A Discussion I'm Having With a Scholar Friend on Facebook

Last Update

See what you think below. His name will be kept private unless he wants me to reveal it.

I had first asked about the probability of Messianic prophecies being interpreted correctly in the New Testament, and of the probability of Christianity.

Jan said:
It's tough only if you approach texts in a distinctly modern way. Understanding that narratives speak of worldviews and texts reference one another within a cultural tradition, the interpretive task looks rather different. People like Tom Wright and John Sailhamer have made this idea clear to me.

You'll also know that terms like "probable" in this vein are rather harder to assess than, say, calculating the probability of drawing to an inside straight. Historically folks have assessed the probability of theisms differently. I find the comprehensive case for Christian theism to be rational and satisfactory in a holistic way. You don't. The history of thought doesn't make me expect a breakthrough on either side of this debate anytime soon.
John W. Loftus said:
Jon D. Levenson, Professor at Harvard Divinity School in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Civilizations, offered a great definition of what a critical scholar is when he wrote they “are prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.” See page 3 of his book The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son.

I hope we can agree on that.
Jan said:
It begs the question of self-awareness, perpetuating the myth of the objective scholar, the romantic notion of the iconoclastic individualist. My view of human nature, including my own nature, is rather less optimistic than Dr. Levenson's. I like the goal of objectivity. I doubt it every time it's claimed.
John W. Loftus said:
Hmmmm. Well it's one thing to strive for objectivity. It's another thing entirely to engage in special pleading to defend something you were raised to believe in a Christian culture and/or by parents who taught you what to believe. We must realistically entertain the PROBABILITY that we are wrong. Do I? Yes, most emphatically. I may be wrong in what I affirm. I doubt very much I'm wrong in what I deny, since the denial is the easy part when it comes to a multitude of competing religious claims. That's what I mean when I say there is a difference between smelling a rotten egg and laying a good one. The smelling is the easy part and we all do it, even if we cannot lay a good egg. And no, atheism is not a religion nor is it a worldview. If it is, then not collecting stamps is a hobby. ;-)

The atheist is the skeptic who doubts all religious viewpoints. I'm ultimately an agnostic. But precisely because I'm an agnostic I affirm atheism. In fact, I'm a protest atheist. I'm protesting the lack of good evidence and God's care even should some supernatural force or being exist. If God does exist then a distant God is no different from none at all.

An atheist is someone who normally arrives at his position through the process of elimination. That too describes me.
Jan said:
Do you know who is "engaging in special pleading to defend something you were raised to believe in a Christian culture and/or by parents who taught you what to believe" and who isn't? Conversely, do you know who is engaging in special pleading to >attack< the same, and who isn't? From what standpoint of objectivity do you offer any such description in any specific instance? When you say, "That too describes me," do you not mean, "That is how I describe myself"? Is that an objective description?Are these rhetorical questions?


John W. Loftus said:
Jan, no one, and I mean no one, who attacks objectivity as much as you are compelled to do can turn around and claim with a straight face his views on such matters as faith are objectively correct! You are a closet agnostic, or a postmodern. Welcome to my world. Otherwise you really do not mean to attack objectivity at all. You only attack it when someone claims to have it whom you disagree with, which applies a double standard to your opponent's claims. The fact is that I don't claim any kind of objectivity at all, even if I strive for it! That's precisely the reason why I'm an agnostic, you see. So you're preaching to the choir. And in so doing you've actually shown me that you are engaged in special pleading, my friend. You are in denial. ;-)

Here's your dilemma: Either you affirm a kind of objectivity that others who disagree do not have, or you say we're in the same mostly subjective boat. The first horn is that you have a double standard. The second horn is that you should be an agnostic.

I hope I'm not taking you away from more important things. Feel free at any time to ignore me. Now would be a good time BTW ;-)
Jan said:
Between the claim to superior objectivity, which I think your rhetoric implies, and the despair at knowing anything at all lies the ground on which we make rational (warranted) decisions but disagree. What you miss in my deliberately irreverent rhetoric, which you style an attack on objectivity, is my resentment at the way you frame the question. There's nothing inherently superior or especially objective in denying something you used to believe. Levenson's (typical) remark doesn't identify objectivity; it simply affirms rebellion, which can be a kind of subjective reaction different from traditionalistic adherence but no less subjective for being different. You, like my Calvinist friends, like to posture your position as inherently better informed or more intellectually honest than the opposite number. I think that's silly. Do not discount the degree to which the atheist subculture is infused with romantic exaltation of the courageous, iconoclastic individualist, passing out rewards for displaying such a persona.

As to special pleading, I think you're again assuming a set of rules that others won't agree to. Don't bait me by saying I'm not striving for objectivity. I'm simply reminding us of the limits of our so-called objectivity and the suspiciousness of any claim to objectivity that arises out of biography.

Now, differently and briefly. We both know that in the history of thought, (Christian) theism has always been challenged but remains resilient. We both know that people make decisions and commitments for a whole host of reasons, many of which are opaque, including to the person who makes the decisions and commitments. My point is twofold: history suggests that Christian theism is controversial but not intellectually irresponsible, and experience suggests that one does well not to trumpet his objectivity.

Am I objective? No, but neither is anyone else. Does that make rationality impossible? No again, just difficult and properly infused with humility. Is it irrational to believe in the Christian God? No, just very controversial. You or I could be wrong. Neither of us is inherently more objective in any way that we could confirm by objective means, however.

To go back to your remark about stamp collecting. First I say thanks for clarifying your nonbelief in the way that I've heard other agno-atheists do so. Second I observe that a-phatelists don't write books telling stamp collectors that their hobby is stupid and that stamps are simply worthless slips of paper if people don't attach value to them. It always makes me wonder why people care so much about something they find irrelevant. I know, I know: it does great harm to the people who believe it. Well, why care about those people?
John W. Loftus said:
I honestly didn’t intend to become your friend and then use it to argue with you. I appreciate getting to know other scholars and I wish you the best.

But don’t get me wrong. I am not a subjectivist nor a postmodern thinker. I do, however, think we can convince ourselves to believe in most anything. Two examples in my own life illustrate this. As a teen I found an interesting book by Frank Edwards on UFO’s. I read it and then several like it. So I became convinced there were UFO’s because what a person reads or experiences shapes what he thinks. Later, having graduated from Great Lakes Christian College, I was a conservative in every respect. But I had not yet studied the Biblical feminist arguments. A graduate from Emmanuel School of Religion presented the case and recommended some books which convinced me of that position even though I was a conservative in every other area. It was because of his influence and the books I first read on the topic that convinced me of that non-conservative position which was inconsistent with everything else I believed.

So while I don’t think subjectivism is the case I do think we are all far less objective then anyone wants to admit. This leads us to skepticism about that which we want to believe and supports Levenson’s comment on what honest critical scholarship entails. To claim he is advocating rebellion is unwarranted. Imagine a scientist in a conference who cannot convince his peers of his findings resorting to that as an explanation for why they reject them. Then you’ll see what I mean. That’s an ad hominem attack which has nothing to do with the evidence or lack of it.

So I’m not claiming you do not strive for objectivity. In fact I’m not claiming anything about you personally since I don’t know what you think. I’m claiming emphatically that we human beings all fail in being objective when there isn’t a mutually agreed upon reliable test to adjudicate our differences. We’re all woefully inadequate at being objective. Dismally inadequate. That's why science is the best antidote to wishful thinking.

Now please don't go off denouncing science, either, which seems to be what believers are forced into doing. You do not doubt the findings of science in a host of areas. Do you want to denounce astronomy, plate tectonics, computer science, mechanics, chemistry, rocket science, etc? No. You accept its results in every single area except in those areas you think the Bible speaks about. So I merely have to ask you once again to defend the double standard you must have to accept your faith. Why do you accept science and even appeal to it except when it comes to what ancient superstitious barbaric people wrote in a pre-scientific age? Have you recently read Judges 19-21? I know that text is a narrative one which merely describes the barbaric actions of people rather than a prescriptive one. But my question is why I should ever listen to anything these ancient barbaric people wrote on morality or God or the universe and its beginnings. These people have no intellectual or moral standing to have any claim to tell me what to think or to do.

I do what I do in order to help others because I care that others don’t waste their education and their lives in pursuing a dead end. I wish someone would’ve told me in my early years. I may have pursued a lucrative career instead. And like Dr. Hector Avalos I say that since I spent so much time studying these things it would be a waste not to share what I eventually learned. If every person who came to the same conclusions I did would walk away and not share what they learned then Christianity would be flourishing (think Kantian Categorical Imperative here). I need no further justification for doing what I’m doing. I’m certainly not an angry person. Who would I be angry at? Are you angry at Allah by arguing against Islam (if you did)?

Cheers
Jan said:
I do not reject science, nor do I accept science in everything except what the Bible says. I don't think it provides "a . . . reliable test to adjudicate our differences" on all matters. The boundaries of science are more intensely debated than the boundaries of India and Pakistan, but there are boundaries nonetheless. Science can't adjudicate every question, and even those questions that it can adjudicate are hardly settled in an instant by applying "science." What you say smacks of logical positivism to me, and I'm certainly done with that, as are others.

Still, I appreciate your words about subjectivity, and your statement that you are not a postmodernist. I am postmodern insofar as I reckon with the reality of subjectivity in every statement, including the scientific. I do not despair of objectivity but I try to be aware of subjectivity.

Thanks also for acknowledging how little you know about what motivates me or exactly what I think. One of these exchanges soon may include less assumptions on that score.

My point (yet again) about your citation of Levenson is that it suggests that those who find against their belief system are somehow more objective than those who don't, while I observe that one can be subjectively motivated by a desire to rebel (anger at daddy? at the nuns in parochial school? at the seventh commandment?) as by true objectivity. But I guess that along the way you've acknowledged the problem of subjectivity, so we can stop bragging about whose objectivity is bigger.

Sharing what you've learned is noble, but why be noble towards others? I suppose you can choose to be so, but why give a rip at all? Is it objective to be sentimental about others' well being?
John W. Loftus said:
You have a way with words! Yes, “The boundaries of science are more intensely debated than the boundaries of India and Pakistan.” But there can be no disputing that methodological naturalism as a method is the defining hallmark of science. So the question is why you yourself apply that same method in every area of your life except when it comes to studying the Bible which forms the basis of your beliefs? I think that is a double standard. Since that method has been so very fruitful in every area you should consider using it to study the Bible too, just like you would use it to study the Koran or the book of Mormon. You assume these books were written by men and not God. Working with that assumption provides some significant insights and better conclusions than the God hypothesis.

In areas where science cannot adjudicate any given question then we should doubt any answer to that question as agnostics. What alternative method do you propose if not? One need not be a logical positivist to do this, which like you I agree is a dead issue.

My point about Levenson is that we should be skeptical of any conclusion that confirms what we believe since we all desire to confirm our prior held beliefs. That we do is a fact. I think what Levenson is saying is a responsible way of doing research even if we are woefully inadequate at doing this. I see no reason from what you’ve written not to seek to do what Levenson wants us to do given the pyschological studies suggesting we all seek a reduction to cognitive dissonance.

