Monday, February 09, 2015

The positive existence claim has the burden of proof, or does it?

 It is often argued that if you are making the positive existence claim, you have the burden of proof. Thus 

1) God exists

has the burden of proof, while

2) God does not exist

does not. 

Similarly

1) The external world exists

has the burden of proof while

2) The external world does not exist

does not.

59 comments:

John Moore said...

No, you have a burden of proof whenever you make any sort of claim - assuming you want others to believe your claim.

im-skeptical said...

It's worse than that. Christians, like the vast majority of mankind believe that the external world exists. Only a very small number of people take seriously the idea that it doesn't. Yet Victor seems to want exempt himself from any burden of proof and place it on others by simply posing a question and then declaring that they have to prove their position.

Shackleman said...

Argumentum ad Populum, Skep. Try again.

Shackleman said...

Or, to put it differently to show you why appeals to majority opinion are fallacious....

"Christians, like the vast majority of mankind believe that a supernatural world exists. That God or gods exist. Only a very small number of people take seriously the idea that the supernatural doesn't. Yet im-skeptical seems to want exempt himself from any burden of proof and place it on others by simply posing a question and then declaring that they have to prove their position."

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical, proposition one in both instances is a positive position. Also, proposition one in both instances can't be proven to be necessarily true. And yet you'll say that someone who has a properly basic belief in the existence of the external world is rational while someone who has a properly basic belief in God is irrational. How can you reconcile this? Isn't this a case of special pleading?

You might say that we who say that the external world exists have an experience of the world that is just obvious. Well, many believers have a sense that God created the world, and experience God's presence. Skeptics will often say that it's possible that these experiences are illusions. A skeptic could also say that our experience of the external world is an illusion.

You might say that it's just practical to assume that the external world exists. Well, a believer could also say that it's practical to believe in God's existence so as not to miss out on a relationship with him, as well as gaining things like meaning, salvation and fulfillment.

im-skeptical said...

"Argumentum ad Populum, Skep. Try again."

Not what I argued, Shackleman, try listening to what I'm saying. Argumentum ad populum is trying to prove something by appealing to the number of people who believe it, but that is not at all the point of what I said. In fact, I maintain that it can't be proven. The point was that this belief is almost axiomatic. You could make the case that it is irrational to deny it. It is not subject to dispute, the way theism is. We accept it as foundational principle in building a coherent view of reality, and this is true for theists and non-theists alike. Telling someone that it is his burden to prove this is like claiming that it is his responsibility to prove the identity axiom, while at the same time denying any such responsibility on your own part.

Bullshit.

im-skeptical said...

"You might say that it's just practical to assume that the external world exists. Well, a believer could also say that it's practical to believe in God's existence ..."

You might say that it's not only practical to assume that the external world exists - it's necessary if you want to live through infancy. Such is not the case for belief in God.

William said...

quote:

"You might say that it's not only practical to assume that the external world exists - it's necessary if you want to live through infancy. "

------------------------

Since many major schools of Buddhism teach, and I suppose many Buddhists do believe, that the world does not exist in the metaphysically real sense you appear be believe it does, this seems factually incorrect.

im-skeptical said...

"Since many major schools of Buddhism teach, and I suppose many Buddhists do believe, that the world does not exist in the metaphysically real sense you appear be believe it does, this seems factually incorrect."

If they interact with the world (and I assure you they do), they refute that belief. Our senses evolved as a vital survival mechanism for any critter that does more than float around aimlessly in a soup of nutrients, so that we can find food and avoid predators.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "You might say that it's not only practical to assume that the external world exists - it's necessary if you want to live through infancy. Such is not the case for belief in God."

First of all, I don't think that either of these statements are necessarily true. Someone could believe that they only exist in a highly advanced simulation, and desire to remain in this digital world by complying with rules such as the need to consume digital water and food. Even if they are mistaken about the nature of reality they will survive in the physical, external world.

In the case of God, we could imagine someone that is so filled with existential angst and life dissatisfaction that the only thing that is keeping them from committing suicide is the belief that through God's plan there is meaning to our lives; that God desires for that person to stay alive.

Secondly, whether or not a belief promotes mere survival is not the only gauge for the usefulness of it.

Finally, you are dodging the question I posed. Why is someone who believes in the existence of the external world, despite having no real proof for this belief, rational while someone who believes in God is irrational?

Papalinton said...

"In the case of God, we could imagine someone that is so filled with existential angst and life dissatisfaction that the only thing that is keeping them from committing suicide is the belief that through God's plan there is meaning to our lives; that God desires for that person to stay alive."

Are you willing to also concede the truth and the reality of the existence of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed God, who is also capable of keeping a Hindu believer from committing suicide through His plan that gives meaning to a Hindi's life? Ganesha is the great God known for 'removing all obstacles'. You simply cannot have it your way and mischievously deny the other. What is claimed for one must necessarily be claimed for the other. Anything less is intellectual dishonesty.

Or, you can align your belief with the mountains of scientific research, investigation and findings. It's called a 'placebo' and there is, and one could almost claim literally, mountains of research that supports the fact of the placebo effect.

Papalinton said...

