Monday, June 27, 2011

One More God

SteveK wrote: 


I just believe in one more God than you do.... When you understand why I don't dismiss my God, you will understand why I do dismiss all the others. ;)

138 comments:

Anonymous said...

Game. Set. Match.

SteveK said...

1 Peter 3:15 put to the tune of a slogan worthy of a bumper sticker.

Eric said...

Nicely done.

Crude said...

Credit where it's due - that's a good one. Good job, Steve.

Roffle said...

So you don't dismiss your god because you were born into that culture and you dismiss other god's because you weren't born in their culture? Makes perfect sense. Nicely done.

Victor Reppert said...

If cultural determinism about religious views were true, John Loftus would not be an atheist.

Papalinton said...

Victor
Atheism transcends the artificial boundaries of religion. An theist here is the same as an atheist in New Dehli. John has risen above the religious trenches and cloying mud.

Anonymous said...

^^so says a guy who isn't even operating with the correct, viable definition of "atheism."

Steve Lovell said...

Pap,

Ah yes, Loftus is very courageous being an atheist in academia. They are nearly all conservative Christians! He's defnitely swimming against the tide of socio-cultural pressures.

Or perhaps not.

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

Ah yes, Loftus is very courageous being an atheist in academia. They are nearly all conservative Christians! He's defnitely swimming against the tide of socio-cultural pressures.

IIRC, Loftus isn't in academia. However, if he is, you can join him in that same socio-cultural group. Just study and be willing to submit your ideas to reasoned criticism (both your own criticism and the criticism of the group).

Statistically, when people try to avoid bias and think critically, they become less religious.

BTW, I'm looking for a theist here who isn't superstitious, i.e., who doesn't believe he's witnessed prayer answers, doesn't count hits and ignore misses, etc. I have yet to find one on these blog forums.

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

I agree that Loftus isn't really in academia ... but that's the group whose opinion he seems to care about. Why else would he be so keen to point out that he has "the equivalent" of a PhD? ;-)

Not sure about your statement that

"Statistically, when people try to avoid bias and think critically, they become less religious."

Do you have some support for this? Not that I'd be especially worried if it turned out to be true ... in our current climate. Intellectuals are peculiarly suspect to peer pressure.

Anyway, I think I might be the person you are looking for in relation to answered prayer. It has disturbed me for some time that the relationship between prayer and "answers" seems, at least in my own case, to be no better than a chance relationship. I'm not saying that none of my prayers have been answered ... but I certainly wouldn't consider anything from my prayer life to be evidence of the truth of my beliefs. Other people seem to have had more dramatic answers to prayer and while I have no real reason to doubt their testimony, I find it difficult to take seriously given the mismatch with my own experience. If anything, given the apparent promises in scripture, I'd consider my own experience to be evidence against Christianity ... which is only counterbalanced and certainly not outweighed by the testimony of others about answered prayer.

Do I count?

Steve

JS Allen said...

"BTW, I'm looking for a theist here who isn't superstitious, i.e., who doesn't believe he's witnessed prayer answers, doesn't count hits and ignore misses, etc. I have yet to find one on these blog forums."

Are you deliberately being ironic? Talk about counting hits and ignoring misses...

I'm a theist who doesn't believe in the supernatural, and I'm not the only one who believes this way who comments here. Additionally, a huge number of Christians are "cessationists", which means that they believe God's supernatural intervention in creation ended 2,000 years ago. This is very much a mainstream Christian view.

Mike Darus said...

JS Allen said:
"Additionally, a huge number of Christians are "cessationists", which means that they believe God's supernatural intervention in creation ended 2,000 years ago. This is very much a mainstream Christian view."

I think you missed the definition by quite a bit there. The "cessationist" Christian limit this concept to just a few gifts of the Holy Spirit, not the whole of God's intervention. I would not count a deist as a Christian.

Mike Darus said...

Doctor Logic said:
"BTW, I'm looking for a theist here who isn't superstitious, i.e., who doesn't believe he's witnessed prayer answers, doesn't count hits and ignore misses, etc."

There may be a way to find one. You shoul look for a Christian who understands that a proper understanding of prayer is not manipulating God to get what you want. Instead, it should be a way to submit to God so He gets what He wants (His will, His glory).

JS Allen said...

"The "cessationist" Christian limit this concept to just a few gifts of the Holy Spirit, not the whole of God's intervention. I would not count a deist as a Christian."

Most cessationists are "strong cessationist", and many are "full cessationists" (i.e. God doesn't perform miracles today). This is not the same as being a deist. Both groups are well-represented in mainstream Christianity, and neither would fit DL's definition of "superstitious".

St. Anthony of the Caves described a rationale for full cessationism something like 1500 years ago. He was by no means a deist, and was not superstitious. Millions of Christians today follow the same policy as he did.

Mike Darus said...

I read a bit of Athansius' account of the Life of Anthony. I am confused that you would say this supports the statement, "God doesn't perform miracles today. The account is full of miracles. Do you have a specific citation in mind? It may be true that "many" or even "millions" of "Christians" deny that God does miracles today, but Anthony does not appear to be one of them. Maybe I am misunderstanding your point.

JS Allen said...

@Mike - My citation of Anthony is probably too strained. Anthony was flatly dismissive of anything that appeared to be a miraculous sign, since he reasoned that the apparently miraculous could be used to deceive. His little vignette about the demons predicting the river rising shows that he wasn't thinking about it terms of natural vs. supernatural -- he was basically just saying, "It doesn't matter what the explanation is; I'm not trusting it" The ancients didn't make this distinction between natural and supernatural, and the idea of "full cessationism" depends on how you define "miracle".

Anyway, I think your response on prayer was more on-topic, and exactly right.

Tony Hoffman said...

"Do you have some support for this? Not that I'd be especially worried if it turned out to be true ... in our current climate. Intellectuals are peculiarly suspect to peer pressure."

I love this. Do you have support for you claim that " ... in our current climate. Intellectuals are peculiarly suspect to peer pressure?" Because you appear to be asking for support for a claim which you are prepared to reject for a -- wait for it-- unsupported reason.

Steve Lovell said...

Tony,

Try this for starters. Or coming from a different angle, this.

Or try differing from the opinion of your PhD supervisors.

After spending eight years studying in a British philosophy department, I feel I have plenty of evidence. Further experience of other departments than my own has only tended to confirm this.

Plus, notice that dialectically speaking your response to me is irrelevant. I'd only need to provide evidence for my claim if there were already some evidence in play for DL's claim.

Steve

Papalinton said...

Steve Lovell
You recommendation of Johnson's "Intellectual" is 'gobsmacking' to say the least.
You should try your hand at being a stand-up comedian. You are a very funny guy.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

Yes! You count! I'm glad to hear it!

But you also say:

Other people seem to have had more dramatic answers to prayer and while I have no real reason to doubt their testimony, I find it difficult to take seriously given the mismatch with my own experience.

Are you familiar with the field of cognitive bias? If so, you would have much reason to doubt their testimony.

Doctor Logic said...

JS Allen,

Are you deliberately being ironic? Talk about counting hits and ignoring misses...

Are you being ironic? I seek to disconfirm my observation, and you accuse me of confirmation bias?!

Doctor Logic said...

Mike,

There may be a way to find one. You shoul look for a Christian who understands that a proper understanding of prayer is not manipulating God to get what you want. Instead, it should be a way to submit to God so He gets what He wants (His will, His glory).

Of course, all Christians will say this, even the superstitious ones. After all, not all prayers will work as hoped.

For example, a person might pray for the end of a difficult situation. If the situation ends well, they'll count the prayer as successful. If the situation doesn't end well, they'll claim perhaps that God did not intervene in order to serve God's purposes, and so the prayer was not answered.

This means that the faithful win on both counts. Failures of prayers to be answered don't count against the thesis, but successes do count in favor.

If people really thought logically about this, they would see that the same reasoning could be used to support the claim that God frustrates your desires expressed through prayer, and that prayers that appear answered are merely the result of God sometimes not interfering with your prayer when it aligns with his purposes.

That is, the person who believes God answers prayer (P) can use the same methodology to prove God frustrates prayer (~P) with the same strength.

A scientific and controlled methodology could show whether prayer worked, but Christians object to testing the hypothesis explicitly, and the experiments show it doesn't work anyway.

The problem with belief in prayer is that it renders the subject unable to criticize God in his mind. God isn't just an abstract idea, but a person who listens to every thought, and acts in their daily lives. The subject can't imagine a world without God without insulting his imaginary friend.

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

On not believing other people's testimony ...

If others are just testifying that God is very faithful and answers all their prayers, or that they've had lots of answers to prayer, then I agree with you completely. There's nothing there.

But in other cases some of the specifics are very striking. On their own they could just be oddities, and confirmation bias is still a risk ... but here's one example (of several) which leaves me wondering.

Someone I know fairly well (I won't name them in case people then think badly of them) reported praying for someone with a broken limb ... visibly broken so that you could tell without an x-ray. According to the report, after prayer the bones aligned and were just as obviously no longer broken. And when I say "after" prayer I mean almost immediately after.

Now I can understand someone saying this is just made up, or that there is some other kind of trickery involved, but it seems hard to take the report seriously and not to think of this as answered prayer.

How would you approach a case like that? Very little happens in my head when I think about such cases. They simply don't compute.

I find it hard to either credit this to God (I wasn't there, and it's far from my experience of prayer), but on the other hand why not? I believe in a God who certainly could answer prayer, who seems to say that he will, and Humean considerations are not conclusive in themselves. To be honest the whole thing just leaves me feeling rather unsettled. I worry both that

(a) If I accept the report it'll only be because I'm too credulous.
(b) If I reject the report it'll only be because I'm more influenced than I should be by my atheistic peers or by an emotional response which tells me it isn't fair for God to work miracles for some and not others, or more especially that it isn't fair that it doesn't happen for me.

(The latter is not an argument of course, just a gut level emotional response.)

Anyway, how do you think I should think about a case like that?

Steve

JS Allen said...

"I seek to disconfirm my observation, and you accuse me of confirmation bias?!"

Nonsense. There is no way that your original statement could be interpreted as "seeking to disconfirm". You made a flat-out assertion.

"For example, a person might pray for the end of a difficult situation. If the situation ends well, they'll count the prayer as successful. If the situation doesn't end well, they'll claim perhaps that God did not intervene in order to serve God's purposes, and so the prayer was not answered."

DL, I think you're completely missing Mike's point. The point is that God is not a cosmic vending machine, and prayer isn't an attempt to get God to do something.

By insisting on your clever little thought experiment about "God frustrates your desires" shows that you're still thinking of God as a cosmic vending machine, just like the people you accuse of being superstitious.

Mike Darus said...

Dr. Logic:The problem with belief in prayer is that it renders the subject unable to criticize God in his mind. God isn't just an abstract idea, but a person who listens to every thought, and acts in their daily lives. The subject can't imagine a world without God...

Dr., By using the elipsis, you could publish this in a Christian book about prayer and be well received. You understand this part quite well. Now, you only need to realize that prayer is not intended to be a science experiment. Prayer isn't meant to "work" to manipulate God. A "hit" in prayer is when God's will is done. A "miss" is when the person praying uses God as a celestial servant.

SteveK said...

DL seems unable to understand that the test subject (God) is the source for the ground rules concerning prayer. "Thy will be done" being the primary rule.

By analogy, can you imagine testing a group of humans with this rule in play?