Is it objective to be sentimental about others' well being? Sure it is. Think Kantian Categorical Imperative again. Dr. David Eller dispenses once and for all (I think) this whole notion that Christianity provides the basis for objective moral standards anyway, in my edited book The Christian Delusion.
Jan said:
Why should methodological naturalism be applied to areas that are outside the bounds of science? If there is a god, the existence of that god is not a valid object of scientific inquiry, right? Methodological naturalism assumes the point to be proved in that discussion, or at the very least sets what might be an unreasonably high threshold of proof. But that's old stuff.

By the way, I don't think that Christianity is the only way to establish morality. I was just curious as to your desire to share your insights with others. Categorical imperative is fine with me. Just curious.

Of course I understand Levenson's point, and yours. I simply make the contrasting point that a person's objectivity is still very much in question even if he claims to be doing something that runs against his present or prior belief system. Abbie Hoffman wasn't objective as a Yippie because he was born to the upper middle class. An atheist is not objective because he was raised a Christian. My former-atheist colleague is not objective because he is now a devout Christian and biblical scholar. You can't not think about pink elephants if given the task.

By the way, I affirm that Christianity is wishful thinking. I don't think it is merely wishful thinking, or irrationally wishful thinking. There's the mischief.
John W. Loftus said:
Methodological naturalism can be applied to the Bible. Think philology here. James D.G. Dunn argues that it would be flying in the face of overwhelming evidence to argue against the fact that the Pentateuch was written by a lengthy process which has nothing to do with whether there is a God or not. And Raymond Brown argued the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke cannot be reconciled regardless of whether God can inspire the Bible or not.

If there is a God, the existence of that God should indeed be open to scientific investigation. Why not? After all, science starts with the five senses and if by using them we cannot experience God then how else could we know he exists, especially if he demands that we conclude he does. And if we cannot learn that God exists from science (archaeology, history as a science, psychology, investigation of miracles and prophecy) then we can safely ignore him. What kind of intelligent being would demand that we believe and not offer any scientific evidence for his existence? And no, religious experience cannot count for there is no objective scientific evidence that all people have it or that those who do have it come to the same theological conclusions from having it.

And if you affirm that Christianity is wishful thinking, then you of all people should treat your inherited faith with the same level of skepticism as you treat the faiths of others. This expresses my Outsider Test for Faith. If you don't do this then you are once again holding to a double standard.
Jan said:
Your arguments for applying a scientific test to the existence of God don't deal with the obvious way that methodological naturalism excludes the possibility of God. Your rhetoric assumes that science is an obviously superior way of knowing.

If for a variety of reasons, one concludes that theism is likely, and for additional reasons that Christian theism is the most likely (e.g., because of its impressive explanatory power regarding human experience in the world in all dimensions, including the empirical but not limited to it), the question for me is whether such a decision has warrant. I find that it's been proved satisfactorily that it does. In fact, I think it has more warrant than the idea that I must know first, last and only by science, not least when among the things that such a theism can explain is why a human can do science and even the philosophy of science that justifies it.
John W. Loftus said:
You said: "Your rhetoric assumes that science is an obviously superior way of knowing." Yes, that's correct. What's the alternative and how reliable is it given the diversity of religious beliefs around the world? Be honest here. What is the alternative? Now don't get me wrong. I think it's rational to believe. I just think what you believe is not probable at all to say the least. In fact, I'm so sure you're wrong I'm willing to risk Pascal's Wager on it. What I'm unsure of is which view is correct, hence agnosticism.

Nonetheless, if you can be made to believe most anything if exposed to it for a prolonged period of time then your judgment that Christianity has warrant cannot be any more objective than anything else you believe when there is no scientific evidence for it. And so why would you spend your life understanding it, articulating it, or defending it when at best your faith is based on wishful thinking? Strange that.
*Last Update*

Jan said:
Yes, methodological naturalism has its defenders. The defense is old and has proved to be unpersuasive for many. It is also not scientific.

You do seem to allow some nonscientific ways of knowing, like basing ethics on the categorical imperative, which has little to do with science. Science alone counts, except when it doesn't.

Still, whatever. There are no surprises here for me, and probably not for you either. You think you have defeaters for Christian theism. I've heard them before and don't find them persuasive. You were once impressed with arguments for Christian theism but now find them unpersuasive. That's where we started yesterday and where we are today, to no one's surprise.
John said:
Jan, I do allow some nonscientific ways of knowing, yes. It’s just that the scientific method based in methodological naturalism is the surest way to knowledge such that anything lacking that support has less credibility. I think the human sciences can help us know what is right and good too (i.e., smoking is bad; democracy is good, rape is wrong if we want a free society). That’s a digression but I’m sure I could give it a robust defense quite easily. In any case you mischaracterize my position on science. You don’t even try to understand it. I’m philosophically rather than scientifically oriented. I understand the limits of science very well and admitted so earlier (“the boundaries”). I’m not some two-bit atheist thinker who does not understand the issues. But of that I can forgive you since you really haven’t met the likes of me before. You can see for yourself the high praise people on both sides are saying about my book in the link offered below.

BTW the categorical imperative does not apply to all ethical questions. It can’t, and from what I understand Kant himself didn’t think so. Like many thinkers I’m an eclectic on ethics. Some issues are best dealt with by this imperative while others are not. I stand squarely in the happiness tradition of Aristotle. I am a moral realist. Look it up. I think we can know what makes people happy and then claim that since holistic happiness is an end in and of itself therefore the pursuit of it is ethical, moral, good and right.
At this point we discussed personal stuff.

59 comments:

Robin said...

John,

I think there is an element of subjectivity in my belief in God. But I don't think this makes me an agnostic. Right now I'm experiencing an English Standard Bible siting in front of me on my desk. Clearly I'm justified in believing that it exists and I have knowledge that it exists. You on the other hand aren't aware of it's existence and don't have knowledge that it exists. You don't know that it exists.

The same goes with my belif in God. Listen to this:

Now I was suddenly made aware of another world of beauty and mystery such as I had never imagined to exist, except in poetry...I experienced an overwhelming emotion in the presence of nature, especially at evening. It began to wear a kind of sacramental character for me. I approached it with a sense of almost religious awe, and in the hush which comes before sunset, I felt again the presence of an unfathomable mystery. The song of the birds, the shapes of the trees, the colors of the sunset, were so many signs of this presence, which seemed to be drawing me to itself.

Bede Griffiths


Have you ever experienced this before John? I have.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi John,
looks like you caught him.

Until a God does something to differntiate and define itself unambiguously, then there isn't any hope for any religious person to be anything other than agnostic.

There's just as much good evidence for God as Krishna as there is God as Jesus. Both questions depend on whether there is a god or not and whether he's Vishnu or Yahweh.

It all boils down to the quality of information. Personal experience cancels itself out between religions.

How does one show the quality of information is better in one religion than another? I have an idea......Information Science techniques.
;-)

Rob R said...

wow, great discussion.

as for this:

But there can be no disputing that methodological naturalism as a method is the defining hallmark of science.

determinism was also once a hallmark of science.

And the following comments about the double standard don't work. We don't use methodological naturalism in every other area of life. We don't use it in ethics (but lets not confuse evolutionary theories of how morality arises with questions of what is good and theories of resolving disagreements over this).

If one has to approach morality via science, be very afraid of that janitor without a college degree in the sciences, or for that matter, the majority of americans for whom it is not realistic to train to have a "scientific approach" to ethics, whatever that means.

Human worth and value as well is not something that we hold to on the basis of methodological naturalism.

the appreciation of beauty isn't either.

John, I just find it odd that you disregard positivism in one breath and then suggest that we are inconsistent not to apply methodological naturalism everywhere (or did I misread that).

even the assumptions of science itself cannot be supported by methodological naturalism.

Rob R said...

After all, science starts with the five senses and if by using them we cannot experience God then how else could we know he exists, especially if he demands that we conclude he does.

So how do your five senses inform you that humans have worth and should be treated with dignity?

Chuck O'Connor said...

This is a good discussion and a nice model for how one can debate a believer. Thanks John.

My deconversion has taken a twisting and turning road and I have no problem with basing it on a subjective world-view predicated on a certain level of faith.

I've witnessed an increasing level of self-righteousness and rage from avowed Christians toward our current President. Their arguments are rarely supported by reasoned fact and their morality is inconsistently applied to those they find agreeable.

My subjective perspective has led me to the conclusion that those claiming christ as savior do so to insulate themselves from consistent, moral accountability.

I have faith that distancing myself from these hypocrites will provide me an authentic moral philosophy that offers personal accountability and consistency. I also have faith that dismissing truth claims without evidence is a grown up thing to do and can lead to psychological hygiene and emotional sobriety.

So yes, I am a subjective, faith-based fellow. It just doesn't extend to the moral exceptionalism and exclusive truth that sinful christians claim. Their view of humanity seems nothing more than the fear and self-doubt they feel projected onto society as a whole.

Scott said...

Rob wrote: So how do your five senses inform you that humans have worth and should be treated with dignity?

Because we experience a sense of self-worth and desire to be treated with dignity.

We can project that sense and desire onto other fellow human beings. And our five senses inform us that fellow human beings act as if they share the same experiences that we do.

In contrast, we do not assume that plants or rocks experience a sense of self-worth or a desire to be treated with dignity because our senses do not inform us they share the same experience.

Steven said...

After all, science starts with the five senses and if by using them we cannot experience God then how else could we know he exists, especially if he demands that we conclude he does.

So how do your five senses inform you that humans have worth and should be treated with dignity?


Because I have five senses, I can experience the universe around me, and I can see that there are other people that are just like me. These people appear to want the same things and want to be treated in the same way that I want to be treated. Therefore I conclude, from my five senses, and my own sense of self, that I should treat people the same way that I want to be treated, with dignity.

Really Rob, you're going to have to do a lot better than that.

Rob R said...

Scott, steven,

Because we experience a sense of self-worth and desire to be treated with dignity.

Okay, a sense of self worth is not amongst the five senses.

Therefore I conclude, from my five senses, and my own sense of self, that I should treat people the same way that I want to be treated, with dignity.

a sense of self is not amongst the five.

I also question that can see peoples desires. You can interpret the information that you see of what we hold as a physical manifestation of their desires. That goes well beyond the sense of sight. Also, the five senses aren't enough to connect the way you want to be treated with how you treat others. I suppose that'd be grounds for concluding that Helen Keller was a socio-path!

Steven said...

Okay, a sense of self worth is not amongst the five senses.

Come off it Rob, you are totally picking at nits here, and you know it. The mind-body issue is a different subject and your entire response is a ridiculous objection in this context.

Our senses are how we receive information about the world around us, our brains/minds whatever you want to call it interprets that information. And yes, we most certainly can discern the desires of other people by interpreting the sense data we receive from them. Those judgments will not always be 100% correct, but they will often be more right than they are wrong. Nobody is claiming that our perceptions are always 100% accurate, but I submit that they don't need to always be correct to be useful either.

