Tuesday, October 19, 2010

God, Cause and Effect, and Natural Belief

One reason people offer for believing in God is it natural to do so. David Hume argued that if you had to prove the legitimacy of the principle of cause and effect, you could never do so without begging the question (that is, assuming what you're trying to prove). But since it comes naturally to us, and is practically useful, we have no reason do be skeptical of cause and effect. Others have argued that belief in God comes naturally to us, and even though perhaps we can't prove that God exists, it is sufficiently natural that we ought to continue to believe it until someone proves to us the contrary. 

24 comments:

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shiningwhiffle said...

I think this argument is going in the right direction, but I think it's flawed in two ways.

First, people don't naturally believe in God, unless you extend the meaning of "God" to include both multiple gods and animistic spirits. Fortunately, this is only a problem for monotheistic apologetics.

But second, it's weaker than what I think is ultimately an even more defensible principle: one should be given a good reason to call a belief into question. That reason might be a positive counter-argument, it might be an ethical consideration, it may just be because you think it'd be fun, but it has to be something better than, "It might be false."

I hold this position for three reasons: first is we just don't have time to do it the other way around. Second is that I don't believe anyone has adequately shown that the presumption of disbelief doesn't lead to total skepticism. Third is that I accept Donald Davidson's argument in "A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge" that most beliefs have to be true, so every actually-held belief has a presumption of truth.

Gregory said...

shiningwiffle said:

"it's weaker than what I think is ultimately an even more defensible principle: one should be given a good reason to call a belief into question. That reason might be a positive counter-argument, it might be an ethical consideration, it may just be because you think it'd be fun, but it has to be something better than, "It might be false."

The problem with this "skeptical" approach is that it never calls into question the host of "beliefs", especially skepticism itself, that are marshaled as challenges to religious belief.

Secondly, no one mentions the rampant "nominalism" behind much of the skeptical approaches to religion since William of Occam. For instance, in the gospel according to Occam, "natural law" is merely a term we use to describe something we like to call nature, but it's not referring to any substantive entity that is allegedly somewhere "out there" (i.e. qua object). It's all just terminology.

Christians---and by that, I mean the earliest devotees of the Faith---affirmed that terms refer to actual substances. In fact, the Nicean debates over Christology would reject Occam's proposal as heresy because the foundation of those early debates were not over mere words; instead, the debate was over the nature of Christ.

Occam should have spent more time meditating on 1 Tim. 6:14 and 2 Tim. 2:14, rather than meditating on his own "empty" metaphysics.

In our own day, Richard Swinburne has also gone the way of the buffalo.....which is why I won't read his stuff anymore.

Doctor Logic said...

The difference is that induction is necessary to all thinking, just like deductive logic. God isn't necessary for anything.

shiningwhiffle said...

Gregory wrote:

The problem with this "skeptical" approach is that it never calls into question the host of "beliefs", especially skepticism itself, that are marshaled as challenges to religious belief.

Agreed. I like a distinction I've seen made between "retail skepticism" (doubting this or that belief, as everyone necessarily does) and "wholesale skepticism" (doubting everything at once, like Pyrrho). I'm not convinced that there is a consistent position between these two extremes, and neither of the extremes allows for the sort of systematic argument against religion, because neither make sense as an obligation:

Taking wholesale skepticism to be an obligation would be inconsistent with the very position. How do we know its obligatory? How can we have an obligation that we cannot, in principle, know we have? It'd be like being punished for breaking a curfew you not only didn't know about but which your parents refuse to admit they set.

But taking retail skepticism to be an obligation would be making a virtue of necessity. We can't believe every proposition and so have no choice but to be retail skeptics about something. You'd need an extra, positive reason to be obligated to doubt any particular belief or type of beliefs.

Gregory wrote:

Secondly, no one mentions the rampant "nominalism" behind much of the skeptical approaches to religion since William of Occam. For instance, in the gospel according to Occam, "natural law" is merely a term we use to describe something we like to call nature, but it's not referring to any substantive entity that is allegedly somewhere "out there" (i.e. qua object). It's all just terminology.

Personally I think neither option makes much sense. I lean more in the direction Roderick T. Long explains here.

