Sunday, March 25, 2012

Arguments that Don't Mix: Loftus Edition

It occurs to me that Loftus's attempt to define faith as necessarily irrational, and his OTF, can't be combined. 


I take it one of the things I have to decide whether I am a candidate for the outsider test for faith is to decide whether not I am a person of faith. According to this definition of faith, I would have to conclude that I have no faith whatsoever. I used to use the word "faith" to describe some of my beliefs, but on this analysis, apparently I have been misusing the word. At least, I don't do this knowingly. There are no beliefs that I have, of which I would say that the evidence made the denial of what I believe more likely than what I believe. 

If I don't have any faith, what that means is, of course, that it would be pointless for me to take the Outsider Test for Faith. If you define faith this way, the only conclusion I can reach is that I don't have any faith, and so have no business taking the test, since I have no faith to test. 

The only people who are candidates for the test are fideists, and those guys are, ex hypothesi, content with irrationality. If the OTF is designed to show that their beliefs are irrational, it is kicking an open door, and it surely won't convince them of anything they don't already know. 

So, you have to choose, John. Either give up on the OTF, or stop developing these definitions of faith. Your arguments don't mix.

43 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for this criticism Vic. You've been thinking about the OTF probably longer than any other Christian.

As I'm writing my book on this I'm having a chapter on faith in it. Are you now saying you do not have faith in Jesus, his promises, the gospel, and in a heavenly reward? That the Christian faith is no longer what you believe? And are you saying you know God's promises are true, that you know the gospel is true, that you know Jesus will return to earth, and that you know you will go to heaven for sure and meet Jesus? Compared to other things you know like gravity, your wife's love, the taste of fruit, the workings of the lightbulb, smartphones, and computers, does knowing Christianity compare?

Care to explain how other religionists might respond to your claim? Does it matter to you in the least that disagreement is vast between believers whereas it is not among scientists outside the cutting edges of science?

My thought is that this conclusion of mine regarding faith is one you should arrive at upon taking the OTF. There is the basis, or need, for the test. There is the description of the test itself. Then there are the clear results of the test that reasonable people should arrive at. One of the clear results is that faith is as skeptics say, an irrational leap over the probabilities.

John W. Loftus said...

Of course, another tact might be for me to argue that because faith is as the skeptics say then this is why we need the OTF in the first place.

Choices choices. ;-)

Victor Reppert said...

No, I believe in the claims of Christianity. However, I do not perceive myself as leaping over the probabilities. What I believe is what seems to me to be more probable than not.

The problem is that when you identify not merely a characteristic, but a defining characteristic of something, you are picking out something by which we decide whether something is there or not. If I say that all swans are white, then I might have good reason to think this is so, and I may have arguments to support it. If I say that all swans are white by definition, then I am committing myself not not calling something a swan unless it's white.

So, if you say that faith is irrationality by definition, that means that you are committing yourself to not calling something faith unless it is irrational. Given that definition, a person can't identify themselves as having faith in your sense unless they identify themselves as irrational.

You can argue that irrationality is a characteristic of all instances of religious faith. But you can't accuse people who think their faith is rational are making a linguistic mistake. They may be making an evidential mistake (they may have misevaluated the evidence and think it's OK), but they do know what their words mean. These are words which arise within a religious context, and believers are the authoritative linguistic community to determine what their words mean. If you want to know what Articulett means by "woo" you have to ask her. The same with believers and faith. You can identify characteristics of faith that believers don't recognize, but you can't introduce defining characteristics of faith that they don't recognize. That would be a linguistic mistake on your part.

Gregory said...

Is the "OTF" a physical object? Can it be tested in the laboratory? Is it something we can empirically verify?
What is it's ontological status, anyway?

Is Loftus a Platonist?

Is there an "OTF" for the "OTF"?

Loftus had better start thinking hard about his "OTF" because I guarantee it's going to be "foot-in-mouth" time, philosophically, when the Q&A comes at book signing.

I hope the camera's are rolling when the Christians start asking him those kinds of questions.

SteveK said...

>>"One of the clear results is that faith is as skeptics say, an irrational leap over the probabilities."