Here's a little experiment for you Rob. Based on my response (in which you have just used at least 1 of your five senses to interpret), make an inference about my opinion of your response. Then think about how you could make that inference if you didn't have any senses at all.

Scott said...

Rob wrote: Okay, a sense of self worth is not amongst the five senses.

I did not say it was. As a reminder, your question was...

So how do your five senses inform you that humans have worth and should be treated with dignity?

Which is exactly what I explained.

The sense of self-worth I experience is reflected in my five senses when I observe others. My senses also tell me that I'm a member of the human species, which shares many other similarities, including physical biology, etc.

Rob wrote: I also question that can see peoples desires.

I question that as well, to some degree. But at what level of granularity are you referring to?

For example, I'd question if I know specific fine details about someone's desires, such as what kind of art they like or what their specific passions they might have in life. In fact, the more specific we become, the more likely we are to be incorrect.

However, there is a significant amount of research that points to a very course grained, finite set of desires that are nearly universal among human beings.

See Manfred Max-Neef, et al. fundamental human needs

Rob R said...

Steven, if you want to be that loosy goosy about it then we have to allow the rationality and reasonability of religion on the basis of the data we get through the five senses and then consequently interpret (data that is interpreted as scripture, the Christian community, etc. then applied to the ).

Scott,

The sense of self-worth I experience is reflected in my five senses when I observe others.

Of course you see self worth reflected in others, and yet, there won't be a scientific explanation of what human self worth looks like.

Kel said...

Everytime I see a subjectivist / cultural relativist / post modernist on the internet talking about the subjective nature of science, another irony meter goes *boom* and I die a little on the inside.

Here we have a device capable of more mathematical calculations than the entire human population combined can do. It works on incredibly well understood physical laws - indeed the transistor was a deliberate invention. Yet despite this triumph of human intellect and reason, people will gladly use the technology while denying the power of the process that made it.


Quantum physicists can measure quantum electrodynamics so accurately that it would be like measuring the width of the united states to within a single human hair. They are able to work out the gravitational effects of small bodies and large, using the understanding of the force to put machines onto other worlds and beyond the farthest planet.

I really don't know how one could live in a house where electricity is supplied, where complex electronic devices are used, where almost every product has been manufactured and shipped for ones convenience - all at the same time as trying to play down the potential of scientific knowledge. We live in a society that is almost completely dependent on scientists understanding nature itself. It takes great cognitive dissonance to deny that science works. Science is about as objective as one can get.

Rob R said...

Everytime I see a subjectivist / cultural relativist / post modernist on the internet talking about the subjective nature of science, another irony meter goes *boom* and I die a little on the inside.

Jan and I are neither. It's not so much the case that there isn't objective knowledge to be had as it is that the line between subjectivity and objectivity is far more blurred than modernists would pretend that it is. And our explanation of how the objective considerations lead to knowledge (including scientific ones) is going to have to make reference to claims that are evaluated on highly subjective grounds.

Read thomas Kuhn and you'll see how subjectivity plays a role in science, how the advancement of modern science is highly affected by our social considerations (a profesor I sat under attributed a comment to him to the effect that scientific advancement sometimes takes place because the older profesors die and retire and younger ones with fresh ideas take their place).

The fate of quantum mechanics is not clear as it contradicts relativity. It may describe and predict events with precision and yet (just as we saw with Newtonian physics) something more precise yet radically different may come along and suplant it. And some of the world's greatest mathematicians and physicists agree with this.

Roger Penrose, cohort of Stephen Hawking, and who probably knows more physics than some university physics departments doesn't believe that the solution to the conflict lay with an alteration of relativity but rather a change in quantum mechanics, contrary to most physicists and string theorists.

And Lee Smolin who founded the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics has stated that string theory has long been held beyond it's usefulness has been done so due to one of those subjective preferences in physics, the search for a beautiful and elegant theory. And he notes that better solutions have been suggested by some younger physicists. Khun no doubt is smiling in the grave.

Kuhn also noted that theories are very resistant to contrary data especially if there is no theory to take it's place. They also involve assumptions that are not questioned on scientific grounds as they often aren't scientifically testable. These theories Khun called paradigms, and while the common view observes that theories are more affected by contrary data, Del Ratzch notes that one key here is to see that theories come in different levels, macro-theories which resemble khunian paradigms and micro-theories which are very easily testable.

Rob R said...

What's the alternative and how reliable is it given the diversity of religious beliefs around the world?

John, I question the equation of a controversiality of a means to truth with it's reliability.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob R,

I commend you for how hard your work to maintain your delusion.

Your rhetorical and argumentative points fail to help me see how the theoretical holes in science and the fuzzy line between objectivity and subjectivity then create the premise that Jesus is Lord or, that he rose from the dead or any of the other exclusive mythology espoused as fact by Christians.

Kel said...

Jan and I are neither. It's not so much the case that there isn't objective knowledge to be had as it is that the line between subjectivity and objectivity is far more blurred than modernists would pretend that it is.
When you look at the frontier of science, then of course you are going to see the very human interpretative nature of reality. It's pushing into the unknown - and while that is still in its infancy there's going to be great disagreement.

But it would be grossly unfair to characterise all of science that way. There's a great difference between say atomic theory, germ theory, theory of special relativity, theory of evolution, theories regarding the conservation of energy and thermodynamics, and so on. The understanding of the behaviour of particles is sufficiently understood on our level well enough to make nanotechnology. Like I said, we each sit on devices capable of billions of calculations per second - and all this comes down to the fact that scientists were able to understand the way nature worked well enough in order to use it.

Consider two simple statements: a) The earth orbits the sun. b) life on this planet evolved. Both of these statements are completely uncontroversial in the scientific arena. Why? Because they both have been well established by observation. Sure, paradigm shifts occasionally do happen but they aren't as significant to the process as made out to be. There was a paradigm shift from Newton to Einstein yet Newton's equations are still used. Why? Because for the speeds we are dealing with when applying the formula, the effect of time dilation is negligible.


My gripe is that the genuine nature of the scientific process is being misused to dismiss what is solid established fact. It's something I've come across a lot, and it's usually done in order to dismiss theories with strong evidential support presumably because those theories conflict with their presupposed beliefs. How many times have you heard evolution is "a theory in crisis"? Or claimed that evolution is unfalsifiable / unscientific? Or that there's the problem of induction? Funniest / saddest criticism I've heard is that "science is literary criticism". Of course those espousing these statements then proceed to then proclaim pseudoscience that is not supported by the evidence (indeed most the time the evidence is against the notions) but they weasel around such things by either attacking the nature of science as a legitimate means of inquiry or that the particular scientific argument they are dismissing doesn't meet the criteria of science.

So forgive me if I'm a little jaded by the whole process and I've unfairly branded Jan as a subjectivist. It's that kind of argument that tends to be a means to dismiss knowledge about our reality through the playing down of the legitimacy of the scientific process as a valid means of inquiry. I apologise if I mischaracterised Jan and / or her argument. It was not my intention.

Steven said...

Rob,

I have to kind of laugh at your response. Of course I accept that the Bible could be considered evidence for the existence of God!

However, in the face of all possible explanations of the fact of the bible's existence, that particular one doesn't strike me as being the simplest nor the most probable. That, apparently, is where we part ways.

And then there's this:
...how the advancement of modern science is highly affected by our social considerations...

Affected? yes, highly affected? no. Frankly, what you're doing here is trying to make mountains out of molehills to avoid the problems of your own position. Scientific progress can and does get slowed down occasionally due to personal fights and politics within scientific communities, but it doesn't stop progress, and it doesn't ultimately stop old ideas from being rejected.

If you can point to any case where a scientific hypothesis was ultimately shutdown forever based only on the sheer will of some individual, then your argument might have some merit, but that doesn't happen, and your quote even confirms it.

Rob R said...

Kel,

My gripe is that the genuine nature of the scientific process is being misused to dismiss what is solid established fact.

I think you are having a different discussion than the one that I am actually providing. I don't dismiss what is "solid established fact". I only point out that what is so established is not without epistemic risk. We are more often than not right to embrace so many of the things established by science because we can have knowledge inspite of the presence of epistemic risk, some of these risks on which science rests cannot be eliminated by science, reason nor experience.

The understanding of the behaviour of particles is sufficiently understood on our level well enough to make nanotechnology.

that's right. it is pragmatic. nothing is more tinged with subjectivity than the idea of what is useful and pragmatic, yeilding to human purposes and intentions. Much objectivity you will find here. Pure unadulterated objectivity? We are very far from it.

There was a paradigm shift from Newton to Einstein yet Newton's equations are still used. Why? Because for the speeds we are dealing with when applying the formula, the effect of time dilation is negligible.

Right, Newton's innaccurate and simply wrong equations in some contexts are just easier and more pragmatic to use in their relatively cruder results than the more accurate relativity (or quantum mechanics, as a physicist has told me, either one can be used). It's just like a geocentric universe. It's easier for NASA scientists to base many of their equations on shooting rockets into space on a stationary earth than more accurate heliocentric ones.

How many times have you heard evolution is "a theory in crisis"? Or claimed that evolution is unfalsifiable / unscientific?

ah yes, the creationists and their misguided love of Popper. Not a doubt in my mind that evolution is science because falsifiability (aka verifiability) is not an absolute necessity of all knowledge including science (though what is science as the history of science has proven is not equivalent with truth). Besides, the results of Popper's claim is that we can never know anything positive about the universe since it is a logical fallacy to generalize from the specific (which is the heart and soul of science. We can only have knowledge of what is false since it only takes one instance to disprove a general claim (which all theories and laws are). Well, to get around this, we only have to bite the bullet and admit that science is not deductively valid and deductive validity doesn't encompas all rational thought. In other words, we have to embrace epistemic risk (as deduction is all about eliminating that risk... albeit deductive logic itself cannot be proven true but only self consistent. It is by the subjective recognition that it is self evident that we hold to it)

Besides that, Popper was wrong about one instance being enough to scientifically discredit paradigms as Khun demonstrated that paradigms frequently persist inspite of contrary data).

It's that kind of argument that tends to be a means to dismiss knowledge about our reality through the playing down of the legitimacy of the scientific process as a valid means of inquiry.

So again, I and Jan are not the ones being dismissive. The dismissiveness is all on the part of those who want to use the fruits of science to narrow the grounds of what passes for justifiable knowledge, when such narrowing often results in the debunking of science itself and many other things that even atheists wouldn't want to debunk such as ethics and human significance (matters where science may be relevent, is nevertheless not determinative). It just seems to me that the ghost of positivism rears it's head though it is dead.

Scott said...

Rob wrote:Of course you see self worth reflected in others, and yet, there won't be a scientific explanation of what human self worth looks like.

I'm unclear as to your point.

I've explained the role my five senses play in determining that human beings, as a whole, have worth and should be treaded with dignity.

Now, if you're questing if concept of value is "real" or somehow an illusion, that's a different question. Should it be an illusion, our five senses indicate, at a minimum, it's reasonable to assume other people are experiencing the same illusion. And our five senses also give us constant and clear feedback that assuming this illusion is true is highly beneficial when we interact with others who share it.

