Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Parsons on irrationality charges

To accuse people of irrationality is the charge them with a moral as well as an intellectual failure. This is, of course, what makes the charge of irrationality so inflammatory. To accuse someone of irrationality is tantamount to charging that he has sacrificed intellectual integrity. It is a way of saying that someone has formed a belief irresponsibly or dishonestly—through self-deception, say, or perhaps by ignoring easily available contrary evidence. To call someone irrational is to say that he has settled for a belief that he knows, deep down inside, not to be the most reasonable one.

God and the Burden of Proof, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989) p.32. 

26 comments:

Jakub Moravčík said...

charge them with a moral as well as an intellectual failure

But the following paragraph argues only for the moral one ...

John W. Loftus said...

The undeniable fact is that we are all irrational. Only the uniformed think otherwise. So the important question should revolve around when someone is morally culpable in a way that exceeds the normal irrationality we all have. It's by degrees.
LINK.

John W. Loftus said...

In the link I just provided you can skip down to the multiple listing of books arguing the point I just made. Cheers.

B. Prokop said...

"The undeniable fact is that we are all irrational."

I wouldn't go that far. I'd rather say something like "We are all on occasion a-rational." I'm not using reason, as such, when I perceive some Deep Truth from listening to Vaughan Williams's Symphony No. 5, or when I gain a new insight from contemplating Rublev's Troitsa. I have no need to wonder about the historicity of Beowulf while seeing afresh the never-ending battle against the monsters within my own soul, as personified by Grendel and his mother. While frightened nearly out of my wits in some life threatening situation, I am not constructing syllogisms when gaining a fuller appreciation for life in the process. When my heart overflows with love at the mere sight of my granddaughter, I can assure you that Aristotle isn't coming to mind.

These things are not irrational. Not in the least. They are in addition to reason, not opposed to it.

B. Prokop said...

By the way, John. I liked your previous photo better.

Crude said...

The undeniable fact is that we are all irrational. Only the uniformed think otherwise.

Pardon my skepticism, but I tend not to take the claims of the irrational seriously.

So the important question should revolve around when someone is morally culpable in a way that exceeds the normal irrationality we all have.

'Morally culpable'? According to whom or what?

It seems to me materialist atheists have no standard of moral culpability worth worrying about. Some people think otherwise, but then they tend to be pretty irrational folks.

Dave Duffy said...

I suppose it's human nature to inflate accusations beyond their intent to make it inflammatory. No one wants to be falsely accused. The more personal and respected the accuser the more inflammatory we take the accusation.

Hey Bob,

I liked your thoughts on the a-rational part of our nature. A good insight for me to read this evening.

B. Prokop said...

Thanks, Dave. I know I've brought this up numerous times on Victor's website, but the point cannot be stressed enough. A screwdriver is not opposed to a hammer - it is in addition to it. Sometimes it's appropriate to use the one, and sometimes the other. The hyper-rationalists amongst us, who insist that everything must be reducible to empirical evidence and the scientific method, are unreasonably restricting themselves to only one tool out of the entire toolbox available to them. So of course whole aspects of reality are going to (falsely) seem irrational to them, when they're only a-rational.

Dave Duffy said...

Bob,

I'm with you on the John W. Loftus photo. A flatbed tanker truck giving some kind of medieval halo effect of a Billy the Kid type western outlaw? I know this is petty of me to have this impression.

I guess I need to post a photo now that I comment on the internet. I'll try to figure out how to do this.

Ilíon said...

"I know I've brought this up numerous times on Victor's website, but the point cannot be stressed enough. A screwdriver is not opposed to a hammer - it is in addition to it. ... So of course whole aspects of reality are going to (falsely) seem irrational to them, when they're only a-rational."

Moreover (as I've brought up numerous times), *all* rational reasoning and *all* rationally discovered knowledge stands on an "a-rational" foundation of "self-evident" or intuitively-known truth.

The doctrinaire hyper-rationalist is, in fact, utterly irrational.

B. Prokop said...

No argument there. I recall from my high school geometry, where we were told on the very first day that everything we would do in class would rest upon unproven and unprovable axioms (a.k.a., postulates), without which nothing could be concluded.

Same goes for any other field of thought requiring logic.

Jakub Moravčík said...

*all* rationally discovered knowledge stands on an "a-rational" foundation of "self-evident" or intuitively-known truth.


But then we have a problem here. What if different people find different "thruts" as self-evident/intuitively-known? Who will then decide which of it are really self-evident and which not?

