Monday, June 02, 2008

Tingley in Touchstone on Pascal and modern skeptics

This is provocative essay, though I am not sure what to make of it, HT: Rob Grano.


Rob Grano said...

Tingley says this, which I found interesting: "He [the modern skeptic] demands that God show himself to senses or logic, and when God does not oblige, he considers the matter closed and ceases to think." In other words, the modern skeptic is a functional logical positivist. But if God is God, why would the skeptic assume that He plays by positivist rules? Tingley is suggesting that at this point what the skeptic should do is perhaps to be skeptical of his own assumptions. After all, as Tingley says, paraphrasing Pascal, "If we do not know that God even exists, we hardly know how he behaves. So we cannot begin this ascent with any dogmatic presumption about his behavior."

Ilíon said...

VR: "This is provocative essay, though I am not sure what to make of it."

Based on what small bit of it I've read so far (i.e. merely the introduction), "make of it" as being an accurate reflection of reality.

'Atheists' are almost never actually 'skeptics.' Genetally, what they are is "selective hyper-skeptics."

Ilíon said...

Tingley: "Pascal the skeptic has ruled out a fruitless path, the path to God via logic or concrete evidence: the easy route to the summit, sought for centuries but never found. The only way forward is up from where we are, onto the icy slopes out past the limit of concrete evidence. If that is possible."

If Pascal ruled out, as a fruitless path, discovering via logic that there is a God, then Pascal erred. What we can discover about God strictly via logical reasoning (starting with the fact that there *is* a God) will not give us Christianity, of course. But that is a wholly different matter from believing or asserting that we cannot discover via logical reasoning that God even exists or that we cannot by reason discover at least some of God's characteristics.

And -- this in vitally important -- the deliverances of logical reasoning *are* "concrete evidence" ... contrary to the fond wishes and frequent assertions of the logical positivists, still amongst us after all these years, there are no such things as "facts which speak for themselves." WE "speak" for "the facts;" which is to say: we reason and draw conclusions, and we do this reasoning properly or we do not.

Tingley: "To clamber from skepticism to atheism without embarrassing yourself is only possible with support from another premise—If we cannot know it via the senses, then it cannot exist—and there is a lot to be embarrassed about if you call yourself a skeptic and believe that. ..."


Tingley: "All of those people who insist that they would reasonably believe on the basis of [... example list ...] are truly not worth listening to. Truly not.

Why? Because in all of this they are refusing to go where their own skeptical-scientific questioning actually points: not back to concrete evidence but on to the question of whether there is another way to answer the question, which they reject without further thought. Rather than ask it, they balk, they flinch, they bluster—they do everything that in their own eyes signals the dogmatic refuser of science.

Indeed; as the section is titled: "Empty Demands."

Tingley: "Many of his [Pascal's] readers miss this [that he is not talking about *feelings*], and so see him as preparing us to leap—but conviction is not a leap. Dawkins takes him to say that when the evidence runs out, you just throw in your lot with belief in God, because that is logically prudent; he credits Pascal with “the ludicrous idea that believing is something you can decide to do.” ..."

But, pace Dawkins and his ilk, belief *is* a decision (just as love is). Belief does not *happen* to us; we perform an act of will: we believe. Belief does not grab us by the throat, will we nill we, and force itself upon us ... yet, this is what "skeptics" demand of belief in general, and especially of belief in God: "skeptics" don't want to be convinced by reason, they want to be forcibly overcome, they want to insist that they have no choice in the matter ... and they want to believe and assert that their current beliefs, by which they deny God and justify refusing to even consider the evidence, are of exactly of that sort: "I have no *choice* but to deny God exists!" they want to proclaim, and expect/insist to be believed.

Ilíon said...

VR: "This is provocative essay, though I am not sure what to make of it."

Now that a good day has passed, I want to take this us again, directly.

What is provocative about it?

Is Tingley's reasoning completely flawed? Is it seriously flawed? Is it mostly flawed? Is it somewhat flawed? Is it slightly flawed?

Is it some degree of flawed, but fixable?

Of couse, it's "provocative" entirely because of the statements he makes and conclusions he draws about 'agnostics' and 'atheists:' to wit, that very few of them are intellectually honest.

So, regardless of "provocation," and regardless of the fact that this is not something which you (you personally) wish to know (*), and most especially regardless of the fact the this is not something which 'agnostics' and 'atheists' want to know, is what he said false? And if it is false, what is our rationale for knowing it to be false? -- what is the reasoning which tells us that his reasoning was defective?

(*) At the same time, I do want to acknowledge and thank you that you do not forbid me to say (assert and/or argue, as I think appropriate at any specific time) that 'agnostics' and 'atheists' in general are not intellectually honest. It is your blog, after all, and I am but a guest.

philip m said...

