Two Responses to the Theist’s Guide

Earlier this month, Greta Christina published a piece on AlterNet, based on my essay “The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists”, that listed things that would convince her of God’s existence. She also repeated the challenge I posed to theists – prove that your beliefs are falsifiable by posting a corresponding list of things that would convince you to become an atheist.

The AlterNet post got hundreds of comments, and netted a total of two responses. In this post, I’ll briefly analyze them both.

First, there’s this essay from Verbose Stoic. I left a comment on his site which is reprinted below, with minor edits:

I’ve reviewed this list, and I think that rather than meeting my challenge, it emphasizes the point I sought to make by raising it: for most theists, belief in God is a deliberately unfalsifiable construct that bears no relation to the real world.

Your first criterion is that you would accept it if your definition of God was shown to be self-contradictory – but you’ve more or less said that in that case, you would just change your definition and continue believing. Also, it’s not clear to me why mere logical consistency should be your standard for believing. There’s an infinite number of self-consistent, non-contradictory entities that nevertheless don’t actually exist – unicorns, leprechauns, minotaurs, mermaids, and so on. Why should God be treated according to a different standard?

Meanwhile, your second criterion is so vague as to be useless. You just say “prove that there exists something that is incompatible with the existence of God”, without any explanation of what that thing might be or how one would go about proving that it exists. You cite the problem of evil as one potential example, but clearly you’re already aware of the problem of evil and don’t consider it a persuasive disproof of God, and you don’t explain why not or how it would have to be different for you to accept it as such.

Ultimately, you conclude that probably nothing would ever convince you of God’s nonexistence (“The qualities of God are such that such disproofs just don’t work”, and “my agnosticism makes me skeptical that they would ever work”). That, of course, is exactly the point I wanted to make by writing my essay in the first place. Belief in God is unfalsifiable, not dependent on any evidence in the world, which means, as Sam Harris has said, it’s not really a belief about the world at all.

There’s also this post, from “allthedeadheroes”. My reply, originally sent via e-mail:

I have a couple of comments on this:

1. You said you would give up your belief if you received “Objective evidence that contradicts my theory of God.” But you also said that your belief can explicitly accommodate everything science discovers about the world. Would you therefore agree that this criterion is impossible to meet? If not, what sort of evidence would qualify as contradicting your theory of God?

2. You also listed, “Proof that my subjective beliefs were in some way bad for me or the people around me.” Would you consider it harmful to encourage people to come to conclusions about what exists in objective reality based on their subjective feelings and sensations? Because I certainly do. That same method of decision-making is what results in people believing that God wants holy war and theocracy, that he commands the oppression of women and gays, that he condones faith-based opposition to science – all because they “feel” strongly that this is what he wants of them. To put it another way, how would you address the issue of people using your same method – that of subjective feeling and experience – to come to entirely different, and undeniably harmful, conclusions?

What’s notable about both these replies, which I think stands in sharp contrast to Greta’s essay and mine, is how noticeably they avoid contact with the evidence. They’re based on definitions, subjective experiences, moral beliefs, philosophies – anything but the facts of the world. They’ll go to almost any length rather than make a clear evidentiary commitment to give up belief in God if some concrete, objective criterion is satisfied.

This is all the more noteworthy because, if these beliefs are rationally founded in the first place, it ought to be very easy for a theist to explain what would convince him to give them up. It ought to be a straightforward matter of applying the argument to the best explanation, as I explained in a further comment on Verbose Stoic:

…it is relatively easy for an atheist to say ‘If this happens, I’d believe in God’ because they can point to an event and use it as a positive proof. That doesn’t happen for the negative side of the ledger.”

I don’t agree that theists have a harder time than atheists in outlining what would change their minds. If you agree that evidence is the link to truth, then it seems to me that this task could be accomplished fairly easily: explain what evidence convinced you to believe in God, and then explain what further evidence would overturn your initial conclusions.

As an analogy, let’s say I believe in Bigfoot. Let’s also say my belief is premised on several different lines of evidence: videos of hairy man-shaped creatures in the woods, plaster casts of giant footprints in mud, and the testimonies of several eyewitnesses who claim that they saw an anthropoid beast lumber out of the forest and into their backyard.

Now let’s say the man who shot that video came forward to confess it was a hoax, created with the help of a friend, and produces a receipt for a costume shop dated the day the video was taken. Let’s say he produces clay sculptures of feet that fit the casts that were earlier produced. And let’s also say the house where the eyewitnesses live is proven to have been contaminated with ergot mold that would have produced vivid hallucinations in anyone living within.

Clearly, in this case, I no longer have reason to believe in Bigfoot. Every strand of evidence that links my belief to objective reality has been severed, and new evidence points to a better explanation that accounts for the prior evidence more convincingly than my former belief did. Now, I might continue to believe in Bigfoot regardless, asserting that the creature could still exist despite the failure of all the evidence. But, I hope we can agree, that would be irrational at that point.

I’m not suggesting that belief in God could only be overturned by the discovery of a deliberate conspiracy to deceive humanity. But I can readily conceive of the discovery of lines of evidence – in fact, I would argue that such evidence has already been discovered – which adds up to the same result. If you think the theist has the harder task here, I’d venture to say that it’s merely because theists, having constructed their beliefs so as to make them immune to disproof, are naturally at a loss when asked what would in fact disprove them.

About Adam Lee

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  • Lion IRC

    I would certainly find my theistic position challenged if science could prove that the mutations from which evolution follows were in fact “random” or that an event referred to as a “singularity” was truly spontaneous – that the universe truly was a perpetual motion mechanism with no agency of cause. (As Arif Ahmed claims – One thing happens after another)

    I think science is actually moving away from disproving God.
    It seems to me that every “discovery” is a revelation that the magnitude of what we dont yet know is EVEN bigger than suspected. Every new cosmology theory reads like bizzare “woo”. One of these theories even suggests that we are merely holograms projected from somewhere/somewhen/someone beyond the universe. *cough!*

    The age of enlightenment was supposed to give us a God-free unified theory (atheology).

    But what did it deliver?

    Chaos theory.
    Uncertainty priciples.
    Quantum weirdness.

    Why would I want aliens with higher intelligence travelling here through wormholes when I can just use the word – angel?

    Why would I need to dream up parallel universes when I could just say heaven and hell?

    Lion (IRC)

  • Lion IRC

    I actually think that science, true to form, will probably discover God by accident.
    Scientiscts in a lab trying to recreate “life” are simply proving that you need a Scientist
    Lion (IRC)

  • Nes

    Chaos theory.
    Uncertainty priciples. [sic]
    Quantum weirdness.

    I fail to see how those support or suggest a deity. Care to explain?

    Why would I want aliens with higher intelligence travelling [sic] here through wormholes when I can just use the word – angel?

    Why would I need to dream up parallel universes when I could just say heaven and hell?

    Because those are inaccurate words for what you’re describing?

    Scientiscts [sic] in a lab trying to recreate “life” are simply proving that you need a Scientist

    They generally try to recreate life by replicating the environment of early Earth. You know, the environment that no longer exists so we have no choice but to artificially recreate it? It’s already been shown that several precursors to life can be naturally created in such environments, or even in space. RNA has been shown to evolve when placed in an environment that’s normally lethal to it. Really, nothing I can think of in what I know of abiogenesis research suggests a creator at all.

    Unless you’re referring to that group that “made” a cell by copying and manufacturing DNA and inserting it in a different cell. That’s not trying to recreate life, that’s showing that we could eventually rewrite DNA to make our own organisms.

    To quote (with a minor change) Philip J. Fry:
    “I’m bored. You’re boring, Lion. I’m gonna go watch TV.”

  • siamang

    Scientists aren’t proving you need a scientist to make life. That’s stupid.

    That’s like saying if a painter paints a picture of a sunset, that’s proof that it takes someone to “paint” a sunset.

    I guess if engineers looked at birds to discover how to make an airplane, then that means that a God exists who manufactures little birdies by hand!

    Shit grows by itself. Just because a sculptor sculpts a clay version of a person does not mean that God sculpted us out of clay.

    James Cameron made aliens using computer graphics… therefore it takes a computer graphics engineer to make people!!!!

  • colluvial

    If you think the theist has the harder task here, I’d venture to say that it’s merely because theists, having constructed their beliefs so as to make them immune to disproof, are naturally at a loss when asked what would in fact disprove them.

    Great point. It’s a prerequisite for “spiritual” claims to be unfalsifiable. The purveyors of these ideas have to become skilled at navigating this gray zone and gain status just due to the fact that no one can disprove their claims.

    Why would I want aliens with higher intelligence travelling here through wormholes when I can just use the word – angel?

    Why would I need to dream up parallel universes when I could just say heaven and hell?

    This comment is a good example of unfalsifiable beliefs. Take words – angel, heaven, hell – about which neither you nor anyone else knows anything at all, apply them to scientific hypotheses, and then claim science now supports the belief system that dreamed them up. Because the definitions of the words were so vague and contradictory, no one can burst your bubble. But then again, no one really cares to do so because none of these supposed parallels between fantasy and reality are even interesting ideas. If the myths of nomadic shepherds are to have any relevance, then they’ll need to have some predictive or explanatory power in the real world.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I’d like to make fun of Lion’s comments, but they make so much fun of themselves it’s like they’re wrapped in some sort of protective bubble wrap. [paraphrased from Lewis Black]

  • xa6bn

    Sometimes I think we all take ourselves WAY too seriously, both on the theist and the atheist side. For either group to think that they can take on the other and change their minds is presumptuous. For either group to call the other stupid is inflamatory. In my mind, outright ridicule is demeaning to both the issuer and the target.

  • Steve Bowen

    For either group to think that they can take on the other and change their minds is presumptuous. For either group to call the other stupid is inflamatory. In my mind, outright ridicule is demeaning to both the issuer and the target.

    Good point! Let’s just forget about the whole understanding reality shit and get stoned.[/irony]

  • siamang

    Read for comprehension, xa6bn.

    “That’s stupid” is a different sentence from “You’re stupid”.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Yeah man, like, when was the last time a person’s mind has been changed, like, ever?

    I’d also point out that no one called theists stupid. Just Lion.

  • siamang

    I restrict my criticism to ideas, not people.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    If you think the theist has the harder task here, I’d venture to say that it’s merely because theists, having constructed their beliefs so as to make them immune to disproof, are naturally at a loss when asked what would in fact disprove them.

    There seem to be a built-in ambiguity in the beliefs about God, so that God can be tweaked when certain circumstances arise.

    @xa6bn (comment #7): I have to disagree with the assertion that, “For either group to think that they can take on the other and change their minds is presumptuous.” There are many people whose minds have been changed, whether from theism to atheism, atheism to theism, or from one religion to another. People try to convince people of their own opinions (on various topics) all the time and are sometimes successful.

  • siamang

    My mind on the subject was changed by reading the writings of atheists. So it can happen.

    Pretty strident ones too.

  • xa6bn

    Sharmin and Siamang,

    I think it can go both ways, too. I don’t think people are generally open to changing their minds, though, unless they have some kind of disonance going on. Me, I have kind of a perpetual disonance… I think we hold our beliefs based on what we have taken in and how well it helps us model the future (some or most of that is VERY deeply into our subconscious). When that modeling works, I don’t think most people are very open to changing. I think they are more interested in hanging with like-minded people. At this point, if I were thinking that I would be the one to change their mind, I would be presumptuous.

  • DSimon

    So why not be presumptuous, xa6bn? If you think you’re right, just present your argument as well and civilly as you can. Worst thing that could happen is you turn out to be right and nobody changes their mind even a little bit… but you still get to have an interesting discussion.

  • Hendy

    My encounters with believers suggest that they probably aren’t sure of what arguments or evidence support their beliefs in the first place, which makes it hard to do as the article says: think about the evidence that convinced you and just go farther to what would “un-convince” you.

    I am blanking on the source, but I read a quote that “people aren’t deconverted through arguments because they were never converted by arguments in the first place” or something to that effect. Most I’ve run into simply point me to a book or a “superior” Christian when I bring up questions. When I started to doubt I decided that I never wanted to have a belief that I couldn’t support or explain again. I think many theists are comfortable thinking that “at least someone, somewhere knows the answer” and so they go on with their lives.

    I would agree with xa6bn #15 that it probably takes jarring dissonance to create true questioning and openness to being wrong. Ironically, ridicule is exactly what Carrier thinks causes this most effectively…

  • Dan L.

    Lion IRC@1:

    Your conditions are unsatisfiable. Science cannot prove anything — it can only provide better or worse arguments for or against a particular conclusion. It’s also unclear what you mean by “random” and “truly spontaneous” here — subject to no causal process whatsoever? And you pair this with the assumption that all phenomena are caused (which is philosophically dubious in the first place).

    I’m curious. What if I gave you evidence that the radioactive decay of some particular molecule led to a particular genetic mutation that led to us being human? There are no known causal principles determining the time at which a radioactive nucleus will decay — there doesn’t seem to be any direct cause preceding the action. Would this be enough to disprove God to you? It’s interesting, because it’s the exact opposite of what most liberal theists are claiming these days — that the indeterminism of quantum effects gives “God” a handle on interacting with the universe.

    I think science is actually moving away from disproving God.
    It seems to me that every “discovery” is a revelation that the magnitude of what we dont yet know is EVEN bigger than suspected. Every new cosmology theory reads like bizzare “woo”. One of these theories even suggests that we are merely holograms projected from somewhere/somewhen/someone beyond the universe. *cough!*

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t understand anything about cosmology. By the way, the “hologram universe” you’re talking about was from a paper about a universe that can’t possibly be our own. There’s no gravity in the universe described in that paper. And more importantly, there’s nothing to say that even that universe is somehow represented at a more fundamental level by a hologram. There’s no reason to suppose the hologram is the “real” thing and the real world is the representation. There’s no metaphysics involved in that paper, just mathematics.

    The age of enlightenment was supposed to give us a God-free unified theory (atheology).

    But what did it deliver?

    Chaos theory.
    Uncertainty priciples.
    Quantum weirdness.

    All three of those things are 20th century developments, not developments of the enlightenment. In fact, coming out of the enlightenment, the notion that natural philosophers might be getting towards a theory of everything was actually looking pretty good.

    More importantly, none of those things are magical, nor do they give any philosophical support for God. In fact, chaos theory is about the unpredictable nature of complex deterministic phenomenon. It really provides atheists with evidence that something as complex as our world can arise from deterministic interactions between many simple elements. Uncertainty principle (there’s kind of two, but really only one) sets a limit on our concurrent information about a system’s velocity and position (or total energy and duration), but only in the context of very particular mathematical models of mechanics — it has no bearing on theology that I can see. And “quantum weirdness” is only weird if you expect your intuition to be a reasonably good guide to how the universe works. It’s not.

    Why would I want aliens with higher intelligence travelling here through wormholes when I can just use the word – angel?

    Why would I need to dream up parallel universes when I could just say heaven and hell?

    LOLz. This is hilarious, but I’d feel bad if you left still believing that it makes sense. Heaven would not be an “alternate universe” in the same sense that theoretical physicists talk about “alternate universes.” The parallel worlds interpretation of quantum physics basically postulates that any quantum event with multiple possible outcomes branch into separate universes, and that for whatever reason (and there are probably good ones), consciousness is confined to one particular branch. When physicists talk about “alternate universes,” they’re distinguishing between the universe where you flipped a coin and it came up heads and the universe where you flipped a coin and it came out tails.

    It’s important to remember that this is merely one interpretation of QM, and if you’re into making the philosophy/science distinction (I’m not, really) this is more on the philosophy side.

    The thing about angels…if angels are really aliens from another planet, what room does that leave for God?

  • verbivore

    I would certainly find my theistic position challenged if science could prove that the mutations from which evolution follows were in fact “random”

    If you take the time to make yourself familiar with Richard Lenski’s experiments, you will understand that you have your answer.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14094-bacteria-make-major-evolutionary-shift-in-the-lab.html for a very, very brief overview. You’ll find a more in-depth, non-scientist friendly version discussed in Richard Dawkins’ latest book, The Greatest Show On Earth

    Unless, of course, you want to argue about the definitions of “prove” and “random” and perhaps “is”?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Well, I’ll take a bit of time to reply here to some aspects of this (the more general ones) and also make a reply about more specific issues to your comments at my blog. I apologize in advance if this is a long comment, but that “verbose” in the name is not just there to be cute [grin].

    First, your charge that the posts avoid contact with the evidence is a bit unfair. After all, I reference the “Problem of Evil”, which is directly related to evidence and a direct connection to the world and reality, and relies, in fact on an objective state of the world: that there is suffering in it. In fact, my two points can be described as two broad categories: conceptual (problems with the concept itself) and evidentiary. All that is different is that for the second category I also include that the evidence has to, in fact, prove a contradiction with the God I’m talking about, which to me seems quite fair when you’re asking me what would make me stop believing in God.

    The other poster has had what he thinks is a direct and reliable experience of God, so he DOES believe based on evidence. So you’d have to undercut that theory or that experience. That you may not be able to do it scientifically doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or that it is unreasonable to ask it. I don’t see why we should privilege scientific examinations as opposed to more philosophical ones.

    Returning to myself, I also note that my categories encompass probably 90% of the arguments for and against God and 90% of the most influential ones (I mean, I say “Give me an argument like the Problem of Evil that actually WORKS” [grin]). I’m not going to be too concerned if anyway finds that lacking, since, again, most of the discussions have BEEN of those sorts of arguments, so I’m in very good company [grin].

    The other 10% rely heavily on epistemology, and rely heavily on when it is okay to believe things. I’m willing to get into this, but have found to my disappointment that too many people don’t really want to examine this, so I don’t start those discussions anymore.

    But, let me give a preview. Putting aside the “proving a negative point” (and I am amazed that you have not acknowledged that asking someone what evidence could prove a negative is indeed a harder thing to ask than asking them what would prove a positive), you seem to make a challenge of examining how the beliefs were formed. So, let me give you this case: the belief was formed as a cultural belief, and taught to me as a child. I acknowledge fully that if I was born in a different community, I’d be a different religion (believe in a different God) and that if I was raised as an atheist, I’d be an atheist. Thus, in large part it is a cultural belief, and like all cultural beliefs it is mainly supported by a chain of influence that stretches back supposedly to real events, some of that with oral and some of that with written, and some of it just that it has been followed for years and years and generations and generations and seems to work.

    Now, we all have these, and they extend beyond cultural beliefs. If you’re in a field, you’ll have basic beliefs of the field that are formed the same way. If you were educated at a specific university, you’ll get some of these as well, from certain professors or certain overall assumptions that that university makes because of who teaches there. And we were all raised to have certain beliefs before we could examine them. As we get older and go along in the world, we discover that some of the beliefs that we gained through osmosis turn out to be wrong, some turn out to be right, and some of them we’re still not sure about. Because some of these beliefs turn out to be right (eg some of the things my parents taught me turn out to be right), it would be irrational to simply abandon a belief because we got it through osmosis or specifically in my case because my parents taught it to me. And if it is challenged, again it wouldn’t be rational to simply say “Well, it could be wrong, so I should abandon it and return to some sort of neutral state on that”. So, what do we do? Well, if all the evidence for it was refuted or if it was proven false, then we definitely have to abandon it or be irrational, so if you did have the proof of a conspiracy or even that it was simply a meme that got out of hand, that would do it. As I’ve said before, good luck with that.

    Failing that, it becomes less clear when it would be irrational. If you end up being compelled to believe things that are contradictory, I’d say that’s irrational. But since people have differing beliefs — I’d wager that there’s almost if not no one who has the exact same beliefs as anyone else — that line will be different for everyone, and since beliefs change constantly that line will change for even the same person regularly. Thus, it’s hard to say when the evidence will be weak enough to force a contradiction, or when someone will just simply decide that they can’t believe in it anymore. I have really no idea where that line would be for me, but it is probably short of absolute proof. I suppose I’ll know it when I see it.

    Ultimately, there are different questions being asked here. For those who do not already have the belief, the question is “Why should I start believing in God? Which God?” and so on. For those who believe in a God, the question is “Why should I stop believing in that God?” Too many of these discussions hinge on a neutral examination, and thus saying “There are alternatives” might be valid. They aren’t as valid when someone has a mere belief, since that always includes “There might be alternatives” and “I might be wrong”, so simply showing that isn’t interesting.

    This leads into the “argument to the best explanation”, which you’ve in some sense equated to “convincing argument”. I’m a firm believer in the epistemic theory of the “Web of Belief” (from Quine, a naturalist). We all have this Web of interconnected beliefs, and we act as if they are true to test them. But, as already stated we all have differing beliefs. So what will be convincing to one person will not be convincing to another, because of different beliefs and different commitments (and the lack of them). So, how are we to define the best explanation? Most probable? Most consistent with the current Web of the person considering it? What is known to be true? This opens up a ton of questions … that most people assume solved when they reference it.

    Note that, in my experience, the biggest and most relevant different belief for anything supernatural between myself and most people who are atheists is that they’re naturalists and I’m not. I reject naturalism because I don’t think it can be defined properly to say anything interesting about the world, therefore to me there is no substantive difference between natural and supernatural claims, therefore I am not especially skeptical of supernatural claims. I do not consider those who are naturalists irrational for their increased skepticism, but just wish that they’d stop using that belief as a bludgeon against me [grin].

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Hi Verbose Stoic,

    Thanks for coming here and for being willing to defend your beliefs. Unfortunately your reply, as lengthy as it is, never manages to address what I thought was a simple point regarding evidentiary disproofs of God:

    You just say “prove that there exists something that is incompatible with the existence of God”, without any explanation of what that thing might be or how one would go about proving that it exists… You cite the problem of evil as one potential example, but clearly you’re already aware of the problem of evil and don’t consider it a persuasive disproof of God, and you don’t explain why not or how it would have to be different for you to accept it as such.

    Your comment here simply reiterates the points you raised earlier that previously prompted me to ask this of you. You still haven’t answered it.

    I reject naturalism because I don’t think it can be defined properly to say anything interesting about the world…

    I think Richard Carrier’s definition of naturalism is a perfectly good and non-trivial one. He defines naturalism as the philosophy that mental phenomena are not fundamental; i.e., that every mind is composed of simpler components that are not minds.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    I actually did answer your question in my reply to the comment you left on my blog: the Problem of Evil, currently, leaves two possibilities. Either that God doesn’t exist (ie one that is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent) or allowing suffering is in fact consistent with being benevolent and we just don’t know enough to properly judge those actions. To be more specific about what we need, in that case we’d need to a) know exactly what makes an action moral or immoral and b) have to have all the relevant information to judge allowing suffering as being moral or immoral. We probably don’t have either, but God would have both by definition (and the definition that is required for the problem to BE a problem). Take this example: imagine that we’ve proven that utilitarianism is the right moral code. Now, it works by adding up the positives and subtracting out the negatives to determine what is the right thing to do. But it does that over time as well, so you have to consider future impacts, as best as you’re able. So, God has knowledge over millenia. We don’t. So there still could be a positive impact over millenia that we don’t see. So the possibilities would still exist, and so the argument would still not work as a deductive argument.

    As for that definition of naturalism, I fail to see why that isn’t just a theory of mind, or how you could determine if God is natural or supernatural by that. It just seems to have no relation to the normal naturalist/supernaturalist debates and so I wonder what it would have to do with the topic under discussion. It’s almost like someone saying “Well, it’s not man-made so it’s natural” in this debate; yeah, that’s A meaning of natural, but not the one that we need for this discussion.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The other poster has had what he thinks is a direct and reliable experience of God, so he DOES believe based on evidence.

    Would it be evidence of the FSM if he believed that his experiences were because he was touched by the FSM’s noodly appendage?

    The other 10% rely heavily on epistemology, and rely heavily on when it is okay to believe things.

    I’ll bite. When is it OK? Is it OK to believe irrational things? Is it OK to believe anything and everything until it is disproven to you? Is it OK to arbitrarily select something to believe in and then decide that you will hold that belief until it is disproven?

    So, let me give you this case: the belief was formed as a cultural belief, and taught to me as a child. I acknowledge fully that if I was born in a different community, I’d be a different religion (believe in a different God) and that if I was raised as an atheist, I’d be an atheist.

    I can’t believe that you would make the argument that people are rational in simply believing that which is told to them by their culture, regardless of the evidence, would you? What if I told you that I know, from my cultural upbringing, that donating all of your money to me would mean that you would be free of demonic possession, wouldn’t you have to believe me until you could disprove it?

    Failing that, it becomes less clear when it would be irrational. If you end up being compelled to believe things that are contradictory, I’d say that’s irrational. But since people have differing beliefs — I’d wager that there’s almost if not no one who has the exact same beliefs as anyone else — that line will be different for everyone, and since beliefs change constantly that line will change for even the same person regularly.

    So, you think that what is or is not rational is based upon one’s subjective beliefs?

    For those who believe in a God, the question is “Why should I stop believing in that God?”

    Actually, the question should really be, “Why do I believe in this god and what rational reason do I have for doing so.” You don’t get to simply claim that your reasons are rational simply because you believe in your god and further claim that the burden of proof is on others to disprove your positive assertions. It doesn’t work like that. You have no rational reason to believe in your god if you can not rationally defend it and give a rational reason for your belief. You’ve basically admitted, as well, that you don’t have a rational reason – i.e. that you believe in your particular god simply because your parents did. That’s a fallacious argument and hence irrational. Sorry, but your belief is simply irrational.

    …the Problem of Evil, currently, leaves two possibilities. Either that God doesn’t exist (ie one that is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent) or allowing suffering is in fact consistent with being benevolent and we just don’t know enough to properly judge those actions.

    That’s a false dichotomy. There could also be a god that is malevolent or anywhere in between.

    To make matters worse for you, you’ve shot yourself in the foot by appealing to the idea that we don’t have enough information to judge god. You’ve left no basis for your belief that god is good – you don’t have enough information. Either you can judge god, by which you can say god is good or evil, or you can’t judge god either way (good or evil). What you can’t do is have it both ways.

    Of course, I’d be very interested in any argument that can sufficiently detail why an omnipotent god needs to create suffering in order to attain a long term good. This, in itself, is contradictory.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    So, God has knowledge over millenia. We don’t. So there still could be a positive impact over millenia that we don’t see. So the possibilities would still exist, and so the argument would still not work as a deductive argument.

    Correct me if I’m reading this wrong, but you seem to be saying that we can’t really know if an event is good or evil unless we can track the consequences for thousands of years and worked out every last moral ramification. Since it’s obviously impossible for any human being to do that, I put it to you that your criterion is impossible to satisfy, and therefore, again, all you’re really saying is that nothing could persuade you to give up your belief in God. Agree or disagree?

  • http://dormantdragon.wordpress.com DormantDragon

    Sharmin wrote,

    There seem to be a built-in ambiguity in the beliefs about God, so that God can be tweaked when certain circumstances arise.

    @xa6bn (comment #7): I have to disagree with the assertion that, “For either group to think that they can take on the other and change their minds is presumptuous.” There are many people whose minds have been changed, whether from theism to atheism, atheism to theism, or from one religion to another. People try to convince people of their own opinions (on various topics) all the time and are sometimes successful.

    Speaking as someone who really did change my mind, I would obviously have to agree that it’s possible, but it’s not the kind of thing that generally happens overnight – for me it was a 15-year (or so) process of gradual unravelling of the religious worldview I’d grown up with. Not to take any credit away from Dawkins, but I have to say that The God Delusion didn’t convert me – it made me realise that for all intents and purposes, I already was an atheist.

    So I can say with some confidence that there is merit in challenging – even sometimes ridiculing – beliefs, but doing it in such a way that one is not attacking the person for holding those beliefs. In my experience, that’s the best way to make them close their intellectual doors. It is difficult, however, not to lapse into personal disparagement when faced with a wall of determined belief that persists despite all evidence to the contrary. Evolution-deniers and YECs bring out the worst in me, I must confess.

