Saturday, October 27, 2012

Loftus on Silver Bullets

John Loftus seems to me raising the distinction between "silver bullet" arguments that in fact persuade everyone, and arguments which, even though they don't persuade everyone, ought to persaude everyone. I made this exact distinction in my book, when I was talking about strong rationalism.   Now, clearly, no arguments about, say, belief in the existence of God are satisfying to everyone. There are atheists and theists on the highest levels of education. But the strong rationalist can maintain that while the case for belief (or unbelief) is not in fact convincing to everyone, it should be. The evidence is strong enough to convince everyone who is well informed and rational; if a well-informed person rejects the evidence, it is rejected because he suffers from some species of cognitive pathology—that is, from some kind of failure or inability to recognize the truth. Consider what many academics believe about astrology. Surely there are plenty of people who believe in astrology,  but I at least am inclined to suppose that a careful study of astrological beliefs will show that it is not reasonable to accept these claims.

C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea, p. 31.

John adds:

Such an argument does not have to be convincing. With this in mind I think there are plenty of silver bullets. That you don't see them merely means you have resorted to faith to overcome it. Faith, by the way, is irrational.

Again, I think talking about faith in this way obfuscates the issue, especially if you are talking to someone who accepts C. S. Lewis's definition of faith.

"Faith is that art of hold on to things which your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. Unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and for, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather or the sate of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.”







107 comments:

Crude said...

First, the definition of "faith" John subscribes to has been shown, time and again, to be wrong and fundamentally flawed with regard to Christians. John, of course, keeps right on using that definition, because it's emotionally important to him. So I suppose he's in the unique position of relying on faith to maintain his views on faith. ;)

And really, a guy of John's... special brand of competency in evaluating arguments and debate shouldn't be handling bullets of any kind.

Crude said...

For the record, a productive recent post and discussion on faith was had at David Marshall's site recently. I'd say John could learn from it, but that would suggest John can learn. I don't have faith in that view.

BeingItself said...

Crude,

I have many Christian friends and family members who who use the word 'faith' to mean belief without evidence.

So, you are wrong. Again.

Words do not have inherent meanings. They acquire meaning by usage. Loftus is simply using the word in a way many many Christians do.

If you wish to use the word another way, then fine.

Crude said...

I have many Christian friends and family members who who use the word 'faith' to mean belief without evidence.

So, you are wrong. Again.


Alas, BI, I have no faith in either your honesty in these discussions, or your ability to evaluate what other people mean (which the historical evidence indicates you are tremendously bad at.) ;)

But you know, I'll meet you halfway here: let's see Loftus admit that his definition of 'faith' is very, very far from universal, and doesn't apply to, oh... just about any Christian (or most other religions') theologian, philosopher, or apologist of note.

I mean, if 'words do not have inherent meanings' - and it is demonstrably true that many, many Christians use faith in a different way than he does - then it's wrong for him to imply or claim that his view of faith is the one Christians adhere to. Right?

Right. :D

rank sophist said...

I have many Christian friends and family members who who use the word 'faith' to mean belief without evidence.

So, you are wrong. Again.

Words do not have inherent meanings. They acquire meaning by usage. Loftus is simply using the word in a way many many Christians do.

If you wish to use the word another way, then fine.


Being ignorant sure helps make the world seem manageable, doesn't it?

Your Christian friends, unfortunately, are not much better informed than yourself. Faith does not mean "belief in the absence of evidence", and this definition is officially rejected by the largest Christian churches. Catholics, for instance, deemed fideism heretical in Vatican I:

"If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema."

C.S. Lewis's definition, while not perfectly in line with that of the Catholics, is nonetheless far more accurate than yours.

Crude said...

By the way, I'll start giving the 'I'm arguing against what a hypothetical Christian who has the most uninformed understanding of Christianity believes' excuse for atheists engaging strawmen more credence the moment they admit that creationists arguing against strawman versions of evolution 'because that's the sort of evolution a lot of uninformed people believe in' is regarded as acceptable. :D

Not to mention, Loftus' line here is (what a surprise) inane. So if you disagree with him about the power of an argument, you *must* be using faith to overcome it? It's not that you could simply be mistaken, or - wait for it he can be wrong?

He's a piece of work, as ever.

BeingItself said...

Rank, do you really think words have inherent meaning?

Or do you agree with me, and apparently Crude, that the same string of letters can have multiple meanings?

There is no right, or correct, definition of 'faith'.

The word is used multiple ways.

God, this gets boring. It's like you are incapable of learning.

Yes, Loftus is using the word to mean something some Christians don't mean when they use the word. But it is just an undeniable fact that many Christians use it the way Loftus does.

Crude said...

Yes, Loftus is using the word to mean something some Christians don't mean when they use the word. But it is just an undeniable fact that many Christians use it the way Loftus does.

Sure it's deniable. Maybe if you meant "some" - but "some" isn't the problem here, and would be extraordinarily weak in this context.

Like I said, let's see Loftus say that most Christians, particularly where theology, philosophy and apologetics are concerned, don't define faith the way he does. On the flipside, let's see you say that hypothetical creationist arguments pointing out 'A monkey has never been seen giving birth to a human being, so evolution must be false' is intellectually acceptable, on the grounds that some people think that's what evolutionary theory should entail.

After all, words can have multiple meanings. ;)

BeingItself said...

No evolutionary biologist uses the word "evolution" the way you say creationists do.

Many Christians use the word "faith" the way Loftus does.

I think we can agree that Loftus tries to paint all Christians as having faith the way he defines it, which is an idiotic thing to do.

Crude said...

No evolutionary biologist uses the word "evolution" the way you say creationists do.

Many Christians use the word "faith" the way Loftus does.


You're comparing experts in a given field to mere laymen. It doesn't add up.

There are many, many people who have an abysmal understanding of what evolutionary theory is about (even people who claim they accept it), just as there are plenty of Christians who have shockingly little knowledge of their own religion.

I think we can agree that Loftus tries to paint all Christians as having faith the way he defines it, which is an idiotic thing to do.

Miracle of miracles - agreement.

It's not merely idiotic - it's deceptive. Loftus, in this rare case, knows better. He's been corrected repeatedly. He does not care.

BeingItself said...

"there are plenty of Christians who have shockingly little knowledge of their own religion"

What does this even mean?

"Their own religion" is whatever they say it is.

rank sophist said...

There is no right, or correct, definition of 'faith'.

Because your fundamentalist definition is just as relevant as 2,000 years of Catholic and Orthodox tradition. Don't make me laugh. This is the reason you chickened out of going to Feser's blog: you're too much of a lightweight to handle the kinds of arguments usually presented by the posters there. This blog has plenty of intellectually lazy lay-atheists, like yourself, who can back-slap each other all day long. You could not argue your way out of a paper bag.

Crude said...

What does this even mean?

"Their own religion" is whatever they say it is.


What does it mean for a Christian to have shockingly little knowledge of their own religion?

What part is confusing to you? I didn't deny they were Christian. I pointed out they were ignorant of their own claimed religion.

Likewise, a person who thinks of themselves as a big believer in evolution often times hardly understands the theory. (I've met many, many people, especially self-described atheists, who think the freaking X-men are a fictional example of Darwinism in action.)

BeingItself said...

There are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians. So a person cannot be ignorant of their own version of it.

They can be ignorant of what others claim is the orthodox version.

But I agree that in general Christians are hopelessly ignorant about religion. Non-believers tend to be better informed.

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/nation/la-na-religion-survey-20100928

rank sophist said...

There are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians. So a person cannot be ignorant of their own version of it.

Translation: I am ignorant. Please do not pay attention to this fact. Instead, look at this red herring. Isn't it pretty?

You're sad.

Crude said...

There are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians. So a person cannot be ignorant of their own version of it.

There are as many versions of evolution as there are evolutionists and anti-evolutionists. So a person cannot be ignorant of their own version of it.

As usual, BI, you're wrong - and as rank said, you're changing the subject.

Change away. Since Linton's been run off, you're pretty much his replacement for 'shoots his mouth off and panics when called on it' entertainment around here. ;)

Karl Grant said...

BI,

There are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians

So there are two and a half billion versions of Christianity? Christianity is individualistic, that there is no groups or organizations of Christians, like say a church, that people claim membership in? For you to say something like this either proves that A) you're an idiot, B) you're dishonest and trying to weasel your way out of the corner you backed yourself into or C) all of the above.

But I agree that in general Christians are hopelessly ignorant about religion. Non-believers tend to be better informed.

Not always, case in point being you. Now explain in a hundred words or less how this red herring excuses your ignorance on the subject matter.

BeingItself said...

You guys are being unusually sensitive.

God is imaginary. Each of your imaginations are different. So, there are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians. QED.

Karl Grant said...

BI,

God is imaginary. Each of your imaginations are different. So, there are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians. QED.