For example, take the classic problem of other minds. It may be that I'm the only one who actually has a mind and everyone else only acts in ways that make it appear they have minds. While this is a possibility, our five senses are constantly affirming that acting as if other people really do have minds is highly beneficial.

Essentially, we're applying the null hypothesis regarding minds in other people.

Should I act as if other people have minds, the benefits are numerous and the positive feedback we receive happens quickly and consistently. You and I are dependent on cooperative accomplishments that could not be achieved unless other people actually have minds. We reap the benefits of this conclusion daily.

Furthermore, should I act if other people do not have minds, and take actions under that assumption, I'm likely to regret it for a multitude of reasons. Attempts to use people for food or as biological machine labor would be met with swift and undesirable consequences. If I assumed people did not have minds, they would act to avoid being exploited in ways I would not expect. I would be punished for my actions by various social and government organizations, etc. Again, feedback to this effect would appear immediately or within a short timeframe.

However, when we apply the null hypothesis when it comes to God having a mind, we run into similar problems with the hypothesis that God is a designer. Regardless if we act as if the Christian God has or does not have a mind, our five senses do not provide us any feedback affirming or denying ether position.

For example, those who assume God does have a mind, and pray to him in hope that he would act in their favor, see the same feedback as those who assume God does not have a mind, and therefore do not pray. Nor could God's mind be of the same kind of "mind" that we do observe as, at a minimum, it's strongly influenced by a material brain, which can be physicality stimulated to cause specific experiences.

Unlike human beings, God has evolved to the point where we cannot receive feedback of him having a mind with our five senses. This is by design.

Kel said...

Right, Newton's innaccurate and simply wrong equations in some contexts are just easier and more pragmatic to use in their relatively cruder results than the more accurate relativity
Simply wrong? Sorry but that's nonsense. Use the equations before being dismissive - his equations work. They don't work at speeds approaching the speed of light, but we aren't neutrinos now are we? ;)


o again, I and Jan are not the ones being dismissive. The dismissiveness is all on the part of those who want to use the fruits of science to narrow the grounds of what passes for justifiable knowledge, when such narrowing often results in the debunking of science itself and many other things that even atheists wouldn't want to debunk such as ethics and human significance (matters where science may be relevent, is nevertheless not determinative).
I see two issues here, firstly the claim that the scientific method is grounds for justifiable knowledge. I think it is, and I would argue that anyone who doesn't should get off their computer. Or use cars. Or live in a society with electricity. etc.

The second is what else constitutes justifiable knowledge. Would we count ethical knowledge as something beyond the realms of science? I would contend that yes we would. Ethics is its own system, and while science can explain (very well) how we came to be moral beings and how certain principles work on humanity (i.e. if you make it unethical to have premarital sex, then the scientific method can measure how that plays out on individuals and on a population size) it doesn't tell us how we ought to behave. So ethics is a valid field of inquiry. Philosophy is a valid field of inquiry. History is a valid field of inquiry, art, and so on.

But I would contend that what ethics covers as a field of inquiry and what science covers are different. It doesn't follow that because ethics is a valid means of describing how we ought to behave that it can be used to tell us about how it is we behave. What I'm getting at is that other means of inquiry have their own areas they can cover.

It seems quite obvious to say that science can't explain everything, but when it comes to explaining the nature of reality, what other tools are legitimate sources of inquiry? Whether or not something exists as a part of this universe, then surely science has a say about it, or at the very least the notion of empirical inquiry and measurement of a phenomenon. The argument it seems goes one direction into the more abstract (when dealing with topics such as love or morality) then used to justify not giving evidence to support conjectures in the other - about the fundamental nature of reality itself. That is to say that the notion of art is used to show science doesn't have ultimate domain to legitimate means of inquiry just so it can be posited that God was the breaker of supersymmetry and the forger of the first protocell.

Rob R said...

Steve,

I have to kind of laugh at your response. Of course I accept that the Bible could be considered evidence for the existence of God!

And really it isn't unless you want to make all our interpretations the product of the five senses. You can laugh. I'm just drawing out the implications of statements made by you fellas.


Affected? yes, highly affected? no.


Steve, I don't think you realize just how community dependent, how trust dependent science is.

Frankly, what you're doing here is trying to make mountains out of molehills to avoid the problems of your own position.

no steve, I'm pointing out how the scalable foothills of science (many of which are held in common with religion) turn into unscalable mountains when they narrow the definition of what is reasonable and what is knowable.

Scientific progress can and does get slowed down occasionally due to personal fights and politics within scientific communities, but it doesn't stop progress, and it doesn't ultimately stop old ideas from being rejected.

Which is not far from the case with Christian scholarship as any honest church historian can tell, God has never quit teaching the church and implications from scripture have been continually drawn out to this day (even utilizing the tools of science and historical studies).

Rob R said...

Post more John. Isn't there more? To bad if there isn't.


Further thoughts on what was said, would Jan agree that at best Christianity is based on wishful thinking. If there's one thing I've been trying to show here and in other threads, so many of the differences between religious thought are not in terms of kind, but degree, and this is definitely one of them. One of the huge reasons that science isn't just some hobby that people can afford to not take seriously is it's potential for technology. If technology and it's pursuit isn't wishful thinking, I don't know what is. Some might reject that science is a proven satisfier of wisheful thinking given the technology that has come. But Christianity has also been shown to be a vindicator of that wishful thinking in it's power to change individual lives and reform societies (course we have those atheists who want to be blind in the face of the changes brought about by Wesley in 18th century england or due to the Christian community in apartheid south Africa, or that church who held the vigil outside the Berlin wall that ignited the event of tearing it down). And while we have unverifiable claims that are still objects of wishful thinking primarily our eschatological claims of a world put to rights and the resurrection of the dead, The secular humanists also have such visions of wishful thinking in their expectation of science and technology to fix the world's problems and bring about a peaceful world.

Course, an atheist doesn't need wishful thinking as a part of their view, but get rid of it, and it would be the same result as the claim that atheism cannot support authentic ethical thinking. Most humans would recognize that in such a case, the view would have no value and worth.

Wishful thinking of course has another name: Hope. And without hope, we have nothing to live for.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2


Kel, the downside of the moderation is that I sometimes miss posts. anyway:

I see two issues here, firstly the claim that the scientific method is grounds for justifiable knowledge. I think it is, and I would argue that anyone who doesn't should get off their computer. Or use cars. Or live in a society with electricity. etc.

Yes, My point is precisely that. Inspite of the epistemic risks of science, we can have knowledge.

But it remains a valid issue as to just what knowledge is established. It would seem to me that as your example shows, our knowledge primarily comes in terms of our ability to manipulate nature, not at the level of understnding the universe in and of itself as our two most precise theories so far are contradictory, and even if they weren't, experience has demonstrated that just as we think we've unlocked the key to explaining the universe, a more precise measurement is taken, or one at a significantly different magnitude, and extrapolation which is at the heart of science fails to give us the results.

In light of that contradiction between quantum mechanics and relativity, we don't know which (if either) is reality revealing and which is only relatively superficially accurate.

But yes, generally speaking, I know that if I push some buttons on a microwave, it will warm up the left overs.

The second is what else constitutes justifiable knowledge. Would we count ethical knowledge as something beyond the realms of science? I would contend that yes we would.

And we'd agree here and we'd have to note that in one of the most important areas of human experience, the human experience of knowledge, is not something that John Loftus could describe as "reliable" since there is much disagreement on ethics, not just between cultures but within cultures and even within traditions. Even the atheistic preference for making the golden rule central adds a subjectivity that is ripe for disagreement. If the presence of controversy means the absence of reliability, then John has just wiped out the atheistic basis for morality, and for the majority of humans, that is rightfully an indicator of the ineptitude of atheism.

Ethics is its own system,

It's more than just one system.

It doesn't follow that because ethics is a valid means of describing how we ought to behave that it can be used to tell us about how it is we behave.

Actually, if someone behaves ethically, I'd say that his ethics is precisely telling us how he behaves.

While I agree that science is categorically inept at some questions, yet the boundaries of these things do overlap. As John noted, science can tell us that smoking is bad, but only when it's already in a framework that tells us that human life is worth livin

Rob R said...

post 2 of 2

I think the split in my post came in an awkward place.

here's the rest:


that tells us that human life is worth living and preserving, and science cannot speak to what has worth and value. But nevertheless, you do have an intertwining of the two, one which tricks people into thinking that science itself can establish ethics.

But when I was studying the relationship of science and the nature of time (as I am a presentist and I deny eternalism that many people think is necessitated by relativity) I learned of a phrase that is often used about these considerations. In metaphysics, science underdetermines these things. It doesn't settle these questions, but it affects the answers even when the potential answers are polar opposites.

It seems quite obvious to say that science can't explain everything, but when it comes to explaining the nature of reality, what other tools are legitimate sources of inquiry?

So would you say that ethics aren't an aspect of reality? I'd say that'd be synonymous with saying that the conclusions of ethics are just false.

But as to what other means outside of science there are, where should I start besides ethics. There are so many other questions about reality that science is absolutely inept at dealing with such as metaphysical questions. Science is only part of the picture and some of the tools of science can be applied in non-scientific. Those tools are logic and experience, but while science only utilizes some types of experience, the "objective" sort, the subjective experience is arguably a path to truth (and if subjectivity cannot be trusted then so much for science since our experience of objectivity is second hand information through subjective experience0. Emotions are very relevent, they are an irreducible part of the ethical question (and even John Loftus has recently posted that emotions are an important part of our reasoning).

And we can't just deal with these issues on the individual level. Individuals are inept arriving at much knowledge by themselves. We REALLY take for granted just how big of a role the community plays in advancing our knowledge (this is especially true in science) since as individuals, we cannot personally verify everything that we'd like to claim to know.

Whether or not something exists as a part of this universe, then surely science has a say about it,

Oh yes definitely something to say, but often not always the concluding remarks.

The argument it seems goes one direction into the more abstract (when dealing with topics such as love or morality) then used to justify not giving evidence to support conjectures in the other - about the fundamental nature of reality itself.

Who does that? Not me, and certainly not the vast majority of theologians out there.

That is to say that the notion of art is used to show science doesn't have ultimate domain to legitimate means of inquiry

The interpretation of art almost always involves interaction with evidence, be that the work's place in the history of art, it's place in the artist's body of work, the methodology in the creation, obviously the appearance of the art, and of course of essential importance, the evidence from the subjective experience of the art.

Rob R said...

Scott, if there is little difference between acting as if there were a God and acting as if there were no God, then atheism and Theism are on equivalent grounds according to your null hypothesis!

Rob R said...

Assuming I understand this null hypothesis claim from the context of Scott's discussion, I would add that this doesn't work against just any take on solipsism. If one's version of solipsism requires that he "play the game" to "live" competently within experience then there would be no difference between acting like there are other minds and not acting like there are other minds.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob R,

Who should I trust as the "Godly" ones, Wesley or the church leaders who persecuted him?

Aparthaid was established by D.F. Malan an ordained Christian minister in the Dutch Reform Christian Church.

I love how Christians love to selectively embrace the Christians that agree with them but ignore the Christian influences they find distasteful.

