Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pluralism about Antecedent Probabilities and Miracles

Reading Earman, I think I prefer to set the whole personalist-anti-personalist debate aside by introducing the idea of pluralism about prior probabilities. If you start talking like a personalist people start getting the idea that you are just starting from wherever your personal biases have taken you, while for most of us who have reflected about religion and the philosophy of religion, our prior for miracle claims is going to be fed into by such things as the credibility of theism, the moral credibility of Jesus and Christianity, our sense of whether Christians are right about what humans most profoundly need, etc. Indeed, another part of it would be whether the miracles attributed to Jesus are ones that appropriate fit with the concept of God. All of this stuff is tough to quantify, and as a result you have to just deal with the fact that people will be looking at evidence for and against Christian miracles informed by very different perspectives. Even though Hume didn't prove that we should look at the evidence essentially epistemically closed to the miraculous, his opponents have not proved that everyone has to come to this discussion with priors that will allow them to be genuinely open-minded about being persuaded to accept these miracle reports. So what I like to do is to "bracket" the left side of the equals sign in Bayes' theorem, on the assumption that of course people with lots of different priors are going to be looking at this, and just concentrate on the right side of the equals sign. Is there anything in the evidence that ought to surprise a skeptic who is paying attention? If there is, and it makes sense from a Christian standpoint, then I figure I've got something that will pull the skeptic in the direction of Christianity, even though his priors may be such that it won't come anywhere near to convincing him that Christianity is true. 

42 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, you get your "priors" from your upbringing. With different priors you would be defending something else.

Victor Reppert said...

Nonsense. Hogwash. BS. Lots of sources for those priors, including my education and search for the truth. It is preposterous nonsense to just look at someone's upbringing (about which you know virtually nothing since you weren't there), and ignore any subsequent developments. You assume that if someone started out a believer, and remain one, that it must somehow be the brainwashing power of upbringing, since a search for the truth MUST, MUST, end up where yours ended up.

If I had a different upbringing I might not be defending anything. I might be believe something, but my place as a defender of my Christianity is the result of getting an education and tackling critical questions head-on. That would be possible only under certain circumstances. Many other religions don't even do apologetics, or even philosophy. The reason I even can do Christian philosophy and apologetics is that I have done the best I could possibly do to come to terms with these things in an intellectually honest way, and have come out as a Christian believer. That having happened, it does seem to be of some value to some people for me to share how this has come to be. The honest search for truth comes first, the explication of that search comes after that.

I'd like to think that had I grown up in the Mormon church, that I would have rejected the "Don't confuse me with facts, I have a testimony" epistemology. But who knows.

My claim is that when I am using the term "priors" I mean that all kinds of things are feeding into it. There's usually a mix of rational and nonrational factors with all of us. The only reason for presuming that it's all upbringing is the fact that you are not mature enough to accept the idea that anyone's search for the truth has resulted in someone taking a position opposed to your own. It's not enough for you to believe that I am in error. No, you have to explain me away, and you do so in total ignorance. Only one regular reader of this blog knew me during my undergraduate days (so far as I know), so a judgment from him about how I came to believe what I now do might be less impertinent than your own baseless speculations.

I am not saying that, with a different upbringing, I would have the same beliefs. What I am saying is that you have no right to discount the effects of a serious and lifelong effort at critical and rational reflection on my religious beliefs beginning from age 18 until now.

Irate? Yes. I'm fed up with all of this presumptuous nonsense.

Victor Reppert said...

You are the living, 21st Century incarnation of Ezekiel Bulver. Ever read Lewis's "Bulverism?" Or "On Obstinacy of Belief?" Or is your idea that Beversluis dealt with C. S. Lewis so you don't have to?

Roffle said...

I would agree that someone who comes to a conversation with a lot of unfounded assumptions (uninformed priors) will form different conclusions based on the evidence at hand, but that doesn't mean that that person's opinion should carry any weight.

If you want to convince others that your conclusion is rational, you need to justify your assumptions (priors). If you can't, and instead hide behind a smokescreen of subjectivity about priors while at the same time pretending to be rational, then don't be surprised when you receive as much condemnation as you do.

Thrasymachus said...