"In this test, I'm asking each of you to complete Task X according to my verbal instructions with the understanding that:

(a) you don't have complete it if you know of a valid reason why it shouldn't be completed,

(b) you know why it should only be partially completed,

(c) if it's within your sovereign right to not complete it,

(d) if you know of a better way to accomplish the same task

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

I like that you're concerned about being biased either way.

The solution is to use essentially scientific controls. At the very least, we can estimate base rates for things like spontaneous bone healing (1 part in a billion?) versus base rate for people making outlandish claims (happens every day).

Research shows that human memory and perception are more flexible than we would naively expect. Perception is affected by what we expect to see, and memory is "reconstructed".

In a famous experiment, subjects are shown a doctored photo of themselves as a child taking a balloon ride. A significant fraction of the subjects claimed to recall the fictional balloon ride, and many supplied details of the fictional event that were not given to them. They got these details by extrapolating from what they "knew" by inserting elements they thought would likely be present on a balloon excursion.

Another phenomenon is source confusion, wherein people who hear a story told by someone else later remember the events happening to themselves instead. In other words, ordinary people can come to believe rather strange things just as a result of how the brain works.

Of course, these neuro-psych phenomena don't imply that prayer answers are impossible. They just establish a base rate - a level of noise. To believe in prayer answers, you need to get enough control over the data to overcome the noise. Until you have that control, it's not rational IMO to believe stories about the paranormal.

I think you should treat the bone break story like a claim of UFO abduction. While there's theoretical support for aliens and spaceships, abduction is certainly within the power of an advanced civilization, and there are other people who make similar claims, I would need a lot more evidence than hearsay before I accepted a story about alien abduction. It's just a lot more probable that the person is honest, yet confused, mis-remembering or mis-perceiving.

Doctor Logic said...

JS Allen,

By insisting on your clever little thought experiment about "God frustrates your desires" shows that you're still thinking of God as a cosmic vending machine, just like the people you accuse of being superstitious.

I really don't understand what you're complaining about. We should be agreeing.

I'm talking about people who believe in specific instances of their prayers being answered. I'm saying that if a person believes God answers prayers based on his experience, then that person must have some conception of what would have happened had God not intervened.

I think the conception of God in the above is what you're referring to as "cosmic vending machine." Obviously, Mighty Vendor is not the only kind of God that could exist, but he could exist, in principle. And, if we are to infer Mighty Vendor's existence from experience, then we need to be able to tell a granted prayer from a rejected one.

My problem isn't with the Mighty Vendor conception in itself, but with the methodology used to infer his existence.

So, JS, are you trying to defend people who claim their prayers have been answered? Or are you criticizing them for creating both an unseemly picture of God and for making bad inferences?

It seems to me that people who claim God answers prayer have a problem one way or another.

SteveK said...

>>> It's just a lot more probable that the person is honest, yet confused, mis-remembering or mis-perceiving.

How do you know this about this specific person and this specific situation? You don't, do you? You are clearly guessing.

Perhaps the data from your "mis-remembering" tests doesn't apply at all. Perhaps you should apply the data from the "most everyone got it right" tests. How do you control for this, DL?

Papalinton said...

Perhaps everyone should review this video on the efficacy of prayer:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6ILZAaAMI

before making further comment.

Doctor Logic said...

Mike,

Now, you only need to realize that prayer is not intended to be a science experiment. Prayer isn't meant to "work" to manipulate God. A "hit" in prayer is when God's will is done. A "miss" is when the person praying uses God as a celestial servant.

Looking to tell whether God is acting in response to a request is not manipulation. If God thinks that answering a prayer is a good idea, then it is reasonable to assume that he has good reasons for doing so overall. For example, if you pray for God to heal an amputee, God doesn't comply simply because you prayed for it, but because the healing of the amputee helps the amputee, for example.

Now, on what grounds would a scientific observation of what is happening be grounds for God not to heal the amputee?

People have doubts about God's existence, and they want to know whether God is intervening or whether they are just fooling themselves and being irrational about prayer answers. If God does answer prayers, why is the elimination of this doubt reason not to help the amputee?

Such a God puts us in a rather tricky position. Without scientific controls, the evidence for God's intervention looks exactly like the evidence for his non-existence. That is, if we control for human cognitive bias and prayer answers disappear, then we have rational reason to believe that prayers are not answered.

If you still insist that scientific controls amount to manipulation, then you must also reject claims of Christians that they have rational evidence for prayer answers.

Hmmm. The more I think about it, the more indefensible your claim seems. If God doesn't heal the amputee because we're watching, then God IS being manipulated not to act to heal the amputee. You can't have it both ways.

Doctor Logic said...

SteveK,

How do you know this about this specific person and this specific situation? You don't, do you? You are clearly guessing.

Do you know what statistical analysis is about?

Statistical analysis looks at groups of people and events, and assesses their likely characteristics. When you look at an individual case, you apply the statistics to assess what likely is the case about the individual.

If we go up to the top of the Empire State Building, I won't throw you off because I assume, based on statistics, that you cannot fly safely to the ground.

Your answer seems to be to shout "How do you know I cannot fly!!!"

Well, what I know from statistics is that it is more likely that you will claim to be able to fly than it is that you actually have the ability. So if you say you can fly, I will not believe you. Before I believe you, I will need much more evidence. In fact, even if I personally see you fly, it is more likely that I am hallucinating than that you are actually flying (hallucinations are more common than unaided flight by humans).

Suppose that God does intervene but in rare ways. Suppose he is going to make you the only human ever to fly from the Empire State Building. In that case, it's still too improbable an event for me to believe my eyes. Of all the billions of people who ever lived, God will choose you to fly? What are the odds? Billions to one. It's much more likely that I am hallucinating.

Get it?

Now, with enough controls, you could fly and it would be rationally believable. If the odds of simultaneous documentary failure are only one in many billions, it can be rational to believe that you really flew. But that's not what we have with, say, Steve Lovell's friend's bone healing story.

JS Allen said...

@DL - Maybe we do agree, I can't tell. You seem fixated on the superstitious Christians who think that God is undecided about what he wants and just trying to make up his mind about whether or not to intervene. That is, you're thinking of people trying to persuaded God to intervene in some way. I think we all agree that these Christians are superstitious. However, this is not a very mature Christian attitude, and is more likely to typify adherents of Deepak Chopra.

I read Mike's point to be that the mature way to pray is "thy will be done", which is basically an acknowledgment that we're not changing God's mind, and we had best just get ourselves to want what God wants.

Papalinton said...

@ J S Allen

" read Mike's point to be that the mature way to pray is "thy will be done", which is basically an acknowledgment that we're not changing God's mind, and we had best just get ourselves to want what God wants."

Then why pray? Gods do what gods do is your response and nothing is going to change that. That's Calvinist pre-destination stuff, a resignation of and antithetical to the concept of free will

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who was told point blank by a famous professor in the US, "Once you have your Ph.D. you can write on whatever topic you please and come to whatever opinions you choose, but if you want me to be your supervisor then you will do the research I ask you to do, and write in accordance with something I would support."

Papalinton said...

Anonymous
And your point is?

Ilíon said...

"If cultural determinism about religious views were true, John Loftus would not be an atheist."

Nor would I be a Christian, since my ancestors (and not all that long ago) were not.

Ilíon said...

SL: "But in other cases some of the specifics are very striking. On their own they could just be oddities, and confirmation bias is still a risk ... but here's one example (of several) which leaves me wondering."

Sometimes, God answers prayers you don't even know you ought to have prayed

SteveK said...

>> Then why pray?

Why tell your child you love them when you told them yesterday?

SteveK said...

>> Get it?

I get that you think mathematics actualize reality rather than the other way around.

Ilíon said...

"I get that you think mathematics actualize reality rather than the other way around."

So-called atheists frequently have a, shall we say, problematic, relationship with cause-and-effect.

Doctor Logic said...

JS,

I think we agree, but I don't believe that your perspective on Christianity is standard or common. Are there any mainline churches that espouse the view that praying has no effect?

I think that the vast majority of Christians believe that God hasn't made up his mind because they believe that when we freely choose to pray, we're supplying new and relevant information to God. In other words, most believe that God really hasn't made up his mind, and couldn't have made up his mind unless the free choice to pray is irrelevant.

Superstition is rife in Christianity. I'm confident that it boosts active membership.

Doctor Logic said...

Ilion, you're superstitious? I'm shocked! SHOCKED!!!

Ilíon said...

Dr Illogic (and Dishonest-to-the-core),

I'm not at all superstitious. Unlike you (and most so-called atheists).

I'm also not at all shocked that you'd misrepresent the content and meaning of that post; you are, after all, dishonest-to-the-core.

JS Allen said...

@PapaLinton, @DL

"Then why pray? Gods do what gods do is your response and nothing is going to change that. That's Calvinist pre-destination stuff"

It's just standard compatibilism, which seems to be the dominant atheist view of free will too. It's also the only view that makes sense to me.

Rejecting libertarian free will is not the same as embracing fatalism. Saying "why pray?" is exactly like saying "why get up in the morning? All of your life is predetermined anyway" to a compatibilist or determinist.

"I think that the vast majority of Christians believe that God hasn't made up his mind because they believe that when we freely choose to pray, we're supplying new and relevant information to God."

That's a good question. I think you're wrong about this, but I wouldn't put much money on it. Augustine, Edwards, Calvin, etc. were compatibilist. And it's my understanding that most mainstream reformed churches are compatibilist. Not sure what percentage of Christians that makes up.

But as far as my understanding of Arminianism goes, even Arminians do not believe that libertarian free will extends to "supplying new information" to God. In other words, I think the mainstream view of the subset of Christians who believe in libertarian free will is that God still knows what choice you'll make ahead of time.

Having said that, even if we were able to show that the doctrine of the branches accounting for 90% of Christianity was as I say, you might be totally right about "man on the street" Christians. I wouldn't be surprised if they just ignore their doctrine and go with their gut hunches about free will and treating God as a cosmic sugar daddy.

SteveK said...

>> So-called atheists frequently have a, shall we say, problematic, relationship with cause-and-effect.

DL is on record as saying a person should side with the statistics rather than with their experiences - because we all are biased against reality and we all mis-remember, dontcha know ;).

SteveK said...

And I didn't have to go far to find confirmation of what I just said. DL from the comment above...

>>> In that case, it's still too improbable an event for me to believe my eyes. Of all the billions of people who ever lived, God will choose you to fly? What are the odds? Billions to one. It's much more likely that I am hallucinating.

Ah yes, statistics rule over experiences. Note that DL could experience a miracle each and every day of his life and never be convinced. The reason is it's more likely that he mis-remembered what occured on the previous days or that he is currently hallucinating the present day experience.

Ilíon said...

JS Allen: "Rejecting libertarian free will is not the same as embracing fatalism. ..."

But it is. It's also a misunderstanding of reality, as I'll get to in a minute.

JS Allen: "And it's my understanding that most mainstream reformed churches are compatibilist. Not sure what percentage of Christians that makes up."

Negligable. Because, thank God, most persons in the world, whether or not they are Christians, have enough sense to trust the own daily experince, which constantly confirms to them that they freely choose this or that, over some some self-defeating proposition/argument which, starting from either:
1) a mis-shapen theology which refuses to see that God's sovereignty and human freedom do not contradict;
2) an atheology which understands that admitting to human freedom opens the door to admitting to the reality of God;
denies the reality that we all experience continuously.

