Monday, January 26, 2015

Trashing the basis for the Kitzmiller decision

Here is an abstract for a paper.

Several prominent scientists, philosophers, and scientific institutions have argued that science
cannot test supernatural worldviews on the grounds that (1) science presupposes a naturalistic
worldview (Naturalism) or that (2) claims involving supernatural phenomena are inherently
beyond the scope of scientific investigation. The present paper argues that these assumptions are
questionable and that indeed science can test supernatural claims. While scientific evidence may
ultimately support a naturalistic worldview, science does not presuppose Naturalism as an a
priori commitment, and supernatural claims are amenable to scientific evaluation. This
conclusion challenges the rationale behind a recent judicial ruling in the United States concerning
the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in public schools as an alternative to evolution and the
official statements of two major scientific institutions that exert a substantial influence on science
educational policies in the United States. Given that science does have implications concerning
the probable truth of supernatural worldviews, claims should not be excluded a priori from
science education simply because they might be characterized as supernatural, paranormal, or
religious. Rather, claims should be excluded from science education when the evidence does not
support them, regardless of whether they are designated as ‘natural’ or ‘supernatural’.


Loftus on quoting atheists like Nagel

John Loftus, in a series of posts "How to defend the Christian faith," is of course trying to show what he thinks are the underhanded tactics of Christian apologists. 

Quote from atheists like Thomas Nagel or Jean Paul Sartre who say things you agree with. Throw them all together and let them make your case for you. Then forget or ignore why these people are atheists in the first place.

Ignore why they are atheists in the first place? Nagel says this about that.
“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.
I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”
Now suppose I, or better yet some major Christian philosopher like Plantinga were to say "I want theism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people are atheists. It isn't just that I believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I am right in my belief. It is that I hope there is a God. I want there to be a God, I want the universe to be like that. And suppose, further, I were to say that I was strongly motivated by a fear of atheism.
My goodness, you guys would be all over this! You would be saying that Plantinga or I had just complete admitted that my position was totally irrational, and that I was believing exclusively out of fear. As you say, people believe and defend what they prefer to be true. But we have just been told what Nagel prefers.
But, in the case of Nagel, he does offer reasons for rejecting a theistic solution to the problems he recognizes, and while I realize some Christians have read this as an admission of irrationality, I don't. What I do think it refutes is the assumption many atheists make that all the non-rational motives are on our side, and if anyone is an atheist, it can only be because of a sober analysis of the evidence.

Of course, you're more than happy to help yourself to the things people like Thom Stark say, even though he is a Christian, especially when I says he thinks Christians everywhere should be paying attention to Loftus.:) But I don't see a problem with that. You think Thom has a lot of things right, and you agree with those. You differ with him in that he remains a Christian. I have been looking for a post where you respond to the reasons Thom remains a Christian, and I guess it was in your review of Stark's book on Amazon. 

I don't assume that Nagel makes a case for Christianity, or that he's a closet Christian apologist. Let his atheistic critics accuse him of that. But he sees the same kind of difficulties with a materialistic naturalism that I do, only he looks for a non-theistic solution in much the way C. S. Lewis did when he embraced Absolute Idealism as opposed to theism when he accepted anti-naturalistic arguments. 

By the way, did you ever get around to responding to his reply?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Evidence against the "hallucination of the dying brain" hypothesis


Craig on whether we can be good without believing in God

Can we be good without God? At first the answer to this question may seem so obvious that even to pose it arouses indignation. For while those of us who are Christian theists undoubtedly find in God a source of moral strength and resolve which enables us to live lives that are better than those we should live without Him, nevertheless it would seem arrogant and ignorant to claim that those who do not share a belief in God do not often live good moral lives--indeed, embarrassingly, lives that sometimes put our own to shame.