This seems about right. The worry is that it isn't hard to find favorable likelihood ratios. All sorts of crazy (but tailor made) explanations can be confirmed by the right data (eg. elves in the cupboard, etc.)

Worse, not so crazy explanations can be confirmed to some degree. Take evolution - my hunch is that it isn't any worry for sensible Christians, but nonetheless it surely confirms Atheism over Theism (some naturalistic explanation as to how we got where we are is *exactly what we'd expect* given Atheism, yet merely unsurprising on Christian Theism). Potentially someone with the right degree of belief could be shifted by such an argument.

Vice versa, perhaps, with respect to the resurrection account. Atheist could accept that the Christian story is the best fit for the resurrection account, but take Christianity as so improbable it isn't much more interesting than the confirmation in the elf case or whatever else.

Sensible sceptics should gauge their confidence as to the 'best-case confirmation' the resurrection account would provide for Christianity. If they think this is considerably less than what'd be necessary to shunt them towards Christianity (inc. cascading confirmation etc.), then not worrying too greatly about it strikes me as epistemically responsible: we all have to stop inquiring about other hypotheses sometime. But what do I know?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I recommend you read Jason Long's chapter in "The Christian Delusion" to see how your upbringing influences you.

I also recommend you read chapter 8 in "Why I Became an Atheist," called "The Poor Evidence of Historical Evidence." While I don't call these things "priors" in my book that's what I'm talking about. Have you looked into the craft of the historian and with it the philosophy of history? I introduced it there.

Vic wrote: "...our prior[s] for miracle claims is going to be fed into by such things as the credibility of theism."

Yep. most people are animists around the world.

Vic wrote: "...the moral credibility of Jesus and Christianity."

Again, people raised differently would value this differently. "Priors" are important. Surely your priors are different because of how you were raised.

Vic wrote: "...our sense of whether Christians are right about what humans most profoundly need, etc."

Have you read "Seven Theories of Human Nature" by Leslie Stevenson? Enough said.

Vic wrote: "Indeed, another part of it would be whether the miracles attributed to Jesus are ones that appropriate fit with the concept of God."

There are nearly 2 billion people on this plant who believe we cannot conceptualize god, that he/she/it is ineffable or incomprehensible. Are these people stupid? Don't they know that such a view is contradictory? Imagine you're telling them it's contradictory to say god is unknowable. Surely you can reason with them, right? They're just ignorant.

Admit it. You get your priors from your upbringing. This is undeniable. We were all raised as believers. Whatever our parents told us we believed. That's your starting place. Sure, we all question them as we go, but we don't upchuck them all.

I'm the one telling you the truth. No, you do not believe what your parents told you anymore. But they did give you your initial priors.

Did they teach you to sing "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so," or not!

My claim is that without your Christian upbringing you would not have the priors that make you believe all of the things you had just mentioned above.

I want you to think chronologically about your priors. Ignore your upbringing. What would be an adequate defense of your faith starting from your most basic prior. List them in some kind of order.

My claim is that there is no way you can assess the historical evidence for the Bible and come away with a faith prior because you need faith prior to coming to your historical conclusions.

Now don't get irate with me on this. Think through them and answer these questions.

Cheers

Mr Veale said...

I'm curious John. What is it about the historian's craft that precludes an inference to a miracle?

Graham

Mr Veale said...

Thrasymachus

Why would evolution confirm atheism over theism? It is an intricately ordered process that has brought about an objectively valuable state of affairs. So on atheism we should not expect it to occur.

Graham

Thrasymachus said...

Graham,

Bracketing other issues about good states of affairs or whatnot, it seems under Theism it seems fairly likely there would be a non naturalistic story about how we came to be (ie. special creation, intelligent design, whatever). Perhaps there are excellent reasons why God would 'prefer' an evolutionary style of creating us, but it seems clear that P(naturalistic story|Theism) will be less than one, although not remarkably low. Of course P(naturalistic story|Atheism) is pretty much 1 (conditionalise on naturalism if you aren't convinced). Feed these into Bayes, and you get (not very impressive) confirmation for Atheism.

