Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dawkins fails the defeasability test

Here.  Matt McCormick's Defeasibility test is here.

47 comments:

planks length said...

I posted the following comment to this subject over at Matt McCormick's website:

As to any believer being required to worry about there being other faiths than his own, I do not see why that has to be a problem. After all, atheists cheerfully assert (in fact, they insist) that they themselves follow no dogma, have no official spokespersons, and are quite varied in their own beliefs. There are Ayn Randian Objectivist atheists and Marxist Communist atheists, yet both are atheists. If an atheist is untroubled by there being other forms of atheism, why on Earth should a Catholic (for instance) be intellectually troubled by the existence of, say, Hinduism? After all, what's sauce for the goose...

As for the Defeasibility Test (spoiler alert: I am a believing Catholic), I'll drop my faith like a hot potato once someone proves to me that Christ did not rise from the dead. No allegorical or "spiritual" interpretations for this Christian - it's literal Resurrection, or nothing.

And yes, I've examined carefully (and I think objectively) every argument I've been presented with against the historical reality of the Resurrection, and have yet to come across one that holds up to scrutiny. Most of them are predicated by a going-in assumption (either spoken or unspoken) that the event is impossible. Sorry, but that is classic question begging. The issue at stake here is not could it have happened, but did it.

David Brightly said...

If we come to these discussions not to persuade the other fellow that he's wrong, but as I suspect, to test the metal of our own beliefs against the best evidence and argument put forward by others, then what does it matter that the other fellow is intransigent?

planks length said...

Half of a good point there, David. I agree that testing one's own beliefs is a great idea, and much to be recommended. The problem, however, in dealing with an intransigent person, is that either

a. his arguments are weak, since he is not testing them against himself (example: Ken Ham), or

b. his presentation is off-putting, and it becomes difficult to focus on his argument (example: John Loftus).

That said, I regard the "Defeasability Test" to be a rather good idea. You'll note I gave an answer to it in my first comment. (The first paragraph was about an absurd double standard McCormick was holding over on his own site.)

David Brightly said...

Are you saying, Planks, that every intransigent has either weak arguments or off-putting presentation? I don't think that can be right. And in any case, if the purpose is to test one's own beliefs, why bother with weak or ill-focused opposing arguments? It's a waste of time.

planks length said...

Not in every case, but as a general rule intransigence weakens one's own mental processes, and therefore his arguments. Regarding your position as unassailable is like the French in the Maginot Line in 1940. Your opponent will just go round your defenses, and you've surrendered all maneuverability from the get-go.

But asking yourself "What would it take to get me to change my mind?" improves your situation in two ways:

a. You may actually change your mind, if you find out all by yourself that something you believe in is untenable, and

b. You strengthen what's left by sizing it up against potential objections and answering them.

David Brightly said...

I'm not saying it's a good idea to be intransigent oneself---that one should develop an intellectual suit of armour, as it were. Just that having an intransigent opponent can be useful, provided the intransigency arises from possession of good arguments, especially good criticism of one's own position.

im-skeptical said...

It's pretty amusing that theists decry the intransigence of someone who is convinced by the evidence he has already seen. They themselves are no less intransigent, but lacking the evidence.

planks length said...

im-skeptical,

As much as I hate engaging in the "So's yer mother!" sort of dialog on the internet, it's actually pretty intransigent for you to claim theists are "lacking the evidence" when not so long ago, we had a long conversation on this very website about the evidence. It stretched out over multiple topics and hundreds of comments. And yet you still intransigently say there's no evidence.

Recall what I said in those comments - just because it doesn't convince you, doesn't make it not evidence. The O.J. jury saw plenty of evidence, but they still acquitted the S.O.B.

planks length said...

HERE is a link to an article which is mostly about another subject entirely, but nevertheless has some very good things (in the second half) to say about evidence. Im-skeptical, you really need to read and understand what is said there.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

First of all, I still disagree with Lowder on what constitutes evidence. An argument is not evidence, no matter how logical. It must be backed up by fact in order to have any sway. Otherwise, it's not worth the paper it's written on.

"Christianity is grounded in evidence, its claims completely beholden to historical verification."

Show me the historical evidence for the gospels' claims of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the resurrection - apart from the gospels themselves.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. ... he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

That's nice, but show me some objective evidence, not just hearsay.

"Nothing stands “nicely on its own,” least of all “the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.”"

Those are not Christian documents, and the driving force for their authorship was the age of enlightenment that fostered secularism. I don't deny the influence of Christianity in our heritage and our culture, but the greatest achievement of the enlightenment was to break the bonds of religious thinking.