Let's see, a repeated declaration of your personal belief that we have heard about three or four hundred times combined with an attempt at an insulting dismissal of your debate opponents and no real attempt to address the opponents' arguments. All very predictable, all so very boring. If you are going to ape Loftus you should at least try to be a bit more creative with the insults and weaseling. Do try and shape up otherwise we will have to stop feeding your ego and find a more deserving troll to play with.

Crude said...

BI's just trolling, as usual. When he gets smacked around too much intellectually - meaning, when he engages in any intellectual discourse - he retreats to 'durrhurr I r troll u!!!' crap.

Nothing new here. ;)

kilo papa said...

Here's a good description of the Judeo-Christian religion.

"The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this.
For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything 'chosen' about them."-Albert Einstein

Religion is mind rot. A bunch of asinine Stone Age bullshit that only the weak minded, apparently in need of comforting fairy tales, can swallow.

Virgin births, blood sacrifices, talking donkeys, genocide, infanticide,slave trading, stoning non-virgins to death, stoning homosexuals to death, etc. In other words, absolute Stone Age bullshit!! Gotta love it!!

John W. Loftus said...

For one thing, C.S.Lewis cannot possibly offer a definition of faith that is authoritative for most all Christians without an argument showing this is what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries.

Second, as I look at Lewis's definition I'm having a hard time knowing exactly what it is. Is faith identified with one's memory? Is it instead an act of the will over one's emotions? What faculty of the mind do we have that does this other than an act of the will based on memory? How do we train it?

I see nothing in this definition of faith that is Biblical nor particularly theological. And as such it has nothing to do with my claim that faith is irrational since it isn't speaking to the same issue that I am.

By my lights faith adds nothing to the probabilities. We should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities.

Flipping a coin will statistically give us heads half the time. What does faith have to do with the odds? Nothing. Does it do any good to say, "have faith that these are the odds"? No.

Even if we live in a Matrix or are brains in a vat we still should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities. After all, if not, then why not just shoot yourself in the head? Perhaps the bullet won't fire? Perhaps we'll miss? Perhaps it won't hurt us? Perhaps our head will heal instantly?

There is no way we can get around the odds even if we live in a Matrix. Therefore there is no reason why anyone should believe anything at all. Faith is irrelevant, necessary, superfluous and even dangerous. With faith (in the sense that it goes beyond the probabilities) anything can be believed. That's my definition Vic. That's what I'm talking about. Now comment on what I'm talking about and condemn it as irrational like I do. Speak to the issue please. Stop quibbling about definitions since now you know what I'm speaking about.

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). because of this it is essential that we think exclusively in terms of probabilities.

Do you agree or not, and if not why not?

Crude said...

kilo,

Still doing the irrational vegan thing? Or did you finally give that up from people laughing at you? ;)

Crude said...

Loftus,

For one thing, C.S.Lewis cannot possibly offer a definition of faith that is authoritative for most all Christians without an argument showing this is what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries.

As usual, John, you're not thinking things through.

Theologians have disagreed on various things throughout the centuries, but one thing is clear: from Aquinas (and the whole of the Catholic Church) to Calvin to otherwise, Christians have thought God's existence and even His nature was open to reason and argument. Certainly Christ's being raised involved evidence, hence St Paul and others constantly referring to the damn stuff.

Though thank you: apparently what YOU need to do is show that your definition of faith is "what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries."

I see nothing in this definition of faith that is Biblical nor particularly theological. And as such it has nothing to do with my claim that faith is irrational since it isn't speaking to the same issue that I am.

Then I suppose you'll be amending your discussions of faith in the future by saying 'Okay, well, my view of faith is pretty idiosyncratic, so this doesn't cover many or most Christians. I'm coming for you, Kierkegaard!'? ;)

We should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities.

What's the probability that a given estimation exclusively in terms of probabilities is correct?

Really, we should "think exclusively in terms of probabilities"? Are you even reading what you write?

Flipping a coin will statistically give us heads half the time. What does faith have to do with the odds?

No, flipping a coin will statistically give you heads half of the time, assuming the coin flip is fair. Did you verify that your coin and the flip itself were fair each time you engage in or watch one? Or do you *gasp* employ faith at times?

Even if we live in a Matrix or are brains in a vat we still should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities. After all, if not, then why not just shoot yourself in the head?

If by your tortured language of "think exclusively in terms of the probabilities" you mean "think in terms of what you think is most likely to be true", you're not saying anything incompatible with full-blown theism, to say nothing of Christianity. How you determine those "probabilities" is going to feed back into your evaluation of the evidence, as well as your initial assumptions.

And surprise - thinking in terms of probabilities does not replace faith. If anything it's one more way faith shows up in reasoning.

Crude said...

With faith (in the sense that it goes beyond the probabilities) anything can be believed. That's my definition Vic. That's what I'm talking about.

If by faith going beyond the probabilities you mean "believing what you've determined is not at all likely to be true", then you're using a hilariously idiosyncratic definition of "faith" by Christian standards, theistic philosophical standards, and even Biblical standards.

What you're doing here is trying to make up some definition, any definition, of "faith" that you can condemn, and getting cranky when you're called out on it being woefully inaccurate as a definition of what Christians believe.

Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.

You'd have to given Law's definition of faith. But superficially, you don't need 'faith' to make something 'be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity'. Furthermore, it would suggest that if someone believed that given evidence couldn't be made consistent with their beliefs (say, arguing that producing Christ's body would render Christianity false), then apparently they don't have faith after all.

But either way, John, I await - first and foremost - your demonstration that the Biblical writers and 'theologians throughout the centuries' regarded faith the way you're defining it here. Good luck with Aquinas and the Catholic Church (who regarded and regard theism and various aspects of theism a matter of reason, not faith), St Paul (who argued that Christ not being raised would falsify the faith) and the various incidents of evidence providing in the bible.

Let's see if you can even begin to defend your view, by your own stated standard.

John W. Loftus said...

Here ya go Crude. What Jesus said.

Crude said...

Here ya go Crude. What Jesus said.

Sorry, John - if this is the best you've got, you've already blown it.

Here you are, again:

For one thing, C.S.Lewis cannot possibly offer a definition of faith that is authoritative for most all Christians without an argument showing this is what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries.

Your response: a single biblical quote from Christ, which you admit is metaphorical, and which you twist and turn on your own. Worse, you butcher it: Christ doesn't 'define faith' in the quote. He's saying what's possible if you have faith.

Where's the argument about the biblical writers? Where's the argument about what theologians have believed down the centuries?

Pony up or shut up, John. ;)

Eric said...

Here's an ordinary language line of reasoning:

Is the notion of "blind faith" redundant? If it is, then the New Atheists are right -- indeed, this is entailed by their position on faith. But if it's not, then the New Atheists are wrong. And it seems to me that it's obvious that they are wrong here, for people distinguish faith from blind faith all the time in everyday speech.

Now this line of reasoning isn't dispositive, but when you add to it arguments from the terms used in the Hebrew and the Greek that we translate as faith, and basic conceptual analyses of the notion of faith, and historical uses of the term faith in the Christian tradition, you begin to see that the New Atheists simply does not have a leg to stand on in this debate.

And the obvious retort, viz. "But many ordinary Christians in the pews today use the term as the New Atheists do" is an obvious failure. Many people who defend science similarly misunderstand the term 'theory' -- does it follow that the popular understanding of the term therefore prevails in scientific circles? Of course not.

There simply is no serious debate to be had here, despite what the New Atheists say. It reminds me of the Jesus Myth 'debate,' or, on the other side, the young earth creationism 'debate.'

B. Prokop said...

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis added)


I wonder how many people realize that when Jesus answered the question “What is the greatest commandment?”, He changed the wording. Here is what we find in The Law: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Why the change? Why mind instead of might? Perhaps because Christ (despite what Loftus seems to believe) does not ask or wish for blind faith or mindless obedience, and He desires that no one be forced into belief. He prefers followers with skin in the game. He wants people to come to Him fully engaged and alert, thinking all things through and aware of the consequences.

That's what Faith is.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, I'm trying to understand what a consistent definition of faith is that is biblically and theologically informed.

I've studied historical theological works of faith including Swinburne's book Faith and Reason, and I did plenty of original word studies in the Bible on it, along with reading standard Bible encyclopedia's and dictionaries on it, including Geisler's I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (what can he possibly be talking about, having "enough faith," if it having more of it increases the probabilities?).

Christian definitions of faith are either inconsistent with each other and/or irrelevant to the issue at hand.

My conclusion stands, that faith is always blind. It adds nothing to the probabilities so it is useless, unnecessary and blind. The only way for you to see it for what it is is to be consistent. but you cannot do that because you need to believe beyond the probabilities. Until you think exclusively in terms of probabilities you will always claim "there is no serious debate here."

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). Because of this it is essential that we think exclusively in terms of probabilities.

