Thursday, February 14, 2013

Corduan on confusing miracles and magic

I am redating this post, because of this comment:

So we have a guy who believes in ghosts and magic and an invisible superman telling me that my position isn't rational. It takes brass.


Still, before going any further, I promised that I would clear up why Mr. Carrier and some of his colleagues in their critique of miracles make the mistakes that they do. The answer is very simple: they confuse miracles and magic, and doing so is such a common practice that it seems to me that few people are ever even aware of it, though the distinction is not too hard to catch. I am using the term “magic” here in the technical sense, as one would in the study of comparative religion, not in the sense of sleight of hand for the sake of entertainment. Magic consists of the manipulation of spiritual forces for the sake of bringing about a certain end. A miracle is a free action by God, done by him as he sees fit, and never coerced by human beings, though it may be, if God so wishes, a response by him to human beings. This is not a distinction that I have invented just now (or for that matter, a few decades ago), but one that has been accepted in religious studies and the anthropology if religion, not to mention theology, for a long time, but it seems to be unknown among philosophical skeptics of religion, unless they deliberately ignore it. Its roots lie in another fundamental distinction, namely that of religion as rituals for reasons of personal gain and religion as the worship of a supreme being simply because of his exalted position. As anyone who has read some of my other works knows, I contend that a natural disposition of fallen human beings is towards magic and rituals, and that those procedures wind up infiltrating almost all religious cultures. Nonetheless, from an abstract, conceptual point of view, the difference between the two is crystal clear.



56 comments:

cautiouslycurious said...

This is the Google result for "magic define":

Magic: The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.

Now going to Merriam-Webster:

Magic: an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source.

Fact of the matter is that in common parlance, when not talking about illusions, miracles are magic. You can come up with whatever technical definition you want to suit your specific purpose, but it is nothing out of the norm to conclude that miracles are magic using each term as normally used.

Crude said...

You can come up with whatever technical definition you want to suit your specific purpose, but it is nothing out of the norm to conclude that miracles are magic using each term as normally used.

Corduan says outright he's using a technical definition, so this is all pretty useless. Corduan explains what he sees as the relevant difference.

More than that, calling magic 'supernatural' just leads to asking what supernatural and natural are, which is as hard or harder to define than magic.

Crude said...

For the record, I'd also have a similar problem with Corduan's definitions. "Spiritual forces"? What are those, again?

Bilbo said...

"Spiritual forces": How about "non-physical forces"?

William said...

Hmm. As long as we are going to wander away from the technical definitions of the OP, consider the French roots of the term miracle: it means something awesome and wonderful. By those lights, anything we take as an awesome or wonderful occurrence could be seen as a miracle, no magic required.

Furthermore, let's assume for a moment a god's eye view of something that someone like 'cautiouslycurious' might accept as "magical." Would it be magic from that point of view? Doubtful. Awesome? Maybe.

cautiouslycurious said...

William,

“Hmm. As long as we are going to wander away from the technical definitions of the OP, consider the French roots of the term miracle: it means something awesome and wonderful. By those lights, anything we take as an awesome or wonderful occurrence could be seen as a miracle, no magic required.”

You can define miracle that way, but you then can’t chide someone for not using that particular definition; that is the entire point. OP can define miracle however they want, but they made the mistake of criticizing others for not using their particular definition even when they used it in a conventional way.

“Furthermore, let's assume for a moment a god's eye view of something that someone like 'cautiouslycurious' might accept as "magical." Would it be magic from that point of view? Doubtful. Awesome? Maybe.”

The act of viewing from a god’s eye view would be magical since it would violate known physical principles. It’s uncertain whether the thing being observed would be magic. I would say it probably would not since natural explanations have a very good track record and a ‘god’s eye’ view would probably reveal the natural explanation, but that’s for a different discussion.

Crude said...

The act of viewing from a god’s eye view would be magical since it would violate known physical principles.

So, if you violate known physical principles, you're dealing in magic?

That renders the history of science as "the history of magic".

cautiouslycurious said...

Crude,

It depends on the explanation. If you invoke a mysterious cause, then you are invoking magic. If you describe in detail a mechanistic cause, then you're not. I suppose you could tag on "without an apparent natural explanation" at the end of my statement, if that would make you happy.

Crude said...

cautiouslycurious,

It depends on the explanation. If you invoke a mysterious cause, then you are invoking magic. If you describe in detail a mechanistic cause, then you're not.

That doesn't really help. What makes a cause 'mysterious'? Wavefunction collapse? Multiverse theories? Superposition? Quantum tunneling? Those are all damn mysterious in many ways.

And how do you know a cause is described in sufficient detail? I've seen some people insist that some things pop into existence utterly without cause (virtual particles) - their misunderstandings aside, should I take them as offering up magic? How about brute facts that have no explanation? If so, it looks like naturalistic explanations are magical explanations.

And what if the cause is mysterious now, but not later? If I say that a flag is on the moon because a human put it there, and they can't even fathom how that's possible, is it a magical cause? Does it become non-magical later once they learn a bit about physics?

I suppose you could tag on "without an apparent natural explanation" at the end of my statement, if that would make you happy.

It doesn't, because what makes something "natural" is just as much of a question. Would something that we have no natural explanation for at this moment be evidence of magic? Or is the limit 'no mere logically possible explanation', in which case these things are ruled out even in principle, because such an explanation is always available?