Read more: William Lane Craig

Friday, January 16, 2015

Nagel's Absolute Idealism

On p. 17 he identifies his position as objective idealist, and includes the post-Kantians Schelling and Hegel as representatives of his view, which are usually called absolute idealists. This is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis, who, once he became persuaded of the correctness of his Argument from Reason against naturalism, became, not a theist, but a Hegelian Absolute Idealists. His reason for avoiding theism could easily be described in Nagelian terms as a cosmic authority problem. Of course, Lewis eventually rejected Absolute Idealism in favor of first theism and then finally Christianity, while Nagel, of course, has not done this. 

Especially if they are true; it's best to keep it hush hush

Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’. (HT: Crude) 


Once again, just for fun, I am including a link to the Pistol Annies' song "Hush Hush." 

Hush hush don't you dare say a word
Hush hush don't you know the truth hurts
Hush hush when push comes to shove
It's best to keep it hush hush
Best to keep it hush hush

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Nagel on the not-science charge against ID

Judge Jones cited as a decisive reason for denying ID the status of
science that Michael Behe, the chief scientific witness for the defense,
acknowledged that the theory would be more plausible to someone who
believed in God than to someone who did not.12 This is just common
sense, however, and the opposite is just as true: evolutionary theory as a
complete explanation of the development of life is more plausible to
someone who does not believe in God than to someone who does. Either
both of them are science or neither of them is. If both of them are
scientific hypotheses, the ground for exclusion must be that ID is hopelessly
bad science, or dead science, in Kitcher’s phrase.

12. “Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the
argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God. As no
evidence in the record indicates that any other scientific proposition’s validity rests on
belief in God, nor is the Court aware of any such scientific propositions, Professor Behe’s
assertion constitutes substantial evidence that in his view, as is commensurate with other
prominent ID leaders, ID is a religious and not a scientific proposition” (Kitzmiller,
at p. 720).

The View from Nowhere

In his book “The View from Nowhere,” Nagel says that we need an explanation of the possibility of objective knowledge that is itself an instance of objective knowledge. How could we have the capacity to know the world through, say, science and mathematics? Natural selection, he says, only explains how creatures with vision or reason will survive, not how vision or reasoning are possible. Natural selection at best says that if we attempt to know the world and we get it wrong, we die without passing on our genes. Thus someone who went up in a moon rocket and ended up floating through space without a food supply would die as a result, and natural selection would select against them. But we seem to have capacities of thought that don’t seem in any way obviously useful for, say, humans in the hunter-gatherer stage. He mentions the general response on behalf of a natural-selection explanation. According to this response, not every feature of an organism has to be separately selected for its adaptive value, and some features can be side effects of others. The large brain that was useful for making tools also gave us the capacity to develop the theory of relativity and prove Godel’s theorem. He thinks there is little or nothing in the way of evidence for this story. However, it is accepted because it is the only candidate for a Darwinian explanation of our reasoning capacities. But rather than adopt a “Darwin or bust” explanation, or a creationist one, he simply says that he has no explanation for this.

What It's Like to be a Bat

Nagel’s persistent tendency to generate headaches for philosophical naturalists began with his essay “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?” in 1974. In that essay he argues that any third-person perspective on a person, such as might be provided by natural science, invariably leaves out the first-person perspective of that person.  This is an argument that was prefigured in C. S. Lewis’s essay “Meditation in a Toolshed,” in which he distinguished between “looking at” and “looking along,” and claimed that a systematic preference of “looking at” as opposed to “looking along,” breaks down when it comes to considering our own thinking, and consistently applied it would give us nothing to think about. 