    It’s harder when dealing with theists who won’t, can’t or don’t want to pin down a definition of their god. I think you’re right, Sharmin, in saying that a lot of theistic belief relies on a very nebulous concept of what god is, perhaps accompanied by the notion that any actual understanding of god is beyond human capacity. The definition of god in such a case is elastic enough to encompass any and all evidence, and this is a very safe position for a theist to adopt. But – and I can’t remember who said this originally – it is also the case that a concept that can accommodate everything, explains nothing.

  • http://dormantdragon.wordpress.com DormantDragon

    Oh, and one other thing I want to add – in my case, it wasn’t so much a matter of what evidence was required to convince me to stop believing in god, as what mindset or attitude was required in order for me to be comfortable acknowledging a lack of faith.

    One of the most common theistic assertions is that life is devoid of meaning without a god hovering behind the scenes, directing his plans in mysterious ways. I think it’s this feeling that god is necessary, rather than any actual evidence, that keeps many theists clinging to faith. If one can be convinced that it’s possible to lead a good, fulfilled, meaningful and purposeful life without religious faith, one becomes more open to the notion that it’s not necessary to paint a god into an already satisfying picture.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Well, finally getting around to getting back here, and so I’ll address the host first. Note that I like keeping separate discussions in separate comments, so let me know if that’s a problem.

    So, anyway, Ebonmuse you’re putting too much importance on examples: both on the example of Utilitarianism and on the example of the Problem of Evil as one argument that is of the form I’m asking for in one of my categories.

    First, it can’t be me saying that that’s the case because I don’t think Utilitarianism is the right moral code. I, as I stated, used it as an example because it is clear that if Utilitarianism turns out to be correct — and it is certainly still a candidate — it’s obvious that the extra knowledge God has might lead Him to make a different moral decision than we think reasonable. So it’s a really good example to highlight the issues of needing to know what is or isn’t moral and having to have enough information to judge someone else appropriately.

    Second, Utilitarianism is going to have to have “the best you can” as part of its analysis, because of the differences in knowledge. Thus, it will be able to be followed by humans, but judging someone else may be difficult if they may know things you don’t. You can see, as I stated above, why this matters.

    Third, even if Utilitarianism is the right moral code, it is possible that in some instances we humans will have enough knowledge to be able to judge it, so it isn’t a case where even in my example we’d have no chance of having the argument work.

    Fourth, if it turns out that Utilitarianism is indeed the correct moral code and that we don’t know enough to judge any of God’s actions, that’s not any indication of any problem with my stance. The Problem of Evil is just, in fact, one example. If it doesn’t work, it simply doesn’t work. There may be other arguments that WILL work, and I’d need to evaluate them.

    Here are some other possible arguments:

    1) Prove that naturalism is correct, and prove that by the definition of natural accepted for naturalism God must be supernatural (this one was inspired by the discussion here).

    2) Prove that we can’t have free will if God is omniscient. This one is weak because science is suggesting that we might not have free will at the moment.

    And there are others. I don’t think any of them work, currently, but I’m open to arguments or evidence or new arguments entirely that demonstrate it. But just like you don’t really think you have to go digging through every religion to find, say, prophecies that are clear and worked I don’t feel I have to spend my time inventing these arguments to be considered fair, honest and rational. It should suffice that I don’t simply dismiss them, but address the arguments that are presented to me in detail and as they are.

    Say what else you will, but it’s pretty clear that I’m addressing these arguments in detail [grin].

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    2) Prove that we can’t have free will if God is omniscient.

    If god is omni-max, then there’s no such thing as free will. Indeed, how could there be? At the time of inception of the universe in god’s head, every jot and tittle would have been set as part of god’s knowledge. When he subsequently created the universe, it was all set in stone, else god’s knowledge would be incomplete or incorrect, which would violate the omni-max nature of god.

    This one is weak because science is suggesting that we might not have free will at the moment.

    I don’t see why that would make it weak. What you’ve just admitted is that even if science shows that there is no such thing as free will that you will merrily continue to believe in your god. I guess you’d have to, as it would have been determined, but that aside – you’d be believing in a being that determined that most of the people that ever existed would be determined for hell from the beginning of the universe and that this god made it so. This is the god that is supposed to be all loving. And, to make matters worse, those people never had a say in any of it. I don’t think that’s weak at all.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    And now, OMGF,

    The big problem I see with your entire analysis is that you seem to be under the impression that there is, in fact, only one rational belief for any proposition. That’s probably true if we know the answer and everyone has all the data that justifies knowing, but isn’t true when we get down to beliefs. While there’s one meaning of rational, that meaning has to include the knowledge and values of the individual when we talk about beliefs and especially actions.

    As an example, a few years back I was in a class that was looking at the relation between reason and emotion. When we were discussing rationality, one student gave a lovely story of how he thought animals could be more rational than humans, because he was walking across a snow-covered park and noticed that while there were few — if any — human tracks cutting across the light snow (as opposed to being on the plowed path) there were a lot of animal tracks. Surely, he claimed, it was more rational to take the short-cut and not take the more meandering path? But the problem is that in examining that, he ignored the beliefs and desires of the other people. I can think of many reasons why someone might not take the short-cut. For example, they might not want to get their shoes wet. They might worry that there is a plowed path for a reason, and not want to ruin something in the park through the short-cut. They might have time to kill and actually find that taking a longer time to cross the park is BETTER for them. And so on and so forth.

    The same thing applies to beliefs. If you’ve seen, say, someone shoot someone else, you know that they did that. Now, if you tell that to someone else, and they don’t know that, they may not believe you — especially if they trust that person more than they trust you. You can’t judge rational and irrational from a third person omniscient (to use the literary term) perspective. It has to be based on the reality of what the person knows and believes, and what evidence they have at hand. Not the ideal set of evidence that you may or may not have.

    This is how a lot of your post fails. You ask me about what would be the case if the person’s experience led them to think about the FSM, and expect that to matter. But it actually doesn’t; if the experience was reliable and indicative of the FSM, it would be an experience suggesting the FSM, and we’d have to address the experience itself, as I suggested. And since there’s no reason for me to even necessarily accept MY cultural beliefs, why would I care about yours? I don’t have to accept your cultural belief, even if it is rational for you to do so. As long as you don’t know it’s true, of course.

    Finally, a short comment: I’d shoot myself in the foot if I argued that the evidence for God’s being benevolent was the way the world was, or judged strictly by his actions. Fortunately, I’m not doing that; I’m basing it on the relationships and statements in the Bible, just as everyone did to come up with the Problem of Evil argument in the first place. So showing that we can’t judge God damages my argumentation not one whit, and I have already conceded that that evidence is not compelling and may, in fact, be totally wrong. I’ll even concede that it could be fictional.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Wow, that’s a lot of words with not much substance. You are vebose I suppose.

    You really only touched on the FSM aspect and contradicted yourself in the process.

    But it actually doesn’t; if the experience was reliable and indicative of the FSM, it would be an experience suggesting the FSM, and we’d have to address the experience itself, as I suggested.

    This is just after you got done telling me that we have to include the knowledge and values of the person when discussing their beliefs. Care to try again at making up your mind?

    This is how a lot of your post fails.

    I love how you blithely dismiss the whole of my post by focusing on one question and acting as if the rest doesn’t matter. This is especially true with your admission that being raised as an atheist would mean that you’d be an atheist today. That’s a pretty explicit admission that your beliefs are not based on reason. Perhaps you might claim that they are reasonable because that’s what you learned, but that’s another bone of contention that I picked in my post and you ignored, so you may need to address that. You can’t simply claim, however, that there are more ways to be rational in some circumstance than one and that therefor your beliefs are rational and reasonable.

    Finally, a short comment: I’d shoot myself in the foot if I argued that the evidence for God’s being benevolent was the way the world was, or judged strictly by his actions. Fortunately, I’m not doing that; I’m basing it on the relationships and statements in the Bible, just as everyone did to come up with the Problem of Evil argument in the first place.

    Nope, you’re still aiming at your foot. You’re claiming that god is good because you read it in the Bible and you simply believe that it’s so. Then, when evil is pointed out to you, you claim that you don’t have enough information to judge god. Well, sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. If you wish to claim that we don’t have enough information to judge god, you can’t very well turn around and tell us that you’ve judged god to be good.

    So showing that we can’t judge God damages my argumentation not one whit…

    Then don’t say that you know or believe that god is good. Unfortunately for you, you’ve already said that, so your argument is contradictory and I’m pointing it out to you. It does matter quite a bit more than a simple whit as it turns out.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    It also occurs to me that your example of the path is not at all analogous. You’re talking about preferences in the path example. Do I prefer to keep my shoes from getting wet? Do I prefer to worry about what I might damage by trampling through the shortcut? Etc.

    We’re talking about factual claims, however. Is it a fact that the god of the Bible exists? Whatever you prefer has no bearing on this matter. The real question is whether the evidence supports the existence of this deity or not. Considering that we don’t currently have evidence for your deity, the rational position is not to believe that this deity exists. To assert otherwise would also be to assert that it’s rational to believe in the FSM, Allah, Baal, unicorns, leprechauns, faeries, etc.

    Is it binary? To a large degree, it is. Are you really going to argue that it’s rational for you to believe in Yahweh, a muslim to believe in Allah, and for me to not believe in either of them? Whether your personal feelings on the matter lead you to really hope that Yahweh is real, it doesn’t make the jump to belief a rational one, this is especially so since you admit that being raised a muslim would mean that you’d be a muslim today. Those same god experiences that you think you have and attribute to Yahweh would be attributed to Allah and all because you were brought up in a different culture, not because there’s some evidential or rational difference between the two. AFAIC, you’ve basically given up the argument and admitted that your beliefs are not rational and that you will hang on to them regardless and despite any and all contrary argumentation or evidence.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Hello again Verbose Stoic,

    I asked you what I thought was a simple question in my previous comment in this thread, but you declined to answer it. In fact, it’s obvious that your most recent response is retreating still further from anything like an objective set of criteria. You appear to now be saying that not only would we need to track the consequences of a single event for thousands of years to prove that it was an uncompensated evil, we’d also have to absolutely prove that utilitarianism is the one true moral code (something you propose no guidelines on how to do).

    This whole exchange is an excellent illustration of the point I originally wrote my essay to make: for the vast majority of theists, belief in God is an unfalsifiable proposition not based on any evidence. Most believers say so themselves. A few claim to offer criteria by which their belief could be disproved, but when you look closer, you find that those criteria are either irreducibly subjective or so thoroughly hedged about with exceptions, loopholes and qualifications that no possible response could definitively satisfy them. Your response, I think, is an example of the latter.

  • 2-D Man

    Ebonmuse you’re putting too much importance on examples…

    Did anyone else start channeling Dara O’Brien? “Inna the sack wit’ ya.”

    Say what else you will, but it’s pretty clear that I’m addressing these arguments in detail [grin].

    Well, I’d agree with the detail part….

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Ebonmuse,

    At this point, it seems to me that you’re spending far too much time trying to justify your stance that theists are making an unfalsifiable belief — that the implication of your words means is something they are doing deliberately — instead of listening to what a theist — myself — is ACTUALLY SAYING TO YOU. This is evidenced by your summary of my position that ignores, oh, about 90% of what I actually said:

    1) I flat-out said that I didn’t think Utilitarianism was correct, and that I was only using as an example to demonstrate that depending on what morality turns out to be true, the knowledge of the agent may matter, and that God knows more than we do. This, then, was never my demanding that you prove Utilitarianism correct, and the implication from that is that other moral codes may have less stringent requirements.

    2) I also stated that there might be cases — by which I meant “instances of suffering” — where even under Utilitarianism we could judge it without having all of that knowledge. You ignored that.

    3) I also gave you two examples of completely different arguments of the form I require that have no dependency on the right moral code or on that degree of knowledge. You ignored them completely.

    4) I pointed out directly that you were focusing too much on specific examples. You ignored that.

    5) I pointed out that just as no one expects you to, say, find all the prophecies of all religions and prove them too vague or false, you shouldn’t expect me to be able to give all arguments about how God may be incompatible with what we know is true about the world. Again, you ignored that.

    6) You’ve also dropped entirely your discussion about evidence and the evaluation of that, which you stated was the important point, while saying nothing about whether my stance on that was reasonable or unreasonable, to nitpick on the details of one argument.

    Suffice it to say that this is, in fact, quite frustrating for me. You are claiming that nothing could possibly convince me that God doesn’t exist — and seem to be hinting that I’M the one making that so — by nitpicking over specific arguments.

    Look, for the Problem of Evil to work as a deductive argument — which is what it is — we have to be able to eliminate all other possibilities but that God is inconsistent with the world. Since a God who was doing the morally right thing could not be considered anything other than benevolent, we need to judge the morality of allowing suffering. That requires us to a) know what the right morality is and b) by that morality, know enough to make a proper moral judgement. If you don’t like that, then you don’t like the Problem of Evil. Which is fair enough. But you are hardly justified in insisting that I’m trying to make God unfalsifiable when all I’m doing is pointing out that one such argument doesn’t succeed, and implying that all of the arguments I know don’t succeed because, well, if one of them did I wouldn’t be a theist anymore [grin]. That’s like saying that someone who points out that an experiment is, say, compatible with both Einsteinian and Newtonian physics must be making Newtonian physics unfalsifiable if they can’t come up with an experiment that does distinguish them.

    You’re free to argue for one of the other arguments, or invent your own. And I’m free to point out what things those arguments have to show in order to work as a refutation of God. I don’t have to meekly accept any argument that someone thinks credible or else be charged with making God unfalsifiable; show me an argument that DOES falsify God and then we can talk.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMBF,

    I missed your comment about the free will one above, so I’ll reply to it briefly here:

    The form of the argument is:

    If an omniscient God exists, humans do not have free will.
    Humans HAVE free will.

    Therefore, an omniscient God does not exist.

    If science says that humans don’t have free will with or without God, the second premise is not true and the argument fails (and an awful lot of other things go with it).

    As for the omni-max God, this depends on a few things, so to highlight that, let me ask two questions:

    a) To you, does omniscience include the ability to know the logically impossible?
    b) Is it logically possible to know the outcome of a free choice before it occurs?

    The answers to these questions are the starting point for that debate.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMBF,

    Let me try to link this all together into one point, since most of those points are intertwined. I apologize for the length, but there are important issues that need to be fleshed out:

    First, you say this:

    ” Are you really going to argue that it’s rational for you to believe in Yahweh, a muslim to believe in Allah, and for me to not believe in either of them?”

    Actually, yes, that’s EXACTLY what I’m going to argue, and it hinges on my comments about rationality. You ignored the specific example of belief to try to tie my claim strictly to values, but in that example it is clear that it is belief that matters, not values. So let me restate that example:

    Imagine that you observe Person X shoot someone. You tell Person Y that you saw that and that, therefore, Person X is guilty of murder. However, Person Y considers Person X to be of too good a character to commit such a crime, and also has reason to distrust your testimony because you would benefit from Person X being found guilty instead of yourself. Now, could both beliefs be rational?

    My answer is: Yes. You, of course, KNOW that Person X is guilty, but you can’t give that evidence to Person Y. Person Y only has your testimony and finds Person X more reliable/trustworthy than they do you. Both are believing rationally, even though both are believing opposing things, and Person Y is, in fact, wrong.

    Rational does not equate to correct nor does irrational equate to incorrect.

    Now, you can indeed challenge the differing beliefs. In the example, you can provide evidence that Person X is not as good a person as Person Y thinks, or prove yourself trustworthy to Person Y. And here is where the FSM example comes in: you can challenge the belief that an experience supports the FSM by, say, either showing the experience unreliable (under unreliable conditions, like being on drugs) or not indicative (doesn’t really support the specific proposition, like claims of vague feelings of well-being). This should weaken the support. Thus, I’m not contradicting myself at all, since my comment was about taking the person’s beliefs on directly, and I’m advocating against not taking that person’s beliefs into account when calculating irrationality.

    So, let’s look at religion specifically, and walk through it. I was raised in a religion, and that’s pretty much where the belief comes from. I got a lot of beliefs that way, as did everyone else, and they were formed when we weren’t really critical or well-informed enough to judge properly. So, now that I’m older, I’ve noted that some of them turned out to be right and some of them turned out to be wrong. So, there’s at a minimum no rational requirement to abandon all of them, because based on experience some will be right and some will be wrong. So, I have no a priori reason to consider these beliefs false; they have to be evaluated individually. But obviously we don’t have the time to evaluate them all, and so we can usually wait until there is a challenge to one and do the leg work them.

    So, religion gets challenged.

    So, I do the leg work. I trace back the evidence and note that it is a cultural belief traced back supposedly through at least mostly unbroken chains to events that supposed really happened to real people. Hey, looks good. But then I note that there are other religions that have the same claims and seem incompatible. Not so good. And then there is other evidence that the chain is not as unbroken as we once thought, and that there’s a lot of room for things to slip in that are untrue … including the important things about it. Not good. And some things might be metaphorical and some might not be, and it’s really hard to tell what would be metaphorical and what might be true. Not good.

    So, looking at this, it seems that the evidence is inconclusive. We have seeming evidence for, but it isn’t all that reliable. So, we certainly don’t know true, and certainly don’t know false either.

    So, let’s take the two obvious criteria for rationality — that I don’t think anyone will credibly deny — and see if I violate either of them. Am I believing something that I know to be false or should know to be false based on the evidence I have access? No, because we don’t have the evidence to know that God doesn’t exist. Okay, so am I believing two things that contradict each other (knowingly)? Well, for me, that’s a “No” because I’m not a naturalist, and don’t believe in any other incompatible gods, so my Web of Belief is consistent.

    Now we start to get heavily into epistemology. So, another proposal is that if you have a proposition where the evidence is inconclusive, you shouldn’t believe ANYTHING, and should simply lack belief on that. By this, only weak atheism — simple lack of belief — is rational, and all religions and strong atheism are all irrational. Since I think that strong atheism and most religious belief is — or can be — rational, I need to examine this.

    The first thing to note is that it is unreasonable for this claim to be “If you don’t know something, you can’t believe it.” The requirements for knowledge are supposed to be fairly stringent, and if we applied it we’d have to drop a large number of every day beliefs that we need to get us through the day (depending on how skeptical one wants to be). Belief exists for a reason, and arguing that no epistemic beliefs are allowed is a claim that requires much evidence and would rewrite much of how we live our lives. So, it has to apply specifically to inconclusive evidence; it’s not just that we don’t know, but that we don’t have really any reason to pick one over another.

    Now, I object to this being the determination for rational, because I argue that for any proposition that could have an impact on how we should act towards the world staying neutral is a bad option. It would mean that you would know of a proposition that would and should impact how you act, but that you wouldn’t have any stance on it until you could get sufficient and more compelling evidence. So, you’d be forced into one of two options; either a) Running out and testing any of these immediately or b) Acting on the basis of other beliefs and ignoring the new proposition. The former is not something that we have the time to do, and the latter doesn’t do anything to settle the question and leaves you ignoring relevant considerations and so acting improperly by definition.

    So, my proposal is this: believe … or believe not. Pick the side most consistent with your Web of Belief and act on that, keeping in mind your confidence level in that belief. Thus, you’ll test that proposition every time it is relevant, and if you’re wrong life will correct you and then you can adjust your Web. If you keep the confidence level in mind, life is unlikely to correct you in a devastating way, so why not let every day life correct and test all your beliefs? Which you can’t do if you don’t believe true or false any proposition that you’re uncertain about.

    So, at the very least, that my belief is irrational is highly debatable. Do you have anything other than your assertions to show that I’m wrong? I’m all ears.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It should be noted that science does not assert determinism in human affairs; it is agnostic on the issue, with some scientists favoring it and some opposed, but none having solid, conclusive evidence.

    Philosophers assert determinism and free will and so forth, which indicates to me that whatever is said about it is likely to be so much BS.

  • DSimon

    The first thing to note is that it is unreasonable for this claim to be “If you don’t know something, you can’t believe it.” The requirements for knowledge are supposed to be fairly stringent, and if we applied it we’d have to drop a large number of every day beliefs that we need to get us through the day (depending on how skeptical one wants to be). Belief exists for a reason, and arguing that no epistemic beliefs are allowed is a claim that requires much evidence and would rewrite much of how we live our lives.

    Verbose Static, if I understand right, you’re saying that we’d have to get rid of important everyday beliefs if we strictly dropped all our non-evidence-based beliefs, and that therefore we shouldn’t do so.

    But, which important everyday beliefs are you talking about, exactly? You don’t provide any examples, and I don’t think there are any good examples. I assert that we can completely discard all non-evidence-based beliefs and still have everything we need to get everyday stuff done.

    Now, I object to this being the determination for rational, because I argue that for any proposition that could have an impact on how we should act towards the world staying neutral is a bad option. It would mean that you would know of a proposition that would and should impact how you act, but that you wouldn’t have any stance on it until you could get sufficient and more compelling evidence. So, you’d be forced into one of two options; either a) Running out and testing any of these immediately or b) Acting on the basis of other beliefs and ignoring the new proposition. The former is not something that we have the time to do, and the latter doesn’t do anything to settle the question and leaves you ignoring relevant considerations and so acting improperly by definition.

    You seem to be saying that the considerations must be relevant because a decision one way or the other on that hypothesis would strongly impact one’s behaivor. I assert that it’s much more rational to pay the most attention to hypotheses that have the most evidence, rather than hypotheses that have the most potential impact if true. If a given hypothesis did deserve consideration for hypothetical outcome impact alone, then so would the billion trillion kajillion possible other hypotheses that also don’t have any positive evidence but would still impact my behavior if I knew them to be true.

    Consider the hypothesis that Zeus exists and will send me to the underworld unless I regularly sacrifice to him. If I believed that this were true, that would certainly impact my behavior. By your specified criteria, this would deserve consideration, along with all possible religious hypotheses (both real and imagined), and also any other evidenceless hypothesis I can come up with that has a hypothetical behavior impact, i.e. the hypothesis that I’m trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario with my memory being reset each day and that I’d escape it if I said “Wiggy-ziggy” out loud three times, the hypothesis that my father’s ghost is doomed to wander the Earth unless I write a best-selling book about his life, the hypothesis that all lawyers are actually killer robots biding their time until the moment when they’ll seek world domination, and so on and so on…

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    VS,

    If science says that humans don’t have free will with or without God, the second premise is not true and the argument fails (and an awful lot of other things go with it).

    Yes, an awful lot, but apparently your beliefs are shielded from any such finding, by your own words. Why would that be? Do you not see the problem with a god that forces people to do evil (lack of free will) and then punishes them for it (sends them to hell for it)? No, apparently, this would not weaken your faith at all, because you are not rationally holding your faith.

    a) To you, does omniscience include the ability to know the logically impossible?
    b) Is it logically possible to know the outcome of a free choice before it occurs?

    Are you really claiming that god created a universe not knowing it would turn out because he created beings that can choose and somehow evade his knowledge? Either way, I don’t agree with your formulation, and I don’t know a single Xian that does. Do you really think god is incapable of seeing the future? That’s the god you are trying to cling to here, and it’s not a god that is compatible with the title “Omni-max.” This is especially true since your whole entire defense of the problem of evil is that god knows the future. But, if god can’t know what will happen due to our free will, then you have no defense for the problem of evil (not that your defense is all that strong anyway, especially with the problems I’ve already pointed out that you’ve ignored).

    Care to try again?

    Actually, yes, that’s EXACTLY what I’m going to argue, and it hinges on my comments about rationality.

    Wow. Simply wow. I thought that this stance was so outrageously ridiculous that there was no way you’d agree to it, yet you did? Amazing.

    So, let’s look at religion specifically, and walk through it. I was raised in a religion, and that’s pretty much where the belief comes from. I got a lot of beliefs that way, as did everyone else, and they were formed when we weren’t really critical or well-informed enough to judge properly.

    So, you think that an accident of your birth that you had no control over is a compelling and rational basis for holding a belief in one specific god over all other gods, and that further other people can use the same accident of the geography of their birth to rationally believe in other gods. Simply amazing.

    Well, if we can use accidents of our births, why not when we were born instead of just geography or our parents’ lineage? With your criteria in mind, astrology is now a perfectly rational belief. Being born in some specific timeframe can lead someone to believe that they are an assertive person by nature, because their horoscope says so, and by your argument, you have to believe that they are perfectly rational in holding this belief. Hopefully you can see the problem with your assertion now.

    So, looking at this, it seems that the evidence is inconclusive. We have seeming evidence for, but it isn’t all that reliable.

    Actually, you have no evidence – your personal biases do not count. You were so close when you tried to discount the “evidence” for the FSM. You noted that something would only be evidence of the FSM if it were reliable and indicative of the FSM. It also has to be linked in a rational and causal way. You can’t cite a single piece of evidence for your god that you can link in that way, and anything you cite could instead of evidence of some other god that you would believe in if you had been indoctrinated differently, or of no god. Anything that can explain (or be explained) by anything is not evidence.

    Now we start to get heavily into epistemology. So, another proposal is that if you have a proposition where the evidence is inconclusive, you shouldn’t believe ANYTHING, and should simply lack belief on that.

    No one actually goes by that. What we really follow here is that we are not rational to hold beliefs that are unsupported. You can not support your belief in god, hence it is irrational. If it’s not irrational, then it would similarly not be irrational to believe in the tooth fairy, Russell’s teapot, or anything else that anyone can come up with. Remember, the burden of proof lies on the one making the positive claim, and we are only rational in accepting that claim when the burden has been met. By your own words, you believe that claim simply because you were indoctrinated into it.

    So, my proposal is this: believe … or believe not. Pick the side most consistent with your Web of Belief and act on that, keeping in mind your confidence level in that belief.

    I’ve already shown that your web of belief is inconsistent, but you will cling to it anyway. Either way, it’s not simply a 50/50 pick and choose kind of moment here. Evidence is important as is burden of proof. Again, your views lead us to say that any belief, no matter how outlandish, is rational.

    So, at the very least, that my belief is irrational is highly debatable. Do you have anything other than your assertions to show that I’m wrong?

    Yes. I’ve shown numerous inconsistencies in your own arguments, shown how they lead to absurd conclusions, and shown what the logical conclusions of your arguments are. Additionally, I’ve painted you into a couple corners where you’ve had to contradict yourself. I’ve also pointed out the irrational basis of your belief (the accident of having being born to Xian parents, which is completely random). Now, I expect you to prove Ebon right now and claim that none of this matters in any way to your beliefs (as you’ve already done with the free will claim) and that you’re rational to believe in god no matter what I’ve pointed out, and that no one has yet pointed out anything to shake your belief – all the while continuing to assert that your beliefs could change.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “Verbose Static, if I understand right, you're saying that we’d have to get rid of important everyday beliefs if we strictly dropped all our non-evidence-based beliefs, and that therefore we shouldn’t do so. ”

    Um, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that if we dropped all beliefs that we DIDN’T KNOW to be true, we’d have to drop a lot of every day belief. You’re somehow reading “non-evidence-based” into that, but that doesn’t even follow from theism because I do consider things like, say, the Bible to be properly considered evidence, just not compelling evidence.

    As for the rest, I definitely need you to define “positive evidence” before this can be settled, but you do have to consider the main thrust of my argument, which was to pick one, act as if it was true, and see if the world contradicts you. By that, all religious beliefs would play off against each other as, essentially, one set of propositions since you can only choose one (you can’t believe in Zeus, Odin, God, and not believe in any of them and believe that all of them are non-existent all at the same time).

    So, you choose one position, and wait until that gets contradicted badly enough or that you know one of the others is true before taking on a new one.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I do consider things like, say, the Bible to be properly considered evidence, just not compelling evidence.