Keith Rozumalski

"Ganesha is known as the Remover of Obstacles and the God of Success and Prosperity. He is also known as the destroyer of evils and the god of education, knowledge, wisdom, wealth and domestic harmony. In India, no new undertaking, whether it is a new business, a marriage, a new job, taking an exam, or any other endeavor, is started without first making an offering or prayer to Lord Ganesha and asking for His blessing. (Next time you visit an Indian restaurant or grocery store, look around, you're bound to see an image of Ganesh!)
Ganesh or Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles There are many different ways that Ganesh is portrayed in the form of statues and pictures, but in many cases you will find the following traits and symbolism:
His broken tusk, symbolizes sacrifice. It is said that he broke this tusk to use as a pen for writing the important Indian epic, the Mahabharata.
His large ears indicate that he is always willing and able to hear our prayers and requests.
In His upper-right-hand, he carries an axe to cut away difficulties and obstacles.
In his upper-left-hand, he holds a "goad" or noose, to capture his devotees and help them move forward in life.
In his lower-left-hand, he often carries a sweet called a "ladoo," which indicates the sweetness of the spiritual path.
His lower-right-hand is almost always extended in a gesture (mudra) of blessing.
By his feet, sits Ganesha's "vehicle," which is a tiny mouse. Ganesh has chosen the mouse as his vehicle because he is quick-moving and small enough to travel even into the smallest of places."

And remember Keith, over a billion Hindus believe in Ganesha as fervently and as zealously as you do your christian god.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Papalinton wrote: "Are you willing to also concede the truth and the reality of the existence of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant-headed God, who is also capable of keeping a Hindu believer from committing suicide through His plan that gives meaning to a Hindi's life?"

If one's metric for the utility of a belief is keeping someone alive then any belief that kept someone from committing suicide would be useful regardless of the validity of the belief. It could even be something as zany as the quest to find a married bachelor.

William said...

quote:
"If they interact with the world (and I assure you they do), they refute that belief."

I do not see any refute at all here.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "Our senses evolved as a vital survival mechanism for any critter that does more than float around aimlessly in a soup of nutrients, so that we can find food and avoid predators."

Note that an external world skeptic would say that you are begging the question by saying that sense data approximates the reality of the external world.

More importantly, sense data doesn't necessarily have to approximate truth. As Patricia Churchland says:

Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive... Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.

im-skeptical said...

"I do not see any refute at all here."

You don't see much. Tell me, when a Buddhists monk takes a walk, does he go through obstacles, or around them? If he maintains that the world is illusory, he refutes that belief every time he uses his senses.

im-skeptical said...

"Note that an external world skeptic would say that you are begging the question by saying that sense data approximates the reality of the external world."

An external world skeptic who makes no use of his senses would be dead, due to his inability to function in the world.

"Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost"

I don't know what kind of truth she's talking about, but to the extent that sense data presents true information about our external world (ie, can I locate food, etc.), our survival changes are enhanced.

im-skeptical said...

"Finally, you are dodging the question I posed. Why is someone who believes in the existence of the external world, despite having no real proof for this belief, rational while someone who believes in God is irrational? "

That's what you say. You are putting words in my mouth.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "That's what you say. You are putting words in my mouth."

OK, so do you think that a believer, who has a properly basic in God, can be rational?

im-skeptical said...

What is "a properly basic in God"?

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: What is "a properly basic in God"?

A basic belief is a foundational belief that is not supported by other beliefs. It is a belief that all your other non-foundational beliefs and knowledge are built on. Observational statements, such as "I see a tree before me", and logical truths are examples of basic beliefs. So, a properly basic belief in God is not based on other beliefs or arguments. It is the sense of God's presence and working in the world. A properly basic belief can be rationally held as long as a defeater is not successfully brought against the belief.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Keith Rozumalski: OK, so do you think that a believer, who has a properly basic in God, can be rational?

This should have read: OK, so do you think that a believer, who has a properly basic [belief] in God, can be rational?

I need to fire my copy editor :-)

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "An external world skeptic who makes no use of his senses would be dead, due to his inability to function in the world."

That's beside the point, and as I said earlier not necessarily true. If one is breathing, eating and drinking, in what they take to be a world that does not exist independent of their mind, then that person will survive in the external world as well.

im-skeptical wrote: I don't know what kind of truth she's talking about, but to the extent that sense data presents true information about our external world (ie, can I locate food, etc.), our survival changes are enhanced."

Truth corresponds with reality, or at lest an approximation of reality. One does not need to have the truth in order to survive. Suppose that there is some delusional person who believes that the hamburger, fries and Coke before them are space aliens who have come to conquer the earth, and that the only way to defeat the alien menace is to bite, chew and swallow the invaders. The person may not have the truth, but they will have what they need in order to survive.

im-skeptical said...

"If one is breathing, eating and drinking, in what they take to be a world that does not exist independent of their mind, then that person will survive in the external world as well."

"... some delusional person who believes that the hamburger, fries and Coke before them are space aliens who have come to conquer the earth ..."

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. Even in these examples of delusional people, they use their senses to interact with the external world. And if they didn't, they wouldn't live.

Papalinton said...

Keith quote: "If one's metric for the utility of a belief is keeping someone alive then any belief that kept someone from committing suicide would be useful regardless of the validity of the belief."

It's not that long ago that same ridiculous 'belief' system also saw the necessity to slaughter a child in sacrifice to God in order that God protect the group or protect the foundations of buildings from demon spirits.

Your reasoning and logic is bizarre in propagating supernatural superstition as being justified in any circumstance. It's epistemological footing little more than sanctioning a lie built on a lie. Not a convincing rationale from any perspective.

Keith quote: "So, a properly basic belief in God is not based on other beliefs or arguments. It is the sense of God's presence and working in the world."

