Monday, May 05, 2008

Are skeptics eternally secure?

Nonbelievers sometimes are so firmly convinced of their nonbelief that they suppose that theists somehow can't really be serious if they think the evidence favors them. Theism is based on belief, Mark Frank says, while nonbelief is based on skepticism. No, believers and unbelievers are skeptical about different things. Atheists believe that gaps in the evolutionary story will be closed in a scientifically acceptable way. That is a belief. Some theists look at the same thing and say that God must be the explanation, and then others say that it may go one way or the other depending on what else can be known.

Theists like to mention the Nagel quote (they may differ on how they use it, I never use it to prove that all atheists are irrational), but atheists love to bring this stuff up from Craig about believing based on personal experience even if the external evidence didn't exist. They like to ignore the fact that Craig said this about a situation they take to be counterfactual. None of this detracts from the fact that Craig believes that there is good and sufficient evidence to be a Christian.

Atheists will sometimes say that there can't be any real ex-atheists, hence C. S. Lewis or Antony Flew can't have converted from atheism. (I guess they have a doctrine of the Perseverance of the Skeptics or the Eternal Security of the Nonbeliever). You may think that believers are persuaded by bad evidence. But why think that they are somehow less than sincere?

15 comments:

philip m said...

I not only think that the atheist has his own issues to sweat over, I think it indicates a less robust intellect when he says that his is the only viable position. When someone says their position is the only viable one, they are telling you that they are incapable of comprehending a way in which people could believe the opposite. But surely it speaks to someone's intellectual deficiency to not be able to understand something that is clearly doable, which is evidenced by the existence of people who do it. The best demonstration of intelligence is in the person who can understand both sides of a debate thoroughly, and thus understand the way in which a person can believe either position. As a principle, ostensibly every single debate that has informed participants on either side is one in which there is something going for each side, and thus an inability to comprehend that something speaks against that person's intelligence. To maximize one's intelligence concerning a debated issue, one should be able, at any time, to argue on cue clearly and potently for either side.

As a note, I am not using intelligence, and the lack thereof, as a sort of insult--I literally think that intelligence entails a higher probability of ascertaining the truth, which requires the ability to comprehend all the possible avenues to accepting different positions. For if one can't understand a position, then if it is the truth they have dramatically lowered the probability they will reach the truth (in that case, effectively to zero). And second, everything I said here applies, of course, to theists as well.

Hallq said...

Vic: I find it amusing that you can't bring yourself to describe what Craig actually thinks, namely that we can believe not only without evidence, but in spite of any evidence whatever to the contrary.

Phil: You can understand irrationality while still thinking it irrational. And heck, failing to understand at least some of the irrationality out there isn't that great of a failing, when you consider what's out there. If you have the time sometime, do some serious reading on Betty Hill.

normajean said...

Hulq: If knowledge is ascertainable by way of immediate experience not argumentation and evidence, what’s far fetched about Craig’s commitment to God without “evidence”?

philip m said...

hallq,

If you think something is irrational, most of the times that means you don't understand it. While beliefs obviously can be irrational, most times that diagnosis is put forth it is by someone who is really saying that the belief is irrational given their own worldview, or certain assumptions of their worldview at least. Everyone has lots of internal assumptions that we form through experience and the reasoning we apply to that experience, and thus if one is using their own assumptions in analyzing another's belief system, there is a good chance that they will conclude it is irrational. But really, this is only means it is irrational for them because they applied assumptions that the other person didn't hold to their belief system.

So how would the belief actually be shown to be irrational? Well, you would have to take the differing assumptions of the two parties and assess their reasonability. But the problem here is that often times the same assumption will seem reasonable to one person and unreasonable to another. The reason for this is that we form our assumptions and constantly assess the reasonability based on the experience of our lives, and since lives differ, so do the opinions about the reasonability of certain assumptions. Thus, the way a belief would be irrational is if a person was thinking unreasonably in assessing the strength of an assumption when it came up during life.