I completely agree with his assessment that modern skepticism applaudes itself far beyond its actual truth-finding value; in fact, as far as the term is actually used today, I would say that 'skepticism' does not increase the probability of ascertaining the truth at all. Skepticism as it is referred to today presupposes a rejection of the hypothesis under consideration, so that one would be adverse to accepting propositions that may be true because they have determined to be 'skeptical.' A good kind of skepticism is one which questions a hypothesis to the point where the questioner has the necessary information to affirm it as true if it is in fact true. It is not in any way an impressive intellectual feat to have such a heavy criteria of evidence that one will never accept anything.

Which brings us to the point of the essay, which I think is very effectively communicated. Human beings, though physical entities within time, do not simply see the physical world and that is all. Rather, humans drag around nonphysical realities with them, in thoughts, emotions, and meanings, so that while they are *seeing* the phsysical world, their day is spent interacting in a nonphysical world. This nonphysical world that humans continually apprehend throughout the day is the basis for all of human activity. It is what we are dealing with when we are in relationships, think intellectually, or assess our current mood. It is almost as though every human is standing in the center of an invisible universe called "life" which is portaled into the physical world through their body.

Enter the question of God's existence. As physical beings that are in constant apprehension of a nonphysical reality, it makes sense that there might possibly be a God that can interact with us through this medium, who will discipline us in virtue, help us in our relationships with humans, be the actualization of the meaning inside of us, and so on. After all, the existence of a nonphysical being that we can interact with is not so implausible once one realizes that we are apprehending a nonphysical reality every second anyways.

So for a person to then approach this question and declare 'there is no evidence!' is painfully unhelpful. That is not really addressing the question on its own terrain. The hypothesis is an existential one about a being we would be able to apprehend through the nonphysical realm we are apprehending every moment, and that he is perfectly good and longs for our redemption since the mind with which we think is corrupt. If a person merely scoffs 'No evidence!' and walks off, they have basically not dealt with the question at all, for they have failed to examine with the utmost care and sincerity the way in which the hypothesis would be even possibly true, which is not through gargantuan displays of physical evidence, but through the subtle world of the heart and mind. But to be kind, one might suggest not that these skeptics answered the question wrongly, but that they have never even understood it in the first place.

Besides, once one is fully cognizant of the activity of their thoughts and that this is the proper domain for considering the question of God, there may be boatloads of evidence for the God in that form, but since thoughts are hidden it is not objective evidence. Evidence for premises/arguments vary based on lives. That is also why it doesn't make any sense to say believing in God is irrational, or there is no evidence for God, because every one has a private theatre of their own thoughts, and that is where the evidence would arrive in the first place.

Darek Barefoot said...

I'm wholly in sympathy with Tingley's project, but I think there is an overly broad interpretation of "science" at work. He notes near the end that science is not simply the cut-and-dried application of method. That's worth half a point. But in spite of that science does have a certain methodical commitment. Why not just say that "science" is not the only route to knowledge? That all who seek ultimate truth are not scientists nor do all scientists seek ultimate truth?

My other quibble is that his reasoning would have the non-theist to cast the net of possibility so wide that Hinduism & all forms of mysticism, perhaps even astrology and animism would get a place at the table. It's not clear at first read how to go about excluding--or even diminishing the likelihood of-- anything whatsoever.

My guess is that Tingley would say that certain reasoning strategies can pick among these alternatives. But with his observation that emotional factors can be primary drivers of belief, we cannot help but suspect that someone inclined for whatever reason toward, say, eastern mysticism will not fail find his or her own route to the top of a different mountain than the one Pascal was on.

This last is not necessarily a devestating objection, but I would have liked to see some nod of acknowledgement of it from the author.

Edwardtbabinski said...


Pascal wasn't skeptical about Catholicism, since that is what he equated with "belief in God."

So when he spoke about a person "risking the loss of everything" if they "don't believe in God," he was speaking about the Catholic one.

Pascal never doubted that.

And to this day whomever cites Pascal's argument always seem to assume that the "God" that must exist just happens to be the one lying at the heart of their own particular faith, a judgmental diety who punishes those who dare question His existence, or who queastion the value of attending church and formally worshipping such a deity, or who dare to question portions of that god's holy books, a deity that such people assume is unlike any other possible divine force that guides or inhabits this cosmos, since this deity punishes forever.

Thus Pascal's argument is one of fear and the absolute value he places on fearing his particular God, the Catholic one, and making that deity happy via bowing down to Catholic rites of spiritual passage, etc.

Ilíon said...

[Gentle Reader: please visualize a dramatic rolling of the eyes]

Rob Grano said...

" this day whomever cites Pascal's argument always seem to assume that the 'God' that must exist just happens to be the one lying at the heart of their own particular faith..."

This is an incorrect assumption on Mr. Babinski's part. Very few, if any, Christian theologians and philosophers will claim that Pascal's argument leads to the Christian God, who, after all, can be known only by revelation.

Ilíon said...

I think the term you're looking for is not "incorrect assumption," but something more like "false accusation," or even worse.