Indeed, this extends to pretty much any phenomenon we reckon we've got a pretty good explanation for with our best science. The fact there is good naturalistic stories for star formation, or plant metabolism, or whatever else is trivial 'evidence' for Naturalism over Theism, simply because it isn't certain if Theism were true there would be such a story, whilst if naturalism is true there must be.

Taken together, this might be a convincing argument (along familiar lines: the fact that assuming naturalism as a methodology for doing science is so successful suggests that naturalism is actually true). But the original point is finding confirmatory evidence for any hypothesis is easy (perhaps an even better example comes from Alexsander Pruss: the fact he doesn't see a proof of Atheism on the sole of his shoe is evidence for Theism, for P(noatheistshoeproof|Theism) is 1, whilst P(noatheistshoeproof|Atheism) is a teeny bit less. Filtering out the confirmatory buzz to select beliefs well is the tricky bit.

Mr Veale said...

Thrasymachus

OK - so the absence of "gaps" is likelier on Naturalism than on Theism. Of course, I'd argue that we have absence for a gap in the Resurrection. We also have a plausible "gap" in the beginning of the universe.

I've a few more comments to make about gaps later. But for now - yes, ID or YEC would provide greater confirmation of Theism than evolution.
But that does not mean that evolution does not confirm Theism over atheism.
On atheism we would not expect an universe that contains intricately ordered states of affairs. Evolution is an intricately ordered state of affairs - it depends on specific laws of nature, specific chemical properties etc.
Furthermore the results of evolution - intricately ordered creatures, and intricately ordered observers - are objectively valuable. These are also the type of things that rational agents typically bring about, directly or indirectly.
Again, we would not expect intricately ordered organisms or intricately ordered observers in an atheistic universe. These events are significantly more likely on Theism.
So I don't think that evolution provides much of an objection to design arguments.
Graham

Mr Veale said...

"Just because gaps in the past where filled in with further naturalistic scientific investigation, it doesn't follow that every gap in the future will be similarly filled in. [An] argument to the contrary is a relatively weak inductive argument. To see this consider an analogous argument. If one looks at the history of science, one sees that all scientific theories before the ones that we currently favour have been shown to be false. Does it follow that the scientific theories that we currently favour will be shown to be false too? ....The reason that the argument is not that strong is that we could well have good reason to to think that our current theories are true, reasons that didn't exist for the past false theories."

Bradley Monton "Seeking God in Science" 2009 Broadview Press pp115-116

"...it's also the case that the history of science is full of seemingly insoluble gaps n our understanding that have never been filled in naturalistically." Monton gives the following examples: The nature of conciousness; how the brain produces conscious experience; why the universe exists; what the nature of "mass" is; what the universe is made of (ie. what is Dark Matter?.

"The list could go on, but I've said enough to make my point. One can't just say: all gaps in the past have been filled in, so future gaps will be naturalisitically filled in as well, because in fact there are some persistent gaps that have never been naturalistically filled in."

"Seeking God in Science" 2009 Broadview Press pp115-116

Bob Prokop said...

Wow. So much to comment on here, and so little time this morning.

First, to John: Yes, I remember quite well my undergrad years, when Victor and I (and Joe Sheffer) would hang out, discussing pretty much what we're still discussing on this website. And let me tell you, Victor was a damn nuisance! He was always questioning EVERYTHING. He'd never let you get away with just asserting something. Even when he wasn't actually demanding proof, he'd insist on seeing how what you said tied in with everything else you believed. Nearly 40 years later, I still haven't met anyone who challenged me intellectually as much as Victor did routinely.

My point? Just this: you are barking up the wrong tree if you think Victor has any sort of unexamined priors that haven't been dissected, looked at under a microscope, waterboarded, whatever. You can disagree with him for any number of reasons (I do routinely), but upbringing is most definitely not one of them.

Now I'll move on to commenting on Thrasymachus.

Bob Prokop said...

Thrasymachus,

I wish I could recall where I heard this supposedly real-world exchange:
Atheist to Christian - "I don't believe in God."
Christian to Atheist - "Kindly describe to me this God that you don't believe in, because I'm fairly sure that I don't believe in him either."

That's how I felt, reading your posting on creation, where you wrote, "it seems under Theism it seems fairly likely there would be a non naturalistic story about how we came to be." Likely to you, maybe, but certainly not to me!