I didn't know anyone has worked through the math. What is the probability that God exists or doesn't exist? Please show your work.

Cole said...

There are no probabilities. All the Christian Apologists I've read disagree on what they are. It's insane. You don't have to do any math to see that belief in God is a blind leap. Dr. Reppert thinks he's got the correct probabilities. Do some more study and you will see that no one argrees on the probabilities.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic: I do not perceive myself as leaping over the probabilities. What I believe is what seems to me to be more probable than not.

Of course you don't, that's the reason for the test itself. No other believer thinks other than what you do about their own faith.

This is the reason why I think faith is irrational despite what believers claim. There is no reason why I should accept what they think on this issue just like there is no reason why I should accept what they believe.

If we properly understand faith there is no such thing as a reasonable faith on such things. Arguments comes into play at this point just as they do on other matters of contention.

Believers cannot even agree on how to define faith. There are the Thomistic, Lutheran, Kierkegaard, Pragmatic and Platingan views of it. We see disagreements even in the Bible.

So if there is an authoritative view within the Christian faith then which sect are we talking about?

John W. Loftus said...

The OT Hebrew didn't have a specific word for faith, the word aman translated "faithful" or "faithfulness" meant action or obedience.

I know pistis means trust but look at how it is used:

II Cor. 5:7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight."

In John 20, Thomas is said to have demanded evidence. Jesus reportedly said: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

Hebrews 11:1-6: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval.

3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible...6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Papalinton said...

Victor
"What I believe is what seems to me to be more probable than not."

To simply transpose or substitute one word, 'possibility', into that of another, 'probability', without substantiating warrant, as you are want to do, does not a god make.
By any valuable and bona fide measure, not Apologetics, the probability of an existent god is immeasurably small. So small indeed as to barely reach the level of 'possibility'.

Meanwhile life goes on, the community continues, science keeps operating, people die and new ones are born. All this goes on exactly as one would expect without a god. The christian god-hypothesis, in the 1700 years of its contrived existence has no more shed light on, or advanced one jot on even reaching a demonstrative possibility. The status of the god-hypothesis is precisely as it was when first coined a couple of millennia ago.

How does one reach probability when the god-hypothesis has yet to shape into a working theory?
There are no answers in Apologetics that advances the proposition beyond supposition. In point of fact, the existence of a god[s] is a presupposition at best.

Walter said...

Vic: I do not perceive myself as leaping over the probabilities. What I believe is what seems to me to be more probable than not.

I tend to take Christians at their word when they say this. I don't believe that Christians are irrational at all. I am sure that we all rationally hold to some false beliefs, so I would claim that a religionist is simply mistaken.

Claiming that your opponent is irrational is a conversation stopper. If someone considers me to be delusional, then what point is there in continued conversation?

finney said...

"Believers cannot even agree on how to define faith. There are the Thomistic, Lutheran, Kierkegaard, Pragmatic and Platingan views of it. We see disagreements even in the Bible."

Irrelevant, since Vic was adopting your outside-of-the-bible definition of faith. By using your definition of faith, Vic doesn't believe he has faith in the Christian doctrines, even though Vic does believe that he believes in the Christian doctrine.

What's problematic about Vic's response (and also this whole debate) is its possible question-begging: Is Vic's belief in a proposition "irrational" if it is (1)less likely true than not, OR is his belief in a proposition irrational only if (1) it is less probably true than not, and (2) it is known or readily available to be known to Vic that it is less probably true than not?

In other words, isn't there a subjective element in what makes a belief irrational - that element being the person's knowledge that the belief is against the evidence? If there is such a subjective element, then if Vic doesn't know it's against the evidence, it's arguably not irrational. But if there isn't such a subjective element, then it's irrational whether or not the proposition seems more likely to be true than false to Vic.

I take it that you both are assuming some form of epistemic voluntarism, that we are responsible for our belief-formations and so on and we "should" tailor our beliefs to fit the evidence. If so, the subjective element is impossible to avoid.

finney said...

"...Blind leap. Dr. Reppert thinks he's got the correct probabilities. Do some more study and you will see that no one argrees on the probabilities."

