Why I am not a theistic evolutionist and why I do not ‘believe in’ evolution (part 1)

BioLogos has listed what it calls “Core Tenets or Assumptions of Theistic Evolution.” I mostly agree with them, but I am not a theistic evolutionist and I do not “believe in” evolution.

Well, actually, let me qualify that a bit: I do not accept the label of “theistic evolutionist.” I cannot really say, with certainty, that I am not one because I cannot be certain what that phrase means. I understand each of those words, separately, but squish them together like that and I can’t make sense of what it is that is being said.

From just a cursory glance, it might seem that this label describes me perfectly. Here are two true statements about me:

1. I believe in God.

2. I acknowledge and affirm the reality of evolution.

If that is all this label meant — if a “theistic evolutionist” is defined as “a person for whom both of those things are true” — then it would certainly seem to apply to me.

But that cannot be what this phrase means. Both of these words mean things, and neither one can mean that.

Let’s start with the latter: I am not an evolutionist.

I am not a scientist and it would be inappropriate for me to appropriate for myself a label that designates me as one. I acknowledge and affirm the reality of science, but that does not make me a “scientist.” I acknowledge and affirm the reality of quantum physics, but that does not make me a quantum physicist. Nor am I a chemist or a virologist, even though I acknowledge and affirm the truth of both of those disciplines.

So why, then, should my identical layperson’s appreciation and acknowledgement of evolution make me an “evolutionist”?

It shouldn’t. It doesn’t.

The idea that it does is based on the premise that evolution is a special case. But evolution is not a special case.

We’re asked to treat it as special by the pretense of classifying anyone who “believes” in evolution as an “evolutionist.” There are two things askew there. First, again, we don’t speak this way when discussing any other process or phenomena. We don’t pretend that anyone who believes in chemistry is a chemist or that anyone who believes in astrophysics is an astrophysicist.

And, secondly, we do not speak of people “believing” in chemistry or astrophysics. That word — “believe” — gets applied to evolution because, again, we’re pretending that evolution is a special case.

And, again, evolution is not a special case.

We do not say that someone “believes in” photosynthesis, or in the magnetosphere, or in entropy or gravity or cell division or condensation. We do not say that because it would sound strange and because it would be misleading, suggesting that somehow the reality of photosynthesis was contingent on our acceptance or rejection of it, or that photosynthesis is somehow true for some people but not for others. We do not speak of “believing in” photosynthesis because belief is beside the point. Photosynthesis is an actual, observable, measurable process that we can and have actually observed and measured.

And so is evolution. Evolution is not a special case.

So I do not “believe in” evolution, I simply acknowledge and affirm its actuality.

Now let’s look at that other word, “theistic.”

I believe that God exists. “Believe” is an appropriate word in this context because whether or not God is actually actual is not something that can be directly observed and measured. It’s possible that God exists. It’s possible that God does not exist. I believe that God does, actually, exist. I believe this with utter certitude, but I cannot claim to have certainty.

My belief in the existence of God makes me a theist. This noun, “theist,” means exactly this: a person who believes in the existence of a God or Gods. “Fred is a theist” is, therefore, a correct statement. I generally prefer a more specific statement, such as “Fred is a Christian,” which conveys a bit more about the identity and character of the God I believe exists. But while it’s less specific than I’d like, “Fred is a theist” is accurate and correct.

We can also say, accurately, that “Fred’s religion is theistic.” Or we can say, somewhat awkwardly, but technically accurately, that “Fred is theistic.” That’s awkward because it’s not quite how we usually apply that adjective, about which more later.

Given that — given that I am, explicitly, a theist — can we at least concede that the first part of the label “theistic evolutionist” might be appropriate to apply to me?

I don’t think so, because in that label the word “theistic” is not being applied to the person, but to evolution itself. A “theistic evolutionist” is not a theist who “believes in” evolution, but rather a person who “believes in” theistic evolution. The adjective does not apply to the person — to the believer in God and in evolution — but to the natural phenomenon itself.

