Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Craig on religious experience

Here is Bill Craig's argument from religious experience (from his first debate with Doug Jesseph).

(4) Finally, God can be immediately known and experienced.

Now this isn't really an argument for God's existence. Rather it is the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him. This was the way that people in the Bible knew God. As Professor John Hick explains,

God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills, a sheer given reality … as inescapably to be reckoned with as destructive storm and life-giving sunshine. … They did not think of God as an inferred entity, but as an experienced reality. … To them God was not … an idea adopted by the mind, but the experiential reality which gave significance to their lives.{9}

Now if this is the case, then there is a danger that proofs for God could actually distract our attention from God Himself. If you are sincerely seeking God, then I believe that God will make His existence evident to you. The Bible promises, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you."{10} We mustn't so concentrate on the external proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts. For those who listen, God becomes an immediate reality in their lives.

Now Dr. Jesseph would dismiss this experience as being purely based on psychological factors and wish-fulfillment. But the point of the argument that I am giving here is that belief in God, when you experience Him and know Him, is a properly basic belief. It is like the belief in the existence of the external world. Sure, it's possible that there is no external world, that you are really a brain in a vat being stimulated with electrodes by a mad scientist to believe that you are here in this auditorium experiencing this lecture, when actually you are not. You are just a brain sitting in a vat of chemicals being stimulated to think that. But why believe such a hypothesis? Why doubt your experience of the external world? In the absence of good reasons to doubt that, you are within your rational rights in believing that experience to be veridical and genuine. Similarly, in the absence of any reasons to adopt atheism, why should I give up or deny my experience of the existence of God, which is so real and significant to me?

A possible rebuttal:

The main objection to a belief in God based on a strong personal experience is that people throughout the world have different experiences of "God" which seems to vary depending upon the indigenous religion of the society. So in Mexico as strong religious experience would most likely include the Blessed Virgin Mary, while in South Georgia a Virgin Mary experience is far less likely. So, skeptics say that people bring to their "powerful" experiences the beliefs of the society around them, and therefore the experience cannot be used as evidence that the beliefs the acquire from that experience are true.

77 comments:

Mike Darus said...

I experimented with this line of reasoning once on infidels. I suggested that scientific observation requires the correct instrument to gather evidence. A microscope is not very good at measuring sound volume but it is capable of observing small items. The scientist must also use his correct sensory organ. A microscope observed by an ear will probably not do well. I suggested that the proper sensory organ to detect the existence of God is the human soul. Attempts to detect God through the 5 traditional senses may not make muche sense.

The objection regarding differences in experience sounds good but is not valid. We don't reject the phenomenon of a rainbow just because some people see single bows and others observe double bows or that rainbows vary in intensity. We recognize the common aspects of the observations as confirming the refraction of light in humid and sunny conditions.

Steven Carr said...

'Rather it is the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him.'

How? What does Craig experience?

Craig claims the Holy Spirit whispers to him.

I quote 'We mustn't so concentrate on the external proofs that we fail to hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts.'

Does that mean Craig hears voices - 'the inner voice of God speaking'?

Why should we take seriously somebody who claims he knows he is right because the voices in his head tell him he is right?

Or is Craig lying when he says he hears an 'inner voice' and knows that this is God?

Does Craig not hear voices?

In short, does Craig hear voices or not?

Steven Carr said...

' Now Dr. Jesseph would dismiss this experience as being purely based on psychological factors and wish-fulfillment.'

Craig has no answer to this argument, which are the 'good reasons to doubt' that he claims nobody can find.

'Why doubt your experience of the external world?'

We do that all the time. 'Can you smell smoke?' 'I thought I heard somebody'. 'Did you say something?' 'Was that really the Angel Gabriel who appeared to me and told me to recite?'

Craig can be as convinced of God as many Americans are convinced that they were abducted by aliens.

But sceptics will just ignore his emotional outpourings as irrelevant.

Joe said...

Steve
Based on what you said it does not sound like you doubt the external world in the sense he claims all the time. You have doubts regarding whether certain things are a part of the external world but by and large you think it’s out there pretty much as you perceive it. Like WLC says we have absolutely no evidence to suggest we are not a brain in a vat and the external world could be completely different.

I don't think he hears voices in the sense he would look around and ask his wife "did you hear something?" However I guess it’s hard to explain to someone who never had that experience themselves. I do have "a sense" that God/the Holy Spirit is with me. But if someone doesn't have this sense I'm not sure how my experience can be convincing unless the person knows me and trusts me when I say I have that sense. To the extent I think that sense is best explained by God I suppose it is evidence for my belief.

normajean said...

And there’s always exegesis to suggest that God may not reveal Himself in the same way to all. It may well be the case (for example) that God gives saving light to those He knows would receive Him. He may not (in other words) be in the business of casting pearls around for fun.

dvd said...

Steve Carr

It sounds like you are demanding a precise description on the witness of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, this is a poor demand. Since there are many things that we can't offer a good description on yet we can know are true. How do I describe my identity as opposed to your identity, or any other identity yet I know my identity. I know my thoughts. How can I describe how I use my "Will"? Is it the same for everyone? CAn I describe a rainbow to a person blind from birth?

Gregory said...

Victor:

The rebuttal you offered as a possible counter-example to religious experience, based on the multiplicity of such experiences among a plurality of religions, I think can be easily circumvented.

If these sorts of ubiquitous experiences among adherents of mutually contrary religions constitutes an objection to all such experiences, then several problems surface:

1) Differing "experiences" amongst people, in general, would then constitute a refutation of experience altogether.

2) This type of argument is akin to the argument that's made against objective truth claims: namely, the multiplicity of mutually exclusive truth claims constitutes a disproof of objective truth.

3) From the Christian point of view, it would be odd if only Christians had religious/mystical experiences, since all of humanity is made in the "image of God", and therefore innately disposed to being aware of His "numinousity"---for lack of a better word. On the contrary, such ubiquity of religious experience bespeaks the truth of Christianity. I would say that this is akin to Lewis' argument for the "Tao", however imperfectly it is iterated among the world's religions, as underlying all these religions and religious philosophies of the world.

4) Even if it were plausibly argued that these varied religious experiences raise intractable difficulties with respect to religion, it would be no less problematic for "secular" experience also (i.e. Existentialist notions of "angst" and "unbounded freedom-to-be", or Hume's notion of "vivid" empirical sensations, or impressions vs. ideas). What's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.

I think Craig's point holds. The wide variety of mystical experiences among men have been, for those who have them, a "proof" for some supernatural or metaphysical Reality/Being, which transcends normal modes of consciousness.

If religious experience cannot be appealed to as a reason for believing in something supernatural, then "normal" experiences can't be appealed to as a reason to believe in the reality of the "natural" world either.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to you!!

Steven Carr said...

CRAIG
Rather it is the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him.

CARR
But how much crying do you need to do before you can say 'I've come to know God'?

CRAIG
This was the way that people in the Bible knew God.

CARR
Look at Judges 6

Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised- 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said." 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew." 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Craig thinks we can experience God 'the way that people in the Bible knew God'

But Craig would sooner cut off his right arm than ask his God in a public debate to work the sort of miracles so that we can know god in 'the way that people in the Bible knew God'.

Because Craig knows perfectly well that nothing anything like things described in the Bible will happen.

Joe said...

Carr

I guess a few things could be said in response but I will only say one.

Gideon talks to God before this fleece proof. The fleece proof wasn't a proof that God existed - Gideon already knew that - he was talking with him. It was proof God would save Israel through Gideon. So Gideon didn't know of God by way of the fleece proof.

Steven Carr said...

Does this mean we can expect Craig to start asking God for proofs in debates, in the way people in the Bible did?

I very much doubt it. Craig knows his god is not going to bother attending Craig's debates.

Or take this argument from personal experience...

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Why should atheists be impressed by people who hear voices in their heads telling them to put up with messengers from Satan?

Why should we not regard Christians as a bunch of lunatics, who hear voices, and think their voices are real?


Why should anybody be impressed by Craig's claims to 'hear the inner voice of God speaking to our own hearts'?

A really good rule in life is to get help if you start to hear voices.

Mike Almeida said...

Why doubt your experience of the external world?

Maybe because the very point in question is whether your experience is of the external world.

Doctor Logic said...

Mike Darus,

Science is about eliminating personal bias. That's why scientific observations (e.g., about weather and rainbows) make predictions. Predictions are one technique to eliminate personal bias, even for one's self.

Religion is about maximizing personal bias. The story about WLC is a fine example. What does his experience predict? Nothing. It has implications to WLC, for sure, but it doesn't predict anything.

People are biased, and if you charge them up and get them excited, they get religious hysteria. They will believe things that are not true. This is a fact of human psychology.

So what's the use of citing examples of this well-known behavior as evidence? It's not even legitimate evidence to the person who experiences it.

Again, this is totally different from science where experiences are relied upon, but not as brute truths about the world. It is well-known that humans do not simply absorb facts, but instantly register interpretations of facts. Science uses techniques to get at those facts with minimal interpretation. Experiences are collected and tabulated in a way that removes bias. Science uses blind studies and making predictions so that it doesn't matter how the subject or researcher feels, the truth comes out. At least, that is the goal, and it's worked well for centuries now.

There's no reason why God can't appear to scientists. If God exists, he chooses not to. Instead, God is always hiding in our biases so that we cannot rationally believe in him, even if he existed.

Blip said...

I think Craig is absolutely right here.

If someone gave me arguments for the non-existence of the external world that went for 50 years in the philosophical literature as universally recognised as sound, I still wouldn't believe in the non-existence of the external world.

Why?

Because whenever I come to compare the plausibility of the two claims

1) The external world exists.

and

2) The sceptical argument for the non-existence of the external world is successful,

I find that I always find 1) more plausible than 2). And since epistemic seeming directs doxastic force, I am always, therefore, more rational in believing 1) over 2).

Craig is simply transferring this essentially Moorean point to the debate about the existence of God. One of the functions of religous experience is that it drastically raises, for the subject, the plausibility of the claim

3) God exists.

And if this plausibility is high enough (and why should it not be?) such a person would always be rational in rejecting even some such proposition as

4) Those atheistic arguments which I can't fault anywhere are successful.

Victor's point is, I think, irrelevant. The fact that the mechanism which led you to believe p has led some people to belive not-p (or some falsities), isn't sufficient for the seemings which that mechanism produced in you to be deprived of their evidential force. Why should it?

Leastways, I think that if you don't grant that, then you have no way of defeating a scepticism about the external world.

Steven Carr said...

BLIP
One of the functions of religous experience is that it drastically raises, for the subject, the plausibility of the claim

CARR
Does feeling pain in a limb drastically raise the plausbility of the claim that you have such a limb, even if doctors swear blind that they have amputated it?

Perhaps Craig did not communicate his religious experience very well, but I am puzzled as to how feeling better after a heavy session of crying could lead to his feeling 'I have come to know God'.