Rob R said...

Chuck, if you want to serve and worship humans, go ahead. Christianity is first trusting God and then recognizing that humans have got problems. Jesus told us that even people who'd claim to follow him would be distorting things.

If you refuse to understand that teachings can be distorted and ignored, then these things will never be understandable to you, and then why would your criticism amount to anything?

Scott said...

Rob wrote: if there is little difference between acting as if there were a God and acting as if there were no God, then atheism and Theism are on equivalent grounds according to your null hypothesis!

Rob, I did not say that actions we might take would have no results or were equal in every way. I said that the feedback our five senses receive does not confirm that God exists.

For example, praying that God might heal a loved one could be seen as a sincere expression of concern and affection. If one thinks God exists, is all powerful and designed human beings in the first place, then they would be invoking the most capable means to heal which they know of. If we see God as a kind of language in which people speak about things of most importance, this would convey a profound and sincere expression. However, this does not mean that the result of said prayer will actually "vindicate" their belief in God and his supposed abilities.

As a non-theist, should I happen to know a specialist who is an expert on the affliction at hand, I might ask them to treat the individual on my behalf. This too could be seen as a profound gesture as I'd be invoking the most capable means I know of.

Rob R said...

Rob, I did not say that actions we might take would have no results or were equal in every way. I said that the feedback our five senses receive does not confirm that God exists.

And that just doesn't amount to anything. What we get from our five senses has to be interpreted and those interpretational faculties extend massively beyond the five senses. You choose not to interpret what you see as evidence of God, I choose otherwise.

For example, praying that God might heal a loved one could be seen as a sincere expression of concern and affection.

yes, and there are people who see radical effects from that. drop the individualistic epistemology and this becomes a reasonable claim.

If one thinks God exists, is all powerful and designed human beings in the first place, then they would be invoking the most capable means to heal which they know of.

If one doesn't just work with bare definitions but pays attention to the Christian narrative, they'd realize that the world in which all ailments are healed and prevented and God's glory is obvious to any pair of eyes has not yet fully arrived.

Scott said...

Rob wrote: I would add that this doesn't work against just any take on solipsism. If one's version of solipsism requires that he "play the game" to "live" competently within experience then there would be no difference between acting like there are other minds and not acting like there are other minds.

The classic problem of other people's minds actually hinges on the fact that, despite appearing to act as if they have minds, they might actually be robots that have been programmed to perfectly emulate a person who *did* have a mind. Unless I could go beyond my five senses and experience their mind / thoughts to confirm what my senses tell me, I'd have no way to tell the difference. Currently, I can't directly experience the mind of another person.

Despite this possibility, we receive overwhelming input that other people appear to have minds. Not only does this include external behavior that we can see, but we can also observe people thinking about other people's minds using brain imaging techniques. We can also influence this region of the brain to influence moral judgments as they are interrelated.

TED Talk: How brains make moral judgemnets

While, there might be a group of actions I would take regardless if I thought other people were perfect robots or actually had minds, my response would not always be the same. Should I think people had minds, I'd treat them differently in specific ways. And I'd do so based on the assumption that we shared experiences and desires that were very similar.

But, when it comes to God, we do not receive overwhelming input that suggests a mind is present. Instead, people have created an elaborate account for how God might have a mind in the absence of such feedback.

Rob R said...

The classic problem of other people's minds actually hinges on the fact that, despite appearing to act as if they have minds

The classic problem of other peoples minds, of an external reality is based on the most consistent insistence of just sticking to the empirical facts. We (or I actually should say "I" since this line of thinking leaves no room for the "we") have no direct contact with anything but experience itself. Thus accordingly, there is no evidence of an external world beyond experience.

The idea that other people are actually robots is not the suggestion here. There is no mechanism suggested as none could be directly determined. A mechanism could be suggested, but it is completely unnecessary to solipsism.

Despite this possibility, we receive overwhelming input that other people appear to have minds.

Right. But there's no way to test that appearance as reliable as any test and any result has the same quality, that it comes through our experience and we don't have direct access otherwise.

But, when it comes to God, we do not receive overwhelming input that suggests a mind is present.

I don't receive any input that there are people who exist and populate the third largest town/city of Madagascar. Definitely not overwhelming input, and yet, there isn't a doubt in my mind that such a place populated by such people exists. Also we have no sensory input of historical figures. But some part of the community of humanity has and that's good enough for me.

The community of God's people have indeed had vivid interaction with God as is recorded in scripture, but all individuals can have a subjective experience of God and can see God at work in the narrative of their lives should they passionately pursue God (and even some who don't will experience this as well).

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob R.

Can I then be confident that my Christianity and belief in the divine was a symptom of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and depression and now that I have sought out medical treatment for both I no longer need to rely on divine rescue?

Because that subjective personal experience is a large driver of my deconversion and denial of superstitious theology (much of which only worked to keep me sick - I was depressed because of course that was God's will for me even when that illness led to suicidal ideation and crisis).

Chuck O'Connor said...

Rob R,

You said "Chuck, if you want to serve and worship humans, go ahead. Christianity is first trusting God and then recognizing that humans have got problems. Jesus told us that even people who'd claim to follow him would be distorting things.

If you refuse to understand that teachings can be distorted and ignored, then these things will never be understandable to you, and then why would your criticism amount to anything?"

And yes, your morally exceptional worldview based on presupposed myth which obstructs necessary scientific advances (stem-cell research); civil-rights (equal protection and due process under marriage law for homosexuals); and science based sex education inspire me to interpret your very human assertions to "god's truth" as nothing more than backward and dangerous superstition.

Steven said...

Right. But there's no way to test that appearance as reliable as any test and any result has the same quality, that it comes through our experience and we don't have direct access otherwise.

Sigh. Rob, I had a feeling it was going to come down to this, you've been arguing in this direction the whole time. Yes, it is in fact impossible to tell if the real world really exists or if we are really just brains in vats. Of what use is this discovery? What insights does it really give us beyond the realization that a great deal of our knowledge is a lot more uncertain than we would like to think? This isn't a mind shattering realization to anyone here.

You appear to be on a road to a mysticism that doesn't give you any reason to believe anything. That's fine, but you aren't going to convince anyone here that you presenting anything holding great insight.

I don't receive any input that there are people who exist and populate the third largest town/city of Madagascar.

Yes, you do. You can get it from television, from pictures, from reading the newspaper, as well as other places. If you didn't receive any input at all, you would not have even heard of Madagascar, let alone any of the cities or towns that might be there. Now you can argue that that isn't direct evidence, but in light of your previous statement, the difference is irrelevant. However, since you do admit this is evidence, you can assign some reasonable probabilities for certainty here.

You can say that you know people, the people in Madagascar, seem to look and behave in the same way you and the people around you do. Madagascar doesn't appear to be someplace completely foreign where the laws of physics are different, etc. In other words, it looks like a real place that you could visit, and not "gum drop island" with rainbows and unicorns.

Now, the important part, you have to gauge whether or not the input you've been provided with is real or has been faked. We can go down that road too if you like, but it comes down to the same thing. You can make a strong inference that the evidence that you've been provided with for the existence of people in Madagascar is good (or at least reasonably believable) because you've been given similar evidence in the past that has also been proven to be reliable. That doesn't mean that pictures or newspaper stories can't be faked, but you now have to come up with a reason to suspect that such things have been faked.

Rob R said...

Steven, my comment was to scott. If you didn't read what scott said (and of course in the context of a remark I made against a claim that John Loftus made), you wouldn't know why I brought up these points.

John questioned why we should believe in God if we can't experience him with our five senses. Well one could make a parallel claim about external reality itself to begin with since there is no direct access to it.

Yes, you do. You can get it from television, from pictures, from reading the newspaper, as well as other places.

No I don't. I have never heard of the place, don't know what it's called and I never watch tv about madagascar to begin with and even if I did, it most likely would not be about the third largest town. And if it was, then there is always the fifth smallest village in Mongolia.

However, since you do admit this is evidence, you can assign some reasonable probabilities for certainty here.

I don't need to put any effort at all into assigning 100 percent into the idea there is a third largest town. And while I fully recognize that the epistemic risk of belief in God is not equivalent to belief in the third largest town in madagascar, that doesn't make a difference to my point. I wasn't making an analogy between belief in God and belief in the third largest town in Madagascar and I wasn't even arguing for the existence of God in that instance. I was highlighting the inadequacy of a claim made by John Loftus that Scott attempted to develop for it's defense.

You appear to be on a road to a mysticism that doesn't give you any reason to believe anything.

On the contrary steven, I am taking a stand against a claim that has no strength against mysticism or solipsism when it tries to narrow the limits of reasonable knowledge too much.

Rob R said...

Chuck

Can I then be confident that my Christianity and belief in the divine was a symptom of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and depression and now that I have sought out medical treatment for both I no longer need to rely on divine rescue?


I don't know your story chuck. for all I know, perhaps you can. Yes people have had hopelessly distorted view of God and need a fresh start. I don't know that you are better off then or now, but if want nothing to do with God, you definitely aren't in a good place.

Scott said...

Rob wrote: And that just doesn't amount to anything. What we get from our five senses has to be interpreted and those interpretational faculties extend massively beyond the five senses. You choose not to interpret what you see as evidence of God, I choose otherwise.

One could also choose to interpret their five senses as evidence that powerful aliens exist and they are using advanced technology to manipulate us and the universe we live in. Does this amount to something?

yes, and there are people who see radical effects from that. drop the individualistic epistemology and this becomes a reasonable claim.

But people can see radical effects from other kinds of sincere expressions of concern and affection. The effects do not specifically point to God any more than they point to aliens that intervene on our behalf or to advance their own mysterious agenda or placebo.

If one doesn't just work with bare definitions but pays attention to the Christian narrative, they'd realize that the world in which all ailments are healed and prevented and God's glory is obvious to any pair of eyes has not yet fully arrived.

Regardless if God is waiting until some time in the future or that he does not exist, the outcomes we currently observe point to random chance just as much as they point to God.

Scott said...

The idea that other people are actually robots is not the suggestion here. There is no mechanism suggested as none could be directly determined. A mechanism could be suggested, but it is completely unnecessary to solipsism.

This is not the classic problem of other people's minds, but the problem that we could be brains in a vat. But, should this be true, we might as well throw up our hands as there would be no way to tell what's reality and what's not. Furthermore, we'd have to account for why all of the things we do experience with our five senses seem to add up in a consistent way. And why our experiences seem to correlate with all of those people who appear to have minds. Should we reject all of this, then we have absolutely nothing. All bets are off. This is NOT the kind of skepticism i'm suggesting.

Right. But there's no way to test that appearance as reliable as any test and any result has the same quality, that it comes through our experience and we don't have direct access otherwise.

If we have no way to test this then we have no way to test anything at all. To say that such a test is equal is to say one is justified in walking rush hour traffic as the experience of being hit and possibly killed by a car might be an illusion.

I don't receive any input that there are people who exist and populate the third largest town/city of Madagascar. Definitely not overwhelming input, and yet, there isn't a doubt in my mind that such a place populated by such people exists.