Steven Carr said...

I saw a magic show where somebody turned water into wine.

This is not to be confused with a miracle.

William said...

I recently knew someone who had a positive screening test for hepatitis c; while waiting for confirmatory tests, they had many pray about the results. The results showed that they did not in fact have the virus, but were one of the 1 in 4 people in whom the screening test is positive, but not the RNA confirmatory test.

1. Was this magic? No.
2. Was it a miracle? I scarcely would think that an outcome that happens by chance 25% of the time counts as a miracle, but that,it seems to me, is up to the people who decide if it is wonderful enough for them:). Faith of that sort is more of a live option for some than it is for others.
3. Can we scientifically falsify a belief that it was a miracle? Yes, if we later find that the confirmatory test was really positive and the negative result was faked, that would make it akin to Carr's magic show.

ozero91 said...

Okay, so if what Corduan is saying is true, then there is a technical distinction between magic and miracle, a distinction that is not ad hoc. Though, judging from the comments, he has to do a little more work to make that distinction apparent. Future blog post idea?

Longstreet said...

"This is the Google result for "magic define":"

Is it? Let's see. And let's not be lazy, or pick only the results that suit us.

First LINK is http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/magic
Definition 1 is "slight of hand". Definition 2 is "the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature."

Hmm.

Second LINK is http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/magic
and curiously enough we find that "an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source" is actually the SECOND definition. The first is "a : the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces
b : magic rites or incantations"

Hmm.

Moving on to the third LINK we have http://www.thefreedictionary.com/magic where we find "1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
2.
a. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature.
b. The charms, spells, and rituals so used."

Hmm. I suppose it is a technical exercise to click on a link?

Fact is that you were too lazy to dig any deeper once you found what you were looking for. Checking the first 3 links of a Google search (the most commonly used search engine in the world?) can hardly be described as "getting technical". And as far as "...nothing out of the norm...", well that depends on what sort of circles you run in.

What sort of circle DO you run in?

cautiouslycurious said...

William,
Since you are using miracle in the sense of being in awe in response to an event, your third point is false, you can’t then scientifically falsify that belief since it’s not even a belief, it’s an emotion.

Crude,
I think you should make your intentions clearer. We were talking about causes and you brought up multi-verse theories and superposition as causes; this seems misplaced. As far as I know, superposition is a law/phenomena, and multi-verse theories simply posit other universes. Unless someone is saying that those other universes have caused this one, then they should explain how. What are you saying is a cause and of what?

A simple way of determining if someone is invoking magic is this. If they say they know how something causes something else but can’t explain it using natural means (i.e. science), then they are invoking magic as a mysterious cause. If they simply say they don’t know, then they aren’t invoking anything.

Longstreet,
You’ve missed my point. I’m not contesting OP’s usage of the term. I was simply showing that those he criticized were not using it in an unconventional way and hence his criticism is unwarranted. The fact that his usage is also a different meaning of the same term is irrelevant. The references I cited demonstrate my point and the things you bring up have no relevance to my point. Perhaps you should be more careful before throwing around charges of laziness, unless that’s the sort of circle you run in.

Syllabus said...

"I was simply showing that those he criticized were not using it in an unconventional way and hence his criticism is unwarranted."

If you're using terms that have field-specific meanings - like miracle and magic, in this situation - and someone else criticizes you on the basis of a definition that is not the one given in the field you're speaking from, then that's equivocation. Corduan is saying that, given the specified definitions in the field of theology - specifically, Christian theology - the point is a confused one.

Crude said...

cautiouslycurious,

I think you should make your intentions clearer.

Alright: my intention is to show that definitions of 'magic', 'supernatural' and 'natural' are pretty confused and almost useless, despite some people's initial confidence in them.

We were talking about causes and you brought up multi-verse theories and superposition as causes; this seems misplaced.

We were talking about what qualifies as natural, supernatural and magic. You said that magic involves 'mysterious causes', or something 'without an apparent natural explanation'. I'm pointing out how useless 'mysterious' is, and how vague 'without an apparent natural explanation' is.

As far as I know, superposition is a law/phenomena, and multi-verse theories simply posit other universes.

'Law' and 'phenomena' are in no way equal. And the multiverse talk I had in mind was in many worlds. The point is that mysterious causes are in play in just about everything I listed - but apparently being mysterious is only magic if you don't say 'well, it's a law'.

If they say they know how something causes something else but can’t explain it using natural means (i.e. science), then they are invoking magic as a mysterious cause. If they simply say they don’t know, then they aren’t invoking anything.

This is radically confused.

First off, 'natural != science' - plenty of 'natural' explanations are philosophical ones.

Second, quite a lot of self-described naturalists claim various explanations (the brain causes consciousness!) without knowing how, certainly without having a scientific explanation. By your standard, they're invoking magic/the supernatural. So is any phenomena where someone asserts 'X caused Y', with the explanation being forthcoming. Again, the history of science becomes the history of magic.

cautiouslycurious said...

Syllabus,

“If you're using terms that have field-specific meanings - like miracle and magic, in this situation - and someone else criticizes you on the basis of a definition that is not the one given in the field you're speaking from, then that's equivocation. Corduan is saying that, given the specified definitions in the field of theology - specifically, Christian theology - the point is a confused one.”