How does such an experience compare with Paul being told by the Lord 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' after Paul pleaded with Jesus to take away the messenger of Satan from him?

Blip said...

DL,

I don't think science is about reducing personal bias (I'm not even sure what that is), I think it about finding out what it is rational for us to believe about the natural world. Or what the most economically virtuous models of it are.

I get the feeling that you are trying to skip over the philosophy and get straight into science.

To illustrate, you seem to like predictability a lot, well take the proposition

1) Predictability is a theoretical virtue.

The problem is that 1) doesn't make any predictions. So whatever warrant you have for believing 1), it is not got from predictability. So there are sources of warrant other than predictaility. Why can't Criag's experience capitalise on those?

And I think it is obvious that experiences like that are evidence for the subject.

Suppose that you are in an airplane crash on the sea and everyone in the planes dies except you, who is left clinging to a piece of wreckage which happens to contain a radio. Over the radio you hear your the designers of the plane give proofs that it is physically impossible for anyone to survive such a crash. Suppose you also helped design the plane and you find you can't fault in their proofs - they seem rock solid. Are you therefore rational in believing that you are dead? Not at all, it would be more sensible for you to conclude that there is something wrong with the designers proof, given the incontrovertiable datum of your current plight.

For the religious believer, his awareness of the presence of God will function as an incontrovertable datum in the same sense - he will always know that there is something wrong with a proof of God's non-existence, even if he cannot show what.

Blip said...

Carr,

What happens in the phantom limb case is that the force of your seeming to possess a limb is outweighed by your seeming to not have one (of the sort that is caused by opening your eyes and looking). Most people will think this way, though I think it is in principle possible for someone to be rational in believing they still have the limb, even though they don't see it. But most people aren't like that.

I also don't deny that it is in principle possible for the force of relgious experience to be defeated, i just can't think of anything that could actually do it, apart from a new, different religious experience.

Steven Carr said...

What 'force' did Craig's religious experience have?

He cried a lot and felt much better for doing so.

That is perfectly understandable and natural.

As natural as feeling pain , and the mind placing the pain in a limb which has been amputated.

That happens.

Craig's experience is no more an experience of a real god than a person who feels pain in a phantom limb feels pain in a real limb.

Craig's crying a lot in bitterness and anger has nothing whatever in common with examples put forward as properly basic beliefs.

This is why I was so amazed to read his testimony.

After the build up I got from reading about properly basic beliefs from people like Plantinga and Craig, I expected something that was not so banal.

I expected to read about a real religious experience....

Gordon Knight said...

SC

The phantom limb pain is defeated by other evidence.

The better analgoy is just "seeming to feel pain" which may, in the case of phantom pain, be illusory or in the case of non-phantom pain, be veridical

Just having a religious experience is more like this--its not that it cannot be defeated by other evidence (it may turn out to be like phantom pain), but it does constitute prima facie evidence (like seeming to feel pain in one's leg)

Steven Carr said...

I see.

So religious experience is like being alive when other people say you are dead.

It 'will function as an incontrovertable datum in the same sense - he will always know that there is something wrong with a proof of God's non-existence, even if he cannot show what.'

But it can be defeated by other experiences, although you do not have to accept the other experiences , even if you cannot show why they are wrong.

Presumably hearing voices in your head telling you are right to believe in a God is not the sort of thing which troubles religious believers.

They just regard it as evidence they are right to believe the voices in their head.

And if they don't hear voices, then what sort of experiences are we talking about?

Something as banal as Craig's?

Mike Darus said...

I think predictability works for us here. If we hypothesize the existence of a soul that is capable of sensing non-material entities, we would expect to experience conflict and confusion with our five senses that are capable of sensing the material world. We would "hear" with our spirit "sounds" that we do not hear with our ears. We get the same dissonance with the phantom limb between the sense of sight and the sensation through nerve endings. "We walk by faith, not by sight."

Mike Darus said...

Steve, you may make a good distinction between "banal" religious experience and "real" religious experience although I suspect there are better terms. Religious experience gets more interesting when the experience of the soul impacts on the physical senses and even more interesting when there is a physical affect.

Steven Carr said...

Does Mike mean stigmata?

Joe said...

DL

I think your argument boils down to something like this:

P1) Science uses predictions as a tool to help reduce bias in scientific beliefs.
P2) Religion does not (can not?) use predictions as a tool to reduce the bias of religious beliefs.
Therefore Religion is all based on bias. (or indeed you say “Religion is about maximizing personal bias”)

Ok first the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Just because religion does not or can not, employ a tool – predictions – in order to reduce bias that does not mean it is all based on bias. Nor does it follow that Religion is about maximizing bias. If you want to get the conclusions you state I think you need stronger premises.

Second I don’t accept the second premise. Not only does religion make predictions about what will happen when we die but certain aspects of religion are historical claims and claims about reality. We predict we won’t find Jesus’ tomb with his body in it for example. (Is that much different than Dawkins predicting we won’t find a Precambrian rabbit?) For example the fine tuning argument supposedly can be affected by discoveries that might suggest a multiverse exists. So I do think there are predictions involved.

Mike Darus said...

Steve,
I was not thinking stigmata. That phenomena is not something I identify with. I was thinking about more subtle phenomena like emotional or physical sensation. The linkage between soul and mind and brain is closer to my intention. The focus is determining the proper sensory organ to detect an immaterial being.

Gregory said...

Carr:

The only experience that you have of the world is your own.

Your argument amounts to something like this:

The only rational and legitimate experiences possible and acceptable are experiences that are identical to my own.

The point I made above is that no experiences are ever identical. The kinds of textures of experience, or qualia, can only be experienced via first person introspection.

I can only know and discuss the world as I experience it. If I happened to disagree, rather than agree, with Craig's points, I can only argue that my experience is not the same as his; not that his experience is false.

And so, your point rests on the same kind of introspective personal experience that you claim can't be rationally acceptable.

Science cannot examine or quantify subjective experience; and it certainly can't explain "intentionality" in terms of some physical process. In fact, there's no analogue to intentionality in any known "natural" process.

I think Mike D. and Blip hit on something important. But rather than reiterate their points, I refer readers back to their posts.

My last point:

"Predictability" isn't a scientific concept; it's a philosophical concept. You cannot observe, quantify, predict or measure it [predictability]. Neither can you observe, quantify, predict or measure "future" experience....or say with any objective certainty that the future will, indeed, resemble the past. That point has not been adequately addressed by skeptics after Hume first formulated it.

So your point is self-contradictory.

See John Foster's "The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature and the Existence of God" (Oxford Univ. Press 2004)

Doctor Logic said...

Blip,

Prediction is a rational virtue (not merely a theoretical one), and this follows from the rules of rationality.

I'm not going to go into every detail because it would take too long, but here's the short answer. There is something we call "the self", and there are criteria for classifying causes as being part of the self or external to the self. One of those criteria is that I cannot alter the external world by mere force of will or desire. However, I *can* alter my interpretation of (and focus of attention on) the world by will or desire, and, hence, my intuitive interpretations and beliefs are tainted by my own biases. And this unavoidable and automatic interpretation is what gives rise to subjectivity. This is a problem. How do we know when an interpretation or belief is true versus an accident of my own desires or attentions?

For example, suppose I think the number 13 is unlucky. What is wrong with me selectively remembering unfortunate accidents, and selectively ignoring the fortunate accidents after seeing 13? The problem is that if I permit myself to be so selective, my belief that 13 is unlucky becomes a belief about me and my biases at least as much as it is a belief about the world. Being selective makes it impossible to know whether a belief is about me and my biases or about the outside world.

Theism consistently avoids applying scientific methods to its beliefs. Now, theists have philosophical arguments for why they ought not apply science to certain categories of beliefs. I am not advocating scientism.

However, what we're talking about in this case is a not a philosophical argument for God. We're talking here about WLC's interpretation of his experiences as an effect of an external God. We KNOW humans are not reliable interpreters of raw information, especially when that information is emotionally important to them. WLC is biased, just as we all are. WLC runs off the rails because his belief predicts nothing he can reliably know now. People would have experiences like his even if God did not exist. His conclusion is not scientific, and that means that we cannot say whether WLC's belief is about himself or about God.

The fact is that, given what we know about human psychology, people have experiences like Craig's even when God isn't interfering with their heads (e.g., when their beliefs are about something other than God).

But do churches ask people like WLC to critically think about their experiences? No. On the contrary, they want everyone to rely on interpretations the way WLC does, just so long as the interpretation agrees with church dogma. This is what I mean by religion maximizing bias.

Indeed, if WLC lived in another culture, e.g., in India or China, he would interpret his experiences as Chi or as the influence of some Hindu mystic. This realization is part and parcel of rational thinking. Don't believe that an interpretation is about something external to your culture when you haven't controlled for culture.

Prediction solves many of these problems. Prediction is a commitment to unbiased sampling. Prediction is a commitment to live by the raw facts of what we see, not by our biased interpretations of those facts. It is a commitment to controls. Machines that operate according to predictions do not have culture or biases.

For the religious believer, his awareness of the presence of God will function as an incontrovertible datum in the same sense - he will always know that there is something wrong with a proof of God's non-existence, even if he cannot show what.

As for your plane crash analogy, I really don't see the relevance. No one is saying WLC didn't have his experiences or his interpretations. We are saying that his interpretation is heavily biased, self-serving, and deliberately eschews any test of its truth.

You're saying that WLC knows God exists. He doesn't know it!!! He just has an interpretation of his experience. His experience wasn't directly God, but was alleged to have been caused by God. His experience consisted of various thoughts and emotions which he interpreted as God. Human intuitions are not infallible. You cannot call your biased interpretations knowledge. Otherwise racists would KNOW that their race is superior just by their gut interpretation of their experiences. No critical thinker would accept this as a standard of knowledge.

Doctor Logic said...

Gregory,

Neither can you observe, quantify, predict or measure "future" experience....or say with any objective certainty that the future will, indeed, resemble the past. That point has not been adequately addressed by skeptics after Hume first formulated it.

It hasn't been addressed by theists either. In fact, it can never be rationally addressed because rational thought itself relies on this very same principle. It doesn't apply only to physical sensations, but to thoughts too.

You cannot think rationally without assuming that past thoughts are a guide to future thoughts.

Steven Carr said...

DR LOGIC
The fact is that, given what we know about human psychology, people have experiences like Craig's even when God isn't interfering with their heads (e.g., when their beliefs are about something other than God).


CARR
Yes.

It is very well known that a really good crying session, where you cry out your bitterness and anger , often leaves you feeling good afterwards.

It is not valid to conclude that you have come to know God as a result of such an experience.

While such moments can change your life, and Craig says it changed his, and I have no reason to doubt it, I see no reason why I should accept such personal experiences (bitter tears and crying , followed by joy) as an experience of God.


CRAIG
Rather it is the claim that you can know that God exists wholly apart from arguments simply by immediately experiencing Him.

CARR
Craig's personal testimony demonstrates nothing of the sort.