    And Harry Potter books are evidence that there’s a place called Hogwarts, or will you resort once again to special pleading?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMBF,

    “Yes, an awful lot, but apparently your beliefs are shielded from any such finding, by your own words. Why would that be? Do you not see the problem with a god that forces people to do evil (lack of free will) and then punishes them for it (sends them to hell for it)? No, apparently, this would not weaken your faith at all, because you are not rationally holding your faith.”

    I’m afraid this paragraph makes no sense to me. What finding are you saying that my beliefs are shielded from? That humans don’t have free will? I’ve certainly never said anything to suggest that that belief is somehow shielded. And my comment simply shows that claiming that there is a contradiction with reality if God’s omniscience takes away free will is weak if it’s very possible that, with or without God, we don’t have free will anyway.

    There might be an interesting argument to glean out of the “well, God creates people who have no choice but to do bad things and then punishes them for it”, but then my comment is that in that case your claims about my shielding my beliefs are, in fact, misplaced: if I don’t have free will, I don’t get to choose. Anything. Which means I don’t get to choose what I believe. So I have no reason to be concerned about arguments that don’t convince me because what convinces me is not something I control.

    So, if you want to go on with an assumption that humans actually don’t have free will, feel free, but it won’t work out well for you.

    As for the next comment … I find it interesting that you chastised me for ignoring your questions and ignored mine. Answer the two questions and then we’ll see how it works out. Let me give you a BIG hint: I don’t think that omniscience and free will are necessarily incompatible, but we have to answer those two questions first to eliminate the underbrush.

    “So, you think that an accident of your birth that you had no control over is a compelling and rational basis for holding a belief in one specific god over all other gods, and that further other people can use the same accident of the geography of their birth to rationally believe in other gods. Simply amazing.”

    Actually, I think no such thing. I think that we, as humans, ALL have a number of beliefs that we are taught as children and that we just accept at the time because we aren’t critical enough to evaluate them. As we get older, we start to evaluate them. Some turn out to be right, some turn out to be wrong. So, then, the question to you is: do you consider it rational — and the only rational move — to abandon any belief that you discover you believe mostly because it was taught to you as a child? If not, then we’re at least in agreement that far. And if you do, I’m interested in seeing why you think that not only rational, but the only rational move. I’ve already stated at least twice why I don’t agree.

    This, of course, also partially rebuts your astrology example, since it isn’t about “accidents” but about childhood beliefs.

    “Actually, you have no evidence – your personal biases do not count. You were so close when you tried to discount the “evidence” for the FSM. You noted that something would only be evidence of the FSM if it were reliable and indicative of the FSM.”

    Actually, I said no such thing. Again. I was very careful not to say that it wouldn’t be evidence, just that it would weaken the support. It should, for the person who had the experience, at least weaken it from knowledge to belief. I never said they couldn’t still believe it, although they could choose not to believe it either. Note that for the FSM and Russell’s Teapot and the tooth fairy, there’s another line of argumentation that we can use: we can trace them back and show that, yes, they are fictional. Can you do that for God, to the level of knowledge?

    If they had a clear, reliable experience that would be an FSM if it existed, the other line isn’t all that compelling against it (other than to quibble over naming). But in the absence of clear, reliable experience that is indicative, it is overwhelming and, to me, clearly gets into the category of knowledge.

    “Remember, the burden of proof lies on the one making the positive claim, and we are only rational in accepting that claim when the burden has been met. ”

    I disagree. You’re only rationally REQUIRED to accept it when that burden has been met, not that you would be irrational to believe it before that point. Otherwise, you’re saying that we can’t believe anything that we don’t know to be true, and that will cost you a very large number of your beliefs.

    “I’ve already shown that your web of belief is inconsistent, but you will cling to it anyway”

    If you have, you should be able to point out two contradictory beliefs I hold, but you haven’t. You’ve asserted that my arguments are inconsistent, except that I haven’t given you enough detail for you to know the complete arguments yet, and even what you say here is based on interpretations of things that I’ve never actually said. I’m not sure it’s me who’s clinging here …

  • DSimon

    IUm, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that if we dropped all beliefs that we DIDN’T KNOW to be true, we’d have to drop a lot of every day belief. You’re somehow reading “non-evidence-based” into that, but that doesn’t even follow from theism because I do consider things like, say, the Bible to be properly considered evidence, just not compelling evidence.

    Where do you place the line between “don’t know” and “know”? Beliefs exist on a scale of confidence, and (for me at least) although there are many hovering very very near to 0% or 100%, there are very very few that are actually at the absolute minimum or maximum.

    As for the rest, I definitely need you to define “positive evidence” before this can be settled[...]

    By “positive evidence” I mean evidence which supports a hypothesis, as opposed to “negative evidence” which is evidence against a hypothesis. I put the “positive” in there because, in the epistemeology I support, any belief’s confidence starts out at very very near to 0% and can only move up once it has some positive evidence to push it.

    [...], but you do have to consider the main thrust of my argument, which was to pick one, act as if it was true, and see if the world contradicts you. By that, all religious beliefs would play off against each other as, essentially, one set of propositions since you can only choose one (you can’t believe in Zeus, Odin, God, and not believe in any of them and believe that all of them are non-existent all at the same time).

    I think my argument against this still stands.

    You’ve changed it so that instead of having to pick a position on every potentially-behavior-changing unsupported hypothesis, now we just have to pick a position on every set of mutually exclusive potentially-behavior-changing unsupported hypotheses. There’s still a kajillion such sets (Red invisible radioactive unicorns or blue invisible radioactive unicorns? Mind control rays from aliens or mind control rays from the CIA? And so on…), and it’s still not practical or rational to spend time arbitrarily picking a default belief out of each.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMGF,

    I know that Harry Potter was invented and is fictional. Or are you going to deny that we know that?

    Now, do we know that about the Bible?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “Where do you place the line between “don’t know” and “know”? Beliefs exist on a scale of confidence, and (for me at least) although there are many hovering very very near to 0% or 100%, there are very very few that are actually at the absolute minimum or maximum.”

    Well, I agree with you on that, but I don’t really consider knowledge on a precise level of “confidence”, even though you should be 100% confident of that which you know (er, kinda).

    What knowledge is, by epistemic definition, is “justified true belief”. But justified needs more explanation, so I use reliablism to get:

    S knows that p iff:

    S believes that p.
    p is true.
    S’s belief that p is produced by a reliable truth-forming faculty under the conditions where that faculty is reliable.

    Catch something out of the corner of your eye? You might believe it, it might be true, and vision is reliable, but out of the corner of your eye is not. So, not knowledge, but you are probably not irrational for believing it, even if you don’t or can’t test it later.

    So, that’s knowledge … and an example of the problems if you only allow yourself to believe what you know.

    “By “positive evidence” I mean evidence which supports a hypothesis, as opposed to “negative evidence” which is evidence against a hypothesis. I put the “positive” in there because, in the epistemeology I support, any belief’s confidence starts out at very very near to 0% and can only move up once it has some positive evidence to push it.”

    So, can positive evidence only support one hypothesis to count, or can it support multiple hypotheses?

    (What I’m seeing here, actually is what we don’t disagree on much; there are only a couple of minor issues getting in the way.)

    “You’ve changed it so that instead of having to pick a position on every potentially-behavior-changing unsupported hypothesis, now we just have to pick a position on every set of mutually exclusive potentially-behavior-changing unsupported hypotheses. There’s still a kajillion such sets (Red invisible radioactive unicorns or blue invisible radioactive unicorns? Mind control rays from aliens or mind control rays from the CIA? And so on…), and it’s still not practical or rational to spend time arbitrarily picking a default belief out of each.”

    Correct … so I don’t. I evaluate them as they come up and are suggested to me. I suppose this could come under “positive evidence”, but that positive evidence certainly comes up in forms as weak as “Someone tells me that that’s true”. I don’t have to invent propositions like you do here, and I don’t even claim that I would never and don’t have to test them at all before accepting them. Ultimately, what I do is a function of: importance of belief, time it would take me to test, consequences if I act and don’t test, consistency with my existing beliefs, and maybe something else I’m forgetting [grin].

  • DSimon

    Catch something out of the corner of your eye? You might believe it, it might be true, and vision is reliable, but out of the corner of your eye is not. So, not knowledge, but you are probably not irrational for believing it, even if you don’t or can’t test it later.

    Well, as you point out yourself, this isn’t a very useful way of determining if a belief is rational or not… so why are you bringing it up?

    It seems to me that what you’re saying is “We sometimes believe things with somewhat weak evidence (seeing something out of the corner of our eye) and therefore it’s rational to believe things with only extremely weak evidence (the Bible)”, which I don’t buy at all.

    Again, my argument is that belief should be proportional to strength of evidence, so “I have five fingers, I can count them right now” should be strongly believed, “There’s a bird over there, I just saw it out of the corner of my eye” should be somewhat believed, and “God exists, because of… well, no particular evidence” should be very very weakly believed.

    So, can positive evidence only support one hypothesis to count, or can it support multiple hypotheses?

    It can support multiple hypotheses, in which case it is positive evidence for all of them. However, it cannot support multiple hypotheses which contradict each other.

    I don’t have to invent propositions like you do here, and I don’t even claim that I would never and don’t have to test them at all before accepting them. Ultimately, what I do is a function of: importance of belief, time it would take me to test, consequences if I act and don’t test, consistency with my existing beliefs, and maybe something else I’m forgetting [grin].

    You’re using the word “test” now, which I like, because testing is all about evidence, and so am I. :-) But I have some questions now:

    1. Since you’ve said that you don’t have good evidence for the existence of God (right?), how do you test it?

    2. If your strategy is to begin by believing an arbitrary hypothesis and only stop believing once testing shows it to be false, wouldn’t you keep on believing it forever even if it’s false if it turned out that it’s a hypothesis that is difficult or impossible to test?

    3. How is your strategy more effective at avoiding “life correct[ing] you in a devastating way” than the empirical strategy, which is to accord equal lack of belief to all hypotheses that have the same lack of evidence?

  • DSimon

    Actually, let me go into a little more detail about the “multiple hypotheses” thing.

    If you’ve got a set of possible explanations for something, of which only one can be true, then:
    - Evidence which supports only one out of the set should raise the confidence for that one quite a bit
    - Evidence which supports all of the hypotheses shouldn’t affect any of their confidence levels; it isn’t really evidence at all as far as this epistemology is concerned
    - Evidence which supports a few out of the set should raise the confidence for those few somewhat, because the evidence still contains information; it shows that those few are more plausible than the others.

    What I’m describing here is a simplified version of Bayesian probability, which can be seen as the mathematical basis for the scientific method.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    “It seems to me that what you’re saying is “We sometimes believe things with somewhat weak evidence (seeing something out of the corner of our eye) and therefore it’s rational to believe things with only extremely weak evidence (the Bible)”, which I don’t buy at all.”

    Ah, DSimon, DSimon. Things were going so well, and then you say this [grin].

    See, that wasn’t what I was saying there. All I was doing was replying to your question about where we draw the line at knowledge. I outlined knowledge and used that as an example of where we could only have belief and not get knowledge by my definition. It wasn’t meant to relate directly to the belief in God at all.

    “It can support multiple hypotheses, in which case it is positive evidence for all of them. However, it cannot support multiple hypotheses which contradict each other.”

    At what level do you hold “contradict each other”? Let me outline these examples:

    I’ll agree that the Bible is not evidence for Zeus, Odin or strong atheism (all of those are contradictory to the belief in God).

    However, with some of the arguments around the Problem of Evil, it can be said that suffering in the world supports both the claim that a benevolent God exists and that a benevolent God doesn’t exist. The latter is obvious, but the former follows from arguments that suffering is, in the long run, better for us than having none.

    I don’t see anything wrong with either of these analyses, but it seems to contradict your claim.

    “1. Since you’ve said that you don’t have good evidence for the existence of God (right?), how do you test it?”

    Well, for me it was “compelling” but, sure, we can go with that for now. And here you run up against my agnosticism (I’m an agnostic theist): I don’t think that there can be such a test or proof either for or against. Other than that, all I do is go out into the world and act as if it is true, and see if reality contradicts me. But I can’t think of an explicit test for or against that can possibly work, although I’m always open to suggestions [grin].

    “2. If your strategy is to begin by believing an arbitrary hypothesis and only stop believing once testing shows it to be false, wouldn’t you keep on believing it forever even if it’s false if it turned out that it’s a hypothesis that is difficult or impossible to test?”

    It isn’t arbitrary, as I have a number of principles that I appeal to to decide what to accept (or not to accept). But, this is a valid point, but not one that I’m concerned with. Here’s why; if this happens it means either:

    1) The proposition actually doesn’t have any relevance to the world; I can act as if it is true or if it is false and have the exact same consequences (at least, within the scope of how I live my life). Thus, there isn’t much to be concerned about; I have a belief, I know how to act, but it doesn’t really matter much.

    2) The belief is actually not relevant at all to my life; I never actually make decisions using that proposition at all. Again, not much to be concerned about; it’s there if I ever need to use it, and harmless until I do.

    I think the belief in God fits into 1), but one reason for keeping it is that after I die it may well matter, but that’s not a practical test.

    “3. How is your strategy more effective at avoiding “life correct[ing] you in a devastating way” than the empirical strategy, which is to accord equal lack of belief to all hypotheses that have the same lack of evidence?”

    Well, I added that as a caveat to ensure that one wouldn’t raise the objection that it would cause me to do really insane things based on odd beliefs that killed people. But the advantage in my case is that I get propositions tested simply by acting in the world, whereas the empirical approach may well require you to test everything yourself, and since you don’t have time to do that you may be making decisions based on an incomplete set of propositions, and therefore making mistakes without being able to tie that back to the proposition that was to be considered; you have to wonder if the failure indicates a problem with the other propositions you used, or indicates what truth value that unconsidered proposition has.

    So, you talk a lot about confidence in beliefs and weak beliefs, but the percentages you list are a little too abstract to properly analyze. So let me tell you what I will do based on my belief in God, and you tell me if I’m acting with too great a degree of confidence in it:

    I go to services … occasionally.

    I argue about it with people on the Internet.

    I read arguments for and against it and occasionally formulate new ones, although it’s towards the bottom of my list of things to think about philosophically.

    I’d raise my kids, if I had any, in the religion.

    I give my tax dollars to the separate school system, since that’s an option here.

    That’s about it. Too much?

  • DSimon

    However, with some of the arguments around the Problem of Evil, it can be said that suffering in the world supports both the claim that a benevolent God exists and that a benevolent God doesn’t exist. The latter is obvious, but the former follows from arguments that suffering is, in the long run, better for us than having none.

    I don’t see anything wrong with either of these analyses, but it seems to contradict your claim.

    Not quite. Under my epistemeology, the way you’re putting it, you’re arguing against evil being evidence supporting the non-existence of an omnimax God, on the grounds that the existence of evil equally supports both the existence and non-existence hypotheses.

    To argue that evil’s existence is evidence in favor of an omnimax God, you’d have to go further and claim that that existence of evil would be compatible with the existence hypothesis but incompatible with the non-existence hypothesis, which would be a pretty silly argument.

    Well, for me it was “compelling” but, sure, we can go with that for now.

    What are you referring to here by “it”?

    [My choice of initial hypothesis] isn’t arbitrary, as I have a number of principles that I appeal to to decide what to accept (or not to accept)

    Why should anything other than whether or not you think a hypothesis is true affect whether or not you believe in it? If your choice of initial hypothesis isn’t arbitrary, but it’s not based on evidence either, then aren’t you now believing in things regardless of whether or not you’ve got reason to think they are true? How is that more rational than finding evidence first before believing things?

    The proposition actually doesn’t have any relevance to the world; I can act as if it is true or if it is false and have the exact same consequences (at least, within the scope of how I live my life).

    But at the bottom of your comment, you have a list of things that indicate that the proposition does affect your behavior! It even affects your behavior in ways that directly influence other peoples’ lives (i.e. how you raise your kids and how you spend your money).

    Whether or not you are a theist, and the details of the theistic beliefs you hold, affect your behavior whether or not the actual hypothesis is true.

  • 2-D Man

    Sorry, everyone. I’ve been off at the factory all day, unable to monitor this thread, so I’m a bit late, but I wanted to point out this little bit of hilarity:

    [Addressed to Ebonmuse]
    4) I pointed out directly that you were focusing too much on specific examples. You ignored that.
    5) I pointed out that just as no one expects you to, say, find all the prophecies of all religions and prove them too vague or false, you shouldn’t expect me to be able to give all arguments about how God may be incompatible with what we know is true about the world. Again, you ignored that.
    6) You’ve also dropped entirely your discussion about evidence and the evaluation of that, which you stated was the important point, while saying nothing about whether my stance on that was reasonable or unreasonable, to nitpick on the details of one argument.

  • 2-D Man

    Oh crud. I forgot to mention that the emphasis in my previous post was added. Sorry.

  • Zietlos

    TBH, 2D, I don’t quite get the joke. One can focus on one aspect on a debate as well as focus entirely too much on specific examples, especially if the counters are specific examples and not the specifics within the argument in question.

    DSimon, the compelling evidence was “I was raised in it”, “The bible says so”, and “you can’t prove a negative”, from the sum total I have gathered here. And as a Last Thursdayist follower of the god Zeepzorpful, who has appeared to me in a bowl of soup which I then ate, inadvertently destroying all evidence of Her infinitely beautiful existence (Zeepzorpful is female, you see, and also fickle, she doesn’t like appearing in anything except apparently certain homemade soups), I am in strong support of VS’s arguments, since they mean that The Beautiful Zeepzorpful, a goddess who created all creation including the Xian god (she told me herself, and that he lied in his biography, VERY compelling proof), and she also told me that she made the entire universe last Thursday on a whim. Of course, I was created last Thursday with the implanted memory that I was raised to believe in her, which is yet more evidence. And as per the rules of the engagement, there is no possible way to trace her existence into a false origin, and no logical way to refute Last Thursdayism given Her trickster existence as an a priori constant.

    She says “hello”, by the by. Friendly goddess too.

  • 2-D Man

    Zeiltos, how does one follow the pleas to stop demanding specific examples while continuing to demand evidence?

    Indeed, what is evidence but a collection of specific examples?

    Provide me with a specific example of a manifestation of Zeepzorpful, and you’ve provided me with the first shred of evidence.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    2-D Man,

    I had a longer comment, but I think I can settle this a lot shorter now”

    “Zeiltos, how does one follow the pleas to stop demanding specific examples while continuing to demand evidence?”

    I never made a plea to stop demanding specific examples. I made a plea for him to stop elevating specific examples to the point that any specific example — even if it was clearly only used to illustrate a point — was held to be the key and totality of the entire argument.

    I also never actually talked about his demanding evidence either, but that he made a specific point that I was missing discussing the specific evidence for God and claimed that that was a really important thing that I was missing … and when I side-stepped it — I admit — by saying that that required a lot of epistemology somehow he never mentioned that really important thing again. That comment was a bit unfair because of my comments on it, but it was a bit annoying …

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Zietlos,

    I’ve never, in fact, claimed compelling evidence. In fact, I claimed the precise opposite, and your summary oversimplifies the positions I’ve taken.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “Not quite. Under my epistemeology, the way you’re putting it, you’re arguing against evil being evidence supporting the non-existence of an omnimax God, on the grounds that the existence of evil equally supports both the existence and non-existence hypotheses.

    To argue that evil’s existence is evidence in favor of an omnimax God, you’d have to go further and claim that that existence of evil would be compatible with the existence hypothesis but incompatible with the non-existence hypothesis, which would be a pretty silly argument.”

    And this is where our epistemology differs. To me, to say that E is evidence for a proposition P is to say that if P is true, you would expect E to be the case. This covers actually testing and also allows for facts that are neutral to a proposition to not count against it. So, imagine that we have three propositions A, B and C. We are considering E.

    A predicts that E will occur. E does, so E is evidence for A.
    B predicts that E will not occur. E does occur, so E is evidence AGAINST B.
    C says nothing about E. E occurs, so E is neither evidence for nor evidence against C.

    I suppose when we start gathering evidence to first start believing a proposition or forming a theory, this looks kinda odd since in that case it’s backwards; we accept P BECAUSE we saw the evidence E, so saying “It is expected if P is true” is weird. But I still think it works.

    So, now how do we go about resolving this difference in our epistemologies?

    “What are you referring to here by “it”?”

    You said that I accepted that the evidence was not good, and I slightly nitpicked — but went on regardless — that what I actually said was “compelling” instead of “good” there, meaning “not compelling”.

    “Why should anything other than whether or not you think a hypothesis is true affect whether or not you believe in it? If your choice of initial hypothesis isn’t arbitrary, but it’s not based on evidence either, then aren’t you now believing in things regardless of whether or not you’ve got reason to think they are true? How is that more rational than finding evidence first before believing things?”

    The issue here is that based on the evidence we really don’t know which is true and which isn’t, and so then the question is about how we handle that epistemically. If we appeal to epistemic principles that doesn’t mean that it’s arbitrary. Take, for example, Occam’s Razor/parsimony. This only comes into play when you have two propositions that are equally evidenced, by definition. When this is the case, according to Occam you should take the simplist one, by which he meant the one with the least theoretical entities. Now, this actually has nothing to do with evidence — as the two are equally evidence — nor does it actually give more evidence to the simplist one. It’s just an epistemic tie-breaker. But that doesn’t mean that it’s arbitrary.

    By the same token, all of my epistemic principles that I’ve listed above are not arbitrary, but only come into play when the evidence is such that you can’t obviously decide which one to take. For me, that line is basically when you can’t know which one is true. In those cases, you have to use those principles to decide what to believe.

    Note that, regardless, you have the same issue, since when we don’t have knowledge you don’t have a precise, objective way to decide what to believe, and so you need an epistemic principle to help you make that call. Some that you might be inclined to use are:

    1) Most probable.
    2) Believe none.
    3) Believe if over a certain probability, but don’t believe if under.

    But all of these are, in fact, epistemic principles that don’t add evidence to the proposition that you decided to accept; they are heuristics, not objective arguments/proofs.

    “But at the bottom of your comment, you have a list of things that indicate that the proposition does affect your behavior! It even affects your behavior in ways that directly influence other peoples’ lives (i.e. how you raise your kids and how you spend your money).

    Whether or not you are a theist, and the details of the theistic beliefs you hold, affect your behavior whether or not the actual hypothesis is true.”

    I think we have a clash of epistemologies again. Because I never claimed that it didn’t impact my behaviour — that, in fact, was rather the point — but that it didn’t impact it beyond the confidence level I was justified in having about the proposition.

    When I talk about confidence, I only apply it to things I believe. So when you talked about “0% to 100%”, I assumed it applied to beliefs and the confidence in it. Since that’s vague, I jumped to my view and determined that confidence — and I think you will agree with this part — should determine how willing you are to act on the proposition in question. Thus, the list of what I do and if I’m acting over and above how justified I am in believing that proposition.

    But, recalling a discussion I had with someone else over Bayesian reasoning (which I dislike, for various reasons), it seems that you might or might also use that confidence level to determine when TO believe something, in that if a proposition achieves over, say, 50% confidence then you can believe it, but not before. This has no correlation to my epistemology, since I don’t base my beliefs on probability calculations and argue, in fact, that that’s a bad idea. So, is this what you’re after? Then we can start talking about why you think that works and why I don’t think it does.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    VS,

    That humans don’t have free will? I’ve certainly never said anything to suggest that that belief is somehow shielded.

    OK, this is just comical now. You said:

    Here are some other possible arguments:

    2) Prove that we can’t have free will if God is omniscient. This one is weak because science is suggesting that we might not have free will at the moment.

    So, a possible argument against your conception of god is that free will can’t exist with an omniscient god (I said omni-max BTW, not omniscient), and then right after that claim that it wouldn’t work anyway, because science might be showing the very thing you just mentioned that would work as an argument against your position. Do you even think about what you’re saying before you type or do you take more pride in simply being “verbose?”

    There might be an interesting argument to glean out of the “well, God creates people who have no choice but to do bad things and then punishes them for it”, but then my comment is that in that case your claims about my shielding my beliefs are, in fact, misplaced: if I don’t have free will, I don’t get to choose.

    Which completely avoids the point.

    As for the next comment … I find it interesting that you chastised me for ignoring your questions and ignored mine.

    Except that I didn’t. Not only did I answer, but I pointed out that you had comically backed yourself into a corner. If you try to assert that god can’t have knowledge of the logically impossible, then assert that agents with free will would be included in the logically impossible, then you also destroy the weak argument you’ve been trying to use to defeat the problem of evil. I notice that you’ve now ignored that obvious contradiction as well.

    Actually, I think no such thing. I think that we, as humans, ALL have a number of beliefs that we are taught as children and that we just accept at the time because we aren’t critical enough to evaluate them.

    Why do you persist in contradicting yourself in such short spaces? At least make me work for it! You’re claiming that we can hold beliefs as rational simply because we happened to be born into a family with parents that would teach us those beliefs. Sorry, but I’ve got your argument nailed. You are arguing that the fact that you were born to Xian parents means that your belief in Xianity is rational. It’s laughable at best.

    So, then, the question to you is: do you consider it rational — and the only rational move — to abandon any belief that you discover you believe mostly because it was taught to you as a child?

    If there’s no support for it? YES! You seem to think the rational alternative is to cling to beliefs taught to you until they can be disproven, regardless of whether they have any evidence or not.

    This, of course, also partially rebuts your astrology example, since it isn’t about “accidents” but about childhood beliefs.

    It does no such thing. Simply being born to Xian parents is just as arbitrary as being born under the sign of Leo. Try again.

    Actually, I said no such thing.

    Must I remind you, once again, of what you said?

    You ask me about what would be the case if the person’s experience led them to think about the FSM, and expect that to matter. But it actually doesn’t; if the experience was reliable and indicative of the FSM, it would be an experience suggesting the FSM, and we’d have to address the experience itself, as I suggested.

    [emphasis mine]
    What’s even more laughable is that you had just contradicted yourself again, which I pointed out (and you’ve since ignored I believe).

    Note that for the FSM and Russell’s Teapot and the tooth fairy, there’s another line of argumentation that we can use: we can trace them back and show that, yes, they are fictional. Can you do that for God, to the level of knowledge?

    How do you know they are fictional? Can you really trace that back, “to the level of knowledge?” And, even if you could, you can’t say the same about other examples I could bring up, like competing religions or other mythologies and superstitions. Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt.

    If they had a clear, reliable experience that would be an FSM if it existed, the other line isn’t all that compelling against it (other than to quibble over naming).

    IOW, you’re claiming that if they believe in the FSM and then pray to the FSM and feel a nice feeling, they are rationally justified in believing the FSM is real. Sorry, but I’m still laughing.

    I disagree. You’re only rationally REQUIRED to accept it when that burden has been met, not that you would be irrational to believe it before that point.

    Disagree all you want, but it’s how rationality works. Using your method, it would be rational to hold beliefs in Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Baal, etc. all at the same time. It would be rational to believe everything you’re told. Actually, I should take advantage of this. You need to give me large amounts of money because if you don’t, the goddess Zeepzorpful will be angry with you and not re-incarnate you next Thursday when she once again creates the universe in media res. It would only be irrational to reject my claim without proof, so you best give me money.

    Otherwise, you’re saying that we can’t believe anything that we don’t know to be true, and that will cost you a very large number of your beliefs.

    Not what I’m saying at all, but nice try. Burden of proof doesn’t mean that something has been proven to 100%. That’s an impossible burden, especially since we don’t know anything to 100% certainty. The concept is really about whether the burden of making something certain enough to be rationally held has been met.

    If you have, you should be able to point out two contradictory beliefs I hold, but you haven’t.

    That’s strange, because I’ve done it repeatedly. I’ve even pointed out at least one in this very comment.

    You’ve asserted that my arguments are inconsistent, except that I haven’t given you enough detail for you to know the complete arguments yet, and even what you say here is based on interpretations of things that I’ve never actually said.

