Monday, October 29, 2012

Leaping over the evidence with a single bound

(Premise) Stephen Law argues that "Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity." (Believing Bullshit, p. 75).

(Conclusion)  Because of this it is essential that we think exclusively in terms of probabilities, the probabilities of a non-believer in all extraordinary claims, that is, the concrete examples I have given.

This strikes me as a leap of logic commensurate with Kierkegaard's leap of faith.



cautiouslycurious said...

"the probabilities of a non-believer in all extraordinary claims, that is, the concrete examples I have given"

This doesn't make grammatical sense to me.

Based on the premise, it looks like he's saying that instead of putting all explanations that are consistent with the evidence on an even playing field, that we should assign varying degrees of probability that they are correct based on the evidence. If so, that seems reasonable for me.

unkleE said...

It all comes back to the definition of faith that he is using. His statement may be true for some definitions and not for others.

He seems to be using a definition that makes faith totally antithetical to reason and evidence, which I can imagine few christians accepting, since christianity is a historical belief based on historical evidence - "that which have seen, and touched" etc.

As was evidenced in a recent discussion here, any unbeliever who chooses to use a silly definition of faith is really only talking hot air to believers, and is only preaching to the (un)converted.

Stephen seems like a decent and friendly guy, but as a christian, I don't see much reason to think about what he says until he actually talks sense to me instead of imposing his own biased version of reality on the discussion. It is just as meaningless as if I asked him which gifts of the Holy Spirit he possessed!

Walter said...

Loftus is depicting every person who disagrees with atheistic materialism as an irrational fideist. This simply is not true. I'm sure that there does exist fideistic believers among the rank and file of every sect of Christianity, but every defender of Christian faith that I encounter online claims to believe their worldview based on a chain of reasoning. Loftus should attack the reasons for belief rather than just label his opponents as irrational faith heads.

Stephen Law said...

The quote is not quite right. I don't mention faith. Her is the text:

Clearly, Dave’s theory about dogs is not well-confirmed by the available evidence. The first moral we can extract from this example is that, whatever is required in order for a theory to be well-confirmed, rather more is required than achieving mere consistency with that evidence.

As Dave illustrates, any belief, no matter how ludicrous, can be made consistent with the available evidence, given a little ingenuity. Believe that the Earth is flat, that the Moon is made of cheese, that the World Trade Centre was brought down by the U.S. Government, are that George W. Bush is really Elvis Presley in disguise? All these theories can be endlessly adjusted and developed so that they remain consistent with the available evidence. Yet they are not well-confirmed.

The claim that Young Earth Creationism is at least as well confirmed as its scientific rivals relies crucially on what we might call the “fit” model of confirmation. According to the “fit” model, confirmation is all about “fitting” the evidence. But more is required for genuine confirmation than mere “fit”, which any theory, no matter how absurd, can, in principle, achieve. So what else is required?

Victor Reppert said...

Thanks for clarifying, Stephen. It is well known, for example, that geocentrists could have gone on and on adjusting their theory to fit the evidence, and there was no logical necessity for them to stop doing so. Nevertheless, heliocentrism is well-confirmed.

cl said...

That atheists who invoke Law's "probability mantra" (and others like it) don't assent to the anthropic principle proves the sheer hypocrisy and corruption of their commitment to rationalism. For, the only way out is to violate another pillar: that one must not base beliefs on speculation. Guess what? All this "multiverse" speculation sure does FIT with a desired atheist narrative, doesn't it? This has really become very crystal clear to me since JWL was last around these parts.

WRT to Law's remarks here, evolution, too, suffers from this "fit" approach. Not to toot my own horn here, but just because some might be interested, I've written before that I believe the Darwinian narrative is a form of pareidolia, and this is partly confirmed by the known falsity of countless claims used to bolster the narrative. Undeniably, over-eager scientists and champions of atheism leaped prematurely, in the desire to "fit" any marginally related discovery to their preconceived conclusion.

Moreover, the "fit" approach doesn't really apply when we're dealing with falsification. Sure, one might be able to "fit" the evidence to any belief, but it's much harder to "fit" away things that directly contradict conventionally accepted theories. Case in point? Living cells and muscle tissue being discovered in dinosaur fossils purportedly 65 million years old. What I'm getting at is, Law can't criticize as a "fitter" the person who rejects an established theory when established facts seem to directly contradict it.

Thus is the inherent limitation of the "fit" criticism.