Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Argument from Reason and the Outsider Test

Loftus has given me no real indication that he has studied my argument from reason, or has any understanding of the arguments in MY book. And unlike him, I'm not going to complain if he gets all of his information from DI and DI2 instead of purchasing the books. You could get that information those sites as well. And it is relevant to the OTF, because when Lewis presented his argument originally, the argument went like this.

1. No thought is valid (perhaps we could say "No belief is justified") if it can be fully explained in terms of irrational causes.

2. If naturalism is true, then all beliefs can be explained in terms of irrational causes.

3. Therefore, if naturalism is true, it cannot be rationally held.

Critics of the argument, like Anscombe, argued that the presence of non-rational causes didn't necessarily invalidate a belief, essentially accusing Lewis's original version of the argument of the genetic fallacy.

But Loftus, using the psychological underpinnings of the outsider test, is arguing that we can dismiss religious beliefs because they are formed irrationally. The argument from reason asks how rational beliefs are possible on the naturalistic view that Loftus espouses. Unless the Argument from Reason can be effectively countered, even the Skeptical Threat version from which I actually distanced myself for epistemological reasons, we end up with the conclusion that the psychological analysis of belief, pressed against religious believers, can logically be extended to all beliefs if naturalism is true. And if that's the case, then the Knights of Reason who reject religion have their beliefs produced in the same irrational way as the "brainwashed" religious believers. If naturalism is true, we're all brainwashed, no matter what we believe.

It looks like the Outsider argument won't work unless the AFR can be rebutted.

25 comments:

Clayton said...

Is there an important difference between saying that you can explain (i) S's belief in terms of (both) non-rational causes and rational causes where those explanations are not competing;
(ii) S's belief in terms of irrational causes where there are no rational causes to explain the belief?

I imagine Loftus could claim that that's what is happening.

unkleE said...

"It looks like the Outsider argument won't work unless the AFR can be rebutted."

Is this the case, Vic, or is it the opposite? Surely both the AFR and the OT depend on the same premise - that if we can explain a belief by non-logical factors (psychology, upbringing, neuroscience, etc) then that belief is false.

Thus if the OT is true, so is the AFR. And the OT, if successful, is still a rather weak "proof" because (a) it only throws doubt on belief, not disproves it, and (b) it can also work against unbelief. On the other hand, the AFR, if successful, is a strong proof that doesn't work the other way round.

So it seems to me that if we accept the premise, the AFR "blows away" the OT. I suggest you have sown the seeds of the end of the OT for anyone who understands - or is it I who have misunderstood?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, the AFR if true, should convince people who are outsiders. The problem is that is doesn't do this, or at least, not very well. Hell, as far as I can tell it would convince Muslims, orthodox Jews and Deists what they believe is correct.

You still must get to your particular sectarian beliefs and they are wildly improbable.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Loftus says, "[T]he AFR if true, should convince people who are outsiders."

Outsiders to the AFR? The AFR does not entail Christianity, nor is it entailed by it. Everyone is an outsider to all positions they don't accept. Will all positions, if true, convince those who are outsiders? Loftus' arguments don't convince a great many of those who are outsiders with respect to his beliefs. It doesn't follow that Loftus' arguments aren't "true" (by which I assume he means successful).

Perhaps I only take the plain meaning of Loftus' words seriously because I am brainwashed into thinking it's important to actually read and respond to the words of one's interlocutors. Should I instead just psychologize Loftus' intentions... forever?

John W. Loftus said...

Exactly as I would predict brainwashed people like you would respond Joshua, with a non-response.

I do not demand that an argument needs to convince others, duffas, I only asked why it isn't convincing many others. And since it does not lead to Vic's fringe religious views then it doesn't lead much of anywhere at all. He has a mountain to climb before he's defended his religion, and I maintain neither he nor you can do that.

As far as psychologizing goes, why don't you really try next time to sink your teeth into my argument.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Loftus said, "Vic, the AFR if true, should convince people who are outsiders."

I said, "Outsiders to the AFR? The AFR does not entail Christianity, nor is it entailed by it. Everyone is an outsider to all positions they don't accept. Will all positions, if true, convince those who are outsiders?"

Loftus said, "Exactly as I would predict brainwashed people like you would respond Joshua, with a non-response."

This is interesting, since I responded exactly to a statement of Loftus, reading him with the (apparently too charitable) assumption that his statement was based on a principle and not ad hoc.