JS Allen: "... Saying "why pray?" is exactly like saying "why get up in the morning? All of your life is predetermined anyway" to a compatibilist or determinist."
Also, part of the reason -- I mean, apart from the psychological issues, of which it is all-but-pointless to try to explore -- that 'Calvinists' and 'materialists' have such a hard time with free will is that they falsely imagine, as most people do, that there exists such a thing as "The Future."

There is no "The Future." Rather, there are (*) a miriad of potential futures -- not one of which is actual, else it would be "the present" -- and every one of which God knows.

To give a concrete example -- God knows everything that may happen, to the end of time, as a result of you getting out of bed tomorrow. And God knows everything that may happen, to the end of time, as a result of you *not* getting out of bed tomorrow.


(*) "are" -- this is not at all a good word to use in this context, but I can't think of any other English word that can be used.

Ilíon said...

"Ah yes, statistics rule over experiences. Note that DL could experience a miracle each and every day of his life and never be convinced."

The person 'SE' who relates in the thread I'd linked a similar "ghost story" to mine, involving his sister, is an 'atheist.' As one can see, his 'atheism' will not allow him to follow the logic that if he accepts his sister's story as true, then logically he has denied his materialism/atheism.

Atheism is an irrational, yet freely chosen, disorder of the mind, which serves mostly to make its willing sufferers incapable of reasoning.

SteveK said...

29 Double-Yolk Eggs in a Row

Don't know if it actually happened not, but I do know the statistics wouldn't allow DL to accept it even if he were the one doing the cracking.

http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/1424757_video-rochdale-cake-decorator-shellshocked-as-she-finds-29-double-yolkers-in-box-of-30-eggs

Ilíon said...

On the other hand, being a 'Science!' worshipper, Dr Illogic *can* believe (*) that at any moment, his car could ooze itself out of the garage and park itself on the street. Or in his livingroom, it's all the same.

(*) And if he says that he doesn't believe such absurd things, then we can ding him for being anti-"science".

JS Allen said...

@Ilion: What you are describing is not compatible with Calvinism *or* Arminianism. I guess you are a proponent of Molinism?

All of your bluster psychoanalyzing why people are not Molinists is unbecoming and makes you sound like John Loftus. Since Molinism is entirely a theological theory, one obviously more charitable reason for a person to not be a Molinist would be that he isn't thinking theologically at all. There are several other plausible reasons that someone could believe in non-Molinist theories of free will.

Steve Lovell said...

Would have posted this yesterday if blogger hadn't been misbehaving (at least for me).

DL,

Just for completeness, with the bone healing "case", the person who told me the report was also the person praying, and reported being more than a little surprised themselves. From memory, they said something like "I didn't believe things like that really happened". To ward off misunderstanding, I'm still not thinking that any of this is evidence for Christianity. My question is not "what should the atheist think about such an example?" but "what should the Christian think?"

This is why I have some problems with your comparison to alien abduction. In the case of alien abduction I don't already believe in aliens, nor that aliens have certainly abducted people in the past, nor that they seem to have said that they'd do it again.

So as a Christian my understanding of the background data is quite different ... In the context of those background beliefs I find it diffcult to dismiss the my friend's report in the way you suggest. Were it not for those background beliefs, I'd be doing exactly as you suggest.

Now one might question the background beliefs, but that is a different question.

Mike / JS,

What do you make of Luke 11v1-11 or James 4? Are we not encouraged to ask? And then what of the example of Paul "asking three times" for the removal of his thorn in the flesh? Obviously that last example kind of cuts both ways ...

Steve

JS Allen said...

"Are we not encouraged to ask? And then what of the example of Paul "asking three times" for the removal of his thorn in the flesh?"

Is that any different from the scenario I gave of a person who wonders why he should bother getting out of bed, since all of his actions are predetermined?

Steve Lovell said...

JS,

I don't think it's the same.

Getting up makes a difference to how my day goes. Does prayer make a difference to anything beyond my own psyche? You and Mike seemed to suggest it makes no difference to what God does.

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

SteveK,

There's a mechanism for double-yolked eggs, and it's a function of the reproductive cycle in chickens. So, if all the eggs were from one chicken, or all the eggs were from a batch of chickens that had the same reproductive problem (e.g., due to exposure to a hormone-like substance), then it wouldn't be improbable to get many double-yolked eggs. In fact, while the odds of any given egg being double-yolked are 1 in 1000, the odds of getting a double-yolked egg from chicken that just laid one are much higher. So the link you give isn't much of a mystery.

You should use a different example. How about getting a carton of eggs that contain Black Forest Gateaux instead of yolk? That would be a lot more improbable, right? I bet it has never happened. So, of billions or trillions of eggs, not one BFG eggs have been found. Now suppose that someone claims to have found such an egg? What are the odds that the egg was really laid with BFG in it versus the egg is a hoax?

Well, the odds that it is a hoax are much much higher. For us to believe in BFG eggs, we need to study the chicken, watch it lay the egg, and have multiple independent tests to verify that the experiment isn't being tampered with. With enough documentary evidence, then we can believe that the chicken laid a Black Forest Gateaux egg, even if we don't know how the chicken did it.

You and Ilion are irrational because you don't understand inductive logic. Our experiences are unquestionable qua experiences. If I see someone walking vertically up a wall unaided, the fact that I see this is unquestionable. But the interpretation of the experience is most certainly questionable. Most people have at least one hallucination in their lives, and a small percentage of people have regular hallucinations. So the odds that I'm hallucinating something are actually pretty high. Perhaps 1 part in a million or even higher. And the odds can increase depending on my mental state. The same goes for memory reliability. Our memories are reconstructions from our beliefs, and tests of memory reliability show that memory is less reliable than 1 part in a million. So anytime you witness an event that's rarer than 1 part in a million, you can't rationally believe it unless you have sufficient documentary evidence.

Yet, time and again, your response is "I saw it, so it must have happened!" And you're actually proud of that sort of irrationality!

Doctor Logic said...

Ilion,

So, given what 'scientistes' believe and assert about the nature of reality, how can their denial of, and refusal to believe, any of the miracles recorded in the Bible be anything other than selective hyper-skepticism, which is to say, intellectual dishonesty?

It's not about credulity. You seem to think that believing improbable things is appropriate behavior. Gullibility isn't admirable. And this isn't an issue of selective skepticism on Sagan's part.

If you told Sagan that your car tunneled out of your garage, he would not believe you anymore than if you claimed to have resurrected somebody.

Knowing that an event E can happen with probability P does not imply than any story someone tells about an instance of an event E should automatically be believed on hearsay. This is what you are proposing. And it's utterly idiotic.

No, go and read the Reverend Bayes. Before you believe the event E occurred, you need to assess the relative probability P' that someone would report the event E without the event E actually having occurred.

In the case of the car tunneling from the garage, the odds that someone would falsely report the tunneling (or even that 10 people would do so simultaneously) is still vastly larger than the probability that the tunneling actually occurred.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

In the case of alien abduction I don't already believe in aliens, nor that aliens have certainly abducted people in the past, nor that they seem to have said that they'd do it again.

So as a Christian my understanding of the background data is quite different ... In the context of those background beliefs I find it diffcult to dismiss the my friend's report in the way you suggest. Were it not for those background beliefs, I'd be doing exactly as you suggest.


I guess I still don't quite understand your situation. You believe God exists, and that he has performed miracles in the past, and that he said he would do it again. Let's suppose that, contra Bayes, these beliefs are off-limits to inference. Then the question becomes, "When did God last perform miracles?"

If you hold the cessationist view in which God hasn't performed miracles since the 1st century, then the probability of a 21st century miracle report being true (an exception from, or the end of, cessation) is extraordinarily low, even in the presence of your background beliefs. Why is this person's miracle story true, but not last year's story or that other person's story? You will have to compare the anticipated rate of miracles (<<1 per 2000 years) versus the anticipated rate of false miracle reports, and judge each report on this basis.

However, an analysis of cognitive or perceptual bias is going to lead you into conflict with your priors. If you say that God regularly intervenes at the level of our cognitive biases (so that miracle reports always remain below scientific thresholds for belief), then you can make exactly the same arguments for alien abductions. In other words, the atheist ufologist says to me, "Of course, your arguments against Christianity make perfect sense, but I already believe that aliens exist and have abducted people in the past, and those beliefs are off limits..." is in the same position as you. And he can claim that the aliens are sufficiently good at hiding their tracks that the evidence always remains below the threshold for scientific belief.

Bayesian reasoning doesn't work that way. Our priors aren't simply our current beliefs. Our priors are our justified beliefs. An unjustified belief is actually close to 50/50 probability. Maybe 60/40. Most informal beliefs about mundane facts can be justified quite easily. For example, my informal belief that I own a car is supported by thousands (perhaps millions) of my personal experiences, and is experimentally verifiable every day. I can justify that belief just upon reflection, and at least ballpark my priors based on evidence. However, the belief that Jesus was resurrected is not supported by personal experience and is not verifiable from personal experience. That means that you don't get to put in 99% as your Bayesian prior confidence in the Resurrection. Instead, you muster the historical evidence and compare that against cognitive bias from the start. And you use all the evidence to create a comprehensive picture of the past and present.

IMO, of course, cognitive bias drowns out the signal from the Resurrection. The odds that the story was fabricated in some way is vastly greater than the the odds that it actually happened. And this is inevitably the case for very rare events occurring in the deep past without scientific controls. In fact, even with scientific controls, the peculiarities of the past typically become less believable day by day.

JS Allen said...

Oh, good lord, is DL talking about Bayes again? I can't even look.

SteveK said...

DL,
>>> There's a mechanism for double-yolked eggs, and it's a function of the reproductive cycle in chickens. So, if all the eggs were from one chicken, or all the eggs were from a batch of chickens that had the same reproductive problem....

You are telling a story such that justifes your belief in the accuracy of the experience. That's not going to cut it according to your own criticisms - your own critera for disbelief.

Notice all the "if's" in your story that stack the deck so the most improbable event because easy as pie. Christian's can tell a similar story - watch.

"There's a mechanism for supernatural events, and it's a function of God's divine activity in our lives. If God were to do X, or if ...."

See how these stories work? I can justify any experience I want despite the overwhelming odds against it happening. What you have failed to do, a-la the silly OTF, is overcome your belief that all of these "if's" actually occured as an experience.

>>> You should use a different example. How about getting a carton of eggs that contain Black Forest Gateaux instead of yolk?

A story can be made up about that one too. It might takes a few more "if's", but the result is the same.

>>> But the interpretation of the experience is most certainly questionable.....So the odds that I'm hallucinating something are actually pretty high.

Apply that same logic to the experience of cracking open the double-yoke eggs. Because the odds are against you, you can choose to believe the story you just told above - the story that you, or noone you know, has any direct evidence for - or you can believe you are hallucinating. I'd choose the former even though it entails belief in experience I have never had.

>>> Yet, time and again, your response is "I saw it, so it must have happened!" And you're actually proud of that sort of irrationality!

Of course I'm proud of it. You are too.

Doctor Logic said...


There's a mechanism for supernatural events, and it's a function of God's divine activity in our lives. If God were to do X, or if ....

See how these stories work? I can justify any experience I want despite the overwhelming odds against it happening. What you have failed to do, a-la the silly OTF, is overcome your belief that all of these "if's" actually occured as an experience.


No, Steve. You are 100% wrong, as usual.

There's never a problem with creating a hypothesis to explain the data. The person who claims the miracle can provide one immediately, e.g., God did it.