BenYachov said...

>Secondly, no one mentions the rampant "nominalism" behind much of the skeptical approaches to religion since William of Occam.

I reply: AMEN!!!!!!!

Any chance you are a Feser Fan?

Because this is straight up Moderate Realism vs Nominalism vs conceptionalism. Classic Theism rules!!!!! Theistic Personalism....not so much.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/

Gregory said...

"retail skepticism" (doubting this or that belief, as everyone necessarily does) and "wholesale skepticism" (doubting everything at once, like Pyrrho).

Another name for "retail skepticism", aka "mitigated skepticism", is unjustifiable epistemic prejudice. I have noted on other posts that some beliefs cannot be justified, and are "givens" in the knowing process....otherwise, the process of knowing cannot even begin.

In terms of theistic belief, Christians have not placed their eggs in one basket. Reason and mysticism have both played roles in the formation of belief in God. C.S. Lewis' "Surprised by Joy" is a classic example of both "reason" and "mysticism".

Both classical nominalism (i.e. the Medievalists) and modern nominalism (i.e. analytic philosophy), are detrimental to both theism and naturalism. In terms of the latter, the majority of practicing scientists reject the views of people like Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam (i.e. representatives of "anti-realism"/nominalism), in favor of some type of "scientific realism". And for good reason.

When scientists tell us that the phenomenon of gravity arises from the relative relation of objects possessing degrees of "mass" and their curvature within the manifold of space, they are not merely telling us a story about the meaning of those words in relation to logical and grammatical laws. Instead, these scientists mean to inform us of "objective", extra-mental realities.

Perhaps these scientists are being "poor", uninformed philosophers. Or maybe philosophers who accept the views of Rorty and Putnam (i.e. anti-realism) are just plain knuckleheads.

Gregory said...

I said:

"gravity arises from the relative relation of objects possessing degrees of "mass" and their curvature within the manifold of space"

That is so poorly stated that I think a good sleep may have prevented such a convoluted expression. I should have said this:

"gravity arises from physical objects possessing relative degrees of "mass" coupled with the curvature of space around each object. Depending on how the relative mass of any given physical object causes this curvature of space around them, each object's mass--in relative relation to all other physical objects within the domain of space--determines the relative attraction of all other objects in the physical universe."

I like to express things in my own words. Forgive me if I fail to adequately capture the nuances of relativity physics. I'm a "literature" guy by nature....and not a scientist :)

GREV said...

"God isn't necessary for anything."

Whew! Saves me a lot of work! Thanks! Think I will make that the centrepiece of Sunday's message. Everyone will be so relieved to discover that God isn't necessary.

shiningwhiffle said...

Another name for "retail skepticism", aka "mitigated skepticism", is unjustifiable epistemic prejudice. I have noted on other posts that some beliefs cannot be justified, and are "givens" in the knowing process....otherwise, the process of knowing cannot even begin.

I don't entirely agree with you here. First, just to clarify, since I'm not sure we disgree on this point, by "retail skepticism" I just mean the denial of trivialism, the idea that all propositions are true. No one can believe every idea that comes their way.

As a coherentist, I don't agree that knowledge needs to start with unjustified beliefs. We just need to start wherever we are, with the beliefs we already have. Those beliefs are justified in virtue of their coherence with the rest.

While I'm no longer satisfied that Donald Davidson's coherence theory can give us an adequate account of our knowledge of the world, I still think it's a good start. Given only that a set of beliefs coheres well enough with other beliefs to even be a belief, there is a presumption that it is true, and thus we are at least minimally justified in believing it.

This is true because there are no lone beliefs about any given thing. How could I believe, for example, that "All dogs go to heaven," if I had no idea what dogs or heaven were?

In terms of the latter, the majority of practicing scientists reject the views of people like Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam (i.e. representatives of "anti-realism"/nominalism)

Yes, no, maybe. Practicing scientists also tend to be very poor philosophers in general.

Rorty's how I found Davidson. Unfortunately, Rorty thinks we can do away with ontology and so puts forth his own anti-ontological ontology.