I disagree. If you are clear in how you are defining your terms, then you can’t be guilty of equivocation.

cautiouslycurious said...

"Alright: my intention is to show that definitions of 'magic', 'supernatural' and 'natural' are pretty confused and almost useless, despite some people's initial confidence in them."

OK, I'm not really interested in that discussion. Also, I think you're effort is misplaced: http://lesswrong.com/lw/e95/the_noncentral_fallacy_the_worst_argument_in_the/

Crude said...

OK, I'm not really interested in that discussion.

Well, I'll be hammering on that for most of this thread anyway, unless I find something better to do. ;)

Also, I think you're effort is misplaced

The link has little to do with the conversation. If you think otherwise, without more data from you, I'm just going to say your linking it here was borne of confusion on your part.

Longstreet said...

"I was simply showing that those he criticized were not using it in an unconventional way and hence his criticism is unwarranted."

No, that's what you attempted to do. You failed. Measuring with the standard you laid down, you failed.

I got your point just fine. But if your going to run to a dictionary definition to prove that the op's contention is wrong, then you should have looked at some actual dictionary definitions, not just cited the first thing you saw on the page.

I'm curious. When you saw that page load, did you even think to scroll down and click on a few links to see if what you found at the top was consistent? If so, then why didn't you report it? And if not, why not?

"Perhaps you should be more careful before throwing around charges of laziness..."
From the evidence you have provided, it appears that the shoe fits. You were either too lazy to look further, or you did look further and weren't honest enough to report that further digging disproved your claim.

Or are you just not aware that, when a dictionary defines a word with more than one meaning, the most common definition is first listed?

Syllabus said...

"I disagree. If you are clear in how you are defining your terms, then you can’t be guilty of equivocation."

If you use a word in a meaning in one sentence, and then use a criticism of a word in that sense to criticize the same word in another sense and then pretend that the two are equivalent, then yes you can be. Which seems to be exactly what Corduan is criticizing.

William said...

cc:
"William,
Since you are using miracle in the sense of being in awe in response to an event, your third point is false, you can’t then scientifically falsify that belief since it’s not even a belief, it’s an emotion."

Partly true. There are two components to this kind of potential miracle: the objective event (falsifiable scientifically, potentially at least) and the faith-based attitudinal interpretation of the event. It is the faith-based interpretation that is only open to the believer.

cautiouslycurious said...

Longstreet,
"I got your point just fine. But if you’re going to run to a dictionary definition to prove that the op's contention is wrong, then you should have looked at some actual dictionary definitions, not just cited the first thing you saw on the page."

Why do you think that Merriam-Webster is not a valid dictionary? Are they some scam I should be aware of, masquerading as a scholarly source?

"I'm curious. When you saw that page load, did you even think to scroll down and click on a few links to see if what you found at the top was consistent? If so, then why didn't you report it? And if not, why not?"

I already explained this. The other definitions were irrelevant to my point.

"Or are you just not aware that, when a dictionary defines a word with more than one meaning, the most common definition is first listed?"

Interesting, but also irrelevant.

“From the evidence you have provided, it appears that the shoe fits. You were either too lazy to look further, or you did look further and weren't honest enough to report that further digging disproved your claim.”

I’m not convinced that you understand what my claim was. Could you please summarize it in your own words?

cautiouslycurious said...

Crude,
“The link has little to do with the conversation. If you think otherwise, without more data from you, I'm just going to say your linking it here was borne of confusion on your part.”

Let’s say that based on a certain definition of magic, that we can also conclude that gravity is magic. What then? Does that mean that it is just as rational to believe in gravity as it is to believe that David Copperfield is the real deal or that God stopped the Earth? Not really. Let’s say that we conclude that God is a natural agent, does that make it just as rational to believe in God? Not really. Will a methodological naturalist then be more open to the idea of God? Not really. Specifically going after these semantic points doesn’t really change the substance of the issues.

Syllabus,
“If you use a word in a meaning in one sentence, and then use a criticism of a word in that sense to criticize the same word in another sense and then pretend that the two are equivalent, then yes you can be. Which seems to be exactly what Corduan is criticizing.”

But is this what Carrier is actually doing? Without seeing the works, I don’t think that there is enough here to substantiate the charge. Also, depending on what Carrier was criticizing, his point may hold equally well even when considering OP’s criticism.

William,
“Partly true. There are two components to this kind of potential miracle: the objective event (falsifiable scientifically, potentially at least) and the faith-based attitudinal interpretation of the event. It is the faith-based interpretation that is only open to the believer.”
It doesn’t really matter if it is scientifically falsifiable due to the nature of the definition we are using. If I say that gravity is a miracle, that is true on an emotional level and gravity is falsifiable on a scientific level, but I fail to see any meaningful point to be made anywhere close to this discussion.

Crude said...

Cautiouslycurious,

Specifically going after these semantic points doesn’t really change the substance of the issues.

Sure it does, insofar as someone may say 'X is a magic explanation, therefore we shouldn't take it seriously'. The funny thing is, your link - insofar as it has a good point, and isn't just bunk (see: the abortion talk, for example) - backs my view up more than yours. Carrier's using the 'worst argument in the world' by calling miracles 'magic' in a derisive sense, when the differences between magic and miracle are considerable.