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, if this is the case then Vic can answer my questions.

Where did he get his priors from? Where?

Let's place him in a family in a high rise apartment who never even valued an education and preferred selling drugs instead.

Let's place him in a Chinese family, a Japanese family, a Muslim family.

Let's place him in a family that lives a nomad life in Siberia who never even heard of the gospel.

Then let's see him argue to his priors.

That's what I'd like to know.

Can he do so?

In any case this isn't about him anyway. It's about statistics. Statistically people accept the priors handed to them within their culture. This is undeniable and non-controversial.

Why kick against the goads?

All he needs to do is to establish his so-called priors prior to having faith in the first place. And he needs to be informed about the philosophy of history before he can do so with a straight face.

List them in chronological order and justify the previous ones without reference to the later ones.

I don't think I'm asking anything unreasonable here.

John W. Loftus said...

I said, "List them in chronological order and justify the previous ones without reference to the later ones."

The reason for this request is because in order to justify his priors without reference to what he was taught to believe this is required.

In fact, he should try this. It's a great thought experiment.

Come on Vic. Face these questions head on now. I've asked you to do this before.

If you can't then explain why.

John W. Loftus said...

I said, "And he needs to be informed about the philosophy of history before he can do so with a straight face."

Even Norman Geisler admits that one cannot construct a woldview based upon the facts of history because it's a person's worldview that provides the meaning of historical facts.

Let me quote him:

“Unless one can settle the question as to whether this is a theistic or nontheistic world on grounds independent of the mere facts themselves, there is no way to determine the objective meaning of history. If, on the other hand, there are good reasons to believe that this is a theistic universe, then objectivity in history is a possibility. For once the overall viewpoint is established, it is simply a matter of finding the view of history that is most consistent with that overall system.”

Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), p. 298.

Bob Prokop said...

John, I've more than once been accused of being dense, but I genuinely do not understand your point with the OTF. You appear to be saying that anyone raised in a Christian home (or even in a nominally Christian culture) cannot legitimately be a Christian. If that is the case, then I cannot legitimately turn on my light, because my father was an electrician.

In any case, the OTF was thought up long before you by G.K. Chesterton in 1925 (read "The Everlasting Man"), and he decisively demonstrated that taking it STRENGTHENED the case for Christianity. You don't need to debate Victor, you need to answer to Chesterton first!

John W. Loftus said...

So here's the rub when it comes to believing the Bible is history. There is no way based upon any kind of reasoning Vic can come to believe in the trinity, virgin birth, incarnation, or resurrection for these are historical conclusions based upon historical evidence. But then one cannot believe this historical conclusions without the corresponding worldview unless he already believes the Bible.

So whence comes his worldview?

Think about the circular nature of this for a while. Using the Christian framework, the Christian views all of history from that perspective. So when the Christian examines biblical “history,” he or she will more than likely believe its miraculous claims, because that’s what the Christian framework dictates in the first place. And yet, Christians claim that this same biblical “history” provides them with the framework to view that “history” as believable in the first place. What? How is it possible to gain the Christian framework for viewing biblical “history”? Conversely, how is it possible to view biblical “history” as real history unless one already approaches it with the Christian framework for viewing it as real history?

It’s this conundrum that forces me to ask God for more evidence to believe today. I need evidence to believe for today. Yesterday’s evidence no longer can hold water for me, for in order to see it as evidence, I must already believe in the framework that allows me to see it as evidence. In other words, in order to see yesterday’s evidence as evidence for me, I must already believe the Christian framework that allows me to see yesterday’s evidence as evidence.

This is basic philosophy of history.

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, claim what you want to about Chesterson, Vic, or CS Lewis. As far as I can tell there is not one Christian who will say otherwise. According to every single one of them their faith passes the OTF. You know this is a mark of delusion since so many of us have left the fold even from an insider's perspective.

What I'm arguing for is only controversial if you deny the sciences. If you or Vic must denigrate science then that's another mark of a delusion.

All I'm asking if for CS Lewis or Chesterton to rise up from the grave and answer my questions> Since that ain't happening then you or Vic should attempt to do so. You cannot merely assert your faith passes the OTF.Show that it does. Answer my questions. It would be a good exercise for you.