Putnam, so I've heard, has given up his anti-realism in favor of a pluralistic natural realism, which sounds pretty close to my own position.

J said...

Change "people naturally believe in God" to something like, "thousands of humans have been indoctrinated with Christian dogma (jewish,muslim, etc), and find existence pleasant by not questioning the supposed truth of the dogma," and it sort of works.

As far as nominalism goes some intelligent humans had a problem with believing in some supra-sensible realm where those shadowy essences or forms were to be found. We see...red or triangles. We don't see redness or triangle-ness. (that doesn't completely resolve the issue, ...but casts some doubt on the pure realist position)

GREV said...

"Change "people naturally believe in God" to something like, "thousands of humans have been indoctrinated with Christian dogma (jewish,muslim, etc), and find existence pleasant by not questioning the supposed truth of the dogma," and it sort of works. "

Change indoctrination and not questioning to ..... that a person has discovered a relational truth that sets a person free and it more than sort of works.

J said...

Given Quine's claim that all knowledge be described/defined as a synthetic a posteriori (even supposed analytical a priori, such as maths/logic), religious knowledge would be no different (barring actual... revelation).

Children gain knowledge about religious traditions, via the Bible, sunday school, so forth (or koran, hinduism, whathave you). IN the USA, yr probably a protestant, and celebrate Xmas. IN south india, you're a vishnuite hindu and dance to Ganesh.

You had no innate religious knowledge, or any "epistemological content" to start with. We don't have to accept raw empiricism with that (nor did Quine, really), but certainly people are conditioned by environment, society, culture. That's a sort of social constructivist view of religion, in short (and I'd never claim Quine as a guru ...but even those who uphold analyticity, do so usually for pragmatic reasons. Similarly, religious beliefs might be comforting, pleasant, meaningful even but that doesn't establish them as true, or even address Hume's points, which are simply not to accept supposed supernatural events--against the uniformity of experience-- when one has never witnessed one personally, in brief, or been provided with unassailable testimony, evidence, etc. And tho WVOQ was mostly silent on theological matters, he often sounds rather Humean as well)

GREV said...

'You had no innate religious knowledge, or any "epistemological content" to start with"

Question that comment. Someone making that claim appears to have never worked with a child closely.

Recall an atheist couple who kept their child from all religious influences and yet at age 5 was making a cross for his mother before he died.

shiningwhiffle said...

J:

Given Quine's claim that all knowledge be described/defined as a synthetic a posteriori (even supposed analytical a priori, such as maths/logic), religious knowledge would be no different (barring actual... revelation).

Children gain knowledge about religious traditions, via the Bible, sunday school, so forth (or koran, hinduism, whathave you). IN the USA, yr probably a protestant, and celebrate Xmas. IN south india, you're a vishnuite hindu and dance to Ganesh.


I entirely accept the above insofar as I've understood. I'm not clear on what you mean by "barring actual... revelation" — barring actual revelation to the person, or in the form of some set of scriptures? Either way, still a posteriori.

Your last paragraph rambles a bit, so let me try to take it point by point so if I get it wrong you can at least see where I misunderstood and correct me.

You had no innate religious knowledge, or any "epistemological content" to start with. We don't have to accept raw empiricism with that (nor did Quine, really), but certainly people are conditioned by environment, society, culture.

Agreed. While pure tabula rasa makes no sense, it doesn't mean we start with beliefs of any sort, just the ability to eventually start forming them in response to social and environmental feedback.

I actually reject epistemological empiricism except in the most vacuous sense that external stimuli leads to formation of mostly-true beliefs. Look up Donald Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme," where he argues that empiricism has one more dogma than Quine thought, the scheme-content dualism, and without that there's nothing left to call empiricism.

I'd never claim Quine as a guru ...but even those who uphold analyticity, do so usually for pragmatic reasons.

I'm not sure who's upholding analyticity here. At any rate, I'm not. I accept Quine's demolition of the analytic-synthetic distinction. I'm a pragmatist, and I'm aware of only one pragmatist since Quine who accepts that distinction, Hilary Putnam, and I'm not sure even he does anymore.