Admit it and I can respect you. Deny it and I cannot.

Otherwise define what faith is and let's see/ Go ahead. Try!

B. Prokop said...

"My conclusion stands, that faith is always blind."

John, you can be so funny at times. (But I am glad to see you back on this site. Please don't make your next hiatus so long!) I just showed you how the man who's very name defines Christianity rejected the idea of blind faith, and you proceed as if nothing's been said.

And here I thought it was you who were so concerned about "evidence". You just proved that you will willingly ignore any evidence that doesn't fit your preconceived notions.

Crude said...

Eric, I'm trying to understand what a consistent definition of faith is that is biblically and theologically informed.

And yet you just pulled a definition of 'faith' out of your rear end based on a wild misinterpretation of a single biblical passage, despite earlier saying:

For one thing, C.S.Lewis cannot possibly offer a definition of faith that is authoritative for most all Christians without an argument showing this is what the Biblical writers agreed on and at the same time what theologians have agreed on down through the centuries.

Again, John, by your own standards: pony up or shut up, John.

Otherwise define what faith is and let's see/ Go ahead. Try!

You're making the claim about what faith is, John. As per your own standards the onus is on you to defend how you define faith. Your standards were clear: by the intentions of the biblical writers, and that 'theologians have agreed down through the centuries'.

Or is this going to be yet another instance of you demonstrably being all hat, no cattle? ;)

John W. Loftus said...

I shouldn't bother here. Just for the record I make this same argument in the last chapter in my forthcoming book "The Outsider Test for Faith." As I have said, if I'm ignorant then so are the people who recommend my books, and if that's what you think you need to take our arguments seriously because we span the disciplines and are intelligent educated people. Read the blurbs for it.

This is obviously not the place to discuss these issues reasonably. Wait till the book comes out if you are so inclined. if not, I cannot help you. But it does no good at all to demean me or dismiss my arguments.

Crude said...

As I have said, if I'm ignorant then so are the people who recommend my books, and if that's what you think you need to take our arguments seriously because we span the disciplines and are intelligent educated people

Oh boy, a Who's Who of atheist activists, a fair chunk of whom also happen to be your personal associates and friends. You know what, John, I'm willing to bite the bullet on this one: the people who recommend your books are also ignorant. ;)

But it does no good at all to demean me or dismiss my arguments.

What arguments? You're not going to give any here, remember? You insisted that Lewis' definition of faith was invalid until he provided a defense of his view in terms of the biblical authors' intentions and the views of theologians throughout the centuries. In reply, you pulled a definition of faith out of your rear based on a single biblical quote you couldn't even get right (Christ doesn't 'define' faith in the passage you selected) - and now you're running away saying "it's in my book".

So, by your own standards, as of right now, your view of faith is invalid. You haven't provided the very thing you said was necessary to regard that definition of faith as valid for Christians. You didn't go half a day in this thread before making a statement which invalidates your very own contributions to it.

But, what, we should expect the book to be better? Especially when it's about the Outsider Test, which we've all seen picked apart and destroyed on this very blog by multiple contributors, even atheists?

C'mon. Like I said: all hat, no cattle.

BeingItself said...

What a great quotation from Einstein. Spoken like a true Gnu.

Quibbling over the definition of a word is idiotic. Faith has many "correct" definitions.

B. Prokop said...

I do like the hat, though. Almost as good as the Orioles cap which is my standard headgear.

Crude said...

Regarding Einstein, via the wikipedia:

According to biographer Walter Isaacson, Einstein was more inclined to denigrate disbelievers than the faithful.[20] Einstein said in correspondence, "[T]he fanatical atheists...are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who—in their grudge against the traditional 'opium of the people'—cannot bear the music of the spheres."[20][21] Although he did not believe in a personal God, he indicated that he would never seek to combat such belief because "such a belief seems to me preferable to the lack of any transcendental outlook.

Albert Einstein would regard the Cult of Gnu with horror. ;)

Eric said...

"My conclusion stands, that faith is always blind. It adds nothing to the probabilities so it is useless, unnecessary and blind."

But it simply doesn't follow that if faith "adds nothing to the probabilities" it's therefore blind.

It's the notion that faith is *supposed* to "add to the probabilities" that is the problem here. I have no idea where this comes from, and it strikes me as an obvious category error. Faith holistically involves intellectual assent, trust and commitment -- it does not merely comprise intellectual assent alone. So, take an example Ganssle has used, I may intellectually assent to the notion that human beings are harming the environment without committing myself to the environmentalist program. I think that he captures the essence of faith here, and it's consistent with the theological/philosophical tradition, ordinary language (insofar as we distinguish faith from blind faith) and the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew terms we translate as faith.

Note that this is also perfectly consistent with Lewis's point: We can base our faith on reasons, commit ourselves to it, and trust what we have committed ourselves to when we confront psychological obstacles to our beliefs.

However, also note that faith can indeed be blind, for I can believe X, trust X and commit to X for no reasons whatsoever. But this is the key point: It's not *necessarily* blind, for I can also believe X, trust X and commit to X for solid reasons. Hence, the distinction between 'faith' and 'blind faith' is perfectly legitimate, and, as I said in my last post, if this distinction stands, the New Atheist conception of faith falls flat on its face.

I can certainly agree that we reason in part probabilistically when we're evaluating some of the reasons we have for assenting intellectually to the truth claims Christianity (or whatever) makes, but we don't only reason probabilistically. I mean, this is obvious, right? If I connect a series of premises that are probably true to some degree, I may be concerned with the probabilities when I consider the truth of the premises, but I'm not thinking about the probabilities when I consider the meanings of the concepts involved, the coherence of the concepts, the consistency of the overall argument, the consistency of this argument with other conclusions I accept, and so on. Reason just obviously involves so much more than assessing the probabilities (indeed, we use these non-probabilistic rational tools *when we assess the probabilities of a claim*!) that I don't know how to take your claim that we must think *exclusively* in terms of the probabilities.


Eric said...

"The only way for you to see it for what it is is to be consistent. but you cannot do that because you need to believe beyond the probabilities."

Sorry, I missed this in my last post, and this is extremely important: Faith *is not* necessarily about *believing* beyond the probabilites, but it is about *acting* (which presupposes trust and commitment) beyond the probabilities.

All action, insofar as we either do something or don't, necessarily goes beyond the probabilities. There may be a 99% chance that I'll survive a drive from Massachusetts to New York, but I either commit 100% to making the trip or I don't. That's going beyond the probabilities. I may have a 40% chance of being in business after five years if I open a restaurant, but either I commit 100% and open the restaurant or I don't. I may have a 50% chance of being alive five years from now if I'm diagnosed with certain kinds of cancers given a certain course of treatment, but I either commit 100% and choose to undergo the treatment or I do not.

So you're missing the distinction between belief and action, and because of this you're missing the role probabilities play where faith is concerned.

Now I know the obvious retort: But then we'd all be acting on faith all the time. And the answer, I think, is basically 'yes' insofar as we intellectually assent, trust and commit ourselves to courses of action that do not have certain outcomes. But this does nothing to water down the Christian notion of faith, which invovles intellectual assent, trust and commitment to Jesus as Lord, and not to being in business five years from now.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, we always act on the probabilities, always. Unless of course we are somehow lacking in cognitive facilitates, mentally incompetent, stroke infected, having irrational phobias, or something akin to that.

Again, we ALWAYS act on the probabilities.

Or, you can provide just one example of a sane person who did not.

We simply misjudge the probabilities, that's all. Faith has nothing to do with this process at all. Faith is what causes us to misjudge the probabilities, and as such, is a virus that needs eradicated from us.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, your examples fail to understand that we must live our lives, and in so doing we must take risks. Not to take any risks means we will do nothing at all. So we take the ones that we judge bring us more happiness than not given the alternatives. It's that simple. The risks we take are always based on the probabilities.

even a mountain climber does what he does because over-all it's a better choice for him. It has nothing to do with whether climbing a mountain might bring about his death. He judges that doing this kind of activity even with the odds is going to bring him more happiness than not over-all even if he dies from it. After all, we must live our lives and that means challenging ourselves to be the best at something. Risk taking of this kind makes us happy. It's who we are.

Sometimes I don't think you even try to understand these things.

John W. Loftus said...

Again, we ALWAYS act on the probabilities (given my caveats).

What you're doing is unjustifiably sneaking faith in the back door as if it's something different and on a par equal to those of us who know this and argue for it. When I say we should always think in terms of the probabilities I'm denying faith based reasoning in favor of science based reasoning. You don't like it, so you try to squirm around it. the whole reason you do is because you know that what you believe is not based on the probabilities. Admit it. Otherwise why would anyone argue to the contrary?

Eric said...

"Eric, your examples fail to understand that we must live our lives, and in so doing we must take risks. Not to take any risks means we will do nothing at all."