Any time now will come the anonymous wackos that Vic loves to allow.

Bob Prokop said...

John, you are way off the mark if you think I am even remotely a science-denier. Although my formal education is decidedly non-technical (BA in Russian (ASU) and MBA (Boston University)), I have always been an avid amateur astronomer and geologist, devouring every "popular" book on the subject I can lay my hands on (I'm currently reading at least 4 on astronomy and another on microbes). I was also a professional intelligence analyst and cartographer for the Defense Department for 34 years (skills requiring a great deal of mathematics and at least a general scientific knowledge). I've written one book on history (on the US in Morocco during WWII), the product of many years of painstaking research in the National Archives, the Pentagon Library, and the U.S. Navy's archives - so I think I know a bit about the historical method. Maybe even enough to have an intelligent opinion on NT historicity.

So I would be the last person on Earth to denigrate science. And I don't need to! The overwhelming majority of scientists throughout history have been theists, and the majority of that group have been Christians.

I think I am in Good Company, saying I am a respector of science and a Christian. It is rather the atheist who should be embarrassed by the fact that so many pivotal figures in the history of the advance of science have been theists, and only a tiny handful have been unbelievers.

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, cool!

Yes, you're right, I don't know you.

Now please, answer my questions.

Bob Prokop said...

John, again I am not sure what you mean by "justifying" ones priors. If I understand you correctly, a prior is something in your early environment that shapes who you are as you grow up, and when you are an adult. I guess for me that would be:

Polish-American heritage (on both parents' sides)
My parents and siblings
Childhood spent in Arizona
Catholic Church (all my relatives)
Democratic Party (all my relatives)
Public School education
My childhood friends
Current events as I grew up (Sputnik, JFK assassination, Vietnam, etc.)
The music on the radio (I'm so glad to have lived through the Sixties!)
My college years
My wife, my children
My 7 years in the Army
My 9+ years living abroad
Etc., etc.

Now that I've listed my "priors" (hopefully in some sort of chronological order, as you requested), just how (and why) am I supposed to justify these things? What is the point?

(And now you probably know me even better!)

John W. Loftus said...

Bob, I'm speaking specifically about those priors which are used to justify what you believe. Or, do you admit that one's priors come from a person's upbringing, something Vic vehemently denies.

Mr Veale said...

John

I found Norman Geisler very helpful to read at one stage. But he isn't an authority on history, nor on the philosophy of history.
I don't know of any scholar who would want to reason to the Trinity or the Atonement from the Historical Evidence alone.
So, once more. What is it about the craft of the historian that prevents the historian from inferring that a miracle occurred?

Graham

Mr Veale said...

Furthermore, I can't make any sense of your objection about priors.
If you mean that bias inevitably enters everyone's assessment of the evidence, that's old news.
We can work hard to limit the effect of those biases - but they tend to pop up where we least expect them.
Still EP Thompson was a thoroughgoing socialist. Yet his "Making of the English Working Classes" remains a classic, despite, or perhaps because of, his bias.
Maybe you are referring to the concepts we find plausible. (Our "horizon".) Of course our intellectual background limits what we do and do not believe to be plausible. I doubt Kant would have found Quantum Mechanics plausible. So what, exactly? How does this translate into an argument against religious belief?
We can use objective criteria , like the simplicity, coherence, plausibility, ad hocness, insight, scope and predictive power of a hypothesis to assess its probability.(At least, that's one way to be more objective. There are other methods.)Again, as long as our priors are not purely subjective, I can't see your problem?
Where are you going with all this John?

Graham

John W. Loftus said...

Where am I going with all this?

Uhmmm, that's a great question. Why didn't I think of it before?

Our top scientists are working on it as we speak and I'll get back to you if they figure it out.

Bobcat said...

John Loftus wrote,

"I want you to think chronologically about your priors. Ignore your upbringing. What would be an adequate defense of your faith starting from your most basic prior. List them in some kind of order."