Is the concept of marriage univocal? C. S. Lewis says no

This is a key C. S. Lewis passage that can easily be applied to the same-sex marriage issue. 
See the discussion here

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
VR: This, I think, is an effective criticism of the view that there can be one and only one conception of marriage, and the government should enforce that concept. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Same-Sex Marriage Dilemma

For the most part, I have been pretty much a supporter of same-sex marriage, at least from the standpoint of government. I voted no on a defense of marriage proposition that was on the ballot in Arizona a few years ago. First, with respect to marriages in general, the government doesn't require marriages to pass moral tests in order to give marriage licenses. For example, if someone began their relationship with an extramarital affair, has then finalized their divorce or divorces, the state doesn't ask questions, it grants the license. Given this, it seems hypocritical for governments to , for example, give a marriage license to Newt Gingrich but not to George Takei. 

Second, there seem to be cases where SSM seems pretty reasonable. For example, if someone has been in a same-sex relationship for many years, but their family has disowned them for being gay, and then the person goes to the hospital and end-of-life decisions have to be made, the lifetime partner, not the family that disowned the gay person, seems to me the right person to make those decisions. 

But there are other issues that bother me about it, and these have to do with people who conscientiously believe that same sex relationships can't be real marriages. For example, I don't think people in the business of wedding services, such as florists, bakers, and photographers, should be exposed to discrimination lawsuits because they don't want to service same-sex weddings. I don't think Christian adoption agencies should be forced to accept applicants from same-sex couples if it is against their principles. I don't think Christian college philosophy departments should have a "discriminator" tag put on them by the American Philosophical Association because they have codes of conduct that require faculty hires to abide by a code of sexual conduct that requires them to restrict sex to heterosexual marriages. (And please note that a gay person could fulfill those requirements by simply being celibate). I don't think businesses like Chick-Fil-A and executives like Brandon Eich should be punished economically because they don't believe in same-sex marriage. If this is what supporters of same-sex marriage want, if this is where it is going to be pushed, then I am inclined to say "let me off the boat." 

That is why I would prefer to see governments give out civil union licenses and only civil union licenses to everyone who goes downtown for a license. That would, I think, leave individuals and "churches" (and this would include secular groups) to determine by their own lights what is a real marriage and what is not. I don't know if this is workable, but something along these lines is the only acceptable solution. Whatever solution is adopted should be fair to both gay people and critics of homosexuality. 

It's time to stop looking to government to determine what is right and wrong. I wouldn't quite say "You can't legislate morality," but I will say that there are large areas of morality that you can't legislate. 

This essay, Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent, Why We Must Have Both, reflects the position I have been defending here. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

A simple rule for using the word "faith" to avoid miscommunication

Actually, I don't think the word "faith" should ever be used in by either side in theist-atheist discussion unless it is backed up with a definition, and then you have to see if your debate opponent is willing to use it in the same sense.

Otherwise, you just waste a lot of time talking past one another.

Plantinga's critique of Kitcher's case for secularism


Artificial Life is Not Here


Against objective probability

Faith is an attitude or feeling whereby believers attribute a higher degree of probability to the evidence than what the evidence calls for. (OTF, p.207)

This assumes that there is an objective quantity of probability that the evidence calls for. 

I am skeptical of this kind of claim. I don't think there is a non-relative probability that the evidence calls for. There are only probabilities relative to some existing prior probability. Evidence doesn't operate from a "ground zero" starting point, it starts from wherever people happen to be. 

I know that Richard Swinburne thinks that you can get to some Archimedean point through his conception of simplicity, and some people think you can get it from frequencies. I don't think these arguments work. 