Therein lies the dangerously problematic nature of religious belief. The thoroughly speculative and unsubstantiated premises of its epistemic foundations bares out the hollowness of such belief, nothing more than an apparition, a figment of one's anguished imagination, prone to, and guided as it is by, personal credulousness.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. Even in these examples of delusional people, they use their senses to interact with the external world. And if they didn't, they wouldn't live."

My point is that, regardless of whether there even is such a thing as the external world, a person could survive in the external world, supposing that there is one, even though they believe that there is no external world. It is not necessary for one to believe that their sense data corresponds to an external world in order to survive in an external world.

DJC said...

Keith Rozumalski,
Why is someone who believes in the existence of the external world, despite having no real proof for this belief, rational while someone who believes in God is irrational?

I find that a belief in God is a very different type of belief than a belief in the external world, it is a moral belief. A moral belief is one where the felt truth of the belief comes not primarily from logic or empirical observation but from deep resonance with one's moral intuition (which as a primarily social instinct, is also likely to be shaped and strengthened by a community).

As courageous and admirable as it is to have moral convictions, I just don't think it is good rational practice to allow one's moral beliefs to counterweight logic or empiricism on questions of reality. Yes, moral beliefs must be relied on to answer questions of good or bad social behavior, but on questions of the nature of reality, mind, being, I think they only get in the way.

Questions of the existence of God, the nature of meaning, reason, consciousness can only be understood rationally I feel if all possible answers are first morally neutralized in every possible way. I have found that atheists can do that: I experience no moral outrage at theistic beliefs about reality (moral outrage at certain types of theistic morality or moralizing is a different story!). But the vast majority of theists do seem to me to exhibit symptoms of moral outrage at atheist beliefs at one time or another which leads me to think that moral beliefs may be providing a powerful scaffolding around more fragile logic and facts.

Now, here's an interesting thing. Everything I've said can be mirrored diametrically in claims theists (and C.S Lewis in particular) have made about atheists: our disbelief in God is an immoral belief driven by ugly resonance with our selfish intuitions in which we choose out of weakness and fear the sin of disbelief rather than the purity of faith. But if I'm right in my thesis so far, that's exactly what they should say; religious and non-religious beliefs are instinctively thought to get their strength from morality first and logic or facts second.

If a belief in God can truly be arrived at without any moral influence or coloring whatsoever, I would be more willing to consider it a rational belief. But I don't see that yet as being possible. God is part of human culture as the ultimate good and we all want to instinctively believe good things.

im-skeptical said...

"regardless of whether there even is such a thing as the external world, a person could survive in the external world, supposing that there is one, even though they believe that there is no external world."

Great, but that's not the issue at hand. We were talking about the rationality of believing the evidence of your senses, not the survivability of those who are insane or deluded enough to believe things that are not supported by the evidence of their senses.

The fact remains that we make good use of our senses to interact with our world, and without that, we couldn't survive. There's still some possibility that it might all be an illusion. But it would not be rational to suppose that is the case. We have no reason whatsoever to support that notion. The definition 'rational' is "based on or in accordance with reason or logic". If you have no reason to believe something, then that belief is irrational.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Papalinton wrote: "Your reasoning and logic is bizarre..."

Are you aware that an external world skeptic could say almost exactly the same thing to you?

The Skeptic says:
"Papa, your reasoning and logic is bizarre in propagating [external world] superstition as being justified in any circumstance. It's epistemological footing little more than sanctioning a lie built on a lie. Not a convincing rationale from any perspective.

Therein lies the dangerously problematic nature of [external world] belief. The thoroughly speculative and unsubstantiated premises of its epistemic foundations bares out the hollowness of such belief, nothing more than an apparition, a figment of one's anguished imagination, prone to, and guided as it is by, personal credulousness."

It is inconsistent to pretend that your assumption that an external world exists, an assumption which is based on no conclusive arguments or evidence, is on firm "epistemic foundations" while a properly basic belief in God is not. This is special pleading. If you want to demand that all beliefs be backed up by solid arguments and evidence then you'll need to abandon your belief in the existence of an external world.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "The fact remains that we make good use of our senses to interact with our world, and without that, we couldn't survive."

Note, again, that you're begging the question against an external world skeptic by assuming that sense data corresponds to an external. And again, someone could doubt the external world (EW) and survive in an EW if their responses to sense data, which they take to be just in their mind, correspond with external world survival behavior.

OK, let's move on.

im-skeptical wrote: There's still some possibility that it might all be an illusion. But it would not be rational to suppose that is the case. We have no reason whatsoever to support that notion. The definition 'rational' is "based on or in accordance with reason or logic". If you have no reason to believe something, then that belief is irrational."

Now this is very interesting because, whether you realize it or not, you are talking about a properly basic belief in the existence of the EW. The belief in the EW is a basic belief. We have experiences of the EW. Also, you correctly say that no defeater has been presented against belief in the EW, so someone has warrant for believing in the EW. We conclude that belief in the EW is rational!

OK, what about belief in God? Belief in God is a basic belief. People have experiences of God's presence and a sense that God exists and is working in the world. No defeater has been successfully presented against belief in God, so a believer has warrant for belief in God. We conclude that belief in God is rational! Right?

im-skeptical said...

Keith Rozumalski,

I confess that reading your arguments leaves me in a state of confusion. I don't know what criteria to use to define "properly basic beliefs". I have absolutely no idea what you consider to be "evidence". I can't figure out whether you support or reject the notion that the external world doesn't exist.