Loftus says to clarify, "I do not demand that an argument needs to convince others, duffas, I only asked why it isn't convincing many others. And since it does not lead to Vic's fringe religious views then it doesn't lead much of anywhere at all."

This is quite curious. I'm glad Loftus agrees that an argument doesn't need to convince others. And I even agree with him that the fact that it doesn't convince others could be a strike against it, given some sort of highly optimistic assumption about these others. But Loftus goes on to say that the AFR is indeed one of these arguments where its failure to convince others is a strike against it. Loftus gives a clearly stated reason why the AFR's failure is a strike against it: because it doesn't convince others of Vic's religion.

Is anyone else paying attention to this startling discussion? Loftus has now emphatically confirmed that he is making the error I attribute to him: assuming that an argument's success in convincing others (of something it doesn't show!) is a criterion of its success. He has now added two errors. The first is to additionally deny the assumption necessary for his argument. The second is to demonstrate that he doesn't understand the AFR or simply hasn't read Reppert (more likely, I charitably assume). The AFR constitutes an argument against naturalism, and doesn't require some sort of triumph for logically distinct Christian views, let alone Reppert's views in particular, and even more ridiculous criterion.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Loftus: For the record, I just "sank my teeth" into your argument, as requested. Scrumptious.

John W. Loftus said...

Joshua, are you this much trouble for your mother?

There is nothing here but a lot of hand waving. Only the brainwashed who rebel against the possibility they could possibly be wrong would think what you wrote describes what the OTF is all about.

I really tire of the time it takes to explain a very simple idea. It's simplicity is its beauty and the fact that people stain at gnats and under the illusion they have strained one proceed to proclaim such a finding is the demise of the OTF will merely be exhibit A to people who are honest seekers after the truth that you are indeed brainwashed.

John W. Loftus said...

Oh, and for the record I merely acknowledged I read your comment. I did not try to show you how utterly wrong you are. It would be a waste of time.

John W. Loftus said...

Are you an honest seeker after the truth Joshua? That is a question only you can answer honestly. But quite frankly the manner in which you rail against the OTF betrays a different story line than the one in your mind.

My you are an arrogant son sa bitch, aren't you?

Tell us again of your credentials?

John W. Loftus said...

Joshua, I didn't see that you suck your teeth into this argument, the one I pointed you to. Care to try this time.

As I said when we hit a dead end I am smart enough to know that we have. Sometimes there isn't anything left to say but to start over, so I do, with the above link. Doing so helps me continue to find ways to convince the brainwashed of the beauty of this kind of argument. Watching them rail against something so simple is ugly to behold but indicative of the fact that cognitive bias reduction is taking place in their troubled minds.

Blue Devil Knight said...

The dead end here is Loftus' inability to engage in the give-and-take of rational discourse.

John W. Loftus said...

BDK, if brain studies mean anything people are persuaded into thinking differently. They aren't just reasoned into it. Persuasion. So in the interests of persuading people rather than follow up on what seems to me to be a dead end I simply try a different tact. You can claim what you do all you want to. It's just that I can better persuade my opponents by several different ways of seeking the same truth than following them down the rabbit hole.

We see things differently. I know this. You don't seem to. That's our difference. It's not about more detailed arguments and reasoning. It's about helping those who disagree with me to see things my way. It takes a conversion, a new way of seeing the evidence, much like a lawyer who becomes a prosecutor in the midst of the same trial.

That's the genius of what I do, although for this I am railed against by my own side. Still I know what I'm doing and I'm making a difference.

Joshua Blanchard said...

John Loftus writes, "It's not about more detailed arguments and reasoning. It's about helping those who disagree with me to see things my way. It takes a conversion, a new way of seeing the evidence, much like a lawyer who becomes a prosecutor in the midst of the same trial."

I'm beginning to see one thing differently: The problem with me is that I am a truth seeker, and not some apologist seeking to cause, by "overwhelming," certain beliefs in myself or others.

Loftus then describes his own refusal to engage in "detailed arguments and reasoning" as "genius." No comment on this comes to mind.

JS Allen said...

John, please tell me this is an intentional parody:

"There is nothing here but a lot of hand waving. Only the brainwashed who rebel against the possibility they could possibly be wrong would think what you wrote describes what the OTF is all about.

I really tire of the time it takes to explain a very simple idea. It's simplicity is its beauty and the fact that people stain at gnats and under the illusion they have strained one proceed to proclaim such a finding is the demise of the OTF will merely be exhibit A to people who are honest seekers after the truth that you are indeed brainwashed."