    IOW, ‘I’m sure I can weasel my way out of anything I’ve said that’s inconsistent if I do enough twisting and turning so as to shield my beliefs from being challenged, all the while claiming that I’m not shielding anything.’

    I’m not sure it’s me who’s clinging here …

    Really? Rubber and glue is your comeback?

    I know that Harry Potter was invented and is fictional. Or are you going to deny that we know that?

    Now, do we know that about the Bible?

    Oh FFS, pick Beowulf or any religious text if it helps. The point is that your argument is deficient and it’s been pointed out to you with the examples given – not that I expect any of this will get through to someone who is only going through the motions of examining his beliefs, which he somehow rationally holds simply because he was born into a Xian family.

  • 2-D Man

    I made a plea for him to stop elevating specific examples to the point that any specific example — even if it was clearly only used to illustrate a point — was held to be the key and totality of the entire argument.

    I agree; you are verbose. Let’s start picking this apart:
    Examples are always used to illustrate a point. That’s the whole idea. So eliminating the redundant phrase, we get:

    I made a plea for him to stop elevating specific examples to the point that any specific example was held to be the key and totality of the entire argument.

    Hang on. The above statement reads like an implicit admission that the example didn’t hold up under scrutiny. Good thing that one example wasn’t the only application of the argument; we’ve got all these other examples that we can still fall back o- oh, wait. No we don’t because you haven’t provided any!

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Is anyone else amused any time a Xian brings up Occam, considering that goddidit fails every time against natural explanations? I know I am.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I’m just amazed by your patience, tbh.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    2-D Man,

    So, let’s look at what actually happened:

    1) I argued that in the Problem of Evil it might be the case that God's omniscience would change what it is moral for him to do. To do that, I pointed out Utilitarianism and showed that if that was the correct moral code, it's clear how more knowledge would impact what you ought to do. Ebonmuse took that to the point where he was claiming that I was claiming that we would have to SPECIFICALLY prove Utiltarianism correct AND have thousands of years of future knowledge for the Problem of Evil to work. Since I explicitly stated that it was one example and even that I DISAGREED that Utilitarianism was correct, he was clearly overextending the example, trying to argue based entirely on Utilitarianism that I had defined that part of the argument to be unfalsifiable. Since there are tons of other candidates for moral codes and that I had even pointed out that there might be instances UNDER Utilitarianism where it would work, that was completely incorrect.

    So, here, my example supported my point — that knowledge may matter to the Problem of Evil — but he extended that to the main point, which was over whether or not suffering meant that there wasn’t a God.

    2) The second example was that I gave the Problem of Evil as an example of the FORM of an argument that would refute, for me, the existence of God, which was: prove that there is a state in the world so that that state cannot exist if God does. Ebonmuse asserted that there was NO argument of that form that could convince me only because he argued that the Problem of Evil couldn't be proven to work. That’s invalid, since any argument of the form that worked — as I said — would, in fact, prove it to me.

    So, again, my example did support me — in demonstrating a possible, common, and argument that many find convincing of the form I required — but he extended that argument to prove something about the arguments over what FORM it had to take, which is invalid. It was of that form, but I never used it to prove it as an argument that worked.

    As for not providing additional examples, for the latter I clearly added two more. I gave no examples of such arguments that actually worked for the obvious reason that if I had such an example, I wouldn’t be a theist and we wouldn’t be arguing over this [grin].

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMGF,

    “So, a possible argument against your conception of god is that free will can’t exist with an omniscient god (I said omni-max BTW, not omniscient), and then right after that claim that it wouldn’t work anyway, because science might be showing the very thing you just mentioned that would work as an argument against your position. Do you even think about what you’re saying before you type or do you take more pride in simply being “verbose?” ”

    Let me just repaste the form of that argument, since you seem to have missed it:

    “The form of the argument is:

    If an omniscient God exists, humans do not have free will.
    Humans HAVE free will.

    Therefore, an omniscient God does not exist.”

    So, now imagine that we’re debating this, and science comes in and says, “Um, BTW, the second premise is false; humans don’t have free will”. You DON’T think that would settle the issue in the favour of the argument not working? It doesn’t depend on humans NOT having free will, but on them actually HAVING it, to show that if omniscience requires humans to not have free will that contradicts the actual state of the world. I can’t see how to express this any simpler than I’ve already done.

    “Except that I didn’t. Not only did I answer,”

    No, you didn’t, because if you did then I’d know if you think that it is logically possible to know the outcome of a free choice before it’s made and if omniscience includes the ability to to the logically impossible. I don’t. So unless I missed those clear answers somewhere, you never gave them. I did honestly and legitimately want to know YOUR stance on that, so that I knew where you were coming from and on what level it would be debated.

    “but I pointed out that you had comically backed yourself into a corner. If you try to assert that god can’t have knowledge of the logically impossible, then assert that agents with free will would be included in the logically impossible, then you also destroy the weak argument you’ve been trying to use to defeat the problem of evil. I notice that you’ve now ignored that obvious contradiction as well.”

    Um, except that in order for me to have backed myself into a corner, you’d have had to, y’know, know what my stance or assertions actually were. Now, I’m not going to go through all the permutations here since I could address it from any angle, since it seems that you will invent positions for me if I don’t state mine, so here is my actual position: I believe that it is, in fact, logically possible to know the outcome of a free choice before it happens while that still remains a free choice. Thus, no corner.

    The biggest problem I’m seeing is, bluntly, you know too much and have probably argued these arguments too long, which is making you, essentially presume the ending to an argument and argue against it before anyone makes it. If I didn’t know too much and hadn’t argued these arguments for too long myself, I’d have a devil of a time figuring out what you’re referring to in some of these cases.

    “Why do you persist in contradicting yourself in such short spaces? At least make me work for it! You’re claiming that we can hold beliefs as rational simply because we happened to be born into a family with parents that would teach us those beliefs. Sorry, but I’ve got your argument nailed. You are arguing that the fact that you were born to Xian parents means that your belief in Xianity is rational. It’s laughable at best.”

    No, I’m actually arguing that because I learned it from my parents doesn’t make my belief inherently irrational. I’ve made other, much longer arguments for why it can be rational to maintain a belief until you know that it’s false. That, as I said, is part of the major epistemological work that I said arguing over this would require, and that you did say you’d attempt to take on. So, let’s get into it.

    “If there’s no support for it? YES! You seem to think the rational alternative is to cling to beliefs taught to you until they can be disproven, regardless of whether they have any evidence or not.”

    This is part of it. I went through the support and said that there was some support, but that it was inconclusive, and then did engage in talking about what we should do when the evidence is inconclusive, both to you and to DSimon. So, care to give YOUR epistemology on what to do in that case? DSimon already has, I have, so why don’t you give it a whirl?

    “You ask me about what would be the case if the person’s experience led them to think about the FSM, and expect that to matter. But it actually doesn’t; if the experience was reliable and indicative of the FSM, it would be an experience suggesting the FSM, and we’d have to address the experience itself, as I suggested.

    [emphasis mine]
    What’s even more laughable is that you had just contradicted yourself again, which I pointed out (and you’ve since ignored I believe).”

    Except that you ignored the entire middle of that paragraph, where I clarify it, while somehow keeping the beginning and the end. And there, I state:

    “Again. I was very careful not to say that it wouldn’t be evidence, just that it would weaken the support. It should, for the person who had the experience, at least weaken it from knowledge to belief. I never said they couldn’t still believe it, although they could choose not to believe it either.”

    You said that I said it wouldn’t be evidence unless it was clear and reliable, and I pointed out that I was quite careful NOT to say that. Your requote here doesn’t contradict that. At all.

    “How do you know they are fictional? Can you really trace that back, “to the level of knowledge?” And, even if you could, you can’t say the same about other examples I could bring up, like competing religions or other mythologies and superstitions. Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt.”

    Yes, I do … because I can trace them back to their origins that say “This is fictional”. As for the others … remember that ridiculous set of things that I all considered at least potentially rational that you laughed at when I said that, yes, I did consider them such? Maybe you should have remembered that I, in fact, said that before trying to use this argument against me.

    “If they had a clear, reliable experience that would be an FSM if it existed, the other line isn’t all that compelling against it (other than to quibble over naming).

    IOW, you’re claiming that if they believe in the FSM and then pray to the FSM and feel a nice feeling, they are rationally justified in believing the FSM is real. Sorry, but I’m still laughing.”

    Um, I did explicitly state above that, in that case, a clear, reliable experience IS required. Why? Because while I know that the origin of the FSM is fictional, if someone has an experience that is clear and reliable and exactly like the purported description of the FSM, I’d have to ask if it couldn’t be the case than an FSM existed and that guy who invented it didn’t just get lucky.

    A vague feeling is, of course, not clear, and so it DOES get trumped by the “I know the FSM is fictional”. Which was rather the point of my bringing that up. Shame you missed it.

    “Disagree all you want, but it’s how rationality works. Using your method, it would be rational to hold beliefs in Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Baal, etc. all at the same time. It would be rational to believe everything you’re told. Actually, I should take advantage of this. You need to give me large amounts of money because if you don’t, the goddess Zeepzorpful will be angry with you and not re-incarnate you next Thursday when she once again creates the universe in media res. It would only be irrational to reject my claim without proof, so you best give me money.”

    Um, except that since I claimed that strong atheism was also rational, it isn’t irrational under my model to reject a claim that I don’t know to be true. Which, BTW, has only been my point THE ENTIRE TIME. To sum it up, I don’t see any necessary rationality behind choosing EITHER of the options — believe true or believe false — unless you either a) know it is true or false or b) would end up holding contradictory beliefs. And b), BTW, takes care of all claims about competing religions if they’re actually incompatible.

    “Not what I’m saying at all, but nice try. Burden of proof doesn’t mean that something has been proven to 100%. That’s an impossible burden, especially since we don’t know anything to 100% certainty. The concept is really about whether the burden of making something certain enough to be rationally held has been met.”

    And here’s where we start getting into epistemology, and so here’s where you really do have to belly up to the bar: what level of “proof” must be achieved to believe something? How certain do we have to be?

    To me, it’s gotta be less than we’d have for knowledge, and you’ll have to be careful not to eliminate perfectly good every day beliefs doing it. But you’ll have to present yours here and why you think it works; you don’t get away with just asserting that that’s how it is and that God doesn’t meet that criteria.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Look, it’s a simple goddamned question. You do your argument no good raising a smoke-screen of words. Just list a couple of simple things that an idiot Texan like me can understand that would falsify your faith in god, okay?

    Or at least be honest enough to say that there is nothing, and that your faith is absolute.

    Absent that, you appear more and more like the burglar caught in the spotlight: visibly uncomfortable, and full of unconvincing protestations.

  • DSimon

    VS, your argument against the Problem of Evil is that it’s possible that God causes evil in order to gain a greater long term good, right? If so, it seems like a closest match to C out of your three examples:

    C says nothing about E. E occurs, so E is neither evidence for nor evidence against C.

    If you want the existence of evil to be evidence specifically for the existence of God, then you need to make a stronger claim than just saying that the existence of evil isn’t incompatible with God; you would need to say that it’s incompatible with, or at least reduces the liklihood, of God not existing. That’s how it works in my epistemology, and it’s also compatible with what you’ve described of yours.

    Are you in fact claiming that the existence of evil is more likely in a scenario where God exists than in a scenario in which God doesn’t exist?

    The issue here is that based on the evidence we really don’t know which is true and which isn’t, and so then the question is about how we handle that epistemically. If we appeal to epistemic principles that doesn’t mean that it’s arbitrary. Take, for example, Occam’s Razor/parsimony.

    What makes Occam’s Razor rational is that it’s more likely to choose a true hypothesis than guessing. I do not think this property is shared by the principles you listed (that I could find):

    importance of belief

    Do you mean the impact that having or not having belief in that hypothesis has on your life? If so, this isn’t related to whether or not the hypothesis is true, and is in fact just stepping willingly into a murky bog of confirmation bias.

    time it would take me to test, consequences if I act and don’t test

    I’m going to group both of these under “motivation to test” (the former reduces motivation to test, the latter increase motivation if the potential consequences are bad). Whether or not you’re motivated to test a hypothesis is also not related to whether or not that hypothesis is true.

    consistency with my existing beliefs

    This is reasonable, provided that your existing beliefs are themselves validly derived. On the other hand, if those beliefs were arrived at based on decisions that didn’t have to do with determining if those beliefs were true, then all this does is magnify the errors.

    When I talk about confidence, I only apply it to things I believe. [...] But, recalling a discussion I had with someone else over Bayesian reasoning (which I dislike, for various reasons), it seems that you might or might also use that confidence level to determine when TO believe something, in that if a proposition achieves over, say, 50% confidence then you can believe it, but not before. This has no correlation to my epistemology, since I don’t base my beliefs on probability calculations and argue, in fact, that that’s a bad idea. So, is this what you’re after? Then we can start talking about why you think that works and why I don’t think it does.

    My beliefs are not strictly binary, and I strongly suspect that neither are yours or anybody else’s. I believe some things more strongly that I believe other things, because whenever I say “belief in a hypothesis” or “confidence in a hypothesis” you can replace that with “expected probability that the hypothesis is true”. There’s no need for placing a dividing line at 50% or any other number; when I say “I believe that X is true” it’s shorthand for “My belief in X is pretty strong”, where “pretty strong” is vague and based on context (just like most other things in English).

    Because of this, I don’t think it makes any sense to have one kind of system for evaluating things you believe, and another kind for things you don’t (yet?) believe.

    As for “probability calculations”, to head off what I think your objection might be: obviously I don’t expect anyone to whip out a pocket calculator every time you need to evaluate a new idea. What does make sense is basing your qualitative judgement process on a trustworthy mathematical model, in an effort to try and avoid all the many biases and pitfalls that are built into our mind’s “folk” probabilistic model.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I argued that in the Problem of Evil it might be the case that God’s omniscience would change what it is moral for him to do. To do that, I pointed out Utilitarianism and showed that if that was the correct moral code, it’s clear how more knowledge would impact what you ought to do. Ebonmuse took that to the point where he was claiming that I was claiming that we would have to SPECIFICALLY prove Utiltarianism correct AND have thousands of years of future knowledge for the Problem of Evil to work. Since I explicitly stated that it was one example and even that I DISAGREED that Utilitarianism was correct, he was clearly overextending the example…

    Very well, but that just means you’ve returned to the default state of having no answer to my challenge. This is the point I’ve been repeatedly raising and you’ve been repeatedly avoiding: I want to know, in clear and specific terms, what would convince you of the nonexistence of God.

    The most you’ve said so far is that some unspecified variation of the problem of evil, some version of the argument that’s somehow different from every presentation of it you’ve already heard, might convince you of that. But every time I press you for details as to what exactly that would have to be, you accuse me of “putting too much importance on examples” and then retreat behind a protective smokescreen of verbiage. I think it’s clear to anyone watching that this approach doesn’t differ significantly from having no answer at all.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Ebonmuse,

    Okay, let’s start over here, because clearly we’re each missing something that the other person considers really important and to keep going as we are is just going to make things worse.

    So, here’s what I propose:

    What I’m going to do is list FIVE arguments of the “evidentiary” form that would convince me that God doesn’t exist, briefly. Three of them have been stated in the comments, one of them was a reply to you in the comments on my blog, and one of them I just thought up on the way to work this morning. I won’t use examples but will highlight issues with them as appropriate.

    In return, I’ll ask that you read all of them, and if you have any cases where you want more clarity or more specifics you will simply ASK for that, and be specific about what you need to know. You will not try to shoehorn it into a claim about how I’m trying to avoid a concept of God that is falsifiable or anything like that. You will simply ask me to clarify X or specify Y. And you will deal with all of the arguments. Deal?

    Okay, the list. Note that the first two are the ones that only take out one specific concept of God, but the last three would, for me, take God out of the picture entirely:

    1) The Problem of Evil. Prove that the existence of God and the existence of suffering in the world — which I concede exists — is contradictory. Note that since for me the main issue comes into play only if God is morally obligated to eliminate any — or all – suffering, you do have to get into what is the right moral code. Once that’s done, it should be easy to evaluate if there are instances of suffering that God would have to eliminate.

    2) Prove that God being omniscient conflicts with us having free will. Note that here you will have to accept that we DO have free will, or else the argument will not work.

    3) Prove that naturalism — the broad claim that there are no supernatural entities or, put another way, that all that exists is natural — is true and that by the definition of natural you’re using God is supernatural, and so doesn’t exist. This shouldn’t be a problem for you since you do seem naturalist leaning, but you will need to recall my objection to the definition you gave.

    4) Prove that the universe was not created by an intelligent agent. Not just that it could be the case that it wasn’t, but that it really WASN’T.

    5) Prove that a necessary being cannot exist. This sounds more like a conceptual argument, but I include it here because to me it is critical for God to be the creator that I require he be; if God does not have necessary existence, He couldn’t create everything, since something would have had to create Him, so eliminating that would eliminate it being possible that He was the creator and so it wouldn’t be a God I’d believe in anymore.

    That’s it. Note that I will not and have no obligation to give you specific arguments of this that, in fact, work; since I’m still a theist, all of these at least contain elements that we don’t know yet. But, then again, you didn’t give specific examples of, say, books that had good testable prophecies that worked out, and that doesn’t count against you, so that shouldn’t count against me either, right? (Note that for me here “work” should read as “is sound” as opposed to “is valid”. I concede that all of these arguments are valid, but don’t think that, at a minimum, the premises have been proven true.)

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “VS, your argument against the Problem of Evil is that it’s possible that God causes evil in order to gain a greater long term good, right? If so, it seems like a closest match to C out of your three examples:

    C says nothing about E. E occurs, so E is neither evidence for nor evidence against C.”

    Not quite. I argue that some of the defenses of God in the case of the Problem of Evil are that not only is it the case that suffering is not inconsistent with God, under those arguments we should EXPECT suffering if there is a God. As I clarified, if you say “You’d expect to see E if P is true” then it is evidence for, for me.

    Ultimately, it seems to me that the Problem of Evil as an argument demonstrates that we have to say SOMETHING about suffering if God exists. I’m just not sure what (it’s either non-existence or greater purpose).

    “What makes Occam’s Razor rational is that it’s more likely to choose a true hypothesis than guessing. I do not think this property is shared by the principles you listed (that I could find):”

    This doesn’t hold up under your own epistemology, as far as I can see. After all, you link “likelihood of being true” strictly to evidence. Occam’s Razor, as I stated, doesn’t have anything to do with evidence; it is not evidence for a proposition and only comes into play when the evidence is at least roughly equal for both propositions. So, then, on what grounds do you suggest that it is more likely to choose a true hypothesis than guessing?

    Note, of course, that in my epistemology that isn’t all that deep a concern. I’m looking, mostly, for either a) reasons to care about the proposition (if I can’t find any, I probably shouldn’t believe anything because I have no need to) or b) principles that allow me to test things that I can’t explicitly test through acting on it, while remaining as safe as I possibly can if I’m wrong. In short, my main principle is: What’s the best way to act towards this proposition so that, at the end of the day, I at least eventually figure out if it’s really true or false?

    Again, in both cases the evidence is insufficient to settle the issue, which is why I adopt that principle, and why those epistemic principles cannot be evidence-based.

    “My beliefs are not strictly binary, and I strongly suspect that neither are yours or anybody else’s. I believe some things more strongly that I believe other things, because whenever I say “belief in a hypothesis” or “confidence in a hypothesis” you can replace that with “expected probability that the hypothesis is true”. There’s no need for placing a dividing line at 50% or any other number; when I say “I believe that X is true” it’s shorthand for “My belief in X is pretty strong”, where “pretty strong” is vague and based on context (just like most other things in English).”

    Did you mean that when you say “I believe that X is true” it’s shorthand for “My CONFIDENCE in X is pretty strong”? Because the two beliefs would be circular and actually contradict each other.

    So, then, the question is: how strong does pretty strong have to be, and how do we evaluate when we’re too weak? You seem to think — correct me if I’m wrong — that no concept of God is evidenced enough to rise to that level. Why not? What level would we need? What additional evidence would we need? And why should belief require pretty strong confidence or probability as opposed to leaving that for knowledge and allowing belief to range over weaker probabilities, with the caveat that the belief holder has to be aware that they are “acting as if true” on a weaker probability for some beliefs than others?

    “Because of this, I don’t think it makes any sense to have one kind of system for evaluating things you believe, and another kind for things you don’t (yet?) believe.”

    I don’t think I do that, so are you suggesting that I am? If so, on what grounds?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    VS,

    Let me just repaste the form of that argument, since you seem to have missed it:

    No, I got it. I also got that free will or not, you’ll believe in god. Apparently it’s free will = god and no free will = god. This is what I was referring to when I said you were shielding your beliefs. Even if we have no free will and you have no defense (weak as the one you try to use is) for the problem of evil, it doesn’t matter to you, because nothing can dissuade you.

    No, you didn’t, because if you did then I’d know if you think that it is logically possible to know the outcome of a free choice before it’s made and if omniscience includes the ability to to the logically impossible.

    Well, your lack of reading comprehension is not my fault. I answered your question when I said:

    Either way, I don’t agree with your formulation, and I don’t know a single Xian that does. Do you really think god is incapable of seeing the future? That’s the god you are trying to cling to here, and it’s not a god that is compatible with the title “Omni-max.”

    I did honestly and legitimately want to know YOUR stance on that, so that I knew where you were coming from and on what level it would be debated.

    Why, if you now claim that it had nothing to do with the discussion at hand, since you supposedly don’t even agree with it?

    Um, except that in order for me to have backed myself into a corner, you’d have had to, y’know, know what my stance or assertions actually were. Now, I’m not going to go through all the permutations here since I could address it from any angle, since it seems that you will invent positions for me if I don’t state mine, so here is my actual position: I believe that it is, in fact, logically possible to know the outcome of a free choice before it happens while that still remains a free choice. Thus, no corner.

    I think you are fibbing here. I think you thought it would lead to a good argument for your position and now that it’s pointed out how much of a spectacular failure it is, you’re acting as if it was never part of your argument to begin with. So, I’m supposed to assume that you were bringing up irrelevant arguments that you don’t even believe? Either way you’re acting in bad faith here. Straighten up and fly right.

    The biggest problem I’m seeing is, bluntly, you know too much and have probably argued these arguments too long, which is making you, essentially presume the ending to an argument and argue against it before anyone makes it.

    From where I sit, the problem seems to be that I’m taking you at your word.

    If I didn’t know too much and hadn’t argued these arguments for too long myself, I’d have a devil of a time figuring out what you’re referring to in some of these cases.

    It seems you’re still having trouble.

    No, I’m actually arguing that because I learned it from my parents doesn’t make my belief inherently irrational.

    Nice try, but no matter how you re-word it, the fact remains that you are arguing exactly what I’ve pointed out. You’re saying that simply because you were born to Xian parents that it’s rational for you to be a Xian, just as it would be rational for you to be a Muslim had you been born to Muslim parents. Sorry, but you lost this one.

    I’ve made other, much longer arguments for why it can be rational to maintain a belief until you know that it’s false.

    You’ve asserted as much, but you haven’t actually been able to show anything. What is or is not rational comes down to whether one has a good reason to believe in something. Being born to a certain set of parents doesn’t qualify. Sorry, but game over.

    That, as I said, is part of the major epistemological work that I said arguing over this would require, and that you did say you’d attempt to take on. So, let’s get into it.

    I did get into it and showed what is wrong with your stance.

    This is part of it.

    And I can only surmise that you’re saying that because you know you can’t actually support the rationality of your theistic beliefs.

    I went through the support and said that there was some support, but that it was inconclusive, and then did engage in talking about what we should do when the evidence is inconclusive, both to you and to DSimon.

    And, you completely misunderstand how evidence works. You seem to think that if something does not have evidence for it, then we should think it is somehow inconclusive and then we can flip a coin and believe or not? Once again, this leads us to decide that any possible belief is rational. I’m sorry that you can’t or won’t understand that very simple point, but every “defense” you’ve put forth can be equally applied to just about any other potential belief, no matter how outlandish, ridiculous, or unsupported.

    So, care to give YOUR epistemology on what to do in that case? DSimon already has, I have, so why don’t you give it a whirl?

    I’ve already told you…you weren’t listening…again. Without supporting evidence, it is irrational to believe in something. Period. Your god belief is irrational until and unless you can provide some evidence for it – and no, your personal biases don’t count as evidence, nor does your heritage (being born to Xians).

    Except that you ignored the entire middle of that paragraph, where I clarify it, while somehow keeping the beginning and the end. And there, I state:

    “Again. I was very careful not to say that it wouldn’t be evidence, just that it would weaken the support. It should, for the person who had the experience, at least weaken it from knowledge to belief. I never said they couldn’t still believe it, although they could choose not to believe it either.”

    You can try and slither out of it, but you said what you said. Your rhetorical flourishes don’t change that you tried to discount the FSM as needing to be reliable and indicative, while holding your beliefs that are somehow immune to this requirement. Strange that.

    You said that I said it wouldn’t be evidence unless it was clear and reliable, and I pointed out that I was quite careful NOT to say that. Your requote here doesn’t contradict that. At all.

    C’mon. Your words are there for all to see. Don’t try the this stuff. Just say that you misspoke because you realized that it would hurt your argument for having your own beliefs be rational.

    Yes, I do … because I can trace them back to their origins that say “This is fictional”.

    Ah, so you do think that evidence has a place in all of this, eh? And, what of other beliefs that you can’t say are fictional from origins? You want to complain that Ebon gets caught up in specific examples, but that’s what you are doing here – and you’re doing it because you understand (I think) the implications of acknowledging the full argument as it would show your argument’s deficiencies.

    As for the others … remember that ridiculous set of things that I all considered at least potentially rational that you laughed at when I said that, yes, I did consider them such? Maybe you should have remembered that I, in fact, said that before trying to use this argument against me.

    Yes, and it’s still ridiculous as I’ve pointed out to you, multiple times now.

    Um, I did explicitly state above that, in that case, a clear, reliable experience IS required. Why? Because while I know that the origin of the FSM is fictional, if someone has an experience that is clear and reliable and exactly like the purported description of the FSM, I’d have to ask if it couldn’t be the case than an FSM existed and that guy who invented it didn’t just get lucky.

    Nice avoidance and special pleading.

    A vague feeling is, of course, not clear, and so it DOES get trumped by the “I know the FSM is fictional”. Which was rather the point of my bringing that up. Shame you missed it.

    Shame that you didn’t get the argument put forth to you. If you wish to assert that beliefs can be rational because people believe they are, then you have to deal with the logical conclusions of it.

    Remember, it was you who said:

    The other poster has had what he thinks is a direct and reliable experience of God, so he DOES believe based on evidence.

    That’s what started the whole FSM line in the first place. You, yourself, have claimed that as long as someone believes that they have a direct and reliable experience of god, it counts as evidence. Are you changing your mind now, or are you going to continue to assert contradictory things and continue to try rhetorical tricks to avoid the fact that your arguments are bunk?

    Um, except that since I claimed that strong atheism was also rational, it isn’t irrational under my model to reject a claim that I don’t know to be true.

    Which makes it worse. Why do you keep banging your head against the wall? Does it feel good for you when you stop? If everything is rational, then anyone can believe anything and be rational. (Oh yeah, and strong atheism is a positive claim, duh.)

    Which, BTW, has only been my point THE ENTIRE TIME.

    What? That anyone can assert anything and be rational? I get it. It’s just wrong.

    To sum it up, I don’t see any necessary rationality behind choosing EITHER of the options — believe true or believe false — unless you either a) know it is true or false or b) would end up holding contradictory beliefs.