Or, rather, not to evolution itself, but to some qualified form of it. Not evolution, but “theistic evolution.”

And, again, I don’t know what that means.

We might guess that “theistic evolution” refers to the perspective of Christians and many other theists that God is ever-present and that nothing is separate from God’s over-arching providence — that by God “all things consist,” as the Apostle Paul wrote. Perhaps this is all this adjective signifies here.

But I’m afraid that won’t do. If the word is simply meant to express something that all Christians believe to be true of every process and phenomenon, then we must somehow account for the fact that we do not use it in reference to any other such process or phenomenon.

We may believe that there is a certain providence in the fall of a sparrow, but we do not speak of theistic sparrows. Nor do we speak of theistic photosynthesis, theistic fusion, theistic chemistry or theistic algebra. We believe that God cares for the lilies of the field, but we never therefore refer to them as theistic lilies or speak of theistic botany.

Sir Isaac Newton earnestly believed in God’s active, pervasive providence, but he never saw fit to christen his theory as “theistic gravity.”

The exceptional use of this term — the application of this adjective to this particular noun but not to any of the myriad other similar nouns — suggests again that we must treat evolution as some kind of special case.

But evolution is not a special case.

This is getting long, so let’s pick this up in part 2, to discuss some other possible things that “theistic evolution” might mean, and why it cannot (or should not) mean them either.

 

  • Tricksterson

    Why stop there?  I believe all things, or at least all natural things have souls.  It’s also quite possible things that are crafteed, rather than manufactered have souls.  Maybe even manufatured things in the way individual bees probably don’t have souls but the hive does.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Great post, Fred. When people accuse (and yes, it’s always a hostile accusation) of believing in evolution, that accusation betrays that they don’t grasp what evolution – and more importantly, the scientific method – is about. Accepting evolutionary theory doesn’t require belief. It is simply being persuaded by the evidence for it. 

  • Carstonio

     

    I really get the impression that not only do creationists typically
    think that the scientifically literate have the same relationship to the
    evolutionary account as they do to Genesis, they simply don’t
    understand that there’s any other possible relationship to have, or what
    it’d be like to have it.

    They’re confusing the two meanings of “authority” or treating them as the same thing. Someone with a great deal of knowledge about a given subject would reasonably be treated as authoritative on that subject, and might even be treated as having the power to decide what constitutes knowledge about that subject. But that’s a power that rests on reputation alone. Creationists tend to believe that knowledge is something that’s decided by people who have inherent authority, which turns the concept of authoritativeness on its head. In their minds, scientists are self-appointed authorities who decide for mere uneducated mortals what is approved knowledge, as if there weren’t any other way of pursuing knowledge.

  • http://semperfiona.livejournal.com Semperfiona

     Souls as emergent properties of sufficiently complex systems? I like it.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Sure, it’s possible.

    Or maybe  manufactured things and crafted things both have the same kind of soul, but crafted things have an additional soul, which is different. And maybe living things have yet a third soul, of a different type, and intelligent living things have a fourth soul, and intelligent living things that wear shoes have a fifth soul, and so forth.

    Or maybe none of that is true.

  • arcseconds

     That sounds right.   I like this notion that people may be treated as having the power to decide what constitutes knowledge about the subject, due to their mighty reputation, that seems like it could be a useful notion.   I can’t really think of any good examples of this off the top of my head, though.   It certainly happens from time to time in smaller academic communities (or sub-communities), but often not for entirely good reasons.

    But anyway, to this concept of authority I’d add that their idea of the history of the world/cosmos is thoroughly value-laden.   Anton pointed out that in part it’s about trusting God, which naturally interfaces nicely with your observations on authority.  But it’s also about Man’s place in the universe, and God’s direct and obvious actions in the world, and about situating Abraham (more important for Jews than Christians, and arguably what Genesis is really all about) and also Christ.