So what other "evidence" do you have?

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

First of all, I still disagree with Lowder on what constitutes evidence. An argument is not evidence, no matter how logical. It must be backed up by fact in order to have any sway. Otherwise, it's not worth the paper it's written on.

WTF?!?

1. Why is my name being brought up in this thread at all?

2. What statement of mine could you possibly have in mind to support the claim that *I* believe an argument constitutes evidence?

im-skeptical said...

Jeffery,

I'm sorry if I misinterpreted your remarks of Feb 14. They seemed to indicate that you believe a logical argument is a form of evidence. Also, you discuss what you call weak evidence - which I take to mean things like hearsay. But hearsay is nothing more than assertion without any objective factual basis. Another example might be the notion that because the bible may be correct about some historical detail, that somehow implies that the story is historically accurate, or lends credence to it.

I certainly don't want to misrepresent your words. Please accept my apology.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

No apology is necessary, but thank you for that. That's very gracious of you!

Can you remind me where I posted my remarks on 14 Feb, so I can see what I wrote?

FWIW, my thoughts about evidence are published here.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Drats -- try this link instead to go straight to the PDF file.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

im-skeptical, is this comment of mine the one you had in mind?

im-skeptical said...

Jeffery,

Here's where that discussion occurred:

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=10584495&postID=5324290240399286281

And thanks for the paper.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Okay, I now better understand where you're coming from. I wrote:

Why can't a theist say this:

"I'll admit that the arguments from evil and divine hiddenness are some evidence for theism, but I think they are outweighed by the evidence from the beginning of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning of the universe, consciousness, morality, etc."

Likewise, why can't a naturalist say this:

"I'll admit that fine-tuning, libertarian free will, and consciousness are some evidence for theism, but I think they are outweighed by the evidence from the course-tuning of the universe / hostility of the universe to life, biological role (and moral randomness) of pain and pleasure, evolution, mind-brain, dependence, and divine hiddenness."


(I added boldface for emphasis.)

What I should have written is this:

Why can't a theist say this:

"I'll admit that evil and divine hiddenness are some evidence for theism, but I think they are outweighed by the evidence from the beginning of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning of the universe, consciousness, morality, etc."

Likewise, why can't a naturalist say this:

"I'll admit that fine-tuning, libertarian free will, and consciousness are some evidence for theism, but I think they are outweighed by the evidence from the course-tuning of the universe / hostility of the universe to life, biological role (and moral randomness) of pain and pleasure, evolution, mind-brain, dependence, and divine hiddenness."

planks length said...

"apart from the gospels themselves"

Interesting. (Completely ignoring for the moment that other evidence actually does exist), why is the existence of such necessary for the testimony of the Gospels to be themselves evidence? Now, they may not be sufficient evidence for a person who goes by the moniker im-skeptical, but why is that in the least bit relevant?

Face it. You may not like the evidence, you may want more, you may even have other, contrary evidence. But doggone it, the Gospels remain as evidence - all by themselves!

So please, in the future kindly refrain from making really intransigent statements like Christians are "lacking the evidence" - cause you're dead wrong when you do. (And you know you're wrong.)

im-skeptical said...

planks,

OK. It probably should have been worded differently. It might have been better to say the evidence is lacking. Can you think of any other case where a book makes a fantastic claim, uncorroborated by other sources, and then is cited as evidence for the truth of its own claims? Seriously, that's pretty lame evidence.

planks length said...

Not buyin' it, im-skeptical. What is the difference between "lacking the evidence" and "the evidence is lacking"? None that I can see.

The evidence is not lacking - you're just not convinced by it. Which is fine (for now). How about, as alternative wording, "I am not convinced by the evidence."?

But if you really wish to play such games, be very, very careful. Because guess what - there is no evidence whatsoever that the Resurrection did not occur exactly as depicted in the Gospels.

im-skeptical said...

"Because guess what - there is no evidence whatsoever that the Resurrection did not occur exactly as depicted in the Gospels."

Just like I said: intransigent.

planks length said...

So, where's the evidence that it didn't? No intransigence here - I'm open to whatever you've got. Show me what you regard as evidence.

im-skeptical said...

"Show me what you regard as evidence."

Evidence that a supernatural event didn't happen? How about the known laws of physics? How about lack of historical documentation? How about the total absence of even a single eye-witness account?

But if I asked you to prove that a live creature didn't walk across the surface of Mars exactly 2000 years ago, what kind of evidence would you offer?

planks length said...