Really, follow through with your claim here. It would eventually cash out as 'whether or not some claim is magic, or natural, or supernatural, itself should have no bearing on whether or not we regard it as likely true or false'. You're welcome to that if you want, but to do so is to cut the legs out from under quite a lot of atheist/naturalist apologetics. Fine by me: those legs are rotten anyway.

Syllabus said...

"But is this what Carrier is actually doing? Without seeing the works, I don’t think that there is enough here to substantiate the charge."

Here's Corduan's paper:

http://networkedblogs.com/DfRgx

Within it you can find links to some of Carrier's pieces, and a further explanation of what Corduan means. You should be able to make a better response once you've read that.

cautiouslycurious said...

Crude,
Sure it does, insofar as someone may say 'X is a magic explanation, therefore we shouldn't take it seriously'. The funny thing is, your link - insofar as it has a good point, and isn't just bunk (see: the abortion talk, for example) - backs my view up more than yours. Carrier's using the 'worst argument in the world' by calling miracles 'magic' in a derisive sense, when the differences between magic and miracle are considerable.

And there are plenty of similarities between them worthy of derision. I still don’t see how they are all that different. Going back to Carr’s point, Jesus (or at the very least, God) is akin to a magician.

“Really, follow through with your claim here. It would eventually cash out as 'whether or not some claim is magic, or natural, or supernatural, itself should have no bearing on whether or not we regard it as likely true or false'. You're welcome to that if you want, but to do so is to cut the legs out from under quite a lot of atheist/naturalist apologetics. Fine by me: those legs are rotten anyway.”

It wouldn’t cut the legs out of any argument that I would use, so I don’t really care. Instead of arguing from a natural vs. supernatural divide, they could simply argue from a science vs. pseudo or bad science divide. Magical gravity would be a part of science and magical miracles would be a part of pseudo/bad science. There would be essentially no change to the major issues, which can be expected when the ‘noncentral fallacy’ was involved.

Syllabus,
I am having trouble finding where Carrier seriously erred. Carrier used the term ‘magic’ once and it doesn’t seem to fall prey to Corduan’s criticism and it isn’t even used to make a point. It could be omitted and Carrier’s point would still stand. However, since Corduan says that its each person’s prerogative of whether to believe in a miracle, magic cannot be excluded from the reasons for such belief. Since it describes a common view, even if one not prominent in ivory towers, it seems apt to include it.

Also, Corduan’s stated intention does seem to fall severely short for what I would suspect is a rational defense of miracle claims. I would need to read it in full, but his stated intention say in a nut shell that in order for wacky beliefs to be believed, they require wacky priors and if you want to convince others, you need to appeal to your wacky priors. This is divorced from the idea of rationally defending miracle claims and is a rather trivial statement to make. If he described his chapter accurately, it would be a waste of paper. It seems like Carriers biggest mistake was thinking that Corduan was trying to defend, even in part, the rationality of believing in miracles.

William said...

I suppose that one could argue that ordinary features of the world are miraculous, but what such things as gravity lacks are that element of the awesome, the unexpectedly wonderful. What's awesome about an apple falling to the ground? But, a levitating apple, that's awesome.



Let me quote two things for you, a Bible passage and a line from a modern biology text:

"Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god."

--Bible, Acts, chapter 28

"Dry bites, in which no venom is delivered, occur roughly 25% of the time (range: <10% to 50%; Parrish et al., 1966)."

--Handbook of Venoms and Toxins of Reptiles, edited by Stephen P. Mackessy, p. 477

So, you can see that that item in the Bible story, which the Maltese took as a miraculous sign, was actually just a p < 0.25 item. There are lots of item which are far less likely to have been just chance in those chapters, of course.

Hmm.... So, what is your prior p value to believe a miracle, I wonder?

Crude said...

cautiouslycurious,

And there are plenty of similarities between them worthy of derision. I still don’t see how they are all that different.

This is priceless. You give me a lesswrong link, and then proceed to do the one thing the link says comprises the worst argument in the world. Ahh, irony. ;)

What are the similarities? They both do amazing things? Oh, I guess physicists are like magicians then. Oh wait, that doesn't sound right - you like physicists.

It wouldn’t cut the legs out of any argument that I would use, so I don’t really care.

Good, then you can agree that the history of science is the history of magic. It's just that some magic is better than others!

Magical gravity would be a part of science and magical miracles would be a part of pseudo/bad science.

Nah, you've already sacrificed the one most popular reason to regard miracles as unacceptable explanations - the idea that magical explanations have been supplanted by non-magical ones.

The only person trying to present a "non-central fallacy" is yourself. I'm not playing the non-central game - I'm pointing out that the categories ('magic', 'natural', 'supernatural', 'miracle') are lacking in substance to begin with.

Really man, this is the first time I've seen someone quote lesswrong, and then proceed to run headlong against it. Lurk more.

cautiouslycurious said...

Crude,
“What are the similarities? They both do amazing things? Oh, I guess physicists are like magicians then. Oh wait, that doesn't sound right - you like physicists.”

I thought it was clear based on what I said earlier. Instead of focusing on natural and supernatural, the criticism would be based on science and bad/pseudo science. If you really don’t want to consider physics as a science, I don’t really know what to say, it’s kind of delusional.

“Nah, you've already sacrificed the one most popular reason to regard miracles as unacceptable explanations - the idea that magical explanations have been supplanted by non-magical ones.”