It seems that you may invoke or reject a particular argument depending on what is convenient at the moment. It's difficult to pin you down on anything, because if if I say (based on your statements) "You claimed A", you can come up with something else you said and reply "But I argued B".

Let's look at your discussion of "properly basic beliefs"

You said "Observational statements, such as "I see a tree before me", and logical truths are examples of basic beliefs. So, a properly basic belief in God is not based on other beliefs or arguments." So from this I can conclude that you think such beliefs are founded upon evidence and not upon logical arguments. You tell me that my belief in the EW is properly basic, and you tell Papalinton "It is inconsistent to pretend that your assumption that an external world exists, an assumption which is based on no conclusive arguments or evidence."

So is there evidence or is there not? Does argumentation count, or does it not?

And what do you consider to be evidence? You have a feeling about God's presence that you call evidence. Anyone who is knowledgeable about physiology would call that an emotion. It is caused by chemical changes in the body, and it can be induced at will with chemicals. So what does this "evidence" tell us? To me, it says that you had some kind of experience, but to claim that it is caused by God requires an argument that goes beyond any kind of empirical observation. Yet this is what you call "properly basic belief"? If you ask me, beliefs based on emotion are what I call "irrational".

Papalinton said...

Keith wrote: "It is inconsistent to pretend that your assumption that an external world exists, an assumption which is based on no conclusive arguments or evidence, is on firm "epistemic foundations" while a properly basic belief in God is not."

When I walk down the street and without attention I walk smack into a street sign. I am in no doubt the natural external world exists. And the experience of confirming this reality physically hurt. Pain across the side of my head on colliding with the sign, pain and sprained ankle as I fell into the street.

The reality of god? Meh! not so much. In fact nil. Incidentally what is a 'properly basic belief' when you take its religious garb off?

No Keith, you have not prosecuted a successful case on this matter. And I doubt any court in the land would accept your perspective as anything other than emotional pablum.

But, if you want to persist with the nonsense, knock yourself out. i say, inside the brain of a christian theist lies a god-shaped vacuum.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "I confess that reading your arguments leaves me in a state of confusion..."

Please bear with me as I'm trying to articulate a fairly complex idea in a way that is hopefully understandable to people who are not well versed in philosophy--this is not an easy task.

First of all, I do believe in the existence of the EW--I take it to be a properly basic belief.

To understand why I say this we need to step back and look at the classical foundationalist model of basic beliefs. The classical model says:

A proposition p is rational if and only if p is self-evident, evident to the senses or incorrigible or if p can be inferred from a set of propositions that are self-evident, evident to the senses, or incorrigible(source).

So, according to this model it is not rational to believe in the EW because it is not self-evident because the proposition: "The EW exists" has been rejected in some instances. Although things like trees and cars are evident to the senses, the EW is not because we don't whether our sensory experiences are of the EW or is an illusion piped into our mind, or whether we are living in a simulation. The EW is certainly not incorrigible because it is logically possible that the EW doesn't exist.

According to this model it is also not rational to believe in the existence of other minds or that the world is older than five minutes. So, this is a problem, as we end up rejecting things we take for granted.

In steps the concept of a properly basic belief. We come to believe in the EW without argumentation or evidence(evidence is the propositional evidence found in arguments) because our cognitive faculties compel us to believe that the EW exists. Also, we have warranted belief in the EW because no defeater has been successfully brought against it.

To answer your questions, no there is no direct evidence for the EW. There can be arguments for the EW, but, due to our limited knowledge of the world, these arguments will be inconclusive.

OK, on to a properly basic belief in God. First of all, emotions have absolutely nothing to do with properly basic beliefs. If someone has a sense that God has created the world this is because someone's cognitive faculties compels that person to this belief, just as one is compelled to believe in the EW. The idea is that God has designed our cognitive faculties to detect him. Since no defeater has been effectively been brought against belief in God so this belief is warranted.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Papalinton wrote: "When I walk down the street and without attention I walk smack into a street sign. I am in no doubt the natural external world exists."

Your rational faculties may compel you to believe in the EW, but the pain you feel is not evidence that it exists as this sensation could be just an illusion piped into your mind. According the classical foundationlist model you can't rationally conclude that the EW exists.

Papalinton wrote: "Incidentally what is a 'properly basic belief' when you take its religious garb off?"

Properly basic beliefs aren't necessarily religious. They may be about the EW, the existence of other minds; or that the world is older than five minutes.

Papalinton wrote: "No Keith, you have not prosecuted a successful case on this matter."

Bear in mind that properly basic beliefs, whether they be about God, other minds or the EW, provide warrant to the believer, but if one wants to persuade an EW skeptic one must create arguments for it. Of course, these arguments will be inconclusive, but such is life.

im-skeptical said...

Lets see if i can sort this out.

So this time, you seem to be saying that a properly basic belief is "self-evident, evident to the senses or incorrigible", and a belief is rational if it is properly basic or inferred from propositions that are properly basic. Did I understand this correctly? Note that the concept of incorrigibility is somewhat unclear. It seems to be something that we believe that is based on something other than empirical evidence or logical self-evidence, and yet it is necessarily true.

Now, you claim that belief in existence the EW if properly basic. But you also claim that it is NOT logically necessary (and therefore, not self-evident), NOT based on empirical evidence, NOT an incorrigible belief, but "because our cognitive faculties compel us to believe that the EW exists." How does this fit with the definition you provided?

I'm sorry, but this still leaves me confused. Basic beliefs are rational. Existence of the EW is a basic belief, but it is irrational ... What you say doesn't make sense to me.