I was amazed to read Craig's personal testimony after reading Craig's description of how Christians know that God exists by 'immediately experiencing Him'.

I expected something entirely different.

I'm not sure what exactly, but Craig immediately experienced the Milky Way in his account, not God.

Craig's Personal Testimony of his religious experience

Incidentally, Craig says 'But we do see Paul, for example, sharing his testimony repeatedly of how he came to faith on the road to Damascus'

I can't recall Paul writing anything in his letters other than that God was pleased to reveal his son *in* him.

I don't even know what that is supposed to mean.

Why doesn't Paul say that God revealed his son 'to' him, rather than 'in' him?

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

In the present context, we're talking about personal experiences as evidence. That includes WLC experience, and cases where people interpret events as answered prayers. These are total bias.

This biased view of personal experience makes people think that the Resurrection or the Mormon story is plausible. It's not rational to believe in the Resurrection because it's far more likely to be false than actually happen. Even if the Resurrection actually happened, we lack the evidence to make it rationally believable.

Apart from this context, there are theistic arguments that attempt to prove God's existence using some sort of philosophical argument. The Cosmological argument and the Argument from Reason are a couple of examples. These arguments may be wrong, but they're not simply bias.

Finally, there's an over-arching bias across Christian apologetics. Because so many Christians believe miracles are occurring to them every day, the cannot even consider the alternatives to their beliefs. God isn't an abstract idea about which they are free to think critically. They have, by biased sampling, convinced themselves that God is a person who controls every aspect of their lives. They're not just biased, but conditioned to bias even more. A lot of theists are intuitively compelled by the idea that the world is made wonderful for us by God. But they can't even consider what the world would be like without God. They cannot be atheist for a day.

Again, the church doesn't say "Let's be sure about this, guys. Let's check that we're not deluding ourselves. It would be unethical for us to dupe people into believing something false, so we ought to teach people critical thinking." It says the opposite.

Not only does religion make predictions about what will happen when we die but certain aspects of religion are historical claims and claims about reality.

No, I don't think this is true. Suppose I sell you a house, but the fine print says you don't take actual possession of the house until I vacate it. Then I never vacate it. Have I sold you the house?

You would think that predicting the afterlife would lead to all sorts of predictions, including returning from the dead and communicating from beyond the grave. But that doesn't happen. Christians are saying that there's an afterlife, but to the living, it will appear as if there is no afterlife. This is like me selling you a house but saying that my selling the house to you results in the same experiences for you as if I hadn't sold it to you.

As for finding the tomb of Jesus, that's not really a prediction either. Suppose that Jesus was the Benny Hinn of his day, and not a divine character. Suppose, too, that Jesus's supporters really believed in Jesus (as Hinn's supporters do). Jesus's supporters claimed there was no body. That's not particularly noteworthy. So even if Jesus was a fraud, we're still not going to find a tomb. Indeed, most people who died in that era didn't get a tomb. So Christianity isn't really predicting anything. It's a bit like the Mormons predicting we won't find the golden book.

The pre-Cambrian rabbit works for Dawkins (J B S Haldane, actually) because, without evolution, that's what you would expect. Without evolution, there's no constraint on fossilization or extinction or speciation, generally.

Gregory said...

Dr. Logic needs to put his thinking cap on. You said:

It hasn't been addressed by theists either. In fact, it can never be rationally addressed because rational thought itself relies on this very same principle. It doesn't apply only to physical sensations, but to thoughts too.

You cannot think rationally without assuming that past thoughts are a guide to future thoughts.


1) I referenced John Foster's book. He argues that theism resolves the problem of induction.

2) Prediction is just that....prediction. Because of that, scientific inferences are always inductive.....not apodictically or rationally certain.

3) You affirmed my point: prediction is philosophical, not scientific. (i.e. you said:"prediction is a rational virtue"). This is not a scientific statement...nor is it an object/entity amenable to scientific examination. It's a precondition for science; therefore, science is dependent on extra-scientific disciplines to give it meaning and coherence....in other words, science qua science is not rational. It only becomes "rational" when non-scientific assumptions are made, by which "science" can then be defined and practiced.

4) There is no strict definition of "science". You bandy it about as though we all agreed on it's meaning. I don't know what you mean by that word. "Prediction" isn't very helpful since astrologers make "predictions".

5) Making inferences about future experience, however that is done, is still soothsaying....but instead of a "crystal ball" and/or "alignment of the constellations", you make "natural law" and "rationality" your oracle.

Dr. Logic said this:

"God isn't an abstract idea about which they are free to think critically. They have, by biased sampling, convinced themselves that God is a person who controls every aspect of their lives. They're not just biased, but conditioned to bias even more. A lot of theists are intuitively compelled by the idea that the world is made wonderful for us by God. But they can't even consider what the world would be like without God. They cannot be atheist for a day.

Perhaps we should call you Dr. Ad Hominem....or Dr. Hasty Generalization....or Dr. Petitio Principii....or even Dr. Ad Baculum.

You certainly could write text-book examples of informal logical fallacies.

Answer these questions for us:

1) Do all beliefs have to have a "reason"?

2) Do you believe that there is a "reason" for reason? Or do you exercise your right to believe in it by blind faith?

3) Do you believe that "reason" is merely an evolutionary mechanism which has evolved solely for the purpose of "survival"?

4) Do you believe that "science" has played any part in the prehistoric and ancient quest for biological survival? Has the notion of being "scientific" (in the modern sense) played a pivotal role in making biological organisms "fit" to survive?

5) Are you a Platonist? Do you believe that "logic" is more than some chemical reaction in your brain? And if "logic" is just a chemical reaction in our brains, isn't accusing somebody of being "irrational" really just indignation at some arrangement of proton, neutron and electron
orbits....of which are wholly determined by the laws of physics and chemistry?

Perhaps it is you, "Sir", who are among those whom "cannot even consider the alternatives to their beliefs."

Matthew said...

I think Craig's argument is more like: "I feel a leg. If you can't show me that I don't have a leg, I am justified in believing I have one."

Gregory said...

The skeptical atheist begins with this premise:

"God does not exist"

From this non-scientific premise, he/she, as a matter of course, disqualifies any theistic claims to "positive" epistemic status.

Religious experience, therefore, is rejected a priori.

Craig could argue til he was blue in the face and it wouldn't make much difference to somebody who dogmatically believes "God does not exist".

C.S. Lewis called this kind of situation "the obstinacy of belief".

Craig could argue this:

Why should my experience of God, which [for me] yields a greater confidence that God exists than discursive reasoning, be overturned by some argument that does not carry such weight? To put it another way, is it only the "well-educated" philosopher that can "know" that God exists or not?

BTW, this is similar to an argument that James Felt proposed regarding libertarian freedom....namely, that my own intuitive experience of being free is a better reason for believing that I am free, than some abstract argument to the contrary.

Doctor Logic said...

Gregory,

I'm not sure why you went on at length about prediction when we both agree that prediction isn't a scientific result per se. You also seem to disparage prediction.

You say that astrologers use prediction. Do they use predictions, or merely make them? Can you see any difference?

Here's the point. By making specific predictions, we can say how our experiences ought to change our beliefs. There's a moral commitment to proper belief formation. In Bayesian terms, you have to go out on a limb and talk about the probability of some experience occurring if the theory is true versus false.

If you fail to do this or fail to be specific enough, then your beliefs become immune to experience, and certainly not justified by experience. Maybe you don't care, but there it is.

Astrologers generally don't make specific predictions, don't give probability estimates, and then don't alter their beliefs based on the results because there's no basis for correction. When they are specific, they are statistically wrong, yet that doesn't alter their beliefs.

1) Do all beliefs have to have a "reason"?

No. But rational beliefs do. The only beliefs one can rationally accept without reason are the axioms of rational thinking.

Rationality is also about considering alternatives, and accounting for personal bias.

2) Do you believe that there is a "reason" for reason? Or do you exercise your right to believe in it by blind faith?

There can be no rational justification for the tenets of rationality. That would be circular. But this is irrelevant to whether a "feeling" is rationally a sign of something external (e.g., God).

3) Do you believe that "reason" is merely an evolutionary mechanism which has evolved solely for the purpose of "survival"?

Reason isn't "merely an evolutionary mechanism" any more than fission chain reactions are an evolutionary mechanism.

Of course, our ability to use reason evolved. The ability to reason has dramatic survival advantages for a species whose environment is in flux and there's no time to evolve a population in response. The only kinds of beliefs that get selected for survival rather than truth are unverifiable beliefs. If you'll fight harder for your tribe if you think you'll be rewarded in the afterlife, your tribe will survive better, whether the afterlife exists or not. So it's religious beliefs that get tainted in light of evolutionary psychology.

4) Do you believe that "science" has played any part in the prehistoric and ancient quest for biological survival? Has the notion of being "scientific" (in the modern sense) played a pivotal role in making biological organisms "fit" to survive?

Yes. Science isn't just what get's published. Science involves recognition, hypothesis, and testing. Man has been doing this since prehistoric times. The problem is that human biases are significant. Sloppy, informal science soon runs up against personal biases, and so only more obvious regularities can be discovered without systematic effort to suppress bias.

5) Are you a Platonist? Do you believe that "logic" is more than some chemical reaction in your brain? And if "logic" is just a chemical reaction in our brains, isn't accusing somebody of being "irrational" really just indignation at some arrangement of proton, neutron and electron
orbits....of which are wholly determined by the laws of physics and chemistry?


I am not a Platonist. No, logic is not a chemical reaction in my brain because logic is independent of substrate. Logic is a method for recognizing or excluding contradictions. This is useful because the world is governed by laws, and the presence of laws implies the utility of non-contradiction.

Rational thinking, which includes the use of logic, is a moral choice. Since morality is not absolute, idiots are not absolutely morally wrong for not being rational. However, I personally think they are morally wrong.

Perhaps it is you, "Sir", who are among those whom "cannot even consider the alternatives to their beliefs."

Sticks and stones, Luv.

Hiero5ant said...

I think Craig's argument is more like: "I feel a leg. If you can't show me that I don't have a leg, I am justified in believing I have one."

You are blinded by your dogmatic atheomaterialist metaphysics.

Just because someone who has phantom limb pain doesn't have a physical leg (i.e. a real leg) doesn't prove (unless you are a dogmatic darwinio naturalist positivist) that the person doesn't have a "non-material" leg. Unless you can present a complete account, from top to bottom, of how the qualia of seeming to have a limb are produced, then your materiohomoliberal worldview cannot dismiss the possibility that all the Iraq war vets claiming to be amputees are mistaken.

Joe said...

DL
"As for finding the tomb of Jesus, that's not really a prediction either. Suppose that Jesus was the Benny Hinn of his day, and not a divine character. Suppose, too, that Jesus's supporters really believed in Jesus (as Hinn's supporters do). Jesus's supporters claimed there was no body. That's not particularly noteworthy. So even if Jesus was a fraud, we're still not going to find a tomb. Indeed, most people who died in that era didn't get a tomb. So Christianity isn't really predicting anything."