Not really, just change it to “pseudo scientific explanations have been supplanted by scientific ones” and the argument remains essentially the same.

William,
“So, you can see that that item in the Bible story, which the Maltese took as a miraculous sign, was actually just a p < 0.25 item. There are lots of items which are far less likely to have been just chance in those chapters, of course.”
I have some doubts about the accuracy of the story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2_UQKEXI-s&feature=BFa&list=PL2D6C82AA61986624
As for it being too unlikely to have been just chance, that’s simply incorrect. You can apply this reasoning to any situation and it will most likely be wrong. Take a string of coin flips. The probability that the sequence would have shown up is .5^N. For large numbers of N, I can then say that this is far less likely to have been just chance and I can see a pattern in the outcomes. I conclude that it must be a spirit influencing the outcomes. However, the problem is that my model is horrible at predicting outcomes, no better than chance. If you say that you have found a pattern, then it should be good at predicting things, not just retroactively fitting it to old data. The only way to test this is to compare it to new data.

Crude said...

cautiouslycurious,

I thought it was clear based on what I said earlier. Instead of focusing on natural and supernatural, the criticism would be based on science and bad/pseudo science. If you really don’t want to consider physics as a science, I don’t really know what to say, it’s kind of delusional.

Who said 'physics isn't science'? You have reading comprehension issues. ;)

I said that you could find similarities between just about anything, if you cast your net broad enough - which is exactly what you're doing to find a similarity between David Copperfield and God.

Not really, just change it to “pseudo scientific explanations have been supplanted by scientific ones” and the argument remains essentially the same

Not at all, since the very similarity which caused you to abandon 'natural' and 'supernatural' and 'magic' as categories will cause you to abandon 'pseudo-scientific' as well. In fact, it will be easier thanks to the demarcation problem, and the fact that a lot of the 'pseudo-science' that science has abandoned has been naturalist and materialist, not theistic.

You should really read the very lesswrong post you cited, because it's clear - for whatever good points it had - you've been unable to understand it so far.

cl said...

cautiouslycurious,

I'll bite, but only once:

"It seems like Carriers biggest mistake was thinking that Corduan was trying to defend, even in part, the rationality of believing in miracles."

Wrong. Carrier's biggest mistake was the same one Matt DeStefano made in the prior thread on this matter, and the same one you're making now, as evidenced by this statement of yours:

"I would need to read it in full, but his stated intention say in a nut shell that in order for wacky beliefs to be believed, they require wacky priors and if you want to convince others, you need to appeal to your wacky priors."

First off, don't ever, ever go around trying to convince us of your position when you haven't even read the source material in full. That is not "cautiouslycurious" as your moniker implies. Rather, it is "intellectuallyreckless" and that's being generous. Now, I will grant that Corduan's closing paragraph certainly left some clarity to be desired, but that doesn't grant you the license to do lazy intellectual detective work.

Second, read the whole paper, and pay special attention to every mention of the phrase, "prima facie presumption." Pay particular attention when Corduan connects his definition of "believer" to that phrase.

To The Others,

I appreciate your efforts as always, but again, I must point out the fruitlessness of continually engaging somebody who hasn't even given the source material a fair read. Time is short!

William said...

cc:
I know about reproducibility, though that is not likely to be possible here. I was,rather,talking about what p value would flag something as amazing or at least interesting for you. See for example this about outliers: http://www.itl.nist.gov/div898/handbook/prc/section1/prc16.htm

The point of an outlier is that it may be a one time, never-seen-again data point. It may be interesting, or not. What p value would be interstingly outlier for you?

Crude said...

cl,

I appreciate your efforts as always, but again, I must point out the fruitlessness of continually engaging somebody who hasn't even given the source material a fair read. Time is short!

Good advice. To heck with this guy - shades of Linton here.

cl said...

cautiouslycurious,

Sorry I spoke a little harshly, it was my temper acting up, but my points remain intact—and no, I don't want to debate them. I only wanted to apologize.

Crude,

"To heck with this guy - shades of Linton here."

No! Heavens no! To Heaven with this person!

Prayer is a stronger force than our so-called "wisdom." We plant seeds at best, YHWH makes them grow, but that doesn't mean we should entertain intellectual recklessness, neither does it mean we should allow false "wisdom" to assail the truth. So of course we ought to speak up on occasion.

----BUT----

The warning—my warning—as in the warning recently given to me—is for those of us who've already accepted. Time is short. Messiah did not spend endless hours trying to convince people. This is not hypocrisy, either, because I am guilty as anybody else in this regard. It just so happens it's been brought to my attention very strongly lately (not by humans). Nobody can doubt me because nobody can doubt the countless hours I've spent in fruitless dialog with unbelievers. Thinking I'm smart. Thinking I know something they don't. Thinking that if I just say the right thing, they'll accept. I'll venture to say that's a lie from the pit of Hell, 99 times out of a hundred.

Discern for yourselves.

Crude said...

cl,

That's a marked change in tone for you. Any chance you'll be writing about what you've got in mind over on your blog?

cautiouslycurious said...

Cl,
“First off, don't ever, ever go around trying to convince us of your position when you haven't even read the source material in full.”

Sorry, I’m not going to waste $20 for an internet argument. However, like I said, based on what Corduan states as his intention for the chapter in his paper, it looks like Carrier’s criticisms of the chapter are on point.