    Wow. So, you’re talking about true vs. false and not rational vs. irrational? Maybe that’s why your arguments are so bad. Oh, and you do hold contradictory beliefs. I’ve pointed them out. So, if you’re really talking about rationality, I think you would have to agree that your beliefs are not rational, since they are contradictory. Yet, I don’t see you doing that? Why, because you don’t hold your beliefs rationally. You hold them in spite of the fact that they can’t stand up to the challenge, and you have no intention of changing them, nor have you any idea how they would change, regardless of your protestations to the opposite effect. IOW, Ebon is spot on.

    And b), BTW, takes care of all claims about competing religions if they’re actually incompatible.

    Not if I really believe that they aren’t incompatible. As long as I believe that my beliefs are rational, well then they are, according to you.

    And here’s where we start getting into epistemology, and so here’s where you really do have to belly up to the bar: what level of “proof” must be achieved to believe something? How certain do we have to be?

    What we need is evidence for the proposition in question.

    To me, it’s gotta be less than we’d have for knowledge, and you’ll have to be careful not to eliminate perfectly good every day beliefs doing it.

    Do you really think that we sit on chairs and expect them to hold us up by pure faith?

    But you’ll have to present yours here and why you think it works; you don’t get away with just asserting that that’s how it is and that God doesn’t meet that criteria.

    You need evidence. god doesn’t meet that criteria.

  • DSimon

    As I clarified, if you say “You’d expect to see E if P is true” then it is evidence for, for me.

    No, that’s not enough. You also need to say “I’d expect to not see E if P is not true”.

    For example, suppose you have a machine that beeps when you touch it to some peoples’ hands, but not other peoples’ hands. You want to know if the machine’s beeps indicate that it detects cancer (P) or alternately maybe the beeps have nothing to do with cancer (~P).

    Using your pattern, it certainly is valid to say that “You’d expect to see E (the machine beeps when I touch it to a cancer-afflicted person’s hand) if P (the machine detects cancer).” So you invite a bunch of people with cancer to your lab, and touch the machine to each of their hands’, and it beeps every time. Can you now rationally conclude that it’s a cancer detecting machine?

    No, you absolutely can’t. Maybe it beeps if the person is sweaty, or if they are under a flourescent light, or if they’re looking at the machine, or any of a kajillion other possible reasons. To figure out if it’s actually detecting cancer, you also need to check that it doesn’t beep when you touch it to the hands of people who don’t have cancer.

    So, to argue that suffering is evidence in favor of the existence of God, rather than non-evidence either way, you would need to argue that suffering is more compatible with the existence of God than with the non-existence of God.

    Occam’s Razor, as I stated, doesn’t have anything to do with evidence; it is not evidence for a proposition and only comes into play when the evidence is at least roughly equal for both propositions. So, then, on what grounds do you suggest that it is more likely to choose a true hypothesis than guessing?

    On probabilistic grounds. Suppose we have a set of possible hypotheses, of which 10% are true, but we have no idea which 10%. However, we do know that some of the hypotheses depend on other hypotheses in order to be true; if those dependencies are true, the hypothesis might be true, but if any of the dependencies are false, the hypothesis definitely isn’t true.

    Okay, so we have hypothesis A, which doesn’t depend on any other hypotheses, and hypothesis B, which depends on C and D. Without any other knowledge, we can rationally guess that A is more likely to be true than B: A’s probability is 10%, but B’s probability is 10% * 10% * 10% = 0.1%.

    Surviving Occam’s Razor doesn’t add as much confidence to a hypothesis as supporting evidence, but it does add a little bit, quite rationally so. It’s primarily useful for discarding hypotheses that wouldn’t be worth the time to investigate.

    You did catch me in a mistake, in that I should not have said or implied that evidence is the only rational reason for adding or subtracting confidence in a hypothesis… but I still assert that evidence is by far and away the strongest such way, with purely mathematical arguments like Occam’s Razor holding very little power in comparison (primarily because they’re a lot harder to double-check), and things like “the degree to which belief in the hypothesis would affect my behavior” having no useful truth-seeking power at all.

    Did you mean that when you say “I believe that X is true” it’s shorthand for “My CONFIDENCE in X is pretty strong”? Because the two beliefs would be circular and actually contradict each other.

    How so? It’s a little bit like calling somebody tall. If I say “Meredith is tall”, someone can ask me “How tall is she? Taller than Bob?”, and if someone says “I believe that the stars are made mostly of hydrogen”, someone can ask “How strongly do you believe that? More strongly than you believe that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning?”. There isn’t any strict dividing line between tall and short, or between belief and non-belief.

    So, then, the question is: how strong does pretty strong have to be, and how do we evaluate when we’re too weak?

    How strong does it have to be… for what, exactly?

    You seem to think — correct me if I’m wrong — that no concept of God is evidenced enough to rise to that level. Why not? What level would we need? What additional evidence would we need?

    Didn’t you write your OP as a response to Greta’s article on this very topic? I’m pretty much in agreement with Greta’s and Ebon’s examples; those would be strong enough for me to be pretty confident in God’s existence.

    And why should belief require pretty strong confidence or probability as opposed to leaving that for knowledge and allowing belief to range over weaker probabilities, with the caveat that the belief holder has to be aware that they are “acting as if true” on a weaker probability for some beliefs than others?

    What is the difference between belief and knowledge? And this is what I was talking about when I said it seemed like you were using two different systems; you seem to be saying that there’s a qualitative difference between low-confidence beliefs and high-confidence beliefs, rather than just a quantiative difference, and I don’t understand why you do that.

    I’m looking, mostly, for either a) reasons to care about the proposition (if I can’t find any, I probably shouldn’t believe anything because I have no need to) or b) principles that allow me to test things that I can’t explicitly test through acting on it, while remaining as safe as I possibly can if I’m wrong. In short, my main principle is: What’s the best way to act towards this proposition so that, at the end of the day, I at least eventually figure out if it’s really true or false?

    These are valid ways of figuring out the best way to spend your time, but they’re not rational ways of figuring out which things to believe in and how much, which you claim to be your goal.

    Remember, I was asking about why you think it makes sense to pick a default position other than the null hypothesis; you claimed that to do so was non-arbitrary and listed various reasons why, which I criticized as being unrelated to the truth-value of the hypothesis chosen.

    So, I’ll rephrase my earlier question: how is it effective, when faced with a lack of evidence, to just pick a hypothesis and believe in it until proven otherwise? And what method do you use to pick the starting hypothesis, and can you justify it as a rational method?

  • DSimon

    Also, it seems verbosity is catching. My responses from this point on will be much shorter and just focus on the main point.

  • DSimon

    Verbose, your response to Ebon puts an extreme burden of proof on the atheist, and sheds you of any such burden. In each of the 5 examples, you aren’t asking somebody to falsify something that causes you to believe, but asking them to come up with some new evidence that completely disproves even the slightest possibility of your beliefs being right.

    That’s a system that guarantees your beliefs will almost never change, even if they’re wrong.

  • Zietlos

    Re #70: Technically, one of the requests is proving a negative, which is impossible. I will outline the problems I have with these… Well, to reference a Japanese mythos (Princess Kaguya was so romantic), these Five Impossible Requests need addressing…

    I apologize for the fullquotes, but I don’t want to miss anything. Emphasis mine, as always.

    1) The Problem of Evil. Prove that the existence of God and the existence of suffering in the world — which I concede exists — is contradictory. Note that since for me the main issue comes into play only if God is morally obligated to eliminate any — or all – suffering, you do have to get into what is the right moral code. Once that’s done, it should be easy to evaluate if there are instances of suffering that God would have to eliminate.

    This really wouldn’t be too hard, ironically, if a god existed so we could just ask him what his moral obligations are. You would need to supply criterea upon which we may base hear-say evidence about Yahweh’s nature, and how much of that would be required to assert that Yahweh is, in fact, omni-max (and thus, all-everything, including all-sympathetic and all-powerful and all-caring). Without this information, everything can be countered with a “not in my belief of this being”, so this is an Impossible Request: Bring me Buddha’s original stone bowl to contemplate, and I will work on your request.

    2) Prove that God being omniscient conflicts with us having free will. Note that here you will have to accept that we DO have free will, or else the argument will not work.

    Accepting that free will exists is fine. We are products of our environment, but enough glitches happen in our systems that we can assume that we cannot fully predict our actions, giving us a measure of free will to our current senses. It has been pointed out that an all-knowing god must know the future, as the future is a thing, and that an all-knowing omni-scient god knows every thing. If the future can be foretold, then actions must not have an independent factor to them. Looking to Wikipedia, people argue that Yahweh limits his omniscience so that free will can be maintained. Of course, if he can be limited, then he is not limitless, and is therefore not omnipotent. If you argue that logic conflicts are not valid evidence in a debate of logic, then please, bring me a jeweled branch from the mountain of Hourai, for inspiration so I can work.

    3) Prove that naturalism — the broad claim that there are no supernatural entities or, put another way, that all that exists is natural — is true and that by the definition of natural you’re using God is supernatural, and so doesn’t exist. This shouldn’t be a problem for you since you do seem naturalist leaning, but you will need to recall my objection to the definition you gave.

    You request proving a negative. As is known, proving a negative is impossible. One can only reject or not reject the null hypothesis, they cannot, or mortals can’t at least, accept a null hypothesis. I am a bit chilled at such an impossible prospect. If I could get a hide of a mythical Fire Rat from China, it may warm me up a bit to work on this one.

    4) Prove that the universe was not created by an intelligent agent. Not just that it could be the case that it wasn’t, but that it really WASN’T.

    Again, proving a null hypothesis to be true. Well, this will be my life’s work, so a bit of pay will be nice. I will begin work on it once I get the five-coloured jewel fresh from a dragon’s head.

    5) Prove that a necessary being cannot exist. This sounds more like a conceptual argument, but I include it here because to me it is critical for God to be the creator that I require he be; if God does not have necessary existence, He couldn’t create everything, since something would have had to create Him, so eliminating that would eliminate it being possible that He was the creator and so it wouldn’t be a God I’d believe in anymore.

    Surprisingly, this one ISN’T a null hypothesis situation, despite the deceptive wording. Instead, it appears to be a request for good information. Unfortunately not information I currently have, but a very valid request regardless. A shame I can’t ask for the cowrie shell laid and hatched by a swallow. As we only need to disprove Yahweh, this is a possible request, by fulfilling the requirement of finding out exactly who wrote the holy books, thus providing a mortal origin to your specific god. It’s a hard request, sure, but at least in theory it is possible. Even finding a real god that created Yahweh would, ironically, fulfill your conditions to convert to atheism while we all convert to that god’s worship. If, however, your request is that no “necessary being” may exist, in any form whatsoever, then I must ask you to being looking for swallow nests on the sea floor.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Verbose Stoic (#65):

    Now we’re making some progress. I think you understood the point of this challenge differently than how I had intended it, so let me try to clarify.

    The problem I see is that all five of your arguments are phrased as broad generalities – prove that X is the case; prove that Y isn’t the case – without any details or specific criteria that would let me determine whether I had accomplished this. The problem is that, without those specific criteria, there’s no way for me to tell in advance, without asking you, whether any set of evidence I had collected met your standard. (Three of them also call for proving universal negatives, which is logically impossible, but leave that aside for the moment.)

    Note that I will not and have no obligation to give you specific arguments of this that, in fact, work; since I’m still a theist, all of these at least contain elements that we don’t know yet. But, then again, you didn’t give specific examples of, say, books that had good testable prophecies that worked out, and that doesn’t count against you, so that shouldn’t count against me either, right?

    Obviously, I didn’t cite an example of a genuine prophecy because I don’t believe any such thing exists. However, you’ll note I gave detailed criteria for what such a prophecy would look like: it would be unambiguously worded, it would predict something unlikely or unexpected, it wouldn’t be self-fulfilling, it could be clearly shown to have predated the event it predicts, and it wouldn’t be a lone success among a much larger number of failures from the same source. You haven’t specified anything comparable, even as a pure hypothetical.

    Now, perhaps you may say that, unlike me, you don’t know in advance what would satisfy your criteria – that you’d have to consider any proposed answer on its own individual merits and then use your best judgment in deciding whether it was what you had asked for. Well, if that’s your reply, then let me save you some time: that answer is worthless. All that would mean is that you haven’t considered your idea of God in enough depth to know what would disprove it. And because human beings have a vested interest in clinging to beliefs that give them satisfaction and emotional comfort, there’s a high probability that, even if your conscious intentions are honest, you’d have strong subconscious incentive to reject any answer given as not good enough.

    That’s why I phrased my challenge as I did: that’s why I asked for clear, objective criteria that the theist is willing to commit to in advance. If your answer reduces to a matter of subjective judgment on your part, you’ve missed the whole point of the challenge.

  • DSimon

    Zietlos, I am very tempted to write an epic triology about a hypothetical theist’s globe-trotting adventures in search of those mystical artifacts. Is that alright? You could keep movie rights, as long as I get merchandising.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    I’ll come back to the other comments later, but I’ll address this one now since it is the heart of the discussion.

    “That’s why I phrased my challenge as I did: that’s why I asked for clear, objective criteria that the theist is willing to commit to in advance. If your answer reduces to a matter of subjective judgment on your part, you’ve missed the whole point of the challenge.”

    Ah, I see the concern now. But, fortunately, it doesn’t come down to anything subjective for me.

    What I mean by “works” in “An argument like the Problem of Evil that works” is that the argument must be valid and sound. Now, we have clear, objective methods for determining if an argument is, in fact, valid or sound. For validity, it must be the case that if the premises are true, the conclusion cannot be false. I’ve conceded that for all arguments that I’ve listed. Now, for soundness, it must be the case that the premises are, in fact, true. As we know from all sorts of logic classes and critical thinking classes and, well, anything that deals with argumentation, these can and are determined completely objectively.

    So, it will never be the case that you’ll present an argument and I’ll be able to just say “Ummmm, nah, don’t like it”. I’ll have to show that either it is not valid — that the premises can be true and the conclusion false — or that it is not sound — that there is at least one premise that we don’t know to be true — in order to reject it.

    Which is what I did with “The Problem of Evil”, by showing that the first premise — If God exists, He would not allow suffering — is not necessarily true if He did it for a greater purpose, or that if for whatever reason He wasn’t morally obliged to eliminate suffering. So, the onus would be on the person promoting that argument to prove that premise to the level of knowledge (I have no obligation, as we all know, to prove it false to show that the argument, at least, may not be sound). But, again, the standards for that are well-known and objective.

    Is that clear and objective enough? If not, why not?

  • Steve Bowen

    If God exists, He would not allow suffering — is not necessarily true if He did it for a greater purpose

    If God is omni-benevolent, the timescale and impact of an act that caused widespread suffering (think Haiti or Pakistan recently) would have to show greater good within a human timeframe / perception for it to be meaningfully “greater”. A god that created humans to have a limited perception would have no moral grounds for inflicting suffering for a good they could not comprehend.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Furthermore, a god that was omnipotent would surely have means that don’t include stuff like leukemia and tsunamis.

  • DSimon

    If God exists, He would not allow suffering — is not necessarily true if He did it for a greater purpose

    Verbose, you could save a lot of time and just say “If God exists, he might make it appear as though he doesn’t exist for some greater purpose”. That pretty much counters any possible atheistic argument in a fully general way, as well as (but no better than) your “maybe it’s for a greater purpose” argument counters the PoE.

    Do you understand why it’s a poor argument, in both the general and specific versions?

  • Sarah Braasch

    DSimon,

    That was a genius way to put that. It really made me laugh.

    If God exists, he might make it appear as though he doesn’t exist for some greater purpose.”

    Genius.

  • Scotlyn

    If God exists, he might make it appear as though he doesn’t exist for some greater purpose.

    I agree – pure genius.

    But, as it happens, as a child I was taught the purpose for which God might make it appear as though he doesn’t exist – it’s to increase our faith. Genius in its own way, too.

    The “teflon theist’s” faith is undentable…

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So, it will never be the case that you’ll present an argument and I’ll be able to just say “Ummmm, nah, don’t like it”.

    Except that’s what you’ve basically done since you got here.

    You assert that god is good and that when evil occurs we simply don’t have enough information to judge god. When it is pointed out that you can’t have it both ways, that we can and can’t judge god at the same time, you simply ignore it.

    When you try to assert that god may not know what agents with free will will do and that this somehow doesn’t violate omniscience and it is pointed out that it contradicts your attempted defense of the POE…you act as if you never tried to argue that and brought it up out of the blue even though it wasn’t part of the conversation.

    When it’s pointed out what the logical conclusions of your attempts to protect your faith are – in that it leads anyone to be able to claim that any belief is rational – you simply claim, “No it’s not.”

    When it’s pointed out that your rationale of simply being born to Xian parents is completely arbitrary, you say, “Ummmm, nah, don’t like it.”

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    “You assert that god is good and that when evil occurs we simply don’t have enough information to judge god. When it is pointed out that you can't have it both ways, that we can and can’t judge god at the same time, you simply ignore it.”

    I didn’t ignore it, but pointed out that I wasn’t, in fact, using that sort of information to judge God. Since I’m not going out and looking at the world and using my own limited moral knowledge to say “See, look at all that good stuff. God’s good!”, that charge isn’t relevant to me. But the reasoning I used to, in fact, show that the Problem of Evil is not sound does indeed relate to how the initial reasoning is, in fact, going out, looking at the world, and saying “Suffering is bad, so no God!” using our own limited moral perspective. So, it is quite reasonable for me for object that we don’t know enough to make the Problem of Evil sound. Note that it would be unreasonable for someone to reply to my charge with a claim of “We don’t know that God’s good!”. First, because I don’t need to claim — and have not claimed — that we know that, and second because if the atheist does not accept “God is (or, more accurately, would have to be) benevolent” when advancing the Problem of Evil their argument cannot get off the ground. It does no good to prove God not benevolent unless you accept that the theist is saying that He is.

    “When you try to assert that god may not know what agents with free will will do and that this somehow doesn't violate omniscience and it is pointed out that it contradicts your attempted defense of the POE…you act as if you never tried to argue that and brought it up out of the blue even though it wasn't part of the conversation.”

    I didn’t assert that at all. I asked you two questions, as would be clearly evidenced by someone reading the comments. You LEPT to the conclusion that that was what I was suggesting. I’ve already pointed out that my actual view is not, in fact, that. Here’s the relevant quote of the start of the exchange:

    ME>a) To you, does omniscience include the ability to know the logically impossible?
    ME>b) Is it logically possible to know the outcome of a free choice before it occurs?

    YOU>Are you really claiming that god created a universe not knowing it would turn YOU>out because he created beings that can choose and somehow evade his knowledge?”

    No where in asking those questions is it ever claimed — explicitly or implicitly — the claim you assert I made.

    “When it’s pointed out what the logical conclusions of your attempts to protect your faith are – in that it leads anyone to be able to claim that any belief is rational – you simply claim, “No it’s not.” ”

    I’ve gone into parts of this in extreme detail. DSimon and I are still talking about this, and I’ve given you two clear, absolute criteria that would at least show that in some cases it could be irrational. My acceptance of rational beliefs is far larger than yours, but you’ve never actually managed to give any justification for your assertions of what is and isn’t rational in belief so I’m not all that worred about it, yet.

    “When it’s pointed out that your rationale of simply being born to Xian parents is completely arbitrary, you say, “Ummmm, nah, don’;t like it.” ”

    No, I reply that having a belief formed because it was taught to me by my parents doesn’t make it necessarily arbitrary or irrational. Mostly irrational, actually.

    I’d delve into your larger post but, seriously, I’m wasting far too much of my time posting to you when I could be replying to people with much more interesting things to say, and who don't so badly misrepresent my arguments.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    I’ll collapse the shorter comments on the Problem of Evil here in one comment to save comment space:

    Steve Bowen:

    “If God is omni-benevolent, the timescale and impact of an act that caused widespread suffering (think Haiti or Pakistan recently) would have to show greater good within a human timeframe / perception for it to be meaningfully “greater”. A god that created humans to have a limited perception would have no moral grounds for inflicting suffering for a good they could not comprehend.”

    Why? First, this would limit God TO short timescales, which most people won't buy since, in theory, WE’RE supposed to think ahead a few hundred years with environmental issues. Most conceptions of morality that include thinking ahead to the future simply won’t buy limiting it to short timescales except as a matter of necessity. Second, where does any moral code insist that the people you help have to be able to recognize it as being the moral choice? Ultimately, there seems to be no support for this contention and much to work against it.

    Thumpalumpacus:

    “Furthermore, a god that was omnipotent would surely have means that don't include stuff like leukemia and tsunamis.”

    Why are they so particularly bad? I made a reply to this on my blog (the post referenced here) to someone who said God should be able to eliminate childhood leukemia, by asking him why he thought that children getting the disease was morally worse than adults, when arguments could be made that the latter was actually morally worse. On what grounds do we say that some suffering is more morally allowable than other suffering? And since not all suffering exists, some sufferings wouldn’t have been foisted on us either. So, unless you want to return to “No suffering at all!” this isn’t a workable argument.

    DSimon:

    “Verbose, you could save a lot of time and just say “If God exists, he might make it appear as though he doesn't exist for some greater purpose”. That pretty much counters any possible atheistic argument in a fully general way, as well as (but no better than) your “maybe it's for a greater purpose” argument counters the PoE.

    Do you understand why it's a poor argument, in both the general and specific versions?”

    I don’t really see how it is. First of all, in the morality case, we have two specific arguments that should allow us to see how it can work. The first is that most moral codes do, in fact, allow for some suffering now to achieve better results later. Utilitarianism is, in fact, specific about this, and even about allowing suffering NOW to achieve less suffering NOW. The Stoics would find suffering irrelevant, and an example of what a rational, moral person has to be able to ignore to make proper decisions. And so on and so forth. Since morality already allows for this, it should indeed be a question for anyone who’s trying to say that God can’t exist because if He did, we wouldn’t have suffering (or, even, would have less than we have). The second is that we’ve come up with potential benefits that could justify it, including the most popular one of preserving and encouraging humans to be moral. These aren’t convincing, but to show the Problem of Evil not sound we don’t need to PROVE that it’s false, but just need to prove that it COULD be. So in the specific case of the Problem of Evil, the argument seems relevant and to do the job it’s supposed to do.

    Secondly, about the only time I can see the argument you’re saying that I should just go ahead and say being used is in YEC (or something similar) to argue that God is DECEIVING us as, say, a test of faith. My reply to them on that may not be convincing, but it would basically be that they have no reason to think that God should, in fact, do that, and I could counter just as reasonably that God could have, in fact, reasonably just MADE THE WORLD REALLY THAT WAY to test faith as well. But, at the end of the day, that’s clearly not the argument or sort of argument I’m making; I’m relating it to what we think we know at the moment. And to forestall OMGF, I not claiming what we know that right, either. Once we get the right moral code, then we can talk.

    (It actually is one of the things on my plate, but I prefer epistemology and philosophy of mind to ethics (which is third), and philosophy of religion (which is a few places below that)).

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Zietlos,

    “This really wouldn’t be too hard, ironically, if a god existed so we could just ask him what his moral obligations are. You would need to supply criterea upon which we may base hear-say evidence about Yahweh’s nature, and how much of that would be required to assert that Yahweh is, in fact, omni-max (and thus, all-everything, including all-sympathetic and all-powerful and all-caring). Without this information, everything can be countered with a “not in my belief of this being”, so this is an Impossible Request: Bring me Buddha’s original stone bowl to contemplate, and I will work on your request. ”

    Actually, asking God would get us neatly into a “Knight/Knave” problem: if God is benevolent, He clearly would not have such an obligation and so would tell us so, honestly. However, if He wasn’t, then He’d have no problem lying to us and saying that it was for our own good, even if it wasn’t.

    What we need to do is the achievable — though difficult — process of working out for ourselves what is, in fact, moral or immoral and then seeing if we can apply that to God. Under some codes, we would. Under some, we couldn’t. But that would come down to specific details of what really is the right moral code, and so surely isn’t an example of asking for the impossible, or defining it as such.

    And I dare you to tell people like Sam Harris or Peter Singer that figuring out what the right moral code is is impossible …

    “Accepting that free will exists is fine. We are products of our environment, but enough glitches happen in our systems that we can assume that we cannot fully predict our actions, giving us a measure of free will to our current senses. It has been pointed out that an all-knowing god must know the future, as the future is a thing, and that an all-knowing omni-scient god knows every thing. If the future can be foretold, then actions must not have an independent factor to them. Looking to Wikipedia, people argue that Yahweh limits his omniscience so that free will can be maintained. Of course, if he can be limited, then he is not limitless, and is therefore not omnipotent. If you argue that logic conflicts are not valid evidence in a debate of logic, then please, bring me a jeweled branch from the mountain of Hourai, for inspiration so I can work. ”

    Most people don’t consider the future or the past or the present to be “things”. And you don’t know “things”; knowledge is about propositions. The big issue with this — ie why this argument is valid, but not sound — is that we don’t know that a free choice can’t be known in advance while still being a free choice. Part of this comes down to what the definintion of “know” is (and, currently, that isn’t “certainty”), but in large part your analysis makes a presumption of METHOD of knowing, and essentially argues that if a choice can be known before it is made it must have been determined. This gets undercut if we can think of methods that have no causal impact on the choice but would allow that knowledge. Ultimately, there’s a massive morass here that needs to be hammered out; it isn’t as simple as some people think. Epistemology has spent hundreds of years on the basic issues without really knowing all the answers, so some time might be required.

    “You request proving a negative. As is known, proving a negative is impossible. One can only reject or not reject the null hypothesis, they cannot, or mortals can’t at least, accept a null hypothesis. I am a bit chilled at such an impossible prospect. If I could get a hide of a mythical Fire Rat from China, it may warm me up a bit to work on this one. ”

    Tell that to the naturalists … or have you forgotten that this is, in fact, a fairly common argument not only against God, but against anything deemed “supernatural”? I’m not demanding, here, anything other than what some people have said they’ve already done.

    “Again, proving a null hypothesis to be true. Well, this will be my life’s work, so a bit of pay will be nice. I will begin work on it once I get the five-coloured jewel fresh from a dragon’s head. ”

    I presume that you do think that science will eventually be able to know how the universe was created and, therefore, what did it, correct? So, if it can know that, how come it would be so hard for it to answer the question “So, was that thing intelligent?” with a resounding “No”?

    “Surprisingly, this one ISN’T a null hypothesis situation, despite the deceptive wording. Instead, it appears to be a request for good information. Unfortunately not information I currently have, but a very valid request regardless. A shame I can’t ask for the cowrie shell laid and hatched by a swallow. As we only need to disprove Yahweh, this is a possible request, by fulfilling the requirement of finding out exactly who wrote the holy books, thus providing a mortal origin to your specific god. It’s a hard request, sure, but at least in theory it is possible. Even finding a real god that created Yahweh would, ironically, fulfill your conditions to convert to atheism while we all convert to that god’s worship. If, however, your request is that no “necessary being” may exist, in any form whatsoever, then I must ask you to being looking for swallow nests on the sea floor.”

    It is “No necessary being exists”. However, while you can’t prove that using induction — translation: “By looking really, really hard for it” — you might be able to prove it by induction, in one of two ways:

    1) Prove that everything that exists has to have a cause. While I don’t think this has all that much traction, some people, well, do think it’s true and have argued such.

    2) Prove that there are things that have necessary existence, but that anything intelligent — ie an actual being — has to be contingent. Possibly by arguing that it would have to evolve, as Dawkins kinda argues when accepting the creationist “Complex things must be designed”. If it has to evolve or develop into a being to count as a being, then it can’t have necessary existence as a being. Oh, sure, there’d be a claim that it started out — and created everything, since it would need things to interact with to develop — as a non-being but then developed into one, but if it didn’t create things intelligently then it’s likely not even a Deist God … and I don’t accept the DEIST God (if that was really the only God that was possible, I wouldn’t believe in God anymore).