I haven't failed to understand it -- rather, it's *precisely* my point! In any deliberate act, one acts for a reason/goal/outcome, and you can calculate (more or less accurately) the probability that that you will achieve the desired outcome. In few, perhaps no cases (and in very few substantive cases) will the probability that you'll achieve your desired outcome be 100%. But still you must choose whether to act, and if you choose to act, you must trust and commit. (Note, I'm talking about the act itself, not about sustaining the act over a period of time), which is to say, you commit 100% in order to act deliberately, even though the probability that you'll succeed is less than 100%. And this is the case in mundane acts like driving down the street, and in pragmatic acts like opening a restaurant, and in religious acts like deciding to live as if Jesus is Lord. In almost every act, we go beyond the probabilities necessarily, since we either act or we don't -- I can't jump out of a plane at 80% (or whatever); either I jump, which is to say I commit 100%, or I stay in the plane.

It's in the nexus between belief and action that you can find faith, and you find it in the trust and commitment needed to act on one's belief, whether that belief is held for great reasons or for no reasons. When you focus on the belief alone you miss the most important aspects of faith.

"Eric, we always act on the probabilities, always. Unless of course we are somehow lacking in cognitive facilitates, mentally incompetent, stroke infected, having irrational phobias, or something akin to that."

This is simply false. If you've ever bought a lottery ticket, you've provided me with a simple counterexample that falsifies this claim. Is everyone who opens a restaurant "somehow lacking in cognitive facilities"? The odds are against them, since only four out of ten will be in business within five years.

Now sure, we *usually* act on the probabilities -- I agree with you competely here -- but as I said, the act itself involves a degree of commitment and trust that will go beyond the probabilities in almost every case, and it's here that we find the essence of faith. The chance that you'll survive your next trip on the highway may be 99%, but you have to commit 100% to the drive to get into the car and move from A to B, and in doing so you've gone beyond the probabilities.


Eric said...

"When I say we should always think in terms of the probabilities I'm denying faith based reasoning in favor of science based reasoning."

But you keep committing the same error.

Let's distinguish foundational faith based reasoning (FFBR) from revelatory faith based reasoning (RFBR).

With FFBR, the Christian reasons exactly as you do, though he reaches different conclusions, just as scientists who reach different conclusions use the same rational tools. We simply disagree about the strengths of the arguments and evidence involved. I may think that the argument from contingency, or the AFR are good arguments, while you might think that they fail, but we're speaking the same language as we evaluate the arguments. On the basis of such arguments, coupled with various historical arguments, I might conclude that Christianity is true, and hence decide to commit my life to it, which is to say I might choose to have faith in Christ. You, however, may look at the arguments and decide that they don't support the conclusions I think they do, and hence choose to reject Christianity, and not to put your faith in Christ. Note, with FFBR, faith comes into play *after* we've finished reasoning.

Once one has faith, that faith can be used to reach further conclusions that could not be reached by reason alone. It's here that RFBR comes into play. But most Christians would demand that the content of the results of RFBR be consistent with the results of FFBR, the results of science, the demands of logic, the results of history, and so on, so this is again not *opposed* to reason.

Further note that RFBR can be premised on FFBR! Sure, one can also dispense with FFBR and rely on RFBR alone, but this isn't *necessarily* the case, which is why faith isn't *necessarily* blind.

So, here's my question:

If I conclude, on the basis of a number of arguments, that god exists, and that he has certain attributes; and if I conclude, on the basis of a number of arguments, that that god has revealed himself through Jesus of Nazareth; and if I conclude, on the basis of a number of arguments, that I can know enough about Jesus to know what he taught; and if I conclude, on the basis of all those arguments, that I can accept what god has revealed to me that I could not know through reason alone, provided that it's consistent with everything else I know; where, I ask you, have I gone *wrong* in my reasoning? Where have I acted irrationally?

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, we do not commit 100% in order to act deliberately even when the probability is that success is less than 100%. No, the more we judge our probabilities to be higher and the more we want the desired goal, then the more we commit to that goal. This is elementary and obvious. If we weren't talking about faith you wouldn't even ask. This is how we live life. And there are two variables, the probabilities plus how much we desire the goal. That's why there are car accidents you see, people do not commit 100% to driving.

Jumping out of a plane is in a different category, as is buying a lottery ticket. You either jump or you don't. You either buy a ticket or you don't.

You need to Google "Pot Odds" and see what they are. When the pot is huge and the level of gamble is small then it's a good bet to buy a ticket. really! Your odds are better to make the gamble.

And there is something else. The only time it's rational to go against the odds is when the person going against the odds is part of the odds. This too is elementary and obvious. Again, the only reason you ask is because you're defending the indefensible, faith. Businesses usually fail but a new owner who judges he will succeed may succeed more often than not over someone who doesn't think he will succeed. It's self-fulfilling you see. And he needs to weigh the worst that can happen if he fails. That's also part of his calculations. There is no debtor's jail, you see. There is bankruptcy instead, and a chance to start over. This too is betting on the pot odds.

Pot odds, that's something you should know from Pascal's Wager. And it can be very reasonable to bet on them.

Damn, why did I bother. I've got other things to do, sorry. But this is all elementary and obvious to anyone apart from the subject of faith. If we were not talking about faith you wouldn't even be asking.

John W. Loftus said...

I only read your last question since I'm done here:

If I conclude, on the basis of a number of arguments, that god exists, and that he has certain attributes; and if I conclude, on the basis of a number of arguments, that that god has revealed himself through Jesus of Nazareth; and if I conclude, on the basis of a number of arguments, that I can know enough about Jesus to know what he taught; and if I conclude, on the basis of all those arguments, that I can accept what god has revealed to me that I could not know through reason alone, provided that it's consistent with everything else I know; where, I ask you, have I gone *wrong* in my reasoning? Where have I acted irrationally?You haven't. Why not just admit then that you do not have faith. Why not admit that faith is superfluous and unnecessary? Why not just say with me that we should think exclusively in terms of probabilities?

You've concluded incorrectly, but that's another topic.. But you have admitted what I have argued for.

The Colts are playing. C'ya.

BeingItself said...

Speculating about what Einstein would think of Gnu Atheism is a fool's errand. He did not experience 911, IDiots, superstitious opposition to stem cell research, the Moral Majority, Dominionism, the systematic rape of Children by Catholic priests, and the like.

Regardless, the quotation sounds like something that could have been written by Dawkins or Sam Harris.

Eric said...

"Eric, we do not commit 100% in order to act deliberately even when the probability is that success is less than 100%."

But you've misunderstood what I mean by committing 100%. I tried to be clear by distinguishing acting over time with acting itself, but perhaps I wasn't clear enough.

I did not mean committing and then never changing your mind, or committing without taking precautionary measures. What I mean is that when you choose to act, you either act or you don't; whether you change your mind or take precautionary measures is irrelevant, for there you'll also be playing the odds, and by acting going beyond the probabilities.

Let me ask one simple question: Provide me with *one* example of a meaningful act that does not involve a commitment beyond the probabilities. Provide me with a specific act, provide me with the probability of success, and provide me with an example of how to act to realize that goal that is perfectly in line with the probabilities, and that does not involve trust or commitment beyond the probabilities.

"You haven't. Why not just admit then that you do not have faith."

You're begging the question, John -- the issue is, what is faith?

"You've concluded incorrectly, but that's another topic."

No, that gets right at the topic -- I've reasoned my way to a position and premised my faith upon it, and hence (whether I've reasoned well or poorly) not all faith is blind faith.

cl said...

John W. Loftus,

"I'm trying to understand what a consistent definition of faith is that is biblically and theologically informed."

I applaud that. I really do. I also applaud what seems to be more patience and respect for nuance in this thread.

That said, I have to wonder: why don't you just use the definition provided in the NT? Surely you're aware of it, right? If you would use that definition, you'd never again be vulnerable to trash-talk ala "that's not the right definition of faith."

I'm not attacking you, I'm just genuinely wondering if you have a good reason NOT to use the NT's definition.

cl said...

Also, John, your "Law-ism" cuts both ways, watch:

Anything based on skepticism, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.

I just went through this with "im-skeptical," a commenter who, based on skepticism, seems to *ACTUALLY BELIEVE* that "trickery" is consistent with the available evidence WRT this.

In short, many have blind faith in skepticism, wouldn't you say?

cautiouslycurious said...

Hi Eric,

"Provide me with a specific act, provide me with the probability of success, and provide me with an example of how to act to realize that goal that is perfectly in line with the probabilities, and that does not involve trust or commitment beyond the probabilities."

Loftus is saying that when you have a positive expected value, that is in line with the probabilities and when you have a negative expected value, but still act, that is not in line with the probabilities. In poker, this is the difference between winning and losing play. Winning strategy doesn't require trust beyond probability; it actively plays off of actual probability.

As a side note, I think the definition of faith you proposed trivializes the word, since essentially every action would be based on faith.

