the existence of a personal God that is benevolent, powerful, and knowledgeable and aware and alive now is not just a historical claim.

    A God who chooses not to make a direct revelation of Himself (or Herself) needn’t provide current empirical evidence. You may criticize that alleged choice, on moral or other grounds, of course.

    I was careful to leave in “benevolent” as part of the description. A “God who chooses not to make a direct revelation” violates the set of adjectives that I used.

    Since essentially all alleged records of true events contradict reality to varying degrees (having been constructed by imperfect humans), doing so is, in effect, a cost of doing business.

    [anecdote about Duke basketball player]

    The anecdote you cite suggests that your friend was paraphrased to some extant, but if a reporter said that your friend was a hockey player from Montreal who said that eating veal with Cheerios made him invulnerable, would you and he not reject that “historical record” as a complete fabrication?

    How did your friend know that had not been quoted accurately, by the way? Was he going by his own memory, or did he have his own recording(s) of the interview(s)?

    Were I in the story, would I be irrational for believing Ellie (and the others) before any empirical data was or could be produced?

    I am not sure it would be irrational to believe something which is described in context as being true….

    Who are you in the story? How do you learn about the story told by the five scientists? Are you a technician working on the Machine who watched the departure/return? Someone who is given the task of investigating the whole thing? A reporter interviewing them directly? Yourself as a private citizen, reading the Weekly World News take on the whole thing?

    If you really believe that choice is an illusion, do you advocate (for example) that our legal system needs total overhaul since it is predicated upon our abilty to make and the necessity that we be held accountable for our choices?

    Not necessarily. Arguing against Dawkins for a bit, even if he is correct, we (complex meat machines that we may be) have as one of our modes of programming a reward and punishment system that can be triggered by social peers. It may be more than a little ad hoc in how useful it is in actually bringing about long term changes, but it may also be the only way to alter the behavior of someone short of more direct manipulation of an individual’s brain. It depends on a lot of stuff that is not well understood, although we are learning more.

    And arguing against that, once we do know more, I think that implementing more specific diagnostic analysis of behavioural problems and solutions to those problems would of course make more sense than what we have now.

    Does the current legal system have as a goal actually improving life for everyone involved, or merely perpetuating itself?

    You might also work at being less frustrated with dopes like I who don’t “get it” — we can’t help ourselves after all. We’re like Fawlty’s car.

    Heh. Interesting point.

    Do you think you would be convinced by an empirical demonstration that you have less volition than you think? For example, making different choices under the influence of certain hormones, drugs, or other direct interventions with your brain.

    Or is that even necessary? Have you never thought to yourself that you would have behaved differently if you were less tired, or in a different mood?

    But if “your work” fails the checking, then obviously what you think you “ascertained and constructed” was not truth at all!

    Yup, but I don’t see the process as being nearly as linear as you seem to

    I have not tried to claim that the process is “linear”. Could you take a moment and scroll back up to review this entire exchange in context? Because to be honest, I think you lost track of what you were trying to say, in the delays between responses and the editing out of previous responses. Either way, I’d appreciate a clearer summation.

    And I’m going to take a break here because I want to think over how I’m going to respond to the next segment, and maybe re-read some of the other Pauline letters.

  128. #128 WowbaggerOM
    December 24, 2009

    You’re aware that the Bible consists of multiple genres, and that some of the stories are myths, which you might label “fictional,” right? Is In Cold Blood fiction?

    Ah, the genre defence. It’s been a while since someone’s tried that one out here. But it’s still good for a laugh – rationalisations formed entirely from unrepentant post hoc confirmation bias always are.

  129. #129 Owlmirror
    January 7, 2010

    Getting back to this segment (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

    Or in other words, rejects both logic and real-world evidence.

    Not at all. Conventional wisdom needn’t be right and needn’t be supported by logic and evidence. You are acquainted with the political process, are you not?

    But “conventional wisdom” is a modern term; one that you specifically picked over the plain word “wisdom”, and your conflation of it with what Paul wrote is an anachronism and a strawman.