Although you've made this request a few times in this thread, I'm not clear what you're asking for. Are you asking Victor to do some psychological archaeology? I.e., are you asking Victor to really try to figure out what he came to believe first and why he came to believe it? If so, that could take him years to do properly (think how long it takes anyone to get insight about himself when talking to a psychiatrist or psychologist), and there's really only a very low chance that he'd get it right, and even if he did get it right, how would we know?

On the other hand, you might be asking Victor to do some kind of Cartesian groundclearing. Maybe you want Victor to start with the proposition whose truth he's most sure of (the principle of non-contradiction, maybe), and to argue from there to his current beliefs. But again, this is really hard; also, not only is it not clear that he'd be able to get to his current beliefs doing that, it's not clear he'd be able to get past solipsism; and finally, even if he could do this, and even if he got past solipsism, I'm not sure what it would prove. I guess it would show that if you use a pretty straightforward foundationalist epistemology, you can get to some interesting conclusions. But what if Vic rejects foundationalism? Then there's really no reason for him to do this.

It seems to me that the best we can do--and honestly, the most you have any right to ask of him--is to justify our beliefs one by one when the exigencies of life make it needful for us to justify them. Could you explain to me why we should take your approach (whichever one of the two above--if any of the two above!) instead?

Anonymous said...

The outsider test is a joke. It basically amounts to this:

Loftus: You can't believe something just because you were brought up on it. You need to prove it from first principles - from premises an outsider can accept!

Christian: Oh, you mean offer a natural theology? Well, read your Craig, Swinburne et al.

Loftus: Uh...

Bob Prokop said...

Well, I can't speak for what Victor thinks, but for me the whole (non)issue of priors seems to be a giant yawn. I mean, so what? It's no big revelation that everyone has a childhood and an upringing. Catholics, on the whole, tend to beget Catholics, Protestants Protestants, and Mormons Mormons. Big deal. This statistical fact has zero bearing on the truth or otherwise of what each of these faith communities teaches.

And as for imagining myself to be an "outsider" from the faith, I've done that - several times - as long ago as 1970. Each time, I find that Christianity is MORE reasonable than before such effort, not less.

Thrasymachus said...

Bob:

I'm hesitant to say I know much about what perfect beings would or wouldn't do. So I'm not really sure what God would do - I think most people are at least less-than-certain he would produce life in a naturalistic manner. That's all I'd need for present purposes.


Graham:

The original point I was trying to make is simply that finding confirmatory evidence is cheap. But this is an interesting detour.

I don't see how Evolution confirms Theism without including a teleological argument or similar. Assuming naturalism, and the 'initial' state/laws/whatever shouldn't be any great surprise on Atheism (which it isn't, as I argue elsewhere) then the state of affairs we end up with, intricately ordered or valuable or whatever else, is of no great surprise: the naturalistic account is sufficient to explain it.

I see no reason to be surprised at 'intricately ordered' observers on Atheism - there seems no reason why they shouldn't occur. (I'm not particularly convinced there's a great 'divine motive' for these things either, thus hobbling the confirmation on both ends of the likelihood ratio.) I especially see no reason to be surprised by them if their genesis has a suitably persuasive naturalistic explanans. In short, this argument only seems to work if standard teleological/fine tuning arguments work.

The track record of scientific progress has been filling in 'gaps'. Of note is that supernatural explanations tend to be superceded, and that the movement is only ever 'one way'. To my knowledge, we've never dumped a naturalistic account for one of supernatural agency on grounds of better explanatory fit.

Perhaps there are some gaps it is reasonable to think are unfillable (though I'm not convinced there are), or maybe broader methodological reasons to doubt (though, contra Monton, I think a Lipton-esque tracking of best science's track record is pretty stonking good grist for a naturalist mill). But my point was more modest. *If* we have good reason to believe in a gapless naturalistic account of stuff in general, then *that* supplies confirmation of naturalism, for such a complete naturalistic account is more surprising on Theism (God doesn't have to do it that way) than Naturalism (it must be that way). Even more modestly, even if we only have compelling naturalistic accounts for 'bits' of the world (say human evolution, star formation, whatever), then these too offer (feeble) confirmation of Naturalism over Theism: for P(natstoryofevo|Theism) > P(natstoryofevo|naturalism), simply in virtue of fact that if Theism is true it would be possible for there to be no naturalistic story about these things.