B. Prokop said...

"Again, we ALWAYS act on the probabilities. Or, you can provide just one example of a sane person who did not."

Here's an example of a sane person who did not: Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, American commander of the fleet off Samar Island, October 25, 1944. Surprised by a Japanese force with at least 10 times his firepower, he elected to fight despite the odds of success being near zero. Thanks to superior seamanship and some damn fine decision-making, he won.

He had faith in his cause.

Crude said...

Speculating about what Einstein would think of Gnu Atheism is a fool's errand.

The quote I provided illustrates that his views at the time were completely incompatible with that of the Gnus.

No wonder he had little patience for atheists. ;)

cl said...

@Bob,

Good retort. I'd bet that even John, Captain of a winning APA 8-ball team, takes an occasional shot he doesn't think he can make. ;)

So his "ALWAYS" remark kinda misses the mark.

Eric said...

"Loftus is saying that..."

Hi Cautiouslycurious

You quoted my question, but did not actually respond to it. I know what John is saying; I'm asking for a *specific* example, which I think will help illustrate my point.

"As a side note, I think the definition of faith you proposed trivializes the word, since essentially every action would be based on faith."

I already addressed this. But to make the point clearer, it no more 'trivializes' faith than it does to say that every action, from washing the dishes to saving someone's life, trivializes the notion of 'action,' or in the sense that every act of trust, from trusting your waiter to trusting your spouse, trivializes the notion of trust by comprising them all. I'm writing a blog post right now, not a great literary work, or an important political speech; yet in each case we're talking about 'writing.' My blog post no more trivializes Shakespeare by being like his works a piece of writing than the faith one has in driving from A to B trivializes the religious faith of a saint.

Crude said...

So, Eric's gotten John to admit that, if Christians simply believe that if X is likely (X being God's existence, the truth of Christianity, etc), then to believe in X is not faith according to John's definition of the term. That alone puts John in the position of giving away the game in a massive way - suddenly his war against an idiosyncratic definition of faith comes across as pointless, since it's not clear his definition fundamentally applies to Christianity at all. Couple this with the fact that John has yet to show *by his own standards* that his definition of faith is accurate and you get an idea of how poor of a position he's in here.

I'd also note that John admonishes us to 'think exclusively in terms of probabilities'. I should hope he makes an obvious exception for axioms or foundations of reasoning - otherwise his claim doesn't get off the ground to begin with, even detached from its other problems outlined.

But, I'll also note one more mistake John's made. He says:

We simply misjudge the probabilities, that's all. Faith has nothing to do with this process at all. Faith is what causes us to misjudge the probabilities, and as such, is a virus that needs eradicated from us.

Woah, wait a second here. Here's John earlier:

With faith (in the sense that it goes beyond the probabilities) anything can be believed.

&&

By my lights faith adds nothing to the probabilities. We should think exclusively in terms of the probabilities.

There's a contradiction at work there.

On the one hand, John says that faith is believing beyond the probabilities. Faith adds nothing to the probabilities.

Then, John says that faith results in the wrong probabilities being assigned. So apparently faith does add something to the probabilities, and that's the problem.

Well, which one is it?

B. Prokop said...

"Well, which one is it?"

Crude, remember that John engages in the "Heads I win, tails you lose" school of argument. So which one is it? Answer: whichever one suits John for the moment. (It will be the other one when necessary.)

Victor Reppert said...

How in blazes do you calculate probabilities. Probability theory tells you how you get from a prior probability to a posterior probability. What it does not tell you is what prior probabilities are correct. Hence I can begin with a probability of 1 for the Resurrection and end up with a probability of 1 for the resurrection. Ditto for a probability of zero. So telling me to think exculsively in terms of probabilities tells me squat. Probability theory does tell you how, given enough evidence and a small enough split between probabilities, we can come to an agreement about whether something is true or not.

cautiouslycurious said...

Eric,
"You quoted my question, but did not actually respond to it. I know what John is saying; I'm asking for a *specific* example, which I think will help illustrate my point."

Take any hand of poker, layout in billiards, etc. and you will have several options to you with varying degrees of success. In Cl's example, it may be playing the probabilities to take a low percentage shot, other times it would be irrational to do so. It all depends on which combination of events secures the largest probability of winning. Perhaps you could explain the faith element in taking a small percentage shot in billiards?

cl said...

I third that.

Usually, when I hear atheists wax poetic about "probability," they're really using it as a handy euphemism for "preferability." After all, it's a well-known fact that the "probability" of us being here to even have this discussion is near negligible, yet, atheists exist. "Probability, probability!" they cry out one side of their mouth, while fully showing disrespect for the very concept they pay such homage to.

cl said...

Well, now that Crude seems to have deleted his comment which "seconded" Eric's request, my "I third that" will make little sense. :)

Crude said...

Scrapped the reply cl was responding to - misunderstanding on my part. But again:

Provide me with a specific act, provide me with the probability of success, and provide me with an example of how to act to realize that goal that is perfectly in line with the probabilities, and that does not involve trust or commitment beyond the probabilities.

I'll second Eric's request. Should be interesting to see, and I don't see anyone providing what he's asking for on his terms.

John W. Loftus said...

I cannot keep up, sorry.

Let me just respond to Vic's question and see if I have time for others. How do we calculate the probabilities? In science it's easy. In life it can be hard. But we SHOULD do it if we want to achieve success in knowledge and in life.

When playing pool I do take a low percentage shot on a ball if I know that if I miss that shot I will not leave my opponent with a good one at a a minimum. It's called a "two-way" or a "miss or make" shot. And pool players do that a number of times in a match. It's what makes average shot makers very good a winning games. But the probabilities are still there. It's probable than not over-all that I will either miss the shot and leave my opponent bad, or I will make the shot and leave myself good.

In the case of gambling I will place bets that have a low percentage of winning if the pot odds make it worth it. This is always a good bet. Place a number of small bets based on low percentage odds and you will win more more over-all. It's actually guaranteed.

cl said...

Thanks for continuing, John.

"In the case of gambling I will place bets that have a low percentage of winning if the pot odds make it worth it."

Then, by that metric, you ought to repent and rededicate your life to Christ tonight. According to you, the truth of Christ is "low probability," but only a fool would deny that the pot odds are worth it.

So what's stopping you?

John W. Loftus said...

Ahhh, I just read through some of the comments. I really don't think believers can comprehend what I'm saying. They are not even trying. They can't. It won't be until they reject faith that it'll be possible. But if and when that happens it will be crystal clear.

Take once again Vic's question. You see he's not addressing the issue I raise. I said we should think in exclusively in terms of probabilities, and his response is to question how we can do this, not whether we should try.

When it comes to gods and goddesses, virgins births, miraculous cures, Demi-gods or incarnate gods who walk the earth, people who claim to be resurrected from the dead, and the like, my argument is that we should treat all of these claims with the same standard, as non-believers. Not to do so falls prey to what Stephen Law argues, not to do so is to apply a double standard, a hypocritical standard. Not to do so allows one's cognitive biases to run a muck.

Ahhhh, but we've gone over this before and this test for faith of mine has surely been shown wrong, right? Philosophers, biblical scholars, scientists and psychologists have all agreed that it isn't worth the bluster, right?

Right.


Then GK Chesterton's book based on it should be trashed too.

John W. Loftus said...

cl, the many gods objection to Pascal's Wager defending his Catholic faith at the time destroys the force of his Wager. Which god, which religion should we wager for? It only works if there is one true faith and non-belief. So, which faith is the true one?

Eric said...

"Perhaps you could explain the faith element in taking a small percentage shot in billiards?"

When you take the shot, you commit to it fully, even though the probability that it will succeed is not 1 (though it might be the shot you'll most probably make). The shot may succeed, or it may fail, and you can't be sure which will obtain -- yet still, you take the shot. Indeed, you commit to it 'as much' as you would if you were almost certain to make it. (Note, I'd distinguish committing to an act by acting from the level of effort/concentration you put into an act.) You can talk about the probability that a certain act will succeed, but I can't make sense of the notion of acting *in accord* with that probability that does not involve *committing* to an act in a way that goes *beyond* the probabilities. When you commit to the shot, or to the hand, or whatever, you commit -- you act, even though your chance of succeeding is less than 1. But in that sense, you have, it seems to me, acted in a way that goes beyond the probabilities.

Now it may be the case that this is the nature of human action, as John suggests, but as far as I can see this makes my point, not his. If the nature of human action involves acting in a way that goes beyond the probabilities then it can't be true that we should always act in accord with the probabilities.

I want to be clear here, though: I'm not saying that if we're faced with, say, three options to achieve some outcome, we shouldn't go with the course of action to which we can assign the highest probability of success. Of course we should, to the extent that we can determine such things. This is John's point, as I understand it, and I agree with him. But it's not the whole story, because after that assessment, we have to choose and we have to act, and by choosing and acting we're necessarily going beyond the probabilities by committing to a particular course of action to achieve an outcome, the probability of the success of which is less than 1.