Thus, since rationality is an internal phenomenon concerning the plausibility of a conclusion about a set of facts, and facts differ from person to person because they have accepted assumptions based on their experience of the world, I am skeptical that a person is actually *understanding* the (objective?) irrationality of another person, rather than just disagreeing with their belief based on their own assumptions.

Hans said...

The number of books where Flew declared in the clearest terms that he was not an agnostic and that no God existed!

And yet atheists still claim Flew was not an atheist.

The mentality is baffling.

Hallq should know there is nothing whatever irrational about knowing that the Holy Spirit is telling you that your beliefs are correct and that other people's beliefs are wrong.

But then Hallq is not a spiritual person and does not understand why Craig can KNOW that he is right.

Robert said...

Hello Philip,

“The best demonstration of intelligence is in the person who can understand both sides of a debate thoroughly, and thus understand the way in which a person can believe either position. As a principle, ostensibly every single debate that has informed participants on either side is one in which there is something going for each side, and thus an inability to comprehend that something speaks against that person's intelligence. To maximize one's intelligence concerning a debated issue, one should be able, at any time, to argue on cue clearly and potently for either side.”

Your words here bring back fond memories of some teachers that I have had the privilege of experiencing. I like teachers who are more interested in teaching you to think then to become regurgitators. I believe that most people are just regurgitators, people who just repeat and defend a party line with all of the typical arguments and tricks of that party, they are not independent thinkers (and note this applies both to theists and nontheists). On the other hand, real thinkers are people who can analyze all sorts of angles, understand different viewpoints as well as they understood their own view. At least that is what the better teachers were trying to drill into me. :-)

I think it comes down to a sort of intellectual integrity that the famous physicist Richard Feynman talks about in one of my favorite speeches of all time: CARGO CULT SCIENCE.

Phillip have you read it?

I believe that you would really enjoy it. If not, get a hold of it on the internet, read it and tell me what you think of it.

A fellow non-regurgitator, :-)

Robert

Mark Frank said...

Victor

I can't speak for other atheists but I am sure that many theists are serious in what they believe. I have close relatives that are committed Catholics and I love and respect them immensely.

"Atheists believe that gaps in the evolutionary story will be closed in a scientifically acceptable way."

As a matter of fact most atheists (and very many theists) do believe this because more and more of the gaps are filled in with scientific explanations. But if no such evidence were forthcoming, then atheist position should be (I can't speak for all atheists, of course) that we don't know what the answer is i.e. not to believe anything.

I have carefully steered clear of saying that the atheist approach to evidence is more rational. All I want to establish that atheism is (usually) based on a different approach to evidence based on a core of doubt and scepticism. Sometimes theists will describe atheism as just like another religion. But it is fundamentally different.

Philip m - I don't understand what you mean by "viable". Do you mean "true"? Presumably you think theism is true and atheism false. I think the reverse. So we both think we each have the only "viable" position in this sense.

philip m said...

Robert,

Thanks for the recommendation, I read it and thought it was stupendous. I am glad there is someone who just came out and said it.

mark,

'Truth' is exclusive property, something being 'viable' is not. If something is viable that just means that is in someway doable or workable, or is a position that can be maintained. It is a given that people believe that their position is the correct or true one, but someone may think that there are more viable positions than just their own. What I am saying overall is that if there is a prolonged discourse on a given topic that has informed people on both sides, then a person who think theirs is the only viable position in the controversy lacks the mental capability to comprehend the totality of the situation (which, said that way, seems quite obvious). There must be a root of the disagreement, a fundamental divide, the essence of which holds explanatory power to explain why the controversy exists, and the best way to know you honestly hold your position is to dig down to this fundamental dividing idea and make sure you think you are right in relation to it. But many act like there is no fundamental dividing idea at the bottom which requires a personal judgment call, but that they're just right, and it's obvious that they are, and that's it. The person who thinks like this affirms not only that their position is the ultimately correct on, but also that it is the only viable one.

Mark Frank said...

Philip m

Can I paraphrase you? I think it is something like this:

If you dismiss the other side of a long term controversy without taking them seriously, appreciating the force of thier arguments, and understanding why they sincerely hold their position, then you "lack the mental capability to comprehend the totality of the situation".