“Second, read the whole paper, and pay special attention to every mention of the phrase, "prima facie presumption." Pay particular attention when Corduan connects his definition of "believer" to that phrase.”

I did read the whole paper and Corduan’s points about prima facie presumptions are the exact sort of thing that Carrier is criticizing. Corduan is saying that different hypotheses will be prima facie presumptions depending on different priors and theists simply have priors that are more favorable to accepting miracles. However, Carrier is criticizing those priors. If the priors aren’t rational, then any conclusion hence on will be invalid. Carrier is looking for a rational defense of the priors, which is needed in order to show that it is rational to accept miracle claims.

Crude,
“I said that you could find similarities between just about anything, if you cast your net broad enough - which is exactly what you're doing to find a similarity between David Copperfield and God.”

I don’t see how this point is at all related to my contention. The similarity between believing that David Copperfield and God is that such a belief would be pseudo-scientific, they are both irrational. This is not some insignificant trait we’re talking about that you can brush under the rug. If you want to say that God claims and physics are similar because they are both mysterious, then I don’t have a problem with that, but I’d think you’d have a problem with holding pseudo-scientific or irrational beliefs.

“Not at all, since the very similarity which caused you to abandon 'natural' and 'supernatural' and 'magic' as categories will cause you to abandon 'pseudo-scientific' as well. In fact, it will be easier thanks to the demarcation problem, and the fact that a lot of the 'pseudo-science' that science has abandoned has been naturalist and materialist, not theistic.”

It doesn’t matter how many ‘naturalist’ hypotheses have been thrown into pseudo-science. It simply matters where the God claims go.

William,
“I know about reproducibility, though that is not likely to be possible here. I was, rather, talking about what p value would flag something as amazing or at least interesting for you. See for example this about outliers: http://www.itl.nist.gov/div898/handbook/prc/section1/prc16.htm

The point of an outlier is that it may be a one time, never-seen-again data point. It may be interesting, or not. What p value would be interestingly outlier for you?”

P-values typically aren’t that interesting to me when picking out events in history. They need to be from a random sample, and that includes the selection of the events. Only then, a P-value of .05 without conflicting results would be ‘interesting’, although very preliminary. Of course, whether it is actually interesting would depend on its implications/subject matter.

Crude said...

cautiouslycurious,

The similarity between believing that David Copperfield and God is that such a belief would be pseudo-scientific, they are both irrational.

It's starting to become clear that you're just way too slow to understand that 'I think these two things are irrational' does not cash out to 'These two things are rather similar'. That's exactly the 'similarity' between them that you're contending, and yes, it can be disregarded with ease. Namely as, "Cautiouslycurious is derpin' about and doesn't even know the basics of what's being discussed."

You also don't seem to understand that the history of science argument turns pretty particularly on the assumption that there is a class of phenomena - 'natural' and 'supernatural' - such that the latter has always given way to the former. If you switch to 'scientific and pseudoscientific', you've lost the traction of history - because plenty of traditionally "naturalistic" claims have been exposed as pseudoscientific, and plenty of theistic claims have gained support in science. The history argument is ash - now you have to evaluate theistic and religious claims without being able to invoke the trajectory of science.

And hey, you're probably confident you can do that. But you've sacrificed a major argument in the process, and it won't be coming back. It certainly won't work to say "Yes well, believing that David Copperfield really is pulling off tricks is as defensible as the idea that God exists", because anyone who's not a Cultist of Gnu already is going to know that's bunk.

Furthermore, your priors talk is radically off-target. "Your priors need to be rational"? And you're going to determine this how? Hint: if you use priors to determine this, you're in trouble.

cl said...

Just out of curiousity: if you read the whole paper, what does the "I’m not going to waste $20 for an internet argument" remark refer to?

cl said...

Well, regardless of your answer to the previous question, the fact is that your "objection" reduces to your OPINION that the priors are wacky. An opinion is not a rational objection. You are not being "cautious" or "curious" when you just wave your doubting hand and declare the idea "wacky."

So, as long as you admit your "objection" is really just a flippant opinion, and that this means your "objection" is not rational whatsoever, then... so be it.

cautiouslycurious said...

Crude,
“It's starting to become clear that you're just way too slow to understand that 'I think these two things are irrational' does not cash out to 'These two things are rather similar'. That's exactly the 'similarity' between them that you're contending, and yes, it can be disregarded with ease.”

OK, as long as you agree that they are both similar in the respect that they are both irrational to believe in, then we are on the same page. It’s basically pointing out that the two are invalid in the same way, just like how someone would analogize between two situations to illustrate the fallacy.

“plenty of theistic claims have gained support in science”

This is news to me. What do you have in mind? Why wasn’t I taught about God in science class? Do public schools have an atheistic agenda? Also, this seems counter to the history of science argument to begin with. If ‘supernatural’ claims have been successful, then there wasn’t a leg to stand on to begin with. Changing the terms wouldn’t have been the problem; the problem is the supposed presence of these ‘supernatural’/theistic claims.

“Furthermore, your priors talk is radically off-target. "Your priors need to be rational"? And you're going to determine this how? Hint: if you use priors to determine this, you're in trouble.”

No worries, you can get the first priors from historical probability.

Cl,
“Just out of curiousity: if you read the whole paper, what does the "I’m not going to waste $20 for an internet argument" remark refer to?”

