Monday, December 20, 2010

Deconversion, Skepticism, and the intellectual Mount Olympus

As someone who abandoned Christian soteriological exclusivism in 1974, and as someone who has at least universalist sympathies, I can assure you that the fear of hell is not keeping me in the fold. Conversions and deconversions are difficult and life-changing experiences. It's funny, when I talk about Lewis's experience as the most reluctant convert in all England, (you know the passage in Surprised by Joy, surely), people point out quite correctly that however thought-out that experience might have been, it provides no guarantee that he reasoned correctly. And the same observation must be made of your leaving the fold. (Of course, some people go further and say that Lewis was really converted by wishful thinking despite the fact that he said he was accepting something he very much did NOT prefer to be true. And of course, I could use exactly the same tactic on your deconversion.)

I don't think I have a naive view of human cognitive powers. What the sciences tell us is that it is very difficult to be rational. What I deny is that there is some position of "skepticism" that is some intellectual Mount Olympus from which we can escape our tendency toward bias. Leaving the fold doesn't cure it.  Getting an Outsider Test diploma doesn't cure it. What we have to do is make a lifelong effort to think well, and that remains difficult whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an atheist.

One way of expressing my doubts about the outsider test is just to deny that there really is an outside. There is none. Wherever you go, there you are. We can imagine ourselves having different intellectual predispositions from what we have and then looking at the evidence to see if we would be persuaded by that evidence if we were differently predisposed. That's an interesting and worthwhile procedure, but hardly an experimentum crucis for religious beliefs.

I don't think you even understand the function of the Bayesian models that I use. I would never say, in any non-relative sense, that the Resurrection is 94% probable. I think that rationality is a matter of adjusting our current beliefs based on evidence, and so the Bayesian model just tells you what to do in the light of evidence. It allows me to "map" how people with different fundamental beliefs can be influenced by evidence and can adjust our beliefs in the light of that evidence. It also explains how reasonable people can disagree about religion without either side being open to charges of irrationality. That doesn't look like a game to me. You have a better model? Tell me about it.

I've always been aware of human irrationality. It's just that when atheists tell me that it all lies on the side of the believer, I consider THAT to be psychologically naive.

20 comments:

Deus Ex Machina said...

Sounds like you agree very much with William Rowe's "Friendly Atheism".

Brenda said...

I agree that the New Atheists are indeed naive, glib and superficial. I am not sure but I think I agree that there is no outside from which one can judge all culture. But I am not convinced that such a null observer is required.

But I am not sure that this kind of relativism or perspectivism gets you what you would like. If it is true that we all have our different worldviews and they are all on the same footing then what? It seems to me that Christians would like it to be the case that theirs is the true worldview. Same with atheists.

If what's true for you is true for you and what's true for me is true for me... then where are we?

John W. Loftus said...

Hey now, what's all this talk about culture and worldviews?

There is an outsider perspective to one's religious views though, and I am it. I still accept most of my culture and I haven't changed that much of my worldview.

Or, does someone need a lesson in what these things are?

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"There is an outsider perspective to one's religious views though, and I am it. I still accept most of my culture and I haven't changed that much of my worldview."

Well that's pretty misleading. Does Loftus now take the same position on social issues that he did as an evangelical minister? It's not just religion that went out the window.

Victor Reppert said...

DEM: I'm not an atheist, but I accept the "friendly" position that refrains from making irrationality charges.

Brenda said...

"what's all this talk about culture and worldviews?"

What is the outsider test for atheism?

I never get an answer to that question. Funny how that works.

Mr Veale said...

John

You are the incarnation of the OTF?
We could have a whole new nativity play here!

Graham

Victor Reppert said...

Brenda: Who are you asking about the outsider test for atheism. Are you referring to the outsider test for faith? Are you asking John, or asking me?

John W. Loftus said...

Hmmm, this:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/06/should-atheists-take-outsider-test-for.html

Anonymous said...

John needs to take an outsider test for honesty. For instance, if some opponent of John's launched a blog under a fake name attacking John, all while acting as if it was some other person, would John regard that person as dishonest?

Also, just a couple months ago John was going off on how he had no "beliefs" and no "worldview". He then capitulated on that. The guy can't even get his own beliefs and position straight, but he insists he should be held up as a model of rationality? Holy hell. :D

Anonymous said...

I've always been aware of human irrationality. It's just that when atheists tell me that it all lies on the side of the believer, I consider THAT to be psychologically naive.

Why naive? Why not dishonest? Why rule out the possibility that not even the person claiming this really believes it?

Boz said...