Here is what I put in my Infidels paper on miracles

IV. Probability and its Empirical Foundations

According to Hume, probabilistic beliefs concerning the intentions of a supernatural being are inadmissible in reasonings concerning matters of fact because these beliefs fail to be grounded in experience. This insistence has been enunciated by Bayesian theorists, and it is the frequency theory. But the frequency theory has fallen on hard times, and most Bayesian theorists do not accept it, largely because of difficulties related to the problem of the single case.
The problem is this. Frequencies give us information as to how often event-types have occurred in the past. But we often want to know the probability of particular events: this coin-toss, this horse-race, this piece of testimony to the miraculous, etc. If we are to accept Hume's conclusion that testimony to the miraculous ought never to be accepted, we need to show more than just that rejecting testimony to miracles in general is a good idea because false miracle claims outnumber true ones. Many Christians are skeptical of miracle claims put forward by televangelists, but nonetheless believe that the evidence in support of the resurrection of Jesus, and perhaps in support of some modern miracles, is sufficient to overthrow our ordinary presumption against accepting miracle reports.
Frequentists have attempted to assess the prior probability of individual purported events by assimiliating them some class of events. Thus, we assess the probability of a particular coin-toss as 1/2 in virtue of its membership in the class of coin-tosses. But the question is which class the relevant reference class is. The claimed resurrection of Jesus falls into many classes: into the class of miracles, into the class of events reported in Scripture, the class of events reported by Peter, the class of events believed by millions to have occurred, into the class of events basic to the belief-system of a religion, etc. Of course it is what is at issue between orthodox Christians and their opponents whether the class of miracles in the life of Jesus is empty or relatively large.
Wesley Salmon attempts to solve this problem by defining the conception of an epistemically homogeneous reference class. A class is homogenous just in case so far as we know it cannot be subdivided in a statistically relevant way. Thus, according to Salmon, if Jackson hits .322 overall but hits .294 on Wednesdays, the Wednesday statistic is not to be treated as relevant unless we know something about Wednesday that makes a difference as to how well Jackson will bat. Thus, according to Salmon, the relevant reference class is the largest homogeneous reference class; we should try to get a sample as large as we can without overlooking a statistically relevant factor.[13]
There are two difficulties with this method as an attempt to satisfy Hume's strong empiricist requirements for properly grounded probability judgments. First, questions of statisical relevance cannot be fully adjucated by appeal to frequencies. Second, the very heuristic of selecting the largest homogeneous reference class cannot be read off experience.
On the first point, consider the situation of a baseball manager who must choose between allowing Wallace to bat or letting Avery pinch-hit for him. Wallace has an overall batting average of .272, while Avery's is .262. But the pitcher is left-handed, and while Wallace bats .242 against left-handed pitching, Avery bats .302. Nevertheless, the pitcher is Williams, and while Avery is 2-for-10 against Williams, Wallace is 4-for-11. Have these batters faced Williams too few times for this last statistic to count? And can this be straightforwardly determined from experience? What is needed is a judgment call about the relevance of this statistical information, and this judgment cannot simply be read straightforwardly from frequencies. The frequentist's epistemology for probabilistic beliefs, insofar as it is an attempt to conform to empiricist/foundationalist constraints, seems impossible to complete.
On the second point, is the heuristic of selecting the smallest homogeneous reference class justified simply by an appeal to experience? Admittedly it makes a certain amount of common sense. But this attempt to go from a statistical "is" to an epistemological "ought" seems to suffer from with the same (or worse) difficulties that getting "ought" from "is" suffers from in ethics, and here again Hume's empiricist/foundationalist assumptions impose an impossible burden on probability theory.
The frequency theory seems clearly to be the theory of priors that Hume would have adopted had he been involved in the contemporary Bayesian debate on prior probabilities. But even this theory fails to adjudicate the issue concerning miracles in Hume's favor or in favor of the defenders of miracles, because it lacks the resources within itself to select the appropriate reference class. This inability to provide determinate answers to questions of probability is what makes this theory inadequate for resolving the question of miracles. Therefore Hume cannot justify his claim that it is never rational to believe testimony to any miracle on the grounds that miracles are less frequent in experience than false miracle reports.[14]

That doesn't mean that we can't move toward objectivity. We can. Evidence, if pursued, can in theory "swamp the priors." I think science works that way. It isn't as if scientists all actually put aside their biases before starting to do science. It is just that, in many cases, priors are swamped, and maybe all the defenders of the opposite position all die off.

Here is Elliot Sober's treatment of Bayesian theory.