    So alongside thinking that scientists are basically set up as a church of some kind, they also mistake the story being told about the universe as being value-laden: God doesn’t do anything, humanity isn’t important, the universe is a big, baffling and hostile place.   Of course, it’s an easy step from accepting evolution to accepting those things, but it’s not a step that has to be made, but moreover here too I think the creationists invert things.   A scientifically literate and rational person accepts evolution because it makes sense of the data in extremely rich and productive ways (and is compatible with and interfaces thoroughly with other parts of the overall scientific account).  If they go on to conclude there is no God, that humanity is not important, etc. they do so as a result of accepting evolution.

    Creationists often seem to think it’s the other way around: people want to deny God, undermine humanity, and so forth, and therefore they embrace evolution.

    (of course, it doesn’t help that some people actually do seem to do this, and/or read their values off evolution (or their mistaken view of it).)

  • Carstonio

    I doubt that the step from evolution to those other things is as easy as you describe. You’re right that creationists are misinterpreting evolution as a value story. But one can accept evolution and still hold that humanity is important. Any conclusion about the value of humanity is a choice and isn’t automatic or natural from one’s stance on the origin of life or the origin of life’s diversity. Arguing otherwise is tantamount to saying “there has to be a god otherwise life would have no meaning.” There could be gods and life could still have no inherent meaning, or else that meaning could exist without gods.

  • EllieMurasaki

    There could be gods and life could still have no inherent meaning, or else that meaning could exist without gods.
     
    Life doesn’t have inherent meaning. That doesn’t make life meaningless. Like most things, it is what we make of it.

  • Carstonio

    While I agree, I was allowing for the possibility of inherent meaning.

  • Patrick

    Uh, no. Let’s leave aside your interpretation of frequentism and just focus on the logic here. You can’t say that we have no way to apportion probability in the absence of frequentist data and then turn around and say that it’s therefore ok to be certain about something in the same scenario! A frequentist who thinks he cannot say that chances are 50/50 without frequentist data cannot rationally conclude that certainty is appropriate! Even if this form of strict, strong frequentism is cogent, that remains a contradiction.

  • AnonymousSam

    I used to argue Zeno’s Paradox with people, but then I mellowed out. Now I just reply, “Wherever I go, there I am.”

  • Anton_Mates

     

      If that’s why he’s doing this, though, it would be nice if he explained it, particularly as his regular readership aren’t creationists and don’t necessarily spend ages arguing with creationists.

    Well, I suspect his use of language here is pretty familiar to many other Christians, who (I think) are his target audience in this particular post.  But yeah, it doesn’t look like you’re the only reader who found it obscure.  I’ve probably spent so much time immersed in evo-creo land that I have a very skewed idea of which rhetorical points are obvious.

    Does this have the desired effect in a debate with actual creationists though?  I would expect it wouldn’t, because they still won’t understand the distinction. 

    I can’t say that anything has the desired effect in most discussions with actual creationists, but I do think many of them understand the distinction; they just don’t accept it in the case of evolution.  Creationists aren’t in general particularly anti-science, at least not consciously.  They tend to respect scientists as very smart people who are probably right in their fields of expertise, they understand science that produces factual truth and practical benefits for society, they don’t consider most areas of science to be equivalent to religion, etc.  And although they often claim that they would maintain their faith in (their version of ) the Biblical story of Creation regardless of what the scientific facts say, I don’t think they’re very comfortable actually doing that–among other things, they don’t want to think of God as a deceiver.  

    So it’s important to them that evolutionary theory be especially bad science, and that people commit to it in a “religious idolatry” fashion that they don’t do with other scientific theories.

    My thought was that they’d just take it to mean ‘absolutely certain’, perhaps in a similar way to Fred’s attitude to the existence of God, which was one reason I thought that a creationist could take the step of just parroting Fred’s language.