We can suppose all sorts of things right. I suggested this is like Dawkins precambrian rabbit prediction/falsification.
Suppose that pre cambrian rabbit died in an intense fire so we can't find it. Does that mean that is not really a prediction?

Joe said...

DL:
"Again, the church doesn't say "Let's be sure about this, guys. Let's check that we're not deluding ourselves. It would be unethical for us to dupe people into believing something false, so we ought to teach people critical thinking." It says the opposite."


Science doesn't say lets be sure we aren't brains in vats and that therefore our perceptions are valid. It would be unethical to dupe people into unquestioningly believing our perceptions when we have an alternate explanation (perhaps quite a few of them when we consider the dreaming argument evil genius/diety etc.)

Science relies on our perceptions to get going the Christian religion relies on God to get going. So both endeavors take certain things to be true. But that doesn't mean one is immoral.

Joe said...

"This biased view of personal experience makes people think that the Resurrection or the Mormon story is plausible. It's not rational to believe in the Resurrection because it's far more likely to be false than actually happen. Even if the Resurrection actually happened, we lack the evidence to make it rationally believable."

Well would you agree that the Gospels and certain New Testament texts do provide some evidence for the resurrection? I mean they provide some evidence that Rome ruled over the area surrounding Jerusalem right? So what we are looking at is a matter of degree. Now how much evidence you will need is in part determined by the other beliefs you hold. These other beliefs bias/color our interpretation of this evidence right?

Perhaps you believe miracles are impossible. I'm not sure why you would think that, but obviously if you start out with that belief then that will bias your view of the New Testament historical evidence right? Perhaps it’s that bias that suggests to you there is not enough evidence.

Joe said...

"This biased view of personal experience makes people think that the Resurrection or the Mormon story is plausible. It's not rational to believe in the Resurrection because it's far more likely to be false than actually happen. Even if the Resurrection actually happened, we lack the evidence to make it rationally believable."

Well would you agree that the Gospels and certain New Testament texts do provide some evidence for the resurrection? I mean they provide some evidence that Rome ruled over the area surrounding Jerusalem right? So what we are looking at is a matter of degree. Now how much evidence you will need is in part determined by the other beliefs you hold. These other beliefs bias/color our interpretation of this evidence right?

Perhaps you believe miracles are impossible. I'm not sure why you would think that, but obviously if you start out with that belief then that will bias your view of the New Testament historical evidence right? Perhaps it’s that bias that suggests to you there is not enough evidence.

Joe said...

DL:
"No. But rational beliefs do. The only beliefs one can rationally accept without reason are the axioms of rational thinking.

Rationality is also about considering alternatives, and accounting for personal bias."

I agree with your second paragraph. I think the second type of rationality is somewhat different than the first.

But I don't agree with your first paragraph. By "axioms of rational thinking" what do you mean? Based on what you’re saying, it must be more than the self evident truths of logic right? What all does one throw in this "axioms of rational thinking" bin? Is the first paragraph itself an axiom of rational thinking or is it derived from those axioms?

Joe said...

DL said:
"Here's the point. By making specific predictions, we can say how our experiences ought to change our beliefs. There's a moral commitment to proper belief formation."

I think you have some good ideas but then you say something like this. Can't moral nihilists do science and change their views based on outcomes of predictions? Whether or not there is some sort of moral obligation to try to hold true beliefs is really irrelevant to the use of predictions to check against bias.

Joe said...

Mathew said:
"I think Craig's argument is more like: 'I feel a leg. If you can't show me that I don't have a leg, I am justified in believing I have one.'"



I think this is right. I don't think that this perception is like our typical five senses. It’s not objective in the sense we can tell others to look there and see that the tree has green leaves and have them confirm our perceptions. Although I think that lack of objectivity takes the ability to convince others away, I'm not sure that really means we can't rationally believe in God based on this experience.

Lets assume you are the only creature on earth that can communicate. Your parents soon after your birth. You were raised by wolves just like Tarzan, except unlike Tarzan you can't communicate with the other animals. You wouldn't be able to have other people/creatures confirm that the leaves on the tree are green. Yet they would appear to you greenly and I don't think there would be anything irrational in believing they were in fact green. Would there?

Hiero5ant said...

I don't think that this perception is like our typical five senses. It’s not objective in the sense we can tell others to look there and see that the tree has green leaves and have them confirm our perceptions.

The line between "not objective" and "imaginary" seems to have been eradicated at this point. But religionists routinely claim that OT prophets, tarot cards, and other top psychics have religious perceptions which are vindicated by prediction. The claims all fail upon closer examination, but at least such people are in principle trying to play the evidence game.

Although I think that lack of objectivity takes the ability to convince others away, I'm not sure that really means we can't rationally believe in God based on this experience.

But every time someone tries to make an argument for the rationality of (non-predictive) subjective experience, they systematically fail to supply a standard which lets their own claims in but excludes 1)the subjective experiences of all sects other than their own and 2)voices telling people to drown their infants in tubs. Let's see how this attempt works out:

Lets assume you are the only creature on earth that can communicate. Your parents soon after your birth. You were raised by wolves just like Tarzan, except unlike Tarzan you can't communicate with the other animals. You wouldn't be able to have other people/creatures confirm that the leaves on the tree are green. Yet they would appear to you greenly and I don't think there would be anything irrational in believing they were in fact green. Would there?

First, the analogy goes wide of the mark because it compares primitive sense-impressions with very high-level inferences drawn from them. But even if you could make the analogy go through, you still have failed to exclude the rationality of believing 1)the subjective experiences of all other sects and 2)voices telling people to drown their infants in tubs.

The only way around this is to apply induction inconsistently by making massively unparsimonious and ad hoc assumptions to exclude the non-protestant experiences. Like the Koran saying that other religionists actually believe the Koran, but are possessed by demons. Or the unmistakable mythological sources from which the Christ story was lifted being "satanic counterfeits before the fact".

Joe said...

Hiero5ant

I think your saying once we realize that it’s possible we can have this experience and be mistaken about the reality portrayed by it, it is no longer rational to continue that interpretation. (At least barring some other test like predictions or other observers confirming the same thing) If that is what you are saying then let’s alter my example and say this Tarzan is very smart like Descartes. And although he can't communicate with anyone he does come to realize he has had lucid dreams and therefore can't really rule out the possibility that when he looks at the green leaves he is just dreaming. Now then will this mean he has no rational basis to believe the leaves are green?

Matthew said...

You are blinded by your dogmatic atheomaterialist metaphysics.

And you trying to make me play word games.

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

Science doesn't say lets be sure we aren't brains in vats and that therefore our perceptions are valid.

That analogy won't work. Science, broadly speaking, is about asking whether our beliefs are a function of experience. Brains in vats are irrelevant to that.

In science we limit ourselves to the bare minimum of assumptions necessary to make sense of the world.

In religion, not so. Religion takes on all sorts of beliefs that are unnecessary for rational thinking.

Science relies on our perceptions to get going the Christian religion relies on God to get going. So both endeavors take certain things to be true. But that doesn't mean one is immoral.

So, a racist group that assumes (in addition to the minimum set of assumptions) that their race is superior is perfectly reasonable and moral? I guess if self-deception is moral, then it could be true.

Well would you agree that the Gospels and certain New Testament texts do provide some evidence for the resurrection?

Yes, certainly they do. But historical texts are not regarded as certain. They are not considered more than 99% reliable. Stories get embellished or fabricated. And sources tend to be misinformed.

So, all things being equal, we might think there's a 99% chance that claims in the NT are true. But things are not equal. The claim that Rome ruled the area is mundane. Suppose we didn't already have Roman evidence to back up the claim that Rome ruled that region. However, we did have evidence they ruled many other regions at the time. So, before the NT, we might think there was only a 1 in 10 chance that Rome rules Palestine and didn't mention it in their histories. But the NT, with its 1 in 100 confidence level would trumps the historical 1 in 10 odds that Rome didn't rule the area.

In other words, historical/religious accounts of the NT (or any other text) don't have infinite epistemological strength. They are perhaps, 1 part in 100, and that's good enough to convince us of claim that are no more improbable than 1 in 100. Resurrection is ruled out to 1 part in 10 billion. A single text with religious motivations is not going to be adequate to overturn the statistics. In fact, when it comes to those odds, even my personal eyewitness account is not going to be adequate for my own rational belief. It would be more likely that I misremembered something or was high than that a resurrection occurred. Cognitive failure is more common than 1 in 10 billion. So I would need to continue collecting masses of evidence, controlling for cognitive failure, until the belief could be believed. The NT has no controls, and has religious hysteria - the ultimate anti-controller.

Is there nothing you could experience that would make you say "I must have misremembered or had some failure of my mental faculties"?

By "axioms of rational thinking" what do you mean? Based on what you’re saying, it must be more than the self evident truths of logic right? What all does one throw in this "axioms of rational thinking" bin?

I mean the minimum assumptions necessary to support rational thinking. I count three.

1) Logic.
2) Experiences (whether sensory or otherwise) have to be true in the trivial sense. If I see what looks like X, it is at least true that I see what looks like X, even if X did not really happen.
3) Induction. Past sensations and * past thoughts * are a guide to future thoughts and sensations. This is a generalization of sensory induction to thought.

These are the bare minimum of assumptions necessary for rational thinking. I don't assume anything else.

Rational thinking proceeds by making assumptions that model our experiences. We assume some rule X predicts and explains our experiences to some level of precision. If rule X predicts an experience that is contradicted by experience (so tome level of precision), then rule X is abandoned, and we try rule Y.

Precision is very important in rational thinking. That's why we need to control for biases.

Hiero5ant said...

I think your saying once we realize that it’s possible we can have this experience and be mistaken about the reality portrayed by it, it is no longer rational to continue that interpretation.

Well, that would be pretty stupid of me, wouldn't it, since it's possible we can be mistaken about anything.

What is (by definition) irrational is to persist in an interpretation of it which fails catastrophically to scale with its evidentiary value. To the extent that apologists and astrologers make specific predictions at all (which is rare), they always seem to fall within the realm of the chance hypothesis.

But not one psychic employed at the Psychic Friends Network seems to have forseen that their company would go bankrupt. Not one Pentecostal channeller warned the FBI about the 9/11 attacks. Not one spirit-medium phoned up the deceased to get information about the perpetrators.

If a single theist could have "open his heart and cry out to God" and guess correctly the 30 digit number Sam Harris keeps in his drawer, this would be an astonishing vindication of the evidentiary value of having a good crying session. (You could also win the 1kk$ Randi prize!) But no theist even tries to do this, and I think that in your heart of hearts you know *why* it can't be done.

I can't say how common my story is, but all of the emotional heavy lifting in my deconversion from christianity came from manning-up and facing this basic fact.

If that is what you are saying then let’s alter my example and say this Tarzan is very smart like Descartes. And although he can't communicate with anyone he does come to realize he has had lucid dreams and therefore can't really rule out the possibility that when he looks at the green leaves he is just dreaming. Now then will this mean he has no rational basis to believe the leaves are green?