The problem of other people's minds is regarding…. people. So, based on the overwhelming input you receive about people in your immediate vicinity, it's a reasonable conclusion to think that, should there be people in Madagascar, they would also have minds. They are the same "class" of being.

We can say the same thing about historical figures to a limited degree. Unless human beings have changed dramatically, and there is some kind of historical conspiracy which has falsified documents and artifacts which only appear to be the result of people with minds (and all of their quirks), then it's reasonable to conclude that people in the relatively recent past had minds.

The community of God's people have indeed had vivid interaction with God as is recorded in scripture, but all individuals can have a subjective experience of God and can see God at work in the narrative of their lives should they passionately pursue God (and even some who don't will experience this as well).

Human beings have had "vivid" interaction with gods as far as recorded human history. What of all the other miracles, virgin births and resurrections? Why did this interaction become essentially nonexistent when our ability to record and document our world improved exponentially?If God actually interacts with us, should we not see such interaction also rise exponentially?

And, again, I could easily substitute advanced aliens in place of God, directing evolution, interacting and studying us.

Kel said...

Rob R,

Sorry for the delay, life happens and I forgot to check back to see whether you replied until now. Moderation does suck, but I can understand why Loftus does so. If you want, we can continue this discussion over at my blog Kelosophy - though I understand if you decline. Thanks for putting in the effort to discuss this with me, I truly appreciate it.

But getting back into it...

In light of that contradiction between quantum mechanics and relativity, we don't know which (if either) is reality revealing and which is only relatively superficially accurate.
I can understand the point you are trying to make, though it seems to be against the spirit of what I'm trying to say. Yes, there is a seemingly irreconcilability between quantum mechanics and relativity. Theories are tentative and are subject to change. What is not under question though are the facts themselves. The problem comes from our inadequacy to resolve observations with the theories.

I don't see this as a problem for the scientific method at all. There's no problem with saying "I don't know", it gives the opportunity to discover new things and push the knowledge further. It's not a problem with the methodology, it's a feature and one reason why the method is so successful.

And we'd agree here and we'd have to note that in one of the most important areas of human experience, the human experience of knowledge, is not something that John Loftus could describe as "reliable" since there is much disagreement on ethics, not just between cultures but within cultures and even within traditions. Even the atheistic preference for making the golden rule central adds a subjectivity that is ripe for disagreement. If the presence of controversy means the absence of reliability, then John has just wiped out the atheistic basis for morality, and for the majority of humans, that is rightfully an indicator of the ineptitude of atheism.
I disagree with this for two reasons. Firstly the golden rule can be born out of game theory, the notion of reciprocal altruism is a very stable survival strategy and seen in other animals. We should expect the golden rule to form a part of all ethical systems and all cultures.

Secondly, there's much about our moral system that is both universal and innate. This can be explained by evolution. Only problem is that the traits work well for groups of 150 or so, but aren't equipped for handling large societies and hence the need for law as a means of control.

As for what theism does any better than atheism I don't know. If one needs God for morality, then it should be that only Christians have any sense of morality. If one needs gods in general, then it's a concession that there is no need for gods, only the belief in gods. It's not an argument against atheism, it's an argument against an atheist society. Two very different things.

Anyway, I'd like to hear how theism can explain what atheism can't. The process of life itself lends itself to particular survival strategies involving cooperation, so that to me is enough to give an externalised standard. Too much murder? Population decline. Too much lying? No capacity for keeping society together. Too much adultery? Raising children becomes a lot harder. A lot of our morality falls out of the pure virtue of being alive and being big brained social primates. This seems a good bottom-up explanation for objective standards of morality, as opposed to wondering if what is good is the arbitrary rules of an amoral higher power or the desire to be like a higher power that embodies the objective quality of good external to such a being.

(to be continued)

Kel said...

(continued)

Actually, if someone behaves ethically, I'd say that his ethics is precisely telling us how he behaves.
I would argue that to measure how someone behaves under an ethical system is a scientific question.

As John noted, science can tell us that smoking is bad, but only when it's already in a framework that tells us that human life is worth living and preserving, and science cannot speak to what has worth and value.
Agreed, science cannot tell us that. Science can, however, tell us how we've been wired to find life itself valuable. Beyond all else, if I'm wired to find value and meaning in existence, is an atheist existence really going to be nihilistic for me?

So would you say that ethics aren't an aspect of reality? I'd say that'd be synonymous with saying that the conclusions of ethics are just false.
Ethics is an aspect of our reality. But I want to clarify this point as regards to what I meant, it seems I poorly communicated what I was trying to say. Consider history. While it's not science, it doesn't mean that it's not part of our reality or that we can learn nothing. At the same time, when doing history we need to conform what is found to the findings of science. We don't believe in staves turning into snakes, because we know that to be scientifically impossible (or so improbable that it is effectively impossible). Art would also be covered in such a discipline. It could tell us a lot about ourselves, but ultimately how the grey matters perceives art is a scientific endeavour.

What I was trying to get at with my comment about reality was the question of whether things exist. Science may not be able to answer how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but it is the only discipline that's even remotely capable of showing whether angels exist. Philosophers can wax about the mind / body problem but really any take on consciousness must ultimately adhere to the findings of neuroscience. Just as any philosophy on the nature of man needs to take into account evolution and ethology.

And we can't just deal with these issues on the individual level. Individuals are inept arriving at much knowledge by themselves. We REALLY take for granted just how big of a role the community plays in advancing our knowledge (this is especially true in science) since as individuals, we cannot personally verify everything that we'd like to claim to know.
Indeed, there ultimately has to be a level of trust. I haven't done the experiments at the particle accelerators, or checked the stratum under which a fossil was said to be uncovered. Yet I rely on the process because ultimately I can see that the process works. Again, it is a feature of the scientific method that it is community based. It's not an appeal to authority, rather the process is made objective as humanly possible by having anonymous peer review and millions around the world to try to prove you wrong. But it's not faith, the results are there for all to see. Even without reading the primary literature or secondary literature, the practical output demonstrates the validity of the process. If science lived or died on the workings of an individual, the sheer scope of what the process handles means we wouldn't get anyway.

Who does that? Not me, and certainly not the vast majority of theologians out there.
This is the most common argument I see from theists, regardless of theological background when the issue of other ways of knowing comes up. It's what I've experienced, it's all I can base my experience off. If you don't adhere to such arguments, then please don't take offence. I'm eager to understand how others view this supposed "different ways of knowing". Because from what I read, from what others tell me, I get the distinct impression that personal revelation is somehow a legitimate source of knowledge. And the only justification I've seen is akin to whether one knows they are in love or not. If there's better arguments, please point me in the right direction.

Rob R said...

Scott, you are right about the interpretation of the five senses and aliens and replacing God with evolution directed by aliens. But it remains to be seen as to whether it is a good interpretation and dealing with the issue at the general level doesn't get to it. Secondly, This alien view is about equivalent with atheism on existential issues of the meaning of life, intrinsic worth.

To say that such a test is equal is to say one is justified in walking rush hour traffic as the experience of being hit and possibly killed by a car might be an illusion.

If I were to grant your claim, then that'd be fine with me if you find this problematic because this is the picture you still allow (unintentionaly) by insisting that knowledge must always be directly linked to the five senses.

But Pain and suffering is very much a part of the illusion, and that there is no knowable external reality behind it doesn't mean that it is desirable to be careless with choices in the dream. (of course this is granting that there is a unified subject/mind which receives the experiences (but that is an issue that just starts to go over my head)).

Regardless if God is waiting until some time in the future or that he does not exist, the outcomes we currently observe point to random chance just as much as they point to God.

I don't interpret my observations that way.

If we have no way to test this then we have no way to test anything at all.

Actually we do have some tests. If there is no external reality, then the meaning of life would be drastically different and individual worth of people would be nil (since they are not real). Those are examples existential considerations which I believe deserve a much more prominent role in epistemology.

The problem of other people's minds is regarding…. people.

Okay, it's not exactly what I said it is, but it is a parallel and for the solipsist and/or the radical skeptic, the arguments against the existance of other minds can be asserted in tandem with arguments against the knowability of an external reality.

Scott said...

Rob wrote: But it remains to be seen as to whether it is a good interpretation and dealing with the issue at the general level doesn't get to it.

Rob, I'm not advocating this view. I'm merely noting that the very same thing we observe could be explained by non-supernatural beings that are much more advanced than we are.

Secondly, This alien view is about equivalent with atheism on existential issues of the meaning of life, intrinsic worth.

It seems the only difference here is that you assert God is the very essence of goodness. It is only because of this assertion that God cannot arbitrary give commands and his actions are alway good. But what is this based on?

C.S. Lewis said... "But it might be permissible to lay down two negations: that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. [But since only God admits of no contingency, we must say that] God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.

These may seem like fine-spun speculations: yet I believe that nothing short of this can save us. A Christianity which does not see moral and religious experience converging to meet at infinity … has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship."


When presented with the Euthyphro Dilemma, it's an assertion you must make to save the Christian God.

Otherwise, we have intelligent agents intentionally creating us with a purpose, and interacting with us because we have value to them. These aliens could have existed for millions of years longer than us. They could have a far greater understanding of the results of their actions and how they effect others. And they might know far more than we do about the nature of consciousness and how their decisions are influenced. Therefore, they might have evolved a far greater sense of morality which "transcends" our own.

Scott said...

by insisting that knowledge must always be directly linked to the five senses.

Rob,

It's not that knowledge is linked directly to our five senses - knowledge is at the intersection of our five senses. It's influenced and molded by our five senses. It exists in the light of our five senses and cannot be isolated.

We can have sensory input from a multitude of external things, but this is not knowledge. Knowledge is more than the sum of our senses.

Let's take the idea that God reveals things to people, such as the Golden Rule. Should it be the case that you think God revealed the precept to treat others as you'd like to be treated, is this knowledge? We can break this down to…

- Treating others as you'd like to be treated is good.
- God told you that it is good
- God wants you to do what is good.
- God is the very essence of goodness

This implies…

- God like beings can exist
- God like beings do exist
- Only one God like being exists
- God is a personal being and an active agent in our daily affairs
- God is capable of personally revealing things to people
- God actually reveals things to people
- He does this despite the fact that he does not speak or actual reveal himself directly.
- You had an experience where God revealed something to you
- One of the things God revealed to you was the Golden Rule.
- The God that revealed this to you was the Christian God, Yahweh.

Where does any of this interest with our fives senses? In a wide variety of ways. In fact, most of the concepts above comes from our five senses. The very idea of a personal being is derived from having personal relationships with people, which we experience with our five senses. The wind can effect us yet be invisible, etc.

The idea that God is an agent is based on our five senses detecting agents that are external to us and the changes they cause. The idea that God is an designer is based on our five senses detecting designers and the things they design.

But, despite our five sense telling us that God, should he exist, would not like any fathers we know and not like any agents we know and not like any designers we know, God is supposedly all of these things. He's made up of fragments of what our five senses detect.