    They could, but in my experience they don’t.  They often stop for a second and ask what you mean, because they do understand that you’re drawing a distinction from religious “belief” in some way.  And yeah, they talk about “accepting” Jesus, but I think that “accepting that X is true” is pretty clearly employing a different meaning.  Similarly, some science advocates will say that they “believe that evolutionary theory is correct,” in order to draw a distinction between “belief that” and “belief in.”  That’s not Fred’ s preferred language, obviously, but I don’t know that either formulation is superior.

    (I am, of course, talking here about creationists who are actually trying to have a meaningful conversation with you.  If they’re just there to score debate points they may try to ignore the distinction you’re trying to make, but that’s all the more reason to hammer on it for the sake of the audience.)

    But I don’t really know what to make of that – it sometimes sounds like they agree it’s not really provable, you just have to believe it, but then they continue to argue as though they think it’s the only rational position.

    I think the idea is that it’s rationally provable, but our brains are broken by sin and demonic interference, so we won’t necessarily see that it’s provable until we make the leap of faith and have Jesus sharpening up our thought processes.  AFAIK, that’s the Vatican’s position on the existence of God.

    That was directed at erikagillian, who seemed to be saying that Fred wasn’t addressing creationists.  My point was that needn’t stop me considering what creationists might say in reply.

    Oh, I see.

  • Anton_Mates

    You can’t say that we have no way to apportion probability in the absence of frequentist data and then turn around and say that it’s therefore ok to be certain about something in the same scenario!

    Sure I can.  If we have no way to compute any probabilities, no level of certainty is more or less ok than another.  Absolute certainty that the ball’s in cup 1 is fine.  Absolute certainty that it’s in cup 2 is fine.  50/50 uncertainty is fine.  None of these attitudes will ever be borne out as right or wrong by the observable facts.

    I’m about as certain as I can be that an external world exists.  I realize that it could not exist, and I have no idea how to assign any probabilities to the question, but I more or less can’t help being convinced that it does exist.   I think that’s okay.  As I said, everyone’s working off axioms, and by definition those axioms don’t come with probabilities attached.

    A frequentist who thinks he cannot say that chances are 50/50 without frequentist data cannot rationally conclude that certainty is appropriate!

    A frequentist cannot rationally conclude that certainty is the only appropriate attitude here, nor can he rationally conclude that uncertainty is.  Therefore they’re both appropriate.  It’s an a-rational choice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

     This is jaw-dropping.  I don’t know what else to do or say at this point.  You actually think that if you have no information to help you choose between two options, it is rational to arbitrarily select one and be certain in it?

    I guess the only thing to say is that, for the record, for anyone else reading, that is NOT what frequentism says.  So don’t use that in college or anything, it won’t go well.

  • Carstonio

     

    I’m about as certain as I can be that an external world exists.  I
    realize that it could not exist, and I have no idea how to assign any
    probabilities to the question, but I more or less can’t help being
    convinced that it does exist.   I think that’s okay.  As I said,
    everyone’s working off axioms, and by definition those axioms don’t come
    with probabilities attached.

    While you’re right about probabilities, any alternative to the external world as a hypothesis can easily be discounted as impractical as compared to the external world hypothesis. An alternative wouldn’t gain us anything in terms of explaining what we observe, and it would be less parsimonious as an explanation. I would agree that both hypotheses are not falsifiable. And one can make a good case that choosing the external world hypothesis for the reasons I suggest is no different from using it as an axiom. The only grounds I could see for giving serious consideration for any alternative hypothesis would be if we had observations that couldn’t be explained by the external world hypothesis, something akin to Toto pulling back the curtain.

  • Tricksterson

    Also it’s possible that objects, natural, crafted and manufactured might have their owners soul9s0 “rub off” on them over time as in the case of a family heirloom.

  • Anton_Mates

    This
    is jaw-dropping.  I don’t know what else to do or say at this point. 
    You actually think that if you have no information to help you choose
    between two options, it is rational to arbitrarily select one and be
    certain in it?