Your conclusion does not follow from your premise. So there's no consensus on the probabilities. So Reppert can't be correct in his assertion that it's more probably true than not. This assumes that such a consensus is required to judge whether it's probably true than not. But then your assertion that it's a blind leap is just as unjustified as is his assertion that it's rational, for if a consensus is required there's simply no way to judge whether it's rational or not. Of course, it doesn't matter that there is no consensus. My belief that the world is round did not depend for its rational warrant upon a consensus. What this does suggest is that such probability-weighing is individualistic and inherently subjective on some level.

BenYachov said...

>Believers cannot even agree on how to define faith. There are the Thomistic, Lutheran, Kierkegaard, Pragmatic and Platingan views of it.

Then why should I accept your definition even if I where to deny gods?

Logically any self-serving definition you give contrary to the definition given by a specific philosophical or religious tradition would be a non-starter argument.

Plus which form of Atheism do you represent?

Materialist reductionism? Platonic Atheism? Strong Atheism? Weak Atheism? Free Will Atheists?

It seems not all forms of Atheism are philosophically or ideologically identical.

>We see disagreements even in the Bible.

Whose interpretation of the Bible?

Loftus you are an Atheist but after all this time you still manage to think like an Evangelical Protestant & you still seem to be oblivious to the fact ancient believers did not.

BenYachov said...

Disagreements even in the Bible on the meaning of Faith?

An Atheist ladies and gentlemen who still believes in and unconsciously applies the Protestant Reformation doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture and Private Interpretation!

Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Orthodox Jews you see are very concerned with Atheists who read the Bible using their former Protestant presuppositions.

It's not a non-starter. It's doesn't beg the question.

Not!

BenYachov said...

>The only people who are candidates for the test are fideists, and those guys are, ex hypothesi, content with irrationality.

So at best Kierkegaard(maybe) or some Christian Existentialists?

This galls me because I really don't have to believe in any gods to see this is an irrational approach by the Loftus.

It's like saying "From now on I am going to interpret Genesis One literalistically(i.e. the world was created in literallly 144 hours) & every Christian I encounter I am going to argue against his view on creation while treating him as someone who has to take Genesis One literally. Even if he doesn't take it literalistically".

That is called a non-starter & it's irrational.

That's like me going off on a Platonic Atheist using every anti-reductionist, anti-materialist, anti-nominalist or conceptionalist argument I
can think of.

It would be a non-starter.

John W. Loftus said...

Walter I do not claim that believers are irrational. That would be to characterize them unfairly. If I thought that then there would be no reason to discuss anything with them. But rational people hold to irrational ways of thinking and behaving. We're all irrational to some degree about something.

See these two books as examples:

Predictably Irrational.

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior.

When otherwise rational people punt to faith then such a move is being irrational.

Victor Reppert said...

Bayesian probability theory allows you to "conditionalize" an existing probability to a different probability on the basis of evidence. What it does not, and has not, provided is a method of determining what prior probabilities on ought to have in the first place. Any attempt to go from frequencies to probabilities must begin with a judgment call as to what frequencies are relevant to the case at hand.

When I mention prior probabilities, Loftus typically asks me to list my prior probabilities in chronological order to see where everything came from. What I take to be the implicit agenda behind this request is the idea that we can look at all of the sources of information that I might have had affecting my probability judgments and pluck out anything that might have come from a truth-irrelevant source. This assumes that all of these influences are available to introspection, and it assumes that
truth-irrelevant factors can be isolated and factored out.

I on the other hand, maintain that there are no belief-system-independent probabilities. So, if we say that faith is a leap over the probabilities, we have to ask "whose?" I have no problem with leaping over Loftus's probabilities.

Victor Reppert said...

We need an accurate characterization of "punting to faith" in order for that to be of useful term in the discussion.