One might say that the Golden Rule is beneficial because, when applied, we can see the benefits with out five senses. But to the idea that God told us so cannot exist in isolation from our five senses, which tells us this concept is not unique to Christianity or even theism. In fact, our five senses tell us that other people think different Gods tell them different things via this same process of revelation. Again, our internal experiences intersect with our senses in a way that is unavoidable, unless you choose to intentionally ignore them.

It seems the best you can do is say the Golden Rule is beneficial, because we can observe it's beneficial.

Of course, if one starts with the assertion that God is good, then this might lead one to link these two together, but this is based on unsupported assumptions. Instead, this is theological conclusion one reached when you start with the assertion that God exists, is all powerful, all knowing, personal and is the essence of goodness.

Scott said...

I don't interpret my observations that way.

Should one start with the assertion that God is evil, then one could associate all of the evil things we observe God. When faced with "the problem of goodness", one could say all of the good things are necessary as part of this evil God's plan. For example, if we had never experienced good, we wouldn't know what we're missing. Therefore, suffering evil without knowing good does not result in the depth of suffering that God wanted.

If there is no external reality, then the meaning of life would be drastically different and individual worth of people would be nil (since they are not real).

If there is no external reality, then we're talking about a single individual, instead of many individuals. The value of an individual does not necessarily change just because there would be fewer of them.

Rob R said...

Kel



I don't see this as a problem for the scientific method at all.


excellent. neither do I because I know the limits and I know the folly of trying to make it the center of an epistemology important though as it is.

There's no problem with saying "I don't know",

right on and there is definitely a problem with saying "we can't know because we can't confirm it with the scientific method or our five senses or a non-controversial means to truth."

atheists make problems when they try to go down any of these roads.

Fact is, if non-controversial means reliable and controversial means unreliable, then we can't know anything period because epistemology itself and the philosophy of science are very controversial fields amongst those who specialize in them. Even what constitutes truth is controversial.

We should expect the golden rule to form a part of all ethical systems and all cultures.

So that's why slavery and the caste system and racism were so rare... wait a minute. actually they weren't.

Secondly, there's much about our moral system that is both universal and innate.

Well, it's interesting you say that. I've always wondered why we have such rampant world peace, political harmony, and legal systems even though no one ever sues anyone and there is no criminal behaviour.

I'll grant that much is virtually universal, but then should we give up on the issues that aren't?

Only problem is...

that only problem is enough to illustrate my point that we don't have non-controversial means of determining ethical behavior or at least if some ideas are almost non-controversial such as the golden rule, the application is still tinged with subjectivity leaving much room for what is in fact much debate and arguing over ethical issues.

As for what theism does any better than atheism I don't know.

Which is out of the immeadiate scope of the point I was making in this discussion that I instigated by reacting to a comment John made.

But I grant that theism isn't better here. Theistic means towards ethics are controversial. Atheists do not agree with much of it. That's just an extension of my point. it doesn't hurt my position any because I believe that there are reliable means to truth that are not universially recognized.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 4




If one needs God for morality, then it should be that only Christians have any sense of morality.

And even if this were the discussion we were having, that has not been my approach. I don't deny that atheists can act morally or have an ethical system. I just think that a transcendent aspect of reality, particularly spelled out by some theisms which roots much of our deep value in our status as creatures created in the image of God is just a more consistent and more robust foundation for morality than secular humanism can provide.

If one needs gods in general, then it's a concession that there is no need for gods, only the belief in gods.

If you want to deny a place for existential import, and the reduction of existential risk in your view, then that is not a problem. But that we need to believe a lie for such an important aspect of humanity is existentially repugnant.

And this becomes a problem for the epistemic project as it denies that we are better off knowing truth.

Anyway, I'd like to hear how theism can explain what atheism can't.

It's not my approach to emphasize that atheism isn't capable of offering an explanation for so much of existence. I just don't think that they are the best explanations.

But there are some things that atheism can't explain like the intrinsic worth of individuals. Sure we recognize it and maybe we have it because of survival advantages, but that doesn't explain that it is true that persons are good and valuable in and of themselves.

This seems a good bottom-up explanation ... as opposed to wondering if what is good is the arbitrary rules of an amoral higher power

maybe it is better than that. That's because a simplistic divine command theory isn't a very good theory about morality.

At the same time, when doing history we need to conform what is found to the findings of science.

Science is not more basic than history. The question of whether or not something happened is often though not always more basic than how it happened. There is a give and take of course and each type of knowledge help to expand the other, and yet sometimes the one doesn't do anything for the other and mysteries persist. The road goes both ways.

What I was trying to get at with my comment about reality was the question of whether things exist. Science may not be able to answer how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but it is the only discipline that's even remotely capable of showing whether angels exist.

unless angels aren't interested in taking part in scientific studies about them but would rather reveal themselves in other ways. There just is no good reason for me to embrace the nearly positivistic framework from which you make this claim.

Course, it's not as if the existence of angels is at the heart of these discussions, but rather is an extension of other frameworks which are weighed on other issues.

Rob R said...

post 3 of 4



Philosophers can wax about the mind / body problem but really any take on consciousness must ultimately adhere to the findings of neuroscience.

The findings of neuroscience are more tentative and more flexible to interpretation than many would suppose. And finding that some experience is associated with some strand of neurons firing is a long way from explaining subjective experience. The two are not the same in any way shape or form regardless of causal connections between the two.

It's not an appeal to authority,

appeal to authority is a relative term. Much of science is indeed an appeal to an authority when the claim made relies on someone else's observations and skills). It is often a non-falacious appeal to authority, of course when the claim made is not controversial amongst the experts.

rather the process is made objective as humanly possible by having anonymous peer review and millions around the world to try to prove you wrong.

No, this does not make it objective. philosophical biases that shape how one looks at the data are often shared throughout a community. Thomas Kuhn described this process of how most or all of the scientific community may follow a paradigm that has assumptions that are not challenged. (actually that's an understatement. everything that is done is done within the context of such paradigms).

But it's not faith,

well let's not use the F-word here. cause we only use it as atheists use it emphasizing with negative connotations.

but in the context of epistemic concerns, faith = trust. You admit trust, you admit faith. if you don't, you're just playing a pointless game of semantics that only recognizes the inadequate way in which atheists use faith only emphasizing the kinds that qualify as blind faith and irrationality.

Faith that is truly relevant here is the confidence that a belief is an item of knowledge even though one recognizes the epistemic risk (ie the fact that what is claimed cannot be absolutely proven, or it is conceivable on some level that that what is believed could be wrong). And if there is absolutely no possibility that it could be wrong, then trust just isn't needed.

course that isn't exactly how faith is used in the context of scripture, but it is relevant.

Rob R said...

post 4 of 4



the results are there for all to see.

hmmm, let's back up a bit where you recognized the fact that not everyone can go to a particle accelerator. And for that matter, lets also recognize that not everyone can get the skills to interpret the data from that. And this is the case in so many other scientific fields, and yet when the largest population of college students going into some technical field have their biology/chemistry/physics labs, or even more advanced classes, they don't actually see the principals at work as described. Most students will get some other results and then they will have to calculate the percent error and geuss all the reasons as to why their experiment did not go as the principal which is still trusted (rightfully so) described.

Well, yeah the results are there to see, but we have to actively interpret the results and make them fit the principals that we trust.

Again, I'm not the one who says this is a problem (it is though for those for whom faith is the f-word).

the practical output demonstrates the validity of the process.

sure. not absolutely. It doesn't eliminate some degree of epistemic risk. but sure, the practical output placed within a fairly coherent framework and helps to reduce the epistemic risk.

This is the most common argument I see from theists, regardless of theological background when the issue of other ways of knowing comes up. It's what I've experienced, it's all I can base my experience off. If you don't adhere to such arguments, then please don't take offence. I'm eager to understand how others view this supposed "different ways of knowing". Because from what I read, from what others tell me, I get the distinct impression that personal revelation is somehow a legitimate source of knowledge. And the only justification I've seen is akin to whether one knows they are in love or not. If there's better arguments, please point me in the right direction.


What I immeadiately objected to which you said was that we justified not giving evidence. The data on scientific ground is important for what we say, but we deal with historical evidence, scriptural evidence (not always on the grounds of the legitimacy of our faith, but the issues we deal with do not always revolve around the legitimacy of our beliefs but rather in drawing out their implications), and much evidence that those of an enlightenment bent don't value, like the emotional and existential concerns.

Rob R said...

If there is no external reality, then we're talking about a single individual, instead of many individuals. The value of an individual does not necessarily change just because there would be fewer of them.

whether you are technically right or not, the essence of my point remains, that those specific individuals we know and value as valuable being equivalent to my own do not have that value as illusions.

Scott said...

Rob wrote: whether you are technically right or not, the essence of my point remains, that those specific individuals we know and value as valuable being equivalent to my own do not have that value as illusions.

Right. But to know this requires knowledge that they are illusions and therefore not individuals. If you're truly a brain in a vat, you can't know anything about the external reality as you'd have no way to sense it. Otherwise, this scenario would be the equivalent of having artificial eyes, etc. At best, you'd have to detect some kind of logical behavioral inconstancy in the illusion, which gives way that they are not individuals. But this requires them to act in ways that does not indicate they are individuals, which requires to you to somehow know how individuals act, etc.

If you went to sleep as a normal person, unknowingly had your brain surgically removed, then woke up as a brain in vat, you'd have a reference point.

But it's highly unlikely that people are illusions. And this is based on overwhelming evidence, such as the video I referenced. We can observe people thinking about other people's thoughts. We can see this ability mature in children. This activity goes far beyond instinctual responses to actions they might observe.

And while we currently can't directly experience someones else's thoughts, this doesn't mean we won't be able to at some point in the future.

I think much this "problem" hinges on the fact that we don't understand exactly how consciousness works at our own level, even though we experience it. (Why we experience anything as an individual, etc.)

However, if we evolved to function at a significantly different level than we've become aware of, this really wouldn't come as a surprise. Like atoms and quarks, the idea of consciousness is likely to be a relatively recent discovery that we're not very well equipped to understand how it works.

But, if we were the creation of God, who intentionally designed us to have a personal relationship with him, it seems odd that we're so ill equipped to detect him and understand his revelation. Especially on critical matters, such as salvation.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2


Right. But to know this requires knowledge that they are illusions and therefore not individuals.

What I said to which this is a response is true regardless of whether external reality (including the existence of other individuals) is true or not. Perhaps you misinterpreted me, but what I intended to convey is that the individuals do not have much value as individuals if they are not autonomous real persons and if they are, then that value is possible after all.

If you're truly a brain in a vat

the mechanism is irrelevant to the problem of the possibility of solipsism. (you may just not want to deal with the problem of solipsism, but my criticism of making all truth claims judge-able via the five senses referred to solipsism and if you intend to defend against it, then that concern sets the agenda).

. At best, you'd have to detect some kind of logical behavioral inconstancy in the illusion, which gives way that they are not individuals.

no, you just have to be a hard nosed absolutist on empircism, like insisting that all knowledge must come through or be judged on the basis of the five senses.

But it's highly unlikely that people are illusions. And this is based on overwhelming evidence, such as the video I referenced.