OK. Whatever. About God: "If someone has a sense that God has created the world this is because someone's cognitive faculties compels that person to this belief, just as one is compelled to believe in the EW." So this belief is irrational for the same reasons that belief in the EW is irrational? And what about this "sense" you have that are compelled by your cognitive faculties? I'm not compelled to believe any such thing. What compels you is something called cognitive bias. But cognitive bias is certainly not a source of properly basic beliefs. In other words, what you believe is unwarranted.

Harpia Empírica said...

Hello Victor, interesting post.

I still think the ones making the positive claim bear the burden. I don't think how "the external world" would be different.

I also don't think that what John Moore said is correct.
"you have a burden of proof whenever you make any sort of claim"

But what about this great debate? How do we know which came first? "God exists" or "God doesn't"?

What I think of this is that everything we argue assume that the external world exists. We sort of beg the question everytime.
I think proving that it doesn't is impossible, it would not even make sense because it's pretty much unfalsifiable. And I don't think it is intellectual defeatism at all.

The same, when you, say, "pluck" some things to the concept of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience and moral goodness, then we can observe the world, assuming that it exists, and see if it fits.
But how do we "pluck" things to the concept of the external world? It is all we see! We have no external background to analyze this, we don't know the real scenario behind it so we can test if it exists or not.

I'm thinking out loud here, but it might be the case that logic itself is a false thing. Who knows?

I'd simply bite the bullet and say "Well, there is no way we can deal about that". As for there is no way we can deal with "there is an invisible and by no possible means detectable unicorn behind you now". It's just simply sadder.

So I think the idea of burden of proof to the positive claim is valid to the external world but not to it since "burden of proof" might be a thing of the external world which might be completely made-up?

Harpia Empírica said...

" Why is someone who believes in the existence of the external world, despite having no real proof for this belief, rational while someone who believes in God is irrational?"

Because "belief", "existence", "proof", "rational" or "irrational" have sense inside the external world. It makes no sense to use it on the the external world, for all those things might be just made-up. Just the way "material causality" is valid to our observable universe, it might not be valid to it.

I don't think I'm right about where this is going, and this might be ignorant from my part, but if you're trying to shift the burden of the proof for claims about existence here, there are some nasty things that would follow. A person would be rational to believe in everything. Every belief without proof would be still rational. Fairies, trolls, soul eaters, banshees, a person could say an irrational universe exists (one that does not necessarily follows logic assertions) and still be rational on believing it. A weapon that can kill God, also (that would be cool, metaphysical god-killing-spear)

But anyway, even if you're right that we are all being irrational by assuming the external world exists, I'd say if you fall off your chair all way to the ground your ass would still hurt. Even if your ass doesn't exist at all. Even if you (or we) are false, we still have to live as if it was true. I still stand by my original point, though, while "logic" and "reason" can be applied to things inside the external world, it might not be applied to it.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptial wrote: "So this time, you seem to be saying that a properly basic belief is "self-evident, evident to the senses or incorrigible", and a belief is rational if it is properly basic or inferred from propositions that are properly basic. Did I understand this correctly? Note that the concept of incorrigibility is somewhat unclear."

No, that's not right all. First of all, an incorrigible belief is one that can't be mistaken. This of course is a very small list which includes the belief about your own existence and beliefs about logical truths such as the non-existence of married bachelors. Basically, if it's logically possible for that belief to be false then that belief is not incorrigible, and the EW certainly fits in the not incorrigible category.

I think where I lost you was when I was contrasting the idea of a basic belief in classical foundationalism with more moderate forms of foundationalism which includes reformed epistemology. The classical model is much more strict and leads us to conclude that it is irrational to believe in the EW, God, other minds; and that the world is older than five minutes.

Properly basic beliefs aren't based on other beliefs, arguments or evidence--in fact there can be no conclusive arguments or evidence for these beliefs. It's as simple as your properly functioning faculties compelling you to believe that the EW exists.

im-skeptial wrote: "I'm sorry, but this still leaves me confused. Basic beliefs are rational. Existence of the EW is a basic belief, but it is irrational ... What you say doesn't make sense to me."

The existence of the EW is a properly basic belief and is rational under the moderate/reformed foundationalism, but irrational under the classical model since there are no conclusive arguments or evidence for it.

im-skeptical wrote: "And what about this "sense" you have that are compelled by your cognitive faculties? I'm not compelled to believe any such thing. What compels you is something called cognitive bias. But cognitive bias is certainly not a source of properly basic beliefs. In other words, what you believe is unwarranted."

Well, you're not going to like this answer, but under reformed epistemology you don't have this sense because, when it comes to the sense of the divine, your cognitive faculties are not properly functioning. If one's cognitive functions are working properly then beliefs formed from those functions are warranted.

Keith Rozumalski said...

Harpia Empírica wrote: "Because 'belief", 'existence', 'proof', 'rational' or 'irrational have sense inside the external world."

These things could exactly make as much sense in a simulation. The external world has no monopoly on these things.

Harpia Empírica wrote: "A person would be rational to believe in everything. Every belief without proof would be still rational. Fairies, trolls, soul eaters, banshees, a person could say an irrational universe exists (one that does not necessarily follows logic assertions) and still be rational on believing it. A weapon that can kill God, also (that would be cool, metaphysical god-killing-spear)"

First of all, if a defeater is successfully presented against a belief then the belief is not warranted and can't be rationally held. This will strike down anything logically impossible such as married bachelors or universes that exist and yet are non-existent. Also, belief that are proven to be wrong have no warrant.