Mr Veale said...

Thrasymachus

Hooray! Another Lipton fan! We should start a society!

Yes, I meant evolution as part of a design argument.
I'd like to chew on this issue a little - but in the interests of saving time, can you point me to where you've discussed these issues before?

Graham

Mr Veale said...

Thrasymachus

Paul Draper runs an argument similar in his paper "God, Science, and Naturalism" in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion (Wainwright ed.)
Have you read it? It's an interesting paper.

Graham

Mr Veale said...

Out of curiosity Thrasy - how on earth do you get the time to study medicine?

You should check out the "Answers in Genes" blog. You and Shane would be kindred spirits!

Graham

Thrasymachus said...

Graham

What, self-publicising, why of course! ;)

Here's my take/counter to fine-tuning argument (I did try and hyperlink it earlier, but I guess my lack of account for commenting means it won't show up):

http://thepolemicalmedic.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/fine-tuning-multiverses-and-modal-space-a-dialogue/

The confirmation stuff about the success of natural science being (marginal) evidence for naturalism isn't on my blog, but it isn't very novel either. I don't think I've read the Draper paper, so I'll give it a look. I own the book, so I have even less excuse!

Victor Reppert said...

Roffle wrote: I would agree that someone who comes to a conversation with a lot of unfounded assumptions (uninformed priors) will form different conclusions based on the evidence at hand, but that doesn't mean that that person's opinion should carry any weight.

If you want to convince others that your conclusion is rational, you need to justify your assumptions (priors). If you can't, and instead hide behind a smokescreen of subjectivity about priors while at the same time pretending to be rational, then don't be surprised when you receive as much condemnation as you do.

VR: When I say I am a pluralist about priors what I mean is that I don't think it's necessary to show that everyone ought to have the same priors I do. But that doesn't mean the priors are uninformed. They are affected, certainly, on the positive side by natural-theological argumentation, and on the negative side by the problem of evil. There are differences of opinion about these arguments. Whether I think the universe exists contingently and this needs something to cause its existence, or whether I think it can exist on its own, is going to affect my prior for miracles. Whether the universe was designed by someone for intelligent life, or whether intelligent life arise with no design would be another factor. Whether our power to reason requires a mentalistic universe, or whether it can be the by-product of a purely material and fully evolved brain is another issue. Whether the world as we know it with the evil it contains is compatible with a perfectly good creator would be another factor. Lewis's whole book, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, offers an explanation as to why he thinks the miracle claims of Christianity should not be considered overwhelming improbable prior to investigation.

Anthony Fleming - Exodus Life Ministries said...

Let me first say that I do not claim to possess the same level of inteligence that others possess on this comment wall. I saw the comments from Mr. Loftus and decided to weigh in...so here it goes.

First on priors...
Mr. Loftus you wrote, "Vic, you get your "priors" from your upbringing. With different priors you would be defending something else."

I could be missing the overall point but I don't see this as necessariliy true. People value things differently even when given the same priors, like my friends who are twins. Priors are based on more than just what our parents or guardians gives us because even they have priors like culture and history. People have different cognitive abilities that leads them to different values, activities, and preferences. True, our upbringing has a big effect on us, but the priors from our upbringing simply present choices to us based on the material or data given. When further material is given we may abandon our former priors based on the trustworthiness and authority of the source . If the source seems credible and is pictured as a role model to us then we may abandon our former priors.

I have met muslims born in muslim countries with little Christian influence who are now Christians. We cannot safely say that Mosab Hassan Yousef was brought up with Christian priors. I have also met atheists, born in atheist families who are now Christians and vice versa.

So basically there is no telling what someone would do with the material they are given because they can still choose how to use the material.

Anthony Fleming - Exodus Life Ministries said...

You also wrote, "Again, people raised differently would value this differently. "Priors" are important. Surely your priors are different because of how you were raised."

You also wrote, "Admit it. You get your priors from your upbringing. This is undeniable. We were all raised as believers. Whatever our parents told us we believed. That's your starting place. Sure, we all question them as we go, but we don't upchuck them all. "

I think this takes away the idea of choice which you obviously believe in or you wouldn't take time convincing us that our ideas are wrong. Priors however are limited in the choices they present to an individual. When more data and material is presented a person still has the choice of what to embrace and disregard. So far, none of this has anything to do with the truthfulness of the beliefs in question.