The empirical evidence that distinguishes senses that are correctly connected to an external reality and a solipsism where a perfect narrative (that is perfectly imitating an external reality) is nil. Their is one excellent way to get around this problem. Faith and trust in the intuitions that tell us that what we experience is real.

We can observe people thinking about other people's thoughts.

you mean I experience the narrative of the experiences that imply that there are other peoples thoughts. I'm going to trust it though the narrative can't validate itself.

I think much this "problem" hinges on the fact that we don't understand exactly how consciousness works

A technical narrative about how consciousness works isn't going to solve your problem. It's still part of the narrative that is delivered through the senses. It's just best to abandon empiricism.

But, if we were the creation of God, who intentionally designed us to have a personal relationship with him, it seems odd that we're so ill equipped to detect him and understand his revelation. Especially on critical matters, such as salvation.

I don't have a problem with this. I don't think we are ill equipped at all. And while working for God's kingdom is not easy, that hardly means that it isn't possible and successfully done by those who follow Jesus.

And it matters not that our understanding of revelation continues to develop since that is God's intention. The fact that we are to have a personal relationship just demonstrates that development and growth is a necessary part of the process because that's what relationships do. they develop.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 2


FYI here's comments on a post of your's that I missed.

It's not that knowledge is linked directly to our five senses - knowledge is at the intersection of our five senses. It's influenced and molded by our five senses. It exists in the light of our five senses and cannot be isolated.

I don't know that I'd say our knowledge can be isolated from the five senses. I'm reacting to the idea that our five senses should become the arbiter of truth, and my discussion on solipsism demonstrates that it can't.

Where does any of this interest with our fives senses? In a wide variety of ways. In fact, most of the concepts above comes from our five senses. The very idea of a personal being is derived from having personal relationships with people, which we experience with our five senses. The wind can effect us yet be invisible, etc.

And my beef with this is twofold. One is to be aware that the five senses here that are relevent aren't just my own. They are the church's, the communities. Secondly, the data from the five senses doesn't interpret itself. We are actively interpreting and the data from the senses cannot dictate that interpretation thoroughly. More than one interpretation will fit the data so we need to be willing to go beyond sensory data.

But to the idea that God told us so cannot exist in isolation from our five senses, which tells us this concept is not unique to Christianity or even theism.

What does it matter that we don't observe that some forms of the golden rule aren't unique to Christianity to the claim that it comes from God? There is no inconsistency there and the empirical data won't tell you so. Does this effect our interpretation of the situation? yes. Does it determine our understanding? certianly not. you could say that it just shows that the claims that good morals cannot uniquely come from the God who is the alleged source of Christian revelation. Or equally (or actually much much better) you can note that God's revelatory activities are not restricted to the Judeo-Christian narrative. Interestingly, that is precisely what the Bible indicates in so many places.

It seems the best you can do is say the Golden Rule is beneficial, because we can observe it's beneficial.

A much richer interpretation is that the Golden rule is beneficial because all people have deep worth and value, so deep that they reflect the image of God.

Scott said...

Rob wrote: I don't know that I'd say our knowledge can be isolated from the five senses. I'm reacting to the idea that our five senses should become the arbiter of truth, and my discussion on solipsism demonstrates that it can't.

Should you want to head down this path, it would appear we can never know anything more than we exhibit a sense of self which can experience "things." But even these experiences could be an illusion. The fact that there is an "I" who seems to be experiencing "something" (real or illusionary) seems to be the only thing we can actually know, because we're the one experiencing something.

To say that I experience "things" implies we have a "mechanism" for process them. To use a computer analogy, we can accept, process, store and retrieve information. But we do not know if this data is accurate. Nor can it operate in a vacuum.

Even then, it's not clear that what I experience isn't a subset of some larger entity and that our boundaries of individuality are an illusion.

More than one interpretation will fit the data so we need to be willing to go beyond sensory data.

I don't know what you mean by "going beyond sensory data." When presented with ambiguous interpretations, we need to make additional observations. If none are available then agnosticism is appropriate.

That we perceive a three dimensional space from two dimensional stereo fields of vision does not require some kind of revelation or sixth sense. Furthermore, we use our sense of touch as additional feedback which supports that objects exist where they we perceive them to exist. We can also intentionally expose ourselves to particular sensory data that can trick this process into returning false information. We can reproduce this in the lab and in the field.

What does it matter that we don't observe that some forms of the golden rule aren't unique to Christianity to the claim that it comes from God? There is no inconsistency there and the empirical data won't tell you so. Does this effect our interpretation of the situation? yes. Does it determine our understanding? certianly not

You seem to be equating the conversion of sensory data to knowledge with some kind of six sense in which can reveal things to us our current five cannot. But revelation is something all together different.

you could say that it just shows that the claims that good morals cannot uniquely come from the God who is the alleged source of Christian revelation.

Rob, what we have are claims about real-world states. This implies that the real world exists and are based on real-world concepts. You're staring out in the real world and creating an elaborate, contrived path that leads back to assertions about God's existence and assertions that God has very specific properties. These assertions do not enjoy the same kind of support as the assertion that a real world exists. While they may ultimately both be start as assertions at some level, they are not equivalent.

A recent study also indicates noticeably different levels of brain activity when thinking about religious beliefs vs non-religious beliefs.

The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief

Scott said...
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Rob R said...

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Scott,

Should you want to head down this path, it would appear we can never know anything more than we exhibit a sense of self which can experience "things."

I'm not heading down this path. This is the path you are on. I'm just showing you were the road leads. My road doesn't lead there because I know better than to make the five senses the primary arbiter of truth. We have other faculties available to us.

But even these experiences could be an illusion. The fact that there is an "I" who seems to be experiencing "something" (real or illusionary) seems to be the only thing we can actually know, because we're the one experiencing something.

yes, that's right IF you reject the place of faith in knowledge, that is almost the only thing you can know, albeit, the "I" inn't even on absolutely solid grounds. But that goes a bit beyond my head and I won't promote that as a consequence.

To say that I experience "things" implies we have a "mechanism" for process them.

That may be true, but it is also irrelevant as evidence against solipsism. It's just another one of those faith commitments that we have that a narrative of a mechanism and the comprehensibility of the true mechanism should be available to us. And all those mechanisms that we speak of still can be apart of the solipsist narrative of a fictitious external reality.

I don't know what you mean by "going beyond sensory data." When presented with ambiguous interpretations, we need to make additional observations. If none are available then agnosticism is appropriate.

the existential considerations are not dictated by the senses, that is what brings meaning to life and what could detract from it. That is one instance in going beyond.

But if you want your agnosticism, again, apply it to an external reality.

Furthermore, we use our sense of touch as additional feedback which supports that objects exist where they we perceive them to exist.

scott, there is no difference between this picture of implied external reality and a picture where it is all a perfect deception, not on the grounds that the senses themselves can tell you. just because all our senses are consistent which include feedback doesn't mean that you can rule out solipsism merely on the grounds of the senses.

I know that our senses cry out to be trusted. the problem is when you take that trust, that faith for granted and suggest we don't need faith and we don't need anything beyond the senses.

Rob R said...

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We can also intentionally expose ourselves to particular sensory data that can trick this process into returning false information.

you can have a fiction that involves deception within the fictitious world. this is not a problem for solipsism.

Scott, do you understand that I think solipsism is as absurd as the next guy? The problem is that you're empiricism cannot support that intuition as true if you do not allow us to go beyond the five senses to weigh truth. You just have to embrace it and bite the bullet and say to know, we need not just the five senses but more. No we don't need a sixth sense that is also conceivably deceivable. we need interpretation, we need faith, we need existential considerations. These things do not happen in a the world without the senses and they are frequently concerned with the senses, but they cannot be reduced to the senses. Hence the senses cannot stand alone as arbiters of truth.

You seem to be equating the conversion of sensory data to knowledge with some kind of six sense in which can reveal things to us our current five cannot. But revelation is something all together different.

as said, a sixth sense will not help. and yes, revelation is something different all together. it tells us things that we couldn't figure out on our own. Allowing for it contributes to a much richer epistemology that empiricism can offer, one that takes advantage of more of our faculties for knowing.



Rob, what we have are claims about real-world states. This implies that the real world exists and are based on real-world concepts. You're staring out in the real world and creating an elaborate, contrived path that leads back to assertions about God's existence and assertions that God has very specific properties. These assertions do not enjoy the same kind of support as the assertion that a real world exists. While they may ultimately both be start as assertions at some level, they are not equivalent.

You yourself rightly feel that the consistency of our senses strongly cries out to be trusted in conveying a real world, though again, it is still a trust whether it is taken for granted or not.

The normal view of a real world reported to our senses IS consistent with a view that there is an external world. That's good reason to trust it. But the picture painted in the Christian world view is also consistant with the senses, and more importantly, it is consistent and adquate for our existential concerns that go beyond the five senses.

I'm very well aware that epistemically speaking, our truth claims about God and his rescue plans for the world through the teachings, life, death and the resurrection of Jesus are not equivalent to the belief in an external reality. They have different degrees or perhaps more accurately different kinds of epistemic risk. You misunderstand my point in bringing up solipsism.

It's not to say that our view is justifiable for exactly the same reasons that belief in an external reality is justifiable, though there is definitely overlap in the various reasons. it's that some of the reasons you and John Loftus (the comment of his I quoted.. he has far more serious considerations that that one) use against religion would do something as silly as undermining belief in an external reality.

Rob R said...
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Rob R said...

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I have 100 percent confidence that the external world is real though I recognize the fact that it cannot be proven absolutely thus it takes a degree of faith. I believe the epistemic risk here is very low, so low that it is understandable that people scoff at the idea. I know I do. But as I mentioned before, there is no objective way to arrive at a calculation of the degree of that epistemic risk. So what is the epistemic risk of Christianity, which (of course like scientific understanding) is something that is still developed and needs to be interpreted with our best skill? On some measures, it just does not compare to belief in an external reality. On some measures, I could agree that there is a much higher epistemic risk. But I contest that existential risk and existential import deserve to be considered in weighing epistemic risk. Interestingly, John Loftus' post on the validity of emotional reasons is a huge boost for existential considerations for the purpose of knowledge. So considerations such as our cry for justice, our deep value for other people and terrible grief for their suffering or loss of their lives, our near universal spirituality, our wonder at the majesty of nature all deserve to be trusted as pointers to the truth and if Christianity harmonizes and explains these better than other religious and non-religious views, that deserves to be considered a reduction in epistemic risk. As an example of that explanation and contrast to materialism, as I said to steven elsewhere, our terrible grief and sadness for a terrible loss such as with a loved one deserves to be trusted as indicating truth. That truth is that the way the world is is not the way it was intended and there is something very wrong. If that is true, then there is a way that the world ought to be. Christianity gloriously fits this picture not only affirming that the way things are aren't right but better yet, God has a rescue plan to bring it back to the way it should be.

Just as our senses are to be signposts of an external reality, our existential concerns deserve to be trusted for the sign posts that they are that affirm our sense that we have transcendence and there is far more to life than mere matter and space can tell us alone.