This is exactly how fundies deal with disagreement. Accuse your opponents of:

1) Being brainwashed
2) Hand-waving
3) Not being simple-minded enough; "straining at gnats"
4) Insincere and not really seeking truth

Are you effing kidding?!? Please tell me you are. You even quoted KJV. Well played, sir.

JS Allen said...

Oh, and I forgot to add:

5) Call people who disagree "rebels"
6) Call people's parents into question

Seriously; this is the best parody of SBC fundamentalism I've seen in a long time.

Robert Gressis said...

Loftus's claims about argumentation seem to me worth taking seriously. It is almost always the case that argumentation, even wonderful argumentation, doesn't persuade anyone. When I present Singer's argument to my undergraudates, their response is always something like "if we gave people money, they wouldn't learn to take care of themselves, so we shouldn't do it" or "we should help them by contributing to our own economy". I've only ever seen one case where a student took Singer's argument seriously (though I think he might have taken it too seriously too quickly).

I think the way in which one presents oneself is important, probably more important than arguments. That said, I think the best way to engage philosophers is to engage them with arguments rather than telling them that they're unpersuadable since they weren't persuaded.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Gressis writes, "I think the way in which one presents oneself is important, probably more important than arguments. That said, I think the best way to engage philosophers is to engage them with arguments rather than telling them that they're unpersuadable since they weren't persuaded."

I think the implications of this are somewhat worrying. If religious apologists and evangelicals enter into largely uneducated neighborhoods and present a misleading case for their beliefs, using methods to "overwhelm" suckers, it seems that they have done something not only morally wrong but intellectually dishonest.

I feel like this is something one should never have to say, but just because something gets your end result (in this case, "convincing" someone), it isn't in virtue of this a good choice, morally or intellectually.

The reason for the scare quotes around convincing above is that if we, like Josh McDowell, use the Loftus methods of "overwhelming" our opponents, it is hard to see how we can say we have "convinced" them. The most charitable description would be to say we have tricked them. More plausibly and less charitably, we have "brainwashed" them - in the popular sense in which Loftus uses the term, not the technical sense he has failed to define.

Bracketing off for the moment Loftus' accusation that such objections to him are "sophomoric," I'd be curious to hear at least how Gressis would develop this idea, in light of such worries.

Robert Gressis said...

Hi Joshua,

I think the implications are indeed worrying...people are susceptible to rhetorical manipulation, and manipulators (in the pejorative sense of "manipulators"; in a sense, every conversation involves manipulation of some kind or other, often perfectly innocent manipulation) can know this. That said, it's also possible to have two goals: (1) to have people come to believe what you think is true; and (2) to have people believe things in an autonomous fashion. To do both of these things well, though, requires attention to your audience--what kind of things they're going to get defensive about, what kinds of things they're going to dismiss, etc. So, some people are going to hear the qualifications that philosophers offer not as an instance of proper intellectual caution, but rather as mealy-mouthed ass-covering. To such people, you have to either find an issue they're willing to see as nuanced and work from there, or be willing to have people believe things that you don't think are entirely true, but that are closer to what they believe. It might also be the case that you think that they're not prepared to believe anything in an autonomous fashion, so you might want to work on getting them to believe just those truths that, if they believe them, will increase the likelihood that they come to be autonomous believers.

This is very tricky stuff, of course, but I think of it like teaching any craft, whether music or improvisational comedy, or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or whatever. You start out by teaching people all-or-nothing rules, but you move from there to tell them more nuanced techniques. The thing is, they have to know the basic rules before they can even understand the nuanced techniques.

The thing is, I'm not sure how I feel about what I'm writing right now...it really feels like counseling lying. But at the same time, I know enough from teaching that trying to teach your students certain things (e.g., arguments against moral relativism) don't work if you start with them. Instead, you have to do other things (talk about Singer's arguments, for example) and then work up to arguments against moral relativism.

PhysicistDave said...

Joshua wrote:
> The reason for the scare quotes around convincing above is that if we, like Josh McDowell, use the Loftus methods of "overwhelming" our opponents, it is hard to see how we can say we have "convinced" them. The most charitable description would be to say we have tricked them. More plausibly and less charitably, we have "brainwashed" them - in the popular sense in which Loftus uses the term, not the technical sense he has failed to define.

But, I think you misunderstand what John and other New Atheists (such as myself) are trying to do.