It's also important to note that if one's cognitive environment is proper and one's cognitive faculties are properly functioning then one should not come to believe in faeries. One aught to conclude that there is no good reason to believe in faeries.

Harpia Empírica wrote: "But anyway, even if you're right that we are all being irrational by assuming the external world exists"

I didn't say that it's irrational to believe in the external world (EW)--I take it to be a properly basic belief that has warrant. The classical model of foundationalism says that belief in the EW is irrational because there is no conclusive proof or evidence that it exists.

Victor Reppert said...

Plantinga proposes a negative and a positive way of addressing this problem. The negative way seeks to demonstrate that the evidentionlist project will not hold up. The positive way seeks to offer a rationale for Reformed Epistmeology.
The Negative (analytical) Argument

Plantings grants those propositions which are self-evident, evident to the senses, or incorrigible are properly basic. Plantinga's objection is with the evidentialist who claims that only these propositions are properly basic. Plantinga wants to include other beliefs (such as belief in the past, belief in other minds, etc.)

The foundationalist contention is presented as (19):

(19) "A is properly basic for me only if A is self-evident or incorrigible or evident to the senses."

Plantinga argues that one is rational in accepting (19) only if either (19) is properly basic or (19) relates to propositions which are properly basic. Now, Plantinga thinks that its obvious that (19) is neither self-evident, evident to the sense, nor incorrigible. Therefore , Plantinga makes the following claims:
N1 - (19) is not properly basic.
N2 - since no one has demonstrated that (19) relates to propositions which are properly basic, then, Plantinga asserts, not only is there no compelling reason to accept (19) but also to do so would be epistemologically irresponsible (on Clifford's criterion - there is not sufficient evidence).
This is the negative critique of evidentialism. It's Plantingas strongest argument.

im-skeptical said...

Keith Rozumalski,

Now that you have responded to my comment, I begin to see what you were trying to say, but I could have never guessed that until I heard your clarification. I will re-assess and reply soon.

im-skeptical said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
im-skeptical said...

Keith Rozumalski,

So now that I understand you reject classic foundationalism in favor of Plantinga's reformed epistemology, your comments don't seem quite so confusing. From what I understand of this kind of epistemology, it seems to have been invented for the purpose of justifying your religious belief in the absence of evidence or any other rational basis. The idea that you are justified in believing just because you feel that it must be true seems rather facile to me. In fact, the same epistemology can be used to justify most any belief at all. That includes the metaphysics of materialism, which Plantinga rejects as self-refuting.

Plantinga's assertion that my lack of sensus divinitatus is due to a cognitive malfunction is actually quite amusing to me. It amounts to "If you don't believe what I do, you're mentally defective." This is the product of the greatest philosophical mind that Christianity has to offer today? I'm not impressed.

Here are some thoughts from people who have examined this more carefully:

Ken Pulliam

Tyler Wunder

Jaco Gericke

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "From what I understand of this kind of epistemology, it seems to have been invented for the purpose of justifying your religious belief in the absence of evidence or any other rational basis."

That doesn't seem like a very charitable view of reformed epistemology, particularly since it enables us to rationally hold beliefs that include the existence of the external world, other minds as well as the belief that the world is older than five minutes. So, you're obviously not keen on reformed epistemology, but does this mean that you're endorsing classical foundationalism? Are properly basic beliefs only self-evident, incorrigible or evident to the senses?

im-skeptical said...

"That doesn't seem like a very charitable view of reformed epistemology, particularly since it enables us to rationally hold beliefs that include the existence of the external world, other minds as well as the belief that the world is older than five minutes."

I don't have a particularly charitable view of Plantinga's philosophy. His assertion that you can believe that a tree exists based on the evidence of your senses, but you can't believe that the external world exists on the same basis is incoherent. I think he's engaging in special pleading, and his epistemology is goal-directed.

As for what kind of epistemology I endorse, let's just say I don't accept any epistemology that is designed to justify belief in non-existent entities.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "His assertion that you can believe that a tree exists based on the evidence of your senses, but you can't believe that the external world exists on the same basis is incoherent."

You're still conflating classical foundationlism with Reformed Epistemology. Remember, classical foundationalism says that it's irrational to believe in the external world and other minds because these beliefs are not self-evident, incorrigible or evident to the senses . Plantinga is the one who say that if one's cognitive faculties are properly functioning and these faculties compel you to believe in the external world then it is rational to do so.

im-skptical wrote: "I think he's engaging in special pleading, and his epistemology is goal-directed."

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. As far as I can tell, whether you realize it or, you take the existence of the external world to be a properly basic belief, even though there is no conclusive arguments or evidence for this belief. But, when it comes to belief in God, you demand that the belief be supported by conclusive arguments and evidence. This is special pleading.

im-skeptical wrote: "As for what kind of epistemology I endorse, let's just say I don't accept any epistemology that is designed to justify belief in non-existent entities."

It always amazes me that it never dawns on God skeptics that when they say things like this that a more radical skeptic could say the exact same thing to them about one of their beliefs. An external world skeptic could say the exact same thing to you if you take the external world to be a properly basic belief!

God skeptics often also seem to have difficulty seeing things from a theistic perspective. For a Christian with a strong properly basic belief in God, God is not a "non-existent entit[y]" (you're begging the question with that statement, by the way), his existence is as obvious to them as the existence of the external world is to you.