Once again, your analogy goes wide of the mark because it compares primitive sense-impressions with very high-level inferences drawn from them.

But even if you could make the analogy go through, you still have failed to exclude the rationality of believing 1)the subjective experiences of all other sects and 2)voices telling people to drown their infants in tubs.

The only way around this is to apply induction inconsistently by making massively unparsimonious and ad hoc assumptions to exclude the non-protestant experiences.

Joe said...

Joe:

"Science doesn't say lets be sure we aren't brains in vats and that therefore our perceptions are valid."

DL:

"That analogy won't work. Science, broadly speaking, is about asking whether our beliefs are a function of experience. Brains in vats are irrelevant to that.

In science we limit ourselves to the bare minimum of assumptions necessary to make sense of the world.

In religion, not so. Religion takes on all sorts of beliefs that are unnecessary for rational thinking.""

Actually the existence of the external world being as we perceive it is far from irrelevant to science. It is an underlying assumption of science. Just like the existence of God is an underlying assumption of Christianity.

As far as saying Science only assumes the bare minimum necessary for rational thought - I disagree. I think we can live our life rationally and suspend belief on the question of whether some scenario similar (although perhaps not identical)to us being a brain in a vat is true. What is important is the moral choices we make. It is not really important that trees are actually made of wood. If we understand our existence in this light that so long as our moral choices are indeed linked to who we are (which admittedly would not seem to occur if we were brains in vats) our experience here might have meaning.

Science makes claims about reality. It does not merely make claims about how reality appears to us. One can rationally see that science might be dead wrong and still make sense of our experience.

I would argue without religion its hard to make rational sense of our experience here.

Joe said...

Hiero5ant

"What is (by definition) irrational is to persist in an interpretation of it which fails catastrophically to scale with its evidentiary value."

If you’re saying what I think you’re saying, I disagree. To me the epitome of irrationality is to hold contradictory beliefs. "Evidence" is a tricky concept. The evidence that a certain thing may be true might be small but it may still be rational to act no differently than if it were great.

Joe said...

Joe:

“If that is what you are saying then let’s alter my example and say this Tarzan is very smart like Descartes. And although he can't communicate with anyone he does come to realize he has had lucid dreams and therefore can't really rule out the possibility that when he looks at the green leaves he is just dreaming. Now then will this mean he has no rational basis to believe the leaves are green?”

Hiero5ant:


“Once again, your analogy goes wide of the mark because it compares primitive sense-impressions with very high-level inferences drawn from them.

But even if you could make the analogy go through, you still have failed to exclude the rationality of believing 1)the subjective experiences of all other sects and 2)voices telling people to drown their infants in tubs.”

I’m not sure my experience of God is high-level.

Just because I fail to exclude other alternate possibilities does not mean it is irrational to believe what I do. That is the point of what I said above. Tarzan can’t exclude the rational possibility that he is having a lucid dream and therefore is not really seeing a leaf that is green.

Joe said...

Joe
"Science relies on our perceptions to get going the Christian religion relies on God to get going. So both endeavors take certain things to be true. But that doesn't mean one is immoral."


DL
"So, a racist group that assumes (in addition to the minimum set of assumptions) that their race is superior is perfectly reasonable and moral? I guess if self-deception is moral, then it could be true."

I'm not sure I understand you here. Just because we must assume some things are true, doesn't mean we can rationally/morally assume anything is true.

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

Actually the existence of the external world being as we perceive it is far from irrelevant to science. It is an underlying assumption of science.

No, this isn't true. If we live in a Matrix world, there's still physics. There's still useful information. Physics describes the local environment.

Science would break down if the prediction and test mechanisms of physics became useless. This would only happen if our rational faculties broke (e.g., memory, induction), or if there were no rules to our mental or physical environment. But if that happened then we would not be rational or conscious at all.

Physicists got along just fine assuming physics described what happened on Earth whether or not the rules were different on a neutron star. Physicists get along just fine discussing what our universe is like, even if there are other universes out there with completely different rules.

Physics and science make no metaphysical claim that our universe is not a simulation. Even if it is a simulation, physics is still getting information, and useful information at that.

I think we can live our life rationally and suspend belief on the question of whether some scenario similar (although perhaps not identical)to us being a brain in a vat is true.

Sure, but that just says that one can live rationally without answering the question of whether we're in a simulation (or a multiverse).

What is important is the moral choices we make. It is not really important that trees are actually made of wood. If we understand our existence in this light that so long as our moral choices are indeed linked to who we are (which admittedly would not seem to occur if we were brains in vats) our experience here might have meaning.

That's a big assertion.

It seems to me that your moral choices remain linked to your identity if you're in a Matrix-style BIV.

If you're saying that the BIV is not Matrix-style, so the BIV degrades your memory, or falsifies even your own thoughts, then I would agree that choice-making could be broken. However, this sort of BIV would be the kind of BIV that negates your rationality too.

Science makes claims about reality. It does not merely make claims about how reality appears to us. One can rationally see that science might be dead wrong and still make sense of our experience.

I totally disagree. The degree to which we understand the outside world is the degree to which we are scientific. In the time before science, men learned to make weapons out of metal. They would have been unable to do this if they had not formed theories about the way materials behaved, or formed theories about the predictable availability of raw materials. If a man fashioned a sword last week, why should he believe he could ever do it again? It must be because he assumed that the local environment has rules, and those rules change slowly enough to make predictions about outcomes.

Indeed, there is no free will without prediction. When I make a free choice, I am aware of my options, I predict the outcomes of the options, choose the outcome I prefer, and perform the corresponding option. The thing that makes the option free is that the outcomes are as I predicted they would be, statistically speaking. For example, if I chose based on predicted outcomes, but a third party consistently acted to prevent my outcome from actually happening, then I would not have free will.

DL:
"So, a racist group that assumes (in addition to the minimum set of assumptions) that their race is superior is perfectly reasonable and moral? I guess if self-deception is moral, then it could be true."

Joe:
I'm not sure I understand you here. Just because we must assume some things are true, doesn't mean we can rationally/morally assume anything is true.


Yes, but how do you decide? It looks to me like special pleading. The assumption of God is unnecessary. God cannot explain anything because God doesn't predict anything.

God is an assumption that tells you to do things independent of the consequence of those acts, just like racism is. Moral claims are unverifiable, so there can never be any root rational justification for them. You can say that some moral claims can be deduced from other moral claims, but you can never justify the original moral claims. They are moral axioms.

But these moral axioms are arbitrary. The universe doesn't care about moral axioms, only about physics.

Joe said...

DL

"Science would break down if the prediction and test mechanisms of physics became useless. This would only happen if our rational faculties broke (e.g., memory, induction), or if there were no rules to our mental or physical environment. But if that happened then we would not be rational or conscious at all."

No that’s not quite right. Science can break down (at least so far as it is a method of finding truth) even if there were rules to our mental and physical environment. Consider the possibility that there are rules to our physical environment but we don't have access to them. Science wouldn’t work to find truth about our surroundings - but we can nevertheless act rationally based on our perceptions and experiences. You are putting too much importance on what science is and can do.

Joe said...

DL
"God is an assumption that tells you to do things independent of the consequence of those acts, just like racism is. Moral claims are unverifiable, so there can never be any root rational justification for them. You can say that some moral claims can be deduced from other moral claims, but you can never justify the original moral claims. They are moral axioms.

But these moral axioms are arbitrary. The universe doesn't care about moral axioms, only about physics."

I disagree that moral claims are unverifiable, but I agree they can't be verified by scientific method.

Ok but it would be irrational for us not to care about morality. The basic questions of morality and rationality both come down to the question "what should we do?" In fact what is moral is the only thing a rational person really cares about. That is one reason why reasonable people understand that the vast majority of important questions have nothing to do with science.

Hiero5ant said...

To me the epitome of irrationality is to hold contradictory beliefs.

That some other things can be irrational is no barrier to another thing being irrational.

"Evidence" is a tricky concept. The evidence that a certain thing may be true might be small but it may still be rational to act no differently than if it were great.

"May...may..." you haven't given a ferinstance or addressed my ferinstances. There seems to be no correlation between degree of subjective catharsis and future predictive ability. Why can't a single religionist guess a 30 digit number?

I’m not sure my experience of God is high-level.

Of course it is. That I am seeing certain color patches and bursts of sound in front of me is low level. That these patches and sounds are actually fellow hominids going in and out of a concrete structure is a higher level inference drawing on antecedent beliefs. That this is a bank, and a bank robbery is taking place, is a yet-higher inference.

That Craig felt a serene sense of solace after having a good cry is a low-level experience. That this entitles him to make claims to know things about the big bang or the virgin birth of a zombie rabbi or the persistence of consciousness after bodily death which have eluded our best scientists is a high-level inference. It is also ridiculous and, frankly, more than a little insulting to anyone who's had to do actual hard work to increase our knowledge of the world.

Just because I fail to exclude other alternate possibilities does not mean it is irrational to believe what I do.

I am not talking about excluding alternate possibilities for your experience, I'm talking about the double standard you apply to the veracity of 1)the subjective experiences of all sects other than your own and 2)voices telling people to drown their infants in tubs. Or are you conceding that there is no difference?

Joe said...

Joe:
“To me the epitome of irrationality is to hold contradictory beliefs.”

Hiero5ant:
"That some other things can be irrational is no barrier to another thing being irrational."

No doubt but I don't think more than one thing can be the epitome of irrationality. That’s why I said what I did.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

Joe:
"Evidence" is a tricky concept. The evidence that a certain thing may be true might be small but it may still be rational to act no differently than if it were great."


Hiero5ant:
"May...may..." you haven't given a ferinstance or addressed my ferinstances. There seems to be no correlation between degree of subjective catharsis and future predictive ability. Why can't a single religionist guess a 30 digit number?"

I'm not sure I understand what your saying. Nothing in Christianity suggests Christians will be good at guessing games. Why would anyone think God would respond to our demand that we know this number?

As for a ferinstance where we act the same despite the evidence being unlikely that something occurred consider this. You are camping. You get bit by a snake. Unfortunately it slithered into the bushes before you could see it. It’s unlikely that the snake is poisonous because less than 33% of snake bites in this area are poisonous. Nevertheless if that is the snake that bit you and you don't take the anecdote you will likely lose your leg. You have the anecdote at your camp but it tastes really bad. I would think that a rational person would act the same way (i.e. take the anecdote) regardless of whether the evidence suggested a 33% or 100% chance the snake was poisonous. Therefore this would be an example where acting rationally does not vary depending on the strength of the evidence.

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

Science can break down (at least so far as it is a method of finding truth) even if there were rules to our mental and physical environment. Consider the possibility that there are rules to our physical environment but we don't have access to them. Science wouldn’t work to find truth about our surroundings - but we can nevertheless act rationally based on our perceptions and experiences.