If I was raised in the east I may not value the law of non-contradiction the way I do now. In fact, if it wasn't for Christianity I may not value the law of non-contradiction at all. It was because of my more in-depth studies of Chrsitainity that logic became so interesting to me. There is a trend of people questioning things we commonly presuppose such as logic and science. I just recently saw a book at my library called The Upside of Irrationality: The unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home by Dan Ariely. I have not yet read the book but I plan to.

So why is it wrong for someone to live a life irrationally? If there are studies showing a "survival advantage" to those who disregard logic in their daily lives then perhaps logic is not the best way to live wouldn't you agree? Yes, I realize that someone has to use a "reason" to give such an argument but I still think the point is important. Who are you to tell us that it is wrong to live such and such a way? Where is the evidence that it is objectively wrong to live in such a way? If the point of evolution is surviving and surviving well and if that is best accomplished from living a life of irrationality then why do otherwise?

If I was given different priors I may, like many of my peers who live as practical atheists, disregard logic and rationality. So my priors of living in this country with my particular parents AND my particular belief system bring me to value logic. That may or may not be the case if I was given different priors, one would never know. I would need omniscience to know what I would have been like if given different priors.
We see that Logical truths, mathematical truths, scientific truths, and even metaphysical truths are presupposed yet we value these things. They may not be the best way to live our lives, as some are saying. Are you willing to question logic and reason as well from an outsider's test. How about an outsiders test for the uniformity of the universe or the limitations of science.

My point is simply this, if many of our values come from our priors the way you are presenting it then we must also question the values we have in reason, logic, and science itself.

Anthony Fleming - Exodus Life Ministries said...

You also wrote, "My claim is that there is no way you can assess the historical evidence for the Bible and come away with a faith prior because you need faith prior to coming to your historical conclusions."

I disagree because your overlooking the origin of the belief. We may have the foundation for belief x from the material presented in our priors but our priors is not the source of the belief. If we find there is an event y that corresponds to our belief x it may reinforce our belief x and even more so act as an original prior based on event y. That is why the historical evidence is important because without an initial event y there is no belief x.

In terms of Christianity people may argue that the evidence for Christ's resurrection is not "enough" evidence for the Christian belief. Where, however, is there evidence of how much evidence we should have for any particular belief? They may say, for any belief or proposition y one should have x evidence. This however is a proposition and is not alleviated from having x evidence as its support. Different people may have different standards required to believe any particular proposition. There is no evidence for the standards that someone must have to believe a particular proposition.

I do believe there is great evidence for the Christian faith but I will get to that later.

Tony Hoffman said...

"If I was given different priors I may, like many of my peers who live as practical atheists, disregard logic and rationality."

This reads like pure bigotry. First, it is a huge stretch to conclude that because a given trait need not be rational to have a selective advantage that no trait need be rational. In fact, it seems patently false to conclude otherwise. Secondly, it appears to be begging the question to declare that rationality is logical because it comes  from God. If God exists and if God is rational and if God desires rationality to exist in our reality, then we are rational? It's simpler to declare logic a brute fact (or contingent on existence), and explain rationality as an adaption with selective advantage.

Anthony Fleming said...

Tony, you wrote, "If God exists and if God is rational and if God desires rationality to exist in our reality, then we are rational? It's simpler to declare logic a brute fact (or contingent on existence), and explain rationality as an adaption with selective advantage."

So are we using valid rationale to see our rationale as a brute fact? Or are we simply viewing it as a brute fact because of our adaptation with a selective advantage?

I don't find it more simple at all. Seeing our reasoning and logic only as an element of adaptation for survival advantages does not validate the reasoning. If we were to find (as some have) important survival advantages for irrationality then the importance of our reasoning collapses.

Anthony Fleming said...

Please switch the comments around. For some reason my first comment was posted and then seemed to disappear.

Anthony Fleming said...

Tony, for some reason one of my responses are not being posted. I would be very interested in continuing this conversation with you. If you want you can email me, anthony.r.fleming@gmail.com to continue this.