Finally, I noticed that you failed to answer the question I posed in my last response. I'll ask it again, do you support classical foundationalism?

im-skeptical said...

"You're still conflating classical foundationlism with Reformed Epistemology."

I'm going by what you said: "Observational statements, such as "I see a tree before me", and logical truths are examples of basic beliefs." If that doesn't mean we can believe the evidence of our senses, then I have no idea what it means. Yet belief in the existence of the external world is absolutely no different. I believe it because I see it. I believe it because interacting with the external world is the only means I have of learning anything. Plantinga's assertion that we have other means of learning what exists is pure special pleading.

" you take the existence of the external world to be a properly basic belief, even though there is no conclusive arguments or evidence for this belief. But, when it comes to belief in God, you demand that the belief be supported by conclusive arguments and evidence. This is special pleading."

Bullshit. I believe the world exists because I see it. I don't believe God exists because I don't see it. It's that simple. No special pleading. To say that mu cognitive facilities will tell me that God exists if they are working properly is blatant, obvious special pleading.

"a more radical skeptic could say the exact same thing to [God skeptics] about one of their beliefs"

The difference between me and the external world skeptic is that my belief is based on evidence (whether you think so or not - seeing it is in fact evidence). Like the theist, the EW skeptic doesn't base his belief on what the evidence tells him.

"I'll ask it again, do you support classical foundationalism? "

If I was knowledgeable in all the types of epistemology and their variants, I could tell you precisely what I favor (probably some kind of empiricism). As it is, I can say that there are certain epistemologies that strike me as nothing more than justification for believing bullshit.

DJC said...

Keith Rozumalski:


Remember, classical foundationalism says that it's irrational to believe in the external world and other minds because these beliefs are not self-evident, incorrigible or evident to the senses


It seems to me the best way to approach the external worlds and other minds problem is to enumerate all conceptual possibilities that could be fully consistent with all the evidence and then accept the common features of the largest space of possibility as tentatively true.

If new conceptual possibilities are discovered or if old ones are found to be incoherent or impossible, update.

Thus, we would accept the external world and other minds as provisionally true because the larger space of conceivable possibilities permits it. Only a few possibilities with fairly extensive additional variables -- brains in vats, mad scientists, simulated universes by highly advanced future civilizations, etc. -- reject it.

This is a parsimony approach guided by complexity measure (Solomonoff induction) which seems superior to either classical foundationalism or reformed epistemology.

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptical wrote: "Observational statements, such as "I see a tree before me", and logical truths are examples of basic beliefs." If that doesn't mean we can believe the evidence of our senses, then I have no idea what it means. Yet belief in the existence of the external world is absolutely no different. I believe it because I see it."

The problem is that you're making a logical leap from "I see a tree before me" to therefore the external world exists--this simply doesn't follow. What you can't know with certainty is that this sensory observation corresponds to a physical world or even that there is such as thing as the physical world. The tree might be just a digital object in a simulation you exist in. The image might be just piped into your mind by an evil demon who is fooling you into believing that an external world exists.

im-skeptical wrote: "I believe the world exists because I see it. I don't believe God exists because I don't see it."

You have sensory observations of objects and then assume that these observations correspond to an external world. To put it another way, your cognitive faculties compel you to believe that the external world exists. Well, the Christian who, has a properly basic belief in God, has experiences with God and has a sense of God's working in the wold. Their cognitive faculties compel them to believe in the existence of God. Since neither you nor the Christian has any solid direct evidence for your beliefs I don't see the difference between the two of you.

im-skeptical wrote: The difference between me and the external world skeptic is that my belief is based on evidence..."

What evidence? Seeing people, cars and trees does not prove that these things physically exists or that there is an external world. There is no way to conclusively prove that there is an external world.

Keith Rozumalski said...

DJC, kudos for coming up with a novel solution. I'm not sure that I agree at this point, but you have my interest. I haven't had the chance to read up on Solomonoff induction, so I'm not sure exactly how it works.

Where do we get the evidence about the nature of existence that you allude to? Your second to last paragraph seems like magic; you wave a wand and poof out comes reject it. How do we go from considering various possibilities to rejecting everything, but the existence of the external world?

im-skeptical said...

Keith Rozumalski,

You seem to make no distinction between evidence and proof: "you're making a logical leap from "I see a tree before me" to therefore the external world exists". I'm not making any logical leap. Evidence is reason to believe something. But it is different from absolute proof, which I never claimed.

"You have sensory observations of objects and then assume that these observations correspond to an external world. To put it another way, your cognitive faculties compel you to believe that the external world exists."
- My belief is influenced by the evidence I see.

"Well, the Christian who, has a properly basic belief in God, has experiences with God and has a sense of God's working in the wold. Their cognitive faculties compel them to believe in the existence of God."
- You don't see any God. You experience an emotional feeling, and you go through some kind of reasoning process that tells you it was caused by God. That's not a properly basic belief. I experience the same emotional feelings that you do, except that I don't attribute them to God. The evidence that these emotions are natural is too strong to ignore. You can call me mentally defective if you choose, but that's a retreat from logic and reason.

"What evidence? Seeing people, cars and trees does not prove that these things physically exists or that there is an external world. There is no way to conclusively prove that there is an external world."
- Again you need to understand that seeing something IS evidence. It is not absolute proof.


DJC said...

Keith Rozumalski,

Where do we get the evidence about the nature of existence that you allude to? Your second to last paragraph seems like magic; you wave a wand and poof out comes reject it. How do we go from considering various possibilities to rejecting everything, but the existence of the external world?