    As I said before, it’s a-rational.  Rationality neither forbids nor requires you to select one.  Not quite sure why you find that position jaw-dropping at this point, since you seem to have been attacking it since your first post on this thread.  If you disagree, maybe make an argument about why uncertainty is the only rational option?  The two-cups thing was a nice intuition pump, but unsurprisingly it just revealed that people don’t all have the same intuitions in this area.

    I guess the only thing to say is that, for the record, for anyone else reading, that is NOT what frequentism says. 

    Well yeah, frequentism doesn’t say anything about how certain your beliefs should be.  That’s kind of one of its distinguishing features–it’s not about epistemic probabilities.

  • Anton_Mates

    While you’re right about probabilities, any alternative to the external world as a hypothesis can easily be discounted as impractical as compared to the external world hypothesis. An alternative wouldn’t gain us anything in terms of explaining what we observe, and it would be less parsimonious as an explanation.

    You could make that argument. But you could also argue that it’s more parsimonious to discard the external world hypothesis, and just say that your mind largely behaves in a way that is conveniently modelable using an external world.  Practicality is in the eye of the beholder.  That said, as a subjective matter I agree with you; the external world hypothesis certainly makes my reasoning feel less labored.

    But this sort of parsimony-based reasoning is forbidden by Patrick’s version of the principle of indifference, so far as I understand it.  Under the latter, you would have to be 50% certain of the existence of an external world, no more or less.

  • hf

     any alternative to the external world as a hypothesis can
    easily be discounted as impractical as compared to the external world
    hypothesis. An alternative wouldn’t gain us anything in terms of
    explaining what we observe, and it would be less parsimonious as an
    explanation.

    That sounds a lot like the standard rule for assigning prior probabilities (the ones that we update based on the evidence). Not sure what definition of “axiom” y’all are using that rules out probabilities or ways of getting them. If we view probability theory as an extension of logic then we’d apply it to probabilistic axioms or working assumptions.

    Now nobody can use the method I’m talking about in its pure form, and amusingly the reason for this involves solipsism. Any practical, explain-able rule for updating probabilities (by comparing theories to the evidence) will fail for at least one hypothesis. This says roughly, “Nothing exists but a modified version of the rule you’re using, a version which prints out the evidence if and only if it looks at a theory that does not print out the evidence, looking at this hypothesis (or one that behaves just like it).”

    But this theory has to contain at least one full description of the observed evidence, or another complete theory that can predict all the evidence. So it would need a lot of logically distinct details, each of which cuts off and discards a slice of prior probability. Each detail that could have been otherwise tells you to assign some of the total probability to the other possible theory or theories. And this particular form of solipsism seems to fare worse – seems even more complicated and less likely -  than the old standby, “Reality is a machine for repeating exactly the evidence you’ve so far observed, forever.”

  • arcseconds

    It’s also a-rational by Bayesian standards, too.

    Let’s say you know a factory produces cubical boxes up to a maximum of 1m on a side, and you know nothing about their product line apart from this.

    So what are the chances of a particular box being over 0.5 m on a side?

    Well, you might decide that you’ve no reason to assume any particular box-height is any more common than any other, so you’d better assume a uniform distribution, so the probability had better be 0.5.

    OK.  So what are the chances of a particular box with the surface area of a face being 0.25m² ?

  • arcseconds

     

    Creationists aren’t in general particularly anti-science, at least
    not consciously.  They tend to respect scientists as very smart people
    who are probably right in their fields of expertise, they understand
    science that produces factual truth and practical benefits for society,
    they don’t consider most areas of science to be equivalent to religion,
    etc.  And although they often claim that they would maintain their faith
    in (their version of ) the Biblical story of Creation regardless of
    what the scientific facts say, I don’t think they’re very comfortable
    actually doing that–among other things, they don’t want to think of God
    as a deceiver. 

    I don’t think they understand how it is that science produces factual truth, though.  I’m pretty confident about this on statistical grounds because most people don’t understand this :-] but creationists seem particularly bad at it (although that may be because more light is cast on their beliefs).