I don’t want to convince anyone to blindly memorize “the God Delusion.” I just want to free them from the beliefs in religion that they imbibed as innocent kids under social or emotional pressure, so that they can start again, as adults, from ground zero. They were born without a belief in Christ, after all: let’s run the tape over again, but this time with them as adults, not manipulable kids. I don’t think many, starting over from scratch, would again “come to Christ.” Would they, as adults, come to believe in some sort of Divine Power? Some no doubt would. Cool. I disagree, but I’m not them.

The state of no belief is, as Descartes recognized, the starting point. Let’s help adults reboot the system, free of beliefs imposed on them as kids, and then they can honestly choose to believe as they wish.

I’d predict that totally honest choices would result in more atheists than Muslims and more Muslims than Christians.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

BDK wrote:
>The dead end here is Loftus' inability to engage in the give-and-take of rational discourse.

Hmmm… BDK, as someone whose perspective is not that far from yours, let me gently suggest that perhaps the problem is your not being intelligent enough to understand Loftus. Worth a thought, eh?

You’ve praised the “principle of charity” elsewhere. I have never seen you yourself exhibit it on even a single occasion. Nor have I ever seen you engage in the "give-and-take of rational discourse." Quite the contrary.

Interesting. Revealing.

You seem to be the local fundies' favorite atheist. But I won't accuse you of being a sock puppet.

John W. Loftus said...

"You seem to be the local fundies' favorite atheist. But I won't accuse you of being a sock puppet."

That thought has crossed my mind.

PhysicistDave said...

Vic,

The error in the “argument from reason” seems quite simple and obvious to me: You are assuming that humans actually can reason.

A pretty basic error.

No human is born with the ability to reason.

Most humans, through a random set of trial and error, and, of course, through watching their elders, manage to acquire some very rudimentary brain skills that help them survive a bit but that can hardly be called “reason.”

In fact, most often, even for quite “educated” folks (philosophers, psychoanalysts, theologians, lit critics, etc.), what people acquire is an ability to use words in a way that is useful in manipulating their fellow human beings in a way consistent with the power structure and myths of their own society. That is why the “reason” of the “I Ching” or of Aquinas’ “Summa” seems so alien to a present-day writer for “The Atlantic” or “The New Republic,” whereas the “reasoning” employed in those mags generally seems so alien to me as a scientist.

A small number of people, back in the 1500s through 1700s in Europe by some bizarre accident, stumbled upon a novel way of trying to use their brain: insist on detailed and clearly testable conceptions, actually go out and test those conceptions against the real world, and dump those conceptions which failed the tests.

A truly bizarre way of using your brain that had never really been tried before: why on earth *try* to come up with ideas that you design so that they can clearly be proven false. Surely it makes much more sense to try to come up with ideas broad enough that they probably cannot be proven false.

These yahoos were the early scientists (they probably all suffered from rather severe obsessive-compulsive disorder), and they sure as hell failed to convince many people at first.

But this weird way of using their brains actually started paying off: a few of these clearly testable ideas were not disproven, and turned out to be useful.

This way of using your brain is still extremely unpopular (ever looked at the figures on how many kids take high-school physics?). But, in each generation, a few kids get the word that you can do some cool stuff if you train your brain to work in this weird, literally anti-social, way. And so a few of us do.

“Human reason” does not really exist. A bunch of different human reasons exist. Most serve the purpose of propping up the social status quo. But one form of human reason, discovered serendipitously a few hundred years ago, happens to give information that is independent of social structure, culture of birth, etc. We call it science. Most human beings hate it, but, at current population levels, they cannot live without it.

The “argument from reason” goes “Poof!” No inherent human reason. Just random stumbling around with the old brain that occasionally serves the organism’s purpose.

I trust you will issue a correction to the book.

Dave

Victor Reppert said...

In order for anyone to do science, it has to be literally true of at least some people that they literally add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers. There is not science without mathematics.

But, unless there is a God, it is not possible that anyone literallyl adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides number.

So either God exists, or science does not exist.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Robert Gressis,

Thanks for the response. Of course, every evangelist under the sun will say both that they are trying to convince their audience of what they think is true, and that they want their audience to come to believe these things autonomously.

On the first criterion alone, I would worry about the principle that we want to engender unjustified true beliefs in our students. I generally do not see a problem with the second goal.

The example of moral relativism and undergraduates is interesting. I think, however, that the best methods will still be rational methods. There is nothing wrong with, for example, intuition pumps.