But, we're not concerned with whether some hypothesis can be dreamed up, but whether that hypothesis is true. And that's where statistics and verifiability come in.

Take the following two hypotheses:

H1) God acts to answer my prayers but only to a degree consistent with human cognitive bias.

H2) God acts to frustrate my prayers, but only to a degree consistent with cognitive bias.

As long as you ignore cognitive bias (which is the virtual definition of religion), the evidence for H1 is also evidence for H2. Since H1 and H2 are contradictory, you can NEVER gain rational support for H1 or H2 unless you eliminate the bias. Yet you insist that the bias cannot be eliminated because that would be testing God.

In the case of the eggs, it is already known through verifiable experiment that double-yolks are caused by reproductive cycle confusion in chickens. See the difference? We can test our theory. You can't test yours, and so yours can never outdo the countless competing hypotheses that also lack evidence.

You don't have verifiability. You have only hearsay. Attempts at verifying the benefit of prayer show that prayer doesn't work, and that appearances that prayer works can be put down to cognitive bias.

JS Allen said...

"Getting up makes a difference to how my day goes. Does prayer make a difference to anything beyond my own psyche?"

OK, I see what you are saying.

Assuming that there is no libertarian free will, then it's not exactly correct to say that getting up "makes a difference". (i.e. "make a difference" presupposes contra-causal free will). But it's true that our reasons are part of the causal chain in how our days go.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem to make sense to talk about our reasons/prayers/requests being part of God's causal chain, since we are subordinate to God's causal chain.

Steve Lovell said...

JS,

Firstly, if you really want to be strict about it, nothing ever makes a difference. There is no coherent notion of "changing the future" any more than of changing the past.

All we can do with future events is bring them about. We can't change them, as that would assume there is already a way they are, and then we are altering that, which if nonsense. The question is not whether we can change the future but whether the future is open.

Anyway, the issue I have is that, regardless of what account of freedom we adopt, and whether we are compatibilists or otherwise, those Bible passages seem to suggest that we should ask, and that the reason we should ask is because asking causes (in at least some cases) answering. According to James "you do have because you do not ask". Which rather implies that if they did ask, they would have, and that there would be a causal relation there.

But if, to use your words, we are subordinate to God's causal chain, wouldn't the "answers" have come anyway even without the prayers?

If the person praying can't see themselves as part of the cause of any answer that comes, then I seriously doubt we can make sense of that kind of prayer. All motive for petitionary/intercessory prayer is removed.

Our praying for something could be part of God's reasons for wanting to bring that something about. I don't think this is against God's sovereignty ... if God answers prayer it's because He chooses to.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

I think we pretty much agree.

Like I said you can question my background beliefs, but that then becomes another issue.

For me they are settled facts. If someone responded to me as you suggested about alien abduction, then I don't think I'd have much left to say against their belief in the individual abductions and the focus would move to the background beliefs ... In which case the example you have provided may have unwittingly made me feel rather more justified in accepting my friends report of the bone healing!

Though I broadly accept your bayesian methodology, I'm not at all sure it's the right way to go here, and that you may be applying it too narrowly.

Science is completely capable of confirming experimentally events that are utterly unique. The big bang for example. There is lots of evidence for that unique event. Saying that Big Bangs don't happen in our experience isn't the right approach. There are certain uniformities which are the basis of our knowledge and which allow us to make inference, but the object of our knowledge - the thing inferred - need not itself be a matter of uniformity.

Whenever I think on these matters, I am reminded of two wonderful quotes. One from William James, another from Lewis.

James:
A rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth, if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

Lewis:
They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.

Although you've managed to move me a little away from scepticism ;-), I think my basic sceptical approach to these matters is pretty much unchanged, so I hope I still "count".

Steve

SteveK said...

DL,
Before I forget, I hope you have an enjoyable holiday weekend.

>>> In the case of the eggs, it is already known through verifiable experiment that double-yolks are caused by reproductive cycle confusion in chickens. See the difference?

Like you, I do accept the egg story as being likely true. The question is why? I'm not arguing over the possibility that it can happen, and I've never seen an egg like this. You accept the possibility that God can exist and you've never "seen" God. What I'm arguing over is the question of whether it actually did happen.

You say someone has verified these eggs exist. How do you know this - hearsay, right? No worry my friend, I can accept that as the answer because everyone does.

Statistically speaking, which is the more probable event - cracking 29 in a row, hallucinating or mis-remembering? I want numbers that don't rely on hearsay and that speak to the fact that this person never experienced an egg like this. And I want to know why you suddenly allow accepting hearsay and you allow the person doing the cracking to trust their experiences when the statistics are not in their favor.

Also, if you never saw one of these eggs before in your life and then you suddenly did, is that in any way similar to seeing a man resurrected for the first time? Why or why not. Please don't rely on hearsay when answering.

>>>You don't have verifiability. You have only hearsay.

From the man who rejects his own experiences in favor of statistics that he heard through someone else and likely has not bothered to lookup or verify through testing. LOL.

What do you mean by "verify"? Can you verify that something was done with intent or that something is beneficial to you or that a person can be loved? I don't think you can verify any of this in the way you are talking about. Is that a problem? If not, why should I worry about it here?

GREV said...

This might be way off. The philosophical ruminations are fascinating; but are we getting something mixed up?

That being how is something that is not us,subject to being tested by us?

Is not our access to knowledge about this Other; dependent on what the Other has disclosed? That leaves unanswered the question of what disclosure is believed.

And by the way. To be a Christian theist I always thought you must operate in both worlds the natural and the supernatural. So the search for one who lives not in the supernatural would seem to be fruitless.

Ilíon said...

GREV: "And by the way. To be a Christian theist I always thought you must operate in both worlds the natural and the supernatural. So the search for one who lives not in the supernatural would seem to be fruitless."

I'm not sure what you mean. Nevertheless, I’ll address it as best I can.

The important distinction, to Jews and Christians is not between "the supernatural" (whatever one means by that) and "the natural," but rather between "the Creator" and "the Creation."

For example, I'm sure everyone would consider angels, if there are such beings, to be "supernatural." But, to us. the salient point about them is not that they are “supernatural,” but that they are created beings, as are we.

Ilíon said...

GREV: "That being how is something that is not us,subject to being tested by us?"

The same can be asked of testing a rock.

GREV said...

GREV: "That being how is something that is not us,subject to being tested by us?"

The same can be asked of testing a rock.

Can I ask; are you serious in equating the idea of God and belief or unbelief in such an idea, as being on the same level as assessing a rock?

GREV said...

Thanks but I am conversant with Creator and Creation and I deliberately changed the superstitious to supernatural.

And there is an important difference in the Christian worldview between the natural and the supernatural.

Steve Lovell said...

GREV,

In Ilion's defence, he did say he wasn't sure what you meant. He certainly isn't equating belief in God to beliefs about rocks ... but the way you framed your question it is hard to see why the two shouldn't be equally problematic.

I think to get a better response you might need to frame your comments a little more clearly.

Now, if I have understood (and like Ilion, I might not have done), you are asking how we can assess the relevant probabilities when they relate to something so completely "other".

Probabilities are assessed in some context and not in isolation. The question is in what context are they and should they be assessed? Is it a context where God has already revealed Himself to some extent? Is it a context where a God who could reveal Himself is not out of the question? Those are indeed very relevant questions. Personally I guess that unless we already think that "supernaturalism" of some sort is at least plausible and not merely possible then in practice the priors will be so low that they "cannot" be overcome. (I put "cannot" in scare quotes as this is a practical impossiblity given the state of the evidence in any given case, not an in principle impossibility based on the logic of all cases.)

Hope this helps,

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

GREV,

Just re-read my last post, and it sounds rather patronising. Sorry ... really not meant like that.

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

Science is completely capable of confirming experimentally events that are utterly unique. The big bang for example. There is lots of evidence for that unique event. Saying that Big Bangs don't happen in our experience isn't the right approach. There are certain uniformities which are the basis of our knowledge and which allow us to make inference, but the object of our knowledge - the thing inferred - need not itself be a matter of uniformity.

I totally agree with this statement, but it doesn't apply to Christianity because the regularities run in the opposite direction. The claim of the Resurrection is that the regularities were in suspension. You can never build an inductive argument for this without a yet stronger inductive argument.

A rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth, if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

This sentiment is common one also. However, it really is nonsense if it is taken seriously.

Suppose we have a box that is opaque and impenetrable. To avoid a philosophical dispute about the definition of truth, let's suppose that the box will open itself in 100 years. Suppose I believe the box contains a teddy bear (belief = estimated confidence greater than 50%), but I have no reason for this belief. Such a belief would be irrational because there are countless other objects which might be in the box, and I have just as much reason to believe the box contains one of the other objects. And, while it is possible that the truth is that there is a teddy bear in the box, I cannot use James's maxim to defend my belief that the teddy bear is in the box. I cannot throw curses at Bayes because the teddy bear is truly possibly in the box. This is because the alternatives are equally truly possibly in the box.

To clarify, if you say that I am irrational for believing that there is a teddy bear in the box, then I cannot rationally answer that it might be true that there is a bear in the box, and that any rule that would prevent me from acknowledging the truth of the bear's existence in the box, if that truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

Doctor Logic said...

SteveK,

Indeed, we all rely on the testimony of others to some degree.

However, not all testimony is equally reliable, and all testimony has some uncertainty. And the way we figure out the reliability of testimony is by Bayesian induction!

If you are walking in the city, and ask for directions to the Empire State Building, it is, in most people's experience extremely rare to receive deliberately misleading directions. The person you are asking directions from probably does not know you, and has no reason to deliberately deceive you. However, the odds that they themselves are confused about the directions is significant. Perhaps you will get the wrong directions 10% of the time, simply because the person you asked is unsure or because she navigates by landmark instead of by grid.

If you ask a player in a pool hall if he is good at billiards, it's more likely he'll not be truthful in his answer if he thinks he can make money from you.

So, there are multiple factors that affect the truth of testimony. If the witness has a strong emotional investment in his answer, it's less likely to be true. If the witness has something to gain by a particular answer, then it's less reliable. If the witness is confused or not paying attention, then the response will be of less value. You get the picture.

However, scientific inquiry is designed to minimize these effects. Experiments are designed and documented in clear terms, so that we know what action was performed, and what the result was. This information is isolated from what the experimentalist believes the experiment measures and from the result the experimentalist expects. Moreover, most experiments are replicated by other scientists. For example, there are something like 900 experimental studies that test and report on cognitive dissonance theory. While it's possible that one study can be wrong, the evidence for real effects accumulates when you have multiple studies. (And the evidence fails to accumulate when the effect isn't real!)

Moreover, as someone who's participated in scientific research, I have some familiarity with the process and community. Researchers know that they might be wrong, and they carefully check for systematic errors. They are also aware that others might have made errors, and check the work of others.

But here's you. Implicitly claiming that unscientific reporting by individuals (e.g., on prayer or miracles) is on a par with scientific and controlled studies. And, yet, in the same breath, you take back that implicit claim when you say that prayer can't be tested scientifically.

So, Steve, tell me the odds. What are the odds that a person is telling the truth in a given situation (versus telling a lie, or versus being confused)?

You know that the odds someone is lying or confused are not zero. What are those odds?

And how can we leverage the efforts of multiple people to get closer to true reporting?

If you don't look into these questions, then you're not taking the problem seriously.

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

We're staying even further off topic now, but I don't mind.