Thank you for your response! You have demonstrated that your own personal bar for what constitutes "evidence" is set far, far lower than what you demand for others. It's good to know when one is playing on such an uneven field. As for your evidences:

1. "How about the known laws of physics?" How is this even relevant? And if if it were (which it is not), it is simply another example of what I mentioned in the first comment in this discussion: "Most [arguments against the Resurrection] are predicated by a going-in assumption (either spoken or unspoken) that the event is impossible. Sorry, but that is classic question begging. The issue at stake here is not could it have happened, but did it."

But finally (as regards this point), you yourself have deemed "arguments" to be "not evidence". What you have given here is an argument, so it fails your own test as being evidence against the Resurrection.

b. "How about lack of historical documentation?" We have the Gospels. Now you are perfectly within your rights to wish for more historical documentation, or you may contest the accuracy of what documentation we do have, but that still doesn't allow you to (rationally) say there isn't any.

c. "How about the total absence of even a single eye-witness account?" Sorry, but we have several of them (at least 15 by my count).

As to your hypothetical question, I wouldn't dogmatically dispute you. Perhaps one did.

grodrigues said...

@Jeffrey Jay Lowder:

"What I should have written is this:"

While I have no major quibbles in shifting "evidence" from the arguments to their premises, I will however notice two things:

(1) If I say that "Fine tuning" is evidence for existence of God, the only sense this makes is in the *context of an argument*. No data comes with a label attached to it reading "I am proof God exists" or its negation. Evidence is only such in the context of the argument that connects the evidence, in the form of premises, to the conclusion.

That this is so, is evidenced by the fact that most responses to, say, the Fine Tuning argument do *not* dispute the premise but the argument itself. So we have opposing parties agreeing on the evidence but disagreeing on the conclusion. This only makes sense because they disagree on the Fine Tuning being evidence for the existence of God, which is to say, they disagree on the cogency of the Fine Tuning argument.

(2) It also leads to rather implausible notions of evidence. An Aristotelian will now say that the existence of change is evidence of God, a Neo-Platonist will have to say that the fact that objects of our experience are metaphysical composites is evidence of God, a Thomist will say that the fact that objects of our experience are composites of an essence and an act of existence is evidence. Still palatable as the arguments are a-posteriori. Rather implausible if you are Plantinga and are mounting an a-priori ontological argument. Now, in order not to offend some delicate souls, you have to say that "possibly, God exists" is evidence for His actual existence.

planks length said...

"you have to say that "possibly, God exists" is evidence for His actual existence."

Actually, according to the ontological argument, the statement is proof that God exists. (Or at the least, it is a stepping stone to said proof.)

Samwell Barnes said...

"Rather implausible if you are Plantinga and are mounting an a-priori ontological argument. Now, in order not to offend some delicate souls, you have to say that "possibly, God exists" is evidence for His actual existence."

Although I never thought of the Plantinga example, this is precisely why I prefer to speak of arguments based on metaphysical principles as being evidence for God rather than the individual premises, wherein the sounder the metaphysical principles are, the stronger evidence the arguments are for the existence of God.

It's clear to me, for example, that Aquinas' five ways constitute evidence for God. The only way to deny the conclusion of God is to deny a metaphysical principle of the arguments, and if a (metaphysically open) atheist denies that the arguments or metaphysical principles can count as evidence, and if he is also unable to refute the arguments and in fact thinks the premises are all quite solid, he's in the uncomfortable position of saying, "I suppose I must for the time being conclude via Aquinas that God exists, but there is still no evidence for Him!"

im-skeptical said...

planks,

So the laws of physics are nothing more than an unsubstantiated argument? Not based on empirical facts? Now I have a better idea where you're coming from.

The gospels as documentation of their own fantastic claims? That's like finding someone guilty of murder when there is no evidence of any kind except for the indictment that accuses him.

15 eyewitness accounts? Who? Show them to me.

But I left out another significant piece of evidence: the fact that you try to shift the burden of proof from the one making the fantastic claims to the one who denies that there is any evidence to support those fantastic claims.

im-skeptical said...

A side note for Jeffery: I understand that people will submit all manner of fluff as "evidence", and if I wanted to be more precise in my wording, I would say that it's poor evidence. But if it's so poor as to carry little or no weight, I find it easy to dismiss.

planks length said...

"So the laws of physics are nothing more than an unsubstantiated argument? Not based on empirical facts?"

No, not at all, not at all. They are very much substantiated argument and based on empirical observation. I find them irrelevant because the discoverers and definers of said "laws of physics" were for the most part (in fact, nearly every last one of them) firm believers in the literal historical reality of the Resurrection. So if you're going to bring physics in as "evidence", then it can be more reasonably claimed to be evidence for the truth of the Gospel narratives, rather than the reverse. Keep in mind, Christianity invented science - it owns it.