B. Prokop said...

"But then we have a problem here."

Yes, we do. Unfortunately, saying "we have a problem here" doesn't change things. ALL reason is based on unproved and unprovable axioms, and there's just no getting past that. That's why you see so much discussion on this site about what people's "priors" are.

The best solution to this situation is to make an honest attempt to limit your axioms to a minimum, and make sure that you're not assuming things which really ought to be conclusions.

Perfect example: Far too many self-identified "skeptics" simply assume "miracles do not occur" when that is really a conclusion that ought to be up for discussion. On this very website, you can read posting by various contributors (Linton comes to mind) who will tell you they don't believe in the Resurrection because "dead people don't come back to life". Circular reasoning at its finest. I would have far more respect for their position if they said something like "here is a plausible alternative explanation that fits the evidence we have and doesn't stretch credibility beyond the breaking point", but to date none have done so. Few have even tried. Their usual line of "reasoning" runs something like "Miracles are impossible, and therefore the Resurrection never happened."

Now HERE is a good example of actually thinking and reasoning about the Resurrection.

John W. Loftus said...

B. Prokop, as a Christian you are just as skeptical as I am of the many miracle claims by Hindu's, Mormons and Muslims. I'm just more consistent. You are special pleading your case just exactly as they do.

When it comes to your claim that God does miracles through prayer, who answers them?

LINK.

The best and only test for religion is the "Outsider Test for Faith," but you're not openminded enough to accept an objective non-double standard for your faith. You would rather special plead your case.

Crude said...

B. Prokop, as a Christian you are just as skeptical as I am of the many miracle claims by Hindu's, Mormons and Muslims.

Ah, this old gem. Let me translate for everyone:

'Bob, as a third-rate atheist blogger who has yet to accept that I'm destined for obscurity, I've been in a lot of debates with Christians. I've lost just about all of them. Therefore, I find it immensely helpful to tell you exactly what you believe, and then answer that, rather than let you talk. Sure, I often do terribly even when doing this, but it's the best I've got at this point.'

Let me happily inject myself into this conversation, John. I'm not 'as skeptical as you are' about the miracle claims of Hindus, Mormons and Muslims, nor is that a requirement for most religious believers. Your religious commitments, not to mention your personal commitment to your status as 'wannabe PZ Myers', force you to give no credence to any claim of God, intelligent design, or the like. Others like myself who lack those commitments are entirely capable of saying 'Well, this claim is more believable than that one. This one is supported better by evidence. This one is reasonable to believe in if you grant this or that bit of background data, but I do not.'

See, John, that's the real funny thing. Remember this, earlier in the thread?

The undeniable fact is that we are all irrational. Only the uniformed think otherwise.

You give lip service to your being irrational, but has it ever once checked your zeal? Has it ever once made you go, 'Okay, I'm prone to being irrational. I admit this. So being absolutely certain about my atheism, or that all these religions are wrong, or that everyone should be skeptical of all these things... that's probably a bad idea. I should be more agnostic than atheist.'

Well, no. Because, I suppose, that would be the rational response, and you're irrational, ergo...

Insofar as the Outsider Test is 'examine religious claims fairly from a third person point of view', it's utterly unoriginal, and has been passed by many people easily time and again. The real question, John, is whether you pass the actual Outsider Test.

RD Miksa's is superior, folks. Accept no substitute.

grodrigues said...

@Bob Prokop:

"I recall from my high school geometry, where we were told on the very first day that everything we would do in class would rest upon unproven and unprovable axioms (a.k.a., postulates), without which nothing could be concluded."

This is not quite correct, not with regards to Mathematics, and certainly not with regards to Philosophy, and needs to be nuanced.

I could give you examples with regards to Mathematics, but instead let me paint the broader picture. If what you mean is that no demonstrative proof can be given for First Principles, then you are quite correct, because any such proof would either be circular, and thus useless, or rely on principles that, by the nature of the case, are less fundamental and "evident" (*). But this does not preclude us to give dialectical arguments in favor of First Principles: aporias, retorsion arguments, etc.

(*) This word is in scare quotes, because once again, taking the example of Mathematics, there are commonly accepted axioms that are far from being self-evident. Fore my purposes here, I will just gloss this complication.

B. Prokop said...

Ah, the ol' Outsider Test for Faith (trademark). Suffice to say that this has been dealt with numerous times on this very website, and the outcome did not go well for Loftus and Co. at all. Do we really need to re-invent the wheel and go over this yet again?