On the quote from James, I think you are reading it incorrectly. The point is that if, however much evidence you have, the "Humean rule" kicks in and you dismiss the miracle because the falsehood of the report (or misleadingness of the evidence) would always be more miraculous than the attested miracle itself, then the Humean rule is irrational. It's not that it prevents you accepting a miracle on faith, it's that it even if we have an arbitrarily large amoung of evidence the rule will still stop you accepting it at face value. That's what I object to in the Humean line. Admittedly, this may not be quite how James intended the passage I quoted.

On the miracles themselves, I disagree that these are different in principle from the kind of example I mentioned where the event confirmed is unique. The general reliability of testimony, certain forms of inference, and particular kinds of evidence are all relevant kinds of regularity. They are not the subject of natural laws, but evidentially that is beside the point.

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

I don't hold to the "Humean" view that "miracles" can never be rationally believed.

I am a Bayesian. So, it is possible to overcome belief in a well-established regularity by accumulating enough evidence.

The illusionist David Copperfield once walked through the Great Wall of China. No one believes he actually did so. What would it take to make us believe that he had?

Well, eyewitness accounts by themselves are not adequate. There are a lot of people who want to believe that it is possible. Lots of people who would tell the story, even if it wasn't true. In otherwords, we can explain the signal as noise.

In order to believe in the signal, we need controls. If he can walk through one wall, he can walk through others. We will want to make sure that there are no other people in the area (no body doubles). We'll want to make sure the wall isn't fake. We'll want multiple video cameras, etc. We'll wants special handling precautions for every step of the handling of evidence. For example, we'll want to ensure that no one can tamper with the video feeds. We'll even want background checks on the experimentalists, to make sure they're not business partners with Copperfield.

If Copperfield has the abilities he claims, then, eventually, despite the mountain of evidence that says normal humans can't walk through walls, we'll find that there's an even larger mountain of evidence that says that our instruments and wiring cannot be wrong.

Of course, while we may come to believe that Copperfield can walk through walls, we may not be able to explain how.

But, if we think about it, this inference has other properties that make it fragile. It's one thing for the experimentalists to verify that there's no tampering in the experiment, but something else for a bystander like me to believe it. If enough controlled experiments by independent experimentalists confirm the ability to walk through walls, then even I can believe in that ability as an outsider. But the believability of the result will collapse after a certain period of time has elapsed!

Suppose that, after 50 years, the original experimentalists are dead. All that remains are newspaper accounts of their success. We're then left with fewer and fewer controls because the passing down of the information from the experiments to us is subject to bias. The passing of information is uncontrolled. Yes, it may be improbable that all the newspapers are wrong, but it's still less likely that a man walked through walls.

In other words, even if we perform controlled experiments once, and those experiments compel belief in a rare event by the experimentalist at the time of the experiment, the believability of the result decays over time.

If I want to rationally convince you that I have special powers, I can't do it by performing spectacular one-offs. Copperfield can already do that. I convince you by repetition, and by providing long-lasting evidence.

The Resurrection isn't even a controlled experiment. It is all hearsay from a group of heavily biased collaborators. It wouldn't stand up even in the present day. But even if it did stand in the present day, it wouldn't stand even 10 years from today. This is why miracles are useless for convincing rational people about divinity or special powers in the long term.

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

You've got to admit it, your comment "The Resurrection isn't even a controlled experiment" is hilarious!

But leaving aside the natural human response and being a logician for a moment ...

Firstly, if the resurrection were naturalistically repeatable, you might conclude that it had happened. You wouldn't conclude that it was a miracle, just that it occurred by some hitherto unknown law of nature. You have stacked the decks here.

Secondly, what is the import of "control" here? The case of a dead man staying dead? Well that experiment certainly is repeatable!

Thirdly, you don't really believe that an event has to be naturalistically repeatable to be believable. Again, think about the big bang.

Fourthly, though in many cases it will, the signal needn't diminish with time ... My issue is with the detail of this claim, if you try to say what that actually means and come up with a coherent alternative account of the evidence, saying it's all noise doesn't cut it (for me).

Anyway, back to being human: hilarious!

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

Firstly, if the resurrection were naturalistically repeatable, you might conclude that it had happened. You wouldn't conclude that it was a miracle, just that it occurred by some hitherto unknown law of nature. You have stacked the decks here.

I don't think it's stacking the decks. To be stacking the deck, we would have to identify "regular" with "fundamentally non-mental". There's really no need to do that.

The hypothetical example I often give would be to imagine that every time I blaspheme, I get hit by lightning. This would violate the conservation of energy, but it could be quite regular. It would establish the will of God as more powerful or more fundamental than the laws of physics.

Secondly, what is the import of "control" here? The case of a dead man staying dead? Well that experiment certainly is repeatable!

It is, yes. Which is why we think it is incredibly unlikely (far less than 1 in 10 billion odds) that a person would be resurrected.

That's what the miracle must overcome. But it's impossible to overcome this without controls on the unique event.

The signal is the report of the event. The noise is in false reporting. Controls improve signal to noise ratio. You want to control the noise so that you are confident that the reported miracle is true, and not simply noise. This gets us back to ECREE. There are mundane explanations for the Resurrection report. And even if you thought that the integral over all the explanations is still improbable, it's a lot more probable than 1 in 10 billion. Effective controls would allow you to be confident that the odds of the report being fake or noise are less than 1 in 10 billion. But those controls are very obviously lacking.

Thirdly, you don't really believe that an event has to be naturalistically repeatable to be believable. Again, think about the big bang.

I do believe it.

When we run repeatable experiments, we make inferences to predictive laws of nature. That is, we learn rules that connect initial and final states. So, our belief about the big bang is inferred deductively from physical laws, and the physical laws are inferred inductively from repeatable experiments.

In principle, the same thing is true of theistic models of reality. For example, if we know from repeatable experiment that blasphemy reliably causes lightning strikes, then we could make inferences about what happened at historical, one-time events in which blasphemy was involved.

Fourthly, though in many cases it will, the signal needn't diminish with time ... My issue is with the detail of this claim, if you try to say what that actually means and come up with a coherent alternative account of the evidence, saying it's all noise doesn't cut it (for me).

I would like to hear where you think this goes wrong in the details.

As for my statement being hilarious, some welcome laughs I'm only too happy to provide . :)

GREV said...

"Probabilities are assessed in some context and not in isolation. The question is in what context are they and should they be assessed?"

Let's isolate that for a moment. And no, what you had to say was not patronizing.

The probability of God has to be considered in the context of the person asking.

And my mistake in being unclear is my mistake.

I wish to know in any discussion of the idea of God, does a person consider the Christian theistic worldview defensible or laughable. Today, it seems with the mistaken mechanistic viewpoint of the world, held-over from the 1700 or 1800's, still motivating people. A theistic viewpoint which posits supernatural and natural seems to be not worthy of discussion in some quarters.

So you get these interesting and I find baffling suggestions that God can be subject to control experiments.

If God, is the idea of Pure Consciousness, and much more, in whom exists all possible states and modes of knowledge; how can a time and space bounded creature ever hope to think they can put God to a controlled test?

If this is confusing please ignore.

Papalinton said...

@ Steve Lovell
The very moment that one believes in miracles, that is the moment that every single bit of physics and cosmology etc are thrown out the window.

Miracles are natural occurrences for which an explanation has yet to be made.

To even consider the possibility of miracles is to invoke the 'god of the gaps' epithet.

Steve Lovell said...

GREV,

I'm with you here. I guess certain phenomena generally associated with religuous practice can be the subject of controlled experiments, though to perform those experiments may be impious. I'll let others worry about that, since I'm not going to be performing the experiments. (Unless simply praying counts.)

The bigger question which you ask is whether God Himself can be the subject of controlled experiments. I seriously doubt it, and to complain that it hasn't happened and that belief in God is therefore dubious strikes me as absurd. Which is why DL's comment ("the resurrection is not even a controlled experiment") is so funny.

A related question which is in the area is, if we are reasoning in a Bayesian fashion about God whether our "priors" can ever be rational since they are presumably grounded very heavily in our own experience, which in the ways you are suggesting is perhaps not going to be that good a starting point when it comes to the radical otherness of God.

But maybe theology can help a little. While God is radically other, God is personal, and we are made in His image. Nature, which we know so well through the sciences is impersonal. So while we stand on nature's side of the finite/infinite divide, we stand on God's side of the personal/impersonal divide. So perhaps God is not so thoroughkly unknowable as to make reasoning about Him completely misplaced.

Just thoughts.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

I think you're misusing the word "control". A controlled experiment is not one where we tightly monitor every detail (though we might want to), it is one where two versions of the experiment are conducted. One of these is the "real" experiment and the other is the "control". The control substitutes what is hypothesised to be the significant causal factor for something else presumed not to have that effect but in other having no known relevant differents. This is the point of my comment about dead people staying dead. Are these "control" experiments ... even if they are not "controlled" in the sense of tightly regulated.

On repeatability, you are missing the point. Be my guest and attempt to recreate the big bang. Your knowledge of the big bang may be based on repeatable regularities, the big bang is not a repeatable regularity. Go back and read my last couple of comments again.

In terms of the details, this is too far off topic and too much like hard work for me to start discussing. Plus I doubt that I'm the right man for the job.

We may have run out of steam in this thread (or perhaps it's just me) ... I'm happy to leave things here, and let others judge for themselves from the comments.

Steve

GREV said...

Steve -- thanks for being gracious enough to respond.

I don't object to reasoning about God, I am a pastor in the Christian ministry for 22 years now. What I try to plead for is I hope a certain sense of humility on the subject.

God is knowable because God took the initiative to disclose Himself. What we know we know because of Grace. The graciousness of God the Creator to us the created.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

Control is commonly imposed by having replicated experimental subjects, but the term is not synonymous with replication.

Generally, the phenomena we observe will be functions of a lot of variables:

P(x,y,z,t,m,r,q,...)

Phenomena will have multiple causes. For P to be comprehensible, it has to decompose into some simpler functions of fewer variables, e.g.:

P = A(x) + B(y) + C(z) +... etc.

Control means trying to isolate one component function from the others.

Obviously, we'll be unable to understand or see the structure of function A if all the other functions are varying at the same time.

There are several ways to control such a system to get to the individual functions. We can run the experiment lots of times over (hopefully) random variables so that the influence of all the other functions averages out.

Alternatively, we can try to hold all the other variables fixed, or if we understand the other functions, we can compensate for the variation in those functions.

In the case of one-time or unique events, we need to use the latter approach.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve,

Maybe I can get right to the point.

In Bayesian reasoning, you compare the likelihood of resurrection reports if the resurrection occurred versus the likelihood of resurrection reports if the resurrection did not occur. You also factor in the likelihood that a resurrection would occur, in general.

The frequentist probability of a person being resurrected is something like 1 in 10 billion. If you look at how bodies actually work, the probability is many orders of magnitude lower.

If a person was resurrected, it's not a foregone conclusion that the reports would look like the NT. For example, Jesus did not appear to Pilate or to his enemies, and did not trigger urgent and panicked dispatches to Rome. Instead, Jesus appeared only to his followers. In other words, of all the ways Jesus could appear after death, he appeared in just about the only fashion compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication.

On the other hand, it's fairly easy to imagine Jesus's zealots fabricating their story through cognitive dissonance avoidance after their cult leader was executed. This has been observed in modern psychological studies of cult followers who have made significant sacrifices for their cults.