Crude said...

It won't be until they reject faith that it'll be possible.

Pretty much everyone in this faith rejects faith as you've so far defined it - even Bob would have to now that you've defined 'pursuing a goal with extremely low odds' as not necessarily being an act of faith.

And yet here we are, remaining theists and Christians. So where did you go wrong?

Take once again Vic's question. You see he's not addressing the issue I raise. I said we should think in exclusively in terms of probabilities, and his response is to question how we can do this, not whether we should try.

Er, he's addressing the issue you raise. You said 'we should think exclusively in terms of probabilities'. He asked how this is possible, and how you set your initial probabilities. I asked you as well - how do you 'think in terms of probabilities' with regards to your axioms or foundational beliefs? I left an obvious out for you - we can't 'think exclusively in terms of probabilities' when it comes to choosing our axioms or starting beliefs. Or are you going to somehow make the move where axioms should only be chosen based on probabilities you estimate?

Then GK Chesterton's book based on it should be trashed too.

Chesterton didn't make the mistakes you did with regards to the Outsider test as you propose it. As has been said before, what's worthwhile of it isn't original, what's original with it isn't worthwhile.

Meanwhile, you've failed to defend your definition of faith on its own terms, contradicted yourself about the effects of faith, refuse to clarify regarding how you ascertain initial beliefs, and have accidentally lended support to Pascal's Wager.

cl, the many gods objection to Pascal's Wager defending his Catholic faith at the time destroys the force of his Wager. Which god, which religion should we wager for? It only works if there is one true faith and non-belief. So, which faith is the true one?

If the force of the wager is merely reduced to 'There are multiple gods, and I can't tell if any of them is more likely to exist than the rest', then you've still destroyed your argument: the result becomes 'worshiping any god is preferable to atheism'.

If, however, the stipulation becomes 'some claims of gods or religion are more credible than others', then you've already put Christianity back in the running pending an evaluation of the evidence.

So, John, which religion will you be subscribing to? Given that your gambling analogy supports Pascal's wager, while at the same time makes it so accepting Pascal's Wager is absolutely not an act of faith as you define it? And I say this as someone who is pretty damn leery of Pascal's Wager. ;)

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, when I take a shot in pool I try as best as I can to take the most probable one for achieving my over-all goal, winning the game. Now I cannot win the game without committing everything I can to make that shot. So I do, or at least as best as I can given that pool like golf or other sports are mental games. Distractions abound. So what's his commitment thing? If I don't commit I will have less of a chance at making the shot. It's that simple. The reason is because I am part of the odds. That is, I must calculate the odds for which shot to make and then I must also commit my all to making it. By committing my all to making it I increase the odds of making it. It's that simple. Again, I am part of the odds. I can calculate the odds for a shot and them not commit myself to it, but then if I factor both into my equations it's only when I do both accurately I have the best odds for making the best shot in hopes of winning the game.

Now, what you must do is tell me why it is that committing yourself to the resurrection of Jesus increases the odds that he arose from the dead. You can't. because you are not part of those odds. There is nothing you can do or hope for that will change the past. He either arose form the dead or he did not.

Being part of the odds changes the odds.

Are you trying, really trying?

cl said...

John,

Thanks for at least being willing to talk. I mean that.

I deleted my first comment when I saw that you responded, but I see it might still have some value, so I'll repeat it, then address your newer remarks about the Wager. Here's an argument showing that you should believe in some form of theism with good pot odds:

1) I will place bets that have a low percentage of winning if the pot odds make it worth it;

2) Theism has a low percentage of being true;

3) The pot odds are worth it;

4) I should believe.

4 is an undeniable conclusion from 1-3. You can't deny 1 or 2, as you're on record affirming them. Now, addressing the Wager, you ask,

"Which god, which religion should we wager for?"

Certainly not atheism! There isn't any pot to win! You see, if you're an atheist, you can't honestly offer the "many gods" retort to the Wager. An honest person using that retort would have to pick the form of theism that has the best pot odds and run with it, but you're not doing that. You're betting against them all, despite the fact that the pot odds are low if you're right.

Nonetheless, I'd say you should wager for the religion with the highest pot odds and the most negative consequences of disbelief, combined. Can you think of a religion that fits that bill better than Christianity?

cl said...

John,

"He either arose form the dead or he did not."

I agree, and this, too, is problematic for you: recalling the miraculous nature of the claim, we don't have a "low percentage" situation here, we have a 50/50 situation.

Eric said...

As I see it, the faith element comes into play once you trust and commit to something. The intellectual assent comes first, and it may be a necessary condition of trust and commitment, but it's not a sufficient condition. (James 2:19"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." ) And since trust and commitment do not preclude trusting and committing on the basis of evidence (we can meaningfully say that a man has solid reasons to trust his wife, and hence to commit his life to her), faith does not preclude evidence, and thus isn't necessarily blind. It can be blind, as I said -- I can trust someone and commit myself to him/her for no reasons at all, but it's not *necessarily* blind, and *that's* the point at issue. So the notion of 'blind faith' is not redundant; but from this it follows that John's New Atheist take on faith falls flat.

Crude said...

Now, what you must do is tell me why it is that committing yourself to the resurrection of Jesus increases the odds that he arose from the dead.

No one claimed this... anywhere.

However, what axioms and initial probabilities you start with, according to Victor, may determine how you evaluate the odds of Christ's resurrection. So in that sense, yes, you are "part of those odds".

Meanwhile, Eric's point was that (and this holds whether or not you are 'part of the odds'), you're still committing to an act for which you have less than 100% chance of success. In the case of belief, even recognizing you may well be wrong about a given belief - even if you evaluate the odds of your belief as the most likely true candidate - you're still committing yourself to 'acting as if that belief is true'.

John W. Loftus said...

Look cl, if Pascal's Wager has any force at all to it then this is hat it should look like, from the very beginning.

John W. Loftus said...

Crude, we act on less than 100% odds all of the time. There are no certainties. Why is this so hard to understand? Probabilities are just that, probabilities.

I hate proving I'm not a robot, but here we go in order to comment. ;-)

Crude said...

John,

First, your link is a dodge. Call God unfair if you want, but God's fairness - or even His being likeable - has nothing to do with the gambling point you made. The payoff is tremendous - that's not in dispute, for multiple religions. You've opened the door to the wager here. Why aren't you taking it? Why aren't you picking some god or religion - whichever one seems the most credible, and which has the best pot reward?

Are you suddenly failing to think in terms of probabilities on this one?

Second, according to some religions (mormonism comes to mind, or some forms of Platonism) we pre-exist our life on earth - so your very possibility ('I want to choose whether to be born on earth!') is live. You could have done so, and merely forgot.

So, there you are - you've already got a front runner for the belief you think is quite worthy, by your own standards. Mormonism.

Crude, we act on less than 100% odds all of the time. There are no certainties. Why is this so hard to understand? Probabilities are just that, probabilities.

I understand it perfectly, John. Do you understand the faith component of acting on probabilities, as Eric has explained it?

Still waiting for you to defend your definition of faith according to your own standards in this thread, and your decision to either admit axioms are not subject to probability estimations, or explaining how you use probabilities to determine your axioms. :)

cl said...

John,

It's too bad you don't want to address what I wrote. Nonetheless, I'll address what you wrote:

"Why didn't we get a choice in whether or not we would be born on earth? Wouldn't the reasonably good thing to do is to create us and then ask us if we would want to be born knowing the risks involved?"

You don't know that you didn't get such a choice before birth. You simply assume you didn't.

"God could have presented us with an informed choice to either be born or to be put out of existence forever, with heaven up for grabs if we wanted to take the risk."

This is exactly the choice you have been presented with, right now: you can either believe and take heaven, or be put out of existence forever. What difference does it make whether you get the choice now or then?

"And yet here I am without any choice in the matter who apparently will be condemned to hell."

That's false. You have the choice.

Also, recall that your response to the wager is inconsistent with your atheism. I'd like to see you address that.

Eric said...

"If I don't commit I will have less of a chance at making the shot...Now, what you must do is tell me why it is that committing yourself to the resurrection of Jesus increases the odds that he arose from the dead. You can't."

No, this shows that you've fundamentally misunderstood my point. You're conflating 'commitment' with 'effort,' something I distinguished above. The commitment is involved in acting itself, regardless of the effort involved. When you act, you commit yourself, and your commitment in acting cannot be meaningfully said to accord with the probabilities (though your choice about which act to take can).

The whole point of my argument is that you're misconstruing faith on a fundamental level when you require it to "add to the probabilities." That's not what it does, by its very nature. My chance of surviving the drive from Massachusetts to New York may be .99, but but if I'm to make the drive, I have to get into the car and go -- I have to commit myself fully to the action. I have no idea what committing myself .99 to the drive could even mean. But then I've moved beyond the probabilities in committing to the drive.