But more to the point, what in the world do the "laws of physics" have to say about the Resurrection? Nothing, as far as I can see. They are quite silent on the question. You might as well be claiming that the rules to baseball are evidence against it. They have equal relevance to the discussion.

planks length said...

"15 eyewitness accounts? Who? Show them to me."

Sorry. I missed this in my earlier posting. Here they are:

Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome - as recorded in Mark 16:1-8. (Mary Magdalene's eyewitness testimony is also recorded in John, Chapter 20.) That's three, so far.

The eleven surviving apostles - in all four Gospels (not to mention the references in Paul). That makes fourteen.

Paul, in both Acts and Corinthians, Chapter 8. That makes fifteen.

Come to think of it, there's also Cleopas and an unnamed (most probably female) companion, in Luke, Chapter 24. That makes seventeen - minimum.

Papalinton said...

"Christianity invented science - it owns it."

You can pretend to live your dream, plank, but it remains distinctly a dream of your own making. HERE is a low grade refutation of that somewhat low grade dream sequence.

As Dr Michael Shermer astutely observes, "Belief in God depends on religious faith. Belief in evolution depends on empirical evidence. This is the fundamental difference between religion and science." No matter how you try to slice it and dice it a 3-day old putrescent cadaver simply doesn't get up and start eating fried chicken before being winched up on a sky hook into the blue beyond in the normal world. The claim makes a mockery of the laws of physics and science more generally in the normal world. In this normal world a 'Christian scientist' represents the archetypal pattern of compartmentalisation, the amazing human ability to hold simultaneously two competing and diametric worldviews, the veritable and ubiquitous oxymoron. You might wish to familiarize yourself with THIS CONDITION. In part it notes:

"Compartmentalization is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person's having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.
Compartmentalization allows these conflicting ideas to co-exist by inhibiting direct or explicit acknowledgement and interaction between separate compartmentalized self states."


I think it true to say the Enlightenment period of human history simply put paid to any idea of a correlative relationship between religion and science:
"The Enlightenment begins with the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The rise of the new science progressively undermines not only the ancient geocentric conception of the cosmos, but, with it, the entire set of presuppositions that had served to constrain and guide philosophical inquiry. The dramatic success of the new science in explaining the natural world, in accounting for a wide variety of phenomena by appeal to a relatively small number of elegant mathematical formulae, promotes philosophy (in the broad sense of the time, which includes natural science) from a handmaiden of theology, constrained by its purposes and methods, to an independent force with the power and authority to challenge the old and construct the new, in the realms both of theory and practice, on the basis of its own principles." [Stanford EOP]

We have two choices. Either we continue to rely on supernatural superstition as a model for decision-making or we seek to ground our decision-making processes on a more epistemologically robust paradigm.



Victor Reppert said...

How about the following as a conception of evidence, based on Bayesianism? X is evidence for Y if X is more likely to exist given Y than given not-Y.

Now if we accept this, it looks like there are lots of things that qualify on behalf of theism and on behalf of atheis. Beginning of the universe? Maybe it can be reconciled with atheism, but it's not what an atheist would expect. Ditto for the fine tuning of the universe?

Evil and suffering? Sure it's possible given theism, but is it more likely given atheism?

With this model, we might say of our opponents that there isn't enough evidence, or that the evidence is outweighed by the other side, but can we really make the "no evidence" charge?

im-skeptical said...

Bayseanism sounds quite reasonable until you get down to the details. How do you calculate the P(X|Y) and P(X|not Y)? You might be able to do it for some things, but when it comes to the existence of God, you're just pulling numbers out of a hat. Is there any way to agree what these values should be?

im-skeptical said...

planks,

Every case you cite as an "eyewitness" account is not an eyewitness account. It is an account of what someone said to someone else, written by an unknown author. That's hearsay at best.

planks length said...

They had to start with eyewitness accounts. What? You expect the three women at the tomb to have each written their own individual accounts? Ridiculous standard!

I might read in the local newspaper an account of a traffic accident. The reporter's account may not itself be eyewitness, but the story is based on first-hand, eyewitness testimony.

But even then, going by your own standard, you cannot say "Every case you cite as an "eyewitness" account is not an eyewitness account." Paul's account is first hand, and therefore an eyewitness account. So is John's. And so is Matthew's. That's three. And as for the other 14 named witnesses, there is good reason to believe that the accounts we do have are straight from their own mouths, and merely written down by others. In other words, at least as good as what I read in my morning paper about some local event.