People select broad belief-systems such as Christian theism, materialistic naturalism, or some other system of belief. No matter what side of the issue you are on, you run across things in your experience that might fit better in another world-view than in yours. We may be to see how these things fit with the views we have, but sometimes we have to appeal to the overall confidence we have in what to stay within the view that we hold. If an atheist were to say
"Even though I can't explain how the bacterial flagellum got there without design, I nonetheless maintain that the processes that produced it were evolutionary and did not involve intelligent design," that is something like the step a Christian might make in response to evil that they have trouble explaining. The alternative is to be cast hither and yon based on whatever piece of evidence you happen to be attending to at the moment. That is why changes in these big positions are typically undertaken with considerable reluctance, and on the basis of a wide range of considerations.

For that reason, I am inclined not to be trigger-happy with irrationality charges. These are notoriously difficult to prove, tend to have, as Walter observed, a discussion-stopping effect.

John W. Loftus said...

I take it that Plantinga has shown that if God exists then believers are rational to believe he does.

That's a big if though, for if God does not exist then I would maintain they are being irrational to believe if the evidence if overwhelmingly against such a belief.

Since I maintain the evidence is overwhelmingly against such a belief then I also maintain to believe against this evidence is irrational.

It the conclusion I've reach at the end of a lifelong search. I don't expect theists or Christan to accept my conclusion either. But I do argue for it.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic: When I mention prior probabilities, Loftus typically asks me to list my prior probabilities in chronological order to see where everything came from.

Yes, for the reason that even Jews in the days of Jesus who believed in Yahweh and OT prophecy and that Yahweh does miracles, did not think Yahweh raised Jesus up from the dead.

So, even with your AfR you still have to show Jesus was raised from the dead from the raw uninterpreted data. There are no relevant priors prior to historically establishing that Jesus was raised from the dead. And historical tools are our only means for establishing such an event. But most scholars think the tools of history cannot yield such a conclusion. So even if Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead we cannot believe it.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic: I on the other hand, maintain that there are no belief-system-independent probabilities. So, if we say that faith is a leap over the probabilities, we have to ask "whose?" I have no problem with leaping over Loftus's probabilities.

Now this is important Vic, so think it through. Science determines the probabilities. It's not always accurate but it's the best way to judge the probabilities. Faith has no method. In the ancient world with supernatural beings and forces abounding, literally anything was, so to speak, on the broads. And since there were no cell-phone cameras or You Tube all the ancients had was a person's word. And you believe what they wrote? I do find that ittational, you see.

Am I missing something? Are you now going to bash science as a non-scientist?

Please don't. Take a different tack.

John W. Loftus said...

Typos abound in what I write on the cuff too.

In the ancient world with supernatural beings and forces abounding, literally anything was, so to speak, on the BOARDS.

John W. Loftus said...

I don't think we have to agree on faith at all Vic, for the OTF takes for granted what you probably think about faith and then asks you to test it to see if holding to it is reasonable.

I understand about swans, and until some black swans have been discovered (which I think is the case) I would only say that swans are probably white. I would have said so before any black ones were found. And while I might have been proved wrong with the discovery of black swans I can only go with the probabilities. Likewise, Yahweh might have done a plethora of miracles in the past but I cannot be expected to punt to faith against my modern experience and that of most all scientifically literate people, that since miracles don't happen in today's world they didn't take place in the ancient one either.

Cole said...

I think it is a leap over the probabilities. In fact I think it's beyond reasonable doubt that Christianity is false. Let's take one more look here at a few facts:


X - Within our experience causes always have a temporal relation to their effects. They are either temporally prior to or perhaps simultaneous with their effects.

In other words causality is a temporal concept. This principle is constantly confirmed and never falsified by emperical observation. Neither is it self-refuting or incoherent. So, we are justified in accepting it. If there is no space-time there is no causality. Since space and time came into existence at the Big Bang then there couldn't have been a First Cause. God didn't create the universe.

Until you can show the principle is logically self-refuting or incoherent then we are justified in accepting it. For it is constantly confirmed and never falsified by emperical observation.

Here is something that is incoherent though:

An unchanging, timeless, spacesless, being who has a will but no personhood. This being then changes, enters into space-time, takes on personhood. He then changes again by becoming unchanging, timeless, spaceless, as He exits the universe with a physical body. He must then loose His personhood as He becomes unchanging and static like an abstract object.

BenYachov said...

Wrong tread Cole.