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Let me correct that last comment wrt Dawkins: he accepts it for the sake of argument to show that even if the creationists were right, God would require a designer and thus we’d get an infinite regress. The standard reply to that would be “God is not contingent”, but Dawkins’ argument would still hold: a being is complex, and complex things have to be designed, so if anything is necessary it would not be designed, and so couldn’t be complex, and so couldn’t be a being.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Is it just me (and please tell me if this is a banal question) but does Verbose Stoic’s argument boil down to “We can’t know anything for sure ergo God exists”?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Steve Bowen,

    Not at all.

    First, I’m not using any of these arguments to say “Ergo, God exists”. I’m arguing against specific attempts to disprove the existence of God, and simply saying that they don’t actually succeed in so disproving. I do not conclude for that and would dearly hope that no one ELSE would conclude from that the existence of God. That’s a completely separate set of arguments (which I also find lacking, and will argue against as well).

    Second, my whole commentary is, in fact, predicated on the fact that we CAN know these things, but don’t yet. So, quite the contrary; it is “We CAN know this, but you ain’t there yet.”

    (Although, being an agnostic theist, I am fairly skeptical that we will ever know whether or not God exists).

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I didn’t ignore it, but pointed out that I wasn’t, in fact, using that sort of information to judge God.

    You’re still judging god. What do you use to judge god? The Bible said so? If that’s your criteria, then you’ve got bigger problems.

    …second because if the atheist does not accept “God is (or, more accurately, would have to be) benevolent” when advancing the Problem of Evil their argument cannot get off the ground. It does no good to prove God not benevolent unless you accept that the theist is saying that He is.

    Wrong again. It doesn’t matter whether I accept your claim that god is benevolent, it’s whether you make the claim or not. If you’re claiming that god is not good, then there is no POE, but you also no longer have the omni-max god in mind – and there would be no need to claim that a greater good is coming of suffering and evil – IOW you are being dishonest. If you are claiming that god is good but that my arguments have no merit unless I also think god is good, well then you are simply wrong.

    I didn’t assert that at all. I asked you two questions, as would be clearly evidenced by someone reading the comments.

    And you’ve since claimed that they were completely irrelevant and had nothing to do with what you actually think, which makes one wonder why you even brought them up. Don’t try to play it off now, it just makes you look even worse.

    My acceptance of rational beliefs is far larger than yours, but you’ve never actually managed to give any justification for your assertions of what is and isn’t rational in belief so I’m not all that worred about it, yet.

    This is just false and dishonest. My defense has been pointing out the holes in your assertions, including the one you just quoted FFS. I’m sorry that you are unable to comprehend such a simple fact, but your epistemology leads to all kinds of logical contradictions and absurdities. Mine does not (and, yes, I have discussed it). Now, stop lying and start actually thinking.

    No, I reply that having a belief formed because it was taught to me by my parents doesn’t make it necessarily arbitrary or irrational. Mostly irrational, actually.

    Which is just assinine and stupid, especially considering that you’re already admitted that being born to Muslim parents would make you a Muslim right now. I’m sorry, but are you really going to argue that who your parents happen to be is not arbitrary? Either you are incredibly dense or are not arguing in good faith.

    I’d delve into your larger post but, seriously, I’m wasting far too much of my time posting to you when I could be replying to people with much more interesting things to say, and who don't so badly misrepresent my arguments.

    Suit yourself. I’m tired of having to continually point out to you how illogical and inconsistent your arguments are. You can try and continually move goal posts, act as if the logical conclusions of your arguments aren’t actually exposed (by claiming that you didn’t say that, so there!) and continue to weasel your way through all of these conversations, but I don’t think anyone is being fooled by your evasions. You are only proving Ebon’s point with every post you make.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    VS,

    What we need to do is the achievable — though difficult — process of working out for ourselves what is, in fact, moral or immoral and then seeing if we can apply that to God.

    And yet, you’ve already said that it’s not achievable when dealing with god because of our lack of knowledge. FAIL.

    Tell that to the naturalists … or have you forgotten that this is, in fact, a fairly common argument not only against God, but against anything deemed “supernatural”? I’m not demanding, here, anything other than what some people have said they’ve already done.

    Wow. Swing and a miss.

    Steve B,

    Is it just me (and please tell me if this is a banal question) but does Verbose Stoic’s argument boil down to “We can’t know anything for sure ergo God exists”?

    No, it’s more like, “I’m a Xian because mommy and daddy told me that it was true and that makes my beliefs rational. I’d still believe in Santa Claus if mommy and daddy hadn’t finally told me they were kidding about the whole thing when I was in high school – if only they’d told me sooner it would have saved so much embarrassment with the other kids.”

  • DSimon

    I don’t really see how [the delayed-result defense of suffering] is [a bad argument]. First of all, in the morality case, we have two specific arguments that should allow us to see how it can work. The first is that most moral codes do, in fact, allow for some suffering[...]

    Verbose, you go on for a while here talking about utilitarianism and how it allows short-term disutility to justify greater long-term utility… but that’s beside the point.

    The reason your delayed-good response to the Problem of Evil is a poor argument, as poor as the YEC “Maybe the fossils were planted there to fool the unfaithful” argument, is because it’s special pleading, unfalsifiable special pleading even. You’re defending your position by describing a potential, very specific scenario where you might be right, but not actually showing any reason, even a potential reason based on evidence we might conceivably gather in the future, for thinking that that scenario corresponds with the real world.

    The Problem of Evil doesn’t have to disprove the existence of every possible near-omnimax God to be useful. All it does is eliminate the vast majority of that hypothesis space; if you’re going to claim that the true hypothesis hides in the remaining corner, the corner that requires adding lots more dependencies (thus making baby Occam cry), then all you’re doing is making your burden of proof even greater, not actually fulfilling that burden in any way.

    [...][H]ave you forgotten that [proving the negative] is, in fact, a fairly common argument not only against God, but against anything deemed “supernatural”? I’m not demanding, here, anything other than what some people have said they’ve already done.

    No. Naturalists do not (in general) claim that the supernatural is utterly disproven, they claim either that it has no supporting evidence, or more broadly that the word “supernatural” is useless because it usually means “this has no evidence but you should believe it anyway”.

    You seem to have a bad habit of treating our inductive arguments (“There’s no evidence for X so we shouldn’t believe in X”) as though they were deductive arguments (“X is impossible”). Please stop doing that!

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    “Using your pattern, it certainly is valid to say that “You’d expect to see E (the machine beeps when I touch it to a cancer-afflicted person’s hand) if P (the machine detects cancer).” So you invite a bunch of people with cancer to your lab, and touch the machine to each of their hands’, and it beeps every time. Can you now rationally conclude that it’s a cancer detecting machine?

    No, you absolutely can’t. Maybe it beeps if the person is sweaty, or if they are under a flourescent light, or if they’re looking at the machine, or any of a kajillion other possible reasons. To figure out if it’s actually detecting cancer, you also need to check that it doesn’t beep when you touch it to the hands of people who don’t have cancer.”

    I agree with you on this, to an extent … but still think that it beeping when you touch it to the hands of people who have cancer is, in fact, evidence for it being a cancer detecting machine. What the difference is here is that I consider the two tests somewhat independent. In first, I would say that we would expect the device to beep when placed on the hands of cancer patients, and so that it does so is evidence that it is a cancer detecting machine. However, if it was only detecting cancer, we would also expect that it WOULDN’T beep when placed on the hands of people who don’t have cancer, so that would be evidence AGAINST it being a cancer detecting machine. So, if this actually occurred, we’d have evidence for and against, and we’d have to figure out what was correct. And there are a number of options:

    1) The people that we thought didn’t have cancer really do; the machine is better than the other methods that we’re checking it against so it finds it earlier than they do.

    2) The machine detects cancer, and also detects something else.

    3) The machine works by detecting something correlated with cancer, but other things can cause that as well.

    4) The machine detects something unrelated to cancer, and we got lucky in our first trials (see the hilarious examples of connectionist AI going wrong for good examples of this).

    5) The machine either always beeps, or beeps at random.

    Now, we’d have to figure out what is really the case. Once we KNOW what’s the case, belief doesn’t matter and the evidence all gets settled into the right slots. Until then, that it did beep when placed on the hands of cancer patients IS evidence that it detects cancer, or at least should be potentially considered such until we get more information.

    “On probabilistic grounds. Suppose we have a set of possible hypotheses, of which 10% are true, but we have no idea which 10%. However, we do know that some of the hypotheses depend on other hypotheses in order to be true; if those dependencies are true, the hypothesis might be true, but if any of the dependencies are false, the hypothesis definitely isn’t true.”

    I’m not sure where the extra dependent hypotheses come in. The cases that I’m generally referring to are strictly limited to “number of entities”, which would mean we’re judging this on the existence of theoretical entities. But theoretical entities aren’t separate hypotheses; they’re added to a theory because the theory needs them. So, to me, their probability can never be less than the base probability of the theory itself and were already counted when we determined what the base probability of the theory was.

    Add to that that there’s no reason to think that the initial theory won’t have to add theoretical entities later. Also, if we WERE talking about hypotheses we’d have to add in the ones that say that all the existing entities really do apply in that situation, which would change it.

    So I’m not really sure that it really does increase the probability at all, and that’s without even considering some of the basic issues with using the Razor.

    I accept the Razor as a heuristic, but am deeply skeptical that it lives up to its reputation as actually picking out the one that’s more likely to be true.

    “Surviving Occam’s Razor doesn’t add as much confidence to a hypothesis as supporting evidence, but it does add a little bit, quite rationally so. It’s primarily useful for discarding hypotheses that wouldn’t be worth the time to investigate.”

    But isn’t that better analyzed by examining what it would take to investigate it, instead of simply looking at the number of theoretical entities? It might be a lot harder to test the “simpler” theory than the one with more entities, depending on the details of the theory.

    “How so? It’s a little bit like calling somebody tall. If I say “Meredith is tall”, someone can ask me “How tall is she? Taller than Bob?”, and if someone says “I believe that the stars are made mostly of hydrogen”, someone can ask “How strongly do you believe that? More strongly than you believe that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning?”. There isn’t any strict dividing line between tall and short, or between belief and non-belief.”

    The problem is that there your phrasing is essentially “What it means to believe is that your belief is pretty strong” or “What it means to believe is to REALLY believe”. To translate it to your example, it would be “Meredith is tall. How tall is she? Pretty tall.”

    Here, you do seem to be talking about confidence, thus really at least aiming at my suggested phrasing.

    “Didn’t you write your OP as a response to Greta’s article on this very topic? I’m pretty much in agreement with Greta’s and Ebon’s examples; those would be strong enough for me to be pretty confident in God’s existence.”

    But do you claim that no confidence level below that could possibly sufficient for rational belief in God? If you do, how do you justify that? What MINIMUM level of confidence is required to believe something?

    My examples, as theirs, take the high end of the scale, but I personally admit that smaller levels might work well for other people and may well work for me. The top levels are just the ones where I’d HAVE to drop my belief in God; I don’t know what it is for the point where I just drop it.

    “What is the difference between belief and knowledge? And this is what I was talking about when I said it seemed like you were using two different systems; you seem to be saying that there’s a qualitative difference between low-confidence beliefs and high-confidence beliefs, rather than just a quantiative difference, and I don’t understand why you do that.”

    As I’ve said before, I don’t think knowledge is a matter of confidence. I outlined my definition of knowledge earlier. So your argument of “two systems” doesn’t apply to me because I don’t use confidence the same way you do.

    “These are valid ways of figuring out the best way to spend your time, but they’re not rational ways of figuring out which things to believe in and how much, which you claim to be your goal.”

    Why not? I’m suggesting believing in something so that I will act on it so that reality will correct me, thus testing it without having to spend my life explicitly testing every proposition of importance. I start at a certain level and let actual interactions with reality correct me and my confidence levels. How is that not rational?

    Additionally, it’s reflective of probably the only way to really test anything empirical; act as if it’s true and see if it works.

    “So, I’ll rephrase my earlier question: how is it effective, when faced with a lack of evidence, to just pick a hypothesis and believe in it until proven otherwise? And what method do you use to pick the starting hypothesis, and can you justify it as a rational method?”

    Ultimately, in these cases I’m faced with a proposition and the evidence is insufficient to determine if it is true or false, but it is a proposition that could impact my behaviour. So, using the principles I outlined earlier, I decide which one I should accept provisionally — for me, all belief is accepted provisionally — and thus decide to act on. I decide a confidence level for that belief based on what evidence there is (we probably won’t do this all that differently). Then, I act based on both my belief — ie accept provisionally that it is true — and my stated confidence. Thus, at the end of the day I should end up with a set of consistent and true beliefs that have been tested, since I would allow both external evidence and my direct actions to determine what’s correct.

    So, it seems to me to be the best and most efficient way to get to the truth of the matter. I do risk holding some beliefs that can never be tested, but then those should be mostly irrelevant in that acting either way will still “succeed”. So, what’s irrational about that?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Why not? I’m suggesting believing in something so that I will act on it so that reality will correct me, thus testing it without having to spend my life explicitly testing every proposition of importance. I start at a certain level and let actual interactions with reality correct me and my confidence levels. How is that not rational?

    Additionally, it’s reflective of probably the only way to really test anything empirical; act as if it’s true and see if it works.

    OK, this is where you fail. The reason that we “act as if [something] is true” is because we have good reason to do so. We act as if it’s true that the sun will rise tomorrow because we have tons of evidence to back it up.

    We do not, however, simply pick some idea out of the ether, decide it’s true, and then act as if it is true until it doesn’t work. If that were the case, then it would be rational to decide that it’s true that faeries and invisible pink unicorns are responsible for all kinds of things that happen in the world, and since no one can disprove it, it continues to work. This is something I’ve been pointing out to you for quite a while now, so I don’t think you’ll get it, but I keep trying anyway.

    So, what tests are you conducting to see if your god beliefs are correct? I put it to you that you aren’t actually conducting tests for god, so you’re really not even following what you put forth as your method. If you did do this, you’d actually be able to work towards meeting Ebon’s challenge.

    Ultimately, in these cases I’m faced with a proposition and the evidence is insufficient to determine if it is true or false, but it is a proposition that could impact my behaviour.

    What you’re really saying here is that the evidence can not disprove my belief, so it’s still up for consideration. Missing from your rationale is the reason to believe in that theistic belief in the first place, which we all happen to know (by your own words) is an arbitrary measure – what your parents believe.

    So, it seems to me to be the best and most efficient way to get to the truth of the matter.

    Garbage in, garbage out. You make bad assumptions, let them color your ideas of the “evidence” and you get bad conclusions out. That’s another reason why your “method” fails.

  • DSimon

    The cases that I’m generally referring to are strictly limited to “number of entities”, which would mean we’re judging this on the existence of theoretical entities. But theoretical entities aren’t separate hypotheses; they’re added to a theory because the theory needs them.

    Verbose, for the purpose of Occam’s Razor, adding more entities to a hypothesis means adding more things to the theory that might turn out to be false, which (since every entity in a hypothesis has to be true for the whole hypothesis to be true) decreases the probability of the overall hypothesis being true.

    Also, it’s misleading and outside the scope of my model to think about adding or removing things from the hypothesis. Instead, think of picking a new hypothesis out of the set because the first one turned out negative. The hypotheses don’t change, just our opinions about them.

    But isn’t [determining which hypothesis to test] better analyzed by examining what it would take to investigate it, instead of simply looking at the number of theoretical entities? It might be a lot harder to test the “simpler” theory than the one with more entities, depending on the details of the theory.

    Certainly it’s reasonable to spend less time testing hypotheses that are hard or impossible to test than hypotheses that are easy to test. What’s not rational is to allow how difficult it is to test a hypothesis to directly affect how true you think the hypothesis is; that’s skipping an important step. If you haven’t tested it, you shouldn’t believe it until you have; believing in it as though you had tested it without actually having tested it is not rational.

    I’m suggesting believing in something so that I will act on it so that reality will correct me, thus testing it without having to spend my life explicitly testing every proposition of importance.

    This system for “testing” hypothesis allows you to very easily start out believing things that are false and then never stop. The whole problem with a hypothesis being unfalsifiable is that reality cannot correct you. Your system is also troublesome for hypotheses which are merely hard to falsify, because merely passively waiting for reality to correct you is far less likely to result in good evidence than actively seeking out information, yet you’re still believing in the hypothesis.

    [T]he only way to really test anything empirical [is to] act as if it’s true and see if it works.

    No, acting as if a hypothesis is true comes after we have reason to believe it is true. Physicists don’t have to believe or even guess one way or the other about the Higgs Boson before they start working on the LHC. They just have to know what they would expect to happen if it exists.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    FYI, I’m not neglecting this thread, I just haven’t had time to write a reply addressing recent comments. I’ll try to do so by this weekend.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “Verbose, for the purpose of Occam’s Razor, adding more entities to a hypothesis means adding more things to the theory that might turn out to be false, which (since every entity in a hypothesis has to be true for the whole hypothesis to be true) decreases the probability of the overall hypothesis being true.”

    The problem is that I am precisely talking about theoretical entities. These things only exist because, in working out the theory, something was required to fill a roll to actually do certain things to make the theory work out as a potential explanation. The only qualities these entities necessarily have are those required to do the job they do in the theory; there’s no real independent qualities to test. If the theory is correct, some kind of entity like that exists. If the theory is false, if there was an entity proposed for that slot it is generally no longer relevant. These entities may be combined, so you could have thought originally that it would take two different entities to do something and then decide that one entities could fulfill both roles without significantly changing the theory. You can find things in the world that could fulfill those roles, which would add to the probability of it being true, but if you then decided that that thing didn’t actually exist it wouldn’t change the theory.

    Again, the probability of these things existing can never be less than the probability of the theory being true. They can be higher, but never lower. And their probability or existence cannot change the probability that the theory is true that we calculated based on the evidence, since they, again, are “invented” as placeholder entities for the mechanisms that make the theory work.

    “Certainly it’s reasonable to spend less time testing hypotheses that are hard or impossible to test than hypotheses that are easy to test. What’s not rational is to allow how difficult it is to test a hypothesis to directly affect how true you think the hypothesis is; that’s skipping an important step. If you haven’t tested it, you shouldn’t believe it until you have; believing in it as though you had tested it without actually having tested it is not rational.”

    But this isn’t what I do. To me, believing is “accept provisionally as true”. CONFIDENCE is “how likely to be true I think it is” (I rephrased your statement above). I certainly don’t believe in it as if I had tested it; again, that’s where confidence comes in. So the only question is: is it okay to believe in something without having fully tested it? My reply to that is: it is if you don’t want to insist that we can only believe that which we know to be true. If properly tested, shouldn’t we KNOW that proposition is true or false? So, if I have to wait until I test it, I have to wait until I know it’s true. And unless you want to allow for very weak confidences for knowledge, we can’t and don’t do that; there are too many things that we have to act on before we can fully or properly test it to allow for that.

    It seems patently absurd to even suggest that someone could act as if a proposition is true if they don’t even believe that it is, but that seems to be where that would lead, unless you deny that we ever need to act on a proposition before we know it’s true.

    “This system for “testing” hypothesis allows you to very easily start out believing things that are false and then never stop. The whole problem with a hypothesis being unfalsifiable is that reality cannot correct you.”

    The only case that can occur is, as I said, either if it is irrelevant to my every day life (I never act on it) or if I can act as if it is true or false and nothing ever changes (it would work either way). I really don’t see why that’s a problem.

    “Your system is also troublesome for hypotheses which are merely hard to falsify, because merely passively waiting for reality to correct you is far less likely to result in good evidence than actively seeking out information, yet you’re still believing in the hypothesis.”

    My view is not mutually exclusive with testing and actively seeking out information. I’m suggesting that, essentially, we do both. I’m arguing strictly against the epistemic principle that if you don’t know that it’s true, you should maintain a completely neutral stance towards it wrt belief. My argument for that is that it’s more effective to do both — testing where practical, belief and let reality correct when not — than to just do one, and so not only is it not irrational to TAKE a stance, the neutral, don’t-take-a-stance position might, in fact, be the one that’s irrational.

    “No, acting as if a hypothesis is true comes after we have reason to believe it is true. Physicists don’t have to believe or even guess one way or the other about the Higgs Boson before they start working on the LHC. They just have to know what they would expect to happen if it exists.”

    So, before the LHC came on-line, do you really think that scientists didn’t have a belief AT ALL about whether or not the Higgs Boson existed? Do you think that they would be irrational if they did?

    The issue is that science actually works more like I’m suggesting than like you’re suggesting. Scientists will make theories, but we can’t always decide between competing theories. Adherents and supporters of each theory will, in general, write their papers as if the theory they support is correct. They’ll link to their previous arguments for their theory, and presume it in their writing and even in their experimental design. They’ll respond to challenges to the theory in the same way I respond to the arguments here, by pointing out that the logical link to the other theory being correct isn’t necessarily true. Heck, they’ll even adjust their theories to account for new evidence that doesn’t support their theory. Once they get either a critical experiment (or experiment failure) or a critical mass of data, then they switch (generally, but as Kuhn showed, not invariably) to the new or better supported theory.

    Scientists DO believe in the theories they support, and this doesn’t seem to cause science any problems or be irrational. Why, then, would it be such for religion?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMGF,

    “OK, this is where you fail. The reason that we “act as if [something] is true” is because we have good reason to do so. We act as if it’s true that the sun will rise tomorrow because we have tons of evidence to back it up.”

    Wow, let’s set the bar really, really high by listing something that we know as if it’s some sort of typical case. We certainly know that the sun will rise tomorrow because the proposition is produced/support by a reliable truth-forming faculty — induction — under the conditions where it’s reliable. I don’t need certainty because I only want reliable, not always true.

    So let’s take another, less certain example. Imagine that on a nice sunny afternoon, you’re sitting on a bench in a park, reading or listening to music or napping or something that can make you lose track of time. Some time later, you snap out of your reverie. You aren’t wearing a watch, so you ask someone what time it is. They don’t show you their watch, but just tell you “It’s one o’clock”. You then realize that you’re almost late for an appointment and dash off.

    Now, would you say that it is rational for you to believe that it’s one o’clock from this? Almost everyone would say that it is. But you don’t hit the standards of knowledge. You believe based basically on the testimony of the stranger and that it is consistent with your own idea of time. Even if one considers the testimony reliable, the testimony of a complete stranger is not, and the inductive step of “generally people tell the truth when asked that question” isn't all that strong. And your own time sense is unreliable because you lost track of time. So, two unreliable processes produce your belief, but that belief seems rational.

    Why is the evidence so weak for God that it can’t even get close to this belief? Most people would consider you irrational if you believed from this that it WASN’T one o’clock, and I’m saying that because the evidence is inconclusive it’s rational to belief either God exists or God doesn’t exist. So why is the evidence for God so very much worse that you can’t even believe AT ALL?

    “What you’re really saying here is that the evidence can not disprove my belief, so it's still up for consideration. Missing from your rationale is the reason to believe in that theistic belief in the first place, which we all happen to know (by your own words) is an arbitrary measure – what your parents believe.”

    So, demonstrate that if I had a belief taught to me as a child, but when examining as an adult I find that the evidence is inconclusive — the proposition might be true or might be false — that it is irrational to maintain that belief. I'm not all that concerned about charges of “arbitrary”, and before you try to leap to a contradiction my comments before were all about you saying “You only believe because your parents did” which is NOT the case; the examining the evidence and determining it inconclusive is as important a motivation, and this all follows from the general principle of “Do not abandon an existing belief without sufficient proof unless that belief was formed by an inherently unreliable process.” As I stated, some of the things I learned as a child were true, and some were false; that’s not inherently unreliable, but not necessarily reliable either. Hence, a belief maintained as a belief.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    In other words, you accept your default programming because you cannot see evidence one way or the other. Very well.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “The reason your delayed-good response to the Problem of Evil is a poor argument, as poor as the YEC “Maybe the fossils were planted there to fool the unfaithful” argument, is because it’s special pleading, unfalsifiable special pleading even. You’re defending your position by describing a potential, very specific scenario where you might be right, but not actually showing any reason, even a potential reason based on evidence we might conceivably gather in the future, for thinking that that scenario corresponds with the real world.”

    The problem is that in the Problem of Evil, it seems to me that it’s the proponent who ends up special pleading if they want to ignore this argument, not me. If we were evaluating this in real life we would, in fact, have to consider whether or not there was a reason for it. If you say a police officer gun down someone stepping outside his door, you wouldn’t immediately assume that the police officer was just a murderer, but would immediately assume that there was a reason for it, some threat that that was the only way to solve. Even if you just saw some bloke off the street do that, you would immediately consider the possibility that there was some other reason before jumping to the conclusion that you know or that the only rational belief is that that person was just an immoral murderer. And yet with God the proponents of the Problem of Evil, faced with this fact and with not implausible suggestions for this supposed benefit reply constantly with “Well, God shouldn’t have to do that.” That’s special pleading BY DEFINITION, so it’s quite funny that your big argument here is that I’M doing that. I’M not making an exception for God, but am merely demanding that we treat God wrt morality like we treat everyone else, unless you can actually make that whole “He’s omnipotent; he should be able to do better” argument stick.

    And you’ll note that most of the people arguing for the Problem of Evil DO, in fact, make much hay over that argument, even though I still say it’s uncomvincing.

    As for your demands for evidenced alternatives, they have been given. But since you are the one positing that this argument proves something about the existence of God, the burden of proof is on you to, indeed, establish it beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not my job to convince you beyond a reasonable doubt, since I’m not the one making the claim in this instance: you are.

    The rule of thumb I apply is: The burden of proof is accrued by the person who wants to cause a change in the beliefs of the other person. In the Problem of Evil, that’s the atheist, not the theist.

    “No. Naturalists do not (in general) claim that the supernatural is utterly disproven, they claim either that it has no supporting evidence, or more broadly that the word “supernatural” is useless because it usually means “this has no evidence but you should believe it anyway”.

    You seem to have a bad habit of treating our inductive arguments (“There’s no evidence for X so we shouldn’t believe in X”) as though they were deductive arguments (“X is impossible”). Please stop doing that!”

    No.

    First, much of the time a lot of the arguments really are of the “certain” variety, and so I’m free to reference them. And traditionally, that’s how it started, and a lot of the arguments advanced for that sort of naturalistic argument are, in fact, taken from those making the stronger claim. So it is reasonable to argue in general against the stronger claim. Which I didn’t even do; I suggested that you are declaring something impossible that some people think they’ve ACHIEVED, and thus that your charge against me that I’m asking for an impossible proof is something you should take up with them, not me.

    Second, the last stance of “Believe in this thing that there’s no evidence for” is a very inaccurate view of most of the debate when I talk about this debate; I have no interest in debating that which is essentially a strawman unless you are claiming that you are willing to say to someone who has claimed to have a reasonably clear experience — say, of ghosts — that that experience doesn’t count as evidence and so he’s trying to get you to accept it on no evidence. There may be other explanations, and it may not be convincing — you can always accuse him of lying — but that’s certainly evidence to him.

    Finally, and most importantly, if you want to make an inductive argument out of the naturalist argument you will fall straight into the inductive fallacy, and thus to an improper argument. To see this, let’s take the classic “black swan” example:

    You are NEVER allowed to, by induction, conclude that black swans do not exist because you’ve looked really, really hard and haven’t seen any. That’s the definition of the inductive fallacy.

    You MIGHT be allowed to conclude that if you have never seen a black swan and know of no one who has claimed to have seen one and that you don’t see any mechanism to produce black swans, then you have no reason to think that black swans exist.

    If you have never seen a black swan, but someone who is not particularly reliable says that they have seen a black swan, you are not allowed to conclude by induction that you have no reason to think that black swans exist. You do; that person’s testimony. You ARE allowed to find it unconvincing and so maintain a belief that there are no black swans, but they are just as rational to be convinced by their own experience and believe that there are.