You are creating a straw man. Science does not fail if our local physics prevent us from seeing something. For example, science does not fail if the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or black holes prevent us from seeing certain features of the universe.

You're portraying science as a search for ultimate truth, when it works just fine as a search of all the local truth we can discover.

Furthermore, you're saying we can rationally act on our perceptions and experience, but I don't think you realize that this rational dependence on what we have to work with is essentially the same thing as science. Obviously, you can figure out how to use a toy train set without writing journal articles, but you're figuring out the toy by touching, theorizing, confirming the theory, etc.

I disagree that moral claims are unverifiable, but I agree they can't be verified by scientific method.

Suppose I have a theory that X is immoral. How can I verify the theory?

Ok but it would be irrational for us not to care about morality. The basic questions of morality and rationality both come down to the question "what should we do?" In fact what is moral is the only thing a rational person really cares about.

'Rational person' is not defined as "someone who only cares about morality." Where does curiosity fit in?

Morality is simply choice of action. I think that rational thinking, being a choice of action, is a moral choice. I think that if one is rational and has goals, then one will reason ways to achieve those goals.

That is one reason why reasonable people understand that the vast majority of important questions have nothing to do with science.

You didn't support this, so I'm reading between the lines. I assume you are suggesting that since science can be used for good or evil, the important question is not how best to achieve a goal, but whether the goal should have been established to begin with.

I don't think this is relevant to our discussion, but if it were, I would ask how one selects goals. (One selects goals based on anticipated outcomes, and one anticipates outcomes based on science.)

I am *not* saying that rational thinking is implied by science, is a subset of science, or is proven by science. I am saying that science is implied by rationality alone.

Unfortunately it slithered into the bushes before you could see it. It’s unlikely that the snake is poisonous because less than 33% of snake bites in this area are poisonous. Nevertheless if that is the snake that bit you and you don't take the anecdote you will likely lose your leg. You have the anecdote at your camp but it tastes really bad. I would think that a rational person would act the same way (i.e. take the anecdote) regardless of whether the evidence suggested a 33% or 100% chance the snake was poisonous. Therefore this would be an example where acting rationally does not vary depending on the strength of the evidence.

Your analogy is to Pascal's Wager, not the Christian view.

In the analogy to the Christian view, the bitten individual believes he has certainly been bitten by a venomous snake, even if there are 1000 times as many non-venomous snakes in the area as venomous ones. While it may be rational not to take the 1 in 1000 risk, it is totally irrational to think that the danger inherent in being bitten by a venomous snake changes the likelihood that the offending the snake is venomous.

The statistics say that it is at least a thousand to one against Jesus having been resurrected, but the Christian doesn't say "It's highly unlikely that Jesus was actually resurrected, but because of the danger inherent in disbelief, I'll act as if he was." The Christian says "I am certain Jesus was resurrected." That's not rational.

Joe said...

DL:
"Suppose I have a theory that X is immoral. How can I verify the theory?"

I'm not sure what you would do but I would:
Consider what the bible and my church says. Consider my other beliefs and possible counterexamples and if it was a hard question I needed to address I would pray on it. Sometimes these methods seem to work sometimes there is still room for disagreement. But that is no different in science.

If I wanted to verify it for others I would need to know their beliefs and try to find premises they would accept that lead to the conclusion the theory is correct.

Joe said...

DL

"You're portraying science as a search for ultimate truth, when it works just fine as a search of all the local truth we can discover."

Joe:
Science works just fine if and only if our perceptions work just fine. That is we are not dreaming or a brain in a vat etc. Now Science does not address whether we are dreaming or a brain a vat etc. It *assumes* that we are not. I do not believe we are a brain in a vat so I agree that science works fine. But there is no scientific experiment or proof I can use to show that I am not a brain in a vat.

DL:
"Furthermore, you're saying we can rationally act on our perceptions and experience, but I don't think you realize that this rational dependence on what we have to work with is essentially the same thing as science. Obviously, you can figure out how to use a toy train set without writing journal articles, but you're figuring out the toy by touching, theorizing, confirming the theory, etc."

Science involves empirical evidence and to the extent the empirical evidence misrepresents reality science is out of luck. Not all theorizing, figuring out or touching is science. Don’t get me wrong I think science is great because I think our perceptions are reliable but I do understand that science is still based on assumptions.

Have you considered Hume’s argument that at base science is irrational? I don't want to spell it out but I think wikipedia does a decent job so here is a quote form them:


"Induction
The cornerstone of Hume’s epistemology is the so-called Problem of Induction: it has been argued that it is in this area of Hume’s thought that his scepticism about human powers of reason is the most pronounced.[25] Understanding the problem of induction, then, is central to grasping Hume’s general philosophical system.

The problem concerns the explanation of how we are able to make inductive inferences. Inductive inference is reasoning from the observed behaviour of objects to their behaviour when unobserved; as Hume says, it is a question of how things behave when they go “beyond the present testimony of the senses, and the records of our memory”.[26] Hume notices that we tend to believe that things behave in a regular manner; i.e. that patterns in the behaviour of objects will persist into the future, and the unobserved present (this persistence of regularities is sometimes called the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature).

Hume’s argument is now that we cannot rationally justify the claim that nature will continue to be uniform, as justification comes in only two varieties, and both of these are inadequate. The two sorts are: (1) demonstrative reasoning, and (2) probable reasoning.[27] With regard to (1), Hume argues that the uniformity principle cannot be demonstrated, as it is “consistent and conceivable” that nature might stop being regular.[28] Turning to (2), Hume argues that we cannot hold that nature will continue to be uniform because it has been in the past, as this is using the very sort of reasoning (induction) that is under question: it would be circular reasoning.[29] Thus no form of justification will rationally warrant our inductive inferences.

Hume’s solution to this sceptical problem is to argue that, rather than reason, it is natural instinct that explains our ability to make inductive inferences. He asserts that “Nature, by an absolute and uncountroulable necessity has determin'd us to judge as well as to breathe and feel”. Although many modern commentators have demurred from Hume’s solution, some have concurred with it, seeing his analysis of our epistemic predicament as a major contribution to the theory of knowledge: here, for example, is the Oxford Professor John D. Kenyon: “Reason might manage to raise a doubt about the truth of a conclusion of natural inductive inference just for a moment in the study, but the forces of nature will soon overcome that artificial scepticism, and the sheer agreeableness of animal faith will protect us from excessive caution and sterile suspension of belief.”[30]"

Do you agree that science is based on the sheer force of animal faith?

Here is the thing. If we are just dreaming or a brain in a vat then there is no reason to think the uniformity principle applies even locally. We may have our memories and beliefs change every 2 seconds. The memories and beliefs may still seem consistent and to the extent they are we can still probe for contradictions and try to deal with them. But science is very unlikely to lead us to much of any truth.

I'm not say such a possibility is in fact true. But I can not rule it out. I can also say I'm not sure that such a reality would be a completely worthless even though nothing we learned about the external world would be true. Such an existence still might reveal something about who we are even if it doesn't tell us anything about the external world.

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

I'm not sure what you would do but I would:
Consider what the bible and my church says. Consider my other beliefs and possible counterexamples and if it was a hard question I needed to address I would pray on it. Sometimes these methods seem to work sometimes there is still room for disagreement. But that is no different in science.


I don't see this as an answer at all. Consider means "think about", but I'm asking for specifics. Even people who you consider to be morally wrong "consider" things, so there must be something more than just consideration. There has to be good consideration and bad consideration, right?

It's like you asking me how I would make an omelet, and me saying that I would look around and use my muscles and breathe. But there are good ways for me to move and think in a kitchen in order to create an omelet.

My claim is that when you look into the specifics of "consideration" there's no basis for verifying a moral claim. If you believe that X is a moral authority, you cannot verify this belief by asking the authority if it is authoritative. That would be circular. I want to know what rules you use to verify a moral claim.

And it's totally different than in science. Science makes predictions, whereas morality doesn't. Scientists don't just consider ideas. They have specific procedures for defining claims and testing them. They establish rules ahead of time under which experience will show a theory probably true or probably untrue.

But there is no scientific experiment or proof I can use to show that I am not a brain in a vat.

There's no way you can show this with or without science.

Do you agree that science is based on the sheer force of animal faith?

Reason itself is based on the same thing. It has to be because one cannot use the rules of reason to prove the rules of reason.

So science is in the same boat as rationality. And it's in the same boat because science is a theorem of rational axioms.

Here is the thing. If we are just dreaming or a brain in a vat then there is no reason to think the uniformity principle applies even locally. We may have our memories and beliefs change every 2 seconds. The memories and beliefs may still seem consistent and to the extent they are we can still probe for contradictions and try to deal with them. But science is very unlikely to lead us to much of any truth.

So, you're not considering a Matrix world, but something more radical. In that environment, even reason fails.

"All men are mortal."

"Socrates is a man."

But before you can conclude that "Socrates is mortal," your memory fails and you incorrectly recall that "All men are immortal." So you conclude that "All men are immortal" instead.

Reason itself requires the kind of induction Hume refers to. BTW, I think Hume is my favorite philosopher.

I can also say I'm not sure that such a reality would be a completely worthless even though nothing we learned about the external world would be true. Such an existence still might reveal something about who we are even if it doesn't tell us anything about the external world.

Who are you if you have no reliable memories or sensations? You would be without a personality.

We only have personalities when reason is reliable, and that means we only have personalities when science is reliable.

Joe said...

DL

"Your analogy is to Pascal's Wager, not the Christian view.

In the analogy to the Christian view, the bitten individual believes he has certainly been bitten by a venomous snake, even if there are 1000 times as many non-venomous snakes in the area as venomous ones. While it may be rational not to take the 1 in 1000 risk, it is totally irrational to think that the danger inherent in being bitten by a venomous snake changes the likelihood that the offending the snake is venomous.

The statistics say that it is at least a thousand to one against Jesus having been resurrected, but the Christian doesn't say "It's highly unlikely that Jesus was actually resurrected, but because of the danger inherent in disbelief, I'll act as if he was." The Christian says "I am certain Jesus was resurrected." That's not rational."

Joe:
Hi DL I'm enjoying this discussion and hope you are too.

I'm not sure where you get your statistics, :) but
1)Pascal was a Christian and I don't necessarily agree with what you say Christian’s believe. Christians should have faith - "pistis" which means a firm belief and trust but I'm not sure that requires 100% certainty. On the other hand, I do agree that the firmer the belief the better. The reason for this is that the firmer the belief the more likely we are to act like a Christian should act.

But this I think is really the crux of what we are getting at:

"While it may be rational not to take the 1 in 1000 risk, it is totally irrational to think that the danger inherent in being bitten by a venomous snake changes the likelihood that the offending the snake is venomous."

I agree with this statement. (let’s call it statement 1) Nevertheless my example is a case where the extent of evidence is really irrelevant to what action needs to be done by a rational person. Here is a similar but I think materially different “statement 2”:

2) “It is totally irrational to try to believe X (when the evidence only supports X-Y) because believing X is more likely to cause you to act rationally than belief X-Y.”