    It seems to me that very many people, if not most, have a bit of a mixed-up view of how science works.  I think for many people they believe it for exactly the same reasons many people believe in religious stories: the stories are some combination of consistent, sense-making, interesting, and told to them by authority-figures.  They might know that some sciences use mathematics, but that means much the same as ‘uses sorcery’.  They of course know that scientists ‘do experiments’, but they don’t really understand how the theories are related to experiments.   They often know about ‘critical experiments’, but they don’t seem to know about the careful scrutiny the most secure parts of science are subject to.  That gives a skewed view of how experiments work in science, and you can see this in creationists’ constant search for results that evolutionary science can’t account for.

    If your (possibly subconscious) attitude to science is that it’s a credible story that makes a vague sense of some evidence, and you find a story that you prefer, there’s no really compelling reason to stick with the scientific story.

    So I kind of think that creationists view all scientists having roughly the same relationship to their science as creationists do to (their interpretation of) scripture.  That of course doesn’t preclude scientists producing truth, because creationists also think their ‘theory’ is true and produces truth.

    The combination of respecting scientists, understanding the epistemic care that good scientists take towards theories and phenomena, and the scientific consensus in evolution should be highly troubling to a creationist.  

  • hf

     Maybe I don’t follow. The probability of the box’s area equaling exactly 0.25 m^2 comes to zero by those assumptions. That’s because “real numbers” aren’t, not as a matter of observation. The chance that rounding the area to the fifth decimal point will given you .25 equals 0.00001.

  • arcseconds

    That’s because I’m an idiot and didn’t think about what I was saying.

    What are the chances of the surface area of the box being greater than 0.5m².   I’ll edit my post.

  • Carstonio

    My point wasn’t about determining probabilities or dismissing them. The point of a hypothesis is to explain observations and to predict new ones. I doubt that any alternative to the external world hypothesis would be usable in making predictions. 

  • Carstonio

    I would think that the conveniently modelable behavior would be less parsimonious, since the mind could just as easily behave in a way that isn’t modelable.

  • Anton_Mates

    It’s also a-rational by Bayesian standards, too.

    Well, by the standards of some Bayesians.  Many of them would argue that the principle(s) of indifference/transformation groups/maximum entropy can rationally require a particular probability distribution for the length/volume/area of your box.  I’m not sure they all agree on which distribution that should be, though.

    They often know about ‘critical experiments’, but they don’t seem to
    know about the careful scrutiny the most secure parts of science are subject to.  That gives a skewed view of how experiments work in science, and you can see this in creationists’ constant search for results that evolutionary science can’t account for.

    All true.  However, they don’t search for such results in other areas of science (except, these days, in climate change), and if you listen to their rhetoric, they don’t expect to find any.  When it comes to physics and medicine and so on, creationists are quite happy to talk about how almost all the results in those fields have been rigorously proven through careful experiment.  Hell, they often act like the Second Law of Thermodynamics is part of the Bible.  I fully agree that they don’t understand the scientific process, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t respect it.  They draw a very strong distinction between Good Science and Bad Science, and they ascribe Bad Science to an ideologically-driven failure to apply the scientific method correctly.

    So I kind of think that creationists view all scientists having roughly the same relationship to their science as creationists do to (their interpretation of) scripture.  That of course doesn’t preclude scientists producing truth, because creationists also think their ‘theory’ is true and produces truth.

    Thing is, Protestant creationists don’t have much room in their worldview for something which is like interpreting Scripture, but isn’t interpreting Scripture.  Taking a “religious” attitude toward anything other than the King James (or New International Version, these days) is heresy, or pagan idolatry, and it cannot produce truth.

    If RTCs are going to accept science, it has to either be explicitly Christian “science” like intelligent design, or it has to be something totally distinct from religion–impersonal, impartial, non-prescriptive, philosophically neutral.  (After all, they’re well aware that most modern science is produced by non-RTCs.  But trusting such heathens  on any remotely religious issue would be heresy.)  The problem they see with evolutionary biology is that it’s neither aligned with nor orthogonal to the true faith; it’s pointing in the opposite direction.