    The verse states “Greeks look for wisdom” (??????? ?????? ????????). Wisdom not something simply held to dogmatically, but searched for — an active epistemology. The original Greek philosophies were not “conventional wisdom”, as your equivocation asserts.

    There are things that are true that are not obvious, or even counter-intuitive — and Greek philosophers found some of them with logic and/or evidence.

    Paul did not offer logic or evidence as a counterexample, but rather just the bare assertion of faith.

    The Greeks often weren’t much interested in evidence that contradicted their theories.

    They may not have known everything, but I don’t think they simply out-and-out rejected actual evidence.

    For example, it was many centuries before medicine was able to get past the largely Greek theories that controlled and use actual evidence to construct new theories with respect to health and healing.

    There were incorrect theories about physiology precisely because of a lack of evidence — and this lack of evidence existed on the one hand because of taboos on human dissection, which were largely continued by Christians until relatively recently, and on the other because of the absence of the tools (microscopes, cell stains) necessary to provide evidence about the human body, and a lack of easy dissemination of information in the classical world.

    I have a faint memory that some classical Greek or Roman may even have discovered the circulatory system (or some other relatively recently publicized physiological fact) a long time ago, but the information was lost. I’ll have to see if I can dig that reference up.

    The Jews wanted something that did not contradict the Torah.

    Or at least their conception of the Torah.

    It’s the same torah that Christians quote-mined in support of Jesus. Allowing Christian quote-mining and ignoring Jewish interpretation of the original text is special pleading; not that that has ever stopped any religious apologist.

    Instead, God used the cross

    Which contradicts logic, evidence, and the Torah.

    That’s your unevidenced conclusion.

    Shifting the burden of proof is a logical fallacy…

  130. #130 Owlmirror
    January 9, 2010

    I have a faint memory that some classical Greek or Roman may even have discovered the circulatory system (or some other relatively recently publicized physiological fact) a long time ago, but the information was lost. I’ll have to see if I can dig that reference up.

    I misremembered what was being discussed. Galen did indeed not discover the circulatory system (although parts of his works were indeed lost, or only found in Arabic) — but what was pointed out was that Galen did do many, many empirical experiments on physiology, and discovered many empirically correct things. He made some studies into the heart and brain (flawed in detail as some of those might have been) to argue against precisely those prior philosophers who claimed, without empirical evidence, that the mind was in the heart rather than in the brain. Harvey took Galen’s experiments with the kidneys (which Galen had done to determine their function) and translated them to experiments to discover the correct function of the heart and the circulatory system.

    Note that Galen’s empirical discoveries were done in the face of the restrictions on human dissection, and his insistence on empiricism was carried on by later Arab students of his work.

    My source of information on Galen (besides Wiki, I mean) was the second of these Richard Carrier interviews, which discussed science in the ancient world. These were done mostly as a rebuttal to Rodney Stark (and some others, like Thomas Cahill) who were and are claiming that modern scientific civilization only exists specifically because of Christianity. Carrier exposes this assertion as being poor scholarship resulting from poor research and genuinely terrible logic.

    Richard Carrier, Part 1
    Richard Carrier, Part 2

    Carrier does not claim that Christianity led to the fall of classical Rome, but rather that this was caused by bad social and economic policy from the Roman Emperors, unfortunate historical circumstances, and mystical attitudes among both pagans and Christians. I don’t know enough about economic policy and the historical period of which he speaks, but I know you’re interested in economic analysis, so you might have some thoughts on that point specifically.

    He also acknowledges that many of these early natural philosophers (or quasi-scientists, even) were not atheists, but pantheists and/or deists — the significant example of Galen being specifically described while discussing his works and discoveries. Galen even made what was probably the most sophisticated early argument from (biological) design, for his time.

    You may not have the time to listen to them now, but I think you’ll find them interesting when things are less hectic for you.

    I also may be busy with other things over the course of the next week or so, but I will be checking back.

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