His book. The fact of the matter is that we don’t have the actual work that Carrier is criticizing so I put in the caveat that I was going off Corduan’s summarization of what he intended to prove in his chapter. Carrier criticized him for not justifying his priors. Maybe he did, but from his paper it was absent from what he stated as his main intention for the chapter.

“Well, regardless of your answer to the previous question, the fact is that your "objection" reduces to your OPINION that the priors are wacky. An opinion is not a rational objection. You are not being "cautious" or "curious" when you just wave your doubting hand and declare the idea "wacky."”

His point applies to any set of priors so you would have to say that no set of priors are wacky, which would be wacky unless you believe that truth is relative and that is fairly wacky. This just goes to show how trivial his contribution to the discussion was. Also, when defending a claim, typically the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. Asking them to justify each link in the chain is a simple exercise in the burden of proof and criticizing them for failing to do so is indeed a rational objection. This is my opinion just as much as it is my opinion that aliens aren’t using crops as their notepad even if your priors for aliens leaving messages on Earth without showing themselves are high (that would just be wacky) and that those priors haven’t meet their burden of proof. If you are going to call every non-certain belief an opinion, then yes, these are opinions, but that would also be an instance of the non-central fallacy.

cl said...

Crude,

"That's a marked change in tone for you. Any chance you'll be writing about what you've got in mind over on your blog?"

I gave it my best shot here.

William of Baskerville said...

Hi everyone! Thank you for this wonderful discussion, and especially to cl for showing such patience. Please keep in mind that my recent post is a response to Carrier's criticism of my chapter in Miracles, ed. by Habermas and Geivett. I've provided links to Carrier's text, but unfortunately could not provide one to the chapter. Still, in the end, unless you've read the chapter as well as Carrier's critique, you can't possibly understand all of the nuances. If someone doesn't want to spend the $20 on the book, that's fine, and you're still entitled to your opinion, but your opinion may be utterly wrong-headed.
The technical distinction between magic and a miracle should not be as fuzzy as you make it sound. It it is new to you, you should learn it and apply it. In magic, the outcome ultimately depends on the performer. He or she must use the proper technique. Theoretically, if you do so properly, the outcome is guaranteed. Conversely, if you don't achieve the desired outcome, you did not follow proper procedure. A miracle, on the other hand, is a free act of God, which cannot be manipulated by our actions. He may respond with a miracle if he so wishes; he may not. If my prayers are not answered, it is likely not that I didn't follow the correct form of prayer, but that God has other plans for me.
Obviously this distinction makes sense only in a theistic world views. But look at it this way: If I want to learn about a distinction within a Buddhism, such as between Honen's and Shinran's view of the Pure Land, I need to posit the reality of the Pure Land heuristically. Similarly, the critic of miracles, which fall into the provenance of theism, must stipulate the theistic world view as a heuristic, or he is addressing a straw man. Win

cl said...

Thanks again, Winfried!

It dawned on me the other day that cautiouslycurious' entire "objection" is based on the assumption that the possibility of miracles is on epistemic par with the "alien notepad" situation. So, the situation is actually worse than I previously realized: not only does this person found their objection on an opinion, but that opinion is itself founded on an assumption that reduces to little more than incredulity. I just can't for the life of me see how such a closed-minded attitude can be "cautious" or "curious."

And there is no "non-central fallacy" occurring here. I never once implied that all non-certain beliefs are on equal epistemic grounds (i.e., that they are all equally respectable opinions as this person falsely implies).

It's just sad. Ever since the Gnus hit the scene, what passes as "skepticism" is not critical thinking at all, but more like the converse of blind faith. It's like blind doubt.

cautiouslycurious said...

Cl,
"It dawned on me the other day that cautiouslycurious' entire "objection" is based on the assumption that the possibility of miracles is on epistemic par with the "alien notepad" situation."

My objection is that you can't privilege your hypothesis. I can't just say that crop circles are rational to believe in because aliens exist and they are likely to communicate with us by leaving large landmarks, like the pyramids. This just begs the question of how do I know that. I have to meet the burden of proof for those priors and without doing so, the conclusions that follow are invalid. I can't just assume/privilege that prior, I have to support it. The same applies to the belief in God. I don't see any differences here (I could use your same response to defend the alien prior); its just two beliefs starting from a premise that hasn't met its burden of proof and no shifting of that burden will make it otherwise.

cl said...

My beliefs have met the burden of proof in my life, through many ways: historical facts, cogent arguments, personal experience and so much more. So, like I said, that *YOU* don't think *MY* priors have met *YOUR* burden of proof is, as Win put it, utterly wrong-headed.

This will be my last comment to you on this thread. I don't know your heart, and I do not judge when I say this, but... if your goal is to come here and imply that we're all a bunch of nuts who know not the ways of the rational, I'll have nothing more to do with it. I've heard it all before and it never bears fruit. OTOH, If you are open, if your mind is not yet fully closed, if you have even an iota of inkling that maybe Yeshua is knocking at *YOUR* door, I'll gladly and freely oblige my time. You know where to find me.

cautiouslycurious said...

Cl,
“My beliefs have met the burden of proof in my life, through many ways: historical facts, cogent arguments, personal experience and so much more. So, like I said, that *YOU* don't think *MY* priors have met *YOUR* burden of proof is, as Win put it, utterly wrong-headed.”