Given that there's a mundane explanation for the miracle reports, why do you believe them true?

SteveK said...

>> Instead, Jesus appeared only to his followers.

Saul of Tarsus? Oh yeah, that doesn't count because he became a follower.

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

Like I said, getting into the details is too far off topic and I'm really not the best man for the job ... but I would like to comment on where you say:

The frequentist probability of a person being resurrected is something like 1 in 10 billion. If you look at how bodies actually work, the probability is many orders of magnitude lower.

I assume this is supposed to be some sort of estimate of the relevant prior. If so, then I have several issues:

(1) I'm not a frequentist (I don't know what I am, but I know that isn't for me).
(2) This seems to be an attempt to estimate the probability that such an event occur naturally.

The import of both should be fairly obvious.

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

My estimate of the rate of resurrections is based on experience. Even if God exists, he doesn't resurrect people at any higher rate, so there's no assumption of materialism implicit in my statement.

Similar probabilistic statements can be made for other non-materialist possibilities, such as the probability that any given person is a divine son of God, etc.

Doctor Logic said...

SteveK,

Why do you believe Saul, but not Joseph Smith?

Steve Lovell said...

GREV,

I think we are in broad agreement, though I'd like to add a little more to what I've said so far ...

If we are completely reliant on special revelation, then assessing the first such revelation becomes a non-rational process. Now this is something I'd only want to accept if I had to ... and I don't think I have to. Not that the process is purely rational, of course. Nothing we do is purely rational.

The reason I don't think we have to is that I believe that God has so made our cognitive faculties and the world in general that it's possible to approach these matters by rational processes. As long as we don't pretend that it's mere reason, or unaided reason, or somehow without assistance from God, I think the problems are somewhat lessened.

This is not to elevate man, it's the elevate the image of God in man. If someone thinks they are reaching conclusions about God without His assistance, they are wrong. It's only without His 'special' assistance, not without God's general grace.

The above notwithstanding, I still think any conclusions we do reach in this way are not - at least in general - conclusions of which we can be terribly certain. A phrase I've heard others use, and which I think is near the mark (though perhaps a little strongly worded) is "God has put enough reason into the world to make belief in Him a most reasonable proposition. But he has left enough out to make it impossible to live by reason alone."

Thanks for your kind words.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

The fact that similar estimates can be made for other events does nothing to show that the methodology is correct.

You write: Even if God exists, he doesn't resurrect people at any higher rate, so there's no assumption of materialism implicit in my statement.

This is the sort of thing which makes me think frequentism is crazy. It all depends what populations your frequencies are relative to. If I said that no-one had ever had 100 coin tosses in a row come up heads, but this was only because they hadn't had sufficiently many/long trials you wouldn't say that the probability was vanishingly small. Ironically you seem to be failing to control for the relevant factors when assessing the probabilities here.

If I wanted to endorse frequentism, the frequency I'd want to measure would be against a population something like 'All the people who have lived exemplary moral lives, had dedicated followers in their own lifetime, had miracles attributed to them (rightly or wrongly), have forecast their own rising from the dead, and claimed equality with God.'

But leave that aside a moment, can I ask a silly question? When talking of probabilities it's always easiest to think about something easy like a lottery. So let's do that.

In a sufficiently nasty lottery we could easily have a scenario where the probability of a specified individual winning was 1 in 10 billion. Despite this, I don't think we'd need any especially remarkable evidence to be sure that they had in fact got the winning numbers.

Now the question here is not what the explanation of winning is, just whether we can believe that the person has indeed won on the basis of relatively mundane evidence. I think we pretty clearly can. Do you agree? If so, why is the miraculous case different. If not, then why am I wrong here?

Steve

SteveK said...

>>> Why do you believe Saul, but not Joseph Smith?

That's a different question. One that had no bearing on your objection.

SteveK said...

DL: Why do you believe in the accuracy of the statistical data you've heard, but have never verified?

Ilíon said...

Dr Illogic: "Why do you believe Saul, but not Joseph Smith?"

Steve K: "That's a different question. One that had no bearing on your objection."

When has that ever matter to a so-called atheist?

Though, at the same time, crack open the door and so prompt this rhetorical question by giving an answer to his not-quite-true objection that "Instead, Jesus appeared only to his followers."

It seems there's just no arguing with these people ... for, after all, they hold themselves entitled to say *anything*. And its opposite.

Ilíon said...

"Though, at the same time, [you did] crack open the door ...]

Doctor Logic said...

SteveK,

That's a different question. One that had no bearing on your objection.

Incorrect, again.

You believe Saul was not a follower, but your evidence consists of Saul's own testimony (if it's even his own).

Talk is cheap. Jesus appeared to me, too. Prove me wrong!

If we judge Joseph Smith by the accounts of his cult followers, he sounds like a saint:
http://tinyurl.com/4xywlh6

Do you believe he was a prophet?

Was L. Ron Hubbard a great man?

I don't think you believe that.

Yet you believe in the saints of Christianity because you blindly accept the biased religious accounts of their own saints. The picture painted for you is of ordinary men who saw extraordinary things, and who consequently changed their lives. And you just believe it without question because it's a nice story.

DL: Why do you believe in the accuracy of the statistical data you've heard, but have never verified?

I already answered that question. The scientific community checks itself. Not perfectly, not completely, but statistically. You're suggesting that we should just use our gut to determine whether testimony is accurate, but that's a recipe for believing what you want to believe.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

I don't understand what you find objectionable in what I just wrote.The same sorts of inference would be involved with a materialistic claim of resurrection. The frequentist statement doesn't rule the outcome impossible. It doesn't even say that the event is improbable given favorable conditions. It does say, however, that favorable conditions are improbable.

In principle, it's possible that in any case where a person lives a morally perfect life, claims he will be resurrected, performs alleged miracles, etc., it is then quite likely that they will be resurrected. So, for example, Jesus's disciples might not have been at all surprised to see Jesus back from the dead. However, what are the odds that Jesus lived the exemplary life he is alleged to have lived? What are the odds that he did claim in advance that he would be back from the dead?

Do you think anyone else in history has lived a perfect moral life?

The only way to assess these odds is to look at experience. Who else has lived a perfect life, and did they possess super powers?

Talk is cheap. It would be so easy for the followers of Jesus to claim he lived a perfect life, that he had performed miracles, that he claimed he would return from the dead, that he fulfilled prophecies, that he was born of a virgin, a descendant of David, etc. Cheap talk provides a mundane alternative to the supernatural account. If you read Mormon tracts about Joseph Smith, he sounds like a saint. What if those tracts were the only documents about Smith that survived?

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

There's a very plausible alternative to the Christian account. Messianic cults were common in the first century. Several of them were put down violently. It's not very plausible that the disciples of Jesus didn't know the risks they were taking. This means that they were not ordinary guys, but were religious fanatics. Combine this with the general admiration for Jewish martyrdom at the time, and it's easy to imagine that they were people willing to die (or at least risk death) for their cause. Having supported a leader out of the mainstream, they would have staked a great deal on Jesus's success at eliminating the Romans. They probably gave up a great deal to support Jesus. When Jesus was executed, they felt cognitive dissonance. They were good, brave people. How could they have supported such a failure? When someone mentioned that a stranger seemed like their old master, it would have provided them all with the motivation and inspiration for seeing their master risen again. They would all be desperate to see the risen Jesus, whether in dreams, in drug-induced hallucinations or in the form of strangers. These religious radicals told and retold their stories, working to make Jesus appear to fit existing Jewish scripture, and be acceptable to Jews. Later, others like Paul would work to make the religion palatable to non-Jews.

The just-so story I describe here might not be the case. However, this story is far more likely than a resurrection or a perfect moral life, or a virgin birth (of a male).

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

In a sufficiently nasty lottery we could easily have a scenario where the probability of a specified individual winning was 1 in 10 billion. Despite this, I don't think we'd need any especially remarkable evidence to be sure that they had in fact got the winning numbers.

Yes, mundane evidence is adequate, but there's a huge difference between a lottery and a paranormal event.

In the case of the lottery, we are all but certain that the rare events are happening (to somebody), and the effects of the lottery (dispensation of large amounts of money) are also quite obvious. We have overwhelming evidence about the mechanism of the lottery - a series of mundane events with an improbable outcome, a large bank account for the prize, a way for people to play, and a way to inform players of the winning numbers, etc.

In the case of a paranormal event, we don't have confidence that the rare events are taking place at all. The effects of the paranormal event are indistinguishable from null events. True reports of the paranormal, if they existed, would be drowned out by false reports.

Imagine that some people claim they won a lottery run by God which dispensed very small cash prizes. There's no paper trail regarding entry, and whenever we scrutinize the finances of people, no net deposits can be found. In this case, we would not take the claims of lottery winnings by adherents as compelling evidence of a divine lottery.

To sum up, in the lottery, we have a detailed understanding of the mechanism behind the lottery. In the case of paranormal events, we're going in reverse. We're trying to infer a mechanism behind the extraordinary claims. The problem is that cognitive bias provides a mundane mechanism to easily explain the claims. Cognitive bias won't account for the lottery because cognitive bias won't explain everyone misreading my bank balance by three orders of magnitude, the existence of the state's lottery accounts, lottery machines, etc.

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

I don't have time for a longer response (just now), but you seem to be saying that in Bayesian terms the main difference between the lottery examples and the miracle examples is not in the priors but the quality of the evidence and the availability of alternative explanations.

I agree with that. I thought you were leaning more heavily on your "1 in 10 billion". If not, I don't have a problem. From there we quickly come down to the details again ...

Steve

SteveK said...

DL,
>>>I already answered that question. The scientific community checks itself. Not perfectly, not completely, but statistically. You're suggesting that we should just use our gut to determine whether testimony is accurate, but that's a recipe for believing what you want to believe.

I don't have a problem with this per se, but it undermines your argument against believing what others tell you about the world and how it works. Whether it's Saul of Tarsus or Gary of TechnoLab, you and I are trusting their story to some extent.

Which brings me to the next point. Since you haven't confirmed that the scientific community checks itself, and that their results are accurate, are we to conclude that you use your gut to determine if their testimony is accurate?

If not your gut, what tools do you use?

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: "Since you haven't confirmed that the scientific community checks itself, and that their results are accurate,…"

I'll butt in, just because I can't stand it anymore.

No, the scientific community has a known process (the scientific method) by which results are independently verified. This isn't done outside science -- independent verification is part of science.

Also, the products of science work. Airplanes fly, treatments cure illness, vaccines prevent infections, satellites orbit, cell phones work, etc. Our world is abuzz with the confirmation that the results of science are accurate, otherwise all this stuff we use just wouldn't work. Do I really need to check the plans for a new aircraft to see if the designers and engineers have done their work correctly? I suppose I could, but I can also see their product fly, and that should go a long way in confirming that their results are accurate.

SteveK: "…are we to conclude that you use your gut to determine if their testimony is accurate?"

No. We can base our belief that the results of science are accurate because we observe that their products work.

SteveK: "If not your gut, what tools do you use?"

Those available to science -- empirical tools. Using evidence that is objective, verifiable, and reliable.

Steve Lovell said...

Tony,

Just to be sure we're on the same page here ... I don't think SteveK is attacking science. He's just pointing out that all of us rely heavily on the general reliability of testimony.

This is absolutely necessary in the scientific community. There's much too much for just one person to confirm it all on their own. And even if they did, they might want others to confirm it too, and will be relying on their testimony for that.

Do you disagree?