To be clear: I agree with you that we all do, to the extent that we can, assess the probabilities when we evaluate claims, courses of action, etc. But what I'm saying is that this is far from the whole story, while you seem to mistakenly suppose that it is. Once you've made your assessment, you have to choose, and you have to act (even if the choice is inaction), and in doing so, you must commit yourself *by* acting (again, regardless of the effort involved). And once you commit yourself to an act, you've necessarily moved beyond the probabilities, since either you act or you don't, and you trust as well, since the outcome of your action is uncertain (though it may be probable).

As I said earlier, even if this means that faith is involved in all human action, it no more trivializes religious faith than the fact that both my blog post here and Shakespeare's King Lear are both instances of writing trivializes King Lear.

John W. Loftus said...

The point is about the things we cannot change by hoping or wishing they were true. We cannot change these things. They are not the kinds of things that by committing to them we can make them true. I can, however, change the odds by hoping or wishing for things that I am a part of, like making a good shot in pool, or winning the affections or a woman so she'll become my wife. People become great because they hoped for great things. That's because optimism, or hopeful wishful thinking increases the odds when the person doing the hoping is part of the odds. One might still never achieve her goals of being a famous movie star even with optimism. But without it she never could be one at all. And doing so might get her farther in life than by not doing so.

But again, we are talking about committing to some idea such as a resurrection of Jesus that we cannot change no matter how much we're committed to that idea. that's absurd, irrational, and quite frankly blind.

cautiouslycurious said...

Eric,
“But it's not the whole story, because after that assessment, we have to choose and we have to act, and by choosing and acting we're necessarily going beyond the probabilities by committing to a particular course of action to achieve an outcome, the probability of the success of which is less than 1.”

This doesn’t make sense to me. If I commit to a particular course of action that has a probabilistic outcome, where is the faith element? I may not even expect the positive outcome to occur. In fact, sometimes I will expect to fail. It all depends on what the probability for success or failure is. So, we commit, and that is or that requires faith? How? If I expect to fail, how does it require faith to commit?

"Provide me with a specific act, provide me with the probability of success, and provide me with an example of how to act to realize that goal that is perfectly in line with the probabilities, and that does not involve trust or commitment beyond the probabilities."

Heads up Texas Hold'em, you have KK, board is K73 rainbow, you have $10, opponent has $10, $10 in the pot. Opponent has bet $10 and you can either call or fold. You have at least a 94.13 chance of winning (worst case scenario). You are getting 2:1 pot odds so you should call if you have at least a 33.33 chance of winning. Hence, based on probability, you should call.

Now, you can even craft examples of where you are behind in the hand and nonetheless should call. For example, same situation except that the cards are now that you have 8C 9C and the board is 10C 7C and AD. You have at least a 36.26 chance of winning (worst case scenario), you still have the same pot odds, so you should call.

If you want a billiards example, here you go (for those not familiar with rotation, based on the rules of the game, the ball that he made is the only ball he can legally contact first): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWRAfZ25JRU

He analyzed his options and went with the highest percentage shot he could find. The shots he could choose from are constrained by the laws of physics. It's hard to tell from the video, but it looks like the balls are obstructing the path from the long rail even if he loaded the cue ball with right-hand English. This only leaves the short rail. Right or no English wouldn't even get the cue ball close to the object ball. His only option is to load it up with left hand English. He knows the path of the cue ball from years of statistical trials (i.e. practice) and chose the one with the highest chance of making contact.

Crude said...

I can, however, change the odds by hoping or wishing for things that I am a part of, like making a good shot in pool, or winning the affections or a woman so she'll become my wife.

Or, in Pascal's Wager, committing yourself to some religion or god - any religion or god - and seeking to cultivate a sincere belief. Which, if the payoff is good enough, outstrips low probabilities and thus becomes rational by your own stated standard.

But again, we are talking about committing to some idea such as a resurrection of Jesus that we cannot change no matter how much we're committed to that idea.

No one in this thread - absolutely no one - has said that believing that Christ was resurrected makes it more likely to be true. The closest thing that has been said is that, if our prior probabilities are in such and such a way as opposed to some other way, our estimation of the probability of Christ having been raised will change as a result.

You're either trying to misrepresent people's views here (very bad idea, since you are literally misrepresenting every theist's views in this thread - it's easy to spot), or you are fundamentally misunderstanding what's being said - and it's not a very difficult concept to grasp.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, people do not commit their all to something very often at all. That's a misnomer. A lot of average pool players do not do the requite work to be good at the game because they don't practice, and even if they do they don't do it right. There are a lot of bad drivers, a lot of bad swimmers, a lot of bad theologians. What are you talking about here, one singe act, that in driving a car one must be committed to driving it with everything they've got or something? That's a misnomer. If someone is fully committed to something they will become experts at it.

cl said...

NOTE: "or be put out of existence forever" only applies if annihilationism is true, but that's just a technicality. Everything else I've said still applies.

John W. Loftus said...

cautiouslycurious, yes Texas Hold'em and Efren Reyes, great examples. I hope everyone watches that amazing shot of his!

Eric said...

"The point is about the things we cannot change by hoping or wishing they were true. We cannot change these things. They are not the kinds of things that by committing to them we can make them true. I can, however, change the odds by hoping or wishing for things that I am a part of, like making a good shot in pool, or winning the affections or a woman so she'll become my wife."

This is all true, but it's not at all relevant to the point I'm making.

First, no one says that faith makes false things true, or that it increases the probability that something is true.

Second, while yes, you can change the odds that you'll achieve some outcome by hoping or wishing for it, the probability that you'll achieve it will still be less than 1 in almost every case, *yet still you must act, and to act you must commit to acting, and place your trust in something or someone*. And when you act, though your hopes may have increased the probability of your success, you still go beyond the probabilities by acting. You chose what to do in accord with the probabilities, and you increased the probability of success by hoping, desiring, extra effort, etc. but when you *act* you make a commitment, and that cannot meaningfully be said to be in accord with the probabilities. As I said, what does it mean to commit .999 when getting in your car and driving from MA to NY? The probability that you'll make it alive may be .999, but you either get in your car and drive there or you don't; it's senseless to talk about committing to the drive .999.

John W. Loftus said...

C'ya.

cl said...

I was just about to come on and advise everybody not to waste their time any further. You can tell once John's stuck his head in the sand. For example, his entire comment October 28, 2012 5:41 PM is non-sequitur.

The god of this world blinds the minds of unbelievers. It's as simple as that. In cases such as these, logic is futile. Countless interactions with John have proven this point.

If anyone truly cares about this man, take your cares to prayer. It is the only force that can demolish these types of strongholds.

Eric said...

"Eric, people do not commit their all to something very often at all."

But I've said repeatedly that that's not what I'm talking about! I'm talking about committing to any act irrespective of the effort, concentration, etc. involved.

The person who puts little effort into achieving an outcome is less likely to succeed than someone who puts more effort into it, ceteris paribus. We both agree here. But *both* of them must still *act*, and every deliberate act involves a commitment, whatever the effort involved. Let's say that without effort, the probability that Jones will succeed is .7, while with effort, it's .9. *He still acts either way*, and by acting he commits himself and thus goes beyond the probabilities.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, we base our actions on the probabilities. We cannot rationally do otherwise. Sometimes we wish for success, other times we want respect, still other times we want to be happy.

We act on them. We do not need for them to represent a 100% chance of achieving our goals. And we cannot commit ourselves to jumping in a lake with only a 50% commitment. We either jumping in or we don't. But if we wish to swim then we must either throw all of us in the water or not. This does not represent being fully committed unless we want to be experts at swimming because we cannot do anything else.

This is madness to me, sheer madness. And it does not have a whit to do with believing a demi-god walked the earth.

Crude said...

Eric,

Just to encourage you - I get what you're saying. John's weird riff about 'believing something doesn't make it more likely to be true!' is just plain odd, no one has said that here.

We either act or we do not act. If I get on a plane to Chicago, I can't "90% get on the plane". If I believe some act only has a 20% chance of success, but I also believe it's my best chance of success, I can't "do it 20%". I commit. Even if I don't believe the 20% chance will succeed, I'm still performing an act - and also acting as if my success were a live option.

Crude said...

This is madness to me, sheer madness. And it does not have a whit to do with believing a demi-god walked the earth.

God, not demi-god. And the only madness here is being displayed by you. Does Eric really need to point out again that when he says 'fully committed' he's not talking about 'dedicating a lifetime of effort and practice to the act', but merely 'performing the act in question'?

At least try to understand what people are saying here. If you don't make a sincere effort to comprehend the mistakes people are pointing out in your reasoning, you're not going to be able to adjust your probabilities as needed.

Eric said...

"If I get on a plane to Chicago, I can't "90% get on the plane". If I believe some act only has a 20% chance of success, but I also believe it's my best chance of success, I can't "do it 20%". I commit. Even if I don't believe the 20% chance will succeed, I'm still performing an act - and also acting as if my success were a live option."