A key issue of SI is that the more complex possibility (faked external world in this case) is not outright rejected, but rather treated as less likely to be true (avoiding the usual objection to parsimony that we have no way of guaranteeing that the simplest explanation is the correct explanation). But the reason it is treated as less likely to be true is an important matter of strategy. If we go with the simplest explanation as true for now (which means it will be continually used and therefore heavily tested with all other models thought to be true) and it is later found to be inadequate, we have potentially ruled out a larger space of conceptual possibility. Disproving a simple explanation is likely to eliminate a larger search space of possibilities than disproving a more complicated one.

Complexity can be more formally defined with Kolmogorov complexity which can be thought of as measuring the lengths of hypothetical computer programs (say for a hypothetical computer simulating the laws of physical reality) that match observed evidence.

msgrx said...

IS:

"- You don't see any God. You experience an emotional feeling, and you go through some kind of reasoning process that tells you it was caused by God. That's not a properly basic belief. I experience the same emotional feelings that you do, except that I don't attribute them to God."

And you know this how, exactly? On what grounds do you claim to know what other people have experienced better than the people who have actually experienced it?

Keith Rozumalski said...

im-skeptial wrote: "My belief is influenced by the evidence I see."

The evidence you see is of trees, houses and people. What you have no evidence of is whether these observations correspond to an external world or just a mental/digital world.

im-skeptial wrote: "You don't see any God. You experience an emotional feeling, and you go through some kind of reasoning process that tells you it was caused by God. That's not a properly basic belief."

Msgrx is right, you're now in the very strange position of denying someone's private, subjective experience of, say, hearing God speak to them. How in the world can you know that someone didn't experience something? Even under the strict model of classical foundationslism an observational statement such as "I heard God speak to me," would count as a properly basic belief.

Now the tricky part is that just as you can't be certain that your observation of a tree corresponds to a physical, external world, the God believer can't be certain that their observation corresponds to God or to something else. If both your cognitive faculties are properly working i.e. you're not insane, on hallucinatory drugs or etc. then I think we can say that your compulsion to believe in the external world and the God believer's compulsion to believe in God are rational.

im-skeptical wrote: "Again you need to understand that seeing something IS evidence. It is not absolute proof."

Your seeing a tree is undeniable, but what you don't know is whether this tree corresponds to the external world or to something else. Your tree observation could go either way.

Speaking of having less than absolute proof, why do you have this double standard when it comes to requiring it? It's OK for you to believe in something with less than absolute proof, but the person who has a properly basic belief in God is "believing in bullshit" and is irrational. I could give you some of your own psychoanalytic medicine by saying that this is a result of your anti-God cognitive bias, but I'll spare you.

Keith Rozumalski said...

DJC, thanks for the further explanation. I'm still not sure what to make of your result and method, but an initial observation is that all of these systems that purport to output something like objective truth have a flaw in that we're putting subjective inputs and expecting objective outputs which doesn't really work.

I'm not sure that an external world is necessarily the simplest explanation. For instance, how did this external world come to be?

im-skeptical said...

"And you know this how, exactly? On what grounds do you claim to know what other people have experienced better than the people who have actually experienced it?"

Good question.

im-skeptical said...

"The evidence you see is of trees, houses and people. What you have no evidence of is whether these observations correspond to an external world or just a mental/digital world."

You still conflate evidence and proof. My observation of things is evidence of their existence, and I believe they exist. I do not claim to have proof of this. But I believe the existence of an external world is the best, most likely explanation for what I observe.

" I think we can say that your compulsion to believe in the external world and the God believer's compulsion to believe in God are rational. "

They are not the same at all. One is based on direct observation. The other is based on your interpretation of an emotional experience.

"Speaking of having less than absolute proof, why do you have this double standard when it comes to requiring it?"

I believe what I believe and you do, too. I believe that empirical evidence is a valid basis for belief about what exists, but I don't believe that emotions are a valid basis for belief. No double standard at all.

DJC said...

Keith Rozumalski,

I'm still not sure what to make of your result and method, but an initial observation is that all of these systems that purport to output something like objective truth have a flaw in that we're putting subjective inputs and expecting objective outputs which doesn't really work.

If objective is defined as the coherent resolution of all subjective inputs, I don't see a flaw. Basically one can think of human knowledge as the distillation of the subjective experiences of countless human beings over historical time periods. The subjective experience which can be characterized predictably and consistently forms the basis for communication, language, and written record.

I'm not sure that an external world is necessarily the simplest explanation. For instance, how did this external world come to be?

You don't have to hypothesize that far in this case. Which is a simpler explanation: (1) you are a brain in a vat or (2) the external world you perceive is real. If you are a brain in a vat, the brain and vat must additionally exist in a real external world. Therefore, both hypotheses propose an external world, but one proposes additionally that you are a brain in a vat. Therefore, (1) is trivially more complex than (2) and should be downgraded accordingly.

Aragorn said...

Do I believe that someone could have a properly basic belief in God? It is within the realm of possibility.

Do I believe that every theist has a properly basic belief in God? No. Given the prevalence of deconversions and rational non-belief, God-belief could not be properly basic for everyone.

Do I believe that even a small plurality of theists have properly basic beliefs in God? No. Properly basic beliefs about God are much too special, IMO. How many theists sincerely claim to have it? Seems to me to be more an apologist tool and the last bulwark (and a strong one at that) of theistic belief - not that people sincerely attest to it.