John, Christianity is built on so-called outsiders being presented with the Gospel, accepting its message, and converting to the Faith. This has happened quite literally billions of times over the past two millennia. Have all of these converts "failed" the test in your books? Now there's something truly unbelievable!

But most tellingly, John's take on the OTF was decisively demolished long before he was even born. G.K. Chesterton objectively approached Christianity from an outsider point of view in The Everlasting Man and demonstrated convincingly that Christianity emerged stronger when one did so.

John W. Loftus said...

B. Prokop, I think it was you that wrote a critique of the test in a chapter for a book, right? I have not seen it.

My guess is that you have not read my book on it. Have you? Before saying such things I would think you should, otherwise you are passing along an ignorant meme from others who have also not read it.

B. Prokop said...

John,

I have read your book. I believe I understand what you're trying to say quite well. And no, I've never critiqued it outside of comments on Dangerous Idea. The one and only book I've ever written that even touched on religion was Eyes to See, which used the framework of a one-year pilgrimage through the Stellar Neighborhood as a vehicle for a boatload of spiritual reflection. I offer it free to anyone who wants it. It passed the 1000 download mark earlier this summer.

Crude said...

Let's see if I can call the next move.

'You could not have read my book and come to the conclusion you did honestly. You're either lying about having read it or lying to yourself about the implications. Oh, you have criticisms? I answer these all in the book. I can't reply to your criticisms here, I mean I wrote a whole book, I can't summarize anything except to say you're wrong, and everyone should read my book to see why.

Ignore all those people who have read my book, quoting it and pointing out flaws. You'll see why they're wrong if you just buy the book.

Please, please, buy the book. Please! For God's sake, I'm desperate!'

B. Prokop said...

I at least have not made one thin dime off of my writings. I priced them at cost for those who wanted hardcopies, and gave soft copies away for free.

Crude, John simply can't reconcile himself to others going over the same arguments that he does and coming to differing conclusions. If you don't agree with him 100%, then you have either failed the so-called OTF, or he'll tell you that you've done it wrong. Only one permissible outcome here!

Ilíon said...

B.Prokop: "I recall from my high school geometry, where we were told on the very first day that everything we would do in class would rest upon unproven and unprovable axioms (a.k.a., postulates), without which nothing could be concluded."

grodrigues: "This is not quite correct, not with regards to Mathematics, and certainly not with regards to Philosophy, and needs to be nuanced."

That what B.Prokop said (allegedly) needs to be more nuanced does not make it "not quite correct"; for "not quite correct" is, after all, incorrect, whereas "not quite nuanced enough" is incomplete. And 'incomplete' and 'incorrect' are two quite different things.

grodrigues: "But this does not preclude us to give dialectical arguments in favor of First Principles: aporias, retorsion arguments, etc."

But these are not proofs, however much that they may be demonstrations. And, even it they were, they are not proofs within the system of which the (allegedly) self-evident truth is a First Principle.

Let's go all the way down to simple arithmetic, forgetting "higher" mathematics. Consider the arithmetic 'sentence' "1 / 0 = x". What is the correct value of 'x'? Despite what most, if not all, of us were taught in gradeschool, the correct answer is not "unknown", it is "infinity". Now, this trith cannot be proven arithmetically, but it can be demonstrated to any one willing to understand arithmetic more deeply than with the second-grade understanding most of us go through life with.

Now, the truth that "1 / 0 = [infinity]" is not, of course, an axiom or First Principle of Arithmetic. And, since it can't be proven arithmetically, it is not a "conclusion" of arithmetic. However, in principle, the statement *could* be used as an axiom of some "higher" mathematics. And, if it were so used, then it would be one of the "unproven and unprovable axioms (a.k.a., postulates) [of *that* branch of mathematics], without which nothing could be concluded" within the system of *that* branch of mathematics.

grodrigues said...

@Ilíon:

"Despite what most, if not all, of us were taught in gradeschool, the correct answer is not "unknown", it is "infinity"."

I confess I do not understand what exactly it is you are objecting to, or even what is supposed to be the point you are trying to make.

And btw, no that is not the correct answer. The correct answer is "undefined", since 1/0 is a symbol for "the multiplicative inverse of 0" and it is trivial to see that 0 cannot have any multiplicative inverses. The symbol 1/0 acquires a different interpretation in some other contexts (e.g. analytical ones), in which case yes, it becomes a stand-in for "infinity"; but we are no longer doing "simple arithmetic".