Exactly!

I mean, there certainly may be a falw in what I'm saying -- I'm not pretending to have thought it through fully -- but if there is, it has nothing at all to do with 'using' faith to increase the probability that something is true.

Crude said...

I mean, there certainly may be a falw in what I'm saying -- I'm not pretending to have thought it through fully -- but if there is, it has nothing at all to do with 'using' faith to increase the probability that something is true.

I honestly have no idea where anyone is getting the 'having faith in X means that you've made it more likely that X is true' claim. That's being pulled out of thin air, and sounds a lot more like something pulled out of the what the bleep video.

The closest John has come for explaining this is taking a single bible quote - the bit about 'if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains' - and radically interpreting that to mean that 'this means faith changes odds, because moving a mountain is a low probability event!'. But he A) admits that the passage is meant to be taken metaphorically, and B) comes to that reading by some bizarre, idiosyncratic way, while C) he wreaked havoc on his own point by saying, in this thread, that faith/belief in acts that involve oneself and a future act can change the probabilities anyway.

It's freaking bizarre.

Victor Reppert said...

John: I am quite frankly prepared to admit that, given your definition of faith, I have no faith.

Damaging admission? Not.

B. Prokop said...

Not a bad comment, Victor. I don't have what John defines as faith either.

I stand by what I posted to this thread at 5:51 AM (that must be MDT, 'cause I certainly wasn't up that early today!). Christ calls for "all your mind" in following Him. doesn't sound like "blind faith" to me.

Crude said...

I think John is going to have trouble finding someone who does subscribe to his view of faith. Not even Kierkegaard would qualify, I think.

People who strongly believed something that turned out to be false wouldn't qualify - they'd just have their estimation of the probabilities wrong, or just got unlucky.

People who believed that they received the outcome they did due to faith or a lack of faith wouldn't believe their faith changed results on its own - they'd believe that their actions or beliefs were being rewarded/punished, and it would be the person doling out the rewards or punishments that were operative, not their faith. (To use a mundane example, if monarch X decides to reward citizen Z for his faith in him.)

The closest you could get, perhaps, is maintaining a given belief despite some doubts - but that's A) not exclusive to Christians anyway, B) not necessarily irrational, since doubts are not necessarily rational, C) has nothing to do with 'making something more likely to be true/your belief making it more likely such and such is true or false'. To use a Star Wars example, towards the end, Anakin has doubts about Amidala's loyalty to him. Having faith in Amidala would have meant discarding irrational doubts (shades of CS Lewis here), and it certainly wouldn't have meant that if Amidala were disloyal in the past, Anakin's faith would somehow change the past.

To use another example, Christopher Hitchens talked about the possibility that he'd have a deathbed conversion or such, and how he was on guard against that. Now, that would have meant Hitchens was fighting against doubts or potential doubts in his atheism. Was it irrational for Hitch to fight against doubts?

(Actually, quite possibly, by John's estimation - given his gambling views.)

cautiouslycurious said...

Crude,
“To use another example, Christopher Hitchens talked about the possibility that he'd have a deathbed conversion or such, and how he was on guard against that. Now, that would have meant Hitchens was fighting against doubts or potential doubts in his atheism. Was it irrational for Hitch to fight against doubts?”

Care to source this? I don’t recall him saying that he has had any doubts. I think the closest he said was something to the effect that if he were to change his mind, it would be evidence for him being in a less than rational state rather than it being a rational decision.

“I think John is going to have trouble finding someone who does subscribe to his view of faith. Not even Kierkegaard would qualify, I think.

People who strongly believed something that turned out to be false wouldn't qualify - they'd just have their estimation of the probabilities wrong, or just got unlucky.”

William Lane Craig would qualify. Here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALj8-L9VJf8

He admits that if the evidence turns away from theism, you should still believe and have faith that the evidence will eventually turn back in its favor when you acquire more data. This is beyond mere misestimating since he acknowledged that he was going beyond his analysis of the evidence.

B. Prokop said...

I also remember reading about Hitchens' fears of a deathbed conversion, but for the life of me can't remember where. Possibly was on The Atlantic online, but I wouldn't swear to it.

cautiouslycurious said...

Found it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIOdPWYUDOs

Basically he says if he does, it would because he is half-demented, due to drugs or pain. That if he does, it would be because he wouldn't be lucid. Doesn't sound like he had doubts about his beliefs to me.

John W. Loftus said...

Nice admission about faith Vic, but I do think it's a damaging admission

Eric said...

"My definition of faith is that it's a leap over the probabilities. It fills in the gap between what is improbable to make something more probable than not without faith. As such, faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities."

Suppose I said, "My definition of a lack of faith is the pretense that action in accord with the probabilities is possible. It's possible to choose to act or to believe in accord with the probabilities, but not to act or to believe in accord with the probabilities, since all action and belief involves commitment and trust that moves beyond the probabilities. Hence, a lack of faith is necessarily either delusional or irrational." Now suppose I confidently claim that this conception of a lack of faith accurately describes you and every other atheist/agnostic/skeptic, and further, that this is what it *means* to lack faith. What then?

I could defend my claim as well as you can defend yours -- actually, I could defend it better than you can defend yours, since yours is manifestly inconsistent with the dominant streams of an entire theological and philosophical tradition. What would I gain by intransigently insisting on maintaining a Procrustean fit between your actual lack of faith and what I understand a lack of faith to be?

"What Reppert is saying is that he doesn't have faith that leaps over any probabilities. He doesn't have faith, the only kind that exists among believers of all stripes and sects."

It's certainly not "the only kind that exists among believers of all stripes and sects." In this very thread I've proposed an alternative conception of faith that is not only logically consistent, but that is consistent with the dominant theological, philosophical and Biblical Christian traditions.

"His is a reasoned conclusion that all reasonable people should accept."

That doesn't follow at all. Presumably you hold reasoned political conclusions; if you're consistent, then you've reached them by assessing the probabilities. Do you think that there's no room for rational disagreement as far as your political positions are concerned? I hope not! But then neither must Victor be committed to the notion that there's no room for rational disagreement as far as his religious conclusions are concerned, even if he claims to have reached them rationally by assessing their probabilities.

"He thinks that in the end, when pressed, he should think exclusively in terms of probabilities after all!"

This doesn't follow from what he said either. And even if it did, he's made it clear that the two of you have very different ideas of what it means to think in terms of the probabilities!

"Once again folks, this is the kind of intellectual gerrymandering we expect from believers. When pressed against the wall they will say anything to get out of any problem that calls into question their faith."

This isn't accurate at all, and it certainly isn't fair. What this does show, however, is that you're incorrigibly committed to a conception of faith that neither accords with the acceptation of the term in the Christian tradition nor with the practice of faith among Christians who understand the theology, history and philosophy of their Christian faith.



Victor Reppert said...

Definitional (anti) apologetics at its finest.

GearHedEd said...

Eric,

Tradition is no indicator of veracity.

Eric said...

"Tradition is no indicator of veracity."

But it is an indication of *meaning* -- of consistency of meaning -- which is a large part of what the discussion is about.

And I hope you noted that I didn't rest my entire argument on 'tradition'; rather, it was an ancillary argument in my overall case against John's position.

GearHedEd said...

Eric,

As an "ancillary argument" (or any kind of argument), it fails and should not be appealed to in support of your position.

Tradition does not point to "truth".

Eric said...

As usual, Ed, you've missed the point *completely*.

If the issue is, "What does community X mean by the term 'faith'?" then the theological, historical and philosophical tradition concerning the use of this term does indeed point to the 'truth' of the question at issue. But as I said, that was far from the main argument I used to support my position. For some reason, you haven't bothered to address my main arguments.

Besides that, I aver that what you mean by claiming that you lack faith is that you pretend that you can act in accord with the probabilities when you know that you can't. I put it to you, where does this sort of nonsense get us? John has some interesting arguments, and he makes some powerful points, but in this issue, his position is frankly ridiculous.

Eric said...

John (from a recent blog post at DC titled "Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?"): "If Vic wishes to claim that what he believes is more probable than not overall, then he should think exclusively in terms of probabilities, eschew all faith, and openly embrace the only non-hypocritical standard for evaluating religious faith, including his own faith, in the Outsider Test. But he refuses."

This is very frustrating. It should read,

"If Vic wishes to claim that what he believes is more probable than not overall, then he should think exclusively in terms of probabilities [insofar as one can when evaluating the likely truth or falsity of given premises], eschew [faith as I define it], and openly embrace the only non-hypocritical standard for evaluating religious faith, including his own faith, [which is to evaluate it according to the standard rational norms he uses to evaluate all truth claims]. But he refuses."

He *does* eschew faith as John defines it, and he does embrace the notion that truth claims should be evaluated according to standard rational norms.