Like I said before, I could use the same response to defend alien visitations. This is precisely the problem.

“This will be my last comment to you on this thread.”
Since you go on to preach after that and seem intent on avoiding any sort of rational discussion, I think this is for the better.

William said...

cc:

Your alien visitation example has a feature which makes it unfair.

The proposal that "aliens are making lines in the cornfield" can generally be empirically contradicted by, for example, "the local farmer drove his tractor and made the lines in the cornfield."

You may be implicitly assuming that you would be able to give a mundane explanation for any given miracle, which would then deny that the event would need to have non-mundane causes.

Such an alternative empirically verifiable explanation might well make that event seem a non-miracle even to someone who thinks that God does miracles.

Instead, you first need to assume you confront an event for which you have no likely mundane explanation. Then your priors can determine the type of explanations that can be live ones for you personally.

And since we are humans and not computers, our priors may change in the process.

cautiouslycurious said...

William,
"The proposal that "aliens are making lines in the cornfield" can generally be empirically contradicted by, for example, "the local farmer drove his tractor and made the lines in the cornfield.""

Well, its actually not empirically contradicted by proposing a tractor since its basically impossible for tractors to be responsible for crop circles. Now they are seen as a prank. However, there was a point in time when there were a few "How do you explain that?" questions that we unanswered. To some, those explanations don't seem plausible (would your typical hoaxers build a microwave emitter and use pyrotechnic charges?), opting instead for the alien hypothesis. This is precisely what happened when Cl presented his miracle story, mundane explanation offered, quickly dismissed as implausible. Like I said before, wacky priors leads to wacky conclusions, which is precisely the problem.

"You may be implicitly assuming that you would be able to give a mundane explanation for any given miracle, which would then deny that the event would need to have non-mundane causes."

Not really. There are plenty of things I can't explain and I still don't resort to the supernatural. Magic tricks are a prime example. We may not know how the trick is performed, but we don't resort to believing in supernatural causes. However, when the same situation happens outside of that context, some people resort to the supernatural. It's almost like how when people say that people can artificially select certain genes, but nature can't. Instead, in this situation its magicians can trick my brain, but nature can't. Why should the lack of a mundane explanation be sufficient for believing in miracle claims but not for magic?

William said...

So your attitude toward the unexplainable is to assume trickery? This is profoundly unscientific.

cautiouslycurious said...

William,
"So your attitude toward the unexplainable is to assume trickery?"

No. My attitude to the unexplained is to explain it. If the biases and fallacious thinking that magicians exploit for their tricks are at play, then they enter the realm of possible hypotheses.

cl said...

William,

"This is precisely what happened when Cl presented his miracle story, mundane explanation offered, quickly dismissed as implausible. Like I said before, wacky priors leads to wacky conclusions, which is precisely the problem."

I'm not sure if you read my account, and mind you I never claimed it was a miracle (personally I believe it was probably an occult phenomena), but cc is pulling a downright dirty move here. Since cc is inaccurate here, I'm not sure precisely which explanation is alleged as "plausible," but I assume it was this one as it was the most recent, and I'm sure cc knew of it.

Like "im-skeptical" who left it, cc offers not a lick of good, rational reason to deny the event. For these "skeptics" and "rational thinkers," it suffices to simply wave their hands and cry "trickery," end of story. Yet, the event happened simultaneously in front of all of us.

cautiouslycurious said...

Cl,
“I'm not sure if you read my account, and mind you I never claimed it was a miracle (personally I believe it was probably an occult phenomena), but cc is pulling a downright dirty move here.”

Same difference. Miraculous and occult are synonyms.

“Since cc is inaccurate here, I'm not sure precisely which explanation is alleged as "plausible," but I assume it was this one as it was the most recent, and I'm sure cc knew of it.”

No, I was referring to the one that I gave.

“Like "im-skeptical" who left it, cc offers not a lick of good, rational reason to deny the event. For these "skeptics" and "rational thinkers," it suffices to simply wave their hands and cry "trickery," end of story. Yet, the event happened simultaneously in front of all of us.”

The explanation I gave required no “trickery”. Also, I shouldn’t need a reason to deny the event. I shouldn’t even consider it because I can’t even verify the basic details. We have no way of telling whether they are actually accurate or not. Even then, when taking every detail at face value, there is still a mundane explanation of the events. This has already been explained to you before and you just ignored it, so I don’t see any point in re-hashing it out again.

ozero91 said...

Slightly off-topic, but wouldn't alien activity/causation fall under naturalism? What is so supernatural about a race of highly evolved, highly intelligent organisms that are capable of long range space-travel? Aliens are not magical by definition.

cautiouslycurious said...

ozero,

"Slightly off-topic, but wouldn't alien activity/causation fall under naturalism? What is so supernatural about a race of highly evolved, highly intelligent organisms that are capable of long range space-travel? Aliens are not magical by definition."

Yes. Nothing. Correct.

jdhuey said...

Well, I'm a tad confused. The quoted sentence that seems to be the reason for this post does not appear to confuse "magic" and "miracles" in any way. The sentence uses the terms "ghosts", "magic" and "invisible superman" as distinctly separate concepts (however, you want to define them). Now, if the reported confusion of terms refers to some other discussion then you really should refer to that usage and not to a sentence where it is properly used.