Similarly, religious beliefs might be comforting, pleasant, meaningful even but that doesn't establish them as true

Agreed. Truth is absolute to the point of have nothing to do with any of those qualities.

But then what value is left in acquiring true beliefs and rejecting false beliefs, apart from the value of being right in particular instances? The value of truth per se is minimal or even zero. (Davidson goes further with this argument in "Truth Rehabilitated," where he argues that truth is necessary as a concept, but incoherent as a value.)

even address Hume's points, which are simply not to accept supposed supernatural events--against the uniformity of experience-- when one has never witnessed one personally, in brief, or been provided with unassailable testimony, evidence, etc.

I'm not sure why you're bringing up Hume, but his argument about miracles has a few loopholes.

First, an event that seems to violate natural law may be just an expression of an as-yet-unknown aspect of natural law. If God exists, his ability to manipulate nature could be part of natural law.

Second, there's the issue of first-hand experience. Many people believe they have been witness to paranormal phenomena (e.g. experiencing God/ess firsthand, precognitive dreams). They remember them, or think they remember them, as clearly as anything else. Yet most people (not claiming you) who appeal to Hume would argue that they nevertheless are not entitled to their views because memory is fallible or because some other explanation — sometimes one as implausible as the claim itself — is possible.

But then, likewise, there is no such thing as completely unassailable testimony or evidence. So Hume's principle would seem to bar any evidence that could ever prove a "miracle."

J said...

I actually reject epistemological empiricism except in the most vacuous sense that external stimuli leads to formation of mostly-true beliefs. Look up Donald Davidson's "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme," where he argues that empiricism has one more dogma than Quine thought, the scheme-content dualism, and without that there's nothing left to call empiricism.

That related to Kuhn, right. I don't pretend to be a professional philosopher of science, yet Im not sure I agree to Davidson's claim that it's a dogma, in the sense that verification was. A theory (scheme) could be construed as different than content (data/evidence, etc)--one has an ad hoc theory, then fills it in with evidence, research, etc. I don't think that commits one to metaphysics of a particular type, but it might suggest--at least to philosophers-- a certain abstracting quality of mind (which probably didn't jibe with Quine's stimulus-response view of things...not sure). We might agree that humans can make certain abstractions--whether about scientific theories, or politics ("democracy"), philosophy, etc-- w/o upholding Cartesianism of whatever sort (if that's one of the targets). Im not a strict determinist, anyway. Hume hisself granted that humans can figure out the missing shade of blue, right--that might apply in terms of analogies, or correct inferences, or theory-building. I don't think he meant to suggest humans therefore have immortal souls. (Not real fancy, but many believers make that inference..."Humans think,write, do math, ergo...G*d exists!" ).

The point on Hume however trite related to the initial post. It's sort of odd to say it's natural to believe in God, regardless of the evidence--. People may do so, but that was my point on indoctrination. When they have to think a bit about the historical evidence, and lack thereof, the verification issues, status of other faiths, maybe the "problem of evil" AND the reports of supposed miracles they probably at least consider it might be myth--Hume just meant that alternative explanations to supposed disruptions to the "uniformity of experience" were always possible, and preferable, unless you were an eyewitness (or perhaps at this stage had incontrovertible evidence...photos, video, etc) . That doesn't mean the possibility of supernatural event is ruled out. But highly unlikely (and frequentism an issue...). That's perhaps "common sense-ism" but I think most humans do think in those terms--someone claims a Chupacabra was found, people demand incontrovertible evidence. And since there is none, they don't believe. A Resurrection's not that different . But the intent of Hume's essay on miracles was to undercut any arguments for theocratic jurisprudence--ie, like provide a justification for secularism, in short. Thats why men like Voltaire and Franklin respected Hume, to some degree, however dastardly he seems to some.

For that matter, if a Being could perform miracles (as church history says) but doesn't...what sort of Being is he? (some catholic made this argument). G*d can bring about the Fatima light show, but not an angel preventing nazis and communists?? OR even say regrowing some amputee's legs. etc etc. In other words, a few miracle claims in the face of massive misery and suffering seems to make G*d seem all the more sinister, and unlikely.

shiningwhiffle said...

J:

That related to Kuhn, right.