I question this second statement. BTW I think James and Clifford debated something similar to this but not quite identical.

Consider this: Lets say your talking with your son on the phone. And he was the one bit. And he gives you the statistic that its only 5% the snakes around here were poisonous. He then says so with those chances there is no way I’m drinking that disgusting anecdote.

You do know your son and you know that unless he believes there is at least a 30% likely than not he will lose a leg he won't take the anecdote. Would you be rational to try to convince him it was more than 30%?

You may ask "do I believe its more likely than 30%?" But I'm not sure that’s really relevant. It has some moral relevance that’s true but we are just talking about rationality here.

Now if you would agree it would be rational for you to try to convince your son its more than 30% likely he was bit by a poisonous snake consider the following:

Consider that you have noticed that you yourself tend to act irrationally when you see that the likelihood of harm is small. Say for example you don't put your seatbelt on often or you notice you do other things like that. Now you know that if you were closer to 100% sure you would be in an accident that would otherwise kill you if you didn't have your seatbelt on you would always act rationally and wear your seatbelt. Would it not be at least somewhat rational to encourage the belief that the chance of you having an accident is closer to 100% (assuming you could do that) so you could actions will be rational?

I'm not 100% sure of the answers here, but I’m pretty sure statement 2 is wrong. Nor am I sure that I am phrasing the questions right. I'm just throwing them out there to see what you and others might think.

Joe said...

DL:
"I don't see this as an answer at all. Consider means "think about", but I'm asking for specifics."

Joe:

DL lets be fair here you asked me this:
"Suppose I have a theory that X is immoral. How can I verify the theory?"

Joe:
Ok now you want specifics of how I would verify your supposed "theory that X is immoral"?? If you want a specific answer you should ask a question about a specific moral theory. But you already know how I will address it based on what I said.

DL:
"Even people who you consider to be morally wrong "consider" things, so there must be something more than just consideration. There has to be good consideration and bad consideration, right?"

Joe:
Sure or at least faulty considerations. Just like there are faulty science experiments.

Joe said...

DL:

"My claim is that when you look into the specifics of "consideration" there's no basis for verifying a moral claim. If you believe that X is a moral authority, you cannot verify this belief by asking the authority if it is authoritative. That would be circular. I want to know what rules you use to verify a moral claim.

And it's totally different than in science. Science makes predictions, whereas morality doesn't. Scientists don't just consider ideas. They have specific procedures for defining claims and testing them. They establish rules ahead of time under which experience will show a theory probably true or probably untrue."

Ok first I would agree that science is different from morality but I would not agree science is entirely different. Yes it’s different in that prediction has a role in science that it does not seem to have in morality. But they are the same in that you can always question the basis for anything you think is true and eventually either circle or admit you have no basis to believe it.

Now what basis do I have that say the bible is authoritative? Well there are the signs - ie. miracles that Christ performed. They were recorded in a way that presents some historical evidence that they occurred. I mean I think we both agreed on that. But maybe you meant to exclude the miracles, I don't know. But if you admit the non-miracle events are given some historical evidence then why not the miraculous events?

In my view is more or less since we can not perceive morality like we perceive the events of science we should have some other basis for it. But in a naturalistic universe there are no good basis for those beliefs and indeed there are some good reasons to doubt them. In other words we need to understand that the moral law is coming from someone not like us. So we can just drop the idea of morality altogether but then we see that there is no reason to think one way or another. So if naturalism is true then there is no discernable downside or upside to a believing anything. But what if its not true? I mean am I sure its true? So I look around the world for something that fits the bill – that is what other basis might our morality have. And indeed the Trinitarian God fills the gap remarkably well. I mean we can trust our moral beliefs because of Christ’s signs. Those signs tell us that his teaching is not from mere men with same limitations we have. But then how are we perceiving right and wrong? The answer is the Holy Spirit – our guide. Where is it coming from? God the all knowing infinitely wise (indeed he can think through an infinite regress) father.

Here is the thing that is amazing. I'm not making this up in order to solve certain problems that we are now realizing or moral beliefs have since the start of scientific revolution. These were answers given centuries before the scientific revolution.

I'm sure what I said above is not going to be convincing to any atheist until they first realize a couple of things. First they need to understand that if naturalism is true it is really impossible that we can have reliable moral beliefs. Hence not only must naturalism be false but if we are to rationally hold our moral beliefs we must understand that they come from someone/thing that has an understanding beyond what we are capable of developing on our own in a naturalist world. Once you really understand that then what I said above will make more sense and perhaps be convincing.

Joe said...

Joe:

Do you agree that science is based on the sheer force of animal faith?

DL:
“Reason itself is based on the same thing. It has to be because one cannot use the rules of reason to prove the rules of reason.

So science is in the same boat as rationality. And it's in the same boat because science is a theorem of rational axioms.”

Ok I’m not a big matrix fan. I just couldn’t really get into a movie that had, what looked like, a bunch of insurance lawyers as bad guys. So I saw bits and pieces.

By “reason” I mean employing logic. The axioms of logic are self evident in that it is impossible for me to even conceive of them being false. Not so with sense perception. Again the brain in a vat example or the dreaming example, would fit the bill. Our senses may be mistaken. Science relies on sense perception not just the rules of logic.

So science and logical reasoning have different basis. Science uses the bases of logic and the basis of our perceptions.

Joe said...

DL:

"So, you're not considering a Matrix world, but something more radical. In that environment, even reason fails.

"All men are mortal."

"Socrates is a man."

But before you can conclude that "Socrates is mortal," your memory fails and you incorrectly recall that "All men are immortal." So you conclude that "All men are immortal" instead.

Reason itself requires the kind of induction Hume refers to. BTW, I think Hume is my favorite philosopher."


If you thought all men were immortal and that Socrates was a man there would be nothing irrational about thinking he was immortal. It would be wrong, but not irrational. I don’t think logical reasoning requires the induction Hume referred to when discussing the logical weak point of science. (Even if Hume did) I think reasoning shows a potential problem with scientific method. And I think Hume successfully demonstrated this.

Doctor Logic said...

Hi Joe,

Yes, I am enjoying our conversation.

I do not understand your "statement 2". Maybe you can give me an actual example of a statement 2.

Also, I think you are confusing two things.

First, there is rationality about belief. How do we rationally assess what is true? In this case, there is a 1% chance that the snake that bit the victim is venomous. This is the only rational conclusion one can reach on the issue.

Second, there is the question of how best to rationally meet a goal. In the example you give, the father's goal is to reduce the risk of his son's death to zero. In that case, he may believe it is rational to lie to his son.

There is a huge difference between these two cases. We have to look at them from a first person perspective. If one's goal is to know what is true, then is it rational to lie to oneself? I would say that it categorically is not rational.

If one's goal is to convince others to behave in a certain fashion, then lying to those other people may be rational.

As I see it, the second case is mostly irrelevant to our conversation. The only possible relevance of this second usage is whether the first Christians lied to everyone in order to get them to act as they desired.

In this case, the issue is whether you can conclude it probable that Jesus was resurrected. I say the answer is no.

You implicitly suggest in the snakebite example that no risk is acceptable. I do not think that's true. Skin cancer risk means that one should not spend anytime outside unprotected. But no one accepts this as a valid trade-off. People believe that some risks are worthwhile (just ask our military volunteers).

Most people would say that it is not worth ignoring the snakebite if as many as 5% or 1% of snakes are venomous. However, if only one in a trillion snakes are venomous, it's not worth getting the antidote. There are lots of other things that would kill you first, and if we spent time taking precautions for all those other things, we would never step out of the house (nor be able to afford the antidote).

But if you admit the non-miracle events are given some historical evidence then why not the miraculous events?

:) When a person who believes he was abducted by aliens tells you his story, he probably won't lie about mundane things. So if he says he got off work at 10pm and was abducted at 11pm, should you believe him when you confirm his shift ended at 10pm?

About 10 billion people have ever lived. Fewer than 10 of them have been resurrected (if you include vampires). So the rate of resurrection is around 1 in a billion. On the other hand, fabricated religious stories an miracles occur all the time. Even if you thought there was only a 1 in a million chance that the NT stories could have been made up (e.g., from religious hysteria, self-deception, etc.), you're still a factor of 1000 short on probability. You would still rationally have to conclude that it was 1000 to 1 against the Resurrection having happened.

In my view is more or less since we can not perceive morality like we perceive the events of science we should have some other basis for it.

There is a basis for morality, but there is no basis for universal morality. There is a basis for why I do not like pickles, but other people do. I do not need to postulate that pickles are universally disgusting, and then try to convince others that they are absolutely wrong to like them.

In the same way, morality doesn't have to be absolute. It can just be a pseudo-accident of our make-up and evolution. Just because we like to give people gifts doesn't mean that it is a universally good thing or bad thing. It's just how we are.

I think most people reject this because they think that moral arguments and persuasion will break down if there's no absolute basis for morality. However, moral arguments only break down when there is no *shared* basis for morality. And even most enemies have a shared basis, e.g., they both want to live happily. For example, if I convinced you that some particular act was moral, I would not be doing so because of my moral authority. I would be convincing you because I have shown you that the act was correct in light of your own values, not in terms of mine.

The other problem is this. Who cares if God thinks doing X is good? Suppose God rewards everyone with heaven after they die, no matter what they did in this life. But suppose that God wants us to do X and not Y. How does what God wants determine what is actually right or wrong? Just because he says so? Isn't that just arbitrary and authoritarian? How does God know he's right?

To sum up, you are implicitly saying that we have to be able to know right from wrong in an absolute sense. I think this is a false assumption. That's like assuming that there have to be absolutely delicious foods or absolutely great music, and that anyone who fails to appreciate them as you do must be absolutely wrong. There's nothing wrong with subjective morality.

Just imagine that moral opinion is like subjective musical taste, with the main difference that it is a subjective taste not just in how you behave but how other behave. What would happen?

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

If you thought all men were immortal and that Socrates was a man there would be nothing irrational about thinking he was immortal. It would be wrong, but not irrational.

But that wasn't the fact we started from. We started from the premise that "All men are mortal." But we ended up with "Socrates is immortal." That's an error.

All logical proofs require a sequence of steps. If our thoughts are not reliable in the BIV, it will scramble all our proofs too. We will be thinking that something makes sense when it does not. We can think something is consistent when it is inconsistent, or vice versa. Basically, the output of any sequence of thoughts becomes irrelevant to the inputs.

So I think induction is necessary to thinking also.

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

By “reason” I mean employing logic. The axioms of logic are self evident in that it is impossible for me to even conceive of them being false. Not so with sense perception.

I don't see that there's any difference. Isn't it equally impossible for me to conceive that I am perceiving green when I perceive red as to perceive that I am seeing inconsistency when I see consistency? It is possible for me to be wrong in both cases, but that's different.

If I look at a piece of red paper, I can conceive that I might be wearing red spectacles, and so the paper might actually be white.

However, I cannot doubt that I am seeing the paper as red at the moment.