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

I'm not sure I actually object to it, but you write: In the case of the lottery, we are all but certain that the rare events are happening (to somebody), and the effects of the lottery (dispensation of large amounts of money) are also quite obvious.

I'm really not sure either way about this. To my knowledge, I've never met anyone who has won a large sum of money on the lottery. All the reports are second or third hand and about people I'm never likely to come into contact with. The large sums of money may be obvious to the people close up to the winners, but they aren't obvious to me. Nevertheless, I still accept the reports.

Steve

Tony Hoffman said...

Steve: " He's just pointing out that all of us rely heavily on the general reliability of testimony. This is absolutely necessary in the scientific community."

I don't consider the promulgation of scientific results to be a matter of testimony. In other words, I think it would be a mis-use of the term to say that we accept the fact that water boils at sea level at 100° C because of a scientist's testimony. Scientists can be dishonest, and they can be wrong, and I imagine that they can tell each other things as a way to pass information, but scientific facts are not a matter of testimony; they are the results of a process that is objective, reliable, and verifiable. Testimony has almost nothing to do with it.

Steve Lovell said...

DL,

But in case you do want to lean on the "1 in 10 billion" remark ...

You write: It does say, however, that favorable conditions are improbable.

That makes sense, I guess. But it doesn't help as much as you seem to think. It just pushes the evidential chain one step back, and to somewhere where any burden of proof is easier to meet as there is no miracle claim involved.

Plus remember that many of us are operating in the context of theism, not in the context of atheism/agnosticism ... the possibility of miracles is not something we question. If God exists, the possibility of miracles is a given.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

Tony,

I don't disagree, but you're missing the wider point.

The facts are indeed established. We aren't denigrating science. But facts established are established by a minority and communicated by testimony to the masses ... including the majority of other scientists.

Now in many cases a separate scientist will indeed confirm the results. That's great. Now those who have not done the experiments have the testimony of two scientists. And perhaps a scientist's testimony (on matters within their field and where they have performed the relevant experiments) is worth more than the testimony of others ... but it is still testimony.

Steve

SteveK said...

Hey, Tony
Thanks for butting in :).

>>> No, the scientific community has a known process (the scientific method) by which results are independently verified. This isn't done outside science -- independent verification is part of science.

I don't disagree with anything you say here. Unfortunately, it doesn't do anything to address my claim, which is that YOU (and DL) haven't confirmed anything. Someone else has.

In fact, all you did here is reinforce my claim, which is that YOU (and DL) are trusting/believing what the scientific community tells you about the world and how it works.

Let me be very clear: There's nothing inherently wrong with that!

>>> Our world is abuzz with the confirmation that the results of science are accurate, otherwise all this stuff we use just wouldn't work.

You are confusing confirmation by someone else with confirmation by YOU. The resulting airplane is not necessarily proof that the specifics pertaining to fluid mechanics and physics - as passed down to you in the classroom - are accurate. If you confirmed them in the classroom then it is proof they are accurate. Prior to that, you are trusting in the story told by others.

So, no, the conclusion doesn't follow necessarily. The resulting birthday cake is NOT NECESSARILIY proof that the specifics of the recipe are accurate. It is for those that followed the recipe.

>>> Those available to science -- empirical tools. Using evidence that is objective, verifiable, and reliable.

But DL isn't using these tools. He's trusting others that said they did use them to confirm the outcome. That's my point.

So that puts us back to where we started. Tell me why I am wrong to trust the story of Saul of Tarsus and why DL is not wrong to trust the story of Gary of TechnoLab?

SteveK said...

>>> I don't disagree, but you're missing the wider point.

They are. There is reasonable trust and unreasonable trust. I'm asking DL how he knows when it's unreasonable to trust your experiences and reasonable to trust the story of someone else (TechnoLab).

Ilíon said...

When these people accuse someone of being "anti-science," what they *mean* is something like, "You're opposing the atheism I like to pretend is scientific."

And when they say things like this --"No, the scientific community has a known process (the scientific method) by which results are independently verified. This isn't done outside science -- independent verification is part of science." – then the most charitable interpretation is that it is an expression of extreme (and amazing) naïveté.

However, since the above was writen in response to this – “ Since you haven't confirmed that the scientific community checks itself, and that their results are accurate …” – to extend such such extreme charity would be a form of dishonesty.

Ilíon said...

"No, the scientific community has a known process (the scientific method) by which results are independently verified. This isn't done outside science -- independent verification is part of science."

SteveK: "I don't disagree with anything you say here."

Well, you *ought* to disagree, because the assertion is not, strictly speaking and using an arcane technical term, true. It is false, on multiple levels, including, but not necessarily limited to:
1) there is no such things as "THE scientific method";
2) "independent verification" is almost never done;
2a) the "independence" is a shallow and self-serving myth, since even when "independent verification" is done, it is done with the same assumptions
3) the "verification" is an even more shallow and self-serving a myth; for the way modern science is done, everything and its opposite can be "verified".

SteveK said...

IIion,
I'm not going to nitpick over what it means to be independent or what the scientific method is *exactly*. No doubt there are varying degrees of independence and varying methods for conducting science. I wouldn't go as far as to say what Tony said is false. I don't need to do that to make my point anyway, so why bother.

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: " I'm asking DL how he knows when it's unreasonable to trust your experiences and reasonable to trust the story of someone else (TechnoLab)."

When you want to know about your own phenomenological experiences (you are feeling pain), then your experiences are the way to go. If you want to know about someone else's phenomenological experiences, then their testimony is a reasonable place to start. If you want to know about objective reality, then the stories of others are not very reliable.

If you think that the age of the universe is just another story then you just don't understand or care about science. And I can't make you care about it, nor understand it. You have to do that on your own.

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK, your latest question reminds me of a little girl.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/06/dear_emma_b.php

SteveK said...

Tony,

>>> When you want to know about your own phenomenological experiences (you are feeling pain), then your experiences are the way to go. If you want to know about someone else's phenomenological experiences, then their testimony is a reasonable place to start. If you want to know about objective reality, then the stories of others are not very reliable.

Please tell that to DL. I'm not the one you need to convince. You and I appear to be on the same side of the fence here so your quibbles are not with me. When it comes to certain experiences that DL has, DL prefers to punt to the stories of others. I'm asking why. Perhaps you'll join me in asking.

>>> If you think that the age of the universe is just another story then you just don't understand or care about science. And I can't make you care about it, nor understand it. You have to do that on your own.

I don't think it's a story and I do care about science. Now that we have that out of the way, we can continue our discussion.

Doctor Logic said...

SteveK,

Whether it's Saul of Tarsus or Gary of TechnoLab, you and I are trusting their story to some extent.

Saying "to some extent" stretches the truth way past breaking point. That's like saying "whether it's the National Inquirer or the Encyclopedia Britannica, we are trusting their story to some extent."

I don't see why you can't acknowledge that process and aggregation make a difference.

Individual scientists can be biased and blinkered. However, science as an enterprise takes precautions.

1) Science is adversarial. Scientists are rewarded for disproving prevailing theories.

2) Scientific methods are published along with results. This means that experiments can be replicated. Not all experiments are replicated, but the more important the result, the more likely it is that it will be replicated or extended. If I try to go beyond your experiment to make the next discovery, I will soon expose a lie when your stepping stone fails.

3) If you make a scientific claim, you will be asked to defend that claim with evidence and analysis. If you cannot defend the claim, then your claim will not be taken seriously.

4) Scientists live in a culture of mutual verification and precautions against bias. They know what is expected.

As someone who has participated in scientific research, I know this first hand.

Consensus science is the best available testimony when it comes to inference from the data.

None of these qualities of the scientific community are present in religious practice or in religious cults like early Christianity.

Religion is the exact opposite of science. It is credulity. Religion eschews critical thinking. It completely ignores cognitive bias, and actively works to rule religious claims out of bounds to critical analysis.

SteveK said...

>>> SteveK, your latest question reminds me of a little girl.

Cute story, Tony. It might surprise you to know that I agree with Mr. Science's better question to ask, which is "How do you know that?"

That's the question I'm asking you and DL regarding statistical data and various other facts you spout on this blog. The answer seems mostly to be that you were taught those facts, or you read them somewhere - which ususally is fine, if your reasons are sound.

For example, if you haven't done the experiments, how do you know that F=mA? I've done them. Those that haven't done the experiments are trusting others that it's not really F=mA +C. They likely have good reasons for giving their trust so there's nothing wrong with trusting others.

I trust Saul of Tarsus and I have good reasons for doing that. Those reasons mean that I can't fully, and completely trust Joseph Smith or Mohammed or Mr. Science himself.

That's the essence behind the believers slogan.

SteveK said...

>>> That's like saying "whether it's the National Inquirer or the Encyclopedia Britannica, we are trusting their story to some extent."

We are trusting. My reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with the details will depend on the story and its content. Same for science. Same for religion.

>>> If you make a scientific claim, you will be asked to defend that claim with evidence and analysis. If you cannot defend the claim, then your claim will not be taken seriously.

Take your own medicine, DL. I've ask you to defend your claim of certain historical facts about reality (statistical data), and all you do is refer me to the scientific community who did the work. If I do that with historical Christianity then I guess we're on an even playing field at least.

In defense of certain historical statistical facts that pertain to Christianity, can I refer you to Rome?

SteveK said...

DL,
>>> Religion is the exact opposite of science. It is credulity. Religion eschews critical thinking. It completely ignores cognitive bias, and actively works to rule religious claims out of bounds to critical analysis.

As for Christianity - wrong, wrong and wrong. And you know that. I can prove it by directing you to volumes of apologetic material filled with logic, reason and critical analysis with the underlying desire to know what is true.

Since you know this to be true, are you lying or just trying to impress others with style over substance?

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: "Please tell that to DL. I'm not the one you need to convince. You and I appear to be on the same side of the fence here so your quibbles are not with me."

Huh? I agree with everything Dr. Logic has written here. You appear to be quibbling with me. Insisting, for instance, that scientific consensus is just another kind of testimony.

SteveK said...

Tony,
>>> I agree with everything Dr. Logic has written here. You appear to be quibbling with me.

Really? DL rejects his own experiences in favor of statistical data:

"In that case, it's still too improbable an event for me to believe my eyes. Of all the billions of people who ever lived, God will choose you to fly? What are the odds? Billions to one. It's much more likely that I am hallucinating."

and you apparently do not:

"When you want to know about your own phenomenological experiences (you are feeling pain), then your experiences are the way to go."

>>> Insisting, for instance, that scientific consensus is just another kind of testimony.

What other options are on the table if your acceptance of the consensus it's not an example of you trusting the testimony of a group?

GREV said...

Strictly speaking there is not one science but several fields of inquiry in science and there are people who practice in these fields of inquiry.

Off topic.

SteveK's statement is quite succient and I acknowledge it shall not convince someone unless in the realm of spiritual knowledge -- God works in the mind of the person.

GREV said...

I may be completely off base but I continue to see elements of the idea that the creature can reason everything about the Creator and I think that goes too far in that it draws God ultimately down to our level in terms of how we create God through our reasoning.

No room is left for mystery or doubt or faith or .....

Ilíon said...

SteveK,
You're trying to reason intellectually dishonest persons --
persons who lie about reason itself -- into reasoning, and speaking truth. It ain't gonna happen.

Now, if you're having fun wasting your time like that, then go for it. But, don't ever expect to accomplish anything with them.

SteveK said...