OP said: "I think that rationality is a matter of adjusting our current beliefs based on evidence, and so the Bayesian model just tells you what to do in the light of evidence. It allows me to "map" how people with different fundamental beliefs can be influenced by evidence and can adjust our beliefs in the light of that evidence. It also explains how reasonable people can disagree about religion without either side being open to charges of irrationality."

these articles, by Eliezer_Yudkowsky talk about "Agree to disagree"

http://lesswrong.com/lw/gr/the_modesty_argument/

http://lesswrong.com/lw/i5/bayesian_judo/

Boz said...

Anonymous said: "Also, just a couple months ago John was going off on how he had no "beliefs" and no "worldview". He then capitulated on that."

If this is true, Good on you, John, for admitting that you were wrong and changing your opinion. That is difficult to do.

David Parker said...

"I haven't changed that much of my worldview."

Really? I am surprised to hear that you don't perceive much else to have changed.

Anonymous said...

If this is true, Good on you, John, for admitting that you were wrong and changing your opinion. That is difficult to do.

He didn't. ;)

Anonymous said...

these articles, by Eliezer_Yudkowsky talk about "Agree to disagree"

Actually, they're just pontifications by a very self-satisfied individual, who (in the second case) was grievously misrepresenting a conversation they had to make themselves look witty and their opponent look foolish.

Aka, a dime a dozen gimmick on the internet.

kbrowne said...

"Of course, some people go further and say that Lewis was really converted by wishful thinking despite the fact that he said he was accepting something he very much did NOT prefer to be true."

It seems to be generally agreed that Anscombe showed that Lewis' arguments were not valid. In that case, why did he not revert to a disbelief in God? If he honestly did not want to believe that God exists would he not have stopped believing at that point? Bede Griffiths said that his faith was not affected. Well, why wasn't it?

I ask this simply out of my interest in C.S.Lewis. I am myself an agnostic as far as the existence of God goes and definitely not a Christian, a religion I dislike.

Brenda said...

Victor Reppert said...
"Brenda: Who are you asking about the outsider test for atheism."

When I challenge atheists it sounds to them as though I am a theist. When I challenge theists it sounds to them as though I am an atheist. I am neither. It is a sign of how deep both sides are in their ideology that neither can recognize a real agnostic.

I was directing my question to John, but I don't expect an answer. He is incapable of seeing anything beyond his horizon, which is quite narrow. Same is true for most theists.

Boyd said...

"One way of expressing my doubts about the outsider test is just to deny that there really is an outside. There is none. Wherever you go, there you are."

I think this is the key statement here. You can never actually be on the "outside". Let's say I take the OTF, where do I take it from? From a Buddhist perspective? An Islamic one? A Mormon one? A Naturalist one? Christianity is going to look more or less reasonable based on the "outside view" I am holding.

All one can really do is say: "From these starting points, looking at this evidence, so-and-so seems reasonable or not reasonable to me"

Thus, the OTF as Loftus tries to use it is special pleading and therefore fails. There is no reason to use his starting points as the definition of "outside".

Victor Reppert said...

kbrowne: While I would agree that, as a result of his exchange with Anscombe, Lewis came to believe that his formulation of his argument was flawed, the claim that he believed the argument to be fully refuted is an urban legend, which I have dubbed the Anscombe legend. Anscombe herself attributed reports of Lewis's dejection over the exchange to the psychological phenomenon of "projection." Lewis in fact produced a short response to Anscombe's argument that appeared in the very issue of the Socratic Digest in which Anscombe's own essay had appeared. In 1960, the Fontana edition of Miracles appeared, in which Lewis produced a revised and expanded version of the third chapter of Miracles, which he wrote in response to Anscombe, and which expanded on the ideas in his short response that appeared in the Socratic Digest. Anscombe thought that this effort was considerably improved, but pointed out a couple of areas where the argument needed further development if it were to succeed.

My own efforts, starting with my 1989 doctoral dissertation, through my book C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea and the Blackwell Companion article, has been to defend Lewis's overall argument. I think as an attempt to refute Lewis's overall argument, (as opposed to showing that it had been inadequately formulated) relies on some assumptions, popular amongst Wittgensteinians (that explaining the reasons for someone's belief can be done in a way that is completely separate and independent from the question of how that belief is produced and sustained),
that most people, naturalists or otherwise, would not endorse, and which have unacceptable consequences.

It is of some interest to note John Beversluis, who is the leading critic of Lewis's apologetics, concludes that Lewis did not consider his argument refuted and did not give up apologetics after the exchange, as biographers such as Humphrey Carpenter and A. N. Wilson have claimed. He differs from me with respect to the merits of Lewis's argument, and does think it can be refuted on broadly Anscombian lines, but he has completely abandoned the Anscombe Legend with respect to the psychological impact of the exchange.