Likewise, if I see a proof as making sense at the moment, I can conceive that I missed a step or misremembered something to make my perception incorrect. However, I cannot doubt that my perception of consistency exists at the moment, even if it turns out to be wrong.

Joe said...

DL
Thanks for your response. Thanks for spelling antidote right. :)

I won't be able to respond to everything right now but there are a couple of quick points I would make.

1) I left the question open as to whether the father would be lying. He may in fact believe the risk is greater than 30%. I said I think the moral question about lying is really a separate question. Hence I don't think we should talk about lying. He may have reasons to believe its greater than 30% and others to think its under 30%. It might be rational for him to only mention the former etc. The point is, simply that there is some rational reason for the father to try to make his son think the risk is greater than 30%. The strength of our beliefs effects our actions.

Also talking about rational belief does not directly tie in with what the apostles said. Indeed I put this analysis to atheists. Based on some of your comments you seem to indicate that our moral beliefs are not reliable. So if you think its immoral to lie to yourself what does that mean? I mean if you know your moral beliefs are unreliable yet you say that there is something wrong with lying aren't you lying to yourself?

Heres the thing. It may be we have a choice that we have to make in life. We need to choose:

1) Is it more likely that our moral beliefs are reliable without God
or
2) Is it more likely God exists and gives our moral beliefs.

Its my opinion that we really have no reason to reject 2 but we do have good reason to reject 1. If that is the case, and understood by the person who is an atheist and yet he pretends to know a reliable moral code is lying to himself.
To the extent you live life you are making moral decisions. Yes we'd all like more information but we can't put this question off without acting on it.

Ok I know I have to explain this more but I don’t have time right now and indeed I may not for a while.

Joe said...

BTW

When I suggested you might be lying to your self I did not mean to be insulting. In this context when we are talking about beliefs at such a deep level I would not be insulted if you say I may be lying to myself. We are simply exploring whether there are deep inconsistencies in our beliefs.

Joe said...

I keep finding bits of time.
Joe:
If you thought all men were immortal and that Socrates was a man there would be nothing irrational about thinking he was immortal. It would be wrong, but not irrational.

DL
"But that wasn't the fact we started from. We started from the premise that "All men are mortal." But we ended up with "Socrates is immortal." That's an error."

Joe:
We started with “all men are mortal” but then abandoned that belief in favor of the belief "all men are immortal." So there is no reasoning problem. Our conclusion is untrue only because our premise is untrue, but there is nothing wrong with the reasoning we used.

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

Based on some of your comments you seem to indicate that our moral beliefs are not reliable. So if you think its immoral to lie to yourself what does that mean? I mean if you know your moral beliefs are unreliable yet you say that there is something wrong with lying aren't you lying to yourself?

I will again make the analogy to food and aesthetics.

Suppose that I think apples are delicious. I eat apples for this reason. Most people I know also like apples. I recommend apples to other people for that reason, and my recommendations are mostly well-received. So I come to believe that apples are objectively delicious.

Now suppose that I discover that apples are not objectively delicious. Instead, I discover that apples are just a food I like. It is objective that apples interact with my tongue and digestive system in such a way as to produce pleasure, but that it makes no sense to say that apples are objectively good in the absence of people who have pleasurable interactions with apples. I learn that other people like apples for the same reason, and the only reason we agree is that we come from the same culture, same species, shared evolution, etc.

In light of this new information, should I stop eating apples? I would say no.

In light of this new information, would I be saying that deliciousness does not exist? Again, I would say no.

Does this affect my ability to convince others to eat apples? Well, it limits my ability to convince them that they logically ought to like them. It doesn't limit my ability to argue that they ought to try them because, statistically, they will probably like them.

Suppose I am trying to convince you to eat apples. You like fruity textures, but aren't crazy about sugar. Meanwhile, I like the sugar, and am not crazy about the texture. If I persuade you to eat apples, it will not be simply because other people like them. It will not be for the sugar. Instead, I have to appeal (whether I know it or not) to your like of their fruity texture.

This is an analogy with morality. I don't like murder, and that's partly biological and partly cultural. Most other people don't like murder either because their tastes come from the same sources.

However, it makes no sense to say an act is moral or immoral without reference to how it relates to personal preferences. Morality is a statement about how we feel. About taste.

So if I think that rationality and not lying to myself are morally good, i.e., morally aesthetic, then I'm merely acting in accord with my preferences.

So when I say that moral claims are unverifiable, I mean that objective moral claims are unverifiable. It's easy to verify that I feel murder is wrong, just like it is easy to verify that I feel cold. The question is whether my feeling murder is wrong says much more than how I feel, how I evolved, the social advantages of stopping murder, etc. Most moral realists will say that the facts about why we feel as we do about murder are not indicative of moral truth (Hume's Is-Ought problem). Just because a thing is some way doesn't mean it ought to be. Just because we naturally think murder is wrong, doesn't mean it is wrong in any fundamental sense.

Finally, when people argue about morality, they do so using case studies. For example, if someone theorizes that the good means increasing average happiness, critics will point out that this can be achieved by killing off the unhappy people. The critic claims the theory has been disproved because we feel bad about killing the unhappy folk. But look carefully and we see that every inference about morality is based on our personal taste or distaste for certain acts. The only thing predicted by morality is how we will feel about an act. Morality is just a map of how we feel.

2) Is it more likely God exists and gives our moral beliefs.

I have never seen an explanation for how this would work. Is it magic? What makes God's moral opinions correct?

Doctor Logic said...

Joe,

We started with “all men are mortal” but then abandoned that belief in favor of the belief "all men are immortal." So there is no reasoning problem.

No, we did not abandon the initial belief. It was forcibly changed by the computer controlling the vat in order to deceive us. Our actions fail to be rational because we responded inconsistently with the inputs.

So imagine I say "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man, therefore, Socrates is..." and wait for you to respond. You hear me and understand my meaning correctly. But as you go to answer, the vat alters your memory so that you now think I said "All men are immortal". You then respond that "Socrates is immortal" which is incorrect.

And the same thing can happen even when you are thinking things through for yourself. The vat will alter your recollection or perception of your thoughts to destroy every train of thought.

But even if you reject this, we already suggested that the vat can turn one perception into another, e.g., seeing light versus seeing darkness. It can just as easily turn perception of consistency into perception of inconsistency and vice versa. In that case, even if you remember the premises correctly, you'll still answer incorrectly because you've been duped into reversing consistent and inconsistent.

This kind of BIV destroys rationality.

Joe said...

Joe,

We started with “all men are mortal” but then abandoned that belief in favor of the belief "all men are immortal." So there is no reasoning problem.

DL:

"No, we did not abandon the initial belief. It was forcibly changed by the computer controlling the vat in order to deceive us. Our actions fail to be rational because we responded inconsistently with the inputs."

Joe:
Ok maybe we didn't abandon the thought but the belief was stricken from our mind. By computer evil genius or whatever. The point is that regardless of how we get our beliefs we can still sort them out logically/reasonably or illogically/unreasonably.


DL:

"So imagine I say "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man, therefore, Socrates is..." and wait for you to respond. You hear me and understand my meaning correctly. But as you go to answer, the vat alters your memory so that you now think I said "All men are immortal". You then respond that "Socrates is immortal" which is incorrect.

And the same thing can happen even when you are thinking things through for yourself. The vat will alter your recollection or perception of your thoughts to destroy every train of thought."

Joe:
The vat may change our beliefs or it might not. But at any given time we can try to think logically/reasonably.

DL:
"But even if you reject this, we already suggested that the vat can turn one perception into another, e.g., seeing light versus seeing darkness. It can just as easily turn perception of consistency into perception of inconsistency and vice versa. In that case, even if you remember the premises correctly, you'll still answer incorrectly because you've been duped into reversing consistent and inconsistent."

Well again I think the axioms of logic are self evident in the sense that it is impossible to conceive they are wrong. If we are a brain in a vat could we conceive they are wrong? I'm not so sure. But we can clearly see how if we are a brain in a vat we can conceive that our perceptions do not correspond with reality. Hence I think there is a difference between being logical and trusting our perceptions. They are not the same."

DL:

"This kind of BIV destroys rationality."

If a BIV can make us believe the axioms of logic are wrong then yes I suppose it would. But again the BIV I propose doesn't need to do that. The fact that we understand these could be two different types of BIV's tends to prove my point that sense perceptions and the use of logic are different animals.

Joe said...

Joe
"2) Is it more likely God exists and gives our moral beliefs."

DL:
"I have never seen an explanation for how this would work. Is it magic? What makes God's moral opinions correct?"

Joe:

I’ll answer the last question 1st. God knows because he is infinitely wise and all knowing.

How does he impart this to us?
God wrote the moral code on our hearts and also sent the Holy Spirit to guide us. (That these two things may be related is possible.) This is what Christians believe based on scripture. Hence in their world view they can believe that they reliably know right from wrong.

Joe said...

DL:
"So when I say that moral claims are unverifiable, I mean that objective moral claims are unverifiable. It's easy to verify that I feel murder is wrong, just like it is easy to verify that I feel cold. The question is whether my feeling murder is wrong says much more than how I feel, how I evolved, the social advantages of stopping murder, etc. Most moral realists will say that the facts about why we feel as we do about murder are not indicative of moral truth (Hume's Is-Ought problem). Just because a thing is some way doesn't mean it ought to be. Just because we naturally think murder is wrong, doesn't mean it is wrong in any fundamental sense."

Joe

You are a moral anti-realist. There are various types of anti-realists. It seems you are a relativist. Moral realists believe that when you say something is wrong you are indicating something about reality that is independent of what we may believe. (Again different people define these ideas differently. I generally got my understanding of these terms from Russ Shafer Landau)

Moral realists do not think that their dislike of the holocaust is at base the same as their dislike of pickles. Relativists think they are fundamentally the same thing. I’m not sure how much you have read about critiques of relativism. Have you ever heard of the book “whatever happened to right and wrong?” by Russ Shafer Landau? It’s a good read. I’d be interested in what you think of the arguments against relativism that are contained in the book.


DL:

“Does this affect my ability to convince others to eat apples? Well, it limits my ability to convince them that they logically ought to like them. It doesn't limit my ability to argue that they ought to try them because, statistically, they will probably like them.

Suppose I am trying to convince you to eat apples. You like fruity textures, but aren't crazy about sugar. Meanwhile, I like the sugar, and am not crazy about the texture. If I persuade you to eat apples, it will not be simply because other people like them. It will not be for the sugar. Instead, I have to appeal (whether I know it or not) to your like of their fruity texture.”

Joe:

You might be able to convince me to eat apples by telling me if I eat one every day I won’t have to see a doctor or something. But trying to convince me that they taste good is a different matter. Have you ever really tried to convince someone they should like the taste of something they don’t like the taste of? If so how did the conversation go? I suppose I have told my wife I like this or that about the way something tastes – when she didn’t like it herself. But I can’t say I actually thought I would convince her to like it.