Of course it might not be a lack of capability it might be a lack of motivation - but I generally agree.

I guess symptoms of this lack of capability might be comments like this:

It takes *more* faith, in fact, to be an atheist than to be a Christian. For, the atheist must first convince himself to accept all sorts of absurdities ... which he *knows* are absurd! ... as being fundamental truths.

Ilíon said...

Hans: "But then Hallq is not a spiritual person and does not understand why Craig can KNOW that he is right."

Then again, might it not be that Hallq is seriously misrepresenting Craig?

While I am certainly no Craig scholar, this does not sound like Craig to me -- Hallq: "I find it amusing that you can't bring yourself to describe what Craig actually thinks, namely that we can believe not only without evidence, but in spite of any evidence whatever to the contrary."

Mike Darus said...

It appears that some atheists value at least one verse of the Bible:

I John 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

Nate said...

Hallq distorts Craig's position as follows:

"Craig actually thinks...that we can believe not only without evidence, but in spite of any evidence whatever to the contrary."

This is wrong. First, Craig has said publicly that he would relinquish his Christian theistic beliefs if someone provided a good reason for him to do so.

Second, and more generally, Craig accepts externalistic proper basicality as sufficient for the rationality of certain beliefs. A belief that p, formed in a properly basic way, should be relinquished if there is a defeater, q, for p. (Of course, if there is a defeater-defeater, p can still be held rationally.) In other words, Craig would agree that if your beliefs run contrary to the evidence, you should dispose of the beliefs.

Your understanding of Craig's position is shockingly out of touch.

Ilíon said...

Nate: "Hallq distorts Craig's position as follows:

....

Your understanding of Craig's position is shockingly out of touch.
"

Now, I *could* be wrong, but I'm fairly confident that Hallq doesn't mind.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Everybody's "secure" in their beliefs until they begin to have doubts.

The day after the 1986 Challenger shuttle accident, psychologist Ulric Neisser asked 106 students to write down exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the explosion. When he interviewed the students two and a half years later, 25 percent of them gave strikingly different accounts. But when confronted with their original journal entries, many students defended their beliefs. One of them answered, “That’s my handwriting, but that’s not what happened.”

In "On Being Certain," neuroscientist and novelist Robert A. Burton tries to get to the bottom of the curious sensation he calls the “feeling of knowing”—being certain of a fact despite having no (or even contrary) evidence. Throughout his book, Burton makes the compelling argument that certainty “is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process.” Instead, he says, that unmistakable sense of certainty “arises out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently
of reason.”

Burton thinks that just as we perceive our external world through our physical senses, our internal world presents itself in the form of feelings, such as familiar or strange and correct or incorrect. And he shows that these inner perceptions are necessary for us to function properly in everyday life, because our thoughts are subject to constant self-questioning. For example, even though reason may tell us that running up a tree to escape a lion is an excellent strategy, experience shows that great strategies can fail and that there may be better options. Because alternative choices are present in any situation, logical thought alone would be doomed to a perpetual “yes, but” questioning routine. Burton reasons that it is the feeling of knowing that solves this dilemma of how to reach a conclusion. Without this “circuit breaker,” indecision and inaction would rule the day.

One of the implications of Burton’s thesis is that we ultimately cannot trust ourselves when we believe we know something to be true. “We can’t afford to continue with the outdated claims of a perfectly rational unconscious or knowing when we can trust gut feelings,” he writes. On Being Certain challenges our understanding of the very nature of thought and provokes readers to ask what Burton calls “the most basic of questions”: How do we know what we know?

Hallq said...

>This is wrong. First, Craig has said publicly that he would relinquish his Christian theistic beliefs if someone provided a good reason for him to do so.

First, where has he said this?

Second, in his book Reasonable Faith, Craig says: "Should a conflict arise between the witness of the Holy Spirit to the fundamental truth of the Christian faith and beliefs based on argument and evidence, then it is the former which must take precedence over the latter." How is this not equivalent to what I said?