By your criteria, you'll never hear eyewitness testimony about anything unless you yourself talk to the witness face to face. As I said, ridiculous standard.

im-skeptical said...

"By your criteria, you'll never hear eyewitness testimony about anything unless you yourself talk to the witness face to face. As I said, ridiculous standard."

That is the standard used in law. Hearsay doesn't count as valid evidence. As for Paul, John, and Matthew, none of them give an eyewitness account. They relate the account of others. That's hearsay. And besides that, they aren't even the authors. The actual authors are unknown.

planks length said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
planks length said...

"As for Paul, John, and Matthew, none of them give an eyewitness account. They relate the account of others."

When's the last time you've actually read your New Testament, im-skeptical? Even if you have, your statement gives the impression that you paid no attention whatsoever while doing so. Paul in multiple places speaks of his own personal encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. That's not "the account of others". So does John. He even goes so far as to say (speaking of himself), "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things," as well as "we have seen with our eyes ... we saw, and testify to it."

As for their names, well... absolutely no one disputes that Paul wrote those words. And as for John, regardless of what the author's name was (for the record, I believe it to be John), it's still an eyewitness account, telling us what the writer himself personally saw.

Finally, who gives a damn what the "standard used in law" is? This is not a court. And in any case, legal standards change from time to time and place to place, so they're not an objective yardstick, but quite subjective.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

Let me first reiterate my statement: There are no eyewitness accounts of the resurrection. None.

All of the testimony in the gospels is after-the-fact accounts written by people who weren't there. So Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John contain no eyewitness accounts at all. Now, you specifically mention John, so let's take a look at that.

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Take a look at the words. "Jesus came and stood among *them*". The author doesn't say *us* - he says *them*. That's becdause the author of those words wasn't there. This is not an eyewitness account.


That leaves Paul as a possibility.

"Paul in multiple places speaks of his own personal encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus."

Sure. Paul, who never met Jesus while he was alive, says he met Jesus some time after the resurrection. He did not witness the resurrection. He met someone on the road to Damascus who claimed to be Jesus, but how would Paul know if it was Jesus? He didn't know the man. Other than that, he relates stories of other people who also calimed to see Jesus after the resurrection. But after all is said and done, nobody saw Jesus rise from the dead.

"Finally, who gives a damn what the "standard used in law" is?"

I do. And plenty of people who are interested in learning the truth do. You can be gullible if you choose, but I care about evidence.

planks length said...

"Take a look at the words. "Jesus came and stood among *them*". The author doesn't say *us* - he says *them*. That's becdause the author of those words wasn't there."

Oh, this is just too funny. You are kidding us here, right? Please say that you are, because you cannot possibly be serious!

Im-skeptical, this is the same writer (let's call him "John" for convenience) who consistently refers to himself in the third person. (Which, by the way, was a common literary device at the time. Luke's "we" passages are exceedingly rare.) Examples: "One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus." (John 13:23) When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near" (John 19:26) "That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord'" (John 21:7)

In all of these cases John is referring to himself. There are many more examples, but these should suffice to show you that the use of "them" fits right in with the pattern.

As for Paul never having seen Jesus before His Resurrection, who says he didn't? After all, Paul was a pupil of Gamaliel (who lived in Jerusalem), so it's entirely probable Paul was in Jerusalem during one of Jesus's visits there. There's no reason to say Paul did not see Jesus.

"Let me first reiterate my statement: There are no eyewitness accounts of the [R]esurrection. None."

Fair enough - I'll return the favor by reiterating my statement: We have at least 17.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

"Which, by the way, was a common literary device at the time"

Actually, a common literary device of the time was to present a text in the name of someone else.

planks length said...

I'm going to invoke St. Augustine's Rule in this particular conversation, and cease further comment. It is screamingly obvious that im-skeptical is afflicted with what Augustine termed "a great blindness, which renders him incapable of seeing what is plainly set before him, or [else] an opinionative obstinacy, which prevents him from acknowledging the truth of what he does see."

Therefore, in order to avoid "the woeful necessity of going to ridiculous lengths to expound yet more fully on what we have already made perfectly clear, in hopes that we might get through to those who have closed their minds to reason," I will allow im-skeptical the last word.

Go for it.

im-skeptical said...

Just like I said: intransigent.

im-skeptical said...

"Keep in mind, Christianity invented science - it owns it."

There was a great little bit in the new Cosmos show about Giordano Bruno. See it if you get a chance.

planks length said...

I don't own a television (probably why I have so much time to read).

But in any case (admittedly, saying this without having seen the show), Neil deGrasse Tyson is not likely to be an objective source of info on the subject - he's well-known as a gnu.