You are just not paying attention are you?

Papalinton said...

Cole
"I think it is a leap over the probabilities. In fact I think it's beyond reasonable doubt that Christianity is false."

Even on the less rigorous count of 'the balance of probabilities", christianity does not fare very well. The somewhat irresponsible transposition of 'possibility', [that which Bill Craig usually applies as a descriptor] as "probability" does not improve the argument for the truth claims of christian theism.

Apart from a foray into Greek philosophy and appropriation of Aristotle, christian theism, its theology, its apologetics is solely centred and reliant on a single book of dubious origins.

Susan said...

Cole, I like that paragraph:
"An unchanging, timeless, spaceless, being who has a will but no personhood. This being then changes, enters into space-time, takes on personhood. He then changes again by becoming unchanging, timeless, spaceless, as He exits the universe with a physical body. He must then loose His personhood as He becomes unchanging and static like an abstract object."

Sort of funny that you put it in because you don't believe it and I liked it because I do believe it.

Your comments are great - and you seem (to me) to have a relationship with God that is closer than most of us have. I think you are actually a better Christian in your disbelief than a lot of us are in our belief.

You might be right about it all being incoherent, but that's only because logic is not the point when it comes to God. You are young and just need to learn to take logic with a grain of salt.

Victor Reppert said...

"Science determines the probabilities."

No. Alfred North Whitehead warned about paying unjustified metaphysical compliments to God. We should also refrain from paying unjustified metaphysical compliments to science. Science doesn't give probabilities, science is a method whereby people of divergent probabilities can examine the evidence and work toward a consensus with respect to probabilities.

finney said...

"X - Within our experience causes always have a temporal relation to their effects. They are either temporally prior to or perhaps simultaneous with their effects.

In other words causality is a temporal concept."

This is flagrantly fallacious. "Within our experience", causes are temporal, for the only sorts of causes one could ever temporal are ones in which we have experienced the cause precede the effect. The only sorts of causes we could possibly "empirically" detect are those which are subject to the empirical method. To conclude on this basis that all that exists is temporal causation is to merely assume that all that exists is subject to physical observation. It shifts the goal-posts.

A life long New Yorker once said that in his experience, he's only seen birds that live in New York. Thus, all birds live in New York.

David B Marshall said...

"Yahweh might have done a plethora of miracles in the past but I cannot be expected to punt to faith against my modern experience and that of most all scientifically literate people, that since miracles don't happen in today's world they didn't take place in the ancient one either."

But they do.

BeingItself said...

This conversation is silliness on stilts, from both Loftus and Reppert.

There is not correct meaning of of the word 'faith'.

Vic, if you don't like John's use of the word 'faith', fine.

Then the OTF simply becomes "The outsider test for Victor Reppert's religious beliefs."

Victor Reppert said...

Oh no. You aren't going to talk about present-day miracles in the presence of atheists, are you?

Victor Reppert said...

Beingitself: But Loftus has denied that his own beliefs are subject to the same outsider test.

This is just one more way of trying to show that, even if you think all faith is irrational, you shouldn't define it in such a way that it is.

Nonchai said...

Lets be ULTRA0GENEROUS and attach a probability of 80% to each of the following arguments/propositions:

Some kind of God exists ( deist or theist or pantheist ( 0.8 )

Theist God ( 0.8 )

The god of the Israelites: Yahweh is the ONE AND ONLY TRUE GOD and the OT is his only written revelation to them ( and US ) !!! ( 0.8 )

Jesus rose from the dead and is thus the Son Of God ( Yawheh ) ( 0.8 )

Jesus is not just the son of god but God himself !! ( 0.8 )

The N.T. Is gods word as well as the O.T.

The Holy Trinity doctrine is true

The Protestant version of xtianity is true along with the CURRENT OT/NT CANON ( as opposed to catholicism or eastern orthodox )

Now multiply together the probabilities ( 0.8 to the power of 8 (
What do we get ?

0,167

In other words even if we give xtians the benefit of the doubt the whole caboodle
of evangelical doctrinal assertions is extremely unlikely to be true!

Nonchai said...