Ilíon said...

me: "Despite what most, if not all, of us were taught in gradeschool, the correct answer is not "unknown", it is "infinity"."

grodrigues: "I confess I do not understand what exactly it is you are objecting to, or even what is supposed to be the point you are trying to make."

Well, don't sweat it. You not the first person around here who doesn't actually *read* the clearly-stated point of something of other.

grodrigues: "And btw, no that is not the correct answer. The correct answer is "undefined", ..."

Which, translated, means "I haven't ever given this any thought beyond what a teacher told me when I was a little kid, and I don't intend to start now".

grodrigues: "The correct answer is "undefined", since 1/0 is a symbol for "the multiplicative inverse of 0" and it is trivial to see that 0 cannot have any multiplicative inverses. The symbol 1/0 acquires a different interpretation in some other contexts (e.g. analytical ones), in which case yes, it becomes a stand-in for "infinity"; but we are no longer doing "simple arithmetic"."

1) How many times can 2 be divided into 6?

2) How many times can 2 be subtracted from 6?

What miracle is this! why do both questions have the same answer? Both questions have the same answer because they are just different ways of phrasing the same question.

3) How many times can 0 be divided into 1 (or 6)? *Waaa! Teacher said it's "undefined"*

4) How many times can 0 be subtracted from 1 (or 6, or 6 million)? The correct answer is, of course, "an infinite number of times" ... which is also the correct answer to question 3).

As I said above, this truth cannot be proven using arithmetic (which means it cannot be proven using "higher math" either), but that it is true can be *seen* by anyone willing to see it. This truth, and the uselessness of mathematics to prove it, and the ability of a mind to comprehend it over and above, is one of the things Gödel demonstrated (*). Myself, I suspect that the whole problem of the incompleteness of all (non-contradictory) formal axiomatic systems goes back to the inability of arithmetic to deal with 'infinity'

Just as questions 1) and 2) are really just the same question, so too are questions 3) and 4) really just the same question.

Multiplication is multiples of addition; division is multiples of subtraction. What we call "long division" is the shortcut method of answering a question of division.

(*) These facts are also a proof that minds are not formal axiomatic systems. Which is to say, the ability of a mind to grasp that 1/0=[infinity] is a proof that no computer program will ever be a mind.

============
grodrigues: "The correct answer is "undefined" ..."

When are people ever going to figure out that if you want to dispute something I say, you really need to have given it some real thought ... and that you need to know what you're talking about?

grodrigues said...

@Ílion:

"As I said above, this truth cannot be proven using arithmetic (which means it cannot be proven using "higher math" either)"

Actually it is provably true that for example, there are arithmetic statements provable in ZFC ("higher math") that are not provable in first order Peano arithmetic ("arithmetic"); a "natural" example is the Parris-Harrington theorem.

"This truth, and the uselessness of mathematics to prove it, and the ability of a mind to comprehend it over and above, is one of the things Gödel demonstrated (*)."

Gödel never demonstrated such a thing.

"Multiplication is multiples of addition; division is multiples of subtraction. What we call "long division" is the shortcut method of answering a question of division."

Division is not a "multiples of subtraction" and "long division" is an algorithm to perform division. As far as Multiplication being a "multiples of addition", yes, there is a perfectly sensible sense in which you can say it is.

"(*) These facts are also a proof that minds are not formal axiomatic systems. Which is to say, the ability of a mind to grasp that 1/0=[infinity] is a proof that no computer program will ever be a mind."

While it is true that no computer program will ever be a mind, the purported "ability of a mind to grasp that 1/0=[infinity]" cannot be a proof of that, simply because it is not true as I have already said: it is a *triviality* to show that 0 has no multiplicative inverses, which is the same as saying that 1/0 is undefined. Period, end of story. In certain contexts, it is useful to extend the meaning of the symbol 1/0 (e.g. in taking limits and things like that) and define or prove (depending on how you set things up) that it is infinity. And even if it were true, it is mysterious why exactly this *specific* fact, and the would-be fact that minds are able to grasp it, is a proof of the fact that a computer program is not and cannot be a mind.

But do not sweat it, as I have already told you there is no not need to convert me; especially not with this kind of arguments.

"and that you need to know what you're talking about?"

And you are a funny guy.

Excuse me, but I will I bow out of this pointless conversation.

B. Prokop said...

To John Loftus:

Hey, John! Look HERE. The Reverend Ian Paisley stole your hat!