    If you have heard of a number of such sightings, some of which were determined to be frauds and some of which you cannot determine if they are legitimate or not, you are not allowed to claim to have no reason to believe black swans exist using induction. You may remain unconvinced, as this is not knowledge.

    If you look at the sightings and discover that there are a number that are contradictory viewings of black swans — ie they’re of black swans that all can’t exist at the same time — by induction you are STILL not allowed to say that you have no reason to believe they exist. But you can stil remain unconvinced.

    If you hear of a sighting of a black swan from a reliable source, you probably have to believe that there are black swans.

    If you see a black swan under reliable conditions, you pretty much have to believe that there are black swans.

    Your arguments fit directly into the inductive fallacy of “If we’ve looked in a lot of places and haven’t seen it, it doesn’t exist or probably doesn’t exist”. There are always other places to look, and you certainly can’t maintain that rationally in the face of even unreliable claims that says they looked and DID see it.

    So, if you want to base your “no supernatural” argument on a logical fallacy, why should anyone accept that at all, let alone as the only rational position?

  • Douglas Kirk

    Long time lurker, but I was moved to comment for the first time by the incredible amount of patience OMGF, Thumpalumpucus, Zeitlos, Sarah, Scotlyn and Dsimon have shown. Verbose Stoic’s argument style appears to be “1. Assert a vague form of my belief 2. Have my belief torn apart 3. Tell people I never asserted my belief in four paragraphs worth of circular reasoning using the escape routes I’ve left myself by being vague 4. Ergo I’m right and since I’m right God exists.”

    What it really boils down to is Ebon’s challenge, to name what evidence would dissuade him of his belief in God. To which he replied, ““What would it take to prove to you that God doesn’t exist?”. The answer is “Nothing that we can, at least, practically test”. I suppose I’ll have some idea when I die, but that’s not exactly a practical test, now is it? So, for me this may not be a fair question; I don’t think proof — either way — is possible.”

    He just doesn’t get that he NEVER. ANSWERED. THE. QUESTION. Ebon asked what evidence would convince you and he said there is no evidence that would convince him. He just keeps hiding behind a paragraphical shield so that he doesn’t have to admit it to himself. I really commend you all for suffering his [grin]s.

  • DSimon

    Verbose, until some evidence has been presented for a proposition, its confidence value should be very low. Not zero, but low. The size of the set of true hypotheses is much much smaller than the size of the set of all hypotheses, meaning that a randomly chosen hypothesis is unlikely to be true. Not zero probability, but not very much higher than zero. Once there’s something to distinguish a hypothesis as being more likely to be true, a rational evaluation of the probability causes it to rise; weak evidence makes it rise a little, strong evidence makes it rise a lot, falsifying evidence makes it drop like a chunk of lead.

    Not believing that there are black swans is not the same as believing that there are no black swans; however, up until the point where there’s something to distinguish the black swan hypothesis from the purple cow hypothesis they have an equal expected probability from a rational viewpoint.

    As for seeing ghosts: claims of having seen a ghost are usually very weak evidence: they nearly always tend to be the kinds of “sightings” that are much more plausibly the product of well-known cognitive biases. The same problem applies even more strongly to claims of having personally experienced God’s presence.

  • http://protostellarclouds.blogspot.com/ Mathew Wilder

    DSimon for the win! Gorgeous first paragraph!

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    VS,

    Why is the evidence so weak for God that it can’t even get close to this belief

    Because it’s all based on personal bias and logical fallacy, it’s unreliable by nature and unverifiable, and we have no way to empirically test for god’s presence, except in those cases where we’ve done things like prayer studies which end in results that do not differ from random noise. If you would like to present some evidence – specifically the evidence that you keep claiming you have gotten from testing god to make your beliefs rational – then we are all ears. Until then, the biases that you learned from your parents are no more rational than the religion that you also learned from them and won’t question simply because it can’t be disproved.

    Most people would consider you irrational if you believed from this that it WASN’T one o’clock, and I’m saying that because the evidence is inconclusive it’s rational to belief either God exists or God doesn’t exist.

    We might act on the proposition that it’s probably 1:00 because of a quick Pascal’s Wager sort of reasoning. If it’s 1:00 and you hurry off, you may be able to get there in time or only somewhat late. If it’s later than 1:00, well then you are late anyway. If it’s earlier than 1:00, you’ve lost nothing because you aren’t late at all. We also judge people by body language and linguistic cues that help us to determine whether someone is telling the truth or not, which are all gained from empirical experience. We also know that generally people don’t tend to lie about such things. If the people we asked for the time always lied to us, then we’d suspect that this person was lying too.

    But, being inconclusive is not a reason to believe that any belief on the subject is rational. A proposition being inconclusive does not give you free reign to simply believe or not believe anything you choose. It’s inconclusive whether invisible pink unicorns exist, so according to you it is rational to believe in them – which is what I’ve been pointing out to you ad nauseum since you started commenting here. With your method, we can literally believe in anything and call it rational.

    So why is the evidence for God so very much worse that you can’t even believe AT ALL?

    Because there is no evidence for god.

    So, demonstrate that if I had a belief taught to me as a child, but when examining as an adult I find that the evidence is inconclusive — the proposition might be true or might be false — that it is irrational to maintain that belief.

    Because the belief is arbitrary – as you have yourself admitted! You’ve already admitted that you would think Islam is a rational belief had you been born to Muslim parents.

    Also, the theistic view has to meet the burden of proof, which it has not done as we have no way of testing the supernatural (except for the previously mentioned prayer studies that don’t do any better than random noise).

    Game, set, match.

    I'm not all that concerned about charges of “arbitrary”, and before you try to leap to a contradiction my comments before were all about you saying “You only believe because your parents did” which is NOT the case

    Stop being dishonest. You already admitted as much when you claimed that you are a Xian because you learned it from your parents. You’re not arguing in good faith. Further, who your parents are is totally arbitrary.

    the examining the evidence and determining it inconclusive is as important a motivation, and this all follows from the general principle of “Do not abandon an existing belief without sufficient proof unless that belief was formed by an inherently unreliable process.”

    If we followed this, it would be just as reasonable to lock up all people accused of any crime until they can prove their innocence. Afterall, someone made a statement that we can believe simply because they made it, and it’s completely rational to believe it until it can be demonstrably shown one way or the other right? Any amount of inconclusiveness means that we can rationally believe the person is guilty and act accordingly.

    As I stated, some of the things I learned as a child were true, and some were false; that’s not inherently unreliable, but not necessarily reliable either.

    Yet, that’s not what you are arguing for here! You’re arguing that your god belief is inconclusive and you can’t prove or disprove it. Nice try at moving the goal posts though.

  • DSimon

    We might act on the proposition that it’s probably 1:00 because of a quick Pascal’s Wager sort of reasoning. If it’s 1:00 and you hurry off, you may be able to get there in time or only somewhat late. If it’s later than 1:00, well then you are late anyway. If it’s earlier than 1:00, you’ve lost nothing because you aren’t late at all.

    Be careful, OMGF, to distinguish between the “acting so that it’s not a problem if it happens to be 1:00″ and “concluding that it is 1:00″. The former can be rational in situations where the latter isn’t.

    I don’t mean to say that I think you made this mistake yourself, (i.e. you were careful to write “act on” instead of “believe in”), but I think a different way of phrasing it could have made the distinction clearer. Maybe like:

    If you have some good reason for believing that it might plausibly be 1:00, but aren’t sure, it would be rational to hurry up just in case it turns out to be 1:00. This is not the same thing as actually believing that it is 1:00, only believing that it might be 1:00. It’s like over-engineering a bridge: the engineers don’t believe that the bridge will ever really have to hold way more weight than traffic patterns predict. However, safety-conscious engineers believe that it’s plausible enough to warrant over-engineering up to a reasonable cost, where “reasonable cost” is in proportion to the plausibility of the hypothetical oversize load.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    I think we might be hitting close to the main issues here:

    1) It seems to me that you’re saying that for ghosts and gods there is evidence, but it is weak evidence. It may or may not surprise you to hear that I, in fact, agree with you completely. So, then, the main question here is: what do you do when there is evidence for a claim, but the evidence is weak?

    2) It’s a minor aside above that’s actually an indication of one of the critical issues. You say: ” …claims of having seen a ghost are usually very weak evidence: they nearly always tend to be the kinds of “sightings” that are much more plausibly the product of well-known cognitive biases.” Now, how should we determine what is more plausible? I argue that plausibility is always determined subjectively by appealing to what the person already believes. People say that the cognitive biases are more plausible because they find ghosts incredibly implausible on the face of it, but for someone for whom ghosts were just normal, every day beliefs the cognitive bias argument would likely seem less plausible than the ghosts. So can you objectively determine which of the options should be considered more plausible?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Ok, after a few days, I’ve finally had the time to catch up on this thread.

    Verbose Stoic has claimed (#74) that his criteria for discarding belief in God are objective:

    What I mean by “works” in “An argument like the Problem of Evil that works” is that the argument must be valid and sound. Now, we have clear, objective methods for determining if an argument is, in fact, valid or sound…. So, it will never be the case that you’ll present an argument and I’ll be able to just say “Ummmm, nah, don’t like it”.

    The chasm he’s trying to paper over here is that the problem of evil is dependent on the definition of “evil”, which in turn is dependent on the definition of “morality” – and so far, he hasn’t offered his definition of that term (he’s told us he isn’t a utilitarian, but he hasn’t told us what he is). This critical ambiguity makes fulfilling this request impossible, because without a concrete definition of evil, he can indeed reject any answer with the “Um, nah, don’t like it” excuse – just by claiming that it fails to meet his standard for recognizing evil, which he won’t tell us and perhaps doesn’t even know himself.

    As far as VS’s criterion of proving that omniscience and free will can’t exist simultaneously, well, he says we first have to completely solve the problems of knowledge and induction:

    Part of this comes down to what the definintion of “know” is (and, currently, that isn’t “certainty”), but in large part your analysis makes a presumption of METHOD of knowing… Ultimately, there’s a massive morass here that needs to be hammered out; it isn’t as simple as some people think.

    If answering a challenge requires solving a “massive morass” that’s occupied philosophers for centuries, we can safely say that the criteria for doing so are not “clear” or “objective”. Again, VS has left himself an escape hatch where he can throw out any answer by rejecting any definition of the term “know” that poses him a problem.

    And as for this one from comment #26:

    Prove that naturalism is correct, and prove that by the definition of natural accepted for naturalism God must be supernatural…

    Not only is this a request for proof of a universal negative, it’s request for proof of an undefined universal negative. VS said earlier (#19) that he also has no definition for “naturalism”, and when I offered one – the proposition that all minds are composed of simpler parts that are not minds – he rejected it.

    All his criteria have this in common: although he phrases his criteria to seem like bright-line logical rules, when you look a little closer, you see that they dissolve into a fog of uncertainty, because they all depend on key terms which he hasn’t defined. This allows him to play an endless shell game of rejecting any proposed answer by saying it doesn’t accord with his conveniently vague definitions.

  • DSimon

    [W]hat do you do when there is evidence for a claim, but the evidence is weak?

    I have a proportionally weak level of confidence that the claim is true.

    People say that the cognitive biases are more plausible because they find ghosts incredibly implausible on the face of it, but for someone for whom ghosts were just normal, every day beliefs the cognitive bias argument would likely seem less plausible than the ghosts. So can you objectively determine which of the options should be considered more plausible?

    Yes. I can conclude that the ghost sighting stories I’ve heard are weak evidence based on what we know of cognitive biases

    For example, ghost sightings are often the result of anomaly hunting: looking for anything unusual, and when it’s found (which is often, since unusual things happen all the time) concluding that it must be due to ghosts since no obvious mundane explanation presents itself. This applies to “spirit orb” photography, for example, and lots of other photographic/videographic artifacts that are presented as evidence for ghosts.

    Another common cognitive bias in ghost sighting is paredolia: the tendency to detect patterns over-optimistically. For example, this happens when people listen to static and claim to hear ghostly voices in it. Humans are very sensitive to human-like sounds and shapes, to the point where false positives are much more common than false negatives.

    These biases also apply to evidence for things that happen to be true as well. If we were talking about seeing or hearing birds instead of ghosts, those claims would benefit from having significant prior evidence for the existence and behavior of birds, but the actual anomaly-hunting-based or paredolia-based evidence for the particular event would still be very weak and add very little confidence to the specific claim.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    People say that the cognitive biases are more plausible because they find ghosts incredibly implausible on the face of it, but for someone for whom ghosts were just normal, every day beliefs the cognitive bias argument would likely seem less plausible than the ghosts. So can you objectively determine which of the options should be considered more plausible?

    If we were to take this to its logical conclusion (especially with the idea that things taught to us as children should be maintained), then one would have to conclude that racism, sexism, or any other kind of bigotry is a rational position. Wow.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Ebonmuse,

    First off, let me ask that since you know that I am, indeed, following this comment thread that you refer to me directly as opposed to in the third person. What you’re doing now is the written/Internet equivalent of talking about someone right in front of them as if they aren’t there. Not only should you be able to see how exceptionally rude that is, it also smacks of you being more interested in playing to the audience and trying to prove your original point than in having an actual discussion with me on it. An impression only reinforced by the fact that you didn’t address all five of my arguments or address them in any post where you didn’t try to tie it back as a proof of your original point (which, you’ll recall, I did politely ask you to do).

    Next, the examples I chose were not chosen because they were easy to test, or even because I could see how they could work. Of course I couldn’t do that, since I don’t think they do work, as I’d be an atheist if they did. They were chosen because of popularity: not only do some atheists think that they can work, a lot of atheists think they have proven those arguments CORRECT. The Problem of Evil is considered one of the most convincing arguments against the existence of God. Now, I point out that it isn’t sound, and list what we’d need to know in order to make it so. If you consider that too hard, then that’s something you should take up with people who think that the argument works, or at a minimum means that you should try to show that what I say needs to be shown doesn’t really need to be shown. Or invent your own argument.

    See, the “clear and objective criteria” I’m giving are contained in the broad categories, not in the specific examples. I want a valid and sound argument that shows either that the concept of God is internally inconsistent or that the concept of God clashes with something that we know exists in the world. ANY ARGUMENT that meets that criteria will work, and we have objective and clear standards for logical validity and soundness. I listed the examples I did as examples, nothing more. They all meet the first criteria, as I accept that they are all valid. Soundness, though, is up to you. So if you don’t like the examples I’ve given, invent your own, and if you think it too hard to give such a valid and sound argument I fail to see why that’s my problem. But you could argue against that as well. You have not.

    Now, onto the specific replies:

    “The chasm he’s trying to paper over here is that the problem of evil is dependent on the definition of “evil”, which in turn is dependent on the definition of “morality” – and so far, he hasn’t offered his definition of that term (he’s told us he isn’t a utilitarian, but he hasn’t told us what he is). This critical ambiguity makes fulfilling this request impossible, because without a concrete definition of evil, he can indeed reject any answer with the “Um, nah, don’t like it” excuse – just by claiming that it fails to meet his standard for recognizing evil, which he won’t tell us and perhaps doesn’t even know himself.”

    Um, it’s not about — nor should it be about — MY definition of moral. It’s not actually about a definition at all. It’s about a fact of the universe: what is the right moral code. I could give you a moral code to use, and could pick one so that you had no hope of succeeding. Or, I could allow one that would itself, by definition, prove the Problem of Evil to be true. But this is not sufficient, as this is not about guesses, but about what really, really IS moral and what isn’t. And we don’t know that yet. Some people claim to; I’m skeptical about that. You’d have a point if I accepted a moral code, because then I could give that one and you could use that to show that the one I think right precludes God. But due to my philosophical background I don’t have one. The closest I have to anything like that is that I think morality to be strictly rational, and that proper morality does not allow for emotional influence. I think it clear that this would not help you.

    So, instead of giving you a moral code to have to dance around or pick holes in to move on, I do the opposite: leave it up to you. Prove what the right moral code is, and then we can use it to examine the relationship between God and suffering. Again, this is not easy, but again I do not recall ever being required to make it easy for you. If you don’t want to get into that, then use another argument. You only need to find one that you can make work.

    “If answering a challenge requires solving a “massive morass” that’s occupied philosophers for centuries, we can safely say that the criteria for doing so are not “clear” or “objective”. Again, VS has left himself an escape hatch where he can throw out any answer by rejecting any definition of the term “know” that poses him a problem.”

    This is patently unfair, since I did, in fact, give my definition of knowledge in this very comment thread. Know is not the problem, other than that know does not require certainty (and most of the arguments about free will and knowledge presume certainty). Free will is the problem here. But I wonder what you expected; the omniscience and free will argument, like the Problem of Evil and the naturalism argument are all not new and have been around for centuries. People have been arguing over the existence of the various gods for thousands and thousands of years; what in the world made you think that getting into that would be easy? There are no easy answers to your or Greta Christina’s challenges either, but you don’t see me complaining about that, do you?

    “Not only is this a request for proof of a universal negative, it’s request for proof of an undefined universal negative. VS said earlier (#19) that he also has no definition for “naturalism”, and when I offered one – the proposition that all minds are composed of simpler parts that are not minds – he rejected it.”

    Again, patently unfair. I pointed out that it didn’t seem to apply to the debate because it didn’t seem to be able to classify God in it. You ignored that, and now you bring up my rejection with reasons as if it was a flat rejection without giving you any indication of the problems with it. And if you had bothered to ask for clarification, you’d know that a) I can’t give you a definition of natural, because I don’t think that any of them work but b) I can give you the criteria it has to meet to work (and, in fact, already did so in a post on my blog). And here, again, you are griping about something that you simply cannot do and ignoring all the other atheist who, in fact, say they’ve done it. I find that quite interesting.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMGF,

    “If we were to take this to its logical conclusion (especially with the idea that things taught to us as children should be maintained), then one would have to conclude that racism, sexism, or any other kind of bigotry is a rational position. Wow.”

    Wow indeed … because this statement implies that somehow you don’t think that we KNOW that racism, sexism or any other kind of bigotry are FALSE. Amazing … so you don’t think that we KNOW that women are not inferior to men? After all, my tie breakers only come into play when we LACK knowledge … and here you’re taking that to the logical conclusion that these instances must also apply to my reasoning … which clearly would imply that we don’t know them.

    Unless you meant something else?

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    ” [W]hat do you do when there is evidence for a claim, but the evidence is weak?

    I have a proportionally weak level of confidence that the claim is true.”

    What does this mean in practical terms? How does this change your behaviour towards those propositions, and am I exceeding that in how I act wrt my belief in God?

    As for your comments, there are two issues:

    1) The cognitive biases — or similar ones — also apply to critiques of the evidence. Some may see them as more convincing than they are, but some may also see them as less convincing than they are due to those similar biases.

    2) More importantly, it’s not the vague ones that I’m referring to, but the stories of clear sightings. Now, since they were passed from person to person they may have been expanded, but that only applies to our trusting the stories; we have to accept that if the stories were true in anything like the form we hear them that they would be clear evidence and that cognitive biases would not be a very plausible answer.

  • DSimon

    What does [having a weak level of confidence for a claim] mean in practical terms? How does this change your behaviour towards those propositions, and am I exceeding that in how I act wrt my belief in God?

    Well, like I said, my confidence in a claim is my best guess as to the probability of that claim being true. Determining what my *behavior* should be is a matter of determining what action will most likely cause my goals to be achieved, based on the information available to me. Whether or not your behavior is rational is determined by what your goals are.

    However, I can’t think of any goals off the top of my head that would make acting religious despite low confidence that God exists rational, other than deception (i.e. if you needed to profess being religious in order to avoid social repercussions).

    The cognitive biases — or similar ones — also apply to critiques of the evidence.

    This is wishy-washy. Which cognitive biases are you saying apply to the criticisms, and how?

    More importantly, it’s not the vague ones that I’m referring to, but the stories of clear sightings. Now, since they were passed from person to person they may have been expanded, but that only applies to our trusting the stories; we have to accept that if the stories were true in anything like the form we hear them that they would be clear evidence and that cognitive biases would not be a very plausible answer.

    Non-vagueness isn’t a good indicator of a lack of cognitive bias. People often over-profess confidence as a face-saving response to criticism, even to themselves. Additionally (and as you pointed out yourself), stories that are passed around tend to become more and more exaggerated with each step.

  • Zietlos

    OMGF, may I take on the side-point by Verbose?

    First, though, as I forgot to earlier, I do gotta thank you VB for coming into the lions’ den here and chatting. It can’t be nice to be surrounded on all sides, I gotta respect it.

    Second, and more importantly (everything said here is preceded by “on average”, so don’t point to exceptional cases or plead on a minor side-note and declare victory): Men are stronger than women, as well as larger. Women have greater senses of sight for colour identification, and better sense of smell, as well. Jewish people have a higher chance of sickle-cell anemia, but lower for some other maladies. Caucasians absorb more vitamin D from sunlight than blacks, however are also far more susceptible to skin cancer and sunburns.

    There you go, all of those are true statements that falsify the belief that men and women, white and black, are “totally equal”. They have varied strengths and weaknesses. As it is proven that there are differences, people who focus on these differences and believe one side of the equation is greater than the other may have a falsifiable hypothesis they can test. It can therefore be concluded that one cannot reject the views of a racist or sexist anymore than one can the views of a theist, without at least letting them present their own evidence for their view. (The fact that racism and sexism, for both sides of their arguments, have more data than theists can present is somewhat telling). If the only evidence the racist presents is “My pappa said them whites were better than the rest”, well, then, it isn’t good evidence, just as “My pappa said them Catholics were better than the rest” is not good evidence of a god either.

    Additionally, continuing the racist/theist line of judgement, if a racist said “I will believe people are equal when you can prove to me that not a single asian/black/white falls into my worldviews”, well, of course they’d be laughed out of the building, both because 1) It is an impossible request to check every person of a nationality for a given personality trait, and 2) laws of probability dictate SOMEONE will fall into that view. The point is not, however, the exception but the norm. This is especially true for someone who posits something that is voluntary changing their worldview significantly. “Asians commit less crimes”, well, nice and all, but I can’t become asian. “All non-Xians will be tortured for all eternity because we have a god named Jealous”, however, is a very important statement since technically I could convert, and so I would want evidence supporting this hypothesis. However, “A friend of a friend told me” is NOT good evidence for changing an entire worldview. It can be evidence to lock your car doors at night, but altering your very life, you need a bit more than some hearsay about heresay.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Zietlos,
    No worries mate.

    VS,

    Wow indeed … because this statement implies that somehow you don’t think that we KNOW that racism, sexism or any other kind of bigotry are FALSE.

    Depends on what you mean by “We,” and “False.” I can’t speak for you, but I certainly understand that bigotry is wrong. There are many other people, however, that do not “KNOW” that by any stretch.

    There are many people who would claim that they learned from their parents that (insert minority group here) are inferior. They would claim that we can’t prove they aren’t and they certainly don’t “KNOW” that those minorities aren’t inferior. In fact, they live it in their day to day life and it doesn’t challenge their worldview. Therefore, their bigotry is rational…using your own rules for determining rationality.

    Once again, we find you trapped by your own rules. Now, I suspect you will resort to more special pleading.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    More importantly, it’s not the vague ones that I’m referring to, but the stories of clear sightings. Now, since they were passed from person to person they may have been expanded, but that only applies to our trusting the stories; we have to accept that if the stories were true in anything like the form we hear them that they would be clear evidence and that cognitive biases would not be a very plausible answer.

    That’s why I totally believe accounts of alien abduction. Every one I hear, and every one that I could ever hear.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Don’t forget Bigfoot sightings, the Loch Ness Monster, yetis, chupacabras, leprechauns, etc.

  • Zietlos

    Hey, I take offense! Some of my best friends are leprechauns!

    Wait, no, they’re just drunk midgets wearing green. Darn. So close!

    Peter N: It’s an already-answered argument. It still falls under… Oh, what did I call her (checks back) Goddess Zeepzorpful. I can go into several pages of details about what she looks like, down to the colour of her toenails, I love writing descriptions, but that does not make her real. (What makes her real is she appeared to me and said she created Yahweh and that OMFG needed to collect money for her, two appearances in a month. That beats the angel Gabriel by a significant margin! Zeepzorpful is now More Real than standard archangels. Keep up the good work guys!).

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “However, I can’t think of any goals off the top of my head that would make acting religious despite low confidence that God exists rational, other than deception (i.e. if you needed to profess being religious in order to avoid social repercussions).”

    Define “acting religious”. I gave you a list of the things I do; how high a confidence would someone need to do those things?

    “This is wishy-washy. Which cognitive biases are you saying apply to the criticisms, and how?”

    I apologize; I thought that you were applying the biases to objective analysis of the pictures, not to the initial impression. Yes, people may see patterns where there aren’t none or leap to impressions of anomalies, but sometimes those abilities find real anomalies and real patterns. The hope is that if we analyzed it objectively we could, in fact, determine if there really is some sort of pattern or anomaly to study. If we can’t, simply dismissing it as a cognitive bias is far too pat an answer, since it would eliminate real — but difficult to discern — patterns as well.

    “Non-vagueness isn’t a good indicator of a lack of cognitive bias. People often over-profess confidence as a face-saving response to criticism, even to themselves. Additionally (and as you pointed out yourself), stories that are passed around tend to become more and more exaggerated with each step.”

    I’m not talking about simple “This is how sure I am of that” but a description of what really happened. You can say that people overexpress what they really saw as their memory isn’t perfect, but then you risk having to pretty much dismiss all testimony as being unreliable. You can’t just do that because you don’t like what they think they saw. Thus, if they had what they think is a clear, reliable experience of something that you don’t think exists, it’s a little disingenuous to say that the only reasonable position to take is that they didn’t really see that; you either have to prove that they didn’t or at least allow for people to provisionally accept that experience until demonstrated otherwise.

    As I did say, the problem is that the best stories we have are far removed from the initial event, and so could be conflated and have details filled in. That weakens the confidence, but the question in that case would be “By how much?”

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMGF,

    “Depends on what you mean by “We,” and “False.” I can’t speak for you, but I certainly understand that bigotry is wrong. There are many other people, however, that do not “KNOW” that by any stretch.”

    In this case, there seem to be two possibilities:

    1) There is sufficient objective evidence so that you and I — and, by extension, anyone who has that evidence — can know that they are wrong (and are therefore bigots; it’s being wrong about race or sex differences that makes one a racist and sexist, and some of them may know that racism and sexism are wrong but deny that they are believing anything that is false about that race or sex), but these people don’t have that evidence.

    2) There is no such objective evidence that they are wrong about those differences.

    If you want to claim the former, then to make this analogous to my position you’d have to claim that there is indeed objective evidence that would mean that anyone who has that evidence should know that God doesn’t exist, and so that I’m simply wrong about that. Since every time I’ve brought it up you’ve either ignored it or denied that you had that evidence, I doubt that’s what you’d want to claim and without that under the first possibility the situations are not analogous.

    If you want to claim the latter, then the question is if you and I, in fact, really DO know that they are wrong and are therefore bigots (or racist or sexist)? How can we call them a bigot if we don't know that they're wrong?

    I think that I know that racism and sexism are FALSE. I think that I don't know that God doesn't exist. So, what is your position on that?

    (BTW, I noted the slide from “know” to “understand” in your reply.)

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    Peter N,

    “That’s why I totally believe accounts of alien abduction. Every one I hear, and every one that I could ever hear.”

    Fortunately, nothing in what I said either stated or implied that that was what should be done. I even commented that there is reason to doubt the clear ghost stories. I’d appreciate it if you’d try again to reply using my actual argument.

    Zietlos,

    “Peter N: It’s an already-answered argument. It still falls under… Oh, what did I call her (checks back) Goddess Zeepzorpful. I can go into several pages of details about what she looks like, down to the colour of her toenails, I love writing descriptions, but that does not make her real. (What makes her real is she appeared to me and said she created Yahweh and that OMFG needed to collect money for her, two appearances in a month. That beats the angel Gabriel by a significant margin! Zeepzorpful is now More Real than standard archangels. Keep up the good work guys!).”