    IMO, of course.  I’m not a sociologist.

  • Anton_Mates

    I doubt that any alternative to the external world hypothesis would be usable in making predictions.

    Oh, sure it is.  The whole reason solipsism’s untestable is that it can make all the same predictions made by the external world hypothesis.  E.g. general relativity is still “true,” it’s just true about certain properties of your own mind instead of about the outside world.

    I would think that the conveniently modelable behavior would be less parsimonious, since the mind could just as easily behave in a way that isn’t modelable.

    That could be true under the external world hypothesis too, though.  There could be a well-behaved physical world that didn’t correlate to your mind’s behavior at all.  Arguably, it’s less parsimonious to have to assume that such a world exists and that it’s causally linked to your mind.

  • Anton_Mates

    Any practical, explain-able rule for updating probabilities (by
    comparing theories to the evidence) will fail for at least one
    hypothesis. This says roughly, “Nothing exists but a modified version of
    the rule you’re using, a version which prints out the evidence if and
    only if it looks at a theory that does not print out the evidence,
    looking at this hypothesis (or one that behaves just like it).”

    Hmm…can you rephrase, unpack or cite?  My paradox-reading circuitry is sparking….

  • Carstonio

    You’re right about the untestability. The solipsism hypothesis doesn’t explain why the indisciplined organ of the mind would create a well-behaved world. Dreams don’t follow such behavior and deliberate acts of imagination don’t either. It doesn’t explain why the mind’s world isn’t like the one created by Alan Moore’s Black Mercy plant.

  • Anton_Mates

    In what way could the external world hypothesis explain these facts, such that the solipsism hypothesis couldn’t do the same?

  • Carstonio

    Sorry for the confusion. I was really talking about predictability, and
    that’s where I see the external world hypothesis as having an edge.
    That’s not the same thing as explaining what we perceive. Solipsism
    doesn’t seem to allow for making predictions because the mind would
    appear to capable of creating anything, or creating a world based on the person’s desires or fears.

    I see that as similar to the “god” hypothesis – there’s no way to make
    predictions with the postulation of a being capable of anything, because
    any possible observations would be compatible with the hypothesis.

  • Anton_Mates

    Carstonio

    Apologies for not noticing your response three weeks earlier!  It’s probably too late to rezz the thread, but….

    Solipsism doesn’t seem to allow for making predictions because the mind would 
appear to capable of creating anything, or creating a world based on the person’s desires or fears.

    No more so–or less so–than an external world might be capable of creating anything.  The external world could be a completely unpredictable place where anything can happen–it’s logically possible–but upon observation, it doesn’t appear to be.  Ditto for the mind.  (After all, the only way we know that the external world’s behavior is predictable and regular is that our mental perceptions of that world are equally so!)

    As for creating a world based on your desires or fears–well, again, our minds simply don’t seem to work that way.  Most of what I perceive and feel seems irrelevant to what I want to perceive and feel.  I don’t hallucinate living in a paradise or a nightmare nor do solutions to mathematical problems pop into my head as soon as I want them.  Sugar tastes good and dish soap tastes bad whether or not I’d like them to taste that way.  So the solipsist simply concludes that the mind operates on laws that are largely independent of hir own desires, just as the non-solipsist concludes that the external world and the mind operate in that fashion.

    I see that as similar to the “god” hypothesis – there’s no way to make 
predictions with the postulation of a being capable of anything, because 
any possible observations would be compatible with the hypothesis.

    That’s true only so long as one refuses to hypothesize about that being’s intent or its rules of behavior.  If one postulates an omnipotent god who–for instance–desires that momentum, energy, charge and spin be conserved, lots of predictions follow from that.   (Not that most modern theists do this AFAIK, but they could.)


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