Reppert seems to think that merely because Faith by definition is irrational therefore the OTF is useless or false.

But it is perfectly possible for a person to believe that something that - in fact IS true - us true without having any supporting evidence. ( in other words they just got lucky ) and also to reject any other opposing beliefs as per the OTF.

It could be the case that he happened to grow up in a town where everyone else agreed with him. Thus he irrationally rejects “outsiders” claims to other opposing assertions.

Such a person would now simply be DOUBLY irrational, EVEN THOUGH HE TURNS OUT TO BE CORRECT !!!!

William said...

Nonchai:

Lies, statistics, and prior probablilities...

You assume in your calculations that the statements are of all INDEPENDENT probabilities, but that seems very improbable to me.

Victor Reppert said...

No, I have been arguing that defining faith as irrational, (though the term can be used to in a fideistic context), is a fundamental error, even if all faith is actually irrational. What is more, this definition would make the OTF unnecessary. I take it the OTF is supposed to persuade people who have faith that their faith is irrational. But if the statement "faith is irrational" is true by definition, then we need no OTF to prove it.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, there are no a priori definitions about these matters so you have no argument at all.

Victor Reppert said...

So, the statement "All bachelors are unmarried" isn't analytic a priori?
The idea is that we don't have to take a survey of bachelors to determine whether or not they are married, since that is what the word means. So, it's a priori, since we have only to look at words and their meanings to determine that this is so?

John W. Loftus said...

"...about these matters..."

Your argument seems akin to the one where atheists cannot argue that evil counts against God's existence because in the atheist worldview there is no evil.

But, as I've argued that is an asinine argument.

BenYachov said...

>Your argument seems akin to the one where atheists cannot argue that evil counts against God's existence because in the atheist worldview there is no evil.

In my experience, especially in going over to Stephen Law's blog to pick a fight on the Evil god Challenge, it is not so much Atheists allegedly don't have an objective moral standard to determine morality it's they never employ any traditional moral system consistently when evaluating God morally.

For example why must there be a moral equivalence between the actions of God vs the actions of men? How are men and God morally equivalent?

When I was a PNSN in the Navy if I were to put on a Kakki colored uniform and started issuing orders to my shipmates the Master at Arms would have arrested me for impersonating an officer. But if the officer or chief issues orders no problem.

Thus are there some actions that are immoral for men but not so with God?

God can grant existence and God sustains existence. God can dictate how we exist such as body joined to spirit or He can will we become disembodied spirit as He sees fit.

We cannot create Being from nothing. None of us sustains anybody's substantive existence(being) at best only their accidental existence(biological life).

Thus we have no inherent right to take anybody's life not even the life of an evil doer without authority from God.

God can morally take the life of any human being for any reason. God can authorizes anybody to take life.

According to Divine Revelation God grants all governments till the Second Coming a limited right to take the lives of criminals who are guilty of certain Crimes.

In certain specific instances there where whole nations God judged should not exist anymore as nations. So God whipped them out.

He either did it directly(Sodom and Gomorrah) or threw agents(Angel of Death, Israel etc).

So what is the problem?

Of course all Theodicy and Problem of Evil arguments in modern times presuppose God is a moral agent with moral obligations to us.

But what if God is merely ontologically Good and or Metaphysically Good & not Good in the sense a morally good human is good?

How can there be a problem of evil then?

pboyfloyd said...

"When I was a PNSN in the Navy if I were to put on a Kakki colored uniform and started issuing orders to my shipmates the Master at Arms would have arrested me for impersonating an officer. But if the officer or chief issues orders no problem."

Right, so I'm not taking your word for 'what God orders', same as you're not taking mine.

Truth be told, buddy, you're not taking the book's word for it either now, are you?

Did you work on any Sunday, for example? Eating the right foods, wearing the right clothes, all of that good stuff?

And of course there is much more wrong with your analogy than that, since you see your officers, there's no interpreting of ancient scripts to decipher the 'real' intent of an order, is there?

There's no having to have orders perhaps mistranslated from an ancient transcript, is there?

That kind of thing.

BenYachov said...

@pboyfloyd

I have no idea what you just said.