It was an argument against Quine, Kuhn, Feyerabend, and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, yes.

I don't pretend to be a professional philosopher of science,

Me neither. But it can be fun to philosomophize. :-)

yet Im not sure I agree to Davidson's claim that it's a dogma, in the sense that verification was. A theory (scheme) could be construed as different than content (data/evidence, etc)--one has an ad hoc theory, then fills it in with evidence, research, etc.

My objection here is to the "filling" metaphor. How does a scheme get made, and how does it get filled? Is the evidence ontologically neutral to the scheme; i.e. if you have two competing schemes, is they just differences of opinion (in which case, they're not the sort of scheme Davidson's talking about) or are they ontologically incommensurable (ala Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Whorf)?

Of course other beliefs — arguments, memories, beliefs about evidence, etc. — can lend support to a hypothesis, but you don't need empiricism to explain that.

In fact, one problem with empiricism is that it give non-beliefs a role in justifying belief. That's actually counter-intuitive when you really think about it: I can't refer to an object outside my mind, even just a stimulus, without being aware of that object. But to be aware of a thing, as opposed to simply being affected by the thing, implies you have also formed a belief about it. All the object itself needs is a causal role in your formation of the belief about it.

I think there are a number of advantages of this view, starting with the fact that you don't have to explain how the brain accurately represents reality to us: our awareness of the object just is the combination of the causal role of the object plus the formation of a true belief about it. (That most beliefs must be true is shown by Davidson in "A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge.")

shiningwhiffle said...

It's sort of odd to say it's natural to believe in God, regardless of the evidence--.

I agree, because now that I've thought about it, I think it's sort of odd to say that it's natural to believe anything. Natural as opposed to what? To learning it from society? But trying to think about what humans would believe apart from society is silly. Apart from some kind of society, we wouldn't get one of the main components for forming belief at all: a language.

People may do so, but that was my point on indoctrination.

I think "indoctrination" is far too strong a word here. People teach kids what they believe is true. Is that indoctrination? Then so is teaching them math, science, and trade skills. Indoctrination means more than teaching something false: it needs to at least involve some form of threat or intimidation if one doesn't accept it (but even then that could apply to math, science, etc. in the form of bad grades or actual punishment).

When they have to think a bit about the historical evidence, and lack thereof, the verification issues, status of other faiths, maybe the "problem of evil" AND the reports of supposed miracles they probably at least consider it might be myth

Sure, if we have reason to call a belief, whether one received or independently formed, into doubt. But a blanket duty to doubt would result in no one getting anywhere about anything.

That's perhaps "common sense-ism" but I think most humans do think in those terms--someone claims a Chupacabra was found, people demand incontrovertible evidence. And since there is none, they don't believe. A Resurrection's not that different .

I agree that the cases are similar and that that's what people do, and that it's almost what they should do. But there's no such thing as incontrovertible evidence outside of logic and math.

But the intent of Hume's essay on miracles was to undercut any arguments for theocratic jurisprudence--ie, like provide a justification for secularism, in short.

And I agree with him on that. Secular government with a bias toward science in its policy-making is the best way to defend freedom of and from religion and individual eccentricity.

For that matter, if a Being could perform miracles (as church history says) but doesn't...what sort of Being is he? (some catholic made this argument).

You seem to have assumed I'm defending Christianity. ;-)

J said...

Belief seems a bit vague and unneeded. The precise neural mechanisms--well, in a sense that's left to the neurologists. Does the theory work, explain things, solve problems, make a difference, improve a certain technology etc? In the sense of measurable effects Quine was not so different than CS Peirce, however crass that might seem to some. One can theorize away, allude to Kant's "conditions of experience" etc (or....serving capitalist masters, perhaps per Feyerabend), or chat about coherency, but ...the proof's in the pudding.

However tangential I think a pragmatist might similarly accept some forms of religion (the non hysterical sort) as carrying some weight. A Bach fugue, or cathedral, or even nice xmas carols show something. One would like to think. Or maybe not.

GREV said...