Grev,

>>> I may be completely off base but I continue to see elements of the idea that the creature can reason everything about the Creator and I think that goes too far in that it draws God ultimately down to our level in terms of how we create God through our reasoning.

I'm certainly not one of those people who think that you can. Some of the things we know about God do not involve reasoning. Some of our knowledge we could not reason our way to. Special revelation has its place.

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK, sorry about not responding sooner -- I've been away at a wedding and I'm just going to finish up here.

SteveK: “Really [that I agree with DL]? DL rejects his own experiences in favor of statistical data... and you apparently do not:



(Quoting me): "When you want to know about your own phenomenological experiences (you are feeling pain), then your experiences are the way to go."

No, I was just making a distinction between empiricism and phenomenology. But just because some experiences are incorrigible does not mean that skeptics like DL and I do not agree concerning science, probability, and empiricism. I brought up phenomenological experiences, remember, because you asked “when it’s unreasonable to trust you experiences...” and clearly (and somewhat meaninglessly) I acknowledged that I thought it would be unreasonable to not trust that you are experiencing what you experience. But that doesn’t address the real issue – it just answers your question, and does not mean that I disavow the value of statistical data, probability, and science when evaluating how our experiences correspond with reality. I remain certain that DL and I agree in that regard.

SteveK: “What other options are on the table if your acceptance of the consensus it's not an example of you trusting the testimony of a group?”

Options that test the the group’s finding (the scientific fact, law, or theory) through a process that is objective, reliable, and verifiable.


SteveK: “For example, if you haven't done the experiments, how do you know that F=mA?”

Because it’s a stated scientific fact, and is not the subject of scientific controversy, and because scientific facts that aren’t the subject of scientific controversy have an awesome track record of staying true.

Also, because even if I haven’t done basic physic labs (and I have), I see that the science that is based on this fundamental law works well enough. If something as fundamental as F = MA were not true, I can’t think of much that would work in our mechanized world.

SteveK “Those that haven't done the experiments are trusting others that it's not really F=mA +C.”

Really? You think that reasonable people might think that F = mA + C without doing the experiment? Now you are just painting yourself into a corner that makes you seem ridiculous.

SteveK: “They likely have good reasons for giving their trust so there's nothing wrong with trusting others.”

Yes, if there’s good reason to trust something like scientific facts (and there is), there is good reason to trust them. How you get to extrapolating from there to “therefore we should trust others in matters that are not objective, reliable, and verifiable” is a leap no reasonable person should make with you.

Ilíon said...

[context]

"Because it’s a stated scientific fact, and is not the subject of scientific controversy, and because scientific facts that aren’t the subject of scientific controversy have an awesome track record of staying true."

Sometimes, one does begin to wonder whether one really ought to discount, as one does, massive stupidity as being the reason/cause so many 'atheists' constantly say so many stupid things. After all, if one allowed that perhaps they really are that stupid, one wouldn't be forced, time and again, to conclude that they are intellectually dishonest.

Ilíon said...

Stupid 'Atheist' Tricks I

SteveK said...

Tony,

>>> Options that test the the group’s finding (the scientific fact, law, or theory) through a process that is objective, reliable, and verifiable.

Those options aren't available to you now. Clearly you are trusting the consensus with good reason. Why can't you admit that, Tony, because it's what you are doing? There's nothing wrong with that. I admit that's what I do.

>>> Because it’s a stated scientific fact, and is not the subject of scientific controversy, and because scientific facts that aren’t the subject of scientific controversy have an awesome track record of staying true.

It's a statement that the scientific community makes that you accept as factual, accurate and true for various reasons. I do the same.

>>> Also, because even if I haven’t done basic physic labs (and I have), I see that the science that is based on this fundamental law works well enough.

Again I bring up my birthday cake example. The result (the cake) is no indication that the explanation is accurate or true. You guys say this to Christian's all the time. So if I present a birthday cake to you, does that mean the recipe I handed you is NECESSARILY accurate and true with respect to the cake? It could be. It also could be inaccurate. If you haven't ever baked a cake, there is a considerable amount of trust involved.

>>> Really? You think that reasonable people might think that F = mA + C without doing the experiment?

I think reasonable people are trusting the consensus that tells them that F=mA. That's the point, Tony. If tomorrow it was announced that the consensus revised their findings to F=mA + C, reasonable people would trust that too. You would trust them, right?

>>> How you get to extrapolating from there to “therefore we should trust others in matters that are not objective, reliable, and verifiable” is a leap no reasonable person should make with you.

Jeepers, Tony. You and I are trusting (with good reason) that the consensus is correct when they say the results are objective, reliable and have been verified BECAUSE neither of us has done the work ourselves. Why is this so hard for you to understand?

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: "[Processes of testing that include objectivity, reliability, and verifiability] aren't available to you now. Clearly you are trusting the consensus with good reason."

I don't get it. Why aren't objectivity, reliability, and verifiability available to me with regard to scientific knowledge?

SteveK:" Why can't you admit that, Tony, because it's what you are doing?"

?

SteveK: " Again I bring up my birthday cake example. The result (the cake) is no indication that the explanation is accurate or true. You guys say this to Christian's all the time. So if I present a birthday cake to you, does that mean the recipe I handed you is NECESSARILY accurate and true with respect to the cake? It could be. It also could be inaccurate. If you haven't ever baked a cake, there is a considerable amount of trust involved."

The recipe, and the cake, are part of a process that objective, verifiable, and reliable. We know how to test them, and we can. (This actually happens in food manufacturing all the time, btw.) So I don't get what you're trying to say with the above -- that because I don't test your recipe to see if it tastes the same as the cake, I can't know if the recipe is an accurate explanation? But I can, and that's the point.

Tony Hoffman said...

SteveK: " If tomorrow it was announced that the consensus revised their findings to F=mA + C, reasonable people would trust that too."

Maybe you should choose another example. You are describing a law of motion, which is not an explanation, and I think you are talking about explanations.

But let's accept for the sake of argument how it would work that scientific consensus suddenly revised so that F = mA + C. Seeing as how this is wildly at variance with our normal experience (my car starts and moves, despite the fact that your equation above says it needs an almost unimaginable amount of force to get up to 60 mph, as you say the new scientific consensus indicates it must), I would require a great deal of evidence to persuade me that this is true. What would I accept? A total revision of basically all of our physical laws and explanations -- how it is that engines produce this extra energy, how this extra energy is exchanged from one form to another (where does it go)etc. If all of this worked better than the current, more parsimonious explanation, then it would be reasonable to accept it. But until then, it most certainly is not.

SteveK: "You and I are trusting (with good reason) that the consensus is correct when they say the results are objective, reliable and have been verified BECAUSE neither of us has done the work ourselves."

I think you are confusing two issues: 1 is that we are trusting with good reason that the consensus regarding scientific facts is correct at least in part (and probably mostly) because the products of this consensus work. Induction has a wonderful way of setting debates, for reasons that I keep mentioning (objectivity, reliability, verifiability).

2 is that results that are not objective, verifiable, and reliable are not scientific. If we trust that they are, and they are not, then we have been fooled into thinking that they are scientific -- that is all. You see, we do not trust in scientific facts because scientists say the facts are true, we trust in scientific facts because they show themselves to be true (unless you want to believe in a vast conspiracy designed to deceive you) in a process that is objective, reliable, and verifiable.

What you are basically arguing is that because we cannot run our own science lab to test every piece of scientific data ourselves, we are reasonable to trust in what others (be they scientists or adherents of our religion) tell us -- because we do it every time we get on a plane, use our cell phones, type on our computers, etc.

Well, no. We trust in scientific facts because they a) work; and b) can be (and are) tested in a process that is verifiable, reliable, and objective.

We know a) above because we see products of science working, and we know b) because basic science education teaches us how to evidence that is objective, reliable, and verifiable, and also because if the results of science were not reliable then products built on them would not work. Special relativity isn't just true because it works when tested in a lab, but because the GPS devices on our phones would work if they didn't account for the effects of special relativity regarding speed and gravity. Every time you check your position on a gps device, it's another positive test for the scientific fact of special relativity. You see, you don't need to don a lab coat to do science! ☺

GREV said...

Tony --

"Yes, if there’s good reason to trust something like scientific facts (and there is), there is good reason to trust them. How you get to extrapolating from there to “therefore we should trust others in matters that are not objective, reliable, and verifiable” is a leap no reasonable person should make with you."

When the findings of physics point to and give probative confidence for believing in a Super Intelligent Creator Being, then it is unreasonable and somewhat not fair to claim a leap is being made when the evidence, the evidence gives us the probative confidence. Not the final reason for believing, but good probative confidence.

Tony Hoffman said...

GREV: “When the findings of physics point to and give probative confidence for believing in a Super Intelligent Creator Being, then it is unreasonable and somewhat not fair to claim a leap is being made when the evidence, the evidence gives us the probative confidence. Not the final reason for believing, but good probative confidence.”

What do you mean by “probative confidence?” Please define what you mean by that term – do you mean some kind of induction/testing of a hypothesis? and if so, what is that hypothesis, and how is it tested?

It sounds like you’re suggesting that we can use the evidence to infer a Super Intelligent Creator Being, but this doesn’t really do anything for us – I can infer anything from any evidence, after all. Inference is a valuable technique, but if it doesn’t lead to any kind of testing (induction) it could just as well (and probably more likely) be a crutch for our biases.

Also, I have to ask – what findings of physics give us “probative confidence” in a Super Intelligent Creator Being? And if this is the case, why are those who study physics less religious than those who are not so well-educated?

** “In 2009, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press polled members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on belief in a higher power. The study found that 51 percent of members polled expressed such a faith, compared to 95 percent of the American public. Additionally, the National Academy of Science charted belief in God as low as 5.5 percent among biologists and 7.5 percent among physicist and astronomers in a 1998 study.”

GREV said...

Tony -- thank you for your reply.

I am in the midst of moving and cannot give it the consideration it deserves.

Here is one read I am really profiting from right now that framed some of my earlier points.

http://www.amazon.com/New-Proofs-Existence-God-Contributions/dp/0802863833

I would simply add that the quest for academic respectibility amongst religious folks and the inability of many churches to nurture the mind leads to the increase in the lack of religious beliefs amongst many of the higher educated.


In order to get ahead God must be put behind.

GREV said...

Tony -- Just started Chesterton's The Everlasting Man and it made me think of your questions.

Not finished the move yet but thought I would check in.

Tony you wrote --

"It sounds like you’re suggesting that we can use the evidence to infer a Super Intelligent Creator Being, but this doesn’t really do anything for us – I can infer anything from any evidence, after all."

Yes a person can. But the evidencce being accumuilated seems to indicate reasons for suggesting a Super Intelligent Creator Being. The Evidence is suggesting. Those are the conclusions of the physicists cited in the book mentioned in the last post.

I think the real issue was well put by one of the prominent atheist writers when he said I am willing to grant the possibility of a Creator but NEVER the God of the Bible.

That to me is the issue.

Ilíon said...

"It sounds like you’re suggesting that we can use the evidence to infer a Super Intelligent Creator Being, but this doesn’t really do anything for us – I can infer anything from any evidence, after all."

Translation: if I can reason falsely, then you cannot reason truly.

Further translation: it is impossible to know that one has reasoned truly from known facts or truths to presently unknown truths.

Ultimate meaning: it is impossible to reason … or to know any truth.

Ilíon said...

This thread is easily a gold mine -- Stupid 'Atheist' Tricks II