    The problem is that you seem to, right here, admit that you’re inventing this; that you didn’t “see” her, but at best imagined her. And that’s an entirely different story from someone who says “You know, I was just walking around and saw a ghost or a God”. Again, we can analyze how the story was passed around, and we can analyze the situation to see if the person was prone to hallucinations or imaginations at the time, but that’s a completely different matter from your supposed example. So, just like Peter, you are vigourously attacking a point I never made.

  • http://twitter.com/GGlick ANTLink

    At the risk of getting dragged into a discussion I don’t have time to adequately keep up with:

    “1) There is sufficient objective evidence so that you and I — and, by extension, anyone who has that evidence — can know that they are wrong (and are therefore bigots; it’s being wrong about race or sex differences that makes one a racist and sexist, and some of them may know that racism and sexism are wrong but deny that they are believing anything that is false about that race or sex), but these people don’t have that evidence.

    2) There is no such objective evidence that they are wrong about those differences.”

    There’s a third option, and one that I think most accurately describes the reality of bigotry: the evidence exists, but bigots refuse to acknowledge it. There was a recent article in New Scientist by Debra MacKenzie about how people deny facts to continue believing what they want to. I would link to it, but it’s behind a subscriber-only paywall, so the best I can do is an excerpt: http://amira.amplify.com/2010/06/05/living-in-denial-why-sensible-people-reject-the-truth-by-debora-mackenzie-new-scientist/

    “If you want to claim the former, then to make this analogous to my position you’d have to claim that there is indeed objective evidence that would mean that anyone who has that evidence should know that God doesn’t exist, and so that I’m simply wrong about that.”

    Most reasonable atheists don’t claim to know with 100% certainty that god is imaginary, or that there is strong objective evidence against his existence. Instead, they look at the lack of evidence that we would expect to find if god did exist, and conclude that it isn’t reasonable to believe that he does. If clear, unambiguous evidence were to be produced that did point to god being real, they would change their minds. To apply this to bigotry, we would say that there is plenty of evidence that there are no good, objective reasons to discriminate against others based on randomly determined personal traits, and plenty of good reasons not to do so. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the act of doing so, i.e. bigotry, is not a rational thing to do.

  • DSimon

    I gave you a list of the things I do; how high a confidence would someone need to do those things?

    Assuming that their goals roughly match mine (making the world a better place to live, being happy, doing interesting things frequently), I think somewhat strong confidence would be needed to justify “going to services … occasionally”. Going to religious services takes up time and effort, and encourages everyday methods of thought and action (i.e. considering morality in terms of God’s word, prayer, faith as a reasonable justification for belief) which, if religion were not true, would be counter-productive to fulfilling goals in general. However, attending church might have other justifications, i.e. maintaining friendly relations with religious people.

    I think that “raising [kids] in the religion” would require very strong confidence, for similar but magnified reasons to the above. Raising a child in a religion takes considerable effort and resources, and includes educating them with ideas that, if religion were not true, would be quite counter-productive for that child’s ability to fulfill xer own goals. A parent has significant influence on, and responsibility for, the development of their child’s worldview.

    The hope is that if we analyzed it objectively we could, in fact, determine if there really is some sort of pattern or anomaly to study. If we can’t, simply dismissing it as a cognitive bias is far too pat an answer, since it would eliminate real — but difficult to discern — patterns as well.

    The problem is that in many of these cases there isn’t any evidence that’s reliable enough to be analyzed objectively. When we’re not able to investigate something anymore, we have to arrive at at least a provisional conclusion (subject to potentially being changed upon the appearance of new evidence). The provisional conclusion that a given ghost sighting is based on cognitive bias deserves significant confidence, since we know for a fact that cognitive bias can and has produced these beliefs on a regular basis. The confidence that a given sighting was based on an actual ghost should be very near zero, since we have only very weak evidence for that being the specific case and also only very weak evidence for the existence of ghosts in general.

    You can say that people overexpress what they really saw as their memory isn’t perfect, but then you risk having to pretty much dismiss all testimony as being unreliable.

    Testimony is pretty unreliable evidence.

  • DSimon

    To apply this to bigotry, we would say that there is plenty of evidence that there are no good, objective reasons to discriminate against others based on randomly determined personal traits, and plenty of good reasons not to do so. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the act of doing so, i.e. bigotry, is not a rational thing to do.

    ANTLink, I feel the need to get a bit nit-picky here. :-)

    The question of whether or not there’s a good reason to be a bigot is separate from the question of whether or not a given hypothesis of bigotry (i.e. the hypothesis that women are less intelligent) is true. Being a bigot can be quite productive… for the bigot. But that’s not the same thing as their bigoted hypothesis being correct.

    Which is not to say that rationality can’t usefully be applied to questions like “Is it a good idea to do X?”, just that we should be careful to know when we’re using epistemic rationality in general (“What is true?”) and when we’re using the subset of it called instrumental rationality (“What should I do to accomplish my goals?”).

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    If you want to claim the former, then to make this analogous to my position you’d have to claim that there is indeed objective evidence that would mean that anyone who has that evidence should know that God doesn’t exist, and so that I’m simply wrong about that.

    Have you learned nothing here? The burden of proof is on the theist. I am under no obligation to disprove your god. (Even so, there are many disproofs of your god based on contradictions in your god’s attributes, etc. And, additionally, I’ve freely pointed out all the contradictions in your arguments because I’m nice like that.) Anyway, you need to be the one providing objective evidence for your god. I mean, why would I want to be “analogous to your position” when your position is simply logically untenable?

    I think that I know that racism and sexism are FALSE. I think that I don't know that God doesn't exist. So, what is your position on that?

    And right there is the difference! You know that racism is wrong, but you don’t know that god exists (yes, I noticed your double negative). You need to provide evidence for your positive claims! If you don’t have evidence, then you are irrational to hold that position. You don’t have evidence, ergo you are irrationally holding to a god belief. I’m sorry that you don’t understand the concept of burden of proof, but you could actually look it up and learn something. Just remember that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty because the prosecution has to bring evidence to the case (except in the case of what’s called a positive defense, like a plea of insanity).

  • http://twitter.com/GGlick ANTLink

    DSimon, feel free to nitpick away! I’ve been following your and OMGF’s discussion with VS here with great interest and been impressed by what you both have to say, and I’m happy to hear any thoughts you have on…well, on my thoughts ;)

    The question of whether or not there’s a good reason to be a bigot is separate from the question of whether or not a given hypothesis of bigotry (i.e. the hypothesis that women are less intelligent) is true. Being a bigot can be quite productive… for the bigot. But that’s not the same thing as their bigoted hypothesis being correct.

    I actually did consider adding a statement about how being a bigot can be productive for the bigot, especially if they only care about furthering their goals and don’t care who they hurt to do so, but I held off because I thought (perhaps mistakenly) that it fell under instrumental rationality when I was trying to show why it was wrong under epistemic rationality. Since VS was saying things like “I think that I know that racism and sexism are FALSE”, and I didn’t think that was the most accurate way to describe them, I tried to explain why I thought bigotry failed to hold up to rational standards of behavior, which I took for granted as the highest level of activity we humans have in making decisions about how we should act (excluding things like personal relationships for which emotional decisions are usually fine, of course). I guess I was too concise in my explanation, so it didn’t come across like I intended. Hopefully this helped clear it up a bit ;)

    Which is not to say that rationality can’t usefully be applied to questions like “Is it a good idea to do X?”, just that we should be careful to know when we’re using epistemic rationality in general (“What is true?”) and when we’re using the subset of it called instrumental rationality (“What should I do to accomplish my goals?”).

    While we’re on this subject, can we truly say that bigotry is “wrong”, at least by instrumental rationality standards, depending on the goal you’re trying to achieve? Certainly it’s wrong for most people because most people generally try to do good in their lives and not hurt others unnecessarily, and it’s wrong for society because it marginalizes, discourages, and weakens people who could otherwise be happy and productive citizens. Of course it’s also wrong by the standards of objective reality, as I’m pretty sure science has proven by now that there is no innate difference in ability in the average person of any “minority” (read: anyone who isn’t a straight white male) to do things that have traditionally been done by straight white males; especially things that depend on intelligence. But those are all epistemic rationality standards. As you said, couldn’t it be “right” for, say, a sociopathic Machiavellian whose goal was to further himself at any expense to others to act like a bigot, at least by instrumental rationality standards? Or who even had a goal of actively harming anyone who wasn’t a member of the exact same societal group that he was? Perhaps we should refrain from defining bigotry in terms of “wrong” or “right” in these cases, and instead mainly try to evaluate it in terms of its effectiveness? Or should we not even bother because it fails as a standard of ethical behavior under the epistemic rationality criteria described above?

  • DSimon

    As you said, couldn’t it be “right” for, say, a sociopathic Machiavellian whose goal was to further himself at any expense to others to act like a bigot, at least by instrumental rationality standards?

    It might well be instrumentally rational for that sociopath to behave like a bigot… but he’s not going to go very far arguing that explicitly. :-)

    As a society trying to hash out what we ought to do, since we don’t want selfish individuals profiting at the expense of the greater population (or at least when talking to each other we don’t), we can as a group rationally act to discourage such behavior, hopefully making it less productive even for genuinely selfish agents.

  • http://twitter.com/GGlick ANTLink

    Haha, no, he definitely wouldn’t go far arguing that explicitly. The whole point of acting like that would be to keep it secret and prevent others from doing the same so you have an unfair advantage ;)

    But yes, I agree; when discussing the best course of action for society to take to make things better for everyone who’s part of it as much as possible without detriment to others, it’s clear that anything so divisive as bigotry (or imposing the agendas of incompatible religions, which of course rules out the vast majority of them ;) cannot be advocated as either rational or universally applicable courses. This is another reason that bigotry is wrong, and is closer to the point that I was trying to make in my original post (or at least, I hope it is ;)

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    ANTLink,

    “There’s a third option, and one that I think most accurately describes the reality of bigotry: the evidence exists, but bigots refuse to acknowledge it. ”

    I realized this one, but it fits neatly into category 1: there is sufficient evidence to know it false. It’s clear that in this case, bigots would be being irrational, since they have what would be objectively sufficient evidence for knowledge but reject it out of hand.

    Again, that doesn’t apply in the case of God because that sort of objective evidence for sufficient to allow us to know that God doesn’t exist, um, doesn’t exist [grin].

    “Most reasonable atheists don’t claim to know with 100% certainty that god is imaginary, or that there is strong objective evidence against his existence. Instead, they look at the lack of evidence that we would expect to find if god did exist, and conclude that it isn’t reasonable to believe that he does. ”

    And unless that’s just a personal statement about what THEY find reasonable, we have to get into epistemology: how do we determine, globally, what it is reasonable for everyone to believe, or when it is unreasonable to believe something? Again, for racism, sexism, and bigotry we have the objective determination that we — and everyone who can get that evidence — should know it false. That’s not there for God. So, after the clear and obvious cases, what factors or logic do we have to determine what it is reasonable to believe?

    One related point from what you say later: appealing to benefits to society doesn’t work, or at least not well, because it gets trumped by knowledge. If we knew that bigotry was true, then claiming that it isn’t good for society to hold such a divisive belief is essentially saying that it’s okay to believe false things as long as there’s a benefit. We probably don’t want to go there. But if I’ve misinterpreted your comments, feel free to correct me.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    Your claims about how if religion is wrong I’d be encouraged to hold potentially problematic beliefs is nullified by the reply that if religion is RIGHT those beliefs are incredibly useful, and by the fact that that would apply to pretty much anything, including reading this blog or attending humanist lectures or, even, taking university course. So, in those cases, all I can do is rely on myself to, should I be proven wrong, adjust those beliefs appropriately, at least over time. It’s also interesting that of the things you listed I, personally, don’t do ANY of them [grin].

    So, about the only remaining argument left is the time and resources one. So, let’s look at what attending services costs me:

    1) Except for special occasions, it’s about a half-hour to an hour long … and I don’t go to the longer masses.

    2) Travel time is about an hour, but that’s because I walk and do so deliberately to get more exercise — that’s actually one of the reasons I started attending occasionally, to give me an excuse to go for a walk — so that doesn’t count.

    3) I give about $20 to the collection plate every time I go.

    So, if I went every week, the time and resources spent are, in fact, less than what the average person spends visiting a bar. And I’m less likely to get in trouble from going to services, and nothing impacts my liver, and so on and so forth. Essentially, it takes up less time and resources than most hobbies. Hardly, then, a great expenditure.

    For children, the outlay is about the same except that you’d go every week and wouldn’t walk. About the only other thing would be that where I am I’d send them to a Catholic school, so they’d have a little additonal relgious education as well. However, Catholic schools where I am can be quite good — and better than some of the public ones — overall, so I might actually be giving them a BETTER education doing so than the alternative.

    (Where I live, Catholic schools are funded by the government due to a long standing treaty/constitutional amendment).

    Again, relying on the fact that either I or they will readjust their beliefs if they find them wrong or too problematic, there’s no real harm or resource loss in doing so. If religion is right, they benefit. If not, they have to adjust. This applies to everything that you ever possibly learn, so I see no problems with this. Do you?

    “The provisional conclusion that a given ghost sighting is based on cognitive bias deserves significant confidence, since we know for a fact that cognitive bias can and has produced these beliefs on a regular basis. The confidence that a given sighting was based on an actual ghost should be very near zero, since we have only very weak evidence for that being the specific case and also only very weak evidence for the existence of ghosts in general.”

    The problem is, though, that those cognitive biases exist because even though they give some false answers at times, a lot of the time they find actual things. So, what is it in this case? And so we return to, basically, the underlying challenge: how clear does the evidence have to be for a ghost sighting/photograph/whatever before you’ll consider the cognitive bias argument untenable? And why should everyone accept your line for where that is?

    “Testimony is pretty unreliable evidence.”

    Unfortunately, a very large number of our beliefs are based on little or nothing more THAN testimony. We can’t eliminate it as reasonably justifying believing — not in the knowledge sense — in general without eliminating all of the them, too.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    OMGF,

    So let’s look at what you said:

    “If we were to take this to its logical conclusion (especially with the idea that things taught to us as children should be maintained), then one would have to conclude that racism, sexism, or any other kind of bigotry is a rational position. Wow.”

    Now, my reply to that is that I claim that I know that sexism, racism and other kinds of bigotry are wrong, which is why I can say that those AREN’T rational positions. But since that isn’t the case for God, your claim that that is the logical conclusion of my position is, in fact, false, unless you want to claim that we DO know — or should know — that God doesn’t exist. You don’t, and you don’t want to claim that we don’t know — and that they shouldn’t know — that sexism and racism are false, thus your claim that that is the logical conclusion of my position simply doesn’t work.

    As for the “burden of proof”, I insist that I don’t need to know that something is true to believe it is. This is supported not only by good argumentation but by epistemic definition. Thus, I don’t have that level of a burden of proof unless I want to insist that everyone should believe what I believe or they’re irrational. I don’t, as I’ve pointed out before with that statement that you dismissed as ridiculous without any argumentation: that it could be rational to be an atheist or a theist.

    I claim this, broadly: the burden of proof is always on the person whose position demands a change in belief. I’m not demanding that you change your lack of belief. You’re demanding that I change my belief. So, who has the burden of proof?

  • DSimon

    Your claims about how if religion is wrong I’d be encouraged to hold potentially problematic beliefs is nullified by the reply that if religion is RIGHT those beliefs are incredibly useful…

    So, is religion right? Your responses have frankly mostly been about dancing around this question, arguing that belief is justified even without good reason to think that a hypothesis is right.

    Furthermore, if religion is wrong, then adopting religious modes of thought is not merely a waste of resource, but has a detrimental effect on our general ability to figure things out and get stuff done.

    And anyways, how do you know you picked the right religion? As Homer Simpson said, “What if we picked the wrong church? Every week we’d just be making God madder and madder!”

    (These are the standard three responses to Pascal’s Wager, which you’re coming pretty close to invoking.)

    Essentially, [attending church] takes up less time and resources than most hobbies. Hardly, then, a great expenditure.

    Hobbies are worth their cost if they’re enjoyable enough. Do you get enough benefit out of going to church that it’s worth the cost, particularly when considered against alternatives that have similar benefits for less cost? And remember that if religion is not true, the cost includes not only resource expenditures but a detrimental effect on overall problem solving.

    So, in those cases, all I can do is rely on myself to, should I be proven wrong, adjust those beliefs appropriately, at least over time.

    But you won’t ever be proven wrong, even if you are wrong, if you choose unfalsifiable or nearly-unfalsifiable beliefs. We’ve already been over this ground.

    It’s also interesting that of the things you listed I, personally, don’t do ANY of them [grin].

    Dude/dudette, I quoted those things from your comment. Have you got wheels installed on those goalposts or something? :-)

    Those cognitive biases exist because even though they give some false answers at times, a lot of the time they find actual things.

    Not quite. They persisted because they evolved in situations where a false positive was way less dangerous to reproductive fitness than a false negative. For example, it’s considerably safer to mistakenly think you’ve seen a jaguar ten or a hundred times than to miss a real jaguar even once. That bias towards false positives is not so useful in general problem solving, especially since we’ve gotten smart enough to figure out more sophisticated ways of figuring stuff out.

    And so we return to, basically, the underlying challenge: how clear does the evidence have to be for a ghost sighting/photograph/whatever before you’ll consider the cognitive bias argument untenable? And why should everyone accept your line for where that is?

    To have much weight it has to be evidence that’s not subject to cognitive bias, or in other words it should be falsifiable evidence. Everyone should accept that requirement because it’s useful to avoid false-positive beliefs we know people have fallen into many many times before and continue to fall into, like homeopathy, witch burnings, astrology, and many others.

    Unfortunately, a very large number of our beliefs are based on little or nothing more THAN testimony. We can’t eliminate it as reasonably justifying believing — not in the knowledge sense — in general without eliminating all of the them, too.

    What beliefs are you talking about? I can’t think of any justified beliefs off the top of my head that are purely based on unfalsifiable testimony.

  • DSimon

    [T]he burden of proof is always on the person whose position demands a change in belief.

    This is not a useful truth-seeking strategy because it privileges, for no good reason, the beliefs a person already happens to have, without looking at all at whether or not those beliefs are justifiable.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “So, is religion right? Your responses have frankly mostly been about dancing around this question, arguing that belief is justified even without good reason to think that a hypothesis is right.”

    This is the epistemology part: determining when there isn’t good enough reason for anyone to believe something true. In short, when is the evidence so weak that it’s irrational to believe it? I claim that I certainly don’t need to know or be able to prove religion correct to believe in it, and that to insist on that would indeed require dropping a lot of beliefs that we have. You do seem to accept this and translate it to an issue of weakness, but certainly accept that the line of acceptable belief isn’t just at the level of knowledge. So then the question is: can we objectively determine that line, or is that a subjective judgement that each person makes for themselves and for each proposition?

    “Furthermore, if religion is wrong, then adopting religious modes of thought is not merely a waste of resource, but has a detrimental effect on our general ability to figure things out and get stuff done.”

    I disagree. I don’t think it applies to me, and would insist that the epistemology I’m tossing at you was a consequence of my PHILOSOPHY work, not my religion (in essence, an attempt to save every day belief). You need more evidence to demonstrate that religion really DOES have that effect, and that effect more than anything else we do and think at least reasonably acceptable, or else this argument would reduce to you basically picking on religion.

    “And anyways, how do you know you picked the right religion? As Homer Simpson said, “What if we picked the wrong church? Every week we’d just be making God madder and madder!”

    (These are the standard three responses to Pascal’s Wager, which you’re coming pretty close to invoking.)”

    If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I can live with that. But the problem here is that it isn’t ME who’s invoking the Wager, but you, since you’re trying to claim that the evidence is too weak to attend services because of the negative consequences if I’m wrong. At that point, it is perfectly reasonable for me to point out that there are positive consequences if I’m right. We can hammer out what things like probabilities say, and all of that jazz, but ultimately you can’t call out the negatives if wrong without considering the positives if correct. Ultimately, the sort of analysis you’re doing here needs to consider: Positives if true and I believe, negatives if true and I don’t believe, positives if false and I don’t believe, negatives if false and I don’t believe.

    Ultimately, adding ‘em all up and adding in subjective preferences, I don’t see any clear case one way or the other.

    “Hobbies are worth their cost if they’re enjoyable enough. Do you get enough benefit out of going to church that it’s worth the cost, particularly when considered against alternatives that have similar benefits for less cost? And remember that if religion is not true, the cost includes not only resource expenditures but a detrimental effect on overall problem solving.”

    Since things like hobbies come down to personal preference, the “You’d be better off doing this instead of that” doesn’t work. To see why, see the arguments against playing video games with the notion of “You could spend your time better with X”. No one cares; people do what they find fun or useful enough in their spare time, and no suggestion of the alternatives has any say in that.

    In this case, it’s worth it enough for me to do it, else I wouldn’t do it. Trite, but true.

    “Dude/dudette, I quoted those things from your comment. Have you got wheels installed on those goalposts or something? :-)”

    I meant these:

    “.e. considering morality in terms of God’s word, prayer, faith as a reasonable justification for belief”

    I don’t hold any of them, despite attending services. Well, the latter maybe, but only in a VERY eccentric way. I certainly don’t think I actually HAVE faith, but that’s another (very long) topic.

    “Not quite. They persisted because they evolved in situations where a false positive was way less dangerous to reproductive fitness than a false negative”

    No, that’s only why despite them not being perfect — and giving false positives — they still exist in spite of that and were not perfected. Ultimately, though, if that sort of pattern and anomaly hunting never gave real patterns, it wouldn’t have the benefits and so would be selected out. An awful lot of the time when we find anomalies and patterns, they’re really there. Sometimes, they aren’t.

    “To have much weight it has to be evidence that’s not subject to cognitive bias, or in other words it should be falsifiable evidence. Everyone should accept that requirement because it’s useful to avoid false-positive beliefs we know people have fallen into many many times before and continue to fall into, like homeopathy, witch burnings, astrology, and many others.”

    I’m not sure I understand what this means. If we look at a photo and see something that could be a real anomaly or that might not be, how much more evidence do you need before you’ll allow someone to accept it PROVISIONALLY, which is what we’re talking about here when we talk about belief? Simply saying “It might be a cognitive bias” leaves a heck of a lot of room to deny clear anomalies. If you need a standard of evidence that means that you have to KNOW that it’s not a cognitive bias, in my opinion you demand far too much.

    “What beliefs are you talking about? I can’t think of any justified beliefs off the top of my head that are purely based on unfalsifiable testimony.”

    Where did “unfalsifiable testimony” come into this? We’re talking about people’s memories, which can be conflated. So, when we get down to beliefs, I’m certain that:

    1) You have a large number of beliefs that you COULD test (or falsify) but that you don’t; you take the testimony at face value as long as it’s not too “extraordinary”. Thus, you base it pretty much only on that unreliable evidence, which an additional assessment based on how plausible you find it.

    2) You have at least some beliefs that you cannot test, but that you accept on testimony. Or, at least, you accept that some cases of that are, in fact, rational. If someone told you that they saw a 1981 Cougar hubcap in the park, but when they came back it was gone, there’s really no way you could test it, but you’d likely believe them.

  • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/ Verbose Stoic

    DSimon,

    “[T]he burden of proof is always on the person whose position demands a change in belief.

    This is not a useful truth-seeking strategy because it privileges, for no good reason, the beliefs a person already happens to have, without looking at all at whether or not those beliefs are justifiable.”

    Well, first, recall that I personally have argued that privileging existing beliefs IS useful from an epistemic level.

    Second, I argue that at least in part to deny the ability of someone to simply cast doubt on a belief by saying that I might be wrong and then insisting that that makes it irrational for me to hold the belief and then demand that I must prove the belief to THEIR satisfaction before _I_ can believe it. Take this example: Someone accepts evolution. A creationist points out a missing link and says that since we don’t have that link there may not be one and so evolution is unjustified. Does the evolutionist have to prove to them that evolution is true before being able to say “I’ll still believe this anyway until you can prove that we aren’t just missing it”?

    You can argue that we have more evidence, but the reply would be that challenges of this sort are aimed DIRECTLY at the things that would falsify evolution, and so are far more egregious examples. So, then, to what level do you have to prove something to believe it? Again, we cycle back to that question.

    My additional statement here is that my claim is justified by stating that it is insufficient to say that an argument of “You could be wrong” should in any way impact a belief. Beliefs, by definition, accept that. If someone wants to insist that a belief should not be believed, it is quite reasonable for me to insist that they demonstrate that it should not be believed before accepting their argument. Surely you don’t disagree with that.

  • DSimon

    I disagree. I don’t think [the criticism of religious belief as a handicap to problem-solving ability] applies to me, and would insist that the epistemology I’m tossing at you was a consequence of my PHILOSOPHY work, not my religion (in essence, an attempt to save every day belief). You need more evidence to demonstrate that religion really DOES have that effect, and that effect more than anything else we do and think at least reasonably acceptable, or else this argument would reduce to you basically picking on religion.

    Fair enough. What I am seeking to criticize is your philosophy and epistemology in general, on the grounds that it doesn’t handle some basic test cases (i.e. FSM, “What if you were born in an Islamic country?”, unfalsifiable beliefs) very well at all. I’ll accept that religion is a consequence of, rather than a source of, that philosophy.

    So, then, to what level do you have to prove something to believe it? Again, we cycle back to that question.

    A question which I am now answering for, I think, the fourth time: belief is a sliding scale, you don’t need a hard line in the sand.

    Second, I argue that at least in part to deny the ability of someone to simply cast doubt on a belief by saying that I might be wrong and then insisting that that makes it irrational for me to hold the belief and then demand that I must prove the belief to THEIR satisfaction before _I_ can believe it.

    What’s up with this implication that I’m somehow abusing your rights by telling you I think your beliefs are wrong? You can believe whatever you like, and I won’t (and can’t) stop you. What I’m “demanding” is that if you want me to agree that your beliefs are rational, you first have to actually convince me that they are.

    I certainly don’t need to know or be able to prove religion correct to believe in it, and that to insist on that would indeed require dropping a lot of beliefs that we have.

    Once again, for like the third time: what beliefs would we have to drop?

    You do seem to accept this and translate it to an issue of weakness, but certainly accept that the line of acceptable belief isn’t just at the level of knowledge.

    No. Once again, what I accept is that there is no line of acceptable belief, no sharp division between “stuff you should believe” and “stuff you shouldn’t believe”, because belief is an analog scale.

    I do not think you’re reading my comments for comprehension. Whenever I question some aspect of your epistemology, we discuss it for a while before moving onto a new subject, but then later on you bring that aspect back up unchanged, sometimes seemingly assuming that I not only have no problem with it but have already agreed to it!

    I am getting frustrated; it seems that we are both just repeating ourselves now. I’m going to stop responding unless it looks like the debate moves onto untreaded ground. I’ve enjoyed this discussion and I appreciate the time and effort you’re putting into it, but I don’t think it’s being productive anymore.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    VS,

    Now, my reply to that…

    Objection. I already answered your special pleading here.

    As for the “burden of proof”, I insist that I don’t need to know that something is true to believe it is.

    You need to have some reason to believe something as true. Being born to Xian parents doesn’t qualify as a good reason to be a Xian.

    I claim this, broadly: the burden of proof is always on the person whose position demands a change in belief. I’m not demanding that you change your lack of belief. You’re demanding that I change my belief. So, who has the burden of proof?

    No, this is wrong. Is the burden of proof on the defense if the judge or jury already believes that the defendant is guilty? Of course not. The burden always lies on the person putting forth the positive claim. You claim to know so much about philosophy and epistemology, but this is basic stuff and you should know better if your claims are anything more than false bravado.


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