"For that matter, if a Being could perform miracles (as church history says) but doesn't...what sort of Being is he? (some catholic made this argument). G*d can bring about the Fatima light show, but not an angel preventing nazis and communists?? OR even say regrowing some amputee's legs. etc etc. In other words, a few miracle claims in the face of massive misery and suffering seems to make G*d seem all the more sinister, and unlikely."

One of my main problems with this regardless of how reasonable it might look is ... the creature gets to render final judgment on the status of the Creator because the Creator is not acting like howe the creature thinks the Creator should act should such a Being exist.

Problem for me is ... a Creator, by the very nature of being a Creator, is not subject to the rules and expectations of the creature.

J said...

But a blanket duty to doubt would result in no one getting anywhere about anything.

Yeah, I agree. Hume overstated the case for subjectivity (at least on traditional reading---though I think Popper misread Hume as complete skeptic, when he was really concerned with...necessity, or lack thereof) Hume's rather quaint--whether in regard to cause, or impressions/ideas, probability, his religious skepticism--but it's something. A starting point, even for those who can barely stand to read that sort of cold unbelieving doubt. Einstein sort of praised Hume. Any writer who still scares people--that's not so bad. And if you think Hume's problematic...try Kant (far more gaseous and speculative however sublime he seems to some).

The usual biblethumper doesn't even reach Hume but is stuck with like Calvin vs Aquinas or something (tho even Aquinas' arguments demand a bit of work).

GREV said...

"Any writer who still scares people--that's not so bad. And if you think Hume's problematic...try Kant (far more gaseous and speculative however sublime he seems to some).

The usual biblethumper doesn't even reach Hume but is stuck with like Calvin vs Aquinas or something (tho even Aquinas' arguments demand a bit of work)."

Hello:

The comments are interesting and takes me back to previous studies aand current reading.

Sorry to disappoint, but as a person who believes the Bible, I have reached Hume and find him over rated.

I am also, neither an enthusiastic fan of Natural Theology, except in its more cautious claims set over against classical High Middle Ages Natural Theology.

Back to Hume ... he has not the final say on the matter. This seemingly automatic appeal to Hume as the one who settles all matters is misquided and shows either an unawareness or ready acceptance of an unwillingness to deal with the debate.

Why is it in religious concepts is a Humean distrust of human experience still not open to question when his method of inquiry has been questioned in many other areas?

Smells like a double standard.

Yes, Victor, I am referencing the book you contributed to.

It is not automatically settled that our starting pointing is the material.

Hume himself lays out the case for God's non-existence based on human suffering but declines to support with certainty the conclusion because of the unreliability of human reasoning.

Hedging his bets it seems.

So, when someone hedges his bets, my response is similar to a current commercial making the TV rounds. You don't just want something clean...ish. You want to know that it is clean.

There is available a certainty, always hedged around with proper humility. That we can know with certainty things about life and the world we inhabit.

I believe someone said you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

J said...

Hume approaches Scripture as an impartial judge might, and many fundamentalists object to that sort of "legalism". Why bother with the boring details, history, the texts, ancient languages, philosophy etc--just have faith bruuthrrr!

Yet...what if you read a report wherein a witness claimed he saw angels and demons, people rising form the dead? I doubt you'd accept it. Do you think all the omens that supposedly occurred to Caesar's death happened as well? (raining blood, etc). Or all the miraculous stories of catholic saints?/ (Aquinas himself supposedly...levitated at times).

Hume like Gibbon knew his roman and greek history up and down, and Latin, probably french quite well. Tacitus and Suetonius are their masters. They were opposing the theocrats of the time--both catholic and protestant (ie the presbyterians hunted down any and all freethinkers and skeptics, or even non-protestants). So Hume wanted to show the irrational aspects of Scripture--ie any text which says angels and demons exist, or people rise from the dead has no standing as law, any more than a witness who starts discussing ghosts. It's not inerrant. You can believe, or not, but the point was to control the zealots from insisting on Scripture as the foundation of the entire society. And in that sense,the First Amendment might be read as Humean (Madison seems rather Humean. Jefferson did not care for Hume the person, but ...I suspect had read quite a bit).

GREV said...

Hume an impartial judge of Scripture and by extrapolation the idea of the supernatural?

Did I miss something?